Tag Archives: mystery

A Review of The Illustrated Hen

The Illustrated HenThe Illustrated Hen by Scott Charles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some have called it surreal. Others say absurd. It crosses genres. Read the description here on Goodreads for what’s up with the book. As a fellow writer, I look at it for technique even as I strive to be entertained. I did like it very much. Not everyone will. This is one of those books that will engender the “Huh?” response. As in, where is the author going with this. If you’re patient, you’ll find out. That requires your attention to be kept because you find it enjoyable. If not, you’ll just close the Kindle reader.

For me, it’s an excellent book with imagery that only occasionally borders on purple prose. The voice does vary, adding some confusion, which is resolved in time. That’s a pun, as you will learn sooner or later.
The book opens and closes with a frame—not so obvious in the prologue, yet that’s what is.

Without spoiling, here’s some foreshadowing from it:

“He paused briefly at the dates. The headstones shimmered a bit as he pulled his hand away.

She would be here soon.

He could see the energy rising up from the ground.

There was another Ray entering the tunnel. The possibilities were endless. Time was bending toward him but wouldn’t remain that way for long.

The headstones came back into focus, and she was standing there.

‘We’ve been waiting for you,’ she said.”

The opening chapter offers a PI character in negotiation with a shopkeeper. The narrative is vivid, putting the reader in front of the man. Again, in time, one will come to understand the point not of knowing the man but of getting why the description is supplied. The book is that well constructed.

“ ‘So what can I do for your, Burrberry comma Raymond,’ the man asked. He was a large, beefy fellow with a booming voice and thick framed glasses. He was holding up a business card and looking at it carefully. The man squinted through his glasses at the card, then Burrberry then back to the card.

The lenses were huge. The frames hung somewhat delicately on the bridge of his nose—a sculptured kind of nose, like you saw in those old Italian paintings.”

We could go on, but that risks telling too much. Here is the thing—it’s a story within a story. Rather, stories within a story. The writer’s voice varies because the stories do and it’s part of the evolution. Back and forth in time with characters and situations. It’s a rich book that I enjoyed. There are parts better than others. Parts that could have been better. But they can be overlooked as the sum of the parts makes for a wonderful whole.

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More Book Reviews

Ore Pirates (Federation Diplomat #2)Ore Pirates by E.J. Randolph
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An oddly entertaining story about the (mis)adventures of Kate Stevens, Federation diplomat. The author sets up some humorous situations and laughably named characters–like Really Big (her supervisor). For anyone who has ever worked in a government bureaucracy, the bosses and their behavior will be unfortunately all too real. Still, it’s sci-fi–so we have the issues of meals aboard a spacecraft, the effects of gravity that’s higher or lower than Earth’s. That makes for some interesting development of the emigres who live there. On the political side, we have the standard problems of greed, corruption and malfeasance. In examining the development of colony planet cultures the author even tosses in a planetary regime clearly modeled after North Korea–complete with a “Beloved Leader” and not just secret police but secret, secret police. I enjoyed it. You will too if you like your political humor a paler shade of dark than Vonnegut or Dick–maybe a mid-range gray.

A Spider Sat Beside HerA Spider Sat Beside Her by K.E. Lanning
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An intriguing work of the perhaps no longer new but not yet widely known cli-fi genre (a subset of sci-fi). Lanning develops well the lead character of Lowry Walker, her somewhat estranged (and angry plus manipulative) father, an uncle and the nefarious political villains. She throws in some dishonest politicians and the corrupt intent of–yes, latter-day colonialists against what in Canada are known as First Nation folks, just like what happened in the USA way back when. But then, all is not what it seems in the conflict over who really attempted to sabotage the International Space Station (ISS). Despite her credentials, the author doesn’t make this a truly hard sci-fi story so don’t be put off by technological talk–it’s not much more than most of us are familiar with in today’s world. A great book. I’ve already downloaded the next book in the series, which apparently stands alone along with an upcoming third one.

The Broken World second revised editionThe Broken World second revised edition by Harley Brent Hightower
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Many folks have heard the admonition to “write from life,” especially those who are writers. Broken World is styled as fiction but the characters are so real that one might easily conclude there were some biographical (if not autobiographical) elements to it. Assuming not, then Hightower has some good observational skills and a vivid imagination enabling the creation of a very dysfunctional extended family of characters. Parents who verbally abuse children. Spouses who argue with one another. Self-absorbed people who justify their own misbehavior and withdrawal into small worlds of their own. It’s not a book with a happy ending. Nonetheless, it’s entertaining and worth reading for how the protagonist, Byrd Keane, escapes the insanity of the broken world that surrounds him by his excursions outdoors in rural New Mexico. He is intelligent beyond his twelve years and seemingly one of the few normal characters in the book. In some ways, I can see elements of John Irving mixed with Kurt Vonnegut. Take note that the fictional northern New Mexico town that Byrd lives in is called Alma Perdido, which means Lost Soul in Spanish. It could mean abandoned, missing or other things; you be the judge if you read the book.

UpstagedUpstaged by Aaron Paul Lazar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still good, but I’m getting less keen on the Julia Child parts, the song lyrics and the church services. The characters, the crimes and looking for foreshadowing is all there. It’s not quite a “cozy mystery,” as I understand the term but it is certainly not as hardcore as some. So if you are looking for less blood, gore or heavy violence (It does have some but not too graphic) then this is a good choice.

View all my Goodreads reviews here

The Fountain and six more short stories coming soon

A break from politics. About time, some might say! Yes, after a long delay John is finally getting something NEW published. The plan is to make that a more frequent occurrence–with novels out every year or two.  Working on one right now, in fact. But first a short story collection.

Check out the Fountain, in a Kindle edition only for the next 90 days, available on pre-order from Amazon now. It will be delivered July 10, 2017, for anyone ordering it now and thereafter for everyone. We’ll talk about free days and discounts later (can’t until after July 10.

The cover of The Fountain, a Kindle book

Humor, twists and more in this collection of seven fantasy and sci-fi short stories. Like what? Here’s what you will find:

  • Karma can be painful in “The Fountain”–when a plunderer meets a long-dead shaman.
  • A family adopts a retriever with special talents in “Lily, an Amazing Dog.”
  • A vampire has a strange problem, in “Alfred’s Strange Blood Disorder.”
  • A perennial favorite, dimensional travel, with a strange twist in “The Closet Door.”
  • What could that column of fire be, rising from the Atlantic off the Outer Banks? Read “The Flame” to find out what it meant to troubled writer Carson.
  • A wizard casts a spell that works well for a princess, but will it be as good for him? Check out “The Wizard.”
  • Finally, “The Fribble” offers an alien encounter of an odd sort, to a pharmaceutical company rep searching for new drugs in the Amazon Rain forest.