Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye 2014...

Although I was going to post a book review, I felt that the time was right to kick 2014's ass.

It's been a tragic year for this Book Hog. The loss of two lives has been a constant reminder that everything I hold dear will not last forever.  It was a wake-up call.  A call to go out and smell the roses.  A call to get off my butt and work on my own stories.  But, most of all, a call to keep reading and discovering authors who have the guts to put something out into the world and weather any criticism...and find joy and acceptance in positive reviews.  

I've enjoyed my year of reading.  There are so many books that have claimed my heart and mind.  On the other hand, there are some that didn't really grab me.  A few in particular *cough* The Goldfinch *cough* Fifty Shades of Gray *cough* didn't hold my interest, no matter how many times I tried to get into them. But then there were the surprises.  The stories that surprised me with their brilliant research, their simplicity.  Their originality.

Books have been my salvation this year, and I hope they keep providing salvation to you, too.  Without you, dear reader, there would be no stories to lift our souls, to make us consider, to help us find our better selves.

As most of you know, I'm a huge advocate for independent bookstores.  And I love libraries. They are our last best hope for this book-hungry world.  Sure, some of you love e-books, but there is a large percentage of us who savor a real book.  But words are words, no matter where and how we read them.  And, I must add, there are some sensational self-published stories out there.  John Grisham?  He was a self-published author.  And Hugh Howey, author of the phenomenal book, 'Wool'?  Yup...self-published.  Give them your time.  You won't be sorry.  You could provide the 'step up' that that writer needs to keep going.  And who knows? That author just might write a story that could change the world.  Remember someone by the name of J.K. Rowling?  Well, there you go...

Just read.  Give new authors your attention.  Respond to them; let them know if you have enjoyed their tales.  Write to the publishers and give them your sincere opinion.  And, please, for the sake of all that is good and holy, don't be an ass and post hurtful reviews.

Read for the joy.  For the excitement.  For the chance to leave the tragedies of this world behind for just a little while.  Cuddle up on the couch with a book, a cup of tea, and your favorite animal friend.  Turn off the television and get off your phone.


Book Hog isn't sad to see 2014 leave.

But I am very excited to see just what new tales are brought to us in 2015.

And you can be sure that my fellow book bloggers, librarians, and I will keep you informed!

Happy New Year!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

'The Accidental Empress'

It's the Christmas season, and I just bought gifts.  Yeah.  One day, many gifts. I wrapped them when I returned home.  Easy peasy.

After making a salad for our family gathering on Christmas Eve, and a chocolate pie for dessert on Christmas day (don't judge, pumpkin pie lovers), I sat down and finished reading an advance copy of Allison Pataki's new novel, 'The Accidental Empress'.  It was a nice break from mystery novels...not that I'm tired of reading mysteries.  Just a break, people. Just a break.

The main thing I really liked about Pataki's novel is the amount of research she brings to her story.  Of course, it is historical fiction, but reading about Empress Elizabeth made me want to learn more about her life.  And Pataki got it right.  So right.

With any story about royalty, you will find forbidden romance.  Nothing is hidden anymore, now that the public clamors for 'truthiness' (thanks, Stephen Colbert!). Imagine having to marry someone you don't know.  And imagine having to spend the rest of your life tied to that person. What if you don't like him/her?  What if their very existence makes you want to vomit when you're alone (it wouldn't be a good thing to do that around your chamber maids; gossip, you know)?  

That wasn't the case with Elizabeth, Duchess of Bavaria.  

In 1853, when the Habsburgs are Europe's most powerful ruling family, 15-year-old Elizabeth ('Sisi') travels to the Habsburg court with her older sister, who is betrothed to the young, handsome Emperor Franz Joseph.  But shortly after they arrive, Elizabeth has fallen in love with him, and he with her.  Franz reneges on his earlier proposal and stakes a claim on Elizabeth.

But Elizabeth doesn't count on being ordered around by her aunt, Franz's mother, Sophie. Trapped at every turn by the commanding Sophie and her spies, Elizabeth upsets political and familial loyalties in her quest to win, and keep, the love of her emperor and the empire.

This story isn't just a romance, although reading about Franz and Sisi's flowering relationship is interesting to behold.  It's the politics and intrigue that held my attention.  The rich history and attention to detail really kept me turning the pages.

Author Allison Pataki
But what I really loved is that almost all of it is true.  The author's attention to detail (palace life, the clothing, the rooms and the furnishings...and the food!  Oh, the food!), and empathy for Elizabeth truly make this novel flow.

It's heartbreaking, it's uplifting, and yet very depressing. Elizabeth was a very intelligent woman, and if she had had a collaborative relationship with her mother-in-law, history might have been different.  

I hope that Pataki writes a continuation of Elizabeth's story. She doesn't need to fictionalize it, really.  The truth is so much more interesting.

And Pataki brings it to us in a beautifully wrapped package. 

'The Accidental Empress' will be released in February 2015 from Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.  Pre-order from your favorite local bookstore, or put it on your library list.  Book Hog would like to thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book!

Friday, December 19, 2014

'The Magician's Daughter'

I think that one of the most exciting things about having a book blog is the chance to read stories written by new, and semi-new, authors.  There's such passion and...well, 'newness' to their work.  They take a chance, put it out there, and patiently wait.  Maybe not patiently (I'm sure most of them bite their nails down to the quick while waiting for reviews); perhaps anxiously.  But I hope they realize that I (and most of my fellow reviewers) appreciate them. They show such tremendous courage in 'putting it out there'.

When I handsold books, I was especially proud to put an author's first book into someone's hands.  These noble writers deserve respect.  Like I said, it takes courage (or 'guts', if you will) to let their little birds fly free.

So, I was quite excited to receive Judith Janeway's new book, 'The Magician's Daughter'. It's the first book in her 'Valentine Hill' mystery series.  Although Judith has had her romance novels published, this is her second mystery novel.

Magician Valentine Hill is a woman without legal existence.  Her mother, a skilled con artist, involved the young Valentine in her scams, and Valentine learned a lot about life. After her mother disappeared, Valentine went to live with her Aunt June, and it was then that she learned to respect herself and vowed she would never lie.

Robbed of her stake in Vegas, Valentine chases it to San Francisco and learns that her mother is living there.  Assuming her mother is playing one of the city's super-rich, she enters a world where nothing is what it seems.  After a friendly FBI agent is killed, Valentine is determined to find the killer and perhaps find out what her mother is really doing.

Janeway has written a story that pulls you in from the very first page.  She's an intelligent writer, and brings surprise after surprise.  The twists-and-turns kept me on edge, and her research is well displayed.

Author Judith Janeway
Aside from the fine writing and mastery of the flow of the story, it is her characters that really appealed to me. Valentine is intelligent, strong, and in charge of her life.  She has morals and courage, and her fighting skills are exceptional. Plus, she's a kick-ass magician. Even though she's a seasoned grifter and is trying to leave those lessons behind her, she does have to use them to her advantage...but in a good way.

And, of course, there is some romance.  I enjoyed it; it was a welcome addition to such a tense storyline.  

I'm anxious to read the second in this wonderful series.  

I hope it magically appears in the very near future.

'The Magician's Daughter' by Judith Janeway, will be published in February 2015 by Poisoned Pen Press.  Book Hog would like to thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this story!

Sunday, December 14, 2014


I've been a Stephen King fan for a long, long time.

Ever since I read 'Carrie' oh-so-long ago (and was quite impressed), I've followed Little Stevie's career over the years.  As I watched his books fill the Horror shelves, I was a bit taken aback to find that someone had added his wonderful memoir, 'On Writing', to the mix. Anyone looking for one of his horror novels might think that 'On Writing' is horror.  And it kind of is. Writing can be a horror show in itself.

But King isn't entirely a 'writer dude'.  He's a baseball dude, a reading dude, and a musician dude.

And in his newest novel, 'Revival', which spans five decades, his love of music and musicians comes in mighty handy.

Way back in 1962, when times were innocent and children played outside and not on video consoles, young Jamie Morton is playing with his toy soldiers when a shadow falls across him.  It is their town's new minister, Reverend Charles Jacob.  Along with his beautiful wife and sweet son, the reverend brings energy to his more ways than one.

Reverend Jacobs is infatuated with the science of electricity, and in his case, it's 'secret energy'.  After suffering a tremendous loss, the reverend curses God and is banished from the town.  But that's not the last time Jamie meets up with him.

As the years wear on, Jamie finds his talent in playing rhythm guitar, and crosses the country playing with bar bands.  After being left stranded and addicted to heroin, he once again crosses paths with the reverend.  Their bond becomes a pact beyond the devil's devising, and Jamie discovers that 'revival' means many different things.

King's newest is a straight forward read; no rants, no tangents.  It flows so smoothly, and he is still a master at character development.

Author Stephen King
As the story neared its end, building up to a dashing crescendo, I was growing ever more eager to see just what would be revealed.  I cannot in good conscience describe it (I, too, hate 'spoilers'), but let's just say I was a bit disappointed.

But, over the years, I've learned that King is a great writer.  I no longer care about the end of his stories.  It's the content, the compassion, even the sarcasm that I relish.  His touch with the past always makes me think, "Yeah, me, too. I remember when".

So, although 'Revival' isn't his greatest novel, I still admire Little Stevie King. He's still young, he still loves rock and roll...

...and he still makes us check under the bed before we go to sleep.

'Revival', published by Scribner (a division of Simon & Schuster), is available at your favorite independent bookstore and local library.  ISBN 978-1-4767-7038-3.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"Crazy Love You'

Who cannot love Lisa Unger?

She writes weird and wonderful thrillers, stories that somehow scare the crap out of me.

Although thrillers are usually shelved right along with mysteries, there is a fine line.  While mysteries are like puzzles that keep our brains busy, thrillers give our minds no blanket under which to hide.  Some have subtle supernatural undertones, and those are the ones I truly enjoy. 

Lisa's new book, 'Crazy Love You' (due out in February 2015), was just as good, if not better than her previous novel, 'In the Blood'.  This new one is creepy.  It's full of tension, full of the ol' 'good vs. evil'.  It's so delicious that I almost gobbled it down in one sitting.

Ian is a famous graphic novelist; his long-running series, 'Fatboy & Priss', has made his career and filled his bank account.  Most of his fans do not realize that the series has a tragic truth:  In his youth, Ian suffered terrible losses, and as a result of the pain, he ate and ate, until he became seriously obese. He was tormented by bullies, and art was his escape.  His childhood friend, Priss, was his champion and the only person he trusted. As he grew older and success changed his life, he fell into drugs and booze, and wild, sexy Priss, is along for the ride.  But when Ian meets Megan, the love of his life, and tries to break ties with Priss, he finds that her anger knows no bounds, and when Priss is angry, terrible things begin to happen.

Such a dark premise, isn't it?  Priss is a character that you love to hate; she's so crazy and sexy, yet I feared every mention of her.  And the fear turned to heartbreak when I learned about Ian's losses.  I cared about him; I felt hopeful when he met Megan and decided to straighten out his life.   But then along came Priss...and everything came crashing down.  

Author Lisa Unger
The whole downward spiral left me feeling dizzy and anxious.  I was desperate to get to the end of the story and find out just what in the hell was taking place.  I thought I had it figured out, but, no.  And then another thought came to mind.  Another 'no'.

And that's why I read Lisa Unger's work.  She's a wonderfully warped writer who leads her readers off the garden path and right down to the mental hospital.  She has a knack for creating dark, tormented characters that earn our compassion...and fear.

I crazy love her.

'Crazy Love You', by Lisa Unger, will be published in February 2015 by Touchstone Press, a division of Simon & Schuster.  

Monday, December 1, 2014

'The Sculptor'

When was the last time you read a graphic novel and cried?

Usually, I get caught up in the action, wishing I could fly, or beat the holy crap out of the villain.  I end up wanting to wear fantastic armor and soar with Iron Man.  Or follow The Sandman on his travels.  

But when Scott McCloud's new graphic novel, 'The Sculptor', landed with a thud (literally; the book is 490 pages of amazement) on my porch, I couldn't believe my eyes.  I asked for an ARC from the publisher, and they were quick to honor that request.

I was in for a treat.  And lots of heartbreak.

It has a 'good guy', but he's not always so....good.  David Smith has a heart, he has morals. But he also has a dark side that he can't explain away.  You see, he's made a pact with Death, who comes to him in the form of his long-dead Uncle Harry. Despondent, broke, and lacking motivation, David will do anything to bring his name back into the art world.

And the pact?  In exchange for only having 200 days to live, David is given his heart's desire: The ability to sculpt anything with his bare hands.

But David is still searching for inspiration.  He takes to the streets and creates objects that are beyond imagining.  His childhood friend, Ollie, manages an art gallery, and David's latest work is not well-reviewed.  David's rivalry with fellow artist, Finn, is made even more difficult because Finn and Ollie are involved in a love affair.  

When David meets Meg, the love of his life, he finds happiness at last.  But that new life takes a sudden turn when he is unable to tell her about his pact with Death.

It's heartbreaking, yet uplifting.  It's about the sacrifices we make for the ones we love.  It's also about the sacrifices we make for our art.  And it's also about how far we would go to attain success in life and in work.

I adore Meg.  She is strong and compulsive.  She is weak and depressed.  She is everything that David needs.  As for David, I sometimes hated him, yet I loved him and my sorrow only grew as he neared the end of the road.

Yes, it's a big book.  And the graphics are in black and white.  But the lack of color only adds to the story; the incredible highs and sorrowful lows.  It keeps your mind on David's journey and makes you think about your own choices. Would you make a pact with Death?  Would you shorten your life just so you could have your heart's desire?
Author Scott McCloud

Scott McCloud has crafted an amazing story full of unforgettable characters.

I think you'll feel the same way.

Scott McCloud is the award-winning author of 'Understanding Comics', 'Zot', and many other fiction and non-fiction comics spanning thirty years.  Visit him at  'The Sculptor', published by Firstsecond Books, will be published on February 3, 2015.  Book Hog would like to thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

'The Eye of Zoltar (The Chronicles of Kazam #3)'

By now, most of you know that I love any book written by Jasper Fforde, he of the immensely popular 'Thursday Next' series.  And you should know that I'm a huge fan of his series for independent readers, 'The Chronicles of Kazam'.

So, Book Hog is a happy camper.  I just finished reading the newest (and third) in the 'Kazam' series, 'The Eye of Zoltar', and while it contains Fforde's trademark silliness, it is a bit more serious than the previous books.  

Sixteen-year-old Jennifer Strange, manager of Kazam Mystical Arts, is placed in a very precarious position.  Just as she finds herself on the cusp of a romantic relationship with Preston, a young wizard, the long-absent Mighty Shandar appears and commands her to find the Eye of Zoltar, and if she brings it to him, he will not kill the remaining dragons she saved in 'The Last Dragonslayer'.

But Jennifer has a headache in the person of Princess Shazzine, daughter of King Snodd. Shazzine is spoiled, unpredictable, and used to being waited on hand-and-foot, so her mother, Queen Mimosa (who is still a great magician) decides that Jennifer should take Shazzine with her on her quest to teach her about the realities of life.  

The journey through the Cambrian Empire is full of hardship and hazards, but with the aid of Addie, tour guide extraordinaire, Jennifer and her companions remain faithful to the task at hand...despite the prophecy that 50% of her companions will die. 

Author Jasper Fforde
Fforde's writing never fails to astound me.  Full of wit and charm, he still has the magic touch.  Jennifer Strange is a character I cheer on with every book, and with her servitude almost at an end, I'm anxious to find out just where she ends up.  Although I did miss reading more about the wizards working for Kazam Mystical Arts, this new journey that Jennifer undertakes introduced me to characters that I'm sure he'll include in upcoming books.

Yes, upcoming books.  This new one leaves the series wide open for a fourth book.

Although I really miss Thursday Next, Jennifer Strange is a welcome addition to his line-up of strong female characters.  And, believe it or not, that spoiled princess surprised the hell out me.

Carry on, Jasper, but don't make me wait very long. 

'The Eye of Zoltar', book 3 in 'The Chronicles of Kazam' series by Jasper Fforde, is published by Houghton Mifflin, and is available in your local library and favorite independent bookstore!  ISBN 978-0-547-73849-9

Saturday, November 8, 2014

'The Enchanted'

There comes a time when a quiet novel comes into our lives and blows away our perspective.

'The Enchanted', by Rene Denfeld, is that story.

Quiet, full of fantasy, full of full-blown human horror, and in a place I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy...unless they committed a crime so horrendous that that is the only place I'd want them to be.

It takes place on 'Death Row'.  It's full of sorrowful narrative perspective, although you wonder if the narrator is really attached to each and every scene.  It's quiet, and sad, and yet there is a tinge of light to it.

The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison.  Two outsiders walk here:  A woman only known as 'The Lady', and a fallen priest.  The Lady comes to the prison to help those who are condemned to death.  The priest counsels those who have exceeded their appeals.

The Lady takes on the case of York, a killer who wants to die.  Although he's expressed his wishes to her, The Lady will not give up.  But she finds his secrets and discovers that they are very close to her own.  The Lady is watched by a death row inmate, a man who loses himself in books, a man who cannot live without them.  He imagines golden horses under the prison, and by imagining the world in which he lives, he thrives alone within himself.

Author Rene Denfeld
This is a quiet debut.  Powerful and imaginative, it contains horrors that few of us can relate to.  It is called a 'fantasy', but it is so much more.  It goes beyond the realm of fantasy, until it takes us back to the horror we call 'real life'.

Denfeld is a writer to watch.

I guarantee it.

'The Enchanted', published by HarperCollins, is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-0-06-228550-8

Sunday, November 2, 2014

'The Damned'

During the Halloween season, there's nothing better than snuggling under a blanket and reading a spooky-scary book.  If you share a home with someone who has football on the television 24/7, you can always retreat to a hot bath or the bedroom.  That is, if you can stand the presence of....cats.  Yes, cats.  Mine have been a bit too present lately.  No matter where I rest, no matter how much I'm 'into' a book, my feline crew (a.k.a. 'The Evil Plan Bureau') always finds a way to distract me.

But not this time.  Although they tried every trick in the book (reaching over and putting a paw on a page, or grooming themselves on my stomach {a.k.a. 'The Cat's Dressing Room'}), I could not be distracted from my current read.

And it's a goodie.

Andrew Pyper, author of the soon-to-be-published novel, 'The Damned', has presented me with a story so full of intensity that I had the book beside me almost all the time.  But I didn't race through it.  I took my time, savoring every horror, every twist and turn.  I ran with the narrator into his adventures in the afterlife.

Yeah, the Afterlife.  You see, he died and came back.  A few times, in fact.  But he wasn't alone, and that's what made his next journey to the Hereafter a bit more meaningful.

Danny Orchard wrote a bestselling memoir about his near-death experience in a fire that claimed the life of his twin sister, Ashleigh.  Despite the fact that his book has brought him fame and fortune, he is not content, and he never will be.  His twin won't let him.

During her time on earth, Ashleigh was brilliant, beautiful...and a budding psychopath.  She terrorized her friends and family, and death has not changed her ways.  Haunting Danny for close to twenty years, she does not want him to finally enjoy life with his new wife and his stepson.  Ash is punishing Danny for being alive, so much so that she wants him to join her in her eternal hell. When he decides to end matters with his twin, he's prepared to sacrifice his life for those he loves...but will he make it back this time?

Author Andrew Pyper
Pyper is the author of the hugely popular novel, 'The Demonologist', and while I gave it a go, I couldn't get into it. But this new one grabbed my attention.  With a tight narrative and nerve-rattling scenes, it will astound you with it's simplicity.  It moves, it flows.

It will keep you under that blanket, reading.

And no cat will have the power to disturb you.

'The Damned' will be published by Simon and Schuster on February 10, 2015. You'll be able to find it at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

'The Silkworm'

I hate J.K. Rowling.

There.  I said it, and I mean it.  But I don't hate her in a mean way.  No, no.  I hate her with a great amount of love.  Confusing?  Sure.  It's a loveish-hateish thing.

I envy her her writing talent.  I appreciate the fact that while she could easily rest on her laurels, she instead keeps plugging away, submitting to her creativity.  And she loves children.  So much, in fact, that her foundation helps children get books into their hands. Once a teacher, always a teacher.

But I think I hate her most of all because I can't stay away from her books. I've read her 'Harry Potter' series more times than I can count.  And then she gave us her 'Cormoran Strike' series, mystery stories that completely drew me in.  Couldn't put the damn things down.

As I read the 'Cormoran' books, I couldn't help but notice that a few of her 'Harry Potter' characters emerged.  If I had written a cast of incredible characters, much beloved by all readers, I wouldn't be able to abandon them after I moved on.  In Cormoran, I sensed the presence of Hagrid.  And in Robin, I sensed Hermoine.  Harry and Ron haven't emerged yet, but it wouldn't surprise me if they do in the near future. Sorry, Jo, but that's the way I see it.

'The Silkworm', her new book, once again written under the pseudonym 'Robert Galbraith', was just as interesting, if not more, than her previous book, 'The Cuckoo's Calling'. This one permeates evil, with scenes that are quite unsettling.  Full of envy, lies, and deceit, I wanted to race through the story just to find out 'who did it'.  Of course, that's the point, and some readers can't help but read ahead, but Rowling's writing demands that we keep with the program and respect the story. 

It centers around the publishing world, a place in which Rowling is very familiar.    

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife, Leonora, asks P.I. Cormoran Strike to find him.  As Quine usually takes off for days at a time, Leonora needs him to come back home.

But as Strike soon discovers, there's more to Quine's disappearance than the usual holiday from home and family.  Quine has just finished a new novel that features poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows.  If the book is published, it will ruin lives, so there are many people who might want to silence him.

The characters are memorable, although their tangled relationships are a bit hard to sort out.  But it soon becomes clear just how they are tied together, and those relationships are at times bitter, and at times, sad.  Twists and turns abound, especially when you're sure you know 'who did it'.  

J.K. Rowling, a.k.a. 'Robert Galbraith'
But the relationship that I find most interesting is the one shared by Cormoran and his intrepid assistant, Robin.  We learn more about Robin's relationship with her fiance, Matthew, and how she finally stands up to him in support of her life choice.  She's a fierce one, our Robin, and I can't wait to see her grow into her chosen profession. Strike is still attracted to her, but realizes that he can't have her, nor does he even try. He respects and values her. And that is what really keeps me reading.  Sherlock and Watson.  Hagrid and Hermoine.

Yes, I hate J.K. Rowling.

But my love of her writing and respect for her passion for reading surpasses even that.  And she's continuing to give us gifts, even her short stories centered in the Harry Potter universe.  I appreciate the fact that she is growing and branching out into something new.

But sometimes, you can't abandon your previous work.  And I thank her for that.

'The Silkworm', published by Mulholland Books, a division of Little, Brown, is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-0-316-20687-7

Saturday, October 25, 2014

'The Boy Who Drew Monsters'

For the past week or so, my coworkers have been discussing what they will be wearing on Halloween.  As I listened, I was filled with a certain amount of dread.  I'm not a 'costume girl', yet I didn't want to be the only one not dressed up for the occasion.  "Perhaps," I thought to myself as I munched on yet another mini-candy bar (our boss has been keeping our candy bowl filled to the max because, hey, it's almost Halloween), "I could get away with wearing a silly hat?"

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that with the rich and varied stories that have filled my brain over the years, I could easily pick-and-choose any character I want. I've been zeroing in on 'Harry Potter' (who hasn't?), and our thrift shop has literally tons of costume choices.  

As I ruminated over just what character I could portray, I began reading a book that I had just picked up from the library, one that was an excellent choice for a cold, dreary, rainy day; a book that suits this spooky season.

'The Boy Who Drew Monsters', written by the always-interesting Keith Donohue, went far-and-above what I initially expected. I loved his first novel, 'The Stolen Child', the tale of a child who was taken away and replaced by a changeling, one of a group of fairies living in a secret community deep in a forest near the boy's home.  It was written with great skill and kept me turning the pages.

But Donohue's newest story goes much deeper.  Although it is still as psychologically challenging as his debut novel, we have no secret community; no deep, magical forest. We are presented with real life, and it is terrifying.

Three years ago, young Jack Peter Keenan and his friend, Nick, nearly drowned in the ocean, and the experience left Jack terrified of leaving his home in a small coastal town in Maine. Instead, Jack draws monsters which take on a life of their own, and no one is safe from them. Jack's mother, Holly, begins to hear strange noises, and his father, Tim, sees images that appear to be real, yet disappear when he gets near them.  When Holly goes to a local priest for help, he and his housekeeper tell her stories of shipwrecks and ghosts. Nick is drawn into the eerie power of the drawings.  While those around Jack are haunted by the images they think they see, only he knows the truth of the terrors that lurk in the outside world.

The story drips with dreariness; cold, snow, darkness, terror, confusion.  It's contemporary setting takes you out of your 'comfort zone' and plops you right down into the mind of a confused, mentally-disabled ten-year old boy.  You become a partner with the parents who are confused and frightened.  But, most of all, you want to stand next to Nick and help him battle the demons that are haunting each and every character in this well-written story.

Author Keith Donohue

But the most brilliant touch of all is the ending, with a twist I did not see coming.  It placed the story well above the 'monsters-in-your-dreams' level.  It made me gasp and shiver.

It was perfect.

I'm still considering a costume, but I'm edging ever closer to a knight in shining armor, someone who would help children break out of the darkness and step into the light.

'The Boy Who Drew Monsters', published by Picador, a division of St. Martin's Press, is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore. ISBN 976-1-250-05715-0

Thursday, October 16, 2014

'Windigo Island'

Within all of us is darkness and light; which one we let into our lives determines what type of human being we are, known only to ourselves. Everything influences our choice: Family, friends, experiences, school, jobs. But in order to choose wisely, we have to practice patience.

Patience is one of the major themes of William Kent Krueger's 'Windigo Island', the newest novel in his popular 'Cork O'Connor' series.  All of the O'Connor books carry the usual themes of family, loss, love and regret, but this new one goes much deeper and the theme is definitely darker.

I cannot say enough about this book, this book that begged for my patience. While I could have easily tried to finish it in one day, I read a bit at a time, wrapping myself in the darkness and growing angrier and angrier as I finished each chapter.

Anger did not come to me because of sloppy writing or thin characterizations; Krueger is a superb writer, a master at building suspense and investigating his characters' motives.  It was the other theme that pissed me off, and it will do that to you, as well.

Exploitation of teenage girls.  Doesn't the very thought of that make you angry?  It is darkness, peopled by characters who thrive in that realm.  Men who don't care about anything but themselves and the money they can make. Men who feel powerful without earning it in an honest, sincere way.  Men who lure young girls into their world with empty promises and then, abuse.  Then the girls are sold. Prostituted.  And they find themselves in a world of hurt and terror with no chance at escape.

When the body of a teenage Ojibwe girl washes up on the shore of an island in Lake Superior, the residents of the nearby Bad Bluff reservation whisper that it was the work of a deadly mythical beast, the Windigo, or a vengeful spirit called Michi Peshu.  The tales told don't explain how the girl and her friend, Mariah Arceneaux, disappeared a year ago.

At the request of Mariah's family, Cork O'Connor, a former sheriff turned private investigator, takes on the case.  Although most of the residents won't talk to him, he puts together enough information that leads him to Duluth, a modern-day center for sex trafficking of vulnerable young women, many of whom are young Native Americans.

As the danger deepens, Cork holds tight to his higher purpose, his vow to find Mariah. With the help of his daughter, Jenny, and some good friends (including the wise man, Henry), he prepares to walk into the darkness and find the person who is responsible for the endless tragedies.

Author William Kent Krueger
Krueger has a gift for portraying the O'Connor's as a close-knit family as he explores their every inner concern and love for each other.  He brings a great deal of sensitivity to this story (as he did with his Edgar Award-winning novel, 'Ordinary Grace'), yet doesn't skimp on the fact that one of them could be seduced by the darkness.  

Krueger's research runs deep, and although we are a somewhat jaded society, we are still stunned by what he's uncovered.

He respects Native American traditions and has embraced their values, and he uses his knowledge and empathy to great advantage.  He brings us into their world and we come out better people.  

I am grateful for that wonderful bit of light.

'Windigo Island', published by Atria Books (a division of Simon & Schuster), is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-1-4767-4923-5  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

'Paw and Order'

Most of you know by now that I'm a big fan of the the 'Chet and Bernie' series written by Spencer Quinn, a.k.a. 'Peter Abrahams'.  I've read a few of Abraham's other mystery books, and found them very interesting, but his 'Chet and Bernie' series really grabbed me. Perhaps it was because every book is narrated by Chet...a dog.  I still sincerely believe that Quinn must be part dog because he perfectly captures every nuance, every scratch, every snack desire (especially 'Slim Jims') that any dog would experience.

I just finished reading 'Paw and Order', the new book in the series, and although I rated it 4 stars on Goodreads, I still liked it.  But not as much as the others in the series.

Chet's natural setting is in the desert, the place where he feels most comfortable, where his best friend, Ziggy, lives, and where smart survival tactics have saved his and his favorite human's life. Chet is in a new environment, one very strange and very urban:  Washington, D.C., home of some terrifying (human) predators.

On the way back home from Louisiana, setting of their last case ('The Sound and the Furry'), Bernie has a desire to visit his girlfriend, Suzie Sanchez, and up-and-coming journalist now living in Washington, D.C.  Suzie is working on a very secretive story, and when her source, a mysterious Brit with possible intelligence connections, ends up in the worst trouble possible, Bernie finds himself under arrest.

Author Spencer Quinn

In the meantime, Chet gets to know a powerful DC operative who may or may not have the goods on an ambitious politician.  And unknown to everyone but Chet, a red-eyed bird has captured his attention, and the curious canine tries desperately to alert Bernie to its existence.

This addition to the wonderful series seemed a bit 'off' to me, perhaps because I'm so used to the usual setting. But I love Chet so much and would forgive Mr. Quinn anything.

As long as this smart, sweet dog and his brave human friend exist, I'll still keep pestering Spence to continue writing about them.

But please take them back to the southwest.  I'm rather curious about that puppy...

'Paw and Order', the newest in the 'Chet and Bernie' series (written by Spencer Quinn), is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-1-4767-0339-8

Monday, October 6, 2014


It never fails:  I get a cold every year at the beginning of Autumn.  I did manage to get a day off in order to recover, and the only way I could feel better was to settle on the sofa, drink some hot tea...and read a book.  I was held captive.  The horror!

But it was worth it.  My book of choice was 'Jackaby', a new novel written by Oregon author William Ritter.

The flap notes state, "Doctor Who meets Sherlock...", but it was really more Sherlockian, with quite a bit of the paranormal added into the mix.  It doesn't have a TARDIS, but it does have a great companion.  Add a fun premise with serious undertones, and you'll spend your day forgetting all about a nasty cold and stuffy nose.

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England in 1892, Abigail Rook is in search of adventure...and a job.  Not long into her journey, she meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator with an eye for the paranormal. Although Jackaby is a bit hesitant to employ Abigail, she proves her worth with her common sense and eye for detail.  On her first day, she finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case:  A serial killer is on the loose. The police, with the exception of handsome junior detective Charlie Cane, are convinced that their killer is an ordinary person, but Jackaby knows better.  Jackaby is certain that the killings are the work of an inhuman being, and despite the fact that the police stall him at almost every turn, he and Abigail are determined to bring the creature to justice.

Although I figured out 'who (or what) did it' early on, I still kept reading. Ritter's unusual and well-written story begged me to continue.  And I couldn't disappoint him.

The book is geared toward young adults, but adults will enjoy it just as much. It takes skill to write memorable characters and place them in strange situations, and Ritter has the gift. In fact, his description of Jackaby placed Benedict Cumberbatch firmly in my mind.  

Author William Ritter

Although I constantly scream at the BBC to bring us new episodes of 'Sherlock', at least I'm happy that William Ritter has given us the next best thing.

My foot is tapping, Mr. Ritter.  I hope that sequel arrives very soon!

A woman with a cold is a very, very dangerous creature.

'Jackaby', written by Oregon author William Ritter, is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-1-61620-353-5

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

'Station Eleven'

Among all the recent novels with post-apocalyptic themes (something strangely popular right now), there shines a few gems;  'The Passage' by Justin Cronin, and 'Wool' by Hugh Howey come to mind.  And don't forget the little Young Adult gems that crowd our bookshelves.

We can now add another:  'Station Eleven', written by the talented Emily St. John Mandel.

Like 'The Passage' and 'Wool', I found it hard to stay away from Mandel's book. I brought it to work so I could read it during my little coffee breaks.  I read it before I fell asleep.  I finished it while soaking in the bath tub.

It is phenomenal.  And brilliantly presented.

There are no zombies or vampires in this one; I think 'monsters' such as those would just weigh down the story.  The fact that a flu pandemic has destroyed almost the entire population of the earth is scary enough for me.

Film star Arthur Leander is performing King Lear on stage when he suffers from a heart attack.  Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, rushes to the stage in order to save his life.  Standing nearby is child actress Kirsten Raymonde, who is watching in horror as Jeevan performs CPR on Arthur.  While Jeevan is walking home after failing to save Arthur's life, snow begins to fall and a terrible flu begins to spread.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with a group of performers called the Traveling Symphony. They move their way across an altered landscape, playing music and performing Shakespeare plays for people who thirst for news and entertainment.  Along the way, they enter a settlement run by the Prophet, a man who claims to be 'the light', but is darkness personified.

The story seamlessly weaves in-and-out of time, telling Arthur's story, and Miranda's (his ex-wife), and Clark's, one of Arthur's oldest friends.  But the story really belongs to Kirsten, a strong, vital young woman who doesn't remember much of the world before the fall of their civilization. She and her group are trying to outrun the Prophet, hoping to reach the Museum of Civilization before they are caught.  

Coincidence abounds in this well-told story, events you see unfolding without surprise until they reach their natural conclusion.  Each character is so true, regretting their choices as they remember their pasts.  They long for electricity and running water and cell phones. They miss the internet and television.  But the day-to-day struggles soon become a way of life and technology becomes part of the dust of history.

As for the title, it represents a graphic novel that Miranda had spent years creating.  It is the tie that binds, it is the fantasy that captures their imaginations in many different ways.  

Author Emily St. John Mandel

Mandel has a gift for great prose and character development. She made me care, she made me feel quite scared, but most of all, she made me want to read her previous novels.

This copy of 'Station Eleven' will be going back to the library, but you can be sure I'll be buying a copy of my very own.

Because this Book Hog has a feeling she'll be reading it again.

'Station Eleven' is currently available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-0-385-35330-4.  If Book Hog had thumbs, she'd give this book five.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

'The Last Kind Words Saloon'

It's been a while since I read a western novel.  The last, I believe, was 'True Grit', written by Charles Portis.  I reread that novel every now and then.

When I learned that one of my favorite western novelists, the great Larry McMurtry, had written 'The Last Kind Words Saloon', I had to settle down and give it a go. I love his books, be they contemporary or set in the old west.  I prefer his westerns because he paints such a stark canvas.  He writes so well of the base emotions of the human animal, and the exchanges between the men and women are so well played.  I especially love the fact that McMurtry's women are strong, intelligent and can take care of themselves.

I still kick myself because I didn't buy a first print/first edition of his masterpiece, 'Lonesome Dove'.  I was managing a Waldenbooks when the book first appeared, and I borrowed a copy.  Couldn't put it down.  But I didn't buy it.  Book Hog hangs her head every time she hears that title mentioned, or as she runs through the list of Pulitzer Prize winners. If I could kick my own ass, I would. 

'The Last Kind Words Saloon' is a quick read, but effective, nonetheless.  With his mastery of simple words and blunt emotions, McMurtry brings us the tale of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, and Charlie Goodnight, one of the memorable characters from 'Comanche Moon'.  And there is also Nellie Courtright, the irrepressible heroine from 'Telegraph Days'.

It is near the closing of the American frontier, and Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are whiling away their time in Long Grass, Texas by drinking, whoring, and contemplating their next move.  Jessie, Wyatt's wife, is the bartender at the Last Kind Words Saloon, which is owned by his brother.  It is in the midst of their boredom that Lord Ernle, a wealthy English baron, comes to town accompanied by his companion, the beautiful San Saba. Lord Ernle is set on becoming a cattle baron and becomes business partners with Charlie Goodnight.

Tracing the friendship of Doc and Wyatt from the town of Long Grass to Buffalo Bill's Wild West show in Denver, the tale finally ends in Tombstone, Arizona, site of the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a novel quickly read, but it contains McMurtry's vivid imagery and blatant sexuality.  My only beef is that the chapters were too damn short.  Which means, fellow reader, that the book wasn't long enough. We can perhaps blame McMurtry's love of book collecting (he does own a famous book store in Archer, Texas), something that probably takes up a lot of his time.  But many famous writers have written short novels; an idea gets lodged in their brains and it begs to be released, even if it's only a few short chapters.  

Author Larry McMurtry
I can't get upset about the length of the novel; I love it and appreciate it.  But, still.....

Perhaps someday, Mr. McMurtry will take us back to the days of the Texas Rangers, when they were young and hotheaded and vital.

Before they grew old and quietly witnessed the death of the Old West.

'The Last Kind Words Saloon' is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore.  ISBN 978-0-87140-786-3

Thursday, September 25, 2014

'The Cuckoo's Calling'

Years ago, when I was working at our local B. Dalton bookstore, young kids would come in and ask me if we had something called Harry Potter.

Then I asked myself, "Who in the hell is Harry Potter?  And why is he so popular?"  So, I went to the kid's fiction section, found a book entitled, 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone', and checked it out.

I was up until 3 a.m.  I couldn't put it down.  "Damn!" I said aloud.  "Why can't I write this well?"  Not only was the story so intriguing, the magic so fun, but the characters were very, very memorable. And that was the beginning of my love for Harry Potter, an experience that brought me back to children's fiction, which lead to my passion for Young Adult fantasy novels.  

J.K. Rowling is a gifted writer, no doubt about it, but I wondered if she would be able to veer off the fantasy course and write something for adults.  When I heard that she had finally written such a novel in 2012, I found a copy of 'A Casual Vacancy'...and was bored bored bored.

Did I mention I was bored with it?

But I didn't give up on her.  Like I said, she's gifted, and I know she had something in the works (although I was really really hoping it would be another Harry Potter book.  The hope is still alive).

And voila!  'The Cuckoo's Calling' (written under the pseudonym 'Robert Galbraith') arrived in 2013.  I couldn't put it down.

It begins with the death of a world-famous model.  When she falls to her death from the balcony of her London home, most people think she committed suicide.  But her brother, John, doubts the stories and hires private detective Cormoran Strike to investigate.

Strike is a war veteran who is wounded physically and psychologically.  Dumped by his fiancee and forced to live in his office, he thinks his life can't get any worse.  But he soon finds that his temporary secretary, Robin, is his lifeline.  Together, they find that the suspects' alibis aren't what they seem as they dig deeper...and closer to danger.

'The Cuckoo's Calling' is a great mystery; full of suspense and Rowling's trademark twists-and-turns, and even a touch of humor.  But underneath it all is a great character study of a man in despair.  A man who is aware of people's shortcomings (especially his fiancee) and isn't afraid to admit that he was still pulled in.  Yes, Cormoran Strike is brilliant and memorable, indeed, yet Robin, his secretary, is a character who will stay with you, too. Young, pretty, and recently engaged to a man who doesn't want her to work in such a dangerous profession, she has a clever mind and contributes a great deal to the investigation. They really make a good team.

So, although she didn't give us another Harry Potter book, and although she didn't return us to a fantasy world, Jo Rowling brought us a story that will gain her a new fan base.

The one-and-only J. K. Rowling
As for me, I'm eagerly waiting to read 'The Silkworm', number two in the series.

Thanks, Jo.  I knew you couldn't stay away.

'The Cuckoo's Calling' by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling), is available at your local library and favorite independent bookstore. 'The Silkworm', volume two of the Cormoran Strike series, was published in 2014.