Something to mull over...

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 clich├ęd 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.