Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 - Literary Summary

2013's done, and there were a lot of good books that moved from my to-be-read pile to my read-it pile. I've narrowed the list down to my top ten for the year, but there were several that would be on an honorable mention list if I chose to assemble one. Here are the top 10 (in no particular order) along with a few other book-related bits of information.

American Decameron by Mark Dunn
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
Winter of the World by Ken Follett
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Phases of Gravity by Dan Simmons
To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson by Heidi Swinton
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
A Simple Plan by Scott Smith
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

For the second time in three years the author of the worst book I read this year was Chuck Palahniuk. This year it was Pygmy that I couldn't wait to finish.

Number of books read this year - 60

Booksignings attended this year - Craig Johnson A Serpent's Tooth, John Stockton Assisted

Books I'm looking forward to that are scheduled for 2014:
Pandemic by Scott Sigler
Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Revival by Stephen King
The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore
The Revolutions by Felix Gilman
The Son by Jo Nesbø
The Devil's Workshop by Alex Grecian
Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson
The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman
Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Assisted

by John Stockton
349 pgs

I was 11 years old when John Stockton was drafted by the Jazz and I was 30 when he decided to hang up his sneakers. That's 19 years worth of Jazz memories that are indelibly associated with the Hall of Fame point guard from Spokane, Washington. I remember dozens of game winning shots he made for the team, including, of course "The Shot." I remember the countless no-look passes he made threading the needle between defenders into the hands of Malone driving to the basket for a hammer dunk. I remember the hard screens he'd set on opponents double his size that would free up his teammate for an open shot at the basket. He was a gritty player who teammates loved, and opponents couldn't stand to play against.

Assisted offers a surprisingly candid insight into the life and career of a man who was notorious for his disdain for fame and the spotlight as well as his insistence on privacy for himself and his family. The irony of him writing his autobiography is significant and not lost on him as the author.

First off, and importantly, it's very apparent that the book was written by Stockton, and not some professional writer hired to do it. It's written in a frank and direct manner, without embellishment and without any sense of pride and bravado. Not very surprising coming from Stockton.

He spends a significant amount of time describing his background, his family life growing up, and his years of schooling at the hands of Catholic nuns. Unsurprisingly he describes his love for sports and competition from an early age. He tells of his early association with great coaches, who instilled in him a sense of discipline and excellence that carried over into every athletic activity he participated in.

My favorite parts of the book deal of course with his years with the Jazz and his two Olympic experiences. I especially enjoyed the insights into his teammates, coaches, and the team's ownership that he included in the book.

I don't read much non-fiction and very few biographies. I'm usually just not that interested in other peoples' lives. But Stockton is someone whose life I found very interesting. I admired him as a basketball player for 19 years, and now after finally getting an insight into his life, I admire him even more.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Doctor Sleep

by Stephen King
527 pgs

I'll admit to being a little nervous about reading Doctor Sleep. Not because it might be scary, but because it's the sequel to The Shining, and as such, inevitably leads to the comparison between the two. I was worried that it wouldn't live up to my expectations and that it would somehow remove its predecessor from the pedestal it's been placed on by myself and most King readers. Now, having finished it, comparing the two books is surprisingly difficult. They're so separate and distinct from each other, both in style and in the overall story's timeline, that comparing the two almost seems like a moot point.

King quickly gets you up to speed on what's happened in Dan (Danny) Torrence's life since the end of The Shining. He grew up and inherited his father's alcoholism, his mother Wendy passed away, and he's been drifting about nearing rock bottom for years. While he's been trying to overcome the demons his shining and his experiences at The Overlook have given him, a girl, whose ability to shine makes Dan's seem weak by comparison, is born in New England. Abra's "gifts" are alarming to her parents, but more significantly, they make her a target to the True Knot, a group of seemingly innocent RVers who continually roam from one part of the country to another country. They appear to outsiders to be middle-aged vacationers, but if they stayed in one place for long, others would notice that they age rapidly but then have the ability to rejuvenate. Their rejuvenating ability comes from torturing and killing those who shine and it's what has kept them alive for over a century.

As Abra grows up, her ability to shine links her to Dan and the two form a relationship that brings them together, once again giving Dan a purpose and possibly a way to rid himself of his demons once and for all.

It's very obvious, even early on in the book, that King has changed a lot as a writer in between writing these two books. His views of what's scary have evolved as well. The Shining is the type of book that strikes a chord with the fears that we all experienced growing up: ghosts, haunted houses, and the possibility that some adults might want to hurt us. While Doctor Sleep targets the types of fears we don't experience until adulthood. Both books are excellent, but in their own rights and not by their association with each other.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, December 16, 2013

Death Without Company

by Craig Johnson
271 pgs  (Longmire series #2)

Death Without Company is Johnson's second Walt Longmire book. It picks up a few months after the conclusion of the first book--The Cold Dish, and it begins with the death of an elderly Basque woman, Mari Baroja, who had been residing at an assisted-living facility for the last few years of her life. Initially it was believed that she died of natural causes, but as Walt and his deputies look further into her past, they quickly discover that she had been poisoned.

Walt's investigation reveals that Baroja's past involved ties to the lucrative methane industry in Wyoming and to Walt's predecessor in the Sheriff's Office, the cantankerous and highly-enjoyable Lucian Connally. The more Walt and his deputies uncover about Baroja's life fifty years earlier, the more complex the mystery behind her death becomes.

Death Without Company is just as good as its predecessor and it increased my anticipation for reading the rest of the books in the series, both those that have already been written and those still to come. While I was reading it I also learned that A&E's Longmire has been renewed for a third season. So I've got plenty of Walt and his supporting cast of characters yet to enjoy.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, December 5, 2013

White Fire

by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
368 pgs  (Pendergast series #13)

This is the type of Pendergast book I've been wishing for for quite some time. The past several books by Preston and Child have revolved around the enigmatic FBI special agent, and in my opinion, while he's an interesting character, the books that have been about him have been less entertaining than those that are about an intriguing case he's investigating. White Fire is a return to form for Preston and Child and it's a welcome return in my opinion.

Corrie Swanson was introduced into the series a few books back as a side character whom Pendergast had taken under his wing and was mentoring. This time she takes center stage as she travels to the mountainous town of Roaring Fork, Colorado to work on her thesis. She's studying criminal justice and has learned that the remains of several miners reportedly killed and eaten by a bear back in the 1870's, have been exhumed from a cemetery which is being replaced by a multi-million dollar development. A study of periomortem trauma on human bones by a large carnivore has never been conducted before and Corrie sees this as a chance to make a name for herself.

Corrie is initially given access to the miners' remains and a quick examination of them reveals some disturbing evidence that contradicts the claim that the miners were eaten by a bear, but her access is quickly rescinded as the developers surprisingly step in and start throwing their weight around and Corrie ultimately ends up in jail. Pendergast travels to Roaring Fork to save her and realizes that there's a connection between the deaths of the miners and a rumored lost Sherlock Holmes story written by A. Conan Doyle.

Pendergast and Corrie soon find that Corrie's investigation threatens to uncover a long-buried secret that powerful individuals would rather keep hidden. It's a secret that Doyle was told of in 1889 and one that disturbed him so much that he eventually incorporated it into a case for his famous detective to solve. Pendergast has to find that story in order to unearth the truth behind what's been happening in Roaring Fork while trying to protect Corrie from those who would like to bury her along with their secret.

White Fire is a return to form for Preston and Child. For me it reinvigorated the series and hopefully is an indication of the direction it will be going in the future.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dexter's Final Cut

by Jeff Lindsay
368 pgs  (Dexter series #7)

I didn't know what to expect with this latest installment of the Dexter series by Lindsay, and I'll admit to being a little nervous about what was going to happen at the end of the book. Showtime ended its popular series based on Lindsay's character with the recently concluded seventh season, and when I learned of the title of this forthcoming seventh book I feared the worst--would both the literary and televised versions of Dexter be ending this year? Would there be no more devilishly diabolical Dexter?

In Dexter's Final Cut Dexter is given the chance to put his acting skills to more use than simply acting like a man who possesses human feelings and emotions. While working as a technical advisor on the set of a new crime drama being filmed in Miami, he's been given a small role in the pilot episode being shot. He's also protecting the leading actress, Jackie Forest from a mentally unstable stalker. Jackie confided to Dexter, after multiple women bearing a striking resemblance to her are discovered brutally killed in Miami, that someone had been sending her increasingly frightening and threatening letters recently and she hasn't told anyone about him for fear of becoming too much of a liability in Hollywood to ever be hired again. She needs Dexter to find him and get him into police custody before the industry learns about him. But Dexter doesn't bring killers into custody, he makes sure they'll never be a threat to anyone ever again.

This was definitely not my favorite book in the series. There were parts that were disappointing, first and foremost was Lindsay's decision to give Dexter feelings in this one. Why? Dexter's better being emotionally dead. It's one of the main reasons he's so endearing, but overall, the book was enjoyable and well worth the time to read it. Is this Dexter's swan song? I hate spoilers, so I'll stop here. I will say that I wasn't disappointed with the ending.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Simple Plan

by Scott Smith
335 pgs

If you stumbled upon millions of dollars in cash and were fairly certain you could get away with it, would you take it? I would. I wish I could say with any degree of confidence that I'd do the right thing and turn it in to the authorities--but I know I wouldn't. I'd take it.

In Scott Smith's first book, this is the decision faced by three men--two brothers and their friend, when they discover a small plane that had crashed in the woods on the outskirts of their town containing a dead pilot and a duffel bag with $4.4 million dollars in cash. Without much debate they devise "a simple plan." Hank, one of the brothers, will be in charge of taking the money and hiding it. They won't spend any of it for six months while they wait to see if anyone comes looking for it. If someone does, they'll burn it and no one will ever know they had taken it. If no one does, they'll be free to split it three ways and go off to start new lives as millionaires.

Fortunately for the book's readers, and unfortunately for the three of them, their simple plan is quickly undermined by loose lips, distrust, and a spur-of-the-moment murder committed by one of them in order to keep their secret safe.

The book is fantastically written. It succeeds in not just telling a great story that will make it difficult for you to put it down, but it also makes a compelling statement about just how close to the surface the evil that exists in some men's hearts can be. The book is very much in the spirit of Breaking Bad and Lord of the Flies and fans of either are bound to enjoy it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Eye of God

by James Rollins
432 pgs  (Sigma series #9)

The Eye of God is the latest in James Rollins' highly-imaginative Sigma Force series. The usual cast of characters is back, and once again the fate of the world lies in the balance . . . this time the end is in four days.

The book begins around 450 A.D. at the deathbed of Attila the Hun. Then it jumps forward to modern times with a Roman priest who has come to possess an ancient artifact along with a book--bound in human skin, which together reveal that the end of the world will begin in less than 100 hours. Meanwhile a satellite crashes in Mongolia, but not before transmitting an image showing the cities of Boston and New York, along with Washington D.C. laying in ruins. Rollins' books always contain an element of suspended disbelief, and here it is in this book--the image was taken in the very near future. With the prophecy and the satellite image lining up, Painter Crowe and the team at Sigma have very little time to put the pieces of the puzzle together and save the world.

One thing that can definitely be said about Rollins and his books--they're consistent. His books invariably involve some ancient mystery or artifact. One that once brought out of obscurity promises to reshape or destroy life on earth as we know it. The Sigma team will always utilize cutting-edge technology at their disposal to intervene without a moment to spare, just before the planets align or the countdown reaches "00 00 00."

But included with that consistency is a story that's always exciting and is sure to suck you in. My brain knows that what I'm reading is not just implausible, but impossible when I'm reading Rollins' books. But I really don't care at the time. They're fun, and they're exactly what I want to find when I read them and what I'm hoping for when there's a new one coming out.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, November 22, 2013

Hitler's Peace

by Philip Kerr
448 pgs


In the winter of 1943 Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met in Teheran to discuss the war efforts. With the Allied forces having won key victories over Hitler recently, it was becoming obvious that they
would eventually win the war and the Big Three were meeting to discuss the opening up of a second front to the west of Germany as well as their eventual post-war plans for Europe.

Philip Kerr takes the events leading up to that conference, along with the meeting itself, and uses them as a backdrop for his alternative history story of espionage, backdoor politics, and an attempt by an SS general to assassinate the Big Three. 
 
Just as I have with some of his other books, I found Hitler's Peace just good enough to keep me interested and reading on, but never so good as to suck me in and lose myself in the story. Kerr seams content to move his stories along at a meandering pace most of the time. His characters, both the fictional and non-fictional ones in this story lack any real depth and likeability. I'd recommend the book primarily to those with a strong interested in WWII history, as it does offer up a fairly interesting alternative version of one of its key events, but not to those looking for a compelling read that will keep you up late at night eagerly turning pages.  
 
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Sunday, November 10, 2013

YOU

by Austin Grossman
383 pgs

Russell has recently left the fast-paced lifestyle of an up-and-coming attorney for the all-night-subsisting-on-skittles-and-mountain-dew lifestyle of a computer game programmer. Back when he was a teenager, Russell and three of his closest friends had been some of the first people in the world to see the potential of computer gaming when their teacher gave each of them 15 minutes alone to play around on a new Apple II computer the school had bought and didn't know what to do with. Each of them finally found something in the world that they could relate to and that they could interact with naturally. And from those few minutes alone, the future of online computer gaming was born.

Russell eventually parted from his friends and went off to pursue the type of career his parents would be proud of, while the other three created their own company and launched the highly-successful Realms of Gold game series. Now, in an attempt to fill the void in his life created when he left the world of computer-generated magicians, thieves, princesses, and dragons, he has quit the law firm, swallowed his pride, and come back to the company he wishes he'd never left.

The company is at the early stages of creating the next game in the series and Russell has to quickly get back up to speed and prove to everyone there that he can contribute and help the company return to the levels of success it once enjoyed.

YOU is the second book by Grossman. His first book Soon I will be Invincible was a highly imaginative tale of superheroes which I enjoyed a lot. This one is just as imaginative, but unfortunately it fell flat for me. I don't write computer programs, I don't know HTML or C++ and I moved on from playing video games when I was 18 years old or so, right around the time Super Nintendo came out, so much of the story was uninteresting to me. I wish that Grossman had made YOU more accessible to a broader audience. He's such an intelligent writer and I wanted to like the book more than I did. But it read more like a memoir than it did a thriller. I kept waiting for some dramatic climax which unfortunately never materialized. I'm sure a geekier person than me would enjoy this book much more, unfortunately for both Grossman and myself, I was just a little too cool for this one.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Baal

by Robert McCammon
296 pgs

In the Old Testament the Prophet Elijah demonstrated the impotence of the god Baal by having the priests of Baal build an altar of wood to their god and call on him to ignite it himself. When nothing happened, Elijah built an altar to the true God, dowsed it repeatedly with water and then called on the Lord to do what Baal had been unable to accomplish. In Baal, Robert McCammon creates a character that is anything but powerless, and he places him in the modern world.

Baal begins with a woman leaving her job as a waitress at a diner to walk to the bus stop. Before she gets there she's attacked by a man who rapes her. That "man" leave her with first- and second-degree hand prints burned into her skin anywhere he touched her. He also leaves her expecting a child. The child, who she tricks her husband into believing is his, is born nine months later and is unlike any other child ever born. He's disturbingly quiet and eerily aware of the world around him. They name him Jeffrey, but he will eventually go by his true name of Baal.

Baal ends up at a Catholic orphanage where he grows into his full powers, destroying all who oppose him and selecting his first followers from the other children there. From there he begins his ultimate quest of revenge and power.

Written in 1978, Baal was both McCammon's first book written and published. McCammon himself has acknowledged that it and his other earlier books are not his finest work and that they represent an author learning how to write. I'd agree with his self-assessment. Baal is nowhere near the same level  the books he's writing today are at. His Matthew Corbett series and books like The Five and Boy's Life are fantastic. But I'll still be going back to read all of his earlier books. I'll just be doing so with different expectations. It'll be interesting to see how he's progressed as a writer.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Shining

by Stephen King
500 pgs

It's been about 25 years since I first read The Shining. It was one of the first books by King that I read and it's one of the main reasons why I believe he's one of the greatest authors ever. I don't usually reread books, even his, but before reading the sequel that came out last month, I wanted to have the true story fresh in my mind, and not have my memory of it muddied by the story that Stanley Kubrick told with his movie.

Reading the book again was like returning to the home I grew up in after having been away for a couple of years. As soon as I got there, my mind was immediately flooded with many fond memories. This time though, the memories were of five-year-old Danny Torrance, and his parents Jack and Wendy. They were of Dick Hallorann, the Outlook's chef who share's Danny's gift for shining and senses the dangers that the Torrances could face during their months of seclusion high in the Colorado Rockies. But the fondest memories to come flooding back were of the animal-shaped topiaries down by the Outlook's playground, and of the roque mallet, Lloyd the Outlook's bartender, Tony, and of course . . . REDRUM.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Black Hills

by Dan Simmons
453 pgs

Paha Sapa is a Sioux warrior who was born with a gift, one that he eventually comes to think of as a great curse. When he physically touches someone he is often able to see into that person's future, and past. His supernatural gift also may allow the spirits of the dying to enter into his body where they reside and communicate to him as a voice in his head.

At the age of ten, Paha Sapa was "counting coup" (proving his bravery by touching enemy soldiers) following the Battle of Little Big Horn when he unknowingly touched the dying General Custer. Custer's ghost entered Paha Sapa that fateful day and for the next sixty years of his life, Paha Sapa was forced to live with the voice of the dead General in his mind.

Later in his life Paha Sapa signs on as a powder man on the blasting team carving the Mount Rushmore memorial into a mountain sacred to Paha Sapa's tribe. His intentions are to one day destroy the memorial in a spectacular fashion and to do it on the day FDR visits the site to see its progress.

The book jumps back and forth in time--sometimes telling the story of Paha Sapa's life before working on Mount Rushmore, sometimes telling the story of his plans and attempt to destroy Mount Rushmore, and sometimes telling the story of Custer's life as told to Paha Sapa by his ghost

Black Hills is the fifth book by Dan Simmons that I've read. I thought the previous four were all outstanding and I consider him a fantastic writer because of them. This one missed the mark a little for me. Of the three different stories being told in the book, the only one I found interesting was Paha Sapa's life as a powder man on Mount Rushmore, and his quest to destroy what those who had destroyed his way of life were now carving into the mountain so sacred to him and his people. I thought that the story of Custer's life, as told by his ghost, was unintentionally hilarious. I don't know whether this is a direct result of research Simmons did on the man or not, but he writes him as a sexually-obsessed man who has little if anything left to occupy his thoughts but the memories of his sexual adventures with his wife.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Twelve

by Justin Cronin
568 pgs  (The Passage trilogy #2)

The Twelve is Justin Cronin's second book in his post-apocalyptic vampire trilogy that he began with The Passage. In the first book, twelve virals were created when the military, experimenting with creating a super-soldier, injected death-row inmates with a virus that enhanced both their mental and physical capabilities. Unsurprisingly, the virus had unintended consequences and the twelve men were also transformed into vampire-like creatures who subsequently escaped and brought about the end of America.

In The Twelve the story bounces back in forth in time, alternating between the present, shortly after the virals escaped and spread the virus to millions called dracs, and a hundred or so years into the future. In the present, people are trying to learn how to cope with the decimation all around them and the nightly threat of the dracs. In the future, a group of survivors is trying to hunt down the virals in order to destroy them and hopefully all their minions along with them.

I enjoyed The Twelve just as much as I did The Passage. Both books are written with a level of sophistication that is often missing in the genre. I've seen some reviewers make comparisons between these books and Stephen King's The Stand. I wouldn't go that far; in my opinion comparisons like that verge on sacrilegious, but I can see why some would try to compare the two. The scope of the story Cronin is telling here is quite large, so large in fact that at times I regretted having waited so long between reading the two books. I found it hard to keep track of who the characters were from the first book, and what they had done in it, even with the glossary of characters provided at the back of the book. I still highly recommend the series.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

To the Rescue--The Biography of Thomas S. Monson

by Heidi Swinton
588 pgs

As a member of the LDS church, and as an avid reader, I'm more than a little ashamed that I don't read more church-themed books. Even this book, which I was anxious to read when it came out three years ago, has sat on my bookshelf, or in a box, as a couple hundred other books leapfrogged ahead of it on my to-be-read list. I have no justifiable reason for it, but I'm resolved to do a better job of incorporating more of these "best books" going forward.

Part of the reason I decided to finally open this book when I did, was I wanted to come to know more about President Monson as an individual, and not just as one of the leaders of the Church. He has served as an apostle in the LDS church for more than 50 years now, which means every General Conference I've been able to listen to his messages and feel the Spirit that accompanies one with his calling. But I wanted to know more about the background and history of the man who today leads the LDS church.

President Monson truly is a remarkable man. He's a man whose love and respect for everyone is the same, regardless of whether they're members of the Church or not, heads of state, or an otherwise forgotten widow. His entire life's experiences have shaped him into the type of man he is today--the specific man chosen to lead the Lord's church on the earth today.

His biography was inspirational and motivational to read. It increased my love and respect for President Monson and all who consider him the Lord's mouthpiece on the earth today should read it.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Steelheart

by Brandon Sanderson
384 pgs  (The Reckoners series #1)

If you had superpowers, would you use them for good, or for evil?

In the first of a new series of books by Brandon Sanderson, he explores that idea, as a small minority of ordinary people one day inexplicably gain super powers.  Epics, as they become known, possess any one of a variety of these powers, but without exception, they all use them for their own selfish interests. The rest of humanity is left to live in a constant state of fear, trying to live their lives without become the next victim of an Epic's destruction.

Ten years ago David witnessed his father's death, as a particularly ruthless and seemingly invincible Epic known as Steelheart killed him along with almost everyone else who was there. David was the lone survivor of that event, and he escaped with not just his life, but with a secret as well, one that only he knows and which may change everything one day--Steelheart isn't invincible, he saw him bleed.

David dedicates the next ten years of his life to studying everything he can about Steelheart and every other Epic he can. He believes that the more he knows about the Epics, the better chance he has of discovering their weaknesses and maybe one day being able to avenge his father's death.

Normally I'm a very selfish reader, and when an author is writing a series that I really like, and then releases a book that's not part of that series, I tend to get irritated and question why they're not spending all their time writing the book I want them to write. But I think Sanderson is curing me of that attitude. While I'm anxiously awaiting the next in his Stormlight series, he's begun two additional series that quite honestly I'm almost as excited about reading.

Steelheart is a great book. It's written for a slightly younger audience, but that in no way detracts from how good a book it is. From what I can tell, the only significant difference between Sanderson's books for adults and young adults is the length of the book. The characters, action, and world building that Sanderson creates so well are all there no matter who his intended readers are. Buy the book for your teenager, but then borrow it afterwords.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Hollow City

by Dan Wells
333 pgs

The FBI are hunting a serial killer, a man known as the Redline Killer who, over the past two weeks has killed several people and removed their faces.

Michael Shipman is a twenty-year old paranoid schizophrenic who hears voices, sees faceless men, and who has a mortal fear of anything electronic. He believes that the faceless men are monitoring his thoughts and every movement through an implant in his brain that transmits his thoughts and his location through cell phones, and anything electronic.

When the story begins, Michael finds himself in a mental institution. He doesn't know how he got there nor can he remember the past two weeks of his life. He hadn't been taking his medications, and the FBI are interested in talking to him. It's a fantastic premise for a story.

Dan Wells has once again shown why he is one of the best at getting into your brain and messing around with it. He tells the story from the perspective of Michael and he masterfully uses Michael's schizophrenia to keep you guessing who and what in the book are real, and what are just the delusions of an unbalanced mind.

I loved his John Wayne Cleaver books and The Hollow City is another good one that I'll be recommending to many.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bad Monkey

by Carl Hiaasen
317 pgs

Until recently, Andrew Yancy was an officer with the Miami Sheriff's Department. But for the past few months he's been relegated down to the position of Health Inspector, visiting the local eating establishments and either shutting them down, or writing them up for violations that cause his stomach to churn and which have led to some undesired weight loss. But a severed arm in his freezer may be his ticket back on to the force.

The arm, which had been reeled in by a vacationing fisherman, and which in classic Hiaasen fashion, was landed with the middle finger extended, appears to have belonged to a wealthy man currently under investigation for Medicare fraud. Yancy doesn't buy into the theory that the arm's owner was eaten by sharks when his boat capsized at sea and he's determined to prove that his wife killed him for the insurance money. Yancy believes that if he can prove his theory correct, that he'll no longer have to work on the "roach patrol" and can get his old job back on the force.

If that were a simple or straightforward task to accomplish, then it wouldn't be a story by Carl Hiaasen. Instead, Yancy has to deal with numerous surprises and a host of outlandish characters, including the monkey from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Bad Monkey is Carl Hiaasen at his best. It's hilarious, bawdy, and highly entertaining. If you don't like Hiaasen's books, you won't like this one. But if you do, this one could be one of your favorites.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Long War

by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
422 pgs  (The Long Earth series #2)

I have an expectation when I read a series of books, it's that the series should get better with each successive book. My rationale is that over time the author has had more time to fully fleshed out the characters, the world they've created, and the story they're telling. So with that mindset, I was very excited to read The Long War. It's the sequel to The Long Earth, which while it took awhile for Pratchett and Baxter to get to the plot, was still a very entertaining and extremely imaginative story. Unfortunately this one fell flat, and well short of my expectations.

In The Long Earth it was discovered that the earth was just one of an infinite number of earths positioned linearly through space, and in the 21st century, the technology was developed that enabled mankind to "step" from one world to the next. Immediately the human population began to disburse to the other earths and many of the problems that existed on the original earth potentially were coming to an end.

The Long War begins 10 or so years after the events of The Long Earth and unfortunately as mankind has continued to spread across the Long Earth, so have its problems. The Governments of Earth are trying to claim ownership for their respective footprints on every earth, claiming their resources and collecting taxes from their citizens. Other sentient races that have been evolving across the Long Earth for billions of years are quickly starting to resent this new race of steppers and confrontations are inevitable.

These two are the only books I've ever read by Stephen Baxter, so I don't know much about his works. But I've read almost 40 books with Terry Pratchett's name on them and so I'm fairly confident in saying that I think this series is primarily Baxter's. Unfortunately there's little, if any, of Pratchett's humor and wit. The Long Earth, and Pratchett's Discworld are polar opposites. Once again the plot didn't show up until the last 70 pages or so and the rest of the story wanders aimlessly and uninterestingly for far too long. I'm hoping this series ends up being a trilogy and I can read one more book and get some closure. If it ends up going longer, I don't think I'll be sticking with it.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Never Cry Wolf

by Farley Mowatt
247 pgs

I've mentioned this before, but I don't read a lot of nonfiction, not that I don't enjoy it when I do read it. It's just that there are so many novels out there that I want to read, that I rarely take the time to read it. So why did I choose a memoir by a Canadian naturalist who studied and observed a den of wolves for several months? It's because of my dad. My dad has a whole shelf filled with books by Mowatt, and when I was about 10 years old, he had me watch the movie Never Cry Wolf which was based on his memoir. I thought it was great, and I probably rewatched the movie a dozen or so times growing up. So I finally got around to reading it.

Half a century or so ago the number of caribou in Northern Canada was declining rapidly. The Canadian government, believing the reports they were receiving from trappers and traders in the area, that the wolves were behind the decimation of the herds, sent Mowatt to live on the frozen tundra to substantiate the reports and to determine what needed to be done. Mowatt quickly found a den of wolves to observe and spent a spring, summer, and fall watching them day and night. The results of his observations might seem obvious to readers today, but they flew in the face of the common misconceptions of his time.

The wolves, as he observed, were highly intelligent and social animals. They lived in family groups with parents mating for life and spending years raising their pups. They subsisted for most of the warmer months on a diet of mice, fish, and other small animals, eating caribou primarily in the winter months only, when easier prey was unavailable. When the caribou were available, the wolves operated in accordance with the ideas of Darwin; they sought out the weak, injured, or frail from the herd and fed only on those. Instead of killing caribou indiscriminantly and out of a sense of blood thirst, as the reports were claiming, the wolves were ultimately responsible for maintaining the health of the herd through natural selection.

Never Cry Wolf is a fun, entertaining, and thoughtful book. Mowatt is a very endearing narrator who has an enjoyable sense of humor and whose affection for the wolves he spends so much time observing is evident throughout the book. His recounting of marking off his own territory based on the wolves' practices, or of using himself as the test subject for an experiment of whether a large mammal can truly live on a diet of mice alone, or of trying to explain himself to an Inuit tribe who catch him dissecting buckets full of wolf scat while wearing a gas mask are highlights of the book and explain why it's worth the short amount of time it takes to read this book.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Red and the Black

by Stendahl
450 pgs

Published in 1830, The Red and the Black has become known as a book that was written ahead of its time. It's the story of Julien Sorel, an intelligent, ambitious, and deceitful man who comes from humble circumstances, but who dreams of one day becoming a member of the aristocracy. Men gained power in his day through the church, so Julien decides to train to become a priest. While in training, he's hired by the mayor to tutor his children and Julien ends up seducing the mayor's wife and being sent by his mentor to a far-away seminary to quell the controversy.

With time Julien's aspirations start to become a reality as he begins to be included in the circles of high society. But he's unaware that he's being used as a pawn in the political machinations of those around him. Ultimately he ends up trying to obtain his title by marrying the daughter of the Marquis, but his reputation catches up to him and in the end he ends up losing his head, literally.

I never really got into The Red and the Black. As I've done a little research into the book and the context in which it was written and some of the controversy it caused, I gained an appreciation for the book itself and how unique it was for its time. But that didn't make me enjoy it any more. The problem for me was with Julien. I never cared enough about him and what he wanted to accomplish to get emotionally involved in the story. I ended up being just as ambivilent towards the successes he experienced along the way as I was toward his beheading at the end.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Shame the Devil

by George Pelecanos
299 pgs  (D.C. Quartet seres #4)

Shame the Devil is the last of the four books that make up George Pelacanos's D.C. Quartet books. It picks up a few years after The Sweet Forever and begins with a robbery of a pizza joint. The robbery doesn't go off as planned and one of the robbers is killed, but not before they end up killing the employees, shooting a cop, and speeding off. To make the crime even more violent and tragic, they end up running over  and killing a small boy crossing the street as they make their getaway and seemingly disappear from the face of the earth. That boy, young Jimmy Karras, is the son of Demitri Karras, a central character in the series and a man who had just recently gotten his life back in order and found the happiness that comes from having a family.

The book skips forward three years and Demitri has separated from his wife and is still grieving for the loss of his son. The crime that took his son was never solved and Demitri is once again going through life without purpose or direction. It's not until Nick Stephanos contacts him about working at a neighborhood diner that Demitri's life finally starts to have some structure and contentment again.

The  men who pulled off the robbery of the pizza joint have been living on the other side of the country and are planning to return to the District to exact revenge for the death of the man who was killed. They have no idea that the father of the boy they hit has been hoping for the day he'd be able to exact his revenge as well.

Pelecanos is such a fantastic author. He does for D.C. what Dennis Lehane does for Boston, and the District itself is central to his storytelling. It's not requisite that you read the books in this quartet in order, but the payoff at the end, if you do, is great. Pelecanos ties each of the stories together and shows just how big the story he set out to tell actually was.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The MVP

by Scott Sigler
538 pgs  (Galactic Football League series #4)

Quentin Barnes and the Ionath Krakens are back for another season in the Galactic Football League. Last season they got a quick taste of the playoffs; this year Quentin is determined to get his team to the big game and by any means necessary, come home with the trophy.

Once again Sigler's love for, and knowledge of the game of football made The MVP a great read and helped get me in the proper mindset for the coming of fall and the season to begin. I enjoyed this one a little bit more than its three predecessors though, as Sigler incorporates more than just football into the story.

This time the Prawatt race, which are feared by all the other sentient races, and which have been responsible for wars that have killed millions, plays a major role in the plot. At the beginning of the book they capture the team's ship and Quentin must do some quick thinking on his feet in order to save the team and get them back home with enough time to prepare for the coming season. The Prawatt race plays a prominent role throughout the rest of the book and adds another layer of depth to the series, demonstrating just how talented Sigler is.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pygmy

by Chuck Palahniuk
241 pgs

Agent Number 67 is one of several children sent to The United States as sleeper agents to one day unleash Operation Havoc. Each was taken from their respective families at a very young age to be indoctrinated and trained to one day carry out a deadly attack that would cripple America and bring glory to themselves and their homeland.

The book is written as an epistolary novel, each chapter being written by Agent Number 67 (nicknamed "Pygmy" by his host family due to his diminutive size) in the form of a report to his handlers back home on the various aspects of American culture he's exposed to and the progress of Operation Havoc.

Unfortunately for me, the story was overshadowed by Palahniuk's choice of writing style. The entire book is written in broken and incorrect English. Imagine reading a book written in Pig Latin. It's decipherable, and for a page or so it might be interesting, but eventually it becomes tiresome and distracting. Here's an example taken from the chapter where Pygmy attends his first choral class at the school he's attending:

For official example, purpose lesson titled "Junior Swing Choir" many potential brilliant youth compelled sing song depicting precipitate remain pummel head of operative me. Complain how both feet too large size for sleeping mattress. Idiot nonsense song. Next sing how past visited arid landscape aboard equine of no title. All student compelled, no option.

This is the second book in a row by Palahniuk that's been a disappointment. Tell-All was the worst book I read all of 2012, and this one is in the running for 2013. It probably won't be the last book by him that I'll read considering how good Fight Club and Rant were, but he's running out of chances with me.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Monday, August 12, 2013

Phases of Gravity

by Dan Simmons
310 pgs

I had no idea what Phases of Gravity was about until I started reading it. Simmons has written so many books, and across such a wide spectrum of genres, that based on its front cover, I assumed it was one of his science fiction books. I was way off.

Richard Baedecker is a former astronaut who flew to the moon twenty or so years ago during NASA's Apollo space program. But all of the dedication and devotion that he gave to his career at the time came at the expense of his family. Now, separated from his wife, and estranged from his adult son, Richard finds himself going through life with no clear direction and little motivation.

While visiting India to try to reconnect with his son, he meets one of his son's friends, a woman named Maggie, who unintentionally, and without Richard realizing it at the time, ignites a slow burning fire inside Richard which eventually rekindles his love of life and helps put his life back in order.

Phases of Gravity came as a complete surprise to me. I wasn't expecting it to be what it was, and once I started reading it, I wasn't planning on enjoying it as much as I did. The story is slow to develop, and if I had read it when I was younger, I probably wouldn't have appreciated it as much as I did. But by the end, I couldn't have been more impressed. I've never not enjoyed one of Simmons's books, and this one is further confirmation to me of just how good he is.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Cold Dish

by Craig Johnson
354 pgs  (Longmire series #1)

I'm one of those late arrivals to the Craig Johnson party. For some time I had seen his books at bookstores but since I don't typically go for westerns, I never considered reading one of them . . . until Longmire--the A&E series based on Johnson's books. The TV series has gotten better and better as it's progressed and it eventually convinced me to check out the books. The Cold Dish is the second book I've read, but it was the first one written.

A few years before the story in The Cold Dish begins, a young Cheyenne girl was violated by a group of teenage boys. Sheriff Walt Longmire led the investigation which had eventually led to the boys' arrests, but the judicial system failed and the boys each got off with a slap on the wrist. The book begins with the discovery of a body up in the Big Horn mountains of Wyoming. The body is that of a young man who had been shot with a high-powered rifle. It's Cody Pritchard, the leader of the group of boys who had raped the Cheyenne girl years ago.

Once again it's Walt, who along with his deputy Victoria and his friend Henry Standing Bear who have to find out who killed Cody. The list of possible suspects is quite long, but when a second boy from the group is killed by the same weapon and only a few days later, the case takes on a whole new sense of urgency as it becomes clear to Walt that revenge is being exacted and he must stop it before the remaining two boys lose their lives as well.

Right before reading this book I attended a book signing event for his latest book and was able to listen to him talk about both the books and his involvement in the TV series. I was thoroughly impressed with the man. He is funny, gregarious, boisterous, and obviously a very intelligent and well-read guy. It was obvious from listening to him that he has a great love for the part of the country he lives in and which he uses as almost another character in his writing.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Angel's Game

by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
510 pgs  (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series #2)

The Angel's Game is the second of four books Carlos Ruiz Zafón intends to write (three have been published so far) that all share one thing in common: The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The Shadow of the Wind was the first book written, but the events in that book take place after those in The Angel's Game.

Even though this book would technically be considered a prequel, from what I understand, Zafón doesn't intend it to be. My understanding is that the four books will be only loosely associated with each other, sometimes featuring the same characters, but at different times in their lives and from other people's perspectives. Each book will have a separate tone and voice (as these first two definitely do) and could be read in any order.

The Angel's Game is, at its roots, a Faustian story, but there are so many different aspects to the book that I hesitate to categorize it that simply. It tells the story of David Martin, a writer who lives in Barcelona in the early 1900s.  Martin makes his living writing pulp fiction novels which enable him to rent the old mansion he had always dreamed of living in. While there he is offered an inordinate amount of money to write a book for a wealthy and mysterious man. There are odd stipulations associated with this commissioning, but Martin accepts.

The mansion itself play a central role in Martin's life and in the story as a whole. It's filled with secrets, one of which Martin stumbles across one day when he discovers photographs and letters that imply that the home's previous owner died under suspicious circumstances. As Martin investigates the life of the man, he begins to realize that his own life has begun to bear a striking resemblance to it.

The tone and feel of this book is decidedly different from that of its predecessor. It's darker and has a Gothic feel to it, which I wasn't expecting, but which made me enjoy reading it even more. The book is not what I'd call a casual read. There's a lot going on in its pages. By the time I finished it I was tempted to do something I've never considered doing before: turn back to page one and start reading it again right away. I may still do that, but not until I'm about to read the next one: The Prisoner of Heaven.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Lexicon

by Max Barry
390 pgs

I like books that make me think, and Lexicon not only had me thinking throughout the time I was reading it, but when I wasn't reading it, I couldn't get the story out of my head. It's quick intelligent, and the speculative version of reality it presents is as intriguing as that of movies such as The Matrix and Dark City, and books by such minds as Neal Stephenson and Jasper Fforde's.

Most of the book is told as two alternating storylines. The first involves Emily Ruff, a street-smart runaway living on the streets of San Francisco who makes her living running a Three-card Monte hustle. Emily's ability to read people and know how to set them up for the fall attracts the attention of an organization that seeks out children who demonstrate an aptitude for persuasion and trains them to tap into the relatively unknown power that words can have over the human mind. Once trained, these individuals have the ability to use words to quickly tear down other peoples' mental defenses and control them.

The second storyline involves Wil Parke, who on page one is ambushed in an airport bathroom by two men. These men accuse him of being a key player in a war he knows nothing about. They call him an "outlier" who is immune to the powers of an organization run by Poets, who control people with their knowledge of certain words. Wil has no idea what any of what they're saying means, but in an act of self-preservation, he agrees to accompany them to a town in Australia called Broken Hill. Broken hill has been uninhabitable for over a year now, ever since a rogue Poet unleashed something that has taken over the will of every person who has stepped foot in the town.

As the two storylines ultimately converge, Barry methodically reveals the intricacies of his highly-developed and cerebral plot, all while keeping the action going at a breakneck speed. There are plenty of unexpected reveals and enough surprises to keep you unsure of what is truly happening until the end.

I do have a complaint though, and it's why I'm not giving it all five stars. I never felt like any of the characters warranted my allegiance. Neither of the protagonists in the different storylines endeared themselves to me as I read the book. At various times their fates were uncertain, and while I was enjoying the story, I never really cared what happened to them.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

by Neil Gaiman
178 pgs

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the first novel Neil Gaiman has written for adults in quite a while, and even though the book is relatively short, it was well worth the wait. It's essentially a fairy tale for adults, and as any good fairy tale should, it contains elements of magic and fantasy, along with things that are most comfortable in the dark.

The narrator is a man, whose name I don't believe is ever revealed in the story, who has come back to Sussex, England where he grew up, to attend a funeral for someone close to him. After the service, as people are mulling around comforting each other, he's pulled enigmatically back to the property near where the house he grew up once stood. On that property is a small duck pond he's drawn to and as he's there, memories of his childhood and events that took place involving that pond begin to come back to him.

The pond is on the property owned by the Hempstocks, three generations of women who live there still and who he now remembers saved his life when he was a young boy. When he was seven he met Lettie Hempstock who told him she was eleven, but would not answer his question of how many years she had been eleven. He was somehow able to tell at the time that she had been eleven for longer than he had been alive.

On the night a lodger staying at the narrator's home commits suicide in their family car, Lettie takes the young narrator somewhere no normal human should ever be allowed to go. When they return, they're both unaware that a dark and dangerous power has hitched a ride with the boy. That power takes the shape of Ursula Monkton, who bewitches the rest of the boy's family but who terrorizes him. His only hope is the Hempstock women and the unworldly powers they possess.

It's a great story told by a fantastic writer. Gaiman possesses two qualities that make him one of the best at what he does: a tremendous imagination and the ability to tell a story in such a way as to communicate far more than what he puts down in words. Every time I've read something written by him, whether it's a graphic novel, children's picture book, short story or full length novel, I feel like I've just been told the most fascinating story I've ever heard.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fragments

by Dan Wells
564 pgs  (The Partials series #2)

Dan Wells ended Partials with Kira successfully stealing a dose of the cure for RM, the genetically engineered disease that had killed 99% of the people on earth, along with every baby born since it was released 12 years ago. But along with finding a cure, she also discovered something about herself: she is a Partial.

Now her quest for answers has taken on even more meaning. Raised believing she was a human, she cares deeply about the fate of the human race and believes it's up to her to discover the secrets behind RM's cure so that it can be replicated. Knowing now that she's a Partial herself, she also needs to figure out whether the expiration date genetically encoded into the Partials' DNA which kills them at the age of twenty can be turned off. She believes she can discover the answers to her own origin as well as the keys to saving both races at ParaGen's headquarters.

Her journey, which takes her to Lower Manhattan and then across the toxic, post-apocalyptic wasteland of the Midwest, all the way to Denver, is where this book really shines. Wells's strength is in describing the conditions of the cities and country following the devastation of the ongoing war against the Partials. Where he doesn't shine is in his pacing. The book is fairly long, especially for one written primarily for younger readers. Wells alternates back and forth between following Kira's journey west and providing updates on what's happening with those she left behind, who are still fighting the Partials and trying to replicate the cure. The latter story arc got a little tedious and seemed unnecessary to the story. Nothing significant took place back in New York, and every time Wells switched to that story arc, I tended to lose interest in the story.

Overall it's a good book and serves the purpose of the middle book in a trilogy: it gets you ready for its conclusion.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Two Graves

by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
484 pgs  (Pendergast series #12)

Two Graves completes the trilogy of books focusing on Helen, Special Agent Pendergast's wife. For twelve years he thought she had been killed in an African hunting accident, then his investigations into her death led him to believe that her death had not been accidental, then they led him to the realization that her death had been staged. And finally, as Cold Vengeance came to an end and he was reunited with her, she was quickly ripped away from him once again. 

With no question about her fate this time, Pendergast spirals into a state of extreme depression, to the point that his long-time associate with the New York Police department, Vincent D'Agosta is concerned that Pendergast may take his own life. In a last-ditch effort to bring Pendergast out of his depression, D'Agosta asks for his help in solving a string of brazen murders that have begun taking place in New York City hotels. Not only does the the case file intrigue him, but Pendergast discovers that the killer is taunting him specifically. Someone wants Pendergast to chase him and Pendergast is quick to oblige.

Pendergast's investigation into the murders takes him to Brazil, where he uncovers a fortress housing a group of doctors, who for decades have been conducting medical experiments on human subjects. At that point in the story my level of enjoyment for the book changed. It became a disappointment. I'll avoid any significant spoilers, but will reveal that these doctors are Nazis who fled to South America after the war, where they resumed their plans to perfect the human race. Not very original, and as I said, disappointing coming from two authors whom I've enjoyed reading for so long. I'm hopeful that eventually the Pendergast books will return to the glory days of Relic and Cabinet of Curiosities instead of what they've become recently--a slow-moving investigation into uninteresting aspects of Pendergast's life.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Inferno

by Dan Brown
463 pgs

Dan Brown has a lot of detractors. Ever since The Da Vinci Code dominated the book world, they've been quick to point out the flaws with his writing abilities. They harp on his characters, and how he's so focused on his plots, that he never slows down enough to flesh any of them out. Even Robert Langdon, after appearing in four books, hasn't been written into someone that we know much about. And the plots themselves are too contrived, with distractingly convenient plot points that appear just in the nick of time. But there's a reason why his books are so enormously popular--they're thrilling, engaging, and they're enormously fun to read.

This time around, the fate of the world lies in Langdon's ability to decipher clues within Dante's Inferno. The book begins with Langdon waking up in a hospital in Florence, Italy, after someone tried to end his life. He can't remember the past few days, why he's in Italy, or how he came into possession of a sealed metal tube with the ominous bio hazard symbol on it. Minutes after waking, he barely escapes the assassin's second attempt on his life and he finds himself on the run with the young doctor who helped him escape.

I'm not ashamed of the fact that I enjoyed the book as much as I did. I'll admit to rolling my eyes more than once as Brown pulled the same rabbit out of his literary hat that he did in the previous Langdon books. And there was never any real fear that things wouldn't turn out okay for Langdon and of course, the rest of humanity. But the book was another page-turner and I'm ready to read whatever he writes next.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Rithmatist

by Brandon Sanderson
378 pgs

 
I'm risking sounding like a broken record here but Brandon Sanderson's books are fantastic! All of them. I have yet to read the Wheel of Time series that he finished for the late Robert Jordan (I plan to now that it's done), but I've read almost everything else that he's written, and I'd say with one exception (all hail King), there's not another author alive whose books I look forward to reading more than Sanderson's.

The Rithmatist was written for a younger audience (12+), but adults will enjoy it just as much. It's about Joel, the son of a humble chalkmaker, who desperately wishes he had been selected to be a Rithmatist when he was younger. Joel is a student at Armedius Academy, where he struggles to concentrate in classes such a math and history, while on the other side of campus, those who had been chosen to become Rithmatists attend classes where they learn how to use its magical system where they are able to give temporary life to two-dimensional shapes and figures called Chalklings. They learn to draw intricate and mathematically precise defensive systems on the ground around them to protect themselves from their opponents' attacking Chalklings, all in training for the time when they're called upon to defend The United Isles from the Wild Chalklings.

Even though Joel wasn't chosen to be one himself, he has spent all his life learning as much about Rithmatism as he can. He can draw its defense systems as well as anyone, he just can't give life to any of the things he draws. But when the young Rithmatists at Armedius begin to disappear, leaving behind evidence of strange Chalkling attacks and trails of blood, Joel finally gets the chance to put his knowledge to use--assisting in the investigation.

It's truly a great book. Sanderson's exceptional world-building skills are once again on display as he creates a world that resembles our own, but with a highly-intelligent and fascinating system of magic within it. The story is extremely fun and it's a great beginning to yet another series by Sanderson that I'm excited to read.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Odyssey

by Homer
348 pgs

This was another bucket-list book for me--one that I think everybody should read during their lifetime. Having read part of it while in high school, and because I knew a lot of Odysseus's story, I was looking forward to reading The Odyssey.

It's the story of Odysseus and the twenty years it took him to return to his home and wife Penelope on the island of Ithaca following the Trojan War. It begins ten years after the war had ended. Odysseus has been the captive of Calypso who had fallen in love with Odysseus and refused to let him off her island. It takes the assistance of the goddess Athena, Odysseus's protectress, who takes the form of various people throughout The Odyssey, to help Odysseus finally get off Calypso's island and begin his journey home.

On his journey Odysseus deals with sirens, a cyclops, having half is men turned into pigs, losing most of his ships, an aggravated Poseidon, and other roadblocks on his path back to Ithaca. Once he arrive there he has a hundred or so suitors, who had been trying to convince Penelope to marry them for the past twenty years, to deal with as well.

It's a classic story, and again, one that everyone should read a some point in their life.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Pandemonium

by Warren Fahy
306 pgs

A couple of years ago Warren Fahy came on the scene with what I thought was a great book. Fragment had all of the elements I want in a good supernatural thriller. It was action packed, I liked the characters, and the plot leaned heavily towards the unbelievable. So I was excited when the sequel was finally published.

Pandemonium picks up a few months after the events of Fragment left off. Nell, Geoffrey, and a handful of others had barely escaped Hender's Island with their lives and the last five remaining hendros--the highly-intelligent and peaceful species they had discovered there and who had helped them survive. They had believed at the time that they had seen the last of the rest of the island's inhabitants--the menagerie of creatures that had evolved in isolation over millions of years, each of which could have led to the destruction of every other living thing on the planet if it had ever escaped the island. But of course there wouldn't be a sequel if that had been the case.
 
In Pandemonium Fahy brings back the spiglers, disk-ants, hender's rats and wasps, mega-mantises, and more. And this time he adds a whole host of new and imaginative creatures who have been evolving in isolation as well and who are equally capable of bringing about the end of the rest of life on earth if they ever escape their home--the subterranean caverns beneath the Ural Mountains. 
 
Unfortunately I didn't enjoy Pandemonium nearly as much as I did its predecessor. Fahy packed as much action into this one as it could contain, even more than he did in Fragment, but for some reason I found myself repeatedly distracted and irritated with his characters' dialogue. I don't know whether it was just as bad in Fragment but I had been having too much fun to notice it then, or whether it was noticeably worse in Pandemonium. Corny dialogue is one of my pet peeves when I read, especially when it takes place during the direst of circumstances. People running for their lives generally are not in the frame of mind to engage in witty banter with one another.
 
I liked the story enough that I'm sure I'll read whatever he writes next, but I'm hoping he branches out with his next book and offers something new and original, and not just a continuation of this same story.
 
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

NOS4A2

by Joe Hill
686 pgs

It's impossible not to compare Joe Hill to his father. When you're the son of the most famous author on the planet, and you become a published author yourself, it's going to happen. I'm pretty sure that's not what Joe Hill wants and it's why he doesn't put his last name on his books, but fortunately for him, he's a fantastic writer and the comparison is a very favorable one.

NOS4A2 is the vanity plate attached to a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith, a car that is more an extension of a man than it is a machine. The man, Charles Talent Manx, uses the Wraith to take children to the happiest place not quite on earth--Christmasland. In Christmasland every morning is Christmas morning. Children are allowed to do whatever they want without a care in the world and without ever getting older. They're able to open presents anytime they wish, drink hot cocoa for every meal, and play games to their hearts' content. They're happy, never missing the families they've been removed from, and never realizing that they're changing.

Victoria McQueen, a young girl whose home life is far from perfect, has recently discovered something fantastic and inexplicable. When she rides her bike across the old condemned Shortway Bridge, instead of arriving at the other side of the gorge which it spans, she instead arrives anywhere she wants to go. She doesn't ride across the bridge often, because it takes a tremendous toll on her both physically and mentally, but sometimes, when something is lost or she's desperately in need of something, she does. One day, when things get especially difficult at home, Vic goes looking for trouble, and revenge on her parents, and the bridge takes her to Charlie Manx. She's able to escape from Manx, but that encounter leaves a permanent impression on both their lives. Both are unable to ever forget the other and their paths are destined to cross again.

NOS4A2 is the fourth in an increasingly-impressive bibliography by Joe Hill. It's a long book, but still a very fast read and I found myself taking extra-long lunch breaks while reading it because it was so hard to put down at times. His writing style is similar to that of his father's; his characters are fully fleshed out and Hill does an excellent job of getting you inside their heads. The Wraith is a little reminiscent of Christine and one of Manx's henchmen reminded me of the Trashcan Man from The Stand but those along with a few other apparent nods to his father were kind of like finding an Easter egg on a DVD.

One final thing, if you read the book, read every last page, seriously, even the ones many close the book without reading. There's a little post-credits scene snuck in there.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, June 2, 2013

I Travel by Night

by Robert McCammon
147 pgs

It's only been a month or so since I read The Providence Rider and I usually don't read another book by the same author this quickly, but I had been waiting for it to come in the mail for months, and it was so short that I made an exception to my self-imposed rule. Rebellious of me, I know.

I Travel by Night is only a novella, but it's a return for McCammon to the genre that he first made a name for himself in.

Trevor Lawson, a confederate soldier, was turned into a vampire one night after having been injured and left to die on the battlefield in Shiloh. But unlike the others of his kind, who embrace the dark gift when they receive it, Lawson never has, and doesn't intend to. He's been holding on to as much of his humanity as he's been able to for more than twenty years now as he's been searching for the vampire who turned him. He believes that if he's able to find her, and drain her of her vampiric blood, that he might be able to return to his life as a human.

I Travel by Night is a great story but it's too short. Lawson is an intriguing character and one with a lot of potential for additional tales down the road. Hopefully that's McCammon's intention and he's only teasing with this all-too-short introduction to him and the journey he's on.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Railsea

by China Miéville
372 pgs

Once again China Miéville has demonstrated why he is in a class, and possibly a genre, all by himself. Railsea is yet another fantastic book by the author whose books defy adequate description and whose imagination knows no boundaries.

Railsea takes place on a world criss-crossed by innumerable railroad tracks which are used by pirates, scavengers, and hunters of the enormous rats, antlions, and other subterranean animals which inhabit the desolate landscape.

Much of the story is an homage to Melville's Moby Dick. Sham, Miéville's central character, is the surgeon's mate aboard the locomotive Medes. Naphi, the captain of the Medes is obsessed with hunting down a giant, pale Moldywarpe--a giant mole-type creature reminiscent of the sandworms of Dune, which she's been chasing for years.

On its voyage, the Medes encounters a train that had long ago been attacked and derailed. And while searching through the wreckage Sham discovers a photographic record of the the journey the train's riders had been on. One of the pictures shows a scene that changes Sham's perception of the world and alters the course of his life. It's a picture of a lone railine, stretching out across an otherwise empty landscape. It's proof that somewhere out there the never-ending tangle of railines ends. And that new reality, along with the questions it raises of where that railine leads to and what's there, become Sham's obsession and the beginning of a journey that will change everything.

I've reviewed other books by Miéville here before and talked about what a linguistic genius he is. His writing style and creative vocabulary are something else and they add an extra level of enjoyment every time I experience one of his books. Here's the prologue to Railsea as and example of what I'm talking about:

This is the story of a bloodstained boy.

There he stands, swaying as utterly as any windblown sapling. He is quite, quite red. If only that were paint! Around each of his feet the red puddles; his clothes, whatever colour they were once, are now a thickening scarlet; his hair is stiff & drenched.

Only his eyes stand out. The white of each almost glows against the gore, lightbulbs in a dark room. He stares with great fervour at nothing.

The situation is not as macabre as it sounds. The boy isn't the only bloody person there: he's surrounded by others as red & sodden as he. & they are cheerfully singing.

The boy is lost. Nothing has been solved. He thought it might be. He had hoped that this moment might bring clarity. Yet his head is still full of nothing, or he knows not what.

We're here too soon. Of course we can start anywhere: that's the beauty of the tangle, that's its very point. But where we do & don't begin has its ramifications, & this right now is not best chosen. Into reverse: let this engine go back. Just to before the boy was bloodied, there to pause & go forward again to see how we got here, to red, to music, to chaos, to a big question mark in a young man's head.

I won't explain the ampersands. I'll let you discover the reason for their use throughout the book on your own. But they're further evidence of Miéville's brilliance.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆