Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Book review: Horns by Joe Hill

I first heard of Horns when I saw a publicity photo for the upcoming movie starring Daniel Radcliffe. The photo and the premise were both just intriguing enough that I went to my local library and picked it up. It will soon be added to my personal collection; I absolutely will be going back and reading and re-reading this one again.

Ignatius Perrish has a problem. And no, it's not his name. Rather his problem are the horns that have sprouted out of his head after a rather nasty drunken binge, and he has no idea why they are there.

Accused of the brutal rape and murder of his fiance, Ig Perrish has become a pariah. Shunned by nearly everyone he knows, including his family. The shadow of her murder hangs over him, regardless of the lack of evidence to prove or disprove his guilt. When he awakes with horns growing out of his head, Ig discovers that there is an unusual side effect to them, one that may help him solve the crime and give the devil his due.

The son of novelist Stephen King, Hill's writing is reflective of the days when his father was a writer who took his time to craft a clever tale that would draw you in and not let you go rather than the grisly hack he has of late become. Ig Perrish is a likable, tormented character; one with whom the reader can easily empathize while holding Ig at arm's length for what he does to those around him in his search for vengeance. Interlaced with a wry humor that gets injected throughout the narrative, the true horror of the story is quite Miltonian and comes when the reader finds him or herself sympathizing with Ig and cheering for him even when Ig reaches into some rather dark places of his own psyche and abilities in order to achieve his aims. Hill may or may not have been consciously paying homage to Paradise Lost when he wrote this novel, yet it is easy to see where the classic tale may have influenced this contemporary tale.

From the author of Heart Shaped Box (on my Read This Soon list), Horns is expertly paced and masterfully written. Be sure to read it before the movie comes out. From William Morrow and available from your local, independent bookseller. (Remember: you can make a big difference by shopping small business!)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Review: The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi

There's a reason Paolo Bacigalupi has won every science fiction award possible, some of them more than once. His crisp, articulate writing draws you in and holds you fast, only releasing you after the final word on the final page. The Drowned Cities, his companion novel to Printz award winning Ship Breaker provides yet one more example of why he belongs in such company as William Gibson, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein. Drawing from current socio-political trends and events, Bacigalupi weaves a tale that is as bittersweet and tragic as it is gripping and intense.

Mahlia and Mouse are two youths caught in the armed conflict raging through what was once the mid-Atlantic and southern United States. The United States has long since crumbled, crushed under its own weight and now a third world country resembling modern Somalia: ruled by warlords and battling factions, each claiming to more patriotic than the other, and China has become the dominant world power. After attempts to bring peace to the troubled region fail, the Chinese peacekeeping forces leave, abandoning the people of the once mighty nation to its fate. Also abandoned is Mahlia, a half Chinese "castoff," reminiscent of the children left behind by soldiers at the end of the Vietnam War. Mahlia and her best friend, a young boy named Mouse, encounter bio-engineered super soldier Tool, and before long they begin to plan their way out of the region of the Drowned Cities. However, before they can enact their plan, tragedy strikes and the two become separated. Continuing with the theme of family and loyalty encountered in Ship Breaker, the choice presents itself: rescue a friend despite seemingly impossible odds, or flee to a region of safety, security and peace.

Not a word is wasted by Bacigalupi as he propels the reader endlessly forward through this magnificent story towards its end that is both heart-rending and full of hope. From Little, Brown Books and available at your local, independent bookstore. (Want to make a genuine difference? Shop and buy from your local, independent businesses!)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Review: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

For the most part, I tend give blurbs on book jackets only a cursory glance, but when I saw that Neil Gaiman's blurb at the top of Cory Doctorow's young adult techno-thriller, Little Brother, I paused. I have long professed my fanboy status of Gaiman's work, going back to his days on Sandman, and my respect for him and his work nudged me towards picking up this particular novel. I'm incredibly glad I did. (Good call, Mr. Gaiman!)

Marcus (known online as w1n5t0n) is a seventeen year old living in San Francisco post 9/11. When an attack on his city forces everyone into shelters, Marcus and his friends are caught above ground and held by the Department of Homeland Security. After lengthy interrogation using "enhanced" techniques, Marcus is released only to find that San Francisco has been turned into a police state reflective of Orwell's 1984. Shocked and horrified at the changes wrought in his city, Marcus realizes that he has virtually nowhere to turn; that no one would believe his story and the chances of holding those responsible for his captivity and torture are nil. With the help of a strong but silent underground movement, Marcus decides there is only one course of action: take down the DHS, by himself if he has to.

Written with an intensity that crackles and moves you forward at almost a breakneck speed, Little Brother should give any reader pause to consider our post-9/11 world and what we have given up in the name of "freedom" and "safety." More frightening still is that Doctorow's novel serves as a grim prediction of an all-too-likely scenario, the shadows of which can be seen in the world today. Highly recommended for...well...everyone.

From Tor Books and available from your local, independent bookseller. (Make a difference in your community: shop and buy from local, independent retailers!)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Seth Grahame-Smith)

My first thought when I originally saw this on the bookstore shelves back after its original release in 2010 was "Really?? That's pretty funny; I'll have to read that someday." I read Seth Grahame-Smith's well-done parody Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with my English class and enjoyed it. My respect for Grahame-Smith as a writer grew after seeing how closely he mirrored Austen's voice, cadence, and overall writing style, so I began to consider reading Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter a bit sooner. Then I saw the trailer for the Tim Burton produced movie and decided that I had to read the book before seeing the movie, and I'm glad I did.

The tale picks up early in Lincoln's youth, giving a brief but important background of Lincoln's parents, especially his father, and introducing the young Abraham's motivation to hunt and kill vampires after a poignant family tragedy deeply affects him. He later goes on to learn how to survive his own hunts after nearly dying his first true time out. The story goes on to trace Lincoln from general store employee all the way up to his presidency and assassination, with a generous scattering of blood and violence throughout, though in his later years as President, the blood and violence comes from the Civil War.

This book is a fairly fast and fun read. Grahame-Smith has obviously done his research on Lincoln and his life as well as Lincoln's writing style, presenting the story as a biography of Lincoln's life, albeit a biography of Lincoln's "secret, other life" as a vampire hunter. The excerpts from Lincoln's "secret journal" mirror Lincoln's own writing style masterfully, and the tale is a wonderful balance of history, horror and humor. Scattered throughout the book are various illustrations and photographs, with the successful intent to lend an air of verisimilitude to the story (as well as having the effect of being able to plant the tongue a little more firmly into the cheek).

Overall, the book presents a little something for a variety of fans: historical fiction, horror, parody, or alternative history/biography, and Grahame-Smith weaves them all into an entertaining and wonderfully coherent, witty, fast-paced, and at times horrifying, whole. From Grand Central Publishing and available at your local, independent bookstore. (Buy from locally owned, independent retailers...it makes more a difference than you think!)

NOTE: The trailer below is for the book, not the movie!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: Red, White and Blood by Christopher Farnsworth

Red, White and Blood is the eagerly awaited third installment of Christopher Farnsworth's intense and fast-paced President's Vampire series. This time, vampire Nathaniel Cade faces off against a malevolent entity only known as "The Boogeyman." This isn't the first time Cade has come up against this creature; over the past 100 years or so, it has infested various hosts, taking a wide range of guises, and each time only Cade has been able to stop its murderous rampages, yet each time, it finds a way to come back. This time is different, however. This time, the creature's target is none other than the President of the United States.

Cade and his handler, Zach Barrows find themselves not only having to protect the President, but also avoid media exposure, no easy task considering the President is up for re-election and is on the campaign trail with every move watched closely. While The President's Vampire tended to lean more toward adventure spy novel and a bit less towards horror, Red, White and Blood effectively captures the flavor and balance of Blood Oath: walking that fine line between the two genres. It is an unlikely pairing, but Farnsworth is a master of both and a master of the blend.

The novel is filled with enough twists and turns to keep the reader off balance and the story itself is wire-tight enough to compel more than one late night trying to finish "just one more chapter," and the unexpected ending will leave you aching for the next installment.

If you haven't read the first two books in this series, things will still make sense, however reading the first two (Blood Oath and The President's Vampire) will give you a bit more background about the world of the series, and they're just darned good reading...something you can really sink your teeth into. (There, I said it!)

Red, White and Blood is published by Putnam Books and is available from your local, independent book seller. (Make a difference in your local economy: shop local and independent first!)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

I was introduced to the Dresden Files by a friend of mine who recommended it to me. I went in search of the  books and happened to find an assortment of them in a locally owned bookstore. I picked one up, and on the first page, in the first paragraph, it said "“An errand is getting a tank of gas or picking up a carton of milk or something. It is not getting chased by flying purple pyromaniac gorillas hurling incendiary poo!” (From Blood Rites, a book later in the series.) Hmm. Demon monkeys flinging balls of flaming poo at the protagonist?? This is my kind of series! I grabbed all that were there and purchased them on the spot. (Thank goodness for used books!)

The first in this cleverly written series by Jim Butcher is Storm Front. In it we meet the central protagonist, one Harry Dresden, a wizard of not necessarily sterling repute with a wry outlook that matches the bizarre life he's been leading up to the point we meet him. Dresden has chosen to use his powers to help people, but for a fee; he's a private detective who works as a consultant to the Chicago police department. (This particular book was adapted for the television on the Sci-Fi network, though ironically not as the pilot, but as with most things, the book was better, so if you've seen the episode, try to set it aside and read the novel.)

The author's style is crisp and keeps the story moving along at a just-right pace. The perfect blend of humor and  tension exists throughout the novel; Butcher pulls you in from the start and keeps you engaged until the last paragraph on the last page. Fortunately, he is still writing this series, so even though I've got a good bit of catching up to do, it's good to know I can look forward to more to come. From Roc and available from your local, independent bookstore. (Make a difference in your local economy: shop local, independent retailers, especially your local bookstore!)

Book review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Brian Selznick)

Lately I've become fond of writers who take the time to tell a fine story through non-traditional means. Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret is one such tale. Based loosely on the life of Georges Melies, this story follows a young orphan named Hugo as he tries to survive and to revive an old automaton his father once owned. The story is told partially through text and partially through illustrations as well as actual film stills, and so while at over 500 pages, it is a relatively quick read. This is not to detract from the story at all; it is creatively written and told and well worth the money one would pay for the hardcover version. (It's worth buying in harcover; this is a book that, like my personal favorite, Maurice Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are, is worth handing down to younger generations. The apparent villain seems despicable enough until a sudden twist in the story recasts the entire group of central characters in a different light. Regardless of age, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a wonderful story for everyone. From Scholastic Press and available from your local, independent bookseller. (Want to make a difference in your community? Shop local and independent retailers...starting with your bookstores!)