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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Monday, February 3, 2020

read: Elements of Fiction (3 stars)

Elements of FictionElements of Fiction by Walter Mosley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A short, quirky meditation on the role of character in fiction. There are no tools for the beginning writer here. Just some encouragement to think deeper thoughts about how character can drive story, if that's the type of story you are writing. Glad I got it from the library.

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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

My 2019 In Books

According to the Goodreads 2019 Reading Challenge, I read 54 books this year. Six more than my goal of 48. One goal was to clear out my backlog of physical books. I made some progress. Several of these are actually short stories, novellas or graphic novels. Audio books helped, too. Here are some highlights:
  1. Non-fiction. I gravitate toward fiction. But I also managed to keep it real:
    1. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow - Lin Manuel Miranda's inspiration for the musical. I started this in late 2018 and took almost six months to finish, but it was worth it.
    2. Why We Sleep - informative and highly recommended!
    3. Factfulness - also informative and highly recommended! And surprising! This will challenge how you think about the world, and your neighbors.

  2. Novellas. These have been a way of keeping up the overall book count without investing large amounts of time. A couple of series were very enjoyable:
    1. Binti, Binti: Home, Binti: The Night Masquerade - highly readable science fiction about cultures that are both foreign and alien to me
    2. Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, Exit Strategy - further adventures (that starts in All Systems Red) of a self-aware SecUnit 'droid calling itself "Murderbot" that's really good at its job and doesn't actually murder

  3. Netgalley. I limited myself to previewing 5 titles on Netgalley this year. All authors I already read. I still owe a few reviews. The best:
    1. The Eighth Sister - darn good spy/legal novel from Robert Dugoni
    2. A Cold Trail - another spot-on crime thriller from Robert Dugoni
    3. The Last Good Guy - third book in a series by T. Jefferson Parker. Now I have to go read the first couple.
Some other treats this year:
  1. Motherless Brooklyn is a mystery story told from a quirky point of view character. Now a movie.
  2. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett was languishing on my reading list. I finally read it before I watched the off-beat television series.
  3. Stumptown - the graphic novel inspiration for the new television series about a low-rent PI in Portland. The same, but different.
  4. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (audio book). I wish I'd read/heard this while he was still alive. It sheds a different light on who he was and how restaurants work.
My 2019 wrap-up is at

I'll have a slightly different strategy in 2020. I still want to clear off my TBR shelf. I'll set my 2020 Reading Challenge at 48 books (4/month). But I also want to…
  1. Read more current titles. I don't want to be stuck in the past, in constant catch-up mode. I want to read at least six books published in 2020 that aren't just the latest by authors I already enjoy.
  2. Read more actual non-fiction. I should move beyond biographies and how-to books about writing.
Keep reading! And share a book with a friend.

Monday, December 30, 2019

read: Southern Harm (3 stars)

Southern Harm (A Southern B&B Mystery #2)Southern Harm by Caroline Fardig

The first half of this book was a bit too slow and chatty for my taste. The mystery is about a death that happened thirty years before the book opens. Because the characters have a lot of catching up to do, they spend a lot of time catching up instead of getting things done. When enough suspects finally get lined up things start happening and the second half of the book feels more like the kind of book I like to read. The mystery does come together and is played very fairly and makes for a satisfying ending. Readers looking for a talkative mystery of Southern manners and murder should enjoy this book.

Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Alibi/Random House for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

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Sunday, September 15, 2019

read: A Cold Trail (4 stars)

A Cold Trail (Tracy Crosswhite, #7)A Cold Trail by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tracy Crosswhite and her husband Dan have returned to the small town of Cedar Grove, Washington while their home in Seattle is being remodeled. Tracy is on maternity leave from her job as a homicide detective, training the new nanny for Daniella, and Dan is shuttling between his law office in Seattle and some work for a local businessman feeling hassled by the town. Of course, Tracy can't avoid getting involved in a local murder investigation related to a cold case and this complicates her promises to herself and her husband and makes her question her motivations for work and motherhood.

Dugoni's typical facility for strong character development and plot are on display here, amplified by the more confined canvas of a small town. The population is familiar. But not stereotypical. The cases are puzzling. But the clues are all there. The suspense mounts. Shots are fired. And then the winter weather becomes a factor. Someone is not who everyone thinks they are. The writing is clear and compelling and enjoyable.

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

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Monday, July 29, 2019

read: The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington (4 stars)

The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George WashingtonThe First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington by Brad Meltzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brad Meltzer tells a very compelling story. I liked the detailed explanations of political relationships and the chronological revelation of the story. It does almost read like a novel. But it's also very interesting history for a reader that is not well-read on the era.

I do agree with other reviewers that the narrative is very repetitive and overblown - very much like the author's breathless television shows, including frequent [chapter] breaks [for commercials].

A pretty solid 4-star book, with a half star off for being a pot boiler, and a half star back on for keeping me reading to the very end.

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