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

The October List is Jeffery Deaver's attempt to write a 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.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆