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Foolproof (Iris Thorne Mysteries -- Book 4)
Foolproof (Iris Thorne Mysteries -- Book 4)
Price: $2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Another entertaining Iris Thorne adventure, October 2, 2012
Iris Thorne doesn't go looking for trouble, but somehow it always seems to find the young financial adviser. Foolproof, the fourth entry in author Dianne Emley's Iris Thorne series, finds Iris trying to settle into her position as branch manager for LA based McKinney Alitzer and tackle the task of being a first-time homeowner. If only those were her biggest headaches.

Already working to help her friend Bridget Cross and her husband, Kip, navigate the choppy waters of taking their successful online gaming company Pandora public, things take a dramatic turn when Bridget is shot dead in her mansion's backyard. Turns out Kip wasn't keen on the idea of the company going public, which quickly rockets him to the top of the suspect list.

Complicating matters even further, Bridget's murder was witnessed by the couple's five-year-old daughter, Brianna, whom Bridget named as the heir to her majority stake in Pandora, with Iris named as the administrator of Brianna's trust. This puts Iris in the crosshairs of everyone from Kip, who wants the company kept private, to corporate raider T. Duke Sawyer, who wants to buy the company out for a lowball offer given Kip's legal troubles, to Pandora's top employees, who are split on which direction they want the company to go. And someone is determined to get their way on the issue, even if it's over Iris's dead body.

As she mentioned in her guest post yesterday, Emley did a tremendous amount of research before writing Foolproof. One of the dangers of an author doing significant research on a project is they sometimes feel the need to use every scrap of information they learned, which runs the risk of turning their book into an information dump instead of a novel. Fortunately Emley deftly sidesteps that pitfall, seamlessly working fascinating details about online gaming, especially first-person shooters, into the narrative (remember, this was relatively new in the late 90′s). Similar information about investment banking and venture capital is introduced through both the plot angle with T. Duke Sawyer as well as some inter-office backstabbing Iris has to deal with at McKinney Alitzer.

With every book since her introduction in Cold Call Iris has grown as a character, showing herself to be more complicated than her flashy exterior initially belies. Though she could easily wash her hands of the Pandora mess - and get herself out of the crosshairs - by simply giving Sawyer what he wants, Iris takes her responsibility to carry out Bridget's wishes, both to take Pandora public and do the right thing for Brianna's financial future, quite seriously. She's also a loyal person, and her interactions with Kip are particularly gripping as Iris struggles to give her friend the benefit of the doubt...easier said than done given the evidence against him and his increasingly erratic behavior.

Though not quite as strong as some of the previous entries in the series from a pure plot point of view, there is one subplot which could arguably be removed entirely without changing the overall feel of the story, Foolproof is nevertheless another entertaining adventure in the always complicated life of Iris Thorne.

The Wrong Goodbye (Collector)
The Wrong Goodbye (Collector)
Price: $4.89

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Holm's authorial alchemy is back and better than ever!, September 25, 2012
When we last saw soul collector Sam Thornton at the end of Dead Harvest (The Collector) he'd moved Heaven, Hell and everything in between to avert the Apocalypse and save mankind. You'd think after accomplishing something of that magnitude a guy'd get a medal...or at least a day off or something. Not quite. See, Sam seriously overstepped his bounds as one of the "devil's mailmen" with his actions, and as a result he's on a sort of supernatural double secret probation with both Heaven and Hell. One more screw up or act of insubordination and Sam will be shelved - his soul deposited into "a useless body decades from expiring," alive and aware but unable to escape. Madness usually arrives before death.

So you can understand Sam's panic when the latest soul he's been sent to collect goes missing before he can collect it. Sam's pretty sure he knows who took it, a fellow Collector with whom Sam had a falling out decades ago, and he sets out to reclaim the soul before the powers that be notice he's screwed up. What Sam doesn't initially know is that there's a lot more riding on him getting that soul back than just his personal well-being, and by the time he realizes it Sam's once again in the unenviable position of being the linchpin in the quasi-truce between Heaven and Hell...and the denizens of the In-Between.

Author Chris Holm set the world on fire with Dead Harvest, and now he absolutely burns it to the ground with The Wrong Goodbye. Having established the basic framework of Sam's character and the world he inhabits in the series opener, Holm wastes no time getting down to business in the second outing, bringing his authorial alchemy to bear once again by weaving together elements of Lovecraftian horror, the classic road trip, buddy action films, and the supernatural. The action in The Wrong Goodbye unfolds at breakneck pace through a series of set pieces that are thrilling, hilarious, repulsive, intriguing, and thought-provoking, all carefully stitched together via Sam's world-weary narrative.

Holm's ability to switch gears from tongue-in-cheek humor to skin crawling creepiness to theological musings on a dime is a reflection of his supreme command of his craft, and his descriptions and tone setting are nothing short of sublime. From Sam's creep through a lair for junkie demons (My heart banged out a drum roll in my chest as a massive, unseen hulk shifted noisily beside me in the darkness. But then it settled down again into what I assumed was a skim induced slumber, the awful meter of its breathing like the devil's own metronome.), to the sound of the gatekeeper of the In-Between (Instead, he spoke, with a voice like wind through autumn leaves, a voice that seemed to come at once from everywhere and from nowhere at all.), to Sam's wry observations while getting his ass kicked (He slammed me into the rock wall behind me. My head hit so hard I thought I'd puke. Then I did puke, so, you know, yay for being right.), Holm's writing is pitch-perfect.

The Wrong Goodbye is presented with enough backstory included so you don't have to have read Dead Harvest to follow the story, but you'll appreciate it significantly more if you have. (Besides, Dead Harvest is just a killer read, so get it already if you haven't.) Indeed, Holm's Collector series is one of the most creative and enjoyable I've encountered in quite some time, and considering how seriously Holm stepped up his game from book one to book two, well, I'm betting that the forthcoming third installment, The Big Reap, is going to be a read that will require buckling-up and keeping both hands on the book at all times.

Price: $4.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stark reflection on the insidious nature of guilt and grief, July 23, 2012
This review is from: Capture (Kindle Edition)
Nick and Caroline Exley appear to be living a charmed life. Nick is a successful computer guru who's designed a cutting edge, and very profitable, motion-capture program. And while it has been a while since her last big success, Caroline is a working author. Together with their daughter, Sunny, the Exleys live in a lavish beach house in a gated community on the South African coast. Things are not always as they appear, of course, as is demonstrated with devastating consequences at the party thrown for Sunny's fourth birthday. As the guests dwindle and twilight sets in, Nick finds himself on the back deck smoking weed with a friend while Caroline is inside having a tryst with her lover...both of them ignoring Sunny.

Vernon Saul is not ignoring Sunny. In fact, the former policeman turned security guard is sitting on the rocks along the edge of the ocean watching as Sunny takes her new toy sailboat down to the water. When the boat is pulled away from the shore by the current, Vernon continues to watch when Sunny goes in after the boat, only to get dragged under the icy water. And still he watches. It's not until the frantic parents, finally realizing that Sunny is unaccounted for, pull the little girl from the ocean that Vernon does more than watch. Though it's quite obvious to him Sunny is dead, he nevertheless puts on a show of trying to revive her for the Exleys and the remaining guests. Despite his lack of success, he's still regaled as a hero for his efforts and take-charge attitude when everyone else was falling apart. Nick in particular finds himself feeling indebted to Vernon, and it's a debt on which Vernon is more than willing to collect.

A stark reflection on the insidious nature of guilt and grief, author Roger Smith's latest offering, Capture, explores some of the darkest aspects of the human mind and soul. What drives a man to become so jaded he'd let a child die just to work an angle with her rich parents? How does grief twist someone so badly they lash out in the most violent manner possible at those supposedly closest to them? Exactly where is the line one says they will never cross...and how far will they then go to cover it up once they not only step over it, but rush headlong past it? Smith deftly and unflinchingly handles these questions through his cast of disturbingly believable flawed characters, demonstrating that no matter what level of society one comes from it is our basest emotions and instincts that are ultimately the great equalizer.

Smith is an unparalleled master at making ugly beautiful and repulsive appealing. He has to be, because on the surface there is very little beautiful or appealing about Capture, yet it's one of the most deeply satisfying books I've read this year.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 29, 2012 8:15 AM PDT

Ishmael Toffee
Ishmael Toffee
Price: $3.50

5.0 out of 5 stars A hard-hitting, gut punch of a novella, July 23, 2012
This review is from: Ishmael Toffee (Kindle Edition)
Ishmael Toffee is not a nice man. In fact, he's about as evil as they come. "From when he was old enough to hold a knife, he'd stuck people dead." It's a skill, a calling even, that landed him in prison, and kept him there for 21 years as he continued to serve as an assassin for gangs even while on the inside. Except once day he just couldn't do it anymore. No deep revelation. No spiritual rebirth. He just ran out of steam for killing. Reached his limit. Not wanting him to become a victim himself the warden isolates Ishmael, putting him to work in the prison gardens, a place where much to his surprise Ishmael finds he has another natural calling.

When the day comes he's deemed rehabilitated and is released, Ishmael gets a job doing the only thing he legally knows how to do, working the land. It's a good job that he finds, tending to the grounds of a wealthy Cape Town attorney's estate, and Ishmael has every intention of keeping his head down, going about his business, and living out his remaining years in peace and obscurity. Almost immediately it becomes clear that's not going to happen, as the attorney's 6 year-old daughter takes a liking to Ishmael despite his weathered dark skin and maze of prison ink. Determined to strike up a friendship, she brings Ishmael cold drinks while he's working and gives him learn-to-read books to take home. She also begins confiding in him, eventually revealing through play acting with her dolls that her father is raping her. And now Ishmael must decide: has he truly put his dark days behind him for the sake of peace and non-confrontation at all costs, or does he still have it in him to do whatever it takes to deliver the young girl from the kind of evil he once knew so well?

Roger Smith is unquestionably one of the most bold, powerful authors currently writing fiction. Period. The man's ability to seamlessly meld story with social commentary is without equal, as he sets forth in stark, striking detail the horrific conditions in which poor, black South Africans live in the Cape Flats, just a stone's throw from the obscene wealth that is found in the Cape Town suburbs. It is with both sadness and irony that Smith paints a vivid picture of people free from apartheid, yet still slaves to poverty, disease (HIV/TB), and crime. It's a truly Darwinian environment, one in which the residents are all too willing to turn on each other for any advantage.

And it's an environment that makes Ishmael's struggle to do the right thing a thousand times more difficult, as his fellow residents of the infamous Tin Town section of the Cape Flats don't care about the well being of the little white girl Ishmael is trying to protect; they just want the reward money associated with her return. And at every step of the way Ishmael questions not only if he's doing the right thing, but whether he should even care. It's one thing to no longer want to actively do evil, but how far does one really need to pro-actively stick out their neck to help someone else, especially when doing so is at best going to result in going back to prison and at worst get you killed?

It's a question the answer to which is not as straightforward as it may seem, especially to a man like Ishmael Toffee who has no illusions about either his past or future and who has no desire to be a hero. He's simply a man who wants to be at peace with himself. Roger Smith gives Ishmael a heartbreakingly difficult path to walk as he strives to find that peace, and challenges readers to walk that path with Ishmael Toffee in this hard-hitting, gut punch of a novella.

Blood Red Turns Dollar Green
Blood Red Turns Dollar Green
Price: $4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent melding of organized crime & professional wrestling, July 19, 2012
Think the organized crime genre is played out? Think you have no interest in a story about professional wrestling? Think again, on both counts. Author Paul O'Brien's debut, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, is a magnificent melding of the two, breathing fresh life into an old genre and presenting the late 1960s/early 1970s world of pro wrestling in a light even those who aren't fans of the sport will find fascinating.

Unfolding over the course of three years, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green weaves together the fates of three primary characters. Having worked himself up from circus strongman to wrestler to territory owner, Proctor King is a man who does not take no for an answer. He's paid his dues, and King's ready to collect on his investment. He'll work with you if he can, but he's more than happy to run over you if he has to.

Lenny Long is the eternal hanger-on, desperate to break into the money side of the business but stuck on the ring crew. Married with a kid, and another on the way, Lenny's resorted to providing transportation for some of the wrestlers between gigs and selling them his wife's homemade sandwiches. To ever be more than a lackey Lenny's going to have to make a bold move, but doing so may put both his marriage and his life in danger.

Danno Garland inherited his territory from his father, but he has ambitions for the business far beyond anything his old man ever achieved. When he lucks into the discovery of a huge new talent, literally and figuratively, Garland's willing to make a deal with the devil - or Proctor King as the case may be - to put on the biggest event the wrestling world has ever seen. If everything goes as planned Garland will make history, and a lot of money. If...

Peppered with a colorful cast of supporting characters, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green works on two levels. For those who are fans of a good organized crime story, the business structure of the wrestling territories and how all the owners worked, and occasionally fought, with each other is as complicated and fraught with danger as anything La Cosa Nostra ever conceived. You were just as likely to get a tire iron to the back of the head as you were your piece of the pie if the other members didn't like how you were doing business.

There's also the professional wrestling aspect of the story which, you must trust me, is fascinating even if you think the sport is as corny and fake as it gets. (A cop in the story finds out the hard way that calling wrestling "fake" in front of the wrong people can be hazardous to your health.) O'Brien works the history and lingo of the sport into the overall narrative beautifully, showing how those in the business run the gamut from level-headed, hard-working professionals to borderline psychopaths just looking for a legal way to inflict pain. Quite simply, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green is an instantly engaging trip through the back rooms and shady deals that formed the backbone of the territorial professional wrestling circuit in its heyday.

But don't just take my word for it. None other than legendary professional wrestler and accomplished author himself Mick Foley has given the book his seal of approval. Sure, the guy took a lot - and I do mean a lot - of chair shots to the head, but he still knows the goods when he sees it. And Paul O'Brien's got the goods.

by Khanh Ha
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.25
68 used & new from $2.94

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lush, poetic tale, July 18, 2012
This review is from: Flesh (Hardcover)
Author Khanh Ha's moody and atmospheric debut novel, Flesh, takes place in Annam (modern-day Vietnam) around the turn of the 20th century and follows several years in the life of Tài, a poor, young villager we meet as he and his family are forced to watch the execution by beheading of his father.

Though Tài's father was a bandit, he was respected amongst his people and his killing places upon Tài, now the eldest male in his family though only an early teen, the obligation of preserving the family's honor. To do so, Tài must accomplish two tasks: seek vengeance upon the man who betrayed his father, and unify his father's skull with his body so that he may properly be laid to rest.

Told in a series of almost dream-like reflections by a now septuagenarian Tài, Flesh follows the brutally fast coming of age Tài is forced to endure as he ventures from his sheltered village life out into a city teaming with exotic sights, sounds, and smells. And dangers, as along the way Tài finds both love and peril, learning that the two often go hand in hand and that everything in life requires a price to be paid.

A lush, poetic tale, Flesh takes readers on a journey far beneath the surface of a land most have only glimpsed superficially in clichéd Hollywood films. And though the dialog and character interactions are at times a bit stilted, that's not what you will ultimately take away from Flesh. Where Khanh Ha excels, and what you will be unable to easily shake, are the deeply evocative descriptions of daily life in Annam. From the hand-to-mouth struggle in the villages to stave off disease and starvation to the enticing sensuality of the city's opium dens, Khanh Ha coaxes Tài's world to life in a vibrantly palpable manner.

A boldly confident coming of age story of a young man psychologically scarred by violence and driven by familial loyalty and societally imposed moral obligations, readers willing to venture off the beaten path to an unfamiliar land will find great pleasure exploring Khanh Ha's Flesh.

The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil
The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil
Price: $2.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bold, off-the-wall adventure, June 22, 2012
If you threw Douglas Adams, Robert Rankin, and Hunter S. Thompson in a blender, well, you'd get quite a mess actually. But if you threw a handful of their books in a blender... no, that'd still make a mess. OK, pretend you could magically combine the best of what makes each of those authors unique into a single work and what you ended up with might read something like Jack Barrow's The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil.

The Three Hidden Masters - two from Hemel Hempstead, one from Bricket Wood (you'll get that once you've read the book) - are pretty low-key, laid-back guys. Of course, all the beer, rum and weed they consume contributes to that. So when their friend Geoff, the Fourth Hidden Master (from Blackpool), contacts them for help it's rather an effort for Clint, Nigel and Wayne to mobilize for a weekend trip up there to lend a hand.

It seems strange things are afoot in Blackpool. Initially it appears to be confined to the model village Geoff is building, where figures are moving around of their own accord and, even more disturbing, figures Geoff didn't even make for the village are appearing out of nowhere. If that was the only strange thing happening it could be written off as voodoo gone wrong, which has been known to happen to Geoff on an occasion or two.

It quickly becomes apparent, however, that there are larger forces at work in Blackpool. Is it simply that the local council has disturbing plans to turn Blackpool into the Las Vegas of England, or is something more sinister at work, something that could threaten to tear a hole in the fabric of the Universe? Well, whatever it is, the Hidden Masters have to wrap things up by Sunday night... they do have to be back at work on Monday after all.

Author Jack Barrow has created a very strange animal in The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil, a bizarre mash-up of magic, organized crime, and unlikely heroes, with a dose of stoner road trip thrown in for good measure. The magic is not the wands and broomsticks variety though, but is more ancient spells and incantations. Of course, when your magicians are fond of beer, rum, and weed, well, they often end up with questionable - and highly amusing - results for their efforts.

The book moves along nicely, easily shifting tempo between conversation pieces in which the Hidden Masters swap sarcastic quips and pop culture observations, and manic bursts of all out action. The set piece where Wayne and Clint actually get pulled into the miniature model village - worth the price of admission on its own - is absolutely brilliant (think Honey, I Shrunk the Kids but with drunk, stoned magicians... and the Village People).

Now, this book is decidedly not going to be for everyone. In addition to the magic, which may not be your cup of tea, the book is also quite silly. In fact, at times it borders on the absurd. Of course, I mean silly and absurd in the way the Monty Python crew quite often ventured boldly into the silly and absurd. Which is another thing The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil is, bold. Barrow has bravely gone all in with the absurdity, and dares the reader to come along for the gonzo ride.

So, if you like off-the-wall adventures and have the type of sense of humor that appreciates the absurd, grab a beverage - the Hidden Masters recommend dark rum - and give it a go.

Price: $2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars I liked Spar after Death Match, but I love him after Con Job, June 7, 2012
Con Job is author Jason Ridler's follow up to Death Match, the book that introduced readers to ex-punk rocker turned indie bookstore clerk and reluctant amateur detective Spar Battersea. Still reeling from the events in Death Match, including having lost his best friend/roommate and his part time job writing for the local newspaper, Spar finds himself holding on desperately to his position at the bookstore as he tries to put the pieces of his life back together. Unfortunately for Spar, this requires him to work the store's booth at CosmiCon, a huge sci-fi and comic book convention.

Not exactly a warm and fuzzy people person under the best of circumstances, being surrounded by a bunch of pudgy wookiees, Trekkers, and hobbits isn't exactly Spar's cup of tea. Things go from bad to worse when Spar learns he has to babysit an egomaniacal, over-the-hill science fiction writer who's been contracted to sign at the store's booth. Annoyance turns to alarm, however, when Spar learns that his former high school crush, who was supposed to be working at the convention as a "booth babe," has gone missing under very suspicious circumstances. Spar may "hate most people" but he's not the kind of guy who turns his back on a friend - or a smoking hot babe - so he sets out to track her down and make sure everything's ok.

Along the way Spar finds himself butting heads with a pack of vigilante ninjas, a power tripping security guard who's still carrying a schoolyard grudge, the slimy Hollywood producer of a hit sci-fi series, and a cute comic book/tattoo artist who may just be interested in Spar, but who's definitely not going to take any of his macho, juvenile hijinks. Klingons, superheroes, slave girls and sorcerers beware, Spar Battersea's on the hunt and CosmiCon will never be the same.

I really enjoyed the first Spar book, Death Match, and was anxious going in to see if Ridler would be able to keep the unique groove he found with that book going in this follow up. No worries. Though Con Job's story doesn't have quite the scope as Death Match, and also isn't as dark in tone, what it lacks in breadth it more than makes up for in character development. Without dropping any spoilers, suffice it to say the things Spar lived through in his first outing were truly horrendous, and Con Job finds him struggling to keep a grasp on his sanity without going off the deep end. And given that his primary foe in Death Match was a sadistic amateur wrestler who took his "gimmick" as a face-painted mime to disturbing lengths, being surrounded by dozens of people at a comic convention dressed like the Joker decidedly does not help Spar's mental well-being.

To me a Spar Battersea book has the same general feel as the original Beverly Hills Cop in that there's a great mix of action and comedy. And profanity. A lot of profanity. As the book is told from Spar's point of view the reader is privy to his internal musings, which tend to be exasperatedly profane when he finds himself in a particularly dangerous or vexing situation. And despite the fact the story unfolds over the course of a single day and almost entirely at the CosmiCon, Spar still manages to find himself in more than a few nasty fights in the convention facilities' back rooms and service hallways.

I liked Spar after Death Match, but I love him after Con Job. He's a guy who wants to do the right thing, but who also won't hesitate to pull the plug if he feels he's being used. And while he's not afraid to throw down and go toe-to-toe, he's also not Superman and takes as good as he gives (doesn't really seem fair for a ninja to use a Taser). In short, Spar Battersea is an engaging, believable character, and I can't wait to see what Jason Ridler has in store for Spar next.

Conjurer's Oath
Conjurer's Oath
Price: $3.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An impressive journey through the mysteries of the mind, May 29, 2012
This review is from: Conjurer's Oath (Kindle Edition)
C.G. Jung was right: the Mind of God is timeless; so is the collective unconscious mind of man, as I have now experienced firsthand. - From the journal of Sandor Zeit-Reisender

In case the above quote doesn't make it abundantly clear on its own, please allow me to note here at the outset that Conjurer's Oath by Malachi Stone is decidedly not a beach read. As he did in the outstanding Devil's Toll, in Conjurer's Oath Stone once again explores seriously ambitious material, challenging the reader to step up and keep up. And to bring an open mind.

Thirteen-year-old Dennis Krause lives with his parents and sister in Hades, Illinois. He and his friends ride bikes, sneak looks at girlie magazines, get dragged to church by their parents, and go on boring family trips. It's a life not unlike that which any boy his age experiences in small town America in the early 1960s.

When a massive explosion levels the town while Dennis and his family are away on a family outing, his father takes it as a sign and moves the family to an isolated religious commune led by an evangelist known as Possle Strong. Forced to live simply without modern conveniences, Strong's followers depend on him for everything from their basic wool robes to their spiritual well-being. But when Dennis meets a mysterious girl not much older than himself who works in Strong's house, it soon becomes clear that the spiritual well-being of his "lambs" is not the only thing Strong is concerned with... nor is Strong merely a charismatic charlatan.

Strong takes the two youngsters under his wing and gives them access to a library filled with books covering every possible aspect of religion, science and philosophy. And magic. Along the way they discover that Strong appears to have the power of second sight, as well as the ability to time travel. The more Dennis learns, however, the more he doubts the things he thought he already knew. So when Possle Strong seems to bring his dead wife back from the grave, Dennis is no longer sure if what he witnessed was a work of divinity or merely an elaborate parlor trick. The only thing he is sure of is that he must get away from Strong.

What unfolds from that point is really difficult to tie a tidy little bow around and present in a review, as author Malachi Stone takes Dennis and the reader on an impressive journey through the mysteries of the mind, especially as they relate to the space-time continuum. Guided by the journal writings of a philosopher/scientist named Sandor Zeit-Reisender (who in a nice bit of continuity acknowledges the work of Professor Bruno LeGrand as his inspiration, the same LeGrand whose work inspires the lead in Devil's Toll), Dennis explores the concept that the only constant in the universe is gravity, that the human mind is not subject to that constant, and that if one can sufficiently harness the power of their mind they will achieve the ability to move backwards and forwards in time. Free your mind and your ass will follow. Literally. Remember how I said you needed to bring an open mind? Yeah.

Stone is a master at making you think you're going down one path while so subtly actually steering you in an altogether different direction that by the time he springs the real destination on you, you don't even realize how you got there. He clearly operates, and writes, from the position that having an open mind and insatiably asking questions is more important than the answers one actually arrives at, and his ability to write a book that is as equally pro-religion/spirituality as it is pro-science, without ever actually drawing conclusions or taking sides, is nothing short of magic itself. Stone may call himself an author, but personally I think he needs to add conjurer to his résumé. And you need to add Conjurer's Oath to your reading list.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 6, 2012 11:52 AM PDT

The Vegas Knockout
The Vegas Knockout
Price: $2.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Another Duffy knockout!, May 25, 2012
When Duffy Dombrowski gets a chance to go to Vegas and serve as the sparring partner for Russian heavyweight Boris Rusakov it's the opportunity of a lifetime. After creatively figuring out how to ditch the two week seminar he's supposed to be attending for his social worker job, Duffy heads to Vegas with his sidekick, basset hound Al, in tow.

Instead of staying at a glamorous location on The Strip and working in first-class conditions, however, Duffy finds himself quartered at a brothel on the outskirts of town and subjected to lopsided and dirty sparring techniques. Still, he's getting paid well and it is Vegas. But when Boris and his crew attempt to "promote" a worker at the brothel from maid to prostitute against her will Duffy isn't about to ignore the matter and puts a stop to things. Permanently. And that's when it gets really ugly. Boris's connections in the Russian mob don't take kindly to Duffy's interference, and make it their mission in life to make sure Duffy understands that. Permanently.

There's more than a little of author Tom Schreck in Duffy, as Schreck has in reality both worked as a social worker and is well versed in the world of boxing. Schreck's hands-on experience with those matters gives the Duffy series an undeniable level of gritty realism, and The Vegas Knockout is no exception. The sparring scenes are particularly fascinating, with Schreck educating the reader on the subtleties of what goes on in a boxing ring without things ever feeling like an instructional manual. (Apparently it is decidedly not cool for your opponent to wear fight weight gloves during sparring... especially if you're saddled with full weight sparring gear.)

And though used primarily for comic relief, both basset hound Al and Duffy's crew from the bar back home are nevertheless a welcome and necessary addition to the Duffy stories. When Duffy decides to get Al designated a "service dog" so he can bring Al on the plane with him to Vegas, given Al's headstrong personality and bad manners the resulting trip through the airport is both profane and laugh out loud funny. As are the often bizarrely out of nowhere conversations held between the members of Duffy's unofficial posse, which includes Jerry Number One and Jerry Number Two, a hard line conservative and dyed-in-the-wool hippie respectively.

Readers new to the series will have no problem keeping up with events, as Schreck does a good job weaving in the necessary elements of backstory to let people hit the ground running. Longtime fans of the series will find The Vegas Knockout to be driven, as usual, by Duffy's distinct moral compass and refusal to sit by passively when he sees injustice, but they'll also find a story that's a bit darker than previous entries. It's a nice step-up for Duffy, and bodes well for the long-term growth of an already very enjoyable series.

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