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.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Redbreast

by Jo Nesbø
521 pgs  (Harry Hole series #3)

With The Redbreast, the third book in Jo Nesbø’s crime fiction series featuring Norwegian detective Harry Hole (pronounced “Hō-leh”—something I feel compelled to mention each time I review a book in the series), Nesbø reaches his full writing stride.

During the Nazi’s occupation of Norway in World War II, thousands of Norwegians “volunteered” to serve alongside German troops fighting on the Eastern Front. After the war those soldiers returned to Norway and were labeled traitors and many were thrown into prison, scapegoats who carried their country’s sins when the Axis powers lost. Unsurprisingly, many of them spent the rest of their lives carrying deep-seeded embitterment towards their country and its leaders. One of those men, now in his seventies and dying of cancer, has begun killing those who served with him in Leningrad.

When an extremely expensive and powerful rifle is smuggled into Norway by a group of skinheads and sold to someone, Harry suspects that something significant is being planned. And as the body count starts to climb, and as it includes someone very close to Harry, he races to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Numerous times throughout the book, Nesbø alternates between two different timelines. The first takes place in modern-day Norway, and follows Hole’s investigation into the killings. The second takes place in Leningrad in the 1940s, and tells the story of a small group of soldiers who fought and survived the brutal conditions there. For much of the book, it’s not clear what the connection between the two storylines is, but as the story draws to its frantic conclusion, Nesbø rewards us with a thrilling and very satisfying conclusion.

The Redbreast was voted “Best Norwegian Crime Novel Ever Written” by members of Norwegian book clubs, high praise from a relatively insignificant population. BUT, with a movie adaptation of one of his later Harry Hole books (The Snowman) in production for release later this year starring Michael Fassbender, and another starring Jake Gyllenhaal in the works, it’s likely that his fanbase will be expanding significantly soon. Regardless, with each book by him that I read, I become more and more excited about what Norwegian book clubs have apparently been aware of for a while now.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Forgotten Room

by Lincoln Child
290 pgs  (Jeremy Logan series #4)

Will Strachey was a respected researcher at Lux, the nation’s oldest and most renowned think tank located along the coast of Rhode Island. He was until he ended his life, unexpectedly and in a particularly gruesome fashion. Immediately after attacking his assistant, screaming incoherently about voices that “taste like poison,” Strachey decapitates himself using one of the facility’s heavy glass windows.  

Jeremy Logan, an enigmalogist who used to work at the Lux himself, and the protagonist of three of Child’s previous stand-alone novels, is summoned by Lux’s director, Dr. Olafson, to investigate Strachey’s inexplicable behavior and death.

As Logan begins to look into Strachey’s death, he learns that there are other researchers at Lux who have been exhibiting uncharacteristic behavior as well. He learns that Strachey had been overseeing the renovation of the West Wing of the facility, which hadn’t been used for the last several years, and it’s there that he discovers a hidden room. It’s been walled up recently, is dust free, and contains an assortment of odd laboratory equipment, including an old electromagnetic field generator used historically to detect paranormal events.

Typically, I enjoy the books Child coauthors with Douglas Preston more than I do his stand-alone books, but he has managed to keep his series featuring Jeremy Logan entertaining and worthwhile. I enjoy the way he incorporates elements of the supernatural while remaining believable enough to keep me from rolling my eyes. The Forgotten Room is a quick and fun read that will make you feel a little unsettled at times, unsure of how much you can trust your own senses. 


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Norse Mythology

by Neil Gaiman
293 pgs

When I initially heard that Neil Gaiman was putting out a book composed of stories taken from Norse mythology, I considered not reading it. I thought, why bother with it if the stories weren’t his, but just his retelling of the myths? But I’ve never regretted reading anything by Gaiman, whether it’s a novel (graphic or otherwise), poem, short story, or children’s picture book, so I gave it a try. And I’m glad I did.

The book is not long, containing 15 stories, most featuring Odin, Thor, and Loki. It begins with a story about the beginning of the world and ends with its destruction. In between are the myths Gaiman probably selected because of their importance within the mythology. He wanted to write a book Norse scholars could appreciate as well as those completely new to the characters and the mythology. This isn’t another American Gods, where Gaiman took another ancient mythology and used it to form a modern-day novel. If you’re hoping for that, you may be disappointed. With Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays as true to the stories as he felt he possibly could, and simply lends them his own voice.

The stories are all entertaining and oftentimes funny. We learn how Odin, the high one, sacrificed his eye for knowledge, how Thor, the not-so-bright god, acquired his hammer, and how Loki, the shape shifter and trickster, was either assisting the gods or causing them headaches.

Gaiman does a wonderful job presenting these stories. He tells each one at a moderately fast pace and tells them in such a way that quickly hooks you and makes you want to continue reading.