Review: Mindfront, by Dave Becker

by Dave Becker

Product Description (from
After uncovering a universal code in the brain waves of all living things that could revolutionize psychology, Martin Keller wakes one morning to find himself covered in blood, surrounded by his butchered family. Convinced he’s being framed by a diabolical organization set on stealing or sabotaging his work, he dodges a multi-agency manhunt that pursues him from the seediest corners of DC to the highest offices of government. Struggling to stay alive and find his family’s killer, Marty soon finds himself lost in a maze of conspiracies and paranoia, and eventually begins to doubt his own sanity. How can he find the truth when he doesn’t know what’s real?

My Thoughts:
When the author of this book asked me to review it last fall, I was in the mood for a good thriller. Despite this, I didn’t have a chance to read it until last week, when I was immediately so absorbed in it, to the point where for two days, I was reading it constantly. (During those two days I was also kind of drugged on muscle relaxants and pain killers because of a sprained back, which may have colored my reaction to the book.)

Thrillers – good thrillers – are a tricky thing to create. They have to have an element of mystery, a dash of danger, and a hint of good crime fiction, but still be rooted in a plausible version of reality or they don’t really work. With Mindfront all of the elements were there, and more – an interesting plot that was part techy, part bureaucratic, with nice family/spousal scenes that added dimension.

Martin Keller seemed like a three-dimensional character, and even I didn’t see all the twists til the very end of the novel. If you like thrillers, you will love this book. The physical copy is out of print, but the Kindle edition is available from Amazon.

Goes well with a pastrami sandwich on rye bread and a vanilla cream soda.

Review: Timbuctoo, by Tahir Shah

Tahir Shah

Product Description (from
For centuries, the greatest explorers of their age were dispatched from the power-houses of Europe London, Paris and Berlin on a quest unlike any other: To be the first white Christian to visit, and then to sack, the fabled metropolis of Timbuctoo.

Most of them never returned alive.

At the height of the Timbuctoo mania, two hundred years ago, it was widely believed that the elusive Saharan city was fashioned in entirety from the purest gold everything from the buildings to the cobble-stones, from the buckets to the bedsteads was said to be made from it.

One winter night in 1815, a young illiterate American seaman named Robert Adams was discovered half-naked and starving on the snow-bound streets of London. His skin seared from years in the African desert, he claimed to have been a guest of the King of Timbuctoo.

Thought of an American claiming anything let alone the greatest prize in exploration was abhorrent in the extreme. Closing ranks against their unwelcome American guest, the British Establishment lampooned his tale, and began a campaign of discrediting him, one that continues even today.

An astonishing tale based on true-life endurance, Tahir Shah s epic novel Timbuctoo brilliantly recreates the obsessions of the time, as a backdrop for one of the greatest love stories ever told.

My Thoughts:
Ever since I first read Katherine Neville’s The Eight when it first came out in the spring of 1989, I’ve fantasized about visiting places like Algeria and Morocco and, yes, even Timbuktu (as we spell it in modern English). As well, one of my favorite adventure stories is that of the folks from Citroen sponsoring the first crossing of the Sahara by automobile, specifically their Citroen half-track. You can imagine, then, how eagerly I leaped at the chance to review Tahir Shah’s novel from last summer, Timbuctoo.

I initially began reading it in late autumn, intending to be done with all my to-be-reviewed books before Thanksgiving, but work and other projects pulled me away from much reading at all, so I didn’t get to finish the novel until this week. It was worth the wait, and my apologies go to the author for my delay. That said, reading about the Sahara region in the 1800s was an odd juxtaposition with the news of Algeria’s attack on Mali (where Timbuktu actually IS) and the subsequent hostage situation. One story kept influencing my perspective of the other.

Even so, every time I found myself paying too much attention to the real world, I would return to Mr. Shah’s lovely novel, and lose myself in the British vs. American manners, and the challenge of a race to explore, conquer, collect, and the internal discoveries made by his characters, and I was continually enthralled by his deft use of language, his enchanting manner of storytelling (letters, descriptive chapter titles, and characters with very distinct point of views.) which marries a modern sensibility with the distinct culture of the slightly-pre-Victorian colonial age.

Even if you’ve never dreamed of trekking across the Sahara, I’m sure you’ll find Timbuctoo an interesting and compelling read.

Goes well with…mint tea and chicken shawarma.

Review: Changes, by Jim Butcher

by Jim Butcher

Product Description (from
Long ago, Susan Rodriguez was Harry Dresden’s lover-until she was attacked by his enemies, leaving her torn between her own humanity and the bloodlust of the vampiric Red Court. Susan then disappeared to South America, where she could fight both her savage gift and those who cursed her with it.

Now Arianna Ortega, Duchess of the Red Court, has discovered a secret Susan has long kept, and she plans to use it-against Harry. To prevail this time, he may have no choice but to embrace the raging fury of his own untapped dark power. Because Harry’s not fighting to save the world…

He’s fighting to save his child.

My Thoughts:
It’s been a long time since I spent any time with Harry Dresden. I bought this book in April of 2010, when it was new, and it’s been sitting on my nightstand since then – nearly THREE YEARS – not because I wasn’t interested, but because my to-be-read stack was so high.

During the first week or two of January, however, I took a break from my to-be-reviewed queue (which I’m mostly caught up with) and read a lot of escapist fiction – stuff I actually bought, stuff that was exactly what I needed after having NINE PEOPLE in my house for ten days over Christmas.

Changes did not disappoint. I found myself slipping back into Harry Dresden’s always stormy, often violent life very easily. There were a few characters I didn’t remember as well as I should have, but for the most part I was familiar with Molly (Harry’s apprentice), Karrin Murphy (bad ass cop), and Bob the Spirit in the Skull.

As to the story…it’s a mindblowing whirlwind of, well, changes. Harry finds out he’s a father, finds out his daughter is being held by the queen of the Red Court (a group of vampires that holds far too much underworld – and real world – power), finds out the Red Court is about to go all out in political and physical assault against the White Council of wizards, etc. etc.

The end, of course, involves the biggest change of all, but there’s no way to even hint at it without spoiling the story.

Suffice to say that Changes represents Jim Butcher at his best and Harry Dresden at his most base, raw self.

It is sheer awesomeness, cloaked in the form of a book.

Goes well with hot chocolate and peppermint taffy.

Review: Star Trek the Next Generation: Cold Equations #2: Silent Weapons, by David Mack

Star Trek the Next Generation: Cold Equations #2: Silent Weapons
David Mack

Product Description (from
The second book in a new trilogy by the national bestselling author of Star Trek: Destiny!

Three years after the disastrous final Borg Invasion, a bitter cold war against the Typhon Pact has pushed Starfleet’s resources to the breaking point. Now the rise of a dangerous new technology threatens to destroy the Federation from within. Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the Enterprise crew answer a distress call, only to become targets in a deadly game of deception. To protect a vital diplomatic mission, they must find a way to identify the spies hiding in their midst, before it’s too late. But Worf soon realizes the crew’s every move has been predicted: Someone is using them as pawns. And the closer they get to exposing their enemy, the deeper they spiral into its trap….

My Thoughts:
I don’t know how often the second book in a trilogy is stronger than the first. Certainly it’s more likely that second books (like second movies) suffer from “middle of the story” syndrome. In the case of David Mack’s STTNG series Cold Equations, however, did not have that problem in any form. Instead, it’s a rollicking adventure that mixes politics and action in a really satisfying blend of plot and character.

I love that the Orions, whom we are used to seeing mainly as slavers and generally disreputable types are also the galaxy’s strongest defenders of personal privacy (reading this in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook, CT, school shootings was rather eerie), and have the only security system strong enough to host a meeting that involves not just the Federation President, but the leaders of at least one of the factions involved in the Typhon Pact.

As well, I like that this novel acknowledged the Typhon Pact series, which spans all of the modern era Trek series and also combines political intrigue with really lovely action, whether it’s on land or sea, or in space.

Is Data’s presence a bit contrived? Maybe a bit, but after all, the trilogy is about his return, so it would be weird for him to NOT be in the novel. Still, his new appearance and abilities are used well, and this new FullyEmotional!Data is one I wish we could get to know a bit better in a slower, gentler story…just so that we (well, I) are a bit more invested in THIS incarnation of the character.

Goes well with: espresso con panna and cinnamon rolls.

Review: Star Trek the Next Generation: Cold Equations #1 – The Persistence of Memory, by David Mack

Star Trek the Next Generation: Cold Equations #1 – The Persistence of Memory
David Mack

Product Description (from
A BRAZEN HEIST Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the Enterprise crew race to find out who has stolen Data’s android brother B-4—and for what sinister purpose.

A BROKEN PROMISE One desperate father risks all for the son he abandoned forty years ago—but is he ready to pay the price for redemption?

A DARING MISSION Against overwhelming odds, and with time running out, Commander Worf has only one chance to avert a disaster. But how high a price will he pay for victory?

My Thoughts:
By now, more than ten years after his on-screen death in Star Trek: Nemesis, fans have accepted that we’re unlikely to see Brent Spiner portray Data ever again. Nevertheless, the character has a couple of different resurrection stories, one that bridges the alternate timeline established by the 2009 film Star Trek (which film, I might add, made me love Captain Kirk again), using the Star Trek Online RPG (and tie-in novel) and the Countdown comics to bring the character back, looking essentially like the Data we know and love.

With this, part one of David Mack’s new STTNG trilogy, the android is back in a different way, though both involve the copy of the Data-matrix that was uploaded into B-4 in that last NextGen movie. While this novel explains how that happens – and why – a healthy chunk of it is really the story of Data’s “father,” Noonien Soong, told in first person, and spanning the time from before the android’s creation, to what happened after Soong’s supposed death in the episode “Brothers.”

In truth, I had to force myself to read those chunks, not because Mack is a bad writer (he’s actually pretty amazing) but because I’m just not all that interested in Soong. As well, I gathered fairly early on that these books were an indirect sequel to Jeffrey Lang’s offering from 2002, Immortal Coil, which, some of you may remember, didn’t impress me much. (I actually stopped reading this book to re-read that book, and found that I liked it a little more upon a third reading.)

Still, the Soong story informs the rest of the novel, and sets up a lot of information that the reader needs to have.

And ultimately, it paid off. I mean, yes, I would rather have had more time with Picard, et al, but Mack’s writing is so good that he made characters I’d never really cared much about sing on the page, while managing to stay essentially true to both TNG and TOS canon, and Mack’s version of Data (yes, this is a spoiler, of sorts, but did anyone look at the cover art and NOT expect him to be somehow resurrected?) feels credible. I would buy his dialogue coming from Brent Spiner’s lips.

Bottom line: If you haven’t read Jeffrey Lang’s Immortal Coil, do so before this, and now that the two remaining parts of the trilogy are also available, buy all three and read them in order, back-to-back-to-back. You’ll be glad you did.

Goes well with: Iced tea. And trail mix. Lots of trail mix. The kind with m&ms in it.

Review: Things to Come, by Walter Koenig

Things to Come
by Walter Koenig

Product Description (from
The brand new graphic novel from one of the stars from the original Star Trek, Walter Koenig. Two species, one trying to cheat death, the other to become its master and, in between, a little child shall bleed them.

My Thoughts:
At least four times in the last twelve months I’ve said things like, “I’m so over post-apocalyptic stories,” but what I really meant was, “Oh, God, please no more zombie stories.” Fortunately, Walter Koenig’s Things to Come isn’t a zombie story, it’s a *vampire* story, which means I don’t have to retract anything I’ve said.

Late to the party (because I’m a casual fan, not a die-hard one), I only heard about this graphic novel about a week ago. I ordered it last Wednesday, it arrived on Friday, and I’d finished reading it before dinner time. On Saturday, as cold rain fell from the Texas skies, I re-read it, because I wanted to really understand it (I’m very verbal, so graphic novels take me longer to process).

On the surface, it’s a fairly standard post-apocalyptic survival tale, except with vampires instead of zombies. But that’s just the surface. Looking deeper, it addresses the horrible things we real-world, current-era humans are doing to our planet, and extrapolates possible (if exaggerated) repercussions.

As well, it looks at the classic battles of fear vs. courage, prejudice vs. tolerance, and even sustainability vs. conspicuous consumerism.

What I liked about it was that despite its dark tone, it had hopeful elements.

(I neglected to comment on Juan Baez’s art, but the drawings are compelling and serve the text perfectly. I’m looking forward to exploring more of his work.)

What I didn’t like? Four chapters (four individual books) bound into one volume was barely enough to whet my appetite.

As I tweeted to Mr. Koenig, “More, please?”

Goes well with: a shot of espresso and a dark chocolate & cherry brownie. Because a story this dark REQUIRES chocolate.

Review: Dark Side of the Moon by Ahmad Taylor

Dark Side of the Moon
Ahmad Taylor

Product Description (from
Are You Afraid of the Dark? Take the Suspense-filled, Action-packed journey to the Dark Side of the Moon. When former government agent Derrick Thomas awakens to find his family missing and in harm’s way, he must do battle against a clandestine organization intent on keeping him from discovering the truth about a global cover-up and the whereabouts of his family. Government agent Derrick Thomas awakes from a disturbing dream to find a message from his father asking for help. As he sets out to lend his assistance he quickly discovers that not only can he not find his father, but that a clandestine government agency is out to derail his search before it can begin. After the murders of two of his father’s colleagues and the further disappearances of his mother and sister, Derrick is thrust into a fight for his own life and a struggle to uncover details of a secret government experiment which his family may be part of. Will he be able to save them and uncover the truth before he becomes the next victim of an organization bent on keeping him silent?

My Thoughts:
When Ahmad Taylor contacted me about his book, I was immediately interested. After all, I love science fiction, and I’m a space junkie. In fact, just before reading it, I’d finished yet another re-watch of the HBO series From the Earth to the Moon.

Dark Side of the Moon is everything it’s title implies. Good science fiction mixed with gripping suspense and really believable action sequences. I loved the futuristic touches that showed us how much this was not present day – specifying glucose, for example, instead of merely candy.

If some of the dialogue had unusual phrasing (it didn’t quite flow the way normal speech should in a few passages), it didn’t adversely affect the story at all, and I loved the characters, especially protagonist Derrick.

Taylor is a talented storyteller, and the world he created for Dark Side of the Moon felt plausible and even highly possible.

If you like science fiction, you simply MUST read this book.

Goes well with Junior Mints and Popcorn.