9.04.2017

A Few Philip Harris Stories

Philip Harris writes, blogs, and gives free books away at his website, Solitary Mindset. I enjoyed the three short stories available for free and his prequel novella to Serial Killer Z is definitely something different.

Here are super quick reactions to the three short stories I've read:

Bottled Lightning - Good short science fiction story - a first contact tale.

Curfew - Another short science fiction story, but this one is more military based. Ends as a horror tale.

Saviour - Not as good as two other short stories above but still intriguing. Harris is a very good story teller.

As to Serial Killer Z: Infection, the blurb says this series is Dexter meets the Walking Dead. Since I've not seen either nor do I want to, this zombie thrasher serial killer gore fest isn't for me.

Now I have to say, it's well written but it's pretty darn gruesome. I think this intro novella is still free, as a prequel to the author's new series. So if this is your thing, you might like it.

8.07.2017

Review of The Wild's Call

The Wild's Call
by Jeri Smith-Ready

A fair prequel novella to a series of books called Aspect of Crow about an emerging magical society where survivors of 'the Collapse' each have some kind of spirit-animal super power. We don't know any details, the story begins in medias res, and the author does a pretty good job hinting at the post-apocalyptic context rather than explaining the details. The emphasis is on the two main characters as they escape a volatile Baltimore and head for the woods where they meet up with others like them.

It's a mildly interesting premise, but I was put off by all the sexual innuendo, sex talk, and actual sex that occurs between the two main characters. The story could have done without it. After I finished I saw that it was originally published by e-Harlequin Romance and thought maybe that's what they expect of their authors. I won't be reading the actual trilogy (Eyes of the Crow, Voice of the Crow, The Reawakened) that follows since I'm not into explicit romance. But if this is your thing, you'll probably want to read the whole series as this prequel affords just a taste and not the satisfaction of a complete story. I think I got it free on Amazon a few years ago.

7.03.2017

Review of Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm
by George Orwell

One of the classics I must have missed in high school. A timeless story, however, which should be read at any age or stage of life. It's such a transparent allegory of the Bolshevik Revolution and the ensuing years of Leninist terror (e.g., the use of 'comrade' throughout and the lead pig named, of course, Napoleon, a symbol of tyranny) that it reads almost like history, despite the zoomorphism and fantastical premise of animals running a farm.

And yet, it's not an allegory. Orwell subtitled this piece, "A Fairy Story." And that's about right. The story, like all good fairy stories, transcends time and context and simply "tells it like it is" without moral comment. I think it's obvious this is a story about totalitarianism (Orwell was a strong critic of the ideology) but Animal Farm doesn't so much condemn it as expresses it in its logical extreme - and let's the truth of the matter hit the reader full force. The most compelling "truth" of totalitarianism comes near the climax, the famous observation that all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others. Hnh, boy.

One application for today is poignant. The regressive left (with roots in the sexual revolution of the 1960s) has overthrown what they think is the tsarist autocracy of Christendom (in their minds equal to white male privilege) and declared all genders, gender identities, gender expressions, etc. equal. "Multi-sexes good, two sexes bad." But what the regressive left has done is simply established a new totalitarianism in which all dissent is quashed and thoughts are censored. Well, there's more to say but that's probably enough to show I recommend this book today, especially for leftist leaning teachers of high school lit. I only hope they see the irony of the message they want to discuss.

6.05.2017

Quick Reaction to Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey

Beacon 23
by Hugh Howey

An anti-war novel that fails in its very argument. Instead of a big reveal outlining an enlightened path to peace, the story ends with the hopelessly humanistic status quo and only a wish and a dream for something better as our way forward. Sadly, the motif reflects the atheism of the author and while providing some excellent food for thought on the traumas of war nevertheless leaves one dissatisfied as to what we do with it. The writing at times is quite inspired, however. Howey is an excellent observer and communicator of human pathos. Still, our collective angst can only take us so far. If only the author had true hope to communicate and not mere imagination to draw upon. 3 stars.

5.01.2017

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury

Find a copy. Read it.

That's my review.

Seriously.

Read. It.

Review of Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something Wicked This Way Comes
by Ray Bradbury

Confession. I don't have a review exactly since I didn't read the book exactly. I listened to an audio adaptation, which I think was Bradbury's own dramatization of his novel. It was a pretty good production, but I think it was a different experience than reading the story.

Here's the blurb from the publisher: A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope's shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show's smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes - and the stuff of nightmare.

That does capture the essence, but it's really not that scary of an adventure. More of a coming-of-age story set within the weird and horrific world of life, death, and what's in between. Overall, 3 1/2 stars (or 4 since it's a classic). What I didn't know was that this novel is the second of four in the Green Town series. Interesting! Book one is Dandelion Wine, imagine that! 

4.03.2017

Review of Have Space Suit - Will Travel

Have Space Suit—Will Travel
by Robert A. Heinlein

I listened to an audio production of this middle grade novel written in 1958 (originally serialized over three issues of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction). I have to admit, I was not aware of this story, nor its place as the final book (#12, I think) in a juvenile series written by Heinlein. Overall, I enjoyed it. 3 1/2 stars out of 5. It's dated, of course, but was cute, witty, and wry.

Not sure how this would be received by middle grade or high school readers today. Quite a bit of exposition throughout and it bogs down just before half way with a lot of astrophysics technojargon. It was almost like the author was trying to provide a science lecture / engineering lesson to his younger readers. Most of the math went way over my head! Still, there is enough catchy dialog, nostalgia-filled references, and literary and historical allusions for adults with a bit of cultural background to thoroughly enjoy this science fiction outing originally intended for a juvenile audience.

3.27.2017

Review of Divergent Series by Veronic Roth

Four: A Divergent Story Collection
by Veronica Roth

Really enjoyed these four 'prequel' novellas. They provide the necessary background information on the factions to understand the Divergent trilogy. For those yet to discover this series, I'd even recommend you read this collection first (but ignore the short snippets at the end). Four stars.

The other books in the series are: Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant.

Here's my review of the third book and the series as a whole.

~*~

Well, the series as a whole wasn't as good as Hunger Games, but it was better than Maze Runner. Of course, all three series are dystopic favorites among the YA crowd and each involve some "big bad government" tyranny involving tests or manipulations or conspiracies. If you're into that genre, I guess you could do worse than Roth's venture, though it does kind of get lost in itself during book 3 when you realize the secret to understanding their society isn't the ultimate secret. It's like those Russian dolls, you only reveal another manipulator behind the first one you unmask. So there is really no resolution to the "big bad government" problem and the state of the world continues on in its path of hopelessness at the book's end.

Which I think is the overall message here. The author tackles issues of sin (though she doesn't use this term), guilt, forgiveness, community, and friendship - within the conceit of genetics and human conditioning. And the answer to the human dilemma of evil and tragedy and loss? Well, there is no answer, but we soldier on anyway relying on love to guide us. Sort of a half-baked humanistic solution that is ultimately all the world can offer. It's the same answer the movie Wonder Woman gives (which I just saw recently) so it seems to be a common theme right now, which I guess is better than straight up nihilism. I'll give the whole thing 3 1/2 stars out of 5.

3.20.2017

Quick Review of Art & Fear

Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
by David Bayles and Ted Orland

Thought-provoking and engaging. I got bogged down early on by so many interesting, challenging, even profound statements on art making, fear, and our relationship to art vs craft, etc., that I sort of lost the forest for the trees. Then I realized this is one of those books you should give a quick first reading to and then return for a more reflective interaction.

Recommended for artists of all stripes. 4 Stars.

3.13.2017

Quick Review of Grendel

Grendel
by John Gardner

I should rate this higher than 2 1/2 out of 5 Stars because, you know, literature.

But, alas, it just didn't grab me. It seems like it was written for a college lit discussion group, but one where everyone knew what the author was trying to accomplish except me. I had to constantly refer to Sparks Notes online to figure out what I was supposed to be getting, but even then I didn't get it.

Anyone else have that difficulty? Sorry Mr Gardner.

3.06.2017

Quick Review of Specter of the Past

Specter of the Past (Star Wars: The Hand of Thrawn #1)
by Timothy Zahn

In the deft hands of Timothy Zahn, any Star Wars novel is a delight. This is book one of a duology featuring the return of Thrawn about ten years after his (apparent) demise. The second book is titled, Vision of the Future.

The Empire's Grand Admiral Thrawn first made his appearance in Zahn's Heir to the Empire trilogy which is set about 5 years after the story in Star Wars Episode VI.

I still want to read Zahn's latest book, Thrawn, where he "chronicles the fateful events that launched the blue-skinned, red-eyed master of military strategy and lethal warfare into the highest realms of power—and infamy." (from the publisher's blurb)

2.27.2017

Review of "Leonard" - A Biography of Leonard Nimoy

Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man
by William Shatner 

Published by Thomas Dunne Books (February 16, 2016)

This was well done. It's as much a memoir by Bill Shatner as it is a remembrance of Leonard Nimoy, but the story telling fits and reveals quite a bit about Nimoy's career and his many and diverse avocations. The book pulls back the curtain on the golden age of television as well and how actors scrambled from job to job simply trying to make ends meet. Nimoy struggled for 17 years in Hollywood (never working in a project for more than two weeks!) before landing his first recurring role as Spock. He then spent the rest of his career alternately running from and embracing that identity.

Very interesting relational history as well between these two icons. Most of us know of their - at times - turbulent friendship, but their deep, deep love for each other isn't as well known or publicized, I don't think. I was struck, though, by an apparent crumbling of their friendship which occurred about two years before Nimoy's death and, much to Shatner's disappointment and regret, never found resolution.

Shatner writes (page 268/269): "Essentially, he stopped speaking to me....It was very painful to me. As I'd never had a friend like Leonard before, I'd obviously never been in a situation like this, and I had no idea what to do about it. If I knew the reason Leonard stopped talking to me, not only would I admit it, I would have taken steps to heal those wounds. If I had done something wrong, if I had said something that was perhaps misunderstood, I would want to know it so I might make amends. But none of that took place. I have no idea what happened....I was mystified. It was baffling to me. I kept asking people, 'What happened?' But no one could give me an answer. It remains a mystery to me, and it is heartbreaking, heartbreaking. It is something I will wonder about, and regret, forever."

I include this snippet not only because it is a great sampling of the heartfelt remembrances that characterize this book, but also because it is a poignant reminder that life is often like that. I've had friendships crumble and can't for the life of me figure out why. I've reached out, I've tried making amends, but for whatever reason people in my life who were once good friends have left me behind. I would gladly renew those relationships - as I think most of us would - but something is preventing it. A misunderstanding, a perceived slight, a misspoken word. Would that these relational potholes could be patched. But like Shatner, after doing my part to heal the brokenness and not finding any reciprocity, I'm left wondering and with feelings of regret.

Still, Shatner provides a wonderful picture of a dear friend, and hopefully, that be what readers and fans will remember, celebrate, and identify with most. Highly recommended for Star Trek fans or anyone interested in film and television and authentic celebrity friendships.

2.17.2017

Review of The Light of Eidon

Review by Timothy C. Ward

Karen Hancock has made a significant contribution to the genre of Christian Fantasy with her novel, The Light of Eidon. Her allegories are illuminating, accurate to biblical truth and very creative. I enjoyed her characters and how they came from so many viewpoints; they were all true to themselves and left a lasting impression. Her crisp prose never settled for boring description and in doing so kept this world alive. I was glad that she kept me guessing, and even more at how many times I guessed wrong. Karen also does a great job keeping you emotionally involved. Her main character, Abramm is a strong protagonist that is well worth being the focal point of a series. On top of all this, I loved her action scenes. This world has a gladiator type system of fighting that makes for great battles, not to mention her unique magic system and monster creations.

For anyone writing Christian Fiction, this book provides a great lesson in how to write quality fiction that embraces spiritual truths we all battle. Her characters have depth to their reasoning and in doing so Karen addresses the many concerns people have with embracing a God of grace. I did not find this book preachy — in part because she does not dismiss challenges to biblical faith. Some people accept that gift and others don’t, plain and simple. She is not writing this book to make converts, but rather to show how real the struggle can be and that people can go either way and still be real. You don’t know coming in who will and who won’t, so there is plenty of drama to keep you till the end.

The world Karen created is a fantastic example of carrying truths from our world to a fantasy, while using those allegories to express truths in ways you’ll never forget. The golden shield of the Tertsan is an idea I wish I came up with, but I won’t tell you why. The Gospel and how to be saved are both creative and truthful. The opposing religions are complex and not at all straw men or two dimensional in any way. You can really feel what it would be like to live within their religious system and in providing these examples we get a better understanding of the faiths around us. I’m excited to see what adventures are in store for Abramm as he battles against the many enemies left to face in future books.

I would have paid for this, but because it was not only free but a very good book, I’ll definitely be buying more of her work in the future.

About the Reviewer: Timothy C. Ward is the author of the new fantasy novel, Godsknife: Revolt! which is available from Amazon, as are his other books.

Note about this review: This review first appeared in 2011 on Goodreads and is republished here with permission from Mr. Ward. Other books by Karen Hancock are available at Amazon.

2.06.2017

Review of The Man in the High Castle

Review by Lyn Perry

Heads up for those who've not read The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick or seen the series on Amazon Prime - I'm bound to reveal a few spoilers in talking about this story, but I think you can still enjoy the book even though you know where it's going. Just an FYI.

First off, if you're looking for plot and action and interesting character interactions, the TV show is quite a bit better than Philip Dick's original. Dick offers a literary, strongly thematic exploration of an alternative socio-political reality. It's not so much science fiction as a commentary on the then current state of affairs in the US (it was written and set in 1962), and is an obvious speculative musing on 'what might have been.'

The premise, if you are totally unfamiliar with the novel or show, is that Japan and Germany won WW2 and now occupy the west and east coasts of the former United States, respectively. The trope seems quite exhausted today, but I don't think many writers by the 1950s had explored alternative history in quite the same manner; though there were some published, including Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore (1953) which has the Confederacy winning the Civil War. (Dick says this book was an inspiration for his novel.) The Man in the High Castle, however, doesn't spend a lot of time exploring the inner workings of Japan's and Germany's new regimes; it focuses instead on the interior life of three or four characters as they seek to come to grips with love, loss, work, and future dreams in the occupied states.

And this will either make or break the book for you. If you enjoy literary musings (often abstract and philosophical), interior dialog as a narrative device, and getting to know characters through their psychological ramblings, then you'll 'get' this novel. It has strong themes like xenophobia will destroy the world and alternate paths won't necessarily save the world. It explores questions like, what is reality/authenticity and does it make a difference? Symbols abound as well - counterfeit items, technological devices, and (at the center of the story) an explosive novel by the Man in the High Castle himself. So while I didn't enjoy the book as much as I wanted to, I think it would make for a pretty good discussion with mature high schoolers who enjoy reading or in a junior college lit class.

A major difference, then, between the novel and the television show is that there are no 'alternative history' films in Dick's original story. For those who've been watching the series on Amazon Prime, season one is all about discovering who the Man in the High Castle is and why he wants to collect all the various newsreels that are circulating alternative facts about the outcome of World War 2. So instead of films, in the book there is a 'novel within the novel' called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy (a biblical reference) which has many people agitated. It's a testimony to the power of propaganda, the power of the written word, the power of an idea which can (thus another theme) change the world.

As for the show itself, I'm really enjoying it. The characters are nicely developed (Childan especially, played by Brennan Brown, is one of my favorites), personal situations intersect with global events in meaningful ways, and the teasing out of the importance of the films and what they mean to everyone involved keeps the story line suspenseful. The series deals a bit with religion (a strong factor in Dick's novel), though is not heavy handed. Family and friendship are key elements as well. It's rated MA for mature and is a bit graphic at times, but it has very little skin showing. Lots more to say about the show, but to cut to the chase, I'd recommend it. The book, maybe 3 stars, but the series, 4 1/2. Hope season three takes us closer to a satisfying conclusion.

2.04.2017

Review of Cyberstorm by Matthew Mather

Review by Lyn Perry

Cyberstorm by Matthew Mather is a snowmaggedon/society breakdown kind of novel. The author does a good job setting up the story and then peppering it with some realistic survivalist tactics and probable prepper type scenarios. However, the story started to drag about a third of the way in and I started skimming once I realized we were going to live each day in real time with the survivors of an apartment building in NYC.

The writing is pretty solid, though, and Mather purposefully focuses on the characters and their interactions; but the genre itself primes the reader for more action I think. I kept expecting the story to widen out and pull back the curtain on the cyber attack itself and its impact on the rest of the world. As another reviewer wrote: "This ended up being more of a survival story amid a disaster in the concrete jungle, than a book about cyber espionage." And I agree, though for what it was I was generally captivated by the narrative's inevitable slide toward chaos, which seemed quite realistic.

Not a bad read, really. Three or three and a half star rating from me because there wasn't much of a climax. The survivalists' desperation ends in a bit of an anti-climax, in fact, and the last 5 to 10 percent of the book is exposition on how a cascade of unfortunate events and paranoid misunderstandings led to a truly terrible breakdown of Manhattan and the rest of the Eastern seaboard. But maybe that's how future disaster situations will spindle out in real life. We may not face an actual dramatic world-ending apocalypse, just an increasing number of dangerous and tragic catastrophes that change our lives in ways we can now only imagine.

1.14.2017

Review of Beckoning Darkness by J.D. Stonebridge

Review by Lyn Perry

This angel/demon novel is not your grandfather’s Frank Peretti, that’s for sure! Author J.D. Stonebridge turns the angelic genre on its head, and that’s not a bad thing. But if you’re expecting a traditionally biblical take on the conflict between Heaven and Hell, you won’t find it in Beckoning Darkness. Be prepared for a mash-up of sorts, where angels and demons interact with monsters of every kind, including witches and doppelgangers. It’s really more of an urban paranormal story – a supernatural suspense novel – and maybe slightly YA (I’d say mature high schoolers would like it); and most urban fantasy fans will likely enjoy it.

However, Christian fantasy advocates might not be as pleased. In addition to a smattering of swear words (and a needless f-bomb), the premise is that something is brewing between the forces of Heaven and Hell. Maybe an alliance? Maybe an impending war upon the creatures of earth? All the main characters seem to have ulterior motives and it’s not clear who the “good guys” really are. Although certain expected angelic characters like Michael and Raphael do make an appearance, they come across as untrustworthy narrators because something is definitely amiss.

Like I said, the author is not presenting the traditional view that heavenly beings are automatically good and that their fight is against the demonic forces wanting to harm humans. We don’t know who is pulling the strings behind the scenes at this point. Which is a refreshing and suspenseful way to keep the reader’s interest, I have to admit. What we do know is that two misfits – one an Angel who has a blotted past and one a Demon with secrets of his own – are thrown together and used as pawns in a spiritual game, the nature of which we only catch a glimpse of by the end of the book.

Which brings me to a few critiques. First, be prepared to begin a series of novels (four books called The Damned and the Pure) if you want answers. The complete story arc is just getting started in this novel. That isn’t to say this slice of the story is incomplete; one key relationship (the Angel Ariel and the Demon Caelum) is certainly explored and comes to a somewhat satisfying hint of a conclusion, this being the set up to what I imagine will be their eventual coming together. (Yes, a bit of romance and unrequited love are involved too.) So if you absolutely hate cliff hangers, you won’t want to go into Beckoning Darkness as a pure stand alone.

The other critique, somewhat minor but worth mentioning because it opens the book, is that it starts with an unnecessary prologue. My advice is to just skip it. It almost had me putting the book down, but since I’d received a free copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review, I simply powered through it. So again, if you’re the type of reader who doesn’t like prologues (I typically don’t), just start with chapter one, you won’t be missing anything. There is plenty of action, however – spiritual battles, captures and escapes – right from the get go for those who enjoy that sort of thing. I found myself skimming most of those parts, but not because they weren’t well written, it’s just I don’t particularly care for fight scenes.

Overall, though, this is a solid story. Stonebridge can write and write well. The storytelling unfolds quite naturally. For example, the reader thinks the plot is going one direction during the opening chapters but then expands about a third of the way in, revealing a much broader landscape and more interesting plot scenario. In fact, Beckoning Darkness is interesting and entertaining enough that I might go ahead and buy book two in the series. Which is what pleases most of us readers (and the author), I imagine – an intriguing story that leaves us wanting to stay immersed in the world the writer has created. Four out of five stars, especially for fans of supernatural suspense.

12.18.2016

Review of The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle

Review by Lyn Perry

I have to admit, I skimmed large chunks of The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle, which actually didn't hinder my understanding of the plot and action very much at all. So the story wasn't hard to follow despite some critiques by other reviewers that the major players and opening scenarios melded into a confusing haze. My advice is to just blast through those details until it straightens itself out. Which translates into: there was just too much storytelling and extraneous details for my taste. Now, I don't like bare bone plot novels but neither do I care for the sprawling adventure that gets unwieldy from near the start (which this novel got precariously close to doing, imo).

For those who enjoy expansive series with lots of characters, storylines, subplots, and short chapter interludes, this may be right up your alley. Especially since there's a lot of great stuff in this book. Unfortunately, for me, I endured the first 75% so I could enjoy the last 25%, which was pretty fast paced and exciting (like a lot of books, truth be told). The challenge, though, is this novel doesn't reach a conclusion. I knew this was book one in a trilogy, but it's actually only part one of the story. There's a difference. The Hunger Games was book one. Catching Fire and Mockingjay were parts 1 and 2 of the sequel. See what I mean? The Atlantis Gene is an intriguing alien/time-travel/conspiracy theory adventure, but it didn't satisfy my expectation of a complete story.

Now I say all this knowing this book is a phenomenon in indie publishing and commend the author for meeting multiple thousands of readers' needs. It just goes to show that a fairly good story told fairly well (which is what 3 stars means to me, and how I'd rate it) is enough to please plenty of a writer's fans and keep them coming back for more. Recommended for indie book lovers and sci-fi apocalyptic lovers.

11.15.2016

Review of Auckland Allies by Mike Reeves-McMillan

Review by Lyn Perry

Teens with magical powers, contemporary urban setting, good v evil subtext - all expected elements of your typical YA lit that's out there today. But somehow Auckland Allies by Mike Reeves-McMillan is different. Better and refreshing. First, it's set in Auckland, New Zealand, so there's a bit of out-of-the-ordinary feel to the story right off the bat. Which is good. Then, the characters come across as real and their magic isn't a superpower substitute so the predicaments and solutions the 'allies' go through are realistic as well. And overall the storytelling is clean, maybe a few swear words, but refreshingly not "new adult" which is a sad trend in a lot of contemporary YA (i.e., the inclusion of sex and swearing for no good reason). Fortunately, I could recommend this book to middle and high schoolers alike without embarrassment.

 As for the writing, it's solid. I enjoyed the 1st person snippy narrative of Tara, whom I consider the main character. I just wish the whole story was told from her POV. Instead, the book alternated between the three friends, all in the 1st person, and it got confusing at times. I'd put the kindle down then pick it up a few days later and forget who's telling the story at that point. And like a lot of books, it started to drag in the middle. Once the situation was figured out and the solution was in sight, the "getting there" was a bit on the slow side. But overall, a pretty quick read and enjoyable.

One more thought: I don't want to sound overly critical, but the cover art didn't grab me at all, nor did the title. If this was on a shelf at B&N I would probably have skipped it altogether without a second glance. Which has me wondering how I picked up the ebook in the first place. Maybe it was a gift, maybe part of a story bundle, maybe just a random purchase to support indie writers (which I recommend, btw). But after reading this, I'm inclined to see what the rest of the series holds. (Three books in this series, I believe, all stand alone novels.) Which is what all writers want, right? Us coming back for more? So three and a half stars for this one and recommended if you like clean, not too heavy, urban magic novels.

10.16.2016

Quick Review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Quick Impression by Lyn Perry

Read this in a day or two and really enjoyed it. But some will not. So fair warning: since Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is actually a play, you'll want to read it as such and imagine the story unfolding on stage. Caution: quite a few (too many?) scene changes. Just be forewarned and read the play for what it is - an extended telling of all that we know and love about Harry and Voldemort, but featuring "TNG."

If you keep that in mind, then it's a nice revisiting of the HP canon, a trip down memory lane (and into Godric's Hollow). In fact, it's kind of like an homage to the original series while introducing another related storyline. Sort of what Star Wars Episode 7 did for the original 3 movies. So if you want to immerse yourself in Pottermore, then this offering from J.K. Rowling (and company) serves that purpose well.

9.13.2016

Review of Quest Beyond the Stars by Edmond Hamilton

Review by Lyn Perry

Wow, this was pretty bad. Even if it was written in 1940s, the science was terrible and the prose was worse. It read like a rejected Tom Swift book - with the requisite superfluous adverbs - but the target audience wasn't juveniles. Quest Beyond the Stars by Edmond Hamilton really stretches the definition of pulp space opera. 

The plot is linear and uninspired: Captain Future and his crew think and fight their way through every tough situation without so much as breaking a sweat in pursuit of their quest, which I can't even remember what it was. Which is fine, adventure heroes are supposed to do that. But the solutions were mostly deus ex machina in nature and the payoff was a foregone solution. So 1 1/2 stars for effort? 

(Note: This short novel is #9 in a series of about 20 books written by various authors in the early 1940s. So maybe other Captain Future books were better. But I won't be finding out unless I have absolutely nothing else to read.)

8.18.2016

Recommending Scavenger Series by Timothy C. Ward

Scavenger: Evolution and Scavenger: AI are two books in Timothy C. Ward's Sand Divers series. Evolution came out initially as three episodes (short novellas) - Red Sands, Blue Dawn, and Twin Suns. These stories are based on and were my first exposure to Hugh Howey's world of Sand. (Ward's books are written and sold with Howey's permission.)

With only a vague understanding of Sand's premise, I was able to follow Scavenger: Evolution without a challenge and make sense of the Dune-like setting and conceit. Although it's a tie-in work, Ward's novel definitely holds its own as a stand alone story - and with as much gritty realism as can be found in Wool or any other story by Hugh Howey. Ward pays tribute to some excellent indie SF with these two outings.

If the intriguing concept of sand-diving is of any interest (and it should be!), and you want a taste of the promise of Danvar, I recommend Ward's addition to this post-apocalyptic SF epic. - Lyn Perry

7.05.2016

Review of Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

Review by Lyn Perry

This is one of those novels from the Golden Age of science fiction that we're all supposed to revere as a classic. I think if you read Childhood's End as a teen (say pre-1980s), then you might still hold that view of it, but I think your memory is probably tainted. After all, there weren't a lot of thought-provoking, human destiny pondering stories out there way back when. But today, this philosophizing exposition-heavy treatise disguised as a story amounts to just a whole bunch of hooey. Having read this for the first time in 2016, I can safely say this novel's just shy of being a dud.

First, Arthur C. Clarke, frankly, isn't that great of a writer. Oh, he was groundbreaking and all (2001: A Space Odyssey, hello), and evidently as smart as heck (he helped develop the first communications satellites), but his style is stilted, talking-headish, and not very compelling. It's simply boring reading.

Second, Clarke's atheism is painfully obvious and hurts his story telling. This novel is about humanity's 'coming of age.' We're leaving our childhood behind and evolving to our next stage of existence - union with the universal mind. Meh. Utopia on steroids. Stop the presses.

But what's funny here is the underlying theme - the climax of evolution is pantheism! Funny how so many atheist writers deny God's existence and yet their ultimate vision of utopia is a kind of apotheosis. Tired drivel, and ultimately vacuous. Which is the main reason this story failed, it ended in nothingness.

6.09.2016

Review of Saint Death by Mike Duran

Review by Lyn Perry

Reagan Moon is a paranormal investigative reporter and a sceptic. Or at least he used to be. But ever since having a tau (a cross-shaped magic totem) emblazoned into his chest, he's become more open to the reality of the supernatural realm. That, and he's personally met his guardian angel. Oh, and the fact that he has some innate but mysterious powers. After his adventures in Mike Duran's first urban fantasy novel, The Ghost Box, Moon has now become a reluctant believer.

So he's not completely surprised to discover, in Duran's second outing in this series, Saint Death, that there are others out there like him. They're called the Imperia, a kind of paranormal 'justice league,' a rag tag team of earth guardians charged with countering the evil forces slipping into the natural realm. And what a variety of evil forces there are to battle!

One of Duran's strengths as a writer is to pull back the curtain on a spiritual dimension that is usually treated, well, two-dimensionally, by so many others. In a typical urban fantasy there are werewolves and vampires galore, but in Duran's imaginings the paranormal realm is much more interesting and diverse. We're dealing with a truly evil realm that gives some real depth to the good vs evil trope so prevalent in the traditional horror genre. You get a sense when reading these encounters that the battle between heaven and hell really matters - even when the one fighting on the side of heaven isn't a confirmed believer.

When it comes to describing these climactic spiritual encounters, Duran shines. It's almost as if he's telling a 'been there done that' story (ever hear of 'write what you know'?) that brings the reader into the scene itself. Though this is not a Christian fantasy (it's written for the general market), a savvy reader will pick up on the supernatural realities and worldview the author holds to. It's subtle, but there. As it should be with most good storytelling.

In fact, Saint Death is the kind of story Left Behind could have been. No, it's not a post-rapture apocalyptic tale. But it hints at the demonic forces at work in our world today that are preparing the way for an ultimate antichrist. The novel is not heavy-handed. It's a story, first and foremost. But it has a bit of weight and a positive theme undergirding a kind of modified superhero quest adventure. Now about a third of the way in, it does bog down a bit with some background exposition and some predictable elements. But don't let that section fool you; keep reading and you'll realize half way through that there's a whole lot of story left that you had no idea was coming.

Note on Genre and Rating: Urban fantasy, paranormal noir, supernatural suspense. This is not YA, but mature late middle graders would enjoy it. Due to occult themes and swear words, I'd say it rates between PG and PG-13. Four and a half stars. Highly recommended for those who enjoy paranormal urban fantasy but are tired of the same old same old. (Note: I received a free advanced reader's copy of this novel from the author.)

5.14.2016

Quick Review of Avarice by Annie Bellet

Review by Lyn Perry

A quick impression rather than a review, actually. To start, I really liked this short novel, Avarice by Annie Bellet. Sort of a "Law & Order: Fantasy Guild" kind of story. What a great mash-up. If this blend of crime/mystery and alt/medieval fantasy has been done before, I haven't noticed, so I thought it original and new and very well done. Bellet is a solid writer, pacing an intriguing storyline while remaining witty and descriptive. A refreshing take on two of my favorite genres.

I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads, which says it's Book 1 in the Pyrrh Considerable Crimes Division series. But so far, no Book 2. I hope there are more novels in this fantasy world coming soon.

4.08.2016

Quick Review of A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin

Brief Reaction by Lyn Perry

Look, if you've made it this far in this sprawling saga, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, you're either all in (4 to 5 stars per book) or you're just wasting your time.

If you haven't read the series and you want to jump in now, then a word of caution: before you start with A Game of Thrones (book 1), be aware you're embarking on an epic journey that takes time and effort. It's too big to review. It's too vast to summarize. It's excellent writing and powerful story telling. It's violent and vulgar. It's not your grandpa's LOTR sit by the fire and tell me a tale before I go to sleep kind of series.

And if, once you get started and you feel the books are a bit too intense for your taste, then skip the HBO series completely. The novels stand on their own (obviously!) and mostly avoid the raw titillation of the on screen adaption. Mostly. Now I enjoy both the books and the television series, but they are different 'things' so be forewarned. I'm definitely waiting for book 6 and the promise of "The Winds of Winter" to see how the marshaling forces of truth and treachery come together before the final showdown. You probably are too!

3.10.2016

Review of Jack Brand Stories

Review by Lyn Perry

This book featuring space adventurer Jack Brand by John M. Whalen (the publication was re-titled The Big Shutdown in 2015 when the author self-published it) is a collection of space western short stories about a hired raygun-slinger and former employee of the Tulon Security Force who's finding his way on a wild and wooly planet far from Earth. The stories are tied together by a small cast of believable characters and Brand's perennial search for his kidnapped sister. It's a good set up and the full effect is that these intertwined chapters read nearly like a regular novel.

Every episode offers some exciting action, though I admit, some of the scenarios can get a tad tiresome. A few of the bad guys border on the bumbling criminal stereotype and too often leave Brand a way of escape when the best solution is to simply kill him outright. (Obviously, a book's hero can't die in the first story! So the escape trope is part of the adventure.) Brand does get beat up quite a bit, though, making this fairly realistic (PG-13 for violence).

Overall quite enjoyable. A few of the stories are a bit campy, however, reminding me of those sci-fi B movies from the 1950s. But if read in the spirit of pulp action and adventure, they make for some fun escapism. The writing is solid and most chapters conclude with an understated observation of the human predicament. Quick, thrilling, and at times quite thoughtful. Recommended for space opera and space western fans of all ages.

Note: This collection (many of which, if not all, were first published in an online space opera zine called Raygun Revival) was originally published simply as "Jack Brand" with this remarkable cover (above). I received a free PDF version of the book a long time ago from Pill Hill Press. At the time, I asked fellow editor and avid spec fic reader Keanan Brand - no relation to Jack Brand! - to write a review back in 2010, which you can read on this blog here.

2.17.2016

Review of The Kobalos Trilogy

Review by Lyn Perry

The Kobalos Trilogy by Ty Johnston is a high fantasy series featuring Kron Darkbrow. Here are my short reactions to each of the books.

Book 1, City of Rogues - Excellent high fantasy in the tradition of David Eddings featuring magic, action adventure, and a fully developed setting with the requisite religious factions, dark lords, powerful wizards, and rogue heroes. But this is no knock-off quest novel. Johnston is strong storyteller and world builder who offers characters you can immediately picture and sympathize with. If you're a lover of epic fantasy, then you'll want to follow along with Kron Darkbrow as he takes on his most challenging opponent yet.

Book 2, Road to Wrath - I must not have written a full review of this on Goodreads, but I remember this novel as a "transition" episode, more of a traveling narrative (see the title) to get from the set up in Book 1 to the climax in Book 3. Good writing, expanded the characters' motivations, just not that memorable as a stand alone adventure.

Book 3, Dark King of the North - A satisfying conclusion to this trilogy. Somewhat violent for my taste (it would definitely earn an R rating as a movie), but the torture scenes, though hard to take, do have resolution. The world-building borrows heavily from the epic fantasy tales we're all familiar with, but the prophecy element is different enough for this not to be a cookie-cutter knight's quest adventure. The presumed hero, Kron, actually takes a bit of a back seat in this novel, which is okay as his constant dark attitude starts to wear thin after awhile.

Overall, though, Johnston's writing is solid and the novel delivers. The 3-part tale starts strong with book one, drags a bit in book two, but picks up nicely in this third and concluding chapter. 4 to 4 1/2 stars. If you enjoy epic, heroic fantasy with a medieval religious bent in the vein of David Eddings or even Robert E. Howard, this trilogy is recommended for mature audiences.

1.22.2016

Review of Child of Two Worlds by Greg Cox

Quick Review by Lyn Perry

It's been a long time since I've read a Star Trek novel, and, fortunately, I picked a good one for my Christmas present to myself upon my return to the Star Trek universe. It's a Spock and Captain Pike novel, the captain of the Enterprise before Kirk, set just a few months after the events detailed in the series television pilot, "The Cage." This story entails Klingons (both the more human looking but genetically malformed from TOS, and the more aggressive looking warriors we all know and love), an out of control virus aboard the Enterprise, and a thwarted mission of mercy. Good stuff.

Greg Cox is a solid writer; the plotting is strong, the story engaging (though the explanatory sentences that regularly pad the paragraphs were at times a tad much), and the familiar characters were nicely drawn. It's a fast read, nothing surprising there. Full of action, adventure, repartee, and subtle in-the-know quips and references - including an expendable ensign, Spock's implied future with a new captain, and a medical staff person who says, "I'm a nurse not a doctor." ;)

Recommended, especially to Star Trek fans.

12.16.2015

Review of Friends In Deed by T.M. Hunter

The Aston West Series by T.M. Hunter
Review by Lyn Perry

Although a sequel to Heroes Die Young, the short novel Friends In Deed can be read as a stand alone adventure. It is set in the Aston West universe and features a reluctant space pirate hoodwinked into carrying out one last deed with some former "friends" that he'd just as soon forget.

The protagonist's first person voice is wry and witty, but isn't overdone. We get to know Aston's back story a bit and can sympathize with his predicament, struggles, and decisions. Good story telling mixed with adventure and a plot that builds until the end. It is a fast paced thriller in space - space opera usually is, so fans of this genre won't be disappointed.

The novel starts strong; an early turning point and rising action hint at where you're headed but spools out enough mystery to keep the pages turning. Overall, fairly well plotted, but with a few loose ends - which allows, conveniently enough, for a third novel in the series, Death Brings Victory and also a fourth, All Good Things. The whole series is solid story telling, btw. 

Hunter's Aston West novels are adult themed, although nothing objectionable language-wise; however there are a few "senseless" deaths (not by Aston's hand) in book two, but this is part of the novel's subtle theme and poses a necessary crisis and internal struggle for the protagonist. Overall, the books are probably more YA and than MG if you're thinking you might want to buy them for your kids.

I'd recommend this series to anyone interested in adventure, even if space isn't your preferred setting. The science isn't intense, but the fiction is. In fact, I liked Hunter's collection of short stories, Dead or Alive: An Aston West Collection, enough to publish them via Tule Fog Press

So while I like Hunter's short stories featuring Aston, his novels (of which I haven't published any) allow the author's storytelling skills to really shine, in my opinion. I'd give them something close to an 8 out of 10. Well worth reading.

6.13.2012

Review of The Muse

The Muse by Fred Warren
Published by Splashdown Books (2009)

(I received an advance copy a few years ago, and am ashamed to say I just now got to it. I should have read it earlier as it's very good and comes highly recommended from this reviewer, probably 8 out of 10 stars. Maybe I should buy the sequel, The Seer, and read and review that as soon as possible!)

~*~

Fred Warren's The Muse is a heart warming fairy tale that moves from reality to creative imagination and back again while expertly weaving together plot, setting, and characters - obviously the key elements in any good story. This short novel is a nicely accomplished metafiction (a story about storytelling), which is difficult to pull off, from my perspective. Many novel-themed novels can be self-conscious and this one isn't due to Warren's unpretentious third person voice and likability of Stan and his two friends, Jilly and Davos.

The set up is simple: These three writers meet a muse, of sorts, and strange things start happening. Some of the strangeness is a bit unbelievable, and yet the characters are so likable you just go with it. Creativity is strange, after all. And while it doesn't take long to realize that the "muse" turns out to be just as bad as she was suspicious when she first showed up, the experienced writing and interesting scenarios kept me hooked. While it's not necessarily a page turner plot-wise, there are just enough creative revelations (which Warren hints at throughout) that are wonderfully revealed in the final climax and resolution that reward the faithful reader.

Most of the writing is solid (some wonderful turns of phrases) but some of the dialog colloquialisms are already dated (da bomb!). However, this is a minor quibble and can be explained by this particular character's idiosyncrasies. Recommended as a middle grade or young adult novel (or for those who are young at heart) with nothing objectionable, although a few deaths do occur. And while the novel deals with some spiritual issues (and a little bit of angel speculation) it is not a tract for any particular religious group. A family safe bet for the whole family.