Category Archives: Book Reviews

Reviews of books.

Book Review: Star Wars: Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn

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Since I have disposed of this book, I thought it best to review it here and now rather than later. Star Wars: Outbound Flight focuses on the grand, enigmatic experiment which occurred just before the Clone Wars began in the Star Wars mythos. A Jedi project headed by Master Jorus C’Baoth, Outbound Flight was an ambitious attempt to leave the Star Wars galaxy, planting colonies on the way out.

Unfortunately, Outbound Flight never got past the edge of the Outer Rim into Wild Space. They met a Chiss force led by Thrawn and were wiped out.

After reading Survivor’s Quest, which I will review here in a little while, I really wanted to know what happened aboard Outbound Flight. So when I saw the book in a store, I bought it without hesitation.

Outbound Flight, sadly, was something of a disappointment to me. I have heard from Mr. Bookstooge about Zahn’s limitations as an author, not to mention experienced them when I finished his promising Quadrail series. Outbound Flight is, unfortunately, in this category as well.

I think the reason I did not notice his limitations in his other works – or put up with/ignored his weaknesses in his other stories – is because the characters were so engaging that these faults didn’t annoy me. Zahn’s rendition of Mara and Luke, their relationship, along with Han and Leia and their relationship, is always fun and interesting. So I think that usually I can give Zahn a pass on the slower parts of the books he wrote which were previously reviewed here. Outbound Flight, sadly, lacked that staying power for most of the tale, though I did grow to like a couple of the characters herein.

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Before I discuss the story, I have to say one thing in defense of Zahn. Looking up the submissions guidelines for Baen and the other publishers of his work, I see that they require something on the order of 100,000 – 150,000 word limits on their manuscripts. That is a lot of work to fill out; creating a story which meets criteria like that means you get a thick book in the end. (My small paperback copy of Outbound Flight itself was almost an inch thick!) It may not be that Zahn is a weak author so much as he works with publishers who refuse to take stories slimmer than an inch in the spine, and he cannot transfer his stories away from those companies due to contracts or something.

I could very well be wrong, of course. And, since I do still enjoy the majority of Zahn’s work, this is probably personal bias speaking. But it is something I have been thinking about lately due to the fact that some of Zahn’s books work fine despite their length while others do not. I can only assume that those stories which “feel off” do so because they should have been shorter, but he had to make them longer than was healthy for them to satisfy the requirements of his publisher(s).

Anyway, back to Outbound Flight. It begins with Jorj Car’das – up and coming smuggler and the youngest member of his present crew – thinking he is going to die pretty soon because his current captain has ticked off a Hutt crime lord, in part because he gets a kick out of it. (Yeah. Wow. How is it this guy isn’t dead yet?)

The crew makes a blind jump into hyperspace, but the Hutt follows them. What neither of them realizes until the freighter is knocked out and the Hutt’s ship destroyed is that they are in Chiss space. Actually, they are in Thrawn’s lap. He has Car’das and his two crewmates brought aboard his ship, the Springhawk, where they learn he can speak Sy Bisti. Thrawn eventually invites them to stay for a little while longer so he can learn Basic, paying them for their time with some loot taken from slavers. Car’das agrees to the bargain on his captain’s behalf, but asks to learn the Chiss language as well.

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Meanwhile, back in the Republic, C’baoth is fighting with the bureaucracy to get the Outbound Flight project approved. His apprentice, Lorana Jinzler, does her best to keep up with him but it is clear that she isn’t pleasing him any more than the irritation of the bureaucracy. Instead of getting what he wants, C’baoth is shunted to work on some negotiations on Brolf….

Only to find Obi-Wan Kenobi and a teenage Anakin Skywalker are waiting for him.

Things sort of spiral out from here – it turns out that Palpatine wants C’baoth out of the way because he is so strong in the Force and has Dark Side leanings. (This book shows us quite clearly how the clone went mad; the original beat him to it.) You don’t want a rival when you are trying to take over the galaxy, after all, and Outbound Flight is the means Palpatine plans to use to get rid of C’baoth – along with a whole lot of innocent people.

Car’das’ character was wonderfully expanded in this novel, and I really enjoyed reading from his perspective. Watching him interact with Thrawn, who has the hint of Dark Side leanings of his own in this book, was great, too. Lorana was another interesting character who grew more likeable the longer I read about her, and Zahn handled Obi-Wan’s perspective well while giving us hints about Anakin’s eventual fall to the Dark Side.

None of this, sadly, saves the book from its rather tedious pacing. The novel probably would have worked better if it was shorter, but I don’t think there are very many Star Wars books out there which are short – unless you count the ones meant for children. Even the short story collections have very thick spines.

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I’m not casting Outbound Flight into exterior darkness, though, because it fleshes out the above characters so well and explains what happened to the project. My local library has received this copy so that others can read it and (maybe) enjoy it more than I did. If long books or Zahn’s stretching beyond his limits bother you, then this book will probably not be something you absolutely need to read – unless you want more original Expanded Universe background on Outbound Flight, Thrawn, and Car’das. (I really liked him in this novel – did I say that already? He was extremely interesting and well-developed here.) If even that doesn’t appeal to you, then please avoid this book.

Well, that’s it for now, readers; I am wiped. I got absorbed in the book while I was writing this in order to keep at least some of the details straight, so this is quits for me. Until next time, may the Force be with you.

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Book Review: By the Light of the Moon by Dean Koontz

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I think I have reviewed a total of three Dean Koontz novels prior to this point, readers. Though horror is not my preferred milieu of fiction, Koontz has valuable insights in his novels that are worth the price of admission. He also creates compelling characters and satisfies my desire for a good story well told. So I have read more than the three novels reviewed here at Thoughts; I just have not gotten around to writing about most of them.

By the Light of the Moon is the most recent book that I have read, and the ending is an absolute kicker. The author pulled a fast one on me with this one, so I have to be careful to describe it or I will give away spoilers.

Dylan O’Connor, an artist, has stopped off at a hotel on his way back from selling some of his work in the next state. In the hotel is his younger, autistic brother, Shepherd. (For the majority of the book, he is called Shep.) Unfortunately, before Dylan can get back to their room with the fast food meal his brother ordered, someone sneaks up behind him and knocks him out.

He wakes up some minutes later, strapped to a chair and gagged in their room. At the table in the center of the area, Shep is putting together a puzzle at lightning speed, seemingly oblivious to the little old man who is preparing to stick Dylan with a needle full of strange, golden liquid. The mad man tells Dylan that the “stuff” in the syringe has effects that are “without exception interesting, frequently astonishing, and sometimes positive.”

Oh, great. Of course, that makes total sense. And it is super comforting, too, Doc McEvil. We all love the idea of being injected with “stuff” by mad scientists. (Yes, I am being sarcastic and snarky.)

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And yes, this little old man is the bad guy – and what a villain. He doesn’t go in for the usual evisceration, mental or physical, that you would expect. He is apparently harmless and full of remorse, but as a fan of Koontz’s, I can tell you to never assume any antagonist in his stories is harmless or full of remorse. This bozo is no exception.

Well, Dr. McEvil finishes up with Dylan and leaves the room, telling him he has some handful of minutes before the MIBs show up to kill him. This is because the “stuff” is the scientist’s life’s work and it is apparently dangerous enough that the Feds want it completely eradicated. While Dylan works on freeing himself, Dr. McEvil spies his next victim: Jillian “Jilly” Jackson.

Jilly is trying to become a professional on the comedy circuit, and to that end she travels around the Southwest with her jade plant, Fred. Fred is part of her act and the closest thing she has to a friend in her travels. Anyway, she pops out of her room to grab a drink and a snack from the vending machine. When she comes back, her door is ajar and it takes her too long to react to the fact that she has an unwelcome visitor. Knocked out and injected with the same “stuff” as Dylan received, Jilly misses most of Dr. McEvil’s spiel and stumbles out of her room toward the parking lot – with Fred in hand, of course.

Dylan and Shep are headed to their truck at the same time, and the three begin traveling together after a nearby explosion shows them that Dr. McEvil wasn’t kidding about the MIBs. Whatever he injected them with, the Feds want it destroyed –

And that means they want Dylan, Shep, and Jilly dead.

This has to be one of the most surprising stories Koontz has ever written. The first five to seven chapters had me in stitches; I am usually pretty good at handling his customary “gag-on-your-giggles-so-the-librarian-doesn’t-throw-you-out” humor, but this time it was amped up to eleven. I nearly choked trying to keep quiet so I could read the book. It wasn’t easy – at all. 😉

But the real surprise in this book was the ending. It is a lighthearted, almost fluffy finale that pokes fun at a genre you hear a lot about here at Thoughts. The fun isn’t aimed at my favorite company, but its rival which, let’s face it, takes itself waaay too seriously most of the time. There is still some self-deprecating humor in my favorite producer, but heaven only knows how much longer that will last.

Someone else I know who read the book felt this ending was a bit disingenuous, but I kind of liked it. Most of Koontz’s novels end with a “Beware the Darkness” note, which is fine. But it is nice to know he can put a little more bounce into an ending if he wants to do so. The fact that he doesn’t just goes to prove the point I mentioned in my review of The Good Guy.

If you don’t think you can handle Koontz giving you a “fluffy” ending, then you may not want to pick up By the Light of the Moon. I think it was worth the read, however, and that is why I am recommending it. The first few chapters, at least, are worth it for the humor alone.

Have fun with By the Light of the Moon at your earliest convenience, readers!

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Book Reviews: Star in the Storm by Joan Hiatt Harlow

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Wow, am I behind on my book reviews! Today’s novel is set in Newfoundland, or The Rock, as those who live there call it. You can see my review of another book set in the same place, and at roughly the same time, which I did last year here.

Star in the Storm focuses on Maggie Wells and her Newfoundland dog, Sirius. Newfoundland dogs, for those of you who don’t know, are big dogs with webbed paws and thick fur. Native to the island, they have been used by fishermen and to rescue swimmers caught in the ocean. They’re a very beautiful, loving breed and make great pets.

Today Maggie is out walking Sirius when she meets her cousin, Vera. The two go up to their secret hiding place, which is a cave in a cliff or quidnunc behind Maggie’s house. Here they have stashed mementos from earlier years, which they decide to air out this fine morning. While they are up there, wild dogs attack a herd of sheep being guarded by a different girl, Tamar Rand, in a meadow below. One of the sheep is chased off the cliff into the water and Sirius, wonderful Newfoundland dog that he is, goes after it.

Unfortunately, he is too late to do any good. The fall kills the sheep, which was about to yean. Tamar accuses Sirius of killing it and threatens to have the dog shot. None of Maggie’s or Vera’s factual defenses changes her perception of the event, and Tamar runs off to get her father to put the dog down. Luckily, Mr. Wells is able to talk Mr. Rand out of shooting Sirius, and things seem to calm down.

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Key words being “seem to”; the Rand family manages to have a law passed that requires all dogs which aren’t used for sheepherding killed. Since the Wells have no sheep for their dog to herd, this puts Sirius’ life in jeopardy.

Determined to protect her beloved pet, Maggie hides Sirius in the same cave where she keeps her childhood valuables. But then a storm blows up, and a steamer crashes into the rocks in the bay. With a hundred passengers aboard who may die without help, Maggie has to make a choice: keep Sirius hidden, or send him out to help rescue the people trapped aboard the ship.

I like Star in the Storm a great deal, but I think That Fine Summer was probably better written. This is nothing against Joan Hiatt Harlow; she writes fairly well and tells a good story. That Fine Summer was just written better.

Harlow explains at the back of the book that the law was passed in real life, but it didn’t include Newfoundland dogs, which makes a lot of sense. Who would want to kill a Newf? The story about the steamer was also true, but adapted by the author to fit her particular tale.

While Star in the Storm is a children’s book, it is one of the better ones to come out in modern times. Though the writing isn’t excellent, it is good, and the story works well. If you want to learn more about The Rock, readers, Star in the Storm is an entertaining place to start. ‘Til next time!

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Book Review: The Hand of Thrawn Duology by Timothy Zahn

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Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Characters (the edition published in 2002), was my first introduction to the franchise’s original Expanded Universe. While my parents had copies of several Star Wars EU novels and encouraged me to read them, I was young enough at the time that the volumes appeared too large and adult for a child of my age to understand. So I left the books sitting on the shelf, planning to dive into them when I was older and had a better chance of appreciating them.

Then, on a trip to the library, my father found The New Essential Guide to Characters. It was in the “for sale” shelves, so he picked it up and bought it for me – even though I was not truly interested in it at the time. Not long after he purchased it, however, I cracked the tome open to at least look at the pictures.

Over the years, “looking at the pictures” became “reading the profiles.” Gradually, I began to understand the Star Wars timeline outside of the films, which were my only source of Star Wars material up to that point. (Hey, I was a child! How many rambunctious tweens and teens do you know who prefer a good, big book to watching a movie?) But even as I began to put the Expanded Universe and film timelines together, I did not necessarily realize which characters were where and did what.

That all changed when I finally read Mara Jade Skywalker’s file. A New Hope, as I have said elsewhere, was the Star Wars film I loved best when I was young. Han getting frozen in carbonite kind of turned me off of the sequels until I was in my early teens, so the rest of the trilogy was something of a mystery to me for a while.

So when I learned that Luke had actually gotten married after Return of the Jedi, and to a woman who hated him and had vowed to kill him, I was thrown for a bit of a loop. I struggled with the idea for a bit, but eventually came to accept it, reading and rereading her profile along with all the others.

After a couple of years doing this, I decided enough was enough. Mara sounded pretty cool, from what I had read. So if she was this interesting in a character summary, she had to be twice as amazing “in person” – that is, in the novels. Not long after this I picked up one of the books I had been offered as a child and started reading, learning quickly that the Guide had undersold Mara Jade completely. She didn’t live up to her reputation; she exceeded it.

What does all this have to do with the Hand of Thrawn Duology by Timothy Zahn? Well, if you remember your own days as teenager, you remember that we sometimes start at the end or the middle instead of the beginning. I did not meet Mara in the Thrawn trilogy or even in Specter of the Past. I just jumped right into Vision of the Future and started reading.

The book knocked my socks off, readers. To this day, I would say it is my favorite Expanded Universe novel, and none of the new timeline books have beaten it. I rather doubt they ever will.

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Specter of the Past is the first book in the Duology. It starts, naturally enough, with a Star Destroyer. (Zahn always follows the original films’ format by showing us the Empire ahead of the Rebellion/New Republic.) Admiral Gilad Pellaeon watches the Chimera try out a new computer said to be able to predict an enemy’s attack pattern and then destroy their opponent while the ship is cloaked. Using Preybirds instead of TIE fighters, a number of Imperial pilots “assault” the Chimera before the ship cloaks. Then it engages its fancy targeting computer and counterattacks, firing off five hundred shots.

Five hundred shots plus a handful of fighters – how do you think the test went?

Badly, that’s how. Out of a pitiful number of targets, the Chimera’s blind shooting only “destroyed” one Preybird. Yeah, that is pretty pathetic, even by our standards.

Though the captain of his ship, a man named Ardiff, thinks the display is fine, Pellaeon is not pleased. The ship fired five hundred near random shots and only one fighter was “destroyed.” Besides which, Preybirds are not military fighters – even the New Republic did not use them during the Rebellion era. The fact that the Empire, which has been reduced to eight sectors at this point, is relying on Preybirds as fighters means only one thing…

The war is over. And they’ve lost.

Meanwhile, Han and Chewie have gone on a diplomatic mission to Iphigin to try and straighten out a trade dispute between two alien species, the Ishori and the Diamala. Leia, who has stepped down as President of the New Republic, is currently on Wayland getting some well-deserved R&R with their three children. A Calibop named Ponc Gavrisom is now President of the New Republic. Nevertheless, he immediately went to whistle up Leia’s help in solving this minor problem, despite the fact that her vacation has only just begun.

Well, Han Solo is not going to stand for this. He intercepts the message before it can reach his wife and goes in Leia’s place – without telling her what he is doing, of course. Before you accuse him of being a misogynist, readers, or say he thought she couldn’t handle the job, consider this: Leia is on vacation. She is, for the time being, not active in the day-to-day politics of the New Republic. She has also been handling one crisis after another for ten years and, now that she is no longer running the New Republic, should she have her rest and relaxation disturbed over one little trade disagreement?

I do not think Leia deserves that, and neither does Han. Rather than run and tell her about the fuss, he decided to handle it quietly on her behalf. If that isn’t gentlemanly – not to mention romantic – behavior on his part, then you can paint me as red as the Errant Venture and call me a sap.

Besides, Han has thought things through this time and come prepared. Not long after he and Chewie arrive at Iphigin to handle the trade dispute, Luke and R2 appear in the former’s New Republic X-wing. They trade some small talk before Solo explains that Chewie will handle the Ishori part of the disagreement while Luke takes care of the Diamala. He developed this plan because the Ishori think well when they are screaming in fury, while the Diamala would give Jedi and Vulcans a run for their money when it comes maintaining their calm.

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The plan is a sound one – but it hits an unexpected snag. The Diamala do not want anything to do with Luke, stating that Jedi who use as much power as he does inevitably fall to the Dark Side. Surprised – and somewhat miffed – Luke becomes Han’s advisor instead as the negotiations start…

…But at the end of the day, they have accomplished exactly nothing. The two species do not appear interested in getting along, leaving both our heroes with nothing except headaches for all their trouble.

However, it soon turns out not to be a total waste of a day. While they are trying to figure out a way to solve the mess, the men receive a message about an incoming freighter Iphigini Customs has been told is carrying contraband. Something about this gets Han excited, and after the call is terminated, he tells Luke the smuggler is just a distraction. Pirates blow the whistle to the authorities on a “smuggler” carrying contraband into the day side of a planet while they hit a night side target. Because Customs is running to take in the “smuggler,” they cannot get back to the night side of the planet to stop the pirates before they have grabbed whatever they want and run off.

But he and Luke can get there in time. They head for the Falcon and the X-wing to deal with the pirates, allowing them to burn off their frustration about the trade negotiation. But before the battle begins, Luke experiences a disturbing vision of the Emperor and another, more ancient Sith Lord he faced as a spirit, staring at him through the X-wing’s canopy. And they are laughing at him.

Meanwhile, on Wayland, Threepio tells Leia that Han ran off to handle a diplomatic matter. At first put out, Leia lets it go and decides it is better to just enjoy her time on Wayland with the Noghri and her children. Unfortunately, her vacation is interrupted by a Devaronian poking around where he should not be. The Noghri call her in to handle the matter, which she seemingly does….

…Until the guy drops a smoke bomb near Jaina and Anakin to cover his escape.

(L to R) Anakin, Jacen, and Jaina Solo

Anyone with sense knows that threatening the Solo children is a big mistake, so this Devaronian obviously lacks sense. Leia takes off with a Noghri escort to bring him in, only to get some unexpected help from Talon Karrde and Mara Jade. The two are on Wayland to hire Noghri bodyguards for some of Karrde’s informants – the ones who typically work in dangerous areas. The three learn when they capture the guy that the thief intended to sell a data card with a damaged document on it.

This soon proves to be a recipe for disaster. The document in question not only threatens the peace of the New Republic, it could start another galactic civil war. Only this time, the Republic will not be fighting the Empire for their freedom. This time, they will be fighting each other in a pointless attempt to get even with the past.

Our heroes scramble to prevent this, but things go from bad to worse when Luke has another Force vision. This one includes a picture of Mara, apparently dead in a cave somewhere. Not long after he has said vision, Mara disappears on a planet in Wild Space. Instead of sending someone else to get her, however, Luke leaves his friends and family to handle the New Republic’s problems while he goes in alone to rescue her.

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This is where Vision of the Future takes up the tale, and where I leave you, readers. I will not spoil anything else about these wonderful books, which are now old friends to me. If you do not enjoy the Hand of Thrawn Duology, I am sincerely sorry to hear that. They are truly great tales, though, and they deserve to be read at least once.

Before I go, I would like to add that at first Mara and Zahn’s constant remarks about Luke using too much power made no sense to me. As I said, my first experience of the Expanded Universe came through The New Essential Guide to Characters. There was not much there about Luke overusing the Force.

It was only when I read some novels in the Star Wars mythos besides Zahn’s that I found out what he was chastising Luke for doing – and thereby the other writers for the EU. Seriously, I enjoy the old EU more than the new timeline, but some of the writers for those books seemed to think being Force-sensitive means Jedi can get away with anything. Reading Jedi Search and the Young Jedi Knights series by Kevin J. Anderson was fun – except for the way he had Luke use the Force. Good grief, the difference between Light Siders and Dark Siders is that Dark Siders use the Force to gain power. Jedi rely on the Force as an ally, as a guide to get through life. They don’t master the Force – they serve it.

Zahn’s message must have hit home, because the novels following Vision of the Future took his stance toward the Force rather than Anderson’s haphazard treatment. Jude Watson may have been one of the authors who followed his example almost to the letter. Her The Last Jedi series for young Star Wars fans felt very similar, to me, to Zahn’s work. This was especially true in regards to the hows, wheres, and whyfores of the Force and Star Wars tech.

Well, that is it for now, readers. All I have to say before I go is that I hope you enjoy the Hand of Thrawn Duology. Remember, the Force will be with you, always.

Book Review: Year of the Unicorn by Andre Norton

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Welcome back to the Witch World, readers! This book – Year of the Unicorn – takes place in the Dales of High Hallack, the western continent of the Witch World. We are in uncharted, amazing territory here. Let’s dive in!

The long war between the Dalesmen and the Hounds of Alizon is finally over. The uniting of the Dale Lords, coupled with the loss of their support from the alien Kolder, weakened the Hounds’ ability to fight the Dalesmen, to be sure. But even this was not enough to secure the victory of High Hallack over the invaders. No, only one thing tipped the balance in their favor toward the end of the war. That was the appearance of the Were Riders on the side of the Dalesmen.

You are probably wondering who or what the Were Riders are, aren’t you? Bespelled by an Adept in the hidden realm of Arvon, which is sealed off from the rest of High Hallack, the Were Riders are men who can turn into animals. They have other magic as well, of course, but the Dalesmen know them best for their ability to assume the forms of beasts and birds.

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There are roughly thirty members of the Were Rider “Pack,” as they call themselves. And they agreed to enter the war on the side of the Dalesmen on one condition: after the war was over, the Dale Lords would provide the Riders with thirteen maids of marriageable age. They were to be comely and without illness or some other blemish, and they were to become the brides of thirteen of the Riders. The Pack was exiled from hidden Arvon to the rest of High Hallack; they did not come here willingly, they were banished.

But their time of exile is nearly ended. Once it is done they will either be allowed to reenter Arvon – or they will be stuck in High Hallack for the rest of their lives. If that last occurs, they do not want their people, such as they are (all the Riders are male), to disappear. The only way to preserve themselves as a race is to marry.

At the Abbey of the Flame in Norsdale, Gillan helps the Dames at their daily tasks. Taken by the Hounds from a land across the sea, she remembers nothing of her real home or people. Gillan only remembers scraps of the sea voyage and being rescued by Dalesmen raiding her captors’ ship when it arrived in port.

The Lord Furlo led the raid which rescued Gillan and so his wife, Lady Freeza, kept her as a fosterling. They retreated to the Abbey when he was killed and their Dale taken by the enemy. The strain of both losses, however, was too much for Lady Freeza and she died, leaving Gillan in the care of the Dames.

While grateful for the Dames’ protection over the years, Gillan has begun to feel trapped in the Abbey. Her chance to escape comes when the selected brides for the Were Riders stop by to take advantage of the Dames’ hospitality – and to pick up a couple of brides to fill the quota along the way.

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One of these prospective maids, a girl named Marimme, goes off into hysterics when she learns what her guardian has in mind for her. Seizing her chance both to help the poor creature and to escape the Abbey, Gillan knocks the girl out and takes her place, joining the other twelve brides on their journey to meet the Were Riders. By the time her deception is discovered it is too late to send her back, and so Gillan goes with the other young women to meet her future husband.

The Rider she chooses is Herrel. Herrel is not a full Were Rider; he is not as powerful as the rest of the Pack. And Gillan did not choose him because she was bedazzled by the marriage spell he and the other Riders used to call their new wives to them; somehow, she could see past the illusion. Nevertheless, she chose Herrel as her husband.

Herrel soon puts two and two together, realizing in the process that Gillan is not like the other girls or even of High Hallack. But because he is not as powerful as his fellow Riders, he cannot protect her from anything they try to do to her if they discover her power. So he asks Gillan to pretend the illusion the Pack keeps up for the benefit of the other brides is real, in order to protect them both from trouble.

If you think she says no, you would be wrong. If you think Herrel’s hope to keep Gillan’s ability secret gets exposed, you would be closer to the mark, readers. Year of the Unicorn is one of the best novels Miss Norton ever wrote; after the Falconers, I think I love the Were Riders best out of all her fictional races. They are just as cool and mysterious as the men of the Eyrie who, despite their practices, have always intrigued me.

In one of her essays, Miss Norton said that Year of the Unicorn is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I leave you, readers, to discover how they are alike. No more spoilers here; go out and get the book yourselves. You won’t regret it!

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Book Review: The Good Guy by Dean Koontz

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I have stated that I am not a fan of horror novels/films/fill-in-the-blank. That still stands. Do I believe in ghosts, monsters, demons, and evil? Oh, yes, I do. That is part of the reason why I do not like horror stories. Too many people think these things are not real, and therefore they take them lightly. But these things are all very real, so I do not have a blasé attitude when I consider them.

Evil is real, and Koontz makes sure to tell his readers this time and again throughout his novels. The Good Guy is no exception; it opens with Tim Carrier – a bachelor, mason, bricklayer, and former United States Marine – sitting down to have a beer.

Since his return to the states, Tim’s kept himself off the radar. He is a self-employed mason in California who shows up, does his job well, and says very little about himself. He likes to end his days with a drink or two at his friend’s bar, the Lamplighter Tavern.

On this particular night, though, he does not go unnoticed. A nervous, twitchy little man enters the establishment after Tim has exchanged the usual pleasantries with his friend. For the first few minutes, he thinks the newcomer’s just jumpy, so he tries to strike up an interesting conversation with the guy.

Then the man slides a thick manila envelope over to him with the words, “Half of it’s there. Ten thousand. The rest when she’s gone.”

At first, Tim is too surprised to explain that there has been a mistake. Before he can get his mouth to start working, though, the little man has bolted out the door. Looking at the manila envelope for a while, Tim then opens it and checks out the contents.

Inside are ten thousand dollars in cash and a photo of a pretty woman about Tim’s own age. Printed on the photo is the woman’s name – Linda Paquette – along with her address.

He puts the photo and the money back in the envelope before sliding it as far from him as he can. No sooner has Tim put this slimy offering away, however, than a man – who could be his dopplegänger – enters the bar. He takes the uneasy man’s seat, orders a beer, and picks up the envelope.

What would you do here, readers? Call the cops? Try to tell the man the job’s off? Tim tries the second course, but it does not work. As for the first, Tim considers it until he sees the killer put a police light on the top of his car. This hired murderer might be disguising himself as a cop, but having seen his eyes, heard him talk, our Good Guy doubts that very much. Going to the police will therefore get Linda – and very probably Tim – murdered a whole lot faster.

Now, readers, in this situation, what would you do? Help Linda, or walk away and forget the entire scene had ever occurred?

Dean Koontz lets Mr. Carrier make the choice. And Tim chooses to go help Linda.

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The Good Guy is a great read. It will scare the pants off of you, and it will break your heart. It will crack the veneer of normalcy the academics and journalists have laid over our world to show you the writhing, seething things that hide in the darkness so prevalent in the world where we live. If you pay attention, you will learn many things about evil, faith, hope, love, and courage while reading this book.

Koontz has often referenced Flannery O’Connor, one of his favorite authors, in his novels. Flannery O’Connor once said that her aim in the stories she wrote was to “shout loud enough for the atheists” to hear the truth she had to tell them.

Mr. Koontz is aiming in the same general direction, but it is not just the atheists and unbelievers he wants to awaken. It is the rest of us who go about the world with our hands over our ears, eyes, and mouth in the hopes of avoiding the face of evil. Evil is real. It is very, very real, and the only thing that allows it to win is if good men and women – good guys and girls – let it.

That is Mr. Koontz’s message in all his fiction, something new readers of his works ought to be aware of. The Good Guy is one of the stories where he shouts the loudest.

Discover The Good Guy, by Dean Koontz, at your earliest opportunity, readers. It is worth your time and money.

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Book Review: The Virginian by Owen Wister

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Most followers of Thoughts on the Edge of Forever probably know by now that I enjoy Westerns. A lot. Films, books, TV shows – whatever the medium, I will happily devour tales set in the Old West.

In many ways, the men in the Old West were the American equivalent of Old World knights. They were our gallant heroes on horseback who defeated the villains, saved the fair damsel, and destroyed evil so good people might thrive on the unimaginable wealth of the American West. Have Gun, Will Travel even references this perception of the Western man in the theme song about its hero, Paladin: “A knight without armor in a savage land.”

I have reviewed some books about the Old West by one of my favorite authors, Louis L’Amour, here on this blog several times. But a little while back, I got to read a classic western that was, in many ways, the progenitor of the archetypes we recognize in the genre today. This was none other than Owen Wister’s The Virginian.

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This book has been made into a film several times. It also gave us the television series led by James Drury and Doug McClure. I began watching reruns of the show ages ago, so I knew something of the book’s characters and plot from research I did on the series.

But I have to say, studying the details really does not do the novel justice. It is something of a slow read, in the beginning. This book was written at the turn of the twentieth century, after all, when there was a certain form expected of a novel. The author used these forms liberally.

Of special interest to me is the fact that Wister dedicated his book to Theodore Roosevelt, even changing one page in the story because the President implied it was not well done or accurate. If that is not a stamp of approval, then I do not know what is!

The Virginian is told largely from the point of view of an unnamed Narrator. Due to poor health, our Narrator is invited west to get better by a friend named Judge Henry. The Judge sends his most “trustworthy man” to collect the Narrator at the train station. In case you have not guessed who this is yet, we know him throughout the story as the Virginian.

If you thought you knew the Virginian in James Drury’s portrayal of the character, readers, you have not seen anything yet! From start to finish he pulls surprise after surprise on you. Whether he is playing a devilishly brilliant prank on someone; dealing with his archenemy, Trampas, or expounding upon the equality of men, the Virginian is never still or dull.

Over time, the Narrator becomes a lovable character, too. Honorable mention goes to his and the Virginian’s mutual friend, Scipio le Moyne, who is absolutely wonderful. The Judge is an amicable character, and when you run into the preacher, Dr. MacBride – Holy cow! Do not read that section in the library. You will be laughing or choking so loud, people will have to shush you right out of the building!

There is only one thing about The Virginian which bothers me, and that is the damsel our lead falls in love with. Having been fed off of Louis L’Amour’s rich stories for so long, I expected Miss Molly Wood to have the same qualities as L’Amour’s women.

No such luck. Molly Wood is an absolute twit. More than once, I wanted to smack her upside the head and tell her how many buns make a dozen. I have never – not once – felt that way toward any of the women in L’Amour’s novels and stories, readers. It was a new and rather aggravating experience, which made reading this wonderful book a little trying at times.

Lest you think this was misogyny or sexism on Wister’s part, I will tell you that he characterizes two other women in the novel quite nicely. Mrs. Taylor and Mrs. Henry are fine, smart Western women. They know their men and understand the Virginian better than Molly Wood does. Mrs. Taylor even goes so far as to say that if she could, she would marry him herself, and that she does not think Molly Wood is good enough for him. (I agree with her wholeheartedly on that.) I do not doubt that both these women also know how to handle guns, just like L’Amour’s women.

Another magnificently characterized woman in the story is Molly Wood’s great aunt. She is wise and capable, not to mention a deep thinker who knows her grandniece’s heart better than the girl’s mother, who is twice as irritating as Molly. So Wister did not think all women were airheads, readers. He respected women in general and treated three of them well in the book.

But this makes his decision to have Molly Wood be such a dense cluck more puzzling than before. I cannot help but wonder why he wrote her the way he did. Maybe she was based off of a real woman he knew; maybe she just walked into his head and he could not expel her. I do not know.

What I do know is that she drove me crazy enough to wish the Virginian had not selected her as his bride. To pair someone that amazing, that wonderful, off with a woman so stubbornly stupid seems pretty unfair to him and to readers like me.

Other than this quibble, I enjoyed reading The Virginian. I hope that you will, too, readers, in spite of all my griping. It really is a wonderful story that should be read more often than it is.

‘Til next time!

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