Wednesday, October 12, 2016

“Ninth City Burning” by J. Patrick Black – Invaders of Reality

Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black - book cover
Release date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: Ace
Pages: 496
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The alien invasion trope is perhaps one of the most often portrayed invasion scenarios in popular culture, and it's quite possible that it won't get stale anytime soon; as long as we haven't encountered anyone out there in the great beyond, the possibilities remain limitless. With so many books revolving around the topic, it really does take something special for an author to get themselves noticed, but debuting writer J. Patrick Black has certainly done that with his first novel, Ninth City Burning.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

“Private Paris” by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan – The French Powder Keg

Private Paris by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan - book cover
Series: Private
Release date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Pages: 448
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Paris has been known for a long time as one of the cultural capitals of the world, the place where love, art and wine thrive until the end of time. In recent years though, reality has caught up with the idealistic image as it always tends to do, with numerous heavy public crimes putting the city's people on edge. Tensions are running high, and there is no telling how far things will go before it all comes to an end. In Private Paris by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan, we are introduced to this city in a very dark hour as Private Jack Morgan's talents are needed.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

“The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman” by Robin Gregory – A World to Fit In

The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman by Robin Gregory - book cover
Release date: November 1, 2015
Publisher: Mad Mystical Journey
Pages: 294
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While life certainly likes to throw a few curve-balls at everyone at some point, it's undeniable that most of us have what we need not only to survive, but to actually enjoy life itself. As you well know, there is always the other side of the coin, the people whose survival on this planet has been challenged from the moment they set foot in it. Whether they end well or badly, there is something special about such people who defy all odds until the very end, as is the case of the titular Moojie in The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman by Robin Gregory.

With the first strike against him being his name, Moojie was already in for a rough start. He was also born with physical disabilities, takes a while to start talking, and when he does another problem piles on to the list: stuttering. He lost his mother, and keeping in line with Moojie's luck, his father refused to take him in. And so he's sent off to St. Isidore's Fainting Goat Dairy, run by his terribly-tempered grandfather whose favourite past-times seem to be drinking, cursing, threatening to send Moojie back to the orphanage, and hating on the so-called hostiles in the surrounding forest. As Moojie discovers though, these hostiles are actually a magical race who hopes to show the world what harmony is. He deeply hopes to be accepted in their world, but trust doesn't come easy, not for the broken nor for the otherworldly.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

“The Last Days of Jack Sparks” by Jason Arnopp – The Skeptic's Inferno

The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp - book cover
Release date: September 13, 2016
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 400
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Whether you exclusively believe in the tangible and observable or allow for the existence of anything that cannot be disproved, there is a skeptic hiding within you, no matter if he's big or small... and that's perfectly normal. Skepticism is actually a handy survival tool in a world where there are more than enough shady characters trying to lie and deceive you. Of course, like most things in life, it's only beneficial when practiced with a certain moderation, and in The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp, we get to witness what happens when it's taken to the greatest extreme possible.

The titular Jack Sparks is a writer who has tackled a large number of topics, including gangs, drugs, himself, and even jumping on a pogo stick. He is a popular reporter and has many followers yearning for his next article across all social media platforms. To put it mildly, he's worldwide sensation and is letting it go to his head. He is extremely self-centered and immeasurably confident in his knowledge of literally everything. As his next challenge, he sets to prove that everything supernatural is a hoax, all while being the biggest jerk possible. And so he begins with an exorcism of a 13 year-old girl in Rome, on Halloween night, an event which he mocks through and through, generating all that precious social media controversy he's yearning for. Unbeknownst to him though, there is more to the world than he imagines, and mocking the devil himself bears with it some rather grave consequences.

This book may be classified in the horror genre, but if you're looking for a scares, blood and guts galore, then I'm sorry to say that you'll probably be a tad disappointed with what you'll find in here. The horror elements are certainly present throughout the whole story, but there is a heck of a lot of humour to be found here as well. Whether it's in the way Sparks perceives and describes the world or tries to brush off with increasing desperation the supernatural phenomenon around him, there's always something to keep a smile on your face. In the last quarter of the book, things do begin to escalate and intensify, with the comedy slowly fading away and taking a back-seat to an atmospheric kind of horror, one that inspires dread and discomfort rather than going for shock value.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

“Dictator” by Robert Harris – The Great Orator

Dictator by Robert Harris - book cover
Release date: August 23, 2016
Publisher: Vintage
Pages: 416
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The job of public speaker, or orator as some would prefer to call it, is one of those things that looks much easier than it is. At the surface, it's just about reciting a speech to a bunch of people in front of you. However, digging deeper it becomes apparent that there are countless factors to take into account when speaking in front of the masses, from treading carefully on taboo subjects to using the right words to elicit the desired emotions from the audience. With so many throughout history having tried their luck at this job, it should say a lot that Marcus Tullius Cicero is considered the greatest orator of his time, if not of human history.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

“Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd” by Alan Bradley – On a Reclusive Trail

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley - book cover
Series: Flavia de Luce Mysteries
Release date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Pages: 352
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Despite being only twelve years of age, Flavia de Luce is the kind of girl who would put most adults to shame with her deductive skills as well as her highly-developed common sense. Even though she is basically a genius for her age, she still finds herself rejected from Miss Bodycote's Female Academy, and so Flavia sets out on the long trip back home to England.

Though she is happy to return, the homecoming isn't exactly going as smoothly as planned with her father having suddenly fallen ill and moved to the hospital where he is expected to recover, but cannot take visitors. Her life now ruled by boredom, Flavia relieves it in any way possible, which one day entails delivering a message to a reclusive wood carver from the Vicar's wife. Upon making her way to his cabin, Flavia immediately senses something is amiss, and her suspicions are confirmed when she finds the man's body hanging upside down on the back side of his bedroom door... The only witness being an indifferent cat.

Friday, September 23, 2016

“Narcissus and Goldmund” by Herman Hesse – Flesh and Spirit Collide

Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse book cover
Release date: February 1, 2003
Publisher: Picador
Pages: 315
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Different authors write for different reasons, and there certainly is no shortage of them; some want to simply tell a story they have on their mind, others want to shed light on an issue... and a select few like to use the writing medium as a tool to study life itself. I believe Herman Hesse can definitely be classified amongst them, with his novels often being a bit more reminiscent of parables where he meditates on the more profound aspects of human life. While Hesse may be known internationally for novels like Steppenwolf or Damien, he does have many excellent works that have flown under the radar, such as Narcissus and Goldmund.

The concept behind this book is rather simple: Hesse follows the lives of two young men with drastically different ideas about how life ought to be lived. The first one is quite content with his quiet, ordinary and uneventful pious life devoted to the development of his spirituality. The second one has the complete opposite view, far preferring the decadent artistic lifestyle of physical pleasures, adventure and debauchery. We are shown the journey travelled by both of them through the plague-ridden Middle Ages and the many surprising teachings they come to acquire until the day of their reunion.

Monday, September 19, 2016

“The First Hostage” by Joel C. Rosenberg – No Free World

The First Hostage by Joel C. Rosenberg - book cover
Release date: December 29, 2015
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Pages: 448
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The Middle East is a place known equally for its beauty as well as for being a hotbed of conflict for the past few decades. There are always violent tensions and volatile situations that lead to pain and suffering for one group or another, and what's worse is that there is absolutely no end in sight. The majority of us only know of what's happening there and what the future could bring thanks to short news snippets (often biased) and minutes-long documentaries that heavily generalize everything. As such, it's pretty rare and fascinating to come across an author such as Joel C. Rosenberg who has plenty of first-hand experience living in the Middle East and dealing with the situation there. What's more, he puts all of his knowledge to great use as fuel for some fantastic stories, as is the case with The First Hostage, the second book in the J. B. Collins series.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

“Last Bus to Wisdom” by Ivan Doig – Teachings of the American Unknown

Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig  - book cover
Release date: August 16, 2016
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Pages: 480
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Glorified in books and movies since it was possible, the idea of escaping the comfort and safety of your home and put yourself at risk to aimlessly travel the country (or even the world) has become somewhat a staple of North American culture, as well as many other places on Earth. The idea behind it is to learn about how the world really works, about what it means to survive when left to your own devices, and about how far you can push yourself. Many see it as a major coming-of-age moment, as is the case in Ivan Doig's Last Bust to Wisdom.

The book begins by introducing us to Donal Cameron, a young boy raised by his grandmother to be the cook at their family ranch in the Montana Rockies. Unfortunately for them both, in the summer of 1951 grandma needs to have surgery, and her only option in regards to Donal is to send him off with her sister in Wisconsin. As he arrives there, he meets Aunt Kate, unsatisfiable, mean and degrading to seemingly everyone, even her husband Herman the German. After one transgression too many, Aunt Kate decides to ship Donal to the authorities, sending him out on a Greyhound bus... unbeknownst to her though, Herman the German has decided to join him in flying the coop. And so, the unlikely pair set out for the great American voyage together, embarking on the journey of a lifetime that will profoundly change them both.

Monday, September 12, 2016

“Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman – A Labyrinth of Light and Shadow

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman - book cover
Release date: June 7, 2016
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Pages: 464
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Back in 1997 a certain author by the name of Neil Gaiman burst onto the literary scene and asserted himself as a talent to be reckoned with, publishing his first novel, Neverwhere. It rapidly became a major landmark (so to speak) in the genres of urban and young adult fantasy, to the point where numerous versions of it were produced over the years. The book has always fascinated and captured the minds of people from around the world, and so Gaiman decided to revisit where it all started for him, reconciling all the different editions into his preferred version of the tale.

To keep the story short and without spoilers, the book is all about a young man by the name of Richard Mayhew who lives a decent if unremarkable life, until the day he decides to help a girl who is bleeding. Little did he know, that simple act of kindness marked the beginning of his passage into another world, one that seems to exist in the cracks and gaps of London, a domain of shadows, vile creatures, angels, killers and saints... a place called Neverwhere. The girl Richard helped, Door, not only lives there, but is also a powerful noblewoman who is perhaps one of the few remaining hopes of a crumbling kingdom where death and destruction are only more and more common. Though Richard would absolutely love it if he could return home, the way back is a lot more arduous than anticipated; before his path his open, he must help Lady Door in her perilous quest to defeat a mighty evil and save the surrealistic world he fell into.

Friday, September 09, 2016

“The Sister” by Louise Jensen – A Tragedy of the Past

The Sister by Louise Jensen  - book cover
Release date: July 5, 2016
Publisher: Bookouture
Pages: 334
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How much do we really know about the people close to us, the ones we call our best friends and would trust with our lives? If, like most people, you are blessed enough to live a normal life, then chances are you actually do know most of what there is to and your friend isn't hiding some dark skeletons in the closet of their past. Of course, there are a few people whose lives have taken tragic turns and left them with a lot to hide from the rest of the world... a few people like the ones is Louise Jensen's first novel and bestseller, The Sister .

To sum it briefly, we are presented with a young woman in her mid-twenties by the name of Grace whose best friend, Charlie, just died. Going through her friend's things, Grace finds a memory box, one that begins to make her wonder as to how well she knew Charlie. As she begins to look for Charlie's father, Grace ends up connecting with Anna, a woman claiming to be Charlie's sister. Finding Anna feels like a lifesaver for Grace, until very slowly, things start to take a turn for the sinister. At first things start disappearing from the house, then she notices her boyfriend Dan acting in slightly strange ways, and she even starts to have the impression of being followed. Weird accidents start following her around, and the more she unearths from Charlie's past, the more she doubts her own sanity... is she really uncovering something criminal, or is the grief getting to her?

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

“The Prisoner of Heaven” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – Connections from the Deep Past

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - book cover
Series: The Cemetery of Forgotten Books
Release date: March 12, 2013
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Pages: 304
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With his unforgettable Gothic image of Barcelona Carlos Ruiz Zafon has made many fans around the world, and thankfully it's a city he keeps on going back to in his Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, which also includes The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game.

Before delving into this third book in the series, The Prisoner of Heaven, it should be mentioned that at the start, Zafon intended to write a collection of books that were connected by their themes and characters and could be read in any order, making for an interested journey that could begin at any point the reader chose. However, as his writings took shape the plan changed a bit, and while the first two books can be read in whatever order you please, I'd venture to say that is no longer true for this third book. It uses characters, locations and events that were extensively covered in the previous books, and going into this one blind will certainly make it far less enjoyable.