Book Reviews

Review: Odd Apocalypse

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Odd Apocalypse
Odd Apocalypse by Dean Koontz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Odd Thomas is a likable character. Philosophical with an optimistic bent, one who self-reflects and thinks about the consequences of his actions while living in the moment, reactive to the horrors coming at him as he strives to save an innocent.

This book in the Odd series doesn’t disappoint in this, although I do yearn for a hero who kicks aside the guns-solve-everything theme that’s so infected American culture that other solutions seem to have been completely crowded out. It does become tedious. However, not everything Odd assumes will come to pass does.

The ending isn’t quite what one would expect. And though I liked it, I felt that Koontz skipped a step in explaining it. I realize that since the story is told from Odd’s POV, it isn’t to be expected that everything will be explained. Yet he had explained so much up until that point. I was going to give it four stars but because the ending felt rushed-in-the-writing and unexplained, am giving three. (Would prefer 3.5, but Goodreads no lets one do that. Sigh.)

I look forward to reading the next in Odd’s adventures. Like this one, I’ll borrow the ebook from the library.

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Review: A Body in the Backyard

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A Body in the Backyard
A Body in the Backyard by Elizabeth Spann Craig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I won this book in an #indiechat giveaway on Twitter, and I was pleased as punch because it’s been awhile since I’d read a cosy mystery, and my brain felt in need of this kind of comfy book.

A Body in the Backyard is, I believe, number four in the Myrtle Clover (love the plant-based name) mystery series. I hadn’t read this series before, and coming in in the middle was a mite discombobulating; yet all the regular characters and their relationships were described so well and in a natural way, I was able to get the gist of their lives.

I liked how the main character is an octogenarian, and in particular, a tall one. That totally knocked my assumptions out the window. I’d been picturing a tiny, wizened lady with a frizz of white hair until Craig revealed that Myrtle is tall. I liked, too, the different cast of characters that surrounded Myrtle; my only puzzlement was the ages of her son and grandson. They seem to have to be horrendously younger than they should be, given Myrtle’s age. I suppose people with much older parents would find it familiar.

The mystery itself was a nicely woven knot, and despite the typos (really does any ebook come sans them, these days?), this book was a quick, flowing read.

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Review: A Warrior’s Tale

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A Warrior's Tale
A Warrior’s Tale by L.T. Suzuki

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I won this book in a giveaway. I don’t usually read fantasy but thought it was time I tried a new genre and read an author I’m not familiar with. Spreading my book wings, so to speak. Because of my reading problems from my brain injury, I still don’t do well with stories that have grand themes or complex plots or many characters. With those caveats out of the way, here’s my review.

I liked this book because of its characters. As I got lost trying to remember who was fighting whom and why (never really did understand the why), I realized I was still reading because the characters were drawing me in, in particular Nayla/Takaro/Little Warrior, the heroine of A Warrior’s Tale. The interaction between the characters was relatable — the irrational dislikes, the hidden attractions, the need to protect a person who has a need to be independent and to prove her prowess. I became interested in her life, in her struggles and her hurts. I began to waffle between which suitor I preferred and liked how she seemed to have chosen the one I liked best, though that was not spelled out for the reader, a plot point I appreciated. Because the characters were so strong, it didn’t matter to me that I never really followed the plot.

According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, a romance is “a prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious.” This book is this kind of old-fashioned romance. Sure, it is a fantasy with characters who can do supernatural things, but at its heart it is a romance. And best, the author doesn’t get lazy and bury this kind of romance under a simple and simplistic love affair.

There are many fighting scenes, and it’s clear Suzuki knows her martial arts. The details come across as authentic and make the chaos and gruesomeness of the battles pulse in the imagination. It is also a long book, and it ends where it begins, which fits with the words Nayla recalls at the beginning of her tale. In fact, if it wasn’t so difficult to navigate back to the beginning and then back to where I was reading, I would’ve gone back to reread Imagine, Prologue, and Chapter 1, then finished reading Chapter 18 so as to see that scene more clearly. Since it took me a long time to read this book, the first scene was hazy in my memory. Still, the ending worked for me, the kind of ending that’s not really an ending but a beginning into the next book.

I had received the PDF ebook. The PDF is beautifully laid out, but PDF is a format best suited for documents not long books. In short, it’s a pain to read. I experimented which platform would work best. When I bought my Kindle Paperwhite, I finished reading it on that, mostly because I had the Kindle with me on my way to appointments. I am sure they could create an ePub with all the software that is out there now for the amateur, one that could include some of the graphic elements that make the PDF a pleasure to look at. Also, within this well-edited book, there were only a couple of editing issues. What is it with editors using semi-colons like commas? Only between independent clauses, people!

Still, the story rose above the format and physical-reading issues to hold me. A Warrior’s Tale is the first book in a series, and so the tale continues into the next book. Would I buy the next book? I am curious as to what happens with Nayla. But I have a stack of books I’m supposed to be reading, and that more than anything is what is holding me back right now. If not for my reading issues and for that stack, I probably would.

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Review: The Abbey

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The Abbey
The Abbey by Chris Culver
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

As the hover text over two stars says: it was okay. It actually had a really interesting idea going in, the idea of a Muslim detective in a city no one usually associates with fictional settings. The setting was okay. But it could’ve been any city as there weren’t that many references to Indianapolis’s character. And I’m not sure why the author made the detective a Muslim because he was basically your cliché American vigilante good guy who drinks. Like I haven’t seen that one before. The only twist was that he prays. Big whoop. The author could’ve done so much more with this character. He could’ve explored the idea of justice as seen from Ash’s cultural background. He could’ve invested emotion and passion (weirdly, the content was passionate but the language left me unmoved as if Ash was reciting a grocery list of bombs or something). The whole thing felt rather contrived. The ending was fine, like a standard 1970s’ cop drama ending.

I won this book as one of ten in a Twitter contest The Crime Vault held early in 2013.

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Review: Where There’s a Will

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Where There's a Will
Where There’s a Will by Rex Stout
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I borrowed this from the library. Good reading, although it was amusing and confusing to see the name of the inheritor change occasionally from Karn to Kara as well as the various other typos. It was authentic to the time! The other authenticity was the vocabulary, with several words being unfamiliar to me. Even Overdrive’s ebook dictionary hadn’t a clue. But Rex Stout’s writing is such that the context helps the reader figure it out. My English prof back in university always said if you’re going to use a big word (or in this case, a word peculiar to the time) make sure the context defines it for the reader. Not everyone wants to haul out a dictionary to read a book. Fortunately, in today’s ebook insurgence (yes, I’m sure that’s how a few troglodytes feel 😉 ), a dictionary no longer has to be hauled out but simply brought up with a tap of the finger.

The plot was good. The story breezy. Archie Goodwin still young in his creation. Nero Wolfe doesn’t change a bit, really, but Goodwin does mature or move with the times as the series goes on. It’s interesting to read him as he was near the beginning.

My favourite part though was the introduction by Dean Koontz. I have been struggling with my reading since my brain injury, but I’ve also been struggling to try and make the health care professionals understand why reading — and reading voraciously and omnivorously — is so important to me and necessary, not just as a reader (I know, a few of you are scratching your heads now, wondering why anyone has to be convinced that reading a lot is normal and necessary) but moreso as a writer. Koontz wrote spectacularly well what I’ve been trying to say for so long. I want to copy it and hand it out every time someone says to me, you know, 39 books a year is fine, or I don’t read that much and I’m a reader so why you stressing over it, or I’ll look into it and a year later is still saying that, or just doesn’t get that I should be able to read at the level I’m writing. Luckily, the psychologists involved in my care understand that need to read, and maybe, just maybe their solution will work. Let’s hope. Meanwhile, Stout’s books continue to be worth reading, no matter one’s skill level.

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Review: Lazybones

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Lazybones
Lazybones by Mark Billingham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maybe you need to be in the right mood to tolerate the volume of verbal violence and the never-ending angst — I mean seriously, people, stop whinging and be a man — of the characters, but I found it a little tedious. Maybe it helps too if your life is tickety-boo and not full of your own angst! So trying to set that aside, I still liked the book. The characters emerged from the book as fully-formed alive individuals, and the plot was suitably convoluted with wonderful huge, honking clues that could or could not lead you down the right path. I figured out fairly quickly where to look for the who in whodunnit. But I was pleasantly surprised at the final reveal. I say pleasantly because a good mystery is one where the writer stays ahead of the reader or enough ahead that at least you don’t solve it in chapter one.

Even though I had not read the previous books in this series, it didn’t make a difference other than I knew I was missing the continuing story of some of the regular characters. But they’re drawn so well that you could follow along well enough.

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Review: The Power of More: How Small Steps Can Help You Achieve Big Goals

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The Power of More: How Small Steps Can Help You Achieve Big Goals
The Power of More: How Small Steps Can Help You Achieve Big Goals by Marnie McBean
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

Well, that was a bummer. I borrowed the ebook from the Toronto Public Library, dug into it on a weekend I think, enjoyed what I read hugely, then promptly forgot about it after my week began. And so the library borrowing period expired, and the ebook vanished from my OverDrive app. I’ll have to put it on hold again. The problem with popular ebooks though is by the time your turn comes up to borrow it, you’ve forgotten all about it and it’s a very inconvenient time too.

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Review: “Whisperer, The”

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“Whisperer, The” by Donato Carrisi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. I’m still reeling and trying to process what just happened at the end. This is a book that keeps on giving right until the last page, and it doesn’t use any ridiculous tricks to deceive and artificially heighten the tension either.

The first unusual aspect of this book I noticed was the setting. As The Crime Vault told me on Twitter: it’s tricky. It seems like it’s set in Europe. But then there are a few Americanisms tossed in here and there, infrequently enough that they catch you by surprise, making you wonder what kind of Europe it’s set in. Certainly, not the kind we here in Canada would imagine, I wouldn’t think. The character names are all over the map, and so they give no hint either. I think the effect is that this could happen anywhere. Don’t feel comfortable.

And, in fact, this is not a book to read at night — not because it’s creepy but because it plays with your mind and incites dreams. Not good. Well, good for the writer, meaning he’s pulled you right into his story.

The characters are well drawn and come to life. The plot is convoluted as hell, although I think if I read The Whisperer again, I would probably find it is deceptively simple. To help the reader yet hinder you as well, the author uses some familiar formulaic devices mystery writers oftentimes use, but he turns them inside out. You think you’re reading one thing. But you’re not.

At the end of the book, two themes come to their end. One is obvious and is the mystery. The other grows from nothingness to completely dominate the end. And that’s what ends up going round and round in your mind. It’s a cleverly constructed and well-thought-out book. I can see why it was a hit.

This is the second of ten books I won from The Crime Vault in a Twitter contest. The first one I read was Nothing But Trouble.

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