Book Review: The Elizabeth Smart case. Payment for patience.

Rating: 5 stars

I became interested in this author after seeing her speak about eyewitness memory on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I found the book, read it and then noticed a composite drawing in the Elizabeth Smart case that seemed to bear no likeness to the man arrested for the kidnapping. Finally, I decided to write my review for the famous essay writing service and publish here.

Jeanne Boylan’s name was periodically associated with the case and I felt let down that she’d so badly erred in doing the less than stellar drawing. (Though now we know that the man was caught because the Smart family realized his religious name, announced it to the public and then were given real photos by the man’s own family that were aired on TV which then resulted in his subsequent identification and quick arrest.)

Now, in more recent news reports, I found out that Jeanne Boylan actually interviewed the younger sister of Elizabeth about her memory of the abduction night and that the poor suspect drawing the media was showing was not from her interviews, but was from a local portrait person and was not taken from the little sister’s sighting the night of the abduction but rather was taken from the family who knew the man and had spent many hours with him. Now I understood why the discrepancy.

I felt relief. I momentarily thought Jeanne Boylan had lost her skills. Now I understand the difference between her interview and the drawing that is now linked to the case but does not look like the kidnapper.

I look forward to the sequel of ‘Portraits of Guilt‘ and to reading more about what happens to eyewitnesses memories when the sightings are endured during moments of fright and fear and how that forces their vision very deep into the recesses of their mind as it did for Elizabeth’s little sister.

Praise the Lord that with help and encouragement, Elizabeth’s little sister finally remembered the religious name with the help of the loving Smart family, the apparently astute police and Jeanne Boylan who all had fiercely guarded the young child’s evolving memory while it was gradually surfacing so that the kidnapper was finally caught. Good things come to those who wait!

The Faerie Ring by Kiki Hamilton

Publisher: Tor Teen

Release date: September 27, 2011

Pages: 352

Summary: Tiki lives on the street, picking pockets daily to try and stay alive. When she accidentally steals an important ring from the Queen of England, she finds herself in the middle of a centuries-old conflict involving faeries—mythical creatures who are as beautiful as they are deadly.

My thoughts: The Faerie Ring reads very much like a fairy tale itself. Kiki Hamilton, as a professional essay writer, easily sweeps the reader away into the slums of London circa 1871, a vivid setting that manages to seem slightly romantic once we’re introduced to the street children. From there, Hamilton steers her story straight into non-stop adventure. It’s nearly impossible to put The Faerie Ring down; the world is so richly built that upon reading, you feel as if you’re actually a part of it. Because Hamilton’s version of the late 1800’s is so fascinating (and exciting), it’s difficult to stop thinking about it for hours after you’ve stopped reading.

Tiki is an incredibly solid heroine; there isn’t one part of her to dislike. She’s lost everything, but she still makes it her mission to take care of a group of street children (all of which are adorable and fun, by the way). Tiki’s generosity makes her admirable, but her fierce determination and loyalty make her lovable. Plus, Tiki’s thief mentality makes her incredibly amusing—she gets herself into trouble quite easily, but the ways she gets herself out are quite clever.

The Faerie Ring features Tiki as its central protagonist, but there are actually two other main characters, both of which are just as strong as Tiki. The first is Leopold, who serves to provide another perspective on the central conflict in the story, and the second is Rieker, a mysterious figure who completely turns the bad-boy stereotype on its head. Both of these men are fabulous characters, but Rieker especially stands out for his complexity and humorous attitude.

With its lush writing, highly detailed setting and instantly lovable characters, The Faerie Ring will enchant everyone who reads it. The story has such an adventurous quality to it that you’ll be sucked in immediately, and the suspense of not knowing what happens next will keep you hooked. Kiki Hamilton’s fabulous debut is perfect for fans of historical fantasy. Highly recommended it to you!

4.5/5 stars

The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

I just finished reading The Name of the Wind for the second time. It’s that good. As the cover proudly proclaims, it won a Quill award, whatever that is. This is one of those books that has gotten positive reviews damn near everywhere but it’s worth talking about one more time out of sheer admiration. It’s simply one of the best fantasy books I have ever read.

If I were doing a writer review, Rothfuss would fall amongst the greats and not just in the fantasy genre. The reviews you read on this particular masterpiece naturally compare him to Tolkien. His writing style glows with metaphor, natural dialog and that rare gift of environmental awareness that has the ability to put you in the scene with the hero Kvothe. I think he comes close to Hemingway and Vonnegut in these critical elements of writing.

What I love about the book is that it carries you along with the main character throughout the entire tale. It does not split into multiple parts every three chapters funneling you down an off ramp to a new group of characters right when the story was getting good. Kvothe is interesting enough to have a Dos Equis commercial made about him. He doesn’t need a supporting cast to draw attention away from him.

The other strength of the book is how quickly it establishes the villain of the tale. The Chandrian is the mystical evil baseline that drives Kvothe to become the most interesting man in the world. In true master style, Rothfuss only feeds you tidbits about who and what the Chandrian might be. Every new tidbit leaves you longing for more. Kvothe makes his share of enemies along the way but none hold the captivity of the immortal or supernatural that the Chandrian does.

He also does a great job of keeping the number of characters in the book manageable. This is not always the case in fantasy – Tolkien being the worst of the lot.  There is something to be said about creating a deep and immersive world based on story and character development – there is something else to be said about turning it into Mr. Miller’s History Lecture. Rothfuss keeps the small roles small and to the point. They accomplish what they are meant to without any obligation to somehow include the personal history of everyone the hero meets. Tolkien was a genius but you get the sense that he was a bit of a blowhard. Rothfuss happily shrugs off this part of Tolkien’s legacy.

He also treats magic, or sympathy, like science. I couldn’t help but lap this up. He has a way of bringing this into the story that allows you to peer behind the scenes in a logical fashion that makes the reader believe that if you were a character in the story, you might have a shot at being a sympathy master yourself. It’s magic for the layman but not insulting in anyway. It’s like reading about physics as described by Hawkins. He doesn’t assume that you can solve the Schrodinger equation yourself, but he has the passion to describe why solving such a thing can be so damn cool.

I can’t wait for the next installment.

“The Big Trip Up Yonder” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr

“The Big Trip Up Yonder,” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is a short stories originally published in 1959 by Galaxy Science Fiction. Though I read it in The Fourth Science Fiction Megapack.

It takes place in the year 2185, where a substance known as Anti-Gerasone has effectively stopped everyone from aging. The characters are made up of the members of the Ford family, headed by their patriarch Gramps. And though all of them are over the age of seventy-five, they all appear to be around the age of thirty.

The exception to the above statement is Gramps, who was seventy when the medication was first distributed. Though he’s well over a hundred by the start of the story, having not aged another day since starting the drug.

The world of the story is one without privacy, where the family all sits around watching a giant TV. The story revolves around the characters and their desire to be named the beneficiary of Gramps will, a power the old man wields frequently and dramatically. Gramps however has something else up his sleeve, and so begins the humorous destruction and odd end for the Ford family.

There’s a line in Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You, that kept popping into my head. In a scene Alan Alda’s character, who is a liberal, is arguing at dinner with his conservative son. He cries out at last, “Somebody get me my will and an eraser!”  Which is one of my favorite all time Allen lines, and is pretty much the crux the story at hand.

That also pushed the author’s cameo in Rodney Dangerfield’s film Back to School in my head. If you haven’t seen it, Dangerfield hires Vonnegut to write a paper for a class he’s taking. The subject, Vonnegut himself. However when he shows up after the paper he wrote gets an F, Dangerfield yells at him, “Screw you Vonnegut,” and slams the door in his face.

“The Big Trip Up Yonder, ” speaks to the direction Vonnegut saw the world heading. His vision of the future when he wrote it in 1959? Giant televisions, no privacy, wealth only available through inheritance and a youth/media obsessed culture. Not far off good sir.

He also notes that an event in the story is watched by 500 million people on the Eastern Seaboard. For comparison, there are only 313 million people living in the entire United States today. But he wasn’t predicting 2013, he was predicting 2185. According to the UN’s massively wordy, H.G. Wells citing report, the population in 2300 could be as low as 2.3 billion, or as high as 36.4 billion. It was published in 2004, and suggests a middle ground with leveling off that would keep the population at around 9 billion.

So who knows? Maybe Vonnegut will be right about the population too. We’ll find out in 180 years.

The Age of Zeus – James Lovegrove

Lovegrove’s Age of Zeus is an interesting blend between science fiction and fantasy but I would still place it firmly within the science fiction genre. With the adolescent Riordan Olympus taking center stage on both the best seller lists and the silver screen, it’s nice to see a mature rendering of these ancient legends. This is my first attempt at a Lovegrove work and I was pleasantly surprised at how he turns a phrase.

The central concept is that the Gods of Olympus are back. It is unclear at first whether or not they have always been here and in hiding or if their arrival is a recent thing. As expected, the gods wreak havoc on the international governments until all that remain are those willing to submit to them. The Tony Blair’s of the world justify this by pointing out that global war has vanished along with the majority of crime and most of the world’s suffering. And all it cost was subjugation of the human race to these in-the-flesh gods.

I especially loved this point at a time when freedom often takes a back seat to national security, at least in the U S of A. It’s amazing how many people I speak to that are willing to sacrifice the simple freedoms bestowed on us by the constitution and the bill of rights for the potential of being a little more safe. The most common argument I run across is one of profiling. It scares me how many people are willing to flout the fourth amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizures for the chance to profile and molest those with a Middle Eastern tilt. Those that are willing to give up these freedoms seem not to realize that they are bringing us closer to the close minded cultures that have propagated this fear in the first place. Sad.

Our groups of protagonists are those that refuse to labor under the yoke of repression regardless of how benevolent that yoke may feel. They are brought together by a wealthy tech tycoon that plans on bringing down the Parthenon. And he’s got the tools to do it. Lovegrove goes a little Heinlein with his TITAN suits but this is a forgivable facsimile as he appears to do so with a spirit of respectful admiration in his emulation. The suits give the team of Titans the ability to go toe to toe with the rogue deities. Except for the main triumvirate of Titans, the rest are cardboard cutouts. They need to be there to fill out the mythical role call but you have a hard time relating to the entire group because of how many there are. The only unforgivable aspect of this large number of good guys is that you typically feel nothing at all when one of them dies – half the time I had to go back in the book trying to uncover who the Titan was.

Once our Titans get outfitted in their god kicking gear the story takes on a video game feel. They start with the lesser monsters in their efforts to beta test their technology. Each of these battles has a mini boss feel laced with some teenage venge-angst as select TITANS get to retaliate against the monsters that had done them harm in their past lives. This progresses to sub bosses as the TITANS advance to the demigod stage. This staged progression does not detract from the story however, it instead makes the reader feel as if they are right there accomplishing something along with our heroes. The only downside is it is very formulaic.

The formula is deftly broken before the end. The ending holds some clever twists and a not so clever explanation for the existence of the gods themselves. While the ending was somewhat disappointing you definitely feel like you got your money’s worth. Not one of the science fiction classics but still a good read.

Dark Haven – Gail Z. Martin

Somehow I keep tricking myself into reading the next book in the Chronicles of the Necromancer. I either forget how bad the previous one is or hold out hope that something interesting will happen in the next installment. Maybe it’s the name: Chronicles of the Necromancer sounds pretty badass, especially when you find out the necromancer is the good guy. I won’t make that mistake again.

The series started out innocently enough. The second son of a monarch is forced to watch the murder of his parents and younger sister by his older brother in a fairly entertaining round of Regicidal Rampage. Tris then flees for his life as big brother uses his far superior resources to hunt him down and kill him. This is where the book begins to sour. The chase seems to take forever. Tris begins to understand his powers as a necromancer but it takes too long and the journey is just not very interesting. When they come back in and take down the usurper, you’re so happy that the book is almost over that you don’t notice how boring it all is. Overall I would give round one a four out of ten. Failing grade and nothing to write home about.

Normally I would not reveal plot lines in a review, but I just don’t care with these books. I can’t even remember most of the second book or why I decided to punish myself by continuing. I bought the third, the reason for this review, well after reading the first two. I had definitely forgotten the first couple when I made that choice. I almost put it down several times in the reading but muscled my way through for sheer kitsch value at the end. Unfortunately, it’s not purposefully bad. Otherwise it might have made a good campy extreme out of itself.

The biggest insult is how bad the writing is. I honestly wish I knew how some of these things get through a publisher. It’s not easy to get published yet crap like this is more prevalent than it has any right to be. The dialog is blander than Buzz the Bee on the back of a box of Honey Nut Cheerios. I’m afraid to say I don’t think Ms. Martin has ever heard the words metaphor or simile.

Unfortunately, I did buy the fourth one when I bought the third (I usually pick up series in twos), so I have to decide what to do with it. I’m thinking dog toy.

Mortal Coils – Eric Nyland

Nylund crested the New York Times bestseller list with a book set in the Halo world. I try to stay away from stories set in video game worlds. Smells too much like fan fiction to me. I can’t judge Nyland’s Halo adventure since I haven’t read it so I’ll hide my bias and stick to Mortal Coils.

Mortal Coils is one of a line of new fantasy books that I have read lately that is set in a fairly standard urban modern fantasy. Two twins, Fiona and Eliot, grow up under the tyranny of their grandmother and the awful cooking but slightly kinder gaze of their great grandmother. Grandma is a cruel taskmaster and their days are filled with classical learning and nonfiction. TV and socializing are completely out of the question. Their only form of enjoyment is a game in which the twins flex their encyclopedic knowledge by hurling insults at each other that derive from obscure texts or MENSA hand guides of pretension. Surprisingly, Nylund does this well. You can tell he’s aching to stretch his own intellect but he manages to do so without losing sight of the story or boring the reader to tears.

This dull existence carries right on up to their magical sixteenth birthdays at which point they discover they are actually the spawn of a goddess and Lucifer. This isn’t a spoiler as you can read this on the back of the book cover. This is where I let out a bit of a groan. Too formulaic. Everything is dull and painful in your existence then you turn a certain age and BOOM – ‘You’re a wizard Harry.’ Or ‘You’re father’s Poseidon.’  I feel sorry for the poor kid who finds out his father is Tiger Woods when he turns sixteen. We all know what his powers will be – dropping putts and sponsorships while showing off the huge head on his driver.

They do indeed have magical powers and from that point forward a lot of the book is spent on them discovering what they are. Eliot’s gift has to do with music while Fiona’s is a little more violent in nature. I found myself wishing the author spent a little more time developing the details of Eliot’s power as anything magically musical is pretty damn cool. Except the bard class in damn near any fantasy role playing game. The music dynamic just doesn’t translate from fiction to a quantifiable set of rules. Instead you get some weak ass stilted approximation that is just painful to be a part of. But I digress.

The twins are set three Herculean tasks that they must complete. These will test their mettle and more importantly their allegiance. Are they going to be good?  Are they going to be evil?  These questions don’t truly get answered and Nylund sets you up with a final teaser that will segue into the next book of the trilogy or series. It wasn’t one of the top fantasy books I have read but for the most part it worked. The formulaic nature felt a bit like I was watching television. I’m still undecided on whether I will pick up the next one.

King Raven Trilogy – Stephen Lawhead

I’ve always been a big fan of historical fiction and Lawhead is a master of the genre. He takes one of the most beloved legends of all time and immerses the reader into the grit and darkness of the time period. Lawhead’s Robin Hood is Welsh. The author seems to think this liberty with a murky past is tantamount to English sacrilege. Perhaps if I were an erstwhile resident of Nottingham this might chap my quiver but as a reader it took nothing from the story.

The trilogy starts with Hood. This is where we are introduced to our protagonist. Instead of King Richard or Prince John, our hero has to deal with the Norman king William the Red. Lawhead does a great job of capturing this time period wherein the English language gains its French flair. As one might expect, the Norman invasion changes the Welsh political dynamic and our Rhi Bran becomes a title-less, homeless miscreant courtesy of those damn Ffreinc. After a brief foray into the mystical, King Raven is born. Although Little John is with him in spirit and a decidedly Welsh name, there is nothing merry about King Raven’s men. They band together for one mission, to get their small principality back and under, if not Welsh ownership, at least Welsh command. The sleight of hand employed by King Raven is effective but not ground-breakingly clever. The story is engrossing and Lawhead doesn’t allow himself to fall too deeply into the historical minutiae that can burn it.

The trilogy continues with Scarlet. This story leaves our King Raven as a footnote to a new character, the charming, unlucky Will Scatlocke. This character is developed within the Norman penal system. He tells his story to a Ffreinc priest in the days before his own hanging. It’s hard not to fall in love with the rogue with a heart of gold. There’s a reason why Han Solo is still the best remembered Star Wars icon and all the blame (most of it but not all) doesn’t fall entirely on Mark Hammil. The underlying story of the trilogy does not progress much in this installation but it’s a welcome diversion to meet this character and others like Alan A’Dale. If you ever go back and read the old legends, they all seem to be short stories of their various misdeeds and Lawhead harnesses this diversionary tactic well. It is satisfying though when the two sets of characters join ranks at the end.

The final installation is Tuck. This is not an introduction to the Friar as a new character. He had been introduced, albeit somewhat briefly, in Hood. This novel is a continuation of the original story but with all of our characters working together. The story ends strong and you put the final book down with a good taste in your mouth. All in all, a fun read with a different take on a famous legend. They’re not the best fantasy novels I’ve ever read, but they’re worth the price of admission.

Compare this to Ridley Scott’s recent bungling of the tale. It’s amazing that the guy that did Alien, Legend, Blade Runner and Gladiator could make Robin Hood so painfully boring. Spend a little time on character development for Christ’s sake! I understand that you don’t have to be Errol Flynn merry to do Robin Hood but he could have taken a page out of Lawhead’s book, any page, and at least make the story interesting. Instead, you get a mish mash of wonderful actors reading a script that felt like it was written by the guy who does coupons for Safeway. It’s sad that the cinema success bar is set by the Bruckenheimmer era of explosions and battle scenes with zero story, but it’s just plain depressing when someone like Scott slides under that bar. I’d love to go to one of these summer blockbusters when I actually care about what happens to the main characters and not just wish that they would all die in a horrible explosion at the end of the first thirty minutes so I can leave the theater without pissing off my wife.