This is not Baldur's Gate 1 or 2. Thank your lucky stars! For fans of the on-line role playing game, Star Wars Galaxies (SWG), this is a neat little n...moreThis is not Baldur's Gate 1 or 2. Thank your lucky stars! For fans of the on-line role playing game, Star Wars Galaxies (SWG), this is a neat little novel. I found the plot to be interesting, mostly because I have been playing SWG since it went retail and I thought it interesting to see how many of the game devices were woven into the plot. It's almost as if they developed a list of game characters, planets, professions, and beasts and see how many of them they could get into the book. They even refer to imperials as "imps". I could see my own character in the locations described and felt like "I" was there.
If you are not a player or fan of SWG then skip this Star Wars entry as the characters are mostly cardboard and the plot pretty predictable. I will give kudos to the author(s) for having courage in the ending, however. Overall, I enjoyed it but wouldn't recommend it to a non SWG player (less)
M.J. Rose's The Reincarnationist is a fairly fast paced thriller/adventure novel that I really wanted to like. From the cover blurbs it seemed to have...moreM.J. Rose's The Reincarnationist is a fairly fast paced thriller/adventure novel that I really wanted to like. From the cover blurbs it seemed to have all of the elements I was looking for: action, intrigue, a DaVinci Code style plot, etc. And truth be told, I was fairly well engaged over the length of the story. The concept was sound, despite what you may believe about reincarnation. I was sympathetic to the plight of the protagonist. There was some romantic attraction with other characters and there was some cool scenes/flashbacks to ancient Rome.
But the ending was unsatisfactory, to put it politely. The build up was great but the revelations at the very end were not satisfying to me at all and it was over in a heartbeat. We did not get to experience the reactions of the other main characters at all. No sense of real resolution, especially the emotional resolution that is so necessary. But that's not the only unsatisfying thing about this book. Something was missing from the entire novel that I can't quite seem to wrap my head around. It's like the elements of the plot were there but it just didn't grab me by the throat as a good adventure novel should. I think the problem is more characterization than plot; I wondered what would happen to them but I wasn't emotionally connected enough to care.
I see from the author's blog that a pilot is being developed from this novel. Who knows where that will go since the quality of a novel and the quality of a tv series/show isn't always parallel. But at this point it's not one of the shows I am looking forward to in the future.(less)
This is the fourth and final (it appears) book in P.G. Nagle's "Civil War in the Far West" series. The series started with "Glorietta Pass", and conti...moreThis is the fourth and final (it appears) book in P.G. Nagle's "Civil War in the Far West" series. The series started with "Glorietta Pass", and continued with "The Guns of Valverde", and then "Galveston".
I think this book really demonstrates how Ms Nagle has grown into her writing abilities. The first book was well researched and there were several strong characters but the plot seemed to be pretty basic and even predictable. She even included what I would consider to be an amateurish plot device that interrupted the climax of the story. But as she progressed through this series she just got better and better. The research was still outstanding, exhaustive even, but her characters were better written. The plots take place against historical realities so that, of course, can't be changed. But how her fictional characters act and interact with others has become delightful. This last book in the series illustrates that very well, with her long-time character, confederate officer Jamie Russell, becoming truly multi-dimensional. His interaction with Mrs Hawkland, forms the basis for the novel.
Ms Nagle's wartime action scenes are very well done as well. I felt like I was there, not in any kind of heroic battle sense but definitely feeling the fear, the exhaustion, and the filth of battle. Jamie leads his gun battery and is in the thick of battles...you can just hear the explosions and see the men around him struggle to do their duty. The Red River itself, a tributary to the Mississippi River, takes on a life of its own, especially as the Union boats try to free their ships from shallow waters in order to secure the entire Mississippi, a crutial strategy for the war.
All in all, this wraps up a very good historical fiction series. I was happy to see it progress but I wish there were one more novel to finish out the war. This one does take us up to where the end is in sight though, so perhaps another would be anti-climactic. I'm not sure if Ms Nagle plans for another but it seems she has turned her hand to romantic fantasy for the moment.(less)
What a title! For a blog post or a book, that's gotta be one that grabs your attention. Call Me Puke, A Life on the Dirt Circuit is an autobiography b...moreWhat a title! For a blog post or a book, that's gotta be one that grabs your attention. Call Me Puke, A Life on the Dirt Circuit is an autobiography by Mark Sieve, better known as "Puke" of the "Puke & Snot" comedy duo seen nationwide, mostly at Renaissance festivals. My family and I love to go the Ren Faires and have been to several in the US, Germany and England. But it wasn't until a couple of years ago, in 2008, when we visited the Colorado Renaissance festival near Larkspur for about the fourth time that we actually saw the Puke & Snot show. Unfortunately, later that year, Joe Kudla, who played "Snot" passed away, only a couple of weeks after we had seen the show. This year, my wife and kids went back to the festival and saw Puke & Snot once again, with a new "Snot" in play. They were lucky to have been a bit early to the show and lo and behold, Mark "Puke" Sieve sat down next to them and starting shooting the breeze. As a souvenir, because I couldn't attend, they brought home this book as a gift for me, autographed by the author. Cool!
This is a great little autobiography and, not surprisingly, won the Midwest Book Award. Mr. Sieve does not tell his life story in direct chronological order but rather mixes it with other, themed vignettes. He does a great job of being humble (but not overly so like some autobiographies that just make you want to...well, puke). We get to experience his life, from his early days working in his parents’ cinema, to his potential major league baseball career, and through his early days as a public school teacher. But always there was his love for performing comedy and getting the audience to laugh. Together with his partner, Joe, they carried the Puke & Snot show for about 35 years, usually on the "Dirt Circuit" as he calls it but elsewhere too...even Disney. Along the way they've met and worked with some memorable characters including some you've heard of like Penn & Teller who got their start in similar circumstances. Mr. Sieve writes from a very personal point of view and it's never more heartbreaking than when he serves tribute to his long time partner.
"Grave Surprise" is the second in a series by Charlaine Harris, best known for the Sookie Stackhouse books which are the source material for the HBO T...more"Grave Surprise" is the second in a series by Charlaine Harris, best known for the Sookie Stackhouse books which are the source material for the HBO TV series "True Blood". Earlier this year I read "Grave Sight" and while that book was OK, it did not make me rush to read the next in the series. But since I had it on my shelf anyway, (a freebie from the Alaska cruise ship a couple of years ago), I went ahead and gave the series another shot.
This second book was far more enjoyable than the first for some reason. I suspect it is because the major characters have already been established and the author could get on with a more complex plot. These books are about Harper Connelly, a young lady who, after having been struck by lightning at the age of 15, can now use psychic abilities to find dead bodies. If she gets close, she can identify the remains and often tell how they died, even if the body is still underground, like in a graveyard. She is financially compensated for this service, a fact Harper makes no apologies for as it's her way of making a living. This concept makes for an interesting setting for a good mystery and this second book provides just that. I enjoyed the main characters being fleshed out a little more and was especially interested in what is sure to become a multi-novel story arc involving the relationship between Harper and her stepbrother Tolliver who acts as her manager. Before I read this one, I had not planned to read any more of the series but now I am just interested enough to keep on going. (less)
I selected this novel because of the author, Nevada Barr. I have never read any of her work but have heard great things about her mystery series invol...moreI selected this novel because of the author, Nevada Barr. I have never read any of her work but have heard great things about her mystery series involving a park ranger. Supposedly, they are a "different" sort of mystery. Since this was a stand-alone book I thought I'd give it a try. Overall I can say Ms Barr impresses me as a writer. This is basically a western novel but definitely a "different" sort of western.
Ms Barr's word choice is superb. Her descriptions of the locale, the scenery, the very sounds and smells of each scene put the reader right there. Her characters are well rounded and react to their situations as real people would. They change and grow and evolve throughout the book and the reader grows with them. The emotions they go through are so real that we feel it too. Almost too real. The novel itself is bleak as can be and the overall experience was one emotional catastrophe after another. It centers around Imogene, a lady school teacher in rural 1800's Pennsylvania and Sarah, one of her female students. Through a series of circumstances they are forced to move to Reno Nevada and then once again to the middle of nowhere in Nevada where they manage a stagecoach stop. Sarah grows from a weak-kneed wishy-washy girl to a strong willed matron of the West. Along the way is one personal tragedy after another leading to what could be a rather depressing reading experience. If you don't like to read depressing novels then this may not be for you. However, Ms Barr's story-telling ability makes this more of a poignant work than just a novel of tragedy. The main characters overcome (or succomb to, depending on your point of view) rape, spousal abuse, being outcast from their homes, the death of an adopted child, the stigma of lesbian love, and of course the trials and tribulations of being women in the West during that era. But through it all is the experience of being there. It is a story of true love and the willingness to live outside accepted practices...and all of the consequences that are thereby inherent.
I'll be happy to try out her mystery series now and will expect a "different" sort of mystery than the formula series we see so often.(less)
The Impaler is the second book by Gregory Funaro and is a prequel of sorts to The Sculptor, which I was privileged to read and review earlier this yea...moreThe Impaler is the second book by Gregory Funaro and is a prequel of sorts to The Sculptor, which I was privileged to read and review earlier this year. I say, "prequel" merely because it takes place about three years prior to the events of The Sculptor and features FBI agent Sam Markham. But otherwise this is very much a stand-alone book and the reader does not need to read one to appreciate the other.
Wow, what a novel! I've read thrillers of all sorts for over 10 years and have learned to spot the winners from the also-rans. Gregory Funaro writes winners and this one is truly a gem in this crowded field. The plot concerns the above mentioned FBI agent and his journey to catch a serial killer. Sounds like a million other plots out there but that is just about all that is "normal" about this novel. It's not your typical thriller plot of "killer commits crime; sleuth spends two thirds of novel finding clues; sleuth closes in on killer; sleuth catches/kills killer after nearly blowing it." Instead this is a very intricate plot with multiple layers to the main characters and is not at all predictable.
And it's an absolute page turner. I finished the last 200 pages in one sitting because I just had to keep going.
I think what truly sets this novel apart is the depth of characterization the author brings to the bad guy. In his first novel, The Sculptor, Mr. Funaro does an incredible job with developing the bad guy character but in this one, he truly goes above and beyond. We get to experience the Impaler's very life from childhood to present day from his point of view and, indeed, he almost becomes a protagonist himself. And this is one baaad dude. For a reader to feel like they understand him and his motivations, despite his nature, (like I did) is a great feat for a writer to pull off.
I will say that this novel is not for the faint of heart. There are lots of bloody, violent scenes, horrifying even in their detail but it is absolutely necessary to portray the events realistically. The pacing of the book is awesome; a lot happens but the furious pace is interspersed with excellent back-story building and scene setting. Much as I thought his first novel was fantastic for a new author, this one proves Gregory Funaro deserves to stand with the great writers of the genre.(less)
"Running the Books", by Avi Steinberg is subtitled, "The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian". On the surface, it's an interesting look at ho...more"Running the Books", by Avi Steinberg is subtitled, "The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian". On the surface, it's an interesting look at how the author spent two years as a librarian in one of Boston's prisons. Avi Steinberg was an obituary writer and had no previous training or experience as a librarian. He answered a want ad and the next thing he knew he had landed an interview.
But this book is about far more than that. It is a poignant examination of people. Not just any people, but the sort of people that are in prison as well as the guards, the prison staff, and the author himself.
I was attracted to this book for two main reasons: 1) I like books and anything to do with them, and 2) I am always up for learning about aspects of life that I've never personally encountered. Prison life has long been an enigma for me and although I enjoyed watching "Prison Break" on TV I assumed that wasn't normal prison life. Parts of this book are humorous, parts sad, and parts downright disturbing but I think the author really gets down to the nitty gritty of how the people interact, especially with him. We see the ugliness of prison politics, how the author himself tries to do the right thing only to get caught up in it himself. We see a wide variety of inmate personalities, and dive in deep to see a handful of them up close. I won't go into details so as not to provide spoilers but rest assured many of the inmates’ stories are tragic. Along the way, we learn about the author's own life experiences both inside the prison library and outside. One can't help but to wonder how we, the readers, would handle some of the situations he encounters and how they would affect us and our outlook on life.(less)
"Djibouti" is Elmore Leonard's most recent published novel. I've read four previous books by Mr. Leonard but all of them were from his early days when...more"Djibouti" is Elmore Leonard's most recent published novel. I've read four previous books by Mr. Leonard but all of them were from his early days when he wrote Westerns. I also listened to an audio book last year which was more of a crime thriller set in the 1930s. This book is the first I've read of his that is set in the present day even though that is what he is primarily known for. In point of fact, I have a long way to go if I want to read all of this author's output, this being the 44th book he has written and published.
Elmore Leonard is a master of dialog. He has said that if a piece of dialog sounds like writing, then he re-writes it. It naturally follows that his characters are incredibly real as well. They really do leap off the page, much like you are watching a movie instead of reading a book. This is all true in Djibouti, as well, with the main character, Dara Barr, a young but successful documentary film maker, becoming interested in all of the news reports a couple of years ago about the pirates off the coast of Somalia preying on merchant ships. Together with her 72-year old camera man, they set off to Djibouti to document the activities of the pirates. It isn't long, however, until they get mixed up with al-Qaeda terrorists.
Mr. Leonard reportedly writes his novels from the characters' point-of-view...but he makes up the plot as he goes along. That usually works just fine but in this case, unfortunately, it doesn't. The story meanders all over the place, albeit with great characters. The thriller aspect of the plot is diminished considerably because many of the scenes are of the two lead characters reviewing footage of film they shot earlier. So we lose the danger factor...they obviously survived in order to be viewing the tape. I also thought their reactions to be too subtle to be real. Several instances where they've just witnessed a man shot to death (in one case five men shot and killed) are greeted with nonchalance. They are cool customers but they seemed a little too cool.
Still, I do tend to be hard on writers that I think are very good writers so please take my comments with a grain of salt. Elmore Leonard's style is right up there with the great ones and it's hard to go wrong with one of his novels. (less)
Imagine if you were given the task of writing the sequel to "Frankenstein", one of the all-time great classics. You'd want to do several things to mak...moreImagine if you were given the task of writing the sequel to "Frankenstein", one of the all-time great classics. You'd want to do several things to make sure and get it right: 1) you would need to develop a great plot that is loyal to the original and is "necessary" in order for the book to have any value to the reader, 2) you would need to provide the right style of writing, the right "voice" so that it would meld well with the original, sounding much like Mary Shelley's voice, and 3) not have the whole thing sound too classic because you don't want today's readers to be bored...it would still need a fairly quick pace to keep the reader interested. On top of all of that you would still need to do all of the things that make for a good novel; i.e. great multi-dimensional characterization, interesting settings, involved plot, etc etc.
Sound impossible? Perhaps, but Susan Heyboer O'Keefe has done remarkably well in writing "Frankenstein's Monster". Especially when one considers this is her first effort for the adult market, having only published children's books before. I took a look at her website and found her to be a real hoot; I suppose you'd have to be in order to tackle this particular novel. Most of the book is told as diary entries from the monster himself. It takes place ten years after the end of the first novel but we learn everything about what happened after the first one ends. There is more than just plot and action here as the monster struggles with his very nature, trying to find his place in the world. He takes quite a journey as he is pursued by Walton who has vowed to his friend Victor Frankenstein to finish off the monster. Along the way he encounters several intriguing new characters and plenty of horrifying and desperate moments.
I felt like I was taking a chance when I began reading this one but feel very happy with the results. Highly recommended!(less)
In the interest of full disclosure, the author of this book, Stephen England, provided a free copy in return for a review. Now, normally when this hap...moreIn the interest of full disclosure, the author of this book, Stephen England, provided a free copy in return for a review. Now, normally when this happens, I can't help but be a little skeptical and, indeed, downright picky when I start to read the book. It's rare for a new author, particularly one that has written a spy/military/anti-terrorist thriller to rise above the vast ocean of such books that hit the market each year. I tend to expect the formula recipe that such novels tend to follow, along with cliched characters and the obligatory military jargon that many authors use to impress the reader with their great knowledge of how things work.
I've read many many books in this sub genre, many fantastic reads that drive my need to keep searching for more treasures. I tolerate the also-rans because when I run across a treasure it is absolutely worth it. I am very pleased to say that this book is just such a treasure. This author is not afraid to take chances with the characters, let them out of the bag of cliches and let them roam the landscape. And there are many characters here; juggling their points of view and motivations and weaving that into the plot is not a job for an amateur author but Mr England has pulled it off with considerable success. I won't rehash the plot here as other reviewers have done that well, but I will say, that the complex layers of the plot and the setting, and the very nature of the threat that pervades this novel, provides massive intrigue. I will also add that pacing, something many newer authors struggle with, is right on target here leading up to the absolute edge-of-your-seat gotta-read-faster final 50 pages of the book.
Although this novel is complete in itself, it is the first in a series; I'll be first in line for the next one as I can't wait to see what happens next.(less)
I started The Colorado Kid by Stephen King yesterday and finished it at lunch today. I guess it goes without saying that it is a quick read. My copy i...moreI started The Colorado Kid by Stephen King yesterday and finished it at lunch today. I guess it goes without saying that it is a quick read. My copy is a 180 page paperback with a pretty large font so it was almost like reading a novella. Unlike most of his published work, this novel is a mystery...at least that's what the "Hard Case Crime" cover leads you to believe. I picked up my copy at the library's store a few months ago for two main reasons: 1) It's a Stephen King novel that I had yet to read and 2) I live in Colorado so how could I not pick it up for only a $1.00...
The story itself is a pretty straight forward one. It involves a young female reporter intern at a small weekly newspaper in Maine and two old geezers who run the newspaper. They tell her the story of the "Colorado Kid", a dead body that had been found several years previously, sitting propped up against a trash barrel on the beach. They test her reasoning ability as they drop clues about his death and she does very well at figuring out the correct answers. This is really more of a "coming of age" story for the young reporter than a traditional mystery tale. Stephen King's style is very much in evidence as he once again displays an uncanny ability to capture the local dialect as the two old guys tell the story. As Mr King himself says in the afterword, it is likely that many readers will not appreciate this story because there is no resolution to the mystery. Let me say that again: the mystery is not solved at the end of the book. It's not even a "Lady or the Tiger" kind of ending where there is a choice that just hasn't been made yet. Instead, we get the mystery and we get some clues that maybe this isn't just an accidental death but rather a murder. The story is about the mystery itself, not the solving thereof. Mr King's point seems to be that we are surrounded by unsolved mysteries all the time and "just thinking on 'em" is the fun part.
It is also interesting to note that this is the first book Mr King wrote after he completed his huge "Dark Tower" series. Perhaps that leant a hand in his thinking at the time.
If you need to have your mystery novels neatly wrapped up in the final pages then this one is not for you. I won't list this one at the top of my Stephen King "Best of" list but I did enjoy the characterization. And yes, I would also prefer closure to the mystery; otherwise it is just so much existentialist profundity.(less)
The second book of the original Bond novels by Ian Fleming shows a definite change from the first. There is more action, more perilous situations, mor...moreThe second book of the original Bond novels by Ian Fleming shows a definite change from the first. There is more action, more perilous situations, more attempts on Bond’s life, and definitely more sexy scenes (but no actual sex). In short, it is more “Bond”. The plot surrounds the pursuit of “Mr. Big”, an agent of SMERSH and an underworld voodoo leader who is suspected of selling 17th century gold coins in order to finance Soviet spy operations in America. For Bond, it’s a great assignment because it allows him to pursue his personal goals of eliminating a branch of SMERSH as well as allowing a trip to Jamaica, a country with which he is very familiar due to a previous posting.
The supporting cast is awesome in this one, not only with Mr. Big, an intelligent and conniving villain, but also with Felix Leiter (Bond’s counterpart in the CIA), and “Solitaire”, the beautiful fortune-telling girlfriend of Mr. Big. I say they are awesome, not because they are in any way original, at least for what we have all been exposed to in the 21st century, but because they are all so…”Bond-like”. These sorts of characters, after all, are one of the primary draws to Bond in the first place and this second book in the series really starts to develop this “type”. As for Bond himself, he comes across as a much more human character than he was in Casino Royale, definitely more likeable. And his friendship for Felix Leiter really shows in this novel, providing the personal nature of his quest to stop Mr. Big, beyond the actual mission assigned to him by M.
Readers need to understand what they are getting into with this book, however. It was originally written and published in 1953-54, back when race relations in the US were going through some major change. It was the time of forced busing/integration and the year before Rosa Parks stood her ground. So when reading this over 50 years later, readers need to understand just how much the culture has changed and try to read from that historical perspective. Fleming’s observations (through Bond’s eyes) of blacks, in general, are far different than we would see from a writer today. There is some occasional use of the “N” word and other stereotypical language but, of course, it’s no shock to the characters of that era. So if that sort of thing offends you, then I would recommend steering clear of this novel. Hopefully, that won’t be an issue because this one, in my opinion is the more definitive origin, at least in style, of the entire Bond-verse than Casino Royale.(less)
Do you ever get tired of the world we live in today? With all the stress of day-to-day life compounded with news of how bad the economy is, no end in...moreDo you ever get tired of the world we live in today? With all the stress of day-to-day life compounded with news of how bad the economy is, no end in sight, terrorism, crisis after crisis, etc. don't you just want to hide in a little cubby hole and not come out until it's over? Well if that sort of day ever comes your way then I heartily suggest a good western novel by Louis L'Amour. I've just completed Cherokee Trail and it took me to another place and time that somehow made our current predicaments fade away, at least for a while. I've probably read 40-50 of L'Amour's novels now, interspersing them throughout all of my other reading and I just never get tired of them.
Cherokee Trail is about a widow who takes over the management of a stagecoach stop in northern Colorado during the years of the Civil War back east. She is a very strong female character and it is a pleasure to see how she copes with the wildness of the times in a man's world and succeeds with her business. Now these novels will not win a Pulitzer prize, of course, but I don't read them for their literary merit. But I am impressed with L'Amour's knowledge of western life and I think he gets short shrift by historical purists who often discard his research and consequently his novels as "typical westerns." Yes, there are some cliched characters, the gun fighters, the ranchers, the stage operators, etc. but his protagonist displays the same sense of honor and courage that we find in all of his novels. And that's why I read them. I can always count on them to be what they are. I don't expect more or less than a good ol' fashioned western. (less)
I've been working on reading through these short stories and novellas for the past 9 months, taking my time with them and making sure I didn't rush th...moreI've been working on reading through these short stories and novellas for the past 9 months, taking my time with them and making sure I didn't rush through them too quickly. I also didn't want to get burned out on them. There are a total of 63 works in this complete collection, presented in the order in which they were written (not necessarily the same as the order of publication). There are no collaborations here, just the total body of work that HP Lovecraft produced on his own.
As with any collection of so many stories, their quality ran the gamut from merely OK to masterpiece. It was very interesting to read them in order; I could see how he developed as a writer and I could also better understand how the Cthulho mythos evolved and expanded. There is, of course, no doubt about the great impact this author has had on horror fiction specifically, and the larger speculative fiction genres in general. That alone would grant this collection 5 stars. I granted 4 stars due to my overall enjoyment of the collection. The vast majority of the author's work reflects his preferred narrative style and I think only one or two stories here contain any substantial dialogue. For me that cut down on the enjoyability factor quite a bit but I do recognize the era in which these were written.
My favorites include: The Tomb, The Statement of Randolph Carter, The Rats in the Walls, The Call of Cthulu, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Dunwich Horror, At the Mountains of Madness, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and The Shadow Out of Time.
A note on the e-book itself: first of all...it's free! It's also put together very well, with a linked-in table of contents which allows you to jump directly to any story. And at the end of each story there is another link back to the TOC. That certainly makes it easy to navigate. The formatting is spot-on and, unlike many e-books I read, I didn't find a single misspelled word. I also appreciated the TOC listing the date each story was written, to assist in understanding what was going on in the author's life at that time. In fact before I read each story, I looked up the Wikipedia entry for it so as to absorb what sort of demons Lovecraft was fighting at the time, what likely influenced the story, and where and when it was ultimately published. It's also fun to see all the popular references in today's culture that reflect characters, places, etc. from Lovecraft's works.