“Xenowealth: A Collection” by Tobias S. Buckell (Xenowealth Books, 2016)


Bestselling author Tobias S. Buckell has penned a number of novels in his Xenowealth universe, such as Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose. In Xenowealth: A Collection, Buckell collects all of the short stories he has written over the years and published in magazines and anthologies, bringing them together in this self-published volume. Here readers get to see the beginning stories of the unlikely, mechanized hero Pepper as he goes around looking to make enough money to survive and get by, but also to help those in need as much as he can. At first he seems like a tough-as-nails mercenary only looking to help out himself, but readers soon learn there is more to this man than his mechanically enhanced exterior.

Pepper makes an appearance in each of the stories in this collection, but the rest of characters – some readers will recognize from Buckell’s Xenowealth novels – are developed, fascinating people of color that readers soon care for and want to do well. But in this tough world, it is often hard to get by.

Xenowealth: A Collection is a great diving board for new readers to delve into this world and quickly get hooked. Buckell self-published the collection through a Kickstarter campaign wanting to give readers – fans old and new – a chance to read these thrilling stories.

Originally written on March 3, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Xenowealth: A Collection from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Wind/Pinball” by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, 2015)


Haruki Murakami is the well known international bestselling Japanese author of such books as Norwegian Wood, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore. English-language readers discovered Murakami for the first time with his “debut” book A Wild Sheep Chase, but this was in fact his third book. In 1978, after an unusual experience, Murakami decided he wanted to write a novel. After some interesting forays, he eventually found his unique voice and wrote his first two (short) books which have been translated into English for the first time: Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973.

The first novella features an unnamed narrator recounting an unusual series of experiences in the classic Murakami style. He’s home from college for the summer and spends a lot of his time going to J’s bar, chatting with the barman and drinking beer with his wealthy friend “Rat.” He also shares stories about his relationship with a 9-fingered woman. In the second novella, we have the same narrator later in life, done with college, now working as a translator for a successful translation business. He’s involved with identical twins who are very unusual; they just showed up on his doorstep one day and moved in with him. And then he becomes obsessed with tracking down a spaceship pinball game he played in college.

Overall, the stories are a little rough and feel unfinished or perhaps more like early drafts. Nevertheless, Murakami’s voice and style is there right from the beginning, along with his unique unusualness that draws in and hooks so many readers. New readers may want to try one of his more popular novels, while fans will enjoy these stories and early examples of the writer they enjoy reading.

Originally written on October 29, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Wind/Pinball from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“A Wild Sheep Chase” by Haruki Murakami (Vintage, 2002)


One of Murakami’s early novels, A Wild Sheep Chase, is a classic example of what this unique author has to offer. From weird title to the outlandish but fascinating storyline, this book is a great starting point for those wanting to start reading this well renowned author. The book is also referred to as the third book in the “Trilogy of the Rat,” as Murakami’s first two novellas, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 (which were recently published in English for the first time) features a couple of the characters from these original stories, but are not required reading to get the full enjoyment out of A Wild Sheep Chase.

An advertising executive in his twenties who works with a partner at an advertising firm that is doing relatively well for itself receives a postcard from an old friend and ends up using the interesting image as part of an advertising campaign. The image depicts a pastoral scene with sheep, but there is one particular sheep in the picture that is a unique species with a star on its back.

Then a man in black pays him a visit and puts the pressure on, giving him an ultimatum: he will have to locate this sheep, or face some severe consequences that could cause the end of the business and his livelihood. Thus begins the man’s unusual quest to find this special sheep, which will take him to the snow mountains of Northern Japan. He will meet plenty of strange people along the way – as is Murakami’s style – as well as an old friend who he asks for advice, but is told he must find his own truth.

Every Murakami novel has a silver living that can be taken away from it; A Wild Sheep Chase is no different from the rest. The important thing is that silver lining is specific to each individual reader.

Originally written on March 25, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of A Wild Sheep Chase from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Death Wave” by Ben Bova (Tor, 2015)


In Ben Bova’s previous standalone novel, New Earth, Jordan Kell traveled to a distant planet and found life that had been created by an advanced form of being akin to that of humans. They learned a lot from these “aliens” with their advanced technologies and way of life. Now Kell has traveled back to Earth with one of the aliens who is his new wife to show her off to the world and let them know of this new Earth.

But there is also something far more important to bring to the attention of the people of Planet Earth. A death wave is traveling through the universe, composed of lethal gamma radiation; it destroys everything in its path and wipes out all life. It will eventually reach Earth, millennia from now, but in the meantime it will wipe out many intelligent civilizations.

Kell launches a campaign to build starships to help save these civilizations, for the people of New Earth have the technology to save them but not the ability. But he must contend with a world government and a leader at its head who is essentially running a world dictatorship.

Like his previous books, Farside and New Earth, Death Wave features short chapters and conflicts get quickly and relatively easily solved. This is not deep, hard, complex science fiction, but a fun story that keeps you turning the page wanting to know what happens next.

Originally written on October 28, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Death Wave from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“James Herriot’s Animal Stories” by James Herriot (St. Martin’s Press, 2015)


If you’ve never read any James Herriot (as I hadn’t until I read this delightful book), James Herriot’s Animal Stories is a perfect little volume to begin with, as it’s not too long but offers a very entertaining selection of Herriot’s best and most popular stories.

From the very beginning, the reader is entranced and wrapped up in Herriot’s easy conversational tone about the beautiful Yorkshire dales. He describes the scenery with such life that the reader is automatically transported to northern England in their imagination. While the first few stories involve Herriot sticking his hand up a cow, pig and sheep, he imbues the stories with such enjoyment in what he does, as well as appreciating the reward in helping a suffering animal.

The stories cover the whole farm with pigs, lambs, horses, cows, and even features a moving story about an old dog with eye problems who Herriot performs a simple operation on and the animal is able to spend the rest of his days seeing clearly. The stories are moving and heartfelt, making it easier to understand why Herriot’s writing and stories continue to be so popular.

Originally written on July 29, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of James Herriot’s Animal Stories from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

Book News: Time Travel Books, Reading Nooks, The Horrors of Christopher Pike and More!

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Walmart to Library
How an abandoned Walmart became one of the best libraries you’ve ever seen.

Reading Nooks
Ten gorgeous reading nooks you just have to try out.

Can You Cheat at Reading?
The easy answer is yes, but you’ll be cheating against yourself and here’s how.

B-Teen at B&N
Barnes & Noble’s great teen fest idea that is now a real and awesome thing.

[read lots more . . .]

“The Collapse and Recovery of Europe, AD 476-1648” by Jack L. Schwartzwald (McFarland Books, 2015)


The complete collapse of the Roman Empire changed the western world forever. It was a tabula rasa of sorts, as the societies of the former Roman Empire had the opportunity to start anew and redefine the way their society existed. And this is essentially what happened for the next 1200 years through trial and error, with numerous new rulers, and many deaths along the way. The end result was the more stable nation state during the thriving Renaissance.

In The Collapse and Recovery of Europe, Jack L. Schwartzwald, author of The Ancient Near East, Greece and Rome, moves into the next arena of history, tackling this important period in history that was pivotal in creating and defining Europe as a union of individual and eventual nation states. You’ll notice there is no mention anywhere of the poorly and incorrectly named “dark ages,” implying that the beginning of these twelve centuries was a time of stagnation and a return to “primitive” times, when in reality important foundation blocks were being laid, paving the way for the rebirth of science, art and culture of the renaissance.

The book is divided into three parts and periods, the first covering the glorious time of Byzantium in “City of the World’s Desire,” encompassing a millennium of a minor empire that still considered itself continuing the glory that was Rome, when in reality it was a melting pot of various cultures, including Greeks, the growing Christian faith and flock, as well as Asiatic influences from the East. But as Byzantium was basking in the shadow of its paternal Rome, it too eventually succumbed to foreign invasion and overthrow.

In the second part, “City of God,” Schwartzwald covers the birth and explosion of the church and Catholic faith in Western Europe, as it sought to convert the people to God and create a heaven on Earth in the same thriving glory that was Rome, but as those high up in the faith — the popes and cardinals to name a few – fought for ideals they believed to be true to the faith, derision and schism grew, leading to fracturing and fighting and wars. The Middle Ages ended with the ultimate of struggles in the Hundred Years’ War.

The final part, “City of Man,” leads off with the end of the Hundred Years’ War and concludes with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Here Schwartzwald focuses on the development and birth of the nation state which was deemed the final healthy successor to the idea that was Rome. As with the previous parts, the author focuses on the political and militaristic history of the period, but in a way that keeps the reader fully engrossed. Provided at the end of each section are “Societal Achievements,” highlighting the great strides that were made.

The Collapse and Recovery of Europe, as with Schwartzwald’s previous book, is a very approachable and readable volume, be the reader a student or merely someone interested in the period. Since the author is covering a vast amount of time, some 1200 years, he cannot be comprehensive with the history telling, but he is thorough with many sections covering the political and militaristic events and occasions in a succinct way that doesn’t bog the reader down with too many details; coupled with numerous pictures – many in color – it makes for a very pleasant reading experience. These sectional divisions also help to break up the overwhelming amount of history into digestible chunks so that the reader can read the book one section at a time, or engorge on a larger amount of history that is still well and clearly divided to make it more comprehensible. The result is an impressive history book covering a large amount of time that is made very accessible and readable for any fan or person interested in the period.

Originally written on June 1, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

First published in the San Francisco Book Review.

To purchase a copy of The Collapse and Recovery of Europe from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.