Saturday, September 28, 2013

The riveting seguel to The Shining

Doctor Sleep

By Stephen King

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Doctor Sleep is a sequel to The Shining but Stephen King fills in the gaps so well at the beginning that this could be easily read as a stand-alone novel. Of course, it would be better to read The Shining first but it is not totally necessary. On the other hand, If you've seen the movie and have not read the book, you should because you will get confused. ("Honey, why is that nice old black man in the book? Wasn't he killed off in the movie?)

Having said that, it's nice to see King return to Danny Torrance. You would think that a winter at the Overlook Hotel would mess you up and it did. Those addiction genes from Daddy Jack doesn't help either. Doctor Sleep goes through a period of 40 years after The Shining. Danny (now Dan) has been through a lot. He went the AA route (King's knowledge and understand of the Twelve-Step program is quite impressive) and is now an orderly in a hospice. He exhibits a special gift to soothe and guide the dying, earning the name Doctor Sleep. During the same time frame,a young girl named Abra Stone grows up with a talent that makes Dan's "shining" ability look like a pocket flashlight. Eventually they will meet up and ally together to fight off the True Knot, a group of travelers that have an appetite for children who shine.

The True Knot may be one of King's best villain, or should I say group of villains. They are a close knit clan; very old and very evil. One of the most scare-packed two line dialogue I've ever read happens near the beginning of the novel when Andi, a new recruit to the True Knot, asks their leader Rose, "Am I still human?" To which Rose replies, "Do you care?"

And this illustrates one of King's strengths that keeps him at the top of his game. Stephen King, in relation to the newer writers of horror, is a bit old fashioned. He distinctly believes in Good and Evil, complete with capital letters. In almost all of his novels, whether it's The Shining, The Stand, Misery or Doctor Sleep there is no doubt who the good guys and bad guys are. I think this is a strong reason for his popularity...aside from the fact he writes like a son-of-a-bitch. His books may be damn scary but we never lose sight of our grounding. We root for the good guys and maybe they'll win. Then again, maybe they will not but we know who they are. The author is still working on the same themes he explored in The Shining but even if the two books are 40 years apart the themes and how King deals with them remains as fresh and vibrant as ever.

Now a word about the good guy. King clearly has a lot of empathy for Dan Torrance. I suspect he identifies a lot with him and written more than a little of himself into the character. The author doesn't just focus on the supernatural aspects but write Ben into the real world; struggling with alcoholism, struggling with child abuse, and wondering about his own role in the world. He was a child in The Shining. Now he is a fully developed resident of the literary universe.

Abra Stone is no less amazing. She is one of the best child characters King has put together. Trisha McFarland from The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon can move to the second row. Abra is cute, smart and, in spite of her "superpowers", is quite vulnerable. King's early child characters always seemed a little too smart for their age. Abra seems just right whether she is 6 or 13.

Th battles between Team Dan/Abra and the True Knot are the highlights of the novel. Yet there are no slow moments in this 500+ page book. Whether it's Dan struggling with his mundane and/or supernatural demons or Abra and her family discovering her special talents, this tale stays alive. I have to place this novel in the top ten if not the top five of King's best. And if you haven't read The Shining or seen the movie and want to get the full experience, then read the book. But whatever you do, avoid that god-awful travesty of a movie.

Method Acquired: Purchased

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A 60's rite of passage

Creepy Archives, Vol. 1

Published by Dark Horse Comics


Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

When I was growing up, anything that smacked of horror was forbidden in my family. The only comic books allowed were Illustrated Classics and Disney. However my lifelong obsession with horror fiction began at the age of 6 when a babysitter allowed me to watch the movie Frankenstein while my parents were out. I was hooked. I was an avid reader even then and I devoured anything I could as I got older including classic horror like Poe and those great paperback Alfred Hitchcock Presents story collections that I could buy for 50 cents and hide under the mattress. As for comic books, I would read my friends' collections although Spiderman was the only one I really got into.

One day on a boy scout camping tip, one of the scouts brought along a couple issues of Creepy. We pored over them by flashlight in our tent. We never saw anything like it. Here were really scary stories perfect for the 14 year old male mentality. The gore was not as excessive as the earlier EC Comics, which we were then unaware of, but certainly more than kids in the mid 60s were familiar with. But what really stood out was the art. This was not Blondie and Dagwood. This was intricate lines and shadows all in black-and-white, perfect to illustrate horror. These magazines, not called comic books in order to get past the strict comic book codes, were not that easy to come by even then. So I have only seen 4 or 5 of them...until now.

Creepy Archives, Vol. 1 features the first five issues. The full run is slowly being republished by Dark Horse. They are not cheap. The Kindle edition went for a ridiculous $29.95! Fortunately for me, I bought the 1st volume sale at Amazon for a much better $3.99. Unfortunately for you, that's no longer the case but the price at the time of writing this is now $16 which is more reasonable than $29. The color covers, mostly by Frank Frazzeta, and the intricate black and white drawings show up beautifully on my Kindle Fire. They are definitely a blast from the past. As for the writing, it was perfect for a teenage boy in the 60s but seem very dated and a bit campy now. At their worse, the stories are hokey but at their best, when coupled with those great drawings, they are wonderfully...well...creepy. Most are original tales written by Archie Goodwin but there are a few renditions of classic tales including Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart" and Ambrose Pierce's "The Damned Thing". The tales can get a little formulaic. After all, they had to be delivered in 6 to 7 pages of drawings. Usually the monster twist was very obvious and the bad guy always got his just dessert if usually in a gory way. Yet these were part of the 60s coming-of-age for many of us and no doubt a major influence for later writers, artists and film makers. This is a must for any horror fan.

Method Acquired: Purchased

My Rating System

It's probably time to discuss my rating system. I use the traditional five star system. The problem with that is that one person's four stars could be another person's three stars. I happen to think three star is pretty good while some readers would dismiss those books. So here is one of my explanations for my general ratings for fiction and non-fiction...

5 stars - A must read
4 stars - I really, really like it!
3 stars - Liked it but with reservations
2 stars - Meh!
1 stars - Runaway! Run Away!

For fiction, I have a variation based on my quest to find the perfect novel. Just how close to a perfect novel is this work of fiction? No novel is 100 percent.  But I can adjust my rating to give you an idea of the book's claims to perfection.

5 stars - 99 to 90% perfect
4 stars - 89 to 75% perfect
3 stars - 74 to 50% perfect
2-stars - 49 to 25% perfect
1 stars - 24 to 01% perfect

That should give you a good idea how I rate. Therefore 5 to 3 stars is worth your time while 2 to 1..not so much. I try to read books that I think will be worthwhile and I try to stay in my preferred genres. In other words, you won't see any romance novels reviewed here but plenty of horror, suspense, science fiction, mysteries, humor, literary fiction and some non-fiction. I do not start out by intentionally reading bad books. I don't have the time . But I may occasionally review a popular book that I consider over-hyped or controversial  just to voice my concerns.  But I also like to jump feet first into the works of new and interesting writers, especially the indie types, so I never know how that will turn out.

With that, I'm off to some reading. I appreciate any feedback.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Perils of inter-faith marriages

When Cthulhu Met Atlach-Nacha

By Alan Ryker 


Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars 

Inter-faith marriages are a bitch.

Trust me on this. My first marriage was inter-faith. I'm not saying which faiths but I assure you it did not involve Cthulhu. Nonetheless, there was much blasphemy and the gnashing of teeth, usually coming from my mother-in-law.

When Cthulhu Met Atlach-Nacha is a one-act play concerning relational conflict after the rise of the Ancient Ones. We are talking socially relevant stuff here. Just because Cthuhlu and Company slept through the Mayan apocalypse doesn't mean they'll sleep through the next one. And when that happens, people are going to take sides and back their favorite Dark One. Plus, there's going to be some major unspeakable horrors and ritualistic shit happening...
I can't describe it. Until you've torn a toddler apart with your bare hands and fed it to the snapping mandibles of a pair of beetle-men who were once its parents, you just can't know.

Ryker's play can be very funny. There are a lot of in-jokes so it helps to know something about Lovecraftian lore. Yet it is entertaining enough for the average reader to enjoy. It is also not a one punch line joke. There is some nice rapport between the the main characters and some really nice subtlety at the end. I'm almost tempted to say it could be re-titled Who's Afraid of Virginia Soggoth but I won't.

So here are the pluses..
1. It actually has some depth.
2. It is funny
3. Nice take-off on the Cthulhu Mythos.
4. After you read it, you'll really want to see it performed.
4. There are some good housekeeping tips from Martha Stewart.

Forget the last one, although I suspect Ms. Stewart will play a role in the real awakening of the Ancient Ones. You never know.

Method acquired: Purchased

See Langdon Run!...Run, Langdon, Run!


by Dan Brown

Rating: 2 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

Yay! A new Dan Brown novel!

I say that not because I am excited about the book, even though I've now read all 4 of the Robert Langdon series. I am excited because I can relax in my recliner, munch on a bowl of popcorn and read all the internet reviews. There is little middle ground in reviews of Dan Brown novels, so there tends to be some amusing fireworks. Either reviewers hate him because he is not James Joyce or love him because he is not James Joyce.

So let's get to the basics. Dan Brown is somewhat mediocre as a writer. Since The DaVinci Code, he has latched onto a formula that he is loathe to give up. Even the casual reader can predict the action just by knowing the formula. His characters are comic book cut-outs and the twists and turns tend to get really silly especially in this Fourth installment of the Langdon series.

So why do people love Dan Brown so much? In my humble opinion...

1. He is an easy read; the precise definition of summer read or supermarket novel. Actually, that's where I bought my copy. I was stuck for three hours waiting for my car to get fixed and saw this book in the store and said, "Why not? Good time to read it."

2. He blends fact and fiction well enough to cause people to think they have read something intellectual. In most places of work, saying you read Dan Brown's new novel as you chat around the water cooler will get you intellectual brownie points...unless you actually work in a facility of higher learning in which someone will probably slap a "Kick Me" sign on your back.

3. His novels are more puzzle than novel. Everybody loves a puzzle and it makes you feel good when you solve it faster than the brilliant Dr. Langdon. Some of the puzzles are pretty obvious, making you wonder if the good professor got his degree from Father Guido Sarducci's Five Minute University

4. He does write action quite well. If anything his action scenes are quite exciting.

So what about the new novel titled Inferno? It starts well with all the necessary ingredients: Robert Langdon in a tight spot, pretty girl to help him, mysterious object leading to more mysterious objects that need decoding, etc. Langdon always ties it around a gimmick and in Inferno this gimmick is Dante and the Inferno portion of the Divine Comedy. I really enjoyed all the obscure information about Dante but any historical information from Dan Brown should be met with skepticism. But as the tale continued, I am reminded not so much of a good suspense novel but of those old computer text role-playing games in which you find objects and figure out what they do: "See old book" "Take old book" "Read old book" 'You cannot do that yet". You get the picture. I found it more interesting than "The Lost Symbol" but a lot sillier than The DaVinci Code. By the time I've read three quarters of the novel, my ability to suspend disbelief was asking for two aspirins and an ice pack.

Overall it was a fun read. The perfect thing to read in an auto shop waiting room waiting for my car to get fixed. Can't say I would recommend it but if you gotta read it and realize you're not a bad person if you occasionally indulge in the literary equivalence of a Big Mac, then be my guest.

Method Acquired: Purchased

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Don't go near the water!

 The Heavens Rise

by Christopher Rice


Rating: 4 & 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Christopher Rice has written a creepy novel of the supernatural but it's more than that. The author has devised a post-Katrina love song for New Orleans. His novel teems with Southern atmosphere and the characters are steeped in the New Orleans tradition. I may be off here, but this story about four teenagers who are changed by a mysterious and tragic event reads like an allegory to New Orleans before and after Hurricane Katrina. We have four main characters who are destroyed by a strange occurrence and struggle to regain normalcy, maybe never regaining it. I'm purposely being vague about the event. Technically there are three of them but they are connected, Suffice to say, I might not go swimming when I'm in Louisiana. The main success in this novel is how well Rice develops his four characters; Nickie, Anthem, Ben, and Marshall. Even Marshall, who has to be one of the weirdest and most repulsive characters I've come across in a novel, is beautifully managed in this story that spans eight years. The author has a lyrical form of writing but it doesn't detract from the more terrifying aspects. My only complain is the switching of time in the first half of the book. It is a little disorientating and took away from the otherwise excellent buildup. But once you get into the story it takes hold of you. This is the first book by Christopher Rice that I've read but I've been told it is quite different than his usual. It is also his first horror novel. What I can say from this reading is that the author has a style that combines the richly descriptive and psychological style of his mother Anne Rice and the on-your-edge storytelling of Stephen King. I will be checking out his other books but, frankly, I hope he writes another horror novel.

Method Acquired:  Netgalley

Monday, September 23, 2013

Scary fantasy of the best kind


By Joe Hill


Rating: 5 out of 5 stars 


This is Joe Hill's third novel. The first two were excellent horror novels. But this third novel with the funny title should be the one that puts him in the household name department and prove he is no fly-by-night wannabee. Sounds a lot like...There was that other horror writer who shone through on his third novel. What's that guy's name again? Oh yeah, his dad.

It is a little unfortunate that Joe Hill is compared to his dad a lot which is why he chose a pen name to begin with. I guess it can't be avoided. Yet NOS4A2 may also be the novel where he will start separating from the King name. Joe Hill has a surrealistic quality that is all his own. Yet he still manages to keep his most fantastical ideas edged in the "real" world. The plot centers around the idea that some people have a talent in stretching or suspending the natural world and can use items as a conduit to realize their ability. For one, It is a bicycle that takes her to places to locate lost objects. For another, there are Scrabble tiles that spell out warnings. And for another, it is a car that takes him to a sinister world of his own making. That's a lot of ideas for one novel but Hill has a real talent for plot structure. It doesn't hurt that he also has a talent for making the most odd notions seem plausible. He also forms strong characters, heroes and villains, that are not overshadowed by the plot; which is sometime a problem for that relative of his. NOS4A2 has a good chance for being the best horror novel by the end of the year and that can only bode well for the author. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys horror and fantasy.

Method Acquired: Library

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A road trip that isn't half-ash.

Roastbeef's Promise

  By David Jerome


Rating: 3 & 1/2 stars out of five.


David Jerome's novel about an affable loser who sprinkles his father's ashes in 49 states is very funny and quite alarmingly compassionate. The author claims that some, though not all of the events, were taken from his own travels which leads me to wonder which ones are for real and which ones aren't. Some critics have complained that many of the events are unbelievable but, having traveled throughout the states extensively myself, I could believe about 75 percent could be based on actual experiences. But since this is a novel, it's a moot point. The main thing is that it is humorous and entertaining and it fits that bill nicely. My only minor complaint is that the thread of the tale moves along a little haphazardly at points and meanders but this is a travel novel and travels never go how you plan them. I could think of worse ways to spend a summer weekend than lounging around and reading this book.

 Method Acquired: Goodreads Firstread

A brilliant look at father-son relationships.

In The Land of The Living

By Austin Rather

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC from the author for reviewing purposes. Since I loved his first novel, The Jump Artist, I must admit my expectations were high. I was not disappointed...
Their father peddled certain lies the same way he pedaled his bicycle to and from his many jobs all over Cleveland Heights, with his monstrous canvas bag balanced on his back and his giant toolbox strapped to the bike with a three-pronged canvas belt. He pedaled his bike slowly and resolutely, so that he never got up any momentum, as if momentum would have been cheating, pressing and pressing on the pedals, advancing up the sidewalk righteously, slate by slate, lie by lie, without caring when he got there, without knowing he was lying.

When you read first lines like these, you know a number of things. First, you are not going to be reading this with the television on. Second, you are in for a literary treat in which words and structure become an adventure on their own. And thirdly. here is a writer that writes for the joy of writing perhaps much like a bicyclist peddles for the physical experience and not for the end of the journey.

But this beautiful novel is a bit of a journey. It is a look at a family whose tragic interactions and losses affect them through generations. It is about alienation of sons, of fathers, of brothers. This is not a novel for those who like the story linear and neatly wrapped up. Scenes come and go, often lost in an exquisite avalanche of prose. Timelines are sometimes indistinct and the author leaves the reader to decipher certain turning points. That last one is actually a major strength for this reader who hates it when everything is neatly explained. Yet the dilemma of the Auberon family hits home for me and, I suspect, anyone else who dealt with families conflict and loss. I also suspect a certain auto-biographical tone but that would be an educated guess from me due to the emotional depth of the author's writing.

But what causes this novel to stand out is the beauty of its prose. It rings with emotion and never condescends to the reader. It is quite poetic in essence and adds insight and detail to the troubled protagonists. Good literary reads are getting harder and harder to find. So if you love to read literature you will want to check out this novel of Austin Ratner's and his previous one.

Method Acquired:  Review copy from author

The fine line between crazy and inspired

The Scum Manifesto

By Valerie Solanas

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There is a fine line behind crazy and inspired. There is also a fine line between crazy and genius but Valerie Solanas was no genius. For that matter, she probably wasn't crazy. At least, not at first. She was a very troubled woman damaged by child molestation and abuse. She appeared to have had volatile relationships with others, letting them in then turning against them when they turned out to be flawed humans. This defense mechanism had tragic consequences for both her and Andy Warhol, who she shot. While not killed, Warhol was left in a condition of severe physical and emotional damage with physical effects that finally killed him. Solanas' SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto, which was written before she shot Warhol, is the only other thing for which she shall be remembered. Most of her other writings were either unfinished or lost (which brings up the possibility that when she accused Warhol of stealing the only copy of her play Up Your Ass, she may have not been technically paranoid as this play was found with Warhol's other possessions after his death). As strange and repulsive this manifesto may be, it does attest to the fact that Solanas was a powerful writer. It is at the same time a vicious sexist rant and a crafty socio-political satire. If you are at all open when you read it you will shake your head at the ridiculousness of it but almost think, "I can see where this is coming from." Personally, as a man, I'm glad no one took this seriously, But I also understand this was written at a time when feminism was striving while the predominantly white male power structure continued to be in control and I can understand Solanas' frustration. It is pretty obvious that Solanas herself didn't take her manifest literally as she would admit to it in her more lucid moments...

"It's hypothetical. No, Hypothetical is the wrong word. It's just a literary device. There's no organization called SCUM...It's not even me...I mean, I thought of it as a state of mind.In other words. women who a certain way are SCUM. Men who think a certain way are in the men's auxiliary of SCUM.

If the SCUM Manifesto has a lasting philosophy: it is that sometimes things are so unbearable that we can not just "drop out" or ignore. It need to be confronted. Solanas states in the manifesto, "Dropping out is not the answer. Fucking up is." The SCUM Manifesto was Solanas' way of fucking up. I suspect the work was a cathartic move for Solanas. But it was not a healing one. Solanas spent most of her time afterward in mental hospitals, dying destitute in a welfare hotel. It's unfortunate we have little else to go on to assess her talent. Her brief improvisatory bit in Warhol's film, I, a Man shows that she had a sharp if rough-edged wit. Those who have read or seen her play, Up Your Ass describe it as obscene but impressive. But the SCUM Manifesto remains her most lasting work and an important document of Radical Feminism and over-the-top social observation.

Note: I was given a review copy of The SCUM Manifesto that is published by AK Press who, being an anarchist publishing company, may or may not agree with my assessment. The edition also contains an insightful introduction by Michelle Tea and a concise biography of Valerie Solanas in the afterword.

Method Acquired: Goodreads Firstreads

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Is It Real or Is It Memorex?

 The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper 

by James Carnac


 Rating: 2 out of 5 stars


The entire appeal of  The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper  is this: Is it real or is it This work was purported to be discovered in 2008 amongst the possessions of S.G. Hulme-Beaman, a prolific writer of children tales who died in 1932. The manuscript is authored by James Carnac who professes to be the real Jack The Ripper. Conveniently there is no evidence that Jack Carnac ever existed. It may be a pseudonym for the actual Jack. The book's two commentators, Alan Hicken and Ripperologist Paul Begg leads you to believe there are two possibilities. Either it is an early work of Ripper fiction by Hulme-Beaman, the mysterious Carnac or someone else... or it is the actual autobiography of the infamous serial killer. I suggest a third option. It is a modern hoax not unlike the Hitler Diary hoax of the 1970s. The clues are there based on the fact that it reads more like a modern interpretation of serial killer psychology than an early 20th century memoir. Begg states that Carnac brings up facts that were unknown at the time it was allegedly written. Maybe so. It is more likely these two issues exist because it is a contemporary work written by a contemporary mindset. The one thing that would settle the issue of date is missing: an lab examination of the manuscript, mainly to determine paper and ink age. In other words, the method that bought down the Hitler Diary hoax. Of course, my suspicions are entirely my suspicions and nothing else. But it would be exciting to see the lab rats determine that it is indeed a manuscript of the 20s. If it really is a 1920s example of Ripper fiction  or Jack's actual confession, that would be really exciting.

Unfortunately, that is all that makes it exciting. Contemporary or not,  The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper is not very good fiction. Much of this can be blamed on Jack himself. JR, as he is often referred to in the book, is rather boring. He is full of himself, whether he is contemplating cutting his uncle's throat, experiencing his first infatuation, or actually doing his dastardly deeds. JR is quite rightly portrayed as a psychopath and we get some interesting soliloquies on the nature of morality that we might expect from a madman. These are the most interesting things in the novel. Yet the actions and conflicts of JR never come to life for this reader. Tack on a rather pat ending that does seem very 1920s and you have a story that probably would not interest most publishing companies unless a gimmick (is it real or...) was added.

Over all, it is not a bad work. Just not that good. Read it for the novelty aspect if you must. That at least kept me going. But I can sleep soundly knowing that the real Jack the Ripper remains a haunting and still legendary mystery.

Method Acquired:  Goodreads Firstreads

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

East Texas Suspense with Dwarf and Hog

The Thicket

By Joe R. Lansdale


 Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Joe R. Lansdale's latest novels seem to all feature recently orphaned kids being chased by, or chasing, someone. It seems like the last few novels may have been rough drafts for this almost perfect turn-of-the-century tale that bears more than a little resemblance to True Grit. Having left their pox-plague East Texas town with their grandfather, brother and sister Jack and Lulu Parker come across baddie CutThroat Pete and company who kill their grandfather and kidnap Lulu. Jack is left to rescue his sister and this is where the good stuff starts. The basically moral Jack is forced to ally with a midget, a son of a slave and a semi-wild hog, all seeming to have different ideas of morality than Jack. This idea of relative morality and "living in the real world" is prevalent throughout this novel and is what puts it above most thriller novels. Yet Lansdale populates his story with people who are not one-dimensional and seem to be always thinking about their plight. Even though there is the usual amount of action and violence you would expect from Lansdale, I say there might be more dialogue than usual in his tale, especially from Shorty, an educated gun-toting midget. He is the catalyst for the novel, presenting the fact and putting them in perspective but not always the way Jack would prefer. This is easily one of Lansdale's best novels.


Method acquired: Purchased


The ongoing struggle between theology and history

 Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

By Reza Aslan

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Let"s face it. Theologians and religious historians will never get along. I am reminded of a scene in Clifford Simaks' clever time travel novel, Mastodonia. The inventor of a patented method of time travel is met by a rabbi, a priest, and a Protestant minister who wants to buy the exclusive rights of travel to the time of Jesus Christ. The inventor says, "That's wonderful. You three can go back and find out the truth about Jesus." But the three have other plans. They want to totally close off time travel to that period. For them, and for the faith of their followers, it was better not to know. In this area, the three leaders of the these religions agreed that ignorance is best.

When it comes to the "real world's" search for the historical Jesus. I think there is a similar form of friction involved. A lot of people simply do not want to read historical facts especially if it conflicts with their faith. Aslan is bound to have to confront asinine interviews like the now notorious one he was subjected to at Fox News. I'm sure evangelists are already gearing up the cottage industry of rebuking the points of Zealot now that it is a best selling book. But hopefully cooler heads will prevail as people read this book and examine Aslan's evidence for his claims about Jesus.

But they are not really his claims. Aslan presents no earth-shaking revelations and no new information that has not been dug up by historians before. Where the author excels is taking all this information about the time of Jesus and presenting in a coherent, detailed and very entertaining format. Aslan researches the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew living in a time where Rome rules over Jewish territories, and rules often cruelly. It is a time when prophets claiming to be the Messiah abound and the religious hierarchy is often corrupt. Jesus is one the men claiming to be the Messiah, yet the author shows where his message differs and how his followers changed that message after his death. The main point here, and the one that is going to rile up the faithful is that Jesus is portrayed as not only Jewish (no big surprise there) but one of the Zealot teachers who preached the return of Jewish rule and an earthly "Kingdom of God", not one in the hereafter. Christianity actually arrives about 50 years after his death when Paul redesigns it into a religion for Gentiles and not the exclusive Jewish message that Jesus and the apostles originally meant it to be.

But Aslan's real triumph isn't his claims about Jesus but how well he enacts the place and time that all this took place. For a non-fiction work of this kind, it is the most easily read and most engrossing one that I've experienced. It really comes alive as he describes the cultural, religious and political environments. Both minor and major characters are dealt with in amazing care and details. And I think this is where Aslan really helps us understand. Placing the actions of Jesus, Paul, the apostles, Herod, Pilate and the rest of the cast firmly in context with the historical reality helps us understand what was really happening.

But if you are dealing with events that are only documented in Gospels which were not written by their namesakes and written 70 to 100 years after the fact, you have to make some judicial assumptions. Aslan uses other writings of the time to evaluate what is myth and what is fact. In some cases, he shows how certain events could not happen due to what we know historically; for instance The slaughtering of children by Herod after Jesus' birth that has no basis in fact as Herod the Great's history was highly documented by contemporary historians and no such event is recorded to have happened or the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in which most scholars agree he was actually born in Nazareth and the story of his birth in Bethlehem was placed to justify certain aspects of the Messiah prophecy. But other times, Aslan discredits events, such as the resurrection, as being "Faith events" and not one of historical relevance for study. Of course, this is where people of faith will protest most and use aspects of Aslan's own upbringing to discredit him as we have seen in the fore-mentioned Fox interview. Yet what it should come down to is whether the author's own research is credible and validated. Aslan's research does hold up extremely well with what I've already known yet he also gave me a lot of facts I was not familiar with and did it in a way that kept me guessing as if this was an exciting suspense tale; the perfect combination of historical research and narration.

What it really comes down to, as you read this excellent book, is that you will accept or not accept it based on your own ability to have an open mind and to question your own beliefs and assumptions. And that's fine. What a person will do with the insight in this book is totally up to the individual. But it is an important book to read and I cannot recommend it too highly for persons of all faiths...or none.

Method acquired:  Library

Vampires & Wrestlers

A Triumph For Sakura 

By Jason Ridler

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Jason S. Ridler has a cool scenario going for himself. I would call him the best, although probably the only, writer in the vampire wrestler sub-genre. This novel is in the same arena (no pun intended), Yet A Triumph for Sakura builds on that idea and ends up creating an alternate reality where ancient and corrupt vampire lords pretty much run society with human and turned vampires being low in the hierarchy.  For some strange reason, vampires love wrestling. I know. Just go with it.

The novel has a YA feel which is mainly due to the young protagonist Sakura. Personally I think there is too much violence and intensity to call it YA but, then again, I think the same thing about Grand Theft Auto. As far as influences, Ridler's novel has as much to do with the classic men pulp fiction as it does horror novels yet beyond the gritty descriptions and somewhat gory action scenes there is some class peeping out of the dirty gyms and the back alleys. I think I hear a little F.X. Toole meets Anne Rice action going on. The characters may seem a bit stereo-typed. Ned Bangs is a washed up trainer and Sakura is the spunky and hard-to-control kid from the slums. Yet the author manages to break through the stereo-types and develops some flesh-and-blood protagonists. Other characters are right out of a boxing film. I couldn't help visualizing Burgess Meredith as the wise and experienced Arthur. And the villains are just plain evil. But it all works and the novel ends up with a strong endorsement of the human spirit.

Like I said, Ridler has a good thing going. An original alt-universe with the best parts of familiar genres used to create his own story. I suspect he still has a few more tales to tell from this universe and I will be looking forward to reading them.   

Method acquired: Review copy from author

You Gotta Start a Review Blog!

"You gotta start a review blog!" If I had a nickel for every time someone said that I would have a lot of pictures of Thomas Jefferson. The problem is, it's a lot like opening your own
restaurant just because everyone says you're a good cook. You put all the time and effort into it. People seem to like it. But inevitably there's a fly in somebody's soup and you're left with day old bread and roaches.

But there's always a first step and this is it.  I plan to take a voyage to find the perfect novel. Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect novel but we fool ourselves into thinking so. Therefore, every read is an exploratory journey always with the promise of adventure and riches but never without the danger of stale bread and roaches. All I can promise is an entertaining and honest review.

My main reading interest steers toward horror, suspense and fantasy. So you will find a good dose of those genres. However I'm inclined to read anything so it may be a bit of a grab bag at times. There's also is the occasional non-fiction work that I find is essential to read...or to stay away from. I like to keep people guessing. I love recommendations from readers and/or authors. And yes, I especially like it when authors recommend their own books. I've found a lot of gems that way. But like I said, my goal is to be entertaining and honest.

So here's goes.Tell your friends, like me, follow me, do whatever weird things we do on the net. But don't stop reading.