White Corridor by Christopher Fowler


White Corridor

It’s always a gamble to pick up books by unknown authors. And I seem to do a bad job of it at Christmas every year. Each year we spend some time in the car, so we grab audio books. This year’s selection was a mixed bag of known authors and unknown authors. We listened to this title and it was definitely a mixed bag.

The story revolves around two older gentlemen who run a Peculiar Crimes Unit in London. They are quirky, cranky, and odd. Which of course makes them fun. They can get away saying and doing things that a younger detective would be fired over. In this story, the two detectives are stranded out in a snow storm miles from anywhere with a killer, the killer’s intended victim, and plenty of innocent people. A blizzard trapped many cars on a busy bypass through the English countryside in subzero temperatures. This situation becomes a race for personal survival in the cold and an effort to rescue the victim from killer.

Meanwhile, back at the PCU, their staff has a mystery on its hands that could eventually give their political enemies the leverage to shut them down. The two older detectives attempt to help solve that crime as well using their cell phones while stranded out in the cold.

All in all, it makes for a great setup. There are a few downsides to the book though. First, two of the characters have an affair. (I have no idea how descriptive it was as I skipped it.) The author uses this as a plot device as the girl believes she is now psychically bonded to the man.

Update: From the author’s comments below: “My romantic scenes are chaste; imagination is better.”

Second, there is profanity in the book. Third, the author is very anti-God and anti-religion. The lead spends much of his time supporting, encouraging, and getting assistance from witches, warlocks, and all sorts of cultic groups. (They were traveling to a cultist convention when they were stranded.)

I can ignore the cultist things. What I have less trouble accepting is the affair and the language.

I did find one other thing disturbing. Despite the modern setting, so much of the described English life could have been pulled right from an Agatha Christie novel that I found the modern technology jolting. It’s not the author’s fault; most of my experience with English detectives come from Christie and books set in the early to mid 20th century. So, I often dropped back into that mental picture until a cell phone appeared again. Whoops….

Have you ever had that experience?

The Winning of Kay Slade By, Albert C. Wyckoff

Plot: During a long stay at my grandparent’s home, I picked up this book, which, unknown to me, was a romance novel. I do not tend to enjoy these, but found this one to be different.

It is not apparent at first who will be the main character, but as we read through the first few chapters it becomes clear that Kay Slade, second youngest of four children, is she. Kay’s parents are tenets for a man named Mr. Potter, they live in a shack and wear filthy clothing. As we read, it is obvious from the people visiting the Slades home viewpoint, that the food they eat would not pass normal standards of cleanliness.

Kay is quite young when a preacher and his wife come to teach at the Poletown church, and is delighted when they plan to hold a vacation Bible school in the summer. It is through this preacher that Kay is taught to follow Christ, and better her situation in life with education. She does this and meets many good people along the way, including her future husband, and a few not so nice people. Her great desire is to one day marry and provide a better home for her children than what she was brought up in.

Positive: This book has strong Christian content, contains no swearing and our main characters are good role models. There is also some humor, which adds greatly to the story.

Negative: There is one part where a bad guy tries to force our heroine to kiss him, but it isn’t bad, and our hero does rescue her before anything happens. The heroine’ parents are not exactly the greatest role models, but considering their upbringing and circumstances they’re not bad. One girl does elope, but quickly makes up with her parents.

Overall: Though a romance novel and not the type I usually pick up, it was at my grandma’s house and I liked it, not my favorite, but it wasn’t bad.

Wizardry Compiled by Rick Cook


Find it Amazon

This sequel to Wizard’s Bane raised my hopes for a great discussion about the decentralization of power. Sadly, Cook passed on that opportunity.

In book one, Wiz shook up the world by creating basic spells as one creates computer programs. previously to his appearance in this unfamiliar place, only a select few could control magic. Now Wiz had granted magic to all people through the use of “magic programs.”

What happens when a society with no power is suddenly granted the power to be equal with their overseers? Chaos for one thing. The people began moving into the dark places and destroying every magical item in their path. Wiz created a spell for the people (called DDT) that granted a defense against magic. Someone hacked the program to destroy magic.

At the same time, Wiz, now elevated to the Wizardry Council, is playing politics and attempting to teach other students about “programming magic.” He is failing miserably and tearing up his marriage in the process. Ergo, Wiz heads out into the woods in a huff and is promptly kidnapped and transported to a far off continent by the remnants of the evil wizards he had banished. Wiz escapes, but is being hunted by a vicious creature created to sniff out his brand of magic and slaughter the one casting it. Now Wiz spends the majority of the book fleeing for his life and unable to use his magic.

Back on the farm, the people’s destruction of all things magic is creating a war between the magical people and humans. Since Wiz and his magic are the only things who can stop the coming war (and Wiz is missing), the wizards seek alternate solutions for defense. They send Wiz’s wife Moira back to Earth to retrieve some of Wiz’s friends. And here is where the book shines. Moira’s presence in the real world, her efforts to bring back programmers, and the responses of these geeks to this other life creates endless scenarios of fun.

The downsides: more profanity, crass situations and one adult situation. The last was really annoying as the only purpose was to create a situation that would setup book three. Seriously, there were other options. I couldn’t tell you how graphic it was as I skipped ahead. Just be aware.

Overall, if you read book one (and that is fun regardless of whether you continue in the series), then book two might make sense. I didn’t like book two enough (combined with the problematic material) to move on to book three.

Thoughts?

The Supernaturalists by Eion Colfer


The Supernaturalists

Cosmo Hill, an boy abandoned and found on the hill he is named after. Quite the boy, in this futuristic world, Cosmo is subject whatever the boys home people do to him, simply because he is a no-sponsor. (a.k.a no friends/relatives to pay for his upkeep) To feed all these no-sponsor orphans, the orphanage allows various companies to perform chemical tests on the boys. Of course because of all this chemical stuff flowing through them, and the processed foods they get, the longest life anyone has is fifteen. Cosmo is fourteen and dreams of escape.

His chance comes when he is out with other orphans listening to music and their car crashes. Redwood, a very bad guy, tries to wrap Cosmo and his friend, Ziiplock, in the rib-breaking material for Ziplock’s smart comments. They escape, but in the process Ziplock dies and Cosmo gets very hurt.

A threesome group of Supernaturalists, teens hunting Parasites, invisible blue creatures who are believed to suck the life out of hurting people, find Cosmo. Cosmo learns that he too can see these Parasites, because of his near death experience, and so with his three new friends, embarks on a mission to kill the blue buggers before they kill them.

Negative: Not much, one of the bad guys is really mean, but he gets his just desserts. People get wrapped in stuff that breaks ribs and an orphanage mistreats all its occupants.

Overall: A good book, not quite the genius Artemis Fowl, (a series by Eion Colfer) but I enjoyed it. 🙂 Unfortunately my one of favorite character died, but be assured it wasn’t the main character. 🙂 If you’re looking for enjoyable mental junk food, with plenty of plot twists, this is it.

Double Shot, by Diane Mott Davidson


Double Shot

Unraveling the Mystery section, part 1

Ever been to one of those bookstores with shelves all the way to the ceiling? The used ones, with so many kinds of books and so many authors, it makes your head spin? Well, I was in one last week, and got overwhelmed. So I grabbed five books off a shelf at random, and decided to unravel the mystery section. Good books will get the author on the seek list, bad ones on the skip list, and any other reveiwer’s are welcome to add to the series.

In the good news section, this book is all about good food. Most of the jokes involve food, and all the recipes mentioned are given in the back (very fun idea). The main character/female detective is a caterer, so amid investigating her ex-husband’s murder, she’s baking up all these food things that inspire you to try your own hand in the kitchen. The plot involves a lot of fun twists and turns, but mostly the main detective goes from food event to food event with inspiring ideas and collecting clues with her cop husband and gossip-queen girlfriend.

In the bad news department, Davidson has a very appalling sense of place and timing. Several scenes take place in all-too-detailed backgrounds, like a gross-out kitchen or sleazy “men’s club,” all peopled by completely unacceptably described shlubs. While a lot of food comments and quips take some sting out of it, the fact is, a good five pages need to be ripped out of this copy before its acceptable reading. I skimmed a lot of the detecting parts because of these locational problems, about 100 pages worth.

Overall, Davidson goes on my skip-list. Anyone disagree? In the mystery world, are nasty locations fair play, and if so, are there limits on how they should be handled? Or should the author be able to describe what happened, without setting the book in places where offensive material is a given?

The Shining Sword by Charles G. Coleman


The Shining Sword

The Shining Sword is an analogy of the armor of G-d. The author uses fictional characters and a season in their lives to show how she believes the armor of G-d is portrayed in the Bible. (I consider it accurate)

Lanus is our main character and he is very lazy. His favorite activities include wrestling and sleeping in the grass. He works only when he absolutely has to, and looks to the villagers for free meals here and there. He does not sound like much of a hero does it. No, and that disturbed me at first, that the author chose such a character for her hero, but it soon became clear that Lanus’s character was soon to get a wake-up call.

As Lanus is leisurely lying in the grass on a hill, he sees a familiar figure approaching, who turns out to be a friend that disappeared a year ago. Robin, the friend, tells Lanus of his life as a solider of the King, and that he came to invite him to visit the King’s home beyond the little valley where Lanus lives, and to become a soldier of the King.

Lanus agrees to visit, and is impressed with the work and lifestyle Robin and his comrades live in, yet the work part is still a bit bothersome to him. So instead of staying he goes back to the village. Yet instead of staying, you guessed it, he decides to return and become a soldier of the King, and face the enemy (the devil). From there we watch Lanus grow, fall and get back up again and learn proper use of the armor of the King. (G-d)

I must admit I considered this book a bit of a bore for the first 10 or 15 pages, the way the author began things was a little tedious and not very catching. However, I persevered because a friend lent it to me and I told him I would read it. After those first few pages, it began to pick up speed. It never reached 90 miles per hour, but it did end up keeping my interest and finishing out as a book worth reading. (198 pages at most)

If you end up reading this book, let me know what you think about the way the author portrays the armor of G-d. I liked it and thought it a good reminder.

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein


The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

Once I would have said that I leaned Libertarian in my political views. Then I started hearing more about what Libertarian actually believed. From what I can tell, it’s far more than a free-market small government attitude. I started realizing that the underlying philosophy was aggressively anti-God. It just so happened that some of my beliefs overlapped tenents of Libertarianism. So, when I heard that this book would demonstrate the world as a libertarian saw it (and I like some of this author’s other works), I decided to give it a try.

End result: Good story, terrible philosophy.

Briefly stated, the philosophy is that when left alone, men will naturally choose to develop a society in which everyone works together. Government is evil and non-government is good. Unfortunately for that point of view, mankind has a thing called: sin nature. In a perfect world, Libertarians would be right, but as Judges points out, men choose to do what is right in their own eyes and that is often a detriment to others.

Libertarians miss the fact that the government has a legitimate purpose as a restrainer of tyrants, bullies and shysters. Without a strong government (and I still believe in a small limited government) we would be back in the Middle Ages with lots of petty tyrants abusing the locals and trying to usurp one another’s power.

As to the book, the story is quite good. The story is told in retrospect by one of the main characters. The moon was turned into a penal colony. But, if one stayed on the moon too long, they would be unable to return to Earth as changes in their body would prevent it. So, after a person’s sentence was finished, they were stuck on the moon. Soon a colony of free people developed. Without any form of government, this colony “developed” into a wonderful place. Unruly people were spaced. Of course everyone agreed with the decision because it was “obvious” that these people deserved it for violating the understood social contract.

As an aside, Heinlein falls into the trap of assuming that their is no government outside of the people on the moon. But, that’s not true. The environment is truly a harsh mistress. Stupidity and a failure to get along will result in the entire colony dieing a brutal and sudden death. So, while there isn’t a fickle and tyrannical man made government, there was still a restraining inhibiting man’s inherent selfish desires. Failure to do one’s part could lead to a rupture or other cataclysmic event in the life support systems…. So, it is wrong to imply that mankind could live in freedom and harmony without a government. Besides, since evil governments are made up of men, the evil nature of the government must be a result of the nature of men. That point is a bit to subtle for the author.

Anyway, back to the story. 🙂

So, this story is about the struggle between an oppressed colony on the moon and their exploitative masters on earth. The main character Manny and his two compatriots architect a revolution from earth with the assistance of their friend: the world’s only self-aware computer. The story spends as much time discussing the nature of the conspiracy against earth as discussing the lifestyle of life on the moon.

Personally, I found the story to be quite exciting though it *is* a style that would probably annoy others. The story is an action story, but it is presented in a recitation of facts manner. In my mind, this works and of course plenty of others agreed, but your mileage might vary.

As for negatives, you have my opinion of the philosophy. Still, there is a small amount of profanity and the moral character of the family lives is problematic. They have strange open marriages and all sorts of odd stuff that is portrayed as acceptable because “it works.” A major underlying philosophy of the book is pragmatism: whatever achieves my goals is OK. gag….

Anyway, despite all the problems or rather because of them, I recommend that you read this book. Learn more about what a Libertarian thinks. And while your learning, enjoy a legitimately good story.