BOOK REVIEW: The Storyteller

I don’t typically review memoirs, simply because for the most part, I don’t see the point in it. If it’s about someone you like, chances are you’ll like the book. And if you don’t like the person the memoir’s about…well, then you’re probably not even going to read it.

And honestly, I picked up The Storyteller at the airport just so I could have something to pass the time while I was being hurtled in the air toward…I don’t even remember where I was going at this point. But, with all due respect to Dave Grohl (he of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame), his memoir was supposed to be little more than a throwaway read.

Little did I realize this was the exact book I needed, right when I needed it.

Unlike Grohl, I don’t have a musical bone in my body. I enjoy music, but I can’t create it. But one thing Grohl and I have in common is this deep, existential need to create. Whereas his canvas is a drum kit or a recording studio, mine is the word processor. Everything music is to Grohl, writing is for me. Only I had lost sight of that of late.

Taking this journey with Grohl, from his suburban Virginia childhood all the way through the whirlwind of rock stardom, tragedy, and eventual fatherhood, served as a stark reminder–not just about the importance of not denying your truth, but the value of courage, of taking that chance that frightens you, of looking at the world and deciding you’re going to do the thing you do, regardless of what anyone else says or thinks.

“Courage is a defining actor in the life of any artist,” Grohl writes in one of the book’s most poignant passages. And while he speaks specifically of music–his art form of choice–the same truths can be applied to any creative discipline.

At the end of the day, my own creative struggles are indicative of a lack of courage. The Storyteller, without Grohl even realizing it, has gotten me back on the path to my own creative freedom. Finding my courage again: courage to tell my stories, to tell them loudly, and to tell people about them once they’re out in the world.

There is a charmed-life aspect to Grohl’s memoir; more than once, he happens to be at the right place and the right time, and more than once, I flipped the pages with a dopey, “Wait-you-know-so-and-so?” grin on my face. But even those instances boil down to Grohl’s creative urges and his courage and follow them.

Which is why The Storyteller is a book I’m glad I read. It came about just when I needed it most.

The Storyteller is available in ebook, hardcover, and audiobook.

BOOK REVIEW: A Country of Eternal Light

I honestly don’t know what to say about this book.

Make no mistake: A Country of Eternal Light is a masterpiece. A literary marvel and the truest example of Darby Harn’s prose expertise. As great as his Eververse series is (and it really is one of the best in the superhero genre), this book is his magnum opus to date.

But as great as this book is, A Country of Eternal Light is a difficult read. It’s raw. It’s emotional. It hits you in ways you least expect, and the book I thought I was getting into was nothing like the book I ended up getting (and I mean this in a good way). This is the sort of book you’ll probably have to put down a few times, get some space away from it. Whether i’s because a line made you think or punched you in the gut, you’re going to have to take breaks.

This is not a page-turner, the sort of book where you lose hours at a time.

Because this book will gut you. Several times over. It will hollow you out. From the first page, hope is but a distant memory, and the result is a story that seems to get bleaker than you think possible. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is the point. The world is, quite literally, ending, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

There’s no last-minute save. There’s no miracle or story-driven contrivance to save the day. There’s despair and there’s death and there’s anguish and you have to sit with that reality just the same as the characters. In the hands of another author, this story would probably focus on the black hole, the how and the why–and it would probably still be good and epic and enjoyable.

But Harn focuses on the people living out the rest of their days, even when they don’t know why. He doesn’t dump exposition on us, explaining away the black hole or even one of the biggest emotional beats of the protagonist. They’re just there, and they’re to be dealt with regardless of what anyone actually wants to do. More than once, this book makes you question why Mairead and others continue to push through and live life when, from our perspective, everything is so pointless and hopeless and useless…and yet.

And yet.

That dichotmoy, that emotion, is is what makes A Country of Eternal Light the masterstroke it is. It’s spec fic that doesn’t feel like spec fic. It’s the human experience, stripped to its hopeless yet stubborn core, and it will break you several different ways.

And you’ll love it. I know I did. Even if I’m not sure I can handle another read-through.

This book is an early contender for Best Book of 2021, and I wholeheartedly give this five enthusiastic (if slightly teary-eyed) stars. Let’s just make sure the stars stay in the sky, where they belong.

A Country of Eternal Light is available on Kindle and in paperback.


Lots of books in this batch, including strong entries from Jason Luthor, Andrew Mayne, and Christy King.

Floor 21: Descent by Jason Luthor

Floor 21 DescentI thoroughly enjoyed Floor 21, so much so that I had extraordinarily high expectations of Descent. Fortunately, author Jason Luthor not only met those expectations, but even surpassed them. The result is a fantastic sequel that is equal parts intense, terrifying, and adrenaline-packed.

When I read the first book, I considered this sort of a dystopian type of fiction. But this book really hammers home the horror aspect of things, as Jackie and her crew finally come face-to-face with not just the Creep, but scores of other threats that are, at times, downright unsettling. Which highlights one of the many highlights of Luthor as a writer: he has done a tremendous job of world-building in such a limited setting. I mean, everyone’s confined to one building, yet it’s clear that Luthor is building a world and mythology that is all-encompassing. The macro and micro merge together perfectly in Descent, resulting in a wholy satisfying read.

Jackie grows tremendously in this book, and I love how true to her voice Luthor remains. I’ve read far too many books written in the first person that eventually no longer sound like the protagonist telling the tale, but Jackie is Jackie throughout, changes and all. And whereas there were passages in the first novel from another character to add much-needed context, the same is done in Descent.

All in all, Floor 21: Descent is a wonderful follow-up, and it sets the stage nicely for the next installment — which hopefully pops up sooner rather than later. If you loved the first novel, then I can’t recommend this one enough. And even if you didn’t read the first, I really think you should and then give Descent a read.

Definitely one of my favorites of 2016.

Rating: *****
Dirty Deeds by Christy King

Dirty DeedsDirty Deeds by Christy King is a great many things — badass vigilante chick, undercover saga, heartbreaking love story, and supernatural drama that spans over the centuries, behind the proverbial curtain to the point where the reader doesn’t realize the true ramifications of Cameron James’ life until it’s too late.

Even with all of that going for it, Dirty Deeds never feels rushed or crammed too full. A book this ambitious in vision could’ve easily been bogged down by that vision. Yet King never allows the macro to get in the way of the micro, and even when the macro reveal feels like a “Where did thatcome from?!” punch to the gut, hindsight, and well-placed clues, will paint a much clearer picture.

There aren’t many books that surprise me anymore. Dirty Deeds did just that.

One of the reasons this book jumps back and forth so well through so many styles and genres and twists is that King never loses sight of the characters. Cam is many different things to many different people — even to herself — and we never lose that sense of who she is throughout everything. Even the supporting characters, like Dev, have enough life to them that your concern for their predicament outweighs your own bewilderment.

In a way, I wish there was another book featuring Cam in the offing, because King has created a wonderful, vibrant character — to say nothing of a potentially rich supernatural mythology that’s practically begging to dug into more. But long and short of it, I’m a sucker for tough female characters, and this book fits that bill perfectly.

All in all, Dirty Deeds is a fantastic read, one of the best I’ve had so far in 2016.

Rating: *****
Station Breaker by Andrew Mayne

Station BreakerIf you’re familiar with Andrew Mayne’s Jessica Blackwood novels, I’m gonna warn you right now: Station Breaker is not like either of those books, and David Dixon is not Jessica Blackwood.

But that’s a good thing.

Mayne has penned a fantastic sci-fi thriller, one that throws you into the fire from the word go and doesn’t bother letting you catch up. That’s a good thing in this instance, as what is supposed to be the best day of Dixon’s life — his first outer space mission — quickly turns to his worst. He’s on the run for much of the book, and there’s a Jason Bourne quality to this book that works, even if the main character is anything but a spy.

Action sequences are masterful, and exposition chapters aren’t too massive with the info-dumping. Mayne grows as a writer with each book he writes, and the climatic battle toward the end represents some of his finest work.

Two minor quibbles:

1) LOTS OF ALL CAPS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! I get that some of them are sound effects (this being a first-person narrative, Mayne chooses “BANG!!!” as opposed to “Gunfire from behind startled David.”), but a lot of it is also some of David’s inner monologue. It’s effective in terms of giving David a definitive voice, but I can see where it would get annoying from time to time.

2) This book ends on a cliffhanger. Yes, it makes it clear there will be another David Dixon book, but I’m of the mindset that you can end a book in a series without a cliffhanger (pay no attention to Behind the Badge…).

Still, Station Breaker is a fantastic, adrenaline-packed sci-fi thriller, and proof that Andrew Mayne is not just a one-trick writer.

Rating: ****
Transference by Sydney Katt

TransferenceI feel like Transference would’ve been a much better book if it were longer. It’s a fast-paced read, to be sure, and I don’t doubt that would still be the case if several important things were fleshed out. But as it is, this book feels rushed… and that affected my ability to emotionally connect with either Allison or Brad.

Too much of the transformative events in these characters’ lives were mentioned in hindsight, in sort of an oh-by-the-way manner, and I feel this novel would’ve been much richer, much livelier, if the author had written flashbacks in which these events had actually occurred. Don’t just tell me how Allison found herself on her way to prison in the book’s open — take me on that journey with her.

What is here is well-written, crisp and free-flowing. There’s a lot of potential, a lot of stuff that could’ve been extremely compelling if it had just been fleshed out a little bit more.

Transference is a solid, entertaining enough read, but it could’ve been so much more.

Rating: ***