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I'm a husband, father, deadhead and a guitar player. In my spare time I am a Professor at Rutgers where I run a research lab that works on the neurophysiology and neuroanatomy of the basal ganglia (a part of the brain that has something to do with motor systems (that's the old description) and mechanisms of learning, responses to drugs of abuse and many psychiatric disorders. I am lucky enough to have a wife who does similar stuff, but better that I do, and a son, 12, who is smarter and better than his doddering old dad. However, I do make a mean carne asada burrito (the secret is using ribeye for the carne).
SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD marked Robert R. McCammon's return to publishing after an only partially self-imposed (he was dropped by his publisher (??) after 1992's GONE SOUTH) 10 year hiatus. STN is a long (800+ pages) novel, rich in details about the Carolina colony in 1699. The main character is Matthew Corbett, a bright and curious 20 year old clerk to a magistrate who liberated him from an abusive orphanage 5 years earlier. Matthew and Magistrate Woodward are dispatched from Charles Town to the wilds of Fount Royal to preside over the trial of a woman accused of witchcraft.
About the only trick McCammon misses in this one is letting on at the outset that we are not to believe that the accused, Rachel Howarth is actually a witch, and that this is not one of McCammon's earlier horror novels (many of which were outstanding and made his reputation). Of course, everyone else besides Matthew and the reader believe that the case is open and shut - definitely the work of the Devil. The characters are clearly drawn and speak with their own voices - especially Matthew, Isaac Woodward, the rich and arrogant founder of of Fount Royal, Bidwell, the Doctor, the schoolteacher and Rachel. The dialog is perhaps not exactly correct for the period, but close (and a lot easier to read than if it were totally accurate), but the descriptions of life in the frontier town and the morés and beliefs of the citizens of Fount Royal feel true.
Although in some sense STN is a murder mystery, the whodunnit is extremely complicated even if the motive is at least partially exposed about halfway through. Suspects abound, and for the most part are only eliminated when they become the next to die. The relationships between the principals are interesting and well developed. Although Matthew is only Woodward's clerk, both of them clearly feel more of a father-son relationship that is explored through arguments and agreements and good times and bad, and at one level this is a coming of age story for Matthew. There are several good guy/bad guy/good guy reversals, and about the only ones that you know are really on the side of truth, justice and the American way are Matthew and the Magistrate.
The denouement is long, as Matthew explains everything, and there is a well written heartrending coda at the end. There are more Matthew Corbett novels (several in fact), and I intend to read them all. I enjoyed this as much as anything that I've read from McCammon, regardless of genre.
The best part of THE HALO REVELATIONS turned out to be the Amazon-written descriptive blurb. There is nothing inaccurate about the blurb, but it contains just about all there is to the novel. I should also note that THE HALO REVELATIONS probably should be marketed as YA fiction as one of the principal protagonists is a 15 year old boy who is at least as clever and brave as any of the other adult protagonists.
Young Nick Farrady is the son of famed archaeologist Doug Farraday who is killed in an accident in the Himalayas just after finding the eponymous crown-like Halo. A decade later, video of Doug dancing around and acting like a lunatic while wearing the Halo surfaces on YouTube, destroying his reputation and making Nickk and his family the community laughingstock. Following up on leads from his father's old partner Henry Applegate, the author of "Ancient Aliens"-type pseudo-science books who had put Doug up to the Tibetan journey in the first place, Nick finds the recently returned Halo, tries it on, sees amazing things and sets out to get the Halo to some scientists from SETI who will help him decide what to do with it.
Unfortunately, after this great set-up, most of the rest of the novel entails the FBI, NSA and other agencies, some benign, some not so benign who all want control of the Halo. There is very, very little science in the science fiction. The SETI scientists manage to find a tight beam laser signal coming from the Pleiades, but no attempt is made to decode the signal and find out what is being said! There is basically nothing about the technology behind the Halo, or what its original purpose was. About the only "research" that author had to do to write this was read a few "Chariots of the Gods" - type books and a couple of Wikipedia entries. All of the potentially interesting stuff - who were the aliens, where are they now, why did they leave, what were the other artifacts that they left behind that are only briefly alluded to near the end of the novel - is simply not dealt with. Instead, the bulk of the novel is a mix of government procedural and lots of verbiage about what the revelation of the existence of the Halo could mean to the world.
As I mentioned, this is written (intentionally or not) for a YA audience. The writing is fine - nothing wrong with it, but it is exceedingly simple. The language is absolutely squeaky clean, even when realism would demand a few four letter words in the dialogue, and there are no scenes containing sex or violence or anything that I wouldn't want my 9 year old to be reading. All in all, pretty disappointing and likely of interest only to those who enjoy pseudo-science, not real science fiction.
FULLY LOADED:THE COMPLETE AND COLLECTED STORIES OF BLAKE CROUCH is a tasty collection of short horror stories by the accomplished author. Of note, these stories, many of which are chock full of murder and mayhem, are devoid of any hint of the supernatural that pervades the vast majority of what most consider horror today. Instead, for the most part, they concentrate on human horror and depravity. I am a new fan of BC's having previously read the novels PINES, WAYWARD, and ABANDON, all of which I thought were terrific, plus the team-written novel, DRACULAS. This was my first foray into BC's short stories.
There are ten stories in this collection ranging from pretty good to outstanding, wit nary a stinker in the bunch. Each is preceded by a brief introduction by the author. My favorites were PERFECT LITTLE TOWN AND SERIAL, with ON THE GOOD RED ROAD (a sort of parallel prequel to ABANDON), SHINING ROCK and THE PAIN OF OTHERS running close behind. Not all the stories involve depraved reprobates. A couple feature love. albeit in BC's bent way.
Crouch's prose is sparse and tight, with very little extra in the way of words, scenes or explanations. The reader is mostly left to his own devices to fill in the backstory behind the characters' motivations and thoughts. The last 15% or so of this anthology contains an extended review of Crouch by Hank Wagner, originally published in "Crimespree" in 2009, plus short excerpts from all of his novels. Both of these give excellent insight into the author and his novels, the latter very useful for those wanting to check out some of his many novels.
If you are squeamish, or if you are looking for demons, curses or haunted houses, this one is not for you. But if you like your horror rare and bloody, I'd give FULLY LOADED a try.
WHITE FIRE is the latest (13th) in the series of novels by Preston and Child starring the irrepressible Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast. This time around, Pendergast takes a largely supporting role to that of his protégé, Corrie Swanson, currently enrolled at the John Jay School of criminal justice. Corrie's search for a thesis project takes her to the ultra-chic resort town of Roaring Fork, CO, in search of the answer to a series of what seem like Grizzly bear attacks nearly 150 years ago, and quickly embroils her in a modern series of arson/murders.
This is a welcome change of pace for Pendergast fans from the last trilogy in which Pendergast's long-dead wife Helen reappears, disappears, reappears again, and Pendergast discovers more about Helen and her family than he ever wanted to know, while at the same time exhibiting essentially superhuman strength, endurance and resourcefulness over a 3 book span involving everything from Nazis to plate tectonics. But this time, it's just a good old murder mystery (or two).
There are but brief mentions of long-time supporting cast members Vinnie D'Agosta, Captain Hayward, Proctor or Constance Green. The focus is tightly restricted to Corrie, and her first real-live (or dead) case. Just because the stakes do not involve some international conspiracy or threat to the world does not mean that the novel is tame or slow paced. Quite the opposite. Because of the concentration on Corrie, the threat of serious bodily harm not excluding the possibility of death makes for quite a tension filled romp thorough the Colorado snow.
As an added bonus, an integral part of the story involves a missing Sherlock Holmes short story based on a "factual" tale told to A. Conan Doyle while he was on a visit to Roaring Fork 150 years ago. It's fun to see Preston and Child's take on what the "long lost" (fictional) Sherlock Holmes story would have read like, and how the story fits into the solution of both the old and new crimes.
One need not have read the other Pendergast novels to jump right in to this one, as there is little to link it to the others except the backstories of Corrie, Pendergast and their relationship. Not the best in the series, but very, very good.
EQUOIDS: A LAUNDRY NOVELLA, by Charles Stross does for unicorns what A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET did for dreams. Bob Howard is assigned to investigate reports of yet another incursion from beyond space and time code named (all Laundry jobs have code names) "EQUESTRIAN RED SIRLOIN", which as most of the code names, is remarkably apt despite sounding nonsensical. The mission briefing contains a "story" by H.P. Lovecraft about his run-in with a unicorn as a young man. Stross does a wonderful job in this pastiche of H.P. Lovecraft's "purple prose" writing style in describing the horrors of a 1 ton carnivorous adult male unicorn that is born of the fusion of a conical snail, a horse, a young human female and a tentacled seething mass of other worldly protoplasm with hive mind spell casting abilities. The life cycle of the unicorn is described in some wonderfully creative H.R.Geiger x Lovecraftian biologically icky detail.
While there is an above average amount of gore and carnage, the only well-known Laundry character is Bob himself, with nary a mention of anyone or anything else. There are a few mentions of the typical administrative Laundry snafus, but only as brief asides. The story length (32 pages) as cited on the Amazon Kindle ad is wrong. This is a full novella that clocks in at 113 pages of text on my iPad when set to normal book font size.
Not the place for those uninitiated into the Laundry mythos to begin, but well worth the $1.99 for long-time Laundry fans. As always, looking forward to the next Laundry novel.
WILLIAM AND THE THIRTEENTH KEY is the debut novel by Will Madoc Rees (an accomplished graphic designer and illustrator who worked on some of the iconic scenes in Thor, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and many more). The novel is firmly targeted at the young adult audience, say between 9-12 or 14 years. Although leaning on many tried and true tropes from various classic fantasy and sic-fi adventure books and movies, WILLIAM AND THE THIRTEENTH KEY is still infused with its own original hooks and world building.
In a short prologue, William's mother falls prey to some otherworldly beastie, just after having discovered a presumably all-important key that she had been searching for in the mountains of Nepal. She disappears without a trace and is presumed dead.
This leaves young William in the care of his grandfather, kindly but stern Lord Sturnbottom (ahem). A few months pass and William, being an inquisitive boy, defies one of his grandfather's strictest rules and breaks into his study where he discovers a gemstone encased in a complex mechanism. William accidentally activates this "key" and falls through a hole in the floor and the universe in front of the astonished Mrs. McTavish, who is a bit late in arriving to care for William.
Wiliam falls into a new "realm" or planet, Corpurnia, devastated by centuries of conflict and war, all due to a powerful emperor who is searching for the last of thirteen keys that when united control unimaginable powers. Guess who has that last key? Along what starts out as a long trek to get back home (shades of the Wizard of Oz), William picks up a variety of true blue friends including Dribble, a gremlin, and elf and a Yoda-like ancient Key Academic en route to his final battle with the evil emperor.
Corpurnia conjures up mental images of Arrakis, the Dune planet, and Tatooine, where we first meet Luke Skywalker. All the oceans have been dried up, and sand pirates roam and loot and pillage. There is an interesting mix of ancient tech with machines far in advance of what he have today, for example mechanical horse-like machines that fly and are used for transportation, beetles that act as recording courier pigeons and of course immense flying wooden sailing ships pictured on the book's cover or frontispiece that I am sure were created by Mr.Reese. There are not one but two ancient, lost cosmic civilizations, both vying for control of William's mind and his use of the thirteenth key. There are also some nice surprises in the form of aid from unexpected sources, and intentional humor.
The writing is crisp and clear and the pacing and vocabulary are perfect for tweens and teens. There is no bad language or anything to upset anyone. Nevertheless, this is a book that could be shared by parents and children alike. Although there is definite closure at the end, some secrets remain, leaving open the possibility of a sequel. All in all, a very worthy first effort.
Disclosure: The author provided me with an advanced copy of the novel with no strings attached, not even the promise to finish it or review it.
SALVGE AND DEMOLITION is a stand-alone short story/novella (note that it was only 91 pages on my iPad, although the hardcover claims to be 160 pages) by famed sci-fi and fantasy author Tim Powers. Despite its brevity, it is wonderfully full and complete. Almost all of Powers consists of genre-defying mixtures of magic and science fiction, plus a little more. This time the magic is in the form of some ancient Sumerian text and the science fiction in the form of time travel. The little more is a noir-ish tale of a modern used book dealer who opens a new order on consignment and finds himself back in 1957.
There are gangsters (of a type), romance (of a type) and a very clever twisty out-of sequence time travel story in several segments, during which one of the two principal protagonists has not yet met the other one and knows nothing about what is happening or why.
Powers continues to be one of my favorite authors, I and look forward to each of his new releases. I missed SALVGE AND DEMOLITION when it first came out, but this little beauty is no exception. Some may quibble about paying $4.99 for an illustrated novella (the illustrations are great, by the way), but not me. I was quite happy with what I got for my 5 bucks.
Tired of vampires, werewolves and zombies? How about a little Celtic mythology to spice up your fantasy reading? I ordered the kindle version on a lark, never having heard of the author before, but intrigued by the description, the large number of positive reviews, and the fact that it was published by 47North, Amazon's own publishing house. The latter meant that Amazon liked it (or some other work by author Jodi MacIsaac) enough to put her under contract with their in-house publishing firm, and I have never read a bad 47North release.
I'm very glad I took the chance. Whereas there have been a number of novels featuring characters and legends from Norse, Native American, Greek, Roman and other mythologies, this is the first one I've come across that puts Celtic mythology at center stage. Locations include Halifax, Nova Scotia, Ireland, New York and Tír na nÓg, a kind of Irish other world populated by beautiful, immortals with various supernormal powers and abilities, i.e., the fae (at least as far as i can tell).
Finn is one of these supernatural beings and he falls in love with a human, Cedar. After two blissful years together, Finn disappears without a trace just as Cedar was going to tell him that she was pregnant. Fast forward 7 years and Cedar is a single mother of Eden, who one day discovers that she has the ability to create a pathway to anywhere just by opening any regular door. All of a sudden Eden is kidnapped, Finn's family shows up and Cedar's mind is blown by having to accept that magic is real and the world is not as she imagined.
It is a fast-moving story, with several reveals scattered throughout like easter eggs that explain all the seemingly random and incomprehensible coincidences that occur in this interesting plot. No reason to give away any more - and all of this is revealed in the blurb and the first few chapters.
The writing is fluid and like al 47North books,professionally edited. Some of the characters are a bit thin, particularly the principal antagonist, but who cares when the mythology and plot are so interesting? I ordered the second in this series (there is closure at the end of this novel but it is clearly the start of a series) even before finishing this one, so that I wouldn't have to wait too long to get back to Tír na nÓg. I think Ms. McIsaacs has herself a winner here.
I had been using David Beckham Instinct Eau de Toilette since 2011, but became bored with it and also was bothered by the fact that it seemed to last only a few hours. I read a bunch of reviews and decided to give Bora Bora a shot. I'm not a big cologne guy and didn't want to spend a ton of money and this one sounded right. So far so good. My wife likes it a lot more than Instinct and it lasts all day. Not very fruity or musky, just a pleasant, clean, fresh smell. I am well satisfied.
THE PLAGIARIST is a short story (64 short pages) by WOOL-SHIFT-DUST author, Hugh Howey. It is a cute little tidbit that could easily have formed the basis for an outstanding one hour TWILIGHT ZONE or OUTER LIMITS episode. Adam is a teacher, but he really makes his living by "ghost-writing" stories that were written by the virtual inhabitants of a virtual world that exists in his university's mainframe. He is also in love with one of that world's virtual inhabitants. When something happens that threatens his livelihood and his girlfriend, he discovers that the virtual world is not as carefree as he once thought.
The idea is clever, albeit not completely original, and Howey carries it off with his usual style. The twist ending can be seen coming a mile away, but is still good enough to make one think. All in all, a pleasant way to spend $0.99 and 30 or 40 minutes.