Saturday, September 20, 2014

Review::The Last Starship from Earth (a novel) by John Boyd

The Last Starship from EarthThe Last Starship from Earth by John Boyd

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Last Starship from Earth (a novel) by John Boyd

Back in the late sixties early seventies I joined the science fiction book club and this was one of many offerings. I still have the 1968 edition they sent me and it's in fair condition. What wasn't so much intact was my recall of the story; so I had to reread it. I was seventeen in 1968 when this was published and I was going to Junior College while just barely becoming eighteen. This book creates for me the feeling of a literary epic. It's written in the time of cold wars and civil uprisings and government conspiracies. All a perfect back drop for a dystopic tale of a parallel universe. A universe where Christ didn't die as a martyr and the church took the world by storm rather than suffering persecution as happened in ours. A 'what if' story that begins in a far different version of 1968.

This book has a lot going for it in that it has a sort of twisted poetic bent that lends itself nicely to the prose of the author. What it lacks is consistent background on what might have wrought all the changes to bring us up to Haldane's world where space travel is already accomplished and we have the perfect society guarded by the "Weird Sisters" Psychology, Sociology and the Church. Sure: there are other disciplines such as Mathematics and Poetry [those are two that drive the story]. What this book also lacks is involvement with what could have been the most important character. Part of this might well be the times it was written and the rest would probably fall to being a part of the continued tropes that trapes through all of histories diverse tomes.

I'm giving this book high marks for entertaining me and making me think and even a bit for nostalgia. I have to be honest and note that I didn't go happily down the trail of reading John Boyd's later works and in part that may be for the strange twist in structure that caused the plot to become un-potted at a certain point and an orphaned epilogue at the end that almost adds insult to injury in light of the fact that the entire book requires the reader to think upon the 'what if' proposed and realize that there is no true logical progression to how John Boyd got from there to where he did; which leaves it to the reader to do some research or at least have some understanding of the impact of Christianity upon western development. Even so it's left to the reader to determine how things took such a left turn because of the difference in how Christianity took foot.

So if Christ was not martyred on the cross and his movement brought down the Roman Empire without the bulk of Christianity being persecuted, that might change some things. One can only guess that perhaps the strength of the church and lack of humble roots may have excluded the reformation and the Protestant movement. But somehow the church and its two sisters Psychology and Sociology have slipped into a near socialistic totalitarian society whose highest judge is a mechanical Pope created by the worlds leading Mathematician Fairweather I, which is perhaps why John Boyd chose to make this a story of adolescent forbidden love between the Mathematician and a Poet. Forbidden love: lust perhaps would be allowed but not love and certainly there are taboos on any thought of an offspring from such forbidden union. Our young man, Haldane, makes a wrong turn on the way to a Mathematics conference and ends up at a museum where he meets Helix [the essence of a spirit that might rival Helen of Troy]; and his inexplicable love at first sight only drives home the importance of this character he has fallen for.

After a comedy of errors where the reader is left wondering, after a ream of logic about where Haldane could accidentally run into Helix on purpose only to find that she's not there, 'is she avoiding him. As it turns out while he's searched where she might be she seems to be searching where he should be and the two are going in opposite directions until she stumbles across his father and sets up a chance to meet Haldane through him. There's a lot of time and detail spent on the logistics necessary to create the illusion that any time they spend together has some logic to it and this becomes the part for reads who like the average dystopic tale where the players move in the shadows trying to avoid detection of the secret police. Suffice it to say there will be a day of reckoning and when that comes there is a twist because Helix is pregnant and that makes things that much worse.

A trial ensues and this is where John Boyd drops the ball with Helix. She becomes a none entity as Haldane is taken to task for the wretched deed and he is worked at by the forces of Church, Psychology, and Sociology until they offer him the out, by placing all the blame and responsibility on Helix shoulders and denying his own love for her. He even refuses to recant when it becomes rather muddily clear that Helix may have been part of an entrapment that was set up to bring him down and expose his nature as a sufferer of the Fairweather Syndrome [named after Fairweather I's son Fairweather II (who was proven to be a most heinous criminal in society)]. With no cure: the only outcome for Haldane is to be deported to the planet Hell. This is all confirmed when the mechanical Pope asks Haldane if he loves Helix; Haldane can't deny it and is relegated to hell for the admission.

This is where our author, John Boyd, fell a bit more, because the next part takes some major twists and the first is with Helix. Without much real background of a character that is treated as backdrop; the story loses out. I could easily attribute this treatment as a part of the era this is written since the world prior to 1968 was still pretty primitive in some notions about women. And since this parallel world is in 1968 that seems to track okay in that the women may be treated as Helix is in this story. Still there is this whole notion that Helix has an effect on Haldane and she is compared to Helen of Troy and she deserves much more than she gets, but this is Haldane's story and this is how John Boyd chose tell it.

To go much further would contain all the spoilers that would make reading this redundant and I think that every lover of dystopia's should read and love this story. There are a few more twists before the epilogue and I would have been just as happy if I'd been left with the final twist in the final chapter. The epilogue can only be described as a corkscrew of twists that could boggle the mind on any thoughtful or thoughtless reader and was probably not necessary though it adds a certain flavor to the Haldane character that almost seems at odds with the one the reader has become intimate with.

I recommend this to all lovers of Science Fiction Fantasy with the caveat that not everyone will be happy with it and you will have to ask yourself if it's a deficiency in the author's writing or perhaps your own attempt to read too much into a story the author has left so much wiggle room for the reader to imagine.

Really good story that reflects some of the time it was written in, while still meeting the test of time.

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review::Nobody Gets the Girl by James Maxey

Nobody Gets the Girl (Whoosh! Bam! Pow!, #1)Nobody Gets the Girl by James Maxey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nobody Gets the Girl by James Maxey

So here we have an admitted superhero novel and I wasn't sure what to expect. It has a prologue and I'm not usually a fan of those. Add to that the content of the prologue dripped of definite cartoon-y tropes. Then we move to Richard Rogers your everyman; married with a geeky job and a penchant for enjoying entertaining at comedy clubs.

I have to give the writer some extra marks for having the poor man have to make the decision about cheating on his wife when his own fantasy encounter with a supposed comedy club fan makes her entrance. At that point though the reader is still wondering where this is going. After reluctantly staying faithful he returns home for the night and sneaks into bed so as not to wake the wife. The next morning he wakes up to find out that he's nothing more than a ghost in a world that has been turned on its head.

From this point forward the novel develops a clear plot with good writing and a fine pace. It takes a while of wondering what is happening before the good Dr. Know. shows up to straighten things out. The Dr.'s answers are not all that welcome when he tells Richard that he's been erased from history because of the Dr.'s experiments with time travel. Conveniently the Dr. has decide not to time travel anymore because of the consequences and he therefore can't get Richard's life back. That leaves Richard with a decision of whether to live out the rest of existence as a wandering ghost or join the Dr. in his fight to bring peace to the world.

The doctor's two lovely daughters sweeten the deal; at least until Richard uncovers the fact that the whole family is dysfunctional.

I found the plot quite easy to follow and the writing was well done making the story easy to follow though some major parts of the plot were predictable. The overall story idea and several of the threads seemed original in the manor in which things were put together and there was at least one point where I almost felt, as a reader, that we were moving into one of those Robert Heinlein utopia scenarios. But James Maxey deviously turns some of that on its ear, as the thread of the dysfunctional family starts leaving the reader worried about the the direction that the Dr. is trying to take his utopian world.

There are no easy outs and no simple solutions and this is not a good verses evil superhero novel. These are complex characters that drive a story that is full of complex threads that all come neatly to an interesting conclusion. And even though Nobody gets the girl, no character in this story makes it through totally unscathed.

Great Sci-Fi for the Sci-Fi fans; contains some interesting notions about time and reality.

J.L. Dobias

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Review::The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I picked this up because there was a discussion about Margaret Atwood and this book was mentioned and I realized that, though I'd watched the movie, I hadn't read this at all. So since Amazon is offering the Kindle Unlimited and I was lucky enough to find this in the mix I decided I had to do it. I wasn't disappointed. But then usually I find that the novel contains a richness that can't be transformed into the screen production.

First of all, The Handmaid's Tale takes place in some dystopic future; and though it almost seems that the time of the book may already have passed without all these things happening, the guts of the story are such that one can't really shake it off and say that it won't still happen. In fact sometimes I fear that attitudes and events are conspiring to constantly try taking us in this direction.

Offred, meaning of Fred, is a handmaiden to a Commander and is described as a sacred vessel of sorts though in fact she can be considered no more or less than a sex slave. Something has wiped out the United States abilities to procreate. It seems a combination of self regulation and viruses and perhaps even drugs meant to counteract viruses. A radical religious group takes matters into their own hands and use passages from the bible to push everything back a number of decades to where women have no rights. This amounts to a form of chauvinism where women can own nothing and have no true rights and this is all done because man is superior and needs to protect women and based on their own logic of things; they mean to protect women from themselves: Feminism.

This is the story of Offred as told by Offred and apparently it was dictated onto magnetic tapes and later transcribed but we'll get to that after we get through the rest of the story. The story is in first person and it is neatly separated into First Person Present Tense for the immediate now and First Person Past Tense for the flash backs that she has. The flash backs are important because they help connect the reader to an approximation of when the now is and it also connect the reader to Offred by putting her into contemporary times. An important reason for this is that the initial connection to Offred is mostly only that which we see in the flashbacks; because she seems to be so distanced in her narration. The distancing might be deliberate because of the dehumanizing nature of what's happened to her, but there are some arguments that all of Margaret Atwood's characters in her novels are this distanced from the reader. I'll talk about that later also.

First person writing can be easy, but it can also be insidiously difficult. Add present tense and the whole thing can become interesting. Next throw in a lot and I really mean a lot of flashbacks and you can have something of a challenge. As a reader I felt this challenge as the story went along. There were a number of times I missed the cue and had to look back to find that I had in fact just slipped into a flashback without realizing it. One part of that was inattentiveness of the reader; but the other part was some of the style choices that come with flashbacks. To understand that we have to go back to the beginning which is first person and past tense that seems to introduce the story and could almost be considered the first frame of a multi framed story although it might just be a backflash. This is followed by a chapter that starts out as First Person Present Tense of what is happening in the now and contains flash backs that are primarily First Person Past Tense, but there are some of these flashbacks that allow for the style of changing tense to create more immediacy and if you miss the transition to flashback with the first few past tense verbs you easily find yourself wondering when you are when it slips into present tense.

The good news is that this doesn't last for long because the reader can separate out the time zones easily. There is early childhood with her mother; her life with Luke and her own child; her life being indoctrinated into the system; and finally the present where all the atrocities are occurring. The most important part of all this is that the early life is a contemporary life that a reader can relate to and then wonder how everything went to hell so fast.

By demonstrating the indoctrination Offred explains but does not excuse her action in the present. Being inside her head we see the conflicts she constantly puts herself through and I believe that adds to the general feeling of hopelessness that the reader is suppose to get also from all the distancing. Offred has gone through extreme dehumanizing that is only offset by a message left by the last Offred that offers a possible way to get past it all with the caveat that it comes from someone who may have taken the easy way out.

The place where it's revealed that this story is being transcribed from tapes is a place that caused me the most trouble. The story has ended and it's left the reader with much to think about then there is this thing in the back that seems to try to explain a bit about the fictional history that I really didn't feel enhanced the story for me. The only point it seemed to have is to continue making fun of the backwards steps that man is taking to remain supreme over women. And perhaps making the reader wonder how wide spread the problem was though it is given the appearance of being limited to the United States. Still for me as a reader everything up to that point stands well as the story with a hopeful ending that is left up to the reader.

I think one problem when approaching this book is to consider it as a Dystopic novel when in fact it is an extension of something that has existed and still exists on our planet. It's more of a social commentary about the dehumanizing of half the worlds population.

This is a great novel for anyone who likes something that challenges and moves them to think. It's good Soft Science Fiction or Social Science Fiction and great for the Speculative Fiction Fans. Knowing human nature I don't think that this novel can ever be fully outdated.

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Review::Replica by Christian Johnson

ReplicaReplica by Christian Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Replica by Christian Johnson

I wanted to say I loved this book. I like it I like it a lot and it has an interesting moral dilemma built into it. I'm willing to give it high marks, but I'm going to be brutal about what I don't like. The problem for me is that it has too much of a feel like the movie The Sixth Day. And honestly there is nothing wrong with that when making a movie or a script for a movie. But this is all just personal preference in wanting a bit more focus on the moral dilemma and the main character.

Like any good movie this book hits the ground running; so anyone that likes their action upfront and straight on through until morning, this is the one. There is hardly room to breath and very little room for any time dwelling on the moral implication although somehow it does get squeezed in and that much I would have to chalk up to good writing.

On that note though I have to give my usual caveat when it comes to grammar and spelling and style. This book boast of three editors and that gives us three other people to blame. There are problems; some of them are pretty obvious and others are just subtle and then the last are just style preferences, which probably don't count for more than a hill of beans. In some places it makes for awkward sentences that made me stop and go back.

In the story Veronica wakes up inside what could only be the vat containing her clone. This is only supposed to happen if she's been killed and then brought back and the way she arrives is not quite by the book, so the whole thing is suspicious from the start. Fortunately for Veronica, she's a bad-ass agent for the CDA and for some reason the normal procedure that would leave her unable to act properly for a while has been subverted. But the SecuraLife Corporation has a reputation to uphold and since she wasn't marked for activation that means shes a Replica and the real her is still alive and she has to be terminated.

Here the excitement begins and a great story unfolds, but for me the problems start here also. We really don't have time to get to know Veronica and the story touches several brief times on the subject of her having a soul or not and since she starts life by accidentally being responsible for a technicians demise and then blowing up the facility and ending a few more lives we really don't get to know her as a person but as an assassin we have her pegged quite well. If this is the real Veronica I'm not sure I'd be able to sympathize with her very much and for long. We do get some insight when she starts realizing she is going to be treated as an un-person; because she's a replica. That only lasts long enough for us to understand that she's ready to fight tooth and nails to stay alive and independent.

For those people who like the action suspense thrillers this really hits the note and keeps going all the way through. We reach a point where things do settle for a bit; but Veronica's constant desire to remain free, clouds any ability to listen to reason. That turns out to be a somewhat good thing because when she does listen it seems she might be somewhat gullible.

I figured out where some of this was heading, but I held out hope that the author might twist it a bit at the last moment: that didn't happen. I could explain but it would be a spoiler for anyone else who may or may not be able to put two and two together. We do not get any real satisfaction for the question of soul and what should become of a replicant, but that doesn't matter because a bulk of the plot does get resolved.[But not everything, so...]

Did Christian Johnson mention this was book one. I don't quite recall. I hope he did because I want to know what happens next.

This is a good novel for those who like Sci-Fi Suspense Thrillers with a touch of Cyberpunk built into it.

J.L. Dobias

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Review:: Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

Sputnik SweetheartSputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

High marks for leaving this reader baffled.

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

Of the many books I have come to learn to love to hate this one takes me to the highest level of that dichotomy.

This book has a lot going for it and just as much going against it and many times the things that make it so frustrating are the very same things that make it so good.

The writer chose a style that may have deliberately been designed to do much of this or may have just naturally settled into it. Now see how frustrating this is getting.

It's a first person story that seems to favor telling. Both of those limit the author quite a bit unless they are quite clever. And there is no doubt in my mind that Haruki Murakami is quite clever when it comes to style but there is enough ambiquity in this psychological thriller to create a weariness about which parts are planned and which parts just worked out that way because of style choices.

That alone could say much about the author though it also might say much about the confusion of the reader at this point.

The story has three central characters; the narrator who is in love with one of the other central characters and then that character who in turn is in love with the third character. It's a love triangle that has the added twist that the second love is a lesbian love and possibly unrequited love. The first love is also unrequited. But the confusing part about these loves is that all the characters sound the same and are only differentiated by what the narrator tells us about each character including himself. Because the reader has been pushed back to a distance by the narrative style there is really no connection to the characters. But this is a story about disaffected characters who all seem to isolate themselves from others and have issues with expressing their desires which is why they sound the same.

In either a twisted way or a clever way the writing style reinforces the disaffection by creating that mood with the reader. The reader doesn't necessarilty empathize but rather is drawn into the mood of the characters by the selected mode of writing. As the reader is drawn deeper into the story and the suspenseful events of the story the distance becomes greater because we have the characters questioning the reality of thier own lives until one of them vanishes as if up in smoke.

In the end the reader is left with a conundrum because the reader must decide what is reality based on the outcome which reads, at best, as a puzzle that we see from the outside with very little involvement with the characters either at the end or in the whole of the story.

At some point the reader could easily draw some wrong conclusions but never quite be sure if they are wrong because of the writing style or wrong because that's how the writing style was used to steer us; in which case then perhaps the conclusions are correct.

Just the fact that the three characters read the same in many ways could make one wonder if these three are not all the same person and their interrelationship and disaffection through unrequited love is the strand that is trying to hold three parts of the same person together after some sort of fracture. Because throughout; the three are never together at any time, and when two are together there are few others around of consequence to validate the existence of each being separate from the other. And that the narrator eventually feels drawn somehow to the third person upon meeting her despite his obsession with the other woman, would seem to support this theory.

I would recommend this to anyone who loves a great seemingly unsolvable puzzle. And a story where the parts are revealed to the reader as they are revealed to the characters with the same hope of resolution to both.

I give this book high marks for its cleverness; despite the possibility it might not all have been planned.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Review:: Paul Clifford by Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Paul Clifford (Pocket Penguin Classics)Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paul Clifford by Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton

This is a marvelous and greatly maligned piece of fiction that begins with this ever over-popularized piece of purple prose.

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Bulwer-Lytton, Baron Edward (2012-05-16). Paul Clifford - Complete (p. 9). . Kindle Edition.

One must wonder when looking at the Point of View of this novel which seems to be some omniscient narrator who in a rather tongue and cheeky fashion keeps addressing the reader directly through the holes he creates in the forth wall. By the end of the story there are more holes in that wall than there might be in a block of Swiss cheese. This and the florid manor of writing alone cause one to suspect the author has deliberately waxed purple all the way through this seemingly florid bit of prose.

Add to this a later instance of similar quality:

It was a frosty and tolerably clear night. The dusk of the twilight had melted away beneath the moon which had just risen, and the hoary rime glittered from the bushes and the sward, breaking into a thousand diamonds as it caught the rays of the stars.

Bulwer-Lytton, Baron Edward (2012-05-16). Paul Clifford - Complete (p. 246). . Kindle Edition.

Granted there is a period here after night, but then how much different is that really than the semicolon of the former. I think that the author is having the last laugh, if he could only see how well quoted he has become.

Beyond such valuable prose this novel holds many things. I've read the analysis that it portrays the injustice of the justice system of the time holding that our hero who ends up being a rogue and highwayman is unjustly convicted and housed among other thieves where he may learn more of the craft of thievery from the real pros. And this does seem to be a major thread that runs through the novel with multitudes of soliloquies about such injustice and the justification for all men to become Robin Hoods. But there is so much more here. What I've mentioned is just the tip of the iceberg.

Another rather important thread that touches early in the story seems almost to address the issue of florid prose or at least perhaps the criticism of such.

For background; in the story, Paul has been orphaned and left to the care of Mrs. Margery Lobkins who is owner of an inn and alehouse and is rough around the edges but seems to have a heart of gold. Mrs.Lobkins who would likely never attempt to have children of her own vows to do her best to educate Paul to the fullest of her ability. To this end she enlists the help of many of her clientele who often do display higher levels of learning in some areas. The trouble is that many of these men are of ill repute and such relationships created with Paul make this reader wonder about the previous assessment that this is primarily a novel about how the system makes the young man go wrong. Enter into this group Mr. Peter MacGrawler; whose station in life seems often to be in question. He is a frequenter of the Lobkins alehouse and an editor of a magazine that promotes prints and critiques literary works. He becomes Paul's tutor and eventually his employer for a brief time after he teaches Paul the art of the critique.

This brings us to what seems to be a most scathing view of what a critique is. Paul is taught in a nutshell how to critique works of which MacGrawler seems to predestine rather arbitrarily to specific fates.

"Listen, then," rejoined MacGrawler; and as he spoke, the candle cast an awful glimmering on his countenance. "To slash is, speaking grammatically, to employ the accusative, or accusing case; you must cut up your book right and left, top and bottom, root and branch. To plaster a book is to employ the dative, or giving case; and you must bestow on the work all the superlatives in the language,—you must lay on your praise thick and thin, and not leave a crevice untrowelled. But to tickle, sir, is a comprehensive word, and it comprises all the infinite varieties that fill the interval between slashing and plastering. This is the nicety of the art, and you can only acquire it by practice; a few examples will suffice to give you an idea of its delicacy.

Bulwer-Lytton, Baron Edward (2012-05-16). Paul Clifford - Complete (p. 42). . Kindle Edition.

And as if that isn't enough MacGrawler explains it is not always necessary to read the entire piece; though they may be required to read some of a piece they tickle he offers this further explanation.

MacGrawler continued:— "There is another grand difficulty attendant on this class of criticism.—it is generally requisite to read a few pages of the work; because we seldom tickle without extracting, and it requires some judgment to make the context agree with the extract. But it is not often necessary to extract when you slash or when you plaster; when you slash, it is better in general to conclude with: 'After what we have said, it is unnecessary to add that we cannot offend the taste of our readers by any quotation from this execrable trash.' And when you plaster, you may wind up with: 'We regret that our limits will not allow us to give any extracts from this wonderful and unrivalled work. We must refer our readers to the book itself.'

Bulwer-Lytton, Baron Edward (2012-05-16). Paul Clifford - Complete (p. 43). . Kindle Edition.

Paul does well as a critic, but finds it does not pay well and when he finds that MacGrawler has been pocketing money that belongs to him he quits and this is how he moves into the world of Highwaymen.

It is through the acquaintance of his past that he's caught for someone else crime and sentenced to prison. And somewhere from prison; to escape; to joining the gang, he's introduced to the moral conundrum that allows the thieves to lie, cheat, and steal with a sense of impunity. And Paul becomes a leader among the highwaymen.

This novel is far from over because there is a romance between a roguish rake and gentle lady. There's a mystery about Paul's origins. And there is the moral comparison of those in charge of the governing of men to those who would rob them on the road.

This novel should be a must read, especially by those whose only introduction is through the first line in the novel. Sure it might act as an example of what not to do, but it contains elements that show up even in today's fiction; both romance and fantasy. Along with all the florid passages are a number of threads that feed an interesting plot. Lovers of romance should find this interesting and lovers of such fiction as The Three Musketeers and Count of Monte Cristo will certainly be entertained.

Lastly lovers of the classics in all their purple nature will enjoy this novel and perhaps revel in the humor of the delivery. (I may be seeing some humor that wasn't intended.)

Novels like this make me wonder if today we haven't taken the bite out of good fiction. We've weakened and decayed the author's teeth through a lack of Florid-ation.

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review::Conundrum by C.S. Lakin

ConundrumConundrum by C.S. Lakin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Conundrum by C.S. Lakin

I can't make a claim to reading a lot of Psychological Thrillers; though I am a fan of Suspense Thrillers my latest foray into the genre was Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors by Benjamin X. Wretlind and that one took me way out of my comfort zone. Thankfully this one didn't drag me too far down any tough roads. There were some mighty strange places though.

It seems a good Psychological Thriller is done in first person. That way you get a real look at the psyche of the main character or POV character. I really enjoyed the book and read it straight through and I'm giving it high points, but I'm going to be honest about some of things that bothered me.

The story takes place in 1986 and though there is some relevance to some science technology of that time; other than the that; and the lack of computer Internet; and cell phone; I think this could have taken place anytime. Still the lack of cell phones figures strongly. A lot of the suspense in the story is revolving around connections with people who might have answers to questions. People don't want to leave messages they want face to face and things like that; and having to reach some home base to talk on the phone helps extend things out. At some point it gets tiring that no one wants to give information over the phone though everyone has information. Because of no Internet the hero has to use the library and micro-fiche a lot. Something that is still prevalent today especially for people doing genealogy.

Another device in the story is the cryptic letter. People leave ambiguous letters behind in their life and though it has good information it's difficult to pinpoint the truth and relevance of some of the information. Relationships and inability to communicate figure heavily in the story almost to a point of annoyance.

There are a lot of pop references and some events are mentioned all to help pinpoint that this is really 1986 and they add a small flavoring to the whole plot. Along with memories and speculation that run through the main character's head we have lyrics to songs.

And just like in Vertigo we have the Psychological weakness of a character who freezes and panics under certain conditions. This case its enclose elevators. All of this come through really well for the first half of the story. But we reach a point where the main device of the Psychological Thriller begins to feel as though it's being overused. That's the place where the main character takes every story and clue she gets and analyzes it :and because it all relates to her father's death after mysteriously contracting leukemia, she seems to go over and over the same road with occasional new twists and turns, until I reached a place where my mind shut down when I hit the passages and I would have to go back and re-read a whole section as I realized I'd gone gently half the way to sleep. That might be just me and you have to read this to get a sense of what I'm saying. To be fair though it is this part of her mind that helps envelop the psychological part of this thriller where every clue sends her through the whole series of speculations and often dredges up memories of things that happened throughout her life that she's chose to forget,[and the eventual reason for the lapses in memories in some cases are found in these memories] so it's a necessary growing process that contains a level of tedium.

Despite that bit of sleepy tone this is a well put together story and for the most part has a good pace to it. The writing is excellent in regards to mechanics and grammar though in the e-book there's a weird format problem that split words funny by separating the b eginning letter and the en d letter of a word by one extra space.

Conundrum in this case is referring to story puzzles that include this very story. The main character and her brother love solving the stories; and it's her brothers descent into manic depressive fits that might be similar to their father's behavior before his death that lead her to investigate the conundrums in her fathers death. And about three quarters of the way through the story; for those readers who haven't figured it all out; one of the minor characters offers the conundrum of what he saw but did not hear that contains the answer. She goes into her usual round of speculation and remembrance and from there on, for the reader who has it figured out, it's a matter of wondering when our character is going to get though her drama to figure it out.

This is an excellent read and for those who enjoy Psychological Thrillers and Suspense; this should offer something to keep the mind active while trying to unravel the conundrum. And perhaps the largest conundrum is deciding what parts of the whole are the truth.

J.L. Dobias

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Review::The Kingdom of Malinas by. E.J.Tett

The Kingdom of Malinas by. E.J.Tett

The Kingdom of Malinas is a remarkable book.
E.J.Tett's first effort at writing is by far one of the best first efforts I have read in quite some time.
She puts together all the elements of story with her own style and class that have not been matched by her peers.
She has tremendous characterizations, conflict, plot and theme nailed down.

This is a well thought out effort for a first book. And it says a lot that although I venture into the fantasy genre now and then my favorite is Science Fiction. This does give me an advantage and disadvantage in that I have little to compare it to.

The only reason I picked up this novel was because I'd been snooping around the SSFchronicle writers forum and noticed that several people there have published various works in various fashion from traditional to self and I have to say that I've up to this point been disappointed with the ones I have tried out.

I came in not expecting much after three other disappointments , one of those is a traditional published author. I'm happy to say that this one surprised me.

It starts out slow and I suppose that it could be argued that its a bit rough around the edges because it's a first effort and its self published. And I suppose that if I were coming from the place of being in a forum of writers I might tend to try to be hyper critical.

Fortunately I come from being a reader of fiction with a 50 plus year background and I have to say that I found the author's style of writing to be be fresh, entertaining, and quite tightly woven. She can only improve from there.

The story begins slowly with our main protagonist Sorrel who is a very strong female character- there are many of those in this story. Her father was a warrior and her brother is one and she wants to follow in their footsteps. Despite the families efforts she will if it kills her and as the tale unfolds it seems that fate is on her side. There is enough in the development of characters to keep me in the story. Her plot seems quite original though I admit that I lack enough exposure to this type of fantasy to truly judge.

And then:

It's at chapter 12 she grabs me- one quarter the way through the book. I found the hook that kept me reading this in one sitting. She feeds the line out carefully and then hooks you into the story so deep you can't get out until you are finished.

What's really great about this novel is that it's full of characters that can hook any reader. There are almost too may to chose from and yet she pulls it off and this is a first novel; as long as she keeps her present voice she can't go wrong.

J.L. Dobias

This was good the first time through now with all the edits it's great, so I'd still like to see more reviews.
Preferably from people who have read it. Trust me you'll like it.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review::Kindling the Moon by Jenn Bennett

Kindling the Moon (Arcadia Bell, #1)Kindling the Moon by Jenn Bennett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kindling the Moon:An Arcadia Bell Novel by Jenn Bennett

This was an interesting read and it did keep my interest all the way through. I will have to qualify that it is unfortunate that at this point in my reading it is rife with tropes; some of which are beginning to make me feel like they are becoming cliches.

Arcadia Bell, not her real name but that's okay, owns a bar that caters to demons. Though she is not a demon she has an aura that is like a demon. She does magic, which most demons eschew because it might be bad for them to do too much magic. So Arcadia is a magician. She's trying to lead a simple life but its a dual life and her real life parents who are supposed to be dead are wanted accused killers. Her real name is Selene and she is a Moonchild which is supposed to be a good thing; giving her great power. She hasn't seen that happen yet.

Arcadia(Selene)is being hidden and protected by her lodge but when her supposedly dead parents show up on the radar the Luxe, a lodge wants either her parents or her so they can extract vengeance upon them for the murders, all bets are off. This send Arcadia off into an adventure to find the proof that will clear her parents. Throughout all of this though she begins as a rather strong female character in the story she doesn't develop much beyond that, although her power does grow.

The main plot eventually becomes too predictable and it's such an overused trope; as a reader I kept hoping that Jenn Bennett had some massive twist coming up that would blind side me; but no that didn't happen. Either way for all of the importance those trope-ed events; I thought it should have greatly impacted the main character in a much more visible way.You will have to read the story to understand.

It is still a good solid Fantasy story with demons and magicians and bits of magic. Great for the Fantasy and Paranormal Romance lovers. A bit on the mature side for Young Adults.

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Review::Wicked as They Come by Delilah S. Dawson

Wicked as They Come (Blud, #1)Wicked as They Come by Delilah S. Dawson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wicked as They Come by Delilah S. Dawson

This novel is listed as a steam-punk-paranormal romance. And though I did get paranormal romance out of it and there was mention of dirigibles and even Victorian like dress and some clockwork mechanics I would hardly want to call it steam-punk. But I might be a little unfair here because I'm not sure how well defined the genre is. What I do take away from this novel is that it's a bit like crossing Dracula with Somewhere in time and throwing in a bit of Alice in wonderland with Dorthy of Oz and I suppose that that's how we come up with blood sucking bunny rabbits.

Letitia 'Tish' Paisley Everett is an interesting character. She wants to be her own woman and escapes the smothering relationships she's had with men. And she does come off as a strong independent character. She just seems to be a magnet for controlling men. As a home care nurse Tish has been able to stay close to her grandmother helping to care for her while she cares for her regular patients. As the story begins with Tish at one of her recently deceased patients house[They are all old and infirm and on their death beds or they wouldn't need her] whose family is selling off her belongings and Tish has stopped to browse to perhaps pick up something to remember her patient. She runs across an old locket inside a book. She manages to have a medical emergency that calls her away and she ends up not paying for the locket. And so begins the strange journey.

When Tish finally opens the locket she sees the small portrait of man and her hand is burned by a red fluid which may end up being magically enhance blood from Criminy Stain. This takes Tish through the proverbial rabbit hole into an new world and another universe. Having arrived in the new world naked proves to compound Tish's problems. Criminy is a bludman which is this worlds equivalent to a vampire without some of the usual quirks of vampire. And the world itself is full of other blood sucking creatures which account for the Victorian like dress as a means of keeping her fully covered from the gnashing needle sharp teeth. Criminy is there to greet her and he seems to think he owns her, which is the last thing that Tish wants to hear. But Criminy is patient and really seems willing to give her all the space she needs while he waits for her to come around.

As Tish acclimates she discovers she is a glancer--she sees peoples past and future--and fortunately Criminy runs a circus of a sort and she fits right in with a paying job. Tish also discovers that it's possible that people who are in coma's on her world might be here just the same as she is. She also discovers that when she sleeps on this world she wakes in her own and vice versa, which means there will be no rest for her. With all the wild animals in this world having turned to blud-creatures the world is full of mechanical animals.[The only safe animals.] And the real villains in the book are the normal people who are trying to destroy all Blud-creatures including the Blud-people.

Though Tish is fascinated with Criminy and the rest of his circus, she primarily wants to get back to where she can take care of her grandmother which means she needs to either find a way to stop coming to the new world or find some way to coexist in both world without driving her self mad. But there is more evil afoot in the land of Bludmen and Pinkies and when that interferes with Tish's plans she and Criminy embark on a quest.

And once again Delilah S. Dawson has found a way to thoroughly entertain her readers.

I would recommend this to all Fantasy Fans and this should fit nicely into anyone's collection of Steam-punk as we know it these days. Any Young Adult would have to be the mature type.It's a world of Vampires and Magic out of step with ours about a hundred years.

J.L. Dobias

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Review::Six Strings by Jen Sanya Williamson

Six StringsSix Strings by Jen Sanya Williamson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Six Strings by Jen Sanya Williamson

I've read plenty of books and recently I seem to be seeing a lot of time travel novels. So when someone in Goodreads suggested that this book was well written with believable characters and some jaw dropping twists; I had to give it a try.I first read the sample and of course ended up buying the e-book and finished reading it in one sitting. This novel was so awesome it kept me in the story right to the end.

Riley Witt is a time traveler but she doesn't know it yet. Her Grandmother,Mary, also is and it's her duty to pass this information to Riley to prepare her for the whole journey. The problem is that Mary has Alzheimer's and her memory loss, mood swings, and generally poor behavior are masking the truth. After experiencing severe episodes Mary has been moved into Riley's family home but her continued episodes are wearing on everyone and there is talk of institutionalizing her. The first part of the book deals with Riley's relationship with Mary and her attempts to ensure that Mary doesn't get put in a nursing home while Riley begins to suffer in her studies at school and her patience begins to run thin. Riley has her long time friend Nathan who has been somewhat helpful and in some ways without Nate she'd be in worse shape.

Riley loves music and she would like to study music in college. This means the reference to Invisible Man is likely to the Ralph Ellison book not the HG Wells. Riley's mother doesn't support her interest in music and she is constantly reminding Riley that she needs to go to college for practical skills for a good foundation in her future life. But what is really happening is that her mother has some secrets[unrelated to her grandmother's time travel secret] that have biased her against her daughter's pursuit of musical talent.

So now there are two secrets and just as a potential spoiler I'll mention that the Time Travel is a genetic thing that skips a generation and has been going on for quite some time. This means that Riley's mother does not have the gene and has a different secret:Riley has the gene. But the time travel aspect all sounds so fantastic that it makes her mothers secret, which is equally incredible in its own way, seem mild in comparison. Time is running out for Riley, even though she doesn't yet have a clue and even though eventually it might seem that time will appear to be at her beck-and-call.

Music, family, and love-at-first-sight are key elements in this story beyond the secrets. The secrets and the pain they cause help define the characters in the story, but the real heart of the story deals with music and how it influences Riley and eventually how that is tied to the time travel and how it takes her to a place that begins to answer some questions she has about the mysteries and brings her to a face to face encounter with an understanding of what love-at-first-sight looks like.

In its own way this novel is the strangest of time travel novels when it comes to history in that it's one of those that doesn't rely a lot on real history from what I could tell. A majority of the historical background seems to only need to be internally consistent within itself and even so there are a couple of paradoxes within it that show up: the first one being that since each traveler has to find the right note to musically open the time portal and future Riley has shown past Mary her's while in the past; then present Mary shows the note to present Riley so that Riley doesn't need to experiment to find the proper note.

So though this is a time travel novel and has a unique time traveling device the time travel part is about as important as the history, and this doesn't seem to be a historical novel. What it is is a well written character study of a young Riley Witt who is slowly discovering herself while at the same time uncovering the truths about her family. Riley Witt suffers from what I see as a common affliction of many youths and that's an inability to communicate with the people who could most easily answer her questions and though she often appears to be making subtle explorations in that direction it's difficult to say if she is breaking the ice or driving a wedge further between herself and the people most important to her. But Riley is still a teen and she still has to learn to assert herself, which is largely what this novel seem to be about.

Time travel may be her only way to get her answers before Mary declines to a place she will no longer be helpful; not to mention that it's not all that clear if time traveling is a choice or a given obligation to her life.

This is a great read for fans of dramatic romance and very light soft science fiction and time travel.

J.L. Dobias

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Review::The Golden Daemon by Tony Jones

The Golden DaemonThe Golden Daemon by Tony Jones

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Golden Daemon by Tony Jones

I will first make it clear that I'm not a fan of short stories that are sold as one offs and certainly not a fan of Amazon's 'no apparent base word-length limit' 99 cent [books]. Short stories belong in a magazine, anthology or possibly a book of the authors best containing ten or more tales. That much said this one is not bad as they go. Most I have seen in Amazon tend to end up being parts of a serial which is spread out into chunks of around 50 pages each which may be close to 17000 words. This one is only around 8500 words but it does come to an end and that's one thing it has in it's favor. It's complete.

A difficulty with short stories is that they are not well suited to introducing the reader to characters. So it's more about the story itself and that's where this one has me baffled. This reads almost like a story for grim faery tales or one thousand and one nights. But I was left at the end with a lack of clarity as to what the actual plot point of the story is.

The best that I could come up with is that everything comes with a price especially when pilfering ancient artifacts. And... That price does not necessarily have to be paid by the one seeking, if they bring along enough victims.

The main character, Jad, is actually one of the victims and just doesn't know it. Jad is at best a mercenary; a soldier of fortune. He seems rather lazy; laid-back and content to stay in his room unless he wants a spot of ale and he certainly doesn't want company. It's unclear how he gets involved in the first place because it's very borderline to being out of his character, but this is a short story so it might be that we've been shorted on some valuable insight. Still as we progress it seems less likely that it's lack of character development any more than it's just lack of character.

The reason I say this is because after he steps in to help the woman who's of a race he has been at war with and might even have said he hates; she pays him in gold asking him to meet her at the big city to get another equal amount of gold coin and then proceed from there on a job he will be paid for, and his first thought is that he doesn't need the rest of the coin because that small bit of gold will last him. It's only after his landlord boots him, because of his having helped the woman, that he goes to the big city and even then he is only mildly curious about the job and it's not until he gains the second bag of gold coin that he feels any obligation to help.

Truly not knowing what to expect they set out on their adventure, where they are to meet with a third party for the expedition. There is a gratuitous sex scene; I say this because it does not move the story forward and it doesn't seem to effect their relationship either way and frankly, knowing what we do about the man, it seems inexplicable; but it's there. There are some grammar and punctuation problems which I mention because as stories get shorter and shorter I find such errors a bit harder to pass up mentioning.

I was expecting possibly some sort of moral at the end, but if there is one there it went by me.

This would be a great addition to any group of shorts or anthology or maybe even part of a whole story, but it seems a bit off for such a brief piece and as a standalone it seems overpriced.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Review::The Mortal Instruments Series (5 books): City of Bones; City of Ashes; City of Glass; City of Fallen Angels, City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones; City of Ashes; City of Glass; City of Fallen Angels; City of Lost SoulsThe Mortal Instruments: City of Bones; City of Ashes; City of Glass; City of Fallen Angels; City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Mortal Instruments Series (5 books): City of Bones; City of Ashes; City of Glass; City of Fallen Angels, City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

I found the Mortal Instruments to be a delightful surprise. I was expecting a sort of mix of Harry Potter with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I wasn't disappointed in that. What bonus I received, though; this has several elements that remind me of the Nine Princes of Amber by Roger Zelazny and even a bit of Philip Jose Farmer's Tier Series. What I mean by that is that we have a sort of parallel world living right over ours with families that seem to thrive on fealty and conflict; all driving the characters into epic battles.

Cassandra Clare doesn't waffle a bit and begins the high intrigue right at the beginning. Jase has been brought up as a Shadowhunter and Clary has lived as a normal in our normal world. Their father is possibly the most despised among the Shadowhunters and has been long presumed dead, but not everything is as it appears and Clary's mother Joselyn, who may be the only person alive who can sort this out for them, is in a self induced coma.

Clary Fray-Morgenstern and her close friend Simon are drawn into a deadly world they didn't know existed. A world that coexist with their world and includes Vampires; Warlocks; Werewolves and Faeries all who are controlled by the Shadowhunters who are the sons and daughters of Nephilim. Clary has Shadowhunter blood but has never been trained and Simon is a mere mortal. All of that is about to change when both their live are endangered when it's discovered that her presumed dead father has returned to make one more attempt to overthrow the governing body of the Shadowhunters.

I started with the five pack but after reading them all, for those who want to limit their reading I think that the first three books make one well rounded trilogy that ends satisfactorily but leaves a few threads undone. The next three round out the whole series and complete most of the incomplete threads and make for an epic story of love and betrayal and hunger for power. All the characters are well developed; each with their own strengths and weaknesses that they bring to the table. Many are truly their own worst enemies, but there are hardly any moments where the main characters get a chance to take an extra breath. I think I ended up doing a marathon read on the first three and resting before delving into the last two of this and then finally the sixth novel which comes separately.

This is a great series I think even for those in the Science Fiction Fantasy category. It might be a bit light for those who love the Pure Science Fiction but it is great in the Fantasy and it definitely is epic in length and depth. Cassandra Clare brings her own knowledge from living abroad into her work and weaves it nicely into the narrative. She has even managed to peak my interest in the Book of Enoch.

Though a reader might stop after the first three, I think it's difficult to resist the temptation to finish the next three. And for those who can't get enough of Cassandra Clare's world she has plenty of other stories within the world to offer.

One word of advice if you are reading these on your kindle you should buy them separately as it seems that Amazon and possibly the publisher have decided to punish the reader for buying them in a pack of 5 @ 37.99.
City of Bones 2.99
City of Ash 4.99
City of Glass 4.99
City of Fallen Angels 4.99
City of Lost Souls 4.99
total 22.95
add The City of Heavenly Fire @ 10.67 and you still don't reach 37.99. Maybe some day they might fix this.

J.L. Dobias

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review::Trool's Rules by George Ian Stuart

Trool's Rules (The Trebian Trilogy)Trool's Rules by George Stuart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trool's Rules by George Ian Stuart

This is one of those books that you can love and hate all at once. It uses a number of tropes and unfortunately the plot hinges upon a seriously flawed trope relating to sexual erotica elements that make this a mature read. I say that it's flawed because it is part of that trope that tries to make something special about sex and in this case augments the intellect of the aliens in the story. Think of My Stepmother is an Alien with the character Celest having to rediscover sex since her society has shunned such activities. In the same way the main character Si comes from an advanced society that shuns the messiness of sex and seems to also shun too much contact with others. The reason I call it flawed is because the whole premise of this novel relies on sex having some sort of generative or regenerative property that heightens the intellect of our Alien main character.

It just seems that this would be something that the majority who rule her world would know and sex would never have fallen into disfavor.

Thankfully the story itself devolves into more of a Dystopic novel bringing about the near destruction of all life on Earth. It's about half way through the novel that things get interesting as we follow the survivors trying to rebuild their lives and as we watch Si get drawn into helping them because of the consequences of her transgression into the world of sex. That's actually a plus to see that the consequences of sex are a driving factor in the plot.

Because there was a great difference between time on Earth and time on Si's home planet I had some issue with resolving how when and how quickly some things were taking place. Since a year on Si's planet was equal to many on Earth it becomes hazy trying to figure out what they mean when they suggest that the colonization fleet will arrive in 45 days. Aside from that; it seems that even though Si's people age more gracefully than Earth Humans they might have a similar gestation period.

This novel could have used a bit more editing, but the overall story was quite enjoyable though I have had a few qualms about the nature of some erotic parts. You will have to read this to figure that out. Though Si is not particularly the easiest character to sympathize with she is surrounded by humans who make her look much better than she really is.

This book and its cover are a good argument for not judging a book by its cover. If you don't read erotica then you might want to pass this one.

If you like different and quirky science fiction that comes off as much tongue and cheek as Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy this might be the entertainment for you.

J.L. Dobias

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review::The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant: Book One of the V Trilogy by Joanna Wiebe

The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant (V, #1)The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant by Joanna Wiebe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant: Book One of the V Trilogy by Joanna Wiebe

I had this book on my wish list for quite some time and it wasn't until I had a handful of paper-bounds that I wanted that I revisited it and found it at a bargain price for the hard copy. I already knew that this was going to be a bit away from my usual read, but I had read the sample and that had hooked me. Based on some other peoples responses I'd say read the sample first. The book itself is quite good despite the impression that it holds onto a number of tropes. Tropes are not really cliche's although I suppose some tired readers like to put them there.

This book is what you would get if you took and put the movies My Girl, Sixth Sense, and Ghost all together. Add a bit of the chatty nature of one Anne of Green Gables and that about sums it up. I liked all of the above so there is little doubt that this book entertained me. I've also probably given away too much just in putting all these together.

Anne has arrived at new school on a somewhat secluded island. This comes after she lost her mother, who might have committed suicide and though Anne's father is a mortician Anne is having trouble dealing with this death. But Anne has a somewhat stranger side; she admits to having kissed the corpse of a handsome, but dead, teen. And now Anne is not sure if this school, which seems to be exclusive in many ways, might in fact be more of a punishment than any thing else. She has no idea how her father can afford it and the arrangement of her life near the campus is getting stranger for everything she discovers as she goes to orientation.

The island the school is on is divided by a line where she's been told there is a strict rule that the locals don't cross over to the school and the students don't cross over to the locals. Of course that has to be the first rule for Anne to break. This has eventual tragic consequences but it is necessary to drive the plot of the story.

The school, Cania Christy, is really strange. Every student is competing to be Valedictorian of their class (year). Well almost everyone except for Pilot Stone who claims he's not trying for anything outstanding. Then there is Ben who is a mystery, but then his father is part of the faculty. Both boys take a shine to her, Pilot is friendly while Ben's air of mystery frustrates her more than anything else. All of the girls in a specific clic seem to be members of a familiar trope but Joanna Wiebe skillfully turns many of the tropes on end by the time she begins to reveal the true plot to the story.

Anne does not live on campus, another mystery, she lives with a woman named Gigi Malone. This puts Anne close to the edge of the limits or boundary and drives her into breaking the rules. The school also has a thing it calls PT which is a specific talent that the students declare that they are then graded upon how well they use the talent. The choices Anne has are puzzling and very disturbingly odd. She also gets Teddy, the person assigned to her to keep tabs of her and her progress on her PT. Teddy, it would seem, will also be spending time at the Malone house. Teddy is a rather annoying and sometimes lascivious young man.

The first half of the book builds the suspense of strange and eventually sinister things while Anne's prattling keeps the reader off guard enough to be distracted from adding too many things together .

Eventually when the gloves come off there are things we find out about Anne that begin to move the pieces all into place until the reader begins to wonder just where Joanna Wiebe is taking them in this ever darkening vision.

This is written somewhat toward the YA but I think that anyone interested in Fantasy, suspense and a bit of horror will find it entertaining unless they are easily annoyed by the mix of all the different tropes. I really think that it's necessary to read all the way to the end so that the reader can see what Joanna does with a few of those tropes to throw them on their ears.

I really enjoyed it and even though I now have to wait for the next book to come out, it was well worth the read for me.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Free Book:: Free E-book @ Smashwords Use The Code::

For free copies of the Cripple-Mode Ebooks use the following codes at Smashwords.

Cripple-Mode: Electric Touche Book Two Code:: VH48C

Cripple-Mode: Hot Electric Book One Code:: RW100

If you have time; a review or comment would be appreciated.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review::Fade to Black by Francis Knight

Fade to Black (Rojan Dizon, #1)Fade to Black by Francis Knight

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fade to Black by Francis Knight

This is really a great debut novel. There is a lot to like about it and there is a bit even to detest. It's written in a stylish Noir that reminds me of the old black and white mysteries with the gumshoes. Sort of a Mystic Maltese Falcon. The main character is Rojan Dizon a pain Mage who really isn't all that fond of pain so he's tried not to do too much magic. There's more to it than that though because too much pain magic can lead to a very dark place that often is impossible for the Mage to find his way out of. Rojan has lived in a dark world in a black existence trying to avoid another darkness that makes everything around him seem pale in comparison. He uses his magic to locate people and that's how the reader is introduced to him when an unsavory client hires him to find and bring back his teen age daughter Lise who has run away. Lise has some tricks up her sleeve that have made his job particularly difficult and he's had to resort to a device manufactured by a dwarf colleague. The device amplifies his magic which mean he has to still endure pain but a bit less of it to get good result. Rojan is not a particularly likeable character but what he does in his interaction with Lise tells us that there is someone with just a bit more heart behind the veneer that covers him in the first part of the book.

As the story unfolds we begin to find the reason that Rojan lives on the edge using his magic illegally and defying the Ministry. There was a golden age when Pain Mages controlled things and were powerful. They were trained to properly use the magic. Then the Ministry stepped in and began to ban the use of pain magic. Things were controlled and operated using Synth, but Synth turned out to be a very bad thing and now they have something less powerful running things called Glow. And now they have a dark dystopic environment that is still poisoned by the Synth and there are too many mysteries behind what makes the Glow operate.

This dystopic world is similar in many way to the one in Thea von Harbou's Metropolis. And there are a number of other similarities to the two stories. Rojan has a family a brother though his mother has died from the effects of synth and his father has run off abandoning them. Rojan too has run; despite his promise to his mother that he would take care of his brother. And now his brother has contacted him because someone has killed his brother's wife and kidnapped their daughter. This novel is chock full of old tropes but this is the story of Rojan and his journey of self discovery that takes him to the depths of the world he would have preferred to forget.

The trail to his niece takes him to the lowest level of society where it still rains Synth and life is cheap and there is evidence that the Ministry is hip deep in whatever it is that is driving the social order in the lowest levels of society. In the depths of despair where even the errant ministry minions might find that life is cheap; they are still feared by those who would kill them because of what they represent even to the cut throats of the social order.

It is there that Rojan must confront his greatest fears and hope to find a balance in the power that he's been trying to avoid. Here he discovers love for an idea that is represented by a person who is nothing like that ideal, but masquerades as that person he is drawn to. When the time comes Rojan has to draw deep into himself to decide if he will do what is right or try to return to his comfort-zone where he's kept himself hidden.

This is an outstanding SFF that most Fantasy lovers should enjoy and some Science Fiction aficionados will appreciate.

It will definitely be worthwhile to see what Francis Knight follows this with.

J.L. Dobias

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review::The Girl They Sold to the Moon by Chris Stevenson

The Girl They Sold to the MoonThe Girl They Sold to the Moon by Chris Stevenson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Girl They Sold to the Moon by Chris Stevenson

I wanted the ARC to this book but they never got back to me; so I had to buy a copy and wait patiently for it to arrive in the mail, which was all well and good because I had other things to do anyway. Finding myself with an extra day, where I wanted to read something just a bit on the light side, I picked it up and read the boldfaced type all the way from the front right through to the finish. This book reminded me some of the old science fiction I read some thirty years ago. Some of the Robert Heinlein juvenile Science Fiction series. I enjoyed reading it and I want to give it high marks, but I'm going to be brutally honest about a few things.

Chris Stevenson has created a sort of sassy character in Tilly Breedlove who is sold into a sort of slavery in order to keep her father out of prison. Her mother has some few years earlier passed away and without her influence her father has fallen prey to all his vices and she has no delusions, going into this whole arrangement, that he will change his ways. In this dystopic future that sounds like a throwback to the times Charles Dickens wrote of; we have a society that allows parents to sell their children into some sort of work camp slavery while parents try to pay off their debts to stay out of prison through a loan which they must then pay off before their children can be released.

That whole arraignment lends itself toward some real potential for failure.

The Girl They Sold to the Moon bears some strong resemblance to the one other book I have read by this author: The War Gate. By this I mean that it has several threads running through it that make up a whole bunch of mini plots that revolve around the main plot that seems to be a soft science fiction light weight which is why I call this light reading. It is a good Young Adult novel and it almost seems like a twisted merging of Dickens' David Copperfield and Oliver Twist and Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars staged in the environment of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. But the whole thing diverges into it's own world because of that potential for the slave workers to become permanent property of the company when someone defaults on the loan.

Of The Girl They Sold to the Moon and The War Gate similarities there is that striking male character that is a magician. And both books delve into the world of entertainment while striking off in slightly divergent directions of Science Fiction in the one and Magic in the other. If I have any complaints at all it's that there sometime is a difficulty for me to zero in on which plot is the prime plot of the novel.

The most likely candidate is the dystopic society's inhumane treatment of these young family members who are traded off and sometimes left to pay their own way out of a system that seems to have the cards stacked against them. But I get confused about this very plot when the potential evil motives of the company are often glossed over too quickly in favor of the sub plot of the infighting between the chattel-ed entertainers vie-ing for the top position; a position that only serves to make the company richer through their success. Then there is the moon-crossed love story hindered by the presence of rules prohibiting the girls from fraternizing with anyone in any close manner on or off work. Along with all of this we have a thread about Tilly's desire to be in the very work she is now in and the frustration in the knowledge that her unexpected success is all going to someone else benefit until she gets released.

This is a great light read of soft SFF with some romance and a couple of good cat-fights.

J.L. Dobias

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review::Blood Sacrifice (The Healers of Meligna, Book 3) by K.J. Colt

Blood SacrificeBlood Sacrifice by K.J. Colt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blood Sacrifice (The Healers of Meligna, Book 3) by K.J. Colt

When it comes to fantasy I will admit that it's about third down on my list. I'm a lover of Science Fiction and Science Fantasy and then finally Fantasy. So it might say a lot that I'm finding K. J. Colt rising quickly up the ranks of my favorite authors. She has been enticing me with her voice for the first two volumes of this series and now I think I've settle into a place where I expect certain things from her as an author and she doesn't disappoint and it's encouraging to watch her grow in her writing.

Her main character Adenine is beginning to shape up to become a very complex character. In the earlier books she was young and seemed so naive at times. She was being thrust around by whatever fate the plans of others seemed to have in store for her. The reader slowly watches as she begins to assert herself and develop into something bordering onto rebellious, and that's with some very good reasons. Treated like property and as a slave to the Queens with the proviso that things will only go well for her if she tow the line as all the other healers and prostitute herself for the glory of men and her Queen.

In the third novel Adenine has resolved to save other young girls like herself from such a fate, but it would seem this time her largest battle will be against herself. Going behind the backs of her friends to do things alone she creates more trouble than good, which has begun to be a trademark failing she has developed. She has a long way to go to grow out of this and it's going to cost her more this time then it has in the past. She is afraid that what she does always ends up hurting others and she's having a great difficulty letting the past go while continuing to berate herself for what she has done.

Adenine is living in an era where she is expected to keep in line with her head down and do as she's told; and the harshness of the reality of that life has triggered her rebellious side. This time all the stops are pulled as she seemingly unwisely reacts poorly to all authority and even her King.

In many ways Adenine reminds me of Edmond Dante's of The Count of Monte Cristo when he sheds the life of Edmond Dante and becomes the Count and finds himself hardening his heart to enter into the darkness of the deed he must accomplish. He too had trouble letting the past go. And she does go deeply into some dark areas of her character with some moments of self deception and ultimately inner conflict. She attempts to make use of her ability to heal herself by inflicting herself with wounds and become inured to pain, so that she can teach herself to live with the pain with hopes of becoming invincible in battle. And in a way this seeming invincibility might be making her overly forward in her dealings with authority. Unlike Edmond Dante; Adenine keeps finding herself back in prison for her perceived misdeeds.

Adenine has learned a secret about healing that allows her to discard the old way of healing through sex; and she's getting ready to preform test to determine if others might have the same healing blood. If she can get past the narrow-mindedness of the leaders she might be able to teach them this before it is too late. But the clock is ticking because the Queens are getting ready to expand their territory and there are others such as the emperor of Bivinia who are ready to move to stop the Queens from expanding and committing themselves to their own territorial expansion. But Adenine is a healer and years of prejudice to healers are hard to drive past to get to the point where people of influence will allow her to help them.

There are a number of well crafted twists and turns in this novel that kept me on the edge of my seat and propelled me to finish this in one sitting.

This is great world building Fantasy for the lovers of Fantasy: with complex characters.
Adenine has her work cut out for her and sometimes she's her own worst enemy.

Looking forward to the next installment in this series and for those who haven't read any of the previous novels I recommend you get acquainted starting with the first novel. You won't be disappointed.

J.L. Dobias

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Monday, June 16, 2014

All You Need is Kill (Edge of Tomorrow) by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

All You Need Is KillAll You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All You Need is Kill (Edge of Tomorrow)by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

I don't usually write reviews of films; so why should I start now? Let's forget that three other people wrote the screenplay for this little gem of a film. I enjoyed the film aside from having just a moment of confusion about the ending.(Hope that doesn't stand as a spoiler.) As soon as I got home I got onto Amazons site and downloaded the book. This turned out to be fortuitous because the book was every bit as good, if not better than the movie in many ways and it was, not so surprisingly, nothing like the movie. This works out well for both because if you have read the book you can still enjoy the movie as something quite different. And if you've seen the movie I would recommend that you read the book it came from. The ending is less of a head shaker but then you need to read it to find out what I mean by that.

So I've heard it said that this was like Groundhog Day mixed with Starship Troopers. And more reverently compared to Groundhog Day mixed with Independence Day. Since these Mimics reminded me a lot of the Matrix Sentinel I think we can toss some of that into it too. But that's the movie and I'm cutting quickly to the original novel from which the idea was taken.

In the book the Mimics are described as looking somewhat like frogs which comes nowhere close to what we see in the movie. Keiji(Cage) Kiriya is not a Major in the US Forces(as William Cage in the movie is) but instead a UDF Jacket Jockey-fresh and green as they come going into his first real battle. A short battle at that, and perhaps one of the longest short battles ever. His first meeting with the Full Metal Bitch (Mad Wargarita as the Japanese refer to her) is when she quiets him, after he's fatally hit, with some casual conversation; while she waits for him to die so she can take his battery. This is the introduction to the beginning of the loops. From Keiji's POV we get the grit of the war and perhaps some of the bitterness toward those in command sending out the Jackets to die.

The story itself begins much like the book The Good Soldier Svejk, by Jaroslav Hasek (which is a dark comedy on the horror of war and the incompetence of the Army.) The movie starts much the same, but for my tastes seems to be a bit more comedic ( and that might well be the reason to compare it to Starship Troopers), which may have diminished the characters that surround Keiji as he prepares each day to go to battle vowing to save as many of his comrades as he can. Rita Vrataski may be the closest character carried over from book to movie. Well the red hair might be a bit off or washed out in the movie. But I would have to agree with some that the movie portrayal somewhat diminishes the strong female character by placing her further back from the lens than is in the book. In the book the reader gets a whole chapter from her POV.

The book also contains an account of the use of a battle axe trademark of Rita and how Keiji quickly picks up on the value of such; enough to begin training with one as soon as possible. I particularly love the explanation of how the axe would be the weapon of choice for close battle.

In the book there is a far greater field from which to become acquainted with the characters. This and the many differences of book to movie make it a separate story in itself that stands well and above the film in so many ways I can not emphasize enough the importance of reading this story as a sort of measure of a much more powerful story.

For those who haven't seen the movie it is worth watching even for those who have read the book because in so many ways it is a completely different story being told.

For a movie that is quite outstanding on it's own; the book is far superior and well worth a read.

This is great SFF for the Military Minded Fan.

J.L. Dobias

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