Friday, September 8, 2017

The Boy on the Bridge

by M.R. Carey
392 pgs  (The Girl with All the Gifts series #2)

The Boy on the Bridge is a prequel to M.R. Carey’s fantastic book TheGirl with All the Gifts. It tells the story of the Rosalind Franklin, the heavily-armed mobile laboratory that was found abandoned in The Girl with All the Gifts. The Rosalind Franklin was sent out from the city of Beacon on a last-ditch effort to analyze the Cordyceps fungus in order to try to synthesize a cure for the infection turning humans into mindless “hungries.”

The crew consists of ten members, half of them military personnel, the other half, scientists. Included among the scientists is 15-year-old Stephen Greaves, the scientific genius responsible for developing the chemical blocker that prevents hungries from picking up the scent of the uninfected. Greaves is a prodigy, and while it’s never confirmed in the book, he’s also clearly autistic. He can’t stand to be touched by others, is seemingly incapable of telling an untruth, and he deals with everything around him like it’s a scientific puzzle waiting to be solved.

I’m not going to say anything about the plot, since doing so would spoil too much of the story of both books. If you’ve read The Girl with All the Gifts—and even though this is a prequel to that one, you should still read that one first--, much of the plot of this one is going to be a foregone conclusion before you even start reading. Even though that’s the case, The Boy on the Bridge is still well worth the time to read. Carey is a fantastic story teller! His characters are three-dimensional and the story he places them in are compelling and wholly entertaining.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Kill Order

by James Dashner
327 pgs  (Maze Runner series #4)

The Kill Order is the first of two prequels to James Dashner’s Maze Runner trilogy. Set 13 years before Thomas arrived in the Maze, the book tells the story of Mark, Alec, Trina, and a small group of others who survived the solar flares that nearly wiped out humanity. But the survivors are far from safe, a new virus has begun spreading, one that turns those who catch it into raving, murderous, creatures.

The story doesn’t waste any time getting started. Mark, Alec, and the others in their small group live in a small village in the mountains of North Carolina. As they’re together, they hear the engine noises of a Berg approaching. When it arrives, it hovers over their village, the side doors open, and men wearing uniforms begin to shoot at them with darts. Mark and Alec are able to board the Berg and discover a box with a biohazard symbol on it containing 24 darts holding the Flare virus. As the story unfolds, Mark and Alec realize that some who are infected with the Flare are immune to its effects.

Who is intentionally infecting people with the Flare? And why? How are some people immune to its effects? Does that mean there’s cure possible?

The Kill Order is a solid addition to Dashner’s series. It sheds some light on some of the mysteries of the first three books, but leaves plenty of things unanswered. Enough to fill one more book.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians: The Knights of Crystallia

by Brandon Sanderson
296 pgs  (Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians series #3)

I’ve already mentioned this in my reviews of the previous two books, but my son and I are really enjoying reading this series together. The action and the humor have kept him captivated, and in The Knights of Crystallia, he got a taste for what I’ve always enjoyed about Sanderson’s books: the worldbuilding. Sanderson is a master at creating new and vibrant worlds for his stories--no small accomplishment, considering how prolific a writer he is. In book three, Alcatraz and his friends finally make it to the Free Kingdoms, the magical world few of us Hushlanders even know exists.

Alcatraz finally makes it home to Nalhalla, but finds out as soon as he does, that negotiations are already underway to establish peace with the Librarians. The country of Mokia is being used as a bargaining chip in the negotiations, and Alcatraz quickly suspects that those trying to negotiate with the Librarians are actually in league with them, and that it’s all part of the Librarians’ plans to gain control of Mokia.

Despite Alcatraz’s ongoing claims that he’s not the hero of these books, he’s once again thrust into that role, and must find a way to expose the proceedings for what they really are and thwart the evil plans of the Librarians.

This was probably our favorite book in the series so far. The fact that it’s set in the Free Kingdoms helped bring a new level of magic to the story and once again, as soon as we finished it, my son went and grabbed book four off the shelf.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, September 1, 2017

Right as Rain

by George Pelecano
332 pgs  (Derek Strange & Terry Quinn series #1)

Right as Rain is the first book in George Pelecanos’s series featuring private investigator Derek Strange and Terry Quinn. Once again, this series is set in Washington D.C., but not the part of the District tourists ever visit. The book takes place in the inner city of Washington, where drugs and violence are a part of daily life for many.

Derek Strange is a black ex-cop who now owns his own PI company. He’s hired by a woman whose son, Chris Wilson, an off-duty black policeman, was killed by a fellow officer during a street altercation. The officer who killed him, Terry Quinn, came upon Wilson, who was holding another man on the ground with his gun pointed at him. During the altercation, Wilson turned his gun towards Quinn and his partner, and Quinn killed him. Wilson’s mother hired Strange in an effort to clear her son’s reputation. She knows her son was a good cop and not one of the many corrupted by drug money.

Quinn, who was exonerated by the department but decided to leave the force because of the cloud of suspicion that always hovered over him with his colleagues, is interviewed by Strange during his investigation. Quinn realizes his road to redemption tied to Strange’s investigation, and begins assisting him as he tries to uncover the truth behind the events of that fateful night.

This is the ninth book by Pelecanos I’ve read, and I’ve yet to read a bad one. Strange and Quinn are each compelling characters who could easily anchor a series of books by themselves. Together, they create a team that has me very excited to read the rest of the series. As with the other books of his I’ve read, the plot in this one is gritty but full of heart. The pace is slow at first, but it gradually accelerates to a thrilling conclusion. If you haven’t read any of his books before, this is a great one to pick up and try.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Clockwork Dynasty

by Daniel H. Wilson
309 pgs

In The Clockwork Dynasty, Daniel H. Wilson crafts an alternate-history story in which a secret society of automatons has been living amongst humanity for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Automatons, which are essentially robots, have a real-life history that dates back at least as far as ancient Greek mythology (think of the owl in the original Clash of the Titans movie). In Wilson’s version of history, these automatons, are self-aware, with emotions and intelligence, and have had centuries to enhance themselves through technology far more advanced than ours.

When June Stefanov was a young girl in Russia, her grandfather told her he witnessed a soldier in WWII withstand a hail of bullets and single-handedly destroy a German tank. He said the soldier had supernatural strength and left behind a mysterious metal artifact, which he then presented to her, and which she has worn as a necklace around her neck ever since. She has spent the rest of her life investigating the mystery behind her grandfather’s story. She travels the world hunting down examples of antique automatons, which she believes hold the key to unlocking the mystery behind the relic she wears around her neck.

June’s latest find is one of an automaton built hundreds of years ago to resemble a 12-year-old girl. She eventually figures out how to activate her, and when she does, she becomes noticed by the race of beings she’s unwittingly been investigating her whole life. She soon finds herself in the middle of a feud that has been brewing for hundreds of years, and her survival becomes tied to that of this mysterious and fascinating race.

I really enjoyed Wilson’s three previous books, and once again, he showcases his background in, and love for, robotics and has written a story that is wholly unique. This time, however, his story falls more in the fantasy genre, than in science fiction. He doesn’t spend a lot of time establishing the roots of his story in real life science and technology, like a lot of science fiction stories do, but instead, expects his readers to suspend their beliefs and just enjoy the story, which I did.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Obsidian Chamber

by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
403 pgs  (Pendergast series #16)

At the end of Crimson Shore, FBI Special agent Pendergast is presumed dead, drowned off the coast of Massachusetts. I feel okay mentioning that without a spoiler warning, because I don’t think there’s a single reader of Preston and Child’s series who believed him to actually be dead when it happened. And as soon as this book was announced, his survival was a foregone conclusion. So, bringing him back was no big deal. What was a more surprising, and not a pleasant surprise, was the return of Pendergast’s brother, Diogenes.

Diogenes was killed at the end of The Book of the Dead (10 years ago) by falling into a volcano. I’m certain when they killed him off at the end of that book, that Preston and Child had no intentions of ever bringing him back. In fact, I was at a book signing with Douglas Preston for a subsequent book, in which he made the statement that Diogenes was “truly dead.” I feel bad about accusing them of this, after reading the series for so long, but they “jumped the shark” by having him return, which is never a good sign.

Pendergast returns “from the dead” to find that Constance has been kidnapped and their bodyguard Proctor is nowhere to be found. As Pendergast begins to unravel the clues and follow the trail, he begins to suspect, and then discovers, that his brother is still alive.

The book isn’t bad. In fact, the story itself is quite good. But my irritation with Diogenes’s return killed any chance I had of enjoying the story. I’m hoping the shark jumping doesn’t mean Preston and Child are running out of ideas to keep the series alive. I’ve followed the series too long to want to give up on it.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Into the Water

by Paula Hawkins
388 pgs

Into the Water is an excellent example of a “sophomore slump.” Paula Hawkins’ first book, The Girl on the Train, while I thought was a little over-hyped, and definitely had its flaws, was still a pretty good book. For her follow-up book, Hawkins took all the flaws of her first one, and instead of fixing them, magnified them.

The story is difficult to follow. The prologue takes place in the 17th century with a woman being drowned by a group of men, then the rest of the book switches back and forth between 2015 and sometime in the 1980s (I think 1983, but not worth going back to check). The chapters alternate between multiple first-person and third-person narratives and Hawkins throws the myriad of different characters at you without any context or background, which I found made them difficult to keep straight in my head.

The story takes place in the rural British town of Beckford. There’s a body of water near the town known as the drowning pool, which has a centuries-old history of women drowning in it, either by suicide or murder. It all began with Libby, who was accused of witchcraft and drowned there in the prologue. From that point, Hawkins leads you to believe that Beckford women have been dying there with regularity ever since, leading up to the two most recent women: Nel Abbott and Katie Whittaker.

Much like she did with her first book, Hawkins tries to keep her readers uncertain about why those women died for as long as she can. Every characters’ character is ambiguous throughout the book. You don’t know who to trust or believe, or if there’s anyone who even can be. The only thing you can count on is that there are no men in Beckford who possess any redeeming qualities. They’re all either adulterers, abusers, predators, or killers. Some man somewhere pissed Paula Hawkins off quite badly. Today, she’s making a lot of money writing books that seem to help her vent her rage against the whole gender. As a member of it, I’m not sure whether I should apologize or say, “You’re welcome.”

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ship Breaker

by Paolo Bacigalupi
323 pgs  (Ship Breaker series #1)

One of my favorite authors, Dan Simmons, once said, “I believe that almost every writer has at least one dystopian novel in him or her that’s clawing and scratching to get out.” I mention this by way of justification, since I feel like the phrase “young adult dystopian fiction,” which I’m about to use again, can be found in an inordinate number of my book reviews recently, and I don’t think of myself as a big YA dystopian fiction fan. I just happen to like a lot of different authors…who happen to be letting their dystopian book claw its way out right now, and they happen to be writing it to a YA audience.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker is the first in his young adult dystopian fiction series. It takes place about 100 years into the future, and is set along the Gulf Coast after the ice caps have melted, the ocean levels have risen to drown cities like Houston and New Orleans, the government has broken down, and the gulf between the “haves” and the “have nots” has grown exponentially.

Nailer is a teenage ship breaker. He works on a crew salvaging valuable materials off of now-defunct oil tankers. His father is an abusive and murderous drug addict, his mother is dead, and Nailer is barely able to survive from day to day. The only way things will ever change for him is if he comes across a Lucky Strike, a piece of jewelry, a barrel of oil, or anything else that would allow him to buy his way out of his current station.

His Lucky Strike may have finally arrived when Nailer comes across a wrecked luxury ship the day after a hurricane. The lone survivor is a teenage girl, the uber-rich daughter of one of the richest men left in the world. Nita is in terrible danger and Nailer finds himself caught between letting her die and claiming the ship and all its valuables as his, or rescuing her and risking spending the rest of his life slaving away on tankers.

I became a fan of Bacigalupi when I read The Water Knife a few months ago. That book impressed me with the way he took the problems of today, and followed them to a logical and dismal future, if left unchanged. He does the same thing, only for a potentially younger audience with Ship Breaker. It’s an intelligent and compelling start to a series and I’m looking forward to what comes next. 

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Skullsworn

by Brian Staveley
318 pgs  (Unhewn Throne)

In Skullsworn, Brian Staveley returns to the world of the Unhewn Throne. But it’s not a continuation of his trilogy he set there, which concluded with The Last Mortal Bond. Instead, Staveley goes back in time to tell the story of how Pyrre Lakatur, one of the supporting characters from those books, passed her final trial to become a member of the Skullsworn, the sect of priests and priestesses who worship Ananshael, the God of Death, and offer sacrifices to him by killing. If Pyrre herself is unable to pass her trial, which consists of killing seven specific types of individuals within the next 14 days, she will be the one offered up to Ananshael.

In order to pass the trial, Pyrre travels to Dombâng, her childhood home, and is accompanied by two Skullsworn, Ela and Kossal, who will serve as witnesses to her killings and successful completion of her trial. The types of people she must kill are described in a poem, and while Pyrre has little concern with accomplishing six of the seven killings, the seventh, who must be someone “who made her mind and body sing with love” might be her undoing. Pyrre has no idea how she’s to kill someone she loves, if she’s never loved anyone before.

While set in the same world as his original trilogy, Staveley gives Skullsworn a much different feel than those other books. He writes it from Pyrre’s point of view and the first-person narrative makes for a much more personal story. This is important because, if you’ve read the other books, you know that Pyrre passed her test, she’s Skullsworn by then. In fact, as I began reading the book, I didn’t know how engaging the story was going to be. With the outcome a foregone conclusion, what’s the point of telling the story? Fortunately, Staveley’s storytelling skills and character development make the book well worth the time to read. Those who’ve read The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne will enjoy the backstory of one of its great characters. Those who haven’t read them, will want to after reading Skullsworn.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Girl with All the Gifts

by M.R. Carey
403 pgs  (The Girl with All the Gifts series #1)

Melanie is a highly-intelligent 10-year-old girl, who wakes up every morning in a military prison cell. Before the guards, who come every morning to take her to class, will enter her cell, she’s instructed to sit in a wheelchair and not move. When she does, guards enter her cell, and while one of them keeps his gun pointed at her, two others strap her wrists and ankles to the chair and place a muzzle securely over her face. She’s then taken to class, where she joins 20 or so other similarly-restrained children, and learns to read, do math, and listens to stories about the world outside her cell, a world she has no memories of. But the world outside her cell is nothing like the stories she’s told. That’s because twenty years ago, the zombie apocalypse took place.

The world is now full of “hungries,” humans who wander aimlessly around until they pick up the scent of an uninfected. When that happens, they turn into ravenous monsters, who will pursue their prey until they catch them and feed. But Melanie and the other children at the military base are different from the rest of the hungries. For some reason, when they became infected, their brain didn’t stopped working. They’re just like everyone else, until they pick up the scent of an uninfected. It’s only then that they temporarily become feral monsters, hence the muzzles and restraints.

I don’t want to give any more of the story away. If it was a bad story, I wouldn’t hesitate. But this is far from a bad story. It was surprisingly fantastic. Despite the proliferation of zombie stories in the media today, M.R. Carey has successfully managed to write one that is refreshing and unique. It’s character driven, and mostly by the character of young Melanie, a zombie.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ 

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Last Mortal Bond

by Brian Staveley
652 pgs  (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series #3)

There’s something to be said for an author who actually knows how to end their epic fantasy series. Many have made a whole career out of continuing the story they began decades earlier, and I suspect, plan to simply continue telling that story until they die. Others go ahead and end it, but do so with an unsatisfying ending. I understand Brian Staveley plans to write other books, which take place in the world of the Unhewn Thrown, but The Last Mortal Bond successfully, and satisfyingly concludes the story he began with The Emperor’s Blades.


The story begins about a year after the events of The Providence of Fire, and things are not good in Annur. The Urguhl army, headed by Balendin, the leach who pulls his power from the terror he creates in those around him, threatens to conquer the unstable republic Kaden has put in place. Valyn has been blinded, has disappeared, and is believed to be dead. And Il Tornja has taken his and Adare’s young son from her and is using him to ensure her cooperation as he searches for Kaden and Triste. There’s a lot going on in this series and Staveley does a great job of keeping all his plates spinning until he brings everything together for an exhilarating conclusion.

I won’t say any more about the story itself, since I don’t want to spoil elements from the other books. So instead I’ll give my assessment of the series as a whole. Staveley used to be a history teacher, so it’s no surprise that the world he’s created has a rich and fascinating history. The series is up there with George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series when it comes to complexity, but while there is familial conflict, it bears out more as a result of ignorance than out of subterfuge and deception. The battles are exhilarating, which include birds with 70-foot wingspans used by specially trained warriors. The characters are completely fleshed out and even though for most of the story the three siblings are at odds with one another, I found myself pulling for each one of them throughout.

Staveley is an author whose career I’m very excited for. I’m hoping there are many books to come. Whether they take place in the same world he created for this series or not, I’m sure I’m going to enjoy them.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ 

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Whistler

by John Grisham
374 pgs

I used to be a religious reader of John Grisham’s books. I used to buy them the day they were published and begin reading them immediately. Now, not so much. Before reading The Whistler, the last of his books I read was The Confession, and that was six years ago. It was when he started writing more non-legal thrillers that I started losing interest in his books, and eventually, even those began to lose some of their appeal to me. But because of books like A Time to Kill, The Firm, and The Chamber, I still pick his books up when they come out and at least read the dust jacket flaps to see what they’re about. With The Whistler, doing so paid off.

The story centers around Lacy Stoltz, an investigator for the Florida Board of Jucidicial Conduct. Basically, she investigates judges suspected of corruption. As the book begins, Lacy and her partner, Hugo Hatch, are contacted by a man claiming to have information about Claudia McDover, information that if true, would make her the most corrupt judge in the history of America.
The man is an ex-con who lives on his boat and is an intermediary to “the Whistler,” an anonymous whistle-blower close to the Judge who is aware of her corruption.

Lacy and Hugo begin investigating Judge McDover, but things quickly become deadly when the car they’re driving is intentionally hit head-on by a car that swerves into their lane. Hugo is killed and Lacy seriously is seriously injured. Lacy becomes even more determined after the accident to expose the judge and get justice for Hugo’s death and her investigation reveals the existence of a group of mobsters known as the “Coast Mafia.” That group has ingrained itself into the Tappacola indian tribe and has been skimming millions of dollars from the tribe’s casinos for years, and Judge McDover has been using her position on the bench to help them.

The Whistler reminded me of why I used to be such a big fan of Grisham’s books. Lacy is someone you quickly get behind and root for, there’s a clear sense of trying to right an injustice, and the story is hard to put down at times. It’ll keep me picking up his books for a while, and reading the flaps. Hopefully there will be more like it to come.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆  

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Walkaway

by Cory Doctorow
379 pgs

Cory Doctorow has described his latest book Walkaway (the first of his I’ve read) as a “utopian novel.” But the idyllic connotations that term evokes are far from what his story provides. The story is set in the future, in a time when individuals can digitally back themselves up in case their body dies, or they can choose to exist solely as digital constructs and abandon their bodies completely. Pollution and climate change have led to world-wide ecological disasters and the economic divide between the wealthy and the 99% has become so extreme that many have decided to “walkaway” from society.

Millions of people, including the laborers and the creative and intelligent ones, have “opted out” from society. They’ve abandoned cities, their jobs, and the ever-present surveillance they’re under by the super-rich, and they’ve instead chosen to build a new society on their own.    

The book centers primarily around three young people. Hubert and Seth are two friends who meet Natalie at a “Communist Party” she’s put together. Natalie is the rebellious daughter of one of the world’s wealthiest families, and together they decide to walkaway. But their decision puts them at the center of the escalating conflict between the walkaway world and the establishment they abandoned.

The book is highly intelligent and philosophical. Each page is dense with Doctorow’s own terminology and mind-bending ideas. He described the book as “utopian” because it’s his attempt to describe a society that has rebuilt and reinvented itself after the world has gone beyond its tipping point. Individually and collectively, the walkaways’ act in ways most beneficial to others and not themselves. Behavior atypical from what you would expect following the disasters they’ve survived.
   
I enjoyed the ideas and the philosophy Doctorow included in his book. But I would have enjoyed it more if it had also contained a more compelling plot. I felt like Doctorow was so focused on creating this wildly-imaginative idea of what the world could eventually become, that he forgot to include a plot that would tie it all together and make readers care about what ultimately happened to his characters.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Spirit of Steamboat

by Craig Johnson
146 pgs  (A Longmire story)

Spirit of Steamboat is a slight departure from Craig Johnson’s usual Walt Longmire story. This one is a novella, and instead of the usual mystery Johnson sets Sheriff Longmire out to solve, this time around it’s an adventure story from Longmire’s past he tells.

The story begins on Christmas Eve. A young woman shows up at Longmire’s office asking unusual questions about Lucian Conalley, Longmire’s predecessor as sheriff. Longmire takes the woman to the nursing home Lucian now resides at, but neither he nor Lucian has any idea who the woman is. It’s not until she says the word “Steamboat” that both men know instantly who she is, and they’re both transported back to an earlier Christmas Eve. This one in 1988, shortly after Walt became sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming.

A young girl had been seriously burned in a car accident and the medical helicopter that picked her up at the scene had had to make an emergency landing in Longmire’s jurisdiction because of a storm. The girl was going to die if she didn’t get medical treatment beyond what they were capable of giving her in the small Wyoming hospital and she needed to be transported to Denver. But the storm that had forced the helicopter to land was also preventing any airplanes from making the trip.

There was only one plane around that Longmire knew could make the trip, Steamboat, an old World War II bomber that hadn’t flown for decades. Fortunately, Walt also knew someone who had flown a plane very similar to Steamboat in the war and thought he could probably convince him to make the dangerous trip.

Spirit of Steamboat is a great story. It’s easily read in one or two sittings and Johnson keeps the action moving the whole time. But it’s not just an adventure story. Johnson seemed to pack more emotions and feelings into this one than he has in any of the rest of his books.

In hindsight, I wish I would have waited till December to read this one. It’s a great story with a message worthy of that time of the year.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

by Mary Roach
285 pgs

In Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, Mary Roach applies her formula of delving into subjects the typical person finds taboo or off-putting, and then providing an account of her research and interviews that the typical person finds fascinating and entertaining, to keeping soldiers safe during war.

She chronicles the military’s historical efforts to develop an effective shark repellent to protect its soldiers serving in the Navy. She investigates the use of maggots to thoroughly cleanse wounds suffered from I.E.D.s. She recounts the medical efforts being developed to perform the most successful phalloplasty (look it up, if you can’t figure it out) possible. And she dares to ask hardened Special-Ops soldiers the difficult question of how they deal with diarrhea while engaged in dangerous operations. All things most people didn’t even know they wanted to know more about, until they find out Mary Roach has investigated.

Mary has a conversational and humorous writing style that most of her success can be attributed to. She’s not afraid to get irreverent and glib whenever she chooses, but she’s always respectful of the men and women who are willing to sacrifice their lives for their country.

The book is first and foremost entertaining, but it’s also very interesting and informative. I enjoyed it but at times wished she didn’t jump from subject to subject as quickly as she did. She would oftentimes point out a fascinating fact or tidbit of information, but then the chapter would end and she’d be on to her next topic.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Providence of Fire

by Brian Staveley
606 pgs  (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series #2)

In The Emperor's Blades, Brian Staveley set the stage for what is turning out to be an engaging and complex fantasy epic. The Providence of Fire picks up right where book one left off. Brothers Kaden and Valyn have briefly been reunited and are fleeing the traitorous Annurian soldiers, who raided the Shin monastery and killed all the monks Kaden had been living with for the past eight years in their attempt on his life. Their sister Adare has discovered that their father’s leading general, the man she’s been sharing a bed with, is behind her father’s murder and has fled to the Dawn Palace to try to raise an army to prevent an impending coup.

From there things start to get complicated. Separated by an entire kingdom and unable to communicate with one another, Adare has no idea whether her brothers are still alive, and Kaden and Valyn have no way of knowing whether she’s stayed true to their father’s legacy or joined forces with those who had him killed. When Kaden once again becomes separated from his brother, all three siblings find themselves on separate paths. Paths which they believe will help save their father’s kingdom, but which ultimately may put them on a collision course with each other.

One of the faults of book one was that I thought Adare’s storyline didn’t get nearly as much page time as her brothers’ did. Staveley corrects that with book two. Adare is central to this book, and the story as a whole is much better because of it. Staveley story is an excellent blend of political machinations, high-stakes action, and just the right amount of magic and the supernatural to make the series a highly-enjoyable one. I’m hopeful there will be many more books by Staveley to come.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Black Widow

by Daniel Silva
528 pgs  (Gabriel Allon series #16)

I’ve enjoyed every one of Daniel Silva’s books featuring Gabriel Allon, the Israeli intelligence officer now slated to become the next chief of Israel’s intelligence service. But I don’t think I’ve enjoyed any of them as much as I did The Black Widow. For the last few books, I’ve wondered whether the series would lose some of its appeal once Gabriel finally made the transition to running operations from behind a desk at The Office instead of being an operative in the field. If this book is any indication of what’s in store, my fears have been alleviated.

The book begins with a bomb exploding in Paris, in an area known for its large Jewish population, followed soon after by another one in Amsterdam. One of the victims of the Paris attack had personal ties to Gabriel, which delays his announcement as chief of Israeli intelligence service, and compels him to run the operation after the mastermind of both operations, a former Iraqi officer now calling himself Saladin.

Gabriel and his team begin laying out the groundwork for an operation, an operation bolder than any they’ve pulled off before. They want to insert a Jew into ISIS. Their plan is to find a woman and transform her into a radical Islamist who ISIS will then recruit into the caliphate. It’s the only way they believe they can track Saladin’s movements and stop him before he’s able to carry out his next attack, this time in the U.S.  

This was an entertaining, compelling, and ultimately, unsettling story. Silva’s stories have often seemed inspired by real-world events, but this time it was eerie just how spot on he was. In the book’s foreward, Silva had this to say, “I commenced work on this novel before the Islamic terrorist group known as ISIS carried out a wave of shootings and bombings in Paris and Brussels that left more than 160 people dead. After briefly considering setting aside the typescript, I chose to complete it as originally conceived. . . . I take no pride in my prescience. I only wish that the murderous, millenarian terrorism of the Islamic State lived solely on the pages of this story.”

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Snapshot

by Brandon Sanderson
123 pgs

Some authors take long breaks in between writing their books. George R.R. Martin likes to attend every “con” taking place anywhere in the world, which has left his fans waiting for six years now for the follow-up to A Dance with Dragons. Patrick Rothfuss has his work with the Worldbuilders charity he’s very involved with. His fans have been waiting just as long for the follow-up to The Wise Man’s Fear (The Slow Regard of Silent Things doesn’t count). Thomas Harris…well, I don’t know what he’s been doing for the last 11 years, but it hasn’t been writing a book.

Brandon Sanderson, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to know the meaning of “taking a break.” In between writing the books in his various series, Sanderson chooses to write other books. Usually they’re shorter, novella-length stories, and they’re generally a slight departure in genre from what he’s best known for. I consider them literary palate cleansers between his larger courses. Others would do well to take a page from his book, so to speak.
Snapshot is one of those palate cleansing stories. It’s a sci-fi detective story set in the near future, at a time when it has become possible to “re-create” a particular day. The technology is used by law enforcement to solve crimes. When they know the time and place a crime has been committed, they’re able to re-create that day and send in detectives, who can hopefully witness the crime being committed, or at least follow the perpetrator and identify where they disposed of the weapon to use for evidence.

Detectives Davis and Chaz are the only two real people in the Snapshot version of May 1st. They’ve been sent there to find the location of evidence used in two separate crimes committed that day…10 days ago. Their task is to find the location of a weapon disposed of after a shooting, report it back to the real world, and then wait a few hours to witness the second crime that will take place a few blocks away. Normally Davis and Chaz would hole up in a safehouse in between investigations to minimize causing disparities, or unintended ripple effects, in the Snapshot.

But this time, instead of going to a safehouse, Davis decides to investigate a crime he knows was reported that same day, one that was never logged at headquarters. What he and Chaz stumble across could change everything.

I have the same criticism for Snapshot that I’ve had with Sanderson’s other shorter offerings, namely, it’s too short. Again, the world Sanderson creates is too intriguing to only get a 120 or so page story. I would have loved for this to be a full-length novel. But the 1100-page Oathbringer comes out in November, so I shouldn’t complain.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Emperor's Blades

by Brian Staveley
478 pgs  (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series #1)

The Emperor’s Blades is the first book in an epic fantasy series that I’ve been meaning to read ever since my wife recommended it to me several months ago. It begins with the murder of the Emperor of the Annurian Empire, which leaves the Unhewn Throne temporarily vacant. His eldest son, Kaden, will become the next Emperor, but Kaden has been on the far side of the kingdom, at a remote Shin monastery for the last eight years and it will be weeks before word can reach him of his father’s death. Kaden has been training with the Shin monks since he was a small boy, trying to learn how to achieve a state of mental emptiness, strip away all his emotions, and enter the vaniate.

Kaden’s younger brother Valyn was likewise sent away at a young age. But Valyn was sent to train with the Kettral, the empire’s elite military forces that get their name from the giant warhawks they ride into battle--birds with a 70-foot wingspan.  Kaden and Valyn have an older sister Adare, who was not sent away as a youth, but instead, remained close to their father and became the Minister of Finances in her his court.

Separated for years and by great distances, the three siblings each learn that their whole family line is being targeted by the forces that murdered their father.

The book alternates between the three siblings’ points of view and Staveley does an excellent job of writing compelling stories for each of them. But I felt a little shortchanged with Adare’s storyline. She doesn’t get nearly as many chapters as either Kaden or Valyn do, and since the few that she did get seemed to be the most important ones to the overall story, I wasn’t sure why they were so few and far between. I’m assuming this was intentional and that Staveley will balance things out in the next book. 

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Seventh Plague

by James Rollins
425 pgs  (Sigma series #12)

In his latest Sigma Force book, James Rollins unleashes a biblical plague in the modern world. It begins  when Professor Harold McCabe, who has spent his entire career trying to find archaeological evidence of the plagues mentioned in Exodus, stumbles out of the Sudanese desert and dies before he can tell his story. It appears that someone had begun the mummification process on Professor McCabe before he died, and when those who performed his autopsy soon become ill, Painter Crowe and his team at Sigma Force are called in to discover the cause of the illness and to try to prevent it from spreading.

It wouldn’t be a James Rollins book though, if things were as simple as trying to prevent a few people from dying of a new disease. He doesn’t write a book that doesn’t bring the world’s population perilously close to annihilation. The pathogen which is discovered is airborne and highly-contagious, and as Crowe, Gray, Monk, and the rest of the team soon realize, this might not be the first time it was unleashed on the world. They trace its origin back to a vial of red water collected from the Nile River thousands of years ago…right around the time the Bible says the river was turned to blood.

I’m starting to consider Rollins’ books one of my guilty pleasures. I know they’re over-the-top with their plots and usually require a suspension of belief, but they’re always interesting and fun. They combine historical fiction with outlandish cutting-edge technology and then mix in some addictive action sequences. They’re summer reads which consistently deliver, and this one is no exception.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Blue World

by Robert McCammon
425 pgs

Blue World by Robert McCammon is a collection of mostly short stories, with the exception of a couple of considerably longer story, including the one which shares the same title as the book itself.

It includes a story about a thief, who steals an old makeup case used in old Hollywood horror stories, and who quickly discovers the makeup has the power to transform the wearer. There’s a story about a man who wakes up one morning and finds the skeleton of his wife lying next to him. There’s a great story of a small town with a unique ritual which takes place every Halloween night. And another of an old man who used to play the role of a super hero in the old serial movies, who decides to dust off his old costume in order to hunt down a serial killer. In the final story in the collection, McCammon tips his hat to Ray Bradbury with a futuristic story dystopian story of a woman who finds comfort through Bradbury’s short stories.

Most of the stories were written back in the ‘80s and first published as a collection back then. The Subterranean Press edition, which came out in 2015, includes three newer stories and are new to the book itself. The evolution of McCammon’s writing style and ability is evident when you compare those last three stories to the rest. The older ones are pretty typical of the genre back then. They’re a little unsettling or they make you feel uneasy, while the newer evoke deeper emotions. They’ve got elements of the supernatural, but they deal with the sense of loss and the emotions which accompany it. I enjoyed them all, but felt like those last three are much more indicative of the type of writer McCammon has become.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians: The Scrivener's Bones

by Brandon Sanderson
343 pgs  (Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians series #2)

We recently discovered my 10-year-old son is dyslexic. For years we thought his handwriting would improve and he’d eventually stop confusing his “b”s and “d”s and writing certain numbers backward. But as he got older, and those things weren’t improving, we had him tested and were glad we did. I want my son to enjoy a lifetime of reading. I don’t want the fact that it’s not as easy for him as it is for his peers to discourage him from reading and prevent him from learning from and enjoying books for the rest of his life.

As we started educating ourselves about the best ways to address dyslexia, I realized it was probably a good idea to once again start reading with him. It’s something we did when he was younger, but got out of the habit of doing as he got older. So I gave some thought into what to read with him. I wanted something that we’d both enjoy. I wanted something he’d look forward to reading with me every night, and something I would be just as excited about. I’ve made it well known that I’m a big fan of Brandon Sanderson’s books, but as big a fan as I am, I’d never read any of his Alcatraz books. I thought now was the perfect opportunity to do so.

I couldn’t have picked a better series to read with my son. It’s got action, excitement, a great system of magic (every Sanderson book does), and an underlying sense of humor, which appeals to both my son and me (and that’s not an admission that my sense of humor is juvenile). When I wrote my review of the first book in the series, Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians, I mentioned the fact that as soon as we were done with the book, my son went to the bookshelf and grabbed the second book and set it out so that it was ready to be started. The same thing happened when we finished this one. It’s been very rewarding to see the difference in my son’s attitude about reading since we started reading these books together. It used to be a battle with him every night when I tried to get him to find a book to read and go to his room to read before bed. Now, without me having to say a word, he comes to me with the book in his hand and asks if we can read now. We start book III tomorrow.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Lost City of the Monkey God

by Douglas Preston
326 pgs

In 2015 Douglas Preston was invited to accompany an expedition into the Mosquitia region of Honduras. The purpose of the expedition was to explore a site, which had been identified three years earlier using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) surveys from the air. The use of LIDAR had given archaeologists the means of seeing through the dense rainforest and identify man-made structures. Their goal had been to locate the legendary “Ciudad Blanca” (White City) and they were pretty confident they had.

In The Lost City of the Monkey God, Preston chronicles the discovery process the team went through using LIDAR to confirm the existence of the ruins, the 10-day expedition he and the rest of the team embarked on at the site, and the ramifications of their discovery.

I thought the book was fascinating. I found it amazing that the remnants of a city, as large and extensive as the White City was, could remain untouched and undiscovered for 500 years. It’s easy to forget in today’s age of satellites and technology, that there are still areas of the world we know virtually nothing about. It was especially eye opening to me, as Preston described the expedition itself, to realize that in the dense rainforest where the White City was discovered, it’s possible to be standing mere feet away from ancient ruins, and have no idea they’re there.

As I read most of the book, I found myself wishing for the same opportunity he was given. Despite the conditions and dangers he and the team faced while there, including jaguars, aggressive and poisonous snakes, disease-carrying insects, and heavily-armed drug traffickers, I couldn’t help but envy Preston for what he was able to do. My envy ended though when Preston discovered he had been infected with mucosal leishmaniasis, a flesh-eating parasite, while there. As he described the “volcano-like” lesion that formed on his arm shortly after returning home, and the ordeal he had to go through just to battle the parasite into submission (he’ll never be rid of it), my jealousy waned and I was once again content living vicariously through him.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Alone

by Scott Sigler
539 pgs  (The Generations trilogy #3)

Alone concludes Scott Sigler’s The Generations trilogy, a trilogy that got off to an excellent start with Alive, but which gradually lost some of its momentum and appeal for me by the time it was all over.

Em, along with the remaining Birthday Children, who woke up with no memories on a ghost ship traveling through space, have finally found refuge on Omeyocan, the distant planet their creators genetically engineered them to survive on and sent them to thousands of years ago. Em united the different groups that had formed after everyone woke up. She’s led them in their fight to survive on Omeyocan. She’s helped them fend off their creators, who sent them there so they could “overwrite” their consciousnesses and take over their young healthy bodies once they had arrived. She’s helped them establish peace with the indigenous species on Omeyocan, and now…it’s all being threatened. They’ve learned other alien races are on their way to Omeyocan as well, drawn by the same message the Birthday Children’s creators received thousands of years ago. Each of those alien races shares the same intent to conquer Omeyocan and call it their own. Em has to find a way to protect her small group and make sure everything they’ve survived so far hasn’t been for nothing.

The series began with such a great first book. I’ll admit the idea seems more than a little derivative of The Maze Runner, but Sigler still pulled it off so well. The idea was compelling and left me at the end of the first book with a lot of excitement over what was to come. The last two books were interesting and entertaining, but I was a little let down. 

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Sunday, April 23, 2017

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry

by Fredrik Backman
372 pgs

I almost plan, when I like an author’s first book a lot, to be at least mildly disappointed with their next one. The term “sophomore slump” exists for a reason. So, when an author’s next book is just as good as its predecessor, I get very excited about the author, and more than likely, will read everything else they write from then on out. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry puts Fredrik Backman solidly into this category.

Elsa is a seven-year-old girl who has a special relationship with her granny. Granny lives in the same apartment building as Elsa and her mother and Granny understands her better than everyone else in Elsa’s life. Elsa’s precocious nature and granny’s disregard for societal rules have isolated each of them from their peers and resulted in a special bond between the two of them.

As early as Elsa can remember, Granny would tell her fairy tales from the Land-of-Almost-Awake. A land containing six kingdoms Elsa can go to in her mind and not have to worry about her classmates, her divorced parents, or the new half-sibling her mom is expecting soon.

Elsa doesn't know her granny is dying from cancer. But granny, knowing her time was ending soon, devised another brilliant and emotional journey for Elsa to take when she's gone. Granny has written a series of letters to others who live in the apartment building, and tasks Elsa with delivering them after she's gone. These letters are part apology to the recipient, and part treasure hunt for Elsa. Each one reveals to Elsa the origins of the stories she's been told since she was a small child. 

Both of Backman's books have dealt with death and the emotions that accompany it. His first book, A Man Called Ove is about a cantankerous old widower, who misses his wife terribly and is ready to join her in death, and this one deals with a young girl who continues to feel the love of her granny, long after she's gone.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Nutshell

by Ian McEwan
199 pgs

On the one hand, Ian McEwan’s latest book Nutshell is a pretty standard love-triangle-turns-to-murder story. John and Trudy are married, but separated. Trudy is having an affair with Claude, John’s brother. Together they’re plotting John’s murder so they can sell the valuable London townhouse Judy lives in, but owns jointly with John still.

It’s clear McEwan is paying homage to Shakespeare’s Hamlet with his story, even naming Claude after Shakespeare’s Claudius and Trudy after Gertrude. But here’s what makes McEwan’s story so unique, and what made me want to read it, McEwan’s Hamlet character has not yet been born. Judy is 30-something weeks pregnant with John’s child, and it’s the child who serves as narrator of the story.

I’ll pause briefly to let you get your head around that.

Our narrator, an ingeniously-devised “fly on the wall,” who hears the familial plot to kill his--for our narrator discovers he’s a “he” during the course of the book--father with a poisoned smoothie, is able to comprehend the events taking place and he understands the ramifications they will have on his life once he exits his current residence.

This was a daring literary feat attempted by McEwan. In order for it to work well, he had to figure out a way to convince the reader of the plausibility of an unborn child having a comprehensive understanding of the world it’s never experienced, along with the ability to communicate its thoughts. Overall, I’d say McEwan was successful. There were definitely times when I felt like the narrator was too knowledgeable of what was happening outside the womb, but it was fairly easy to forgive those places in the story and simply enjoy the story for what it was. This is the first of McEwan’s books I’ve read, and it was very apparent he’s an excellent writer. I’ll definitely be going back through his earlier catalog and reading more.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Giver

by Lois Lowry
225 pgs

Before young adult dystopian novels became all the rage with The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner series, there was The Giver. It’s a relatively short book, but it’s one filled with commentary on society, government, bioethics, and the danger of letting people be trusted to make their own decisions.

Jonas is a 12-year-old boy who lives in a community where everyone has been genetically engineered and groomed from a young age to grow up to play a specific role in society. Family units are assigned, not created. Emotions and feelings are not just discouraged, they’re punished. With the exception of one man, no one has any concept of what life could be like outside the strictly controlled and manipulated community.

When Jonas finally reaches the age when he and his classmates are to find out what their assigned roles will be as adults, they are brought before the Chief Elder, who, one by one, makes the assignments. Jonas is initially skipped in the order of assignments and doesn’t learn what his assignment will be until everyone else has gone. He learns he isn’t going to receive a normal assignment like the rest of his classmates did. Instead, he has been selected to be the next Receiver of Memory, and that he is to be trained in isolation by the current Receiver of Memory, whose role is now is to be “the giver” of all his memories to Jonas.

The next day, when Jonas reports to The Giver, the process begins of transferring the memories from all of history into Jonas. Jonas receives the memory of changing weather, of the coldness of snow, and the exhilaration of a sled ride down a hill. Of emotions like love and happiness, and fear and anger. He’s given the memory of pain and war, and of every possible memory mankind at one point experienced. As these memories accumulate in Jonas, he learns that he has no way to share the joy and the burden of these memories with anyone else. No one else has any concept of what he’s experiencing and wouldn’t be able to understand what he tried to describe.
These memories not only allow Jonas to experience feelings and emotions no one else around him does, they also open his eyes to things happening “for the good of the community” that he can no longer accept and deal with.

The Giver has a lot to offer in its few pages. It’s not surprising most of my kids read it for school. Those of us who went to school before it was required reading, would do well pick it up and read it.

    

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Collapsing Empire

by John Scalzi
333 pgs

The Collapsing Empire is the latest book--the first in a new science fiction series--by John Scalzi, an author whose books I’ve only recently begun to read, but whom I’m very excited about. It’s set in the distant future, thousands of years after mankind discovered the Flow and used it to leave earth and begin colonies on dozens of other planets.

The Flow is a natural feature of space-time which allows ships to “ride” it at faster-than-light speed. Consider the Flow as an interstellar river, with natural entrance and egress points called “shoals” along its path. The path of the Flow and the location of the shoals gives mankind access to dozens of different planets, each containing unique natural resources. Once colonized, those planets collectively formed the Interdependency, an interplanetary trade partnership.

But what no one considered when forming the Interdependency, was the possibility that the Flow could change over time. It’s been stable for over a thousand years, but a Flow physicist on End--the last outpost along the Flow--has discovered that that’s about to change. The Flow is about to collapse, isolating billions of people throughout the universe on inhospitable planets which don’t possess the resources needed for survival.

I’ve really enjoyed the books by Scalzi I’ve read so far, Redshirts, Unlocked, and Lock In were all great. This one is just as good. His stories are smart and thought-provoking, his characters are solid and often funny, and he doesn’t shy away from telling a story which also makes some statements about what’s going on in the world today. The Collapsing Empire deftly sets the stage for what I’m hoping is a long series of books to come.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Razor Girl

by Carl Hiaasen
333 pgs

Authors who live in, and write stories set in the state of Florida, often include characters in their stories whom those of us outside of Florida would consider farcical caricatures, people who couldn’t possibly exist in real life. Authors like Elmore Leonard, Dave Barry, Tim Dorsey, Bob Morris, and Jeffery Lindsay are some of the ones which come to mind. But Carl Hiaasen is in a class all by himself for his ability to pack such an eclectic, bizarre, and hilarious cast of characters into a story and then it’s almost as if he lets them loose on the page and watches as the mayhem ensues.

There’s not a better example of Hiaasen’s rare gift than Razor Girl. It begins with a minor car crash involving a reality TV agent named Lane Coolman and Merry Mansfield, a beautiful woman who gives the term “distracted driving” a whole new meaning. The accident was intentionally orchestrated by Merry’s employer, who ends up kidnapping Coolman for ransom. Coolman is the agent for Buck Nance, the star of a series called Bayou Brethren, a Duck Dynasty-style reality show about a family of Cajun rooster farmers. The accident leaves Buck without adult supervision at a Key West bar in which he gets himself into hot water with a series of racist and homophobic jokes and then disappears without a trace.

Former-cop and current health inspector Andrew Yancy becomes involved in trying to locate both missing men. But Yancy has problems of his own to deal with. Not only is he trying to get his police job back—which he lost after assaulting his mistress’s husband with a portable vacuum cleaner—but he’s also trying to prevent a newly-engaged couple, who just bought the property adjacent to his, from building an obnoxious mansion on it, blocking his serene view of the Keys. The man is a high-profile class action attorney, who is currently both suing the makers of a pharmaceutical deodorant gel which causes random tissue deformities and life-threatening erections, and, who is addicted to using the gel himself--much to the delight and consternation of his fiancĂ©, delight due to the latter, consternation due to the former.

Somehow Hiaasen always manages to incorporate the over-the-top cast of characters he assembles in his mind into an elaborate, fast-paced, and hilarious story, which alternately makes you laugh, blush, and shake your head in disbelief at the absurd spectrum of humanity, which the state of Florida seems determined to continually stretch.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, April 3, 2017

Driving Blind

by Ray Bradbury
259 pgs

It’d been a long time since I read anything by Ray Bradbury. Probably because, since there’s not much left by him to read and there are no more stories to come, I’ve been rationing. I fell in love with Bradbury from reading his stories in the science fiction, horror, and fantasy genres. The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, and Something Wicked This Way Comes are three of my all-time favorite books. But later on, I became aware of his works like Dandelion Wine and his stories that could be described as fictional memoirs, stories that either don’t contain any elements of science fiction or the supernatural, or that do so very subtly. These types of stories are just as entertaining and memorable. The 21 stories in Driving Blind generally fall into this later grouping.

Most of the stories have an element of romance in them. One tale is of an old spinster whose saved love letters were stolen from her home by the man who wrote them, and then resent to her one by one in an effort for a second chance. One is of a man who wonder what became of his first love. But when he tracks her down and knocks on her door, he discovers time has not been kind to her and so pretends to be a salesman. There’s a story about a pitiful one-ring circus in a small Mexican border town and one of a dead man searching for mourners.

Each story is only about ten pages long, but in those few pages, Bradbury--as few authors would be able to do--crafts a story deep with emotions, which offers a touching snapshot of humanity. This is not the book I would use to introduce someone to Ray Bradbury, but for those who know and enjoy his style of storytelling, this one is worth the read.

    

Friday, March 31, 2017

Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free

by Randy Henderson
428 pgs  (Familia Arcana series #2)

In Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free, the sequel to Randy Henderson’s first book, Finn Fancy Necromancy, Finn Gramaraye has finally started to get used to being back in the real world. Having spent the last 25 years imprisoned in the Other Realm of the Fey for his alleged practice of Dark Necromancy, he’s now trying to get caught up on pop culture and technology. He’s fallen in love and he’s once again using his abilities as a necromancer in the family business of operating a mortuary for the Arcane (those born with magical abilities).

But Finn is restless for something more in his life. He’s figured out a way to use a device his half-crazed father invented called the Kinfinder to find people’s True Love, and he’s begun a side business as an Arcane dating service. His first client is a Bigfoot named Sal, and the Kinfinder leads the two of them into the middle of a rebellion taking place against the Arcane Ruling Council.

Sometimes authors suffer a “sophomore slump” with their second book. They have years and years to work on their first book while they try to get it published, but once they’re published, they often have a much tighter deadline to write the next one, and oftentimes it’s not nearly as good. This is not the case with Randy Henderson. With Bigfootloose and Fin Fancy Free, Henderson takes all the things he did well with his first book, and then he adds to them.

In FFN Henderson showcased both his unique sense of humor and his love for 80’s pop culture. Those are just as prominent and enjoyable this time around. But this book offers much more. Henderson does an excellent job of fleshing out many of his characters and making the overall story more compelling, as he shows the conflict which exists within the magical world, a world the rest of us are unaware of.

    

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo

by George Saunders
343 pgs

On February 20, 1862, approximately one year into the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son Willie died from a typhoid-like disease. Willie’s death left Mary Todd inconsolable and sent her into mourning for a year. Abraham Lincoln likewise was mourning the loss of his son, but with the country in crisis, had to spend his days dealing with the war and trying to save the country. But at night, Lincoln would make trips to the Georgetown cemetery where his son was interred and remove his son’s body from its crypt and hold it.

In Lincoln in the Bardo George Saunders borrows from the Tibetan Buddhist concept of where a soul goes immediately following death, before it moves on to whatever comes next. The Tibetans refer to that state as the bardo, and Saunders places young Willie there and uses him, along with an assortment of other disembodied souls to describe Lincoln’s visits to the cemetery and to tell his emotional story.

Most of the book reads like a movie script. Instead of a traditional narrative, Saunders alternates between the dialogue of his assortment of characters and a collection of historical facts and semi-facts, which he pulled from books and news accounts of events around that time. This unique method makes the book a very quick read, and I think it accomplished what Saunders set out to do by using it. But at times I found it tedious and burdensome to my reading of the book. I was continually tempted to overlook who was speaking as I wanted to read through the dialogue quickly and I had to force myself to keep track of the character speaking.

Lincoln in the Bardo is a pretty good book. But it’s not the great book I was expecting it to be when I bought it. Maybe my expectations were too high. I had heard of George Saunders and new of his acclaim as a short-fiction writer and was expecting this book to be right up there with the best I had read in a while. And at times, it was very good. Those times were usually when Saunders focused on Lincoln and the emotions and thoughts he was working through. At other times the book languishes and gets sidetracked with the side stories of the other souls waiting to move on.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection

by Brandon Sanderson
672 pgs


Brandon Sanderson is such a prolific writer, so much so, that at times it can feel like a challenge trying to keep up with all the different series he’s writing. Fortunately, they’re all great, so it’s a good challenge to face. But the challenge became even more daunting for me a few years ago when I learned of the Cosmere, the universe within which all of his stories take place. The Cosmere contains multiple solar systems and his different series take place in the different systems. When Sanderson began to include more details about the Cosmere, and the fact that the different systems were connected to each other, and that there were ways one could travel from one to the other, I realized that I needed to be paying closer attention as I read his books. Now I was no longer content to simply read his books for pleasure, now I needed to be watchful for references and clues to the bigger picture Sanderson has begun to reveal.

There’s the Selish System, where Elantris and The Emperor’s Soul take place, the Scadrian System, where his Mistborn series take place, the Taldain System, a system introduced for the first time in this book with White Sand, the Threnodite System, where Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell takes place, the Drominad System, where Sixth of Dusk occurs, and the Rosharan System, where his most ambitions series (Stormlight) occurs.

Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection is a collection of shorter fiction, with stories taking place throughout the Cosmere, in which Sanderson begins to reveal a little more of the interconnectedness between the different systems he's created, and he gives his readers a better idea of what's to come in the many years and books ahead. 

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Outsiders

by S.E. Hinton
180 pgs

The Outsiders is one of those books that I read so long ago and remember really enjoying, but can’t remember anything about, nor why I liked it. So I decided to read it again. The risk in doing so is that maybe the book wouldn’t stand the test of time and I’d come away wondering why I liked it the first time around. But since it’s remained a staple on most junior high schools’ assigned reading lists for the last fifty years (its 50th anniversary is this month) I was pretty sure that wasn’t going to happen. It didn’t. It’s still such a great story.

S.E. Hinton uses Ponyboy, her first-person narrator to tell the story of himself and his fellow “Greasers,” and their repeated run-ins with the “Socials,” or “Socs.” Once again, I enjoyed Ponyboy’s simple and direct telling of the events and circumstances the Greasers deal with. He does it in such a casual way, which seems to be in direct contradiction to the gravity of the events the story contains.

What I don’t think I knew the first time I read the book, and which makes the book that much more impressive, is the fact that Hinton wrote the book when she was 16 (after failing her creative writing class in high school). She sold the book to a publisher when she was 17, and it was published when she was 18. Knowing that this time around gave me a different perspective into Hinton’s seemingly simple style of storytelling. 

But while the story is simple in the way it’s told, her characters shouldn’t be described the same way. Hinton shows the foolishness of stereotypes, and how unreliable outward appearances usually are. The Greasers, while tough on the outside, demonstrate a lot of emotions throughout the book.

Stealing the adjective used with significance in the book, The Outsiders, fifty years later, has stayed golden.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆