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Girl on the Train, The (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-04-21)
Rachel Watson is a creature of habit, taking the Ashbury-Euston train toward London daily. She doesn't have much of a life of her own so watches other people and imagines what they must be like and what they might be doing.

The story is told in three voices, Rachel, Anna and Megan. It also moves back and forth through time periods.

As Rachel is the central character, we view much of the action through her eyes. She is an alcoholic and obsessive about her former husband, Tom and Tom's wife Anna and their child. She calls them constantly, even late at night and then hangs up the phone.

Tom had an affair with Anna when still married to Rachel, then divorced Rachel and became the father to Evie.

Even though Rachel has lost her job, she still rides the train daily and while doing so, watches the lives of others and wonders what they might be doing. One couple she watches lives a few doors down the street from Tom and Anna.

When a character goes missing, Rachel becomes involved in the investigation. Jess is one of the characters who Rachel watches and is really Megan.

There have been many comparisons of this book to "Gone Girl." Stephen King has purchased the rights for Dreamworld.

I felt that the book was confusing, being narrated by three people. I also didn't find any of the characters likable or characters that I wanted to learn more about. Rachel, in particular, with her blackouts, her alcoholism and her decision making was very unlikable and hard for me to believe.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Girl on the Train, The”.)

Men Without Women (1927) [collection]
Review by pasyan (2015-04-19) Contains spoilers. View anyway.


(This review refers to the 1927 version titled “Men Without Women”)

PRIMAL FURY (2014) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-04-18)
Beautiful young women, believing that they are going to modeling opportunities are kidnapped and sold into slavery.

PRIMAL is an organization that his "...hell-bent on bringing justice to those who have evaded it." They are funded by a benefactor who is the CEO of a billion dollar logistics empire.

PRIMAL has a small group of operatives and uses the latest in technology and weaponry to bring down their opponents. Think of a team with four James Bond's.

The edge of seat action in "PRIMAL Fury" is thrilling as this small group of operatives is pitted against the Mori-Kai. The Mori-Kai is one of Japan's most ruthless and deadly families. They are behind the smuggling ring abducting the girls.

We follow the action of two of the abducted girls who are from Croatia. It seems cruel to see a young person's dreams bashed as these two women, like the others, thought they were going to a life as models with lots of glamour.

Karla, the younger sister is just seventeen. She seems particularly vulnerable. William Kurtz, a PRIMAL operative is stymied numerous times as he attempts to rescue her. When he first met Karla, Kurtz became emotionally connected to her and his over enthusiastic attempts at rescue almost spoil a number of situations.

The PRIMAL mission is to search for the smugglers' headquarters, rescue the young women and destroy the organization.

The action sizzles as it moves along. The odds seem against the forces of PRIMAL but with their bravery and superior technology, they overcome.


(This review refers to the expression titled “PRIMAL FURY”.)

Crash and Burn (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-04-14)
Welcome to the world of brain injured Nicky Frank. Her car sails off the road and crashes into a ravine. Then she clamors out of the car, surrounded by broken glass and the smell of Glenlivet Scotch. Nicky reaches the highway and when help arrives, all she can think of is 'Where's Viro?"

Nicky's story is the center of the book. It's packed with as many surprises as a carton of Crackerjax. The first bombshell comes when police Sergeant Wyatt Foster and Detective Kevin Santos attempt to question Nicky's husband Thomas. When they ask about his child, Vero, Thomas laughs and tells them that they have no children. He adds that Nicky has had a number of brain injuries and as a result, her memory is unsound and she often gets mixed up.

Sgt. Foster has been in a relationship with Tessa Leoni who works with Northridge Investigations. Foster learns that Nicky has contacted them to help find a woman who was a key to her past. They also begin to doubt the veracity of Thomas's responses to their questions.

The story's pacing is excellent as, with Wyatt and Kevin help her remember things from her past. Tessa also helps and becomes an advocate for Nicky. It is during this time that Thomas disappears.

Nicky is determined to learn about her past while dealing with her traumatic brain injury.

The fast moving psychological thriller will keep the reader going while trying to discover what really happened in Nicky's past and the real story behind Nicky and Thomas's relationship.

With a contemporary theme of dealing with traumatic brain injuries, the reader learns how hard it is to deal with this invisible malady and empathy builds for those attempting to cope with it.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Crash and Burn”.)

Cold Betrayal (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-04-12)
When a young pregnant woman is hit by a car near Flagstaff, Arizona, she's brought to the hospital and opens up a hidden world where a religious cult was active.

At the hospital is Sister Anselm, a patient advocate who deeply cares for those who don't have a voice in their own behalf. The woman gives birth but both she and her daughter are in critical condition.

Before lapsing into unconsciousness, the defenseless woman pleads with the young man who drove the care that hit her accidentally, please don't let them take me back.

With this plea, Sister Anselm stays at Enid's side and tells her friend, Ali Reynolds, who is police academy trained and works at her husband's computer technology company.

Both Ali and Sister Anselm are there when a confrontation occurs by two authoritative men from The Family who have come to bring Enid and her daughter back. This was an excellent scene that is well described by the author, J.A. Jance.

The story continues and we observe the manner in which the man at the cult treat their wives and how certain young girls disappear in the middle of the night.

As this goes on, a parallel story involves a senior citizen, Betsy Peterson who is awakened by her dog one night and finds the gas has been turned on in her stove. If the dog hadn't awakened Betsy, she might have been killed. Betsy is the grandmother of Athena who is Ali's daughter-in-law.

With two dramatic story lines, the action moves nicely and the characters are well described and easy to root for. It's easy for the reader to feel empathy for both and both parts of the story treat meaningful situations in today's society, elder abuse and human trafficking along with religious cults who go to the extremes in their treatment of the people under their spell.

J.A. Jance is an excellent author and knows how to tell a compelling story. I didn't want this story to end because it was so good but I did want to see the villains get what was coming to them.

The novel is skillfully plotted and recommended. Don't miss it.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Cold Betrayal”.)

At the Water's Edge (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-04-08)
Sara Gruen's new novel mixes history with a moving love story.

Ellis and Maddie Hyde are at Ellis's parents house and we see the aftermath of a New Year's Eve party where Ellis and Maddie embarrassed everyone there.

When Ellis's parents call him out on this the discussion gets very personal and something is said that causes Ellia's father to demand that he and Maddie leave their home.

In response, they travel to Scotland with Ellis's side kick, Hank. They are resolved to find the Loch Ness Monster and prove that an endeavor in which Ellis's father, Col Whitney Hyde, was involved in, was worthwhile.
The setting is in 1942 and the trip to Scotland is harrowing as German U Boats sink a ship their liberty ship was traveling with. When Maddie and Ellis see the injured seamen who are rescued, instead of compassion, they are horrified.

Ellis is a spoiled son of a wealthy family. He cares for little other than his own enjoyment and he's hooked on alcohol and pills. He got out of serving in the War due to being color blind. Through much of the story, Maddie wonders if he was faking it.

In Scotland, the party stays at The Fraser Arms where they meet Angus Grant. From this moment on, the story takes on a romantic quality. It's almost out of old English literature where Maddie falls in love with a real man, Angus. He's suffered a double tragedy and the romance builds slowly but beautifully. However, can they make their romance work? Will Ellis stand in their way?

When he sees things aren't going his way, he takes steps to make Maddie suffer.

I enjoyed the story and the manner in which, Maddie, like Scarlett O'Hara became a force of her own, just when the odds were the greatest.

The historical element was also nicely done as the characters at The Fraser Arms gather around the radio and listen to the progress of the war, or they hurry to the air raid shelter along with their gas masks.

Sara Gruen takes her readers on a enjoyable ride as we observe the moral growth of Maddie Hyde. Not up to the excellence of "Water for Elephants," but still and enjoyable book that Gruen's fans will enjoy.

Fever Tree, The (2015) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-04-08)
Frances Irvine's life is shattered when her father dies suddenly and leaves her penniless in London in 1880. She depended upon her father and is lost without him.

She faces moving to her aunt's home and being treated as a nurse and maid for her condescending aunt's five children or emigrating to South Africa where her cousin has asked her to marry him.

Frances isn't in love with her cousin but can't see living with her aunt in Manchester. On the boat to The Cape, she's seduced by William Westbrook, a Machiavellian who promises to marry once they arrive in South Africa.

Upon arrival, Frances is stood up by Westbrook and learns that he's engaged to another. Saddened and alone, she travels the rest of the way to the farm where her cousin Edwin lives. It's is a desolate area and Edwin is gone much of the time, providing smallpox vaccinations.

Frances grows tired of this existence and on a trip to the city, she meets Westbrook again and he informs her of events in his life and that he still loves her and wants her to travel to Johannesburg with him as soon as he gets enough money from the diamonds he's illegally purchasing.

Frances has to choose between the two men and the remainder of the story tells of her choice and the consequences of it.

There is a very good portrayal of live in the Cape, with wealthy diamond miners refusing to believe that the smallpox is spreading for fear that the natives working in the mines will desert them. It is visually described and I feel that it would make an excellent movie.

The supporting cast is well described and that makes much of the book more interesting as Frances visits hospitals and tames a zebra and begins to become accustomed to the life.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Fever Tree, The”.)

Asylum City (2014) [novel]
Review by michael a draper (2015-03-29)
Michal Poleg is a social activist who doesn't care who she confronts. She's found murdered in her apartment in Tel Aviv.
Anat Nachmias is assigned as the lead investigator in her first murder investigation.

Michal had worked with refugees and abused women in Tel Aviv and the description of some of these African refugees tugs at the reader's heart.
Michal's boss also works to find the killer. A friend of both Michal and Itai confesses, some leaders think the case is solved. there is more to it as we see those who might have committed the crime. Nicely done with good suspense and characters who the reader can feel empathy for.

(This review refers to the expression titled “Asylum City”.)

Kindred (1979) [novel]
Review by i_of_horus (2015-01-07)
This book is kinda heavy with the message that Octavia Butler is sending with her writing in all her books, namely that slavery is a bad thing. Dûh..

That said, I really liked most of her books, especially the Xenogenesis and Patternist omnibuses. This one though, the message seemed more important than the plot which is pretty thin anyway, so yeah...

That said, I still read it to the end. It's pretty short after all, especially compared to the above-mentioned omnibuses :)

Watership Down (1972) [novel]
Review by datovs (2014-09-20)
Watership Down is a brilliant piece of writing able to blend the rabbit culture with a story of great depth and power. Richard Adams creates a new and powerful experience using rabbits and their way of life to tell a story of risk, sacrifice, and fighting for a cause and an idea. Breaking the flow of the story a few times to gain the view of the antagonist and the Humans for plot development is ingeniously written and blended in very well. Creating a diverse group of characters, Watership Down does nothing but grasp the reader into an adventure beyond others, written far better than most, and climaxing wonderfully.

(This review refers to the 1972 version titled “Watership Down”)

Imperial Bedrooms (2010) [novel]
Review by datovs (2014-08-15)
Imperial Bedrooms has a unique style of prose used by Ellis to show the scattered world within LA. The climax' sealed end is a representation of the protagonist's abilities and capabilities. It takes a while for Ellis to truly get to the fundamental message of the novel, and through this patient play, it loses some credibility. Imperial Bedrooms carries Ellis' trademark style, but cannot compete against his greats such as American Psycho in regards to its level of profoundness and deliverance. This novel, dare I say it, suffers slightly from its own ego.

(This review refers to the 2010 version titled “Imperial Bedrooms”)

Omon Ra (1991) [novel]
Review by spiphany (2014-03-18)
I greatly enjoyed Pelevin's short stories in "The Blue Lantern," so I've been eager to read more by him. Unfortunately, "Omon Ra" has a fairly gruesome/brutal episode fairly early on and I haven't been able to read past it. Satire, yes, but very dark. I'm not sure I'll come back to finish this one. Perhaps something else by the author.

Guile is Where it Goes (2003) [short story]
Review by elvispizza (2014-02-25)
Tight, neat, funny; stylization reserved for the dialogue of one protagonist only, sketching in just enough character to make him resonate. Thus far the best story of the collection, along with "Black Heart and Cabin Girl". I know I should finish the anthology before weighing in, but that just shows what a gem Dan Crawford's story is.

This Immortal (1966) [novel]
Review by rainer (2013-07-12)
I first read the short story (not that short) "and call me Conrad", which is the original of this piece of art. Not much of a change, some more pages and more wood to the fire. This story it's about a men that it's not, leaving the truly identity of Conrad to the imagination of the reader. One of the best short novels that i ever read, it's a challenge to the mind. I find hard to express how amazing this story is, but trust me in this one, read it, you will thank me later.

(This review refers to the 1966 version titled “This Immortal”)

Stranger, the (1996) [novel]
Review by spiphany (2013-06-23)
Really? So much literature written in Russian and this is what publishers decided was worth translating? I get it that this series was a sensation in Russia. I get it that it's a nice departure from sword-and-sorcery tolkienesque fantasy. I get it that it's at least in part a parody. But to be honest I was hoping for something a little more...above average.

The book features a self-described "loser" from our world who ends up in a parallel Victorian-ish world (Echo) as a member of a small cadre responsible for solving magic-related crimes. It's an interesting premise, although one not utterly unfamiliar to someone versed in the genre of fantasy detective novels. The reader should be prepared for the fact that the book does not have a single, unified plot; instead it consists of a bundle of several novellas which are more or less stand-alone.

I enjoyed it for about the first hundred pages, then I began to get annoyed by the poor writing, flat characters, endless pauses for meals, and haphazard plotting. Somehow none of the descriptions ever allowed me to really visualize anything--I don't know if this is because the stories originally included illustrations and the author depended on this for the effect. The characters seem to mostly stumble onto the solution of the crime (unlike Sherlock Holmes type detective stories, where the clues are there all along but we don't figure out what happened right away because we don't know how to interpret them correctly). All in all ok, but I somehow lost the motivation about halfway through and had to struggle to make myself finish the book. There was never any real sense of threat even when the protagonist was in mortal danger, which made it hard to care particularly about the outcome of any of the episodes.

Randall Garrett's "Lord Darcy" stories are better detective fiction, even if they feel rather old-fashioned and lack the quirkiness of the world of Echo. The stories reminded me a bit of Robert Asprin's "Myth" series (without the puns, although I think there is probably some wordplay which got lost in translation) and would probably appeal to readers who enjoyed that series.

Lost Books of the Odyssey, the (2008) [novel]
Review by spiphany (2013-06-23)
I loved the idea of this book. The Odyssey is in so many ways an ideal candidate for a post-modern narrative that plays with (fictional) lost texts, with new endings and alternative versions of well-known stories. Who better suited than crafty Odysseus, who in the course of his journey offers his hosts various stories about his past – all of them departing to a greater or lesser degree from the absolute truth, of course. Whose fate after his return home the Odyssey itself leaves open, hinting only in a prophecy that the weary traveler’s wanderings are not yet over. And the mythological tradition, too, is itself so rich in alternative versions of many of the events of the Trojan War, starting with the question of whether Helen ever reached Troy or whether, indeed, she never existed at all. The fiction upon which this text is based is thus completely plausible – the textual history of the Homeric epics is full of variation, with lines included in some manuscripts that are missing from others, built upon an oral tradition which was, by its nature, subject to change.

Mason picks up some of these themes, but a lot he does not. More importantly: the feel of the stories is not authentic. He writes from a contemporary perspective through and through, there is no illusion that the texts could have been written by an ancient author. Stylistically the stories fail to convince at this level. Nor does the world view they present.

Arguably none of this is necessary. Mason is playing a game with the content, using it as space for playful philosophical reflection. He does this well.

But for a reader familiar with the likes of Borges, Calvino or Cortazar, it is simply too much standard postmodern fare; the tropes are familiar and there is little that is really new or unexpected. The book lacks the ability to maintain the multi-layeredness, the illusion that it really is a collection of lost manuscripts telling a new version of the Odyssey. Unlike Borges, Mason is not the master of the well-placed footnote, the cranky comment by the fictional editor on some equally fictional academic debate that sustains the belief in the gimmick the book is based on. Instead, the occasional footnotes are more often glosses on names or mythological characters and give the impression that the author is afraid his readers won’t understand the background without an explanation. Where they are meta-fictional in nature, they do not necessarily convince at this level – the author knows his postmodernism, but presumably does not have extensive background in classics: some of the footnotes regarding purported translation choices left me scratching my head because they simply did not make sense in terms of the actual characteristics of Homeric Greek. I, at least, would have appreciated the book more if the author had dispensed with the footnotes and tried less hard to make us believe in the pseudo-manuscript. As a series of playful variations on a theme the book is fun; the framing, however, promises what it cannot fulfill.

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