Book Review: ‘Eternal Road’

Front cover of Eternal Road, with a 1956 blue and white Oldsmobile on a road

Eternal Road: The Final Stop by John W. Howell

An imaginative story of one man’s entrance and journey in the afterlife. This is quite different than St. Peter standing before the pearly gates and checking a book to see if you can enter, or if you’re sent downward.

James Wainwright dies in a car wreck early in the story. As a spirit, he’s still driving, and he picks up a hitchhiker — who turns out to be Samantha Tourneau, with whom James had a childhood love. Samantha (mostly going by Sam) has grown up in the afterlife, as she was killed when she was in the first grade.

So a trigger warning: a girl is murdered at the beginning of the book. More depth comes to that plot line toward the ending.

James and Sam embark on a time-traveling journey: jumping into Tombstone, Arizona during the OK Corral gunfight, to the Alamo just before the battle, to more. I don’t want to list all the destinations and give away surprises in the story.

The time-travel locations have a feeling of randomness, but that gives an entertaining unpredictability. Also, these are times and places where James could spend his eternal home. Sam serves as a guide to help James find his eternal home, but the jumping through times is mostly out of their control.

Indeed, the time bouncing makes for a fun story, and it helps James and Sam get reacquainted after not seeing each other for 17 years. Their relationship deepens beyond that childhood affection. And Sam is a good guide to get James acquainted with this stage in his spiritual life.

However, James must face some struggles alone, as Lucifer himself makes several appearances in trying to convince James to join him in the hot place.

The book works on several levels and isn’t simply a time-travel adventure. In the book’s dedication, John talks about a lesson from his father: “we all have challenges in our lives, and those that can succeed in reaching their goals despite them will find happiness.” John certainly wrote a story to describe challenges for James to endure. James needs smarts and courage and assistance from Sam for those challenges. And throughout, he holds on to hope.

The book is available on Amazon.

Also, John is a prolific blogger, and you can read more of his stuff here.

Book Review: Leave the World Behind

front cover of Leave the World Behind book

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

A world-shattering event occurs in this book. Unlike a Hollywood blockbuster, however, there’s no CGI special effects to wow us. The event occurs off stage.

The book’s characters (Amanda and Clay and their two kids) are vacationing in a Long Island home isolated from others. Except others knock on the door one evening. These others claim to own the house. The older married couple isn’t random, as they know Amanda’s name, who arranged this stay for her family in this Airbnb property. Amanda recognizes the gentleman’s name (G.H.) as the person with whom she communicated for this vacation stay.

Another problem: The wi-fi and cable TV stopped working in the house. So Amanda and Clay can’t verify what G.H. and his wife (Ruth) are claiming about a blackout in New York City.

The world, as advertised on the Airbnb property’s listing, has been left behind. Not all of it, since the two strangers show up on the doorstep. Good-bye, hoped-for family vacation.

The worlds for both families are thrown topsy-turvy as they try to piece together what happened — and is happening. What was that enormous sound? Why are the animals acting differently?

Instead of invading aliens or swarming zombies or crashing meteors, the tension in this story comes from more subtle sources. One: the characters trying to puzzle out the odd events. Two: the interactions among the two family groups and between the two groups.

Subtlety is the key in the previous paragraph. The book has a Shirley Jackson-type vibe of discomfort and potential danger as undercurrents. This story builds slowly and doesn’t wrap up neatly. I imagine this won’t be the cup of tea for some readers. Items are listed in the beginning, like the assortment in Clay’s car and what Amanda buys at a grocery store.

These are the things we accumulate. As are what’s in the house. The things we buy and use as we aim for comfortable lives. The good life. But how many of those things will help us when civilization crashes? Do we have the skills to survive in that event?

These — and other questions — are presented in this book. It’s more of a thoughtful exploration than a rush of action in every chapter.

Book Review: Dune

Book cover of Dune: the silhouette of a man walking across a series of desert dunes

Dune (Dune Chronicles, Book 1) by Frank Herbert

My first experience with Dune was watching part of the David Lynch-directed movie (1984). I didn’t see the movie in a theater; I watched part of it when it came to TV — which was in 1988, according to Wikipedia. I remember being confused by the story, and I didn’t last through the whole movie. (I was 16 years old in 1988.)

I didn’t get around to reading the book until this year, so it’s my second experience. And it lived up to the description of it as one of the masterpieces of science fiction. Actually, it’s a masterpiece of a story — forget about genre for a minute.

This is one of those books that I thought during reading, How the hell did the author create this? As a self-published writer who feels like an amateur, to me the experience was like watching a master magician’s show and scratching my head in wonder about how the tricks were pulled off.

Why do I say this? Because Frank Herbert invented a world with various forces acting upon each other, societies, and histories to form the story’s setting. This is akin to Tolkien’s inventing Middle-earth in which to place The Lord of the Rings.

“I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows.”
Ernest Hemingway

However, Papa didn’t invent an entire, other-world for a story. Tolkien and Herbert created a huge mass of iceberg to support the tip that can be seen above the water’s surface.

I’m far from an expert in the Dune universe, but I’ll give it a go for the basics around this book…

At the start, House Atreides rules the planet Caladan. House Harkonnen rules Arrakis (Dune), a desert planet where “spice” is collected and shipped to all over. Spice is in demand for its ability to extend life, and to help see into the near future. The Emperor instructs House Atreides to leave Caladan and take over the rule of Arrakis. And, oh yeah, the Atreides and Harkonnens don’t care for each other.

House Atreides has Duke Leto, his “concubine” Lady Jessica, and his son Paul Atreides. Only 15 years old at the beginning of the story, Paul is the book’s main character. He is taught by his parents, as well as several mentors.

Lady Jessica is a Bene Gesserit, an all-female group that runs a school to teach keen powers of observation of others and control of their own bodies. Bene Gesserits act as advisors to the heads of Houses.

There are many groups, each with their own agenda to expand their power. The Houses, the Emperor, the Bene Gesserit, the Guild that controls travel among planets (they’re focused on commerce).

And there are the Fremen, the native people of Arrakis, who have learned to live in the very harsh conditions of the desert.

That’s a tiny part of the iceberg. I won’t go further about the plot, since the delight of the book is experiencing events unfold. If you want a plot summary, there’s the Wiki page.

Also, in the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, episode 417 has a really good, in-depth discussion of the book — hosted by David Barr Kirtley with guests Andrea Kail, Rajan Khanna, and Matthew Kressel. The episode is available on Youtube, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.

I’ll wrap up by saying that Dune has political strategizing, knife fights, careful walks over the desert, rituals and life of the Fremen, and trippy moments. And let’s not forget about those enormous worms.

I admired how much ecology Frank Herbert included about Arrakis. Not only does that planet have a delicate ecosystem, the same adjective could be applied to any ecosystem:

“A system maintains a certain fluid stability that can be destroyed by a misstep in just one niche. A system has order, a flowing from point to point. If something dams that flow, order collapses The untrained might miss that collapse until it was too late. That’s why the highest function of ecology is the understanding of consequences.”
— Planetologist Pardot Kynes, quoted in Appendix I: “The Ecology of Dune”

Herbert’s words were published in 1965, five years before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was established and the first Earth Day.

One almost-last thing! I never went back to watch the David Lynch movie of the book. Maybe I’ll check it out sometime. More importantly, there’s a new Dune movie directed by Denis Villeneuve. I don’t know when the movie will be released. I was excited seeing the trailer before I read the book, and reading the book made me look forward to the movie even more.

One last thing! The above swoon-worthy cover (yes, I typed swoon-worthy) was designed by Jim Tierney — and he created designs for the series. Please excuse my drooling.

Nobody Will Like This Book

Front cover of Nobody Will Like This Book. It has only gray text on a white background.

My latest book is in the world, like a little bird flying from the nest and exploring the world on its own. This is my first time putting together a children’s book, and its called Nobody Will Like This Book.

(Yeah, it’s a sad title. Kind of like B.B. King singing, “Nobody Loves Me But My Mother.”)

But please don’t throw the book a dismissive wave because of the sad title. There’s hope shining on the horizon, after we get through a metaphorical mucky marsh.

Indeed, this book thinks nobody will like it. The reasons: This book has seen other books with beautiful pictures and colors on their covers. And some other books have pictures and colors on their inside pages.

In contrast, this book has only grays. And some pages don’t have a logical sense why they’re next to each other. The book has many drawings on the inside pages. Some of the drawings are silly, such as a ladybug playing a xylophone.

The book’s outlook changes when a friendly book comes by and explains that being different isn’t bad. Instead, it makes books special.

This book is available at Amazon as an ebook for Kindle and as a paperback (it’s sized 8.5″ x 8.5″ and has 56 pages and is printed just with black ink).

Some of the page spreads…

text on a page: This book thinks nobody will like it.
text on one page: Why? Because this book's words have scratches on them. Text on next page: But that is not the only reason.
A page will silly words on it. For example: Sagurp, Goopfernicken, Quazil, and Lobump
A page spread of an illustration of trees. Three birds and a squirrel are on the trees. Two butterflies and a bee fly around.

Book Review: Light Bites

Front cover of Light Bites book

Light Bites by Helen Laycock.

The title is fitting for this book, as its short stories are on the light side, serving a delightful selection such as you might get with hors d’oeuvres served at a party.

Twelve stories are included here, ranging from singles looking for love, to a woman jealous of a neighbor, to a fairy who doesn’t feel comfortable in her skin, to a ghost attending her body’s funeral.

Humor runs through the stories, offering zings to the palate here and there. A prank doesn’t work as planned. A woman’s mission to get to the train station to pick up her husband doesn’t go smoothly. A couple on a vacation are surprised when they reach a cozy cabin. And when things don’t proceed as planned, you can laugh and make do with the happy accidents.

Of course, not all events are accidental or happy. Such as when you learn why many homeowners on a street are putting their houses up for sale. And when a women is quite underwhelmed by a man on their first date — and her reaction deepens when the man emails her what has to be the most awkward poem ever sent to someone after a first date. Or any date. The poem includes references to a scab and body hair. Yeah. You read that correctly. But at least the poem has rhyming lines.

That poem and date occur in the last story of the book, “Shaken, and Stirred,” my favorite story of this collection and the most funny to me.

If you desire lighter fare after yet another horrific event in the news or dark fiction, give this book a shot. The delightful assortment of stories just might have you smiling and chuckling.

Eternal Road – The final stop is on Sale at 99¢ Till Wednesday — Fiction Favorites

The description of Mr. Howell’s book is quite intriguing, ending with “If you like time-travel, adventure, mystery, justice, and the supernatural, this story is for you.” And the book is on sale through Wednesday!

In case you missed the announcement,  Eternal Road – The final stop e-book is on sale on US Amazon through Wednesday, March 24 at midnight Eastern Time. Here is the link Eternal Road – The final stop has 26 ratings for an average of 4.8. This special is being featured on Ereader News Today. […]

Eternal Road – The final stop is on Sale at 99¢ Till Wednesday — Fiction Favorites

International Paperback Giveaway – The Teleporter — Lee’s Hall of information

This book is a really entertaining read, and here’s your chance to try to win a paperback copy! If you like superhero movies, I’d certainly recommend this novel:

In celebration of The Teleporter reaching 100 Amazon Reviews I am giving away 2 signed paperback copies! To enter: All you need to do is head on over to Twitter and comment, like and retweet my pinned tweet to officially secure your place in the running! If you are chosen as a winner, you’ll need […]

International Paperback Giveaway – The Teleporter — Lee’s Hall of information

Children’s Book Progress

I’m very pleased on how the draft of my children’s book is moving along. As with Dancing Fish, I enjoy seeing the layout come together, in arranging text and illustrations on the pages.

These two projects have been much closer to my day job of graphic design than my previous books, in that the projects I work on for clients typically include text, photos, and graphs. These elements are arranged on the pages with the purpose of clear communication.

Same goal with the children’s book. I don’t want to crowd the pages to make reading difficult. I want the pages to have variety, in the hope of keeping readers interested.

Certainly it’s a different kind of reader. A typical project for my day job is a research report or cover for a civil engineering book. And the new book for my personal project is intended to be read with kids. I love the idea of parents reading this book to their kids. I really hope that idea comes true. I’ll keep you posted when the book is published.

For now, here’s a sample of some of the artwork in the book:

silhouettes of lion, pineapple, moon, and rhinoceros

Book Review: The Teleporter

cover for The Teleporter

The Teleporter by Lee Hall

This is an entertaining superhero story about Kurt Wiseman, who’s bumbling through life. He loves booze so much, having a hangover on a Tuesday morning is not out of the ordinary for him.

Kurt once wrote a graphic novel — One Night in New York — and that seems to be the extent of his ambition beyond drinking at his buddy Douglas’s bar. Kurt could write another graphic novel, but hasn’t made the effort. And he makes minimum effort at his job.

But when an accident happens at his place of employment, Kurt’s life is changed forever. The kind of change along the lines of Peter Parker getting bitten by a radioactive spider and Dr. Bruce Banner shot with a gamma ray. These changes dramatically transform their lives.

Kurt’s new power to teleport cracks the cycle of lazing around at his job during the day and drinking deeply at night. Along with the power, he’s transformed on an emotional level. Yes, you could just use teleporting to save the hassle of walking, but you could use it for more, namely helping people.

Kurt makes for a fun narrator, with snarky remarks and how he describes things. I especially enjoyed the first part of this novel, as the narration took the time to develop each scene. The writing became more streamlined in the middle and final parts. I realize that happens as the action picks up, but I would’ve liked a bit more meat in those scenes.

The story takes a serious message — struggling with our demons and transforming into a stronger, more selfless person — and delivers it in a playful wrapping. I had fun along the way.

*****

Check out Lee Hall’s blog for updates about his writing.

Book Review: Edge of the Breach

cover for Edge of the Breach

Edge of the Breach (Rift Cycle Book 1) by Halo Scot

Halo Scot did a great job in setting up the environment in this book. The story happens far into Earth’s future, after us dumb humans have demolished most of the planet into an uninhabitable mess. People live in Antartica, either in the downtrodden Shelf or in the city of Zawad. Added to that, the sky has torn a hole, which leads to the dimension of gods.

And that’s not all! (Said in a deep-throated voice of a guy narrating a movie trailer.) Humans are born with special abilities, depending on the season of your birth: spring as healers, summer as mages who can control gravity, fall as shapeshifters, winter as protective shields.

Impressive world-building here. Inserted into this world are our main characters: Julian Kyder and Sira Rune. Both are born on a solstice (Kyder in summer, Rune in winter), so their abilities are especially powerful. The book’s chapters alternate the points of view of these two characters.

We follow Kyder and Rune in part of their childhood, through teenaged years, into young adulthood. And believe me when I tell you this isn’t a “gosh I feel awkward in high school” type of story. Um, no.

Be prepared for dramatic scenes, because this book is a wild ride. Kyder and Rune make their way in this world, taking initiative to better themselves and dealing with horrific events. We see the powerful influences of family, from Kyder’s single mom to Rune’s parents and brother. Shocks that come early will reverberate for years.

I found that I was pulling for the characters and wishing their struggles weren’t so difficult. But the characters are shaped by these, in a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” kind of way.

This ride isn’t for squeamish readers, as Halo Scot has included a content warning in the book’s blurb. Yes, there’s very graphic violence. There’s torture and self-harm. I had never heard of “grimdark” as a story category, and this book is both grim and dark. And it has a gripping story.

This is the first part of the Rift Cycle series, which has four books — all of them have been published.