|Posted by Gilbert Stack on December 9, 2022 at 7:00 AM|
Jingle Bell Pop by John Seabrook
If you’re looking for a short book to get you into the holiday spirit, you should consider giving Jingle Bell Pop a try. I listened to it on audible and found the combination of bright narrative, interviews and snippets of fancy songs to be an excellent balance. Starting with Silent Night, Seabrook takes you on a tour of the holiday classics exploring not only the history of individual songs, but the larger themes they fit within. He also spends quite a bit of time exploring what it takes to get your favorite Christmas song into the canon. It’s short and utterly enjoyable.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on December 8, 2022 at 7:00 AM|
Along Came Holly by Codi Hall
This is a sweet Christmas romance, apparently the third in a series. A holiday loving extrovert (Holly) crosses (figurative) swords with an apparently Scrooge-esq introvert (Declan). No one doubts from moment one that the two will end up together, it’s just a matter of how Hall will get us there and she chooses a very good path.
The novel starts off with a very cute “prank war” between Holly and Declan in which each strives to get the better of the other in what are truly good-natured holiday pranks. Somewhere in the midst of the war everyone around the two realize that despite their protestations to the contrary, Holly and Declan are interested in each other. But it takes a lot more of the book for them to start giving into their feelings. Part of the problem is that Declan’s parents have screwed him up and stolen his dreams and he needs to come to grips with his relationship with them before he’s ready to open up with Holly.
This is a light and fluffy holiday romance that will help to cultivate your Christmas spirit.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on December 7, 2022 at 7:00 AM|
The following book isn't truly a Christmas story, but a significant part of the action happens around Christmas time, so I'm going to spotlight one of my books this Christmas season.
Forever After by Gilbert M. Stack
I find that great inspiration for novels often results from the convergence of multiple ideas that come together to form one very exciting and emotionally powerful book. That’s what happened for me when I wrote Forever After. I’d been playing with several plot ideas that were bouncing around in my head for years and one morning as I walked from the train to work, I realized how two of these notions could be blended to form a truly wonderful story.
First, there’s the issue of true love in a paranormal setting. I wanted to write about a man who came back from the grave—not to save his wife’s life from terrible danger (I think we’ve seen that plot a few times) but to simply get to continue being with her. To spice it up a bit, she not only doesn’t recognize her husband (because he is dead after all) but she has every reason to despise the person he appears to be. Could my hero use what he knew about his one true love to win her back again?
Second, I’d been thinking of a plot that might have worked for Batman. “Bruce Wayne” loses his memory and has to fake it through his life so no one finds out and puts him in an insane asylum. Except, I didn’t want to write about Batman and deal with a bunch of supervillains. I wanted to write about Bruce Wayne trying to do the right thing and save the company that he had driven into the ground through mismanagement (because he spends all of his time being Batman).
So, why not combine the two ideas? My hero, Paul Steele, dies in a selfless act of bravery right after a terrible and pretty senseless fight with his wife. He dies thinking she believes he regrets marrying her. But for reasons you’ll have to read the book to find out, he doesn’t go to the afterlife. Instead, he wakes up in the body of Griffin Knight—a billionaire screwup who has just about wrecked everything his parents and grandparents left him. Not realizing what has happened to him, Paul races home worried that his wife, Charlotte, will be both worried and furious at him and runs into his own wake. Naturally, claiming to be the dead man does not make a favorable impression and Paul has to take a really hard look at his life—at both of his lives—and figure out how he’s going to make things right again not only for his own family but for Griffin’s thousands of employees. In doing so, he figures out that he’s not the man he always imagined himself to be.
This is a story of love and growth and redemption and love again as Paul seeks to discover if he and Charlotte can have their Forever After right here on earth. I think you will agree that it is a journey well worth taking with them.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on December 6, 2022 at 7:00 AM|
The Spirits of Brady Hall by M.L. Bullock
The last book in this series ended with two interesting subplots that I felt were begging to be turned into full-fledged novels. In both plots, people appeared to be using their psychic gifts to harm either members of the Gulf Coast Paranormal Team or people close to them. This promised a very interesting twist on the team’s standard investigations, but both subplots were dropped completely in this volume.
Instead, we got one of those standard investigations in which angry ghosts were causing problems. The story was interesting, but didn’t stand out in the way those two subplots from the previous book promised to do. Even though one of the ghosts seemed particularly interested in doing harm to Sierra, the threat level never seemed all that serious. The book is mostly important because it brings back the cowardly betrayer, Peter, who keeps getting kicked out of the group and coming back begging to be forgiven.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on December 5, 2022 at 7:00 AM|
The Joy of Murder by Gloria Oliver
This novel promises something I’d never encountered in a mystery before. The detective is blind. Think about that for a moment. The detective is blind. She’s also Chinese living in Dallas, Texas in 1930. That’s a very unusual lead character and I wanted to see what Oliver did with her.
The mystery itself is quite good. A wealthy bigoted socialite is accused of murdering a Hispanic woman in an area of town it’s difficult to imagine her going to and with evidence of her involvement that even the most dense individual has to believe screams “set up”.
Dai, the blind detective, gets involved because the son of the socialite, who is clearly interested in her, comes and asks for her help. He’s desperate. His father is afraid that the charges against his wife will screw up a business deal he is trying to finalize and so he’s not racing to the woman’s defense with high priced attorneys and the like. That leaves Dai and her brother Jacques to save the day.
Dai’s family is also quite wealthy having built a highly successful laundry business. She appears well educated and is, of course, incredibly smart. She follows the clues with the help of Jacques and brings the mystery to a successful conclusion by the last page of the novel.
My complaint with the story is one of point-of-view. Having created a fascinating detective that could make her mysteries totally unique, Oliver doesn’t take advantage of this. Instead of telling the story through Dai’s “eyes”, she tells everything through Jacques’ point-of-view and this, in my opinion, is a terrible lost opportunity. This novel had the potential to be a fantastically unique experience. Instead, it’s just another mystery.
I hope that Oliver fixes this problem in the next book.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on December 4, 2022 at 7:00 AM|
Colony One Mars by Gerald M. Kilby
There is something about stories that focus on colonizing the solar system that always excite me. Mars has been an interest of mine since I first picked up Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars and I’ve enjoyed a wide range of other Mars-based stories over the years from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, to Ian Douglas’ Semper Mars, to more recently, S.J. Morden’s One Way. Gerald Kilby’s Colony One Mars has a lot in common with the best of these tales. There’s a mystery at the heart of the story, serious threats to the survival of the astronauts, and some decent characterization to ground the story around people we quickly come to like.
The mystery is what happened to the previous colony—that is, the Colony One of the title. A private corporation (COM) had set up the colony and then in one of Mars horrendous sandstorms, all contact was lost and everyone was presumed dead. Except, maybe they aren’t all dead and the colony infrastructure is not in nearly as bad a shape as the astronauts expected.
The astronauts, by the way, are not part of COM—except for one unidentified traitor whom we learn early on is actually on COM’s payroll as a double agent. So, the astronauts don’t know that the colony was actually set up to run illegal experiments on humans. This is unfortunate, because the results of those experiments still exist in the colony and cause much of the drama in the book. One of the astronauts is quickly infected with something and the results are…bad.
Overall, this is a tense story about survival that I enjoyed very much. I do have a couple of quibbles. The main character, Jann, is constantly referred to as undertrained for the mission with some astronauts outright saying she doesn’t belong. I thought this was both unrealistic and unnecessary. Why on earth send an untrained person to Mars? There would have been plenty of backup people ready to fill in if a slot unexpectedly opened due to illness or accident.
Also, Jann especially, doesn’t think about communications very much and it’s unrealistic. She’s attacked by the infected crewmember and just runs away never thinking to warn people about what she’s just experienced. And when she does finally reach the others, they choose to believe that she is the one having the break down, not the person who was made ill during the search of Colony One. I just didn’t think that made sense, but once we get past that part of the story, things pick up nicely again.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on December 3, 2022 at 7:00 AM|
Christmas After All by Cece Louise
This is a cute romance that actually make the enemies-turned-lovers idea work. The reason it works is that the “enemies” moment comes when the two are just teenagers. Melissa is a cheerleader who just got back together with her cheating boyfriend (she refuses to believe he was cheating) when Tucker, a geeky kid in her class, gets on the football game announcer system and sings her a song he wrote asking her to go to prom with him. She is embarrassed and publicly rejects him. A year later, he becomes a country music star based on the popularity of a song he wrote about the incident, unintentionally humiliating her back. The novel focuses upon the two ten years later and it’s really a very sweet story.
Tucker comes home to his small town as a country music sensation and Melissa’s life has gone to hell. He’s buying the place she works and she’s finding the situation untenable, and things only start getting worse when circumstances force them together. Yet Tucker still has a crush on Melissa and she has learned a lot of humility in the last ten years. And because both of them have grown up, it gives them a chance to decide if they would like to try that relationship they didn’t get as high school students. It’s a lovely holiday tale.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on December 2, 2022 at 7:00 AM|
Clovenhoof by Heide Goody and Iain Grant
I have mixed reactions to this novel. On the one hand, the main storyline about Satan exiled to earth never quite caught my interest. It moved slowly and I just didn’t care. On the other hand, there’s a story simultaneously taking place in heaven which I eagerly awaited each installment of as I trudged through the main storyline chapters. In heaven, the board of directors (people like Michael the Archangel, St. Peter, Francis of Assisi, Mother Theresa, and Joan of Arc) try to deal with the consequences of earth’s population boom greatly increasing the numbers of people dying and going to heaven (and hell). This was often humorous before its disturbing and totally predictable end.
So, it’s a mixed bag. I never cared about Clovenhoof but I was interested to uncover the plot that had ended up getting him exiled to earth. Also, the mystery surrounding the Throne of God was quite clever (if predictable). All in all, there was a lot of good fun.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on December 1, 2022 at 7:00 AM|
Tribe by Jeremy Robinson
I was really blown away by Jeremy Robinson’s book, NPC, so it was with eager anticipation that I started Tribe. Unfortunately, this novel never caught my attention the way the first book did. I started it in audiobook six different times before I finally decided to finish it. The plot is one that appears every once in a while. The best known of the recent books is probably the Percy Jackson series. Gods exist and they occasionally have children and this is about what happens to them. I will risk a spoiler by saying it isn’t very nice. The big bad guy gives new definition to the word “insane” and so do most of his children and his followers.
About the best thing I can say about the book is there is a ton of action—so much so that the words “too much” might legitimately be used. Fight scenes roll on chapter after chapter. The action is well depicted and interesting, but it didn’t totally make up for a storyline of youngsters discovering their godhood through enduring terrible stresses.
Overall, I’m glad I read the novel, but it’s certainly no NPC.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on November 30, 2022 at 7:00 AM|
Death on Deadline by Robert Goldsborough
Every once in a while, Nero Wolfe is motivated to adopt a mission that makes him change his modus operandi. When Stout was writing, Wolfe decided to enlist in the army to fight Nazis and another time he decided to leave not just his precious home, but the entire United States to avenge the murder of a friend. This time, he is driven to abnormal behavior by the threat of a tabloid-esq publisher buying the New York Gazette. He spends more than $30,000 without a client or a crime to try and stop the takeover and the reader is deep into the story before a crime (murder, of course) is even committed.
Despite the unusual behavior on Wolfe’s part, this book reads like classic Rex Stout. Wolfe will not be deterred and when the murder gives him a more traditional path to achieve his ends, he grasps hold and pushes his investigation to a very satisfying ending.
The only thing that might be a little off in this novel is Inspector Cramer. After reading a couple dozen of Stout’s novels, I expect him to show up and yell at Wolfe a bit more than he does in this book. But that only occurred to me after I finished reading. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment of a superb tale.