Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Providence Rider

by Robert McCammon
416 pgs  (Matthew Corbett series #4)

The Providence Rider is the fourth book in McCammon's series featuring Matthew Corbett, a self-described "problem solver" living in New York at the start of the 18th century. In the last two, The Queen of Bedlam and Mister Slaughter, McCammon gave us brief glimpses of the mysterious crime lord Professor Fell and his far-reaching empire of criminals. In this book McCammon reveals the man behind the curtain completely.

At the end of Mister Slaughter someone slipped one of Fell's trademark death cards under Matthew's door, signifying that his time left on earth was near its end and that Fell would soon be coming for him. As The Providence Rider begins buildings are being blown up throughout the city and Matthew's name is being painted on the building right next to it. It's Fell's unique way of coercing Matthew to his island in the Bermudas where he has a proposition for the young detective. Fell believes that there is a traitor in his organization and he's willing to cancel Matthew's death card if he will put his deductive mind to use for the Professor.

McCammon excels at creating fascinating characters, and in The Providence Rider he doesn't disappoint, introducing us to a whole host of colorful characters who work for Professor Fell, each of whom would fit in well in a Dickens novel. He also excels at his storytelling, and once again, he doesn't disappoint here either. The Providence Rider and each of the books in the series are fantastic. I attended a book signing with the author a year or so ago and he revealed that he anticipates writing a total of ten books featuring Matthew Corbett. I was very happy to hear that and am looking forward to the next one, The River of Souls sometime next year.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Five Greatest Warrors

by Matthew Reilly
400 pgs.

Jack West Jr.'s adventure began in Seven Ancient Wonders, it continued in The Six Sacred Stones, and it concludes in The Five Greatest Warriors. In true Matthew Reilly fashion he ended the last book with a cliff-hanger and Jack had not yet found all six of the sacred diamond pillars needed to save the world from cosmic annihilation. This last book picks up right where it left off.

In order to find the remaining pillars, Jack and his team must decipher an inscription found on the Sphinx at Giza. It tells of five great warriors: Moses, Genghis Khan, Jesus Christ (just go with it), Napoleon, and an unnamed final one. To tell more about the plot will make me sound like more of an idiot for having read the book(s). So instead I'll try to justify myself and salvage my credibility as an intelligent and discerning reader. They're A LOT of fun. That's all I've got.

Reilly has never been a darling of the critics. His characters are usually over-the-top caricatures of human beings. The dialogue he writes would often lead you to believe he's 14 years old. And the action scenes and plot lines would probably be disregarded by George Lucas for another Indiana Jones movie because they're so outlandish.

But again, they're fun and require no mental effort. In fact, they're best read without expending any. For what Reilly set out to do with this series, mission accomplished.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Man in the High Castle

by Philip K. Dick

I've read several of Philip K. Dick's shorter stories and I think I've seen most of the movies that were based on his writings. So I was pretty sure I'd be reading another science fiction story when I picked up The Man in the High Castle. I was wrong . . . but I wasn't disappointed. The others of his I'd read were all SF stories in nature, but with an underlying philosophical question; and it was that philosophical aspect of his stories that I think made them appeal to me. There's very little that I would characterize as science fiction in this one, but it definitely raises some philosophical questions.

The Man in the High Castle is an alternative history story. The book was written and takes place in the mid 1960s in a world in which the Axis powers won World War II twenty years earlier. The United States was divided into three parts when the Allied forces surrendered: the eastern portion is controlled by the Reich, the western portion by the Japanese, and they're separated by the independent Rocky Mountain States which serves as a buffer zone between the two super powers which are in the middle of a cold war.

The book will get you to think. The story itself is not what I'd consider captivating, in fact, it's rather tedious at times. But there are several glimpses of PKD's genius as he uses the lives of four very different main characters and their various struggles to depict life in a new and significantly altered reality.

The most intriguing aspect of the book is the book within the book. Many of the characters are reading a book that's the latest craze and which has been banned by the Reich. It's likewise an alternative reality book and it describes the world that might have been if the Allied forces had won the war. The story it tells mirrors the real world, but it's noticeably different. As its story is revealed piece by piece within the book, PKD gets you to ponder the question of what is real and how do you know it?

I don't know that I'd necessarily recommend this book. Like I said, the plot is tedious at times and there's a reason it was never turned into an action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The ending is ambiguous and a little frustrating. But if you want a book that will stick in your mind when you're done and get you to think about things for a while, this one will do it.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Storm of Swords

by George R.R. Martin
(924 pgs  A Song of Ice and Fire series #3)

When I reviewed A Clash of Kings I said I'd try to wait about eight months before I read the next book in Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series. My goal is to pace myself so that I finish the last book written shortly before the next book is published. I hate to wait on books in a series, and Martin is no "a book every year" author. I actually made it 10 months this time, so I'm pleased with my strength and internal fortitude.

That being said, the book was fantastic! The series gets better with each successive installment, which is saying a lot. I won't bother with a summary, since the book is just part of a much bigger story. Rather, I'll give a couple quick reasons why I'm so impressed with Martin and the books.

First, people die. I'm not talking side characters either. There are hundreds of characters in this series (enough to fill several pages of "who's who" at the end of each book) and dozens of them are central to the story. But none of them are safe. I should have learned that lesson while reading the first book, but I still find it startling and surprisingly rewarding every time it happens.

Second, stuff happens. These are not 800-page Tom Clancy books that you have to wade through the first 400 pages of before something significant to the plot happens. Martin successfully manages to keep several plates spinning at once with all of his characters and subplots and he maintains a relentless pace for each one.

I can't recommend these books enough, but I do so with the warning that they're not for the frail or easily offended.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Many Waters

by Madeleine L'Engle

I've had some unread books on my bookshelves for over ten years. Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle is one of those books. I had read A Wrinkle in Time by here as a youth and really enjoyed it at the time, but I wasn't aware then that there were other books featuring the Murry children that she wrote. When I realized there were more, I bought them, but they never seem to float to the top of my to-be-read pile. I finally got around to reading this one, and even though it didn't come close to matching what I remember of AWIT, I'm glad I read it.
The twins, Sandy and Dennys are the central figures in this story as they inadvertently walk in on an unattended experiment going on in their parents' lab. With a loud crack and a wave of heat they find themselvees transported to a seemingly alien desert. They're found by a small man prospecting for water named Japheth who leads them to an oasis where his family and others currently reside. Dennys becomes seriously ill and is cared for by a family led by a man named Noah.
As the twins come to realize that their parents' experiment hasn't transported them to another planet, but rather to another time in earth's history, and to a time just prior to the biblical flood, the importance of finding a way back home soon becomes more and more urgent. 

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆