Friday, July 31, 2015

Continuation of the Odd series

Odd Hours, Odd Interlude and Odd Apocalypse by Dean Koontz, (352, 279 and 355 pages. 986 total)

When I first read Odd Hours and saw how weird the story lines had gotten, I started writing a post blasting the series for its severe digression from believeableness. But I held off and read the next book. Nope, not any more realistic. In fact it has slid even further down into science fiction. Again I started writing a post but deleted it unpublished, deciding to hold out a little longer. I was also in a small way enjoying the mixing of science fiction, but I was still disappointed in the turn. But then I read Odd Apocalypse and was forced to accept that if I wanted to keep reading this series, I would have to accept that it is most definitely crossing the line into science fiction.

In Odd Hours, Odd attempts to stop a group of people smuggling in nuclear weapons. Helping him, or confusing the daylights out of him is a cagey possible clairvoyant named Annamaria. Frankly I am not sure what role she is really going to play, but she is in all three of these book and I am still clueless.

Odd Interlude takes place at a small truck stop of a town that would not be a bad place to live except for the mutant alien guy holding the town hostage and killing people.

Finally Odd Apocalypse happens in a deserted western retreat that also seems like an awesome place to live except for the time traveling monsters and the secret cult that likes to kill people. So close.

I don't know if I can continue reading this series or not. I love Koontz's writing and I like Odd, but it takes me so long to accept what I am reading as possible that I lose interest. If this had started as a science fiction series it would not be a problem, but as it is only time will tell.

The first five books of the Meg Langslow Mysteries Series

Murder with Peacocks, Murder with Puffins, Revenge of the Wrought Iron Flamingos, Couching Buzzard Leaping Loon, and We'll Always have Parrots by Donna Andrews. (1475 total pages)

I am not sure how this series, and namely Murder with Peacocks, came up in the usual second floor discussions but it did. This, of course, cause a big rush on the book and created a staff waiting list. As people finished and talked about it with people from the other floors, some of them were drawn in as well. When I finally got my chance at the book I quickly devoured it. It is a light to overly light mystery series that strives in its unpredictableness.

This series, quite obviously, follows the life of Meg Langslow. In Murder with Peacocks she is trying to plan three different weddings that all seem to happen within days of each other. Luckily she finds an escape from the bridzillas in the serial murderer who seems determined to end at least one of the weddings. Murder with Puffins finds Meg and part of her family trapped on an island as a hurricane is hitting. Of course this is not enough excitement so there is also a murder. Since all the ferries to and from the island are closed, Meg has until the hurricane lets up to solve the murder, or risk them escaping. Revenge of the Wrought Iron Flamingos has a murder at a craft fair with a Civil War reenactment going on at the same time. Couching Buzzard Leaping Loon sees an office prankster killed off with a huge list of suspects that wanted him dead. Lastly We'll Always have Parrots takes place at a convention, or con, for a tv series at which one of the lead characters is killed. Also someone has let loose a couple hundred monkies and parrots just for the fun of it.

What I enjoy most from this series so far are the characters whom remind me of the ones from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. Quite silly at times, but still achieving the goal of the story, or solving the murder. I fully intend to keep reading this series, and as I sit here writing this review, have the next three books on the table next to me. Though I cannot help but wonder if anyone will ever question why so many murders happen around Meg.

Spiral into Horror

Cover image for Uzumaki. Spiral into Horror by Junji Ito, 208 pages

Uzumaki came highly recommended by Christina as an excellent horror manga. It did not disappoint. The story follows a teenage couple as they experience and in some ways investigate the towns sudden supernatural events surrounding spirals.

At first I was leery of this book, simply because the plot seemed like it was going to be too weird to hold together. But Junji did an excellent job of not only keeping the plot on track and interesting but also was able to keep it eerily believable.

I am not sure if what I read was the omnibus version, or if there is any more to this story, but I certainly will look into it, and anything else that Junji has written. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a good horror manga.

Les Miserables part 2

Les Miserables vol 2, by Victor Hugo, 724 pages

To say that this was a slog would be an understatement. It took me the better part of four months to make it through this volume. In fact it took me so long that I had to return the book multiple times and recheck it out!

But it was not entirely a bad book. The parts where the plot actually continued along were just fine. It was the 50 pages on the use of argots, or the multichapter history of Waterloo that really made this hard to finish. And by the end I swore out loud whenever Hugo started a sentence with "I am sure the read will forgive me if I digress...". NO! I will not forgive you! Get on with the story!

If you like to read authors that got paid by the word, or old classics that have withstood the test of time, then go ahead and give this a try. But know that I warned you about the fluff.

Metternich

Metternich: The First European by Desmond Seward, 272 pages

Wellington is the name most associated with the defeat of Napoleon, but it was Clemens von Metternich whom Bonaparte said "destroyed me systematically."  Metternich directed the foreign affairs of the Austrian Empire through the end of the Napoleonic Wars and was the chief architect of the Congress System that followed, dominating European affairs until the upheavals of 1848.

Long denigrated as a repressive reactionary, Metternich's achievement can be appreciated by comparing the results of the Congress of Vienna to the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles or the Yalta agreement.  His fear of revolution, far from being baseless paranoia, can only be seen as prophetic after the horrors of the twentieth century.

Seward's popular biography does an excellent job of describing Metternich's career without getting too entangled in political minutia.  Unfortunately, the personality of Metternich is not presented as vividly as his policy.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Word

The Word by Hubert Crouch             391 pages

The Word is a second novel in the Jace Forman series. I haven’t read the first one; I didn’t find it necessary to have read it to enjoy this book.

The story opens with Ezekiel Shaw and his band of followers from the Brimstone Bible Church (BBC) are picketing the funeral of Second Lieutenant Lauren Hanson, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. The BBC believes in literal interpretation of God’s word. They can be compared to the Westboro Baptist Church. Other than the need to tighten the sentences (too many prepositional phrases), the scenes are vivid and distributing. It’s not surprising that her parents, after hiring Forman’s firm, to sue the BBC, reacted the way they did.

In a secondary plot, cub reporter Leah Rosen is doing her best to dig up the dirty truth about Cal Connors, one of Texas’ most prominent men. It has the same problem the major plot line does. However, Crouch intersperses the chapters well enough so that the high tension of the major plot  allows the readers to take a breath.

There is also a third plot line that pits Connors, his daughter, and his most reliable pharmaceutical witness against the system. Again, the same sentence structure problems. This part was rather buried and did little to enhance the major and secondary plot lines…and it’s the one that’s not resolved, which irritated me somewhat.

It was difficult to keep all the characters straight in the beginning once I was passed reading about the BBC and Jace.

Not surprisingly, as Crouch is an attorney, the courtroom drama is excellent. I even learned something about juries for federal cases: they don’t have to have twelve jurors, only eight.

All-in-all, The Word is a great read; I had trouble putting it down. 

I give The Word four out of five stars.

Bubba Done It

Bubba Done It by Maggie Toussaint
307 Pages


"Amateur sleuth and dreamwalker Baxley Powell is called in on a stabbing case. She arrives in time to hear the dying man whisper, "Bubba done it." Four men named Bubba in Sinclair County, Georgia, have close ties to the victim, including her goofball brother-in-law, Bubba Powell. She dreamwalks for answers, but the victim can't talk to her, leaving Baxley to sleuth among the living. The suspects include a down-on-his-luck fisherman, a crack-head evangelist, a politically- connected investor, and her brother-in-law, the former sweetheart of the victim's ex-wife. The more Baxley digs, the more the Bubbas start to unravel. Worse, her brother-in-law's definitely more than friendly with the victim's ex-wife. Between pet-sitting, landscaping, and dreamwalking, Baxley's got her hands full solving this case."

I originally had high hopes for this series but the characters have already become dull and hackneyed in the sophomore effort by Toussaint.  The humor is flat and the mystery not very compelling.  Not recommended.

Coming Home

Coming Home by Jack McDevitt
358 Pages


"Thousands of years ago, artifacts of the early space age were lost to rising oceans and widespread turmoil. Garnett Baylee devoted his life to finding them, only to give up hope. Then, in the wake of his death, one was found in his home, raising tantalizing questions. Had he succeeded after all? Why had he kept it a secret? And where is the rest of the Apollo cache? Antiquities dealer Alex Benedict and his pilot, Chase Kolpath, have gone to Earth to learn the truth. But the trail seems to have gone cold, so they head back home to be present when the Capella, the interstellar transport that vanished eleven years earlier in a time/space warp, is expected to reappear. With a window of only a few hours, rescuing it is of the utmost importance. Twenty-six hundred passengers--including Alex's uncle, Gabriel Benedict, the man who raised him--are on board. Alex now finds his attention divided between finding the artifacts and anticipating the rescue of the Capella. But time won't allow him to do both. As the deadline for the Capella's reappearance draws near, Alex fears that the puzzle of the artifacts will be lost yet again. But Alex Benedict never forgets and never gives up--and another day will soon come around..."

Readable but not particularly memorable.  The book reads more as a television episode in terms of drama and depth. 

Time Salvager

Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
380 Pages


"In a future when Earth is a toxic, abandoned world and humanity has spread into the outer solar system to survive, the tightly controlled use of time travel holds the key maintaining a fragile existence among the other planets and their moons. James Griffin-Mars is a chronman--a convicted criminal recruited for his unique psychological makeup to undertake the most dangerous job there is: missions into Earth's past to recover resources and treasure without altering the timeline. Most chronmennever reach old age, and James is reaching his breaking point. On a final mission that is to secure his retirement, James meets an intriguing woman from a previous century, scientist Elise Kim, who is fated to die during the destruction of an oceanic rig. Against his training and his common sense, James brings her back to the future with him, saving her life, but turning them both into fugitives. Remaining free means losing themselves in the wild and poisonous wastes of Earth, and discovering what hope may yet remain for humanity's home world."

Chu creates a fascinating world with time travel and well developed characters.  I would recommend and it looks like there will be a sequel down the road.  

Water Knife

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
371 Pages

"In the American Southwest, Nevada, Arizona, and California skirmish for dwindling shares of the Colorado River. Into the fray steps Angel Velasquez, detective, leg-breaker, assassin and spy. A Las Vegas water knife, Angel "cuts" water for his boss, Catherine Case, ensuring that her lush, luxurious arcology developments can bloom in the desert, so the rich can stay wet, while the poor get nothing but dust. When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in drought-ravaged Phoenix, Angel is sent to investigate. There, he encounters Lucy Monroe, a hardened journalist with no love for Vegas and every reason to hate Angel, and Maria Villarosa, a young Texas refugee who survives by her wits and street smarts in a city that despises everything that she represents. With bodies piling up, bullets flying, and Phoenix teetering on collapse, it seems like California is making a power play to monopolize the life-giving flow of a river. For Angel, Lucy, and Maria time is running out and their only hope for survival rests in each other's hands. But when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only thing for certain is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink."

A good book of speculative fiction set in the near future where water has become all important in a world turned on end by global warming.  It takes a few chapters before you start to get sucked into the story and invested into the characters.  I would recommend. 

Book of Aron

The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard
259 Pages

"Aron, the narrator, is an engaging if peculiar and unhappy young boy whose family is driven by the German onslaught from the Polish countryside into Warsaw and slowly battered by deprivation, disease, and persecution. He and a handful of boys and girls risk their lives by scuttling around the ghetto to smuggle and trade contraband through the quarantine walls in hopes of keeping their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters alive, hunted all the while by blackmailers and by Jewish, Polish, and German police, not to mention the Gestapo. When his family is finally stripped away from him, Aron is rescued by Janusz Korczak, a doctor renowned throughout prewar Europe as an advocate of children's rights who, once the Nazis swept in, was put in charge of the Warsaw orphanage. Treblinka awaits them all, but does Aron manage to escape--as his mentor suspected he could--to spread word about the atrocities?"

In the beginning of the book I didn't like it because the narrative style was choppy. While it is certainly not the best novel set in that period of time, it still tells a story that is worth hearing.

Gummi Bears Should Not be Organic

Cover image for Gummi Bears Should Not be Organic by Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, 256 pages

When I saw this book come through the bestsellers, with its bright red gummi bear on the cover, I knew I had to read it. Unfortunately this book went downhill from there. I suppose if I would have read the back cover I would have known that most, if not all of the book would be about parenting. But I didn't and therefore was somewhat disappointed. I also thought that for a comedy book, it was not all that funny. Sure there were a couple lines that I chuckled at but nothing that really made me want to read more.

For those that are curious about the book I can sum it up for you. Raise your kids in what ever way makes them into functioning adults. There I just saved you a couple hours of reading. Though in all fairness maybe this book is more interesting to those that actually have kids...

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dante and Philosophy

Dante and Philosophy by Etienne Gilson, 327 pages

From one of the most distinguished scholastic philosophers of the twentieth century comes an analysis of Dante's work and his concept of philosophy.  Gilson is not primarily interested in identifying the features of Dante's philosophy, rather, he is determined to establish that Dante conceived of philosophy as sovereign in its own sphere, complementary but separate from theology and politics.  In the process, he presents a Dante influenced by, but not a slave to, the outstanding philosophers of his time, bringing him out from under the shadow of Aquinas.

Gilson spends much of the book refuting Mandonnet's curious interpretation of Dante - this is mostly wasted for readers to whom Mandonnet and his elaborate symbolism are unknown.  Even so, Gilson's insight, intellect, and wit make the book worth reading for any admirer of Dante.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Year Zero

Year Zero by Rob Reid, 357 pages

Cover image for Aliens love music, but are dreadfully untalented at creating it. When they discover human music they become addicted and quickly begin downloading every piece they can find. It isn't until after they've done this that they realize they've just committed the biggest copyright violation since the Big Bang, and that the resulting fines is enough to bankrupt the universe. Their natural plan is to destroy the Earth, however Carly and Frampton decide to recruit Nick Carter, a music lawyer who is on the brink of being fired to arrange licenses and avoid disaster. Nick now has forty-eight hours to save humanity, find a way to keep his job, all while hopefully wowing the hot girl who lives down the hall from him.

The plot was fun and over the top, and the story was overall hilarious. I would definitely recommend this book to fans of Douglas Adams, and similar science fiction authors.