Friday, August 26, 2011

read: Killing Floor (4 stars)

Killing Floor (Jack Reacher, #1)Killing Floor by Lee Child

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pardon my French, but Jack Reacher is a Grade-A, Number One Badass. He has to be in order to go up against the psychotic, killer slime balls he encounters in the little town of Margrave, Georgia. He's the guy you want on your side in a fight.

The author does a good job of making him a likeable and sympathetic badass, just a guy minding his own business when things go horribly wrong and then go even more horribly wrong. Good thing, because he's the first-person narrator and you spend the entire novel with him. The body count is high when he has to fight back, first to survive, then to exact revenge. Perhaps it's a bit higher than it needs to be. But don't forget that Reacher's foes are psychotic, killer slime balls.

It's all over the top stuff. But it's well written and all seems highly plausible as the story unfolds. It's only afterward that you start thinking, waitaminute whatif...? Wouldn't...? But then you decide not to think about it too much and wonder what sort of trouble Reacher will be finding and fighting next.

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"Cowboys & Aliens" [B]

Does what it says on the tin.

I was glad to see that this actually worked. I was really hoping that Jon Favreau, who did such a good job on Iron Man (and not too bad on the sequel) would be able to pull of this high-concept mash-up. But I was also fearing that it could go horribly wrong.

Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and the other actors all bring life to their characters. The directing, as noted, is spot on. The special effects, including the creepy aliens, are up to par.

On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed in the whole bug-eyed monster approach. Sure, they're aliens, we don't really understand why or how they flew billions of miles across the galaxy to capture our kin and get our gold. But given that they did, I couldn't quite buy into the mindless kidnapper and killer vibe that they were given. It was a bit too retro. I fault the writing, which captured the Modernized Western genre just fine, but didn't do the aliens justice. It also made a muddle of the climax.

Even with its faults, I had a great time.

Cowboys & Aliens (IMDb)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

read: Buried Secrets (4 stars)

Buried Secrets (Nick Heller, #2)Buried Secrets by Joseph Finder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This thriller is about as fine as they get. It has a gripping plot, interesting and distinct characters, unexpected twists, and realistic action. The clock is ticking from the very first page and doesn't let up until the satisfying end.

The author makes some interesting stylistic choices here. The story is told from both the first person and third person limited points of view. But the reader is never confused about why or where they are. The setting is, for the most part, confined to a few locations in the immediate vicinity of Boston. This is unusual for a thriller these days. Most tend to range a bit wider afield. But perhaps it was done this way to emphasize the confined world of the buried girl. It works.

The prose is smooth and easy on the inner ear. The dialog is easy to follow (except for a couple of spots where the back and forth goes on slightly too long without attributions or tags). Chapters are short to emphasize the action, sometimes only a single page. Character and place descriptions are a bit old-school, taking several sentences to tell us about something that many writers are now dashing off with a couple of adjectives and a hand-wave.

This is a great summer read. How long until the next Nick Heller book?

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Monday, August 15, 2011

read: Embassytown (3 stars)

EmbassytownEmbassytown by China MiƩville

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a very ambitious novel and gets high marks for aiming high. On the other hand, it's not very reader-friendly. I mark it down for not doing its job of engaging the reader and drawing them into what seems to be a very interesting world. The reader's appreciation of this book will depend on their tolerance for befuddlement.

The first third is the most frustrating. Since a major theme of the book is language (or, in the case of the Hosts, Language with a capital L), the author dumps the user into an alien landscape using futuristic language with only a few reference points. This would not have been so bad if the reader were also given a story. Instead, we are given a memoir. Or rather, we are given a hodge podge of a bits of memoir by a narrator that we can't quite identify with.

When things finally start happening in the immediate, the book gets a bit more interesting and engaging. Yet I could never quite shake the feeling that I wasn't quite there, in the moment, in the place. Description is fleeting. Dialog is circumspect. Events happen in a jumble.

Is this a literary novel masquerading as a science fiction novel? Or vice versa? It's definitely not a light summertime read.

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