Thursday, August 29, 2013

The MVP

by Scott Sigler
538 pgs

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.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆