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. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mas... ). 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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Thursday, March 1, 2018

Sister Witch: The Life of Moll Dyer by David W. Thompson

Sister Witch: The Life of Moll Dyer (Legends of the Family Dyer #1)Sister Witch: The Life of Moll Dyer by David W.  Thompson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Moll Dyer was, according to Wikipedia, “...a legendary 17th-century resident of Leonardtown, Maryland, who was said to have been accused of witchcraft and chased out of her home by the local townsfolk on a winter night... Stories say her spirit haunts the land, looking for the men who forced her from her home.”

David Thompson's book, Sister Witch: the Life of Moll Dyer, is written from the point of view of Moll, with a couple of chapters from her son, Zachary's, perspective. It begins in Kinsale in County Cork, Ireland, but moves for the majority of the story to Newtown, Maryland. (I assume this is the same place Wikipedia refers to as Leonardtown.) Moll is a typical young woman who makes the mistake of trusting the wrong person and is soon forced to flee her home. She joins her Uncle Sean, who has his own set of problems, on a boat headed to America. Here's an excerpt:

Her name was the Mary Regina, and she carried four masts with square rigging. With multiple decks below, she carried 120 tons of cargo. Uncle seemed impressed describing her, but Father said she was just a foreign galleon, and little more than a low riding carrack built for speed.

The scenes in America provide an excellent picture of life in the colonies, not only for the new arrivals, but also the Native Americans of the Conoy, Chaptico, and Susquehannock tribes. There's also a supernatural side to the story with spells and demons. I won't get into this aspect of the book for fear of giving too much away. Suffice it to say this makes the novel a fun read.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul


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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Rules of MagicThe Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Rules of Magic is magic realism, but the book takes an unusual approach. The plot follows the lives of the Owens siblings: Fanny, Jet, and Vincent, who are part of a family with a history of witchcraft. They were born with unusual abilities and raised to understand how to create potions and work spells.

These skills come with a price: curses that affect their lives. They also have to deal with prejudice and misunderstanding, even from their own relatives. These problems are what make the novel special. On one level, it's a story of magic. On another level, it's a story of unique people coping with the things that make them different.

Although the main focus of the novel is on the three siblings and their love lives, the plot covers many years and wanders a bit, especially during the second half. It takes place in the mid twentieth century, so the Vietnam war and the draft are touched on. The war affected the lives of everyone during that time, but it came up late in the book and seemed a bit out of place. Still, the characters were full and interesting. I was left thinking about them after I was done with the book.

I love Alice Hoffman's writing, but I prefer her novels with a hint of magic rather than this one, where magic is central to the story. For that reason, it didn't come up to others I've read such as The Dovekeepers or The River King, but it is still a good choice for readers who are fans of her writing.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul


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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Life Without Living by S.C. Alban

A Life Without Living (The Strega Series, #1)A Life Without Living by S.C. Alban
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Life Without Living is a paranormal romance written from the points of view of the two main characters: Kate and Gio. The novel is a page turner, especially toward the end. Its story creates a wonderful life filled with curses and sorcery, but also brings a message relevant to life and love away from its pages.

Gio (short for Giovanni) is an Italian who has come to a small town in America in search of the woman with “...the one soul whose existence would allow [his soul] to continue instead of remaining in [an] eternal pattern...” of emptiness. Gio has been cursed with an eternal life void of any warmth and meaning. He understands this curse and the power of the man who placed it. He knows he lives in a world of witches and magic.

Kate, however, is unaware of the magic in the world around her. She's been married for nine years, to a handsome, successful man and has a good job, working for a publishing firm. She believes she is living a life worthy of envy. However, there are signs things are not the way they should be in an ideal marriage. Her husband is controlling and has a short fuse. He hasn't crossed the line to abusive, but he's close.

This mixture of two plot lines in search of each other, is what makes this book remarkable. It's a fun book, creating a world that is wonderful to think about. But it is also the story of a woman in a bad relationship who doesn't understand her own actions or lack thereof. It's about blaming yourself and your own perceived weakness for a situation that is complex and confusing. Here's an excerpt that offers a taste of this aspect of the novel:

But slowly, something was changing inside me. Something, and I didn't have a clue as to what, had began to tug on a loose thread. Gradually, cautiously, so that I didn't even know it was happening, something began to pull the strands apart. The cloth had begun to unravel.

A Life Without Living is well worth reading and the other bit of good news is that it is the first book in a series.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul


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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

The Shell SeekersThe Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you open The Shell Seekers to a random page, you are most likely going to find very detailed, often beautiful, prose. Here's an example:

Olivia knew that she would never tire of the painting, even if she lived with it for most of her life. Its impact hit you like a gust of cold, salty air, The windy sky, racing with clouds; the sea, scudding with white-caps, breaking waves hissing up onto the shore. The subtle pinks and greys of the sand; shallow pools left by the ebbing tide and shimmering with translucent reflected sunlight. And the figures of the three children, grouped to the side of the picture; two girls with straw hats and dresses bundled up, and a boy. All brown-limbed, barefoot, and intent on the contents of a small scarlet bucket.

I loved the idea of writing about the daughter of a famous artist and her bohemian upbringing. So many books concentrate of people in positions of fame and power, but their families have stories to tell as well. I also loved having so much of the plot center around a painting which works as a metaphor for many of the family issues.

Yet, the novel didn't catch me. I was easily distracted, even at the most critical parts. Part of this was due to the descriptions, which were lovely, but too numerous. I found myself skimming descriptions of landscapes as the novel went on, especially the lists of flowers. But more than that it was the characters and a feeling that the author was intruding with her own opinions. When I was done with the book, I was left with the feeling Rosamunde Pilcher had great respect for stoicism.

The scenes of Penelope as a girl and a young woman were interesting, especially when the American troops were camped in Porthkerris. Yet Penelope's interactions with the important people in her life never seemed to have much emotion, even when she claimed to be in love. This was also true of Olivia, especially at the end of the novel, which might explain why Penelope's relation with her middle child worked.

I would recommend The Shell Seekers to readers who enjoy careful descriptions, historical settings, and a unique picture of rural England.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul





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