Something to mull over...

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Memory Thief by Bryce Moore

I was provided a review copy by Adaptive Studios through Edelweiss, and since my pre-teens and I enjoy reading MG fiction together, I gladly agreed to share my thoughts.

First of all, this book does not shy away from describing the brutal impact of divorce on young children.  The arguments and yelling that the main character clearly overhears from his parents are shared as an everyday occurrence in their household, including the parents’ discussion on divorce proceedings.  The main character (Ben) and his twin sister also reference other divorces that they have known about from their classmates.  So, while the offer of the “memory artist” would have been an excellent springboard for a fantastical MG adventure, Ben chooses instead to request that his parents’ memories be altered with the hope of preventing a divorce.

Wow, that alone squeezed my heart and elevated my respect for middle grade kids.  They are more emotionally mature than we give them credit for.  I know that teens in general are egocentric by nature, but so are we as adults, especially if we refuse to work things out within a difficult marriage.

Of course things go downhill pretty fast.  That’s what happens when we mask the truth, or when we build upon a lie.  Stealing memories is basically laying a foundation of untruth.  But this is what made the story crazy entertaining and stressful at the same time.  Things got really sticky and complicated, and it took a lot of storytelling talent and maturity for the author to keep everything tied together and sensible.  The story ends with a satisfying ending.

Honestly, I previously thought that nothing can beat the concept of a pensieve (Dumbledore’s version of a basin to store random thoughts and memories).  However, the prospect of trading, bartering, loaning, or exchanging memories among various people kind of trumps the pensieve.  The storage place doesn’t have to be an object, it can be other people’s minds!  Of course, a disaster will ensue, but the concept is fascinating and intriguing.

This was a great read that can be enjoyed as a family.  It provided for a meaningful discussion afterwards.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Shooter by Caroline Pignat

Teens being their usual narcissistic selves

The author did a great job at assembling a diverse cast of high school students who couldn’t be more different from each other.  Despite their social and personality differences, the cast was forced to interact with each other in a confined space due to a shooting threat-related lockdown enforced on the entire school.  Through their constipated conversations, the teens end up realizing, in each of their own ways, how they have all been too insecure, selfish, and preoccupied with themselves and along the way, denied the formation of authentic friendships which crossed boundaries set by cliques.  As you may have guessed, this shared traumatic experience allowed them to reveal more of themselves to each other — something that wouldn’t have been possible under normal circumstances.  Amongst this small circle of students lay the key to deflecting the plot of the school shooter.  The story revolves around their discovery of each other, and how, together, they were able to change the destiny of their school, their classmates and their teachers.

I enjoyed this story.  Great beginning, slow middle (around the 30-60% mark), with an action-packed and positively charged ending.  I received a review copy from NetGalley.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Meeting of the Mustangs by Cathy Kennedy

This is a beautifully written story – in a classic, traditional storytelling style.  The story focuses on a certain black colt and his fellow horses.  They are the main characters in this story, and they are portrayed to have the same thoughts, emotions and senses that we have.  The descriptions of the various settings are vivid and colorful, and they allow the reader to literally feel the ambiance and stand alongside the colt.

The author wrote this while still in grade school and her imagination really shines through.  This is the kind of book that I would highly recommend be included as part of required reading – for both homeschooled and regular-schooled kids.  I would love to have short story writing to be brought back as part of Language Arts.  Meeting of the Mustangs would be a stellar example of one excellently written fictional story.

My primary and middle school kids definitely felt the obvious difference between this book and the current fantasy books that proliferate our local bookstore.  They said this reminds them of the classics they read in the past – Lassie, Moby Dick, Black Beauty, The Black Stallion and even the Little House books.

Since this is more of a “life” story of the colt, there isn’t exactly a traditional plot, nor the usual climax and resolution of an adventure book.  In that regard, this may also not be to everybody’s taste.  

I received a review copy of this book.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Art of Secrets

Art of Secrets is well-written, smart, witty and unpredictable. It uses the scrapbook/case file approach, where each chapter is a documentation of a character’s point of view. The format of the POV clippings change with each chapter and can take the form of either a news article, a journal entry, an interview transcript, an email, a conversation or a train of thoughts. So while the story starts out with a big trigger event, and the initial chapters lean towards an investigation taking place, at the end of the book, a bigger story emerges – an insight on the fascinating tendency that we all have to mask the true nature of ourselves.

Secrecy is an art, not a science. People are walking marketers. The only things we know about each other are what we choose to divulge. We can be as fascinating, charming, disarming, or as hateful as we want others to perceive us. Real motives only surface through time.

It brings to mind, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is.” (Jer. 17:9).

This book is highly recommended for leisure and/or assigned reading as well as book clubs! I recommend the printed version over the Kindle edition – the FORMATTING is superb and adds to the entire scrapbook/case file experience! I am looking forward to more creative fiction from this author.

Liars, Inc.

The characters are in their late teens, and their lifestyle reflects current trends - a bit disturbing and disheartening, but we cannot turn a blind eye to the lives of current-day teens. So, while strategic thinking, self-positioning and self-marketing (all requiring lies in one form or another) may be the way to go nowadays, esp. among the young people still braving the waters of peer pressure, underneath the facade lies the normal, beating heart. A heart that desires to be honest, to care deeply, and to love truly. A heart that's vulnerable to abuse and hurt.

This is a good book that is sobering, but at the same time, hopeful. I would recommend it for a book club or even a small group discussion among young adults (aged between 20's and 30's).

The Best Mistake Mystery

Written in typical middle-grade omniscient and sarcastic language, this story revolves around character Stephen Nobel, who is an uber inquisitive, awkward and analytical boy with an extreme glass-is-half-empty and if-there-is-smoke-then-there-must-be-fire mentality.

Stephen gets involved with a series of misadventures and because of his personality, inadvertently solves mysteries along the way in a dry humorous manner. It is an entertaining story that grown-ups will probably enjoy even more than kids, because of the humor in between the lines.

My ten-year old daughter’s opinion of the story is that has a staccato bounce to it and the transitions are almost too abrupt. She liked the story, but is having a hard time identifying who to recommend it to, since she says this book will be better appreciated by someone who loves reading, and unfortunately most of her 5th grade friends do not enjoy reading as much as she does. If they do, it will be the usual straightforward mystery stories.

On the other hand, I will be glad to recommend it to all word nerds out there, because the play of words and quality of writing is just geeky fun.

We received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Parenting with Grace and Truth

A good short book on parenting by example and influence. This contains concise advice as far as transitioning into the parenting approach that works better particularly starting with pre-pubescent kids, the stage when authoritative directions and rules, as well as figurative ‘spanking’ is no longer appropriate nor effective.

This book combines principles that my wife and I learned in Growing Kids God’s Way as well as Real Family Values. It talks about defining family values and communicating this clearly to the kids, with parameters for expectations and consequences. There is no defined limit to the grace we should extend to the kids, as long as there is a good conversation afterwards to deal with the heart and the Biblical truth behind the values and boundaries in place. Obviously, love should embrace the whole effort of parenting.

I like it. I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Monday, November 7, 2016

No More Perfect Marriages

This books hits a home run as far as honesty and vulnerability is concerned. This is most apparent at the beginning and won me over as a reader. I have read and reviewed several books on marriage, and this goes straight to the heart of the matter. I highly recommend it!

The focus is obvious from the title itself - marriage is the union of two flawed individuals living under the grace of God. Given this premise, the only thing that can sustain the relationship is a continual growth and understanding of this grace - upon us, and toward each other. The books deals with the issue on ‘slow fades’ or gradual erosion of a marriage’s foundation (love and respect), and the issue on sweeping things under a rug, or hidden behind a mask.

The book is written sort of like a personal devotional or a group discussion material. However, I believe that it has so much more potential than that. Since the intro alone is so powerful as to open people’s hearts, I would have wanted it to probe deeper and facilitate more of a marriage workshop or counseling type of conversation between husband and wife. Maybe a companion workbook will be good, similar to His Needs, Her Needs. I have a feeling that we will be hearing more about this book, and that we will possibly see this expand to weekend workshops all over the country, and have training sessions to accredit other counselors who can discuss the material, other than the authors themselves.

As an aside, the layout and playful use of fonts was awesome!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Countdown to Christmas by Ace Collins

Our family loves Christmas, both the good and stressful things about it. It seems like every year, we attempt to start a tradition. But so far, what I have noticed is that each year’s celebration is unique in its own, as we discover new material, books, or activities that we could do to make the season more meaningful.

This year, I have decided that we are going to go through this book. I read through it in advance and yes, this will be a great book to go through. The devotionals are short but insightful. Each devotional focuses on one thought, so that works for us, since we do our family devotionals each morning at the breakfast table. I can supplement the material with other Scriptures during the weekend and likely on the 24th and 25th, and 31st as well. The daily article on the history on a Christmas tradition is great trivia info. I can now assign my son to print out the appropriate sheet music so that we can sing the hymns at night after dinner. The recipes for food and handmade gifts look easy to follow. I am a good follower of recipes, so this will work for me. These will only be supplemental to our favorite dishes and projects. Cool, now we have an exciting December to look forward to!

At the end of the day, the memories that will be created will be up to me and my family. This book is just a springboard of devotional thoughts, conversation topics and food and gift ideas. I wouldn’t bank on this book itself leading our Christmas – I will do that, and I will make sure that Christ is central to everything we do. The Scriptures will still be our primary resource to make sure our hearts are focused on our God.

I received a review copy of this Christmas book from NetGalley.

What Will They Say About You When You Are Gone by Rabbi Daniel Cohen

This is one of the few self-help books, not necessarily religious, that I enjoyed.  The whole concept has to do with building up one’s spiritual ‘PR’ campaign (I define PR as positive reimaging), knowing that at the end of life, people will be sharing about us in our future eulogies.  How do we want ourselves to be remembered by?  Of course we wouldn’t want the sharing to be shallow or superficial, but rather substantial and with basis.  Hopefully, by then, we would have made our impact and will leave this world a better place.

Even if the motivation sounds a little narcissistic, the book actually dealt with the heart of the matter.  Life is what we make it - and if our lives are supposed to make a statement, we need to start defining it now.  The book included some workshops to help navigate the process of reverse engineering our lives, regardless of one’s starting point.
This is a life long process, and at some future point, I may share with you some updates, as comments to this review.  Hopefully it will be comments from other people, and not myself!

I was given a review copy by the publisher through NetGalley.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Infinity by Jus Accardo

As always, Jus Accardo has penned another story that is easy and fast to read. The author is an excellent story-teller. The story starts with a good hook – nothing unusual, just current, down-to-earth, relatable and familiar. The writing style is conversational and natural, so it is easy to get on board and empathize with the main character, Kori, who is going through grief recovery with a need to express herself artistically. The rest of the cast are engaging.

Subjective thoughts - My kids and I love Flash, the TV series, and earlier this year, we read Fair Coin by E.C. Myers. Because of this, to me personally, the concept of parallel worlds is no longer as exciting as it used to be. So as the story dove more into this aspect, a lot of it sounded familiar and cliché. The plot is simple, so I won't elaborate. Overall, I found Infinity to be a fun, engaging read, and I would attribute it to interesting characters and the impressive way that the author navigated the relationships among the characters. The characters projected honesty and realness.

Similar to the Denazen series, this book is marketed as YA, but the concept story is science fiction. Some of the content is mature YA. Parents - you may want to read this first and make the call whether you would like your middle school kids to read it.

I received a review copy from the author and Entangled Publishing via NetGalley.

Revelation: A Thriller by Carter Wilson

Tight psychotic storytelling that prodded me along quickly.  It may have just happened to hit me a certain way, but the writing style brings flashes of Fight Club and American Psycho to mind.  The characterization is brilliant and scary.  The way the story is told is definitely tension-gripping:  Lead character Harden Campbell is trapped in a cell and the only way to survive is to type out the story that involves him, his captor and the woman he cares for.  The reader is his captor.  How should he word the truth?  This is a great read.

I received a review copy of this book from Oceanview Publishing via NetGalley.

The Whizbang Machine by Danielle Vann - Quirky and adventure-filled story

A magical mystery book with just enough human relationship elements to keep me connected to the characters.  The story is quirky and took me on an adventure with the overarching intent of unravelling the mystery, powers and purpose of the famous Royal typewriter.  The machine’s history is connected to the main character’s family tree, and is critical to resolving a feud that dates back to over a century ago.  This was a quirky, dynamic, odd and unravelling adventure story that I enjoyed reading.

I received a review copy of this book from Waldorf Publishing via NetGalley.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Child's Play by Merry Jones - A dark, demental thriller

As psycho-thrillers go, this is a dark and twisted tale.  The title should give you a clue about its subject.  The narrator is unreliable, being a middle-aged lady with constant mind “check-outs”.  She (the narrator) is part of a group of four girlfriends, who inevitably reminds me of a slightly younger cast of Steel Magnolias.

The cast alone provides a lot of noise and humor to the story.  The narrator is a grade school teacher, so the rest of her world revolves around kids, both present and previous.  The conflict is provided by historical relationships that she has had, as well as her current realtor and an ex-convict student who is now an adult.

The story is quite well-written.  Because of the chatter of the girlfriends (both the narrator’s and another key character’s posse), it sometimes feels like a Lifetime-meets-CW network show.  However, the twist and climax is so demental, that it kept me reading up to the end, despite the constant chatter.  This is a creepy and insane read that is surprisingly entertaining.

I received a review copy of this book from Oceanview Publishing via NetGalley.

Friday, October 28, 2016

At Rope's End by Edward Kay - Welcome new Profiler Dr. James Verraday!

The story jumps right into the action.  There isn’t any dull moment.  Due to the brevity of the story, the fact that Dr. Verraday agreed to be a profiler and help out the police after one after-school conversation with them, still remains baffling to me.  It is so unusual, and even more so, his commitment.  That part at least felt fictional.  But it was easy to discount this oddity, since I was hooked to the story from the first page.

The narrative is told in third person, but the text is heavy with conversations between the characters.  It was easy to connect and relate with Verraday, MacLean, the detective that Verraday worked with, and even the rest of the characters (for example, the victim’s ex, Verraday’s sister, victims, students, and detectives).  The easy flowing dialogues are the strongest element of this story, and is what drove me to read through it as fast as I did.

Some of the profiling and events felt formulaic, but again, because of the connection I felt with Verraday, it was easy to overlook the clichéd segments.  This is one of those books where in retrospect, I find myself thinking, “I knew it” with reference to the plot twist.  Did I, really?  Objectively, I don't think so.  Bottom line is, this was a good read and good entertainment.  And the length is just perfect for about 2 hours of reading.

I received a review copy of this book from Crooked Lane Books via NetGalley.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Yarnmouth Abduction - An exciting action and adventure story for boys!

What a great story! I went through a lot of highs as I read this book. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the true joys of reading a good book when I was in grade and middle school – back when books did not have to resort to shock baits, inappropriate content or superfluous modern-day angst.

Honestly, the title and cover design made me think it was just another generic YA story. I am glad in this case, my first impressions were unreliable. Mr. Van Minton’s writing was engaging and the storyline just kept me going on and on, flipping the pages to find out where it would lead me next.

Evan is a good main character for this story aimed at middle-graders. He is everything a 12-yo boy should be – curious, adventurous, stubborn, cautious about dreams, nervous about Nira (his developing crush and sidekick), brave when needed, determined and definitely imaginative. I am so relieved that in this story, there is no need for him to be immersed in video games. It’s a good demonstration that outdoor living, sailing in the open seas, exploring sewers, fighting school bullies and arctic pirates (yes), working hard during detention, and even handling false accusations is all part of life, and can make life exciting. This is how I remember my boyhood. This is how I believe all boys should live.

I am so looking forward to more adventure stories from this author. I want more of his imagination. I will definitely add in my kids’ reviews of this book as comments to this one, once they get the chance to read it themselves. I wish this were part of their reading list, instead of some geeky-love-story-through-texting light fare.

I received a review copy of this book from the author.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Flip by Michael Cash - Deliciously Creepy

I got to read this over the weekend and it is a good story for October season!

I don’t need to add another synopsis since the one in the back of the book (for print copies, blurb for Kindle copies) is perfect as it is.  Mr. Cash is really good with combining historical fiction with current day horror thriller story lines.  I have noticed this for a number of his books now.

What I liked – Good character development, good battle between the living and the undead, short novel but had a good wrap-up or conclusion

What can be improved – To either delete or complete the side storyline on the slaves

I received a review copy of this short novel from Chelshire, Inc.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Amazing new sci-fi book by Darren Beyer - Casimir Bridge

I received a review copy of this collectible from the author. 

Here’s an attempt at a layman’s synopsis – Advanced technology has allowed modern-day scientists and technology experts to set up bases in other galaxies and moons.  New societies have been built and are now under the leadership of an expanded government.  The discovery of new natural resources in certain planets has advanced the science of quantum physics – allowing the use and control of wormholes and this book’s namesake.  These technological advancements are limitless in potential but at the same time, vulnerable to political greed and corruption.  Only a few good people are able to stand by convictions grounded on humanity.  The story revolves around this small group of people.

This is absolutely the best science fiction story I have read this year!  Many things were set into motion right from the start to make this an incredible piece of fiction:  (1) the author’s strong work background with NASA as a space shuttle engineer brought a lot of credibility to the plausibility of the technology and the setting of the story; (2) the heavily political intelligence war of the top two tech firms in this inter-galactic world was impressive in its complexity and layers of counter-attacks – it was like watching a superpower game of chess; and (3) the small cast of characters were sharp as knives, tough as nails, and yet honest and real all at the same time.

The interplay between a futuristic, advanced universal society and authentic, cultural and historical events impressed me as well.  The story builds up quite nicely – starting with a heavily scientific narrative, moving on to heartfelt character introduction and development, with the last third of the book dedicated to non-stop action and plot twists.  Honestly, a story as tight as this does not come along often.  This is an amazing book and I agree with one earlier comment – I have a new favorite contemporary sci-fi author.  I am looking forward to more of Beyer’s works, including the sequel to this book.

Available in Amazon.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Indecent by Ethan Brant - A captivating angst-driven thriller

This book attempts to track the life of a man who had a rough childhood, but who, through sheer toughness, political acumen, ambition and determination, rose up the ranks of the underworld, but inescapably remained a pawn of his country’s secret “police” organization. The book is written in first person, so as a reader, I got to know the exact thoughts, reflections, decisions and emotions of the main character.

Here are my thoughts: The story is well written and edited, given that English isn’t the primary language of the author. The story is fast paced and captivating, in the same way that Now You See Me was fascinating. I allowed myself to dwell in that state of suspension of disbelief while reading this book. Entertainment value is high.

At the end of the day, I recognize that this is a work of fiction, and this is reflected in the gaps in the credibility of the timeline of the series of events, and the accelerated growth and unusual adaptability of the main character. He is obviously crafted as the anti-hero in this series. I also recognize the angst of youth (of the author) which bleeds through the main character’s musings. Below are a few of the more interesting musings that I have bookmarked:

“Cigarette butts filled the cracks of the cobblestones, lying there as a reminder that things always burn out when they light up, no matter if that fire started for a good reason or a bad one; no matter the feeling it provided.”

“How was it possible that someone could escape from reality, from his mind into space between those two and dangle in the air, defy gravity, without belonging anywhere?”

“…Nicotine (it) flowed through my veins, into my brain, making me slightly dizzy, and then waking up my long missed friend happiness, true happiness.”

This book made me miss being in college, when quotable thoughts like these were constant in my mind.


Disclosure: I was offered a complimentary copy of this book by the author.

Available in Amazon.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Undivided by Neal Shusterman - Superb Conclusion to a Great Series

Brief synopsis - Society has found a way to deal with young adult rebellion, and this is through the option to 'unwind' - where a rebel is sliced and diced into his/her various organs and parts, to be transplanted or grafted into more "worthy" members of society. As with every socio/political movement that is backed by businesses, the ones who profit the most from the unwinding movement are using various shell human rights organizations and the media to advocate the expansion of unwinding. While the benefits seem apparent on the surface, the corruption is eventually exposed through the combined efforts of the story's main cast of characters. The end goal is to re-establish family and society embracing humanity (faults and all) and the right to live. Overarching theme is love and acceptance vs. fear and control.

Shusterman is a wonderful storyteller. Unlike most serials where the last installment verges on the brink of cramming too much at the last minute in order to arrive at a passable ending by the author's deadline (think The Maze Runner conclusion, Divergent conclusion, Hunger Games conclusion, Wool conclusion), Shusterman's did not compromise on maintaining an appropriate pace (not rushed at all) and his commitment to character development is impressive. The plot of the entire series is great in and of itself, but man, in reading this last installment to the series, I cannot help but have such a great respect for all the characters - specifically Lev, Cam, Connor, Risa, Hayden, Sonia and even those recently introduced Argent and Grace. It is very rare too, that the ending leaves a ray of hope, but still cautioned by the harshness of reality - i.e., the tough road of forgiveness and rebuilding trust and unity. This series is wonderful and one that I am endorsing wholeheartedly!

Forbidden Birth by William Rubin - New Medical Thriller with Potential

Nutshell summary - A doctor-turned-detective is presented with the case of a highly intelligent serial killer who performs medical crimes in the interest of a bigger cause - a breakthrough in modern medicine that could redefine the future of humanity as we know it.

Strengths - Great plot and story line. This is one of the more interesting thrillers I have read recently. The story line is unique and engrossing, and had enough twists and surprises to keep me reading up to the last page.

Weaknesses - Poor character development and stunted writing style.

Character development - As a reference, I will use conventional examples - Alex Cross and Kay Scarpetta. Both of these well-known characters are popular simply because we know so much about them and their characters. As the stories about them progressed, I started feeling what they were feeling, and empathizing with them. I rallied behind their decisions and I felt the weight of the obstacles they were facing.

By comparison, I really don’t know much about Dr. Chris Ravello, the main character in this book. That would have been fine, if there weren’t a lot of decisions and twists that depended on this character (like in the case of DD Warren character by Lisa Gardner). In this book however, there were several jumps in the story that were premised on Dr. Ravello’s decisions. As a reader, I found it hard to follow his line of thinking and ride his emotions. I really don’t know much about him. Maybe if more narrative were given to his history, thoughts, decision-making process and emotions, then I would end up being more connected with him.

Here’s the spin - In contrast, the villain character in the story was well developed. While I do not condone his rationalization and crimes, I believed in his vision, and I understood why he was able to convince himself otherwise that what he was doing was for the common good. I wish the same attention to detail was given to the main character.

Writing style - In my opinion, the constant shifting POV and the timeline jumps contributed to my disconnect with Dr. Ravello. I think the book was written more to mimic a movie timeline, but it was definitely confusing, even from the start. For example, the attention to the life of April, one of the victims, was baffling, given her eventual role in the whole story. The political angle was explained in much detail and chapters early on, and then suddenly dropped. In the later parts, it was also the timeline shift that was baffling (noted by the inclusion of dates in the chapter headings). Was the original draft drastically downsized?

Best part - The best part of the story were the last few chapters. The pace was fast, the excitement was palpable, and the psycho game played by the villain was really sharp. Sadly, when a key character was eliminated in these last chapters, I did not feel anything. It was because I lacked the connection with that character. At the end though, I want to know more about Ravello, and if this is turned into a series, I can see myself reading Book 2.

Conclusion - If you are a fan of medical and police procedural thrillers, then go for it. It is a decent read, and it was exciting. I just want to ground you though, and my comments above are meant to let you know in advance the weaknesses that I noted. This is subjective, so your opinion may be different. At the end of the day, yes, I enjoyed the book.

Available in Amazon.

Monday, October 17, 2016

An Invisible Client by Victor Methos - Inspiring!

My review for this author's first legal thriller, The Neon Lawyer, was short and succint - "This is not literary fiction. But the story it tells is very inspiring. I turned the last page with a smile on my face. Yeah, that was a pleasant read. And I recommend it to those looking to add a little positivity and optimism to their day!"

Honestly, this is how I feel about An Invisible Client as well. I loved it. Reading a Victor Methos book is like watching a movie on the Lifetime Channel. It is so moving and real, and almost impossible. Overall, the theme is hopeful, and everyone needs hope for us to be able to take the next step in life, regardless of current conditions. I wonder if the author is as good a criminal defense lawyer as he writes? If he is, consider me a client, Atty. Methos, should I ever find myself in need of one.

The book is about a small criminal law firm taking up the case of a young boy's death due to pharmaceutical poisoning. Automatically, you can picture a David vs. Goliath scenario, with righteous indignation as the only motivating factor. In a typical risk assessment done by big corporations, some complainants are considered invisible, since the weight of a product or legal complaint is measured against a person's net worth. Defense attorneys know this, and rarely take up cases like this since it isn't a practical and wise financial decision. The drama unfolds when the case becomes a matter of fighting for what is right, regardless of the odds, at the risk of losing everything, including other people and their families (e.g., the small firm's employees). The book takes on a dramatic arc, and the narrative tugs strongly at one's heart. I cannot count the number of times that I felt my heart squeezed to the core. The young boy and the lawyer are both outstanding lead characters that I found myself connecting to.

This is a highly recommended read. You are guaranteed to feel better after reading. Enjoy the experience and hopefully you can share your thoughts with me as well.

Available in Amazon.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Spire - Introducing a New Genetically Modified Hero in a Post Modern World

I just finished the book last night and in retrospect, I guess my overall reaction is an exhale, and a Wow.

Spire is an elaborate and very much involved introduction into a new world, new government and control, new generation of youth, new concept of mental and physical enhancement, new politics, new players in the market, new elitists, new middle class, and unfortunately, the same resilient majority.

In this book, we are also introduced to anti-hero, Joshua, and a cast of other anti-heroes, all non-conventional and leaning to an independent, underground line of thinking. Joshua is still evolving in this volume, and even after the story closes, I am still unclear as to what he can do to thwart the current status quo and bring about a positive, productive change that provides hope to the masses. Or maybe this isn’t that kind of story. I admit through that I usually prefer a story’s lead to make a difference in the world he lives in.

It’s two out of two now for me – as far as Safronoff is concerned. I loved the initial book of Sunborn Rising, and the colorful cast and worlds that he created there. This time around (although he wrote this first), I am very impressed by the way he describes emotions, thoughts, physical transformations and action scenes. I am amazed at the clarity of how he envisions future tech and future drugs.

This will sound strange, but the experience of reading the main characters drug-induced hallucinations and physical transformation is similar to how I felt when I viewed my first laser disc movie - The Doors by Oliver Stone (back in my teen years ha ha). I don’t know how else to describe it. It was a visceral experience.

Writing quality was excellent and impressed the nerd in me. I found the pace too slow though. Since this is just the introduction, it will be hard to determine an appropriate pace of the succeeding books. The cast is huge, so to develop even the 5-6 key characters, and allow us as readers to be part of their lives will also be challenging – it will almost require a book each, if everything is to be held consistent.

Joshua exhibited a lot of unique abilities and probiotics – this is inferred a lot, but not clearly defined as to what (1) he is truly capable of that others are not (2) where these abilities will be useful and (3) what exactly he is able to resist. Maybe a short description of the horrors that befell others or the evil master plan of the powers that be will help highlight him strongly, and also build up the hope that he brings to the current state of things. I also am unclear as to what the motives of the other key characters are. Maybe a zoom out will help.

This particular installment was so involved and personal. Now I look forward to more of the plot unfold, and the characters given their own backbones and story lines.

This is a great introduction to a potentially explosive series. I can see why it won awards. I will sound off my comments on the next installments as they come along.

Post note: I see that Book 2 is out but the first review isn’t exactly encouraging. I hope the story holds and that the criticisms will only serve to bring out the best that this series can be.

Available in Amazon.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Red Winter (5th Book of The Tapestry Series) - 5 Stars!

My 10 yo gives this book and the entire series - 5 stars! I am giving this last installment 5 stars as well!

The plot is amazing, the worlds vivid, the action engaging and the characters endearing. I do feel like the quality of the writing has grown exponentially from Book I through V. My initial concern (way back in Book I) about character development was addressed, and for some reason, The Red Winter is less difficult to read and visualize compared to The Maelstrom, so I was able to finish this faster. Or it could have been that I am now more familiar with the setting and characters. What makes The Red Winter stand out is the way each character is given their own respective story arcs. It would have helped if some of these stories were sprinkled throughout the series, especially in Books I-II, where it was hard to be emotionally connected with the characters. I am not sure if the entire series plot was already drawn at the time The Hound of Rowan was written - if not, it makes sense that maybe as the author allowed the story to take its course, the need to tie everything together in this last book was apparent, hence we got soooo much depth and detail in this installment. The Red Winter rocks!!! Even if you don't read the entire series, and just choose to read this installment, you won't regret it.

Available in Amazon.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

NaviForce Black Military Inspired Fashion Watch sold by The Revolt Electric City

Pros:  Cool design, uncomplicated watch face, easy to read, striking color contrast between the black theme with red accent hour markers, watch hands, and band stitching

Cons:  Large and thick watch face limits the use of the watch to short sleeved shirts.  Strap is extremely thick, so there is a little bit of stress on the strap loops – care must be taken in sliding the strap through the loops.

Overall, a great fashion watch for weekend out of town getaways.

The watch was sent to me free for user review from the perspective of a frequent weekend out of town traveler, not as a business professional.

Sold by The Revolt Electric City on Amazon.  Search for CakCity Black Strap Watch.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

14 Peaks Adult Coloring Books - Simple Animal Set (Australian animals, Barn animals and Elephants)

I was shipped a set of these coloring books for free to test and provide user feedback.  

I am not a drawing artist and I actually like the simplicity of the animals that needed to be colored.  I like it when the area to be colored is not the entire page.  It cuts down the coloring time, but is very gratifying to be able finish one page within an hour.

The paper thickness is decent and glue binding is used.  The pages are not perforated and aren’t easy to tear off.  The designs are all printed in the middle of each coloring page (only one side is printed).

My daughter, who is a sketch artist, felt like the pictures were too simple.  It’s amusing to consider that comment.  I feel the opposite.  That is exactly why I like these coloring books – the illustrations are simple, and yet when color is applied to each section of the illustration, the pages come alive.

Overall, adult coloring is an interesting experience, and a decent unwinding activity to engage in while the kids are doing homework.  These coloring books are a good intro into this growing trend.

Available in Amazon as sold by 14 Peaks or in the website. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The History Major by Michael Phillip Cash - An interesting theory on a person's liminal state

This was a strange story.  I was getting worried that it was going nowhere and I was inching closer and closer to page 118, the final page.  The author was able to bring it all in for a cohesive ending though.

Initially, it feels like a horror story, and then later on, it reinforces the importance of both world and personal history, in order to make sense and provide direction for the present.  The characters were well chosen and presented.  The writing style was engaging and held my attention up to the end.  The book was cleanly edited.  It’s strong point is the concept and theory behind the story.  

This is a book that promotes introspection, and advocates learning from our elders and our past.  I know it isn’t meant to be a religious novella, but I cannot help but associate it with how the scriptures were written to document experiences of people in the past during the time of the patriarchs and the first century church in order to provide basis for modern day believers to make better decisions in the present, on top of learning from personal experience.

Personally, I believe our entire physical life here on earth should be our liminal state, and not in that intermediate state prior to eternity.

Con:  I wish the Author’s Note at the end was not included as part of the book.  While I like bonus features like this particular post script, I like them as interview material, or as a featured post in the book’s website, rather than right there, after the last page of the story itself.

I received a printed copy of this book for review purposes.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Clue Master by ThinkFun - A fun way to improve deductive reasoning skills

This is a new single player game that my kids and I recently tried out.  The object of the game is to fill out a specific arrangement of objects and colors in a tic-tac-toe (nine-square) box.  A properly arranged board will allow the dog to enter his dog house.

Depending on the player’s skill level, there are clues provided that will help the player deduce what the object and color arrangement is.  If you notice, the game’s concept has some overlap with the old-school Mastermind.

This game is fun and exciting.  We wanted to play it as a family (we have 2 pre-teens) so we took turns answering the puzzle in progressive difficulty within an agreed upon time limit.  A player that misses the correct arrangement is pulled out from the game.  This brought out everyone’s competitiveness.  

As an added benefit (from a parent’s point of view), playing this game in a casual and fun setting actually sharpens our kids logical and deductive reasoning skills.  I believe that through this game, we are actually setting our kids up to be successful when then take their next deductive reasoning exam.

I received this game gratis from ThinkFun.  In exchange, I am sharing my feedback with all of you, after playing this game several times – enough to make an informed opinion about it.

Available in Target.  Search for Clue Master Game by ThinkFun.  Or if you need the shortcut, it’s this:

Monday, August 15, 2016

ExtremePak Camouflage Water Resistant Backpack - Sold by Skivu

This backpack is useful for both outdoor or academic use.  It is made of water resistant nylon fabric.  The way the nylon straps are sewn onto the backpack allows us to attach as many carabiners as we want.  We can then attach a water bottle, a flashlight, some ropes, a towel, and other stuff to the carabiners.  This bag can fit a week’s worth of summer camping clothes and microfiber towels.  

The backing of the bag is about 0.5” thick and is very sturdy.  There are several buckles strategically placed to made the bag tighter and compact and easier to carry.  There are two large pockets in the front which can accommodate various gadgets and cords.

This bag is approximately 16” x 12.5” x 9”.  I got this backpack for my son who is in middle school.  He is able to use bag for his camping trips.  But in addition to those trips, we were hoping it could fit his school binder which is 12.5” x 12.5” and 5” thick.  That binder turned out to be too large to fit this backpack.  So now we just use this bag for his library books and textbooks.

I took a short video, I packed in several books and notebooks, 3-ring binders, and other items just to show how much can fit into this 9” deep backpack.  As a book bag, it can fit a lot.


Pros - Cool military design, medium-sized, but deep enough to pack in the essentials for a week-long trip or a day in the library, good stitching, useful sewn-in nylon strap design that allows carabiner attachments

Cons - Not wide enough to accommodate the typical grade and middle school binders, not as comfortable to wear compared to laptop backpacks which tend to have a lot more cushion on the shoulder straps

Available in Amazon.  Sold by Skivu.  Search for ExtremePak Digital Backpack

Thursday, August 11, 2016

iForaa Book Reading Lamp with 2 Adjustable Arms

My kids love this reading light. My son uses it to light up his sheet music while playing the piano (and just the living room lamps are on), while my daughter uses it while reading her library books at night.

The dual heads really make a difference as far as brightness, and since there are two levels - low and bright per light head, there are several permutations as to how you want the light to be distributed (whether it favors the left or the right, or if it needs to cover more area, etc.).

This is also the first reading light I’ve owned which includes a rechargeable battery which can be charged using the included proprietary USB cable (yes, you will need to have your own adaptor). Nice - no more quick runs to the convenience store to grab a pack of batteries.

Overall, this is a really helpful accessory. Even in the advent of backlit readers and tablets, my kids still read a lot of paper books, so reading lights never really go out of style in our household.

I got this reading light at a discount with the request that I share my usage experience.

Available in Amazon. Look for iForaa book reading lamp.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Cool 30 oz Double Insulated Stainless Steel Cup by New Earth Kitchenware

This is a huge 30 oz stainless steel cup that is double-insulated. As such, it is able to retain the beverage’s temperature (whether hot or cold) throughout the day. In the office, I use it for water. I fill it up with ice to the top and pour in cold water. The water is kept cold throughout my office hours, and the NEXT day, it is still a quarter full of ice. Isn’t that incredible?

This cup is easy to hand wash due to the large rim. For ease of carrying, I purchased a separate tumbler tamer handle which is a perfect fit for this large cup. The included lid is made of hardened plastic and is vacuum sealed (with rubber lid locks). There is a straw hole in one end, and a pin prick hole in the other end. The included lid does not have a sliding seal. The advantage of this is more from a design perspective – the lid is cleaner looking – and from a practical vantage point – a clear and smooth lid is easier to clean and dry. The disadvantage of this is that it isn’t spill proof.

Note however that the base is 75 mm wide, meaning this cup sits sturdily on any surface. So really, there is little risk of spilling, unless it is caused by a carelessness. I did not notice any beading of water on the outside throughout the entire day of using it.

I was able to purchase this cool cup at a discount for review purposes. As a customer, I find it worth the suggested retail value.

Available in Amazon.  Look for New Earth Kitchenware 30 oz Cup.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Great Mountain Bike Shorts by Spotti Basics

These mountain bike shorts are sized correctly, with perhaps a little more bias towards the larger end of the spectrum. I typically wear a large, so I ordered the large version of these shorts. They do fit comfortably and the length is just above the knee. However, the waist garter did not grip too much of my waist, which tells me these shorts are actually in between a L and an XL.

This is made of nylon and the fit is loose. There is an inner mesh lining with a thick pad at the base shaped to sit right on top of a bicycle seat. Once seated on my bike, I can immediately tell the difference as far as the thickness of the cushion and protection.

However, once I get off my bike, I would prefer not to walk long distances in these shorts, since the pad now feels like a face towel sitting at the base of my shorts!

These are good biking shorts for off-road trails. Of course, professional road cyclists will prefer their cycling compression shorts over these - but fortunately, their feedback does not affect me. I only bike to and from my train station, and on the weekends, I like doing bike trails. So I am far from being a pro.

These mountain bike shorts were sent to me for free for review purposes.

Available on Amazon.  Search for Spotti Basics Mens MTB Mountain Bike Shorts with Padded Underliner.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Last Humans: The Complete Trilogy by Dima Zales

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

This trilogy is written in typical dystopian fashion – sole surviving futuristic city in a devastated earth, communistic society where free will and expression is managed by a totalitarian government, and a rebellion started by the youth, represented by the main character, Theo.

Objectively, the story is very well written and edited, but throughout the reading experience, glimpses of other popular sci-fi and YA books come to mind. I know that in one way or another, plots do cross each other’s paths, but for some reason, I felt it a bit more pronounced with this one, especially in the first part of the book. As soon as more and more layers of the augmented reality that the characters live in are stripped out, the story finally takes its own identity.

The clever addition to this story is Theo’s mental friend, Phoe, who is unveiled to us only through Theo’s thoughts in the beginning, and more throughout the story. I know it’s a writing style, but using a separate character in Phoe, instead of having to narrate the MC’s thoughts, was very creative!

Characters were the strongest aspect of the story. They were authentic, honest and likeable. At the end of the day, for me, this more than made up for whatever was bothering me about the plot and setting.

Overall, a very good read!  Available in Amazon in print and ebook format.