“Bloodhype” by Alan Dean Foster Review

Bloodhype

Bloodhype

Author:  Alan Dean Foster

Released:  1973

Bloodhype is an outlier int he Pip & Flinx series. Although it takes place eleventh chronologically, it was written second. I get the feeling that Foster didn’t plan on doing a long series of books based on the two characters as this book jumps several years from For Love of Mother Not and features our protagonist and pet as secondary characters in the adventure. Also, instead of having anything to do with the menacing force slowly approaching out galaxy this book deals with a menacing force already here.

In Bloodhype there are two main storylines. The first involve one of the most addictive and dangerous drugs in the universe, called Bloodhype. The reason Bloodhype is so deadly is that it works on any species, and has extreme physiological affects in its users beyond just in the central nervous system. The other plot involves a giant organism that has been dormant for years but is rediscovered. What others don’t know is that the organism is actually capable of ending all life on whatever planet it lands on, and possibly intergalactic travel.

While Pip & Flinx do show up later on, the main characters are Kitten Kai-Sung and Porsupah who are tracking the Bloodhype, Dominick Rose the drug dealer, and Captain Malcolm Hammurabi who gets involved as his ship was used in the transport. Foster obviously finds Kitten to be the most interesting of these characters, but I have no idea why. She’s got pluck and a willingness to get sexual, but she lacks motivation to keep her interesting.

My main problem with the book is as a stand alone it is predictable from the get go. Once you see the set up with the two storylines, any fan can figure out the exact ending Foster is setting up to defeat the alien menage. In addition, as a Pip & Flinx book this feels totally out of place with the rest of the series. There’s no explanation for why Flinx is here in the middle of everything, and his “relationship” with Kitten seems totally out of character with everything else we’ve seen in the series so far. The alien worlds visited also felt much more generic than the usual inventive and unique worlds from the majority of Foster’s work.

2-star

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“Blood Memory” by Greg Iles Review

blood memory

Blood Memory

Author:  Greg Iles

Released:  2005

Blood Memory tells the story of a Forensic Dentist named Cat Ferry. What does that mean? Cat is called into murder scenes to analyze bite marks and other dental related evidence. It sounds like a very specialized field, and it must be because every other character in the book tends to enable Cat to run around like she is the most important person in the universe. While the New Orleans Police Department and FBI are working together to solve a serial killer’s string of crimes leaving bite marks on nude men, Cat goes rogue throughout the novel confronting witnesses, discovering clues and eventually solving every mystery in this story packed full of them.

I can’t discuss much further in the plot without revealing a big component of the story, so if you want to go in blind skip past this paragraph. **Spoilers follow** The bulk of this story deals with child molesters, and links the killer, victims and protagonist together at various points. Cat must figure out how her own history relates to this subject as she does not remember, as well as solving the murder of her father when she was eight years old. **End of mild spoilers** Cat’s own history ends up serving as a crutch and an excuse for her to put herself in dangerous situations, disregard law enforcement and even get involved in fatal situations herself because she MUST solve the mystery of her childhood. Therein lies my biggest problems with this book.

Despite trying to assist the FBI and New Orleans police department, Cat will put herself in situations when she must escape from police custody, confront known murderers on her own, and jeopardize the evidence in a serial killer case with regularity. Her boyfriend, a married detective enables her because she is attractive and awesome at sex. The FBI agent enables her because… I don’t know, he knows the rest of the characters in this book got ZERO DRIVE and won’t be solving any crimes on their own.

The dangerous situations she puts herself in end up getting multiple people shot and killed, for no apparent reason other than to hype up the drama in villain monologues and a rape sequence. If you have problems reading about sexual abuse, incest, or rape this is not a book for you. I don’t fault Iles for using those devices, as the entire plot of the book depends on several characters having depraved sexual appetites. However at 800 pages, the repeated revelations on who was molesting who got tedious.

That’s not to say the book was all bad. Iles did a nice job of pacing in this book, making it feel like we lived with the protagonist over a series of several days and didn’t miss anything in her life. The whole thing felt like 24 at times. He also sets out plenty of mysteries, and ties them together in a satisfying fashion. The entitlement of the main character as well as the plethora of wooden supporting characters however really dimmed my enjoyment of the book overall.

2-star

“Waterloo” by Bernard Cornwell Review

Waterloo

Waterloo

Author:  Bernard Cornwell

Released:  1990

Waterloo is special in a few respects in the Sharpe series. Most noticeably, it’s the only book in the series without the word “Sharpe” in the title. **Spoiler alert for world history** It’s also the culmination of the Napoleonic War between England and France which also engulfed Portugal, Spain, Prussia, Belgium and others. Waterloo takes place after a brief cease fire between France and England, with Sharpe now serving the inexperienced Prince of Orange leading Wellington’s Dutch troops. Sharpe has also settled down with a French widow, while Harper is out of the army all together and married as well.

On the positive side, Waterloo features one of the most historically accurate battles in the entire series, as Waterloo has had more written about it than any other event from the previous 19 books. Sharpe also has a side storyline that is very fun involving his wife Jane and her new suitor. The contrast between the ignorant on social graces Sharpe, and Jane’s stately but cowardly new man provides the book’s best moments. The historical note at the end also provides some great details about the events in the book happening in real life.

My biggest gripe about this book though is that it really lacks the Sharpe as central driving force narrative of the rest of the series. The battle was well written, but it was also about half of the book and lacked a lot of the character moments one expects in a Sharpe book. The deaths of several recurring characters also felt cheapened as they were no longer even featured in this book except to mention their deaths during the battle.

Harper’s role in the book is also very odd. No matter how loyal he is to Sharpe, the mechanism of getting him out of the army and then reinserting him into the chain of command for Waterloo felt unnecessary and convoluted. The book sorely missed characters like Sweet William, depending more on Sharpe and Harper’s banter which suffered from the aforementioned situation. I’m glad that Cornwell has since added another book and short story to the series, as although this capped off the war that has been the driving force for the series, something more focused on the protagonist would be a much more fitting conclusion.

3 star

“The Infinity Entity” by Jim Starlin, Alan Davis and Ron Lim Review

Infinity Entity

The Infinity Entity

Writer:  Jim Starlin

Artists:  Alan Davis and Ron Lim

Released:  2016

Collects:  The Infinity Entity #1-4 and Thanos Annual #1

This story takes place in between The Infinity Relativity and The Infinity Finale. I already read both of those and didn’t feel like anything was missing, so this felt pretty non-essential. The four issue story follows around Adam Warlock who has no memory of why Time and Space are being wiped out. He takes some interesting detours to figure it out, including time traveling to an original Avengers meeting and having a discussion with all of the cosmic entities that govern the universe. The story seems to tie in to some previous events with a certain devil analog character that didn’t quite deliver on a pay off set up in issue one.

Also included here is a Thanos annual that tells the story of when Thanos has the Infinity Gauntlet and he sent several projections of himself to answer questions before he would lose it (possessing the time gem, he was aware right away he would lose the Gauntlet, and is able to visit younger versions of himself). The story doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it was a lot of fun and the best part of this trade paperback not named Alan Davis. Seriously, Alan Davis is amazing. The art in this book is fantastic (Ron Lim is also always reliable).

3 star

“Secret Circles” by F. Paul Wilson Review

Secret Circles

Secret Circles

Author:  F. Paul Wilson

Released: 2010

Secret Circles is the 2nd book in the Repairman Jack Young Adult series. I’m going back and reading these after completing the main adult series so some of the mystery of what’s going on is gone but I can spot all the Easter eggs hidden for the readers. This book picks up shortly after the first book in the series but is self contained enough that it could be read on its own. The main plot point that carries over from the two books is a missing artifact that Jack and Weezy found in the Pines that had odd symbols on it. Weezy blames the mysterious Lodge in town with stealing the artifact. This plot point drives much of the action in the book, but Wilson summarizes what happens enough to catch everybody up on the situation.

Each book in this series features some mystery components, along with a situation that Jack must “fix.” In his adult life, Jack takes care of these situations for a living, but as a youth he is driven by his moral compass. In Secret Circles, Jack is faced with a missing five year old, a neighbor abusing his family, and recovering Weezy’s stolen pyramid. Along the way, he’ll deal with a Circus in town, mysterious creatures out in the Pines, and confront Ernst Drexler, the Lodge’s actuator who will have a major role later in the series.

In addition to serving as prequel fan service for fans of the series, Wilson tries to cater this book more to young readers but I worry he overdoes it on his character’s naiveté. While Jack and Weezy (and her brother Eddie) all still ride around town in bikes, Weezy’s love interest has a driver’s license and Jack is running a business while the owner is out of town. The characters make intelligent plans and deal with life and death issues, but seem pretty clueless about whether or not they’re interested in dating or not.

The climax of this book pulls a major concept from the Adversary Cycle book The Touch, and makes it much more questionable why Jack is such a skeptic at the start of The Tomb. With FOUR more prequels still to go (one more as a youth, and three after Jack moves to New York) my worry about the continuity of this series not holding up is feeling more justified. While the individual stories can be fun, if they don’t fit with the rest of the series or actively contradict what we know later on, I’d rather they not exist. That’s just my two cents, and Wilson is skirting the line but he’s not there yet. What’s wrong with just telling some good “Fix-it” stories and more about how Jack became so skilled? Not everything that happens to him should tie into the Secret History of the World saga,

3 star

“The Fever” by Megan Abbott Review

The Fever

The Fever

Author:  Megan Abbott

Released:  2014

This was the second book I’ve read by Megan Abbott, following the entertaining Dare Me. Based just on these two books, I would describe her genre as adult fiction focusing on teenage girls involved in murder plots. Nick Hornby turned me on to Ms. Abbott, and I’m glad he did. Abbott has a habit of making the locations and setting of the books feel like they could take place anywhere, and any time (after the invention of cell phones). I’m surprised more of them haven’t been turned into movies yet.

The Fever is follows around several characters with very connected lives. The main character is Deenie, a teenage girl whose best friends (Lise, Gabby), occasional rival (Skye) and family (dad Tom and brother Eli) comprise the rest of the perspective characters. When Lise has a medical emergency in school, everybody is shocked and worried as she ends up in a coma with life threatening symptoms. However, when Gabby also has a medical episode at school the worry spreads to panic. When a third girl begins to get sick, the titular fever has become a craze among the students, parents and faculty of the school.

My biggest complaint with this book was that despite the seriousness of the situation for all the girls involved, they preferred to keep everything so secret that it really hamstrung everybody from finding out what was wrong. In particular, there is a huge reluctance to discuss having swam in a possibly contaminated lake. I understand the characters were not supposed to swim in the lake but when it looks like people could be dying it seems like the type of detail you’d want to mention to a medical professional. (I won’t spoil whether that ends up being pertinent or not.)

Abbott delayed providing answers for so long that I started to get antsy about whether the payoff would be worth it. Surprisingly it was, and I didn’t find it as predictable as the ending of Dare Me; here I guessed what was wrong with most of the girls but did not figure the initiating event ahead of time. The character that really stood out to me was Skye, particularly with how Deenie was instantly jealous of/threatened by her. It was the sort of thing that felt much more authentic that what I find in books with teenage characters. There was also a very sexual component to the book that was handled much better than I usually find in writing. The characters are all aware of/interested in sex, but Abbott doesn’t spend time detailing the exploits beyond telling the reader what’s happening.

I’ve read some other reviews where people have problems with the character Tom, particularly how he leers at some of Deenie’s teenage friends. While each of Abbott’s characters was flawed in certain ways in this book (jealousy, selfishness, dishonesty being the most common), Tom’s flaws seemed to revolve around his relationships with women. The leering behavior amounted to three or four sentences throughout the book (much more, if you count an adult french teacher) and contributed to his feeling like a fully formed character instead of just the great dad that stuck around when mom didn’t. All of the characters felt like real people, likable at times but not all the time.

4-star

“The Valley of Horses” by Jean M. Auel Review

Valley of Horses

The Valley of Horses

Author:  Jean M. Auel

Released: 1982

My favorite book I read last year was The Clan of the Cave Bear, so I was very excited to dive in to its sequel The Valley of Horses. While I still enjoyed this book, it was definitely a notch below in my enjoyment level. I can pinpoint exactly why it didn’t work for me, and the reason is spelled J O N D A L A R.

Before I complain more about him however, I’ll sing some more praise for this series. I love the character of Ayla. A human child raised by Neanderthals, she is Tarzan and the Cesar Milar rolled into one. Auel does a fantastic job of explaining how Ayla comes to be so special in all her skills, as a way of compensating for how her mind worked differently from those that raised her. Over the course of this novel, Ayla comes up with new weapons and tools unlike anything used by either form of man, and continues her tradition of taking in small animals (but this time with much larger creatures). Even without the supporting cast of characters from the first novel, Ayla can carry a story on her own just fine.

Half of the novel follows Ayla, the other half follows two normal (cro magnon) men named Jondaloar and Thonolan. These are our first characters from our race that we meet in this series, and the two brothers are taking an extended journey together over a period of three years. We always know that one or both characters is on a collision course with Ayla, but unfortunately until that happens the two men are nowhere near as fascinating as the book’s other protagonist. Thonolan is OK. He’s a normal man who has a good sense of humor and is looking for love. I found him to be fairly easy to relate to.

His brother is Jondalar. I can only describe him as Christian Grey from prehistoric times (minus the bondage) (so far). Jondalar is tall, blonde, with blue eyes and every woman wants to have sex with him. It’s a good thing too, because if there’s one thing Jondalar is awesome at it’s having sex. For starters, he’s got a giant penis, which Auel references frequently throughout the book. More importantly though, he’s an expert at pleasuring females. Jondalar is often called on to be the first mate for young females because he is a generous lover and makes it so wonderful for them. Sure he also makes tools and is a good brother, but as somebody calls him later in the book he is a “woman maker.”

There was sex in the first book of the series, however it was almost animal in its quality (and considering Ayla was 11 when it took place the sex was particularly awful in its circumstances). In The Valley of the Horses Jondalar brings pleasure to virgins, widows, and everything in between, with a seeming special circumstance for every intercourse interlude. It was so much sex at times that I longed for another discussion of tool making with stone and sinew. In addition, Jondalar was particularly understanding and sensitive for all other issues. Compared to the men of the first books Clan, this particular character didn’t feel real for his time period.

If this book was just the pages with Ayla, I’d probably still give it a five, even with the end of the book having some of the over the top issues mentioned above. If it was just the Jondalar and Thonolan story, it’s be closer to a 2. I’m giving the book a four, but it’s actually more of a 3.5 for the exact scorers out there.

4-star