Book Reviews (June)

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Book Reviews! Each of the following books may be purchased through any large book store or online through www.amazon.com.

REVIEWED: Redshirts
WRITTEN BY: John Scalzi
PUBLISHED: January, 2012

On its face, Redshirts, by John Scalzi, is a successful story. Mirroring the Star Trek show, Redshirts creates an alternative explanation as to why crewmembers aboard the “Intrepid” regularly seem to die off for no reason. Geeky science fiction which is part comedic satire, part adventure, and part existential philosophy. The majority of the book (comprising about the first 85%) is a quick read, fun and fast-paced. Then Scalzi adds in three codas or “P.S.”s, afterwards, each which builds another level to the story. It’s really a unique structure which I’ve not seen commonly done, but he pulls it off and the book is increasingly better with the advancement of each of the codas. Great ending that tied everything together.

Five out of Five stars

***

REVIEWED: Finders Keepers: The Story of a Man Who Found $1 Million
WRITTEN BY: Mark Bowden
PUBLISHED: October, 2002

This is a journalistic account of the true story of Joey Coyle, an out-of-work and drug-addicted 28 year old man, who finds $1.2 million which had fallen from an armored truck. It’s a riveting drama which at turns takes twists into humor and suspense but ends, unfortunately, as a tragedy. Coyle is portrayed as an amiable man who essentially blows through much of the money in two weeks, simply by giving it away to homeless, using it on drugs, “forgetting” where he put it, and sharing it with shady businessmen and friends who find out about his fortune and begin to confront him for a piece of the loot. Add to all this, Joey increasingly uses methamphetamine (speed) which causes him paranoid delusions and crippling anxiety. Finders Keepers is sharp and well-written; a fascinating tale of an ordinary man faced with a moral dilemma, and the ensuing reactions of family, friends, neighbors, and police who become a part of his misadventures.

Five out of Five stars

***

REVIEWED: Sunset and Sawdust
WRITTEN BY: Joe R. Lansdale
PUBLISHED: January, 2005

This is classic Lansdale: Well-written, gripping, and at times poignantly funny. Sunset Jones kills her abusive husband in self-defense in the middle of a cyclone. It’s really quite symbolic as not only her home and husband are gone, but her entire life is torn apart. From the very beginning, it’s a story of her reconstructing everything around her, including her own world views. Through the assistance of her wealthy mother-in-law, Sunset becomes Sheriff of the town, a small logging camp in the 1930’s depression. One of her first orders of business is to solve a brutal double murder that her late-husband (the former Sheriff) buried. The book effortlessly cuts across genres of mystery and thriller, horror, western and humor. Lansdale, as common for him, deals with race and gender issues and takes a progressive stance against commonly held clichés. Great read overall. The only complaint was that Lansdale built up such a pair of clever and creepy villains, but then rarely used them. He needs to write a prologue story stat, just about McBride and his half-brother, Two!

Four out of Five stars

***

REVIEWED: Boy’s Life
EDITED BY: Robert R. McCammon
PUBLISHED: May, 1992

I don’t know how this book has escaped me for so long, as it was written back in 1991. This is the kind of story I wish I would have read as a teenager. Although, of course, it may not have meant as much to me then as it does now, as a father, watching my son begin his own adventures, and remembering that sense of magic and excitement that I’ve somehow lost over the years. People frequently throw the phrase around that they’ve read something that’s “one of the best things ever,” but I can truly affirm that “Boy’s Life” by Robert McCammon is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

The publisher’s description doesn’t do the book justice. It says that a young boy and his father witness a murdered man being driven into a lake, and their lives are shaken by the realization the idyllic town they live in must contain an evil person. The boy goes on to investigate the mystery and has magical adventures with his friends.

I read that and thought it sounded pretty “ho-hum,” perhaps like a glorified Hardy Boys tale. Though the murder mystery is a part of the book, it’s really just one small thread woven through an immense tapestry of gorgeous narrative. The book description doesn’t exhort the prospective reader with the amazing beauty contained within and the author’s ability for spit-shined storytelling… of course it can’t, as every book description makes such claims. The difference with this novel, is that it delivers.

“Boy’s Life” takes place in 1964 and follows the coming-of-age years of Cory Mackenson, a 12-year old in the small town of Zephyr, Alabama, who lives life as all of us once did. He plays with his friends, struggles in school, and does what his parents tell him to do. He’s at odds with the neighborhood bullies, loves his dog, and is filled to brimming with hopes and dreams and fears. He knows the world by what is taught him in a town peopled with all types of personalities; from small-minded bigots to superstitious elders to neighbors who harbor dark and strange secrets. But he’s also at the age where he’s beginning to make his own decisions about the things around him.

Through it all, Cory, like all boys, can see the magic of the world that adults cannot. There are ghosts in town, some of whom mourn their untimely passing, while others just want to play with the living. Wishes can come true if wished hard enough. Dinosaurs still live, a boy’s bicycle isn’t just an inanimate thing, and monsters appear from the shadows if you’re not careful. Death and life pass by hand-in-hand, and Cory navigates it all amongst gun-toting moonshiners, natural disasters, and an ancient woman who helps interpret the dreams he and his father have late at night.

This book is simply a priceless gem of sparkling prose. Each of Cory’s multiple adventures brought me back to the years when I experienced these things first-hand. The author has an incredible command, not only of the language of writing, but also of the heart strings of emotion. Suffice it to say, tears fell from my eyes more than once.

For example, here’s an excerpt: “I glance at her and my eyes are blessed. She wears sunlight in her blond hair like a spill of golden flowers… we smile at each other. Her hand finds mine. They were meant to be clasped together, just like this.”

Anyway, to sum it up, I absolutely loved this book. It won the World Fantasy Award when it came out, so other people loved it, too. Of course, there’s no book written that’s going to please everyone, so before picking up a copy, ask yourself this: Did you like “Stand By Me” by Stephen King? If the answer is yes, consider “Boy’s Life” as a wilder adventure, longer in page count (over 800) and filled with a bit more imagination and a lot more depth.

SIX out of Five stars (yes, that is the equivalent of 120% – it deserves it)

Midnight cheers,

Eric

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Eric J. Guignard writes dark and speculative fiction from the outskirts of Los Angeles. Assorted stories and articles that bear his byline may be found in the disreputable publications reserved for back alley bazaars. As an editor, Eric’s produced the anthologies, Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations and After Death…, the latter of which won the 2013 Bram Stoker Award®. Read his novella, Baggage of Eternal Night (a finalist for the 2014 International Thriller Writers Award), and watch for many more forthcoming books, including Chestnut ’Bo (TBP 2016). Outside of the glamorous and jet-setting world of indie fiction, Eric’s a technical writer and college professor, and he stumbles home each day to a wife, children, cats, and a terrarium filled with mischievous beetles. He’s a member of the Horror Writer’s Association, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Of America, and the International Thriller Writers. Visit Eric at: www.ericjguignard.com, his blog: ericjguignard.blogspot.com, or Twitter: @ericjguignard.