Monthly Archives: December 2009

“Nine Dragons” By Michael Connelly

Nine Dragons (Harry Bosch, #14)It seems like we’ve been getting a new novel from Michael Connelly every six months or so for the past couple of years.  In most cases, this would be a bad thing because you’d worry the quality of the stories would suffer or that the author might experience some kind of burnout or that the author would become a generic name slapped on covers to sell books (I’m looking at you James Patterson.)

Thankfully, that hasn’t happened with Connelly’s novels, yet.  Each entry has been a solid one and it only looked like he was picking up steam not only as a storyteller but also a writer.   His last couple of books have been great and they really got me looking forward to his latest Harry Bosch novel, “9 Dragons.”

Which I suppose I could have had my expectations too stratospherically high that no novel could have lived up to it.   For whatever reason, while I enjoyed “9 Dragons” I didn’t find it quite as rich a feast as the past couple of Connelly novels.

Bosch is assigned the case of murdered liquor store owner from China. Bosch finds the owner was paying off the Chinese triade out of a sense of respect for the tradition and heritage of doing so.  Bosch tries to determine is the triad played some role in the shooting and if there is some larger conspiracy going on.  Bosch apparently begins to step on some toes, leading to his daughter in Hong Kong being kidnapped as a warning to Bosch.  Instead of giving up the case, Bosch heads to Hong Kong to find her.

“9 Dragons” works well enough for the first three-quarters of the story, driving along at a good pace and with revelations coming along at the usual Connelly clip–not too fast, but not so far between as to lose interest.  It’s once things hit Hong Kong and a series of twists begin to show up that the novel begins to lose its momentum.  It’s not a bad thing, but there are some moments in the final quarter of the novel that really took it out of the usual realm of Connelly’s work to something that was just pretty good by comparison.

I’d love to say more, but to bring them up here would ruin the end of the novel.  I’ll say this–your comfort with the twists and whether you think that enhance or detract from the plot will determine how much you like the book.  If you buy them, it’s a great book.  I didn’t buy them and so it’s just an OK book.

But the good thing is that given how prolific Connelly has become, we’ll soon have a new mystery to (hopefully) wash away this disappointment.

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“Star Wars: Death Troopers” by Joe Schreiber

Star Wars: Death TroopersThe old adage says you should never judge a book by its cover.

Maybe we should update it to say that we should never judge a book by its cover or its Internet marketing campaign.

Images of the cover for this “Star Wars” book began to slip out months ago along with the tease of stormtroopers plus zombies.  Based on that alone, the novel had to be worth reading, right?

Yes and no.

As a standalone novel in the “Star Wars” universe, the books is an enjoyable enough story as author Joe Schreiber introduces us to a bunch of character who are to set to be potential zombie fodder early in the story.

The story has a nice sense of atmosphere to it.  A prison ship breaks down with a full compliment of prisoners and is forced to dock with an abandoned star destroyer for help and to try and find parts.  Hope turns to fear as a mysterious disease comes back on board, wiping out most of the crew and prisoners apart from a handful of survivors with immunity to the disease.  Then, the dead start rising and become zombies, leading to lots of chasing and running.

The problem with “Death Troopers” is that there’s a twist mid-way through that completely took me out of the story and had me rolling my eyes.  And the book never recovered from that moment. In fact, a large chunk of the second half of the book depends on this twist, making it virtually impossible to escape it or maybe pretend it didn’t happen and get back to some zombie stormtrooper mayhem.

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“Flesh and Fire” by Laura Ann Gilman

Flesh and Fire (The Vineart War, #1)
Laura Anne Gilman’s fantasy novel “Flesh and Fire” may not reinvent the fantasy wheel, but at least it has an interesting magical system in place.

The magical system of this world is built around grape and wines, with various vineyards producing grapes and wines that have various magical powers and uses.  It’s a fascinating concept and when the story delves into the system that Gilman is setting up and how people are chosen and trained in the ways of the magical system, the book really works.

Where the story falls down a bit is in the final third of the novel when it becomes apparent there’s some kind of huge new evil pervading the land and becoming a threat.  At this point the novel falls into the standard fantasy tropes and loses some of the momentum it gained and earned in the first two-thirds of the story.

Still, the magical system of this universe and the character work on our hero, Jerzy, is enough that I’ll be looking for the next installment in this proposed trilogy.

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“After” by Amy Efaw

AfterFifteen-year-old Devon seems to have it all together in life.  She’s a solid student, a superior soccer player and she’s got her whole future ahead of her–bright and full of promise.  So why would a girl like this leave her newborn infant in a plastic trash bag in a trash can outside her apartment building?

“After” tries to answer this question and look at the circumstances and situations that would lead Devon to such a place in her life.

The story opens with Devon on the couch, not feeling well after having given birth.  When her mother (who had Devon at 16) comes in from her overnight shift at the local grocery store, talking about a baby found in the alley trashcan, Devon is non-responsive.  The police come to the door and upon further investigation, we find out that Devon delivered and discarded the baby.  She’s immediately arrested and sent to the hospital for help.

As Devon enters the legal system, we follow her story for two weeks leading up to a trial that will determine if she remains in the juvenile justice system or is tried as an adult.  The story of Devon, her pregnancy and her relationship with her mother is told in flashbacks, slowly filling in the details of what lead Devon to the point she was and how she could go without someone noticing her situation.  At times, Devon is an unlikeable character, especially early in the story when she is frustratingly non-responsive to not only characters within the story but the narration itself.  Once we begin to see that Devon has been forced to be the grown-up to her mother (who flits between dead-end jobs and dead-end boyfriends) and desperately fears becoming her mother, we begin to understand a bit of what lead Devon to the decision she makes.

As a story, “After” doesn’t try to justify the decision.  But it does, at least, allow us a character study of Devon to see how this girl who seemingly has it all together can so quickly lose control of the situation she faces.

The story is an effective one at times while at others you may find yourself screaming at Devon to open up and stop withdrawing from everyone and everything.  When Devon is abandoned by her mother in the story (her mother moves out of their apartment, can’t be found and doesn’t show up to see Devon in detention), you will feel sympathy for her.  But you’ll also feel horrified that she refuses to ask for help from anyone around her, even as you find out that there were people who could and would help if she’d asked.

In the end, the story asks us and the court to believe something that is an interesting idea (if you’ve watched Mad Men, you’ll probably guess it a long time before the novel really presents it) and it one that explains things without absolving Devon on consequences (at least non entirely).

The big problem with “After” is that it’s so concerned with getting to this particular diagnosis and finding that once it gets there, the novel loses steam and just abruptly ends.   The ending feels a bit rushed and like it’s trying too hard to end things on a more positive note than what we’d just gone through for the last couple of hundred page (or in my case, couple of hours on audio).

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