Review: “Wired,” Douglas E. Richards

Pros: An interesting take on high intelligence
Cons: Some of the hammered-in details weren’t ones I could agree with
Rating: 4 out of 5

Wired is the first book in a series by Douglas E. Richards. In it, Kira, a biology prodigy, kidnaps a man, David Desh, who’s been sent in turn to capture her. She’s learned to amp up the power of the human brain to stratospheric heights, but only for an hour at a time–and with some unwanted side effects. Just to make her even more of a mark, in one of her amped-up sessions she developed a tonic that doubles the lifespan of a human being. Amped-Kira decided that David is the one person in all of this she might be able to convince and to gain the help of, while everyone else just wants to put her in a cage and harvest her inventions. David’s been told that she’s a terrorist planning to kill nearly the entire species with a targeted Ebola virus, so he has a lot of reason not to believe her side of the story.

 

I felt the will he/won’t he of Desh’s loyalties was reasonable. Usually such things go on way too long past the point where the person should understand who the good and bad guys are, but it just isn’t as easy this time, and I like that. It’s genuinely not as obvious to him who’s doing what.

There are two basic side effects to the one-hour super-intelligence drug. First, massive munchies. Second, sociopathy/extreme selfishness. For most of the book it’s billed as an inevitable side effect of high intelligence, which I found off-putting. It does become less straightforward than that eventually, however.

In some of Richards’ other books I’ve found his enthusiastic dives into subjects to read like soapboxes. In Wired, it comes off less as though the author is lecturing to the reader. However, he still does enjoy getting into his subjects, so you do need to be a fan of more mentally-exploratory SF as opposed to action SF. I think Wired reads more professionally than some of his books. It’s always good to see an author grow in talent and skill!

While this is the more exploratory sort of SF, that spends much of its time discussing and expanding upon interesting possibilities, there is action here and there. David used to be Special Ops, and someone has usurped a portion of the military to send after David and Kira.

There is a bit too much “ooooh Kira” love in here. She’s not only beyond a genius IQ, she’s beautiful and incredibly charming to boot. It’s weird, though, because usually when this happens it’s because the character is the same gender as the author and is acting as a stand-in for how the author wishes he or she could be. In this case, given that each character is very superior in their own way, and it makes sense for extreme people to come together for this, I think it’s reasonable. (And you won’t hear me say that very often!)

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Short Take: “Black and Blue,” James Patterson, Candice Fox

Pros: Decent detective story
Cons: A lot of unlikable characters
Rating: 3 out of 5

James Patterson and Candice Fox are the authors of Black & Blue (BookShots). The “BookShots” indicator means this is a novella, a short book meant to take up an hour or two. I find it great for when I just need a little break. In this case, the tale involves a woman who’s trying to steal a boat, and the owners of the boat who are on medically borrowed time if no one stops her.

I swear it seems like all the main characters (or major adversaries) in crime drama books are now from the foster system. I know it’s an easy way to give them “issues” to work out, or ways to empathize with other not-so-nice people, but I think it’s getting out of hand. Pretty much all of the characters in this book are difficult to like, which also seems to be a current trend that might have gotten out of hand.

It’s nice to see that Blue does make mistakes, particularly early on (I dislike infallible protagonists). I also like it when victims find ways to fight back, and we do get to see some of that. Guns with “silencers”, however, are not actually silent.

The story was reasonably good and I’ll say I love the ending, although I won’t go into more detail than that.

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Review: “Trapped,” Douglas E. Richards

Pros: I think it works as a children’s book
Cons: Oops, didn’t see that it was a children’s book…
Rating: 4 out of 5

I started reading Douglas E. Richards’ The Prometheus Project: Trapped (Volume 1) because I’d been intrigued by one or two of his other books. This one sounded interesting as well, but I totally failed to note that it was a children’s book. Because of that, I started out thinking that the book was waaay over-explaining things and thus being totally condescending to its audience. I’m not familiar with most children’s books, but I did at some point realize maybe I should check Amazon and see–and yep, it’s under children’s fiction. So okay. I don’t think it’s being condescending any more.

At any rate, this is a story about two kids, Ryan and Regan–older brother and younger sister (yes that should have tipped me off. Shush, you!). Their family recently moved to the middle of nowhere, and the kids overhear their parents talking about top-secret projects and riddle-passwords and things like that. The kids decide they have to figure out what’s so important and thus set about breaking into their parents’ place of work. Mind you, I’m not buying it. Supposedly the lack of security is simply temporary, but given how cheap security cameras can get, I fail to believe that a place surrounded by razorwire and invisible lasers has yet to put up cameras every ten feet or whatever, and I also fail to believe that it has so few security guards. But hey, it’s a kids’ book, and that isn’t what you want to focus on.

After getting through various security measures, the kids find their way into what seems to be an underground alien city, where they find all the scientists celebrating having broken into said city–until, that is, a swarm of big insects appears and seems to eat everything except the kids–equipment, scientists, and all. The kids find that the doorway is closed now, and they’re going to have to apply everything their parents have taught them about the scientific method and puzzle-solving in order to save the adults and make their way out.

As an adult, I found chunks of this book boring or condescending, with plot holes included in a handful of places. Well, most of my lack of enjoyment was caused by my lack of awareness of this being a children’s book. There are still some plot holes here and there, but I think kids are at least less likely to notice them or be bothered by them.

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Short Take: “Cross Kill,” James Patterson

Pros: I do like crime dramas
Cons: But maybe not this one
Rating: 2 out of 5

James Patterson’s Cross Kill: An Alex Cross Story (BookShots) has Alex Cross and his partner, John, helping with a before-school meals program; they’re in attendance because of nearby gang activity. An old enemy of theirs (Soneji) who’s supposed to have been dead for years appears and in shooting at them, lands a head shot on John.

Alex goes more than a little crazy trying to track down Soneji while John hovers between life and death and nobody else believes it could be Soneji. It’s a halfway decent book, rendered almost entirely unreadable by the total cliffhanger of an ending. Generally the point of a short story/novella/”BookShot” is to provide something you can relax and read in a short time. Ending it with a vast hole in the story is incredibly annoying, and watching Alex go crazy over Soneji wasn’t enough to hold my interest through the entire piece of fiction.

Thus, summary of story: Alex goes crazy (with a little pushing), John might die, and there’s no half-satisfying ending.

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Short Take: “Come and Get Us,” James Patterson and Shan Serafin

Pros: LOVE the main character’s narrative voice
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

“Bookshot.” What a great name for a type of book short enough to be downed in one quick shot, just like whiskey (especially in a season when everyone’s main character seems to be a whiskey-based alcoholic–except this one). I like it better than “novella”, which is, I think, a term most people aren’t that familiar with. Come and Get Us (BookShots), by James Patterson and Shan Serafin, was a great short read. Corporate lawyer Aaron Cooper hasn’t told his wife Miranda why the two of them and their toddler, Sierra, have to go meet a man named Jed, but it’s going to become very important to all of them when a vehicle behind them sends them crashing off the road and into a ravine. Aaron is badly injured, and in order to travel at a speed that’ll give Miranda any chance of finding help in time, she has to leave little Sierra with Aaron.

I love Miranda’s inner voice; she’s snarky without being overly biting. It’s also the sort of snark that you can imagine yourself using to keep yourself sane as you race to find help and escape some enemies that crop up. There aren’t many characters in here, but the authors put a surprising amount of personality into them in the short space. Miranda and her enemies cross paths in several interesting ways. Miranda in some ways is a soccer mom, but she has some athletic history that gives her a boost. Still, it flavors her thoughts:

1. I heard a pop.
2. I crashed into an obstacle …
3. I realized it was a man.
4. He and I locked eyes in a moment of mutual shock.
5. We agreed not to be friends.

I’m rather psyched to pick out a bunch more of these “bookshots”, especially when trying to waste time.

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Short Take: “The Apocalypse Hive: Episode 2: The Armageddon Thrones: Season 1,” Sam Witt

Pros: I do have a soft spot for bio-thriller/horror
Cons: The series is awfully bumpy so far
Rating: 3 out of 5

Sam Witt’s The Apocalypse Hive: Episode 2: The Armageddon Thrones: Season 1 feels like a game of air hockey between two players who aren’t very good at it. In it, agoraphobic Izzy is forced to try to leave her apartment in order to rescue her husband, who has apparently been caught up in the start of the bio-apocalypse. Unfortunately, even her husband’s safety isn’t enough to get her out in the open once she overhears the neighbors killing people and sees blood streaks in the building hallway right outside her door.

 

I realize this is an attempt to tell a story in a TV-like style: season by season, episode by episode. But I find it very unfulfilling. I’d much rather see it released season by season, with the (however many) episodes tucked inside. I probably won’t try to keep up with this series, even though I really loved Witt’s Pitchfork County series, and even though bio-thrillers are pretty much my favorite genre.

Witt does do a great job of developing Izzy’s character and setting up her story, but he takes us just up to the point where a major thing will have to happen and then leaves us hanging. Since episode 1 was totally different and covered totally different people, I have little hope that it’ll pick up on Izzy’s story next time.

I loved the opening of this one, though, because it delved into some interesting parasitology aspects (the fact that some parasites can basically take over the mind of a creature and cause it to ‘commit suicide’ in order to spread the parasite further).

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Short Take: “The Apocalypse Hive: Episode 1: The Armageddon Thrones: Season 1,” Sam Witt

Pros: Intriguing start to a story
Cons: Confusing start to a story!
Rating: 3 out of 5

In the world of Sam Witt’s The Apocalypse Hive: Episode 1: The Armageddon Thrones: Season 1, company employees sabotage each other just to get ahead–even when they don’t know what they’re messing with. In this case, our character inadvertently awakens some “Sleepers”, and it quickly becomes obvious why that was a bad idea.

 

The Sleepers seem alien in nature, but they turn people into mindless zombie-like creatures. Our inadvertent villain does everything he can to undo what he’s done, but you know it won’t be that easy.

It’s hard for me to say much about this book because it’s quite short. I think maybe I expected a little more after reading Witt’s Pitchfork County tales. There are at least a couple of interesting people in this tale, largely the protagonist and the Asshole.

At the end we do see a little bit of what’s going on in the outside world, although only for a moment. Even though this isn’t my favorite short story, most books don’t pick up right away anyway, so I’m going to read the next part. Hopefully that’ll grab onto me a bit harder!

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Review: “Dead-Eyed God,” Sam Witt

Pros: Love this series!
Cons:
Rating: 4 out of 5

Dead-Eyed God, by Sam Witt, is the latest in the Pitchfork County novels. Pitchfork County is a cess pit of evil, despair, and meth, with quite a few supernatural creatures feeding off of the lack of hope. Joe is the Night Marshal–an ‘unofficial’ lawman whose job is to keep humans on the straight and narrow rather than the ‘Left-Hand Path’ of evil. He’s much less liked than his father (the previous Night Marshal) because his method is to shoot first and ask questions later, and he doesn’t make any distinction between those who seek out the Path and those who are forced onto it. He’s trying to reform his approach to things, but it’s difficult and he still isn’t sure whether it’s the right thing to do. In this round, he’s dealing with a new/old enemy: a spider goddess who’s quite pissed that no one remembers that she was here first and this is her land.

 

Got any arachnophobia? This will trigger it. Big spiders. Little spiders. Spider-like monsters. Spiders under the skin. Spider silk everywhere, trapping people. Lots of killing people by spider or spider silk in gruesome ways. I’m almost amazed I made it through it. It was handled very well and certainly upped the ‘ick’ factor! The violence is bloody and quite visceral.

Joe is still stuck with bits of the Long Man and the Haunter in Darkness inside of him, and they’re both working to kill him while he steals bits of their power when needed. This time they’re working together to take him out, and they may do some real damage.

Witt still does excellent extended fight scenes. They’re so absorbing, and their length doesn’t make them boring, which is a neat trick.

There’s nothing happy/shiny about this horror novel. Just plenty of horror, death, fighting, and blood. I look forward to reading more of Witt’s books!

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Review: “One Fell Sweep,” Ilona Andrews

Pros: Rich worldbuilding and fascinating characters
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

Ilona Andrews’ One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles Book 3) follows on the heels of Clean Sweep and Sweep in Peace. I think this is the best so far. A creature called a Hiru comes to Dina’s inn looking for a place to hold a meeting. He’s from a race hunted and nearly extinct thanks to the efforts of the inhabitants of a planet near theirs, and an alien has agreed to help them–but first they have to gather the alien’s human-looking parts. For those unfamiliar or who’ve forgotten since the last book, Dina is an Innkeeper. In this case, that means she operates a magical, powerful inn where aliens can stay when they come to earth. There are only two main rules: the humans must never know what is happening under their noses, and once an Innkeeper has chosen to take on a guest, she must not allow harm to come to them. When she takes on the hiru, she inadvertently takes sides in a war where the opponents have no compunction about firing off nukes or waking up the neighbors. Just to make things a little crazier, she has to save her sister and her sister’s daughter from a dive on a vampire-controlled planet, and she has to figure out whether she’s really falling in love with haunted werewolf Sean.

 

I love this series, and I think this is the best of it so far. The abilities and limitations of Gertrude Hunt (the inn) and Dina come to the fore, particularly what they can do when together as opposed to apart. The will they/won’t they between Dina and Sean is softened and believable, not frustrating. Dina’s sister Maud–and her vampire daughter Helen–are totally fun to have around, as are the friends and allies Dina acquired in previous novels. I always love Ilona Andrews’ ability to portray nuanced characters. This volume punches up the violence, but there’s plenty of familial love, romantic love, daring and bravery.

The language is fun, and sometimes funny:

“He broke their bones, he made them scream, and then he cut off their heads and put them on a pike.”
“He’s been through a lot.”

The story, setting, and characters are entertaining, creative, a bit dark at times, and unusual. I highly recommend the entire series, and look forward to more!

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Short Take: “Of Swine and Roses,” Ilona Andrews

Pros: Sweet, whimsical, and funny
Cons: Want more!
Rating: 5 out of 5

Of Swine and Roses (by Ilona Andrews), is a short story. It centers on Alena, whose family insists she go on a date with Chad Thurman. His family is important to their business interests, so even though Alena has no interest in such a thug, she goes anyway. Then the weirdest thing happens–they come across a couple of Thurman’s goons chasing a little pig. Chad stops to help, and Alena decides enough is enough. She isn’t going to let them hurt an animal.

That’s actually about half of the story, but the tale is short enough that I kind of had to include that much. It’s worth reading as a whole, though; I found it very cheaply on Amazon. I’m a big fan of Ilona Andrews (actually a husband-and-wife writing team), so I’d read pretty much anything they write. I enjoyed this story and found it to be fun, whimsical, and sweet, with just a touch of darkness. It certainly made me want to read more!

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