Tuesday, February 23, 2016

"The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett

Several months ago I stumbled across a collection of old-time radio plays. Many of them were detective stories, and of those there was a large collection of Sam Spade capers. After listening to them, I became fascinated with Spade, learning that he was first made popular with the movie The Maltese Falcon, which was based on the book. After watching the movie, I found the book. 

Summary: Sam Spade is a detective who runs a small agency with his partner Archer. A woman hires them to follow a man so that they can find the client's sister who is with him. Archer offers to tail the man that night and before sunrise, he is dead off the side of the road. The prime suspect is killed later that same night and police suspect that Spade got revenge for the death of his partner.

The trouble with summarizing this story too much more is that it is full of twists and turns as new characters are brought in and new pieces of information are slowly uncovered. Spade is a very clever detective who takes big risks somehow knowing that they are going to payoff, when any other man would have made a safer choice only to be punished for it. He is also very efficient at putting the pieces together and keeping track of what is fact and what is only conjecture.

What I Liked: All of the characters in this story are enchanting. It is clear that they all are missing critical information of one kind or another, but they act boldly trusting that what they do know is enough to see them through. There are a lot of interesting ethical case studies in which people can argue what is the right thing to do in each situation, and there isn't necessarily one answer.

What I Didn't Like: Obviously, there is a cultural difference between 1930 and today. Many of the uncomfortable social relics of the past are preserved in this story.

Rating: Must Read.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

"The Strain" by Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan

I saw this audiobook on the shelf at the library and decided to give it a shot. Guillermo Del Toro has created some movies I really liked and I decided even though I didn't think of him as an author, I'd give it a shot. 

Summary: This story builds up in the manner of an X-Files episode. An airplane has landed at JFK without any hiccups, but once it was on the ground the pilots stopped responding on the radio. It quickly becomes clear that something horrible had happened and Eph Goodweather is responsible for figuring out what.

As the story develops we learn that a powerful vampire was on board and everyone he bit is coming back as ghouls. Eph is with the CDC and so his team and partners play a large role trying to determine the facts of the case. We also meet Vasiliy Fet, a strong-willed exterminator trying to explain the strange behavior of rats as he explores the tunnels. And Abraham Setrakian, an elderly pawnshop owner who knows more than he should.

What I Liked: I love investigation style stories, especially when they take a real-world career and pit it against a strange new enemy. This one unfolds nice and slowly to really bask in it. Eph is a great character that is very likable despite his flaws, perfect for the role of protagonist. Ron Pearlman was a perfect choice for the audiobook.

What I Didn't Like: Vampires are not my favorite monster. I prefer zombies and other pandemic style threats over specific individuals with superpowers, and so I was hoping that the strain in the title would play a larger role that would overshadow the vampire element.

Rating: Recommended.

Also Read by this Author: None.

Reviewed by: Nick

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"A Court of Thorns and Roses" by Sarah Maas

Lately Instagram has been my go-to for finding new books to read.  The Young Adult #bookstagram movement is as strong as it is fabulous.

Summary:  Feyre lives in a small town with her depressed, emotionally dead father and two older, ungrateful and nasty sisters, in a shack that is all the family can afford since their fall from grace, money and power.  In order to survive, Feyre does what she can to put food on her family's table.  She hunts, she trades and she works twice as hard as she should to keep her family alive.  During a hard winter with death looming over her shoulder, Feyre takes to the woods to find meat - any meat - for her family.  She spies a deer in the forest and can't believe her luck...until she sees a larger-than-life wolf hunting the same prey.  On instinct, Feyre shoots the wolf, killing him almost instantly while the deer gets away.  Feyre soon learns that the wolf wasn't an ordinary wolf, that she in fact killed a member of the high Fey in disguise.

In order to keep peace between their two peoples, Feyre must trade her life for that of the Fey she murdered.  But there's a twist.  Instead of being put to death, Feyre must live in an enchanted castle at the Summer court of the Fey, surrounded by creatures she can't always see and magic she can feel but cannot touch.  What at first seems like a land of plenty and prosperity soon begins to wither, as Feyre learns that even the Fey are not all powerful.  An evil greater than she can understand threatens all she knows and all she's come to care for.

My Thoughts:  I loved this book.  The pacing was excellent, the story unique, characters vivid, and the plot as twisty and deep as an old river.  What starts out as a Beauty and The Beast retelling soon turns into its own saga, complete with magic, forbidden love and a battle to the (literal) death.

I mostly liked Feyre...as much as I can like any teenager.  Maas does a superb job capturing the iron will of someone who's had to grow up too soon and mixing it with the rash decisions and selfcentric world view of the young.  Feyre is both strong-willed yet scared, cunning yet naive, compelling yet shallow.  She is real in all her imperfections and I couldn't have asked for a better young adult heroine.  (Note:  I had no idea how to pronounce Feyre, so I called her Farrah the whole time.)

I also enjoyed the secondary characters.  Tamlin is fascinating in his strong yet silent way.  He suffers in a role he did not want yet works hard to succeed at anyway.  He loves, but must hide it.  And he comes off sexy in an alpha-male sort of way.  Rhysand is the classic bad boy/dark lover character.  He is both evil (like really evil) and alluring and I can't wait to see where book 2 takes his character.  (But please not a love triangle.  That is too expected and honestly, that would be disappointing.)

I did feel like the book was 100 pages too long.  Don't get me wrong, it was good, but good lord did it take forever to read.  If I was the editor, I would have cut the scene where Feyre goes home to her family.  I understand that her family finally comes to appreciate her, and that this is (hopefully) set up for the sequel, but it was slow going for me.  I also would have shortened the final challenge scenes, because this is where the book feels disjointed and rushed to me.  I understand that Feyre needs to kick ass and prove her worth, but in the end it felt like the entire sequence was set up for Rhys instead of closure for Tamlin.

Rating:  I'll read it again.  Check it out if you like Young Adult or Fantasy.

Also Read By:  N/A

Reviewed By:  Tami