Lauren Scharhag

Publisher info

Lauren Scharhag is a writer of fiction, poetry and screenplays. Her work has appeared most recently in The SNReview, The Daily Novel, Infectus, and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. She is the recipient of the Gerard Manley Hopkins Award for poetry and a fellowship from Rockhurst University for fiction. She lives in Kansas City, MO with her husband and three cats.

Be sure to check out her author blog for short stories, excerpts, reviews and other writings.

Smashwords Interview

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Kansas City, MO. My mother is Mexican and my father German, so I had a very unusual childhood-- my mother's family lived in the barrio on KC's West Side, and my father's family was from a wealthy white suburb. The two worlds were utterly different, so I think living with two such extremely different cultures and socioeconomic circumstances really shaped me.
When did you first start writing?
When I was old enough to pick up a pen. My father taught me to read and write early and he gave me a diary when I was six or seven. By the time I was eight, I was picking out stories on my mother's typewriter.
Read more of this interview.

Where to find Lauren Scharhag online

Where to buy in print


The Winter Prince
By Lauren Scharhag
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 22,230. Language: English. Published: November 14, 2013. Category: Fiction
Sixteen-year-old Margaret Bentley, an Ozark country girl, journeys to the Summer Lands to save her father from an evil spell. There she meets all kinds of enchanted creatures and people including the Momme tribe, a sea witch, the Green Man, a mysterious magician, and eventually, the Summer Queen herself.
The Ice Dragon
By Lauren Scharhag
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 8,300. Language: English. Published: November 14, 2013. Category: Fiction
There's nothing Kenneth Vogel hates more than Christmas. Then he meets a dragon. Suddenly, Christmas doesn't seem so bad . . .
Under Julia
By Lauren Scharhag
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 86,210. Language: English. Published: August 31, 2013. Category: Fiction
(5.00 from 2 reviews)
Miami law prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school or daycare. Halfway houses, hotels and homeless shelters will not accept them. Which leaves them with only one place to go: under Julia.
Where Flap the Tatters of the King: The Order of the Four Sons, Book III
By Lauren Scharhag
Series: The Order of the Four Sons. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 329,550. Language: English. Published: July 28, 2013. Category: Fiction
(5.00 from 2 reviews)
Book III sees the surviving members of the Order – Kate, JD, Murphy, Bill, Clayton and Alyssa – reunited in a world known as Corbenic. It’s definitely not a warm reunion. With the Corbenese king held hostage by Starry Wisdom, the land has been plunged into endless winter, and certain members of the team are less than thrilled that they have been joined by former MJ-12 Emily Hayes.
West Side Girl & Other Poems
By Lauren Scharhag
Price: Free! Words: 13,670. Language: English. Published: June 30, 2013. Category: Fiction
0.75 star(3.83 from 6 reviews)
Collection of poems by Lauren Scharhag, written from 2004-2013, exploring themes of womanhood, family, and her German-Mexican heritage.
La Tutayegua
By Lauren Scharhag
Price: Free! Words: 4,940. Language: English. Published: June 30, 2013. Category: Fiction
0.75 star(4.67 from 3 reviews)
A young boy growing up in Kansas City's West Side in the 1980s meets the mysterious creature known as La Tutayegua.
Our Miss Engel
By Lauren Scharhag
Price: Free! Words: 14,690. Language: English. Published: June 30, 2013. Category: Fiction
0.75 star(4.67 from 3 reviews)
In 1909, Clara Engel, a young school teacher, gets a job at a Catholic girls' boarding school, only to find that her students are not what they seem.
Carcosa: The Order of the Four Sons, Book II
By Lauren Scharhag
Series: The Order of the Four Sons. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 155,480. Language: English. Published: May 30, 2013. Category: Fiction
(5.00 from 2 reviews)
The Order of the Four Sons, Book II follows the team -- JD, Murphy, Doug and Kate -- as they pursue Bathory across the face of a hostile world known as Carcosa. Director Clayton Grabowski and the Oracle find themselves mired in the political intrigues of the Order's leadership, while back on Earth, Bill forges an uneasy alliance with a government agent.
The Order of the Four Sons: Book I
By Lauren Scharhag
Series: The Order of the Four Sons. Price: Free! Words: 106,940. Language: English. Published: October 31, 2009. Category: Fiction
0.5 star(4.57 from 7 reviews)
Since before recorded history, the Order of the Four Sons has existed. From their beginnings in ancient Egypt to the boardrooms of modern times, they have fought a covert war against the enemies of humankind. Theirs is a world of magic, mystical creatures, and immortality. But now, after 5,000 years, their greatest battle is about to begin.

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Smashwords book reviews by Lauren Scharhag

  • The Howling Winds on Aug. 09, 2013
    star star
    The author put in the foreword that these pieces had been moldering in old notebooks for many years-- perhaps they should have stayed there. The poems are what I would expect from an angst-y, goth-y teenager who's read too much Poe and other 19th century poets. I know, because I was one of those teenagers, and have a sheaf of these sorts of poems in old notebooks too. Lots of "O!", lots of stilted, old-fashioned language, lots of silly rhymes. The phrase "cease to be" is uttered at least twice, which felt like a Keats rip-off to me. The short stories might've been interesting, but they were just fragments, and not what I would consider full stories. Nothing horrible here, nothing offensive. But not exactly a stellar example of the craft.
  • Natalie Tereshchenko - Lady In Waiting on Aug. 30, 2013
    star star star star
    In Natalie Tereshchenko, Elizabeth Audrey Mills presents us with a likable and engaging heroine-- Natalie is everything that we’d expect from a good protagonist and a good narrator. She’s observant, she’s intelligent, she’s compassionate—and above all, she’s just an ordinary person. Despite her royal blood (she is the illegitimate daughter of Tsar Nicholas II's brother), Natalie is a servant to the princess Tatiana. The book covers the last days of the Romanovs, opening in March 1917 and ending just after their execution in 1918. Mills takes us from the grandeur of Alexander Palace, with its chandeliers and shining parquet floors to the suffocating squalor of Ipatiev House, where the deposed royal family and their few remaining servants suffer through scarcity and terror. Mills tells the tale in refreshingly disciplined and precise prose. Presenting the tale from Natalie's point of view specifically was a very good decision. Some of it is sheer narrative, but Mills also throws in Natalie’s diary entries as a device. (Incidentally, as far as I can tell, Natalie is a fictional character—but the fact that this book sent me into research mode, I think, is a very good sign.) Natalie’s voice keeps the story very accessible, but, more importantly, she is in the unique position to give us both sides of the conflict. In every possible sense, she is an outsider, straddling two worlds. She is more educated than most servants, and somewhat sheltered, so the rest of the palace staff distrusts her. Yet her intimate knowledge of the royal family helps Natalie see them for actual people, with personalities and foibles. They are not mere figureheads, and they most certainly are not evil. But as a servant and a virtual orphan, Natalie also identifies with the plight of the common folk in a way that the royal family could never hope to. Mills’ style fits both Natalie as a character and the story overall. A historical piece should be straightforward and linear—we all know where this is going to end up, so the question becomes, how are we getting there? Are we taking the scenic route? In this case, the answer is yes and no. Mills gives us some lush historical details, like descriptions of palaces and villages. But then, there are the less appetizing aspects: bleak Russian winters, gunfire, wounded soldiers, piss, rotting meat. Mills tells the story in present tense, which also serves the story well. It keeps the extraordinary events plausible—not just the grand historical drama (revolution, attempted escapes, a coup d’etat) but everything, from Natalie’s personal dramas to the rather fantastical appearance of Myriam, a spirit who appears, claiming to be Natalie’s guardian angel. Incidentally, the Myriam subplot worked for me because it is told with the same matter-of-factness as a group of drunks stumbling into an alley to relieve themselves. Ditto the lovemaking scenes, or the scene where Natalie and a fellow servant girl take revenge on a Bolshevik soldier for rape. I felt it illustrates Russian culture so well—a culture that accepts the worldly and the otherworldly with equanimity. Natalie herself is not a particularly spiritual creature—she attended mass every day because the Tsarina insisted. Later, when Natalie finds herself hiding out in a convent, she doesn’t have some sort of religious epiphany but, instead, she feels rather ruefully like a fraud. She accepts the situation, just as she accepts Myriam’s guidance. As Natalie and her fellow servants go about their daily lives, carrying out their duties, bickering, falling in love, and, ultimately, getting swept up into events greater than themselves, it reminds us that historical drama is really about people—just people, working, eating, talking, making friends, having sex, getting hurt, picking themselves up and dusting themselves off. Nature and natural urges are a recurring theme: Natalie takes great joy in being out-of-doors (the closest Natalie ever has to religious moments). Even in the dead of winter, she goes outside to feed the birds. Invariably, in a time before indoor plumbing was widespread, and injury and disease run rampant, bodies and bodily functions are a recurring image as well. In the opening pages, in fact, the reader finds themselves plunged into a Sapphic interlude, which made me sit up and say, “Hello!” Hey, when you’re a lady-in-waiting, the dating pool is somewhat limited . . . er, until the Revolution comes and you find sexy wounded soldiers waiting to be tended on the royal doorstep. The thing is, history and historical fiction is about people getting confronted with impossible decisions. Not just the tsar, but Natalie and people like her—one of the other servants has the option, towards the end, of leaving the royal family. If he had, his life would have been spared. He chose to stay with his masters, who were, after all, the only family he knew. I can’t help but wonder what decision I would have made in his shoes. My only quibble with this book is the mention that Natalie is keeping her journals in the hopes that she will one day publish her memoirs—again with the writers writing about writers writing. Stop it, people. Seriously, why can’t Natalie just keep a diary for its own sake? But Natalie’s literary ambitions don’t really receive more than a passing mention, given that she has more pressing concerns, like survival. Ultimately, this book is about self-discovery. From the beginning, when Natalie learns about her birthright, she struggles to find a way to reconcile it to the life she’s been living. I think she succeeded. This book kept me engaged until the surprise ending. I won’t give it away, except to say it explains why you never heard of Natalie, the last Romanov. But Mills makes you wish that there was such a person, and that you’d heard of her sooner.
  • Don't Tell Anyone on Sep. 20, 2013
    (no rating)
    One of the great virtues of e-books is being able to download volumes en masse so there's always something new to read on your device. Sometimes, you find a book on there and you have no idea where it came from. Don't Tell Anyone by Laurie Boris was just such a book-- an unexpected surprise one afternoon when I was out of fresh reading material. It was also an unexpected pleasure. I read the entire book in one sitting. As I read, I would pause now and then, wracking my brains, trying to remember when I'd purchased it. Surely it must be a professionally published and edited work? It was so good-- such a good story, so well-written, so cleanly formatted. I must've bought it. I finally went back through my emails and, to my delight, found that Ms. Boris is an indie author, which meant that I could post my review of this book on Blue House Review. And, of course, this is the great reward of reading indie authors-- confirming that quality work is out there. It's just a matter of finding it. Don't Tell Anyone made me laugh out loud when I wasn't wincing in sympathy. As the description says, this book centers around the Tragers, a family living in New England. Estelle Trager is an almost stereotypical Jewish mother, with the fretting and the nagging and the Yiddish-- I don't mean that in a disparaging or derogatory way. As someone who grew up with my very Mexican grandmother, those stereotypes exist for a reason. Or maybe all fretting, nagging grandmothers are pretty much the same, whether they mutter in Yiddish or English, Spanglish or Swahili. Hence, I was laughing and wincing in sympathy-- sometimes both at the same time. Hearing Estelle badger her adult children from everything from the cost of eating out, to the proper method of reheating a dish of lasagna, to getting with the baby-makin'-- all were incidents I found totally realistic. While the story is occasionally told from Estelle's point of view, the other person we spend the most time with is Liza Trager. Liza is the hub character, a point of connection for everyone else in the story: Estelle's daughter-in-law, Adam's wife, Charles' ex-lover and Cara Miller's BFF. Adam and Charles, it should be noted, are the brothers Trager. Liza was with Charles first, in their college days. But Charles is gay and she moved on to Adam. The dynamics between Liza, Adam and Charles is a major thread throughout the story as it relates to how they deal with Estelle's illness. In the hands of a lesser writer, this could've devolved quickly into soapy melodrama, but Boris infuses the situation with just the right touch of subtlety and humor. Liza is as unlike Estelle as it's possible to be-- West Coast vs. East Coast, Old Age vs. New Age, Baby Boomer vs. Millennial. Estelle is Frank Sinatra, AquaNet and Wonder Bread. She did not go to college but got married young, had her children young. Her marriage to the late Mr. Trager was not satisfying, but she stuck it out with him because that's what women did in those days. Liza is Talking Heads, all-organic, crunchy granola, green tea and no makeup. At age thirty-two or -three, she seems, in some ways, much younger, more naive than Estelle must have been at that age, getting dressed up for drunken costume party shenanigans like she's still a kid. In other ways, Estelle seems like the younger of the two, in that way that elders in need of care have a tendency to regress. Liza went to college as a matter of course, and now, in her thirties, she has returned to school to pursue a career change-- because what Millennial puts up with work that's not satisfying? Also, she and Adam aren't ready for kids at the beginning of the book, though circumstances cause them to reexamine their stance. The main concern of this tale, you see, is how the family as a whole comes together, falls apart, and then comes back together to deal with Estelle's failing health. She has breast cancer, which killed both her mother and her grandmother before her. Estelle found a lump in her breast five years ago, but both terror and resignation caused her to keep mum on the subject. The family finds out when she lands in the emergency room, presumably because she collapsed, and has a nasty case of pneumonia in the bargain. So begins Liza and Adam's ordeal to care for an ailing parent. I say it is chiefly Liza and Adam's problem, as they are the ones that have Estelle live with them when she is released from her first stint in the hospital, and then she moves in permanently when she is no longer able to care for herself. Charles, to his credit, is an everlasting and nurturing presence. Boris explores how dealing with Estelle, as dealing with any such hardship, brings out both the best and the worst in these characters. Adam's temper becomes explosive-- he is understandably enraged that his mother kept her illness a secret for so long, that she lied to them. He gets upset when she refuses to care for herself. (Ask any caregiver-- there is nothing more infuriating than trying to care for someone who will not care for themselves.) Estelle doesn't want to quit smoking, she doesn't want to undergo treatment, and she won't allow her doctors to share her medical information with the family. Adam takes his temper out on Liza and Charles, driving them together, then he gets angry when he feels like they're ganging up on him. Liza, meanwhile, is doing everything she can to be a dutiful daughter-in-law, to care for someone who has no one else. Charles, who retains his privacy and distance, visits regularly, and is generally always calm and cheerful. He is a natural charmer-- everyone who meets him instantly likes him. And he has extensive experience dealing with divas of a certain age, as he is a producer of some sort for a View-esque TV show, which largely entails him keeping said divas happy and preventing cat fights from breaking out. At a glance, it would seem that Charles is the one Trager who manages to hang on to his equilibrium throughout the book. Yet, he seems to wrestle quietly with his own demons-- mainly doubt and insecurity. His personal life is in a deadlock-- his married lover is a closeted politician. More importantly, he seems to be looking rather wistfully at Liza. If he ever had a straight relationship, he would have wanted it to be with her. Did he make a mistake in rejecting her all those years ago? Despite their varied responses, Adam, Liza and Charles are all forced to confront their own frailties, their own mortality. Adam and Liza try to get pregnant. Charles pushes for commitment from his lover. Trying to juggle their own lives with Estelle's demanding needs and overbearing personality takes its toll. Old rivalries come to the fore, and we find that jealousy between the brothers is not limited to their feelings on Liza. There is a long-standing grudge where Mother's affections are concerned (it does seem that Estelle favors Charles). Perhaps the greatest burden, however, is placed on Liza when Estelle asks her, from the very beginning, to kill her before her illness gets too bad. At first, Liza thinks it's just the medication talking. But as Estelle repeatedly and emphatically repeats her request, Liza finds herself seriously considering it. This book manages to wrestle with weighty subjects with wonderful aplomb. We ask ourselves, what would we do in Liza's shoes? In Estelle's? It's easy to dismiss Adam as being a bit of a jerk, but when your mother is dying and won't talk to you about it, how good of a mood do you think you'd be in? Here is another point where I could relate so well to this book. Five years ago, at the age of twenty-eight, my husband went into renal failure and had to go on dialysis. I understand what it means to become a caregiver at an untimely age (if there is such a thing as a timely age). Like Liza, I was a working adult and pursuing a degree. Boris captures it all: the exhaustion, the desperation, the feeling of disconnectedness, the mood swings. One minute, you're buoyed at the kindness of others; the next, you're a crumpled heap of depression because you can't figure out dinner. Everything takes on this surreal quality, as if your life has been suspended. Your state of being becomes this constant state of vigilance and emergency-- is your loved one eating the right thing? Are they eating at all? Are they losing weight? Are they comfortable? Are they breathing? Are they running a fever? Oh, God, they're running a fever. Better rush them to the ER. It's hard to imagine unless you've been there, but Boris paints a painfully vivid portrait of these circumstances. I felt like all these characters were real people, people I might know. She brings such sensitivity and compassion to them. She doesn't judge them or their decisions. I loved that. I particularly enjoyed Cara, Adam and Liza's neighbor, who is a home care nurse. Cara is a wonderful source of support for the Tragers, particularly Liza and Estelle. As with the rest of the caregiver situation, Boris perfectly nailed the importance that such healthcare providers have on the lives of their patients, as well as the lives of their patients' families. Cara brings that matter-of-factness that healthcare workers develop in working with the chronically and/or terminally ill. For example, Cara knows that one of her patients has a hypodermic needle with a lethal dose of morphine squirreled away in his house. She knows where it is, and is prepared to use it if it ever becomes necessary. She procures marijuana for Estelle for pain and nausea. When you work in a world that straddles the line between life and death, morals and legality become negligible. Again, there is that sense that normal life has been suspended. All the rules you thought you knew simply don't apply anymore. I don't have enough applause for this book, which, for me, touches a subject so close to home. I know others may find the subject of cancer and end-of-life care too tough. But for those of us who have already survived it, I'd say it's just right.
  • Collide on Oct. 16, 2013
    star star star
    Alyson Kent's debut novel, Collide is, very much like its heroine: brash, funny, flawed and, for the most part, entertaining. When we meet Jane Alexander, she’s in the midst of some pretty major personal drama for your average, small-town white girl. Her best friend, Maria, has just returned after a mysterious disappearance with no memory of what happened. Jane herself is in hot water for some not-so-minor transgression she has recently committed. Her sentence: having to shuttle her younger brothers around and calling to check in constantly so her mother knows where she is at all times. Kent doesn’t tell us right away what exactly Jane has done, though we understand that it is somehow connected to Maria’s disappearance. And then there’s a certain tall, dark and handsome foreign exchange student named Akira that Jane finds alternately suspicious and sexy. In setting and tone, Collide does exactly what urban fantasy should do. Here we have the world we know: friends, school, sports, after-school jobs. Then, living right alongside these things, is an entire universe filled with magic and fantastic creatures, some familiar (vampires, zombies); others, less so (tengu, oni). I like how everyday life seems to be the dominant reality in this story. No matter how much weird shit goes on, you know Jane’s going to go back to class eventually. She’ll go to prom. She’ll graduate. It’s all so very normal. But it’s that very normality that serves to underscore the real horrors presented in this book-- heavy issues like sexual violence and missing children, or even milder ones like feeling your BFF pull away from you. Kent strikes a nice balance between seriousness and humor—there is, after all, an organization named GOOPS involved (that would be the Guardians of our Paranormal Society). Jane, as the narrator, is witty and incisive. The lighter tone lends itself nicely to Jane being an average kid, concerned about her SATs and getting into a good college (not to mention, scoring a serious stash on Halloween). Then there’s Jane herself. I loved Jane. I loved her when she was fierce, I loved her when she was foolhardy, I loved her when she was flying off the handle. I even, God help me, loved her when she was being an abusive psycho. Her behavior would not have been tolerable for five seconds in a male character. Yes, I know that’s a double standard. But it’s hard not to be grateful when a tough chick with a take-no-prisoners approach appears in fiction, okay? If only it were that simple. Because seriously-- Jane? Is a PSYCHO. The book’s strongest point is also one of its weakest. I kept thinking, this girl needs some intensive anger management therapy. Stat. I realize that young people may have some impulse control issues, but damn. Her default setting is violence. Underclassman tries to talk shit in the parking lot? Jane almost breaks her arm. Guy sneaks up behind her on the street? She decks him with her book bag. It’s like, simmer down there, honey. Have a Xanax or something. I suppose that's why the title of the book is "collide"-- Jane's fists collide with stuff with astonishing regularity. Even Akira observes that she should've been expelled a long time ago for her behavior. Again, if she were a boy, she would've been. The shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later approach works for Clint Eastwood movies. Not much else. Meanwhile, Jane’s anxieties manifest in migraine headaches and the rather unnerving habit of tearing at her cuticles until they bleed. For me, these traits were a bit of a misstep—mainly because Kent brings up Jane’s migraines earlier on in the book and then never mentions them again. As for Jane picking at her own fingers, is there some rule of the genre that requires the heroine to have a bizarre nervous tic? I swear, I have read several books recently where the female protagonists compulsively twine their hair, bite their lips, or other weird, borderline self-harming behavior. What is that about? Does this have something to do with the fact that Kristen Stewart is frequently described as twitchy? Anyway. When Maria disappeared, Jane was wracked with guilt. When Maria comes back changed, Jane gets to feel guilt and worry. Then, as if that weren’t enough, there is the secret that Jane carries with her—the secret that has to do with why she got in trouble. There are plenty of reasons for Jane to be anxious, acting out, and sexually repressed, but it's so extreme, you’d think someone would notice and get her to a shrink. I’m willing to forgive Jane her shortcomings for a lot of reasons. I found her love for her small town endearing. Kent clearly shares Jane’s fondness for the Blue Ridge Mountains, and as someone who’s had the pleasure of visiting Asheville, I can’t say I blame ‘em. Even more endearing is Jane’s relationship with Maria. For me, this is the real heart of the book. Not the will-they-or-won’t-they romance between Jane and Akira. Jane and Maria. High school girls who’ve been friends for life—you know the kind I mean. Girls like this are each other’s first love, and no boy could ever get in the way of that. In the end, I absolutely loved that Jane was Maria’s savior. Sisters helping each other out, knamean? My only gripe there is that Maria as a character is not terribly well developed. The rest of the cast overall is pretty thin-- Jane's family consists of a mom, a mostly absentee father, and a pair of obnoxious twin brothers. Jane's father never makes an actual appearance. He is frequently away on business, and sometimes has breakfast with the family via Skype. This might've worked if he'd served an actual function. Why not just make Jane's mom a single mom? It's one of the trickier aspects of dealing with young people in fiction-- unless their relationship with their parents is the focus of the story, their familial interactions tend to feel very perfunctory. This is why so many YA/children's literature heroes are orphans—the kids must be left to fend for themselves or it loses all dramatic tension. Akira, for being the love interest, is also fairly two-dimensional. He fulfills the YA paranormal fantasy requirements: older, handsome, supernatural and overly protective. I’m not enamored with his love/hate relationship with Jane. (Just because that has become a staple of the genre doesn’t mean I have to like it). Given his heritage, his “raven” hair, the school’s mascot being a raven and Jane’s fondness for Edgar Allan Poe, manga fans and gamers will probably spot the tengu a mile off. I’m sure they’ll also appreciate the Akira film reference. I say kudos to Kent for using comparatively unusual mythological critters. Despite my Jane love, I’m not entirely clear what Akira finds so attractive about her—she’s not particularly mature or sophisticated. But then, he seems to enjoy his gig as a high school basketball player, so maybe I’m overestimating his maturity level? Don’t get me wrong. I think that Kent has a lot of raw talent, a real flare for writing-- Jane's voice was so clear, so self-assured, I felt most of the time as if she were sitting right next to me, telling me about her experiences. However, I saw a lot of rookie, first-time author mistakes. I feel obligated to report the egregious grammatical errors. Kent way overuses italics, capitals and quotation marks. Her descriptions are repetitive. Characters call each other by name in dialogue, which never fails to drive me up the wall. (It’s particularly annoying how Akira calls Jane “Alexander” throughout the beginning of the book.) Kent does attempt to give the characters distinct voices, with mixed results. For example, Mr. Baker, the owner of the bookstore where Jane works, is well-traveled, wealthy and eccentric. Therefore, he has what Jane describes as an overly formal way of speaking. Working in academia and spending way too much time around literary types, I know what actual prolixity sounds like, (I may even, quite possibly, be guilty of it myself) so it didn’t quite work for me. But then, I'm not a teenager and I appreciate the effort all the same. The pacing is a bit rough. The first half of the book moves along at a nice clip, then things kind of fall apart in the third act. There's a scene that felt more like the natural climax of the book, but then it just kind of lagged on and on before a second, decidedly less exciting climax. The action was hard to follow, and I thought that perhaps Kent had just exhausted herself before we hit resolution. There is plenty of room here to write a series. I would be interested to read more to not only spend time with Jane, but to see the progression of Kent’s writing. I think she’s on her way to being really fabulous.
  • Juarez: A Novel on Oct. 24, 2013
    star star star star
    Hats. That’s really the only difference between a noir mystery and a western. Fedoras or Stetsons. The rest is just academic. Okay, maybe that’s a little simplistic. But you know what I mean—the western and noir genres share a lot of the same elements. Like the titular border town, this book straddles two worlds: in Ciudad Juarez, U.S. high-rises cast their shadows over Mexican barrios and shanties. There are cowboys and there are vaqueros, feds and federales. Here is a collision of Old World and new, of poverty and excess, desperation and corruption, innocence and experience, heaven and hell. Scott Bonasso blurs the lines deliciously between all these things and more. He gives us gorgeous dames, good men with tarnished souls, lawmen with questionable motives and some truly monstrous criminal masterminds, all served up with a south-of-the-border flare. Oh, and there’s also scads of illicit funds at stake, and a wide-eyed moppet caught in the cross-fire. One of the very great virtues of Juarez is, pretty much what you see is what you get. There’s nothing fancy in these pages, nothing terribly deep or original. But what we have here is such an outstanding example of genre literature, and Bonasso spins a hell of a good yarn in the bargain. It proves the old adage that sometimes it’s not the story, but how well it’s told. Honestly, it’s better than it has any right to be—this is top-shelf pulp fiction. It goes down smooth like a shot of good tequila. And it’s so damn well-written, too. Bonasso clearly knows these styles, these tropes-- he’s at home with them. Juarez inhabits them, comfortably and completely, as do its characters. Our lead protagonist is John Teague. In this story, even the names are staccato, unremarkable, almost anonymous, just like Sam Spade or The Man With No Name. There’s not a lot in the way of characterization, and none is really called for. We know our white-hat when we see him—or at least, the closest this tale’s going to get to a white-hat. A common name allows him to become more of an Everyman, an archetype-- in John’s case, the wounded hero. We know that John lost his young son in a tragic accident, that his marriage to Anastasia has crumbled as a result. So, at the beginning of the book, John sets out to find the lowliest, meanest death possible, as befitting his guilt. I was reminded of Leaving Las Vegas, in which Nicholas Cage’s Ben Sanderson decides to drink himself to death in Sin City. Juarez certainly gives Vegas a run for its money in terms of seediness. But Vegas seems like fucking Disneyland, a fluffy, candy-coated confection, compared to the underlying nastiness of the notorious Mexican border town, where the bodies of drug war fallen are hung from trees, where dogs tear at a severed human heads like a chew toy. John strikes out for Juarez with the same intention: to imbibe as many substances in as much quantity as possible, to fight, whore and gamble until he’s a stain on some lonely highway. And what better place to do that than Juarez? But the best-laid plans, eh? Westerns have other literary cousins—fables and allegories. They share the same brutal, almost primal simplicity. A man goes into the desert stripped of everything, all his earthly possessions, all hope, even his identity. With a set-up like that, one can only expect to witness a spiritual journey, with epiphanies, awakenings, even absolution. John’s epiphany comes in the form of Marco Espinoza and his mother, Marcela. Marco and Marcela are, indisputably, on the side of the angels. Marcos’ father, Juan, had worked for the narcos until he ended up really most sincerely dead. Now, the cartel has shown up, demanding fealty from Marcela. All three people are caught in an unspeakable limbo. They are harmless and helpless, swept along by events greater than themselves. Their lives are worth nothing. But when people have nothing to live for is when they become the most dangerous. People with nothing to lose become fearless. Their priorities suddenly become very clear. Yet, none of these characters are victims-- something else I found very admirable in this book. In Juarez, death isn’t necessarily the worst thing that can happen to you, and they all know it. The threat of torture, rape and terror are constant. Yet, they face the world head-on. They’re decent people trying to do the best they can. I especially like that Marcos is a useful kid, and not simply the MacGuffin other works would've made him—he and John become quite the team. Aside from the main trio, there is the expected supporting cast—bartenders, hookers and henchmen. Like the setting, the characters are extreme, even over-the-top. El Mago is the local cartel boss, a spidery, cornrowed, effeminate creep. In a lesser work, that might seem wildly improbable, but Bonasso writes with such self-assurance, that it works. From the opening pages, Bonasso’s talent with prose is shown to quiet but stunning effect. His descriptions of the city, of dreary motel rooms, of crumbling Catholic structures and cemeteries, all make me feel like I’m there—it’s a fully immersive, sensory experience. I would love to see this made into a film. A good director would have a field day with its colors and textures, the invariable psychedelic palette inspired by the Mexican locale. For readers who, like me, wish to be transported, ride shotgun with Bonasso. He’ll get you there.