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 repeatedly demonstrated his 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 installment 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.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆