Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Librarians and the Lost Lamp by Greg Cox

I’m a fan of both The Librarian movies as well as The Librarians TV show so I was very excited to see that Greg Cox was writing a novel based on The Librarians universe. The Librarians and The Lost Lamp certainly did not disappoint.

The Librarian is sort of an Indiana Jones type character, except instead of an archeologist, he’s a librarian. The Library is both a depository and a fortress designed to protect the world from all manner of dangerous objects, from King Arthur’s sword to the fountain of youth. Most adventures involve tracking down some sort of artifact that is loose in the world and retrieving it before it causes further mayhem. The series is light-hearted and adventurous and Greg Cox perfectly captures that spirit in The Librarians and The Lost Lamp.

This book is split into two narratives set about 10 years apart and alternates between the two timelines throughout. In the earlier timeline, Librarian Flynn Carsen must track down Aladdin’s Lamp before the notorious Forty Thieves find it and unleash the dangerous djinn trapped within. Flynn teams up with a beautiful museum curator to track down the location of the lamp based on clues from The Arabian Nights.

In the present, new librarians Jake Stone, Ezekiel Jones, Cassandra Cillian and their Guardian, Eve Baird must track down a magical run of luck that an ordinary Joe in Las Vegas is having which ultimately turns out to be attributed to the lamp. Once again, the Forty Thieves are hot on its trail. It’s up to the Librarians to find the lamp first and save the world.

While the movie and television show share the same universe, there are subtle differences between the two. Greg Cox manages to capture the spirit of each and weave together a fast-paced and entertaining tale. This story is just plain fun. The lamp is the object that ties the two narratives together and while somewhat independent of each other, they combine to tell a wonderful adventure.

Therese Plummer does an amazing job with the narration of the book. There are a number of voices to deal with and she juggles them all wonderfully with a number of accents and personalities. She draws you into the story and adds to its enjoyment.

The Librarians and The Lost Lamp is a great book for anyone who loves light-hearted adventure. The characters and universe are described in enough depth that those unfamiliar with the TV version should have no trouble enjoying it. For fans of the show, this is an added delight to fill the time between seasons. I’ll be anxiously awaiting future releases in the series. Highly recommended!

I was fortunate to receive a copy of this audiobook for review.

Description: For millennia, the Librarians have secretly protected the world by keeping watch over dangerous magical relics. Cataloging and safeguarding everything from Excalibur to Pandora’s Box, they stand between humanity and those who would use the relics for evil.
Ten years ago, only Flynn Carsen, the last of the Librarians, stood against an ancient criminal organization known as The Forty. They stole the oldest known copy of The Arabian Nights by Scheherazade, and Flynn fears they intend to steal Aladdin’s fabled lamp. He races to find it first before they can unleash the trapped, malevolent djinn upon the world.
Today, Flynn is no longer alone. A new team of inexperienced Librarians, led by Eve Baird, their tough-as-nails Guardian, investigates an uncanny mystery in Las Vegas. A mystery tied closely to Flynn’s original quest to find the lost lamp. . . and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Containment by Hank Parker

A bioterror attack using ticks as the weapon of destruction is the idea behind the new thriller, Containment by Hank Parker. An Amish farmer and his wife in Pennsylvania become deathly ill and die a gruesome death. Authorities soon figure out they are dealing with a deadly and highly contagious disease. Quarantines soon follow, and once they learn it is transmitted by animals, mass slaughter of livestock and pets is ordered. An attractive female scientist, Mariah Rossi, is paired with a handsome and versatile government investigator, Curt Kennedy, to track down the virus and the person or persons responsible for deploying it before a national and global crisis occurs.

I was attracted to the premise of this book with a new angle on bioweapons, a deadly and fast-spreading disease, and a race to stop wider-scale deployment of the weapon. The development of this premise, unfortunately, was weak. The characters were flat, the romance between Mariah and Curt felt tacked on and unnecessary. The villain, who calls himself Dr. Vector, was motivated by a sort of revenge, but his motivation was murky and his plan to exact revenge seemed poorly thought out. Also, it was fairly easy to puzzle out who he was.

The actions of the government in trying to contain the outbreak and prevent its spread seemed unlikely, as did the reactions of the populace, both within and outside the containment zone. A novel of this sort takes a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, but it shouldn’t require an infinite amount.

The novel is fast-paced and several of the sequences are quite thrilling. The audio version is narrated by George Newbern who does a good job with the pace of the novel and the individual characters are well-voiced and easily distinguishable. A couple of minor problems with inconsistent pronunciation, but overall Newbern does a fine job.

I received an advance copy of this audiobook for review.

Description: From a former US government advisor on agroterrorism comes a ripped-from-the-headlines debut thriller about a global plot to release a deadly virus and the elite response team who must try to stop it.

When a gruesome new tick-borne virus breaks out near a major US city and the outbreak is traced to an extremist group in Southeast Asia, the race to stop a global bioterrorism conspiracy is on. Government epidemiologist Mariah Rossi must leave the safety of her lab to help fellow scientist and covert CIA agent Curt Kennedy track the disease back to its source. Their worldwide net leads them to an underground lab in the jungles of the Philippines, then to a deadly and climactic battle in coral reefs near Malaysian Borneo, and finally to London and back to America, where the virus must be contained. For fans of Michael Crichton and Richard Preston, this chilling, realistic thriller is a terrifying reminder of how vulnerable humans are to biological threats—and in this instance, just one tick bite away from catastrophe.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Iron Tactician by Alastair Reynolds

The Iron Tactician by Alastair Reynolds is the latest novella featuring the character of Merlin. The story is a standalone and begins when Merlin discovers a derelict spaceship that appears to be deserted. When that doesn’t turn out to be entirely true, he finds himself with a passenger, Teal, and a trip to another star system with the hope of obtaining a part for his own ship that he hopes will aid him in the interstellar war against the deadly Huskers, who destroy starships and worlds.

Upon entering the star system, Merlin finds himself in the middle of a long-standing interplanetary war. It turns out that Teal and Merlin both may have a larger role in the system’s war than either of them understood.

Reynolds manages to pack a lot into a novella length story. The plot is interesting and the characters entertaining. It is difficult to truly flesh out characters in a story of this size, but Reynolds nevertheless gives you a good idea of who they are. The story is a complete arc, but it also leaves you curious about the larger universe and what comes next. An excellent story.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Best. State. Ever. by Dave Barry

Dave Barry is consistently entertaining and his humor is in fine form in Best. State. Ever. Dave dives right into the eccentricities and foibles of his home state of Florida. Even as he revels in the absurdities, his love of the state shines through.

Barry points out that many critics of Florida come from places that also do ridiculous things, but admits that Florida’s reputation is well-earned. He interestingly points out the change that Florida underwent, both in real terms and reputation, when Disneyworld opened in the early 1970’s. This fueled a massive influx of tourists as well as a stream of retirees that has continued pretty much unabated ever since.

In Best. State. Ever. Dave tours a mermaid attraction, hunts for the legendary skunk ape, and visits a hot night club, a clothing optional bar, a gun range, and one of the country’s largest (and arguably most sexually active) retirement communities.  Dave brings the same irreverent and salient observations to all these venues. His dry humor works especially well because the ridiculousness of these places usually speaks for itself.

The audio version of this book is narrated by Dick Hill. The verbal delivery of humor writing is as much dependent on timing and cadence as it is on the language. The narrator and the material in this case were not as well-matched as they could have been.

Dave Barry always manages to be entertaining and Best. State. Ever. is now different. This book is a quick read (or listen at under 5 hours) and is certain to please his many fans.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this audiobook.

Description: We never know what will happen next in Florida. We know only that, any minute now, something will.

Every few months, Dave Barry gets a call from some media person wanting to know, “What the hell is wrong with Florida?” Somehow, the state’s acquired an image as a subtropical festival of stupid, and as a loyal Floridian, Dave begs to differ. Sure, there was the 2000 election. And people seem to take their pants off for no good reason. And it has flying insects the size of LeBron James. But it is a great state, and Dave is going to tell you why. Join him as he celebrates Florida from Key West at the bottom to whatever it is that’s at the top, from the Sunshine State’s earliest history to the fun-fair of weirdness that it is today.

It’s the most hilarious book yet from “the funniest damn writer in the whole country” (Carl Hiaasen, and he should know). By the end, you’ll have to admit that whatever else you might think about Florida—you can never say it’s boring.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

Well, Kameron Hurley certainly doesn’t play by anyone else’s rules. The Stars Are Legion is a space opera with a flavor that’s all its own. The Legion is a group of worlds, or spaceships, (the word for both is the same) traveling through space and filled with warring groups.

The worlds are organic constructs, many of which are dying and cannibalizing each other for materials with which to regrow. The worlds are in fixed orbit, except for the Mokshi which is a world capable of independent movement. Zan awakes with no memory. Jayd tells her she is a great general and has a crucial role to play in a plan they both conceived which involves conquering Mokshi. Zan feels a powerful attraction for Jayd but also a great deal of mistrust. Jayd is promised to a rival and Zan ends up dropped in a “recycler” where she falls to the center of the world. Climbing back to the top she discovers new civilizations even as she struggles to regain her own memory. Zan questions if she truly wants to remember who she was previously yet remains determined to be reunited with Jayd and to complete their plan.

Hurley has fascinating world-building at work here. Organic ships, odd symbiotic relationships between world-ships and the people who live on them, and intriguing politics and relationships. Hurley’s books are filled with blood and guts, quite literally, and there is no shortage of that here. As brutal as some of the action is, there is also a hopefulness to it as well. The story is told through Zan and Jayd’s eyes, and while they are interesting, they are a little hard to get to know. They sometimes lie to themselves and they know themselves to be untrustworthy. Zan is more of a blank slate, even as some of her memories return.

Much is made about the fact that there are no men in this book, or this world or this universe. That’s perhaps a little overblown. There are plenty of books that are predominantly or exclusively populated by male characters and that are unremarkable for that fact. Much like I don’t need to see characters going to the bathroom on TV or in books to assume that they do. I can accept a civilization made up only of women that manages to continue to propagate the species, particularly in science fiction, without fretting about the how. That’s kind of the point here.

There is a lot to like here, even if it is all hard to digest, no pun intended. Complicated world-building, interesting relationships, and thought-provoking concepts. Hurley continues to push the boundaries of science fiction, and that’s a good thing. This book may not be for the squeamish, but it is for everyone who likes their science fiction to stretch their minds a little bit.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Description: Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars.Here in the darkness, a war for control of the Legion has been waged for generations, with no clear resolution.  

As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion.

Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation - the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan's new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion's gravity well to the very belly of the world.

Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion's destruction - and its possible salvation. But can she and the band of cast-off followers she has gathered survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?