Monday, June 29, 2009

Sandman Slim

I had a busy weekend at my house, mostly involving trying to hook up our new washer and dryer that we were forced to purchase due to our old washing machine going kaput. I was, however, able to get a lot of reading time in while my wife went back and forth to Lowe's and Home Depot trying to get the right parts we needed for the gas line. Yes, I have a wonderful wife who actually enjoys projects around the house leaving me time to read, play computer games, watch DvDs, and generally goof off.

So I completed Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey as part of Amazon's "Vine Voice" program. I think I am going to like this program because so far, both books I've tried are ones I probably never would have picked out at the bookstore and yet have been great reads. I admit I've never heard of Richard Kadrey but some quick research revealed he has written 4-5 other books, edited both print and on-line magazines and seems to be well plugged into the "cyberpunk" world.

Sandman Slim was a fun book to read and I found myself sneaking time to read it. That's probably because of the vivid language the author uses, both in terms of dialog as well as the descriptive passages. The novel is told from the first person point of view and is largely a revenge story told in the form of a supernatural fantasy. It begins with our anti-hero, James Stark, a "magician" (as in real magic not David Copperfield) who has just broken out of Hell by defeating one of Lucifer's main generals. After 11 years in Hell, fighting arena battles, he is out and looking for revenge against those who killed his girlfriend and sent him to Hell in the first place.

As we progress through the story it becomes evident that Stark is just a pawn in a much bigger game and he is being used by others. The author brings a lot of different facets to the story that makes this novel unique. Several times, Stark is referred to as a "monster who kills monsters." He is truly violent and has no moral rules that he lets stand in the way of getting his revenge. He kills without remorse. He has incredible powers from his stint in Hell including the ability to bounce back from terrible injury, such as a knife to his heart, and the next time he is knifed, he recuperates quicker and pretty much become invulnerable to the same type of damage. That leads him to a sort of recklessness that serves to drive the action at a rapid pace.

Despite his violent nature, Stark is oddly enduring. He may cut off an opponent's head and then keep that same head alive through his magic to further torment it but at the same time he is sympathetic to the less fortunate of the regular people he encounters. We readers actually like him in the same way the audience likes the character of "Dexter," the serial killer in the TV show of the same name. The action is almost non-stop but it is the dialog that drives the plot. Virtually everything Stark says is cynical, sarcastic, or profane. This book is not for the cozy mystery crowd nor for those who are offended by the very nature of Heaven or Hell, God, or the Devil. It often reads like a well-done comic book where the words have to paint the ink pictures.

The only concern I had about this novel is the ending where too much is revealed all at once. There are several mysteries as to what is actually happening throughout the first 300 pages and Stark figures most of them out. But the end seemed rushed and includes a scene where Stark is told everything that is really going on here. The author seems to be setting up this book as a first of a series along the lines of Kim Harrison, Charlaine Harris' "Sookie Stackhouse," or 50 or so other supernatural/vampire/witch series that are so popular these days. I will say that if, indeed, this is the first of a series, I was quite intrigued and will definitely be reading more of James Stark's adventures.

I also finished up a very nice short story in Stephen King's Skeleton Crew collection. "Word Processor of the Gods" is an awesome story, a take off on the magic lamp story with three wishes. First published in 1983, the technology is definitely dated (word processors, floppy disks). The protagonist is able to type in a fact and hit the delete key to make it as if it never happened. The only downside is the word processer only has so many actions before it overloads so he must think wisely. His choices are interesting but it does have a happy ending. Another very enjoyable read.

Next up: Warlock, by Wilbur Smith...should be good!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Law at Randado

Even though I didn't get to read at lunchtime for the past two days due to work commitments, I still finished up The Law at Randado, by Elmore Leonard pretty quickly. This is one of his first novels published, way back in 1954 and although he is known today as one of the all time great mystery writers, Elmore Leonard actually began his writing career with a handfull of westerns.

I enjoy taking a break from my more usual Louis L'Amour westerns because, let's face it, they do tend to be somewhat formula driven. In this book, Mr Leonard includes some of those classic western features: a green lawman, an evil cattle barron and his henchmen, and ultimately the showdown between the two. But other than that this book, like the other 3 Elmore Leonard westerns I've read, doesn't follow traditional formulas all that much. The premise is that the town of Randado has decided it doesn't need to wait for the formal legal system of the larger town many miles away so they take action on their own. They appoint their own judge and jury and proceed to drag two Mexicans from their jail cell and hang them. When the deputy sheriff returns, he must confront those that behaved illegally. Most of the novel is the resulting chase, trying to bring the bad guys to justice. I know that sounds pretty much like a formula western novel but it is Mr Leonard's style that makes the difference. His characters are not all black or white but rather colorful, filled with doubts of what course of action to take. In short, they are more "real" than one often finds in the western genre. The plot isn't exactly straight-forward and therefore is not so predictable. I'll continue to recommend Elmore Leonard's western novels to those who like westerns or those that just like a good story that won't take hours and hours to complete.

I was also able to finish up another Stephen King short story from his Skeleton Crew collection. "The Raft" was a straight-up, no holds barred horror story. It's about a group of four college kids that decide to swim out to a raft that floats in the middle of a lake. An un-named horror that has the form of an oil slick takes them out one by one in a very gruesome manner. There is no subtlety here nor "deeper meaning", just flat-out straight-forward horror. I loved it.

Next up is the second in my Amazon "Vine" review program: Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Impossible Odds

I know what you're thinking...the title of today's blog entry probably refers to either my golf game or my ability to make good stock picks. That may well apply but actually, as always, I am referring to the title of the latest novel I've finished reading. Impossible Odds by Dave Duncan is the 5th book in his "King's Blades" series. I've enjoyed all of these books pretty well but some a little more than others. This one was slightly less enjoyable than the last one, Paragon Lost, which I regard as the best of the batch so far and with only one more to read.

This novel was a little different than previous books in the series and I appreciate when authors do this. I'm sure authors don't want a series to grow stale any more than readers do. This time, instead of following a single "blade" through an adventure, we get to follow three main characters, including two blades that are thrust into circumstances they really aren't prepared for and a third, older student who really isn't a bound blade at all. Their assignment seems straight forward enough but soon becomes very convoluted, in turn driving the plot into many twists and turns. We have multiple points of view which made it a little difficult for me to follow, as well as two rather lengthy flash back scenes that provided further information for the protagonists as well as the reader. They were like short stories within the novel but did, however, slow down the pace of the plotting quite a bit. And the end was a bit too contrived for my taste as if the author worked too hard to make a happy ending for all. Overall I still quite enjoyed the novel and would recommend it to all fantasy readers. However, make sure you read these books in the order they were published because while each one does stand alone, I think readers will get more out of them if read in order.

The next short story in Stephen King's collection, Skeleton Crew, was "The Wedding Gig." This one was first published in "Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine" in 1980 and really serves to once again highlight King's versatility as a writer. It's a mobster story set during prohibition and told from the point of view of a band leader who plays at a small time mobster's 300 pound sister's wedding. This is a straight-up story with no traditional horror elements. Even the mobster violence is almost entirely off stage. It was another entertaining entry in the collection. But following that was a short poem, "Paranoid: A Chant." Regular readers of this blog will know I have never claimed to be knowledgable about poetry. I don't understand its appeal nor do I enjoy reading it but somehow perhaps Stephen King's poetry would be different. Well, I can honestly say I still don't enjoy it and this one was, to me, just wierd. It is from a diary of a paranoid schizophrenic and supposedly ties in with his Dark Tower series and The Stand's Randall Flagg character. Personally, I would recommend he stick to prose but then again, nobody should take my opinion on poetry seriously.

Next up is a western by Elmore Leonard: The Law at Randado

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Night Over Water

I've completed another audio book: Night Over Water by Ken Follett. Regular readers of this blog will know that I listen to an audio book back and forth to work every day, about a 30 minute commute for me one way. I selected this one from the library because I have read 4 or 5 Ken Follett novels so far and while some have been better than others, I have never felt that I've wasted my time.

This novel takes place in 1939 just after England has entered World War II. It's told from multiple points of view, all from people who will take a flight aboard a Pan-Am Clipper (a truly luxurious (and historically accurate) airplane in the second 2/3rds of the book. This is sort of like a "Murder on the Orient Express" set-up although more thriller than who-dunnit mystery. Passengers include business people, aritocratic families, a debutante, a film star, a petty thief, etc. They all have reasons for being on this luxury plane ride across the Atlantic, some of them because they want to be there and some because they have to be. The thriller/action part of the plot surrounds the lead engineer of the plane who is forced to sabotage it in order to save his wife who has been kidnapped by mafia types in America. They want to spring one of their compadres from on board who is being transported back to jail in the US. In the end it turns out to be much more complicated than that even and most of the characters that were unknown to each other at the beginning are involved together in the action at the end.

This is a well-plotted novel; the suspense builds as we make our way through the story and we get to see events from several perspectives. Mr Follett does a great job building his characters and even though there are quite a lot of them, it is easy to follow the action because we know them so well. And he does a fantastic job of establishing the atmosphere. The descriptions of the scenes and especially the dialog of the characters really brought me in to the era. Sometimes it was like I was watching a Humphrey Bogart movie. The only problem I had was not with the novel itself but rather the production of the audio discs I was listening too. The narrator did a good job of voicing so many parts but it seemed like the whole thing had been spliced together one sentence at a time. It made it sort of disjointed and it definitely interfered with the "Losing oneself in the story" aspect. Regardless of that, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and rank it among the best of Ken Follett's work I have experienced so far.

Next audio book for me: Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. Coming in at a cool 24 discs this one's going to take me to Thanksgiving to finish...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Colorado Kid

I started The Colorado Kid by Stephen King yesterday and finished it at lunch today. I guess it goes without saying that it is a quick read. My copy is a 180 page paperback with a pretty large font so it was almost like reading a novella. Unlike most of his published work, this novel is a least that's what the "Hard Case Crime" cover leads you to believe. I picked up my copy at the library's store a few months ago for two main reasons: 1) It's a Stephen King novel that I had yet to read and 2) I live in Colorado so how could I not pick it up for only a $1.00...

The story itself is a pretty straight forward one. It involves a young female reporter intern at a small weekly newspaper in Maine and two old geezers who run the newspaper. They tell her the story of the "Colorado Kid", a dead body that had been found several years previously, sitting propped up against a trash barrel on the beach. They test her reasoning ability as they drop clues about his death and she does very well at figuring out the correct answers. This is really more of a "coming of age" story for the young reporter than a traditional mystery tale. Stephen King's style is very much in evidence as he once again displays an uncanny ability to capture the local dialect as the two old guys tell the story. As Mr King himself says in the afterword, it is likely that many readers will not appreciate this story because there is no resolution to the mystery. Let me say that again: the mystery is not solved at the end of the book. It's not even a "Lady or the Tiger" kind of ending where there is a choice that just hasn't been made yet. Instead, we get the mystery and we get some clues that maybe this isn't just an accidental death but rather a murder. The story is about the mystery itself, not the solving thereof. Mr King's point seems to be that we are surrounded by unsolved mysteries all the time and "just thinking on 'em" is the fun part.

It is also interesting to note that this is the first book Mr King wrote after he completed his huge "Dark Tower" series. Perhaps that leant a hand in his thinking at the time.

If you need to have your mystery novels neatly wrapped up in the final pages then this one is not for you. I won't list this one at the top of my Stephen King "Best of" list but I did enjoy the characterization. And yes, I would also prefer closure to the mystery; otherwise it is just so much existentialist profundity.

"The Jaunt" is the 6th short story in Stephen King's Skeleton Crew collection. First published in the "Twilight Zone Magazine" in 1981 it concerns the process of teleportation as a means of interplanetary travel. Most of the story is about a father describing the history and evolvement of the jaunting process to his kids just before they themselves jaunt to Mars. It is a horrifying and bloody history but the process is safe now as long as the proper procedures are followed. This one is more of a science fiction tale and, indeed, references a classic story written by Alfred Bester, "The Stars My Destination" back in 1956. This is sort of ironic for me as a reader considering that just this year I read the "Psi Corps" trilogy by J. Gregory Keyes (Babylon 5 Universe) starring a character with the name "Alfred Bester". This all makes me want to seek out a story by the actual Alfred Bester. Anyway, I won't spoil the ending but rest assured that the final page of this story is classic King horror. Chalk up another winner in this collection.

Next up: Impossible Odds, another in the excellent "King's Blades" fantasy series by Dave Duncan.

Monday, June 15, 2009


No this blog entry is not about the publishing phenomenon Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. Although there is an interesting coincidence here in that we watched the movie version of that book this weekend for our family movie night. Perhaps someday I'll read the book; if so I'll be the last in my family to do so which has got to be some kind of a first.

No, this blog entry is about Twilight (Warriors, the New Prophecy, Book 5). I completed it in fairly short order this weekend, mostly on Sunday when I was letting my back recuperate after helping move some friends into their new apartment on Saturday. I surely did need the downtime! Anyway, this book is the 5th of this second series of books about a large group of anthropomorphic cats living in the wild, divided into four clans, and experiencing the harsh realities of life. This book in my mind is a bit of a filler before the 6th and final book of this series. It serves to nail down the lives of the clans in their new home and to come to grips with the new, necessary politics of how the clans will deal with each other. Most of the subplots deal with individual issues among the more prominant members of Thunderclan, including two cats from different clans torn between their love for each other and their duties to their clans. Sort of a Romeo and Juliet situation. Two other young cats continue their digression away from love only to realize in the end they truly do love each other. Lots of soap opera like mini plots here. The obligatory action this go round deals with an invasion of badgers that are after their homeland once again, having been chased off when the clans first moved in a couple of books ago.

These books, in general are very good books for younger teenagers, say 10-15. This particular book is a bit week on plot in my opinion but does a good job of delving into the more emotional aspects of the upheaval that all the cats have recently experienced. I have a lot of confidence that book number 6 will be the climax I have come to expect from this series. Judging from that one I will decide if I will read the the third set of 6 books, already published.

Just before beginning this book I, of course, read another short story In Stephen King's Skeleton Crew collection. "Mrs.Todd's Shortcut" was a bit difficult for me to follow for some reason but it does serve to demonstrate King's versatility. This is not a straight out horror story but a very subtle one. Mrs Todd is obsessed with finding shortcuts on roads in Maine, always wanting to cut time off her trips. The story is told by Homer who at first admire's Mrs. Todd's hobby but grows more and more concerned as she discovers short cuts that aren't even there...and grows younger as she finds more shortcuts. Even Homer gets sucked into the phenomenon and compares finding a shortcut to folding a map, kind of like transversing a wormhole except it appears they go into another world on their way through. "Odd" is the word that came to mind when I read this one but I like "odd" so I continue to enjoy these stories.

Next up is a mystery novel but also by Stephen King: The Colorado Kid is a part of the Hard Boiled Detective imprint.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Top Producer

A couple of weeks ago I was invited by to become a "Vine Voice". That means I get to select a book or two from their special catalogue to review, most often before it is actually published. I was excited to give it a try and so I selected Top Producer by Norb Vonnegut as my first option. I just finished it during my lunch period and am very anxious to let you know just how good this one is.

Top Producer is a "financial thriller" novel that absolutely keeps you turning the pages. We are introduced to Grove O'Rourke, a top producing stockbroker in a major Wall Street firm. Mr Vonnegut's writing style is very apparent right from the beginning, demonstrating elegant word choice and interesting dialogue that belies the fact that this is his very first novel. The action kicks off very quickly as a close friend of Grove's is murdered. The actual murder takes place in a public venue and we readers, along with a large crowd experience one of the most interesting murders to ever take place in fiction. I won't spoil that for you but rest assured it is an awesome scene.

The novel is largely a mystery novel as Grove tries to solve the murder and sort out all of the motivations of the various players. But his own life is in danger as well and thus the suspense keeps ratcheting up as he gets closer to solving the mystery. This book is well plotted, allowing us just enough clues to figure things out at the same time as the protagonist. When you get that "ah-ha!" moment, you realize the clues were there all along. And the ending is very satisfying. Some readers may struggle with the financial terminology that is sprinkled throughout but I think the author does a great job of explaining what we need to know without being condescending. The big name in financial thrillers is Stephen Frey and I feel this book stands up very well if compared side by side. Mr Vonnegut has great credentials to write this kind of story and I believe his background is essential to understanding the day-to-day pace and motivations of people in the high finance business. He writes with flare, captivates his audience, and ties together the plot most effectively. I was impressed and firmly believe he has a great future in writing fiction.

So watch the bookstore shelves in September 2009 for this one.

I haven't read the Stephen King short story from Skeleton Crew yet so will comment on that after the next book. Speaking of that, I think I'll return to the young adult series, "The Warriors" with book number 5.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Arizona Landmarks

After my last morning reading program book, Nelson, was complete I decided to depart from my normal biography format and tackle something different. I chose a "coffee table" book that we've had for years, Arizona Landmarks by James E. Cook. By "coffee table" book, I mean those large oversized books that are mostly filled with beautiful pictures and perfect for thumbing through when you visit a friend's house. And they usually look good sitting there on the table. It is my guess that these are usually decorative books only and very few get read or even looked through. And that's a shame. Arizona Landmarks is just such a book and, in fact, when I looked at the inside of the front cover I noticed I had annotated it when we first purchased the book. It was during a trip to Arizona in June 1990. In 19 years I had not read that book and truth be told, we have quite a few more like them on the shelf although we generally don't buy them anymore.

This book is absolutely gorgeous. It was produced by the "Arizona Highways" magazine people and uses photos from their long history as well as current photos. The contrast is uniquely cool. There is also a fair amount of text in here as well, serving to tell some of the history of the various regions of the state as well as the geographic history of the land itself. The book is divided into several major sections including "deserts", "canyons", "mountains", and "plateaus." Now I have traveled in Arizona on quite a few occassions, especially when I was a boy. I remember seeing such natural beauty as the Painted Desert, Salt River Canyon, Petrified Forest, and of course the Grand Canyon. But most of my memories were of long ago and to tell the truth, were mostly views from the highway. This book, especially the pictures within that defy the written word serve only to increase my desire to return to Arizona. That's what a good "coffee table" book should do.

Yesterday I forgot to report on the latest short story in the Stephen King collection, Skeleton Crew so I'll do that here. "Cain Rising" is a fairly short entry and doesn't usually get mentioned in the top 5 or so stories from this collection. That may be because the story does not deal with any kind of supernatural horror but rather the very real horror experienced in our world from time to time when a student goes on a shooting spree on campus. This story is very well written but absolutely disturbing because it is so real. So many horror stories have a buffer of sorts between what happens in the story and what we know to be reality. After all most of us are pretty sure vampires don't exist, there is no boogeyman in the fog, nor have aliens taken over the government (although that last I haven't been too sure about for the past 20 years or so). But here, everything is absolutely plausible...and thus horrifying. I continue to be impressed with this collection.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Odd Thomas

I was able to drag myself away from the new Sims 3 computer game this weekend long enough to finish up Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. I used to read quite a bit of Koontz' work, especially after reading what many consider to be his best novel, The Watcher. But then I read several in a row that seemed to fall flat and I sort of lost interest. Compounding that issue is my own "completest" mentality. I tend to want to read everything by "my" authors and if I was going to read much more of Koontz he would become one of "my" authors. So...I let quite a few years go by without picking up another Koontz novel.

I can't even remember right now how I came to possess my copy of Odd Thomas. Nevertheless, it was time for another read in the horror genre and there it was, at the top of my horror "to-be-read" pile. And, quite honestly, I knew Mr Koontz has since written several sequels...I doubt he would do that if they had not been well received. And, the concept intrigued me. Odd Thomas himself, is a 20-year old fry cook in a fictional California town. He has a pretty normal life including a girlfriend, lots of pals, and, oh yeah...he can see ghosts. He can interact minimally with them but they can't talk to him. This is a concept that has been done before but I must say, Koontz really nailed it this time. There is quite a bit of character development here and the reader really gets inside his thinking. We share his hopes and dreams as well as the more frightening aspects of his "talent'. But the book is more than just a "boy can see ghosts and helps the police solve mysteries" story. Largely due to the first person narrative format, we experience some intriguing perspectives on the very nature of good and evil, and of love and loss. The build up to the crime is well paced and brings us along for the ride. And the crime itself is a doozy; more terrorist action than crime per se. We experience the terror and the shock just as Odd Thomas does. And the final 20 pages are as emotionally charged as anything I can remember reading. I've read other opinions of this novel and most agree that Mr Koontz has returned to form with this one.

Next up is my first review under my new status as a "Vine Voice" for I'm very much looking forward to Top Producer by Nord Vonnegut.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


I've completed the latest in my morning reading program. It seems now that I don't have to drop my son off at school on the way in to work, I have an extra 15 minutes or so each day so my morning reading productivity has picked up a notch. Nelson, the Man and the Legend by Terry Coleman is the latest and it is a biography of Lord Horatio Nelson, legendary, almost godlike British admiral of the Napoleonic era. As usual I tried to do some research on this book and author prior to discussing it here but this time it was very odd because I could not find it listed anywhere. I did find another book entitled, The Nelson Touch, The Life and Legend of Horatio Nelson, also by Terry Coleman and then the light dawned on me. I had purchased this book while in London two years ago. No doubt the name had been changed for publication in the US. At least that is a plausible explanation because the Amazon description seemed perfectly suited to the book I had just read.

Anyway, this is one of my "travel" books. That is to say it's not one I meant to read while traveling nor is it some sort of travelogue. Rather, every time I travel (and I do that fairly often) I buy a book to add to my library, usually nonfiction and if possible, relevant to the place I am visiting. This time it was London and during the city tour I kept hearing about Lord Nelson, saw the monuments, statues, etc. and realized I really knew very little about the man. It certainly seemed like Londoners revere him like people in my country revere George Washington. So I purchased this book. It also helped that I was reading (and have now completed) all 11 Horatio Hornblower books, about a fictional character with more than a passing resemblance to Nelson. My interest was high.

Mr Coleman goes out of his way to demystify Lord Nelson in this book; indeed even to go far toward the other side of his legend and present him as a much more human character, suffering from a large ego and power hungry for more and faster self promotions than most people believe. The very first chapter calls out predecessor biographers as falling for the propoganda that was put out at the time of Nelson's death at Trafalgar and producing haphazard facts based on sloppy research. Mr Coleman, who has a journalistic background,I understand, claims to use all available documents including letters in and among senior British Navy personnel, personal letters between Nelson's relatives including between he and his wife, etc. And to give him credit, he includes a lengthy bibliography to support his depiction for those that may want to check his sources.

But Coleman doesn't "trash" Nelson. He takes pains to also point out instances where Nelson backed underlings despite risking his own reputation and he is shown several times taking care of his crew and foregoing standard punishments for his men such as flogging or hanging. That's not to say that he never did that but rather he seems to have taken into account all angles of a situation before issuing orders. There is no doubt that Nelson had one of the largest impacts on the history of sea warfare that we know. And there is no doubt that he achieved some remarkable successes. This book however spends less time on the military engagements and more on the motivation of the man himself. After all, a sea captain/admiral who gave up eyesight in one eye, lost one arm, incurred a possible skull fracture, and ultimately gave his life in the name of doing his duty, is certainly to be admired. Surely his bravery is beyond question. Nor does Coleman question it other than to suggest his bravery was unnecessarily foolhardy. His death at Trafalgar, for example, seems as if it could easily have been avoided. I've read biographies of other great military men and it seems that trait is a common thread whether we are talking about Nelson, or Custer, or Crazy Horse.

I learned a lot, as expected, about Lord Nelson in this book and now feel I have a much greater understanding of him, his life, his loves, his very essence. I'm sure Nelson enthusiasts would prefer I read other works to get other opinions on his life but this is probably enough for me. I plan to read a couple of non-biographies next during my mornings before returning to more great lives.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Canticle for Liebowitz

I finished up Walter M. Miller Jr's A Canticle for Liebowitz last night and I must say I'm not particularly looking forward to writing about it today. For those of you that are not familiar with this work, it is considered a classic of science fiction, and even a classic in the entire universe of literature. Written in the 1950's it is probably one of the first novels ever written concerning a possible post-apocalyptic society.

So why am I hesitant to write about it? This book has achieved cult status. It is so well regarded by the science fiction intelligencia that to question it in any way is almost sacreligious. So of course I will proceed directly down that path and risk the scorn of those that would say I'm just not intelligent enough to appreciate it. I have never strayed from my mission to point out elitism where I find it and I don't intend to start now. Of course not everybody who raves about this book is an elitist and I'm fully aware that different books appeal to different folks. And don't get me wrong, I don't hate this book or even actually dislike it. There is a lot here that is intriguing and parts are quite thought provoking.

The premise is that some 600 years after a nuclear holocaust in the 20th century, some "artifacts" belonging to an engineer named Liebowitz have been found in an old fallout shelter. An abbey of Catholic monks who exist in a sort of Dark Ages struggle with how to deal with these artifacts. The book is divided into three parts with the second part taking place 600 years later at the onset of a new Renaissance with the final third taking place yet another 600 years later at a time of another potential nuclear war. There are all kinds of themes in this book, not the least of which is that history repeats itself and seems incapable of learning from its mistakes. Overall, the book depicts a conflict between knowledge and morality. There are huge religious underpinnings throughout with the Catholic church being the one true bastion in the abyss to which we can all hold on to in times of crisis. I do not happen to be catholic and was somewhat lost in all of the catholic rituals occurring and dogma expressed. Perhaps if I knew more in this area my interest level would have been higher. But there is also a lot of latin used in this novel, with no benefit of translation for those readers like me who are unfamiliar with the expressions. This served as yet another way for my mind to wander instead of following the plot.

But more than any of that, I simply found the story lacking. The first part was OK; I actually liked the unassuming Brother Francis who found the original artifacts and was interested to find out how an entire sect could grow from these items. But the second part was a jolt with all new characters, a different style, and different themes. The third part only served to lower my level of caring about what happened next. Overall, there are certainly less entertaining books out there but I wouldn't recommend this to the casual reader. It would, however, be a good one to study as part of a class where a lot of discussion takes place.

The third short story in Stephen King's collection, Skeleton Crew, "Monkey" had just the opposite effect on me. Here is a tightly woven story that epitomizes the short story form. And if you like horror, this is one of the greats. The monkey itself, one of those toys with the wind up clanging symbols on his arms turns out to be one fantastic creepy icon, much like clowns or creaking stairs. King uses his classic method of bringing out his characters' worst fears of childhood and translating that very real horror to them as adults. This is turning out to be a great collection of stories indeed!

Next up is Dean Koontz' Odd Thomas.

Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire