Friday, November 13, 2020

read: What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism (5 stars)

What Unites Us: Reflections on PatriotismWhat Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism by Dan Rather
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reflections of a lifetime in America. From growing up in a small town in Texas to reporting on some of the biggest stories of the last century.

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Saturday, October 17, 2020

read: Network Effect (4 stars)

Network Effect (The Murderbot Diaries, #5)Network Effect by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reasons to love Murderbot: It just wants to be left alone with its media. It's also not a murderbot. It also cares deeply about its human clients and the occasional bot it befriends while doing its job. It's also very good at its job, which is protecting its clients, and it is much better at relationships than it gives itself credit for.
Reasons to love this novel-length Murderbot story: it allows enough time and space for the author to go deeper into the construct's relationships and feelings, even if it would be horrified to know that has either one. Thankfully, the length provides an actual novel-length story and not just a series of adventures or episodes strung together. But the fast pace and quick humor are still in place, although subdued ever so slightly.
This book can be enjoyed on its own. But why would a reader deprive themselves of the other stories and the added context they provide? Read them all.

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Monday, September 21, 2020

read: Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing (4 stars)

Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better WritingTake Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been writing first drafts for NaNoWriMo by the seat of my pants for several years. Every once in a while I try a lightweight outline method to 'really be organized, this time' and still wound up with a mess. I quite enjoyed this author's lighthearted approach and I think the light may have finally gone on about how to formulate a meaningful story. This probably isn't the silver bullet for killing the beast of writing a novel. But I'm going to give it a quick rescan and see if I can apply it to this years' NaNo.

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Monday, September 14, 2020

read: Long Bright River (4 stars)

Long Bright RiverLong Bright River by Liz Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up at the beginning of 2020 because it was a best-seller and getting truckloads of good reviews. I figured I should be in-the-know on at least one 'hot' book this year. Then I started reading and wondering what all the fuss was about.

The writing was pretty good--easy to follow and all, even with the author's offbeat way of writing dialog. But it didn't click for me. What started out as a police procedural was suddenly some sort of family drama. And the gritty setting on the streets of Philadelphia was more offputting than I could deal with at the moment. I set it aside for something more appealing.

When I picked it back up, I found it was still the same story. But I somehow found it more engrossing. It's not really a police procedural, even though the protagonist, Michaela ("Mickey"), is a cop. She's not a very good one. She doesn't fit in well with the rest of the department and her street presence is awkward at best. Plus, she's not really trying to solve a crime. She's trying to find her drug-addict sister, Kacey, on those gritty, crime-ridden streets, mostly to make sure she isn't a victim of the same killer.

It's also not quite a family drama, because Mickey is completely estranged from her dysfunctional family and spends little time with them. We gradually discover more about that as we flash back and forth between "Then" and "Now". Most of Mickey's relationships are with strangers and neighbors and her ex-partner. These are also awkward because Mickey's childhood issues and current agendas create barriers for actually relating.

All of this makes it sound like the story is a failure. But it's not. Once I got back into it, I was fascinated by the way the author deftly intertwined the different aspects of Mickey's life into something that worked. During the last chapters, I could almost hear the mechanisms click into place as mysteries were solved, tragedies explained and relationships healed. Some come very close to being cloying, family-drama tropes. But there is enough depth to the background to avoid that cliff.

A thriller reader will have to invest a little extra energy to hang with the slower pace. It's worth it.

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Friday, September 4, 2020

read: The Space Between Worlds (3 stars)

The Space Between WorldsThe Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Imagine you can traverse the multiverse, the infinite number of theoretical copies of our Universe made real, visiting alternate versions of the Earth you know. It must mean your horizons are expanded infinitely. Maybe you can only visit the limited number that are similar enough to your 'original' Earth to make travel there practical. Maybe a few hundred such Earths. That's still a wide canvas on which to tell a story. That's where this one starts. And it begins with some intrigue and interest.

But was disappointed. The story told here is not one that spans hundreds of worlds. It's a much smaller story. We follow a young traverser as she treads on familiar roads on a few of the Earths she visits. She encounters basically the same people and the same places, with just a few variations. The only civilization we are shown on all of these Earths is confined to a single familiar city, a nearby wilderness and an intervening country town, all ruled, for some reason, by a single despotic family. We see almost nothing about what is happening on the rest of the Earth. It's all very confining and all overly simple.

The characters and relationships, though simple and repetitive, are presented in a story that is intriguing and written well enough that I did follow through to the end. But I always felt that there story could have been so much more.

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, August 15, 2020

read: Murder in the Sentier (3 stars)

Murder in the Sentier (Aimee Leduc)Murder in the Sentier by Cara Black
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, the story was interesting, the main character, Aimee Leduc, was engaging and a reasonably reasonable detective, and the setting in Paris was enchanting. On the other hand, the supporting cast was difficult for me to track, the constant barrage of French-in-italics was distracting, and the incessant descriptions of locations, buildings, characters and Aimee's thoughts were just a touch overwrought. Taken as a quick, vacation read, this could be quite enjoyable.

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Sunday, August 2, 2020

read: Stories of Your Life and Others (4 stars)

Stories of Your Life and OthersStories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A consistently excellent and enjoyable collection of short stories. All of them are fascinating investigations into mythologies and world views. Several follow completely unscientific beliefs to somewhat inevitable conclusions: actually building a tower to the vault of heaven, a clay-punk Victorian England with actual golems and a terrible idea involving preformation theories and a soul searching examination of God, angels, heaven and hell. Several stories play with language and ideas and time and memory in twisty ways that challenge the reader as much as the characters in the stories. I was especially moved by "Story of Your Life", which made so much more sense than the film inspired by it, "Arrival". Recommended.

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