Thursday, June 28, 2018

Book Beginnings: The Pharaoh Key

The Pharaoh Key (Gideon Crew #5), by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Grand Central Publishing, June 2018). This is the first sentence of Chapter 1:
Gideon Crew sat in the fourteenth-floor waiting room of Lewis Conrad, MD, restlessly drumming the tips of his left fingers against the back of his right wrist, waiting to find out whether he would live or die.
About the Book:
Gideon Crew — brilliant scientist, master thief, intrepid adventurer — is shocked when his former employer, Eli Glinn, vanishes without a trace, and Glinn's high-tech lab Effective Engineering Solutions shuts down seemingly overnight. 
Fresh off a diagnosis that gives him only months to live, Crew is contacted by one of his former coworkers at EES, Manuel Garza, who has a bead on one final treasure hinted at in EES's final case, the long-awaited translation of a centuries-old stone tablet of a previously undiscovered civilization: The Phaistos Disc. 
What lies at the end of the trail will either save Gideon's life — or bring it to a sudden, shocking close. Crew once again faces incredible odds — but as Gideon has proved again and again, there's no such thing as too great a risk when you're living on borrowed time. (
Initial Thoughts:
Well, I'm definitely wondering if Gideon is going to make it through the book. I have a sneaking suspicion he probably will, since this is a pretty successful series of thrillers. But I could be wrong. My second thought is that once again I've jumped into an existing series (this is book number 5), without reading any of the earlier books. But I've read other Preston and Child books and I know they're extremely dependable at producing page-turners. So I'm looking forward to getting started on this one.

Haven't been doing much blogging lately, so I'm also looking forward to visiting today and finding out what people are reading now that summer's finally here. And any good "beach read" suggestions would be appreciated.

Happy Friday, everyone! And have a lovely weekend.

Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday.  As she says, the idea is to post the first sentence (or so) of the book you're currently reading, along with any first impressions or thoughts you have about the book, the author, etc.  It's a wonderful way of adding new books to your must-read list, and a chance to connect with other readers and bloggers.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft

Written 1931; First published 1936
Kindle edition, 2016; 130 pages

In H.P. Lovecraft's horror novella from 1931, Professor William Dyer, a geologist at Arkham's Miskatonic University, recounts the experiences of his expedition to the Antarctic plateau. The group of scientists and academics were hoping to collect rock and plant specimens from deep within the continent and were at first discouraged to find no evidence of any kind of life in the barren wasteland. The explorers divide into separate groups, and then lose contact with each other.

When Dyer and his companions finally locate the other group, they find the camp devastated with most of the men and sled dogs slaughtered. Then they stumble upon strange fossils of unidentifiable creatures, which lead them further into the unexplored country. Here they find carved stones dating back millions of years, and the ruins of an unknown, lost civilization — incredibly ancient and horrifyingly alien. At last, they come upon a city built by the terrifying "Old Ones" where they face those well-known Lovecraftian "nameless horrors."

The tale is ostensibly told by Professor Dyer, in an attempt to deter a new expedition that's preparing to explore the same part of the Antarctic where his earlier party met disaster; and the very low-key academic prose provides a wonderful contrast with the fantastic happenings it details. It's classic Lovecraft, with mentions of Elder Things, shapeless shoggoths, the Necronomicon, and Edgar Allan Poe. Not great literature, maybe, but these Lovecraft stories have had such a huge influence on later writers and movie-makers — if you enjoy horror or science fiction, they're definitely worth a read. I've had this on my TBR shelf for many years and managed to keep passing it up, even though I've read lots of other Lovecraft works. So glad I finally managed to find time to read it.

I actually read this on my Kindle, but I've also got an old paperback edition with a much more interesting cover:

Rating: ⭑⭑⭑½


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Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter

Pale Horse, Pale Rider: Three Short Novels
by Katherine Anne Porter
First published 1939
Library of America edition, 2014; 150 pages

Katherine Anne Porter apparently disliked the term "novella," and preferred to refer to her brief fiction as short novels (or long stories). And probably none of the three pieces that make up this collection (Old Mortality, Noon Wine, and the title piece, Pale Horse, Pale Rider) would even qualify as novellas today. But for such short works, they pack a very solid punch.

The collection leads off with Old Mortality, set in the early 20th Century American South: Two young sisters (Miranda and Maria) learn the history of their family and especially the story of their Aunt Amy, a flamboyant figure who died young. As the story meanders through time, the girls grow up and find out more about their ancestors and relatives; and, right along with the girls, we learn the story of the family's decline. It's a deceptively simple, and very powerful work.

The second story Noon Wine is, as they say, much anthologized and I'm a little surprised I've never read it before now. It's set on a small dairy farm in South Texas, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and tells the story of the Thompson family and their enigmatic, mysterious hired man. Probably my favorite of the three, it's very different from the other two — darker, and with more of a conventional plot form and some intensely unattractive (though thoroughly human) characters.

In the final piece, Pale Horse, Pale Rider, we catch up with young Miranda from Old Mortality, now all grown up and working as a newspaper drama critic. The story is set at the end of the first World War, during that era's terrible flu epidemic. Through much of the tale, Miranda is dangerously ill with the flu and worrying about Adam, the young soldier she's lately been seeing. It's a story of love and death with an emotionally stirring impact.

This work has been on my TBR list for decades, and I've had the Library of America edition for a couple of years now. It took two reading challenges (Mount TBR and Monthly Key Word) to nudge me into finally reading it — and for that, I'm very grateful. But I'm sorry that I waited so long. Aside from "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall," this has been my only experience of Katherine Anne's Porter's work. It definitely won't be my last.

Rating:  ⭑⭑⭑⭑

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