Book Review: Esperanza by Trish J MacGregor

Hi there!

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been caught off guard by a book. Usually I know from the jacket or the first few pages what I’m getting into, but not this time. I couldn’t put it down until I figured out what happened next and even then I couldn’t stop reading until I found out how it ended…

To say the least, Esperanza by Trish J. MacGregor blindsided me. It’s like the recipe for a great meal. The plot intertwines a bit of romance with some horror, adds little history and some fantasy for good measure, and leaves you wanting more at the end. If I was to compare it to other stories, I found a bit of Quantum Leap in it, a little bit of Somewhere In Time, and a bit of the The Time Traveler’s Wife.

The story resolves around two tourists – FBI agent Tess Livingston and professor Ian Ritter – traveling through South America and find themselves visiting a strange town high in the Andes called Esperanza. On the journey to the town, they encounter their fair share of strange events and danger, but somewhere along the way they find themselves in love. We’re talking a “soul mate” kind of love connection here.

Once they got past the Rio Palo, they began learning more about the weirdness surrounding them. The town’s inhabitants never seem to age. And if that wasn’t strange enough, the hungry spirits of the dead called “brujos” hide in the fog and seek new bodies to experience life and love again in the physical world. Unfortunately, that sometimes causes death in the people they choose to possess.

If that was all there was to the story, I probably wouldn’t have made it too far through the book before I set it down. That wasn’t the case. There were hints at deeper mysteries dropped throughout the story and once I figured out MacGregor was playing with not only the boundaries between life and death, but time as well, I was hooked.

But throughout it all, the book never seems forced. It never strays too far from the main characters – Tess and Ian – but the writing weaves all of these various threads together with enough breathing room that even though I figured out where it was going, I really enjoyed the ride. And I still can’t figure out how she managed to smoothly transition from place to place, decade to decade, without being jarred out of the moment like a 4×4 bouncing along a Jeep trail.

If you’ve been looking for a great book that blurs the genre boundaries but still tells a compelling story, I’d strongly encourage you to check out Esperanza by Trish J. MacGregor. It’s worth the ride. Also, be sure to check out her website at TrishJMacGregor.com for more about this book and her other works.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Esperanza and some of these other items below at Barnes & Noble!

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Book Review: Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter — Demon’s Night by Guido Henkel

Hi all!

Have you ever heard of a “dime novel“? How about a “penny dreadful”? These were short books of pulp fiction popular in the 19th and 20th centuries in the United States and Britain. Each small booklet had a story or part of a series that was inexpensive, costing much less (5 or 10 cents) than a full sized book did during the same time period. Many of these during the 19th century focused on the “wild west” and the exploits of sensational characters such as Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley.

Well, evidently they’re making a comeback! Starting in January 2010, a new series written by Guido Henkel merges the feel of Sherlock Holmes tales with the monster-hunting mentality of TV’s Supernatural. Set on the streets of Victorian England, it seems London is in need of a hero and “Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter” is there to fill the bill.

Demon’s Night is the first in the series, introducing our brave hero. Dark comes from a long line of ghost hunters and he is the “Geisterjäger” of his generation. Armed with a magical sword, Dark hunts for the things in the dark preying on his fellow man. And in this adventure, we find him following the trail of a number of bizarre deaths along the waterfront… each victim somehow drained of bodily fluids and left looking like a mummified corpse.

Along the way, he saves the life of Siu Lin, the daughter of Chinese immigrants who are tragically killed by a demonic entity. Dark and Lin stalk the streets and graveyards of London seeking clues as to the creature’s origins and looking for a way to stop it’s reign of terror…

The book itself is 62 pages and a saddle-stitch binding, basically a stack of 31 8.5″ x 11″ pages folded in half length-wise. It feels much like a small magazine, making it easy to slip in a briefcase or purse to take along for light reading.

It honestly took me a little while to get into the groove as I was reading Demon’s Night. The style aims to be like that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with a deep feel for the streets, attitudes, and locations of Victorian England. And occasional grammar or spelling gaffes may have been intentional to keep with the writing of that era. But each time I found one (there are a few), it yanked me out of the story and I had to fight to get back into it again. (Update: Heard from Henkel that the spelling issues have been resolved in later copies of the book.)

That said, I felt it really hit a stride about halfway through after Dark and Siu Lin start working together. The camaraderie helped the story, setting, and characters gel more the further I went. It definitely hit me as a fun pulp fiction style adventure that has many avenues to explore in the “monster hunter” realm.

If you’re looking for a quick story in the vein of a lighter Sherlock Holmes-style adventure, I’d recommend you pick up Henkel’s Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter — Demon’s Night. It’s available in hardcopy for a small fee, and on Amazon for the Kindle, but you can find it online at JasonDark.com for free. I have the next story – Theater of Vampires – waiting here to read and will be interested to see where Jason Dark goes next!

This review first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out JasonDark.com for more details or get the hardcopy version from Barnes & Noble below!

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Book Review: Supernatural: The Official Companion, Season 4 by Nicholas Knight

Hi there…

Now entering its sixth season, Supernatural was a favorite at our house from the beginning. There was something about Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) Winchester and their quest to save good people from bad things… The monster of the week format, plus the quest to find the “Yellow Eyed Demon”, and the continuing battle against demons big and small all was part of the appeal. But it’s really the relationship between the brothers – the dialog dripping with sarcasm and sharp wit – that keeps us tuning in season after season.

When Dean died at the end of season 3, we thought that would be it for the show. Instead, the writers managed to pull a new rabbit out of their hats and introduce a new story line. This one involved the angels! And Castiel (Misha Collins) pulls Dean out of Hell to get things started with a bang…

If you missed anything, the Supernatural: The Official Companion, Season 4 book by Nicholas Knight provides detailed synopses of each episode, plus some great additional material on the characters, monsters, and production. Though I’d seen this type of “series companion” in the past, I’d never actually looked at one before and I have to say that I was impressed. Knight provides an amazing amount of depth.

The book starts with a foreward from producer Ben Edlund that takes us into the dark world of Supernatural with humor. As he says, “the angels are coming” and we shouldn’t look at them… “They’ll melt your eyes into blind, salty s’mores!” This of course refers to the scene in “Lazarus Rising” where Bobby’s (Jim Beaver) psychic friend Pamela (Traci Dinwiddie) gets her eyes burned out by peering into angel business. Definitely one of the more memorable scenes from the season.

From there, we go right into how the angels came into things. Creator Eric Kripke had an epiphany – “angels are the other side of the demon coin.” And they were going more for the Christopher Walken in The Prophecy kind of angels, not the Touched by an Angel variety. When you met one of the Supernatural angels, you understood these beings to be God’s soldiers. Scary, less than kind folk who mostly think we’re about at the same levels of cockroaches.

This concept of “angels as dicks” as Kripke put it made this really work. When the big demons such as Alastair (Mark Rolston) or Lilith (Katherine Boecher) are involved in a story, you know things are going to go poorly for the Winchesters. And as the season progresses, you know that when Castiel, Zachariah (Kurt Fuller), or Anna (Julie McNiven) appear, the boys are in just as much trouble. This give and take between God’s army and Satan’s minions provides many great chances for Sam and Dean to get into and out of trouble.

But what really kicked the show into high gear for me was when Chuck Shurley (Rob Benedict) makes an appearance in “The Monster at the End of this Book.” Shurley has been writing books about Sam & Dean’s adventures that the boys never even heard of. And they’re popular. VERY popular. It turns out that Chuck is a prophet and every time the boys go on an adventure, he starts writing. This has to be one of my favorite Supernatural episodes ever, because it reminded me of the scene in Spaceballs where they’re fastforwarding through the tape of the movie during the movie…

In addition to providing details on every episode and major character for the season, Knight also includes several “A Closer Look” sections that describe different monsters or concepts from the show and where the ideas came from. These are one or two pages covering “Angels” or “Samhain” or “Magic Wishes.” With Halloween coming up next month, it was interesting to hear how the practice originated as a Celtic harvest festival at the end of summer. As Knight puts it, this is the halfway point between the light and dark parts of the year. “At this junction between light and dark, it was believed that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its thinnest…” So we wear masks and light candles in hallowed out gourds to make these spirits feel more at home. Somehow I doubt the spirits feel at home in the Disney character-dominated world of a modern Halloween.

Long story short, Supernatural: The Official Companion, Season 4 is a great addition to the bookshelf of any Supernatural fan who wants a good reference for prior seasons and a bit of the background behind the spooky stories told week after week!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Supernatural books and DVDs below!

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