Book: Dead Ringers

"Dead Ringers"

What happens when you can’t even trust the face in the mirror?

Tess Devlin runs into her ex-husband, Nick, on a Boston sidewalk, and is furious when he pretends not to know her. Afterwards, Tess calls his cell to have it out with him…only to discover that he’s in New Hampshire with his current girlfriend. But if Nick’s not in Boston, who was the person she encountered on the street? Then there’s Frank Lindbergh, who left his grim past behind and never looked back. But now that both of his parents are dead and he’s back in his childhood home, he’s assaulted by an intruder in his living room–a man who could be his brutal, violent twin…if it weren’t for the fact that Frank is an only child.

Dead Ringers was an elusive find. My local bookstores don’t carry most of Christopher Golden’s recent books, so I usually end up ordering them online–or I trawl through bookstores when I’m out of the country to see if I can find them. I picked Dead Ringers up at a Forbidden Planet, if memory serves me right.

But was it worth the effort?

I liked the book enough. The premise was easy enough to follow, and Golden continues to be a master in providing haunting imagery… But as a whole, I found myself nitpicking on the story structure.

Reading the back cover, and starting the book, you get a sense that the horrifying “dead ringers” phenomenon is widespread. Although we mostly follow what happens to the aforementioned Tess and Frank, we also get a sprinkling of random characters who are affected by something supernatural. Which, again, creates this belief that something sinister is happening everywhere.

But then the circles our characters move in start to grow small. Which is fine if the story had been preparing us for that… But it wasn’t. So it felt like a sudden turn when certain revelations tell us that our characters are linked to each other. It also felt like a bit of a cop out for me. Because prior to the revelations, I was at the edge of my seat worrying about what happens next or how the story would end– And then, with the reveal of how the characters are linked to each other, I immediately knew how the story was going to get resolved. And I wished that the book would prove me wrong.

It did not.

Still, I don’t regret buying Dead Ringers. I still enjoyed the book for what it was. I just wish that Golden had gone a different direction to where the story ultimately ended up.


Book: The Shadow Men

"The Shadow Men"

From Beacon Hills to Southie, historic Boston is a town of vibrant neighborhoods knit into a seamless whole. But as Jim Banks and Trix Newcomb learn in a terrifying instant, it is also a city divided–split into three separate versions of itself by a mad magician once tasked with its protection.

Jim is happily married to Jenny, with whom he has a young daughter, Holly. Trix is Jenny’s best friend, practically a member of the family–although she has secretly been in love with Jenny for years. Then Jenny and Holly inexplicably disappear–and leave behind a Boston in which they never existed. Only Jim and Trix remember them. Only Jim and Trix can bring them back.

With the help of Boston’s Oracle, and elderly woman with magical powers, Jim and Trix travel between the fractured cities, for that is where Jenny and Holly have gone. But more is at stake than one family’s happiness. If Jim and Trix should fail, the spell holding the separate Bostons apart will fail too, and the cities will reintegrate in a cataclysmic implosions. Someone, it seems, wants just that. Someone with deadly shadow men at their disposal.

The Shadow Men starts strong. Authors Christoper Golden and Tim Lebbon dive right into the premise of their novel, and our protagonists don’t wait around before taking action. And, this is a good thing, I didn’t even realize until after I finished the book that the entire story happened in just two days. Suffice to say: a lot happened, and there was no point in the novel where I paused, annoyed or otherwise, because of long pauses in action just to deliver exposition.

The clincher? The Shadow Men actually had a lot of exposition to cover. Especially since it had to establish two other Bostons existing with the one that’s supposedly in our world. But authors Golden and Lebbon are such experts at their craft that the exposition is delivered with the action–something you would think is more common in action novels, especially popular ones, but you’d be surprised.

But The Shadow Men‘s strength in delivering the action is also its one weakness. With so much happening, there were times that I had to go back and reread certain passages because I was starting to get confused. That, and there were moments when the action felt repetitive. Get caught. Run. Rinse, and repeat.

Aside from (just) one instance of this though, The Shadow Men is a stellar book. It ranks as my second favorite Hidden Cities novel, following the London-based Mind the Gap. It pulls no punches, never dilly-dallying when it comes to hitting the plot points, which had the effect of making readers (me, specifically) feel the adrenaline coursing through the characters–leaving us breathless.

I use the term “summer blockbuster movie” a lot when it comes to the I Am Number Four books, because of its penchant to prioritize action over character development and still remaining very entertaining. Following this logic, The Shadow Men would be something akin to an “epic movie” in which the action serves to make the viewers’ pulses race, as much as it pushes the characters to develop.

The Shadow Men came out in 2011. No other Hidden Cities book came out again after this. I hope that it’s because Golden and Lebbon are still looking for the perfect city and the perfect story to continue their series, and not because the publishers don’t want another one. Because I want another one.

Book: Snowblind


The small New England town of Coventry had weathered a thousand blizzards…but never one like this, where people wandered into the whiteout and vanished. Families were torn apart, and the town would never be the same.

Now, as a new storm approaches twelve years later, the folks of Coventry are haunted by the memories of that dreadful blizzard and those who were lost in the snow. Photographer Jake Schapiro mourns his little brother, Isaac, even as–tonight–another little boy is missing. Mechanic and part-time thief Doug Manning’s life has been forever scarred by the mysterious death of his wife, Cherie, and now he’s starting over with another woman and more ambitious crimes. Police detective Joe Keenan has never been the same since that night, when he failed to save the life of a young boy…and the boy’s father vanished in the storm only feet away. And all the way on the other side of the country, Miri Ristani receives a phone call…from a man who died twelve years ago.

As old ghosts trickle back, this new storm will prove to be even more terrifying than the last.

I love horror stories…which is probably why I’m afraid of the dark. But that’s a discussion for another blog. We’re here to talk about Snowblind, Christopher Golden’s return to the wonderful world of horror. And what a return.

I look up to Golden as a horror writer. No BS, I think he creates believable creatures that can really freak a reader out. And more than building worlds, he is a master at building tension. It doesn’t matter if a character is likeable or not, Golden can make you fear for the life of that character.

And I like that Golden doesn’t shy away from characters that aren’t really likeable. There’s actually a lot of them in this novel. But they’re real. And they’re interesting. And… Well… This is also the reason why I was a little disappointed with Snowblind.

Christopher Golden gave us a host of rich characters to follow through this ride of horror. And that became a struggle once things started unraveling. A novel isn’t like a movie where visuals can clue a viewer in with who a character is, or with what is happening. You take time to describe things, to set things up, and this is time (and pages) taken away from character development and plot movement.

None of the characters faltered. They remain true to their forms throughout the novels. But there were plenty of times when we drop a character to allow for other characters to move–taking away our chance to see the former process the things that are happening. There are jumps in emotion that, I think, took away the little things that would’ve made this novel better than it is.

I could have actually done without the interweaving story of the restaurant owner and her musician husband–even though, theirs is the story I like the most. But they exist in a bubble that doesn’t really affect the overall story. I felt like they existed simply to break whatever is happening in the main story thread–to amp up the suspense and tension.

Except… Instead of helping with the building of drama, I think they took away from it. Because they cheated us off the time we could’ve spent with the main characters who we want to care about.

And then there’s the tangential sub-story of Doug Manning and his life of crime. He is a peripheral character who would’ve made a great supporting player…if Snowblind was a movie. But it’s not. And, like the restaurant owner and the musician, his existence takes time away from the running story that distracts and detracts, instead of adding to the overall fear that the novel was going for.

The thing is, both stories can actually exist on their own–as novellas, maybe. Stories that are set in the same place and the same time. An add on, attached at the end of the novel.

I guess what I’m saying is that Snowblind is a good novel that could’ve been great. The stories are good–but they would’ve been greater told apart from each other. Because none of the players in the sub stories are supporting characters. They have their own starring roles in their own main plots, but were relegated to be just supporting stories. And that’s a damn shame.

So… those are my thoughts on Christopher Golden’s Snowblind. Now, let’s see what other people thought of the novel:
Onyx Reviews
The Vivacious Dreamer
Book Den

Oh, and huge thanks to Fully Booked for the help in acquiring Snowblind!

Book: Uncharted, the Fourth Labyrinth

"Uncharted: The Fourth Labyrinth" by Christopher GoldenNathan Drake, treasure hunter and risk taker, has been called to New York City by the man who taught him everything about the ‘antique acquisition business.’ Victor Sullivan needs Drak’s help. Sully’s old friend, a world-famous archaeologist, has just been found murdered in Manhattan. Dodging assassins, Drake, Sully, and the dead man’s daughter, Jada Hzujak, race from New York to underground excavations in Egypt and Greece. Their goal: to unravel an ancient myth of alchemy, look for three long-lost labyrinths, and find the astonishing discovery that got Jada’s father killed. It appears that a fourth labyrinth was built in another land and another culture—and within it lies a key to unmatched wealth and power. An army of terrifying lost warriors guards this underground maze. So does a monster. And what lies beyond—if Drake can live long enough to reach it—is both a treasure and a poison, a paradise and a hell.

Welcome to the fourth labyrinth.

I think I just read the equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie.

I’m a huge fan of Christopher Golden, I am. But I must admit that Uncharted: The Fourth Labyrinth is not one of his best works.

Based off a computer game, the novel reads a lot like a Tomb Raider movie, complete with double-crossing traitors and exotic locales… which makes sense, I guess, because the Tomb Raider movies were also based in treasure-hunting computer games.

There was a point, at the beginning of the novel, where I started to get high hopes for the story. The set up Golden gives the novel has the same feel as his other works, with fantastical mysteries spun off from real myths or historical events. But when the action begins, the creativity falters.

I mean, I do understand that you can only have so many iterations of backstabbing, and femme fatales, and jet-setting to far flung places just to find treasure. It’s been done in novels, in television shows, in movies, and in games, it’s not a surprise that the well’s almost dry.

Still, there are ways to make something common feel fresh. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m such a fan of Christopher Golden, because I do think he’s great at making normal seem new again. Which is why, I think, I’m disappointed with Uncharted: The Fourth Labyrinth.

It’s a good enough read, and it’s a page-turner—but it’s not something we haven’t read before. And I expected more.

But this is just me. Let’s see what other people have said about Christopher Golden’s effort to spin a story off the Uncharted game franchise:
Console Obsession
A Temporary Distraction
Critical Gamer

book: when rose wakes

"when rose wakes" by christopher goldeni was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of WHEN ROSE WAKES at a local bookstore, seeing as how i’ve always had a hard time looking for christopher golden titles in the philippines. i guess the trick is not to look for them, and they’ll just pop out of nowhere.

WHEN ROSE WAKES is a retelling of the fairy tale SLEEPING BEAUTY. well, it is sort of a retelling.

the story goes like this: teenage rose, the titular character, wakes up from a coma with no memory of her life before her coma. she has two very eccentric aunts who are very old-fashioned, and not a little weird. and cherry on her cake: she keeps having strange dreams where she has the starring role in a vicious version of SLEEPING BEAUTY.

and then there’s her aunts biggest rule that rose isn’t certain she can follow: never get involved with boys.

rose is a teenage girl about to rediscover what it is to be a teen. how in the world can she not get involved with boys?

WHEN ROSE WAKES reads like a chic-lit at first; with rose as the main character, you follow her journey as she sets out to rediscover what it is to be a teenage girl. and throughout the story, you get glimpses of her dreams which clearly shows that something supernatural is going on. so it’s a supernatural chic-lit.

and then somewhere along the way, you realize that you’ve been reading a horror novel. and you realize that you’ve been suckered in believing that your hero is just a girl searching for her identity, when she’s in fact the center of an age-old battle of evil and humans.

it’s another solid book from christopher golden, and it has a great twist on the very familiar story of SLEEPING BEAUTY. to understand what i’m talking about–well, you’ll just have to read the book!

book: mind the gap

"mind the gap" by christopher golden, tim lebbonalways assume that there’s someone after you.

MIND THE GAP is the first story of the hidden cities series, and it’s a phenomenal start for the series. i mentioned in a previous post that i started the series reading the second book, THE MAP OF MOMENTS, and i never found that novel lacking. it never needed to explain what the hidden cities conceit was.

but reading MIND THE GAP? it clears everything up so much. the book really is a beginning.

yes, i’ve mentioned before that the two novels that followed, the aforementioned MAP OF MOMENTS and CHAMBER OF TEN, can stand on their own. but reading MIND THE GAP has put things in perspective. this is where everything begins, where the conceit of the hidden cities is explained, and so i must now say that it’s very important to read this book before you read the other two.

not reading this book doesn’t make reading the others not-enjoyable. but it would certainly clear up any questions you might have when you start the other books.

now, MIND THE GAP is the story of jasmine towne. a teenaged girl who comes home one day to find her mother murdered with one message written in her blood: jazz hide forever. so what’s a girl to do? run and hide, of course.

we, the readers, join her as she travels the underground world of london, discovering hidden secrets in the tunnels of london’s tube system. and as she uncovers these secrets, she also begins to find out that her mother’s paranoia are very much well-founded.

christopher golden and tim lebbon have managed to create an intricate world and a colorful past to create the hidden cities series. and while i didn’t enjoy CHAMBER OF TEN as much, MIND THE GAP just gave me reason to look forward to the fourth hidden cities novel, when it does come out.

the chamber of ten

"the chamber of ten" by christopher golden and tim lebbonmy first exposure to christopher golden was through media tie-in books of BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL. but it wasn’t until THE LOST SLAYER series that i actually started actively looking for other christopher golden books.

the first book i found was STRANGEWOOD–but it was not the first book of him i’ve read. of course, discounting the fact that i’ve read the media tie-in books. STRANGEWOOD was also my introduction into the harsh life of being a christopher golden fan in the philippines–of how hard it is to look for books by him in this country.

thank goodness for FULLY BOOKED.

of course, that’s a story for another day. for now, i will talk about the latest release from christopher golden and tim lebbon: THE CHAMBER OF TEN.

THE CHAMBER OF TEN is the third book of the HIDDEN CITIES series, but each book stands alone on its own. which is a good thing, since i’ve yet to find a copy of the first book.

a little backgrounder: the HIDDEN CITIES series of books all rely on cities around the world that are rich in culture, and have histories of magic. the first one was set in london, the second in new orleans, and THE CHAMBER OF TEN was set in venice.

i admit to being caught a little off-guard when i started reading this particular book. i guess it’s because i’ve been reading a lot of non-fantasy books lately (and while FEED is fantastical, it was given a biography-like treatment). in any case, the first chapter gave me a bit of a jolt.

one character is a mind-reader. or a psychic. anyway you want to put it, he’s sensitive to psychic links. and the character tries to write it off as something that can be scientifically proven (in the second or third chapter), but you know immediately it’s not science-based. it’s magic.

so that was a little jarring how another character just mentions it in passing in ther first chapter.

that aside though, christopher golden (and tim lebbon) definitely delivers another page-turning adventure.

i’ve always been amazed at how two authors can co-write and produce one good book. GOOD OMENS by neil gaiman and terry pratchett certainly comes to mind when speaking of great books that were collaborated on. and in the two HIDDEN CITIES books i’ve read, i’ve never been able to distinguish between christopher golden and tim lebbon.

granted, i’ve yet to read a book by the latter. but i like to think that i have a grasp of christopher golden’s voice as a writer, having read most of the books he’s published (through thorough combing of many bookstores in the city). so i really admire how the two were able to spin THE CHAMBER OF TEN and make it seem as if only one person was telling the story.

but would i recommend this book? to those who are into mysteries and fantasy, yes. but unlike STRANGEWOOD which i recommended to everyone i know (i still do, actually), i don’t think THE CHAMBER OF TEN is for everyone.