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 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.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆