Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 44 -- Conan the Barbarian

by Michael A. Stackpole

Started: August 12
Finished: August 15

Notes: This is the novelization for the more modern Conan movie that came out some few years ago. I have not seen the movie and had not planned to after hearing quite a few bad things about it. However, I won this book at a raffle for only a dollar at Howard Days this summer, and the reason it drew my interest was the author. I know Stackpole is generally well regarded and I've never read anything of his, so this should be a learning experience if nothing else.

Mini review: The plot was rather mundane and most of the characters lackluster, but that's not the fault of this author, just the fault of a mediocre screenplay. The writing itself was actually pretty strong, though there were a few places where it was difficult to tell what was actually happening, but I blame this one also on a not-so-great screenplay. Though a novelization, Stackpole's writing impressed me enough that I wouldn't balk from reading more of his work.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 43 -- Adventures in Science Fantasy

by Robert E. Howard

Started: August 6
Finished: August 11

Notes: Yep, this is another book I picked up at Robert E. Howard Days, this one from The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press.

Mini review: This has some pretty good stories in it, but I didn't find it as entertaining as Pictures in the Fire, the other book I've read from The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press. Like that other book, most of the stories here were ones not published during Howard's lifetime, and that's understandable as some of this was not his best work and some of it was from his youngest days. The one standout tale for me was Almuric, originally serialized in Weird Tales magazine in 1939. The science in these tales does not hold up to our understanding today, but that's to be expected. And despite my not enjoying this book as much as the earlier one, it's still a pretty good read and a must for any true Howard fan.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 42 -- Black Vulmea's Vengeance

by Robert E. Howard

Started: August 4
Finished: August 6

Notes: Argh! Here there be pirates! This collection of seafaring Howard tales was originally published in the mid-1970s, and I was fortunate enough to find this large paperback while attending Robert E. Howard Days in Texas this summer. The book's title comes from the title of one of the tales. I don't believe I've read these, and that's a bit surprising as I've read quite a bit of Howard, though I've not read everything.

Mini review: These three novellas were some great pirating tales! All are land-based, islands or coastal, and my guess would be this was partly because Howard might not have had much knowledge of sailing, but maybe not. Either way, fantastic action, plenty of sword play, lost treasures, murderous pirates, savage tribesmen, it's all there, even the occasional stuffy British officer. I heartily recommend these stories.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 41 -- The Robert E. Howard Bar Guide

by Robert Derie

Started: August 3
Finished: August 4

Notes: This is another one I picked up at Howard Days in Texas this past summer. I had a good chuckle when I first saw it with its photo of Howard quaffing what appears to be a rather large beer, especially as I had not known this book existed. It seems to be a short book about Howard's favorite drinking holes and his favorite drinks, so this might be fun.

Mini review: This was a fun book, based mostly upon Howard's private letters to friends and other writers and editors, him opining about various alcoholic drinks while ruminating about various adventures and drunks he had. There were also some snippets taken from his fictional works, mentions of various drinks and the link. My favorite part of this book was a letter Howard wrote while drunk, and it's quite obvious he was drunk. This book is made up of two parts, the first section sort of a history of Howard and the liquors available to him where he lived, and the second portion providing information about drinks Howard had tried or he had mentioned in one letter or another. Hardcore Howard fans will want this one, and maybe fans of alcohol too. Did Howard have a favorite drink? A favorite beer? Hard to say. He sort of named off several as favorites, including Schlitz beer, but one thing to keep in mind is that it's been a long time since Howard's day, so many of the drinks then are not the same as they are today even if they have the same name. Also, keep in mind Howard grew up during the era of Prohibition, so that affected the alcoholic drinks available to him much of his life, which is more than you might think, actually, though the quality of the drinks often would have been lacking.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 40 -- Robert E. Howard in Cross Plains

by Rusty Burke

Started: August 2
Finished: August 2

Notes: I picked up this short book while at Robert E. Howard Days this past summer, and it appears to be something of a historical look at the town where Howard grew up, Cross Plains, Texas.

Mini review: You might actually have to go to Howard Days some years to pick up a copy of this, or you might get lucky and find one online somewhere, but it's somewhat of a rarity. Those attending Howard Days, and hardcore Howard fans, will want to grab a copy of this. It's short, but it provides a nice little view of Cross Plains and the surrounding region where Howard grew up, lived and ultimately died. Interesting to me and probably to Howard fans, but the average Howard reader might not find much here.

Books read in 2018: No. 39 -- Pictures in the Fire

by Robert E. Howard

edited by Paul Herman

Started: July 17
Finished: August 2

Notes: This summer I had the pleasure of attending Robert E. Howard Days in the small town of Cross Plains, Texas. The festival celebrates the author, Howard, and I managed to pick up plenty of reading material while there. I also managed to meet a bunch of new people and to finally come face to face with some folks I have only known through the Internet for yours. This books is meant to be a collection of rare Howard materials, works that have rarely or never appeared elsewhere. From the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, I believe only 200 of these were printed, at least in hardback, so this one should be worthy of Howard collectors.

Mini review: This was a great read for the most part. While towards the end there is some juvenalia and some silly material obviously not meant for publication, much of what is here are great stories and snippets (some quite long) of what would have been great stories. Hardcore Howard fans will find a lot here to enjoy, but be warned there's very little Sword & Sorcery, most of the tales being from Howard's historical or Africa-related materials. But that's fine with me as I find Howard a solid writer no matter the genre. This might be a tough-to-find book as I believe there were only a couple of hundred printed, but maybe that was just for an initial run and there will be more later, or you might find some used copies online. All in all, I'm glad I picked this up, and those seeking a look into Bob Howard's rarer materials should do themselves a service and search out this book.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

New horror novel: The Basement

A new house, a new job, the future before them, the Dinsmores thought they had everything. Yet dreams of the good life quickly give way to a reality of darkness as the young couple begins to move into their new home.

For something looms in the basement of the house, something that brings cold, that brings memories and fear and hatred. Terrible things happened in that house long ago, culminating in the basement itself, and now after the house has sat empty for years, something in the basement has found a direction for its rage.

The Dinsmores will never be the same. Even if they survive.

That's the blurb for my new horror novel, The Basement, currently available in print and e-book at Amazon and soon available at other retailers and online sites.

I consider this one something of a "light" horror novel, meaning there isn't any gore and very little blood. It might not be for everyone, but I think it's a decent enough novel and an interesting tale.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 38 -- Ready Player One

by Ernest Cline

Started: July 11
Finished: July 16

Notes: This popular recent novel (and the movie based upon it, which I've not seen) is supposed to be a love story of sorts to pop culture of the last few decades, specifically video game culture. This is a topic of which I have some interest, though I wouldn't consider myself a massive gaming nerd (so to speak). Also, I've heard a lot good about this novel, but also some criticism, so I'll see where it goes.

Mini review: Not just pop culture in general, the 80s (and to some extent the late 70s) are the background material for this novel, so those who grew up during that period might be interested to read this. It is a good read, and fun. Imagine a future in which the Internet has become 3D and where everyone spends most of their time in it because the outside world, the real world, has totally turned to crap. The creator of this 3D Internet passes away and in his will leaves behind a game to be played to decide who will be his successor, who will gain all his money and be the head of his company. Our protagonist is a young man who sets out to win this prize, and along the way he faces real-world threats alongside of those within the digital environment. Thirty- and forty-somethings will likely find something here to enjoy. Not only is there a ton of nostalgia, but the story itself is quite inte

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 37 -- Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes

by Wizards of the Coast

Started: July 7
Finished: July 11

Notes: In case you didn't know, Mordenkainen is a powerful wizard within one of the worlds that is part of the Dungeons & Dragons game. This book, at least in part, covers rules for various monsters that characters can confront within the game. It's the first major monster update for the fifth edition of D&D.

Mini review: This book isn't necessary to playing or enjoying D&D, but its many monsters could prove useful to a Dungeon Master wanting to use some new or different enemies for player characters. The early chapters, nearly the first half of the book, go into some detail about the relationships of various creatures, and while some might find the information interesting, I prefer to come up with my own worlds and backgrounds, etc. A keeper, but not necessary for DMs or players.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 36 -- The Bear and The Dragon

by Tom Clancy

Started: June 1
Finished: July 7

Notes: There was a time when I was a big Tom Clancy fan, but I eventually grew tired of his writing, for a variety of reasons. However, it's been a good long time since I've read anything by him, so I thought I'd turn to him once more and see if I he can revive some of the old spark in me. Plus, I'm going on a long trip, and since this is a long novel, I figure it'll do me for the majority of my vacation.

Mini review: I wanted something long to read to last a month-long vacation and I got, and then some. Russia discovers vast gold and oil deposits in Siberia, and China decides to invade to grab the deposits for themselves. War breaks out with the U.S. joining the fray on the side of the Russians. If I say any more, it would be giving too much away. The writing here is solid, but the whole rah-rah-everything-the-American-military-does-is-perfect-while-everyone-else-is-an-idiot attitude wears thin over 1,100 pages. I don't mean to sound unpatriotic, and I have nothing against U.S. military forces, but reality is more complex. Also, having been published at the tail end of the 20th Century, the political and military situations presented here seem almost quaint compared to the real world where 9-11 has occurred and politics has gone completely down the toilet, making this book read almost like wishful science fiction for another world. Anyway, this was a good read, but I have a feeling it'll be the last Clancy I touch for the reasons I pointed out.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 35 -- Black Amazon of Mars

by Leigh Brackett

Started: May 30
Finished: May 31

Notes: I've not read a lot of Brackett, mostly short stories in one anthology or another, but I've been meaning to read more of her work, so here goes.

Mini review: This was actually an interesting, adventurous sci-fi novella. A mercenary of sorts finds himself embroiled in a war between barbarian tribes and a city on Mars, then is forced to face dangers from far in Mars' past to bring about a conclusion to not only the war, but to an old enemy ready to take over Mars once again. A fun read, especially if you like older science fiction and space opera from the 1950s and 1960s.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 34 -- LZR-1143: Within

by Bryan James

Started: May 29
Finished: May 30

Notes: Been a while since I've read any indie authors, so I thought I'd give this zombie novella (and its author) a try.

Mini review: This was an interesting story. A group of online bank workers are trapped within their corporate building while a zombie apocalypse breaks out outside, and of course they have to find a way to survive ... or not. The writing is fairly strong, the characters interesting enough, and the story itself kept up my interest. I might have to check out this writer again.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 33 -- Horrorstör

by Grady Hendrix

Started: May 26
Finished: May 28

Notes: This comedy horror novel hit fairly big a couple of years ago and I've been meaning to check it out, so here's my opportunity. It's about a haunted furniture store that's a spoof of Ikea stores, so maybe it'll be amusing, and possibly horrifying.

Mini review: This was actually pretty good. The humor is quite mild, and I didn't find the story overly terrifying, but the writing is fairly strong and the tale was interesting enough to keep me flipping pages pretty quickly. My favorite part was the ending because I felt that, while not trend-making or outrageous, it went places most horror novels don't, showing the aftermath and the effects of the horror upon survivors, but also showing an opportunity for making things right. Worth checking out. And not gruesome or overly dark, for those who shy from such things.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 32 -- Let Me Off at the Top!

by Ron Burgundy

Started: May 21
Finished: May 26

Notes: Sometimes you see a book that's just so goofy, you want to give it a try. I have no idea who the real author is, even after an online search, because ... for those of you who might not know, Ron Burgundy is not a real person but a fictional character from a series of movies. The actor who portrays Ron is Will Ferrell, but I find it unlikely (though not impossible) that Ferrell has penned this book. Anyway, this is supposed to be an autobiography of Burgundy's life. The first movie with Ron was quite funny, in my opinion, the second one less so but still not awful, so maybe I'll enjoy this.

Mini review: This wasn't as funny as I had hoped it would be, but it gave me a few chuckles here and there, and for the most part it kept with the Ron Burgundy character fairly well. If you're a big fan of the movies, you might want to check this out, otherwise you can skip it.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 31 -- Brook Trout and the Writing Life

by Craig Nova

Started: May 18
Finished: May 21

Notes: Trout aren't my thing, me being more of a bass and sunfish kind of guy, but fishing definitely is, and of course I'm a writer by trade. So this book seemed a natural to me, especially as the award-winning author lives only about a half hour from me. All those things considered, I thought I'd take a look at what he had to say, though admittedly I've not read any of his other works.

Mini review: This one turned out not to be for me, which is a shame since the author is a writer and a fisherman, and so am I. However, different types of writers and different types of fishing. I found this one to be too literary in a modern sense, written in an easy-enough-to-follow manner, but quite full of liberal upper-middle-class white male navel gazing. Yes, I realize how dismissive what I just wrote sounds, but it's also the best description I can come to for this book, and I feel less guilty about it as the author is mildly dismissive himself once or twice. This book isn't a pity party, to be fair, but it faux-ruminates upon mostly everyday life with some kind of vague reflection that's kind of, sort of supposed to be almost spiritual, at least illuminating. I found it none of these. Comparing life to fishing and vice versa doesn't take any great philosopher, nor does comparing writing and fishing. While not an awful book, it seemed more for the author than the reader, and as an author myself I'll say that's not necessarily a bad thing, though it doesn't always make it good for the reader. In this case, I was one of those readers.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 30 -- Know Your Bible

from Barbour Books

Started: May 17
Finished: May 18

Notes: This little book was gifted to me a couple of years ago, so I thought it time I finally read it. It's supposed to offer a synopsis of each book of the Bible, so that might be interesting, even useful as it might explain some things in a short, simple form.

Mini review: As with many such little books, there's an evangelical tone, though it is rather slight here. Still, there's definitely a Protestant leaning, as the Catholic Bible is different from that of the Protestant. All in all, this is a handy book. It breaks down each book of the Bible into a short synopsis, lists the supposed authors and approximate dates when written, gives a few better-known verses, etc. This would be a good book to have around when needing a quick reminder, and it might open eyes to those books of the Bible which are not so well known. Obviously, this book will mostly be a help to believers, but even those who are not Christians but wish to study religion or the Bible could find this short book helpful.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 29 -- It's Not About Me

by Max Lucado

Started: May 15
Finished: May 17

Notes: I've been meaning to check out this Christian author for a while, so when I stumbled across this book of his in a Free Little Library, I thought it time to give him a shot.

Mini review: Basically, life is not about you, it's about God, and all things we do should glorify God. This is pretty basic Christianity, especially for Protestants, specifically for evangelicals. If that's what you're interested in studying, or if you're a Christian who feels you need a spiritual boost, then this book might be for you. As for me, I didn't find much new here other than a few comments about some texts in their original Hebrew, but the writing style wasn't too bad, a little long winded to say a fairly simple message, but not too bad.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 28 -- More Than A Carpenter

by Josh McDowell

Started: May 13
Finished: May 15

Notes: I've read some of this Christian apologists work before and found it interesting, so I thought I'd give another books of his a try, this one apparently being more personal to his life.

Mini review: There wasn't anything revelatory here for me, but that doesn't mean there wasn't anything here that would be useful to believers and possibly to non-believers alike. Other than the final chapter (which was the personal part of McDowell's message), this book is a basic primer for Christian apologists, culling ideas and quotes not only from the Bible, but from the likes of C.S. Lewis and many others. Those who are interested in Christian apologetics could find this a useful book to provide them some basics without having to go into deeper material.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 27 -- Sword and Sorceress IV

edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Started: April 26
Finished: May 13

Notes: This series of fantasy anthologies has been around for several decades now, but I've never had the opportunity to read one until now. There are a few familiar names in the Table of Contents, but there are many more whom I do not know, so maybe I'll find some new authors to enjoy or at least a few stories to entertain.

Mini review: Usually with any collection of short stories there are a handful of stinkers, but I have to admit there was only one tale here which didn't work for me. The rest were quite good, a few bordering on being awesome. So, yes, I can suggest this book for fans of Sword & Sorcery short stories.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 26 -- Blade #17: The Mountains of Brega

by Jeffrey Lord

Started: April 21
Finished: April 26

Notes: I just read #16 in this series, the first time I'd read one of these novels, and I didn't love it but I also didn't hate it. So, that being the case, I thought I'd give the series another go.

Mini review: This time Blade goes into a jungle land where the sexes split into separate societies long ago after a vast war. Fighting his way through the jungle and savages, Blade eventually works to bring the sexes and their two societies back together. All with a handful of sex scenes that pretty much make me laugh. Again, no great literature here, just some action and romping in the bed. Not the worst of reads, but not a lot of depth.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 25 -- Blade #16: The Crystal Seas

by Jeffrey Lord

Started: April 15
Finished: April 20

Notes: I've run across books in this series from time to time over the decades, usually in used book stores, garage sales, flea markets, etc., but I never picked one up. That changed last year when I used book store I've come to love had a few of these novels, so I snagged up two in order to give the series a chance. If I love it, I can always look for more. And the author for this series didn't actually exist, being a house name used by several writers throughout the series.

Mini review: Mix together James Bond with John Carter of Mars and you've got a pretty good idea of these books and the Richard Blade character. Blade literally is an English spy, and through technology he sent into fantasy worlds where he has various adventures. Why the British government is doing this, I don't know, as it's not revealed in this book, but it makes for a somewhat interesting take. However, this is mostly just cheap action and adventure with the occasional brief sexual scene. There's nothing wrong with any of that if that's what you're interested in, but don't expect much else.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 24 -- The Swords Trilogy

by Michael Moorcock

Started: April 10
Finished: April 15

Notes: Over the last couple of decades, I've managed to find the first two books of this trilogy and read them, always in used book stores, but that final book, The King of The Swords, always eluded me. Fortunately, last year I ran across this collection of the series, of course in a used book store, so I bought it to finish the series. And, of course, a week later I actually found a copy of The King of The Swords in another store, but I didn't buy it since I had this version. Anyway, I'm going to go ahead and read the entire trilogy since it has been a long while since I read the first two books, as a refresher if nothing else.

Mini review: Most modern readers will not enjoy the writing style here, thinking it archaic, even boring. But fans of Sword and Sorcery will likely enjoy this style. However, I did find myself frustrated in the last book of the trilogy when it seemed to be that none of what had gone before truly mattered, that it could all be undone in the blink of an eye, that the eternal battle between Chaos and Law was truly that, eternal, so the strife made little sense. That being said, the final pages did bring some light onto the subject, and that helped. Also towards the end, Elric of Melnibone shows up for a few chapters as a character, and he has his role to play here. I can't say I loved this book, but I didn't hate it. I can suggest it for hardcore S&S fans, but general fantasy fans will likely want to stay away.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 23 -- Full Dark, No Stars

by Stephen King

Started: April 6
Finished: April 10

Notes: In my opinion, King is usually stronger in his shorter works, so I thought I'd check out this collection of four novellas. Funny thing, I accidentally picked up a large-type edition, and I still need my reading glasses!

Mini review: These were pretty good stories. In "1922," it's the Dust Bowl era and a father entices his son to commit a vicious crime, then cover it up, but the outcome is one screwed-up son. In "Big Driver," a victim of violence manages to survive and seeks her own personal form of closure, all while hoping to avoid law enforcement. In the story "Fair Extension," a man with cancer makes a deal to have his cancer vanish, but then someone else has to suffer. And in "A Good Marriage," a wife discovers her husband is more than she had known, much more, and then she has to deal with it. Interestingly, at least to me, all these tales are about men committing violence, or at least doing something awful, and women suffering from it, often having to deal with the ramifications afterwards. Sometimes other males also suffer, but generally they are more of a byproduct of tragedy, with women suffering the most or being the initial target. I don't know if King consciously set out for this collection to contain such stories, or if his editor(s) realized it at the time, but that's how it came out. I'm making no judgment here, just an observation, and these are all good tales.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 22 -- The Heckler

by Ed McBain

Started: April 4
Finished: April 6

Notes: I'm recovering from surgery, so I'm in the mood for comfort fiction, and the 87th Precinct novels usually fit that bill.

Mini review: Holy jeez! The city of Isola explodes (in some places quite literally) when the master villain known as the Deaf Man makes his first appearance in the 87th Precinct novels. I won't say this is the best of the series, but it's not the worst, and fans will definitely want to note this first book with the Deaf Man.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 21 -- Longshot

by Dick Francis

Started: March 30
Finished: April 4

Notes: Having grown up in horse-racing country in Kentucky, I can long remember the books of Dick Francis being quite popular in that region, probably because his mystery thrillers usually were related to the horse racing industry. That said, I never picked up one of his books until recently, so I'll see how this one goes.

Mini review: A travel writer turned novelist is down on hard times and agrees to write a biography of a horse racing mogul. Doesn't sound interesting, but this one slowly won me over. Funny, this book is so British, or at least it's very un-American in its telling and its feel in that it is so non-confrontational. Even the bad guy in this one turns out to be non-confrontational. I can't say this book will make me want to go out and read a bunch more of Dick Francis, but I'm also not scared away, in fact thinking I might like to give the author another go or two to see how he handles other situations.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 20 -- Eighty Million Eyes

by Ed McBain

Started: March 28
Finished: March 30

Notes: I've read quite a few of these 87th Precinct novels this year, and while I'm not in a rush to finish the whole series, there are a lot of these books, so I am trying to make my way through them. Here's another.

Mini review: A comedian dies on live television before an audience of millions, and a woman is stalked by a man intent upon making sure she can't date anyone else. These are the cases the boys of the 87th have to deal with in this book. This one was a little more melodramatic than the usual 87th tales, but since such is a rarity, I suppose in an odd way it makes sense for it to happen at least once. As always, I enjoyed the reading. It's not so much the plotting that draws me to these novels, but the writing I love, and I've grown to feel like the characters are, in a way, family and friends. I'll be reading more.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 19 -- 90 Minutes in Heaven

by Don Piper with Cecil Murphey

Started: March 23
Finished: March 27

Notes: I am highly skeptical of near-death, life-after-death or returning-from-death claims, whatever you want to call them, but I'm also not convinced by the handful of scientific explanations I've read over the years. Anyway, it's a matter I have some mild interest in, so I thought I'd check out this popular book on the subject, the story of a pastor who was apparently killed in a car crash and then came back to life to report of visions of Heaven.

Mini review: Christian believers and those in grief might find some succor here, but the skeptics will not find anything to sway them, or not much. This isn't really a book trying to validate near-death experiences, but tells how one pastor felt about his and how he handled it and the physical and emotional trauma a major car accident caused him, his family and his loved ones. This is a book to turn to in order to help one with grieving, or to embolden one's Christian beliefs, but again, skeptics are not likely to be swayed nor to find much here of use. Still, books like this sometimes help people, or make people change their mind about a topic, so it might be worth reading if you are interested in such matters.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 18 -- Under the Dome

by Stephen King

Started: March 6
Finished: March 23

Notes: I've read most of King's works, but there's a half dozen or so of his books I've yet to get to. It doesn't help that he seems to churn out another book or five every year. Anyway, now it's time for this long novel.

Mini review: A small town is trapped behind a gigantic dome that comes out of nowhere. While this was probably the best King book I've read of the last decade or so, I had some issues with it. The writing is good, King in top form, so fans of his will enjoy this one. However, this book is soooo King, practically absurdly so, almost as if someone set out to write a spoof of King that would include nearly every cliche of the author's style and characters. Or maybe I've just read too much King over the decades. Either way, still a good book and I can suggest it for fans of the author. Another nitpick I had was that I've grown tired of the everybody-in-a-small-town-has-secrets plot lines that King has used more than a few times, and here it has grown to gigantic portions.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 17 -- The Talhoffer Society

by Michael Edelson

Started: March 2
Finished: March 6

Notes: To my knowledge, this is the first and only novel centered around HEMA, Historical European Martial Arts, of which I am a former practitioner (former because of health reasons). It apparently involves a bloodsport type plot in which characters face off in a longsword competition that is quite deadly. I'll learn more as I read. And for those wondering who or what Tolhoffer happens to be, Hans Tolhoffer was a 15th Century fencing master.

Mini review: For anyone familiar with the historical swording community ... heck, even for those who aren't familiar ... there's a lot of longsword fanboy wish fulfillment to be found here. But ya know what, a lot of fiction is basically wish fulfillment, so there's not necessarily anything wrong with that. This is also a thriller, so there can be some moments of the outlandish common to many a modern thriller. The writing is decent enough, not great but it doesn't suck, and it gets better as the book goes along. For those with interests in historical swordsmanship, there is a lot here that's informational, especially concerning the longsword, rapier and somewhat concerning the Japanese arts. Definitely worth a read.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 16 -- Give the Boys a Great Big Hand

by Ed McBain

Started: Feb. 27
Finished: March 1

Notes: Yep, it's another 87th Precinct novel. I've a huge stack of these things, and they've got to be read.

Mini review: The title of this one is a bit of a play on words as the mystery here involves a severed hand discovered by a police officer. In the end, this is one of the more disturbing of the 87th Precinct books, but that's one of the things I love about these novels, that they're all so different from one another when it comes to plots and crimes and criminals.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 15 -- Paperbacks from Hell

by Grady Hendrix

Started: Feb. 25
Finished: Feb. 27

Notes: I read a lot of horror in the '80s. I mean a lot. So what could be more fun than taking a trip down memory lane by looking at the history of horror literature of the 1970s and '80s? Much of that literature was simply awful, but there was also much that was good. I look forward to this read.

Mini review: This was a fun read. The true horror fan who is well read in the genre will not find much new here, but they will likely discover some books or authors with which they are unfamiliar. This is not a concordance or an encyclopedia, more of a collection of reminiscences and book covers. Surprisingly, Stephen King is barely mentioned. Maybe the author felt King didn't need the shout out, or maybe felt King's career had gone too far beyond horror, but there's little doubt King had a huge influence upon the genre, helping to kick off its popularity in the 1970s. Casual readers of horror, or younger readers looking for older material, will find much here to learn about.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 14 -- The Map of Time

by Felix J. Palma

translated by Nick Caistor

Started: Feb. 15
Finished: Feb. 25

Notes: It's time to get back to some fiction, so I thought I'd try this novel about H.G. Wells in a time travel investigation.

Mini review: This book is well written, and well translated, which is no mean feat. This is really three novels in one, with H.G. Wells not always as the main character but always at least an important character to each tale. The novel plays with notions of time travel, sometimes presenting the possibilities as real and other times as not, jumping back and forth until a final conclusion, one which I will not reveal as it would ruin the story for anyone reading this. The writing here is a bit flowery, but it's by no means a difficult read. There were a few things which threw me off, but they were not enough to ruin the book for me. Such as, at one point it seems the author is including every single famous person from late 19th Century Britain, and while this isn't literally true, the story can feel that way sometimes, as if name dropping for the sake of name dropping. The thing that annoyed me the most about this novel was that the reader would follow a character along for a hundred pages or more, and then they would practically disappear from the rest of the book just as one is truly becoming interested in the character. This book is apparently the first of a series, so I might be tempted to find the others. I will point out the last 50 pages take a slight turn from the rest of the book, becoming somewhat philosophical and metaphysical, especially during the last 10 pages, and I did not quite feel it fit the tone of the rest of the book.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 13 -- Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

by Mary Roach

Started: Feb. 11
Finished: Feb. 14

Notes: The subject matter might be considered macabre by some, but I'm not expecting any shocks here. My mother's second husband was a funeral director and mortician, so I grew up in a household with some ... let's call it "unusual," reading material, probably stuff I shouldn't have been reading but was curious enough to read, and I spent no small amount of time in funeral homes, occasionally witnessing things a child probably shouldn't witness. Though I don't think it affected me any.  --twitch,twitch--

Mini review: Not for those easily creeped out or who can't stand the morbid, though the author doesn't get overly gory. Most of this book is about unusual things that happen, or can happen, or you can have happen, to your body after you're deceased. Scientific research is an obvious choice for use of cadavers, but what exactly does that mean? Some of the answers might be surprising, and the author also takes a brief look at cannibalism and other fates that have faced the deceased over the centuries. An interesting book, and I can recommend it, but it's not for the faint of heart.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 12 -- The Films of Charlie Chaplin

edited by Gerald D. McDonald, Michael Conway, and Mark Ricci

Started: Feb. 9
Finished: Feb. 10

Notes: Published in 1965, this book would have been outdated nearly as soon as it came out because Chaplin was still alive and still had one more film in him, though he would only act as director and not appear on the screen. However, this trio of editor-authors would work together on similar books for the next several decades, releasing what would basically be updated versions of this particular book. Though I don't view such films so often nowadays, there was a time when I was quite the silent movie buff and watched plenty of these golden pieces of cinema history, and I read a number of books pertaining to the subject, including a biography and autobiography of Chaplin. It's been a long while since I've dipped back into this world, so when I ran across this book in a used book store, I snagged it up.

Mini review: This was a fun trip down memory lane for me, bringing back beloved memories of a comedic genius at his heights. Chaplin's later works, those after the sound era began, are not often recalled as fondly as his earlier films, but his genius is always recognized. The majority of movies here I have seen, though there were a few I had not, and it was interesting to read about those. Each film received here a short write-up of its synopsis, a list of the cast, several still photos, and a handful of reviews from the period. Glad I read it.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 11 -- How to Study the Bible

by Robert M. West

Started: Feb. 8
Finished: Feb. 9

Notes: I was gifted this book a couple of years ago, so figured it was time I read it. I expect it to have an evangelical bent, though myself I'm usually more interested in historical and/or spiritual studies, but here goes. Maybe I'll learn some things.

Mini review: Not the most exciting of reads, but it's not necessarily meant to be. Still, this is a basic but solid beginner's book for those who wish to take part in personal Bible study. The leaning here is definitely towards the protestant and the evangelical, definitely not the historical or otherwise. New Christians especially might find this book of help.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 10 -- The Cross and the Switchblade

by David Wilkerson

Started: Feb. 6
Finished: Feb. 8

Notes: When I was a kid in the 1970s, I had a comic book version of this book, the true-life story of a pastor who went to New York City in the 1950s to help street gangs. I had forgotten about the comic book until I ran across this old book in a used book store, and then I thought it might be interesting to read the book, which was also made into a movie.

Mini review: The writing here is pretty good for someone who is a non-professional writer, though it takes a couple of dozen pages to reach a solid flow. The story is interesting enough, but as can be expected is full of the coincidences the author promptly places as the workings of God. It does seem, at least from these writings, that the eventual creation of a teen center in NYC did do some help for young people facing homelessness and drug addiction. However, as the author was a Pentecostal preacher, eventually there comes up talking in tongues and the like, which personally draws my skepticism (and I come from a family with Pentecostals). Silly? Truth? I'll let others form their own opinions. For me, my guess would be there's a mixture of truth, that perhaps God did touch the lives of the people involved with this story, or perhaps not. Either way, at least some people seemingly had their hearts in the right place and others were helped.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 9 -- On Her Majesty's Secret Service

by Ian Fleming

Started: Jan. 30
Finished: Feb. 5

Notes: A recent Bond book left a bad taste in my mouth, but because I'd read Fleming before and enjoyed his work, I thought I'd give him another shot at winning me over again.

Mini review: Bond is sent into the Swiss Alps in search of an old foe and finds a new plot hatching. I did enjoy this one more than the last Bond novel I read, but not enough to want me to read more Fleming any time soon. This must be the saddest ending ever for a Bond novel, I would think, and one that hits home for the protagonist more than most of his other adventures.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 8 -- Cop Hater

by Ed McBain

Started: Jan. 29
Finished: Jan. 30

Notes: Even though I recently read another of McBain's 87th Precinct novels, I just finished a James Bond novel which left a bad taste in my mouth, so I'm once more returning to McBain and the guys and gals of the 87th to boost my spirits. Published in 1956, this was the very first of the 87th Precinct novels.

Mini review: Someone is killing cops, specifically detectives of the 87th Precinct. It's obvious right off the bat this is the first of the 87th Precinct novels, for one thing the fact a number of characters are unfamiliar and don't appear in any of the later books (SPOILER: They're cops who don't make it through this book alive). For another thing, McBain was obviously getting a feel for his particular 87th Precinct style with this novel, though he comes through pretty good by at least halfway through. This was also a good novel for setting up Carella as the main character for the series, though he's a little different than he is in later books, not so life-weary, though maybe it's the events of this book that bring him down to Earth a little more. Anyway, enjoyable, as always.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 7 -- Thunderball

by Ian Fleming

Started: Jan. 26
Finished: Jan. 29

Notes: Been decades since I've read a James Bond novel, so when I stumbled across a couple at a used books sale, I thought I'd snag them up. Funny thing, this one had a Moonraker wrap for a cover and I didn't realize it was actually Thunderball until I got it home. That isn't enough for me not to read it, though. :-)

Mini review: Bond, with the help of a CIA agent an a U.S. Navy submarine, seeks to thwart SPECTRE, a group of terrorists who have stolen 2 atomic missiles and are threatening to set the off unless the world pays them gabillions and gabillions of money. Honestly, I didn't care much for it. The action is minimal, most of the writing spending time on setup instead of actual action. For crying out loud, the first 40 pages is Bond spending time at a health spa!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 6 -- The Frumious Bandersnatch

by Ed McBain

Started: Jan. 23
Finished: Jan. 26

Notes: It's been far too long, nearly a year, since I've read any McBain, one of my favorite authors, so it's time to jump back into one of his 87th Precinct novels.

Mini review: A rock star is kidnapped from a yacht during a party and the gang of the 87th has to move on it along with the Feds. The first chapter threw me because it took quite a while to set up the plot, and such length for a one-chapter set-up is unusual for McBain, but soon after I got into the story. I have to say, of the dozens of 87th Precinct novels I've read, this one wasn't necessarily the best, but it was definitely the most sad with the saddest ending I've yet to read from this author. A shame he's not still with us and writing.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 5 -- Waiting for Godot

by Samuel Beckett

Started: Jan. 22
Finished: Jan. 23

Notes: I do not often read plays, but I turn to this famous one because I do like to stray from my typical genre roots in order to experience other authors, styles, etc. Such readings can help one not only in thinking, but as a writer as well.

Mini review: This is one of those tales which brings to mind words like "expressionistic" and "minimalism" and "search for meaning." In other words, it's full of shit. Full of allegory and archetypes, this play has been interpreted in so many different ways, from religious to political to social commentary, etc., etc. None of which is necessarily true, or any or all of it could be true. One can't tell. One can take away whatever they want, but what I took away was, "nothing happens." That's it. An easy read with some minor humor, but I didn't come away with any epiphanies or thoughts of high meaning. If anything, I came away thinking, "This is the type of overly nonsensical material which sometimes gives literature a bad name." I'm not saying it's a bad play. I'm saying it wasn't for me and that interpretations are up to the individual. I will add, it would likely be more enjoyable to see this performed than to simply read it on the page.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 4 -- Deryni Rising

by Katherine Kurtz

Started: Jan. 19
Finished: Jan. 22

Notes: This is yet another fantasy author whom I've not had the pleasure to experience, so I thought I'd check out the first book in her Deryni series, of which I've heard a lot over the years, almost always good.

Mini review: A pretty strong read. After the murder of his kingly father, a young prince finds he must avoid courtly, magical and even religious threats before he can gain the crown for himself. There are shades of A Game of Thrones here, though obviously decades before A Game of Thrones, but without all the sex and incest, being a fairly tame novel but worth reading.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 3 -- The Blue Hawk

by Peter Dickinson

Started: Jan. 15
Finished: Jan. 19

Notes: I don't believe I've read any of the works of this author, though I recognize the name, so I thought it time I give him a try.

Mini review: I'm always pleasantly surprised when I read an author unfamiliar to me and I go away enjoying the book. A young acolyte to a god finds himself embroiled in courtly intrigues between a king and several order of priests while war looms in the background from an approaching horde of barbarians. But that's just the basics of this tale. Really it comes down to the relationship of mankind with the gods. Who is really in control? Do the gods control men, or have men enslaved the gods? Or is it a bit of both? An interesting work and a pretty good read. I'll have to look for more from this writer.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 2 -- Cinema and Sorcery: The Comprehensive Guide to Fantasy Film

by Arnold T. Blumberg and Scott Alan Woodard

Started: Jan. 5
Finished: Jan. 15

Notes: I picked this one up last year at the 2017 Origins convention in Columbus, Ohio, and was quite excited to discover it. I've been meaning to get to it before too long before it might become outdated. I'm fully expecting to enjoy this.

Mini review: This was a fun read, but as might be expected, I do feel a number of films were left out of this book. As a general fantasy compendium, it's not bad, a good place for your typical D&D fans to start. However, the authors do state early on that this is meant to be a collection of Sword & Sorcery movies, and for Sword & Sorcery purists, there is much here left out. For instance, there's no mention of The 13th Warrior, which technically might not include any magic, but magic is alluded to by the existence of an oracle and talk of dragons (even if this tale is meant to be more historical and the magic isn't real); while some might not love The 13th Warrior, I do believe it is a film steeped in the S&S sub-genre of fantasy, more so than most of the movies listed in this book. And while many movies which do make the cut here are great fantasy movies, such as The Princess Bride, by no means would I call them S&S movies. But really, these are just quibbles on my part. This is a good, fun read, and while not totally inclusive, it does go over nearly 500 movies from the silent era up to just a couple of years ago, so it is a worthy read.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Books read in 2017: No. 51, Books read in 2018: No. 1 -- Conan the Rebel

by Poul Anderson

Started: Dec. 30, 2017
Finished: Jan. 4, 2018

Notes: I've never been a big reader of the non-Howard Conan books, but I'm trying to give more of them a chance, so here goes.

Mini review: This one was a mess for at least the first half of the book. Conan rarely appeared, an important side character then vanished for most of the rest of the book, various enemies worked together behind the scenes in some kind of vague plot against Conan that seemed to have no real force behind it other than some even vaguer prophecy ... just a mess. About halfway through, the story became more clear, but I found the writing rather drab, and there was little sense of urgency as there was never any real threats to Conan, at least none that lasted longer than a few paragraphs, though I suppose some of that could be expected for a serial character. All in all, not a good read, and I can only suggest it for hardcore Conan fans who feel they have to read everything about the barbarian.