Category: book review

Book review: Edghill’s Book of Moons

book review, pagan fiction November 16, 2011

The second book in Rosemary Edghill’s Bast series is Book of Moons. We continue to see the pagan community as it actually is, not with a layer of paranormal atop.

Bast is still working at Houston Graphics, still in her coffin-shaped apartment, still frequenting the same pagan haunts as in Speak Daggers to Her.  She is puzzled by the disappearance of several Books of Shadow (a witch’s personal spellbook).  A strange sort of guy is hankering for admission into her coven, there’s talk around town of the witch status of Mary, Queen of Scots, someone is stealing all the rare books from the NYC occult shops and then to top it all off, a couple of her friends end up dead.

Before he is murdered, Ned Skelton (the oddball looking to join the coven) hands off a box containing a mysterious book reputed to be Mary’s BoS to Bast.  Her stewardship of the box, and therefore the book, puts her in grave danger.

This book was less focused and lacked some of the cohesiveness of the first book.  While the basic plot is a good one, the connection with Mary, Queen of Scots, makes it less believable and weaker. I found this book a more difficult read, in terms of it just keeping my attention, than I found Speak Daggers to Her. Edghill brings in quite a few more characters, and it found a bit difficult to keep them, their pagan slant and other pertinent details straight.

Once again, her description of the Craft and pagan community is accurate.  This plotline dealt less with the supernatural aspects of the Craft than Speak Daggers to Her did.

One thing that is bothering me so far is that even in this, the second book, I still don’t have a clear idea of what Bast looks like.  Her emotions run a little flat to me.  She’s witty and clever, but I don’t feel anything from her.  She’s a tad dry and a little detached. I want to have a character who is more colorful than Bast.  The closest I’ve gotten to feeling like I was experiencing things through Bast’s eyes (which surprises me, since these books are in first person POV) was in this novel when she is being threatened by the book thief.  He has her at gunpoint at Houston Graphics and Edghill’s descriptions of Bast’s physical sensations are good.  However, I was not emotionally invested.

Despite this shortcoming, I still love the Bast books for their portrayal of the pagan community.

Book Review: Rosemary Edghill’s Speak Daggers to Her

book review, pagan fiction November 9, 2011

The Bast trilogy

Rosemary Edghill has written a trilogy of mystery novels about a modern-day witch named Bast.  Bast is a freelance graphic artist at Houston Graphics who practices Wicca in New York City.  She is an established member of the NYC occult community and a third degree initiate in the mysteries of Wicca.  I purchased all three books, Speak Daggers to Her, Book of Moons, and The Bowl of Night as one volume.

My main interest in reading these books was to examine how Edghill incorporates the realistic use of witchcraft into her books.  The main character in my thesis novel also practices Wicca, and I am still working out the best possible portrayal of Wicca in fiction.  When I first considered writing a witch, I didn’t want to introduce an element of the paranormal or fantasy into my thesis, as it is supposed to show how a real-life practitioner actually uses magic in their everyday life.

It is also difficult to know which “flavor” of paganism to portray… Gardnerian Wicca, Santeria, the O.T.O, Dianic…  and on and on.  It’s tough because even those that practice Wicca, most likely practice something different than what I practice.  There is no set dogma in the Craft.   I personally practice Wicca– eclectic with a Gardnerian tilt– it is what I am familiar with, it is what I seek to bring into the mainstream in a positive way and so it makes sense for me to use it.

Rosemary Edghill’s books are some of the few which portray Wicca as a it is in “real life,” without the paranormal cast.  These are good books to help a writer consider what readers want and/or expect to see when they read about the Craft.

So, on to the first review.

Speak Daggers to Her, the first book in the trilogy.  We meet the main character, Bast a.k.a. Karen Hightower, and the cast of characters. This contains slight spoilers.

Bast is at work when her friend Lace calls to tell her that she has found their mutual friend (Lace’s lover), Miriam Seabrook, dead in her apartment.  Lace, being of the anti-establishment ilk, bolts from the apartment, leaving Bast to report the death and handle the busywork.

One thing leads to another and Bast quickly discovers that Miriam has been involved with a questionable occult group called Baba Yaga.  The leader of the group, Michael Ruslan, knows more than he lets on and Bast finds herself in hot water with him and with her community.  Bast is convinced that Ruslan is practicing black magic, a big no-no in the community, along with using drugs during his rituals without the knowledge or consent of his circle.  Bast is certain that Ruslan is responsible for Miriam’s death, whether karmically or literally, and she sets out to prove it.

Reading this book felt very much like slipping on my favorite pair of slippers (and that’s really saying something because I have a seriously committed relationship with my slippers).  I was very familiar with the flavor of Wicca portrayed in Speak Daggers to Her and I related strongly with the main character.  Bast’s experiences in the various occults shops closely mirror my own.  Her opinions of the Craft and some of the practices of Wicca are similar to mine as well.

Therefore I found her portrayal of the Craft in fiction to be pretty accurate.  She is very heavy with magic/paganism in the plot, indeed this installment revolves a death by magical means or by means attained during the practice of magic.  The bad guy is caught in the end basically by karma (the rule of what goes around, comes around… threefold… the Wiccan Rede).  Her plot is dependent on the tenets of magic and how it works.

Edghill’s books are the best I’ve found for incorporating paganism and Wiccan magic into writing without also incorporating a paranormal element. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye by Victoria Laurie

book review, genre fiction, paranormal October 5, 2011

Abby Cooper is a psychic intuitive living in the suburbs of Detroit. She “reads” for people for a living. When one of her clients ends up dead, she ends up on the run from a killer.

Victoria Laurie is, herself, a professional clarivoyant. As stated in her author blurb, she drew upon her own experiences to create the character of Abby Cooper. Abby is a likable character, flawed, but positive and intelligent. She is drawn into the police investigation of her client’s death quite by accident– she winds up on a blind date when too many margaritas loosen her tongue and she tells her date that she is a psychic intuitive. Her date is a cop.  Whoops.

The storyline was entertaining, the characters were likable and the setting very realistic. Just a few issues I noted…

I found myself with a ballpoint pen, circling all the adverbs. And there were a lot of them. Laurie has a clear penchant for the words “suddenly” and “finally.” I did feel like she used adverbs at the expense of telling instead of showing.

We didn’t see the main plot until page 101. The protag is confronted with a murder in the beginning, that the reader is led to believe will begin the plot, but the first murder actually has nothing to do with the plot. That felt like a betrayal.

There were several points in the book when I wanted to see something. For example, at one point the protag says “…and for the hundredth time that week I felt myself looking around anxiously. This had been happening to me since Monday.” There are a lot of details, mundane details, in this novel, and I could not figure out why, when we moved through that time with the character we weren’t given any inkling that she was looking about anxiously. If the author wanted the anxiety included, she could have gone back through the novel and inserted a few moments. Anxiety and a feeling of being followed strikes me as important to the reading experience and setting up the sense of urgency.

**WARNING SLIGHT SPOILER**

My other major problem with the story is that the killer was not introduced in the beginning, or at least before s/he’s unveiled as the killer. There is no possible way for the reader to follow along and guess who the killer may have been. The reader can insinuate certain circumstances, but we find out about the victim’s past late in the novel, and it comes as a complete surprise. I wanted the killer to be someone I could have identified. We don’t know this killer until s/he’s attacking our protag. This was the ultimate betrayal for the mystery reader who likes to “play along.”

Despite these issues, I very much enjoyed the details about how her gift of clairvoyance worked and the details in setting. Abby Cooper is a likable character that I enjoyed reading about, and I’ll probably pick up the other books in the series.

Book Review: Colson Whitehead’s Zone One

book review, genre fiction, literary fiction September 28, 2011

My degree is in writing popular fiction, which lands me squarely in the genre field of writers, mingling with those folks eating cheese puffs and drinking beer, rather than with the literary novelists noshing on canapes and wine. Rarely do the camps socialize, preferring instead to turn their noses up at one another and pretend like we’re not all actually doing the same thing… writing to an audience with the intent to evoke emotion, to get the mind-wheels spinning, to create a moment of illumination or escape.

But! <here’s me with my aha finger in the air>

But sometimes a novelist will straddle the space between the writing forms and take the best of both worlds. Colson Whitehead accomplishes this feat in Zone One, his literary zombie novel.

A literary zombie novel? What? Yeah, I said the same thing when I was asked if I’d like to read this book for review.

“I thought you might be interested in reviewing Colson Whitehead’s new literary novel of the undead, Zone One,” read the email. I scratched my head and thought, okay, hey, let’s do this.

I’m incredibly glad I did.

My regular readers know that I try hard not to use spoilers in my reviews. I will do the same here.

Zone One immersed me immediately in the beautiful, urban atmosphere of New York City from the point of view of a child version of Mark Spitz, our protagonist. The Big Apple is a character in the book, the setting itself so intrinsically tied into Mark Spitz’ perception of the world that the story cannot extricate itself from the skyscrapers, the subways, or the tenements. The city comes alive, even as it dies.

Mark Spitz is a sweeper in Omega team, one of several civilian teams tasked with “sweeping” an assigned area of New York City– Zone One– clean of stragglers and the occasional skel. During a three-day sweep, the reader learns the background behind Mark Spitz’ integration into Reconstruction and the events that lead to the apocalypse. Mark Spitz is extraordinary in his mediocrity, lending a wry vision of life both before and after the events that unfold in the novel. He’s a solid B-average kind of guy, still living in his childhood home, eking out an existence, but not really living, when the world ends. He fumbles his way through the new order, in and out of other characters homes and lives, and into the Reconstruction effort, incredible only the sense that he’s alive. In the Zone, survivors deal with PASD, Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, and the rigors of cleansing and recreating sections of New York. Whitehead’s protagonist is relatable, easy for the reader to identify with, but he is observant and thoughtful. His coping skills, including finding something familiar and holding on, are in every reader’s personal arsenal and bring his struggles closer to home.

Whitehead alternates scenes of action with narrative passages, comparing and contrasting life before “Last Night,” life in the Wasteland, and Mark Spitz’ present circumstance in Zone One. The action sequences, what I consider the “genre” aspect of the book, abound with elements that appealed to the horror writer and fan in me– Whitehead is not squeamish– and Mark Spitz’ bland acceptance of the ruin around him led my inner genre reader down the path of acceptance as well. Whitehead uses many familiar details to keep the reader grounded– indeed, the juxtaposition of the familiar onto the alien is one way Mark Spitz copes with his own horror and the clues that something is changing for the worse. His wry, matter-of-fact view of the world brings the fantastic elements into sharp clarity.

The narrative passages show us another side of the zombie apocalypse– the imagery evocative of both the horror of human ruin and the devastating beauty of a city falling apart. When we learn how Mark Spitz rationalizes dispatching skels or stragglers, the break in the action does not distract from the story, but rather serves to illustrate the need to maintain humanity in the face of anguish. This narrative, Whitehead’s literary side, adds depth to Spitz’ journey, it pauses the story to reflect on the human meaning of the zombie trope.

I noted very few mechanical issues with the book; a POV shift here or there, but they were tough catches. My only other pet peeve type problem involved an enthusiastic use of the word “leak” and it’s variations. Corpses did an awful lot of leaking in Zone One. I did appreciate the fact that this book forced me to my dictionary more than a few times, and I love an author that can use words like a gunslinger.

I love it when a book needs tabs.

Literary or not, I found myself completely drawn into the journeys of Mark Spitz. His is a story of the most basic of human trials– survival in the face of desolation and loneliness. The action in the story satisfied the genre reader in me, while the literary side of the story forced me to consider the social issues at hand. Could I survive the violence Mark Spitz is subjected to and still believe in the value of humanity?

Highly recommended reading for both my genre peers and my literary friends. My copy is now studded with tags and post-its and the margins are busy with my comments.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead is due for release on October 18, 2011.

Book/movie compare/contrast: I Am Legend

book review, movies September 21, 2011

I will admit dreading this reading.

I tried to watch the movie but ignored the little exposure I had. I’m not even sure how far I got before I told my husband to turn it off and watch it sometime when I’m far, far away. My problem with the movie was twofold, which I will explain.

I never really intended to read the book, but it showed up on a class reading list. When I picked it up and started reading, I first noted that the character of Robert Neville was completely unlike what I’d come to know (briefly) as Robert Neville in the movie, and I’m not just talking about race. Once I realized this, I allowed myself to let go of my preexisting opinions of the story and just… amazingly… enjoyed it.

One of my biggest problems with certain kinds of horror, generally horror involving some sort of science fiction, is the depiction of widescale devastation. The post-apocalyptic stuff on a wide scale really bothers me. I liked the movie Independence Day, but really had trouble with the scenes of devastation in the cities. This was one of my major issues with the movie version of I Am Legend– the complete loss of civilization is something that bothers me a lot. The book, however, brings the wide scale stuff down into the mind of one individual. Yes, we know that life on Earth is no longer what we’re familiar with, but we see it through the eyes of only Neville, instead of the vast omniscient POV so common in post-apocalyptic stories. When seen as the day-to-day struggles of one person, it brings the devastation into a more manageable scale for me, emotionally, yet more effectively drives it home. The bigger picture just forces me to turn off my inner eye– it’s too much. Neville made it easier for me to deal with, and yet made it so much more personal at the same time.

I liked Neville very much. He’s an every man’s kind of man, strong, silent and intelligent. I also liked the monsters that were his neighbors. We all have the irritating neighbor who seems to show up at the least convenient moments. We all have our Ben Cortman. The predictability of Cortman throughout the story was, in a sick way, comforting. We know what he’s going to do if Neville goes outside, but it’s still Ben. The contrast that Matheson achieved with this inverted portrayal of the neighborly exchange tugged at my heart. Of course the story of his family’s demise did too, but it was the smaller details, like his relationship with Cortman, that showed the true loss and made his desperation to have the relationship with Ruth that much more believable.

The appearance of Ruth was too good to be true, and I wouldn’t have bought his efforts to connect with her if Matheson hadn’t so effectively set up Neville’s crippling isolation. All he had was his routine, his drive to remain protected. We see this through his actions to shut out the noise, shutter the windows, play the music. He’s a man on the edge. To me, the isolation in this novel was the true monster. The vampires themselves, perhaps because I’ve been inundated with visuals of this kind of monster for so long, weren’t terrifying to me. The thought of being left alone in that post-apocalyptic society that I already hate… that’s the true terror. And Matheson wrote it exceedingly well.

My other issue, and perhaps my biggest issue, with the movie was the dog. I do not, as a personal rule, watch movies involving animals. I’ve not seen Braveheart because I know there is graphic depiction of horse death. I don’t even like Dr. Dolittle. I was relieved to find that the dog didn’t actually have a recurring role in the book version of I Am Legend, and once we did meet it, it’s purpose was to further demonstrate Neville’s isolation. I was okay with it.
I’m glad that the book exceeded my expectations and glad I’ve read it. The movie was so far from the story I do think they should have given it another name. It’s not the same story at all.

Book Review: Sarah Pinborough’s Breeding Ground

book review September 14, 2011

I read Breeding Ground for a class on horror monsters. The students in the class shared book reviews, and although opinions about the book varied, we all agreed that Pinborough really gets the imagery and tension going in this one. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, I think partly because I really love characters who are fully realized and develop throughout the book. The characters of Breeding Ground feel authentic and they never sit back and accept what’s happening to their world.

Pinborough has created a world in which technology has gone awry in a horrible way. Genetic modification of plants and animals has resulted in a creature that incubates inside humans and uses us as a food source. We see the beginning of the plague through the eyes of Matthew Edge, and we watch his girlfriend, Chloe, succumb to the creatures slowly and horribly, culminating in the premature stillbirth of their child, partially consumed in utero (p. 47-49). The story rapidly gains pace after Matt leaves Chloe and finds a band of unaffected people seeking safety. We follow the group across Britain to a “safe-house” at a government facility where they try to make sense of what’s happened and how to handle the disaster. There is only sporadic contact with the world outside their complex, and Pinborough leaves us with Matt and Rebecca leaving the complex to find other people.

Pinborough has a strong command of imagery and uses to great effect in Breeding Ground. The scene in which Matt is immobilized by Chloe and she gives birth to their child is wonderfully horrifying. “Finally, she must have slid down the fridge freezer to sit on the floor, and then after she broke long and noisy wind, she settled down to snorting occasionally as she panted. After about half an hour, I heard something squelch, something wet perhaps, on the quarry tiles we had chosen together not that very long ago” (p. 45). This scene is vivid in my mind’s eyes and ears. I can feel the frustration that Matt experienced, stuck to the wall, only able to listen to these noises, fear and concern warring within him for the woman being taken from him before his eyes. Although Matt can’t see what’s happening with Chloe, Pinborough’s use of imagery allows me to see it, and it adds to the tension I feel on Matt’s behalf.

Tension is another element that is not lacking in this book. We see early on that Katie can control the spiders (p. 103-104). I wondered until her death if this was because the spiders saw her as a potential incubator or if it was because she was already infected. Dave’s bite at the shopping center (p. 128) added to the overall tension, as did Nigel’s strange demeanor.

Pinborough balanced the supernatural elements in the book with a strong human element. Matt loved Chloe and watched her demise. Jane’s inclusion in the group one-upped the ante (must. save. child.). Even the details of the food, kept the reader grounded and reminded me that I was reading about humans. Make the reader identify with the characters on a visceral level, and they will fear the horrific that much more. The sizzling fajitas at the compound (p. 215) after the crazed run for safety reminded me of the basic human comforts and how much was really at stake.

Again, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the book. Ok, maybe “enjoyed” isn’t quite the right word. I was horrified and repulsed, but I couldn’t put it down. Pinborough nailed the balance of horror and humanity enough to make me care. That’s magic.

Work cited:
Pinborough, Sarah. Breeding Ground. New York: Dorchester Publishing Co. Inc. 2006.

Book Review: Religion in Terry Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment

book review, genre fiction August 24, 2011

I’ve mentioned time and time again that I read across genre. I enjoy almost all genre fiction, and particularly enjoy writers who bring issues onto the table with their work. Since I’m part of a minority religion here in the US, I love fiction that plays with religion.

I read Monstrous Regiment for a class I took a few years ago and loved Mr. Pratchett’s ability to play with religion. Here are my thoughts:

Despite having taken it’s name from an anti-Catholic tract, and mocking the establishment of organized religion, Monstrous Regiment seems to me to be pro-religion.

We have lots of satirization, mostly in the form of the Abominations of Nuggan. Chocolate, cats, and the color blue are all Abominations unto this “tetchy” god. At several points in the novel, someone mentions that the Abominations are mostly ignored anymore, especially by devout Nugganites. It can be interpreted that the Abominations are ignored because they make life too difficult or might put a crimp in the followers’ style, so to speak.

Modern religion, specifically Christianity, seems to follow the same path. If a piece of scripture doesn’t fit the modern lifestyle, excuses are made for not abiding by it or it’s simply ignored. Pratchett mocks this tendency with Nuggan and his Abominations. He paints a clear picture of the typical religious follower with Polly– skeptical unless it suits her, a so-called “religion-lite” kind of person.

These assertions and satirizations might lead the reader to believe that Pratchett is anti-religion. However, in Monstrous Regiment, Wazzer Goom is clearly a prophet of the Duchess Annagovia. She is from an abused background, the kind of person who might develop a mental disorder as a result of the abuse. She’s endured many things that might lead a person to turn their back on faith in disgust, or it might cause some others to grasp onto religion with an iron-hold, in a desperate attempt to make sense of their horrible surroundings. We see that today in people that commit horrendous crimes, the “God told me to” affliction. Rarely (if ever) are these people shown to be true prophets.

Although the others are uncomfortable around her, they humor her rather than trying to correct her. In the history of religion, prophets are mocked. “Wazzer was nice . . . well, sort of nice, in a slightly scary sort of way– but talking to her was like picking at a scab; you knew what was likely to be under the crust, but you picked anyway” (p.155). And Polly wonders on page 211 “what she should read more: Maladict turning into a ravening monster, or Wazzer reaching the end of whatever mental journey she was taking.” Wazzer is clearly not taken seriously throughout the book.

But Pratchett is setting Wazzer up as the genuine thing.

In the end, her visions and the voices prove to be true– she really does speak with the Duchess and is used as a vessel. On page 298 we see Wazzer take control of a long-dead army. Beginning on page 348, the Duchess asserts herself through Wazzer to promote Sergeant Jackrum and give orders to end the war. She is a true prophet.

Her reward was a job on the general’s staff and her own room (p. 381). This is the reward for prophecy?

Is Pratchett truly satirizing religion, or merely it’s followers? Is he asserting that followers shouldn’t be so skeptical; that they should look to the visionaries and listen rather than scorn? If the reader only considers Pratchett’s invention of Nuggan, it’s most definitely a satire of organized religion. But look deeper to see more.

Book review: World War Z by Max Brooks and a small rant about technology

angst, book review, writing and technology, writing life August 17, 2011

I have this program on my computer called MacJournal. I like it very much. I use it for basic journaling and for things like book reviews or idea management. It’s a handy little program. I also used it exclusively to keep a record of all my board posts in graduate school. We were required to post responses to various prompts or other assigned material several times per week, and I just copied and pasted all my posts– three years of work– into the MacJournal program.

I also used to use two user profiles on my computer, one for my everyday stuff and one for all my writing stuff, under the assumption that separating the two lives would lead to greater productivity in each. Imagine my shock when that didn’t work.

So my husband, who just so happens to be a software engineer *cough* geek, merged my user profiles into one. I was reunited with my evil twin! I’m just not saying which is which. Anyway, this morning I went into my MacJournal program to find a book review to post here and lo! It’s all gone.

Note there that I’m actually not panicking. The husband, whom I shall call my Geek God, will be home from work sometime today and he will find it for me. No biggie. I have every faith in his ability to restore what was lost, to find my missing words, to be the techie yin to my creative yang. Or something.

Many of you will have already seen this review, since I’m reduced to using one I posted on another blog for a class, but it merits revisiting. After all, Brad Pitt is currently filming this one somewhere in Europe, I think, judging from the photos we’re being subjected to of Angelina and the brood.

Here’s my review of World War Z by Max Brooks. Keep in mind that because this review was written for a class, an audience that I knew already read it, this contains some basic spoilers. However, in this book, spoilers don’t matter quite so much, since we know the author survived the zombie apocalypse to write the manuscript.

I have to give this book a solid 3 out of 5. Possibly a grudging 4, but that would be pushing it.

World War Z is a tough book to review. From the writers’ point of view, I have incredible respect for Brooks’ ability to make an old subject fresh. The format is new and unusual and I give him props for that, but it’s also what pushed my review of the book down from a 4 or 5. More on that in a bit.

From the readers’ point of view, I like the way he handles the zombies in this book– the mindless creatures can be compared to viruses destroying their hosts simply because it’s what they do to survive. There’s no malice in the zombies, we can’t be angry at what they’re doing anymore than we can be angry at grizzly bears for eating salmon. It just so happens we’re what’s on the menu for the zombies. That makes the zombies a bit scarier– there’s no reasoning with them, no intimidating them (the reason for the defeat at Yonkers), they just don’t care. Hunger is the only drive. This mindlessness, the sense of futility in the behavior of the zombies, makes them more horrific.

The only bit about the zombies that I took issue with was the arms raised, shambling, moaning stereotype. Many things about this book broke with stereotype and felt so new. When I encountered the behavior that also makes zombies so comical I was seriously disappointed. I get that they’re unthinking, unfeeling shells, but make them silent. Silent at least until they find the kill, then maybe some guttural noises. And lose the shambling. I don’t expect a brisk walk, but to describe it in just the way I associate with B-rated movies? Nah.

Isolation plays a huge part in the terror of this story. There are pockets of safety, shown particularly effectively in the interview with Colonel Christina Eliopolis (p. 168-186). The map hanging on the wall of her office shows a smattering of safe zones, “[i]slands in the Sea of Zack” (p. 170). These islands had to be resupplied. Colonel Eliopolis was an airlift pilot and does a good job of explaining the situation with the islands. Her own predicament, after having her aircraft crash in the southern US, is also a fantastic example of what happens to the human mind when isolated in a hopeless situation. Much of our isolation is involuntarily self-imposed, because of our dependency on technology and so forth. I could go on and on about Brooks’ depiction of our society being turned on its head. I loved this about the book.

We never find out what caused the zombie plague. That bothered me more than I thought it would. Brooks is the narrator of this book, which is a compilation of interviews with people who played varying roles in WWZ. The account was written on behalf of the “United Nation’s Postwar Commission Report” (p. 1) but was ultimately heavily edited because of emotional content. In my mind, if there’s a committee about the war and a record is being made, the cause of the war should be examined, not just the reactions. I wanted to see the reactions of the scientists either responsible for or who discovered the reason for the zombie plague. I understand that this is cursorily explained in Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide, but this is a stand-alone story. Some sort of word from the CDC would have been appreciated.

The reason for my lower rating of the book is the format. I know this is something that has been lauded in critical circles, and, like I said, I give the man props, but it just didn’t work for me. When I started reading it my first words to my husband were “this reads like District 9.” I really liked District 9, so this was a good sign. But we never get an intimate relationship with any of the characters like we do with Wikus Van de Merwe. District 9 really got moving for me when I started to relate to Wikus and see the story through his eyes. Unfortunately, because of the once-removed format of World War Z, the story just never gained momentum. I felt like I was watching a Discovery channel documentary and actually got kind of bored by the end of the book. There was no tension for me, nothing keeping me invested in the story. Bummer.

Bottom line, I will recommend with reservations.

Work cited:

Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Three Rivers Press: New York. 2006

And now I am off to bang my head against a wall and pray my MacJournal entries are not lost to the ether.

Book Review: Pages by Scott A. Johnson

book review August 10, 2011

Spoilers. I hate book reviews that have spoilers. I don’t want to read a book review and come away knowing enough about the plot to not feel the tension the author has worked so hard to create or be surprised when something unexpected happens. I resist adding spoilers to my book or movie reviews, unless it’s a book or movie that’s been out for a long time and I figure most people have at least heard about the pivotal moments. Is there really such a thing as a spoiler for Harry Potter anymore? I think most people reading my blog know that Ripley gets away from the alien, for instance, or Clarice should watch her back around Buffalo Bill.

This attitude about spoilers will limit what I can write here about Pages. Johnson puts the reader on edge in Pages and demonstrates that even a much-loved character is not safe. This is an important plot point, but I won’t reveal who is in trouble or what ultimately happens.

That’s just my disclaimer for this review, in case it seems a little vague. So, moving on…

Pages is the second book in the chronicles of Stanley Cooper, our magical guy from down the street. That’s just what Stanley—the neighbor you wave to from your front porch, the guy you exchange pleasantries with while you check your mail. He’s a relatable character, which makes the horrific goings-on in his life seem so much more threatening. If this stuff happens to Stanley, it happens to us.

In Pages, the author has managed to maintain the approachable nature we came to expect from Stanley in Vermin, while ramping up the tension and the danger. Stanley receives a mysterious package in the mail and it leads first to a theft and on to non-stop action. We see his love for Maggie deepen, Andi’s powers develop, and Stan’s relationships with other key characters take on a whole new life. Evergreen takes a big role in this installment, in new and interesting ways, and the reader learns more about membership in this mysterious group. Once again Stanley is down to the wire to figure out who or what threatens the city of Pittsburgh and put a stop to the evil.

Stanley proves himself once again essential to the safety of Pittsburgh. Pages is a page-turner and a great addition to the Stanley Cooper series.

Book review: Vermin by Scott A. Johnson

book review July 27, 2011

I love books that allow me to experience a story through the eyes of someone I can relate to. And for as much as I can relate to a going-on-middle-age clairvoyant man, I’ve got Stanley Cooper.

Vermin, the first in the Stanley Cooper chronicles, gives us our first glimpse of Stanley and his band of magical cohorts as they try to save Pittsburgh from a deadly force bent on destroying the city. A very near-death experience left Stan dead for 3 minutes and he wakes with the ability to see the dead and the energies that all living and almost-living creatures leave in their wake. This is pretty cool on its own, but factor in Stanley’s hometown—the undead city of Pittsburgh—and you’ve got a rough kind of day.

When college student Shannon contacts Stanley about an unusual house problem, then turns up dead, Stanley has the police and the supernatural breathing down his neck. The problem in Shannon’s house is bigger than Stanley expected. People disappear, lives are destroyed, and it’s up to Stanley to fix the problem.

We meet Maggie who is a practicing witch with a shop on Pittsburgh’s historic and diverse South Side and also Stan’s best friend and sometimes lover. Detective Taylor takes a chance on Stanley and learns some things he wishes he didn’t. We’re also introduced to Andrea, a girl with incredible potential and a great need for some guidance. The characters are the kind of people you meet on the street everyday in the city of Pittsburgh… and the ones you hope will be in charge when the supernatural world crashes into ours.

I highly recommend Vermin for readers who enjoy a whirlwind adventure with paranormal elements.