Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The "alien invasion" story is one that has been done countless times. So we are not treading any new ground here. I came across the 5th Wave late to the game, I admit. There has already been a movie made based on the book and this series is one of the more popular in the YA genre. What I expected was your standard alien invasion book, entertaining yet light on character development. Frankly I was looking for something light to read because what I had been reading has been fairly intense. What I wasn't expecting was a story that was not only as intense as the books I was reading, but was incredibly complex and well-written. The story begins in Dayton, OH where we find the main character Cassie trying to stay alive as she journeys through the woods after an alien takeover where 97% of the earth's population has been wiped out. The wipe-out occurs in 5 separate waves (hence the title). The first wave takes out all electronic communication and the power grid. The second wave happens in the form of a Tsunami initiated by the aliens taking out all of the existing life living on the coasts of the major continents. The third wave takes place by way of a devastating plague that is carried by birds. Once the humans are tenderized enough and depleted after the first three waves, the fourth wave is implemented. During this wave, humans who were long ago implanted with alien nano-technology at birth begin to "awaken" to their true mission set out by the aliens. These humans are called "silencers" since it is their job to hunt down the remaining uninfected human population and snuff out their lives. The fifth wave is the very last and entails the recruiting of the last vestiges of human children to form a sort of special militia. They are tricked into thinking that they are actually supposed to kill the aliens but in actuality, they are being used by cleverly disguised aliens to kill their own kind. It is during the fifth wave that we pick up Cassie's story. Her entire family, other than her brother Sammy, have been either killed by the aliens or the plague. She is now a lone rogue human battling the aliens in a form of guerrilla style as she attempts to find her brother, whom the aliens have captured and drafted into the child militia. Her ordeal is both intense and empowering and I was glad to see Rick Yancey create such an incredibly strong female character. She's a badass from the first page but also shows a very vulnerable side from time to time as she attempts to deal with the trauma of losing her family and also the existence of a God who would allow humanity to be wiped out so brutally. I found the 5th Wave to be one of the biggest surprises of my reading life. What an amazingly written story that will stay with me for a very long time. Be prepared for many plot twists and lots of action as well. The breakneck pace culminates in a very satisfying conclusion that will eventually continue in the next two books. I can't wait to read the backstory and history of how the aliens came to be and for what purpose they attacked earth. Great book that I highly recommend.

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Review: Fingerprints of the Gods: The Evidence of Earth's Lost Civilization

Fingerprints of the Gods: The Evidence of Earth's Lost Civilization Fingerprints of the Gods: The Evidence of Earth's Lost Civilization by Graham Hancock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So a little background, I have always been obsessed with unexplained phenomena. As a 10 year-old boy, I would walk to the public library and check out multiple books on the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch, The Pyramids, Easter Island, etc.... It was just ingrained in me that if there was a TV show on about these types of things, or a book that just came out, I was all over it. There's my starting point. Lately, this stuff has been extremely in-style with the popularity of shows like Ancient Aliens. So believe me, I get it and I love it. Graham Hancock is a guy that comes across as one of the more measured and if you will "less crazy" purveyors of ancient phenomena. Everybody knows Giorgio Tsoukalos because of the crazy hair and the bombastic statements. Hancock is sort of the professorial-looking dude who actually looks and sounds like he knows what he's talking about. So it was with great pleasure that I came across Fingerprints of the Gods. It is a book that has been out for some 20 odd years but I never got around to checking it out. Well all I will say is that if you love finding out a lot about the ruins of Machu Pichu, the mysterious Nazca Lines of Peru, how Antarctica was at one time not covered with ice and mapped out this way by explorers as recently as 600 years ago, the ancient pyramids of Giza, Easter Island, etc.... then you need to read this book. Hancock does a great job of presenting his theories while never portraying them as the only definitive answer. I had a lot of fun reading each chapter and then going online to "fact-check" what Graham had just presented. Of course the orthodox historians had perfectly reasonable explanations and also more believable ones, but it was very entertaining to compare the two schools of thought. I'm not naive, I know that Hancock's theories are simply to spark the imagination and most-likely pretty far from the actual truth. This doesn't mean that I didn't get a heck of a lot of enjoyment out of reading Fingerprints of the Gods though. Just take it with a grain of salt. But if you are into this kind of thing, this is about as good as it gets. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel Magicians of the Gods.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Review: Magician: Apprentice

Magician: Apprentice Magician: Apprentice by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Truly a landmark fantasy book for me, as well as a phenomenal series. I remember distinctly all those years ago, when I was first hired at Borders Books. I was assigned the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section to shelf and maintain as a new bookseller. I had read zero fantasy books up to that point, my genre of preference at the time being horror. It was during my second day of work that I begin to really examine the covers and back cover synopses to see what this fantasy stuff was all about. One of the first that I pulled off the shelf was Magician: Apprentice by Raymond E. Feist. Well, the cover was pretty cool I thought and upon reading the summary it seemed like a fun, uncomplicated read. I figured if I was going to be shelving this peculiar genre, I may as well pick up a book or two and take them home to read. I ultimately chose Feist's first book of the Riftwar saga as my initiation into reading fantasy. It wasn't long before I was pulled into this amazing book and pretty soon I was missing dinner, ignoring phone calls, blowing off my friends, and doing just about everything I could to steal as much time as possible so that I could get back to reading it.

Magician: Apprentice tells the story of a young orphaned boy named Pug who lives in the small town of Crydee in the world of Midkemia. Pug is apprenticed to a master magician, having no family to speak of and no skills involving anything other than the use of his brain not brawn. Very early on in the story, a rift from another world is opened into Crydee using powerful sorcery. From this rift, a strange and foreign invading army begins to pour through. It is incumbent on the leaders of Crydee to inform Midkemia's king that they are under attack and to use any means both militarily and magical to throw back the invaders. The question looming through the first half of the book is what are the origins of these invaders, and from what world did they come from? Also, for what purpose would they wish to open a rift to a relatively peaceful world? The story shifts back and forth from Midkemias's leaders in their attempt to figure out how to deal with the invaders and Pug who now finds his training accelerated in an effort to use his growing skills to find a magical way to combat this new foe. We gradually learn that the invaders are from a world called Kelewan, which is ruled by a race known as the Tsurani. Not content to simply extend their empire to their own world, the Tsurani have found a way to open up rifts in time and space with the hopes of also conquering other worlds. Unfortunately for the population of Midkemia, they were first on the list to conquer. The overarching question is can Midkemia fend off the wave after wave of Tsurani and reclaim their world or will they fall to the Tsurani and be enslaved forever?

I absolutely loved Magician: Apprentice when I first read it about twenty years ago. I love it just as much, if not more now upon rereading it. For me, it is what sparked my interest in fantasy and more specifically, portal fantasy. Magician: Apprentice is probably the reason why portal fantasy will always be my favorite sub-genre. I've read a ton of portal fantasy since this one, few having reached the level of pure genius as the Riftwar Saga. I keep waiting for something to top it, but nothing ever does. About the closest I've come is Barabara Hambly's Darwath series. If you're into fantasy of any kind, you owe it to yourself to read this series. It stands out in so many ways as the right way to write fantasy. The characters are interesting, quirky, and very relatable. I can't recommend it enough really. Don't be dissuaded by people who say that Feist's work is fairly mediocre and that his writing isn't very good. As someone who has read pretty much every Feist book, I agree that his books get progressively lower in quality after Riftwar. But the truth of the matter is he hits a grand slam in the bottom of the 12th inning to win the World Series with the Riftwar Saga. The whole series is worth reading and savoring. In fact, If people who have never read fantasy before in their lives asked me to recommend to them three series to read to get into the genre, this would always be one of them. Truly a magnificent work and will always be one of my favorites. If you are planning on reading them for the first time, I am jealous. All I can say is enjoy the ride, it will be well worth it in the end.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Review: Prince of Thorns

Prince of Thorns Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let me begin by saying that I am fully aware that this book and series are widely-regarded as one of the top works of fantasy to come out in many years. The praise that is heaped upon this series is maybe only eclipsed by the praise for the works of Patrick Rothfuss and Steven Erikson. That being said, once again I seem to be out of step with the conventional thinking of the day. My qualms with this book are not with Mark Lawrence's writing either. I thought that the prose was excellent at times and the story for the most part was an interesting one. It begins promisingly enough: A nine year-old prince named Jorg, while travelling through his father's protectorate with his mother and younger brother, are set upon by a neighboring baron's men at arms. Jorg watches as his mother and brother are brutally slain at the hands of these men. He is discovered later by his father's retinue entangled in a nearby thorn bush and brought back to the castle to be nursed back to health. It is this event that largely shapes the person that Jorg will become and hardens him into an emotionless and uncaring youth bent on revenge at any cost.

Here's where it all fell apart for me. A year after the horrible murder of his mother and brother, Jorg breaks a gang of cutthroats out of his father's dungeon and runs away with them to become a part of their group. Shortly thereafter, he evolves into the de facto leader of this group of rogues and begins to fashion them as his tool for getting his ultimate revenge. I just had a difficult time believing that these men would all readily fall in line and follow a thirteen year-old boy. That is one of the things that was unrealistic to me and that just I couldn't put aside. I also cringed at the way they would all too easily listen to everything Jorg would say and seemed to give him unwavering respect and loyalty, as well as a hint of fear. Yes, I said fear. They feared a 13 year-old who most of them outweighed by at least 200 pounds. More realistically, one of these men who outweighed him by 200 pounds would have probably slit his throat from ear to ear or at the very least, smacked him on the back of the head with a "get out of here kid, ya botherin' me!" I thought that a better approach would have been to make Jorg a little older, so that the believably of his command over these men would have been easier to swallow. Another thing that annoyed me was the way Jorg always had an answer for everything and no matter the odds, he seemed to be a genius. What, the road is completely flooded? No problem, Jorg has the answer. What, we've walked into an ambush and are outnumbered 50 to 8? No problem, Jorg miraculously finds a way out of it, while not even dirtying his sword! I don't know, everything just always seemed to work out too perfectly for our hero, or in Jorg's case, anti-hero. The one bright spot for me, and the only reason why I would continue to read this series, was the mystery of the builders. It is obvious that the world that Jorg inhabits is one that is a future world born from the ashes a cataclysmic and apocalyptic occurrence. We are treated to some clues as to what happened in that long ago age and Jorg also discovers some artifacts along the way that shed some light on the events that took place. I'm a sucker for stuff like this, so that part really worked for me. That and the fact that as I said Lawrence is a very talented writer, pushed this up to three stars. But ultimately it turned out to be an average read for me based on the things that I mentioned earlier in my review. Maybe it gets better in book two. I'm going to take some time to digest this one before I decide whether I will continue with the adventures of Jorg Ancrath and his band of not-so-merry men.

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Review: The House on the Borderland and Other Novels

The House on the Borderland and Other Novels The House on the Borderland and Other Novels by William Hope Hodgson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

House on the Borderland by William Hope Hogson was actually recommended to me by the author Brian Keene. Forgive me for name-dropping but we got into a conversation on his blog not too long ago and Brian told me that this was the book that ultimately got him interested in wanting to be a horror writer. With a recommendation like that, how could I not read it right? The thing about this book that you also need to know going in is that it was written over 100 years ago (1908 to be specific). So the writing is very archaic and "old-english" if you will. This takes a bit of getting used to when you first immerse yourself in the story, but I found that like with the middle-earth books, once you familiarize yourself with the writing style and language, you do get acclimated to it fairly quickly. And now to the plot of the story. House on the Borderland takes place on a fishing holiday in rural Ireland. Two friends named Tonnison and Berreggnog (yes, that's really his name) embark on what they believe will be a relaxing stay in the Irish countryside spent fishing and enjoying the outdoors. However, this brief vacation is soon turned on its head as the friends stumble across the ruins of an old house in the middle of the dense woods. One of the friends is extremely reluctant to explore the house further; however, the other friend becomes obsessed with finding out who lived there and what secrets it might possibly contain. Upon further investigation of the strange dilapidated house, a diary is discovered written by what appears to be the original inhabitant, a person who identifies himself as "The Recluse". This is where the story really begins to become a Lovecraftian and twisted horror tale as the contents of the diary begin to get read. The diary written by The Recluse begins innocently enough, with the daily recording of his life, how he acquired the strange house, and musings about his sister and dog, who also reside there with him. Gradually though, The Recluse starts to record strange visions, possibly hallucinations, where he travels into what can only be described as another dimension. In this other dimension, strange beasts with pig-like faces act as though they can see him, but cannot communicate in any way. This goes on for pages and pages and with each diary entry, the visions become weirder and more aggressive in nature. Couple this with the fact that in this vision is a house that looks identical to the one that The Recluse has just moved into and you have a truly Gothic horror tale that you want to keep reading until the end to find out what the heck is going on. All I can say about this book is that it really surprised me in a good way. I thought that the fact that it was written such a long time ago would render it high on the cheese factor. That couldn't be further from the truth. I can see now why Brian Keene cited this as his inspiration because it truly is a masterwork of horror. Its brilliance also lies in the fact that it doesn't rely on gore to deliver the scares, but rather uses highly supernatural and some might even say science-fiction themes. I really loved this book and highly recommend it to anyone who loves horror, Lovecraft, and supernatural tales of all types. The book isn't very long either - weighing in at just under 200 pages, so it is a quick read. Pick it up and read it, you won't be disappointed.

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Review: Journey To The Black City

Journey To The Black City Journey To The Black City by Keith R. Mueller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On a far-future earth, the population of the world has been divided into various free tribes and city-states in and around the area of what would now be considered the Pacific Northwest and California. Those who inhabit these areas are the survivors of a great cataclysm which occurred two thousand years earlier when huge glaciers began encroaching and grinding on the northern continents. This encroachment sent those in its path searching for habitable regions where they could survive and not be subject to freezing temperatures and starvation. Another result of this glacial advancement southward was a catastrophic war which broke out between the great nation across the western sea called The Unified Tribes of the Black Cross and that of North America called The Unified Tribes of the White Star. The warriors of the nation from across the sea brought with them more than warfare however, and a violent strain of influenza quickly broke out, eradicating almost the entire population of the world. Two thousand years later, the few who survived that hideous time have repopulated the west coast of America, living in vast city-states, megalopolises, and the surrounding wilderness. Not only do the free tribes have to contend with other aggressive warrior clans, but they are also living in the midst of such deadly predators as saber toothed cats, mammoths, and dire wolves. It is almost as if a new ice age has imposed itself over the world again. Located in the southern part of what once was the nation state of California, is the one remaining semblance of civilization called the Black City. At one time the great city of Los Angeles, The Black City has now been thrown back into gaslight technology where zeppelins are the preferred mode of mass-transportation and steam power rules. The long ago buildings are crumbling and a mysterious cathedral sits at the heart of this decrepit megalopolis. When the shadowy priesthood which inhabits the cathedral begins to kidnap the magical shaman of many of the free tribes located in the surrounding wilderness, they begin to hint at a sinister plan which may ultimately lead to another colossal battle between good and evil. To uncover the secretive motivations of the priesthood and hopefully rescue their captured shaman, Kel and Lyria, two members of a prominent tribe, embark on a clandestine journey to penetrate the cathedral and put a stop to a potential reoccurrence of the great war that devastated humanity two millennia before.
Thus begins the post-apocalyptic fantasy Journey to the Black City. Author Keith Mueller is a student of metaphysical studies, shamanism, as well as ancient religions. After reading his first full-length novel I have to say that it definitely shows. His knowledge in these areas comes through so vividly in his writing. I enjoyed the idea of a future civilization having been devastated by an ancient cataclysm and the mystery surrounding that. The strong parts of the book for me were the inherent mystery and the magic system. I thought that the author did a good job of creating a magic system that involved the use of dream-walking. I’m assuming that his interest in shamanism had a lot to do with this and it worked extremely well for me. Each character being able to project their magic through a different animal was reminiscent of the patronus in Harry Potter, but Mueller handled them slightly differently, so that wasn’t really an issue for me. The bishops and priests living in the Black City were well done and sufficiently evil, if not in some cases a bit too evil. If I could compare the feel of this book to another series, I would say that it bears a thematic resemblance to David Weber’s Safehold series (which I am a huge fan of). The idea of a shadowy priesthood trying to subjugate the populace is very similar to Weber’s work. I was very impressed by Mueller’s ability to keep the mystery going throughout the entire book. Many authors either reveal things too quickly, or the mystery is much too predictable. Make no mistake, the mystery of the different factions of The Unified Tribes of the White Star and the Unified Tribes of the Black Cross are the center of the story. As a reader, I couldn’t help but get caught up in exactly what took place between those warring nations thousands of years ago and what the ramifications would be for the people living in the present. If I have one criticism, I would say that I thought there wasn’t enough emphasis put on describing the Black City itself. There were times when the author started to reveal and describe certain parts of the city in detail, but then quickly diverted into another viewpoint character’s story. I also found the romantic relationship between Kel and Lyria to be a little lacking in believability. Seeing as how they were the two main characters of the story, I thought more time should have been devoted to making their relationship more front and center. I really wasn’t as invested in them as I could have been which made me not especially care when they were put in a dangerous situation. Despite that, I enjoyed Journey to the Black City a good deal. It is definitely a fun read and I found myself turning the pages quickly. I wouldn’t put it on the level of the really great post-apocalyptic books in the genre, but I also wouldn’t say that it isn’t worth picking up and reading. I look forward to reading more books by Keith Mueller. If Journey to the Black City is any indication, I think that he has some room to grow and should create some really high-quality books in the future.

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Review: Very Important Corpses

Very Important Corpses Very Important Corpses by Simon R. Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are times when I just want to read something that is not too complicated or involved. I found myself in that situation after reading and reviewing a few heavy books recently. With that in mind, I took to NetGalley to find a title that had the potential to be fun, light, and just pure escapism without my having to remember 50 characters’ names and houses. I stumbled across Very Important Corpses by Simon R. Green because of the cover mostly. Yes, they say never judge a book by its cover, but this one drew me in for some reason and made me want to read the synopsis. Simon R. Green is traditionally a fantasy/sci-fi author and I had heard of his work before but had never read anything by him. Quickly skimming the synopsis of the book, I saw that it was a supernatural mystery of sorts that took place in Scotland and also involved Loch Ness. I’m a sucker for anything to do with the Loch Ness monster so Mr. Green, you had me at Nessie! I guess you could say there is a degree of ridiculousness to that but there’s a part of me that really enjoys ridiculousness and I won’t apologize for it. In short, if I was looking for something that was solely pure escapism, this passed the test for me as far as the premise went anyway.
As soon as I received the advance reading copy from the publisher, I eagerly immersed myself in the story. Essentially the story is a mystery, but there are so many supernatural aspects to it that it can also be considered a dark fantasy or even horror to a certain degree. Ishmael Jones is an agent who works for a shadowy black ops organization known strangely enough as “The Organization”. Oh, and that’s not all. Did I tell you that Ishmael is an alien? Yes you heard me correctly; he’s an alien and the only survivor of his alien starship crash-landing in southwest England in the year 1963. Did I mention something about being attracted to ridiculousness earlier? But as I said, this is exactly what I was in the mood for and so I kept on reading. As I turned the pages, the story began to take shape and I settled in for what quickly become a very entertaining yarn. Ishmael is charged by his boss, known only as The Colonel, with investigating the murder of one of the Organization’s operatives. The operative was found dead in her room at the historic Coronach House on the shores of Loch Ness while performing security duties protecting the Baphamet Group. The Baphamet Group is a collection of the 12 most influential people in the world who meet annually in such secrecy that their names are only known by the months of the year. The most senior member being December, next senior being November, and so on. What is discussed at these meetings is unknown, but it has been surmised that the Baphamet Group controls and influences the world economy as well as the governments of many countries. Not only has an operative of The Organization been murdered, but it is also revealed that one of the members of the Baphamet Group may have also been taken out and replaced with an imposter for some devious reason. Ishmael embarks on his mission to Coronach House with his partner Penny to attempt to hopefully uncover the dual dead-body mystery. As soon as he arrives; however, it is obvious that not only do the staff at Coronach House not want him there, but the Baphamet Group as well. Good thing that Ishmael doesn’t take no for an answer. Think of Ishmael as Harry Dresden with more cockiness and you’ve pretty much encapsulated his personality. It becomes clear very early on in the book that someone is hiding an extremely important secret from Ishmael and that the murdered operative may have stumbled across a revelation that necessitated her being eliminated before she could speak to anyone about it. The question is, was it a member of the Baphamet Group or one of the many staff members at Coronach House? Couple all of this with a side-story about the Loch Ness Monster and a few other local monster legends, and you’ve got a multidimensional supernatural mystery that delivers on a number of levels.
I really liked Very Important Corpses. It kept me thoroughly entertained for a few nights before bed and I would classify this book as a perfect night time read. It was exactly the kind of book that I wanted to read to scratch my particular itch, so to speak. At just over 200 pages, it was also a relatively quick read. That’s not to say I liked everything about it. I did have some minor quibbles. For one, I thought the main character Ishmael Jones tended to be a bit over-the-top at times. I got a little weary of him constantly getting what he wanted too easily and bullying everybody into submission. I understand that this was probably by design, but it still grated on me after a while. Also, the characters weren’t fleshed out that much which I thought made them a bit two dimensional at times. That being said, neither of these things made me want to put the book down and I was able to set it aside as I approached the final reveal. And what a reveal it was! In the end, I was left very satisfied and this will definitely not be the last Simon R. Green book that I read. I am interested to check out some of his other works because I really do enjoy the way he delivers a story. Bottom line: I recommend Very Important Corpses if you are looking for a fun, scary, and entertaining read before bedtime.

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