When the Heavens Fall

Hi again!

I haven’t really been posting lately, as I’ve been completely swamped with other things, but I should be back for good now.

And my first review in awhile is going to be short and sweet.

Marc Turner’s When the Heavens Fall is a book that I actually read months ago, but I’ve delayed writing a review of it because I was scared the review wouldn’t give the book justice. So I’ll just say that When the Heavens Fall is a beautiful example of fantasy, and if you haven’t read it, you should.

More reviews to come:)

Disclaimer- I received a free copy of When the Heavens Fall in exchange for an honest review.

Guest Post: Things I Learned in a Chinese Hospital

Matt Abraham spits hot PI palaver mixing Mickey Spillane with the classic superheroes from the golden age. In his series Black Cape Case Files we follow Dane Curse, a former black cape turned PI, as he navigates the powered underbelly of Gold Coast City. While not writing he’s engaged in juggling his fearsome cat Durden, newborn baby boy Kal, and supportive wife Jenny, all in the People’s paradise of China.

Some people who travel abroad are in search of the most authentic experiences. This can range from eating fried bugs to spending time in hotels without running water, and while both are fine (maybe for you, not me), if you really want to get down to brass tacks I recommend going someplace where there are no fizzy drinks or colorful costumes. Someplace like a hospital.
Yeah, a place where life and death decisions are made tends to cut through the just for show pretenses of everyday life and lets you see just how different a foreign land is from your own beloved home. I learned this the hard way when my wife contracted food poisoning on the third day of our move to China and we headed to the local hospital.
Now here’s a caveat: I haven’t seen every medicine man in The Middle Kingdom so I’m not saying they’re all bad. I’m certain that China is a country filled with stories of Westerners who received first-rate medical services administered in professional, sterile conditions, which left them not just healthier, but more hopeful for the treatment.
All I’m saying is that this isn’t one of them.

    • 1. You Pay Up Front
      You may not believe it, but Hospitals in China expect you to pay before you see a doctor. Oh, did something sever your arm so you can’t grab your wallet? Well tough luck, Lefty. Get used to writing a check with that other hand or get used to dying because it’s cash first, medicine later in China. Yeah, that’s right, when my wife and I showed up we were being administered to by people who trusted us less than every single server we’ve ever had at Chili’s.But I was in no position to complain, my wife was having stomach issues that would be considered serious in the movie Alien, so I went to the cashier to make quick payment. Not such an easy thing since that lines aren’t really a thing in China, so my first step was to fight my way to the lady behind the bullet proof glass and throw her some money like I was trying to lay a bet on my favorite Stalker in The Running Man.

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  • 2. They Scoff at US Currency
    Once I got to the front of the “line” my liaison (Our work sent someone to help translate so I didn’t accidentally get my wife a vasectomy) told them what we needed, so it was time to pay and pay I did. With a hundred dollar bill.
    This produced a strange effect.
    Now when I flash a Benjamin in a foreign country I don’t expect the full “Indiana Jones bringing back the village kids” treatment, however the nurse looked at me like I was trying to pay for a brain transplant with one lamb, two chickens, and a bag of beans. Come on, I know it’s not Chinese currency, but jeez, it’s a Benjamin. If Slumdog Millionaire wasn’t lying to me that bill can impress even 5 year old blind Indian beggars! But for some reason in China’s hinterland they’re about as attractive as a radioactive rod that someone sneezed on. Fortunately for me my liaison exchanged some of my cash for her Yuan, and I paid the doctor’s fee. It was 4 dollars.
    Not a lot of cash, but I failed to get my money’s worth.
  • 3. Privacy Isn’t a Thing
    So then me, my very sick wife, and our liaison went to the diagnosis room to see a doctor. I can’t tell you how heartened I was when, as we approached, I saw a line. Ahhh, a line. There’s nothing like a line for standing in. Lines are the number one proof of civilization. I was happy. The feeling passed quickly though because, as it turned out, when we finally saw the doctor we wouldn’t be speaking to him one on one, but instead amongst a room full of locals. Obviously as an American I wasn’t comfortable talking about my wife’s private health issues in front of an audience, so I asked our liaison “Um, aren’t we going to see the doctor alone?”
    “No,” she said. “Why would you?”
    “Because this is sort of personal. Is there a private room?”
    Her eyes lit up. “You want a private room! For a stomach problem? HAHAHAHAHA! Oh my God, that’s hilarious.” Then in Mandarin I assume she said, “Everyone, hey everyone, Emperor white guy here wants a private room to talk to the doctor! Quick, grab your livestock, children, and whatever you’re cooking and please go into the hall while these two discuss her upset tummy!”
    The old people laughed. The children laughed. The doctor laughed. He was the loudest.
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  • 4. There’s One Type Of Medicine
    So after the public forum regarding my wife’s bowels we got a prescription, and with our trusty sidekick/medical liaison in tow, made our way back to the payment desk. After that it was onto the treatment room. I call it that, but it’s kind of like calling Fenway Park a ‘baseball room’, because this place was so big I couldn’t see the far wall. I don’t know who builds hospitals in China, but I’m sure they could make a working TARDIS. It was that big.
    We took our seat somewhere in the middle and a nurse came by to administer the IV drip. I don’t know which medical school she learned her technique from, but that nurse plunged the needle into my wife’s arm like she was Vincent Vega.

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    After that our liaison left, most likely to writer her own article for Chinese Cracked “5 Hilarious Things Americans Do in Hospitals”, and I noticed something strange. Everybody had the same IV drip in their arm with the same clear liquid. I don’t care if they had a head wound or that wood growth on Black Tom Cassidy, it was all the same…
    “Why?” I asked a passing nurse who refused to answer in English. I asked a second nurse, but she too insisted in only conversing with Mandarin. So to this day I have no idea what was in those drips. It’s probably some ancient kind of secret. But whatever it was my wife started to feel better. And I got calmer.

    Then it, as hack writers everywhere say, happened. She threw up. And keep in mind when I say ‘threw up’ I mean I’ve never seen a human being expel this much of anything. If stomach juice were profanity she was Andrew Dice Clay if he had Tourette Syndrome and just stubbed his toe. And since an American death reports need the most paperwork, the nurses sent us to… The ER!

  • 5. The ER’s are Insane
    Please read that headline again, but this time with more imposing music like dun dun duuuun. Ok, now you’re prepared. Psyche! Nothing can prepare you for a Chinese ER. Nothing. I’d say it was like Thunderdome, but there’s a hard 50% survival rate there. It says so right there in the rules. Also, you can’t smoke in Thunderdome, unlike a Chinese Emergency Room where no less than half of the people are as busy puffing on cigarettes as the other half are hating Japan.

    And the semi-nudity, it runs rampant. Raaaampaaaaaant! If you’ve been to China you know that on hot days the men like to pull their shirts up under their armpits and hold them there like half shirts because taking them all the way off is impolite, you barbarian. This is perfectly permissible in the ER as well, which means that if you’re in a bad accident, and need the most serious, life saving medicine be prepared to get wheeled into a room with semi-hostile, half naked, smoking men. It’s just like a bar in Jersey Shore.

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It was only another seven hours before I could take my wife back home. I have to say, the experience on the whole, was awful. Unless you’re a Chinese hacker or government spy, in which case it was excellent, yay Communism!

Matt Abraham’s novel, Dane Curse, was published in February 2015. It’s available on Amazon here http://goo.gl/sUHj3D. There is also a free promo for Dane Curse on August 6 and 7.

If you lose a black cape, and can’t go to the cops, then you come to me because that’s what I do. I’ve been in the game for years. I know all the curves and all the angles, and if it gets rough then so be it, I got plenty strength, I’m double tough, and I never quit. And if need be I’ll pull my artillery to get you some answers, because I don’t care about the mistakes you’ve made or how you chose to live your life, sometimes even the unjust deserve a little justice.

At least that’s how it was before a mysterious murder threatens to plunge Gold Coast City into a super powered war unless I find the killer in five days’ time. But getting to the truth won’t be so easy. I’ll have to face ruthless black capes with secrets to hide, a powerful government agency bent on national expansion, and even teams of white caped heroes whose intentions are less than pure.

No easy task for a small time PI, so I’ll need every bit of my strength and guts if I’m going to find the killer, save my city, and maybe even get some justice for the greatest hero the world has ever known.

All opinions expressed in the above post are those of author Matt Abraham.

Magic to Memphis

What if your life is working from the inside out?

Jessie is an underage runaway living in a trailer that is messy in the way that only teenagers can be messy. She lives with her loyal pitbull, Bear, and works at a record store. She’s also in a band, and hoping to get her big break soon at a music festival in Memphis.

This coming-of-age type story quickly turns thriller when Jessie is forced to fight for her life, thanks to a ring sent to her by her mom that’s also being hunted by someone else.

I thought Julie Starr made the storyline work, and I really liked the creativity behind it. I also really liked the everyday magic. But the book can be a bit cliché and dramatic at times.

“In front of an audience, Jessie felt alive in a way she couldn’t describe; the rest of the time she felt like a star waiting to shine.”

The writing wasn’t anything special, but it wasn’t bad either. Overall, Magic to Memphis was a pretty average book.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Catarina’s Ring

“’You should love what you cook because it’s just as much effort to cook bad food as it is good food.’”

Catarina’s Ring by Lisa McGuinness is two stories in one.

Catarina is a teenage girl living in Italy in the early twentieth century, working as a maid to help support her family. When she gets a letter from a family friend she hasn’t seen since she was little, asking her to come to America and marry him, she’s determined not to go. But she’s forced to change her mind after a close call with her employer.

Juliette is Catarina’s granddaughter, living in San Francisco. She’s working a dead-end job, despite her dream to be a professional chef and open her own restaurant. But after tragedy strikes, she flees to Italy to get away from it all. While there, she signs up for a cooking class where she forms a rather predictable relationship with the hot Italian teacher who may not be all that he seems.

At first, Catarina’s story interested me way more than Juliette’s. In fact, I remember wishing that Juliette’s story wasn’t even included.

Fortunately, once Juliette leaves Italy her story gets more interesting, and I began to really enjoy both stories.

The writing was good, the food descriptions made my mouth water, and the stories were great.

Catarina’s Ring was a great light read.

I received a free copy of this book from The San Francisco Book Review in exchange for an honest review.

Rarity from the Hollow

Rarity from the Hollow by Robert Eggleton is not a light-hearted novel.

Lacy Dawn is just a kid. She lives in a poor area, where drugs and domestic violence are common. Lacy Dawn can help the other kids though, with magic taught to her by her secret friend DotCom.

“’It’s a kid’s job to help her parents and any kid who don’t ain’t much of a kid and maybe don’t even deserve to live!’ Faith yelled…”

Lacy Dawn is in the fifth grade when her friend Faith is beaten to death by her dad. Lacy Dawn’s own father beats her and her mother frequently. Sometimes even Lacy Dawn’s dog, Brownie, suffers this abuse. Her mother became pregnant with Lacy Dawn in the eighth grade and now spends her days secretly studying for her GED (she has to hide the study guide from her husband). Her dad suffers from PTSD, and uses weed to try and make himself better. Lacy Dawn is smart for her age, but she’s still just a kid.

Lacy Dawn is special though. Us humans don’t realize it, but beings not from Earth have figured it out. That’s why DotCom has been sent to teach her. Lacy Dawn also hopes he’ll help fix her family.

“’I told you I got extra help learning stuff when we had our clubhouse. You said he was Jesus and I got pissed off. He’s a lot more powerful than Jesus.’”

This book has been described as a laugh-out-loud book, but I disagree with that. I found it to be very dark. Sure, it has humorous moments, but it’s not a comedy. The author’s categorization is that it includes “elements of everyday horror, paranormal, true love type romance, mystery, and adventure. The content addresses poverty, domestic violence, child maltreatment, local and intergalactic economics, mental health issues – including PTSD experienced by Veterans and the medicinal use of marijuana for treatment of bipolar disorder, capitalism, and touches on the role of Jesus.”

Yes, the book is dark, but it’s also good. It’s well-written and it makes you think. Here I think it’s worth it to mention that the author is a retired mental health psychotherapist. He’s had to work with the sort of people described in his novel, which may be why everything comes across so vividly. Of course, the matter-of-fact voice of a pre-teen narrator may also explain that.

I found this book to be worth the read, but only if you’re in the mood for something dark.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Go Set a Watchman

“I need a watchman to lead me around and declare what he seeth every hour on the hour. I need a watchman to tell me this is what a man says but this is what he means, to draw a line down the middle and say here is this justice and there is that justice and make me understand the difference. I need a watchman to go forth and proclaim to them that all that twenty-six years is too long to play a joke on anybody, no matter how funny it is.”

What a let down.

No, more than a let down. Harper Lee has (maybe unwillingly, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the publication of the book) destroyed the iconic, heroic, incredible man that was Atticus. I NAMED A SIM AFTER HIM!

Go Set a Watchman is told from Jean Louise’s (Scout) point of view. Since the end of To Kill A Mockingbird, she’s moved to New York. Go Set a Watchman starts with her visit to Maycomb. She’s upset about the changes that have happened to her hometown since she’s last been there, but nothing could have prepared her for the sight of Atticus and Henry Clinton (Hank, her boyfriend) at a citizen’s council meeting.

“The only human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge, ‘He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman,’ had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly.”

And of course, her family tries to justify it.

“’As I sit here and breathe, I never thought the good God would let me live to see someone walk into the middle of a revolution, pull a lugubrious face, and say, ‘What’s the matter?’”

I think this book was written to show Scout growing up and becoming separate from Atticus. However, Harper Lee didn’t need to ruin Atticus to do this. I wish this book had never been published. To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic. Atticus stood up for what is right, no matter what. And despite the excellent writing in Go Set a Watchman, it destroyed Atticus in my mind.

Interestingly enough, I noticed that Atticus is the number one boys’ name for the first half of 2015. I wonder if it’ll stay that way.

Under a Blood Moon

When Detective Harry Shepherd stops a young teenager from throwing himself off the end of Blackpool pier, he has little idea that the world around him would change forever. As the boy scampers away, he vows to discover why the lad was so willing to die.

However, Alex Hayden is no ordinary teenager, but one with an insight into the multiple murders occurring within the town. Sensing a loss within the soul of Detective Shepherd, he becomes embroiled in the search to stop the killer at the risk of exposing his own secret.

I’ll admit, when I read the blurb, it looked intriguing. But an urban fantasy vampire-crime-thriller novel is tricky to pull off. And Michael Andrews didn’t quite manage it.

Under a Blood Moon starts off well.

“Lots of people say that when you die, or are about to, your whole life flashes before your eyes. A lot of people also believe that it helps prepare the way into Heaven or indeed Hell, depending on if you believe in those places. When it came to my turn, I didn’t see a thing so I don’t know if that meant I wasn’t eligible to go to either or just that they didn’t actually exist.”

It also has some witty moments:

“‘If a messy desk is the sign of a messy mind, what does that make an empty desk?'”

Alex is your typical vampire. He drinks blood, burns in the sun, turns into a bat, and he’s a thousand years old. He’s about to commit suicide by hanging around outside until the sun rises. Unfortunately for Alex, Detective Harry Shepherd sees him just before dawn, and thinks he’s about to jump off the pier (I guess the lesson here is don’t wait next to a pier). Alex ends up retreating into the darkness to live another day.

He’s intrigued by the cop who tried to save him the previous night, and does some research into him.

Here’s where the plot started to fall apart in my mind.

The 1000-year-old vampire who’s so tired of life that he’s going to let himself burn alive decides to continue living because he briefly met some guy who lost (literally lost, they don’t know what happened to him) his kid. I mean, come on. He’s a vampire. He was about to kill himself, and now he’s going to live cause he spent three minutes around a guy who suffered a loss?

Of course, the next thing we find out is that Alex hates drinking blood and only does it to bad people. Another goody-two-shoes vampire?!

And then, Alex the Good Vampire helps Harry the Sad Detective solve the crime.

This was definitely not my cup of tea.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Who Could That Be At This Hour?

“Why would someone say something was stolen when it was never theirs to begin with?”

Who Could That Be At This Hour by Lemony Snicket (okay, you can stop reading here, you know it’s going to be good) reminded me of The Mysterious Benedict Society. Lemony Snicket (yup, the main character is named after the author) is a genius young tween off to begin an apprenticeship with the arrogant and inept S. Theodora Markson. Their first job is to retrieve a stolen statue.

“It’s a small statue, about the size of a bottle of milk. It’s made of an extremely rare species of wood that is very shiny and black in color. The statue has been in my family for generations and has been valued at upwards of a great deal of money.”

The woman hiring them even knows who stole the statue, but when Lemony and Theodora go to investigate, they find the statue covered in dust and dismissed as, “Oh, that old thing.”

This is the first book in the “All the Wrong Questions” series, and they’re just as enjoyable for adults as they are for children, full of twists that I didn’t even see coming, and quirky characters that kept me laughing.

I highly recommend it.

The Glass Arrow

In a world where females are scarce and are hunted, then bought and sold at market for their breeding rights, 15-year old Aya has learned how to hide. With a ragtag bunch of other women and girls, she has successfully avoided capture and eked out a nomadic but free existence in the mountains. But when Aya’s luck runs out and she’s caught by a group of businessmen on a hunting expedition, fighting to survive takes on a whole new meaning.

Dystopian books usually have messed-up premises (for example, The Hunger Games), but for some reason this one struck me as extra messed-up. I mean, selling girls at auction?!

I think that seeing something so much more messed-up than our own society is part of what makes dystopian novels so successful. It’s like watching the ambulance that pulled up next door, or driving slowly past the car wreck to see what happened.

In the start of The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons, Aya is running. She grew up in the mountains, away from civilization. Unfortunately, some Trackers have found her and her family. Aya gets caught, two of the people she’s with end up dead, and she has no idea what happened to her cousin and the two small children living with them.

Aya is taken to “The Garden,” a prison where girls are kept before they’re auctioned. Aya is a First Rounder (a virgin), which means she can fetch more money. She was also raised in the mountains, which means real food instead of the meals in pills that city people are raised on (unless they’re really rich, then they get real food). A side effect of the pills makes a lot of the city girls infertile. This makes Aya one of few fertile women in the city. She’s in high demand.

After realizing this, Aya is careful to injure herself before every auction she can, so that she can’t go.

“My ma taught me one thing from the beginning: My body is mine. My own. No one else’s. Just because someone thinks they have rights to it, doesn’t make it true. I thought I understood that before, but here, in this place, it’s become more clear than ever how right she was. My flesh and blood- it’s the only thing I own, and I’ll defend it until I can’t fight anymore.”

While Aya is at The Garden, she makes some surprising friends. One is Brax, a wolf who’s friendship with Aya makes me think of the animals in Disney’s Pocahontas. The other friend is a boy Aya calls Kiran. He’s around Aya’s age, but she doesn’t know much else about him because he can’t talk. And because you can see this coming from a mile off, I don’t feel guilty in telling you that as boring as I find love stories, I enjoyed Kiran and Aya’s inevitable romance, and I appreciated that it didn’t take over the plot but was really just background.

This unlikely trio works well, and I found myself emotionally attached to all three of them, despite how completely good they all are (good can be boring, but Kristen Simmons pulls it off). And I loved that this is a stand-alone and I don’t have to commit to a whole series. I couldn’t put this down, and I read it in one afternoon.

The Taming of the Queen

The Tudors have always fascinated me. I’ve read everything I could about them, fiction and nonfiction, since I was little. Surprisingly, Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Katherine (Or Kateryn) Parr, is not often the subject of these works. I’ve always thought this was unfortunate, as I really admire Kateryn. Her court was a center of learning, she brought Henry’s family together, she served as Regent while Henry was away (Katherine of Aragon was the only other one of Henry’s wives to rule England in his absence), she was the first English queen to publish under her own name, and she managed to avoid being taken to the Tower, despite the fact that Henry had already signed the arrest warrant.

Philippa Gregory’s new book, The Taming of the Queen, is the story of Kateryn’s time as Queen. It’s told in first person, from Henry’s proposal to his death almost four years later.

Kateryn must have been terrified, to be the sixth wife of a man who beheaded those who displeased him. And, being the sixth wife, there wasn’t much that queens before her hadn’t already done.

‘Is there anything new?’ I ask irritably. ‘Is there anything that I do that one of them hasn’t already done?’
Catherine looks embarrassed.
‘Your clocks,’ Nan says with a small smile at me. ‘You’re the first queen to love clocks.’

Even Kateryn’s gifts from the king weren’t new.

“Nan opens another chest that has been carefully packed with rolls of the softest leather. Out come rings heavy with precious stones, and single stones on long chains. Without comment, she lays before me Katherine of Aragon’s famous necklace of plaited gold. Another purse is undone and there are Anne Boleyn’s rubies. The royal jewels of Spain come from one great box, the dowry of Anne of Cleves is spread on the floor at my feet. The treasure that the king showered on Katherine Howard comes in a chest all to itself, untouched since she was stripped of everything and went out to take the axe on her bare neck.”

In my opinion, Philippa Gregory did a wonderful job of capturing the emotions that Kateryn Parr must’ve been feeling throughout her marriage, not just in relation to the five women who’d occupied her role in the past, but also regarding her complicated feelings for Henry, her very real fear for her life and the lives of those around her, and her feelings for Thomas Seymour (Gregory makes the assumption that Kateryn Parr and Thomas Seymour began to have feelings for each other before Kateryn’s marriage to Henry VIII, because they were married within months of Henry’s death).

I especially enjoyed Kateryn’s exchanges with Will Somers, Henry’s Fool.

“’It is easier to stand on your head than to keep the king to one mind,’ Will observes, straight as a yeoman, but upside down. ‘If I were you, Majesty, I would stand on your head beside me.’”

I thought the writing was excellent, and Gregory did a wonderful job of bringing Kateryn’s voice to life.

If you liked The Other Boleyn Girl, you’ll love The Taming of the Queen.

I did receive a free copy of this book from the San Francisco Book Review in exchange for an honest review.