Friday, February 28, 2014

“Horns” by Joe Hill – A Fortress of Secrets

Horns by Joe Hill – Book cover
Joe Hill smashed into the world of literature as a missile would, gaining tremendous amounts of popularity for his rather original horror novel, Heart-Shaped Box. With Horns, Joe Hill returns to us with yet another original premise, though admittedly it is far less dark than the previous one. In any case, Horns tells the story of a young man named Ignatius who, upon waking up after a night of hard drinking, makes a startling realization: rather big horns seem to have grown on his head overnight. At first, they feel like nothing but a burden as their unsightliness doesn’t really do Ignatius any favors.

However, he soon discovers that these horns also bear a power: by concentrating hard enough, Ignatius can make people admit their deepest and most embarrassing secrets. And so, with this new power in hand, he sets out to investigate the murder of his childhood sweetheart, a terrifying murder for which the whole town still blames him. Also, a movie based on the book was recently released, starring Juno Temple and Daniel Radcliffe.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

“Four Blood Moons” by John Hagee – Our Future in the Stars

Four Blood Moons by John Hagee – Front Cover
Those of you who know John Hagee probably either hate him or love him. He is the very opinionated senior pastor of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, and recently he has written a book titled Four Blood Moons. Before venturing onwards, I should warn you that the book I am going to discuss is nonfiction and pertains to the reality of those who belong to Christianity.

If you aren’t interested in the subject at all out of mere curiosity or do not believe that you can get anything away from this book because it doesn’t pertain to your world one bit, then it is completely fine and I recommend you walk away from this book… otherwise, it will simply frustrate and aggravate you. I, myself, am not what one would refer to as a believer, but nevertheless I found the book to be a valuable source of knowledge.

So what exactly does Hagee discuss here? Well, he touches on a whole array of different subjects, such as the rapture or “the end of the age”, the concept of the secret rapture, problems plaguing the modern world on a giant scale, celestial events throughout history and their significance, as well as what the current alignment of our solar system’s planets spells for our future as well as the one of God’s chosen people.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

“Cockroaches” by Jo Nesbo – Thai Mayhem

Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo – Book cover
Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo, despite being published very recently, is advertised as actually being the second novel in the series, speaking in terms of the order in which events occur. I was worried that this sudden jump back in time would work against Nesbo and throw some chaos into his timeline. However, to my surprise and relief this book felt more like an episode isolated from the rest of Nesbo’s adventures, giving this book the ability to stand on its own, even if Harry Hole hadn't become a renowned name in criminal literature.

In any case, to give a brief overview of the plot itself as is always the case, here goes nothing. Harry Hole is living his life as usual in Oslo, when suddenly the Norwegian ambassador to Thailand is found dead in a brothel in Bangkok. In hopes that he will be too drunk and out of his element to actually put the pieces together, Hole’s superiors send him all the way to Thailand to tie up the investigation nicely and neatly. Though Hole may have been thrown to the wolves, he understands that there is much more than meets the eye with seemingly random death, and that beneath the filthy and grizzly underbelly of Bangkok, somewhere the truth is covered in heaps of dirt and blood… and it goes without saying that many people are opposed to him digging through it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

“Outlaw Platoon” by Sean Parnell and John Bruning – Heroes of Today

Outlaw Platoon by Sean Parnell and John Bruning – Book Cover
Throughout human evolution there are few constants to which one can hang on to, but without a doubt one of them is our propensity for war and violence. Though our methods may have changed over time, the need, demand and desire for humans to become warriors remains strong, leading many to take the path of the soldier.

Whether or not war itself is an integral part of our humanity is a question which I will leave out of this… however, I do believe that the people who selflessly put themselves at risk to fight for what they believe in do deserve our attention. That is why I would like to point your attention towards Outlaw Platoon by Sean Parnell and John Bruning.

Before getting into the book, I’d like to highlight the fact that Sean Parnell is a former U.S. Army Airborne Ranger who served with the legendary 10th Mountain Division. The book is a true recounting of his experiences and is comprised of nothing but facts (perhaps there are a few “approximate facts”, but none of them are truly important). John Bruning himself is an award-winning journalist who actually volunteered to be embedded with the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade in Afghanistan to experience it all first-hand.

Monday, February 24, 2014

“The Leopard” by Jo Nesbo – Meeting Madness

The Leopard by Jo Nesbo – Book Cover
Jo Nesbo’s The Leopard is another novel in the Harry Hole series, this time focusing on our beloved protagonist as he tries to escape the demons from his past by retreating to Hong Kong, otherwise known as “as far away as possible”. However, things don’t go Hole’s way as Oslo is need of him once again; a new and rather deranged psychopath killed two young women, drowning them in their own blood.

As Hole finally manages to make his way back to his town, the killer strikes once again, thrusting Hole knee-deep into a challenging investigation, one that will take pit him against a new face of evil. Despite there being virtually no leads, Hole doesn’t let up his efforts and trudges on forward to meet his new adversary, who despite being quite insane, is undoubtedly very cunning, intelligent, and self-aware.

As has become the habit with Hole novels, Nesbo adopts a breakneck pace, throwing twists and turn at us faster than we can let them sink in. By the middle of it, you actually stop thinking that you know what is going to happen next, and start experiencing the novel by “living” through the story, as Hole himself would from his own perspective. Needless to say, this makes the whole ordeal that much more exciting and unpredictable.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

“The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag” by Alan Bradley – Pulling Death’s Strings

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley – Book Cover
It seems to me that these days mystery novels can be generally divided into two categories: the ones which strive to bring back the charm of the older classics, and the ones trying to take things in new directions. Each category certainly has its own merits, and The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley fall into the former of the two, in my opinion of course.

In it, we follow our well-known heroine, Flavia de Luce, eleven year-old chemist prodigy and murder detective extraordinaire. Just as things seemed to be settling down around her, the grim reaper swung his scythe again and took the life of Ruper Porson, a local puppeteer.
Though it seemed like he was electrocuted by accident, Flavia cannot help but feel something is amiss, and so begins a new journey into the world of murder investigations, as any eleven year-old would.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Gliding Over the World of Literature – Issue 43

Good day to all you devoted readers, and welcome back to Quick Book Reviews for the 43rd edition of Gliding Over the World of Literature. In it, we are going to launch things off by checking out some criminally underexplored female characters in the realm of literature. Following that, we will take a moment to reflect on the idea that the news and the media are slowly swallowing replacing what some would consider real literature. Finally, we will end things on a lighter note and have a look at a rather interesting map of London, one populated by many of its most popular fictional characters.

Friday, February 21, 2014

“Fatherland” by Robert Harris – Alternate World Mysteries

Fatherland by Robert Harris – Book Cover
There are plenty of books out there which explore what the world would have been like had Hitler been successful in his endeavors during the Second World War. Some of them weave together a narrative in which the world is explored in great detail, while others try to remain as down-to-Earth, factual and logical as possible, clearly describing possible scenarios which could have arose had things been different.

Fatherland by Robert Harris, however, takes a bit of a new direction, using such an alternate timeline as a setting for a murder mystery. In this story, we follow a detective of the Kriminalpolizei (Criminal Police), Xavier March, who is dragged into the case of a dead body washing up near one of Berlin’s most prestigious suburbs. Contrary to first impressions, the case eventually turns out to be one of the grandest conspiracies of the century, and so Xavier is thrust into a race to reveal the truth before being killed, with his only ally being an American journalist.

So what is there to say about this novel? Well, the most notable part of it is undoubtedly the setting itself; there are very few, if any murder mysteries set in the alternate timeline where Hitler is victorious, and as such the environments, characters and details described feel newer and more original. In other words, setting-wise, this book is like a breath of fresh air.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

“Fire in the Hole” by Elmore Leonard – Crime as Entertainment

Fire in the Hole by Elmore Leonard (Book cover)
Elmore Leonard is perhaps one of the most widely-recognized authors to specialize in criminal fiction and thrillers. His stories are generally fast, brutal and grizzly, with the ugliness of this world being shown just as it is.

With Fire in the Hole Elmore Leonard brings to us nine different stories, each one revolving around lowlifes, a specific crime they commit, and how they try to escape justice, though it should be mentioned they only prevail very rarely.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

“The Teachings of Don Juan” by Carlos Castaneda – Defining Reality

The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda – Book cover
We read plenty of books throughout our lifetimes, and sadly, most of them end up being forgettable, with only the titles being retained by our minds. However, very rarely, we end up stumbling on a piece of writing that touches us to the very core, challenging our perceptions of the world and making us rethink about what is in front of our very eyes. For me, The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda is such a book.

Before discussing the book in itself though, I feel the need to address the criticism aimed at Castaneda, with many claiming that his accounts are nothing but pure fiction. First off, there is no conclusive evidence that it was all a lie; there are conjectures about and pieces of information from his books which can be developed into the conclusions one wants, but once again, no definitive evidence exists. Second of all, I believe there is far too much focus on whether or not Castaneda’s accounts took place; the ideas, beliefs and conclusions that can be taken away from them are far more important. After all, even works of pure fiction can easily hold ideas pertaining to the real world, ideas that make us think about real life.

Monday, February 17, 2014

“The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd – The Never-ending Struggle for Freedom

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd – Book Cover
Though slavery is certainly a part of American history many people would like to forget about, there is no denying that it was there, and pretending the contrary would only lead to the repetition of the same mistakes, no matter how far down the line. The best we can do is explore that period in time and try to understand it as best we can… perhaps that is the reason for the influx of novels which discuss the lives of slaves in large households. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is a book along those lines, though there are a few factors which lead me to rank it above most of its peers, but more on that below.

Just for the purposes of a brief summary, the story follows an urban slave in the early 19th century Charleston, named Hetty “Handful” Grimke. She has been part of the Grimke household as long as she can remember, and recently she was assigned as a handmaid to Sarah, to Grimke’s daughter who is turning eleven. The next thirty years the two of them spend together, as they shape each other’s destinies and experience life in its fullest, from the most exquisite blisses to the most frightful nightmares.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

“The Bully Pulpit” by Doris Kearns Goodwin – Strange Days of the Transition

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism - Book cover
The beginning of the twentieth century was a rather awkward time for the United States of America. It was a period of transition during which many changes and reforms were taking place, re-sculpting the face of the country in the process. Amongst other things, the government enters a legislative stalemate, giant companies are born for the first time from surprising mergers, money becomes much more important in the world of politics, terrorist attacks happen on the streets, and countless other inventions in the realm of technology completely revamp and tremendously accelerate life for the people.

The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin is an exploration of these strange days, chronicling the many issues and events of importance to have existed during the so-called “Progressive” era. More precisely, she does so by focusing on the relationship between Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft, two friends whose ties were severed once they competed against each other for presidency.

Gliding Over the World of Literature – Issue 42

Hello to all, and welcome once again for an issue of Gliding Over the World of Literature, with this being our 42nd outing so far. This time around, we are going to focus on a bit of a neglected topic: inspiration. Contrary to popular belief, books, movies, paintings, music albums, and virtually any other type of art rarely comes from nothingness.

In an overwhelming majority of cases, the author of an artwork has sought inspiration from something, whether it be a tuna can or the work of his/her peers. And so, with this in mind, we are going to check out books which are inspired by other books, books that are inspired by paintings, and finally, we’ll finish things off by checking out the ten best music albums based on books.

Friday, February 14, 2014

“Operation Mincemeat” by Ben Macintyre – The Power of Deception

Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre – Book cover
Intelligence is perhaps one of the most important aspects of warfare, whether today or in the past. Yes, having greater numbers, better equipment and superior training can certainly lead one to victory, but knowing what to expect, how to react to it, and how to confuse the enemy is just as important in my eyes. As a matter of fact, it can be argued that much of the Second World War was fought through spies and counter-intelligence officers, with information being one of the, if not the most coveted possession for military leaders.

In Operation Mincemeat Ben Macintyre certainly exemplifies that, as we are treated to a very factual novelization of an operation which eventually allowed the Allies to gain the upper hand on the Axis powers in Europe. Basically, it is how an MI5 agent and British naval intelligence officers came up with a plan to bait the Nazis into thinking the Allies would invade Southern Europe through Greece or Sardinia rather than Sicily. In the end, the successful execution of this deception gave the Allies the element of surprise they needed for a successful invasion of that region, dictating the outcome of many coming battles.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

“Left Neglected” by Lisa Genova – A Shift in Perception

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova (book cover)
We often take what we see for granted, in the sense that we feel as if the world in front of our eyes is the ultimate reality, and that it will never change. However, what we forget is that what we see is just our own, personal perception of the world, and it can very well change in the blink of an eye, forcing us to reconstruct or rearrange our personal reality.

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova is an exploration of that, at least to a certain extent, as we are presented with a lively and beloved mother in her thirties, Sarah Nickerson. Though she lives a good life, it seems that one day lady fate decided to frown down upon her, throwing Sarah straight into a car crash, leaving her with a rather unusual brain injury: left neglect.

In other words, Sarah has lost completely any awareness of events occurring on the left side of her field of vision. And so, she must reconstruct her reality in accordance with her perceptions, all while trying to navigate this chaotic world of ours.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

“The Bible of Unspeakable Truths” by Greg Gutfeld – A Thinking Manual

The Bible of Unspeakable Truths by Greg Gutfeld – Book cover
Most of you are probably familiar with Greg Gutfeld from his work as the host of Red Eye, a nightly show on Fox News, or through some of his other books, such as The Joy of Hate for instance. In any case I believe it is important to understand the kind of person Greg Gutfeld is before diving into a rather popular book of his, The Bible of Unspeakable Truths. In it, we are basically presented with a ginormous compilation of various thoughts, reflections and conclusions Greg Gutfeld came to while thinking about virtually all aspects of life. In other words, he talks about food, religion, race, sex, love, marriage, money, economy, the job sector, popular culture, modern technology, and a lot more.

Though I do understand that Gutfeld’s main purpose with this book was to entertain and make the audience laugh, there is a certain aspect to it which I feel can kill your pleasure of reading it, unless you get well-acquainted with the author himself and his style of humor. It is very aggressive, direct, in your face, and perhaps even self-righteous; he presents the many thoughts he has as being the only conclusions sensible and reasonable people can reach… any other outlook on life would be straying from the path. To be frank, having watched some of Gutfeld’s television performances, I am not convinced that it is actually what he thinks; rather, he just plays to the persona that led him to success.

Monday, February 10, 2014

“The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” by Alan Bradley – The Mind of a Scientist

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” by Alan Bradley – Book Cover
It seems that the mystery genre has become a bit saturated lately with murder mysteries where the protagonists are either journalists or actually working with the police force… and it makes sense; after all, who better to solve murders than the people who have been trained for it?

However, this search for realism has left a void in the world of murder mysteries; there are very little sleuths left out there, and that disappoints me. Sleuths are generally more interesting to see work as they have to rely much more on their own minds and senses and less on technology and laboratories.

Sometimes, enjoyment takes priority above fidelity, which is why I was rather pleased when I read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley. It is the first in a series of books titled Flavia de Luce, and in it the protagonist is a young aspiring chemist sleuth, whose name is, as you can most likely guess, Flavia de Luce.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

“An Officer and a Spy” by Robert Harris – Let There be Justice

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris – Book Cover
The Dreyfus affair is something which shook the foundations of humanity’s notion of justice, demonstrating that even with the most advanced justice system (or so it was believed at the time, at least), humans are open to errors of judgement through illogical discrimination and plain old racism.

As a matter of fact, the doings of that affair were stranger than fiction, with Dreyfus being accused of spying and executed, all while the true culprit was still at large. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris would be best-described as a novelization of the events which took place. No known facts are distorted and the research was indeed conducted rather diligently… Harris simply made sure to weave them all together into a story that would not only make us think, but also entertain us.

To start things off, I have to say that this novel succeeds in being an entertaining one, presenting the whole Dreyfus affair as a tragic mystery, discussing different points of view on the whole ordeal. We are never quite sure what will happen (at least, that will be the case if you aren’t acquainted with the affair), and Harris succeeds in actually bringing the characters to life, making us care for them, regardless of what side of the fence they are on. In the end, though much of the book is pure fact, it still has the structure of a story, making it a good source of entertainment.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

“The Monuments Men” by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter – Art’s Salvation

The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter – Book Cover
As I already mentioned it before, there were countless stories that took place during the Second World War, so many in fact that it is wishful thinking to believe they will all be unraveled one day. The story of the Monuments Men is one of the most under-discussed ones in my opinion, being virtually forgotten, even by the history buffs.

Well, The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter brings to us this forgotten timeline of the past, detailing the true story of how regular men risked their lives one day after the next for the sole sake of preserving the world’s greatest art works by preventing them from falling into Nazi hands. Those of you who follow modern cinema will notice that there is actually a movie being made based on the book, which should raise awareness about this rather interesting aspect to WWII.

Gliding Over the World of Literature – Issue 41

Hello ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to Gliding Over the World of Literature! Today we are proudly publishing the 41st issue of our journal, and in it we are going to start things off by looking at a number of famous London landmarks which gave the inspiration for known works of literature. Following that, we will explore the recent debacle in the Church as a cardinal decided to publish John Paul II’s personal notes posthumously, despite the latter’s objection to that. We will then finish things off by having a look at the rocky beginnings of the Oxford English Dictionary, especially the unexpectedly-arduous first half of it.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

“Things That Matter” by Charles Krauthammer – Three Decades of American Life

Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer – Book Cover
Charles Krauthammer is known by many of you as being one of the most reasonable and intelligent political commentators out there. He never tries to blindly preach his ideals without any support, always seeking to reach the truth, even if it does contradict his beliefs. For more than thirty years the man has provided us with unprecedented insights into various facets of American life, and Things That Matter, a book written by Krauthammer himself, is a compilation of the best ones.

In this book, we are provided with countless columns, analyses, quotes and essays published by Krauthammer in the past, dealing with a veritable multitude of topics, from America’s role as a superpower in this world all the way to Halley’s Comet.

As one would expect, though the book does play it kind of safe, providing materials which were already known to be successful, it still remains very entertaining and eye-opening. After all, very few of us can actually remember more than a tiny percentage of what Krauthammer has discussed over the last three decades, and having all of his insights put together in a single book is rather convenient, especially for his fans.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

“This is the Story of a Happy Marriage” by Ann Patchett – Love and Literature

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett – Book Cover
Most of us know Ann Patchett for her greatest masterpiece, Bel Canto (at least according to popular opinion), but the truth is that so far, she had a very long and eventful literary career, and stretching even further, an eventful life in general. Deciding to share at least some of the wonders she experienced during her time on Earth, Patchett decided to write an autobiographical book, and it is titled This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Contrary to what the title would have you believe, the work touches on a whole array of different subjects apart from her marriage, and perhaps coincidentally, many of them have something to do with literature in one way or another.

So what kinds of things do we actually learn from the book about Patchett? Well, just to give you a simple idea, she tells us about the important childhood experiences which shaped her, the period in her life spent working as a freelance writer for rather famous publications, what it’s like to open up your own bookstore, who the impactful people in her life are/were, and a lot more. All in all, though it is obvious Patchett decided to skip certain chunks of her life, we do get to learn about the more important things throughout its duration. From time to time, Patchett even delves into the smaller details, perhaps in order to help bring into context the larger ones. In the end though, all of her experiences lead to the demonstration of one thing: how she came to be the person she is today.

Monday, February 03, 2014

“Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides – The Immigrant Experience

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – Book Cover
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is best-classified as being an epic family saga, but that wouldn’t exactly do it justice, for it offers a very interesting and perhaps even unique take on the whole thing. What does that mean? Well, for starters, our protagonist and narrator was born as a girl… but then ended up growing into a boy due to a genetic defect covered up as a family secret many years ago.

He/she is simply referred to as Cal, and we see our protagonist and his family as they come to America from a village overlooking Mount Olympus, how they lived during the Great Depression, Detroit’s rise to greatness as the “motor city”, and their move to the suburban lands of Grosse Pointe, Michigan.

Though the above summary may seem a bit short to you, the book itself is rather long, both in terms of pages and the type of content it offers. On one hand, we get to witness Cal’s growth and transformation, which can serve as a metaphor or symbol for a number of different things, from the obvious one of gender confusion to that of what immigrants experience, especially across generations.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

“Saints of the Shadow Bible” by Ian Rankin – There are no Saints, Only Sinners

Saints of the Shadow Bible” by Ian Rankin – Book Cover
After the ordeal he endured a while ago, inspector Rebus was allowed back on the force, albeit with a demotion. As he is making his way through a mundane car crash case, news reaches his ears that a case from thirty years ago is being opened once again. What’s worse, Rebus and the men who operated under him at that time are the ones placed under suspicion, as it is believed that they have helped a murderer elude justice for their own, selfish reasons. Malcolm Fox, an old cop working his last cases in internal affairs is the one assigned to the task of finding out what Rebus has to hide, and what side of the fence he is really standing on.

As Fox digs deeper and deeper, it becomes apparent that even the coldest of cases won’t stay buried forever, and what’s more, the events which took place thirty years ago may very well have a bearing on the present, as Scotland is preparing to hold a referendum on independence. In the end, it seems that even those who called themselves saints where still sinners; they just walked under a different label.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Gliding Over the World of Literature – Issue 40

Greetings to everyone, and welcome back for what is already the fortieth edition of Gliding Over the World of Literature. Time sure flies by faster than we run through it, but if one thing has remained constant during this stretch, it’s the fact that the world of books is never short on interesting news and pieces of information to satiate our hunger for knowledge.

In this issue, we will begin by looking into a lost and found work written by Lope de Vega, after which follows a rather in-depth exploration of Stephen King and his family business, and we will conclude things by examining a theory according to which Hitler actually died at age 95 in South America.