Hi! And thanks for continuing to hang out in my imagination. This page is a diverse collection of reviews. If you like them, you can find many more organized by genre through the "Reviews" heading above. Take a moment to look around. I hope you enjoy your visit.
Top 10,000 Amazon Reviewer
I'm very pleased to announce that after years of pouring my heart and soul into these reviews, I have broken the 10,000 mark at Amazon. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read one.
What Have I Read Recently?
Welcome to Undershaw by Luke Kuhns
I thought I’d picked up quite a bit of information about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from the various introductions to his books, but this delightful short biography showed me how wrong I was. Doyle was a much more complicated man that I had realized. He longed for adventure but rarely found it. He hated his character Sherlock Holmes because he didn’t feel his mystery stories were quality literature. He trained as a physician but was totally unsuccessful at creating his own medical practice. And so forth…
This book is a very quick read, but it really brought Doyle to life for me as a sympathetic and interesting figure. It also introduced many of his stories and novels by showing what was happening in Doyle’s life when he wrote them. And it sets all of this around the home he had built for his chronically ill wife in a way that was both interesting and endearing. What it doesn’t do, is bring the story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle beyond his estate of Undershaw, ending the biography when he sold the family home.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
The Banshee of the Atacama by Chris L. Adams
Several years ago, Chris L. Adams wrote a great short story called Blonde Goddess of the Tikka-Tikka which mixed a little of the Tarzan atmosphere with a dash of H.P. Lovecraft. He’s just published the sequel and man was it worth the wait.
Ansen Grost has the unique background of being a descendant of Vikings raised by the Arapaho at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. He’s a mighty warrior who carries a mystical tomahawk. He served in World War I and has had trouble settling down after his experiences there. In Scotland he comes across an old man looking for someone to find his missing daughter for him. It seems like a simple enough task except that the young woman, Mhairi, is lost in the wilderness of South America and she has an unhealthy interest in the supernatural. Ansen agrees to go look for her which opens the first half of the novel.
I’m not going to give a blow by blow of the book, but it’s worth noting that—as was the case with Tolkein—the journey is a significant and important part of the story. We learn a tremendous amount about Ansen and how his years away from the Arapaho have damaged him. We also meet two members of the critical supporting cast and get to understand their unique personalities. This is far more important than it would be in a typical adventure story because Adams has intertwined a truly spiritual quest with his Lovecraftian adventure and that wouldn’t have been successful without the time and care he puts into introducing these characters.
The main action of the story comes when Ansen and company finally find Mhairi, but the circumstances are not anything I could have imagined before the start of the story. There are demons and dark gods and monsters by the hundreds, but the most pivotal creature is the banshee of the title and if they can’t uncover her secret motivations, they just might trigger the end of the world.
I opened the book expecting a fairly straightforward adventure story, but Adams gave me much more. This is a deep and complicated tale which draws upon multiple world mythologies to create an adventure I will not only long remember, but return to again and again in the future.
An American Weredeer in Michigan by C.T. Phipps and Michael Suttkus
Jane Doe and her friends are back for another deer-lightful adventure. If you liked all the endless puns and pop culture references of the first book, you’re going to love this one as well as new problems come to Bright Falls. There’s a religious cult with a leader who is disturbingly open about his villainous plans who’s planning to use the magic of Bright Falls in his scheme to take over the world. Add to that that Jane accidentally promises to help hunt down and kill an earth goddess who—while not nice—is critically important to the survival of just about everything and you have the ingredients for a great adventure.
Honestly, I couldn’t figure out how Jane was going to get out of all the messes she wandered into, but the cast is so much fun—especially the gun with the angel in it—that I wouldn’t have minded her taking twice as long to resolve all the problems. Phipps and Suttkus have found a wonderfully light-hearted way to deal with some very dark issues and I think it’s this tone that puts this series head and shoulders above so many other urban fantasies. I’ve just never read anything else in the genre that feels like the Bright Falls stories. I hope they keep writing them.
The Case of the Damaged Detective by Drew Hayes
It seems like everyone wants to write about Sherlock Holmes these days, but no one has found as unique a way to do so as Drew Hayes. Sherman Holmes is the sole survivor of a mass killing by a drug that has driven him quite mad—except that for brief periods of time his mind can go into a hyper-capable state that makes him an ultra genius capable of remarkable feats of deduction.
Holmes has many problems. The government wants to move him to a more secure facility but his claustrophobia prevents him from being transported by plane. Enter Agent Watson—a man damaged by a personal betrayal whose paranoia is now getting in the way of his ability to do the job. This theoretically simple bodyguard opportunity is his chance to rehabilitate his career. But it’s not simple. His agency has been compromised and the bad guys are moving in force to get to snatch Holmes. Can two such bizarre personalities learn to work together?
Unlike most Sherlock Holmes stories, this novel is not about the mystery—it’s about Holmes and Watson. But discovering this new interpretation of two of the most beloved characters in literature is an immense delight and their adventure is definitely exciting. Not only did I not want to stop reading, I was sad when I came to the end of the book.
Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt
I started playing Dungeon and Dragons in the sixth grade with the basic boxed set and quickly graduated to the Advanced Players Handbook and the related books. In eighth grade, I started gaming with a guy whose older brother had started playing in college and using the original books—Greyhawk, Blackmoor, etc. We were all very proud of that connection and considered ourselves to be second generation gamers. So it was with great excitement that I stumbled across this book on the history of Dungeon and Dragons by David M. Ewalt.
Ewalt’s greatest strength is that he provides a coherent history of the development of the game from its beginnings as a war game, to those early days in Gary Gygax’s basement, to the development of the first of many iterations of TSR, to the intense infighting within the company, and its eventual sale to Wizards of the Coast. He also traces the development of the game through multiple editions and the influence of major figures. He even goes into some of the spinoff events and talks about the scandals. Overall, he builds the case that the introduction of D&D was a transformational event in the history of playing games.
There is also a lot of Ewalt’s personal experiences with roleplaying games, which seems to be a necessary and expected part of any book of this nature. Gamers are storytellers and they love to share their stories as much as other people love hearing them. Those stories also permit Ewalt to give a little insight into the dynamics of game play and player interactions.
While I suspect that this book appeals much more to gamers than to the larger world, if you have some interest in the subject this isn’t a bad place to start. Of course, if you’re really curious about Dungeons and Dragons, the best way to learn about it is to join a game and start playing.
I almost didn’t get this book and that would have been a terrible misfortune for me. On the surface, Maelstrom struck me as a run-of-the-mill story of beings and creatures passing between parallel earths, but it proved to be much better than that.
The novel is broken into three parts. The first is told from the POV of Elizabeth Cali, an American doctor working in rural China. Security guards at her medical center have a violent conflict with a tribesman from the nearby desert. The tribesman has brought in a sick elderly man and for reasons that aren’t immediately apparent, the guards are fighting with the younger tribesman who performs feats of amazing strength and basically wins the battle. The doctor calms him down, gets security to back off, and starts to help the sick man who is dying of heart problems. She realizes that both tribesmen have deformities. Neither can speak, their skulls are elongated, and more. She gets x-rays and realizes that both are Neandertals. Excited that she thinks she has discovered a possible Neandertal tribe that has survived into the present day, she investigates further and learns that the situation is much more bizarre than that. The Neandertal have been passing from their world into ours for centuries and there is frightening evidence that more worlds are colliding with ours, opening up passes between them in a manner that will eventually destroy our planet.
The second portion of the story follows a NYC cop, named Mark, and a jogger in Central Park who are caught in the next collision of planets and transported to a world where Homo Sapiens does not appear to have risen and prehistoric lions, saber tooth tigers, and more roam what on our planet is NYC. This is both the best section of the novel and the one that requires the greatest suspension of disbelief—it seems highly improbable that for the first time a portal will open in a major city just as Dr. Cali was discovering that the portals exist. That small problem aside, I was extremely impressed by how the author, Peter Cawdron, handled this dislocation and the terrible problem of trying to help a woman trapped in the rubble of NYC buildings that collapsed when they were pulled onto this new planet. This is a painfully powerful section that had me on the edge of my seat.
The third section follows many of the people introduced earlier in the novel as they move through the portal (called a maelstrom) in China to try and figure out how to save our planet. This seemed hopeless to me when they started, but again, Cawdron has brilliantly thought through the situation that caused the maelstrom and I was totally satisfied with his conclusion. This is among the very best of parallel universe stories that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read and the three narrators in the audio book do a magnificent job of bringing the text to life. I’m very glad I bought the story and I’ll be looking up other books by Peter Cawdron.
Phantoms by Dean Koontz
I think this is the first Dean Koontz novel I ever read. I was in college and was extremely impressed that unlike so many horror novels, the monster at the end of the book lived up to all the extremely creepy build up. It encouraged me to go out and read several more of his books including such greats as Strangers and Watchers. I think Phantoms is every bit as good as those two.
It opens with a sheriff’s deputy dying mysteriously in the small ski resort of Snowfield, California. Then it switches to a young doctor coming home to Snowfield with her younger sister only to discover that the only people she can find in this town of 500 are mysteriously (and sometimes gruesomely) dead. The phones are out and the electricity is undependable. And the more they try and find out what’s going on (terrorist attack? Strange disease? Poison gas?) the more and more nervous you become for them. The only break in the tension comes when we switch points-of-view to the local county sheriff who is having his own tense confrontation with a suspect whom he believes murdered his family—and that’s not really a break, just a different kind of tension.
When the police finally arrive in Snowfield, the creature stalking the town ups its game and men start dying—or worse yet, disappearing without a trace just like some two-thirds of the residents of Snowfield. The survivors don’t feel they can just leave in case a strange new disease is responsible for the disaster, but we, the reader, are quite certain that it’s a monster, not some nameless bug doing the killing.
As state and national authorities get involved, and the world wakes up to the tragedy, the monster becomes ever more menacing in the buildup to what I think is one of Koontz’s best endings.
Optional Retirement Plan by Chris Porteau
What do you do when you’re a hitman whose boss thinks you’re slipping into Alzheimer’s and wants to “permanently retire” you before you can spill any more of the company’s secrets? That’s the problem facing Stacks Fischer in Chris Porteau’s excellent sf thriller, Optional Retirement Plan. To make matters even worse for Fischer, he’s not even sure he has Alzheimer’s and so he’s trying to figure out if he’s actually sick or being set up while trying to avoid assassins trying to collect the bounty on his head.
Stacks Fischer is a fascinating protagonist. He should not be likable, but he truly is. He should not be sympathetic, but you can’t help but feel for him as he struggles to find out what’s wrong with him. He has a code of honor and a sense of—well not justice, but something remarkably close to it that makes him easy to cheer for. It helps that narrator R.C. Bray has the perfect voice for Fischer, bringing his pain to life as he struggles to keep living for just a few more days.
I’ve noticed that Porteau has other books set in this universe. I’m going to have to give them a try.
I received this book from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
Wearing the Cape 8 Repercussions
The pacing and tone of Repercussions is very different than Harmon’s previous novels. Everything occurs at high speed with little time for the heroes to react and even less time for them to think. To add to the feeling of ever-growing frenzy, the point of view changes multiple times in most chapters and reflects a significantly larger number of character perspectives than we have been introduced to before. The civilized world is under attack and it is by no means clear if the Sentinels can save the day this time. Harmon has long flirted with post-apocalyptic settings—both in the visions of the Tea Time Anarchist and in the alternate realities of Team Ups and Crossovers. Within a very few chapters it becomes evident that this might just be the book that sees those dark ages introduced full time into the series. Starting in the United States and spreading outwards, the death count is higher than at any time since the first book in the series, and that number includes the heroes as well as the civilians. If you’ve grown to love the large cast of Wearing the Cape—brace yourself—everything is on the table this time and no one gets away unhurt.
So this book is everything in a superhero novel you could desire—tons of actions, great super powers, and a gritty plot worthy of our heroic cast. That being said, I do have a small complaint that I’ve had a little difficulty articulating. I have read every book in this series at least twice and am listening to the audiobooks now. I feel like I know the action and the characters very well. Yet there were many times when Harmon made references that made me wonder if there was a short story out there that I had missed (and maybe there is) and the novel was just jammed packed with facts about supers in the rest of the planet—as if after finishing the guide books to his super hero roleplaying game, Harmon just couldn’t resist feeding us information a little bit artificially.
That being said, Astra experiences a lot of changes in this novel and I found the character development well thought out and credible. I’m anxious to see what Harmon has in store for her and her friends in the books to come.
Dead Moon by Peter Cline
I’ve started a lot of reviews with the words, “I like zombie novels.” That’s true, but what’s even more true is that I like books with very creative takes on the zombie theme and Peter Cline’s Dead Moon is about as creative as it comes.
In the future, the moon has become a massive cemetery with something like 16 million bodies interned there. A space elevator makes transportation to the moon really cheap and the notion that bodies buried on the moon don’t decompose appeals to a lot of rich people. So several cemeteries have sprouted on the moon and a new profession—caretaker—has developed to take care of the deceased.
On top of that, the moon is a tourist attraction with classes of rich students going to the moon instead of Disney World on elaborate field trips. Not to mention business ventures, etc. So there are lots of potential victims for the coming zombie horde.
Matters begin in a pretty straightforward fashion. A meteor strike results in the undead beginning to rise and—very realistically I thought—no one believes it’s happening. Official reaction is extremely slow and further complicated by the fact that one of the first presumed victims of the zombies is the spoiled son of the company CEO.
Then things get really interesting. These zombies are not just mindless brain-seeking corpses. They have a disturbingly high level of cunning. They might even be smart.
I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises in the novel, so I’ll just say that the reader (with slightly more information than the characters) understands that there is more going on than the dead rising. Just what that is, however, is not immediately clear—even though Cline gives plenty of clues that I kicked myself for missing earlier in the book. This is a brilliantly plotted novel that also appears to be very well researched. I’m not an expert on the moon or conditions there, but the description of what a person goes through when exposed to the cold vacuum of space was riveting and totally believable. Even if the rest of the book had been terrible (and let’s be clear, it’s awesomely good) that one scene and it’s follow up chapter would have been worth reading the entire novel for.
Every time you think we’re approaching the natural end of the book, Cline shakes things up and ramps the tension even higher. I’m proud to say I figured out a big chunk of how our heroes were going to deal with the final monstrous problem, but I’m not sure how much credit that should give me because I didn’t figure out that that particular problem was going to need to be solved until Cline hit me over the head with it.
I’d like to wrap up by noting that novels can be made or broken based on the skills of their narrators. Fortunately, Ray Porter has the kind of voice and cadence that could make the wandering dead stop and listen to him. He does a phenomenal job and it just makes a great book all the better.
If you’re looking for zombies in a new and interesting environment, you should listen to Dead Moon.
Dads vs. Zombies by Benjamin Wallace
I really like the zombie apocalypse subgenre. I read the spectrum of them from the very serious to the spoofs and from the science-based virus-style infection to the supernatural cause. So it is with some authority that I state that this was one of the best zombie apocalypse novels I have ever read. It has a solid plot that would fit in nicely with any book in the genre (three men trying to reunite with their families as the world falls apart around them) but it’s the extraordinary level of humor that lifts this book to the top of the ladder.
The novel opens with our three dads (John, Chris and Erik) at the bowling alley where they have been forced to join a league by the much-hated president of their Home Owners Association. The three men don’t appear to like each other very much and it’s fairly clear that at least one of them (John) probably isn’t liked by much of anyone. The laughs start early in the chapter and continue to the end of the book. The banter between these three men is superb as Wallace draws out each man’s very distinctive character. Forced to walk home because they’ve been drinking, the zombie apocalypse comes to unlife around them and they don’t notice. By morning, the world has gone to hell and our three dads are trying to figure out how to find their families and reconnect with them.
Then the mistakes begin. In many of these novels the heroes are super smart and physically capable. They kill zombies better than Rambo. That does not describe our dads. John, especially, has an almost superhuman ability to do something stupid. And these blunders both add to the tension and create extraordinarily funny situations. Laugh out loud funny. Grab your sides funny. Rip yourself a new hernia funny. Get your eighteen-year-old son to start listening to the book with you funny. It’s that good.
It also took me in directions I didn’t expect several times. Part of this is because John continually does such comically stupid things. But many are also just good plot twists. I was sorry when the book came to an end because I just wasn’t done listening to it yet. Fortunately, I see on Audible that Dads vs. the World is coming so the humor will continue.
I received this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
Test of Fire by William L. Hahn
In Test of Fire, William L. Hahn proves that great writers do not need to have their heroes save the planet to construct a gripping tale. What it takes is fascinating, well-developed characters willing to risk everything they have for a cause they believe in. That’s the situation that Querlack finds himself in. He’s a retired adventurer who has invested his loot from his wilder days in a foef—a bit of mostly swampy land that doesn’t appear to have much of a future. A poor investment by any contemporary standard, made more so by Querlack’s determination to better the land for the sake of his peasants, not to milk it for every coin he can extract from it.
His neighbor, Sir Cran-Kalrith Pritaelseran is a hard elf with a rigid sense of honor that basically comes down to the following—everyone exists to better him. He finds his new neighbor offensive and decides to continue a centuries old conflict and attempt to expand his own borders—a strategy he has used successfully on other neighbors. It’s a serious threat, but not the only one Querlack faces as he learns more and more about his new home.
This is a great book—made all the better by its primary focus on a relatively small territory. Hahn has always been capable of “painting” the master strokes of epic conflict—demons threatening his Lands of Hope. Now he proves he can be just as effective in small scale adventures and in doing so makes us cherish his characters all the more.
The Singularity Trap by Dennis E. Taylor
This is a remarkable novel with a strange twist on first contact. The aliens arrived well before humanity existed, prepared a “gift” (the Singularity Trap of the title), and left again. The story picks up with the human mining crew who are going to discover the aliens’ parting present.
This is where the story moves into high gear and gets incredibly interesting. The alien gift begins to transform one of the mining crew members and threatens his ability to control his own mind and body. This naturally scares the authorities of his nation and heightens the tensions in a futuristic cold war. There are issues of strategic defense, human rights, and mob mentality to deal with. At the same time there is an extraordinary mystery to be uncovered—what are the aliens, what do they want, and why are messing with our hero’s body?
As we move toward the finale of the novel, our hero must carefully outthink just about every side in the book as he struggles to find a path through the complex future maze that leads to the survival of humanity. This is a thoroughly enjoyable, thought provoking, science fiction novel that took me in directions I never expected to go.
Wolf Hunt by Jeff Strand
George and Lou, the atypical heroes of Wolf Hunt, have just become two of my all-time favorite characters in fiction. They had me laughing right from the beginning of the novel and their banter was enough to take the gruesome edge off even the most horrendous crimes that Ivan the Werewolf commits throughout the book. They’re a little bit dumb, seriously stubborn, and surprisingly heroic and human as they try to make up for the admittedly stupid mistake that sets a seriously sadistic werewolf loose on the world. It seemed like a simple job—transport a caged man a few hundred miles—but we quickly figure out that nothing involving George and Lou ever goes smoothly. Things happen to them, and around them, and, unfortunately, to anyone in the vicinity.
There is a lot to love about this novel—but for the serious fan of werewolf books and movies two particular items stand out head and shoulders above the rest. First, Ivan, is a phenomenal werewolf villain. He is so clever in his psychological sadism that the author’s family might want to have him checked out by a mental health professional. Ivan gets in everyone’s head as he taunts them on his way to dismembering and killing them. It’s sick, but that’s what makes a great villain so fun to hate, isn’t it?
The other absolutely amazing thing about this book is the creative—but pretty untraditional—ways in which George and Lou continue to go after Ivan. It turns out that silver bullets just aren’t that plentiful in the state of Florida and that forces them to get clever—not A-Team clever by any means, but creative none the less. I was astounded by the mirid ways they managed to hurt this basically unkillable-by-conventional-means creature. All the while soaking up tremendous amounts of damage themselves.
As if these three characters were not wonderful enough, Strand adds an innocent victim—accidentally kidnapped along the way by George and Lou—and their handler who set them up with the job. Again, wonderful characters who had me laughing my posterior off throughout the book.
Now, lest I give you the wrong impression, Wolf Hunt is not a comedy. It’s a serious action/horror adventure, but the humor sure does add tremendously to the fun even while the action and the evil deeds of Ivan continue to ramp up the feelings of suspense until the very last page of the novel. Ivan is a serious monster on both a human and lycanthropic levels and you will want him to die just as badly as George does.
I suspect that this would be a great book in paper or electronic format, but it was my good fortune to encounter the audio version, so let me just add a few words of praise for the performance of Scott Thomas. All of the key figures in this book have totally unique voices that make them easy to identify. More importantly, Thomas really draws out the humor in the banter. I am really impressed that he did this without once breaking down into peals of laughter himself, as I did consistently while listening to it.
In summation, let me say that Wolf Hunt is a gem of an adventure novel, but it should come with a warning not to listen to it while operating a motor vehicle.
I received this book from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
This novel caught my interest from the very first pages and didn’t let it go until I’d read the final word. Colonel Carl Butler is getting ready to retire when his old friend and the second most powerful general in his branch of the military asks him to travel to the planet, Cappa, halfway across the galaxy to investigate the disappearance of an important politician’s son. It actually seems like a pretty straight forward assignment except that at, Cappa, no one will cooperate with him. The young man disappeared from the shuttle taking his injured body from the battlefield to the space station hospital. The hospital claims he never arrived. The shuttle pilots are now dead. And all the records that might trace what happened have disappeared—and all of that is BEFORE the mystery gets complicated.
This is both a great story and a great mystery. Carl Butler is a superb character—an old colonel with a heroic past he won’t discuss and very little in the way of diplomatic skills. He’s a bulldog who won’t stop once he has a mission and yet he also has a peculiar sense of honor and duty that becomes very important to the resolution of the case.
Mammay plays fair with the reader throughout this book. I don’t say that just because I figured out the core of the mystery halfway through the novel. There are plenty of clues, many of them coming in the middle of shocking surprises. The ending was powerful, made total sense, and yet, I didn’t see it coming. Anyone who likes a good mystery will enjoy this novel.
Finally, narrator R.C. Bray, really enhances an already superb novel with his spot-on depiction of Butler’s voice—a totally credible aging colonel who lacks patience for most of the BS happening around him.
Zelazny won the Hugo for this novel and it’s easy to see why. Conrad (of the many names) is a fascinating man and the immortal of the title moving through a vividly and poetically depicted post-apocalyptic earth which is supported economically almost totally be alien tourists fascinated by earth’s history and the near destruction of the planet in the Three Day War. There is depth of thought regarding this future society evident in almost every page and yet never once did I have that experience of wondering, “Why is Zelazny telling me this now? Why can’t we get on with the story?”
The plot revolves around a rich Vegan who wants to write a travel guide to earth’s most important sightseeing spots starting with Egypt and the Great Pyramids. Conrad is an official in the government agency in charge of protecting the historical monuments. He doesn’t want to play tour guide especially after it becomes that some of the humans who attach themselves to the tour want to see the Vegan die before he leaves earth. They worry that the alien’s real purpose is to lay the groundwork for the Vegans to buy up the rest of the planet.
This is where Zelazny truly shows his depth because much of the plot revolves around a political terrorist group who have embraced the ideology of Returnism—wanting all humans to return to earth and make it an independent planet again. Conrad actually started this movement and led the terrorist cell in an earlier life, but came to a point where he believed that it was not capable of achieving the Returnist aim and set about instead exploring other paths. As with many diasporas, most humans don’t live on the planet anymore and the sad truth the Returnists don’t want to face is that second and third generation humans who have never seen earth don’t want to return there at all. Their lives are elsewhere now, but the fanatics can’t give up the dream and have become certain that killing this Vegan is the key to earth’s eventual independence.
To achieve their end they have hired a fascinating assassin named Hasan who, thanks to a quirky response to a longevity procedure, is also effectively immortal (at least he’s lived for a very long time as a young man). Conrad and he know each other well but now they are reluctantly on opposite sides of the Vegan problem.
As if this tension wasn’t enough, the post-apocalyptic earth is a very dangerous place with mutations giving rise to legends out of myth and other monsters. Over all, it’s just a delightful tale filled with Zelazny’s brush-stroke characterizations that hang in the mind years after you read the piece.
This time through I listened to an audio edition
narrated by Victor Bevine. At first I thought his slow rate of speech was going to wreck
the novel. (I never think of Zelazny’s books as slow moving.) Fortunately, I quickly
came to love the nuance with which he shared Zelazny’s prose and brought his
characters to life. Whether in print or in audio, this book is worthy of its
Hugo and well worth your time.