Friday, February 23, 2018

The Aeronaut's Windlass

by Jim Butcher
630 pgs  (The Cinder Spires series #1)

The Aeronaut's Windlass is the first book in Jim Butcher's new "futuristic-dystopian-steampunk" series. It takes place on a world in which humans live thousands of feet up in the air. They've built giant spires, which are a couple miles across and over 10,000 feet tall. Each spire is in and of itself an independent nation, with its own government, culture, and interests--interests which often end up conflicting with those of other spires.

Their technology is based on crystals, which are grown and used to provide electricity, power their weapons, and enable travel using impressive airships.

Captain Grimm is a privateer for Spire Albion, who sails his merchant airship Predator, ambushing airships from Spire Aurora, which is involved in a cold war with Spire Albion.

While transporting Gwendolyn Lancaster and Bridget Tagwynn, two young heiresses training to join the Spirearch guard, the Predator is ambushed by venomous creatures under the direction of Spire Aurora., and Captain Grimm soon finds himself and his crew in the middle of a cold war that just got much hotter.

This is the first book by Jim Butcher that I've read. I haven't read any of his Dresden Files series, which currently consists of more than a dozen books, and which I've been planning to eventually get around to. So I was excited to see he was starting a new series, one I could start reading at the same time he was writing it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, February 19, 2018

Origin

by Dan Brown
461 pgs  (Robert Langdon series #5)

Dan Brown is an author that people tend to have strong feelings about. Either they really, really like him, or they really, really hate him. Those who don't like him say his books all follow the same formula, and that all he's done since the success of The Da Vinci Code is repeat himself over and over again. I don't disagree with their criticisms. But I can't help it, I really, really like his books.

Edmund Kirsch is a scientist, an atheist, and a futurist, who has garnered world-wide recognition over the course of his life for his perfect record to date for predicting technological advances years before they're achieved. He also happens to be a former student of Robert Langdon.

As the book begins, Kirsch is days away from revealing his latest scientific discovery to the world. And he believes that when he does, it will destroy the core of every religion on earth, along with every believer's faith in a divine creator. He believes he's finally found the answer to the two questions: "Where did we come from?" and "Where are we going?"

But his announcement is cut short by an assassin sent to keep his discovery secret. It's up to Langdon and Ambra Vidal, the museum's curator to figure out what it was Kirsch had discovered, and make it known to the world, hopefully before the same man who killed Kirsch is able to stop them too.

Like him or not, it's hard to dispute Dan Brown's popularity. Origin is a great example of why I think his popularity is well deserved.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Impossible Fortress

by Jason Rekulak
285 pgs

Billy Marvin is a 14-year-old living in New Jersey with his mother in 1987. His mother works the late shift at the local grocery store, so Billy and his two friends Clark and Alf are able to hang out together late each night watching movies, playing games, and eating junk food.

When the latest issue of Playboy arrives at Zelinsky's Typewriters and Office Supplies, featuring Vanna White from "Wheel of Fortune," the three friends immediately begin planning "Operation Vanna." Their plan is to get a hold of a copy of the magazine, make photocopies of the pages featuring the professional letter-turner, and then sell them to kids at their school for a couple dollars each.

Their initial plans all fail, so they have to enlist the help of Tyler Bell, an older kid at their school, who helps them devise an elaborate scheme to break into the store at night to steal a copy. But in order for them to do so, Billy will need to become friends with Zelinsky's daughter and try to learn what the security code is to the store's alarm system.

The book is described as "A love letter to the 1980s," which probably explains why I enjoyed it as much as I did. Much like Stranger Things and Ready Player One, it's packed full of references to the '80s. From Vanna White and Phil Collins, to the Commodore 64 and Kramer vs. Kramer. But the nostalgia for that decade wasn't the only highlight of the book for me. I also really enjoyed the story. I found myself "stretching" out my lunch breaks each day, not wanting to put the book down.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, February 8, 2018

It's All Relative

by A. J. Jacobs
337 pgs 

In A. J. Jacobs’s latest book, It’s All Relative - Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree, he undertakes the quest for organizing the world’s largest ever family reunion, a global family reunion. Why would a self-described “introverted misanthrope” undertake such an endeavor? The idea grew out of his desire to instill in his children an understanding of where they came from and a sense of belonging in the world. He also believed that if he could somehow get everyone to realize they were all related to each other, if you go back far enough, that people might treat each other with a little more kindness and respect.

In true Jacobsian fashion, Jacobs immerses himself in the practice of genealogy for an entire year leading up to The Global Family Reunion, which took place in New York (and remotely in dozens of other locations throughout the world) in June of 2015.

Jacobs recounts countless hours of researching his own family line, along with those of his wife’s family and other relatives. He interviews experts in the field and attends conferences held throughout the country. He spends a lot of time researching other topics related to the idea of family, and discusses the various relationships formed throughout the world that form a family.

He becomes a subject-matter expert on DNA testing, and shines a light on the pros and cons of that increasingly-popular practice. He researches marriage between closely-related people, and why that has occurred throughout history, and its effects on the global family tree.

Jacobs then does what he does best, and what has garnered him thousands of fans and helped him sell so many books, he writes about his quest in such a way that is humorous, interesting, and entertaining. 

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, February 5, 2018

Oathbringer

by Brandon Sanderson
1242 pgs  (Stormlight Archives series #3)

I feel like I should be more embarrassed than I am to admit how excited I get for each book in Brandon Sanderson’s “Stormlight Archive” series. I don’t dress up as a character from the series to go buy the book at midnight release parties or anything, but I do count down the days as the release date approaches. I believe my excitement is justified though. Sanderson is one of my all-time favorite authors, and of all the different series he’s writing, this one is my favorite.

Each installment in the series now comes in longer than the Old Testament, which means there’s A LOT of stuff going on in each book. There are dozens of major characters, there’s no shortage of action, and each of the major and minor story arcs are compelling on their own. To then add all those to a world as fascinating and unique has Sanderson has built, and to incorporate a magic system unlike anything I’m confident has ever been written, makes me feel like maybe I should be spending months making a costume to wear to the midnight release parties for the books.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to attempt any substantive review of the book. If you’re not already reading the series, there’s just too much going on to do it justice. And if you are reading the series, I’d be too concerned about spoilers. So, I’m not going to even try. 

★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Saturday, February 3, 2018

Skink--No Surrender

by Carl Hiaasen
281 pgs

Skink -- No Surrender is Carl Hiaasen’s newest book written for younger readers. This time around he borrows one of his more colorful characters from a few of his books written for “older” readers: Skink. Skink is a one-eyed, unkempt, half-naked homeless man who was once the governor of Florida, but who decided one day to walk away from the job, and society as a whole, so he could begin doling out acts of retribution against individuals and companies that didn’t share his sense of stewardship for the fragile Floridian ecosystem.

Richard is a 16-year-old, who often walks at night along the beach with his cousin Malley hoping to catch a glimpse of a mother loggerhead sea turtle laying her eggs. But Malley fails to show up one night for a scheduled search, and when Richard tries to contact her to find out where she is, he discovers she has left town with a guy she met and had been communicating with in a chat room.

While the police quickly become involved in searching for her, Richard believes he knows her best and therefore has the best chance of finding her. So, he sets out to find her and bring her back home. Fortunately for him (and us, the readers), he’s accompanied by the crazy old man he met the night before on the beach, who was buried completely in the sand, breathing through a straw, waiting to ambush anyone looking for turtle eggs to sell on the black market.

Once again, Hiaasen’s love for his home state, with its beauty, crazy inhabitants, and deadly creatures, is obvious while he tells his story. It’s a fun and entertaining book, and told as only Hiaasen could.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Sleeping Beauties

by Stephen King & Owen King
702 pgs

The end result of Stephen King’s collaboration with his son, and fellow writer Owen King, is an entertaining and eerily timely story centered around the question, “What would happen if all the women in the world were gone?”

Nobody knows what caused it. They don’t know if it was a virus, or some sort of spell. But it affected half the planet’s population seemingly all at once. It’s dubbed the Aurora virus, and it affects only females. Any female who falls asleep quickly becomes sealed up in a fibrous cocoon-type shell and doesn’t wake up again. They don’t die, but if anyone disturbs their cocoon, the woman wakes up as a zombie-like creature and kills the person who touched them.

Women begin taking caffeine and more powerful drugs, as they try to stay awake as long as they can, but eventually the inevitable happens and they succumb to sleep. Only one woman, Evie Black seems immune to the effects of the Aurora virus.

Evie arrives in Drooling, a small town somewhere in Appalachia that the Kings set their story in, shortly after the Aurora pandemic begins. She’s incarcerated in the local prison for committing a murder, but she, unlike every other woman on the planet, continues to wake up anytime she falls asleep. As attention begins to focus on her, it quickly becomes apparent that she’s the key to unlocking what’s happening to all the other women on earth.

I read an interview with Stephen and Owen King, in which they discussed the process they utilized in writing the book together, and I have no doubt King Jr. was just as instrumental in writing the book as King Sr. was. But it reads heavily like a Stephen King book, which is certainly not a criticism from me. It’s reminiscent of the types of books he was writing many years ago, books like InsomniaUnder the Dome, and The Stand.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆