Thursday, December 29, 2016

Stiletto

by Daniel O'Malley
583 pgs  (The Checquy series #2)

I had been eagerly waiting for Daniel O'Malleys follow-up to The Rook ever since reading it almost five years ago. His Brotherhood of the Checquy--England's secret government organization consisting of humans with supernatural abilities who protect the general populace from the supernatural--is a highly-entertaining creation, with the potential to be the basis for a long series of books.

At the end of The Rook, the Checquy was offered an alliance with the Grafters, their enemies for over three hundred years. The Grafters--an equally-entertaining creation of O'Malley's--is an organization consisting of alchemists who developed fantastical modifications for the human body, and surgically performed those modifications on each other in order to give them powers and abilities that a brief description of which by me wouldn't do justice.

As Stiletto begins, the Grafters send a delegation to the headquarters of the Checquy in London to work out the details of the proposed alliance. But the Grafters haven't been entirely open with the Checquy. They haven't informed them that a splinter-group calling themselves the Antagonists strongly opposes the alliance, and have already proven their willingness to use terrorist tactics in order to derail the process. The Antagonists have followed the Grafters to London and are laying the groundwork for their plans to ensure that animosity between the Checquy and Grafters continues for centuries to come.

When Rook Myfany Thomas, who strongly supports the alliance, learns of the existence of the Antagonists and their plans, she knows she may be the only one with the ability to stop them and allow the process to succeed. What proceeds is an action-packed story best described as a mashup between The X-Men and Men in Black.

O'Malley is an author that I'm very excited about. he only has two books published so far, but both of them demonstrate that he's an author worth checking out. His characters are well-developed and his stories are complex, fun, and entertaining. My only criticism is the nearly-five-year wait for book two. Everyone needs to buy both his books and give him the ability financially to quit his day job working for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and write full time. I can't imagine he'd like to continue working there a day longer than he has to. Here's hoping those days are numbered and he's able to focus solely on writing soon. Selfish of me, I know, but I'm pretty sure it's a win-win situation for everyone involved.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Death Cure

by James Dashner
327 pgs  (The Maze Runner series #3)

The Death Cure is the third book in James Dashner's The Maze Runner series. It picks up the story shortly after The Scorch Trials ended. Thomas is being held in isolation by WICKED and he's still unsure whether he can trust Teresa, who believes what they're being told, that "WICKED is good."

When he's finally released and allowed to rejoin the other Gladers and members from Group B, they're all told by Assistant Director Janson that a cure for the Flare exists and that not everyone in their groups is immune. WICKED once again needs their help obtaining the cure...before it's too late for their friends.

The Death Cure is essentially the end of a trilogy. There are two more books in the series, but they're both prequels to the events of these three. And while I plan to read the prequels, I wasn't very impressed with Dashner's conclusion. There's plenty of action and he answers most of the questions that led up to this book, but I thought things ended in a cliche. There's a lot of dystopian fiction out there, and much of it is written for younger readers, like this is. So Dashner would have done himself (and me) a favor by separating himself form the others with a more unique conclusion.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

All the Pretty Horses

by Cormac McCarthy
302 pgs  (The Border trilogy #1)

All the Pretty Horses is the first book in Cormac McCarthy's Border trilogy. It's set in the late 1940s and is a coming-of-age story featuring John Grady Cole. John Grady is a 16-ear-old boy who decides to leave the Texas ranch he grew up on when he learns his other has plans to sell it. He leaves with his horse and his friend Rawlins and travels south across the border into Mexico looking for work.

Along the way, they cross paths with a young boy named Blevins. Blevins looks like he's about 13 years old, but he claims to be much older. He's a runaway, but he's riding a huge horse which is much too fine an animal to belong to a runaway. One night, during a severe thunderstorm, Blevins' horse runs away and Blevins loses the vintage Colt pistol he had been carrying. He convinces John Grady and Rawlins to accompany him to the nearest town to look for them, but when they find them, Blevins has no way to prove that hes' the original owner of either. He decides he's going to steal back his horse, which sets off a series of events that ends with John Grady sitting in a Mexican jail cell.

This is the third book by Cormac McCarthy that I've read, and I've learned that his books are the kinds that are meant to be studied more than merely read. He tells a story, but the story itself seems to be more of a vehicle to deliver the deeper message he's telling. This book is more about idealism and how the world is intent on destroying it with reality. John Grady has a strong sense of idealism, he believes there's a cowboy code of honor that, if followed, will lead him to love and success. But his experiences teach him that that's not the way the world works. John Grady is forced to make decisions in order to survive, decisions that contradict his sense of the way the world is supposed to work.

All the Pretty Horses is not an uplifting story (having read Cormac's others, I shouldn't have expected one). It is however, a great book. It's beautifully written and is another example of just how good McCarthy is.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Last Days of Night

by Graham Moore
366 pgs

Graham Moore's second book The Last Days of Night is a fantastic example of how fascinating and entertaining historical fiction can be. The story begins in 1888. The use of electricity is relatively new, and in the opening scene, Paul Cravath, a young attorney, witnesses a Western Union man being electrocuted while he tries to repair a live wire above Broadway. Blue flames shoot from his mouth, and his skin sloughs off his bones.

Later that same day, Paul meets Thomas Edison, and soon finds himself at the crux of one of the most critical and far-reaching legal battles in the history of the world. The battle over US patent #223868--the electric lamp. Eight years earlier, Edison had been granted the patent, but George Westinghouse, an equally important, if not prolific inventor, believed he had made a better one and wanted to be able to sell it. Edison sued Westinghouse for violating his patent and demanded $1 billion.

If Edison is victorious, his light bulbs, which run on direct current, would be the only ones sold, and the nation's power grid would expand across the country offering only direct current. Westinghouse, on the other hand, enlists the help of another inventor, Nikola Tesla, to find a way to use alternating current, which is safer and can be transmitted over much greater distances. The battle is over the light bulb, but the war is over who will have control of the nation's growing demand for power. The winner will quickly become one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the country.

If you're looking for an absolutely accurate telling of the events around the "War of the Currents," as it became known, I wouldn't recommend the book. Moore takes many liberties with the time frame of events, and much of the backstory for key characters is based on his own suppositions. It is, after all, historical fiction. But if you're interested in learning more about how this key time in our nation's progress, and do so while reading a highly-entertaining story, I can't recommend this one enough. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Dinosaur Lords

by Victor Milán
445 pgs  (The Dinosaur Lords series #1)

I feel compelled to begin with an explanation on this one. I mean, it is, after all, a book about medieval knights fighting while riding dinosaurs. So why would an educated, relatively well-rounded and socially adept person choose to pick up a book of this nature? The answer is pretty simple--it's a book about medieval knights fighting while riding dinosaurs. Let's move on.

The Dinosaur Lords takes place in the Empire of Neuvaropa, a fictional land similar in look and feel to Europe in the 14th century. The book, which is the beginning of a series Victor Milán is writing, introduces three main characters: Karyl Bogomirskly, the captain of a Triceratops army, who himself rides an allosaurous, Rob Korrigan, a dinosaur whisperer of sorts, and Melodia, a princess.

George R.R. Martin described the book as "...a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones," and that's a pretty accurate description. I don't know whether the rivalries between the different feudal lords, and the lengths they'll be willing to go to in order to defeat one another will equal those in GRRM's A Song of Fire and Ice series, but it's clear Milán is not just writing a book about battles between dinosaur-riding knights.

But let me weigh in on the dinosaur-riding knights. I was expecting the dinosaur aspect of the story to be a little campy. It's not. The fact that there are dinosaurs interwoven into the story gives it a level of appeal it wouldn't otherwise have. They're not just used for battle. They're a part of all aspects of life in Neuvaropa. They're a source of food, some have been domesticated for use working the land, they're ridden during jousting tournaments for entertainment, they're used for executions, and of course there are the wild ones to be watched out for.

Milán and his new series are legitimate additions to the genre. His characters are engaging and multi-layered, his story is intelligent and entertaining, and he inserts just the right level of fantasy and the supernatural into the world he's created to let you know that there are bigger forces at play than just those who first appear.

Oh yeah, and there are dinosaurs!

    

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Bone Labyrinth

by James Rollins
471 pgs  (Sigma series #11)

Having read the previous 10 books in James Rollins' Sigma series, I know what I'm getting when I pick one of them up. The backstory is going to have something to do with a long-forgotten ancient myth or curse; one that has surfaced again and threatens to destroy the planet in modern times. The elite group of highly-intelligent, highly-skilled, and superbly-equipped government operatives known as Sigma Force will be called upon to save the day. The action will be over the top, the sex scene will make my eyes roll (and not in a good way), and I will finish the book with a smile on my face and ready for the next one to come out.

In The Bone Labyrinth Rollins starts with the premise that tens of thousands of years ago, some Neanderthals mated with homo sapiens and produced a highly-intelligent offspring--the ancestors of modern man. He then takes us to Rome, in 1969, and reveals the existence of a map that could reveal the location of Adam and Eve's bones. Then it's on to current day and a research facility in Atlanta, where Maria Crandall, a geneticist, is doing remarkable work with a hybrid gorilla named Baako. Baako is extremely intelligent and can speak fluent sign language.

The action begins when Maria and Baako are kidnapped by Chinese forces and taken back to a research facility in Beijing. The Chinese--in true Chinese fashion--are close to creating a race of superhumans, but need to unlock the mysteries behind why human intelligence increased so dramatically all those thousands of years ago.

Part of me feels like I should be embarrassed to admit to reading books like these. But I'm not. I'm owning my guilty pleasure. I like this series. There's nothing wrong with checking your brain at the door and suspending disbelief occasionally while you read a story that's just fun and exiting. The Bone Labyrinth is a worthy addition to the series. I enjoyed it and am looking forward to picking up The Seventh Plague next month.

    

Monday, November 28, 2016

Lost and Gone Forever

by Alex Grecian
375 pgs  (Scotland Yard's Murder Squad series #5)

Inspector Walter Day of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad has been missing for over a year now. He disappeared mysteriously at the end of The Harvest Man and many believe it was at the hands of Jack the Ripper, who he had been hunting. Since that time, his partner Nevil Hammersmith has left Scotland Yard and started his own detective agency in order to focus all his energies on finding Day.

Day, was taken by Jack, and who has been held captive and abused mentally and physically for the past year, has recently been released from his captivity. He's wandering around London without any memory of who he is, where he lives, and even the existence of his wife Claire and their young children. He also has no idea why his captor left his cell door unlocked one day and allowed him to leave.

Jack has spent the past year mesmerizing Day. He's caused Day to forget all about his past life and has plans for Day. He intends to use him to get to someone he himself can't get close to. Jack is no longer interested in killing prostitutes. He's now after the men who captured him over a year ago and kept him and tortured him in the tunnels under London for the crimes he had committed. It was Day who unknowingly freed Jack, and now he's being used by him to exact his revenge.

Lost and Gone Forever is one of those books I couldn't put down. I've enjoyed each of the four previous books in Grecian's series, but this one was especially entertaining and captivating. I'm looking forward to the next book and will move it to the top of my to-be-read stack as soon as it's out.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Cockroaches

by Jo Nesbø
374 pgs  (Harry Hole series #2)

Cockroaches is Jo Nesbø's second novel featuring detective Harry Hole (pronounced "Ho-leh"). He introduced his severely-flawed protagonist in The Bat, and has since written several more in the series (which I'm looking forward to reading).

This time Harry is sent to Bangkok to investigate the murder of the Norwegian ambassador to Thailand. The ambassador had been found stabbed to death in a seedy motel by a prostitute who was planning to meet him there. Harry was sent from Norway to try to quietly investigate the ambassador's death while avoiding any scandalous news coverage. As Harry begins his investigation, he quickly learns that he's been sent there to simply whitewash over the crime, and that no one is interested in uncovering why the ambassador was killed, and by whom.

Bangkok has a pretty well-known reputation for catering to criminal activity; child prostitution, opium dens, and organized crime just to name a few. Which makes it a great location for Nesbø to send Harry. Harry has his vices, and while he periodically seems to get his act together long enough to complete an investigation, Nesbø makes it clear that he's always on the edge of a relapse.

But what makes Harry such a fantastic character, is the fact that it's clear that at his core he's a good person, and will go to great lengths, even sacrificing himself if needed, to protect the innocent and uncover the truth.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hell's Bounty

by Joe R. & John L. Lansdale
190 pgs

Hell's Bounty is a book that turned out to be exactly what I was hoping it would be. It's a Western-Faustian-Zombie mashup, and really, how could I not like that? I also appreciated the fact that it didn't take itself very seriously.

It's a story about Smith, a dynamite-loving bounty hunter in the Old West, who blows himself all to hell--literally. He meets the Devil, who's a bartender named Snappy in a saloon and makes a deal that would spare him from spending eternity in Hell. Snappy tells Smith about Quill, a demon who has escaped from Hell and who is now preparing to open a portal to earth through which the Old Ones, an ancient group whom even the devil fears and would be subject to, could arrive through and take over the Earth.

Smith is sent back in order to stop Quill and save the Earth. Upon arriving in the town of Falling Rock, where quill is operating, he finds that Quill has been killing the townspeople and changing them into zombie-like creatures, who Smith will have to deal with before he can get to Quill.

I'm not embarrassed to say that I enjoyed this book. I was not aware that Joe Lansdale had a brother, not that the brother was a writer as well, but I was familiar enough with Joe to know that He's a fantastic author, who has written books in a wide variety of genres, and for a long time. I wasn't disappointed. The story is entertaining and fun. It's genuinely funny and clearly a tribute to some of the masters of horror like Lovecraft and George Romero.

    

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Steel Kiss

by Jeffery Deaver
482 pgs  (Lincoln Rhyme series #12)

We live in a time when many of the items we buy and use can be accessed and controlled remotely. Through an app on our phone, we can control the lights, temperature, locks, and a variety of other systems in our homes. Our appliances come with microchips that enable technicians and repair agents to diagnose problems and control them without ever setting foot in our home. Even our cars can be started, unlocked, and to a degree, driven without us having to be near them. We are quickly getting to the point where everything we buy will include technology of this kind.

In Deaver’s latest book The Steel Kiss, Deaver creates a killer capable of hacking into any of these systems and taking them over. He then uses them to target those who have upset him or who consequently try to stop him. And as the body count begins to climb, and as people are killed by their ovens, cars, microwaves, and cars, it’s up to Lincoln Rhyme and his team to find out who he is and stop him.

There’s nothing special about this installment to the Lincoln Rhyme series. It’s what you expect to get from Deaver. He does a good job of keeping you on your toes, lulling you into the false sense that you know what is going to happen next, and then throwing in one of his trademark plot twists. But after reading enough of them, I’m starting to feel like the surprises are no longer surprises. I know they’re approaching, I just don’t know exactly what they’re going to be. Still for a fan of the series, it’s a worthwhile read. 

    

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Summer of Night

by Dan Simmons
555 pgs

It's the beginning of summer break in 1960 in the small Illinois town of Elm Haven, and a small group of young boys are looking forward to long days of riding their bikes, playing baseball, and generally doing whatever they want to do for the next three months. They'll never again have to enter the huge old elementary school, which was shuttered up for good at the end of the school year. When school starts again in the fall, they'll be going to another, newer school. They have no idea that the Old Central School will play a central role in their summer, forever changing some of their lives, and ending the lives of the others.

It begins with the ringing of an ancient bell in the middle of the night. Some of the oldest of the town's inhabitants know that the ringing of the bell means an ancient debt has come due. But the boys have no idea what it means. But one by one, each of them becomes aware of sinister forces now at work in their town. Tubby is the first. He discovers a hole in the basement, crawls in, and is essentially eaten alive. Harlen is next. Seeing one of his teachers at Old Central entering the boarded-up building one night, he scales the outside and through a window, sees her talking to the ghost of her recently-deceased friend. There's the ghost of a WWI soldier that keeps appearing to one of the boys at night, and all the boys keep finding these mysterious holes throughout town. Holes large enough for a young boy to crawl in and disappear forever, or from which evil and deadly creatures can crawl out.

Based on the popularity of Stranger Things recently on Netflix, there's clearly an appetite for nostalgic horror stories featuring children, and Summer of Night would be a great reading choice for those who enjoyed it. It was written a few years after Stephen King wrote IT, and it's likely that Simmons received some of his inspiration from King's story. But he also received a great blurb on the back of the book from King (so there obviously weren't any hurt feelings).

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, October 31, 2016

The English Spy

by Daniel Silva
485 pgs  (Gabriel Allon series #15)

Eamon Quinn is a mercenary, who was once the Irish Republican Army's top bomb maker. He's also the man who--many years ago--created the bomb that killed Gabriel Allon's son and left his first wife severely damaged, both physically and mentally. The book begins in typical Silva fashion, with an explosion aboard a yacht. The explosion kills a member of the British Monarchy, and the subsequent investigation quickly identifies Quinn to be the creator of the bomb. Allon is brought in to search for Quinn and soon discovers that his involvement in the investigation is exactly what the men behind the bombing wanted.

A group of Russian spies is trying to kill Allon for recently destroying their plot to obtain oil rights in the North Sea. They are successful in detonating another bomb, which they believe kills Allon. But they will eventually learn that the reports of his death were greatly exaggerated.

Once again Silva demonstrates why he's one of the best writing spy thrillers today. His plots are sophisticated and intricate, and his stories always seem to be extremely timely, and sometimes, even prescient. he's also able to incorporate a lot of emotion through Allon, Repeatedly exposing the emotional wounds his lifetime of hunting down and killing the worst of society has inflicted on himself and those he's closest to.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The 14th Colony

by Steve Berry
450 pgs  (Cotton Malone series #11)

Steve Berry has demonstrated repeatedly that he has a unique knack for finding obscure and seemingly inconsequential aspects of our country's history, and then letting it come to light in modern times with potentially world-changing consequences. In this latest instalment he shines a light on the 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the surprising flaw it contains.

As the book begins, President Daniel's presidency is days away from ending and his successor is preparing to begin his. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution calls for the exiting President and Vice-President's terms to end at precisely noon on January 20th following the election. Usually the President and Vice-president-elect take their oaths of office within a few minutes of that time. But what happens if both were to die during that short window of time? Who would become the rightful President? It's not as clearly laid out as most would expect.

Aleksandr Zorin is an ex-KGB officer with a personal vendetta against the United States. He's gained access to a small nuclear bomb left over from the Cold War, and if he's not stopped in time, he'll use that bomb to cause a level of chaos in the United States that has never been experienced before. Of course it's up to Cotton Malone and the usual cast of supporting characters to make sure that doesn't happen.

Berry's books are always fun and entertaining. This one was a little heavy on the history, and a little too light on the excitement and and fun that I've come to expect from the Malone series. But overall, it's an enjoyable book and worth the read.

    

Friday, October 14, 2016

Perfect State / Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell

by Brandon Sanderson
177 pgs

Perfect State and Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell are two novellas Brandon Sanderson wrote a couple of years ago, which he recently published together in the same book.

Perfect State is different from anything else I've read by him. It's got more of a science fiction feel--a la Philip K. Dick--than any of his other stories. It's a brief story about the God-Emperor Kai, who has united his entire world and conquered all of his enemies. He's over 350 years old and is trying to decide what next to do with his life (he's contemplated learning how to control the weather). But first he has to go on a blind date.

The woman he's meeting is his equal from another world, and in their short time together, Kai is forced to face the truth of his own existence and what he's really accomplished with his life so far.

I don't want to spoil the story, but it reminded me a little of The Matrix. And while it didn't have a fascinating system of magic--a trademark of a Brandon Sanderson story--it's still a very interesting idea for a world and I wouldn't mind if he decided to flesh it out more with a longer book down the road.

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is the second story in the book, and is more in line with what I'm used to from Sanderson. The story is about a woman named Silence Montane, who runs a tavern in the Forests of Hell. In order to save her tavern from her creditors, Silence takes on the role of a bounty hunter and goes after Chesterton Divide and his gang. As she tracks them through the forest, you find out how the forest earned its name. This is where Sanderson really shines.

Both of the stories are quick reads--less than 90 pages each--and are well worth the hour or so it will take to read them. Shadows takes place in Sanderson's Cosmere and provides another small piece of the mosaic he has in his mind, and that he's slowly revealing through his books.

    

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Fireman

by Joe Hill
752 pgs

I remember reading somewhere once that every great author has a post-apocalyptic novel in them. I don't know whether it's true or not, but I hope it is. There's something about a story of survival after most of the rest of the world has perished that appeals to me. My favorite book of all time is one, and happens to have been written by Hill's father.

The Fireman is Joe Hill's contribution to the genre, and it's a noteworthy one. In Hill's story--like his father's--it's a plague that decimates the world's population, a plague that leaves its victims covered in gold-and-black tattoo markings and eventually results in death by spontaneous combustion.

Harper Grayson is a young nurse who lives in New England. She works in a hospital trying to treat patients infected with Dragonscale, as the infection has become known. One day while working, an injured young boy is rushed to the hospital by an anxious fireman. And while the fireman argues with the hospital staff about admitting the young boy, Harper witness the fireman begin to give off smoke, like he's about to bursts into flame. But as she watches, she realizes he's found a way to control the virus, and the smoking subsides. She soon learns that the fireman has not only learned how to prevent the virus from killing him, but he's also learned how to master and control the fire that's literally burning within him.

Joe Hill does a great job of telling his story against the backdrop of this one-of-a-kind plague. He creates a cast of memorable and likeable characters, and for over 700 pages, keeps you on edge, not knowing which one of them will become a pile of ashes before the end of the page.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

by Jonas Jonasson
387 pgs

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden shares the same sense of quirkiness and absurdity that made its predecessor The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared so enjoyable.

It’s the story of Nombeko Mayeki, a 14-year-old latrine cleaner in South Africa during the period of apartheid. Because of her race, Nombeko is presumed to be illiterate, when in fact, she is very intelligent. She has a gift for numbers and quickly gets noticed by her supervisor, who uses her to hide his own ineptitude. 


Nombeko’s station in life gradually begins to improve in stages, as she gets a job as the housemaid of the engineer in charge of South Africa’s secret nuclear weapons program.

Through a series of events that are better to read about directly from the book, Nombeko comes into possession of a nuclear warhead, one that there is no record of ever having been built.


Meanwhile, in Sweden, Ingmar Qvist has a life-long obsession with abolishing the Swedish monarchy. He has identical twin sons whom he has indoctrinated into his cause. He named them Holger One and Holger Two. Holger One is incompetent, and Holger Two officially doesn’t exist. Nombeko, an illegal immigrant, doesn’t officially exist either.


Having created three things that officially don’t exist: Nombeko, Holger Two, and a nuclear warhead, Jonasson proceeds to tell an entertaining story about how those three come together in a way only a supreme being with a sense of humor could have orchestrated.


★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hell is Empty

by Craig Johnson
309 pgs  (Longmire series #7)

Craig Johnson borrowed from both Shakespeare and Dante for his seventh book featuring Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire. The book's title comes from the famous line in The Tempest: "Hell is empty and all the devils are here." It's a fantastic line, and a very appropriate title for Johnson's story.

The story itself was heavily influenced by Dante's Inferno. In the poem, Dante is guided by the poet Virgil through the nine circles of hell. In Johnson's story, Longmire is guided by the giant Indian Virgil White Buffalo as he travels through his own various levels of hell.

It's early spring and Walt is assisting with a prisoner transport. Raynoud Shade is a Canadian Indian convicted of killing a young boy who is on his way to prison for the rest of his life. Shade is also a psychotic schizophrenic who sees visions and hears voices.

While traveling through the Bighorn Mountains, a fierce storm arrives and Shade manages to escape. Now it's up to Walt to track him down before Shade decides to kill again. But Walt's primary concern quickly becomes his own survival, as the mountains and the storm threaten to take his life, or at a minimum, his sanity.

I've heard Craig Johnson speak in person a couple of times over the past few years and it's very apparent that regardless of the fact that he lives in rural Wyoming, in a town with a population in the double digits, that he's a highly-intelligent and well-read man. So the fact that he used classical literature as the inspiration for his story came as no surprise. What was a bit of a pleasant surprise though was the fact that seven books into his series, the books continue to get better and better.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Glittering World

by Robert Levy
338 pgs

Michael "Blue" Whitley is a New York chef and restaurant owner. Despite his seemingly innate ability to create delicious food at his restaurant, he and his restaurant are struggling financially. He's heavily in debt and in desperate need for an influx of cash. Fortunately, one is within reach. Blue's grandmother recently passed away and left him her house in Nova Scotia.

Ignoring his mother's objections to him traveling to Canada to see the property he grew up in and overseeing its sale, Blue decides to drive up there with three of his closest friends. Blue hasn't been there since his mother took him and moved to the United States when he was five years old.

Arriving in the small community of Starling Cove where his new property is located, Blue and his friends quickly learn that there is something inexplicably different about the town. They learn that Starling Cove is an old hippie commune. One to which artists and social outcasts have flocked to for generations. There have been numerous instances of children who have gone missing from Starling Cove over the years. Some of whom never returned, but others did. Some of them walked out of the woods years later, naked and speaking incoherently about the "Other Kind," strange life forms that live under the mountain and the lake.

Blue learns that he was one of those children who returned, and he soon begins to feel drawn back to the woods.

The Glittering World is the debut novel by Robert Levy. It's strength is its creativity. The "Other Kind" are a unique variation of the mystical fae creatures present in fairy tales and other stories. But overall the book falls short. The story itself never struck a chord with me. I might check out whatever Levy writes next out of curiosity, but if it's more of the same, I'll be moving on.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Empathy Problem

by Gavin Extence
403 pgs

The Empathy Problem is Gavin Extence's third book. He's not well known, but he has quickly become one of my favorite authors. It follows The Universe Versus Alex Woods and The Mirror World of Melody Black; two fantastic books that I can't recommend strongly enough. This one is another great one.

Gabriel Vaughn is a 32-year-old hedge fund manager in London. He makes millions of pounds every year, drives a Ferrari, cares about no one but himself, and he just found out he has an inoperable brain tumor and has only a few months left to live. He has no intentions of telling anyone of his condition, and with the exception of his boss and coworkers, there's no one in his life to tell.

But either the tumor or the realization of his own mortality begins to change Gabriel. He starts to feel emotions for the first time in his life. He begins to feel empathy and a disturbing sense of compassion for those he previously considered with a sense of revulsion--if he even considered them at all.

I've found it interesting that Extence's books, while each very different, have each had a common element--the brain. Alex Woods was struck by a meteorite in the head, which had a significant impact on the rest of his life. Melody Black is bipolar (the same condition I believe Extence himself lives with), and Gabriel's brain is being slowly changed by the tumor.

I can't wait for whatever Extence decides to write next. I've become less and less patient with getting my hands on his books as each subsequent book has come out. I don't think this one has been published by his US publisher yet, I had to order it from a store in London, where he lives, and where I think he's more well known than he is here in the States. I hope that that changes soon, and that more people here pick up one of his books and find out just how great of an author he is.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Friday, September 9, 2016

Skin Tight

by Carl Hiaasen
319 pgs

Dr. Rudy Graveline is the director of a highly-successful surgical center in Florida. The rich and the famous come to him for tummy tucks, facelifts, boob jobs, and any other procedure they believe will keep them looking young and beautiful. He has built a reputation for himself that has made him a very wealthy, and morally corrupt man.

But Rudy has some skeletons in his closet, secrets that if discovered would mean the end of his career, and more importantly, the end of his extravagant way of life. The first is that he was never trained nor certified as a plastic surgeon. He earned his M.D. from a questionable medical school, and he was barely even able to accomplish that. After his patients are anesthetized, Rudy usually steps aside and lets someone else perform the procedure. But every once in a while his ego gets the best of him and he attempts the surgery himself--usually with disastrous results. One of those occasions led to another one of his secrets: he recently accidentally killed a young woman during a botched nose job.

When he learns that Mick Stranahan, a retired investigator for the Florida State Attorney is looking into the girl's disappearance, Rudy decides to hire someone to get rid of him.

Skin Tight is one of Hiaasen's earlier books, so when I say it's classic Hiaasen, it really is. It has everything that makes his books so fun to read. His characters are as hilarious as his plots. His villains are threatening, but absurd, and the combination results in books that are a lot of fun to read.

    

Friday, September 2, 2016

Child 44

by Tom Rob Smith
440 pgs  (Leo Demidov series #1)

Set primarily in 1953, Child 44 is the first novel in a series by Tom Rob Smith featuring Leo Demidov, an MGB Agent in the Soviet Union. Leo has spent years hunting dissidents and meting out punishment to any and all whom he believes have done anything, said anything, or thought anything which goes against Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party. He has risen in the ranks of the MGB to the point where he and his wife enjoy many comforts and luxuries not provided to most citizens. He believes in the Socialist cause and that his work is important to ensuring its strength and success.

He has been taught that since the government provides everything its citizens need, the only crimes that exist are acts committed by those trying to subvert the power and authority of the Party. Crimes like senseless murder just don't exist in the Soviet Union.

But someone is killing young children throughout western Russia. Their bodies have been found naked, with a string tied around their ankle, their stomach removed, and their mouth filled with dirt. Leo suspects that all the killings are the work of one man, but when he begins to investigate the cases, he's demoted and exiled to a small town hundreds of kilometers away from Moscow. As he continually tries to pursue the killer, he finds himself disgraced and hunted by the Party he served for so many years.

Child 44 is a fantastic book! Not only did Smith succeed in telling a compelling story of a serial killer-- a story inspired by the actual crimes of Andrei Chikatilo, aka the Rostov Ripper, the Red Ripper, and the Butcher of Rostov--but he does so against an extremely vivid backdrop. Smith does an incredible job of describing what life was like in the Soviet Union while Joseph Stalin was at its head. He describes the desperation and fear that were so prevalent throughout the Soviet Union during that time. Even without the mystery surrounding the killings the book would be worth reading, if only to learn what it was like for the typical citizen alive during that time to try to survive.  With the combination of the fascinating historical setting and the grizzly murders of a serial killer, Child 44 is a book I'll be recommending to family and friends enthusiastically.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Man Called Ove

by Fredrik Backman
337 pgs

On the surface, Ove is a cantankerous 59-year-old curmudgeon. Ever since his wife passed away a few months ago, he has lived alone. He has no family and he has no friends. He spends his days policing his neighborhood, making sure people are complying with the signs and notices posted, following all the rules, and generally ensuring everything is in order. He has no patience for people in general, nor does he believe the world as a whole is headed in the right direction. He has come to the conclusion that it’s time for him to die.

Unfortunately for Ove, every time he tries to end his life, he gets interrupted. Either the pregnant woman, who recently moved in to the neighborhood needs to borrow something, or someone needs him to help with something. All Ove wants is to reunite with his wife, but the world seems to be conspiring against him.

As A Man Called Ove progresses, and Backman slowly reveals Ove's backstory, you begin to see what type of man he truly is. It's not a big shock to learn that deep down Ove has a huge heart--you see that coming a mile away. But the reason this book is so fantastic is the way Backman successfully shows the profound effect that one person can have on the life of another. You learn the story of how Ove's life changed forever they day he met a young woman on a train named Sonja, and how it changed forever again many years later when he had to say goodbye to her for the last time. Backman also shows how Ove's life, seemingly without his knowledge or permission, has just as profound an effect on the life of so many of the people surrounding him late in his life.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

This Census-Taker

by China Miéville
184 pgs

This Census-Taker is a new novella by China Miéville. It’s a fairy tale, of sorts, more the Brothers Grimm, than Walt Disney. True to Miéville’s style, it’s not clear when or where the story is taking place. It’s a story told by an older man, about when he was a young boy. The boy lived near the top of a hillside, overlooking a poor, war-torn village below. The boy’s home and the village are separated by a deep gorge with a bridge spanning it.

The boy’s father is a magic-key maker. The keys the villagers pay him to make for them can bring love, fix broken machines, change the weather, or any one of a number of things his father agrees to. It’s not made clear how his father does it, nor why. According to the man’s memory, it’s just what his father did. It’s not important to the story.

The story begins with the boy running down the hill into the town. He’s hysterical because he just witnessed his mother killing his father, or his father killing his mother; someone killed someone back in his isolated home. The authorities in town don’t believe him, and when his father comes looking for him, they return his son to him, because the boy belongs to him.

Although his father speaks kindly to the boy, and assures him he’s loved and safe, the boy lives in fear. A few time he witnesses his father brutally kill animals by beating them, and he suspects he’s killed more people than just his mother. He tries to escape, but is caught each time.

Eventually a peculiar man shows up at the boy’s house while his father’s away. He wears glasses and a tie, and carries a gun. He explains to the boy that he’s the census-taker and has come to speak to the boy’s father. He may be the only person capable of freeing the boy from his father’s care.

This Census-Taker is the Miéville equivalent of Coke Zero; it gives you a taste of the weirdness in Miéville’s mind, but it’s not the full experience. Still, it’s satisfying and well worth the day or so it takes to read it.

    

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Scorch Trials

by James Dashner
384 pgs  (The Maze Runner series #2)

The Scorch Trials picks up right where The Maze Runner ends. Thomas, and the remaining “Gladers” have escaped The Maze and have been taken to a facility by their rescuers. There they meet members from other groups and learn that theirs wasn’t the only maze, and that other groups were being put through the same tests as they’ve been. While there they learn about “the Flare,” a plague that eventually turns the infected into aggressive zombie-like creatures known as Cranks. The Flare has spread throughout the world and lead to the formation of WICKED, a group of scientists tasked with finding a cure. Thomas and the others are told that they, and the experiments they’ve been subjected to, are an integral part of WICKED’s search for a cure.

Shortly after arriving at the facility, a group of Cranks attacks the facility and Thomas and others are forced to flee. They meet up with a scientist from WICKED who informs them that they’ve all been infected by the Flare and now have to pass a second test. They have to successfully cross the Scorch within the next two weeks, where they will be given an experimental cure.

James Dashner successfully maintains the same level of excitement and mystery in The Scorch Trials that he established in The Maze Runner. It’s clear he’s not planning to reveal too much too soon. But rather, he seems intent to slowly reveal what is really going on with WICKED throughout the series. Overall I enjoyed the book, and plan to pick up The Death Cure soon. 

    

Friday, August 12, 2016

We Five

by Mark Dunn
365 pgs

Mark Dunn seems to intentionally try to make writing a book harder for himself than it needs to be. Each time he writes one, he forces himself to not only come up with a new and intriguing story, but also, a way to tell the story in a unique and inventive manner.

In Ella Minnow Pea he progressively eliminated letters from the alphabet he was allowed to use. In Ibid: A Life, he uses footnotes to tell his story, and in American Decameron, he wrote 100 short stories, each written in a different year of the 1900s and taking place in every state in the country, to tell one grand story.

In We Five, Dunn quilts together five different versions of the same story into one continuous tale. He describes in the foreword how this story has been written five different times by five different authors. The first version was written in 1859 and is set in Manchester England, the second: 1906, in San Francisco, the third: 1923, in Sinclair Lewis’ fictional Zenith, Winnemac, fourth: 1940, in London, and last: 1997, in rural Mississippi.

The story is of five sheltered young women. They’ve all been very close friends for years, and all of them are single. Some of them would very much like to get married, the others have no desire to be. And for one of them at least, not to a man. The group catches the attention of five young suitors, who decide to have a contest to see which of them can go the furthest with one of the girls. When the girls eventually become aware of the would-be suitors’ deceptions, the consequences become increasingly more severe.

The structure of Dunn’s story is the book’s strongest attribute. He seamlessly alternates between the five different narratives numerous times throughout the book, and each time, the language changes to fit the period. He uses five distinct voices as he writes, but he keeps the continuity of his themes intact.

Where We Five didn’t work for me was in the story itself. I don’t know if it was because the story was too much like a Jane Austen novel for my taste or what, but it never captivated me. I never got lost in the story, and as it progressed, I became more and more focused on the structure, and less and less focused on the story and the characters in it.

    

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Massacre at Mountain Meadows

by Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley Jr., Glen M. Leonard
430 pgs

On September 11, 1857, nearly 120 emigrants, consisting of men, women, and children, were killed by a group of men, consisting of a band of Mormon militia and Paiute warriors. The emigrants were lured away from their encampment under a white flag of truce and then killed. Only 17 small children from the group—deemed too young to be considered reliable witnesses—were spared. The attack became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

As a member of the LDS church, I remember the Mountain Meadows Massacre being mentioned occasionally in church, but until now, I didn’t know much about it. I remember hearing that some believed Brigham Young, the president of the church at the time, gave the order for the attack to take place. That would be inconsistent with the image I had of the man, so I decided to learn more about what happened for myself.

Massacre at Mountain Meadows is a thorough and comprehensively-documented account of the events surrounding the attack. It was written by three LDS scholars and historians, but it gives a fair and balanced account of what took place. In the preface to the book, they explain that they agreed to write the book with the condition they be given full access to the Church’s records, and they be given the freedom to write the book as they saw fit. The book describes the persecution and violence against the Mormons, which ultimately led them to leave their homes and property in Illinois and look for a place to settle west of the Rocky Mountains. It describes the relationship the Mormon settlers had with the U.S. government and the fear they had that the U.S. Army was on its way to wage a war against them.

The authors' greatest accomplishment is their explanation of how a group of men, who prior to the attack were peaceful and law-abiding, became capable of committing a mass killing of a group of unarmed families. In explaining how it could happen, they in no way try to justify what they did. They make it very clear that there was no justification for the attack.

I found the book to be a fair and balanced account of the massacre and the events which led to it. It presents the facts without trying to justify them, nor protect the reputation of the church, its leaders, and its members.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

by Erik Larson
390 pgs

I don't read a lot of non-fiction, it’s not because I don’t enjoy it. More often than not, I enjoy it very much. But it usually doesn’t draws me in to the point where I don’t want to put the book down--like a good novel often does. Erik Larson's books—at least the two I’ve read so far—have been exceptions to the rule.

The Devil in the White City is about two men: Daniel H. Burnham and H.H. Holmes, two very different men, whose lives were tied to the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. The former was the architect of the fair, the latter a serial killer.

The fair stretched to more than 600 acres in size and contained close to 200 new buildings; all painted white, which gave it the name the "White City." It included the world's first Ferris Wheel, which was 80 meters high, had 36 cars, and could hold over 1,400 people when fully loaded. Close to 26 million people attended the fair, which lasted for six months, from May through October of 1893. Visitors included Harry Houdini, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Scott Joplin, Clarence Darrow, Helen Keller, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, Annie Oakley, Susan B. Anthony, and Buffalo Bill Cody.

The fair introduced the world to "moving pictures," zippers, automatic dishwashers, Juicy Fruit gum, Cracker Jack, Aunt Jemima, Shredded Wheat, and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. It would be remembered as one of the most influential events in history.

H.H. Holmes's connection to the fair would not be realized until quite some time after the fair concluded, but his story is as interesting and compelling as the fair's is. At the time of the fair, the accounts of Jack the Ripper were only a few years old. The world was fascinated by this new kind of killer, the serial killer. And while Jack was known to have killed five women, researches estimate Holmes killed at least nine, and as many as two hundred. Holmes used the draw of the fair to lure unsuspecting women from all over the country to his hotel, many of whom would never be heard from again.

The Devil in the White City is an excellent book. It reads like a historical novel, and the fact that it's not, makes it that much more compelling.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Night Manager

by John le Carr
429 pgs


John le Carré is one of those authors who has been writing for a long time, whom I’ve often thought I should read one of his books, but for whatever reason, never seemed to get around to picking one up. It wasn’t until I watched the mini-series adaptation of The Night Manager, which recently aired on AMC, that I was finally motivated enough to pick up one of his books and bump it up to the top of my “to-be-read” pile.

The Night Manager is a story about two men. Both are refined and well-polished. Jonathan Pine is a former British intelligence operative who has made a life for himself after his military service working as the night manager at one of the top hotels in Zurich. Richard Roper is a British arms merchant, operating in the Bahamas, selling weapons on a massive scale to the highest bidders. He’s formed a world-wide network of shell companies to operate behind, and has surrounded himself with a protective retinue of former agents and operatives, who have kept him beyond the reach of the CIA and its counterpart in the UK.

The two men’s paths cross late one snowy night when Roper, his mistress, and a dozen or so others who protect him and his interests check in to Pine’s hotel. Pine knows of Roper, and considers him “the worst man in the world.” Pine used to be in love with a woman who came to know too much about Roper and his operations, and who paid the ultimate price because of it.

Pine resolves to find a way to expose Roper and if possible, to dismantle his extensive operations. Working with U.S. handlers, he devises a way to insert himself into Roper’s inner circle and begins to feed his handlers with information that may one day bring Roper down.

The book was enjoyable. Le Carré used to work for the British Secret Intelligence Service and his background is evident in the level of detail he works into his story. But I struggled with the pacing and excitement level of the book. Even near the end, when spy stories usually get to the point where I can’t put them down, I never felt that way with this one. I’ll probably try a few more of his books eventually. Maybe some of his earlier ones dealing with the Cold War. But this one didn’t make me want to rush to read his entire back catalog.

    

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The High Mountains of Portugal

by Yann Martell
332 pgs

Fifteen years ago Yann Martel made a huge splash in the publishing world when he released Life of Pi, a book that spent over a year on the NYT Bestseller List. Obviously many people read the book, and from what I can tell, either they really enjoyed it, or the really didn’t. I’ve never talked with anyone who read the book and was lukewarm about it. I was among the group who really enjoyed it and have been waiting for him to write another book that compares. His next book, Beatrice and Virgil fell flat for me, so much so, that I hesitated to bother reading The High Mountains of Portugal when it came out. I’m glad I decided to give it a try. While it’s not quite the book Life of Pi is, it’s a very worthy successor.

The book consists of three separate, but interconnected stories. Each takes place in the rural area known as “the high mountains of Portugal,” and each explores the nature and role of grief and faith in the life of Martel’s characters.

The first story takes place in 1904 and tells the story of Tomás, a young man who recently lost his son, his lover, and his father. Tomás is so affected by his grief that he decides he will walk backward for the rest of his life, physically demonstrating to God and the world that he has turned his back to them. Tomás embarks on a quest to find a religious relic he read about in the diary of a 17th-century priest who ministered to the slaves brought to Portugal. To help him search for the relic he borrows his wealthy uncle’s automobile, a new invention that very few people in Portugal, including himself, have ever seen before. Tomás has no idea how to operate nor maintain the automobile, but doesn’t let those facts deter him from using it to aid him in his journey.

The second story skips forward in time to the late 1930s and takes place in the office of Dr. Lozora, a pathologist. Lozora’s wife is a fan of Agatha Christie mysteries and has an unusual but entertaining theory about the connection she believes they have to The Four Gospels of the New Testament. Her theory serves as a precursor to a visit Lozora receives late in the night by an elderly widow who shows up with her husband’s dead body folded up inside her suitcase. She asks him to perform an autopsy, which turns into a metaphor for the life her husband led and her own grief at his passing.

The last story takes place decades later and involves Senator Peter Tovy, a Canadian politician who visits a chimpanzee refuge in Oklahoma and decides to adopt one of the chimps, quit his job, and move to Portugal, where his ancestors came from. Peter is still grieving the loss of his wife and without looking for it, finds the peace a solace he needs in the minimalistic life he makes for himself with his new companion in “the high mountains of Portugal.

I really enjoyed the book as a whole. There are times when it feels like the train Martel is driving has jumped the tracks, but by the end it’s clear that he was in control the whole time. 

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, July 3, 2016

End of Watch

by Stephen King
432 pgs  (Bill Hodges trilogy #3)

End of Watch concludes Stephen King's highly-entertaining trilogy featuring Bill Hodges, a retired police detective, and Brady Hartsfield, a sociopathic killer, responsible for one mass killing, and an attempt at a second.

At the end of the last book, Brady, in a vegetative state, is residing in the brain injury ward of the local hospital. But strange things keep on happening around him. The water turns on and off on its own, the blinds go up and down, and other things move inexplicably on their own.

Bill and Holly, now running their own investigation agency, are called to investigate the strange circumstances surrounding the suicide of one of the survivors of Brady's successful mass killing. As others who were there also attempt to take their own life, Bill and Holly begin to suspect that someone else is pulling the puppet strings. Bill's gut is telling him it's Brady and he's determined to end Brady's powers once and for all.

End of Watch is more like a Stephen King book than the first two books in the series were. As much as I enjoyed those first two, I enjoyed this one that much more because of the supernatural element King brought into it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Solitude Creek

by Jeffery Deaver
452 pgs  (Kathryn Dance series #5)

In Jeffery Deaver’s latest book featuring kinesics expert Kathryn Dance, someone is intentionally causing panics in large crowds, and watching as people are injured or killed, crushed or stampeded by the crowd.

As a kinesics expert, Dance is trained to identify when people are telling lies. She works for the California Bureau of Investigations, interviewing suspects and witnesses in order to assist police departments in their investigations. When an interrogation she’s involved in goes terribly wrong, she’s reassigned to the Civil Division of the CBI and demoted to checking business permits and liquor licenses.

One of her first assignments takes her to the local dive-bar called Solitude Creek, where several people recently died or were injured when the crowd believed a fire had started in the kitchen. When they tried to get out the emergency exits, they found them all blocked by a large truck parked up against the back of the building.

Dance quickly learns that there never was a fire at Solitude Creek, but that someone had intentionally led the crowd to believe there was one, and drove them towards the blocked exits. While she’s investigating the non-fire, panic once again breaks out at a crowded event. It quickly becomes evident that this wasn’t an isolated event, and that the perpetrator isn’t planning to stop.

Solitude Creek is trademark Deaver. It's a smart and compelling story. He's a master at making you think you know everything that's going on, only to find out by the end that you were wrong on so many points. Even though this is the fifth book featuring Dance, Deaver writes each book in such a way that you really don't need to read the books in order. This would be a good one to try if you've never read one before.

    

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The City of Mirrors

by Justin Cronin
598 pgs  (The Passage trilogy #3)

There have been a lot of books written in recent years featuring vampires as characters. Many of them are pretty good. They're suspenseful, frightening, creepy, and even original. Some of them—even though I’ve never read them, nor seen the movies based on them—I’m sure are terrible, and don’t deserve to occupy space on a bookshelf or memory on an e-reader. Justin Cronin’s apocalyptic vampire trilogy is one of the best I’ve ever read. First of all, the vampires, or virals as they're called, since they began as 12 individuals infected by a government-modified bat virus, are what they should be. They’re ruthless killing creatures with an insatiable appetite for blood. They’re not sparkly teenagers full of angst and emotional turmoil.

But where the books really separate themselves from the rest of the genre, is in Cronin’s writing ability and style. He’s a Harvard-educated man who previously wrote a couple of literary novels, so the books don't have the feel for most horror books. They read like fine literature. Each of the books is masterfully crafted and the series as a whole comes in at around 1500 pages, covering about 1,000 years of history, beginning with those first Twelve. The scope of the story as a whole is enormous.

After getting off to a great start in the first book, things get a little bogged down in book two. But this third, and final book, is the best of the three, and more than makes up for the faults of its predecessor. As the story begins, it's believed that all of the virals have been destroyed. The humans that have survived are ready to start picking up the pieces and rebuilding the civilization that is essentially non-existent. 

But obviously, there wouldn't be a need for this book, if the virals were truly eliminated in the last one. Fortunately--for us--they're only biding their time, waiting for the right time to return and finish off the survivors once and for all.

The series as a whole deserves all the hype it's received, and this book, itself was well worth the four-year wait it took to come out. 

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Maze Runner

by James Dashner
374 pgs  (The Maze Runner series #1)

I know I’ve said this before, but one of the reasons I’m a big fan of good science fiction stories is I enjoy the sense of disorientation I usually experience as they begin. Oftentimes it takes a while to figure out, or get a sense for several key aspects of the story: When and where is it taking place? Is it here on earth? Or another world? Is it happening in the present time on some faraway planet? Or is it happening here on earth, but at some point in the distant future? Many of the really good stories in the genre prolong that sense of disorientation almost indefinitely. So after watching the movie adaptation of the first book in the series, and having questions throughout about what was going on and why, I decided the series might be worth reading.

I wasn’t disappointed. The premise is pretty solid. A group of teenage boys live in a place called the Glade, surrounded by an enormous maze of concrete walls a mile high. The boys arrived in the Glade one at a time, with no memory of their life to that point and no idea why they’re there and how to escape through the maze. About once a week an elevator box surfaces in the Glade containing necessities like food and tools, and about once a month, a new boy arrives in the box as well.
The story begins with Thomas’s arrival in the Glade. Like the others before him, Thomas doesn’t know who he is, or how he got to the Glade, he just woke up in the elevator box as it was surfacing. He quickly learns that the Glade is run by Alby and Newt, two boys who arrived a couple years ago. He learns that ever since boys started finding themselves in the Glade, they’ve been trying to discover why they’re there and how they can escape. They’ve assigned certain boys to be “runners,” assigned to enter the maze every morning and try to find a way through. The problem is that strange and deadly creatures known as Grievers patrol the interior of the maze, and every night, the entrance to the maze closes, and the interior walls of the maze move into different positions.

But Thomas’s arrival seems to indicate that things are about to change in the Glade. One day after his arrival the box appears again, this time there’s a teenage girl in the box along with a message that she’s the last one. Thomas recognizes the girl, but can’t remember her name. She’s in a coma, but begins communicating with him telepathically in his head. A short time later, the sun disappears, the deliveries of supplies stop coming, and the entrance to the maze stays open overnight.

It’s clear to Thomas that he and the girl Teresa are different from the rest of the boys and they’re somehow meant to lead the rest of the group safely through the maze to whatever lies beyond.

I enjoyed the book, more so than the movie. It’s written for young adults, but it’s not dumbed down, which sometimes authors in the genre tend to do. It poses many more questions than it answers, in fact I’m not sure any questions were ever answered. But that’s what the first book in a series like this is meant to do, hook you into wondering what’s going on, and getting you willing to wait for the next book to see what happens next.