Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Girl on the Train

by Paula Hawkins
323 pgs

With the runaway success of Gone Girl, it was inevitable that others would try to recreate its success themselves. It's pretty clear that Paula Hawkins took note of what made Gillian Flynn's book so popular, and then used some of those same elements and methods of storytelling for her first novel. Fortunately she did so remarkably well. Like its predecessor, The Girl on the Train uses alternating narrators, with Rachel, the primary narrator, offering an unreliable account of what takes place in order to keep the reader guessing and making assumptions till the end.

Rachel is recently divorced and losing her fight against alcoholism, which destroyed her marriage, and is continuing to derail her life. Every day she rides the commuter train into and out of London for her job. Each day the train has to make a brief stop behind the street where the house she once lived in with her ex-husband Tom resides. So twice a day she has to spend a brief minute trying to avoid looking in through the rear windows of the house, where Tom and the woman he left Rachel for, live with their new baby daughter. Instead, she tries to focus on one of the houses a few houses down the street. It's owned by a young couple, obviously deeply in love and living the type of life Rachel always thought she'd end up having.

One day, while the train is stopped, Rachel sees something take place at the house she's been watching, and soon after, she sees on the news that the wife has disappeared. She's convinced that what she saw take place in the house is connected with the wife's disappearance and she tries to insert herself into the police investigation, and into the lives of those involved. Unfortunately, her binge drinking and subsequent blackouts make her at best, an unreliable witness.

In a genre typically dominated by male protagonists who are strong, assured, and powerful, this newly-popular breed of thrillers is a welcome change, and Paula Hawkins has shown that she has every right to stand right next to Gillian Flynn there.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Making Money

by Terry Pratchett
349 pgs (Discworld Series #36)

Earlier this month Terry Pratchett passed away, having battled early-onset Alzheimer's disease for the past eight years. He was 66 years old. With the exception of Stephen King, I've read more books by Terry Pratchett, than any other author. With only a few of his books left for me to read, I feel like I'm coming to the end of a trip that I've thoroughly enjoyed.

Making Money is the second of Pratchett's Discworld books to feature Moist von Lipwig, the former member of the Assassin's Guild, who was spared execution by Lord Vetinari only to become beholden to the Patrician whenever he's needed. This time Moist finds himself in charge of both the Royal Bank and the Royal Mint. Moist soon discovers that neither one is making any money. The citizens of Ankh-Morpork don't trust bankers, and the Mint has been operating at a loss, due to the amount of time and the cost associated with producing coins. Moist takes on the challenge of convincing Ankh-Morporkians to begin using a new paper currency, which they soon realize isn't backed by gold at the Royal Bank, like Moist initially promised them it was.

Meanwhile, a familiar, and unwelcomed person from Moist's past shows up. He knows who Moist once was and Moist's new safe and lucrative existence becomes threatened. It will take an army of four thousand Golems to ensure that Moist's plan succeeds and that he doesn't suffer the fate he was once spared.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Sudden Light

by Garth Stein
396 pgs

Garth Stein follows up his very popular The Art of Racing in the Rain with a coming-of-age ghost story. In A Sudden Light 14-year-old Trevor Riddell accompanies his father back to Riddell House, the palatial estate his father grew up in outside of Seattle. His father's ancestor Elijah Riddell made his money as a lumber baron in the early 1900s, and he built the palatial estate Trevor's father has been called back to out of huge whole trees overlooking Puget Sound.

When they arrive, Trevor meets his grandfather Samuel Riddell, who suffers from Alzheimer's, and his beautiful aunt Serena, who lives with Samuel and cares for him. Now that the family fortune is all gone, and the house is falling apart and close to being condemned, Trevor's father has been summoned back by Serena to help her convince their father to sign a power of attorney, allowing them to sell the estate to a developer for millions of dollars.

But as Trevor begins exploring Riddell House, he soon finds that Grandpa Samuel and Aunt Serena aren't the only two inhabiting the mansion. There's a spirit lingering in the darkened staircases and musty rooms, and the spirit wants to enlist Trevor's help in stopping the sale of the house to developers, so that the land the house was built on can be returned to the beautiful natural beauty that once existed there.

I've yet to read any of Stein's previous books, including The Art of Racing in the Rain, so I have nothing to compare A Sudden Light to, but knowing how popular his previous book was, I had high hopes going into this one. Overall I wasn't disappointed. The book has some flaws, chief of which is the highly-refined language used by 14-year-old Trevor throughout, but the mood and tone of the book were excellent, and the story was interesting and kept me engaged, especially towards the end. It's a book I will be recommending to others, and it made me want to go back and read his others.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Dark Horse

by Craig Johnson
318 pgs   (Longmire Series #5)

There is no question as to whether Mary Barsad is guilty of shooting and killing her husband Wade. Wade had burned down their barn with Mary's prized horses trapped inside and Mary was found next to his body, holding the gun used to kill him, and incoherently mumbling and saying she killed him. But when Mary is transferred to Sheriff Walt Longmire's jail for a time because of overcrowding in the neighboring county, Walt begins to doubt the validity of the facts surrounding the seemingly open-and-shut case, as well as Mary's confession to the murder. Operating outside his jurisdiction, Walt tries to go undercover as an insurance agent in the small town where the crime took place, hoping to resolve his doubts and uncover the truth.

The fifth book in author Craig Johnson's Longmire mystery series, The Dark Horse adds another layer to each of Johnson's main characters: Sheriff Walt Longmire, his deputy Victoria "Vic" Moretti, and Walt's lifelong friend, Henry Standing Bear. Alone, each of them could be the central character in a book or series of books. The fact that they're all together as an ensemble in one series, ensures that each book is highly enjoyable and the type of book that you hate to see end each time.

I don't know why, but I'm repeatedly surprised and impressed with how good of a writer Johnson is. I think I subconsciously don't expect books this well written, to come from someone who lives in one of the most rural towns in Wyoming. I really should know better by now. These books are entertaining, smart, eloquent, and a lot of fun to read.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, March 13, 2015

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances

by Neil Gaiman
310 pgs

I always get excited when an author I enjoy puts out a collection of their short stories. Since I rarely read anthologies or the magazines where these stories are first published, they're almost always new to me. I'm also a big fan of the short-story format itself. I love the fact that there's no character development or backstory that needs to take place. There's also very little plotting or the slow build up of suspense. It's just a quick and hopefully captivating moment in time that the author delivers in 10 or so pages. Neil Gaiman is one of the best at accomplishing this well. In fact, his short stories usually tend to stay with me even longer than his novels do.

Trigger Warning is Gaiman's third collection of his short stories, and like the previous two, in it he offers up a strange and category-defying assortment of stories, along with a few poems he describes as "free bonuses." Among the stories is a retelling of the story of Sleeping Beauty, a Doctor Who story, a return to the world of American Gods, a fantastic story of an "uninventor," who makes the world a better place by uninventing the things that the world would be better off without, and my personal favorite in the book, a story he wrote as a birthday present for Ray Bradbury.

Each story is worth reading, and every one of them is unmistakably Gaiman. The man can do no wrong.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Half a King

by Joe Abercrombie
333 pgs  (Shattered Sea trilogy #1)

Half a King is the first book in The Shattered Sea trilogy Joe Abercrombie is currently writing for a slightly younger audience. Book two, Half the World was just published, and book three, Half a War will be out later this year.

Yarvi is the second son of the King and Queen of Gettland. He's young, highly intelligent, and because he was born with one severely deformed hand, he's despised and considered to be half a man by his father and older brother. No one considers him a worthy successor to the thrown, and he's the target of ridicule on the training field because of his inability to use a sword, axe, or shield. On the day he is to take the final exam to become a minister, renouncing his birthright forever, he receives word from his uncle that both his father and older brother have been murdered. He is now King of Gettland. While reluctantly leading his army to avenge the deaths of his father and brother, Yarvi is betrayed by his uncle and barely escapes with his life.

Yarvi becomes a slave, chained to an oar on a ship in the Shattered Sea where he thinks of nothing else but seeking revenge against those who killed his family and betrayed him.

Half a King is a promising first edition to the series. It's reminiscent of one of my favorite books of all time, The Count of Monte Cristo. It's also hard to miss the similarities between it and The Game of Thrones. It's the first book by Abercrombie that I've read and from what I've heard, it's not as good as his books for adults. That bodes well for how much I should enjoy his other books. I'll be trying to get my hands on those as soon as I can.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, March 6, 2015


by Carl Hiaasen
371 pgs

Nick and Marta are not crazy about their teacher, Mrs. Starch. She's strict and mean, and makes one of her students write a 500-word essay on zits when he bites off (and eats) a pencil she was pointing at his face. But when a wildfire breaks out while the class is on a field trip to the Black Vine Swamp and Mrs. Starch is separated from the group and then doesn't show up to school the next day, Nick and Marta believe that there's more going on than what they're being told by the school's Headmaster. 

Their investigation take them back into the swamp where they stumble across two things: an illegal drilling operation being conducted by a shady oil company, and evidence (see book title) of a highly endangered panther in the area. They eventually learn that the panther abandoned her cub during the wildfire and their mission evolves into reuniting the cub with its mother. 

Scat is one of a few books that Carl Hiaasen has written for a younger audience (10 and up). His others are Hoot, Chomp, Flush, and Skink--No Surrender. Each of them has an environmental backstory and will appeal to both younger and older audiences alike. They're the type of books that parents can read to elementary-age children and will enjoy just as much as their children will.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Gone Girl

by Gillian Flynn
419 pgs

When Gone Girl came out a couple of years ago, a lot of people that I know wanted to talk about it. Then last year, when the movie was released, those same people wanted to talk about it all over again. Not having read it myself, I had to impose my will over the conversations each time and make sure they didn't say anything that would spoil the book for me, until I could get around to reading it myself. Well, feel free to talk away now.

I don't know that it makes a lot of sense to summarize the story, since I think most people have a general idea of what it's about. But just in case...man and woman meet and fall in love, honeymoon period ends and times get rough, woman disappears under suspicious circumstances, all believe it was the husband that killed her. The rest is what made this book so popular for so long.

This was the first of Gillian Flynn's books that I've read, but it won't be the last. I thought the story was exceptionally well thought out, and her main characters were fascinating. But what I thought was the most successful aspect of the book was her method of telling the story through an unreliable first-person narrator. That was brilliant. It was the perfect method for telling the story Flynn wanted to tell, and in the way that it needed to be told. 

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆