Friday, September 8, 2017

The Boy on the Bridge

by M.R. Carey
392 pgs  (The Girl with All the Gifts series #2)

The Boy on the Bridge is a prequel to M.R. Carey’s fantastic book TheGirl with All the Gifts. It tells the story of the Rosalind Franklin, the heavily-armed mobile laboratory that was found abandoned in The Girl with All the Gifts. The Rosalind Franklin was sent out from the city of Beacon on a last-ditch effort to analyze the Cordyceps fungus in order to try to synthesize a cure for the infection turning humans into mindless “hungries.”

The crew consists of ten members, half of them military personnel, the other half, scientists. Included among the scientists is 15-year-old Stephen Greaves, the scientific genius responsible for developing the chemical blocker that prevents hungries from picking up the scent of the uninfected. Greaves is a prodigy, and while it’s never confirmed in the book, he’s also clearly autistic. He can’t stand to be touched by others, is seemingly incapable of telling an untruth, and he deals with everything around him like it’s a scientific puzzle waiting to be solved.

I’m not going to say anything about the plot, since doing so would spoil too much of the story of both books. If you’ve read The Girl with All the Gifts—and even though this is a prequel to that one, you should still read that one first--, much of the plot of this one is going to be a foregone conclusion before you even start reading. Even though that’s the case, The Boy on the Bridge is still well worth the time to read. Carey is a fantastic story teller! His characters are three-dimensional and the story he places them in are compelling and wholly entertaining.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Kill Order

by James Dashner
327 pgs  (Maze Runner series #4)

The Kill Order is the first of two prequels to James Dashner’s Maze Runner trilogy. Set 13 years before Thomas arrived in the Maze, the book tells the story of Mark, Alec, Trina, and a small group of others who survived the solar flares that nearly wiped out humanity. But the survivors are far from safe, a new virus has begun spreading, one that turns those who catch it into raving, murderous, creatures.

The story doesn’t waste any time getting started. Mark, Alec, and the others in their small group live in a small village in the mountains of North Carolina. As they’re together, they hear the engine noises of a Berg approaching. When it arrives, it hovers over their village, the side doors open, and men wearing uniforms begin to shoot at them with darts. Mark and Alec are able to board the Berg and discover a box with a biohazard symbol on it containing 24 darts holding the Flare virus. As the story unfolds, Mark and Alec realize that some who are infected with the Flare are immune to its effects.

Who is intentionally infecting people with the Flare? And why? How are some people immune to its effects? Does that mean there’s cure possible?

The Kill Order is a solid addition to Dashner’s series. It sheds some light on some of the mysteries of the first three books, but leaves plenty of things unanswered. Enough to fill one more book.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians: The Knights of Crystallia

by Brandon Sanderson
296 pgs  (Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians series #3)

I’ve already mentioned this in my reviews of the previous two books, but my son and I are really enjoying reading this series together. The action and the humor have kept him captivated, and in The Knights of Crystallia, he got a taste for what I’ve always enjoyed about Sanderson’s books: the worldbuilding. Sanderson is a master at creating new and vibrant worlds for his stories--no small accomplishment, considering how prolific a writer he is. In book three, Alcatraz and his friends finally make it to the Free Kingdoms, the magical world few of us Hushlanders even know exists.

Alcatraz finally makes it home to Nalhalla, but finds out as soon as he does, that negotiations are already underway to establish peace with the Librarians. The country of Mokia is being used as a bargaining chip in the negotiations, and Alcatraz quickly suspects that those trying to negotiate with the Librarians are actually in league with them, and that it’s all part of the Librarians’ plans to gain control of Mokia.

Despite Alcatraz’s ongoing claims that he’s not the hero of these books, he’s once again thrust into that role, and must find a way to expose the proceedings for what they really are and thwart the evil plans of the Librarians.

This was probably our favorite book in the series so far. The fact that it’s set in the Free Kingdoms helped bring a new level of magic to the story and once again, as soon as we finished it, my son went and grabbed book four off the shelf.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, September 1, 2017

Right as Rain

by George Pelecano
332 pgs  (Derek Strange & Terry Quinn series #1)

Right as Rain is the first book in George Pelecanos’s series featuring private investigator Derek Strange and Terry Quinn. Once again, this series is set in Washington D.C., but not the part of the District tourists ever visit. The book takes place in the inner city of Washington, where drugs and violence are a part of daily life for many.

Derek Strange is a black ex-cop who now owns his own PI company. He’s hired by a woman whose son, Chris Wilson, an off-duty black policeman, was killed by a fellow officer during a street altercation. The officer who killed him, Terry Quinn, came upon Wilson, who was holding another man on the ground with his gun pointed at him. During the altercation, Wilson turned his gun towards Quinn and his partner, and Quinn killed him. Wilson’s mother hired Strange in an effort to clear her son’s reputation. She knows her son was a good cop and not one of the many corrupted by drug money.

Quinn, who was exonerated by the department but decided to leave the force because of the cloud of suspicion that always hovered over him with his colleagues, is interviewed by Strange during his investigation. Quinn realizes his road to redemption tied to Strange’s investigation, and begins assisting him as he tries to uncover the truth behind the events of that fateful night.

This is the ninth book by Pelecanos I’ve read, and I’ve yet to read a bad one. Strange and Quinn are each compelling characters who could easily anchor a series of books by themselves. Together, they create a team that has me very excited to read the rest of the series. As with the other books of his I’ve read, the plot in this one is gritty but full of heart. The pace is slow at first, but it gradually accelerates to a thrilling conclusion. If you haven’t read any of his books before, this is a great one to pick up and try.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Clockwork Dynasty

by Daniel H. Wilson
309 pgs

In The Clockwork Dynasty, Daniel H. Wilson crafts an alternate-history story in which a secret society of automatons has been living amongst humanity for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Automatons, which are essentially robots, have a real-life history that dates back at least as far as ancient Greek mythology (think of the owl in the original Clash of the Titans movie). In Wilson’s version of history, these automatons, are self-aware, with emotions and intelligence, and have had centuries to enhance themselves through technology far more advanced than ours.

When June Stefanov was a young girl in Russia, her grandfather told her he witnessed a soldier in WWII withstand a hail of bullets and single-handedly destroy a German tank. He said the soldier had supernatural strength and left behind a mysterious metal artifact, which he then presented to her, and which she has worn as a necklace around her neck ever since. She has spent the rest of her life investigating the mystery behind her grandfather’s story. She travels the world hunting down examples of antique automatons, which she believes hold the key to unlocking the mystery behind the relic she wears around her neck.

June’s latest find is one of an automaton built hundreds of years ago to resemble a 12-year-old girl. She eventually figures out how to activate her, and when she does, she becomes noticed by the race of beings she’s unwittingly been investigating her whole life. She soon finds herself in the middle of a feud that has been brewing for hundreds of years, and her survival becomes tied to that of this mysterious and fascinating race.

I really enjoyed Wilson’s three previous books, and once again, he showcases his background in, and love for, robotics and has written a story that is wholly unique. This time, however, his story falls more in the fantasy genre, than in science fiction. He doesn’t spend a lot of time establishing the roots of his story in real life science and technology, like a lot of science fiction stories do, but instead, expects his readers to suspend their beliefs and just enjoy the story, which I did.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Obsidian Chamber

by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
403 pgs  (Pendergast series #16)

At the end of Crimson Shore, FBI Special agent Pendergast is presumed dead, drowned off the coast of Massachusetts. I feel okay mentioning that without a spoiler warning, because I don’t think there’s a single reader of Preston and Child’s series who believed him to actually be dead when it happened. And as soon as this book was announced, his survival was a foregone conclusion. So, bringing him back was no big deal. What was a more surprising, and not a pleasant surprise, was the return of Pendergast’s brother, Diogenes.

Diogenes was killed at the end of The Book of the Dead (10 years ago) by falling into a volcano. I’m certain when they killed him off at the end of that book, that Preston and Child had no intentions of ever bringing him back. In fact, I was at a book signing with Douglas Preston for a subsequent book, in which he made the statement that Diogenes was “truly dead.” I feel bad about accusing them of this, after reading the series for so long, but they “jumped the shark” by having him return, which is never a good sign.

Pendergast returns “from the dead” to find that Constance has been kidnapped and their bodyguard Proctor is nowhere to be found. As Pendergast begins to unravel the clues and follow the trail, he begins to suspect, and then discovers, that his brother is still alive.

The book isn’t bad. In fact, the story itself is quite good. But my irritation with Diogenes’s return killed any chance I had of enjoying the story. I’m hoping the shark jumping doesn’t mean Preston and Child are running out of ideas to keep the series alive. I’ve followed the series too long to want to give up on it.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Into the Water

by Paula Hawkins
388 pgs

Into the Water is an excellent example of a “sophomore slump.” Paula Hawkins’ first book, The Girl on the Train, while I thought was a little over-hyped, and definitely had its flaws, was still a pretty good book. For her follow-up book, Hawkins took all the flaws of her first one, and instead of fixing them, magnified them.

The story is difficult to follow. The prologue takes place in the 17th century with a woman being drowned by a group of men, then the rest of the book switches back and forth between 2015 and sometime in the 1980s (I think 1983, but not worth going back to check). The chapters alternate between multiple first-person and third-person narratives and Hawkins throws the myriad of different characters at you without any context or background, which I found made them difficult to keep straight in my head.

The story takes place in the rural British town of Beckford. There’s a body of water near the town known as the drowning pool, which has a centuries-old history of women drowning in it, either by suicide or murder. It all began with Libby, who was accused of witchcraft and drowned there in the prologue. From that point, Hawkins leads you to believe that Beckford women have been dying there with regularity ever since, leading up to the two most recent women: Nel Abbott and Katie Whittaker.

Much like she did with her first book, Hawkins tries to keep her readers uncertain about why those women died for as long as she can. Every characters’ character is ambiguous throughout the book. You don’t know who to trust or believe, or if there’s anyone who even can be. The only thing you can count on is that there are no men in Beckford who possess any redeeming qualities. They’re all either adulterers, abusers, predators, or killers. Some man somewhere pissed Paula Hawkins off quite badly. Today, she’s making a lot of money writing books that seem to help her vent her rage against the whole gender. As a member of it, I’m not sure whether I should apologize or say, “You’re welcome.”

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆