2 Thumbs Up for “11.22.63”

11.22.63“11.22.63” by Stephen King

Summary: Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away…but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke… Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald.

Recommendation: Yes (in fact, if I could, I would give this book a dozen stars)

Review:

Not since “Bag of Bones” have I enjoyed a Stephen King novel as much as I have this one. In fact, I would say that this one may just tie with “Bag of Bones” as my top favorite book.

Touted as an alternate history/time travel novel (which is a genre I love), for me this book was more about the characters that peopled it. Stephen King’s understanding of human nature is obvious in the way his characters slip into your mind and your life. When I had to break from reading the book, I still thought about the characters; wondering what they might be doing at that moment, as if they were living human beings instead of just fictional characters.

If you’re looking for constant thrills and adventure that keep you on edge until the end of the book, this is not the book for you. While it has thrilling and edgier moments, it also has a lot of pathos, romance, and relationship building. This is a book about people caught up in situations that they want to capture, change, examine, or build. It isn’t a book about car chases, shoot outs, or winning the race; although, there are enough chases, spying, secrets, and edge-of-your-seat moments to keep you enthralled.

Overall, though, this is a book about people. To me, the core of the book was about the characters and the travails that forged their humanity. It is the Stephen King writing that I fell in love with way back at the beginning of his career. This is the magic that that I’ve always admired him for—the magic of writing real-life characters that are at times more real than the people we interact with on a daily basis.

If I could, I would give Mr. King a huge hug to thank him for giving us another of his marvelously peopled, and lovingly executed books. The ending may be bittersweet, but the book contains enough life lessons and thought-provoking insights to keep someone like me rereading it for years to come.

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A Review of “Accidental Ashes”

xoe2“Accidental Ashes: or that time I found out I was a demon, and all my friends were vampires and werewolves” by Sara Roethle

Summary: Last year Xoe’s life was turned upside-down. Things haven’t improved much. With the lives of her friends at risk, Xoe forgets to worry about another life…her own. With the reappearance of a face from her very distant past, and a random string of abductions to deal with, Xoe has to fight to keep things together. Even if ‘together’ is a far cry, ahem…howl, from the norm.

Recommendation: Yes

Review:

This second book was even better than the first Xoe book. In fact, it was so good as to appear effortless (the markings of a truly wonderful story teller). The characters interacted seamlessly and I felt quite at home with them. It was like visiting with family that I hadn’t seen in a while.

Nuances of the author’s world popped up here and there, sprinkled throughout the story like confetti at a party. With each occurrence, I found myself nodding and thinking, “Of course, that’s the way [this] world works…” Her world is nearly as rich and complete as Harry Potter’s or Rachel Morgan’s (The Hollows series by Kim Harrison), and her characters were, also.

In fact, if there is anything I have to nitpick about in her book it was the way in which she handled the interplay between Xoe and her mom. In this book, Xoe needs to cope with a lot of new and (to her) surprising information about herself and her friends. She is then confronted with her long-missing father and the truth as to who he is and why he left. Xoe handles it all surprisingly well, but her mother does not. While this is understandable—after all, in real life, people handle things in various ways and with varying degrees of competency—the part I object to is Xoe offering her mother some pain medication that Xoe was given when, at the end of the first book, she broke her arm. Instead of admonishing her daughter for sharing prescription meds with others, mom says, “…sure, why not…” and takes the meds.

I find this wrong on so many levels, but two of them stand out the most. First off, what authors write does influence others. So many people read a book wherein someone admits to doing a particular action or believing in some concept, and the reader thinks, “…well, if this person does it, then it must be okay that I do, too…” The reader doesn’t always make the distinction between life and fictional characters. The fact that the author has the protagonist doing this, thinking this, or saying this, makes the reader think that it’s okay.

The second reason I found it “wrong” is that it is a weak mechanism for getting a character out of a situation that the author isn’t sure how to cope with (I know, I’ve done it, too, and I’ve taken the criticism for it). I get it, that some people don’t handle stress, confrontations, or large amounts of negative information well. But Xoe’s mom didn’t seem to be the type to avoid life by hiding behind pills, booze, or sleep. In fact, in book 1, Xoe’s mom seemed almost as much of a real go-getter as Xoe. So, for mom to suddenly seek escape from life in pills and sleep seemed a bit like the author seeking escape from having to deal with this secondary character.

However, since mom isn’t a major character, I was willing to let it go…mostly. I still worry about young adults seeing the sharing of meds as something that’s all right, though, since mom not only condoned it, but participated in it.

So, except for that one minor point, this was definitely a 4-star book. And I truly believe that C. Roethle will be the next Kim Harrison…just for a slightly younger set of readers.

Yes, but with a caution

ms-hsMindspeak/Heartspeak by Sandy Nathan

Summary: Dr. Clarisse Hull is a brilliant theoretical physicist living in a world of schemes and hidden peril. Her revolutionary research manages to prove the existence of alternative universes, and she uses Quantum Physics to create portals in time space, which lead to other worlds. Unfortunately, she can’t present the core of her work, which is classified as Top Secret and owned by the government, just like herself. This is because Clarisse is a secret black ops agent, and has been one all of her adult life.

Clarisse’s university doesn’t believe her claims and ends up denying her tenure and firing her. However, the denizens of the alternate reality she reached do recognize her achievement, and they grab her up faster than you can say, “lead our army and take over planet Earth.”

Now Clarisse finds herself captive in an alternative universe, desperately searching for her way home from a sadistic empire across sub-molecular frontiers. She must save herself, in order to save everyone on Earth. Along the way she will encounter breathtaking adventure and hideous betrayal, but also find the love of her life.

Recommend: Yes, but with a caveat (see review below)

Review: The writing is crisp, brilliant, and…blunt. There is nothing soft, warm, or fuzzy about Ms. Nathan’s writing or her characters, and hence, my problem. The author’s writing was well-paced, clear and easy-to-read; the topic was something I always enjoy (alternate realities and time travel are my favorites, especially when the author uses current scientific theories to create a bridge from the world of here-and-now to their world of what-if). However, the problem (for me) was that I was unable to relate to any of her characters. And they are excellently developed, well-thought out, and absolutely believable characters. But therein lies the problem.

Her characters were more prone to use violence to resolve issues, while I’m more comfortable using persuasion and dialogue. Her characters were rather cold and shut off (think Spock from Star Trek), which made it hard for me to empathize with their predicament.

I do not find this a flaw in the book, the writing, or of the author. I find this to be my issue…The characters in this book were great representations of a particular type of person; unfortunately, these are also the type of people I would probably avoid in the real world, simply because we have little to nothing in common.

So, while I do recommend this book for its excellent writing, exceptional concept, and very real characters, do be aware that these characters are not the warm and fuzzy-type of characters that most authors create. Also, understand that these characters primarily tend to use violence in dealing with their situations.

A Review of “Xoe”

XoebookcoverXoe: or Vampires, and Werewolves, and Demons, Oh My! (Xoe Meyers #1) by Sara C. Roethle

Summary: Xoe Meyers had a normal life. So she was stuck going to high school, and she only had a few friends to call her own. She liked her normal life. Things were about to change though, because there’s a new guy in her small town, and he is anything but normal. Before Xoe can say, “Werewolf,” her best friend’s life is in peril, and Xoe’s world is turned upside-down. Then, of course, there’s Jason. Xoe doesn’t trust him as far as she can throw him, and given that he’s a vampire, she’d have to be able to catch him first.

Recommendation: Yes

Review:
Being an adult, I toned down my expectations and dove in…and was very pleasantly surprised.

Xoe was not the typical angsty teenager. Instead, she used sarcasm and wit (but in a rather intelligent way). She had more of a pragmatic view of life, but was definitely a teenager with a teenager’s penchant for living in the moment rather than thinking about long-term consequences. Xoe was a well-defined character, whose personality brought her right into the room with you.

Each of Xoe’s friends, as well as her antagonists, were also well-defined. They each had characteristics and personality traits that made them come alive, and I had no problem envisioning their world and identifying with their problems.

I thought the book would be a typical werewolves versus vampire type of story, but was rather surprised by the direction Xoe’s transformation took. It was different and interesting, and added an extra zing to the story.

The author’s writing style is reminiscent to Rick Riordan’s, which makes these books a pleasant and fun read.  Her story was fun, witty, and unusual, and I believe the intended audience will enjoy it immensely. (And I can’t wait to download number 2, “Accidental Ashes.”)

Book Review, With Apologies

“Stone of Fire” by J.F. Penn

Summary:  Forged in the fire and blood of martyrs, the Pentecost stones have been handed down through generations of Keepers who kept their power and locations secret.

The Keepers are being murdered, the stones stolen by those who would use them for evil in a world transformed by religious fundamentalism.

Oxford University psychologist Morgan Sierra is forced into the search when her sister and niece are held hostage. She is helped by Jake Timber from the mysterious ARKANE, a British government agency specializing in paranormal and religious experience. Morgan must risk her own life to save her family, but will she ultimately be betrayed?

Recommended:  No

Review:

I usually try very hard to find something good to say about every book I review; however, I found little to recommend about J.F. Penn’s “Stone of Fire” book. It’s free; the concept is interesting…did I mention that it’s free?

Despite all the hype that Ms. Penn issues regarding her novels, I was far from impressed with this book. The premise was interesting: stones from the Pentecost that might contain mystical powers. However, the writing was less than stellar…in fact, it was barely adequate.

During the first third of the book, the plot and story were so thin that the framework she was building for the book was easily visible. It was like sitting in the audience of an amateur drama and watching the actors mill around while the stage hands pushed and pulled the various sets around. The characters were undefined and unclear as was the plot and the story. Someone told her she needed to have something dramatic happen in chapters 1, 3 and 5, so she focused on making that occur, whether those occurrences worked within the framework she was struggling to build or not.

About mid-point, the author finally seemed to have figured out the plot and the story started to come together. Unfortunately, she still hadn’t defined her characters. In fact, they were so ill-defined that she couldn’t even keep the POV straight. A paragraph would start out with Morgan’s POV (the female protagonist) but end with Jake’s (the male protagonist). And if the author can’t tell one character from another, how are we, the readers, supposed to? The mixed POV’s continued throughout the rest of the book, leaving me distanced and struggling to care about these characters at all. The only character that the author seemed to know and understand, and that I enjoyed, was the clergyman, Ben. However, we only got his POV for about one chapter.

In the last third of the book, Ms. Penn seemed to have finally figured out the basics of storytelling; however, she still couldn’t seem to determine whose POV she was using as we drifted from head to head, sometimes even mid-sentence. The ending was as weak as the overall book was poorly written. And the author added an addendum, which was her way of “fixing” the story so that it could become a series.

Overall, I would give this story a half-star (if only for its original premise), but since that’s not allowed in Amazon or Goodreads, I will give it one star with the note that it is half a star too much.

My Review of “Elephants Never Forgotten”

I had the privilege of reading “Elephants Never Forgotten” by Ellis Nelson and quite enjoyed it. In fact, my greatest disappointment in the book was that it ended too soon. I wanted more.

The story flows around two young adults, Nigella and Kepler. After receiving some micro-elephants, Nigella becomes convinced that perhaps some true-sized elephants might still exist, and she enlists her best friend, Kepler, to help her find them. They travel to different points of the globe in search of information, while being helped along by several adult mentors.

The story was entertaining and informative. (I knew very little about elephants before starting this book, but am now so intrigued, that I have begun researching these large, gentle giants.) I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants a mild adventure, some intriguing information on elephants, and an interesting take on a possible future Earth.

 

Before the Clock Strikes by EG Michaels

Before The Clock StrikesIf it weren’t for the unnecessary, and poorly done, prologue, I would give this book four stars. However, the prologue detracts from the excellently written and plotted story.

To me, it feels as if the prologue were thrown together in an effort to start the story with a bang (pun intended), but nearly caused me to abandon the book before giving it a chance. In the prologue we are introduced to a poorly developed character, Brianna. This is supposed to be a 13-year old girl, but comes across as a 20-something young man. We are also introduced to the killer, but, again, I find this unnecessary. The sympathy the author attempts to illicit by introducing us to, and then showing us her murder, doesn’t come across. I feel more sympathy and sorrow for the victim when I view the scene through Detective Simmons’ eyes.

Once the story moved to Detective Simmons, it took off. In fact, I think Detective Simmons could soon give Sara Paretsky’s character, VI Warshawski, a run for her money. Detective Kyle Simmons was well-developed all the way from his non-conformist attitude to his ability to see beyond the obvious. The story was good, if a bit sanitized (I expected a bit more grit considering it dealt with city gangs), but overall the pacing and writing were very good…good enough, that I would consider purchasing the second book.