Doug Lewars's Blog

July 9, 2020

Chasing Tomorrow

Chasing Tomorrow (Tracy Whitney #2) Chasing Tomorrow by Tilly Bagshawe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


*** Possible spoilers ***

This was a cross between chick-lit and thriller but it was mostly thriller. It starts off with a focus on the relationship and for the first part I thought I was reading chick-lit but there was just enough thriller to keep me interested. After a while it seemed the author got tired of the mushy stuff and the remainder of the book was pure thriller. I enjoyed it but not without some caveats.

There was a technique used in cinema long before even I was born that involved running continued story weekly in order to draw in young people. Each episode ended in a cliff hanger. Occasionally it seemed the hero was in such peril the writers found themselves cornered in which case the next episode started with him riding off to defeat the bad guys with absolutely no explanation as to how he got himself out of his predicament. This author uses much the same technique. So she might say something happened yet we find out later it didn't happen as stated. It's acceptable to have an unreliable narrator but that's only supposed to happen in first person. I found the disconnects more annoying than dramatic. For a similar reason, I didn't like the ending either.

The protagonists are both sympathetic characters but I found the character of the villain to be a little inconsistent. Still, I guess part of insanity involves irrationality so maybe it wasn't too bad. I don't think I would have set out to read this book but I picked it up at random and found it reasonably entertaining.



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Published on July 09, 2020 16:56

June 20, 2020

The Finishing School

The Finishing School The Finishing School by Muriel Spark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


*** Possible Spoilers ***

If you're looking for a fast-paced exciting adventure story to keep you up long past your bedtime because you can't seem to stop reading this is NOT for you. This is more of a warm summer afternoon sitting in the shade reading a bit and listening to the bees hum sort of book. It takes place in an elite finishing school and since I like obscure academic settings I quite enjoyed it. None of the characters are memorable but they have enough idiosyncrasies to engage the reader at least until the book is closed.

The two principle characters, Chris and Rowland, seem to be in a love-hate relationship. Each wants to become an author. Each has a partially completed book. As long as Chris is making progress, Rowland is blocked but when Chris encounters a setback, Rowland is able to complete his own work. Eventually their obsession with one another leads to an act of violence but in the end they go off together so presumably they’re getting along.

For me, some of the peripheral characters were the most interesting. I enjoyed the staff carefully dissecting the various foibles of their bosses and I liked Nina’s – Rowland’s wife’s – explanation of retail sales. I enjoyed the students’ outlook on life. I also liked the denouement in which what happens to each character going forward is explained although I found it a little puzzling. These students are paying a very high tuition, or, more to the point, their parents are paying it. Therefore most of these parents must be wealthy but many of the students opt for fairly plebeian jobs. That doesn’t seem consistent with their social status and, presumably, family backing; nevertheless, it is what it is and at least we know what happened.

I thought some of the characters might have been fleshed out a little more but this is a short book – more of a novella than a novel. I think it’s worth reading but don’t expect an exciting plot or a really deep psychological study of the various personalities. It’s interesting and I found it relaxing to read. That’s about it.




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Published on June 20, 2020 11:43

June 7, 2020

A Very British Coup

A Very British Coup A Very British Coup by Chris Mullin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


*** Possible Spoilers ***

I love British humour and this is British humour at its best. Harry Perkins, an extreme left-wing politician and leader of the Labour Party is elected Prime Minister of Great Britain. This does not go over well with the elite. Over time, what is currently referred to as 'The Deep State' works to undermine his leadership and eventually bring about his resignation. Mistakes are made on both sides and the characters are humerous and well drawn. The pacing is excellent and the author makes the narrative flow nicely.

My only criticism is there are a lot of characters and the book might have benefited by having a list of them at the front so the reader could check now and then when a character returns who has been absent for a couple of chapters. I highly recommend this book.



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Published on June 07, 2020 14:03

May 28, 2020

The Soul of Power

The Soul of Power (The Waking Land Book 3) The Soul of Power by Callie Bates

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


*** Possible Spoilers ***

This is the third book in a trilogy and, like the others, it was well written, the scenes were well handled and the pacing was good. I noticed a couple of editing oopsies but from personal experience, there will always be a few of those. So in terms of craftsmanship, the book would rate a 5. Based on the characters, the book gets a 1. An indecisive, self-doubting, and, in general, a wishy-washy protagonist is more annoying than sympathetic. However many readers dote on such characters so I think the book has quite a lot of reader appeal.

I would strongly recommend against reading these books out of order. It might be possible to read the second volume in the series without reading volume 1 but book 3 wouldn't make much sense if you haven't read the second one. In terms of the time frame, book 3 largely overlaps book 2. The characters are different and the settings are in different countries but there is enough crossover to generate confusion.

I've got to give Ms. Bates credit for creating some proper villains. Too often they're not bad enough but she is remarkably good at writing some seriously nasty people. In some respects the villains were more appealing than her main character.

If you enjoy fantasy and like protagonists struggling with self-doubts and inner demons, I think you might like these books. On the other hand, if you ascribe to the motto, 'never leave a live enemy at your back', you probably won't. The author is a firm believer in reforming or exiling enemies and I find her and her books a little smarmy in that regard.





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Published on May 28, 2020 15:04

April 19, 2020

The Memory of Fire

The Memory of Fire (The Waking Land, #2) The Memory of Fire by Callie Bates

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


*** Possible Spoilers ***

Once again my rating is a compromise. The plot, pacing and general presentation rate a five. The principle character was sufficiently annoying to receive a one.

Every author puts something of himself or herself into each work. Frankly I'm not sure it's possible not to. If you like the author's world-view, or ideology if you prefer the word, then you'll enjoy that part of the book. In this case the author and I could never spend more than about 30 seconds locked in a room without being at one another's throat. The principle character, Jahan, is a mass of neuroses and contradictions. Constantly second-guessing himself, he bounces from situation to situation without ever really acting against his enemies. I found his brother Rayka - technically a supporting character - to be worthy of being the protagonist.

Consider. You're in a war. People are trying to kill you. You have magic at your disposal and can fight back in earnest.

'The siege towers have collapsed - not only collapsed, but exploded. A tangled mass of wood, metal, and the meaty red of bodies lies below us.

The top of my head seems to combust. "I told you to defend us. You were supposed to keep us safe, not massacre them."

Rayka's jaw sets. He jumps down from the parapet. "It's war."

Those are our own people."

"I won!"

"All the gods, Rayka, you didn't damned win! This isn't about winning, this is about everyone, in all of Ida, all of Palidis ..." I see how he stares at me; I throw my hands up. "You know what? Never mind."

We need to strategize but right now I'm so angry I can't even think. '


Rayka has just saved the sorcerers from being annihilated and this is Jayhan's response. This is the sort of thing we find throughout the book.

Another quote:

"I would be interested in seeing your argument for why secondary citizens should not enjoy the full rights of citizenship," I say. "I can't imagine it occupies any solid moral ground."

Now, I'll concede a majority of readers will love this stuff. I'm not one of them. I read the entire book and enjoyed much of it, but these little bits of preaching left me cold.

I fully intend to read volume three of this trilogy if only because the pandemic has closed the libraries and I took out these three books beforehand. I expect I'll enjoy much of it and find some parts nauseating if it follows the pattern laid out in books one and two. For those of you who like modern liberalism, I think you'll enjoy this trilogy. Those who are more conservative in nature can read and enjoy much of them but you should be prepared for some frustration.




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Published on April 19, 2020 16:28

April 14, 2020

The Waking Land

The Waking Land (The Waking Land, #1) The Waking Land by Callie Bates

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


*** Possible Spoilers ***
I have a love-hate relationship with this book. I compromised on a rating of 3 because some of the story rates a 5 while other parts is a 1.

The plot is interesting. The pacing is excellent. The writing (perhaps flow might be a better word) is first rate. This is an author who knows how to make use of the language.

The story is told in first person from Elanna's point of view. She had an unusual upbringing. Taken as a hostage at an early age, she was brought up in the court of a dominant culture - one regarding the one from which she was taken as primitive and generally unpleasant. As a result, she's acquired a goodly number of prejudices against her family and fellow citizens. When the politics takes an unexpected twist she is forced to return to her birth land where she discovers magic, forbidden elsewhere, is mostly celebrated.

She goes through quite a bit of turmoil in the process of learning the truth but I still find it hard to excuse the fact she's wishy-washy. She's not a horrible character but she's sufficiently unpleasant to make me periodically root for the bad guys.

For me, the real problem is the author and I have opposing world views. As a result, I think a majority of people will enjoy reading this book - and I did too - up to a point. If you like introspective heroines who constantly second-guess themselves and who attempt to fight a war while remaining pacifistic at the same time, then this is for you.



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Published on April 14, 2020 16:39

February 29, 2020

Half Spent Was The Night

Half Spent Was the Night: A Witches' Yuletide Half Spent Was the Night: A Witches' Yuletide by Ami McKay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


*** Possible Spoilers ***

This is a very short book, not a novel, barely a novella, more like a short story that got carried away. I read it while waiting for a friend who was having a medical appointment.

It's a follow-up to a longer novel I believe and I haven't read the precursor. Nevertheless, it's pretty good. We meet three witches who receive a hint of danger while telling their fortunes. Then an invitation arrives for a mysterious masked ball. There isn't time to really flesh out these characters but the author does quite well in the time available. I found the climactic battle a little short and I guessed the ending quite early but still I enjoyed it. If you haven't much time but still want something to read I think this might be what you're looking for.



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Published on February 29, 2020 15:23

February 23, 2020

The Forbidden Door

The Forbidden Door (Jane Hawk, #4) The Forbidden Door by Dean Koontz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


*** Possible Spoilers ***

This is an excellent book - not particularly deep or thought provoking but it rattles along at breakneck speed from beginning to end. Frankly I wish I could establish pacing in a story the way Dean Koontz does. A mother on the nation's most-wanted list needs to rescue her son. Meanwhile, a cabal of villains are determined to beat her to him. It's a race with violence and excitement along the way.

This is the fourth volume in a five (or possibly more) volume series. As such I found it a little confusing at first since I hadn't read the first three. Nevertheless, I was able to catch up quickly and after that it was smooth sailing. Likewise the ending is more of a pause than a true ending because it's necessary to keep the pot bubbling for the next book. Still it was satisfying.

I was surprised how many of Mr. Koontz's villainous characters died. He crafts fairly plausible villains and I expected him to keep them viable for the next installment but many came to a bad end although the ones we met in this volume were fairly close to the bottom rung of the cabal so I expect he has plenty to draw on. In addition, while he had one close to meeting his fate, I noticed he didn't quite polish him off and I suspect he may reappear down the road - even more deranged than we saw him in this volume but alive nonetheless.

To summarize, if you like fast action-packed novels in which the good-guys are good, the bad-guys are bad, and there isn't any crossover, I think you will enjoy this one. Will I go back and read the first three? Probably not. I got a pretty good idea of the plot so far as I worked my way along. Will I read the fifth? I might. I won't deliberately set out to read it but if I happen to be in the library and I happen to notice it on the shelf I'll probably take a look.



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Published on February 23, 2020 14:38

February 15, 2020

The Testments

The Testaments (The Handmaid's Tale, #2) The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


*** Possible Spoilers ***

I thought this was great. It's an exciting thriller and the pacing is excellent. They story is told through three points of view - Aunt Lydia, Agnes - a girl raised in Gilead, and Jade - a girl raised in Canada and half sister of Agnes. This is a sequel to The Handmaid's Tale and describes leading up to the eventual fall of the totalitarian society. I read Handmaid's Tale long before it became famous and quite enjoyed it although I don't remember many of the details. I didn't see the television series because I don't watch television but it seemed to be well received.

This story describes how Aunt Lydia manipulates the system to her advantage, how Agnes and Jade grow up and how all three work together to carry vital information out of the country.

If you're an aficionado of dystopian fiction you may find this a bit frustrating. Ms. Atwood makes use of a totalitarian theocracy resulting from a coup in the United States; however, her objective is to study power dynamics. As a result, there are quite a few holes in her world building. Likewise, if you're looking for deep insight into the human condition you may want to take a pass on this book. It's a fantastic thriller but not as deep as some books.

In general I enjoyed it and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys an exciting book and isn't looking for deep messages.



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Published on February 15, 2020 15:07

January 30, 2020

The Hunted

The Hunted (Amber Fang #1) The Hunted by Arthur Slade

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


*** Possible Spoilers ***

I was torn between giving this a one or giving it a three so I compromised. I didn't like it but I'm not the target audience. This is a YA book and it's possible young people would quite enjoy it. The best part about this book is the pacing. It moves quickly and it's only 193 pages so you can finish it in a day or two. The worst thing is the protagonist. Amber Fang is a vampire. She's also working through college to become a librarian. I thought the idea of a librarian creating mayhem was sufficiently novel to read the book. The idea is great. The presentation isn't.

In this world a vampire is a higher order on the food chain. Just as humans eat animals and plants, vampires eat us - or at least drink our blood. They're faster, stronger and have much better healing properties. Stakes aren't necessary to kill them. In this world, bullets work fine. Likewise they can go out in the sunlight and aren't bothered by religious symbols. Again in this world, vampires must feed every 30 days or go insane. Deprived of food they will feed on themselves in a frenzy of madness until they expire. Not surprisingly there aren't many of them.

Since killing people is bound to attract attention after a while, vampires move frequently. Amber was raised by a single mother who has gone missing. Her mother taught her how to hunt and how to stay safe. Unfortunately it appears the lesson didn't take because Amber is a walking disaster. She is supposed to be a top predator, a master killer, a cool and unrelenting hunter. Instead she comes across as a self-indulgent brat who messes up kill after kill.

Because this is the first book of a series the author felt free to leave a few plot points open. Seemingly unable to decide which ones, he left them all hanging. There are two highly secret competing organizations. We never learn anything about them. There are two castes of vampires, one who hates humans and one who is ethical about eating them and selects ONLY unrepentant murderers. We don't know why the one hates humans and why the other chooses victims based on their depravity. The latter isn't obvious. For some people, eating animals is unethical so they eat vegetarian food. But those who eat meat don't select specific cattle based on their behavior. As a result I found that particular idiosyncrasy a little jarring.

As I was reading this I was trying to remember my preferences when I was young. Would I have overlooked the plot irregularities and enjoyed it? I think I might have, so I'm guardedly optimistic a young person could read and like this one. I don't recommend it for older individuals.



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Published on January 30, 2020 15:48