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Thursday
Nov082018

Book Review: The Hubley Case

The Hubley Case. J. Lee. Moonshine Cove Publishing, LLC, November 6, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 270 pages.

Reviewed by Robert King

Peter Hubley, a family man with a heretofore impeccable reputation, is assassinated in the Sao Paulo airport while on a business trip to Brazil. His widow calls upon a family friend, Ben Siebert, an ex-Marine, to find out who is responsible and why this killing occurred. Siebert joins forces with FBI agent Nikki Benton, who is charged by her superior to investigate the crime. It is revealed to the reader—although not immediately to Siebert and Benton—that there is an evil mastermind, Mr. Riddle, behind the killing, and that the murder is part of a larger, more sinister plot to sell specially-developed malware to Arab terrorists. As Siebert and Benton begin unraveling the mystery, plot twists occur left and right, new enemies are revealed, and Riddle’s hit-man begins eliminating witnesses and co-conspirators. The story becomes littered with the bodies of friends and foes alike, leaving the reader to wonder if Siebert and Benton will be able to survive.

The exploits of the hero of this story, as well as portions of the plot, will sound familiar to the fans of Mitch Rapp, the hero in Vince Flynn’s numerous political-thriller books, and Jack Reacher, the hero in Lee Child’s action thrillers. With books of this genre, the reader must be willing to suspend disbelief because these heroes seem to possess mental and physical abilities far beyond the normal human. But with Flynn’s and Child’s heroes, there is a developed backstory that explains why their heroes possess their extraordinary skills. In The Hubley Case, however, all we know about Ben Siebert is that he is an ex-Marine who, since his discharge and the death of his wife, has been engaged in some sort of vigilante activities trying to right various wrongs. Siebert’s ability to get difficult-to-obtain information or track down people in remote locations is never explained or substantiated. Siebert is aided by his mentor and friend Tom, another ex-Marine, who also apparently has access to non-public information, but without sufficient explanation as to how. At least for me, this made it harder for me to suspend disbelief. Also, some of the plot twists in this book were a little too forced for me.

For fans of this genre, this is still a worthwhile read. The writing is crisp and easy to read, and although some of the dialogue seems somewhat forced, the action portions of the book—where there is actual violence or the threat of violence—are particularly well-written and create real suspense. 

 

Monday
Nov052018

Book Review: Jinn 

Jinn: Djinn Rebellion, Book 1. Jessica Cage. Caged Fantasies Publications, June 15, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 260 pages.

Reviewed by Jennifer Schulz.

Does magic exist? Are the creatures that yield magic just hiding, waiting for the right moment to make themselves known? Jinn, Book 1 of the  Djinn Rebellion series by USA Today bestselling author Jessica Cage, is full of magical creatures. Jinn takes place in a future world where humans are no longer in control after a war takes place between humans and magical creatures. Whereas urban fantasies may typically have magical creatures alongside humans, Jinn does not. The world now belongs to those that once hid: Fairies, Fae, Shifters, Witches, and Djinn, to name a few. While humans may not play a role in this new world, the problems they face are still present. Some groups are treated better than others, while others still hold all the power. Some starve and want nothing more than survival, while others want for nothing. 

In this new world, Jinn has sat back and watched for centuries, taking no real part in the wars that were fought for power and control. One day his friend, Mike, brings him information he cannot ignore: Nitara, the love of his Jinn’s life, still lives, and Mike knows how to find her.Jinn has something Mike does not: powers and relationships with the Fairies and Fae. In exchange for the information, Mike needs Jinn to help him help his people. Since the humans lost control, Mike’s people have spent their lives in parts of the world that most could not long survive. It will not be an easy task, and Jinn’s rescue of Nitara can only happen with the help of Mike’s friends. For their journey to work, they will have to look past what they have been led to believe about each race of beings and get to know each other for who they truly are.

I found Jinn to be an easy read. It was fun, and I found myself comparing issues the characters faced with issues currently seen across social media and the news. Many of the characters were judged by each other based on what they were instead of who they are. As they get to know each other better, those preconceived notions are thrown away. They begin to trust, and rely on each other as friends, as they try to save not only Jinn’s love, but also the world. While Jinn’s love is what finally drives him to get involved, once he learns the truth—of what he has been blind to for so long—he realizes it is no longer just about Nitara.

As is ever-important with fantasy stories, I felt I was able to travel to Jinn’s world and experience his quest with him and his companions. It was refreshing to read a story that does not center around magical creatures acting as assistants to a human lead. Instead, the characters make their own choices and are not bound by the will of their human leader. If you are in search of a fun weekend read that you can escape into, I do recommend Jinn

 

Saturday
Nov032018

Book Review: The Third Thaw

The Third Thaw. Karl J. Hanson. E.L. Marker, an imprint of WiDo Publishing, August 22, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 314 pages.

Reviewed by Kelly Fumiko Weiss. 

The Third Thaw, the new science fiction novel from Karl J. Hansen,  poses the question: what could the human race feasibly do if it was forced to populate another planet? Hanson takes the reader along for the ride as he intricately maps out how he thinks it could happen—what technologies would be needed, what engineering tools would be used, what infrastructure would be mandatory for human survival—and explains to the reader his thought process for each element. The main thrust of his design is the use of embryos that will be ‘thawed’ and grown on a new planet through the aid of machines and artificial intelligence. 

As Hanson focuses on the hard science behind the story, it’s the people he depicts that I found most compelling. But I wanted to know more. I wanted to know more about the character Horst and how his ability to see past his assigned field of study influenced those around him. I wanted to know more about how Adam’s connection to his virtual family drove decisions he may have made with his own. I wanted to know more about the emotional toil of the people back on Earth who planned this mission and what it was like for them to design a future 80,000 years out. These human questions kept me reading but were never fully answered. 

Unlike other books that dive into the emotional drama of each dangerous and/or life-altering situation and live in that space, the people in this book had to keep going, keep problem solving, and think about what was next. Therefore, the reader did, too. While Hanson’s compositional style was sometimes too expositional for me, I found his ability to jump forward in the story, sometimes years at a time, a refreshing take on story-building. A lot of what he left out may not actually matter. 

The events he chose to include were fascinating. Discovering a way around a waterfall saved a whole cohort of people. Figuring out how to fight off indigenous animals allowed them to complete their journey. Assessing the root purpose of a supercomputer allowed for the advancement of technology on their new home planet. The events he chose to depict were the ones that saved humanity from extinction and the technology-based solutions he used to carry them out were incredibly creative. 

The Third Thaw was clearly a labor of love for Hanson. He imbued the book with his own personal knowledge and interests. His love of human solutions to difficult problems shone through on every page. Ultimately, I liked this book because I could tell how much fun Hanson had writing it and it was constantly piquing my curiosity in unpredictable ways. There is no way a reader would be able to start this book and know how it ends. And that. in and of itself, is a great accomplishment. 

 

Thursday
Nov012018

Book Review: Zombie Gardening

Zombie Gardening. Adam Kessel. Chicago: Sunflower Trail Publishing, 2nd Edition, August 11, 2018, Trade Paperback and E-book, 68 pages.

Reviewed by Lisa Lickel.

After the big one, where only cockroaches and plants that most Americans consider weeds survive, leftover zombie apocalyptic people will need to survive. If there’s not enough flesh to go around, forage for weeds! In a tongue-in-cheek picture guide with room for field notes, naturalist Adam Kessel shows the rest of us how to make the best of pest plants.

Using his own photographs, the author has created a visually appealing book with notes about common and less-common plants that are generally considered nuisances. I recognized a great number of the nuisance plants from my first attempt to grow a yard in my new country home. I have the raw material to try a few of Kessel’s suggested preparation techniques. I appreciated the author’s gentle reminder that these plants came across the ocean with the settlers who had “extraordinarily little room” for their allotted cargo, but felt the need to bring these plants from home for their survival. “Each plant in this book has a story,” writes Kessel, an experienced ethno-botanist. “Use this book to rebuild those lost relationships.”

For each identified plant, like the common dandelion, Kessel provides a photograph including the Latin name, a note such as “dried dandelion root is a sub-par substitute for coffee, but it’s better than nothing,” a “uses” note, such as “leaves and flowers are edible,” and a foraging guide for searching in places like parks, abandoned lots, or alleyways. 

Plants fall into categories such as “Harvest Away” (for non-native invasive plants), “Harvest Sparingly” (plants that are native but can take over an urban environment), “Survival Harvest” (native species that are rare and may be overwhelmed by too great use), and finally, “Harvest Only if a Zombie is Breathing Down Your Neck.”

I experienced a few issues with the electronic version that made it difficult to read, and the print version is laid out similarly. The design is quite pretty, but the background decoration on the pages and the small, tight, informal font can occasionally make the words hard to read. 

The electronic version wasn’t set up with individual pages for each plant with a definitive header for the next plant, and the run-ons often forced me go back to see when the change took place and where the new notes started about the next plant. Each plant page was slightly different, which I liked; nevertheless, it was sometimes hard to match directions or notes with the intended plants. Overall, my reading experience would have benefited from improved navigational aids and a more structured layout.

Zombie Gardeninghas a companion Zombie Teaching Guidewith multi-level lessons for finding, identifying, and potential uses of, the plants in the book. My environmental studies teacher husband reviewed the book with me, and we found it useful and fun. While the teaching guide is a great tool to introduce botony, it should be used in settings where, for example, kids aren’t running around looking for poison ivy to rub on one another.

Each plant was generally well defined and introduced by name and use, including a few caveats where necessary—such as, stinging nettles will irritate your skin with an intense burning, which it does, but that probably won’t stop the undead. The “uses” notes provide medicinal purposes which allude to the story of the plant. The book helped me appreciate the plants, even if I still grumble about them.

 

Wednesday
Oct312018

Book Review: The Real News!: The Never-Before-Told Stories of Donald Trump & Fake News!

The Real News!: The Never-Before-Told Stories of Donald Trump & Fake News! John Bernard Ruane. Post Hill Press, December 4, 2018, Trade Paperback, 224 pages.

Reviewed by Ed Sarna.

The Real News by John Bernard Ruane is subtitled, The Never-Before-Told Stories of Donald Trump & Fake News! That only begins to tell the story. These satirical observations extend beyond politics and politicians. While our current Commander-In-Chief plays a major role in many of these stories, he and his party are not the only targets. The author calls attention to corruption, greed, and just plain stupidity wherever it is found on all sides of the political spectrum, including celebrities and the news media that encourages and feeds off the carnage. 

Each chapter of the book is a separate story. The author begins each with a premise, often based on fact, then goes behind the scenes to show what might have precipitated the event. There were times I had to pause to consider where reality stopped and imagination took over. It’s no doubt a commentary of the times we live in that separating fact from fiction is becoming increasingly more difficult and thinking something is too crazy to be real is, well, crazy. 

What separates this book from so many of the articles written about this unbelievable time we live in is Ruane’s ability to look and poke fun at situations without being mean or callous. Whether you reside politically on the left, right, or in the middle, you will laugh, cringe, and probably nod your head at Ruane’s non-partisan take on how we arrived at this place in time.

One of the stories, “Hardball Grabs Congress by the Lug Nuts,” was so much fun I didn’t want it to end. When it did end, I was a little sad, mainly because it didn’t really happen. Another story, “And Now, the Award for ‘Most Outrageous News Commentator’,” was peppered with fake-froth, flying spittle, teensy hands, and Cheerios. The opening story, “Democrats Discover Donald Trump’s Greatest Weakness,” is so off-the-wall, yet obvious, I envision the White House dispatching teams of interns to buy up all the copies of the book as soon as they become available.

Each of the fifteen chapters read like a Saturday Night Live skit, which is not surprising considering the author studied at the famed Second City Improv. As is true with skit-based productions, some stories work better than others, but all manage to hit their targets. When they are on, they are dead on. The book is a quick, fun read, with each chapter/story self-contained. I would recommend this book to anyone tired of trying to make sense of the seemingly senseless world. Take a break from your anger, frustration, and worry; just relax and have a good laugh.