“Less Than Hero” by S. G. Browne (Gallery Books, 2015)

Less Than Hero

It usually only takes a reader a couple of pages to know they’re reading an S. G. Browne novel, as they wrap their minds around a weird and wacky story, and Less Than Hero is another great, prime example of this. Here’s your one-sentence premise: what if some guys who have been human guinea pigs for years, testing new drugs and medications, suddenly developed stranger super powers?

Lloyd Prescott has been in the guinea pig program for a number of years now and it’s what he makes his living from.  For a relatively decent wage, all he has to put up with are some uncomfortable, unsettling side effects. He meets up weekly with a group of guys who are also fellow guinea pigs to hang out, chat about their lives and share info about upcoming trials.

At one of these meetings Lloyd tells everyone about his new-found ability: he can make people fall asleep on command. And then the rest of the group – except one – reveal their strange new powers that they can cause unto others: violent vomiting, seizures, and erections, to name a few. The group decides to use their unusual powers for good and set out to help those in need. Meanwhile in New York there are two super villains – if you will —  who can make people hallucinate and steal their memories.

While the main cast of superheroes could use a little diversity and maybe a female, Less Than Hero has to be the most bizarre yet entertaining superhero story out there. And in true Browne fashion, the reader doesn’t really know where it’s all going to go and what the ending will be like, they just keep going, enjoying the ride all the way.

Originally written on April 8, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Less Than Hero from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“Revival” by Stephen King (Scribner, 2014)

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Revival is the sort of book Stephen King would inevitably write, and I mean this in a good way. It’s classic King of the 2000s: not an outright horror story, but definitely with some terrifying elements that give you shivers, some memorable “Kingly” characters, and a story that just makes you wonder.

Revival is a coming of age story for Jamie Morton, unsurprisingly, in a small, quaint New England town where everybody knows each other, and expects to see each other at church on Sunday. And at the Methodist church there’s a new preacher in town, one Reverend Charles Jacobs. Jamie met him the other day and instantly took a liking to him, and soon pretty much everyone is a fan of the new preacher, making Sunday School now a well-attended event, while Mrs. Jacobs soon becomes the apple of a many a boy’s eye.

Revival also features magic, of a sort. The Reverend Jacobs has some interesting hobbies that Jamie gets to see in his special shed where he invents unique devices that seem to use a new form of energy and would likely be very popular if they were sold worldwide. Jacobs jokes about doing this one day, when his experiment is complete. It is then that Jamie starts to realize that his might be more than a hobby, perhaps more of an obsession. But then tragedy strikes the Jacobs family and when the reverend recants his faith and decries the inexistence of God to his congregation, he leaves town.

Revival then follows Jamie’s life becoming a guitarist as a teenager and playing in various bands through his twenties, living the life of a nomadic musician traveling from town to town. He also adopts the rock star life and becomes addicted to drugs, because he is a Stephen King character after all. He is at an all time low with his heroin addiction when he meets the Reverend Jacobs again.

Revival is a story of many things and the title aptly applies to many of them. It’s about Jamie’s life and life choices, and Jacobs and what he hopes to accomplish with his inventions. While the eventual reveal of Jacobs’s “quest” is somewhat disappointing (as is the case with a number of King’s endings), overall Revival is an exciting and contemplative read that will leave you contemplating numerous things.

Originally written on January 13, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Revival from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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Doctor Sleep  Joyland  Wind Through the Keyhole

“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel (Knopf, 2014)

Colorless Tsukuru

If you’re a Murakami fan, holding his latest book is always a cause for excitement, and whether you’re a fan or not, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a work of art in design from Knopf to be admired by any reader and art lover for its design, color and execution. And the good news is the story from Murakami stands up greatly to this beautifully created book.

After the long-windedness and lengthiness of Murakami’s previous 1Q84, Colorless Tsukuru is short and to the point, featuring some great characters and the sort of story fans have come to love from Murakami. It is the story of five young high school friends who become as close as siblings and do everything together; after graduating four of them stay in town, while Tsukuru Tazaki goes away for college. And then something happens which breaks the group apart and all their lives are changed forever. Tazaki is told to leave the group and never return. He does not know what he has done and the four friends refuse to tell him.

Tazaki lives his life through his twenties and early thirties as a designer of railway stations, a passion he has harbored since he was a child. Upon meeting an interesting girl that he begins to care greatly for, she tells him he should visit each of these former friends and find out why they abandoned him so suddenly and for what reason. His pilgrimage will take him back home to familiar sights and sounds, as well as to Europe where everything is different. Along the way he will learn a lot, but because this is a Murakami book, Tazaki will not always know why. Nevertheless, like all good Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru sucks you in and doesn’t let you go until the last word is read.

Originally written on September 19, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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Kafka on the Shore  Wind-up Bird Chronicle  Hard-Boiled Wonderland

“Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary” by J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)


In addition to creating the first fantasy epic, inventing a complete and insanely, thoroughly detailed world, and even making up its own language and alphabet, as well as teaching for decades, the great J. R. R. Tolkien also wrote a translation to the famous epic Old English poem “Beowulf.” Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary edited by his son, Christopher Tolkien, reveals this translation in its entirety for the first time, and so much more.

Tolkien completed his first translation of “Beowulf” in 1926, but he was by no means done with the poem. Over the ensuing years and decades he continued to make changes and updates and lectured greatly on the epic alliterative poem. Christopher Tolkien presents this ideal translation from Tolkien, and then includes his father’s vast commentary painstakingly collected and organized. The book features notes on how Tolkien translated specific words and stanzas with plenty of additional notes. Included are also lectures and lecture notes Tolkien gave on the epic poem. Finally, the great author even penned his own poem (in both modern and Old English) that acts as a precursor to “Beowulf” as a sort of fairytale written in the same style, but not within the history.

Compared to Seamus Heaney’s very well known and popular translation of the same poem, Tolkien goes for a much more literal adaptation, where some of the moving alliteration is perhaps lost, but the true sense of the poem and the meaning the author or authors were intending is possibly better comprehended. With the description and vocabulary, Tolkien does a great job of making the reader feel as if they are there at Heorot with Beowulf and Hrothgar and the comitatus. He uses an older language of “doths” and “thines” because of the time he is writing in, but also to give a sense of age to the poem, which can be a helping or a hindrance for the reader. Nevertheless, Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf is a very welcome one that will be enjoyed by many and likely taught and studied in future medieval and Old English classes to come.

Originally written on November 18, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“Spectrum” by Alan Jacobson (Open Road Media, 2014)


Karen Vail returns for the sixth installment, in Spectrum, and this time Alan Jacobson gives the readers a look at her past and how she went from being a NYPD rookie to one of the best FBI profiler’s. The book begins with an opening throwing the reader in the middle of a case where Vail has some big decisions to make, and then switching off in every other chapter about a Greek family beginning in the 1970s, and while it seems confusing at first, it all comes together at the end.

It’s 1995 and Vail is on her first day of the job as a rookie New York cop with a tough as nails veteran partner looking to please and do everything by the book, but also learn the way of the streets and do the hard work she needs to succeed. She is pulled into a murder case that, as the years pass, becomes a long drawn-out serial killer case. It remains unsolved for over two decades, and each time a new body is found – a woman with a slashed throat and jagged piece of glass protruding from her neck, cuts blinding her eyes, and a strange X and four letters carved into her – Vail is notified and brought in to investigate, to see if they can get any closer to finding out who the killer is.

The other part of the book focuses on a Greek family whose father is involved in a strange fight that turns bad and leads to them being ostracized from their culture. They have to leave their home and everything seems to be against them. Eventually they end up living on Ellis Island in an abandoned building, struggling to get by. The story seems out of place and not exactly clear to the reader, but halfway through the book the link becomes apparent as the reader is able to put the evidence together and understand what the author is doing.

Jacobson clearly had a lot of fun writing Spectrum and readers familiar with Karen Vail will really enjoy reading her history, not just in how she climbed the ranks of the NYPD, then joined the FBI and eventually became a profiler, but also in her personal life with her husband who became her ex-husband and how she raised a child on her own while advancing her career. Like a gripping case, Spectrum has all the pieces and evidence there, and if the reader does some good detective work, they will put it all together and know who the killer is by the end, or be pleasantly surprised. Spectrum is the best Karen Vail novel yet and whether you’re familiar with the series or this is the first one you’re reading, you’ll be hooked from cover to cover.

Originally written on October 5, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Spectrum from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“After the Quake” by Haurki Murakami (Knopf, 2000)

After the Quake

Murakami are, unsurprisingly with the title, set in February 1995 after the devastating Kobe earthquake.  The stories don’t deal completely with the after effects of the quake, but in the classic Murakami style, the characters have had their lives altered in various subtle ways by this natural disaster.

All six stories are told from the third person perspective, which is a change for Murakami and his usual first person point of view.  The stories each have their own unique feel, presenting an unusual situation that continues to get weirder until the end, when the reader is left deep in contemplation and wonder.  There is the story of the man who is an electronics salesman and finds one day that his wife has left him; when he agrees to deliver an enigmatic package, he finds out more about himself and who he really is than he ever thought he knew.  A religious man follows the pursuit of another elderly gentleman, believing he might be his long lost father.

The highpoint of the collection is with the wonderfully amusing “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo,” which is about exactly what the title says.  A man meets a giant frog who tells him a giant worm beneath the city will destroy everything if they don’t stop it.  Taking some time, the man eventually believes the super-frog, but just as they are to venture beneath the city, he has an accident and ends up in the hospital.  Thinking he can no longer help his new froggy friend, he later discovers he has helped in more ways than he knows.

With such a short collection, the stories have a way of growing on the reader, as opposed to other longer collections, where by the end readers can forget some of the earlier stories they’ve read.  For anyone looking to try the great Haruki Murakami for the first time, After the Quake is a great start.

Originally written on May 16, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of After the Quake from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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Sputnik Sweetheart  The Windup Bird Chronicle  Hardboiled Wonderland
  Kafka on the ShoreNorwegian Wood  IQ84

“The 6th Extinction” by James Rollins (William Morrow, 2014)

Sixth Extinction
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There are two books that have been published in 2014 called The Sixth Extinction, interestingly and perhaps unsurprisingly on the same subject. One is a work of brilliant nonfiction about the sixth extinction taking place now as species continue to be killed by humanity and made extinct; the other is a thrilling adventure involving Sigma Force and one man’s maniacal crusade to give Planet Earth back to nature and its animals. I don’t think I need to tell you which one was written by bestselling author James Rollins.

After an act of sabotage, a deadly airborne virus is released into a remote part of California from a secret laboratory, but it soon begins wreaking havoc and devastation, wiping out all wildlife and causing horrible deaths. Soon people begin to get infected. Sigma Force is brought in to take over the situation and discover a cure, but it is soon discovered that this virus isn’t even DNA-based, but something completely new and exobiotic referred to as XNA.

To get to the origin of this devastating virus, the Sigma team is going to have to split up and travel the globe. One group goes deep into Antarctica to find a specific individual, but find themselves led to secret underground caverns that have been hidden from the world for a very long time and harbor new species and forms of life.  The other group travels to the deep jungles of Brazil in search of a man thought to be dead and there they find unique ecosystems and specifically-engineered species the world has never seen.

As Elizabeth Kolbert was revealing a startlingly changing reality in her book, Rollins is doing the same through the lens of fiction backed up with lots of research (including Kolbert’s book). The author has done his research in history and biology and ends the book with a full breakdown on what is based on reality and our changing world. The action is of course nonstop and over the top, as readers have come to expect and enjoy from Rollins, while the science is startling and fascinating.

Originally written on August 23, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Sixth Extinction from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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