Thursday, October 21, 2010

King Suckerman

King Suckerman by George Pelecanos

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

The Starter by Scott Sigler

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.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★