Christopher Rice’s “The Vines.”
Readers who entangle themselves in Christopher Rice’s new book “The Vines” will find themselves ensnared in 24 hours of hell on Earth. That’s the time frame for this fast-paced horror novel that takes place primarily on the grounds of a restored plantation on the outskirts of New Orleans. The book begins with a bang when the owner of the palatial home discovers her husband’s infidelity during her own birthday party. When she flees to the property’s gazebo in a suicidal fit, her spilled blood awakens a subterranean life form whose existence might be traced back more than 150 years when it was used for both good and evil by a slave on the property. By stirring the blood-thirsty vine, Caitlin Chaisson puts the region in peril, including a best friend who has recently become estranged.
Workers on the property, especially the gardener and his young daughter, have long known that something wasn’t right at Spring House, as the plantation is called, but it isn’t until the night of Caitlin’s birthday party and the mysterious disappearance of Caitlin’s cheating husband after a horrific scene in the ground’s gardening shed that Nova begins to research strange tales dating back to the time that slaves inhabited the property. She enlists Caitlin’s friend Blake to help uncover the secrets and the deeper they dig, the more danger they encounter until Blake comes under the spell of the seemingly implacable creature. He soon discovers that through own free will and a refusal to let the plant possess him as it has Caitlin, he is able to harness the vine’s evil power and use it for more humane purposes.
This is Rice’s second venture into the horror genre and like “The Heavens Rise” he employs an organic, malevolent force that lurks below the ground. His characters in “The Vines” might be more finely drawn but his descriptive powers are in top form when conjuring images of abject terror. With this supernatural thriller he is following firmly in his mother Anne Rice’s footsteps and delivering stories that are both original and spine tingling.
Janice Law’s “The Prisoner of the Riviera.”
Mysteries aren’t one of my favorite genres for reading, but if I pick one up, I expect it to pass the bedside lamp test. That’s a little criterion I made up for myself. In that test, the better the mystery, the longer the lamp stays on at night while you flip the pages trying to get to the bottom of things. With a really good mystery, the lamp might stay on all night. Not so with Janice Law’s “The Prisoner of the Riviera.” I was drawn to the novel because a) it won a Lamda Literary Award this year; and b) because the main character is real-life English artist Francis Bacon, whose works I have found intriguing. I wish I could say the latter about Law’s book. The second in a series, the mystery takes place post-World War II along the Côte d’Azur. Law’s device of taking an historical figure and using him as an unlikely sleuth in a murder mystery is an interesting one, but her execution here is puzzling and ponderous—and not in a good way.
The book begins in London in the reconstructive days following the war, but the setting soon changes to the more picturesque and less war-weary French Riviera where Bacon has embarked on a vacation with his lover and nanny to get away from memories of the blitzkrieg. But before they can escape England, Bacon and his lover witness a murder and the artist agrees to deliver a man’s dying words to his wife in the south of France. Bacon is promised to have some massive gambling debts erased if he carries out the request. Soon he becomes involved in a series of murders that follow him to France, where he has become a suspect in the death of the wife he was supposed to visit. Perhaps if you read “Prisoner” quickly in just a few sittings it might hold more suspense and drama. But if you read it over a longer period, as I did, you may lose the thread and have to backtrack several pages to remember about whom it is you are reading. Law’s use of aliases for multiple characters only adds to the confusion and a transgender twist thrown in toward the end does little to heighten interest in the mystery. Luckily, this a relatively short book, which keeps the reader from feeling bound to the story for too long.
Jim Grimsley’s “Comfort & Joy.”
When I turned the last page of “Comfort & Joy,” I couldn’t wait to explore more of Jim Grimsley’s titles. I had fallen in love not only with the characters but the language. These were people I wish I knew, that I would welcome as friends. It has become one of my favorite books.
This novel about a comforting, joyous and loving relationship between two men really moved me. I was intrigued by the book’s mysteries, the allusions to tragedy whose secrets remained buried in the pages, leaving the reader to draw his own conclusions.
So, imagine my anticipation when I finally checked out “Winter Birds” from the library. I was pleasantly surprised to read on the inside jacket cover a synopsis that promised some answers to my questions and apparently laid the foundation for “Comfort & Joy.” I wonder what sort of reading experience it would have been if I had read the prequel first and I might recommend that.
“Winter Birds” is perhaps the most devastating novel I have ever read. The monster
Grimsley creates is more horrifying than anything Shelley or Stoker ever dreamed. The story grips you by the throat and punches you in the gut. Unlike “Comfort & Joy,” I just wanted it to be over, but was no less satisfied when I turned the last page.
Bibliophiles may take an interest in what one Texas town did with an abandoned old Wal-Mart store. The transformation is amazing. See photos at ViralNova. http://www.viralnova.com/walmart-turned-library/
Would you rather read something classified as “horror” or as a “supernatural thriller”? Labels attached to his work are just one of the things Christopher Rice discusses in an interview with Lambda Literary Review as he promotes his latest novel “The Vines.” The book follows Rice’s first foray into the horror genre since last year’s release of the sci-fi thriller “The Heaven’s Rise,” a book reviewed by Oscartude. Among other topics during the Lambda interview, Rice talks about what it was like to tackle a genre that is so closely connected with his mother, novelist Anne Rice. He also talks about writing the screenplay for one of his mother’s books “Tale of the Body Thief.” In talking about various labels, Rice discusses whether he feels the term “queer horror” is necessary to describe his latest works. Readers might be surprised to learn that the gay author doesn’t like the term “queer” at all and would rather not use it to describe either himself or his work. “The Vines” is in bookstores now.
The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles.
Independent bookstores and even big national chains are a dying breed. But there is nothing like browsing through stacks of used books to find a rare gem you’ve been looking for or some random title that strikes your fancy. In a feature this week, BuzzFeed provides a list of some of the best independent books stores in the country. They’re divided up by regions. If you don’t see one from your area, there are plenty that you could visit during your travels. Check out 44 Great American Bookstores Every Book Lover Must Visit. Happy reading!
Laura Krughoff’s “My Brother’s Name.”
Laura Krughoff received a nod for her novel “My Brother’s Name,” when it was nominated for debut fiction by the Lambda Literary Awards this year. The nominators apparently were impressed with the novelty of the novel which takes an old device like switched identities and gives it a new transgender twist.
The novel, which takes place during the high school and college years of the two main characters Jane and John Fields, may be more appealing to young adults rather than older readers. But the story does make for interesting reading by both demographics.
Jane Fields is a young girl who looks up to her older brother and follows him like a clumsy puppy, even as far as mastering his most passionate pursuit: music. But when John begins having psychotic episodes when he goes away to college, his entire family is changed by his condition, especially his little sister. John enlists her to help him overcome his mental illness with a scheme that includes Jane “becoming” John initially to help them avoid any kind of problems when driving a rented vehicle when they decide to move away from their concerned parents. It’s a flimsy premise that allows for further complications as the story progresses. When Jane, acting as her brother, begins to fall in love, she finds it harder and harder to maintain the ruse.
Meanwhile, Krughoff has a hard time tying up loose ends when the siblings’ true identities are revealed to friends in dramatic fashion and there are many unanswered questions at the end of the book. But it’s worth a read to see the kinds of new stories authors are writing for the LGBT community.