Monthly Archives: January 2009

TBR Challenge: “Mission Canyon” by Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner’s second novel in the Evan Delaney mystery series shows the same assuredness of storytelling that won me over in “China Lake” but ends up being a far more satisfying and complete reading experience.

Several years ago, Evan’s boyfriend, Jesse, was paralyzed in a hit and run incident. Jesse’s good friend was killed and all the evidence pointed toward it being a deliberate hit and run incident, with the car’s driver, Franklin Brand, going on the run. Now, Brand is back in town, but for what purpose?

As Evan follows Brand to make sure he doesn’t leave town, she’s slowly drawn into a web involving the incident and who the real target of the incident was. As Evan uncovers the truth of what happened and why, her own life becomes threatened and the discoveries she makes could fundamentally alter her life and her relationship with Jesse.

I came to the Evan Delaney series after reading Gardiner’s “The Dirty Secrets Club” and being impressed by it. Hungry for more, I picked up “China Lake” and while there were snippets of what I liked from “Secrets” in there, it still felt like a first novel. With “Mission Canyon,” the trappings of a first novel are gone and Gardiner settles in with a satisfying, page-turning mystery thriller that sets everything up well and then delivers a nicely done payoff in the end. I want to say this story is a bit more personal for Evan, but that would be doing a disservice to “China Lake” since it was a story about her protecting her nephew in peril from an evil religious cult. The big difference is that it feels like Gardiner doesn’t have as big an axe to grind here with the antagonists and they come off as far more effective and threatening that way. They’re not quite the evil, moustache twirling kind of villains that we got in “China Lake” and the book is a lot stronger for that.

Also, having had a novel to get to know Evan, the book is more successful as we see and hear Evan’s relentless belief in those she cares about and her dogged determination to defend them. It makes one of the novel’s turning points and twists a bit more shocking when you come to it. It also helps to make Evan grow as a character and not just be a stock, plucky female private investigator.

All in all, “Mission Canyon” is a far more complete and satisfying novel than its predecesor. I wonder if I’d read it first if I’d regard it as highly as I do “Dirty Secrets Club.” After all, part of the fun of a novel author is the joy of discovering their tricks and storytelling technique in the first novel you’re exposed to.

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TBR Challenge: “Presumed Guilty” by James Scott Bell

Presumed Guilty
While not quite in the same league as Robert Whitlow, James Scott Bell shows promise in the realm of compelling, well-written Christian fiction.

Dallas Hamilton’s seemingly perfect world is shattered when her minister husband is arrested for the murder of an adult film star. Her husband was working with a local politician to combat the world of adult entertaiment. In the course of the investigation, secrets are revealed, including that her husband slept with the victim and had a previous affair. A hard drive full of pornography doesn’t help his case and soon a media circus has erupted.

Meanwhile, Dallas’ family is also falling apart in other ways. Her son is home from Iraq and appears to suffer from some kind of post combat stress issues. He can’t hold down a job and has anger issues with his father. He lashes out at everyone and denies God. Dallas slowly tries to chip away at what’s wrong and what happened during his time in combat to change her son.

Bell’s story works well enough when it confines itself to the dealings of the legal system and the dilemma may men face in fighting the temptation of adult entertainment. The reflections by Dallas’ husband, Ron, in prison on how he’s gone down the path to ruin he’s followed are compelling, though it doesn’t fully explain a decision he makes halfway through the story.

Which is part of my problem with the story. There are a lot of twists and turns, including a vast conspiracy at the center of the story that bogs down the novel’s final half. For every believable twist and turn, there was another one that left me scratching my head. And while Dallas, Ron and the son feel like authentic chracters, there are still other characters in the story who come off as too one-note and serve only as ways to advance the plot. And the journey taken by the son, while interesting, is one that is a bit predictable in the end.

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“Glory Road” by Robert A. Heinlein

When I picked up my copy of “Glory Road,” I was met with a cover depicting a buxom woman in tights, a dwarf and a guy dressed like Robin Hood battling what appears to be a fire-breathing dinosaur and a blurb proclaiming this one of the “best SF novels of all-time.” And I thought to myself–this is precisely why some people don’t take science-fiction as a literary genre seriously. Covers like this that depict such absurd scenes really can put off the serious intellectuals who look down their nose at sci-fi and can’t see the forest for the trees.

Then I read the book and the scene on the cover actually happens within the pages of “Glory Road.”

Whoops….

I guess that whole “don’t judge a book by its cover thing” thing really does apply here.

And here we come to my yearly reading of Heinlein. I participate in a science-fiction and fantasy discussion group and each year our January selection is by Robert Heinlein. Having read “Starship Troopers” last year and missed a discussion on “Stranger in a Strange Land,” that leaves a lot of the other “lesser” Heinlein novels on the table for reading and discussion. I tried suggesting a collection of short stories but after hearing this one advertised as young man answers classified ad for hero and has adventures, I have to admit I was kind of intrigued by it. Looking at when it was written by Heinlein, I was hopeful it might be from the period before he became old, pervy and pretty much insane.

Alas, “Glory Road” is a preview of the old, pervy and insane Heinlein to come.

E.C. “Scar” Gordon is your typical, later period Heinlein hero. By that, I mean he’s this fantasized version of himself that Heinlein puts into just about all of his later books. Gordon is a man’s man, virile, red-blooded, full of opinions and completely attractive to every woman he encounters. Women can’t resist him becuase…umm….well, if you figure that one out you let me know. Gordon is the veteran of an unnamed war in Asia (clearly the Vietnam war, though at the time Heinlein wrote, that name hadn’t stuck yet) who decides to finish his education on the G.I. Bill. That is until he finds out that Congress hasn’t approved the funding, leaving him stuck in Europe. He decides to spend some time in France in a town where going around in the buff is common and fully accepted by everyone. On the beach one day, he sees a stunningly beautiful woman who he falls instantly in love with though he fails to do something silly like catch her name or introduce himself. The next day he is torn between trying to find this beautiful woman or taking advantage of his ticket in the Irish Sweepstakes.

Upon finding his ticket is a fake, he returns to town and tries to find the girl. But to no luck. He sees an ad various papers he reads, looking for a hero and since it applies to him–all except the part about being handsome, he says–he decides to follow up on it before returning to the United States.

And lo and behold, the naked girl from the beach is the one who placed the ad. To find him. I’m not joking on that one. Gordon calls her Star and she says she needs a hero to accompany her and a dwarf on a dangerous journey, full of peril to retrieve some object becuase…well, she doesn’t actually tell him at this point.

It’s at this point (and this is only the first third at best of the novel) that the book begins to quickly derail. As I said before, Oscar is clearly a Heinlein stand-in and it’s only moments before Star is desparately in love with him. Why I’m not sure, since the guy is a manipulative, controlling man who threatens to keep her in line by spanking her if the need arises. Star, who apparently hasn’t been around any men lately, finds this incredibly sexy and falls deeper and deeper in love. Eventually, the two get married but not before Star offers to let Oscar sample her first sexually. In fact, upon his proposal, Star offers to jump his bones right there on the Glory Road.

Meanwhile, the trio are on some kind of quest, journeying up the road. At several points, Oscar asks Star what the nature of their quest is, only to have her deflect the question. This gets frustrating because it’s clearly Heinlein trying to keep the coming twist a secret as long as possible. But given that Gordon is such a man’s man and in complete control over Star, it’s hard to believe that he’ll just accept the secret and not pursue it further. It’s a contradiction in character that is alarmingly apparent and really ruins the middle third of this novel.

And believe me, there’s a lot working against the middle third of this book. A journey up the Glory Road should be, well, exciting. Or at least interesting. Instead, it’s just…well, there. There is the battle with fire-breathing dinosaurs and the way that Oscar deals with a couple of threats requires such a huge suspension of disbelief that it completely took me out of the story. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the long sections of characters sitting around discussing Heinlein’s views on women and sexual relationships. If you think the whole Star offering herself right there to Oscar is a bit out there, wait until you get to the part of where the ruler offers his three daughters to Oscar. In many ways, it’s a preview of the later Heinlein obsession with the idea that monogomy goes against the basic urges and insticts of mankind. And that men, if the right kind of man mind you, should be able to have sex with whoever and whenever possible in order to sow the wild oats and produce more men like him.

Thankfully, the novel finally ends this third and we find out the twist. Star is the Queen of the Multiverses. And Gordon is her husband/consort. The final third of the novel has some more interesting moments, though Heinlein’s political idea that the best way to deal with any issue is to leave it alone seems a bit naive at best. It may stem from feelings at the time of writing about the conflict in Vietnam.

The final third tries to look at how Oscar reacts to his new life and what really gives life meaning and purpose. When it gets there, it is interesting and almost enough to redeem the novel. But not quite.

I’ve read several places that many consider this one of Heinlein’s top novels. I can’t say I agree. I will admit I’ve read only a limited amount of Heinlein, but “Glory Road” is precisely one of those novels that exemplifies why I just can’t get excited about reading more of his works.

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Challenges for 2009

The 42 Challenge for 2009

Your mission–if you choose to accept it–is to read, watch, listen, and review 42 sci-fi related items. (Items isn’t the best word, but how else would you define all that this challenge could involve). What’s acceptable? Practically everything: short stories, poetry (???), novellas, novels, episodes of TV shows, episodes of radio shows, movies, comic books, graphic novels, audio books, essays or articles about science fiction or science fiction writers, biographies of science fiction authors. This isn’t quite as intimidating as it sounds. This is much more than a reading challenge. It would be intimidating (in all likelihood) to try to read that many books. But when you make each short story, each TV show episode count as individual items, then it is much more manageable I hope! (This challenge could be as easy as watching Season 1 and Season 2 of Stargate SG-1, for example.)

Find out more here.

To Be Read Challenge 2009

To remind you of the rules:
* the challenge is to read 12 TBR books in 12 monthsyou can read those all in one month if you want, or one a month, or however you wanna do it.
* you need to have a list posted somewhere for others to see (even if it’s in a comment here)
* you CANNOT change your list after January 1st, 2009!!!
* you can create an Alternates list of MAXIMUM 12 books, if you want, in order to have options to choose from (you can read these in place of books on your original list).
* audiobooks and e-books ARE allowed
* re-reads are NOT allowed, as they aren’t TRUE “TBRs”
* you CAN overlap with other challenges
* OPTIONAL: you can join the Yahoo! Group created for participants of the TBR Challenge, if you want to have a place to keep your list, or just to share with others about how you’re doing! :)

My list:

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
In the Woods by Tania French
Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Presumed Guilty by James Scott Bell
Mission Canyon by Meg Gardiner
Have Spacesuit, Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein
Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross
Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larson
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Rebecca by Daphne DuMaur

Series Challenge III

The challenge starts December 1st, 2008 and goes until November 30th, 2009.

The rules are easy:

1) Pick a couple series you already started and now want to finish (meaning, you’ll be all up to date with the series when it ends).

2) Read at least 4 books, more are also okay, of course!

3) Post your review of the books on your blog or in the comment section, no matter how long. If you post the review on your blog, please post a link to the review in the comment section so that everyone else can check out your review.

4) Have fun!

More Information on this one is here

Series:
Star Trek: Destiny novels
Codex Alera by Jim Butcher
The Tales of Alvin Maker by Orson Scott Card
Evan Delaney mysteries by Meg Gardiner
The City of Ember series
Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan

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