Monday, November 21, 2016

Book Review: Marathon, by Christian Cameron

Carrying forward with my journey through the Ancient world via historical novels, Christian Cameron's 2011 novel Marathon (the second in his Long War series, following Killer of Men), continues to follow the story of Arimnestos of Plataea, who begins the novel living back on his farm and working as a blacksmith, although he is quickly moved back into combat, intrigue and even some courtroom drama before the novel moves into it's second half focusing on the build-up to and eventually the actual battle of Marathon.

The novel does a really great job of painting Athens in the period (roughly 490 BCE) and in many ways I felt it actually surpassed the first novel in the series. Still following the same format, wherein an elderly Arimnestos is relaying the story to his daughter and her friends, the novel does an excellent job of painting both daily life and the daily life of soldiers in the era. In addition, naval warfare is introduced and is both exhilarating and terrifying in its intensity.

A great follow-up to the original book, and one that has ensure I'll be reading the rest of the series as soon as I can get my hands on it.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Book Review: Tapping the Dream Tree

Charles de Lint's fourth short story collection set in Newford mixes perspectives (a number of the stories are told in first person), characters (both old and new), and ideas - including a ghost story unlike any I've read before "The Witching Hour", as well as stories of Pixie infestation via the internet, sequels to a number of favourite short stories from across his career to date and the addition of the novella Seven Wild Sisters as a bonus.

As always, the stories are a great deal of fun, mixed with terror and pathos, and had me looking forward to my next book from de Lint.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Review: The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone

Ezekiel Boone's 2016 horror novel The Hatching can be broken down into two works...

Spider and Apocalypse, or one portmanteau


The novel works like a standard disaster movie, a number of characters are introduced in different places, jobs, etc. and through their eyes we view the disaster. The disaster in this novel, however, is a plague of man-eating spiders. My inner twelve-year-old could not allow me to pass this book by, so although I'm not a huge fan of spiders, I thought I would give it a go.

Following a Billionaire, an FBI Agent, The President of the United States Chief of Staff, various scientists, a mystery writer, and some doomsday preppers, the novel moves around the globe as mankind is plagued by a seemingly endless hoard of spiders - man-eating spiders.

The novel is filled with any number of gruesome deaths, a really fun sense of increasing tension, and a few scenes that left me, as a life-long fan of the horror genre, more than a little frightened.

The book is pretty much exactly as advertised, full of spiders, and not the kind you'll forget anytime soon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Movie Review: Doctor Strange

Waiting a week to see the new Marvel film, Doctor Strange made me a little more careful around my social media outlets, and hesitant to read/view any comments due to potential spoilers, but in the end, I'm glad I held off.

The film focuses on the magical side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and other than a few lines of dialouge, has virtually no crossover with any of the previous films in the MCU. As an origin story, it does well to stand on its own, letting us into Strange's world without feeling like we should have done our homework first (like I did for Avengers: Age of Ultron). As the lead, Benedict Cumberbatch has created a character that on the surface hearkens back to Robert Downy Jr.'s Tony Stark in Iron Man (2008) as both characters are top of their profession narcissists who receive epiphany after undergoing tragedy, but where Stark works to build his new life out of his old one, Strange effectively turns his back on his old life entirely and begins again.

The film has some pretty amazing visuals, and if you enjoy 3D, perhaps they are worth the higher ticket cost, but for me the effects worked fine and the story moved along quite nicely. Also, as a fellow Librarian, I was quite happy with the films character Wong (Benedict Wong), who had some of my favourite scenes in the film.

A really fun film and one I'll be hoping to watch again in the future.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Book Review: The Boys from Brazil, by Ira Levin

Ira Levin's novel The Boys from Brazil was published in 1976, adapted into a major motion picture in 1978, and has been sitting on my "to be read" shelf since at least 2009. Having picked it up at a used book store nearly a decade ago, I'm pretty sure my reasoning came from having read his earlier work Rosemary's Baby and absolutely loving it. But year after after, the Nazi Hunting themed book sat on my shelf, waiting to be picked up, and last month, after having suggested it for one of my book clubs, I finally gave it a read.

Like The Odessa File (1972) and Marathon Man (1974), Ira Levin's The Boys from Brazil focuses on underground Nazi War Criminals who have escaped capture after the second world war. Unlike those previous novels however, Levin decided to use actual war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele (who was still at large at the time of publication) as the principle villain. The novel begins with a plot in which 94 men around the world are chosen to be assassinated by Mengele and a small group of killers, and much of the novel focuses on the fictional Yakov Liebermann (based on real world Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal) as he attempts to put together the reason why these men are targeted and attempts to figure out how to stop it.

The novel works as a straight-forward thriller, in that many of the pieces of information are available to the reader, but not to all of the characters, and the various twists and turns in the novel definitely kept me interested and reading.

It's kind of funny, although the largest scientific conceit of the novel (trying not to spoil it here), must have seemed rather far-fetched in the mid-70s, it does come a lot closer to modern science than I was comfortable with. Although a little dated, the novel was a lot of fun, and has me interested in both reading more by Levin and in seeing the film.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Book Review: Killer of Men

Since the beginning of the year I've been working my way through the world of Ancient Greece by reading a historical novel each month (except the month I read Homer's lIiad), and so far I'm really enjoying this look at the ancient world through the eyes of seven different authors. In October, I read Christopher Cameron's Killer of Men, his first in a series on the Persian War, and I have to say it was pretty darn great.

The novel follows a young man through his formative years, beginning as the son of a blacksmith, then his apprenticeship under an old soldier and eventually his rise to becoming a soldier of great renown. As I found a few years ago with Steven Saylor's Gordianus the Finder, a compelling protagonist is key to understanding a new world (in Gordianus's case, that of Ancient Rome), and Arimnestos, the protagonist of Killer of Men, shows the reader how a young man can move from farmer/blacksmith, through to soldier, and eventually the titular Killer of Men.

The author, a former career officer in the US Navy, does a really great job of explaining how combat worked in the ancient world, and through the lens of an older Arimnestros looking back at his younger life, gives the reader context, as well as making the book a potentially interesting listen for those who prefer audio books.

This was a great read for me, and definitely has me interested in reading Cameron's follow up, Marathon.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Book Review: Brittle Innings

Brittle Innings begins like a baseball novel, gives heaps of nostalgia for fans of the sport and then deftly moves into becoming a sequel for one of the greatest horror novels ever written.

This is actually the second novel I've read by Michael Bishop, who's earlier work Who Made Stevie Crye? was an intriguing horror novel about a cursed typewriter. His 1994 novel, Brittle Innings (sorry for the 22-year-old spoiler) is actually a meld of two different stories, a monster hiding among humanity, and a nostalgic look at a man's career for a minor league baseball team in the 1940s. As someone who does not really care for sports, I found the baseball story, mixed with a coming of age narrative for it's protagonist, Danny Boles, to be pretty compelling, looking at the American deep south in the forties, and (for me) the world of professional baseball.

I felt that the monster story in the novel was incredibly well handled, and kept itself quite in keeping with the creatures origin. A neat gateway story for story-lovers who might not necessarily feel comfortable with horror.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Book Review: Waifs and Strays

Charles de Lint's Waifs and Strays sits comfortable between a collection for Young Adults and a collection about Young Adults. Although four of the stories appear in other short story collections by the author, this collection focuses specifically on teen protagonists, and move throughout many of the worlds previously created by de Lint, whether in realms of high fantasy, the world introduced in his science fiction novel Svaha, stories he contributed to the Borderlands series and many stories set in Newford.

For me, the standouts were the two stories about the Apple, a teen vampire (which sounds horrible when I write it out that way) who is desperate to understand her new condition and hopeful for her future. Unlike the Twilight series, there is very little glorification of the vampire condition in these stories and de Lint works to get the reader very invested in Apple and her family.

In addition to some really great stories, each entry also includes an introduction (ranging from a paragraph to a page) giving background info for the story as well as suggestions as to how it fits in his increasingly expanding fictional world.

A great introductory read to de Lint and although I had read four of the stories before, I happy reread each of them, finding them to be like old friends I hadn't seen in a while, but was happy to spend time with again.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Book Review: The Complete Roderick, by John Sladek

With five titles left of my journey through David Pringle's Science Fiction: the 100 Best Books, I've just finished John Sladek's The Complete Roderick, which was originally published as Roderick (1980) and Roderick at Random (1983). The story is highly satirical and follows Roderick, the world's first self-aware robot, as he navigates his way through human culture.

Much of the novel is designed to make fun of the modern world from the point of view of an innocent. Roderick is created in a second-rate university hired by a representative from NASA who is only using the project to cover his own embezzling. As Roderick makes his way through the world (and to be fair, Roderick has no gender, so I should be saying "makes its way") it comes across all sorts of groups and institutions that simply refuse to see it as a robot, and instead assume Roderick is a disabled child. The novel doesn't have a lot of trust for larger institutions and is definitely against capitalism run amok, but at the same time shows how a creature unfamiliar with our world can construct a world view so alien as to seem impossible.

A fascinating read.