Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 - A Review

2015 is in the books (ha!) and here's a summary of how the year of reading went for me, starting with my top ten list (in the order they were read):

  1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  2. The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  4. Under the Harrow by Mark Dunn
  5. The Border by Robert McCammon
  6. The Happiest People in the World by Brock Clarke
  7. Finders Keepers by Stephen King
  8. The Mirror World of Melody Black by Gavin Extence
  9. Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
  10. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
The worst book I read all year was The Lost Island by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, which was very disappointing, since I'm such a big fan of theirs. 

Number of books read during the year--61.

Signings attended during the year: Brandon Sanderson--Firefight, Peter Orrulian--Trial of Intentions, Dan Wells--The Devil's Only Friend, Brian Selznick--The Marvels, Craig Johnson--Dry Bones.

Books I'm looking forward to that will be published in 2016:

Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson
Calamity by Brandon Sanderson
Morning Star by Pierce Brown
Bluescreen by Dan Wells
Alight by Scott Sigler
Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbø
The Steel Kiss by Jeffery Deaver
Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie
Lost and Gone Forever by Alex Grecian
The Fireman by Joe Hill
The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
End of Watch by Stephen King
Stiletto by Daniel O'Malley
Freedom of the Mask by Robert McCammon
The Last Train from Perdition by Robert McCammon
Alone by Scott Sigler

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

by Jonas Jonasson
387 pgs

The old folk's home that Allan Karlsson lives in is about to throw him his hundredth birthday party. But Allan, who's tired of all the rules imposed on him there, and who still feels like he has some life left in him, doesn't want to go, nor does he want to spend one more day there. Instead, he climbs out the window, wearing his slippers and carrying very little money, and leaves.

Allan walks to the bus station, asks how far his money will take him, and buys a ticket. While he's waiting for his bus, an arrogant young man asks him to watch his suitcase while he uses the restroom. Allan agrees, but as his bus prepares to depart, he makes a spur-of-the-moment decision and gets on the bus, taking the suitcase with him.

Thus begins a journey that will find Allan pursued by the police, the media, and the drug dealer, who wants his suitcase back, along with the 50 million Swedish krona inside it.

As Allan continues on his journey, he crosses paths with an assortment of quirky and hilarious characters. He also seems to be blessed with nine lives, because each time the drug dealer, and the organization behind him get close to catching him, Allan comes through unscathed, and those pursuing him meet entertaining, but untimely deaths.

This is Swedish author Jonas Jonasson's first book. It was published about six years ago, and has since sold millions of copies around the world--and rightly so. Jonasson has created a fantastic character in Karlsson, and as he tells his life's story throughout the book, you learn that he met Harry S. Truman, Joseph Stalin, Mao, and others. You learn that he played a pivotal role throughout the Cold War between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R, from the creation of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, to the eventual demise of the Soviet Union in the late '80s. Karlson just happened to be present for, and play a pivotal role in many of the most important events in world history, all while simply trying to get another glass of vodka.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Tournament

by Matthew Reilly
310 pgs

The Tournament is a departure from Reilly's typical action-packed thrillers. It's not an installment in either of his on-going series featuring Jack West or Scarecrow and uncharacteristically the earth never comes within seconds of being completely destroyed. Instead, it's a 16th century mystery that takes place during a chess tournament in Turkey.

Contingents from all over the world have gathered in Constantinople to attend the Sultan's first World Chess Championship. They've brought their regions' local champion and hope to return home with the title and reward.

Bess, the thirteen-year old daughter of Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII, who will eventually grow up to become Queen Elizabeth I, is among those gathered for the tournament. She traveled with her tutor Roger Ascham, her friend Elsie, and England's champion.

At the beginning of the tournament, one of the Cardinals traveling with the Catholic contingent is discovered murdered with the skin peeled away from his entire jaw. Ascham is enlisted by the Sultan to investigate the murder, and as the multi-day tournament goes on, the bodies continue to show up.

The Tournament is a mystery, but it's also a coming-of-age story. Ascham, knowing that there's a chance that his student may one day become England's monarch, includes Bess in his investigation. He believes that someone who may one day rule shouldn't live a sheltered life, so he allows her to see the uglier side of life.

No summary of this book should leave out a warning of the sexual content of the story. Bess's friend Elsie has aspirations of becoming the bride of the Sultan's son, and she believes the only way that will happen is if she works her way into his bed by sleeping with everyone close to him. And each time she returns from a night spent in the Sultan's bathhouses and exclusive gatherings, she recounts her progress to Bess in extremely vivid detail.

The Tournament isn't Reilly's best book by far. And if I didn't have a condition that forces me to finish any book I start, I would have given up on this one about a third of the way through. But I made it to the end, and the conclusion actually salvaged the book a little for me.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Fifth Gospel

by Ian Caldwell
448 pgs

It's been awhile since The Rule of Four, Ian Caldwell's first book (co-authored with Dustin Thomason) hit the top of the NY Times Bestseller list and stayed there for six months. I have to be honest and say that I wasn't all that impressed by that book. It was good, but I didn't understand all the hype surrounding it. It's a little ironic then that The Fifth Gospel, Caldwell's second book, hasn't received nearly as much hype as his first one did, but for me, it's a better and much more enjoyable book.

At the center of the book are the Shroud of Turin and the Diatessaron. The first is one of the most studied and controversial Christian artifacts in existence, and the other is a 2nd century text written by an early Christian named Tatian, who attempted to consolidate the four Gospels of the New Testament into one cohesive narrative of the life of Jesus Christ.

The book begins in 2004, during the final days of Pope John Paul II's ministry. An exhibit will be opening soon inside the Vatican Museum; an exhibit that promises to be controversial and claims that it will reveal a "dramatic discovery" concerning the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. In the opening pages of the book, the curator of the exhibit is murdered, and Simon Andreou, a Roman Catholic priest, is believed to be his killer. It's up to Simon's brother Alex, a Greek Orthodox priest, to try to exonerate his brother before it's too late.

A big part of the book's appeal to me was the way Caldwell incorporated several verses from the four Gospels and a lot of interesting biblical history into his story. Both of which were used to support the idea that the Shroud of Turin is in fact the same cloth that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea used to wrap the body of Jesus of Nazareth in after His body was taken down from the cross.

Caldwell has succeeded in writing a very intelligent and well-researched thriller. There's no "sophomore slump" taking place here. Although that might be because it took him about a decade to write this second book as opposed to the couple of years authors normally take to write their second one. But it was worth the wait.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

After Alice

by Gregory Maguire
273 pgs

Gregory Maguire has made a name for himself out of reimagining classic children's stories and presenting them from another character's perspective. Everyone in the industrialized world is familiar with the musical Wicked, but if you hadn't read his book from which it was adapted, and picked it up expecting a story resembling the play, you'd likely be disappointed. His books tend to be more sociopolitical commentaries disguised as children's stories, than children's stories themselves.

This time it's Lewis Carroll's classic story of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that receives his treatment. Ada Boyce is a young friend of Alice Clowd, but while Carroll created Alice as an innocent young girl, Maguire creates Ada with some baggage. Her mother drinks, her father is a preacher, and Ada is forced to wear an iron brace to correct her deformed back.

On the same day that Alice slipped away fro her sister's care and followed the white rabbit down his hole, Ada, looking for her friend, also stumbles into that same hole. As Ada encounters many of the same characters that Alice met, and has similarly absurd interactions with each of them, she quickly realizes that her friend is in Wonderland as well and that she needs to rescue her and return her to the world above.

Throughout the rest of After Alice Maguire alternates his story back and forth between the adventures Ada is having in Wonderland with the events taking place in Oxford above, and the search for the two missing girls.

There are numerous aspects of this story and book that Maguire excels at: First of all, during the chapters that take place in Wonderland, he perfectly captures the tone, word play, and absurdity that Carroll's original stories contained. Maguire also stays true to the characters Carroll created--you get the impression that Alice just left each of them a few minutes before Ada comes across each of them.

As clever as the book is as a whole, it suffers from the same thing that eventually led me to abandon the Oz books--I got bored. That's never a good sign when I'm reading a book. It seemed to drag in places for me, and while I understood what Maguire was trying to do in going back and forth between Wonderland and Oxford, and showing how each one was equally absurd in its own way, ultimately, I didn't really care.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, November 20, 2015

Slade House

by David Mitchell
238 pgs

I was surprised when I learned that David Mitchell had a new book coming out so soon after The Bone Clocks was published just last year. He’s not one of those a-book-a-year authors. It made more sense when I learned that it originated from a short story Mitchell was writing via Twitter, but which grew until it became more of a novella in length. It’s a one-night read and is a sequel of sorts to The Bone Clocks, although reading it is really not prerequisite in this case.

Slade House only exists in our world on the last Saturday of October, every nine years. It’s accessed through a small iron door in an alley, and is the home of Norah and Jonah Grayer, twin soul-vampires who must feed every nine years in order to maintain their, and Slade House’s existence. They need to feed on the souls of humans who possess a level of psychic ability. So they lure unwitting victims into the alley, through the iron door, and into Slade House, where they feed and restore their own psychic abilities and leave behind an empty husk of their victim.

The book is comprised of five separate stories, each one taking place at nine-year intervals, but even with the skipping forward in time, the stories remain interconnected. The first victim we learn of is a young boy and his mother, the second is a man investigating a lead in their disappearance. The next is a group of students from the Paranormal Society, who have heard rumors that Slade House exists. The next is the sister of one of those students, trying to follow a trail of breadcrumbs. The last is a key character from one of Mitchell’s earlier books, who ties Slade House into the ever-growing and interconnected mega-story that Mitchell appears to be writing.

At its core, Slade House is a haunted-house story. But the mood and feel for the story is atypical from what you’d expect from one. Mitchell doesn’t use mysterious noises or startling apparitions to generate fear in his readers. Instead he lets you watch as one by one the Grayers’ victims are subtly hooked and then slowly reeled in. You know, or you think you know, what’s going to happen to them, but the real enjoyment in the story is waiting for the moment when they each realize that something inexplicable is taking place. 

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Last American Vampire

by Seth Grahame-Smith
398 pgs  (Abraham Lincoln: Vamipre Hunter sequel)

In Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahame-Smith began his alternative history lesson in which he reimagined our sixteenth President as an axe-wielding vampire hunter, who, with the help of his vampiric mentor, Henry Sturges, successfully held this country together during the Civil War. The lesson continues in his follow-up The Last American Vampire.

The story begins shortly after the assassination of Lincoln. Henry, mourning his friend's death, turns Lincoln into a vampire. But Lincoln's afterlife is seemingly shortlived, as he's so horrified at becoming what he had spent his entire lifetime trying to rid the nation of, that he leaps out the window and burns to death in the sunlight.

Soon afterwards, Henry is enlisted into investigating the destruction of several of the Union vampires, whose heads have been turning up along with an ominous note from someone calling themselves A. Grander VIII. His investigation takes him overseas, and to various locations in the United States. Along the way his path crosses those of Bram Stoker, Henry Irving, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain and others. He tells of his earlier life as both a human and young vampire, and we learn the secrets behind events such as the mysterious disappearance of the Roanoke Colony in Virginia, the "Ripper" murders in London, the death of Rasputin, and the failed assassination attempt on Adolph Hitler.

The Last American Vampire has many of the great qualities of a Grahame-Smith book. But for me it's the weakest of his books so far. The action and violence that made ALVH so good are too few and far between this time, and too much of the book reads like a travel log. Sturges ultimately takes on a kind of "Forrest Gump" role, as he's present for, and involved in key historical events. And while the alternative vampiric history that Grahame-Smith creates is definitely creative, if not ingenious at times, I wanted more blood.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, November 13, 2015

Crooked

by Austin Grossman
355 pgs

"What if there are worse things in the world than nuclear weapons?" This is a statement made by President Eisenhower to his young Vice President, Richard Milhous Nixon, near the beginning of Crooked.

What if The United States was built on a foundation of dark magic centuries earlier? And what if ever since World War II, the country had been involved in a secret arms race, one far more dangerous than the one the rest of the world knew about with the Soviet Union, but with forces far more dangerous than any possible human threat? Austin Grossman's latest book is a fascinating alternative history story in which Nixon, the country's most disparaged president, is not the man the country, and the rest of the world believed him to be. Rather, the decisions that he made, that eventually resulted in him quitting the presidency in disgrace, were motivated by his responsibility to protect the nation from dark forces from another dimension.

It's an outlandish premise, and one that could have easily resulted in a nonsensical and silly book. But that's not the direction Grossman went with his story. Instead, it's obvious that he conducted an amazing amount of research into both the lives of key historical figures of the era as well as the key events. And the result is a story that expertly overlays an alternative history over one of the most significant periods of the country's history

While Grossman's pacing in the book leaves a little to be desired on numerous occasions, it's still a highly-unique story and Grossman's creativity and imagination are in high gear. He manages to bring H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu into America's political backstory, and transform Henry Kissinger into a 1000-year-old sorcerer.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, October 30, 2015

Shadows of Self

by Brandon Sanderson
376 pgs  (Mistborn: Era 2 #2)

Shadows of Self continues Brandon Sanderson's story of Wax and Wayne, frontier lawmen now in Elendel--a city on Scadrial. Scadrial is the world Sanderson originally introduced in his Mistborn trilogy. It's a world that is transitioning. It's moved on from the world as it existed when Kelsier and Vin inhabited it 300 years earlier, with technological advances like the combustible engine and electricity ushering it into a sort of steampunk era.

Wax is doing his best to move on with his life. He's returned to Elendel to put his family's house in order and he's engaged to be married. But the pull of his old lifestyle is just too great--even in Elendel, where Corruption abounds, and dead bodies keep turning up.

Sanderson is a master world builder. In every book and series he writes he creates a world that has a deep and detailed history. There are legends, myths, and religions--to say nothing about the one-of-a-kind system of magic that he creates each and every time. With the first three books in the Mistborn series taking place so many years before the events of Alloy of Law and Shadows of Self, the events and characters of those earlier books now provide the history, the myths, and the legends for these later books.

Shadows of Self adds some significant depth to the Wax and Wayne books. When I read Alloy of Law I thought it was a good book and I really enjoyed the new lighthearted tone the books brought to the series, but I finished with the impression that these later books were not going to be as good as the earlier ones. But now that Shadows is here, I'm very excited to see what comes next. Fortunately I don't have to wait long. The next book, The Bands of Mourning, comes out in January.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, October 26, 2015

Funny Girl

by Nick Hornby
452 pgs

Barbara Parker is an aspiring actress living in England in the 1960s. She's a former beauty pageant contestant who flees to London to pursue her dreams of acting. Her role model is Lucille Ball, and like her, she wants more than anything to make people laugh. The agent she signs with tells her that with her looks she would be better off going after romantic lead roles. But Barbara has her heart set on following after her role model and so after changing her name to Sophie Straw, she auditions for the lead in a new BBC marital sitcom called "Wedded Bliss?"--and gets it.

The television series explores many of the social trends of the decade while giving audiences a good laugh, and oftentimes, something to talk about around the water cooler the next day. Physical comedy plays a significant role in the most popular episodes of the series and the ongoing and endearing tension between Sophie's character--ironically named Barbara--and her male counterpart Jim, give the series' writers plenty of inspiration to keep the series going for several years.

It's been a few years since Nick Hornby's last book, and while it's always nice to get a new one from him, this one didn't leave me as satisfied as either of his best books: About a Boy or High Fidelity. But it's an entertaining and enjoyable book that presents the idea that just because something is popular, doesn't mean it can't also be serious art. Hornby uses his two television writers to present the real meat of the story he's telling in Funny Girl, alternating between their story, which touches on more serious social topics, and the lighthearted path that Sophie's life takes.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Border

by Robert McCammon
441 pgs

The Border represents a return by Robert McCammon to the type of books that first made him famous as a writer. As good as his most recent books featuring Matthew Corbett are, most of his earlier writing was dark, scary, and epic in scale.

The book begins two years after most of the world has been destroyed by two different alien races. The Gorgons and Cyphers--as they've become known by the survivors--have been involved in an intergalactic war for ages. Two years ago the frontline of that war moved to earth, and with far inferior technology and weapons, the collective armies of the world were decimated in a matter of hours. As the war raged on, the planet and its inhabitants continued to be poisoned and destroyed, with those able to survive living in hiding and slowly running out of resources.

A small group of survivors in Colorado has almost reached the end of their food and water supplies when they find a teenage boy calling himself Ethan. He's amnesiac and whatever caused his loss of memory has also left him with significant physical injuries. As they take him in and try to discover who he is and where he came from, Ethan begins to exhibit inexplicable powers, and strange symbols begin to appear on his bruised and battered body.

As Ethan continues to transform into something no one can explain, he and those with him begin to realize that he may be the planet's last and only hope for survival, and maybe even the end of the war they never wanted any part of.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story McCammon tells in The Border. The alien races he creates would be right at home in one of his earlier horror novels, and the human characters he creates are easy to care about. It's a good example of a writer who has had decades to sharpen his craft and knows what it takes to tell a story that grabs you, scares you, and entertains you all at the same time.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Case Histories

by Kate Atkinson
373 pgs  (Jackson Brodie series #1)

Kate Atkinson's Case Histories begins with the telling of three unconnected crimes: The first involves the mysterious disappearance of a three-year-old girl who was camping out in her backyard with her sister. The second is the violent murder of an attorney's teenage daughter. The third involves a young mother who loses her temper with her husband and kills him with an ax.

After describing these three events, all of which took place over a decade ago, Atkinson introduces the central figure in her story--Jackson Brodie. Jackson is a former-police-officer-turned-private-investigator, who is drawn into these case histories in order to try to provide some closure for the loved ones left behind.

Jackson has been struggling himself recently. Newly estranged from his wife and young daughter, Jackson is cynical and more than a little bitter. Characteristics that seem to have a two-fold effect on him during his investigations: they give him a careless attitude about his own safety and protection. But at the same time,  they seem to give him a desire to restore balance to the world by helping the others around him.

Atkinson does a commendable job slowly unraveling the mysteries surrounding the three crimes she begins with. Jackson seems to possess an innate ability to tie together the loose strands that were left behind from the crimes and brings each investigation to a satisfying conclusion.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Bat

by Jo Nesbø
374 pgs  (Harry Hole series #1)


The Bat is the first in Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole (pronounced Hoe-lee) series. Harry is an Oslo police detective who is sent to Australia to assist with the murder investigation of Inger Holter, a beautiful young Norwegian woman who was a minor celebrity back home in Norway. Inger, Harry soon learns, is the latest victim of a serial killer Australian authorities weren't even aware existed.

During his investigation into her murder Harry teams up with Andrew Kensington, an Aboriginal police detective who leads Harry through the Australian drug scene, introduces him to a homosexual clown, and takes him to a local boxing match; three seemingly unrelated events, but which all play an important role in identifying the killer.

The Bat is a decent enough story. It's interesting and well written, but it's not hard to understand why it wasn't translated into English until the series was well underway. The first book in the series to be translated was the third book, and several more were written and translated before The Bat got its turn. The Bat offers some important background into Harry's life though, background that adds depth to the character and offers some insight into a life that seems become increasingly more troubled as the series progresses.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Half the World

by Joe Abercrombie
484 pgs  (Shattered Sea trilogy #2)

Joe Abercrombie's The Shattered Sea trilogy is a story of death, betrayal, and one man's quest for revenge. In Half a King, Abercrombie focused on young Yarvi, the second son of the king, and one who was never intended to sit on the throne. His deformed arm made him useless in the eyes of his father and family, but when his father and older brother were both murdered, he unwillingly became king. When the same men who killed his family members shortly thereafter conspired against him, Yarvi renounces his claim on the throne and dedicates the rest of his life to obtaining revenge. It's soon evident that his sharp mind, and his deep sense of cunning will serve him far better than a sword or a battle ax ever could.

In Half the World, Yarvi, who is now the Queen's minister, is no longer the central character in Abercrombie's story. It's now Thorn, a young girl who is being trained as a warrior by the head of the Queen's army. Thorn catches the attention of Yarvi, who sees potential in her to play a role in his plans for revenge. he places her under the tutelage of a master fighter named Skifr. Skifr trains Thorn into one of the most deadly and dangerous warriors in the world.

Half the World is not as strong a book as its predecessor, but it successfully does what the middle book in a trilogy is supposed to do: it advances the story, it adds depth to the main characters, and it builds anticipation for the conclusion. While the story moved a little too slowly for me at times, Thorn is a fantastic new character and one that I'm looking forward to seeing how Yarvi utilizes in his plans.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Edge of Eternity

by Ken Follett
1098 pgs  (The Century trilogy #3)

Throughout Ken Follett's The Century trilogy the lives of five different families were followed throughout the 20th century. The families were each from different countries: the U.S., England, Germany, France, and Wales, and each book focused on subsequent generations of those families as they experienced, and many times, influenced the historical events that took place during their lifetimes.

In book one, Fall of Giants they were the events leading up to and including the First World War that Follett chronicles. In book two Winter of the World, they were the events leading up to and including the Second World War. In this concluding installment, the third generation of each family witnesses and experiences each of the major events in the last half of the century. Those events include the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Berlin Wall, the civil rights movement, and the assassinations of JFK, his brother "Bobby" and Martin Luther King Jr.

These were the first books by Ken Follett that I read and what I was most impressed with was the expert way in which he mapped out the lives of three generations of his five families and used their lives to tell the story of arguably the most eventful and influential century to date. He seamlessly intertwines the lives of his fictitious characters with the lives of the historical figures of their time. It really was an impressive feat that I doubt many other writers could have pulled off.

Now I have more than just glowing praise for the trilogy and this final book in particular. I do have a gripe that's worth mentioning--the sex. This final book was almost 1100 pages long, and I'm guessing that about 200 of those pages detailed the sexual activities of the characters. Now I don't think I would be considered a prude when it comes to the books I read by any one's standards, but the amount of sex in this book was a little ridiculous. It got to the point when I read 50 or so pages without a sex scene that I knew one must be coming shortly.

That being said, the book, and the series as a whole, is fantastic. It's entertaining and informative. By the time I finished it, I felt like I had a deeper appreciation for the events of the century I grew up in and it made me wish I had paid a little more attention during the World History classes I took in school.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Wild Ride Through the Night

by Walter Moers
182 pgs

I've read each of Walter Moers' quirky fantasy books that take place on Zamonia, and while the last one fell pretty far short of my expectations, they've all been highly imaginative and I'm looking forward to his next one. A Wild Ride Through the Night is not part of the series, but is instead a story crafted using as its framework 21 wood engravings by French artist Gustave Doré. Doré was a highly successful painter, illustrator, and engraver whose subject matter often included angels, dragons, and other fantastical images.

Moers uses a 12-year-old Gustave as his main character. The book begins with Gustave captaining a ship that runs into a deadly Siamese Twins Tornado. His crew is killed and Gustave comes face to face with Death and his crazy sister Dementia. In order to escape the grasp of both of them, Gustave is given six seemingly impossible tasks that he has to perform in a single night. Among them are rescuing a damsel in distress from a dragon, facing six giants and guessing their names, encountering the Most Monstrous of Monsters, and meeting himself.

Moers includes the 21 engravings throughout the book and ties them all together with a clever and entertaining story. The story isn't as good as most of his Zamonian tales, but it's short and fun and worth the time to read.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Water Knife

by Paolo Bacigalupi
371 pgs

Paolo Bacigalupi's latest book takes place in the American Southwest in the not-too-distant future. Climatic changes have deteriorated to the point where deadly sandstorms in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah are now considered the norm, and a long-term drought known as "Big Daddy Drought" has decimated the region's water supply. Water rights have now become the most valuable commodity in the Western states, and a violent war utilizing guerrilla warfare and terrorist tactics has been raging for years between those trying to control them. California has shut down its border in order to protect its water and formed a militia to guard it. Urban areas in Arizona, which has had its water supply shut off, have turned into ghettos inhabited by refugees. Out of desperation, many there resort to trying to hire ruthless "coyotes" to smuggle them across the border of Arizona and into California.

Angel Velazquez is a former gang member turned "water knife," an operative of the Southern Nevada Water Authority who is paid to ensure the ongoing supply of water to Las Vegas, using any means necessary. Angel is sent to Phoenix on an operation to investigate claims being made concerning a new water source, a source that the SNWA wants to ensure it will control. While there, he crosses paths with Lucy Monroe, a journalist who is investigating the violent murder of an associate of hers who had been making claims regarding the new water source in the region.

This is the first book by Bacigalupi that I've read, but it won't be the last. He does an excellent job of telling a story that is both futuristic and dismal, but is rooted in the realities of today. His story is compelling unsettling. It's too easy to see how the world that he describes could become a reality. It's pretty evident that the book has a message about conservation and mankind's obligation to the planet. But the book never comes across as preachy. Bacigalupi uses fear, as opposed to a sermon, to deliver the message.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Alive

by Scott Sigler
345 pgs  (The Generations trilogy #1)

I've mentioned this before, but one of the things I really enjoy about science fiction books is that oftentimes you have to read your way through an orientation period. You start out with no idea of what's going on. The setting of the story could be anywhere in the universe; the story could be taking place at any point in time; the characters could be human, alien, or even synthetic. I look forward to and enjoy the time it takes to get my bearings each time, and more often than not, the story that follows is unique, imaginative, and very enjoyable. Scott Sigler's first book in his new trilogy Alive is a great example of what I'm talking about.

The book begins with a teenage girl waking up in a coffin. She doesn't know where she is, how she got there, nor does she even know who she is. Her limbs are restrained and she has to figure out how to free herself and escape from the coffin. When she does, she finds herself in a room that contains several other coffins just like the one she just crawled out of. As she opens the other coffins, she discovers other teenagers all waking up and like herself, having no recollection of who they are and how they came to be there. They're all wearing clothes that it look like they grew out of them years ago and they all have varying marks on their foreheads.

She learns from the label on her coffin that her name is M. Savage and decides she'll go by Em until she can remember her true first name. Em's elected the leader of their small group and they begin a journey of discovery and survival as they all try to find answers to all of their questions.

Alive is a promising start to a trilogy that hopefully will stand on its own in a genre that has become increasingly overcrowded over the past few years. I doubt it will achieve the popularity obtained by either The Hunger Games and Divergent series, but I don't think that's because it's not as good, I just think it's because times have changed and the interest in 'young-adult-dystopian-science fiction' books has faded.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Go Set a Watchman

by Harper Lee
274 pgs

When Go Set a Watchman was released a couple of weeks ago, I knew it was going to be a literary firestorm. Months before it was released its provenance was being called into question, and its publisher was being criticized for its decision to publish it. There was no way the book could be a failure, and at the same time, there was no way the book could be a success. After all, To Kill a Mockingbird is such a timeless classic, and it's one that everyone has read. So who isn't going to read GSaW at some point? But at the same time, GSaW will never be considered on its own merits alone. It will always be discussed, critiqued, and compared to it's predecessor--or successor, depending on which way you choose to look at it.

The book takes place twenty-or-so years after the events of TKaM when Jean Louis (Scout) returns home to Maycomb, Alabama, after having moved away to New York years earlier. Shortly after she returns, she finds a pamphlet titled "The Black Plague" among her father's papers and learns that Atticus, as a member of the Citizen's Counsel, is actively working to oppose integration in Maycomb. It's a discovery into her father's life and beliefs that shakes her to her core. How could the man whose character Jean Louis had always considered to be without fault be a part of something that she felt so morally opposed to?

Go Set a Watchman is a book that deserves to be considered on its own merits. It's well-written and shows how those who oppose equality for all races are able to justify and rationalize their beliefs without considering them racist. Unfortunately, what most people who read the book are going to get hung up on is the fact that it's Atticus Finch who has those beliefs. The book takes a character that has been placed up on a literary pillar for the past 55 years and sheds a whole new light on him, one that is sure to bother most of the book's readers.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, August 9, 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee
323 pgs

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all-time favorite books. It's one of the very few books that I was supposed to read in school, that I actually did. And it was the first book that I read a second time because I wanted to read it for myself and not so I could pass a test on it later. With the release of Go Set a Watchman, I thought it was a good time to read it again.

There's not really anything I can think of to say about the book that hasn't already been said countless times over the years by people more adept than I am. It's a true classic in every way. It perfectly captures the sense of innocence that children possess, and it demonstrates, in a very poignant way, how that innocence can be taken away. It captures the integrity man can possess, as well as the hypocrisy. All of which are showcased in a story that is lighthearted, fun, suspenseful, adventurous, and sad.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Friday, July 31, 2015

Armada

by Ernest Cline
355 pgs

As Zack Lightman sits in class, staring out the window, waiting for another tedious day of school to end, he sees it--a flying saucer! As he stares out at it incredulously, too stunned to even move or speak, he realizes that he's seen this flying saucer before. He recognizes every detail of the ship, from its distinctive grooves and front-end fangs, to its plasma cannons and insignia. It's a Glaive, and he's seen and destroyed thousands of these alien spaceships nightly for years, ever since his favorite computer game Armada came out.

Zack and other gamers like him from around the world are about to be recruited into the Earth Defense Alliance. Decades ago the government found indisputable evidence that we were not the only intelligent life form in our solar system. It also had reasons to believe that our continued existence would soon be threatened. So for years they have been controlling much of popular culture; ensuring that movies, TV shows, books, and video games were created that would train up future generations with the necessary skills to one day fight off an alien invasion.

They were secretly behind Star Wars, Star Trek, The Last Starfighter, Enders Game, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Battlestar Galactica, just to name a few. They were behind the gaming systems and games such as Space Invaders and ultimately Armada, which simulated the exact controls, enemies, and fighting tactics that Zack and his fellow recruits will now need to use in order to save the earth.

Armada is Ernest Cline's second book. His first, Ready Player One was fantastic, and just like this one, steeped in pop culture references. This time around Cline offers up a fun and action-packed story that even the most casual fan of science fiction stories should enjoy.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, July 24, 2015

Under the Harrow

by Mark Dunn
550 pgs

Dingley Dell is a town located somewhere in the backcountry of Pennsylvania. It's a small town, and for over a century it has been isolated from the rest of the world in almost every way possible: physically, socially, linguistically, and technologically. For generations its citizens have believed that their isolation is a necessary precaution against an infectious disease that has run rampant throughout the rest of the world since the 19th century.

Unbeknownst to its residents, Dingley Dell is a sociological and anthropological experiment that began back in the 1800s when a group of orphans was abandoned by their guardians with only a King James Bible, the Encyclopedia Britannica (9th edition), a world atlas, and the complete works of Charles Dickens. Their former guardians wanted to see how this small society would evolve over generations of time.

What did evolve was a society steeped in Victorian culture, including its dress, language, and beliefs. They live a simplistic life, ignorant of the technologies and conveniences the rest of the world possesses.

But every once in awhile a curious Dinglian will venture beyond the borders of the self-contained valley. Some of them are never heard from again. But every once in awhile, one will return and speak almost incomprehensibly of the things they witnessed in the "Outland." Those who return are quickly rounded up and quarantined in Bedlam, the medical institution for the mentally ill.

A few Dinglians discover the truth behind their society and also learn that their time is coming to an end. The billionaire descendants of those who began the experiment no longer have an interest in its continuance, and are ready to eliminate any evidence that it ever existed.

Every one of Mark Dunn's books has been immensely fun to read. This one is no exception. He obviously has a love for the works of Dickens, and writes the majority of this book in that same style. The book is fun, thought-provoking, suspenseful, and builds to an exciting conclusion.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Patriot Threat

by Steve Berry
386 pgs  (Cotton Malone Series #10)

You can almost set your calendar with the annual release of a book by Steve Berry. Every once in awhile that book is a stand-alone story, but the majority of the time, it's a new book featuring Cotton Malone, a former operative of the Department of Justice's Magellan Billet. The Patriot Threat is the tenth in that series.

The 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to levy an income tax. Undoubtedly it is the least popular of all the amendments, and each and every one of us would love to see it disappear. But what if it could be proven that the ratification of the 16th Amendment was invalid and that every penny of income tax ever collected by the government was done so illegally?

Most would agree that eliminating the income tax would be a tremendous boon to the budget of every citizen of this country. But what would happen to the country's economy--to say nothing of the global economy, if the country was suddenly faced with the elimination of 90% of the money used to run it and make the monthly payments on all its debts?

There have long been rumors that evidence of the amendment's invalidity exists, and when the head of the Magellan Billet learns that that evidence may have fallen into the hands of a rogue North Korean, she enlists the help once again of Cotton. Cotton's investigation leads him on a fast-paced race from Venice to Croatia.

Berry is nothing if not reliable as an author. You know what you're going to get when you pick up one of his books. It always involves an obscure element of history set in the middle of an exciting and fun thriller. I always enjoy reading his books, both the Cotton Malone series as well as the occasional stand-alone.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Junkyard Dogs

by Craig Johnson
306 pgs  (Longmire series #6)

The owner of the local junkyard, seventy-two-year-old Geo Stewart, broke his collar bone while cleaning out his chimney. He had tied a rope around his waist in case he fell off the roof, which he had tied off to the rear bumper of his '68 Oldsmobile Toronado. Unfortunately for Geo, someone decided to use the car and didn't notice the rope before they proceeded to drag Geo a few hundred yards down the road. While being treated at the hospital, Geo mentions to the staff that he recently found a severed thumb at the dump.This story finds its way back to Sheriff Walt Longmire, who begins a casual investigation into whom the thumb belonged to.

A few days later Geo dies of an apparent heart attack. But when the coroner discovers two puncture wounds on his body, Walt's investigation quickly becomes more serious and urgent. His investigation uncovers a sophisticated underground pot-growing operation, and a deadly feud between the Stewart family and the owner of a new housing development that borders their junkyard. Walt once again takes a physical beating throughout the book, getting pepper-sprayed, bit by a dog, and almost shot to death, all while still trying to recover from the abuse he suffered in the last book.

Johnson's Longmire series is a lot of fun to read. It's a smart mystery series and it gets progressively stronger with each book.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Mirror World of Melody Black

by Gavin Extence
294 pgs

The sequence of events that ended with Abby, a twenty-something freelance writer, being committed to a psychiatric hospital began with her discovering a dead body. She went across the hall to her neighbor Simon's apartment to borrow a can of tomatoes and discovered him dead in his chair.

Surprisingly, Abby didn't exhibit any emotions when she found Simon. She even smoked one of his cigarettes before she returned to her own apartment to tell her boyfriend Beck that she didn't get the tomatoes because Simon was dead. But shortly afterwards, Abby begins spiraling out of control. For the next few days Abby is extremely manic, followed by weeks of extreme depression.

Diagnosed as bipolar, Abby begins the slow road back to recovery with the help of her doctor and Melody Black, another patient in the hospital whom Abby forms a quick friendship with, and who shares with Abby a theory that gives Abby a unique perspective into her mental health and an explanation for her recent behavior.

As a sufferer himself of manic depression, I can't imagine anyone else better qualified than Gavin Extence to tell this story. It's a story that immediately draws you in and entertains. You quickly begin to care about Abby, and you feel for her as her behavior and decisions go from mere quirkiness to outright dangerous. Gavin Extence is a young writer, and this is only his second book. Based on it and its predecessor, I'll be reading books by him for many years to come.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

by Mary Roach
327 pgs

A guy at work walked by me during my lunch break and asked me what I was reading. I'm sure I had a smile on my face, which would explain why he was so surprised when I said it was a science book about the digestive system. Initially I felt like I had to justify my choice of books and tried to explain to him Mary Roach's writing style and her unique and entertaining approach to exploring areas of popular science, but then after a minute or two of failing to get my point across, I decided I didn't care whether he understood or not. I was enjoying myself. Which, after all, is the whole purpose of reading, and it's not a group activity. So I went back to reading.

Most of us have a fairly basic, but working knowledge of how our digestive system works. Delicious and satisfying food goes in one end, repulsive and distasteful waste comes out the other. But for Mary Roach, that level of understanding is not enough, and fortunately, being a writer, everyone is able to benefit from her research and unabashed sense of wonder.

In Gulp Roach takes us on a ride down the alimentary canal. She explores how our sense of taste develops and has evolved. She explains the role of our sense of smell. She interviews a man in prison for murder about the use of the digestive system in smuggling contraband into the prison. She goes into graphic detail concerning the issues Elvis Presley had throughout his life with his digestive system and what ultimately killed him. The world knows he died on the throne, but most of us, including myself, are unaware of the whole story.

She explores whether flatulence is truly flammable? She explains what a megacolon is? And she gives more information and detail about impacted bowels then you're probably going to be comfortable with knowing. As she explains in the book, we are our digestive system. Everything else evolved to support it. And it's worth understanding how it works, how to take care of it, and only Mary Roach can provide this understanding in such an entertaining way.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Devil's Only Friend

by Dan Wells
304 pgs  (John Wayne Cleaver series #4)

When I finished reading I Don't Want to Kill You, I figured that was the last time I'd read about John Wayne Cleaver--a teenager who had all of the inclinations and desires to become a serial killer, but who kept himself in check with his self-imposed set of rules--and I was okay with that. I liked the way the trilogy ended, and I was content moving on. When I found out Dan Wells was going to write another three books, I was both excited and leery. Excited because I really enjoyed the first three books, but leery because I didn't want him to mess around with something that I felt was complete.

The Devil's Only Friend picks up a short while after IDWTKY ends. John now works for a special FBI task force that hunts down and kills the Withered. The Withered took away the only two things that he cared about in the last book; his mother and his girlfriend, and now John uses his unique set of skills and instincts to identify them, hunt them down, and then kill them. But John would rather work alone, he's not comfortable working with the other members of the team, some of whom know a little bit about his past, but none of whom know about the internal monster he's constantly trying to keep at bay.

Overall I enjoyed this latest book, and I'm looking forward to the next two. It's not the strongest book in the series, but I'd definitely recommend it to everyone who read the first three. It'll be interesting to see where Wells takes the series from here.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Long Mars

by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
357 pgs  (The Long Earth series #3)

The Long Mars slowly advances the story Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter began telling with The Long Earth about five years ago. The premise of the series is intriguing--humans develop the ability to "step" from one earth to the next along an infinite number of parallel worlds. And it has the potential for a lot of interesting ideas to explore, but the series has yet to settle on what it's about and run with it.

One of the central ideas to the series is how mankind would evolve if it has unlimited space and resources. Would there be greed, poverty, or wars? As mankind spread out on infinite earths, would the populations of individual earths evolve independent from other earths? Like I said, there are a lot of ideas in this series. But so far, that seems to be the problem with the series. The authors don't appear to have settled on what the series is really about. They've taken a shotgun approach so far instead of a rifle one, and while they've introduced many different concepts into the story, each one seems to end abruptly as they move on to another.

When The Long Mars begins, humans have been stepping into the other parallel worlds for years now. A massive exodus from the United States in the original, or "datum" earth took place when the volcano under Yellowstone erupted and essentially made most of the continent uninhabitable. New bizarre forms of life have been discovered, along with some sentient life forms, including a race of humans named The Next, which are similar to humans in most ways, except for a much higher level of intelligence.

Unfortunately most of the book reads more like a travel log as opposed to a novel. The concepts are interesting, enough so that I'll probably keep reading it till the end. But I won't be racing to get each book as it comes out.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Finders Keepers

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

In 1978 three masked men invaded the home of John Rothstein, a reclusive novelist; killing him and stealing thousands of dollars in cash and over one hundred notebooks containing the author's unpublished writings. Years earlier Rothstein wrote a critically acclaimed trilogy of books that became required reading for most teenagers before he dropped off the map and refused to publish again.

Two of the men who broke into his house and killed him were in it for the money rumored to be stashed away in his house. But the third, an obsessed fan named Morris Bellamy, was there for the notebooks. He was certain that Rothstein had written more books in the series, and he was willing to do anything to find out what happened next. Bellamy buried the cash and the notebooks with plans to retrieve them once the dust settled, but soon after doing so he was sent to prison for life for an unrelated crime.

Thirty-five years later, Morris is finally released from prison and goes to retrieve the money and notebooks, only to find that they're gone. As he hunts down the person who took them, King reintroduces Bill Hodges, Jerome Robinson, and Holly Gibney from Mr. Mercedes into the story as they try to protect the person who has them.

Finders Keepers is a fantastic follow-up to Mr. Mercedes. It shows how versatile an author King is. It's not horror or supernatural like most of his other books are, but there are small parts that flirt with the supernatural and hint at the direction things will turn in the next and final book in the trilogy--and I for one can't wait.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Harvest Man

by Alex Grecian
384 pgs  (Scotland Yard's Murder Squad series #4)


In The Harvest Man Alex Grecian picks up the story of Inspector Walter Day and Scotland Yard's Murder Squad. Day, who is now recovering from the injuries he sustained by Jack the Ripper in The Devil's Workshop, finds himself cooped up at home, surrounded by a house full of in-laws and the staff they insist he and his wife need. He's anxious to get back to work hunting down Saucy Jack.

But Jack isn't the only murderer the Murder Squad is trying to find on the streets of London. In fact, he's not even the most important one right now. The Harvest Man has quickly become Scotland Yard's top priority. The Harvest Man hides in the attics of homes until the family living there falls asleep. He then kills them by carving their faces off of their skulls. In addition to this killer, there's a Ripper copycat killer who has recently started killing young prostitutes. With so much to deal with, Scotland Yard needs Day back on the streets, probably before he's physically and mentally ready to be there.

But Jack has moved on from the type of murders that gave him his original notoriety. He's now got bigger plans. But while no one knows what those plans are, it quickly becomes apparent that Inspector Day and his wife and newly born twin girls are at the center of it.

This series has quickly become one of my favorites. I was already a big fan of thrillers set in 19th Century London and Grecian has proven a few times now that he's a great storyteller.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Prince Lestat

by Anne Rice
458 pgs (Vampire Chronicles #13)

When I found out that Anne Rice was "resurrecting" her Vampire Chronicles series, and bringing the central character in the series back out of his self-induced exile, I was intrigued. I loved Interview with a Vampire when I read it twenty or so years ago. I really enjoyed the next three books in the series as well. But the series lost much of its appeal for me with book five, Memnoch the Devil, which I thought was terrible, I continued reading the books as they came out though, but none of them were as good as those first few. Most of them seemed like appendages, or afterthoughts to the series, some of them simply told the backstories of the other vampires, but without advancing the story of the blood drinkers in modern times. From what I understand, Prince Lestat is the first book in a trilogy Rice plans to write that hopefully will reinvigorate the series and get it back to what it used to be. After reading this one, I'm optimistic.

The world of the vampires was once a small world, consisting of order and discipline. Blood drinkers were very selective of whom they fed on and brought over to the order. But things have changed. Since the events of Queen of the Damned, vampires have multiplied and are now all over the world and social media. These newer, fledgling vampires, have no regard for the old ways. and as the book begins, Louis, Marius, Armand, Pandora, David, and a host of characters readers of the series will enjoy seeing again try to convince Lestat to come out of exile and return order to their society.

While Prince Lestat is not as good as those first books in the series, it's definitely a huge step back in the right direction. It's not a book for people who haven't read any of the others in the series, but if you've read those first few, you should enjoy this one.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Legion: Skin Deep

by Brandon Sanderson
207 pgs (Legion series #2)

When Sanderson published Legion a couple of years ago, I read it in about an hour and enjoyed it a lot. But I finished feeling unsatisfied. It was a short novella, but the idea and the character of Stephen Leeds were so good, that I finished wanting much more. Fortunately, Sanderson wasn't done and he continues Leeds's story with this second--and thankfully, twice as long--follow-up book.

Leeds is a fascinating character. He has the ability to become an expert in any subject in a very short amount of time. After he's studied a subject, his expertise in that area is stored in a separate and distinct personage, or aspect as he refers to them himself, that appears to him whenever he needs to call up information to use it, and that personage counsels or directs him. To outside observers, Leeds appears to be out of his mind, talking to himself and interacting with these other entities in his mind. But his neurosis has also placed him in high demand, both by those in the psychology world who want to interview and study him, and by those who have problems that only he seems to be able to solve.

In Skin Deep, Leeds is called upon to find a stolen corpse, a corpse that possesses information others are desperate to obtain. Leeds needs to call on many of his aspects and put all of their lives on the line as he gets caught up in this fast-moving story that could only have come from the mind of Brandon Sanderson.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Night Boat

by Robert McCammon
243 pgs

First published 35 years ago, The Night Boat is the second book Robert McCammon wrote, and it's one of the books that he himself admits wasn't that good. He's said that he learned how to write by writing books, and since all of the books he's written have been published, everyone who reads his earlier books gets to experience his learning curve. That being said, I enjoyed The Night Boat. It's nowhere near as good as The Five, Boy's Life, or any of the Matthew Corbett books, but still, how could I not enjoy a book about a German U-Boat from World War II filled with zombies?

David Moore lives on an island in the Caribbean called Coquina. One day, while out for a dive, he unwittingly detonates an explosive device that causes an old sunken U-Boat from WWII to dislodge from the bottom of the ocean and surface. David and the local authorities on the island quickly realize that the submarine is in far better shape than it should be after having been submerged for decades.

In true horror-story fashion, someone decides they want to unseal the boat in hopes of finding something of value inside and instead release dozens of Nazi zombies seeking revenge on those who sunk their boat so many years ago.

This is not the Robert McCammon book that I would recommend to people who aren't already fans of his books. If it's the first book by him that you read, you're likely to dismiss him and never read anything else by him. But, if you've already gained an appreciation for the author that he eventually became, I have no reservations about recommending The Night Boat. It's an old-school horror story that you'll likely enjoy.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Monday, May 18, 2015

Blood on Snow

by Jo Nesbø
208 pgs

Olav is a "fixer." He works for one of Oslo's most powerful crime bosses, a man named Daniel Hoffmann, and when Daniel wants someone dead, Olav gets a call. Olav is not your standard killer though, he's not the ruthless and emotionless type that you so often find in books and movies featuring assassins.

Olav is a deeply emotional man. His favorite book is Les Misérables and he often gives the money he earns from his fixes to the widows he creates. So far though, Olav's emotions haven't stopped him from completing any of the jobs he's been assigned, but that changes when Daniel calls and tells him to kill Daniel's new young wife, Corina.

As Olav begins watching Corina, deciding the best place and time to kill her, he decides that this is a job he's not willing to complete, a decision that puts his own life in jeopardy and results in a fast-paced thriller that ends far too quickly.

Despite what the cover says, Blood on Snow is not a novel. It's just over 200 pages long, and since the book itself is smaller than a typical novel, each page is maybe half the length. It's a novella and can be read in one or two sittings, but it's time well spent. It's a great introduction for those who have never read a book by Nesbø, an author who is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Letting Loose the Hounds

by Brady Udall
221 pgs

Before he wrote The Lonely Polygamist or The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint Brady Udall published this collection of short stories. The book contains 11 stories which take place in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and other western states. Most of them involve main characters who have experienced some significant loss in their lives, from death and divorce, to addiction and depression. But several of the stories take place after the loss has occurred, when they're at a pivotal moment in their journey back and are faced with the decision of which way the rest of their life is going to go.

There wasn't a story in the collection that I didn't enjoy, but my favorites were the title story and Midnight Raid. The first is about a man named Goody Yates, who is picked up while wandering deliriously along the side of the road immediately after having his wisdom teeth extracted by the dentist. The man takes him back to his own house while he tries to find out who he is and what's wrong with him. While Goody recuperates at the man's house, he learns that the man's wife recently left him for another man and that the man has plans to burn his house down before skipping town to start a new life. Goody also learns that the man has a couple dozen hunting dogs out back that haven't been fed for three days. You might be able to guess where that one's going.

Midnight Raid is about a Jerry, a tall Apache who is sneaking into a house carrying a pygmy goat in his arms. The home belongs to the man who married Jerry's ex-wife and it's where his young son now lives. His son has written to Jerry and told him how much he misses his pet goat and Jerry is determined to turn his life around and to be a better man and father . . . and the first thing he must do is give his son a goat.

Most of the stories have humorous undertones, some of them shine a light on the ridiculousness that can exist in peoples' lives, but all of them are enjoyable and are likely to strike an emotional chord.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Spark

by John Twelve Hawks
301 pgs

Spark takes place in the not-too-distant future. The world has become a police state, where a surveillance system monitors everyone night and day. Androids, known as nubots, have replaced most human workers, resulting is mass unemployment and the formation of an underground network of terrorists called neo-ludites.

Our narrator, Jacob Underwood, is an assassin. He believes that he has undergone a "transformation," which has left him emotionless, unable to feel any sense of attachment to the world. He believes that the essence of a person is their "spark" and their body is the shell that houses it. He believes that most people's spark is closely connected to their shell, but because of his transformation, his is not.

Jacob is given the assignment by his handlers to find Emily Holquist, a missing employee from a multinational bank. As he hunts Emily down, he learns that she possesses information about illegal transactions being conducted by her bank.

As his pursuit takes him around the world, we're given periodic flashbacks into his past and we learn early on that Jacob was not the subject of a medical procedure that transformed him into the emotionless being that he is today, but instead he's autistic. What he remembers as his transformation was in fact a severe motorcycle accident that he was involved in and which amplified his autistic tendencies exponentially.

John Twelve Hawks (whoever he really is) made a name for himself with his "Traveler" trilogy a few years ago. Those books started out with a bang, but by the end had become unnecessarily convoluted and ended up concluding with a whimper. Spark takes a simpler approach to the themes JTH introduced in those earlier books and the result is a strong, solid story that is entertaining and engaging.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Monday, May 11, 2015

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

by Erik Larson
430 pgs

On May 7, 1915, the Lusitania was sunk 11 miles off the coast of Ireland by a German submarine. Only one torpedo was needed to sink the ship, the largest and fastest passenger steamer of its era, and those on board had a mere 18 minutes before the ship was completely submerged. In all, 1,191 of its 1,962 passengers and crewmembers were killed, including approximately 130 U.S. citizens. It was an attack that played a major role in ending the United States' position of neutrality before it became involved in World War I. 

Erik Larson provides a fascinating history of the ship, its passengers and crewmembers, as well as a detailed account of its final voyage from New York to Liverpool, England--its intended destination. His account highlights the myriad of decisions and factors that played a key role in the ship's demise, including: the design of the ship, the decision to set sail just days after the German's had issued a warning that passenger ships were considered "fair game" for their submarines, the decision by the British government not to provide a military escort for the ship once it approached waters known to be patrolled by German U-boats, and the decisions made by the ship's captain that ultimately put the Lusitania in the exact spot it was in when the U-boat's captain raised its periscope and saw her. Larson highlights the fact that if any one of those factors or decisions had been different, the Lusitania probably would have made it to Liverpool unscathed, and the U.S. might not have ever entered the war.

Larson has written other historical books, including his bestseller The Devil in the White City, but Dead Wake is the first I've read. Based on how good Dead Wake was, I'm more excited than ever to read his others.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, May 1, 2015

Inspector of the Dead

by David Morrell
337 pgs (Thomas DeQuincy series #2)

In 1855 the British government collapsed for a period of eight weeks. The crisis came about as a result of England's inept handling of the Crimean War. Soldiers were starving to death due to the lack of food sent to the front, they were dying from exposure to the elements from being forced to wear their summer uniforms throughout the winter, and they were dying from diseases due to the lack of proper sanitation. Overall more soldiers were dying because of mismanagement then because of the war itself. The level of frustration back in England became so high that a vote of no confidence took place in order to dissolve the government.

While the country is in a state of political chaos, a serial killer begins targeting high-ranking members of British society. As Scotland Yard detectives Ryan and Becker investigate each murder scene, they discover a series of cards being left by the killer. These cards allude to the killers ultimate goal--assassinating Queen Victoria.

Once again assisted by England's famed "opium eater" Thomas De Quincy and his caregiving daughter Emily, Ryan and Becker have to try to uncover the identity of the killer before he's able to accomplish his goal.

Morrell first introduced these characters in his last book Murder as a Fine Art, which I thought was a great book. This one is just as good. Morrell effortlessly combines historical figures (De Quincy) and historical events (actual assassination attempts on Queen Victoria) into a thriller that is both captivating and true to history. De Quincy is a fascinating character and the more I learn about him through Morrell, the more I appreciate just how ahead of his time he was.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Fifth Heart

by Dan Simmons
617 pgs

Once again Dan Simmons has shown just how versatile an author he is. His latest book, The Fifth Heart, is a Sherlock Holmes story that fits in nicely with the chronology of Doyle's original books. The story takes place in America in between the time Doyle tried to kill Sherlock off in The Final Problem by having him go over Reichenbach Falls and then succumbing to pressure and bringing him back in The Adventure of the Empty House with the explanation that he had faked his death to fool Moriarty, his arch enemy.

It's the 1890's and Holmes has traveled to America to investigate the death of a prominent socialite in Washington D.C.. Her death occurred seven years ago and had originally been ruled a suicide, but every year on the anniversary of her death, her widower and closest friends all receive a typed letter in the mail containing only one sentence, "She was murdered."

Simmons does a masterful job of incorporating historical figures from that era into his story, Samuel Clemens and Henry James both play central roles. He also incorporates one of the largest events that took place in the country during that time--the Chicago World's Fair. Simmons is an author who has always impressed me with the apparent research he puts into each of his books, and this one is no exception. He does an excellent job of bringing to light many aspects of Holmes's life that aren't so commonly known.

I'm a big fan of Dan Simmons' books. They're never real quick reads, but that's one of the things I like about them. Simmons takes his time constructing his stories and fleshing out his central characters. By the time the pace starts to quicken and you're heading for the climax of the story, you're intimately familiar with the characters involved, and you feel emotionally connected to them and truly care what happens.

The Fifth Heart is a must-read for fans of both Dan Simmons and for those of the iconic detective he borrows. Neither will be disappointed.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆