Review: “Right to Kill,” Andrew Peterson

Pros: More action than any five other books
Cons: Anything non-action tends to be not-good
Rating: 3 out of 5

Right to Kill, by Andrew Peterson, is part of his Nathan McBride Series. We’re dealing with ex-soldiers returned from overseas who work a hugely successful security firm while still working together with some of their old cronies in the CIA. In this case, an old team member, Linda Genneken, is in need of help. She lives close by to Nathan, who installed her state-of-the-art alarm system himself. The infiltration team knows how to handle most of the alarm system, but they missed a part. Linda is woken up by her system, and it sends a wake-up call to Nate as well. He and another old comrade, Harv, book it toward Linda’s house, hoping desperately to get there in time.

 

The battle at Linda’s house is incredible. It’s sustained, complex, and absorbing. It quickly becomes clear that they want to capture Linda, not kill her. Luckily she has the same war-time experience as Nathan and Harv, and does an incredible amount of damage before they can even get to her (and her husband). After her reinforcements arrive, the battle continues to swell.

Nearly the entire book consists of battles, and I’m fine with that. They’re wonderfully long, and as a result the book doesn’t actually cover a long time period. The problem it has is that any time it turns to dialogue it becomes a clunker. Thankfully this doesn’t happen often. This includes things like a very experienced warrior saying “Lights out, dirtbag,” before shooting someone (talk about trying to get yourself shot by giving your enemy extra time). Planning gets long and boring since the dialogue is so flat.

I’m put off by the morality of the book. Plenty of bad guys get shot and killed with barely a thought to the morality of it. The only time things get deeply moralistic is when Linda wants to kill a character that higher-ups want alive. So apparently it’s morally okay to shoot people as long as you don’t need them alive for questioning and possible torture. (There was a slight nod here and there to the ‘should we really be killing all these people’ thing, but it wasn’t consistent.)

There’s a plot hole left behind–there are a couple of instances in which it appears that the bad guys have advance knowledge of their plans, locations, and home addresses, but they never speculate or look into the idea that maybe this means they have a mole.

 

Book provided free by publisher for review

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Short Take: “After We Live Forever,” Ike Hamill

Pros: Unique
Cons: Really, really weird; oddly long
Rating: 4 out of 5

My opinion of Ike Hamill’s books varies wildly. Some of them are absolutely amazing (Like the Madelyn series) while I dislike others. Overall he’s great, though. His After We Live Forever is odd–truly strange–and I’m not entirely sure what to say about it.

A woman named Holly and her bear (husband?) seem to move back and forth between different parts of a world. Most of those places bear resemblance to one computer game or another–survivalism games, social games–she can’t seem to pick a part that works for her, and there’s a handful of people fighting a battle between the ways of living behind her back. Some of them want her help; others not so much.

It’s bizarre how long the book is. The characters delve deeper and deeper into weird strategies that they think might work against the other groups, as Holly wanders back and forth with her bear “husband” (I still don’t get that, although it seemed that in one area they were considered to be holy).

I wish I knew what more to say about it, but that’s mostly it–you’re watching each of these groups try to outwit the others, making and breaking treaties, as Holly wanders the earth. I couldn’t get myself to stop reading it, which is weird giving how long it was, but it’s oddly compelling.

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Review: “Screams in the Woods,” Michael R. Martin

Pros: Perfect for readers who want lots of expository puzzling-out
Cons: Long with lots of exposition
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Michael R. Martin’s Screams in the Woods is one of a certain kind of books: there’s a dark mystery to solve, perhaps involving unnatural forces of some kind, and most of the “action” is actually dialogue as people fit together all the pieces to what’s going on. You really have to be into this type of book in order to get something out of it, because otherwise you’re just overloaded with exposition. There’s only a small amount of action and suspense. I think Screams in the Woods is a great example of the genre. If that doesn’t happen to be what you’re looking for, however, you’re in for hours of exposition and dialogue–not my favorite type of book. Still, the story was interesting enough that I didn’t set it aside.

Christine, who works at some sort of investigational bureau, receives a ‘cold case’ file on two missing people who’ve been gone for some time. She sets out to find out where and how they vanished. She ends up examining old mining accidents in which a great many people were killed. Her boss seems over-eager for her to keep the details to herself, even though her colleague and friend Jim very much wants in on the case. (I never felt that her boss’s place in all this was adequately explained, but perhaps I missed a sentence somewhere.)

The interesting details of the house in the middle of all this–and the old families involved–held my interest despite the fact that most of the book was dialogue. I also wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the end (I won’t say anything more than that; I don’t want to spoil it for you.) The one place where I could have used a little extra explanation, and it wasn’t there. There’s a lot going on in a long book here, so grab yourself some caffeine of your choice to help you dive in and remember the details.

I like the characters–Christine and Jim’s friendship is an interesting one. I wish I’d seen more of the boss, as I said; he was a weak point. Again, this is almost entirely dialogue-exposition, so if that isn’t your thing, read something else. But if you like mysterious, slow, otherworldly plots, then this is perfect for you!

Book provided for free for review

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Review: “Pacific Homicide,” Patricia Smiley

Pros: I definitely enjoy a good mystery
Cons: Things that have already been done to death
Rating: 3 out of 5

Pacific Homicide: A Mystery (A Pacific Homicide), by Patricia Smiley, introduces us to a detective Davie (Davina) Richards. A body washed up into the machinery of a sewage treatment plant–that of a nude young woman. Davie and her partner, Vaughn, have to find out who she was and what happened her. Some folks are trying to pass it off as a suicide–there’s pressure to close cases quickly. Meanwhile, a new IG has a grudge against Davie’s family and decides to re-open an investigation into a shooting she committed. He could easily ruin her entire career.

First, a few things that didn’t thrill me. Investigation/office politics plots don’t pull me in. Sometime about them repels me; I think I just find them too ‘real’ and thus depressing. Your mileage may vary. Second, we have the almost-standard (at this point) side-plot in which the female detective fell for her first partner (or an early partner). Okay, I get that this can happen, but it’s happening in so many books, and I feel like our female characters aren’t being allowed to behave professionally. They generally have plenty of other flaws, so can we ease off of this one for a while, please?

I like that Davie’s kind of a bulldog at heart and that she gets along pretty normally with the rest of her coworkers. It’s an interesting mystery. The glimpse into the underworld of Eastern Europeans moved to America is engaging, but again, it’s been done a lot already at this point.

I really like Davie as a character for the most part, but a lot of the plot pieces are just nothing new. I wouldn’t turn away a copy of other books in the series, but I wouldn’t seek them out, either.

 

Free copy of book provided for review by publisher

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Review: “After Atlas,” Emma Newman

Pros: Fascinating detail
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

Emma Newman’s After Atlas (Planetfall Novel, A) is a follow-on to a previous novel I haven’t read, but I didn’t find that made this hard to follow at all.

When Carl was a child, his mother left Earth on a religious cult’s spaceship, leaving Carl and his father behind. Carl couldn’t stand the starkly boring life of the cult (no technologies) and left. However, he was picked up and enslaved. He learned fast, so he become a rising star in the Justice department that bought his contract. And one of the rules is that he is not to tell people he is enslaved, so he has no chance of making it out of his contract–until one day, he catches the attention of exactly the wrong man.

Meanwhile, Carl’s past is catching up to him, and he’s thrust into the middle of an investigation of the cult leader’s death–suicide, or homicide?

 

Carl has a remarkable skill for puzzling out fact and putting pieces of seemingly unrelated information together. Perfect for working with the justice department–not entirely relevant for his new owner. Luckily his new owner underestimates him.

I very much enjoyed watching Carl work the case, seeing the ways in which he could approach it that the police could not. The characters were interesting, and I loved seeing the difference in how Carl is treated by those who know he’s a slave and those who don’t. The ways in which the Circle cult has changed also bring to light some fascinating plot points.

I’m trying to find ways to describe this book to you without spoilers, and it’s difficult. It’s heavy on plot, even though most of it takes place in Carl’s head. I love his addiction to ‘real’ food, one of the first real stories I’ve seen where we see the difference between ‘real’ food and 3D-printed food. We get to watch as the world expands and grows, and new technologies grab hold. It’s sleek and fascinating and scary.

I think it’s a wonderful book for SF/mystery lovers, or SF/where do we go next-lovers. Absolutely enjoy it.

 

NOTE: book provided free by publisher for review

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Recipe: Orange Creamsicle (Tapioca) Custard Gone Wild

I went to an Asian grocery and, due to my love of all things tapioca, bought large pearl tapioca. Including a batch of mixed colored tapioca bubbles. I tried to use them like their small pearl cousins, and it just didn’t work. Yeah, I know, should have been obvious, but I was having trouble finding working instructions online. (Someone please put out a tapioca cookbook. Thank you.) So I inverted the whole thing:

Tapioca Gone Wild

Tapioca Gone Wild

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons tapioca starch (cornstarch might work similarly)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon pure orange oil (optional!)
  • 1/2 cup colorful large tapioca pearls

Put the milk and sugar into a reasonably sized saucepan and heat at medium, stirring constantly, until it’s steaming a lot and seems to be getting close to boiling.

Whisk together the egg yolks and starch until smooth. It might be easiest to do it 1 tablespoon at a time.

Temper the eggs by whisking in ladle-fulls of the hot milk mixture. Then whisk the egg mixture back into the rest of the milk. Bring to a boil (gently, so you don’t scramble the eggs) and then as soon as it feels thick enough (probably after one minute), take it off the heat, stir in the vanilla and optional orange oil, and pour into a container to cool. (If you want to hurry the chilling process, put the container in a bath of ice water that, obviously, should not be deep enough to allow water in with the custard.)

Follow the instructions on the package of colored tapioca. Mine went like this: bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add 1/2 cup tapioca pearls, cover, and cook for 5-8 minutes. Remove from the heat, give it another 5-8 minutes before taking off the lid. All depends on how soft you like your tapioca. Drain and allow to sit in cold water for 20 seconds. Drain again, and stir into the custard.

Chill and eat well!

In case you want to adapt the amounts in this recipe, I will point out that the ratio is 1 cup milk, to 1/4 cup sugar, to 1 egg yolk, to 1 tablespoon of starch. I’ve found that this ratio works pretty well, although it isn’t as though I’ve ever tried to make 10 cups of custard before.

*Note: I have nothing to do with the Virginia Bacon Festival except as a normal bacon-nomming attendee.

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Review: “The Jekyll Revelation,” Robert Masello

Pros: Very well-written; fascinating story
Cons: The modern-day part fades into the background
Rating: 4 out of 5

In Robert Masello’s The Jekyll Revelation, a modern-day park ranger stumbles across a strange steamer trunk during a drought that has nearly emptied a lake. In that trunk he finds an old journal by Robert Louis Stevenson, and, as a fan of Stevenson’s tales, he reads it.

The journal tells of Stevenson’s attempts to find relief from his tuberculosis while traveling with his wife, Fanny; his stepson, Lloyd; and their dog, Woggin. (Now I want a dog, just so I can name him Woggin!) He visits a famed doctor’s clinic, where he undergoes stranger and stranger ‘cures’, most of which have no effect on him. One, however–a dark and disgusting brew–gives him some strength, and also seems to darken his personality. Finally he heads back to London, taking several flasks of the brew with him.

In the meantime, we keep pace with Rafe, who found the journal in the present day. He’s trying to track coyotes for a study, but he’s dealing with a motorcycle gang, a meth lab, and his generous neighbor’s abusive boyfriend–while said boyfriend ends up with the rest of the contents of the trunk.

 

I didn’t find the modern-day aspect as compelling. This is unusual for me, because I’m typically not a historicals kind of gal. The characters and story are interesting, but there’s just so much more meat to Stevenson’s tale. I come to moderately care about the modern people while getting totally pulled in to Stevenson’s cohort of colorful characters. I’d have liked to see the modern tale get taken farther in certain directions. I was pleased at some of the unexpected extra material that pushed the 1880s story farther and gave us an extra revelation or two.

The characters had plenty of depth to them, although Fanny was my favorite. Dour and strong, with a weak spot for her son and strong feelings for both her husband and the money and fame his writing brought them. She isn’t the stereotypical money-grubber, but she has no shame for the fact that money is both useful and capable of buying excellent things–like hopeful cures from freaky German doctors.

I’d recommend The Jekyll Revelation to anyone who has an interest in the Jekyll & Hyde story, or just the general milieu of those sorts of tales.

 
NOTE: Free book provided by publisher in return for review

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Review: “Nightmares”, Ed. Ellen Datlow

Pros: Some fantastic stories
Cons: Some not-so-fantastic stories
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Editor Ellen Datlow’s collection Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror contains more than 20 horror stories of a wide variety. As usual with an anthology, some stories are better than others, and frankly I doubt any two people would agree on all the stories. This makes it tough to give most anthologies more than a 4. One of the excellent sides of anthos, however, is the opportunity to find new authors to read.

There’s one type of story in particular that requires you to think like the writer to really get what happened. There are stories where the ends were ambiguous enough that I was left going, “huh?! What on earth did that mean?” Normally I enjoy ambiguity and such, but I felt it went a bit overboard here. That’s one portion of this that will be heavily dependent on the reader. I tend to think I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to puzzling out what’s happening, so I’m sure there are those for which it’ll all make sense, while I’m also sure I won’t be the only person to leave a story confused.

Some of the stories involve the paranormal, while others concentrate on the human side of horror. There’s a horror writer who uses his connection to a curious family to do something terrible. (Gene Wolfe’s “Sob in the Silence”.) In Brian Hodge’s “Our Turn Too Will One Day Come,” our narrator has been gaslighted by his family for years (every time he sees something suspicious they assure him nothing’s going on). Now he has to help hide a murder, and at the same time he finds out what is really going on with his family. Hodge’s story was one of my favorites–well written, full of personality, and creepy.

Kaaron Warren’s “Dead Sea Fruit” is surreal, following the idea that a simple kiss can divulge a person’s secrets. I loved this concept. One of my other favorite stories is “Closet Dreams” by Lisa Tuttle. A child has been kidnapped and assaulted (that deserves a trigger warning). She starts trying to imagine her escape, just to have something to do, some bit of hope to hold onto. But of course it doesn’t end there…

Nicholas Royle’s excellent “Very Low-Flying Aircraft” involves a beach and a pilot who’s too good at what he does. You can see the end coming, but in this case that’s good: it allows the tension to hit hard and fast. Steve Duffy’s “The Clay Party” follows 48 people, seven families, as they try to take a wagon train to California using an unusual route that Mr. Clay (the instigator) insists will get them there faster. The story is fascinating. The group runs into so many troubles, and things take several weird turns. Ultimately, I really liked it.

I mostly enjoyed Laird Barron’s “Strappado”, but I feel like the characters should have come to a conclusion or two that they missed. And I did find the ending just a tad confusing. Despite all that, this was a very well-told story with fantastic characters. It involves the work of a mysterious artist who does horrific art installations, and people who are invited to behold the latest work in progress.

Stephen Graham Jones’s “Lonegan’s Luck,” is one of my favorites out of this book. An obvious snake oil salesman comes into town, with layer upon layer of intention. Without wrecking where this goes, I’ll just say that Jones fits a whole lot into such a small story! Lonegan in particular is a fantastic character.

After that you’ll find post-apocalyptic demons, a girl who likes to harm small creatures, a sacrifice to ensure safe passage, a zombie tale (that uses the word ‘zombie’! It’s about time!) in which zombies are largely pests. There are great writers in here–Garth Nix, Richard Kadrey, and more.

One of my favorites was John Langan’s “The Shallows”. I read this once before a couple of years ago, and yet I still remember it. Given how terrible my memory is, that’s high praise–it means it was fascinating enough to stick with me all that time. It’s a very Old Gods sort of tale, and the imagery is fabulous.

There are certainly tales in here that I didn’t enjoy for one reason or another, but there’s a great array of wonderful ones as well. I’d absolutely recommend it to my horror-loving friends.

 
NOTE: Free book provided by publisher in return for review

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Review: “Counterpart,” Hayley Stone

Pros: Interesting world-building
Cons: Still want more info on the difference in machines’ behavior, etc.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

In Stone’s Machinations, we discovered a world in which the robots we built are amassing against us. Now, in Counterpart, we get to take in not just more machines-fighting-man, but also the terrible politics of man, which can’t be set aside even for such a goal as the saving of the human race.

Early on we find a surprise: a machine that is part mechanical, and part pieces of one of the Rhona clones. So while the rebels believe they have the real Rhona, the folks in charge start to realize that the machines found the other clones (thought destroyed) and have forced different degrees of damage, torture, and physical change upon them. Rhona can’t leave them in the hands of the machines. It might be easier, of course, if more of the folks in charge of Alaska’s rebels were willing to listen to her.

Just to complicate things all the more, the Russians want in on the alliance–or do they? It makes sense to start opening things up for them, but there’s something about their behavior that doesn’t add up.

I love that Rhona’s sense of humor and snark get worse the more scared she gets. Humor is so often used to lessen fear, and that’s depicted so well.

There’s an argument between Rhona and Camus that I found rather depressing, but largely this is action-oriented with gallows-humor snark.

There’s a lot of tension going on, and the pace is quick. It holds together well for a sci-fi thriller.

 

Free book received from publisher for this review
Estimated book publication date: October 11, 2016

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I apologize for the two-plus weeks I’ve been not-posting

I’m dealing with things like Brain MRIs. And divorces. I’m not even going to try to predict when reviews will be regular things again. Thank you for understanding!

Posted in News & Musings, Reviews

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