Friday, November 18, 2011

Book Review - Low Town by Daniel Polansky

Low Town
Daniel Polansky
Doubleday (Random House)
August 16, 2011
341 pages

ISBN: 978-0-385-53446-8


The back flyleaf gives a clear description of what you are about to experience when you pick up Low Town the debut novel by writer Daniel Polansky. “Drug dealers, hustlers, brothels, dirty politics, corrupt cops… and sorcery. Welcome to Low Town.” Except the likes of you and I would be most unwelcome within the walls of Low Town. Should you find yourself lost in the streets be sure to hold your purse in one hand and the pommel of your sword with the other because you’ll more than likely end up having to fight your way out or surrender your coin to the countless thieves, con-men, cut-throats, or dirty cops that ply the dark alleys there.

Low Town is a noir dystopian fantasy steeped in dark magic which Polansky has blended nicely into a hard-edged murder mystery with a smattering of Victorian decadence. The main character, Warden, an ex-soldier, ex-cop with a kick-ass attitude and a serious chip on his shoulder finds himself relegated to dealing drugs for a living in Low Town. But his world suddenly changes when he stumbles upon the body of a missing child in the most despicable neighborhood of Low Town. And, since local law enforcement members appear indifferent to the killing, Warden unexpectedly decides to solve the crime himself. Who else but a down-on-his-luck ex-cop would even consider taking a case like this? But the clues left behind quickly uncover a sinister plot that will take him to places he might never otherwise go and Warden quickly discovers that black-hearted sorcery lies at the bottom of numerous abductions and ritualistic murders.

Low Town is an exceptionally strong introductory novel and I see nothing but high-quality stories coming from the pen of this exceptional new author. I suggest you keep an eye out for upcoming novels in the near future. In my opinion, Daniel Polansky is a writer with great potential and hopefully we will all get to read his stories for many years to come. Low Town is recommended for fantasy purists, noir crime fans, murder mystery buffs, and anyone who likes a bit of blood and guts splattered on the pages of their dark fantasy. This is one to devour. I did!

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Official Author Website

Low Town Excerpt (First Seven Chapters)

Fantasy Book Critic Review

New York Journal of Books Review


(UK Cover)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book Review - The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

The Eleventh Plague
Jeff Hirsch
Scholastic Press
September 1st, 2011
Trade Paperback
Advance Reader’s Copy
304 pages


Post-apocalyptic entertainment is all the rage these days. Oryx and Crake, Falling Skies, I Am Legend, The Plague Year, The Road, The Walking Dead, World War Z, etc. standing as prime examples. While all of the named works above are excellent in their own right The Eleventh Plague, a Young Adult novel, has its moments, as well. It is well-written, fast-paced, and should be a favorite among the young-adult readers that manage to happen upon it.

The supporting characters, both children and adults, are sufficiently flawed to be completely believable. As a matter of fact, making mistakes at the most inopportune time seems to be a theme but Hirsch handles them well and the story flows with action. So much so, that I finished it in very short time.

The book is not without flaws but they do not draw away from the story and do not hurt the plot. Most glaringly is the 17 year old protagonist that frequently wishes to run away from just about every difficult situation he comes in contact with rather than face them. That aside, I recommend The Eleventh Plague for those who enjoy post-apocalyptic YA fiction or for those who simply enjoy a fast-paced, well-written end-of-times story.

3 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Jeff Hirsch Official Website

The Eleventh Plague Book review

The Eleventh Plague Video Promo

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Book Review - Reamde by Neal Stephenson

Neal Stephenson
William Morrow
September 20, 2011
1056 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0061977961


Some books are sprints, quick easy reads that take the breath away. Others are long distant runs; more complicated, with timing, spacing and strategy integral to crossing the finish line with a specific goal in mind. Reamde by Neal Stephenson is a true long-distance marathon. It is a performance, obviously backed by long practice and training. It is gut wrenching, breath-taking, and ultimately exhilarating. While it is not Science-Fiction in the traditional sense, Reamde is more of a thriller, it tackles elements of near-future business, social media, and Internet gaming aspects and manages to add elements of an international thriller that spans the globe and includes kidnapping, hackers, Islamic extremists, Russian Mafia, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMO), murder, spies, action, adventure, and intrigue. While not his normal bill-of-fare Reamde is still a very accessible read and should be enjoyed by present fans as well as action-adventure, tech thriller, and murder mystery enthusiasts. With Reamde Stephenson should gather in an entirely new and pleased audience. I wish him well.

Many established fans may not enjoy this work as well as some of Stephenson’s others but Reamde is a high-quality novel. Strong characters, a good plot, interesting locations, and pages of tense action make this a very enjoyable read.

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Neal Stephenson Official Website

Neal Stephenson Wiki Page

Reamde Book Review

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Book Review - And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life by Charles J. Shields

And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life
Charles J. Shields
Henry Holt and Co.
November 8th, 2011
Trade Paperback
Advance Reader’s Edition
494 pages


“And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life” by Charles J. Shields is the definitive biography of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Thoughtful and thought-provoking “And So It Goes” provides genuine insight into the life of one of the world’s truly extraordinary writers. Whether pointing out the negatives regarding the rolls of science and technology in society or finding humor in almost everything that happened to him, Vonnegut has never failed to entertain. And in “And So It Goes” Shield gives us the complexities of Vonnegut’s heavy thought and in the process allows us to see the human lurking beneath the mask of the writer. Vonnegut has been compared to Mark Twain many times, and the level and style of humor both men possessed would validate that comparison, but Vonnegut also had something to say about society and he did so with aplomb. Every aspect of Kurt Vonnegut’s life is studied here. The triumphs, the struggles, the inner turmoil and human faults are all included in great detail but in such a way as to paint a very human picture of one of our finest writers. From childhood to death this is a true study of the life of Kurt Vonnegut.

“And So It Goes” is recommended for biography aficionados, Vonnegut fans, and anyone interested in the writing process (Shield’s gives Vonnegut’s views on writing and includes sage advice to Vonnegut (which still hold true today) from high-level magazine editors of the times.)

Hi Ho!

4 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Charles J. Shields website

Kurt Vonnegut Official Page

Kurt Vonnegut Wiki Page

Kurt Vonnegut Quotes

Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.
- Kurt Vonnegut

Book Review - End of Days by Robert Gleason

End of Days
Robert Gleason
Forge Books
Trade Paperback
Advance Reader’s Copy
496 pages


End of Days by Robert Gleason had all the potential of becoming a very good post-apocalyptic glimpse into a future gone terribly wrong. It contains political intrigue, fairly interesting characters, a good premise, and an excellent explanation of a world on the brink of nuclear destruction. But it suddenly took a turn for the worse when a pair of philosophical-minded rats unexpectedly entered the narrative. They were so out of place in the flow of the story, in fact, that I thought perhaps a portion of another novel had somehow been accidently edited into this one by the publisher. I gave the author the benefit of the doubt and read on but it only got worse and then the story (and the writing) bogged down to a slow crawl and I admit that I was unable to finish the book. I’m still trying to figure out what purpose the rats played in the story and I’m sure Gleason somehow pulled it all together in the end but I really didn’t feel there was a need for the animal-based fantasy to be included in the story. It just didn’t make any sense.

Life is too short to put this one at the top of your reading list. In my opinion, End of Days is pretty much a waste of good reading time. There are plenty of other solid post-apocalyptic stories out there that are much more worthwhile. Scroll down through some of my other reviews and you’ll see what I mean.

2 ½ stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin