Tuesday, October 23, 2018

read: Shadow Tyrants (4 stars)

Shadow Tyrants (The Oregon Files, #13)Shadow Tyrants by Clive Cussler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The crew of the Oregon have so much to do in this story that they are frequently split into two or even three separate teams. The foes are bigger and more ancient and the stakes are more global than ever. There's arguably too much going on for a single book. I couldn't put it down until the last crisis was averted.

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

read: House Divided (3 stars)

House Divided (Joe DeMarco, #6)House Divided by Mike Lawson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As with the other books I've read in this series, Joe DeMarco is not so much a hero as a stubborn, sonofabitch that gets caught up in other people's messes. In this one, a distant cousin is gunned down at the Iwo Jima Memorial and he doesn't quite buy the FBI's story about how things went down - a drug deal gone bad. He starts poking around and draws the attention of two factions of the Defense Department that are both involved in his cousin's death. Most of the story involves the characters in the NSA and Pentagon. Joe is just along for the ride. Again.

After a long, slow build up (Mike Lawson has a very relaxed writing style), the pace picked up about 2/3 of the way through the book. So did my interest and I hung on to the end. For a political suspense story, I feel like that first 2/3 should have been compressed to about half its length. Or stuffed with more action. It's mostly just talk and analysis.

I give it three stars for being a solid, though not sizzling, suspense story.

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Friday, September 7, 2018

read: In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox by Carol Burnett (4 stars)

In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the SandboxIn Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox by Carol Burnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This memoir is focused on Carol's TV show. There are some new stories and many I've heard before. Hearing our old friend Carol tell them again, with enthusiasm and warmth, makes it worth the listen.

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Thursday, September 6, 2018

read: The Razor's Edge (3 stars)

The Razor's EdgeThe Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On my second attempt, I managed to finish this. And because I did, I am able to change my rating from 2 stars to 3. This pretentious tale of upper-class life between the great wars has a certain charm about it. But I don't feel it has aged well at all.

The single best word to describe the story is 'contrived'. The author places himself in the center of the story. As first-person narrator, he's the bit of glue that holds it all together. But this, of course, means that he must find a way to either be present at every turn or at least hear about those events secondhand. And so he either contrives a way to be present or to get the other characters to freely unburden themselves and then have perfect recollection of their uncharacteristic soliloquys.

And then he has the gall to rearrange the episodes, meetings and ruminations into the chronology he feels is best suited to telling the story, rather than allow it to unfold in any organic way. This is on top of the archaic way in which he, as narrator, is telling us, dear readers, how and why he is doing this. Sheesh.

Of course, everyone speaks in that unnatural vocabulary that only a scholarly British novelist would put into their mouths. Even the Americans speak like Cambridge dons, except when they are constantly using the unrecognizable contraction "d'you" (as in "d'you really think so?"). All the characters sounds essentially the same. Except for poor Gray, who is consigned to rarely speak and then only in cliché (which the author/narrator explicitly mentions near the end of the piece).

Perhaps this is the crux of the matter. If you want real American characters, acting and speaking like Americans, go to an American author like Twain or Faulkner or Fitzgerald. These are just chess pieces placed onto a board so that the author can have a dialog with himself about philosophy and religion.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

read: Damage Control (3 stars)

Damage ControlDamage Control by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a pretty solid story that kept me engaged and turning pages. The prose itself is crisp. The characters and locations are well-drawn. The overall plot and twists hold together and provide some surprises.

But I have removed a couple of stars for several distractions. First is the general feeling that the story is overstuffed. Too many cool ideas kept competing for attention. It often felt like important things, like dogs and kids and jobs, got forgotten for long stretches. Then there's the implausibility of the main baddy's ability to singlehandedly keep track of and hunt down everyone he kills without getting caught. After a while, I just gave in to it. But nobody is that good.

This is skippable, unless you're a big fan of the author and a completist. Like me.

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

read: Boundary Waters (4 stars)

Boundary Waters (Cork O'Connor, #2)Boundary Waters by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mystery, thriller, adventure, family drama, travelogue. This book has it all going on and had me turning pages as fast as I could. Country singer Shiloh has disappeared into the Boundary Waters wilderness of Northern Minnesota and her father recruits ex-sheriff, now burger stand owner, Corcoran O'Connor to help him find her. Then the FBI and the mob show up with their own motives to locating her and a local Native American and his young son are added to the expedition. Once the canoes head north, the bodies start stacking up and it becomes clear that there is more going on than a simple rescue.
The cast of characters are all strong and distinctly drawn, including Shiloh, who is not just a damsel in distress. The locations, action and Native American culture are vividly described. The plot twists are well-formulated and often surprising.
I liked the first book of this series because of its potential and its ties to Minnesota. I recommend this one because it is even stronger.

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