Tuesday, May 27, 2014

read: Manhood for Amateurs (5 stars)

Manhood for AmateursManhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am pretty stunned at how strongly these essays resonated with me. Some not so much, but most. I guess I should not have been that surprised. I like most of his writing I have sampled and he has an admittedly geek sensibility. I definitely recommend it for anyone who likes his writing, as well as those with sci-fi or comic book or even authorly tendencies.

It was a treat hearing him read the audio book to me.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

read: Mockingjay (4 stars)

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story picks up literally in the ashes of the previous one. All is lost, yet there is some hope. The first thing Katniss Everdeen must decide is if she still wants to be the Mockingjay. Only this time it will be most explicitly for those rebelling against President Snow and the Capitol.

Once again the story keeps moving, though at not quite the breakneck pace of the previous volumes. There are plenty of interesting puzzles to solve, motives to puzzle over, and battles to fight, both literal and figurative. Four stars for the interesting characters and settings and the palpable senses of mission and paranoia. A star knocked off for the muddled mess of plot and the growing implausibilities. A star added back on for bringing the saga to a satisfying conclusion. If you enjoyed the first two books, you will have to read this one.

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

read: What's So Funny?: My Hilarious Life by Tim Conway (4 stars)

What's So Funny?: My Hilarious LifeWhat's So Funny?: My Hilarious Life by Tim Conway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I already knew Tim Conway is a very funny man. This book demonstrates that he's also very sweet and kind and down to earth. I didn't know he came from such humble beginnings. I'm glad all of the happy accidents in his life that led him to being a performer happened to him, and it's clear he is, too. The prose is a bit on the choppy and chatty side. But all that does is enhance the feeling that Tim is telling you everything in the first person (even though he had the help of a ghost-writer). Fans of Tim (or McHale's Navy, or The Carol Burnett Show) will enjoy this book.

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read: The Astronaut Wives Club (3 stars)

The Astronaut Wives Club: A True StoryThe Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is certainly not the best written (or best read audio) book. But if you're as fascinated by the Space Age as I am, you will hang on every word.

It does spend a seemingly inordinate amount of time on clothes and hair and housekeeping. But those were the priorities of the time. It also dives into the deeper stories of emotions and family and broken marriages. It's all laid out to a much deeper extent than I've seen before, at least from the wives' point of view. It's time their story got told.

Recommended for anyone interested in the time period.

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

read: Annihilators (3 stars)

AnnihilatorsAnnihilators by Dan Abnett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A pair of enjoyable super hero stories related to the Guardians of the Galaxy. The Rocket Raccoon and Groot story was shorter, but gives more insight and background into core characters.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

read: Napoleon's Pyramids (4 stars)

Napoleon's Pyramids (Ethan Gage, #1)Napoleon's Pyramids by William Dietrich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another reviewer likened this to "Indiana Jones meets The Three Musketeers". I think that assessment is spot on. I might also throw in a bit of James Bond, though not quite as focused. If you like (or don't mind) your protagonists ready for anything, but rough around the edges, Ethan Gage is your man.

As the story opens, we find him in Paris, at loose ends, focused on cards and women and not much else. He wins a mysterious artifact in a poker game. He enjoys the company of a woman. She winds up dead and he winds up being the number one suspect. The rest of the book follows the misadventures wrought by the artifact and the trumped up murder charge.

He manages to escape the initial investigation by attaching himself to Napoleon's voyage to invade Egypt, along with several other scientists (constantly referred to as savants). But his trouble, along with Napoleon's, is only beginning. There are abundant battles won and lost, intrigues solved and raised, and harrowing escapes. Gage seems to accumulate allies and enemies as easily as most of us find dinner companions. The pace is not blistering, but it is relentless.

The prose is solid. The characters are colorful. The research seems solid. I really enjoyed this adventure.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

read: All You Need Is Kill (5 stars)

All You Need Is KillAll You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I prefer to read books before they're adapted into films. I don't mind it the other way around. But reading the book first gives me a chance to establish the character in my head before seeing it on screen. When I started seeing previews for the film Edge of Tomorrow and discovered that it was based on this book, I made sure to snap it up ASAP. The premise sounded very interesting and I wanted to be sure to read the source material before Tom Cruise got too far into my head. I'm glad I did, because he's almost the exact opposite of the twenty-something Asian protagonist of the novel. On the other hand, he's so different that it would be difficult for anyone to mistake his world-weary fifty-something American character for the same guy. It will be interesting to see what bits the filmmakers kept and what they completely reinvented.

The premise is simple. As the film poster puts it: Live. Die. Repeat. This is basically Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers. Keiji Kiriya is a fresh recruit in a war against alien invaders. He's thrown into battle, barely prepared, and comes to a pretty quick end. But then he wakes up and is pretty sure it was only a dream. Except he re-lives the events of the dream in startling detail until the sense of deja vu is overwhelming and only explanation is that it wasn't a dream. He's actually stuck in some sort of time loop.

Since this is translated into English from Japanese, it's difficult to know how much of the terse writing style comes from the original author and how much from the translator. I'm sure it's a bit of both. It fits the story and keeps the reader turning pages. It's very readable and I never felt lost. Description and introspection is applied appropriately. War is gritty, messy and painful. Soldiers are real people. Backstory is skillfully woven into unfolding events. The story keeps moving. I'm sure the word count puts this more into novella territory than novel, but there is plenty of character and story to make this a novel.

I really liked this book. It's well worth reading before Tom Cruise gets into your head.

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