Saturday, June 30, 2012

Book Review - A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

A Confusion of Princes
Garth Nix
Reading level: Ages 13 and up
Trade Paperback
Advance Reader’s Copy
352 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (May 15, 2012)
ISBN-13: 978-0060096946


     What makes Garth Nix’s Space Opera A Confusion of Princes unique? How about a Young- Adult-Epic-Space-Opera-Fantasy with a very interesting and creative opening sequence in which the main character and his body guard space-surf on a Biotek Manta, almost get assassinated twice, link to the Imperial Mind to acquire information to become reborn, and join the Royal Navy because they’re the guild least likely to get them killed travelling to the recruiting center? Add to the narrative a Master of Assassins body-guard/baby-sitter, an Imperial A.I. sentient hive-brain, reincarnation (rebirth of a sort), Bitek, Psitek and Mektek (you should be able to figure them out by their names), insect warriors, strange new worlds, and galaxy building more ambitious than those of Asimov’s Foundation and you begin to see a few of the distinctive ideas that make A Confusion of Princes stand out.

     There’s a lot to like about this story and here are my reasons (if the ones above are not enough): First, I’m not sure exactly how this happened but during my initial research of the book I got the impression that it was a YA Fantasy. (I think maybe from Amazon Vine or from the fact that Nix’s body of work was primarily fantasy.) I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was and it wasn’t. That it was a major space opera epic became clear very early on, yet the story retained subtle elements that usually are associated with fantasy. Princes, and concubines, and Master Assassins, and reincarnation and rebirth… all these things speak more of a tale from Arabian Nights than a galaxy-crossing space opera. Nix somehow manages to blend them together successfully and, more importantly, entertainingly.

     An empire with a million worlds is ruled by a class of prince’s numbering in the millions. These princes, young men and women, are programmed from birth to rule the Empire. Linked to a sentient A.I. computer they can be reincarnated over and over again but not when they’re in normal human form and Khemri, after dying defending a space station from hostile aliens, is offered the extraordinary mission of becoming an “Adjuster.” But, the first element an Adjuster must learn is to live as a normal human, susceptible to permanent death. Newly reborn, Khemri, now known as Khem, meets and falls in love with a normal human and his world is turned upside down. As his destiny in the Empire draws near he must decide what he truly desires – power as a ruling Prince or the love of a woman?

     Recommended for fans of Space Opera, coming of age stories, high Science-Fiction, unique Young Adult books, YA romance, and action and intrigue junkies.

     File with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books, David Brin’s Uplift War series, Catherine L. Moore’s Northwest Smith stories, and John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series (which is ironic in a way since this is a YA book and I recommend/file it with Old Man’s War.)

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Official Garth Nix Website

Garth Nix Wiki Page Garth Nix Wiki Page

A Confusion of Princes Amazon Page

A Confusion of Princes Video Game Tie-In (Goes Bust) and Lengthy Interview with Garth Nix

A Confusion of Princes Page

Garth Nix Old Kingdom Website

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review - A Bad Day For Voodoo by Jeff Strand

A Bad Day For Voodoo
Jeff Strand
Reading Level: Ages 12 and up (YA)
Trade Paperback
251 Pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: June 5th, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-1-4022-6680-5


The Intro:
I’ve come to expect a certain level of raucous, titillating humor and, what I might call, impertinence in Jeff Strand’s stories and A Bad Day For Voodoo, his new, Young Adult novel is no exception. In fact, it might be the funniest and most entertaining writing he’s ever done. A Bad Day For Voodoo is a brilliantly humorous and dark take on the high school state-of-mind with irreverent (and sometimes gory) undertones and a number of highly creative and fascinating moments that are well-worth the price of faire. It’ll knock your socks off (Oh, wait…. That’s the main character and those were a couple of his toes, not his socks. My bad.) Voodoo really sucks when it works the way it’s supposed to, right? Imagine what happens when it goes spiraling out of control.

The Tie-in:
When I was in the fifth grade I had a cantankerous, old teacher (name withheld to protect the innocent – mostly every fifth grader who ever crossed her path) that I secretly wished would fall asleep at her desk and do a face plant onto her memo spike. Gasp. No! Yes. True story. (Sorry mom.) Imagine my surprise then when in A Bad Day For Voodoo the math teacher’s leg spurts off during an ill-advised voodoo experiment. I think every kid old enough to understand it will stand up and cheer when they read the opening sequence of Strand’s amusing novel. Only someone truly twisted could create a voodoo-zombie-amputation novel this engaging, let alone one that begins with a voodoo doll accident with epic consequences. Thank you, Mr. Strand for your warped sense of humor. It comforts me to know that I’m not the only perverse SOB on this dusty rock we call home.

The Clever Part:
Speaking to (or directly acknowledging) the audience, known as breaking the fourth wall, still catches me by surprises sometimes and Mr. Strand accomplished this trope with superb skill and not a little tongue-in-cheek humor. The remarkable thing is that he managed to add to the narrative flow while acknowledging his readers which made the story that much more pleasurable to read. Not that the story was NOT NOT enjoyable without it (Does that double negative make any sense?) but the perfect placement of speaking (writing) to the audience with impeccably timed transitions simply added to the overall enjoyment of the story. And the occasions when Mr. Strand employs them are clever, deliberate, and exceptionally comical.

The Premise:
High-school teenagers, no matter how reliable or responsible, should never, ever be allowed to handle voodoo dolls. Unfortunately, for certain members of this high school, voodoo is accidently deployed with serious side-effect. “Wait,” you say, “voodoo isn’t real.” Tell that to the Mr. Click, the math teacher whose leg just popped off, or to Tyler Churchill who is missing two toes due to a misguided pin-pricking. Add a voodoo doll that won’t stay put, a group of car thieves that get caught up in the coolest Abbot and Costello-like gunfight in history, a family of Basers (people that follow every religion on the planet in the firm believe that covering all the bases assures salvation,) a bizarre and spooky neighborhood, a zombie escaped from the morgue, and a pair of mysterious, unsympathetic witch-doctor-ess(es) and you begin to catch an abbreviated glimpse of the bizarre world Jeff Strand has created in A Bad Day For Voodoo. Can Tyler and his friends find and rescue his voodoo doll before someone accidently smashes in his head?

The Artist:
While A Bad Day For Voodoo is clearly marketed for consumption by Young Adults (12 and up) it’s an entertaining and worthwhile read even for those 40 years over the recommended marketing age. Here’s why. Jeff Strand has the incomparable skill of creating acts of gory gruesomeness filled with moments of dark horror and wrapping them around some very funny words in especially scary ways; words that make total sense when he strings them together “his way.” He’s one of the few writers that can make me feel squeamish and make milk squirt out of my nose at the same time. And I mean that in a good way. Sort of…

The Fun Stuff:
Some of the highlights include high-school book review advice, a missing chapter filled by an apology e-mail from the publisher, a chapter numbered to inflate your reading prowess, and a list of forthcoming books in the series. Including: A Bad Day For Witchcraft, A Bad Day For That Guy About To Get Hit By A Bus, A Bad Day For Voodoo II, A Bad Day For Taunting Llamas, A Bad Day For Voodoo 3-D, and Harry Potter Vs. A Bad Day For Voodoo. If you’re still in high school and in a pinch for good book report information Chapter 20 will be an invaluable tool. Read A Bad Day For Voodoo for that chapter alone. I mean it. You’ll go wow, cool! Chapter 28, lost due to a computer glitch, somehow manages to propel the story forward and, if you happen to make it all the way to Chapter 367 then you’ve got bragging rights and all your friends will be envious J (Okay, this probably bears explanation but I’ll let Strand do that himself when you read his book.) So, what are you waiting for? Go out and buy the book. Read it. Have fun. Just don’t stick pins in it…

The Commendations:
Recommended for fans of Urban Fantasy; Young Adult stories; action adventures; humor; dark magic; rude, teenage dialogue (I mean teenage dialogue); hilarious acts involving guns and zombies and frequent amputations; voodoo, car-chases; and anyone that enjoys an intelligent but warped sense of humor. Did I mention it was pretty funny?

The Rating:
4 ½ stars out of 5

The Blogger:
The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

The Extras:
Additional Reading:

Strand’s Official Author Site “Gleefully Macabre”

A Bad Day For Voodoo Amazon Page

Excellent Review by Elizabeth A. White

My previous review of Strand’s “Out of Whack” can be found here

The Post Script:
P.S. A Bad Day For Voodoo literally (okay, figuratively) had me on pins and needles the entire time I was reading it (bad pun intended.) Fortunately, I knew that I wouldn’t be missing body parts before the first Chapter ended. Good thing I’ve given the book a solid review, though. There’s a rumor going around on the Internet that a blogger that panned it is now missing a finger, but that just might be a weird coincidence. Or not…

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Guest Blog Post “My Least Favorite Part of Being An Author” by Jeff Strand

My least favorite part of being an author? By far, it's reviewing galleys.

Galleys are cool at first glance, because you actually get to see the book in its final layout. It looks like a real book, instead of something that's in 12 pt. double-spaced Courier New. You're sooooooo close to having this in the hands of readers!

When you go through the galleys, you get one last chance to find any errors. But that's really all you're looking for: errors. And not "Wow, does Chapter Sixteen ever suck!" errors, but tiny errors. If you send in a completely revised version of Chapter Sixteen at the galley stage, big scary men will show up at your house with crowbars.

Now, if you find a really HUGE mistake, like a loophole in your time-travel logic that means that your heroine is making out with her great-great-great-great grandfather, they'll probably let you fix it. But otherwise, the book in galleys form is pretty much the book in published form. Which means that while I review the galleys, I will think of hundreds of new jokes that should be in there, and funnier ways to tell the jokes that are already there through the book. Suddenly I want to change EVERYTHING!!! Lines that were totally fine the first thirty-nine times I went through the book, when I could change anything I wanted, now make me want to bury my head in the sands of shame.

My favorite part of the process is the final proofreading of my manuscript before I send it off to the editor. At that point, I'm a, a super-genius! This book is AWESOME!!! Go me! I'll be putting a down payment on that gold-plated mansion any minute now! Woo-hoo!!!

This thought process changes approximately 1.7 seconds after I click "Send." Then, every previously unseen flaw in the book bursts into my brain with a force that knocks me out of my chair and through the window in my office. I can't BELIEVE I sent the publisher that garbage. I am the epitome of lameness. I wait for the inevitable e-mail response that says "Dear Jeff: WTF?"

As time passes, my opinion of the book slips to somewhere in-between the two extremes.

In theory, the worst part should be months later when I actually read the published book, because then I really can't change anything, except with a pen and a lot of bookstore visits. But I don't read the published book. Oh, sure, I lovingly cradle it, maybe stroke the spine, but I never actually re-read any of it. That would make me cry.

Jeff Strand is the author of the Andrew Mayhem series, Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary) (2001), Single White Psychopath Seeks Same (2003), Casket For Sale (Only Used Once) (2004), Lost Homicidal Maniac (Answers to “Shirley”) (2011), and Suckers (2009) (with J A Konrath); stand alone novels How to Rescue a Dead Princess (2000), Mandibles (2003), Out of Whack (2004), Pressure (2006), Elrod McBugle On The Loose (2007), Benjamin's Parasite (2009), Dweller (2010), Wolf Hunt (2010), Draculas (2010) (with Blake Crouch, Jack Kilborn, J A Konrath and F Paul Wilson), Fangboy (2011),and A Bad Day for Voodoo (2012); the omnibus The Mad and The Macabre (2010) (with Michael McBride); and the novellas The Severed Nose (2009), Kutter (2010) and Faint of Heart (2012). He was nominated for the Bram Stoker Best Novel award in 2006 for his novel Pressure.

The More-Or-Less Official Jeff Strand Website

Jeff Strand Bio

P.S. My review of Jeff Strand’s A Bad Day For Voodoo coming soon…
The Alternative

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Book Review - Sorry Please Thank You by Charles Yu

Sorry Please Thank You
Charles Yu
Pantheon Books
Publication Date: July 24, 2012
222 Pages
Uncorrected Bound Galley
ISBN 978-0-307-90718-9

Sorry Please Thank You by Charles Yu

Charles Yu’s much too slim volume of short stories Sorry Please Thank You is a humorous romp through a wide range of Science Fiction stories and is the perfect platform for Yu’s sense of comedy, command of the language,  alternative universe building and speculative fiction skills. So, like the book my review will be much too brief yet hopefully entertaining.

Not every story here is a gem but at least five, maybe six, of the 13 (some of which have appeared elsewhere) are exceptional and definitely worth the read. My favorite stories include “Standard Loneliness Package”, “First Person Shooter”, “Hero Absorbs Major Damage”, and “Yeoman.” I’ve taken this opportunity to record the table of contents below and, following the titles, have included my take on each of the stories.



1. Standard Loneliness Package – What if someone paid you to feel their pain, their guilt, or attend that funeral no one really wanted to go to? What if that funeral was for a child?

2. First Person Shooter – How would you handle a zombie roaming around your store? What if she was primping for a date? (Note: Shotgun is a perfectly acceptable answer.) [P. S. The complete story can be found by clicking here – First Person  Shooter ]

3. Troubleshooting – How to be successful in a wish machine universe… A step-by-step guide on how to make winning choices.


1. Hero Absorbs Major Damage – Exceptional story about love, life, and getting whacked hard enough to take Major Damage. Hero dead. Game Over.

2. Human For Beginners – Bizarre and weird and strange and bizarre… did I say bizarre. Extended family relations, indeed.

3. Inventory – “It’s hard to have a relationship in this world. Other people are not the same from day to day.”

4. Open – Be wary of the alternative universe that advertises itself… especially if your relationship is suffering.

5. Note To Self ­– Alternate universe “us’s” hold an unusual discussion. And, as usual, we still don’t understand myself.


1. Yeoman – Sometimes a guy in a red shirt is just a guy in a red shirt (or Kama Sutra and other things to do with goop.)

2. Designer Emotion 67 – A transcript of PharmaLife, Inc.'s annual report to shareholders in 2050 with interludes by the cocky (and very greedy) CEO. Major hilarity ensues…

3. The Book of Categories ­– Contains no less than 3,739,164 pages (and counting.)

Also included in the anthology Thackeray T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities.

4. Adult Contemporary – Narrating one’s own life.


1. Sorry Please Thank You – A suicide note on a bar napkin -  a melancholy hymn of loneliness and a perfect end to the collection.

3 ½ out of 5 stars

The Alternative One
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Sorry Please Thank You Amazon Page

Charles Yu Wiki Page

Monday, June 04, 2012

Book Review - Niceville by Carsten Stroud

Carsten Stroud
Trade Paperback
Advance Reader’s Copy
400 pages
Knopf Doubleday
Publication Date: June 12, 2012
ISBN-13: 978-0307700957


     Buried in Niceville is something evil… and the harvest is coming.

     Carsten Stroud is probably not a name that immediately comes to mind when discussing horror or dark-suspense stories. In fact, he’s probably most well-known for his politically-driven, suspenseful mystery novels than for anything else. However, Mr. Stroud has found a way to channel all the coolest (read darkest and weirdest) parts of modern horror into one ominous place, Niceville. Stroud’s everyman style and the murky content of Niceville will inevitably elicit comparisons to Stephen King, Clive Barker, or Graham Masterton and while this happens quite often when authors cross into the horror genre it’s totally justified in this instance, and, for good reason. While their styles are complimentary and very similar (smart-mouthed characters and irreverent dialogue backed by an eerie premise) Stroud manages to incorporate elements of Southern Gothic, ghost-realms, Quentin Tarantino-like characters, bloody gun-battles, American Indian folklore, paranormal mystery, and some of the nastiest, most flawed antagonists you’ll ever come across in modern, dark fiction. It’s an outlandish combination, to be sure, but it all works and works quite well, in my estimation.

     I have to admit that to me Niceville read very much like a Stephen King novel. Quickly paced, easy to read, and journeyman in approach much of Niceville’s horror is found “off page,” by which I mean it’s left somewhat to our own imaginations (especially when moving through the realms where the dead reside or when the living are murdered.) And my imagination can, when pushed just right, conjure more horrifying images than could ever be written, something that King has done perfectly for many years and that Stroud has tapped into.

     With a name like Niceville you might immediately think of a sociable, idyllic village with friendly neighbors, an antiquated town-square, award winning rose bushes, and fun-filled, summer parades. You couldn’t be more wrong. Niceville is a very dark place. Children have disappeared at an alarming rate there which has the distinction of having the highest rate of stranger abduction in the country. When a security camera catches the most recent abduction it only fuels the mystery. One moment Rainey is there, on camera. The next he’s simply vanished. When he’s found alive in a sealed crypt the confusion deepens. Who, or what, is abducting the children of Niceville and why? And, what does a high-profile bank robbery, 80 years of disappearances, and a black lake at the edge of town have to do with each other? When you enter Niceville you’ll find out.

     There’s a grocery list of characters in Niceville and the story moves from many of their perspectives, sometimes rather abruptly, and while that is slightly confusing and a little interruptive it bears mentioning that Stroud reels all the characters in together nicely as the story progresses and delivers a neat, tightly-woven climax that does not disappoint. While the numerous characters may seem a drawback to some I rather enjoyed the weaving together of the many characters, especially since Stroud brought them all together in a surprisingly satisfying (and spine-tingling) ending.

     If you like Southern Gothic, Stephen King, imaginative horror, larger-than-life characters, or dark suspense then I recommend Niceville for you.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Official Carsten Stroud Web page

Official Niceville Site

Niceville Sample Chapter

Niceville Amazon Page