Saturday, April 29, 2017


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


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.