Review of The Institute

institute.jpgLet’s get this disclaimer out of the way so that we can get down to the meat and potatoes of this book review. I absolutely, positively love everything that Stephen King has ever written. Not so much his film adaptions, but that’s another review for another time.

Released in mid September, the storyline of The Institute follows two main characters. The first readers encounter is Tim Jamieson, an ex-policeman that’s traveling to New York for a job. Following his intuition, Jamieson ends up in DuPray, South Carolina. He ends up being a Night Knocker. For those that don’t know what a night knocker is, don’t worry I didn’t know either. Basically, it’s just a lowly paid member of local law enforcement that walks around at night making sure places are locked up. Jamieson has his own interesting history and is developing a life in DuPray when the story shifts over to the central character of the novel, Luke Ellis. 

Luke is a twelve-year-old genius that’s about to enter college. One night, he’s kidnapped from his home in suburban Minneapolis and taken to The Institute. It’s a facility located in Maine. Luke soon finds out that he and all the other kids in the facility have either telekinesis or telepathy. Oh, and the facility is operated by a super secret shadowy organization.

Going into the novel, I was certain that it was a sequel King’s 1980 novel, Firestarter. It’s essentially the same premise. A child with pyrokinetic powers is hunted by The Shop, a super secret government operation that does drug testing on people with telekinetic abilities. Spoiler alert: Firestarter ends with The Shop reforming under new leadership. With Doctor Sleep being a sequel to The Shining, it wasn’t that hard to think that The Institute was a sequel to Firestarter. However, don’t get your hopes up. There’s no references to the book that was adapted into the 1984 film starring Drew Barrymore.

While I really enjoyed Luke’s journey of survival and vengeance, all I really wanted to do was get back to Night Knocker Tim. For some reason, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tim’s normal, everyday life compared to the freaky and slightly traumatizing tale of Luke Ellis. As you could guess, the two main character’s path eventually collide and that’s when the story picks up. To quote Pam Beesly-Halpert from The Office, “There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?”

Stephen King is one of those authors that has an innate talent to craft a decent story with children as characters. The Institute is pretty much a mash-up of IT and Firestarter. You take a shadowy government organization testing children and the children must band together to survive. Luke and the other children share a deep relationship together and King so masterfully gives each child a story arc without bogging down the narrative.

The one thing that I truly did not like were the political digs at President Trump and the Republican Party. If you follow King’s social media, you’ll know that he doesn’t particularly look on them with a positive light. There aren’t many of these references, but they always made me cringe and pulled me out of the narrative when I read them.

I guess I wouldn’t be a good reviewer if I didn’t mention how the novel parallels real world events. When you finish this 576 page science fiction/horror thriller there are a few things that hit close to home in terms of vaccinations, missing children, and zealots that believe that the ends justify the means. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that The Institute is an interesting look into these issues and the deeper and terrifying implications they have on society.

If you’re a fan of Stephen King, The Institute will itch that literary scratch. For those that haven’t delved into the deep library of King, you’ll find this book a great introduction into it. The Institute is definitely one to put on your To-Be-Read list.

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Review of The Dinosaur Lords

dinosaur lordsThe first thing that drew me to The Dinosaur Lords, written by Victor Milan, was the cover. As you read this, you all might be thinking about that old saying about how you should never judge a book by its cover. However, it’s always been my thinking that a good book deserves a good cover. If the author took the time and care to pen the adventure, then why would the author want that masterpiece wrapped in a cover that’s anything less than a masterpiece? It is a beautiful cover. The cover, done by Artist Richard Anderson, displays a medieval looking knight with a lance sitting atop what looks to be a velociraptor. The beast is all claws and teeth with a harness wrapped around its deadly jaws. The second thing that caught my eye was the quote by George R.R. Martin underneath Milan’s name that states “It’s like a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones.” Both novels being favorites of mine, I didn’t think I’d be wasting money purchasing this thick paperback novel.

In all fairness to Milan, I didn’t waste my money. It was a decent read. However, it wasn’t as good as Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones either. What Martin said in his book blurb was accurate though. It was a combination between the two books in the sense that it was medieval knights, political intrigue, and dinosaurs. What I would have liked to see more of was the character development that makes Game of Thrones one of my favorite book series.

The quality of writing was almost flawless. Milan expertly crafts a unique fantasy realm that is both intricate and intriguing. Light on the magical, the world utilizes more sword and spears than it does wizards and wands. The amount of detail that Milan writes rivals that of George R.R. Martin. At the beginning of each chapter, Milan has an entry from one of the many fictitious tomes that are part of the fantasy world of Paradise. These entries serve to provide added details that aid the reader’s immersion.

The main drawback to this novel is the development of the characters. Where George R.R. Martin can switch from character to character with ease, Milan seems to have a difficulty. There are a handful of characters with their own storylines. The problem with the storylines is that there’s only one that I found interesting and it wasn’t even integral to the overall story until the last fifty pages. This lack of interest caused me to pause and set the book down.

While the creation of the interesting world, the detailed characters, the inclusion of dinosaurs used as war weapons are interesting elements, but it doesn’t compensate for the boring storylines of the characters. While I don’t believe that this book was a waste of money, after reading it I won’t be purchasing its sequel.

Review of Cinder

I really enjoy when artists take old stories and give them a new twist. Especially when they do this to fairy tales. Take the television show Once Upon a Time for example. So when a friend suggested that I give Cinder by Marissa Meyer a try, I was all for it.

Cinder is the first in The Lunar Chronicles and takes place in the future after the Fourth World War. In this futuristic world, androids aid humans in their daily lives. Cyborgs, humans augmented by technology, are treated as second class citizens. One such cyborg, Cinder, is a gifted mechanic with a mysterious past. Not only is Cinder looked down upon by her stepmother and stepsister, she is also looked down upon by the rest of society as a cyborg. Ashamed of her robotic parts, she hides them in shame. This doesn’t stop Cinder’s family from depending on her to earn the family’s only source of income, the mechanic shop in downtown New Beijing.

However, Cinder’s life is thrown upside down due to a chance encounter with Prince Kai. After that encounter, Cinder is thrown into a deadly game of intergalactic Risk. If she wins, Cinder could gain everything. If she loses, it’s not just her that suffers. The world might also suffer.

The first thing about this Young Adult novel is that anyone can find it entertaining. The storyline, the dialogue, even the plot is appropriate for both younger and older audiences. The second thing about this title is that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Marissa Meyer is truly an artisan at what she does.

The basic premise of Cinder is a retelling of Cinderella. An evil stepmother oppresses a poor orphan, a fairy godmother grants the wishes of the orphan, the orphan and prince fall in love, and the prince searches for his lost love, and eventually they all live happily ever after. What Meyer does is take that story and add a fun and interesting futuristic angle on it.

One such change is that of the protagonist, Cinder. She isn’t a helpless orphan that is granted everything she desires from her fairy godmother. Cinder has to struggle to overcome her weaknesses to prove not only to the prince and the “fairy godmother” that she’s worthy of her dreams, but she has to prove to herself that she’s able to do what must be done. Not stopping there, Meyer imbues Cinder with strength, courage, and stubborn determination to create an empowering character. Don’t enter this story expecting that it will be the prince that saves Cinder and the day.

Due to the fact that it is a retelling, there are positives and negatives. The one flaw that I had while quickly devouring this fantastic version of Cinderella was that, at times, it was predictable. I had predicted some of the end based on the prior knowledge of the fairy tale, but for the most part I was surprised. When there were elements of the fairytale that popped up into the novel I was pleasantly hit with nostalgia. I actually laughed out loud a few times when I realized what was happening.

If you have the capability, I would suggest listening to the audiobook version performed by Voice Actress Rebecca Soler. She did an amazing job bringing the characters to life. Each character had their own voice, she sped her reading when the action was kicked up, and you could feel the emotion in the scene through her voice.

If you enjoy popular fairytale retellings, then Cinder is one that you absolutely must pick up. If you did enjoy it then rejoice because it’s the first in The Lunar Chronicles, a series of books that put that same futuristic spin on popular fairytales.

Marissa Meyer creates a fantastic novel that will certainly entertain readers young and old. If you haven’t done it already, enchant your pumpkins, jump into that newly minted carriage, and get yourself to the nearest bookstore before the clock hits midnight.

Review of Bird Box

bird boxI only picked up this book because of the Netflix film, of the same name. I’d seen the film and thoroughly enjoyed it. Having seen the Netflix film, I knew what I was getting into when I started the debut novel written by Josh Malerman. Having said that, I’m glad I picked it up. Both versions of the story are equally great.

The story begins with the main character, Malorie, standing in the kitchen thinking. It’s been four years since the apocalyptic event that swept across the earth killing untold millions. What follows is a forty-three chapter game of tennis. Malerman switches from the present to the past almost every chapter. In the present, Malorie is gearing up to travel on the river with her two children, Boy and Girl. The destination is a promise of a safe place from the insanity inducing creatures. In the flashbacks, the reader gets the full story of why Malorie is alone and why she has two children of the same age with her.

This is one of the charms of the novel because when a chapter ends, it’s typically a cliff hanger and the reader won’t figure out what happens until a few chapters later. There were moments when I would reach the end of a chapter, look at the clock knowing I need to be somewhere, but couldn’t wait so I continued reading.

Another charming thing that Malerman does in his novel is never show the monster. The apocalyptic event is this creature that causes insanity in those that view it. So, reasonably, the reader never gets even the hint of a description other than it might smell bad. Even when the characters see the creatures, they don’t see the creature. For some writers, that might be a hindrance, but for Malerman he writes it really well. The way characters live in the world where vision is a danger, they wear blindfolds. This natural isolation makes even a leaf falling on the characters shoulder spooky. Is it a leaf? Is it a crazy person taunting the character? Is it the creatures? The characters don’t know and that’s when their imagination is the enemy. Even though it’s a leaf or a random twig breaking is intense to a reader because they don’t know either. They are, literally, in the dark like the characters.

The one thing that bugged me about the story was the lack of technology it employed. Presumably set in 2014 when Malerman wrote it, there isn’t much use of technology. Characters use phone books to call numbers using a landline. They don’t access the internet even though their power is still on. There is no GPS and the characters have to use mileage on their cars to judge distance. It felt like I had picked up a book from the early 1990’s. Which isn’t a bad thing, but for younger readers it may not be a relatable literary experience.

Bird Box is an interesting tale of survival and what a mother would do to protect herself and her two children. It’s an intense novel that’s a true page turner. Even though you know the fates of the characters, you’ll be cheering for the ill-fated characters during the flashback chapters. If you’ve never seen the Netflix film, give it a watch because it’s really pretty good. If you’ve never read the novel written by Josh Malerman, give it a read because it’s equally as good.

If you want to read an apocalyptic novel that doesn’t include the normal amount of blood and gore that is commonplace in most books of this genre, Bird Box is the novel for you.

The Legends of Luke Skywalker

The_Legends_of_Luke_Skywalker_final_coverKen Liu writes an interesting anthology of tales that center around the myth of Luke Skywalker. The story is centered around some passengers on a transport barge on its way to Canto Bight. If you’ve seen the film Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) then this destination will be familiar. In fact, it really shouldn’t be a surprise because the book is included in part of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

To pass the time, the passengers tell tales of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. This novel falls between Episode VI and Episode VIII as far as the timeline.

The first thing that I enjoyed about this book is the structure in which it was made. There are six stories about the Jedi Master with interludes in between. Also, the edition I read had fully colored illustrations of the story about to be told that were beautifully drawn by J.G. Jones.

The next thing that I enjoyed about the book was the fact that not all tales about Luke were true. Told by many different characters, the tales of Luke and the Rebellion vary from being saviors of the galaxy to just a bunch of con artists as told in the short story “The Myth Buster.”

If you’re a fan of Star Wars but have never really delved into the cannon/non-cannon books, then this one might be the one to try out. This book is considered cannon, but like I said earlier don’t really count on the legitimacy of what’s being said about Luke Skywalker.

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Just one example of the artwork in this book crafted by Artist J.G. Jones.

Overall, the book is great in terms of writing. Author Ken Liu does an amazing job crafting these stories and making each sound different in terms of the tones of the narrator that’s telling them. My favorite story is at the very end. It’s titled “Big Inside” and is about Luke and the narrator being trapped in the belly of gigantic monster. In order to get out, Luke and the narrator must accept the sacrifice from another trapped group. “Big Inside” contains the most wisdom in the anthology stating that:

“It was one thing to sacrifice yourself for something you believed in, but how much heavier was the burden of accepting someone else’s sacrifice?”

The genius of this concept for a Star Wars book is that since each story is told by different people, nothing can be considered “true” even if Luke did the things that he did in the book. The writing trick of “the unreliable narrator” is used here to make the reader ponder what really happened in each tale.

As far as what I didn’t like about the book, there wasn’t much. If I had to nitpick and find one negative in this book of positives, then I would have to say that one of the stories dragged on and didn’t really capture my attention. “The Tale of Lugubrious Mote” was about the true brains behind the comedic genius in Jabba the Hutt’s palace. That story didn’t quite accelerate until Luke showed up which wasn’t until thirteen pages into the story.

This book can be read by children of all ages. As far as swear words, I didn’t catch any. If you’re looking for a Star Wars book that doesn’t really add to the canon of the films, but does provide some good tales to read then The Legends of Luke Skywalker written by Ken Liu is your book.

If you’re wondering whether or not to purchase the book in hardback or ebook, I would recommend hardback. There is not a book sleeve on it and therefore is just a glossy cover, but the book is extremely durable and has a great feel to it.

To-Be-Read List of 2019

Writers need to do two things: Read a lot and write a lot. Stephen King said something to that effect in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. If he said it, then it must be true. That is one of my goals for the New Year. To read a lot and to write a lot. Here is my To Be Read list, or TBR list:

• Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

• Rose Madder by Stephen King

• Dance Macabre by Stephen King

• Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

• Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind

• Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan

• Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan

• Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

• The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orezy

• Scythe by Neal Shusterman

• The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

• The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

• Angel Dust Apocalypse by Jeremy Robert Johnson

• The Ninth Circle by Brendan Deneen

• Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden

• Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

• Dying to Live: a novel of life among the undead by Kim Paffenroth

• The Undead Volume III: Flesh Feast edited by D.L. Snell and Travis Adkins

• Ordinary Monsters: High School and the Final Solution by Frank Martin

• Fire in the Hole and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard

• Arthurian Magic by John and Caitlin Matthews

• Last Shot by Daniel Jose Older

• The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman

• American Dream Machine by Matthew Specktor

• The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

• Dead Zero by Stephen Hunter

• The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter

• Sniper’s Honor by Stephen Hunter

• That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

• Liliane’s Balcony by Kelcey Parker

• For Sale by Owner by Kelcey Parker

• The Bitter Life of Bozena Nemcova by Kelcey Parker

• A Lot of Bull by James F. Walsh

• Pretty When She Destroys by Rhiannon Frater

• Escaped with Honor by Charles Layton

• Le More d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory

• I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

• The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

• Empire by David Dunwoody 

• Frankenstein: Lost Souls by Dean Koontz

• The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz

• Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel by A.W. Jantha

• The Magician’s Apprentice by Trudi Canavan

• Tentyrian Legacy by Elise Walters

• Leia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray

• The Death and Life of Superman by Roger Stern

• The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

• Anne Bonny’s Wake by Dick Elam

• Fully Awake by Ken Davis

• Nocturne of the Sea by Cameron Davis

• Widow of the Empyrean by Nikki Collins-Mewha

• Human Ouija by L. Bachman

• Harvest by L. Bachman

• Maxwell Demon by L. Bachman

• We Will Heal These Wounds by Nicole Thorn and Sarah Hall

• The Curse of Ormshire by S.L. Perrine

• In the Shadow of the House of God by Jeffrey G. Roberts

• We Will Change Our Stars by Nicole Thorn and Sarah Hall

• We Will Bleed by Nicole Thorn and Sarah Hall

• Way Down Below by Nicole Thorn and Sarah Hall

• We Will Gain Our Fury by Nicole Thorn and Sarah Hall

• The Human-Undead War: Patriarch by Jonathan Edward Ondrashek

• In Obscura Silva by Ellie Piersol

• Mysterium Excelsum Unum by Ellie Piersol

• Wind Up Toy by David Owain Hughes

• Choice Cuts Delicatessen by David Owain Hughes

• Forgotten Hero: The Chronicles of Death Book 1 by Brian G. Murray

• We Could Be Heroes by Sarah Dale

• Manleigh Cheese by James Crawford

• Rowan’s End by L.D. Ricard

• The Starhawk Chronicles by Joseph J. Madden

• The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milan

That’s a lot of books to read in a year. Of course, I’ll not be able to read all of these books in this year, but I’m hoping to make a dent. What’s your TBR List? Let me know in the comments below and maybe I’ll expand mine a bit longer.

After Midnight Cover Reveal

Every so often, I’m asked to help my fellow authors get the news out about their newest book release. Sometimes, that help looks like participating in Facebook release parties and other times it’s helping them promote their newest book cover.

Like today. After Midnight is the newest book in the Miss Hyde Novellas written by the very talented Kindra Sowder. For the last few years I’ve had the privilege to call Kindra both my friend and my boss at Burning Willow Press, LLC. So when she asked for help regarding the new cover reveal I leapt at the opportunity.

So without further ado, here it is…

Hyde5 frontBlythe’s world is changing. She has finally accepted who — or what — she is. Hyde’s keeping to their arrangement. Blythe can now move forward from all she endured including a new romance with Emmett. Not only does he make her feel normal but helps her see a possible future.

But what of the elusive Adam Burnside? The man who could be her equal in not only state of mind but also body. With Cyra handing over journals filled with clues to her origins, Blythe needs to make sense of the new information within.

 

FB_IMG_1515772882925Author Bio:

Kindra Sowder was born and raised in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA until the age of 12, when her family moved to Spartanburg, SC. She graduated from high school in 2006 with full honors and as a member of her high school Literary Club and the Spanish Honor Society. In January 2014, she graduated with her second degree in Criminal NeuroPsychology. She married her husband Edd Sowder in May 2014 and still lives in Spartanburg, SC where she is basing Burning Willow Press. Her works have earned multiple award nominations.

If you are interested in all of Kindra’s other amazing works, here are a list of her Author Links.

Author Links:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2HPrZwG

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/12587201.Kindra_Sowder

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KindraSowder

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kmkinnaman

Web: www.ksowderauthor.com

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