Tuesday, May 23, 2017


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.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆