Sunday, April 24, 2011

Book Review – Aftertime by Sophie Littlefield

  1. Aftertime
  2. Sophie Littlefield
  3. Luna
  4. 2011
  5. Trade Paperback
  6. 375 pages
  7. ISBN: 9780373803361


Anyone who has read this book review blog for long knows that I really enjoy a good post-apocalyptic zombie story every once in a while (actually find them hard to resist) and that’s exactly what Aftertime by Sophie Littlefield is, a very good zombie book. Forget the Beaters (zombies) for a moment and why they’ve changed into crazed flesh-eaters. Put aside the fact that the world has pretty much come to an abrupt and disappointing end. What carries this narrative is the character development and quest motif. Littlefield’s characters are fully fleshed out (pun intended) and real. Some are mysterious, others evil and self-serving, most are flawed and a few even resemble people I know. Which is what makes them so compelling. Everyone who’s ever loved a child will understand the motive driving the main character. That it occurs in a savage, wasted land makes it that much more interesting. There’s nothing inherently unique about this particular zombie story but because it reads so quickly and the plot is so compelling you won’t want to put it down. An enjoyable time away from the mundane this novel is a recommended for all the zombie and post-apocalyptic fans out there. (You know who you are!)

4 out of 5 stars

  1. The Alternative
  2. Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Official Author site

Author Blog

Amazon Author site

Author Wiki Site

Aftertime Page

* The Alternative Blog

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book Review - Millennial Mythmaking by John Perlich and David Whitt

  • Millennial Mythmaking: Essays on the Power of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, Films and Games
  • John Perlich and David Whitt
  • McFarland
  • 2009
  • Trade Paperback
  • 202 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7864-4562-20


     Perhaps because of a misunderstanding on my part I originally believed this book of essays would be a comfortably written, easily readable, and pedestrian collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy themes. (Think Stephen King’s On Writing.)I’m not entirely sure where I got that impression but it turns out that Millennial Mythmaking is more of a college textbook or scholarly master thesis than a compilation of soft essays on the subject of SF&F myths. And while that isn’t at all bad it really wasn’t what I expected. Putting my obtuseness aside if you’re the type that loves an in-depth analysis of contemporary Science Fiction and Fantasy then you’ll definitely enjoy this book. However, through all the studied rationalizations, numerous footnotes and references, and in some cases, over-analytical rhetoric, much of the message of each essay will be lost to the casual reader. If you are a college-level student studying the myths of current fiction or enjoy the detailed and often subtle underpinnings of Science Fiction and Fantasy then I recommend this collection of essays for you.

     One slightly irritating theme I encountered was the constant homage and mention of Joseph Campbell. Every essay held an element dealing with or concerning Campbell or his work and almost every reference cited Campbell and Moyer’s The Power of Myth. It seemed the deck was stacked with a pat hand. In other words, the editors may have only solicited essays relative to Joseph Campbell as the common denominator which isn’t a bad thing overall but should have probably been mentioned up front if that was the intention. (I can’t imagine this was coincidental.) On a positive note, and I’d like to end this review on an optimistic note if I may, the subject matter included more modern SF&F examples then many other works of this genre (i.e. Harry Potter, Wicked Witch of the West, Doctor Who, Star Trek, etc.) This gives Millennial Mythmaking an advantage over many other essay collections published in the past few years.

3 stars out of 5

  • The Alternative
  • Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Stephen Hunt (SF Crows Nest) Review

Perlich’s College Site

Author Interview

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Book Review - Nebador - Book One – The Test by J. Z. Colby

  1. Nebador - Book One – The Test
  2. J. Z. Colby
  3. Nebador Archives (Self-Published)
  4. ISBN 978-936253-02-9
  5. 292 pages
  6. Review copy via


Nebador Book One: The Test is an entertaining young adult narrative set in a medieval kingdom where the institution of slavery is an integral part of society. Enter Ilika, a ship captain from the mysterious land of Nebador who is looking for crew members to man his vessel. It is revealed that Ilika is on a quest and one of his major tests is to recruit his own crew. What he doesn’t know is that the only eligible young men and women that fit his recruitment criteria are slaves. The story develops as the young ship captain purchases, manumits, and then educates ten teenaged slaves as possible crewmembers. “The Test” of the title manages to work on two levels. Ilika’s test is to find and train a competent crew for his ship and the test for each slave is to learn enough to be chosen as a crewmember. We get the feeling, though are never really told, that Ilika is no ordinary captain and that his ship is no ordinary craft. Indeed we are told via subtle inference that the vessel is so unusual that is it not a “ship” in the traditional sense at all. I’m sure you can see where this is going…

The first chapter of this book could have been stronger structurally, in my opinion, but the mystery of the strange ship captain was interesting enough to keep me reading the narrative. A stronger introduction to the main character might have given the story a better, less confusing, start. For instance, Ilika unnecessarily talking to animals to introduce himself was to me a bit confusing. Is this a fantasy about a young man that can talk to animals? Or is he just psychotic? No, it was just an awkward way to introduce the reader to the character. An encounter with a fellow traveler or a local farmer might have set up the opening a little better. However, once past that minor fault the book picks up in both pace and plot and I found it to be an enjoyable read.

As a reviewer of a certain age, over 50 but under dead, I feel well-qualified to comment on the plot and content of this young adult narrative which I found to be entertaining, educational, and nostalgic. Entertaining in the fact that the plot was well-written, the characters believable and real, and the premise was interesting enough to keep me reading until the end of the story. When I say that I found the book educational I mean in the sense that it contains elements of basic math and logic intended to educate the young reader (a rare occurrence these days in most young adult fiction.) More often than not we are riddled with YA stories that contain only emotional and relationship driven narratives. Nebador does indeed include relationship building but it is more in the line of binding a team together rather than focusing on romantic alliances although there are elements of romance found in the story. As for why I felt the book nostalgic I have only two words for you, Andre Norton. Yes, the prolific YA and science fiction author. I recall to this day that warm afternoon in the early 70’s when I first opened a borrowed copy of Witch World. I was completely drawn into and enthralled by that story. In fact, I wanted to go and write similar stories. Though I never did get around to writing those tales the important thing was that it made me want to and, in some ways, that experience turned me into a voracious reader. I read more because of it in my search to find books written in a similar style with parallel content. I hope that this book does the same for the young readers that come in contact with it. Hopefully, there are those who will read this in jaw-dropping wonder and begin a long life of reading Science Fiction for the pure pleasure of it. Of course, I am no longer a doe-eyed young adult looking to be blown away by a Science Fiction story (though I often am) and I remember fondly what it feels like and I believe that Nebador has the potential to cause that same type of wonderment in a new generation of young adults.

3 ½ stars out of 5

  1. The Alternative
  2. Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Official Nebador site

Author page at review

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Book Review – In This Hospitable Land by Lynmar Brock, Jr.

  1. In This Hospitable Land
  2. Lynmar Brock, Jr.
  3. Publisher: AmazonEncore
  4. On Sale: April 26, 2011
  5. ISBN-10: 9781935597469
  6. Trade Paperback
  7. AmazonVine Program - ARC – Uncorrected Proof
  8. 414 pages


In This Hospitable Land is based on the factual account of a Jewish family forced from their home in Belgium during the Nazi invasion of Europe in World War II. Members of the Severin family ultimately settled in the Cevennes area of rural southern France only to find themselves caught between occupied German soldiers, suspicious townsfolk, and the local pro-Nazi Vichy government. The family, trapped in the middle of this chaos, is forced to depend upon already wary neighbors to hide them from possible capture by the Nazis. It is a remarkable story of perseverance, paranoia, brotherhood, and survival.

Thoughtfully researched and carefully studied In This Hospitable Land is an informative work of historical fiction but unfortunately suffers from a number of conspicuous weaknesses and inconsistencies. It is more than evident that the author has supplemented actual conversations with additional exposition which, in the main, is overformal and wooden and, at times, hard to follow and often illogical. The style is awkward and the explanations and details drone on in places and I found myself drifting away from the story during some of the longer explanations.

Fortunately, the strong suit of this novel lies in its plot and the heart-rending story of suffering and survival and I recommend it for fans of historical or war fiction and those wishing to educate themselves concerning this little-known account of the Holocaust. No matter the shortcomings In This Hospitable Land deserves high praise for its subject matter. Stories like this warrant publication because the message they contain is always more important than the mechanics used to create them. Otherwise we never would have heard the names Elie and Shlomo Wiesel, Oscar and Emilie Schindler, Art and Vladek Spiegelman, or Tuvia and Zus Bielski and learned of their exceptional stories. Without them we might never have known the suffering endured or the strength of heart our fellow men experienced during those chaotic times. With many of the key figures that lived through these times reaching the end of their lives we risk losing these stories forever. They are integral to our growth as a race and should not be lost to obscurity.

3 ½ out of 5 stars

  1. The Alternative
  2. Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Art Spiegelman Wiki site

Art Spiegelman Maus site

Oskar Schindler Wiki site

Schindler’s List movie at IMDB

Schindler Article The first magazine article about Schindler (written 1949 unpublished until 1994)

Elie Wiesel Wiki site

Elie Wiesel Book Night

Tuvia and Zus Bielski (The Bielski Partisans) Wiki site

Defiance movie at IMDB

P.S. For five informative reviews concerning excellent Holocaust literature please see my post Book Reviews - Essential World War II Stories from a July 2009 post.


Monday, April 04, 2011

Book Review - The Ballad of Bob Dylan: A Portrait by Daniel Mark Epstein

  1. The Ballad of Bob Dylan: A Portrait
  2. Daniel Mark Epstein
  3. On Sale: May 3rd, 2011
  4. Trade Paperback
  5. Amazon Vine Program ARC – Uncorrected Proof


You might ask why we need another biography of one of the most iconic songwriters and lyricists of our time. And you’d be within your right to ask it. After all, there are currently dozens of well-written books already published about (some even by) Bob Dylan. Here’s the short answer as to why I feel this one is necessary - should, in fact, be near the top of the list. Simply put, I found The Ballad of Bob Dylan (A Portrait) unlike most personal accounts of Dylan’s life because it is written not by a commentator per se but by an obvious fan of both Dylan and the folk genre in general. Whereas a biographer researches and collects the most important facts of a subject’s life and delivers what he’s found Mr. Epstein takes that concept twenty steps further. He disseminates four important concerts and reports back to us as if he were Elizabeth Barrett Browning writing, “… let me count the ways…” He takes us back stage behind the scenes and revisits the honky-tonks and dives of the 60’s and 70’s forging a nostalgia that even the youngest reader will appreciate. He interviews many of the most influential stars that have ever practiced the art of folk music and writes with such intuitive attention to detail that you can feel the historic longing of those he’s consulted. Most importantly, Daniel Mark Epstein knows and loves his subject matter.

This book is divided by four significant concerts from various stages of Dylan’s career spanning more than forty-five years - all of which Epstein attended. The first, held at the small venue of the Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C. on December 14th, 1963 was Epstein’s first Dylan concert. He was thirteen years old. The second, Dylan’s (with The Band) Madison Square Garden appearance on January 31st, 1974, was, by all accounts, a cultural phenomenon. In some cases the U.S. Post Office had to set up extra mailboxes for ticket orders in many major cities. Over five million paid mail orders were reportedly sent in for the 650,000 tickets available over the course of the tour, making them the most in-demand ticket in the history of rock music. The third concert, part of “The Never- Ending Tour,” was held at the Tanglewood Music Shed, Lenox, Massachusetts on August 4th, 1997 with special guest Ani DiFranco. The fourth concert was held at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland on July 24th, 2009. Special guest stars were Willie Nelson and John Mellancamp. Through these rare live experiences the author delivers a song by song and decade to decade analysis of Dylan’s live shows and on-stage behavior. Epstein’s familiarity with Bob Dylan, the music, the lyrics, and the core personalities who performed them is glaringly evident. This author is no poser. Epstein really knows his folk history!

Along with the concert attendance and resulting personal notes the biography is built on comprehensive examination of the roots of folk music and its lyrics, a lifelong study of the subject, and personal interviews with a wide range of legendary folk notables including: Eric Andersen (folk celebrity and Dylan contemporary), Tom Paxton (legendary folk singer/songwriter), Nora Guthrie (Woody Guthrie’s daughter), Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (noted American folk singer), Pete Seeger (iconic folk musician and storyteller), Maria Muldaur (folk-blues singer), and John P. Hammond (blues singer/guitarist).

Interestingly enough the only real flaw I could find with the book actually occurs on the front cover. Mr. Epstein sub-titled this biography “A Portrait.” As you know a portrait can be interpreted as simply a snapshot, static image, or vision frozen in time. The Ballad of Bob Dylan: A Portrait, on the other hand, is far from singular. It does not focus on a single event or a stationary moment but envelops many of the most important moments in the life of one of the most influential song-writers the world has ever seen. The Ballad of Bob Dylan is, in short, a fluid, brilliant, and astute portrayal of one of the most prolific and significant artists of our time and well worth the price of admission.

4 out of 5 stars

  1. The Alternative
  2. Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

For Bob Dylan fans:

Bob Dylan Wiki site

Official Bob Dylan site

Expecting Rain (A Dylan website)

Bob Dylan on IMDB

One of the first Bob Dylan sites on the internet

A listing of Bob Dylan books and resources

For Folk Music fans in general:

Official Eric Andersen site

Official Tom Paxton site

Official Woody Guthrie site

Official Ramblin’ Jack Elliott site

Official Pete Seeger site

Official Maria Muldaur site

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Book Review - Of Blood and Honey (A Book of the Fey and The Fallen) by Stina Leicht

  • Of Blood and Honey
  • Stina Leicht
  • Night Shade Books
  • Urban/Historic Fantasy
  • 296 pages
  • Trade paperback edition
  • (ARC ePub ebook from Night Shade Books Editor In Chief)
  • Cover art by Min Yum
  • ISBN: 978-1597802130


     Inference and subtlety, in my opinion, has become somewhat of a lost art in literature. While this talent hasn’t disappeared entirely and some writers continue to maintain the proficiency of suggestive narrative I’ve noticed a decline in its use. What surprised me then was the skill in which Stina Leicht, a first time novelist, uses the ability of suggestion and nuance in her debut urban fantasy Of Blood and Honey. The literary foreplay leading up to the violent, traumatic sexual assault of the main character, Liam, for instance, is handled with a great deal of subtlety – more the fodder for our imaginations and more effective than a straight telling of the incident which, by the way, never happens. And the first time Liam unwittingly allows the otherworld beast inside him to escape we are shown more than told of that transformation. Because of the competence employed utilizing the art of supposition Ms. Leicht makes us a better audience. We are allowed to use our imagination to fill in the subtle nooks and crannies that remain unwritten but which are obviously present.      

      Of course, Of Blood and Honey is not a perfect urban fantasy but, then again, none really are*. What I feel missing from this tale was the intricately woven account connecting the Fey and human worlds. In truth, and perhaps in defense of this omission, I was under the distinct impression during reading - and here again is the subtleness of inference at play - that the Fey would become more prevalent in later books. Additional works would certainly offer the opportunity to delve deeper into the world of Fey and meld it with that of the commonplace home of humanity. On this point only time (and the publication of additional volumes in the series) will tell but the author would do well to bring the compelling world of Bran and Redcap** to the forefront in at least one subsequent story. I also found a number of very dark moments scattered throughout this novel which may offend some readers. I, on the other hand, felt that those sobering flashes provided a certain “punch” and the “hard edge” moments made it more emotional, therefore more enjoyable to me. And giving a novel sentiment and mood is what every writer strives for, or should. While the unimaginative and angry step-father cliché has been overdone those scenes were crafted skillfully enough that I could appreciate the struggle between the love and duty suffered by Liam’s mother and the emotional tug-of-war she endured. Fortunately, the step-father character is only found in a few scenes for abbreviated stretches of time.     

       Some of Ms. Leicht’s strengths are simply a result of blood, sweat, and hard work. The time period and politics of 1970’s Ireland and the clash between the Irish Republican Army and the British Army has been meticulously researched and she reveals to us the enviable ability to construct entire worlds in just a few short but concise paragraphs. Mingling Irish folklore and the mundane and then throwing a mystery into the mix is a stroke of genius. Every one of her characters are elaborate and intricate, even those that are flawed, secondary, or cliché and she reveals surprises in delightfully proportioned servings. The worlds she’s created are foreboding and rough and magical and dark and we are fortunate to be able to visit there, if only for a short while. The Fey and The Fallen is a series I’ll be following closely. If you enjoy finely crafted fantasy then you should too.

4 ½ out of 5 stars

Additional Reading:

Author site

SF Reviews.Net review

Fantasy Book Critic Review

The Big Idea: Stina Leicht

Author’s LiveJournal site

(P.S. While you’re visiting Leicht’s LiveJournal site be sure to click on the link HOW TO STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST (AND 9 OTHER THINGS NOBODY TOLD ME – Pay special attention to “#10 Creativity is Subtraction” then read my first paragraph above again. ‘Nuf said.)

* Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren comes very close to perfect and I’d rally behind just about any of Emma Bull’s urban fantasies or Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim books, but I digress.

** More on Redcap

*** More on the Fae