Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello

Robert Masello has risen up to the top tanks of my must-read authors, who can skillfully interweave historical fiction with mystery and intrigue. I admit to not having read this author before, but that is soon going to be rectified. An enticing mix of history, horror and literary, The Jekyll Revelation by the best-selling author of Einstein Prophecy caps off a good year of reading for me, 2016 and is definitely one of my favorite works this year.




The Jekyll Revelation is a gripping thriller in which Masello takes one of the darkest chapters in the human history, namely the shocking and brutal murders by Jack the Ripper and deftly weaves his creative genius around it to create a riveting tale that imagines the dark evil depths the human mind can fall to. Split as two parallel narratives, one set in the late nineteenth century and the other in modern day, the story weaves these parallel threads together, subtly at first and then through this hair-raising revelation about how terror, dormant across centuries, could rear its ugly head again in the present day. 

The story features two main protagonists. The first one being the famous author Robert Louis Stevenson whose journal is what the reader is privy to while in the present day, we follow the adventures of Rafael Salazar, an environmental scientist living in the dry and dusty canyon of Topaganga, California. But I think the main pull of the overall narrative would be the nagging teaser around the identity of the infamous murderer,  Jack the Ripper.

Admittedly, the dark heady days recounted in the famous author's journal is far more gripping than the present day turmoil that Rage goes through. The story begins on a slow note, introducing us to Rafe and his world, confined to tracking a pack of coyotes in the bush, his confused feelings for the bohemian girl whose trailer he has rented and also his run-ins with the gang of no-gooders in that canyon, who torture and kill animals for fun. And the diary begins with the account of Stevenson going to this secret medical rehab to improve his ailing lung condition. While the initial parts set in this snowy small town rehab in the Swiss Alps makes for a very entertaining read, Rafe's life seems pretty drab by comparison. 

But things heat up when Rafe on one of his hikes into the wild, discovers a trunk at the bottom of a lake, that reveals to him, this very same diary and a secret elixir. We switch back and forth rapidly between the two narratives, each a punchy revelation in itself, racing to make up that connect between these threads. Nebulous it may seem, till the last few chapters as terrible secrets tumble out of the closet. 

I thought it was fascinating as to how Masello recreates the life and times of Stevenson - based on the eerie coincidence that the first murder by Jack the Ripper happened at roughly the same time, the first stage production of Curious case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde premiered in London, Masello brings alive the late nineteenth century Europe - from the slippery snow-laden slopes of the Alps where Stevenson saves the life of a grey wolf and in that process, in a strange turn of events, himself gets saved by something from the wolf - to the rainy, dismal alleyways in London, where young unsuspecting women are being preyed upon by this deranged killer. The writing is really solid as Masello nails the deadly atmosphere and the grim mood of the setting; the creepy sense of dread gets under your skin while the whole of London is in the grips of fear and uncertainty. There are some really terrific moments of action in the dark of the night featuring Stevenson himself that had me biting my nails down to stubs. The lightning fast plot however, really doesn't have the same bite when it comes to the story of Rafe. 

Does the terror that stalked the streets of London get a new lease of life, in modern day California? The bikers gang and the meth problem doesn't compare well enough to the grungy dirge that plays out in Stevenson's life after he pens down the polarizing novel called Curious case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that charmed and repulsed readers worldwide in equal measure; a novel that may well be a reflection on the human society - daring us to reach into the stygian depths where evil that resides in each of us. The novel would well have worked just as a standalone historical thriller and done well by itself. But the twists and turns keep coming - and that final whopper of a twist will definitely blow your mind. All the elements of a thriller done right, there are a few shallow moments in this book, especially in the present day narrative and characters, not well fleshed out enough. But Rafe holds his own and grows into a compelling character by the end. Full points for the inventive and creative imagination by which Masello has wrought out the Stevenson angle to the Jack the Ripper murders, this definitely is the gripping account that will have you ripping the pages out to get to the end. 

A blazing fast read, crammed with some brilliant characters and a compelling dark twister of a plot. Lovers of mystery and historical fiction, anyone who's interested in Jack the Ripper's story, should not miss this one!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Good Behavior ( Letty Dobesh Series) by Blake Crouch

I have already been crooning about my die-hard love for Blake Crouch - His latest, Dark Matter - a twisted dark pretzel of a delightful science-fiction thriller was the icing on a noteworthy career full of glorious books. I first came across him before Wayward Pines became a TV Series.

And now this - Good Behavior hit the small screens across America on TNT a month back and is raking up the TRP's, purportedly one of the best shows after Southland. I picked up the collection of three novellas after I came across this news but hey, it's a rule now! Anything Blake Crouch, sign me up for the ride baby! This man sure knows how to write a thriller, get your blood pressure roaring and ratcheting up the tension to levels often sharp enough to cut diamonds.



So this one features Letty Dobesh, a thief, a meth-addict and a functioning alcoholic - fresh out of prison and looking to redeem herself. She has a young son, being taken care of by her own mother and probably wants to come clean, for his sake. But she has this one weakness that she cannot really ignore - the impossible high that comes from being on a 'job' that beats everything else. And being great at what she does, she is often sought after by the who's who in that part of the society, regularly hitting her up for one job or the other. The novellas follow three such 'jobs' and the complications that arise.



It's not necessarily in chronological order, the events in the three novellas - but nevertheless, as an introduction to the character of Letty, it does a bang-up job. The first book, is perhaps the grimmest of the three. We find Letty having set herself up in this nice posh hotel, hooked up with the bell-hops and waiters to slip her the master card keys of rooms where she waltzes in and gets out with the goodies in the rooms. Easy pickings. However, this one job - she gets stuck in the room as the occupant walks in and has to scramble into the closet to avoid being caught. The conversation that she overhears however, changes the course of her life. A plot to assassinate this guy's wife - and even Letty, hardened by life-experiences as she is, cannot in good conscience overhear what she does and forget about it. Cold murder is not something that she can condone and sleep easy. Against her own set of rules, she decides to intervene and try to save the said victim's life. What happens next, is a chilling grisly plot of depraved humanity and makes for a grim, tense read.

The second story finds Letty hooked up with one of her favorite 'handlers', Javier - a cold man who sets her up for jobs. This one's an odd request though - a tech CEO who's been convicted by the courts for fraud, living an exiled life on a remote island requests one last night with a beautiful girl. Javier sees the opportunity as an attempt to rob the man of his most valuable painting and Letty seems like the perfect person to execute this one. However, Letty's worst nightmares come true as the plans go topsy-turvy. Deceit, nerve-wracking tension and some edge-of-the-seat action-drama. Brilliant stuff!

The third story, personally for me was the weakest of the lot - and involves an elaborately planned heist of a Las Vegas hotel. and here's where we meet Christian, the third important person in Letty's life, her psychologist. Enough said about this, the plot rolls out like a B-Movie narrative and involves speed-chases, rappelling down skyscrapers and blazing guns.

I loved Letty's character - and if this was to whet our appetite before the show rolls out, then I am hooked. She's smart, sassy, ballsy to the core and still comes across as an endearing character, the underdog down on her luck, vulnerable girl trying her best not to give into her own demons and take life by its cojones. Crouch's writing is, as usual, spot-on. Razor-edged tense thrillers that make the pages fly and keeps you awake long past your sleep-hours. A book you must try, if you like action-thrillers seeped in mind-games and twisted psychological drama that will fuck with your mind. Recommended. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Review and Giveaway Contest: Winter Halo by Keri Arthur


ABOUT THE BOOK:
From the New York Times bestselling author of the Souls of Fire novels comes the second in the futuristic fantasy series that will make you want to keep the lights on...

When the bombs that stopped the species war tore holes in the veil between worlds, they allowed entry to the Others. Now, a hundred years later, humans and shifters alike live in artificially lit cities designed to keep the darkness at bay....

The humanoid supersoldiers known as the d├ęchet were almost eradicated by the war. Ever since, Tiger has tried to live her life in peace in hiding. But in the wake of her discovery that Central City’s children are being kidnapped and experimented on, Tiger’s conscience won’t let her look the other way.

The key to saving them lies within the walls of a pharmaceutical company called Winter Halo. But as she learns more about the facility, Tiger’s mission is derailed by a complication: Winter Halo’s female security guards are being systematically attacked by an unknown force. 

Now Tiger must summon all her gifts to stop those responsible for both atrocities—no matter the cost to herself...

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Keri Arthur is the New York Times bestselling author of the Outcast series, including City of Light, as well as the Souls of Fire, Dark Angels, and Riley Jenson Guardian series. She has written more than thirty books and has been nominated in the Best Contemporary Paranormal category of the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Awards and has won a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award for urban fantasy.

Winter Halo marks the sequel to the excellent paranormal/urban fantasy series starter, City of Lights by Keri Arthur that I really enjoyed last year. The series introduced us to Tiger, a super-soldier created through genetic experiments during the savage war that destroyed earth hundreds of years before. Tiger is a dechet, known for their skills to ‘lure’ targets, seek information and kill. City of Lights lays the foundations for this dystopian world of the Outcasts where darkness brings vampires and wraiths and other unnamed dangers out in the open – and the two species, humans and shifters live huddled away in fear and confusion, deep within the brightly lit multi-tiered city called the Central; an uneasy peace brokered between the two that ended the war, but only on paper. The seething hatred for the devastation caused by the war continues to rage among the minds of these survivors and this forms a crucial foil to everything that unfolds in this series.

Tiger, the only dechet who survived the genocide perpetrated on her kinds during the war, is thus wary of company or friends. Trust doesn’t come easy. The first book was excellent because, as a reader, I was so emotionally strung and connected to the lows and highs of what Tiger, the first person narrator, goes through. And by Rhea, does she go through a lot!

Book two, picks up right where city of lights ended. Tiger – and her uneasy alliance with Nuri, the powerful earth witch and Jonas, a ranger who is also a shifter of the cat family, still continues on. The main narrative here follows Tiger and gang hot on the trail of the missing children from book one. The book starts off on a pulsating high, a high-octane action chase sequence with the vampires and slowly settles down to a fast paced rhythm as we follow the trail of the kidnapped children to a mysterious pharma company called Winter Halo, deep within the Central city. Tiger infiltrates the security of the company and realizes that the shady dealings extend much beyond, within the walls. Female security guards go missing and she suspects a much deeper ploy here, something that might have earth-shattering consequences if the experiments come true.

This book, just as the first one, is full of thrilling action set pieces as Tiger and Jonas, finally set aside their mutual distrust and hatred and work towards a common goal. However, the sparks of attraction that we felt right from book one, still hasn’t caught on to become that inferno you would expect. It’s more of a slow burn – and sometimes, for me as a reader, a bit frustrating. Tiger gets thrown together with Jonas quite a lot in this book and their teaser interactions never really heats over, the knowing smiles, the innuendos and the squabbles never get over and gets repetitive. But the good thing is, hey – Jonas and Tiger may finally have gone to first base.

There are several secondary plots that emerge in this book and I for one, am definitely excited about the final reveals and how the tapestry gets woven together. Tiger remains a charming, selfless heroine – who in spite of being this hot, super spy who uses her sexual charms to get information, remains an endearing character with a lot of heart. Chiefly because of her interactions with the child-ghosts Bear and Cat, who have been her chief companions for long now and who get to play a lot more important role in this book than the first.  Jonas reveals a lot more of his own background in this book and has almost grown to be a protagonist at par with Tiger, whom the reader wants to get behind of. There are several questions laid open now – with the plot developments like what happened to Penny, the girl who was first rescued by Tiger in the book one beginning or how would the alliance between Tiger and Nuri play out – and of course, who is the mystery perpetrator of all these genetic experiments that could have disastrous consequences in the world.

An excellent sequel that builds up on the fascinating world-building done with book one, Winter Halo has all the ingredients that endeared us to Tiger and this brutal world of deadly vampires, shape-shifters and mind-bending magic. If you haven't yet read the Outcast, then you should head straight away into this dangerous and bizarre futuristic world teetering on the edge of a disaster, rest assured you will love it.

GIVEAWAY:

Courtesy the lovely folks at Berkley, I have one copy of both, Winter Halo and City of Lights to be given away ! All you need to do, is drop me a mail at sachin.dev@gmail.com and let me know you need it! This one's open only to residents of US/CAN only. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Jakkattu Vector by P K Tyler

Jakkattu Series gets off to a fantastic start with this blistering action-packed alien contact story set in a dystopian earth featuring two remarkably gutsy female leads, rebelling against the ruling tyrants.



I confess I haven’t read the prequel stories, Avendui 5ive set in the same world or the earlier works of PK Tyler. But when I got a review copy, my interest was piqued by the “Margaret Atwood of the indie scene” comparison. And after having rushed through this one, I am definitely looking to reading anything else from her. A year, when xenophobia has been termed as the word of the year by Dictionary.com, this book truly brings out a different dimension to that word. A startlingly original novel, The Jakkattu Vector is the first in a series that chronicles a disturbing contact story of aliens arriving on a ravaged earth destroyed by environmental disasters, but with veiled intentions and genetic experiments that go horribly wrong.

The story begins on an exuberant high – Sabaal, a Jakkattu (An alien species remarkably similar to humans, from another galaxy and a planet called Perithia) imprisoned by Mezna (this new species of aliens who arrived on earth decades ago, offering their superior technology to save the ecological disaster that has engulfed earth and has destroyed the planet and humans alike) escapes her captors and gets away from the ‘terraformed’ city that is the capital of their rule here on Earth. The scene sets the tone for the book, fast-paced to the point of frenetic and we never look back. Now Jakkattu are a warrior species, violence being an essential part of their lives – as is evident by the physiological structure of the Jakkattus. Sabaal is taller than most human women, her body denser and in better shape to endure physical stress. Pavarti ensures that through Sabaal’s thinking and actions right up at the beginning of the book, the readers are made aware that Mezna have some hidden intentions in their ‘visit’ to this new planet called Earth. The brooding sense of tension only escalates as we are taken on a wild ride, with Sabaal who escapes into the ‘wild’ beyond the city; an area apparently off-limits to the residents (‘rez’); humans or hybrids alike. The city houses ‘miscegenates’ hybrid experimental results of the Mezna, trying to fuse their DNA into the humans. Characterized by their bright blue eyes and their utter devotion to their faith as spread by Mezna, where a Divine Lord Mother is the guardian deity.

The other POV comes in from Julia Thorpe, who lives on one of the last few ‘pure’ human settlements beyond the big Mezna city. A feisty girl who question the rules and limits set in place by the council of leaders (strangely enough a matriarchal society ruled by women, taking tough decisions to ensure safety of the last few pockets of humanity, huddled together against the marauding dangers like toxstorms and the ‘feral’, cannibalistic roaming wildlings) Julia isn’t content with the deadbeat rhythm that her leaders have the society dancing to. Her brother, Norwood – himself a rebel in his thinking, refuses to be just a ‘cattle’ who is fit only for physical labor or being paraded for marriage proposals from ‘brides’ who arrive from different cities. In fact, I really liked his character and I wish there was a POV for woody. A brave man who actually acts on his thoughts and is in fact, the catalyst for Julia’s character evolution.

The diseased Earth – with left-over pockets of humanity cringing together for survival against an enemy that is the crippled environment or nature around them itself, comes alive beautifully in Pavarti’s punchy prose. Deft world-building that will bring a lump to your throat as you imagine the dangers of the scathing tox-storms that sweep through the settlements or the monsters out in the ocean. Or the detailed cultures of the different species including the epics and Gods of a new faith as being popularized by the ruling class. The societal hierarchy and the far-reaching consequences of rules set down by the tyrants in power. It forms a haunting background to the intriguing power-play and the evolution that our lead characters go through.

Pavarti mixes science fiction and genetic experiments, throwing up some burning questions about the human nature itself and writes up a storm as Sabaal and Julia’s worlds collide and explode. Jakkattu Vector is a book that takes you on a harrowing adventure, streaking past issues of human identity, xenophobia, environmental disasters and a stagnating culture with an emotional heft that will slam you with a left hook you never saw coming. This one deserves to be on your reading list. Solid four stars.