Monday, September 26, 2011

The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead

Back Cover:
It is the ultimate quest for the ultimate treasure. Chasing a map tattooed on human skin. Across an omniverse of intersecting realities. To unravel the future of the future.

Kit Livingston's great-grandfather appears to him in a deserted alley during a tumultuous storm. He reveals an unbelievable story: that the ley lines throughout Britain are not merely the stuff of legend or the weekend hobby of deluded cranks, but pathways to other worlds. To those who know how to use them, they grant the ability to travel the multi-layered universe of which we ordinarily inhabit only a tiny part.

One explorer knew more than most. Braving every danger, he toured both time and space on voyages of heroic discovery. Ever on his guard, and fearful of becoming lost in the cosmos, he developed an intricate code--a roadmap of symbols--that he tattooed onto his own body. This Skin Map has since been lost in time. Now the race is on to recover all the pieces and discover its secrets.

But the Skin Map itself is not the ultimate goal. It is merely the beginning of a vast and marvelous quest for a prize beyond imagining.

The Bright Empires series--from acclaimed author Stephen Lawhead--is a unique blending of epic treasure hunt, ancient history, alternate realities, cutting-edge physics, philosophy, and mystery. The result is a page-turning, fantastical adventure like no other.

MY THOUGHTS

Cons:

The book can be sloooooow.

As is usual with Lawhead, there are a few wince-inducing moments. And just the fact that the map is made out of...well, human skin...makes me shudder a little.

Pros:

The cover is pretty cool.

I don't mind how complicated it is, you just have to walk into reading the story prepared for it. It makes for a long series, which I like. Definitely not a book for a quick read.

Kit is a bit of a sweet bumbler, always trying to do the right thing and somehow never quite making everything work. Hopefully he improves over time, though, otherwise he could get old pretty quick. I really didn't connect to the characters that well, though. We'll see how the rest of the series progresses.

Conclusion:

Mainly, I love The Skin Map for its plot, not its characters. We'll see how Mina and Kit grow on me throughout the rest of the series.

I'd say the story would be suitable for 16 up, because of the intensity and aforementioned cringe-worthy moments.

Rating: Four out of five stars

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Corruptible by Mark Mynheir


Back cover: How much money would it take for you to betray the truth?

Ex-homicide detective Ray Quinn never had glamorous thoughts of the life of a private investigator—but being cornered in a bathroom stall by the enraged philandering husband of a client? That’s something he could live without. Retired from homicide and living with a painful disability, Ray’s options are limited. Stick to the job, keep impetuous sidekick Crevis alive, and spend quiet evenings with trusted pal Jim Beam, that’s about the best he can hope for.

As a new client emerges, Ray finds himself in an impossibly large boardroom holding a check with enough zeros to finally lift him from his financial pit. The job seems easy enough: find Logan Ramsey, an ex-cop turned security officer who’s taken off with sensitive corporate information. But few things are easy in Ray’s world, regardless of the amount of zeros in the check.

In what should be an open-and-shut case, Ray stumbles across Logan Ramsey in a seedy motel room. Only Ray wasn’t the first to find him. Now Logan’s dead, the client’s information is nowhere to be found, and Ray’s employer is less than forthcoming with the details. Suddenly the line between the good guys and bad guys isn’t so clear. With a foot in both worlds and an illuminating look at an unhappy ending that could well be his own, which will Ray choose?

My Thoughts:

Let's look at the cons first:

Ray Quinn drinks. A LOT. But it's not shown in nearly as much of a glamorous light as in The Maltese Falcon, nor is it even shown to be funny like it often is in the Thin Man series. Ray pays the prices for drinking and he knows he has a problem.

I think there was one or two mild cuss words in the book.

And, this is a detective story. It's full of nasty people doing nasty things like cheating and taking drugs, and there are suggestions of boyfriends/girlfriends living together/sleeping together. However, it doesn't show any of these things nor dwell on them, unless a detective is speculating about how someone had the opportunity to kill someone else. Nothing in it made me squirm.

Now the pros:

This book reminds me of an old detective movie like The Maltese Falcon or one of the Thin Man movies. And honestly, I love love love the old detective genre. So I really enjoyed this book and I bet anyone who likes Agatha Christe, Dashiell Hammett, or even a more modern book like Randy Alcorn's Deception, would love this book.

The characters are well-drawn. We have the stereotypes of the story (of course) like the grouchy old codger detective, the bumbling, over-eager assistant, and two beautiful women. But since you can't really have a hard-boiled detective story without some some variation of these stereotypes, it didn't bother me at all.

The story is well-written and had quite a few twists and turns. I guessed the culprit correctly, but not too much before the end of the book.

Conclusion:

I'd definitely recommend this book to people 16 and up, not because there's necessarily anything bad in it (besides the mild cuss words), but because of the intensity of the book. If you like detective stories, buy The Corruptible and look for other Ray Quinn novels.

Rating: five out of five stars

Monday, September 12, 2011

Novel Spotlight: Aquasynthesis

Aquasynthesis is a collection of short stories from the authors at Splashdown Books. They range from a miracle-working ring, to learning sentient computers, to a Lucky Penny, to an obsession with ears, all tied together with short snippets from the viewpoint of a girl watching a pool of water freeze and melt.

If you think that sounds weird...well...it's speculative fiction.

Let me quickly review some of my favorite stories in the mix:

Dude by Kat Heckenbach: This story made me laugh so hard! It was a creative, non-traditional use of an elf and I loved it. This was easily my favorite story in the entire collection. Kat's two other stories, Between the Pages and The Artist, were also amazing. He book, Finding Angel, came out on September 1st. I have to get it!

When the Game Became Too Real by Ryan Grabow: I. Need. Air. Gulp. An adrenaline-laced story with the protagonist stuck in virtual reality, based on his forthcoming novel, Caffiene. Yeah. I'm gonna need this book too.

The Kissing Part by Fred Warren: A companion story to his novel The Muse, this is a cute story that reminds me of something my little sister did to one of my stories once.

Summer Snaps: a deleted scene from Keven Newsome's Winter, the book that launched Darkwater, the supernatural imprint of Splashdown. It's a supernatural thriller about a Christian Goth named Winter who receives visions from God. I wasn't too sure about the book--I mean, Christian Goths? Really?--but reading the story made me interested. Add Winter to my must-buy pile.

The Unjust Judge by Adam Graham: The story about a man who refuses to mete out justice and a widowed alien who refuses to give up...sounds just like something the author of Tales of the Dim Knight would write. Serious and funny all at once, and an excellent story.

The Field Trip by P. A. Baines: Hahaha! A story about two aliens learning about earth...and the difference a comma can make. Oosha. (Oops.) ;)

Overall thoughts: Some of the stories were better-written than others, but all made me curious to check out the authors I haven't read before. For people concerned about content, most of the book is clean. One story (Bob by P. A. Baines) contains a mild cuss-word, and Caprice Hokstad's story Fettered Soul contains a little sensuality (but nothing happens, not even a kiss. Oh yeah, and I really like this story too. Add two more books to my "must-buy" pile.). Aquasynthesis should be fine for those over 16.

If you like Christian speculative fiction and want a book you can read in short snippets, I'd definitely recommend Aquasynthesis. It wiln give you a good introduction to the fan-tabulous authors at Splashdown!

Rating: four-and-a-half stars

Monday, September 5, 2011

Favorite Summer Reads 2011

Well, it's amazing to me that I read as many books as I did this year--what with having at least one event a week and all my writing stuff. OK, so I neglected my writing stuff. ;) I read quite a few great books this year and it was really hard to pick out three favorites...but here they are.

Divergent by Veronica Roth
:

Wow!!!!!! I thought I liked The Hunger Games Trilogy, but I think this book beats them hands-down. Can't wait for the rest of the books in the series!

Pros: Sympathetic if not totally likable main character & I love her nickname). Interesting secondary characters and sympathetic love interest. Quick moving, complicated, compelling storyline. Some people say it drags in the middle (since much of the book is about her training) but I didn't think so.

Cons: One or two cuss words. Some sensuality. Wouldn't recommend it for anyone under 18 because of the previous points & the violence.

Description from Amazon page: One choice can transform you. Pass initiation. Do not fail! Thrilling urban dystopian fiction debut from exciting young author. In sixteen-year-old Beatrice Prior's world, society is divided into five factions -- Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent) -- each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue, in the attempt to form a "perfect society." At the age of sixteen, teens must choose the faction to which they will devote their lives. On her Choosing Day, Beatrice renames herself Tris, rejects her family's group, and chooses another faction. After surviving a brutal initiation, Tris finds romance with a super-hot boy (MY NOTE: ehhhh, not really.), but also discovers unrest and growing conflict in their seemingly "perfect society." To survive and save those they love, they must use their strengths to uncover the truths about their identities, their families, and the order of their society itself.



The Tea Shop Mysteries by Laura Child
:

OK, yes, a bit kitschy. I like them, though. They're relatively easy and clean reads (the two I read, anyway) and decent murder mysteries.

Pros: Easy, cozy-mystery reading. Yummy-sounding recipes & tea! ;) Perfect for a day at the beach or a long car ride.

Cons: one or two minor cuss words.

Description from Amazon page of Shades of Earl Grey: Indigo Tea Shop owner Theodosia Browning is finally invited to a social event that she doesn't have to cater-but trouble is brewing at the engagement soiree of the season...



Sword In the Stars by Wayne Thomas Batson:

Awesome cover! And good story, too. ;) I love how the main character struggles to be a "good guy" throughout the book. It seemed very consistent for who and what he was. Of course, it had moments of typical Wayne Thomas Batson humor and sticky "oops" situations. I like books that make me snicker.

Pros: Great main character and fun secondary characters. Freaky bad guys (is it just me or does Batson seem to have a gift for this?). Humor sprinkled throughout the book, sometimes in just the right place to give you a much-needed breath.

Cons: covers a long period of time.

Description from Amazon page: Haunted by memories of a violent past, Alastair Coldhollow wagers his life on the hope that a sword will appear in the stars and the foretold Halfainin, the Pathwalker, would come. Meanwhile, tensions simmer between Anglinore and the murderous Gorrack Nation, threatening war on a cataclysmic scale. The fate of all could rest on an abandoned child and the decisions of those who desperately seek to identify him. Sword in the Stars is the first release in The Dark Sea Annals series.

FULL REVIEW TO FOLLOW ON THE 3RD OF NEXT MONTH (OCTOBER).


**NOTE: I received Sword in the Stars free from AMG in return for posting an honest review.**