December 5th, 2009

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Some Quick Books Catch Up...

Wow, I haven't been keeping up with my reading list. Then again, I've been rather neglectful regarding this livejournal, which I hope to correct...

62) Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow by James Rollins (2009, Harpercollins, 416 pages)
A juvenile adventure from thriller writer Rollins (Black Order, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) featuring lost worlds, time travel, dinosaurs, and more pulpy goodness. This book, aimed for ages 5-9, starts out light and fun, but grows a tad tedious. Alas, I must be a grown up.

63) Prodigal Blues by Gary A. Braunbeck (2006, Cemetery Dance, 304 pages)
A non supernatural horror novel/thriller which starts out as the worst road trip protagonist Mark Seiber has ever been on and ventures into truly dark regions indeed . . . When his car breaks down, Mark unwittingly becomes part of a abducted girl's return home. "I'm sorry," she tells him, though he cannot understand why. He soon learns the ugly truth; she and a group of teens have escaped a very evil fellow called Grendel. The kids, horribly abused and physically modified, need a "normal" face to help them find their way home and they've selected Mark to be that face. Whether he wants to help or not. I've long been a fan of Gary A. Braunbeck's work, because he does not shy away from emotional honesty. Prodigal Blues may well be one of the best novels I have read in the last five years. Anyone who believes that horror fiction is simply an excuse for bloodletting and juvenile characterizations could learn a thing or two from Braunbeck's works. Highly recommended.

In fact, this novel did something few books can manage. It made me care so deeply, that I wept. Twice. In public. On a fricking airplane of all places.

64) Last Call by Tim Powers (2008, Subterranean Press, 500 pages)

65) A Soul in a Bottle by Tim Powers (2006, Subterranean Press, 83 pages)

66) The Garden of Iden by Kage Baker (1998, Harcourt, 334 pages)
A delightful novel of time travel, botany, and the start of a series about a mysterious Company responsible for reintroducing/saving/salvaging historically lost animals/artifacts/plants/etc. This time around, we meet Mendoza, a 5 year old girl who has suffered at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition. She is saved and delivered to the 24th century where she is transformed into something not quite human worker for the Company. The action ventures back to the 16th century England, where Mendoza is to work to preserve samples of some local flora. Romance, intrigue, sly humor, false unicorns, con artists, and auto da fes follow in this delightful novel.

67) The Women of Nell Gwynne's by Kage Baker (2009, Subterranean Press, pages)

68) Hellboy Library Edition vol. 1 by Mike Mignola (2008, Dark Horse, 278 pages)
An oversized, hardcover omnibus of the Seeds of Destruction and Wake the Dead series of Hellboy. The humor is what sells me on the series. More fun than the movies (which I thought were pretty fun), the best part is not the two main stories, but the supplemental materials, including a pair of quirky, hilarious teaser comics (scripted by John Byrne, illustrated by Mignola) and the sketchbook pages/notes by Mignola.

69) Summer Sketches by Dan Simmons (1992, Lord John Press, 130 pages)
A lovely, slender collection of sketches and extracts from journals kept by Simmons on his summer trips. The seeds of his fiction can be found here, the voice is charming, frustrating, insightful, occasionally inciting, and often inspiring.

70) The Shaft by David J. Schow (1992, MacDonald & Co., 368 pages)
Schow's second horror novel. Hardboiled, chilling, imaginative, and original. Chicago's Kenilworth Arms tenement building is an ugly place normally, but of late it's gotten downright dangerous. A trio of characters--drugrunner on the run Cruz, heartbroken loser Jonathan, and hooker with a heart of acid Jamaica--find themselves beset by terrors both supernatural and mundane... This novel is a contemporary weird tale set amidst winter blizzards. Schow's prose manages to convey the cold physical even while the reader is sitting in the heat of a Texas summer/autumn. The emotional chills defy seasons.

71) Sams Teach Yourself Java 6 in 21 Days by Rogers Cadenhead & Laura Lemay (2007, Sams Publishing, 698 pages)
A useful, lengthy introduction to Java. I had to read this for my work, and it helped. Nuff said.

72) The Bone Key by Sarah Monette (2007, Prime Books, 256 pages)
A charming collection of ghost stories set in the Lovecraft/James mode, though with plenty more characterization. These tales all revolve around the necromantic mystery adventures of reserved museum man Kyle Murchison Booth.

73) If I Were You by L. Ron Hubbard (2008, Galaxy Press, 121 pages)
I never figured L. Ron Hubbard to be a pulp fiction master, but that's pretty much what this book--a collection of two pulp stories and some historical details--make him out to be. To its credit, this book completely avoids the topic or mention of scientology, however the lingering association of author to that group tainted this book for me...
The title novella (If I Were You) is a contemporary fantasy tale wherein a circus midget with giant ambitions gains the supernatural ability to switch bodies. Hijinx ensue, and Little Tom Little finds himself in deeper troubles than he ever imagined.
The followup story ("The Last Drop" penned by Hubbard and L. Sprague deCamp) is a tale of booze, size changing, and gangsters. It tries to be high larious. I did not laugh, but then again my sense of humor is pretty dull.

74) Expiration Date by Tim Powers (2008, Subterranean Press, 400 pages)

75) In the Palace of Repose by Holly Phillips (2005, Prime Books, 224 pages)
Exceptionally well written short stories. Magical, dark, realistic tales delivered with brilliant prose. She writes contemporary fantasies, some dark, some not. I am slack-jaw awestruck by Phillips' style. Highly recommended.

76) Star Wars: Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber (2009, Del Rey, 288 pages)
I got this book from the library for one real reason: Star Wars horror novel. When a ship full of convicts and Rebellion sympathizers breaks down in the ass end of space, a nearby Star Destroyer might be their salvation. Too bad, the seemingly abandoned Star Destroyer actually contains a released chemical weapon that turns people into flesh hungry zombie-like monsters. Survival horror ensues, and that's where the novel gets rather boring for me (who'd of thunk it? Stormtrooper zombies boring? Huh, I must be getting old and curmudgeonly). The opening half of the book, which establishes the ensemble of mostly doomed characters (not a single Jedi here, yay!) is the book at its best. I'm intrigued by Schreiber's style, and am interested in checking out some of his non tie-in fiction.

77) Telegraph Days by Larry McMurtry (2007,Simon & Schuster, 304 pages)
Larry McMurtry lampoons the dime novel in this zinger of a book. When the Courtright children's father "suicides himself to death" they are forced to move into speck on the map Rita Blanca, where narrator Marie Antoinette "Nellie" Courtright convinces the Sheriff (who longs to marry her) to take her brother on as deputy. Well, not long after this happens, the Yazzee gang shows up to raise hell and in a fluke display of gunmanship, Jackson Courtright kills them all. What follows is a chuckler of an Old West yarn, featuring dozens of Big Names (including W. T. Sherman, Buffalo Bill Cody, Billy the Kid, the Earp brothers and more). Nellie is a sassy, randy, snarky, and thoughtful liar of a narrator. As the book goes on into steadily less credible areas, I found myself rather amused by the honesty at work beneath the obvious fabrications. The emotions are authentic, even if the events Nellie claims to have observed are increasingly far fetched.

78) Drive by James Sallis (2005, Poison Pen Press, 160 pages)
A spare hardboiled novel about a fellow called Driver ("I drive. That's all I do.") on a road aimed for revenge. The structure of the novel is fascinating, each chapter shifts to another time, giving the book a patchwork feel, but doing a nice job giving us a view into the identity of this ultimately nameless character. Sallis is a very good prose stylist.