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The Sixth Extinction (Sigma Force)
The Sixth Extinction (Sigma Force)
by James Rollins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.58
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44 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "These go to eleven.", August 12, 2014
In his author's note, James Rollins acknowledges that The 6th Extinction is his tenth novel in the Sigma series. He comments, "Knowing that milestone was upon us, I thought I'd use this opportunity to tease to the past." And that he does--the way past. One of the major characters in the book harkens all the way back to Rollins' debut novel. It was a MOST unexpected reappearance!

I think with anniversaries and milestones in mind, Mr. Rollins wanted to make this installment a special one. You know how in Spinal Tap they had the amp that went up to eleven? The 6th Extinction goes up to eleven. He basically includes all the stuff his readers show up for--cutting-edge science, history, exotic locales, action, adventure, monsters--and delivers, well... more. BTW, did you catch that reference to monsters? I know he's not the only guy writing this sort of thing, but in The 6th Extinction, Rollins really reminds us why so many of us fell in love with his work, right from the get go, and just how good he is at what he does. Back off, impostors.

So, I'm pretty much eschewing the plot summary this time around. It's all too much fun to discover on your own. But I do want to single out one element for special praise. I read so many of these thrillers where there's some sort of mad genius plotting some variation on the end of the world. For instance, the old "we need to cull the human race due to overpopulation/lack of resources" storyline. Rollins has done it; everyone has done it. There's an evil genius in this book, too--but what he wants, and how he proposes to achieve it--that, my friends, is nothing I've ever seen before. Now, by my count, this guy has written 29 novels (total, under two different names) and he's still coming up with fresh ideas from a seemingly endless supply. How can you not be impressed?

I opened this review referencing Rollins' author's note, and I shall close with another quote: "Additionally, in this new book, I also wanted to acknowledge what's to come, with some big changes hinted at in these same pages--because Sigma's greatest and boldest adventures are still on the horizon." After a wildly entertaining decade, what better promise could a reader ask for?
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 18, 2014 7:52 AM PDT

The Lost Island: A Gideon Crew Novel (Gideon Crew series Book 3)
The Lost Island: A Gideon Crew Novel (Gideon Crew series Book 3)
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $8.99

37 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Third time is the charm!, August 6, 2014
it seems to have taken Mssrs. Preston and Child a few attempts to find their footing with their character Gideon Crew, but at last they have. This third novel is far and away the strongest of the series. Our beloved authors have crafted one of those "Where do they come up with these ideas!" plots, so I want to be very circumspect in what I reveal. In The Lost Island, Gideon again finds himself in the employ of Eli Glinn. He is tasked with a daring art heist as the first step in a search for a substance with significant medical implications. And that's all I'm telling you, because...

It's not really all that surprising that there are over-the-top elements to the novel's plot. I mean, we've seen that from these two before. But the underlying premise this time around was so novel and just so much fun that I wouldn't want to spoil it with hints. I will say this: Many novels drag a bit in the middle. In this case, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. I was just so darn amused by the proceedings. The novel's opening was also strong, leaping immediately into the action of the tale. Preston and Child are brilliant when it comes to plotting, and their talents are fully on display here.

If I have one complaint--and I do--it's that the motivations and actions of some of the characters truly stretched my credulity as the novel's denouement drew close. Okay, and one more... At one point a character proclaims, "It's so obvious." And, d'uh, it REALLY is.

But... The novel's epilogue is truly AWESOME, and will leave long-time fans SALIVATING for the next (Final?) book in the Gideon Crew series. Count me among their number! I begin plotting now on my evil plan to obtain an early draft of the manuscript. BWAHAHAHA!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 12, 2014 2:24 PM PDT

Don't Ever Look Back: A Mystery (Buck Schatz Series)
Don't Ever Look Back: A Mystery (Buck Schatz Series)
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $9.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Buck stops here?, April 25, 2014
Building nicely on his debut, Don’t Ever Get Old, but working just fine as a standalone, Daniel Friedman and his 88-year-old protagonist Baruch “Buck” Schatz are back. This time, Elijah, a bank robber that Buck hasn’t seen in decades (and once threatened to kill) has resurfaced asking for Buck’s protection. Their shared history from 1965 informs the mystery unfolding in the present day. The author also manages to insert quite a bit of sly social commentary into the proceedings.

Again Mr. Friedman has proved himself adept at both plotting and character-driven humor. I'd have big issues with a cop like this in real life, but somehow on the page he truly is priceless! Additionally, I continually find myself surprised by the depth of feeling , sensitivity, and substance to be found in this essentially light mystery series. More of Buck’s history is explored, but some questions from the past are left unresolved. I’m not sure how long the old guy can hang on, but it seems clear there will be at least one more book. Thank goodness!

Runner (Sam Dryden)
Runner (Sam Dryden)
by Patrick Lee
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.11
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars And they're off!, January 20, 2014
This review is from: Runner (Sam Dryden) (Hardcover)
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I'd never read Patrick Lee. I've bought his debut novel, The Breach, in multiple formats, but always balked at reading it because it sounded too "science fictiony" to me. Here's what's extraordinary... Not only do I read thrillers, I socialize regularly with the folks that write them. And no less than four of his best-selling peers have recommended Mr. Lee's Breach trilogy to me. I *will* read these books someday.

For now, I've contented myself with Lee's follow-up to the trilogy that made his name. His latest novel, Runner, is a straight thriller, and therefore more firmly in my comfort zone. As the novel opens, a sleepless Sam Dryden is jogging on the boardwalk of his sleepy, California town. Into this middle-of-the-night quiet, a fleeing girl crashes into him, begging for help. "I need somewhere to hide. I'll tell you everything, but please get me out of here first." When an offer of police assistance is refused Sam becomes wary, but seeing naked panic in her eyes, he's unable to refuse help. She is, indeed, being chased by a group of unknown assailants. But it is that one impulsive act that sucks Sam into Rachel's predicament. All too soon, these two are on the run together.

Now, this dynamic of an older, experienced man (in Sam's case, former special forces) aiding and protecting an innocent--usually precocious--young girl, has been explored before. David Baldacci's aptly-named The Innocent is a recent example that immediately comes to mind, and I feel sure there are at least a few Dean Koontz novels that have gone there. We've seen this set-up. And perhaps Mr. Lee is aware of that. As things began to feel slightly contrived, the characters themselves began to question the situation:

"Which had made her wonder about something. Was it strange that she'd run into someone--she had literally run into him--who was this good at keeping her safe from Gaul and his people? Wasn't that a doozy of a coincidence?

On the heels of that thought came another, this one from somewhere deep in her mind. HAD it been a coincidence?"

Nothing allays my own suspicions of contrivance better than having the author posit the same questions I am. Lee is quite good at staying a step or three ahead of readers, and he managed quite a few good shockers in the course of telling his tale. Chapters end on hooks, making it hard to put the book down.

Now, with a title like Runner, you have to imagine the novel moves at a fast clip, and pacing is a real strength. It's a plot-driven page-turner that will keep readers guessing. Revelations are mete out, and even once you think you know what's going on, don't be so sure. Characters are about as well-developed as you would expect from this genre, so don't go into Runner seeking depth. If you go looking for a little adrenaline jolt and some undemanding entertainment, you'll likely find what you're looking for. Patrick Lee isn't reinventing the wheel here, but he does a nice job putting his own spin on a familiar convention.

DVD ~ Gillian Anderson
Offered by MightySilver
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars BBC's The Fall is a dark take on a familiar genre, January 16, 2014
This review is from: THE FALL, SERIES 1 (DVD)
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What's the old cliché about serial killers? "He was quiet and he kept to himself"? Well, not so in the BBC's five-part series, The Fall. Defying both convention and viewer expectations, Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) is a husband and father. This dichotomy of character is deeply, deeply disturbing. As is much of what is depicted in The Fall. This is dark stuff. The police hunting this killer, led by Gillian Anderson as Stella Gibson, are some pretty dark characters themselves, leading to a rather moody and atmospheric production.

That said, this is smart television. British series always seem to be more along the line of what viewers in the US might see on premium cable. Things are a bit edgier and more graphic. The writing and performances in The Fall are sharp. And despite knowing from the start who-done-it, the tone of the series is unrelentingly suspenseful.

The Fall won't appeal to everyone. This is a grim telling of a sad story. Also, it should be noted, this first series does not come to a neat resolution. Personally, I'm a fan of these more realistic endings, but the BBC has promised more of The Fall, so we shall all have to see what comes next.

On Such a Full Sea: A Novel
On Such a Full Sea: A Novel
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $9.99

7 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A legend can be made, it turns out, one crude stroke at a time.", January 13, 2014
On Such a Full Sea is the story of Fan. Not just the story... The myth! The legend! It is being narrated--unusually--by the collective, first-person plural voice of the citizens of B-Mor, once Baltimore. ("The nation has collapsed. Once, we had a country of federated states. Now we have charter villages for the rich, and settlements for the not-so-rich. In between are open counties, places of anarchy with no corporate or government protection. We don't know exactly what happened to our planet, but it's easy to imagine."). The tale is being recounted from an indeterminate point in the mid-future. Not so near and not so far. In the world imagined by master craftsman Chang-rae Lee, things are very different and yet disturbingly familiar, all at once. Speak the narrators:

"Whenever we tell the story of Fan, details are apt to change. You don't mean to alter anything, in fact your intention is the very opposite, you want nothing more than to be an echo of the previous speaker, who, you decide, did a perfectly super job. And try as you might to match the very tone of the telling, the bellow of certain episodes and the half-breathed whisper of others, isn't it the truth that despite your fealty to the story, a moment will arise that compels a freelancing, perhaps even rebellious, urge?"

Fan, it seems, knows from freelancing, even rebellious, urges. At 16, as a skilled diver and citizen of the protected workers facility of B-Mor, her life is far better than most. In sheltered B-Mor, spitting is among the community's worst crimes. (Though, at one point the narrators ask, "Don't sanctuaries become prisons and vice versa, foremost in the mind?") When Fan's boyfriend, Reg, is called to the Directorate and never comes back, Fan impulsively leaves the safety of B-Mor and strikes out in search of him.

"If she possessed a genius, and a growing number of us think she did, it was a capacity for understanding and trusting the improvisational nature of her will. This might seem a contradictory state, and for most of us it would be. We have hopes and make plans, and if they are dashed or waylaid, we naturally rationalize and redraw the map to locate ourselves anew. Or else we brood and too firmly root. Very few can step forward again and again in what amounts to veritable leaps into the void, where there are no ready holds, where little is familiar, where you constantly get stuck in the thickets of your uncertainties and fears. Fan was different."

And so Fan embarks on what proves to be a picaresque journey. ("What perverse episode lay ahead for her now?") Perverse, indeed! What Fan encounters in the open counties is immediately alarming and becomes increasingly shocking along the way. Mr. Lee avails himself of some genre tropes, but his imagination doesn't stop there. My jaw LITERALLY dropped open at least once while reading. There is plenty of plot here for readers to sink their teeth into.

Character, on the other hand, it trickier in this novel. Readers never get into the head of Fan. She's a quiet and somewhat opaque individual. And this makes sense because Fan is, essentially, a fiction. Fan is not a real person, but rather the composite that the citizen-narrators have created. ("Why, in the life of a community, does a certain happening or person become the stuff of lore?") Furthermore, there's no clear way that these interested parties can know the details of what actually occurred to Fan after she left. The entire tale is suspect.

In discussing this novel's collective voice, comparisons have been made to works by Jeffrey Eugenides, Joshua, Ferris, and everyone in between. But the book that immediately came to my mind was Hannah Pittard's underrated The Fates Will Find Their Way. It, coincidentally, is also the collectively-voiced imaginings of a community in the wake of a 16-year-old girl's disappearance. You know what they say, there are only so many stories. And while that may be true, there are an infinite number of ideas, and this novel is chock-full of insightful observations not only about Fan's world, but our own. Mr. Lee has not built his world of whole cloth. Rather, he's paid careful attention to the (mis)direction in which we are heading. There is sly commentary on the environment, government, immigration, healthcare, privilege, race, and so much more.

Beyond plot, character, and ideas, there is language, and here Mr. Lee is pure genius! The language spans from colloquial to eloquent and reading it was a joy from start to finish. I found myself truly savoring passages. And so it is, I'll leave the final word on this book to Mr. Lee and his narrators:

"The funny thing about the tale of Fan is that much of what happened to her happened to her. She showed plenty of her own volition. Really, more than any of us could ever dream up. And yet at the same time, her tale demonstrates how those who met her, often took it upon themselves to help her, without, really, any hesitation. Without always a ready self-interest. Every once in a while there are figures who draw such attention. Even when they aren't especially charismatic, or visionary, or subtly, cleverly aggressive in insinuating an agenda into the larger imagination. For some reason, we want to see them succeed. We want them to flourish. Even if that flourishing is something we'll never personally witness. They draw our energy so steadily and thoroughly, that only toward the finish of events can we recognize the extent of our exertions, and how those exertions, in some, might have taken the form of a movement."

The Serpent of Venice: A Novel
The Serpent of Venice: A Novel
by Christopher Moore
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.67
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christopher Moore defies the law of diminishing returns, December 19, 2013
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Not too long ago, I reread Christopher Moore’s novel 2009 Fool, where readers were introduced to Pocket, King Lear’s court jester. As a rule, when rereading books there’s a law of diminishing returns. Simply put, things are never quite as good the second, third, or fourth time around—for obvious reasons. You know the story, surprises have been revealed, jokes told, etc. Christopher Moore seems to defy this rule because, if anything, I enjoyed Fool more upon reread than even my considerable entertainment the first time around. I’d found Moore’s Shakespearean satire to be wildly amusing and clever upon first read. On second, I appreciated the characters, heart, and depth of the tale further.

How very, very glad I am, then, to see Pocket and a handful of cohorts returning in a second Shakespearean romp! The Serpent of Venice is everything I could have hoped for and more! As the novel’s title suggests, this time The Merchant of Venice is in the mix, mashed up with a healthy dose of Othello. There was a third element I couldn’t identify until reading the illuminating author’s note at the novel’s end. It was—of all things—a short story by Poe, The Cask of Amontillado. Having shared the ingredients for this Mooronic gallimaufry, it would be a shame to discuss the details of the plot further.

What I can tell you is this: as much as I loved Fool, The Serpent of Venice is even better! Moore’s homages to Shakespeare are unbelievably clever. Not just the borrowing of plot elements and characters, but the manner in which he shapes these familiar elements into a fresh new tale. The story here is fantastic on its own merits. I couldn’t turn pages fast enough. Above I mentioned the “heart” of Fool. That is even more evident here. It’s somewhat amazing to me that such an irreverent story-teller can bring genuine emotion to his ridiculous tales.

But, of course, the thing that sets Christopher Moore apart from all other writers is his idiosyncratic humor. It’s fully on display in The Serpent of Venice. I can’t honestly say that Moore doesn’t go for the cheap joke—because if it’s there to be had, hell yes he’ll go for it. But the majority of the humor in these books is character-driven. Pocket is a fantastic creation, and entirely Moore’s own. Pocket is rude, profane (Warning: He’s really, really profane, if that sort of thing bothers you.), and utterly irrepressible. He faces more challenges than any man his size should ever have to bear within the pages of this book, and he faces them in his own inimitable style. And because the humor is based in character, it holds up remarkably well to repeat readings.

As you can tell, I’m already looking forward to revisiting this tale. I’m not sure how much longer Mr. Moore can mine the wealth of Shakespeare for inspiration and material. It truly *is* inspired lunacy. And it feels greedy to ask, but I so hope that there’s more of Pocket in store!

The Crane Wife
The Crane Wife
by Patrick Ness
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $26.95
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "In her dreams, she flies.", December 19, 2013
This review is from: The Crane Wife (Hardcover)
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“A word sprang to his groggy, shivering mind. It had sounded like a KEEN. Something was KEENING and it welled him up with entirely unexpected, in fact, frankly ASTONISHING tears. It tore at his heart like a dream gone wrong, a wordless cry for help that almost instantly made him feel inadequate to the task, helpless to save whatever was in danger, pointless to even try.

A sound which, later on, when he remembered this night forever and always, thwarted all sense. Because when he found the bird, the bird made no sound at all.”


The passage above occurs three pages in to Patrick Ness’s second novel for adults (after his debut, The Crash of Hennington), The Crane Wife. In the years between these two novels, Mr. Ness has achieved far greater acclaim and readership as an author of sophisticated young adult fiction. That was my introduction to his work, not all that long ago. I finally got around to reading The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first volume in his Chaos Walking trilogy, and it absolutely knocked my socks off! I’ve got no problem reading YA fiction, but when I saw he had an adult novel coming out, I knew I’d read it as soon as I could get my hands on a copy. The Crane Wife could not have been more different than the earlier novel I’d read—and if anything, it was even better.

It’s a book I could quote from all day long; the writing is simply, heart-breakingly beautiful. It’s the story of George, an everyman print shop owner with artistic inclinations. He awakes to the sound described above and goes outside to find a beautiful crane that’s been shot with an arrow. He saves the bird’s life. Later he thinks, “But if it wasn’t a dream, it was one of those special corners of what’s real, one of those moments, only a handful of which he could recall throughout his lifetime, where the world dwindled down to almost no one, where it seemed to pause just for him, so that he could, for a moment, be seized into life.”

Soon after the hazy events of that night, George meets the beautiful and mysterious Kumiko. They embark on a relationship of stunning romance and artistry. And what follows is the stuff of myth, legend, and fairytale. I’ll let you uncover the plot on your own.

The Crane Wife is a quick read. It is magical. And while I think it will find a broad and enthusiastic readership, it may not be the novel for everyone. The two quotes I shared are indicative of an otherworldly style that is, frankly, not my typical cup of tea. I was, however, completely captivated in Ness’s tale, and the language in which he told it. I loved the not-quite-real tone of the tale that kept me guessing as I read. There was something about this story that was just so delicate and exquisite that I am confident I’ll be rereading this brief book time and time again in years to come.

Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?
Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?
by Alan Weisman
Edition: Hardcover
110 used & new from $0.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The clock is ticking, December 19, 2013
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I was introduced to science journalist Alan Weisman’s work with his wonderful book of speculative science, The World without Us. When I read that a follow-up was forthcoming, my interest was immediately piqued. But reading the jacket copy of Countdown didn’t grab me. It’s Weisman’s exploration of the world WITH us. With far too many of us, as population explodes exponentially and this planet faces grave consequences. Obviously, this is as important a subject as any a science writer could possibly tackle, but, frankly, it sounded like a bummer. I passed.

A while later, Alan Weisman came to speak at the San Francisco Public Library. I was thrilled for the opportunity to hear him talk. Truth be told, he’s a surprisingly terrible public speaker, reading his entire speech lifelessly off a lengthy print-out. Still, the lackluster presentation didn’t disguise just how fascinating the subject matter was. The statistics quoted, the anecdotes relayed, were simply staggering! I HAD to read more. Happily, there was a 500 page book waiting to be devoured.

What I’d forgotten when I passed on this book is what a terrific and accessible writer Weisman is. Just as with The World without Us, Weisman looks at the issue from a broad and creative number of angles. The man traveled to every corner of the globe in the process of researching this expansive book. I’m not going to quote a bunch of gee whiz statistics at you in this review. I will simply tell you that the book was as fascinating as it was disquieting. I feel better educated and informed, and I will not quickly dismiss any future subject matter that Mr. Weisman decides to take on.

Songs of Willow Frost: A Novel
Songs of Willow Frost: A Novel
by Jamie Ford
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $26.00
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ford suffers the sophomore novel curse, December 19, 2013
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This is not unusual for me: I heard all the buzz on and acclaim for Jamie Ford’s debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and even though it sits on my bookshelf—to this day—I never got around to reading it. In these cases, I tend to jump right on the author’s sophomore novel, to avoid the same procrastination. This yields mixed results, as sophomore novels are notoriously dicey endeavors. I suspect that Mr. Ford’s debut is the stronger novel, but Songs of Willow Frost was a readable enough melodrama.

Songs is the tale of depression-era orphan William Eng. William has lived in a Catholic orphanage (where it is no picnic to be Asian, let me tell you) since his single mother overdosed on drugs and he was taken away. He is led to believe that she is dead—until young William sees a beautiful actress in a movie reel and becomes obsessed with the idea that she is his mother. So begins the young man’s quest to discover the truth about his own life and that of his mother.

As you can imagine, this is a harsh and frequently heartbreaking tale. It was a tough period in American history, and Ford tackles issues of race and class within the confines of his story. It’s clear that he’s done meticulous research on this time period in Seattle, where the novel is set. An interesting author’s note at the novel’s end briefly details some of the story’s inspiration. Ultimately, the tale is rather… schmaltzy. I’m not sure I can say it better than that in English. Ford’s language is serviceable, but forgettable. Songs of Willow Frost passed the time and wasn’t painful to read, but neither is it a book that I would feel compelled to recommend. If, however, you’re especially interested in the themes or period, you could do worse. I’ll be curious to see what Mr. Ford tackles next, and hey, Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is still waiting on my bookshelf.

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