Monday, March 21, 2011

Star Scout Rising by Gary Darby

I recently received and read a book called Star Scout Rising: First Trail by Gary Darby. I always look forward to the opportunity to read young adult sci-fi since there is so little of it out there. Star Scout Rising is about the adventures of a young man named Del Baldura, where he and his team are finishing up their Star Scout training. Star Scouts seemed to me to be like a cross between boy scouts and jedi knights. Their job was to explore the galaxy and make things safe for future travelers.

First off, I was excited to see that the book was published in Alaska. I know, that's not really a big deal, except I'm a third generation Alaskan and little things like that get me excited. There were even a few Alaska references in the novel.

Something else I really liked was the fact that it was a clean read: no swearing or other stuff to have to put up with. So, this officially gets the Berin Stephens Big Toe Up award for being something, as a father, I would have no reservations about my own kids reading.

I have to admit, it took me a while to get into the book. It wasn't until about the half-way mark when I found it hard to put down. In my opinion, the book could have used a faster start by being more streamlined. I felt like there was too much time spent with the villain, Peller, and the side story with Dal's uncle. Those stories didn't even tie in directly with Dal's yet (probably in the sequel) and slowed down the read. Some of those chapters are what I call "Council of Elrond" chapters - a lot of information but no action. But, I do advise people to stick with the book, because it does get good and exciting later on.

Gary's knowledge of military procedure was impressive and well detailed. A couple of minor complaints, though, are, 1: I thought they were a little too detailed at times (slowing things down), and 2: the use of all the abbreviations. It often took me out of the story as I had to sit there and try to remember what TL, LS, and CG meant. It might have been handy to have a table in the back of the book to help those of us non-military types to remember what those things stand for.

Something else I liked, military jargon aside, was that this was easy to understand sci-fi. Science fiction has a little bit of a stigma that it is filled with complex scientific terms and principles. This book didn't have that, which to me is a good thing. It might better be classified as an adventure that just happens to take place in outer space (kinda like my book, which is really just a comedy . . . set in outer space . . . with elves).

But overall, this was a good start to a new series. I look forward to more adventures of Del and his intrepid band of Star Scouts. It reminded me of the first science fiction book I'd ever read: Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids by Isaac Asimov.

You can purchase the book here:

And here's Gary's blog:

Too good to pass up

As a sax player, I couldn't pass this up. I stole it from David West who stole it from someone else. FYI, professional saxophonists do not hold Kenny G in high regard, so the Elrond reaction shot is classic.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mr. Monster by Dan Wells

Recently I finished Mr. Monster, Dan's sequel to his 2009 hit I Am Not a Serial Killer. Just for the record, I am not normally a fan of horror novels. The main reason why I read the first book was because it was a Whitney Award nominee. Mr. Monster is also a nominee for this year, but I actually wanted to read this one because of how good IANASK was.

Dan didn't disappoint. At first, I'll admit to a little disappointment because I wanted to get right into the demon slaying side of things. That didn't happen for a while. Instead, we got John Wayne Cleaver's struggle with the wannabe serial killer half of his psyche that he calls "Mr. Monster". And then I realized the name of the book and began to enjoy that the protagonist and the antagonist, for the first half, were the same person. Don't worry, though, a demon still shows up toward the end, allowing for John to reach into his dark side once again to defeat it.

I began to ponder John's "list" that he uses to keep Mr. Monster under control. Here are some of the things on his list:

I will not hurt animals.
I will not burn things.

When I think bad thoughts about someone, I will push the thoughts away and say something nice about that person.
I will not call people 'it'.
If people threaten me, I will leave the situation.

Okay, I don't have any temptations to be a serial killer (I hope), but how many of us have a darker side fighting to get out? Don't we all have a weakness that can take us down a dark path? We can learn something from John Cleaver. Perhaps we all need to make a list specific to our own faults. For instance, if we feel temptations to steal Hostess Ding Dongs, we should make a personal rule to stay far away from places that put out tempting displays of them and not to call them "my precious" (okay, sorry, that's a long story).

Back to the book. Once again, I was sucked into it and found it hard to put down. I did like the first book a little better but not by much. I now am anxiously waiting for a chance to get my hands on the third book of the series: I Don't Want to Kill You. I heard him read the first couple of chapters at Life, the Universe, and Everything in February and it sounds fantastic.

Warning: there is violence, some disturbing mental images, and mild swearing, so this is not a book for those who don't care for that sort of stuff.

Of course, now I need to figure out the name of my inner demon. I can't decide if he's Mr. Munster or Mr. Addams (du-du-du-dut. snap snap).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

Man, I've been busy. I've been reading my butt off. Okay, maybe that's a little hard to do, but it sure feels like it.

Once again, we are in the Whitney Awards season. You can check out more about them here: This year, I'm tackling the adult speculative category, even though it has several books that are also considered young adult. The first nominee I've read, and have been wanting to read for quite some time, is The Scorch Trials by James Dashner. Other books in this category include Orson Scott Card's Pathfinder, Brandon Sanderson's Way of Kings, Dan Wells' Mr. Monster, and Rachel Anne Nunes' Imprints.

I loved Dashner's 2009 hit The Maze Runner. The Scorch Trials ended up being a worthy successor to the first book. I have to admit, I liked Maze Runner a little better, but many of the things I enjoyed about it were expertly continued in its sequel. For one thing, James makes it incredibly hard to put his books down. I lost a lot of sleep because I kept saying to myself, "Just one more chapter, it's short." Then, three hours later . . .

This book continues the adventures of Thomas, Teresa, and the surviving members from "The Glade" in book one. They now have the task of racing across a hot, barren landscape known as The Scorch. They encounter and battle people with a disease called the Flare, whom they call Cranks. In the process, they learn more about the mysterious group WICKED that put them up to all this, but they also end up with more questions.

You know that scene in Jurassic Park when the guy is in the utility building trying to turn the power on? And then that blasted velociraptor jumps out of the wall and makes you wet your pants? Well, this book gave me that same experience. That's the first time a book has ever made me jump like that. I muttered several unflattering insults toward James (like 'clunk head' and 'shuck face') for doing that to me. I won't tell about where it is, but if you like things that scare the pants off you, this book will do it. But in a good way (just keep your belt cinched tight and your pants should stay on).

This book was fun, intense, and exciting. I should warn, for the faint of heart, that there is violence and some mild language. The worst thing about this book is: I now have to wait several more flippin' months for the flippin' sequel.