Monday, July 13, 2020

read: The Relentless Moon (4 stars)

The Relentless Moon (Lady Astronaut #3)The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit right up front that Mary Robinette Kowal is one author whose books I will buy practically sight-unseen. This goes double for books in this series, which are already tickling my desires for hard science fiction, retro settings, alternate history and realistic space flight action. This book did not disappoint.

But it did surprise. Since I obtained the book without learning too much about it, I didn't realize that the first-person narrative had shifted to a different astronaut in the IAC, International Aerospace Coalition. The scene switches from Elma York, The Lady Astronaut, currently on her way to Mars, to Nicole Wargin, who is not only a veteran astronaut, but the wife of the governor of Kansas, who may also be considering a run for President. Nicole is just as capable as Elma, but she comes with a different set of strengths and weaknesses that the author uses to great affect throughout the story.

One of this books unique charms is that it becomes essentially a locked-room mystery. After plenty of politicking and setup on Earth and an almost routine flight to the Moon, the action is firmly set at Artemis Base, a growing and thriving outpost of mankind. The first step of our escape from a soon to be uninhabitable Earth. Soon, what seem to be a set of unrelated accidents start developing into a pattern of sabotage and attempted murder that is probably the work of an outlaw group known as Earth First. But who among the highly trained astronauts and specially picked colonists is or are the saboteurs? The clues come slowly, but compellingly. This is a great story with almost everyone acting rationally.

Recommended for fans of early space flight, NASA and good writing.

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

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

read: Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre (4 stars)

Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch MassacreDevolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Based on the description (Bigfoot!) and how much I liked Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (another epistolary horror novel), I expected to like this one more than I did. However, the first half of the book didn't do much to meet my expectations and I came close to setting it down. It was slow and much too focused on a cast of characters that I found hard to like (I already hate hipsters in the woods), rather than much action and plot. But the author kept dropping just enough tension into the story to keep me motivated and I stuck with it.
The second half of the book (mostly) made up for the slog. There was action. There was tension. There were predators acting like predators and humans acting like humans (good and bad). The ending is satisfying in its own way (a little like Jurassic Park), without being too pat.
I almost knocked another star off of my 4-star review because of a nit I have with the writing style. The impression is supposed to be that the book is essentially the journal of the protagonist, the only survivor of an apparent massacre. But each journal entry is much too long and the style quickly slips into standard first-person narrative, knocking me out of the epistolary mood. The additional interviews and excerpts from experts and witnesses hearkened back to WWZ and restored a star for style. This could make for some great Summertime reading if you're in the mood for it.
Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Del Rey Books for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

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Saturday, June 13, 2020

read: Great Stories Don't Write Themselves (4 stars)

Great Stories Don't Write ThemselvesGreat Stories Don't Write Themselves by Larry Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An effective (for me) tutorial on some aspects of story that had been eluding me. Most of the focus is on understanding the criteria involved in the macro aspects of story: premise and concept, along with the related concepts of character, setting and plot.
Then he uses those criteria to present and break down story structure in way shows why even an organic writer eventually succumbs to structure in order to succeed (as a opposed to a outliner who struggles with the structure up front).
It's all nicely down-to-Earth and friendly and something that can be referred to again and again. There are no real surprises here. It's all been said before. But the author presents it in a way where several light bulbs finally illuminated for me.

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read: Memories Before and After the Sound of Music (4 stars)

Memories Before and After the Sound of MusicMemories Before and After the Sound of Music by Agathe von Trapp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charming, first-person account of the von Trapp family story by the eldest daughter of Captain Georg von Trapp.

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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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