Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 - A Review

Another year has come and gone, so here's my Top 10 List for the books read this year along with a few other book-related bits of information.

  1. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
  2. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
  3. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
  4. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
  5. The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma
  6. I Don't Want to Kill You by Dan Wells
  7. The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
  8. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall
  9. The Five by Robert McCammon
  10. Exley by Brock Clarke

The worst book I read this year was Tell-All by Chuck Palahniuk
Number of books read this year - 65
Booksignings attended this year - Sammy Hagar
Books I'm looking forward to that are coming in 2012:

  1. Lunatics by Dave Barry & Alan Zweibel (1/3)
  2. Raylan by Elmore Leonard (1/31)
  3. Wild Thing by Josh Bazell (2/12)
  4. The Technologist by Matthew Pearl (2/21)
  5. Nocturnal by Scott Sigler (4/3)
  6. Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore (4/3)
  7. Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs (4/10)
  8. The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King (4/24)
  9. They Eat Puppies, Don't They? by Christopher Buckley (5/8)
  10. Railsea by China Mieville (5/15)
  11. The Map of Sky by Felix J. Palma (9/4)

What are the best books you read this year?

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Vault

The Vault by Boyd Morrison

If you enjoy books by James Rollins, Matthew Reilly, Steve Berry, or Lincoln Child, you'll enjoy Boyd Morrison's. The Vault is the second one of his I've read, and while they've both been extremely fun reads, they were the kind that requires a suspension of reality for maximum enjoyment. It also helps if you can tolerate some cheesy dialogue when things get hairy.

Tyler Locke, the Indiana Jones-type character that Boyd introduced us to in The Ark is back for another fast-paced action ride. This time the former Army Ranger, who now runs a cutting-edge technology company called Gordian, has been enlisted against his will to find the truth behind the legend of King Midas's touch.

Jordan Orr is a master thief who has personal knowledge that the legend is based on fact. As a boy, he had stumbled across a cavernous room deep below Naples Italy, with walls of gold and containing the source behind Midas's incredible curse - the ability to turn everything he touched into gold. Now, after decades of planning and preparing himself for the day when he could harness that power himself, he's ready to return. He needs the special skill set Locke possesses though in order to carry out his plan. So he kidnaps Locke's father in order to obtain his cooperation and away we go.

I mentioned that the book was a lot of fun, and it is. When his next book comes out, I'll be buying it and reading it quickly. But I'm hoping that as he continues to write, Boyd will spend a little less time devising outlandish plots and a little more time fine tuning the dialogue between his characters. It got a little distracting reading the glib comments his characters were making while they narrowly escaped various forms of certain death. I know Indiana Jones made a habit of doing it, but Jones was best when he didn't say a word, he simply dispatched the sword-wielding man with a pistol shot. Boyd would do well to take that lesson to heart.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Carte Blanche

Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver

I’ve never read one of Ian Flemming’s James Bond books. So I can't speak to whether Deaver stayed true to the character as it was written by Flemming. I've seen almost all of the movies though. (Except for that one with the guy that no one can ever remember his name.) I was first introduced to Bond while on a family vacation when I was eleven or twelve years old. My dad rented Octopussy and let me watch it. I thought it was fantastic!. It had great stunts, fast-paced action, gadgets every boy would die for, and having just entered the stage of life where girls were of interest to me, it was perfect timing. With it being my first exposure to Bond, I had no idea that it was one of the worst Bond movies ever made, Nor was I aware that there had been a much better James Bond before Roger Moore. Nevertheless, I had discovered the character and 26 years later, I still look forward to every new Bond movie that comes out. 

When I learned that Jeffery Deaver, an author I've read quite devotedly, had been commissioned to write the next Bond story, I became anxious to read my first one. I was interested to see how an author, notorious for writing unexpected twists into his stories, was going to write a James Bond story - where there's usually a pretty set formula: An evil genius, set on world domination, is foiled because instead of killing James Bond quickly and cleanly when he had the chance, decides to reveal the details of his plan to Bond and then take off - sure in his mind that there's no way Bond will ever escape the shark tank/conveyor belt slowly delivering Bond to his death/pilotless airplane seconds away from crashing/etc. Deaver didn't disappoint.

I went to a book signing last year for Deaver's last book and he discussed the upcoming Bond book. He described how he wanted to take the character back to what Ian Flemming first created, and then place him in today's world. Which is exactly what he did. In Carte Blanche Bond has only been a 00 agent for three years when it's discovered that next Friday night, thousands of people are going to die in some sort of attack. It's up to Bond to discover who is behind the attack, where it's going to take place, how it's to be done, and then to prevent it, all in a very short period of time. Having listened to Deaver describe Bond as he was first written into existence, before anyone played him on film (even the good Bond actors) and now having read a book, I'm much more interested in going back to Flemming's books and giving them a try.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, December 16, 2011

Embassytown

Embassytown by China Miéville

Miéville has said that one of the things he likes about science fiction is the feeling of not knowing what's going on that you have a lot of times when you start reading a book in the genre. I agree. It's that feeling of disorientation that you have until you start to get your bearings and figure out who, what, when, and where you are. For me it's what gives the genre a lot of its appeal.

Well, with Embassytown, he gave me that feeling in spades, and he stretched it out for the book's entirety. It's wonderfully written, it's a fantastic showcase for Miéville's creativity, but that feeling never left me. And I think that's exactly what Miéville intended. His descriptions of the characters, the setting, and the technology are very nebulous. He gives you little insights here and there, but never a complete picture. So it's not an easy book to describe.

If you've ever read one of Miéville's books, you know that he loves language. In his books he heavily uses words whose meanings can only be unlocked contextually. With Embassytown, he makes language itself the core of the story. The Ariekei are a peaceful alien species whose language is so closely tied to reality that it does not allow for lies. The restrictive nature of their language has given the Ariekei almost a lustful desire for the contrary nature of lies.

The Terre are human colonists who live on Ariekei in Embassytown. The Terre and their Hosts have long enjoyed a peaceful coexistence. The Terre have created Ambassadors, sets of cloned "dopels" bred and genetically linked together who can both understand and speak the Ariekei language. Through the Ambassadors, some of the Ariekei have slowly learned how to manipulate their language enough to resemble lying. But by doing so, they've opened Pandora's Box. Soon the first Ariekei murder takes place and chaos quickly follows.

Embassytown is not light reading. If you're looking for a book that you can pick up and read without using your brain, this is not it. But as is usually the case, things that require effort usually provide the greatest reward.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, December 9, 2011

Minority Report (& Other Stories)

Minority Report (& Other Stories) by Philip K. Dick

During his life, Philip K. Dick didn't have the tremendous following or financial success that some of his contemporary science fiction authors enjoyed (Herbert, Asimov, Heinlein). But he was far more prolific than any of them and has probably seen more posthumous success. His name still doesn't have the same widespread recognition that those others do, but I bet far more people have enjoyed his stories, albeit unknowingly, than all those others combined.

Hollywood finally gave him the recognition that his stories deserved. Blade Runner, Total Recall, Screamers, Imposter, Paycheck, Next, A Scanner Darkly, The Adjustment Bureau, and Minority Report are all adaptations of stories that he wrote, and I'm sure they won't be the last.

This book contained nine of his stories, and they were all great. Minority Report was the first, and while Spielberg took a lot of liberties with his adaptation, it's clear who the best parts of the story came from. I enjoyed the movie a lot, but the 45 page story was better.

Next was Imposter. It's about a man named Spence Olham who is accused of being an alien robot, sent to earth with the mission of taking over the identity of the true Spence Olham in order to detonate a bomb which would destroy the entire planet. A great story that leaves you guessing "is he, or isn't he" until the very end.

Second Variety takes place in the distant future during a war between Russia and North America. The Russian's first strike was an unexpected nuclear attack which left the whole North American continent desolate and forced its survivors to colonize the moon in an effort to retreat and regroup. The Americans retaliated by creating small crab-like robots that were exceptionally intelligent and capable of killing the Russians. But just when the Russians were nearly wiped out, a new variety of robots have begun to appear. Only these ones are indistinguishable from human beings and they don't have an allegiance to either side. They were created by the initial robots unleashed by the Americans and now the hole human race is their target.

War Game is about Wiseman, a man who works as a toy inspector for a company responsible for testing and monitoring toys imported to Terra. Terra is on the brink of war with Ganymeda and is therefore worried about possible threats that might slip through its defenses disguised as harmless imports. Three toys have come in for consideration, a toy soldier game where the soldiers attempt to attack and take control of a citadel, a virtual reality suit that causes its wearer to see and feel places from their past, and a Monopoly-like board game called Syndrome. It’s a red herring story that illustrates the best way to take down an enemy.

In What the Dead Men Say, after a person dies, there is a period of time called half-life in which they can be resurrected. Half-life is finite, so the longer they stay resurrected, the sooner their half-life is used up. A person who is resurrected for only brief periods at a time, can stretch their half-life to span centuries. This was both the longest and weakest of the nine stories in the book. But it still offered an interesting premise.

Oh, to Be a Blobel! takes place after the inter-species war between humans and blobels. Blobels are an interstellar species of very large, single-celled amoeba-type beings. During the war, soldiers from both species underwent physiological changes that allowed them to become a member of the enemy species in order to conduct acts of espionage. Now that the war is over, some of those soldiers are unable to revert permanently to their original species and are left living lives split between the two - a part of each day they're human, the rest blobel. (Dick wrote during the '60s and took advantage of the drug induced lifestyle that existed then, so that might explain some things.)

The Electric Ant is about a highly advanced robot named Poole. Poole has biological skin, flesh, and blood, so he's totally indistinguishable from a human being by all outward appearances. He communicates just like a human being and feels and shows emotions just like one as well. He also thinks like one too. In fact, Poole has no idea that he's not human. It's not till he's in an accident and looses his hand that the truth is revealed. When he realizes that, he also realizes that every aspect of his life has been a direct result of his programming. "Programmed. In me somewhere, he thought, there is a matrix fitted in place, a grid screen that cuts me off from certain thoughts, certain actions. And forces me into others. I am not free. I never was, but now I know it; that makes it different." So Poole becomes determined to locate his internal programming to see if he can disconnect it and finally begin to experience the real world.

Faith of Our Fathers is about Tung Chien, a Vietnamese man living in a time when communist China has control of the whole world. What no one realizes is that they're maintaining their control over the world's population by contaminating the water and food supplies with hallucinogenic drugs. These drugs prohibit people from seeing the leader of the ruling party for what he truly is - a being from another planet that is feeding on every living thing.

We Can Remember it for you Wholesale was probably my favorite story in the book. It's one of the shortest ones and instead of summarizing it I think it's enough to say it's what the movie Total Recall is based on.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall

It was Brady Udall's second book The Lonely Polygamist that I enjoyed reading so much that it made me decide to start this book blog. So needless to say, I had pretty high expectations for The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, his first book, when I found a second-hand copy and bought it a few months ago. This book proved to me that TLP wasn't a fluke, Udall is a great writer. His characters are extremely well developed. They're not your conventional hero-type characters - in fact, with this one, he gives us Edgar Mint, probably the anti-hero by most definitions today, but they're the type of characters that you can't help but pull for.

Edgar's life has been a series of tragedies. Edgar's mother Gloria was an Apache who lived on a reservation in Arizona. His father Arnold was a city slicker from Connecticut who who wanted to be a cowboy and came out West, became infatuated with Edgar's mother, and then was driven away by her mother when Gloria became pregnant with Edgar. Gloria, who had never touched a drop of alcohol before in her life, found that beer offered the only respite from the nauseousness that accompanied her pregnancy, and began drinking it on the first day Edgar started to develop inside her and didn't stop until she died a few years later.

When Edgar was seven, the mailman ran over him, crushing his skull and sending him into a coma for three months. When he woke up, his mother had abandoned him and his recovery, while miraculous, was not a complete one. It's not made clear in the book whether the things that make him socially inept and that make his story so compelling are direct results from his accident, or whether he would have grown up the same way even without it, but he's a different kind of kid.

The story Udall tells is a great one. It's funny at times, heartbreaking at others. It shines a light on the things that make us humans, both the good and the bad. And it shows how the life of one inconsequential person can have such a profound impact on the lives of those around him.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Double Dexter

Double Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
(Dexter series #6)

Dexter, devoid of human feelings, deliverer of deserving death to the detritus of society, and now disguised as a devoted dad, has apparently been on display. While dispatching a man who moonlights as a clown-for-hire in order to prey on young children, Dexter becomes aware that he's being watched. He tries to catch his unwelcomed spectator, but is only able to catch a glimpse of  an old Honda with a dangling taillight as it tears away from the scene.

That, along with some unwanted notoriety in the press has got Dexter decidedly disturbed. He needs to identify and eliminate this person who is now following him around and sending him threatening emails before his fabricated image as a normal member of society comes crashing down.

Double Dexter is the sixth installment in Jeff Lindsay's fantastic series, and I think it's one of the best. Dexter is one of the best characters around and in this one, he doesn't disappoint. It's good to see that he's still active and kicking, even if those who he decides deserve his personal level of justice aren't.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reamde

Reamde by Neal Stephenson

Reamde is the first book by Neal Stephenson that I've read. I had considered reading others of his books before but until now, I hadn't. I think it was due to a sense of intimidation. First of all, his books are long, (Reamde is 1,000+ pages) which means they're a commitment. Also, From the little I knew about his books, I was pretty sure most of it would go right over my head. I had heard that Stephenson is a very cerebral author and his books usually involve a lot of mathematics or cryptography, or that they require an MIT graduate's understanding of computers to understand. I thought, if I couldn't follow either of the TRON movies, then there'd be no way to follow one of his books. Finally, I once posted a question on a book blog asking for a recommendation on which Stephenson book was the best and received a response from a fan who's response made me question the mental stability of his readers.

That being said, I kept coming across reviews of Reamde and every one of them said that the book was great, so I decided to take the plunge. The title of the book is derived from the common subject line "Read Me" that usually accompanies an email that's going to infect your computer with a virus. Reamde, as the virus becomes known as in the book, is a computer virus that infects T'Rain, a multiplayer online role-playing game. It has millions of players all over the world and Reamde encrypts its users' computer files and holds them hostage until the user pays a ransom to unencrypt them. With as many players as there are in T'Rain, very quickly after the virus is released it impacts the files of some dangerous people.

The Russian mob, along with the world's most dangerous terrorist become involved in an action-packed chase that jumps from the Pacific Northwest to China, the Philippeans, British Colombia, and other places along the 49th parallel. The characters are well developed (as they should be, given the size of the book) and the plot is captivating. The book moves at a very fast pace which gives it the feel of a book half its size and not once did I feel like any of it was going over my head. Either my preconceived impression I had of Stephenson was incorrect, or I'm brighter than I gave myself credit for being. Either way, I really enjoyed it a lot and am sure it won't be the last book by Stephenson I read.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Machine Man

Machine Man by Max Barry

Back in 2009, Max Barry undertook a literary experiment. He attempted to write a book through email. he would write a single page of a story every day and then send that page to his readers. By doing so, the story his readers received was going to be in a pretty raw state. The pace he set for himself didn't allow for much editing or polishing. It wasn't like he had a story already written and was just going to type up one page of it in an email and send it out every day. Instead, every day he had to come up with that day's portion of the story, write it, and then put it out there for as many people as wanted to to read it, praise it, offer up ideas about characters, plot, etc. That story was the genesis of Machine Man.


Charles Neumann is not a people person. He's a scientific engineer at Better Future, a high-tech research and development company that develops and tests cutting-edge technologies and products, and he's more comfortable interacting with things containing a hard drive and power source than he is with things containing a brain and heart.

One day at work, in a moment of inattention, Charlie loses his leg when he gets too close to a hydraulic clamp moments before it shuts. The prosthetics he has to choose from leave a lot to be desired by his standards of efficiency and functionality, so he sets out to design and build a better leg. The leg he develops is far superior to even the best currently available to amputees, but he soon realizes that he will always be limited, not by his artificial leg anymore, but by his biological one. But that's a problem he can fix.

The book is pretty good. It has elements of my favorite genres: science fiction, horror, and thriller in it and Barry uses dark humor to counterbalance the implausibility of Charlie's gradual transformation. Machine Man isn't as good as the other book of his I read Company, but it's still a worthwhile read.

Book Trailer

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Game of Thrones

by George R.R. Martin
(674 pgs  A Song of Ice and Fire series #1)

I hesitated when I went to the label of this post in order to identify this book's genre. Before beginning the book, I thought it would be pretty straight forward. It's the first in Martin's epic fantasy series: A Song of Ice and Fire, and not having watched any of HBO's new series based on the books, I assumed it would be similar to Lord of the Rings or one of the other fantasy series I've read. This one is different. Not to detract from anything else in the genre, but A Game of Thrones possesses a maturity that its counterparts and most books of any genre don't usually have. It's a maturity that I usually only read in classic literature.

While there are still elements of the fantasy genre in it, these elements are not the prevailing characteristics of the book. The book lacks orcs and elves, and while there is a dwarf, he's the type of dwarf you see on TLC these days and not the battle-axe-wielding type in a Tolkien book. (Although Martin does arm Tyrion with an axe during one battle scene, maybe as a tongue-in-cheek nod to Gimli?) 

It takes place in a time when things are out of balance. Summer has persisted over the past ten years, but an equally long winter is anticipated. And just as the warmth of the summer is ending, so too is the precarious peace that has existed under the reign of Robert Barathean, King of the Seven Kingdoms. A game is being played by some - the game of thrones. And as Martin mentions several times in the book, when you play the game of thrones, you either win or you die.

If you enjoy fantasy books, you can't do better than A Game of Thrones and you probably know that already so I'm preaching to the choir. If you don't typically enjoy or read fantasy, I am confident that you will enjoy this one. If you're going to read the series, and I strongly recommend you do, be prepared to make a significant commitment. So far there have been five books published with two more anticipated. Each of them is a doorstop - at least 700 pages long, and there is a phone-book-size list of important characters to keep track of. But it's worth it. Don't believe me? Take some other peoples' word on it. James Rollins, or this Deseret News Review

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Shadow Divers

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson

This book sat on my bookshelf for seven years. When I bought it I intended to read it soon but it never seemed to rise to the top of my to-be-read pile. It was a NY Times bestseller for several weeks and when it was published it was likened to Krakauer's Into Thin Air and Junger's A Perfect Storm which gives you an idea of what type of true adventure story it is and how good the book is.

Shadow Divers is about two American deep-sea wreck divers: John Chatterton and Rich Kohler, who discover a German U-boat sunk about 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey. No records of a U-boat  having been sunk in that area during WWII existed so this was the find of a lifetime for both of them. It also represented the beginning of a quest to identify the submarine and discover what it was doing so close to American soil.

The story of how these divers went about trying to identify this submarine was interesting. They made dozens of dives down to it to try to retrieve something from it that would help them make that determination. They also scoured every available record from World War II, but it took years before they were finally able to solve the mystery behind it.

But that part of the book wasn't what I found the most captivating. Instead it was the information about what men like these are like, and what drives them to engage is such a life-threatening avocation. With every dive they make, they take risks with their lives that most people would never dream of taking. They dive hundreds of feet to depths which cause hallucinations with even the most experience divers. And the decompression required during and after every dive are amazing. For divers who go below 200 feet or so, they  have to plan on a dive of a couple of hours. But only a quarter or so of the total dive time is used up at their targeted dive depth. The other three fourths of the time is spent waiting at various depths on the way back up as their body rids itself of the excess nitrogen that built up in their system.

The risk of the bends if they ascend too quickly or or don't decompress sufficiently is only one of the many risks they take. In addition to that, they also risk being lost at sea each time. I wouldn't have thought that was that big of a risk, but divers have to make sure to stay with the anchor line. A diver who looses contact with the anchor line, is more than likely to be pulled away by currents and come to the surface miles away from the ship.

I thought the book as a whole was fascinating. The men the book is written about are incredible and the mystery behind the submarine's identity is captivating. Robert Kurson did an excellent job of providing an insight into the life and mentality of the men who possess the inexplicable trait that makes them obsessed with the dangers and thrills that come with exploring wrecks on the ocean floor.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Plugged

Plugged by Eoin Colfer

Eoin Colfer is best known for his Artemis Fowl series for younger readers and most recently for reviving Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series with his And Another Thing . . . Now with Plugged he makes his first foray into adult crime fiction and in my opinion, he's done pretty well.

Daniel McEvoy is an Irish bouncer at a disreputable casino in New Jersey called Slotz. Daniel has a thing for one of the hostesses there. (They've been friends with benefits once and he's hoping it won't end up being the only time.) Unfortunately his hopes are dashed when she's discovered dead with a gunshot wound in the forehead out in the parking lot one afternoon. McEvoy believes he knows who the responsible party is and he sets out seeking revenge.

Soon his pursuit of the killer spirals out of control and he finds himself in the crosshairs of the New Jersey mob as well as the police. It also leads to the disappearance of the man responsible for McEvoy's newly transplanted head of hair. The title of the book acquires a double meaning with this little gem of a side story and McEvoy's manhunt is doubled as well. Now he's not only searching for his would-be-girlfriend's killer, but he now needs to also track down the doctor so that the procedure can eventually be finished.

The story was great. It did get a little slow a couple of times, but only briefly and Colfer's sense of humor more than made up for those rare moments. Some reviewers have described it as a cross between an Elmore Leonard story and one written by Carl Hiaasen. And that's a pretty good description. I enjoyed it a lot and will definitely read the next book he writes for adults. I might even try some of his books written for younger readers.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Cut

The Cut by George Pelecanos

With The Cut Pelecanos begins a new series with a whole new protagonist, Spero Lucas. Lucas is a recently returned veteran of the war in Iraq who freelances as an investigator for a defense attorney in D.C. The skills he learned in the Marines are now serving him well as he specializes in recovering lost or stolen property for owners willing to pay considerably for his services.

But it's not just little old ladies who have lost their jewelry that Lucas is willing to work for. His abilities have also gained him the attention of one of the largest drug dealers in the District. Someone has been disrupting his network by stealing shipments of marijuana and he wants Lucas to find out who is doing it and recover either the drugs or the money they were worth.

Tempted by the opportunity for a huge payday, Lucas takes the job and in a very short time becomes involved in something much bigger than he anticipated.

Once again, Pelecanos shows why many of his contemporaries consider him the best writer in this genre. With Lucas, he's created another protagonist who lives in the real world, where right and wrong are shades of grey rather than the black or white we'd hope them to be.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Magician King

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

A wise man once said, "Never judge a book by its cover." I assume that wise man lived in a time when book covers were plain and nondescript. For me, it's the cover of the book that usually draws my attention, like a lure to a fish. That was certainly the case with The Magician King's predecessor The Magicians. When it came out a couple years ago, I kept stumbling across it whenever I'd go into a bookstore. I'd pick it up and consider buying it, but always seemed to be short on funds so I'd put it back down. After coming across numerous great reviews written about it, I decided the book gods were telling me I really should read it, so I eventually did. And I loved it.

Now the sequel is out and its cover is equally as enticing and the book inside . . . just as good. I've heard the books described as "Harry Potter for adults" and that's a pretty good comparison. Grossman gives nods to J. K. Rowling as well as other popular fantasy authors like Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. In the first book we're introduced to Quentin Coldwater, a high school student in Brooklyn who has a keen fondness for a series of children's fantasy books that take place in a Narnia-esque world called Fillory. Quentin also loves magic. He's constantly practicing card tricks and slight-of-hand maneuvers as he goes about his listless existence. Fortunately for him, his talent for performing magic tricks has brought him to the attention of those in charge of Brakebills College, a Hogwarts-type school that teaches true magic to those who have an inkling for it. While at Brakebills he learns that Fillory isn't just the product of an author's mind, but a real place that the author knew of and wrote a children's series about.

The Magician King is an excellent follow-up to The Magicians. Quentin, who is now one of the kings of Fillory along with his friends, (C. S. Lewis, I know) has become bored with his life as a king. He wants adventure, he wants to go on a quest. He decides to travel to a distant island at the edge of his realm to try to add the excitement back to his life that he believes should always be prevalent in a magical place such as Fillory. It's on this island that he learns of the existence of a magical key and his sought after quest has been found. The adventure that follows as he seeks after that key and others, takes him back to the world he grew up in, to the Underworld where the dead reside, and to the underwater realm of a dragon in Venice among others. I doubt they'll ever make a theme park based on these books, but they're fantastic and well worth reading. I'm look forward to the next one.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Nothing But Blue Skies

Nothing But Blue Skies by Tom Holt

In Nothing But Blue Skies, British comic writer Tom Holt takes aim at one of Great Britain's least appealing qualities, the one that occupies the position of second worst, right behind its cuisine: its weather. Most of its residence attribute the oft inclement weather on natural meteorological patterns, but a few of the weathermen have suspected for a long time that there's a much more sinister cause behind it: Chinese weather dragons.

These dragons have the ability to control the weather with their moods and are the real culprit behind Britain's interminable dreariness. The weathermen  have become fed up with what they perceive as the dragons' sabotage of their sunny-weather forecasts in order to make them look foolish and they're ready to exact their revenge.

Their plan is to kidnap the Adjutant General to the Dragon King of the North West and hold him hostage in the dragon's most vulnerable form that it can take: that of a goldfish. Now try to stay with me for a minute because it doesn't get any simpler to explain. The dragon's daughter, who had taken human form prior to her father's kidnapping in order to pursue the man she's fallen in love with - the son of a wealthy newspaper tycoon who is himself trying to capture dragons so that he can harness the power of their third eye to telepathically deliver the news to millions of people worldwide without incurring the unnecessary expense of paper, ink, and delivery services, becomes its only hope for survival. Got all that?


The plot tends to get a little shallow in parts and none of the characters were that interesting for me, but Holt's humor redeemed the book as a whole for me and made it worth reading. I've enjoyed some of his other books more, most notably Falling Sideways and three of his more recent books that featured the company of J. W. Wells, but this one definitely had its moments.


★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

"Dogs and cats, living together . . . mass hysteria!"

"You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the Frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada."

Family Ties

Silver Spoons

DeLoreans

Rush’s "2112" album

Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Donkey Kong

If these things mean anything to you, then Ready Player One is a must read. Ernest Cline has written his first novel and it’s a blast. The 1980s are forty years in the past, but because of one man, James Halliday, it’s the most important decade in human history. Knowledge of that decade’s movies, television shows, music, and video games is going to make someone wealthy beyond their wildest dreams.
James Halliday is the creator of the OASIS, an on-line reality that most people now spend every waking moment of their lives inhabiting. They live there as avatars, going to school, working, completing quests, defeating dragons, and falling in love, all while they sit in a chair, looking through a visor, wearing a suit that provides the tactile sensations of the virtual world they’re experiencing. The world outside the OASIS has fallen apart and the OASIS is the only world that matters anymore.
But the continued existence of that world becomes uncertain when James Halliday dies. In his will, he leaves ownership and control of the OASIS to the first person who can complete a contest; find three hidden keys that unlock three hidden gates within the OASIS and you’ll receive the OASIS along with Halliday’s immense fortune and wealth.
Ready Player One is really a lot of fun to read. Part of the fun for me was because I was a teenager during the '80s and grew up on all of the pop culture references Cline uses so well throughout the book. But you don't need to have fond memories of that decade to enjoy this book. The fate of the avatars is just as captivating as the fate of the real people behind them. And sometimes I found myself forgetting that the characters in the story weren't the real ones, but their virtual identity instead.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lord Jim

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Years ago, when my wife and I were first married and had absolutely no money, I signed up to receive a book a month from The Easton Press. That decision nearly ended my marriage (numerous times). I wanted them because they were the classics, and with their leather binding, I loved the way they looked on the bookshelf. My wife was right though, I should have cancelled them after they sent the first one. But I didn't (and I'm still married,) so now every so often I take one of them down and I read it. When I do, I always feel a little tinge of residual guilt due to the monthly conflict that it caused. But these really are good books, so the guilt doesn't last long.

Lord Jim was published at the very end of the 19th century, just after Joseph Conrad published one of his other classic books: Heart of Darkness. It's about a man who lives on the sea. As a young man he gets a job aboard the Patna and spends much of his time dreaming about one day becoming a hero. It's on this ship that he gets that opportunity. When the ship collides with the wreckage of another boat in the middle of the night, Jim is sent down to determine the extent of the damage. What he sees leads him to believe that the ship's hull is close to breaching and that the Patna will soon sink. The crew decides to abandon ship and to ensure their survival, decides not to wake the sleeping passengers, leaving them behind to go down with the ship. Jim decides that he is too insignificant a member of the crew to go against their decision, and leaves with them.

Unfortunately for Jim, the Patna doesn't sink, and its passengers are rescued by another vessel and the crew of the Patna faces a judicial investigation where Jim becomes the scape goat and is the only one punished for the abandonment. Jim's decision to go along with his crew mates haunts him for the rest of his life and it becomes a defining moment for him. The rest of his life is spent running away from anything that reminds him of his experience on the Patna. Eventually he finds success in a fictional region called Patusan where he becomes a leader among the native inhabitants and ultimately finds a measure of redemption when he gives his life in their defense.

Lord Jim is a great story. At times it's a little slow and tends to get confusing at times as the narrator jumps back and forth in time, recounting the history of Jim as he had become aware of it through the reports of people he met throughout his life. But the themes in this book are what I think have elevated it to the ranks of classic English Literature.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, September 16, 2011

The All-Pro

The All-Pro by Scott Sigler

Just in time for the beginning of the NFL season, Scott Sigler releases his third book in the Galactic Football League series: The All-Pro. In the first book, The Rookie, quarterback Quentin Barnes placed the tier-two-level Ionath Krakens football team onto his shoulders and helped them qualify for tier one. Then, in The Starter, he and the Krakens had to fight for respect and try to avoid the type of season that would have sent them right back to tier two. Now, in his third year, Quentin has his eyes and his team set on the grand prize: Galaxy Bowl Champions.

This is a great series of books. The football aspect of it is spot on. Sigler knows his stuff and does a great job of giving you an idea of what it would be like to line up behind center and look into the eyes of someone (or something) determined to end your career every play. The idea that football might still be played 700 years into the future by not just humans, but by elite athletes from all the sentient races, makes the series all the more enjoyable. It's a lot of fun and fans of either the sport or the science fiction genre should enjoy it a lot.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, September 12, 2011

Flashback

Flashback by Dan Simmons

I'm now convinced that Dan Simmons could write a great book in any genre he were to choose. His catalog of books has spanned the genre spectrum and all that I've read so far, I consider among the best. With Flashback Simmons has written a dystopian novel that is going to stick in my mind for quite some time.

The economic downturn of the early 21st century was only the beginning of a downward cycle that eventually leaves the United States fractured and near total economic and political collapse. What remains of the country after the secession of Texas and the loss of power over the Southwestern portion of the country to Mexico, is a country with no future and no hope for change.

But it's flashback that has done the most damage to the country and many other parts of the world. Flashback is a drug that allows its users to relive the best moments of their lives as many times as they wish. Most Americans spend eight hours or more every day under the drug's influence - including Nick Bottom, a former Denver homicide detective who five years ago lost his wife in a bizarre car accident. He now spends all of his time and money on flashback in order to fill the void her death left him with.

Nick is hired by a Japanese tycoon to reinvestigate the murder of his son, a murder that Nick had previously investigated before he lost his job with the Denver police, but had failed to solve. Using flashback to relive suspect interviews and revisit crime scenes, Nick discovers something that went unnoticed during the original investigation six years earlier - his wife had been present at the scene of the murder minutes before it took place. In fact, when Nick begins to reinterview key figures in the investigation, he learns that his wife had spoken with many of them about the murder years earlier. What connection did his now-dead wife have to the murder, and was her death a result?

Flashback is a great book! It reminded me a little bit of some of the stories written by Philip K. Dick (Bladerunner, Minority Report). It has a gritty, defeated, and eerily plausible feel to it that I will remember long after the details of the plot leave me.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Is it possible to take one of the most beloved and time-tested books in English literature and improve it? After reading P&P&Z my answer is a categorical YES. Nearly two years ago I read Jane Austen's book about the Bennet family and the man my wife has an inexplicable fondness for - Mr. Darcy. I read it for two reasons: first, because it's a classic and I think people should read them, and second, because I saw P&P&Z at the bookstore and I wanted to have the "before and after" experience when I read it.

I didn't enjoy Jane Austen's book. I don't have any issues with its characterization as a classic book, but there just wasn't anything about it that appealed to me. It's about a family with five daughters and all anyone seems to be concerned with is how and when these five girls are going to get married. For me it really needed another facet to hold my interest. Seth Grahame-Smith chose the perfect addition to make it the type of book I wanted to read instead of one I felt I should read - Zombies.

For awhile now, in the early 19th century, a plague has been afflicting England, and it's been causing the dead to rise up with an insatiable craving for brains. One can't travel the country roads between towns unarmed anymore for fear of being set upon by a group of these undead. For the Bennet sisters, it's why their father sent them to China at an early age; to train at the Shaolin temples in the arts of the Ninja.

Just as he did with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahame-Smith demonstrates a surprising amount of writing talent with P&P&Z. He does an excellent job of maintaining the same feel and writing style that Austen used. He keeps her storyline almost entirely intact while infusing it with ultraviolent zombie mayhem for those of us readers who possess less than fragile senses and sensibilities.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


Friday, August 26, 2011

Robopocalypse

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Using the same literary technique that Max Brooks used in World War Z to document mankind's war against the zombies, Daniel Wilson documents the robot uprising that threatened the human race with extinction.

We created them to make our lives easier. They cleaned our houses, they drove our cars, and they were integrated into every aspect of our existence. But when they all simultaneously became self-aware and were no longer interested in serving their creators but in eliminating us instead, a war started that nearly wiped us out.

Robopocalypse is written as a history. You learn on page one that we already fought the war and won. The fun in reading this book is not waiting to see how things turn out at the end but rather to know the outcome already and then in a very creative way, to go back and see how things got there. If it weren't for World War Z, this book would seem wholly original in its style. Nevertheless, it's still a great book. Wilson, who has a PhD. in Robotics, has done an excellent job of writing a story that doesn't seem to be that far fetched anymore.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, August 25, 2011

At Home - A Short History of Private Life

At Home - A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson

If someone were to tell me about a book that was written chronicling the history of the home, describing how it and the hundreds of items it usually contains arrived at their current state of being, my response would at best be ambivilance. If they then told me it was written by Bill Bryson, I'd open up my wallet and buy it.

I don't read much non-fiction, but I've read everything Bill Bryson has written and will continue to do so. His books are some of the funniest out there. The first book by Bryson that I read was I'm a Stranger Here Myself . . ., a memoir about returning to America after 20 years of living in England. I was reading that one when my wife was expecting our first child, and I made the mistake of reading it while she was laboring to give birth. My bursts of laughter were not appreciated by my wife while she was trying to go to her happy place during contractions. Lesson learned. With the remaining births, I made sure I was reading something deadly serious.

At Home . . . is not one of Bryson's "funny" books. With this one he uses his wit and dry sense of humor more sparingly, but consistently. This felt more like a history lesson being given by a favorite teacher. What did people go through before the modern toilet? When did we finally start washing ourselves regularly (at least us Americans). Why do forks have four prongs and not three or five? Why do men's jackets have three useless buttons at the end of each cuff? And whether it's true that the brassiere was invented by a man named Otto Titzling. Bryson did all the research so that you don't have to.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Five

The Five by Robert McCammon

In his latest book, The Five, Robert McCammon incorporates his obvious love for music into a supernatural thriller that showcases his tremendous talent as a writer. The Five is the name of a relatively obscure rock band living a not-so-glamorous lifestyle on the road. They haul all of their equipment, t-shirts, and CDs with them from show to show hoping to sell enough tickets and merchandise to pay for a good meal and a decent hotel room each night. But for The Five, money isn't what's important. They're a group of similarly-minded people who have formed a family around their love of music.

The world that they understand is about to come crashing down on itself for the members of The Five though when a former Marine Corp sniper, Jeremy Pett, recently home from Afghanistan, and losing his battle with internal demons, sees the band's latest video on TV. The song is anti-war and the video portrays a U.S. soldier having to make a very difficult decision while in battle and making a terrible mistake. That video sets Pett on a mission to eliminate The Five.

The Five is an excellent book! It's got all of the elements that I hope for when I read a book. The story is compelling, the characters are multi-dimensional, and as a bonus with this one, it revolves around a subject that I have a lot of fond feelings for - rock music. It's a very, very, good book but I should warn that there are a few pages that are hard to read. Not that the words are hard to pronounce, but that they're gritty and graphic. The scene is essential to the story, so it needs to be there, but still, I felt like the warning was necessary.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Map of Time

by Félix J. Palma
(The Map of Time trilogy #1)

If you were to walk the streets of London at the end of the 19th century, the topic of conversation you’d most likely hear people discussing would be either the recent grizzly killings of prostitutes by the elusive Jack the Ripper, or time travel. The later is all the rage due to two things. First, is the recent publication of a book by a first-time novelist named Herbert George Wells called The Time Traveler. The second is all of the handbills currently circulating throughout the city advertising actual trips in time to visit the year 2000. They’re advertisements for a company called Murray’s Time Travel which claims to have created the actual machine described by H. G. Wells and have now begun taking people to visit the future.
Andrew Harrington couldn’t care less about time travel. He’s the son of a wealthy business owner and has just fallen in love with Marie Kelly. Unfortunately for him, the mortality rate for people in Marie’s line of work has been rapidly increasing due to The Ripper. When Marie becomes the latest of Jack’s victims, time travel takes on a whole new meaning to Andrew. Is it really possible now to travel backwards through time and is it possible that he could do it and save the life of the woman of his dreams?
The story that ensues is fantastic! Félix J. Palma is a Spanish author and I think this is his first book translated into English and published here in the U.S. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that he was picked up by a publisher here. He has written a book that defies an adequate description. The book was probably one of he most enjoyable reads I've had in a long time. It contains three parts, each with its own set of loosely associated characters and a storyline surrounding time travel. Andrew’s and Marie’s is only the first of the three. My description of the story makes it sound like this is a science fiction book, and would only be enjoyed by those who read that genre. It’s definitely much more than that. To say much more would give too much away. So I’ll just say that I highly recommend this book to everyone – wife, parents, brothers, sisters, wife’s book club, brothers-in-law who read one or two books a year.
Really.
Read this one.
Soon.
Please.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A German Requiem

A German Requiem by Philip Kerr

In this his third book featuring Bernie Gunther, the ex-Police Officer, now private investigator, Philip Kerr picks up a few years after the conclusion of The Pale Criminal. World War II has ended and Germany is now the occupied country. Germans are having to deal with the different zones controled by The United States, England, the Soviet Union, and France. On top of that, a new kind of war is simmering, the Cold War. And the Soviets have begun the process of isolating the eastern zone under their control.

Amidst this new climate, Bernie Gunther has been hired to try to find the true killer of an American soldier. The story is a typical crime mystery and as I said when I reviewed its predecessor, Gunther is not the most endearing protagonist in the genre. But Kerr's way of describing that part of the world during such a dark period in history keeps me continually intrigued with this series.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Devil Colony

by James Rollins
(Sigma series #7)

I look forward to reading all of James Rollins's books once he announces them. But when I read on his blog that his latest was going to reveal a secret about the founding of our country, a secret tied to the Book of Mormon, the anticipation level went up a few notches for me. As an LDS person, and one who has read the Book of Mormon numerous times, I couldn't help but smile at the thought of what Rollins might try to do.

The adventure begins in the Uintah Mountains of Eastern Utah, where two Native American teenagers are searching for a cave, a cave they've been warned against entering by the elders of their tribe. What they find in that cave sets off an explosion, but it's a unique explosion, one that gets the attention of Painter Crowe and the others working for Sigma - a covert division of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and one that sets off a chain reaction that could end life on earth as we know it.

Now, let me give my opinion about the ties to the Book of Mormon and the beliefs of the LDS church that are described in the book. The belief of members of the LDS Church is that the Book of Mormon is a record of the ancestors of the Native Americans who were themselves descendants of one of the lost ten tribes of Israel and who left Jerusalem approximately 600 B.C.. In The Devil Colony, part of the historical aspect of the book centers around a tribe of "pale skinned" Indians who came from the East, who kept records on golden plates in a writing that has its roots in the Hebrew language, and who possessed some sort of magical power that scared the other tribes and ultimately led to their being killed off.

In the book, Rollins explains that there are two different sets of beliefs within the LDS church. One is the belief that all those currently referred to as Native Americans are descendants of those Israelites whose history is contained in the Book of Mormon. He tells how DNA testing of these tribes has thus far shown that that isn't the case, instead tying their lineage to Asia. But he also describes the more current set of beliefs among many, including myself, and that is that the people and events contained in the Book of Mormon, represent only a small and possibly isolated portion of the Americas.

To his credit, Rollins obviously did his research on the what the Book of Mormon is and how it came about. He did mess up in one paragraph when he referred to Joseph Smith as John Smith a couple of times, but I forgive him for that since he got it right everywhere else.

Bottom line is it was a lot of fun to read. His stories are always fast-paced rides that I devour quickly, but this one was even more enjoyable because of the Mormon angle and because a lot of it takes place here in Utah, on the campus of BYU, and other places I know well.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Peter and the Sword of Mercy

Peter and the Sword of Mercy by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson

Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson teamed up again for this fourth installment in their series of Peter Pan prequels. Peter and the Sword of Mercy begins more than 20 years after Peter and the Secret of Rundoon ended.

Molly has married George Darling and has three children: Wendy, Michael, and John whom she has told stories to about her past adventures with Peter, the Lost Boys, Captain Hook, and the other inhabitants of Neverland.

This adventure begins when James, a former Lost Boy, arrives at the Darling house and tells Molly that he suspects the shadow creatures are now controlling Prince Albert Edward, the heir to England's throne. He believes that they're using him to gain access to one of the last known caches of starstuff (pixie dust in the cartoon). Molly begins to investigate what's going on, but she quickly goes missing and this time, it's Wendy that must come to the rescue. She has to somehow find a way to get to Neverland to enlist the help of Peter.

These books are great. They're written for young adults but their appeal is much broader than that. Barry and Pearson provide the perfect combination of talents to take the characters created by J. M. Barrie and give them a whole new life. The next book in the series comes out in just a few days. Both of the authors are making a stop here in Utah to support the book but they're coming to the Provo City library and to get a ticket you need to have a current Provo City Library card which they only give to residents of Provo. So now I have to figure out how to fake residency there. If you see the signing listed here next month, you'll know I was successful.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Drama City

Drama City by George Pelecanos

Lorenzo Brown has gotten his life back in order. Having recently been released from prison for drug and gang-related crimes, he's now gainfully employed as an officer for the Humane Society, walking the streets of D.C. looking for cases of animal neglect and cruelty. He loves what he does, he's good at it, and he's determined to never return to the lifestyle of his youth that led to his incarceration.

That's not going to be as easy as Lorenzo would like though. Walking the same streets now that he was back when he was selling drugs, constantly surrounded by the people and temptations of his past, Lorenzo discovers just how much willpower and internal strength it takes to truly change who they were, if it's even possible at all.

Drama City is another great example of Pelecanos's writing talent. It's a character-driven story containing characters that are well developed who feel real. Pelecanos has the ability to both showcase the character flaws of those characters he gets his readers to pull for as well as give glimpses into the humanity of the characters acting against them. It's this level of talent that is making him quickly become one of my favorite authors writing today.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Wise Man's Fear

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

I know when I reviewed The Name of the Wind I said I was going to wait until book three was announced before reading book two, but I needed a literary rebound after the disappointments of the last couple of books and I was fairly certain The Wise Man's Fear would reverse the recent trend – it did.

This installment leaves the first one in the dust as far as size and scope is concerned. It's just shy of 1,000 pages long and while the first book took place primarily at the University, this one begins there but soon expands when Kvothe’s ongoing feud with his wealthy and privileged nemesis, Ambrose, comes to a head, forcing him to suspend his studies for a year and try to pursue information about the elusive Chandrian out in the world.

I’m really enjoying how Rothfuss has framed his story. He’s done it in a unique and interesting way. On the inside flap of the first book, he has Kvothe describe himself, saying I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep” But when the book begins, we meet Kvothe and he appears in stark contrast to the man he described. He’s the owner of a simple tavern about to tell his tale to the King’s scribe.

The books consist primarily of that tale, interjected occasionally with “real-time” chapters that repeatedly remind the reader that the man telling the story has changed drastically since the events that he’s describing took place. This second book describes his journey to the courts of the Maer, one of the country’s wealthiest men where he uncovers an assassination attempt on the Maer’s life. It describes his journey to the land of Fae and his encounter with the mythical Felurian, and it tells of the time he spent with the Adem, an isolated society of well trained fighters who possess what appears to be unnatural speed and agility.

The Wise Man's Fear is fantastic, just as good as the first one. But now, I’m going to have to pay the price for my impatience and will have to wait a couple of years for the last book in the trilogy  to come out and to find out how things conclude.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tell-All

Tell-All by Chuck Palahniuk

The last (and least enjoyed) road-trip book was Tell-All by Chuck Palahniuk. How this book came from the same guy who wrote Fight Club, Rant, and Diary is beyond comprehension. It's almost like Chuck wrote it to entertain himself instead of his readers whose continued loyalty he should be more concerned about. I can only assume that he wanted to test just how loyal his readers were and set out to write an awful book intentionally as some sort of literary experiment.

I don't really have the desire or energy to describe this one. I will say that the one good thing about it is that it's brief, less than 200 pages.

★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Inner Circle

The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer

The second road-trip book was Brad Meltzer's latest, The Inner Circle. I've only read Meltzer's three most recent novels, so I'm not sure what his earlier ones are like, but from the three books I have read along with having watched several episodes of his show Decoded on the History Channel, I'd describe him as a conspiracy theorist with mainstream appeal.

Beecher White leads a fairly mundane life as an archivist employed at the National Archives in Washington D.C., watching over some of our country's government's most important documents. But his life takes a dramatic change in direction the day a childhood girlfriend shows up at the Archives searching for the identity of a father she's never known.

As they begin their search for the identity of Clemintine's father, Beecher decides to make the most of the situation and tries to impress Clementine by showing her the secret vault in the Archives that the President of the United States uses when he's reviewing top secret documents. While there, they discover a hidden book owned by George Washington which contains coded messages and a secret which some at the highest positions of power will do everything to keep hidden.

I like a story that has a good plot twist, and I like it when the protagonists and antagonists change rolls at the end of the book. But Meltzer didn't know when to quit when he wrote this one. He included so many plot twists that eventually the plot had no direction at all. And by continously trying to get me to change my mind about who the good guys and bad ones were, Meltzer got me to stop caring about all of them entirely.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Confession

The Confession by John Grisham

When my family and I take a road trip, I like to listen to a book on my iPod while driving. I usually finish one complete book during the drive which equates to about 1,000 miles or roughly 16 hours round trip. This last one to San Antonio and the Gulf Coast was a three-book trip which equaled about 3,350 miles or about 58 hours round trip. The first of the three was The Confession.

Donte Drumm is about to die. He's days away from being put to death by the state of Texas for a crime he insists he didn't commit. While he's sitting on death row awaiting the decisions on his final appeals and motions, another man walks into a Lutheran minister's office and confesses to having committed that crime.

Travis Boyette was recently released from a Kansas prison after having completed his sentence for multiple sex crimes. He claims to have an inoperable brain tumor that's killing him and says he wants to make restitution for all his past mistakes by stopping the execution of an innocent man.

The Confession is another step back in the right direction for Grisham. It reminded me a lot of The Chamber which I thoroughly enjoyed reading back when it was written. The political ideology in this one is a little heavy-handed at times, (Grisham makes his view on capital punishment quite clear in this one) but
the story was compelling and enjoyable to read, exactly what I'm hoping for when I read one of his books.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

M is for Magic

M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman

Every time I start a new book I do so with a certain level of excitement because I figure there's a chance it's going to be really really good. Every time I start a book by Neil Gaiman, the excitement level is significantly higher because I KNOW it's going to be really really good.

Gaiman first came on the scene with his very popular Sandman graphic novels series, which have been credited for redefining the comic book genre. Since then he's written children's books (which my kids have enjoyed a lot), novels, short stories, and most recently an episode of Dr. Who. His most mainstream success came with his Young Adult novel Coraline which Tim Burton made into a movie.

The first book of his I read was Neverwhere and I absolutely loved it. I've since read all his other books and none of them have been disappointments. 

M is for Magic is a collection of some of his short stories and is described as "for Young Adults." However, I would recommend that parents read them first before passing them along to their children. My oldest daughter is 12, and I think she needs to be a few years older before reading a couple of the stories. They're not offensive or profane, but the subject matter in some of them is a little more mature than I'm comfortable with her reading right now.

The stories are all classic Gaiman, which means they're extremely creative, a little warped, and a lot of fun to read. I think he's probably one of the most consistent writers alive today in terms of the quality of his writing and he seems to be able to accomplish it effortlessly.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Hadrian Memorandum

The Hadrian Memorandum by Allan Folsom

I've been reading Allan Folsom's books ever since his first one, The Day After Tomorrow, which I thought was fantastic. Unfortunately, in my opinion, he's never been able to achieve the same level of creativity and excitement since that first one. His other books so far have all been worth reading, but compared to that first one, they've always left me disappointed. After finishing The Hadrian Memorandum I think I've decided I'm done buying his books.

The book is a sequel to The Machiavelli Covenant and follows ex-LAPD Detective and current landscape architect Nicholas Marten, who is conveniently a close associate of the President of the United States. The President has a special assignment for the landscape architect that no one else at his disposal is qualified to undertake - travel to the West African nation of Equatorial Guinea and determine whether rebel fighters there are being armed by a U.S. oil exploration firm. I know what you're thinking, with a plot that good, why no Pulitzer?

Because of an undiagnosed disorder which causes me to believe that a book will eventually get better if I keep going, I finished it. But it was like running on a treadmill. A lot of work was involved, but when I was done, I hadn't gone anywhere.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆