Monday, April 25, 2016


by Scott Sigler
424 pgs  (The Generations trilogy #2)

In Alive, the first book in Scott Sigler's new dystopian trilogy, we were introduced to Em, the young heroine who wakes up in a coffin-like container with no memories of who she is, where she's at, or how she came to be there. She frees herself from the coffin and takes charge of a group of other teenagers, all waking up in a similar state of amnesia, to safety down to the planet of Omeyocan.

As Alight begins, and as Em and the others begin to explore the new world they're on, they're faced with immediate threats to their survival, both externally, and from within their own group. They find that all possible food sources are contaminated with a poisonous mold, and there are some in the group who are set on undermining Em's authority at any cost.

As much as I enjoyed Alive, Alight is an even better book. Sigler knows how to move the story along at a quick pace, and he keeps things interesting as he does. One of the things I enjoy about books written for a little younger audience, like these are, is that they get written faster than most books. Alight just came out, and the last book in the series, Alone comes out later this year.


Friday, April 22, 2016

The Last Bookaneer

by Matthew Pearl
389 pgs

Matthew Pearl’s fifth novel is set in 1890, the year before the International Copyright Act will be incorporated into American law. Although most publishers have operated under gentlemen’s trade agreements and synchronized the publishing of an author’s work in both America and Britain, Pearl proposes the idea of literary pirates, or “Bookaneers,” who steal and publish famous authors’ manuscripts and books without permission.

Pen Davenport is the last of the Bookaneers. Knowing that with the passage of the new Act, his source of income will be eliminated, he decides to go after one last major manuscript: The Shovels of Newton French, Robert Louis Stevenson's final, and rumored to be, greatest novel. Davenport, and his bookseller sidekick Edgar Fergins travel to the island nation of Samoa, where Stevenson has retired to, in an attempt to steal the manuscript and secure himself financially. 

Pearl tells an interesting story with this one, and he manages to pull off some minor surprises at the end, but ultimately I felt like the book suffered from too many flaws. Flaws that Pearl's four previous books didn't have. The story, and the way that he used two narrators to tell it, got convoluted at times. And Pearl had some pacing issues throughout the book. Too many times, the story dragged, and I found myself getting frustrated with it. This is definitely not Pearl's strongest book. If you've never read anything by him, I'd recommend trying The Dante Club or The Poe Shadow before this one. They're much better examples of what Pearl is capable of.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bats of the Republic

by Zachary Thomas Dodson
451 pgs

Bats of the Republic is a remarkable book--it's a descent story, but the book itself is amazing! Let me explain. Zachary Thomas Dodson is a book designer and co-founder of Featherproof Books. He obviously has a real passion for what physical books are, and what they can be.

Bats of the Republic is his first novel. He both wrote it and designed it. I could spend a lot of time trying, and failing, to describe the book itself. Fortunately, I don't need to. Dodson himself demonstrates some of the unique attributes of the book while describing it in this video.

The book consists of two parallel storylines. One of them takes place in a 19th century Republic of Texas. The other, in a dystopian future 300 years later. In the first, Zadock Thomas, a naturalist, is sent by his prospective father-in-law on a quest to find General Irion and deliver a sealed letter. Along  the way he describes and illustrates a variety of increasingly unusual forms of wildlife.

In the second storyline, America has collapsed into seven city-states, in which secrets are forbidden, the government watches and listens to everything, and every document and correspondence is recorded and archived. Zeke Thomas, a descendent of Zadock has inherited a sealed envelope from his grandfather, a former Senator. It's a letter that has not been archived by the government and that comes with the enigmatic warning "Do not open" written on it.

I didn't find either of the storylines very compelling. They're both interesting, but that's the highest praise I can give them. But as I mentioned earlier, the actual physical book is fascinating. It, by itself, makes the book worth reading.


Friday, April 8, 2016

The Road to Little Dribbling; More Notes from a Small Island

by Bill Bryson
384 pgs

Bill Bryson, the author responsible for getting me into trouble with my wife for making me laugh repeatedly while she labored to bring our first child into the world, has a singular and infectious love for his adoptive country of England.

Twenty-one years ago he wrote Notes from a Small Island, his first travelogue as an American transplant living in Britain. Now, after a brief stint back in the States, and then having returned again to live in England and become a British citizen, Bryson took it upon himself to become reacquainted with the country he fell in love with so many years ago.

Bryson follows a 700-mile route he dubs "The Bryson Line," the furthest distance one can travel across Great Britain. He travels by car, bus, train, and most often, by foot. He visits parts of the country he's never been to before and he revisits places he hasn't been to in decades.

At times he comes across as a curmudgeonly old man who has no tolerance for the changes that have happened, and the direction the world seems to be taking. But at the same time, the same sense of humor that got me into hot water with my wife so many years ago is still there, and makes his frequent gripe sessions entertaining and even endearing.

It's a testament to just how great a writer Bryson is, that at the same time he's bemoaning a certain aspect of British life, that it's evident that he's still totally in love with it. He is in awe with how much Great Britain has to offer. Its history, beauty, and contributions to the whole world are impressive by any standard and reading the book made me want to return there myself sometime soon.

 ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Finn Fancy Necromancy

by Randy Henderson
316 pgs  (Familia Arcana series #1)

When Finn Gramaraye was fifteen years old, he was accused, and found guilty, of using dark necromancy--a crime he didn't commit. For his punishment, his spirit was banished to the Other Realm for 25 years. As the book begins, Finn is about to be released and reunited with his body--which had been leased out to another spirit, and is now 40 years old.  

But within minutes of his release back to the real world, someone once again tries to frame him for another crime, this time murder, and get him sent right back. It's obvious to Finn that someone has it out for him. Is it the same person who framed him so long ago? If so, why? Finn only has three days to find out and prove his innocence.

A lot of the fantasy so popular today is dark and grim. This is not. Randy Henderson has a great sense of humor and an obvious affinity for pop culture, especially from the '80s. It was 1986 when Finn was banished to the Other Realm, so when he reenters the real world, his memories are of The Goonies, Miami Vice, Sixteen Candles and Rubik's Cubes. Henderson drops the references liberally throughout the book, and does so in a highly entertaining way. He even uses '80s songs for his chapter titles.

Overall I enjoyed the book and fully plan to read its follow up: Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free. It's not just funny; it's a solid mystery, with some surprises thrown in to keep you guessing. There's action, violence, and the occasional Sasquatch, gnome, and werewolf thrown in to keep it interesting.