The fourth book in The Black Company series is also the beginning of a new dualogy, often referred to as “The Books of the South”. After the high impaThe fourth book in The Black Company series is also the beginning of a new dualogy, often referred to as “The Books of the South”. After the high impact events in book # 3, The White Rose, the remaining bits of the Black Company (down to only seven people now) decide to make their way south, to locate the lost historical annals of their Company and return them to Khatovar, the Company's place of origin.
This novel is sort of a “journey” novel, as we get to experience the Company’s adventures during their travels south. Croaker, the first person POV character of the first three books is back, diligently recording the Company’s annals and still acting as the group’s medic. But now, he takes on the leadership role, the Captain of the group. Joining him are the two sorcerers, One-Eye and Goblin as well as the Lady who really makes this set of characters an interesting combination. As they make their way south their reputation helps them not only add hundreds of members to their Company but also leads them to further adventure and peril. Chief among these perils are the Shadowmasters, powerful, shadowy creatures that spy on the Company as they travel and against whom the final battle of the novel takes place.
Glen Cook’s unapologetic, often brutal approach to storytelling is once again on full display. The ending is undoubtedly one of the biggest cliff-hangers I have ever experienced in my reading life. Did not see that coming. And that makes reading book #5 all the more urgent. I recommend having that available immediately after completing this one. ...more
Classic vintage Stephen King. Somehow, after reading over 55 King books, I realized I had never read this one from among his earliest work so when I wClassic vintage Stephen King. Somehow, after reading over 55 King books, I realized I had never read this one from among his earliest work so when I was looking for a stand-alone horror novel to read, this seemed like an obvious choice.
This book got started a little slow in my opinion. Perhaps my impression was due to having seen the movie version several decades ago and I still remembered the main thrust of the story being about a mom and her young son being trapped in a car by a rabid Saint Bernard named Cujo. I confess to becoming a little impatient as it takes almost one third of the book before we get much about Cujo at all. Up to that point, we get a much different sort of horror but it really is a King trademark. He shows us the subtle horror of everyday life for regular people whether that be in the form of marital discord, financial struggle, or job stress. This sort of “slice-of-life” Americana really showcases King’s writing ability. And here it serves to set up the more horrifying aspects of Cujo’s transformed nature still to come.
Of course King is best known (especially in the early days) as a master of traditional horror and the final one third of this novel displays those skills in fine fashion. Yes, the action is bloody, gruesome, and horrifying but the King’s picture of the psychological aspects of fear in the face of grave threat is truly masterful. The final desperate moments of Donna and Tad in the Pinto, trapped by the ferocious Cujo are truly something to behold.
For King fans, this is a must read, even though in my mind, this title gets short shrift. Don’t pass it up for so many years like I did. And if you’re into the complex Stephen King universe interconnectivity, there are some cool Easter eggs in here that relate it to the other Castle Rock novels and the Dark Tower series. ...more
This novel provides a fascinating portrayal of one of the most exciting times in world history, at least when it comes to scientific invention and theThis novel provides a fascinating portrayal of one of the most exciting times in world history, at least when it comes to scientific invention and the birth of technology. It was enjoyable to read, to get to know the real-life characters, and at the same time learn about these historical events in a non-textbooky way.
The plot revolves around three main historical characters: Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla. The inventor, the businessman, and the genius. All three men were primary warriors in what became known as the “current war”, i.e. the battle over whether or not A/C or D/C would win out in the end. In the middle of this tripod of giant historical figures is a young 26 year old recently graduated attorney named Paul Cravath, a name not familiar to me when I began reading this book but who I learned became one of the giants of the legal profession, largely due to his involvement in the “current war” and its successful resolution (depending on one’s point of view).
This is a pretty fast-paced novel with short chapters and a swift narrative style. The facts are well-researched and the author provides a welcome section at the end wherein he separates facts from fiction. There is also a nice little romance sub plot. But where the novel really shines is in how it is capable of transcending the simple facts of the events during the late 1800’s when electricity was harnessed and helps us to understand the nature and value of the inventive process. A relatively brief 15 years in our history saw not only many new discoveries related to electricity, but also the birth of new ideas on how we would go about “inventing” in the future. The notion of an eccentric lone inventor working in his personal lab quickly morphs into the business of inventing. Really, it’s the beginnings of how technology is advanced today.
This was what made me interested to read this book. But in addition, thanks to having Paul Cravath as the protagonist character, I also got to witness the concurrent development of the legal profession, seeing it change quickly from a cottage industry into a legal “factory” with Cravath’s introduction of the idea of associate attorneys and building an entire legal firm. Pretty cool.
I’ve read this author’s previous novel, The Sherlockian and enjoyed it a lot and I’ve also seen the “The Imitation Game” movie for which he was the screenwriter. Clearly, much like the characters he writes about, Graham Moore is a name to watch in the future.
This 11th novel in the Special Agent Pendergast series is also the middle book in what is referred to as the “Helen” trilogy within the larger series.This 11th novel in the Special Agent Pendergast series is also the middle book in what is referred to as the “Helen” trilogy within the larger series. Picking up on the heels of Fever Dream, Pendergast has learned that his beloved wife, Helen, killed twelve years before by a rogue lion when her rifle misfired, had in fact been murdered. Now he’s out for answers and even vengeance, and the trail leads him to some nasty surprises.
While I enjoyed this novel quite a bit, I’m not sure I like the way Pendergast seems to be evolving. I thought his character from the earlier books was unique, especially considering his rather bizarre personal appearance and his amazing cerebral powers. Now it seems he is evolving into a more rounded action figure, more prone to act with emotion than with his fascinating but curiously thoughtful approach he’s shown before. The last thing I want to see is Pendergast turn into some sort of stock hero character like you find in so many mainstream thriller novels. Perhaps it is just this sub-trilogy concerning his wife Helen that is bringing that behavior out in him but I hope that once the next book is concluded we see a return to the sort of plots from the early part of the series.
Having said that, I must say this book is still a great ride. The authors certainly know how to keep the pages turning and I do like the deepening mysteries of the Pendergast family’s past that are starting to be revealed. The character of Constance (Pendergast’s ward) always seemed odd to me but now we are getting a much clearer picture of who she is and what her role is. It was also nice to see the return of one of my favorite characters, Corrie Swanson from way back in book #4, Still Life With Crows and it would appear she will have a major role to play in the next book as well.
There is a lot going on at this point in the series and I am looking forward to the final “Helen” book and beyond. ...more
I can remember way back when I first visited Monticello. I was 14 years old and an apparently impressionable youth but I remember touring Thomas JeffeI can remember way back when I first visited Monticello. I was 14 years old and an apparently impressionable youth but I remember touring Thomas Jefferson’s house and becoming completely fascinated with all things Jeffersonian. Not only did the house impress my young mind but the stories of how Jefferson slowly built it over decades, incorporating all sorts of cool features that he had learned on his travels to Europe and invented himself was just incredible.
So last month I revisited Monticello for the first time in more decades than I care to count and obviously viewed it from mature adult eyes, eyes that have seen many an historical mansion/house/hovel since my teen years. My nostalgia was hard to live up to and I confess to feeling a bit disappointed this time around. So when I saw this book in their bookstore, I had to have it hoping that magic was still there and could be rekindled. There is just something about Jefferson that clicks with me and the house that he built and rebuilt over his entire adult life seems to provide a better understanding of the man than just about anything else.
Jefferson, of course, was a man of many contradictions…and so is Monticello. This book provides plenty of details for all aspects of the building of Monticello. There are the surface facts on what was built, when parts were constructed, how it was built, and who built it (including a thorough analysis of the slave labor that went into it). But the book goes much deeper than that, really capturing Jefferson’s exacting persona and the way he poured his heart and soul into designing and constructing Monticello. He was a hands-on architect, builder, and gardener to be sure and this gigantic and long-lasting labor of love is fun to read about. Don’t expect to read much about Jefferson’s political life, the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clarke, writing the Declaration of Independence. The only real references to such things in this book are how they relate to Monticello (i.e. giving the desk upon which he wrote the Declaration to one of his master furniture makers to help compensate for the loss of the man’s best-made piece in a sunken ship). There are references to Jefferson’s time in Paris and London but not focusing on his political positions there but rather his insights on architectural ideas he gained.
I had a lot of fun reading this and took my time with it, enjoying every aspect. I am happy to report the magic is back. ...more
The 16th book in the “Assignment” series featuring intrepid Cold War-era CIA agent Sam Durrell is once again packed with adventure in exotic locationsThe 16th book in the “Assignment” series featuring intrepid Cold War-era CIA agent Sam Durrell is once again packed with adventure in exotic locations. This time his assignment is to watch over and keep safe a high-powered Fortune 500 executive named Sarah Standish as she undertakes a dangerous expedition to a remote mountainous location near the Chinese border.
Of course nothing is so simple and in fact the novel begins with Durrell just regaining consciousness after being waylaid by his Jeep driver on the shore of the Gulf of Oman. He must reconstruct how he got into such a predicament and then he is off to meet his companions for the journey. Ms. Standish and others are trying to verify the rumors of rich nickel deposits on the Mountain known as “S-5”. It is also rumored that Alexander the Great’s crown now rests in a cave on the mountain and thus competitors seek to hinder their journey.
I always enjoy the exotic locations these novels serve up. This time we not only get to visit Karachi but also Rawalpindi, Lake Mohsere, Istanbul, Mirandhabad and other places in Pakistan. Indeed much of the action of the final third of the novel takes place on the S-5 Mountain itself.
First published in 1962, this is another nice story of dangerous adventure, espionage, gun battles, fisticuffs, and romantic entanglements that I’ve come to expect from these novels. ...more
Many lists indicate this novel to be the first novel ever published by Louis L’Amour (although he had been publishing short stories in the pulps for oMany lists indicate this novel to be the first novel ever published by Louis L’Amour (although he had been publishing short stories in the pulps for over ten years). Some list it as the second published novel. It first appeared way back in 1951 and helped L'Amour refine the novel-writing skills that would eventually propel him to become far and away the all-time bestselling Western fiction author. This novel is one of four Hopalong Cassidy novels he wrote but they were originally published under the pseudonym “Tex Burns”, a nom de plume created by his publisher (L’Amour himself always denied he had written these books).
Regardless, you don’t need to be a L’Amour enthusiast to appreciate this story. It’s certainly a traditional western yarn involving Hoppy and some of his friends taking on a gang of rustlers and saving some folks from their bullying ways. There are dastardly bad guys, cattle brand switching, a survival trek through the snowy mountains, a damsel to be rescued, and gunfights aplenty. The plot has an overall story arc but it also seemed a bit like it was broken down into individual vignettes that all tied together. I suspect that it was originally published in serial form.
While reading the novel it struck me that “Westerns” are really the precursor of today’s superhero stories. I guess I’ve seen so many superhero movies in the last few years that I finally realized how similar they are to traditional Westerns. There are many similarities of course but for both genres it almost always boils down to these two truths: the hero is better than everybody else at almost everything and you know they’re going to come out on top in the end.
The L’Amour Hopalong Cassidy books are nice stories and don’t demand too much of your cerebral juices to make it through one. But if you’ve never experienced a L’Amour western I don’t recommend you start with one of these. While they do show glimpses of his more refined writing that comes afterwards, and are enjoyable to read, they aren’t as good as what he produced later. ...more
Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this book by the publisher in return for an honest review.
The third book of the Jack Madson series is similaDisclaimer: I was provided a free copy of this book by the publisher in return for an honest review.
The third book of the Jack Madson series is similar in many respects to the first two but tries for something a bit different as well. Unfortunately, I think it failed in many ways and as such, I really can’t recommend it.
On the positive side, it had a pretty cool plot premise including investigations into WW2-era Nazi programs to develop super soldiers, cloning, gene therapy, etc. There were some good action sequences at the end but by that time I really didn't care what the outcome might be.
On the negative side, there were just too many plot elements jammed together to make sense of. In addition to what I already mentioned, we have quite a few additional conspiracy theories like human-directed evolution, the CIA developing dossiers on all Americans in the 1960s by having school kids take “personality tests”, silent messaging (controlling the behaviors of others through microwave transmissions), and even the US Government not only involved in but actually “programming” the assassins in the killings of JFK, MLK, and Malcolm X. Also, the author blows a great opportunity with the setting. Most of the novel takes place at Princeton University but you would never really know it. It might as well have been happening anywhere.
In addition, the author seems to have been working too hard at his similes and metaphors. Here are two examples:
“No you don’t," I said, holding the thumb drive up like a shaman brandishing a satanic totem.
Then grim as a midwife presenting a mongoloid monster to its mother, I carried the computer to her…
OK, I get trying to be the next Raymond Chandler but these sorts of over-the-top phrases come up in practically every paragraph. It is especially annoying when it occurs during one of the numerous sex scenes. One time the main character experienced archipelagos of delight. Say what?
Finally, I must add that the 6 or 7 times Jack slipped into some sort of dream-state or psychotic interlude and rambled on and on for several pages was just plain confusing. I wonder if the author was trying to step up his game a notch and be more “literary”. Regardless, the result was unsatisfactory and as far as I could tell added nothing to the story.
I’ve seen these Jack Madsen novels advertised as a trilogy and so this may be the last one. If so, it’s sad to see that the main character hasn’t grown any and in fact, falls into the same traps each time, especially with women who always seem to dupe him and double cross him in the end. if there are to be more, I won’t be among those who read them. Time to cut this author loose. 1.5 stars ...more
Once again I have my Goodreads friends to thank for an outstanding recommendation. The Tales of the Ketty Jay is a 4-book series with this volume, RetOnce again I have my Goodreads friends to thank for an outstanding recommendation. The Tales of the Ketty Jay is a 4-book series with this volume, Retribution Falls, being the first.
This is a flat-out fun fantasy adventure story in space. Comparisons to the Firefly television series are inevitable but please do not think you are getting a copy-cat product. True, the Ketty Jay is an airship complete with a sort of space cowboy leader and a motley crew of assorted misfits with interesting backgrounds. They engage in various business/trade ventures but do not limit themselves to completely honest work all the time. Pirates one day and legitimate tradesmen the next is the norm as is the resulting consequences. All of the crew members have secrets in their past and this first volume provides us with several flash back sequences for us to discover those secrets. But unlike Firefly, there is magic in this world and the nature of how that works and how the characters come to understand each other’s natures is a central theme.
I enjoyed the adventurous plot, following along from one dangerous scrape to another and I found the characters intriguing and worth rooting for. I am always a fan of well-done world building as we see here but I marvel at how the author avoids intrusive info dumps and simply provides as much of the world outside the characters as we need. We understand the vastness of it all and that numerous complex societies are out there but we get to stay focused on where the action is.
Greatly looking forward to the rest of the series. ...more
I first read this novel back in High School and was ill-prepared to appreciate its style. I had read science fiction, fantasy, and books like Doc SavaI first read this novel back in High School and was ill-prepared to appreciate its style. I had read science fiction, fantasy, and books like Doc Savage almost exclusively and I thought it was high time I branched out. In fact, I think this was the first book of the hard boiled crime/noir/PI genre I had ever read. It seemed dull to me at the time but as I grew older (and older) and sampled more and more of the genre and came to love it even, I knew that someday I would get back to Travis McGee and see what it was that I had missed all those years before.
Turned out I was correct. This time around I thoroughly enjoyed it and will now plan to read the rest of the entire series over the next several years. The fascinating thing about this book is not so much the plot (although it’s a good one), or the setting (also good), but rather the character of Travis McGee himself. I really enjoy his approach to life and his ability to thumb his nose at what “traditional” society expects, choosing to live how he wants. Accumulating money is not his end goal. He looks out for those that are getting bullied or become innocent victims of the powerful so we readers want to root for him.
The author’s prose is also great fun to read, something else that I under-appreciated in my youth. He could turn a phrase with the best of them and say so much with a single sentence. Yes, I look forward to my journey with Travis over the entire 21 novel set. Overall I give it 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 because of the sheer joy I experienced at proving my youthful opinion so very wrong. ...more
As a devoted fan of Michael Sullivan’s Riyria series I’ve been looking forward to diving into his new series ever since I first heard about it. My botAs a devoted fan of Michael Sullivan’s Riyria series I’ve been looking forward to diving into his new series ever since I first heard about it. My bottom line opinion may be a little confusing but it’s the best I can describe it: I got everything I expected and I also got everything I didn’t expect.
Those that have read the Riyria books know that Mr. Sullivan writes excellent fantasy novels, with great characters, settings, plots and all those things that make for a good read. The Riyria novels are extremely readable and keep the pages turning without thought to bedtimes or work schedules. They are down-to-earth and targeted at audiences of all ages as opposed to much of today’s “gritty” fantasy and above all, they are great fun to read.
The same can be said for this new series, at least as evidenced by this first book. But at the same time, it’s a lot different. The setting is in the same world as Riyria but thousands of years before those books take place. But whereas Riyria’s characters were limited to just a handful, this series has blown open the entire world. We are introduced to entire races with complex histories and motives and power structures. That may seem to indicate that it isn’t quite as “easy” to read and I suppose one could make that argument but the author’s prose works as always to keep us glued to the page. Some characters have powerful magic and some don’t…or perhaps they do? (More to come on that in follow-on books I feel sure). Intrigue abounds. There are dozens of characters and the ones that become the protagonists are vastly different from one another. It’s as if the author has been working on his world building for decades. The various races are completed by a lot of new words so the glossary at the end was very helpful.
This book is a vastly more complex fantasy story than what we saw in Riyria and more epic in scope. They are both fun reads but in different ways. I am so glad that Michael Sullivan writes an entire series before publishing the first so we won’t have to wait eons for each of the next ones to come out in this five-book series. If this first volume is any indication, we have much to look forward to in subsequent books in the series! ...more
To put it mildly this was not my favorite John Grisham novel. I suppose it’s the bleak subject matter: death row, racism, alcoholism, the KKK, etc. CeTo put it mildly this was not my favorite John Grisham novel. I suppose it’s the bleak subject matter: death row, racism, alcoholism, the KKK, etc. Certainly not uplifting subjects but I’ve read novels before dealing with these sorts of topics and not come away with the same sick feeling in my gut.
The novel has several structural problems which lower it on my Grisham rankings. First of all it felt bloated. This is a novel in need of some significant trimming in the same way some of Stephen King’s novels do. Clearly the author, as well as the main characters, is 100% against the death penalty but beating me over the head with that doesn’t serve any purpose. There was also a plot thread that tried to deal with alcoholism that seemed out-of-place and didn’t really serve the overall story. The build-up of whether or not the young lawyer could successfully overturn the upcoming execution didn’t work well because to me at least, the ending was inevitable and telegraphed from near the beginning.
What the novel does do is hammer home the idea that lawyers will do anything necessary for their client including hiring expert witnesses to lie in order to aid their cases. The endless appeals for death row inmates are known to all but here it cements the notion that it is all a big waste of time, energy, and tax payer’s money and in fact leads only to tortuous impacts on the accused. The “will there or won’t there” be a stay of execution is shown to be pure torture and leaves our criminal protagonist with nothing but a desire to stop the insanity and just get it over with. I was left with a feeling of disgust with our legal system and little sympathy for the lawyers in the novel. One theme seems to be that it’s not only ethical, but absolutely necessary to commit “lesser” sins if it means correcting a “greater” sin (the death penalty) based merely on the opinion of the lawyer, not the law itself.