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Book Review: Black Horses for the King by Anne McCaffrey

Black Horses for the King by Anne McCaffrey - Reviews ...

Black Horses for the King is the first Anne McCaffrey book that I have ever read. No, I am not joking; prior to this, yours truly had never done more than peek at a page of Miss McCaffrey’s books. The Dragon Riders of Pern series is on my “to read” list, but so far this blogger has not actually read those books.

Knowing her reputation with those novels, however, Black Horses for the King looked like a good place for this writer to begin getting to know Miss McCaffrey and her work. While it doesn’t strike me as an excellent piece, it is enjoyable and well written. I really have no complaints about it, beyond a few minor nitpicks.

The story begins with Galwyn Varianus, who has been apprenticed to his uncle, a rough sailor and pagan who despises him. Following his lead, the crew picks on the boy mercilessly. The fact that Galwyn is currently cleaning up after six seasick passengers below decks isn’t helping much, since their discomfort is making him ill, too. Despite that, he is doing his best to avoid telling off the sailors; doing that only makes them increase their cruel teasing. But when one of the sailors insults the lad’s mother, Galwyn whirls around, ready for a fight…

…Only to be stopped by Comes Artos, the Dux Bellorum. Artos is Latin for Arthur, making this novel an Arthurian tale. Miss McCaffrey, however, is leaving off the magic and other familiar trappings in order to remain as true to history as she can. She is also focusing on an almost mundane aspect of the legend – the large horses Arthur had to buy to repulse the recurrent Saxon invasions.

Artos is sailing to the continent to buy big horses he can breed with the larger ponies in England so that his men can face the Saxons on better terms. On their ponies the Britons cannot face the pagan invaders, since the animals are incapable of carrying the large Englishmen for great distances or long amounts of time. In order to out-maneuver and overcome the invaders, Artos and his Companions need bigger horses. So they are sailing to Septimania to buy them.

When apprised of the Comes’ plan, Galwyn finds he approves of it. Having grown up in a Roman villa prior to his apprenticeship with his uncle, the boy has a fondness for and skill with horses. He would much rather tend the animals than sail, but due to his father’s death, working at sea appeared to be the best way he to support his mother and sisters until he can find a different profession. And better companions.

Black Horses For The King ISBN 9780552529730 PDF epub ...

But when his uncle’s crew goes too far, Galwyn seizes his chance and escapes his hateful relative’s ship. He then buys a pony and follows Lord Artos to the fair in Septimania. There his knowledge of horses, his ability to bargain, and his skill with languages prove invaluable in the purchase of a large group of black Libyans – stallions, mares, and foals. Following their purchase he, Artos, and the rest of the Companions lead the animals to port in order to bring them back to England.

Shipping the creatures across the ocean is difficult work, since they are as unused to the water as the Companions, who are too busy taking care of them to get sick this time. On their first arrival in England, Galwyn makes a final end to his apprenticeship under his uncle. Staying with Artos and his Companions, he helps bring the other two sets of horses to Britain.

From there, he travels to a farm where the animals will be tended and allowed to breed with each other and the biggest Briton ponies. On the way he becomes apprentice to the horse expert friend of Artos, a man named Canyd. Canyd and his fellow horse masters are trying to make the first horse shoe in order to protect the animals’ feet. As Canyd likes to remind everyone around him, whether they want to hear him or not: “No hoof, no horse!”

Black Horses for the King does not strike me as the best of Miss McCaffrey’s work. Still, it is an enjoyable story that presents a good picture of the times in which it is set. Horse and history lovers will find it a great read, and it is hard to stop once you get going with it. In the final analysis, it is a worthy book from a good author.

‘Til next time, readers!

Black Horses for the King by Anne McCaffrey (Paperback ...

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Book Review: Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones

Retro Friday Review: Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne ...

Previously, Diana Wynne Jones’ novel Howl’s Moving Castle was reviewed here at Thoughts. It was so good that I thought an analysis of the sequel was in order. Castle in the Air has the great distinction of improving upon the framework in the original story, something that doesn’t always happen in modern fiction.

It begins in the Sultanates of Rashpuht, a country far to the south of Ingary, the nation where Howl’s Moving Castle takes place. A young carpet merchant named Abdullah is standing in his booth at the Bazaar, daydreaming about being a prince. Though Abdullah’s father was a rich carpet merchant, everything but his booth went to his first wife’s in-laws because he was disappointed in his son.

Just why he was upset with his son Abdullah doesn’t know. And at this point, it doesn’t matter to him, either. Despite his daydreams, Abdullah is a very happy carpet merchant. He sells enough goods to make a comfortable living, and he is content to never be wealthy or leave the Bazaar. In truth, he really does not have a reason to want to leave; his reveries just add a touch of romance to his otherwise ordinary life.

In the middle of his latest fantasy (which, for the first time, features a beautiful princess), a customer appears and asks to sell him a carpet. He wants five hundred gold pieces for the rug, but Abdullah is skeptical. The mat is in bad shape, and even if he wanted it, he certainly wouldn’t pay five hundred gold coins for it.

So when the man says it is a magic carpet, Abdullah is intrigued but disbelieving. He allows the stranger to enter the booth proper in order to have him prove that the carpet can fly. Even when a commotion occurs in the next stall, the carpet merchant keeps an eye on his customer as the man orders the rug two feet into the air.

The carpet does as it is told and, after checking to make sure none of the usual tricks could have been pulled to fake its flight, Abdullah agrees to buy the carpet. Several hours are spent haggling over the price, and he finally pays two hundred fifty gold pieces for the mat before going out to lunch. Worried the rug will fly away when he leaves, Abdullah ties it the center pole of the booth to make sure it stays put.

Castle in the Air (First Edition)

It does. But in order to keep an even better eye on it, Abdullah puts the carpet on top of his bed (which is made up of other carpets piled one atop the other). During the night, Abdullah wakes to find himself in a luscious garden. There he meets a girl – a princess – who mistakes him for a girl.

How can she make that obvious error? Simple – the only man she has ever seen is her father, the Sultan. Confused, but convinced this is all a dream, Abdullah tells the princess about his daydreams. And because he thinks he is still asleep, he makes it sound like his daylight fantasies are the truth.

The delighted princess, who identifies herself as Flower-in-the-Night, absorbs his tale with avid interest. But when the two try to experiment with the carpet, they accidentally give it the wrong command, sending Abdullah back to his booth post-haste. He wakes up again the next morning feeling blue, until he realizes that he was not actually dreaming. The carpet transported him to a real palace where he met a real princess named Flower-in-the-Night.

Abdullah spends the rest of the day buying paintings of different men so he can bring them to Flower-in-the-Night (who is still convinced he is a woman). Once he has done this, he tries ordering the carpet back to the palace at once. But it doesn’t budge, throwing Abdullah into despair. There appears to be a secret code word that will “activate” the magic carpet, but since he does not know it, he is stuck.

Once he calms down a little, though, Abdullah reminds himself that the carpet definitely took him to the palace the previous night. Deciding that he must have mumbled the code word in his sleep, he asks the rug to transport him to Flower-in-the-Night as soon as he speaks the word in his sleep. Meanwhile, he waits anxiously for nightfall so he can go to bed and return to his princess.

The plan works, and Abdullah shows Flower-in-the-Night the pictures. She studies them all, especially the ones showing the most handsome specimens, then declares that none of them are as handsome as her midnight visitor. Confirming that she is now sure he is, in fact, a man, Abdullah falls to discussing marriage with her. As it turns out, Flower-in-the-Night is to be betrothed to the Prince of Ochinstan (the Rashpuht name for Ingary). Upset upon learning that it is common for men in Rashpuht to have more than one wife, Flower-in-the-Night declares that to be an unfair arrangement, especially when Abdullah says he thinks even the Prince of Ochinstan already has several wives.

Castle in the Air Audiobook | Diana Wynne Jones | Audible.com

The discussion of marriage eventually brings the two to talk about their relationship. It isn’t long before they both decide to elope, and Abdullah begins to set the plan in motion. He narrowly escapes being married to his two fat cousins before the following nightfall. After selling off his stock and sewing the money into his clothes, he goes to sleep on the carpet.

Sometime later, he awakes in the garden. Flower-in-the-Night rushes out to meet him, and it looks like their fairy tale life together is about to begin…

…Until an enormous, dark djinn arrives and snatches up Flower-in-the-Night.

Things begin to pick up from here, but I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you, readers. Suffice it to say this novel is as good – if not better – than its predecessor. The humor is top notch, the characters are well drawn, and the story is executed beautifully. It is a great read.

But you don’t need to take my word for it. Pick up Castle in the Air and Howl’s Moving Castle at your earliest opportunity and read them for yourselves. You won’t regret it!

Until next time!

Castle in the Air (Howl's Moving Castle, #2) by Diana ...

Book Review – Star Trek: Death Count by L. A. Graf

Amazon.com: Death Count (Star Trek: The Original Series ...

Last week we stopped off in the Marvel Universe for a fun trip down memory lane. Today’s destination promises to be fairly exciting, even though it is a voyage forward rather than backward in time. Once again we return to the Federation of Planets for another adventure aboard the famous U.S.S. Enterprise, readers!

Aboard Sigma One, a space station a few days from the Federation/Orion border, Captain Kirk has gone out to dinner. Scotty and McCoy have whisked him off to a Scottish restaurant aboard the station in order to help him unwind. For the past three days, which were supposed to be used for shore leave by the crew, the men and women aboard the Enterprise have been pestered almost to death by four auditors from the Auditor General.

It seems the Auditor General has teams of auditors surprising starships throughout the fleet with on-site inspections. For the last three days the crew of the Enterprise has been running efficiency drills to prove they are following the regulations properly and can react to a stiuation as fast as possible, with the clipboard-wielding inspectors looking over their shoulders the whole time. In the process these four individuals have, unsurprisingly, made themselves an enormous nuisance to the crew.

This has put everyone aboard the ship on edge, meaning those who can grab shore leave are not letting it pass them by for any money. While Scotty and McCoy help Kirk relax, Chekov has convinced Sulu to help him try and beat a record set by another ship’s crew on the station’s piloting simulator. After failing the simulator’s sixth level, the door opens automatically, allowing Uhura to ask how much longer the two men plan to continue playing.

My Star Trek Scrapbook: Sulu and Chekov...BFF!

Sulu answers the question by getting out before Chekov can reactive the machine. He then leads his two best friends to a plant shop he has already visited three times so far. On the way there the three bump in to some Orion police officers in riot gear. Since they are out of uniform, the men merely push past them instead of goading the Starfleet officers into a fight. Not long after they enter the plant shop, however, an Orion policeman comes to “inspect” the premises for something/someone.

His “inspection” consists mostly of wrecking the store owner’s property. This infuriates the businessman, who attacks the alien with a broom. Chekov and Sulu intervene on the man’s behalf after he is tossed across the room, earning the latter a free gift of plants, pets, and the lily pond they need to survive and be happy. Unfortunately, Chekov’s gift is entirely different; the Orions cast his actions as assault, leading Sigma One’s security forces to throw him in the station’s brig.

Meanwhile Kirk, Scotty, and McCoy’s relaxtion proves to be premature. Like a troubadour leading his not-so-merry band, the head auditor arrives at the restaurant, fuming about being barred from the Enterprise. Kirk is sanguine until he learns that he has new orders to go to the Andorian/Orion border – with the inspectors in tow.

Tense once more, Kirk goes to speak to the commodore in charge of the station, a friend whom he helped to promote to his current position. The commodore explains that since an Andorian scientist named Muav Haslev – who was developing some kind of technology for the Andorian military – disappeared from their space, the Andorians have blamed the Orions for the incident. The Orions claim they had nothing to do with his vanishing act, but no one believes them. And even without definitive proof, the Andorians are spoiling to pick a fight with the Orions. The sector between the two is heating up and threatening to embroil the Federation in a war with Orion, which is a neutral stellar nation.

Kirk is fine with this part of the assignment; he has done this kind of thing before, and knows how to handle it. His problem is the auditors. While traveling to the Andorian/Orion border is dangerous enough for him and his crew the way things stand now, taking four civilians (one of whom is extremely annoying and has a superiority complex) into a possible war zone isn’t his idea of a smart move.

Dog Star Omnibus: Captain's Blog pt. 92: The Enterprise ...

But as he soon learns, neither assignment is negotiable. The ship that was supposed to take the auditors next and deal with the Orion/Andorian issue at the same time recently suffered a containment breach of its warp core. Though the damage could have been much worse, it is bad enough; the vessel may never be spaceworthy again. She’s barely able to limp to Sigma One with the help of tug shuttles.

This leaves Enterprise to carry out the mission – exasperating auditors and all. Once Chekov gets out of the brig and boards the Enterprise with Sulu and Uhura, the ship heads for the border….

…Only to be struck by a burst of radiation that sends her instruments haywire. Sulu just barely manages to keep the starship from warping straight through Sigma One after the radiation scrambles the helm. The computer turned the Enterprise back toward the station thinking it is open space.

Returning to their normal course, the Enterprise gets under way at last, only to be intercepted a short time later by a disguised Orion destroyer. Following on its heels is an Orion police cruiser, whosse captain is intent on arresting Chekov for the incident back at the station. Upon learning the details of the confrontation on Sigma One, Kirk realizes the Orions set him up to get his security officer. After a brief word with the Orion commander, he has the Enterprise continue on to the border.

As he knows all too well, though, missions that begin this badly don’t get any smoother the longer they last. So when a transporter accident turns out to be a triple murder, Kirk isn’t really surprised, just angry and determined to find the culprit. But how can he catch a sabatour while keeping four number-crunching civilians determined to nose their way into vital systems safe and out of the way? The answer is…

An Oral History of Star Trek | pufflesandhoneyadventures

…Not for me to tell! If you want to know how Death Count ends, you will have to read it yourself. It is a good book, but unlike most L. A. Graf novels, it doesn’t include Uhura’s direct perspective of events. The three points-of-view explored in this novel belong to Sulu, Chekov, and Kirk. That is a fairly unusual choice for L.A. Graf. Normally, the writers using this pan name include Uhura’s viewpoint along with Sulu’s and Chekov’s to explore their characters, while giving fans a view of life from “below decks.” Kirk’s POV is included to show how he regards the three younger members of the “Enterprise Seven” as officers and people.

For some reason, Death Count breaks this pattern. While it is not irritating or a loss in any sense of the word, it does make one wonder. I only note it for the curious and for those L.A. Graf fans who have not managed to acquire this story yet.

Until next time, readers: “Second star to the right and straight on til morning!”

Death Count (Star Trek, #62) by L.A. Graf

Book Review: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

YES!!! Finally, the pile of books this author set out to review last year is DONE!!! Whoo-hoo!

Sorry to take so long to get here, readers. But with one thing and another, yours truly ended up going through these various analyses at a snail’s pace. Hopefully, that will be avoidable it in the future – but since life happens, we will have to wait and see how that goes. The important thing is that this particular novel is now on the table for discussion. Yay! 😀

It has been some time since I read The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo, in full. However, that has not dimmed my love for this wonderful book. Despereaux is one of the best children’s stories ever written. Ms. DiCamillo is a truly good writer who is well-respected in the field, as shown by Dean Koontz’ many allusions to her novels (including this one) in his stories. They appear to agree on many things and seem to see life through a similar lens, which means that if you like the one, you may enjoy the other.

That being said, it is not a guarantee. DiCamillo writes for children, middle graders on up to high school level. Her focus isn’t on horror, though there is an undercurrent of dread in many of her novels. For the most part, she deals in fairy tales, though hers are different from the originals in many ways. The Tale of Despereaux is, as we shall see, a good example of this…

Within the walls of a castle in a far away land, Despereaux Tilling is the only surviving mouse in his litter. Born to Antoinette and Lester Tilling, the rest of his litter died at birth. Disappointed by this and how the stresses of giving birth keep ruining her beauty, Antoinette declares she will have no more babies. Staring at Despereaux, Lester Tilling sighs and states that he will be the last and that he will die soon, just like the others.

The reason he says this? Despereaux is an unnaturally small mouse. With the exception of his ears, this infant mouse is extremely tiny. But his ears are huge, much like Dumbo’s were. More disturbing to his father, this last son was born with his eyes open. On top of this, instead of dying, the little mouse lives. Though he hardly grows any bigger and becomes ill easily, Despereaux keeps on living happily in the castle.

Others, however, are not pleased with the youngest of the Tilling offspring. This is due almost entirely to the fact that Despereaux does not act at all like a proper mouse. He does not scurry, search for crumbs, or fear anything or anyone within the castle. Instead he stares at light streaming through the windows and listens to a music none of the other mice seem to hear.

And then things go from bad to worse. Despereaux learns to read in lew of chewing up and eating the glue in the books in the castle library. How he learns is a mystery; when his older sister takes him to the library to start chewing up the books, Despereaux looks at the open volume she wants him to start on and read the first line aloud.

He finds the story in the book enthralling.  It is about a knight rescuing a fair princess and goes back to read it every single day after his older siblings give up trying to teach him how to be a proper mouse. Although this is decidedly odd behavior for a mouse, his family leaves him to it. This allows him to spend the hours he is not reading exploring the world of the castle or staring at light streaming through windows.

In between readings and wanderings, Despereaux discovers the sound he is hearing is music. The music is played by the king for his daughter, the Princess Pea. Going to a crack in the wall of her room, Despereaux listens to the music from the hole. Then he sticks his head through the hole. Then his front legs, and so on, until he is right in the room at the foot of the king, where the princess sees him.

And then something amazing, wonderful, and utterly ridiculous happens. Despereaux falls in love with the princess. (Yes, he does. Really.)

Now the Princess Pea has her own story. A few years ago her mother died. This was due to shock. Arat, Chiaroscuro (Roscuro for short), from the castle dungeon snuck into the chandelier above the banquet hall and accidentally fell in the queen’s soup. Seeing him, the queen was so astonished that she could only say, “There is a rat in my soup,” before fainting and falling face first into said soup. That is where she died.

Following this sad event, the king outlawed rats, soup, and spoons to assuage his grief. His and the castle staff’s only solace now is the Princess Pea, to whom the king is singing and with whom Despereaux has fallen in love. Pea wants to have soup back in the kingdom just like everyone else, but she is still too sad over her mother’s death to do anything about changing her father’s mind in that regard at the moment.

Meanwhile, stuck in the dungeon below the castle, Roscuro is plotting his revenge on the princess for having him banished. Unlike most rats, Roscuro has a great love of light and beauty. Seeing the princess glaring at him after her mother’s death broke his heart, and now he wants to get back at her and everyone else in the castle.

What does all of this have to do with poor Despereaux? Unknown to him, he has not met the princess unobserved. One of his older brothers sees the princess touch Despereaux on the nose. Convinced he is, at least, a goner, this brother reports everything he has witnessed to the council of mice that run the mouse community in the castle.

They are not happy that the little mouse has been seen. Part of this is for practical reasons – if the palace staff starts seeing too many mice around, or the king gets upset about seeing a mouse, the entire community will be chased out of the castle or banished to the dungeon with the rats. But most of the reason the council is unhappy is because mice do not fraternize with humans; it “simply isn’t done.”

So now you can imagine how they react to Despereaux’s declaration of undying love for the Princess Pea, can’t you, readers?

Ah, ah, ah! Those are all the spoilers that you are going to get! I’ve given too much of the story away as it is. If you want to know more, borrow or buy The Tale of Despereaux today. Worth its purchase price many times over, this is a book no shelf should be lacking!

Until next time. 😉

Book Review: Last Stand at Papago Wells by Louis L’Amour

Last Stand at Papago Wells - Louis L'Amour Wiki

Here we are, readers – the first post of a new year! Today’s topic is a Louis L’Amour novel, one of my favorites. Last Stand at Papago Wells was one of the first two or three L’Amour books that I read, and it has a special place in my heart because of that.

This tale is a beauty. Full of suspense, action, intrigue, and tension, L’Amour poured a great deal into this story. It would make a fantastic film, and I hope someone gets the rights to it one of these days. This is a Western that deserves to be on the silver screen!

Okay, enough of the fan-ranting. It’s time to describe the story!

Logan Cates is drifting through the desert when he picks up a trail going toward Yuma. At roughly the same time, he spots a cloud of dust moving in the same general direction. It could be nothing more than a posse or a few travelers headed West….

But with Churupati, a half-Apache, half-Yaqui Indian raiding, pillaging, and murdering small farms and settlements throughout this section of Arizona, those explanations are not entirely satisfactory. Either set of trails Logan has seen and is following could belong to the renegade’s men. It is hard to make sure at a distance, though one trail definitely seems to have been made by white men and not Indians.

Worried by the flurry of activity in what should be a fairly empty desert, Logan pushes forward. This portion of the Territory is largely waterless; only a few tanks up ahead hold out any hope of water. Known as Papago Wells, these particular tanks fill up with water inch by inch over the desert months. Catch them at the right time and you will find enough water to help you along. Come upon them at the wrong time, and you are dead. Logan needs water, and so he is headed to the Wells to refill his canteens….

Last Stand at Papago Wells by Louis L'Amour ...

…And that’s the same place everyone else he has noticed seems to be heading as well.

Up ahead, Jennifer Fair and her fiancé, Grant Kimbrough, are on their way to Yuma to marry. Pursuing them is Jennifer’s father, Jim Fair, a well-known and well-respected cattleman. Having been to school back East for the last few years, Jennifer has come to hate her father and Arizona. This hatred has been fed to greater heights by the fact that she saw her father gun down a young man her ten or eleven year old self had a crush on. She is determined to leave the country by any means available or necessary.

Taking advantage of all this, Kimbrough proposed to her. When her father absolutely refused to accept him as a prospective son-in-law, he suggested they run away to marry, which Jennifer was all too happy to do. On the way toward Yuma they happen across the remains of two cowpunchers the Apaches killed and mutilated.

Lonnie Foreman, the only survivor of the attack, pops up from the rocks and explains what happened. Hitching a ride with the couple, they continue on to Papago Wells. There they meet an old buffalo hunter and his Pima Indian companion, who were pursued to Papago Wells by a posse from Yuma after they killed a young man intent on making a name for himself by murdering one or both of them.

Elsewhere, Junie Hatchet is taken captive by a band of marauding Indians. She escapes them temporarily, only to be chased into an outcropping of rock over the course of the following day. A cavalry patrol which was absorbed into the posse finds and rescues her before heading into Papago Wells, too.

Prior to their arrival Logan pulls into the tanks and mentions the Apaches are watching and waiting to strike at those who will congregate at the Wells. Not long after the gang is all together, Churupati puts them under siege. Elected leader of the group, Logan Cates must find a way to keep them all alive until search parties from Yuma, a nearby fort, or Jim Fair reaches them. Otherwise they are doomed to die at the hands of the Apache.

This book is a tense, action packed little novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat, readers. Part horror, part Treasure of the Sierra Madre, L’Amour’s Last Stand at Papago Wells is a worthy addition to any library. It is one of the best stories the man ever wrote. I recommend you pick it up and enjoy it at your earliest opportunity, because you won’t be disappointed by it. 😉

‘Til next time!

Flickriver: Photoset 'The Western Novels of Louis L'Amour ...

Book Review: Sole Survivor by Dean Koontz

Sole Survivor by Dean R. Koontz - Reviews, Description ...

Here we are, readers, reviewing yet another Dean Koontz novel. Unlike Innocence, I was able to finish reading one, so you know it’s a good story. 😉 Originally published in 1997, Sole Survivor is still current. Yeesh, it is scary how much art is mirroring real life….  Brrr! But if you wanted to know more details about that, you would be watching the news. Since you are here, you want to know what to expect when you pick up Sole Survivor. Therefore, let us begin the description process….now:

The hero of this book is one Joe Carpenter. Thirty-seven years old, Joe used to be a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Post. Then, a year ago, his wife and daughters died in a plane crash on their way back from a trip to the east coast.

The grief and anger he feels over his loss led Joe to quit the Post and alienate most of his friends during the course of the past year. He can’t look at a crime scene without seeing his wife and daughters’ bodies rather than the real victims’; he can’t go a day without suffering panic attacks. During these episodes he imagines dying with his beloved family, feeling racked by guilt that he could not die with them, leaving him the sole survivor of the Carpenter clan.

Nevertheless, Joe has not taken the ultimate step to utter despair. He is desolate, certainly, but he hasn’t committed suicide yet. Mostly, this is due to the fact that he is not sure there is a life beyond this one. If he gets there and finds nothing but an empty void, he will still miss his wife and daughters. And if there is life after death, which he seriously doubts, then murdering himself will guarantee he never sees his family again.

All of this means that Joe is in a rut. He sold his and his family’s house and now lives in an apartment, waiting for the day he can wake up dead. He can’t drink or dope himself to death because doing so would eventually erase his memories. Since those are precious to him, he doesn’t overdo the beers. But he hasn’t been taking care of himself, either.

This morning, on the anniversary of the crash, he calls his mother-in-law. She’s the only one with whom he feels capable of discussing his grief and despair. She asks after his health and suggests he go back to writing, but he deflects her probing questions, convincing her to describe the sunrise at her Virginia home. Her voice has the same southern lilt that his wife’s did, and so he likes hearing her talk. Joe also wants to make sure she and his father-in-law are doing all right, since they’re still grieving, too.

Sole Survivor - Audiobook by Dean Koontz, read by Ryan Burke

Later on Joe goes to the beach. He’s hoping to lull himself into a mood where he can visit his wife and daughters’ graves later in the day without falling apart or getting violently angry. While he is there, drinking and watching the waves, a couple of young boys sidle up and ask if he is selling something. Joe tells them no, and they say that someone must think he is, because there are a couple of “cops” keeping tabs on him from further down the beach. Thanking the boys, who walk away, Joe soon gets curious and turns to spot the men they identified.

Neither man looks to be the regular variety of cop. They’re definitely interested in him, but Joe can’t guess why they should be. He dismisses them from his mind until he goes to the men’s room. Worried about being jumped, he pays a fourteen year old boy to scope out the territory for the two men. Coming back, the boy tells him he spotted one of the two men staring at a couple of bikini-clad women, one of whom is apparently deaf.

“Deaf?” Joe asks. The boy elaborates and states she kept pulling out and putting in a “hearing aid” in one ear. Paying the boy the rest of his promised money, Joe leaves the restroom and goes back to his place on the beach. Two young women set up next to him and, since he is wearing sunglasses, Joe can keep an eye on them without giving his suspicion away. They are watching him – and not the way young women usually watch men at the beach.

Using up the last of his beer, Joe decides these cops have picked him out of the crowd by mistake and ignores them. He packs up and heads to the cemetery. When he gets there, however, he finds a woman photographing the headstones of his wife and daughters’ graves. She tells him she is not ready to talk to him yet, then asks how he is coping with his loss. It doesn’t take a great detective to see he is in bad shape, mind you; she just needs a conversational topic.

Sole Survivor: Amazon.co.uk: Dean Koontz: 9780747254348: Books

Before their graveside chat can go any deeper, the two are interrupted by a screeching engine. Joe looks up to see a vehicle approaching the cemetery. It stops and the two men who were observing him at the beach jump out. Immediately, the woman takes off, and she is so fast that Joe can’t keep up with her in his poor condition.

His two shadows chase after the strange woman. Doubling back to their vehicle, Joe discovers a third man inside. Taking the brute by surprise, Joe subdues him before studying the interior of the van. Abandoning it, he races off before the thug can grab him. He gets shot at, but loses his pursuers, only to find he has picked up a helicopter instead. Discovering a tacking device on his car, Joe slaps it on a passing dump truck and goes to get some answers.

In the process, he learns there is a reason to keep living. Someone survived the plane crash that killed his family, which should be impossible. But apparently it isn’t and, on the off chance that the woman he met at the graveside can help him locate the survivor, Joe begins chasing after her. As he does he learns by inches why he was allowed to survive his family’s demise.

I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you, readers. In spite of the protagonist’s depair-induced whining about the world toward the beginning of the novel, this is a riveting book. Joe eventually gets whacked on the head enough times that he straightens up and flies right, naturally. Koontz doesn’t hold with wimps or whiners, though he occasionally writes about them. Sole Survivor is no different than the rest of his works in that respect.

A good read with a good ending, Sole Survivor is as timely today as when it was written. But you don’t need to take my word for it, readers. Pick up the novel at your earliest opportunity and discover how good a book this is yourselves!

‘Til next time!

Sole Survivor « Dean Koontz

Book Review: Off the Mangrove Coast by Louis L’Amour

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Louis L’Amour is a household name due to his wonderful tales of the men and women who made the West. But he would not have gotten there if he had not started his career as an author writing short stories for magazines. Since his father’s death Mr. L’Amour’s son has been going through the author’s archives to collect the short stories which the publishers did not have. Those he finds are put into collections such as the one we will look at today.

Off the Mangrove Coast, while the title story, is not the first piece which we encounter on opening the book. That is “Fighters Should Be Hungry,” which focuses on one Tandy Moore, a young man with boxing potential who is currently a hobo. Entering a hobo jungle outside Astoria, Oregon, one of the fellas his own age makes a comment which irritates Tandy. He shakes the guy a little, only to be told by one of the other tramps to let the kid alone. Tandy rounds on the older man and gets socked in the mouth after trying to start a fight with him.

Friendships have many strange beginnings, and the camaraderie between Tandy Moore, Gus Coe, and Briggs is no exception. Realizing that Tandy can really fight, the two fellas take him under their wing and teach him some moves before they put him in the ring. But it isn’t just money these men want; they’re intent on taking down a criminal and the boxer who works for him. Tandy especially wants a crack at the other fighter for something that happened a long time ago….

Next we have “It’s Your Move,” a short story set somewhere on the Northwest Coast. It’s about a dock worker who likes to play checkers and is good enough to whip everybody else who works there.

So what do you think happens when he meets a guy who can beat him?

After this comes “Off the Mangrove Coast,” a straight-up treasure hunting story. It focuses on four men who go in search of a sunken ship in the South China Sea. This ship was carrying a gold shipment when it went down and, when there is gold involved, trust becomes scarce. The young hero of this story is not close to any of the men he sails with, and two of them look less than friendly when they talk of the prize they seek. The third, a black man named Smoke Bassett from Port au Prince, seems much nicer. But when the chips are down, who will stand beside their friends, and who will end up shark bait?

I liked these first three stories a fair bit. Smoke Bassett is one of the L’Amour characters I think the most of, even though he only appears in this story. He was a good fella and a strong friend – and yes, I am dropping a veiled spoiler on you here. Therefore, we will go to the next story, which didn’t entertain me near as much as these three did. This would be “The Cross and the Candle,” which is set not long after World War II in France. Here the unnamed hero meets a fellow American who lived and worked in the country before WW II broke out. He had a girl who worked for the Resistance during the Nazi occupation, but she was killed by a traitor. Ever since, this man has been searching for her murderer – and he thinks our unnamed protagonist can help him catch the guy.

“The Diamond of Jeru” is the next story in this collection. It is funny; when I was a child, my father would mention “The Diamond of Jeru” on occasion. So when I saw the title in Off the Mangrove Coast, it rang a bell that took some time to bring back the memories from my youth. For some reason, this title always made me think of an Indiana Jones adventure someone had written up but which I had never seen.

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To be fair, “The Diamond of Jeru” does have some Indiana Jones flair to it. This tale is about Mr. Kardec, a man who went to Borneo in search of diamonds. He found – and lost – a fortune of them, which left him stranded in the country. With no money to pay his way home he has guided others up the Baram River in search of the gems. It means he can meet his bills while keeping body and soul together… but it does not earn him enough to buy a ticket home.

So when a Mr. and Mrs. Lacklan arrive and offer to pay him to be their guide, things begin looking up. Until two problems arise: one, Mrs. Helen Lacklan is younger than her husband, being nearer in age to Kardec than to her man. She is also strong, able, intelligent, and courageous as well as physically attractive. Two, Mr. Lacklan wants to take her up the river with Kardec and himself, which could attract the attention of the natives. But since Kardec desperately wants to go home, he works out a deal with the two despite these problems. Then, a few days before they are to go, the Lacklans return so that Mr. Lacklan can tell Kardec they have found someone who will take them up river much cheaper.

Kardec is angry at first, mostly because everything had been set up and this cancellation is on very short notice. Then he figures out that the Lacklans are being set up by an old head hunter who lives up the Baram – Jeru. Using an enormous diamond, Jeru has lured other treasure hunters up the river, none of whom have ever returned. Kardec tries to warn the two about this but, since it was one of Jeru’s followers with the diamond and not the old man himself, Lacklan decides Kardec is just making trouble. Further angered, Kardec says it’s their funeral and lets them go…

However, the thought of Helen’s head being added to Jeru’s collection finally gets to him, and he packs up to follow the couple upriver.

While this was a riveting story, I cannot say it was one of my favorites. It is much darker than L’Amour’s normal fare – and Indiana Jones’ stories, for that matter. Also, L’Amour rarely had this type of love triangle go on in his stories, but when he did do it, I always found it annoying. So though “The Diamond of Jeru” was well done and relatively interesting, it isn’t a story I like to reread much.

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This means that the piece following this one, “Secret of Silver Springs,” was a breath of fresh air when I picked up the book first. As the title suggests, this is a Western; four men meet on a stage route and, being short on cash, they decide to rob the next coach coming down the line. Instead, they end up saving it from men who want to kill the passengers on said stage. The story starts with this intriguing reversal and, though it gets a bit dark, it is in general the type of Western I have come to expect from L’Amour, making it well worth the read.

Following this we have “The Unexpected Corpse,” a detective piece about a PI who gets a call from an old friend who is now an actress. Having found a dead man in her home, she calls our hero to “hush…up” the mess, but he calls the cops instead. Though he knows the woman has the ability to kill, our detective is ninety percent sure she didn’t commit this crime. But it all comes down to proving that – before the police put her behind bars.

While this story was a little dark, it is not as sinister as “Jeru.” Nevertheless the next tale, “The Rounds Don’t Matter,” was a much better installment. Patty Brennan, an up and coming boxer engaged to the daughter of a police chief, is trying to help the cops catch a mobster who works as a boxing manager. This mobster likes to have the other boxers throw the fight so his man wins the match; those who won’t take the money get taken out. One of those honorable fighters was Patty’s best friend, and he intends to see this guy pay for murdering his pal.

After this we come to the final story in the book, which is called “Time of Terror.” This has to be the darkest story L’Amour ever wrote – it is certainly the most frightening one of his that I have ever read. While having a drink at a bar one night, the hero of this tale sees a man walk into the bar – a man who should be dead. Turns out that this old friend isn’t so friendly; he made a fortune faking his demise, but there are a few loose ends he has to wrap up before he can feel safe enough to live on his ill-gotten gains.

One of those loose ends is our hero.

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In all, Off the Mangrove Coast was not a bad read, though “Jeru” and “Terror” both creeped me out. None of that blights the other tales in this collection, however, which is why I recommend it. Off the Mangrove Coast would be worth the read for the title story alone, but add “Silver Springs,” “The Rounds Don’t Matter,” “It’s Your Move,” and “Fighters Should Be Hungry” into the mix, and you can pass a good evening with this collection.

Despite my criticisms, “Jeru” and a couple of the other stories here were interesting for their historical accuracy. (Plus, the husband in “Jeru” proves that the rotten professor isn’t a recent development, so L’Amour gets points for that.) The only piece in this book that I wish I had not read is “Time of Terror.” THAT was a spooky read. *Shivers.*

These are my opinions, of course; if dark tales are to your taste, you may like the stories I hate and hate the ones I like. All this blogger has done is praise the pieces in the collection which she found most enjoyable. “Terror” and “Jeru” might be right up your alley, readers.

But you won’t know that for sure until you check this book out! 😉 Have fun looking up Off the Mangrove Coast, readers – and feel free to come back with a comment telling me which stories you liked best!

‘Til next time!