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.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆