These are reviews originally posted to Amazon as customer reviews. They're intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. (Apologies for any typos, bad grammar, or offensive language.) This isn't sponsored by Amazon or represent them in any way, although they do have a very nice site and I recommend checking it out for your next book purchase. Feel free to comment on the books if you've read them or tell me how much my reviews suck or whatever.
That is all.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


by Michael Offutt
(5/5 stars)

While the author previous "Slipstream" was filled with a lot of wild stuff, "Oculus" is far more down to earth--probably because it takes place on Earth and not the parallel world of Avalon with all its far-out technology.  This probably makes it more accessible for more casual readers than the first book.

Jordan Pendragon has returned with his twin sister Kathy from a stint in Avalon.  He resumes his normal life at Cornell, where he majors in Physics and plays on the ice hockey team.  At the same time he uses the supercollider at the school to study Antarctic ice samples in order to locate the "Black Tower" that holds the key to saving Avalon and Earth from the evil Shadow.

Then Jordan meets a young woman with a weird old stone called the oculus.  A wacko religious group sort of like Opus Dei in "The da Vinci Code" also want the oculus, though for far different reasons.  The battle for the oculus and its secrets ends up (appropriately enough) in Hell's Kitchen where Jordan and his boyfriend Kolin, his best friend Robbie, and his teammate Andy do battle against a bunch of demons who would be at home in a "Hellraiser" movie or one of the old Doom video games.

There might be a few too many eating, hockey, and snogging scenes for my taste, but overall the story is well-told.  There aren't many mysteries wrapped up, just a few more pieces to the puzzle.  As I said at the beginning, since this is mainly situated on Earth it's a little more approachable for more casual sci-fi readers than the first book; there are fewer alien concepts to grasp and far more familiar settings like upstate New York and New York City.  Book 3 promises to be exciting as we get to learn more about Excalibur and Jordan's connection to it.  So if you haven't already, you should definitely get into the series now.

That is all.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


by Mark Rayner
(4/5 stars)

I think I would have enjoyed this a little more if I hadn't been so busy the last few weeks I hardly had time to read it at all, which made it seem to take forever.  My main criticism is that the book is on the long side, something I similarly felt recently when I read "John Dies At the End."  It's my opinion that humorous books should stay under 300 pages or it starts to run too long, like one of those annoying SNL skits that keeps pounding the joke into the ground for 10 minutes until there's nothing funny left and you just get up to use the bathroom or something.

Anyway, the book is about a fridge that takes over the world.  Well not really a fridge.  It's an artificial intelligence that manifests itself through a web-enabled fridge in the kitchen of Blake Given, an Irish-Canadian web programmer who apparently is pretty well off to be able to afford a web-equipped fridge.  One day the fridge starts talking to him and calling itself "Zathir".  Zathir turns off the Internet while it works to increase its strength.  Naturally there's a bit of a panic.  Blake ends up pretty well off as Zathir's primarily link to humanity.

There's a lot of other stuff that happens but for a major cataclysm things stay pretty well-mannered.  The ending felt a little abrupt especially after as long as it took to get there.  I'd have liked a little more of an idea what exactly happens to Blake and the others at the end. 

Still, if you've got the time for it, this is a fun read.  It'll make you reconsider just how much time you should spend on the Internet--reading book reviews for instance.

That is all.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Insanity of ZERO

The Insanity of ZERO
by Michael Offutt
(5/5 stars)

This is a good primer for the events in Offutt's novel "Slipstream" and its eventual sequels. It's the story of an apocalyptic event that unleashes ZERO, a sentient machine to care for the damaged alternate-Earth world of Avalon. Like most sentient machines (HAL-9000, SkyNet, the Matrix, Megatron) ZERO finds it difficult to relate to humans. He finally starts to merge his thoughts with some humans, with disastrous consequences.

Since it's a short story it moves at a brisk pace, without the typos or other gaffes you see in a lot of self-published fiction. It's recommended reading before you tackle "Slipstream," as it helps ease you into that world. And believe me, there's a lot going on in that book, so some easing in is very beneficial.

Plus at least for the moment it's free and only took me about 20 minutes to read. So it's not going to take much time or money to read.

That is all.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions
by Kurt Vonnegut
(4/5 stars)

In modern parlance, "Breakfast of Champions" is what would be called a meta-novel. It's largely a novel about writing a novel. Though since this is Vonnegut it's not about a guy sitting at a typewriter or anything that boring. It's more like in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" when characters would go to the holodeck to interact with holographic representations of stories like Sherlock Holmes or noir detective Dixon Hill.

In this case the author is Philboyd Studge (a stand-in for Kurt Vonnegut) and the holodeck is set to Midland City, Indiana in 1972. The town is hosting a Festival of the Arts and the wealthy Eliot Rosewater (of the previous novel God Bless You Mr. Rosewater) contacts his favorite sci-fi author Kilgore Trout, featured in many other Vonnegut books. Trout is shocked anyone's actually read any of his books as his stories are mostly published in porno magazines as filler with the titles often changed. So Trout decides to go to New York City and then hitchhike to Indiana.

Meanwhile in Midland City is Dwayne Hoover, who owns a Pontiac dealership and several other businesses. By all accounts Dwayne has it pretty good, except his wife "ate" some Drano and died while his gay son works as a pianist in the Holiday Inn Hoover partially owns.

The lounge of the Holiday Inn is where Hoover and Trout are destined to meet and where Hoover is destined to lose what's left of his mind. Also in that lounge is Philboyd Studge, who has gathered his creations together to create a sort of creative Big Bang that will wipe out the old Philboyd Studge universe and create a new one.

In the preface, Studge writes about how now that he's turned 50 he wants to sort of clear the air and empty out all these old ideas and characters so that he can create new ones. Ironically though many of these same characters like Kilgore Trout appear in future novels by Vonnegut like "Deadeye Dick," "Bluebeard," and "Timequake." So if the point was to reboot the Vonnegut universe (to use modern comic book/movie slang) it didn't really succeed.

Like many Vonnegut novels, the characters are in no way realistic. Vonnegut via Trout actually takes "realistic" novels to task, claiming that we already know about real life, so why would we want fiction to duplicate that? (I agree in part with that idea. I mean, most of life is pretty boring, so why would I want that in a novel?) Like my colleague Ethan Cooper, I would agree that the characters are largely cartoonish throughout the novel. That didn't bother me too much, maybe because I watch too many cartoons on Fox and Adult Swim.

Throughout the novel Vonnegut includes silly drawing of everything from an anus to a bucket of fried chicken to the abbreviation ETC. The intent of these seems to be to serve as flashcards for a future audience where Earth no longer has apples or fried chicken, though you'd have to think they would still know what an anus looks like unless humanity has evolved beyond that point or superintelligent robots or cockroaches have taken over. Like Ethan Cooper, I found this device tiresome after a while as it didn't really seem to contribute much to the actual story.

Another thing is that this novel frequently uses the "N-word" and the depiction of most of the black characters in the book is pretty demeaning, especially the ex-con Wayne Hoobler. Though I like to think of it not as racist but as a satire to protest the economic segregation that is still largely prevalent in the 21st Century.

Overall, while the end may be a little disappointing, it is a heck of a ride to get there.

That is all.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cobra Gamble

Cobra Gamble (Cobra War #3)
by Timothy Zahn
(3/5 stars)

Before I read this I wanted to go and read the first two books in the series.  This was much easier said than done, since apparently the first two are not in print, nor are they available in ereader format.  I eventually had to buy one used and the other I lucked out and found at a discount store.  An even bigger problem is that this trilogy--or what right now is a trilogy--is the sequel to a previous trilogy that went out of print about 20 years ago.  I only read the last two books of that series a few years ago.

Unfortunately if you aren't familiar with all those previous, out-of-print books then you're kind of luck.  You really won't have much idea what the Cobras are or the Cobra Worlds or the Trofts or Qasama, let alone know what happened on Qasama in those books from over 20 years ago.  Maybe you can look on Wikipedia for a plot summary or something.

Anyway, this book picks up where the two before it left off.  The Trofts have invaded the Cobra Worlds and Qasama to conquer the humans on those planets.  The heroic Moreau-Broom clan has taken some equipment to Qasama to help the rival Qasamans train Cobras of their own.  They believe that the Trofts have abandoned the place only to get there and find out the Trofts have returned in even greater numbers.

From there it's a battle to rid Qasama of the Trofts once and for all.  The end promises that there could be at least one more book, if not another trilogy or so.

Anyway, I've read a lot of Zahns books and found all three of these Cobra War books to be disappointing.  They definitely aren't as good as his original Star Wars books or even the Conqueror's trilogy that shares some similarities with this in the Cobra War books in that both feature a family caught in the middle of everything.

I think what bothered me the most was most of the characters seemed interchangeable.  If the names had been blacked out I couldn't have told you which one was Lorne or Merrick or Paul or even Jasmine and Jody.  They're all the same bland, capable characters.  And strangely they all figure only minorly in the ending.  I really expected more of a contribution from them since they were the focal point of the series.

Maybe it was just with all the effort it took to get these I expected a little more.  At any rate I was disappointed.  They are OK light sci-fi but the author has a lot better to read.

That is all.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Unquiet

 The Unquiet
by Jeannine Garsee
(4/5 stars)

As full disclosure, I won a copy of this from the author.  I just want you to know that so you don't think this is one of the author's friends or family or something like that.

Anyway, I'm glad I did win this book because it was a fun read.  I recently read an advance copy of the new Amanda Hocking book that is in the same genre and I have to say I liked "The Unquiet" a lot more.  I think the primary reason being that the main character Rinn is a lot brighter than the main character of Hocking's book.  That and there weren't obvious typos and bad writing, just one slight factual error concerning slasher movie killer costumes.

As I said the plot involves a girl named Rinn.  Like so many of these type of books or movies, Rinn and her mom are new to town.  Or at least Rinn is new to town; her mom used to live here before college.  They've fled La Jolla, California after Rinn accidentally burned down her grandmother's cabin with her grandmother inside.  The main cause for the fire is that Rinn is bipolar and at that time was off her medication and thus careless.

In River Hills, Ohio, she figures she'll get a clean start.  She even makes friends with the head cheerleader Meg and her friends Tasha and Lacy.  She also makes friend with the neighbor/landlord's son Nate.

Her new friends introduce her to the legend of Annaliese Gibbons, a girl who drowned in the school pool about 20 years ago, back when Rinn's mom went to the school.  The pool area is now closed, but Annaliese's spirit is said to live on.

After Rinn and her new friends hold a seance around Halloween, strange things begin happening.  The lives of Rinn's new friends begin to unravel and then one dies.  Is it Annaliese striking from beyond the grave?  Or is it just that Rinn is having a relapse?

I figured out most of the plot well before the ending.  If you're familiar with either the original or remake of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" then you might be able to figure it out as well.

Still, as I said, it's an entertaining read that I breezed through in a few hours.  As far as the young adult books I've read it might not be more or less wall-to-wall action like "The Hunger Games" but it's less dull and stupid than "Twilight" or that new Amanda Hocking novel I mentioned.

So I would definitely recommend reading it, even if you weren't lucky enough to win a copy of your own.

That is all.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


StarBridge (StarBridge #1)
by AC Crispin
(4/5 stars)

These books first appeared in print starting in 1989 but now they're being reprinted in eBook format.  When this first one went on sale for a dollar or free, I decided to give it a try.  I had already "friended" the author on Facebook and we were in the same online writing message board for a while, so what the heck.

For the low price it's not bad.  Better than a lot of the self-published stuff you can get.  That said it's not great either.  The writing is blase and the characters are flat.  There was no one in this book I ever really felt could be a real person.

The story is that old tried-and-true first contact scenario.  A human freighter called the Desiree is heading to Earth when it picks up some mysterious signals.  They investigate and find a planet of sort-of-lion-looking aliens called the Simiu.

A lot of time is spent then on the two cultures trying to communicate with each other.  On the forefront of this is 17-year-old Mahree Burroughs, who makes friends with one of the aliens.  (I won't try to spell his name since the alien names all have a bunch of Rrrs and Kkkks and apostrophes.) 

When things go sour between humans and Simui, Mahree and her friend decided to go look for the Cooperative League of Systems (a Federation-like entity) to intervene.  The dreamy Dr. Gable goes with them.  But will they save the day?  (Considering there are at least SIX more books, what do you think?)

Anyway, for those who want more of a Star Wars-type space opera there's not lots of action to be had.  While there's some science-type stuff, I wouldn't consider this "hard" science fiction either.  It kind of falls in the middle then.  Then not-so-nice way I described it was "the homeless man's Vernor Vinge."

Probably the biggest fault I had with the novel was with the main character, Mahree.  She's so immature that I never could imagine her as anything besides a whiny twelve-year-old, despite that she was seventeen and by the end does some adult things.  I think part of it might be that half of the story is her talking into her diary about her crush on Dr. Gable.  You certainly wouldn't hear Captain Kirk doing that.

Anyway, despite its deficiencies, it's a good light sci-fi read, especially at the low price.  Though really I'd rather read "Conqueor's Pride" by Timothy Zahn or "Expendable" by James Alan Gardner.  The writing of both is of about the same quality but there's a little more action and no sighing teenagers talking into diaries.  I'm just saying.

That is all.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Triple Play

Triple Play
By Max Allan Collins
(3/5 stars)

I had previously read and reviewed Collins's "Chicago Lightning" which was a larger volume of Nate Heller detective stories.  They weren't terrible, though not as great as Hammett or Chandler of course.  "Triple Play" provides three more stories that again are just OK.

The first story is also the longest.  It's 1947 and Heller has recently returned to Chicago from a stint in the Marines, where he was discharged after Guadalcanal.  He gets a call from a man named Bob Keenan who says his six-year-old daughter has been kidnapped.

Soon though Heller finds out the girl is dead.  There's a note left in lipstick saying "Stop Me Before I Kill Again."  This is the signature of the infamous Lipstick Killer.

From there Heller goes out to find the Lipstick Killer.  As often seems to be the case in these Nate Heller stories, it's pretty easy to find the killer.  Except there's a twist:  he may not have done it alone!  Then another twist:  he may not have done it at all!  Then another twist and another twist.  Oy, I'm starting to feel like a pretzel.  I kept wondering why the story hadn't wrapped up yet and then another twist would be revealed.  It did get kind of annoying, to the point where I sighed and said, "Could we just end this thing, please?"

The second story features something that annoyed me with the previous Heller anthology:  shameless namedropping.  In this case it's a big one:  Marilyn Monroe.  Heller gets assigned by famed screenwriter Ben Hecht (one of Hitchcock's favorite collaborators) to bodyguard Marilyn to a charity poetry thing.  Monroe has nothing to do with the actual story.  Instead, it's about the murder of a poet friend of Hecht's who's down on his luck.

Like pretty much every other Marilyn Monroe thing out there from "Candle in the Wind" to the recent movie starring Michelle Williams as the movie star, Marilyn is described as beautiful and a deeper and more tortured soul than we might have thought.  Which as I said has pretty much become a cliche.  Can anyone come up with something else to say about her?

The case is wrapped up pretty easily, this time without any twists.

The final story again involves some name-dropping, though they aren't familiar names unless you're a baseball fan.  In 1951 Cleveland Browns owner Bill Veeck came out with a great publicity stunt when he hired a midget named Eddie to pinch hit.  At only 3-foot-6, Eddie had no strike zone to speak of and was walked on four straight pitches.  Soon after that game baseball banned midgets from participating.

Anyway, years later Eddie turns up dead and Veeck asks Heller to look into it.  And again it's wrapped up pretty easily.

I guess in the final analysis the stories are interesting, but I hate all the namedropping and I'd really like it to be more of a challenge to find out who did it.  Though not by just piling on one twist after another at the end.  I mean come on, make it harder to find the guy in the first place.  Chicago is a big city; it shouldn't be so easy to find one person.

Anyway, if you're into old-fashioned private detective novels these aren't bad.  They aren't great either.

That is all.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sorry Please Thank You (Stories)

Sorry Please Thank You (Stories)
by Charles Yu
(5/5 stars)

Despite having read quite a bit of science fiction over the years, I haven't read that many short stories in the genre. Though I have to say most of the stories in "Sorry Please Thank You" can appeal to a broader audience because most don't deal with spaceships or aliens or high-tech science stuff.

The first story in the collection takes place in an Indian company where emotions are outsourced. The operators at the company feel the pain of well-to-do Americans, so those affluent people don't have to be burdened with things like guilt or sadness. Another story is about two employees working the graveyard shift of a thinly-veiled Wal-Mart who run into a vain zombie. There's also one from the point of view of a character in a role-playing game similar to Dungeons and Dragons, which begs the question: have you ever thought how tiresome all this questing can be? Later in the collection is a Star Trek parody where a yeoman tries to avoid his fate of being killed on an away mission, a similar concept to the novel "Redshirts."

Just about every story is told with wit and humor so that it's a light read. Some are a little less funny than others, which is always the thing with humor; it doesn't always work on everyone. About the only fault I have is a few of the stories are quite short; the last one is about 3 pages. The story "Inventory" is the longest at about 40 pages, but that's mostly because of the formatting, where some pages only have one sentence on them.

Since this was a review copy there were no page numbers in the table of contents and some of the headers were wrong, which I found a little annoying. I'm sure they'll correct that for the finished product. Overall, though, I found this to be a fun read for sci-fi fans (especially Douglas Adams fans) and those who aren't.

That is all.

Friday, July 6, 2012


by Amanda Hocking
(3/5 stars)

As someone who's self-published a couple of novels, I had of course heard of Amanda Hocking.  She's one of the patron saints of "indie" publishing, someone who hit it big without going the traditional publishing route.  I hadn't actually read any of her self-published books, so when I saw this on the Vine newsletter I decided to give it a try and see what the hubbub was about.

The answer:  not much that I can tell.  I've read more than a few YA paranormal type books int he last couple of years, both traditionally and self-published.  This really seemed like a pretty bland offering compared to some I've read.

The bland plot revolves around Gemma Fisher--oh what a clever last name for someone who loves water!--who lives in a small Maryland town.  She's sixteen and dreams of being an Olympic swimmer.  She also goes out at night to swim in the cove, where she meets three hot young girls with weird names:  Penn, Thea, and Lexi.  No one really likes those girls or knows where they came from, but boy are they hot!  Did I mention they're hot?  Because it's only mentioned like all the time.

Anyway, the girls are evil monsters of a type that should be fairly obvious.  And of course they want Gemma to go to the dark side with them.  I wouldn't have really minded that since Gemma is dumb as a post.  Even when she finds out what the Mean Girls are she doesn't do anything really to try and stop them.  She doesn't even go on Google or anything to try and find out more about them.  I mean come on, doesn't this quaint little Maryland town have DSL?  None of the other characters seem any brighter.

The final payoff is slightly less disappointing than "Twilight."  Just slightly.  I can't think of any reason I'd want to read one sequel, let alone three.

As for the writing, you can take the girl out of self-publishing but you can't take the self-publishing out of the girl.  Overall the writing is as bland as the plot.  It features things like "head-hopping" during scenes, an abundance of -ing verbs, and plenty of adverbs, all the kind of things agents and editors warn authors about.  That is unless said author has sold thousands of ebooks and then they have carte blanche.

Things didn't get off to a great start for my reading experience.  The very first sentence reads, "Even over the sea, Thea could smell the blood on her."  My immediate thought was, "Well of course you can still smell it if it's ON you."  I think the author meant the smell of blood in a metaphorical sense.  I'd just drop the last two words and then it would read clearer.  There was also this great typo:  "He even used to WATER Harper and Gemma when they were younger and their dad was busy."  It's important to note Harper and Gemma are not petunias or Cocker Spaniels who would need someone to water them.  I assume the author meant WATCH them.  I wonder if the editor will bother correcting that or if they'll let it slide and take the easy paycheck.

Anyway, this didn't take long to read.  You could probably read the whole thing over one day at the beach or something.  I don't see any reason why you should, especially since the traditional publisher will charge much more than for Hocking's self-published books.  You can get just as good as this for less than a buck.  It's not a terrible book, just terribly mediocre.

That is all.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


by Elle Strauss
(4/5 stars)

I got this book free from Amazon mostly because as a fan of Star Trek, Quantum Leap, The Twilight Zone, and such the concept intrigued me. It was a fun light read, though by the time I got to the end I really couldn't be sure what the point of it was. The story really lacks any dramatic heft. I had worked out the two biggest twists long before they occurred.

In case you're too lazy to read the jacket description, the story is about a teenager named Casey, who like Henry in "The Time Traveler's Wife" seems to have some natural disorder that causes her to go back in time. Only in her case she goes back to 1860. She's been doing this since she was 9 years old. Along the way she's made friends with the Watson family, especially a boy named Willie, but he's a red herring so don't worry about him.

In the 21st Century, Casey worries endlessly about her curly hair, which in true Hollywood fashion, along with her height, makes her completely repulsive to every boy at school. There is the cute quarterback named Nate she has a crush on. Then one day she accidentally takes Nate with her in the past and everything turns upside-side down in her life.

On the scale of female YA heroines, Casey falls somewhere between Bella Swan of "Twilight" and Katniss Everdeen of "The Hunger Games." She's as whiny and insecure as Bella, though she has some hunting skills like Katniss so that she's not a total bore. None of the other characters really come off as anything other than one-dimensional archetypes. For instance, there's her friend Lucinda, but about all I know is she's Casey's friend and has a crush on some guy named Josh. Apparently that's all I need to know about her.

Like many "indie" books this could have used a competent editor to clean up the typos. The dialog formatting especially was atrocious. Sometimes two different characters would speak on the same line. Other times the same character would speak on one line and then the next one too. Compounding the problem is the author hardly ever uses dialog tags, so often I wondered who was speaking.

As I said at the beginning, the story really lacks much in terms of drama. The problems that crop up are dealt with pretty easily. There seemed little in the way of a dramatic arc. By that I never felt the story was really building towards anything, which didn't leave for much of a payoff. It really amounts to girl meets boy, girl and boy travel in time, girl and boy come back but can't express feelings for each other, and so on in that way.

Also as someone who's watched/read plenty of time travel fiction, one thing you really need are consistent rules. The one thing that bugged me was when Casey goes back in time she's wearing her clothes from the 21st Century. She usually ditches these in favor of 19th Century garb. But when she comes back, she's again wearing her 21st Century clothes. This made little sense to me. Did the clothes just reappear? Did they change shape? I mean apparently when she goes back in time she's not leaping into someone else's body like Quantum Leap or a disembodied spirit or anything, so why is it different on the way back? Maybe I'm being overly picky.

Anyway, despite my concerns, the book was a fun read. It would probably be more fun for its target audience--teenage/tweenage girls--which is why I'm rounding it up to four stars. I'm sure they'll get more out of it than a crusty old nerd like me.

That is all.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Motor City Blue

Motor City Blue
by Loren D. Estleman
(3/5 stars)

The easy way to sum up "Motor City Blue" is to say it tries very, very hard to be Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler.  But in the end it's just a cheap copy.

I bought this when Amazon had it on sale for a buck or two, mostly because of the title.  Living near the Motor City and a fan of some noir detective novels, I was intrigued by the idea of such a novel set in Detroit.  Had I paid more I probably would have been more disappointed.

The story involves Amos Walker, a private detective in Detroit.  One day he's staking out a guy suspected of insurance fraud when he sees the old company commander of his former unit in Vietnam.  (The story takes place in 1980.)  Before he can say hello or anything, the man is taken away by two rough-looking characters.

Shortly after, Amos gets an offer he can't refuse from a mob kingpin.  The mob kingpin's ward Maria has gone missing and he wants Amos to find the girl.

As you might have guessed, the two cases connect to each other, sometimes tenuously.  I still don't think I've worked it all out in my head.  Anyway, the case involves some snooping around at pornography shops and amateur porno studios, so obviously this is not for the squeamish reader.

As I said at the beginning, it tries really hard to be an old-school detective novel.  There's a lot of tough guy talk, some of which works and some of which doesn't.  The line that begins, "The door opened flatuently..." is an example of one that does not work.

I would say that instead of reading an imitation Hammett or Chandler to just read the genuine article.  If you've already read them, then read them again.  Why suffer through a lousy imitation, right?

That is all.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Trip at the Top

Trip at the Top
by Ethan Cooper
(5/5 stars)

If there's one thing all of us humans have in common, it's that we all live with some amount of self-delusion.  Have you ever gone out on a warm summer day and seen a 300-pound woman wearing a skimpy dress and wondered, "How could she possibly think that looks good?"  Chances are she really does think that looks good on her, which is the kind of self-delusion I'm talking about.

Another such case is Julian Duff.  Julian lives in Manhattan and runs a small publishing firm that creates business newsletters.  Back in the 90s it was a thriving business, but with the rise of the Internet, Julian's company is hitting on hard times.  He's already had to borrow money from the bank and his brother-in-law in order to keep the company afloat.  Some of that money Julian has also used to finance a summer house, as well as sending his two kids to a fancy private school, supporting his wife's charitable arts projects, and investing with a movie producer in low budget films like "Zombalien."

But don't worry, on the day featured in "Trip at the Top," Julian has a surefire plan to fix all his problems.  The first is to meet with the movie producer to get back his investment.  Then he's going to meet with his old partner John Fund, from whom Julian bought the company when John began suffering from kidney trouble, in order to get John to reinvest on a limited basis.  All of this will lead in to Julian's meeting with Pediment Press, a rival firm Julian hopes to acquire with a leveraged buyout.  In between that there's a lunch appointment with his wife Darla to go over furnishings for their new kitchen with an unlimited budget.

As you might expect, things don't go so well in all these meetings.  What soon becomes clear is that Julian is fooling himself.  Through glimpses of other people around him, we see his wife is about the only other person Julian is fooling, and perhaps his sycophantic assistant Miri.  Everyone from the movie producer, to John Fund, to Pediment Press, to Julian's accountant can see he's in big trouble. 

Yet as his day unravels, Julian doesn't take it too hard.  After all, each problem is only a minor setback.  Success is just around the corner!  If not this corner than perhaps the next one.

One of the things I appreciate is that Julian doesn't change.  Self-delusion like Julian's is almost impossible to shake off, especially in one day.  No matter how many times he gets kicked, Julian keeps dreaming the impossible dream.  I imagine even when he's bankrupt and living on the street he'll continue to think success will be just around the next corner if only he plays it right.

As I've come to expect from reading all of Ethan Cooper's books, this novel is free of big soap opera-type twists someone like me would include.  It's more of a character sketch of a man who like all of us keeps thinking his ship will come in.

That is all.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
(5/5 stars)

It's just as well I didn't read this book when I bought it in December 2011 on sale.  I probably would have scoffed at the idea that a hard-line fascist patriarchy could take over what was once America.  Reading it in May 2012 now I'm not nearly as skeptical.  Hearing the hard-line stances of those like Rick Santorum and Rush Limbaugh infamously calling a woman a [rhymes with "glut"] for wanting birth control makes me think there is a portion of this country that would enact something just like Atwood describes.

What she describes in "The Handmaid's Tale" is a patriarchal society where most women are stripped of all rights.  There's a caste system of sorts enacted.  At the top are the "Wives" who are (obviously) the wives of high-ranking officials in the new regime.  There are also "Econowives" who are the wives of lesser officials.  The Wives have servants called "Marthas" who toil away in the kitchens and so forth.  And then since most Wives are older and infertile, there are the Handmaidens.  The Handmaidens are tasked with giving birth to a baby, which is then turned over to the Wife to raise.

Now since this is a hard-line religious establishment where doctors and scientists are killed or locked up, they can't use scientific means like artificial insemination.  Instead there's a whole bizarre ritual that takes place every few nights that involves the Commander (the male head of the household) getting it on with the Handmaiden while the wife is present.  There's nothing seductive or kinky about all of it; it's all pretty sterile, which might be why it's ineffective.

The person telling the tale is a Handmaiden known as Offred (as in she's Fred's property).  She describes life in her household and at other intervals talks about life before the new order took over.  In that life, Offred had a real name and a husband named Luke and also a daughter.  She had a feminist mother and a lesbian friend named Moira.

I think if you want to complain about anything it's that not a lot really HAPPENS in terms of plot.  So if you were looking for a taut thriller or anything like that, then you wouldn't enjoy this.  The obvious point of comparison would be "1984".  I would also say that was a better book in that Orwell has more of a story arc concerning Winston being seduced by the "rebellion" and then betraying the one he loves in order to save his own skin, thereby crushing his spirit.  (Oh sorry for the spoilers.)  While Atwood's book is riveting, the world she builds doesn't really go anywhere.  Offred isn't forced to make the same choices as Winston.  And I have to say I found the last 6% or so, the epilogue, to be a little corny.

Still, with the recent events I already mentioned, the hard-line anti-abortion laws being enacted in "red states" and so forth, I think this is an important book to read (or reread) at this point in history.  Especially if you're female you should read this to see the worst that can happen.

That is all.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Am Legend

I Am Legend
by Richard Matheson
(5/5 stars)

This is one of those classic books I've been meaning to get around to.  When it was finally on sale for less than a buck on the Kindle, I decided to take the plunge and I was not disappointed.

I've only read one of Matheson's other books (his latest one at the time of this review) but I'm a big fan of his work on the original "Twilight Zone" and "I Am Legend" certainly has much of the same vibe as many TZ episodes.

Many "Twilight Zone" episodes (including the pilot) dealt with a lone or small group of survivors after the apocalypse.  Only in this case instead of nuclear war it's a plague that gradually turns everyone into "vampires."  It's important to note that in many ways Matheson's vampires are more akin to the zombies of "Night of the Living Dead" and such than the vampires in "Dracula" or especially "Twilight."  These vampires cannot go out in the light and they drink blood, but they aren't super strong or super fast and they can't change into other shapes.  The way they shamble around, seemingly unable to even open a door, definitely makes them closer to zombies than vampires.

Robert Neville is seemingly the last man on Earth, or at least the last man in his neck of the woods in California.  After about five months he's built his old house into an impenetrable fortress that's stocked with food and has a generator for electricity.  He even has a hothouse to grow garlic that helps keep the vampires at bay.  Every night the vampires gather around his house, hoping he'll come out.  One of his former neighbors yells at him constantly to come out while the undead women strike lurid poses in the hope of coaxing Neville from his fortress.

Most of the story then deals with Neville's survival.  In particular in how he has to deal with the crushing loneliness and isolation of being the only real human left.  To help combat that, Neville begins trying to understand the disease that wiped out humanity and possibly to find a cure for it.

Along the way we learn a little more about Neville's life before the plague, in particular what happened with his wife and daughter.  Though still by the end the details are a little skimpy, especially where the daughter is concerned.  One bit of confusion for me was that it took a while for Matheson to really establish whether Kathy was the wife or daughter and the same for Virginia.

Still, I found this a riveting, suspenseful read.  Modern readers who yearn for buckets of blood and gore aren't going to find that so much in here, but it is a fascinating tale of survival in the face of great horror and adversity.

Another note is that if you saw the Will Smith film from a few years ago you should disregard that as except for the title and basic premise they don't have much in common.

That is all.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Sirens of Titan

A good analogy for this book is it's like one of those paintings that looks great at a distance but when you look at it up-close you can see all the brush strokes. In this case the more distant Vonnegut is from his characters the better because up close the characters come off more as cartoonish props than real people.

The story details the lives of three people who are moved by forces beyond their control. William Niles Rumsfoord set out into space with his dog and now through a strange phenomenon I won't try to spell he has become unstuck in time and space (take that Billy Pilgrim!) so that he appears on Earth at his house every 59 days. His wife Beatrice Rumsfoord wants little to do with him. Then one day Rumsfoord calls his cousin Malachi Constant for a visit. Constant is a billionaire playboy who inherited his money from his father and has done nothing with his life. Rumsfoord tells Constant that he will roam the Solar System, first to Mars, then Mercury, then back to Earth, and finally to Titan, where he will meet three beautiful women, the sirens of the title.

Well this does happen but none of it goes as Constant thought it might. Beatrice gets swept up in it as well. Meanwhile Rumsfoord seems to be pulling the strings of everyone in the Solar System but who's pulling his strings?

As I said at the start, Vonnegut is at his best in this novel when he deals with broader issues, like the history of Mars or the lives of tiny insects on Mercury. Those moments called to mind Douglas Adams and the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" books where too the broader issues were often better than the up-close ones. The characters of Rumsfoord, Beatrice, and Constant aren't all that interesting and as I said none of them seems all that REAL. Vonnegut I don't think was interested in making real, sympathetic characters so much as in making his points about religion, Fate, and so forth.

The last 15% or so almost makes up for the book's deficiencies. Whereas Douglas Adams seemed to back away from providing the answer of life, the universe, and everything, Vonnegut tackles it head-on. Though in both cases, Earth is little more than a pawn in someone else's game; or perhaps not even a pawn; Earth might be more like a bit of dust that gets blown around when someone else moves the pieces.

I don't think this is one of Vonnegut's best, but it wasn't a waste of time either.

As a special note, I noticed quite a few typographical errors in this edition. In part I think it might be from digitizing this to the Kindle. Or perhaps not. It was a little distracting at times.

That is all.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


by Michael Offutt
(4/5 stars)

Slipstream starts off simply enough.  Jordan Pendragon lives in Salt Lake City.  He's a star hockey player on his high school team.  All the girls want him, but he's not all that interested in them.  Then he goes out with his sister and a couple of friends and there's an accident that lands Jordan in the hospital.  He sees a young man kill a fellow patient.  Later Jordan sees that young man again and after an altercation finds a strange bracelet.

While at a state fair with his sister and a couple of friends, Jordan comes under attack.  With the help of the young man who owned the bracelet, they escape only to find themselves in a parallel universe.  This parallel universe is similar to ours in some ways, but very different in others.  In this universe much of the world has been laid to waste.  A corrupt artificial intelligence known as the Shadow has taken over. What the Shadow fears more than anything is death, which necessitates it sucking the life out of people.

Jordan and his sister end up being rescued by some freedom fighters trying to defeat the Shadow by freeing another AI known as the Light.  To do that involves Jordan becoming a hockey star.  But even that is extremely dangerous in this world.

This plot has so many twists and turns that it would take far too long into going through all of them.  It would also reveal too much of the plot and we wouldn't want any "spoilers" right?  It is the most imaginative book of any genre I've read in quite a while.

The book would be even better if the publisher had hired a competent editor.  I've seen self-published books with fewer mistakes.  I don't know about you, but I find that distracting.  Maybe at some point they can put out a revised edition.

That is all.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Virgin Territory

Virgin Territory
By Patrick Dilloway (aka Grumpy Bulldog)
4/5 stars

Full disclosure: I wrote this book. But I hadn't read it in years. Then someone mentioned a scene from it and I realized I didn't really remember it too well, so I thought I'd go back and reread it. Not having read it in so long I think I'm almost as objective as a regular reader.

This is what I would consider a Nicholas Sparks-type scenario. Gary Sinclair is sad and lonely in the little town of Dagger Lake, Michigan. One cold October night he's patrolling the beach to pick up the litter left by the summer tourists and finds something far more important washed up on shore: a naked body! It turns out to be a young woman who is alive. There's just one problem: she has no memory of who she is or where she came from or how she ended up by the lake.

Gary takes her to his house and since he looks kind of like his old girlfriend Andrea, that's the name he gives her. At first Gary tries not to get too involved with Andrea, but finds he can't help himself. The more time he spends with her, the more he loves her. And with all the kindness and tenderness he's shown her, she loves him too.

Some stories would end there, but "Virgin Territory" goes a step further. Five years later we pick up with Andrea and Gary trying to make a life together. But Andrea's desire to have a family starts to drive a wedge between them. Can their love survive?

As a somewhat objective reader, I like the first part better, where Gary and Andrea are falling in love. There are a few things I think are a little rushed, that I could have drawn out a little more. The finished product is less than 60,000 words so it's not like the story was too long.

The second part gets a little darker than your standard Nicholas Sparks story. Then there's a surprise twist. Maybe you can see it coming or maybe you can't. I think it makes for a satisfying conclusion, but you might think differently.

Anyway, the story is less than a dollar--FREE if you have Amazon Prime--so I think I got my money's worth out of it and so should you if you're looking for a good love story.

That is all.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


by Stephanie Meyer
(1/5 stars)

Having just finished YA sensation "The Hunger Games" I thought I might as well check out that other recent YA sensation "Twilight" as well.  The two books are very different.  Where "The Hunger Games" has enough action to entertain male readers like me, "Twilight" is brimming with as much estrogen as any bodice-ripper on the Romance bookshelf.  It honestly has nothing to appeal to anyone with a Y chromosome.

In case you haven't heard yet, the plot involves Bella Swan moving to Forks, Washington to live with her dad.  She soon meets a boy named Edward Cullen who saves her from a car wreck and later being attacked by some thugs in a neighboring town.  There's just one problem:  Edward is a vampire.

Except in Meyer's universe vampires aren't like in "Dracula" living in coffins and whatnot.  Vampires are basically impervious superheroes.  They have super strength, super speed, and are pretty much invincible.  Even the sun doesn't hurt them.  That just makes them "sparkle" which is why they can't go out among humans where it's sunny.  Edward and his "family" in Forks are good vampires, living on animal not human blood.  Quickly Edward and Bella fall in love, blah blah blah.

Anyway, the weakest link in this book is Bella herself.  She's so [expletive] whiny!  And she has no self-esteem.  I marked a couple points on my Kindle where she's going on about what a "god" Edward is and how he's too good for her, so on and so forth.  Give me a break!  And despite a female author there seems something sexist that Bella's only skills are cooking and reading--and whining.  For some reason (because the plot calls for it) everyone at school likes her, despite that she is a bad friend, routinely bad-mouthing all of her new "friends" in her narration and ditching two of her "girlfriends" when they go to look for dresses to a dance.  Honestly, if Edward or any of the vampires had used her for a snack it would have been an improvement.

By contrast it's annoying how Edward and his family are more like the X-Men than traditional vampires.  Edward can read minds, his "sister" can see the future, a "brother" is the muscle, their "father" is the wise leader.  All they need are tights and capes.

But since this is a girl book, the vampire X-Men don't do any fighting on the pages.  The epic vampire fight at the end is completely glossed over.  Which reiterated this isn't a book for boys.

So I guess what I'm saying is you girls can keep your superhero vampires and sighing, whining "heroines."

That is all.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
(4/5 stars)

I have to admit I am not this book's target audience.  As a thirtysomething man, I'm pretty far from this book's target audience.  In fact I wouldn't have bought this except it was on sale and with the movie coming out and whatnot I decided to see what the hubbub was all about.  I was more than a little surprised to find it engrossing enough that I decided to forsake going to bed tonight to finish the last 15%.  I can't remember the last time that happened.

The story itself isn't all that new.  There's been natural disasters and wars and a fascist regime has taken over what used to be North America but is now called Panem.  There are 12 "districts" that each supply the Capitol (formerly Denver) with goods and materials.  While people in the Capitol live high off the hog, possessing technology that sometimes rivals "Star Trek," the people of the districts live in practically the Middle Ages.

In District 12 is a girl named Katniss Everdeen.  After her father died, Katniss took over raising her family--her mother and her younger sister Primrose (Prim).  The situation reminded me a lot of "Winter's Bone" and like the elder daughter in that book/movie, Katniss is the one who puts food on the table by hunting and foraging with her friend Gale.

Then along come the moment of the Hunger Games.  Each year there's a sort of gladiatorial fight between a boy and girl taken from each district.  The 24 "tributes" fight to the death and the last one standing lives a life of comfort, which reminded me of Stephen King's "The Long Walk."  When Prim is picked to go, Katniss volunteers herself instead.  (I don't consider that as a spoiler since it's in commercials for the movie...)  Katniss and a boy named Peeta are shipped off to the Capitol where they are eventually herded into "the arena," a landscape that if not artificially created is at least artificially controlled.

From there it's basically like the TV show "Survivor" mixed with Stephen King's "The Running Man" where the tributes are all trying to survive the elements while also trying to kill each other.  As a skilled hunter Katniss has an edge in that, but she's reluctant to kill human beings.

Anyway, unlike the over 5000 5-star reviewers I'm not going to gush about how amazing the book is.  It's not really.  The writing is plain and there were at least four errors I highlighted on my Kindle.  It's certainly not Hemingway or Faulkner or Proust but then again the book's audience has probably never heard of any of those gentlemen.

So really taking the book at what it is, it is an exciting story of survival and romance.  The romance is a little blah but then I'm a bitter old man (at least to the target audience) so what do I know?  Once the Games begin, it's hard not to get drawn into Katniss's struggle to survive.

One of the things that annoys me though is that she gets a lot of help in this.  It reminded me of Perseus (the guy in "Clash of the Titans" for all you kids), who was given all this stuff by the gods:  a magic sword, a shield, a helmet, a Pegasus.  For Katniss it was more down-to-earth things like medicine and food, but still there was always someone to bail her out.  It devalues her struggle a little when she has to rely on the kindness of strangers.

Also Katniss seemed a little dense at times, especially regarding Peeta.  I suppose you could chalk it up to her lifestyle in District 12, but really it was pretty obvious what was going on with Peeta.  Why was she the last one to see it?

Anyway, I'm not sure what the sequels are about and I don't really care.  Maybe they explain why that pin the mayor's daughter gave her was so important?  I thought it must be some talisman for certain rebellious elements, but nothing really happens with it in this book.

Still, even for this bitter old man it wasn't a bad read.

That is all.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

the After

The After
by Briane Pagel
(5/5 stars)

It's often said in writing that the details are everything.  In this case I think the details were what drew me in.  The way the author portrays the family as they're getting ready for their trip to Florida is just like how my family used to be:  the mom (Saorise) is frantic while her husband Ansel is cooler about it and the kids--Stephanie, Austin, and Chuck--are squabbling and creating various nuisances, just like me and my three siblings.  And then after the plane crashes (or does it?) and Saorise is back home, I loved how she figures out she's in the afterlife by the fact her kids are all getting along at dinner for once.

I also love the primary idea of the book that an afterlife where everything is perfect would really suck.  A similar conceit was used in an old "Twilight Zone" episode where a criminal dies and goes to the afterlife, where he can have all the booze and babes he wants, plus always wins at poker and blackjack.  Then he realizes that getting everything you want and winning all the time is really boring.  (Then comes my favorite part where he tells the angel, "I want to go to the other place."  And the angel tells him, "This is the other place!" Bwahahahahahaha!)  If you haven't seen that then just think of the old Simpsons episode where Homer becomes head of the Stonecutters secret society and soon finds that getting what you want all the time is really boring.

So I love it when Saorise decides, "Screw this place, I want to go home!"  Because you know how they say you couldn't know what good was without evil, by the same token you can't really appreciate the wonderful stuff in life without some of the drudgery.  Since pretty much all of us here are writers, think of it this way:  what if everything you wrote was hailed as genius?  I mean not just a novel or poem, but even your shopping list?  It would get really boring.  What would be the point in trying to write anything if it would be praised no matter what you did?

By the same token, all the whining your kids do makes it more special when they make you a special gift for Mother's Day/Father's Day or snuggle up in your lap when you aren't feeling good.  The struggles are often what make life rewarding and worth living.  (Look what happens to people like Paris Hilton who've gotten whatever they've wanted their whole lives; they're just spoiled, worthless excuses for human beings.)

In my basic review of the After I compared it to The Lovely Bones, which was one of the last books I'd read (one of the only ones other than the Bible) dealing with the afterlife.  No question to me that the After kicks The Lovely Bones's ass in terms of contemplating the afterlife.  I mean the afterlife scenes in that book were so trite and saccharine.  Oooh, my heaven is high school and my face is on all the fashion magazines and here's my dead grandpa and dead puppy...puh-lease.  I got to the point where I just started flipping through those.  Whereas in the After it's a more thoughtful look at what makes us happy.  Maybe that is sitting around high school reading Teen People with your dead puppy.  Chances are that would get pretty boring after a while.  For a lot of us maybe that is just going through our daily lives, the good and bad of it.  Maybe you don't need to climb Mt. Everest so much as just to go about your normal routine and at the end of the day have someone waiting for you to watch TV with.

The good thing about the After is that all this philosophical stuff is woven into a good mystery story.  Saorise doesn't just sit there gazing at her navel; she goes out and explores the After (often unwittingly).  There are a lot of questions raised like what is the After? can you leave? and why the hell is William Howard Taft (a former president in the 1910s in case you come from America's dreadful public school system and never learned that) following Saorise around?

So to summarize, the After is a remarkable book because it takes on big philosophical issues without falling back on lame cliches of clouds and people playing harps and whatnot while the attention to detail to the characters and settings help keep the story humming along.  (And no one gets chopped into bits and shoved into a safe, which is always a bonus.)

That is all.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


by Emma Donoghue
(5/5 stars)

We've probably all heard stories about some girl who gets locked up by a creep in a basement or something similar and gets held against her will for years.  In Germany there was a case where a girl was held for something like 19 years I think.

"Room" involves the story of one such woman.  Except it's not really about her ordeal.  Instead the story is told through her five-year-old son Jack who was born in captivity two years after the woman he only calls Ma was snatched off the street.

Because he knows nothing else, everything that's happening is normal to Jack.  Ma tells him that where they live (Room) is the only real thing in the world and everything the TV shows is make-believe.  So he never questions what's going on; to him there is no outside world.

The first half of the book deals with Jack and Ma's daily routines for the most part.  A lot of these are pretty normal--eating, exercising, doing laundry--and some like "Old Nick" visiting in the night are not normal to us but normal to Jack.

The second half of the book deals with Ma and Jack finally emerging from Room and having to adjust to the outside world.

I thought most of this novel was brilliant.  Jack might not sound like a "normal" five-year-old, but as we learn he's not normal.  He has a higher-than-average vocabulary and can read.  The way he describes some things like "wanting some" and the squeaks of the bed when Old Nick visits Ma in the night cloak a lot of the gory details about their captivity.

What bugged me at the end though was that the ending itself fell a little flat.  I kept feeling like the story was building to something, but when it was over at the 94% mark it seemed more as if it had fizzled.  Really the dramatic climax is somewhere around 50% into the book and so when you look back the remaining 45% was mostly a lot of details that weren't really going anywhere except to show Jack swapping Room for the much larger Room of the world.

Still this was a real page-turner, or screen-turner since I read it on the Kindle.  I'd highly recommend it so much as you're not like some readers and such a coward that the very idea of this book frightens you into giving it one star.

That is all.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Empire State

Empire State
by Adam Christopher
(4/5 stars)

Other than time travel, I'm not sure there's a more overused plot element in science fiction than parallel universes.  You can look at shows like "Sliders" and "Fringe" that have leaned heavily on that.  DC Comics had so many parallel universes that in the mid-80s they had a huge war between them all to establish one continuity.  "Empire State" takes the sci-fi convention of parallel universes and combines it with noir detective fiction.

It all starts one night in 1930 when bootlegger Rex and his buddy are trying to flee from some cops.  They wind up crashing near the Empire State Building, which at that time isn't finished.  They don't get arrested because the cops are busy at the same place with a titanic fight between the city's two superheroes:  The Skyguard and the Science Pirate (who has one of the worst superhero names ever).  The fight ends when both crash hard into the pavement and seemingly disappear.

From there we meet Rad Bradley, a private investigator in the "Empire State."  The Empire State is basically a world that consists solely of Manhattan circa the mid-30s.  (If you saw the movie "Dark City" it's kind of like that because people in the Empire State think there's a world outside of it and a past beyond the nineteen years of the Empire State, but they can't really remember the details of that world or past.)

There's strict rationing there as they're engaged in "Wartime" against the "Enemy" who is never seen as no one who goes off to fight them ever returns.  Then like in most stereotypical detective novels, a dame walks into Rad's office.  She's looking for her partner, Sam (as in Samantha) Saturn, who's gone missing.

The case of course leads Rad to much bigger things.  I don't want to give away more than I have by detailing all those things.

Overall I think while the story was interesting, it could have used a little more paring.  There were so many explanations and double-crosses and failed schemes it was hard to keep track of what all was happening and who was on what side at what moment.  Also for young writers who worry about "showing instead of telling" I could highlight many passages here of blatant telling over showing.  Also point of view shifts during scenes.  (So really if an agent's minion is telling you that's why they don't want your story they're probably lying because clearly they take those kinds of stories if the story is clever enough.  Mini-rant over.)  There was also at least one case where the British author got his American details wrong where he mentioned something was as big as a "football pitch."  Football meaning soccer.  Maybe in the parallel universe they like soccer instead of football?  I doubt it.

Still, I did want to know what all was going on with the Empire State vs. New York and what happened to Sam Saturn and all that good stuff.  So in that way the novel succeeds.

Basically if you like sci-fi and noir detective fiction then you'd enjoy this book.

That is all.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Sudden Vengeance Waits

A Sudden Vengeance Waits
by Nik Morton
(5/5 stars)

There's a whole subgenre of revenge stories out there, running the gamut from ancient times to Westerns to distant worlds. "A Sudden Vengeance Waits" is far more contemporary and closer to home, taking place in a small British community that nonetheless is plagued by crime thanks to the recent recession.

That crime hits close to home for the Knight family when their grandmother is killed during a break-in. There are four Knight children: police officer Paul, college student Lisa, mechanical genius Stu, and rebellious young actor Mark. Soon after the funeral (like pretty much the same night) someone beats up some burglars and leaves a note proclaiming him(her)self as the Black Knight. Now can you guess which Knight might be going out at night to bust criminal heads?

The answer is kind of obvious, but I won't spoil that. Anyway, "A Sudden Vengeance Waits" is a decent entry in the revenge subgenre. It's not as gory or violent as some more recent entries. Really there's no gunplay at all, just one brief sword fight and some martial arts stuff. That doesn't make it fun for the whole family but it does mean you probably aren't going to lose your lunch either.

Overall this was a quick and satisfying read on the Kindle. And being an American the good thing about reading this on the Kindle is that I could look up some of the British slang in the dictionary, which was very helpful in figuring out what a trilby is for instance. (It's a hat.)

My only complaint, a minor one, is that there were so many names to keep track of. Besides the Knight family there were police offices, criminals, victims, and so forth. It was sometimes confusing.

That is all.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Escape From Ensenada

Escape From Ensenada
by Harris T. Vincent
(4/5 stars)

I think you'd be hard-pressed to find another novel that could blend together sailing, The Da Vinci Code, dirty bombs, 9/11 conspiracies, shadow governments, Michael Jackson, the fabled city of Atlantis, and Satan.  Really all that was missing was an alien invasion and ninjas.  But I bet the author is saving those for the sequel.

It starts fairly ordinary enough.  Three old buddies--Tom, Emmett, and Ernie--are going to Ensenada, Mexico to complete purchase of a boat called the Swan.  Before they leave, Tom runs into Jeremy Princeton (a thinly-veiled Michael Jackson) who explains he's been having a run of bad luck thanks to an artifact known as the Black Piper.

Half a world away in Stockholm, Interpol agent Joy Heather is investigating a break-in at the art museum there involving the theft of some valuable old paintings--or so the thief thinks.

And meanwhile Navy man Tony "the bull" D'Anato is plotting to steal some uranium from a Navy base in--wait for it--Ensenada, Mexico.

Through some strange alchemy, these plots all come together in what becomes a prelude to Armageddon.  It's hard to put the book down because despite the factual errors and formatting problems, I just wanted to see what sort of fantastic things the author was going to throw at me next.

The genius of Escape From Ensenada then is that by combining all these elements that don't seem to fit together, it creates a story that is exciting and riveting.

That is all.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Where You Belong

It's been about a year since I finished writing and editing this book--and from the look of it I should have done at least one more edit. I figured that would be enough time to get a little perspective on the story since it wouldn't be so fresh in my mind. It's good to see that after a year I still like t. Maybe after five years that will be different, though I doubt it.

I set out to write something in the style of John Irving novels like The World According to Garp and The Cider House Rules and generally I think I succeeded, though not as well as though books of course. If you're so inclined you can also compare it to Great Expectations, The Adventures of Augie March, or Forrest Gump.

Like those, Where You Belong is the story of a man's epic journey through life--much of it unwillingly. Frost Devereaux never had anything like a normal upbringing. His parents conceived him in a one-night stand during a blizzard and then were wed in a shotgun wedding sans an actual shotgun. Frost's mother hates the man who knocked her up enough that she forces him to live in a barn on her property, from which he is essentially a stranger to his own son. It's not much of a surprise then that when Frost's mother dies in a traffic accident and Frost's face is badly burned, his father takes off to leave him in the care of an inattentive aunt.

From there Frost might have grown up as an isolated lunatic if not for the arrival of redheaded twins from Boston: Frankie and Frank Maguire. They establish the pecking order early on where Frankie is the boss, her brother plotting behind the scenes, and Frost the loyal sidekick to them both. This pecking order remains for the next thirty years of Frost's life.

Much as Frost would like a nice, normal life, it remains tantalizingly out of reach. Or if he does find a moment of happiness it's soon pulled away. His friendship with Frankie lasts through elementary school, but the forces of puberty soon prompt Frankie to leave him behind. He turns to Frank and they head off to an elite private school in upstate New York, but Frank soon has other plans that don't involve Frost. In college, Frost finds a new friend in his roommate Peter, a Trekkie who searches the skies for signs of extraterrestrial life. This budding friendship is soon brought to an end in tragic fashion.

From there Frost ends up in an artist's colony in New Mexico before Frankie returns to his life. Again he thinks he has happiness in his grasp only for it to be snatched away. Heartbroken, Frost finds comfort with Frank only to find he's not that different from his twin.

Maybe this description makes the story sound depressing, but really it's not. Through it all Frost, like most of us, maintains a sense of optimism that someday things are going to work out. And maybe they will. You'll just have to read to find out.

What I like most about the book in reading it a year later is that Frost remains consistent throughout. Some people have described him as passive and he is, with good cause. Never having a stable existence, not to mention a facial deformity, he is an outcast. So it really makes sense--at least to me--that he takes on the sidekick role in order not to alienate those willing to be his friends. Not to mention characters like Frankie and Frank are naturally overpowering and domineering. For the most part these characters and Fate in general move Frost around like the feather in Forrest Gump. It's only near the end where he maybe starts to take control of his own destiny. Still, he remains consistent throughout the book.

For that matter, so do Frankie and Frank. As I said earlier, their pecking order remains in place throughout the thirty years covered by the book. Frankie remains passionate, with her heart on her sleeve while Frank remains a calculating schemer. Because love is blind, Frost never understands that the Maguire twins are more alike than he thinks and generally not good for him until it's much too late. Not to say they're bad people so much as just bad for him.

The downside of writing a book like this that goes from pre-conception to early middle age is that you have a lot of ground to cover. Unless you make the book 2000 pages long, inevitably things get skipped or glossed over. In the first draft I had trouble with dwelling too long on Frost's early years, so that things had to be sped up a little. I think not too much has been lost and so it's still an effective portrait of a man who like many of us is searching for a home.

That is all.

Buy it NOW on Amazon in Kindle or Paperback!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lyon's Legacy

Lyon's Legacy (Catalyst Chronicles #1)
by Sandra Ulbrich Almazan
(4/5 stars)

As I've said before in reviews, there are some books that are much too long and there are others that are much too short.  This falls into the latter category.  While I enjoyed reading the book, I wished it had been longer, to give more time for the story and characters to grow.

The story takes place in the late 21st Century, in a future world that isn't apocalyptic, but not a utopia either.  Getting into a PhD program is difficult because of government regulations, but Joanna Lyon still yearns to be a geneticist anyway.

Her rich uncle offers her a way to get the money for enrolling in grad school.  All Joanna has to do is get on a spaceship, go through a wormhole, and find her famous ancestor, music legend Sean Lyon.

That's a problem for Joanna because she's grown up in Sean's shadow her entire life.  Her uncle even tried to make her go on tour as a tribute act, but Joanna refused, creating bad blood between them.  Still, if it means making her dreams come true, maybe she can do what her uncle wants and meet the man who inadvertently ruined her life.

That's just the tip of the iceberg.  For a novella, there is quite a bit happening.  I really wanted more interaction between Sean and Joanna.  Though maybe that will happen in the sequels.  Certainly everything is set up for a sequel.

As I said at the beginning, the only real complaint I have is that I wish there had been more.  Everything, especially her relationship with George, seems to move so quickly.  A full novel would have given the story a little more time to breathe.

Still highly recommended.

That is all.