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Thursday, 17 May 2012 08:39

The beauty of motion The Cranes Dance'

Novel offers behind-the-scenes look at ballet

As a reader, picking up the second offering from an author whose debut I enjoyed is a mixed bag. Sometimes, the writer picks up right where he or she left off, continuing onward and upward in their literary journey. Other times more times, frankly the descent begins as the author grapples with the law of diminishing returns.

Take Meg Howrey, for instance. Her debut was a novel called 'Blind Sight.' It was excellent; well-written, thoughtful, literate fiction. So I had high hopes for her sophomore effort 'The Cranes Dance' (Vintage; $17.95).

I would not be disappointed.

Published in Style
Thursday, 26 April 2012 08:24

POD' a solid sci-fi effort

Wallenfels impresses with powerful debut novel

It's always exciting to pick up an author's debut book. The sense of potential informs the experience with a high level of excitement. This first book could be the start of a wonderful writer/reader relationship. Of course, it could also be a complete dud. It's a Schrdinger's cat dilemma; an experiment in quantum literature. It's a situation where you simply can't know whether the book is good or bad until you open it and see for yourself.

In the case of 'POD' (Ace, $7.99), the debut offering from author Stephen Wallenfels, you'll be glad you turned to page one.

The aliens descended from the sky at 5 a.m. (PST), taking the entire world by surprise. They announced their presence with an ear-shattering shriek, and their round black ships dominate the skies. Any human being caught outside immediately vanishes in a flash of blue light. What survivors remained were trapped in their homes trapped without any way of communicating with the outside world. Everyone remaining in this new world is forced to come to terms with what's happening on an individual basis.

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 11 April 2012 14:02

A brief history of thrash metal

Murder in the Front Row' offers a peek at the birth of a genre

While I've never been much of a music connoisseur, even I went through certain phases of musical fandom. And like just about every other kid who grew up in the sticks, I went through a heavy metal phase. As with all phases, it eventually fell by the wayside and was largely forgotten, resurfacing only when a chance radio encounter brought forth some thrashy nostalgia.

Said nostalgia received an exponential bump when 'Murder in the Front Row' (Bazillion Points Press) landed in my lap. It's essentially a coffee table book devoted to the early days of the Bay Area thrash metal scene.

And it's even cooler than it sounds.

The majority of the photos come from the collections of a handful of enthusiasts who were vital parts of the burgeoning scene back in the early 1980s. Guys like Harald Oimoen, Brian Lew and Ron Quintana were just hardcore fans that happened to be there when metal icons such as Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth first took root in the California soil and began to blossom. It's a moment in time, preserved by a couple of kids armed with nothing more than cameras and a deep passion for the music.

Published in Buzz
Pitcher's memoir a story of more than just baseball

David Foster Wallace once wrote a wonderful piece about how disappointing an athlete's autobiography can be. While he used Tracy Austin's 'Beyond Center Court' as an example of the general vapidity of the athlete's biography, the truth is that there are hundreds of hastily ghost-written books out there that, while providing the basic nuts and bolts information about an athlete, never really tell us anything about who they are.

However, when that is not the case when both the athlete and co-author are both literate, expressive and willing to speak truthfully the reader is treated to a very real, very raw peek behind the curtain at an athlete's real personality; warts and all. The reader gets an actual memoir one that just happens to star an athlete.

The reader gets 'Wherever I Wind Up' (Blue Rider Press, $24.95) by R.A. Dickey with Wayne Coffey.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 04 April 2012 14:29

Blackbear the Pirate

Thaaarrr be Baaars... er, Bears

There is adventure on the high seas for Blackbear the Pirate, and more on the way as this charming series continues.

The latest installment of this lovely illustrated children's book is 'The Search for Captain Ben,' where Blackbear and his crew go in search of the captain's missing mentor named in the title.

The idea of combining pirates with bears came to author Steve Buckley while on a trip to Canada.

'I had written all these adventure stories and I was just trying to figure out where it was going and put some characterization in it. I didn't want to illustrate them [the pirates] as people,' he said in a phone interview. 'We were way up near a village called Mica. We saw so many bears and that's really where it came from.'

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 04 April 2012 14:24

'Triggers' right on target

Too often, when people think about science fiction, their minds immediately go to aliens and far-flung futures and worlds far different than our own. Yes, there is plenty of that, but sci-fi is at its core a genre steeped in ideas.

Robert J. Sawyer understands that. His 'WWW' trilogy is an excellent example of this sort of idea-driven fiction, set in an alternate present that resembles our own in so many ways. His newest book, 'Triggers' (Ace, $25.95), is set in a similar world, although the obstacles to be faced are both smaller and much larger.

President Seth Jerrison is giving a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when he is struck down by an assassin's bullet. Secret Service agent Susan Dawson, along with a number of her colleagues, rush the President to the nearby hospital where Dr. Eric Redekop awaits to perform the surgery that hopefully will save Jerrison's life.

At the same time, Professor Ranjip Singh is in the midst of an experiment. He has built a device that he believes can erase traumatic memories, and with the help of a PTSD-stricken Army private named Kadeem Adams, he is attempting to prove it.

Published in Buzz
Maine author's debut an enthralling read

There's something magical about those moments when a book grabs your attention. It can be anything: a clever title, an evocative cover image or a jacket quote from a previously-enjoyed author. And when you've given your attention and picked up that book for a closer examination BOOM! The hook is set.

So it was for me with Maine author Kieran Shields's debut novel 'The Truth of All Things' (Crown, $25). It's a great title. The cover art is intriguing. So I took a look at the inside jacket copy. I was hooked before I was halfway to the bottom.

Archie Lean is a newly-appointed Deputy Marshal for the City of Portland. When he's called in to investigate the death of a prostitute, he is confronted with a body that appears to have been ritualistically murdered, surrounded by a pentagram and pinned to the ground with a pitchfork a killing method traditionally associated with the execution of witches.

Published in Buzz
Thursday, 29 March 2012 07:59

Necronomicon

This book is dead to me

EDITOR'S NOTE: (This story is from The Maine Edge's annual April Fools Day edition. As such, you can safely assume that most of it - if not all of it - is totally made-up.)

Abdul Alhazred's latest offering, The Necromonicon ($29.95, R'leya Publishing House), is a complete horror show. Not only does it seem to drive whoever reads it completely insane, it also brings about the horrific End Times by leading people to the homes of the Old Ones.

Parts of this damning book were simply a joy to read. I mean, who but Alhazred would be able to capture the unholy majesty of Those Who Will Consume Us All? His prose is simply inspired during that chapter, and it is almost worth the aeons of torture as the Old Gods consume our very souls.

Published in Buzz
Multi-generational novel both epic and intimate

The power of family is a constantly explored theme in the literary world. Telling stories that span generations has long been a favorite undertaking for novelists great and small; Maine resident Peter Behrens is one of those who falls more into the former category. His latest offering is 'The O'Briens' (Pantheon; $25.95), a story that springs from but is no way reliant on his previous work 'The Law of Dreams.'

Our book begins with the O'Brien family struggling their way through a hardscrabble existence in the wilds of western Quebec right around the turn of the 20th century. We watch as young Joe O'Brien comes of age the hard way, slowly and steadily building himself an entrepreneurial empire.

Of course, life is about more than just monetary success. We also watch as Joe builds a family of his own, a family he swears will never have to endure the same hardships that dominated his own youth. However, life is rarely as easy as we feel it should be, and Joe and his family are confronted with an entirely new set of obstacles to their happiness different, yes, but no less difficult because of that.

Published in Buzz
Thursday, 08 March 2012 11:01

Fated' a fine urban fantasy

Urban fantasy is a genre whose star has been on the rise over the past decade or so. More and more authors are trying their hand at bringing the magic of sword-and-sorcery to a modern cityscape. Some are successful, but many more are not it's hard to write urban fantasy without coming off as derivative or clichd. I've read a lot of mediocre stuff over the years.

That's why it's exciting when a new book arrives that seems to have potential. 'Fated' (ACE, $7.99), the first book in a new series by Benedict Jacka, is one of those books.

It's modern-day London, just like ours save one small detail there is magic among us. Alex Verus is a diviner; a mage who can see the future. He operates a magic shop in London and not the card-trick, rabbit-hat kind of magic. He's also a bit of a pariah among the magical elite due to some unpleasantness in the past, so he tries his best to just keep his head down and stay out of magic's way.

Published in Buzz
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