Thursday, August 23, 2012

In the Now by Kelly Sinclair

Publisher:      Blue Feather Books

In the Now is about past life regression, reincarnation and the irresponsible behavior that scientists can sometimes engage in when they follow the challenge to see if they can do something instead of considering the consequences.

Psychiatrist Carla Turner is asked by a close friend to help his drug company test a new unapproved medication on one of her patients.  The medicine is intended for people with substance abuse problems and it’s supposed to make it easier to hypnotize the patient so that a suggestion can be planted in his subconscious to help him overcome the addiction.  Carla chooses her favorite patient Amy Duran to experiment on and there is a startling resolution to the session.  Amy is regressed to a past life where she was Isao Watanabe, a Japanese World War II veteran, and, when she comes out of the hypnosis, Amy is dormant and Isao is living in her body.  That leads to a scramble by the drug company and the doctors to find a way to bring Amy back.  Instead the two personalities merge and an entirely different person is created.  Imagine a drug that would let you visit your previous lives and pick the personality you would like to live as.  Carla is horrified by the idea and only hopes to regain Amy, who was always very important to her.  The drug company however sees a chance to make a fortune on an opportunity and doesn’t want anyone standing in its way.

If In the Now doesn’t have you evaluating your personal beliefs as you read it, you’re not reading it correctly.  Sinclair questions society’s preconceived ideas about religion, reincarnation, and the roles of men and women.  Ethical problems abound in this book.  There are the doctors and scientists who irresponsibly pursue this drug as a puzzle to be solved without considering the consequences.  There is the drug company which wants to make a risky product available to make money.  The biggest dilemma however concerns the rights of the individual.  How do you regulate what someone may find out about his previous life and deal with the reaction?  Suppose you regress and discover that you were Attila the Hun, the Marquis de Sade or Adolf Hitler?  Suppose you spend this life with a prejudice against another religion or race or gender and then discover that you were a member of that group in a past life?  What is the ethical situation of erasing one life to substitute it with another or of blending lives together to create a new entity?

It should be clear by now that Kelly Sinclair does more than simply tell a story.  The story is there, of two women who are attracted to each other, haven’t acted on that attraction because of professional reasons and then find the opportunity taken away from them by an unintended consequence.  The most interesting part of the story is when Isao emerges and recounts the experiences of his life, which is then followed by a Japanese man and an American woman from different generations trying to find a way to coexist in the same body.  The twists and turns all of the characters go through to attempt to resolve these issues will keep the reader’s mind challenged and entertained.

The one fault in the book is the head-hopping that it does.  At times it can be difficult to tell which character’s head the reader is inside and this gets worse towards the end of the book.  Some sections could have been expanded a bit to allow for development, but unlike figuring out which character you’re listening to, the gaps in the characters and plot aren’t a serious issue.  

In the Now is a different type of book.  Those who have read Kelly Sinclair’s other books expect a story that is entertaining and that makes your brain work considering new possibilities.  They won’t be disappointed in this story.  Don’t be afraid to have to work a little with this book.  It’s worth it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Holding On To Faith by Joy Argento

Publisher:          Ride the Rainbow Books     

Faith Hughes and Sami Everette meet because they attend the same church and become housemates when Sami rents a room to Faith.  Religion is very important to both women, especially Faith, and at first things go fine.  Before long an attraction develops between the women and the title of the book takes on two meanings.  Faith decides that, to save them both, she has to marry a man like her church, family and society expect her to.  Sami finds herself reexamining her beliefs in light of her feelings for Faith and trying to persuade Faith not to go through with this farce at the same time.  The question becomes whether Sami can have faith and keep Faith at the same time.

This book needed serious editing.  There is an editor listed at the front of the book, but the reader will quickly wonder if she did anything.  There are mistakes on practically every page.  Sometimes it’s a word left out or the wrong verb tense in a sentence.  In one place a character “padded” another one on the head instead of “patted.”  A character has on a skirt with “pleads” instead of “pleats.”  If this had only happened two or three times, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning, but it was rampant from beginning to end.

The story itself is alright.  There have been other books about the same topic that covered it better, but this one gets the idea across.  Sometimes being religious and gay is difficult.  Some parts of the story seem rushed and there is the obligatory crisis that resolves the issues.  A little trite, but it works for this story.  Faith can be an irritating character for those who don’t understand what it means to be raised in an environment that hammers in the idea that homosexuality is a sin and a mental illness.  Those communities still exist and that means that Faith’s behavior is not unusual, if difficult for some people to understand.  The reader may feel at times that someone needs to take a stick and hit one of the characters in the head with it.  The problem is whether it should be Faith for how she thinks or Sami for how she puts up with Faith. Faith is the weaker of the two characters, so she has the most to overcome, but it’s aggravating that she has no appreciation for the search that Sami goes on to see if religious beliefs can be made compatible with homosexuality.  Sami’s character is definitely drawn with more compassion.

Holding On To Faith is fine for general entertaining reading.  If mistakes bother the reader, it’s going to take a lot of teeth gritting to get through this.  If intolerant religious beliefs are a trigger factor, this isn’t the book for you.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Question of Ghosts by Cate Culpepper

Publisher:        Bold Strokes Books     

Wow!  Wow!  Wow!

Maybe that’s enough to say for a review, but it would probably be a good idea to explain what brought on the exclamations.

Cate Culpepper has written an excellent paranormal mystery with perfect pacing and terrific main characters.  Don’t plan on reading it if you have something pressing to do, like sleeping, because you’ll want to finish the book first.  The only readers who might be disappointed are those who want lots of romance.  Give this book a chance though.  There is a romance in the story and it’s not like any one you’ve ever read.

Becca Healy accepted a long time ago that she was a person scarred by the circumstances of her parents’ deaths when she was five years old.  Who wouldn’t be when your mother shoots your father and then herself while you’re sitting in the next room?  At least, that’s what everyone has been told happened; however, when Becca hears her dead mother’s voice saying to her “Not true,” she needs to find out what the message means.  That brings her to Dr. Joanne Call, an expert in the collection of ghost voices and interpreting what they mean.  The warm, effusive Becca and terse, distant Joanne make an odd pair as they investigate this mystery and are drawn closer together.  When a series of incidents makes it clear that someone does not want them to discover the truth, survival becomes as important as collecting the information.  Fortunately for the women, Becca’s mother is determined to help them from the grave….or wherever she is.

Culpepper sets her novel in a part of Seattle called Capitol Hill, which is being gentrified and in a state of decline at the same time.  The tone of the story is set by the fact that much of it happens in an old house across the street from a cemetery; the house where the deaths occurred.  One of the interesting aspects is that both of the main characters, rather than being afraid of the cemetery find it a place of comfort, even at night, especially near a memorial statue of a woman and child.  Becca and Joanne frequently retreat there to sort out their thoughts and draw strength from the woman.  The statue actually exists and is featured on the book’s cover, which sets the atmosphere before the reading ever begins.  It’s an outstanding example of how a cover can help establish a book’s theme.

Joanne Call is an intriguing character.  She suffers from a personality disorder that is close to Asperger’s Syndrome and that makes her almost incapable of relating to people or dealing with social situations.  It does give her a laser like ability to focus on her work and to interpret facial expressions.  Putting her together with Becca Healy, who is described by everyone as the most loveable person possible, would seem to be asking for trouble, but Becca has her own problems to cope with.  Watching them play off of each other as Joanne provides strength and stability and Becca provides warmth is skillful character study.  To keep them from becoming too intense though, Culpepper throws in occasional humor to lighten the atmosphere.  These are two characters that it would be fun to follow further to see how they develop.

A Question of Ghosts is a totally enjoyable book to read.  The paranormal aspects seem believable and should not bother those who are skeptics.  The mystery unfolds gradually and the ultimate answer stays unknown until the last pages of the book and offers a surprise.  Giving this book a high recommendation is easy. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Lunatic Fringe by Allison Moon

Publisher:          Lunatic Ink

Lunatic Fringe is a werewolf story that almost gets lost in a long discussion of feminist politics and too many typographical mistakes.

Lexie Clarion leaves a small town to go to college and hopes to start a new life.  She’s been rather sheltered, so is impressed when a group of girls called the Pack take her in and cultivate her friendship.  When they turn out to be werewolf hunters, Lexie isn’t sure how to react to that.  This becomes a serious consideration when she meets Archer, a charismatic artist, who becomes her lover…..and is a werewolf.  The battle between the Pack and Archer for Lexie’s allegiance reveals bigotry, sexism and shadows from the past, including a secret in Lexie’s family.  An epic battle results in a decision by Lexie that will surprise the reader.

The basic story in this book is good, although a little confusing.  The characters draw a difference between Weres and Werewolves, but they seem to turn out to be the same people.  Once the story gets going however, things make more sense and the details are easier to follow.  It makes it clear that the line between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” can be very thin.  Lexie is a perplexing character, but that reflects the situation she finds herself in as she tries to determine exactly what her future is going to be.  Some of the characters are well developed, but there are a number of holes that needed filling with details.  The book has an open ended conclusion because it’s meant to be a series, but that isn’t very satisfying for a reader, especially one who decides not to read any further books. 

The book has two big drawbacks.  There are too many mistakes.  Words are missing, some are used incorrectly and others use archaic definitions that don’t really fit current usage.  More than once a paragraph had to be reread to try and figure out exactly what was being said.  This happens enough that it detracts from the reading and gives the book an unfinished feeling.  A good professional editor could have taken care of the problems to create a cleaner book.

An editor also would have cut out a lot of material.  Moon is an avowed feminist, which in itself isn’t a problem, but she can’t seem to make her point in a few sentences and then move on.  When the Pack first appears, a long diatribe begins about how women have been oppressed and men are the sole source of their problems.  The book gets bogged down in long political discussions that obscure the plot.  Although some of the ideas eventually become important to the characters, they go on for so long that some readers may be inclined to stop reading.  If you have to tell the reader something six times, then you aren’t being very clear.  It doesn’t help much when the Pack turns out to be composed of some of the most hypocritical characters in the book and, apparently, is only interested in killing male werewolves.  The idea that men are the source of all problems wears thin, especially in light of the behavior of the Pack.  There are holes in the story that a decent editor would have eliminated or made sure were filled in.

Allison Moon needs to make a decision.  Either write a political book to discuss her type of feminism or write fiction with just enough polemic to shade her characters, but not interfere with the story.  If she can find an editor to help with her weaknesses, Lunatic Fringe might turn out to be a mediocre start to a promising series.