The Amulet Of Samarkand (Bartimaeus #1) (Jonathan Stroud)

This novel is set in a modern-day London that is ruled by Magicians. It is written from the perspective of a djinni (demon) and an undervalued magician’s apprentice. It’s tempting to compare the book to the Harry Potter series. Young boy. Magic. Sneaking around. Breaking the rules. Stern teachers. But the similarities really end there. What’s obvious is that Stroud can write about a complex world (and one I want to know more about) and making it interesting and funny. I’m used to slow beginnings in fantasy but this one started with a bang.
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Falconer (John Cheever)

So here, then, is a John Cheever’s great penal novel. Or should I say, penile novel. Yes, yes, the pun is too obvious to be anything but unfunny. But it’s just shouting from the eaves to be thrust into the spotlight. This is primarily because one cannot turn a page without finding cocks, balls, erections, ejaculations, peckers, dicks, tumescences, foreskins, pissings, and yes, at least one anal intrusion by a phallic object. What would I expect, I suppose, from a prison novel. I’ve heard that song by Tool. I’ve seen Oz. I know what goes on there (or so I’ve heard). [Read more…]

A Cry In The Night (Mary Higgins Clark)

This is classic MH Clark. She takes the reader to the edge of anticipation, excitement, and makes you feel like you are hiding in a closet/wardrobe/cupboard – take your pick,  peeking in on what’s happening. I like all her older novels but none of the ones she’s written in the last 20 years. If you don’t mind having an unorthodox protagonist then this novel (first published in 1982) is fantastic and eerie–not every book has to have a strong leading character. Our heroine is pretty passive by modern western standards, virtually helpless, and this may upset the feminists and others who are used to women being more pro-active these days. [Read more…]

The Mind Parasites (Colin Wilson)

“The Mind Parasites” came about when Wilson criticized a bloke named H P Lovecraft in one of his works. August Derleth, Lovecraft’s posthumous publisher and apologist, made a challenge to Wilson – saying, essentially “If you think Lovecraft was such a lousy writer, why don’t you do better yourself?” Wilson relished the challenge and set out to do just that. This book is the result. In fact, it can’t really be regarded as part of the Lovecraftian cycle – it takes too many liberties with the canon for that – but in its own right it’s an amazing work. We are not the top of the food chain; we have an energy predator which is feeding off of us and also restructuring the world in its image — this is the new world order. [Read more…]

Hell House (Richard Matheson)

Matheson really was a master of his craft. He took the conventional Gothic structure and threw it out of the window. Assaulting the reader with carnal, palpable terror, from its first page to the very end. Readers new to Hell House will be wondering how far are things going to go regarding the repulsive sexual shenanigans… What would have been shocking and new to audiences in 1971 has become a tad too familiar today, unfortunately. While this speaks volumes to the book’s cultural and literary impact – the fact that it has been copied and imitated by so many on film and on the page detracts from the book’s overall contemporary wow factor. I bet Stephen King used this as some inspiration for The Shining. [Read more…]

From The Earth To The Moon (Jules Verne)

What makes From the Earth to the Moon so enjoyable is it’s sheer earnestness. Entire chapters are filled with debates about figures and equations. Verne loves to write about all the details of his little thought experiment. This is very clearly his fantasy, and had he the money, I could imagine him attempting something like this. There are some charming details. For example, they launch from southern Florida, which at the time was a large swamp with forts to guard against the indians. Also, when packing their capsule for provisions, they load up 50 gallons of brandy, because that’s how a gentleman spaceman travels.  [Read more…]

The Wrong Quarry (Quarry #11 by Max Allan Collins)

What is it about “hit man” books that attracts some of us? I suspect it’s the lifestyle, the hunt, the tracking, etc. The Walter Mitty quality of it all. I think it would be great fun — except for the killing part. There I draw the line. Guess I’d be a lousy hit man. For those new to Quarry, he is a hitman with a difference – he is attractive, funny and mixes business with pleasure. (Btw, this tale is set in the early 1980s). You know he is invincible. It’s entertaining, smartly written, not at all challenging fare. Like a McDonalds Happy Meal for Adults. I just had to not read too fast, as I wanted to digest each part without missing anything essential. [Read more…]

Tau Zero (Paoul Anderson)

Author James Blish considered this book the ultimate hard science fiction novel. There is something to be said for that. Praise indeed… I have rarely read a novel with such rigorous scientific underpinnings. Anderson had a degree in physics and in other novels it is quite clear that he thought about the properties of fictional planets he created. Anderson had a degree in physics and in other novels it is quite clear that he thought about the properties of fictional planets he created. Anderson takes hard science fiction as far as it will go here.
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Dune (Frank Herbert)

In order to enjoy Dune you have to enjoy complexity. All authors create little worlds in their stories but Herbert created a world. He puts people on the planets, governments, conflicting cultures, conflicting religions & conflicting ways of life that are thought out to the Nth level above and beyond anything else I’ve ever read. You could write a sociology dissertation on the societal relations Herbert conceived for Dune. Most authors need more than one book in order to tell an epic coming-of-age story. Herbert did it in one. Part of his genius as an author was his ability to imply far more about his world than he actually showed.  [Read more…]

The Lady In The Lake (Raymond Chandler)

Raymond Chandler is not only one of the finest writers in the English language: he’s the gold standard for detective fiction. But sometimes when I read him I wish he could have found a way to break out of the formula and really let his imagination loose—let all the poetry and over-too-soon bit parts fill the page. He seems more interested in everything else than the so-called plot. On the other hand, maybe he hit it just right. The weirdness that is so compelling on the periphery of his writing might fall apart under the harsh light of center stage. Chandler’s passing-glance encounters always have the quality of real, observed life. One of the least fussy writers who ever lived, his descriptions are effortlessly evocative. [Read more…]

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