Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife" by Mary Roach

Okay, I can say whether you are a skeptic or a or a "believer," the afterlife, or what happens after we die intrigues all. C'mon admit it you do find yourself curious. Well Mary Roach has written a book for you. For the skeptics, well Mary is one herself, as for the believers Mary Roach seeks out scientific proof of the soul, heaven and the great beyond.

This book "Spook..." is actually a sequel to Ms. Roach's book, "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers." In "Stiff..," Ms. Roach explored what happens to cadavers/bodies after death. So why not go and find out what happens to the soul?

This book tackles the many aspects of the soul. From reincarnation to near death experiences. Mary Roach approaches the subjects with a mix skepticism and open mindeness, but let me tell you she does so with such a great sense of humor that you actually don't realize you are reading scientific material. The book is anecdotal and mixed in with some of the scientific theories of quantum mechanics and the chemicals of the brain, it is a very fun read. Quantum Mechanics fun read??? Yes, and even more so when Ms. Roach shares the stories and interviews.

The author goes out and crosses the globe to find the subjects and professionals involved. From the poorest neighborhoods in India to taking a course on mediumship in England, Ms. Roach goes all out for this book. She also dedicates a lot of time on the swindlers of the Spiritualists movement which occured in the early part of the 20th century in the U.S. In this section she talks about how spiritualists claimed to talk to the dead and even produced "ectoplasm" from thin air. As the investigation continues it is found that the ectoplasm actually is a gauze like material that the female spiritualists would extract from...umm..er...ah ...their nether regions.

The book also covers such phenomenon as Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP), the weight of the soul (21 grams?), electromagnetically induced hallucinations, a legal case involving life after death, and more. In each of the sections she uncovers evidence that could go either way...but usually tended to lean more toward debunking (or maybe that's the skeptic in ME).

In the end when forced to say whether she believes in life after death, she says the believers are much more fun to visit a cemetery with than a scientific skeptic, so "What the hell, I believe."

This book is really fun and informative...but I like the fun part more. Really you'll find this book hard to put down.

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"Strangers in Death" by J.D. Robb

The latest book in Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb's "...in Death" series featuring the kick @$$ future NYPSD detective, Lt. Eve Dallas, is one more to add to your must read list. The whole "...in Death" series has a lot going for it, such as; Sci-fi (being set in the year 2060), detective/crime thrillers, and with the background of Nora Roberts a little romance. The best thing the series has is the characterization. Not only do you have the great character of Lt. Dallas but all the other characters in the books are well written and full of depth. You've got Dallas' extremely wealthy husband Roarke (he owns most of the planet and some off-planet interests thrown in), her partner Detective Peabody is fun as well as a great host of many others. Sure it helps to have 30 some books in a series to build depth to the characters, but each book is written independent of the series. You can jump around through the books in no particular order (like i've been doing) or you can read them in order...just set aside some time.

This book has a few differences in the other books in the series, which makes it seem this may be a turning point in the series. But at the same time, it seems business as usual. Normally each book can be read without reading the earlier books in the series, but this one, for the first time I know of, makes some references to previous happenings in earlier books. They do not stop the story by any means...in fact they intrigue and make the reader more apt to read the earlier books. Another difference is that Roarke the multi-billionaire is taking more of a part in the investigation process in this book as a civilian consultant. He has been used as a consultant before...but this time a lot more use of his resources is being made.

In "Strangers in Death" a prominent business man is murdered in his bed. His body, tied down with velvet rope and surrounded by sex-toys, is found by the "House Manager" (housekeeper). She immediately calls the police and then calls the man's wife who is vacationing in the Virgin Islands. It seems Thomas Avers was cheating on his wife and died during some kinky action. At least that's what the murderer wants you to think. To Lt. Eve Dallas, this doesn't hold water. Avers had a huge sports equipment franchise and ran several charities for children. When Dallas meets the wife, Ava Anders, her gut tells her the wife did it. But Ava was miles away when the murder happened and has a rock solid alibi.

Thanks to Eve's husband Roarke owning most of New York, doors are opened much easier for her and her investigation becomes easier, at least for the footwork part, most of the investigation is trying to hurdle the brick walls which make the investigation seem to end with no suspects.

At the same time some fellow detectives have a cold case that is bugging them and they hound Dallas to look into the case to see if they missed anything. She only sees that the dectives did their job and says, "Sometimes they just go cold."

But, (SPOILER ALERT!!!!) could these cases be tied together? Upon further investigation Roarke mentions an old Hitchcock film "Strangers on a Train" and now the investigation rolls on like a runaway train with only Lt. Eve Dallas ready on the brakes.

Great action, great mystery and as usual great characters.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Book Review: "Burn Factor" by Kyle Mills

After reading all the Kyle Mills books that revolve around the character of FBI agent, Mark Beamon (who by the way is a great "everyman" crime fighter, better even than Clancy's Jack Ryan) I've been reading his other books. They have proven to be some fun books, I'll have to admit this is only the second "non-Beamon" book. This book, "Burn Factor," however does cross into Beamon territory and even has a very brief appearance of Mark Beamon. This book is a little different from the Beamon books in that this starts out being a novel about a serial killer, but soon becomes a serial killer novel with a government cover-up in place.

Quinn Barry is an ambitious employee of the FBI. She works on databases and coding for the FBI's systems. She very much wants to be an agent and as soon as her superiors see fit to send her to training that's what she will be. But for right now she's working on some coding to help matchup new hardware with the FBI's CODUS database for DNA. Her new search engine seems to have a glitch. 5 extra results are found for unmatched DNA. These results were not in the original programming. She soon finds that embedded in the old coding someone hid some DNA markers that were to be ignored. Thinking this is just some test code that got stuck in the old system she sets out to prove her program is better.

Once she announces the DNA code error, she gets transferred to Quantico to reprogram some databases. But she doesn't give up. She requests the police reports from the 5 extra results, knowing they don't exist and that once and for all she can show how she saved the FBI time and money she can get that agent training. However, it seems the 5 cases are real and are very heinous crimes of what appears to be a serial killer. At this same time her CIA boyfriend is snooping through her stuff and all of a sudden acting nice to her.

The action builds and never stops once Quinn decides to investigate the murders herself and is lead to a physics genius Eric Twain. She soon discovers this is a cover-up by an unknown government entity and her life is in danger as she tracks down the killer and the cover-up.

This is a great book for an adrenaline junkie. The character of Quinn Barry never knows when to stop and takes the inevitable good guy/bad guy chase to all new highs.

The fun part of the book is when Quinn is trying to determine who she can tell to reveal the cover-up and the only name she can come up with is Mark Beamon, but as the name comes to her she once again must be on the run so we have to settle just for the mention of his name...at least (SPOILER ALERT!!!) until the end.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Book Review "The Door to December" by Dean Koontz

Every so often you have to go back and revisit an old Dean Koontz novel and get some good old fashioned chills. Even Dean himself has to do so. This book was originally released in 1985 under Dean's psuedonym Richard Paige but has been re-released under the proper artist's name, Dean Koontz.

This book is a classic Koontz novel. It features the hero with a soiled childhood, in this case Dan Haldane the police detective that takes on they mysterious case of Melanie Rafferty. Melanie is a 9 year old girl who was kidnapped by her father, Dylan, 6 years prior after Melanie's mother, Laura, filed for divorce. The story begins with Dylan's house the scene of a brutal crime in which he and several "occupants" have been found bludgeoned to death. Melanie is found wandering the streets of L.A. naked and in a catatonic state.

Lt. Dan Haldane calls Laura to the scene to try to put together what happened. Laura hasn't seen or heard from her husband and daughter for 6 years. What happened in that 6 years immediately sends a chill up the reader's spine. In this house which was the base of research for Dylan Rafferty, who was a psychologist performed a series of bizarre psychological experiments. To make matters worse it becomes clear that Dylan had been using his daughter as the main subject of his experiments, strapping her to a shock therapy chair and isolating her for hours in a sensory deprivation tank encouraging her to discover the full potential of her psyche.

As the police continue to investigate the murder other bodies start to appear. In each case the victim seems to have been killed in a very extreme way far beyond the abilities of any normal person. At first the victims don't seem to have anything in common but as the investigation continues they start to discover that all of the dead were somehow linked and this link is that something (not someone) is killing those involved in Melanie's experiments. The link also leads to find what was actually being studied and who was funding the experiments.

This is Dean Koontz's classic thrill package wrapped within the covers in this book. A little paranormal activity and great characters to follow to the ultimate battle of the psyche.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book Review: "Duma Key" by Stephen King

Well I finally read the latest from Stephen King, the master of horror. Actually I would say Mr. King is the Master at taking something pretty plain and making it downright horrifying. In "Duma Key" he goes even further and takes something extraordinary and makes it "hyper-extraordinary. But before I go further I will warn you, constant reader, that while this book has a lot going for it, it also seems to lack that big extra scary "umpf" that only King does so well. While there were no super scary moments the book is still a great, fun read. No, I take that back, what could be more scary than paintings coming to life and a spirit known as Perse drowning children and sending their ghosts back to make sure she lives forever. I think what it is, is that I have built up a Stephen King tolerance, and nothing scares me like Pennywise the Clown or Jack Torrance.

Okay let's talk about Duma Key. This latest novel starts with the life of Edgar Freemantle going through a major life changing event. Edgar is a 57 year old contractor that is involved in a terrible accident which involves a large crane smashing into his truck. Edgar loses his right arm and suffers severe head trauma. He spends some time in the hospital in a coma and when he wakes he finds it difficult to communicate and unable to control his temper. His psychologist suggests a little doll for him to focus his anger upon. Edgar's wife soon asks for a divorce after he tries to choke her (this is one of the many things Edgar doesn't remember doing). The psychologist then recommends a change of scenery and to take up a hobby. Edgar used to draw so he decides to take up painting, but before doing so he decides to move from Minnesota to one of the Keys in Florida, Duma Key.

On Duma Key, Edgar's paintings take on a supernatural feel and even the process becomes supernatural with the paranormal phantom limb from his missing arm. It is on Duma Key where Edgar meets Jerome Wireman, Wireman to his friends. Wireman is a former attorney who once tried to take his own life after losing his wife and daughter. Wireman is now a caretaker for Elizabeth Eastlake, an eccentric old woman who is a native of Duma Key, and possibly owns the whole Island. After Edgar's daughter comes down for a visit, Elizabeth warns him that Duma Key has never been a good place for daughters. And thus the story begins to unfold. Twin sisters drowning, a mysterious spectre that seems to come from the bottom of the ocean and the mysterious ship of the dead, "The Perse."

Now Edgar, his assistant Jack and Wireman must destroy Perse. To do so will not be an easy task. Perse works through Edgar's Paintings and he becomes an extremely popular artist and everyone wants his art. His art also is supernatural in that just by panting when the phantom limb is throbbing he can make what he paints become reality, like killing a man that rapes and kills a child by simply painting the man with no mouth or nose. Perse goes after Edgar's family and the war is on.

Earlier I said this book wasn't a huge scare factor for me, but then again I am proud to say I've read every book that has been published by Stephen King, and I have built a tolerance. But the saving grace for this book was the excellent characters that were written, especially Wireman. Wireman is full of great lines that could be great ways to lead the perfect life. Between the idioms of Wireman and the inner turmoil of Edgar Freemantle, this book is a fun read. All Stephen King fans should read this book, and non-King fans will enjoy the great dialogue between the characters and the great descriptions of the artwork by Edgar plus the extra chills thrown in to remind you, Stephen King wrote this.

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The official book trailer/promo:






Stephe King talks about the book and how it came about (thanks to Bookvideos.tv)


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Book Review: "Smoke Screen" by Kyle Mills

Okay so I've now read all of Kyle Mills' books that feature FBI agent Mark Beamon, now what? Well, I now am reading his other books and "Smoke Screen" is one of them. While this book is not the thriller that the others are, it does keep you on the edge of your seat and anxious to turn the page to find out more.

This book is actually quite fun and some nice humor thrown in to a "What-If" situation. The what-if is; What if the tobacco companies all shut down and stopped producing the deadly products? Kyle Mills ponders this question and in the middle of telling a fun and interesting story gives a little lesson in civics. You see the government is so dependent on monies from the tobacco industry that while saving lives a lot of other lives would be put in harm's way and, most important to the government, lots of money would not be arriving in the political coffers they've come to depend on. These monies come in the form of taxed product, bribes/donations from the tobacco industry and even the people working in the industry.

So what would happen? This book offers one possible outcome and does so in a well researched way that it makes you stop and think about this crop that pretty much was highly influential in the development of the United States of America as a country back in the break from England.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have finally found the weakness they’ve been searching for and filed a $200 billion lawsuit that the industry will be unable to appeal. America’s tobacco companies react by doing the unthinkable - they close their plants and recall their products from retailers’ shelves.

The book's hero, Trevor Barnett, is from a family who made the tobacco industry what it is. One of the most powerful industries and political decision makers. However Trevor is not a rich person. He lives off a trust that basically pays little until he's 60 then he gets a few million dollars to enjoy. But until then he must be in the constant employ of big tobacco. So he's got a mindless job in the company his family founded.

But now he's charged with the task of going on national television and making the announcement: Not another cigarette will be manufactured or sold until the industry is given ironclad protection from the courts. This all because he wanted to get fired. When asked to summarize the latest surgeon general's report for the CEO of the company, he simply writes "Tobacco still kills and we don't know what to do about it." This is the first time anyone has ever talked "straight" with the CEO, Paul Trainer. So through an inexplicable series of unwanted promotions, Trevor Barnett has become the lead spokesman for the tobacco industry just as it’s on the verge of extinction.

As the economy falters and chaos takes hold, Trevor becomes the target of enraged smokers, gun toting cigarette smugglers and a government that has been off from one of it’s largest sources of revenue. Soon it becomes clear that this has always been his function - to take the brunt of the backlash and shield the men in power from the maelstrom they’ve created.

While the author, Kyle Mills, is a great thriller writer, in this book he takes a different approach that makes this book fun. Lot's of humor, tongue in cheek pokes at pretty much everyone and to top it off it's told in first person with Trevor Barnett as the narrator.

This book is a fun read that may also jolt the brain into thinking about some interesting issues. Some great sarcasm here for folks that love it (like me).

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Book Review: "Rapture in Death" by J.D. Robb

One of the things I like about not reading the "...in Death" series, by J.D. Robb, in order in which they are written is that I get little surprises about the pasts of the extremely well written characters from this series. In this book which was actually book #3 in the 30+ books in the series. In this entry into the series we join Lt. Eve Dallas and her new husband just as their honeymoon ends.

Now one thing to point out is that these books are set in the late 2050s which brings in some cool sci-fi gadgets which make the storytelling much more fun and for me it helps offset the romance/love scenes which I find "icky." Yeah, I'm not a romantic fiction fan. This book had more than the usual amounts of romance and sex but they were key to the plot...so, I let them slide.

Just before Eve and Roarke are finished with their honeymoon on an orbiting resort satellite, a death occurs. And sure enough, Lt.Dallas is a cop first and foremost and is immediately called to go to the scene. However it's not a homicide which is Eve's forte, this one is a suicide. But the suicide is that of a young computer whiz that was very happy in life and had no reason to "self-terminate." After all he was helping design the holo-suites on Roarke's resort. Did I mention that Roarke owns nearly everything on Earth and almost everything in the solar system? Yeah, he's rich. One other thing about the self-termination is that he has a huge unnatural smile on his face. This doesn't sit well with Dallas but she turns it over as a self-termination to the local authorities since orbiting satellites are out of her jurisdiction as a homicide detective from New York.

Arriving back on planet Dallas has her normal duties to solve cases and appear in court to make sure those cases are seen to their finish. One attorney that tries to break Dallas on the stand, is found the next morning as a result of self-termination. Dallas again thinks that this person was one of the least likely to self-terminate.

When the publisher of a big tabloid jumps to her death while Dallas is trying to talk her down, Lt. Dallas starts putting all these cases together and realizes some other force is at work and tying in these cases. What did they all have in common? Okay a bit of a spoiler here...they all relaxed with a new Virtual Reality system created by Roarke Enterprises.

This is also the book in which Dallas' friend, the rockstar, Mavis, gets her start. However the producer may have alternative motives. He may be the best producer/artist in the music world of 2058 but he experiments on Roarke and Dallas by sampling their brainwaves and becoming able to nearly make them puppets. This is where the strong amount of sex comes in. After a "session" with the producer, Jess, Dallas and Roarke end up making love like animals on the lawn of the lush Roark Estate.

This book is non-stop action, great mystery, great thrills and great characters. One such character makes her step in becoming a regular in the series. That character is Lt. Dallas' aid, Officer Peabody. Delia Peabody is such a fun character and her interaction with Dallas and Roarke create some great humor that helps to break from the constant action and mystery without halting the story. And of course Dallas and Roarke are fun. The dialogue in all these novels is natural and brings out all the relationships in the story.

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