Friday, November 24, 2006

Eldest, by Christopher Paolini

(hb; 2005: second book in The Inheritance series)

Review:

Paolini picks up where Eragon left off, continuing to write in the “Star Wars meets The Lord of the Rings” vein. Befittingly, the plot structure of the second Inheritance tale is not unlike that of The Empire Strikes Back. The reader can almost hear the insectile hum and electric hissing of battle-crossed lightsabers as Eragon, training with Oromis (an elvish Rider, playing Yoda to Eragon’s Luke Skywalker), matures, as a Rider and a man. Meanwhile, Roran, Eragon’s cousin, leads his (and Eragon’s) Empire-besieged village to safety.

Paolini has also matured in his writing. Sure, there are plenty of predictable twists, but there is also plenty of great (and unexpected) subplots, great character development (especially among the secondary characters), riveting action, and the ending leaves the reader wishing that the third Inheritance novel (Brisingr) was already published.

Earnest and engrossing (if somewhat derivative and familiar) novel, worth your time.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

(hb; 2006)

From the inside flap:

"A father and son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands taht stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food -- and each other."

Review:

McCarthy writes in a stark, often monochromatic way, forsaking apostrophes (can't = "cant") and quotation marks. Aside from a drawn-out, Hollyweird-convenient denouement, this masculine-toned and touching novel hooked me. It has an addictive rhythm to it: you won't soon forget this stripped to the core, quickfire read.

The film version, scheduled for a November 25, 2009 stateside release, stars Viggo Mortensen as "The Man". Charlize Theron plays "The Wife". Guy Pearce plays "The Veteran". Robert Duvall plays "Old Man". Molly Parker plays "Veteran's Wife".

John Hillcoat directs, from a script by Joe Penhall.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Frozen, by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

(hb; 2003: first book in the Megan Rhys Mystery series)

From the inside flap:

"Forensic psychologist Megan Rhys has been asked to advise the police on the murders of two young prostitutes. Seemingly, the women are victims of two killers working together. But there is something wrong with the information the police are giving her. Someone is trying to manipulate her. Or are her own prejudices coloring her judgment?

"As the killings add up, Megan is being pushed harder and harder toward one solution -- and someone is getting into her house. Is the killer closer than she realizes? Is a member of her own family betraying her?"

Review:

Written with analytical precision, Frozen is a brisk-paced, keeps-you-guessing profiler thriller featuring a protagonist (Megan Rhys) whose toughness is rooted in her feminine and professional insights. Exemplary, exciting, this: fans of Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series might groove on this, as well.

Followed by Strange Blood.

God Emperor of Dune, by Frank Herbert

(pb; 1981: fourth book in the Dune series)

Review:

Leto II, his body encased in a towering metallic worm-body, has ruled Arrakis -- now called Rakis -- for more than thirty-five hundred years. Rakis, once nicknamed Dune, is covered with greenery, rivers and towns, where Rakis's well-tended citizen dwell, beneficiaries of Leto's Peace. Leto's Peace is the direct result of the "Golden Path," put forth by Paul Atreides (Leto II's father), which Leto expanded on.

Whle there's been no notable conflicts within the Empire since Leto II took power (at the end of Children of Dune), there are the occasional explosive rebellions to deal with. Leto II, whose extraordinarily long life has granted him a philosophical-whimsical attitude, is bored, so he's openly courting the probable destruction of his government. Not only that, Leto's Peace is nearing its hazy end, to make way for the next necessary phase, if Leto II's goal -- saving mankind -- is to be achieved.

Siona Atreides, the fiery daughter of one of Leto II's most trusted aides, may provide the spark that will usher in the fresh epoch. So might Duncan Idaho -- the latest in a long line of irascible, perplexed ghola clones, who share the names and personality traits of their original flesh-forebear, who served the first Leto (Leto II's grandfather) in Dune.

Hwi Noree, an Ixian winsome bride genetically-engineered for Leto II by the Tleilaxu (who also manufacture the Idaho gholas), serves as a "god trap." Like Hayt (in Dune Messiah), she can either save or extirpate the ruler she's intended for.

The plot of the fourth Dune book is the simplest thus far, with less major characters than the first three novels. This is not a disappointment, as it allows for the possibility of a leaner, more action-intense novel.

Unfortunately, Herbert lets Leto II ruminate too often. The seemingly contradictory and meant-to-be-meaningful platitude-riddles that were rousing in the first three books come off as hokum here. Herbert has opted for style over substance, and it's a shame, considering that this could've been a spectacular tale.

So-so book, recommended only for die-hard Dune fans.

Followed by Heretics of Dune.

Friday, November 03, 2006

One Train Later, by Andy Summers

(hb; 2006: memoir)

"...world-renown guitarist Andy Summers provides a revealing and passionate account of a life dedicated to music. From his first guitar at age thirteen and his early days on the English music scene to the ascendancy of his band, the Police, Summers recounts his relationships and encounters with the Big Roll Band, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, the Animals, John Belushi, and others, all the while proving himself a master of telling detail and dramatic anecdote.

"But, of course, the early work is only part of the story, and Summer's account of his role as the guitarist for the Police -- a gig that was only confirmed by a chance encounter with drummer Stewart Copeland on a London train -- has been long-awaited by music fans worldwide. The heights of fame that the Police achieved have rarely been duplicated, and the band's triumphs were rivaled only by the personal chaos that such success brought about, an insight never lost on Summers in the telling."

Review:

Engaging and possessing a quirky, journal-veracious immediacy, this is a fast read. Summers cuts to the chase, with nary a boring passage in this often-funny, always classy read. Even when summers talks about his hippie-era, chemical- and music-fueled past (he gigged with some of the most famous of the Sixties rockers prior to the Police), he never loses his amiable air of respectability. (Anybody can write about drugs and squalor; an accomplished writer can take it to the next level, make it about something more.)

Any readers looking for dirt on Sting or Stewart Copeland (his Police bandmates) or anybody else will be disappointed. Summers is direct but polite in a mildly earthy way -- as he comments a few times, it must be his British upbringing -- and he's more prone to admit to his own failings (with humorous self-deprecation) than he is to point out others'.

As precise as the Police's music (which distilled reggae, jazz and post-punk into a distinctive pop package), Summers has written a wonderful memoir that charms the reader -- this reader, anyway -- and shows that Summers, whether he's making music, taking photographs or writing, is a force to admire.