Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review & G*veaway: HIDDEN THINGS, by Doyce Testerman


Today, I’m looking at one of my recent reads, Doyce Testerman’s debut urban fantasy Hidden Things. It wasn't the book I was expecting to read, but ended up being a book I enjoyed in a surprising kind of way.

ABOUT HIDDEN THINGS:  "Watch out for the hidden things" . . . That's the last thing Calliope Jenkins's best friend says to her before ending a two a.m. phone call from Iowa, where he's working a case she knows little about. Seven hours later, she gets a visit from the police. Josh has been found dead, and foul play is suspected. Calliope is stunned. Especially since Josh left a message on her phone an hour after his body was found. Spurred by grief and suspicion, Calli heads to Iowa herself, accompanied by a stranger who claims to know something about what happened to Josh and who can-- maybe--help her get him back. But the road home is not quite the straight shot she imagined .

A SCENE I’D READ TWICE: This one is only marginally related to the main story but it was so well done that I couldn’t believe a guy had written it (apologies to male writers everywhere). In the scene, Calli has gone to the detective agency she and Josh shared—partly to feel close to him and partly to go through his files and look for clues. And who is there but Josh’s wife (Calli’s his ex-girlfriend and the two don’t get along). They get drunk and sloppy. Calli has to take a break from her binge to beat up a mysterious, hooded homeless guy (or so she thinks). But the scene is sad and funny, and it’s a realistic look at how two women who don’t like each other can almost bond over grief and booze…Or maybe I’ve just had the wrong life experiences-LOL. Anyway, it’s a great scene.

I DIDN’T QUITE BUY: It wasn’t that I didn’t buy it, but I had trouble visualizing some semi-grotesque characters such as The Fat Man. I think the physical description of him went on so long that I fixated on trying to imagine him as the author saw him instead of how I might have imagined him, and it didn’t quite translate for me. Same with a couple of other fantastical characters along the way. I think the author tried so hard to help the reader visualize the character as he did that it ended up being almost impossible to visualize in a way that made sense to me. Just never quite worked for me. It’s a minor quibble, though.

THE WORLD: I love this worldbuilding. The world of Hidden Things is revealed slowly to us, as it is revealed to Calli on her way back to Iowa—safe, bland Iowa where she felt rejected and unaccepted and swore she’d never return. Safe, bland Iowa where it's easier for the Hidden Things to stay hidden. By mid-book, it all feels very Neil Gaiman’ish to me. (Is “Gaiman’ish” a word? It should be.) It isn’t as lyrical as American Gods, but it does have that same type of surreal quality. It starts out with an urban fantasy feel but ends up with more of a contemporary fantasy twist to it, so it seems fitting that one of the authors who blurbed the book is contemporary fantasy master Charles De Lint. I'm not a huge contemp fantasy fan, and I might have not read the book had I realized it was more along that genre's style, so I'm glad I didn't know. By the time I realized I was reading contemporary fantasy, I was already sucked into the story. (Moral of that story is: don't judge an entire genre by a few Gaiman'ish books you didn't care for.)

THE CHARACTERS: Calli is a former rock singer forced to give up her dreams when her main partner in the band (Josh, who became her private investigator partner) decided to grow up and move on. So there’s an undercurrent of bitterness about her that makes her kind of prickly in the beginning and I wasn’t sure I was going to like her. But her toughness comes in handy as the world she thought she lived in gives way to the Hidden Things she can’t see (let’s just say you’ll never feel the same about a bowling alley again). I adored Vikous, the mysterious, shadowy clown-like figure who accompanies Calli on her journey to discover what happened to her partner. There’s much we don’t know about him, but he’s simultaneously creepy and intriguing. And unlike The Fat Man, we get just enough description of Vikous to imagine him in ways that work for us.

GENERAL THOUGHTS: I ended up really liking Hidden Things in a way I hadn’t expected. I’d give it a solid 4 out of 5. You can read an excerpt from the book here.

Want to win a copy of Hidden Things? Have you read one of the authors considered “contemporary fantasy” such as Gaiman, de Lint, or China Mieville? I have to admit to not being a huge fan of contemporary fantasy—I've always suspected it was probably a little too highbrow for my taste—but I found this one accessible and ended up liking it. 

Up to five entries possible: +1 for comment, +1 for blog follow, +1 for Twitter follow, +1 for a Tweet or RT about the contest, +1 for a Facebook follow. Contests end at midnight CDT U.S. on Saturday.

30 comments:

  1. Neil Gaiman's American Gods is a book I keep rereading. It's beautifully written and the story is amazing. It's one of the best books I've ever read.

    +3 comment, follower, Twitter follower

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    1. I loved AMERICAN GODS as well, and this book reminded me of it. I haven't loved the other Gaiman stuff I've read as well and I've been too intimidated to try China Mieville, but I will eventually :-)

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  2. I go back & forth with contemporary fantasy. Sometimes I really love what I've read, and other times.. well not so much. But this one sounds rather interesting, so I'm up for giving it a try. :)

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    1. It was kind of sneaky! It starts out with more of an urban fantasy feel, then morphs into something else. But by then you're hooked. :-)

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  3. I must agree with Sullivan. AMERICAN GODS is one of those books I always recommend to others. Gaiman's work is a gauranteed winner! :)

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    1. I think you'd really like this one, then. I think Gaiman fans are exactly the target market for this book!

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  4. I like Neil Gaiman's book. Charles de Lindt's books have been hit or miss for me.

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    1. I have to admit I haven't read de Lint--he has so many books I wouldn't know where to start. I'm hit and miss on Gaiman, but loved American Gods.

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  5. I love de Lint's books, so I will certainly check this one out. I'd also recommend (Highly) Emma Bull's War of the Oaks, for those that like de Lint, if they haven't read it yet.
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    1. Totally agree about War of the Oaks. I read it for the first time not so long ago. It's definitely in this same type of genre, so you'd probably enjoy this one.

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  6. I haven't read many male authors. I'm kinda like you in that and that I don't care for contemporary fantasy. I will have to give this a try though. I love your review and how you put what you liked and didn't like about the story so openly. Thanks so much for sharing.
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    Rhonda D
    slinkydennis@yahoo.com

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    1. Male authors don't do women characters all that well as a whole (and I'm sure guys think the same thing about women authors--it's hard to totally get in the other gender's head). I think that's one thing I loved about that scene between Calli and Lauren I talked about--it is totally what two women would do.

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  7. Neil Gaiman's "Good Omens" was our book club choice at some point last year - it was a really refreshing departure from what we usually read! Love the ending too. :)

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    1. I haven't read that one...will have to check it out!

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  8. Not a fan of Mieville, but I absolutely love Coraline and the Graveyard Book--I need to read Gaiman's adult contemporary fantasy to see if I like those as much as his YA. I guess I just like YA contemporary fantasy in general--I read a LOT of that.

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    1. I was not a big fan of Anansi Boys but really liked American Gods. I was so-so on Graveyard and have to admit I haven't read Coraline.

      I'm kind of on a YA strike right now--I overdosed on it last year and decided I didn't want to read about anyone under 21 for a while. LOL.

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  9. Sounds a great book to read, try to remember book I read, so far, I have not read Contemporary fantasy

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    1. Contemporary fantasy is an interesting subgenre, Eli...I guess it's like the "literary" form of sf/f. Tends to be a bit more cerebral, a bit less physical, a bit slower-paced. At least that's been my experience with it.

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  10. I have never read Neil Gaiman to my shame :) but I would call The Night Circus a contemporary fantasy and even War for The Oaks. I think these kind of genres get blurred into urban fantasy or historical fantasy and it becomes impossible to separate them.
    Hidden Things is on my wishlist, so thank you for a chance to win it.
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    impy80 at hotmail dot com

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    1. I haven't read The Night Circus, but my understanding is that it is more contemporary fantasy. I do think all these fantasy genres kind of run together, which is why this one starts out more urban and ends up more contemporary. In the long run, that's a good thing for SF/F, I think!

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  11. I have never read any contemporary fantasy but I love the sound of this one!

    I follow via GFC, Twitter and Facebook.

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    1. It's probably a good first contemporary fantasy to read--it's a little more accessible than some I've read. (American Gods is accessible as well, and as you can see here, a lot of us recommend it highly!).

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  12. nope, i can't recall any book about contemporary fantasy. in fact , this is the first time i heard about this genre :D

    looking forward to read this one if i win

    +1 for comment, +1 for blog follow

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  13. wow.. love the cover!! is it about dragons?? i have to read this one!

    +3 commented, blog follower, fb follower

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    1. LOL. Yes, there might be some dragons figuring into the story :-)

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  14. Haven't read any contemporary fantasy or those authors.

    I follow the blog.

    bn100candg(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  15. Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint are two of my fav all time authors!

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  16. I have never read a book like this before. But I love Fantasy books SO MUCH! And this book does seem awesome :D Thank you for sharing. <3 I would love love to win it :) Thank you :D

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    Love, Carina

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  17. I've read everything Gaiman wrote and I loved each and every single book!

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