Friday, May 8, 2015

read: Piranha (4 stars)

Piranha (The Oregon Files, #10)Piranha by Clive Cussler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Piranha is just what I would expect a Clive Cussler novel to be - non-stop action and plenty of high-tech thrills on and off the water. He and co-author Boyd Morrison deliver the goods with a wild ride. This book is for fans of Cussler, Morrison, Tom Clancy, Ian Fleming, and James Rollins.

The first half of the book is really a mystery: who is behind the Venezuelan smuggling operation Juan Cabrillo and his crew disrupt and goad into 'sinking' the Oregon? How is this adversary tracking their every move? And why are they so desperate to assassinate them? Solving the mystery involves action, close calls and quick thinking. The characters are likable and pretty believable. The technobabble is rich and realistic.

Of course there is a megalomaniac with an implausible toy out to rule the world. The second half of the book is the quest to hunt him down and outwit him. Accept the premise and it's a fine action adventure, worthy of James Bond or Mission: Impossible. One complaint is that there are too many crew members on the ship to keep straight in my head. I just had to ignore the diversity and focus on the mission. Another distraction for me was the inconsistency of the bad guy's toy. It didn't operate like I would have envisioned. But those are quibbles.

Strap in, hold on, and watch for the appearance of Morrison's hero, Tyler Locke.

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

read: Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light (4 stars)

Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of LightParis, Paris: Journey into the City of Light by David Downie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a travel guide and it's not a history book and it's not really a memoir. So what is it?

It's a pleasant stroll along the Seine with a friend pointing out things you would not have noticed by yourself. It's an American ex-pat familiar with the city taking you to the hidden places and giving you the background on who built it, who lived there, and why. It's a morning in the park or cafe watching people and smelling the flowers. It's a rambly collection of essays about Paris, its history, its people and its personality.

I quite enjoyed most of the essays. I'd recommend it to someone planning a trip to the City of Light.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

read: Valour and Vanity (5 stars)

Valour and Vanity (Glamourist Histories, #4)Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The author promises historical Ocean's Eleven with magic and delivers. She does this while remaining true to her Glamourist Histories characters and setting. With a small twist of circumstances, the main characters Jane and Vincent are forced into position of, in the words of the book, 'no position'. They are without friends, family or resources and must rely on their own devices to survive.

Circumstances become twistier and twistier as the causes of their misfortunes are further revealed. Finally, with new found friends and allies they take action and the fun really begins (I'm trying not to reveal any of the plot, since that is what makes the story fun).

The tension and action hardly ever flag. The dialog, characters and setting all feel period-authentic. The heist is devious, well-contrived and well-delivered. There are spots where it pays to have read the previous books in the series. But this is not required to enjoy this one by itself.

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

read: The Sun, the Moon, & the Stars (4 stars)

The Sun, the Moon, & the StarsThe Sun, the Moon, & the Stars by Steven Brust
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this based on the recommendations from several authors. I share their high opinion about the insights it portrays into the creative process and the creative mind. There isn't much story here, but the characterizations and the framing devices keep things moving and interesting.

I give it high marks for overall theme and structure. The intermingling of the current tale with a Hungarian folk tale and even the subject matter of the painting the narrator is working on is pretty brilliant.

On the other hand, the writing might be a little too self-aware, even for a first-person narrative. It's also somewhat awkward and clunky at times. There's nothing I can really put my finger on. Maybe it just felt a little dated. For something written in the 1980s, it had more of a 1970s feel.

I'd still recommend it, especially to creative types: writers, artists, musicians. The ruminations and discussions on what art is and how it is produced are thought provoking and worth the read. I might even re-read this, as other authors do, when I need reminding of why we do art.

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

read: The Edison Effect (4 stars)

The Edison Effect: A Professor Bradshaw MysteryThe Edison Effect: A Professor Bradshaw Mystery by Bernadette Pajer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another winning entry in the Professor Bradshaw Mystery series by Bernadette Pajer. Her curious and somewhat befuddled electrical engineer and the quaint, young city by the sea are charming companions.

In these books, early Seattle is it's own character and this book keeps it interesting and alive. We're even introduced into some of the seedier neighborhoods and their denizens, without it quite becoming turn of the 20th century noir.

This story starts with a quite simple mystery. Who electrocuted the Bon Marche electrician installing the Christmas lights? But as Bradshaw and the police start asking questions, they always seem to wind up with more questions than answers and more suspects than they need. The writing is engaging, with clear cut characters and richly drawn settings. It's not a wild ride, but it's fun and puzzling right to the end. Recommended.

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

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

read: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (4 stars)

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human SocietiesGuns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very interesting read (for about the first 2/3 of its length). The author does a good job of explaining and making the reader think more deeply about how geography, environment, biology, sociology, politics and language all work together to influence technology and what most of us regard as progress. I gained new insights into the origins of farming, writing, disease and government and how and why they might have been unevenly distributed throughout the world.

I share the same concern as others that the writing does get a bit repetitive. This seems to be a common shortcoming of academics writing for a wider audience. They need to realize that their readers might not be researchers in their field, but we're still pretty smart and can pick up on themes and ideas without having them pounded into our skulls with a mallet.

Even so, I do recommend this book. Read the good parts. Skim the boring bits. Think about the complexity of the world.

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Saturday, January 3, 2015

read: The Martian (5 of 5 stars)

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wish I'd posted this review months ago when I read the book before all the rest of the world and Hollywood got a hold of it. I'd picked it up based on the rave reviews I'd seen and heard on http://www.writingexcuses.com/transcr... and elsewhere. Then I waited until the rest of the folks in my book club were ready to read it. We all loved it. I procrastinated. Things got busy. At this point, anything I say can only come across as simply jumping on the bandwagon.

But this is good. You should read it. If you geek out on NASA and space flight, you will geek out on this. If you enjoy science fiction, this is just far enough into the future that you will enjoy it. If you like realistic human drama, this is right up your alley. If you like the film Castaway, this is that, plus Apollo 13 and a side of fries. If you're put off by snarky, geeky, sciency first-person narrative, you might not like it. But you should try it anyway, because this is being made into a blockbuster movie starring Matt Damon and you will want to read the book before that comes out.

[Read from June 04 to 08, 2014]

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