Tag Archives: book review

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.


Mini Reviews

After I finished GARDEN OF BEASTS, I read two more books, and I wanted to make a few comments on each.  I sort of read them simultaneously, so I’ll start with the one I just finished and move on to the other after that.

The first was THE BRIDE COLLECTOR by Ted Dekker.  We’ve all read this book before, in some form.  It was a serial killer thriller featuring an FBI team hunting a killer who is kidnapping beautiful women and killing them by draining their blood through their heels, then posing them by hanging them off of dowel pegs placed in the wall and gluing their shoulders to said wall.  As usual, there is a bit of discussion of forensic evidence and a lot of talk where the investigators discuss the killings and try to come up with a profile of the killer.

It wasn’t great, but it was good, and kept me reading.  Actually, toward the end, I really wanted to know what was going to happen, not so much because I was into the solution to the crime but because of the characters.  They were the most interesting thing about the book.  Dekker’s FBI guy, Brad Raines, is a troubled man who is, apparently from the reaction of all the women he encounters, really really really good looking.  (Yeah, I used three “really’s” there to emphasize the point because Dekker really emphasizes it.)   His psychologist/teammate Nikki Holder is also really really really beautiful, and they have a connection, and maybe even some sparks are going to fly between them.  But they never get started too much, because the evidence points to a private mental health facility called CWI (Center for Wellness and Intelligence), where high-IQ mental health patients live and receive treatment.  There they meet Paradise Founder, a young woman who has some issues, and her little clique of savants.

Those characters are the most interesting in the whole book, in my opinion.  They’re quirky and original, and I liked reading about them.  In fact, I’d love a whole book about them.  Brad Raines, who is sometimes referred to as “Rain Man”, finds that he has some things in common with the individuals housed in CWI, in that he’s a bit of a mental case himself with plenty of issues, and he’s quite obsessive/compulsive when it comes to his investigations.

Dekker took a few risks with the way the story played out, and I have to admit that there was a point where I was almost sort of put off by what happened.  But overall, it was a fairly typical serial-killer thriller novel, with the plus that it had some non-stock characters who added a lot to the narrative, in my humble opinion.


The second book I want to write a little bit about is one called NIGHTMARE CHILD, by Ed Gorman writing as Daniel Ransom.  This one was a fairly stock horror novel as well.  In it, a young 9-year-old girl is murdered by her sister and her sister’s husband (for her inheritance), and they get away with it.  That sounds like a typical thriller, right?  But then little Jenny, the dead 9-year-old, comes back.  She first encounters her neighbor, who she always called “Aunt Diane” and who lost her husband and is childless, though not because she doesn’t want or can’t have children.  Then Jenny returns to her sister’s house, where things begin to get strange.  (As if having a girl return from the dead isn’t strange enough.)  Diane is inclined to believe that the sister and brother-in-law are abusing the little girl, but is that the case?

This one is a well-written and well-constructed horror novel, and I wouldn’t expect less from Ed Gorman.  Everything I’ve read by him in the past has always been really engrossing.  This one is good, but I dont know…maybe I expected more when I saw that Ed Gorman wrote it.  One problem is with the ebook formatting.  There are chapter breaks, but within chapters the sections where point of view shifts and they aren’t separated in any way; they just run into each other.  After I got used to it, I was able to immediately figure out that there should have been a break in a specific place, but at first it threw me and pulled me out of the story as I struggled to figure out who was where and who they were interacting with.

All in all, it was a good read, worth the $2.99 I spent on it in the Kindle store, but not up there with the best of the genre, or even with the best of Ed Gorman.

My four cents (two for each book)…


Review – GARDEN OF BEASTS by Jeffery Deaver

I purchased this novel in hardcover when it came out, at Sam’s Club (the reason I know is because it still had the sticker on it)  probably circa 2004, and then I shelved it and never read it.  Why not?  Well, I have to say that I’m not a big historical fiction reader, and when I re-read the blurb on the dust cover, it just never grabbed me, never made me want to pick it up next.  There was always something that grabbed me a bit more.

Recently I’ve been reading a lot on my Kindle, but I still have stacks of hardcover books I’ve picked up off of the bargain tables at various bookstores, especially Barnes and Noble.  Recently I’ve been making a bit of an effort to clear some of those that have been staring at me the longest, and this one jumped out at me.  I’d read something on Steven M. Moore’s blog praising the novel, and I thought, “That one has been sitting there a long time…why not give it a try?”

I’m very glad I did.  GARDEN OF BEASTS:  A Novel of Berlin 1936 was a first-rate thriller with world class villains — the Nazis.  Hitler, Goering, and Himmler (among others) all make appearances as American “button man” Paul Schumann agrees to go to Berlin with the Olympic team in order to hit, not Hitler, not Himmler or Goering or Goebbels, but a fictional character (I think) named Reinhard Ernst.

This Ernst fellow seems to be a different sort than those others, a more rational man who is motivated by a love for his country, not a blind adherence to the politics of hate and racism.  But he is the “architect” of the German military buildup, and the Americans feel that he needs to be eliminated, and in a public manner.  Schumann is dispatched to kill him in return for having his record expunged and being paid a large cash sum, which will allow him to “go straight”.

Once there, however, things are not as simple as they are laid out.  Ernst, involved in a project called the Waltham Study, has to outmaneuver Goering, the air minister, and deal with family issues as Schumann stalks him through Berlin.  Schumann and his contact collect the information and the weapons that he will need to carry out his assignment, and meets up with a German con man named Webber and the manager of his boarding house, Kathe Richter.  Oh, and along the way, he falls in love — with Ms. Richter.

Plenty of intrigue and misdirection follow as Schumann tries to finish his job and get back to the United States.  The ending was satisfying and somewhat unexpected.  I only wish I had not waited over ten years to read it.  What other treasues are waiting for me among those stacks?


Watch this blog for announcements about my next novella, a 37000 word work I call THE INN.  It will be available on Amazon for Kindle by the end of the week.


Fiction and Non-fiction

I finished two books yesterday.  (I didn’t start either of them yesterday; the non-fiction title I started a couple months ago, in fact.)  The fiction title was Invasion by Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt.  It is an alien invasion story, and this one starts with a family in New York trying to get to their bunker near Vail, Colorado.  When people learn that some sort of alien spaceships are approaching Earth, society begins to break down and the trip across the country becomes a very dangerous thing indeed.

It, like all of the Realm and Sands guys’ titles, was a fast, decent read.  I received the book for free for becoming a member of their mailing list/newsletter.  (I have the second to read, also.)  There are important themes tossed into the mix, but I never felt that any of them were handled in more than a superficial manner.  The characters are interesting but we don’t really learn that much about them, partly because there are five of them (Meyer, Piper, Trevor, Lila and Lila’s boyfriend Raj) traveling from New York, and another (Meyer’s ex-wife Heather) coming from Los Angeles.  The point of views shift too often to really get a great feel for any one of them.

I will be reading the second (Contact) sometime relatively soon, but it will have to grab me a bit more than this one did for me to continue reading on in the series.

The second book was called Rosewater, and it is the book that the Jon Stewart film was based upon.   It was written by Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-born Canadian journalist for Newsweek who was reporting on the second election of Ahmadinijad (I’m sure I mangled the spelling but you know who I mean) when the Iranian young voters felt that the election was stolen from the rightful winner.  Bahari was jailed and this book is the story of his imprisonment and his treatment while in Evin, a well-known political prison in Iran.

The book was a depressing read, even though you know that Bahari survived the ordeal.  His despair comes through in the narrative, as does the cruelty and callousness of his jailers and torturers, especially the one that Bahari refers to as Rosewater (because of the scent he wears every day — that is how Bahari recognizes him at first).  I kept putting it down, because frankly, I didn’t need more things depressing me than I already had.  But I’m relieved to have finished it.  It shines a bit of light on the Iranian theocracy and its strong-man tactics to control its populace, and I think it is important that people read it and understand more about the majority of Iranians, and also about Islam as it is believed by the vast majority (in Iran and in other parts of the world as well) and how it is used as a tool for brainwashing and control.  I didn’t see the movie, and probably won’t, so I can’t comment if Stewart’s adaptation is faithful to Bahari’s narrative or if he goes his own way (politically or dramatically) in the film.

So I’m going to tackle one from the TBR pile, and start Jeffrey Deaver’s Garden of Beasts today.  If it doesn’t depress me too much, I’ll plow through it and move on to something else, maybe Kellerman’s Killer or King’s Revival.


FLASHBACK by Dan Simmons

My first exposure to Dan Simmons’ novels came through the horror genre — Carrion Comfort and Summer of Night were two excellent novels that seemed, to me, to be very original takes on themes found in the genre.  I followed those readings with his work in a different genre — science fiction — by reading his works Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and The Rise of Endymion.  Those reads blew me away, and I kept going, reading more SF, horror and mystery.  Everything was enjoyable.

When I saw that Simmons had written a dystopian novel titled Flashback, I had to give it a try.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the blurb told me that the United States is in a state of collapse and that 85% of its population are using a strange drug called Flashback, which allows them to enter a dream-like state where they can relive moments of their lives of their choosing.  That sounds like a pretty cool premise to start with.  Follow that with a former police officer, Nick Bottom, who lost his job after the death of his wife, and has now lost his son as well because of his addiction to this drug.

Nick is hired by a Japanese businessman who is serving as one of the US Government’s “Advisors” to investigate the murder of his son.  It’s a crime that Nick investigated as a police officer, and he knows that nothing much is going to happen, but he figures he can milk it for a good payday, which will assure him of a supply of his drug.  But there’s more going on, and Nick actually does make progress; actually is motivated to solve the crime.

The story is about Nick’s investigation and discoveries, as the world around him is revealed to him (with more clarity for him) and to us readers (for the first time).  There is a value in considering this potential future as Simmons foresees it.  So much politics is there, so much of the rhetoric we are hearing today is extrapolated forward to come up with the pessimistic future that is depicted here.  Do I see it happening?  Not at all.  But I think it’s worth considering so that we can think about the worst case scenarios as depicted by the Tea Party and conservatives every day today.

So what did I really like about this book?  Well, it’s a good story.  The trouble comes from being too close to events referred to in this book as sorts of “trigger events” and seeing them from a different perspective.  The book looks back at Obama’s elections, the federal debt, entitlements, the lack of military response, the way the administration is dealing with Iran, etc etc, and depicts them as the first steps in becoming the society that the book describes.  I look at those same things and don’t see things the same.  I look at Simmons’ depiction of Islam and Arabs and Iranians (notice I separate the two — Iranians are not Arabs, racially) and see fear primarily informing the story’s (and I’m assuming, HIS) view of them.  I look at his depiction of Israelis as victims who have no responsibility for their own fate in this story, and I find myself disagreeing.

In the context of this story, of this world, however, these things all work really well.   They set the table for an engrossing tale where the Japanese are looked at as a stable and sensible race with the proper goals — except for maybe it’s not exactly as it looks.  I liked the idea of a “g bear” kinetic energy weapon fired from satellites in space.  (The weapon’s name is a nod to the SF writer who imagined such a weapon.)  I liked the way drones are incorporated into the story.  I also thought that some of the video technology was imaginative and plausible.

I”ll point to some reviews of this book that focus more on the politics:

Amazing Stories Review

Science Fiction World Review

Goodreads Reviews

SF Signal Review 

Some of them are pretty negative; they cannot seem to separate the politics from the novel.  I found that I was able to do that, and I found FLASHBACK to be a pretty good dystopian story.  Dan Simmons set out to write a dystopian piece, and he did so from his own perspective.  I thought it worked.



I read two hard SF novels back-to-back, which is something I haven’t done in a while.  (Read two hard SF novels in a row, that is…)  The first was TIME HOLE by Mit Sandru.  (I received this book as a gift!)  The second was MORE THAN HUMAN:  THE MENSA CONTAGION by Steven M. Moore.  (I received this book as a gift as well!)  The books have similarities, although they tell very different stories in terms of subject matter and scope.

TIME HOLE tells the story of an odd discovery on the Moon, where international teams are working at mining and exploratory operations.  A piece of equipment breaks down and a pair of generalists, DeeDee and Arno, are sent to drive the new equipment to the outpost.  On their way they encounter a large crater…but this crater isn’t made by a meteor impact, and it had not been noted before along this road.

When Arno falls in, DeeDee uses the truck’s winch to pull both of them back to safety, and they make a startling discovery.  They aren’t on the same moon that they were on a few minutes ago.  Or, perhaps it’s the same moon, but where in time are they?  Things are much different.

This short novella (47 pages, according to Amazon**) read a little longer than this.  It told a lot of story in those pages, and I came to really care about the two main characters as they tried to get back to their own reality, then find themselves “out of phase” and basically invisible as they return to their base and solve a mystery of what caused the huge time hole on the Moon.

(** ETA:  The author pointed out that it is 119 pages, not 47, and now Amazon reflects this length.  I thought that it seemed a lot longer than 47 pages and was wondering why Amazon said it, but I took them at their word when I looked…)

This is smart science fiction, that requires the reader to think as he reads, and that works around some more advanced scientific concepts.  I enjoyed it quite a lot, and if I have a criticism, it is that the first chapter seemed a little dry, too expository perhaps.  Once the characters are introduced, the story kicks into a higher gear and it became a very good read. The writing is very good, and it was a clean ebook, few errors in terms of things to be caught by a proofreader.  (I don’t really remember seeing any.)  I liked the cover, too.  Intriguing image.

The second book, MORE THAN HUMAN: THE MENSA CONTAGION, promised to be really good and right in my wheelhouse in terms of describing an apocalyptic-type event (disease, one of the standard cataclysms that affect humanity in that sort of book).  But It became a lot more than that.  It became a far-reaching “history” ala Dr. Asimov and his FOUNDATION/EMPIRE future history.

In this story, a meteroid strikes Earth in South Africa, and it carries something with it:  a virus.  It is quickly determined that the virus is a.) bioengineered, and b.) deliberately aimed at Earth.  The story starts with an airline cleaning crew finding a dead body with green sludge oozing from his orifices.  The CDC and the government quickly act to lock down the passengers and crew and anyone associated with the plane, but of course, it’s not enough and the virus gets out.  Others die before the virus mutates — again and again — into something more benign and even beneficial, perhaps.

The virus wakes up the world to the possibility that there is something more out there — and the second part of the book deals with man’s colonization of Mars as a response to a perceived threat by aliens who would target the planet with a virus, even if the virus is meant as a gift.  The third part of the book deals with the discovery of the aliens’ ship found in the vicinity of Saturn, and the resulting recurrent xenophobia brought on by humanity’s first contact with life from somewhere other than Earth.

A lot of packed into the 231 pages of Moore’s novel, which begins to read like a series of short vignettes rather than a continuous story; this style is made necessary by the many jumps in time between significant events.  I was reminded of Heinlein stories as far as the flow and pacing of this story.  With its cast of hundreds (it seemed; I really didn’t count them), this was a novel with an incredibly broad scope and a quite optimistic, if realistic, take on the future of humanity.

As always, this is a well-written and well constructed SF tale, again with a pretty clean job of copyediting and formatting.  Steven M. Moore has something like twenty novels out there, and while I can’t rank this as his best, it’s right up there.  (As an aside — when you’ve read a lot by a particular author, you can’t help “grading” them against their own output, or at least I can’t.  For example, when I read a Stephen King novel, I often think it’s only a “B” effort, but that’s because I’m judging it against King’s best works and not against “all” books.  If that same book had been written by a different, new  (to me) author, I might give it an “A”, if that makes sense.  I think I’m doing that with Steve Moore’s works now.  There have been several that I’ve liked so much that other good stories might suffer a bit in comparison to those.)

In conclusion, I’d say that these are both worthwhile reads for anyone who likes their SF to be of the “hard” variety.  I’d grade them both as “A”.

Happy reading!


What I’ve been reading – Kindle edition

I’ve had some good reads lately.  I’ve been reading more and more on my Kindle, just because it’s so darned convenient.  I have tons of books by the likes of Stephen King, Jeffrey Deaver, Michael Connelly, CJ Box, Robert Crais and others on my stacks, sitting there unread, but since I’ve been reading when I’m in bed after lights out or in situations where I don’t have great lighting, the Kindle’s been the go-to source of stories.

Anyway, here’s a few things I’ve been reading recently.  I’m not going to make too many comments, just say whether I liked them or not.

  1. DON’T LEAVE ME, James Scott Bell.  Liked it a lot.  Four to five stars.
  2. SEASICK, Iain Rob Wright.  Good horror story, set at sea.  4 to 5 stars.
  3. UNDER THE EMPYREAN SKY, Chuck Wendig.  Neat fantasy set in a cool world.  A little slow on the uptake.  4 stars.
  4. SLOW BURN 6:  BLEED, Bobby Adair.  Zombie fiction, pretty good, lots of action.  4 stars
  5. SLOW BURN 7: CITY OF STIN, Bobby Adair.  Zombie fiction, sorta slow with not as much happeniing.  3.5 stars
  6. VLAD V:  VAMPIRE, Mit Sandru.  A relatively short introductory novel, good enough that I want to read more.  4 to 5 stars
  7. COLD MOON, Alexandra Sokoloff.  Satisfying third book in a series.  Very fun and tense read.  5 stars
  8. HEART OF STONE, H. Lynn Keith.  Very good thriller with SF elements and interesting characters.  5 stars.
  9. SPOOKED, Tracy Sharp.  Good horror story with great pacing and characters.  4 to 5 stars.
  10. INTRUDERS: THE INVASION, Tracy Sharp.  Another zombie story, but this one has aliens as well.  Great first book in a series.  Looking forward to the rest.  5 stars.

That’s enough for now.  Interestingly, all of the above are indie authors.  Something there for everyone!!!

On the docket:  VLAD V: THE DEATH OF A VAMPIRE RIP by Mit Sandru, I, LAWYER FRAT PARTY by John Ellsworth, MORE THAN HUMAN:  THE MENSA CONTAGION by Steven M. Moore, TIME HOLE by Mit Sandru, INVASION and CONTACT by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant.

Have a great day!


“Review” of SILICON SLUMMIN’ – AND JUST GETTING BY by Steven M. Moore

For those of you who don’t know, Steven M. Moore is an “indie” SF/Thriller author who writes in several series (though he’s more or less tying them all together, ala Isaac Asimov and all of his various novels).  His latest series features a “Dangerous Miss” (I don’t know the Spanish off the top of my head), Maria Jose Melendez, also known as Mary Jo.  Trouble has seemed to find Mary Jo since she left the navy.  She seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But really, she was never exactly in the wrong place at the wrong time — circumstances conspired to put her in those positions, whether by coincidence or by design.  Everything comes from the events of the first book, where Mary Jo has to travel the globe trying to stay one step ahead of numerous government agencies while trying to avenge the death of her sister and brother-in-law.  Now there are those who want to find out what she knows and won’t allow anyone to get in between their goals.

As usual, Mary Jo ends up in a job that seems to suit her, but ends up drawing trouble to her.  She has Russian assassins on her tail, as well as some sort of Feds and…surprise!  A stalker!  And not just a stalker…a serial killer psychopathic stalker.

Moore’s plot is a tightly woven affair which features well drawn characters who grow throughout the book and become stronger and better people due to their interaction with our heroine.   The book keeps the right amount of pacing and suspense and even crosses into a bit of my realm, serial killer/horror.  (But not too much…nothing really graphic here.)  There’s even a tinge of romance as Mary Jo and her PI/bodyguard Mario hit it off and a few sparks fly.

In my mind, this book surpassed the first of the Mary Jo Melendez books (titled MUDDLIN’ THROUGH).  I read it pretty much straight through.  One of Moore’s better offerings, and that’s saying quite a lot, what with the Castilblanco/Chen series and the MIDAS BOMB and SOLDIERS OF GOD.

You can check it out on Amazon here:  SILICON SLUMMIN’ (And Just Gettin’ By)



[I read this book a number of years ago and wrote this review immediately after reading it.  I recently came across a short story by Michael Jasper titled “Drinker,” which is set in the Wannoshay universe.  The short story was different — set on the Wannoshay homeworld, entirely populated by the aliens.  I didn’t think it was as successful, though it was beautifully written.  It didn’t grab me like this novel did.  But revisiting that universe made me think about how much I liked the novel, and I remembered that I reviewed it on Journalscape back then.  So here is that review, from February 18, 2008, with some edits and deletions (like a reference to what I was reading next…):]

I started reading THE WANNOSHAY CYCLE by Michael Jasper on Wednesday or Thursday of last week, finished it on Friday night, and went back to reread a few chapters over the weekend.I don’t know how many here have read it, but for what it’s worth, I thought this was one of the best “alien” type SF novels I’ve ever read. I won’t talk about the plot here; if anyone wants to know more about it, check it out on Amazon and read the description.

I will say, though, that the depiction of aliens is up there with Niven’s Ringworld aliens, in my opinion. It is superior to those, in some ways. I felt like I *knew* these creatures better than I ever knew the Puppeteer or the other alien from RINGWORLD. I could visualize them much better than I could the alien beings in Asimov’s THE GODS THEMSELVES, and the aliens in Robert Sawyer’s CALCULATING GOD were less well described, I thought.

Jasper’s vision of the near future, an Earth where things like You Tube and blogging have been extrapolated to one possible logical conclusion, where the government’s response to terrorism has become a way of life in itself, sort of, where designer drugs evolve into Blur, was both familiar but yet clearly IN the future. I thought it was very well imagined and described.

Michael Jasper writes beautifully, also. Nary a clunky sentence to pull one out of the story to be found. Characters are fully realized; you “know” them very quickly, including the aliens to the degree that any alien can be understood. One of the nice things about the story is that the author does not try to explain every last thing about these creatures; leaving me to believe that there are some things about the aliens that just are outside of human experience.

This is up there with the best SF I’ve read in a couple of years. And seriously, I’m not just kissing up because Michael Jasper journals here, and might (or might not) read this. If anyone reading this likes SF, you can confidently give this book a go.


James Scott Bell’s Ty Buchanan Trilogy

After reading a blog entry on  The Kill Zone by James Scott Bell titled “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?” , where he detailed the impetus for a particular novel of his called TRY DYING, I decided that it sounded interesting enough to try it out for $2.99.  The bit on the blog entry described how he read a news story…well, let me excerpt the bit from the entry:

Back when newspapers existed, I would read either the L.A. Times or the L.A. Daily News, and one legal newspaper, the L.A. Daily Journal. I’d scan for interesting stories or legal issues, and clip them and throw them into a box. Every now and then I’d go through that box, seeing if the ideas still interested me.

One item kept vying for my attention. It was a tragic story about an L.A. man who shot his young wife to death, then drove to a freeway overpass, got out, shot himself, and fell 100 feet to the freeway below. He crushed a Toyota, killing the driver. How bizarre is that?

So one day I wrote this up as an opening scene. When I got to the part about the woman being killed, I made up a character: Jacqueline Dwyer, a twenty-seven-year old elementary school teacher.

From there Bell imagined some things about the incident and came up with a story about a young lawyer in a high-powered LA law firm who was engaged to marry Jacqueline Dwyer.  She was his soul mate, and her death crushes him.  When someone shows up at the funeral trying to get money out of him in exchange for information about her death, Ty Buchanan (the attorney) learns that Jacqueline may have survived the impact of the body of the suicide victim hitting her car.  And then she was killed — murdered, in fact, and this guy who has shown up at the funeral witnessed it.

I sped through the first book, which introduced me to a priest named Father Bob, who has been accused falsely of molesting a young boy and has been reassigned to a Benedictine monastery called St. Monica’s, and a pretty young nun who lives there as well named Sister Mary Veritas.  What followed was a tense mystery, with two parallel mysteries — the first pertaining to the case that Ty is working on at his firm, related to suppressed memories and false accusations of sexual abuse used as weapons in divorce cases (Father Bob comes to Ty to give him background on his own case in order to help the falsely accused man), and the second is Ty’s own investigation into his fiancee’s death.

After speeding through that first book I immediately downloaded the second book (TRY DARKNESS) and I sped through that one almost as quickly.  In this one, Ty is now practicing law out of a coffee shop and he is introduced to a woman and her young daughter by Father Bob.  The woman is being forced out of the residential hotel she lives in with her daughter and onto the street.  The play is that if someone is not a resident for over a certain time period, the hotel can be considered a commercial hotel rather than a residential hotel and there are tax advantages or something like that.  So the owners/management shuffle the residents out after so many days, and then they can return after a couple weeks.  Seems the woman doesn’t want to go.  She can pay the rent and wants Ty to force them to let her stay.

Then she ends up dead.

So now Ty has a murder mystery to deal with.  Not to mention whatever’s going on at St. Monica’s, where Ty is living and finding himself increasingly attracted to Sister Mary Veritas, the classic example of setting up an unattainable target.  The sparks that fly between the two of them as they interact are worth the price of admission.  But it’s still the mystery at the heart of this book that makes it another great read, and another hard-to-put-down story.  I reached the end and wanted more.

So I got more.  I downloaded the third book, TRY FEAR, and plowed ahead into Ty’s story, and Sister Mary’s story too.  In this story, Ty starts off by getting a guy off for a DUI on a technicality.  His DA opponent, Kimberly Pincus, is upset that she got beaten on something that seemed so cut-and-dried, especially when the guy had a blood alcohol reading of .18 — in other words, he was very drunk, and he was driving.  The DA is not just a woman, she’s a young, very attractive woman, and she sets her sights on Ty, who is just now getting over his fiancee’s death.  He’s ready for a relationship, maybe.  And maybe Kimberly is the right woman.

Or maybe not.

Because at the same time, Sister Mary Veritas, the basketball-playing, elbow-throwing nun who is helping out by acting as Ty’s investigator, begins receiving threatening emails. A cyber-stalker, making threats and insults to the pretty young nun.  When Mary is shot while she and Ty are trying to visit a witness, Ty blames himself — the bullet must have been meant for him and Mary’s involvement is just too risky for the nun.

This may have been the best story of the three — it really grabbed me and spun me around with its twists and turns — twists worthy of a Harlan Coben novel.  I loved the continued sparks between Sister Mary and Ty, and the repercussions for Mary, both in terms of physical risks (like being shot) and punishment from the abbess of St. Monica’s.  So many questions:  Is Kimberly the right woman for Ty?  Is being a nun the right choice for Sister Mary?  And what’s this cyber-stalking all about?  Is it connected to a case, or is it a random nut, or is something in her past coming back to haunt her?

TRY FEAR has a great conclusion to every question I may have had, and while I would be happy to read more about these characters, the story feels complete (as Bell indicates at the end of the third book).  It can end here and I’ll be okay with it.

James Scott Bell has many books on the craft of writing, and I think perhaps I should try a few of them, see if anything he has to say about specific parts of craft that clicks with me.

A very enjoyable trio of reads.  I will be reading more fiction by Bell as well in the future.  I like his style and he creates great characters who come to life in his stories, if these three books are any indication.