Friday, April 29, 2011

211 Things a Bright Boy Can Do

211 Things a Bright Boy Can Do by Tom Cutler

This was a book given to me last Christmas. It's not a novel. It's literally what it claims to be. Tom Cutler assembled a list of 211 site gags, parlor tricks, and questionably useful skills that a person might want to know how to do. It has the appearance of a book that was written for young or adolescent boys. It's not. It's written for boys trapped in men's bodies. Here's a sampling of some of the chapters:

How to use your watch as a compass
How to analyze a handshake
How to survive a week with just one set of clothes
How to appear more intelligent than you are
How to judge a woman's bra size at a glance
How to walk across red-hot coals
How to drive a nail into a plank with your bare hand
Paranormal spoon bending
How to weigh your own head
A beginner's guide to calculating time of death
How to shear a sheep
How to escape from a straightjacket
How to take your underpants off without removing your pants

A lot of the chapters were quite interesting and I've tried several of them with a surprising rate of success. But quite a few of the chapters were snoozers. The author either thinks he's funnier than he actually is or he overestimates the entertainment value of some of his knowledge. My recommendation in reading the book would be to read the chapters selectively based on level of interest.

At the end of each chapter, he includes a random and trivial bit of information. Sometimes those are the highlight of the chapter. My favorite was "Eunuchs don't go bald."

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Pale Criminal

The Pale Criminal by Philip Kerr

The Pale Criminal is the second book in Kerr's Berlin Noir trilogy that he wrote back in the late '80s and early '90s. The trilogy features Bernie Gunther, a former cop who now makes a living as a private detective in Germany in the late 1930s. After writing these first three books, Kerr changed direction and showed his range by writing several stand-alone novels in the genres of science fiction, historical fiction, and thriller. In 2006 he returned to his beginnings and has since written four more books featuring Gunther.

Young girls are going missing and later turning up dead and brutalized in Berlin. None of the victims have been Jewish and all of them fit the Aryan stereotype tauted by Hitler's regime as the master race. Bernie Gunther, is forced back into working for the German police by the SS because the case surrounding the missing girls seems to be leading nowhere.

Gunther is an intriguing character. He's crass, politically incorrect, and has his vices. But underlying those characteristics is a man who will take any steps necessary in order to see that the guilty are punished, whether they're a Nazi or a Jew, and that the innocent are protected regardless of who they are as well.

The plot is gritty and at times a little slow in unfolding. But it does an excellent job of creating the type of atmosphere I would imagine existed in Germany at that time in history. I enjoyed it but would not recommend it to those of a sensitive nature.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, April 22, 2011


by James Rollins

Excavation is one of the first three books written by James Rollins. His first three: Subterranean, Excavation, & Deep Fathom were originally published in paperback only and since I don't usually buy paperback books, I had never read them. Now that they're being printed in hard cover, I've gotten around to them.

His books are always fast-paced adventure stories which usually venture into the land of the implausible and preposterous. But I like that every once in awhile. Excavation is no exception. It involves the excavation of an ancient Incan temple high in the Andes mountains of Peru. A mummified member of the Spanish Inquisition is uncovered at the site and is discovered to contain a mysterious gold-like substance in his skull.

The temple itself contains the potential for incalcuable weath and power but also a warning that was left behind by the Spanish monk that it what it contains is best left undisturbed.

Rollins is the author who wrote the novelization of the fourth and hopefully last Indiana Jones movie. Excavation is a good indication of why he was chosen. It's a fun read, but suspend your sense of reason before reading.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Domino Men

The Domino Men by Jonathan Barnes

Last year I read Jonathan Barnes's first book The Somnambulist and quite enjoyed it. It's an urban fantasy novel by an author that I thought at the time had a promising future. After reading The Domino Men I'm even more convinced that Barnes is an author who is very likely to leave his mark on the genre.

The Domino Men is a sequel, but a very independent one. In fact, I'm pretty sure many people read it, oblivious to the fact that it was preceded by The Somnambulist. I guess I should describe it as a second book, which takes place in the same version of our world as The Somnambulist does, rather than say it's a true sequel. 

Many years ago, the queen of England made a deal with an unworldly being known as Leviathan. Contained within that pact, was the fate of every citizen of England. Now, Leviathan has returned to collect. Our narrator is Henry Lamb, an unassuming civil servant working as a file clerk at the Civil Service Archive Unit. Henry learns one day that his grandfather has slipped into a coma. As Henry goes to visit him in the hospital he begins to learn that there was much more to his grandfather's life than he had ever imagined. He learns that he was instrumental in a secret war that has been waged for years against members of the royal house of Windsor ever since the Queen's contract with Leviathan.

The Domino Men is another one of those books that would take longer to describe than it would to read. It reminded me a little bit of some of China Mieville's books, to try to describe them doesn't do them justice.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Fall

The Fall by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

 In this, the second book in The Strain Trilogy by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, the authors have added some real substance to their story. For me, the first book fell short of the expectations I had for it. It started off well, but halfway through it, I started to get distracted from the story by the ridiculous actions of some of the characters. Regardless, I liked the book enough that I planned to read the subsequent books as they came out.

I'm glad I did. With The Fall, the authors take their story of a vampiric virus to a new level. None of the flaws that irritated me so much in the first book exist in this one. By the time the book begins, the strain, which first appeared in New York with the landing of a commercial  airplane which appeared to contain nothing but corpses, has become an epidemic, and possibly a pandemic. Eph Goodweather, head of the CDC, is leading his team in battle against the creatures that now run rampant during the night.

The book isn't just about humans versus vampires. It's also an account of the warring between the New- and Old-World vampire clans. The latter is trying to maintain the balance that has always existed between humans and the infected while the former has begun to disregard those restrictions in an attempt to take control of the earth.

Guillermo del Toro has probably one of the most creative imaginations in Hollywood. It was his name on the cover of The Strain that made me pick it up initially. I wanted to see if his creativity would translate as well in writing as it has visually in his movies. With The Fall I think it has. The feel and tone of the book are great. The story is unique even within the vampire genre and the creatures themselves are obviously dirivitives of the same mind that created Pan's Labyrinth.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, April 8, 2011

I Don't Want to Kill You

by Dan Wells
(John Wayne Cleaver series #3)

The third and what the author says is the final installment in the John Wayne Cleaver trilogy. The first two books: I Am Not a Serial Killer and Mr. Monster were both great books. I Don't Want to Kill You makes the trilogy fantastic.

I don't want to say very much about the plot of the book because I don't want to spoil anything about the previous two. In my review of Mr. Monster I described the unique character of John Cleaver, so I'll refer you there if you want to get an idea of what he's all about. I enjoyed reading the first book a lot, but for awhile after reading it, I remained uncertain about how I felt about a surprising and jarring turn the book took midway through it. I enjoyed Mr. Monster more I think because I was familiar with that aspect of the story and could enjoy it for the ride that I realized I was taking. With this last book, I really can't say enough about how great a series it was.

Hopefully Dan Wells has many stories like these yet to come.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

For many years, the power of magic has been waning in the Ununited Kingdom. In times past, sorcerers were esteemed and even feared. Nowadays, they're contracted to rewire homes with outdated electrical systems, and unclog drains without the normal mess and detritus associated with such tasks.

Dragons, which some claim once terrorized citizens of the UK by burning their homes and feeding on their livestock and the occasional farmer's family, now exist primarily in the stories and legends of a prior age. Now, there is only one left.

Jennifer Strange is 14 years old, an orphan, and currently an indentured servant working as an assistant at the House of Enchantment where she handles all of the necessary paperwork for the pipe-clearing and home-rewiring wizards and sorcerers employed there. But things are about to change for Jennifer as she becomes the last Dragonslayer and faces a challenge that will not only change her life, but ultimately the life of everyone on earth.

Jasper Fforde is a fantastic author. I've read all of his books written for adults and there's not one of them that I wouldn't eagerly recommend to anyone who enjoys reading. He's nearly impossible to describe succinctly, so I won't try. Start with The Eyre Affair and prove me wrong if you can.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Monday, April 4, 2011


Edge by Jeffery Deaver

Lifters, shepherds, primaries, and principals make up the character list in Deaver's latest thriller. Corte, a shepherd, works for a government agency responsible for protecting high-profile government witnesses (principals) against the lifters. Lifters, who have been hired by the primary, are willing to take whatever steps are necessary in order to get to the principals and extract the information they possess. They'll use physical torture if they can get to them directly, and if not, they'll kidnap and torture the principal's loved ones.

The Kessler family is Corte's latest responsibility and someone in that family has information that Henry Loving has been paid to extract. Corte has gone up against Loving before, and he knows how ruthless Loving can be and how ingenious his tactics may become.

Deaver, who is known for his roller-coaster-type plot twists upped the anti on himself with this one. For the first time he uses a first-person narrator to tell the story. That format doesn't usually lend well to surprise twists in the story, because the only perspective available to the reader is that of the narrator. Deaver accomplishes his goal masterfully. I have to admit that several times while reading the book, I could sense a plot twist coming, but that's due more to the fact that I've read most everything he's written and trying to anticipate and identify his twists has become almost a game I play while reading them. But never did I know exactly what was going to happen before it did.

Edge is a fun read for anyone who enjoys the genre. It was a refreshing departure from his Lincoln Rhyme and Katherine Dance books. There's something very satisfying for me in stand-alone books. I like the fact that they have a beginning, a middle, and a definitive end.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆