Saturday, May 25, 2013

Disappear - Iain Edward Henn

    2012; 322 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Murder-Mystery; Whodunit/Howdunit.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    Eighteen years ago, Jennifer Parke’s husband Brian stepped out into a rainy night for a quick walk down to the store for some cigarettes, and vanished.  Neither the police nor private investigators could find even a hint of a lead.  Eight years ago, he was declared legally dead, and Jennifer moved on with her life.

    So it is quite the surprise when Brian’s body shows up suddenly, the victim of a hit-and-run.  Strangely, it’s found in the middle of the very street he disappeared on.  He’s in the same clothes, with the same wallet, and he’s still wet from that evening’s downpour.  One other strange thing.  He doesn’t appear to have aged a day in those 18 years.

What’s To Like...
    The writing is polished and is pure storytelling.  Stephen King would be proud.  All of the characters  – even the minor ones – are interesting to meet.  This is not a cozy.  There is some graphic violence and some sex.  I found the style to work nicely.

    The story is set in Australia, where Iain Edward Henn hails from.  This means there are both Britishisms and Aussieisms.  Kewlness. 

    There are two other plotlines  – a serial killer with some problems of his own, and the world of Jennifer’s flourishing business.  I was worried that bringing them together at the end would be clunky (or left undone), but everything resolves logically, surprisingly, and seamlessly.  This is a standalone novel.

    One quibble.  At one point, “clouds of Carbon Monoxide“ are seen.  Sorry, but Carbon Monoxide (CO) is colorless, odorless, and tasteless.  Clouds of CO certainly exist, but you just-as-certainly won’t see them. 

Kewlest New Word...
Pommy (adj.)  :  British.  (Aussieism; usually disparaging, but sometimes affectionate)

    “A pleasure to meet you,” said Kaplan.  “We’ve just been hearing all about you.”
    “Don’t believe a word.”  She took her seat and nodded to Roger.
    “We’ve heard only good things,” Kaplan told her.
    “Like I said, don’t believe a word.”  (loc. 838)

    “I believe there have been cases like this before, Neil, cases that appear to deal with a range of ... inexplicable phenomena.  They’re classified top secret, investigated by special units.  Eventually the files are closed.  Unresolved.”
    “I don’t like to say it, but the only obvious fact or clue we have is one that makes no sense.  Can’t officially be considered by the department.  Parkes and Brayson simply appear to have slipped through time in the blink of an eye, like characters from a H.G. Wells novel.”  (loc. 2438)

Kindle Details...
    Disappear sells for $0.99 at Amazon, which is a really good deal.  Iain Edward Henn has one other novel, The Delta Chain, available for the Kindle.  It sells for $2.99, and appears to be of the same genre.

“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and melt into the sun.” (loc. 1907)
    Disappear is both a Whodunit and a Howdunit.  Is the mystery of Brian Parke’s non-aging natural or supernatural?  Was (not "Is", since he’s dead) he a time-traveler, or did he find the Fountain of Youth?  I enjoy this uncertainty of the genre.  The only other author(s) I can think of who write this way is the team of Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child.

    I call Disappear a “goldilocks mystery”.  It’s not too simple and not too complex.  The “who” of the whodunit is neither obvious nor arbitrary.  Everything is “just right” about this book.

    9 Stars.  It is always a pleasure when you find a gem for your Kindle, by an author you’re not acquainted with, and for under $1.00.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

With A Tangled Skein - Piers Anthony

    1985; 380 pages.  New Author? : No.  Book 3 (out of 8) in the Incarnations of Immortality series.  Genre : Fantasy; Series.  Overall Rating : 4½*/10.

    Niobe is going to shed a lot of tears.  Her young husband, Cedric, has just been shot, and now she’s learned that she was the intended target.  Even worse, the whole thing was plotted by Satan himself.

    Niobe will move Heaven and Earth to get Cedric back.  But if that won’t work, she will somehow find a way to take her revenge on Satan.  You could say there is going to be Hell to pay.  It’s Fate.

What’s To Like...
    As with the previous books in this series, a new “Incarnation” is showcased in With A Tangled Skein.  This time it’s Fate; in the first two books we met Death and Time.  Once again, Piers Anthony cleverly tweaks the mythology – here he puts all three Fates (Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos) in one body; they are separate entities in Greek legend.  If you liked the plotline in the first two books, you’ll be happy here too – it’s the same thing.  A mortal is thrust into the role of an Incarnation, runs afoul of Satan, and bests him in a contest.

    There are also some serious weaknesses; most notably the writing and the storytelling.  It feels like the target audience is Young Teens, and Piers Anthony gets incredibly repetitive as if he’s worried that the reader isn’t grasping some basic concepts – Niobe loves Cedric, Satan can’t hurt an Incarnation, etc.

   There are meaningless tangents, among them a quest to procure a pair of magical items.  Major characters die out on a whim.  And we get some of the author’s personal – but irrelevant – views on diverse things such as Ted Kennedy, the UN, and the IRS.  There are some neat twists – the deer get to shoot back at the hunters – but even these have no bearing on the main Niobe-vs.-Satan plotline.

Kewlest New Word...
Welkin (noun) : The sky; the vault of heaven; the firmament.

    (A)n old black woman sat in her rocking chair on a rickety porch, watching children play handball in the street.  She looked up as Atropos appeared before her.  “’Bout time you got here,” she remarked.
    Even Atropos was taken aback by this.  “You know me?”
    I know you.  I was expecting Death, though, not Fate.”
   “I have come to ask you to take my place.  If you do, you will meet Death only as a business associate.”
    “I thought he already was.  I’ve buried more kin than I can count on my hands.”  (pg. 223)

    Clotho’s temper flared again.  She spoke a few sharp words in Japanese.
    Mars smiled.  “And you are the mother of a sickly dog,” he responded in the same language.  Niobe and Atropos picked up the meaning from Clotho’s mind.
    Clotho was aghast.  “You understood!”
    “Sweet stuff, War knows every language of mankind!  If you wish to quarrel, you have come to the right party.”  (pg. 261)

“When an unscheduled death occurs, the threads of Fate tangle.”  (pg. 60)
    The big problem with With A Tangled Skein is the sexism.  Here’s a couple examples :
    “She was no muscular man...” (329)
    “...not for a weak, middle-aged woman...”  (343)
    “A man may have leaped across; she had no such hope...”  (349)
    Wow.  Is the author trying to give young female readers a low self-image or what?!

    But even that pales in comparison to rape.  Apparently, guys can demand rape as compensation for losing face, and girls who find themselves in that situation are advised to just lay back and enjoy it.  Words fail me.

    This is probably as far as I go with this series.  My reviews of the first two books are here and here.  4½ Stars.  Add one star you haven’t read any other Incarnations of Immortality books; the plotline will be fresher.  And if you have a young daughter, hide this book someplace where she’ll never find it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Truth About Sharks and Pigeons - Matt Phillips

    2012; 320 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Humor; Adventure; Spoof.  Overall Rating : 6½*/10.

    Bill Posters is the Chosen One; the Britak Tain.  Okay, actually he’s choice # 768,271.  It’s better not to talk about the ones above him on the list.  Suffice it to say, they are no longer around.

    It’s up to Bill to save the world, and the pigeons, from the imminent Shark invasion, and he’s got only 24 hours to do so.  But he's not alone, Fern will be with him.  She’s a Selected, a highly-trained bodyguard.   Unfortunately, when you’re the 768,271st choice for Chosen One, you get an equally low-ranked Selected.

What’s To Like...
    There are talking pigeons and Segway-riding sharks; heroic corgis and sheep doctors.  There’s a Rambo-type mercenary named Gregor Manriguez on Bill’s side, who’s almost as dangerous to everyone else as he is to himself.  Bill and Fern make for interesting characters, even if Bill is described as the most unremarkable person in the world.

    Humor is always a dicey thing.  What one person sees as hilarious; the next person finds stupid.  My wife and I have these differing opinions about Monty Python’s Holy Grail movie.  Matt Phillips writes this in a Tom Holt literary style (hey, the author name-dropped TH first), and I personally found The Truth About Sharks & Pigeons to be sufficiently witty, and the humor to be blessedly non-repetitive.  You won't mistake this for Tom Holt zaniness though.

    The ending ties up the basic save-the-world plotline, but leaves lots of loose ends for a sequel, which is reportedly in the works.  There are a bunch of “extras” tacked on as appendices – Alternate Endings, Deleted Scenes, Bloopers, a pitch for the Soundtrack, Contests, and the first couple chapters of the sequel.  The Alt-Endings were a hoot, and the Deleted Scenes appear to be parts that the beta-readers felt were better off left out.  I enjoyed both of those sections, but the rest of the extras didn’t do much for me.

Kewlest New Word...
Grotty (adj.)  :  Unpleasant and of poor quality.  (Britishism)

    “The Mark?”  It’s an ancient pigeon symbol: two circles side by side representing this world and the next, with the pigeon rune for knowledge – an elongated ellipse with the inverted ‘T’ of truth at the top – rising up from in between the circles.”
    Bill tried to picture this in his mind, succeeded, and then started rubbing furiously at his forehead.  “Are you telling me you have stamped my forehead with an invisible drawing of a –“
    Fern grabbed his hand from his forehead and pulled him down the street.  “No time for that Bill, we’ve not got a moment to lose.”  (loc. 887)

    “As most people instinctively realise, the time-space continuum rubs a little thin in launderettes.  It makes the teleportation process easier,” he explained.
    “I’m sorry, rubs thin?” queried Bill, halting the sheep before he made his way through the curtain.
    “Yes, you know.  Time passes differently in a launderette.  The machine takes an age while you are in there, but leave for thirty seconds and when you come back it has finished and some git has taken all of your clothes and dumped them in a heap on the grubby lid.  Tricksy places, launderettes.”  (loc. 3459)

Kindle Details...
    The Truth About Sharks & Pigeons sells for $5.99 at Amazon.  Matt Phillips also has a couple of short stories posted for $0.99  , but I don’t think they have any tie-in to this storyline.

“Ferr Lap Ing Peck Ingspr Ed Indis Ease.”  That’s ancient pigeon,” explained Clyde.  “Watch, defend, protect.” (loc. 448)
    The mechanics of TTAS&P are good – the pacing is crisp, and the show-don’t-tell maxim is deftly adhered-to.  Unfortunately, the storytelling leaves a lot to be desired.  A lot of the plot twists seem arbitrary and Deus Ex Machinas pop up with disappointing frequency.  Some examples…

     Our hero is captured by the baddies at one point, but they don’t see any reason to search him.  Bad move, bad guys.  The evil stronghold is incredibly easy to penetrate, and as our heroes flee it, Bill somehow manages to find and stow some night-vision binoculars.  How necessary later on.  How convenient.  Later, when a Star-Trek-type transporter is needed, well, guess what pops up?

    If you don’t mind these incredible suspensions-of-belief, The Truth About Sharks & Pigeons can be an entertaining read.  The raw talent is certainly there.  And since this is a debut novel, one can always hope that things will be more polished and refined in the sequel.  With a few less YFKM moments in the storyline.  6½ Stars.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Emperor's Tomb - Steve Berry

    2010; 495 pages.  New Author? : No.  Book 6 in the Cotton Malone series.  Genre : Action-Advenlture; Cri-Fi.  Overall Rating : 9*/10.

    The video is chilling.  Someone is water-boarding Cassiopeia Vitt, and Cotton Malone is forced to watch.  The demand is simple – deliver the artifact that Cassiopeia has stolen and which she says she left with Cotton.  Immediately.

    Cotton has no choice but to agree; Cassiopeia has saved his life more than once.  There’s just one problem.  She hasn’t given him anything, and so he has no idea what “artifact” to deliver.

What’s To Like...
    There are three motifs to The Emperor’s Tomb.  One is the historical theme, which centers around the tomb of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi.  Another is the scientific theme, dealing with a plausible wrinkle to the energy crisis.  And finally, there’s the action theme – thrills and spills as Cotton and company battle baddies to save people.

    Steve Berry seamlessly interweaves all three motifs into a complex page-turner.  You are never quite sure where anyone’s loyalties (outside of Cotton, of course) ultimately lie.  Not all of Cotton’s plans work out, and I like that.

    Some of the story takes place in Belgium and the Netherlands, but the bulk of it is set in China.  That’s always a plus for me.  Berry hits you with a bunch of interesting facts about the history and culture of China, but it’s never overdone, and amazingly, he does it without having visited China.

    There’s a kewl “Author’s Afterword” section at the end, followed by a 25-page short story about how Cassiopeia met one of the characters in the book.  I enjoyed both, though neither is essential.  It is enlightening however, to read which parts of the book are real and which are pure fiction.

    As with all of Steve Berry’s novels, this is a standalone, despite being part of a series.  The chapters are James Patterson-ish in length, there are no slow spots, and the story builds nicely to an exciting ending.

    “Faced with death, he who is ready to die will survive while he who is determined to live will die.  That thought has been expressed another way.  Shang wu chou ti.
    He’d heard the phrase before.
    Pull down the ladder after the ascent.
    “The most common interpretation instructs us to lure the enemy into a trap, then cut off his escape,” Pau said.  “Different adversaries are lured in different ways.  The greedy are enticed with the promise of gain.  The arrogant with a sign of weakness.  The inflexible by a ruse.  Which are you, Minister?”  (pg. 50)

    There’s quite a fight happening up there,” Ni said.
    Pau grabbed his arm and they started for the terrace door.  “All the more reason for us to leave.  We can retreat to our previous position, away from the garden, and observe.  My associate will do what he can to secure the lamp.  He’s-“
    “I was thinking capable.  But he is certainly both.”  (pg. 152)

You may rob the Three Armies of their commander in chief, but you cannot deprive the humblest peasant of his opinion..  (pg. 17)
    My only quibble with The Emperor’s Tomb is the stereotyping of the Chinese people.  No, not the baddies, and not the eunuch ninjas (“ninja eunuchs”?).  Rather, the everyday Chinese folks themselves.  They get portrayed as brain-controlled peons living in constant fear of the government.  Sorry, Steve.  I’ve been to China.  I’ve seen firsthand what a warm, friendly, and cultured people they are.

    Other than that, this is vintage thrills and kills from an accomplished writer.  Steve Berry kicks out a novel each year, and they’re always a treat to read.  Some folks criticize him as being formulaic, and that’s probably true.  But hey, he comes up with fascinating new historic and scientific angles for each novel.  And if a formula is good, it doesn’t get tiring.

    9 Stars.  Another exciting, well-researched, stellar effort by my favorite Action/Adventure author.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Chosen - Jolea M. Harrison

    2011; 293 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  .  Book 1 (out of 8) in the Guardians of the Word series.  Genre : Epic Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    Dain and Dynan are a pretty special pair of brothers.  For starters, they’re twins.  And telepaths.  And princes.  And the ones that prophecy says will save or doom the world.

    But they’re only 16 years old.  And they have normal teenage priorities.  Like girls and archaeology.  One of those interests is going to get them in a lot of trouble.  We’ll let you guess which one.

What’s To Like...
    Fans of Robert Jordan’s WoT series (like me) might get a feeling a déjà vu.   The Ultimate Evil is about to break free after 1,000 years of being contained.  There is a “taint” to deal with, and there’s even a Lews Therin-type of character flitting around.  I kept waiting for one of the girls to start tugging on her braid every couple pages.

    But Chosen quickly goes its own way.  There is a religious presence here, where there is none in WoT.  And a lot of the book is spent in an “other world”, which I really enjoyed.  To boot, you won’t have to wait 20+ years for the series to be completed.  Jolea M. Harrison has just published the eighth, and final, book.

    The weapons repertoire is unique.  There are swords, knives, and arrows; but also laser rifles and transport pods.  There is magic (which is not the same as religion), and well-developed medical technology.

    You will meet a slew of characters, so you might want to make a list.  Mine had 30 names on it by the end of the book.  A lot of these play only minor roles, but I suspect they'll have bigger parts as the series progresses.  So I'm thinking it’s prudent to get them sorted out now.

    I don’t think I’d call this a YA novel, even though one hero takes a vow of purity to abstain from, well, you-know-what.  Sarah Palin would be proud.  There are some bloody parts, and the f-word gets dropped a couple times.  Still, I think teenage fantasy readers will enjoy Chosen just as much as adults will.

    As he watched the service, Maralt questioned again if he believed the things he’d been told nearly the whole of his life.  The idea that their worlds, all of humanity, were locked in some sort of time loop wasn’t an easy concept to accept.  It would continue until a specific set of events happened, or were prevented as the case may be, breaking the cycle and restoring the true Gods.  Maralt wasn’t so sure he believed in the Gods.  (loc. 769)

    “Alurn Telaerin is a ghost?”
    The High Bishop pulled in a sharp breath, reminding Maralt to be careful of his choice of words.  Being called a ghost was nearly as bad as being called a wraith.
    “Soul spirit is the preferred term,” Gradyn said with an arched brow.  (loc. 1009)

Kindle Details...
    Chosen is a free Kindle download at Amazon.  ANAICT, it is always free.  The rest of the books in the series range from $2.99  to $5.99,  and increase in page count up to 700+ pages.  You'll get your money's worth.

“The land of the damned isn’t for the living.” (loc. 1976)
    The storyline drags a bit in the middle (at the hospital and at the temple), as talking steals the spotlight from the action.  But this is not the same as “telling instead of showing”; the characters just get the yabbers.  I only had one WTF moment – when the “second” rescue gets carried out with jaw-dropping ease.

    But the ending more than makes up for these quibbles.  While Chosen is Part One of an 8-volume epic, the basic plotline here is wrapped up nicely, and you can read it as a standalone.

    I found Chosen to be enjoyable, but not compelling.  The writing and storyline piqued my interest, but didn’t pull me in the way some epic fantasies have.  Then again, keeping in mind that this was Jolea M. Harrison’s debut novel, maybe I've yet to see her best stuff.  Book 2, Myth, sits on my Kindle, waiting to be read.  7 Stars.  Rating subject to change, pending further reading of the series.