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.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mind in the Clouds Countdown Deal

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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.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

What mystery in your own life could be a plot for a book?

This question from Goodreads, in honor of Mystery and Thriller Week (May 1 to May 7), is a tough one, because my life is so humdrum.
I guess there was a bit of mystery surrounding a letter some of my St. Louis neighbors and I found a couple of years ago.  True, it was just an unpaid water bill, but the circumstances were a bit suspicious. 
We were chipping out some old sections of a concrete sidewalk to reclaim a small area for a neighborhood green space when we found the letter.  The bill had been due in March and it was now April.  We didn’t become concerned, however, until we noticed the bill had been due in March two years earlier.  But in thinking back about it now, it was probably because the letter was in the back pocket of a dead man’s jeans that really got us spun up.
The man was later identified as Bill Waite, which seemed about right.  And since he was a scientist working on some type of advanced stealth weapon, one of those three-letter agencies was called in to investigate.  I never realized they were so specialized, until I saw they were from the Bureau of Undercover Munitions.
The BUMs immediately suspected the next-door neighbor, Mary Hopkins, a 77-year-old, retired third grade teacher.  She had no alibi for the two-week period when Bill had gone missing.  There were whole blocks of eight hours or more when the widow claimed no one had seen her.  And since Bill’s girlfriend, Natasha Popov had disappeared about the same time as Bill, she couldn’t vouch for Mary either.  Last we saw, Natasha was driving off in her Ferrari, probably going to the airport to visit her old, dying mother in the Ukraine.  She did that a lot.
Of course, the whole mystery disappeared when the doctors completed the autopsy.  Bill had died of a heart attack.  It was just one of those strange coincidences that he fell in the open trench for the sidewalk at the exact moment that the worker and his six supervisors were all looking the other way…probably watching Natasha drive away, because she always liked to have her top down.
So, with the mystery solved, I guess that won’t work for a book after all, because my life is so humdrum…
Image from The Car Spy - 1997 Ferrari F355 Spider, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18039149

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Review: The Life Siphon by Kathryn Sommerlot

A Reluctant Hero, Battling Evil Magic…and Himself

The Life Siphon is the first book of a duology.  It tells the story of Tatsu, a reclusive woodsman who is reluctantly drawn into a conflict with a neighboring kingdom.  To save the day, he must stop a magical energy that siphons the life force from every living thing it encounters.

Overall, the story flows well.  With the book’s length – 363 pages – and a tendency by the author to repeat some thoughts for emphasis, I wasn’t necessarily expecting that.  But it was a quick read that easily held my attention, attesting to the author’s skill.  There is also plenty of action, which obviously helps with the pace.  A few action scenes seem a bit well-worn in the fantasy genre, but those are well done.  And there are enough twists in the plot to keep you wondering.

Other than Tatsu, the characters come and go throughout the story, making them feel a bit under-developed…and often a bit mysterious.  There is, however, enough detail in their portrayals to flesh out a supporting cast.  Tatsu, on the other hand, is well developed as the reluctant hero.  He is (for the most part) happy in his isolated life in the woods.  But when he’s implicated in a crime against his homeland, the scene is set for him to be forced into service for the crown.

Apart from the action, a great deal of the book is spent exploring the angst of the reluctant hero.  And for me, this is where the book became a bit muddled.  Sometimes I could not reconcile how Tatsu was acting with what he was feeling (according to our third person perspective or the nonverbal cues).  Or I wasn’t sure what in the story had elicited his emotional response or his change in feelings.  Toward the end, for example, Tatsu becomes overwhelmed with, let’s say, ‘family issues’ to avoid a spoiler.  Yet, in the midst of this, he agrees with the statement that ‘blood doesn’t dictate who you are.’  Admittedly, recounting the doubts and misgivings of a reluctant hero is a way to add tension to a fantasy, but I couldn’t quite make sense of some of Tatsu’s reactions and emotional swings.

Overall, if you are a fan of fantasies, particularly ones with a somewhat conflicted and anxious reluctant hero, The Life Siphon will make a great addition to your shelf.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Book Review: Blood Shot by Blake Colby

Its Irreverence Has No Bounds

Is there anything you hold sacred – life, love, family, a good bologna sandwich?  If so, you may not want to read Blood Shot, because it treats everything in life with a merciless irreverence.  Well, everything that is except…basketball.

In a word, I found Blood Shot to be hilarious.  Its humorous exaggerations, most of which were quite politically incorrect, centered on the lack of worldliness of an elite professional basketball player turned private detective named Kable Anderken.  Who else other than the coddled pro wouldn’t understand the purpose of public transportation?  Who else would carry several thousand dollars in his socks just in case he needed to bribe a government official?  Who else would repeatedly drop his wallet and passport on the floor because he was jumping up and down, yelling about a game on TV…and not consider it a problem?  There was hardly a situation that Anderken assessed correctly, because he had never had to worry about pedestrian concerns such as money or career or other people or…well, just about anything else, including staying straight.

There is also murder mystery in the book, with some strangely odd twists and lots of action that result in an array of injuries to Anderken and an ever-rising body count.  And, as you might guess from the tongue-in-cheek nature of this work, Anderken has some success solving the mystery despite his complete lack of aptitude, skill, and knowledge.  How much success?  Well, that would be a spoiler, right?

So, if you’re in the mood for some laughs and you’re not an overpaid athlete who thinks heroin is an over-the-counter drug, then Blood Shot may be the perfect read for you.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Book Review: Raven’s Rise by Lincoln Cole

A High-Octane Finish to a Trilogy?

Raven’s Rise is the third book in the World on Fire series by Lincoln Cole.  I haven’t seen the author use the word ‘trilogy,’ although admittedly I haven’t looked that hard.  But this installment clearly brings to a close a number of mysteries and leaves few characters hanging by a thread…unlike the previous books.  So, yes, it has the feel of the end of a trilogy, while leaving ample room for the same characters to fight new hordes of demons and leave us again gasping for breath.

As I did after book 2, I’ll address the question, are these books standalone or do you need to read them in order?  And I’ll stick with my previous answer – I’d strongly recommend sticking with the sequence.  If nothing else, you’ll miss out on the development of Haatim as a character if you start here, and for me, that was central to the story.

Raven’s Rise is primarily action-oriented, starting from the first chapter, which put my heart in my throat.  The mysteries that were laid out in books 1 and 2 get resolved, often with a plot twist.  But none of the twists seemed to release any tension, as it built continuously to the end.  The author’s writing style is informal, almost as if he is just telling you a story by the campfire.  Of course, with the prominence of evil in these books, the story might not be one you’d enjoy that much at night, far from the safe confines of your home.  The downside of this style, however, is that occasionally the sentences become a bit convoluted.  But with a handful of such situations in a 370-page book, it’s not really an issue – for me, anyway.

No review is complete without some critique, and for me, there were just a couple of areas I wished the story had been handled differently.  First, one of my pet peeves with fantasy/occult books is when all the supernatural conventions of the first, in this case, 2.5 books get violated in the final pages in order to reach a resolution.  This happened, in a way, in that something inexplicable occurred at the end.  But it appeared so late and seemed so tangential that I wonder if it is just the author’s segue to the next trilogy?  We’ll see.  And second, by about 70% of the way through the book, the mysteries had been resolved and the battle lines had been drawn - all that was left was the fight to the death.  But that covered about 100 of the book's 370 pages.  To me, the impact of this book would have been doubled if the finale had been halved.  My heart can only race for so long.

So, for a superior (perhaps) trilogy, featuring some great action, unexpected twists, and plenty of tension to go around, don’t miss this series.  And if you have to read just one of the series, make it Raven’s Rise.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Book Review: Forever and a Night Dark Experiments by Lana Campbell

Twilight meets Grey’s Anatomy

Romance continues to be the most popular literary genre according to most surveys, with paranormal romance being a prevalent subgenre.  Mystery/thriller/suspense tends to come in second.  So how could you go wrong with a Paranormal Romance Mystery?  With a love affair between Tiffany Peebles, a human, and Dr. Christian La Mond, a vampire, in the midst of attacks by an unknown serial killer, that’s exactly where I’d put Forever and a Night Dark Experiments by Lana Campbell.

The basic romance plot is fairly standard, with boy and girl experiencing a strong romantic attraction, then complications ensue – in this case, the girl feeling she doesn’t fit in the boy’s world and that he deserves better.  And the rest of the romance story is them trying to overcome that hurdle.  There is additional spice, of course, as we’re talking about a human and a vampire, so we have twice the suggestive scenes, some of which are rather explicit but always done tastefully.  Running parallel to this story is a good murder mystery.  It’s intense, especially considering the targets of the killer and the author provides a couple of good twists.  In fact, for me, this was the best part of the book – it gave the story an edge that kept me turning the pages.

Christian La Mond as the vampire doctor is a bit stereotypic in everything but his species.  He’s the ruggedly ‘beautiful,’ transplanted Texan in cowboy boots and pickup truck.  Tiffany, on the other hand, is anything but stereotypic.  As a self-described computer nerd, one might think quiet and socially inept.  She is, in a way, but she also has a temper, is an outdoor sports enthusiast, has a sharp tongue, and is somewhat self-centered and emotion-driven in her initial reactions to situations (later retracting her outbursts).  Her maturation is one of the main themes of the story and is quite well done.

There are a few areas where this book could be improved.  First, there are some minor editing issues – sentences with missing words, words used incorrectly, and the like.  These are, as I said, minor, but have a tendency to pull you out of the make-believe world for a moment to reconcile them.  Second, on a more technical level, melding two different genres is always tricky, and there are places where the romance and the suspense in this book seem to clash.  Romantic shenanigans in the same setting as a killing spree requires some delicate balancing.  There is also some unnecessary repetition and a little tightening of dialog and plot would have helped the pacing.

Overall, if you’re looking for a Paranormal Romance Mystery, with some solid roots in the mystery genre and some interesting character development, Forever and a Night Dark Experiments is worth the read.



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Book Review: The Box of Tricks by Alistair Potter

Witty Sci-Fi with a Message

The Box of Tricks has the mind-boggling technology one expects in a sci-fi book, along with the battle between good and evil.  But under all the expected sci-fi trappings, Alistair Potter still delivers well-developed characters and even a message to his readers, all wrapped in humor and wit.

The story centers around Tom Mathers, a mild-mannered, somewhat socially inept taxi driver from Edinburgh.  Thrust into his strange new reality, Tom matures.  But even by the end of the book, his timidity is often the appropriate trait and common sense is generally the correct tactic.  Other than a strong sense of loyalty to friends and a desire to do right, Tom was an everyday hero, and I appreciated that fact.  Romantic interest Suzie and co-protagonist Fanshawe also come across as believable, although toward the riskier end of the scale.

Pacing is also excellent.  The author moves steadily through challenges revealed, skirmishes waged, and alliances formed, saving a few unexpected twists for the end.  The aptness of the pacing is also apparent in Potter’s treatment of his social message about our stewardship of the planet.  It would be easy for that message to become overbearing…but it doesn’t.  The author maintains a velocity that keeps us engrossed and entertained.

I wouldn’t say the book is a laugh-a-minute tome – what American reader would say that about British humor?  But it does have a tongue-in-cheek witticism that was very appealing.  If you want to take the possible end of planet earth completely seriously, you may need to look elsewhere.

Overall, The Book of Tricks felt like storytelling at its best, with solid characters, good pacing, a touch of humor, and a broader message.  It’s well worth the read.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

RIP Chuck Berry

Rock 'n' Roll pioneer Chuck Berry died on March 18, 2017, at the age of 90 in his home outside of St. Louis, MO.


Goodreads Giveaway Ends March 20

Last chance.  Enter to win one of two signed, proof copies of In the Space of an Atom - a fast paced thriller, with a bit of science and a touch of romance. 

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/enter_choose_address/226689

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Book Review: Ice Rift: An Action Adventure Sci-Fi Horror set in Antarctica by Ben Hammott

A ‘Slasher Film’ in Book Form

As I was reading Ice Rift, I kept thinking it had a number of similarities to a ‘slasher film.’  In particular, I was thinking of that scene where the so-to-be-victims are deciding if they should hide in the basement, when that is exactly where the psychotic killer does his thing.  And you keep thinking, don’t go to the basement, don’t go to the basement…and of course, they all go to the basement.  In this case, I was thinking, don’t go into that alien space ship with the malfunctioning door…but they all go in.  Could you really expect anything good to happen after that?

Of course, there are differences between this book and a slasher film, one of the prime being that instead of a single, psychotic killer, you have waves and waves of man-eating, space aliens.  And therein lies one of my concerns I had about this book – pacing.  It was over-paced with space-monster attacks for most of the story.  The constant parade of odd-looking, yet consistently predatory aliens made me numb after a while – almost to the point of chuckling when a new variant appeared.  Even the strangest, most bloodthirsty monsters can become repetitive.  And like one of the characters in the story, I started wondering, where are the cuddly puppies and kittens?  I will give the author credit, however.  He did come up with some ingenious ways for these various species to kill their prey.

The theme of near constant human-alien battle made character development problematic.  Whenever the scientists trapped inside the ship paused to reflect on life or the wonders of the technology or each other, it seemed grossly out of place.  Is this really what they would do in the 30 seconds between narrow escapes?  A budding romance between two characters seemed particularly strained to the point of breaking – I don’t think the bulk of the plot left any room for sex.

There were a few issues in the writing – typos, grammar, etc. – but not many that I noticed.  Sentence structure in places was unusual and the dialog seemed quite stiff on occasion.  But overall, the book was well written.  It is written as third person, allowing looks inside the heads of the characters.  But interestingly, once or twice, the reader was given a peek inside the mind of the main, space-alien ‘villain.’  Personally, I wished the author had either used that technique more or not at all, because the limited use was jarring and left a inconsistent picture of this being.

Overall, readers who enjoy slasher-type stories, recast in a space-alien setting will like Ice Rift, unless the constant parade of monsters wears too thin.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Book Review: A Meeting of Clans: A Misfits and Heroes Adventure by Kathleen Flanagan Rollins

Realism with Touches of Mysticism in a Great Story

A Meeting of Clans is the story of two groups of pre-historic wanderers (clans) who discover they are not the only people in Southern Mexico 14,000 years ago, and what happens when they discover each other. 

As I read the book, there were a number of ‘isms’ that came to my mind, including realism, mysticism, and empiricism.  First and foremost, the book tries to give a realistic picture of life 14,000 years ago.  Today, we have to dodge traffic and avoid our boss when he/she is in a bad mood.  The individuals in this book had to dodge stampeding mastodons and avoid hungry saber-toothed tigers.  The world has changed, just a bit, and Rollins does a great job in describing the nature of those differences.  But she does so in a way that also reveals some significant parallels to modern-day life – a drive to understand and control, a need to belong, a drive to explore.

The book is also sprinkled with magic and mysticism.  In some cases, the myths are well-known; in others, they are less common but with a familiar feel.  And they add a spice to the story.  The author is giving us a view into the minds of these peoples and the ways they perceived the world.  (Unless, of course, you believe these events really happened as described.)

But the ‘ism’ that captured my thoughts in A Meeting of Clans is empiricism, e.g., the role of systematic observation in the formation of ideas.  It is a matter of academic debate exactly what science and medicine the peoples of the Ice Age would have mastered – even the possibility that humans inhabited this region 14,000 years ago is not known with certainty.  But Rollins weaves an interesting story around clans with considerable skills ranging from medicine and dentistry to astronomy.  Would people of this era have these skills?  Or would they still be so focused on meeting their biological and safety needs that no one could devote the time needed to understand the movement of the stars?  Would someone with a broken leg be nursed back to health or would they be abandoned because they put too great a strain on the group?

Finally, as this book is part of a series, I’ll mention that this novel is self-contained and so, you could read it without reading the previous books.  However, as someone who read one of the two previous books, I can say that I felt much more comfortable with the clan that I knew from the previous reading compared to the peoples that were new to me.  The familiarity gets you into the story more quickly.

A book such as this in the magical realism genre may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if it’s yours (or you want to dip your toe into this literary style), I can recommend A Meeting of Clans as a well-written and engrossing example.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Goodreads Giveaway - In the Space of an Atom



Goodreads Book Giveaway

In the Space of An Atom by Bruce M.  Perrin

In the Space of An Atom

by Bruce M. Perrin

Giveaway ends March 20, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

A Perfect Day to Write

After a high temperature of 76 degrees F (24 C) on Thursday, St. Louis woke up to snow and 28 degrees F (-2 C) this morning.  Now we're just wondering what we did to anger Mother Nature...

Happy writing,
BmP 
 
 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Book Review: The Body on the Barstool by Lolli Powell

The Body on the Barstool is a cozy mystery about Ricki Fontaine’s discovery of her dead ex-husband one morning in her bar and her efforts to find the killer.

Writers of cozy mysteries forego two of the primary marketing draws of many books – sex and violence – putting more pressure on…well, everything else.  The Body on the Barstool delivers on all these fronts. 

The pacing and suspense are good, as Ricki moves from suspect to suspect, never really letting the reader settle on anyone.  As I tried to out-guess the author, I found myself suspecting just about everyone before the truth came out.  Development of the setting is excellent.  I felt like I could draw a map of small-town Ohio where the story was set.  Character development was also strong.  As the story is first person, all the quirks and idiosyncrasies of Ricki, in particular, come to life.  And she has a few.

But the aspect of this story that really sold me was the humor.  Sense of humor is idiosyncratic, but the author hit mine perfectly – Ricki’s sardonic view of herself, her friends, and her world kept me laughing until the very end.  If you can read how Ricki felt about crying in public or her description of the police detective investigating the case and not at least smile, you’re a tougher audience than I am.
 
So, if you are a fan of cozy mysteries, and especially if you like characters with a somewhat sarcastic view of life, you’ll enjoy The Body on the Barstool.  I know I did.

Friday, March 3, 2017

AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER AT AMAZON

PRE-ORDER

Jeremy Reynolds has been listless for a while.  First, his girlfriend dumped him and he was in a funk.  Then, he quit his job.  Yes, Jeremy was doing little and caring less.  But recently, he has found something that energizes him, something that gives him direction.  It’s called…running for his life.  And after he accidentally involves beautiful Diane Stapleton, MD, the two of them match wits with the killer, in chases that take place where no one else has been…in the space of an atom.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Book Review: The God’s Eye View by Barry Eisler

Theme:  A; Character development:  C

At the center, The God’s Eye View is about balancing the government’s need to monitor its citizens in order to deter terrorism and the rights of the individual to privacy.  There are, of course, any number of these balancing acts in our daily lives – in medical research, in the use of military power, in the use of force in policing, and so on.  But the monitoring vs. privacy tug-of-war will continue to gain momentum as time goes on due to the meteoric rise of surveillance technology.  It is, quite simply, a theme for the times and for the future, and for that reason alone, The God’s Eye View is a worthwhile read.

Of course, the author has the government, in the form of NSA Director Theodore Anders, so far beyond the point of equilibrium in this balancing act, there is never any question of government vs. individual.  It’s more a question of which individuals will live and which will die in Director Anders’ quest to keep his last technological marvel out of the public’s gaze.  Pitted against Anders is Evelyn Gallagher, the developer and primary analyst on NSA’s camera and facial recognition network, just one small cog in the overall NSA surveillance machine.  And with strict compartmentalization of information, Evie has no way to know just what she is up against.

The story is very well written, producing a fair amount of adrenaline in my bloodstream that served no purpose other than keeping me awake to the wee hours.  There were a couple of ideas that were somewhat overworked, e.g., Evie is a divorced, working mother who would do almost anything to protect her son.  But overall, the flow of the story was good.  For those who are squeamish, the violence is somewhat graphic, although consistent with the plot.  By comparison, the sex was also somewhat explicit, but I’m not sure what the grope-by-grope description did to further the story; it seemed out of place and serving no purpose beyond checking another box in a commercial success formula.

My primary concern with the book, however, was in the development of the characters.  Every author uses stereotypes as a crutch.  Readers immediately recognize the boring accountant or the timid librarian.  But usually, that method is reserved for secondary characters when depth is unnecessary, saving the author a lot of stress on the wrists.  But in The God’s Eye View, it felt as if there were few characters that were not primarily stereotypes.  It ended up feeling like a world inhabited by caricatures, rather than people.  But even so, that limitation did not outweigh a well-written plot and a timely theme.

Overall, The God’s Eye View is a solid read, significant because over time, technology-driven surveillance has the potential to give the government absolute power over the populace.  And we all know that if power tends to corrupt, what absolute power will do.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Book Review: The Predator and The Prey by K.C. Sivils


The Hard-Boiled Genre Recast to Future, Outer Space

The Predator and The Prey is the story of police Inspector Thomas Sullivan’s efforts to catch a serial killer and stop the theft of living-saving medicine on a distant mining planet, Beta Prime, 200 years in the future.  If you’re familiar with the fictional characters of Philip Marlow, Mike Hammer, or Sam Spade, and you put one of them in a future, outer-space setting, then you have a pretty good idea of the feel of this book.

Like the characters from the hard-boiled literary genre mentioned above, Inspector Thomas Sullivan is an antihero, more interested in justice than the letter of the law.  He’s also damaged, riddled with remorse for his failures.  To accommodate a character like Sullivan, Beta Prime is not a sleek, technologically advanced world – his ‘lead with your fists, rather than your badge’ attitude would not fit easily in an advanced society.  Rather, Beta Prime is lawless and corrupt, again somewhat paralleling the typical setting of the hard-boiled genre – the 1920-30s prohibition era and organized crime.  For me, recasting the typical hard-boiled crime story into a future, outer-space setting worked quite well.

The book, however, did have a few shortcomings.  First, there were some small but quite persistent tics in the author’s writing.  Word repetition was particularly problematic.  At one point, the author uses the word ‘evil’ five times in six, consecutive sentences.  Certain themes and thoughts are also repeated unnecessarily.  Some occurrences of either of these minor missteps is understandable, but the frequency of them made staying immersed in the story difficult for me.

Second, the author tended to take what should have been subtle nuances in a character’s make up and push them to the point of breaking.  Sullivan’s tendency toward feeling remorse is one example.  By the end of the book, he is blaming himself for just about everything that goes wrong.  An initially complex character became distorted by unnecessary emphasis on one trait.  The character of the serial killer took a similar route, as he seems almost supernatural by the end.

The interested reader should also note that this book contains somewhat graphic violence against children.
 
So, for fans longing for the days of Philip Marlow, Mike Hammer, and Sam Spade, you may be able to satisfy that urge with The Predator and The Prey, if you’re not easily distracted by minor writer’s tics and some rather heavy-handed character development.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

THANKS – Kindle Scout Campaign Completed

The Kindle Scout Campaign for In the Space of an Atom is over.  I really appreciate all the kind words of support, all the likes and +1s, all the new followers.  The post even generated a few political comments that gave me a chuckle...

“All <insert name of political party here> brains would fit in the space of an atom, no offense to the author, pun intended. LOL
 
And of course, thanks to everyone who nominated the book during the campaign.  I hope you end up winning a free copy.  The current expected release date is the second week of March, so watch for the announcement.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Movie: True Memoirs of an International Assassin (2016) with Kevin James, Kim Coates, and Maurice Compte

No, don’t touch that mouse.  You’re at the right spot.  I’m still writing.  My posts are still (mostly) about my books and book reviews.  But today, it’s a movie – a movie, of course, about a writer.

So, let’s get this whole rating thing out of the way, right off the bat.  True Memoirs is an OK movie.  It’s 5.9 out of 10 on IMDb, it received 43% positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, got an average rating of 3.9 out of 5 on Netflix.  But the first five minutes of it had me rolling on the floor.  You see, the movie starts with the author, Kevin James, working on a book.  He gets to a fight scene where he can’t make up his mind – is it going to be fists?  Knives?  Guns?  And while he’s making up his mind, his fictional characters are sitting around, drinking coffee, working on their tans. 

I don’t quite see my characters when I’m not writing a scene, but what I do see – and what made this part of the movie so funny to me – is all the different variations on actions, dialog, gestures, and facial expressions that I go through before I settle on one.  Does my hero grimace here?  He was just frowning.  And of course, my brow furrows at that point.  I could say I was concentrating, trying to find the right word.  But truthfully, I was thinking, he looks like this.  Now, how do you put that into words?  All the slumping in my chair, pounding my forehead with the palm of my hand, shrugging with my palms up – it’d be funny to watch me as I write…or maybe, it would be a bit scary?

I’ve also had the experience of being so involved with the trees of gestures and innuendo and the like that I missed the forest.  I had one scene that I worked several times trying to get the interaction between the primary male and female characters just right.  He was making breakfast.  She had just come downstairs from the bedroom in her PJs.  (And no, he had slept downstairs on the couch – you’re getting ahead in the story).  Anyway, there was all this light, playful banter, teasing and shy smiles, mock exasperation and laughter.  And after breakfast, they jump in the car and leave.  It was one of my trusty beta readers that pointed out that my female lead had just gone to the store in her PJs.  Yeah, but I nailed their gestures.

Happy Writing,
BmP

Friday, February 10, 2017

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Who is your favorite fictional couple, and why?

This question showed up in my ‘Ask the Author’ queue on Goodreads a couple of days ago, and admittedly, I was about to hit the ‘skip’ button.  After all, this is a soft lob right in the wheelhouse of the Romance authors for Valentine’s Day.  What do I know, writing techno-thrillers?

In fact, I have more than one book review where I poke some fun at the stereotypic couple in the thriller genre.  You know the type.  The damsel in distress is six-sigma on some specialized skill that most of us have only the foggiest notion about, like quantum physics or nanotechnology.  (And those of you who don’t have statistics as a second language, six sigma means something that happens once every 1.38 million years, or about twice in the history of humankind – that’s pretty rare.)  But she still manages to be compassionate and, of course, beautiful.  Across from her is the male, who is almost equally unique in his skill set, which tends to run to combat skills and/or investigative techniques.  Yes, these couples make for a fun read…but they’re not exactly the grist for a lasting love story.

But I’ve been known to read outside my writing genre, and yes, there is a couple that has long stuck in my memory – Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan.  I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald sometime in high school…meaning many years ago.  And there was something about that book that stuck with me.  It could have been the mystery surrounding Jay.  It could be that he threw the most awesome parties of all time.  But I have to believe that it was Jay’s obsession with Daisy that got lodged in my memory for all time.  Of course, F. Scott has to also throw us what in the thriller genre would be ‘the twist.’  In this case, after Jay finally wins Daisy back – after a lifelong, unwavering quest – he admits that the relationship wasn’t all that he expected. 

I didn’t see that one coming.

Happy Writing (and Reading),
BmP

Photo by Eva Rinaldi [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons