I’ve made a concerted effort to work through my reading list and I’ve prioritized debut novels by Indie authors. I received The Life We Bury as a gift, and after reading the first chapter, it ascended to the top of my list. I read some reviews for Eskens’ debut and they are filled with the words “compelling” and “suspenseful.” These are fair and deserved depictions. In short, The Life We Bury tells the story of an innocent class assignment gone awry; an interview with a paroled murderer sets off a sequence of events that are, well, compelling and suspenseful. Eskens does a fine job of developing a cast of characters that are flawed yet likable. The plot is expertly crafted, and the pace is brisk. The story builds momentum and keeps the pages turning until the very last. I wanted to turn the page for more, so I was pleased to discover that Eskens has penned a sequel that I have already added to my reading list.
Follow Allen on Twitter (@aeskens), check out his website, and buy his books on Amazon.
A grisly murder opened old wounds for attorney John Coleman, the narrator and main character of Michael Jordan’s debut novel, The Company of Demons. The demons surrounding him were both literal and figurative. John’s subconscious motivation to find the psychopath and vindicate his father was compelling. I cared about John even though I didn’t always like him. I had genuine empathy for his circumstances, but I also wanted to slap him around at times for being such a stupid bastard. The complexity of that emotional connection made him very real to me. Sometimes the narrator was almost too honest, too revealing. All his sins and flaws were fully exposed for the reader, but to no one else. This was a narrator I trusted, but a character that probably shouldn’t be trusted.
The pacing in the early chapters was a little slow, but the story was enticing enough to keep me reading. It really starts to pick up about 100 pages in, and then it doesn’t let off. Jordan’s control of time was skillful and disciplined. The story unfolds linearly, almost in real-time, with very few gaps, and even fewer lengthy flashbacks. The time compression before and during the trial was a little jarring at first, but ultimately necessary.
I initially had some concerns about the limitations of a first-person narrator, but Jordan was adept at putting the narrator in the right place at the right time without being heavy-handed. Jordan also created a strong supporting cast to provide alternate perspectives through dialogue, without relying solely on exposition. The portrayal of the wife and sister-in-law was a little one-dimensional and tiring at times, but given the circumstances of the interactions, perhaps that was deliberate and justified realism.
Jordan’s story is packed with suspense and plot twists. You know it’s a good story when you start reading slower toward the end, knowing there are only a few pages to go, and still wanting the story to continue. It’s always bittersweet to say farewell to characters you have started to really know and understand.
The Company of Demons is really two books in one: A serial killer thriller and a Grisham-esque courtroom drama. If you like either of those, you can’t go wrong with Jordan’s debut. I’ve been shying away from my Kindle; I realized I missed holding an actual book in my hand. The print version of the novel did not disappoint. The simplicity of the cover is what originally caught my attention on Twitter; it is even better in person. The overall design and printing are quite nice as well.
Follow Michael Jordan on Twitter @mjordanauthor and check out his website.
Veterans deserve more than a day. This month is dedicated to Veteran Authors. Buy their books! Post reviews! Support veterans!
Rajani Chronicles I: Stone Soldiers, Brian S. Converse
“The day was gray as the rain fell softly in downtown Detroit. It was a spring rain, meant to wash away the snow, blackened from passing cars, which still clogged the gutters and sidewalks; yet it only succeeded in giving the day a feeling a melancholy for all those who bore witness to the tragic scene laid out before them.”
To be fair, I typically cringe at descriptions of weather in the opening line, but I enjoyed the way the scene was set in the second line and the way it gradually transitioned me into some ominous present action. I enjoy a good tragedy. I also like the word “melancholy.”
Secrets Revealed, Willis Bullard
“My last official act while still in the military was working under assumed identity trying to retrieve information from a usually friendly country on a group of terrorists that were planning to conduct an attack against a significant embassy in Germany. I was working with the State Department in conjunction with agents from the CIA conducting an investigation on possible espionage activity within the embassy.”
This sounds like the plot for the next season of Homeland, so it scares me just a little that this is non-fiction. Non-fiction as in, this shit is real. I love the last line of the prologue, “Buckle up… this gets bumpy.”
The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
This is one of my all-time favorite opening lines. Salinger was drafted into the Army, landed on Utah Beach, and participated in the Battle of the Bulge. Oh, and he met Hemingway while he was over there. Hemingway said he had “a helluva talent.” I tend to agree.
Veterans deserve more than a day. They also deserve more than one sentence. This month is dedicated to Veteran Authors. Buy their books! Post reviews! Support veterans!
Bishop’s War (Bishop Series Book 1), Rafael Hines
“Hours before the deadly desert sun rose above the low hills in the east, Clayton Unser walked over to one of the Valdez prison guard to ask a few questions. The moon had been full, bright enough to cast shadows, and the guard wore NVG’s (Night Vision Goggles), but Clayton made sure the man heard him coming. No reason to startle anyone in the dark when they’re holding an AR-15 assault rifle and wearing a .45 Colt Commander in a hip-holster. Clayton raised his hands palms up as a sign of reassurance, not surrender, and to make it an easy reach for the 9mm Glock 17 in his shoulder rig in case things got dicey.”
I immediately sense that Clayton is a bad-ass. If I ever need a bodyguard, I will look for someone exactly like Clayton. I may even pay him more if he will let me call him Clayton. Clayton has some skills that you can’t learn in books. Clayton is cool. Clayton is also someone I don’t ever want to anger.
The Vampire of Rome, Lincoln Farish
“Waking up on the scratchy, bare concrete floor of an underground cell beneath the Vatican in a puddle of my own saliva wasn’t the worst thing that had happened to me that day. Father Guillermo was the nicest torturer one could ever imagine.”
What could possibly be worse than waking up in a cell? In the Vatican? In a puddle of spit? Oh… torture. Got it. This is book four of the Inquisitor Series. If you haven’t already met Brother Sebastian, you need to fix that. Check out my full review of Book One.
The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
“First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack.”
I couldn’t resist including the quintessential veteran story here. I expect that most people have read it, at least the first chapter. If you have not read it, or if you have only read the first chapter, then you should probably fix that too.
Welcome to Flash Reviews, Friday edition. I could promise to post reviews every Friday, but that would be a lie. I am not that organized. If you still have no idea what I am doing, read about it here. As always, if you would like to request a review of something you wrote, or something you wish you wrote, send me a message on twitter. I am an equal opportunity flasher.
Shoot ‘em Up (A Maisie McGrane Mystery), Janey Mack
“A siren bawled as Lee Sharpe, eyes flashing, grinning like a demon, loomed over my gurney. “Who stabbed you, Maisie?””
Ok. That’s technically two lines, but how can you possibly stop reading after the grinning-demon-over-the-gurney image? Besides, the dialogue is just an extension of the first line. And I make the rules anyway, so deal with it. Of course, you read the second line only to discover the main character has been stabbed. There is something about the calmness of the situation that is unsettling. Lee is suddenly a sympathetic demon. Do I want to find out why Maisie is so calm about being stabbed? Do I want to know who stabbed her? Hell yeah! You should definitely check out Janey’s website.
Spoils, Brian Van Reet
“She is the most dangerous thing around.”
I stumbled upon this and was immediately consumed. Such simplicity and intrigue. How can you not keep reading? I actually didn’t stop reading this one. Check out my full review.
In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje
“This is a story a young girl gathers in a car during the early hours of the morning.”
The girl is Hana. You probably know her from The English Patient. But this is where she started. The English Patient was a sequel of sorts. This is my all-time favorite novel, and I highly recommend you read it. Just read the next few lines of the prologue. Stunning. I am excited he has a new novel coming in May.
Welcome to the third installment of Flash Reviews. If you still don’t know what I am doing, read about it here. If you would like to request a review of something you wrote, or something you think is really awesome, send me a message on twitter.
The Name of the World, Denis Johnson
“Since my early teens I’ve associated everything to do with college, the “academic life,” with certain images borne toward me, I suppose, from the TV screen, in particular from the films of the 1930s they used to broadcast relentlessly when I was a boy, and especially from a single scene: Fresh-faced young people come in from an autumn night to stand around the fireplace in the home of a beloved professor.”
Wow. 71 words in that sentence, at least according to Word. I didn’t bother to count them. Some things I just believe. And I believe that Denis Johnson was an amazing writer that was taken from us far too soon. As much as I love his language and style, I truly hope that his estate doesn’t release some lost and forgotten and incomplete manuscript. Those are always lost and forgotten and incomplete for a reason. I have a few. May they never see the light of day.
Stillhouse Lake, Rachel Caine
“Gina never asked about the garage.”
Not very exciting, but intriguing enough for me to read the second and third lines. Somehow this garage destroyed Gina. Now that has my attention. I’ve never known garages to attack.
The Bull, Cycle 2 of the Blood Zodiac, Erica Crockett
“She can’t get the blood out of her blond wig.”
Now that’s a first line that gets attention. Yes, I kept reading, and yes, you should too. Check out Erica’s first novel, Chemicals, while you are at it. You won’t be disappointed. This girl can write.
If you are unsure about what the hell I am doing, check out the first installment.
The Witch’s Lair, Lincoln Farish
“By noon, there had been three attempts to murder me.”
How could you possibly stop reading after that intro? Talk about a bad day. That’s the kind of day that should make you just go hide somewhere and hope that tomorrow will be better. This dude is not an accountant or a mechanic. Unless of course he is very very bad at either. I also highly doubt he is going to take my advice and hide.
Alpha Beta Poetry, Nicole Pierman
“Admire adamant affections, amity among allegiance, admit an admirer against all actions, and amour always, absolve.”
That’s a lot of fucking a’s. I was tempted to write an alliterative review but I gave up after “Pondering poetry, potent, portend, properly pure.” I was exhausted. Hats off to Nicole for her vision and discipline.
Rule of the Bone, Russell Banks
“You’ll probably think I’m making a lot of this up just to make me sound better than I really am or smarter or even luckier but I’m not.”
I picked this up at Riverrun Bookstore in Portsmouth, New Hampshire a few years ago. I immediately sensed a flavor of Catcher in the Rye, so I kept reading. I am usually wary of first-person child narratives written in dialect, but this one kept my attention. I spent the remainder of that afternoon reading beside the actual river.
I love novels. I love first lines of novels. I also love bookstores. My dream is to be locked in a bookstore overnight. If I were, I would read the first line of every single book in the fiction section. Since I can’t reason through a series of events that would find me incarcerated at Barnes & Noble, I decided to exercise the fantasy (over time) on Amazon.
The rules: I will occasionally choose a novel from the Kindle bestsellers page or a random Indie novel from my Twitter feed. For each one I will record the first line and then provide my first impressions. I reserve the right to choose the first line from either the prologue or the first chapter. I like a little chaos.
Here’s three to get me started:
Rejected Writers Take the Stage, Suzanne Kelman
“Karen, the Southlea Bay library manager, approached the door with her key and stopped short before announcing through a clenched smile, “Doris alert.”
I don’t know if Karen is just a bitch or if Doris is really irritating. I am curious though. I also can’t avoid staring at the chapter title with wild anticipation: “Frozen Yetis & Scotch Tape Shenanigans.” In the history of the written word, never before have those words appeared even roughly in that order. Well Played, Suzanne. Well played.
Unmasked, EM Kaplan
“The beast grabbed Mel with a gray-skinned hand and dragged her across the rutted dirt road.”
I just wish I had a better sense of the conflict here. Kidding. Seriously, there is a lot packed into these 16 words. I’m obviously worried about Mel. And I am equally intrigued by a world that has beasts with gray skin.
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
“At dusk they pour from the sky.”
The chapter is titled ‘Leaflets,’ so really, the first sentence is a continuation. I don’t know if ‘pour’ is the best word to describe leaflets falling from the sky, but he won a fucking Pulitzer for this. Who am I to judge?
Spoils tells the story of Cassandra, a US soldier assigned as a gunner in Iraq. I was hooked from the opening line: “She is the most dangerous thing around.” Author Brian Van Reet tells Cassandra’s story through multiple perspectives that become gradually, and tragically intertwined. The details of war are vivid and brutal, though measured; Van Reet avoids falling into sheer melodrama, but doesn’t shy away from graphic realities. This is a psychological take on war, the action resides more in the minds of the characters than on the battlefield. The narrative is unconventional, mixing first and third person perspectives; it feels like a recorded testimony at times: part apology, part confession. Van Reet does a superb job of pulling these dissimilar threads together to create a balanced story. This was great read with many memorable lines and images; I certainly appreciated when Cassandra compared the interior of a Humvee to an unsound submarine.
Driven by unique characters and layered with irony, Spoils is a complex and philosophical treatise on war.
A quick read and a candid view of Indie publishing. Every aspiring author should immediately add this to their reading list. I wish I had this years ago when I started; it would have saved me a lot of pain and suffering.
Follow Eeva on twitter and download Being Indie on Amazon.