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


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.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆