Month: May 2013

Book Review: What the Night Knows, by Dean Koontz

Before I review anything I feel the need to alert you to the fact that I’m a huge Dean Koontz fan. He’s my favorite author. I’d by lying if I said that didn’t come into play with this book. Onward!

What the Night KnowsFrom the publisher:

In the late summer of a long-ago year, Alton Turner Blackwood brutally murdered four families. His savage spree ended only when he himself was killed by the last survivor of the last family, a fourteen-year-old boy.

Half a continent away and two decades later, someone is murdering families again, re-creating in detail Blackwood’s crimes. Homicide detective John Calvino is certain that his own family—his wife and three children—will be targets, just as his parents and sisters were victims on that distant night when he was fourteen and killed their slayer.

As a detective, John is a man of reason who deals in cold facts. But an extraordinary experience convinces him that sometimes death is not a one-way journey, that sometimes the dead return.

This isn’t a bad book. This isn’t a good book either. It falls somewhere between, like okay. If Mr. Koontz would have kept the story contained to John, his wife, and Alton Turner Blackwood, this book would have been fantastic. It has all the ingredients of a fantastic story but somehow they just don’t add up, which is a shame.

The backstory behind a young John Calvino shooting the serial killer who murders his family is fascinating. While we don’t get to live those events, we are treated to how they helped shape John through his adult life. He’s had many problems, as one would expect, as a result. The one positive was him becoming a homicide detective. John tracks killers like a Bloodhound on a scent. He doesn’t stop until he gets his man. He and his partner are the top two detectives in their division.

When a family is murdered in the unmistakable style of Alton Turner Blackwood, John can’t help but involve himself in the case. Either someone is copying Blackwood, or he’s back from the dead. Things quickly escalate from there.

Readers learn about Alton Turner Blackwood’s dark journey toward becoming a serial killer through journal entries. I didn’t mind the journal format at all. Mr. Koontz really dipped his toe into the psychopath water for this character. This is one of his most twisted villains of all time. We get to see how an abused child evolves into a violent killer. The creep factor is definitely there. He makes it easy to root for the good guys.

Where this story starts to fall apart for me is the introduction of John’s three children as POV characters. Dean Koontz is a great writer, often times brilliant. But he failed miserably with these young characters. The oldest is supposed to be thirteen and already is obsessed with being a Marine. Okay, I might buy that. What I don’t buy is him knowing everything about the marines. Then there’s the middle child. She’s eleven and makes it a point to use big words I don’t even know. She’s always trying to chastise her little sister for being a child which gets old rather quickly. Then we have the youngest, an eight year old who can see spirits. Not only is she the youngest, but she knows the most about the paranormal world and seemingly things in general. I didn’t believe it for one second. Plus, what kid says “beans” instead of other bad words? All three children read like old people disguised as kids. I could tell the author didn’t really know how to give life to these characters and it really took away from the story. It was so bad that I wanted to close the book several times and even skimmed through some of the longer stretches when we’re in their heads.

Another thing I didn’t like was how fast John came to the conclusion that paranormal activity was the culprit behind these murders. He’s a detective, logical, a man who relies on concrete evidence on a day to day basis. Yet rather early on, he deduces Alton Turner Blackwood is somehow taking over bodies in order to kill again. The reasoning behind it is never really given, other than a creepy dream. To say this was a weak point would be an understatement. It felt like the author took a short cut.

There are plenty of good things about this book. The paranormal aspect, other than how the characters come to believe in it, is genuinely creepy. Think of the movie Fallen, starring Denzel Washington. A serial killer searches for tainted hosts to continue killing. Mr. Koontz even takes readers along as this happens.

The atmosphere is also well done. Readers feel like a killer is watching them. We feel the vulnerability of these characters. The tension builds until it feels like it’s going to burst. Mr. Koontz gets many things right, but ultimately it’s those few things he gets wrong that take away from this book. For me, they were almost big enough to make me close the book. It almost felt like Dean found the same writing mojo of his earlier days. Almost.

What I liked:

  • The main characters are wonderfully written and three dimensional.
  • It feels like a battle between good and evil.
  • The tension makes you feel like a killer is after you.
  • Much of the action takes you into the middle of a scare.
  • Readers are treated to a truly sinister antagonist.
  • I enjoyed the paranormal aspect of this book.

What I didn’t like:

  • The children characters didn’t read like children at all. They quickly become annoying.
  • I didn’t like how a detective just blindly accepted the paranormal reasoning behind these murders. It seemed too convenient.
  • If I were John and I believed my family was in danger, I would do whatever I could to protect them. Instead he keeps his suspicions to himself and puts them all in danger which doesn’t make sense for a character who lost his family earlier on.
  • I know Dean loves Golden Retrievers, but why were readers subjected to talk of the family’s dead pet? I was quickly annoyed.
  • Certain plot points felt rushed over.
  • Some of the paranormal aspects didn’t make much sense to me. How can a malevolent spirit invade a woman trying to protect her family because she hated the guy trying to murder them? She wasn’t a bad person. It didn’t make much sense to me.

Overall: I’m giving What the Night Knows three out of five stars. What Dean does well, he does very well. What he doesn’t do well is like nails on a chalkboard. In the end, the good outweighs the bad for me. There’s too much creepiness and Alton Turner Blackwood was just too nefarious to overlook. While this isn’t one of Dean’s best books, it certainly isn’t his worst either. Fans of his earlier work may be quick to jump ship, but this book still has plenty to offer those patient enough to stick with it. If you liked the movie Fallen, you’ll probably like this book too.

Dean Koontz can be found here: http://www.deankoontz.com/

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Book Review: Nathaniel, By John Saul

I’m going to be spoiler free with all my book reviews, talking more about what elements I liked, or didn’t like, rather than plot points. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s reading experience.

Before I get on with the review, I’d like to talk about why I went back and forth on whether to post this. This is my first unfavorable review and, being a writer, I know how a review like this would make me feel. However, I also thought the benefits of talking about why I didn’t connect with this book may help writers understand the kind of things that turn readers away. For that reason, I decided to post the review. As with any author, one positive or negative review is not indicative of every book they’ve ever written. There are plenty of Dean Koontz books I don’t care for. But there are also plenty I love. The only way we’ll ever find out is to pick each book up, read, and discover what we like, or don’t like.

Now, let’s get on with the review!

Nathaniel coverFrom the publisher:

From the blood of the past, evil rises to seek undying vengeance… Prairie Bend.

Brilliant summers amid golden fields. Killing winters of razorlike cold. A peaceful, neighborly village, darkened by legends of death? Who is Nathaniel? For a hundred years, the people of Prairie Bend have whispered the name in wonder and fear. Some say he is simply a folk tale – a legend created to frighten children on cold winter nights. Some swear he is a terrifying spirit returned to avenge the past. And soon…very soon…some will come to believe that Nathaniel lives still – darkly, horrifyingly real. Nathaniel.

For young Michael Hall, newly arrived in isolated Prairie Bend after having lost his father to a sudden tragic accident, Nathaniel is the voice that calls him across the prairie night…the voice that draws him into the shadowy depths of the old, crumbling barn where he has been forbidden to go…the voice – chanting, compelling – he will follow faithfully beyond the edge of terror…Nathaniel.

As you can see from the blurb, Michael and his mother arrive in the farming town of Prairie Bend after the “accidental” death of his father. They are taken in by his grandparents who they’ve never seen, or knew of, before. Mr. Saul’s writing is good. I had no problem with his style of writing. I had a huge problem with how the story unfolded and the characters. I simply didn’t care. I didn’t care about Michael. I didn’t care about Janet. I didn’t care about Amos. I didn’t care that they lost a loved one. I didn’t care about the paranormal aspect. I didn’t care about the town. I didn’t care about the secret. Three chapters in I closed the book and said aloud, “I don’t care.” That is never a good thing.

After that I skimmed. I would stop from time to time to give the book a fourth or fifth chance, only to be let down again. Mr. Saul failed to grab me as a reader. To be fair to him, this book was published in 1984. The publishing landscape had a completely different look and feel than it does today.

By the third chapter all that’s happened is a funeral and Michael has the creeps. Seriously. Readers are forced to sit through page upon page of character building with no real action. We learn Michael’s father never talked about his family. We learn Janet is pregnant. We learn Janet is having trouble coping with the sudden death of her husband. Blah, blah, blah. The problem is we learn all of this at a snail’s pace. At no point did I feel like this was a horror story. Mr. Saul tried to incorporate some scary elements through Michael feeling things. But, in my opinion, this was a stretch at best.

And I wanted something to happen. When things did happen they were either too meager, or too little too late. When the “I don’t care” seed has been planted in a reader’s brain, it’s hard to keep them turning pages. That’s what happened with me. Once I found myself not caring, each page became increasingly harder to turn. In an age where time is money, a slow churning book is a hard sell. I’ve got a TBR list a mile long. I don’t have time to waste on something I don’t care about. I’m sure most of you don’t either.

What I liked:

  • Mr. Saul has some serious writing chops.
  • The prologue managed to capture my attention and leave me with a few healthy questions.
  • There are a few creepy spots in this book.

What I didn’t like:

  • It takes too long for this story to get going.
  • I didn’t connect with any of the characters.
  • Hopping from character to character within chapters was a bit tedious.
  • Not enough action, or action that feels too inconsequential.
  • The ending didn’t feel satisfying.
  • The plot failed to grab me.
  • I simply didn’t care what happened.

Overall: I’d give Nathaniel, by John Saul, two out of five stars. This book failed to grab me. It slowly tried to build characters and tension, at the expense of any action, leaving readers bored. Written in 1984, this book felt somewhat dated. While I did enjoy Mr. Saul’s writing, I’m sorry to say this particular novel didn’t work for me. That’s not to say others won’t love it. This simply wasn’t enough for my particularly picky tastes. I’m not giving up on Mr. Saul, or recommending others do either. In fact, I plan on reading The Right Hand of Evil by him sometime soon. Always read based on your tastes. I know I do.

John Saul’s official website can be found here.

Book Review: Bloodheir, by Brian Ruckley

I’m sticking with the spoiler free format. Don’t want to ruin the book for those who haven’t read it.

BloodheirBloodheir is the second book in the Godless World Trilogy, by Brian Ruckley. I’d like to say this is a stand alone, but it isn’t. If you haven’t read Winterbirth, book one in the Godless World Trilogy, you’ll be lost in the sauce. You’re going to want to start at the beginning, no skipping ahead.

From the publisher:

The world has fallen from its former state. The war between the clans of the Black Road and the True Bloods has spread.

For Orisian, thane of the ruined Lannis Blood, there is no time to grieve the loss of his family, brutally slain by the invading armies. The Black Road must be stopped. However, as more blood is spilled on the battlefields, so each side in the conflict becomes more riven by internal dissent and disunity.

Amidst the mounting chaos, Aeglyss the na’kyrim uses his new-found powers to twist everything and everyone around him to serve his own mad desires.

Meanwhile, the long-dormant Anain are stirring – and when the most potent race the world has ever known returns, the bloodletting may never stop.

Bloodheir picks up right where Winterbirth left off. It was enough of a clilffhanger that as soon as I put Winterbirth down I picked up Bloodheir. I normally don’t read successive books in a trilogy but Mr. Ruckley’s world twisted my arm. That’s one of the many pluses of this book, the atmosphere is dire, dreary, and real. It’s a world in the midst of a war the likes of which hasn’t been seen in hundreds of years. As one would expect, war brings with it different emotions and situations–most of them bad. Whole cities are cut down and put to the torch. Families are broken. Alliances are shattered as easily as bones. Chaos becomes commonplace. Mr. Ruckley does a fantastic job creating a bleak atmosphere. Setting most of these events during winter only adds to the overall effect and is a nice touch. But winter can’t last forever and eventually spring will thaw the cold. You have to believe that something good is on the horizon for book number three.

As with any war, there are casualties. I love how no character is safe from death’s shadow. Minor characters, main characters, it doesn’t matter. Just like in real life, people die. The way in which they die makes sense with the story, and world. I was actually saddened by the death of a main character about three quarters of the way through this book. Up until their death, that particular character had been an integral part of the story. Mr. Ruckley doesn’t play around. I like that.

Each POV character feels like a main character, even though they all aren’t. This adds to the vastness of the story, and world. Readers are treated to a three dimensional story that is only enhanced from seeing things from every possible angle. There isn’t a bland character in the mix. Each has their own motivations, flaws, and emotions. Each believes what they do is righteous. Having such well rounded, and constructed characters only adds to the already huge feeling world. Readers will root for their favorites, and their enemies as well. Mr. Ruckley’s writing skills are that masterful.

The first two books in the Godless World Trilogy are beautifully written. There was no let down between books. One of my few complaints is, as with Winterbirth, there are times where the pacing lags and the reader is given well written, but needless, world details, or character depth. Especially toward the end, there were times when it felt like action should be happening but didn’t.

The ending, as with Winterbirth, isn’t an ending, but a “to be continued.” It literally says “to be continued.” It also didn’t feel like a satisfactory conclusion for this book. It felt abrupt and I was disappointed with where readers are left.

Fans of epic fantasy will enjoy not only this book, but this series. Aside from a few minor gripes, Mr. Ruckley’s writing won’t fail to suck readers into his richly detailed world. There’s plenty to like with top-notch action scenes, political jockeying, racial tension, and women who kick ass. If you’re looking for traditional heroes who always save the day, you might want to look elsewhere. But, if you’re looking for characters who feel real–make the best choices under the given circumstances, then have to deal with the consequences, good or bad–you’ll be pleased with what you find in Bloodheir. I know I was.

What I liked:

  • Mr. Ruckley easily builds upon the quality of Winterbirth, with Bloodheir. If you liked the first book, you’ll like the second.
  • Each character feels as important as the next, even minor ones.
  • There are no token damsels in distress. Women kick just as much ass as the men in Mr. Ruckley’s world. They aren’t just eye candy either, which is a breath of fresh air.
  • The political aspect is just as interesting as the action.
  • A fully realized world makes for an easy read.
  • Mr. Ruckley’s world feels huge, but doesn’t lose the reader.
  • No character is safe from death, which keeps readers on their toes.
  • The overall atmosphere is bleak and appropriate for a wartime setting. The weight of war, and all that comes with it, is heavy on the characters.
  • How easily Mr. Ruckley juggles so many plot pieces then brings them together in a way that makes sense.
  • The Anain. We learn more about this mysterious species, but not too much. I’m intrigued to see what role they’ll play moving forward.

What I didn’t like:

  • The ending was too abrupt and didn’t feel like a satisfactory conclusion to the events in this book.
  • The pacing suffers at points and is bogged down by too much information at times.
  • Some of Aeglyss’ storyline left me scratching my head. He can’t control two people at one time, yet he can influence 20,000 soldiers all at once. The only explanation we get is he’s still uncovering how his talents work. Meh.
  • How certain characters met up at precisely the right time toward the end. It felt too convenient to me.

Overall: I’d give Bloodheir four and a half out of five stars. It gives you more of what you expect and love from a Godless World book. Mr. Ruckley doesn’t disappoint when it comes to building a rich world, filled with even richer characters. Fans of epic fantasy should be more than pleased with what these books bring to the table. Mr. Ruckley’s attention to detail is second to none and his readers reap the reward with a series of books that never fail to deliver the literary goods. I already have the third book in the trilogy and can’t wait to discover how it ends. I highly recommend The Godless World trilogy, especially if you love fantasy books.

Brian Ruckley’s official website can be found here:  http://www.brianruckley.com/

Follow Brian Ruckley on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/Brian_Ruckley

Book Review: Winterbirth, by Brian Ruckley

Are you a fan of Game of Thrones? Do you like Epic Fantasy? If so, why haven’t you read Winterbirth?

Before I get into things I should put the jacket blurb, right? Man, there’s a lot of question marks in this post.

From the publisher:

AWinterbirthn uneasy truce exists between the thanes of the True Bloods. Now, as another winter approaches, the armies of the Black Road march south, from their exile beyond the Vale of Stones.
For some, war will bring a swift and violent death. Others will not hear the clash of swords or see the corpses strewn over the fields. Instead, they will see an opportunity to advance their own ambitions.

But soon, all will fall under the shadow that is descending. For while the storm of battle rages, one man is following a path that will awaken a terrible power in him — and his legacy will be written in blood.

I’ll try to be as spoiler free as possible. Better get my review pants on.

Winterbirth is the first book in the Godless World Trilogy, and tells the story of a kingdom on the cusp of war, and change. In the place of kings we have Thanes. Of course, there’s a Thane of Thanes, or one guy ruling all the kingdoms. There are naturally alliances and political squabbling. To be honest, the first 100 pages is hard to get through. It’s slow and sometimes confusing because readers are trying to get a handle on back story, characters, and plot. I was lost more than once but was intrigued enough to read on.

When things get good, they get really good. Mr. Ruckley’s action scenes are second to none. If the scene calls for blood, he gives you blood. He also doesn’t shy away from killing off characters, which I’m very fond of.

After page 115 I was sold, whole heartedly. And that’s the only drawback of this book. Asking readers to slog through 115 pages in today’s book market is a huge gamble. Most won’t. But I’m glad I did.

This book follows multiple points of view. The main character, I would say, is Orisian, a prince if you will. He’s young and inexperienced but that soon changes when his father’s kingdom is invaded in a surprise attack. I enjoyed reading about his character and found myself looking forward to his sections, or sections where he’s around. I also love the fact that he isn’t the “chosen one” and he has trouble handling a sword. He isn’t a superhero, but a teenager learning his place in the world.

We get to see this war from every side. I liked that. We’re even treated to a bigger picture with the Kyrinin (I would compare them to Native Americans in the US), and their na’ kyrim (half human and half Kyrinin), offspring who, through the mixing of races, acquire certain mental powers. Throughout history, these half breeds have used their influence to take over kingdoms, murder, and conquer. Today, there are few of them left. Most eek out a peaceful existence in one of two sanctuaries. We get to see how the different races have come to hate and mistrust one another, which only adds to the plot.

Even though the humans mistrust the Kyrinin, the greatest threat is from other humans. Political back-stabbing, secret alliances, and ulterior motives all come into play. After the political storyline gets going, it’s mostly enjoyable. It enhances the scope of the story and gives readers an inside look at why things are happening.

Have I confused you yet? No? Good. Let’s continue!

What I liked:

  • The action is top-notch
  • Learning about the different species as they’re forced to interact.
  • The political espionage.
  • The lore, even if I didn’t understand all of it.
  • How big Mr. Ruckley’s world felt.
  • The female characters aren’t clichéd and feel just as real as their male counterparts.
  • The characters in general were all interesting and not over the top superheroes.
  • How Mr. Ruckley effortlessly juggles so many plot pieces.
  • The ending leaves you wanting more.

What I didn’t like:

  • It starts off slow.
  • The lore can be a bit overwhelming at times, especially in the beginning.
  • The ending didn’t feel like an ending, but a to be continued.

Overall: I’d give Winterbirth four out of five stars. I would recommend this book to Fantasy lovers and fans of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series of books. If you can make it through the beginning, you’ll be in for a treat. The slow beginning is also why I couldn’t give this book five stars. I’m hoping the sequel, Bloodheir, is even better.

You can find out more about this book and the author, by clicking the following links:

Brian Ruckley’s official website can be found here.

An interview with Brian about Winterbirth can be found here.

Learn more about the Godless world by following this link.

Purchase Winterbirth here.

Shogun Rising

I follow the ridiculously talented artist, Aaron Miller, on Twitter. My hope is one day I’ll be either famous enough or rich enough to be able to commission his talents for a book cover. Anyway, yesterday he Tweeted that a Kickstarter he’s involved with went live. I was naturally intrigued so I clicked on the link.

So what’s a kickstarter? A kickstarter is a way for creative folks, film makers, writers, comic creators, and so on, to get funding for their projects. Have you heard about the Veronica Mars kickstarter raising millions for a feature length film? The formula is simple. The creators come up with a project. They make a video stating their intentions and goals. They ask us, the general public to pitch in to make their project happen. Sounds easy, right? Most kickstarters last for a certain period of time and if their financial goals aren’t met, no one is charged. The creators often throw in perks for supporting their cause. One of the perks for supporting Shogun Rising is to have yourself drawn into the graphic novel. Pretty cool.

What is Shogun Rising?

It’s a graphic novel written and illustrated by some talented folks. It’s samurai meets zombies with a twist of love. Think samurai Romeo and Juliet fighting in the zombie apocalypse. It would probably be easier to let the creators tell you. I’ll paste the video here.

As you can see, these artists are no joke. It took me about fifteen minutes to decide to support this kickstarter. And here I am urging anyone interested to join me. If you know of anyone who may be interested, help spread the word through Twitter, Facebook, blogs, however you can. We’ve got until June 1st to help raise &44,000. As of 5:00 PM, EST, Shogun Rising has raised a little over $3,500. That’s just a one day total! Well? What are you waiting for? Help make this graphic novel a reality. You have the power!

You can find the official kickstarter for Shogun Rising by following this link. Follow Shogun Rising on Twitter by following this link.

You can find out more about Aaron Miller by following this link. Follow Aaron Miller on Twitter by following this link.

You can find out more about Cynthia Sheppard by following this link. Follow Cynthia Sheppard on Twitter by following this link.