I read a lot.  Really a lot.  So I come across all kinds of suggestions, lists of ‘must read’ books,  promotions, hard sells by authors, and of course, the never-to-be-popular 100 books you must read before you die.

Let me say up front that I think most of the 100 books you must read before you die really belong on a “100 Books to Get Around to Reading If You’re Stuck in a Post Apocalyptic  Snowstorm and Have No Internet to Download More Books and Already Got Suckered Into Downloading These”  list.

Did you know that just about every book on just about anybody’s Books You Must Read list has Cliffnotes, or Sparknotes or Jablonsky Foglepuss’ Guide To on the internet?  Not to mention Wikipedia, the Mother of All Spoilers book plot description machine.  So you will be delighted to know you do not have to actually read those 100 Books You Must Read.  You just grab the one-paragraph plot description,  maybe a critique or two, and Bob’s Your Uncle.  Or as we say here in Sunny Mexico, Roberto es tu tio.  You be rollin’.  Those less clever than you be hatin’.

So now that we have set aside the arduous task of actually having to read difficult books, we can talk about the 7 plots I no longer wish to appear in front of my eyeballs.

  1. Zombies.  People, people, people.  I am SO over zombies.   Zombies are so 5 minutes ago.  So let’s lurch on to the next on my Yawn List.
  2. Aliens from outer space bent on:   destroying the planet,  OR  enslaving humans for their own devious end.  I think by now even the dimmest of us bulbs knows that there ain’t nobody out there.  There’s just us, a lot of space debris, and Fermi and his annoying paradox.  If you MUST have aliens, how about depicting them as having some kind of intentions that don’t look so scarily like humanity at its religious worst?
  3. Thrillers involving conspiracies, the government and a secret cartel.  Let’s face it; what would some guy sitting in his nice middle class home in his nice middle class office with the door locked to keep the kids from pestering him to come play frisbee know about government coverups, grand conspiracies for world domination, and heavy weapons handling?   Gimme a break.
  4. Any book whose plot revolves around only ONE guy or gal or teen, or whatthefrig being able to save the world.  We can’t even get a decent committee together to save the world.   Not likely some single soul is going to do it.  See snarky comments in #3.  Dragging right along to:
  5. Any mystery where the protagonist (the investigating cop, the investigating P.I., the nice lady protagonist) suddenly and without much cause of any kind, becomes the number one suspect in the murder and must spend the rest of the book trying to clear their name.
  6. Serial killers.  If you don’t read much news, but read a lot of crime fiction, you would get the idea that the country is riddled, bursting at the seams, with serial killers .  We all know this isn’t true.  Can’t mystery and crime writers come up with some different, if not new, trope?   How about the one where the pissed off wife cuts off her husband’s wackadoodle.   That’s not particularly overdone, would you say?
  7. Post Apocalyptic anything.  What’s with this ongoing obsession with scenarios where everyone but a few are (a) dead;  or  (b) running from the vicious hoards/gangs/militia who want to kill them for no reason; or (c) finding a few kindred souls and go scrounging for food?   My PollyAnna mind cannot understand why such dark plotlines appeal to anyone after maybe the first three or four post apocalyptic books.  I mean, once you get it that there is no electric, no water, no continuing food source and that we are all going to die of despair, what else is there to say?
  8. Bonus Item:  Vampires.   I wasn’t going to include Vampires because they are still pretty popular.  But I have read what I consider to be the two definitive vampire novels, and anything else after that is just crunch crunch crunch.

And just because you have been so patient and tolerant, I will give you Four Plots of Literary Fiction I Can Do Without.

  1. Coming of Age stories.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Everybody has to grow up sometime.  Some of us just take longer than others.
  2. Existential angst.   I got enough angst to fill a cargo container.  Don’t need to read about somebody else’s whiney problems.  Get a grip.  Grow up.
  3. Fictionalized memoirs.   Yeah, like anybody really cares about some non-celebrity’s life except their mother and any siblings who are afraid of what beans may be spilled and what skeletons fall out of the hall closet.
  4. Any book touted as “lyrical” or “heart stopping” or “relentless” or “profound” because they usually are none of those things.

Now don’t you all go filling the comments section chastising me for not wanting to read another zombie book or plow through yet one more coming of age book because YOU like them.  Good for you.  That’s why the Alien Overlords invented chocolate, vanilla and pistachio.

Now get off the computer and go read something.

THE SUBTLE KNIFE by Philip Pullman

the-subtle-knife-philip-pullman1This is the second volume in the His Dark Materials  YA trilogy.  I discuss the first volume, The Golden Compass, here.

In this book, we start off in modern day London in our own world.  We are introduced to a new main character, teenager Will Parry, who we find stashing his emotionally disturbed mother with a friend to keep her hidden from some mysterious men who want something from her, and frighten her.  His explorer father disappeared years ago in the far north on an expedition, never to be heard from again.

Will discovers some papers his mother has hidden, and wakes in the middle of the night to find those men searching his house.  He pushes past one of them who trips over the family cat and tumbles down the stairs, which fall kills him.   Will races out into the night,  ends up at a park to see a cat step delicately through a …. well, hole….. in the air …… and disappear.  He goes over to that space, investigates, and finds that he, too, can step through this hole in the air into another world.

In this other world, he comes upon a city, totally deserted.  As he wanders around he comes upon some children, but no adults.  There, he also meets our young heroine from the first book, Lyra and her daemon.  At first, she is frightened of him because he has no daemon, but then sees that his daemon is inside him, and then Will comes to understand that in his world, people have lost touch with their daemons, experiencing them only as occasional voices in their heads or as ‘hunches’.

Lyra wants to go through the ‘window’ into Will’s world to search for her father, Lord Asriel who is said to be gathering forces for an attack on heaven.  When through into Will’s world, they split up, Lyra meets up with the evil Lord Boreal from the first book, this time in his manifestation as a wealthy consultant to politicians.  He steals her truthtelling device,  at which point the attempt of Will and Lyra ensues to retrieve it.

They get it, go back to the other world to learn that it is filled with ……

[Oh, this story is so complex, do I really want to go through this whole plot thing with you? ]

OK, just a little more.   The other world is filled with Spectres, figures that the children cannot see but that suck the life out of adults, leaving them still alive but no longer moving.   There on a hill is a tower, and inside is a crazy guy with a knife.  It is a very special knife and I am not telling you any more about it.

While in Will’s world, Lyra meets a physicist, and we learn they are studying dark matter, which seems to be the same as dust, elemental particles and the Spectres.  Quantum physics lite for the younger set and those of us who are a little fuzzy about it all.

I found this volume a little heavier going in the last third because it seemed to drift away from the world of YA into a deeper philosophical level more geared to adults, that of  Lord Asriel’s desire to mount a war on heaven because all became corrupt and evil in the world, and he wanted the world  to start over, with a new Eve.  There was more blood of a personal nature, more battles, more loss, more complexity.

We meet some angels, and a German scientist turned Shaman, and you really need to keep your wits about you to keep it all straight in your head as you compulsively turn pages late into the night to finish the book.


Now on to the third and final volume, The Amber Spyglass.



floating-staircase-ronald-malfi-paperback-cover-artRonald Malfi is primarily a horror  and thriller writer, but this little gem is something of a ghost story.  I love ghost stories, especially if they are not malevolent ghosts bent on destruction.   And this ghost is a little boy.

It is a story of loss and coming to terms, of the loyalty of family and the bonds that loyalty can take.

It has been said that nature does not know extinction.  In effect, it knows only change; nothing ever truly disappears, for there is always something — some particle, some formidable semblance — left behind.

It is the first-person story of a successful horror writer, who has spent all of his adult years trying to come to terms with the drowning death of his ten-year-old brother when he himself was thirteen and they were both where they should not have been.

He and his wife are living in London in a tiny, cramped apartment when his older brother in a small town outside of Baltimore advises him of a house for sale near him at a spectacularly great price.  Travis and his wife seize the opportunity and buy it sight unseen.

It is on a large lake, in the middle of which is an old wooden structure that looks like a staircase, but is actually the remnant of a double dock which was destroyed a number of years ago in a storm.

After experiencing some odd noises, and strange shadows, the couple finds out that two years ago, a young boy drowned in the lake, but his body was never found.  The family was very strange, kept to themselves, and the boy was said to be developmentally slow.

Our protagonist writer is convinced that the boy was murdered, especially after finding a hidden room in the basement that was set up like a boy’s bedroom, and he sets off to try to uncover the circumstances surrounding the death.

It is a mystery, yes, and a personal story that kind of tugs at you, with an ending that probably more astute readers than I could have foretold, but which caught me unawares.






THE GOLDEN COMPASS by Philip Pullman


The universe is full of intentions, you know.  Everything    happens for a purpose.

This is the first book in the highly acclaimed fantasy series His Dark Materials.  It is a YA fantasy tale which won the 1995 Carnegie Medal of the Library Association of Great Britain.

Yeah, I know.  I don’t usually read fantasy, nor YA, but I didn’t realize it was either of those; I thought it was sci fi.   But what a fantastic book.  (And I am halfway through the second book in the series, The Subtle Knife as we speak.)

The overview is:  the first volume is set in an alternate universe quite similar to our own, the second is set primarily in current times in our own world, and the third moves among them.

It has a broad cast of characters, some evil, some crazy, some just plain strange and odd. There are the river dwelling gyptians, witches, a balloon-flying aeronaut, and armor-clad polar bears. It is a complex tale, heroic in scope, and although ostensibly a YA novel, perhaps better appreciated by adults.

It stars young Lyra Belacqua, an orphan growing up in an Oxford that is a rather steampunk world, in which science, theology, and magic are closely interwoven.  She is the darling of the Scholars there in her college, and her best friend is a kitchen boy, Roger.  Together they are ragamuffin street urchins scrambling about the rooftops of Oxford, and the streets below.

In this odd world, every human has a daemon, an animal creature which is the embodiment of a person’s soul, which can change shapes at will until the child reaches adulthood, at which time their daemon chooses a final manifestation for the remainder of their human’s life. The daemon can not stray very far from their human or else both feel terrible pain.

She and of course her daemon Pantalaimon, overhear a discussion about a mysterious substance called Dust, and which we might think of an an elemental particle.  This ensnares them into a dangerous situation where a beautiful woman has something to do with mysteriously disappearing children, and when Roger disappears, Lyra is determined to find him.  Before she goes off with the mysterious beautiful woman, the college Master gives her a strange device, which looks like a compass, but which is a Truthteller,  an aletheiometer.

I have found this to be such a compelling story, one which you want never to end.  It is what fantasy is meant to be, an elaborate story, almost an allegory, in which strange devices, armored polar bears and witches seem actually real, and if not, making you wish they were.

The title of the series, His Dark Materials, is from a poem by Milton:

Into this wild Abyss,
The womb of Nature, and perhaps her grave,
Of neither Sea, nor Shore, nor Air, nor Fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless the Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds—
Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage;





PortraitA wow of a book!  Really, just superb.  Something of a mystery, something of a thriller lite, something of a love story without all the gooey smoochie stuff, a little bit of blood, a LOT of action, and an ending that we can smell  coming but love anyway.

The young, 2-month pregnant wife of a very wealthy man mysteriously disappears 7 years ago.  Not a trace is found, ever, even of her car.  The police investigation turns up nothing, the man spends a fortune on private investigators looking for her, to no avail, and finally, the nice lady detective assigned to the case is ordered to give it up when it becomes apparent that there is absolutely nothing to go on.

Then one day, on a flight back to Texas from New York, the maybe-widower, Philip Lewellan, sees a brochure for a small art gallery (or was it a museum — dunno, I forget) in the hands of his young seatmate, and asks to look it at.  It displays a photo of a portrait of a woman who is a dead ringer for his disappeared wife, and a child who would be just about the right age of his own.   OMG!!!!!  His wife is still alive, and strangely enough, being painted by some artist?  Que extraño, no?  Hmmmmm.

He gets to the Texas airport, turns right around and flies back to NYC to go to that institution to view the portrait for himself.  Dang!  It IS her, complete with a set of jewelry he gave to her right before she disappeared.

He immediately contacts the nice lady detective from the case in Texas, and begs her to reopen the case, or at least, help him investigate this, because now he has proof the wife is still alive and he has a daughter!

The nice lady detective, who could never get this case out of her mind, agrees, and now the game is on, with twists, turns, and lots of deviousness, all fun for us readers.

Beautifully written, cleverly plotted, nicely paced.  What can I say?  I loved it.

EXCEPT:   I hate the cover.  It is an extraordinarily ugly cover, cheesy, no class, just awful.  This is a classy book and deserves a much classier cover to indicate the professionalism inside.    One of these days I will post my thoughts on Covers, You CAN Tell a Book By.   A cover is our first signal as to the genre, style and character of the book.  This one does not do it justice, not by a long shot.

Great book.  Go read it, I assure you, it will truly tickle your toenails.

DEADLY PUZZLES – by Terry Odell

DeadlyPuzzles_Cover_FB-200x300A truly delightful police procedural,  with trope within a trope.  How cool is that!  What the heck are you talking about, I hear you saying.  OK, we have the stranded travelers at an inn in a raging snowstorm trope within the basic police procedural trope.  What a clever book!

Our protagonist, Chief of Police of Mapleton, not too far from Denver,  has eye problems.  His doc recommends a break from the stress of Police Chiefing, so our boy heads out to a B & B which is way the frig out in rural nowheresville Tranquility Valley.  Seems like a fine idea, but the main squeeze could not accompany him because of her own business activities.  Oh, well.  Good time to relax.  Except for that snowstorm.   And the guy who comes pounding on the door in the middle of it, frantic because his car hit an Elk, was stuck, and his wife was in the car.  He walked about an hour or so to reach some civilization, ie the B&B, to get help.

Our hero takes the mysterious visitor back out to where the car was,  emphasis on the WAS, only to find that it had slid, been pushed, who knows what, down the steep embankment.  After scrambling down to rescue the little wifey, to their dismay they find the vehicle empty.  M.P.T.   Nobody in it.  What happened to the wife?  No purse, no luggage.  Holy Yeti, Batman.

They go back to the B&B to call the state police, and while waiting for help, there came upon the door  another knock from yet another mysterious stranger.  Shades of “It was a dark and stormy night.”   Whooeeee.

Meanwhile ….. (you didn’t think that was ALL, did you?) ……  the state trooper talking to our incognito police chief tells him that in the other direction on that same road was a major tie up because somebody shot out a tire of a traveling pickup truck, then just for good measure, shot the driver in the head.  Okaaaay.  This vacation is starting to look less like a vacation and more like the daily grind.

The book has some mighty fine characters, including an odd woman blogger,  (HEY!  Stop looking at me.), an obsessive outdoorsman,  a really cool second to our Police Chief in Ed Solomon, and the sweet patooty of Chief  Hepler.  She has a restaurant and a catering business and they are not far enough along in their relationship to live in sin yet, so they each have their own place.

Cool convoluted interweaving of the people involved in all this, and the ending, while not jaw dropping, was nicely satisfactory.

It was a police procedural mystery the way they are SUPPOSED to be.  We die hard mystery fans don’t like our mysteries getting too far off track.  There is a convention to these things, a certain pattern that comforts us.  Don’t mess with that.   We can get nasty.



SHAMAN by V. R. McCoy

ShamanOk, this was a strange/interesting/unusual book

The basic storyline is that our protagonist is part Cherokee, and has some abilities to get into other people’s heads in his dreams.  He must previously create a connection by touching the person’s belongings and absorbing the atmosphere in which they lived.

He has put this ability to good use working as a kind of consultant with a special FBI team which goes after serial killers.  Kind of Criminal Minds with a paranormal twist.

The team is called out to New Mexico to investigate the disappearances of young women in the Albuquerque area.

The book becomes a description of the increasing Shamanic powers of our protagonist as he goes about trying to find the latest abductee.  I found the story marred by the necessity of the protagonist to pull another beautiful (they are always beautiful, there are no ugly women in law enforcement I have discovered) female fellow team member into his dream and have sex with her.  She, wonder of wonders, experiences the same dream, and in the morning, they acknowledge their attraction to each other.  Then in another episode, he pulls in yet a third attractive officer, this one from the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs), and they have a dreamscape threesome.   It would seem that  the way for us readers to understand his growing powers is by learning of the Power of the Dick.

Anyway,  his new squeeze from the BIA takes him to her home in Tennessee where he meets her grandfather, I think, maybe uncle, who is also a Shaman, and who gives our boy some advanced lessons in shamanstry, (I made that word up), and who now can see and feel his spirit animal, a Black Panther.  The smoochie has an Eagle for a spirit animal, so they are opposite but compatible.

They return to New Mexico, as the hunt for the killer  continues as all the law enforcement types, including the Reservation police, the city police and the FBI folks are frantic to find the killer, since he has now taken one of their own people.

So now we have this guy with increasing night vision,  and in a dreamscape with an elderly woman shaman, improbably learns to speak Aztec!  Why didn’t he learn to speak Navajo?  He could have really used that skill a little later on.

And you know what?  I was on board with all of this paranormal Shamanic hoohah, right up until the shape shifter.

Lost me at the shape shifter.  I can only suspend disbelief for just so long.  Then my Inner Crabby Skeptic bursts through screaming, “Get a freaking GRIP!  In spite of whatever woo woo stuff you might talk yourself into believing,  THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A REAL SHAPE SHIFTER!”

Ok, so other than the shape shifter, and the somewhat choppy and self-referencial first person writing style, it was a good mystery, and actually a lot of fun to read about the shaman stuff, PLUS it contained a lot of info on Native American customs and culture.

Some interesting info from the book:

The Chacoans are the original Ancient Pueblos (Anasazi).  They are the great architects and master designers.  They gave birth, and passed on wisdom and knowledge, to their pueblo descendants; the Aztecs, Acoma, Hopituh (Hopi), Jemez, Keres, Taos, Tewa, Tiwa and Zuni.  They were archaestronomers [sic]* who built ancient observatories like Fajada Butte and Hovenweep Castle near the Four Corners.

They were also believed to be the descendants of the Pleiadians (People of the stars, extraterrestrial being or Aliens.)  The Hopituh called them Chuhukon (Chacoan) which means Pleiadian – Those who cling together.

The Anasazi built elaborate roads and highways with astronomical symbols and solstice markings.  Some believed them to be landing strips for the Pleiadian relatives.  Others believe them to be roads leading back to ‘Shipapu’ – the dimensional doorway of their place of origin.

* Archaeoastronomy is the study of how people in the past “have understood the phenomena in the sky, how they used these phenomena and what role the sky played in their cultures.”

Isn’t it wonderful what you can learn just by reading fiction?   And would I read more by this author?  Sure.