Reviewed by DL Morrese
February 7, 2013
This is a cross-genre story that feels like it should be classified somewhere between Doctor Who and Discworld. I’m calling it science fiction rather than fantasy because at one point the ‘magic’ is described as the clever application of the strange effects of quantum mechanics. This is no more outlandish than the Doctor’s TARDIS, although instead of the unlikely time travel of Doctor Who, this story includes travel between our reality and an unlikely alternate dimension.
It’s an interesting place.
This alternate Earth is run as a police state, and our reluctant hero, The Pan of Hamgee, is a Goverment Blacklisted Indivdual. His existence is therefore illegal, and the fact that he has survived as a GBI for five years, which is about four and a half years longer than normal, proves that he is very good at not being caught. This talent comes to the attention of Big Merv, a major crime boss, who recruits him as his new getaway driver. For the Pan of Hamgee, this is good news for two reasons. As a GBI, no legitimate employer will hire him, and Merv’s other option was dumping him in the river – with cement overshoes – but these are details we don’t need to go into here.
This story has flying car chases, a bad guy you love to loath, likable gangsters, and a hero you can really identify with since, like most of us, he’s not terribly heroic – at least not intentionally. He reminds me a bit of Rincewind in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. He’s a professional coward whose talent for getting into unintended trouble is only exceeded by his talent for escaping from it. All he wants is a simple, normal life, but the universe seems to have another fate planned for him. The book also has a few laughs, a lot of smiles, and even a bit of political and religious satire. There are far too few books like this. Great characters, interesting setting, humor, and cultural satire, with a genuinely good plot providing a framework holding them together is a hard blend to achieve and an even more difficult one to do well. This book does.
The prose is well executed with just enough description for the reader to visualize the scenes. Backstory, where needed, is integrated seamlessly into the narrative. Dialog is believable and suitable to the characters and to the situation. Grammar, spelling, formatting, and other of technical requirements of the storyteller’s trade that sometimes pose a problem for the independent writer are executed professionally in this book.
It passes my personal 5-star test. In addition to all the basics needed for a well-told tale, it has that something extra that would prompt me to read it again. I enjoyed following the misadventures of The Pan of Hamgee, a likeable sod thrown into an uncomfortable situation in an imaginative world that has certain parallels to our own. I highly recommend it to readers of lighthearted speculative fiction or anyone who may be looking for something a bit different and a lot of fun.
Reviewed by Richard Bunning
This is a good comic fantasy title off the same sort of humorous planet as writers like Tom Holt, Ben Elton, and Terry Prachett. There is satire and certainly parody, and as with those listed she has the gift of dramatic timing. In other words, MT McGuire is in great, Great British, comic company. The fact that she used to do stand-up comedy doesn’t surprise me a bit.
I’m sure it helps to be a Brit to catch all the clever turns of phrase in this book, but those from once were distant outposts of Britannia will get just as much out of this read; even The ‘us’ should be able to catch the crest of her comic wave.
Of course, if you are not into Peter Cook, John Cleese, Jennifer Saunders, Sandi Toksvig, or MT McGuire Authorholic then you probably won’t like K’Barthan books either. Get a life!
Reviews by Awesome Indies' Assessor
August 4, 2014
A Joy to Read
The Scottish Movie by Paul Collis is a well-crafted revenge tale that even Shakespeare naysayers can enjoy. The novel begins with William Shakespeare’s creation of his play, MacBeth. We learn that the bard overheard the plot being described by another playwright at a pub and, wanting to really impress King James with his next piece, promptly goes home to write it. When the original creator finds out the Globe Theatre is performing his play, without his consent, he sets out to sabotage the performance. As it turns out, this story is just that, a story that a modern day author has penned. In a very similar turn of events, Harry Greenville discusses his novel with his friends at a diner, only to have an eavesdropping Hollywood executive steal the idea for his own. Once Harry discovers that someone has ripped off his idea and the movie is to begin production, he takes a page from his own novel and proceeds to sabotage the film.
This novel was a joy to read. The author used the lore surrounding the Scottish Play and turned it into an intriguing story with snappy dialogue, and hilarious actions scenes. Though the author completely has his own voice, the style of the story reminded me of a Christopher Moore novel. Through complete dumb luck and sheer brazenness, Harry Greenville is hired onto the film’s production staff and given an all-access pass to conduct his revenge on the story thief. Harry is the everyman stepped on by the corporate big shot, and you just can’t help but root for him.
The strongest part of the book was the author’s ability to seamlessly change between character points of view, sometimes multiple times in one scene. This allowed the reader to see the story angled from both main and supporting characters. Sometimes the switch was only for a few paragraphs; however, it added color to the story, almost like seeing a facial expression in a film that only the audience is supposed to see.
My only concern is that, as the characters use many modern references to Hollywood stars, movie titles, or general hat tips to modern culture, this novel may not age well. If the reader cannot place what actress a character is referring to when only using her first name, some of the dialogue charm could be lost. Even still, a good revenge story is always an indulgence, and this one does not disappoint.
April 7, 2014
Worth The Time Of Any Reader Who Cares About Animals
An Animal Life: The Beginning by Howard Nelson Krum with Roy Pe Yanong and Scott Moore follows a group of students through their first semester at University of Philadelphia School of Veterinary Medicine in the 1980s. For readers interested in what vet school is like, this book offers a full experience of demanding class work, raucous parties, and sometimes painful personal growth.
The omniscient point of view is skillfully done. It gives the authors leeway to explain aspects of veterinary medicine in technical detail so readers can understand what the students are learning in class. But the analytical perspective on the action is less suited to expressing the characters’ emotional lives and motivation. Too often we are told rather than shown who characters are and what they want.
In an intensive and useful glossary, the authors define An Animal Life as “A book series . . . [that] may be an upcoming blockbuster movie or TV series.” They offer a “Suggested Soundtrack” of popular songs to accompany each chapter. Their music selections are knowledgeable and clever, and the objective omniscient point of view has a cinematic flavor, but the story isn’t presented in a way likely to attract Hollywood.
The book makes demands on the reader. It takes some knowledge of biology to understand the chapters about vet school classes. (Those pre-med biology courses back in college came in handy here.) The illustrations by Patty Hogan help, but they’re difficult to see in the Kindle book. The story, while interesting, isn’t exactly a page-turner. The narrative plods through that first semester of vet school, developing the various subplots sporadically. Despite the potential for suspense, there isn’t much.
On the other hand, a screenwriter might transform this promising raw material into the hoped-for blockbuster.
The story has several plotlines, but two stand out: a romance between two first-year students and a medical mystery.
Jack, a former cop, is attracted to Anna, who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Although she has feelings for him their personalities aren’t altogether compatible, and various missteps and misunderstandings keep them apart. Their story follows the conventional pattern of romance novels without the usual emotionalism. Both know Anna will die young, but the story is almost over before they become close enough to acknowledge it.
Because of the point of view, Jack and Anna occasionally seems like puppets, doing what the plot requires rather than acting from character-driven motivation. Jack’s infatuation with pet-food PR slut Avery is one example. We’re told that Jack resists sex with Avery because he’s waiting for “the one,” yet he’s sexually enthralled by Avery. That kind of paradox is certainly possible, but readers aren’t shown enough of Jack’s thoughts to understand why this intelligent, experienced man gives in to a juvenile infatuation.
The medical mystery begins when animals and birds in the area begin to die in startling numbers. A zoo vet and a pathology instructor work to discover why, but corporate interests at the zoo are less interested in the truth than in avoiding bad publicity. This conflict culminates in one of my favorite scenes as an Aussie thug employed by the zoo tries to intimidate the vets.
An Animal Life succeeds most completely on an intellectual level. I learned a lot about what veterinarians do and the challenges they face. The book raises the ethical dilemma of caring for animals while exploiting them for food, experimentation, and entertainment. An Animal Life offers no solution and has no ideological agenda – all the characters except Anna are unapologetic meat eaters – but it reminds us that humans and animals are part of the same ecosystem. Our treatment of animals has environmental consequences. On a personal level, the story depicts callousness and cruelty toward animals as character flaws, kindness toward them as a mark of goodness, and respect for them as essential in a veterinarian.
I noticed smatterings of punctuation errors concentrated in certain parts of the book, an uneven job of proofreading, but by and large an Animal Life is well written and worth the time of any reader who cares about animals and enjoys biology. 4 stars.