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Tyrannosaur Canyon

Tyrannosaur Canyon - Douglas Preston You know it's a bad sign when you keep flipping to the end of the book to see how much further you have to slog 'til the end. I consider myself a fan of the Lincoln-Child (LC) books. At the time of this writing I've read seven Pendergast books back-to-back earlier this year. Although I wouldn't categorize them as tomes of High Literature I do find them well-written (especially for the thriller genre), suspenseful, interesting, and almost always entertaining.

Having blazed through those seven co-authored books, I wanted to try out each author "on their own" in some of their solo books to see how they fared. Judging solely from this slapdash novel I'd say that the two authors together are far greater than the sum of their parts. I suspect that working together sets up some friendly competition resulting in more complex novels, propelling their stories to greater heights.

Coincidences, or "Haven't I Seen You Somewhere Before?"
It's stunning -- some would say "astonishing" -- how many similarities appear in this book. Here are a few that have been dragged out of previous books which Douglas Preston co-authored.

1. The feisty, under appreciated -- but highly intelligent -- female museum worker.
2. The sleazy, uptight, bug-up-his-butt museum director.
3. The dark chase in the deserted museum basement. You know the one: a terrified character is running down aisles, knocking stuff over in the dark, hiding from a mysterious killer who -- against all odds -- knows a shocking amount of detail about the museum and its security. (See LC's [b:"Dance of Death"], I believe, and a few others if I'm not mistaken -- reading seven [b:Pendergast series] books back-to-back earlier this year has caused some of them to blur together).
4. Unmistakable shades of Pendergast in the government uber-agent who appreciates the finer things in life, has a superhuman past and a wife who was murdered, and, as the story begins, is holed up in a remote monastery.
5. The dark chase through the tunnels of an abandoned mine (see the LC book [b:"White Fire"]). What's this fixation Douglas Preston has with mines?
6. The dizzying number of time the word "astonished" (or astonishes and astonishing) is used. Well, mystery solved, I guess: now we know which of the two authors, Child or Preston, manages to jam the word onto every page.


Problems and Questions
1. Is it really believable to think that anyone would be so stubborn as the character Tom is about the "promise from a dying man" -- even as the reasons keep piling up why he should break that promise? I suppose this was needed so that the story and all its implausibilities could begin stacking up.
2. How is it that Wyman Ford happens to be a few minutes' drive away, is an expert code breaker, and happens to be in a vulnerable state of mind to be drawn into action?
3. The improbable coincidence of this near-complete T-Rex's remains being found in Tyrannosaur Canyon is actually pointed out by a character in the book (as in, "wouldn't that be a kicker if it ended up being found there?") -- then the book actually goes there!
4. We are given an ex-con caricature of a man with the "world's most biologically accurate T-Rex tattoo" who refers to every guy as a "son of a bitch" and every woman as a "bitch". World's most biologically accurate... Uuumm. Yeah.
5. Why doesn't anyone clear that damn sticky blood smear off the dead prospector's notebook? Lysol wipe, people.
6. Minor gripe here but can someone explain to me why Weeder buys a coffee and a slice of pizza at the convenience store, pays with exact change, then goes outside to dump the coffee and throw the pizza onto a cactus
7. Hackneyed action sequences abound like the protagonist jumping out of a flaming truck before it flies off the road to explode in a canyon and another scene where one of our bad guys rises from the flames of a crashed chopper to fire away at the good guys before falling over dead.
8. Why does Weeder keep Sally alive in the cave when he is obviously going to kill her? She doesn't end up serving as bait to Tom or any other purpose and the fact that she is chained to a wall to be "Dealt With Later" is obviously just a ham handed plot device to try to introduce some kind of tension to the book.


In short, this book didn't really work for me. The plot was paint-by-numbers, the characters shallow, and the very brief 2 or 3 page chapters that give the book a "movie" feel and their brevity never really allowed me to immerse into any extended passages of the book. Every chapter felt almost like it ended needing a commercial break.

I toss the book aside and wait patiently for [b:Blue Labyrinth|20980959|Blue Labyrinth (Pendergast, #14)|Douglas Preston|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1395260672s/20980959.jpg|40358210] later this year. Though we'll still have to dodge more than a few abuses of the word "astonishing", it's a fair bet that the result of Lincoln and Child joining heads will result in something better than this.

Ready Player One: A Novel

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline I am the target audience for this book -- on paper, at least. I am a geek and have been since before it was hip. My formative years were the 80's and, like any good geek, I grew up on the usual for the time: I consumed Monty Python in vast abundance, listened to Rush and ELP, could quote movies with my friends like there's no tomorrow. I'm talking about the usual stuff -- you know: Wrath of Khan, Dune, The Lord of The Rings (books, all generations of the movie adaptations, audio tapes, radio dramatizations), Star Trek (all varieties), The A-Team, Twin Peaks, Blade Runner, etc. -- as well as some "deep cuts" like Neighbors, Mr. Frost, The Goodies, Akira, They Live, The Reflecting Skin and stuff like that. I get it. I grew up with Atari 2600's, C64's, and Intellivisions. Yes, yes. I get the references. Please don't make me go on and prove it some more. I can but it will get embarrassing for both of us and you will quickly regret having challenged me.

I can sit in a room with my childhood nerd buddies and go on and on about nerd movies, nerd music, nerd comedy -- whatever -- for hours. And we roar with laughter and delight. It's a tribal thing. It makes us feel connected in ways that our odd personalities cannot otherwise. But when someone stumbles into our group with some of the same quirks...influences, if you will...we freeze up. We size 'em up and we feel kinda intruded upon. Who is this person treading upon OUR quotes, movies, trivia, and music?! Why is he quoting The Cheese Shop?! Our geek hackles are raised. We clam up. Screw this guy. He's a poser!

Enter this book. It's THAT guy. It makes all the references we know all too well and thumps them around like it's being original, "geeky", like it "understands" what it means to be a nerd. Maybe it does. I don't know and I guess it doesn't really matter whether it does or doesn't because I am not interested in its displays of nerdiness; I have my own. Give me a story to hang around it and drop your references tastefully and with purpose and maybe we've got something.

But this book doesn't. Every reference came across as obvious but more than that. It came across as forced. Like the author was given a random collection of nerd trivia and told to shoehorn as much of it into a book as possible. Or maybe he wracked his brain for months and collected every bit of trivia he could drain into a Moleskin notebook with a Space Pen. As a person who gets every reference contained in the book without a nanosecond of thought I was left wondering why I was bothering. What was the point? Especially when the author doesn't just make the reference. Oh no. He has to then beat you over the head with an explanation of each reference to add insult to injury. Maybe this geek reference "name dropping" works at office cocktail parties ("Here comes Billy. Man, he is so geeky and special. We love to just LISTEN to him go on about Star Trek!") but it doesn't do squat for me in book form. It just annoys me and makes me write mean book reviews on GoodReads.

As for other aspects of the book, the writing is flat, the story is not challenging, the narrative is ridiculous, the world itself is extraordinarily derivative, the characters are beyond cardboard, and the action is borderline laughable. For me it fails on every conceivable front. The audience I can see adoring this would be 10 - 15 year old kids who have steeped themselves (for whatever reason!) in a resurgence of retro 80's geek nostalgia and get a rush when they recognize a blatant reference to said culture. Blehhh. Whatever.

As with most books that 'everyone loves', don't believe the hype. Ignore the endless blurbs lining the cover and choking the first few pages. Very few popular things are ever any good (The Beatles being a notable exception) and this book just proves it. File this mislabeled Young Adult bullcrap right next to Twilight as far as I'm concerned.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption - Laura Hillenbrand I’ve seen recently that negative commentary or reviews about this book invoke a kind of backlash normally reserved for non-conformists who critique the Bible, The Diary of Ann Frank, The Last Lecture, or any Oprah 'Book of the Month'. Well, brace yourself because here comes another one.

This book is a poorly written, exaggerated, sensationalized version of a true story, an over-hyped pop history book more concerned with drumming home the message that the human spirit can be indestructible in the face of extreme adversity (a pet theme for the author) than in being a tight and accurate biography of a war hero. I had the feeling throughout the book that the “true story” was buried somewhere deep in the pages, struggling to get past the hyperbole and over-the-top events to floor the reader with what really happened. It’s instead mired in the monotonous descriptions of our protagonist’s lurid misfortunes and maltreatment, told in mind-numbing detail, and never really allowed to break free.

Judging by the notes, Laura Hillenbrand has put in a respectable amount of research yet the way in which she weaves the facts into the book is so sloppy and lacking any hint of subtlety it leaves you feeling like you’re reading a first draft script for a Michael Bay flick (remains to be seen if you are). The resulting story is horrendously tedious, repetitive, and – despite the fascinating subject and the stage where it’s all taking place – boring as all hell.

The first part of the book takes us from Louie’s humble beginnings through his meteoric rise to the Olympics. The second part involves Louie’s time in the military and all of his oftentimes unbelievable achievements. The third is the account of his B-24 bomber crash, subsequent loss at sea, capture by the Japanese, and the endless rounds of torture and beatings. The fourth and last part is his rescue life after the War and finding God with Billy Graham. How can this be made boring? Well, it can if your prose never rises above a dull, rambling, ill-constructed narrative about how this event happened, then this one did, and then this thing happened after that.

The characters in the book are so shallow and one-dimensional, hardly a one is given more than a passing intro before the story bumbles on to the next thinly veiled anecdote. The people begin blurring into the next and you’re left struggling to tell one cardboard person from another. Apart from Louie and his family the only other characters that really stood out were his raft mate and best buddy Phil and his most sadistic prison guard dubbed The Bird. Every minute of every one of Louie’s beatings by The Bird is documented to the nth degree; every one of The Bird’s tantrums, mood changes, facial tics, and spazz attacks is written about in the most curious of detail. The reader is subjected to dozens of "last sightings" of The Bird only to have him "shockingly" resurface in the most unlikely of situations a chapter later. You know the kind of scene I mean: "And Louie looked up at the new arrival only to discover once again –" Dah dum duuuuuuum!!! "—that it was The Bird!" This can only be pulled so many times before the reader starts to feel like they’re being strongly manipulated by the author. It happens so often in fact you start to think of it as a good candidate for some kind of literary drinking game where you take a shot of bourbon every time he shows up.

Now, far be it for me to disparage war veterans, especially POWs who’ve endured the kinds of crushing abuse that Louie and his fellow service men have, but how is it that we are able to get such detailed minutia over 50 years after it all went down? I’ll bet you can’t describe the full details of the days of your wedding, your first child being born, your first car crash, your first date, getting your driver’s license, etc. These were all life-changing, and in some cases traumatic, days in your life and it’s a safe bet that most, if not all, of these events took place more recently for you than 50 years ago. Most of us remember scant bits and pieces of events and many of these memories have “drifted” from reality in our fallible brains. Even polling spectators who were there at the time and cobbling together all of the recollections won’t make for a fully fleshed-out memory. This thought kept rattling around my brain as I made my way through the book. How on earth could these things be recalled so clearly and precisely after all that time? I’ve read other POW accounts that say that all days start to blur together and the extreme horrors the soldiers endured are blocked out of memory. Some soldiers, as Hillenbrand herself says in the book, forget the war entirely. The sneaking suspicion (and you can’t help but feel like a total shit for thinking it) is that a lot of the filler put in the book to string the anecdotes together is fabricated to puff up the story to appeal to a broader audience.

These suspected filler bits are nothing compared to some of the fantastical events scattered throughout the book. Zemperini is cheapened and the readers are dared not to roll their eyes as he is aggrandized and endlessly adulated from a man to a superhuman demi-god. He can withstand plane crashes, hourly beatings for over a year, prolonged starvation, backbreaking physical labor, diseases, and anything else that can be dished out. Consider his scenes of fist-fighting sharks in open water, meeting Hitler after his Olympic race, running a 4:12 mile -- in the fucking sand(!!), surviving violent dysentery for weeks on end with only scant handfuls of polluted water to drink (not to mention the “death sentence” disease beriberi that he contracted and overcame, despite it being untreated), blacking out as he’s tangled in wires in his sinking bomber only to wake up untangled and able to swim freely to the surface, self-repairing a broken nose and leg while at prison camp, and living through 40+ days at sea with practically no water or food then having the patience to wait offshore overnight once he reaches an island -- of course, just in time for a typhoon to hit them in their raft! Seriously? These personal achievements are apart from his sufferings in a group setting like enduring over 220 punches in the face during one camp thrashing and moving 20 – 30 tons (yes, TONS -- 40,000 to 60,000 U.S. pounds) of material at a rail yard in a day. Why the author stopped there and didn’t throw in a cage match with a silverback gorilla to determine alpha male dominance I’m not sure.

I imagine therein lies part of the reason why this book resonates so deeply with our intelligence-starved society today. Long titillated by years of reality TV, Saw movie sequels, and torture porn many are conditioned to be drawn to the grisly and violent story of a guy who went through hell and made it to the “million dollar vote” by the end. It’s the car crash scene you slowly drive by and can’t pull your eyes away from ("Can you pull those bodies closer to me so I can get a better look?"). I also suspect the book serves as a keen display to whiners in search of inspiration that hey, maybe my life ain’t so bad after all.

I say hats off to Louis Zamperini and his fellow soldiers. Seriously. A toast! I have nothing but bottomless admiration, respect, and gratitude for his service and am in awe of his mettle and perseverance. He is one tough-as-nails guy whose achievements should not be overlooked and never be forgotten. It just would have been nice if his story could have been told in a more honest and fair manner, letting the facts speak for themselves without all the earnest dramatization, unabashed hero worship, and hyperbole slathered so thickly over them. His autobiography "Devil at My Heels" maybe?

Read This Next: 500 of the Best Books You'll Ever Read

Read This Next: 500 of the Best Books You'll Ever Read - Howard Mittelmark With the number of books in my "to-read" pile this is the last book I need to read but it does look interesting...

In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks

In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks - Adam Carolla If you are a fan of the podcast, or his other work in general, and want a near transcription of most of his material then this book might be for you. If you are anything less than a casual fan you won't find much of anything new between the covers and will probably be bored with many of the sections, skimming ahead often as I did.

I purchased the book for a variety of reasons. I was a die-hard fan of the original Man Show back in the day and I liked some of Carolla's stand-up material but primarily I never visited the sponsors of his podcast and felt obligated to give back to him as a semi-devoted listener of his (temporarily?) free podcast. I considered it my thank you by way of my wallet.

What I expected from the book was some sharp, biting humor tinged with his trademark chauvinism and machismo. Though the occassional chuckle is to be had within the pages really what the book amounted to was a weak rehash of his podcast material with very little new material at all.

If you are even the least bit familiar with Carolla you know that nothing's safe. He lashes out at practically everything and everyone he comes into contact with in his daily life. This can, predictably, result in some questionable choices in topic from a comedic standpoint. He's making fun of people who work in fast-food chicken places? Um. Okay. Mexicans, meter maids, restaurants, and of course the fairer sex are ripe targets and get plenty of attention in his spittle-flying rants. Some you can agree with -- at least partially, some you don't. I particularly liked the section on portraying men as slobbering idiots in commercials ALL. THE. TIME. What tweaks your sympathy very little is his bitching about paying a lot in taxes because of his millionaire tax bracket, troubles with his nanny, first class travel not living up to his standards, and his fancy cars getting towed. Get bent, Adam.

Carolla's delivery of the material, shocking in a breath-catching, "did he really just say that" kind of way on his podcast, comes off as whiny, racist, smug, arrogant, and completely off-putting on the printed page. Hey, c'mon, I can take a joke like the rest of you and it really takes a lot to get my to raise an eyebrow but there are times in this book where even I thought he not only crossed the line of good taste but double-backed to piss on the line, hock a loogie, and lower his pants to drop a Cleveland steamer on it.

He is not half as clever or original as he thinks he is and his opinions, no matter how hard he drives them or how confident he is that he's right, just don't seem to matter in most cases. No you aren't clever, no this isn't original, and -- most damning -- you aren't being very funny or amusing in your juvenile delivery.

Despite the section headings there is little rhyme or reason to the ranting. He finds something to rail on and spends a few paragraphs dallying on the topic, though frequently interrupts himself to go off on meaningless tangents before making it all the way through.

So here's your money, Adam. Let's call it even. Hopefully your cut of the book's profits won't kick you up into the next tax bracket and launch an updated series of rants on that front. If you want to include negative reviewers of this book in your sequel that might be interesting though.

Monty Python's Tunisian Holiday: My Life with Brian

Monty Python's Tunisian Holiday: My Life with Brian - Kim Howard Johnson, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones A Monty Python fanboy inexplicably hooks up with the Python troupe, heads to Tunisia to "help" with making the movie "Life of Brian" with no skills or experience, then captures his tedious observations in a personal diary along with a few photos. The author drones on and on about the most mundane details on and off the set, sounding like a guy at a party who bores everyone to death about the backstage experience with The Rolling Stones that he won as the Grand Prize in a Dr. Pepper sweepstakes. No wonder he sat on the damn diary for decades.

The author points out a dozen times, from the Pythons' and his own experience, that movie making is often dull, monotonous, and the actors more often than not find themselves bored out of their skulls sitting around while equipment is set up, sound levels are tested, etc. Ironically, that is exactly how the reader feels going through the book. Sitting there bored, waiting for anything interesting to happen. Eric Idle gets up in the middle of the night to watch a rebroadcast of an Ali fight, Graham Chapman treats dozens of crew members' injuries, John Cleese tells of autograph signings, Terry Jones scurries around while trying to balance duties of a Director with being One Of The Gang. On and on. I ultimately gave up half-way through because I couldn't take it anymore.

So, in a sentence this book is uninformative, poorly written, rambling, and savagely boring. Johnson managed to do something I have always thought to be impossible. Make Monty Python boring. Highly unrecommended.
SPOILER ALERT!

The Strain

The Strain  - Guillermo del Toro, Chuck Hogan Seems these days if you want to make a buck, you gotta write a vampire story. Don't get me wrong. I've enjoyed many vampire books out there but think the sub-genre has all but been bled dry. So along comes a book co-authored by visionary Guillermo Del Toro, a favorite movie director of mine, that claims to turn the concept of the vampire story on to its head. So yeah, I had high hopes for the book. It's too bad that after the promising first few chapters it simulated the experience of watching a bad TV mini-series with a blindfold on -- complete with cliche characters, anti-climactic and wholly ridiculous action scenes, and a very predictable and unsatisfying ending.

Here's the set up: after a triple 7 jumbo jet taxis onto a JFK runway it goes mysteriously and completely belly up. That's a hook! All shades are inexplicably drawn and no one is able to communicate with the pilots or gain entrance to the plane. Neat-o. What gives? Once it's pried open like a tin of sardines (and the door mysteriously opens) they find a whole lot of people restfully peacefully in their seats, all dead. Oh, and a coffin filled with some very nice compost. Thankfully, a small cast of stereotypes is perceived to still be alive (the pilot, the rock star, the vicious lawyer bitch, the cute kid) and serve as some of the agents of the book's slow plot progression.

We are left with some intriguing questions:
What's that horrible smell?
Why were all the shades drawn?
How did this very modern plane with independent and redundant electrical systems fail all at once?
Why were there no signs of struggle?
How did that coffin get through Customs when I have to practically strip naked to get on a plane?

Well, one of these questions is kind of answered in the rest of the book so I hope you're not a nitpicker like me.

Enter our good guy, a free-thinking doctor from the CDC with marriage problems. He's not a bad fellow you see, he just works so hard at his job but BOY does he love his son! He could have completed the cliche by being named Jack but instead goes by...Eph.

Following our intrepid hero throughout the book, for no other reason than to provide a romantic interest and a counterpoint to his limp, wet dish rag relationship with his ex-wife, is Nora, the Strong Silent Type. So silent that she isn't given more than two sentences of dialog throughout the entire book -- despite being nearly inseparable from our protagonist. If this trilogy does make it to the theaters as so many speculate I feel for the woman cast in this thankless role.

Expanding on our list of characters, we have a burly exterminator -- no, really, we do -- and a Holocaust survivor turned avenging vampire slayer, Abraham "Rambo" Setrakian. Abe, though pushing 80-something, according to my calculations, is an absolute death-dealing merchant in the presence of those pesky vampires. His walking stick predictably conceals a silver Ginsu sword which he swings about like Errol freakin' Flynn and yells "My sword sings silver" or something equally silly as he lops heads, arms, and other vampire appendages free in a furious rage. . Oh please. Abe hints at the end of the book that there's a lot about the vampires that the authors have been keeping him from saying. We'll see if that pays off in the future books.

So, this whole "redefining the genre" nonsense? You're asking yourself: "Can this really be true?" In a word, no. As I said, the vampire genre has petered out significantly. The recent publication of The Passage was entertaining and somewhat original but the concept of vampires being created by viruses was plumbed many times before. Micheal Romkey's vampire books come to mind. Cripes, one of them was even called The Vampire Virus. The vampire elements could have been assembled from any number of checklists. The Strain is purely "paint by numbers".

The middle of the book is maddeningly repetitive. We are quickly presented with a sketch or our next victim in their home, arriving home, or leaving their home. Their routine is interrupted by Something Unusual (dirt on the floor, a Haitian housekeeper sneaking into a house, the shed door being strangely open, etc.). The soon-to-be victims move forward without a flashlight or lights turned on to investigate, unsuccessfully trying to build up some tension in the reader, are faced with a "turned" vampire (usually a relative, friend, or cute kid) are are pounced upon, drained by the vampire's proboscis, and pooped and urinated on by the attacker.

Aaaaand scene!

This is played out so many DAMN times with so many people we don't know or care about it becomes nearly unbearable. The Strain might refer as much to the effort it takes to make it through these tedious scenes as it does the vampire virus.

Other parts of the book are meant to inform the reader (city rats, the inner workings of the CDC, the lunar eclipse [HA HA! It's actually an occultation, you fool!] for example) but are so unnecessarily drawn out that they detract from what little story there is. As I felt recently with Cherie Priest's Boneshaker book, less is often more in these cases.

"Lookit me!! I did my RESEARCH!"

As for logic problems and plot holes, they exist a-plenty. I won't go into all of them but the biggest to me seem to involve the virus itself. If it's a virus, why do our vampire buddies require an invitation to cross a body of water? Is the virus transmitted by vampire blood or by these pesky inchworms? Why would silver affect the vampires the way it does? What the heck is with the coffin, other than it being a carryover from other vampire novels. Its purpose is never explained and the reader is left wondering if there is any reason for it at all. I also wonder how a Holocaust survivor turned professor turned pawn shop owner, an exterminator, and a doctor all somehow turn into vampire slaying ninjas in a matter of hours. They are slicing, dicing, kicking, flipping, and karate chopping the vampires with such ruthless efficiency they emerge from every scuffle without a scratch. This not only demolishes the believability of the book but also makes us even less interested in each skirmish's outcome. We already know they'll be triumphant -- even if they are picked up by the head like a basketball with dandruff, thrown clear across the room into walls, and beset upon by legions of strong, fast, toothy monsters Hell bent to destroy them. For all the slapstick violence The Strain could almost have been titled "The Three Stooges Meet Dracula" save for the lack of humor.

We are given glimpses of some of the other six vampire Mafiosos near the end and are led to believe some kind of Vampire War is coming. Some kind of truce was formed and 3 Bosses got land over there, the other 3 got land over here. Our main vampire Boss in this book appears to have gotten the short end of the stick somewhere along the line and has been causing all sorts of ruckus of late because, darn it, he's had enough and he's not going to take it anymore!

With a set up like that the series promises to get a whole lot worse before getting any better. And I'm just talking about the writing and plot.

Boneshaker

Boneshaker - Cherie Priest Oh boy. What a mess. This book didn't work for me on any conceivable level. The characters were hilariously shallow, the plot contrived, the dialogue wooden and unconvincing, and the prose simplistic and boring.

I didn't understand the point of the novel taking place during the American Civil War in any way. What was that all about? The random and simplistic history allusions sprinkled throughout seem forced and don't lend a shred authenticity to the story. Rather, these either jerked me back into the time where this story was supposed to be taking place (against all other impressions) or made me cringe at the author's weak attempt to convince me she "did her research". Let's not even get into the inaccuracies (or, if you believe the cop out afterward by the author, 'liberties') of the historical tidbits as we are limited by space here.

I get that this is supposed to be quirky fantasy -- or cyberpunk, steampunk, or whatever the hell it's being categorized as -- but throw us readers a bone here. We can check our disbelief at the door but only to a certain point before feeling insulted or cheated. Even if you take the wacky premise at face value there are enough plot holes, head-scratchers, and uncanny coincidences to leave any sane reader reeling. I won't get into specifics to avoid any spoilers but if you read this and pay any attention whatsoever you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. The back cover would suffice.

This all said, it does appear that this book appeals to certain readers. Some people swoon about the creative notion of putting toxic gas, zombies, an Ellen Ripley wannabe, and air pirates in an inexplicably Civil War-era story. More power to 'em.

Saay! Zombies. There's a fresh, unmined treasure trove of originality in this day and age. If the story could have included romantic, underwear-model teen vampires who randomly rip their shirts off that -- THAT!! -- would have been high entertainment.

Or has that been milked dry too?

The Passage

The Passage - Justin Cronin Don't listen to all that endless hooey that people try to come up with to sound clever and well-read. You know the stuff I'm talking about here. That this book is a ripoff of any one of ten Stephen King novels (Firestarter, The Stand -- take your pick). Or that people think the book is too long for them . Or that it was too confusing that said book gets you to emotionally invest in a cast of characters only to seemingly chuck them out the window as it jumps abruptly forward in time partway through. Or... Aw Hell. Just ignore all that and pick up a copy.

I suppose a real criticism that immediately leaps to mind is the five consecutive pages about midway through the book that don't seem to continue the same sentence from one page to the next. You get to the bottom of one page, move on to the next page, and -- WTF? -- you're in a different sentence entirely. Not sure what's up there but it damn near frustrated me enough to put the book down as the resulting jolt out of the story was pretty unpleasant and jarring. Thankfully I kept on keeping on and found the book ultimately rewarding and a very entertaining read.

Is it perfect? No. Entertaining as all get out? Sure is! This, Stephanie Meyer, is how a vampire story is written. Pfft. Twilight. Gimme a break.

Speaks the Nightbird

Speaks the Nightbird - Robert R. McCammon This is a very entertaining pseudo-historical novel about a witch trial in the Carolinas in the late 17th century. More accurately, it's about the stuggles of a small, fledgling colonial town as it wrestles with the impending witch trial and the supposed witch jailed therein. A young upstart lawyer believes the witch's innocence and provides the necessary contrast to the pigheaded townsfolk and to his mentor, the old traditionalist magistrate, who is trying to run everything by the book. Ultimately the story is a testament to the gullibility of crowds and the emergence of dangerous mob mentality when confronting events that cannot be easily understood. The townspeople are scared and resort to the easiest solution, nearly tearing the entire town apart and killing a sizable number of residents in the process. I realize that this is superimposing modern sensibilities and beliefs onto a 17th century society, which is probably not fair. I suppose one could draw different conclusions by absorbing the book from the perspective of what it was like to live in those times but the Hell with it.

I have been a longtime McCammon reader and have admired his "Swan Song" most of all. I read that book as a kid and it always stuck with me. While I've since come to realize that McCammon isn't what I'd consider the smoothest author though he is a very fine storyteller. The book is loaded with suspense and enough twists to keep you hooked early on. Despite the book's bulk the pace is relatively even throughout and contains equal amounts of suspense, action, and plot development to warrant the size.

There are a few elements that made me grind my teeth like the historical "fact dropping" tidbits. Though these were no doubt designed to create a sense of historical accuracy, I instead found that many of the references stood out, feeling somewhat forced and contrived. It felt almost like McCammon was screaming from the page, "Look, everyone! I researched this stuff!". Thankfully these diminish as the book progresses.

Another strange aspect, and I only bring it up because it appears yet again in the subsequent novel, "The Queen of Bedlam", is McCammon's bizarre inclusion of an effeminate male character with questionable sexual orientation, makeup, and clothing choices. I have yet to read "Mister Slaughter" on my to-read pile. If that same archetype is found there I am really going to start to wonder what's going on there.

Lastly, the one-eyed monstrous bear that appears within the story -- and its role in the bizarre scene leading up to the story's conclusion -- are thoroughly pointless and definitely out of place with the rest of the book.

Dhalgren

Dhalgren - Samuel R. Delany I really loved the language, some of the characters, and the strong sense of setting in this book. Delany draws you in and is absolutely captivating with his style but holy crap was this book brutally pointless. Just wandering around with no real structure or reason for being. There's lots of grime, gloom, violence, and sloppy sex (both gay and straight). All that's fine, I suppose, but you have to give us a reason for staying with it.

I actually went twice as far as my "100 page rule" and read to about the halfway point but eventually decided to shelve it, at least for now, because I simply ran out of patience and waaay too many books on my groaning to-read pile were beckoning me. Part of me is really disappointed to have put it aside because I really do enjoy the author's writing but, hey, life's too short to plod through a dense book with such a distinct lack of direction and story. Maybe this will be one of those books you keep around to dip into an occasional chapter for a break once in a while.

I might look at a few of Delany's other SF books later on (ie. maybe the Neveryone series). I have heard positive things about some of his other titles so I'll probably end up giving him another try. I will tread carefully though since I don't want to inadvertently stumble onto one of his disturbing gross-out pornography books that's fixated on the messy homosexual scenes (Phallos comes to mind). Not really my thing.

Make the Most of Your Time on Earth (Rough Guide Reference)

Make the Most of Your Time on Earth (Rough Guide Reference) - Phil Stanton, Rough Guides I find the whole concept of this new wave of "1001 Things to Do Before You Die"-kind-of-books irritating but this one sounds like it could have potential.

100 Ways to Win a Ten-Spot: Scams, Cons, Games You Can't Lose

100 Ways to Win a Ten-Spot: Scams, Cons, Games You Can't Lose - Paul Zenon A small and pretty amusing bathroom book about quick shady bets you can make (and sometimes win) with people at your local bar. Each scam is broken out into the set up and the catch with a sprinkling of drawings throughout the book to illustrate some of the finer points.

The book is entertaining for what it is but the author is convinced that the scams are a lot more clever than they really are; I can see a lot of these backfiring. I wouldn't count on any of the scams paying for your lunch.

Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health

Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health - L. Ron Hubbard He was kidding, right?

Guinness Book of World Records 1987

Guinness Book of World Records 1987 - Guinness World Records Yeah. I actually read this book. Cover to cover. I were a strange lad back then.

The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World

The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World - Bjørn Lomborg This book is infuriatingly inaccurate. Lomborg (a statistician not a scientist!) takes on many of today's environmental issues and dismisses them almost out of hand with a judicious misapplication of shady statistics and a pervasive tone of condescension and arrogance.

The logic and conclusions in the book are fatally flawed and the references are selectively chosen to support his outrageously naive claims that everything's fine with the world.

If the realities of today's environmental crises paralyze you and you need to stick your head in the sand this book will go a long ways toward alleviating your worries and make you feel safe again. If, on the other hand, you are an intelligent reader, concerned with the state of the environment, this book will make you see red.