What's New Archive from 2012
The holiday season is already upon us. For those book lovers on your gift list, you can find my most highly recommended novels on my Right On Book Picks web page. All of these novels are guaranteed to provide a quality reading experience.
Today, I have reviews of two excellent literate comedies. A Brilliant Novel in the Works is a new first novel from Yuvi Zalkow that shows how bad writer’s block can get.
A Confederacy of Dunces is a novel written in the 1960’s by John Kennedy Toole which was not published until 1980, years after the young author committed suicide. Despite the tragic circumstances of the author, this is one of the funniest novels I’ve read.
Another great gift idea is a graphic novel or compilation of comics. I don’t have reviews of these items but in the spirit of the gift giving season, I’ve posted links to purchase some of my favorites below. These include the following:
Calvin and Hobbes: Terrific humor for all ages from Bill Watterson. The Essential Calvin and Hobbes is a great place to start and is quite reasonably priced. For the serious fan, a complete hardback collection is also available.
Dilbert: Best office humor ever created by Scott Adams. It's Not Funny If I Have to Explain It is one of the best collections with the author's favorite strips along with added comments.
Flash Gordon: Classic science fiction comics for all ages. A series of new hardback collections with beautifully restored artwork are very reasonably priced.
Alien - The Illustrated Story: For fans of the Alien movies, a new remastered version of the original graphic novel based on the popular first movie in the series has been recently published with beautiful color graphics for a bargain price.
Tank Girl: British comic for adults only. The complete collection in hardback is reasonable and the softback collections are even less expensive.
This week I’m adding reviews of novels by two authors that are new to me. First, I have a review of The Mirage by Matt Ruff which is a thriller set in a unique alternate reality where the Middle Eastern countries have united into a superpower while the modern United States has been replaced by backwards third-world type countries. This novel provides a very unique reading experience as it plunges the reader into a strikingly different yet in some ways similar reality where terrorism is carried out by Christian radicals from America.
I liked The Mirage enough to look up other novels from Matt Ruff and was so intrigued by a psychological thriller titled, Bad Monkeys that I devoured it in a few sittings. This novel provides a completely different reading experience. I’m always interested in well written psychological thrillers and this novel was one of the best I’ve read until the last couple of chapters which fell a little flat for me. However, anyone who likes psychological thrillers should try this novel out and then you can judge the ending for yourself.
Finally, I read a highly recommended post-apocalyptic science fiction novel aimed at the young adult market that I found to be suited just fine for adult reading. Genesis is a short novel at 150 pages but manages to explore big ideas about where the future could be heading. It also contains fascinating psychology and an intriguing debate about the differences between human and artificial intelligence that should not be missed.
It seems that this site is starting to reach a larger audience judging by the fact that I’ve started to receive requests for reviews. Most of the requests did not catch my interest but thanks to one request, I’m able to offer my first review of new novel prior to its publication. While I received an advanced reading copy of this novel, I’m not being paid in any manner for reviewing it so you can be assured that I will provide my usual honest appraisal.
The soon to be released novel is A Crash Course on the Anatomy of Robots by Kent Evans which is set to be released on Sept. 17. While the title might make you think this could be a science fiction novel, it’s not. It’s more of an experimental modern fiction/literature novel for the 21st century age of communication. It’s essentially about the madcap adventures of a young writer who is struggling to find his way in the world after being hit by a series of personal tragedies. This is the second novel from Kent Evans who displays a strong talent for inventive narrative based on autobiographical material that may have been honed during his work as a “spoken-word artist”. Click on the book cover image above to see the full review.
I also finally got around to finishing a science fiction trilogy from William Gibson that I started over a decade ago. The first novel in the series, Virtual Light, was great. But when the second novel in the series was a bit of a letdown, I lost interest in the series. However, I recently read the final novel, All Tomorrow’s Parties, and I really enjoyed it as it was perfect for a well written action packed summer read. Click on the book cover image above to read the full review.
I’ve been slacking off this summer as I took a 3 week vacation, my longest in 20 years. It was great and I managed to read a few books but didn’t write any reviews. So now I’m trying to catch up with writing reviews which is not easy with all the distractions of summer. I have three new reviews this week and should have more in a week or two.
First up is the unfinished last novel from the Nobel Prize winning author Albert Camus titled The First Man. I really enjoyed this “fictionalized” account of Camus’s youth which appears to be heavily autobiographical. While this novel did not receive the final polishing of his other novels and, in fact, has whole sections missing, it provides a visceral reading experience that I really enjoyed and also offers a glimpse into the writing process used by Camus.
Next, I read a new Titan reprint of a Philip Jose Farmer novel titled The Other Log of Phileas Fogg which is an interesting re-telling of Jules Verne’s famous novel, Around the World in 80 Days with and added science fiction twist. Farmer starts his tale by explaining that the original story was actually a cover story for a conflict between aliens. He carefully documents all the discrepancies of the original novel that the "real" story explains. He adds some exciting new adventures but much of the novel reads like too much of a documentary for my taste.
Lastly, I read a brand new novel from Chistopher Moore titled, Sacré Bleu which tells the story of an artist during the Impressionist movement who was connected to all the great artists of the time through a mythical muse and the use of a rare blue pigment that was more valuable than gold. Book collectors may want to collect this novel for the high quality production which includes about 30 full color reproductions of famous Impressionist paintings. However, the story did not come close to living up to the production value and the comedy did not live up to the standard I expected from my previous experiences with Christopher Moore.
I’ve been on a roll this year with when trying new authors. Today I’m posting a review of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. This is the second novel I’ve read this year by an author that’s new to me and the third novel in total this year that leaped into my top 10 favorite modern fiction novels of all time. 1Q84 is a brilliant new novel by a well-known Japanese author who I will be placing high on my list for future novel selections It’s very difficult to classify this novel but I would call it a well written thriller with a bit of surrealism in the form of a slightly altered parallel world to our present. This novel is actually a trilogy that has been released as one volume in the US hardback edition and in 3 volumes in the softback edition. It has a mixture of just about everything including high quality writing with engaging characters, intriguing mysteries, tense psychological drama, a convincing love story, and a serious dose of sex and violence. I heartily recommend this novel for mature adults.
I’ve had difficulty finding time to read and write lately due to the combination of working on taxes and some nice spring weather. Thankfully, taxes are done and I’ve had time to work out in the yard and to enjoy some nice day hikes with my family. We’ve been tackling a few hikes with serious elevation gains so we’ve had some good work outs.
I have two new 3 out of 4 star reviews of science fiction novels published a few years ago from two of my favorite authors. BIOS is a rather slim novel from Robert Charles Wilson that was published in 1999. It combines interesting characters with alien biology in a novel of dangerous exploration on a far-away world. It’s also realistic to the point where you shouldn’t expect the main characters to come away unscathed in a fight for survival.
Glasshouse is a fun science fiction novel with a twisting and complicated plot from Charles Stross which was published in 2006. This is essentially a mystery/thriller with lots of wit and humor that has a good time poking fun at our present time as scientists in the far future try to re-create their vision of an idealized 1950s society in America.
It looks like the recent success of The Hunger Games movie along with the young adult trilogy of the same name has spurred a lot of interest in the Japanese novel, Battle Royale by Koushun Takami which has a very similar premise and was written 9 years earlier. I haven't read The Hunger Games trilogy but I published a full review of Battle Royale here in 2010 and I can't recommend it highly enough.
Tax season is here and for this website this also coincides with the time to pay annual fees for web hosting and domain names. As a reminder, you can help support this site by clicking on the book images in the reviews to make your on-line purchases. Amost all book reviews have 3 book cover images in the top right corner of the review. The left image links to Powell's book store and this link will display used novels if they are available and, if not available, the new book price will be displayed. The middle image has a link to the Amazon UK site for readers from the UK and the image on the right has a link to Amazon US. Using these links will have no impact on your cost or discounts but this web site will receive an incredibly small portion of your payment. After using the book review links or the Links web page to go to Amazon, you can also buy any other items (not just books) to benefit this site.
Today I’m adding reviews of a new science fiction novel from Vernor Vinge and a violent thriller about how much trouble teenagers can get into by Charlie Huston. For the full reviews, click on the book cover images to the right or the titles below.
The Children of the Sky is a sequel to Vernor Vinge’s well-regarded A Fire Upon the Deep which was published all of 19 years ago. While it is not quite able to match the first novel’s sense of wonder, it is a worthy sequel which anyone who enjoyed the Tines world from the first novel will not want to miss. The medieval Tines world is filled with as much intrigue and treachery as the first novel and there are exciting new discoveries to be made. The alien Tines pack characters are the stars of the novel. However, if you have never read the earlier novel, make sure to read it first.
The Shotgun Rule is a gritty thriller with high emotions and explosive violence. I was so impressed by Huston’s recent novel Sleepless that I decided I should check out one of his earlier novels. The Shotgun Rule did not disappoint but I imagine that it will not appeal to as wide an audience as Sleepless because it narrowly focuses on teenage boys who feel trapped by life and are looking for some way to escape even if it means getting into trouble. They end up finding more trouble than they could have imagined when they get involved with drug dealers and encounter explosive violence.
Today is Superbowl Sunday! I have a Boston Butt on the smoker and may have just enough time to publish reviews of two recent novels before the guests start arriving.
The novels I’m reviewing today are exceedingly different but are both very intriguing. The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq won the highest prize for French literature in 2010 but the translated American edition was just published last month. Houellebecq has been a controversial author accused by some of using excessive sex and violence for shock value. However, with his new novel, Houellebecq proves he can achieve greatness with a more mainstream approach. This is a novel with an original voice that makes you think deeply about art, society, and life but also contains abundant humor and a gruesome murder. It was so good it jumped into my top ten for best modern fiction novels. Click on the book cover for the full review.
The second novel, Seed is a first novel from a promising author named Rob Ziegler. It fits into the “eco-punk” science fiction genre. This novel describes a bleak future which has suffered through an apocalypse brought on by environmental changes and genetic engineering that has decimated the population and wreaked havoc on the food supply. It’s a violent world with many struggling to survive. The novel starts to get scary when you realize that some of the predictions seem quite possible.
I just finished writing up reviews for three novels I read over the holidays. Click on the book images to go directly to the full reviews. All three novels were a pleasure to read but the last one, Sleepless by Charlie Huston, grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go like no other novel I read over the last year. This is a great example of why I continue to seek out new novels and new authors. Sleepless is a noir crime thriller that combines high tension action, thought provoking ideas, and deep emotions in a way that only the rarest novels achieve. While it also contains the science fiction element of a new disease ravaging society, this is a present day crime novel set against the disturbing background of a modern plague that is realistic enough that I’m wondering how much risk there really is that a similar disease will break out in the next few years. In fact, we are certainly due for a major plague or other worldwide disaster since we’re entering the last year of the Mayan calendar. See my complete review here. If you like crime thrillers and don’t mind a bit of stylish extreme violence, you should track down a copy of Sleepless as soon as possible.
Julian Comstock is a different type of science fiction novel from Robert Charles Wilson. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel that takes place in the 22nd century. North America has reverted to a new “dark ages” following the end of oil and a series of global disasters which have decimated the population. Out of the chaos, religion emerges as an equal partner in the new government. With a scarcity of energy and much of modern technology forgotten, it reads like a civil war era historical novel which describes the life of a young man who eventually rises to the highest level of government as told by his faithful best friend.
Solar by Ian McEwan, is a literate comic novel that satirizes the scientific community, global warming, and political correctness. This novel had some great laugh out loud comedy but could not sustain the strong momentum from the first half of the novel through to the end.