Sunday, August 26, 2012


The Worldly Adventures of
By Betty Davis
ISBN # - 1463646992
ISBN # 13 – 9781463646998
62 pages

With the advent of the internet and print-on-demand, more and more creative souls are starting to publish their own works. One such lady is Betty Davis whose biography on the back of this slim childrens’ book says she loves teaching children ages 4 to 12. In the course of her career she developed a program that would ensure young readers would have fun while learning to read; a truly wonderful and noble endeavor. The world certainly needs more souls like Mrs. Davis.

That being said lets review her first self-published effort, “The Worldly Adventures of NICHOLAAS.”  The story is simple and direct.  Ten year old Nicholaas and his parents are moving from their home in Minnesota and traveling Leiden, Holland where his father has accepted a new job.  Moving from one’s home, neighborhood and familiar friends is always an arduous ordeal for any child.  Where Nicholaas is different is that his parents have instilled him a truly positive attitude towards life and a philosophy of seeing each new change as an adventure to be relished.

Thus, though somewhat sad, Nicholaas is much more excited about the journey they are about to undertake; first by plane to Tampa, Florida and then by cruse ship to Holland with several stops along the way.  Davis does a marvelous job of using each new layover as another imaginative adventure for the lad and the people he encounters along the way. She is a devoted grandmother and her style of writing is evocative of a loving adult reading aloud to an attentive child.  That is the feeling that permeated the entire story.

Nicholaas experiences snorkeling in the Caribbean and seeing the wreck of a pirate ship anchored on the see floor; nearly being lost in a violent storm while riding in a hot air balloon and exploring a deserted castle on the island of Madeira that appears to be haunted.  Each of these scenes is effectively narrated and the excitement the boy feels throughout will be easily transmitted to any young reader lucky enough to get a copy of this book.

That I liked this book is evident by my including both ISBN numbers to help you find it. This is a book any parent would have a great deal of fun sharing with their child.  Having said that, my next comments are directed to Mrs. Davis and intended as suggestions to improve any future projects she may undertake.  The use of story to help teach math and geography skills is laudable but at the same time does not excuse ignoring good English in the process.  Throughout the book the narrative shifts many times between past and present tense, a grammatical sin which proved to be jarring to this reviewer and we can only imagine would bother a young reader dealing with the book without an adult’s supervision.  Teaching good grammar is as important as any other social science, perhaps even more so?   

And finally, the book’s over all design, though adequate, demonstrates a lack of effort.  Photos used to illustrate the text are poorly chosen ala the picture of the sunken skiff/lobster boat that is suppose to represent the wreck of a 16th century pirate galleon.  I would suggest to Mrs. Davis that there are hundreds of retired art teachers on the internet today, many of which might have been easily persuaded to join this project and provided her with some truly gorgeous artwork representative of her imaginative story.  She need only go net surfing to find them. Things to keep in mind when planning the next Nicholaas adventure. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012


By Jerry & Sharon Ahern
41 pages
Baen Science Fiction

Trying to decide what book I wanted to take with me when traveling to the Pulp Fest Convention in Columbus, several weeks ago, I grabbed a paperback that had been sitting on my To-Read stack for a few months.  It was “Written in Time,” by Jerry & Sharon Ahern and appeared to be an action-adventure science fiction novel dealing with time travel; a favorite sub-genre of mine. While packing the book away in my backpack, a niggling memory surfaced in my mind about a particular post I’d seen recently on Facebook concerning a writer’s recent passing.  For whatever reason, Ahern’s name was the one I remembered.  Sadly my memory proved to be working just fine because, after finishing this truly excellent novel, I discovered that Jerry Ahern, age 66, had indeed passed away only last month, 24th July, 2013.

From what I gathered, he and his wife were best known for their sci-fi series called, “The Survivalist,” about an American family surviving in a world ravaged by a nuclear war.  One of the hallmarks of Ahern’s writing was his expert descriptions of hand weapons employed in his fiction as he was himself an authority on handguns and contributed to many well known magazines such as “Guns & Ammo.”

“Written In Time,” mirrors the Aherns a great deal as the protagonists are Jack and Ellen Naile, a popular husband and wife sci-fi writing couple.  One day they receive a photo in the mail sent to them from a fan in a small Nevada town.  The picture, a clipping from the local newspaper dated 1904 shows Jack, Ellen, their daughter Elizabeth and son David all wearing western garb and standing before a general store bearing their name, “Jack Naile – General Merchandise.”  After several tests the two come to believe that the photo in the clipping is authentic and not a hoax; meaning sometime in the near future some bizarre event is going to hurl them almost a hundred years into the past.

From this point forward, the Nailes set about planning for the event and doing their best to prepare themselves for their new life in the past.  Eventually the freakish event occurs and our cast is sent back in time.  There they slowly begin to adapt to turn of the century living and the challenges it presents them while being careful not to affect any changes that may alter the future itself. 

Unfortunately the Nailes’ nephew, Clarence, having been told of their coming time travel adventure becomes obsessed with duplicating the phenomenon and joining them in the past.  In the process of successfully achieving this goal, he inadvertently sets into motion actions that ultimately exposes their experience to an unscrupulous business woman.  Being immoral, she sees the potential for riches and power to be won by shaping time to her own will.  When Jack and Ellen become aware of this new faction that is about to invade the past to control the future, they scramble to find allies to help them thwart her deranged plans and save history.  The person they recruit to their cause is none other than Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt.
The true fun of this book is that it really is two books in one; a fantastical science fiction adventure and a bona fide western actioner.  The Aherns pull this off seamlessly and after finishing the book, this reviewer had to wonder if in the writing, both of them saw it as a very special, intimate dream fulfillment to cap their writing careers.  That it would be their last book together lends a poignant credibility to that idea.

Sixty-six in our age is not a long time and yet Jerry Ahern seems to have filled it to overflowing with living a life of love and creativity.  After reading, “Written In Time,” it is clear we’ve lost a truly gifted and original voice.  R.I.P. Jerry Ahern and thanks.

Monday, August 20, 2012


By David Morrell
Vanguard Press
324 pages

In September of 1960 I began my high school career at a Catholic parochial school in New Hampshire.  At the time I and my classmates arrived at the building, it had not even been fully constructed, which is why they were accepting only one class, we freshmen. We had no upper classmen and would remain the “senior class” all four years.  I’ve some fun memories of sitting in a Civics class while jack-hammers pounded away directly across the hall in what would be our gymnasium.  Six months into that first year, the Bishop visited to officiate at a very special dedication ceremony the highlight of which was setting the building’s final cornerstone.  In that block of granite and cement had been placed a time-capsule containing the names of all the students and teachers present. I’ve never forgotten that day because the thought of my name in that time-capsule still excites my imagination. Who knows when in the far distant future, when that capsule is finally unearthed, what future students will think of us?  Will they wonder what we were like and what our school days were like?  What will their future world be like?

Time-capsules are hardly new and in this fast moving thriller by David Morrell they are the basis for a fascinating plot that involves a nightmarish race against death to uncover the ultimate time-capsule and expose its long forgotten secrets.  Written as a sequel to his award winning thriller, “Creepers,” this book was published in 2007 and features the same hero, former army vet and police detective, Frank Balenger. 

Belanger and his lover, Amanda Evert, are barely recovered both emotionally and physically from their horrible experiences in the first book when they are invited to a mysterious lecture concerning time-capsules sponsored by a historical society in New York City.  On a whim they attend and in the middle of the presentation are drugged into unconsciousness.  When Amanda awakens she finds herself somewhere in the southwest with four other kidnap victims.  They soon learn they’ve been abducted by a psychotic games player who wishes them to discover a very unique time-capsule which supposedly contains the secrets of universe.

Meanwhile Belanger awakens on a Coney Island beach and realizes he and Amanda had been duped.  Putting his police skills to use with the assistance of a city detective, he begins to unravel the mystery of the perpetrator behind the elaborate hoax.  His overwhelming drive is to find Amanda whom he senses in is dire jeopardy.  Thus the first half of the book jumps back and forth between Frank’s hunt throughout New York piecing together what few clues he can find and following Amanda and her fellow prisoners as they race across a rugged terrain filled with horrendous death-traps all the while trying to fathom the so called “rules” of the game they are being forced to play.

Morrell is easily one of the finest thriller writers of our age and his body of work attest to his prestigious standing amongst his peers.  Though “Scavenger” is an enjoyable read and whips along at rocket speeds, the final act has it traveling down old and tired paths.  Without spoiling the story, this reviewer found himself annoyed by having easily surmised which of the characters would survive and which would not.  When you can predict the outcome of any book, its time for the writer to hang up over used plots and try something new.   

Wednesday, August 08, 2012


(A Nathan Heller Casebook)
By Max Allan Collins
Thomas & Mercer
211 pages

I am a fan of Max Collins’ historical detective series, the Nathan Heller mysteries.  From the 1940s through the 60s, each book has taken Heller on an incredible journey connecting him with many of the most celebrated criminal cases of the twentieth century.  Now comes this collection of three Heller novellas, each a delicious reading gem and worthy addition to the Heller canon.

What is even more entertaining is Collins’ introductory essay on the matter of the short literary form itself.  What is the difference between a novella and novelette?  Or are they the same thing and is that best described as a long short story or a short novel?  The fun of the essay is his insightful comprehension that the form is the product of the classic pulp tales of the 1930s and 40s.  It is evident that short novels were born in the pulp magazines and have sadly morphed in an awkward, literary white elephant in this age of bloated, fat thriller novels. Collins details the history of each of the three pieces in this volume, collected here for the very first time, and how length did factor into the writing of each.

First up is “Dying in the Post-War World,” my personal favorite of the three and by far the most convoluted and gruesome.  The story centers on the infamous Lipstick Killer case of 1946 where a young girl was kidnapped from her home, murdered and dismembered.  A veteran of the World War Two, Heller is trying to fit into this supposedly brighter new tomorrow with a new business and a pregnant wife.  Along comes this brutal case and he’s left wondering what kind of a world it truly is he and his fellow soldiers fought to persevere.

“Kisses of Death,” is an interesting entry in that it gives us Heller’s first meeting with Marilyn Monroe and their burgeoning relationship which is later explored in his recent novel, “Bye Bye Baby.”  It also has Heller working in New York City, Mickey Spillane’s old stomping grounds.  The tale also peeks in to the life of Chicago journalist turned screenwriter Ben Hecht is another winner.

Finally comes “Strike Zone,” about one of the most bizarre moments in professional baseball which this reviewer, a fan of the game, had never heard before.  It casused me to spend a few hours on-line checking out the histories of several of these characters who participated in a madcap publicity stunt concerning the most unusual pinch hitter to ever step up to home plate in a Major League contest.

If like me, you’re a Nathan Heller fan, then you have to pick this up.  If you are one of those yet to have encountered Collins’ pragmatic, world-weary hero then we can’t think of a better way to make that introduction.  “Triple Play,” is very much a grand slam, no matter what your favorite sport is.

Friday, August 03, 2012


By Percival Constantine
Pulpwork Press
177 pages

This terrific, fast paced fantasy action thriller is the second in the Elisa Hill, Myth Hunter series and even better than the first; no small feat.  Elisa Hill is a hunter of lost artifacts made famous in ancient lore.  Along with her mentor, Max Finch, and the Japanese kitsune, a type of were-fox changeling, Asami, she finds herself caught in a titanic contest between ancient oriental deities and a roguish creature of legend known as the Monkey King.

It is through this fabled half-human, half-simian being that they discover the four Dragon Kings are about to unleash their centuries old plot to dominate the world and make all mankind their slaves.  This they will accomplish by their powers to control the oceans of the world and wreaking havoc wherever necessary to force the various countries of the world to bow to their commands.

Now only Elisa, her two companions and an agent from the super secret Freemasons society are all that stand between total disaster and salvation. But can even these unique characters prove strong enough to win the day?

In this age of the popular urban fantasy genre, we seem to be inundated with more and more series featuring sparkly vampires, sexy witches and zombie private eyes.  Enough for this reader to yell, “Uncle!”  Contantine’s “Dragon Kings of the Orient,” packs more wall-to-wall action than any of ten of those other wimpy titles combined.  Being an American teacher in Japan, he has a unique, personal perspective on the Far East and its culture and uses it to great advantage in this rousing adventure tale. 

In the past, he has offered us other series but none of them can hold a candle to this one. Elisa Hill is a truly original, fun character and I hope we get to read many more of he exploits along with those of her truly remarkable supporting cast.  People, this book is a solid must read!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


By S.C. Gwynne
371 pages

I love history, always have.  What has always fascinated me about the people and events of the past is how truly amazing their stories were and sadly how many have been either forgotten in time or completely been altered through the lens of imperfect history.  Thus the true pleasure of this amazing book by S.C. Gwynne in detailing the story of the western plains empire known as the Comencheria that encompassed a giant land mass from Colorado down through Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and into Mexico between the years 1836 and 1875.

Of course recalling some truly boring history classes in both high school and college, I long ago learned that the best histories are those that both entail the big picture of the social, cultural and economical movements that have shaped people at the same time refining this focus by spotlighting particular individuals representative of these greater factors.  Gwynne does that to perfection with this book as he sets out to relate the captivating story of the most powerful Indian tribe of them all; the Comanche, considered the best horse soldiers who ever rode into combat. 

Sadly most Americans my age first learned their western history via Hollywood movies and television which over the decades offered up two totally different and conflicting images of the American Indians.  From the silent movie era on through to the 1940s, the red men of the plains were portrayed as merciless savages. Then, after the second World War into the sixties, the pendulum swung radically in the opposite direction and they were showcased as the noble aborigines victimized by the onrushing invasion of the European bred white society and its Manifest Destiny.  Unfortunately both depictions, though containing kernels of truth, are gross exaggerations and for the most part equally untrue.

Gwynne, employing recorded accounts from various libraries, allows them to detail a race of nomads who lived off the massive buffalo herds that covered the plains and were constantly battling each other for supremacy.  War was their way of life and they were good at it, inflicting as much destruction and carnage on their foes as they were capable of which included killing women and children, enslaving others and torturing captives. They expected no less from their enemies were they to be defeated.  It was a cruel and barbaric way of life totally alien to anything whites of the time had ever experienced.

And as engrossing as this account is, the book then delves into the lives two of the most remarkable characters to have walk across this stage of time; Cynthia Ann Parker and her son, Quanah.  Kidnapped at the age of nine by the Comanche, Cynthia Ann was favored by them and as she matured became a true member of the tribe that had taken her eventually marrying a war chief and having three children with him; two boys and a girl.

The oldest, her son, Quanah, would go on to become the last and perhaps greatest Comanche war chiefs; a brilliant horseman, strategist and fearless in battle.  When Cynthia Ann was recaptured by U.S. Cavalry troops in a raid that killed her Comanche hasband, Quanah, twelve at the time, eluded the soldiers and with his younger brother in tow, escaped to find another related tribe.  From that point on he was on his own, a half-breed having to survive in a society that made no allowance for orphans. Through his inner strength, courage and intelligence, he became the Comanche’s most successful war chief and in the end, when the threat of total extermination loomed on the horizon, Quanah had the foresight to surrender and adapt to the new west; that imposed on him and his tribe by the victorious white invaders.

So much so, that by the time of his death, he was a famous, successful farmer who counted Teddy Roosevelt amongst his associates and allies.

“Empire of the Summer Moon,” was a finalist for the coveted Pulitzer Prize and this reviewer believes it should have won.  It is a truly powerful reading experience proving once again that truth is always stranger than fiction.  Amen.