Book Review: The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Title: The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet

Author: Becky Chambers

Format: Kindle E-book

Published: 2015

Sci-Fi books often frustrate me.

I am intrigued by ideas and the chance to escape into this wholly new time and place that the author teases in the blurb.   More often than not I get a little bit here and there about the story’s setting and then…snooze.  Another war.  Another cat and mouse game across the stars.  Another devious plot.  A little zero gravity sex.  It’s Tom Clancy in outer space.

That’s why this book was so exciting to me and why I can’t stop telling people that they really need to read it if they like thinking about interesting things.

Becky Chambers has invented a far future galaxy with multiple species living and working together.   She has then created a microcosm of that galaxy in the form of a wormhole-drilling spaceship and its varied crew.    The story in this book is the story of that ship and her crew and the year-long life changing voyage they take to fill a government contract on the far edge of the known space.

It’s a pleasant trip where we get to know the ship’s crew in all their varied forms while we experience spacer life alongside them.    There are stops here and there to pick up necessary parts or attend necessary functions and we get to experience life planetside and life in spaceports along the way.   It’s a fun journey with a satisfying conclusion.

There ARE shots fired and there are beasties to overcome but the action never swallows the story.

This is a 4-worm novel that is definitely worth a purchase.   4 bookworms

Why Review Books?

I originally wrote reviews for this page which appeared on Sundays.   I stopped for awhile for a number of reasons, but then Mandi asked me to come back and I thought about it.  Why do I review books?  What is that about?

Different reviewers will give you different reasons.  Some people review books because they just plain like talking about books.   Others want to get their names out there and into the publishing world by any means necessary.   There are those who want free books, and in the past having book review site was the way to do that.   Then there are those who want to bring books they love to a wider audience.

Why do I review books?   Not for free books…I think in the time I’ve done this I’ve gotten a grand total of 10 free books, all from indie authors.  There has never been a “hey, here’s the hottest novel of the summer three months early” moment.  Nor do I want there to be.    I don’t need for publishing to notice me via reviews.  My reviews have very little in common with the work I hope to publish.  It would be like getting someone to come to my restaurant by offering them a cold drink.

I do love talking about books.   I love telling people about books.   I love discussing books.

But most of all…I was a travel agent many moons ago and I’ve never gotten over the pleasure of giving someone a way to escape from the grit of their life.   I remember booking tickets–I booked thousands of tickets–and there was more often than not a joy there when people were planning to fly.    Going home to see mom, going to visit the baseball hall of fame, going home for Thanksgiving…no matter what it was it was a chance to get away.  And it was always several hundred dollars.

Books are cheap.  For a dollar or three you can take a few hours to a whole new place, an old familiar place, a scary place or a happy place.  You can meet interesting new people or hang out with old friends.

Even though books are cheap, I know from experience that there’s nothing worse than a bad trip.  And our free time is precious.  So even if the five dollars won’t crater your budget, I know  you don’t want to lose an afternoon hanging out in a bad neighbourhood.  And that’s why I review books.   I’m still a travel agent.  I’m just trying to book your ticket to the right place.   So when you see a review from me it’s going to be _about your trip_.   It’s not going to be about me getting my name in front of literary agents and it’s not going  to be about me getting free books.   It’s about what I’m doing for you.

That’s what I’m doing here, and that’s what I hope to be able to do here for a good long time.

Stay tuned for a review of the Best Sci Fi Book I’ve read this year and a little essay about the most disappointing Sci Fi book I’ve ever read in my life.   Those are coming up later today.



Book Review: The Felony Squad by Michael Avallone

Title: The Felony Squad

Author: Michael Avallone

Format: Paperback edition, Popular Library

Published: 1967


I am a sucker for TV tie-in detective/police novels.  In some cases, it’s a guilty pleasure as the quality of such books, done largely to capitalize on the success or the hopeful success of a tv property, varies dramatically.  But yeah, if You want to get my attention, dangle a tie-in novel in front of me, either an adaptation of an episode or an original. Either way, i’m liable to bite.

‘The Felony Squad’ is a novel based on the television show of the same name that ran on ABC from 1966 to 1969 for 73 episodes.  Michael Avallone, the author, made quite a name for himself as a prolific author of TV tie-ins.  From the obscure, which this show would probably qualify as, to the well known shows, like Hawaii Five-O, Avallone was the go to man for decades to turn film properties into paperback tales.  So, those hits and misses for TV tie-ins were often hits and misses for Avallone.

‘The Felony Squad’ sort of hits midway between hit and miss.

A cop killer is on the loose in the city that Sergeant Sam Stone and his partner Jim Briggs protect as a part of The Felony Squad.  But this is not just any killer.  Fascinated by western movies, this murderer targets cops in ‘high noon’ showdown quickdraw contests and wears not only a cowboy get up, but also a two gun western rig. The story follows from the first kill to the last, interchanging between the murderer’s viewpoint and the process by which The Felony Squad works desperately to find out who is targeting badges before another uniformed officer dies.

‘The Felony Squad’ is a book that seems trying too hard to be too many different things.  It wants to be a police procedural, and does a decent job at that.  It also strives to be a thriller and succeeds at that for the first half, but doesn’t maintain the pace necessary from halfway through the book to the end to build the right amount of tension all the way through.   It even tries to be a character study, laying open both the killer and Same Stone to investigation and introspection.

The latter point is probably the weakest aspect of ‘The Felony Squad’.  Avallone does a great job of setting up the police procedural aspect, then undermines it by trying to get into the psychology that drives Sam Stone to do what he does.  This is then set aside the development of the killer character in such a way that is distracting and awkward.  One character is handled methodically, almost clinically, the other smacks more of a rougher, more traditional portrayal of a crime fighter, making Sam Stone out more tough guy than the policeman set up to stop this murderer.  This makes ‘The Felony Squad’ inconsistent.

‘The Felony Squad’ rates three out of five pages.  It’s a fun read, has the nostalgic pull of being a TV tie-in, but it is incredibly uneven and won’t appeal to all readers.

This tv tie-in is an average book for me, getting three out of six bullets.  It has a great beginning and end and all the pieces for a thriller/police procedural are definitely there, but they’re just not handled consistently.




Book Review – How To Talk To Girls At Parties

TITLE: How To Talk To Girls At Parties
AUTHOR: Neil Gaiman
FORMAT: eBook Original

So, I don’t normally review short stories by themselves, but I got this one as a stand alone eBook a few months ago, and was excited about it being Neil Gaiman.

The story follows a couple guys.  One dragging his friend to a party.  And of course they’re social nitwits, but the one dude is sure he knows what he’s doing and if his friend would just loosen up.

Things aren’t necessarily as they seem.

The story itself was really short and well enough written.  But about that really short thing.  I feel like I was reading chapter 1 or a prologue to an actual Neil Gaiman story.  I don’t feel like what I read had a good ending to it at all, it just kind of vignetted its way to being over and ‘good enough’.  Except that, well, no.

The story is no longer available by itself,  but it’s in this collection.  You’ve been warned.

 So I’m sure it surprises nobody that I was disappointed by it.  I love vignettes.  I love little pops of life and things going on.  But a vignette should still feel like it’s ended.

This felt more like Neil just stopped writing.  “Oh, I need a short story, so… let me stop here.”  Like he had started an idea, didn’t know where he was going with it, and just gave it over to the marketing team.


I’m struggling with giving it a one- or a two-star rating.  The writing was good, but the story wasn’t a story, and I think that if you pick it up, you’re just wasting your time.  The only good thing about it was that it was done with in five minutes.

Book Review: Mildred Pierced: A Toby Peters Mystery by Stuart Kaminsky

Title: Mildred Pierced: A Toby Peters Mystery

Author: Stuart Kaminsky

Format: Hardback edition, Carroll and Graf Publishers

Published: 2003


Followers of this column have come across a couple of reviews of Toby Peters mysteries in the past.  Not hard to tell, I’m a fan of Stuart Kaminsky and particularly of this series.  ‘Mildred Pierced’ is the 23rd book in the series, there being 24 in total.  And it is not only a fantastic entry to be so late in the series, but it’s one of the strongest books in the entire run.

‘Mildred Pierced’ opens with the arrest of Sheldon Minck, the Dentist who sublets the closet in his dental office to Toby to use as his own office.  Shelly has been arrested and charged with the murder of his wife, Mildred, a rather unlikable wench that was discovered to have been killed by a crossbow bolt in a park.  Shelly, in the park practicing his crossbow skills, is the likely candidate.  Yes, the dentist was practicing with a crossbow, primarily because he had recently become involved with a group known as Survivors of the Fittest, a group of survivalists who were certain the end of the government was coming and they would be ready for whatever 1944 held for them.  Oh, and then there’s the fact that there was an apparent witness to the murder, a lady who looked a lot like actress Joan Crawford.

‘Mildred Pierced’ has all the earmarks one looks for in a Toby Peters mystery.  Toby is at the top of his game as the rumpled, living at the end of his rope private investigator, equally intelligent and just cynical enough to be affable.  The usual oddball cast of characters, from Toby’s brother Phil to his best friend Guenther to Shelly himself are present as well, all actively involved in the shenanigans, mundane and dangerous alike.  And, as always, Kaminsky’s portrayal of Crawford as well as golden age Hollywood in general is not only dead on, but it is enchanting and engrossing, carrying the reader right into the tale.

There’s another layer, though, to ‘Mildred Pierced’.  Kaminsky tells a tale here that could definitely be written as a modern day detective story.  Though it is knee deep in World War Two, the storyline concerning the Survivors is one that could be on any front page today.  Toby uncovers not only die hard patriots gone to the extreme, but also all levels of corruption on all sides of the law possible, again something else that might find its way into any story set to match today’s calendars.

Kaminsky also undertakes a subplot that is most definitely one of the biggest character development steps he ever takes in the entire series.  The relationship between Toby and his brother has been fairly consistent for the first 22 books, only changing slightly in the titles before this one, due largely to the influence of Phil’s wife, Ruth.  What happens concerning Ruth in this book not only changes the status quo for Toby and all those involved, but it adds a gravity to the book and to the entire series that it greatly benefits from.

‘Mildred Pierced’ rates five out of five pages for sure and certain, definitely proving to be a cornerstone of the Toby Peters series.

This next to last entry by Kaminsky gets six out of six bullets for me, hitting every single target it aims at.



Book Review – Same Difference

TITLE: Same Difference
FORMAT: Hardcover Graphic Novel

I came across this one at the library and I decided that since it was “Winner of the Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz Awards” that I should at least give it a chance.  After all, the fact that there are more words in that sentence than in the title and author/illustrator of the book should mean something, right?


So Same Difference starts with a group of friends but pretty much follows Simon and Nancy, who are dating.  Apparently Nancy’s been getting letters intended for some other girl…and responding to them.  Simon stupidly points out that they’re from the same town, and that leads the two of them on a quest to find the guy and come clean.

The story was…interesting.  There are some weird points – Simon ran into someone who had asked him out and there’s this thing about wishing he had dated her, or Nancy sort of flirting with the letter writing guy.  And there are some funny points – after they go to his house and don’t find him, they go to the store for ice cream…then hear his name paged and go sprinting across the store to look at him.

Visually, it’s well done.  The artwork is black and white, but done well.  The lettering is perfect.  (Hey, I’ve had some where the lettering was so bad I could barely read it.)  The story, though… Left me feeling settled but it didn’t wow me.

Like, I don’t feel like my time was wasted, but the story just was.  Apparently I’m missing what it was that wowed the judges for three different awards.

But, I don’t think it’s bad.  After careful consideration, and extra help from the visuals (it’s a graphic novel after all), I’ll give it a four.  Go ahead and read it, but I doubt it’ll be your favorite book.

Book Review: High Profile: A Jesse Stone Novel by Robert B. Parker

Title: High Profile: A Jesse Stone Novel

Author: Robert B. Parker

Format: Paperback edition, Berkley Books

Published: 2008highprofile

It is no secret that I am a reader largely of mysteries, most notably PI series.  For anyone who has followed what I do and review, it is also not hard to determine that I am a major fan of Robert B. Parker’s work.  Best known for his Spenser novels, Parker also had a few other characters who carried their own series.  Probably the second most successful after Spenser was Jesse Stone, a former California Cop and Baseball hopeful who, after drinking his career and his ex wife away (sort of), relocates to Paradise, Massachusetts to become its police chief.

Now, it is safe to assume that many people are aware of Jesse Stone because of the highly successful and still in production films starring Tom Selleck as a perfectly cast Jesse Stone.  If that’s your familiarity, then you’ve seen some good movies, but they are off on their own story telling track separate of the books.  The first two or three films stuck really close to the source material, but have gone their own direction.  What’s odd about that is I highly recommend both the books and the films, even though they carry the characters down different roads.

‘High Profile’ is the sixth book in the Jesse Stones series.  The body of a well known radio talk show host is discovered in Paradise and, just as the press descends upon the town, the host’s assistant’s corpse is also found. Jesse and his small police force must hold off not only the press, but the very government of Massachusetts itself long enough to find out who killed both people.  All of this while Jesse’s ex wife comes to him, saying she’s been assaulted, which forces Jesse to involve his current romantic interest, Sunny Randall (another Parker series character) to not only discover the identity of his ex’s stalker, but to protect her as well.

‘High Profile’ is typical Parker, and for me, that’s all a positive.  The characters are engaging, the dialogue is dead on and different enough that you can quote lines and know which character would have said that, and the setting appears in full technicolor, whether it’s Jesse’s drab office or uptown Boston.  All of the touchstones of a great Jesse Stone story are here and, as usual, Parker hits every one.

That’s also the weakest part of ‘High Profile’, however. There’s really nothing new here.  The mystery is solid and the process by which Jesse gets to the end is great, as is the secondary storyline.  But, to be honest, nothing really moves forward. There’s a resolution of sorts in the Jesse/ex wife/Sunny Randall triangle (which is really a square if you consider Sunny still being in love with her ex husband), but it’s not anything a regular reader of the series didn’t see coming.  This book is a good entry into the series, but it’s also obviously comfortable storytelling for Parker.

I say this with great confidence, having read the book that follows this one in the series.  Without giving away a whole lot, the seventh book, ‘Stranger in Paradise’ clearly shows that Parker had several tricks up his sleeve to take this series above ‘average’.  He just didn’t make it with ‘High Profile.’

‘High Profile’ is definitely worth a read, especially if You enjoy good characterization and well crafted mysteries, so I give it four out of five pages.

Parker’s sixth Stone novel gets four out of six bullets in my gun.  Definitely worth a read to Parker fans, to fans of Jesse Stone, but really not anything earth shattering, either as a stand alone or in terms of moving the series along.



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