Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Fiskur

Sunday, November 12th, 2017

51dSX5pYKkL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_By Donna Migliaccio

The Short Take:

This second book in The Gemeta Stone fantasy/action series does not disappoint. The hero continues to evolve into an increasingly complex character. Even better, the woman that started out as mainly a love interest has become a powerful, fascinating character as well. Not to mention, the action continues — and continues to surprise.

Why?

Too often the second book in a fantasy series doesn’t hold up to the initial outing. Not in this case. The author has given her characters new depths yet kept the brisk pace of action you want in a fantasy where swords are as important as magic.

Predictability is not her the menu, either. Like George R R. Martin, Migliaccio is not afraid to kill off a major character when needed. That ruthlessness keeps you guessing and keeps you turning pages.

However, the main draws are the two leading characters and their diverse group of close friends and supporters. You can’t help but root for them, empathize with them, and feel their growing frustrations.

And, there are plenty of frustrations. Nothing comes without a price for The Gemeta Stone hero. He might pay, but we get to enjoy.

A Little Plot:

Our hero, Kristan, is now in possession of his family’s protective talisman and has vowed to destroy the evil Wichelord, Daazna, who destroyed his family and taken over his country. His friends, particularly the daring Heather, stand solidly by his side as he plans his attack, but is that enough?

For more about Fiskur and its author, click here.

Also, check back next week for a special blog post by the author.

The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

9780525428305By Dan Jones

The Short Take:

When I started this 360-page nonfiction book (not counting many pages of footnotes), I wondered if I really wanted to know that much about the Knights Templar. Turns out I did. Jones knows how to make history come alive, with a relaxed writing style and interesting stories within the big story.

Why?

I’ve read a significant number of thrillers where the Templars show up, or at least referred to. Of course, that’s all pretty much hokum. The only true fact I knew was they’re the reason Friday the 13th is considered unlucky.

They were actually a very brave, committed, highly religious group that played a major role not only in the crusades but in handling financial affairs and moving money for the rich and royal. They were trusted, respected, and daring. Of course, there were a few Templar leaders who weren’t exactly the cream of the crop, plus political considerations sometimes led to poor decisions.

Jones’ book covers everything from their origin in Jerusalem, after the first crusade, to their dramatic demise. There’s plenty of royalty making appearances, too, including the pious Louis IX, Richard the Lionhearted, and the four-times-excommunicated Emperor Fredrick II. It’s quite a gallery of rogues and heroes.

Jones drew from sources both Islamic and Christian to corroborate, question, and enhance his statements. Interestingly, both sides have a few positive things to say about their opposing “infidels.”

It’s all a fascinating read and I’ll be looking for more Jones’ histories to enjoy.

A Little Plot:

A group of fiercely religious warriors realized pilgrims to the Holy Land would need protection. They decided they would answer that call, also staying celibate and poor in the bargain. The commitment of these Knights of the Temple won the admiration of almost everyone of importance, who all wanted to donate to their cause to protect pilgrims and fight the “infidels.”

Battles ensued.

Dan Jones does not appear to have a website, but you can learn more from the Wikipedia entry by clicking here.

Origin

Monday, October 30th, 2017

32283133By Dan Brown

The Short Take:

Where did we come from? Where are we going? These  two questions dominate Brown’s new not-so-thrilling thriller. This opus, which brings back the brilliant Robert Langdon, contains far more talk about ideas than thrilling action.  The talk is certainly intriguing, however, dwelling on topics as diverse as Gaudí’s architecture, Winston Churchill, and artificial intelligence. Of course, the central issue is science versus religion — past, present, and future.

Why?

Usually thrillers put their main characters into precarious situations chapter after chapter. While there are some close calls in Origin, this book mainly explores ideas. That means a lot of talking, thinking, and general exposition.

Not that it isn’t interesting. Of course, Brown explores some of my favorite topics, from the history of religion to evolution to the natural fluidity of Antoni Gaudí’s buildings. Plus there’s quite a bit about science, the advances in computing power, and the meanings behind modern art installations that might puzzle most of us. It’s all interesting stuff, but more than once I found myself thinking, “Get on with it, Dan.”

A Little Plot:

Famous billionaire/atheist/futurist/inventor Edmund Kirsch is ready to make an announcement he claims will provide the answer to life’s ultimate questions: where we came from and where we are going. Ultimately, Langdon and a beautiful museum director have to help get the word out.

For more about Dan Brown and his work, click here.

Pachinko

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

UnknownBy Min Jin Lee

The Short Take:

This multi-generational epic traces the trials and loyalties of a Korean family in Japan between the early 1900s and 1989. Lee undertook significant research to write this novel and it certainly opened my eyes to a lot of things. More importantly, her characters are both inspired and inspiring.

Why?

Lee draws her title from the Japanese pachinko gambling game, where you manipulate a ball through a series of pins hoping for a lucky outcome. However, as with their slot machine cousins, luck is usually not on your side.

It’s the same for the generations of a Korean family living in Japan, where they are consistently discriminated against and marginalized. All they can do is work diligently and cling to each other while striving to improve opportunities for the next generation.

Lee’s writing style compliments the language barriers between her characters, where illiteracy and three different languages create divides. However, the respect and love within the family — along with an unbreakable hope for the future — bind them together despite the numerous catastrophes that befall, from an unwanted pregnancy to World War II. It’s a rich reading experience, with passages of great emotional power along with moments of the quietest tenderness.

What surprised me is that Koreans born in Japan, even after four or more generations, are still considered foreigners, required to register for permissionto stay at age 14, must re-register every four years, and can be deported at any time. They can not hold Japanese passports, meaning travel is impossible unless they manage to get a North or South Korea passport. It’s a tragic situation, especially considering they are were brought there to do the work the Japanese didn’t want to do.

A Little Plot:

When Korea is under Japanese rule, a very young Sunja meets an elegant older man who takes advantage of her innocence. An idealistic missionary offers to marry her give her unborn child his name, and takes her to Japan. Once there the order of the day is work and poverty, with danger lurking in many forms.

For more about Min Jin Lee and her work, click here.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Unknown-1By Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Short Take:

This slim volume contains a wealth of easily understood information about a very complex and abstract subject — our universe. It’s perfect for someone like me, who knew next to nothing about astrophysics. I learned a lot and, Tyson’s summation was genuinely uplifting.

Why?

Words like quantum mechanics, dark matter, and pulsars always sounded intriguing but I had little or no understanding of what they meant. Tyson brought these outer space terms solidly down to earth and made it fun to learn about them.

The sizes and times related to various entities is this book are mind blowing — for the unfathomably small to the unimaginably large. Reading this book is inspiring, humbling, and actually great fun. Plus, there are all kinds of simple factoids you can casually drop into conversations, if only you are lucky enough to be around people who talk about life, the universe, and everything.

A Little Plot:

Plot doesn’t really relate here. You will gain a very basic understanding of the theories, discoveries, and science that shape today’s understanding of the universe. And it’s all delivered in way that makes you hungry for more.

For more about Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Hayden Planetarium under his direction click here.

Beren and Lúthien

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

41FwLxwd-pL._AC_UL160_J. R. R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien)

The Short Take:

Unless you are an exceptionally serious Tolkien fan or scholar, you will probably want to pass this one up. It was too much for me, and I’ve read The Lord of the Rings 11 times!

Why?

Basically, Christopher Tolkien has taken every version his father wrote of this adventure/love story and put it one volume, with plenty of information about the background, the whys, and wherefores. You really have to care an awful lot to want to wade through it all.

If you do care, you’ll enjoy the effort put into this book in order to demonstrate how the story, the characters, and even the names evolved over time. It really is quite thorough and scholarly, but it’s not for everyone.

A Little Plot:

Beren falls in love with Lúthien and goes through great peril to win her. She refuses to let him do it all alone. These two heroes go through multiple revisions.

Kinglet

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

51BI6K3Dn-LBy Donna Migliaccio

The Short Take:

This fresh and fast-moving epic fantasy was a delight to read — a brave yet conflicted hero, not too many fighting sequences, a dollop of romance, a different take on magic, and a wealth of engaging characters. It’s all good.

Why?

I admit epic fantasy is one of my preferred genres, though I can count on one hand the number of multiple book series I have read. I want to be sure the characters and story are worth the time invested.

This one grabbed me with its first line: “The soldiers were shimmering again.” That would be due to one of the two types of magic in this book — something you don’t often come by in fantasy. In fact, there were a number of fresh takes on the genre in this volume; like a tough woman who’s not afraid to mix things up, and that power-mad magician. It’s a fun read.

By the way, I’ve been burned by book series where the wait between volumes is ridiculous (looking at you, Martin and Rothfuss). So I contacted this author to be sure there were other books coming down the pipeline — she’s already finished book four. Good.

A Little Plot:

Kristan is son and heir to The Gemeta, king of Fandrall. But a powerful and vengeful magician overthrows his father and takes his kingdom. Escaping to the wilderness of the Exilwald, Kristan finds unlikely allies who help him hide, but he cannot stay hidden forever. Two many forces are aligned against him.

For more about Migliaccio (who is also an actress, it appears), click here.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Monday, August 21st, 2017

UnknownBy Matthew Sullivan

The Short Take:

This was a quick read, but also a bit of a head scratcher. It’s supposed to be a murder mystery yet the plot is almost completely driven by a suicide. Huh?

Why?

There’s a lot of misdirection in this mystery. The plot ambles along at a gentle pace, making you think something is going to happen over and over. But it doesn’t. It’s many pages before the actual murder is even mentioned, and then it turns out it’s 20 years in the past.

Relations past and present seem to be abandoned or begun for no real reason, there are some far-fetched coincidences, and it’s actually pretty easy to guess whodunit once the murder is actually presented.

I wasn’t unhappy while reading this book, but when I finished it  my reaction was, “What?” That’s not so great.

A Little Plot:

Lydia’s favorite customer commits suicide in the bookstore. She inherits his meager belongings and searches for clues to his action. She’s also avoiding her father and everyone else from her past, all due to a traumatic childhood incident and it’s aftermath.

For more about Matthew Sullivan click here.

The Changeling

Friday, August 4th, 2017

UnknownBy Victor Lavalle

The Short Take:

This disturbing tale brings together the worst nightmares of a modern, over-protective father and monstrous horrors from the Brothers Grimm. While that sounds hard to swallow, Lavelle makes it go down rather smoothly.

Why?

Lavalle’s hero, Apollo, and his wife, Emma, are very real New Yorker African-Americans. It’s important to remember this, because after their baby arrives, their lives go completely bonkers.

There is probably no other book remotely like this one. It’s rich, surprising, complex, shocking, and very well written. It is not particularly easy to like but it’s also almost impossible to put down. The story sucks you in, delivers the ride of a lifetime, then makes you question the whole experience.

While the importance — and limitation — of fatherhood is the primary focus, the way racism shapes and restricts the characters’ actions also snaps you to attention. There’s a lot going on here — from legal issues and media exploitation to the loyalty of friends and folk tales come to life.

Lavelle went bold with this one. Very, very bold.

A Little Plot:

Apollo dreams of his absent father and vows that when his own child is born he will protect his son at all costs. However, the anxieties and exhaustion of parenthood are taking their toll, driving the two apart. Problems — and secrets — increase the stress even more. Then, something unbelievably horrific happens.

For more about Victor Lavalle and his work, click here.

Magpie Murders

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

225x225bbBy Anthony Horowitz

The Short Take:

Horowitz, who has written many a Masterpiece Mystery screenplay, both salutes the classic whodunit formula and turns it on its head. And, he does both masterfully.

Why?

Why is it the British seem to be particularly good at murder mysteries? Horowitz is no exception. His screen credits include Midsummer Murders, Foyle’s War, and much more. He’s written Sherlock Holmes stories and a young adult crime series, among other things, Then there’s this book.

Magpie Murders is basically two mysteries in one. There’s the new whodunit manuscript by the deceased writer of a popular series, and an even bigger mystery that surrounds the writer’s death. One woman is immersed in both and finds numerous curious, and highly disturbing, connections between the two.

Or is it all in her imagination? Read it and find out.

A Little Plot:

Susan Ryeland is the editor for Alan Conroy’s popular Atticus Pünd detective series. She settles down to read the first draft of his latest effort, but something is wrong.

I’m not telling you what exactly is wrong, because that would ruin all the fun. For more on Anthony Horowitz, click here.

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