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.

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.