A Year of Books 2021: Unobjective Assessments

This next set of books is difficult for me to judge. See, I’ve got connections to them.

Sometimes the author is a friend. That means I want to support the book no matter what. The positive is, my friends are awesome writers! But it’s also hard to be objective.

Some of these I backed on Kickstarter. That means I’m susceptible to the sunk cost fallacy. In this case, basically, because I backed something, I want to like it, whether or not it’s actually any good.

And finally, my son forced me to read a book he loved. Like, seriously. He can be very forceful.

So what do I do?

Well, I lumped all the books together. I’m going to attempt to be objective in these mini-reviews, but I also want to be transparent!

Once again, these books come in no particular order!

The Complete Alvarez Bros. Dime Novel Collection
by The Old Sleuth, pseudonym of Harlan Page Halsey

The Alvarez twins inherited cunning and circus training. They went on to become detectives, tracking down all manner of criminals. In this collection, all five of their novels are gathered together for the first time. The five were originally published in 1898. These twins can be seen as early blueprints for superheroes. They have unusual abilities and use them to help innocent people.

These novels are… interesting. It’s fascinating to read popular literature from a century ago. As the five novels progress, you can see the author trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. In the first novel, the two brothers being twins was instrumental to the plot. But by the fifth book? One brother makes a two-page appearance. The other brother gets the entire rest of the book to himself! It’s like the author figured out that the twins aspect wasn’t helping sales.

If you’re interested in pulp fiction from the turn of the century, check this out. It’s nifty!

Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2021
edited by Robert Greenberger

Thrill to science fiction stories! Soar in a thrilling aviation yarn! Swoon to romance tales! Puzzle at mysteries! And more in this collection of modern day pulp stories, lushly illustrated and lovingly packaged.

Do you like Indiana Jones? That kind of adventure? Check out this anthology. There’s a previous volume I also have. I’d say the first volume had both worse and better stories than this later volume. The package overall I think is better. It’s solid adventures with creative writing. Really, the volume is worth your time!

[Sorry — couldn’t find a picture of the cover for this one!]

Dalton Kane and the Greens
by J. S. Bailey

Trees are the enemy. Humans have settled in a vast desert, far from the bloodthirsty greens. But then fires send green refugees deep into the desert. Sheriff Dalton Green and his ex-conman deputy Chumley Fanshaw must investigate, and in the process, save the life of every human on the planet.

A western/sci-fi mashup? I’m a sucker for these kind of things. I am all about Firefly. And throw in a dash of comedy? Let’s do this!

And… it was decent. I don’t know if I was reading it on a down day, but it did not grab me the way I wanted it to. That said, I did read the 400+ page book in just two days, which means I must have enjoyed it a good amount! There was certainly nothing bad in it. The characters pop. The plot is rich in action. Like I said, it just didn’t grab me.

Tales of Terror Volume One
compiled and edited by M. Catherine Griffith-Mallicote

Horror is nothing new. This collection of true gothic horror presents stories from 1773 to 1872, with authors including Washington Irving, Mary Shelley, and Edgar Allan Poe. By far my favorite of the collection was William Mudford’s “The Iron Shroud.” A man is imprisoned in a castle. All seems fine—for a prison, anyway—until he notices that the room gets a little smaller every single night…

Not every story in this collection is great. “The Viy” by Nikolai Gogol wandered aimlessly, for example. However, a good number of the stories do haunt me. I’d never read Mary Shelley before, so it was a delight to be introduced to her work, and the Edgar Allan Poe piece was new to me. Overall, I’m glad I backed this book, even if there are a few clunkers.

The Dark Walk Forward
by John S. McFarland

The aftermath of The Great War has scarred the town of Ste. Odile. Children aren’t what they should be. Doctors fear what follows them from home visits. School teachers dread the coming blizzard. And in this collection of short stories, not everyone will make it out alive.

I’ve gotten to know John a little bit, and he’s a great guy. What’s even better is that this collection really is creepy. “One Happy Family” included some fantastic twists after building an atmosphere of dread. “Oblivion” introduces a school teacher that I wish got a happy ending.

I’d like to say every story sings, but unfortunately, there were a few that didn’t hit me. “The Little Dead Thing” that starts the collection was eerie enough, but it didn’t get under my skin the way a number of the other tales did. That said, overall the collection is very strong. If you want to feel some creeping terror, this is a great book to get!

The Last Star Warden: Tales of Adventure and Mystery from Frontier Space, Volume 1
by Jason J. McCuiston

He may have leaped forward in time. He may be the last Star Warden. He may face a frontier filled with scum and villainy. But he’ll bring peace and justice to the edge of space, along with his alien companion Quantum! In these five adventures, the Star Warden faces peril, intrigue, mystery, and lots of people shooting at him.

Look, this is Flash Gordon for the modern man. Do you like classic science fiction? You should get this book. My biggest complaint? It’s too short.

Come on, Jason! Get moving with volume two, would you?!

Impossible Realms
by Wendy Nikel

Holy. Cow.

I’ve known Wendy for years. I’ve been jealous of her for about as long. Her quartet of novels, A Place in Time, are great time-travel stories. I had never read her short stories before this collection, though.

She packs more worldbuilding into a thousand words than most people fit into entire novels. Her stories aren’t about one thing. She paints fantastic pictures brimming over with imagination. Here are twelve fantasy short stories. My biggest complaint? Like Jason’s book, it’s all over too fast.

I highly, highly recommend you grab this book. It is so good.

Spirit Hunters
by Ellen Oh

My son plopped the book in front of me. “Read it. Rawr!” And then he tackled me. And then he asked if I’d read it yet. And then he asked again. Every day. To stave off insanity or the possible murder of my son, I read it.

Harper’s house is haunted. Her brother is acting strange. And it may be too late to save him.

It’s a standard haunted house story, really, but it’s one written with great skill. I was surprised at the pacing; the beginning of the book moves slowly, but by the end it all rushes so quickly! It reminds me of a more modern take on the feel of The House with a Clock in Its Walls. If that’s your kind of thing, you’ll enjoy this book!

Published by Jon

Jon lives in Kentucky with his wife and an insanity of children. (A group of children is called an insanity. Trust me.)

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