Friday, January 28, 2011


Exley by Brock Clarke

I loved Exley. I think I should be clear and up-front about that at the very beginning because the book itself is anything but "clear" and "up-front". Those who choose to read the book should be prepared for a different type of reading experience. The book has two narrators: young Miller Le Ray, a nine-year-old whose parents have separated and who is seeing a therapist, and the second is the therapist himself.

Miller believes that when his father and mother separated, that his father joined the army and was shipped off to Iraq. He also believes that his father was wounded in Iraq and is currently recovering in the local VA hospital. Clarke borrows heavily from an actual book that achieved cult status in the '60s called A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley. Miller's father is obsessed with Exley's book and Miller believes the if he can track down Exley and bring him to his father, that his father will miraculously recover and that the pieces of his life will be put together again.

Clarke alternates between the viewpoint of Miller and his therapist. and does an excellent job of blurring the line between what is real and what are the fantasies of a young child's mind who has created them in an attempt to deal with the world and its disappointments.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Half-Made World

The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman

I haven't read many books within the fantasy sub-genre known as steampunk, but from the few books I've read, it's a genre that appeals to me. The books I've read have all taken place in very creative worlds, consisting of technological systems that mirror those of the real world but with just enough of a variation to give the book a slightly skewed feel. They also contain fantastical creatures and humans who, like the technology, resemble those of the real world, but are not quite right.

The Half-Made World takes place in a world that is just that, half-made. Descriptions I've read of the book describe it as a reimagining of the American West during the 19th century. Only the west in this world isn't just uncharted and untamed. It's much more than that. It experiences weather systems that are extreme. It contains creatures that inhabitants of the made world would never dream could exist. And the line between the earth and the sea starts to get a little "fuzzy".

The book is about two warring factions: the Line and the Gun. The Line is an industrial force that enslaves the inhabitants of the world as it continually extends its reach throughout the world, and the Gun is a brutal regime that takes control of its agents through its ability to speak directly to their minds and coerce them to obey the Gun's will. The Red Republic is a force that used to battle both the Line and the Gun but which now only seems to exist in the legends of the past.

A former general in the Red Republic may hold in his mind, information about a secret weapon that's the only hope of stopping both the Line and the Gun. He resides in a mental hospital on the outskirts of the west and has been forgotten by the rest of the world. His mind was destroyed by weapons of the Line many years ago. But now both the Line and the Gun have become aware of his existence and the threat he poses to them.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dexter is Delicious

by Jeff Lindsay
(Dexter series #5)

Dastardly Devilish Dexter has become Diaper Daddy Dexter, and the birth of a daughter has had a wholly unexpected effect on the serial killer. A blood-spatter analyst by day for the Miami Police Department, and a serial killer by night, Dexter satisfies the regular urges of his "dark passenger" by preying on those base members of Miami's population who have been able to slip through the grasp of the city's law enforcement officials.

When the body of a teenage girl turns up that appears to not only have been murdered, but dined on - and not by wild animals, Dexter's alter ego begins to stir once again. But this time things are different. Since the birth of Lily Anne, Dexter has discovered within himself things he previously thought he was immune to - feelings. Can Dexter control his driving desire to kill in order to be a father? Or does being a father give more validity to his need to rid society of those elements that might some day come after his daughter? Either way this is another solid addition to the alliterate Dexter Morgan series.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Moonlight Mile

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

Lehane returns with what could possibly be his final book featuring Patrick and Angela Kenzie, private investigators with a long and complicated history in Boston. With Moonlight Mile Lehane reopens old wounds suffered in his 1998 book Gone Baby Gone.

Amanda McCready, the child abducted from her neglectful mother in Gone Baby Gone and then found and returned to her mother by Patrick, despite a life-altering ultimatum given to him by Angela, has gone missing again. In the twelve years in between her disappearances, Amanda has grown up into a very savvy and street-smart 16-year-old, while Patrick and Angela have managed to reconcile and eventually marry and have a four-year-old daughter. This disappearance is different then the first one. This time Amanda might not want to be found.

Like his others, Moonlight Mile is a character-driven crime story involving characters possessing an amazing level of depth. Lehane's protagonists are always remarkable yet flawed. Bubba, one of Patrick and Angela's associates who deals in illegal arms and blackmarket prescription drugs, is a massive and intimidating man with a criminal history that would take up several boxes of files in a police wharehouse if ever documented. Yet he's one of the most likeable characters in these books. Lehane's antagonists are equally complicated and enjoyable. This time many of them are part of the Russion mob. And while they're deadly and intimidating, they're also surprisingly likeable and humane.

This book is another fantastic one by an author who has become a favorite of Hollywood in recent years with stories such as Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

For years my wife has been asking me to read Atlas Shrugged. She read it for the first time in high school and it has remained one of her favorite books ever since. I always told her that I'd read it but figured I had decades left before I die and there are always so many books on my to-be-read pile that reading it was never planned for the near future. When she finally started using the I-read-all-of-the-Dark-Tower-books-by-Stephen-King-you-told-me-I-had-to-read argument, I figured I needed to make good on my promise.

It was published in 1957, which I think is helpful to know to understand the context in which it was written. It was shortly after the Korean conflict and in the midst of McCarthyism, when the fear of Communism was on most Americans' mind. The book revolves around John Gault, one of the most enlightened minds in the country. When he learns that his invention of a motor that would be fueled by static electricity thereby increasing the efficiency of virtually every aspect of civilization is going to be subsumed by the government and become the property of the state, he decides to go on strike.

The "brain strike" as he refers to it, is subsequently taken by all of the major leaders of industry, transportation, and commerce throughout the country. Those individuals who are responsible for the economy and ultimately the country's survival walk away and join Gault, where they're free to use their minds and their abilities without government intervention to advance technology, efficiency, and ultimately their own profitability within their hidden and closed civilization. As the titans abandon the country, the country quickly falls apart and the government leaders who insisted that their decisions were always for the betterment of society are revealed to have destroyed it with their involvement and control.

I'm conflicted about this book. On the one hand, to read Rand's political philosophy during a time when our government believes that some businesses are too big to fail and has intervened in order to save them, and at a time that many citizens believe that the government is becoming too involved in the decision making abilities of its citizens, was remarkably appropriate and timely. And there were passages that I thought were brilliant such as when a government leader, pleading with Gault to intervene and rescue the country by offering him all the power and decision-making abilities possible, tells him that if he thinks the citizens should be free he'll be able to force them to be free.

On the other hand, there were many things about the book that I couldn't stand. Rand's characters, who are supposed to be some of the brightest people on the planet, speak using dialogue that was juvenile at best. All of her characters were one-sided. Those who were proponents for her philosophy were given the best of characteristics while those whose beliefs were contrary to hers were given all of the worst. The government officials, the real antagonists in the book spoke and acted as if their sense of logic hadn't evolved since the 6th grade. She places the book in a poorly thought out futuristic era. It's never explained what year it's supposed to be. But apparently there's some need to have a calendar continually and inexplicably projected into the sky for people to refer to. Every time that was mentioned I thought "she's finally going to explain what the point of this is" but she never did. Throughout the book her characters go on long drawn out tirades in which they explain Rand's philosophical viewpoints. The final one given by Gault took me two days to read. The book is extremely and unnecessarily long and winded, kind of like this review has become - so I'm done.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆