Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Hundred-Year Christmas

by David Morrell
96 pgs

I hadn't decided on a Christmas book to read this year until I learned about this old book written by David Morrell. It's a short novella, and nothing like the thrillers he usually writes, but it's heart-warming and equally appealing to adults and children. I read it to my seven-year-old son, and we both enjoyed it.

 Every hundred years, a new Santa is chosen. The old one selects his replacement during his hundredth year, and on that Christmas Eve, leaves this world by climbing and disappearing over a snowy hilltop by his home.

Every New Year's Eve, a new Father Time is born. He ages eight years every month, and on the very next New Year's Eve, he also climbs and disappears over that same snowy hilltop.

The Hundred-Year Christmas takes place during the current Santa's one hundredth year. He has a year to select his replacement before his time is up, but finding someone willing to serve in the iconic role is proving to be extremely difficult. But the search for his replacement isn't really the story Morrell is telling. The real story of the book is the relationship between the two men. One that lives his whole life in a year's time, and the other that watches those hundred lifetimes knowing the exact moment his own life will end.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Heist

by Daniel Silva
496 pgs  (Gabriel Allon series #14)

In this latest offering in Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series, Allon is called on to find the killer of an English diplomat named Jack Bradshaw. Julian Isherwood, an art dealer, and long-time associate of Allon, discovered the body of Bradshaw and is now being held as a suspect in his murder. Bradshaw, it has been learned, has been secretly trafficking priceless pieces of art stolen from museums and churches around the world for years and selling it to an unknown collector. The Italian police have threatened to accuse Isherwood of Bradshaw’s murder unless Allon is able to discover the identity of the true killer.
Allon soon discovers that Bradshaw’s murder is connected to the disappearance of Caravaggio’s famous, and long-lost masterpiece The Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence. Stolen in 1969 from the Sicilian church it had hung in for centuries, The Nativity has become one of the most famous and valuable missing pieces of art in history.   
In order for Allon to find the killer and free his friend, he must track down the masterpiece and uncover this mysterious and powerful art collector. As the story unfolds, and Allon and his team of Israeli operatives devise a plan to draw out the collector, Silva’s strengths as a storyteller are evidenced.
This is the 14th book in the Allon series, and remarkably, Silva continues to keep the series as fresh and captivating as ever.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, December 5, 2014

Revival

by Stephen King
403 pgs

Revival is the second book to be released by Stephen King this year. And while the first one, Mr. Mercedes was a departure from the type of book he's known for best, this one is a return to form. On the inside flap it says that the book has the most terrifying conclusion that King has ever written--a statement I don't agree with. But still, it's good to see that King can still write a scary story.

The book begins with young Jamie Morton, a six-year-old boy playing with his toy soldiers along the dirt path in front of his house in rural Maine. When a shadow falls over him, Jamie looks up and sees Charles Jacobs, the new minister in Jamie's town. It's the first time Jamie has ever met the new reverend, and while he has no way of knowing it at the time, it's the beginning of a fifty-year relationship that will drastically affect Jamie's life, and will end with an experience that will shake him to his core.

The reverend, who has always had a fascination with electricity, has discovered that while it can be deadly at times, it can also be used to cure people of certain ailments. The first time he uses it is on Jamie's brother, whom he's able to cure of an injury to his larynx that has left him speechless for weeks. Years later he uses it to help Jamie overcome a serious drug addiction. But Jamie soon realizes that the cure Jacobs provided him was accompanied by some unexpected and disturbing consequences. As Jamie begins looking into the lives of others who were cured by the reverend, he learns that others have been similarly affected.

Revival is nowhere near the best book King has ever written. But it's still a worthwhile read. I'm biased towards King's books, but I really think that an average book by him is better than the best books by most other authors.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Bone Clocks

by David Mitchell
624 pgs

I'm somewhat ashamed to admit this, but it's been quite awhile since I read one of David Mitchell's books. I read Ghostwritten and Number9Dream, his first two novels, over a decade ago, and then I unfortunately let him fall off of my author radar. The Bone Clocks has definitely put him back on it, and now I have some books that I missed and need to go back and read.

The Bone Clocks contains six separate stories, spanning sixty-plus years of one woman's life. The first story takes place in 1984 and introduces Holly Sykes, a fifteen-year-old who runs away from home after falling in love with an older man and infuriating her mother. Towards the end of that story Holly encounters a strange woman on the shores of a lake, whom she has a short, cryptic conversation with, and who introduces a supernatural element into the book.

As the remaining stories unfold, the supernatural aspects of the book increase, and we learn that Holly has become a part of a war that has been fought for thousands of years between two small groups of beings known as "atemporals." One group of these beings prey on children, taking over their bodies and living out that person's life until the body dies and they enter another child's body. The other faction lives forever as well, but does so through a form of reincarnation. As these stories play out, we're taken all over the world, and into a dystopian future world of 2043 as Holly's life repeatedly crosses paths with these atemporals.

Oftentimes when a book is categorized as fantasy, it automatically becomes inferior in the minds of many. They consider it a baser form of literature, not worthy of the same section in the bookstore as the books that they read. The Bone Clocks shines a light on just how ignorant that mentality is. David Mitchell has shown that some fantasy should be categorized in the same group along with the best books in any genre.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Another Man's Moccasins

by Craig Johnson
290 pgs  (Longmire series #4)

Another Man's Moccasins is the fourth book in Craig Johnson's ever-more-popular series featuring Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire. I enjoyed all three of the previous books in the series but with this one Johnson really seems to have hit his stride as an author. Its predecessors were all fun and entertaining murder mysteries, but with this one, Johnson adds another layer to his writing style.

Johnson tells two different stories, both mysteries, but separated by decades of Longmire's life in this book. In the present day, Walt is faced with investigating the death of a young Vietnamese girl whose body was dumped along the side of the highway. The prime suspect is an enormous Native American who has been living in a culvert underneath the freeway for several years. Walt discovers a picture on the young woman's body--a picture of himself as a young military inspector in Vietnam during the war. This picture forces Walt to replay in his memories a crime he investigated back in Vietnam in 1968.

As the book progresses, the story switches back and forth between the two times in Walt's life. Both investigations are captivating and the book as a whole is extremely well written, filled with moments of action and close calls. But I think the real accomplishment with this book is the added layer of humanity that Johnson is able to write into his protagonist. I'm a big fan of Johnson's creation, both in the books, and on the TV series, which hopefully will begin again soon. The character, as he's presented in this installment of the series is a major reason why he's so endearing.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Slow Regard of Silent Things

by Patrick Rothfuss
159 pgs

There are two "hands" when it comes to The Slow Regard of Silent Things, the newest offering to Patrick Rothfuss' Kingkiller Chronicles. On the one hand, it's Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles, and I think it's safe to say that anyone who has read the first two books in the series has been salivating for this book to come out ever since he first mentioned it. I include myself in that group. On the other hand, this isn't really a book that fits into the series or that moves the story along from where The Wise Man's Fear left off. It's a novella and only has one character in it--Auri, who is only a minor side character in the other two books. Back to the first hand, it's beautifully written, and it gives you a much deeper insight into Auri and her solitary life in the tunnels of the Underthing. On the other hand, reading it was kind of like eating a fantastic appetizer, without ever being given the chance for an entrée.

In the Author's Note at the end of the book Rothfuss explains the genesis of the story, and how he really never intended for it to be published. He also talks about the fear he had when it was decided that it would be. As he's quick to admit, the book doesn't have any of the things people want to have in a book: dialogue, a plot, action, other characters, etc. And I'll admit that for the first half of the story I kept waiting for something to take place or for Kvothe to make an appearance. But when I finally figured out what it was that Rothfuss had written, even minus everything that I was hoping for when I began reading it, I gained an appreciation for what he had accomplished.

I mentioned earlier that it's beautifully written. It's clear that Rothfuss toils over his writing until he gets it exactly like he wants it. And the end result is the reason why so many of us are anxiously waiting for Kvothe's story to continue. In the meantime, this was still a fantastic appetizer.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Unlocked and Lock In

by John Scalzi
93 pgs, 334 pgs

I decided to review both Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome and Lock In by John Scalzi in the same review. The two books are inter-connected and meant to be read together, so it made sense to do so.

Unlocked is a novella that gives an account of a disease that sweeps across the globe sometime in the very near future, killing millions of people. The disease has three distinct stages that can affect people who become infected. The first stage comes with symptoms that are very similar to the flu. In fact, because it's so similar, it is able to spread rampantly when it first hits, because no one recognizes that there is anything unique about this disease, or more deadly than what they have experienced every year with the typical flu. The first stage sickens 2.75 billion people and ends up killing 400 million of them in just a matter of weeks. Some of those who survive stage one later experience stage two, and experience symptoms similar to meningitis, and of those, some progress to stage three--"Lock In."

Millions of people across the world go into "Lock In," a state of complete paralysis but fully aware, trapped in their body with no means of communicating with the rest of the world. When the First Lady goes into stage three, the disease claims its highest profile victim, and the disease gets its name. President Haden makes it the sole mission of his presidency to try to find a cure for Haden's Syndrome and to try to help those who are trapped in their useless bodies. Trillions of dollars are spent researching the brain, mapping it and trying to find a way to reconnect it to the body. They're unable to find a way for the brain to once again control the body, but they do develop an alternative--by implanting an artificial neural network into the brain, they're able to transmit the brain's impulses to artificial bodies that are able to move, talk, and get back out into the world.

Lock In begins 25 years after Haden's Syndrome forever changed the world. Millions of Haden's Syndrome sufferers have returned to the world in the form of highly-sophisticated robots referred to as "Threeps" which is a reference to C-3PO--the human-like robot from Star Wars. But Threeps are not the only new members of society. A very small group of those who contract Haden's, but then recover, experience a change to their brain that allows them "rent out" their bodies for a day to those who are Locked In and would like to once more experience those things that can only be done with a human body.

All that is just the fascinating backstory for the plot of Lock In. Narrated by Chris Shane, a brand-new FBI agent reporting to his first day on the job at the Bureau as the book begins--who just so happens to be a Haden. He and his partner, Agent Vann work for a division in the FBI that investigates crimes involving Hadens. On his very first day on the job they're called on to investigate a murder. On the surface it seems like a pretty straight forward case. But as they investigate the lives of those involved, Shane and Vann soon learn that there are powers at play behind the crime that are trying to once again change the landscape of the entire planet.

Scalzi's story is a fantastic example of what makes science fiction so much fun. It's intelligent, entertaining, thought-provoking, and in a time when Ebola is so prevalent in the news, it's more than a little bit eerie.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, November 3, 2014

Packing for Mars

by Mary Roach
321 pgs

In Stiff Mary Roach gave an enlightening and entertaining account of the "life" of cadavers. In Spook it was the afterlife she explored, and in Bonk it was the always-enjoyable process of making life that she reveals more information on than you even thought existed. This time around she focuses her enjoyable research style on mankind's quest for life in space, and once again what results is an informative, humorous, and very enjoyable read.

There is more thought given and more experiments conducted to determine how mankind can exist in the weightless environment of space than most of us could ever get our brains around. What happens in zero gravity if an astronaut throws up in his or her spacesuit? How does zero gravity affect the early warning signs of a full bladder?  And it's not just the various bodily functions and how they're dealt with in no gravity that must be thought of, tested, and accounted for. There are a host of other things that have to be taken into consideration if mankind is going to continue it's quest to go where no one has gone before.

What Mary Roach does so well, in this book and in each of her previous ones, is identifying an aspect of popular science that has universal appeal, and then asking the types of questions about it that few of us would ever think to ask (and to be honest, those of us who would, would probably be too embarrassed to). The books that she writes after she's finished with her research are fascinating, thought-provoking, and laugh-out-loud funny at times.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Prayer

by Philip Kerr
409 pgs

Gil Martins is an FBI agent in Houston who works in the Bureau's domestic terrorism unit, investigating cases of extremism and domestic terrorism. Gil grew up a Catholic in Ireland but now considers himself a staunch atheist. A transition that has alienated him from his wife and young son.

Now, dealing with the recent separation from his family and a career path that seems to have stagnated, Gil has his core beliefs (or lack of beliefs) shaken as he begins investigating the deaths of several prominent and vocal atheists across the country. Each one died in a unique and seemingly unconnected way. But while investigating them he listens to the confession of a woman who claims to have been involved in killing each one using the power of prayer.

Is there truly power in prayer? And if so, is it feasible that that power could be used for anything other than good? That's the premise of Kerr's first standalone novel in many years.

I really wanted to like this book when I began reading it. It started strong and looked promising for about the first two thirds of the story. Then the wheels fell off and the story degenerated into a disappointing farce. By the end it seemed more like Kerr was intentionally just trying to be controversial rather than authoring a mystery novel.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Kill Switch

by James Rollins & Grant Blackwood
388 pgs

Sigma has a couple new weapons in its arsenal: Tucker Wayne, a former army ranger and his military-trained dog Kane. In The Kill Switch the two are called upon to help extract a Russian scientist who holds in his brain a secret that has the potential to end world hunger or to destroy the world altogether, depending on how it's used. It's up to Tucker and Kane to ensure that those who would use it for the latter, never gain access to him.

The Kill Switch is pretty similar to Rollins' other books. There's a secret that's been hidden from the world for centuries that comes to light and threatens to destroy the earth or a significant percentage of is occupants. There are twists and turns to spare, and Sigma saves the day at the end. I'm not disparaging Rollins' pattern for success. I've enjoyed all of his books and am sure I'll enjoy many more to come. I know what I'm going to get when I start one of his books, and that's exactly the way I prefer it with him.

What I'm not crazy about is this disappointing trend many authors have joined of starting to co-authoring their stories. Tom Clancy did it, Clive Cussler does it, and don't get me started on James Patterson. I don't have any issues with authors who team up and truly write a book together--like Preston and Child. What I can't stand is when an author has the idea for the book, but turns the writing of the book over to a lesser-know author--who writes it, and then gets his or her name on the cover, but in a significantly smaller font than their more widely known "co-author." I really hope that that's not the practice Rollins has taken up here with Grant Blackwood and in Blood Canticle books written with Rebecca Cantrell. If it is, then I'll have misspoken earlier when I said I'd be reading many more of his books in the future.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Kraken Project

by Douglas Preston
352 pgs

In The Kraken Project Douglas Preston brings back Wyman Ford, the ex-CIA agent who has appeared in a handful of other Douglas Preston solo novels. This time around he's asked by the President of the United States to help locate Melissa Shepherd, a young NASA computer programmer who wrote "Dorothy," an AI software program for an unmanned mission to one of Saturn's moons. During a test  run, Dorothy panics and inadvertently causes an explosion, killing several people. Soon after the botched test run both Dorothy and Melissa disappear--Melissa into the mountains of Colorado, and Dorothy into the Internet.

Ford needs to find Melissa and enlist her help in locating Dorothy and shutting her down. No one knows what Dorothy is capable of doing on her own, and he's not the only one looking for the AI program. Others have become aware of her existence and want to use her to their own ends.

The idea of artificial intelligence is not a new one. It gets hauled out by writers of popular media fairly regularly, and so the ethical and moral issues associated with it that Preston weaves into his story are nothing that we haven't seen numerous times. But he does an admirable job of making his story a unique one. The story is a fun one, and while on the surface it sounds outlandish and far fetched, it's written well enough to allow readers to suspend their disbelief and simply enjoy the book.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Gone-Away World

by Nick Harkaway
499 pgs

I believe that for the first time ever, I'm at a serious loss as to how to describe/summarize/review a book--and it's not that this is the first book by Nick Harkaway that I've ever read. Awhile back I read his second book Angelmaker and really enjoyed it. But this one is unlike anything I've ever read before.

To start with, I can't decide what genre if fits in. It doesn't easily fit into any of the already established ones. It's part science fiction, but not in a science fictiony way. It's post-apocalyptic, but not in a Cormac McCarthy's The Road kind of way. It's got ninjas battling mimes in it, but they doesn't help classify it. It is what it is, and it really deserves its own bookshelf at the bookstore.

The next problem I have with writing this review is that I can't really decide how much I liked it. Parts of it were absolutely brilliant, but I'll admit that sometimes my mind tended to wander. Harkaway's writing talent is undeniable though and if I hadn't known better, I would have assumed that this book was written by someone who had a Stephen King-sized bibliography already under his belt. He really is that good. Even at the times in the book when my mind wanted to venture elsewhere, I have to admit that those parts were still well written.

The story is narrated by a character whose name is never revealed but who works for the Haulage & Hazmat Emergency Civil Freebooting Company of Exmore County. As the story begins, he and his crew are called upon to put out a fire that has erupted somewhere along the Jorgmund Pipe, which delivers a substance known as "stuff." The world was destroyed during the Gone-Away War, and stuff is what makes the remaining world livable.

The book is absurd and witty, and it's every creative-writing teacher's dream come true. But it's not a beach read, and it's not the type of book that can be read in ten minute installments. You have to be willing to immerse yourself in the story and let Harkaway's writing talent take over. Overall, well worth the effort it took to read it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Drop

by Dennis Lehane
207 pgs

Normally an author writes a novel and then someone comes along and tries to make a movie based off of it later on. Sometimes the author is involved in the creative process of the film adaptation, but oftentimes they get their payday and then sit back and wait to see what someone else does with their original creation. In the case of The Drop, which was released this month as both a movie and as a book, the chronology is a little unique. It started as a novel that Lehane tried to write several years ago. He never completed it, but eventually extracted a short story from it that was published and optioned for a film. Lehane then wrote the screenplay for the movie that just came out, and while the movie was being made, he wrote a novelization of the film. That being said, the book itself is much shorter than a typical Lehane novel (which are not very long themselves). So it's a quick, but very satisfying read.

It centers around a bar in Boston, a bar that periodically serves as a "drop" for the mob. The bar is run by Cousin Marv and Bob Saginowski, two cousins who both have sketchy pasts, but whom now seem to be doing their best to get by without getting into trouble. Unfortunately for them, things just never seem to go their way.

One night, while walking home, Bob finds a puppy in a trash can, beaten and abandoned. He takes the dog home with him, but even this dog, which he believes could become a bright spot in his otherwise dark and lonely existence, brings with it more trouble than he may be prepared for--when the dog's original owner gets wind that Bob has him.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thud!

by Terry Pratchett
373 pgs  (Discworld series #34)

As the anniversary of Koom Valley (a battle between dwarves and trolls) approaches, Grag Hamcrusher, a prominent dwarf leader, is found murdered. His skull has been crushed, and near his body is found the murder weapon--a troll club. It's clear to pretty much everyone that this is just another example in a long line of dwarf-on-troll violence that has been going on in the city of Ankh-Morpork for centuries. But Commander Sam Vimes of the City Watch isn't so sure. And if he wants to avoid an all-out war between the two groups that will tear his city apart, he needs to uncover Hamcrusher's true killer, and do it fast.

Pratchett's Discworld books that feature the members of the City Watch have always been some of my favorites in the series and this one is another strong offering. Pratchett uses his keen sense of satire and wit to make fun of the "round-world" issues between different ethnicities and groups. He's a fantastic storyteller whose stories work on different levels.

If you only want a fun and entertaining story featuring trolls, dwarves, werewolves, vampires, wizards, and witches, there are none better than the Discworld books. But they also offer a whole lot more, and that's the real reason behind Pratchett's ever-growing popularity. they're commentaries on human nature and they point out the ridiculousness of many aspects of our culture and behavior.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Devil's Workshop

by Alex Grecian
383 pgs  (Scotland Yard's Murder Squad #3)

Jack the Ripper is the quintessential serial killer. He brutally murdered at least five women on the streets of London in 1888 . . . and he was never caught. Alex Grecian's Scotland Yard Murder Squad books features Inspector Day, Sergeant Hammersmith and the rest of the men assembled by the Yard after the killings had suddenly stopped who were tasked with investigating the new type of killer Saucy Jack represented. The first two books in the series, The Yard and The Black Country featured Jack as part of the backstory--he represented the Yard's greatest failure to date. Now in The Devil's Workshop, he's back.

The reason he stopped killing was not because he died or left London for some far-off country as some have speculated. Nor is it because he had bee committed to an insane asylum bore his identity was discovered, as is the current theory du jour. The reason the killings stopped was because he was captured by the men who had bee investigating his crimes, and instead of being take to jail and tried for his crimes, he was secretly imprisoned in London's secret network of underground tunnels and caverns, where he could be dealt a more satisfying form of punishment.

A year later, having endured repeated torture at the hands of his captors, as they systematically inflicted wounds on him that mirrored those he had given the women he killed, Jack is able to escape. Once again he's able to walk the streets of London, but this time, it's not the women who work there that are his targets, it's the men who held him prisoner.

I've enjoyed reading Grecian's series a lot so far. I enjoy Inspector Day, Hammersmith, Dr. Kingsley and the others. The Devil's Workshop lacks the elements of mystery and criminology that I enjoyed so much in the first two books. But it's still a worthwhile story, and it leaves you excited for the next book in the series.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Magician's Land

by Lev Grossman
401 pgs

The Magician's Land is a very satisfying conclusion to Lev Grossman's adult fantasy trilogy featuring Quentin Coldwater, along with other students from Brakesbills College for Magical Pedagogy, and their dealings with the "Narnia-type" land of Fillory.

Quentin, who grew up reading and loving the books about Fillory, and who became its king in The Magician King, was ultimately stripped of his crown, banished from Fillory, and forced to leave his friends behind and return to his mundane normal life in Manhattan. He's able to get a job as a professor at Brakebills as this book begins, but there's a void in his life and he longs for his friends and the world he had to leave behind.

Meanwhile, Fillory is being destroyed. The magic that exists there is failing and Eliot and Janet must find a way to save their adopted world before it's gone forever.

This book, along with its predecessors, are difficult to describe. To say that they're adult versions of The Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series feels inadequate, although the comparisons to both are plain and intentional throughout. What Grossman has created with these books is an homage to those others, but one that is wholly original and entertaining by its own rights. The story he's told is a coming-of-age one, containing the themes of love, loss, selfishness, and ultimately sacrifice.

I was not expecting the series to be what it turned out to be when I first picked up The Magicians (which I picked up for no other reason than its beautiful cover). What I was expecting was another boy-wizard tale that I was hoping to enjoy. I'll admit that I was initially surprised by the books' course language (Harry Potter never used a lot of the words Quentin and his friends use) and adult themes, but the books are so well written that I quickly settled into the story and enjoyed the ride.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Lincoln Myth

by Steve Berry
429 pgs  (Cotton Malone series #9)

When I learned that Steve Berry's newest book was going to involve the Mormons, and a secret pact that was formed between Brigham Young and Abraham Lincoln, I had high hopes. As a member of the LDS/Mormon church, I was hoping that Berry would get things right when it came to the church and its history. I was hoping he would be respectful when it came to the beliefs of the church. I was hoping the story would be intriguing and entertaining. And most of all, I was hoping that a high-ranking member of the church would be the story's villain.

Berry delivered on every hope I had.

Shortly following the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, its framers drafted another now-forgotten document; one that was intended to help ensure ratification of the Constitution at the time, but one that if known about during Abraham Lincoln's presidency, would have ensured the South's legal right to secede and torn the nation apart. Lincoln, faced with the real possibility that the country was going to split apart during his presidency, reached out to Brigham Young, who years earlier had led the Mormon exodus from Illinois to the Utah territory, and loaned him that potentially volatile historical document for safekeeping. In return for safeguarding that document, Lincoln promised to leave the Mormons alone and allow Brigham Young to govern the Utah territory as he saw fit. A promise that he fulfilled.

Almost 150 years later, that same document, rumored to still be in the possession of the LDS church, is once again at the center of a battle that could tear the nation part. Thaddeus Rowan, a high-ranking U.S. senator from Utah as well as one of the Church's 12 apostles, is on a mission to find where Brigham Young hid the document, and use it to tear the nation apart. It's up to Cotton Malone to ensure that that doesn't happen.

I usually give Berry's books 3 stars. They're always entertaining and well-written, but they're not spectacular. This one gets an extra star because of the LDS Church involvement in the story.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Red Seas Under Red Skies

by Scott Lynch
558 pgs

Ever since finishing The Lies of Locke Lamora, I've been looking forward to reading the second book in Lynch's Gentlemen Bastard series. However, since Lynch has apparently taken a cue from George R.R. Martin as far as his writing pace is concerned, I figure I'm going to need to pace myself with his series as well--which is unfortunate. Both books so far have been so good that I would have loved being able to pick up the next book as soon as I finished reading them.

Red Seas Under Red Skies begins two years after the conclusion of Lies. This time Locke and Jean have set their sites on robbing Sinspire, the impenetrable casino in Tal Verrar. Their plans, however, get sidetracked when they become unwilling pawns for the head of the city's military force; who wants to ensure his position's relevance going forward, and needs Locke's and Jean's skills for creating mayhem and discord in order to do that.

There are enough plots and subplots in this one to keep you on your toes till the end, and the number of aliases used by both Locke and Jean are nearly enough to require a cheat sheet at times. But as convoluted as things tend to get before Lynch deftly unravel them at the end, the story is as entertaining as you could hope for it to be.

The next book in the series (and the last one written so far), The Republic of Thieves sits appetizingly on my bookshelf right now. I'm anxious to pick it up, as Lynch left a critical thread untied at the conclusion of this one, and I'm anxious to see it resolved. But I plan to wait till I know book IV is coming, so I'll have something solid to look forward to. Otherwise the wait becomes intolerable.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, August 4, 2014

Innocence

by Dean Koontz
352 pgs

After the last two books by Koontz that I read (The Taking & Life Expectancy) I swore off reading anything else by him again. I don't know if the break up was his fault, or mine, but everything about those two rubbed me the wrong way. The characters behaved like they had mental deficiencies, the dialogue was pubescent, and the story in general was unintentionally humorous. I decided then that I wasn't going to waste any more time nor money on his books. When Innocence came out and I read the summary, it was kind of like bumping into an old girlfriend and thinking "I wonder if we could make it work now." So I decided to consider the past few years a trial separation and I bought the book.

It's a dystopian story about two social outcasts. One, Addison, lives his life alone under the streets of the city due to his horrific and never described physical appearance, an appearance that has caused violent reactions by those who have seen him. The other, Gwyneth, lives alone due to her phobias. Their paths cross late one night in the deserted city library when Addison sees Gwyneth fleeing from a man trying to attack her.

I'm at a loss to try to figure out what happened to the man who wrote Intensity, The Watchers and so many other good books. My working theory right now is that he died several years ago and his estate hired someone who completed an online creative writing course to continue Koontz's literary legacy. It's never a good idea to get back together with someone after you break up with them. It doesn't take long for you to remember why you ended the relationship and figure out that you're just wasting your time and money again.

★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Prisoner of Heaven

by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
278 pgs  (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series #3)

The Prisoner of Heaven is the third and latest book from Zafón featuring the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and it maintains the level of excellence Zafón delivered with the first two books--which is a notable achievement.

In this one, it's Fermin Romero de Torres, an enigmatic employee at Sempere and Sons Bookstore, who is the central character. The book begins with a visit to the bookstore by a mysterious man who leaves behind an unusual gift with a message for Fermin. That visit leads Fermin to finally reveal to Daniel Sempere the story of his mysterious past.

He recounts his imprisonment in 1939 during the war, where he meets David Martin (the central character in The Angel's Game) and his daring escape from that fortress of a prison. The impact that his time spent in prison and the men he deals with there had and continue to have on his life make up a fantastic tale that is reminiscent of two of my favorite books: The Count of Monte Cristo and Les Miserables.

The books are not told in chronological order, And Zafón has said that it doesn't matter which order you end up reading them in. The first book, The Shadow of the Wind takes place after the events of the second book: The Angel's Game, and I agree that it really doesn't matter which of those two books you read first. But I'd definitely recommend reading both of those before this third one. It ties those two books together wonderfully and in ways that wouldn't be fully appreciated if read beforehand.

There is one more promised installment to this series and I can't wait for it to come out. With each additional book in the series, Zafón's brilliance becomes more evident. It's a beautiful story he's telling, and each book interweaves with the others in both surprising and rewarding ways.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Trouble in Mind

by Jeffery Deaver
479 pgs

I enjoy a good short story. I like the fact that I find myself thrown into a story mid-action, and in most cases, hanging on for a quick, and hopefully entertaining ride. Authors who are good at writing them have the ability to get you emotionally invested in the character quickly, without provide much, if any, of their life's backstory. Ray Bradbury and Stephen King are two of the best at writing them. I give Jeffery Deaver high marks as well. A typical book by Deaver is filled with misdirection and surprise twists in the plotline, and his short stories are no different--he just does it at an accelerated pace.

Trouble in Mind is the third collection of Deaver's short stories. And I think it contains some of his best so far. They're all worth the short time it takes to read them, but a couple of them are worth singling out: A Textbook Case is a Lincoln Rhyme story where the perpetrator uses the book Rhymes wrote himself to train detectives on how to find and analyze crime-scene evidence against Rhyme and his team and intentionally leaves as much planted evidence as he can. The Weapon is a very timely story involving a U.S. military interrogator who uses unethical techniques to extract information from his prisoners in order to protect his country from terrorist threats. Finally, Forever involves a string of suspicious suicides committed by elderly individuals and couples who showed no signs of depression beforehand, nor did they seem to have a reason to end their lives.

As a whole, Trouble in Mind is worth reading. Deaver branches out a little from his standard crime mystery format in some of the stories and pulls it off quite well. The stories quickly engage you and if you're not familiar with Deaver's writing, you'll soon realize that you can't assume while you're reading, that you know where the story is ultimately going to end up.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, July 18, 2014

The River of Souls

by Robert McCammon
257 pgs  (Matthew Corbett series #5)

The River of Souls is book number five in McCammon's ongoing series that he says will ultimately include ten books. The series features Matthew Corbett who is a "problem solver" in colonial America at the turn of the 17th century and it's one of my favorite series currently being written.

This time around Matthew finds himself back in Charles Town on an unusual assignment from the Hudson Agency. The assignment is only a precursor though to a much more dangerous adventure Matthew finds himself involved in, when the young daughter of a wealthy plantation owner is discovered murdered by a slave who then flees up river in an apparent attempt to avoid hanging. After examining the body, Matthew doubts that it was in fact the slave who committed the murder and decides to join the group following the escaped slave into the ominous swampland up river, hoping to convince the group to return with him alive so that Matthew can prove his innocence and discover the identity of the true murderer.

It doesn't take long for Matthew and the entire group to realize that the swampland they're entering is filled with its own perils and that they're own survival is in jeopardy.

Every one of the books in this series has been great. This one is no exception. But it's by far the shortest of any of them and so I feel a lingering resentment towards McCammon because of it. If it was up to me, each of the books would be as long as Speaks the Nightbird, the first in the series was and I'd be able to enjoy them for a couple of weeks instead of just a couple of days. But regardless, I highly recommend the series and look forward to the next one.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Monday, July 14, 2014

Tibetan Peach Pie

by Tom Robbins
362 pgs

When I first heard that a new Tom Robbins book was coming out, I was excited. When I learned that it was a memoir instead of a novel, I'll admit I was a little disappointed. Now that I've read it, I feel a little guilty for having had such doubts. His novels are the types of books that you need to experience in order to understand. It's impossible to have someone describe one of them to you and do it justice. Chances are it will sound more like an LSD-induced hallucination rather than a book. They're uncategorizable and categorically unique. Tibetan Peach Pie, even though it's not one of his novels, is no exception.

Robbins says in chapter one that Tibetan Peach Pie is not a memoir. But you know what they say about something that walks and quacks like a duck.... To his credit though, Robbins doesn't merely waste time describing his childhood and recounting funny stories from his past. Instead, each of the stories that he tells showcases his one-of-a-kind sense of imagination and curiosity that have been with him from a very early age and that have resulted in his truly imaginative life.

His curiosity has taken him all over the world. He visited Timbuktu, where he was cursed by an old crone and spent the better part of the next year suffering. He politely declined dining with the King of the Cannibals (the only time, according to him, that he turned down a culinary challenge). He was introduced to LSD many years ago and his books and his readers have reaped the benefits of its uninhibiting and mind-freeing effects ever since.

The book is worth reading, but probably only for those who've read and enjoyed his novels.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Robogenesis

by Daniel H. Wilson
362 pgs

Robogenesis is the sequel to Wilson's very entertaining book Robopocalypse, which detailed mankind's war against Archos 14, the artificial intelligence that brought about the robot uprising and decimated the human race. Robogenesis picks up immediately where its predecessor leaves off; mankind thinks they've destroyed Archos 14 and won the war (not a spoiler, since you find that out right at the very beginning of Robopocalypse). Unfortunately for the survivors of the war, however, their victory is short-lived, as Archos 14 had left behind many copies of its code.

Now the war moves into a new stage. It's no longer simply a war between robots and humans. Now, it's a war between different generations of robots. Mankind, and thousands of human-robot modified creatures left behind by Archos's experiments are simply trying to stay out of the crossfire and survive.

Robogenesis took me somewhat longer to get into than the first book did, and I think that's because the plot took awhile to surface. But the imagery of the world Wilson has created is fantastic and I was more than happy to wait for the story to unfold. It's clear from the first chapter, which gives an account of a man becoming the host to a robot parasite, which merges itself with the man's nervous system and takes over both his mental and physical functions, that Wilson's storytelling abilities have developed and progressed since the first book.

I'm hoping there's a third book coming.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Cold Heart

by Jonathan Kellerman
432 pgs

I stopped buying and reading Kellerman's books several years ago. He was one of those authors that I read pretty regularly when I was younger, but whom I eventually lost interest in following. That being said, I bought A Cold Heart a long time ago and finally decided to get around to reading it.

It's one of his books that feature Alex Delaware, a psychologist who is regularly called upon by the LAPD to assist with murder investigations. This time it's a string of homicides involving various artists: a guitarist, a punk singer, a painter, and a concert pianist, that are all killed seemingly without connection to each other that Delaware's long-time friend in the LAPD asks him to take a look at. Delaware helps in the investigation and is quickly able to identify the common thread they all share. Armed with that information, the search for their killer is on.

If you've read other books by Kellerman, you'll enjoy this one. It's on par with most of his others. It's an interesting story and it's got some pleasant surprises thrown in for good measure. It wasn't however, good enough to convince me that I shouldn't have moved on from reading his books back when I did.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Monday, June 23, 2014

Mr. Mercedes

by Stephen King
436 pgs  (Bill Hodges trilogy #2)

Bill Hodges is a retired police detective who's having a difficult time adjusting to his retirement. He's overweight, lives alone, and several of the cases that he was unable to solve while on the force haunt his mind--so much so that he regularly takes out his weapon and considers putting an end to his misery. One of those cases involves a man who stole a Mercedes Benz and drove it into a group of people lined up for a job fair less than a year before Hodges retired. Eight people died that morning, and the man behind the random act of violence was never caught.

It's a letter that Hodges receives one morning, claiming to be from the man behind the wheel of the Mercedes, that draws him out of his depression and gives him a reason to live. It's very clear from the letter that it's from the perpetrator of the crime--he knows details of what took place that were never released to the media. But it's also clear that he's been watching Hodges and knows that he's been contemplating suicide. He even ends the letter by goading Hodges into going though with it. This letter reignites Hodges and sets him on a course to find the man responsible.

King quickly gets you to care about Hodges and his supporting cast of characters, and just as quickly creeps you out with the deranged antagonist he creates for Mr. Mercedes. And while I prefer King's horror books or the ones that at least have an element of the supernatural to them, Mr. Mercedes is a enjoyable book and well worth the time to read.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Son

by Jo Nesbø
402 pgs

Remember the name Jo Nesbø. He's a Norwegian author who's best known internationally, and ever increasingly here in the U.S., for his series featuring Harry Hole, an anti-authoritarian cop. With Martin Scorsese slated to direct The Snowman (Harry Hole # 7), I think Nesbø's time of relative obscurity here in the States will be coming to an end soon. The Son is a stand-alone novel and therefore a great book to serve as an introduction to Nesbø if you've never read anything by him.

Sonny Lofthus is an addict whose life spiraled out of control at the age of 18 following his father's apparent suicide. Sonny has been serving time in prison ever since for crimes he didn't commit. He confessed to committing them on the promise of a constant supply of drugs for as long as he's locked up. He's a self-hating tool being used by a ruthless crime lord in Oslo, but that all changes when he learns from another inmate that many years ago his father was murdered. Sonny's life finally has a purpose again and he sets into motion his plan to escape from prison and exact revenge against those responsible for his father's death and his own imprisonment.

It's a great story and it reminded me throughout of one of my all-time favorite books, The Count of Monte Cristo. The characters are complex, from Sonny to Simon Kefas, the cop trying to stop his killing spree, and you can't help but pull for both of them, even though neither one of them is a knight in shining armor.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Kindness Goes Unpunished

by Craig Johnson
388 pgs  (Longmire series #3)

Sheriff Walt Longmire is far outside of his jurisdiction in this third book in the series. Normally called upon to keep the peace and to deal with those who'd disturb it in some of the remotest parts of Wyoming, this time his deductive skills and no-nonsense approach to law enforcement are called upon in the City of Brotherly Love.

He travels to Philadelphia with his long-time friend Henry Standing Bear, whose photography collection is being put on display by a museum there and since Walt's daughter Cady practices law there, Walt decides to join Henry on the road trip. Shortly after arriving in, and before Walt has any time to spend with his daughter, Cady is assaulted and left in a coma. Things go from bad to worse for Walt a couple of days later when Cady's ex-boyfriend is killed and even those who know Walt can't help but suspect him of being involved.

This wasn't the best Longmire book I've read so far, but it was still enjoyable. Walt's a fantastic character and even during the parts of the book that fell flat for me, he more than made up for.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Black Country

by Alex Grecian
384 pgs  (Scotland Yard's Murder Squad #2)

Alex Grecians returns with The Black Country, the second book featuring Inspector Day and the Scotland Yard "Murder Squad." I thought his first book, The Yard, was great, and I was really looking forward to this one. And while it's a good book, I thought it represented was a little bit of a sophomore slump.

This time around Day, Hammersmith, and Dr. Kingsley find themselves in the Scottish highlands, where a father, mother, and young child have gone missing from a small coal-mining town. When they arrive and begin questioning the three remaining children in the family, as well as others in the town, they're given strangely elusive answers from each.

As they try to solve the mystery of the disappearances, they also have to deal with a strange sickness that has been plaguing the town, the repeated earthquake-like tremors that occur as the whole town slowly falls into the labyrinth of coal-mining tunnels below it, and a horribly disfigured gunman--who has been hunting one of the town's new residents since the American Civil War.

The Black Country is an enjoyable book, but it lacked some of the elements its predecessor possessed that made it such a great one. Dr. Kingsley's role is frustratingly limited, and he never displays any of his groundbreaking forensic techniques and methods to assist Day and Hammersmith in their investigation. I'm hopeful that Grecian brings things back in order in The Devil's Workshop, which was just released this month.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Feast for Crows

by George R.R. Martin
(753 pgs  A Song of Ice and Fire series #4)

I love this series, and it's become the quintessential series for fantasy readers since it began several years ago. But that being said, A Feast for Crows fails to deliver. Maybe Martin is a victim of his own success with this one and it's just that the three previous books were each so fantastic, that this one pales by comparison. Nevertheless, it wasn't what I've come to expect from him.

It's well written, and I'm sure the events that take place will end up being important to the over-arching story of the series. But as an individual book it's missing several important qualities. It doesn't answer any of the lingering questions from the previous book, some of the most important characters in the series (ahem, Tyrion!?) never show up at all, and the book doesn't contain a complete story. All necessary, in my mind, to every book in a series. Especially one that its readers have been forced to wait years in between books.

But it's a testament to just how good the series is, that my frustrations with the weakest of the books so far only makes me that much more excited to read the next one.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, May 23, 2014

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

by Mary Roach
295 pgs

Mary Roach is one of only a handful of author who periodically draw me into reading non-fiction. My primary reason for reading is entertainment, and typically non-fiction book are written more to enlighten and educate than they are to entertain. But Mary Roach always does a fantastic job of presenting her research on a topic in a highly enjoyable manner, and if I happen to learn something as well, that's just a bonus as far as I'm concerned.

In Stiff, Roach describes the various uses mankind has come up with for human cadavers. From being used to understand and investigate the causes of airplane crashes, to training future plastic surgeons on the techniques they need to master to perform a rhinoplasty. They're used to improve the safety of automobiles, and their decomposition rates are studied under various conditions to help forensic specialists better determine the time of death for murder victims. She also details the burial, cremation, and up-and-coming (and environmentally-friendly) composting practices for the disposal of the dead.

Roach has a light-hearted, but sensitive approach when discussing the usefulness of human cadavers. She describes the tremendous benefits society has gained because of them, and she makes a compelling argument for donating one's body after death for the furthering of our knowledge and benefiting those we leave behind.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Going Postal

by Terry Pratchett
352 pgs  (Discworld series #33)

In what I think is his 33rd Discworld book, British comic-fantasy writer Terry Pratchett takes aim at the antiquated and government-run postal system.

In an age when communications can now be sent almost instantaneously between two people, is there really any use for the traditional system? Lord Vetinari, the ruler of Ankh-Morpork believes that there is. So much so, in fact, that he pardons Ankh-Morpork's longtime con man Moist von Lipwig--who was so close to being executed when Vetinari intervened that his neck had started to itch from the rope wrapped around it--and gives him a job that he can't refuse, literally. In exchange for his life, Lipwig is tasked with taking the job of postmaster general for Ankh-Morpork's Post Office and revitalizing it.

Lipwig arrives at the Post Office to discover that while the two remaining junior postmen still on staff had stopped delivering the mail twenty years ago, that didn't mean that Ankh-Morpork's citizens had stopped sending it. Lipwig finds every room filled to the ceiling with undelivered mail, and as he sets out to deliver two decades' worth of love letters, last wills and testaments, and all other types of correspondence, he also discovers how the system arrived at the awful state it was in. The powerful forces behind the new email-esque system known as the clacks system control it and want it to disappear.

Going Postal is a great addition to the Discworld series. It's a perfect example of why it's such an iconic series to those who read fantasy. It's full of Pratchett's wit and one-of-a-kind perspectives on the round world and is as good a spot as any to jump into the series for those yet to experience it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Serpent of Venice

by Christopher Moore
326 pgs

In 2009 Christopher Moore introduced the foul-mouthed and depraved character of Pocket, based on the royal fool from Shakespeare's King Lear, in his aptly titled book Fool. I'll admit right up front that it wasn't my favorite Moore book, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it quite a bit.

In The Serpent of Venice Moore hijacks characters from two separate Shakespeare plays, Othello and The Merchant of Venice, borrowers an element from a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, and places them in Venice in the 13th century and has them meet up with Marco Polo. I know, it's hard to imagine why someone hadn't done this already, but with Christopher Moore, it makes perfect sense.

This time around Pocket has been lured to Venice by three wealthy and powerful men who intend to eliminate the man who has been thwarting their plans for more wealth and power for far too long. When he arrives he's promised an evening with a wanton and nubile young Venetian woman, but instead is drugged, shackled, and confined behind a newly constructed wall in his cell, left to drown with the next high tide. Fortunately for Pocket he's saved by what he erroneously believes at the time to be an amorous mermaid but which turns out to be something far less worthy to brag about later on.

As Pocket goes about seeking revenge against those who think he's dead, Moore's talent for making you blush while you laugh out loud is on display. But don't let the language and the debauchery that Moore loves to throw into his stories fool you, there's a genius at work here and even though I'll never be buying one of his books for my mother, I have no doubt I'll be buying every one he writes for myself.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

One Summer: America 1927

by Bill Bryson
528 pgs

I don't know what it is about Bill Bryson and his writing style, but if he were to write a history of mountaineering in Kansas, I have no doubt that I'd read it, and enjoy it. Some of his books, especially his memoirs, are laugh-out-loud funny but all of them are both interesting and entertaining. In each of his historical books, Bryson displays a remarkable knack for finding the hidden gems of historical facts, like coincidental connections that tie key events to each another, which add a layer of enjoyment to his history lessons--a lesson that every history teacher I ever had could have taken benefited from.

In One Summer Bryson takes a very short period in America's history and shows how pivotal and influential it turned out to be, not just to America, but to the whole world. The summer began with Charles Lindbergh's historic non-stop flight from New York to Paris, a trip that captivated the world for months to come, and that heralded in the age of air travel. It was the summer that Babe Ruth broke his own home run record by hitting 60, a record that stood for 34 years, and which was broken by Roger Maris who had ten more games and 50 more at bats in his season than Ruth did in his. It was the summer that the four most influential bankers on earth met in secret and made a fateful decision, one which a couple of years later led to the stock market crash of 1929. It was the summer the movie The Jazz Singer, the first of the "talkies" was released and the summer that television was created. That one short summer established America's place as the world leader it would be for decades to come and guaranteed its supremacy in so many important aspects of life for generations.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Abominable

by Dan Simmons
663 pgs


In 1924 the famous mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew "Sandy" Irvine disappeared during their third attempt to become the first men to summit the highest mountain on earth: Mt. Everest. Mallory and Irvine weren't the only men to try to summit Everest that year, and like them, others disappeared during their attempts as well. One year later, three men want to attempt to climb it and use the guise of locating the body of Percy Bromwell, the son of a wealthy widow in England who also went missing on Everest the year before, to obtain the funding and the permission to make their attempt.

As they make their climb up the mountain, they experience all of the challenges and face the extreme conditions that Everest presents and that have prevented all previous attempts up the mountain from being successful. But they also find a challenge that they weren't expecting--someone, or something, is following them and threatens not only the success of their attempt, but their lives as well.

Just as he did with Drood and The Terror Dan Simmons uses historical events as his backdrop and then uses them as he tells his highly entertaining and exciting story. Although the book takes awhile to really grab you and suck you in, once it does, the wait is well worth it. Just like with his other books, Simmons's level of research on this one is remarkable. His knowledge of climbing and mountaineering is astounding and it adds a level of detail and depth to the story that make it one of the most captivating books I've read in quite a long time.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, April 4, 2014

The English Girl

by Daniel Silva
482 pgs  (Gabriel Allon series #13)

When the mistress of the British Prime Minister is abducted and a ransom of £10MM is demanded within one week or she dies and the Prime Minister's discretions are exposed, MI5 turns to its friend at Israeli Intelligence, Gabriel Allon to try to find her and bring her back quietly and alive. All they have to go off of is a sketchy description of a man she met while vacationing in Corsica shortly before her disappearance. It's a job that will require all of Allon's team's expertise and skills to accomplish. Their investigation takes them to Russia, and points them towards a former KGB agent whom they believe orchestrated her disappearance on behalf of very wealthy and powerful interests there.

I've mentioned this before but it bears repeating, Daniel Silva is one of the few authors I've read who have been able to consistently put out new stories featuring the same central character, without the stories becoming stale or repetitive. The English Girl is the thirteenth book featuring Gabriel Allon, and it, like its predecessors, is great.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The October List

by Jeffery Deaver
308pgs

The October List is Jeffery Deaver's attempt to write a mystery...in reverse. His idea was to start at the end of the story and have each successive chapter take place an hour or two earlier. An interesting idea, but a challenging one to pull off successfully, especially for an author known for misdirection and surprising twists in his books. How can you have an unexpected ending to a book that begins at the end and ends at the beginning?

At the beginning of the book (chapter 36) Gabriela McKenzie, the office manager for an investment company is waiting in her New York apartment to learn the fate of Sarah, her six-year-old daughter. Sarah was kidnapped a couple of days ago (or a few chapters later) and was being held for a ransom of $400K and an enigmatic list of her company's highest profile clients known as "The October List."

As each successive chapter unfolds, Deaver slowly reveals that things are not as straight forward as they first appear. Unfortunately his story gets bogged down by the method in which he tries to tell it. It's clever at times, but for me, the effort it took to read it in reverse chronological order, wasn't rewarded at the end...the beginning.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Monday, March 31, 2014

Words of Radiance

by Brandon Sanderson
1080 pgs  (The Stormlight Archive #2)

To give you an idea of just how far down the fantasy-geek-rabbit-hole I've descended, I decided I needed to reread The Way of Kings before starting Words of Radiance. That's saying something when each book is over 1,000 pages long. But I did it, and I'm glad I did. It had been about 3 ½ years since Sanderson wrote TWoK and with that much time having passed, I would have been spending a lot of mental energy trying to recall what happened in it while reading book 2 and I wouldn't have been able to enjoy it like I did. That being said, Sanderson has said that there won't be that much time between books going forward, which I'm going to hold him to. I will not let myself become the type of person that rereads a series from the beginning every time a new installment comes out--hopefully.

I'm not going to provide any type of summary of the book. It doesn't make sense to try to do so in my opinion. While it's a huge book, it's only a small part in a much bigger story that Sanderson is writing. Its scope is remarkable and Sanderson does a masterful job of telling it. Lots of times the downfall of large books like this is in their pacing. They take too long to get moving (Clancy) or they have repeated lulls in the story (Hugo). But Sanderson avoids those pitfalls by quickly jumping back and forth from multiple viewpoints to his story. He's also using each book to tell the backstory of a different central character. This way you don't get bogged down early in the series with the history of each of the main characters. In TWoK we learned Kaladin's story, in WoR we learn Shallan's. I'm hoping that book three will tell Szeth's--the assassin in white.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Double

by George Pelecanos
292 pgs

When The Double, a painting valued at over $200,000, goes missing from Grace Kinkaid's residence, she realizes that she's been the target of an elaborate hoax. She realizes that the man she recently met and fell in love with was not who he claimed to be and that all along he only had eyes for her painting. Now she wants her painting back and to exact revenge on her ex-boyfriend, and she's willing to pay thousands of dollars for both.

She's introduced to Spero Lucas, a veteran from Iraq who now puts his unique skills to use finding things for people willing to pay. His methods usually fall outside the parameters of the law and the job Grace Kinkaid offers him is right up his alley.

I'm a really big fan of Pelecanos, and I enjoyed The Cut, the book that introduced Lucas a lot. But this one was a little disappointing. The story was interesting, but it felt like Pelecanos went out of his way to show that his new central character is not your stereotypical hero. He's conflicted and at times amoral, not unusual for one of his main characters. But Lucas falls for a married woman in The Double and their repeated rendezvous quickly became a distraction from the story and they never ended up adding any value to it. I'm hopeful Pelecanos will right the ship if he brings Lucas back a third time.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Damned

by Chuck Palahniuk
427 pgs

I don't gamble, but I can understand the allure of it to those who do. The disappointment from losing can be severe, even devastating at times. But the rewards and gratification from winning can be tremendous, enough to keep people doing it again and again, even when it's been awhile since they won. For me, picking up a Chuck Palahniuk book to read has been a lot like gambling; there have been some real disappointments recently (Pygmy and Tell-All) but it's the excitement of his earlier winners (Fight Club, Rant, Diary) that keep me coming back to the table for more. I'm hoping for that big payout again. Unfortunately, I didn't get it with Damned.

The book begins when 13-year-old Madison wakes up in hell--literally. She believes she died from a marijuana overdose and finds herself in a hell that is both horrific and humorous. A hell that could only have come from the mind of Chuck Palahniuk, full of people who don't wash their hands after using the bathroom, or who have used vulgarities more than the threshold allowed. It's where telemarketers work, calling the living during dinner time to complete surveys. She and the cellmates next to her: a jock, a rocker, a nerd, and a beauty (a kind of breakfast club group) embark on a tour of hell.

The book is written in epistolary form with each chapter beginning: "Are you there Satan? It's me Madison"--a Palahniuk-esque nod to a book for young girls by Judy Blume. In each chapter Madison describes hell as well as the life she lived before waking up there. She was the only child of mega-rich famous parents, and as such, had no chance for a normal childhood. 

Damned is a step in the right direction for Palahniuk after his last two missteps, but not a giant one. It has its moments and accomplishes what I think he set out to do when he wrote it--spotlighting some of the aspects of religion and the ideas of the afterlife that some people have. At times Palahniuk does his damnedest to try to gross you out with his vision of hell. But overall the book fell flat with me. His most recent book Doomed recently came out which is a sequel. I'll probably read it eventually. You never know, I might hit the jackpot with that one.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The King's Deception

by Steve Berry
409 pgs  (Cotton Malone series #8)

I always buy Steve Berry's books as soon as they come out, but I rarely read them right away. It's not that I don't enjoy them--I've enjoyed all of them. They're always entertaining and they involve some sort of little-known historical mystery or deception that Malone ends up getting dragged into at the risk of his life. Unfortunately, they're all fairly formulaic and so I don't find myself getting overly excited to read them. Instead, I get around to them when I feel like it.

This time around Malone finds himself enlisted by the CIA to investigate an historical mystery concerning Queen Elizabeth I. The CIA wants to blackmail the British government into stopping Scotland from releasing a Libyan terrorist who decades ago bombed a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie. The man is in the final stages of terminal cancer and is being released as a show of humanitarianism. The CIA is determined to prevent his release and only sees one way to do it--they need to prove that the reason the last monarch of the Tudor dynasty became known as "The Virgin Queen," was because she was secretly a man.

I know how it sounds. I laughed out loud when the theory was first presented in the book. But to Berry's credit, he's a master researcher, and does an excellent job of converting his readers to the idea before he finishes. I don't know that I'll ever be able to look at a portrait of her/him again without considering the idea.

In his usual fashion, Berry combines historical locales and mysteries with fairly fast-paced action and in the end produces a book that is entertaining, but expected. I'm hoping that he mixes things up a little soon. Maybe he could kill off a vital character (his son Gary?) and send Malone into a rage-induced revenge crusade or something; anything to add a little unpredictability to the series and keep me on my toes.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆