Monday, July 13, 2020

read: The Relentless Moon (4 stars)

The Relentless Moon (Lady Astronaut #3)The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit right up front that Mary Robinette Kowal is one author whose books I will buy practically sight-unseen. This goes double for books in this series, which are already tickling my desires for hard science fiction, retro settings, alternate history and realistic space flight action. This book did not disappoint.

But it did surprise. Since I obtained the book without learning too much about it, I didn't realize that the first-person narrative had shifted to a different astronaut in the IAC, International Aerospace Coalition. The scene switches from Elma York, The Lady Astronaut, currently on her way to Mars, to Nicole Wargin, who is not only a veteran astronaut, but the wife of the governor of Kansas, who may also be considering a run for President. Nicole is just as capable as Elma, but she comes with a different set of strengths and weaknesses that the author uses to great affect throughout the story.

One of this books unique charms is that it becomes essentially a locked-room mystery. After plenty of politicking and setup on Earth and an almost routine flight to the Moon, the action is firmly set at Artemis Base, a growing and thriving outpost of mankind. The first step of our escape from a soon to be uninhabitable Earth. Soon, what seem to be a set of unrelated accidents start developing into a pattern of sabotage and attempted murder that is probably the work of an outlaw group known as Earth First. But who among the highly trained astronauts and specially picked colonists is or are the saboteurs? The clues come slowly, but compellingly. This is a great story with almost everyone acting rationally.

Recommended for fans of early space flight, NASA and good writing.

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

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

read: Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre (4 stars)

Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch MassacreDevolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Based on the description (Bigfoot!) and how much I liked Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (another epistolary horror novel), I expected to like this one more than I did. However, the first half of the book didn't do much to meet my expectations and I came close to setting it down. It was slow and much too focused on a cast of characters that I found hard to like (I already hate hipsters in the woods), rather than much action and plot. But the author kept dropping just enough tension into the story to keep me motivated and I stuck with it.
The second half of the book (mostly) made up for the slog. There was action. There was tension. There were predators acting like predators and humans acting like humans (good and bad). The ending is satisfying in its own way (a little like Jurassic Park), without being too pat.
I almost knocked another star off of my 4-star review because of a nit I have with the writing style. The impression is supposed to be that the book is essentially the journal of the protagonist, the only survivor of an apparent massacre. But each journal entry is much too long and the style quickly slips into standard first-person narrative, knocking me out of the epistolary mood. The additional interviews and excerpts from experts and witnesses hearkened back to WWZ and restored a star for style. This could make for some great Summertime reading if you're in the mood for it.
Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Del Rey Books for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

View all my reviews

Saturday, June 13, 2020

read: Great Stories Don't Write Themselves (4 stars)

Great Stories Don't Write ThemselvesGreat Stories Don't Write Themselves by Larry Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An effective (for me) tutorial on some aspects of story that had been eluding me. Most of the focus is on understanding the criteria involved in the macro aspects of story: premise and concept, along with the related concepts of character, setting and plot.
Then he uses those criteria to present and break down story structure in way shows why even an organic writer eventually succumbs to structure in order to succeed (as a opposed to a outliner who struggles with the structure up front).
It's all nicely down-to-Earth and friendly and something that can be referred to again and again. There are no real surprises here. It's all been said before. But the author presents it in a way where several light bulbs finally illuminated for me.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

read: Memories Before and After the Sound of Music (4 stars)

Memories Before and After the Sound of MusicMemories Before and After the Sound of Music by Agathe von Trapp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charming, first-person account of the von Trapp family story by the eldest daughter of Captain Georg von Trapp.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

read: Agent Running in the Field (4 stars)

Agent Running in the FieldAgent Running in the Field by John le Carré
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another captivating book by the master of spy novels. Once more we are swept into the life of a spymaster, or rather an ex-spymaster, Nat, who is now home in London and feeling as unsure of what to do with himself as his office does. He's trying to reconnect with his wife and his daughter and wondering if he actually agrees with his new badminton partner, Sam, who rails against Brexit and Trump and Putin and anything else that doesn't fit his world view. Of course, Nat soon finds himself drawn into recruiting and running another spy, in London, and the twists of fate soon leave him almost as friendless as Sam.
This is le Carré at his best. Boiled down. Insightful. At turns appropriately humorous and cruel. His spies find action in inaction and waiting. In talking their way through confrontations, rather than shooting. Recommended.

View all my reviews

Friday, April 3, 2020

read: Crash Test Girl (3 stars)

Crash Test Girl: An Unlikely Experiment in Using the Scientific Method to Answer Life's Toughest QuestionsCrash Test Girl: An Unlikely Experiment in Using the Scientific Method to Answer Life's Toughest Questions by Kari Byron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Entertaining celebrity memoir in the guise of a self-help book. I wouldn't want my daughter or granddaughter to follow Kari's example, other than to find their passion in life. And maybe be a bit smarter about following it.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

read: The Splendid and the Vile (4 stars)

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the BlitzThe Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the captivating tale of how Winston Churchill, London and all of England survived the first year of World War II and the relentless bombing raids Hitler and the Nazis inflicted in order to break their spirit. Larsen uses quotes from diaries and letters to elevate the story above the facts and figures and dates and make it personal, populated with well-rounded personalities acting and reacting to events impossible to comprehend. He even almost succeeds at making Churchill himself into someone anyone can identify with. Yet the apparent reality of Churchill defies the attempt and he remains larger-than-life. This is a must-read for anyone interested in this period of history.

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

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 5, 2020

read: Final Option (4 stars)

Final Option (Oregon Files, #14)Final Option by Clive Cussler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another solid action adventure from Clive and Boyd. This time Juan Cabrillo and the crew of the Oregon are going up against doppelgangers that are as well-equipped and financed as they are. Before you know it, they are on the run, framed as criminals and hunted by a collection of old enemies will stop at nothing to kill them and destroy their reputation. There are no safe harbors and they ultimately have to consider one final option.

View all my reviews

Saturday, February 29, 2020

read: All We Buried (4 stars)

All We Buried: A Sheriff Bet Rivers MysteryAll We Buried: A Sheriff Bet Rivers Mystery by Elena Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's common knowledge that everyone knows everybody and everything that happens in small town. There are no secrets. But interim Sherrif Elizabeth 'Bet' Rivers discovers that the cliché isn't true. Bet has returned to her home town of Collier, Washington to fill in for her late father. Feeling undecided about staying or returning to the LAPD, her immediate plans are determined when an unidentified body appears in the bottomless lake near town.

The first half of the book is a slow burn. Well-rounded characters are introduced. Solid-sounding police procedures are followed. Questions are raised. Town history and mysteries are hinted at. A break in the case finally pushes the plot into motion. Yet the mystery of the murder victim will not reveal its secrets easily. The plot and twists are well crafted and keep the reader guessing right up to the end.

Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Crooked Lane Books for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.


View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews