Saturday, May 19, 2018

The First Scheme by K A Meng

The First SchemeThe First Scheme by K a Meng
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At the sound of gunfire, Joann Fields wakes up. She is unable to clear her thoughts and when she struggles out of bed, she finds she has trouble walking. She shouldn't feel this way. She only had one glass of wine. Still, she needs to find her husband, so she makes her way out of the bedroom. There are plenty of people in her town who would love to hurt both her man and her.

That's how The First Scheme starts. From there, the story follows a unique and intriguing path with twists and surprises that pull readers into the story. The novel also has characters with backgrounds intricate enough to produce mixed emotions about their fates. Together these facts produce a novel that stands well on its own, but is also perfect for the first book of a series.

The First Scheme is a great read for anyone who likes a good crime story.

Steve Lindahl – author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master's SonThe Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Orphan Master's Son is a thoroughly researched novel about one man's life in North Korea during the reign of Kim Jong-il (the father of North Korea's current leader). It is a magnificent book for readers who like books that make them think, but not a good match for readers looking for a light, fun read. It is long and contains detailed descriptions of the infamous prison camps and of torture sessions. Adam Johnson spent years researching his story, visiting Pyongyang and interviewing people who defected. He received a well deserved Pulitzer for his efforts.

This is an important book for a time when North Korea is back in the news and when the current American president has expressed an admiration for authoritarian leaders worldwide. This is also a period of “alternative facts” in our country, which is not very far from Johnson's description of the story versus the man:

“If a farmer is declared a music virtuoso by the state, everyone had better start calling him maestro. And secretly, he'd be wise to start practicing the piano. For us, the story is more important than the person. If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change....But in America, people's stories change all the time. In America, it is the man who matters.”

Jun Do is the son of a man who runs a labor camp for orphans. His mother, a singer, was stolen from the family to work in Pyongyang. Within the camp, Jun Do receives special treatment due to his father's role, but he is given an orphan's name which carries a stigma as he grows older. The plot follows Jun's life on a fishing boat, as a national hero, and in a prison camp. In part 2, the novel continues with Jun, but also shows life through the point of view of a biographer, whose job it is to use torture to get the stories of people who have been assigned to him. The plot is also advanced through stories told to the people of North Korea over loud speakers placed in all populated areas.

Although the magnificence of this book stems from the way it reveals life in North Korea, there is room for a relationship of love and sacrifice. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a unique read, one that requires some thought from its readers.

Steve Lindahl – author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Dream of Darkness (The Rise of the Light, #1) by H.M. Gooden

Dream of Darkness (The Rise of the Light, #1)Dream of Darkness by H.M. Gooden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

About a third of the way through Dream of Darkness, Cat, the sixteen year old heroine of the story, settles in with her sister, Vanessa, for some serious Harry Potter binge watching. If you could see yourself doing the same thing, this is the perfect book for you. It has teenage girls with mystical powers who set out to save their town from someone controlled by a dark, satan-like creature.

The novel also has numerous references to Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, the play the students are producing that year. Robin Goodfellow (also known as Puck) is one of Shakespeare's characters as well as a sprite out of old English folklore and a spirit who visits Cat in her dreams. Here's what Robin tells her:

“Look to your dreams for answers, and let your friends know to look to theirs. You will find help if ever you need it and you have only to ask and it shall find you.”

The plot of H. M. Gooden's novel is fun, but the best part of the book is the relationship between the two sisters. There's a little jealousy and a period of great guilt, but mostly there's love and support shared between both girls. When Gooden throws in Evelyn, a mutual friend with powers of her own, the picture is complete and the girls are ready to take on the evil threatening their world.

Steve Lindahl – author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Room 629 by Vicki Ann Bush

Room 629Room 629 by Vicki-Ann Bush
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Room 629, like all sci-fi novels, asks the question: "What if?" In this case the full question is: "What if illusions could be real?" Although this oxymoron seems impossible, Jessie and her friends Micah, Patrick, and Caleb soon learn nothing is impossible.

After their graduation from UNLV, the four students set off on a celebration trip to Prim, Nevada. While there, they see what appears to be a suburban town fading in and out of existence. But this is no romantic Brigadoon, instead their discovery starts them on a journey into horrors they couldn't have imagined.

The story is fast paced and exciting, but the young characters spend a great deal of time considering their relationships as well as the problems they face in the illusive town. This gives a light feeling to the novel. The style reminded me somewhat of the old television series “Charmed” or the more recent series “Supergirl.”

This book would be a fun read for someone who enjoys sci-fi, horror, and road trip stories.

Steve Lindahl – author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and MargaritaThe Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Master and Margarita starts with a meeting in a park between Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz, the editor of a prominent literary magazine and Ivan Nikolayevich Ponyryov, a poet who writes under the pen name - Homeless. They are discussing a poem Berlioz has requested from Homeless. This work is supposed to deny the existence of Jesus. Berlioz doesn't feel the poem is strong enough to make the point he wants.

While they are preparing for a meeting to discuss this problem, a foreigner named Woland shows up. He tells them the meeting will NOT occur and explains with some statements that make no sense, something about spilled cooking oil. He also tells them Christ existed and was crucified. He knows this because he was there and starts relating the story. There are details that differ from the traditional telling, but what Woland is speaking about is clear.

Berlioz is upset by Woland's words, thinks the man is insane, and runs off to call the authorities, starting a chain of events which authenticate Woland's words. Woland then disappears and Homeless, who is now upset with what he has just witnessed, starts a bizarre search for Woland to turn him over to the police.

The story continues with an interweaving of activities of Woland with more of the story of Pilate and the crucifixion. Margarita is introduced and takes off on a weird adventure. She is the lover of the master, who is the author of the Pilate novel, which Woland related to Berlioz and Homeless. When their love affair takes a bad turn, she turns to Woland for help.

Many of the scenes are weird, to say the least. Bulgakov often dresses his female characters in very little or nothing at all and frequently accompanies these women with men in tuxedos. There is a ball, attended by famous characters, living and dead, also a magic show designed to demonstrate the priorities of the bourgeoisie in the audience, and a large, odd cat with human qualities. Woland's strange powers are demonstrated throughout the book, generally with a relation to sin in some form.

The Master and Margarita was written between 1928 and 1940 during Stalin's regime, but not published as a book until 1967. It's an extremely complex satire, covering multiple topics including religion, life under an authoritarian regime, and the pretentiousness of art (both performance and literary). I listened to the audio version, but had to research the book to get the most out of it. I think anyone who is about to read it should at least visit the Wikipedia page. ( ). You'll encounter spoilers, but it will help the story make sense.

Steve Lindahl – author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Alterations by Jane Suen

AlterationsAlterations by Jane Suen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alterations is a quick, fun read. Like most sci-fi novels, it is idea driven, but also has interesting characters.

As technology continues to advance, people are becoming more bionic, with joint replacements, new eye lenses after cataract surgery, or cosmetic implants. Suen's novel takes this idea a step further. Dr. Kite, a rogue physician, is experimenting with microchip implants. The chips alter their hosts, solving common body issues or more serious health issues. Of course, it wouldn't be much of a novel if nothing went wrong. Some of the chips are defective, causing terrible results.

The pace of Suen's writing is quick, but she doesn't ignore the details of her characters. I love her choices for the problems brought to Dr. Kite. Instead of life threatening diseases, all his subjects face problems most readers can relate to.

My favorite character is Ellen. She has a weight problem, which seems worse from her perspective than it should. I liked the way Suen treated the thoughts of people around Ellen, moving from her point of view to theirs in a way that made me wonder if the thoughts were real or Ellen's imagination.

Alterations is a light read, perfect for places with distractions, such as the beach or an airport.

Steve Lindahl - author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Penny's Worth by Cynthia Austin

A Penny's WorthA Penny's Worth by Cynthia Austin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The main character in A Penny's Worth reminded me of the line “Hell is other people” from Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit. Sara is a weak woman, who struggles to assert herself throughout the story, but is defined instead, by what others think of her. Here's a quote from the point of view of the favorite mistress of Sara's husband:

Carmela rolled her eyes dramatically and fell against the sofa. “Here we go again with Sara's pathetic attempt to gain respect. Next thing you know, she'll be threatening all of us with the wrath of her big brother. Give it up already, Sara. Your style is stale.”

The trouble is, Carmela is right. Sara has trouble sticking with her goals, whether they are struggles for romance or for self preservation.

Before he died, Sara's father ran a successful strip club in Las Vegas, which is where she works now. She tries to act like the club's boss, but no one pays attention. Instead the club is run by her brother Luke and her husband Ezra. Sara believes they are both increasing the club's profit margin through criminal activities and she knows they are both partying regularly with the club's dancers, which seems to be common practice in their workplace.

Sara wavers between supporting her husband despite his wayward ways and wanting to leave him. These conflicting goals come out in strange ways, including bigoted language. Her husband is, in her thoughts, “a non-conforming Jew,” although he does know the religion well enough to understand terms such as “Shema Yisrael.” Sara fell in love with Ezra and married him. Yet she demonstrates a dislike of Jews in general through her language, by using terms like “The Jewish nymph” and “some Jewish floozy.” Also, despite wanting to leave her husband, Sara responds to the way Carmela flaunts her relationship with Ezra by proving she's all the woman Ezra needs sexually. She thinks of this type of inconsistent behavior as a reaction to “the roller coaster of emotions she was riding,” but it felt more like a personality flaw.

I liked the way Cynthia Austin used pop culture in her writing with references to things like “the Dos Equis man” and Margaret Keane's paintings. Those choices drew me into her novel. There were also some tense moments in the story that kept me turning the pages.

This book has adult themes and sexually graphic scenes.

Steve Lindahl – author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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