Tag Archives: book review

Recent reads

I finished a couple of very good thrillers recently.  First was Steven M. Moore's GAIA AND THE GOLIATHS. This was the seventh Chen-and-Castilblanco mystery, and it deals with eco-terrorism and murder. It takes the reader from New York to Europe and also involves Moore's Dutch Interpol agent Bastian van Coevorden on that end. It's a well-constructed mystery that presents a balanced picture of the world of environmental activism along with several little nods to what's going on in American politics today (the story is set a short time in the future, I believe).  As I've come to expect from Steve Moore, this is a really interesting, thought-provoking read right from the beginning.  Chen and Castilblanco are great characters, too. The second was Steve Richer's THE POPE'S SUICIDE.  Like Richer's THE PRESIDENT KILLED HIS WIFE, this takes an unlikely crime involving a world leader and turns it around this way and that way.  There are many layers of intrigue going on here, and I found it to be a can't-put-it-down type of book.  When the Pope is found hanging in his shower, suicide is the apparent cause.  But of course it can't be that simple, not to mention the complications that a Pope's suicide would cause for the Catholic Church.  Detective Donny Beecher is going through a rough time of his own, marriage falling apart and teen daughter rebelling and getting into some things that Dad wouldn't approve of.  And he's assigned as the lead detective for the investigation.  Solid plotting and writing make this a top notch read.  Now I have to go read THE KENNEDY SECRET. Last, I read CRYSTAL CREEK by William Malmborg.  In this one, a paranormal investigator goes to a small town in Washington State where Bigfoot has been sighted, and a woman has disappeared.  Crystal Creek barely exists anymore, but there is still an inn, a police department, a diner, and a newspaper.  And everyone left in this little town seems to have a secret of some sort.  It's a great premise and a good story.  If I have a bit of a problem with it, it's that I didn't care about the characters too much.  I don't know why, but they didn't make me feel that they were worth worrying about.  Everything about the story is well done, and it's a good, fast read.  (As an aside, is it horror?  A thriller?  Whatever it is, what makes it that?) So there you have it -- three good solid books by indie authors.  Check them out! *****

READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline

This book was, for me, one of those special reads.  I could barely put it down.  Bought it at a little indie bookstore on Mackinac Island (The Island Bookstore) with the intention of getting to it someday.  Well, my son read the description and started it, and he could barely put it down. I finished what I was reading  and picked it up a couple of days ago.  And that was it.  Every spare minute I had I grabbed the book and read.  Finished it this morning between patients, and I have to say that it kept me sucked into the story the whole time. Anyone read it? It's dystopian, in that the real world has devolved into a dirty, poverty-stricken dump.  Wade, the first-person hero of the book, lives in something called "the Stacks" which are vertical trailer parks.  Made me think of the way they park cars in NYC (we don't do 'em like that in Chicago) where you pull into an elevator of sorts and they hoist your car to the top, then put one under you, and another, and finally, the one on the ground.  They stack up the trailers (even some VW minibuses) in metal frameworks, and people live in them.  Cheap and efficient, but not very desirable. Wade's truly happy in the OASIS, a massive virtual world where humanity more or less conducts their lives in this depressing world.  It was designed by a computer nerd named James Halliday, who recently died (at the beginning of the book) and has set into motion a huge on-line quest, the winner of which will get his vast fortune and control of his company.  An evil corporate entity, IOI, wants to win, and is  hiring the best people they can hire to find this Easter egg, and they will literally stop at nothing, including murder, to get there first.  But the true "best" egg hunters, known as 'gunters,' are guys like Wade and others who by some combination of luck and brains, find the first key after 5 years of no one having a bit of success in locating it. I loved the 80's references (and 70's references; a lot of the movies and songs and even video games seem to be from the later 1970s as well as the 80's) and I loved the characters, and I loved the suspense of seeing how Wade and his compatriots would defeat the evil corporation and find the final key and win the game.  Plus, there was the added suspense about just who some of these gunters are.  I mean, all Wade ever sees is their on-line personas, and he clearly believes that it is enough to know whether he can trust them and be friends with them. I liked the message at the end.  It felt right. I don't know if it's a great book, but for me, it WAS a great book, one I'll probably read again someday. *****

The Sub-prime crisis of the last decade and THE BIG SHORT

I knew Michael Lewis from his book Moneyball where he laid out the Oakland As' strategies using sabermetrics to draft and acquire players and to put together a major league baseball team. He was able to explain some of that in ways that are very easy to understand, even if I wasn't a big baseball fan (which I am). So when I saw this book by Lewis explaining the subprime mortgage crisis, I wanted to see if he could explain it in a way that made at least a little sense to me. He was successful, at least in part.  I always wondered how around 8% of total mortgages in this country could bring down financial giants. (I'm not sure of the accuracy of that 8% - it's just a number I've heard often.) I knew instinctively that there was more to it than that, but I didn't know what it was. Lewis tries to explain what happened that made these homeowners' individual hardships come down on the very fabric of our capitalistic society, and he seems to say that it is really hard to spell it out because the ideas behind the whole thing are just totally ridiculous. First, that banks and mortgage lenders would do loans to people who could afford them in the short term but almost certainly would NOT be able to afford them in the long term. Then that they would allow these borrowers to continue to use the "equity" created by inflated home costs to fuel more debt and spending on their part. Then that they would allow them to not even pay INTEREST on these loans – rolling the interest into a larger principle amount somewhere in the future. These buyers had nothing invested in their homes except for fees and maybe a very small down payment (but often not even that). They weren't making ANY payments on the loans. The banks and lenders didn't care, though, because they were selling the loans off to another agency as quickly as possible. And then big concerns on Wall Street were packaging these loans into bonds and selling off the bonds to investors. These bonds were backed by loans that almost certainly were not going to be repaid in full, and in the end, the holder of the mortgage was going to own a house, not a note from a borrower. And what happens when there's a huge supply of these types of houses and no buyers? Prices plummet. But that's not all. Some smart investors bought insurance on these bonds. They didn't buy the bonds themselves - they bought insurance on stuff they didn't own. For this insurance they would pay a "premium" of maybe 2.5%. So for example, a 50 million dollar triple b rated bond backed by lots of terrible mortgages was insured for 1.25 million a year. The life of the bond is the same as the life of the mortgage - 30 years. So theoretically you could end up paying 37.5 million in premiums to insure this bond if it goes belly up. (Remember, this is a bond you don't even own.) But these smart investors recognized that the loans backing the bonds were mostly adjustable rate mortgages with teaser rates that lasted for 2 years and then the interest would rise dramatically. At that point, a lot of people who might be able to barely afford the payments on their mortgages now were not going to be able to afford them any longer. So they were figuring they'd have to pay the premiums for two years, then loans should start going bad and their credit default swaps (the insurance they were purchasing) would pay off for the full value of the bond. (The higher rated the credit default swap, the higher the premium charged.) But someone had to be buying the other side of these credit default swaps - and for a long time that someone was the huge company AIG. (Sound familiar?) But not only AIG - many banks and big Wall Street firms owned the other side of these instruments. The things were generating a steady cash flow of premiums each month, and this was positive income. After all, they'd only become liable for the amounts of the CDS if the bond went to zero. For those smart investors, there was no question that the bonds would default - the only question was "when?" And this is where I am now in the book - just finding out what happens when they start to default. The timing of this event was apparently artificially manipulated by the big houses and by their manipulation of Moody's and S&P rating agencies, so it didn't come immediately as the default rates of the underlying mortgages started to climb - but happen it did, as we all know. Which begins to explain how a relative handful of mortgages in default could precipitate the near-collapse of our entire financial system. It wasn't the mortgages really. It was the greed that sold and resold these mortgages in the forms of bonds and securities which basically had no value, and the fact that it was perfectly legal to place bets (almost literally) on whether people could pay these mortgages or not. I used to think simplistically, when I first heard about this stuff several years back, that they just needed a way to force refinances of these troubled properties. The best way to make them worth something was to keep their owners in them. As I read this book, I realize that it went far deeper, and it really didn't matter if they could refinance at lower rates, the bonds were still bad, and the bets placed were still going to bankrupt those on the wrong side of the bet. AIG "insured" way more of these CDS's than they had assets. Any sort of honesty, either in regulation from the government, or ethical action on the parts of Wall Street and the financial houses, would have prevented this from happening. Someone knew, as they packaged these mortgages into bonds, that they were essentially worthless, ticking time bombs set to go off two years from their inception. It becomes obvious that Wall Street, not homeowners, ultimately built their own mess, and caused all the problems. I read the entire book and I still can't say I understand it. Not all of it, anyway. I think this speaks to the opacity and complexity of what these bond traders did. First, I'm not totally sure what a sub-prime mortgage is. It sounds like a mortgage that has a really low, below prime rate of interest. This would seem to be a good thing. A low interest mortgage is something I certainly would like to have. But later the author says, quoting one of his characters (a major player in this book, Steve Eisman) "A subprime auto loan is in some ways honest because it's at a fixed rate. They may be charging you high fees and ripping your heart out, but at least you know it. The subprime mortgage loan [from HSBC, who had bought Household Finance] was a cheat. You're basically drawing someone in by telling them, 'you're going to pay off all your other loans - your credit card debt, your auto loans - by taking this one loan. And look at the low rate!' But that low rate isn't the real rate. It's a teaser rate." This was in response to a loan offered that suggested that they amortize a loan over 15 years but spread out the repayment over 30 years. Eisman and the author seem to agree that this changes the rate from 7 some percent to 12+ percent. I'm not ashamed to say that I don't get the math here. (Maybe someone can help me in the comments?) Anyway, what happened in the mid 2000's is that they started making these subprime loans with adjustable rates, where the low intro rate was fixed for two years then would reset at whatever the rate was then. And the borrowers would then default at very high rates. These mortgages were being aggressively sold to people who couldn't afford them. Lewis gives the example of a migrant fruit picker making 14K a year who, through one of these mortgages, is able to afford a 750K house on a 30 year floating rate ARM. As Bill Murray would say in Groundhog Day, "Chances of default on this loan are 100%!" Now I've seen it suggested that it's ACORN's fault (and by extension, since he did some work for them, President Obama's fault) when what it looks like is that the reason these were so aggressively marketed to people who clearly couldn't afford them was because the companies who were making the loans had the "essential features of a Ponzi Scheme: To maintain the fiction that they were profitable enterprises, they needed more and more capital to create more and more subprime loans." Their accounting rules allowed them to assume the loans would be repaid in full and not early. So they could book this as profit when they made the loans. Then the people who made the loans sold them off to the people who packaged them into mortgage bonds, so they (falsely) assumed that the risk was no longer theirs. (Those companies were the first to go bankrupt when this whole crisis hit.) Now onto the bonds themselves. A mortgage bond is "a claim on the cash flow from a pool of thousands of individual home mortgages." Failure to repay is only one of the risks with these bonds. Another risk is prepayment. Mortgage borrowers usually prepay or repay their loans when rates are falling and when they can refinance at a much lower rate. The owner of the bond, then, gets paid off in cash for that part of his investment, and this comes at a time when he least wants his money back, because it's not a good time to invest, when interest rates are coming down. So brokers came up with a way to identify and use this risk: They carved up the payments into pieces, called 'tranches'. The buyers of the first tranch gets hit with the first repayments, so he gets a higher interest rate. The second gets a little lower rate, and so on and so on until the investors who buy the loans least likely to end before they want them to get the lowest rates. With subprime mortgage backed bonds, the issuee wasn't early repayments, it was defaults. So they structured them the same way: The first level is the most likely to default, and they get higher interest rates. They then take losses until their investment is completely wiped out. Then the defaults start hitting the second level, and so on. Even so, at first it was a trivial portion of US credit markets - only a few tens of billions of dollars of the total loans made. But later there was a lot more being made. "In 2000 there hadbeen $130 billion in subprime mortgage lending, and 55 billion dollars' worth of those loans hadbeen repackaged as mortgage bonds. In 2005 there would be $625 billion in subprime mortgage loans, $507 billion of which found its way into mortgage bonds. Half a trillion dollars in subprime mortgage-backed bonds in a single year." Guys like Eisman, Michael Burry, and three young guys investing their own money at Cornwall Capital looked at these bonds, their underlying equity, and said to themselves, how can we "short" these things? There wasn't an instrument, but there soon would be: the Credit Default Swap. As I said in my last post on this topic, these were sort of like insurance. Perhaps a good analogy would be, say you walked over to your neighbor's house and looked at his SUV. You note that all four of his tires have nails in them. They're still inflated, but sooner or later they're going to go flat. So you call your insurance agent and say, "I want to buy insurance on my neighbor's tires." You don't own the tires. But you buy the insurance and when the tires all go flat and need replacement, you collect the money. Are you being reimbursed for any actual loss? No. It's your neighbor's loss. Does he get anything from your purchase insurance? Again, no. Not a penny. Same here. These CDS's didn't help the homeowners and they apparently didn't help the people who bought the bonds. What they did was make whoever bought the CDS's rich. Lewis does not vilify people like Eisman, Burry, and others. In a way they're the heroes of the story. Eisman is characterized as a "socialist" on Wall Street because he was one of the only people actually concerned with what these companies were doing to the poor who were the targets of their loans. For the rest, it was just a case of smart people who weren't really rich taking advantage of the stupidity and greed of the big Wall Street investment banks. The CDS's that they bought they mostly sold back to the banks at a huge premium, enough to make them wealthy by most standards. Michael Burry closed his hedge fund because of the way investors treated him when he was having moderately bad years waiting for his investments in these CDS's to pay off, then how they treated him when his persistence paid off. Instead he uses them to offset the greed and incompetence of those big influential Wall Street types. That greed hasn't gone away. Has it learned the lessons it should learn about risk? Doubtful. The problem will come up again, in some other form. I read the book twice, and learned a whole bunch, but I have to say there are some points on which I'm still a bit confused. I've touched on a couple of them in this blog post, but to tell you the truth, I'm not even sure how to STATE what's confusing to me about the whole scenario. I suppose that sometimes, nonsense doesn't have to make sense and is inherently confusing. Maybe that's the case here. *****

New (to me) Thrillers!

I recently found two authors who I decided to try, and found that I enjoyed their works.  I'll be reading more of both. Steve Richer is one.  I read his TERROR BOUNTY and enjoyed it quite a bit.  Here's my Amazon review:
This was my first exposure to the thrillers of Steve Richer, and I'm gonna be going back for more! It was a fast-paced trip through the world of international terrorism and intrigue, and I had trouble putting it down. I loved the main characters (Rick and Olivia) and even though the idea that an amateur could just waltz into this world and accomplish what needed to be accomplished, in the end, I bought into it because it was such a fun story. I'll be trying more of Richer's works.
I enjoyed reading about the terrorist's ideas on the state of the world, which are juxtaposed with his murderous actions.  Nothing is black and white, in the book, or in the world... Here's the link to see it on Amazon:  TERROR BOUNTY by Steve Richer. Another author is M.P. McDonald.  She uses a supernatural or magical device (a camera that takes pictures of future tragedies somehow) to allow her main characters to get into position to be involved with crimes and/or terrorism.  I've read three of McDonald's books so far and enjoyed all of them.  Here's my Amazon review of one of them:
I really enjoyed this thriller, which hinges on the unlikely existence of a camera that shows the future. There were great characters, tense situations, and a nice resolution. I've already read its sequel, CAPTURE, and will review that at some point in the future.
Short but to the point.   McDonald has written a series of five other books about Mark Taylor, the original owner of the camera.  I've read one of those, the first-in-series NO GOOD DEEDS, and enjoyed it quite a bit.  The two CJ Sheridan books were a lot of fun and quite tense at times. Here's the link to see SHOOT on Amazon:  SHOOT by M.P. McDonald. Some very good, new-to-me- reads. *****

The Carter Catastrophe and Stephen Baxter

It has been a few years since I finished MANIFOLD: SPACE by Stephen Baxter. This book was a sequel of sorts to his earlier book, MANIFOLD: TIME, and I believe there is a third in the series called MANIFOLD: ORIGIN (which I haven't read). I say "sequel of sorts" because they were two pretty different stories. Both feature the same protagonist, Reid Malenfant, but they tell stories that are actually set in different universes, and there are only a handful of other characters who carry over from the first book to the second. (One is Malenfant's significant other, Emma Stoney, another is a congresswoman whose name I can't come up with off the top of my head, without either book in front of me.) Only Malenfant is important to both stories. Both are broad stories, with far reaching implications, and tons of hard science. In the first, something called the Carter Catastrophe is discussed, which loosely states that the odds of these characters living in the very early stages of humanity's existence are pretty long. The example Baxter has his character Cornelius use in the first book is that there is a box with balls in it. One of those balls has Malenfant's name on it. He says that there are either 10 balls in the box, or 10000. Then he begins decanting out the balls one by one. When Malenfant's ball comes up on the third or fourth ball, Malenfant makes a guess that there are only ten balls in the box, since it would be highly unlikely that his ball would come out third or fourth if there were 10000. And this is the argument of the Carter Catastrophe, if I understand it correctly; that the odds of any of us living this close to the beginning of humanity's ultimate span are pretty long ones. So, goes the argument, there is likely to be a catastrophe which will make this time period closer to the middle, or even more likely, the end of human existence. (Seemed like a logical argument with plenty of holes in it, to me...) Anyway, in this first book, a message is received (through the quirks of quantum mechanics) from the distant future, and it is discovered to be coordinates. So Malenfant's corporation, the Bootstrap Corporation, racing against government intervention, launches a manned probe to the asteroid they've been directed to. Meanwhile, strange children are being identified - kids who seem to have superior mental faculties. And they frighten people. So they are placed in special schools for their own educational needs, and for their protection, but actually mostly to keep control of them. In the second book, Malenfant is on hand on the moon (controlled by Japan's industrial complex) when the discovery of an alien presence in our solar system is discovered. Malenfant ends up being the one chosen to go out to meet the aliens, and when he arrives at their location, he finds a sort of gateway - a teleportation device. He decides to go through it, and meets up with the Gaijin, a robotic race advancing through the solar system. Meanwhile, back in the solar system, the Earth becomes a devastated wasteland because of environmental damage, humans terraform their moon, and they have to repel an attack on the Sun by an alien species called the Crackers (because they crack Suns - exploding them for their own purposes of energy). Pretty broad stories, as I said. In the end these stories are pretty optimistic, and they are loosely connected, as the events of the first book help to create the universe that the stories occur in the second. Baxter doesn't try to describe his aliens too much, leaving most of their characteristics to the readers' imagination. Their motives are, for the most part, not understood or even really attempted to be understood. But in the end, Baxter seems to imply that aliens that we encounter might be more like us than not, simply because the traits needed to expand their horizons are likely to be common between races. I found both of these to be good reads. They took me a lot of time to get through, and I think this is because they are long and detailed. Not many wasted words or storylines. As noted previously, the first book discusses an idea known as "The Carter Catastrophe."  Here is the link to the Wikipedia article that talks about it:  Doomsday Argument Baxter gives one example of the argument in his book. Here's another: You have two urns, one with 10 numbered balls, one with 10000 balls, but you don't know which is which. You remove one ball from one of the urns, and it is numbered 7. You can logically infer that it's from the one with 10 balls, because the likelihood of an early ball coming out of the other is pretty low. Based on that statistical argument, it's argued that since you're here today, it is likely that you are in the last 90% of humans to be born, and less likely that you are in the first 10%. Since humanity's growth is exponential, the last 90% of the people would be born near the "Doomsday" of humanity. To me it doesn't make sense, because SOMEONE'S gotta be among those first early humans, and it just so happens that it's the consciousness that is identified as "me". There's nothing special about "me", "I" could have been born at any time. Someone in an internet discussion I found mentioned that the argument would be able to be made by every single person at almost every single time in "history" (or something like that). Someone else mentions that the sample size in that statistical experiment is exactly 1, and thus is meaningless. If you took out the first 10 balls, and they were 1 through 10, maybe that would mean something...you'd pretty much know with pretty high certainty which urn you were drawing balls from. Conversely, anything higher than 10 on the second draw means with 100% certainty that it's the urn with the much higher number of balls. It's an interesting thought experiment, and Baxter uses it as an argument given by one of his characters, but doesn't necessarily endorse it as true or as good logic. *****

“E” by Kate Wrath

While perusing the "also viewed by" selections that Amazon provided on one of my own stories (I was either looking at THE INN or at the recently-free JACK'O'LANTERN and Other Stories) I came across a couple of selections that were listed as free.  The covers on two in particular grabbed me (plus the fact that they were free) so I investigated further, and upon a cursory read of the description I downloaded both.  (Hey, it cost me nothing, right?) Here's the Amazon description for Kate Wrath's book E:
Life is harsh. It makes no exceptions. Not even for the innocent. Outpost Three: a huddle of crumbling buildings choked by a concrete wall. Cracked pavement, rusted metal, splintering boards. Huge robotic Sentries police the streets, but the Ten Laws are broken every time one turns its back. Eden is determined, smart, and a born survivor. Stripped of her memories and dumped on the streets of the Outpost, slavers and starvation are only the beginning of her problems. A devastating conflict is coming that threatens to consume her world and tear her newfound family apart.
Does that make you want to read it?  It worked for me.  I like dystopian fiction.  I'm not sure exactly why, but I'm a sucker for futuristic extrapolations.  And the description gave me some of those:  an Outpost (this being #3, I'm curious about the others), robotic Sentries (advanced AI tech?), the Ten Laws (political commentary?), and crumbling infrastructure (again, political commentary?).  It also promises an interesting character with a lot at stake in Eden (hence the title "E?"). I've started HORNS by Joe Hill, but it's a paper version, and I can't read it in bed.  So out comes the Kindle, and the first thing there is Wrath's novel.  So I opened it up, and started reading. Kate Wrath grabbed me from the first paragraph.  "I wake up in a box of iron.  I know nothing, remember nothing.  There is one thought imprinted on my consciousness:  You have been erased."  From there it is compelling reading.  A picture of a society comes out through her protagonist's (Eden's) experiences as she struggles to survive in those first moments after finding herself deposited in this area like so much garbage.  The author uses language beautifully to convey the character and setting but she never loses sight of the story and plot as things set up. I wanted to find out more about the society and more about Eden herself. It isn't a perfect novel, but what is?  I just finished NOS4A2 by the acclaimed Joe Hill, and it was far from a perfect novel.  For me, for my reading experience, Wrath's E was the better novel.  So what makes it flawed?  For me (and your mileage may vary depending on where you come from as a reader), the novel began to suffer from some pacing problems at about the same time as the romantic triangle between Eden, Matt (who runs Outpost 3 and who doesn't seem to be a good person) and Jonas (her protector, a man with secrets) came into full swing.  Suddenly Eden's thoughts turned from survival and from her family and to her feelings for these men more and more.  For me, it bogged down the narrative.  I liked the problem-focused style of the first half better.  For me, it seemed like it changed Eden from this strong force of nature to ... something else. It wasn't a fatal flaw in any sense.  The story continued to progress, just at a slightly slower pace, and finally wrapped up in a sensible, satisfying conclusion.  I immediately downloaded Book 2, Evolution, and am already a few pages into it. One question I had as I read was, "Is this a young adult novel, or does it aim for an adult audience?"  I felt that it pretty much worked on the YA level as well as on an adult level, but usually the protagonist in YA is a teen.  (Thinking of Katniss and Tris here.)  In this book, I had the idea that Eden is a beautiful 20-something woman.  Maybe early 20's, but not exactly a teenager.  Maybe I'm wrong.  In the end, it didn't make a difference. I'll be posting a quickie version of this review on Amazon (when I get around to it) and will likely be giving the book five stars.  I think it deserves that rating, even if it weren't a first novel.  I hope that the rest of the series can keep up the standard. E by Kate Wrath.  Available at Amazon's Kindle store as well as other places. *****

About THE INN…

My book THE INN now has 4 reviews (three of which have text), all 5-star ratings.  J. Michael Major, author of ONE MAN'S CASTLE, had this to say about it:
Talk about the band trip from hell! Young and beautiful student teacher Kimberly Bouton rides along with the high school band from Minnesota to Alabama. But one of the stops along the way is an inn where creepy things have started to occur. Miss Bouton and other band members wake up sore and with headaches. Is someone at the inn abusing the women in their sleep? Dyson cleverly weaves a great tale with events in the news that quickly escalate out of control. Filled with twists and turns, you won't want to put this one down!
(Check out his book, for a good serial killer book that focuses on some interesting issues!) Another reader identified as "Anne" posted this about the book:
Really enjoyed this short but scary read. Extremely well-written -- and difficult to put down. The characters were compelling, and the suspense was thrilling. A perfect story for a night by the fire.
It was nice to hear that a reader thought it was extremely well-written. I try... And finally, Steven M. Moore, author of too many books to count, including his latest, FAMILY AFFAIRS, wrote this about it on his blog:
Scott Dyson, author (Deadlock Press, 2015).  Is this the longest story I’ve read by Mr. Dyson?  It’s a novella, and there’s a lot of horror, mystery, suspense, and thrills in these few pages.  I loved it, and It’s not a genre I often read (the horror part).  No zombies, vampires, or werewolves (thank God!), just one seemingly ordinary human being doing horrible things to other human beings.  Some scenes reminded me of Hayton’s novel Breathe and Release reviewed here and that real life atrocity with the three girls in Ohio. The band director, his student teacher (a woman not much older than the students), and the band are on a road trip.  They plan to perform and then spend a day at a nearby amusement park, crashing two nights in the inn.  I can’t say much more without writing spoilers, but I will send out a warning: if you were a member of a high school band, any nostalgia might fly out the window as your read this.  Or, some readers might say, “This is a lot more exciting than our band trips were.”  Mr. Dyson’s writing is fresh and original.  Fans of the genre will enjoy this one. (Rating?  How would you rate the TV show Dexter?)
So there are three very positive reviews of THE INN.  Thanks to those reviewers for taking the time to read and review it! Here's another from Mit Sandru, author of the VLAD vampire series and TIME HOLE, among others:
This is another fine novel written by Scott Dyson. While reading I had to remind myself that I wasn't reading a Stephen King or Dean Koontz horror novel, but and equally well written book by Scott.
I love it! I've been compared to King and Koontz! Two of the best ever, in my opinion! I thought I'd toss some stuff up here about the background of writing THE INN.  I flew through it; the story seemed to write itself.  I went back and added in the material about St. Louis and the store where my main character purchases the flute pendant after the first draft was completed.  I tried to give a little more depth to the parent-chaperones, who were barely mentioned in the first draft.  And I fleshed out a few of the students a bit more in the narrative, making them more than just names that passed by in the story. The idea to write it came after I finished a book called TEXT MESSAGE by William Malmborg.  In that book, Malmborg describes a college student who loses her younger sister at the mall, and then begins receiving text messages from her sister's phone telling her to do embarrassing things (mostly of a sexual nature) or bad things will happen to the sister.  When the girl refuses, the bad guy (girl?) texts a photo of the sister with a finger cut off.  So the girl follows instructions to the letter, and...well, it goes on from there. I thought, after reading it, that I could probably write something similar, and started thinking about storylines.  I thought of a motel or an inn (instead of a school or a mall) where bad things happen, and then I flashed back to a recurring concern I have when I'm in a motel room -- that somehow they have surveillance cameras in the rooms.  I mean, how would you know unless you start tearing the room apart? It so happened that band trips came to mind, and I combined the two things -- a band trip to a motel with something of that nature in some of the rooms.  I recalled certain things about my own band trips as a high school student, and about more current band trips and how they are organized, and out came the story. It ended up being something around 37,000 words, give or take.  After about six months of polishing, getting input from my beta reader, and repolishing, I finally came up with an idea for the cover.  I searched out images that would fit what I was picturing, and I think what I came up with is pretty close to my original idea. It hasn't sold well...two copies in October and eleven copies in September, at least at Amazon.com (not sure about the other Amazons in the UK or other countries), but it's been getting some KU page reads -- over a thousand last month and over five hundred so far this month.  My shorter novella THE CAVE (about 25,000 words) has been read in KU a few times as well, although it has only sold one copy in two months. So that's the long story behind THE INN.  I'm currently working on a long version of ODD MAN OUT, and am polishing a couple of other things that are done. Looking forward to getting some more things out.  Till then, try one of my other books!  They're still all only $0.99, which is a huge bargain.  (THE INN is going to go up to $1.99 soon...) Oh, and do yourself a service and read FAMILY AFFAIRS, TIME HOLE, and ONE MAN'S CASTLE.  All three are excellent books! *****  

Hanging with my ol’ friend Alex…

I finished reading Jonathan Kellerman's KILLER, an "Alex Delaware" psychological thriller novel, yesterday.  The story grabbed me and I came to a point where I couldn't put it down. I feel like I'm reading about an old friend when I read Kellerman's Delaware novels, and this one was no exception.  The familiar troika of Alex, gay police detective Milo Sturgis, and Alex's significant other, Robin, are all present, as are a few bit players like Moe Reed and Petra Connor.  And the plot is familiar too:  A criminal case ties into Alex's practice as a clinical psychologist. If you've ever read any of these books, you know that Alex consults for the police, and Milo Sturgis is sort of a one-man police force due to some incriminating information he has over the current chief of police in Los Angeles.  Milo can do pretty much whatever he wants, and he has the best clear rate of any detective in L.A., thanks in no small part to the insights of his psychologist sidekick.  Alex also has varied experience ranging from hospital work to clinical therapy to court work to...well, he's done a bit of everything, it seems, and he's good at everything.  But through it all is a sense that he's human, with human doubts and failings.  No superman sleuth here.  And there aren't any special forces types waiting in the wings to bail them out if they get in over their heads.  I like that.   So many detectives have someone who is a little too tough to be believed, really, at their beck and call.  Not Alex.  He has Milo and a few other cops.  And Milo has Alex. I also liked the voice that Kellerman uses in these first-person novels.  Alex is talking and thinking and telling the stories that make up the plot of these crime thrillers, and his voice is distinctive.  There's a "clipped" feel to the writing that makes you know it's Alex and not some other point of view (though I can't really recall Kellerman altering the POV away from Alex in this series...but there's a lot of books and maybe he has done so a time or two, shifting perhaps to Milo's point of view).  You're in Alex's head, and it's a comfortable and comforting place to be; a character who is confident in his skills but not omniscient or always right, and his discomfort when he thinks he's been hoodwinked or something comes through and it feels right. There was a point in the series where I felt Kellerman was "mailing it in" with these stories, that perhaps he had lost the passion for telling Delaware tales, but somewhere along the line, he got back on track (in my view) and these recent ones have been excellent.  This one is no exception. This book starts with Alex talking about a woman walking into his office and making a thinly veiled threat to shoot him right then and there.  Needless to say, it spooks Alex, but he convinces himself that it wasn't much of a threat and he doesn't need to inform the police. At this point, he flashes back to the case in question, one where a woman (the woman who threatened him) wants to use the legal system to take her sister's child away from her, using her considerable resources to hire "experts" and high-powered attorneys.  Alex is brought in by the judge, and he supports the child's mother.  The judge agrees with him, and the case is resolved in that manner.  The woman, not accustomed to losing, makes her threats.  Alex informs the judge of what happened, and that is, he hopes, the end of it. When Milo and another cop show up on his doorstep a short time later, Alex learns that the woman has tried to take out a contract to have Alex (and perhaps the judge, as well) killed.  The hit goes to a Hispanic gang, and it so happens that Alex had some dealings with this kid when he was a young diabetic who wasn't following medical advice.  Alex made an impression, and as luck would have it, this kid, now a young adult and fully involved in the gang, really likes Alex and prevents the hit at the gang level, and in fact, goes to the cops.  Lucky break for Alex.  Once again, Alex feels the brush of death against him, how close he came, if not for this serendipitous relationship with a gang member in days gone past. But the woman turns up dead, and guess who's the prime suspect?  No, it isn't Alex.  It's the sister, who appears to have left town the very night of that murder.  Milo's sure it was the sister who did it; everything seems to line up.  Motive, opportunity, and then the flight.  But Alex is so sure that he couldn't have been wrong about her...and once again, Alex faces something that shakes his outward confidence.  You can feel his internal discomfort as you read these sections, as he tries to project calm and confidence outward.  But Robin knows, and so does Milo. I was less than thrilled with the resolution of the case.  It worked, but I was hoping for something a little...less out of left field, I guess.  I won't say more.  It didn't ruin the book for me, but it did make me wish that there had been a more elegant solution to the mystery presented; that is, where was the sister, who killed the woman who threatened him, and what happened to the baby. A good, quick, fun read that kept me sucked in for a day and a half with non-stop reading at night, in the morning, and finally, between patients and over lunch until I finished.  Looking forward to the next one when it hits the bargain shelves at Barnes and Noble. *****

THE HURRICANE by Hugh Howey – my mini-review

I wanted to post this review of Howey's THE HURRICANE, which I ended up enjoying quite a bit.  It wasn't perfect, but...well, you can read my review, copied from Amazon... I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, and at first, I was a little disappointed, because it took the story a little bit of time to grab me and pull me in. It seemed that a lot of pages were dedicated to showing me what a non-descript high school kid Daniel was. But I knew it was a Hugh Howey story, and so I kept reading. Finally, as the storm hit, the story kicked in, and when Daniel meets a neighbor girl who he previously didn't even know existed, we are treated to the real Daniel...the kid being hidden by all the BS that is high school social interaction. And from there the story became (for me) a compelling read, demanding that I continue until I reached the end. At first, because I hadn't been grabbed by the story, I was noticing the simplicity of the writing. After finishing a Stephen King novel (REVIVAL) before starting this one, I missed the masterful command of language that I believe King has. There was a lack of elegance and beauty in the words and phrases used to convey the story. I started to wonder if, because of the great plots of other Howey offerings, I'd missed this about his writing. And I still don't know, because when the story grabbed me, it grabbed me, and if that lack of elegance was still there, I didn't notice it. (I suspect it was, and I just was beyond paying attention to it.) For me, the mark of a really good story is that I want to know what happens to these characters down the road. Howey made me care about them, and that is a success in my book. *****

More Mini-reviews…

Finished up three books last week.  Two were ebooks by Edward W. Robertson, who writes the BREAKERS series.  The first was BLACKOUT, the final book of the eight-book BREAKERS series.  If you're not familiar with the Breakers world, it is a post-apocalyptic tale where two things happen to end civilization as we know it:  a viral disease that claims around 99% of all people (like in King's THE STAND, which Robertson admits to using as his inspiration in this series) and then an alien invasion.  Turns out, the aliens, huge crab-like beings, sent the viral plague to Earth, and they figured they'd wipe out all of humanity with it, but when they come to claim the empty planet, they find plenty of humans willing to fight them and their advanced technology.  BLACKOUT, as the final book, occurs as people are trying to rebuild some sort of civilization and society, only to discover that a second "mother ship' of alien "Swimmers" has arrived. I found it to be a satisfying conclusion to the series and one that followed logically from everything that happened before.  The people who I've gotten to know over seven books all seem consistent with the character that they've exhibited throughout the saga.  The aliens became a bit more knowable, and it set up another series in the same universe, but set many years in the future.  The other series is called the REBEL STARS series, and the first book of this saga, titled REBEL, is the other ebook I read. I grabbed REBEL as part of a promotional "box set" with ten "galactic tales", titled STARS AND EMPIRE.  (None of the other titles have really grabbed me much, so REBEL is the only one I've read, and it may continue to be the only one...)  So anyway, in REBEL, a crew of space asteroid miners is working on an asteroid when they make a discovery -- an ice-bound alien ship.  Seems that this is a Swimmer spaceship, and these humans are the descendants of those people who dealt with the Swimmers when they first attacked Earth.  As they excavate the vessel, they are attacked and everyone except for one is killed.  Their discovery, which they had tried to keep secret, is stolen...and when someone gives the survivor a chance to recover it and also to get revenge on the murderers of her crewmates, she jumps at it. It was a solid SF tale that made me want to read further in the series.  I think Edward W. Robertson is an excellent storyteller, and even if one didn't care for post-apocalyptic tales, this REBEL STARS entry can be enjoyed as a straightforward SF novel.  (As an aside, I read another book by Robertson called THE ROAR OF THE SPHERES . which also dealt with colonization of our solar system, though that one was more focused on AI's. The book has been renamed and re-edited, but I'm not sure what the new one is called.  (ETA:  The author informed me that the book is now called TITANS.)  It was also a very good SF book.) And, speaking of Stephen King, I tackled REVIVAL, which is his second newest (FINDERS KEEPERS is his newest at the moment) novel.  I hadn't heard great things about this novel, but I have to say I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. It's a bit of a slow starter.  When our hero, Jamie Morton, meets his "fifth business", pastor Charles Jacobs, he's only six.  And there's a lot of backstory that King gives us in his usual colloquial style, about Reverend Jacobs' fascination with electricity (the "secret" electricity, he calls it) and then the death of his lovely wife and young child and his subsequent loss of faith.  And of course, there's Jamie's backstory, his youth, his high school years, his discovery of the guitar and of rock and roll music, the love of his young life, Astrid, and his subsequent loss of his own faith and his separation from Astrid as they graduate from high school. Jump forward a bunch of years and Jamie is a lifer in the music industry, being good enough to play professionally but not really quite good enough to be a star or in an A-list band.  He's tooling around playing gigs at small venues, roadhouses and state fairs, and he's doing a lot of drugs.  Mainlining heroin, in fact.  He's reached bottom when he encounters Reverend Jacobs at the Oklahoma State Fair, where the former religious man is using his electrical inventions to take people's photographs and do something ... interesting ... with them.  He takes Jamie in and uses his electricity to cure Jamie of his addictions.  He also hooks Jamie up with a job in Colorado, as a studio musician and recording engineer.  Jamie owes him big-time. A third encounter with Pastor Danny (as Jacobs is now calling himself) occurs, as he and his boss (who also owes Jacobs) go to a tent-revival where he is performing genuine healings using the electricity, although he covers it in religious jargon and is clearly making a lot of coin doing so. King masterfully weaves everything together at the end, and I didn't care how implausible it was by then, because I just wanted to know how Jamie ended up.  I was satisfied with the conclusion; like Robertson's Breakers series I described above, it seemed fair and logical with what happened in the book up until then.  King tends to be a bit wordy, but I like the way he uses language to bring characters and setting to life, and allows one to glimpse the inner workings of his characters' brains.  The ending was about what I expected once I got past the steampunk vibe the book was putting out (with electricity being the main focus), but the journey, for me, was worth it, as it usually is with King's books. I'm onto Hugh Howey's THE HURRICANE and King's FINDERS KEEPERS (ebook and hardcover), and will probably post something on both of them when I finish them. ***** Update on THE INN:  I decided that I'd better not use the cover image I was going to use because I'm not sure about the rights and permissions of it, so that is what's holding up the release at this moment.  I made a different cover, but I'm not sure about it either.  So...I'll post something when I finalize the new cover. *****