Friday, May 27, 2016

The Relic Master

by Christopher Buckley
380 pgs

In his latest book The Relic Master, Christopher Buckley departs from his usual political satire and instead, writes a story set in 16th century Europe. Martin Luther is causing headaches for the Roman Catholic Church, posting his Ninety-Five Thesis which criticized the rampant corruption of the Church and its practice of selling indulgences for forgiveness. In connection with the selling of indulgences, the Church went to great lengths to acquire holy relics—finger bones, teeth, thorns, blood from the crucifixion, pieces from the cross—that they would display in cathedrals, attracting thousands of visitors every year, willing to pay to view these small remains tied to Saints and the Savior. The authenticity of the relic was not as important to the church as how many paying pilgrims would come to visit it.

Dismas is a former soldier and ex-monk who now earns his money acquiring relics at fairs and bazaars, selling them to Archbishops and rulers constantly trying to one-up each other with their vast collections. At the top of everyone’s list they’d like to acquire is the shroud Christ was purported to have been wrapped in after his crucifixion—known today as the Shroud of Turin. 

While most relic hunters pay little attention to the authenticity of the relics they acquire, Dismas spent his whole career hunting down only the ones he believed to be genuine. But when he decides it's finaly time to retire, he learns that he's been swindled out of his life's savings by an unscrupulous banker and he decides the best way to replace his lost retirement, and to do it quickly, is to pull off his one and only con. He enlists the help of his friend, the German artist Albrecht Dürer, to create his own shroud and sell it to the highest bidder. Unfortunately Dismas’s plan goes horribly wrong and he finds himself strung up like a marionette in a dungeon and given one chance to earn back his freedom--which involves stealing the “real” shroud. 

The rest of the story is a good example of why I enjoy Buckley's writing so much. It's smart, witty, and full of great characters. Even though this book is notably different from the rest of this books, I enjoyed it a lot. It's probably not the book I'd recommend to someone who has never read one of his books before, but it's not one you should skip if you've read his others.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Over Your Dead Body

by Dan Wells
303 pgs  (John Wayne Cleaver series #5)

In The Devil's Only Friend young John Wayne Cleaver tried working as a special consultant to the FBI. His unique abilities were used by a special team of agents to hunt down and destroy the Withered, demons who take possession of a human body and kill with very little chance of ever being discovered. As the book concludes, and things go horribly wrong with an operation, John decides he's better off hunting down the remaining Withered with only the help of Brooke, who is psychologically broken and possessed by the demon known as Nobody..

As Over Your Dead Body begins, John and Brooke have been hitchhiking across the country, hunting the Withered and hiding from the authorities. Their arrive in a small town in Oklahoma, where they believe an ancient Withered has been hiding out unnoticed for decades. But shortly after they arrive in town the murders begin. It seems as if their arrival has caused the demon to begin killing again, and neither John nor Brooke has any idea why.
They know that they need to quickly identify who the Withered is, and stop it from killing anyone else.

This series gets better with each installment. When I started reading the first book, I am Not a Serial Killer, I thought Wells was just a fan of Dexter and decided to put his own spin on the idea. But about halfway through, the book took an unexpected turn towards the supernatural. And while Lindsay's Dexter series eventually got stale--to say nothing about what happened to the TV series--Wells's series has so far maintained its uniqueness, and with each book, Wells's writing talents have become more apparent. I get increasingly more eager for each new book.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Secondhand Souls

by Christopher Moore
335 pgs  (Grim Reaper series #2)

In A Dirty Job Christopher Moore introduced Charlie Asher, the owner of a second-hand store in San Francisco. Charlie was selected to be a death merchant, responsible for retrieving the souls of the newly-departed and protecting them from the forces of the underworld while they wait for a new soulless body to be born.

At the end of that book Charlie sacrifices his own life in order to save the city from the forces of darkness. Fortunately his new girlfriend Audrey is a Buddhist nun who knows the practice of p'howa and uses it to transfer his soul into a small creature she pieced together using the head of a crocodile, various parts from roadkill, and cold cuts.

Secondhand Souls begins one year later, and the city of San Francisco is once again on the cusp of being overtaken by dark forces from the underworld. The other death merchants in the city haven't been fulfilling their obligations and the souls of the dead have been piling up, especially on the Golden Gate Bridge, the most popular suicide spot in the city.

Charlie is once again needed, but before he can do anything, he needs to find a way back into a living body, preferably one of an adult male with all the right parts. He and Audrey must find someone willing to leave their own body and voluntarily give it to Charlie.

I love reading Christopher Moore's books. It's cliché to say a book is laugh-out-loud funny, but his always are. They're also vulgar, profane, and irreverent. But they're always filled with a lot of heart and soul. His protagonists are usually flawed in some spectacular fashion, but they usually exemplify some of the best qualities possible. Secondhand Souls is no exception. It's not the right book to start with if you've never read one of his books, especially since it's a sequel, but if you're already a fan, and have read A Dirty Job, this won't disappoint.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, May 6, 2016

Half a War

by Joe Abercrombie
500 pgs  (Shattered Sea trilogy #3)

In Half a King Joe Abercrombie began his story of Yarvi, the second son of the King. Born with a severely deformed arm, he was ill-equipped to ever sit on the throne of power. But when his father and older brother were both betrayed and murdered, Yarvi made it his life's purpose to exact revenge.

In Half the World, Yarvi, having maneuvered himself into a position of power as the Queen's minister, furthers his plans for revenge, as he enlists Thorn, a young woman with the developing skills of a ruthless  killer. The book wasn't as compelling as the first book, but it did a good job of building anticipation, and setting the stage for the last book in the series.

Half a War doesn't disappoint. Abercrombie uses the perspectives of three different characters to conclude his story: Skara, the young granddaughter of the King of Throvenland, and Koll and Raith, who were both introduced as minor characters in the last book. Yarvi has put all of the pieces of his machinations into motion, and finally has the opportunity to get his revenge.

Before reading this series, I had been considering reading Abercrombie's books for quite some time. I hadn’t read anything by him before, but I had heard him compared to authors like George R.R. Martin, and others that I enjoy. So I had high expectations when I began the series. Now that I'm done, I'd say that overall I was impressed. I think he wrote these primarily for a slightly younger audience (but they're probably more violent than your typical young adult books) but they were good enough to make me even more excited to read his other books. 

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆