J. B. Garner

Biography

J. B. Garner was born in Baltimore, MD on December 1, 1976, the youngest of three children. While still young, the family moved to Peachtree City, GA. His parents always encouraged his creative side and J. B. began writing and drawing from an early age. Though considered talented by his teachers, he never fully applied himself and bounced through high school and into college at the Georgia Institute of Technology. During his freshman year, his father died suddenly.

Grief and lack of purpose caused J. B. to drop out of school. If not for a few close friends, he might have dropped out of life as well. Taken in by his friends and given a second chance, J. B. matured, applied himself, and finally, after over a decade of hard work, is now back to doing what he loves the most: writing.

Smashwords Interview

When did you first start writing?
I first started writing when I was very young, if you count crayon comic pages, which I totally do. English was always one of my favorite classes and I voraciously read and wrote throughout high school. I turned away from the calling during college and my problematic years after, but I never lost the urge, I just hid it. Now I feel much better being back into the full swing of writing.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Both of my first release novels have their inspirations from ideas and thoughts in my past. Indomitable has a genesis in my love of superheroes and comic books, while The Opening Bell not only has a root in my childhood love of professional wrestling, but my high school years at arcades playing Street Fighter. The ability to turn something that almost seems silly into a deadly serious affair is something I found quite intriguing.
Read more of this interview.

Where to find J. B. Garner online


Where to buy in print


Books

This member has not published any books.

Smashwords book reviews by J. B. Garner

  • Hybrid (The Evolution Trilogy) on Oct. 15, 2014

    From jbgarner58.wordpress.com This week’s main course is Hybrid, the first book in a paranormal romance series, The Evolution Trilogy. What you say? The guy who writes superhero and wrestling fiction picking up a romance book? To that I say, ‘Broaden your minds! The Tale of the Tape had a huge romance sub-plot! Plus I was starving!’. As per my standards, I will do my best to make this review as spoiler-free as possible and to see this in the light of a fan of the genre in question. Let’s start off by saying this: On a technical level, the writing is quite good. The pacing, character development, and depth of story are well ahead of many of Hybrid‘s brothers and sisters in the paranormal romance genre. On a personal relationship level, there are fewer contrivances and those that do come up fit into the well-worn tropes of the romance genre … in other words, they are things that the readers will want to see. The inevitable romantic entanglements and love dodecahedrons fit together much more naturally than most books of this kind. In fact, talking about the genre tropes, at first blush, Hybrid seems to be a standard, if better written, book of the type, very paint-by-numbers. However, at about the quarter way mark, Ms. Wester eschews the paint brush and brings in an industrial car painting robot, setting it on ‘CRAZY’ mode. That may sound bad. It’s not. In fact, it’s almost glorious in the insanity it reaps! You see, Hybrid goes off the rails now in the sense of the personal relationships and characterizations, which remain solid, but in a very Silver Age comic book/1950s atomic horror kind of way. As the paranormal species that is core to the book is introduced and explained, the book takes glee as it smashes basic conventions and sets up the world these beings live in and how they operate. I can’t really go into details without major spoilers, but simply let me say that I, as a comic book fan, really loved the general crazy involved. It is a good kind of crazy and one that, for a genre that generally has more angst that sense, delights in that as much as the interpersonal conflicts. Another point where Hybrid bucks the usual paranormal romance formula is in the rather expansive range of characters and points of view it dances over, adding to the narrative depth. Add on to that the fact that the main PoV character for large sections of the book is the male lead and you get another turn off the over-trod path of the first person, female lead formula. Refreshing. Now, Hybrid isn’t without flaws. Sometimes the over-the-top elements become too much even for a lover of such things to take seriously. One incident in particular involving a mass mental manipulation (that should be vague enough to dodge the Spoiler Police) really made me pause and the later explanation of it did nothing to make it better. There is little action, which while not a requirement in this genre can add to it, and the overall dramatic and romantic tension is uneven at times. There is a fair amount of world-building that goes on in this book and, while Wester does a fairly good job at weaving it in with the actual story, there is a bit on info-dumping and a few cringe-worthy scenes of ‘As You Know‘ exposition. Final flaw: the sudden climax and twist to set up the next book comes out of nowhere at the last minute, though the epilogue sweeps in and salvages part of it with a clever bit of follow-up on foreshadowing early in the book. Let’s bring it all together then. Hybrid is a solid paranormal romance and a good start for it’s series of books. There are some intriguing surprises and Vanessa Wester wisely is not afraid to blaze off of the over-used pathways other writers in this genre have tread, bringing about a gleeful insanity to the whole thing. It’s not perfect, but it stands above the majority of this genre that I’ve read. If you enjoy this genre, definitely give this a read. If you don’t, you may still want to give it a shot. The first book is free, after all. FINAL VERDICT: **** (Vanilla on the outside, crazy mix of flavors on the inside)
  • Delilah Dusticle on Nov. 03, 2014

    From jbgarner58.wordpress.com: Cracking open my next savory treat, I saw it was a children’s book and also nicely snack-sized, so I served up another plate of book goodness for a full meal and, well, I was pleasantly surprised! Now, before we get to the meat of the review, it’s time for THE GROUND RULES: I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible. So sit back and get ready, it’s time to go back in time to when you were a kid in elementary school and crack open Delilah Dusticle! What else can I start with but ‘oh, the sweet taste of childhood’? Ms. York knows that taste and infuses it in every page. Look, there are a lot of great children’s books out there, but there are also a great many bad ones. They pander to children, talk down to them, or try to push to be too mature too quickly. They lose the sense of wonder that is so vital to being a child. Delilah Dusticle has no truck with such garbage! Instead, this book embraces the remarkable things in the mundane world and the wonders that life has in store. It doesn’t pander or talk down to anyone and even approaches some fairly mature ideas about some important things that can happen to the young and the old alike, but it doesn’t push a child to go beyond their bounds and grow up too quickly. The characters are delightful and the heroine of the tale is charming and could be something of a role model, in my eyes. The ultimate message of the book is also something I believe in whole-heartedly (too bad the law of Anti-Spoiler prevents me from coming out with it, but it is an important part of the book so …. shhhh!). It’s a short read at around 11,000 words, but that’s right up the alley of a young reader. The language is colorful but flows easily and the pacing is spot on. It reminded me fondly of the best books I read and had read to me as a child and I think would stand up well compared to any of those classics. So, at the end of the meal, I was left sitting back in my chair, the glow of days past in my eyes and that warm feeling in my stomach that can only accompany a perfect meal. No matter how small in comparison to an adult novel, Delilah Dusticle delivers the perfect sized chunk of joy for its young readers. FINAL VERDICT: ***** (Simply wonderful, what more can I say?)
  • Dust and Sand on Dec. 09, 2014

    From jbgarner58.wordpress.com: Literary genre fusion is much like culinary cuisine fusion. It can combine to make fantastic new delights, taking in the best concepts of two or more different sources, or it can ruin an otherwise tasty treat, mixing conflicting flavors until the whole thing is a muddled mess. Both of those possibilities wavered in my mind as I cracked open Dust and Sand, a book with fusion concepts from Westerns, horror, and fantasy, and sunk my teeth in. Did Dust and Sand deliver a wonderful new taste sensation or did it go down like its namesake? Before I answer that question, let us remind ourselves of the Starving Review creed: I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible. Let’s start with that answer in broad strokes. Tasty. Hey! I said broad strokes, right? The mixing of those three genres actually comes together quite easily in Mr. Wallace’s hands, which may be why I can so nonchalantly say that it was a good meal. The elements are all there, if you think about it. The Western and the fantasy often feature rugged heroes dealing with dangers both environmental and adversarial. The fact that the Wild West *was* untamed and unexplored provides the horror connection through the inherent mystery caused by such a vast untamed space. Horror and fantasy, then, complete the genre triangle with their shared love of supernatural content. Dust and Sand deftly connects those pieces and does so in a solid, imaginative fashion, weaving a well-thought alternate history and deviant United States. Each ingredient of the genre mix gets its fair share of time in the pot and that leads to a well-blended mix of all three. A lover of any one flavor won’t go lacking and may even develop a taste for the others in the process. Aiding this mix is a solid cast of protagonists. Though the major players are certainly archetypical, they are not cardboard, being fully realized and stepping beyond their core archetypes. All of the main protagonists run a full character arc and the set-up for future tales is handled with aplomb, neither cutting off the first book’s plot prematurely while leaving a clear path to move forward (much like my last review Orconomics). The action itself is well-paced and well-plotted, vital to an action-heavy piece like this. Also, the overall solid world-building leads to a fairly consistent set of rules in regards to what supernatural elements arise. All of that makes the integration of supernatural things and good old fashioned Western gunslinging come across smoothly and keeps the action moving hot and heavy. For all the action, though, Mr. Wallace isn’t afraid to slow down for important parts to build both character and plot for the next shoot-out, keeping a steady pace for a majority of the book. Now, you may have noticed that I only mentioned protagonists above. While I did truly enjoy my dinner with Dust and Sand, there were some flaws and the biggest one would be in the antagonists. In big concept terms, the overarching antagonists as they are set up are quite intriguing and will certainly lead to fascinating future adventures. The problem lies in that the specific antagonists for *this* singular volume are fairly uninspired. Most of them are very stock and the one that shows some very intriguing promise doesn’t really follow through with that promise. I wanted to know more about him, about his character, and why he did what he did, but those things are only hinted at before the end of the book with no indication that they will ever be answered. The bad guys are certainly evil enough and threatening enough, but there really only exist as things to thwart and not as full-blown characters so far. There is one other minor flaw in Dust and Sand, and I do stress this is fairly minor, that comes into play in certain expository sections. For the most part, Mr. Wallace handles the set-up and world-building smoothly, weaving it in with the rest of the story’s events. There are a few parts, however, when one of the characters feels inclined to have a moment of total introspection, info-dumping chunks of history and/or biographical data in a multi-page sequence. Now, these dumps aren’t handled as badly as they could be … while they do disrupt the pacing the couple of times it happens, they do make a degree of sense to have happen at those times, they remain personal remembrances, and still feel ‘in-character’. The fact remains though that, after how well all the other exposition is blended, those few moments stand out sorely. So, how does Dust and Sand pan out in the end? The book was a delightful treat for me, filling my belly with a tasty blend of cowboys, monsters, and magic that would satisfy a fan of any of those elements. With only a few minor hitches, none of which ruin the book, Mr. Wallace has whipped up an excellent first volume for this book series. FINAL VERDICT: **** (A delightful blend of Westerns, high fantasy, and horror, with just a few minor bland spots to work through!)
  • Terror Beyond Measure: A Norton Pumblesmythe Short Story on March 05, 2015

    From jbgarner58.wordpress.com: Some literary foods are full meals, heaping quantities to be ingested and enjoyed at a table over a course of time. Others, however, are tender morsels, snacks meant to be gulped down quickly in this fast ‘on-the-go’ world we live in. Terror Beyond Measure is one of those snacks. Does its small size mean it lacks flavor or is it a taste-filled delight in a minute package? Before I answer that, let us remember the Starving Review creed: I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible. The old saying, ‘It’s not the size of the tool but how you use it.’, is most fitting for this wonderful little romp. Terror comes in like a bolt from the blue with excellent prose and doesn’t stop. What we are given is a microcosm of a larger piece: an interesting hook, character build-up, rising action, a fantastic climax, then a proper denouement. What is truly remarkable is that none of these bite-sized story elements is poorly executed. Everything comes off without a hitch. The main character is cooked up with a sure hand and plenty of dashes of flavor, aided by an intimate first-person perspective, but the primary minor character isn’t left out either. Just this one adventure is enough that I hope to read more of Norton’s tales in the future … that’s how much this short story’s depiction of its protagonist impacted me. The plot itself takes a careful blend of British wit, a classic time period, and some liberal dashes of Lovecraftian horror, gives it all a good stir, then gets it nice and hot in a short period of time. I would argue that the writer actually turns the short subject into an advantage here, as this one adventure would suffer from exaggerated and drawn-out pacing if it wasn’t tackled as a short subject. Very well done. The framing device set up by the Prologue also works well here, providing some added world-building as well as giving the reader some fun interesting facts about some real-world events. Brilliant. Just like the piece itself, I think it’s best to leave this review as a bite-sized morsel as well. There is little else to be said without dragging on for too long or giving away potential spoilers. Let’s just sum it up as this: Terror Beyond Measure is worth every penny of its cost and delivers wit, humor, action, and supernatural thrills in a snack-sized delight of a tale! I highly recommend this to any horror fan and, well, just about anyone who loves fantasy or adventure tales. FINAL VERDICT: ***** (Wit, humor, action, and the supernatural in a snack-sized delight!)
  • This Changes Everything on April 03, 2015

    From jbgarner58.wordpress.com: Every once in a while, I feel like I have to break the rules set down for me by the Starving Reviews, LLC corporate office. So far, I have restrained myself because, well, I'm starving, darn it! I need this literary sustenance to flow and I dare not cut off my biggest supplier. Today, though, I may wind up breaking that creed, as today's long-delayed culinary snack can't be dissected without some SPOILERS! This Changes Everything is, on the surface, a science fiction novel talking about an alternate future where aliens approach Earth and offer entrance into a galactic collective. This sort of treat, at first glance, looks scrumptious, offering a many-layered look at the interactions between our delightfully bizarre little planet and a vast series of societies and species. In some ways, Changes delivers on some aspects of that promise. The writing itself is solid, at least once you get used to the various styles employed. The book is comprised of many nuggets of scenes, each written in a different style and from different view points. It can be a bit jarring at first but is easy to get a grip on once you realize what's going on. The plot ... has problems. The majority of the rest of this review will touch on that, but let me get one thing out of the way. If you ever wanted a true definition of a Mary Sue, read Changes. You see, the Mary Sue concept isn't one of abilities or perfection (though those help), it is the plot black hole they represent. The protagonist in this book is the most important person in the world (literally), receives almost universal praise from most quarters, gets pretty much everything she could desire, lives happily ever after, and nothing really bad, dramatic, or dangerous really happens. There is the hint of tension at several points but, as described below, there are certain story and structure elements that destroy all the drama before it even has a chance to start. The problems start to come in when the concepts of the 'reality' of how time and history work in this universe. The core concepts of the book (that all time exists simultaneously and that time lines can be altered and culled by anyone with the appropriate psychic training) do provide some interesting promise, but the way they are actualized in the story create a rolling cascade of issues that really break the book down as a fictional slice of cake. It boils down to a few major, seemingly paradoxical, concepts. First, the concept of all time being simultaneous doesn't really hold out in how the events of the book work. The aliens, and later Earthlings, can alter time by changing events (which don't often require them actually doing the actions, which is strangely dissatisfying) ... but how does that work when all time is simultaneous, which suggests there cannot be true causality? Likewise, the book repeatedly talks about the existence of free will, but how can free will truly exist in a world where others can reset and alter their personal time lines, altering entire sequences of events, thereby altering those free will decisions? Finally, there are strange arbitrary limits on how often people can alter their time lines, with no mention on how this is enforced or even known to be. Maybe it's something touched on later in what is supposed to turn into a ten book series, but arbitrary, unexplained limits on what is essentially a 'magic' system in a fictional world is always a bit of a distaste for me. The main story issue that this concept of time and time altering brings about is the total destruction of dramatic tension. Very early in Changes, we already know, from the characters that can see the future as well as future documents included, that everything turns out A-OK. The girl gets the boy, Earth turns out fantastic, and the main character gets a healthy, happy ending. We know this by (if I remember correctly) chapter 5 of a 30+ chapter book. Yes, you can argue that the meal can be no less tasty when you sneak in dessert early, but that's usually not the case. Knowing everything turns out great turns every attempt at adding some drama or tension to any point of the novel fall flat. That is a key component of what really leeches the taste out of Changes. I could excuse the very strange time alteration parts (it is a fictional universe, after all) and roll with it, but the lack of dramatic tension, the lack of any real conflict and consequences (something that the writer tries to interject with the idea of 'Psi-P', the emotional backlash of choosing to go with time-lines that benefit others but are not the best for you personally, something that never gets written to have the real impact it could), just makes Changes a sludge of a book. It is simply tiring to read, with no real emotional high or pay-off. It's just not entertaining and that is the biggest sin a work of fiction can have. You may be wondering where the spoilers were? Well, I saved that for last because I have to take a moment to chew the fat about something that may very well be opinion. This next bit isn't a critique of the book, which is why it comes at the end, but a critique of some ideas in the book (a very different thing). Changes has some very insulting and, to me personally, dangerous ideas about what is good about humanity. Humans are depicted in some cases as being so unable to cope with the idea of actual alien contact that they die or go crazy from the news. Like significant swaths of the population, at least before the aliens change history again. Not to mention there is an Appendix, as well as mentions in the main text, where it is shown that many human achievements in many areas, from the Underground Railroad to splitting the atom to most major religious figures (Jesus, the Dahli Lama, and others) were directly influenced by this alien collective, either through dreams or direct intervention. It frankly made my gut curdle to see so much of humanity's accomplishments turned into the results of alien meddling. Changes pains humans with a very savage and ignorant brush, laying our salvation and much of our past good points in the hands of our alien saviors. Now, about those aliens ... The aliens in this world alter time repeatedly to change human history to make the Earth a better fit for their galactic collective. They banish people unable to conform with their way of doing things to a 'prison' alternate time line until they reform or die. They alter the biochemistry of the ENTIRE human race in one chapter to make them more receptive and peaceful without the consent of, well, anyone. They are fully telepathic and casually mind-read the main character (and the rest of humanity) for most of the book. In a different book, these aliens would be the worst kind of manipulative overlords. In this book, though, they are perfect, wonderful utopians. I find especially that their methods really don't jive with that 'free will' concept. How can you have free will when aliens are altering your biochemistry, psychically manipulating you, and implanting thoughts, dreams, and knowledge into you? Wow, that went on for a while. Okay, so, how does this come together? This Changes Everything is a science fiction yarn that just has no drama or fun in it. Regardless of how you may feel about its philosophical or moral points, Changes breaks the cardinal rule of any fictional work, and that is to entertain. If you're looking for good, interesting sci-fi, look elsewhere. If you, however, are looking for a very unusual tract on philosophy and morals, you might want to give this a read, just don't expect to be entertained by it. FINAL VERDICT: ** (Heavy on philosophy and moral tracts, without a single tasty bit of fun!)
  • There's Always Love on June 19, 2015

    From jbgarner58.wordpress.com: The romantic mystery is a well-loved recipe for exciting literary meals. The zing of romance, the tension of a good mystery, mixed with liberal portions of interesting characters, topped up with a dash of thrilling action … it’s a taste sensation that can’t be beat. Having just finished The Thin Man in my off-time, I was certain thrilled by the prospect of digging into something that could be in the same vein (at least by the book blurb) in There’s Always Love. Before we look at this particular recipe, let us recite the Starving Review creed: I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible. Let’s start with the positives. Ms. Russ has the kernels of a great mystery here and there are many threads that could prove interesting in the knotted background of the protagonist. There are twists, secrets, and betrayals, all great spices to throw into the mix of a romantic mystery. The problem, though, is that all of these spices are used simply as a little dash here or there. Let me explain further. Usually, when you bake a literary treat like this, you use a liberal mix of the two key elements: romance and mystery. Sure, the chef might add a dash more of this, or a bit more of that, but there’s a balance there. Love, as its title foreshadows, sheds the mystery and thriller aspects for at least eighty percent of the book, if not more. The key mystery, the thing the protagonist sets out to solve at the start, only occasionally pokes through the rest of the romantic narrative. Yes, some of the remainder is devoted to family drama and the occasional foreshadowed bit that ties back into the main mystery, but the romance elements far outweigh the mystery. This is especially confusing as the book blurb doesn’t even mention the romantic elements that dominate the book. It’s like writing down on the menu that you are serving pizza only to put out ice cream instead for dinner. It’s not automatically a bad thing, but it’s not what you said you were serving. This could turn out to be a good thing, all the same. As you may know, the Starving Reviewer enjoys a juicy romance. However, we don’t really get that served to us either. Our two protagonists fall in love in the first chapter, marry swiftly, and never have that love tested. They remain in stasis, in a perpetual state of newlywed highs for the entire length of the recipe, which takes place over a year or more of in-world time. There’s no build-up to the romance, no layers of spice cake before the sweet center. With no build-up and no proven chemistry, there’s no drama and no pay-off. They don’t even bicker or, if my memory is correct, even really disagree on anything in the entire book. If anything, the only real drama in this recipe revolves around the complicated strands of the main female protagonist’s family and the secrets revealed. This too could have saved the book, especially as it ties into the main mystery, but this is drained of flavor by the presentation. We, the readers, are told many, many things alongside the protagonists, but we rarely see them do anything to find these things out or do anything about them. There are reactions, sure, but even those are a bit muted. It robs the protagonists’ of all agency … even the big mystery itself is resolved, for the most part, by outsiders wrapped up in an out-of-left-field deus ex machina. The last thing that might have come in and salvaged Love would have been great characters. We aren’t lucky enough to get that. Again, there is potential here. I can feel the struggle of characters, mostly our main heroine, trying to break the surface and express themselves, but being rendered devoid of agency, much of that characterization is lost. This is doubly hamstrung by the overall writing style, which struggles to give any of the book’s characters a unique voice in the dialogue. There is no snark, no fire, no quips, no stumbling, no … anything. Also, a total lack of commas in the entire manuscript did little to help. I know this has been a rough review. However, as I have said many times, I review these treats in my pantry to help their chefs, to be critical so that they can improve and also to spread the good word to readers. So, to reiterate, there are some good elements here and some real potential. That doesn’t do much to help my final summation, which is that There’s Always Love might have some potential mystery but it’s overwhelmed by excessive, sparkless romance and dull characterization. If the chef were to take this back to the kitchen, rebalance the recipe, and put the protagonists really into the mix of the mystery, this could turn into a well-baked cake. Until then, though, I’d say keep this out of your pantry, readers. FINAL VERDICT: ** (A hint of mystery spices overwhelmed by sparkless romance, lack of agency, and dull characterization!)
  • Beneath the Blast on Oct. 16, 2015

    From jbgarner58.wordpress.com: One of the great things about digging through my pantry is the great variety of dishes that are contributed to it. There’s always something new, something innovative, some creative new take on an old dish out there to be found. Today’s meal is one of those creative dishes, combining some classic aspects of conventional thrillers, a dash of Lord of the Flies, and reality television. Will this be good, bad, or just ‘meh’? Before we find out, let’s unfurl the ancient scrolls and consult the Starving Review laws: I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible It turns out that reality television is a lot easier on my creative palate when it’s wrapped in a layer of meaty thriller. Mr. Rorik finds an interesting way to use the stilted, often manufactured environment of your average reality TV show to both set the stage and heighten the tension of the plot to come. When you have a group of people who are not only in competition, but chosen specifically to create a dramatic situation for television, the amount of dramatic tension to be milked to spice up the recipe multiplies. Of course, that drama sets down squarely on the shoulders of the characters. If those core ingredients don’t pan out, the entire drama souffle will collapse. Overall, Blast brings a varied and fleshed-out cast of characters. Interestingly, this is accomplished with rapidly-shifting swirls of characterization, sliding from character to character for short scenes before moving on to the next. You might be concerned that this could cause a breakdown of the plot. After all, if every character gets their swirls in the mix, doesn’t that tells us all about our antagonists’ plans? Again, credit the chef here for providing an expert hand here. While there are character scenes that foreshadow things to come, it stops there at foreshadowing. I can’t remember a single scene ruined by the characters revealing the menu too early. The flaws in Blast are minor, but do leave their sourness on the cake. Firstly, the start of the tale is a bit clunky. As the cast is rather sizable, it takes some time before the story really gets going to let us get a bead on each of them and that leads to a bit of early fatigue from such a heavy first course. Once Blast gets to the main course, though, it goes down quite smoothly, but the early pacing is still off. My other bit of critique would be in the plot device to get the whole ball rolling to start with. As this is a very early occurance, I don’t think this is SPOILERS, so let me extrapolate: The main premise is a reality show cast that winds up trapped in the bunker their show is set in. Part of the explanation for being trapped makes sense, the part that happens in the first few chapters, but the final explanation given stretched the bounds of my suspension of disbelief. As it happens right at the very end and didn’t QUITE break it, I was able to swallow it down, mainly as it really didn’t affect the resolution of the plot, but it was still a sour note at the end. However, let me sum up by saying that the real, actual dramatic plot resolution is actually quite good. Overall, Beneath the Blast is a spicy, tasty mix of thriller and reality television, with just a few minor flaws marring the recipe. I’d suggest anyone who enjoys thrillers or reality television to give this one a read. Anyone else who would just enjoy a good read might also want to give this one a go, as it is a solid, tasty treat. Enjoy and good reading, good writing, and good luck! FINAL VERDICT: **** (A spicy, tasty mix of thriller and reality television, with just a few minor flaws marring the recipe!)
  • The Building on Oct. 23, 2015

    From jbgarner58.wordpress.com: As the shadows grow longer outside the Starving Review Kitchens, what better luck could I have but to pull a meal promising horrors and an encounter with the Devil himself? With Halloween just over a week away, we have the promise of the horrors of the 21st century set to mix and mingle with some old-school, ancient horrors. Add to that what the blurb would suggest is partly a haunted house tale, a true classic recipe, and it looks to be a meal to relish. But does The Building live up to the promise? Before we find out, let’s set the Starving Review ground rules: I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible The Building shows some amazing potential. There is some beautiful/horrific imagery mixed in to spice up some of the scenes of terror. The core concept is elegant and refined in its simplicity. The methodology of the supernatural elements, that is to say the ground rules by which they work, also work beautifully to present a tasty candy shell of horrors to fill up with fears, scares, and nail-biting catastrophe. But that is where things start to go off balance. I would say the core issue that The Building has is that it is comprised of at least two times as many courses as a meal with its recipes should. There is a simple core cycle to how the plot flows, one that any reader will recognize quickly, and it adheres religiously to that cycle, repeating the same course over and over again. There are minor additional elements slowly mixed in, but so many recounts of the same plot points and character beats adds bloat and weight to the whole affair. If, for example, the key plot changes scattered throughout all these samey-same courses were pulled out, then recombined with the start, the main cycle repeated perhaps three times at most, then the ending, it would have gone down much smoother and kept its dramatic tension. That’s really what the repeated cycles do: shatter the tension and sense of horror. A key element of horror is suspense, that feeling of the unknown and the unknowable. When the same course of actions repeats with similar consequences over and over, there is no longer suspense. We, the readers, can now predict the course of the book, up to the end. There was no last-minute twist, no surprise dessert whipped out to put the whole meal on its head or to justify the extended cycles it went through. Just the ending I expected from the midpoint of the book on. There is one last minor quibble, one I find more and more to be prevalent, and that is paragraphing. Yes, that particular little form of style and formatting. Extended tracts of the book are contained in mammoth multi-page paragraphs that blend into columns of inky darkness as I tried to read them. It’s a fairly easy thing to fix and perhaps a nitpick, but as I see it more and more in books, it makes me all the more upset, especially as it is so easy to get right. The Building has a recipe for horror greatness that has been turned into a bloated mess by unneeded repetition of its one-cycle story. Cut down and remixed into a novella half its size or even a masterful short story, this could be really amazing. Also, if more variety of horrors or more concepts about the mystery of the titular Building were explored to vary the repetition and preserve the suspense, a novel of this weight could be justified. As it is though, this terrorizing souffle collapses under its own weight. FINAL VERDICT: ** (A potentially-great horror souffle that collapses under the bloat of repetition!)
  • Double Life on March 04, 2016

    From jbgarner58.wordpress.com: A good literary chef knows that it’s wise to sample the local cuisine, to learn the flavors of your home. Today, I’ll be dipping into that local cuisine as we tuck into Double Life, the start of a space opera feast that promises exploration, space pirates, and bounty hunting galore. Throwing off the strict measurements of a hard sci-fi recipe is usually a treat. So does does Double Life do the local foodies’ proud or is it not up to snuff? We’ll find out! First, however, let’s bring up the logs of the U.S.S. Starving Review for our mission parameters: 1. I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre 2. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible I think the first thing to note about the menu here is that Double is a bit different than what you might immediately expect from the term ‘space opera’. What I mean by that is that this particular meal dives a bit deeper into the spice jar of character drama over the straight action-adventure flavoring one might apply to typical space opera. That isn’t to mean there isn’t any of those things, not at all! But there’s a deeper layer here, a flavor ripple between the cakes so to speak, and that leads to a different composition and pacing when compared to simple space opera. Character, accordingly, is Double’s strongest point. The protagonist is full-realized and she has both strong and weak points, virtues and vices, leading to a solid character arc with plenty of room to march in subsequent volumes. Likewise, several of the secondary characters get some room to shine. I especially respect and like that a romantic subplot is not front and center. The strongest relationships that are explored are, in fact, familial, straying wisely away from the formula that female protagonists need their leading man. There’s also a lot of intriguing world-building going on here. The foundation layers are firm, not too spongy, and add a nice subtext to many of the events of the plot. The exploration of the economic backbone that drives the main action, as well as taking time to consider religion’s place in the characters’ lives, shows a nice attention to detail that many space operas gloss over. That being said, there were a few moments of confusion when it came to that world. There was one particular question that I kept asking myself that was never answered (it wasn’t about the plot, but a particular world detail) and, with such an emphasis on the economic reasons behind pirating, bounty hunting, and policing in Double’s world, I found it strangely difficult to really figure the ‘worth’ of the money changing hands (as in how much a unit of money was really worth). Still, none of this caused more than a momentary bit of puzzlement and I doubt a casual diner will even notice. With a slower first course and more layers of cake than a typical space opera, in summation, Double Life is still a delightful romp that takes the time to look more closely at its ingredients than most! I would strongly recommend this to space opera fans, lovers of character-driven drama, and those who enjoy fully realized, female protagonists. If all you want in your space opera is a pure action run or you are searching for crunchy hard sci-fi, you might want to look elsewhere. FINAL VERDICT: **** (A slow first course, but a delightful romp all the same that dares to look deeper! )
  • The New Lease on March 08, 2016

    From jbgarner58.wordpress.com: I’ve been collecting literary tidbits in my pantry for long enough now to gobble up my fair share of political thrillers. I’ve had them spicy, flavorful, and bland, enough varieties that I suspected I had sampled everything the genre had to offer. That was awfully foolish of me, because Mr. Stryder has offered up a definitely different recipe with The New Lease. The question remains, though, if different is good. Before we find out, let us remember the Starving Review manifesto: I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible There are some big ideas brought to the kitchen with Lease that definitely differentiate it. There is a certain focused supernatural/metaphysical element added to the otherwise starkly realistic modern world of the book, one that adds (dare I say it! I DARE!) a new lease on what can sometimes be a formulaic genre. Now, introducing a wild card element like this could still go wrong, but Mr. Stryder keeps it wrangled, carefully controlled by a set series of rules and built up to wonderfully in the book itself. There’s more to it than this supernatural dash of spice. The structure and style of Lease is intriguing. The entire first half of the book is essentially split in twain, with alternating chapters building the backstory of the antagonist (though we don’t know it at the time), while working through the plot with the protagonist. While not a unique technique, it’s one that can be easily tripped over by an incautious chef, but Stryder pulls it off perfectly and it only serves to heighten the mystery and tension until we find out what these mystery chapters are actually about. On a more conventional critical front, the characters, especially the protagonist and antagonist are built up extremely well. Especially our ‘antagonist’, because he is an excellent example of a kind of character that is often mishandled in other recipes: the character who has lofty, well-meaning goals, but contemplates horrific methods. Often, these character types are presented in a certain ham-handed …. mmm, ham … fashion, but Jonas’ arguments and approach are so nuanced, intelligent, and well-researched that he becomes a vague, gray area. I have only two real criticisms of Lease. First, much like some of the other political thrillers I have nibbled on, Lease‘s pacing is a bit uneven at the beginning, as it requires a fair amount of exposition (very well researched exposition, I might add) to establish both the politics and the characters. This is somewhat understandable in this genre, so is only a minor concern. Of a bit more concern with me was the last course of the meal, the denouement. This will be hard to speak of without being SPOILERY, but I can best sum it up as that this was the conclusion I would expect from a book series with a strong meta-plot, not the ending of a stand-alone novel such as this. It concludes the surface conflict, but leaves a tremendous amount of the real core conflict of the book wide open. While I respect that this is a book that could work with some threads open … in fact thematically it would demand it … it’s just TOO open. It doesn’t ruin the meal, but it left me feeling a bit hollow and definitely wanting at the end, not something I enjoy. Still, despite a few rough edges, The New Lease remains as an excellent thriller souffle with a dash of supernatural spice, though it deflates a bit at the end. Despite that final chapter, I highly recommend this tasty treat to any fan of the thriller or anyone interested in something that looks deeply at the world as it is unflinchingly. I would still recommend it to others as well, just be forewarned that you might be a bit disappointed with the very end of the story. I look forward to more baking from Mr. Stryder’s kitchen! FINAL VERDICT: **** (An excellent thriller souffle with a dash of supernatural spice, though it deflates a bit at the end!)