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The Reckoning by Alma Katsu

There are some books that you read quickly through and there are those books are almost too seductive and you want to slow down and savor every moment with the characters, and The Reckoning by Alma Katsu — the second book in The Taker series (check out my review of The Taker) — is the latter.  Once plunged into this world of immortal, devilish, and sometimes wayward beings, readers will not want to leave and by the end of the book, they will be clamoring for more.

The novel picks up just where Lanny and Luke leave off in the previous novel, and just as he begins to settle into their new life together — helping her to purge her past — the unthinkable happens.  The terror Lanny feels is palpable and forces her to take action in a way that she never thought she would, leaving Luke devastated.  What makes this all work so well is the tables are turned not just on Lanny forcing her to react, but the tables turn on other characters as well, including the powerful and frightening Adair.

“Inside, he detected a scent that he associated with Lanore, her musk making a part of his brain fire excitedly, re-creating the feeling of being in her presence.  She felt so real, so present, that he expected her to walk around a corner or to hear her voice carry down the staircase, and when neither happened, he felt his loneliness more profoundly than before.”  (Page 236)

The Reckoning is not only about the revenge that Adair will take upon Lanore and the events that lead her back into his path, but also it is about the judgment we all must make of ourselves, our past deeds, and our future path.  Readers will uncover more of Adair’s secrets, learn about the great Lord Byron, and come to find out that Lanore is not as immune to the charms of the dark side as she’d like to think she is.  There is a great blurring of the line between good and bad, with each character playing along the edges in their actions and thoughts.  Lanore’s character grows stronger here, burning with fear, yet conviction, while Adair’s softer side is revealed without taking over.  Katsu does well to blur these lines and show us the reality of this surreal world — that not everything is as black and white as it seems  (dare I use the pun that there are more than 50 shades of gray?).

The Reckoning by Alma Katsu is an addictive world that readers will plunge into without looking and emerge from emotionally spent and eager for the next whirlwind with The Descent.  Katsu is a phenomenal writer who is adept at building worlds and atmospheres that will hold readers in their grip and never let go, and many of these worlds straddle reality and fantasy like no other.  History, even its alternate versions, come to life in her hands as her characters run through the pages, fearing the worst and never expecting redemption.

She’s made me into a believer, enticing me back into the world of fantasy, horror, and, dare I say, the Gothic, which I had given up as trite and overwrought long ago.  I’ve been seduced.  The Reckoning by Alma Katsu is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I don’t say that about many sequels.

About the Author:

Alma Katsu is a 30-year DC veteran who lives in two worlds: on one hand, she’s a novelist and author of The Taker (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books). On the other hand, she was a senior intelligence analyst for CIA and NSA, and former expert in multilateral affairs.  Check out this Interview With Alma.

 

 

 

 

 

This completes my first series for the Finishing the Series Reading Challenge 2012.

Mailbox Monday #180

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Burton Book Review.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1. Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes, which I received for review.

When Amanda Blick, a young mother and kindhearted San Francisco heiress, finds her gorgeous French chef husband wrapped around his sous-chef, she knows she must flee her life in order to rebuild it. The opportunity falls into her lap when her (very lovable) mother suggests Amanda and her young son, Max, spend the summer with her at the St. Regis Resort in Laguna Beach. With the waves right outside her windows and nothing more to worry about than finding the next relaxing thing to do, Amanda should be having the time of her life—and escaping the drama. But instead, she finds herself faced with a kind, older divorcee who showers her with attention… and she discovers that the road to healing is never simple. This is the sometimes funny, sometimes bitter, but always moving story about the mistakes and discoveries a woman makes when her perfect world is turned upside down.

2. The Reckoning by Alma Katsu, which arrived for review from her publicist. So Excited.

Lanore McIlvrae is the kind of woman who will do anything for love. Including imprisoning the man who loves her behind a wall of brick and stone.

She had no choice but to entomb Adair, her nemesis, to save Jonathan, the boy she grew up with in a remote Maine town in the early 1800s and the man she thought she would be with forever. But Adair had other plans for her. He used his mysterious, otherworldly powers to give her eternal life, but Lanore learned too late that there was a price for this gift: to spend eternity with him. And though he is handsome and charming, behind Adair’s seductive façade is the stuff of nightmares. He is a monster in the flesh, and he wants Lanore to love him for all of time.

Now, two hundred years after imprisoning Adair, Lanore is trying to atone for her sins. She has given away the treasures she’s collected over her many lifetimes in order to purge her past and clear the way for a future with her new lover, Luke Findley. But, while viewing these items at an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Lanore suddenly is aware that the thing she’s been dreading for two hundred years has caught up to her: Adair has escaped from his prison. He’s free— and he will come looking for her. And she has no idea how she will save herself.

3. Blood Line by James Rollins, which came unexpectedly from William Morrow and will be finding a new home.

In a thrilling masterwork that will make you rethink your perceptions of life and death, New York Times bestselling author James Rollins takes you to the edge of medicine, genetics, and technology, revealing the next evolutionary leap forward: immortality.

Galilee, 1025. Infiltrating an ancient citadel, a Templar knight uncovers a holy treasure long hidden within the fortress’s labyrinth: the Bachal Isu — the staff of Jesus Christ — a priceless icon that holds a mysterious and terrifying power that promises to change humankind forever.

A millennium later, Somali pirates hijack a yacht off the coast of the Horn of Africa, kidnapping a young pregnant American woman. Commander Gray Pierce is enlisted for a covert rescue mission into the African jungle. The woman is no rich tourist: she’s Amanda Gant-Bennett, daughter of the U.S. president.

Suspicious that the kidnapping masks a far more nefarious plot, Gray must confront a shadowy cabal which has been manipulating events throughout history…and now challenges the current presidency.

What did you receive?

The Devil’s Scribe by Alma Katsu

The Devil’s Scribe by Alma Katsu is an e-short story released by Simon & Schuster this month, and it’s the first thing I’ve read on my Kindle!  Can you believe it?!  What prompted me to finally read on the Kindle?!  You’ll never guess, well maybe you will by the end of this unconventional review.

“He fell on the bottle before he took a seat, pouring two fingers of whiskey into his wineglass, streaked with the last of a red he’d consumed.  Now that he’d gotten his invitation, his tentative edge fell away, replaced by relief.”  (from the e-story)

Lanore McIlvrae from The Taker (my review) meets with the one and only Edgar Allan Poe by chance in an expensive Baltimore hotel in 1846 after having been gone from America for the last 20 years.  Poe describes himself as an orphan and a widower able to support himself as the “devil’s scribe,” but Lanny seems passingly interested in his life story and the fact that he’s a writer.  However, in spite of her preoccupation with why she came back to America, she walks with this stranger through the streets of Baltimore, careful not to reveal too much of herself to him.

The story raises the idea of telling strangers secrets as a way to unburden the soul without having to deal with the same consequences one would have to deal with should they tell someone they know intimately or should they tell a family member.  It is reminiscent of the relationship between dying soldiers and/or patients and the priest that comes to hear their sins, though in this situation, Poe cannot offer Lanny absolution.

Even in this short story, Katsu is adept at creating tension and suspense as Lanny and her new companion make their way to Boston.  The story is predictable — though because I’ve already read The Taker — but well written.  Readers who know anything about Edgar Allan Poe should realize where the story is headed, but I’ll not give it away.  I really enjoyed learning more about Lanny and her fears, and it will likely play into Katsu’s next book, The Reckoning.

***Reading on the Kindle***

It wasn’t too bad with a short story.  I actually was surprised how I remained focused, but I’m not sure that I can remain focused for a full length novel.  I may try doing that soon, but for now, I’m still a fan of “real” books.

Some Lucky Winners….

Today, I want to congratulate some winners of some spectacular books.

The two winners of You Are My Only by Beth Kephart:

Jill of Rhapsody in Books
Janel of Janel’s Jumble

The winner of The Taker by Alma Katsu:

Johannah from A Book and a Bite

Congrats ladies!

Interview With Alma Katsu

If you are anything like me, then when you really love a book you want everyone to check it out.  You might be on Taker overload, but I’m going to hit you one more time this week.

What I loved most about The Taker is the darkness that is explored, how easy it is to be led astray when you think your life has changed inexorably, and what it means to love.  Love is a tricky emotion, particularly when you are obsessed with the object of that love.

What’s even better than loving the book, is adoring the author behind the book.  Alma Katsu is adorable, fun, and so intelligent, it hurts.  I was lucky enough to get her to answer a few interview questions via email, and I’m here to share them with you.  Of course, if you are looking for yet another entry to my ARC giveaway, please leave a comment below.

Without further ado, please welcome Alma.

The Taker is about love and immortals, but not vampires or werewolves. You may have been asked this question before, but why not vampires since they seem to be so popular right now?

When I started writing The Taker over ten years ago, the horror genre was languishing. Nobody wanted anything new that was ‘horror’, whether it was a vampire or a werewolf or something completely different. You’ve probably heard The Taker being compared to early Anne Rice; well, I remember at the very first agent consultation I had for The Taker, a well-known agent told me that no one wanted a vampire story, and there was room for only one Anne Rice in the business, so I should hang it up.

To be fair to the agent, my writing was pretty bad then, and maybe he thought he was doing a favor to the industry by trying to discourage me so very thoroughly. It just goes to show, though, that no one really knows what’s going to be popular in publishing (and again, to be fair to publishers, they admit this themselves.)

The atmosphere in your novel is rather ominous throughout, was it hard to ensure that condition endured through the entire book? Were there moments that were edited out that would have lightened the mood? If so, why did you eliminate them?

No, if anything, previous versions were darker! I think during my formative years as a reader, fiction tended to be darker and, in general, different from what modern readers have come to expect. And I have a fairly dark outlook on life, so the story it didn’t seem unusual to me.

(I would have loved to read the darker versions!)

You mentioned during the Novel Places event for The Taker that you admire Shirley Jackson and particularly, The Lottery. Did you have other influences as a reader and writer, and what about their style influenced you and can you see those influences in your work (i.e. feel free to provide an example of style from another writer in The Taker if you like)?

Speaking of writers of melancholy stories—Thomas Hardy was an influence (Hardy and not Dickens, that should give you some idea.) Patricia Highsmith, the crime and mystery writer. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Also, novels such as Fanny Hill or Moll Flanders—or their modern counterparts, Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue or Fanny by Erica Jong—that told the story of a woman trying to survive and making her way in the world during inopportune times.

I noticed a bit of a nod to Edgar Allan Poe in The Taker. Was that intentional? Have you read Poe? Which of his works would be a favorite?

I read a lot of Poe when I was very young. I admire his ability to create such original, yet deeply macabre, stories. He was not afraid to dwell on the dark thoughts that most of us occasionally have, and investigate them fully in order to find the story in them. Many writers toy at darkness and mimic what they’re read elsewhere, but Poe was willing to really understand darkness.

As a writer do you have any obsession and/or habits while writing, or music or how-to writing manual preferences? And can you offer advice as to whether an MFA is necessary for an amateur writer to get their book published or if the degree is worthwhile?

I went to a graduate writing program—Johns Hopkins—and while I got a lot out of that experience, I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone. It’s definitely a personal decision. Most programs won’t necessarily open doors to the publishing industry—only certain schools are well-connected enough to merit special treatment from a few agents or publishers. The only way to get the interest of an agent and publisher is to have written a darned good book or have an irresistible platform (for instance, you’re a big television star.)

I don’t think I have any obsessions but I try to have good habits: I work at writing every day, try to grow as a writer and produce better material today than I did yesterday.

Thanks, Alma, for sharing your thoughts on writing and writers.  If you are up in New England over the next week or so, Alma will be out and about signing books.  Pop by to see her, and please tell her I sent you.

Oct. 23 at Concord, Mass., Festival of Authors on the New Literary Voices panel at 3 p.m.

Oct. 27 at Longfellow Books in Portland, ME (This works well with her recent mention in Down East magazine and a short story in Portland magazine)

Oct. 28 at Jabberwocky Books in Newburyport, Mass. at 7 p.m.

This is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Katsu has worked in Washington, D.C., and now resides in Virginia.

The Taker by Alma Katsu

Alma Katsu’s The Taker has received a number of rave reviews and some unfavorable reviews, and it was recently listed in BookList’s Top 10 Debut books.

Lanore, “Lanny,” shows up in her northern Maine hometown covered in blood, and the police say that she has confessed to killing a man and leaving him in the frozen woods.  ER doctor, Luke Findley, becomes the recipient of a Gothic fairy tale that is more dark and sinister than full of fairy dust, unless that fairy is an evil alchemist and sodomite.

“The stranger had appeared suddenly, at the edge of the gathering that evening.  The first thing Adair noticed about him was that he was very old, practically a shrunken corpse leaning on his walking stick, and as he got closer, he looked older still.  His skin was papery and wrinkled, and dotted with age spots.  His eyes were coated with a milky film but nevertheless had a strange sharpness to them.  He had a thick head of snow white hair, so long that it trailed down his back in a plait.  But most notable were his clothes, which were of Romanian cut and made of costly fabrics.  Whoever he was, he was wealthy and, even though an old man, had no fear of stepping into a gypsy camp alone at night.”  (page 162)

The Taker is a story within a story, within a story, spanning from the dark ages through the present day, and Lanny claims to be immortal, but do not be mistaken into thinking she’s a vampire or werewolf.  She is neither.  Her unrequited love for the town pretty boy, Jonathan St. Andrew, is the main crux of the story and how it brings about her downfall that leads to her life as an immortal.  Katsu spoke recently at Novel Places about the book and revealed that the story of Pinocchio is the backbone of her novel, which is clear in how the desire to grow up and become a woman with her own life separate from her family propels Lanny to be easily led astray.  However, that is where the similarity ends.  Katsu’s novel is ripe with sodomy, rape, kidnapping, murder, and more, which is why it would be a perfectly dark book to read this season as Halloween approaches and is what would once have been considered horror (rather than the popular category of paranormal, which has a “lighter” tone to it).

Lanny tells her story to Luke in the present day, but a more effective approach would have been to have her merely tell her story to the reader.  As many know story framing or using one character as a plot device for another character to tell his/her story is bothersome if the character/plot device is not well developed.  While Luke does have a back story here, it fails to round out the character enough, leaving him flat and boring compared to the characters of Lanny and Adair.  Even Jonathan is little more than a caricature of the pretty boy of the town’s founders, and it would have served to have more of him and Lanny’s interactions in the book at the beginning of their “romance” to demonstrate their affection for one another.  However, being told from Lanny’s point of view, it is incredibly difficult to demonstrate Jonathan’s perspective on their relationship and oftentimes he comes off as a callous womanizer who is incapable of love.

With that said, however, Katsu is adept at time shifts within the story that keep the pace of the novel moving quickly.  Moreover, she creates a deeply atmospheric novel where readers are combing through the mist to grasp the truth of Lanny’s story and to unravel the mystery of her immortality.  Some have said this is a romance; it is not.  Most will debate who is “The Taker,” but there is certainly more than one, and it will depend on your personal perspective as to which you believe is the taker.  They all are takers in their own way — taking what love and affirmation they can, taking the loyalty of others by forcing their hands, and taking pleasure in the act of taking.  Readers who shun violence in books, particularly against women should steer clear.  Katsu’s The Taker is dark and decadent; an excellent debut novel for those looking to tantalize their darker senses with interminable consequences.

Stay tuned for the next two books in this series; I know I will be waiting on the edge of my seat. I’m always on the lookout for horror books, as I’ve grown tired of EMO vamps and werewolves.

For a chance to win my gently used ARC (which has a signed bookplate), please visit this post about Alma Katsu’s reading near me.  If you’re looking for another bonus entry, leave a comment on this review.

Alma Katsu (right) Me & Wiggles

About the Author:

Alma Katsu is a 30-year DC veteran who lives in two worlds: on one hand, she’s a novelist and author of The Taker (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books). On the other hand, she was a senior intelligence analyst for CIA and NSA, and former expert in multilateral affairs.  Watch the book trailer or this one.

 

This is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Katsu has worked in Washington, D.C., and now resides in Virginia.

 

 

This is my 61st book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Alma Katsu at Novel Places with a Dark Halloween Read

I’ve talked about my first visit to Novel Places before, but this time, I’m going to regale you with my first event adventure at the new bookstore in my area.

I knew Alma Katsu was going to be at the bookstore for more than a month, since I chatted with her online via email, and Patrick (the owner of the store) had told me she would be arriving as well.  So I had plenty of time to prepare and enough reminders!  Thanks for that — this mommy brain forgets things easily.

My husband, “Wiggles,” and I arrived with a few minutes to spare…yes, getting out of the house with a baby on time for anything is difficult — more difficult than I expected.  But we arrived and found a couple of seats, and surprisingly Wiggles seemed at rapt attention during the discussion, though she did have a few opinions to share.  Alma started out by talking a bit about herself and how she came to writing novels later in her life after working with the NSA and CIA!

Then she talked about the book and writing and a bit about the publishing world.  We learned that The Taker was not the original title of the novel — it was The Fallen. The Taker takes place in three time periods — the dark ages in Eastern Europe, the 1800s in Northern Maine before it became a state, and in the present day — and is a story about making the wrong choices and dealing with the consequences. It is far from a light romance and is a dark novel, perfect for the spooky holiday of Halloween.

Later I learned that she did not plan to write a trilogy. We had a great time, and I got a new book signed for myself, and I’m excited to say I’ll be giving away the gently used ARC I’ve read. So stay tuned for details of that international giveaway.

Alma, Wiggles, and Me

Novel Places holds events in the main area of the store, with enough chairs for about 15-20 people, so the event had a nice intimate feel to it. I tend to prefer these kinds of events because the writers seem less nervous and the people in the audience get to converse with the author more easily and ask more questions. There were cookies, Halloween candy, and beverages, which is not the usual for bookstore events, especially at larger stores. It was almost like a book club meeting, which was nice.

I was able to get a few minutes to chat with Alma in person, and Wiggles and I got “Daddy” to take our picture with the author, though I think Wiggles was more interested in mommy’s necklace at the time. We just couldn’t get her to look at the camera. If you’re interested in a short video or other photos, please take a look (though be warned the video is very shaky and short).

For the giveaway:

1. Let me know what you like best about author events or what you’d like to see at author events (i.e. food or authors who read from the book or authors who don’t read from the book, etc.).

2. For up to 3 additional entries, Facebook, Tweet, or blog about the giveaway and leave me a link on this post.

3. Follow Alma on Twitter and/or Facebook for up to 2 more entries.

Deadline is Oct. 31, 2011, at the witching hour. Stay tuned for another chance to win when my review of The Taker posts this week.

Mailbox Monday #135

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch.  This month our host is A Sea of Books.  Kristi of The Story Siren continues to sponsor her In My Mailbox meme.  Both of these memes allow bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received this week:

1.  The Taker by Alma Katsu a win from TheBookTrib

2.  One Day by David Nicholls for review in Sept., but stay tuned for a giveaway in August.

3.  Kindle by Amazon, which I won from the Summer of Gomez event from Graham Parke

What did you receive this week?