This is a terrific slice of coastal Maine life that I highly recommend. Sanford Phippen's People Trying to Be Good is more directly autobiographical t...moreThis is a terrific slice of coastal Maine life that I highly recommend. Sanford Phippen's People Trying to Be Good is more directly autobiographical than its predecessor The Police Know Everything, though I have to say that I actually enjoyed it a bit better. Not so much a novel as a collection of stories, it is filled with humor, introspection and struggle. Everyone will see a bit of themselves or someone they know in the pages of People Trying to Be Good.(less)
In Matinicus, Darcy Scott has written a novel that is not only an outstanding murder mystery, but also a fascinating picture of life on a real and qui...moreIn Matinicus, Darcy Scott has written a novel that is not only an outstanding murder mystery, but also a fascinating picture of life on a real and quite isolated island off the coast of Maine.
I am hesitant to give too many details here, as I always am when reviewing a mystery. In short, this is the story of Professor Gil Hodges, who makes a summer trip to Matinicus Island under the guise of cataloging the variety of flora there, but more accurately to find himself again and do battle with some of the personal demons troubling him. Somehow, Gil winds up entwined in the community on the island, knee-deep in a string of murders, a lobster war, and even a haunting. Along the way, he discovers an old diary, which gives him insight into both the past and present of the island.
As with all good mysteries, Matinicus is full of fascinating characters, unexpected twists, and of course red herrings galore. I truly did not know "whodunnit" until the very end. Being a frequent visitor to the Maine coast, I was especially fascinated with the carefully researched facts of what life is like on islands like Matinicus, as close-knit communities deal with the harshness of the environment, changes in the world as we know it, and the extreme closeness they have to each other.
Matinicus by Darcy Scott is a classic mystery which I would recommend to any fan of the genre, or of Maine-based fiction in general. I am looking forward to her next novel featuring protagonist Gil Hodges, which I believe is set for release soon.(less)
This thoroughly charming book captures the essence of what it's like to be a child at Christmas. I don't want to give out any secrets here, but this b...moreThis thoroughly charming book captures the essence of what it's like to be a child at Christmas. I don't want to give out any secrets here, but this book is full of surprises. Although you will enjoy "Buffalo Nickel Christmas" no matter what time of year it is, I am already planning to revisit it again next December.(less)
I am a sucker for nostalgia, especially at Christmastime. The Plight Before Christmas by Canadian humorist Gordon Kirkland was a terrific choice for t...moreI am a sucker for nostalgia, especially at Christmastime. The Plight Before Christmas by Canadian humorist Gordon Kirkland was a terrific choice for the week before the holiday. It's the tale of the Kelly family, specifically father Charles and son James, and a wacky series of misadventures that befall them just prior to Christmas in the early 1960s. The misfortunes cause Charles to look at how he has treated his family in general and Christmas in particular with some regret, and he decides to make some changes. These changes lead to no small amount of confusion for his family, especially young James, in the days leading up to Christmas.
While this is very much an original story, Kirkland borrows some spirit from Jean Shepard's Christmas Story and Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol to great effect. The Plight Before Christmas is a heartwarming novel with just the right balance of sentiment, humor, and trips down memory lane. I highly recommend it, and plan to read it again next year during the Christmas season.(less)
This is another excellent historical horror novel from Ken C. Davis. Set in Lawrence, Massachusetts during the Civil War, it tells of Finn Carey, a to...moreThis is another excellent historical horror novel from Ken C. Davis. Set in Lawrence, Massachusetts during the Civil War, it tells of Finn Carey, a tough young Irish immigrant who has pulled himself up by his bootstraps to relative prosperity. His life is going so well that he arranges to have some of his family come over to the U.S. to join him. Unfortunately, an evil entity has hitched a ride on the same ship as his family members, and the actions of one of them on board the ship has caused the evil to pursue Finn and his family, while ravaging the city and its immigrant community.
This is the second novel by Davis that I have read, and I continue to be thoroughly impressed. He is able to convey the details of the historical period with astonishing accuracy, while still weaving a tale of terror that makes your toes curl and causes you to think twice about turning off the light before turning in. I am very much looking forward to reading more from Ken C. Davis in the future.(less)
I'm going to address the elephant in the room right out of the gate: Yes, Zachary Pill, The Dragon At Station End owes a debt to the Harry Potter seri...moreI'm going to address the elephant in the room right out of the gate: Yes, Zachary Pill, The Dragon At Station End owes a debt to the Harry Potter series. Downtrodden boy discovers his magical identity and goes on amazing adventures with a male and female friend. Sounds familiar, hmm?
In this case at least, the characters and worlds that Tim Greaton introduces us to and develops throughout this book are so offbeat and engrossing that some plot parallels to "that other young wizard" can be easily overlooked.
Zachary himself is a multi-layered character with a lot of heart. I dare say that many readers will immediately be able to relate to him. Aside from his naturally green hair, there is nothing really outstanding about him at the start of the story. As the plot proceeds, he discovers more and more about who is really is. I am not just talking about his magical persona, but also the personal qualities he has within himself that emerge as he is placed in challenging situations. For me, that is the hallmark of a terrific piece of fiction: a protagonist you can connect with and watch grow and change throughout the plot.
There are many other characters introduced in the story. Greaton makes no secret of the fact that this is intended to be a series, and many characters that we meet are not developed. The assumption is that their part will come in future installments. Zachary's sickly best friend Bret and the outrageous and mysterious Madame Kloochie are two characters that stand out here. There is a great deal of foreshadowing of events that are to come in future installments, and Greaton's characters are developed in such a way that makes them intriguing enough that the reader develops a genuine interest in what is going to happen to them beyond this book.
For the most part, Greaton's fantasy elements in Zachary Pill, The Dragon At Station End are simply whimsical figments of his imagination that he has worked into the tale. And that is a large part of the charm. A flying pig, a "porkasis", is just that, a wacky invention worked into the story for the sake of humor and fun. There are many such inclusions on Greaton's part, as well as familiar fantasy entities such as trolls, ghosts, and werewolves. The mix of the familiar with the unexpected really drew me in while reading Zachary Pill, The Dragon At Station End.
This book is geared toward the 9-12 year old crowd, but older children and adults who admire escapist fantasy will also find it appealing. If you enjoyed Harry Potter, or are merely a fan of light fantasy, you will likely enjoy Zachary Pill, The Dragon At Station End. I'd encourage you not to compare Zachary to Harry, but just enjoy his story on his own merits. I am very much looking forward to Tim Greaton's next installment in this engrossing series.(less)
Travelogues, humorous accounts, and personal memoirs are three of my favorite things to both read and write, and Are We Nearly There Yet by Ben Hatch...moreTravelogues, humorous accounts, and personal memoirs are three of my favorite things to both read and write, and Are We Nearly There Yet by Ben Hatch is a mix of all three. It's a terrific book that you really should read.
The subtitle pretty much sums it up: Ben, his wife Dinah and their two kids travel around Britain for an extended period of time on assignment for travel publisher Frommers, visiting numerous cities and tourist attractions to write about their family-friendliness. But this book is not about those attractions (you'd have to read their guidebook for that), it's about the arduous trek that the family undertook in visiting them all. Both of Ben and Dinah's precocious kids are under the age of five, and very free-spirited. On top of this, Ben's father back at home has suddenly become very ill just as their trip begins. Travelling can be a challenge under any circumstance, but doing so under these could be nearly impossible. Nonetheless, with infinite patience and a strong sense of humor, Ben and Dinah manage to make the most of their assignment, and even accumulate a parcel of great memories in the process.
The sections of the book dealing with Ben's coming to terms with his father's imminent demise are touching, while his accounts of his misadventures are often laugh out loud funny. The interplay Ben and Dinah have with each other and with their children during good and bad times, as well as the emotional experiences Ben has with his father, stepmother and siblings during the course of the senior Hatch's illness really underscore the importance and complexity of being part of a loving family.
You owe it to yourself to read Are We Nearly There Yet. It's moving, it's hilarious, it makes you feel good, and you will never look at your toothbrush the same way again. (You'll have to read it to find out what I mean by that last comment.)(less)
Where the Dead Talk by Ken Davis is a gripping tale of the undead which takes place in a rural part of the Massachusetts colony on the very eve of the...moreWhere the Dead Talk by Ken Davis is a gripping tale of the undead which takes place in a rural part of the Massachusetts colony on the very eve of the American Revolution.
As a mix of horror and historical fiction, well-researched and skillfully written with an intriguing plot, this novel would have likely earned five stars from me anyway. However, the character of Major William Pomeroy, "one of the finest officers of the King's Own Regiment" (in his own words), pushed Where the Dead Talk over the top for me. Sarcastic and smarmy, arrogant, at times cowardly and at other times brave, Major Pomeroy is ultimately endearing to both the reader and other characters in the story. He absolutely steals every scene in which he appears.
While Pomeroy is the best one in my opinion, he is only one of several intriguing characters in Where the Dead Talk who kept me reading chapter after chapter long past my bedtime. There is the black tavernkeep who struggles against racism and vicious rumors, the desperately unhappy preacher's wife looking for a way out, the young deaf boy from a family thought to be cursed who feels he is not much good for anything, and the very reluctant Indian shaman who holds the key to stopping the horror that has descended upon the countryside surrounding the tiny village of West Bradhill.
I don't consider myself a real horror aficionado, and my Kindle is littered with horror titles I have started and soon abandoned. However, when the story is driven by multidimensional characters you genuinely come to care about and really do not want to have munched up by the undead, it's not hard to love a book like this. Where the Dead Talk is definitely worth your attention. I am keeping my fingers crossed that Davis will consider another novel with some of these characters, especially Major Pomeroy.(less)
A nailbiter that you cannot put down! Action, suspense, humor, this book has it all. Reading it in the midst of Hurricane Irene was kind of surreal. I...moreA nailbiter that you cannot put down! Action, suspense, humor, this book has it all. Reading it in the midst of Hurricane Irene was kind of surreal. I cannot wait for Buzz's next novel.(less)
The essential premise behind Thomas Thwaites’ The Toaster Project is that in this modern world of ours, we take a lot for granted. Like toasters, for...moreThe essential premise behind Thomas Thwaites’ The Toaster Project is that in this modern world of ours, we take a lot for granted. Like toasters, for instance.
The 20-something Thwaites decided to create a toaster from scratch for a college project. And by “from scratch”, I mean going all the way back to the raw materials from the earth. He used as his model a toaster from a local department store in England that cost the consumer just under four British pounds, or around six American dollars. Deconstructing this toaster, he determined what the various parts were made of, and set out to mine and refine the minerals and whatnot he would need to make his own. He set certain rules for himself to make the experience authentic, and had nine months in which to complete it all. Along the way, Thwaites shares his project with numerous experts in the fields of mining and refining, as well as friend, relatives, and helpful drunks, meeting with various levels of enthusiasm. There is a toaster at the end of The Toaster Project. I’ll just leave it at that.
A fan of the late British sci-fi/humor writer Douglas Adams, Thwaites cites as part of his inspiration a quote from Adams’ novel Mostly Harmless, wherein one of his main characters, a modern man from planet Earth, is dropped onto another world with only a very primitive civilization. At first, the man has big dreams of totally transforming these “backwards” people with the technology he knows from home. However, as Adams puts it, “Left to his own devices he [the modern man from Earth] couldn’t even build a toaster. He could just about make a sandwich, and that was it.” Instead of becoming a great transformer for their society, the primitive people make him their official sandwich maker. I suspect many of us would be lucky to even get that title if put in a similar situation.
The Toaster Project was a fun, fast read. Thwaites manages to be consistently informative and funny, folding in his views on the consumer culture and its environmental impact without ever being preachy or long-winded. His humorous, self-deprecating style permeates the account, and the technical portions are never dry and boring. On top of it all, he makes you stop and think about all of our “stuff”, where it comes from, the people and resources involved in creating it, and what happens to it when we are through. Thwaites posits that if we were actually paying what our possessions were truly worth in terms of the overall labor, transportation, environmental impact, etc involved in their creation, price tags would be much heavier. Even by his admittedly ramshackle accounting, his final version of a toaster cost nearly 1,190 British pounds, or 1,880 American dollars.
A book that will make you both chuckle and think, The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites is one I highly recommend. (less)
A quick but excellent sci-fi adventure. The Far Horizon may take place in the future at a space station, but it touches on themes of racism and accept...moreA quick but excellent sci-fi adventure. The Far Horizon may take place in the future at a space station, but it touches on themes of racism and acceptance that impact us all directly here on Earth right now. I'd highly recommend this book, and am looking forward to future works by Patty Jensen.(less)
If you are a fan of the ocean or coming-of-age stories, then Jim Lynch's The Highest Tide is for you. It's the story of 13 year old Miles O'Malley, an...moreIf you are a fan of the ocean or coming-of-age stories, then Jim Lynch's The Highest Tide is for you. It's the story of 13 year old Miles O'Malley, an undersized amateur marine biologist living in Olympia, Washington. In the space of one summer, almost all the things he has taken for granted as constants in his life are turned upside-down: the bay he loves, his family, his friends, and his personal privacy. It all starts with his late-night discovery of a giant squid washed ashore near his home, and culminates in the highest tide his part of the world has ever seen. Along the way, there are earthquakes, cults, near-drownings, amazing discoveries, sex (or fantasies thereof), drugs, rock and roll, and more.
Jim Lynch does a terrific job in creating a character in Miles that you instantly like and want to root for. He is unique, and yet relatable. Lynch's meticulous research on marine life and obvious knowledge of the Olympia area shines through in vivid descriptions that carry the reader deep into the story. As I read, I found myself getting more and more excited about visiting the coastline again.
This book was one I had to ration so it would not end too soon. For me, that the sign of a real winner. Do yourself a favor and read this book today!(less)
The Snitch, Houdini and Me is not your typical childhood nostalgia memoir. Granted, Johnny Virgil seems to take inspiration from notables in that genr...moreThe Snitch, Houdini and Me is not your typical childhood nostalgia memoir. Granted, Johnny Virgil seems to take inspiration from notables in that genre such as Jean Shepard, but Virgil chooses to keep it real. No glossing over the things that kids REALLY did back then in this book. Growing up in the suburbs in the 70s, or in any era, involved some less-than-ideal activities for most of us, including setting up our younger siblings for trouble, driving too fast, blowing things up, pulling crazy stunts on bikes, experimenting with alcohol, sneaking around behind our parents' backs and the like. This collection includes a good mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly, which makes it, in my opinion at least, a very accurate reflection of what it was like to be a kid in that time and place, for better or worse. Plus, it is laugh out loud funny.
Few books have been able to trigger the number of fond and/or cringe-inducing memories from my own period of growing up in the suburban 70s as The Snitch, Houdini and Me. I'd highly recommend this book, and Johnny's 15 Minute Lunch blog at http://15minutelunch.blogspot.com/.(less)
I run hot and cold with so-called "horror novels", but for some reason was attracted to Asylum Lake by R.A. Evans. In essence, it is the story of a yo...moreI run hot and cold with so-called "horror novels", but for some reason was attracted to Asylum Lake by R.A. Evans. In essence, it is the story of a young journalist who returns to his hometown after tragedy befalls him, and becomes involved in supernatural happenings related to his late father and grandfather, a mysterious bracelet, and the abandoned insane asylum across the lake from his childhood home.
While there is no shortage of the requisite blood found in most horror fiction, R.A. Evans is clearly a smart writer, and builds a multi-layered story in Asylum Lake with characters in whom the reader genuinely becomes invested. Brady is a likable and believable protagonist, and the other characters are equally well-drawn. Evans makes great use of setting and effectively incorporates several horror motifs, especially "love interest/child/pet in danger". His pace is quick, but not frenetic.
I can always tell a terrific read by its ability to keep me up past my bedtime. Asylum Lake did this for several nights. I highly recommend the book, and am looking forward to the sequel. (less)
I actually read this back in October, and cannot believe that I forgot to post a review! It's easily one of my top five reads of the year. I am not go...moreI actually read this back in October, and cannot believe that I forgot to post a review! It's easily one of my top five reads of the year. I am not going to summarize the plot here, aside from saying that it's a chiller that takes place in the backwoods of the Appalachians involving a preacher who is a bit too charismatic, and not necessary what he seems. The characters are believable and instantly identifiable. This is my first read from recovering-corporately published author Scott Nicholson, who is now doing it indie and doing it well. Scott has me hooked on his stuff now. I have not been much of a horror/thriller reader for a while now, but this book has won me back to the genre. I strongly recommend this book, and its loose sequel, "Drummer Boy".(less)