Friday, July 31, 2015


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.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆