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Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Ambler Warning by Robert Ludlum

The Ambler Warning is a psychiatric thriller ghostwritten under Robert Ludlum's name, published after his passing.

Hal Ambler comes to his senses, slowly, in a maximum security psychiatric hospital/prison. He is able to escape and to try to piece his life back together, only to realize that he doesn't exist. He comes to find out that he is the key in potential transition of China into being a economic world player.

There are too many twists and turns in Hal's journey to find his identity and memories, but this is a thrilling ride of a book in the same direction as the Bourne trilogy.

I found this book on a grocery store shelf and decided to buy it after reading the back blurb. I love a psycho-thriller. This one is excellent.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Brief History of the Dead - Kevin Brockmeier

When you die, are you really dead? Can you keep on living through memory? Kevin Brockmeier's January release is built solely on these questions and many more, delivering a thought-provoking, deep and powerful novel unlike any other.

The Brief History of the Dead revolves around Laura Byrd, a wildlife specialist employed by the Coca-Cola Corporation that is sent out to Antarctica to find uses for the slowly melting ice for the popular soft drink. However, a slight snag in the plan occurs - the world is wiped out by a lethal virus while she's freezing her buns off (now that is some bad luck for ya), and her accompanying colleagues Joyce and Puckett, in a helpful sense, abandon her and their station to seek help across the icy depths. Hold up - it gets better.

Every other chapter deals with another world entirely - one housing those who have passed from the Earth. But it isn't the heaven-or-hell afterlife the majority of the population had envisioned - it is yet another city that expands on its own to house the bloating census. Confused? Be patient.

While these stories seem to have little to do with each other, Brockmeier gingerly intertwines them about half way through the book, making two worlds a sense. Turns out this parallel city the dead folks are shacking up in is powered by the memories of those on Earth. And, since a lethal virus rarely shows mercy to its victims, Laura winds up being the last remaining person on Earth. Only her memories and the people retained in them remain in the city. But what if Laura dies? What will happen to the city and its occupants then?

You'll have to read it to find out. But even still, Brockmeier's mind-bending writing skill is so interesting and twisted, one will have a hard time putting this 252-page novel down. And his intriguing insight into the afterlife and this supposed memory-driven plane may give even the most religious of people something to contemplate.

But be forewarned: You may never look at another Coca-Cola can the same way again.

Natural Ordermage by L.E. Modesitt

Natural Ordermage is the 14th volume of L. E. Modesitt's Recluse series of fantasy novels. It is the beginning of a new character in a two-novel series within the Recluse series. His name is Rahl and he is a natural ordermage, a new facet of the magic in the world of Recluse.

Rahl is from Recluse and, as in the other books that deal with the order side of magic, any person on that island that has order abilities has to either be trained or exiled (Those gifted with the chaos side of magic are immediately exiled). Rahl tries to hide his seemingly limited abilities with order but it is discovered by a local magister and this magister is also corrupt. Rahl soon finds himself at Nylan, the order wizard training facility/city on the other side of the island.

Rahl must soon come to grips that he cannot be taught well with his type of control over order. This leads to exile to Hamor, a larger continent across the sea that is more of a melting pot than the people of Recluse.

Natural Ordermage is typical Modesitt writing. He has a earthy style that I like. I was excited when I found this book at the store. His settings in Hamor impressed most due to the fact that there, both order mages and chaos mages work together in society. In his earlier books, if the main character was an order mage, it was inferred that chaos was evil. Likewise, if the books focused on a chaos mage, then order was given a negative-connoted, fundamentalist desciption. So, in Hamor's society, Rahl joins and works with chaos mages. It was a refreshing change of pace.

Modesitt's Recluse series, while not as popular as the Wheel of Time or some other fantasy series's in stores, is an excellent study in the typical fantasy character, who has a big flaw, but works very hard to overcome adversity through and in spite of his flaw. One note with this series, it is recommended that it be read in the order in which he published the books. While his timeline skips around tremendously from book to book, it is quite satisfying how he weaves details from other stories into the current storyline. I enjoy this series.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Code of the Woosters - P. G. Wodehouse

If Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry (Wooster and Jeeves, respectively, in the TV version of the series) co-authored a book, the result would be The Code of the Woosters.

More commonly known for the mis-adventures of Bertram "Bertie" Wooster and his clever servant, Jeeves, Wodehouse writes British humor at its best, sliding the duo into sticky and befuddling situations that, through Jeeves' ingeniousness, they are eventually pulled out of.

Code follows this exact pattern. The endless chaos that ensues in the story involves a cow-creamer, policeman's helmet, a frightful lug of a man named Roderick and two family engagements. Sounds confusing? It is, but hilariously so. Wodehouse's ways of intertwining mystery, suspense and adventure with light, chuckle-enducing hilarity perfect this novel, getting Bertie into so much trouble, it seems he can't get in any deeper...until he does. As is expected by many a Wooster relative, Jeeves usually comes up with an sneaky, all-satisfying route to resolution. Wodehouse, however, throws flies in the ointment, as is an expression in the book, by halting Jeeves' idea train, resulting in more of the complications and misunderstandings prevalent in the story.

The plot twists at the end of each chapter force the reader to continue on to see whether Wooster can get out of each predicament in one piece. And though Wooster oftentimes seems slightly air-headed and, to use the most accurate word available, useless, the reader can't help but feel bad for him in times of trouble and happy upon his escape. Jeeves has to be the most lovable character, though, for behind the silent lackey is a brilliant, logically- and psychologically-driven mind that refills the grave that his master has unintentionally dug for himself. Wodehouse has made a perfect pair in Jeeves and Wooster, and Code is but one example of proof.

The only mystery that remains long after one has finished the book is why a cow-creamer is so darn important to these people.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Mystery Method - Mystery

I couldn't finish this. Maybe it's just my being born a female and reading this, I don't know, but I laughed and laughed and laughed. Sorry, Erik von Markovik, no offense.

I enjoyed the show, I really did. The Pick-up Artist on VH1 was fun, different, experimental, and like well-constructed reality shows, had me wondering who would win the grand prize in the end. But I'll bet dollars to donuts the contestants didn't have to read this book.

It's not bad. It's the point right before it becomes a confusing smattering of words that really contains only a simple message: Go get 'em, tiger!

I came into this book with an open mind, taking full note of the book's subtitle ('How to Get Beautiful Women Into Bed'). As a female, I figured I wouldn't agree with the perspective from which it was written, and I had that spot on. But, for gents seeking a heart-felt, long-lasting relationship with a woman, I don't believe they'd agree with the approach much either.

Though Markovik - sorry, Mystery - claims the techniques described within the book's pages is that of a Venusian artist (a play off of Venus, the goddess of love), all the actions, terms, politics and suggested approaches scream "player". Which is fine for those wishing to be a player. Not so much for the ladies who have likely spent years of their lives telling the little buggers off. And with a few of the techniques described ('negging', 'indicating disinterest', etc.), I can't say I wouldn't be socking any "budding Venusians" within five feet myself.

Ironically, out of the whole book, Mystery gives one line of clever advice to budding women picker-uppers that could easily substitute the whole book on its own on page 128: "Go, and be in the field, and listen to your intuition there." Which makes sense and is completely contradictory to Mystery's teachings of selective moves and sayings. But, hey, who am I to judge? Whatever works for you.

All I'm saying is that, in the course of things, when you've got a rugged stud that looks like Gregory House nursing a beer alone at the bar or, on the opposite side of the club, a guy with a fuzzy top hat and leopard-print coat parading a Playboy-bound pixie on each arm, I'm pretty sure I'd suddenly need a refill on my drink.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Second Horseman by Kyle Mills

Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks (May 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0312934173
ISBN-13: 978-0312934170

Like every Kyle Mills book I have read, The Second Horseman follows a similar patern. Mills likes to have his stories with flawed heroes in need of redemption. He also likes to use government agents/officials gone rogue as the bad guys.
Although his characters all seem to follow the same pattern, his books are very different. The heroes are all vastly different people, with different lives and personalities. So it works and each story is compelling.
The Second Horseman is centered around Brandon Vale, the best burglar you could find, as long as you looked in prison. He was framed for a crime he did not commit, which has him pretty irritated at Richard Scanlon, the ex-FBI agent who framed him.
Scanlon has uncovered a plot by Ukranian organized crime to sell nuclear weapons on the black market and the first customers are a new Islamic militant group with designs on ending the Israeli presence in the Middle East, permanently. To get the warheads into American hands, Scanlon needs the best burglar he can find. Fortunately, Scanlon knows just where to look.
All Vale needs to do is pull of the world’s greatest heist to get the hundreds of millions of dollars to buy the Ukranian warheads and save millions of lives. Sounds easy, right?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

I read this book about a year ago, but I ran across it in a book search and remembered that I liked it so much that I thought I post up a short review.

A Walk in the Woods is an account of the author and a friend taking on the Appalachian Trail, a cross country trail that extends from north Georgia all the way into northern New England. It's a funny and true tale of their adventures and hardships involved in hiking and living off the land....most of the time.

He tells of how your outlook on humanity changes when you embark on this kind of trek. He accounts the weird people he and his hiker-mate encounter on the Trail.

I highly recommend this book to anyone. It is a universally lovable book.

Nothing to See Here by David L. Post

Successful Dr. Allan Sarnover – psychiatrist, is at the top of his game when his world is turned upside down by the bizarre actions of his manic wife Cassie. Sarnover soon finds himself as a single parent with a seriously declining practice, and his life in the throws of insanity not unlike the patients he treats.

Cassie in the first chapter of the book, “splits for the coast”, then two months later returns home and is caught stoned, and in bed with a new lover. Thus, Cassie has decided to file for divorce and get custody of their ten-year old son Mitch. This begins Alan’s whirlpool of cataclysmic self-destruction and strife.

The court system and Cassie wearing Alan down to commit unthinkable deeds and pushes him over the edge.

Nothing to See Here is one of the best psycho thriller stories I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The book is filled with tension as Alan systematically falls into mental illness and bad decisions. It definitely makes you ask yourself questions about the human psyche. Could I be pushed this far? My best friend? My wife? How well do we really know the people in our lives?

I was drawn into the darkness and suspense of the story as Allan went from a stand up citizen to murderer. The characters, dialogue and setting are very real, and Post pulls off a superb ending.

Eldest by Christopher Paolini

Eldest is Christopher Paolini's second installment of the Inheritance series. The story continues where Eragon left off, in Farthen Dur.

Eragon and Saphira, now heros, travel to the home of the elves to continue magical training. Eragon learns not only deeper magic but becomes literate in the elven language, which is important in spell-casting.

After his training, he must join forces with the Varden and meet the Empire's army and fight.

The author branches out to 2-3 different story lines in Eldest. He follows Roran, Eragon's cousin. Roran is also being pursued by the enemy and must make difficult decisions that effect not only him, but all of his village.

Eldest has a decent storyline (if quite predictable) and the characters develop a little. The author seems to have grown in his writing, although I'd not put him in the same league with the staples in modern fantasy. I've read other reviews on big sites and, while this series gets a lot of bad reviews, I don't believe it's as bad as they say, just not world class.

The author did two things that I did not appreciate much as a reader. First, it seemed as if he had a list of a couple dozen $10 words that he wanted to slip in occasionally. His writing overall is simple (a compliment) but some of the archaic words he uses are used inappropriately. The other thing that got me was a certain chapter that started out talking about religion and ended up being a very poor and ill-placed preaching job. I personally disagree with what he had to say but besides that, it just didn't fit in the story.

I give Eldest a "C". The writing was a little more mature but he countered his gains with some weird choices that left me shaking my head.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Madeline L'Engle

Madeline L'Engle

November 29, 1918 - September 6, 2007

As a lifelong bibliophile, I still have a collection of books that I adored as a child. Madeline L'Engle time series was one of my favorites. It was also the first science fiction/fantasy that I read. I always loved the time books - A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time.

Later in my life, I rediscovered Madeline L'Engle as a writer for adults and a Christian writer. She wrote fiction and non-fiction. One of my favorites is Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. A prolific writer of over 60 books, she brought great joy to many readers across the age spectrum.

When I learned of her death, I picked up my copy of A Wrinkle in Time and rediscovered the joy she had given me so very long ago.

Farewell, Madeline L'Engle. Thank you for the journeys!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Gospel According to Hollywood - Greg Garrett

I'm not a religious person. I believe in God, but have a lot of questions. I don't believe in denominations and thus don't claim one. But even I found this to be a great book.

This June release from religious novelist Greg Garrett covers some of Hollywood's most popular films and emphasizes the underlying similarities to Biblical stories and anecdotes. And The Passion of the Christ isn't the only one covered here - did you really think Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was only about an aspiring wizard and his untapped strength? Think again.

Garrett emphasizes some of the obvious religion-twinged releases, like the Keanu Reeves flick Constantine, M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, and the '89 release Field of Dreams. But, through in-depth analysis and seemingly long nights of movie-watching (such a tough job, I tell ya), Garrett pulls religion out of unexpected films like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Matrix, and the Paul Newman classic Cool Hand Luke. Oh, and let's not forget E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. Oh, yes, he gives insight into the family flick as he makes supported and insightful comparisons of the lovable alien's life to Jesus the Son's. (Seems like a long stretch, but really, it's not.)

Garrett covers the accuracy of the Devil's existence (as well as history's biggest movie baddies), different people's definitions of being 'saved', the way through which one can live their life righteously, to buckle a swash? Yeah, he doesn't know either. But nonetheless, he fills 165 pages with his gathered knowledge of movies and the Force Within. Yes, yes, Star Wars gets some plugging, too - read away, potential Jedi Masters.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Eight by Catherine Neville

Publisher: Ballantine Books
ISBN-10: 0345366239
ISBN-13: 978-0345366238

The Eight is a complex thriller and is not for the casual reader. The entire book revolves around the game of chess. It would help the reader to have a working knowledge of the game, as the game is central to the plot and theme.
The story has many layers. It is really two intertwined stories set centuries apart. It starts in 1972 with Catherine Velis, a computer expert, as she is sent to Algeria to work for the nascent OPEC cartel. The second story is centered around Mirielle de Remy, a novice nun at the Montglane Abbey in rural France.
The centerpiece of the story is the search for the Montglane Service. It is an ancient chess set, created by an ancient people, lost in time and once belonging to Charlemagne. The service is the subject of many mysteries and legends and thought to hide a secret that will grant the owner unimaginable power. It is the desire of many, kings, queens and the powerful, to own the service and gain the power it hides.
In the middle of the French Revolution, the service is brought out of centuries of hiding, throwing Mirielle into an ancient game of power and intrigue that has gone on for hundreds of years. Mirielle is soon involved with some of the central figures of the
French Revolution, and they also want the Service. Her story leads her to find the origin of the Service, lost to time in ancient Africa.
Catherine is caught up in the same quest, only centuries later. She is manipulated into searching for the pieces of the chess set. She also finds herself looking for the origins of the set. Things start to heat up and she cannot tell who is her friend and who is her enemy. She is surrounded my conspiracy, assassination and betrayal.
She finds the Mirielle’s journal and traces her story as she searched for the origin of the Montglane Service and the riddle behind its power. She finds that she is now the centerpiece of the game on the side of the men and women that are protecting the service from the evils of man.
Cat and her allies are faced with a choice, if they gather all the pieces and can figure out its hidden riddle, just what will they do with it?