Category Archives: review

Review: The Bone Tree by Greg Iles

The Bone Tree

Greg Iles triumphant return to the small town of Natchez continues in the middle installment of a new trilogy, The Bone Tree. Thankfully, Tree doesn’t suffer from middle installment syndrome with characters doing a lot of treading water as we slowly set up things for the final race to the finish line.

Iles spends the first third of the book allowing his characters to reflect on the events of Natchez Burning and slowly moving pieces into place for novel’s final acts. But once the revelations start coming, Iles piles them on fast and furiously, making the novel’s final six hundred or so pages fly by and leaving you curious to see what will happen next.

Mayor Penn Cage continues to juggle multiple crises — from his father being on the run from the police and wanted in connection with the death of state trooper to his fiancee not filing him fully on what she knows about the cases unfolding to his own agenda to try and exonerate his father all while uncovering the truths that have long been buried (both literally and figuratively) surrounding racial relations in his own small town, our country and just how that could tie into bigger conspiracy theories (including the shooting of JFK, RFK and MLK). The longer page count of the novel allows time for some of these events to sink in and to impact Cage (and a multitude of other characters) decisions. Seeing the forces aligned against Cage and the other various forces working with him is fascinating and while we may not necessarily root for the various opponents stacked up against Cage, Iles at least allows us to understand their motivations.

And while it’s not quite as fast paced as the first installment in this trilogy, it’s still every bit as page turning and compelling. Once I hit the mid-way point of the novel, it was next to impossible to put down and I was once again left wanting more when the final page was turned.

At this point, I’m not sure how Iles will wrap things up in the next book, but I know that I’ll eagerly be waiting for it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program.

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Review: Not A Drill by Lee Child

Not a Drill (Short Story)

Hitchhiking his way across the country, Reacher ends up in Maine near the Canadian border. Picked up by tourists from Canada, Reacher shares a ride and a meal with them (in a diner, because where else would Jack Reacher have a meal?!?), he parts ways with them. Only to find a few hours later that the trails are closed and the military police are out in force.

Reacher is drawn into the mystery of what happened to the hikers and what the military police are so intent on hiding from the world at large.

As far as Reacher stories go, this one is a perfectly entertaining enough one. Honestly, it felt a lot more complete and enjoyable that the last longer Reacher novel in the series. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and it tells an effective little mystery.

One of the better Reacher novellas that Lee Child has published in the last few years.

I listened to this one as an audio book, read by Dick Hill.  It runs ninety minutes and it never felt like there was any dead period where my interest waned.   I’m grateful my local library allowed me to download this as part of their digital audio collection.

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Comic Book Friday: Spider-Man 2099, Volume 1: Out of Time

Spider-Man 2099, Vol. 1: Out of Time

Being a big fan of Peter David and Spider-Man, you’d think I’d have read the entire original run of Spider-Man 2099. And despite glowing recommendation from friends that I should pick up the books, I never did.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t stop in now that David and Marvel are picking up the series mantel once again.

And I’ll admit that while I may miss some of the nuances of this story, this collection of the first five issues of the new series never made me feel like I was being left behind. In fact, I’d argue that what David is doing here is every bit as enjoyable — maybe even more enjoyable — than what is being done with the flagship title for the Spider-Man universe.

Stuck out of time, our hero is trying to find his way home without messing up the time line too much. Along the way, he’s having some interesting adventures that span not only New York City but also the entire globe. David has always been a writer who can find ways to tell unique, fun stories in a corner of a particular universe that stay true to the universe but also explore some interesting areas and do some nice character work. (I’m looking at you New Frontier.

While I wouldn’t mistake the hero here for Peter Parker, there is enough of that sense of what makes Spidey so much fun to read (at least the way I remember it) that these issues flew by. The only negative is the final issue included which is forced to do some heavy lifting for what I can only assume will be an all-inclusive Spider-verse storyline that is coming up next. At this point, if I never see Morlun on the pages of a Spider-Man comic again, it will be too soon. Quite possibly the most overused or going back to the well one too many times the Spidey-verse has seen since Venom.

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Review: Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen Donaldson

Lord Foul's Bane (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, #1)

Have you ever heard the saying that if you meet a jerk in the morning, you just ran into a jerk. But if you keep encountering jerks all day, maybe it’s you who is the jerk.

Thomas Covenant is a jerk. Or at least as far as I can tell he is. Contracting leprosy, Covenant is sent to away for six months to for counselling and treatment. Upon returning home, he finds his wife has left him and taken their son with her. His community wants nothing to do with him, even to the point that complete strangers are paying his bills so he won’t have to come into town to conduct his business. None of this sits well with Thomas, who decides that he’ll walk into town and pay his phone bill, only to find that he gets hit by a car and sent into a fantasy world.

This fantasy world finds Thomas given the task of delivering a message. It also has Thomas encounter a young woman named Lena who shows him who the dirt of this world can help cure him of his leprosy. He repays this kindness and the kindness of her family’s village by proving himself virile again and forcing himself upon Lena. Luckily for Thomas, the village has some kind of kindness pact that doesn’t allow her family to seek out vengeance on him, but instead forces his mother to lead him to the people to whom he is supposed to deliver his message.

And so they set out on ye olde fantasy quest. Thankfully, Donelson decides not to describe every leaf on every tree, but there are still some long stretches in the middle third of this book where not much happens but Thomas and his guide go wandering around.

Fantasy novels with a less than noble and unlikeable protagonist aren’t exactly a new thing. And yet somehow Thomas Covenant comes across as more unlikeable than the entire case of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire And Ice series. Donaldson seems to have little interest in creating any redeeming qualities in Covenant or at least allowing readers to understand why he’s such a jerk to begin with. That makes it difficult to want to spend much time with him — and all of this is before the infamous rape scene. Reading the book I can see why it’s so polarizing among fans of the genre.

While not being the worst book I’ve ever read, it’s certainly up there among the less enjoyable novels I’ve read in quite a while.

There are more entries in this series, but it’s highly unlikely I am going to pick up any of them.

And I think I’m also done trying to read Donaldson.  I gave his Gap series a try years ago and couldn’t stand it.  Now this one has left me disappointed as well.

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Review: Doctor Who: The Blood Cell by James Goss

Doctor Who: The Blood Cell (New Series Adventures, #54)

After reading and enjoying The Crawling Terror, I was cautiously optimistic to see what the next installment from the Peter Capaldi era of Doctor Who novels would offer. Unfortunately, I may have had my expectations set a bit too high because I came away from The Blood Cell feeling a bit disappointed by the whole experience.

I read tie-in novels for many reasons, but one of the biggest is the desire to spend more time with some of my favorite characters. James Goss attempts to distinguish his Capaldi era novel by offering up a narrative from the first-person perspective of the head of a prison that’s just received a new prisoner. The prisoner in question is, of course, the Doctor. Clara is also on hand, showing up at intervals to protest the Doctor’s imprisonment and to warn our narrator that the Doctor isn’t likely to stay in prison long.

I will admit I was a bit apprehensive about these first three Capaldi era novels because they were set to hit shelves relatively quickly after the first few episodes of the season aired. I wondered if they could capture his Doctor on the printed page or if we’d be treated to a more generic adventures and take on the Doctor with a bit of Scottish brogue and crankiness thrown in to make us believe that this was the new Doctor. The Crawling Terror did a nice job of making it feel like Mike Tucker had a good handle on Capaldi and had either seen footage of the new Doctor in action or been granted access to the scripts. Goss’ novel feels a bit more generic and was, ultimately, a lot more disappointing.

Part of it is the choice of a first-person narrator. This can work in Doctor Who novels, but it doesn’t quite feel all that effective here. Instead, it makes the Doctor and Clara feel like minor characters in their own novel for the first half. Things do pick up a bit in the second half, but by that point, I had lost much of my enthusiasm for this novel.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Luckiest Girl Alive

For the last decade, Tifani Fanelli has been working to reinvent herself. On the surface she’s got it all — great job, great fiance, a seemingly perfect life.

But just under the surface, events from her past still haunt her and attempt to shatter her seemingly perfect world.

To say more about what these events are would be to ruin several of the twists that Jessica Knoll sews in her debut novel Luckiest Girl Alive. When we first meet Ani (she drops the Tif), she comes across as a driven, slightly calculating and cold character. Asked to participate in a documentary about the events that took place at her private high school, Ani is determined to drop as much weight as possible and seemingly have it all before she appears in the documentary. Early on, it would be easy to dismiss her as a vain, spoiled child who is used to getting her own way. But Knoll wisely drops out nuggets of information from Ani’s past (in the form of alternating chapters in the past and present) to slowly begin to build understanding and maybe a bit of sympathy toward Ani.

Luckiest Girl Alive throws in a couple of well-earned curves that caught me by surprise. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, Knoll would throw in a new nugget that sent the novel in an entirely different direction. Take my advice and don’t let anyone else ruin this one for you. Part of the fun is discovering what really happened — and wondering if we can trust Tifani as the narrator of the story.

I will also say that this novel may require some patience. I initially found Ani an off-putting narrator, but as the story opened up and revealed more about her past, it helped her grow on me a bit. Don’t be off-put by her early brashness. A little patience is a good thing with this one.

Knoll’s debut novel is intriguing and compelling enough that I am looking forward to seeing what she offers next.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman

I Was Here

Looks like I’m 0-2 when it comes to Gayle Forman’s novels. And it’s looking less and less likely that I’m willing to give her a third strike to try and turn things around.

The problem is that both of Forman’s books I’ve read have had interesting hooks. The first chapter of I Was Here, where we get the devastating news that Cody’s best friend killed herself using an industrial cleaner but had a time-triggered e-mail that gave friends and family instructions on where to find her is haunting, tragic and the kind of thing you wouldn’t wish on anyone.

The problem is that it’s all downhill from there. A lot of my issues from this book come from how truly unlikeable Cody becomes over the course of the next hundred or so pages. Despite claims about being best friends with Meg (the girl who dies) and her family, Cody comes across as self-absorbed, petty and a person who has extreme issues with her mother. (Mom isn’t going to win mother of the year by any stretch of the imagination but it feels like Cody is far too disrespectful and dismissive of her mother at several points in the novel).

Cody and Meg had plans to go to college together, but those went awry for Cody, who now cleans houses to make ends meet and is flunking out of her local community college. Meg’s family asks Cody to head up to Meg’s college and pack up her dorm room for them, sending all of her personal effects back home. At this point, Cody meets some of Meg’s roommates and college friends as well as snooping into Meg’s life to see what might have led her down the path to suicide.
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