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


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.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆