Tag Archives: fiction

Review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Vicarious Pleasure

Recommendation:  Must Read


What I liked.

This is a personal story.  One that explores the emotional turmoil that life’s challenges bring us.  Darrow au Andromedus is an agent of change.  A mole, a spy, a revolutionary, Darrow is innocence angered.  Driven by anger, he finds torment in the wake created by his wrath, by his folly, by his force of will.  In that wake, bystanders die; citizens, servants, slaves.  His friends die, enemies are born, vengeance is carried out, blood feuds perpetuate, and duplicity devastates those who trust.

For Darrow, whose existence is a bold lie as an infiltrator of Gold society,  cannot escape the irony that in order to find the truth that could create a better society, he must perpetuate the ultimate betrayal wrought by his dishonest manipulation.  His friends do not know him, his true identity, nor his ultimate purpose: to destroy everything they believe in, and take the privilege they know to be their right.

We see the effect it has on Darrow because in him is not the sinister power hungry tyrant.  We watch him wrestle more with the internal strife of how his actions cause others to suffer, than with the physical combat he engages in verses his external enemies personified.  To a large extent this is a study in how lies can enslave those who perpetuate them as much as they control and manipulate those deceived.  Honesty, loyalty, friendship, these are the themes given fair rendering by the author.

This is a personal story told about a public cause, for Darrow has been inspired by the actions of others.  By Eo, by Ares, by Dancer, by Virginia, and perhaps most of all by Nero.  The stakes could not be higher.  His entire civilization, billions of lives, the future of generations, entire heritages, all hinge on who wins the struggle and at what cost.  Passions run high right along with them.  So as we read along we have the experience of some vicarious pleasure, without the risk to life, limb, and everyone dear to us.

What I didn’t like.

I did not enjoy seeing Darrow go through the emotional anguish that came with each dangerous liaison, each painful decision, each hurtful act.  Perhaps I’m too sensitive.  It is part of the story.  It must be a reason why we say you have to take the good with the bad.  Or should it be the bad with the good?

I found it hard to accept that Darrow would forget about Evey and Harmony so easily, because it goes against his character. I didn’t.  The author apparently did. Along with the gift to Adrius.

What you should know.

Golden Son is part II of a trilogy and follows a few years after the conclusion of part I Red Rising.  Read it before you read Golden Son.  This is a balanced mixture of science fiction, suspense, war, and Shakespearean melodrama.  In my opinion it bends the traditional attempts to pigeonhole it into just one genre per se.  You wouldn’t enjoy this novel as much if you don’t find the fun in lines like this:

“If your heart beats like a drum,

and your leg’s a little wet,

it’s ’cause the Reaper’s come

to collect a little debt.”

Excerpt From: Brown, Pierce. “Golden Son.” Del Rey, 2015-07-07. iBooks.
Check out this book on the iBooks Store: https://itun.es/us/437DW.l

Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

What I liked.

A visionary future with evolved humans creating civilzations on planets and moons in Earth’s solar system.  A caste based class system of colored humans.  The Gold class reigns at the top with intellect, fear, dominance, physical force, technology, and deception.  The Red class populates the bottom with massive slave labor that sustains the wealth and power of the society.  In between these two classes lies a myriad of colors whose genetic disposition and engineering match their respective roles in the hierarchy, from soldiers to law enforcers, entertainers, etc.  This is a fairly well described and detailed conglomerate.

Within the grander tale are individual stories about well developed characters who struggle with the same issues we humans have for generations; love, hate, purpose, honor, dignity, pride, trust, selfish verses selfless, mercy, family, friendship.  This is a shortlist.  Not a simple story here.

The drama is engrossing, the characters are inspiring, their plights compelling.  This book entertains on every level.  It gives visceral justified violence while decrying the consequences to both the victors and the vanquished.  It debates the alternatives with readers sharing the anguish inside conflicted protagonists.  It gives, and it takes away.  The passion runs high throughout the story and there are no lulls.  The flawed main character Darrow is not your stereotypical reluctant hero.  He is just a bit more than the everyman in us. We recognize his self doubts, his lack of ambition, his fear.  We see him in all his human frailty accompanied by his unlimited potential.

Along Darrow’s journey we meet many a villain, those whom we at first classify and assume have but one dimension.  When our first shallow impressions prove wrong, we  are forced to rethink people we wrote off as wrong headed bad guys/girls. It is at this point when you can really begin to appreciate what Red Rising offers.

As a first book in a trilogy, there is payoff on every level.  The climax is rewarding.  The creation of a desire to read more is strong.  The expectation that you will not be disappointed is high.

What I didn’t like.

The story begins slowly, without much buildup.  The science fiction has some nice twists of future and near future technologies, particularly bioengineering.  The depth of the technological descriptions are, shall I say, Star Wars light.  I had an off and on again struggle with how some aspects of human history and development are abandoned at the expense of others.  The strong storytelling overshadows various intermittent flaws.

What you should know.

This is one of the most gender balanced fiction offerings you will find.  Women and men are intellectually and physically parallel.  They are evenly represented in the telling.  You can have Game of Thrones.  I’ll take my political intrigue with fancy weaponry and high tech gadgets any day over the fantasy of magic.  And horses too!

Recommendation:  Must Read

The message of Star Trek Beyond


Let’s look beyond the message of Star Trek and see where it finds us.  First I’ll argue that this is an entertaining blockbuster with mediocre aspirations as a science fiction standard bearer.  Will you enjoy it as time and money well spent? Yes.  Will you think twice about it as you leave the theater? No.  If you accept the premise of mediocrity then ask me, why need we look further?

My answer takes the form of a postulated question.  Did you hear the message that mankind is its own worst enemy?

SPOILER ALERT GALORE

ICYMI: Idris Elba aka Krall embodies the role of the villain as a human, albeit one who’s enhanced far beyond mortal man.  You might say he’s kind of a cross between Frankenstein’s monster and scifi Dracula.  My complements to the script makers.  There’s nothing like mining the best, most often copied material for another bite at the apple, or the neck, or the box office.  With the dollars at stake (2013’s Into Darkness more than $450 million in revenue- Beyond budget ~$185 million) would you risk original work when you can trot out tried and true formula?

And when our esteemed thespian, see Beasts of No Nation, asks as to his motivation, director Justin Lin’s reply; why you’re a disgruntled employee!  Talk about going postal.  And Krall delivers the mail with a rare combination.  Can you say spider and bee fetish?  His base of operations is a planet surrounded by nebula where spaceships maroon while their crews become entangled in a web-like comatose state which he uses to extract from them what he needs.  The product here is not honey but hate.  His forces, however, do swarm like no hive you’d ever want to stumble across. The Federation is nonplussed to wield any technology that can withstand Krall’s weaponry.

Here I suggest is where the message digs it’s foundation.  When we lift the lid on his coffin we discover Krall was heretofore our model citizen, warrior, officer and gentleman.  What happened was that the Federation took the highly trained and experienced combat veteran and gave him a civilian job, having ended all wars and the need for his old ways.  It has been thirteen years since numbered American soldiers have faced a two front war; one in Iraq and another in the minds of those afflicted with PTSD and other related issues.  Whether or not American combat veterans have experienced being more prone to violence once returned home, the message on screen was clear.  Captain Edison struggled with the loss of his military identity.  He faced a consequence of being rewarded for his sacrifice and bravery with being lost in space.  He was left behind.  Forgotten.  Edison was ultimately left for dead with little or no sign that his employers cared about either him, his subordinates, or his service.  As time passed his mental state deteriorated, eventually creating the fertile soil from which Krall emerged.

The direct line conclusion from the path  laid out by Beyond is that societies bare the risks associated with placing soldiers in harms way.  The results could reveal themselves long after the damage has been done.

I, or shall I say the filmmakers, offer you more messages than these.

The story’s overall theme that is revisited throughout hammers home one mantra.  Families and friends who commit to unite will strive together and reach their potential to overcome whatever obstacles arise.

The danger that often occurs is when we forget this belief and sabotage it through self destructive decisions.  Chris Pine’s Kirk does just that when the unending, unconquerable, infinite space defeats his sense of adventure, his desire to be challenged, and his dream of achievement.  The subject of his failure: purpose.  Zachary Quinto’s Spock takes a different route to reach the same end.  Grief, perhaps the strongest manifestation of what causes us to question ourselves, to the point we completely derail, is this half human’s Achilles heel as well. He chooses to abandon his celestial family to serve what he thinks is his ethnic responsibility to the fatherland, or what’s left of it.

The biggest reason why 13 films and 37 years of the Star Trek saga resonate with moviegoers is the bond that built the original Gene Roddenberry TV creation.  Beyond is on target with this piece and Karl Urban’s McCoy delivers the glue gun.  The series explored not outer space so much as it did the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  Their journey through the ups and downs of complex and conflicted emotions had more to do with their survival than any technological techniques they mastered.

McCoy reminds Spock why they mean so much to each other and why it matters.  When they bring that message back to Kirk, he takes his exercise of trust, inspiration, and leadership to another level seeing Uhura, Scott, Sulu and Chekov prove once again that their place is on the Enterprise and his home is with them.

This is the best part of the science fiction Beyond offers.  There is nothing new here.  That is the basis for my grade of C.  Star Trek gets a pass from me because it is a production that keeps the genre alive though it falls short of advancing it.  I hail science fiction because I see it as the best genre for bringing together the moral and ethical dilemmas within the human condition as they intersect with apocalyptic aspects of advanced technology.  The more we role play these hypothetical scenarios the more time we will have to consider them before we have to deal with them in our reality.  Are we ready to face global warming?

So I salute Star Trek Beyond.  Beyond’s success bridges the gap between great science fiction movies of the past…Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys, The Matrix…and the next great scifi story which will take a rightful place in cinematic history.  As for the Star Trek franchise I offer only these words: Live long and prosper.

Review: Code of Conduct

Code of conductCode of Conduct: A Thriller (Scot Harvath Book 14) by Brad Thor.  This is a NY Times best seller in the Paperback Mass-Market Fiction Category.  Brad Thor is a well known bestselling author of the Scot Harvath Thriller series.  His next book, entitled Foreign Agent, debuts June 14th.

What I liked.

The thriller genre is not as attractive to me as others I prefer to read more often.  So I tend to be more demanding.  I’ll often judge this type based on whether I feel compelled to skip ahead while reading (a bad sign).  However, some would argue that the death knell for similar stories is when you put the book down and awhile later discover you haven’t picked it back up.  Phrases like ‘page turner’ are key to separating the wheat from the chaff in this regard.  Needless to say, Thor definitely does pass muster with this book.  What need I say?  There is a broad, ambitious story, involving the fate of mankind.  Thor has mastered the art of maintaining tension and interest as characters navigate through conflicts that challenge their morality, their determination, and their intelligence.

Because of an epic scale that spans the globe, multiple groups of characters are introduced and reintroduced.  Thor weaves these stories at a pace that allows you to keep track of who’s who, without bogging down the action. And there is plenty of action.  As is typical of the genre, the violence ramps up towards the final climactic ending, and you will be ready when the time comes.

One perceived weakness of the genre is the balance of substance.  Here we’re found wanting if it appears to be ‘all action, no talk’.  Thor adds meat to the prose by interspersing political philosophy: it isn’t just good verses evil, but government bureaucracy verses individual liberty.  So the conflict between ideas is just as entertaining as the cage fight spectacle.

What I didn’t like.

A story of this scope and style often treads lightly on character development.  While there is enough there to like the good guys, and dislike the bad guys, I was still left wanting.  Scot Harvath is a very well developed protagonist and you’re left with no doubt about his reasons why or raison d’etre, s’il vous plait.  Not so much for the people around him.  They are more or less two dimensional.  For example the two prominent female characters are stereotypical archetypes.  But that probably won’t bother the target demographic.

I had a similar issue with the villain.  He had to be the nicest serial killer you ever met.  What’s up with that!  He leads a great life until he suffers a bad loss.  Then he reads a bad book?  So he goes crazy?  Thor has quite the cautionary tale about being careful with your bedside reading choices!

What you should know.

For thriller and suspense lovers, this is definitely the ticket.  With respect to the amount of violence, think early Schwarzenegger, if you want a movie comparison.  Warning:  know that these series can be highly addictive.  You may find yourself up late at night and suddenly sleep deprived (and neglecting significant others a la Harvath).  Take your time.  There are plenty more where this came from if you haven’t read any of his novels before.  If you have, don’t worry, you can buy a copy of Foreign Agent and get your fix this summer.

Recommendation:  Must Read

 

Review: Blood Defense

Blood Defense by Marcia Clark.

This is the author’s first novel of a series involving a criminal defense attorney named Samantha Brinkman.  You can read her Rachel Knight prosecutor series here.

What I liked:

The protagonist.  Samantha’s not so law abiding approach to the world was so refreshing. I also appreciated her professional approach to her vocation, it wasn’t about money, it was about doing the right thing the right way.  This is also a no nonsense, courageous protagonist.  That is the way I prefer them to be when I see them as the ‘hero’.  The interesting aspect of Samantha is that her personal life is non-existent.  Under the circumstances her work absorbs all of her life.  The intriguing part is that this missing piece does not detract from the story.  I imagine later tomes will add that dimension.  She is unmarried, and as such the only personal interaction she has is with her parents, and those are priceless.

The plot twist.  I found the twist to be unique and compelling – no spoiler though, find out for yourself, it is worth it.  I will say this, the description of the emotional impact of the revelation pulls the reader into the story and holds you.  That’s a major reason why we read novels, and this one delivers.  Could you imagine yourself in that situation?  What would you think?  How would you react under the circumstances?

The mystery.  This, of course like many of the genre, is a who done it.  There is a very delicate balance every mystery author must maintain in order for the mystery to both drive the story and keep up a plausible enough level of suspense to engage readers. And this works only to the degree that there is an investment of interest made validating the notion that anyone cares what happens.  This is not an easy task.  It is in my opinion the element that separates the real mystery authors from the pretenders.  Clark demonstrates her chops in this regard.

What I didn’t like:

I am one of those nitpickers.  I confess!  So I’ll ask.  How does a violent crime victim who has never gotten justice become a criminal defense attorney?  Why?  So she can sandbag all her cases and get her clients convicted?  I think not.  I just cannot reconcile the contradiction.  There is more to be mined on this subject but that the author only skims the surface.  I say ‘no go’.  Why touch so lightly on something so worthy of proper focus?  Samantha has nightmares.  Well?  I don’t think it can be mentioned, as often as it is, without going into detail about the cause and effect.

What you should know:

Amateur psychologists will revel in this smorgasbord of mental disorders – narcissism, sociopaths, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, while seeing them play out in the lives of the people who are forced to live with them.  The scene is Los Angeles, and pop culture is a main character.  Kudos to making reference to the current political upheaval involving the presidential election.

Recommendation:  Must Read

 

Review: Dragon Day

Dragon Day by Lisa Brackmann.

This is the author’s third novel with heroine Ellie McEnroe and although it is my least favorite, I still regard it as good read.

What I liked:

The setting.  For those of us who travel less, it is a treat to see exotic places like China through the eyes of a gifted storyteller.  This setting is very much a prominent character, making the experience even more enjoyable.

The family.  How people relate to family in a novel can often be as important as the plot.  It provides readers with a safe place to address their own familial challenges without the requisite emotional baggage.  It doesn’t just make characters more real and relatable.  Because when a reader engages with a character vicariously, another level of interaction arises, leaving a lingering impact in the mind, one that germinates upon further reflection, such that ideas fully form and take hold, allowing for the possibility of personal growth.  Brackmann’s fictional family is an entertaining gift for readers to treat with surrogate care.

The departure.   This adventure introduces an entirely new set of players into Ellie’s world.  While some favorites return, others fade into the background.  It is a fresh, if not completely independent sequel to the previous two tales.  Getting to know the new faces raises the mystery quotient I’m happy to say.

What I didn’t like:

Ellie has a slight personality change.  She remains the damaged PTSD combat casualty, struggling to find herself and her place in the world.  However this version is so fraught with uncertainty about whom she should trust and what the consequences of her choices might be, her paralysis of analysis becomes off putting.  She still doesn’t heed the advice of those who care for her as always.  Which makes me wonder, why all the kvetching if she’s going to do things her way in the end?

What you should know:

This is adults only fare in my opinion. The threat of violence permeates throughout.  There are mature themes, however the language is moderately colorful.

Recommendation: Good Read

Bev’s Cat

ARE YOU TALKING TO ME? …, I asked. Bev’s Cat Micah, held my gaze.

“No. I’m not talking to you. I’m having a conversation with the white elephant on the kitchen counter, you moron.”

“Hey,” I said. Then I stopped. Turning slowly I scanned the room. We were alone. So where was the voice coming from? Bev had dropped Micah off late last night before catching a red-eye to Australia. No worries. I assured her. Micah had always been lovely whenever I’d visited. But now the impulsive drive up to my cabin on Walker Lake was looking like a bad idea. Desperate for a nap, I’d just fed Micah before seeking some much needed rest. I’d heard sleep deprivation had risks, but hearing voices?

“Hey!” Startled, I dropped the milk bottle, shattering pieces of glass everywhere. I reached for the broom and glanced back at Micah.

“Forgive me, James. I didn’t mean to frighten you. My sarcastic streak got the better of me, but I didn’t think you would mind that.”

“Are you,” I began, pausing at a loss for words.

“Talking to you? No. Cats can’t talk.”

“Then I have lost my mind.” I don’t believe I just said that, to a cat.

“You don’t see my lips moving do you?”

I fumbled for my cell phone, not knowing who I was calling, somebody, and anybody who could talk me down from wherever it was I had gone.

“Listen James, you seem upset. I’m afraid there isn’t a cellphone signal for miles around. So why don’t I go for a walk while you clean up this mess. I’ll come check on you later and we can finish our conversation.” Micah jumped up onto the chair, climbed over the sink and perched on the sill below the open window. He tilted his head down at me and, winked, before disappearing into the darkness outside.

AWAKENING

I’d slept, fitfully. Unsure if I’d dreamed, imagined, or experienced the bizarre event earlier. I didn’t know what time it was. I had no watch and my phone was off, the battery spent, with no charger in sight. There was no sight of Micah either. I rose slowly. I found myself checking the premises, finding nothing suspicious. Eventually I relaxed, fixed myself a sandwich and ate it quietly. I even chuckled a bit, with my sanity somewhat restored. Sitting on the balcony, I stared out over the treetops, the glimpse of barren shoreline below caught my eye. I could hike down, go for a swim. It would do me good. Not having a day off in months must be getting to me.

“Psst.” I looked down at my feet to find Micah sprawled out, grooming his black velvety pelt into a high gloss.

“I see you’re better now. Let’s do this, shall we?”

“Do…what?” I stammered.

“Communicate. Yes. I am in your head. But don’t worry. You aren’t going crazy.”

“I’m hearing voices. They call that schizophrenia where I come from.”

“They call it telepathy where I come from.”

“The mission district?”

“Not exactly. Not 21st century San Francisco, anyway. When I come from, your future, telepathy is the primary language used, for those of us fluent in it.”

“I don’t believe this.”

“The sooner you do, the better, bud, and we don’t have much time so do you think you can get over it?”

“I’m talking to a cat.”

“Yeah, so? Who doesn’t? It’s not like I can read your mind. So please, do talk. It will go much better that way.” Micah ran into the cabin.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m starved. Got any sardines? That kibble was a bit dry for my tastes.” I watched him jump into a chair and curl up on the cushion, he was licking his paws and yawning.

“Okay, I give up. Let’s say for argument’s sake you’re a telepathic cat from the future. You are here, why?”

“Time travel is neither simple nor easy, James. I was fortunate enough to make the trip. The future of our existence depends on it.”

“How so?”

“I’m here to help repopulate the species. I need to mate with as many of the locals as possible in the time I have. And I have to tell you. This idea of yours to drive out to the boonies is killing my action. Can you help a dude out?” I started to laugh. Beginning with a mild chortle, it grew, uncontrollably, until I was doubled over on the sofa, and bordering on hysterical. I noticed a scowl on Micah’s face and tried to compose myself to no avail. Finally, after several failed attempts at speech, I was able to sit up and look at him.

“Are you done? You seem to find the situation all too amusing.”

“Wouldn’t you if you were in my position?”

“I don’t know, James. I’m not in your position. And quite frankly I wouldn’t trade places with you either.”

“Oh. And why is that?” I asked.

“The earth…let’s just say that cats are better suited to the environment than humans.”

“In the future, you mean.”

“In the past, the present, and definitely the future. Take your pick.”

“That may be true, Micah. But since we’re speaking frankly, I never cared for cats much myself. Why should I help you indulge your agenda? We have enough stray felines already, in my opinion.”

“If only I could say the same for you, James.”

“Convince me,” I dared.

“James. You’re 30 years old. You were born on the Island of Antillia. And you’re an orphan, both your parents died in a shipwreck off the coast of Spain.” Micah paused, watching my reaction. He had my attention now. Either I had fallen back into a state of utter delusion, or something far less believable was happening.

“I guess I am supposed to ask you how you know all of this.”

“James,” Micah said, glaring at me with iridescent blue eyes, “I am you.”

New Mystery by Walter Mosley

Cover
Photo By: LAnthony

Having read the first four Leonid McGill Mysteries; All I Did Was Shoot My Man, When the Thrill is Gone, Known to Evil, and The Long Fall, I was excited to see this new entry in print.

If you aren’t familiar with New York City Private Detective McGill or haven’t tried any of Mosley’s 49 works, you are in for a treat.  While his genre repertoire tends towards the hard-boiled, there are plenty of diverse offerings for the casual reader.

For more about the author you can check out his Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/WalterMosleyAuthor?ref=ts&fref=ts

LAnthony

The Lady from Zagreb – Germany, Switzerland and Yugoslavia -Philip Kerr

Because I am a fan of Philip Kerr

The book trail

untitled

Why a booktrail?

The tenth Bernie Gunther mystery  and the search for a German actress hiding in Zurich. Under Goebbels orders…..

Story in a nutshell

In 1942, there are many worse places to be than Zurich, and detective Bernie Gunther has seen his fair share of them. So when a superior asks him to track down a glamorous German actress believed to be hiding in Zurich, he takes the job. Not that he has much choice: the superior is Goebbels himself.

Soon Bernie finds himself involved in something much more sinister for the actress turns out to be the daughter of a fanatical Croatian fascist, the sadistic commandant of a notorious concentration camp.

Now the Swiss police ask for Bernie’s help on a cold case they have. One with connections to some powerful people back in the Reich.

Place and setting

FRANCE - La Ciotat - http://www.edentheatre.org/ The Eden theatre which is the oldest cinema in Europe and was where the Lumiere brothers showed their first film according to the novel. Where the novel opens GERMANY - Berlin - Babelsberg studios - http://www.studiobabelsberg.com/en/ Where the actress Dalia in the novel works and where Goebels meets her CROATIA - Zagreb The Church of St Mark in Zagreb is one of the old roman catholic curchs tat Gunther says there are more of here than in the VAtican telephone directory. St Marls is the one with the fairystory roof which seems to be made from haribo sweets. CROATIA - Pula,  Istria - where Dalia was born SWITZERLAND - Zurich Gunther often walks near Lake Zurich to people watch and visits the town of Rapperswill which he describes as a charming cuckoo clock town on the north shoreFRANCE – La Ciotathttp://www.edentheatre.org/
The Eden…

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