Sunday, February 27, 2011

Secrets to the Grave

Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag
Penguin Group (USA, 2011
Hardcover, 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9780525951926
Deeper than the Dead series #2
highly recommended

Marissa Fordham had a past full of secrets, a present full of lies. Everyone knew of her, but no one knew her.
When Marissa is found brutally murdered, with her young daughter, Haley, resting her head on her mother's bloody breast, she sends the idyllic California town of Oak Knoll into a tailspin. Already on edge with the upcoming trial of the See- No-Evil killer, residents are shocked by reports of the crime scene, which might not have been discovered for days had it not been for a chilling 911 call: a small child's voice saying, "My daddy hurt my mommy."
Sheriff's detective Tony Mendez faces a puzzle with nothing but pieces that won't fit. To assist with his witness, Haley, he calls teacher-turned-child advocate Anne Leone. Anne's life is hectic enough-she's a newlywed and a part- time student in child psychology, and she's the star witness in the See-No-Evil trial. But one look at Haley, alone and terrified, and Anne's heart is stolen.
As Tony and Anne begin to peel back the layers of Marissa Fordham's life, they find a clue fragment here, another there. And just when it seems Marissa has taken her secrets to the grave, they uncover a fact that puts Anne and Haley directly in the sights of a killer: Marissa Fordham never existed.

My Thoughts:

One thing became quite clear to me after reading Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag, the second book in the Deeper Than the Dead series: I don't want to move to Oak Knoll, California, no matter how idyllic the setting seems. This time young artist Marissa Fordham is found brutally murdered with her barely-alive four year old daughter, Haley, resting her head on her dead mother's shoulder.

Tony Mendez is back on the case with assistance from, among others, Vince Leone, former FBI profiler. Vince has married Anne Navarre, who is now a child advocate, and they both live in Oak Knoll. In fact, many of the characters from Deeper Than the Dead are back along with some new characters. The investigation from the previous novel is also mentioned several times. While Secrets to the Grave can be a stand alone novel, I think reading it after Deeper Than the Dead would be a wise move. Hoag does a great job developing her characters and setting the first time around and they even further developed in this second novel in the series.

The first novel was more tense as a serial killer was running loose, but I think I liked this second novel in the series a tiny bit more than the first one, which I also liked a lot. It could be simply from familiarity with the characters and seeing the character development over the two novels when read back to back. This time Hoag again had several likely suspects and kept me guessing until the end who the murderer was.

I really think anyone who enjoys mysteries where care is taken to develop the characters and the setting as well as resolve the case are going to enjoy almost anything Tami Hoag writes, including Secrets to the Grave.
Highly Recommended

Disclosure: My copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher.


The house stood by itself back off the road in a field of dried golden grass, half hidden by spreading oaks. An amalgam of styles - part Spanish, part ranch - the once-white stucco building was weathered in a way that made it seem a part of the natural surroundings, as if it had grown up out of the earth and belonged there as much as any of the hundred-year-old trees. opening

Beside her lay a smaller doll—her child--head resting on her shoulder, face streaked with the last of her mother’s life’s blood.
The flies buzzed. The wall clock ticked above the sink.
The telephone receiver lay on the floor, stenciled with small bloody fingerprints. The last words spoken into it were a whisper still hanging in the air: “My daddy hurt my mommy . . .” pg. 2

“The victim is Marissa Fordham, twenty-eight, single mom. An artist.”
Sheriff’s Detective Tony Mendez rattled off the facts as if unaffected by what he had seen inside the house. pg. 3

“No paraphernalia. The house is too clean for a junkie. I don’t make it for drugs. It doesn’t feel that way.”
“No,” Leone agreed. “This was personal. No question. We’re looking at maybe thirty or forty stab wounds.” pg. 6

It should have been a beautiful space. It probably had been a beautiful space filled with Marissa Fordham's extraordinary art - all of which had been torn and ruined, slashed and broken. Paintings, sculpture - all of it now nothing but debris, the detritus of a murderer's rage. pg. 28

In my opinion the attack on Marissa Fordham was personal. That many stab wounds is personal. But that butcher knife looks to have belonged to the victim, which make this seem more like a crime of opportunity, of the moment. Someone got angry, grabbed that knife and used it...." pg. 37

There was one reason Mendez had chosen to stay in Oak Knoll, even though Leone had encouraged him to make the move to the Bureau with an eye to eventually becoming part of the Investigative Support Unit. He wanted to learn from the best. Vince Leone was the best and Vince was here. pg. 45

Friday, February 25, 2011

Deeper Than the Dead

Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag
Penguin Group, October 2010
Paperback , 560 pages
ISBN-13: 9780451230539
Highly Recommended

California, 1985. Four children and a young teacher Anne Navarre make a gruesome discovery: a partially buried female body, her eyes and mouth glued shut. A serial killer is at large, and the very bonds that hold their idyllic town together are about to be tested to the breaking point.
Tasked with finding the killer, FBI Investigator Vince Leone employs a new and controversial FBI technique called "profiling," which plunges him into the lives of the four children - and the young teacher, whose need to uncover the truth is as intense as his own.
But as new victims are found and pressure from the media grows, Vince and Anne find themselves circling the same small group of local suspects, unsure whether those who suffer most are the victims themselves... or those close to the killer, blissfully unaware that someone very near to them is a murderous psychopath.
My Thoughts:

Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag is a mystery/thriller set in 1985. A serial killer is on the loose in Oak Knoll, California, at a time when many modern technological advances, such as computer data bases and identification by DNA, were not available for police departments in their investigations. At this time the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit was in its early days and profiling was a new technique.

Even though the title Deeper Than the Dead refers to the sub-basement location of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, the focus of the novel is not the FBI's BSU, but the investigation in California. Ready to retire FBI profiler, Vince Leone, travels to Oak Knoll to help Tony Mendez, a young detective who had attended the FBI's National Academy where he met Leone and learned about profiling. Involved in the story of the investigation are also four fifth graders who discovered the latest body, their families, and their teacher, Anne Navarre. In an unexpected love connection, Vince and Anne are attracted to each other after they meet.

Early on Hoag gives us several likely suspects. While astute mystery readers may narrow it down rather quickly and guess who the killer is, the action is fast paced and the suspense builds beautifully, ensuring you will keep reading the story. What helped with this is that Hoag did a very nice job in all of her characterizations, especially with the four children. I was not only interested in the investigation, but also in the characters.

There were a few flaws. Hoag made it a point to open up the novel with an author's note to make it clear that the novel was set in the mid 1980's, but there were a few things in the book that wouldn't have happened at that time. (I was definitely an adult at that time.) For example I don't think the term "skankopotamus" was in usage and the term "person of interest" was also not widely used in law enforcement. Anne's friend Franny was a bit too flamboyant for a kindergarten teacher in a small town in 1985. My only other complaint would be the loose ends left when the story ended. (I'm hoping they are cleared up in the next novel, Secrets to the Grave.)
Highly Recommended

Disclosure: I received this copy from the publisher.


My hero is my dad. He is a great person. He works hard, is nice to everyone, and tries to help people.
His victim would have screamed if she could have. He had seen to it she could not open her mouth. There would have been terror in her eyes. He had made certain she could not open them. He had rendered her blind and mute, making her the perfect woman. Beautiful. Seen and not heard. Obedient. He had immobilized her
so she could not fight him. opening

She had to respect him now. She had no choice. The power was all his. In this game, he always won. He had stripped away all of her pretense, the mask of beauty, to reveal the plain raw truth: that she was nothing, and he was God.
It was important for her to know that before he killed her. pg. 2

Slowly Tommy pushed himself up on his hands and knees. The ground he was on had been turned over recently. It smelled like earth and wet leaves, and something else he couldn’t name. It was soft and damp, and crumbly like someone had dug it up with a shovel. Like someone had buried something . . . or somebody.
His heart jumped into the back of his throat as he raised his head. . . and came face to face with death. pg. 8

Tommy stood well back from the deputies who had come with yellow crime scene tape to mark off the area around the shallow grave. He should have been home by now. His mother was going to be really mad. pg. 11

Anne Navarre felt herself shaking inside as she walked away from Frank Farman and the crime scene her students had stumbled upon - shaking from the shock of what she had just seen, shaking with anger at Frank Farman. pg. 14

"This is the third victim in two years."
"It's the second."
"In our jurisdiction. The second vic was in the next county, but it's the same perp. Same MO, same signature." pg. 23

"Why are we watching this? You know I hate the news at ten o'clock. The only people who think the news should be on at ten live in Kansas and have to be in bed by ten thirty so they can get up at dawn and watch the corn grow." pg. 28

Anne had been a quiet child, a watcher. She had taken in everything that had gone on around her, processed it, and kept her conclusions to herself.
She recognized those same qualities in Tommy Crane. He tended to stand back a little from those around him, taking in their moods and actions, reacting accordingly. pg. 33

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Slap

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Penguin Group (USA), 2010
Trade Paperback , 496 pages
ISBN-13: 9780143117148
Not Recommended

Christos Tsiolkas's The Slap is a riveting page-turner and a powerful, haunting rumination on contemporary middle-class family life. When a man slaps a child who is not his own at a neighborhood barbecue, the act triggers a series of repercussions in the lives of the people who witness the event-causing them to reassess their values, expectations, and desires.
My Thoughts:

After reading other reviews of The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, I really wanted to like it. Alas, that was not the case. The premise of The Slap is that a man slaps a child who is not his own at a barbecue. The story is told through the point of view of eight different characters in eight different chapters. A long list of characters and their relationships are all presented in the first chapter when the slap occurs.

Since the title of the book is The Slap, I assumed that the actual slap would be the focus of the book and that would be the premise behind the chapters from the different character's point of view. That is not the case. The slap actually plays a minor role in the book. Instead the chapters are all minor character studies of a group of extremely disagreeable people. The reader is served up long, crude descriptions of explicit scenes, infidelities, and hatreds. I disliked every single character.

I grew weary of the ever prevalent profanity from every character as well as the frequent drug and alcohol abuse. But mostly I loathed the characters going from one sordid sex scene to the next. It felt like a very misogynistic novel to me. I like how Jackie at Farmlane Books put it:
"I think that The Slap is the most male book I have ever read. If you want to gain an insight into the male mind, then this book is essential reading, but I warn you that it isn’t a pretty sight. It is packed with swear words, thoughts on sex and an obsession with ‘the male dangly bits!’ This book is the male version of ‘chick lit’ and gives an insight into a male’s view of society that is rarely talked about."
I couldn't agree more. The Slap really did feel like a very male book, and not necessarily full of any insight I wanted to experience at this time. None of the female characters were believable as written. I almost set the book aside, but forced myself to finish it - not a good sign - because I wanted to see if there would be something notable at the end, if all the stories were leading up to some big conclusion. Nope.

On the other hand, kimbofo at Reading Matters liked The Slap:
"I think I was slightly enamoured of its quintessential Australian-ness, not just in its references to specific suburbs and streets, but in its depiction of Melbourne as a cultural melting pot full of people with racial, religious and political prejudices all jostling together in relative peace while an undercurrent of friction simmers just beneath the surface."
So, in conclusion, The Slap may be a quintessential Australian book that didn't cross cultural lines for me. Not Recommended


His eyes still shut, a dream dissolving and already impossible to recall, Hector's hand sluggishly reached across the bed. Good. Aish was up. He let out a victorious fart, burying his face deep into the pillow to escape the clammy methane stink. opening

The boy’s face had gone dark with fury. He raised his foot and kicked wildly into Harry’s shin. The speed was coursing through Hector’s blood, the hairs on his neck were upright. He saw his cousin’s raised arm, it spliced the air, and then he saw the open palm descend and strike the boy. The slap seemed to echo. It cracked the twilight. The little boy looked up at the man in shock. There was a long silence. It was as if he could not comprehend what had just occurred, how the man’s action and the pain he was beginning to feel coincided. The silence broke, the boy’s face crumpled, and this time there was no wail: when the tears began to fall, they fell silently. pg. 40

F****ing poofter soapie producers. She was not looking forward to the morning meeting. During the last month her writing had become florid, deliberately theatrical, and at the same time, self-aware and mocking. pg. 53

And that c**t wants to f**** it all up. He couldn't decide who he hated more: the hysterical wife who had hissed at him with unconcealed contempt, the drunk, weak f*ggot of a husband, or the whining little pr*ck he had slapped. He wished the three of them were dead. pg. 87

It's not embarrassing to feel things strongly. It's nothing to be ashamed of that you get so indignant and mad about what adults can do. That's one of the great things about being young. It just becomes a problem if you let that indignation become self-righteousness. pg. 174

A cruel thought flashed quickly and guiltily in her mind: be a man, deal with your f***ing mid-life crisis - it is so boring. pg 405

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Assassination Vacation

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
Simon & Schuster, 2005
Trade Paperback, 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9780743260046
highly recommended

Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. With Assassination Vacation, she takes us on a road trip like no other--a journey to the pit stops of American political murder and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage.
From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to the Dry Tortugas, Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by the spilling of politically important blood, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism. We learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln (present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and witness the politicking that went into the making of the Lincoln Memorial. The resulting narrative is much more than an entertaining and informative travelogue--it is the disturbing and fascinating story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including literature, architecture, sculpture, and--the author's favorite--historical tourism.

My Thoughts:

In Assassination Vacation Sarah Vowell discusses in an entertaining style the assassinations of three presidents: Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth, James A. Garfield by Charles Guiteau, and William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz. Vowell discusses her visits to various museums, historical sites, statues, and other locations connected to the presidents and their assassins.

It is a jumbled mix of history, personal information about Vowell, and current social criticism. Where she shines is in telling the story, the history, and all the little asides that interconnect as she visits various sites related to the assassinations and I enjoyed Assassination Vacation quite a bit when Vowell was talking about history and visiting related sites or telling interconnected stories about the presidents and their assassins. She's funny, irreverent, informative and entertaining while passing along the stories.

When she veered off into her current political views, my enjoyment lessened exponentially. I get it, but that wasn't the purpose of the book. Her current political views could have been edited out and the book would have been stronger. It was also surprising that Vowell did not include a bibliography. I think the inclusion of a simple bibliography of sources readers could turn to for more information would have been an excellent addition to the book.
Highly Recommended, if you can ignore personal current political views from an author.


One night last summer, all the killers in my head assembled on a stage in Massachusetts to sing show tunes. There they were - John Wilkes Booth, Charles Guiteau, Leon Czolgosz - in tune and in the flesh. The men who murdered Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley were elbow to elbow with Lee Harvey Oswald and the klutzy girls who botched their hits on klutzy Gerald Ford, harmonizing on a toe-tapper called "Everybody's Got the Right to Be Happy," a song I cheerfully hummed walking back to the bed-and-breakfast where I was staying. opening

But when I'm around strangers, I turn into a conversational Mount St. Helens. I'm dormant, dormant, quiet, quiet, old-guy loners build log cabins on the slopes of my silence and then, boom, it's 1980. pg. 4

I am only slightly less astonished by the egotism of the assassins, the inflated self-esteem it requires to kill a president, than I am astonished by the men who run for president. These are people who have the gall to believe they can fix us - us and our deficit, our fossil fuels, our racism, poverty, our potholes and public schools. The egomania required to be president or a presidential assassin makes the two types brothers of sorts. Presidents and presidential assassins are like Las Vegas and Salt Lake City that way. Even though one city is all about sin and the other is all about salvation, they are identical, one-dimensional company towns built up out of the desert by the sheer will of true believers. The assassins and the presidents invite the same basic question: Just who do you think you are? pg. 7

"Assassinations are your Kevin Bacon. No matter what we're talking about, you will always bring the conversation back to a president getting shot." pg. 13

Technically, it's a family restaurant, but it will only remind you of your family if your mom chain-smoked menthols. pg. 55

If there is one recurring theme in Garfield's diaries it's this: I'd rather be reading. That might sound dull and perfunctory, but Garfield's book fever was a sickness. pg. 134

History is one war after another with a bunch of murders and natural disasters in between. pg. 208

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Pesthouse

The Pesthouse by Jim Crace
Doubleday Canada, 2009
Hardcover, 255 pages
ISBN-13: 9780641994852
highly recommended

Once the safest, most prosperous place on earth, the United States is now a barren, lawless, scantly populated wasteland. Across the country, families have packed up their belongings to travel eastward toward the one hope left: passage on a ship to Europe.
Franklin Lopez is only days away from the ocean when an injury forces him to stop. He comes upon an isolated hovel, where he finds Margaret, a woman suffering from a deadly infection and confined to The Pesthouse to sweat out her fever. The two join forces, and make their way through the stark ruins of old America.
A compelling novel that imagines an America devastated by disease and famine, where the only hope for survival lies in passage overseas.

My Thoughts:

The Pesthouse by Jim Crace is set in a postapocalyptic United States. Many of the inhabitants are trying to reach the east coast, following rumors of ships that will take them to a better life (Europe, I presume). It really is happenstance that precipitates Franklin teaming up with Margaret for the journey to reach the coast. Their trek is full of peril and human predators. The Pesthouse is also supposed to be a love story, but it is really more a story of coincidental traveling companions who develop an appreciation for each other out of need which develops into love.

In The Pesthouse, many years (certainly decades, perhaps over a century) after the unnamed disaster, the United States has regressed to an agrarian, almost medieval society whose inhabitants don't understand the leftover remnants of cities, machinery, or highways. We are never given an explanation of why America would erode into a backward, medieval-style agrarian society after the disaster. Personally, I found it hard to truly believe the USA would go so far in this direction so, in some ways, it felt like a chastisement for our love of technology and industriousness.

While Crace is technically a good writer, in this novel his tone remains detached from his characters and so I remained detached from them. While I was interested in their adventures and what would happen, I wasn't really emotionally involved with the characters. I was fairly involved with the story, and then it seemed to lose me, perhaps because there was no incentive to become more involved with the characters and what happened to them.

The Pesthouse certainly invites comparison to other recently published postapocalyptic novels set in the United States: The Road, Jamestown, and World Made by Hand. The Road is a much darker, bleaker novel (and much better) in comparison to The Pesthouse. The Pesthouse is a gentler postapocalyptic tale that isn't as over the top as Jamestown but perhaps a step above World Made by Hand. Readers who cannot stomach the wrenching dismal hopelessness in The Road, will appreciate The Pesthouse more. While I generally enjoyed The Pesthouse and would recommend it, the detachment from the main characters takes it down to a Highly Recommended novel.


Everybody died at night. Most were sleeping at the time, the lucky ones who were too tired or drunk or deaf or wrapped too tightly in their spreads to hear the hillside, destabilized by rain, collapse and slip beneath the waters of the lake. So these sleepers (six or seven hundred, at a guess; no-one ever came to count or claim the dead) breathed their last in passive company, unwarned and unexpectedly, without experiencing the fear. Their final moments, dormant in America. opening

This used to be America, this river crossing in the ten-month stretch of land, this sea-to-sea. It used to be the safest place on earth. pg. 6

Feet failed first; nothing could prepare the feet for this. Then the stomach gave way, soured by ditch and pond water and the usual makeshift meals of hardtack, jerked meat, pine nuts, and scrapple—and, in the brothers’ case on one occasion, a stew made from a hand–caught rabbit too diseased to run away, with nettle tops as greens. And if the stomach survived that, then the less sturdy travelers were betrayed by bones and joints, starting at their knees and working upward, pain on pain, through hips, up spine, and into the shoulders and the neck until there was nothing left to sour, fail, or be betrayed except the soft pith of the head. Once summer turned and limped away, its sack crammed full of leaves, the route was challenging. Within a month, the weather would have mugged the final stragglers and the roads and ways would be empty again, untrodden till spring. pg. 8

Franklin had not dared say so to his brother, but he was more than nervous of the nights ahead. It was not so much the unlikely prospects on such a busy route of cougars, bears, and snakes or the more certain prospect (on such a busy route) of human parasites that bothered him. Although he might not be as imposing as his brother—he was much lighter, easier in his skin, and so less dangerous—he was still big and strong enough to take good care of himself should he have no choice, even with Jackson by now far beyond his call. He had two knives. And there were rocks and branches with which to defend himself if any creature, beast or man, were ill–advised enough to take him on. But he was uneasy nevertheless, for no man’s tall enough to fend off darkness, shadows, damp, and all the lonely terrors of the night. pg 14

The flux was carried in and carried out by travelers, or by their goods, or by their animals, or in their bedding, or in their clothes. The illness was an intermittent visitor, unwelcome but well known. pg. 18

There was no choice but to be hardhearted. If any of the travelers were ill, they were thrown out of town at once.No bed or sustenance for them. But if the victim was a Ferrytowner, the Pesthouse was the only option. pg. 19

The toughest maladies have wings. There are no fees or charges high enough to deter the flux; no palisade is that tall. pg. 20

The sun occasions modesty. It disapproves of flesh. pg. 21

So long as I draw breath, I'll never forget her staying in the house so she wouldn't have to wave us goodbye. I shouldn't have left her there. I shouldn't have. pg. 228

Monday, February 14, 2011


Leviathan by David L. Golemon
St. Martin's Press, 2009
Hardcover, 368 pages
Event Group Series #4
ISBN-13: 9780312376635
highly recommended

This time, the event group will go to the greatest depths
The ships of the world are under attack, attacks so sudden and vicious that many ships are lost without a single distress call. The navies of the world start a frenzied search, but even these ships disappear without a trace. Enter the Event Group, the most secret organization in U.S. history. Armed with proof that history is repeating itself, the Group finds themselves in the grasp of an insane genius straight out of the pages of Jules Verne.
To stop a war beneath the seas…
They are up against a descendant of the man who was the inspiration for the captain of a vessel known to the world as Nautilus. And when legend comes to life in the form of Leviathan, the most advanced undersea vessel in history, she will stop at nothing to save the seas and to render justice to humankind for a world that has long been dying. It is a world Leviathan plans to alter forever, unless the Event Group can stop her!

My Thoughts:

Leviathan by David L. Golemon is the fourth novel in his Events Group series. After a prologue set back in time which touches on several historical events, we are in the present day and the ships of the world are under attack. The Event Group has been pulled into the fray and must find the answers to stop the conflict.

This time Golemon has taken his inspiration from literature. In the prologue, The Count of Monte Cristo inspires the setting in a French Prison in 1802. Most of the novel, however, is inspired by Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, with Golemon recasting Verne's characters and taking what was Verne's Nautilus forward through time, now as the Leviathan.

The series is all about escapism and entertainment - science fiction mixed in to an action/adventure novel. Leviathan is a much stronger book in the Events Group series than the previous novel, Ancients. I felt that the plot and action were more carefully conceived and planned out. While you still need to read the series in order to know and have a deeper understanding of all the characters, Golemon did do some added character development this time around, adding a little depth to several of his recurring characters.

All in all this was a strong addition to the Events Group series.
Highly Recommended


Three years in darkness. Since ?Napoleon's coup in 1799, Roderick Deveroux had been imprisoned at Chateau d'If for refusing to reveal the secrets of his magical and mysterious designs for seagoing warfare. opening.

Deveroux stared at the magical creatures as they in turn watched him from below the crystal-clear waters of the cave. Gold, diamonds, and emeralds - they all paled in comparison to the miracle his eyes now beheld. Fantasy mixed with reality - biblical stories with that of fairy tales. pg. 11

"Yes, yes, we know your estate is very well guarded, that is why we were forced to come here. We are not barbarians, Professor, the sea angel you have here is quite enough," Hansonn said as he nodded at the man holding Heirthall. pg. 17

As the metal ship centered itself in the middle of dead men and debris, Engersoll was shocked to see the giant tower sitting on the broad expanse of metal hat made up the unimaginable sight of the iron hull. The great bubble window shaped like the eye of a demon was in front of him, and as he looked skyward, he saw a man standing in the spider-webbed framed glass. pg. 25

"The thing is called Leviathan, Captain Smith, and no mater what happens here tonight, you are never to speak of this to anyone, not even to your wife. I don't think I have to make any unnecessary threats, do I sir?" pg. 28

"This" - he grasped the yellowed pages - "is her family legacy; this is who she is, where she came from." Then he held up another book. "This is the logbook of Leviathan. It is also for her. You will have to make the last entry. The plans and specifications for Leviathan are on the island with all the captain's research. Olivia will know one day what to do with them. The last pages are of the life form - these are not to fall into the hands of our American brethren, Is this clear?" pg. 36

Friday, February 11, 2011


Ancients by David L. Golemon
St. Martin's Press, 2008
Mass Market Paperback , 480 pages
Event Group Series #3
ISBN-13: 9780312942861
recommended (if you are reading the series)

Eons before the birth of the Roman Empire, there was a civilization dedicated to the sciences of earth, sea, and sky. In the City of Light lived people who made dark plans to lay waste to their uncivilized neighbors using the very power of the planet itself. As the great science of their time was brought to bear on the invading hordes, hell was set loose on Earth. And the civilization of Atlantis disappeared in a suicidal storm of fire and water…
Now history threatens to repeat itself. The great weapon of the Ancients has been discovered in the South Pacific, and it is being deciphered by men of hatred who want to unleash hell on Earth once again. This time, it’s up to the Major Jack Collins and the Event Group—comprised of the nation’s most brilliant minds in the fields of science, philosophy, and the military to find the truth behind the world’s greatest unsolved myths—to end the cycle of destruction. Meanwhile, the seas rise, the earth cracks, and entire cities crumble to dust as the evil plan mapped out thousands of years before begins to take shape…
My thoughts:

Ancients by David Lynn Golemon is the third book in his Events Group series. (The previous two Events Group novels are Event and Legend.) This time the Events Group is fighting an organization of mysterious people who trace their ancestry back to Atlantis. This secret organization of Atlanteans has discovered an ancient secret weapon and is using it in an attempt to take over the world.

If you enjoy action/adventure novels that have elements of science fiction, you are likely already reading this series. These novels are all about escapism and entertaining us. Of the three novels, however, this is the weakest. There seems to have been less care taken to follow history and any basis in science this time. The real star is the many armed conflicts with the bad guys. While Ancients does seem much more formulaic than the first two novels in the series, there is a surprise ending this time.

Character development, such as it is, relies on the reader having read the first Event Group novel, Event, since the main characters are developed to a much lesser degree in Legend. In Ancients it is just assumed you know the recurring main characters. It's not a good assumption to make. Additionally, the Atlanteans also lack development and believability as villains. If they already had the influence behind the scenes as written, they could have taken over without their secret weapon.

Setting aside the problems with this third Events Group novel, I would say that Ancients definitely passes the test as an entertaining novel. It would be a good airplane book.
Recommended (especially if you are following the series - not as a stand alone novel)

Event (just the synopsis and quotes)


13,000 BCE
The council elder sat alone in the darkened chamber. His mind focused on the empire's dire situation and the harsh judgment that history would render upon his great civilization. opening, prologue

"There is a reason why the gods have made he blue diamond so hard to find - it may generate more power to the Wave from the stored energy of light, heat, and the very electricity generated by our very own bodies. As I said, it's uncontrollable." pg. 4

Vienna, Austria: June 1875
"Yes the artifacts were found by you. But you are being shortsighted in thinking this is, but an archaeological find. It is much more than that, can't you see? Give me two years, that is all I ask, then you may go public with what you found in Spain. After all, it was I who led you to the papers of Caesar, without which you never would have narrowed the search enough to find the treasure." pg. 25

Within minutes, word spread over the newswires that an 11.8 earthquake had rocked North Korea, the largest earth movement ever recorded. Immediately calls were sent into North Korea requesting that humanitarian forces be allowed to cross the border and land in ports for assistance to their people. However, the requests from frantic neighbors and other nations of the world went unanswered. They were informed, however, that the Communist military of Kim Jong Il had gone on full alert and division upon division had started to assemble at rallying points near the border.
The first strike of Thor’s Hammer had sounded, and the world was stunned by its power. pg. 52

Finally, the earth became still.
Above, the supposed off- course commercial jetliner turned away after overflying a fifty- mile- long line of recent oil- well excavations that had gone unnoticed in the previous weeks just inside the Iraqi border.
The second strike of Thor’s Hammer was complete, and the chess game had begun in earnest. pg. 55

Housed along with the military and science teams that made up the secretive Event Group were secrets that the world had mostly forgotten or that lived on only in folklore and legend. Behind thousands of banklike vault doors and inches of reinforced steel, the secrets of world history, once buried in time, were studied and cataloged. The charter of Department 5656: to make sure mistakes and civilization-altering moments from the past were never again repeated. pg. 69

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Absolution Gap

Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds
Penguin Group, 2003
Mass Market Paperback, 768 pages
Revelation Space Series #3
ISBN-13: 9780441012916


Humanity has endured centuries of horrific plague and a particularly brutal interstellar war . . . but there is still no time for peace and quiet. Stirred from aeons of sleep, the Inhibitors - ancient alien killing machines - have begun the process of ridding the galaxy of its latest emergent intelligence: mankind. As a ragtag bag of refugees fleeing the first wave of the cull head towards an apparently insignificant moon light-years away, they discover an avenging angel, a girl born in ice. She has the power to lead mankind to safety, and the ability to draw down their darkest enemy. And on a planet where vast traveling cathedrals crawl towards the treacherous fissure known as Absolution Gap, an unsettling truth becomes apparent: to beat one enemy, it may be necessary to forge an alliance with something much, much worse . . .
My Thoughts:

Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds is the third volume in his Revelation Space Series. This is a hard science fiction space opera series - so there is real science in the fiction. Obviously, you will want to read the first two volumes, Revelation Space and Redemption Ark, before Absolution Gap. It should also be mentioned that Reynolds has a stipulation of no faster-than-light travel. This really helps create a sense of the vastness of space and the time it would take to travel anywhere.

For me, Absolution Gap is the weakest of the three books in the series. In many ways the ongoing threat of the Inhibitors was down played. Reynolds dense, poetic prose began to feel a bit overwhelming and I ended up thinking that some editing should have been done. The ending was disappointing to me. Rather than writing the awaited conclusion to his space opera, it felt as if Reynolds was tired of the Revelation Space universe so he took off in another direction and started telling a different story.

What is more likely is that there actually was another book in here, a book about the religion based on watching the gas giant, Haldora, that was established on the moon Hela. Reynolds incorporated it into the Absolution Gap storyline, but it would have served him better to write this book and then write the conclusion to the Revelation Space Series.

In the end, though, if you've read the first two books you'll want to go on and finish the series.

She stands alone at the jetty's end, watching the sky. opening, pg. vii

The view zooms in, concentrating on that one star. The star becomes brighter, until it begins to show colour. Not white now, not even blue-white, but the unmistakable tint of green.
It isn't right. pg. ix

As little as he cared to admit it, he was anxious. It was six months since he had last seen Clavain. Not a long time, really, most certainly not when measured against the span of the man's life. Yet Scorpio could not rid himself of the sense that he was about to encounter an acquaintance he had not met in decades, someone who might have been warped beyond all recognition by life and experience. He wondered how he would respond if it turned out that Clavain had indeed lost his mind. Would he even recognize it if that was true? Scorpio had spent enough time around baseline humans to feel confident about reading their intentions, moods, and general states if sanity. It was said that human and pig minds were not so very different. But with Clavain, Scorpio always made a mental note to ignore his expectations. Clavain was not like other humans. History had shapes him, leaving behind something unique and quite possibly monstrous. pg. 4

"We've found something," Scorpio said. "We don't know exactly what it is, or who sent it, but we think it came from space. We also think there might be someone in it." pg. 6

And thus it was that no human members of the crew of the Gnostic Ascension - not Jasmina, not Grelier, not Quaiche, nor any of the other Ultras - were ever aware that, for more than half a second, the largest gas giant in the system they were approaching, the system unimaginatively called 107
Piscium, had simply ceased to exist. pg. 12

"The queen's insane. Everyone knows that. But she's also pragmatic enough to know a valuable resource when she sees one." Morwenna spoke openly because she knew that the queen had no working listening devices in the revival chamber. "Look at Grelier, for pity's sake. Do you think she'd tolerate that freak for one minute if he wasn't useful to her?" pg. 18

"So you think there are millions - billions - of people out there who are going to die? People we've never met, people we've never come within a light-year of in our lives?"
"That's about the size of it."
"Well, sorry, but that isn't the way my head works. I just can't process that kind of threat. I don't do mass extinction. I'm a lot more locally focused than that. And right now I have local problems." pg.26

Friday, February 4, 2011

Redemption Ark

Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds
Penguin Group, copyright 2002
Mass Market Paperback, 704 pages
Revelation Space Series #2
ISBN-13: 9780441011735
very highly recommended

From the Publisher
Late in the twenty-sixth century, the human race has advanced enough to accidentally trigger the Inhibitors - alien killing machines designed to detect intelligent life and destroy it. The only hope for humanity lies in the recovery of a secret cache of doomsday weapons - and a renegade named Clavain is determined to find them. But other factions want the weapons for their own purposes - and the weapons themselves have another agenda altogether...

My Thoughts:

Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds is the sequel to Revelation Space and the second book in the Revelation Space space-opera trilogy. The main focus of Redemption Ark is the retrieval of the "hell-class" weapons that are aboard the ship Nostalgia for Infinity in order to stop the Inhibitors, a race of killing machines whose purpose seems to be to detect and exterminate intelligent life.

As the Inhibitors, seen as black cubes, systematically take apart a gas giant planet and several of it's moons near the planet Resurgam, Ana Khouri and Illia Volyova begin the scramble to evacuate the population to the Nostalgia for Infinity. At the same time the creators of the weapons on the ship, the Conjoiners (machine enhanced hive-mind race), are seeking them for their own purposes. Then a faction develops, lead by Conjoiner renegade Nevil Clavain, that also wants to retrieve the weapons for their own reasons.

I liked Redemption Ark more than the first book in the series, Revelation Space, but, obviously, I had to read Revelation Space first. The final book in the series is Absolution Gap. Then there are two other stand alone novels set in the same universe, Chasm City and The Prefect. Reynolds suggests that you read the trilogy first and then the stand alone novels, although they can also be read at any point in the trilogy.

I thought the writing was a bit better in Redemption Ark. The pace of the action moved along faster, but since it is a sequel much of the setting had been established earlier. Keep in mind that these are hefty, dense books - many, many pages, small type. Redemption Ark also had more characters. Finally, keep in mind that this is a hard science fiction series, so expect science.
Very Highly Recommended


The dead ship was a thing of obscene beauty.
Skade looped around it in a helical pseudo-orbit, her corvette's thrusters drumming a rapid tattoo of corrective bursts. opening

[All our opinions are considered, Skade. Visible failure cannot be tolerated. But that doesn't mean we won't do our best. If Galiana is aboard, we will do what we can to bring her back to us. But it must be done in absolute secrecy.]
How absolute, precisely?
[Knowledge of the ship's return will be impossible to conceal from the rest of the Mother Nest. But we can spare them the torment of hope, Skade. It will be reported that she is dead, beyond hope of revival. Let our compatriot's grief be quick and bright, like a nova. It will only make their efforts against the enemy more strenuous. But in the meantime we will work on her with diligence and love. If we bring her back to the living, her return will be a miracle. We will be forgiven or bending of the truth here and now.]
Skade caught herself before she laughed aloud, Bending of the truth? It sounds like an outright lie to me. And how are you going to ensure that Clavain sticks to your story? pg. 4

In the ninety-five years since the onset of the Melding Plague, the Conjoiners had learned a great deal about contamination management. As one of the last human factions to retain an appreciable pre-plague technology, they took quarantine very seriously indeed. pg. 5

What they found horrified Skade.
The crew had been butchered. Some had been ripped apart, squashed, dismembered, pulped, sliced, fragmented. Others had been burned or suffocated or frozen. The carnage had evidently not happened quickly. pg. 7

[You think the cubes wanted to learn as much as possible, don't you?]
I can't think of any other reason. They put taps into their minds, reading their neural machinery. They were intelligence-gathering. pg. 9

"I'm not lying," Skade said softly. "But I can't allow our minds to talk. There is something alien inside your head, you see. Something we don't understand, other than it is probably alien and probably hostile."
"I don't believe..."
But the pressure behind her eyes suddenly became acute. Galiana experienced a vile sense of being shoved aside, usurped, crushed into a small ineffectual corner of her own skull. Something sinister and ancient now had immediate tenancy, squatting behind her eyes. pg. 19