This is the third installment of this series, of which I really, really enjoyed the first novel. It was creative and original while managing to be cla...moreThis is the third installment of this series, of which I really, really enjoyed the first novel. It was creative and original while managing to be classic children's adventure with well-drawn characters on all sides. The two sequels have been less enjoyable, suffering from the expected sequel disease where everything is fine and like the first book, but not as good because a) you've seen it already and b) the plot arc has less suspense now that the "team" is established. If you've not enjoyed The Mysterious Benedict Society, either for yourself or with some young ones, grab that first novel and enjoy. The sequels you can take or leave as far as I'm concerned.(less)
There’s hardly a need to say anything more about Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol, the book having already been dissected, praised, and excoriated by reviewers...moreThere’s hardly a need to say anything more about Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol, the book having already been dissected, praised, and excoriated by reviewers and pundits far above my pay grade. If you like Dan Brown, you’ll like it, if you don’t, you won’t. For my part, I’ll just say that while I’m not arguing that he’s any kind of genius, the man knows how to write a story that keeps me turning pages. It was an enjoyable read, and if he comes out with another doorstop full of esoteric semi-truths cloaked in mysticism and symbolism I’ll probably read that too.(less)
I’m sitting in the main terminal building at SeaTac airport, having a late lunch/early dinner while waiting for the flight to Colorado. I’m still not...moreI’m sitting in the main terminal building at SeaTac airport, having a late lunch/early dinner while waiting for the flight to Colorado. I’m still not sold on e-readers (another rant, for another post), but I’ve resuscitated my 1st generation Kindle for the trip, on the theory that one Kindle takes up less space than the 3 novels I hope to read this next week, all of which I own in hardcover editions. The cellular connection on my Kindle reminds me of 56k modems (though I’m probably misremembering, and there’s no awesome sound effects when connecting) but eventually I manage to peruse the “Recommended for You” section and pick out The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey. Digital synchronicity causes this book to appear on my recommendation page and on my “To Read” shelf at Goodreads. Must mean something, right? Sample digested over burritos, and full book bought and paid for before the horrible “turn off all electronic devices” warning when the plane’s door closes.
I don’t read a lot of horror, but I like YA, and I like Victorian era settings, so the promise of “Lovcraftian YA horror” managed to get my attention. What I have read a lot of is vampire stories, and zombie stories. One of the features of The Monstrumologist I most appreciated was that there was A new kind of monster! I’d never heard of Anthropophagi before, but I’m damn glad to have met them. How refreshing!
The story features a pair of characters at it’s heart: the protagonist, an orphaned child, isolated and employed by, the Monstrumologist, an eccentric, mad scientist striving to not deal with the horrors of his own past. The action covers a small area of space and time, with an interesting supporting cast. The plot was sell structured, nicely paced, and really enjoyable. I’m not fully converted to the genre by any means, but I’m very glad to have made the detour from my normal fodder. If you’ve any interest in Lovcraftian horror and enjoy YA, give this novel a try.
I have loved every Dresden Files novel since I first discovered book one on accident in the Denver Airport. The latest iteration is definitely up to p...moreI have loved every Dresden Files novel since I first discovered book one on accident in the Denver Airport. The latest iteration is definitely up to par, which is a pretty impressive feat of authorship if you think about it. This is the 12th novel featuring Harry Dresden, and given the series' habit of raising the stakes for each novel--badder bad guys, bigger explosions, flashier magic--it is quite an accomplishment that even with installment number twelve the thing even makes sense any more. I wouldn't call "Changes" a great stand-alone work of literature, but for fans of the Dresden Files there is much more of the same to revel in here. How long do I have to wait for the next one?!(less)
**spoiler alert** For those of you who generally don’t bother with books I review because you aren’t into the speculative fiction genre, here’s one th...more**spoiler alert** For those of you who generally don’t bother with books I review because you aren’t into the speculative fiction genre, here’s one that’s different. Justin Cronin’s The Passage is a contemporary thriller with a bit of horror mixed in. Reading it, I recalled Stephen King’s The Stand at many points. I liked it, am glad I read it, would recommend it to anyone interested in these kinds of stories. It wasn’t a page-turner, but there was no way I could have dropped it at any point, despite its 769 page length. That said, I’m not buying it for my collection and in the end I felt like the structure was flawed, at least in terms of my personal enjoyment. The flaw I’m perceiving is related to the length, and the ending. I don’t dislike ambiguous endings automatically, though I’ll admit to a preference for nice, neat wrap-ups, as long as they’re done well. The ending of The Passage was a bit up in the air, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except that it felt to me like it didn’t fit. Like it wasn’t quite the artistic leaving-unsaid, nor was it a cliff-hanger for another novel. It just left me with some seriously unanswered questions about the main characters, which made me feel like I’d invested in caring about these characters more than the author had. Because of the length, this felt more like the first two novels of a three novel story. There was plenty of scope for that format as well. The story begins with a fairly standard, though very well re-told, tale of government experimentation and military science gone wrong. An expedition in the jungle, an ancient disease uncovered, ethics-bending testing on human subjects, and (surprise surprise) things go wrong: test subjects escape, civilization as we know it will come to an end if somebody doesn’t do something. If the heroes had managed to avert the crisis, this would have been a nice, though somewhat pedestrian, 250 page thriller. They don’t manage though, and civilization does indeed come to an end. There are some great bits about government officials and regular people trying to cope with the spreading plague. Here’s where book two could have kicked in. The next part of the story, which felt a lot like starting a whole new novel, takes place about a hundred years in the future, in a post-apocalyptic world where humans are incredibly scarce and live under constant threat in an armed compound. A slightly mystical savior figure appears and a new set of characters undertake a quest to find the source of the plague and maybe defeat it. This part of the story is amazing. It could stand alone without the first section, or serve as a string second novel in a series. And there’s my only complaint. I want book three. I want to know what happens next, now that they have some answers and an idea of how to proceed. Maybe the author will write more, but there wasn’t any indication of that. In a book that paralleled The Stand so closely in my mind, I have to give the best ending award to Mr. King. Nevertheless, if you’re at all interested in these kinds of narratives, give Cronin’s doorstop a read. I doubt you’ll regret it. (less)
Your basic summer blockbuster in novel form. Starts off as a standard asteroid impact story but ends up having a cool twist on that theme. A bit overb...moreYour basic summer blockbuster in novel form. Starts off as a standard asteroid impact story but ends up having a cool twist on that theme. A bit overblown, which is par for the course in a novel like this, but enjoyable. It had that page-turning quality, and the characters were well done in my opinion. Not much more to say on this one. Yeah explosions!(less)
I just finished this book that I think you’ll like. It’s called The Grimm Legacy. No, I didn’t spell that wron...moreDear Kenny,
It’s been awhile, man. Right?
I just finished this book that I think you’ll like. It’s called The Grimm Legacy. No, I didn’t spell that wrong, two M’s, as in ‘The Brothers Grimm.” The novel fits as neatly into the Young Adult category as it does into the Urban Fantasy sub-genre. It’s pretty clean too, just a bit of kissing, so you can let your girls loose on it without fear that they might learn something you think they don’t already know.
Here’s the set-up: Elizabeth is your basic High School outcast of the smart girl archetype: not beautiful or good with boys, but clever and resourceful. She lands the after-school job of her dreams, working in a lending library in New York City, just a few blocks from her home and school. Only this library doesn’t lend books, it lends objects. All kinds of objects: art, tools, clothes, whatever; people can borrow things to used them or to study them. And then there’s the collections in the basement. The ‘Special’ collections, one of which is the Grimm Collection. These items, from the Grimm Fairy Tales, are magical. Items from the Grimm Collection start to disappear and Elizabeth, with her new friends and coworkers, gets sucked into the intrigue of finding the thief.
It’s a great read with a very cool setting and premise, and the characters are realistically gifted and flawed by turns, with problems that it seems to me that teens these days might actually have to deal with. Then again, I’m officially an old guy now (turning 36 in a few days), so what do I know?
I was nervous about this book. The last one was fine (book #3, Blood of the Mantis), but too short, which left me feeling a bit uninterested. I starte...moreI was nervous about this book. The last one was fine (book #3, Blood of the Mantis), but too short, which left me feeling a bit uninterested. I started this one feeling the same: worried about the short length and having a hard time getting pulled into the many, many different plot strands.
Turns out, the only thing wrong with books #3 and #4 in this series is that they should have been the same book. I don't know if it was an author decision or a publisher decision or what, but from my perspective as a reader this series is a trilogy, not a quartet, and books #3 and #4 belong in one volume. Salute the Dark naturally completes all the plot threads in Blood of the Mantis, giving it the proper narrative shape of crisis and climax.
Having finished the series (though I imagine the author intends more, this novel completes at least the first major story; though future possibilities are hinted at, much of the story is concluded) I can now heartily endorse the whole thing, I'm just warning you to make sure book #4 is on hand before you finish book #3, and to pretend they're just the one novel conveniently split for ease of carrying, or something.
I particularly enjoyed the bittersweet endings in this volume. I don't like depressing books, but I'm also a little too jaded to really enjoy the novels in which absolutely everything comes right in the end. Salute the Dark struck the proper balance between victory and sacrifice for my tastes.
Thanks Mr. Tchaikovsky! I look forward to more of your work.(less)
Another installment of the boy criminal-mastermind series. I liked this one pretty much exactly as much as I liked all the others, which is an accompl...moreAnother installment of the boy criminal-mastermind series. I liked this one pretty much exactly as much as I liked all the others, which is an accomplishment I think, as the longer these series' go on the less enamored of them I tend to get. The story seemed short, but I think that might also be a function of the long series syndrome, where the author has to fit in a bit of all the characters and signature scenes that fans have come to expect. I bought this one new, sight-unseen, in part to complete my collection but also because Colfer just writes great YA (Possibly Middle Grade) stories. I liked Artemis better when he was more of a criminal and more flawed (again, earlier in the series) but I was very happy to spend time with him again in this novel.(less)
OK, this one is perfect. At thirteen Melia is probably the target age for this novel, but I’m betting Tasha will like it too even if she is...moreDear Kenny,
OK, this one is perfect. At thirteen Melia is probably the target age for this novel, but I’m betting Tasha will like it too even if she is only eight.
Now, before you start composing that letter built on vampire rage and expletives, allow me to explain. Yes, there are vampires. No, they don’t sparkle.
Here’s where you start: what would happen, really, if a teenager became possessed of immortality and paranormal powers? Adam Rex’s answer? You end up with a fifteen year old kid, overweight, physically and socially awkward, forever. Yeah, unable to have reasonable conversation with a girl for all eternity. When the story opens, the protagonist and his best friend are attending the San Diego ComiCon, where they act like typical nerds until he gets really hungry. So they stumble through a raid on the Red Cross blood bank taking donations on the street outside.
The novel is hilarious, though its not just for cheap laughs. There is a plot, there is character growth and development, and the ending is really wonderful; uncertain but well done. The perfect antidote to moping Abercrombie & Fitch models afraid of their sparkles and angst.
"His Majesty's Dragon" is one of my favorite finds of this year, such a compelling juxtaposition of Napoleonic historical fantasy with the postulation...more"His Majesty's Dragon" is one of my favorite finds of this year, such a compelling juxtaposition of Napoleonic historical fantasy with the postulation of ship-of-the-line sized dragons. Novik managed to keep the series interesting for many volumes, but I found this one too light. At only 250 pages, it felt like the first half of a novel, or else a novella with an interminable travel scenario stuck in the center (ala Harry Potter #7 and the never ending camping trip of boredom). I already bought the book, and I'll hang onto it until the next volume comes out, in case it can be redeemed. Otherwise, I'll probably resell this edition and save some precious shelf space, keeping the original four or five stories which I liked much better. Don't let this stop you reading the first book if you haven't; it's well worth it.(less)
I made an effort at Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl some months ago and couldn’t get into it. I take full responsibility for this; it’s not the aut...moreI made an effort at Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl some months ago and couldn’t get into it. I take full responsibility for this; it’s not the author’s fault. I tend to be pretty escapist in my reading preferences, and while I have been building up a higher tolerance for tradgedy and have even come to like slightly vague endings (nothing on the order of Lit. Fic., mind you), Bacigalupi’s adult fiction was just too bleak and realistic for me. I gave up and went looking for something less depressing to me personally.
Yet I kept hearing his name, this author, and so when I came across a Young Adult title by him on the New Fiction shelf at my library I grabbed it up.
Ship Breaker is set in a very similar world to Windup Girl, if not the same one: a post-environmental-apocalypse earth where the gap between rich and poor is greater than ever. Yet the YA outlook must have taken the edge off for me, or else my tolerance is still increasing, because the story had enough hope and optimism that I didn’t once feel like backing away. The main character is part of a team of scavengers who physically recycle the valuable pieces of the previous era’s tankers and cargo vessels, hence the eponymous title. He looks out over the Gulf Coast waters at the new generation of clipper ships, a combination of high tech electronics and materials with old tech sail plans, with longing for something unimaginably better.
I tried to read Grahame-Smith's first novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but couldn't get past the first chapter. I don't hold it against him tho...moreI tried to read Grahame-Smith's first novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but couldn't get past the first chapter. I don't hold it against him though, as my problem was that he was messing with a classic text that I already really liked. So I was excited to learn that he wrote a novel cover to cover himself and immediately got in line at the library. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a great read. The author is still fitting a story around a previous story, only this time the previous story isn't a work of great literature but a biographical story of one of America's most famous forefathers. Grahame-Smith weaves subtly, and anyone with an appreciation for history, pop-culture, and a tongue-in-cheek melding of the two is likely to enjoy this book.
One criticism, and this is of the type of storytelling the author is doing and not his skill at doing it. This book suffers from prequel syndrome; I know the shape of the story already, in this case because I know the basic events of the life of Abraham Lincoln, so the only surprises to be had come from discovering how the author will reveal or develop the events I already know will occur. This is a fatal flaw for me in a work of fiction, so I'll never love this kind of story. That said, I'm very glad to have read this book, and recommend it heartily.
Oh yeah, and hang on to yourself at the last page. Enough said.(less)
The third and final(!) installment in The Hunger Games trilogy. I started this book yesterday. Finished it yesterday too, if that tells you anything a...moreThe third and final(!) installment in The Hunger Games trilogy. I started this book yesterday. Finished it yesterday too, if that tells you anything about how entrancing it was. This is probably my favorite YA series of the year (so far) and was finished off by a volume that was not just up to par with the first two novels but may have actually exceeded them. Katniss, the protagonist, is such a wonderfully drawn character who suffers much in a very realistic way. The mental wounds she suffers are even more real and damaging than the physical ones, a portrayal of the costs of human cruelty that is so often lacking in the speculative fiction genres. I can't recommend this one highly enough. Loved it.(less)
For the most part, I read speculative fiction, also known as either Science Fiction or Fantasy, and more specifically Urban Fantasy, Dystopian Fantasy...moreFor the most part, I read speculative fiction, also known as either Science Fiction or Fantasy, and more specifically Urban Fantasy, Dystopian Fantasy, and Steampunk, especially the Young Adult iterations of those sub-genres. Every once in awhile though, I have to surface from the vast deeps of the story ocean and take a breath of salt-tinged non-fiction air.
When it comes to non-fiction, I like histories with unusual focuses and memoirs of people doing interesting and odd things. Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky is a favorite example of the former.
For a specimen of the latter you needn’t go much further than Avi Steinberg’s Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian. This one was an NPR recommendation, and typical of the breed: brainy, insightful, and well-written.
Here’s the gist of it: The author, after an interesting but ultimately isolating career as an obituary writer for the Boston Globe newspaper, stumbles across a job working in the library of a nearby prison. He takes it, not out of an overabundance of idealism, but largely because the job comes with benefits.
I don’t really know how to review a book like this—I certainly can’t compare it to others of its kind that I’ve read. I really liked it, if that helps. Steinberg does a great job of describing the people and place, tells the stories of those people in that place well, and then reflects on them in deep and poignant ways, without making it obvious that he’s doing so. He makes the prisoners real, discovering for himself the humanity they hide, while not in the end shielding us from the fact that some of them have done horrible things.
The tragedy of the lives lived in prison, both prisoners and guards, grows in your mind as you read. I guess that’s the last thing I’ll say about this book: that it lets you figure out for yourself what to think. This isn’t an argument for overhauling the prison system, or a manifesto on human liberty, or a condemnation of our society. You could draw any of those conclusions if you were inclined to, but they’d be your conclusions, not something the author is forcing on you. (less)
I read Richard Kadrey's "Sandman Slim" back in June and loved it. I anticipated the next novel featuring the same main character with such excitement...moreI read Richard Kadrey's "Sandman Slim" back in June and loved it. I anticipated the next novel featuring the same main character with such excitement that I pre-ordered it twice. Both copies showed up last week. I read one. Might read the other too, it was so much fun.
I still maintain that Stark, a.k.a. Sandman Slim, is the R rated Harry Dresden. "Kill the Dead" is a first person, present tense, noir detective story with a thoroughly modern feel. If 'gritty' weren't such an overused descriptor of urban fantasy, I'd call it that, but it would be an understatement. Kadrey make's 'gritty' look like a feather bed.
So enough gushing, here's a specific that I love about these novels: Kadrey has a way with comparisons--similes, metaphors, etc.--that is jolting while at the same time blending in with his narrative. Instead of calling a street quiet, it is "a funeral on Christmas morning." Instead of saying he's bloody all over, he "looks like I'd been sumo wrestling in a barbwire kimono."