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.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆