Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 - A Review

Another year has come and gone, so here's my Top 10 List (in no particular order) for the books read this year, along with a few other book-related bits of information.

11/22/1963 by Stephen King
A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
The Map of the Sky by Felix Palma
Boy's Life by Robert McCammon
Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore
Krampus by Brom
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
Live by Night by Dennis Lehane
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The worst book I read this year was Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz

Number of books read this year - 52

Booksignings attended this year - Robert McCammon, Steve Berry - The Columbus Affair, Brandon Sanderson - The Emperor's Soul

Books I'm looking forward to that are coming in 2013:
Insane City by Dave Barry (1/13)
Fragments by Dan Wells (2/13)
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (4/13)
A Serpent's Tooth by Craig Johnson (4/13)
The King's Deception by Steve Berry (5/13)
The Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver (6/13)
Lexicon by Max Barry (6/13)
The Eye of God by James Rollins (6/13)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (6/13)
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (9/13)
You by Austin Grossman (??)

What are the best books you read this year?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Unholy Night

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

I should start off by saying that I found both of Seth Grahame-Smith's previous books to be surprisingly well written. Before I read them I was expecting to enjoy them, but wasn't expecting them to be as intelligent and literary as they both were. When I mention Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to people who haven't read them, they tend to assume I'm talking about amateurish books written as some sort of literary prank. But they're far from that. Think I'm kidding? Read'em.

Unholy Night is one more example of why people should take Seth Grahame-Smith seriously as an author. He takes an idea or story that is generally well known, and then springboards off of it and ends up with a book that you simply have to read to appreciate. This time around it's the story of the three wise men of the nativity that are the genesis.

Balthazar is a thief with a grudge against the Roman Empire. After being caught and thrown into Herod's prison, where he meets up with two other prisoners, Balthazar pulls off a daring escape for the three. After they flee Jerusalem, they decide to hide out for the night in a stable in Bethlehem where the meet up with a young couple and their newborn child. Balthazar has no desire to get caught up in their lives, but the next day, as he and his two companions are trying to slip out of Bethlehem they're drawn back by the screams of the mothers whose babies are being killed by Herod's men. Balthazar decides to help the new family escape to Egypt, where they should be safe until the disease-ridden Herod finally dies.

Unholy Night is a great book. This time around Grahame-Smith doesn't rely on the writings of any other author for the frame of his story. This time there were only a couple of biblical verses at his disposal. But he is very successful in using them as the origins for a story that is unique, violent, and at the same time, respectful to the story that plays such an important role for so many peoples' beliefs.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Life Expectancy

Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz


I used to be a devout reader of Dean Koontz's books. The first couple that I read were Watchers and Intensity and I really enjoyed both. In fact, Intensity, is probably the most intense book I've ever read. Go figure, huh? I then went on and read several more of his books, but none of them ever reached the bar set by those first two. In fact, as time went on, I began to lose interest in reading his books and would only occasionally pick one up off the discount rack at the bookstore to give it a try. A few years ago I read The Taking, which was horrible and led me to stop buying his books altogether. But I still had this one left on the bookshelf which I inexplicably felt compelled to eventually read.

Life Expectancy was awful. It confirmed for me the wisdom in not buying or reading any more of Koontz's books. The plot was ridiculous and the dialogue was painful. As I suffered through it, the dialogue repeatedly reminded me of the solitary lifestyle I think most authors must live. I would imagine some of them don't get out much and interact with other human beings. I'm almost positive now that Koontz hasn't left his home in over a decade and doesn't own a phone or a television. No one talks the way he made his characters talk in this one.

It's about a man named Jimmy Tock, whose grandfather, on the day Jimmy was born and he himself died, predicted five dark dates in his grandson's life. As Jimmy goes through his life, and those dates approach one by one, sure enough something terrible happens. Here's the kicker, all those dates involve a homicidal, maniacal clown. Eat your heart out Dickens, that's true literary brilliance.

Inexplicably, the majority of the Amazon reviews of this one give it five stars. I don't know whether it's me or everyone else that's wrong, but I'm leaning toward it being everyone else.

★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Krampus the Yule Lord

Krampus the Yule Lord by Brom

I've been looking forward to this holiday season for awhile now--not because I love the extra traffic anytime I get anywhere near a shopping mall, or because I can't hear "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" enough times during these five weeks, but because I've been holding off reading a couple holiday-themed books until the season arrived. Krampus is the first of the two.

It's the fourth book written by renowned fantasy artist Brom, who I came across a few years ago when his first book Plucker came out, a story I'd describe as "Toy Story meets Guillermo del Toro." It was so unique and imaginative that I later read his next two books as they came out, including the fantastic The Child Thief, an adult retelling of the story of Peter Pan who was not as innocent as Walt Disney would have you believe.

Krampus is not for everyone. My children will not be reading it for many years to come, that is, if they choose to read it at all. After all, they might not grow up with the same literary tastes their father has. But one can hope. That being said, I enjoyed the book immensely.

Krampus is a character from European folklore whom parents would warn their children about around Christmas time--if children were good, they were told that Santa would come and leave presents, if they were bad, Krampus would come instead and put them in his sack and beat them. He's the son of the Norse god Loki, and in Brom's tale, has been imprisoned for the last 500 years because of what he perceives as Santa Clause's betrayal so long ago. Now he's managed to escape and plans to exact his revenge on His Jolliness.

Jesse Walker is a down-on-his-luck estranged father and husband who had aspirations of one day becoming a successful songwriter. While sitting in his truck Christmas Eve, contemplating taking his own life, Jesse witnesses something that will significantly alter the course of his life--Santa Clause being chased and attacked by seven devilish figures. Jesse watches as Santa makes it to his sleigh and begins to take off as several of his pursuers jump on board. As the sleigh begins to climb, he hears screams and cries and then sees a sack fall and land nearby. That sack, which Jesse finds to possess magical powers, drags Jesse into the war that has been going on for centuries, a war between the man whose image appears at every turn each December, and the one who December 25th originally belonged to, the Lord of Yule.

Krampus is really a fantastic story. Brom takes his in-your-face writing style and portrays a character that on one page is ruthless and terrible, and on the next, sympathetic and endearing. He successfully incorporates Norse legends along with the origins of the Christmas tree and other customs now so intrinsically tied to Christmas into a highly entertaining and surprisingly uplifting story.

At times, the language can be rough, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Here's a small taste from the prologue:

Santa Clause, my dear old friend, you are a thief, a traiter, a slanderer, a murderer, a liar, but worst of all you are a mockery of everything for which I stood.

You have sung your last ho, ho, ho, for I am coming for your head. For Odin, Loki, and all the fallen gods, for your treachery, for chaining me in this pit for five hundred years. But most of all I am coming to take back what is mine, to take back Yuletide. And with my foot upon your throat. I shall speak your name, your true name, and with death staring back at you, you will no longer be able to hide from your dark deeds, from the faces of all those you betrayed.

I, Krampus, Lord of Yule, son of Hel, bloodline of the great Loki, swear to cut your lying tongue from your mouth, your theiving hands from your wrists, and your jolly head from your neck.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Fallen Angel

by Daniel Silva
(Gabriel Allon series #12)

One of the measures of a good author is consistency, and by that standard, Daniel Silva is fantastic. The Fallen Angel is another excellent book in Silva's series featuring Gabriel Allon.

I've mentioned before how a series of books featuring the same characters will oftentimes get old and stale for me. Silva's Allon books have definitely not suffered that same trend. Even though each one tends to start the same--with Gabriel beginning the process of restoring some priceless painting by an Italian master, and getting pulled back into his former life as an Israeli intelligence officer, the field operation that he ends up leading is original and captivating.

This time it's a painting by Caravaggio that he's restoring for the Vatican when he's summoned to St. Peter's Basilica by the secretary to the Pope to examine the body of a woman lying dead from an apparent suicide jump from high up inside the dome. It's clear to Gabriel that the woman has been murdered, and his investigation into her death places him in the crosshairs of terrorists who have been stealing masterpieces to finance their operations.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Monstrous Regiment

Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
(Discworld series #31)

The small Discworld nation of Borogravia is at war, a situation they tend to be in with alarming frequency. It's an inconsequential country whose citizens follow a god who is constantly adding to a list of abominations (the most recent inclusions were cats, cheese, and rocks).

Polly Oliver is a young Borogravian whose older brother has gone missing in battle, so out of a sense of familial duty, she decides to join the army to see if she can find him. But that's not as easy as it sounds since Borogravia's antiquated laws prohibit women from joining the army. But with the help of a haircut, some boy's clothing, and a pair of strategically placed socks, she's able to enlist.

She's assigned to a regiment of other newly enlisted soldiers consisting of a vampire, a troll, and an Igor, each with their own secret--which likewise requires an extra pair of socks. This group of soldiers, who have no business being in the army, begin to stand out due to their bravery, cunning, and overall higher-than-normal intelligence level expected from soldiers.

Monstrous Regiment is another great addition to the Discworld series. This time Pratchett aims his satirical guns at the armed forces, and at war itself. Religion suffers a little collateral damage as well, but only where deserved. My only complaint with the book is that it's one of the Nightwatch books within the Discworld series, but Sam Vimes, a fantastic character in that group of books, appeared far too infrequently.

Monstrous Regiment would be a good introductory book to the series if you've never read one before. There's really no backstory to be aware of since very few recurring characters make an appearance.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, November 26, 2012

The One from the Other

The One from the Other by Philip Kerr

Before I had ever picked up one of Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther books, I had read and enjoyed all of his stand-alone books. It's probably a good thing it happened that way. The first three books featuring the acerbic private investigator Bernie Gunther were interesting, but not that entertaining. If I had started with them, I probably would have quite reading Kerr awhile ago.

It'd been fifteen years since the last Gunther book by the time The One from the Other came out and I think the hiatus was good for the series. This one is noticeably better and I enjoyed it much more. There are four more books already published, and another set for 2013 and thanks to this one, I'm looking forward to reading each of them. I've also heard that Tom Hanks has been trying to acquire the rights to the books for an HBO series.

This one begins in Germany in 1949 and finds Bernie a broken and defeated man. His wife has been hospitalized following a nervous breakdown and Bernie has given up the PI business to run his late-father-in-law's hotel in Dachau. One night two America officers stop by the hotel and and set off a series of events that bring Gunther back to his old self.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cold Vengeance

Cold Vengeance by Lincoln Child & Douglas Preston\
(Pendergast series #11)


I'll begin by mentioning that Cold Vengeance is a continuation of Preston and Child's last book Fever Dream. And that a third book Two Graves, which comes out next month, will complete a trilogy telling the story of the death of FBI Special Agent Pendergast's wife Helen.

Twelve years ago, while Pendergast was hunting with Helen in Africa, she was mauled to death by a lion. For years Pendergast had believed that the attack had been just an unfortunate accident,until he discovered in Fever Dream that someone had sabotaged her rifle. As he continues to dig deeper into her death in this book, he continues to find more and more layers of mystery. Is it possible that Helen's family members were involved in her death? Or is it possible that she's still alive and was involved in a rouse to make everyone, including Pendergast believe she was killed? And if so, why?

I enjoyed Cold Vengeance. The last few books featuring Pendergast had been kind of hit or miss for me. But these last two have renewed my enjoyment for the series and I'm looking forward seeing how things finally wrap up with next month's book.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, November 9, 2012

Live by Night

by Dennis Lehane
402 pgs  (Joe Coughlin series #2)

With Live by Night Dennis Lehane adds justification to my opinion that he's one of the best writers alive today. His books are usually gritty, and the characters are almost always significantly flawed, but there's still an underlying beauty to the stories he tells. He creates protagonists that are just as amoral as his antagonists are, but he's able to create them in such a way that you can't help but feel sympathy and even empathy towards them.

Live by Night is the story of Joe Coughlin. A man who grew up in Boston during Prohibition. He's the son of the city's police captain, who instead of following in his father's footsteps, chose to "live by the rules of the night," and the more exciting life of a criminal. As a young man he began working as a petty thief for the mobsters that ran the city and was eventually handpicked to run the mob's operations in Florida.

In Florida Joe builds an empire, becoming the sole supplier of rum throughout the entire southeast portion of the country. But as his power grows, and while he ruthlessly eliminates all who stand in his way, he also demonstrates that he's not without a moral code that keeps him relatable and even endears him to the reader.

I don't know if there's another author who who could pull off what Lehane does in this book. Throughout the story I couldn't help but like and care about Joe Coughlin. In the real world I'd have had no sympathy for a person like that, but at every stage of Joe's life told about in the story, I cared about him. and I wanted him to succeed.

If you've never read one of his books, this is an excellent one to start with.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Third Gate

by Lincoln Child
(Jeremy Logan series #2)

In northern Sudan the Nile river gets lost amid the notorious Sudd, a constantly growing swampland, where mud and rotting vegetation have accumulated over the centuries to make it impassable. It's also the possible location for the hidden tomb of one of ancient Egypt's most influential Pharaohs--King Narmer. An archaeological team, led by the famous explorer Peter Stone, has secretly begun searching for Narmer's tomb under the mud and detritus, and they're running out of time to find it before the building of a dam down river floods the area and ends their search for it and its treasures.

As the team has gotten closer to finding the tomb, inexplicable setbacks have been occurring, giving credence to the rumors of a curse associated with it. Jeremy Logan, a professor of history, who specializes in paranormal activity, has recently been enlisted to join the team and investigate the occurrences.

I'm a big fan of the books Lincoln Child has coauthored with Douglas Preston. I've also enjoyed each of his solo novels. Unfortunately The Third Gate never took off for me. It's got a promising premise, but it never delivers on the promise. I never felt any type of fondness for any of the characters and occasionally had to reread a page or two because I found my mind had wandered off. It wasn't the type of book that I regret having wasted my time reading when I finish. But it wasn't what I've come to expect and what I'm looking forward from him going forward. It's the type of book to read on vacation, or while on a plane.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Year Zero

Year Zero by Rob Reid

Ever since 1977 every sentient race in the universe has been obsessed with the music coming from planet earth, so much so that they even dubbed it "year zero" and began reckoning time forward from it. In all other aspects of our existence, earthlings haven't developed far enough to be made aware of the other races out there and warrant an invitation into the association of developed planets, but our music is light years ahead of all others.

Nick Carter is a low-level entertainment lawyer, whose firm specializes in copyright litigation and whose career is going nowhere. One day two aliens, who mistakenly believe he's the same Nick Carter who used to sing with the Backstreet Boys, arrive at his office because they need his legal expertise in their attempt to save earth from annihilation. Ever since year zero, every being in the universe has been downloading earth's music for their listening pleasure, amounting to an unimaginable number of downloads. Unfortunately for us, all life off earth follows an unequivocal moral and legal code requiring them to abide by other planets' laws. When they discover that there's a law on earth prohibiting the free download of music, with an associated $150,000 fee per illegal download, they realize that they are in debt to earth far beyond their ability to ever repay it. And some out there have decided that the best way to cancel the debt is to surreptitiously assist mankind in destroying itself.

Year Zero is very similar to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy both in humor and creativity, but it's not its equal. Nevertheless, the book made me laugh out loud numerous times, causing people riding the light-rail train with me to opt for sitting next to the fragrant homeless passengers instead of me (an added pleasure from reading the book).

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dracula the Un-Dead

Dracula the Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt

It takes a lot of guts (and maybe little brains) to write a sequel to a book that's considered to be a classic by most, especially when you weren't the author of that book. It's not the same thing as taking the idea of vampires and writing your own version of the myth, like so many have done with varying degrees of success. One author in particular has made millions of dollars from her books, achieving the type of financial success that Stoker could never have dreamed of, which I believe is an insult to fine literature. Dacre Stoker, the great-grand nephew of Bram, and Ian Holt, if nothing else, show they have a lot of guts by writing a true sequel to Dracula, which means bringing the original vampire back again.

I bought the book back in 2009 when it came out, primarily out of a sense of curiosity due to the name "Stoker" on the cover. But it stayed low on my to-be-read pile because it seemed unlikely that it would be very good. Most people have read Bram Stoker's book and know how it ends, Dracula is killed by Van Helsing, Dr. Jack Seward, Jonathan Harker, and crew. So how plausible could his return be? Ultimately I decided to finally read it because it's Halloween time and I wanted an appropriate read for the holiday. I was pleasantly surprised.

Twenty-five years have passed since the events of Dracula, and those who were involved in its events have tried to move on with their lives, none very successfully however. Jonathan and Mina Harker are married and have a grown son Quincey. But Jonathan has never been able to look past Mina's relationship with Dracula, and is reminded of it daily due to the perpetual youth it has given her. Their marriage is devoid of happiness and Jonathan's subsequent drinking problem has alienated him from his son who has moved to London to pursue acting at the Lyceum Theatre, owned by Bram Stoker. Fittingly the theatre is preparing to debut the play Dracula, based on Stoker's book, but the death of the lead actor threatens to end its run before it ever gets started. Soon, those who hunted down Dracula begin to turn up brutally murdered, and the rest begin to realize that they may not have been as successful as they had thought for so many years.

Ultimately I enjoyed this book. While it wasn't written in the same format as Dracula, with varying sources for its narration, the book still manages to capture the same tone and feel that the original had; which I think is part of the reason it's stood the test of time. It's not going to join Dracula in the classic literature section of the bookstore, but I think it's a worthwhile read. The authors gave additional depth to all of the characters.

I came across an interview with Ian Holt in which he mentioned that they're working on a prequel to Dracula now. I'll be reading that when it's published.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, October 25, 2012

XO

XO by Jeffery Deaver
(Kathryn Dance series #4)

Several times while reading Deaver's latest book, I had the thought, "I wonder if Taylor Swift has read this book"--a seemingly random thought, I know, especially because I have no interest in the singer nor her music. But she was obviously the inspiration behind Kayleigh Towne, Deaver's protagonist in XO. She's a crossover country music singer in her early twenties who was once interrupted while giving an award acceptance speech by another musician who didn't feel like she was the most deserving of the award. Kayleigh's success has brought her thousands of fans, accross the country.

Edwin Sharp is one of those fans. But he's not a casual fan, he's obsessed. He believes that Kayleigh's songs were written specifically for him, and that he alone truly understands the feelings and emotions Kayleigh was experiencing when she wrote them. When he receives a canned response to one of his fan letters with the valediction of "XO, Kayleigh," his obsession becomes dangerous.

Edwin travels to Sacramento to see Kayleigh's upcoming concert and he believes, for the next stage of their relationship. And as soon as he arrives in town, people close to Kayleigh begin to show up murdered.  Katheryn Dance, a kinesics (body language) expert with the California Bureau of Investigation, and a personal friend of Kayleigh, gets enlisted in local law enforcement's efforts to prove that Edwin is behind the murders.

Deaver's story-writing strengths are on display throughout the story, as he kept me on my toes trying to determine whether Edwin truly was the obsessed and dangerous fan everyone believed him to be, or whether he was possibly a pawn and was being set up as a fall guy by someone else. I was particularly impressed in this book with how well the character of Edwin was written. Using his mannerisms and dialogue, Deaver did an excellent job of portraying what I believe an obsessed fan would act and sound like.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Columbus Affair

The Columbus Affair by Steve Berry

It's been awhile since The Third Secret was published, which was the last book by Steve Berry that didn't feature Cotton Malone. As much as I enjoy that series, The Columbus Affair was a welcome break. In this book, Berry uses a little-known hypothesis about Christopher Columbus, and the true impetus behind his famous first voyage, as the backdrop for an entertaining thriller.

Tom Sagan is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist whose career and life are now in ruin. So much so, that when he makes his first appearance in the book, he has a gun to his head and is moments away from putting an end to his misery. He's stopped from pulling the trigger by a tapping on his window. The man standing outside his house, is holding a picture of Tom's daughter, tied up and at the mercy of kidnappers. The kidnappers need Tom to do something that only he can accomplish, order the exumation of his father's body. They believe he was burried with a secret, literally.

That secret ties in with the hypothesis that Christopher Columbus was a converted Jew whose 1492 voyage was an attempt to secure a new homeland for those of his adopted faith, somewhere in eastern Asia. Fortunately for me, I was able to attend one of the stops on Berry's media tour for this book and had the chance to listen to him explain his research into this idea. It really was fascinating and it also occured the same week that several cable news stations ran reports exploring the same hypothesis. Berry excels in this book at weaving historical facts along with long-standing rumors about the enigmatic explorer to tell a captivating story.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Map of the Sky

by Félix J. Palma
(The Map of Time trilogy #2)

I was very excited to read Palma's follow-up to The Map of Time, one of the best books I had read in a long time. I was equally excited when I learned that these are the first two books of a "Victorian Trilogy," so there's one more book to come. If that last book is as good as its predecessors, this trilogy will be right up there with The Lord of the Rings for me as far as how much I enjoyed them. Their plots are brilliantly thought out, full of surprises, and a lot of fun to read.

As he did with The Map of Time, Palma writes The Map of the Sky in three parts. Each part is in itself an individual story, but they're interconnected in sometimes a surprising manner. Once again, the author H.G. Wells is a central character. This time, his book The War of the Worlds has recently been publishedand just like The Time Machine, it's a huge success. Its success has spawned an unauthorized sequel to be penned by a mediocre (at best) American author. That author has traveled to London in order to meet Wells, whom he believes is undoubtedly flattered with his follow-up. Wells agrees to meet for lunch with the man with the intentions of setting him straight, but is instead blindsided with an offer he can't refuse--the opportunity to see a real-life Martian and its spacecraft stored in the basement of the British Museum.

Shortly after this perception-shattering experience, Wells receives a letter from a man he never intended to hear from again, Montgomery Gillmore, the owner of Murray's Time Travel from The Map of Time. Gillmore is madly in love with a woman who agrees to marry him on one condition--he fool the world into thinking that the Martian invasion described in Wells's book is actually taking place, and he needs Wells's help in order to pull the stunt off.

Again, I hesitate to say more, because I don't want to give anything away with the book. Needless to say, Palma once again keeps you on your toes guessing what's real and what's a ruse. Is the alien in the museum basement real? Is time travel truly possible? I expect with the conclusion to the trilogy that he'll have me wondering if my childhood fantasy of being able to become invisible is a possibility as well. I can't recommend these books enough. They're a blast to read and would be enjoyed by more than just those who love science fiction.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Scarecrow Returns

Scarecrow Returns by Matthew Reilly

Matthew Reilly's books are one of my guilty pleasures. The plots are unbelievable and the dialogue is often cheesy, but they're roller-coaster rides that are entertaining and serve as kind of a refreshing mental palate cleanser. Reilly's approach to writing a book is to start it off with a bang and then proceed full throttle to the last page, not stopping to breathe or to consider realism. But again, I'm okay with a book like that every once in a while. Whenever I'm in the mood for a book that I can enjoy without having to think, in fact, whenever I'm in the mood for a book that will be enjoyed more if you intentionally don't engage your brain while reading, Reilly's books are a good choice.

In Scarecrow Returns, Captain Shane Schofield (call sign "Scarecrow") resurfaces after having gone through an incredibly emotional ordeal at the end of Scarecrow. In this fourth book featuring him, Scarecrow and his team are called upon to infiltrate a former Soviet base located in the Arctic where a terrorist group, calling themselves the Army of Thieves, is preparing to destroy half the planet with a cold-war-era device they have in their control. True to Reilly's modus operandi, Scarecrow only has a few hours to accomplish what needs to be done to save the world.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
(The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series #1)

Daniel Sempere is the son of an antiquarian bookstore owner in Barcelona, Spain. In the summer of 1945 Daniel's father takes him for the first time to an inconspicuous, but remarkable place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It's to this sanctuary of the written word that books are brought in order to ensure they don't go from obscurity to oblivion. In the labyrinths of books being overseen there, Daniel chooses a book that he will protect himself: The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. As Daniel reads Carax's book, he quickly falls in love with it and learns that it's quite valuable.

For years, copies of it, and every other book written by Carax have been disappearing under unusual circumstances. One night Daniel is approached by a mysterious man who is horribly disfigured and who introduces himself as Laín Coubert; the same name the devil goes by in The Shadow of the Wind. Coubert offers to buy the book from Daniel and seems willing to pay any price for it, but Daniel refuses.

That encounter marks the beginning of a life-long fascination with the tragic life of Julian Carax. As he tries to uncover the events that led up to Carax's murder, layer upon layer of mysterious circumstances are revealed and Daniel finds himself the center of much unwanted attention.

The book is wonderful. Zafón mixes in elements from numerous genres: mystery, fantasy, romance, and horror, and he does so flawlessly. The writing itself is fantastic (the last paragraph below is a great example of what I mean) and the plot is complex and intelligent. It is the first of three books written so far involving Daniel and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and I'm looking forward to reading those as well. The Shadow of the Wind is an international best seller and has been translated into over 40 different languages, fortunately one of them is English.

Our sales lessen year by year. I'm an optimist, and I tell myself that what goes up comes down and what comes down must, one day, go up again. Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it's an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day. Every month we receive offers to turn our bookshop into a store selling televisions, girdles, or rope-soled shoes. They won't get us out of here unless it's feetfirst.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Legion

by Brandon Sanderson
(Legion series #1)

Stephen Leeds is a very sought after man. Many seek him out because they want to study him, others seek him out because they need him to provide the type of help no one else can provide.

Stephen's brain plays constant host to an ever-increasing number of hallucinations. To him, these hallucinations are quite real, and he knows that no else can see or hear them. They are a collection of hundreds of separate and distinct characters, each one being an expert in a particular field or on a specific topic. Anytime Stephen needs to "consult" with an expert, his brain manifests a new hallucination who is immediately able to provide him with everything he needs to know on the subject.

The idea behind the story Sanderson tells is brilliant and the story itself is great. My only complaint is that it's far too short. It's a novella and only takes an hour or so to read, so I don't feel the need to summarize the plot. I know I've mentioned before how much I enjoy Sanderson's books and I understand that most of them require a time committment to read. This one does not. Pay a couple of dollars to download it and get a sample of Sanderson's creativity and the broad depth of the worlds he creates. I'm confident you'll enjoy it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

12•21

12·21 by Dustin Thomason

Back in 2004 Dustin Thomason co-wrote a book with Ian Caldwell called The Rule of Four. It was very popular and stayed at the top of the NYT Bestseller list for months. I read it, but wasn't that impressed. It was a decent book, but it wasn't the second coming of The Da Vinci Code some seemed to think it was. Now, nearly nine years later, Thomason has written his second book, this one by himself.

If you're one of those people who doesn't have anything on their calendar scheduled after December 21, 2012 or who is maxing out their credit cards because they don't believe they're ultimately going to have to pay it back thanks to the Mayans, than this book is right up your alley. Most people know by now that they Mayan calendar ends on 12/21/12. Something will cause the polarity of the earth two reverse and life as we know it will end. 

When 12·21 begins, two weeks prior to that date, two things enter the United States undetected: the first is an ancient Mayan codex that had been looted from a previously undiscovered Mayan temple in Guatemala and was smuggled into the States in order to be sold. The second is a disease--brought in unknowingly by the same Guatemalan man looking to strike it rich with the codex, who was infected by the disease while at the ancient temple site.

The disease is similar to mad cow disease in that it affects the neurological system and has no known cure, but instead of being spread through the consumption of tainted meat, this disease spreads like a common cold. The disease takes only days to incapacitate its host and is almost always fatal.

Dr. Gabe Stanton is a specialist with the CDC whose career has been spent trying to find a cure for mad cow and other diseases known as "prion diseases." When this knew variant of the disease starts to spread Gabe finds himself at the forefront of the efforts to track down where it originated from and hopefully be able to discover its cure.

I'm pretty lukewarm about 12·21. It was interesting and fun to read, but I was unsatisfied with the ending. My recommendation would be to wait till after the real 12·21 to read it. If our days are numbered, don't waste your time with it, but if they're not, and we're all still here the morning of the 22nd, then give it a try.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Les Misérables

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
First of all, there are two versions of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables: the complete version and an abridged one. I read the complete version. I don't think reading an abridged version really counts for anything. For me, reading an abridged version of a book is kind of like getting a GED--sure, you can tell people you did it, but how many people do you really think are impressed?

Several years ago I took an Amtrak train about 500 miles to Denver to meet up with my family at my in-law's. Several people tried to convince me beforehand that I'd really enjoy it. They were full of crap. The train departed at about 5:00 AM and didn't pull into Denver until after 10:00 PM. I normally drive that trip in about 7½ hours, so this was tortuous. Periodically throughout the trip, the train would just stop, not at a station, or at a point where passengers were getting on or off, just on the tracks. Sometimes the stop would last for a few minutes, other times the stop would last for over an hour. No explanation was ever given, so each time it'd stop, I would go crazy not knowing how long the stop would take, and knowing that I wasn't making any progress towards my destination. I was reminded of this train trip numerous times while reading Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. But while I hated the train ride with a passion, my feelings about Hugo's book are quite the opposite.

The reason the book reminded me of that train ride was because Victor Hugo repeatedly stopped his story of Valjean, Javert, Cosette, and Marius to give a history lesson, or background on an influential person of the book's time period, and these stops were rarely brief. At one point he used 50 pages to describe the battle of Waterloo before telling you that Thénardier was there after the battle ransacking valuables from the corpses of soldiers and while doing so, had an interaction with Marius's father. That chapter could have been 49½ pages shorter and would have been just fine.
Having said all that about what I could have done without in the book, I'll shift gears now and say how glad I am that I finally got around to reading it. It's truly a fantastic story and ultimately a great book. I think it's a waste of time to summarize the plot, as I believe most people know it, or at least part of it from the musical production. But as good as that is, it pales in comparison to the book. Hugo acts as narrator throughout the story and as someone who lived in Paris at the time, who saw firsthand the struggles of its citizens, and the building of the barricades during the rebellion that took place, he's able to provide incredible depth to the story he tells.

Ironically, I think that Hugo was a master at using the written word. As I said earlier, sometimes it was to excess--and I'm going to attribute that to my hunch that publishing houses in the 1860's didn't employ editors. But there were numerous times that Hugo would write a sentence or two, either as narration or as dialogue spoken by a character, that I thought were brilliant. In those parts of the book, Hugo was able to express an idea that perfectly described a characteristic of mankind, or a universal truth that few would be capable of articulating that well.

This winter a new movie adaptation starring Hugh Jackman will be released. My suggestion is instead of going to the theater and paying $9 and spending probably three hours watching an interpretation of the book, rather go to a bookstore and pay $9 and get to spend a month reading the original. But if you end up reading the abridged version, don't bother telling me about it. I won't be impressed.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Wind Through the Keyhole

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

My favorite books of all time are Stephen King's Dark Tower series. They're fantastic. The fact that my wife wasn't crazy about them only shows that her good taste in men doesn't carry over to books. That being said, when I heard that King was going to be revisiting the series years after it was concluded with another story, I was moderately conflicted. On the one hand, the fact that I like the books so much should mean that I'd enjoy a new book just as much. On the other hand, the series was over, the story had been told and I didn't want King to turn into George Lucas who can't seem to leave a good thing alone. My concerns proved to be unwarranted. The book was just as good as the rest of the series and it fit in perfectly.

Chronologically the book takes place between books 4 & 5. Roland and his tet are taking shelter along the path of the beam from a deadly storm called a Starkblast. While they're there Roland relates two stories, or rather, a story that includes within it, the telling of another story. The story he tells took place when Roland first became a Gunslinger. He and Jamie DeCurry were sent to Debaria to look into reports of a skin-man (a shape-shifter), who had killed dozens of its residents. A young boy named Bill Streeter survived one of the attacks and Roland needs him in order to identify who the skin-man is while in human form.

While he's keeping watch over Bill one night, he tells him a story that comes from the Magic Book of Eld. That story is about a young boy who went on a dangerous journey in order to seek out the magician Maerlyn who he believes can cure his mother's blindness.

Each of the stories contained within this book is great. The book illustrates once again why King is head and shoulders above all his peers. If you've never read the DT series, I HIGHLY recommend it. But not until you've read other books by King that tie into the series first: The Stand, Salem's Lot, Insomnia, It, The Eyes of the Dragon, & The Shining. There are several other books and short stories that have a connection to the series, but the connections are pretty superficial and it really doesn't matter which you read first.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Sign of Four

The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A couple of years after introducing the world to the detective on Baker Street in A Study in Scarlet, Doyle followed up with The Sign of Four. In it Holmes and Watson are solicited by a woman named Mary Morstan, whose father died under unusual circumstances years ago and who for the past several years has been receiving an anonymous gift in the mail every year - a rare and beautiful pearl.

As the pair investigate both the death of Miss Morstan's father as well as the origins of the pearls, they discover that the pearls are part of a much larger treasure, a treasure that was discovered and hidden years ago by four men. Among those four men were Miss Morstan's father and the father of the man sending the pearls. Once again Sherlock Holmes uses his remarkable powers of observation and deduction to solve the mystery surrounding the four men and the treasure.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Long Earth

by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
(The Long Earth series #1)

You can do a lot with a potato. You can mash it, bake it (once or twice), broil it, turn it into french fries, potato chips, etc. If you're Dan Quayle, the "potatoe" was a source of never-ending torment and ridicule. Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter use it to power a device that allows people to "step" across to alternate versions of planet earth.

See, the earth isn't a single planet, it's merely one in a series of planets that have existed linearly since the universe began. When this long chain of earths began, they were essentially identical, but as eons passed, they became wildly divergent. The things that happened on and shaped the world we live on, didn't happen on all the other earths. On some, the meteor strike that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs never took place. On some, life never made its way out of the oceans. Life on each planet, if it was able to, evolved along an independent path.

In the first quarter of the 21st century, this earth saw the invention of the "stepper." The stepper was essentially a box, simple enough that almost anyone could build. Throw in some wires, a spring or two, and a potato to power it, and it enabled a person to step to the next earth in either direction. The inventor of the stepper put the instructions for building it online to ensure that the ability to step was available to anyone who wanted it. And many did.

Inner cities started to empty as people sought a better life on supposedly uninhabited planet earths. Those burdened with debts sought a fresh start. Adventurers now had an unlimited number of places to explore and gradually the diffusion of humans across the Long Earth grew.

But there are some people who don't require a stepper to step. It's realized that some people can do it naturally and it's discovered that the ability to step has been around for thousands of years, and not every stepper is human.

I'll read anything with Terry Pratchett's name on it. He's one of my favorite authors and it will be a sad day for me if and when he looses his battle with a form of Alzheimer's. I had however, never read anything before by Stephen Baxter. I had heard about him and seen his name on books coauthored with Arthur C. Clarke, so I assumed he was pretty good as well. Turns out, he is.

For me though, The Long Earth took awhile to get going. For most of the book I felt like the plot was conspicuously missing. The premise of the story was great, and the description of the different worlds was wonderful, but I wanted a compelling plotline to follow too. This book also showed a different side of Terry Pratchett. It's humorous, but not anything like his Discworld series.

I shouldn't make it sound like I didn't enjoy the book, because I definitely did. It's incredibly creative and I look forward to follow-up books to be written. But I do feel like it took a little too long to get to the plot, and the pace of the story was a little too uniform. Hopefully that's just because it's the first in a new series and the authors wanted to take the time necessary to set the stage for things to come. Because the Long Earth offers an unlimited supply of future stories.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, July 30, 2012

Partials

by Dan Wells
(The Partials series #1)

Dan Wells is the author of the John Wayne Cleaver trilogy consisting of I Am Not a Serial Killer, Mr. Monster, and I Don't Want to Kill You. If there's a series of books with more intriguing titles, I'm unaware of it. I enjoyed those books a lot and so I was looking forward to whatever he wrote next. When I found out it was a sci-fi book for young adults, it didn't dampen my enthusiasm. I've read a lot of really good books that were written for younger readers. But when I saw the cover of the book, I hesitated. It looked like a lot of the books my 13-year-old daughter reads and I didn't want to appear too creepy reading on the train to and from work each day. So I took the book cover off while reading it.

The book takes place 60 or so years into the future. In a time when there are less than 100,000 people left on earth. During a war with the Partials--genetically engineered beings almost indistinguishable from humans but stronger and with heightened senses, a weaponized virus known as RM was released that killed over 99% of the population and has continued to kill every baby born since then. The youngest people on earth are now teenagers and everyone lives under the constant threat of another attack by the Partials.

Kira is a teenage medic-in-training who works in the maternity ward of the hospital. Every day she sees babies being born knowing full well that they won't live long. She believes that if the humans are going to have any chance of surviving, the research being done on the virus has to change. RM has been analyzed and tested in every possible experiment in order to find a cure, but without success. Kira realizes that the only hope still out there are those who released it--the Partials. 

After the war, the Partials retreated and haven't been seen since, but it's understood that they were immune to the virus. If a Partial could be found, captured, and analyzed, maybe a cure could be found. 

I enjoyed the book. It was darker and more mature than most books written for young adults are. In fact, if it didn't mention the fact that it was for younger readers on the back of the cover, I never would have picked up on that from reading it. There's some minor profanity here and there, and the subject matter is pretty mature in nature. I won't be letting my daughter read it for another couple of years. But there's a follow-up book coming out soon, so maybe it'll be another trilogy. If so, maybe I'll let her read them all once it's done.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Several years ago I started reading Doyle's books featuring the iconic detective from Baker Street. But for reasons I can't explain, I read the first four stories and then never went back to find out what happened to Holmes after plummeting over the waterfall with Moriarty. (Sorry, but I'm not going to include spoiler alert warnings for a book written in the 1890s.)

I was recently introduced to the BBC's series Sherlock featuring Benedict Cumberbatch, and having enjoyed it as much as I did, and recognizing that there will probably be an extended waiting period until the third season arrives, I decided it was time to go back and read them all this time around.

 A Study in Scarlet is the story that introduced the world to Sherlock Holmes. In it he takes up residence with Dr. John Watson, who is quickly pulled into Holmes's world of deductive reasoning and crime solving. Holmes has established himself to Scotland Yard and every other police agency in London, as the man to go to when the solution to a mystery is beyond their abilities.

This mystery involves a murder. The body was found surrounded by blood. But the blood didn't come from the victim, as there were no wounds on the body. Written in blood on the wall was the word RACHE and a small gold ring, too small for the victim's hands, was found nearby. How did the man die? Who's blood was at the scene? What's the meaning of the word in blood? And what does it all have to do with those peculiar Mormons thousands of miles away?

Interesting to me is the fact that A Study in Scarlet has been the source of debate because of its not-so-flattering portrayal of Mormons. As recently as August 2011 it's been banned from public libraries (and not in Utah) because of it. As a Mormon myself, I'm baffled at how anyone today could take offense to it. If anything, it added to my enjoyment of the story.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Seven Wonders

The Seven Wonders by Steven Saylor

Many years ago I read A Twist at the End by Saylor where he featured the writer O'Henry as a the protagonist of a fictional story. I enjoyed it a lot, but since most of his other books were mysteries set in ancient Rome, which didn't interest me at the time, I didn't consider reading anything else by him until now.

Saylor's new book The Seven Wonders is a prequel to his Roma Sub Rosa series which features Gordianus, a Sherlock Holmes-type character with an uncanny ability to solve mysteries and riddles. As I mentioned, I haven't read any of that series, but since this is a story that takes place chronologically before that series began, and since I enjoyed his the other book so much, I figured it was time to read another book by him and this was an obvious book with which to start.

In the year 92 B.C. Gordianus has just turned 18 and is embarking on the trip of a lifetime. His teacher Antipater has made plans to take him through Greece, Asia Minor, Babylon, and Egypt to see the seven man-made structures that have been given the distinction of being called the Seven Wonders of the World. During each of the stops along his journey, Gordianus finds himself exposed to some sort of mystery which reveals in him an uncanny ability to deduce and solve riddles. These characteristics will eventually earn him the title of "the Finder" as he's known in the Roma Sub Rose series.

The book was very good. It was both entertaining and educational. Each of the chapters contains its own mystery for Gordianus to solve which kept the pace of the story moving very quickly. But equally enjoyable to me was all of the information Saylor provided about those ancient wonders--which with the exception of the Great Pyramids are no longer around for us see and experience. I plan to read more of Gordianus's adventures soon.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bloodline

by James Rollins
(Sigma series #8)

In Bloodline Rollins finally unveils the forces behind the Guild, the mysterious agency that Sigma has been up against ever since Rollins began his series.

Off the Horn of Africa Somali pirates hijack a yacht and take a pregnant woman hostage. But it's not merely a random act of piracy taking place. The pirates are being used by the Guild in order to acquire the the unborn child, the grandson of the President of the United States. The child represents the culmination of hundreds of years of research and experimentation that the Guild has undergone in order to achieve something ancient artifacts have promised was possible: immortality.

All of the the usual cast of characters are back for this one, along with a couple of very notable additions, former Army Ranger Tucker Wayne and his military war dog Kane. These two are welcome additions to the series and I'm looking forward to more books featuring them going forward. The insight that Rollins provided into the training and the capabilities of military war dogs was fascinating and was one of my favorite aspects of the book. The story is exactly what you can expect from Rollins. It's quick moving and highly entertaining. As always, there's always an element of the far-fetched. But that's part of the appeal of the books to me. Rollins writes each of his Sigma books so that they could be enjoyed even if you've never read any of the others. But I'd really recommend starting at the beginning of the series in order understand the backstory behind each of the characters and to get the most enjoyment from each of the books.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Song of the Quarkbeast

The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

With The Song of the Quarkbeast, Jasper Fforde continues his young adult series that he began with The Last Dragonslayer. Having fulfilled the prophecy that she was unwillingly a part of in that book, Jennifer Strange, the teenage acting manager of Kazam, an employment agency for sorcerers, now finds herself once again at the center of events that could change the Ununited Kingdom forever.

Ever since the events of Dragonslayer, the level of magic that exists in the world has been on the rise. The sorcerers who work for Kazam can tell that the source of their powers is increasing, but they're not the only ones to have taken notice. King Snodd IV has realized what's happening as well, and he knows that if he can control magic, he can control everything. Only Jennifer Strange stands between Snodd and his plans.

The Song of the Quarkbeast and the Dragonslayer series as a whole are great, and both young adults and their parents will enjoy reading them. I think too often when writers, who normally write for an adult readership, make the transition to writing for a younger audience, they tend to inadvertently insult younger readers by "dumbing it down." Fforde doesn't do that. These books are just as intelligent as his "Thursday Next" and his "Nursery Crimes" books.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, June 29, 2012

Amped

Amped by Daniel H. Wilson

I had high hopes for Amped, having really enjoyed Robopocalypse, and it didn't disappoint. It's a smart, futuristic thriller that does what many books in its genre fail to do nowadays--it gets you to think.

The book takes place in the not-too-distant future. Technology has advanced to the point where many of the disabilities and shortcomings that plague mankind can now be fixed with a neurological implant. People suffering from epilespy, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADHD and variety of other disorders no longer have to suffer, they're now able to live not simply normal lives, but the implants give them advanced abilities above and beyond those of normal humans. Likewise, children born with below average intelligence or even severe mental handicaps are now able to quickly surpass their average peers in mental and physical abilities.

The book begins with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling being handed down. The Court's ruling states that since the surgery to receive an implant is an elective surgery, and since those who receive one receive an unfair advantage over those who don't, recipients should receive no protections under the 14th Ammendment. They essentially have none of the rights of a U.S. citizen.

Owen Gray is a teacher who has grown up thinking that his parents had given him an implant as a child because of his epilepsy. But his father, who was one of the developers of the implants, gave him one that had the ability to do far more than that. The implant's true abilities have been dormant in Owen's mind all his life. But with the Court's ruling, and the civil unrest and violence that it leads to, the true nature of the implant is about to be revealed to Owen.

Wilson is a young writer and he's been described as Michael Crichton's successor in the technological thriller genre. I'd compare him to Aldous Huxley as well. I mentioned before that the book will make you think. There are a lot of philisophical and sociological questions that it's sure to make readers think about. As I read it I was continually reminded of the thoughts and impressions I had while reading Brave New World.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Redshirts

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Fans of the original Star Trek series already know the significance of wearing a red shirt on that show. For those of us who prefered girls to Vulcans, an explanation might be useful. With the exception of Scottie, wearing a red shirt on the original series was a sure-fire sign that your character was not going to live long. Redshirts, as they're affectionately referred to by Comicon attendees and the like, were always falling victim to some disaster or battle with the enemies of the United Federation of Planets. John Scalzi has taken that little bit of Trekipedia and used it to write a very entertaining book.

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union. But he quickly begins to notice that all is not right aboard the ship. Rarely does an away mission return without having lost at least one of his fellow low-ranking members of the crew to some battle with aliens. And while the key officers are often critically -- and usually in a dramatic fashion, injured on these missions, they never seem to share the same fate as their subordinates.

Dahl and his fellow ensigns begin to investigate what's really going on with the Intrepid and come to a realization that is as surprising as it is brilliant.

That secret makes the book well worth the short amount of time it will take to read it. And you don't need to be a big fan of the series to enjoy it. If you liked Galaxy Quest, you'll like this. I've never cared for the original series myself. I have seen most of The Next Generation series and I liked all of the even-numbered movies that they've made. But even with that limited interest in Star Trek, I thought the book was a lot of fun and it made me interested in reading more of what Scalzi has written.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, June 22, 2012

Nocturnal

Nocturnal by Scott Sigler

I’ve seen the movie Misery several times and love it. But I have to admit that every time I’ve watched it (since the first time), I’ve had to turn my head away and close my eyes when Annie hobbles Paul with the block of wood and the sledgehammer. I’ve never been able to watch the footage of Joe Theismann’s final play. I know what happens, and I’m not man enough to handle seeing it. There’s just something about limbs bending where they’re not supposed to bend that I don’t do well with. Bloody entrails pulled out of a person's abdomen, decapitations, stuff like that doesn’t bother me, but a visibly broken limb makes me cringe and quite honestly makes me a little light-headed. Which brings me to Scott Sigler's new book Nocturnal.
I know when I start reading a horror story by Sigler, that I'm going to experience some light-headedness. I know I'm going to cringe and squirm at parts, but I still can't wait to read one every time one comes out.
I first discovered Sigler when I picked up a copy of his book Infected about microscopic aliens that enter earth's atmosphere and then the bodies of humans and begin to grow. That book made me cringe numerous times as the human hosts took drastic measures to try to rid themselves of the parasitic hitchhikers. Nocturnal delivered as well.
Bryan Clauser is a homicide detective in San Francisco who has begun having vivid and disturbing dreams in which he stalks and violently kills human prey. But these aren't merely dreams he's having. At the same time Bryan is having these violent dreams, they're actually taking place on the streets of his city. As he tries to investigate the murders he discovers that all of the victims are tied to one person, an awkward and bullied boy named Rex.
Rex likes to draw. It provides him an outlet for the miserableness of his life. He's the victim of abuse, both at school and at home, but his drawings have begun to become reality. Shortly after he draws the horrific demise of one of his abusers, that abuser comes to an eerily similar demise.
Bryan's dreams and Rex's drawings are signs of something much larger that's been going on in and under the city of San Fancisco for more than a century. 
I enjoyed Nocturnal a lot. I've never read anything by Sigler that I didn't like, so I'm not surprised. His stories are always entertaining, and even though they occasionally make me question my manhood by making me cringe like a little school girl, they always jump to the top of my to-be-read pile whenever a new one comes out.  

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Daniel O'Malley Interview

Daniel O’Malley is an Australian who graduated from Michigan State University and earned a Master’s Degree in medieval history from Ohio State University. He currently works for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, writing press releases for government investigations of plane crashes and runaway boats. More impressive to me though is the fact that he's written a book, a very good book called The Rook. I won't get into details on the book here because I already did that in this post. Mr. O'Malley was kind enough to take some time away from writing his government releases to answer a few questions about his writing.

First of all, let me congratulate you on The Rook. I certainly enjoyed it and from reviews I've read of it, I wasn't alone. There are aspects of the book that reminded me of Torchwood, Men in Black, and X-Men. Were any of these inspirational in the writing of The Rook?

Thanks so much, I’m really glad you enjoyed it. As to influences on The Rook, there’s been quite a few. In terms of approach, one of the writers I most admire is China Mieville. His books are always so crammed fulled of ideas, they make for a very rich and detailed world. I tried to have something similar – glancing mentions of things that suggested a vast history.

As to the works you mentioned above, well, I enjoyed Men in Black very much (and I loved the animated series when it was on). The thing that really caught my eye was the blasé attitude of the staff when dealing with the most astounding and insane situations. And I was a tremendous X-Men fan as a kid. I thought it was so cool how everyone had their unique power and they formed a (usually) coherent team, so it’s definitely something that impacted on me.

Torchwood hadn’t come out when I started writing the book, I don’t think. I was certainly well-along by the time I heard about it. In any case, I’ve only seen one episode of it, and while I liked it, I don’t think it had much of an influence on me. The idea of a Government organization that secretly deals with the bizarre is an old one, and it was one I enjoyed playing with very much.

The main character in your book, Myfanwy Thomas, is a woman suffering from amnesia who is in possession of a series of letters left for her by her previous self. That allowed you to write her as two separate and quite different characters. Was that something that evolved as you wrote the story or was it something you planned from the beginning in order to allow you to show the transformation she underwent?

Originally, the letters from the old, pre-amnesia self (‘Thomas’) were mainly going to be a useful way to provide background information. A nice way to give infodump. But then it became important (and amusing) to me that there be some significant differences between the old Myfanwy Thomas and the new Myfanwy Thomas. The letters were already going to be a part of it, and as I wrote them, Thomas became very much her own character. I grew more and more fond of her, and it was sad, because the whole book was based on the fact that she was going to be destroyed, before the book even began.

Gestalt was one of my favorite characters in the book. He's one person with four individual bodies which he's able to operate simultaneously. I tend to refer to him as male but since one of his bodies is female, I'm not sure that's technically correct. Where did the idea for that character come from?

Gestalt came out of me helping my friend move house. I was carrying furniture down all these flights of stairs, and I thought ‘this would be so much easier if I had a bunch of bodies.’ And voila! I had Gestalt! I had to put down the thing I was carrying, so that I could write down the idea.

Most first-time novelists have the luxury of spending years writing and fine tuning their first book trying to get it published. When they do get picked up by a publisher, I would think that the writing process has to change because now there are deadlines to deal with and other people involved in the creative process. How has getting published changed the way you approach writing?

Not a lot has changed, to be perfectly honest. If you’re going to write, there’s always something in the back of your head that pushes you to write – whether it’s a deadline or the hunger to get the story told. I always tried to be disciplined about it, even before I was published – even before I found an agent. I set myself the daily minimum of pages (2 on weekdays, 4 on weekend days), and would then really, really try to hit it. Of course, I failed frequently (and continue to do so.) Sometimes the lightning hits, and you’re pouring out text, and sometimes you’ll find anything else to do instead of write.

I understand The Rook is the beginning of a series and that you're currently at work on the sequel. When is it scheduled to be published? What do your readers have to look forward to in this next one?

I am labouring away on the sequel, and while I’m going to have it to my editor early in 2013 (he says firmly), I don’t know when it will actually escape out into the world in book form. There’s a whole long procedure that has to be gone through. Editing. Re-editing. A whole lot of things. So, it’ll be a while yet. But, in the meantime, I’m very excited about it. The next book is going to follow two new characters (although Rook Myfanwy Thomas will feature prominently.) It’s a story about diplomacy (and a pointed lack thereof), supernatural terrorism, and the etiquette surrounding afternoon tea. Also, it’s going to explore Europe, and see how some other countries deal with their supernatural problems.

Thanks so much and good luck with the next book.