Archive for April 2013

Alex Cross, Run by James Patterson

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James Patterson is known as much for his fast paced, escapist thrillers as he is for his prolific output and controversial use of co-authors. The Alex Cross series, perhaps Patterson's most popular creation, is notable in that it is the only series that Patterson continues to author on his own. With Alex Cross, Run, the twentieth entry in the series, Patterson continues to give readers everything they have come to expect from this fantastic character.

Plastic surgeon Elijah Creem's life is in a downward spiral. It began when detective Alex Cross busted him in an underage sex scheme. In an instant, he lost his career, wife, and children. Now he is determined to escape. He turns to an old college friend for help. Together they begin to revive a game that they played years ago. Using his expertise of the human body and ability to disguise his looks, Creem's game soon takes a deadly turn, leaving bodies across D.C for Cross to discover.

But Alex has more pressing matters to deal with. Readers of the series will recall the way Patterson uses Cross's family as a means to manipulate his emotions and distract him from his job. He does this again, this time using the Cross Family's newest edition, Ava. Ava is a foster child who lost her mother the previous year. Despite her cautious personality, she seems to be adapting to her new family well. All of this changes when she does not make it into the prestigious private school that Jannie, Alex's daughter, is accepted to. Soon she becomes withdrawn and the Cross family fears she is using drugs. Unfortunate circumstances surrounding Alex's job soon force the state to remove Ava from the Cross home. Now Alex must try to solve the gruesome murders while dealing with an increasingly stressful personal life.

Recently I've noticed a shift in focus within this series. Before, it seemed that Patterson's main intent was providing the most thrilling and original mysteries that he could. Recently, probably beginning with, Cross, he has shifted his focus to his main character, Alex Cross. Originally I praised this decision, as it brought a fresh perspective and much needed depth to the series. This is the first time, however, that I feel this focus on character development has actually made the mystery suffer. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't enjoy the book, but I feel that the crimes, and there were a lot of them, took a backseat to Alex's personal problems. Hopefully the next installment with get back to the kind of unique mystery that made me fall in love with this series from the first book. Still, this is a fine continuation of Alex Cross's story.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2013: week 18, book 16)

And the Soft Wind Blows by Lance Umenhofer


Writing a novella is a unique challenge. In a short number of pages, the author must create an intriguing story that features well-developed characters. In his debut novella, And the Soft Wind Blows, author Lance Umenhofer chooses to focus mainly on one character, allowing readers to delve into his psyche and really begin to understand his motivations.

The story itself balances on the edge of convention. The main character, Timmy, is a skinny, middle-age pharmacist who works at the local Walgreens. The opening portion of the story sets up the monotony that is the life of Timmy Enosh. Each day, he wakes up before dawn and heads out to pick up Alex, a high school student who tosses newspapers from Tim's truck. After their morning paper route is complete, he drops Alex off at the bus stop and proceeds to have breakfast at Roxie's, a small diner.

We learn of Tim's obese wife who seems to use him as a personal butler more than a husband. It is no wonder then that Tim finds himself attracted to Roxie, the owner of the diner where he eats his breakfast each morning. In his mind, Tim fantasizes about the life he could have with Roxie, but per routine, he doesn't act on these feelings. Instead, he goes to his job at Walgreens, continuing the monotony that is his life.

Soon this predictability becomes too much for Tim to handle. In a radical shift of self-discovery, he begins to do things that make him happy. He buys marijuana from his paper route partner, Alex, decides to act upon his feelings for Roxie, and moves back in with his overprotective mother. But is all this change for the good, or is it the early sign of Tim's slow descent into madness?

I was very impressed with this novella. By following the actions of one character, Umenhofer creates a story that maintains a strong focus, while still being engaging. The story follows Tim chronologically, broken down by each day. I was reminded a bit of the 2002 film, One Hour Photo, where Robin Williams plays a photo technician at a store, similar to Walgreens. In the movie, he too becomes disenchanted with the routine of his life and turns violent. In Umenhofer's tale, readers are guided into the mind of Tim the pharmacist and become so involved that it is hard to discern reality from fantasy. The story ends with a kind of twist ending that made me question every conclusion I had drawn to that point. With this novella, Umenhofer has proven his competency as a writer, and I look forward to seeing what he produces in the future.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.
To purchase the book, visit

(2013: week 17, book 15)

Go With Me by Castle Freeman

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Lillian is fed up. Whatever her boyfriend Kevin, now ex-boyfriend, was mixed up in has gotten way out of hand. Even worse, he's fled the small Vermont town leaving her to fend for herself. The guy who he wronged, Blackway, has now turned his attention to her. It started as simple threats, but quickly escalated, leaving her car wrecked, cat killed, and her emotions at a head. When the local police can't find any way to legally assist her, she decides to hunker down and put an end to this by herself.

At the suggestion of the sheriff, she seeks the assistance of a local man who had his own run in with Blackway years ago. Blackway carries a reputation of being someone you don't want to get involved with. Most in the town seem to accept this as a fact and steer clear of any mention of him. When she goes to the old mill to try to find help, she is met instead by a group of old-timers who pass the time by drinking and swapping stories and gossip. The recommended helper is nowhere to be found, but at the insistence of Whizzer, the kind of leader of the group of men, she leaves accompanied by Lester, a man who has worked at the saw mill for most of his life, and Nate, the young guy who is just learning the ropes. With the help of these two men, Lillian seeks Blackway and attempts to put a stop to his violence.

This is a strange little story. There is no doubt that author Castle Freeman has a strong voice in his writing. At only 160 pages, however, there is little time for the characters to really develop. Instead, each character is given a kind of face value exterior with only subtle hints at deeper emotions or motivations. As the story alternates between the mismatched trio's search for Blackway and the group of old gossiping men, reminiscent of a Greek chorus, the story tends to lose some of its steam. With constant interruptions, the action kind of ends with no real bang, leaving me wondering if it was really worth my time to follow these characters in the first place. Part of me feels like this story had a lot of pottential and could have been fleshed out into someting great. The other part questions the intention of the author and his seemingly trivial story.

For more information visit Amazon and GoodReads.

(2013: week 16, book 14)

The Ridge by Michael Koryta

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Kentucky is a state known for many things, but waterfront property is definitely not one of them. It is easy to imagine then the kind of reaction local townspeople had when Wyatt French built a lighthouse on the hilltop of Blade Ridge. While it was definitely an odd architectural choice for the area, people mostly ignored it at regarded its builder as an eccentric drunk.

Years later, local sheriff Kevin Kimble is shocked to learn of French's suicide. He had received a cryptic phone call from French in the hours preceding his death. Upon investigating the lighthouse, Kimble uncovers various documents that chronicle the history of Blade Ridge and more interestingly, the unfortunate events that seem to plague the area. Even stranger is the connection the night Kimble was shot by an abuse victim, years ago. All this evidence seems to point at a larger force of malice, leading Kimble to believe that French may not have been as mad as he seemed.

Roy Darmus is at a crossroads in his life. The local newspaper, to which he has devoted his entire professional life to, has been sold and closed. A storyteller without an audience, he is hungry for the next big scoop to hit the town. When he receives a call from local madman Wyatt French, he is both annoyed and intrigued. A comment about his parents, who died in a car crash at Blade Ridge when he was a small child, lingers in his mind long after he dismisses the call as another useless tip. Hours later, he is at the scene of French's apparent suicide. Craving a new story to tell, he begins to investigate a string of strange occurrences at the ridge.

Audrey Clark is dealing with a transition as well. She is in the process of relocating her large-cat sanctuary, a project began with her late husband, from a location within the city to a larger preserve located at Blade Ridge. Initially she was disturbed by the ravings of her soon to be neighbor Wyatt French, but soon shifted her focus from the strange lighthouse to the relocation process. But strange things are occurring. The cats seem to be fearful of their new home, pacing the cages, growling, and even attempting to escape. When French's suicide brings even more focus to the area, she is determined to successfully house the cats at the new location and fulfill her husband's legacy.

Michael Koryta weaves these different characters into a brilliant tapestry of paranormal suspense. I really appreciated the way all three of the main characters were searching for a new start in their personal lives. The paranormal elements, comparable to Stephen King or Dean Koontz, never overshadow the story. Koryta knows how to wind up a story, providing many moments of true fear. Balancing the supernatural elements with strong human characters and emotions, Koryta has written a fantastic novel.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2013: week 16, book 13)

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

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Author Neil Gaiman has earned both critical and commercial success with his original stories and ability to adapt to various mediums. His 1998 novel Stardust is perhaps his most famous work. With the story released as a serialized comic, graphic novel, novel, and film adaptation, Gaiman's Stardust has obviously connected with audiences around the world. After years of seeing the novel in book stores and hearing positive comments about Gaiman, I decided to finally read the story for myself. The beautiful gift edition of the novel, that I had the pleasure of reading, instantly sets the tone for the "grown up fairy tale" that you are about the read. It is a bound, hardcover version that is made to look as if it is very old and well loved.

The story itself immediately begins with a timeless feel. The novel begins in the city of Wall. Literally, the city lies within the confines of a large wall. Only one opening exists in this structure, and it is diligently guarded by the local men of the town. Insiders are let out of the city every nine years when a traveling market sets up in the meadow outside of the city. Outsiders rarely enter Wall, and so the people of Wall live a peaceful, but sheltered life.

 We learn of young Tristan who is, like most young men his age, madly in love with a girl who wants nothing to do with him. As he walks the young Victoria home from the store at which he works, he begins to plead for her love, offering anything he can think of in return. As this kind of pathetic attempt continues, the two notice a star shooting across the sky. In a final plea of desperation, oddly similar to the scene in the film It's a Wonderful Life where George offers Mary the moon, Tristan offers Victoria the Star in exchange for her heart.

So begins the magical story of Tristan's journey to recover the fallen star. Of course, he is not the only one who is searching for the star. As he exits the safety of wall and embarks upon this fantastic voyage, he comes into contact with evil witches who long for their lost youth, embattled princes who fight for the rights to their father's throne, and a strange merchant lady who may hold the answers to Tristans mysterious past.

Gaiman expertly captures the timeless feel that all good fantasy stories have. His characters are all unique and Tristan in particular is one who you can't help but root for. Rather than try to forge a story with all original content, Gaiman embraces the history of the genre and simply puts his own style into it. From beginning to end, this story held my interest, and kept me genuinely invested. If I had to make any complaint, it would be that the ending could have been fleshed out a bit more. Other than that, this is a masterful display of storytelling that is everything it sets out to be.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2013: week 15, book 12)

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