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Interviews | March 17, 2014

Shawn Donley: IMG Peter Stark: The Powells.com Interview

Peter StarkIt's hard to believe that 200 years ago, the Pacific Northwest was one of the most remote and isolated regions in the world. In 1810, four years... Continue »
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nrlymrtl has commented on (178) products.

Phoenix Island by John Dixon
Phoenix Island

nrlymrtl, March 19, 2014

Carl is in a lot of trouble. In fact, he’s been in trouble for quite some time, which explains why he has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. The courts have had enough of him and he is being sent to a somewhat secret boot camp island prison called Phoenix Island. He will have to endure there until he turns 18. Carl is also a champion boxer and since he keeps slamming his fists into bullies, and Phoenix Island is run by bullies, I expect Carl will have some trouble there.

Phoenix Island is a mix of tough boot camp, abusive authority figures, really nice kids in the wrong place, and illegal science experiments on humans. Carl, our all-around boyscout, tries to help the weak and gets a few more scars for his efforts. His sidekick, Ross, is always quipping off some reply to the wrong person, which earns him a few more scars. The romantic interest is Octavia, who tries very hard to blend into the background and not draw attention, but things don’t work out that way and she earns a few new scars too.

Eventually, Carl’s physical abilities draw the attention of the Old Man, the guy who runs Phoenix Island. Carl is given a gift, one that enhances his physical prowess. Even more important, the Old Man becomes the caring authority/parental figure in Carl’s life as Carl is given further training in hand-to-hand combat, small arms training, and a taste of the Old Man’s zero tolerance policy for terrorists…….But perhaps the Old Man takes it too far.

I think if I had a lot of angst towards authority figures, I would have enjoyed this book quite a bit more. At first I questioned Carl’s all around good-guy-in-a-bad-situation character, I got use to it and thought he would be an exception. How many kids go through foster homes like crack-laced popcorn and stay boyscouts? But I settled into it. But then we get o the island. Seems like all of the ‘good kids’ are innocent cherubs inadvertently stuck in hell. There’s some bad kids, but they are totally bad, spoiled, rotten �" not redeemable. There are definitely black and white (good and evil) characters in this book and not much in between. I count this as the only big flaw for the book because it made things predictable.

That issue aside, I enjoyed this book for the suspense. It was like a mix of The Island and Lord of the Flies. The innocent eventually suspect they are being used for something more (what really goes on in the Chop Shop?) while the baddies start to hold sway (maybe there will be a really exciting hunt?). Still, I kept expecting the innocent to somehow out trick the baddies and win the day. The ending did surprise me. Nice little twist at the end sets it up just right for Book 2.
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Apart from Love by Uvi Poznansky
Apart from Love

nrlymrtl, March 19, 2014

This book was well written with plenty of thought put into the plights of the characters, carefully mapping out how each responds to the emotional situations they find themselves in, considering each person’s needs and desires. With that said, this wasn’t the book for me. I found the pacing of the story extremely slow (and for someone who adores Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, the pacing must be pretty slow). Also, I saw very little character growth for any of the characters from the time Anita comes into their lives fastforwarded 10 years to the wedding of Lenny and Anita. Ben went off to college, to Europe and comes back at age 27. Didn’t he have adventures? Romances? Heartbreak? But he appears to be the same as he was at age 17 when Anita first came into his life. Also, Anita seems to have very little growth. While I found her story line the most interesting, I was left feeling that all she did for 10 years was watch questionable TV and keep Lenny happy in bed. I think if the storyline was compressed over a 3-4 year span, this lack of character growth wouldn’t have bugged me as it did.

With that criticism, if you have an interest in child-parent relations when there is a divorce and a new, younger significant other takes the place of one parent, then this book might be of great interest to you. There was also that side tragedy of Natasha’s illness (which Lenny managed to hide from Ben for 10-12 years). I definitely understood Ben’s mix of emotions when he finally found out �" deep sadness, betrayal (why didn’t his dad trust him with this news much earlier?). If you read the blurb on Goodreads for this book, you will see that a tape recorder with the recorded innermost thoughts of the main characters plays a key role in the story. However, this tape recorder doesn’t really come into play until the reader is perhaps 75% of the way through the book. So, it’s significance seemed rather minor to me, as compared the Natasha’s piano.

While this book was not the book for me, I am not turned off of Uvi Poznansky’s works and will look forward to checking out further works from her. Her care in plotting and setting up characters was evident in this book, even if the subject didn’t move me.
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Braineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski

nrlymrtl, March 19, 2014

This was a fun romp through a small slice of history and the more indelicate side to being a walking, talking corpse. Taking elements from the Prohibition Era and detective noir, Kozeniewski has come up with something original. Filled with zombie humor and fast-paced, I looked forward to reading a few chapters each night. Braineater’s humor was also amusing, being a bit rough and crude. Hey, when you can inadvertently scratch a body part off while idly considering a bug on the ceiling the humor is bound to be a little crude.

In a neighborhood where one can be separated from one’s body parts, and still be able to wiggle them, the local cathouse has got to have a few new twists, right? I won’t give away anything, but I was not expecting that, nor was Braineater. So I had fun being surprised and a little wierded out with him. Specialty doctors can be paid to keep the dead looking recently deceased. And the living have an interest in the walking dead, sometimes leading to less than necessary experiments. Whatever turns a person zombie isn’t limited to the full-grown either �" just check out The Old Man who runs the show at the zombie speak easy. There’s a reason he resides in a jar folks.

If I have any complaints, it is that the women had limited and predictable roles. While there are stereotypes for women of the 1930s, I had hoped that one or more of those ladies would have something more going on, something to surprise Braineater. But perhaps he couldn’t handle any more surprises in this book. Still, the language used in the book, such as the various words for one kind of woman or another, reflects the time period and that added to the detective noir ambiance of the book.

As the description of the book notes, there is a talking head sidekick (Alcibe) for part of the novel. Ever seen a talking zombie head eat? Hehe….yeah, don’t try to picture that. Alcibe had some of the most amusing circumstances, since he really only had the ability to kind of shrug-walk on his neck stump �" or roll around.

I also liked that one of the characters swung one way in his breathing life and another way in his zombie life. The fluid sexuality of this character was handled well, and was really just a side note that simply added to the character, instead of overshadowing him.

Towards the end of the novel, the plot really ramps up. Braineater has been facing more than one opponent and he finally untangles the different threads of the mystery. His short stature doesn’t keep him from taking the challenge to the most nefarious of his opponents. And no, I was not expecting that ending but I quite liked it. And I want more. I really hope this is simply Book 1 in a series.
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The Loon by Michaelbrent Collings
The Loon

nrlymrtl, January 24, 2014

The story starts off with a younger Paul, back when he had a wife and a young son, a son he lost to a terrible accident. This haunts the older Paul we come to know in the story. The Loon is set up much like a prison as the inmates tend to hurt themselves or others if left to wander about. The guards all have rubber bullets or stun guns. With the heavy winter storm, no one will be getting in or out for a day or two. Hence, some of the guards called in sick so they wouldn’t be stuck there. Nice. Now the institute is left short-staffed. And Dr. Crane has plans. Nefarious plans.

The set up for this thriller is well done. You pretty much get to know everyone’s personality in the first quarter of the book. Then the action starts. Lots and lots of action. There’s more than one monster, there’s more than one bad guy. And I did love hating on both long before the book was over. Collings doesn’t sugar coat these bad guys.

While the characters are a bit one or perhaps two dimensional, I did get attached to some, found myself rooting for them, and a bit sad when some of them perished. This book was primarily about the setting and the action. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. This audiobook was my little companion as I folded laundry, made dinner, and, in the evenings, ignored the rest of the world.

Collings tells a thrilling story set in a spooky place with multiple terrors and pitfalls for our would-be heroes. Not everyone makes it out alive, and those that did, will probably need some intensive therapy. Dr. Crane is one twisted man seeking glory through twisted research. He has a big secret (which he thinks of as a pet), and if it gets out, will wreak havoc on the institute. Then there is a man confined to the institute for his crimes. He’s always waiting for the opportunity to escape, or maim and/or kill another inmate or guard. He does not play well with others, especially children. The entire story, I so looked forward to seeing how Collings would end this baddie.

I loved that this book had both male and female guards and that Collings didn’t treat the women characters with kid gloves. Oh, no, not at all. The ladies have plenty of badness to contend with, and only a few make it out alive. I also liked that the cast was multiracial as that reflects Americana more realistically than the typical all-white cast horror flicks I see on TV. This gave another dimension to the book. The narrator performed all the Hispanics in Spanish accents (sometimes a bit exaggerated) which made it easier to keep track of different characters.

Overall, the ending was very satisfying. The monsters had their chance to run free and create mayhem. Some good guys died, some bad guys died �" all in unique, often gruesome ways. There was one little wrap up detail that is still niggling at me. Rachel defended herself from her violent husband before fleeing to her brother. I think there is probably a police report on that, but how that fell out wasn’t covered. It’s a small point, but I like stories that address the consequences of a character’s action so it’s been niggling at me. Still, with that one real criticism, I can tell you I had a hard time putting this book down. It kept me entertained throughout, with no dull lulls. All the characters were interesting and involved in the action. A great thrill ride with monsters, desperate humans, killer weather, and characters I wanted to lift out of The Loon and give them a cup of tea. Or a cup of poison.
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Confessions of A D-List Supervillain by Jim Bernheimer
Confessions of A D-List Supervillain

nrlymrtl, January 17, 2014

I enjoyed Bernheimer’s other books so much, I turned around and bought this one (which may be the first sign of serious book addiction). If you missed it, you can catch my reviews of Prime Suspects (a clone scifi thriller) and Horror, Humor, and Heroes (an anthology of Bernheimer’s short fiction).

In Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, Mechani-Cal (or just Cal) is a beat up down and out supervillain in a beat up mechanical suit. The world has gone buggy, literally. Someone’s science project escaped the test tube and these bugs can now attach themselves to humans and make them part of the world hive. Cal has been living in his mech suit for far too many weeks avoiding being assimilated. the story opens with a quick, dirty fight between Cal and some of the Olympians, guardians of the East coast. He manages to knock a bug off Aphrodite (Stacey) and flies off with her to his secret hideaway dump. Alas, it is a trap. Luckily Cal has an exit strategy and perseverance. After all, he needs allies to rid the world of the mind-control bugs.

This book was a highly entertaining messed up ride. Cal is such the anti-hero and yet not such a bad guy. He’s not afraid to do the tough deeds that need doing, as he sees it. He doesn’t shy away from a task just because society might frown on his resolution to the problem. Constantly doubting the good will of those around him (and usually with good reason), it is almost always Cal against the world. Couple that with his geek tinkering skills of creating mech suits, robots, body armor, and weapons and you have a supervillain who mostly just wants to be left alone. Alas, the world won’t let him curl up in his little cave of anger.

Most of the good guys have nothing but disdain for Cal, even after he saves their asses. But that’s OK because they have silly names, like the Bugler. Yep. The Bugler. This book has me chuckling out loud at the casual way these superhero (and supervillain) names would be tossed into the narrative. Anemone, Hermes, Komodo, etc.

The plot itself is really a series of smaller plots, one flowing into another. Kind of like a series of comics. One emergency ends just in time for another to develop, often popping up in just the right time and place to bite Cal in the ass. Poor dude. His love life is also complicated and I liked that it was all messy and not some cookie-cutter romance. Granted, all the women are hotties and only half the men are.

Bernheimer isn’t afraid to kill characters off and I especially like this. Real life has consequences, and when I read my fiction I like to see that reflected. No, I didn’t cry over any of the deaths and while Cal catches some flak for his actions, I totally cheered him on. In short, this was quite the fun listen, a great escape from average superhero tales. This tale reminded me of James Maxey‘s Nobody Gets the Girl and the webisode silliness known as Dr. Horrible, both of which I am quite fond of.
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