Monday, December 29, 2014

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Three out of five stars

In any long-running series, even one as good as this one surely is, inevitably some books have to be better and some weaker than others, and although I certainly enjoyed reading Invisible Prey, it's not among the best books in John Sandford's Prey series.

In every one of the books, at least thus far, the lead character, Lucas Davenport, and his supporting cast have always been consistently excellent--witty, intelligent, and always a lot of fun to hang out with, even if only vicariously. Given that, these books always tend to rise or fall depending on the quality of the villains involved, and through the years, Sandford has created some truly unique, creepy and compelling bad guys. Unhappily, that's not the case here. The crimes at the heart of the book are fairly pedestrian and the villains are sort of ho-hum, not nearly as capable of engaging the reader or of scaring the living bejeesus out of him or her as is often the case with a Sandford antagonist.

As the book opens, an elderly and very wealthy woman in St. Paul is murdered in her home, along with her maid. The house is chock full of paintings, antiques and other such things, some of which are very valuable and some of which are not. The problem is that there's so much of the stuff that no one knows for sure whether anything valuable is missing. It's possible that some junkie broke in and killed the women, simply looking to score enough loot to finance his next fix, especially since there's a half-way house, filled with offenders, right across the street. Or, of course, there could be something more involved.

As the chief investigator of the Minnesota BCA, Lucas Davenport would not normally be involved in an investigation of this type, but the wealthy victim was politically connected and so the governor puts Lucas on the job. At the same time, Lucas, along with that f***ing Virgil Flowers is involved in the investigation of a state official who may have been having hot, kinky sex with an underage girl. This is a very sensitive investigation politically, and it's a lot more interesting than the murder case.

The plot of the book is somewhat convoluted and involves antiques, quilts, frauds perpetrated against museums, and other such things. The villains are revealed early on and part of the story is told from their point of view. But they aren't all that interesting and they're not all that much fun to watch. The book flags a bit whenever the scene switches away from Davenport to them. Certainly these people don't hold a candle to Clara Rinker or to most of the other Sandford villains.

Again, that's certainly not to say that this is a bad book; it isn't. And even a mediocre book by John Sandford is a lot more fun to read than a lot of other books that one might pick up. I enjoyed the book, but it certainly won't rank among my favorites in the series.

Glorious Viking Gore

The Burning Land (The Saxon Stories, #5)The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If reading this series doesn't make you wanna scream like this... ...then I just don't know what will!

The Burning Land continues Bernard Cornwell's bloodthirsty, battle-heavy and viciously violent viking saga.

England is still broken up into pieces. The Danes are threatening to overrun the land. Saxon King Alfred (later known as Alfred the Great) was holding on to Wessex and holding out hope of one day uniting the entire country under his banner. But needs the help of fighting men like our anti-hero hero Uhtred of Bebbanburg.

Though he's a pagan and acts like a Dane, Uhtred is actually a Saxon, who was raised by those viking Danes. He reluctantly works for Alfred, even if the piously Christian king and all his self-righteous priests get up Uhtred's nose. He's a fierce, skilled fighter who doesn't mind getting his hands dirty and his nose bloodied. It's what he's good at. However, he doesn't like to be anyone's lapdog, so any chance he gets, he heads north to threaten the impregnable fortress at Bebbanburg, his rightful seat of power, currently held by his usurping uncle.

Cornwell is a dab hand at crafting this particular character. You'll find him in the long-running Sharpe series as the titular main character. Cornwell is also quite adept at writing very exciting and highly realistic historical fiction. You're in capable hands on both counts. I especially like that he includes afterwards of real history information at the end of these books to let you know the true story behind the fiction. In this one he admits to falsifying the character of a historical figure to fit his novel and goes on to give a recommendation for further and more correct reading on said figure. That's a conscientious writer for you!

The Burning Lands is a particularly tight volume in this series. Each scene is meaningful and the action feels fast. Any lapse in the forward progress is a joy to read as Cornwell does his best to paint vivid settings and to portray all, from Saxon to Dane, man to woman and peasant to King.

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A Hunger For Lawrence

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

WARNING: Jennifer Lawrence is NOT in this book!


....Yah, I know, right?! What a rip-off! That delightfully precocious pixie of a full-grown girl who may not be the beauty of the world, but whose offbeat charm has vaulted her into the goddess stratosphere is missing and that's a crying shame.


"Pretty" is always nice, but give me the goofy girl every time!

Okay, let's move on from that barely-serious diatribe...

All the hoopla surrounding The Hunger Games had me expecting a reading experience so enthralling that it would whip my nipples off. Well, I've still got me nips. So, was this exciting at all? Yes. As exciting as the build up made it out to be? No, of course not. Is it ever? By now I should know better than to get too excited about reading a book said to be OMG!!!-good.

However, relative to other books, The Hunger Games had maybe a few more moments that kept me chained to it and reading on when I might have stopped, but in no way did I get irretrievably wrapped up in it. And that's probably because the story of a young girl fighting for her life and falling in love wasn't written with me in mind. Its appeal is not intended for a middle-aged grump.

This is a YA novel. I had to keep reminding myself of that and excuse its immature voice and some of the writing...although describing inanimate objects as being "heartless" gave me a chuckle, while the somewhat common use of adverb shortcuts couldn't help but annoy. I can see why The Hunger Games has become popular with teens. It's a coming of age tale in which the revelation that the real world and the people in it are not always black and white, good and evil, dawns upon the main character as it eventually does for teens.

Word of warning. I listened to the audiobook version of this as narrated by veteran television actress Carolyn McCormick. You may have seen her on Law and Order or One Life To Live. If you ever come across a book narrated by her, avoid it like the muthafncking plague! McCormick laid on the melodrama thick, stressing the last word in what seemed like every sentence. Go back to the start of this paragraph and lay on a heavy dose of languishing drama and epic intensity to the last word in each sentence and you can see how hit or miss the technique (if you can call that technique) works and how utterly annoying it is. It made me shout "Your speech pattern sucks!" for the first time in my life. Not to beat down on the woman, but she also has a baby-talk lisp that comes out when she pronounces "s", "th" and "oo" sounds. Listening to her pronounce "juice" is pretty funny. Listening to her for nine hours is not.

NOTE: I made sure to separate my negative feelings over the audiobook narration from my feelings on the book itself and my 3-star rating reflects that.

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