2/19 On the Bookshelf . . .

Horns

Was delighted to receive a copy of Joe Hill’s latest book, Horns, which I don’t have any idea of what it’s about, though I’ve started reading it and so far the main guy has grown some horns and might be the devil.  But after 20th Century Ghosts and Heart-Shaped Box, I’m looking forward to Horns.

“SUM: Forty Tales From the Afterlives” by David Eagleman (Pantheon, 2009)

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There is one absolute certainty in this life and that is that we are all going to die, at some time.  Battles, wars, and crusades have been waged and fought for days, years, and even centuries over what exactly happens when we shuffle off this mortal coil and . . .

From David Eagleman, who heads the Laboratory of Perception and Action at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas and is the founder of the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law, comes a unique and unusual book called SUM: Forty Tales From the Afterlives.  With a strong cover quote from Philip Pullman, SUM presets forty “What ifs?” as Eagleman ponders the many possibilities of what might exist in the next life, if there is one.  For some it would be a fantasy come true, for others a nightmare; a personal heaven, or a feared hell.

Eagleman approaches the book from a scientific point of view, analyzing each possible afterlife in an empirical way and weighing its validity:  some entries are short, some are long; some have a lesson to teach, others propose a moral at the victim’s expense.  And what can the reader take from SUM?  Don’t expect to be convinced one way or another from Eagleman on whether there really is an afterlife.  It is a collection of entertaining stories that at the very least will stimulate the intellect into dreaming of another world.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on April 16th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“City of Thieves” by David Benioff (Viking Adult, 2008)

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From David Benioff, author of The 25th Hour and screenwriter for The Kite Runner, comes an original tale of adventure, laughter, and ongoing mystery set against the backdrop off World War II and the Siege of Leningrad.  City of Thieves is a fast-paced, enjoyable book that will have you telling your friends about it.

Lev Beniov is a Leningrad local, fondly referring to the city of his birth as Piter after Petersburg.  Left to fend for himself with some friends, he spends his days starving, foraging for food.  When a dead Nazi falls from the sky via parachute, he ransacks the body for food.  He is soon captured by the Russian army and is imprisoned expecting execution, because all findings are required to be turned over to the Russian army.  In prison he befriends an unusual man named Kolya, a deserter.  The Colonel surprisingly offers the two a deal for their freedom and survival: to find twelve eggs in less than a week for his daughter’s wedding cake.

And so begins a most unusual adventure, filled with danger, horror, and hunger.  But Benioff keeps the book fast-paced and entertaining with the back and forth banter between the main characters: Lev is a seventeen year old virgin, and Kolya is a very vocal sex addict.  While at times the language and actions of the characters force readers to remind themselves it’s 1942, it is nevertheless a quick read that you won’t soon forget.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on April 16th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Lamentation” by Ken Scholes (Tor, 2009)

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New author and winner of Writers of the Future, Ken Scholes, offers up the first book in a projected five-book series known as The Psalms of Isaak, featuring the complexity and political intrigue of George R. R. Martin with the artistic touch and historical feel of Guy Gavriel Kay. Lamentation is a subtle fantasy novel that does not seek to dazzle readers with nonstop action, but instead introduces them to a complicated world where there is no clear definition between good and evil for the different kingdoms, where each decision that is made will have important and far reaching ramifications.

Lamentation begins with the end of a beloved city, Windwir of the Named Lands.  All that remains is a curling column of smoke reaching into the sky after the casting of a catastrophic spell that razes the once great city to nothing but ruin and dust.  The main characters of the kingdoms of the Named Lands – Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses; Petronus, the Hidden Pope of the Androfrancine Order; Sethbert, Overseer of the Entrolusian City States; Jin Li Tam, daughter to the king of the Inner Emerald Coast – all pay witness to the devastation and must now begin putting the pieces together to find out who is behind this terrible destruction and to punish them accordingly.  The evidence rests on the word of a young boy, Neb, who witnessed the event, along with the survival of a merchservitor named Isaak who proclaims he is to blame for it all.  Yet he is but a robot, a machine that was ordered to do this; human hands and minds are ultimately behind this cataclysmic event.

Ken Scholes has created a wonderfully original world where it is not immediately clear who is fighting on the side of good and who isn’t.  Each character must be severely question on where their intentions lie and what they hope to achieve.  Scholes also uses a fresh blend of steampunk where there are mechoservitors to perform important duties, and mechanical birds that are used to send messages, as well as a special kind of magicks that uses elemental forces and materials for abilities like invisibility and speed. Lamentation is the first book in a great new series from a strong new voice in the world of fantasy.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on March 31st, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Ken Scholes check out BookBanter Episode 21.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (Quirk Books, 2009)

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Wait a minute!  Check that again.  Did you read it correctly?  Yep.  Definitely says Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  And the cover proves it.  Well now, there’s something you don’t see everyday.

Writer Seth Grahame-Smith has an eclectic oeuvre, author of Pardon My President, The Spider-Man Handbook, and The Big Book of Porn; he’s now a member of a growing group of writers who’ve decided there’s more to Pride and Prejudice than just the words penned by Jane Austen.  In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Grahame-Smith works on a simple premise: what if in the world of Mr. Darcy getting to know Miss Bennett the dead did not stay dead, but became zombies searching for delicious brains.  Grahame-Smith has created a new art form here in taking a good percentage of the original text and inserting his own text alongside it.  His talent is in using the same voice as Austen, so that the new scenes featuring zombie mayhem and impressive martial arts skills from the Bennett sisters are written in the same tone and therefore aren’t different or jarring.

There are two different schools of training in this world.  The Bennett sisters are trained martial arts professionals, having spent years training under Master Liu in Shaolin, China.  They each know how to use a variety of different weapons, though Elizabeth is best with her katana.  When the five are together, facing a horde of zombies, they execute the Pentagram of Death fighting move that never fails.  While Mr. Darcy was trained in Japan, under his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the most famous zombie killer in all of Britain.  Along with the help of her highly trained ninjas, she is unstoppable.  That is until she must face Elizabeth Bennett in an ultimate showdown over Mr. Darcy’s hand.

Austen fans need not worry that Grahame-Smith has ridiculed a work of art, but has merely added and in some ways “improved” it, giving the story a new look and new subplots.  He even provides a Reader’s Discussion Guide at the end of the book.  The last question reads: “Some scholars believe that the zombies were a last-minute addition to the novel, requested by the publisher in a shameless attempt to boost sales.  Others argue that the hordes of living dead are integral to Jane Austen’s plot and social commentary.  What do you think?  Can you imagine what this novel might be like without the violent zombie mayhem?”  After reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies you won’t be able to.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on March 31st, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Seth Grahame-Smith check out BookBanter Episode 27.

“The Map of Moments” by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon (Spectra, 2009)

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Bestselling authors Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon continue with the next novel of the Hidden Cities series, after Mind the Gap, with The Map of Moments set in the remarkable city of New Orleans.  The authors take on the divisive issue of Hurricane Katrina and the wrecked city that was left after August 2005, bringing to life the noir underbelly of New Orleans, as well as throwing in a healthy dose of the fantastic.  The Map of Moments is a great book you won’t soon forget.

Max Corbett is a college professor who left New Orleans for what he thought were some very good reasons, the most important of which was Gabrielle: a student and love of his life for a short while.  She stole his heart with her beauty and vivacity, then she cheated on him, so he left.  Then Hurricane Katrina happened.  He never called anyone, doesn’t know who’s alive and who’s dead; more importantly, he hasn’t heard anything from Gabrielle . . . until he gets the call with the news.

Max goes to New Orleans for the funeral and to face his demons.  He is then told by a strange man that there’s a way he can go back and change history; there’s a way he can save Gabrielle.  But first he has to travel to the special locations on the map he is given, The Map of Moments.  Each moment will take him back to an important moment in time, a place that was monumental in New Orleans history.  As Max travels back to each of the moments, he learns a lot, as he slowly puts the piece together, the mystery grows and unravels before him.  It is a dangerous world of black magic and the fantastic, not to mention the people who know what he’s up to and are out to kill him.

The Map of Moments is what happens when two great storytellers get together: a fantastic story set in an incredible city, with heavy doses of magic and mayhem.  It will keep you riveted to each page, as you pray for it never to end, but still wanting and needing to know what happens.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on March 31st, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Christopher Golden check out BookBanter Episode 12.

“The Kingmaking: Book One of the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy” by Helen Hollick (Sourcebooks Landmark, 2009)

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Originally published in Britain during the early 1990s, The Kingmaking is the first book in the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy from British author Helen Hollick.  With the tagline “a novel of Arthur as he really was,” Hollick certainly does her research in bringing to life the possible idea of a war king known as Arthur that would grow to become the magical, immortal legend.

The Arthurian legend is an interesting one that has seen and continues to see countless retellings, due to the fact that there is very little evidence proving the existence of a warrior king known as Arthur; mentions of Merlin and Guenevere are even rarer, while Lancelot is a complete fabrication by Chrétien de Troyes in the twelfth century.  What is known is that the fifth century was a very turbulent time for Britain with the desertion by Rome and its forces; the invasion of the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes; and the invading forces of the Scots and Picts from Ireland and Scotland respectively.  Britain was a melting pot of different peoples, and the Britons were left wondering what to do after being supported and protected for so long by the Romans.  It was in this time – it is thought — at the dawn of the Middle Ages, that a warrior king arose to defend the Britons and lead them to defending their country.

Hollick uses Wales as her setting for Arthur and his people, using Welsh names like Gwenhwyfar (for Guenevere), Cunedda (for Gwenhwyfar’s father), and Uthr (for rightful king of Britain and father to Arthur).  While Camelot is thought to be located near Glastonbury and Tintagel is to be found in Cornwall, with the invading forces pushing the Britons back, Wales was a very likely location for Arthur and his people.  Hollick also uses characters who were known to exist, like Vortigern who supposedly ruled the Britons for some time and was purportedly the one to invite the Germanic forces from the mainland to defend the Britons against the Scots and Picts.  There is Hengest and Horsa, the ruthless Saxon Brothers, Hengest’s daughter Rowena, as well as some of Vortigern’s own offspring, Vortimer, Catigern, and his daughter Winifred.

Hollick writes of a world and life that is becoming somewhat familiar, with the growing genre of medieval historical fiction, joining other epic novels like Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, and Cathedral of the Sea.  These are not the romanticized and glamorous characters of Chrétien de Troyes, Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, or the famous musical Camelot.  It is a cold, harsh world, where much blood is shed and many die.  Hollick does a wonderful job of balancing the narrative with the different characters, and not just keeping it to one person as is common in other Arthurian sagas.  She also maintains the historical accuracy, using the tools and the skills that existed in the world of the fifth century, and yet making The Kingmaking a fast-paced, action-packed start to one of the best Arthurian series to be written.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on March 30th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.