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Review: Blue Moon by Lee Child

Blue Moon (Jack Reacher, #24)All Jack Reacher wanted to do was prevent an old man from being mugged. But Reacher’s assistance causes some long-simmering issues to boil over and before he knows it, he’s at the center of a turf war for the heart and soul of a town.

As with many of the recent Jack Reacher novels, it feels like Lee Child has a great idea for a short story here that’s been expanded into a full-length novel. Reacher helping the underdog facing long odds is nothing new and the elderly couple forced to sell everything and borrow from loan sharks to afford a radical treatment therapy for their daughter is timely enough. But once Reacher saves the old man from being mugged for carrying a lot of cash to pay off his loan shark, things become a bit of a slog.

Reacher is a wild-card in the equation and watching two sides of a long-simmering turf war slowly come to a full boil because Reacher steps-in seems like it should be fun and entertaining. Instead, it leads to a middle third of the book where Reacher seems to try and leave but keeps getting pulled back in for one reason or another. At first, it’s to help the couple in question, then it becomes because he flirts with a waitress named Abby, who also becomes an inadvertent victim because she helps Reacher out.

In the past, I’ve described Reacher as the modern equivalent of James Bond. And Blue Moon reinforces this view. Reacher seems to rarely grow or change from story to story and he’s always presented as the smartest guy in the story with the exact set of skills needed to solve whatever problem comes along. And, of course, there is Reacher’s love of diners and motels that take cash that seems to be a common theme of every novel.

I’ve read most of the Jack Reacher books at this point and it what started out as an entertaining, character-driven series is slowly starting to feel like a series being put on auto-pilot by its creator. The tropes are becoming a bit too familiar and I find myself wondering if I’ll continue the series as they continue to hit shelves.

Of course, I said that after the last Reacher book and here I am coming back to see if Child might return to form. (It did seem for a while that alternating Reacher books were great).

Maybe it’s time for Child to try something new with Reacher or push the formula of the series a bit for the next installment.

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Review: The Hypnotist’s Love-Story by Liane Moriarty

The Hypnotist's Love StoryIt’s always nice when the copy on the back of the book doesn’t give away too much. In the case of Liane Moriarty’s The Hypnotist’s Love Story, the back cover summary doesn’t give away anything beyond the first chapter of the novel.

And that turns out to be the biggest problem with the book.

After years of unsuccessful relationships and a few on-line match duds, Ellen O’Farrell has finally met the perfect guy for her in single father, Patrick. But Patrick is harboring a dark secret, one that he quickly lets Ellen in on — he’s being stalked by his ex-girlfriend, Saskia. Seems that Patrick jumped into a relationship too quickly after the death of his wife, Colleen, and Saskia hasn’t taken the break-up well. And while Saskia has never caused any physical harm, the mental and emotional toll on Patrick is starting to strain things for him a bit. Continue reading

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Review: Friend Request by Laura Marshall

Friend RequestReceiving a friend-request from someone you haven’t heard from in a quarter of a century is fairly innocuous. Unless it’s a friend-request from someone who’s been dead for the past twenty-five years.

Louise has been haunted by the role she played in the death of her friend, Maria Weston for twenty-five years, inhibiting her ability to connect with people today for fear they’ll discover who she really is and reject her just as she rejected Maria years before.

Then Louise gets a friend request from Maria. Assuming it’s a prank, Louise accepts and opens up old wounds that threaten to destroy the life she’s built and her sanity.

Laura Marshall’s Friend Request provides a timely warning in the day and age of social media to be careful how much of yourself you put out there. The hook is a solid one and for the first quarter of the novel, watching Louise attempt to figure out just who is behind the warnings and if Maria could, possibly, be alive is intriguing enough. Peppered with flashbacks to the fateful time in high school, Friend Request sets itself up for some interesting revelations and reveals.

Or at least it feels like it should.

The middle half of this novel feels like it’s spinning the wheels a bit as Louise tries to figure out who is torturing her and why. It makes the final denouncement of who is behind the keyboard and several other revelations about what happened to Maria feel a bit anti-climatic once we get there. There are a couple of good twists in the final pages and Marshall sets them up well. But, by the time we got to them, I was so weary of Louise’s self-doubt, guilt, and increasing paranoia that I was more relieved the novel was finally moving forward than I was in finding out who was behind this revenge plot.

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Review: The Chain by Adrian McKinty

The ChainRachel O’Neill’s life is finally getting back on track. Following a divorce and intensive chemotherapy, Rachel is set to begin the next stage of her life as a professor at a local community college and continue raising her teenage daughter. That is, until, she her caller ID shows up with UNKNOWN CALLER and everything comes crashing down.

Rachel has become the target of The Chain, a mysterious group that kidnaps kids and holds them hostage until the latest target completes a series of tasks, including a huge cash ransom (delivered in Bitcoin) and kidnapping a new target to bring into this pyramid scandal gone horribly, horribly wrong. If she doesn’t comply, Kylie dies and a new target is chosen. If she goes to the authorities or chooses a victim with connection to authorities, Kylie dies. If she tells anyone during the process or after, she and Kylie die.

The set-up for Adrian McKinty’s The Chain is one of every parent’s worst nightmares (or at least that’s how the dust jacket describes it). But the novel itself is one of two halves — one of them an intense one that keeps you on the edge of your seat and the other that piles on one twist too many and ruined this reader’s willing suspension of disbelief.

The first half with Rachel struggling to find a way to get Kylie back is wonderfully done. McKinty gives us glimpses into not only what Rachel is doing, but also Kylie and Rachel’s former brother-in-law, Pete, who will be instrumental to getting Kylie back and meeting the demands of The Chain.

I’m going to hide some of my thoughts from this point forward due to SPOILERS. Continue reading

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Review: Becoming Superman by J. Michael Stracynski

Becoming Superman: A Writer's Journey from Poverty to Hollywood with Stops Along the Way at Murder, Madness, Mayhem, Movie Stars, Cults, Slums, Sociopaths, and War CrimesFor a journalism course in college, we were assigned an in-depth piece on a business issue. Being a fan of sci-fi pop culture, I decided to marry my love of two new series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon Five in my assignment. Both shows were in their early days (B5 was about six to seven episodes into season one) and I decided to look at the business aspects of what kept a syndicated genre series on the airwaves.

At the time, B5 creator J. Michael Stracysnki had an open dialogue with the Internet, taking us behind the scenes at the creation of his space opera. (Think DVD extras before there were DVDs). JMS (as he was called online) posted his email address in the B5 forums (ask you parents, kids) and I crafted an email to him, outlining my project and what I hoped to achieve.

I received back a reply from JMS, stating that he understood what I was doing and that he was extremely busy running his show. But he didn’t want to dismiss the request of a college student and as long as the article wasn’t published for anytime of gain beyond a grade and I came up with three good questions (no more), he would be happy to do what he could.

I then got to work, getting my background and drafting the article. When I got to a point that I felt like I could and should approach JMS again, I sent him three questions along with a draft of my story. A day later, he responded. But it wasn’t just a few curt answers to my questions. What JMS gave me was several good, quotable paragraphs for my story (reading this autobiography and seeing that he worked for a time as a journalist makes it clear why he did this). I used the quotes, put the polishing touches on my article and turned it in.

I got an “A” on the story and I made sure to send a thank you message to JMS, letting him know that his comments had helped as had his encouragement.

I’m a writer junkie — I tend to find and follow writers. I’m one of the few people who will read the crawl on the opening of a TV show to see who wrote a particular episode (I blame Doctor Who because the writer of a story is hugely important there). And when JMS took the time to work with me, it cemented my fandom and I’ve followed his career with interest ever since. I can’t say I’ve seen or read everything he’s written (I’ve still got to find time for Sense 8), but I’ve seen and read a lot.

Which is why I was eager to pick up his autobiography.

As I’ve come to expect from several decades of JMS’ written output, Becoming Superman is compelling, page-turning and compulsively readable. And reading it, my profound respect for the man and writer JMS has become grew in leaps and bounds. The sheer amount of things he had to overcome, from his abusive, manipulative father to his family full of secrets, only enhances the respect I have for him. It also makes me understand a bit more about his generous nature and spirit (again, see the story above about my article) and his encouragement of other writers. JMS knows what it’s like to serve the writing muse and that passion to the creative side comes across here.

This isn’t an easy read. As JMS uncovers and relates stories about his family, there are some hard truths and struggles chronicled. But you can see a bit of the catharsis taking place as JMS tells these stories. He also points out that he tells aspiring writers that if he can do it, anyone can but then realized he hadn’t provided the backstory for them to understand why.

He has now. And I thank him for a great, moving and powerful read.

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Review: The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

The Stranger Beside MeLike many, I’ve had a renewed fascination with convicted serial killer Ted Bundy thank to Netflix. With not one but two new offerings on the infamous murder, one a four-part documentary and the other the feature film with Zac Effron taking on the role of Bundy, it’s hard to look away. And while I appreciate what both Netflix offerings gave us, I still think Ann Rule’s first real-crime book recalling her friendship with Ted Bundy is one of the more definitive works on the subject.

Part of it this stems from Rule never losing sight of the fact that the real tragedy of the Bundy story is the lives of his victims that were cut short. While Rule does relate conversations and letters shared with Bundy, she never allows the reader to forget the toll in human lives that Bundy exacted.
In fact in a new forward, Rule says that while this book helped launch her career to a different level, she’d trade all of that if it meant those Bundy killed had been allowed to live their lives instead of seeing them cut short.

Rule met Bundy while working on a crisis hotline in Seattle. It’s fascinating to read how a real-crime reporter could have such conflicting emotions about Bundy and whether or not he was guilty of the horrible crimes associated with him. One of the most riveting moments of the book is when Rule realizes in a Florida court room that there is no way Bundy isn’t guilty of all the horrible things he’s being charged with.

The book paints a chilling portrait of Bundy and his crimes. But Rule stays away from trying to determine more about what motivated Bundy or getting inside his head.

It’s a compelling, chilling true-crime read that may be one of the definitive works on Ted Bundy. But it’s one that, at times, you may want to read with the lights on.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Where the Red Fern GrowsThrowback Thursday is a weekly feature hosted by Tenacious Reader to highlight books from the past. It can honestly be anything as long as its not a book that is a current release. Maybe its a book that I read and reviewed and just want to highlight, maybe its a book I read before I started reviewing or maybe its a book that has a sequel coming out soon or maybe its a backlist book from my TBR that I just want to revisit and decide if I will make the time to read. Pretty much, anything goes. 

Between second and seventh grade, I read Wilson Rawl’s Where The Red Fern Grows a couple of dozen times. It was either my first or second grade teacher who read the book aloud to my class, hooking me on this book as a kid and adding it to me “go to” rotation of books I’d return to time and again as comfort reading.

Now, if you know how this novel ends, it being “comfort reading” may feel a bit like an oxymoron. But, apart from the final chapter being a bit of a downer (because all books about dogs seem to end this way), the rest of the novel is a moving story of the bond between a boy and his dogs.

The boy in this case is Billy Coleman, growing up in the Ozark Mountains and wanting nothing more in his life than to have two hunting dogs of his own. Coming across a sportsman magazine left by some fisherman, Billy sees an ad selling dogs for $25 each. Billy spends the better part of two years earning extra money with traps his father gives him, selling vegetables and bait to fisherman, and doing various odd jobs to earn the fifty dollars needed to purchase his dogs. Continue reading

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