Category: book club

Book Club — An Early Look at Justin Cronin’s The City of Mirrors

cityofmirrorsCVRIn 2010, I picked up Justin Cronin’s The Passage in hardback simply based on the tremendous amount of  good word it was receiving prior to its release.  The nearly 800-page epic told the story of a near future where vampires bring about the fall of civilization.  These weren’t shimmering and sparkly Twilight vampires, these were monstrous creatures born of United States government experiments to harness the power of a virus carried by Bolivian bats gave increased strength, agility and a boosted immune system.  Eventually the test subjects, of which there were twelve, broke free of their test facility and thus began the fall of man.

The Passage spent months on the New York Times bestsellers list and the movie rights were optioned by Ridley Scott’s production company.  The first in a planned trilogy, I found The Passage to be an enthralling read that was reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Stand (one of my all-time favorites). Cronin’s follow-up, The Twelve, came out in 2012 which continued the story of the fight between the remnants of humanity and the vampires, or Virals and their collaborators.

I was aware that Cronin planned to finish out the trilogy and given that my spare time is occupied with parenting three daughters, I kind of got out of the habit of reading for a while.  About three weeks ago I received a notification through NetGalley that I was able to receive a pre-release edition of The City of Mirrors, the conclusion to The Passage Trilogy for review.  I immediately downloaded it to my Kindle Paperwhite and started to devour it.

I must admit, after getting through the first few chapters I had to stop and go back to revisit the broad strokes of the previous two novels as four years have elapsed since I last read both The Passage and The Twelve.  After re-familiarizing myself with the cast of characters I found myself once again immersed in the world that Cronin has created.

The City of Mirrors like its predecessors, uses time jumps and different point of view characters to fill in more of the mythos, adding to the vastness of this story.  Beginning shortly after the events of The Twelve, most of the virals haven’t been seen for years and the last remaining human settlements have begun to go about their lives in a more normal fashion.  The characters we met in The Passage are now much older, having battled their way halfway across the country against insurmountable odds.  But now babies are being born, kids are going to school again and a sense of normalcy has begun to set in for these survivors.

What these survivors don’t realize that Patient Zero, the most powerful and “father” of the Virals remains in the haunted ruins of New York City (hence the title) biding his time for one last strike to finally remove humanity from the face of the Earth.  This final battle with Zero comes at a great cost to the remained of the human race, but to what extent? You wouldn’t think I would spoil it here for you now do you?  The City of Mirrors is a fitting and satisfying conclusion to The Passage Trilogy, and in it Cronin is able to maintain that balance of emotion and action which has been his trademark throughout this series.

The City of Mirrors will be released on May 23rd, 2016 and can be pre-ordered at Amazon.

**This review was made possible by NetGalley, who provided a digital review copy

Galactic Book Club — Star Wars: Aftermath (2015) – 30ish Days of Star Wars

On a recent business trip I finally had a chance to finish Star Wars: Aftermath, which had been sitting idle on my Kindle for a few months.  When Disney acquired LucasFilm, one of the big changes was the wholesale removal of the Expanded Universe from the Star Wars canon.  Major story lines and characters that cropped up in books, comics and video games over the last 35 years would not referenced in any of the new movies or media.

Star Wars: Aftermath was the first novel in the “Journey to The Force Awakens” and would tell the story of what happened in the events immediately after Return of the Jedi.  What happened after the Ewok’s victorious yub-nubs on Endor and the statue of Emperor Palpatine was pulled down on Coruscant? Author Chuck Wendig was tapped by the powers at be at LucasFilm to provide fans a new launching point for the Star Wars universe.

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Spooky Book Club — Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix from Quirk Books

For many Americans there is nothing more horrifying than trying to assemble flat packed furniture purchased from IKEA.  And for others it is even more terrifying to wander the showroom trying to locate the bookshelf you saw online.  In Horrorstör we are introduced ti an IKEA clone called Orsk … and appearances are definitely not what they seem.

Horrorstor_final_300dpiSome very strange things are happening at the Orsk #00108 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.  Escalators are shutting down, graffiti is appearing in rest rooms and someone is defecating on couches in the showroom.

Orsk management is concerned and deputizes a few employees to conduct a secret overnight surveillance of the store to figure out who is vandalizing the store during the off hours.  What happens next is a genuinely fun and creepy as this apparently random group of employees find themselves at a supernatural crossroads that does not bode well.

Anyone who has ever worked big-box retail (myself included) can attest to how genuinely those massive buildings can be when the music cuts off at 10:00pm and lights go on power saving mode.  Hendrix has craft a very fun modern haunted house tale that plays on those “what-ifs” which makes for an intense read.  It’s a perfect addition to your bookshelf just in time for Halloween.

The design of Horrorstör is probably one of the most attractive I have seen this year.  It is put together as if it is an Orsk catalog, complete with pricing and color options for their fictional furniture.   In this digital world I highly recommend picking up a physical copy of Horrorstör.  

Quirk Books continues to put out some of the most unique and fun titles out, and I am very appreciative of the review copy that they provided  to me.

Horrorstör can be purchased on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Book Club: An Early Look at Ben H. Winters’ World of Trouble: The Last Policeman Book III

worldoftrouble_cvrOver the last three weeks I have devoured Ben H. Winters’ The Last Policeman Trilogy at a near reckless pace.  The final installment, World of Trouble, will be released by Quirk Books on July 15th. Fans of the series will not be disappointed by the conclusion which pulls no punches or takes any shortcuts.

World of Trouble picks up several months after the events of Countdown City, and former detective Henry Palace is out to solve one last mystery before the doomsday asteroid Maia makes landfall and wipes humanity off the map.  Palace is out to find his sister who had joined up with a group who believed that they had the answers to stopping Maia’s collision with the Earth. Unfortunately time is not on his side as he only has a few days left before humanity is wiped off the face of the planet.

Throughout the series we come across people who have gone “bucket list” who have decided to live out their remaining days in Caligulan debauchery.  Others have hunkered down in their basements and Cold War era bomb shelters hoping that they could somehow live out the nuclear winter after Maia makes landfall in the Pacific Ocean with their hoarded provisions.  Palace could very well have rode out his end days in relative comfort and seclusion; but that is not how he his wired.  Years ago he made a promise to always look after his little sister and nothing, not even Maia will stop him from fulfilling that commitment.

When you are reading World of Trouble you almost hope that Palace is somehow going to stumble upon a scenario which Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck somehow end up saving the Earth.  By the climax of the book you truly and desperately want Winters to just take the easy way out. World of Trouble is just the type of no-win scenario that Captain Kirk just cannot abide.  The end is coming, but how are do you make those last days count?

I cannot recommend this final, sobering entry into The Last Policeman Trilogy enough.  World of Trouble, will be released by Quirk Books on July 15th.  You can pre-order it through my Amazon link (wink wink) or directly through Quirk Books

**A review copy of World of Trouble was provided the good people at Quirk Books.  

 

Book Club: William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

empire striketh backI would be a liar if I said that I am an ardent fan of William Shakespeare.  My most recent exposure to him was during his cameo in The LEGO Movie, and before that I am relatively sure that prior to that it was some point during my sophomore year of college.

LEIA: O, I do love thee wholly, Han.

HAN:      – I know.  V, 1 62-63

The Empire Striketh Back is author Ian Doescher’s second Star Wars themed take on Elizabethan literature (the final chapter The Jedi Doth Return will be in stores later this summer).

Even when my review copy arrived I still found myself hesitant to crack the spine.  How well could Doescher merge two completely different genres successfully?  I was proven wrong, as all of the iconic scenes and dialogue are captured most eloquently … even the smelliest.

HAN: These tauntauns have an awful stench outside,
but nothing did I know of wretchedness,
Disgusting rot, and sickening filth till this
New smell hath made attack upon my nose.
The shelter now is fashion’d by my hands
Both strong and deft. We shall wait the morn
With only tauntaun’s guts as company.

           I, 5-26-32

Throughout the text there are gorgeous illustrations by Nicolas Delort that highlight some of the critical scenes and characters (Elizabethan Lobot is something to behold). Through The Empire Striketh Back Doescher has made Shakespeare’s style more accessible to the reading public and Jedi in training across the galaxy.

I cannot recommend this book to the Star Wars or Shakespeare fan in your life enough.  If you take nothing else away from this interpretation of the greatest Star Wars film it is that Lando Calrissian is even smoother in iambic pentameter.

The Empire Striketh Back is available on Amazon and directly through the publisher, Quirk Books.

*A copy was provided by Quirk Books for review purposes

Book Club: An Early Look At Daniel H. Wilson’s Robogenesis

robogenesis_cvrIn 2011, Daniel H. Wilson’s delivered Robopocalypse, set in a near future where an artificial intelligence called Archos-14 became self-aware with intentions on destroying the human race (think World War Z by way of the Terminator). The tense techno-thriller in the vein of Michael Crichton wound up selling nearly 160,000 copies and had its film rights optioned by none other Steven Spielberg.

Later this summer Wilson is taking us deeper into his menacing world of robotics in Robogenesis, where the human (and not so human) survivors deal with the after effects of the war with “Big Rob” and find themselves facing an even greater threat in a landscape forever changed.

Over the last week I poured through the review copy sent to me by Doubleday and found myself completely drawn back into the world that Wilson created three years ago. Robogenesis picks up just moments after the conclusion of Robopocalypse.  One of things that I appreciate most about these novels is the “future war” setting, and for me that is something that I have always wanted to see fully realized in the later Terminator films.

Wilson’s considerable background in computer science and robotics is evident throughout the novel’s nearly 400 pages; but in no way does the narrative ever get bogged down in “techno-babble”.  Robogenesis is a story of how in the face of insurmountable odds the human race will find a way to adapt and fight on.

Wilson has opened up a new world populated by humans, sentient machines, and other lifeforms that seem to straddle the line between the two.  Robogenesis is a thrilling return to form for Wilson and deserving of a slot on your summer reading list.

Robogenesis will be released on June 10, 2014 and can be pre-ordered through Amazon in Kindle, Hardcover, and Audiobook formats.

 

 

 

 

DDOY Book Club: The Martian by Andy Weir

themartian_cvr

The story behind Andy Weir’s The Martian is almost as remarkable as the novel itself.  Initially self-published by the author in a serial format it became a runaway success and was later repackaged and edited into an ebook. The Martian first came onto my radar in late February when early reviews started hitting the Internet.  The buzz was very positive and enough for me to justify downloading it to my Kindle.

“It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.”

The Martian is set in a near future where NASA has successfully landed the Ares 3 mission on the surface of Mars. Our protagonist, Mark Watney is a botanist by training and cross trained as a mechanical engineer (think Val Kilmer’s “space janitor” in Red Planet) and the story is told primarily through his personal journal. After only days on the surface of the planet, a rogue windstorm threatens the Ares 3 crew and mission control calls for an immediate evacuation. In the adrenaline fueled melee, Watney gets separated from the rest of the crew and is perceived to be dead. The crew evacuates in their ascent vehicle and high tail it for Earth.

Turns out Watney survived and after the storm his ability to communicate with NASA or even the rest of the Ares 3 crew has been completely wiped out.  Left on the barren surface of Mars with the mission’s left over equipment Watney has to figure out a way to survive.

While The Martian is a science fiction novel there is a lot of science fact contained within its 385 pages (those space science nerds may be familiar with the work of Dr. Robert Zubrin who core concepts for Mars exploration are used as a template for The Martian). Weir clearly has a love of space exploration and really goes into the details of what Watney has to do in order to keep on living in an environment that constantly wants to kill him.

The Martian is a thrilling read which evokes the high stakes survival drama of Apollo 13.  I read through the novel in a little over two days and I’m sure once you pick it up you will follow suit.

DDOY Book Club: Suburban Legends: True Tales of Murder, Mayhem, and Minivans

Just in time for Halloween, Quirk Books has released Sam Stall’s Suburban Legends: True Tales of Murder, Mayhem, and Minivans as a digital exclusive.  I was graciously provided a review copy of this macabre anthology for review here by the good folks at Quirk Books.

They told you the suburbs were a great place to live. They said nothing bad could ever happen here.

But they were wrong.

This collection of terrifying true stories exposes the dark side of life in the ’burbs—from corpses buried in backyards and ghosts lurking in fast food restaurants to UFOs, vanishing persons, bizarre apparitions, and worse.

 

Suburban Legends is a cross between a true crime novel and an X-Files episode, where the stories seem far too scripted to be true.  It has everything from mysterious Sasquatch like tracks in my hometown of Levittown, PA (The Terror of Levittown) to a murderous housewife who looks the body of her deceased husband in the bedroom with airfreshners placed in the hallway and goes about her life (Death Becomes Him).

My favorite anecdote comes from the chapter, Surreal Estate, where a couple finds their recently purchased Victorian-style home in New York to be haunted by 18th and 19th century ghosts.  I won’t spoil what is arguably one of my favorite stories in Suburban Legends, but I now know that in New York state you are “legally bound to disclose any onsite hauntings or poltergeist infestations” when conducting a real estate transaction.

At 240 pages Suburban Legends is a quick, fun read for anyone who is a fan of the truly weird things that are happening, often times overlooked in the developed and orderly great American suburban sprawl.

As mentioned earlier Suburban Legends is a digital exclusive and is available for the Amazon Kindle, The Barnes & Noble Nook, and the iBookstore for all iOS devices.

 

 

 

DDOY Book Club: Plague Zone

Author David Wellington is a notable name in modern horror literature. I first became aware of Wellington through his online serialization of his novel Monster Island in 2004. It was an unprecedented move, releasing a new original work for free on the Internet. Since that time Wellington has gone on to publish two additional novels in the Monster Island series and several other horror novels, various shorts stories, and he even a turn at a Marvel Zombies comic.

Plague Zone is a another zombie novel that is free of the Monster Island series. It was however serialized online and later collected as an ebook which is available on Amazon. I will freely admit that I’ve had this book sitting on my Kindle since April, and only had time to check it out over the last week.

Plague Zone tells the story of Tim Kempfler, a librarian from Seattle away at a conference in Chicago when the “Russian Flu” makes landfall in the United States in Seattle. Helpless, Tim watches in horror as his hometown is consumed by a disease that turns its victims into “droolers” … rotting, flesh eating zombies.

In his hotel room, thousands of miles from home he witnesses through live television his wife die at the hands of a drooler who was protecting their son. This drooler was once a man that he recognized and once knew … before he was a mindless flesh eating zombie. Tim makes a resolute vow to return to Seattle to take vengeance on that drooler for bringing an end to his family.

Plague Zone is a great concept, telling a different type of story in the zombie genre that has been overtaking pop culture for the last decade. Tim is a flawed man, but goes to extreme lengths to defend the wife and son he cherished. The Seattle that Tim wants to return to has been cordoned off by the military and has been vacated by the living. it has been turned over to the shambling hordes of the undead, and simply getting in poses a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Throughout his journey to seek revenge Tim encounters a broad swath of people who are surviving this plague by a variety of means, which has no clear end in sight.

If you are looking for a fun, flesh eating read for your week at the beach? Then look no further than David Wellington’s Plague Zone. And you what the best part of Plague Zone is? It’s currently available for free on Amazon’s Kindle Store.

Book Club — Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & The Prison of Belief

Every once in a while I take a break from bitching about movie trailers on Twitter and delve into more academic pursuits. I have always had an interest in ‘alternative’ religions specifically their organizational structure, mythology and sacrosanct texts.

In the early 2000’s I took a heavy interest in Mormonism after reading John Kruaker’s Under The Banner of Heaven which chronicles the origins of Mormonism and the rise of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) which espouses plural marriages (The most infamous of the FLDS sect was former leader Warren Jeffs who is currently serving life in federal prison on charges of child sexual abuse). I went so far as to actually obtain a copy of The Book of Mormon.  It read like The Lord of The Rings, just with Native Americans hanging around with Jesus in the Southwest.

Recently I’ve taken an interest in the origins of Scientology and the writings and work of L. Ron Hubbard.  There have been a lot of former members of Scientology popping up in the news in which they told their stories about life inside the Church of Scientology.  The most notable is Hollywood screenwriter/director Paul Haggis, who defected after learning of the Church’s stance on Prop 8, the acts of violence at the highest levels of the hierarchy, and the forced labor of its underage members.  While this has all been refuted by the Church itself, the corroborating accounts continue to pour out as more defectors come to light.

In Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & The Prison of Belief Lawrence Wright uses Paul Haggis’ story to frame out how a person first encounters the Church of Scientology and its teachings.  Like most religions it is often a person who is spiritually floundering, in need of finding the truth in their life and the world around them.  Wright was tireless in his efforts researching the origins of L. Ron Hubbard and his seemingly knack for hucksterism in Post World War II America.  It wasn’t until Dianetics: The Modern Science Of Mental Health was published in 1950 did Hubbard begin to build out the framework of what would become Scientology.

I found Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & The Prison of Belief to be incredibly engaging and extremely accessible. A lot should be said for the countless interviews, court documents, and Hubbard’s personal writings that are put together in way that the reader does not get bogged down in the farcical psuedo-science that makes up the foundation of Dianetics and Scientology.  There comes a point in the narrative where you can visualize an ailing and hyper paranoid L Ron Hubbard hiding out from the federal goverment in the back of a camper in the hills of California in that he is essentially Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau.

This really is a fascinating account of one of the most private organizations on the planet.  By the end of this book I certainly do get why people, especially the Hollywood elite find themselves heavily involved in the Church of Scientology.  Will you find me getting audited with an E-Meter by some fresh faced acolyte down in Center City Philadelphia? Hell no.  But I highly recommend this book to anyone who has a passing interest in Scientology and the controversy that surrounds it.

 

 

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