Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 - A Review

At the end of each year I like to look back and identify the best books I either read or listened to during the year. This year there were many books that I really enjoyed but I've narrowed it down to the following as my Top Ten List:
  1. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
  2. The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
  3. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
  4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  5. The Terror by Dan Simmons
  6. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  7. Kraken by China Mieville
  8. Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon
  9. The Passage by Justin Cronin
  10. The Alchemaster's Apprentice by Walter Moers
**Worst book read - The Scorpio Illusion by Robert Ludlum

Number of books read or listened to this year - 76
Booksignings attended this year - Douglas Preston, Daniel Silva, Brandon Sanderson, & Jeffery Deaver

Monday, December 27, 2010

Dead or Alive

Dead or Alive by Tom Clancy

It's been a long time since a real Tom Clancy novel came out. His name has been associated with plenty of books that have been written in the last decade or so, but none of them were written by him. In Dead or Alive, maybe as an apology to his fans for the long delay, he includes an all-star cast of his characters: Jack Ryan, John Clark, Ding Chavez, the Caruso brothers, Mary Pat Foley, and Jack Ryan Jr..

Before leaving the Oval Office, President Jack Ryan created an extremely covert organization that answers to no politician or government agency. It's self-funded and only he and the handful of people who work for it know that it exists. It's called The Campus and its sole purpose is to find and eliminate those trying to destroy the U.S.. This time their target is the man behind numerous terrorist attacks who has managed to elude capture for years. He's known as the Emir and his next planned attack will leave the U.S. crippled for decades.

Once again Clancy does what he does best. He uses his incomparable knowledge of military operations and capabilities and  incorporates them into a quick-moving story that more often than not kept me reading long past the time I had planned to stop and do something else. Dead or Alive would be a great introductory book for those who have never read a Clancy book before. He includes enough of the characters' back stories to get readers caught up without bogging down the story.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Star Island

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen

In Star Island Hiaasen takes aim at the absurdity of today's pop culture. Cherry Pye was fifteen years old when she was transformed into a pop star by a producer at Jailbait Records. Now, at 22, her recording career is barely afloat. Her appetite for drugs, alcohol, and rock and roll drummers has forced those closest to her to hire Ann DeLusia, who resembles Cherry in every way except for the level head on her shoulders.

Ann's job is to make public appearances disguised as Cherry Pye during the lip-sincer's frequent stints in rehab. Ann is an aspiring actress who grudgingly accepts the job of Cherry's body double because the pay is good. But when she's kidnapped one night by an inept paparazzo who thinks Cherry Pye is going to be his golden ticket to fame, she decides that if she ever regains her freedom, the time might be right for a career change.

True to form, Hiaasen adds an ensemble of characters to the story that provide an extra level of ridiculousness. There are Cherry's parisitic parents, who's only concern is that their golden goose will stop laying eggs. There's Chemo, a hitman recently released from prison hired by Cherry's producer as her bodyguard. Chemo lost part of his arm during a barracuda attack years ago and decided on a custom-built Weed Whacker for a prosthesis instead of a hook or a claw because he figured it would come in more "handy" (sorry). There's also Skink, the ex-Governor of Florida, who left public office years ago in order to live in the swamp among the alligators, dining on roadkill, and sabotaging developers' ongoing efforts to ruin his state. This time Skink's sights are set on Jackie Sebago, a crooked developer who's first interaction with Skink results a trip to the emergency room to have a sea urchin removed from his more sensitive nether region.

I'd rate Star Island as an average offering from Carl Hiaasen, but with the asterisk that average for Hiaasen is better than most books out there.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, December 10, 2010

Next

Next by James Hynes

James Hynes has once again written a book that is difficult to describe. Next, along with his previous books, takes the reader down a path that feels both comfortable and familiar for the first three quarters of the book. Then, something happens. An event or a turn in that path that is totally unexpected, but which in hindsight you realize, was foreshadowed from page one. This time, that event completely changed what the book was about for me. It changed from a simple character-driven story to one that I think will cause everyone who reads it to contemplate what is, and what should be, the most important things in their life.

The story is about Kevin Quinn, a middle-aged man on a plane bound for Austin, Texas where he's got a job interview. Kevin hasn't told anyone that he's going, not even his long-term girlfriend who's half his age and who would be crushed if she knew he was contemplating leaving her and starting over in a new state. The idea of attending the interview for a job that he's not even sure he'd take if they offered it to him has become an afterthought, due to the young lady sitting next to him on the plane. He can't stop thinking about her. She's like a hybrid of two women from his past, the only women he realizes he's probably ever loved. On an impulse, he decides to follow her.

Most of the remainder of the story describes the path his life takes for the rest of the day because of that decision. It's a path filled with Kevin's ruminations about the women he's been in relationships with, his relationship with his parents, and the realization that his best years are probably behind him. Then everything changes for him in an instant.

A great book. But not one for the easily offended.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Freedom

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Books like Freedom are the reason I love to read. Most of the books I read are fast-moving thrillers, full of suspense, twists, and turns - the exact opposite of this book. However, I feel like I would have missed a wonderful experience if I hadn't decided to read a book by Jonathan Franzen. Nine years ago Franzen won the National Book Award with Corrections. The fact that it was chosen as an Oprah's Book Club selection prevented me from picking it up though. Nothing against her personally, I just assumed our tastes in literature wouldn't coincide. Fortunately for me I bought Freedom before Oprah selected it for her book club as well.

Walter and Patty Berglund are a typical Midwestern couple. They marry young and while Walter fell head-over-heals in love with Patty the moment he first laid eyes on her, Patty never felt that way about Walter. In her mind, she feels like she always settled for Walter. She loves the way he treats her more than she loves him. He's an environmental crusader, always looking after the little guy, which eventually leads him to the plight of American songbirds. She's a former high school and college athlete who was initially attracted to Walter's roommate but agrees to date Walter only after his roommate rejects her advances.

The brilliance of this book is Franzen's characters. He follows the Berglunds and their two children throughout their lives. He exposes their flaws and shortcomings as well as their humanity in a way that I can't remember reading in another book. I can't say that I considered any single character in the book "likable," yet each one resonated with me, and ultimately I ended up caring about every one of them. My only qualification with recommending this book is its frequent adult content. Some will find that aspect of the book off-putting. But it would be shame if they put the book down because of it. The book as a whole is very rewarding and is sure to appear on every "Best of . . . " list for years to come.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Shall Wear Midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
(Discworld series #38)

I thoroughly enjoy the "Tiffany Aching" series that takes place amongst Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, but not so much because of the main character, Tiffany Aching. The real enjoyment in reading these books for me are the Nac Mac Feegles, miniature pixies (for lack of a more accurate designation) who live to steal, fight, and kill anyone whom they consider a threat, an annoyance, or who simply finds themselves in the Feegles' line of sight when they're in need of a cure for boredom. They speak with a Scottish Brogue, believe that the Discworld is a heaven and that they must have been very good to have been sent there, and are fiercely loyal to Tiffany Aching, a teenage witch who has reciprocated their loyalty in the past.

In this, the fourth book in the series, Tiffany, who is finally starting to feel comfortable with her role and abilities as a witch, finds herself up against a force or presence that she inadvertently woke up at the conclusion of Wintersmith.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆



Thursday, November 18, 2010

Riding the Rap

Riding the Rap by Elmore Leonard

This is the first book by Elmore Leonard that I've ever read. But I was pretty confident before ever starting it that I was going to really enjoy it, and I did. He's one of those authors that has been around for decades and is considered one of the best in the the business, but who had managed to stay under my radar till now. I decided I needed to read his books after watching the first season of  Justified on television which is based on a character that appears in a couple of Leonard's books and one of his short stories. Riding the Rap is one of those books.

Raylan Givins is a U.S. Marshall working in Florida who has the soul of a 19th century Texas Ranger. He wears the cowboy hat and boots and has a no-nonsense approach to dealing with criminals. One of his associates, Harry Arno, a retiring bookie goes missing while trying to collect on some outstanding gambling debts. Raylan quickly gets on the trail of his abductors, a group of second-rate criminals who got the idea for their kidnapping scheme while stoned and watching a movie.

The story was fine, but a little cliche at times. Since this wasn't the first story with these main characters I would have appreciated it if a little more backstory would have been provided throughout the book. As it is, it reads more like an extended short story where you begin in the middle of the characters' lives right as a major event is taking place and then you go forward. I enjoyed the black humor thrown in. It was fun to see the ineptitude of the criminals on display at most of the stages of their scheme. But I feel like this book was pretty average. I was relieved to read other reviews on this book and find that most Leonard fans don't consider this one up to his normal standard. That means I'll be reading more. 

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Horns

Horns by Joe Hill

Ignatius Parrish (Ig) has had a rough year. It all started when his longtime girlfriend, who had recently broken up with him, was found murdered. All eyes immediately turned to him. And while he was investigated and later cleared of the charges due to lack of evidence, everyone, including his family, is still certain he did it.

One morning Ig wakes up, after having passed out drunk the night before, to discover not the usual hangover but two horns growing out of his head - and that's only the beginning of the changes that start happening to him. Other people are able to see his new horns, but they don't seem to be aware of their existence. When people get around him, they seem to have an uncontrollable desire to tell Ig all their deepest and darkest secrets. They also start talking about spiteful and hateful things they'd like to do, almost as if they're seeking his permission to do them. Ig also finds that he has the ability to see into peoples' pasts whenever he touches them.

Are these changes a blessing from up above, given to him so that he can discover who really killed is ex-girlfriend? Or are they just the results of a good guy who has been going through hell on earth?

This is Joe Hill's second novel, and I recommend it. But only for those who enjoy the writings of his father.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kraken

Kraken by China Miéville

Kraken is a story about the search for a giant squid that goes missing from the Natural History Museum in London. A 60-foot dead squid in a tank of formaldehyde that was there one minute and gone the next. The plot sounds ludicrous. How could it have been accomplished? Why would someone want to do it? The answers to those questions are China Miéville's latest contribution to the growing genre of "Weird Fiction".

I hope that when China Miéville dies he will leave his brain to science. I'd like scientists to study it and find out what makes it so unique. If that could be discovered, maybe it could be duplicated and there could be more authors out there with his level of creativity and literary abilities. Miéville's books are not quick reads, meaning as I read them, I realize that I'm reading at a slower pace than I would most other books. The reason for that is the language he both uses and creates. If you try to use a dictionary to look up a lot of the obscure words he uses, you'll find that the majority of them aren't there. He makes a lot of them up. But that doesn't mean that their meaning is unobtainable. It just means you have to think while you read.

That may not sound like a resounding recommendation to read his books. So I should add that the fantastical worlds he creates and their inhabitants are unlike any you're likely to come across anywhere else in literature. They're so bizarrely unique and oftentimes disturbing that I find they're impossible to either forget and not appreciate.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Rembrandt Affair

by Daniel Silva
(Gabriel Allon series #10)

In this, his tenth book featuring Gabriel Allon - the reclusive art restorer and wannabe former Israeli intelligence officer - Daniel Silva uses Allon's love of the master painters to once again draw him out of seclusion and back into his former life.

A previously unknown painting by Rembrandt, lost during the Jewish holocaust, has surfaced. But before most of the world is even aware of its existence, it quickly disappears again. The art restorer who is cleaning it and preparing it to be seen by the world, is brutally murdered and the portrait by Rembrandt is taken. Allon reluctantly decides to assist his long-time acquaintance Julian Isherwood, who was responsible for the painting when it was stolen, in its recovery.

In classic Silva style, what initially appears to be Allon's task, is quickly revealed as only the tip of the iceberg. The painting's disappearance leads to the son of a former SS Officer and then to a Swiss billionaire, who the world believes to be one of the greatest philanthropists ever, but who might have ties to the country that poses the largest threat to Israel today - Iran.

Daniel Silva has yet to disappoint me with one of his books. This year I timed our family's trip to visit my wife's family in Colorado to coincide with the Denver stop on his book tour and I'm glad I did. Mr. Silva is as interesting to listen to as his books are to read. The insights he provided on his research for this and other books he's written were fascinating and I'm looking forward to reading his next installment in the series.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Burning Wire

by Jeffery Deaver
(Lincoln Rhyme series #9)

Lincoln Rhyme is one of my favorite serial characters in popluar fiction. The quadriplegic criminologist is one of the few for me that has had staying power and that I've not become disillusioned with as the series has progressed.

In this latest installment, Deaver puts Rhyme's criminalist skills up against those of an adversary with an expert knowledge of electricity. He uses that knowledge to tap into the Manhattan power grid and electrify anything metal. It's up to Rhyme and his team to use whatever forensic evidence the killer leaves behind in order to stop him.

Deaver is one of the best in the business at staying a step or two ahead of his readers. His use of literary misdirection and plot twists that even though readers of his books know are most likely there, are extremely difficult to figure out before he reveals them. All of his books are enjoyable reads. They keep you on your toes and leave you anxious for his next book.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, October 21, 2010

King Suckerman

King Suckerman by George Pelecanos
(D.C. Quartet series #2)

Awhile back the owner of a local independent bookstore recommended Pelecanos to me when I was buying a book by Dennis Lehane. He said if I liked Lehane, I'd enjoy Pelecanos, "They're gritty crime stories" he told me. King Suckerman is the second book by him that I've read. The first one was The Way Home which was excellent. Interestingly, while I was reading it, the list of books President Obama took with him on vacation to Martha's Vineyard was reported on and it was one of the books. Apparently Obama and I agree on at least one thing.

Pelecanos's books take place in Washington D.C. This one in the summer of 1976 when the District is preparing for the huge bicentennial celebration of July 4th. Marcus Clay and Dimitri Karras are two young men who spend most of their time talking about music, playing basketball, and getting high. They quickly find themselves in way over their heads when they inadvertently get involved in a drug deal that goes bad, finding themselves in possession of the drug dealer's drugs, cash, and girlfriend - not an ideal situation to be in. As Clay and Karras find themselves, and those close to them, being targeted for revenge, they have to make some decisions that will change the path their lives were on.

To describe this book as gritty is a little bit of an understatement. It's not the type of book I would ever recommend to my wife or her book club. Although since most if its members rarely read the actual book the majority of the time, it probably wouldn't really matter.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mr. Monster

by Dan Wells
(John Wayne Cleaver series #2)

This is Dan Wells's second book featuring John Wayne Cleaver. The first book, I Am Not a Serial Killer, introduced John, a fifteen year-old who is obsessed with serial killers. He has an insatiable appetite for information about them. He reads books about them, he studies their profiles and crimes, and he feels a special kind of kinship to them. John is not a serial killer, but he knows he's destined to become one.

Not surprisingly, whenever  I describe these books to people, most people say something like, "Sounds kind of like Dexter." There are definitely similarities between the two. Both of them are disturbingly likeable characters. But while Dexter gives in regularly to his "dark passenger" by killing pedophiles and others who he rationalizes are deserving of his skills, John is trying to maintain his tenuous control over his "Mr. Monster," hoping to never begin killing. He sees a therapist regularly and has devised a list of rules that he forces himself to follow which he feels will prevent him from ever starting down that road.

Mr. Monster picks up a couple of months after its predecessor left off and I wouldn't recommend reading it without first having read the other. I think Dan Wells is an author whose popularity is going to grow if he continues to write books as interesting and entertaining as these two have been.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆




Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Starter

by Scott Sigler
(Galactic Football League series #2)

Imagine a professional football league consisting of not just human beings, but players from all the sentient races across the galaxy. Receivers who have a 25' vertical leap, linemen that bench-press 1200 lbs, and human quarterbacks averaging over 7' tall and weighing over 300 lbs. Imagine a league whose weekly statistic reports include a category for "Deaths" and you've got the Galactic Football League (GFL).

In this sequel to The Rookie, Scott Sigler continues the story of Quentin Barnes, the quarterback for the Ioneth Krakens. Last season Barnes led his team to the championship of the Tier Two league of the GFL. That championship elevated the team to Tier One status for the next season and gave them the chance to play against the big boys. Now in Tier One, the Krakens have got to find a way to continue winning. The last thing Barnes wants to have happen, is for his team to end up last in their division at the end of the season and be relegated back to Tier Two again. He'll do whatever it takes, including angering the organized crime bosses that run the league, to ensure that it doesn't happen.

The Starter is the type of book that I can't help but smile as I read it. It's just fun. Sigler has an obvious love for the game of football that is showcased in both The Rookie & The Starter. The only criticism I have for these books is that they make the players and the action of the NFL seem amateurish by way of comparison.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, October 15, 2010

Beatrice and Virgil

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

I've found that Life of Pi, Martel's hugely successful earlier book, was the type of book that people either really liked, or they just despised it. I don't think I've ever heard anyone who read it describe it as "okay" or "just alright." Well, Martel has broken that single-book trend with Beatrice and Virgil.

It's the story of an author, Henry, who tries to follow-up his "hugely successful" previous book with a flip book (two books bound together, when you finish reading the first story, you flip the book over, rotate it 180 degrees, and there's a second story) containing two stories about the Holocaust. His publishers reject the idea and he becomes so disillusioned with the industry that he quits writing and moves to a new city to start a new life.

The tremendous success of his previous book has resulted in a steady stream of fan mail forwarded to him by his publisher. While going through a shipment of it, he discovers an intriguing play written about a donkey and monkey along with a note from its author asking him for his help. His interest in the play leads him to track down its author, and finds he's a taxodermist who believes that the steady decline in the world's animal population is itself, a type of holocaust.

After having really liked Life of Pi, it was disappointing just how far short of the quality of that book this one fell. The characters were shallow and flat, the dialogue was weak, and the story hinted throughout that it was going to go somewhere interesting, but then never delivered. It's redeeming quality is its originality. Because of that, I'd describe this one as either "okay" or "just alright."

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Passage

The Passage by Justin Cronin
(The Passage trilogy #1)

The Passage is reminiscent of both The Stand by Stephen King and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It begins in 2012 with the birth of a girl named Amy, the child of a teenage mother, who quickly begins to manifest unusual abilities. Meanwhile, in a remote location in Colorado, the U.S. Government is engaged in a top secret experiment called "Project Noah" in which death-row inmates are recruited and injected with a genetically engineered virus derived from bats from deep in the jungles of Bolivia. The virus has one of two effects on the subjects, either it kills them quickly or it mutates them, giving them incredible strength and regenerative capabilities along with a vampire-like thirst for blood. One of the subjects, Babcock, has the ability to influence weaker-minded individuals and uses that ability to orchestrate his escape and the subsequent escapes of the eleven other successful test subjects.

The escape of the "virals," as they become known, is the beginning of the end. They quickly decimate the population of North America, leaving the rest of the world in a state of instability and chaos. Nuclear bombs are used by the government in an unsuccessful attempt to halt the spread of the virus and to kill the virals.

The book then skips nearly 100 years into the future. The post-apocalyptic world that remains consists of a scattering of small groups of people relegated to living in make-shift fortresses in order to survive in a world now overrun by the virals. One night a girl turns up at the gates of one of the fortresses. She doesn't speak and she somehow managed to survive the virals on her own without any protection. She appears to be about 15 years old, but a microchip found just under the skin at the base of her skull indicates that her name is Amy and she was born almost a century ago.

The Passage is my kind of vampire book. The virals bear little resemblance to the sophisticated and manipulative character thought of by Brom Stoker. But best of all, they're the types of creatures that would make quick work out of any character that ever came out of the mind of Stephanie Meyer. Go team Babcock!

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Way of Kings

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
1007 pgs  (The Stormlight Archive #1)

I don't normally read long fantasy series - The Lord of the Rings is probably the longest one I've read. Epic fantasy for me has always brought to mind a series of gigantic books written over multiple decades, consisting of a phone-book-size list of characters to keep track of. It also seems to be read by a certain type of reader that stereotypically doesn't get exposed to sunlight regularly, subsists on a diet of energy drinks and hostess snack cakes, for recreation, attends conventions dressed like their favorite Star Wars/Star Trek/comic book character, and engages in things like this.

That being said, I love Brandon Sanderson's books. So far he's written two stand-alone fantasy novels and a trilogy for adults. All of them have been fantastic. He's also completing the late Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, but I haven't read any of that (for reasons already mentioned.) So when I learned that he was going to undertake to write his own epic fantasy series, I thought I'd give one a try. I'm glad I did. The Way of Kings is an excellent book. It is gigantic at just over 1,000 pages long, and according to Sanderson, it'll be the first of ten books in the series. So I feel like I've made a significant commitment that will not end until I'm somewhere in my fifties. But having read this book, I'm okay with that and I look forward to what's to come.

The Way of Kings is definitely epic in scale. It consists of multiple systems of magic that are each original and extremely well thought out. It introduces several key characters, each with a captivating story line. Sometimes when I read books with multiple key characters, I get irritated when the story line shifts from one character and goes to another one because I find some characters more interesting than others. That wasn't the case with this book. Each one of the main characters and their individual story arc was so captivating that I didn't mind leaving one to go to another.

I guess I now need to come to terms with the fact that I'm a reader of epic fantasy. Apparently I'll need to stock up on Twinkies and learn how to LARP.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Little People

Little People by Tom Holt

Michael Higgins sees elves. At the age of eight he saw his first one smoking in his family's garden. When he told his step-father about it, the reaction he received was so surprisingly abrupt and alarming that he knew what he had seen was real and that his step-father (the owner of a shoe-making factory - can you say "miniature slave labor force"?) was aware of them.

Tom Holt is a British fantasy author that I feel has way too small of a readership on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. He's written thirty-something humorous fantasy novels yet is still widely unknown here in the States. His books are inventive, smart, and oftentimes, the literary equivalent of a Monty Python sketch.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mister Slaughter

Mister Slaughter by Robert McCammon
440 pgs  (Matthew Corbett series #3)


This is the third book in the Matthew Corbett series, a series I'm very excited about, since in my opinion, each book has been better than its predecessor. The series takes place in colonial America, seventy years before it declares independence from England. Corbett, who is still in training as an employee for the London-based Herald Agency, finds himself tasked with the job of transporting Tyranthus Slaughter, a murderer being housed at an asylum near Philadelphia, to the docks in New York. Slaughter, who brings to mind Hannibal Lecter, makes Corbett and his colleague an offer they can't refuse.

McCammon is an excellent storyteller. His characters in this series are multi-dimensional and intriguing and the plot is engrossing, suspenseful, and full of unexpected twists. He does a great job of creating the look and feel of the early 18th century in America while incorporating real and unique individuals from our country's history.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Little Women

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

It takes a real man, who is secure in his manhood, to admit to reading a book like Little Women. I am such a man. A few months ago I read Pride and Prejudice, although to be fully honest, the reason I read it was so that I'd appreciate this more. There are certain books that I feel should be read by everyone. This is one of them.  It's classic literature and has stood the test of time.

That being said, I can't say that I particularly enjoyed reading it. Was I on the edge of my seat wondering if Meg would learn how to make fresh jam or not to spend her husband's earnings on frivolous things? No. Did I cry when Beth was on death's doorstep with Scarlet Fever? Not quite. Was my heart warmed when Jo sold her hair to help with the family's finances while their dad was away at war? Please. Nevertheless, it's an excellently written book. I can see why it's considered a classic. But before I'd be able to read another book like this, say Jane Eyre or something, I'd need to read 25 or so books for pleasure.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Monster, 1959

Monster, 1959 by David Maine

David Maine made a modest name for himself with his first book: The Preservationist, a novelization of the story of Noah's ark. His next two books: Fallen and The Book of Samson were likewise novelizations of biblical stories. All three of those books were enjoyable and creative.

With Monster, 1959, Maine leaves the bible behind (although, if it was a story from the bible, it would have been my favorite one by far. Every Sunday growing up I would have been praying that the Sunday School lesson was going to be about the 40-foot monster that terrorized the wicked people of Galilee or Nineveh) and attempts to either pay homage to the B-movie monsters of the 50's or to perpetuate his own political ideologies.

The story is blatantly unoriginal - hapless thrill-seekers stumble upon an island inhabited by a monster (the result of nuclear fallout from the government's testing in the Pacific in the early '40s). The monster kidnaps a blond from the expedition, is then captured, taken back to the U.S., and displayed across the country as the headliner of a circus. Maine's own political views are inserted throughout the book, almost randomly, and by the end I was left with the impression that his real intent in writing the book was to give those views a platform to stand on and decided at the last minute that he ought to accompany them with a story. So he combined Godzilla and King Kong and thought, "It is good." It was not.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Monday, August 30, 2010

The 13½ Lives of Captain Blue Bear

by Walter Moers

Anyone who has read a book by Moers knows that his books are nearly impossible to describe, so I'll provide an excerpt instead. This is taken from "The Encyclopedia of Marvels, Life Forms, and Other Phenomena of Zamonia and its Environs" which is frequently quoted throughout the book:

Multidimensional Space - It is really quite easy to picture a square yard of multidimensional space - provided you have seven brains. Simply picture a train travelling through a black hole with a candle on its roof while you yourself, with a candle on your head, are standing on Mars and winding a clock precisely one yard in diameter, and while an owl, which also has a candle on its head and is travelling in the opposite direction to the train at the speed of light, is flying through a tunnel in the process of being swallowed by another black hole which likewise has a candle on its head [if you can imagine a black hole with a candle on its head, though for that you will require at least four brains]. Join up the four points at which the candles are burning, using a coloured pencil, and you'll have one square yard of multidimensional space. You will also, coincidentally, be able to tell the time on mars by the clock, even in the dark, because - of course - you've got a candle on your head.


When I first saw this book at the bookstore, I assumed it was a children's book because of the cover, so I didn't buy it. Years later I came across a review of his third book in the series: The City of Dreaming Books, and realized that his books were for adults. I read that one and really enjoyed it. Later I read the fourth book in the series: The Alchemaster's Apprentice, and enjoyed it even more. I finally got around to reading this one, which is the first in the series, and while it was as imaginative and creative as the other books, I felt like it was missing something. This book is more of a travel history of Bluebear. It's not one long adventure like the others were. Instead, it's a series of mini adventures and so I personally didn't enjoy it as much.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, August 27, 2010

Fever Dream

Fever Dream by Preston & Child
(Pendergast series #10)

Twelve years ago FBI Special Agent Pendergast's wife was killed by a lion while on a hunt in Africa. Pendergast has always believed that her death was an accident until the day he happens to take a closer look at the gun she had been using and discovers evidence that it had been loaded with blanks. Now, convinced that she was murdered, he enlists the help of Lt. Vincent D'Agosta of the NYPD to hunt down those responsible.

In this, the 10th book featuring Pendergrast, Preston & Child have made a turn in the right direction with the series. The last two books were a little far-fetched and were slight disappoints for me. While I'd like to see them write some more stand-alone novels sometime, this book was a welcome addition to the series that further reveals more of Pendergast's enigmatic history.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

I've always been aware of the shortcomings of our country's public educational system, but I had not realized just how lacking it really was until reading this book. Sure I was taught about how Lincoln held our country together when the issue of slavery threatened to tear it apart. I learned about the Emancipation Proclamation and his assassination at Ford's Theatre. I even had to memorize a significant portion of his Gettysburg Address. But if only my teachers had taught me the whole story surrounding Mr. Lincoln's life, I'm sure U.S. History would have been the highlight of every school day for me.

When I bought this book I was expecting to read an absurdly amusing history of our 16th president. Instead, Seth Grahame-Smith has put together an extremely well-plotted and highly intelligent version of Lincoln's life. He seamlessly combines entries from Lincoln's journals, letters, as well as quotes made by those close to the man to give us a history lesson that while it might not be entirely accurate, is extremely entertaining and worth reading.  Video

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆


The Scorpio Illusion

The Scorpio Illusion by Robert Ludlum


This book was amazing. I've read nine other Ludlum books, and enjoyed them all - especially the Jason Bourne series. What amazed me about this book however, was how remarkably awful it was. Ludlum is fortunate that he had written 18 well-received books prior to this one. If this had been the first book he had submitted to his publishers, his obituary would have mentioned his life-long career as a CPA rather than a novelist because he never would have been published.

The plot sounds like a classic Ludlum thriller - an extremist with a personal vendetta against the U.S. and other democracies plots to destabilize their governments by orchestrating the simultaneous assassinations of the U.S. President, along with the heads of states for France, England and Israel. Unfortunately Ludlum's plot and dialogue are so distractingly bad that any redeeming qualities in the book are overshadowed. I think I have a form of OCD which forces me to finish any book I start no matter how much I dislike the book. By about page 35 of this book I was envious of those people who can simply close a book and move on.

★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thief of Time

Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett
(Discworld series #26)


In 2007 Terry Pratchett announced that he had been diagnosed with Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA) a form of Alzheimer's Disease. I've read dozens of his books and consider him probably one of the most brilliant humorists writing today. Learning about his diagnosis was a sombering experience.

Thief of Time is Pratchett's 26th book that takes place on Discworld, a flat world that rests on the shoulders of four elephants which stand on the shell of A'Tuin, a giant turtle that swims through space.

Someone wants to bring about the end of time on Discworld, and Death (the actual entity and not the state of being) doesn't think the time is right for him and his friends - War, Pestilence, and Famine to mount up and make their final ride. So he enlists the help of his granddaughter Susan to put a stop to the end of everything. Thief of Time is full of Pratchett's wit and humor. It's a good starting point for someone who wants to start reading the series without reading the 25 previous books first.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ancestor

Ancestor by Scott Sigler


Scott Sigler is an in-your-face horror author who goes for the cringe-factor often in his books. He was given a publishing contract after amassing a huge following of readers to his online podcasts where he would give away his books in serial format for free. Ancestor is the book that garnered him that success and has now been published so he can make some money with it.

Ancestor is about a company trying to create the genetic “ancestor” of all mammalian life on earth so that they can use them for harvesting organs and therefore save millions of lives around the world every year. Inevitably things don’t go as planned. Greed, impatience, and a series of misguided steps lead to the formation of creatures that only “The Future Dark Overlord,” as Sigler has aptly named himself, could have conceived. This book is not going to be read by English Lit students for its literary merits. But that’s just fine with me. It was a tremendously fun read that I’d recommend to anyone with a stomach for dismemberment, beheadings, and animalistic carnage. Bring on the sequel Descendant.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

I recently read The Road, which was my first by Cormac McCarthy and for the longest time, couldn’t get it out of my mind. So I was looking forward to reading No Country. This book wasn’t a disappointment, but I felt like I was reading an abridged version of a novel. McCarthy has a very terse style of writing using the "less is more" philosophy when it comes to what he puts down on the page. He leaves gaps and allows his readers to fill them in themselves. This worked tremendously well in The Road but fell a little short here.

The book centers on three main characters: Anton Chigurh, Llewelyn Moss, and Sheriff Bell. Moss is a young man who stumbles upon the aftermath of a drug deal gone bad somewhere in rural west Texas. He opportunistically takes a bag containing over $2 million in cash knowing full well that he’ll have to watch his back for the rest of his life. Chigurh is a killer sent to retrieve the money whose success has always depended on his refusal to allow any witness of his existence to live. Sheriff Bell is an old-time Texas lawman who finds himself tracking both men.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Supreme Courtship

Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley

President Vanderdamp has polarized Washington D.C. to the point where he's finding it impossible to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee repeatedly rejects his qualified nominees out of spite. In an attempt to mock his chief rival in the Senate, he decides to nominate a judge that the American public adores, Pepper Cartwright, a day-time television judge.

This political satire isn't Buckley's best. Thank You for Smoking still holds that spot as far as I'm concerned. But I enjoyed this book a lot.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Are you supposed to christen a new blog?

I don't know what the proper ceremony or procedure is for beginning a blog. So I'll just begin. 

Awhile back my wife commented to me that I should start a blog about all the books I read. I don’t know what her motivation was in suggesting it. She’s always felt like I was a little obsessive about books. I love a good book. I get excited about discovering a new author I’ve never read and then I’ll spend years hunting down their previous books until I get them all. I believe that libraries are important, but I don’t check books out from them. Neither do I borrow them from friends or family. I have to own them. They must be in hardcover, preferably first editions, and more often than not these days, signed by the author. Obsessed? Whatever.


When I decided it was a good idea, I thought it would be too much work to try to go back and mention all of the great books I’ve read. If I tried to do that, I’d never get the motivation to get started. I figured I’d start writing about the books I read going forward starting today. However, having said that, I do want to mention a book that I read very recently that I thought was fantastic . . .

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

Golden Richards is the patriarch of a polygamist family who’s going through a mid-life crisis of sorts. Having multiple wives is not all one would think it’s cracked up to be. There’s a lot of pressure on Golden to provide for all of his wives’ and children’s needs, and it's starting to take its toll on him. Golden is a general contractor and is finding it difficult to support his ever growing family financially and is forced to bid on a job building an extension to a brothel in Nevada. He gets the job but can’t reveal what it is to either his family or his church (of which he’s one of its leaders) for fear of being labeled a sinner and being cast out. The book is humourous throughout and pulls on your heart-strings at times. 

★ ★ ★ ★ ★