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2014 Book 91: One Bullet Beyond Justice

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Book 91: One Bullet Beyond Justice by Dennis R. Miller  isbn: 9781312402553,, 258 pages, $16.00

The Premise: (from the Goodreads page): Nora Hawks must overcome her own inner demons as she battles to survive in a world where men want to kill her as a "prize." One Bullet Beyond Justice is the sequel to the highly acclaimed One Woman's Vengeance. Nora Hawks is one of the strongest, most realistic female heroes to come along in years. "She came back from the dead to kill. Now she kills to stay alive." It is a novel of fully realized characters, gritty dialogue, twists, turns, and a final epic battle. Within it is a unique love story between a strong, intelligent woman and her retired bounty hunter partner.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

My Thoughts: I admit I am not well-read in the Western genre. I've read more western novels in 2014 (2!) than I have in the previous 5 combined, and only a relative handful of Western short stories in those 5 years as well (and most of those by Elmore Leonard). So I can't say with any certainty how unusual Dennis Miller's Nora Hawks novels are within the genre being that they focus on a female lead with several strong female supporting characters. I certainly now that when I scan the Western shelves in any given bookstore, most of the books seem centered on male protagonists, so I think perhaps Dennis' series bucks the trend a bit.

Nora's life is not an easy read. In the first book she survives rape and abuse, which lead her to a violent revenge; in this book many of the supporting characters, male and female, suffer brutality after brutality. Miller does not shy away from these moments or put them "off-screen." There are some stomach-churning moments for the protagonists and antagonists alike. Miller doesn't revel in these scenes, he's not including them to be gratuitous; they are vital to the progression of the story and the reader must endure them alongside Nora. I think it's a testament to Miller's ability that he can couple the violence with scenes of deep emotional heft and have them flow seemlessly.

Because amongst the horrific scenes there are moments of beauty and of deep contemplation. The beauty comes in the quiet moments when Nora and Pete are alone in the wilderness. The contemplation is present in several of the conversations between Nora and the preacher who takes up residence in town after a church is finally built, and between Nora and the young eastern-born traveling musician determined to sing her to fame; the types of conversations we can all relate to: why has my life taken the turns that it has? has the good I've done outweighed the bad? is this all worth it? what could I have done differently, and would I if I could? For Miller, it's not enough to write to the genre "formula," although the formula is present. The author strives to do more with his characters' internal life than just have them hit their marks and speak their words. Because of this, he's expanded the point-of-view in this second Nora novel beyond Nora and Pete (the former bounty hunter who taught her how to shoot and also managed to find a way into her heart) to several other characters. It feels a bit disjointed in places but overall works well to set the stage for the large final shoot-out, and more importantly the aftermath of that shoot-out. The multiple-POVs also allow for a great amount of suspense as to how things are going to play out.

I won't spoil the end of the book, except to say that as befits a thriller (set in any time-period) a majority of the characters are in danger of dying, and not all of them survive. Even here, Miller plays with the tropes of the genre and I think manages to surprise the reader with the outcomes.

It's Been A Month

Due to a number of factors, but largely to the return of heavy-duty depression which always results in me sleeping a lot and reduces my online presence and my productivity, I haven't posted here since November 7th. It's now December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day. I've spent most of this past weekend sleeping, and usually after a good 36 hours in bed, I end up slightly snapping out of my funk and feel like being productive again. I can't say how long this uptick in energy will last, at this time of year it's always a bit hit-or-miss. But I figured I'd toss a quick post up here letting those who still read this know that I'm still alive, that I have not forgotten about my LJ again.

There are a number of blog-related things I would love to complete before the end of December (coming up to date on book reviews, story reviews, perhaps reviewing at least the winter-finale episodes of the various shows I reviewed for most of the fall) but given where my mind has been the past month, I am not putting any pressure on myself to accomplish any of those things (except where reviews need to be written in order to help me qualify to win a drawing, as with the "To Be Read" Challenge which I need to write two more reviews for. One of those books is already read, the other I'm about a quarter of the way through).

Tonight I'm in a hotel in Parsipanny NJ, where I'll be teaching the next two days. Then on Weds it's down to Baltimore for two days. Next week, it's another two days in Parsipanny followed by two days in Philadelphia.

Tonight's plan, as of now (around 11pm eastern) is to write one book review and post it here and then head offline and hope to get some sleep -- a dicey proposition considering again that I slept most of the past 36-48 hours.

If I owe you an email, a text, a message on some form of social media ... I apologize for being out of touch. I will try to do better in the coming days. Thanks as always for your patience during these heavy depression periods.

Charities, Kickstarters and New Music

It's time again for one of my occasional posts in which I attempt to signal-boost for friends and family who have fundraisers or creative projects that are crowd-funding, as well as projects I just believe in. This is under the assumption that there are people who read my livejournal who don't also follow me on Twitter or Facebook, where I signal-boost all the time. If any of these catches your eye and you can help out, great. At the very least, I hope some of you will help boost the signal even farther via your own social media or email.


This one is cutting it close, and many of you may not see it til the event is over. But if you're in the Tampa FL area between now (9:15pm Eastern on Friday November 7) and noon on Saturday, November 8th, consider bringing some canned food over to Metropolitan Ministries to help Zachary Bonner break the world record for most food collected at a single location in 24 hours. Zach is one of the most civic-minded, motivated teenagers I've had the pleasure of interviewing, and I'd love to see him break this record. All the food collected will go to homeless and other families struggling in the Tampa area. Here's his Food For A Million website with more information.

My brother Jonathan Cornue is participating in the Syracuse, NY area MDA "Lock Up" event this year, and has set himself bail at $3,000. Now, as much as I believe my brother belongs behind bars, I would much rather see him raise his bail. It's a great cause, and here's the link to Keep Jon Out of Jail.

My nephew Brandon Tyler Russell does a lot of work with the homeless in Los Angeles, usually directly by volunteering at the LA Mission. This year, he's doing United Way's Home Walk. He's set himself a modest $100 goal, and needs just a little bit more to hit it. Here's the link to Help Brandon Help the Homeless.


Not Our Kind: Tales of (Not) Belonging is a new speculative fiction anthology project focusing on "the outsider," the marginalized. Authors definitely on board if the project funds include Maurice Broaddus, Jennifer Brozek, Damien Angelica Walters, Tim Waggoner and more. Here's the link to the Not Our Kind Kickstarter. They need a little over $1,000 in the next 48 hours.

Young Explorers Adventure Guide: SF for Young Readers is a new SF anthology aimed at middle-grade and younger readers, to foster interest in science fiction at younger ages. Authors involved in this one include Nancy Kress and my friend Jeanne Kramer-Smyth. They have only a little to go to hit their goal of $3,500 in 12 days. Here's the link to the Young Explorers Kickstarter.


My boys Hollywood Ending have a new release dropping this month, titled "Punk A$$ Kids" (which might be the most self-referential album title they've used so far in their careers, haha). You can pre-order it on iTunes now.

And my friends 7 Minutes in Heaven also have a new acoustic release dropping this month, reworkings of the songs on their full-band album "The Statement" plus some new stuff. You can pre-order that on iTunes too.  If you'd like an idea of what their stuff sounds like, here's a link to the latest acoustic video, "Miscommunications."

Output Update

It's been a while since I've posted anything but reviews here. There's a lot I could journal about (various personal and work life ups-and-downs) but for the moment I want to answer a question a few friends have asked via email: "what's going on with your writing?" It being the tail-end of November 1st, and thus the first day of NaNoWriMo, this seems like a good time to update.


Currently out to various open calls and awaiting responses:

1. "Threshold"  (2,800 words, fantasy)
2. "Crash the Party"  (3,800 words, urban fantasy, a Baldwin Quentin Clark story)
3. "The Guy With the Faraway Eyes"  (4,000 words, ghost story)
4. "This World Disappears When It Snows"  (5,500 words, horror)
5. "And All Their Tearful Words Will Turn Back Into Steam" (6,500 words, horror)


1. "Wolf Story" (not actual title, collaboration, fairy tale noir)
2. "Thumbsucker" (horror)
3. "Wayfarer" (science fiction)
4. "Minor Disturbance" (horror)
5. "Yeti" (horror)
6. "Shoe Run" (fantasy)
7. "Thirst" (was literary fiction, revising as horror)
8. "Voiceless" (steampunk/horror/?)
9. "On the Last Day" (literary)
10. "That Happy Kid" (literary)
11. "Ice Planet Blues" (science fiction)
12. "Sways" (science fiction)
13. "Late Nite Reading" (urban fantasy, a Baldwin Quentin Clark story)

That's everything that's unsold or started-not-finished on my hard drive. I'm once again using NaNoWriMo to work on short stories rather than a novel. The goal is 50k of new short fiction, but some of that will be taken up completing the half-written stuff in the list above.

2014 Book 90: Jurassic Park

RoofbeamReader, TBR
Continuing to continue to post book reviews out of order. Another one that was part of the To Be Read Challenge.

Book 90: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton  isbn: 9780345538987, Ballantine Books, 448 pages, $9.99

The Premise: (From the Goodreads page): An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Creatures once extinct now roam Jurassic Park, soon-to-be opened as a theme park. Until something goes wrong...and science proves a dangerous toy.

My Rating: Three out of five stars

My Thoughts: This ended up on the To Be Read Challenge list when I mentioned to my friend Eric Bauman that despite having seen the movie when it came out, I remember absolutely nothing of the story and had never read the book. In fact, had never read anything by Michael Crichton. A few days later, Jurassic Park ended up in my hands. I can't say whether it's Eric's favorite Crichton book, but as we'd been discussing the movie, it made sense that this was the one he'd start me off with.

And I wanted to love the book, I really did.  But if I'm being honest (as I try to be in all of my reviews), I only kinda liked it; I've certainly read many of what (in my opinion) are better books this year alone. Merely liking the book is not enough to turn me off of Crichton, of course. He's such a well-regarded writer amongst my friends that I can't write him off. But I'm pretty sure my next Crichton book will not be the sequel to Jurassic Park. (Most likely, it'll be one of the eight crime novels Crichton wrote under the name John Lange, all recently brought back into print by Hard Case Crime.)

What I liked about the book was the thriller aspect of it: Crichton crafts the novel very much like a high-tech amusement park ride: slow out of the gate, setting the stage, then picking up speed and whipping the reader around, disorienting, unsure where the next turn is going to toss us, only knowing the end is near because of the number of pages left between the bookmark and the back cover. And I did honestly feel that pretty much every character was in peril -- even the two kids, who under many authors' hands would be guaranteed safe from the start. I enjoyed the descriptions of the Park itself and of course had no problem picturing what the dinosaurs looked like. And the science sounded plausible to me, in terms of the cloning, the failsafes, and why the failsafes failed. I can't claim to have understood most of Malcolm's ramblings about Chaos Theory, but then again I've never been very good with science or math, so I didn't let that lack of comprehension influence my opinion of the book.

My disappointment with the book, and I wholly admit that this is a personal problem and that I'm sure most other people's opinions don't agree, is the characters. Despite being given copious character history and opportunities to see them interact, I didn't really feel them as people, as compelling individuals. Yes, I was concerned about their fates, but largely because in a thriller like this you're supposed to be kept guessing as to who will survive and who won't (and Crichton, as I said, does an excellent job of building that tension, releasing it, and building it again), and you're supposed to feel bad if a good guy gets killed and cheer if a bad guy does. And that's how I viewed the characters, all of whose names I've already forgotten: The White Hats and the Black Hats, all chess pieces to be moved around so the rollercoaster Crichton is creating moves the way it's supposed to.  The characters service the action, not the other way around, and I think I just expected a little less Trope and a little more individuality in the characters after the way I've heard people talk about the book. Hence, liking the book enough to give it three stars but not enough to give it a higher rating.

2014 Book 88: True Grit

RoofbeamReader, TBR
Continuing to post book reviews out of order. This one was part of the To Be Read Challenge.

Book 88: True Grit by Charles Portis  isbn: 9781590204597, The Overlook Press, 235 pages, $14.95

The Premise: (from the Goodreads page): True Grit tells the story of Mattie Ross, who is just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shoots her father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robs him of his life, his horse, and $150 in cash. Mattie leaves home to avenge her father's blood. With the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshal, by her side, Mattie pursues the homicide into Indian Territory.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My Thoughts: I saw the John Wayne movie when I was a kid, although I don't remember it very clearly. I have no memory of the version with Warren Oates that was apparently a failed pilot for a television series. I saw the Jeff Bridges - Haillie Steinfeld - Matt Damon version when it came out and enjoyed it enough that I decided it was time to seek out the novel that inspired both movies ... and then I let that novel sit on my bookshelf unread for close to four years.  I can probably count the number of straightforward Westerns I've read (as opposed to Weird Westerns) on one hand: Elmore Leonard's collection that included 3:10 To Yuma, Dennis R. Miller's two Nora Hawks novels (One Woman's Vengeance and One Bullet Beyond Justice) and now this.  It's not a genre I'm hugely familiar with, and therefore I may not be as knowledgable about the tropes that crop up -- but I really enjoyed this book despite (or perhaps because) of my lack of genre-experience.

Portis' narrator is Mattie Ross, an adult spinster with a very distinct way of speaking and writing. Near the start of the story she slips in an aside that she finds it hard to get published because editors feel she fails to stay on topic ... and throughout the book she proves how unaware she is of the truth of this, spiraling off into digressions about the nature of the Territories, of capital punishment, of people who don't read and follow the Bible, and much more.  These digressions are short and vital to the tone of the novel. Rather than being a fault of Portis (allowing his main character to drift from the narrative she's telling), it's tool I think he uses for two purposes: one, to build tension for the reader (why is she going off on this tangent when we want to know what happens next) and two, to show that the angry but incredibly focused fourteen year old eventually becomes an angry but much less focused adult.  Which of course makes me wonder even more about the response Mattie got at home and in the intervening years as she found herself (and others found her) unable to let go of the anger about her father's death even after avenging it.

We see all of the other characters through Mattie's eyes, most notably the marshall Rooster Cogburn and the ranger LaBeouf, and the adults definitely do not come across well in the girl's eyes. Her mother is weak, her lawyer distant. The boarding house owner and the businessman are opportunists. Cogburn's a drunk, undependable, perhaps not possessed of the "true grit" she's been told about. LaBeouf is a bit of a dandy, more impressed with himself than he perhaps has a right to be. The bandit Lucky Ned Pepper is a talkative roadblock. And of course the scoundrel Tom Chaney is a murdering worthless piece of trash.  Mattie feels she can only rely on herself, but suffers the foolishness of the adults as means to her end: bringing Tom Chaney to justice for her father's murder regardless of who else he may have killed or harmed.  Fourteen year old Mattie is one of the most compelling young characters I've ever encountered in a novel, perhaps because Portis wasn't writing a YA novel when he wrote True Grit but rather a Western that happened to have a young protagonist.  Despite being in the wrong several times, you want Mattie to succeed in her mission. You want to see her satisfied. The fact that that satisfaction comes with such a high price tag (including a string of men dead at the hands of Cogburn and LaBeouf) makes the book that much harder to put down.

And Cogburn, seen through Mattie's eyes, is larger-than-life and equally compelling. It's easy to see why so many actors want to play this part. He's what some of my friends would call "a hot mess." And he knows it, pretty much owns it, throughout the novel. And he's even more of an unreliable narrator than Mattie seems to be, his personal history full of suspect moments and questionable details.  I've heard people express the wish that Portis had wrote another Cogburn novel (writing the script for the John Wayne-starring sequel "Rooster Cogburn" seems to be about as close as he got) but I for one am glad he didn't -- I like the enduring mystery of how much of Cogburn's revealed past really happened the way he said it did.

I clearly can't recommend this book enough for the strong character elements, the descriptions of early winter in the Territories and the solidly-crafted fight scenes.

TV Review: Arrow, S3, Ep04

What to ramble about through this first paragraph so no spoilers show up when I link to Facebook? Well, apparently my comment about Arrow taking a break next week because Flash is was wrong. The preview for the next episode didn't say "in two weeks" or "Returning on November 11," the way the Flash preview did. But I'm pretty sure that means a break of equal duration is coming, since the shows are due to cross over in their eighth episodes and I'm pretty sure they're not going to have us wait a week between parts if Arrow's 8th episode airs the week before Flash's (and certainly not two weeks!).  We'll see.

Fathers and DaughtersCollapse )

Everyone's looking forward to The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak next week, right? Because I sure am.

TV Review: The Flash, S1, Ep04

The one thing I can say about this episode in my usual opening paragraph non-spoiler banter is that I'm very bummed CW is already playing their usual scheduling games: after tonight, the show doesn't resume new episodes until November 11th (which means, concurrently, Arrow will take the same time off after tomorrow night and return on November 12th. This will be necessary to keep the show's episode #'s lined up so that the big Episodes Eight cross-over happens all in the same week ... and not in November for sweeps, as it turns out).

Baby It's Cold OutsideCollapse )
Did anyone else notice that Wentworth Miller got "Special Guest Star" status, while Emily Bett Rickards only got "Guest Star"?  I know Miller is an incredible "get" for the show (as is Dominic Purcell), but I think they could have given Rickards her due and a Special Guest Star.

TV Review: Agents of SHIELD, S2, Ep06

Trying to get back in the habit of writing my reviews right after the episodes air. I probably should be writing the Flash review first since that aired earlier tonight, but since I'm in SHIELD mode I may as well go ahead and write this one, yeah? Especially since there's no new SHIELD episode next week, while ABC airs a special about Marvel's 75 year journey "From Pulp to Pop." Yes, that's actually the title of it.

A Fractured HouseCollapse )

Not really crazy that the show is taking a week off, but then again I'm also not surprised they're going to take a week to tout Marvel's history given Marvel's huge announcement earlier today about their movie slate for the next four years. It includes not only the expected Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America, Thor and Avengers movies, but also new entries into the franchise: Black Panther and Captain Marvel (the female version).  I'm not at all familiar with the actor they've cast as T'Challa the Black Panther, but people who have seen him play Jackie Robinson say he's terrific, so I have high hopes for the movie.

And among the commercials during tonight's episode was a nice-sized trailer for the Agent Carter mini-series that will replace SHIELD during the winter hiatus. I'm very much looking forward to this and still really hoping Neal McDonnough is playing Dum-Dum Dugan in it.

TV Review: Agents of SHIELD, S2, Ep05

This is a review of last week's episode of SHIELD, written during the commercial breaks for this week's. I've really been trying to be good about writing these reviews right after the episodes air and this review reminds me why -- I'm sure there's stuff to comment on that I'm forgetting, as with the Flash review I posted earlier tonight.  Which is why tonight, I actually started taking notes while watching the shows.

Hen in Wolf HouseCollapse )

Poll:  how many of us think the obelisk (officially named The Diviner in this episode) will turn out to be one of the Infinity Gems Thanos is looking for, as a way to further tie this series to the movies? It feels like it fits with the three we've seen so far.

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