Escape From Hell by Shervin Jamali

“So this is what depression feels like.  Sinking in quicksand, with only the Devil extending a hand to pull you out.”

Wow! The first book in this series, The Devil’s Lieutenant, was awesome. This sequel continues the winning streak.  Here we follow Michael from Hell to Heaven and back again. A lot.

Sassy as ever! Our anti-hero tells it like it is:

“Did God send you to punish me for killing my parents, Michael?”

“No, Maddie,” I respond.  “Unfortunately, I work for the other guy.”

Along with saucy writing and a kick-bottom plot that twists more than a pinwheel, the author’s cashed in Geek cred with pop culture references to everything from Groundhog’s Day and Star Wars to The Sixth Sense.

Strongly recommend!

Cherry Pickers by Bonnie Milani

Don’t be put off by the crude sexual pun in the title. If anything, this book focuses on the way in which a young woman comes of age in terms of power, ability, maturity – it’s not really about sexuality. Nor is our heroine here a wussy fainting debutante. To the contrary, this is how she describes her own inability to walk suggestively: “Mah wouldn’t swish even if she could unlimber her spine enough to wiggle. And she’d raised me to survive on Sisyphus. So I could out-march, out-fight, or out-climb anything with fewer than eight legs. But I swished with all the grace of a drunken bug.”

If anything, the sexual exploitation here is of the men. At least the ones with 8 legs….

To set the stage without leaving spoilers, this is a coming of age story about a girl living at a prison for female Terrans on a planet controlled by sentient spider like aliens. The girl, Nikki, is the daughter of the Prison Director. The aliens have a strict matriarchal society ruled by a colony queen and a social construct in which males are used once and eaten. Literally. Ironically, since the planet is named Sisyphus, the spider-like aliens are called Sissies. But trust me – none of the women in this book are sissies!  Consider Nikki’s reaction to her potential cherry picker:  “Jake never moved. Angry as I was, a reluctant part of me admired his courage. The rest of me just wanted to kick his head in.” Had that chapter gone on longer, I suspect she would have!

This is a great story based on strong, pro-active young women.

The Photograph by Grant Leishma

This is a somewhat off-the-wall novel – not at all what I expected.  It begins decidedly British and somewhat stiff – “Oh sure, the cut-price, generic whisky’s, or even a cask of supermarket wine; Chateau de Cardboard, will get you pissed, but if you want to do it in style and with a modicum of aplomb, you can’t beat an eight-year-old or more, single-malt, true Scotch and that was exactly what Glenfiddich was.” The dialect is apparent throughout. At one point, the wife of our comic relief complains, “Bloody hell, he’s gone and gotten himself pissed again, she thought. God, he really is turning into an old sot.”

Quite frankly, the main character Tony is a bit stodgy. I found him a bit stilted.  But the supporting cast is a hoot.  The “girl friend” is sassy but believable with endearing dialogue like, “Get off your knees you silly, old bugger, you’ll get arthritis or something. Of course, I’ll marry you.”

But the best character by FAR is the snotty brother-in-law, Frank. This is a character with so few redeeming qualities you’ll simply LOVE to hate him.  He’s a caricature within a caricature you’ll find impossible to turn away from. First, he begins as Mr. Burns from the Simpsons.  “As Frank often did when faced with a situation outside of his control or knowledge, he closed his eyes and began to count pound notes in his head.”  But he goes on to put Walter Mitty to shame. He begins the book with a legitimate possible promotion, but mid-point he’s “day-dreaming about his future illustrious position, as Chairman of the Bank and of course, his exalted knighthood to come. There was a smile creasing his face as he fell into a deep sleep, filled with dreams of royalty, tiaras, morning suits and corgis.”

All vestiges of stodginess are far gone by a third of the way in, and the priest and housekeeper definitely put the book out of PG-13 territory. In fact, the further you get, the faster the twists and turns come. Be prepared to be surprised!

Definitely recommend!

– Read via Kindle Unlimited.

The Devil’s Lieutenant by Shervin Jamali

Wow! This novella is a beyond roller coaster. We’re talking pinball level pivots and twists.  It’s not over in the sense of understanding who and what everyone is until the very very last minute.

The main character, Michael, is deeply tortured and complex, and ironically seen most clearly in his relationship with Lucifer.  For much of the story, we see Lucifer as the cold but indulgent parent. Michael, even during his lucid (sober) segments, remains the petulant child: “I sip at my whiskey; he sighs dramatically, just like I used to when I couldn’t reason with my son.  You take a deep breath to recompose your patience when dealing with a child.” Come to think of it, Michael has pretty much the same relationship with God, telling him: “At best, you’ve been an absentee f***ing landlord.  You collect the rent every month, but you’re never around to fix the sh*t that breaks.”

Expect a vicious fractured fairy tales version of biblical mythology underlying this story.  “God grew tired of his experiment, so he turned himself into a serpent (yeah, it was God, not Lucifer), and tempted Eve with the forbidden fruit … Prior to all this, God had already evolved animals on earth into the early forms of man.  And when Adam and Eve were cast out of Heaven, these cavemen, our true ancestors, would rape and kill them.”

Within this construct, you may want to think of Michael as Job. But only if Job had Dexter’s sense of right and wrong….

And kudos for the Star Trek reference. EVERY sci-fi book of note should have one (says the reviewer who owns her own Star Fleet Uniform):

— In an instant, we are no longer at Cigarz, and standing in front of a tenement building.  I don’t understand why we are not standing in the girl’s apartment and say as much.

[Lucifer responds] “I’m not Scotty from the starship f***ing Enterprise, Michael.  She’s in 6C.”

Highly recommended!

145 pages

Liquid Gambit by Bonnie Milani

This is one of those books that remind you that human and humane might have the same root but they don’t always have the same source . The Lupan character and culture are both alien and unfamiliar. Overall, an excellent read. Great characters, and an excellent example of alien characters with intriguingly different sensory input . This book scents read-worthy.