Wednesday, December 21, 2016

“From a Paris Balcony” by Ella Carey – Surf the Timeless Waves of Parisian Love

From a Paris Balcony by Ella Carey (Book cover)
Paris is one of those rare cities with a reputation bigger than itself. No matter where you go in the world, Paris will always stand as a symbol of France, love, and probably croissants for some people.

No matter how many years pass, what events shake it up or which people come and go from it, the city always retains a certain spirit, or an atmosphere if you will.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

“The Girl With All the Gifts” by Mike Carey - Feel the Burden of a Blessing

The Girl With All the Gifts by Mike Carey - book cover
Judging by the amount of post-apocalyptic literature that's being published every year, I'd wager to say that we just can't wait for the end of the world to come around for the chance to prove that we are indeed important renegades who can save the world, lead humanity and all that jazz. Let's face it though: the overwhelming majority of us would be ground to dust in virtually any post-apocalyptic scenario, whether it's an alien invasion, a virus or some good old-fashioned zombies. We seldom take the time to imagine what life in this kind of society would be like and look at it from beyond the confines of our own narrow viewpoint. No matter which way you decide to look at it, the world would become a hellhole without convenience stores, physiotherapists, running water or electricity, and the worst of all, no television and internet. That's more or less the kind of devastating setting we're dealing with in Mike Carey's The Girl With All the Gifts .

Friday, November 18, 2016

“The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead – How to Outrun Death and Slavery

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead - book cover
Slavery is without a doubt one of the least pleasant parts of American history, forever casting a shadow of guilt and shame on future generations, one that persists to this very day. As much as we would all like to forget any of that ever happened, we owe it to all the ones who suffered as well as ourselves to remember forever the brutal and unforgivable mistakes of our ancestors... after all, if we don't keep our own history in mind, we are indeed doomed to repeat it.

We can take many approaches to re-telling that history, but ultimately what's important is to have people empathize and connect with all victims, unjustly-tortured and murdered. Colson Whitehead decided to broach the subject by writing a novel about it, telling the story of slaves who are escaping from a plantation in Georgia in hopes of finally finding freedom and safety; the novel is rather appropriately-called The Underground Railroad.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

“The Bone Tree” by Greg Iles – How Does Your Murder Garden Grow?

The Bone Tree by Greg Iles (Book cover)
Despite the fact that the country has been in existence for a rather short amount of time, the United States of America already has quite a rich history to it, one unfortunately filled with many tales of violence and oppression.

Racial strife is something that has always been present in some parts of the country, and though some may not be aware of it, a whole lot of blood was spilled in the Deep South when the people resisted “integration”.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

“Two by Two” by Nicholas Sparks – The Parent's Journey

Two by Two by Nicholas Sparks - book cover
One of the many questions we are going to keep asking ourselves as we go through our lives is: what's actually important? We are surrounded by so many people and material possessions that we often lose track of what it is that truly defines our existence and makes it worthwhile. Unfortunately, some people go through a personal hell of loss to find the truly meaningful elements of their lives, as does Russell Green in Two by Two by Nicholas Sparks.

We are introduced to Russel from the beginning, a successful man in his early thirties with his recently-pregnant wife, Vivian. As the latter quits her job to becomes a stay-at-home mother, the former also does the same, but to start his own business. Eventually Vivian goes back on the job, and the two start to slowly drift apart, as so many people tend to do. With his wife working, Russell took it upon himself to take care of their daughter, London, giving her all the attention and affection he possibly could. Then finally comes the day when the inevitable happens: the marriage between Russell and Vivian comes to an end. It only takes a few months for things to fall apart even more as Russell finds himself in the precarious situation of having no job and caring for his daughter all on his own. And so begins Russell's horrifying and yet hopeful voyage through the world of single parenting and uncertainty, one that will ultimately show him what it is that is truly important to him in life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

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

Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black - book cover
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
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
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
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.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

“Dictator” by Robert Harris – The Great Orator

Dictator by Robert Harris - book cover
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.

Monday, September 05, 2016

“The City of Mirrors” by Justin Cronin – Father of the Apocalypse

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin - book cover
To start with a little disclaimer of sorts, this is the third book in a trilogy, and if you haven't read the previous ones, The Passage and The Twelve, then chances are you wont understand much or enjoy this novel nearly as much as you could. In other words, reading the other two books before this one is a bit of a necessity.

Two books ago Justin Cronin started a vast, sprawling and epic trilogy called The Passage, telling the story of a few human survivors in the wake of a viral apocalypse, one that turned countless people into mindless killer vampire-like creatures. The odds certainly never were in our protagonists' favour, but slowly they manage to reclaim the world that has been taken from them, and things are at the point where they can actually think of something which characters in many other novels would consider a luxury: the possibility of rebuilding society.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

“All the Old Knives” by Olen Steinhauer – The Last Dinner

All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer - book cover
For the most part, spy novels are always about a threat in the immediate future, about saving the country, if not the entire world, right in the nick of time. We're used to seeing spies as basically being supermen/women who travel the world and put themselves in all sorts of danger because they know it to be the right thing to do. However, Olen Steinhauer decided to take a slightly different approach with his latest novel, All the Old Knives, preferring to place his focus on the past.

Without going into the plot in too much detail, we are presented with Celia and Henry, two ex-lovers who used to work in the CIA together. While Celia has retired and is now living a normal life is a wife and mother, Henry is still a case officer working in Vienna. They used to work together, and six years ago it all went to all with the Vienna hostage crisis. Things went South, their agent on the ground might have been compromised, and the whole operation turned into a disaster. Today, Celia and Henry are meeting for the one fateful dinner where deeply-buried secrets will float up to the surface, and where the truth will finally make itself heard.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

“The Angel's Game” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – The Forgotten Books' Connection

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - book cover
While the modern man may seem to be shifting from the literary medium to the visual one, there is no doubt that books will continue to play a very powerful role in the lives of billions of people in the coming decades, if not centuries. As a matter of fact, their impact is so important and palpable that it often becomes the subject of a magnificent story, as is the case with The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

Taking us back to his dark and Gothic version of Barcelona, Zafon presents us with a pulp writer by the name of David Martin. He spends his days in his abandoned (and relatively haunted) mansion in the heart of the city, churning out one story after the next. As one might expect from someone living in those circumstances, things could certainly be better for him, especially as his frustrations begin piling up one on top of the other, slowly leading him into desperation. However, a bright light shines on him in the form of a mysterious stranger offering him a publishing deal... one that seems almost too good to be true. Being in no condition to refuse, Martin relishes the chance and jumps straight to work. However, he eventually comes to realize there is a connection between the books he writes and the darkness surrounding his mansion, and that the mysterious publisher is certainly not who he seems.

Monday, August 29, 2016

“Before the Fall” by Noah Hawley – The Ties that Bind Us

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley - book cover
It feels counter-intuitive, but it seems to be commonly-accepted knowledge that air travel is safer than any other method, with the ratio of plane crashes to successful flights being negligibly low. As a matter of fact, when it the unthinkable does happen, we're often quicker to think of human error or some conspiracy rather than lay the blame on technical malfunctions. However, that doesn't stop many of us from having the very rational fear of hoisting ourselves in a metal box kilometres above the sky, where a slight problem could spell doom for everyone. Noah Hawley seems to know that quite well, with a desolating plane crash setting the stage for his latest novel, Before the Fall.

The story begins as we are introduced to a group of eleven (ten of them part of the elite, one a regular painter) people departing on a private jet towards New York. A few minutes into their flight, something goes terribly awry and the plane descends straight into the ocean, leaving no survivors save the painter, Scott Burroughs, and a four-year-old child who is destined to be the last heir to unimaginably wealthy family. As we get to learn more about the aftermath of the crash and the people that were on board that plane, things start taking a turn for the weird as alarming coincidences point to the possibility of a conspiracy. After all, could it really be a simple mistake or malfunction that led to the end of so many influential people?

Friday, August 26, 2016

“The Twelve” by Justin Cronin – Salvation by the Dozen

The Twelve by Justin Cronin - book cover
A world falling apart is generally a rather complex issue, one that deserves to be explored from multiple angles... after all, world-changing events such as the apocalypse can give rise to many interesting scenarios. With the second book in The Passage trilogy, The Twelve, Justin Cronin continues to weave his ginormous web of narrative threads, both looking back at the beginning from a different angle and pursuing the stories unfinished in the first novel.

Just a note of warning, you pretty much have to read the first book in the trilogy in order to enjoy this one. Otherwise, get ready to spend half your reading time on Google trying to make sense of everything you're reading.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

“A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams – The Primitive Man Inside

Since the days when we crawled out of our caves to create larger societies we have striven to become more and more civilized... that is, to abandon the urges considered primitive in favour of intellectual pursuits, effectively transcending the inner caveman. Of course, the world is far from being an ideal place, with practice often heavily differing from theory. Virtually all of us have to contend with the so-called inner caveman, the manifestation of base desires that often come into contradiction with what society has been teaching us. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning play A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams illustrates that struggle perfectly through the troubled life of a very flawed woman.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

“It Ends with Us” by Colleen Hoover – The Love Triangle of Broken Souls

It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover - book cover
While it is true that virtually all of us have or will at some point experience some turbulence when it comes to romantic relationships, most can rejoice for never experiencing something more emotionally-taxing than an angry break-up. However, as you might expect, there are those for whom questions regarding relationships get infinitely more complex and nuanced, as is the case with all the characters involved in Colleen Hoover's It Ends with Us.

In this book we are first introduced to Lily, a woman who never exactly had it easy in life, but nevertheless managed to power on through, graduating from college and starting her own business. The only thing missing from her life is true love, and she believes she may have found it with the magnificent neurosurgeon Ryle Kincaid. While the latter may certainly be an enticing catch, especially with his soft spot for Lily, he isn't exactly all he appears to be: as it turns out, Kincaid has an irrational aversion to relationships, and even dating in general. Even though he does start to break that last rule for Lily, she can't help but wonder what on Earth could have led him down such a lonely and secretive path. This new relationship she got into begins to overwhelm her, at which point her first love and protector suddenly returns, putting all Lily has worked for in jeopardy. And so, these three imperfect people find themselves entangled in a complex triangle that will test and teach them more than they could have ever expected.

Friday, August 19, 2016

“A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess – Taming the Ultra-Violence

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess-book cover
The idea of separating society into criminals and law-abiding citizens has taken hold in virtually every country, and it certainly makes a lot of sense: either you break the law and cause harm, or you don't and stay out of trouble. Of course, in practice things often turn out to be different, with lawbreakers escaping consequences while law-abiding citizens suffer unjust harm. While incarceration is an effective form of punishment used throughout the world, its ultimate goal is rehabilitation and reintegration into society, provided of course the crimes aren't too severe... but then comes the question: how far can we push our limits for the sake of redemption and freedom?

Many years ago Anthony Burgess pondered on such questions, writing his timeless classic also made into a movie of the same name, A Clockwork Orange. Written back in 1963, it introduces us to a dystopian sort of future, one where criminals like Alex, the main character, take over the city at night and make it their playground. As Alex and his gang escalate their acts of violence further and further, they find it difficult to escape the ire of the government, who then sets out to reform and redeem Alex from his base urges... but are the results really worth all the side effects and methods used? Is there really some kind of redemption to be found for him, or can there only be punishment for the grief he inflicted?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

“The Passage” by Justin Cronin – An Experimental Apocalypse

The Passage by Justin Cronin - book cover
In the world of post-apocalyptic novels one would be hard-pressed to find a scenario that hasn't been covered yet. It seems that throughout the centuries we've managed to come dangerously close to exhausting all the possibilities for our specie's demise, and that's forcing authors to dig deeper and deeper into their creative genius to put new twists on things. Justin Cronin is one such author, and his efforts have brought us The Passage trilogy, with the first book being appropriately-titled The Passage.

The epic three-book journey begins as we are acquainted with Amy, a young girl whose life is marked by devastation as she kidnapped and forced to participate in a governmental experiment at the fragile age of six, all while a valiant lawman, special agent Brad Wolgast, does his best to track her down and save her... and he does so, but not before the experiment goes awfully wrong and precipitates the collapse of human society. Decades later, small patches of survivors live in a world ravaged by a virus that turns people into blood-lusting vampires, leaving no hope for those who have the misfortune of being alive. However, hope still lives on as Amy may be holding a trump card up her sleeve, one that could potentially shift the tides.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

“The Cardinal of the Kremlin” by Tom Clancy – Infiltrating the Red Bear's Cave

The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy - book cover
There is a time many of us are too young to remember, while those who do see it as a distant past... but just over twenty-five years ago, the Soviet Union was still alive, and a few years earlier was still prospering well enough. There was a sense of balance between the two superpowers of the world, and while their presence certainly did serve to keep the other in check, it also set the stage for an era of advanced espionage where information was the most valuable commodity. Tom Clancy often uses this setting as a backdrop for his celebrated novels, as he did for perhaps one of his more overlooked masterpieces, The Cardinal of the Kremlin.

It is the third book in the Jack Ryan series, and while it does fill in some blanks left by the other books and ties certain events together, it is by no means necessary to read the novels in order. You'll be able to quickly get into it and there will never be a moment when you'll feel as if you're missing out because of something you haven't read elsewhere in the series. And so without further ado, let us get on with the show.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

“NYPD Red 4” by James Patterson and Marshall Karp - Blood on the Silver Screen

NYPD Red 4 by James Patterson and Marshall Karp-book cover
We get small glimpses into their lives through cameras and newspapers, and what we see often furthers our belief that they really are different from us. We constantly yearn for what they have, yet at the same time we have no idea of what sacrifices that entails. Indeed, celebrities are somewhat of a mystery for many of us, almost seeming to live in an entire world apart, one reserved for a higher class of humans. But then there are always events reminding us that these are mortal people, with a head, two arms and two legs just like everyone else... events like murder, as it happens in NYDP Red 4 by James Patterson and Marshall Karp.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

“My Name is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout – A Wounded Life

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout - book cover
No matter which paths we choose to take through life, there comes a time when we realize that all roads to lead to Rome, a fate none of us can escape in the end. When the time comes, we all want to be able to look back on our lives with real pride and joy, pointing out both moments of great pain and happiness alike; after all, we are the sum of our experiences, both good and bad. For some, however, the moment to look back on life comes somewhere in the middle, as is the case with the relatively traumatized titular protagonist in My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout.

As the novel opens up, we are presented with Lucy Barton herself, lying on a hospital bed and recovering from an operation that turned out to be more complicated than anticipated. Middle-aged, with a family and partially successful as a writer, her life seems to enjoy the kind of stability many can only dream of. However, in through the door comes walking her mother, someone she hasn't kept in touch with for many years. As they begin to talk and gossip, Lucy begins the journey into her own past, digging deeper and deeper, remembering all the moments that defined her, that turned her into the imperfect woman she is today.

Friday, August 05, 2016

“The Guest Room” by Chris Bohjalian –Mistakes that Shape Life

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian - book cover
Some would argue that our identities are essentially confined to our collection of memories, to the important decisions we've made in our lives, and shaped by the mistakes that stay with us until the end of time (or until we get old enough to start forgetting). In one way or another, we always learn something from the big errors we make and the catastrophes we cause, but not everyone is lucky enough to escape from their own misfortune unscathed, as is the case in The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian.

The book begins as we are introduced to Richard and Kristin Chapman, a relatively happy couple, with the former preparing to organize a bachelor party for his brother. Without too much of a protest, Kristin agreed to take their daughter away for the evening so the men can have their fun. Though Kristin did expect a bit of debauchery, she never imagined how far they would take things, that her husband would have a defining intimate moment in the titular guest room, or that two women would stab their bodyguards to death before vanishing into the night. As the next morning comes, Kristin and Richard see their life spiral out of control as their home becomes a crime scene and Richard is put on indefinite leave by his banking firm... not to mention the infidelity Kristin probably won't forgive him for. While the Chapmans try to hold their communal life together, the dark-haired Alexandra who Richard approached at the party has her first taste of freedom in a long time... but it's soured by her now being on the run from both the police and the mafia.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Exploring the Literary Universe with Allen Eskens

Allen Eskens

Personal site

Allen Eskens is a writer whose first novel was The Life We Bury, with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Minnesota.

In 2015 he was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. His grand goal is to give readers novels that challenge their creative thinking with magnificent twists but also respect them with intellectual honesty and appreciation.
The art of writing is one very few (if any) can claim to have mastered completely, with even the titans of literature looking at it as a lifelong learning process. Today, we have the fantastic opportunity of looking a bit deeper into that process with reputed author Allen Eskens. He is responsible for writing the highly-acclaimed novels The Life We Bury and The Guise of Another, and is currently getting ready to release his next effort, The Heavens May Fall. Here are the words of wisdom he had to share with the rest of the world:

Q: To start at the beginning, how far back can you trace your entry into the world of books and the birth of your desire to become a writer? When did you write your first story?

AE: Honestly, I have always been a very slow reader and easily distracted. My entry into writing came after I left law school. I started college as a theater major where I developed a love of the dramatic structure. After deciding to become a lawyer, I needed a way to scratch my creative itch, so I began to study writing. Now, writing is my passion. I’ve written short stories for class assignments, but never with the intention of getting anything published. My first attempt at publication was my debut novel, The Life We Bury.

Q: Despite now being a writer you were a criminal defense attorney for approximately twenty years; what pushed you to change your path? Do you ever use that time of your life as an inspiration when writing any of your books? Has it helped you become a better writer?

AE: I am still a criminal defense attorney, although I spend more time on my writing endeavors than law these days. I don’t draw as much material from my law practice as one might expect, relying instead on my overactive imagination.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

“Cut, Paste, Kill” by Marshall Karp – Scrapbooks of Vengeance

Cut, Paste, Kill by Marshall Karp - book cover
Keeping a scrapbook is one of those hobbies accessible to virtually anyone on the planet, regardless of who they are or where they come from. It's a celebration of life, one where all the important moments that had an impact on someone are brought together, immortalised in its pages. For the most part, scrapbooks highlight one's joys and happiness, what ultimately made their life worth living. On the other hand though, there are always those who are capable of spinning things around, turning their scrapbook into something darker, like in Cut, Paste, Kill by Marshall Karp, where it becomes an instrument of retribution.

Now, Cut, Paste, Kill may certainly be the fourth novel in the series, but that doesn't mean you have to read all the previous ones to understand it. Each Lomax and Biggs novel is designed to be read on its own, and being unfamiliar with the other works in the series won't hinder your enjoyment or understanding in any way.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

“A Time to Love and a Time to Die” by Erich Maria Remarque – The Empty Homecoming

A Time to Love and a Time to Die - book cover
When a war ends it seems customary that the light of good be shined upon the victors, while those defeated be relegated to the least pleasant pages of history. Needless to say, this happened at the end of the Second World War and allowed many of those on the Allies' side to get away war crimes, while on the other hand all who lived under the Axis rule were lumped together as murderous animals. Thankfully, we have authors like Erich Maria Remarque who can take a more neutral and moderated approach outlook on war and the different sides that fight it, something the novel A Time to Love and a Time to Die illustrates magnificently.

The premise behind the novel is a rather simple one, as we are presented with Ernst Graeber, a German soldier who nearly spent two gruelling years at the Russian front. By what seems like a miracle, Ernst is granted a three-week leave to do as he pleases. With the war going rather badly at that point, Ernst suspected that his vacation may end up being cancelled and decides to return home without writing to his parents, not wanting to unnecessarily get their hopes up. When he finally does make it back home, he finds most of it bombed to ruins by the Allies, and his parents are nowhere in sight. Searching desperately for some kind of comfort and solace, he reconnects with a childhood friend of his, Elisabeth, also a imprisoned by war in her own way.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

“The Fireman” by Joe Hill – Hellfire on Earth

The Fireman by Joe Hill - book cover
Humanity will most certainly one day be wiped out from existence, and whether that takes thousands, millions or billions of years isn't really all that relevant in the large scheme of things, at least when compared to the rest of the universe. It's a topic that has fuelled the imaginations of authors for centuries upon centuries as they imagined all the possible ways things could come to an end. Today, we've seen zombies, viruses, monsters, natural disasters, nuclear wars, scientific experiments, alien invasions, giant meteors, magical cataclysms... you name it. It's a bit difficult to put a new spin into a genre that's been going strong for so long, but it seems like Joe Hill managed to do so in his most recent novel, The Fireman.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

“The Atlantis World” by A. G. Riddle – Salvation of the Ancients

The Atlantis World by A. G. Riddle - book cover
A little while ago A. G. Riddle started The Origin Mystery series, captivating the minds, hearts and imaginations of countless science-fiction fans around the world, establishing himself as a modern force in the genre.

In the first two books in the series he took readers through an extravagant adventure involving human genetic manipulation, a race of ancient aliens, a plague to wipe out humankind by forcing its evolution... in short, never a dull moment.

With the third book in the series, The Atlantis World , Riddle finally brings it all to a close as the stakes get raised higher and higher, with the light of salvation dimming ever so quickly.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

“Terminal” by Marshall Karp - Disposable Hitmen

Terminal by Marshall Karp - book cover
We all know that life is the kind of thing that can insidiously flip all of your plans upside down, and pull the plug on your existence. However, we go on day to day without being too concerned by that fact, mainly because the probability of it all ending is one we feel we can neglect... and rightfully so, for most people actually do end up living until a relatively old age without all that many problems. On the other hand, there are those who suffer terrible misfortune, being diagnosed with incurable illnesses, making the clock tick ever faster. This puts them in the most strenuous position imaginable, one a vile criminal takes full advantage of in Terminal, the latest Lomax and Biggs novel by Marshall Karp, the #1 bestselling co-author of the NYPD Red series along with James Patterson.

Before beginning the review, I'd like to mention that even though this book is part of a series, each and every novel in it is written so that you can start wherever you please. While it is true that reading the books in the proper order will help you understand the characters a little better, it certainly isn't required for them to be enjoyed to the fullest.

Friday, July 15, 2016

“The Black Obelisk” by Erich Maria Remarque – Life After Defeat

The Black Obelisk by Erich Maria Remarque - book cover
With us having the tendency to divide our worlds between us and them, we seldom take the time to look at what's happening on the other side of the hill, and that is ever-more true in times of war, where the other side of the front can be populated by nothing but scum (or so both sides tell themselves). Luckily enough, we have plenty of thinkers who recognized the importance of empathizing with and trying to understand those on the bad side of history. Erich Maria Remarque could perhaps be described as such a person, gifting us with some of the most touching and thought-provoking war novels ever written. The Black Obelisk is one of his more famous stories, and rather than being focused on a war itself, it's more about living in the aftermath.

As the book begins we are introduced to Ludwig, a self-proclaimed poet and veteran of World War I... a German veteran. He comes back after the turmoil is over and tries to establish his life in a small city, working for a monument company specializing in commemorative and funeral stones. He feels like there is much more to life than the daily routine he's found himself stuck in, and that's when he meets Isabelle, falling in love with her almost instantly. Together, they try to break free from the bleakness and desolation of a world ravaged by war, but that proves itself to be far from easy; the country and its people have fallen victims to horrible economic conditions, a widespread depression, as well as feelings of humiliation and despair after having lost the First World War. On top of everything, it seems that the gears have been set in motion for history to already repeat itself.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

“The Atlantis Plague” by A. G. Riddle – A Rebirth in Pestilence

The Atlantis Plague by A. G. Riddle - book cover
Genetic manipulation and bio-engineering are topics which are likely to gain quite a lot of traction in the coming years as our technology in those realms expands ever-further.

As you might imagine, the ability to manipulate life on a molecular level is a rather heavy proposition, one which raises numerous moral as well as practical questions, especially what it could mean down the line for the race as a whole.

A. G. Riddle is the kind of author who certainly isn't afraid to explore these grey and vague areas of modern life, as he does fantastically in the second book in The Origin Mystery Series, The Atlantis Plague.

Friday, July 08, 2016

“Have You Seen This Girl?” by Carissa Ann Lynch – The Fallen's Vengeance

Have You Seen This Girl? by Carissa Ann Lynch - book cover
Many of us can certainly identify a few painful and humiliating moments that marked us during our childhood, but for the most part the majority of us are indeed lucky enough not to have suffered the kinds of events that deform our lives forever. Unfortunately, there are some about whom the same can't be said, people who have suffered irrevocable changes at the hands of very real monsters. Their stories go in a number of different ways in real life, but in Have You Seen This Girl? by Carissa Ann Lynch, it goes the way of bloody vengeance.

The book begins by introducing us to two air-headed teenage girls, Wendi and Claire, about to go on a date with two mischievous boys promising them romance and adventure. Perhaps the promise did turn out to be true, but in the worst way possible: the two girls find themselves kidnapped and brought to a place Wendi could only call “The House of Horrors”. There she witnessed the murder of her best friend, was made addicted to heroin, and abused in all the ways imaginable... and then set free. The woman in charge is convinced that Wendi would never be able to find her way back, or identify anyone responsible, and as an additional measure, threatens to kill her family should she open her mouth. And so, Wendi bides her time, spending her youth in the foster care system and detox houses, until the day she grows old enough to move back out into the world under a new identity, and put an end to the monsters who ruined God-knows how many lives.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

“The Atlantis Gene” by A. G. Riddle – Preventing Our Evolution

The Atlantis Gene by A. G. Riddle - book cover
When it come to the big picture behind humanity's evolution, science has managed to leave relatively few blanks for us to fill in, at least when we're speaking generally.

However, the closer we look the more we see that certain segments of our timeline have been lost throughout the countless years we've traversed as a race... leaving ample room for imagination to take over.

In the worldwide-famous The Atlantis Gene by A. G. Riddle, the author makes great use of that idea, concocting a riveting adventure that begins with a rather unusual quest: to stop mankind from evolving.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

“The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Eco – A Sinister Abbey

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco - book cover
Virtually every single murder mystery that's being written today takes place in the present day, with few daring to venture further back in time when one had to rely on logical deductions rather forensic technology to move the case forward. It is rather rare to see a good murder mystery that takes us hundreds and hundreds of years into the past, as Umberto Eco did with his world-famous The Name of the Rose, which as some of you know graced the silver screen as a renowned movie starring none other than Sean Connery.

The story takes place in the year 1327 and follows a certain Brother William of Baskerville, a disciple of God who is far from the person you'd expect him to be. Rather than be led by superstition and religious zeal, Brother William is the kind to place reason and logic above all else, naturally earning somewhat of a disdain from his peers. However, his talents aren't ignored as he is tasked with an important mission: investigate an Italian abbey where some heresy is suspected of occurring. Upon his arrival, Brother William finds himself drawn into a much more sinister mission than he had anticipated, with seven bizarre deaths suddenly befalling the abbey. Putting on his detective tunic, Brother William proceeds to unravel the bloody thread by collecting evidence, interpreting clues and their implications, deciphering codes... diving ever so deeper into the abbey's morbid labyrinth (both physical and metaphorical).

Monday, June 27, 2016

“The Crossing” by Michael Connelly – Cops and Lawyers; The Partnership

The Crossing by Michael Connelly - book review
Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller are both rather well-known icons of the thriller world at this point, both operating on the same side of the law, but each one in their own respective domain. Harry Bosch is a detective while Mickey Haller is a defense attorney, the kind whose clients are rarely innocent. The two don't cooperate more than need be, but in The Crossing by Michael Connelly, they are left no choice but to pool their forces to stop an innocent life from being wasted.

As the novel starts, we learn that Harry Bosch is actually no longer working for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), but nevertheless his half-brother Mickey Haller has the kind of complex task Harry can't help but sink his teeth in. Mickey's client, Da'Quan Foster, is accused of having beaten to death a woman named Alexandra Parks who worked as an assistant city manager in West Hollywood. There are six weeks to spare until the trial, and Haller firmly believes that his client has in fact been set up, and truly is innocent for once. While Bosch certainly doesn't feel overjoyed at the idea of working alongside the lawyers he can't stand, he still can't let a miscarriage of justice occur, not at least without trying to do something about it. Along with help of his former partner, Lucia Soto, they begin to dig up questions upon questions, eventually coming face-to-face with a large conspiracy, its participants wallowing in corruption, greed and brutality.

Friday, June 24, 2016

“The Supreme Gift” by Paulo Coelho – The Virtues of Love

The Supreme Gift by Paulo Coelho - book cover
The meaning of life is probably the oldest question we've been struggling with, one to which the majority of us don't expect to find an answer to, not any time soon at least. The lines of thought vary greatly why each and every one of us lives, ranging from the fulfilment of a unique destiny to complete meaninglessness and nihilism. Some of the greatest thinkers, however, never give up on the question and strive to uncover the essential element behind our reason for being... and thankfully, many of them happen to be authors, like the renowned Paulo Coelho.

In one of his more recent publications, The Supreme Gift, Coelho takes a different path than what we are used to seeing from him; whereas his best-known works gravitate towards the mystical and religious, this time he looks beyond those barriers at the one primordial element uniting all of us. But more precisely, this rather short book focuses on Paul's letter to the Corinthians, a passage most people who are acquainted with the Bible remember to some degree. We are presented with a re-telling of that story, one that is more suitable for a novel and complemented by the author's own peals of wisdom that came to be from his inspiration after reading the original text.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

“Steppenwolf” by Hermann Hesse – Reconciling Our Psyches

Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse - book cover
Hermann Hesse was definitely a very unusual person whose life followed a rather difficult path. Amongst countless afflictions he had to deal with was the deteriorating mental health of his first wife, a variety of physical ailments as well as a non-stop criticism from German nationalists who accused him of being a pacifist during the First World War. As the tragedies of his life accumulated he began to waver, eventually resulting in a nervous breakdown, one that changed his life forever. During these dark days, Hesse underwent Jungian psychoanalysis, and it changed his outlook on the world, so much that he subsequently penned his most revered masterpiece, Steppenwolf.

As a book Steppenwolf isn't very easy to describe, practically making for a unique genre all on its own. The story is structured into three basic parts. In the first one we are introduced to the main character, Harry Haller, who is basically a representation of the author himself. We get to learn about his life, about what makes him tick, his idiosyncraties... basically who he is as a person. The second part of the book focuses on Haller's inner world and the intense psychological conflict raging within between the different aspects of his psyche. In the third part of the book, we march onwards towards the resolution of this inner conflict, the reconciliation between the different fragments of his personality to once again form a fulfilling whole.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

“Dead Shift” by Richard Phillips – The End of One Adventure; Only the Start of the Next

Dead Shift by Richard Phillips - book cover
The Rho Agenda Inception series, though intended as a prequel, basically became a whole adventure on its own with its set of unique questions and mysteries we're dying to have answers to. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and with Dead Shift, Richard Phillips concludes this series, and with a huge bang no less.

Just a quick disclaimer, though you probably could enjoy this book without having read the two previous ones, I find it doubtful. It is a continuous story, and without context many of the book's events lose meaning and impact. In any case, on with the show!

Following the events of the previous book, Jack and his team of commandos are called upon for what will perhaps be their most important and impactful mission yet. The NSA's most talented hacker and the whole world is pointing digital guns at each other, hot and ready for a worldwide cyberwar to begin. Needless to say, the team finds quite a few obstacles on their way to success, including the Chinese government, tech-billionaires, and a “superintelligent” being whose abilities might very well make him the most powerful being on the planet, far ahead of what anyone thought possible. Along the way, Jack keeps on fighting and struggling against the alien inside of him, trying to control it, learn what it is, what it wants, and of course, how to get rid of it.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

“The Girl in the Ice” by Robert Bryndza – A Chilling Connection

The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza - book cover
Serial killers have captured our imaginations since the times of Jack the Ripper; the idea of an unpredictable, homicidal psychopath who cannot be reasoned with really helps to bring out the fear and paranoia within us. After all, in modern society where most people learn to keep their “dark urges” covert, anyone could potentially be a serial killer, even those close to you. Fortunately, in real life serial killings really aren't all that common, with there certainly being more of them in literature than anyone else. With his debut crime thriller, The Girl in the Ice, Robert Bryndza adds a valuable gem to that collection.

The novel begins with the introduction of Detective Erika Foster, returning to the job following a long leave of absence. Without tarrying on too much, a poor worker discovers the body of a missing girl in a frozen pond, with obvious signs of homicide all around. She turns out to be a rich socialite whose father has more than a few connections in high places. Though her superiors are almost consistently shooting down her ideas, Erika believes more and more that this murder is connected to previous killings with the same modus operandi; three other young girls, all prostitutes, were strangled and dumped in some body of water. As the clock ticks, an increasingly desperate race is run by the police to catch the killer before he strikes again, or perhaps even vanishes for good.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

“Dead Wrong” by Richard Phillips – The Elusive Sun Staff

Dead Wrong by Richard Phillips - book cover
When the choice between life and death fluttered before the eyes of Jack Gregory, he didn't hesitate much and opted to stay in the world of the living, no matter the cost. As it turned out, the price he paid was a rather unusual one, as an alien entity became bound to his soul, basically using Jack as a host. What's more, Jack quickly found out that this alien has rather homicidal ambitions and a tendency to cause visions.

In Dead Wrong, the second book in The Rho Agenda Inception series by Richard Phillips, Jack Gregory, now nicknamed “Ripper”, is still struggling with the alien inside of him, but that's a problem he'll have to put on the back burner for now. He has been hired for a most complicated mission, one that could be of the suicidal variety. He must rescue an imprisoned shaman in South America in hopes of retrieving the Sun Staff, an indescribably old and immeasurably powerful alien artefact that, needless to say, cannot fall into the wrong hands for it has the potential to change the course of history. The clock is now ticking for Jack, who amidst all of his woes has to contend with neo-fascists as well as the National Security Agency, the latter of which has sicked their best (and apparently most attractive) agent after him.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

“One Plus One” by Jojo Moyes – Merging Opposite Worlds

It is said that opposites supposedly attract in life, but most of us have observed that only to be true for magnets. As it happens, people who are quite different tend to have unfulfilling friendships or relationships, if not outright being on bad terms. Nevertheless, in life as in literature, miracles do happen sometimes and the most surprising combinations can lead to the most unexpected results, as it does Jojo Moyes' One Plus One .

In this novel we are introduced to Jess, a hard-working woman whose life is in very strange shambles. Under pressure from all the terrible decisions he's made, her husband decided to go away and live with his mother for a couple weeks... that was two years ago. Jess is working multiple jobs to provide for her two kids, one of which isn't even hers. She's barely making ends meet, her son is having trouble with bullies, while her mathematically-gifted daughter has been offered an education in a prestigious school in London, something the family simply cannot afford.

Friday, June 03, 2016

“Red Platoon” by Clinton Romesha – Surrounded by Death

Red Platoon by Clinton Romesha - book cover
Though wars are quite often depicted in both movies and literature, some of them even lauded for their realism, there is simply nothing that can come close to first-hand accounts of the people who have actually survived through them. Those of us fortunate enough never to witness war can never really be certain that what we're presented with is an accurate depiction of reality... unless it comes from people like Clinton Romesha, a United States Army solider who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in the 2009 Battle of Keating.

In his book Red Platoon, Romesha takes it upon himself to give an accurate and detailed account of what led up to the battle, and the fourteen hellish hours spent on the edge of the abyss, until the counter-attack finally drove the enemy back beyond the wire. We get to learn quite a bit about the base itself, it's significance for the U.S. Military as well as the various tactical pitfalls and vulnerabilities it presented. We also learn about the people who fought beside Romesha, who they were, the sacrifices they made, the inferno they all had to endure.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

“Make Me” by Lee Child – Reaching for the Truth

Make Me by Lee Child - front cover
Living life in the shoes of a person such as Jack Reacher is truly hard. A master of all trades and badass in all categories, the same rules that apply to the average person are often forgotten. In situations that most people would much prefer ignoring, Jack will be the one to intervene. Though that may make him somewhat like a hero, it also draws him onto some dark, twisted and dangerous paths that may very well prove lethal for him, as is the case in one of his newer adventures, Make Me by Lee Child.

Things start off quite innocently as Reacher finds himself in a small and nearly-deserted little corner of the world called Mother's Rest. The secret as to how the town got its name seems to be more firmly guarded than the recipe for Coca-Cola, with none spilling so much as a hint about it. In this little town, Jack comes across a woman named Michelle Chang, and she mistakes him for her partner who went missing. She believes it had to do with a small-time investigation that somehow turned very dangerous, and that her partner may in fact be dead. While most people would nod and wish her luck, Reacher decides it's time for him to get involved, especially since he has nothing better to do.