Sunday, August 31, 2014

Web of Evil by J.A. Jance

Web of Evil (Ali Reynolds, #2)Web of Evil by J.A. Jance
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been listening to the audio versions of a few of J.A. Jance's novels as they become available through our library. As a result I'm going through the Ali Reynolds series out of order. But each book reads well on its own and the author's done a great job of providing sufficient background information to understand the characters.

The book I heard this week was Web of Evil, a mystery in which a former news host, Ali Reynolds, becomes a suspect in a brutal murder. I find it interesting that Ali Reynolds is a blogger, because the books seem more about personal problems of the type that might show up on a blog than about the mysteries. Ali uses her blog to vent and in the process receives advice and support. Because there's a crime investigation taking place while Ali is keeping up her blog, she posts information that made me want to scream at her foolishness. But I kept listening.

While the mystery goes on in Web of Evil there is also a story unfolding of raising children in broken families. Ali Reynolds is a single mother. The father of her son, Chris, died years earlier. Ali remarried and, as this book begins, she's heading to California to sign divorce papers. She has a friend, Dave (a detective), who is also divorced. His ex has custody of their two children and has moved quite a distance away from his home in Sedona, Arizona. His daughter, Chrystal, has some serious problems which have caused her to act out in ways that could affect the rest of her life. And a third dysfunctional family appears in the story because the husband Ali is about to divorce has a fiance he's planned to marry the very next day. This young woman has a terrible relationship with her mother and an unwanted child on the way. J.A. Jance weaves these stories together to explore major issues families can experience. Although these issues are extreme, we live in an imperfect world and most readers can identify with aspects of these problems. This is Jance's greatest strength. The characters are extreme, but feel real.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

View all my reviews

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Hand of Evil by J. A. Jance

Hand of Evil (Ali Reynolds, #3)Hand of Evil by J.A. Jance
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like many people I get into routines and stick with them. I mention this trait in my first review of a J.A Jance book because my morning routine is to listen to an audiobook for the first half of my commute then switch to a radio station for the rest of the drive. I couldn't do that with Hand of Evil. Something about Jance's books (I've now listened to a second one) makes them too intriguing to turn off.

I had a problem with Hand of Evil because the story is woven around two crimes which are connected by their nature, but not by anything specific, and a third crime that is only connected through the main character, Ali Reynolds. For that reason there was a lack of focus in the story and a feeling that so many unrelated crimes occurring at once was unbelievable.

So why couldn't I stop listening?

I think J.A. Jance's power comes through the humanity of her characters. Ali Reynolds has issues and problems. To some extent they are related. She's acts without thinking, which is emphasized with her tendency to confront even in dangerous situations. We readers get to know and care about her, so when she puts herself in dangerous situations we care. We curse at her foolishness, but hope for the best as we continue to read or listen.

I've listened to two of the Ali Reynolds series and I plan to listen to another. The order was based on the availability through our library rather than the series order. J.A. Jance does a good job of letting her readers know what's going on in Ali Reynolds' personal life, so the fact that I listened to them out of sequence didn't seem to affect my final enjoyment. Hand of Evil is a fun story for anyone who likes crime novels.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Butterfly Crest by Eva Vanrell

The Butterfly CrestThe Butterfly Crest by Eva Vanrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had three reactions to The Butterfly Crest by Eva Vanrell, depending on the section I was reading. I found the first third of the book captivating, but when I reached the second third there was too much description and not enough character development for my taste. Yet I kept reading and I'm glad I did. The last section brought back some of the charm of the story as I learned more about Elena, the novel's main character, and in the process came to care about her.

The first part has wonderful descriptions of New Orleans along with the introduction of Elena. She is a successful lawyer working for a firm run by Ms. Callas, a demanding and intimidating boss. She is also a single woman, whose parents died when she was a child. Her best friend, Cataline, was also her mother's best friend. To further complicate Elena's uncomfortable work environment, she begins to sense the presence of a force she doesn't understand. Eventually, she's confronted in a dark parking lot where she becomes so nervous she trips then hears laughter from out of the darkness. At this point I was intrigued and eager to read more.

The story moves to Japan. Elena has received a notification of a previously unknown inheritance stored in a safety deposit box in Kyoto. All she knows about the contents is that her mother had insured it for five million dollars. She is required to pick up this treasure in person, so she and Cataline travel to the other side of the world. Here's where some problems began. Eva Vanrell's descriptions became too thorough. Also, she began to use Japanese terms without English definitions, making those descriptions difficult to understand. Elena's life is threatened. To protect her Eiry, the handsome son of Ms. Callas who apparently followed Elena to Asia, takes her to an underworld land populated by gods. At this point Vanrell's descriptions of various gods and of the architecture of the world where they exist slowed the narrative nearly to a halt.

Then, about two thirds of the way through the novel, the writing changed back again. It was less about describing the book's world and more about the problems facing the main characters. I could feel their emotions again, especially Elena's.

For people who love mythology and enjoy thinking about gods from different cultures existing together in their own environment, this novel could be great fun. Readers looking only for a good story will find the middle slow, but in the end The Butterfly Crest is an interesting story, well worth reading.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

View all my reviews

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Out of Crystal Ice by PJ Wetzel

Out of Crystal IceOut of Crystal Ice by PJ Wetzel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The spectacular frozen world created by author P.J. Wetzel in Out of Crystal Ice hurls one dangerous adventure after another at its readers as Adam Windreath Gale, the chosen one, follows the man who has kidnapped his mother and along the way finds his destiny.

Gale and his friend, Perfid Ray, have to battle tribes of violent (yet erotic) nomads, herds of monstrous humanoid beasts, and an environment as hostile as the center of the Arctic Circle. The events that have happened to our world more than 600,000 years in our future originated with a massive volcanic eruption on an island in Indonesia. This disaster led to a new ice age and to the loss of most of humanity. Mankind has evolved into six different species who battle and often eat each other in their competition for survival: Ozyumps, Yeti, Voods, Sky Children, Irula, and humans. Adam is one of the humans and is also the Seventh Shepherd predicted in the Book of Micah 5:5. This hard world, although limited in its technology, is closer to the creator than it was before the disaster.

Wetzel's magnificent descriptions of the world of his novel show it can be as beautiful as it is dangerous.

The sun prickled through the restless air: a thin gusty wind tugged at their hair. A low layer of gray-brown haze obscured the horizon, concealing any view of the Sinking River valley. Chinook had roused the dust and grit off the plain. But above the haze, the view waxed magnificent. Fingers of shredded cloud clung to great lofty peaks: a rank of spires that elbowed one another from south around to southwest. These grand summits shone in all the glory of this bright day, festooned in a patchwork light and dark--of ragged granite and shimmering snow, of sun and shifting shade of cloud.

Out of Crystal Ice is a wonderful novel for readers who enjoy dystopian fiction with a spiritual side. It is Book One of Wetzel's series entitled - Ice King: The Last Messiah.

Steve Lindahl - author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

View all my reviews

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Never Let Me Go seems to be one of those books that readers either love or hate, perhaps because it is very unusual, especially for science fiction. I'm in the love camp. It's a book about relationships and about coping with major problems more than it is about the science behind the story. It's also about prejudice, especially the convenience of prejudice. I wonder how many stars Thomas Jefferson would have given this book, if he was alive to review it. The bigotry in this novel reminded me of the way Jefferson opposed slavery, but kept slaves and even had a long affair with a woman he owned. I don't want to reveal too much about Kazuo Ishiguro's book, but I think I can say the form of bigotry in this story helps the general population of the book's England even more than slavery helped America's economy in its early days – with the same type of moral implication.

My wife and I watched the film version of Never Let Me Go on the same day I finished the book, so everything was still clear in my mind. The film was overall a good translation from page to screen. There were times when I thought something important was missing, but each time I checked with my wife, who hadn't read the book, she understood what was happening. I do wish the film had emphasized the relationship between Kathy and Ruth a bit more. Ruth was a more positive character in the book, so her actions and feelings of guilt were less upsetting in the film.

I'm not going to write a synopsis in this review, because I don't want to include any spoilers. I'll just say the story made me think. It would be a wonderful choice for a book club.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

View all my reviews