Review by: Stacy Palm
I'm always careful with the books I choose to read that are related to my spiritual relationship with God. There are some authors that put far to much emphasis on what they are trying to say rather than helping a person better understand the Word of God. I greatly enjoyed reading this book because Mark Hall does an excellent job of referring you back to the Scriptures for everything that he discusses.
This is a really good book for those learning how to bring the love of God into our daily lives and how to grow in our relationship with the Lord. It also delves into how to bring the message of Jesus to our friends and others with truth and love. Many of us don't feel comfortable doing that or know where to begin. This book helps gives you the knowledge, and points you to the Bible for how to allow God to use you in bringing his message.
I greatly enjoyed reading this book, first and foremost because it brought me closer to the Word of God by pointing me there after every point that hit me. I found myself reading this book with my Bible close at hand because I was frequently "digging" into it. I also felt this was a good book for people both starting to understand Scripture, as well as those that have been connected to the Word for years.
Review by: Mark Palm
John Rodgers is an ex-gangbanger from North Philly in New York City for a Social Worker Job Fair. After a tough day there he heads to a local bar, where he meets Ariel, a beautiful red-head that seems far out of his league. Instead the two hit it off so well that they go back to her hotel for a one-night-stand. Unfortunately they are interrupted by a squad of men with assault rifles seemingly bent on killing Ariel. She pulls a glock out of her purse and a running gunfight ensues, and ends with Ariel shot in the shoulder and several times in the legs. She refuses to go to a hospital so John takes her to his old friends a former doctor turned Junkie, who tells John that Ariel is ...something else. Her body is criss-crossed with scars, some new and some faded almost to invisibility. She also has a few baby teeth in her mouth, although she seems to be in her late twenties.
So far we are about ten percent of the way into The Furies and we haven't yet got a chance to grab our breath. Author Mark Alpert must enjoy this, because he keeps the pace up for the rest of the way, and Ariel's story as it unwinds is stranger than strange, but I am not going to reveal it here, because so much of the fun in this book is seeing that way that Mr. Alpert manages to keep unspooling surprise after surprise without slowing down the action for a moment. He also pushes the envelope of belief about as far as it will go, revealing that Ariel is part of a conspiracy that has existed for thousands of years and is basically responsible for many of the advancements that have raised mankind from hunter-gatherers to its current advanced state. The bad news is that the conspirators have split into two groups, and things have escalated into open warfare, which explains the attack on Ariel that kicks off the book. With so much action, ,and this book has tons of it, which Mr. Alpert manages to keep from going too far over the top, and so much plot there isn't too much room for deep characters, and that's okay.
We like John and Ariel, they are decent people, and we come to care for them, and it's enough. The language is solid and transparent, and while Mr. Alpert isn't going to make your jaw drop with purple prose he doesn’t have too. Too often people underestimate a writer who doesn’t feel like he has to draw attention to himself but simply gets the job done. I always feel like saying, if you think it's so easy, let's see you do it.
Now when Ariel gets to where she going there is a bit too much exposition, and so many twist and turns unravel in the last fifth of the book that it feels a bit rushed and compressed, but these are small complaints. For most of this book I felt like I was flying down the biggest hill on a rollercoaster, and if that isn't enough to ask for, then I don't know what is.
Review by: Stacy Palm
I'm going to be honest, when I first started reading this book I was under the impression I was going to be reviewing a new Young Adult Series. I quickly realized my mistake and readjusted my viewpoint. How wonderful that an author chose to write about magic in the adult world (ie., families, kids, work,and so on.) I was enthralled with this world for many reasons. First and foremost it resembled my own. It's always nice to believe there is a little bit of magic in our world every now and then. This book expanded upon that premise beautifully. The author did an exception job of keeping a real world perspective, there were the interpersonal issues of a merging family, the money issues of a job loss, and then there were the issues of teenagers not listening to their parents. Sharon Bayliss took all that and added a layer of magic, which was both a blessing and a curse to the family.
The story opens with the main characters discovery that two children from a previous adulteress relationship have been located under the most heinous conditions. He quickly resolves that he will be bringing his children home to his unknowing family. What follows is a remarkable look into a family with issues all while discovering and learning that they have magically abilities, but that they should not use them because they are "black" witches and wizards. Even though they desire to do good their ultimate result will be that of destruction.
I really enjoyed this book, and I read it quickly. There are moments where the author captured the breath-taking beauty of the Texas country in such detail that I had no problems visualizing it. The characters were real, they had flaws, and I learned to care about each of them. The only about this book that I would criticize is that the ending felt too rushed. The big battle at the end was not even there, it was relayed to us by another character. There were also some things left open, the job loss, was it caused by magic, etc.. These are minor things, as overall the story excelled for that of a new emerging author. I would certainly recommend it and I without a doubt will be patiently awaiting the next book in this series.
Review by: Mark Palm
I have been following Daryl Gregory since I read his first novel Pandemonium a few years ago. He is a rare writer, able to fuse original concepts and thinking with strong emotional storytelling, so I was looking forward to reading this book, and I was not disappointed. Afterparty is a keeper.
Afterparty is set in the near future, after a smart-drug revolution, where anyone with a chem-set and an internet connection can download and print drugs, or recipes for drugs. The story begins when a teenage runaway is brought to a mental institution and the authorities think that she is on drugs but she insists she had found, and then lost the presence of God. She takes her own life, but before she dies she meets our central character, Lyda Gray, a neuroscientist whom years before had been part of a team who tried to create a drug that would cure schizophrenia, and instead created a drug that convinced the taker that God existed and was always with them-usually in the form of a hallucination that resembles an avatar familiar to each person's religious beliefs.
Lyda's hallucination that is with her always is an angel, replete with wings called Dr. Gloria. Recognizing that the girl had overdosed on the drugs that she helped to create, Lyda gets out of the institution and decides to stop whoever is producing the drug, called Numinous. Lyda helps spring her fellow mental patient and lover, Olivia, a diminutive ex-intelligence agent with her own chemical problems and begins to track down the surviving members of the team that helped her create Numinous. This is only about one fifth of the way through the book however, and I hope it gives you some sense of the inventiveness that Mr. Gregory possesses. I haven't begun to talk about the disturbed hit-man The Vincent, or the Millionaires Club, a group of female Taliban-refugees who run a drug ring.
Nearly every character is either on drugs or mentally impaired, so there is a trippy edge to the book, combined with a hard-boiled existentialism that reminded me of the best work of Phillip K. Dick, or William Gibson. All of that is interesting, but what really makes this book shine is the characters, and how much we come to care for them. As the speed of the plot increases, and the danger mounts, we never lose sight of these characters humanity, particularly Lyda, and the frail-but-dangerous Olivia. There’s also plenty of philosophical fat to chew, about religion, faith, spirituality, drugs, etc. It's rare to see so much packed into one book, and I don't want to down-play this achievement in any way, and I've kind of come to expect it from Mr. Gregory, and he does it again with Afterparty. I can't wait for his next book.
Review by: Avalon Palm (12 years old)
The first thing I would like to mention is that, originally, my dad was supposed to write this review, but the day he finished reading it, he told the whole family that we should read it. Later that night I was in bed, but I couldn't sleep. I wasn't tired. So like I usually do, I decided to read a book. I picked up my kindle and searched through the various books before I remembered what dad had said earlier. I opened Alex Wayfare and started reading. If I was a negative person, I would complain that for almost a whole chapter I didn't know whether or not Alex was a boy or a girl, but I'm not and therefore I shall delve into sharing this mystery, because I have read the book and you have not, but you should; you REALLY should.
When I turned to the first page I had no idea what to expect, no idea of what idea had taken place in M. G. Buehrlen's mind to create this story, and Buehrlen started with such an obvious line I knew it was going to be a good book.
I read and at first thought it was going to be one of those books just about a girl. Any random girl, any random storyline; but you get the idea. As I read on it captivated my interest so much that when Dad told me to go to bed, I ignored him and kept reading.
The story is about a girl with visions. At first she thinks its déjà vu, but her theory is discredited later. She really wants to stop having the visions, but she keeps having them. One day, a vision comes and unlike the others lasts for more than a couple minutes. She delves into a world of mystery and time-travel, or soul-travel. At the end of the book, she escapes a research facility, and saves two lives. Then she severely injures both. Equally interesting in this book is her normal life. To see Alex change from extreme nerd to extreme nerd whom is friends with popular guy is fascinating.
And to conclude, I admit this review was probably horrid. It explained nothing. But then again, I bet it made you want to read the book. Am I right?
Review by: Mark Palm
The buzz on Half-Bad, by Sally Green is that it's a buzz book. That may seem confusing but essentially it means that a lot of people are interested in it. Even before it was published film companies were jockeying for the rights, so it's supposed to be The Next Big Thing in YA books, the heir to Divergent and The Hunger Games. In my opinion it's a good book, but not quite the KO I was expecting. It's better than half-bad.
There are witches, both white and black, and they have been fighting for centuries without the Fain, humans, knowing it. Nathan is the only half-blood, with a white mother and a black father. He is raised by his grandmother and is ridiculed and abused by White society. His story is a grim one, and told through Nathan, quite effective. One of the better and more audacious moves on Ms. Green's part is her choice of narrative style. Nathan can barely read, and has a limited vocabulary, but is not stupid. His stark language works well for most of the book, where the lack of melodrama makes the painful and tragic parts of Nathan's story more affecting. His romance with Annalise, a White Witch neighbor however, never really got me, perhaps because of the limited emotional palette. The rest of the character's are well drawn, each one unique and individual personality.
The main storyline is a coming-of-age story of sorts, as we watch Nathan, caged and abused, and trained by White Society, which usually has no qualms about dispatching Black Witches. Is he to be bait, or used as an assassin, to kill his father, Marcus, a black witch of terrible deeds and terrible power. Ms. Green does a great job keeping the plot hurtling along like a freight train, although near the end events feel a little rushed compared to the earlier chapters. Some of the characters get a little talky as well, dwelling on their feelings and what they plan to do next, but there is never a moment where the tension slackens. The old cliché about being on the edge of your seat was quite true in my case. While there is an occasional clunky moment in Nathan's first person narration I always kept turning those pages, and although this is just a guess on my part I can't help but imagine that Ms. Green's writing will just keep getting better as the series moves on.
The few downsides in this book are easily overshadowed by payoff, and I certainly applaud Ms. Green in her risky choices, because most of them pay off. As I said earlier Half-Bad isn't quite a KO yet, but it could be down the road.
Review by: Mark Palm
I believe that it was Nabokov who suggested that the amount of coincidence in any given life was fixed, and an excess must be a sign of either fate or design. I recently watched the excellent third season of the BBC series Sherlock, which featured the concept of "Memory Palaces", and have lately read a handful of books about the corrosive effects of modern media on communication and memory, which means that perhaps I was fated to read this book.
Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert is about Gabriel Blackstone. He is a thief, paid to commit industrial espionage and steal confidential information. He is good at it, and one of the reasons is that he is a Remote Viewer, able to perform powerful acts of clairvoyance. He honed his skills in a British DOD project called Eyestorm, becoming the star of that program, but left for reasons I cannot spill without spoiling the plot.
Blackstone is contacted by his ex-girlfriend Frankie, who has since married a rich older man. Frankie was also in Eyestorm, and knows of Gabriel's skills, and her husband's adult son Robert is missing, and wants Blackstone to find him. His main lead is a pair of mysterious women with whom the son had an intense friendship: Morrighan and Minnaloushe Monk. As Gabriel begins to investigate the women he also becomes enthralled by them, and at the same time they seem to have some sort of designs on him. This soon becomes a taut and tense game of cat-and-mouse. The Monk sisters are wonderful characters, beautiful accomplished eccentrics with personalities that contrast and enmesh at the same time. They are deeply involved in alchemy, witchcraft, Gnostic mysticism, and the Art of Memory. They dominate the book, but Ms. Mostert does an excellent job of making Gabriel their match.
The plot is a rollercoaster of twists and turns, and as Gabriel falls deeper into this relationship it becomes clear that the sisters are probably involved with Robert's disappearance, and he, and me as well, are dreading the outcome. To her credit Ms. Mostert takes this story to its apt conclusion, which is thrilling, and sad. The magic and supernatural powers are smartly handled, and the atmosphere and pace are appropriately gothic, and the dangers are scary and feel true-to-life. I enjoyed this book immensely, with only one cavil: the title. It conjured visions of some dismal V. C. Andrews-style horror knock off, one of the ones with the black cover and a lone drop of crimson blood rolling down the spine of the book. Ignore the title. Read the book.
Review by: Mark Palm
In the halcyon days of the Thirties, when the pulps were king, most stories about murder were chock-full of cops, detectives and robbers. A lot of superlative modern crime novelists follow that formula, because who else deals with murders as much? Now there is a plethora of books out there featuring unconventional sleuths, but with few exceptions I have a tough time suspending my disbelief. How often can a priest or a plumber stumble upon, and then solve, a murder?
That is the essential problem that I had with Dying for Murder by Susan Kingsmill. Her sleuth is Cordi O'Calaghan, a zoology professor, and this is her third case, but the first book that I have read. Cordi, along with her sidekicks Martha and Duncan are travelling to Spaniel Island, a border island off of South Carolina, to a research station to study and record the song of Indigo Buntings. The island itself is an interesting place, well described in all of its variety by Ms. Kingsmill. The people on the place are a mixed lot as well, although the scientists sounded a bit too alike for me. I had to keep track of who was who for a while until I began to get the feel of each person. Not long after that the director of the research station, Stacey Franklin, is found in her cabin, bound, gagged and dead. A hurricane is also on the way, so that the police are unable to get to the island for days, so it's up to our zoologist to solve the crime, with varying degrees of help and reluctance from everyone stuck on the island. Ms. Kingsmill writes lovingly of the scientists and their research, and these are the best parts of the book for me.
The tangled skein of events, that ends with Stacey's death are interesting, and their revelations spool out in a good manner. The fact that Cordi has done this two other times though, and everyone there knows it, made it tough sledding for me. There was some good twists and turns in the book, mostly towards the end as the secrets come out fast and furious, but the disbelief just kept wearing me down. The prose was a bit stiff as well, never really coming to life except for the descriptions of the flora and fauna. When Cordi was telling her story she sounded like a zoology professor, and I wanted her to sound like a suspense novelist. All in all this was a solid book, but it didn’t reach out and grab me the way that a prime thriller should.
Review by: Mark Palm
That the Civil War was a watershed moment in American history goes without saying. It was also a harbinger of many changes, both societal and psychological that helped define the Industrial Era. The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff tells the tale of a revolution that is just as important to people who love books and literature, American or not.
Mark Twain, aka Samuel Clemens, is one of four people featured in this fascinating piece of history. Lesser known to us now, but not so then, we also get the inter-twined tales of Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard and Ina Coolbrith. Mr. Tarnoff takes us from the early careers and lives of these writers and editors who helped shape the new literary landscape, and shows us the ways that their lives and careers took shape in the crucible of San Francisco, a city that was at once sophisticated and rough-and-tumble at the same time.
Mr. Tarnoff does a great job of sharing time between all of his varied characters, showing their faults and foibles alongside their triumphs, and placing them in their proper context as the leaders of a movement that would shift American literature away from stuffy New England classrooms to the mining camps and raucous cities of the West and mid-West. Despite his fairness and even-handedness Twain ends up dominating the book, and it is no fault of the author's, or the characters about whom he writes. All of the featured characters stories are interesting and often moving, particularly Ms. Coolbrith, but Twain was a once in a lifetime talent, with a personality to match. It is a testament to Mr. Tarnoff's skill that the rest of the Bohemians hold their own with one of America's Great writers.
This book is well-researched but reads like a novel, never letting the story lag so that the author can pontificate about an historical point he wishes to make. Of particular interest are the early days of the forming of the Bohemians, when all of these disparate characters, and many others who the writer brings to life deftly, all come together at the end of the Civil War. The literary scene of that time was to me both stunningly and amusing rowdy, with fact and fiction mingling with an extent that borders on being called Gonzo. The same can be said of the behavior of many of the writers, in particular Twain, who seems to have spent almost as much time fighting and feuding as he did writing. As the book continues Mr. Tarnoff shows us how each of his principle characters left an indelible footprint on the making of modern American Literature, and he makes it all a great deal of fun. They may seem rather undignified for a book about History and Literature to some, but seems perfect for a book about this group of Bohemians.
Review by: Mark Palm
Emily and the Strangers: The Battle of the Bands is the first in a series of comics about Emily the Strange, and if you don't know who Emily is, well shame on you. She started her life, as a skateboard clothing logo, and has since branched out to books, and if the gossip is true, a film. This comic, written by Rob Reger and Mariah Huehner is the first comic featuring Emily.
The story is simple; Emily, feeling rather at a loss with what to do with herself since her latest inventions don't seem to be really working, hears about a contest on the radio. Whoever can send in a demo of the best original rock song will be rewarded with a guitar that belonged to the late great rock and roll star, the legendary Professa Kraken - wouldn’t you know that the Professa is Emily's favorite musician of all time? So Emily decides to win that guitar. Utilizing her inventive genius she throws together some bizarre musical instruments, rather in the spirit of Tom Waits, and manages to win the contest, but there is a catch. Her Demo won because it was re-mixed by the radio station's intern, Evan Stranger, who also wants to be a rock star. He strikes a deal with Emily so they can form a band, win a battle of the bands contest, and get signed to a contract.
The band comes together, with the addition of brother and sister Winston and Willow, and Emily's invention, the fem-bot Raven, who kicks butt as a drummer, but the band has problems on the way, including rampaging egos and a lack of communications. Finally after contacting the spirit of Professa Kraken, and adding another member, Trilogy, the band finally begins to click. Emily adds another little spin to the proceeding by modifying each member’s instruments with her own unique touch, and they are ready for the battle of the bands.
Now I've read some other works featuring Emily, and this one is quite different in spirit. One little disappointment for me was how small a role was played by Emily's cats. In the past Emily had very much been a lone wolf, but this book is all about collaboration and working together. The story isn't quite as bizarre and inventive as some of the other works featuring her, but this comic is redeemed by the visuals. The Art, by Emily Ivie, is phenomenal, with some of the best layouts that I have seen in years. The drawings are sharp and bright and inventive, and as I said the layouts just leap off of the page. So often comic artists fall into the trap of panels, but Ms. Ivie transcends them better than anyone I have seen since Frank Miller. This is a comic you can look at over and over again. Considering that Emily the Strange is pretty much black and white, that is some kind of feat. This one is worth getting even if you don't read it, but go and read it too, you'll enjoy it.