Redshirts by John Scalzi

It’s twpid-20151021_074435.jpghe year 2465 and Andrew Dahl has just joined the crew of the ship Intrepid as part of the xenobiology lab.  Dahl will have a the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015chance to serve on away missions with the ship’s captain and a few other high level officers. Only, things seem a bit odd.  Dahl’s lab mates seem evasive and conveniently disappear whenever the captain makes an appearance.  Dahl has also noticed that away missions tend to always involve a deadly alien encounter, the captain, along with a handsome lieutenant and three other high-ranking crew members, always survives, and a low-level crew member always dies on an away mission. Always.

What’s goodRed Shirts by John Scalzi is a humorous riff on old sci-fi shows and I really enjoyed the idea behind it.  Scalzi writes instantly likable characters who try to figure out what is going on with their ship while trying to avoid getting killed themselves. It’s a tad campy at times but I took it that it’s supposed to be that way. It’s a quick read and I did chuckle/laugh out loud a few times. After the end the are three codas told in first, second, and third person points of view. These three codas (the original name of the book is Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas) focused on three later characters and were all exceptionally written and very heartfelt.  I almost teared up during one of them and I dare say I liked the codas even better than the main book.

What’s not so good: Well, not much really.  The only thing that I didn’t enjoy was an over reliance on the use of “….he/she said.” I found it a tad distracting that almost every time there was a line of dialogue from someone, the line would be identified with “…Dahl said; …the captain said…”, etc. I actually started to omit reading those qualifiers as the book went along. Other than that, I found the book to be very enjoyable.

I don’t want to give away too much of the book since the reason for the crew members always dying and the high-ranking officers always surviving is a goofy, fun reveal that sets the plot for the rest of the story.  Redshirts was a fun, fast read that had likable characters and a good ending. The three codas were standouts for me, though I certainly enjoyed the whole book.  If you are looking for a fun, sci-fi read, or just an enjoyable read, I highly recommend Redshirts. You shouldn’t be disappointed.

The Andy Cohen Diaries – by Andy Cohen

wpid-20151003_100834.jpgAndy Cohen’s latest book, The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year, is, on its face, a shallow look at a year of the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015Andy’s life.  However, dig a bit deeper while reading this book and you can see that there is a bit more to Andy Cohen than party hopping, name dropping, and drinking.  Cohen cares deeply about the city he lives in, has a wonderful relationship with his parents, and seemingly became a better person after adopting his dog Wacha.

Admittedly, no one should read this book expecting a stellar literary experience (though it is well written). What you can except to read about is Cohen’s party life, his drama dealing with various Housewives (from Bravo’s various Real Housewives of… series), and his struggle to get in shape. All of this is a fun read. Cohen has a close circle of (famous) friends who play a big part in his life. He also has a great relationship with his parents, who are a big part of his life as well.  His search for companionship brings Wacha, his rescued Beagle mix, into his world, which allows the reader to see Cohen is capable of finding love. Throughout the book Cohen laments the gentrification of his beloved NYC – local businesses being pushed out by sky-high rents, chain stores or franchises replacing mom and pop type stores, etc. – all of which serve to take away what makes NYC unique.

The last two items, Wacha and his sadness of the changing storefronts of local NYC, were the most interesting part for me to read. Sure it’s fun to read about Cohen partying with Kelly Ripa and her husband, his European vacation with AC (Anderson Cooper), and his Met Ball experience with Sarah Jessica Parker, but a diary should connect on a personal level as well. Cohen does that when he talks about Wacha – when it sunk in that Wacha was in a kill shelter and how, after initially having Wacha live with him for a few days, he knew Wacha was his dog –  his own romance with NYC, and his love for his hometown baseball teams, the St. Louis Cardinals. These items are why I found Diaries to be a fun read.

Diaries is a fun read, and while shallow (as the title says), lets the reader see what Cohen cares about.  Family, friends, Wacha, and love are the things that really appear to touch Cohen’s life. That’s what makes this book interesting and a bit less shallow.

The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Child wpid-20150823_142426.jpgpsychologist Dr. Anya Molokova has moved back to her hometown of Dublin, Ireland and works at MacNeice the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015House, an adolescent mental health treatment center. She is asked to meet and assess Alex Connolly, a 10-year-old whose mother is hospitalized due to her latest suicide attempt.  Alex has been self-harming, disruptive, and claims his imaginary friend, Ruen, is a demon and the one making him act the way he does.  Anya has seen this behavior before and believes it is early on set schizophrenia, which Anya witnessed in her own daughter Poppy. While assessing and observing Alex, Anya starts to see strange things and she begins to question her diagnosis, making her wonder if Ruen is really real.  The true diagnosis turns out to be shocking and not what Anya expected at all.

Wow. I could not put this book down, reading it in two days. The Boy Who Could See Demons was compelling, well written, and made me want to keep reading to find out what was going to happen. I found both main characters, Anya and Alex, easy to relate to, even though I have no personal experience with either psychology or schizophrenia.  The pace of the book was very fast but not distracting. Anya’s story about her own daughter’s fight with schizophrenia was emotional and heart-breaking, making her desire to help Alex all the more difficult.

Alex’s demon, Ruen, at times seemed so real I couldn’t help thinking that Alex wasn’t imagining things.  Alex is a very grown up 10-year-old, having to deal with his unstable mother almost his entire life, and that made his interactions with Anya as well as Ruen all the more believable.  Ruen is what one would imagine a demon to be – manipulative, cruel, and deceptive.  Ruen makes Alex ask questions of Anya that would be impossible for Alex to come up on his own, thus enveloping Anya into Ruen’s dastardly plans. To say too much more would give too much of the story away.

The very end of the book takes a wholly unexpected turn that I absolutely did not see coming. This ending, however, did not make me mad and I thought it made sense.  After reading this book I did some searching of other reviews to read what others thought of it.  I found out that the UK version of this book, which was the original publication, is different from the US version. Needless to say this discovery drove me batty.  I now need to pick up a copy of the UK version so I can read the author’s original intent and ending to see how things differ.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to many others to read, though it may not appeal to everyone. Schizophrenia is not a light topic and The Boy Who Could See Demons approached it in a very real manner.  This is a fiction book but I kept thinking to myself it could easily be an account of a real person.  The imagery was vivid and I thought the author wrote about the subject manner with a great amount of respect and care.

Hostile Takeover by Shane Kuhn

HostileTakeoverWhat’s an amiable assassin to do when the woman he loves tries to kill him and the company he’s worked for all his life betrays him? the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015Why, marry that woman and aggressively take over the betraying company, of course. John Lago, the likable assassin from The Intern’s Handbook, is back in Hostile Takeover, by Shane Kuhn.  This time John is fighting for a life with Alice while at the same time trying to get Human Resources, Inc., running in his vision.  Though things don’t go as smoothly as John would like.  Helming HR, Inc. with Alice is troublesome.  Alice wants to run things her way while John wants it to go another way.  Add to that a mysterious client whom Alice is not willing to reveal to John, and you have trouble in paradise.

Hostile Takeover (HT) is the second book in the John Lago series.  I wouldn’t call this a sequel since the story stands on its own and there’s enough background on John and Alice’s past you don’t need to read the first book (though, I highly recommend you do).  HT offers more depth into John’s character and is really about John and Alice’s relationship.  Running a company is hard enough.  Throw your spouse into it and things get downright contentious.  John and Alice start things off great and the honeymoon stage is everything John dreamed of.  However when John and Alice get started with the business side of their relationship, things go downhill fast.  John has a weakness of not taking people out when he should, and that comes back to bite him in the ass in the most inopportune moment.  Alice is a cutthroat as ever, as well as a bad-ass who shouldn’t be messed with. John’s got a real battle on his hands this time around.

I’ve read comparisons where Shane Kuhn is said to be in the same vein as Quentin Tarantino in terms of the feel of his books (Dexter is another but I haven’t read/seen either so won’t speak to that).  I think Kuhn is more along the lines of Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico). Kuhn’s stories have more substance and intelligence to them than coincidence and luck (Tarantino vs. Rodriguez).  HT has a bit of a slower pace than Intern’s Handbook, but the action sequences are well written and easy to visualize. John Lago is a fun and enjoyable character who is determined to find happiness in his life. Kuhn does a good job of tying things up at the end, while also leaving room for future stories to happen.

I highly recommend Hostile Takeover (as well as The Intern’s Handbook). It’s a good, enjoyable read, with a likable main character who is easy to root for.

The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy

wpid-20150621_152529.jpgThere have always been the restless souls.  Those among us who have to break free, to see other sites, to find somethe-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015thing new or different. The desire and need to explore has always been present.  This time, familiar names are once again exploring – Lewis and Clark.  Similar names, different souls. The route is similar as well, but the land has been ravaged.

Mankind, after an unstoppable flu swept through the land, let loose their most destructive weapons in hopes of stopping the unstoppable.  The land is now inhospitable and toxic, the sun’s rays lashing skin with reckless abandon, creatures, malformed from the fallout, lurk everywhere.  This version of Lewis is reluctant and unsure.  This Clark, a female, more confident in her desire that they will find a livable terrain.  Their home, St. Louis was their Sanctuary.  It was turned to a living prison by a megalomaniac mayor.  Lewis and Clark secretly head out, following Gaewa,  the mysterious black eyed stranger, to an unknown land looking for resources and a better life.  The search for a better life won’t be an easy one  – not for Lewis and Clark and not for those left behind in Sanctuary.  

MeandBPercy

Me and B. Percy

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B. Percy

Benjamin Percy’s most recent book, The Dead Lands, has a quote on the cover from Stephen King reading “Good God, what a tale. Don’t miss it.” While my reaction to the book wasn’t quite as enthusiastic, I do agree with King.  The Dead Lands is a great tale and has the feel of an epic journey.  The story is engrossing and wraps you into a cocoon of a pleasing narrative.  Lewis Meriwether and Mina Clark, a post-apocalyptic rendering of the original explorers, make a good team.  Clark, an alcoholic, and Lewis, a drug addicted hermit, offer a good balance to one another. They eventually come to rely on each other as well.  The events in Sanctuary serve as a secondary story.  I enjoyed finding out how life continued on for those living in Sanctuary after Lewis and Clark’s departure.  Another aspect I liked was how, just as a chapter was leading to a exciting point, Percy cut away to action in another spot.  Initially making me want to keep on reading to find out what just happened, then finding myself engrossed in the new chapter, to only be ripped away again.

I had the opportunity to go see Benjamin Percy at a local bookstore as part of his tour in support of The Dead Lands. It has been my favorite author event to date.  Percy has a deep, booming voice reminiscent of a movie trailer announcer.  In person he’s an excellent storyteller and very captivating to listen to. One thing he mentioned was how sometimes the lead up to the conclusion was much more exciting than the actual ending.  The anticipation sometimes getting the better of you with expectations being much higher than they should be. He conveyed this in what I thought was an extremely funny, long-story joke.  The punch line was very “ugh, really?”, but the lead up to it and the story surrounding it was very satisfying, making up for the mediocre ending.  If you ever have the chance to go see him, don’t miss it.  It’ll be well worth your time.

The Dead Lands was an enjoyable read.  It’s definitely much more of a tale that engrosses you than a story you can read and set aside and go back to. The post-apocalyptic setting seems very feasible given the threat of mass-destruction weapons in today’s reality. Percy is a eloquent writer but sometimes tends towards the too wordy.  That being said, I’d take a well written, too wordy story over a badly written, short line story any day.

If you like books that take you on a journey this one’s for you.

Finders Keepers by Stephen King

wpid-20150621_152459.jpgA fan so obsessed with an author that he’s willing to kill that author in order to seek vengeance.  Vengeance solely for the fact he the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015didn’t like the direction of the last book and that the author hasn’t published anything new in years.  That’s the basic premise in Stephen King’s most recent novel Finders Keepers.  Morris Bellamy, the obsessed fan, does the unthinkable and breaks into author John Rothstein’s home, in order to find notebooks of unpublished material Rothstein is rumored to keep in his home.  And oh, there’s some money too, but that’s only an extra bonus for Bellamy.  It’s the unpublished material Bellamy is most concerned with.  The material that could contain more about his favorite character: Jimmy Gold.  After the break-in, murder of Rothstein, and subsequent theft of said notebooks and cash, Bellamy stashes his bounty with plans to read the notebooks at a later date.  Bellamy, being a criminal, ends up getting locked up for another crime, causing him to be separated for years from the one thing he believes will give him satisfaction.

Flash forward a few decades to come across Pete Saubers.  Pete’s dad was a victim of the Mr. Mercedes attack and his dad has been out of work since then due to the injuries he sustained.  Pete’s mom and dad are pushed to the brink financially and emotionally. The stress of living off of one paltry income is getting to them and they argue quite often.  During one of these arguments Pete runs out and retreats to the path behind his house.  He stumbles upon something buried and finds Bellamy’s buried treasure. The money can help his family out but the notebooks are what eventually capture Pete’s attention. This puts him on a collision course with Bellamy. Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson (the detective trio from Mr. Mercedes) must find a way to help Pete avoid a deadly encounter due to his find.

Finders Keepers is the second book in the Mr Mercedes trilogy.  However this second book didn’t read or feel like it was part of a trilogy. Yes there are connecting factors but this book does a good job of standing on its own.  The first third of the book didn’t even reference Mr. Mercedes, instead telling Bellamy’s story.  I found this refreshing since it allowed this book to not fall into any standard trilogy trope (this is what happened before, and these people are, etc.).  Even the appearance of the detective trio didn’t take center stage.  This was more about Bellamy and Saubers and how obsession can ruin a life if you let it.  This is the second time King writes about fan obsession and it was good to see he took a different approach this time. Every fan is different and a separate plot from a previous work is key to making the book interesting.

This isn’t King’s best work, it was a fun read but not quite on par with some of King’s better books.  Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed this book and I think most King fans and non-fans will as well.  There was a good pace and the story-line never felt bogged down.  The ending seems to allude to a potential thread into the third book so it will be interesting to see how all three fit together when the final book comes out.

As is usually the case with King books, this Constant Reader was very happy to have read this book and is looking forward to what comes next.

Cat Out of Hell by Lynne Truss

wpid-wp-1431056961545.jpgAlec has recently lost his wife and heads to a coastal village in North Norfolk with his lovable dog Watson looking for some peace from his loss.  Grieving and the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015yearning for some mental stimulation, Alec reads through some files on his laptop.  He finds a folder sent by a former colleague. One folder titled “Roger,” contains a story told by a man name Wiggy.  Roger, it turns out, is talking cat.  One that’s been alive for a long, long time.  Roger holds many secrets – what cats used to be like, that cats do in fact have nine lives, and he just may know what happened to Alec’s wife.  Roger’s tale is linked with another cat – this one named the Captain – who seems to be the most wicked cat alive.  Alec gets caught up in Roger’s tale and it leads to the most surprising of conclusions.

Cat Out of Hell, by Lynne Truss, was a fun, slightly disturbing, fast read.  Alec’s almost frantic search to find what led up to his wife’s death is tinged with his painful sense of loneliness and sorrow.  The story flips from Wiggy’s tale to Alec’s experiences to Roger’s tale and then eventually melds the three to a mildly frightful conclusion.  Revealing too much would spoil the whole book, but the reader does wonder if Roger himself is as bad as the Captain or is he actually a cat with good intentions.

This was a fairly short book – 256 pages – and kept my interest even though it raced though some situations and details.  There’s an interesting “Notes from the author” at the end of the book that sheds some light into Truss’ inspiration for this book and well worth taking the few minutes to read through.  If you are looking for a fun yet creepy read, this book is for you.  It’ll certainly give you a whole new outlook on cats.