Wednesday, November 12, 2014

read: The Job (4 stars)

The Job (Fox and O'Hare #3)The Job by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you're looking for a fun story that's a mashup of 'Remington Steele', 'Burn Notice', and 'The Thomas Crown Affair', this is it. The TV and film comparisons are valid both for thematic reasons and borrowed plot lines. There's a Federal agent working both sides of the law. An art thief who's never who or where he's supposed to be. Almost every chapter is a different art theft or con. Numerous references to fictional characters and places are sprinkled liberally throughout the story.

Just like a television movie, none of the story makes any sense when submitted to any scrutiny. The capers are paper thin. The characters are cardboard flat. Real motivation is missing in action. And yet, like a television movie, it's fast-paced, colorful, and eye-catching. There are plenty of twists and turns, but the reader is never lost or left behind.

Pick this up for a read on a plane trip or sitting on the beach and the minutes will fly by. It gets four stars for delivering on that promise.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

read: My Sister's Grave (5 stars)

My Sister's GraveMy Sister's Grave by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Robert Dugoni turns from writing legal thrillers to police procedurals with his usual storytelling aplomb. As with David Sloane, his cop, Tracy Crosswhite, is personally and emotionally tied up in the case. Her sister Sarah disappeared years ago and her body has just been recovered. But the physical evidence doesn't quite match what was used to convict the man in prison for Sarah's murder. And Tracy still feels responsible for what happened to her younger sister.

The author creates an especially rich world of characters, places and situations that always feel real. Flashbacks are sparingly and deftly used to reveal and add depth without holding the story back. Everything moves along quite quickly. Clues to solving the mystery unspool naturally. Characters react realistically. The story feels more like a real-crime documentary than complete fiction.

I have enjoyed every book I've read by Dugoni. I can't recommend this one highly enough.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through Amazon's Kindle First program.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

read: Million Dollar Outlines (4 stars)

Million Dollar OutlinesMillion Dollar Outlines by David Farland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a great, easy-to-read guide to putting together novel length stories. It's not just a how-to, it's also a so-what and why. I think I now have a better understanding of the elements needed to create compelling stories, along with some good tips on how to make it happen.

The specific tool I was looking for was Farland's "story puzzle" device I heard mentioned on a recent episode of the "Writing Excuses" podcast. The way it was mentioned, I thought it might be at the very beginning and the rest of the book would just add depth. Farland knew better. He spends the first third of the book helping the reader understand how stories work, the next third sifting through the pieces needed to create a good story, and the last third offering some tools to make it happen. But still no "story puzzle".

Finally, there in the appendix "Exercises To Increase Productivity" it looks like I've found the story puzzle exercise and I will try to use it on my next book.

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Friday, September 5, 2014

read: Red Moon (3 stars)

Red MoonRed Moon by Benjamin Percy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm really sorry I did not finish this book. The core idea is an interesting one. The prose itself is actually quite good. I thought for sure I would just roar right through to the end.

The problem, alas, is that despite the presence of lycans (werewolves) there is no roaring here. There is violence, which often happens off-screen. There is political intrigue. There is war, which happens off-screen until halfway through the book. There is terrorism, which is also mostly off-screen after the prologue and until halfway through the book. If things started happening at the halfway point, why did I give up there? It's because I didn't care anymore.

I sort of cared about the teenage protagonists (there are two) for about the first quarter of the book. It was interesting getting to know them and their predicaments in the topsy-turvy world the author created where werewolves are real, have been around for centuries, and are due to a brain disease similar to mad cow. At least these teens were orders of magnitude more tolerable and interesting than the annoying vampires in Twilight.

I think the basic problem is that the story never became the one I thought it would be. There were too many viewpoints and diversions to add complications to the plot and not enough plot. I thought this was a thriller, but it also wanted to be about teenage romance, politics, and social justice. What I bought was a horror novel; what I got was an urban fantasy. What I wanted was more action and plot as exemplified by the opening. What I got was too much description and dialog and beating around the bush.

Kudos to the author for writing something that could be seen as the more literate alternative to Twilight (which I also did not finish, because every page was cringe-inducing). I would recommend this to fans of urban fantasy and teen angst. I had to give up on it and move on.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

read: Bossypants (3 stars)

BossypantsWith most celebrities, you either like them or you don't. And with most celebrities, your opinion of them will probably carry over into your reaction to whatever memoir/autobiography/anecdotes they write. I mostly like Tina Fey, so I mostly liked her memoir/autobiography/anecdotes Bossypants, even though it's never clear exactly which of these she has written.

At first I thought this might be an autobiography. I'm sure that's what many people will think it is. But it's soon obvious that Tina's humorous takes and lack of depth, as well as lack of the perspective of age, do not allow this to be an autobiography. For the most part, then, this is a memoir. Except it's not really structured as a memoir either. It's more like a collection of anecdotes reflecting on life topics that happen to cover segments of the author's life from girlhood until now. They will give you a glimpse of who Tina is and how she got here. But because she rarely lets a paragraph go by without trying to give it a humorous spin, you won't really get too close to the real Tina.

There is plenty of humor here. If you like her sense of humor, you will laugh (or at least smirk). There is a bit of memoir here. You will gain a bit of understanding for how she got into show business and gained success. There are a lot of anecdotes here. She does, as you would expect, drop a lot of names. You will get a pretty good idea of how Tina Fey believes she sees the world at this point in time. If you are a fan, you should enjoy this book. I listened to the audiobook version, read (and riffed) by Tina, and this added another dimension to the experience.

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Review backlog

Here is a short explanation of the avalanche of book reviews that are about to appear here for anyone that might actually be following this blog (or happening upon it in the future).

Normally I try to post my book 'reviews' as soon as I finish with a book, which means the posting date gives an indication (for me, at least) of when I read it. But I have been a bad blogger of late and have not been keeping up with the books I've been finishing. Since I will be playing catch up on reviews for about ten books from this Spring and Summer, I am just going to post them as I write them, and not post-date (or is that pre-date) them to their 'proper' position in the timeline.

Here we go...

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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