Just as cute, just as witty, just as charming as the first book in the series, Dead Until Dark. Harris' second book in the Sookie Stackhouse series ha...moreJust as cute, just as witty, just as charming as the first book in the series, Dead Until Dark. Harris' second book in the Sookie Stackhouse series has Sookie and her vampire lover, Bill, traveling to Dallas to help solve a mystery involving a disappearing vampire. Harris provides a bit more insight into the back-channel dealings of the vampires but still manages not to neglect her cast of motley residents of Bon Temps.
Quick and easy reads that are perfect for a flight or simply an afternoon of escapist fancy. Fans of vampire fiction will not be let down by this imaginative and whimsical series. I'm definitely in for the long haul. Now on to book three, Club Dead.(less)
Note for completists: This is the third of the Smiley books, preceded by first Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and then by The Honourable Schoolboy. Whil...moreNote for completists: This is the third of the Smiley books, preceded by first Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and then by The Honourable Schoolboy. While it is possible to read these books out of order and still enjoy them, the later books are informed by the events that come before and definitely spoil salient plot points of those novels.
Life has not been overly kind to George Smiley. Devoted husband to a faithless wife, dedicated servant to a government that does not admit he exists, archnemesis to his Soviet doppelganger, betrayed by his closest friend- Smiley has been through much in his years of service. Smiley's People finds the former spymaster once more cast out of the Circus of British intelligence, yet another sacrifice to the twisting winds of political favoritism. Prematurely aged and tired from a life lived in the shadows, Smiley doesn't quite know how to go about existing without subterfuge.
Yet when his old acquaintance Lacon shows up requesting Smiley's help investigating the murder of a friend and former asset, Smiley laboriously pulls himself from his over-stuffed easy chair, smoothes rumpled clothes over his mammoth stomach, puts on his horse blanket of a jacket, and tromps dutifully back into the world of intrigue that is his life. At stake is the opportunity to finally take down Karla, the Soviet spymaster who has bedevilled Smiley for decades in the great and secret chess game they have played against one another. Working unofficially, completely off the books and deniable, Smiley must piece together Karla's plan before more of his friends end up dead on a rainy night.
Fortunately, Smiley has built up all the resources he would need over a lifetime of intelligence work. In the spy game, all the fancy gadgets and gizmos in the world will never compare to a solid piece of human intel, and Smiley knows just who to ask to get the information he requires. Visiting retired Circus personnel, from the senile research assistant who helped compile nearly all of the known data on Karla to the disgraced lamplighter Toby Esterhase, who can still muster more than a few surveillance teams if there's the chance for personal glory and a return to the game, Smiley pieces together the bits of story he needs in order to weave a trap of his own and conclusively win in the battle of wills that he and Karla have fought for nearly their whole lives.
This is what le Carre excels at: the slow and methodical piecing together of events, some decades old, into a coherent conspiracy that has a very real effect on the present. Field work doesn't play too large of a part in Smiley's methodology. He already has most of the puzzle pieces in his hands, it just takes a careful review for Smiley to uncover the importance of each nugget of knowledge. Some readers deride this as moving too slowly, but to them I recommend the works of Robert Ludlum. Smiley is British, and if Monty Python taught us anything it's that the Brits love their dry subtlety. The reader is left even more in the dark than Smiley himself and half the fun of the book is trying to trace those connections between events and characters and (possibly) beat Smiley to his final showdown with Karla.
A fantastic end to this trilogy, Smiley stands out as one of my favorite spies ever (above Valerie Plame but below the Wen Ho Lee). Le Carre proves once again why he is the grandmaster of this genre with this carefully crafted, delicately paced thriller that delivers the perfect conclusion to a rivalry that is far more interesting than any battle between Bond and SPECTRE ever was.(less)
When it comes to the spy novel, John le Carre is the undisputed master. The man can fill a typically unexciting scene, say of a character reading lett...moreWhen it comes to the spy novel, John le Carre is the undisputed master. The man can fill a typically unexciting scene, say of a character reading letters, with enough suspense and tension to leave the reader tight-lipped and breathless as they hurriedly flip to the next page. His spies are not the supermen of Hollywood like Bond and Bourne, but instead are unathletic, unassuming people who tend to either resemble washed-up pugilists or sallow-cheeked bank clerks.
Le Carre's George Smiley is the epitome of this type. Where Bond is fit, brash, headstrong, charismatic and possesses pheromones that render women powerless to resist him, Smiley is short, dumpy, highly analytic and methodical, and has just been left by his wife again after sleeping with one of his oldest friends, just the latest in her long line of conquests. To top it off he has been summarily fired from his career as number two of Britain's intelligence service, disavowed by most of his former colleagues and has now been assigned the very difficult task of uprooting a mole that the Russians have placed near the very top of the British spy agency.
This is the point in the movie where Bond would grab his assault rifle, rough up some hoods, bed a minx and have a climactic battle atop Mt. Kilamanjaro. Not good old George Smiley, though. He hunts his quarry with all of the patience and tenacity of a komodo dragon following prey it has bitten, certain that the bacteria in the wound will bring it down soon enough. There are no high-speed chases, bombs or last minute escapes. Rather every move is calculated to the nth degree, every possible outcome weighed and judged, like grandmasters staring over their chess pieces. When the climax comes it is not with a furious bang but with the plodding inevitability of the tortoise crossing the finish line.
I have a massive soft spot for books of this sort, that rely on its protagonist slowly piecing together bits of information to form a coherent story. Le Carre is a master of keeping his readers in the dark. I have made some comments in other places about sometimes being unsure whether le Carre was being deliberately obscure so as to heighten the sense of mystery or whether I was reading the book out of order with the rest of the series and he was just referring to events from prior books. While at times this was frustrating, it also gave me the urge to speed through the book and see what answers would finally be revealed.
The Cold War may be long over (has it really been nearly 20 years since the Berlin Wall fell?), the Russians now our titular allies, but le Carre's books act like snapshots for this time period they are so grittily real. When his grim-faced agents meet on a wind-scoured hill overlooking a small city, haunted by a lifetime of having to make the least-evil choice, you can fairly smell the cigarette smoke waft off the page, mingling with the scent of whiskey and burned coal and utterly transporting you into his world. I didn't think I was going to be in the mood for a thriller of this sort, but now I've half a mind to dive into one or two of the other le Carre's stacked alongside my shelves next.(less)
F. Paul Wilson's Macguyver Redux is back in the second book in his Repairman Jack series. (Note: it took every ounce of my self control to resist typi...moreF. Paul Wilson's Macguyver Redux is back in the second book in his Repairman Jack series. (Note: it took every ounce of my self control to resist typing "Jack's back" and linking it to a picture of Kevin Spacey's backside, and the only reason I finally didn't was because I couldn't find said picture.) It's been a few years since the adventures that took place in The Tomb, but things are near enough the same that I don't feel the need to flesh out the backstory too much. If all you know is that Jack helps people fix their problems in ingenious and often violent ways, that he's pedantically "off the grid," and that he's (for whatever reason) dearly devoted to his on-again off-again girlfriend Gia, then you're as caught up as you need to be.
Legacies finds Jack taking on as a client an AIDS doctor who is involved in a fight (both in the courtroom and out) with her half-brother (backed by a shady and mysterious Saudi) over the inheritance of their father's house. Of course, shady Saudi guy has hired mercenaries to track and intimidate the doctor into selling and, of course, this strengthens Doctor's resolve to do no such thing which, of course, sends her to Jack. Jack just wants to know what's so dad-gummed important about the house to blow up a lawyer's car (other than for him just being a lawyer) but, of course, none of the parties involved want to tell him.
Which leads me to my problem with the series thus far. So far (and, yes, I understand I've only read 15% of the total series) the main struggle in the books seems to be about somebody knowing what's going on, Jack needing to know, and then 300 pages of struggle to learn said info. There's no sense of a struggle between two great minds, no real suspense in that regard (sure, Jack is often in danger but... he's Jack- that's his bread and butter). Jack runs circles around the baddies until he delivers them all wrapped up in a cute bow. I don't know, maybe later on he'll fight his Dr. No or his Karla, but for now I'm just left thinking that things are too easy for him.
Still, it's a really fun read that will probably not take most people longer than a day or two to tear through. Perfect for beach reading or a long commute. In fact, I think I should go grab book three right now.(less)
Beginning a new series is always a dicey prospect for me. Will it be my kind of series? Will it become my newest temporary addiction, with me scroungi...moreBeginning a new series is always a dicey prospect for me. Will it be my kind of series? Will it become my newest temporary addiction, with me scrounging the net to find each and every book in the collection? Will it cause me to begin fantasizing about what it'd be like to exist within that universe? With all these questions rattling about my head, it should be understandable that I was hesitant to begin the Repairman Jack series- especially because I'm loathe to begin a series that has not come to an end. Once bitten, twice shy, thank you Robert Jordan.
Still, after a friend had touted the glories of the Repairman Jack books to me again and again, I found my curiosity piqued and the walls of my reticence began to crumble. And how fortunate that they did! This book was pure fun from beginning to end. Jack is a great hero- a "repairman" who fixes extralegal problems for his friends and confederates, living off the grid, changing IDs like underwear, endlessly resourceful- he's like MacGuyver but without the jean jacket and the mullet. When you toss in some delightful Indian monsters that are hunting down several of his friends, well you've got the makings of a fast-paced thriller the likes of which I haven't read in a long time.
So thank you, Scott, for raising my awareness of these books. I'm firmly hooked now (Legacies is on hold for me at the Library as I type this). Good thing that 13 of the 15 books have been released, because I think I know what I'm going to be doing with my spare reading time this Winter.(less)
Reading the Repairman Jack series is starting to remind me of listening to old 1930s radio serials when I was a kid. Whether it's Dick Tracy unravelin...moreReading the Repairman Jack series is starting to remind me of listening to old 1930s radio serials when I was a kid. Whether it's Dick Tracy unraveling the Mystery of the Pharaoh's Scarab or The Shadow trying to stop a notorious arsonist, Wilson definitely draws much inspiration from the radio heroes of yesteryear in the construction of his bite-size thrillers and his reluctant hero, Jack.
In Hosts, Jack's conflict against the inter-dimensional Otherness gets personal when his estranged sister contacts him out of the blue for help in freeing her girlfriend from a creepy cult. Of course when Jack is involved things are never as cut and dry as a mere cult. Before he knows it, Jack is fighting off an especially malicious virus doing what viruses do best (spread their contagion as far and wide as possible) and trying to keep his family out of the increasingly dangerous crossfire.
Wilson is setting Jack up for some big events further down the line but the story in this one suffers from looking ahead too much. It's as though Wilson was more interested in framing events for the series' climax than in crafting a truly captivating story. There were some fun additions to Jack's rather familiar bag of tricks and some rather chilling flash forwards of a strife-filled future in which the contagion has run rampant, but all in all this book seemed like a build-up for something farther down the road.(less)
I don't even know how to begin a review of this "book." It's a "book" only so much as it is a bound collection of words that form a "story" (I guess)....moreI don't even know how to begin a review of this "book." It's a "book" only so much as it is a bound collection of words that form a "story" (I guess). Though to use either term in describing this incredibly juvenile masturbatory fantasy is an offense to books and stories everywhere. I started reading it at the behest of a neighbor with normally impeccable taste in books- he's previously turned me on to both Carson McCullers and Dow Mossman. Sure, I was forewarned that it wasn't very good but that he had "loved it when he was a teen."
Now, I love people's guilty pleasures when it comes to reading. The books that people don't really even want to admit to reading, let alone enjoying. I probably think that one of my guiltiest pleasures is the John Steakley human-in-powersuit-fights-giant-ants scifi schlockfest Armor. I like to think (delude myself into thinking) that if I read someone's guilty pleasure then I'll get some sort of insight or understanding into their character. My penchant for "me vs. the horde" tales like those in Armor or the countless zombie books I've read probably speaks volumes about my distrust for large groups or what-have-you. All I learned about my neighbor by reading Van Lustbader's The Ninja is that he was an exceptionally horny teenager (but who wasn't).
One would think that with a book titled The Ninja that the pages would be a blood-spattered mess right out of some John Woo spectacle. Instead the bulk of this 500-odd page book are filled with 75% porn of a decidedly uninteresting (or at least extremely poorly written) variety. Mailer and Updike are often derided as writing some of the worst sex scenes in print but they don't even hold a candle to the mess that Van Lustbader contrives here. I don't know. Perhaps he's unlucky in love and feels the need to write out rather than act out his various fantasies. After reading some of these fantasies I could definitely understand why he'd be unlucky. Still, why share this with the world? Is it really necessary?
I'm not even going to talk about the "plot" of this mess. I could easily deride the writer for his endless stereotyping of Asia, in general, and Japan, in particular, (I mean really how many times do I have to read that Japanese are "inscrutable" and "hard-eyed" or that tired old phrase "East meets West?" In fact, I am banning the use of that phrase forever more. Hollywood, take note!) but really what would be the point? Instead, I'll leave with a quote from the book that brought home to me within the first 30 pages just how bad the experience of reading this would be. I should have thrown my copy at the wall immediately upon reading "East meets West inside me like swirling currents and there is a kind of tug of war." Really? (less)
**spoiler alert** I finished Dexter in the Dark last night. I didn't mean to. I intended to only read a chapter before turning off the light and falli...more**spoiler alert** I finished Dexter in the Dark last night. I didn't mean to. I intended to only read a chapter before turning off the light and falling asleep but the next thing I knew it was 12:30 and I was closing the cover. So I guess that means I liked it.
The book was a huge improvement upon the previous book, Dearly Devoted Dexter. I loved the scenes with Cody and Astor in them, I'm glad that they're becoming a bigger part of the books. The idea of Dexter passing on the Code of Harry, and all of the necessary problems raising two budding serial killers entails, makes for great reading.
I was not a fan of the book's concept when I first heard of it. Why would Lindsay take away so much of the mystery of Dexter by attributing his genius and blood lust to something as mundane as demonic possession is beyond me. Still, after the stumble of Dearly Devoted, I am willing to forgive much. The ending seemed a little tacked on, though. It was suspense, suspense, suspense, GWAHHHH!!! SHOOT-OUT AT THE OK CORRAL!!! bang bang bang!!!! It just seemed so ill-fitting with the rest of the story. I hope that Lindsay has gotten his need for a supernatural thriller out of his system so that Dexter by Design is more along the lines of what a Dexter book is supposed to be.
This made for the perfect appetizer to the third season of Dexter on Showtime, though. Highly recommended to fans of the show.(less)
Koontz decides to slack off a little bit from his standard fare of wayward women kidnapped by psychotic truckers and try his hand at the supernatural....moreKoontz decides to slack off a little bit from his standard fare of wayward women kidnapped by psychotic truckers and try his hand at the supernatural. Odd Thomas is a fry cook that sees dead people, like Haley Joel Osment does when he looks at his career. Awaking from a persistent nightmare one morning feels a massive sense of foreboding that something awful is going to happen in his tiny California desert town. The next 350 pages are filled with so much foreshadowing to this travesty that is about to happen that when Koontz gets to the 15-ish pages of actual action you can't help but think "that's it?!?"
Still, there's enough whimsy tossed in to make the book entertaining. The ghost of Elvis walking on water was a nice treat. A lot of parallels to the Sookie Stackhouse books, though I think I prefer Charlaine Harris' look at small town diners and the psychics who work there.(less)
What, as an author, do you do with a character who can see dead people? Simple, put him in a haunted house. Which, in itself, is exactly 9/10s of ever...moreWhat, as an author, do you do with a character who can see dead people? Simple, put him in a haunted house. Which, in itself, is exactly 9/10s of everything that is wrong with this book. Every action, every response, every twist and turn is so damned predictable! Why use subtlety when you can bludgeon a reader about the head? Why bother with foreshadowing when you can just spell it out for everyone on page 60? Why show that a couple are soulmates when you can just have them say it to one another over and over and over? Still, I'm a glutton for punishment and this wasn't painful enough of a read to dissuade me from Book 3.(less)
Nobody writes hard-boiled spy thrillers like John le Carre. Whether he's depicting post-Reunification Germany or conspiracy-minded pharmaceutical comp...moreNobody writes hard-boiled spy thrillers like John le Carre. Whether he's depicting post-Reunification Germany or conspiracy-minded pharmaceutical companies, le Carre always manages to inform as much as he entertains. Yet for all that I love him, I'd never read any of his older spy thrillers.
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is layered with intrigue built upon intrigue as the Circus of British Intelligence conspires to finally get a leg up on the superior intelligence apparatus of Centre, their East German counterpart. Stuck in the middle of these machinations is Alec Leamus, a career handler whose entire network of informants has just been swept up by Mundt, a violently smart officer in the Abteilung. As Leamus is drawn into the plans of his superiors he is left wondering if this last mission they've planned for him has any avenue of escape or whether he'll be left to rot on the other side of the Wall.
Le Carre is, as always, fantastic about ratcheting up the tension to unheard of levels without ever falling back on wanton violence or shock value. A mere conversation between two opponents leaves the reader more tense than most authors manage in an entire book. Through it all, Le Carre never takes a side, never preaches the rightness of the Western way. Instead you are left feeling that all of his characters, in both the East and West, are at the mercy of powers far removed from their lives. It is this distrust of authority that draws out your sympathies with Leamus as he struggles to just survive.
Reading this book was definitely a bit of a nostalgia trip. With this step back into the height of Cold War tension comes with it the limited memories I have of the Cold War- the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, a tour through a Stasi prison in Hohenschoenhausen, months spent living in the rabbit hutches that formed the majority of worker housing in the Soviet era. Images of all of these were conjured as I read Le Carre's novel and this definitely helped add to my enjoyment of the book. It's always nice to be able to fill in the details from personal experience. This short read has definitely left me salivating for a thicker, juicier, tome like Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Sailor, Spy.
This was an amazingly fast read which seemed to be focused mostly on tying up loose ends and clearing away some the accumulated detritus of the past s...moreThis was an amazingly fast read which seemed to be focused mostly on tying up loose ends and clearing away some the accumulated detritus of the past seven books in order to set the scene for new mysteries and adventures for Sookie as the new year approaches.
Worth reading if only for the mental image of Pam the vampiress embroidering at a dinner table in perfect domestic tranquility with Sookie's roommate Amelia.(less)
Dan Simmons is one of the most skilled writers of science fiction currently putting pen to page (or however that metaphor would work in a post-paper a...moreDan Simmons is one of the most skilled writers of science fiction currently putting pen to page (or however that metaphor would work in a post-paper age). His Hyperion series is a well-regarded classic that takes Chaucer's Canterbury Tales into the space-faring age and his Ilium and Olympos still stands as the most interesting rendition of a post-singular society-slash-retelling of Homer's epic-slash-paen to Shakespeare that I've ever read.
It was with great excitement that I picked up Simmons' 1985 foray into horror, Song of Kali. I mention the year it was published because it's worth noting that this book is ultimately a product of the age in which it was written, but more on that later. On face this book has everything possible that could make my heart go pitter-pat: a reliable author who had never let me down, the story is set in India, features a resurrected poet (mmmm... zombie poetry), a good dose of gothic dread, a secret death cult, and (have I mentioned?) it's set in India. Surefire draw, right there.
So why didn't I like this book more? It had everything I like in a good read, but just didn't work for me. Primarily, I think it was a problem with the narrator. He's supposed to be a renowned critic of Indian poetry, with an Indian wife and in-laws, yet he is a) completely ignorant of the customs, culture, language, and history of the country which he is supposed to be enthralled with, b) when actually in said country he is simply mortified at how alien and inscrutable the actions of its inhabitants are, and (most damningly for me) c) he seems to have no liking (or even respect) for his wife, Amrita. A woman who did not want to come to Calcutta with him but who he begged to tag along and, once landed, then spends the next 250ish pages trying to force to leave Calcutta. She's supposed to be his interpreter, yet is constantly left behind at the hotel. She gets one decent scene where she gets to reflect upon her status as an alien in both the US and in her ancestral homeland, caught between worlds, as such, but that's it. By the time I finished the book I just kept hoping that she would leave the creep.
I should have loved this book, but I didn't. I didn't quite hate it, but it's not likely to be one that stays with me for long after finishing. It just seems like a trite rehash of things that have come before. When Robert, the American critic, stumbles upon a secret cult of Kali it smacks of the ridiculous scene from Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom where the guy's beating heart is ripped from his chest. It's just all so xenophobic that it grates on my nerves. I've still got a lot of respect for Simmons and what he has done with his sci-fi writings, but think I'm going to avoid his older works for a time.(less)