Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books

by Walter Moers

I truly believe that German author Walter Moers is one of the most creative literary minds writing today. Rumo and The 13½ Lives of Captain Blue Bear were both good books, but then he really got going and solidified em as a fan of his writing with The Alchamaster's Apprentice and The City of Dreaming Books, which were both fantastic. So I was very surprised and not a little bit disappointed with The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books. It's a direct sequel to The City of Dreaming Books but it's definitely not its equal.

In The City of Dreaming Books Optimus Yarspinner, the narrator, tells of his journey to Bookholm, the legendary City of Dreaming Books and his quest to track down the anonymous author of the greatest piece of literature in all of Zamonia. On his journey he met a host of creative characters and was eventually lured into and abandoned in the fantastic and dangerous tunnels below the city. He's ultimately able to escape, but not until his climactic encounter with the King of Shadows.

The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books begins 200 years later. Optimus is on vacation in Lindworm Castle when he receives a mysterious note. A note that leads him to believe the King of Shadows has returned and compels him to return to Bookholm. Unfortunately the majority of the book that proceeds from that point is a review of the events of the last book, as Optimus once again crosses paths with many of the the same characters he met on his first journey and retells his story. When I read a sequel, I want a new and hopefully equally engaging storyline featuring the characters I already know and care about. Not a character reminiscing about the story I've already been told.

The book does end on a high note though, promising more to come. Hopefully the next story, which Moers spent a whole book setting the stage for will be worth the wait. I'm optimistic and hope he delivers.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dodger

by Terry Pratchett

When I first learned that Terry Pratchett was coming out with a book featuring Dickens's Artful Dodger, I figured it would either be the story of Oliver Twist told from Dodger's perspective, or it would be the story of  Dodger's life either before or after the events of Dickens's book. Both assumptions were wrong. Instead, he takes the character created by Dickens and places him in London at the same time that the young Charlie Dickens is a reporter and up-and-coming author and has their paths cross.

During an intense rainstorm on the streets of London, Dodger , who lives in the sewers below the city, and who survives by his cunning and quick hands, witnesses a woman leap from a fast-moving horse-drawn carriage in an attempt to flee her captors, who run her down and begin to beat her. Dodger chases the men off and quickly becomes enamored with the young and attractive woman named Simplicity.

Dodger's act of heroism is witnessed by two men, Henry Mayhew and Charles Dickens. The men take her to Mr. Mayhew's home where she can be looked after and recover while they, with Dodger's help, begin investigating who the men Simplicity was fleeing from were, and why she felt the need to escape.

While assisting with the investigation, Dodger wants to make himself more presentable to Simplicity by improving his appearances. he decides to get his hair cut and chooses a "Barber and Expert Butcher" who has hung out his shingle on Fleet Street. Dodger inadvertently causes the arrest of the murderous barber, Sweeney Todd, and becomes a celebrity throughout London, which ends up hindering his investigation efforts and ultimately sets his life on a new course above the sewers he once called home.

Dodger was a good book. It lacked the usual Pratchett sense of humor, which readers of his Discworld series will miss, but that shouldn't deter anyone from reading it. He's a master storyteller, and both his usual readers as well as those who have never picked up one of his books before will enjoy this one.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Sweet Forever

by George Pelecanos

In The Sweet Forever George Pelecanos picks up the story of Marcus Clay and his best friend Dmitri Karras ten years after the events told of in King Suckerman. It's March of 1986 in Washington D.C. and March Madness is in full swing, with first team All-American Len Bias leading the University of Maryland team into the second round of the big dance. But the same thing that will end bias's life two days after the Boston Celtics draft him second overall in the upcoming NBA draft is causing a war on the streets of the District--cocaine.

Karras himself is quickly progressing from being a casual user of the drug to a habitual one, and works for Clay, helping him run his four record shops in various parts of D.C. One day both of them witness a deadly car accident which takes place right in front of one of the shops. They watch as a car being driven by a young drug runner for the area's supplier of cocaine crashes, decapitating the driver. What they don't see is what a bystander named Eddie Golden does immediately after the crash occurred. Eddie had driven his girlfriend into that part of the District to score a gram of cocaine and witnessed the crash as well. he was the first one to approach the burning vehicle to see if he could help anyone. When he gets there he sees the state of the driver but then notices a pillowcase full of cash in the backseat. He impulsively grabs it and flees the scene, unknowingly setting off a series of events that will lead to several deaths, force Karras to reassess his life, and drag Marcus Clay into a battle for the streets of the city he loves.

This is the third book in what's known as Pelecanos's D.C. quartet series, but the books are so loosely related to each other that reading them in order is unnecessary. As I have with each of his books that I've read, I enjoyed this one. The story is engrossing and even though many of the characters live a lifestyle that I would never want to be able to relate to, the characters are still multi-dimensional and relatable. And even though Pelecanos usually shows the less appealing side of the nation's capitol, it's obvious from the way he writes about it, that it's a city that he knows very well and is close to his heart.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

American Decameron

by Mark Dunn

I assume that Mark Dunn likes to challenge himself as a writer. For him, it doesn’t seem like just writing a great book is enough of one though. He’s got to find a way to tell his story in a way that’s unique, original, and that adds an extra level of enjoyment for those who read it.

With his first and probably most widely read book Ella Minnow Pea, he wrote a story in epistolary form while progressively limiting the letters of the alphabet that he could utilize. With Welcome to Higby he prefaced every chapter of the book with an obscure biblical verse that foreshadowed the contents of the chapter. In Ibid: A Novel he writes a fictitious biography of Blashette, a three-legged circus performer and deodorant salesman. On almost every page of the book Dunn includes footnotes. And the footnotes are what tell the true story Dunn is writing.

With a nod of his head to Giovanni Boccaccio, a 14th century Italian author who wrote Decameron, a book consisting of 100 tales, Dunn uses for the subject of his story, 20th century America. Dunn's 100 tales are independent stories that span the years 1901-2000 with at least one story taking place in every one of the 50 states. In some stories Dunn makes up his characters and has them experience actual historical events. Other times his character were real and the events that took place in their lives truly happened, but the events are very obsure and highly entertaining. Some of the stories are funny, some are tragic, some contain a twist, and many will make you pause and think. But they all bear the qualities of a Mark Dunn tale.

I loved this book and highly recommend it. But it’s not short. With 100 stories averaging 6-7 pages each, the book as a whole is a doorstop. But it’s the type of book you can pick up whenever you have a few minutes of free time and read a complete and entertaining story from start to finish and then go about your day.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Friday, February 8, 2013

Phantom

by Jo Nesbø
(Harry Hole series #9)

For the past few years I've been hearing a lot about Norwegian author Jo Nesbø. I've frequently seen his books on the staff recommendation shelves when I go into various bookstores, and for awhile now I've considered trying one of them. I see now why he's been labeled by some as the next Stieg Larsson.

Once again I broke my own rule of starting at the beginning of a series and jumped in with book #9. Harry Hole, the protagonist in the series is a cop, or an ex-cop by the time this one starts. It doesn't take long to figure out that he's not your typical series hero. He's a complex character who is constantly struggling against his personal demons, and more often than not, losing that battle.

As Phantom begins, a new drug has begun to appear on the streets of Oslo. It's called violin, and it's far more addictive and powerful than heroin, but it doesn't allow the user to overdose. Harry gets dragged back to Oslo from his new home in Hong Kong to investigate the murder of a dealer of violin. Harry has a personal connection to the young man who is accused of killing the dealer. 

Phantom, and I would imagine the rest of the series, are not for those with delicate sensibilities. It's gritty and dark. But at the same time, it's very well written and full of unexpected plot twists and very interesting characters. I had a tough time putting it down and am definitely looking forward to reading more by Nesbø and finding out more about his highly original main character.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, February 4, 2013

As the Crow Flies

by Craig Johnson
(Longmire series #8)

Just south of the Wyoming/Montana border, is a small town called Ucross. It's got a population of 25 or so and one of those is author Craig Johnson. As the Crow Flies is the first book by Johnson that I've ever read. I don't normally go for modern-day westerns, but this series of books featuring Walt Longmire, a rural sheriff in Wyoming, was made into a TV series on A&E called Longmire which I thought was entertaining and has me looking forward to the upcoming season 2.

I broke my own rule by not starting with the first book in the series, but I figured I knew enough about the characters and their backstories from the show, that I wouldn't have any issues jumping right in with the latest book. By and large I was correct, but I still want to go back now and read in order, the previous seven books in the series to get the whole story so far.

As the book begins, Walt and his friend Henry Standing Bear are on the Cheyenne Reservation scouting out possible locations for Walt's daughter's upcoming wedding. While there, they witness a woman plummet from the top of a nearby cliff. They're the first on the scene, and find the woman, dead from her injuries, and nearby, her baby, relatively and miraculously unharmed from the fall. The death didn't occur in Walt's jurisdiction, but Walt gets dragged into the investigation by the newly-appointed tribal police chief, Lolo Long, a woman who makes up for with her good looks, what she lacks in investigative and people skills. Walt knows that if she's ever going to be able to discover who or what caused the mother to fall, he's going to have to provide some mentoring.

Johnson writes a good story. I was intrigued and entertained by the mystery surrounding the investigation Walt takes part in. I enjoyed the characters, both those I was already familiar with from the TV series, as well as those that he introduced here. I'm looking forward to reading and watching more.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆