Expandmenu Shrunk

  • Friday Indie Review: Neptune Crossing by Jeffrey A. Carver

    Neptune Crossing is an interesting and thought provoking SF originally published in by Tor 1994.  It is out of print though, and a new digital edition has been put out by Starstream Publications.  I’m not sure if it’s a small press or the author’s own imprint (since he also writes the Starstream series), but either way, the new publisher is definitely indie.  So much like John Dalmas’ The Second Coming, it qualifies to get a review on this site.

    And anyway, I really wanted to review it.

    Neptune Crossing takes place in a research and mining outpost on one of Neptune’s moons, Triton.  Humans aren’t the first beings to mine on Triton, and there are ghosts of alien habitation covering the moon like almost forgotten scars.  Whoever the previous miners were though, they have been gone a very long time–only allowing the human researchers to pick up bits and fragments of what the aliens were like, and small glimpses into what they were doing on Triton.

    The protagonist John Bandicut–aka Bandicut for short–, comes across as a sympathetic blue collar worker, trying to make his way in the universe and have a little fun while he’s at it.  Sure, he drops into these fugue states occasionally due to a malfunction with his neural implant going haywire, but as long as it doesn’t interfere with his work, he’s not harming anyone.  He may have a little bit of a misfire between some of his synapses, but that doesn’t mean his whole head is empty.

    Except, that gap in his brain allows him to pick up a hitchhiker.   Bandicut finds a piece of alien tech and is suddenly running around with an alien intelligence in his brain.  Charlie, as the alien likes to be called, has been waiting on Triton for a very long time, and wants Bandicut’s help.   Help doing what, you ask?  Why preventing the earth’s destruction, of course.

    But can Bandicut really trust the alien? After all, the alien’s plea could be a scam, or even just a home-grown hallucination brought on by Bandicut’s slightly defective brain.  You’ll have to read the story to find out.

    Onward to the pros and cons about this book:

    I really like the interchanges between Bandicut and the alien.  Since the dialogue happens by necessity as part of Banicut’s inner thoughts, the author has kept the exchanges from getting bogged down with endless dialogue tags by indicating Bandicut’s thoughts with a single slash, as in: /What are you?/ and the alien’s responses with a double slash, //I am Quarx//

    I would recommend skipping over the “Prelude” at the beginning of the book on the first read, though.  While it does introduce you to the alien, I didn’t find any information it gave necessary to reading the rest of the story, and honestly, without context you get in later parts of the story, I found it very passive and confusing at best.  If you want to go back and read it later, go for it, but I didn’t find it to be a very accurate or compelling entrance to the rest of the story, which is written in a very different tone.

    That being said, I’m a firm believer of the “prelude” or “prologue” usually being an unnecessary piece, kind of like the human appendix.  Grace Under Fire in its original form had a prologue which our publisher and editor both targeted as being unnecessary and confusing to first-time readers.  Once it was gone, we had to admit they were right.   I’m not saying prologues never work; I’m saying: if you start to read the prelude and don’t like it, skip to the first chapter.

    I also enjoy that while this is a story first published in 1994, it doesn’t feel anachronistic or like the tech is already dated.  It also deals with quite a few interesting theoretical concepts in physics and space travel which give the whole story a feeling of depth.  This story is rooted in true scifi, rather than fantasy with a science veneer.



  • Friday Indie Review: Dawn of Steam: First Light

      There are people in this world who are going to love this book without reservation.

    I am not one of them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    Let’s start with this:  There’s a gentleman’s wager on the table in 1815 about what unexplored areas of the world look like.  Our intrepid hero must recruit a crew and go exploring in order to satisfy the wager.  On the way, he is beset by some weird stuff.  Things happen.  Things that have capital letters, like the Year Without a Summer.  The other guys in the wager are looking to cheat. So, we’ve got a setup here for a possibly good if a little trope-heavy steampunk novel.

    But there’s a couple of problems right off the bat. To begin with, the tech level feels wrong.  When I see a title like “Dawn of Steam” and the time period (1815), I am envisioning the early beginnings of steampunk tech.  Call me crazy, but if we’re going for an alternate-history steampunk (and we most definitely are, here), it feels like we should at least place the tech at the right level.  Steampunk is generally Victorian, because that’s the age where steam really takes off as a technology.  That age begins in 1837.  To be sure, there were steam engines before that, but those engines were highly experimental and dangerous.  The first public railway didn’t open until ten years after this novel is set. Now, steampunk is definitely alternate-history, but I’m never given a sense in this book of what exactly the heck happened in our history to create this alternate.  Someone must have invented the steam engine far, far earlier than normal history; I want an explanation for that!  As it sits, the tech feels like it’s been cut-and-pasted from a steampunk archetype warehouse into 1815, for no better reason than the author thought it would be cool.

    This, however, is not the primary problem with the story. The primary problem is the method by which the story is told.  Now, I get how authors can get bored with traditional novel formats.  I get that there’s a temptation to use an alternate format in order to show your creative side.  Hell, I’ve even written a short story in an alternate format.  So I get the temptation.  But this entire novel is a cobbled-together set of letters, diary entries, notations, advertisements, and other primary historical sources.  It’s built to be a collected set of things about this guy, compiled at some point after he has his adventures. In other words, our author has put a painstaking effort into making sure that his book reads like the things textbooks were invented to make more interesting.  There’s perspective-shifting, there’s headaches, and generally speaking there’s a great deal of trouble to grind through the book and extract some form of a story from it.

    There’s also a great sin of a prologue, in the form of the compiler’s note (followed by the second prologue from the publisher).  This prologue is not only long-winded and unnecessary, it essentially tells you everything you need to know about the book.  We find, from this prologue, that our hero was a great adventurer who managed to see and record his observations of these different places.  It manages to simultaneously be unentertaining while telling the reader it’s ok that you don’t want to keep reading, because I’ve just told you everything that’s going to happen.  You can stop now.  When we talk about prologues at our next con panel, this will be the prologue I point to as a demonstration of how poorly these things can go.  If you’re going to read this book, do yourself a favor and skip this part.

    I said at the beginning of this review that there are people in the world who are going to love this book.  Let’s get to that.  Dawn of Steam can be an immersive experience.  It really is the equivalent of trying to sift through primary historical sources to figure out what happened.  In that way, reading the book becomes something of an academic effort, much like the ones the characters are making.  For people who love Steampunk because they absolutely love the setting, Dawn of Steam is going to be a great read.  It is a book whose very language wraps you up in the setting.  Cook does a great job of using the voice of his primary-source pieces to give a true feeling of authenticity to the whole thing, despite the inappropriate tech level.

    I personally feel like this book needs an illustrator and an oversized print edition.  It’d be perfect as a coffee-table book, a conversation started.  Something to flip through idly while the host is up getting a new pot of tea ready.  The feeling of setting is really that pervasive. The problem is, that feeling of setting comes at the expense of getting to the plot, the characters, or anything else that makes one give a marmot’s whistle about a book.

    If you just like to feel steampunky, and you’re not looking for a plot, then you’ll love this book.  If, however, you’d like the setting to serve the story and not vice-versa, look elsewhere.


  • Friday Indie Review: Lacing Up For Murder by Irene Radford

    This is the first cozy mystery we’ve reviewed here on the Friday Indie, and don’t let the cover art fool you.  We’re always being told that you should not judge a book by its cover, and in this case, that is expressly true. I don’t know who thought a sexy, gun toting babe would be suitable as the artwork for this book, but it doesn’t not represent the contents of the story accurately at all.  I certainly wasn’t expecting the middle aged, no nonsense, tea-guzzling and lace-admiring Glenna from this cover.

    This book is actually a whimsical, well-told tale of ghosts, lace, tea-time, golfing for-fun-and-profit and questionable fortunes at the Whistling River resort.  The hotel’s manager/co-owner, Glenna has her hands full running the resort and doesn’t have time for murder or mayhem: her staff believe the hotel is haunted by the previous owner, or maybe the resort’s namesake– and are on the verge of leaving– her board of directors wants to hire a new security manager based solely on his golf swing,  a lace convention is running amok downstairs, and her yearly Japanese business clients just showed up with her dead-beat ex-husband in tow.  She can’t afford to offend or lose any of them, or she’s barely hanging on to the aging resort that has been her home and solace since her messy divorce. She has put every last penny she had into buying and running the Whistling River, and she needs all the repeat patrons she can get her hands on.  Even if one of their unexpected business partners (cough, cough, ex-husband) pushes her blood pressure to the boiling point.

    Oh, and of course, to top it all off, there’s the murder that Glenna will get framed for if she can’t find the real culprit.

    Irene Radford has been writing entertaining, imaginative tales that wrap around the reader and make them feel right at home in the world the author has created for years, and this story is very true to form.   Throw in the murder mystery and a new employee who may or may not be exactly what he seems, and you have a very fun, lighthearted summer read.   No sexy leather included.


    Friday-Indie-Logo Three point 5

  • What the Fuck is Wrong With You? (An Open Letter to Warner Brothers)

    Ok, let’s be honest.  This is a two-bit review sight for an obscure medium that isn’t high-budget movies.  I am not in any way influential in either Hollywood or the comics universe.  My voice is no louder than any other fan’s, at the end of the day. But this is the forum that I have, and it’s time for me to use it.

    Dear Warner Brothers:  What the fuck is wrong with you? Has anyone over there been watching this whole Marvel Cinematic Universe and thinking “Wow, that looks like a lot of money rolling in.  Think we could do something like that?”  Anyone?  Have any one of you executives thought, for even half a second, that maybe Marvel’s on to something here, and maybe we could do something like that?

    Guardians of the Galaxy just set some records.  Highest opening weekend in August, ever.  Of all time.  Not Iron Man, not Captain America…Guardians of the Galaxy.  This is an intellectual property consisting of a space asshole, a talking raccoon, and a houseplant.  Nobody who wasn’t hard-core into comics knew shit about this IP before the movie promotions.  And yet it’s breaking records.

    As well it should, because it’s a great fucking movie.

    Warner Brothers, you have at your command the entire stable of DC comics characters.  You have a massive and untapped resource of stories at your disposal.  Instead, you are flogging us to death with your grimdark Superman and assorted iterations of Batman.  The Dark Knight movies were cool and all, but they weren’t part of a universe.  They didn’t have an interwoven storyline.

    I get that what Marvel’s doing seemed risky at first.  I mean, you’ve got to sign actors to a whole shitpot of movies to even start to make this work.  With 3 Iron-Mans, 3 Avenger’s movies, and a cameo in the Hulk movie, Robert Downey Jr. will have been Tony Stark in seven movies before this is all done with.  That’s a risk.  When Marvel started, back in 2007, to put this whole thing together it was looking like a really risky move. But we’re halfway through Phase II of the MCU, and guess what?  Those fuckers are Scrooge McDucking this shit up over there.

    Oh, sure, Man of Steel made some money.  Almost 670 million worldwide.  That’s almost triple what you put into it, so I bet you think you’re doing fine.  Right? Fucking wrong.  Just because your movie hasn’t tanked doesn’t mean you’re operating at your peak.

    Captain America 2 beat your Man of Steel handily.  You managed to beat Thor 2 by about 20 million.  What was before Thor 2?  Oh, right.  At 1.2 billion, Tony Stark almost doubled the Clark Kent take.

    So, since the beginning of 2013, you’ve released one movie.  One.  And it pulled in 670 million.  Marvel, in turn, has released 4 movies to your one in that time frame.  And they average more box office as you have.

    That’s as of right now.  That means I’m only counting opening weekend for Guardians.  I have a sneaking suspicion that number is going up.

    Ok, but I’m only counting one of your movies, right?  I mean, in 2012 you had another success.  Dark Knight Rises was fabulous for you, pulling down over a billion worldwide.  Real knock-down drag out success, right?  I mean, what could have possibly beaten that in 2012? Could any movie possibly do that? 

    The last time that you, Warner Brothers, used your DC Intellectual Properties to do better business than Marvel was 2009.  And that only happened because Heath Ledger did the Joker the way the Joker should be done.

    2009.  You should look at that number with shame.
    There was a time in this country when DC v. Marvel was the kind of conversation to start knife-fights in comic book shops.  No longer – it’s clear that Marvel is winning.  There was a time when kids ran around with blankets tied to their necks pretending to be Superman or Batman.  Still happens, a little bit, but you get a lot more kids with garbage can lids pretending to be Captain America or picking up hammers and claiming to be Thor.

    Look, I know you don’t want to admit that you’re getting creamed.  After all, it’s not like your comic book movies are failures.  They don’t lose you money, so what do you have to complain about?  You’re making money, right?  How can I call you all fucking nimrods for standing by your otherwise successful shows?

    Answer:  Guardians of the Galaxy just broke box office records.  What does that tell us? That tells us that Marvel/Disney is very good at marketing, which is true.  But it also tells us that there are a core of people out there, including myself, who are bought into the MCU.  If they suddenly came out and announced “You know, guys, fuck it.  Next movie is the Great Lakes Avengers,”  I would still go watch that movie.

    I basically have faith that Marvel knows what the fuck they are doing, and is taking me along for the ride. DC?  I have no clue.  Dark Knight was amazing, Dark Knight Rises was ho-hum, the Wonder-Woman thing was fucked up, and Man of Steel was a grimdark Superman, which is frankly bullshit.  The PR for Superman v. Batman (with apparently a gratuitous side-serving of Wonder Woman because apparently fuck-that-bitch-why-should-she-get-her-own-movie) is so bad that I already don’t want to see the movie.  I am pretty convinced that you’re going to fuck it up.  So, like I did with Man of Steel, I’ll wait until it’s available on HBO GO and then I’ll check it out when I don’t have to give you my money for it.

    My question, my ultimate, resounding question, is this:  How do you fuck this up?  Marvel has given you a fucking blueprint for how to generate a cinematic universe.  They gave you a fucking tutorial on the subject, and they didn’t even charge you.  It’s embarassing as hell that they beat you so thoroughly to the punch, but that’s not the point, really.

    Here’s the underlying truth, though:  You still have a geekdom. We’re still here. We watched the Justice League cartoon and JLU and thought they were awesome.  We’re fans of Arrow, and we’re going to be tuning in for Flash.  We love Superman, and Batman, and the Martian Manhunter. We are fucking obsessed with your young heroes, a move Marvel never really successfully pulled off.  You have fucking generations of heroes to present us, from the gruff and surly Wildcat to the quick-thinking Tim Drake.  You’ve got all kinds of awesome stories just waiting to be told, and you have a host of nerds with money in their wallets just salivating.

    The talk amongst us, whenever we’re hanging out in a group, is to wonder where the fuck you went wrong.  What the fuck happened to make you stray from this most obvious of paths?  What is going on over there at Warner Brothers to make you think that not building a full cinematic universe, and doing it right, is a good idea?

    Here’s what it boils down to, fuckers:  Since they began the cinematic universe, Marvel has locked down 6.54 billion at the box office.  In that time, DC properties have pulled in 2.75 billion.  The cost/benefit balance works out in Marvel’s favor too; their box office profit margin roughly equals yours.

    And, again, I’m doing these numbers based on only the opening weekend of Guardians.  I’m guessing you’re going to get rollicked much, much harder by the time that run is done. So, to you people at Warner Brothers, if you are all sitting around a conference table telling yourself what a good fucking job you’re doing, aren’t you wonderful, just run the fucking numbers.  You do have some successful movies, but in terms of marketshare you are getting fucked.  up.  You’ve made some cash, but you could be doing so much more.

    Pull your heads out of your ass and put a division together to run the DC comics division of Warner Brothers like Disney runs Marvel.  Let them have their head, and let them tell the stories that their comics have told for years.  Put it together into a cohesive universe, and let us geek out about it.

    You will make so much more money that way.

  • Friday Indie Review: Wednesdaymeter by Dean Carby

    Let’s get weird for a second.

    One of the great beauties in indie publishing is that authors can carry strange ideas to places that traditional publishing simply won’t go.  I’ve reviewed some extreme books on this site, books with unique premises and twists on our standard speculative-fiction fare.

    All of these books seem pretty normal when held up next to Wednesdaymeter.  I am relatively certain that, prior to sitting at his keyboard for any given drafting session, Dean Carby dropped a whole bunch of acid.  If, at some point during the writing of this book, the phrase “well, I really want to get some writing done but first I need to score some more LSD” wasn’t uttered, I am shocked.  This book is just weird.

    Magic comes from eating plant matter and wasted time.  Thus, fruits and vegetables are strictly controlled.  Entire companies are set up for the purpose of wasting their employee’s time in order to power the magic of the people running the company.  What’s more, sentient polygons have brought in a kind of police state to the whole world.  Yes, I said sentient polygons.  The whole thing feels like Office Space and Dilbert if they had been written by Terry Pratchett.

    This is not necessarily a bad thing, and fortunately someone let the drugs wear off before doing the editing.  The prose is good and clean, and the individual scenes are very well-written, with one flaw.

    There is one hell of a learning curve to this book.  The first chapter tries really, really hard to introduce the reader to the magic system with a little action scene.  The problem we have is that it’s making this introduction through the eyes of an experienced plant user, who doesn’t really feel the need to tell us why all this works.  Sitting down and figuring out what the hell is going on in this book is a steep, steep challenge, and it takes a lot of slow reading and putting things into place.  When you are this far out on the limb, you really need a story device to coax the reader out there with you.

    This is where the book falls down.

    So, Wednesdaymeter is good, but not great.  If it had gently slid me into this world, I would be telling you this is one of the best indie books I’ve read.  Instead, I get the feeling that the author is assuming I’ll drop acid before I read the book.  Maybe that would make it easier, I’m not sure.  Not having any LSD around, I won’t be finding out anytime soon.  Still, if you like things on the weird edge of indie publishing, then I say it’s still worth jumping off that edge and reading Wednesdaymeter.


  • Friday Indie Review Caller Unknown by Jennifer Brozek

    For this Friday’s Indie Review, I was ready for something really fun, so I picked up the urban fantasy thriller, Caller Unknown by Jennifer Brozek.  I have to say, this book was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride from the very start of page one– and I mean that in a very good way.

    Karen Wilson is a 9-1-1 operator who who receives a cryptic prank call on her personal cell phone from an unknown number.  She tries to shrug it off as another crazy phisher or spoofer, but the caller said that a person’s life, someone named Lamiel, will be at risk.   When Karen manages to find both the person and the place the caller referenced with a simple internet search, she decides that she’ll at least go check it out. The worst thing that happens is she gets laughed out of town by this Lamiel or her prank caller.  However, by the time Karen gets there, her “target,” Lamiel, has already left unexpectedly in response to a mysterious phone call.

    With a sudden foreboding that the ambush might be all too real, Karen follows and arrives in time to see the silhouette of a man pushing  the woman known as Lamiel off a bridge.  Not at all sure what is going on now, but certain the woman will need help, Karen calls for emergency services, but gets the mysterious caller instead. He tells Karen to pull a needle with strange etchings out of the woman’s neck before it kills her.

    Karen does so but yells at the man to get off the line, so she can call 9-1-1.  Abruptly the 9-1-1 operator she originally tried to dial is on the line.   Aware of how bad her involvment in the crime scene looks, since she was seen looking for Lamiel earlier in the evening, Karen tells the officer-in-charge about the original crank call, but not about the second exchange with her mysterious caller or about the needle.  She can’t think of anyway to bring it up that won’t make her sound absolutely crazy.

    After this event, Karen is haphazardly dragged into a fight where rituals, spells, gargoyles and secret orders all still exist, but she’s not sure where she fits in to the picture– or even which side might be trying to make the world better versus who’s just playing dirty.

    I had a hoot with this read; the characters are fun, the plot line is engaging, and there are enough twists and turns for Karen to navigate in the story that I felt like the author did a great job of not telegraphing the ending.  Ending up with a predictable plot can be an incredibly easy trap to fall into with urban fantasy, especially in a story where one of the main plot threads is a good-vs-evil throw-down.  I am incredibly happy to report that did not happen here.

    The book is on the short side, only pulling in at about 144 pages on my e-reader, but that makes it incredibly easy to read in one sitting, and great for travelling or times when you only have a few hours to fill.  It also means this book has virtually no fluff or filler. It is all high-octane story craft.  If something doesn’t move the plot forward or develop the characters, it doesn’t appear in this book.  Making a story this lean is something that’s difficult to do well, without sacrificing character development or flavor.  I truly admire how superbly this author pulled it off.

    A highly enjoyed and highly recommended read.



  • Friday Indie Review: Take One With You by Oak Anderson


    Take One With You is a concept that immediately intrigued me.  To read the blurb, I get the impression that a very interesting set of ethical dilemnas are going to be presented.

    The basic premise here is this:  there are people in the world who are suicidal.  There are also people in the world who are evil.  The suicidal people, as well as people who simply like to stir up trouble, have started a movement to convince people that, if you’re going to kill yourself anyways, you should do it in a way that also kills someone evil.  You should take one with you, or TOWY as the book calls it.

    In starting this movement, of course, our main characters basically become murderers on the same level as Hitler.  Millions die as the result of the TOWY fad.  They seem pretty proud of it.

    The book opens with a gruesome scene of a TOWY suicide.  There’s a really nasty rapist who seems incapable of thinking about anything but rape.  Now, I’ve met a lot of rapists in my time, and none of them were like this, so there was something of a blow to my suspension of disbelied.  Still, Anderson makes it very clear that this is a person of no redeeming quality.  Melissa, the sister of one of his victims, then seduces this guy (who seems to be dealing with the problem of how he is going to go about raping someone who appears to be consensual) into taking her out on a motorbike at a hundred miles an hour.  Then she tips the bike, and we get a really gruesome portrayal of the death of Mr. Rape and Melissa.

    The writing here is well done.  If you’re into the snuff-film style of writing, then you will certainly enjoy the gory detail.  Oak Anderson paints his scene well, with a level of detail that I have to appreciate even while it nauseates me.

    Ok, so, we have this great opening scene.  It’s a bit of an in medeas res, a scene with no major characters in it (because they’re both dead at the end), but a scene that snaps us into the gory results of what we’re going to be talking about.  It is at this point that Oak Anderson takes us back in time, over three years, to the beginnings of the TOWY movement.  Here we meet our protagonists, Charlie and Sarah.  Then Anderson displays some fundamental novel-writing issues that essentially end one’s ability to effectively track the plot.

    After the first scene, chronology goes out the window completely.  That three-year move back in time is just the first in a series of chronological bounces the author makes.  It’s not just that his chapter headings spell out the eventual result of the TOWY movement as soon as we start reading them, but that he is constantly telling us what is going to happen.  This is a trick I see short-story writers using all the time - the chronology bounce.  In a short story, it’s used to keep the reader guessing and provide a feeling of disorientation that, for the length of a short story, can be interesting.

    For the length of a novel, it’s not so much interesting as it is a combination of confusing and spoiler-y.  The end result is this:  I know what major events are going to take place in the book before they take place, because Anderson is constantly telling me they’re going to take place before they do.  Guess how much suspense and intrigue that lands me with when the things actually happen?  If you guessed any positive number, you are incorrect.

    So, chronology is a problem.  Now let’s talk perspective.  Anderson’s perspective whips between character and character in the space of a paragraph.  It’s disorienting as well, and it makes it almost impossible to follow the story.  This story is written from the perspective of everyone, and that’s a significant problem for me as well.  It’s really hard for me to form an emotional connection to these characters when I’m constantly jolted out of their head and into someone else’s.  I’m not saying it can’t be done - it clearly can.  But it’s a real bitch to pull off, and I see this technique fail more times than I see it succeed.  Omniscient perspective is the souffle of writing. Extraordinarily difficult to pull off, decent-tasting when done correctly.  And you could have easily made quiche instead.

    The bones of this story are good.  It’s an intriguing premise, and frighteningly possible-feeling.  Anderson has built a terrifying beast, and I’m actually kind of glad his book is so badly written, because I would be worried about life imitating art if this thing got popular.  The idea behind TOWY is at once terrifying and perfectly logical, and I love Anderson for trying to explore it.  If he took this thing to a story editor for a couple of polishes, fixed his perspective issues and then ironed out his chronology, it would be amazing.  As it is, the characters become flat and uninteresting.

    In short, I give Anderson points for having a good story, but I take them away for not being able to effectively tell it.  Thus, I end up with:


  • Friday Indie Review: The Broken Afterlife by Tyler Tullis

    I met this author at a convention a few years back, and I love reading local authors. He talked about this book, and I thought at the time that it had an interesting premise that could be a lot of fun, if treated correctly.   The author has set up a world where a once world-renowned, prize-winning investigative reporter, Jon Perry, has been framed, and then exonerated for “cooking” one of his stories.  But as a result, he has lost his credibility as a journalist, and is working to make ends meet as an private investigator.  It’s in this guise as PI that the fun and hi-jinks start, when he takes on a job to prove a husband’s infidelity for the obligatory blond damsel in distress, named Cora Avery.

    The book starts out in tried-and-true detective-noir style, and it hit all the tropes with what I thought was great panache.  It was a bit campy in spots, but honestly I love that juxtaposition between the hard-boiled detective and his totally ridiculous surroundings or contemporaries.  This author also nailed the cynical viewpoint needed for this type of character. Jon’s been around the block a few times and been burned by life more times than he has fingers or toes to count on– and it shows.

    Here’s where things got a bit tricky for me.   As Jon investigates Cora’s husband, Brad, who’s on the police force, it becomes apparent something is not at all right with Mr. Avery, but it’s not as simple as an affair.   He may just be a corrupt cop.   Jon watches as the husband kills two women in the space of one night, and meets with some other very disreputable individuals– and one highly respectable politician.

    He tries to report it, but the bodies mysteriously go missing. Plus now the husband knows he’s being watched, and it’s not much of a guess as to who must have made him the target of a PI.   He comes after Jon with several colleagues, and Jon only gets away after Cora hits Brad with the car, pinning him up against the side of the house and driving him through the wall, until –this is an exact quote– “He was a pulp.”

    I have to admit, this was hard to swallow for me.  Cora hasn’t seen any of the murders herself.  And this is her husband we’re talking about, after all.  Presumably at some point– even if I assume she’s a trophy wife– she cared a great deal about this man.  Even if she believes he’s involved in shady business, or even believes he is a murderer, immediately turning to murder herself, and a very gruesome one at that, is a huge step.

    The author does try to ameliorate this by telling us next that Brad was possessed by one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and Cora is in turn possessed by an angel, Adelaide, by the time the gruesome, vehicle-aided manslaughter took place.  Adelaide has come “of her own free will” to help Jon combat the four horsemen, who appear to have gone rogue.  Adelaide admits she has never met God or talked to him.  

    But. Since she’s called herself an “angel”, she’s obviously an instrument of God’s will, and he must exist.

    Here’s the thing. It’s even worse to have Adelaide kill Brad instead of Cora. There is nothing angelic, or frankly even very redeemable, about driving a man through the wall of a house until he is unrecognizable.  Especially since the author then goes on to explain that Brad was acting against his will because he was possessed, and that both the horseman and Adelaide have essentially stolen their hosts’ lives.  As long as Cora lives, she’ll actually be controlled by Adelaide. Cora is trapped inside her own flesh unable to get out or have any say in her own actions.

    But Adelaide tells us Cora understood that and accepted it, because she didn’t want to get killed by the horseman.  Adelaide also explains that angels are just people who have died and come back to help the living, which to me, actually means she’s a ghost.   So Cora is possessed by a delusional ghost, who thinks she’s an angel.  Either that, or Cora’s just gone plain nuckin’ futs.

    My “delusional ghost” perspective gets reinforced since Adelaide admits she doesn’t know what she’s doing or have any kind of a divine directive at this point.  The only thing I can assume is that she just likes Jon and thinks he can get the job done, for unfathomable reasons of her own.  Oh, and actually killing Brad did not stop the horseman, it just slowed him down. Jon and Adelaide have time to exchange stories and regroup but not much else.

    Anyway.  At least explaining that Adelaide is basically a normal human ghost with the same knowledge and attitudes of anyone else from the 1940′s took away some of the absolutely horrible implications that her actions would have had if you, say, put her in direct communication with and under the command of God.   But only some.  It did at least allow me to continue further into the book. I have to admit that my first reaction after a vehicle-aided, premeditated and gruesome vehicular homicide with a “holy” perpetrator was to put the book down, and not pick it back up.

    And so here’s my final beef with this book.   The book does put forward that God exists, and all actions in the course of the story are at least indirectly under his purview, which means all of the ugly, bad decisions and errors in judgment that Adelaide makes in her “angelic mission” do ultimately reflect on the God depicted in this book.  On top of that, I found the latter part of the book to be preachy, without actually making me want to buy in to the type of God and religion the book put forward.

    It may not sound like it, I am actually very torn about how to rate my enjoyment in this book, because the part up until Adelaide runs Brad over with the car was absolutely fabulous. I enjoyed it immensely.  But the rest of the book, once I found out that Adelaide is God’s divine messenger, just fell apart for me.   Mostly because I couldn’t believe in Adelaide’s worldview or any God that would stand behind that worldview.  She was too flawed, and it made her loose all authority as a driving force for good.  Honestly, for me, she and the horsemen were on the same moral and ethical level for much of the book.

    So I guess in summation, there’s good writing here, but for me, characters’ actions ultimately failed to support the book’s redemption arc in a satisfying way, especially since the author went for a God-is-good ending without actually resolving the problem with the horsemen conclusively, which just underlined that this God wasn’t that concerned with protecting humanity as a whole.  Jon’s soul may be saved by the end of the book, but the rest of us are still going to hell in a hand basket.  That’s just not the kind of attitude I expect a truly benevolent deity to have.



  • Friday Indie Review: The Lost Enforcer by Irene Radford and Bob Brown


    Caveat to my readers to begin this:  I am not without prejudice when it comes to these authors.  I consider them both friends, and have been camping with them on a number of occasions.  In fact, I appear as a character in The Lost Enforcer, albeit briefly.  The name of the animal is changed away from “Frog,” though.  Which is to say, I may be biased toward it.

    That said, this book is a pretty decent hoot.

    The Enforcers are an interstellar, semi-autonomous police force.  In terms of galactic politics, this presents a number of issues.  Over a hundred years ago, Enforcer Jakai managed to shoot down a spacecraft belonging to the power-mad warlord Dorno Ben Sant, but he had to sacrifice his own ship to do it.  Ever since, Jakai and Ben Sant have been in a sort of stasis, waiting.

    Until (of course) now.  Ben Sant has taken control of a Palestinian rights movement, posing as the returned Mahdi, the Twelfth Prophet, here to lead glorious Islam into the…well, you get the idea.  He’s harnessed the fundamentalist crazies in an effort to grab power for himself.  Jakai, awakened by a couple of backpackers in the Cascade Mountains, is out to stop him.

    There’s a whole passel of characters to deal with.  The Intergalactic Parliament is in political conflict with the High Council, and if you’re wondering what that means then join the club.  I couldn’t figure it out either, but I decided to liken it to the difference between the UN General Assembly and the Security Council.  That’s a wild guess on my part.  But there’s certainly intrigue, and everyone is lying to everyone on the high-sided political climate.  Back on Earth, first contact has been made, botched, and is now turning into a diplomatic kerfuffle.  Everyone has their finger in the pie, everyone thinks they know what’s best, and everyone tends to just make the situation worse.

    This is a fun, fluffy read, and I enjoyed it.  It does have some problems, though.  To begin with, I had a hard time really getting into any of the characters.  The plot is interesting, but the characters themselves flash by in such a dizzying haze that I tend not to care about them.  I get that Cody, our backpacking earth girl, is something of a protagonist-ish figure, but honestly she’s not a character with a hell of a lot of agency.  At various points in this book Cody is captured by aliens, kidnapped from those aliens by another alien, and smuggled across the Mexican border by…well, by aliens, but in the illegal-immigrant sense.  She lacks agency through most of the book, and what she gets towards the end kinda feels too-little-too late.  That, and she totally leads on any guy attracted to her to get what she wants, which is kind of despicable.

    The book flashes POV characters so quickly that is can be hard to keep up with it.  Someone you were just in the head of is, a page later, being referred to with descriptors only.  It’s not impossible to sort out, but especially at the beginning I had to go back and re-read a couple of times to figure out who my perspective character was, where the change happened, and to reset my expectations.  A lot of these shifts happen mid-action-scene, which ups the level of disorientation.  It didn’t kill the book, but it felt unnecessary.

    All of that said, the action in this book is a hoot.  It is a comedy of errors, with nobody getting anything right.  It is one colossal pooch-screw after another, and it’s fun to watch all these characters fall flat on their faces.  It’s a book that should be approached as a fluffy, fun summer read, but it is a very fun summer read.

    Friday-Indie-Logo Three point 5


  • Friday Indie Review: Black Roses by Christine Morgan

    Black Roses Christine Morgan


    So some of you may remember that I did a review of Changeling Moon by this author a while back that I generally liked, but noted I had picked up the wrong book, since it wasn’t the first in the series.    For some reason, my brain will occasionally randomly see a book and leap to, “Oh hey, this looks really cool; it must be the first book,” or “Hey, there are three books here, so it must be a trilogy,” despite what evidence to the contrary may actually be on the back cover.

    I have repeatedly torpedoed myself with this glitch and sometimes Frog, who, back in the day, was really upset when I presented him with the first three books of what I thought was a trilogy… and it turned out to be the beginnings of “A Song of Ice and Fire.”  I’ll let you imagine how thrilled he was to get to the end of book three, and realize that no, this was not, in fact, a trilogy.  Since the books are still coming out, I still haven’t lived that one down.

    Well, Black Roses is actually book 1 in the “Trinity Bay” series, so I can finally redeem myself somewhat and at least do a review on the beginning of this series.

    Let me start out by saying that Ms. Morgan is an incredibly strong writer, and her sense of dramatic timing, imagery, and voice are some of the best I’ve read.   Her prose is always engrossing, and she manages to give the reader a very strong  sense of who her characters are, and a vivid picture of their settings without bogging her scenes down.  Her world is absolutely believable and real to me as it’s written.  This is not a story where suspension of disbelief even crossed my mind.  I just believed.

    This book is a good read.

    Now, with that said, Black Roses has an intensely dark story line, with 1 part ghost story, 1 part murder mystery, and 1 part horror, while teetering on the brink of erotica in places.  But really, really uncomfortable erotica that instills in the reader a need to go get clean afterward.  This is definitely not for younger readers, or for those who would be offended by themes such as rape, incest, or child abuse.  I’m not saying the author promotes these things in the book or in any way holds them out as good things, but they are there, and they make up a great deal of the foundation that the rest of the book springs from.

    In the story some of the abuse and killing is exacerbated by supernatural causes, and the author takes us in close to many of the crimes as the plot progresses.  It also takes us in close to some of the previous victims, who may or may not have gotten what was coming to them, and really asks the reader to make their own decisions on what crosses the line, and where some of the deeper causes of violence and depravity come from.   It also showed the often self-perpetuating cycle of abuse that tends to drag its participants/victims in deeper and deeper.

    Our main character, Theresa starts out in a very sympathetic place, having just ended a marriage and moved back to the town where her father lives. For me, it helped that the author started out with such a strong sympathetic picture of the main character, because even with her compelling writing  style, the author very vividly describes so much ugliness.    Ugliness that I absolutely know exists in the world, but parts of this book really made me feel like I was wallowing in that dirt myself.  Without the strong introduction to Theresa, I’m not sure I would have been able to finish.  This actually is a huge compliment to Ms. Morgan, because the scenes were that real to me.

    Because the main villain in the book is an incubus, I went in thinking there might be some sex depicted, but honestly I kind of thought it might end up bordering on mushy romance.   That should not have been my worry.  No punches were pulled in the total gross vindictiveness and destruction this incubus wrought in people’s lives with his actions.

    Even more than that, Ms. Morgan left me, as the reader, wondering how much of what the incubus pulled out of his victims was something already there that he exploited, and how much was a result of the hate and anger he brought with him.  That line in this book was never black and white.

    Theresa herself is trying to make sense of the events and crimes, not a necessarily a perpetrator of them, but she does become entrapped in the mire of it all, and spends a lot of the book trying to understand the full scope of everything that is going on, before starting to claw her way out of it.

    Taking all of what I’ve said above into account, the book held together really well, and while I can’t say that I enjoyed it exactly, it was compelling and worth the read.   It was not comfortable.  It was not uplifting, though it did end on an up-note.  It was by turns riveting and disturbing.  It definitely means that I will be going back and taking a look at the other books in the series with a new eye.

    My final word is to go ahead and read it; I think it’s worth it.  But brace yourself, because it is in many respects a journey through the darker side of humanity.

    Friday-Indie-Logo Three point 5