Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Woman Who Died a Lot

by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde's "Thursday Next" novels are literaly and literarily impossible to describe. He began with The Eyre Affair in 2001 and The Woman Who Died a Lot is the seventh and latest book in the series. I highly recommend the books, but with the caveat that they need to be read from the beginning and in order. This is not the type of series that you can jump into midway through and hope to understand what's going on. Start at the beginning, and let Fforde introduce the world Thursday inhabits to you gently, and get you accustomed to the time travel, book travel, home-cloned dodos, and general mayhem that exists and makes the series as smart and as entertaining as it is.

The Woman Who Died a Lot begins with Thursday Next, four months into a forced semiretirement in her home in Swindon, trying to recover from a near fatal assassination attempt. She can't walk without a stick, has limited use of one of her arms, and her vision has been compromised. The idea was for her to enjoy some R & R at home with her husband Landen, her two children Friday and Tuesday, and Jenny, her third child, who doesn't actually exist.

But life has a way of happening, and in the world Fforde has created, it happens in bizarre and inexplicable ways. Her son Friday's life is in turmoil as his future success as head of the ChronoGuard, saving seventy-six billion lives traveling back and fourth in time, has been eradicated due to the shutdown of the Time Engines. And his recently delivered Letter of Destiny from the Federated Union of Timeworkers reveals to him that his new future consists of him murdering a man at the end of the week and spending the next 37 years in prison.

Her genius daughter Tuesday is having problems working out the bugs with the Anti-Smote Shield, which is desperately needed soon to protect Swindon from an impending smiting from an angry god. If she can't get it working properly, Swindon and all its inhabitants, will be wiped off the face of the earth. Jenny, her "other daughter" is in fact a mindworm, implanted by Mnemonomorph Aornis Hades in Thursday's brain, and doesn't actually exist. Thursday had a tattoo placed on the back of her hand to remind herself that Jenny never existed, but needs to track down Aornis in order to put an end to the neverending rollercoaster of emotions that the mindworm and tattoo are causing her.

Got all that? It's really just the tip of the iceberg.

A Jasper Fforde book is always a special kind of book. His creativity has no boundaries and his obvious intelligence and vast knowledge of literature is always evident in his stories.

Read them.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, January 28, 2013

Notes from a Small Island

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

If Bill Bryson decides to write a book about something, chances are I'll read it, and enjoy it. He's written books about walking the Appalachian Trail, growing up in Iowa, his travels to Australia, across Europe, and to Africa, the origins of words in the English language, the history of common household items, and an encyclopedic-type book that gives a history of pretty much everything in the universe. I've read all of them, and while some were more entertaining and funnier than others, I enjoyed them all.

Notes from a Small Island has been the last remaining Bryson book on my shelves for quite some time. I hadn't read it, not because I didn't want to, but because I kind of thought it would make more sense to read it just prior to taking a trip back to England. I still think that would make the most sense, but I decided that since the closest I'll be getting to England any time soon is BBC America, I might as well read it now.

In 1973, Bill Bryson, an American journalist, moved to England where he worked, got married, and fell in love with British life. Twenty years later he decided that America needed him and that it was time to return, but not before going on a kind of walkabout farewell tour of Britain. Notes from a Small Island is a memoir of his travels throughout England, Scotland, and Wales as he revisited places he had been to when he first moved across the Atlantic as well as his visits to places he had never been to before.

In Notes from a Small Island you get a full dose of Bryson's humor and wit as well as glimpses of his more cantankerous side, as he describes both the aspects of British life that he loves and those he will not miss. Overall the book was a pleasurable read, and I'll reread it if I ever have a chance to visit areas of Britain again, but if I were to recommend one of his books to the uninitiated, I'd recommend A Walk in the Woods, The Lost Continent, or I'm a Stranger Here Myself first.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Legend of Broken

The Legend of Broken by Caleb Carr

For years I've been waiting for Caleb Carr to write another book. Ever since reading The Alienist and its sequel The Angel of Darkness back in the '90s I've been a big fan of his. After those two books he wrote two stand-alone books: Killing Time and a Sherlock Holmes story called The Italian Secretary. Neither one was as good as his first two, but they were all right. When I saw that he had a new book coming out, seven years since his last one, I was excited. it wasn't going to be a return to the characters from The Alienist, but I was still looking forward to reading it.

The Legend of Broken is an extremely hard book to categorize. I've labeled the genre as "historical legend," which I don't even think is a real genre, but it's the only label I can think of that makes any sense. The narrator of the story begins the book with an explanation that it comes from an old manuscript, recently discovered, which tells the story of two different civilizations that existed between 500-800 A.D., in what is today the country of Germany. The Tall reside in the city of Broken and the Bane, who were cast out of Broken many years before, now live in remote and hidden villages outside the city's limits. The two groups are constantly at odds with each other, but when a mysterious plague breaks out, killing many in both tribes, each believes the other is responsible for the illness and both groups begin making plans for war.

It's up to three members of the Bane tribe to track down the enigmatic Caliphestros, who was banished from Broken many years ago after being accused of sorcery, to discover the true source of the plague and save both civilizations from a war that threatens to wipe them both out.

I really wanted to like this book. I didn't want to have waited so long for another book by Carr only to be disappointed. Unfortunately though, that's what I was. I found myself conscientiously pushing to get through the 700+ pages as quickly as possible so that I could move on to the next book on my TBR pile. The storyline never captured my attention and Carr's style of writing this time kept me continually confused and disinterested. I was frustrated with the book because I know how good a writer Carr is, and this book is not indicative of it. The Alienist is one of my all-time favorite books, and based on the amount of time that that book spent on the NYT Bestseller list back in 1994, I would think I'm not alone in hoping Carr will one day return to the characters and story he introduced in that book. Why he would spend as much time as he undoubtedly did writing this book is beyond me.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Bridge to Never Land

The Bridge to Never Land by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson

I've enjoyed all four of Dave Barry's and Ridley Pearson's previous books in their "Starcatchers" series. They began it with Peter and the Starcatcher (now a Broadway play), which was a prequel to J. M. Barrie's classic Peter Pan, and explains how Peter became the boy who could fly, how Tinkerbell came to be, and how they and the Lost Boys came to Never Land. Each of the books is a fun read and I'd recommend them to anyone older than 11 or 12, adults included.

The Bridge to Never Land is a contemporary sequel to the series. It takes place in modern times as opposed to the early 20th century, years after the events of the previous four books. Sarah Cooper and her brother Aidan are playing around one day when they inadvertently discover a secret compartment in an old English desk their father bought at an auction. Inside the compartment is a document which is written in some sort of a code. A name mentioned in the document seems to ring a bell in Sarah's memory and she spends the night trying to figure out why it seems so familiar to her. Finally she remembers, it's the name of a character from a series of books she once read--the "Starcatchers" series.

As she and Aidan continue to study the document, they become more and more convinced that the events of the books were real; that Peter was real, that Hook was real, and that starstuff, the magical substance that periodically falls to earth and was collected and guarded by the Starcatchers was, and is real.

That conclusion is the beginning of an adventure, and to the discovery of the last remaining starstuff on earth. But as soon as they find the starstuff, they begin to be chased by the evil force that Peter and his allies had fought throughout the series--Lord Ombra. Their only chance is to find a way to get to Never Land and enlist the help once again of the boy who could fly.

This book is another great addition to the series and a fun continuation to Barry's and Pearson's take on the classic story.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Conspiracy Club

The Conspiracy Club by Jonathan Kellerman

Just like with Dean Koontz, I used to read Jonathan Kellerman's books pretty regularly, but stopped buying them as they came out--more because of budgetary restrictions than anything else. They were always pretty good, but not good enough to make me keep up with them when money was tight. That being said, I've had two of his books on my bookshelves for quite awhile and thought it was time I got around to reading one of them.

The Conspiracy Club is a stand-alone novel from Bellman, who departs from his Alex Delaware series to introduce Jeremy Carrier. Jeremy is a psychologist who is half-heartedly getting back on his feet following the recent murder of his girlfriend. The police have never identified her killer and have not ruled him out as a suspect. When other women start to disappear as well, Jeremy finds himself under additional scrutiny by the detective in charge of his girlfriend's case. While this is going on, Jeremy receives an invitation to dine with an exclusive group of individuals who he discovers have each experienced a similar unresolved loss in their past and who have an intense interest in the nature of evil.

The Conspiracy Club was a decent book, but nothing special. The story takes a while to become engaging and Kellerman's attempt to shake things up with a little twist at the end left me inimpressed and ready to move on to the next book on the shelf.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆