Monthly Archives: August 2008

“Where the River Ends” by Charles Martin

Where the River Ends
Charles Martin writes stories about broken men, searching for redemption and healing and the people who love them.

In his sixth novel, “Where the River Ends,” we meet Doss Michael, an artist who outpunted his coverage when he met, courted and married the daughter of a powerful South Carolina senator, Abby Coleman. The story is told in alternating chapters, examing their courtship, marriage and life together and their final journey together down the St. Mary’s River. Ten years into the marriage, Abby finds she has a devestating form of cancer, one that is eating her up inside. She’s made a list of ten things she wants to experience before she dies and Doss sets out to make them those dreams a reality.

The list isn’t a gradoise list, but a list of achievable goals such as skinny dipping or the trip down the river that had such an influence on her husband growing up.

However, the trip isn’t what her father wants. After four years of estrangement and refusal to deal with Abby’s choice of Doss as a husband, the senator want Abby in hospice to extend her life. Doss and Abby disagree and set out on the journey.

The alternating story from the Doss’s early life to the current trip works to propel the plot forward and keep the reader interested, all the while keeping the story from becoming too bleak or overwhelmingly depressing. Martin does a remarkable job of setting the story to follow the expected path, but also throwing in some unexpected curves along the way. At one point, art student Doss needs someone to model nude in order to finish up his degree program. Upon meeting Abby and saving her from an assault, one could assume the direction this story could head. Instead, Martin toys with that assumption and gives the reader a richer story because of it.

And even though we have an idea where this story can and must end (Abby’s death), her passing along isn’t the central point of this story. It’s about the story of Doss, his journey and the shared life he had with Abby. While the ending will create a lump in your threat, Martin wisely allows a few glimmers of hope and healing in the final chapters to keep the ending from being overwhelmingly grim.

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“Little Brother” by Cory Doctorow

In an attempt to win over a new generation of sci-fi readers, Cory Doctorow’s “Little Brother” is marketed as a young adult book.  However, adult readers shouldn’t worry that Doctorow’s book will leave them behind or have them feeling juvenile for reading it.

“Little Brother” is a mature, contemporary novel that looks at the issue of security in a near-future that doesn’t seem too far from today.  When San Francisco is attacked by terrorists, seventeen-year-old hacker Marcus and his friends are out playing the latest mission of the most popular game of the day.  Because of their proximity to the attack and their background as hackers, Marcus and his friends are detained and questioned by the Department of Homeland Security.  Stripped of his rights, Marcus is eventually set free, but finds that new restrictions placed on the Internet and the world under the banner of making his country more safe are having the opposite effect.  Marcus sets out to restore his true freedom and take out the oppressive regime of the Homeland Security Officers.

“Little Brother” doesn’t shy away from the big questions.  While this novel is set in a non-defined near future, Doctorow is clearly commenting on the ways and means used today to keep our country and world “safe” from the next attack.  At one point does it go from keeping us safe to denying us our freedoms and is that tradeoff worth it in the long run?   Doctorow’s story of Marcus and his fight against the larger Big Brother is fascinating and terrifying all at the same time.  As you read the story, you may realize just how much of our basic, assumed freedoms have been abridged all in the name of security and safety. 

Doctorow also takes this opportunity to provide readers an education of security systems and computer programming.  In what easily could have been some of the driest portions of the novel, Doctorow is able to give the reader some insight and knowledge, which may leave you curious to pursue more information on the inventors and security methods. 

Doctorow is something of an Internet celebrity, having revolutionized the marketing of his novels through taking advantage of on-line distribution.  He’s grown as a writer since his debut in “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” and with “Little Brother,” while he’s writing for a young adult audience, he’s found a new level of mature and assured writing that makes “Little Brother” one of the more remarkable and haunting books I’ve read this year.

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Waiting for the elevator yesterday, I noticed a fellow elevator rider engrossed in one of the paperback installments of the “Twilight” series.

After not giving into the temptation to offer my unsolicited opinion of the series, I observed that she was very intent on the book.  Or to put it another way, she was really, really into the book.  

So much so that when the elevator arrived, she only glanced up to see which one it was and then proceeded to walk into the elevator, while reading.  She then proceeded to ride down, fully immersed in the book the entire time.  Once we got to the stopping point, we moved out and I noticed that she kept reading and walking along for a long period of time–probably far longer than I ever could have both walked and kept my nose buried in a book.

It struck me as slightly amusing because while I love to read, I’ve never been one to read while you walk.  I guess part of it is a fear I’d walk into something, but another part is I like to have some bit of concentration while I read.  Yes, I do read while I’m using the stationary equipment at the gym, but the odds of some unexpected hazard (such as say a person, animal or car) are far less there than say, walking out of an office and on the street.

I will admit there have been and are books that have grasped my attention, making me eager to read what happens next.  But the most harm I’ve been able to cause myself there is losing sleep or being late getting somewhere becuase I felt I just had to get through one more chapter or the next few pages.

Of course, the thing that bugged me more about this–the reader took the book at one point, bending back the spine completely.   I’m just the kind of reader who likes to try and keep the spine in tact on my books, especially paperback ones.  But that’s my own quirk, I guess.  And she might think my reading habit is just as different as I find hers…

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On the Beach by Nevil Schute

“It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine…”

That line from the old REM song pretty much sums up Nevil Shute’s “On the Beach.” The world has ended and everyone’s pretty much OK with it.

Written in the late 50′s and set in the near future of the early 60′s, “On the Beach” finds World War III has come and gone.  The final battle was set off by a misunderstanding with the bigger nuclear powers shooting first and asking questions later.  The result is the northern hemisphere is gone, nuked to oblivion and the southern hemisphere is waiting for the radiation to slowly spread across the entire planet and kills the survivors.

It’s these survivors that we meet in Australia. And they’re all taking it pretty well.  There’s no chaos here.  Everything is running fairly normally, except for the fact that we’re all going to die in about six months.  And not a pretty death, but a slow, painful one.  

The big problem with this book is the quiet acceptance every character has of this. Yes, there are some characters deep in denial and some are planning for a world beyond six months from now, but never is there any sense of panic or desparation by anyone. The most panicked we get is they move up an auto race a few months becuase the time it’s scheduled to take place will be after the radiation hits. 

There are some moments of hope in the story that someone might be alive in the northern hemisphere or that the coming end might not come.  But these are quickly dashed and then everyone accepts it with quiet resignation.

I’m sure when it was written, this book was strangely scary and virtually prophetic.  But reading it now, it’s a story that seems dated, with characters who fail to spark much interest for the reader.  I haven’t read a book since “Lucifer’s Hammer” where I actively rooted for the apocolyptic event to happen already just to kill off some of the characters in the story and maybe get things moving.  And that’s the biggest flaw in “On the Beach”–nothing happens.  We don’t get to see the end of the world and nothing seems to make any impact on the characters.  It’s a hard book to read, not because of the subject matter but because virtually nothing happens and none of the characters are interesting enough to make the investment of time worth it in the end.

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Doctor Who & The Daleks (Audio CD) by David Whitacker

One of “Doctor Who”‘s original leading men reads the first story novelization with “Doctor Who and the Daleks.”Written when audiences would rarely, if ever, have a chance to see the original seven-part story this was based on, author David Whitacker makes some interesting choices in the novelization of Terry Nation’s original scripts. The first is to have the story told from the first person perspective of travelling companion, Ian Chesterton. This choice makes for some interesting moments in the story, such as seeing and hearing Ian’s reaction to first finding the TARDIS and being inside a Dalek, but it also takes away one of the most iconic moments in television with Barbara’s first encounter with a Dalek. (Perhaps Whitacker felt the scene couldn’t be done justice on the printed page).

Whitacker also uses the story to introduce readers to the Doctor and the TARDIS, borrowing some of the elements of the first episode of “Doctor Who” in the first several chapters. This alternate look at how the TARDIS crew came together is interesting and I find it particularily fascinating that Ian and Barbara don’t know each other before entering the TARDIS here.

Also of interest is the final stages when the Daleks are clearly controlled by a glass Dalek, something that would have been nearly impossible to achieve on the budget of the 60s, though it was attempted years later during Colin Baker’s reign. Not sure if this was meant to tie into Whitacker’s two Dalek stories during the Troughton era with the Emperor Dalek, though I did find msyelf thinking of Davros when we first met the mysterious force behind the Daleks.

Differences aside, this is a nice telling of the orignal adventures with the Daleks. Some portions of the story are truncated, some expanded, but for the most part it works. Whitacker’s storytelling is well done, though Ian does seem to be a bit focused on looking into the eyes of his travelling companions.

As read by William Russell, the man who brought Ian to life on the small screen, the audio book is a treat. Definitely a must-hear if you’re a fan of “Doctor Who.”

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The Dirty Secrets Club by Meg Gardiner

With an endorsement by best-selling author Stephen King and a vast majority of those writing suspense fiction today, you have to wonder why Meg Gardiner hasn’t broken through in a big way here in the United States. From what I understand, she’s published several successful novels in the UK, all of which are being published here over the next several months.

After reading “Dirty Secrets Club,” I can see why she has the ringing endorsement of Mr. King and others. And I can definitely see her being the next “big thing” not only in the mystery/suspense genre but also in the publishing world as a whole.

Set in San Francisco, “The Dirty Secrets Club,” is a secret society of people, all of whom have a dark secret from their past that they’ve shared with members of the group. Run in cells to keep one person from having too much power, members of the group are dying at the rate of one every three days, all in spectacular fashion and in a way that looks like suicide. The latest victim works for the district attorney’s office and is one of the founding members of the club.

After her death, the case is given a high priority to be solved, leading to foresnic pyschologic Jo Beckett being brought onto the case. Beckett’s job is to explain the why of the death and the pyschological state of the victim of a crime. But just like the victims, Beckett has her own secret from the past she doesn’t want brought into the light of day.

Fast paced and exhilerating, “The Dirty Secrets Club” is one part pyschological drama, one part character study, one part suspense thriller and one part mystery. Gardiner shifts efortelessly from scene to scene and follows several characters in the story, weaving together a story that is suspenseful, exciting and one hell of a good read. I will warn you that this is not a book to read as you’re getting ready to turn out the light and need to be up early the next day. Not only can Gardiner draw you into her universe with the story unfolding, but her writing style is effortless and addictive to read. You’ll find yourself up way past bedtime, just wanting to read one more chapter to see what happens next.

Along the way, there are revelations, twists and turns to the story all of which are surprising and well set up by the early stages of the story. Nothing comes entirely out of left field, making the reader roll their eyes. Instead, the twists will shock and then begin to make sense based on what we know about the situation and the characters.

Meg Gardiner could be the next big thing in the writing world. But don’t let it be a dirty secret…share her writing and this great novel with not only yourself but everyone you come in contact with. This is a great book and I highly recommend it

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Tuesday Thingers


Today’s question: Favorite bookstores. What’s your favorite bookstore? Is it an online store or a bricks-and-mortar store? How often do you go book shopping? Is your favorite bookstore (or bookstores) listed as a favorite in LT? Do you attend events at local bookstores? Do you use LT to find events?

For me, bookstores are like Kryptonite.  I could browse a bookstore for hours.  I’d have to say my favorite is McKay’s Used Books in Knoxville, Tennessee.   When I lived in Knoxville, I’d go in a few times a year with books, get trade and spend the next few weeks building up the collection again.  I have a tendency with books to feel that right after I’ve read them, I should keep them forever.  After a few weeks or months, I may find this has changed and then it’s off to McKay’s.  We just got one in Nashville and it’s growing.  A used bookstore takes some time to build up the stock and to find those little wonders and gems you can’t find anywhere else.  I also like new bookstores, don’t get me wrong.  But more often than not, it’s to browse and get ideas to check out of the library and to look for used.

As for how often I go book shopping, I’d say far too often.  Probably a couple of times a month, if only to browse.  A lot of times, I’ll go in looking for a specific title on a specific day or if I’m really feeling crazy or obsessed, I’ll look for it a few days before it’s supposed to hit the shelves.  (Star Trek books are often found earlier than the street date, if you look for them).  In some ways, it’s the thrill of the hunt, finding the elusive treasure and taking it home to add to the pile of books to be read.   Which is ever growing, I might add.

I have attended events at local bookstores.  I have been part of discussion groups that met at one, but I attend a sci-fi one now that meets at the local library.  I have been to a couple of book signings for radio personalities Rick and Bubba, autographing their new book, in the past couple of year.  I’ve not been to a Harry Potter night launch, but I’d be curious to go to something like that just to see the fans.  I love anything that gets people excited about reading.

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Tuesday Thingers

Today’s question is only marginally about LibraryThing but I thought it might be a fun question anyway. It’s more about blogging. Everyone who participates in Tuesday Thingers has a blog- some have a book blog, some have several, some have blogs that are more personal, etc.- and we’ve all chosen to participate in this particular way of networking to build traffic, get to know each other, etc. So my question is: what other weekly memes or round robins do you participate in? Is this the only one? Why Tuesday Thingers and not some other weekly Tuesday meme? Or do you do more than one?

I have two blogs. One is this blog for my thoughts on books and the other is my regular, personal blog at Big Orange Michael.   I do like to do memes on both, though over here I’ve only found myself participating regularily in Tuesday Thingers.  The reason I do is I find the questions interesting and I will admit I enjoy surfing to others blogs for their answers. Why?  Because I often find suggestions of different books and being a book-a-holic, this is a good thing.  I also like the community that participates, which is an important part of a meme.

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Book Briefs

Whisper of the Bayou by Mindy Starns Clark

A contemporary Christian mystery that tries to emulate the success of such conspiarcy mystery thrillers such as the DaVinci Code. And it just doesn’t quite work. The mystery and characters never real gel in an authentic fashion and it feels like the author is trying too hard at times to be make the story something more than it is.

Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

Two years ago, Detective Archie Sheridan was captured and tortured by serial killer Gretchen Lowell. However, instead of following her pattern, she let Archie go and turned herself in. Why this happened is just one of the questions that haunts the Archie and Chelsea Cain’s superb novel, “Heartsick.”

Two years later, Archie is still recovering from the mental and physical scars when a new serial killer crops up. Archie is called back in and paired with pink-haired journalist, Susan Ward. Ward’s job is to document the hunt and profile Archie.

Where this all leads and how it ties into Lowell makes for a compelling, page-turning mystery. In a field where serial killer novels can be a dime a dozen, Cain steps up and delivers a story that has richly done, sympathetic characters and one of the most chilling pyschos to haunt the printed page since Hannibal Lecter. While not featuring in the story until halfway through, Lowell hands like a spectre over the novel and the final few twists and turns are well set up but still manage to surprise the reader.

Deadline by Randy Alcorn

Randy Alcorn’s powerful novel of three friends who are involved in a traffic accident, leaving two dead and one left behind searching for answer. Alcorn does the seemingly impossible in having mystery stories set here on Earth and in the realm beyond. And even though some of the answers may become apparent to readers before they do the characters, it still can’t take away from the power of Alcorn’s subject matter.

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The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

Like Douglas Adams did with science-fiction, Terry Pratchett takes the typical conventions of fantasy and turns them on their head for comic effect with his popular DiscWorld series.

By having a slightly skewed view of fantasy conventions, Pratchett points out the strengths and the fallacies of the genre. And he always does it with a story that has more than its share of laugh out loud moments. Pratchett is also a master of construction language to come together in interesting ways. It’s not just that what he says is funny, but it’s how he puts the words together that is one of his great strengths. While not quite as pronounced or as memorable as Douglas Adam’s ability to construction near perfect sentences that made you both laugh and think at the same time, Pratchett still does a great job.

A lot of the DiscWorld stories are satires on modern life. By having things set in the universe of the fantastic where rules of magic exist, Pratchett is able to say things he might not normally get away with in conventional fiction.

Oh and he also writes some pretty entertaining stories along the way.

That said, Pratchett is an author who improves with age. And while the Color of Magic is his first DiscWorld novel, it’s not exactly a great starting point to the series. Yes, the typical Pratchett elements are all here, but you can see Pratchett still honing his craft. The story is told in four blocks with the linking characters of Rincewind and Twofold as they tour across DiscWorld, having various adventures and running into trouble. It’s a nice overview and quick tour of DiscWorld but it pales in comparison to later novels in the series.

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