Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Universe Versus Alex Woods

by Gavin Extence
409 pgs

Gavin Extence's first book The Universe Versus Alex Woods was an unexpected and very rewarding surprise. It's a funny and heartwarming story told by Alex Woods himself, the second known person to ever be injured by a meteorite.

The book begins with 17 year-old Alex driving off the ferry in Dover, England. He's stopped by the authorities, who discover an urn containing human remains in the passenger seat and a large bag of marijuana in the glove box. From there the story goes back in time and Alex recounts the peculiar set of circumstances that led up to that point in his life.

Alex gained widespread notoriety at the age of ten when a small meteorite crashed through the roof of his and his mother's home and hit him in the head. Already possessed of a less-than-normal childhood--his mother, a tarot-card-reading spiritualist conceived Alex with a stranger near Stonehenge--the additional notoriety and brain injury that resulted from said meteorite led to what he describes as less-than-ideal interactions and relationships with his peers growing up. It was while being chased by bullies from his school that Alex first meets Isaac Peterson, an old man who would leave an indelible impact on the rest of Alex's life.

The story becomes more and more gratifying as Alex eventually wins over Mr. Peterson and forms a relationship with him. It's a relationship that demonstrates mankind's most vulnerable and humane qualities.

I highly recommend this book. It reminded me of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Reif Larsen's The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet. All three books are told from the perspective of a young narrator who doesn't fit the traditional mold, and who gives you an insight into what most of us should aspire to be more like.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Skin Collector

by Jeffery Deaver
434 pgs  (Lincoln Rhyme series #11)

Jeffery Deaver's latest installment in the Lincoln Rhyme series, The Skin Collector brings the series back full circle to the book that got it all started, The Bone Collector. Once again a serial killer threatens New York City. This killer uses poison to kill his victims, and administers the poison using a tattoo gun. As the number of victims increases, Rhyme and his team become aware of similarities between this case and the case involving the Bone Collector. This killer is fascinated with skin just as the Bone Collector was fascinated by bones. And it becomes apparent that the new killer has studied the articles Rhyme wrote on the original case and is using them to ensure that he eliminates all possible trace of himself from his crime scenes.

While Rhyme, Sachs, and the team are busy trying to anticipate their latest killer's next move, an old nemesis, the Watchmaker, dies while in prison. Lincoln's concentration is divided between capturing the tattooist and finally putting to rest the crimes of the Watchmaker, the only man Lincoln ever went up against whom he considered his intellectual equal, if not superior.

Some of the more recent books in this series have spent a lot of time and energy on advancing the relationship between Rhyme and Sachs and on Rhyme's struggle over whether to undergo risky surgery in order to restore some of the mobility he lost when he became a quadriplegic. No time is spent on either of those in The Skin Collector, this one is all about the killings. For that reason, I think I enjoyed this one a little more than I have the more recent onesThe Skin Collector is a great example of what makes this series so enjoyable.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Red Rising

by Pierce Brown
381 pgs  (Red Rising trilogy #1)

Red Rising is the first book in a science fiction trilogy currently being written by Pierce Brown. The setting is the planet Mars, at a point in the future in which mankind has extended its reach to the edge of the solar system and is terraforming the non-gaseous planets, like Mars, so that they can eventually become habitable. Society is ruled by a color-coded caste system, consisting of Golds, Pinks, Reds, and several others that people are born into, which determine their station for the rest of their lives.

Darrow was born a Red, the lowest of the castes. He has spent his entire life below the surface of Mars, drilling and mining for the substance that he and the other Reds in his mining colony have been told will one day make it possible for mankind to live on the surface. He believes that his life has a purpose and he's content with it--until he learns that everything he's been told has been a lie.

Unbeknownst to Darrow and the rest of the mining colony, the surface of Mars has been habitable for generations now. In fact, there's an entire civilization that exists there, and able to exist because of the Reds below the surface. Darrow and the other Reds have had no idea that their entire existence has been that of a slave. When Darrow eventually learns the truth, he becomes part of a resistance group that has been trying to bring down the Golds--the ruling class--and destroy the entire caste system.

Darrow undergoes extensive training and an entire physical and genetic makeover in order to be able to infiltrate the Golds on the surface. He becomes the key piece in the resistance group's plans to destroy the Golds from within.

Red Rising is a fantastic beginning to a very promising trilogy. It's been compared to Ender's Game, and Hunger Games, two apt comparisons, although this one is not for younger readers.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, February 2, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doer
530 pgs

All the Light We Cannot See is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It's been on the NYT bestseller list for the past five months now and it was voted one of the top 10 books of 2014 by Amazon. Its popularity and critical acclaim are both well deserved. I know it's a little cliché to say, but I really didn't want this one to end. Doerr uses two very different main characters to tell his story: a French girl and a German boy, both young children as World War II begins in Europe.

Marie-Laure LeBlanc's father is the locksmith at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. He has a gift for carving model buildings and building intricate lock boxes that he uses to hide his young daughter's birthday treats in every year. When Marie-Laure goes blind at the age of six, her father carves an amazing replica of the city they live in, enabling her to  memorize the streets and buildings in it until she's eventually able to navigate around the real city independently and with confidence. 

Werner Pfinnig didn't have the same parental support that Marie-Laure did. Werner grew up an orphan in Germany, but Werner was a young boy with an inquisitive mind and an innate understanding of electrical circuits and radio waves. At a very young age Werner demonstrated his gift by building a shortwave radio and using it to stay up late at night listening to a man give lectures on various scientific topics. His talents eventually garnered the attention of the Third Reich and led to a job in the Nazi party of locating unauthorized radio transmissions in Nazi-occupied France.

Doerr repeatedly alternates between the stories of his two main characters as their paths slowly and inevitably cross. I can't compliment the writing, the story, and the characters Doerr creates in this book highly enough. It's a must read and the type of book that will stick in your mind long after it's over.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★