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Archive for May, 2023

Sci-Fi Review – Light of Impossible Stars

Saturday, May 13th, 2023

Light of Impossible Stars by Gareth L. Powell

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)


LIGHT OF IMPOSSIBLE STARS is the final volume in the Embers of War trilogy by Gareth Powell.  For events of the first two – EMBERS OF WAR and FLEET OF KNIVES –  read my previous reviews, here and here.

The sapient warship Trouble Dog and her brother ship Adalwulf have barely escaped from the Marble Armada fleet and are now on the run. They are heading for the Intrusion, an area that both the Armada and the hyperspace “dragons” avoid.  Reality in the Intrusion is not exactly stable, and no one who’s gone there has ever come out. But they have information that leads them to believe it could be the way to survive, if not defeat the Armada. They’re critically low on fuel, though, and need to find something quick.

We are introduced to two new characters, Cordelia Pa and her brother Michael, who live on one of a number of artifical worlds known as Plates which are very close to the Intrusion. Individually the Plates are not very big, but they are arranged in a group and travel between them is easy enough, if you have the money. Cordelia and Michael have come down in the world since their childhood, and now make a living scavenging alien artifacts from the depths of one of the Plates. Cordelia has some strange abilities that she tries not to think about. But someone has been looking for Cordelia, and her situation is about to take a dramatic turn.

As before, the story is told in quick chunks of first-person POV from different characters: Trouble Dog; Sal Konstanz, the captain of Trouble Dog; Johnny Schultz who was rescued during the last book; the vile Ona Sudak; and Cordelia. Those are the main voices but there are also snippets from Nod, the Druff engineer, and Michael. Again, except for Nod, the voices are not all that different from each other.  I wish we’d seen something from Lucy, but Powell doesn’t give her much of a role here.

Arthur C. Clarke once said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” and I feel like Powell relied on that too much. Cordelia’s abilities look like magic to me and so did the appearance of Sal’s relative. The “dragons” physical manifestation is too much like fantasy (wouldn’t it have been interesting if different races saw different monsters?).  We see the payoff from the Druff scenario that was set up earlier, but I was expecting something less mundane – I’m not sure why, because on reflection I see how Powell set that up very nicely.   As before, not every character is going to survive and that did make me sad.  I liked the ending, with the exception of Sudak’s fate – she’s so despicable I wanted her squashed like a bug. Can’t have everything I guess, and it fits with everything else we know about Sal.

It’s a relatively happy ending for our characters,  flows along briskly, and has very good imagery, but I feel this book isn’t quite as good as the previous two. The sameness of the character voices, the too-convenient appearance of saviors, and Cordelia’s “magic” abilities lead me to mark it down a bit.  Despite that, I enjoyed it and the series as a whole. It’s a good entry in the space opera genre.






Fantasy Review – The Book of Gothel

Friday, May 12th, 2023

The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne

Melissa B. (dragoneyes)

This is not a retelling of Rapunzel and the tower as the cover might lead you to think but a story about the witch that put her there. As you are reading the story, you wonder how in the world Rapunzel has anything to do with this it but near the end you find out how.

The story surrounds a young girl named Haelewise. She is beautiful but has eerie black eyes and odd fainting spells. The villagers swear she is possessed by a demon. Her mother spends her time trying to find a cure for her as her father rarely shows interest. As she gets older her mother becomes ill and tells her if something should happen to seek out the witch in the forest. So, when the time comes, Haelewise sets off with a heavy heart. There she finds the old woman who is willing to take her in and long as she is willing to follow the rules. Of course, she doesn’t and it sets off another crazy turn of events.

Although the story was not quite what I expected, I very much enjoyed the book and all of the characters in it. It will be one of those stories that will stick with me for quite a while.



Thriller Review – Landslide

Thursday, May 11th, 2023

Landslide by Desmond Bagley

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


A car accident in 1957 erased Bob Boyd’s memory of anything personal. Luckily, he can remember his field of geology. So in the next 10 years he is able to make a living, working temp consultant jobs in British Columbia. That way, he finances solo trips into the Northwest Territory to go prospecting. Living on little money with few possessions has helped him forge an identity that readers like in an action hero: resourceful, disciplined, and confident.

In 1967, he returns to the little town of Fort Farrell, in northeastern British Columbia. It is located near the scene of the crash that caused his memory loss. Fort Farrell is run by the Matterson Corporation. The father Bull provides guidance that can’t be ignored and his heir Howard manages the day to day operations with his hard-souled accountant. They hire our hero Boyd to survey a valley soon to be inundated by a new dam. The Matterson Corporation wants to make sure they are not covering any opportunities for mineral extraction.

The more Boyd finds out about the Matterson father and son, the less he likes them. He doesn’t cotton to the unjust way they run Fort Farrell. And he is troubled by their ruthless obliterating of the memory of their business partner John Trinavant and his family who were killed in the crash that cost Boyd his memory.

Readers that like the age-old story in which a stranger comes to town and shakes things up in the name of fairness and keeping faith with the past will find much to like as Boyd gives a swift kick or two to the shaky foundations of the Matterson empire. Boyd strikes up an alliance with the comely Claire Trinavant, niece of nearly forgotten John. Rich, attractive, kind and liking the outdoor life – what more could a hero in an action novel require of a romantic partner?

Don’t let the iffy plot device of amnesia put you off. I assure the prospective reader that the amnesia really works persuasively, unlike a coma, a bumbling police chief or an Evil Twin. The plot twists unfold at a brisk pace. The action is gripping, including a man-made natural disaster for a climax. There are rocking surprises, not surprising when the hero is a geologist – yuk yuk. This doesn’t seem to be the best-known of Bagley’s many novels but I think it’s well-worth reading. And how often do we read a thriller set in remote Canada?

Desmond Bagley was only 59 when he passed away in 1983. Trained as a journalist, his lucid writing and meticulous research made his action novels best-sellers in the twenty years after 1963. Readers that like Hammond Innes, Len Deighton, Frederick Forsyth or Jack Higgins will like Bagley.



Non-Fiction Review – The Last Narco

Wednesday, May 10th, 2023

The Last Narco: Inside the hunt for El Chapo, the World’s Most Wanted Drug Lord

by Malcolm Beith

Review by jjares


This is the story of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the Mexican drug lord and leader of the Sinaloa Drug Cartel. Uneducated and dirt-poor, El Chapo worked his way from tending the drug fields to moving drugs to lead one of the largest worldwide cartels. The interesting thing about El Chapo was his low-key behavior. El Chapo built schools and hospitals because the Mexican government did not meet the citizens’ needs. The people loved him because he kept the peace. When there was a problem, he solved it without fanfare.

The government did not know he existed until 1987. First, Guzman learned the ropes by aiding other drug lords to move drugs from Columbia and Mexico into the US. Then, after a few years, Guzman created his distribution system in the US. In his heyday, Guzman was responsible for massive shipments of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana to the US and Europe. Guzman may have been uneducated, but he was an intelligent businessman. He pioneered several unique systems that made him wildly successful. For example, he used deep and long tunnels into the US (90 feet down and 2000 feet into the US) and created distribution cells (workers who didn’t know anyone above the one who hired him). By 2009, Forbes Magazine named Guzman one of the most prominent billionaires in the world.

In 1993, El Chapo was apprehended and sent to Puente Grande prison. He ran his drug empire from prison, but when he found out he would be extradited to the US, he did not want to land in American jails, so he staged his escape by rolling out in a laundry cart. This increased the legend of El Chapo. However, things changed over the years, and the different drug lords began fighting each other. Chapo was from the old school, where he kept the peace and provided for people experiencing poverty. However, as the fighting intensified, Chapo had to fight by the new rules — anything goes.

Here are some staggering statistics; the average narco (person involved with the drug trade) had a life expectancy of 3.5 years. The largest killer of men from 18 to 29 (in Mexico) was drug-related murders. By the year 2000, young men joined the drug trade in droves. They had no conscience, and they murdered or maimed without a thought. By 2009, more than 2900 young people were being shot down yearly in Sinaloa. Life is so cheap in Mexico that someone will kill another for $35.

Another gruesome statistic is that Mexico has little education and poor health care. There are no jobs if one is lucky enough to get an education. Graft and corruption have riddled the system. It isn’t just politicians but the army, the police, the military, etc. This is why illegals keep streaming across the border. The death rate is staggeringly high, and no one is safe.

This book ended before El Chapo was apprehended in 2014. The Mexican government initiated a manhunt for him in 2001, but Guzman had bought off so many soldiers, police, citizens, and politicians that it was almost impossible to catch him. Guzman was clever because he only trusted long-term associates and relatives. However, the government went after Guzman’s associates and relatives to grind down his cartel.

Guzman hid in remote areas of the Sierra Madre Mountains for long periods. However, as more significant cohorts were killed or jailed, Guzman had to take more chances to run his empire. By this time, the other drug lords were after Chapo, as well as the government. His days were numbered. Readers may want to go to Wikipedia to read how Chapo was caught. The author of this book was an American magazine writer who was given open access to leaders to tell the story. He admitted that he closed the account because he feared for his life.

A sobering thought: This author says that one million people in the US are in the drug trade (as of 2010).








Mystery Monday Review – The Case of the Worried Waitress

Monday, May 8th, 2023

The Case of the Worried Waitress by Erle Stanley Gardner

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

It’s against restaurant rules for a server to approach customers who are professionals in order to obtain free consultations. But Katherine Ellis, Kit, is not only on her own, it’s obvious that she’s concerned about a problem. So after Perry Mason and Della Street finish lunch, Perry leaves his card and a message to the worried waitress, “My usual fee is $10. Under the plate there is a tip of $11.”

After her shift, Kit visits Perry’s office and tells her story. Kit is an orphan and penniless. Her aunt is only posing to be poor and has thousands of dollars in cash stashed in her hatboxes (remember those?). Not only does the aunt stint on food, but she stands outside a factory, posing as a blind person and selling pencils. Talk about a miser – yikes! Perry orders her to get out of her aunt’s house as quickly as possible lest she be falsely accused if the money goes missing.

Too late.

Kit is charged with robbing then assaulting her aunt with fatal results. In addition, Mason is distracted by two wives duking it out over control of their former husband’s estate and two rival factions of a corporation competing for control. The two conflicts are tied together by a genuine blind person, not a fake one, like the crazy aunt. A lot of plot and incident crowd together in a novel that, strangely enough, seems slimmer than the usual Mason novel.

This 1966 effort is not the best Mason novel, even for a hardcore fan. The organization seems loosey-goosey. The trial sequence, usually the climactic fireworks in a Mason novel, is on the meh side. DA Ham Burger seems to be just going through the motions, as if dejected he’s going to lose publicly yet again, for umpteenth time since 1935.

But the suspense keeps us turning the pages. This novel would be mildly satisfactory for any hardcore Mason fan. Novices should start with the earlier efforts, the rockers The Case of the Cautious Coquette and The Case of the Careless Kitten. For old school puzzlers there are The Case of the Buried Clock and The Case of the Crooked Candle.



Non-Fiction Review – Escape from Alacatraz

Saturday, May 6th, 2023

Escape from Alcatraz by Eric Braun

Review by jjares

This is a fascinating story without a solution. The writer gives all the known facts and then offers several possible explanations. However, the author leaves it up to the reader to decide. Did three men escape Alcatraz or not?

Although this book was written for 9 to 12-year-olds, adults will love this book too. The photos of the Alcatraz prison and escape routes add much to the entertainment value of this book. I couldn’t put this book down until I finished it. There are so many possible solutions that it is an excellent springboard for discussion.

If the three prisoners of Alcatraz escaped, they were uniquely talented at escaping from prisons. They were assigned to Alcatraz because of their penchant for escaping from other maximum prisons. Frank Morris was notorious for running multiple times. The Anglin brothers, JW and Clarence, were also prison escapees assigned to Alcatraz. The thought was that the prisoners would remain intact in Alcatraz (on an island surrounded by water). Alcatraz was famous because no one had escaped this famous prison. There had been many attempts but no successes.

There was a fourth potential escapee: Allen West. He was on his second term at Alcatraz. The author states that Allen was the key to the escape because he’d been at Alcatraz since 1957 and worked maintenance jobs. While doing various jobs, he could case the facility for his cohorts and collect or create tools.

In this short book, the author introduces all the characters and how they got to Alcatraz. Then, he explains their plan and how they implemented it (parts of it were brilliant). Unfortunately, an unexpected problem at the last minute caused Allen West to remain behind. Finally, the author has investigated many ideas offered to prove or disprove that the men survived and escaped.

Finally, a glossary of terms (used in the book) and questions to spark discussions about the material are included. Thought-provoking.






Thriller Review – Hidden Pictures

Thursday, May 4th, 2023

Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak

Melissa B. (dragoneyes)


I had to sit on this one for a bit because I couldn’t find the words for a review. I’m still not quite sure how to put it down but I will give it a whirl. The book itself is a mystery/thriller with a supernatural twist added to it. Rarely do I find that books like this work out for me but this one did even though it wasn’t fully believable.

I’ll start with the good. For most part I liked the characters, especially the little boy, Teddy. He was adorable. Our main character, Mallory, seemed down to earth. She is a recovering addict looking for change and redemption. She applies for babysitting position and eventually gets it. Here we meet Teddy and his parents. It doesn’t take long for things to get weird and the supernatural starts coming into play. I liked it. It was a creepy ghost story with a mystery behind it and for most part it was done well.

As for the bad, there were points in where Mallory could become quite irritating. She wanted people to believe her but she would either act irrationally or lie. I found her actions getting under my skin sometimes. The other was how crazy it got at the end. On one hand the adrenaline level amped up quite a bit. On the other hand, a couple characters became deranged lunatics out of nowhere and it was totally out of character. While it was wild reading it was also somewhat unconvincing.

All-in-all in was a fast paced, enjoyable read. I look forward to more stories put out by this author.