September 30

The Things that Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley

9781409113089It has been a long time since I have read a book that is simply and completely a thriller. A book that you read just for the goosebumps. Not necessarily a horror novel with ghosts and ghouls. Or even an adventure story with guns and explosions. No this is simply a ‘what if’ story with a chilling message.

Remember last year when everyone was panicking about swine flu? Pictures on TV showing hundreds of people wearing face masks. But before that panic, the big media news story was all about bird flu. This dangerous and contagious disease was supposedly going to sweep the world like the Spanish flu did in 1918, wiping out a significant portion of the population as it went. Buckley has taken this as her core idea and built a riveting thriller on the story.

Ann Brooks is a single mum raising two daughters. She is still suffering from the death of her son several years before, and may be just a tad overprotective of her girls. But she is an educated woman working hard to keep her family safe. Then her ex, a research veterinarian, discovers a whole flock of migrating ducks dead on a local pond. Suddenly it appears that a particularly virulent avian flu has arrived in the US, and the birdlife is being wiped out. When the virus jumps into the human population, Ann puts her family into lockdown. From inside her ‘safe’ home, she starts to watch the world outside fall apart.

This is an incredible story from a first time author. I will warn you that you will be reading this long into the night, and be prepared for a few groggy mornings at work. Buckley has created an absolutely convincing narrative that has a gritty reality. And she has included a few moral dilemmas that will make you pause and think about what you would do in the same situation. Frankly, I don’t know myself.

As you may know, I like to put books into categories. They are easier to market that way. Hachette has wimped out with a broad category of ‘contemporary’ fiction. I am leaning toward calling it scifi, even though it lacks the gadgetry of the genre. I have always said, the best scifi takes a plausible scientific principle and then puts a ‘what if’ twist. Well this is certainly a plausible ‘what if.’

The publisher has promised ‘Love this book or your money back.’ I think their sales are safe with this one.

September 30

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

resized_9781742372839_224_297_FitSquareHave you ever read a book that you just knew was too silly for words, but yet you couldn’t put it down? There is no logic, no sense and hardly any story line to this recent offering in the ‘Vampire’ genre. And yet as I was fascinated by the whole story. Is the author trying to be silly, or just make fun of the whole modern fascination with vampires and other creatures of evil.

Like every young American, I was raised on the story of Abraham Lincoln’s early years, a man who was born in a log cabin and through hard work and dedication, eventually became President during one of the most difficult periods of American history. But I didn’t know that his mother was killed by a vampire, and then Lincoln spent his evenings for the next 20 years hunting vampires all across the Western Frontier. His determination to end slavery was based on the fact that he witnessed southern vampires using their slaves as a ready food supply. And then their is the whole John Wilkes Booth, the vampire, who finally assassinated the great leader.

As I said, totally and completely illogical and silly. But the story is told with an incredible realism. If the reader suspends belief and gets carried along for the ride, then it is a lot of fun. But don’t assume that any of the historical content is actually history. This is a book best read and then immediately forgotten. But I firmly recommend reading it anyway.

September 30

Hood by Stephen Lawhead

9781904233718This is certainly an indication of how far behind my reading is the review writing. I read this book literally months ago. In fact I finished the whole series months ago. But let’s see if I can remember enough about the book to provide an intelligent review.

We all know the story of Robin Hood. In fact it would be safe to say that everyone knows at least part of the story. Hollywood has provided many retellings of the legend, some more convincing than others. But Lawhead has certainly provided a time and a setting that I found absolutely fascinating.

The legend usually has Robin as a outlaw hiding in the depths of Sherwood Forest fighting the evil rule of King John over England while Richard the Lionheart is fighting in the Crusades. Well Lawhead moves the story 100 years earlier and west to the border of Wales. Robin becomes a Welsh prince fighting to keep his traditional kingdom safe from the Normans, and supporting the people while they struggle under the control of the invaders. And a lot of this setting makes sense. Lawhead is telling a historical tale, but gives us enough of our legendary characters to make it easy to recognize and feel very very comfortable with the story he is telling.

This is a great historical adventure story for all ages. I have handed it on to readers ranging in age from 15-85 and every one of them has continued reading through the whole trilogy. Even though the series is fairly old, Hood was published in 2007, it is still easily available in good book stores.

September 24

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

9780575089914I know that my review pile is getting unwieldy when I collect a fantasy trilogy in mix. But it takes some time and effort to get involved in a fantasy world, so I have a tendency to wait until I have some significant leisure time for reading. So last week I finally commenced the Mistborn trilogy. And I am looking forward to many hours of enjoyment yet to come as I move through books two and three.

The story focuses on three main characters. Kelsier is a lovable thief who discovers a talented young girl, Vin. As he reveals her talents to her, he begins her training in the ‘magic’ of this world. The other character is the Lord Ruler, an immortal being who controls this land absolutely. But very gradually the reader discovers that once upon a time this ruler was just another man. Kelsier has a plan to overthrow the Lord Ruler and free the resident slave population. But overthrowing a government that has stood for 1000 years can be tricky.

The setting is very interesting. In this fantasy land there are many volcanoes, here called ashmounts, that are continually filling the sky with ash. So skys are red, rain is black and the slaves primary occupation is shifting ash, off plants, off roads and off clothing. In this world a small elite group of humans are able to ingest metal and ‘burn’ it to give them special powers. The whole magical system is very complex, and well thought out. By creating the character Vin who is a novice ‘Mistborn’, one who is able to use all metals, Sanderson allows the readers to understand the magical slowly and gradually as Vin receives her training. I wouldn’t want to pick up book two and start reading.

Personally, I found the first few chapters slow. I kept falling asleep and dropping the book with a loud thump. But once the revolution is planned, the action picks up and by the end I was having some difficulty putting the book aside. And in the end I wondered what Sanderson had left to say in the final volumes. Book 1 seems to be a satisfying tale all on its own.