Wednesday, May 6, 2020

read: Agent Running in the Field (4 stars)

Agent Running in the FieldAgent Running in the Field by John le Carré
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another captivating book by the master of spy novels. Once more we are swept into the life of a spymaster, or rather an ex-spymaster, Nat, who is now home in London and feeling as unsure of what to do with himself as his office does. He's trying to reconnect with his wife and his daughter and wondering if he actually agrees with his new badminton partner, Sam, who rails against Brexit and Trump and Putin and anything else that doesn't fit his world view. Of course, Nat soon finds himself drawn into recruiting and running another spy, in London, and the twists of fate soon leave him almost as friendless as Sam.
This is le Carré at his best. Boiled down. Insightful. At turns appropriately humorous and cruel. His spies find action in inaction and waiting. In talking their way through confrontations, rather than shooting. Recommended.

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Friday, April 3, 2020

read: Crash Test Girl (3 stars)

Crash Test Girl: An Unlikely Experiment in Using the Scientific Method to Answer Life's Toughest QuestionsCrash Test Girl: An Unlikely Experiment in Using the Scientific Method to Answer Life's Toughest Questions by Kari Byron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Entertaining celebrity memoir in the guise of a self-help book. I wouldn't want my daughter or granddaughter to follow Kari's example, other than to find their passion in life. And maybe be a bit smarter about following it.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

read: The Splendid and the Vile (4 stars)

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the BlitzThe Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the captivating tale of how Winston Churchill, London and all of England survived the first year of World War II and the relentless bombing raids Hitler and the Nazis inflicted in order to break their spirit. Larsen uses quotes from diaries and letters to elevate the story above the facts and figures and dates and make it personal, populated with well-rounded personalities acting and reacting to events impossible to comprehend. He even almost succeeds at making Churchill himself into someone anyone can identify with. Yet the apparent reality of Churchill defies the attempt and he remains larger-than-life. This is a must-read for anyone interested in this period of history.

Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Crown Publishing for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

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Thursday, March 5, 2020

read: Final Option (4 stars)

Final Option (Oregon Files, #14)Final Option by Clive Cussler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another solid action adventure from Clive and Boyd. This time Juan Cabrillo and the crew of the Oregon are going up against doppelgangers that are as well-equipped and financed as they are. Before you know it, they are on the run, framed as criminals and hunted by a collection of old enemies will stop at nothing to kill them and destroy their reputation. There are no safe harbors and they ultimately have to consider one final option.

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Saturday, February 29, 2020

read: All We Buried (4 stars)

All We Buried: A Sheriff Bet Rivers MysteryAll We Buried: A Sheriff Bet Rivers Mystery by Elena Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's common knowledge that everyone knows everybody and everything that happens in small town. There are no secrets. But interim Sherrif Elizabeth 'Bet' Rivers discovers that the cliché isn't true. Bet has returned to her home town of Collier, Washington to fill in for her late father. Feeling undecided about staying or returning to the LAPD, her immediate plans are determined when an unidentified body appears in the bottomless lake near town.

The first half of the book is a slow burn. Well-rounded characters are introduced. Solid-sounding police procedures are followed. Questions are raised. Town history and mysteries are hinted at. A break in the case finally pushes the plot into motion. Yet the mystery of the murder victim will not reveal its secrets easily. The plot and twists are well crafted and keep the reader guessing right up to the end.

Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Crooked Lane Books for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

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Saturday, February 8, 2020

read: Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood (5 of 5 stars)

Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to HollywoodBecoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood by J. Michael Straczynski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Straczynski has used his considerable storytelling skills to tell his story. It is personal, unflinching and deeply moving, telling a rags-to-riches, hard-work-pays-off Hollywood story without being cloying, sensational  or scandalous. If you're a fan of Babylon 5, Superman, Spiderman, or comic books in general, this is required reading. If you're a writer struggling for inspiration, you'll find it here. If you're just looking for an engrossing story of endurance and overcoming circumstances, this is what you want.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2020

read; Retirement Homes Are Murder (2 stars)

Retirement Homes Are MurderRetirement Homes Are Murder by Mike Befeler
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Loved the premise. Didn't like the implementation. I don't like posting two-star reviews. But here it is.
Paul Jacobson wakes up in a strange place with no memory of where he is or the previous day. He's gruff with the nurse that comes to give him his daily medications and eventually finds his way to breakfast in the retirement home dining room with his table companions from the day before, who fill him in on some of the who, where and what of his new situation. Then he discovers a dead body and winds up the main suspect in the murder.
That's a cool set up. And it could have been the foundation of a both an interesting mystery and an interesting examination of geezer-life. Except... The prose and dialog are as wooden as can be and riddled with ancient cliches and comebacks instead of any attempt at reality. In this reality, a patient that clearly belongs in memory care is living independently, nobody has empathy, and garbage chutes have locks (?!). Most attempts at humor were also passe and trite. Several chapters in, I hoped it would get better and kept grinding through, hitting more and more reality breaks and improbable behavior. Finally, I simply started skimming to get the main points and make it to the revelation of the killer and their motive. Unfortunately, even that is disappointing and barely makes it to the level of a mediocre detective show from the sixties.
Obviously, that's what this is. A mediocre detective story from a time gone by. Except this was written in the 21st Century and misses the mark of modern story-telling.

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