Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Fallon is the 4th book written by Louis L'Amour that I have read this year. Normally, that's about my max for L'Amour each year because I have other westerns on my “To Be Read” shelf by other authors. But I'm plum out (that's a little western expression there) and only have L'Amour books there now. That's OK though if they're as good as Fallon.

This book is the 65th L'Amour book I've read. That tells me I read a lot of books, or else I'm just getting old. A little of both I suspect. Ever since I fell in love with the Sackett family in my teen years, I’ve been reading L’Amour westerns (as well as a few of his non-western adventure stories). Fallon was first published in 1963 and tells the tale of a drifter who is part con artist, part fraud, but mostly a good guy. It is shortly after the Civil War is over and he cons his way into establishing the new town of Red Horse, based on rumors of a gold strike nearby (rumors started by Fallon, himself, of course). Instead of skedaddling to San Francisco like he planned, using the money from a dry claim he sold to an unsuspecting fellow, he finds himself coming to care about the little town and its people who, in turn, rely on him for leadership against the roughnecks in the neighborhood. This is a fine story, with a few unexpected plot twists to keep it interesting. The ending is satisfying and even humorous. Yet again, I am happy to see a "formula" western by L'Amour not be so formula-driven after all. I would rank this one in his top 10...and if you don't count the Sackett novels it would be in his top five.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Journey Into the Void

Sometimes I wonder why the book titles I read could double for the state of our society today...


Journey Into the Void is the third and final book of the "Sovereign Stone" fantasy trilogy by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman. As I mentioned when I wrote about the second book, this trilogy is not part of the Dragonlance milieu but somewhat similar in that it is set in a D&D style world.

SPOILER ALERT: I don't normally do this but it sums up my feelings for the series so I have to mention it. I quite enjoyed the first book of the trilogy, especially the character of Gareth, the whipping boy, even though he ended up supporting the man who would become the great evil of the series. He, himself, committed all sort of evil acts and I guess I was hoping he would redeem himself at the end. He did put in an appearance but was not what I had hoped for, leaving the heroes of books 2 and 3 to save the day. Oh well. END SPOILER.

All in all this was a pretty good fantasy trilogy, especially if you enjoy the traditional fantasy setting. There are orcs and dwarves and elves and humans but they aren't always exactly as you might stereotypically expect those races to be. There are also some other creative races and sub races that all interact upon the stage. A fairly large cast of characters could have been confusing but I think the authors handled them well to avoid that. I also appreciated the magic system in use here, with the Dominion Lords and their magical armor. This won't go down as my all time favorite series but there is a lot to like about this set.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World

This is the book I've been reading lately during my mornings. It's actually my daughter's book, purchased during our June trip to Florida, and she found it so fascinating that I just had to read it too. I was skeptical at first because I fancy myself a pretty knowledgeable Disney World visitor, having been to the park at least 5 times in the past 20 years.

I've also read several Walt Disney biographies as well as related books and seen documentaries about how the parks were built, etc. So I just didn't think there was too much more for me to learn. But I was very pleasantly surprised. This book, The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World, by Susan Veness is packed full of little known information, much of it in plain view if you visit the park, if you only knew what you were looking at. Almost every ride/attraction has hidden meaning. Everything is done on purpose so if you see a name on a window of one of the upstairs "offices" along Main Street, this book will tell you it's one of the original imagineers that designed it. At Star Tours in Disney's Hollywood Studios, you may hear a page for "Egroeg Sacul" which is "George Lucas" spelled backwards. This book is packed with such tidbits.

The book is divided into 4 sections, one for each of the major parts of Walt Disney World. Each section also includes a timeline from the moment it was conceptualized through now (2010) and lists all of the changes that happened along the way. Since I've been so many times it was nice to remember some of the stuff that is no longer there. But it was also nice to see how the imagineers incorporated a now defunct attraction into an existing one. And finally, it was very interesting to read about ideas that didn't make it...and why. For example there were plans at the Japan pavilion in EPCOT's World Showcase for a "Mt Fuji Rollercoaster" but it was nixed by the sponsor, Kodak, so as not to promote rival Fuji Film.

And tons more like that. The amazing thing about this book was that I'm not sure it's available at Disney World itself. We bought our copy at Borders just before we got on the plane so that makes me wonder if Disney doesn’t really want all of this Hidden Magic widely known. But if that is the case, I can't see why because this book is very flattering towards Disney and would seem to be a nice companion for the visitors.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Terminal Man

The Terminal Man is the 10th Michael Crichton novel I've read and has actually been on my self for many years.  I was hoping for a quick, technological based thriller and that's exactly what I got.  It's one of Crichton's early works, published in 1972. As in all of his earlier novels, he includes state-of-the-art technology, this time revolving around what computers can do in assisting brain-damaged patients. The technology is spot-on...for 1971. Reading about dime-sized microchips can jar today's reader right out of the story but for its day, this novel was cutting edge.

The novel itself was an interesting read, despite the tech time warp. In essence, it is a thriller, about a brain damaged patient who undergoes surgery to have electrodes implanted at key nodes to combat stimuli that would otherwise lead to violent behavior. It is interesting to note that the patient himself also suffers from a phobia of computers taking over the world. So when the electrodes fail to work properly, he feels he himself is becoming more computer-like. Crichton throws in some pop-philosophy as well, and since he has a medical background, his medical explanations sound plausible.  The ending was predictable of course; even the patient, after he escapes from the hospital, says there's only one way for this to end.

Overall, a nice quick read. If you can get past the dated technology, it's worth the time.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Bridge in the Clouds

I've finally completed the fourth and final book in William Corlett's "The Magician's House Quartet." It took me quite a while to get around to this last book because, quite frankly, I just wasn't all that excited to get to it. Yes, I wanted to wrap up the plot, and The Bridge in the Clouds did do that. But I just grew weary of the whininess of the three children in the series. Also, the author likes to try to draw out the suspense with the old trick of delaying the "what's going on here" part of the plot. Many many times during these novels, the kids have an opportunity to gain more information to help solidify the overall plot, only to be interrupted and not gain the insight they (and the reader) were striving for. I can handle that in moderation but here it became predictable; so much so that as soon as some enlightenment was imminent, I knew somehow it wouldn't be revealed.

So by the end of the four books, I just wanted it over with, not really caring about the characters. The final scenes tried to explain it all at once with an unsatisfying result. Granted, I am not the intended audience for these books as they are Young Adult. And perhaps I am spoiled by so recently reading a Narnia book. But still, well...I'm happy to be finished with the series.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Treason is a part of David Nevin's "The American Story, 1800-1860" historical novel series and takes place from the fall of 1803 through the late summer of 1807. This basically equates to the end of Thomas Jefferson's first term and his entire second term. These were important years in the history of the United States, a timeframe that included the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the election of James Madison.

The novel is essentially about Aaron Burr although we experience this era through the eyes of many characters, most especially Dolly Madison. At the beginning of the novel Burr is Vice President but completely marginalized by the Jefferson administration. In those days the man who came in second in the election became the vice president, not the best recipe for a cooperative management effort. Burr is prominent in New York but when he returns there to run once again for political office, he is badly beaten. His personality is one that demands satisfaction and when he becomes convinced that Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury at that time, is responsible for his defeat, Burr finds an excuse to blow an insult out of proportion and challenge Hamilton to a duel.

This is an oft-visited episode in US history. Most people know of Burr's duel with (and victory over) Hamilton but far fewer know what Burr was up to after that. None of what follows in the novel, concedes the author, is perfectly factual as Burr never admitted to it. But based on the historical record, it seems highly probable that Burr conceived of and attempted to carry out a plan to take advantage of the newly completed Louisiana Purchase by creating a whole new country. He planned to exploit New Orleans's desire to remain "French", raise an army, convince the leadership of the Western states such as Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky to succeed from the union and attack Mexico, using their gold to finance the new country. They would then become strong allies of Britain/Canada and limit the US to an east coast-only country, much less of a threat to the continent. This would also set up the possibility for the industrial New England states to separate from the agrarian slave-friendly South, a concept favored by Northern governors at the time.

An intriguing concept, but of course it never happened. I was amazed to read about it though and see just how widespread the whole thing was, involving a number of governors, senators, and other prominent people. It failed for a number of reasons, chiefly, that his co-conspirator, General James Wilkinson, lost his nerve and tried to pin it all on Burr. But James and Dolly Madison also uncovered the plot and convinced Jefferson to act to prevent such treason.

The book itself was intriguing albeit a bit slow in places. The author's style is to use actual historical figures as his main characters, not a fictional person who is affected by history's great events, like many historical novelists do. This requires extraordinary research, of course, not only to get the facts right on where people were when, but also to know them well enough to extrapolate how they would react to events. I think the author does this very well indeed.

I've read 4 of the 5 books in this series, missing only Meriwether so far. Mr. Nevin plans more of these novels, but the last one was published in 2005 and so I have to wonder if there will be more.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane

As always, I read a short story between each novel. This time around it's been Robert E. Howard's The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, a complete collection of all the Solomon Kane stories in one volume. Robert E. Howard, of course, is best known as the creator of Conan, but he was a prolific author during his short life, creating several other notable protagonists.

Del Rey has re-published the works of Robert E. Howard in beautiful trade paperback sets that include his complete works. They leave them un-edited, just as Mr. Howard wrote them and include unpublished story fragments, poems, etc. They are also nicely illustrated and really draw the reader back to the era in which they were first published, the era of the pulp magazines like Weird Tales.

As for Solomon Kane...“He was . . . a strange blending of Puritan and Cavalier, with a touch of the ancient philosopher, and more than a touch of the pagan. . . . A hunger in his soul drove him on and on, an urge to right all wrongs, protect all weaker things. . . . Wayward and restless as the wind, he was consistent in only one respect—he was true to his ideals of justice and right. Such was Solomon Kane.” A great character from the pulp era indeed.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Ah, the Chronicles of Narnia. I've approached these classic works with the reverence they are due; that is I read them slowly over time. It's almost as if I feel that when I complete them all, there will be none remaining. Of course there is such a thing as re-reading (and I do that once in a while) but there is only one "first time" to read anything.

I've been reading them in order, having read The Magician's Nephew about 15 years ago. Ever since then it's been about one every three years or so. Usually there is some sort of impetus to remind me it's time for another. Lately it's been because a movie version is about to come out and so I want to make certain I read that book before I see the film. A couple of weeks ago I saw that there is a new Narnia movie about to hit the streets on the Dawn Treader so I quickly brought my guns to bear.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis is another classic. I believe it to be the last one which includes the Pevensie children, although only Edmund and Lucy this time. But it also introduces their cousin Eustace who, as I understand, will play a major role in the last two books of the series as well. Those three characters along with Caspian and a fantastic supporting cast have great adventures on the ship, Dawn Treader. Having so recently read C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, I found even more examples of witty satire in this book, probably more than I would have if I wasn't looking for it.

So at my present rate, I will complete the Chronicles of Narnia after only two more volumes...sometime in 2016.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Cat Who Smelled a Rat

Here are some stats: The Cat Who Smelled a Rat is the 20th book I've read by Lilian Jackson Braun. My database tells me that equates to 5,054 pages, all about Jim Qwilleran, his two Siamese cats, and life in a small town just south of the Canadian border. That puts this author 9th on my list of most read authors if measured by number of books read but because they are not thick books, she only ranks 25th if measured but total pages read. Did I ever mention I was sort of anal when it comes to my books? Still that's a lot of time spent in Moose County and the town of Pickax (as well as the first three books before Jim moved up to "400 miles north of everywhere.")

These books are probably classified as "cozy" mysteries. In my mind that means the mystery element is a little more simplistic than you might otherwise find. In fact, when I read these books, it's much more about the character interaction, the quirkiness of the townsfolk, and how they react to various events, whether it is to serious things like murder or natural disasters or to less serious things like a new restaurant opening or a newcomer to town.

Always a pleasant read even if a quick one. Can't always be reading mind-bending science fiction or in-depth historical fiction. Cheers.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Sleeping Beauty

The Sleeping Beauty is the fifth book in a fantasy series, "Tales from the Five Hundred Kingdoms" by Mercedes Lackey. I received an advanced reader's copy for review so, against my better judgment, I read this one without having read the previous four books in the series. The cover blurbs made it sound like you can read these in any order and I have to say that is, indeed, the case. The book stands alone just fine. This is also my very first Mercedes Lackey novel. I read a lot of fantasy books but somehow her books always seemed to be slanted towards a female audience and so I just always seemed to find other books to read. The cover of this one makes it look like a romance novel. 

As you can probably guess, this is another of those "mixed-up fairy tale" stories. The titular character, Rosalind (Rosa) is protected by a Godmother (Lilly) from the Tradition, i.e. that force that tends to lead all fairy tales in a certain direction. Since Rosa doesn't want to follow Tradition and just marry any ol' prince that comes along to kiss her awake, she and her Godmother scheme to thwart Tradition and end up happily ever after anyway.

Most of the book revolves around a huge contest to determine the best prince to marry Rosa and become King but that is sandwiched between various adventures. We get to see charcters from other fairy tales, some that take part in the story (The Seven Dwarves) and others that are merely referenced (Puss n' Boots, the Frog Prince, etc). This is a nice clean book, a bit too whimsical in some sections for my taste but surprisingly clever in others. The author remarks in the preface that she had fun writing it and that seems evident as you read it. I was a little disappointed in the characterization; there just wasn't enough build-up to get to know the characters before they were thrust into danger near the beginning. Rosa seemed a little flat but I did like Siegfried, one of the princes competing for her hand. The plot was pretty straightforward but there were a couple of surprises near the end that I didn't see coming and satisfactory as well.

If you like these sort of "mixed-up fairly tales" then this one is worth a try, although I would probably wait for the paperback or download to a Kindle.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Castles of Colorado

I've been fortunate in my life to have been able to travel over large parts of the world, particularly in Europe, and I've seen a lot of castles. As a child/young adult I played games like D&D and I've always loved historical fiction and fantasy and other genres where castles play a role. So it was with some skepticism that I began to read Castles of Colorado, by Ann Westerberg. After all, surely there are no real castles here in the state I call home.

The subtitle of the book is "Scandals, Hauntings, and Tales of the Past," and I suppose that was my first clue about how this book would read. It is sort of a "coffee-table" book in that most people probably just pick it up in passing and glance through the pictures. I like to read my books however so when my wife and daughter brought this home after their tour of "Miramont" in Colorado Springs, I couldn't just let it sit there.

I have to say the book looks gorgeous. Lots of glossy full color pictures in perfect weather conditions amidst beautiful scenery. Of course I was right to be skeptical though. There are no real castles, at least by my definition, in Colorado. The author shows some good solid research though in providing a good summary of each of the places she displays within the book. Most are estates of one form or another but reading the history of each one was fun. I preferred that part to the "This room can seat 75 guests and overlooks the lawn and three tiers of trout ponds..." parts. I'm not much of a HG TV fan either. Each "castle" is covered as a tour, and then depicts the history of the dwelling as well as any scandals or purported hauntings of the property. There is also a section on "castles" that are no longer around.

All in all it was an interesting book, even if I don't consider a vast estate to be a castle just because it has decorative turrets and a round tower as part of the architecture.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Power Down

I don't expect too much from new thiller authors. It just seems like these novels are so often churned out by formula and tend to concentrate on page-turning action at the expense of proper plotting, characterization, setting, etc. Even some of the old "pros" succomb to this. But Ben Coes has written an absolutely terrific action-thriller novel.

Does it have action? Definitely! Is it a page-turner? You bet. But it also has near flawless plotting that builds the suspense and lets the reader know the characters, truly caring what happens to them. There are edge-of-your seat chase scenes, but they are balanced with a realistic plot that is extremely plausible in our current age. It combines the horror of terrorism (and the body count is quite high) with the financial markets, and with the US infrastructure power systems as targets.  The idea of a terrorist group of a different stripe and with different motivations is a welcome change to the landscape of thriller fiction. The author has certainly done his homework, whether it comes to off shore oil platforms, electricity grids, or the ins and outs of hedge funds. And the character of Dewey Andreas, former Army Ranger and Delta, has all the makings of a new Jack Reacher, Mitch Rapp, or Dirk Pitt.

This novel will be available in the US in October 2010.  It's complete in this one volume but the epilogue clearly leaves room for sequels. If so, I will be among the first in line!

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