"The Cabinet of Curiosities" by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

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"The Cabinet of Curiosities" is the third novel in Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Pendergast series. The series follows an eccentric F.B.I. agent through a string of strange and mysterious cases that are often solved with his cool use of intellect and surprising physical ability. This goes for "The Cabinet of Curiosities" as well. In this novel, Aloysius Pendergast is on the trail of a serial killer that is more than one hundred and fifty years old.

"The Cabinet of Curiosities" begins with the discovery of 130-year-old charnel pit beneath the former location of a cabinet of curiosities in Manhattan. The pit contains the remains of thirty-six murder victims. Agent Pendergast arrives to investigate on his own and is met with serious opposition, as the site is slated for construction by a major corporation. He discovers what he can in his usual cool and precise manner and the reader soon realizes that he knows something that he is not letting on to those who are helping him.

The novel soon delves into the history of cabinets of curiosities in New York. These were popular and often macabre displays of  grotesque, odd and well, curious objects and people. The former owner of one of these cabinets is soon considered a suspect in the case of the more than a century old charnel pit. Pendergast and his companions are soon hot on the trail of the killer, who is surprisingly still alive. They find he is capable, smart and still murderous.

As the investigation continues, the reader is drawn into the history of a brilliant madman who has been killing for more than a hundred years in an effort to produce a perfect and deadly poison. He knew that he could not produce such a thing in one lifetime and was forced to develop a means to prolong his life. So, Agent Pendergast finds himself not only investigating the murders from so long ago, but tracking the killer as he strikes again.

"The Cabinet of Curiosities" is a well-developed, suspenseful and intriguing novel. Agent Pendergast is his usual mysterious and intelligent self and Preston and Child take his mysteriousness to a whole new level in this one. Throughout the novel, you find yourself wondering what the heck he is up to. You can’t help but turn the page over and over, trying to discover what he has up his sleeve this time. The criminal in this novel is also very mysterious and his identity is very surprising. However, his charisma and brilliance don’t come close to matching that of Pendergast.

Shelly Barclay

Review of "Wool" of the Silo Series by Hugh Howey

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Let me start by saying that it has been a long time since I picked up a book from a writer I've never heard of, that no one suggested to me, and wound up loving it. A few weeks ago, I was trying out Kindle Unlimited in an attempt to get more use out of my Paperwhite. I sorted by the genres I like and then looked for the most reviewed among them. I saw that "Wool" by Hugh Howey was getting a lot of praise. I wasn't sure if it was in itself a series or part of a series, having read that it is made up of five very short "books" itself. I dove in confused, but excited. After a few pages, there wasn't a chance I was putting it down any time soon.

The first few chapters of "Wool" offer the reader mystery, conflict, relatable characters, tragedy–it's just packed with subplots. Interestingly, Howey is able twist the first threads of his story in such a way that you're not sure what's going to happen, and as soon as you are sure, you're dead wrong. If you haven't got a lot of time to devote to a relatively short set of books, don't pick this up yet. Wait until a vacation, so you can give it the time it deserves.

Because Hugh Howley is (or was) self-published and even I have been brainwashed into thinking that means sub-par, I have the urge to say something along the lines of "It's pretty good for self-published," but I can't say that. This is pretty good for science fiction in general. It could hold its own on a bookshelf next to Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny. In fact, if I had the paperback version, I would put it next to these greats on my own bookshelf. This is a very accomplished novel with great dialogue, a well-paced plot and a detailed world, especially considering it all takes place in what is essentially an underground skyscraper. Half the time, the characters are walking up and down stairs. Somehow, that's not as dull as it sounds.

I have two more sets of "books" to read in this series before I'm done, so I'm going to end this here and get back to my Kindle. If you have Unlimited/Prime, you can get them all free for your Kindle. If not, you can still buy them pretty cheap. If this series doesn't sound that great to you, go ahead and check out all of his other books, of which there are shockingly many. How did I not hear about this guy before now?

Shelly Barclay

Book Review and Plot Summary: "Lost Horizon" by James Hilton

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"Lost Horizon" by James Hilton is the simple yet compelling story of four strangers who are kidnapped and brought to the now legendary valley of Shangri-la. The plot of "Lost Horizon" is laced with adventure, danger, friendships and subtle deceptions. James Hilton’s novel starts out with a meeting between two friends concerning one of their mutual friends, Hugh Conway. The story then quickly develops into an adventure and survival story and moves on to become a tale of a place where people contemplate the world around them without involving themselves while living unnaturally long lives. "Lost Horizon" has a very intriguing open ending that leaves the reader pondering all sorts of philosophical questions.

At the start of the main story of "Lost Horizon", a soldier named Hugh Conway finds himself aboard a military aircraft with three other passengers, Roberta Brinklow, Henry Barnard and Charles Mallinson. A short way into their journey they realize that their plane has been hijacked. The hijacker has been flying the plane since takeoff and they are now far off course. The man has a gun and is refusing to allow the passengers to leave the plane, even when he stops for fuel.

The reader quickly finds that the main character, Hugh Conway, is a man who rolls with the punches. The situation hardly disturbs him and his fellow passengers seem to admire him for what they view as bravery, Hugh on the other hand considers it laziness. Mallinson soon reveals himself to be the malcontent of the group, while Barnard is the adventurous American. Roberta Brinklow is a missionary who seems to be a very practical woman, even if she is stiflingly religious.

Their plane ride abruptly ends in Kuen-Lun mountain range in Tibet when their kidnapper lands the plane in the midst of the mountains. The kidnapper dies soon after the difficult landing without revealing to them the reason for the kidnapping. They have no food and are ill-equipped for a jaunt through the snowy mountains of Tibet.

They spend the first night in the aircraft and wander out into the daylight the following morning to get a better look at their surroundings. They see a group of men coming toward them down a mountain slope. When the men reach them, the companions are curious if they will guide them to food and shelter, the men agree. One of the men speaks English and they soon learn that these men are Tibetan and Chinese monks.

The monks take them on an arduous climb up a mountain pass. After hours of climbing they reach their destination, a Tibetan Lamasery in the valley of Shangri-la. The travelers are quickly fed, bathed and otherwise made comfortable. The travelers are eager to leave, with the possible exception of Conway. They ask Chang (the English-speaking monk), if they will be able to procure a guide for the difficult journey out of the mountains. Chang is very cryptic in his responses. The only answer he gives is that porters will be arriving sometime soon and that they might possibly guide them out.

Conway quickly begins to like the lamasery and enjoy the peaceful surroundings of Shangri-la. Roberta begins to see a need for a missionary of the Christian persuasion in Shangri-la and she slowly decides to stay. The reader soon discovers that Barnard is a wanted man, so he is easily persuaded to remain as well. Mallinson however cannot bring himself to enjoy the lamasery and refuses to stay any longer than he absolutely has to. This complicates things when Conway befriends the High Lama and learns that they were kidnapped for the purpose of remaining at Shangri-la. Conway keeps this secret and befriends the High Lama.

The High Lama begins to tell Conway the story of his life at Shangri-la. The man claims to have lived for hundreds of years and tells Conway that he will too if he stays at the lamasery. It seems that all of the inhabitants of the lamasery have lived well beyond their years and look much younger than they are. The catch to all of this is that if any of them go further away than the valley their years will immediately catch up to them. Even in the valley they must return to the lamasery after a period of time.

Shortly after Conway learns all of this the High Lama dies. It seems to the reader then that Conway has resigned himself to stay at Shangri-la and live the long and peaceful life of its inhabitants. Then Conway is confronted by Mallinson who says that he has arranged for the porters to guide them off of the mountain immediately. The others have already decided to stay so it is only Mallinson, Conway and a seemingly young woman from the lamasery. Conway refuses, but when Mallinson comes back to inform Conway that he can’t leave without him, Conway gives in.

At this point the main part of "Lost Horizon" ends and the reader returns to the meeting of two friends concerning Conway. This meeting only gives us small bits of information about what may have happened to Conway. It seems one of the friends has seen Conway and heard his story, but that Conway has disappeared once again. The friend made several enquiries about Conway, but only came up with information at a hospital in Tibet. A hospital worker saw Conway shortly after his descent form the mountain, the worker says that he appeared with an old woman who died shortly thereafter.

This leaves you to wonder what happened to Mallinson. Also was this old woman the very same woman who was young before they left the valley? Is it possible that the High Lama was telling the truth or did Conway lose both of his traveling companions and the old lady was a good Samaritan who found him? Hilton never explains and you never find out if Conway returned to Shangri-la, though you get the sense that he did.

Shangri-la first appeared to the public in James Hilton’s "Lost Horizon", which was published in the 1930's. Since then, this fictional valley has become synonymous with paradise. In fact, I’ve met readers who haven’t read "Lost Horizon" and many believe that Shangri-la is an ancient myth. However, this paradise that is perceived really doesn’t exist in "Lost Horizon". James Hilton spends very little time explaining this valley, the novel is more about moderation, aversion to war and the subtle relationships between human beings than it is about paradise.

Shelly Barclay

Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days": Plot Summary and Review

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Jules Verne’s "Around the World in Eighty Days" is somewhat of a break from his characteristic style. Unlike "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea," there is nothing science fiction about it. "Around the World in Eighty Days" may be one of the only books in which Jules Verne does not predict or describe some future technology. However, the adventures and obstacles seen by the main characters are very typical of Verne’s work.

"Around the World in Eighty Days" begins with a thorough description of the novel’s main character–Phileas Fogg. Fogg is described as being unusually preoccupied with timeliness. He plans every bit of every day and has, thus far, never deviated from this schedule as far as anyone can tell. At the point where we meet Fogg he is in need of a new servant; his last one made the grave mistake of bringing him shaving water that was eighty-four degrees rather than the specified eighty-six. At this point the reader does not know what to make of Fogg. He is a rather eccentric and punctual man. However, we see no evidence that he is anything but good.

Fogg’s new servant, Jean Passepartout, arrives at his home at precisely twenty-two minutes after eleven on the first day of the story. Jean is quite pleased with his master and his new station, because he wishes to settle down and he has heard that Fogg rarely, if ever, travels. Fogg tells Passepartout to settle in and then sets out for his gentleman’s club at the same exact time that he does this every day.

Passepartout has begun settling in when Fogg, breaking his careful schedule, arrives home hours before he is expected. Fogg informs Passepartout that they will be going on a trip around the wold and that they are to be leaving immediately. Fogg has bet his friends at the club a great deal of money that he can make the journey in eighty days. Passepartout is flabbergasted, but he follows his master’s lead.

At the outset of their adventure, everything goes according to plan. Then, unbeknownst to the pair, Fogg is mistaken for a bank robber. The man who has mistaken him is a policeman named Fix. Fix believes that Fogg is covering his escape with a fictional journey. Fix resolves to arrest him, but he has no warrant and is forced to follow them. The policeman manages to cause them many holdups throughout the novel, for which he is attacked once by Passepartout and punched once by Fogg.

While the pair is in India the train they are riding on runs out of tracks and they are forced to purchase an elephant and hire a guide. While riding across India, they learn of a woman who is about to be sacrificed at her husband’s funeral. At this point it becomes obvious that Fogg is a good man despite his eccentricities, because he decides that they should rescue the girl. Through a trick of Passepartout’s they are able to save her and the young woman, Aouda, joins them on their adventure.

From here on the journey takes a number of unexpected turns, Fogg is arrested twice, once with Passepartout, they are attacked by native Americans, Passepartout joins the circus (kind of) and Fix arrests Fogg. In the end, the real thief is caught and Fix, who isn’t so bad, is forced to apologize.

After the arrest, Fogg believes all is lost because he has been kept past his projected time of arrival. He is depressed about this when Aouda approaches him and tells him she is in love with him and that she wants him to marry her. He agrees and sends Passepartout to get a priest so that they may marry the following day, Sunday. Passepartout returns with the news that tomorrow is in fact Saturday and that they are still in time. This was made possible because they gained a day in traveling the globe to the east.

All in all, "Around the World in Eighty Days" is a very good read. It’s a very exciting and adventurous book that is very fast paced. "Around the World in Eighty Days" is not difficult to read, Verne gives just enough description and keeps the plot moving continuously. 

Shelly Barclay