Book Review – The Shadow Constant by AJ Scudiere

The Shadow Constant
AJ Scudiere
2013, Paperback

So, AJ happened to like my last review of one of her novels so much that she keeps giving me stuff to review.  I was going to review something else but she really wanted this one done before the end of the year.  The things we do for people.  *giggles*

Anyway.  Shadow Constant is about four people who are renovating a plantation and find a few things in a wall, one of them being the plans for a machine created by Eli Whitney.  Plans that people are willing to kill for.
As the book progresses, we see the length that people are willing to go to get the plans and the determination of these four in saving them.

I have a few issues with the book.  I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but you’ve been warned.

  • Kayla has Asperger’s, and we know this because every two pages, somebody in the book makes sure to tell us.  There are a lot of [character] wasn’t sure if the problem was Kayla’s Asperger’s or something else… going on in the story.
  • Guns happen in this story and the terminology is wrong in a few places.  The author and I disagree over this.  She said she did it on purpose since the characters in the book don’t really know guns.  But the book is 3rd person narrated, and even though it’s limited to just a couple main perspectives, it’s still a 3rd person narrator.  And if they know what they’re smelling after a gun went off (and no, I don’t mean gunpowder), they know the difference between a clip and a mag because somewhere along the line, someone tried to up sell them or corrected them when they asked a seemingly-stupid question.  Trust me, even if they went to a show vs. a shop or whatever, they heard the right words at some point.
  • Kayla’s kiss.  I saw it coming, I groaned.  That whole relationship wasn’t needed.

Aside from that, the last third or so of the book felt a little off for some reason, but I don’t know why.

With that said. I had issues from the beginning with this review because I kept comparing it in my head to Phoenix, which is a silly thing to do since the two books are totally unrelated [AJ’s first five novels were written to stand alone], but still.  Phoenix was one of those books that I can’t get out of my head.
Right from the start, I thought it was weird that there is seemingly nothing that I can point to and say “There.  That’s AJ.”  I mean, yeah, she’s good at things, but there’s nothing here that I point out and say “OMG, This is totally an AJ book” if I didn’t otherwise know it.  It’s not good or bad, it just is.  But while I was still comparing the books in my head, it was weird to me.  And it took a while to get that comparison to stop.  Because, seriously, the books feel like they’re written by two different people.  It’s probably a product of the POV – even though it’s third limited, the books feel like their main characters, and these are vastly different main characters – and like I said, not good or bad, it just is.
And even though I was a little disappointed that this book didn’t feel like the other one did, I found myself thinking about it at weird times.  It’d just pop in my head.  So there is that.

Still, I’m going to have to apologize to AJ here.  I know she wanted a five star review, because she told me so.  But as I said, there were a few issues in the last third of the book and a couple ongoing things that drove me nuts.  I think the story is totally worth reading, but I just couldn’t find that extra something that elevates a four-star rating (read this) to a five star (buy this).

I really have agonized over this review, but in the end, I think I have to give this a four-page rating.

Book Review – Red Robin: Collision by Christ Yost, Marcus To, and Ray McCarthy

Title:  Red Robin: Collision

Author/Illustrator: Chris Yost, Marcus To and Ray McCarthy

Format:  Paperback

Publication: 2010

 

After reading Red Robin: The Grail it is no question that I would have to read the continuation of the story.  It was a good story but not as good as the first half.  I admit that this book is where my friend deviates and that is okay even if I love my friend’s reinterpretation of what would happen to Tim.  Still the story was good all the same and I enjoyed it just not as much as The Grail.  I think it threw me off because there was the incorporation of a lot of characters that I was less familiar with and in the middle of the story was an insertion of Bat Girl 8.  It made sense to have that issue of Bat girl as it fit right in with the story but at the same time it wasn’t my cup of tea Bat Girl simply does not hold my attention as well as Tim Drake as Red Robin does.  I also feel with Bat Girl a bit of back story would have helped this issue of Bat Girl come more to life.  These things don’t break the book but they certainly detracted something for me.

 

All the same the art work for this book was amazing and I did still love the story.  I do strongly recommend that if you want to read this book to read The Grail first before picking this one up and maybe even pick up the appropriate bat girl.  Maybe even pick up a few issues of Batman with Tim Drake as Robin as this story called a whole lot more back story than the last one did.  It was still easy enough to follow as  my friend talked about the back stories with me a bit but it was still difficult at times.

 

Despite my issues with this book, I did find there were a few more laughable moments where I was having to curb my laughter as I was in a public setting when reading and for those alone in some respects make the book a worthy read.  I think my favorite moment was  page 120 at the bottom “Holy crap” the expression drawn on Tim’s face was priceless to me.  Though I didn’t find the book to be as good as The Grail I will still give this book a 4 out of 5 page review.

Book Review – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Title: Ready Player One

Author:  Ernest Cline

Format: Hard back

Publication: 2011

It was a fellow co-working who put me onto the book Ready Player One.  He told me about this book saying it was really cool and a must read for me as I was a fellow geek.  He said how he shares his book with pretty much everyone he can and listed how many people read it and powered through it and gave me his copy of the book.  Considering he had given me his personal copy I felt a bit obliged to go ahead and read it as he did ask me about it on occasion.

Despite the obligation to read the book I am very glad I read it! My coworker was very accurate about the concept of me liking the book.  Ready Player One is the grail of geeky-ness.  It is a book that is set in a dystrophic future where people spend most of their time in a virtual reality called the OASIS to escape the problems of their lives.  In this future the virtual reality is practically as real as true reality.  In the book the creator of the OASIS James Halliday was a man who grew up in the 80’s and had a deep love of the decade.  As such he incorporated a lot of aspects of said love into the alternate reality.  On top of that, at the time of his death he informed the world at large that he hid an easter egg in the reality and that they would need to solve his riddles and prove themselves worthy to get his mass fortune and control of the OASIS.  Once this announcement was made the entire world delved back into 80’s pop culture, as well as geek culture which are two loves of Halliday’s.

If you have any love of the 80’s or even lived it like I did you’ll enjoy the book for some of the references to that time period and things you and I remember well, as well as a few slightly more obscure things as well.  You can jump in and do the research like my friend did or just coast along reading it like I did and still have a fantastic time.  Also if you are a geek of any sort you will love some of the geek references such as tributes to Star Wars, Firefly, Whedonverse, Star Trek, Back to the Future and many more.  Additionally if you are a gamer of any sort the amount of games brought up is phenomenal.  I was loving it as the Atari and one of my all time favorite game Kaboom was mentioned and just enjoying the whole game play aspect of a lot of things.

Beyond just the geek, gamming and 80’s pop culture references, a good story is told and crafted, one that just pulls you into the world of the book as you follow the adventure Wade/Parzival  as he searches for the easter egg and faces more challenges than just figuring out the puzzle that Halliday put before him.  He also has to face threats upon his life and fight to survive in the real world and fight to keep the reality that he’s grown up with and come to love safe from those who would seek the easter egg to exploit and ruing the OASIS for most everyone by making it a massive corporate machine.

Over all, I loved the book and was quickly immersed in.  I will admit the start can be a little slow but if you can make it in just a few chapters the action really builds up quickly and stays pretty strong.  There is a small slow down in the middle of the book but if you keep plugging away for just a few chapters you won’t regret it!  You will find yourself thrown back into the action and from there it does not stop and it is a real page turner, I found myself struggling to put the book down when I had to and taking a full day just to sit and read and finish the book.  It was very good and left you with an ambiguous but completed ending.  It’s a book where I could see and love to read more only to go back to the world the book created and see what becomes of the characters after the end but I’m not left with the feeling that I’ve been cheated if I don’t have a second book.

With that said I would recommend this book to any gamer, any geek, and any person who has lived in or has a love of the 80’s.  Though this book may not be for everyone, this is a book that I think everyone should read and give a try because not only did it have some great flash backs to the past and geek and gaming culture it also crafted an interesting story that I struggled to put down.  Thus I am going to go ahead and give this book a 5 out of 5 page review and suggest that you get your hands on a copy now and read it!

Book Review – a Richard Russo two-fer

Title: The Whore’s Child
Title: Horsemen

Author: Richard Russo
Written: ?  Published: 2012
Format: Paperback

Note:  These stories were (I think) originally published in a greater volume, but have then been published alone, even though they’re really short.  On with the reviews.

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The Whore’s Child

Okay, The Whore’s Child is, um, interesting. First of all, the story, by my estimate, is about 7500 words long, making it the long end of a short story, dancing on the cusp of being a Novellette. I’ll call it a short story. And some how, this has managed to get published as a stand alone book.
The narrator of the story is a college professor who is only professor-ing because he managed to publish a book, even though the book has apparently not sold. And the main other character is a Nun. Capital N, Habit and Robes, Catholic Nun. Who is the cause of the title, herself being the child of a whore.

The story now goes downhill (somewhere around page 10), and starts in on the Nun writing and having her memoir and having it edited in class (it was a fiction writing class). In fact, that was the only conflict in the whole story. A page or two about the guy not knowing what to do about having her in the class without having signed up for it, without having taken the prerequisites, and without having a fiction project. yeah. That could have totally been not in the story and we wouldn’t have cared.

Oh, and the end of the nun’s story?  One simple question from a chick in the class and the question she has is answered and oh, lookie, there we go.  The only thing that gave her courage in her life and it’s all done like that.  (snap fingers here).  Gah.

My problem is that the story is, well, boring. I mean, stuff happens, but it happens mostly in narration/recap. And then that’s it. And while the sentences were technically written well (properly), and I commend his use of words being of the appropriate length, there’s nothing going for it on a ooh, fiction level. Yeah. Onto the next story.

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Horsemen

So, in Horsemen, our FMC, who is a writer (is this a trend with his stuff?  Because I really hate writers writing about writers) and college professor (ahem) has just caught a student cheating.  She also has a poem going through her head.  And we also flash back between grad school and now (some number of years later, although I can’t tell if its 2 or 10 the way its written.  I’m sure somewhere it gave the age of her son, but the timeline is a bit murky).

And as we go back and forth, we get a story of her bad marriage (current) and the day she left a blind guy in the rain to find his white cane under the bumper of her worst professor’s Mustang.  (wtf?)

And she keeps repeating lines from the poem.

So. This one, by my estimate, is at the end of the range for a Novelette (around 15k), and also published like a standalone book.  And, um.  Same thing as before.  The lines are technically right.   Punctuation is where it should be (although I found a mistake, but only one).  But there’s not that much gripping.  I actually put the story down for two days and had to remind myself what it was about because I couldn’t remember.

The end of the story felt rushed, too.  There was a distinct point about four pages from the end where I realized the author was wrapping up, then there were two page long paragraphs, and… a few things needed a bit of logic and review to link together (like the poem she kept reciting).  I think the story would have benefited from another thousand words.  But there was a little more going on than the last one, so it has something going for it there.


End result?
The Whore’s Child – 2 out of 5
Horsemen – 3 out of 5

Book Review – Halls of Ivy by Roland Nuñez

Title: Halls of Ivy

Author: Roland Nuñez

Format: Paperback

Written/Published: 2010

Today I am actually reviewing a book that was a request for our blog.  It is the first of many on my list.  Halls of Ivy is New Adult novel that focuses on a series of suicides that have been occurring on a college campus that aren’t quite what they appear to be.  As it turns out these suicides may actually have more nefarious connections than simple suicides something along the lines of murder.  Over all the concept of the book sounds promising but I found the execution to be severely lacking.

 

As a fan of murder mystery and a writer of said genera I have come to have certain expectations of a murder mystery.  What I would qualify as a fantastic mystery is one where I cannot figure out who the murder is as I am reading and when I get to the end I can look back and ask myself how did I miss all these clues that were laid out here, here and here.  That was not the case in Halls of Ivy.  To be honest I wouldn’t call Halls of Ivy to even be a good mystery.  There was no mystery or true investigative style or line that one could follow along and try to puzzle things together along with the protagonist.  It was a presentation of scenes of scenes with no connections between how this one even lead to this next event or what impact certain things had on others.  To be honest book was more set up and less murder mystery.

 

The cause behind the suicides was not even mentioned or indicated until the last third of the book and when the cause was brought up there was no question that it was the cause of the suicides.  It wasn’t enough for a case to be made properly to like say the police or an authority figure but in the world of writing there was no question and the character even was strongly inclined to say this is more than likely the cause – allow me to dig deeper to verify this.  This left no mystery and the book was more set up and filler than an actual mystery.

 

As the blurb says on the back of the book Cheyenne Winters was interviewing 21 students which indicates that it was a large cast list for the story but all the same there were several characters that added no substance to the core story or were just added filler to help make a conclusion easy and convenient.  It felt a little like it was a matter of let’s make our villain a little worse and have them rape someone and by having the villain do that it helps the police realize that there is real danger with this person (despite the fact that there was more than enough that indicated that there was real danger) it wasn’t till it was revealed that they raped a person that they were considered a dangerous threat.

 

Another issue I found myself having with the book was how often it jumped in time and formatting.  The book starts in 3rd person where Cheyenne is facing a committee about the school crisis to 1st person of Cheyene telling her story to a student bio followed by a student interview.  This is all well and good and is an interesting way to present a story yet the execution was severely lacking as there were also instances where after an interview the story would shift to 3rd focusing on the students, before shifting to something else the next chapter.  This was annoying and got confusing especially considering that Cheyenne came to the school late in the school year and interviews were when she was there at the school and the 3rd person narrative focusing on the students jumped to a previous point in the school year such as the first day of the school year and student orientation.  Then there were scenes in the 3rd person narrative that seemed to be present rather than past.  Then as the story progressed the time line seemed to coalesce and become one cohesive thing but all of it was in 3rd person even the parts that were focused on Cheyenne, which was very confusing and frustrating to me.  Additionally, the student bios were not always prevalent to the story and were present throughout the story till page 251 (this is a 272 page book).  I personally feel that a character bio is irrelevant and pointless at this point particularly when the mystery and story is being wrapped up.

 

Lastly, the ending seemed lacking, we never reach a conclusion of the hearing for Cheyenne, we only get what she thinks will be the results of the hearing, and there are several things that happen in the last chapter of the epilogue that have no bearing on the story at all save to potentially set up a second book which is advertised in the back of this first book.  The advertisement for the second book in some ways reveals that Cheyenne’s predictions about her career is wrong but we don’t get the results of the hearing or the purpose really of why Cheyenne is the focus of the hearing either when she was one of many people involved in the school suicide crisis.

 

Overall I feel like the story of the book was poorly executed and there was a lot of fat and filler to be found in the story.  The best thing I can guess with a lot of these extra characters who had little to no bearing on the main story itself is because they are going to potentially play a part in the next book.  Of course this is only a guess on my part and I could be wrong and that these random side characters who did nothing more than take up space and time were just that side characters taking up space and time.  It is hard to say – and to be honest I have no desire to find out – this book was a difficult read for me and it was also difficult to follow along at times.  This is why I’ll give this book a 2 page rating.  It had a good premise and concept, but very poor execution.

Bonus Post – Kingdom of Vosh Tour

KingdomofVoshTourBadge450X300

Okay, so…  Apparently I was supposed to review a book for a tour stop, and when they checked a couple days ago I realized that I never received the book.  Um.  So I had to come up with something, and I decided to stay in the spirit of both the holidays and this blog.  “Let him do a book review, I thought.  So I decided to ask the author one simple question.

What is your favorite holiday story?

I’ll admit that his answer wasn’t exactly what I was expecting (and, like all authors, he’s a bit long winded), but here ya go:

Picture for yourself a young man and woman, engaged but not yet fully committed and married. The young woman finds out that she is pregnant, which in itself is peculiar because the two have not come together in that fashion and she swears to him that she has known no other.  He doesn’t believe her though.  What fool does she take him for? He looks upon her with distrustful eyes now.  He loves her but his heart is broken and full of doubts.  He has decided to end the engagement but to do so secretly, without shaming her name and family.  A gentleman’s maneuver but it pains him deeply.

One night, while alone and in bed, he dreams of a Titan who comes to speak with him over the girl.  “She is special, and the child she carries will be the future King!  Do not leave her.  She has been faithful to you.  Give the child this name, a name above all others, for he will save many.”  The Titan tells him.  The young man awakens, startled over the words but believing the vision to be real he is relieved in his heart that she was true to him.

The man and woman soon leave thereafter, and head south to pay their dues to the current King.  The woman is ready to give birth now, but the city is full of travelers so there are no more rooms available.  In a last effort of desperation they ask a farmer passing by who tells them they can use his stable with the animals for the night.

Elsewhere that evening, not far from where the young girl travails, a group of shepherds minding their sheep are suddenly startled from the skies above.  Out of the cool night sky bursts forth an army of Titans!  Glorious light shown all around them, filling the air with brilliant wonder!  Horns and trumpets sounded their arrival and then a hush fell over them as one began to speak.

“Behold!  Your King has come!  May glory be to his wonderful name!  You will find him close by in a manger.  May peace and goodness come to all men.”

The host of Titans then vanished into the night, leaving the shepherds who witnessed the event speechless for a moment.  “We… we must go and find this King!”  One of them said.  They all agreed and quickly left their flock as they searched the town for the child.  A few found the newly born boy exactly where the Titans said. They then left and found the others and gathered them together at the stable.  Silently, as a cool breeze swept in through the thin, twisted boarding, they looked upon the young man named Joseph, his wife Mary, and the newly born King, the savior of the world….Jesus.

Now the above story sounds fantastical.  A virgin birth, an army of Titans (Angels), the Savior of the world, but this is no fantasy story.  This is of course the story of Christmas and what hundreds of millions if not billions of people are about to celebrate.  It is the reason for the season.  But perhaps you are skeptical.  Perhaps you do look on this as some made up fairy tale, passed down through the generations and squirreled away in some crusty old Bible.  I can’t convince you in a blog what to believe for yourself.  You are your own person and can make up your own dang mind.  You should be skeptical, about everything!

Through the spectacle, though, one shouldn’t miss the important message and it is from the words of the Angel that appears before the shepherds.  It is why this is my favorite holiday story.  It’s found in Luke 2:10-14 if you dare to look it up.  You won’t find words of hatred or malice.  They are not words of judgment or condemnation.   The message is peace and joy to all people.  The birth of Jesus is pronounced as a joyful occasion for the world, a message of love.

This time of year is not about tackling people over saving thirty bucks for a toaster oven.  It’s about helping those in need, showing the love to others that was shown to you and laying down a part of yourself as your gift at their feet.

You are a wonderment, a gift to behold and specially created by God above.  Those around you are equally special, equally crafted.  Don’t see them for the color of their skin or what fancy clothes they wear or what nation they are from. We are all children of God and should be treated as such.

I encourage you to find someone in need, someone lonely or hurting or troubled, and take a moment to be a blessing to their lives.  I hope you have a blessed Christmas and holiday this year and go read something good!

Jason C. Conley
Writer & artist for The Kingdom of Vosh: The Chained Princess

Book Review – Red Robin: The Grail by Chris Yost and Ramon Bachs

Title:  Red Robin: The Grail

Author/Illustrator:  Chris Yost and Ramon Bachs

Format: Paperback

Publication: 2009

When approaching this comic I admit that I was rather excited.  I have a dear friend who likes to write fan fiction and it was this comic book that inspired her wonderful work, which I am still hounding her to finish.  I will start off by admitting that I sometimes like stories with a darker edge, and this is no doubt a darker story, which I love.

The main premise of this story is that Batman has died and Dick is the new Batman.  Tim believes that Batman is still alive and is looking for proof of that.  This follows Tim’s adventures as Red Robin as he looks for proof that Bruce Wayne is still alive.  As he goes searching he finds himself compromising in ways he never thought he would and is going down an ever slippery slope as he compromises more and more.  In the end he ends up involved with Ra’s Al Goul.  It is a powerful story that makes not be able to do anything but love Tim.

Having read my friend’s story pertaining to this set of comics I was familiar with some character names and what happened in this story but I was not disappointed in the least and I was finding myself sitting on the edge of my seat and wanting to read more.  I certainly felt the emotions that were supposed to be felt at various points in the story and I loved every minute of it.  I am looking forward to getting my hands on the continuation of this story as well as some back issues of other comics that helped to set this story up.  It is easy to say that I have fallen in love with this story arch and I would certainly recommend it to other people.  Really in some ways I feel that this is a decent launching platform into Batman comics so to speak as long as you are okay kind of jumping mid story.  This comic give you a lot of back story and the only thing I felt I was missing was knowing who some characters were as who Stephanie was in her vigilante form and being familiar with the Teen Titans but at the same time I don’t feel that it detracted from the story too much.  Really I would give this comic book a rating of 4 out of 5 pages.

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