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Showing posts from February, 2012

CBR4 #14: Zone One by Colson Whitehead

As much as I like them, I will admit that most zombie books are basically the same. Usually, they start out with things being normal, then the zombie apocalypse happens, the survivors are thrown into disarray, and eventually they band together and try to fight back after discovering that no help is on the way and the only people they can rely on are themselves. Lucky for me (and probably you too) this book is different.

This is the story of a man who is nicknamed Mark Spitz. Before the zombies took over the world, he was perfectly average. No matter what he did, he always ended up in the comfortable middle of things. He was neither very good nor very poor at anything. Then the world fell apart and it turned out that he was good at surviving, if nothing else.

When the story starts, Mark and his teammates Kaitlyn and Gary are employed as "sweepers". At the time, the government has been reestablished, and things are starting to proceed forward with all the grace and expediency …

CBR4 #13: Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 by R.A. Scotti

This past summer, there was a lot of hullabaloo about hurricane Irene. The idea of a hurricane hitting all the way up in here in New England with any kind of strength seemed somewhat ridiculous. Hurricanes are a southern thing, right? Something that people in Florida and Louisiana and places along the coast down there have to worry about, not those of us in Boston! Turns out, that wasn't true this summer, and it certainly wasn't true in September of 1938, either.

R.A. Scotti has put together an informative, well-researched book about what happened when a giant hurricane struck along the northern Atlantic coast. Due to lack of communication between the few weather tracking bureaus at the time, no one expected the storm. It hit as a category five, with an unimaginable fury: destroying hundreds of houses, uprooting trees, derailing trains, killing numerous people, and changing the landscape of the New England coast forever.

The author tells the stories of several groups who manag…

CBR4 #12: Johnny Gruesome by Gregory Lamberson

(Here thar be spoilers, me hearties. Though if you read this review and are still tempted to read the book, I've clearly done it wrong.)

You may have noticed in the course of the hundreds of reviews I've done over the past few years that there have been very few books to which I've had a strong negative reaction. Mostly I can find SOMETHING likable about each story.  If a story has something going for it -- interesting plot, relateable characters, gripping language--I am willing to overlook a lot. I can suspend my disbelief if I think it might be worth it. I can even appreciate things that are bad, as long as they are bad with aplomb. (Hence my Nicolas Cage obsession, obviously.) Even things that I don't particularly like, I mostly feel pretty "meh" about. I don't get worked up into Lewis Black-style rage.

Johnny Gruesome is the rare exception to that rule.

Eric is a senior in high school, and his best friend is Johnny Grissom. They have been best friend…

CBR4 #11: Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham

Margery Allingham's detective Albert Campion is not really very appealing. His decision to pretend to be stupid might be useful for the process of detection, but it doesn't make for a very pleasant reading experience.

In this mystery, Albert is trying to protect an American judge from the murderous intentions of the dangerous Simister gang. Nevermind that we don't really know much at all about the Simister gang aside from the brief mention in The Crime at Black Dudley. Suffice it to say that they are apparently very sinister and very dangerous. The American judge is clever but curmudgeony. His son is dashing and worried. His daughter is very beautiful and cries all the time. Albert's young friends with whom he secrets the judge are young, dashing, and worried, but in a much more British way. There is also a clueless art dealer, some colorful local people, and a chatty sneak thief. The characters are mostly entertaining, and I particularly liked Albert's friend Bidd…

CBR4 #10: The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage is sort of a book about vampires. It's kind of like 'Salem's Lot, but on a world-wide scale. It's also sort of a book about post-apocalyptic life, and how humans will survive when life as they know it suddenly ceases forever.

There are three main sections to this story. The first takes place in modern times. In the mountains in Colorado, the government is working on a special secret experiment. A group of scientists brought back something potentially revolutionary from the Amazonian jungle. Unfortunately, it's more dangerous than they'd realized. And it's not helping that they're testing it on death row inmates. Agent Brad Wolgast and his partner are tasked with going and getting the inmates to volunteer for the trial, which doesn't bother him too much. When the next target turns out to be a little girl, though, he begins to have second thoughts. And that's right about the time things go haywire.

The next section is set a hundred yea…

CBR4 #9: Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner by Michael Baden

I know, I know--once again with the medical examiner books. I'm sorry, but I just can't help it. The whole process is so interesting to me. I'm consistently amazed at the amount of information a forensic specialist can pull from tiny bits of biological evidence.

Dr. Michael Baden is one of the more famous medical examiners in the country--he worked on many historic cases, including the investigation into the Kennedy assassination, John Belushi's death, and the OJ Simpson case. He's also had a television program detailing his work on HBO.

The book was well-written, and Dr. Baden tries to be educational without being too dry or boring. There are a variety of cases with a variety of outcomes, and each attempts to be illustrative of a specific technique or method.

Unnatural Death is a pretty good example of the genre, though it necessarily goes over some of the same ground covered by the previous works. I will say that Dr. Baden spends more time that I thought necessar…

CBR4 #8: The Keep by F. Paul Wilson

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I actually did. The concept was interesting, some of the characters were really great. It just seemed like the author came up with a great concept and then kind of phoned it in for a while. The romantic part of the plot was not only distracting but kind of stupid. The fact that my favorite character in the whole thing was a German army commander doesn't really bode well, to be honest.

The basic plot begins when a German commander is ordered to move his troops to a fortified building that over looks a pass in Romania. The German high command is planning to move through the pass to the town of Ploiesti in order to both secure fuel supplies and set up a new "work camp", and they want to be sure they will have a clear path. The commander is uncomfortable with the order, uncomfortable with the direction things have been taking with regard to "work camps," and is frankly not feeling very optimistic about the building. The wa…