Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Book Reviews: Two for the price of one

The opening of Tokyo Smoke & Mirrors sucks you right into the story. The ABNA Quarterfinalist richly deserves to be in the running for the finals. What can be better for a mystery than to find several dead bodies off the bat, and then two of what promises to be three main characters, struggling with their new situations that aren't quite what they were supposed to be. The smoke and mirrors action starts us out of the gate. Can't wait to see where it goes. It's a 5-star start.

The PHOENIX PROJECT is a slim sci-fi novel about a possible future born from a deep recession in the United States. While the author's knowledge of neonatal care is obvious, the story takes too long to get to the main plot line. I do, however, like that we return to this knowledge later (kudos). A vague similarity to THE ROAD exists in that why things happened is not necessarily as important to the story line other than that they did happen. Unlike THE ROAD, however, the specific reasons for the manipulation of the populous, encompassing the terror of big brother, denial of freedoms, loss of family, forced eugenics, intrude and prevent a smoother read. Constant reminders of the outside world render what is happening in this enclave less believable based on what the heroine knows. And we know what she knows because this is written in the first person.

What was important was the heroine's attempts to manage her future and save her daughter. On some level, she does an admirable, logical job of trying to maintain family. On other levels, she flails. As revelations tumble out at the end of the novel, my reasons for being unable to embrace her are born out: no man seems able to resist her innate charms (black street youth, the old squeeze, the improbable new squeeze, the evil bad guy, her savior from the second banana bad guy); she's smart and talented beyond her years, yet barely uses that intellect to understand then undermine the ramifications of what she is doing; she can take beatings beyond reason and still keep on ticking. Sadly, the other major characters lack depth. Also, read fast. You may not fall into some of the plot holes that exist whenever a megalomaniac tightens his grip on people and place. I do like the rise of the bad guy's power represented through the conference room changes (kudos - Shades of the breakfast scene montage in CITIZEN KANE.)

Grammatical hiccups occur too often, though none are killers. However, the sequel-setting epilogue is an unnecessary information dump, wrapping up some things to make the ending palatable. The author missed a huge opportunity to make a moral, political, ethical statement by not providing enough information throughout the story to allow the ambiguity at the end to led to fevered discourse. Phoenix is a slightly better than average story that missed an opportunity to be a seminal work of fiction, a solid "3". This author does bear watching for future books. 

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