Monday, August 31, 2009

Homeland by R. A. Salvatore

As I am gradually coming to realize through reviews at Luke Reviews that tie-in novels can be great, fun fiction, and not to be universally frowned upon as many people (including me at one point long ago) do. It was a long, slow process, but I’m finally getting the point. So, I no longer skip the tie-in section at bookstores, and have stumbled on a couple of great finds. I have seen a number of Forgotten Realms books at stores, especially by R. A. Salvatore, following his most famous character, Drizzt Do’Urden. So, with the re-release of all of the books following him as part of the Legend of Drizzt series, I decided to take the plunge and try one out.

The first novel in the series, Homeland, is also the first book in the Dark Elf Trilogy. It follows the beginnings of Drizzt Do’Urden, starting with the circumstances of his birth and his training as a dark elf. Taking place in the underground city of Menzoberranzen, the story begins with House Do’Urden’s attack on a fellow house, House DeVir, as they look to bump up their status in the city. From there, we learn of Drizzt’s parentage, and his training.

The book, while reading it, feels engaging enough, if slow at times, but once it is set down, it is sadly very easy to leave down. This may be a combination of a then-novice writer learning his craft and trying to read the book mid-move, but I just can’t keep an interest in it. For those of you interested in the story, it is worth a try, but for the generic reader looking for a gripping, un-put-down-able read, you may want to look elsewhere.

A Hint of What’s to Come (II)

As August draws to a close, and the new school year sets upon us, things get a bit busier and the adjustment throws things a little out of whack for a period. I apologize in advance if I become a tad slow as my schedule slowly readjusts myself, but the pace of reviews shouldn't make a large change, I still will shoot for at least two books a week. As the last list I left up here just finished (and as I said, it was not complete, as other works of fiction came up) so I thought I might give you all another small taste of what's in store. Once again, this will neither be complete as other books may make their way onto the list.

Homeland by R. A. Salvatore (Fantasy, Book I of the Legend of Drizzt series)
Prime by Nate Kenyon (Science Fiction)
Hardball by Sara Paretsky (Mystery, part of the V. I. Warshawski series)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling (Fantasy, Book Six in the Harry Potter series)
The Hidden Man by David Ellis (Mystery, first book in the Jason Kolarich series)
Asimov’s Science Fiction September 2009 (Science Fiction and Fantasy short stories)
Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon (Adventure)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (Fantasy, Book Seven in the Harry Potter series)
The Anubis Murders by Gary Gygax (Fantasy/Mystery, first book in the Setne Inhetep series)
Dark Entries by Ian Rankin (Fantasy/Mystery, part of the John Constantine series)

As always, keep an eye on Luke Reviews for all of the above and more, as there are a few surprises mixed in with these reviews, including interviews and maybe even some free fiction! Things are only going to get better! If you have any comments, ideas, or requests, feel free to leave them in the comments section, or to shoot me an email at the email address to the left.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

The first four books down, Luke Reviews finally ventures into uncharted territory (after a minor delay due to a prolonged move). I finally have moved to the first Harry Potter book that I had not read previously. The shock of reading the book without knowing how it was to end was odd at first, but very gripping, and expressed the power of Rowling’s stories. No matter what one thinks of the general quality of the writing, the story has the power to effect people on the first time, as well as the second.

In the fifth installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry is back yet again at the Dursley’s, and he is possessed by an irritating anger at the world that seems to come out of nowhere. Yet, with a sudden thrust of his magic life upon his “normal” one, dementors turn up in his neighborhood, and precipitate an attack on Harry and his cousin. After a narrow escape, Harry is fled to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, a secretive group headed by Dumbledore with the sole goal of stopping Voldemort. Many familiar faces turn up, from Harry’s friends Ron and Hermione, to Sirius, Mad-Eye Moody, and Lupin.

The Ministry of Magic begins to play a more important role, as it struggles to deny Voldemort’s return, and stop Harry from spreading “lies”. They go so far as to place a subversive new teacher at Hogwarts, who thwarts and attacks Harry and company from every angle. Nowhere is safe, and Harry has to fight both Voldemort and the Ministry to save the day. A tragic loss undermines the heroes, and things really ramp up for the next two books in the series.

Rowling seemed to fill Harry with a deep anger throughout the book that was rather irritating, but the rest of her character interaction was spot on. She goes from new friendships to budding relationships with aplomb, capturing the mixed emotions of both, all while maintaining the conflict between Harry and the Ministry, which plays a prominent role in this novel as Voldemort takes the back seat for extending periods of the novel. All in all, the new book does a great job of bringing the series back to a high level of excitement, and really leaves some dark hints for the future.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Cellar by Richard Laymon

Richard Laymon was, until more recent reprints of his work, not very well known in the states, despite an international fanbase. However, that oversight is being corrected, as Leisure Books continues to rerelease his works, from new, posthumous works such as The Lake or To Wake the Dead, to classics such as The Travelling Vampire Show or his great Beast House Chronicles. Laymon doesn’t ever let the reader down, as he is the master of drawing one into a story, surrounding them with flesh and blood characters, and then unleashing the horrors. Few of his books do this better than the aforementioned Beast House Chronicles, which all began with the novel The Cellar.

Donna and her daughter Sandy are on the run from Roy, Donna’s abusive husband, who was just released from jail. The bump into trouble, and fate leads them to Malcasa Point, home of the famous Beast House. A recent attack (which plays an important role in the second novel, The Beast House (see review) foreshadows the events, as more people sneak into the house and die. As Donna’s new love interest heads for a rendezvous with the monster, Roy arrives in town, and no one is safe.

Laymon once again works his ability to quickly create characters that matter to the reader, and brings in terrible monsters, be it the creature or the abusive father. The ending is chilling, and certainly sets up the sequel well. This one is a book you won’t want to put down, and will fly through. The Cellar is up there with the best of Laymon, and that is saying something.


Monday, August 24, 2009

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

The pulp era was famous for its fiction, and I have mentioned at length the adventure fiction from then, as it ties into the wonderful Gabriel Hunt series, but adventure fiction was far from all coming out at that time. Science fiction and fantasy were seeing a huge boom cycle, as was romance fiction, and to an even greater extent, mystery and crime fiction exploded across the market. These authors set the stage for everything to come after. However, today most of these great novels are out of print and forgotten, and their style has become nothing but a memory. Enter Hard Case Crime, created by Charles Ardai (the same man behind Gabriel Hunt), an imprint devoted to pulp crime. With a decent mix of reprinted lost classics and new works in the same genre, Hard Case Crime is hard to top for that good old crime novel.

After Stephen King finished his epic Dark Tower series, he took a short hiatus, and his return was heralded by none other than the thirteenth novel in the Hard Case Crime series, The Colorado Kid. Without the supernatural or horror elements that made his other novels famous, this tale straddling the line between long novella and short novel is a curiosity, and I picked it up on that impulse.

The Colorado Kid follows Stephanie, a new intern at a small newspaper on an island off the coast of Maine, and the two other members of the staff, Vince Teague and Dave Bowie. The subject of unsolved mysteries comes up, and the two veteran staff members decide to tell Stephanie of the Colorado Kid, their very own unsolved mystery. A man was discovered slumped on the beach, dead, without any identification. The mystery surrounding him is deep, and as the two men n the story frequently remind us, this is unsolved, there is no “through-line,” no story, just facts.

King tells a story that is about three deep characters, each one someone you care about, and they sit around and talk of a crime that there is no answer to, no matter how much you want there to be. The richness of King’s prose is a testament to his abilities as a writer, and the lack of a “through-line” makes telling a good story hard, yet he does it with aplomb. It is stories such as this that show just why Stephen King is so widely popular, and so in demand. This is one of the freshest new King novels I have read, and one of the best crime tales I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. As my first foray into Hard Case Crime, I know I must return, for if this is the quality of book they are putting out, then this is a gold mine that must be explored. This one deserves to be called a classic.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling

Moving on from the third novel, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Rowling’s fourth novel, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire picks up the following summer, with Harry yet again stuck at the Dursley’s home. The threat of his convicted-murderer godfather at hand, Harry earns a bit more freedom, and even manages to slip away early to go to the Quidditch World Cup with his friends Ron and Hermione, along with the rest of Ron’s family. It is there that things begin to hit the fan.

Following a violent display by Voldemorte’s minions, Harry returns to Hogwarts to find it full of new threats, as the Triwizard Tournament, a competition between schools of magic, is being hosted at his school, and Harry’s name was snuck into the running. Danger abounds from every angle as Harry tries to win the tournament and stay alive.

The book has a darker tone than the other three at times, especially the conclusion of the novel, and things from all of the past books arise to make this one feel like the first non-stand alone novel, the first book to show the large, over-arching story behind the Harry Potter saga. The series finally begins to feel less like a set of episodes, and more like one long story.

Considerably longer than the proceeding three novels, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is much denser and contains far more sub-plots that Rowling deftly weaves into the story. At times the length and number of mini-stories that aren’t pivotal to the plot slow the story down a bit, but for the most part this is a wonderful addition to the series, and a definite step up from the previous novel, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. As I conclude my re-reading of the first four books of the Harry Potter series in preparation for reading the final three, I find that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a worthy lead in to the culmination of the series.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Passage at Arms by Glen Cook

Glen Cook is best known for his Black Company series, a military fantasy chock full of action. However, Cook has also turned his hand towards the science fiction end of the spectrum occasionally, resulting in books such as Passage at Arms, which has just received a new edition out by Night Shade Press. Seeing the book out on the shelves, I decided to pick it up and finally give Glen Cook a try.

Passage at Arms follows a crew of “climbers,” who are part of the human army that is engaged in a war that they are slowly losing. These climbers live in cramped conditions, and each has a history to them.

That’s it. There is no more story. The book feels like shell, very empty inside. The first-person narration, which is uncommon in much of today’s fiction, is especially irksome as the protagonist is far from likable, bordering on irritating, whiny, and off-putting. The aliens that the humans are fighting are not even mentioned for long stretches, making this entire plot seem meaningless. More time was devoted to the main characters inability to understand physics than to any major plot device.

This book was unfinishable. It took a force a will to get past the first chapter, which was confusing, slow, and dull. I had hopes that it would pick up, as the cover calls Passage at Arms a classic repeatedly, but that was a vain hope. The story, or what little story it has, never moves, just stagnates, and makes this book one I couldn’t make myself finish. It is a shame that this couldn’t have been better, as I had such high expectations, from all the good I had heard of Glen Cook, but Passage at Arms did not deliver in the slightest. Based on what I forced down:


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks

As thriller fans know, there are a lot of books out there, but only a few classics. Some will cite The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan of The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, while others will point to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le CarrĂ©, The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum, or First Blood by David Morrell. Then there are the authors attached to thriller fiction that are on every fans must read list, be they the above mentioned or others, such as Matthew Reilly, Michael Crichton, or James Patterson. But when it comes to characters, there are few that can come even close to James Bond. From Ian Fleming, through all of the authors who continued Bond’s story after Fleming’s death, to today, 007 reigns supreme in both film and fiction. Which means, among other things, this thriller fan needed to get his act together and finally read a James Bond novel.

The timing was perfect, as the newest Bond novel is out on the shelves. Sebastian Faulks has taken the mantel as the latest in a long line of authors writing as Ian Fleming and producing new tales of 007. In his latest, Devil May Care, we are introduced to an older James Bond, who may be losing his edge. Following the murder of an Algerian drug smuggler, Bond is recalled from his mandatory vacation, during which he was to decide his future as 007, to investigate the matter. The drugs link back to a pharmaceutical giant, who is more than he seems.

As Bond tracks this man down, he also is wrapped into the web of Scarlett Papava, who wants to find the same man as Bond to rescue her sister, Poppy. As the tale travels from London to Paris to Tehran, she follows along with Bond in his search for the man who wants to bring down Britain by undermining its youth with drugs. Bond meets up with colleagues from both Persia and the USA, and goes all out to track down his culprit.

Written very fast paced and engagingly, Devil May Care flies by, with James Bond alternating between running, shooting, and the occasional down moment when he is left to ponder the mysteries surrounding Scarlett. Faulks does a brilliant job of making James Bond, a larger than life icon, into a very human character, who has both attributes and faults. All of the characters feel very realistic, and the setting is spot on, as Faulks never once misses a beat of working in the era of pre-American involvement in Vietnam. From the guns to the cars, no detail is off. Faulks even manages to make a play by play of a tennis match exciting to read.

Perfect as a summer beach read, this novel reads quick and is fun at every moment, never dragging for a second. As thrillers come, there are not many out today that can be as consistently entertaining as Devil May Care. He may have a few years on him, but James Bond is back, and better than ever.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Quidditch Through the Ages by J. K. Rowling

As with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Quidditch Through the Ages is another book taken from the world of Harry Potter, one that he refers to repeatedly in the series. Quidditch Through the Ages is not vital to the storyline of the seven book Harry Potter series, nor is it pivotal in any of the events that occur. It is simply a book to give more background on the series, in particular quidditch, the most popular sport for those of the magical persuasion.

Quidditch Through the Ages contains everything from the detailed history of the beginnings of the sport a thousand years ago, to explanations of the history and purpose of the four balls used in the game. All of the players’ roles are described. Brief histories of each of the famous teams from the UK are included, as are overviews of quidditch as played on all of the continents, following its spread throughout the world.

To quote from my review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (the review can be found here): The big push of the book, as mentioned in the preface written ostensibly by Albus Dumbledore, is to raise money for Comic Relief UK, to help children living in poor countries world-wide. Using fiction as a vehicle for social good is an important aspect of the world of words that is frequently over-looked today, particularly by big name authors, so this is a breath of fresh air, and for the cheap price, more than worth the good it will do.

Continuing the trend of the super short book, Quidditch Through the Ages gives an hour or so of entertainment, and is a fun look at the history of the sport. Much more accessible and entertaining than Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, this book develops well for its short length, and is a nice diversion. Add in the cheap cost and the good cause, and this one is more than worth it.

[A brief note to those of you wondering about the absence of numerical ratings: since “Fires of War” was a single short story, and both Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages are even shorter than “Fires of War,” it is difficult to give them a serious, well-thought-out review. Therefore, to avoid drastically over- or under-rating the books/story, I didn’t give a number. These numerical ratings will return with Devil May Care.]

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J. K. Rowling

Rowling is obviously best known for her seven book series chronicling the time Harry Potter spends at Hogwarts, learning to be a wizard, but she has done three books that aren’t immediate members of the core storyline, although they are in fact all related to her famous series. Two of them, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages, are both written as books that Harry encounters in his years as a student, while the third, The Tales of Beedle the Bard, is a replication of a book important to Hermione in the seventh and final novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. Since The Tales of Beedle the Bard is involved with the seventh book, I’m waiting to review it until I’ve read all seven novels, but the other two are more relaxed aspects of the saga, and I am using them as an intermediary between the third and fourth novels.

The first of the two books, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is more or less an encyclopedic compilation of descriptions, details, and anecdotes about the assortment of creatures hidden from the muggle world by wizards. The introductory material, which is extensive, gives interesting insight into the Ministry of Magic’s part in the hiding and protection of these creatures, as well as reasons for conservation. What follows are very short bits about each creature, written in a straightforward manner.

The big push of the book, as mentioned in the preface written ostensibly by Albus Dumbledore, is to raise money for Comic Relief UK, to help children living in poor countries world-wide. Using fiction as a vehicle for social good is an important aspect of the world of words that is frequently over-looked today, particularly by big name authors, so this is a breath of fresh air, and for the cheap price, more than worth the good it will do.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a very small book, that hints at Rowling’s potential while being a touch dry at times, but gives fun looks at the background to Harry’s world, is cheap, and is for a good cause. More than worth it for the completists and the huge fans, but maybe not worth it for the casual reader.

Friday, August 14, 2009

“Fires of War” by Nick Kyme

When I saw that the Black Library was releasing a new series following the space marines chapter called the Salamanders, I was very excited. All of the talk about the series, and the incredible cover art, really got me amped. The new series, dubbed the Tome of Fire Trilogy, is written by Nick Kyme, known for his editing work on books such as Tales of Heresy and Heroes of the Space Marines, both co-edited by Lindsey Priestly, as well as being the author of Assault on Black Reach: The Novel, which I found a bit lacking (for details, please see my review).However, I was still pretty excited about the series, and was biting at the bit to get into the series more.

Then I discovered that the good people at the Black Library had put up Kyme’s short story from Heroes of the Space Marines, “Fires of War,” up for free online (“Fires of War,” in its entirety, can be found here). The story acts as a prequel to the Tome of Fire Trilogy, and was the perfect way to get a bit more into the story.

“Fires of War,” a novella length tale, follows the Salamander chapter as they head to a world being overrun by the Cult of Truth, a Chaos-oriented group that desires to destroy the planet. We are introduced to a number of characters I assume will be important in the trilogy, both good and bad, and a special artifact is stolen that will have deep repercussions.

Kyme seems to suffer from the same ailments that marred Assault on Black Reach: The Novel, mainly drawn out pieces that move far too slowly, followed by excellent scenes full of action and excitement, then being replaced by more very dryly-written plot-moving scenes. Kyme seems to stumble when he is building the story, but once he gets there, his action takes off and shows his true talents.

All in all, the story was entertaining, but not incredible, yet it is better than earlier Kyme, and shows he is improving. This improvement-trend seems likely to increase, and I know that, once he hits his stride, Kyme will have the Tome of Fire Trilogy flying off the pages. I look forward to seeing what he has in store for us.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

After the first two books of the Harry Potter series, I was excited to return to J. K. Rowling’s epic series again. She proved through the first two books to be an adroit storyteller with a knack for telling fun tales, and my return to the world of Harry Potter was filled with relish for the latest adventures of Harry and company.

Following on from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (see review), Harry has returned to live with the Dursleys, who are meaner than ever following Harry’s breakout from the last novel. Everything comes to a head as Aunt Marge comes to visit, and Harry, in a flare of anger, accidentally inflates her. Harry runs away, and his next set of adventures begins, first with a ride on the Knight Bus, and then with a stay at Diagon Alley, where Harry learns even more about the wizarding world, but even more importantly, learns about the escape of a prisoner from Azkaban, the wizard jail. This fugitive, Sirius Black, appears to be after Harry, and nothing is held back in an attempt to save Harry from the fate of his parents.

As Harry returns to Hogwarts, school is as hectic as ever, as dementors (the guards of Azkaban) now populate the gates, and a mysterious new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher arrives. Familiar faces return, Ron’s family the winners of the lottery, Hermione with a schedule so full that even a witch shouldn’t be able to catch up, and Hagrid makes his first appearance as the Care of Magical Creatures teacher. Stricter rules are set in place, as the entire school works to protect Harry from Black.

As with the first two books, the beginning is slow, and things don’t much build up until Harry’s departure from the Dursley’s, but this book seemed to lack a lot of the suspense from the first couple novels. While a good story still, it just seemed to lack that (bad pun time) magical x-factor that made the first two books so wonderful. True to form, the novel excels in its relationships between Harry and his friends, and Rowling continues to write exciting Quidditch scenes. All in all, an enjoyable book that leaves the reader wanting to return for the fourth adventure, but just not up to par with the first two.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear by Charles Ardai

Those of you who have been with Luke Reviews for awhile will remember an early review on this site for Hunt at the Well of Eternity by James Reasoner. As the first in a series of books following adventurer Gabriel Hunt, the book was a wonderful jaunt of global proportions. Gabriel becomes something of a modern day Indiana Jones, travelling the world to collect priceless artifacts and stop evil all in one fell swoop. After the excitement of the first novel, my anticipation of the second novel was built up even more with an interview with Charles Ardai, series creator and author of the second novel, Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear.

Gabriel Hunt’s second adventure begins with his over-the-top escape from the clutches of DeGroet, an evil Hungarian millionaire who won’t think twice about murder if it helps him get his way. DeGroet had kidnapped the beautiful Sheba, and Hunt rescues her and brings her back to the headquarters of the Hunt Foundation, a multi-million dollar organization that goes around acquiring and protecting valuable archaeological odds and ends. However, Hunt and Sheba are not safe back at the Hunt Foundation, as DeGroet sends killers after them, and a world-wide odyssey ensues, with Gabriel chasing DeGroet and the again-kidnapped Sheba to Giza, on to Greece, and beyond, in an adventure that is perpetually flying along.

Ardai creates a very solid, action-packed tale of adventure and mystery, as Gabriel and Sheba race to find the treasure, while at the same time trying to solve the puzzle of just what the treasure is. We are giving a small bit of information into Hunt’s background, as with each book we learn more and more about him, and we also meet his sister, Lucy, who is far more than she seems. Charles Ardai himself, along with his wife Naomi Novik, both make cameo appearances as well, as a tie-in to the special bonus at the end: a surprise adventure novelette.

This novelette, “Nor Idolatry Blind the Eye,” also written by Charles Ardai, captures the story of Malcolm, an over-the-hill adventurer, who takes on one last challenge: finding the idol of the golden calf. This much darker coda to the novel is far more ambiguous and despairing than the usual Gabriel Hunt fare, but well worth the read, and a very pleasant inclusion in this action-packed book.

All in all, this is the perfect book to pick up for a weekend away from work, or to take on a vacation, a light, fast, and adventure-filled set of stories that are wonderful for the summer air.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Annihilation Classic edited by Mark D. Beazley

I have found that the so-called “cosmic comics” of Marvel Comics have looked ever so neat, yet I hadn’t stepped into that world. They found a new resurgence of popularity with the Annihilation event, which spawned a number of new books. In preparation for jumping into these excellent-looking books, I am stepping back, and taking a look at what came before, starting with Annihilation Classic, a collection of early stories, many origin tales, of the characters that play a part in Marvel’s current cosmic epics. Below follows a story by story review, followed by the complete collection review.

“Apples & Origins” by Todd Dezago: A tale meant to combine humor and action, Bug chases Annihilus across both space and time, as he tries to prevent a universe-altering cataclysm. Dezago creates a light tale that is fun, but feels without substance.

“I Challenged…Groot! The Monster From Planet X” by Stan Lee & Larry Lieber: A very fun harkening back to the early science fiction comics published by Marvel, Leslie Evans stands up to the evil Groot, a tree monster from Planet X that plans to conquer the planet while stripping it of wood. It will be interesting to see how this bit character, who meets a very certain ending, works into Annihilation and beyond.

“Nova” by Marv Wolfman: The first of a number of origin stories, this one follows Rich Rider as he struggles with his life, and is blessed with a dying alien’s powers. This story actual deals with major issues like depression and bullying, and creates a character that is both exciting and intriguing.

“The Price of Power” by Mark Gruenwald: Another origin tale, Wendell Vaughn is a candidate for a high-level government position, but he lacks the killer’s edge, and doesn’t get what he had hoped. However, could his pacifist streak prove the salvation of his father, when he falls into the hands of terrorists? Another solid tale.

Rocket Raccoon by Bill Mantlo: The longest tale in the book by quite a bit, the story of Ranger Rocket Raccoon is far deeper than it initially seems. The light tale of anthropomorphized animals becomes one of global intrigue, economic war, and greed, all with the dark undertones of mental insanity. This story just got better as it went along, surprising me with its depth.

“The Saga of Star-Lord” by Doug Moench: A rather mystic tale of a man destined to be the protector of earth (a common theme in this book), this one loses itself a bit with its selfish character, but regains momentum at the end.

“The Final Flower!” by Scott Edelman: A very short tale with a science fictional bend to it at the end, well worth reading. If you changed the names of the main characters, and removed the pictures, this could have worked as a solid science fiction piece in any magazine today.

“And Men Shall Call Him…Warlock!” by Roy Thomas: A story that at times soared, and at others mired itself, this one just seemed to struggle with great things but fall short, which is a shame as the ideas were wonderful.

Overall, this book was a lot of fun, especially for its nostalgic look back to the past of comics, and the trends that saw the beginning of so many famous “cosmic” heroes. It felt odd that so many cosmic heroes fated to protect Earth never ran into each other before, but it is all a build up for when they do, which I can accept. This is a collection well-worth the price for fans of comics, especially of the “cosmic” variety, and a very nice primer to remind the veteran, and show the new reader, who all of these characters are.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Jim Baen’s Universe Closing

It is sad news indeed: e-magazine giant Jim Baen’s Universe is closing. See here for the full story, from editor Eric Flint.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan

Harry Dolan’s first book is not one that I normally would pick up. It didn’t seem to be something I would find all that awfully interesting. So when I received a copy, I began it with some trepidation. However, I could not have been more wrong about my original fears of the novel.

David Loogan is a mystery. He arrives in Ann Arbour, Michigan, and doesn’t speak much of his past. After arriving there, he writes a story and begins a friendship with Tom, the editor of the magazine Gray Streets. And the one night, David gets a call from Tom, asking for a favor. Tom has a dead body on his hands, and needs help disposing of it. Yet this is far from the last death, as only days later Tom dies too. As the murders pile up, David becomes more and more of a suspect, as all of the deaths involve him and Gray Streets. On the run, David pieces together the clues to solve the chain of mysteries, and prove that he is innocent. As he tries to prove it, however, we learn that his past isn’t as free of taint as one might expect.

Bad Things Happen reads nothing like a first novel. Dolan slowly fleshes out characters, leading the reader along without much information, and delivering each character trait and the time when it will do the most for the story. The mystery he creates is complex and intricate, and each time you think the case is solved, you are given one more key fact that tears it all down again.

Forcing David to run, Dolan adds strong thriller elements to his powerful mystery, and touches of humor even manage to find their way into the tale. Dolan proves to be adept at creating believable characters, as well as playing out the plot to each and every nuanced piece. Far from being something I feared I wouldn’t like, Bad Things Happen convinced me that I should read more like this. Harry Dolan is an author to watch, and if the rest of his novels measure up to this one, he has a brilliant career ahead of him. Look for this novel to be on the shortlist for all of the major awards for mystery fiction. It is that good.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Interview with Ridley Pearson

Ridley Pearson has popped up on Luke Reviews a couple of times now, first with The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red (see review) and then just a week ago with his brand new novel, Killer Summer (see review). I was a fan of both books, and when I got the chance to talk with Ridley and ask him a few questions, I was thrilled.

Ridley, thank you for the interview!

First, I'd just like to congratulate you on a wonderful new novel. Killer Summer was particularly engrossing, in part due to the vast array of subject matter covered, from airplane flying terminology to wine, fly fishing to police work. For a novel like this, how much research is required on your part?

I believe in putting as much fact as possible into my fiction to keep it believable. The research is basically never ending.

Do the topics covered generally focus on areas you are familiar with, or do you touch on subjects outside of your normal realm?

Both. Whatever the story requires. If I don't know it, I turn to those who do. More often than not, this is the case!

What were the big influences on Killer Summer, and the whole series following Walt Fleming?

The influence is place: The Wood River Valley (Sun Valley, Hailey, Bellevue, Idaho). There are crimes here, situations here, that are unique to the both the landscape and degree of wealth (and poverty). It's an interesting locale to write about.

I know this is a long step back, but Luke Reviews contains a review of another of your novels, The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red. What was it like working on a media tie-in project, especially one attached to a big name like Stephen King?

Stephen and I play in an all-author rock band together, so I'm privileged to count him as a friend. When a publisher proposed a book tied-in to Steve's Rose Red (mini-series) they suggested a coffee table architectural book. I countered with Ellen's diary, and Stephen loved the idea. I then wrote a first-person account from the point of view of a nineteen year old woman in 1906 Seattle. It was a tremendous thrill.

In October you and Dave Barry have a new novel for kids coming out, Peter and the Sword of Mercy. Do you find it hard switching between adult crime novels to young adult fantasy novels, or do the two help feed the creative push for each other? Do you find your novels for younger audiences easier or harder to write than your adult books?

Story is story. Dave and I don't "write down" to our younger readers. Hopefully everything I do is exciting, fast paced, and has characters you care about. That's the challenge. I enjoy switching, often on a daily basis, between various projects.

Finally, what can we expect in the future from Walt Fleming and Ridley Pearson?

My next Walt Fleming book is completed -- it's a true "mystery" novel, my first in over a decade (as opposed to suspense thriller, although incorporates aspects of both sub-genres, I think.) I wanted a vehicle to explore the relationship between Fiona Kenshaw and Walt Fleming--and there's nothing like a dead body to stir things up, don't you think?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

After the events of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I was more than a little excited to take the next step, and return to the world of Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, as my re-reading of the first four books in route to finishing reading the whole series continues on its way. J. K. Rowling wrote a fun first step in the series, and I was looking for a sequel just as enjoyable.

Following the events of the first book, Harry Potter is back with the Dursley’s, wondering if the summer will ever come to an end so he can return to Hogwarts and the happier parts of his life. He is saddened by the fact that his friends seem to have forgotten him, and aren’t writing, but he maintains hope that he will soon return to his beloved school. However, as more and more things go wrong, Harry’s fate seems far from certain.

Yet, as things are their darkest, Harry is saved by his friends and returns to Hogwarts, albeit in an unusual fashion. Once he finally arrives, the year begins on an up note, despite the self-centered new instructor, Gilderoy Lockhart. But things take a turn for the worst when students start to be attacked, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione set out to save Hogwarts from the clutches of evil yet again.

The novel starts of a bit slow, taking a while for things to get up to speed, which they do around the time Harry returns to Hogwarts. Once there, Rowling returns to her comfort zone, writing great scenes in the magical world and playing the three main characters off each other brilliantly. The mysterious voices that Harry begins to hear throughout the castle, as well as the shocking attacks, weave a mystery through the book that is a very nice way to build suspense and keep the story going.

The characters continue to be well-done, with each staying true to what Rowling had previously created, while showing new sides of themselves, and developing and growing in front of the reader. The ending is satisfying, closing this chapter of Harry Potter’s times at Hogwarts with a complete ending that also leaves some issues unresolved, and questions about Voldemort’s fall from power are compelling.

Rowling continues to show that she is an excellent storyteller with a great story to tell, and does so in a very engaging and exciting manner. She has left me chomping at the bit to move on to the third book in the series.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Dork Covenant: The Collected Dork Tower, Volume 1 by John Kovalic

John Kovalic has been gradually making a name for himself among the gaming crowds with his comic Dork Tower, but his influence is spreading out. From his thrice-weekly comics at his website to his bi-monthly comic, Kovalic is sharing his tale of dorks with the world.

Based around a few characters, Dork Tower follows the exploits of Matt, Ken, Igor, and Carson, gamers and dorks of the highest level. The first volume of the Collected Dork Tower, Dork Covenant, contains the first six issues of Kovalic’s comic, as we get to know all of our characters, as well as their haunts and hobbies. Kovalic fills each story, from the eight or ten page features to the one and two page shorts, with bright humor and witty illustration. In a very short amount of time the characters feel real, and remind you of people you know. The real power of the strip is that, gamer or not, not only will you find it funny, but it will remind you of your own life and hobbies. Far from the total nerd stereotype, we are presented with the fun, sometimes manic, lives of four adult male nerds. And it couldn’t be funnier.

There isn’t much in the way of a long story. Dork Covenant is just filled with short, moments in the life of the major characters. While a longer story might be nice in the future, as a way of starting out this one was wonderful. I can’t wait to check out the second volume.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Dangerous Days of Daniel X by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge

James Patterson is well known for his thrillers, from his Alex Cross series to his stand-alone shots of mystery and suspense, but a far more recent addition to his canon is thrillers for the young adult market, which he calls Page Turners, first with his Maximum Ride series, and now with his new series following Daniel X, Alien Hunter. Based on the extra material in the back of the book, Patterson is working very hard to create books to get young adults, in particular boys, reading. This is a very worthy goal, and one that has been a gap needing to be filled for quite a while, so it is great to see a well-known, successful author tackling it. I entered into it with very high hopes, both for my own enjoyment as well as for the need of a good book to help his cause. After reading The Dangerous Days of Daniel X, I think that Patterson is definitely on the right track.

Daniel is an orphan, having witnessed his parents’ murder at the age of three. A very dangerous alien, called The Prayer, comes looking for The List, and murders them in his quest to find it. However, Daniel is in possession of great abilities, to include the power to create. He escapes, and uses his life from that moment on as an Alien Hunter, continuing his parents work and hoping to one day be strong enough to avenge their murder. As the book begins, Daniel has worked his way up his list of most dangerous aliens, arriving in the top twenty. However, after his current threat, he moves to the alien listed as number 6 on his most dangerous list, and heads to L.A., where he starts high school, falls in love, and learns the value of friendship.

The novel contains a couple of contradictions, from actions that Daniel does that are instantly shown as being bad so that the young adult audience doesn’t mimic them, to his knowledge of a certain animal being from his planet, when he says a few pages earlier he thinks, not knows, that he might be an alien. Also unexplained is Daniel’s limitless money supply, as he can rent houses, buy food, and have fun without needing a job.

Yet, despite these shortcomings, the book is fun. It isn’t necessarily deep, but it maintains a very light, enjoyable tone throughout, one that I know I would have loved as a kid. Daniel has action-packed adventures and travels the cosmos, and he never goes out of character. The book moves fast. This seems to be a great step in Patterson’s plan to get kids reading, and I applaud him. I look forward to Daniel’s next adventure.