Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Wildlife in the Neighborhood

Thought I’d take this opportunity to post a couple of pictures of wildlife in the neighborhood.

Wait, before you wear out that mouse or get carpal tunnel syndrome swiping phone and tablet screens, I didn’t mean that kind of wildlife.  I meant the hawks that have moved into the neighborhood.

I found two using a puddle on the sidewalk in front of my house as a birdbath.  They flew when I walked up, but after a few minutes on the porch, one returned to finish his grooming.  Of course, I knew they were in the area already, what with the sudden downturn in the rabbit population.  But other than occasionally seeing them flying overhead, this was my first close encounter.

And then, a day or two later walking a local park, I spotted this doe and three fawns.  Deer are quite common around town, but I’d never seen three fawns in one spot before.

Generally, I try to keep my posts related to books and writing, so this one’s going to be a bit of a challenge.  Let’s see?  I have it.

Soon to be released, Wildlife in the Neighborhood.  An erotic, romantic, comedy with John and Betty Hawke and their escapades with the Deer triplets – Josephine, Gertrude, and Babs.  

I’ll get to writing it straight away, as soon as I finish 10…no, 15…make that 20 more books in my chosen genre, Mystery/thriller/suspense. 

Happy writing,
BmP

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Book Review: Liberty’s Last Stand by Stephen Coonts

As a Story, It’s Great; As a Precautionary Note, It’s Muddled

In Liberty’s Last Stand, President Barry Saetoro’s uses the cover of terrorist attacks to declare martial law, adjourn Congress, suspend the constitution, and jail his detractors.  He wants to be dictator of the United States.  There’s also a political message in the book, a precautionary note about liberal, left-wing politics.  That message, however, becomes extremely muddled, significantly detracting from an otherwise outstanding thriller.

Politics aside (if you can do that), this is an extremely well written story.  It grabbed me in the opening scenes with good action and interesting characters, and it never let go.  Series figures Jake Grafton and Tommy Carmellini are featured and right in character.  But we’re also introduced to a host of new players, and Coonts does an admirable job developing them and making them feel real.   Plot twists and suspense aren’t highlights of this book; it’s clear where it’s going from the outset.  But Coonts keeps the tension building and uses a few, well-placed misdirects.  There is one plot flaw, at least for me.  It was much too convenient the way Grafton organizes resistance that appears after the coup but claims he couldn’t have done the same beforehand.  And he’s Director of the CIA?  Really?

With the rather consistent references to left-wing politics and their devastating effect on the country, the thriller aspect of the novel almost takes a back seat to the politicking.  That’s unfortunate, not so much because it occurs, as many authors decry a variety of excesses of that harm society.  But the problem with the politics in this book was that the message got quite muddled because Saetoro wasn’t a left-wing politician.  He was a fascist.  Even with the varying and conflicting meanings of left and right-wing, Saetoro was a right-wing wolf in left-wing sheep’s clothing, complete with delusions of absolute power and a chosen race.  His claims to typical left-wing causes were a ruse.  To him, climate change was a means to keep the masses under his rule, not a way to save the planet.  And because of that, all the diatribes in the prose and dialog about left-wing politics, all the attacks on Saetoro’s label rather than the man, became tedious sermonizing.

Overall, it was an extremely well written, political thriller, but in the end, trying to tie the condemnation of left-wing politics to someone who wasn’t left-wing became too tiring.

Monday, August 7, 2017

If you could travel to any fictional book world…

Goodreads recently pushed out their latest ‘Ask an Author’ question:  If you could travel to any fictional book world, where would you go and what would you do there?

I guess you should thank them.  This way you can hear my thoughts on something a bit more traditional than the future of human-machine romance (Ah, Those Realistic, Unreal Partners) or worry about my calculations for reading 110,000 books (You Gotta Love the Optimism).

But the question is a simple one for any author.  I’d go to one of my own fictional worlds.  Why?  Well, look at some of my recent reads.  1803 Ireland?  I wouldn’t last a day without the Internet.  Marooned on a space station with a serial killer?  Do I need to explain why I’d pass on that one?  And all the worlds with vampires and werewolves?  Those species seem sort of respectable now, but I bet they’d regress to the creepy, scary versions if I visited.  Besides, why take a chance on an unknown setting when I have all the inside knowledge on my fictional worlds?

And I pick the Nevada desert in January from Mind in the Clouds (Mind in the Clouds).

It’s not even fictional.  I can snow-bird there.  OK, it’s not exactly tropical in January.  It’s even cold at night, but Nevada’s nights are all day in St. Louis.  

I just have to avoid a few square miles out on the Nevada Test and Training Range and I'll be just fine.  

What Goodreads?  I have to go to the exact setting of the book?  Forget it.  I’m staying on my laptop where all I have to worry about is carpal tunnel.

Image by Federal Aviation Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3377026

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Book Review: A Case of Need by Michael Crichton

Not Crichton’s Best Work…Not Even Close

A Case of Need is the story of Dr. John Berry’s efforts to clear his fellow doctor and friend, Dr. Arthur Lee, after a teenager in his care dies from an illegal abortion.  My first thought for a title for this review was, ‘You’ll need a scorecard to follow all the characters in this somewhat preachy, meandering plot involving an obstinate doctor who wants to play detective but has no idea how the criminal justice system works.’  But that seemed a bit long.

As mentioned above, the story deals with abortion and the need to broaden/relax the laws.  So, depending on your political and religious leanings, you may find the story anywhere between contemporary and thought-provoking to depraved and immoral.  Be advised.

Beyond the ethical position it takes, there is a story here with some suspense and good pacing.  The suspense is provided by assembling a myriad of suspects and digging into the background of several witnesses, many of whom have their own secrets – drug use, infidelity, self-destructive behavior, deceitfulness.  And surprisingly, Berry, with no authority and only some vague background in the Military Police, unearths all of this information singlehandedly.  But after doing so, he doesn’t understand he has more than enough to raise reasonable doubt; then he doesn’t want to use this information because it’s too “dirty;” finally, he complains that the lawyer didn’t use it aggressively enough.  The only consistency I could find in Berry was that he always wanted to play it alone and as a result, the circumstances that pitted him against the world were of his own making.  That behavior doesn’t gain my empathy and tends to make my mind wander to other books I could be reading.

As a long-time Crichton fan, I thought I’d always be able to recommend one of his stories.  I was wrong.  My advice, look elsewhere for your reading entertainment.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Why the Muller-Lyer Illusion Disappears in the Future

Familiar with the Muller-Lyer Illusion?  Well, if not, here it is.  Many people perceive the line on the right to be longer than the one on the left.  Up to 20% longer, and it’s not.  It’s the same length.  Do we know what causes this illusion?  Well, maybe. 

I won’t bore you with the details (well, not all of them anyway), but one popular theory is that we ‘learn’ it from our experience in right-angle environments, the so-called ‘carpentered worlds.’  The line on the right looks like an inside corner – like the corner of a room, if you’re sitting in one.  The line on the left, an outside corner.  Since the inside corner is receding in distance, we perceive it to be longer than the outside corner that is sticking out toward you, even if physically (e.g., by a ruler) they are the same length.

Got that?  Amazing what our brains do, even if they fool us once and a while…or more.  But, the question for today:  what happens to the Muller-Lyer in the future?  I have my guess – it disappears.

It’s not that we stop carpentering our worlds in right angles.  I doubt that.  But our experience with depth becomes stunted.  Our friends and family don’t live down the block.  They live on our 2D phone and tablet surfaces.  Even film and game makers give up on 3D glasses and head-mounted displays.  The body’s sense that we aren't moving never lines up with 3D when it says we are.  And besides, who needs 3D when our heroes save the world from an alien invasion using their 2D, battle-command interface?  A 3D film to show a 2D screen…huh?

But what about just plain getting around in the future?  Between virtual work and every retailer dropping orders into your drone-delivery chute, it’s rare.  And when we do go out, the first thing we do in our self-driving car is turn all the windows into 2D displays.  Wouldn’t want to miss the latest 2D video of a dog chasing its tail.

So, I’m telling you this as a favor.  You see, the next time I’m in a fender-bender or even have a disagreement with a light pole, I’m telling the officer, “Sorry, but it’s not my fault.  See, I’m just ahead of my time in losing my depth perception.”


Image by Twincinema at sv.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Book Review: The Killdeer Connection (Lawyer David Thompson Series Book 1) by Tom Swyers

A Shaky Plot and Somewhat Preachy Dialog Limits this Book’s Appeal

The Killdeer Connection is the story of lawyer David Thompson’s struggle to clear his name after he is falsely accused of killing an acquaintance, Harold Salar.  And when a possible link to terrorism comes up, Thompson is fighting for his life.  One of his main clues?  A cryptic message in Salar’s will that says, ‘always follow the killdeer’ – a message that has a host of meanings, both symbolic and literal.

Swyer is an excellent writer – one who is particularly adept at creating visual descriptions that convey the underlying psychology of a situation, as well as the physical scene.  The initial meeting at Baxter & Chadwick, lawyers for the oil industry, and at the oil field in Williston, North Dakota, are particularly good examples.  If there is a flaw in these descriptions, it’s that they do tend to be overly long and in some cases, misplaced.  The scene where Thompson and a friend, Jim, are watching dust particles, until Jim chases them away with a hand is an example of the latter issue.  I had a hard time picturing why anyone would be doing that.

Thompson as the protagonist was cast as the man who tried to do it all himself, tending toward sarcasm and deceit as his tools.  When he wasn’t making excuses or telling half-truths to everyone from his wife to the FBI, he was preaching about the dangers of transporting oil by rail – complete with statistics.  True, it is dangerous, but he wasn’t comparing its pros and cons against pipelines or alternative energy.  He was sermonizing and those sections became ponderous.  By the end, Thompson was transformed by his experiences…maybe.  But even at the conclusion, he was grandstanding and reveling in his moral stands.  I never came around to liking him.

One of my biggest concerns, however, was that the plot was shaky.  For example, physical evidence links Thompson to the murder scene when he clears a spot and sits down near the body.  While that is odd enough, at least two later scenes have him running into the apartment holding his breath because the smell is so bad, even though the body has been removed.  The notion that the FBI would consider Thompson a terrorist based on the evidence they had seemed ludicrous.  That they would even think terrorism was a motive given the nature of the crimes was not believable to start with.  How could Salar have left the clues he supposedly did when he was being accosted?  Why did Salar put Thompson in such an awkward position when his objectives could have been accomplished many other ways?  Etc.

The author has some reveals at the conclusion that tie up some loose ends, but several of the apparent twists involve revelations that have little to do with the story.  Many other questions that are germane, however, remain unanswered.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Book Review: Repository by Ela Lond

A Near-Future YA/Cozy Mystery with A Somewhat Predictable End

Set one hundred years in the future, Repository is the story of Maya Bell, an eighteen-year-old university student who stumbles across an apparent murder.  Teaming with a classmate from high school who’s now a policeman-in-training, Damien Cain, they pursue the case as it grows from an isolated incident to a major conspiracy built on a heinous disregard of life.

Repository has the feel of a young adult or cozy mystery even if it’s not classified that way (it’s in the Mystery/Thriller, women and amateur sleuth genre on Amazon).  That feel suits the story well, as much of the excitement comes from the optimism and enthusiasm of youth.  Why call in backup or carefully stake out a potential crime scene when you can rush in unprepared?  But that feel also dampens some of the emotion when its needed.  On discovering the atrocious nature of the crime they were investigating, the comment was that it’s “…horrible and really disgusting.”

Maya was easy to like as the over-achieving, guilt-ridden student turned sleuth.  And other than the immaturity that seemed extreme in places, Damien was as well.  Pacing was good, although there seemed some unnecessary repetition.  Overall, the plot was somewhat predictable; it was fairly clear from about the middle of the book what was happening and how it would end.  The details getting there, of course, were unknown and the author does an admirable job keeping the reader immersed to the end.

As a story set one-hundred years in the future, Repository provided a somewhat ‘mixed bag’ of future technology.  One gadget that was featured was wearable computing in the form of glasses – a tech novelty that may have already come and gone.  And a lot of the technology seemed 2017 era – emails and dishwashers – or not as far along as you might expect, e.g., androids could be distinguished from humans because of their unsynchronized lip movement.  In 100 years, really?  But there were androids and an Artificial Intelligence with a personality chip, the latter being a lot of fun.

So, if you’re a fan of well-written, YA/cozy mysteries and don’t mind a somewhat predictable finale, you’ll enjoy Repository.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ah, Those Realistic, Unreal Partners

Recently, I noticed a story about a Japanese man who claimed to have fallen in love with his sex doll.  Maybe that’s not too surprising.  I mean, men have been falling in love with lots of nonhuman things for years – our jobs, our cars, the fictional characters in our books.  (Not me personally, mind you.  I’m only mildly infatuated with Diane Stapleton and Nicole Veles, but some authors.)

Anyway, I was cruising through the story online (http://bit.ly/2sji62Q) until I hit a quote from Hideo Tsuchiya, the managing director of doll maker Orient Industry, “More men are buying them because they feel they can actually communicate with the dolls.” 

Communicate?  These are inanimate globs of silicone?  Lifelike?  Yeah, we’ve come a long way from this picture, but still….

What, I wondered, is going to happen when these dolls start talking back?  And actually, that day is here already, isn’t it?  Take RealDoll's “Harmony,” an artificially intelligent sexbot that can hold conversations.  She (it) even remembers and has a customizable personality.

And the quality of the conversation, you might ask?  Well, we’re far beyond the early days of text-to-speech, when you could type a phrase into your computer and get a good laugh as it mispronounced the words in its robotic voice.  If you want a demo and have any Amazon Alexa-powered device, just say “Alexa, let’s chat.”  You’ll get the university finalists in the inaugural $2.5 million Alexa Prize to advance conversational AI.

How is this all going to change life and lust as we know it?  I’m not sure.  Maybe I’ll go have a chat with Diane or Nicole, see what they have to say.

Happy Writing,
BmP
Image by Rico Shen [CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

************
Advertisement – Start talking to your own Alexia-powered device.

Amazon Echo:  http://amzn.to/2ulrlnC
Amazon Tap:  http://amzn.to/2uuNzno

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Plug for A Book…Not One of My Own!

As a book blogger/reviewer, I keep a backlog of titles on which I’ve drafted a review.  When I’m lucky, it’s got two books on it – it’s usually empty.  But there’s been one book on my agenda for quite a while - The Emotional Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

It’s not that I’m at a lack for words - when has that every happened?  It’s just, if I wrote something, it couldn’t be a review.  I can’t say, it has great action with complex characters and some mind-blowing twists.  It’s a reference book…for writers.  But then, that’s where it fits.  So, writers, my two cents.

For each of 75 different feelings, The Emotional Thesaurus provides possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses.  So, first and foremost, it gives us a creative nudge.  It’s not that you can’t have your characters ‘roll their eyes’ 87 times in a book…although two may be one too many.  But expressive variety is the spice of reading.  The Emotional Thesaurus helps.

At this point, I should probably stop, but the psychologist in me won’t, because I wondered – how does The Emotional Thesaurus deal with the fact that there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence between visceral responses and emotion?  Research has shown that if your heart’s racing and your palms are sweaty, your brain will look for reasons in the environment.  But then, that idea has been widely accepted for years in the ‘fight or flight response.’  The same bodily reactions are interpreted anywhere from a reason to lace up the gloves to a reason to lace up the running shoes.  The Thesaurus deals with that issue the only way it could – by recognizing it.  There are 21 references to increased heart rate in the Thesaurus, because let’s face it, a racing heart is part of a lot of different emotions.

So, I guess that’s about it for this post, as I sit here with my heart pounding in my ears…I’ll let you guess the emotional context.  



Get a copy today

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Friday, July 7, 2017

You Gotta Love the Optimism

I love book giveaways for the instant recognition they get.  I run one on Goodreads for every new release, watching as hundreds of people add it to their to-be-read (TBR) list.  Zero to 400 potential readers in two weeks.  And all I have to do is sign a few proof copies and ship them off.
Of course, I’m interested in my new best friends, so I checked out a few of their TBR lists.  Some are long.  There were ones with a few hundred titles…or a few thousand…or how about over 110,000?  Wow, the optimism of it all!
How long, I wondered, would it take to read 110,000 books?  Well, my library gives me 3 weeks to read a book, but if you’re in the 100,000 plus league, you probably polish them off at a pretty good rate.  Let’s say, 3 days per book.  And let’s say this person is getting an early start and is only 12 years old when he/she amasses the list.
By my trusty little calculator and giving this individual Leap Year’s Day off once every four years, he/she can expect to polish off the list at the ripe old age of 916.
So, knowing that, what am I doing?  I’m busy on edition 2 of Half A Mind, looking forward to the day when I can have a Goodreads Giveaway on it, because that instant recognition is just so cool.

Image by Eneas De Troya from Mexico City, México (Lectura para unas vidas) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Book Review: Liberty Boy by David Gaughran

The Historical Context is Excellent; the Fictional Story, Not So Much

Historical fiction is, obviously, part history and part story.  Liberty Boy did well in creating the look and feel of the period (the British oppression and Robert Emmet’s uprising in 1803 Ireland), but the accompanying fiction had the feel of a formulaic romance.  I was hoping for more.

Liberty Boy conveyed a feeling of helplessness and oppression that seems appropriate to the period.  The nature of home life, work, social interactions, and political intrigue in this part of the world and time all felt true.  Simply put, the book made a period in history that I knew little about come to life, as good historical fiction will often do.

The pacing of the story was OK to a bit slow with some repetition or unnecessary emphasis, and yet, the book was a quick read.  Perhaps that’s because it’s relatively short.  Character development was good.  I particularly enjoyed Kitty Doyle, who is brash, aggressive, and daring, which of course, stirs the pot in her world.  Development of Jimmy O'Flaherty, on the other hand, started well, but by the end, he seemed both too good and too rudderless to be real.

The plot that went with the history, however, was the primary letdown for me.  In general, it followed a well-worn recipe for romances – keep the potential young lovers apart through a series of misunderstandings, poor timing, and chance events to build emotional tension.  And then…  Well, to finish that thought would give away the ending, but it’s one of the two possible – they get together or they don’t.  But either way, the storyline already felt stale.

So, while the romance was somewhat trite and predictable, the feel of the period comes through at nearly a gut level, making Liberty Boy a worthwhile read.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

My Blogger to Google+ Experiment

In the last month or two, I’ve noticed that the post images that are shared to my Google+ profile are not the same as the original images on Blogger.  The last example was my review of Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane.  Although his cover appeared on my blog, my Google+ followers were treated to the cover of my book, In the Space of an Atom, in its place.  (I thought I heard a chorus of ‘how smug can he get!’)
Hey, not my fault.  It’s automation out of control.
There is, of course, a Google+ help community that recommended the following:
When you share a post on Google+, it looks for an image with an original dimension that is at least 506 pixels wide. If you don't have an image in your blog post that is wide enough, Google+ may pick (something else).
Sure enough, my cover image of Since We Fell is only 331 pixels wide, well short of the magic number. 
So, to make it up to Dennis, who I am sure is quite upset that his cover didn’t appear in Google+, I’m embedding a version I enlarged using a simple picture editor as an experiment.  Hopefully, his cover appears and not mine, since I don’t wish to be tagged as the shameless self-promoter of Google+.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Book Review: Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Solid Characters in an Implausible Plot

I like plot, reading for the tension, suspense, and unexpected twists that the best authors can craft.  For me, characters are in books largely to move the plot forward.  But characters can also be captivating, as Since We Fell reminded me.  Unfortunately for this book, those fascinating and nuanced individuals populate a plot that was often unbelievable and always convenient.

Rachel Childs, the protagonist of Since We Fell, felt real to me and quite easy to like.  In the early chapters, Lehane paints her as a woman who is utterly alone – emotionally, psychologically, and physically.  By the middle of the book, she has suffered her on-air mental breakdown and is a virtual shut-in.  She is a well-developed, complex character through these sections.  Her final transformation seemed a bit over-the-top to me, but extreme situations might call for reaching into the depths of one’s psyche and drawing on capacities rarely seen.

Although a bit slow paced initially, I generally enjoyed the author’s writing style, particularly some of the visual similes.  This type of comparison is easy to overuse, but Lehane hits a good rhythm.  And the end is action packed.

The weakness of the book, however, was the plot.  It simply strained credibility too much for me to remain immersed in the story.  There are several, specific scenes that were questionable, e.g., an interaction between Rachel and a detective or several scenes involving the villains.  Those, however, could be written off as a necessary stretch of the imagination.  But it was the primary ‘twist,’ the turning point in the story that came about two-thirds of the way through the book that pushed the story beyond believability.  While it forced me to re-characterize much of the action, which good twists will do, it also made everything that had and would happen convenient and generally trite.

Overall, I loved Rachel’s climb back out of self-doubt and despair.  If you’re a reader who values character development and vivid prose even when not fully supported by plot, you should enjoy Since We Fell.

Monday, June 26, 2017

IN THE SPACE peaks at #74



During last week's promos, In the Space of an Atom peaked at #74 in Kindle Technothrillers.  Love the support from my readers and thanks to authors Laurel Heidtman and Lincoln Cole for their social media pushes.


Pick up your copy today or read for free with Kindle Unlimited HERE

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Walking for Words – On the AT


Took a break from the keyboard for a little R&R – that’s Relaxing and (not) ‘Riting – and had the good fortune to spend it on the Appalachian Trail and on some of the Shenandoah National Park trails.

We ended up timing it perfectly, with three straight days of sun, cool mornings, and warm afternoons.  The day we headed home, it rained.
Absolutely stunning scenery, with the mountain laurel in bloom and spectacular scenes from the top of some of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  My only disappointment was that each day, I passed one or more groups of hikers who had seen bear, but not me.  

Oh well, a good reason to return one day, huh?

Happy writing,
BmP







Sunday, June 18, 2017

In the Space of an Atom Hits #90 in Kindle Technothrillers



Get a copy for 99 cents - Now until June 21; Regularly $2.99

Fast-paced Thriller with a Bit of Science and a Touch of Romance. 


Purchase Here

Thursday, June 15, 2017

99 CENT POOLSIDE READ


Kindle Countdown Deal, Now until June 21; Regularly $2.99

Fast-paced Thriller with a Bit of Science and a Touch of Romance.  

“…this book blew me away! I love action packed books, and this one is one of my new favorites.”


Saturday, June 10, 2017

15 Million Dollar Painting Found in a Garage

Did you hear about the $15,000,000 Jackson Pollack painting found stored in an Arizona garage?  Yeah, apparently, it was hidden behind a Kenneth Noland picture worth a mere $100,000.   See the ABC News Story

This news might even motivate me to clean up all the ‘writing inspiration’ in my garage…

Well, maybe not.

Image by OS2Warp (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, June 9, 2017

Book Review: The Obsidian Chamber (Agent Pendergast series) by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

A Good Read for New Fans; Not So Much for the Long-Time Ones

For the fans of the Pendergast series, and I count myself among their number, The Obsidian Chamber brings together several familiar figures in a well-written and generally entertaining chase.  But that strength is also its weakness, as the plot seems a bit well-worn.  The old gang keeps coming back from the dead to pursue much the same agenda as before.

In general, I enjoy Preston and Child’s writing.  Their prose flows smoothly and quickly, and I soon become immersed in their stories.  And their primary characters are always interesting, each with their own flaws and often with strange and mysterious roots. 

But these pros don’t offset several weaknesses in this book.  First, one of the “twists” was bringing Pendergast back from the dead (mentioned in the authors’ synopsis).  To avoid a spoiler, I’ll just say he is not the only one, and two resurrections in one book is at least one too many.  Second, for those familiar with the characters, Constance’s abduction would seem a bit implausible both because of the setting and her past history with the abductor.  But even without previous exposure to the series, Proctor’s race to her rescue would seem ill-considered.  And finally, again for the long-time readers, The Obsidian Chamber does little to further the series, as the book brings back an animosity that’s driven several of the previous novels.  If there is a positive, at least none of the main characters dies, so we don’t have to expect another miraculous return from the grave.

Overall, new readers to the series will find The Obsidian Chamber entertaining.  It’s a well-written, fast read, with only a few questionable coincidences or actions to mar the flow.  But for the long-time reader, these glitches are magnified, especially in the context of a theme that’s not really new.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Follow by Email

From my computer to your eyes, never miss a post


1-2 emails per week.  Unsubscribe whenever you wish.

Sign up at http://brucemperrin.blogspot.com/


Image by Alex Grech from Malta (Open the door!) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Job I Never Want



Spotted this person going to work Wednesday morning.  Yes, there is a person on top of that pole.

Sort of puts the tension from a new book release in perspective, huh?


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Book Review: Hyper by John A. Autero

Don’t You Love It When a Plot Comes Together?

There are books that end with threads still hanging.  There are the ones that tie it all up, but you saw the finale coming after the first 20 pages.  And then, there’s the ones that sneak up on you with a finish that makes you rethink the whole story.  They’re fun.  Hyper is one of them.

Hyper is a whodunit, set in the future and on a station in deep space.  And with a limited cast of unusual characters (seven of them), guessing the killer is possible…even quite likely, as the body count continues to rise.  But giving the killing spree context was the real twist for me, and when the author sprung it, I admit making that admiring nod.  He got me.  And when it happened, I saw several of the characters in a new light.

In general, the pace of the book is good, as the story moves from death to death at a nice clip.  There are some deliberate flashbacks that seemed to interrupt the flow, but even those apparent diversions made sense by the end.  The violence is intense and gruesome; the book is adult reading.  Character development is adequate, although a bit stereotypic around people like the “thug from the south side of Chicago” (author synopsis).  But the individuals are interesting and easily distinguished, allowing the story to flow readily.

With its future setting (the year 2061), the technology gave me some pause.  It seemed to range from futuristic (space stations and cyborgs) to 2017-era manufacturing, communications, and computing systems.  In some ways, it seemed like ‘steampunk,’ except that the technology inserted into the dystopian future is not Victorian-era steam gauges and engines, but the maze of pipes, tanks, and compressors of today’s manufacturing world.

Overall, for a somewhat grisly whodunit all tied up neatly with a thought-provoking climax, I recommend Hyper as a fun and fast read.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Book Review: The Negative’s Tale by R. Leib

A Story in a Story and Both Are Good

OK, it’s not really a story in a story, but rather, a story with some extended flashbacks.  But the last flashback nearly stole the show for me – thus the title.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The Negative’s Tale is the story of Allon Wu, a rare ‘negative’ who can tap into the psychic abilities of others, e.g., their clairvoyance, telepathy, etc.  When the Vice Admiral of the Space Guards, Allon’s wife, can trust no one else to unravel a mysterious death on the Kostya station, she calls on her reclusive, somewhat burned-out husband for help.

One of the early flashbacks develops Allon’s character and introduces us to his world by way of his psychic skills, martial arts, and science training.  I found it fascinating.  But as I said above, it was a final flashback that rivaled the main plot.  It involves Allon’s exploits on a hostile planet inhabited by a psychic, crustacean-like species.  It is a fast, fun, and highly descriptive sequence, bound to leave the reader with some strange and entertaining images.

The primary plot – investigating the death of Bertie Lindermann – is a more traditional murder mystery.  It even ends with a scene in which Allon confronts the suspects in a big reveal.  But like the flashbacks, the author has saved a few twists for his primary story-line, just to keep us readers guessing.

For me, the integration of science fiction and mystery in The Negative’s Tale was handled perfectly, with enough touches of advanced technology, the paranormal, and ethical/cultural issues to appeal on many different levels.  It’s a story well worth the read.

Friday, May 19, 2017

What books are on your summer reading list this year?

This question popped up on my Goodreads author dashboard recently.  I’m not sure if it was distributed widely or if they targeted a few of us recalcitrants who ignored months of prompts to sign up for a reading challenge.
Hey, Goodreads, I’ll be reading some books, but do I need to give a figure?  I do?  OK, how about…23?  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to give a number, but rather, I didn’t want to explain it.  So, here goes.
First, there’s The Obsidian Chamber, number 16 in the Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  Yeah, guilty.  I’ve read the other 15, plus the short story, Extraction.  So, that makes Special Agent Aloysius Xingu L. Pendergast one of my oldest acquaintances, along with Jack Reacher, Harry Bosch, Jack Ryan, Oliver Stone, and Lucas Davenport…among others.
Then, I have my eye on a few works by rising stars.  I have to get the sequel to Body on the Barstool by Lolli Powell, which I understand will be called Whiskey Kills.  The original cracked me up.  And Lincoln Cole’s World on Fire series (Raven’s Peak et. al) was some great storytelling, but it’s a post promising a book in the technothriller genre that has me waiting impatiently.  That’s my preferred genre.  And of course, there’ll be a dozen new, yet undiscovered favorites along the way.  (I’m not into planning my reading life too carefully.)
So now, if you’re counting, you’re thinking I’m about 10 books short…but not really.  I’ll make up the difference reading my own words.  Actually, it’ll add up quite quickly, with me re-reading and re-working those the sections of the next manuscript that come together well only 3-4 times, and the parts that don’t, like 63 times. 
There, like I said, 23 book equivalents…but who’s counting?
So, what’s on your summer reading list?
Image by Ramchand Bruce Phagoo (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Book Review: To Conquer Heaven by Felix Long

An Outstanding Story, but It Takes Some Persistence

College buddies Jeremy Wang and Brett East team up with Dr. Saffiyah Halcyone, Egyptian archaeologist, to search for the lost tomb of the first emperor of China, Shi Huang Di.  Joined by the mysterious Jin, the threesome face the perils of rivers of mercury, terracotta warriors, and a quicksilver dragon in order to stop the emperor before he can rise again and continue his quest To Conquer Heaven.

I found this story nothing short of outstanding in the way it weaves history, folklore, science, and magic into the plot.  Desperate to conquer death, the first emperor of China calls upon the Egyptians and their expertise on the afterlife.  That, in turn, brings into play stories such as the curse of the Pharaohs and historical characters such as Howard Carter and Aleister Crowley.  Coupled with the mythical figure of the Monkey King in Chinese folklore and the tyrannical legacy of Shi Huang Di, author Felix Long has a great deal of violence, magic, and mystery with which to work.  And he weaves all these threads into a conclusion, a feat I was not certain was possible mid-story.

Writings from the Tao Te Ching, the foundation of Taoism, introduce each chapter.  It’s basic form of declarations, followed by contradictions to stimulate thought, seemed to be continued into the novel.  The chapters when our explorers first enter the tomb are filled with contradictory situations, with Jeremy, a doctoral student, and Saffiyah seeking science-based explanations for what appears to be magic.  In some cases, science gets them out of a jam.  But when it doesn’t, magic is there as the backup.  It’s a fascinating interplay.

Character development in the story gave me some pause.  For an Egyptian archaeologist and a doctoral student, there was not much planning and forethought for their adventure.  And giggling and ‘horseplay’ were more common than I would have expected.  Even the budding romance seemed to come out of nowhere.  But overall, these were secondary issues.

More troubling for me was the writing style.  Clearly, there are passages that are beautifully worded and highly evocative.  Take for example: “The sheer delight of survival was trickling away behind her, like a melting candy coating revealing a seed of cold panic in her breast.”  Very expressive, but any technique can be over-worked.  And analogies are.  Then, there are phrases that seem complex for no apparent reason, e.g., ““There was a subliminal susurration on the edge of the audible spectrum.”  As far as I can tell, that just means there was a soft rustling.  It’s clearly a matter of taste, but for mine, the prose was unnecessarily dense, requiring some persistence to complete an otherwise outstanding tale.

If you’re drawn to adventures that cleverly mix history, myth, science, and magic, especially when they are of a Chinese and/or Egyptian origin, To Conquer Heaven is a treat.  You just need to be a bit persistent.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book Review: Through Shade and Shadow (Shades and Shadows Book 1) by Natalie J. Case

Stage Setting, with a Fair Dose of Action

Through Shade and Shadow felt very much like setting the stage – that is, establishing the characters and building parts of the fantasy world before the protagonists become engaged in the main conflict.  But as stage setting goes, this book did pretty well as the action was fast, although it was not always as immersive as I might have liked.

The violence in Through Shade and Shadow was the result of bigotry and intolerance, after a mass murderer was identified as a Shade.  Shades were previously considered a mythical species with supernatural healing capabilities, so the hatred that erupted was from a fear of those who are different.  To reinforce that idea, the author had the persecution extend well beyond the Shades and the other fantasy species (Shadows, Shifters, Sages) to many other groups and organizations.  Over the course of the story, blacks, immigrants, synagogues, gays, Planned Parenthood, and others were attacked, often with horrific results.  While the use of these examples brings to mind real world events, the breadth of the persecution seemed generally unrealistic.  Even the story’s references to extreme religious close-mindedness, hatemongering on the political front, and violent military stereotypes did little to make these events seem more than a listing of historical intolerance.

The book spends some considerable time developing the lifestyle and gifts of the two primary characters, Mason Jerah, a Shade, and Alaric Lambrecht, who is a Shadow.  Both are being thrust into roles much greater than anything they had experienced before and it is easy to feel their growing pains.  Beyond these two individuals, the author expounds on a variety of other fantasy species and their gifts – the ability to feel another’s emotions, to see another’s thoughts, to plant thoughts, to create false appearances, to control fire, to control light, and so on.  While variety may generally add interest to a story, when so many supernatural capabilities are available in a fantasy world, creating obstacles becomes a matter of explaining why a gift doesn’t work and eliminating problems just takes the right gift at the right time.  The creation of tension and its resolution starts to feel artificial, subject completely to the stage of the story.

So, while the plight described in Through Shade and Shadow will, unfortunately, bring to mind many real-world events, the breadth of the persecution and the lack of boundaries on supernatural gifts tends to render the story somewhat strained.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Will Nanobots Make Me Funnier?

A couple of months ago, I was reading predictions from the noted Google futurist, Ray Kurzweil.  Among them was the prediction that nanobots would make people funnier.  No, they’re not going to help you channel George Carlin or Richard Pryor.  They’re going to connect you to the Internet.

That notion, to me anyway, is both awe inspiring and terrifying.  Wouldn’t it be great to have the vast information reserves of the cloud at your mental fingertips?  But wouldn’t it be horrific if that information feed fell into the wrong hands?
There are, of course, major hurdles in establishing a brain-to-cloud interface.  One is knowing just where to insert these nanobots into the brain so that their signals will be meaningful.  Or maybe precise location is not required and what is inserted is a mesh, much like the ‘neural lace’ being proposed by Elon Musk’s new company, Neuralink.  And of course, the brain will be helping in this endeavor, making changes in its structure to accommodate these new inputs – a capability known as plasticity.

When might we expect this revolution?  A special edition of the NY Times, Science Times crowd-sourced that question (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/12/06/science/20111206-technology-timeline.html).  And after 1537 moves (when I visited on May 2, 2017), the readers settled on 2034 as the date when “Enhanced intelligence will be available to most people through a combination of nanotechnology and embedded processors.”

I’d like to see that.  But in the meantime, I can simulate nanobots making me funnier with a manual search of the Internet.  Here was what I found.

Question:  Why was the nanobot bankrupt?
Answer:  Because it had used all its cache.

I consider this proof positive.  Nanobots won’t make me funnier, at least until there’s better material in the cloud.

Image from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3471287/ [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Book Review: As Wings Unfurl by Arthur M. Doweyko

SciFi Action with Meaning on Several Levels
When the reader first meets Applegate “Apple” Bogdanski, he is “…looking forward to nothing and hoping it will arrive soon,” as the author’s synopsis puts it.  But then, he and two other reluctant heroes become involved in a battle with an alien race for no less than the survival of humanity.  Despite how trite that may sound, As Wings Unfurl has enough action, differing themes, and twists in the nature of the combatants to make it an interesting read.
As Wings Unfurl is on the high end of the action-and-pacing scale.  From the first scenes in which Apple stops a mugging, only to wake up later to be hailed as a hero, the fights come fast and frequent.  And they’re battles that can be viewed from multiple perspectives – as a war between good and evil, including some with religious overtones; a battle between humanity and aliens; a fight within a person for self-respect; and a battle to prove that mankind can evolve to something worth saving.  The last battle ground, in particular, is mentioned frequently and started to feel a bit overworked by the end.  There is also the issue that the physical battle left casualties, but too often, these dead returned to fight again.  That type of misdirection is better not repeated as often as it was in this book.
Part of the pace of the book is driven by changes in setting, with the story taking place in New York, Tibet, and London.  But while the author does an admirable job of crafting vivid descriptions of each locale, the movement often seemed abrupt and haphazard.  When flashbacks to other areas, e.g., Vietnam, were added, shifts in the setting became difficult to follow and on occasion, jarring.
The characters were developed gradually throughout the story, and Apple becomes fairly well-defined as the war hero who can’t accept his failures along with his valor.  Other supporting characters – Shilog, Yowl, and Angela – are less well developed, perhaps in part because they represent cultures/species with which most readers will be less familiar.  This fact may also be partially responsible for why the attraction between Apple and Angela felt rushed and poorly founded.  But whatever the reason, it felt underdeveloped.
So, for a SciFi tale with lots of actions and some interesting twists on the characters involved and the nature of the battle, As Wings Unfurl makes an enjoyable read.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Book Review: Over Shadowed (Over Cast Series Book 2) by K.W. Benton

Teenage Angst & Fantasy Creatures – Who Knew the Mix Could Be So Funny?

Generally, I start my reviews with a one or two sentence summary of the story.  But for Over Shadowed, the crux of the book is not so much in the multi-threaded plot but rather, the interplay of teenage angst and what it means to be a maturing witch or werewolf or faery on top of that.  The result is always entertaining and is often hilarious.
So, take the ‘normal’ worries of a teenage girl according to this novel – am I pretty, just what’s up with boys, can I survive another year of school – and add to it being a member of a fantasy species, or being turned to one, or being mated to one, and you have some idea of the fodder author K.W. Benton has to work with.  The dissonances that occur are further highlighted by the protagonist’s sense of humor.  At one point, Nat wonders if she could “…get a master’s degree in sarcasm.”  I’d say yes, in any of the most prestigious schools that give one.  And her BFF, G.J. doesn’t do bad in that department either.
Added to the human/fantasy species, coming-of-age story line, the book has a number of more dramatic plot elements.  Nat has become a bridge to the Shadow World, threatening to bring some not so nice hijackers back with her when she returns to Earth.  Her parents are so concerned that they flee.  People are being gruesomely murdered.  And more.  But the problem with having so many plot threads is that it is difficult to develop them fully.  Sometimes, the transition from one crisis to another occurs mid conversation.  Additionally, the tongue-in-cheek way the characters treat these life-and-death matters makes it difficult for the reader to take them seriously.  Admittedly, this balance is a problem whenever humor and drama are mixed, but the interplay here becomes somewhat more jumbled than I would have liked.
Finally, Over Shadowed is the second book in the series and I did not read the first.  While I you can read this book as a standalone, I suspect I missed out on quite a bit of character development.  In particular, the author’s synopsis mentions that Drake was Nat’s nemesis, which must have been developed in book 1.  This fact would help explain some of Nat’s behavior in book 2 that had me scratching my head a bit.
So, while the delicate balance of drama and humor might have been done better, the humor comes on strong and makes Over Shadowed a quite worthwhile read.