Thursday, December 27, 2012

read: The Inexplicables (3.5 stars)

The Inexplicables (The Clockwork Century, #5)The Inexplicables by Cherie Priest
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I really, really wanted to like this book. I've been waiting for Cherie Priest to set another story in the messed up version of Seattle she created in Boneshaker, but she's only teased with dribs and drabs in other books. Finally, she's back in the Emerald City (now a putrid shade of yellow in the Boneshaker universe). But I was a bit disappointed. I'm giving this one three and half stars (but Goodreads won't let me add fractions).

Four stars once again for setting and characters and imagination. Also four stars for readability. But I'm marking this down a bit for the story itself. It just never quite clicked for me. Ms. Priest warned her followers that we might not like Rector "Wreck-em" Sherman, but that isn't really the problem for me. My issue is with his story. I never quite felt like he really had anything on the line. Sure, he had no skills and nowhere to go when he gets kicked out of the orphanage. And he's a bit mentally unstable. But once he's inside the walls of the ruined city and nursed back to health, things seemed to bog down. I felt like the only point of the story was to give him/us a tour of the city and bide time until something interesting happens. The stakes aren't really raised until Act 3 and then everything is quickly resolved. I expected more story, maybe some deeper foreshadowing. And why was such a big deal made of Rector's nickname, when nobody calls him "Wreck-em"?

All-in-all, I did enjoy reading the book and look forward to the next one in the series.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

read: One Shot (4 stars)

One Shot (Jack Reacher, #9)One Shot by Lee Child
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very solid action thriller with some good mystery elements. I'm glad I read this before the film came out. I'm not sure why everyone is getting so hung up on Jack Reacher's size in contrast to Tom Cruise. Most of what makes Reacher unique is his attitude and skill set, not his size. He's a cop, almost a cop-machine. And he's nigh unstoppable, when he's motivated.

In this book, he's definitely motivated. And as usual, he's motivated by his sense of justice. What also stands out for me is the author's style. Direct. Precise. Efficient. Sort of like Reacher. I actually saw the ultimate destination of the story from the very beginning. It is a story afterall. I didn't have all the details, but I had the gist. But the unfolding of the story and the skill in telling it still made it a very enjoyable read. Recommended.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

read: Frozen Heat (3 stars)

Frozen Heat (Nikki Heat, #4)Frozen Heat by Richard Castle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The latest tie-in novel for the Castle television show is pretty much exactly what you expect a tie-in to be. Therein lies my growing complaint.

While the stories and writing are pretty good, and this plot is (ultimately) one of the best so far, I am tiring of the Mary-Sue of it all. The 'real' Rick Castle would never write this book. In retrospect, he would have never written any of the Nikki Heat books. They are too on-the-nose reflections of his (fictional) life. These are books about Castle, rather than by (Richard) Castle.

The first two-thirds of the book moved pretty slow for me. Either it's chock full of too many introductions and traveling about, or I was just impatient. Either way, it seemed like it took forever to get through. But then things picked up and I liked how they wrapped things up.

Summary: Almost 4-stars for overall writing and plot. Marks off for some boring bits and for Mary-Sue (Ricky-Sue?).

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

read: Stories: All-New Tales (3 stars)

Stories: All-New TalesStories: All-New Tales by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was just getting into Neil Gaiman when this was announced and had to have it. It had to be good. Right? Eh.

Neil's contribution was pretty good, as were a couple others. A few stories were real clinkers. The rest pretty average. There are some big names here. I expected better.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

read: Talking About Detective Fiction (4 stars)

Talking About Detective FictionTalking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this slim volume, the author has a bit of a chat with us about the state of detective fiction. Her perspective is distinctly British, and rooted in the middle of the 20th century, but that doesn't mean her observations aren't keen or widely applicable or out of step with modern readers and authors. On the contrary, from this elder stateswomen of detective writing we gain perspective, depth and understanding about the past, present and future of the genre.

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read: "A Spark of Death" (4 stars)

A Spark of Death: A Professor Bradshaw MysteryA Spark of Death: A Professor Bradshaw Mystery by Bernadette Pajer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Entertaining and winsome debut mystery novel centered around the early days of electricity, which was itself considered a mystery at the time. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The historical and geographical setting of Seattle at the turn of the previous century was well crafted. It was obvious that everything was well researched, without the reader being hit over the head with it. The mystery was nicely plotted and characters clearly defined. I didn't figure out whodunnit until it was revealed.

While the writing was engaging, overall, I found it to be somewhat flat and repetative. Yes, we're in a mystery and, no, the protagonist still hasn't figured it out. But why are we spending what feels like a fourth of the novel rehashing motives and alibis for everyone? I feel like more could have been done to round out and deepen the characters and settings even more.

I liked spending time with Professor Bradshaw and the folks in old tyme Seattle. An extra star for the use of setting, science, and an engineer protagonist. I look forward to reading more books in the series.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

read: Formic Wars: Burning Earth (3 stars)

Formic Wars: Burning EarthFormic Wars: Burning Earth by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Enjoyable addition to the Ender saga by Orson Scott Card. It's been a while since I last read Ender's Game, so I did not spot the plot discrepencies that others have pointed out. What did bother me was how matter-of-factly the characters in this book dealt with First Contact. I think there should have been a bit more debate even among the adventurous, though stoic, miners. On the up side, the story was exciting and the art was effective.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

read: Luther: The Calling (4 stars)

Luther: The CallingLuther: The Calling by Neil Cross

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hard-boiled. That's what they used to call this sort of thing. I guess they still do. In any event, this is hard-boiled, even brutal, detective fiction. Sparse, hard-hitting prose. Gritty, realistic characters and settings. Bad, bad, bad guys. Basically decent, but driven cops that sometimes cross the line in order to get the bad guys and protect the innocent. Classic hard-boiled.

DCI (that's Detective Chief Inspector - this is a British novel, through and through) John Luther first came to life as a television character for the BBC. This novel, written by the show's creator and writer, is a prequel to the series, showing that the detective was just as driven, just as brilliant, before those episodes. It also shows a man tormented to the point that he cannot sleep and he can no longer connect with his wife. He is a driven man. Driven to use his powers of deduction and insight to find a serial killer. A killer that is stealing children for purposes that are beyond the imaginings of even DCI Luther. From page one you know he will not let up until he tracks down the fiend. Until the last page you do not know if he will succeed or destroy himself trying. Or perhaps both.

This is top-flight writing. As I said above, the prose is sparse and hard hitting and will keep you turning pages. Not a book for the squeamish. It's written in the present tense, which adds to the immediacy and probably reflects its origins in television. Highly recommended for those that can take it.

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

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Monday, October 1, 2012

"Looper" [A]

Looper is the type of science fiction film, heck it's the type of film period, that gets you thinking and talking about what you saw. It compels you to try to make sense of it, not just the science-baloney of it, which is obviously impossible and implausible, while remaining fun and thought-provoking. But it also makes you think about what the characters were going through and the decisions they were making in order to try and make sense of their motivations and actions. You don't walk out of it just satisfied with having been a spectator at a spectacle.

It isn't all talk, however. There is plenty of spectacle here. From gritty, gun-dominated streets (a la Resevoir Dogs, Robocop or Drive) to the futuristic, yet recognizable technology (the cell phones look even more cool, but still work like crap), it's all blended together with jaw-dropping writing, directing, and acting. One odd note comes in the form of the contortions performed on Joseph Gordon-Levitt's face to make him seem like a younger Bruce Willis. It's not any more convincing than probably half that much would have been and it's often just distracting.

This is a film I can recommend to anyone that can look past the gut-wrenching violence and find the lost souls within.

Looper (IMDb)

"Crazy, Stupid, Love" [C+]

While I was watching this movie, I was laughing. I thought I was enjoying it. But now that it's over, I have a hard time giving it more than grudging acceptance that maybe it was funny for those two hours. I think this is a little like the way the characters feel about their love lives. They think they're enjoying it, but if they think about it a little deeper they discover that what they have is not love, but lust (even for those yearning for monogamy) and self-centeredness. These love stories are not about giving, but getting.

Yes, there is good writing here (I was laughing, remember?). And there is some good acting and directing. These all lift "Crazy, Stupid, Love" above being a complete waste of time (like some recent rom-coms that seem to think that comedy is all about four letter words, prat falls, and potty mouth) and make it potentially very sweet and intelligent. I'm not sure where it really falls down (one big misstep is when the 17-year-old baby sitter decides it's OK to give the 13-year-old boy nude photos of herself to feed his unrequited obsession with her - huh?). All I know is that when all is said and done I am not convinced that anyone in this film is destined to live a truly happy life.

Crazy, Stupid, Love (IMDb)

Friday, September 28, 2012

read: Nerd Do Well (3 stars)

Nerd Do WellNerd Do Well by Simon Pegg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My attraction to this book began with the title. How could I resist the offerings of a fellow nerd? The jacket blurb further cemented my need to read it, invoking and evoking love for the same cross-section of science fiction and adventure genre films that I crave. It was instantly on my to-be-read (someday) list. That day came when it showed up on the display shelf of the local library and I snatched it up without thinking if I could even find the time to read right now. I couldn't. But I did anyway, in fits and starts.

Reading about Pegg's life in fits and starts seems fitting, since that is how he seems to have lived it and also how he writes about it. Mixed in with the non-chronological memoir of how he came to be a genre (not-quite-super) star are some oddly personal (considering he didn't want this book to be too personal) moments (TMI) and alternating chapters of an intentionally badly-written adventure story starring a fictional Pegg. These are the parts I skipped.

The parts I enjoyed (for the most part) describe his love of science fiction and TV and film and especially science fiction TV and films (Star Trek and Star Wars), how he managed to get an education in drama almost in spite of himself and then almost as accidentally parlay that into an actual career.

The writing is servicable and sometimes funny. His insights into genre films (especially his reactions to the various incarnations of Star Wars) and how they are made make the book palatable (I would have liked much more of this). The rest of the book is a hodge podge, like he couldn't quite decide what to focus on.

You may like (parts of) this book if you are a Star Wars or Star Trek fan. The rest of you can give it a pass.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Recount" [B]

Very well done television movie of the debacle that was the Florida Presidential election of 2000. All star cast, well plotted, well directed, probably some invented drama and time compression. But I remember the actual events being just as dramatic for the time.

Recount (IMDb)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

read: Under the Volcano (3 stars)

Under the VolcanoUnder the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There. I finished it. I almost didn't. Portions of this book are so disjointed and stream-of-drunkenness and opaque that I often thought of putting it down. But I felt like I'd made a commitment to my book club, the same commitment that caused me to start reading this in the first place, so I pushed on through and finished it. If I were to rate this book on overall readability, I would probably only give it 2 of 5 stars.

On the otherhand, those same troublesome passages are part of the art of this book. It is full of the writer's art. From the construction of the plot, such as it is, to the characters, rich and alive, to the settings, true and vibrant, the book engages and challenges the reader at every turn. That is why casual readers may turn away, mystified by the hype. That is why some readers insist it is one of the great works of literature, thereby creating, intentionally or unintentionally, that very same hype. On art alone, I would give this 4 out of 5 stars. I would not give it 5, because it does fail to engage so many readers.

On a personal note, I can't decide if reading this at a more leisurely pace would have made it more or less frustrating. Perhaps the same passages that I rushed through because they made no sense would have been even more incomprehensible with more time analyze.

This is definitely not a fast food book. One might call it literary. That doesn't make it bad or snooty. Just challenging. For now I give it 3 stars (average of 2 and 4).

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

read: Cinder (4 stars)

Cinder (Lunar Chronicles, #1)Cinder by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was fun. And I give it four stars for being such an awesome idea (Cinderella as a future cyborg!), having interesting characters, and a decent enough story pretty decently told. But what could have been a five star book, gets at least one star knocked off because it left me wanting more. Not in the sense of more story. That's obviously coming in future volumes and this one has an ending that is not gratuitously incomplete.

No, I wanted more about Cinder as a cyborg. Why does society and her stepmother brand her as such an outcast? Where are the other cyborgs? Are they also outcasts? If this going to be a major issue for the main character, than it needs to be explored so I can understand it. Otherwise, it just seems thrown in as something the story needed.

I also wanted more about this future where there are emperors, queens, princes and lost princesses. What social upheavals resulted in governments reverting to a form of monarcy? This seems counter to the evolution of society toward democracy, unless hindered by a tyrant. This element would have felt more natural if it involved some form of aristocracy that didn't involve actual monarchs.

I also wanted to know more about the plague, and the lunars, and the bazaar, and New Beijing, and... Too much here just seems tossed in to give the story the impression of inhabiting a rich and varied world. But the world building left me unsatisfied.

On the other hand. Good prose. Good characters. Fun story. I look forward to the next book.
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Saturday, August 11, 2012

read: Get Known Before the Book Deal (4 stars)

Get Known Before the Book Deal: Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author PlatformGet Known Before the Book Deal: Use Your Personal Strengths to Grow an Author Platform by Christina Katz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I heard Christina speak at a writing conference and liked her overall approach and attitude. This book is a thoughtful and thorough study of what a writer's "platform" is and how to have one, even before you've sold your first book. I picked up several tips that I will start using to ramp up my platform presence and identity while I'm still toiling away at learning craft.

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

"The Amazing Spider-Man" [B+]

This gets extra points for having real actors and a real script. The effects were pretty well done, too. It gets marked down for having to re-visit the origin again. Why can't we start getting some superhero movies that just pick up where things were, or even in the middle. Time passes. We don't have to keep reinventing the same hero, over and over, do we? Also not quite convinced of the chemistry between Peter and Gwen. Why, exactly, does she like him?

The Amazing Spider-Man (IMDb)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

"The Dark Night Rises" [B+]

It took a while for this film to build up a head of steam. But once it did, there was no stopping it. Every plot point and character was pushed to the limit and beyond in order to get to the labyrinthian end.

The writing and directing and acting were all decently done. The effects sequences were out of this world. On the other hand, the holding-the-entire-city-for-ransom was a bit overbaked and I've never really liked Bane as a villain. (spoiler alert) There's always somebody holding his chain.

All-in-all a very entertaining couple of hours (plus 30 minutes of filler) and a fitting conclusion to this volume of the Dark Knight saga. So, will we see Robin or Nightwing in the next installment?

The Dark Knight Rises (IMDb)

read: The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (3 stars)

The Information: A History, a Theory, a FloodThe Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was not what I was expecting. From the description given during our book club meeting and the bits of blurb I read, I thought this would be about the flood of information coming our way via the information superhighway. And maybe it would have some thoughts on how to deal with it.

Instead, this tells the history of Information, rather than the information superhighway (although it does include a bit about how we got the latter and what it may mean). And by history, I mean back to the days before writing. It is a very long, and often interesting, tale about the evolution of writing and human thought from the earliest days to the present.

The earlier parts of the book work better than the latter. This may be partially due to being more grounded in technology that is accessible to most people: speaking, writing, telegraph, telephone. Here the sidebars are easy to access and forgive. Later on, the subjects become deeper, more theoretical and harder to follow. I found myself wishing the author would stay more focused and help me understand it better, rather than telling more anecdotes about the scholars and scientists. Even so, I found the book to be thought provoking, although not provocative.

If you ever saw the BBC television show Connections with James Burke, this will seem familiar. If you haven't see that show, but like this book, go and find the show. You will likely find it informative and entertaining.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

read: Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas (3 stars)

Redshirts: A Novel with Three CodasRedshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, that was fun. If that sounds like faint praise, it might be. I'd been anticipating this book ever since I heard Mr. Scalzi read the prolog during his tour for Fuzzy Nation. Perhaps I pushed my expectations for it too high. Even so, it was fun.

In case you can't tell from the title, or haven't bothered to read the backcover blurb, this is a book about the phenomenon of the high mortality rate among low-ranking starship crew members during away missions. When Mr. Scalzi read the aforementioned prolog and asked the audience to guess at the title, the almost unanimous response was "Red Shirt" (if you still don't get it, watch an episode of Star Trek with the original crew).

This story is told from the viewpoint of the low ranked crew and the lengths they go to in order to avoid assignment to away missions or being stationed on decks that always seem to get opened into space during battle. What they discover about their situation and how they choose to deal with it came as a bit of surprise and a bit of a disaappointment. I'd hoped for a different direction. But decided to go along for the ride and mostly enjoyed it.

What works in this book is the fast pace and snarky, inside-joke humor. If you get a joke, you're grinning. If you don't, another is coming right up. What doesn't completely work (although I couldn't put my finger on it at first), is that same fast pace. It focuses on dialog and moving the plot along, at the expense of description and introspection. The characters are often difficult to distinguish (you have to remember their names) and scenes take place in featureless voids.

Even so, it was fun. I wish I could give it another half of a star.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Brave" [B+]

Brave is a romping, entertaining blend of a Disney princess movie with an offbeat Pixar movie. The core story is about the preciousness of family and the need to really communicate with each other. Thankfully, that heavy message is delivered in a blaze of farce and drama that can captivate both children and adults.

Brave (IMDb)

Monday, June 18, 2012

"Prometheus" [B+]

It takes a certain amount of discipline for a science fiction story to refrain from attempting to answer every question it raises. Such discipline is found here in the screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelhof and the directing of Ridley Scott. This same discipline is seen the stunning acting exhibited by every cast member and by the effects wizards that bring the alien creatures and planets to life.

Prometheus is creepy and disturbing in many of the same ways as its cousin, Alien. Yet, this is deliberately its own film, a bit brighter and more epic, as well as less claustrophobic. One hopes that the ending points to more entries in the saga.

Prometheus (IMDb)

"Water for Elephants" [B]

I had fairly high hopes for this film. I like the book on which it's based quite a bit. But the film, like the book, has both faults and virtues. In some ways, the two mediums wind up swapping faults and virtues.

One of the faults of the book was its structure. It included a framing story that broke up the main narrative and came across as a extraneous and cheesy. The film alters this part of the storytelling and reduces it to a brief prolog and coda. This works well and allows the script, the overall directing, and the art direction to empasize the circus and the period and the gritty reality of it all. These were also strenghts of the book, once the reader got past the other stuff.

On the other hand, the book was filled with great characters, all wonderfully cast by the reader's imagination. The film made a huge casting mistake for its two leads. They have no real chemistry and neither fits the part they are playing, resulting in some very disappointing scenes. It's also unfortunate that the realities of film reduced many of the interesting supporting characters to mere sketches. The one exception is the role of August, the ringmaster, who is both wonderfully cast and wonderfully played.

On the whole, this is a pleasant film, fun to watch for the period details and circus trivia. Readers of the book will be both delighted and disappointed.

Water for Elephants (IMDb)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"The Avengers" [A]

Absolutely one of the best superhero films, ever. It's even pretty interesting from the whole standpoint of collected fantastic science fiction (alien invaders, super suits, mutants, etc.). I will definitely want to watch this one again to see what I missed the first time, so much was going on.

The Avengers (IMDb)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Tucker and Dale vs Evil" [B-]

There are some good laughs in this film. The writing is a bit on the sparse side. There is essentially one joke, and it has to be stretched and seen from several angles in order to result in a feature-length film. The directing is decently done. The acting is, for the most part, passable for this type of film. Lines are delivered without too much stiffness and scenery is chewed, when necessary. A decent entertainment when humorous horror is needed.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (IMDb)

Monday, June 11, 2012

read: The Conviction (4 stars)

The Conviction: A NovelThe Conviction: A Novel by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another top-notch thriller from Robert Dugoni. Just when you think nothing worse can happen to David Sloane, Dugoni turns up the heat again.

This time, Sloane and his stepson Jake head into the backwoods of Northern California for some father-son time. Sloane hopes he can find a way to connect with Jake, who's spiraling into more and more trouble, before it's too late. They are joining Sloane's old friend, detective Tom Molia (The Jury Master), and his son TJ. But Jake quickly finds a way to get himself and TJ into real trouble with the local law and with Judge Earl Boykin, a modern version of Judge Roy Bean.

When Sloane and Molia discover the boys have been sentenced to the detention camp Fresh Start, without benefit of legal or parental representation, they protest. But their pleas fall on deaf ears and they find themselves in legal hot water as well. Sloane rallies the troops and starts digging into the backgrounds of the judge, the camp, and the bigshot in town, Victor Dillon. Of course, their poking around only turns up the heat on both them and the boys. Pretty soon a legal pickle turns into a fight for their lives.

The action never lets up. The writing is relentlessly clear and precisely paced, with tangible settings. The situations are unbelievably believable and populated with an unpalatable cast of great characters, from the egotistical judge to the sadistic head guard to the quietly helpful locals. This is a book that is hard to put down. Once you pick it up, you have to read it to the end.

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

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

"Men in Black 3" [B]

I'm rating this third entry above average only because I thought it was fun. Like the others, if you think about it too much it makes no sense at all. I'm not sure it even fits in with the continuity of the first film. And time travel as a plot device is an easy out and hard to get right.

Men In Black 3 (IMDb)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

read: The Sandman: World's End (4 stars)

Worlds' End (The Sandman, #8)The Sandman: Worlds' End by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another set of imaginative stories from the mind of Neil Gaiman. These are only loosely connected with the Sandman universe, but bring together several different traditions.

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Sunday, June 3, 2012

read: Wallflower in Bloom (3 stars)

Wallflower in Bloom: A NovelWallflower in Bloom: A Novel by Claire Cook
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Don't look at me like that. Sure, 3 stars means I did like this book, and I'm not even in the target demographic (a bit too male). I'm allowed to read something different once in a while. And enjoy it. So there. Besides, I like Dancing with the Stars.

What worked for me: The deadpan voice of the first-person narrator. Given her messed up personal situation and her hapless reactions, she could have some across as whining. By keeping her reasonably level-headed, the author makes it possible for us to stick with her. And by not making her too empowered or snarky, we don't get put off, either. Beyond that, the prose, dialog, settings, and descriptions are all first-rate. There is nothing to complain about in terms of basic writing skills.
What didn't really work for me, once it occurred to me, is believing that this powerful, effective personal assistant for a popular pop figure is so easily reduced to a hapless, clueless shlub. I was also put off by the completely inane relationship she has with her brother and the rest of her family. Sure, this is the source of conflict for the story. But this is one of those conflicts that could be resolved in about two minutes if just one of the participants would act like a grown up, instead of a thirteen-year-old.
As for all of the rigmarole dealing with Dancing with the Stars and Hollywood: this is reasonably believable and mostly fun. In some ways, I wish it could have been richer. Just as it all seemed to get rolling, everything is resolved. This is perhaps due to the short length of the book. I read it in only a few hours, spread over several days. This will be a fun beach read for those in its target audience. As for the rest of us, you may like it, too (especially if you are a DWTS fan, like me).

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

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

read: The Devil's Gold (3 stars)

The Devil's Gold (Short Story)The Devil's Gold by Steve Berry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Decent short thriller about Nazis, South America, and over-the-top speculations.

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read: A Brewing Storm (3 stars)

A Brewing Storm (Derrick Storm, #1)A Brewing Storm by Richard Castle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pot boiler thriller short story that is supposed to exemplify how Richard Castle became a celebrated and best-selling (albeit fictional) author. Adequately over-the-top and predictable.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

read: The Fallen (3 stars)

The FallenThe Fallen by T. Jefferson Parker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fairly pleasant police procedural set in San Diego, California. The twist of having the protagonist detective be affected with the psychological disorder of being able to see the emotions behind people's words was oddly dispensible. Such an interesting quirk could have been much more integral to the plot.

Otherwise, the writing was top-notch. Characters were distinct and well developed (except several of upper-level cops that sort of mushed together). Settings were sometimes nicely done, other times irrelevent. The plot kept me guessing until the very end, along with the detectives.
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Saturday, May 26, 2012

"J. Edgar" [C]

I didn't much care for this film. Perhaps part of the problem was trying to watch it on an 8" screen on the back of an airline seat. It was just too dim, too fragmented, too uninvolving for that environment. Even so, this was a film I wanted to see and if it was good, it would have held my attention and kept me awake. It just never quite grabbed me.

J. Edgar (IMDb)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

read: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (4 stars)

Harry Potter and the PrisonHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter, #3)er of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still working my way through this fascinating series. This volume was not quite as good as the previous, but still good enough to keep my attention during a very long flight to Europe.
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Thursday, May 17, 2012

"Larry Crowne" [B]

This turned out to be exactly the pleasant little film that I expected it to be. Sometimes you want to see a story about pleasant people with realistic problems and you want to see them work them through. This is a feel-good movie that actually made me feel good. It's sad and funny and thoughtful. It makes you applaud second chances.

Larry Crown (IMDb)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

read: Glamour in Glass (4 stars)

Glamour in GlassGlamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another enjoyable read from Mary Robinette Kowal. Like Shades of Milk and Honey, I wouldn't usually find myself attracted a story set in the Regency period, with all of the preaning society and fussing over propriety and fashion and such. I would much rather read books with action, maybe with spies and science fiction. But I enjoyed the first book of the series and felt like I was invested in it, so onward!

Happily, not only does this book deliver on the period details and characters, it also brings in some action and spies, and takes the fantasy almost into science fiction (Jane comes up with the idea of capturing the effects of glamour/magic in glass, hence the title).

Napolean is in exile and peace has broken out on the continent. The recently married Jane and Vincent head for Belgium to spend time with his glamour mentor. This gives Jane a new set of societal, political and personal problems to navigate. Then Napolean goes on the move again and things heat up.

The writing is top-notch. The author has a deft touch with character and dialog. Settings are distinct and vivid. I'm looking forward to the next book.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

"The Hunger Games" [A-]

This is one of those films that gets a high grade not because it's a pleasant experience, but because it does its job so well. This is the story of an America gone wrong. After an only partly explained cataclysm and war, the future USA is ruled by the technological haves. One way they have of keeping the apparently rebellious have-nots in line (part of a decades-old negotiated peace) is to have them submit two teenagers to an annual fight to the death. One of this years' participants is the unconventional Katniss.
Katniss' story is well told. The settings and other characters are appropriately evocative and provocative. Arguments can be made about whether the film is promoting violence or speaking against it. Thankfully, most of the actual gore is kept off screen, allowing us to focus on Katniss and her predicament. If you've read the book, the film is a fine adaptation. If you have not read the book, you may want to, in order to gain more insight into Katniss and her situation. Or you may not. Either way, I think the film is worth seeing, if for no other reason than to gain some clue about the phenomenon of The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games (IMDb)

"Johnny English Reborn" [B-]

This is a fairly amusing addition to the Johnny English franchise. I thought the original had more energy and humor. This one had only a few outright laughs. There were plenty of well done moments and some good running gags. The story seemed to have greater potential than the final result.

Johnny English Reborn (IMDb)

read: Being Geek: The Software Developer's Career Handbook (4 stars)

Being Geek: The Software Developer's Career HandbookBeing Geek: The Software Developer's Career Handbook by Michael Lopp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Michael Lopp is the person behind the blog 'Rands in Repose', which explains the blog-like feel of this book. It may be presented as if it's a coherent guide to a career in the software industry. But it's clearly just an edited collection of articles on topics related to career, career management, and a management career. This is not really a weakness, but it's not always a strength, either. The book sometimes lacks flow.

A bigger weakness is that few of the articles really lead to any conclusion. Most will get you thinking about your own career or situation. This is good. Some also make solid suggestions for how be successful. This is better. But not all do. And even those that do are most relevent within the specific context of California's Silicon Valley during the first decade or so of the 21st century. In an industry that's always changing, career management is just as volatile.
The strength of the book comes in the voice of the author, Michael Lopp or Rands. He strikes a friendly, beleaguered tone that helps the reader identify with the situations and with the nuggets of advice being offered. Even though the advice is often more implied than spoonfed, I think most software developers will find something in here to help them in their working life, whether they are an individual contributor or a manager (or on their way to being a manager). Just read with a your own good judgement intact and use the articles as jumping off points for personal reflection.
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Saturday, April 14, 2012

read: County Line (3 stars)

County LineCounty Line by Bill Cameron

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is two books in one. The one I enjoyed the most is the taut, bare-knuckled adventure of 'Skin' Kadash as he searches Portland, San Francisco, and a small Ohio town for the woman he has decided he loves. While he was recuperating from another adventure, she has taken off for parts unknown, for reasons unknown, and has not returned as quickly as she led her friends to believe. He knows he has to track her down. Along the way, there are murders, attempted murders, brawls, and scant clues.

Compressed between the two halves of this thriller is another story. This one about the confused teenage version of Ruby Jane-the woman Kadash loves. She's in and out of trouble. Fighting to make her way through life against the odds. In a way, this backstory is what drives the rest, but I found it mostly a distraction. The style is different. The tone is different. And I wasn't invested enough in her to stick with it. I skimmed through and got the gist of it.

The writing was pretty good. The characters and settings well presented. The mystery was OK. What knocked this book down from 4 to 3 stars was the weak center section.

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

"The Ides of March" [B-]

I'm not sure why I had such high hopes and expectations for this film. It does have a fine cast and garnered plenty of good reviews and award nominations. But a talky, morality play about politics is not a riveting way to spend a quiet evening. Especially when it's heavy on the play (as in speeches) and light on the morality (as in nobody seems to have any).

The writing, acting, and directing are very well done. The problem is that there does not seem to be a genuine heart and soul for the viewer to identify with. What's left is cold and hollow. One joy is watching Ryan Gosling do almost as much driving and brooding here as he does in the grittier Drive (which I liked more).

The Ides of March (IMDb)

"Skyline" [C+]

This is an old-fashioned monster-fest. It was fun to watch. A cotery of vapid friends party. When they wake up, all-powerful aliens are landing and taking everyone in the city away, using mysterious blue lights. Eventually, survivors of both the party and the initial landing have to dig deep and take on the aliens face-to-face and hand-to-hand, and we get a few hints of what both are made of.

What works: The visual and sound effects are pretty amazing. There is non-stop rampaging in and above the streets of Los Angeles. The alien monsters are appropriately monsterous and mysterious. What do they want? All the budget seems to have been spent on effects.

Not so much: the writing and acting are wooden. There is much posturing and arguing about staying or leaving. The aliens and their technology and biology are completely unexplored, even though it seems to be a key piece of their motivation for invading earth. Of course, both their techology and biology would probably not hold up under any sort of scrutiny.

I liked this more than I expected. With a little more attention paid to the script and a slightly higher caliber cast, it could have been a better version of Tom Cruise's ponderous remake of War of the Worlds.

Skyline (IMDb)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

read: Alice Cooper, Golf Monster (3 stars)

Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: A Rock 'n' Roller's 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf AddictAlice Cooper, Golf Monster: A Rock 'n' Roller's 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf Addict by Alice Cooper

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It might help to already be a fan of Alice Cooper before you read this book. Or maybe you're curious about who he is and have a high tolerance for golf. Or maybe you really like golf and can't believe a guy named Alice does, too. Otherwise, there may not be enough here to keep you interested until the end. Personally, all three apply and I liked it.

This is a light, easyily read, personality book. It's all Alice all the time, written from the perspective of a man who's found himself (as well as Jesus Christ) and is comfortable with that. His co-writers make it all easy to digest, although they do let the narrative meander quite a bit. The presentation is more topical than chronological and sometimes it's not clear what time period is being discussed.

If you already know a bit about Alice, there are probably not too many surprises here. If you don't, there are probably only the obvious surprises.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

"John Carter" [B+]

This should be a blockbuster. I don't understand why it isn't doing better business. It's quite well done, a bunch of fun, and a more compelling story than many more successful critical busts like Transformers 2 and 3.

It's been a while since I read the book on which this based, so I can't really tell where the details might vary from the original story. If it does, it's not by much. They major characters and plot points are there. I was afraid from the previews that it would all be CGI with a few live actors. But there were many live actors and the CGI was very well done. The acting (both live and animated) worked for me. The spectacle was spectacular. There is even some substance involving the meaning of honor.

John Carter (IMDb)

Monday, March 19, 2012

read: The Inside Ring (3 stars)

The Inside Ring (Joe DeMarco, #1)The Inside Ring by Mike Lawson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Calling this book a thriller isn't quite right. It starts off with a bang. That's for sure. The President is shot. The man next to him is killed. Did someone on the 'inside ring' of his protection detail set him up? Will there be another attempt? There are plenty of questions. The problem is that for a long time all we have are questions. What is in short supply are thrills and suspense.

We meet some interesting characters. We're treated to a tour of some Washington D.C. sites and offices. We get some hints at some odd connections. Leads turn into dead ends with more unanswered questions. We get some threats, but they seem vague and toothless. We get a lot of background on Joe Demarco, our protagonist. But for a long time it felt like the story was adrift. There was no ticking clock. I didn't feel any suspense or imminent threat. Where were the thrills? I almost gave up.

It didn't help that some of the prose feels a little wooden. Chapters start with a seemingly obligatory description of the scene. Characters are introduced with a full description of clothing, hair color, and facial features. But after that, there is a good flow of narrative and dialog. I stuck with the book because it's an easy read and the mysteries are oddly interesting.

The last third of the book finally earns the thriller designation. Demarco starts getting some answers, starts getting his butt kicked, and starts fighting back. The reader gets their thrills. I look forward to reading more about the adventures of Joe Demarco, but I hope they are a bit more uniformly thrilling.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Thrill of Clocks

I'm no expert about writing (yet). But I know what I like when I'm reading. And when I'm reading a thriller, I want thrills. I want to be forced to turn the page to find out what happens next.

Compare and contrast two recent reads, both thrillers set in Washington, D.C. What did one have that made me remark that it had 'a tight plot with page-turning suspense' and the other (which I have yet to finish) feel like it's almost a chore to keep plowing through? Both stories involve conspiracies that the protagonist has to unravel. Yet one was riveting and the other feels limp. As I said, I'm no expert, but one thing that seems to be missing from the second book is the almighty ticking clock.

In the first book, the ticking clock is the revelation that a terrorist attack is imminent. At first the protagonist and the reader are in the dark about the who, what, where, when and why. We just know it is very bad and it is coming soon. As the mystery is unraveled, the threat becomes more dire and the timetable shorter and shorter. The clock is ticking.

In the second book, there is no ticking clock (at least not in the first half of the story). And there is no imminent threat. There is an assassination attempt on the President in the first chapter. But after that there is only mystery. We already know the what, where and when. We are even given a purported who and why. We are now supposed to care that the who and the why are probably red herrings and a larger conspiracy is at work. But why should we? I'm halfway through the story and all we have are vague threats and inconclusive clues. There is no ticking clock or burning fuse evident. The danger is past. The thrill is gone. It remains to be seen if the suspense and action will ramp up in the second half.

I see now that the thriller I am working on needs a ticking clock. It has a bang up opening, like the second story above. But all it has after that (so far) is a mystery (like the second story). I know there is an imminent threat. I need to make sure the reader sees it and feels it, too. It does not have to be revealed all at once, there needs to be suspense. But in order to have suspense, they need to see the bomb under the table or the killer lurking in the shadows. They need to be thrilled. Otherwise, I'm writing a mystery and not a thriller.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

"Real Steel" [B+]

Even though this story is full of mechanical men, it's also full of heart. It's about the journey of Charlie and Max, a father and son who need to find themselves and each other.

The journey takes place in the grimy underworld of robot boxing. This is the world populated by gamblers, crooks and lowlifes. It is the world into which Charlie has fallen, due to his losing fight with his personal demons. His newly found son, Max, gleefully follows him into this world in order to play with the wonderful robots, which are essentially huge walking, fighting video games.

Even though the fighters and the situation are completely invented, the story and the characters come across as very real. The near future setting seems simultaeously improbable and inevitable. It is absolutely as believable as it needs to be for the story to work.

"Bridesmaids" [C]

I didn't think this was nearly as funny as it was purported to be.

"The Artist" [B]

I thought I knew what to expect when I went to see this film. It turns out that I did not. Not entirely. Based on all the hoopla and award nominations and wins, I expected more. More story. More wit. More dog tricks.

There was a bit of all that, of course. The film has a lot of charm and a bit of wit. Jean Dujardin does live up to the acting accolades he's received. But the story is pretty predictable, a bit contrived, and awfully repetitive. The directing is mundane.

Even so, this is a very good film. I recommend it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

read: The Last Temptation (3 stars)

The Last TemptationThe Last Temptation by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fantasy Halloween collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Alice Cooper about life, choices, and tempations. A bit too on-the-nose.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

read: Fuzzy Nation (4 stars)

Fuzzy NationFuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Scalzi hits another home run with this easy-reading novel about an exploited planet, a disbarred lawyer, and a race of sentient cats. If the author is to believed, he wrote this 300 page marvel just for fun. This shows through in the breezy tone and quick pace and the fact that this is a reboot of the classic science-fiction tale Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper, from which he borrows the premise and characters.

I recently read (or rather listed to) Little Fuzzy and enjoyed it. It is a sweet story that felt a pretty dated and clunky by modern standards. This book starts with the same premise, yet it is updated with a more modern view of technology, the future and corporate exploitation. It starts with the same characters, yet they are recast for current sensibilities and behave more realistically. The story starts and ends in basically the same place, yet bounces along in a quite different way. It's the same story, but it's not. Somehow it all works.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

read: Iron Lake (4 stars)

Iron Lake (Cork O'Connor, #1)Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very solid mystery novel with elements of a thriller. The setting is a small, frozen town in the Northern corner of Minnesota in Winter and the author makes good use of it. Adding to the regional color are interesting characters and a dollop of Native American culture. The prose is smooth and solid.

The one weak point is the actual story, which remained oddly aloof for quite a while. Things were happening, but only in a vaguely mysterious and threatening way. Bodies were piling up with no actual clues about why. The dénouement felt a stitched together and the motivations of all a bit stereotypical. But that did not detract from this reader's emotional attachment to the characters and satisfaction with the resolution.

I look forward to reading more of the adventures of Cork O'Connor and the denizens of the Iron Range.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

read: The Ghost Brigades (4 stars)

The Ghost Brigades (Old Man's War, #2)The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only reason to allow someone to have this much fun writing a book is so that we can have almost as much fun reading it. I'm sure Mr. Scalzi would disabuse me of the notion that writing a 300+ page novel, and doing it with such skill, should be described using a word usually reserved for leisure and entertainment. But I kind of think he would also agree that creating a world where you can successfully sky dive from space in a unitard and immolate mosquitoes just by thinking about it does fit the definition of fun.

If you like your science fiction filled with mysteries, space ships, nanobots, alien worlds populated by actual aliens, mind transfers, and clones, all populated by intelligent and likable characters, you will like this book. There are a few spots where I caught the characters or narrator doing a science, politics, or philosophy info-dump. But these go by fairly quickly and aren't overly distracting from the actual storytelling.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

read: The Alloy of Law (4 stars)

The Alloy of Law (Mistborn, #4)The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book so much, I am now in a bit of a quandary. Do I yield to the temptation to get my hands on the rest of Mr. Sanderson's vast output and read it (including, especially, the original Mistborn trilogy)? Or do I patiently work my way through the rest of my fiction backlog, allowing myself to pick up the occasional Sanderson tome.

I think I will do the latter, for tomes he does write, in multiple parts. Although this is not one of them. This is a fun, quirky, almost stand-alone thriller novel set in a steampunk, Wild West version of his Mistborn fantasy universe. With great art, the author manages to get the reader up to speed on as much magic and history as they need in order to follow the story. He does this with the story unfolding at full speed--a neat trick.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

read: Canticle (2 stars)

Canticle (Psalms of Isaak, #2)Canticle by Ken Scholes

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm not too happy with this series. There are aspects to it that are very attractive and make me want to read all the way through to the end. I think the author has created a fascinating world filled with fascinating characters and stories. I just wish that he would get out of the way and let the characters and stories come through.

One problem is that there are plenty of hints that there is a lot more going on than meets the eye, but very few of these hints get born out into fulfilled promises. Another problem with this book (that I don't remember from book one Antiphon) is that the fascinating characters spend too much time ruminating, instead of being fascinating. This slows things down even more.

My biggest issue, and I'm still deciding if this is insurmountable, is that there are too many logic problems with the world. This is supposed to be a big world, with many different peoples and thousands of years of history. Yet, they all speak pretty much the same language, using the same stale metaphors in both speaking and the aforementioned ruminating, using the same stagnated (lack of) technology. This cannot be. With that much history, there must be scientific and technological breakthroughs every now and again. There must be bigger cultural differences than the ones we have been shown.

And maybe that's the problem. The author doesn't want to show us. But if there has been some sort of brake put on advancement, at least give us more than a hint of it. Show us the real consequences. Show us the rebels. Show us this big world you've invented. I'm getting impatient.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

"The Descendents" [A-]

What you are thankful for at the end of The Descendents is that Matt King (George Clooney) had to live through that family crisis and not you. The film opens in a hospital room, with Matt's wife in a coma, with just enough misplaced hope to let you connect with the characters before the story starts knocking them down. And hit them it does, over and over, with events and revelations, any one of which would have conceivably curled most men into a blubbering ball on the beach. But Matt sticks with it, sticks with his daughters, takes each hit, not in stride, but as it comes. And in the end there is hope again.

The acting is natural and raw across the board. The directing and editing is simple and patient. The beauty of Hawaii is not featured, but is used effectively as backdrop and buffer for the emotional roller coaster of the story. There is not a false note here. There is love, hate, anger, spitefulness, forgiveness, and hope.

The Descendents (IMDb)

"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" [B+]

This is a spy movie. It is set in a very real 1970s, when phones had cords and even spy cameras had film. The Iron Curtain was up and the cold war was on. You had know way of knowing if the guy working next to you (definitely guy and not gal) was actually working for the other side. This is the world of George Smiley.

Therefore, you will find no car chases, no computer hacking, and no super-micro, multi-function spy gadgetry. What you will find are dead drops, false identities, and interrogations and conversations where you talk for hours to see how if the other guy will trip himself up and reveal a falsehood that will let you nail him as a spy. This is the world of George Smiley.

We've been here before. The original books by John le Carré are masterpieces. The British mini-series starring Sir Alec Guiness was nearly perfect. But it is good to be back. The settings, dialog, directing, and acting are picture perfect and harmonious. What doesn't quite come together is the story. If you don't already know it, you will certainly feel lost along the way. You're sure, in the end, that all the pieces to the puzzle must have been there all along. You just didn't pick them up. This is a grown-up movie and doesn't spoon feed you. This is the world of George Smiley.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (IMDb)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

read: Zombie Spaceship Wasteland (3 stars)

Zombie Spaceship WastelandZombie Spaceship Wasteland by Patton Oswalt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This wasn't quite what I imagined it would be, but it was a pleasant and sometimes amusing collection of stories about modern life, growing up in the suburbs, and becoming a standup comedian.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" [B]

It's difficult to applaud a story in which the characters are treated so horribly and even the morals of the good characters are not always clearly good. But that's how the real world is, is it not? And don't we want stories about interesting people involved in situations that would cause us to run screaming in the other direction? The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo gives all that and more all wrapped up in a package that could be described as a sort of frozen, Swedish (American) film noir. Except only the title character is living a brutish, street-smart life.

The film is enjoyable for those strong characters, great acting, some imaginative storytelling, and top-notch directing and cinematography. I mark it down a little for muddling the mystery plot about the serial killer a bit, muddling the framing story about corporate corruption a lot, and going way over the top with sex scenes (how is this not NC-17?).

I'm not sure if I could choose between this version and the previous Swedish incarnation. Both have their merits and issues.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (IMDb)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

read: Explosive Eighteen (2 stars)

Explosive Eighteen (Stephanie Plum, #18)Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm not a major Stephanie Plum fan, but I enjoyed One for the Money (even though I only gave it two stars) and thought I should check in with her before the movie comes out. This volume has some of the same problems as the first book, and adds a several more.

Stephanie still can't think (or fight) her way out of a paper bag. Why is she still loose on the streets of New Jersey pretending to be a bounty hunter? Why has nobody put a permanent fix on her window to keep killers and assorted others from breaking in to her apartment? Everyone seems to have a gun. Is there some rule in New Jersey that says its OK to carry around a gun and brandish it (even discharge it) without consequence? I guess I'll stay out of Jersey.

The biggest disappointment is the end. After we spend a couple of hundred pages chasing after the usual assortment of oddballs and wondering why everyone is after the photograph, Evanovich throws in some brand new characters and information and resolves the situation in just a chapter or two. Not fair.

On the other hand, I did read all the way to the end and enjoyed some of the journey.

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Saturday, January 7, 2012

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" [B-]

Almost gave this a C+ and then remembered a major character was voiced by Leonard Nimoy and they gave him the choice line "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" and one sound bite used by Bumblebee is "I have always been your friend". The only other highlights for me were the NASA sequences (almost brought to a standstill by a wooden Buzz Aldrin) and John Torturro chewing up the scenery.

The rest was loud, long, and would have been hard to follow if the characters weren't constantly rehashing what was supposed to be happening.

read: Agile Retrospectives (4 stars)

Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams GreatAgile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a good overview of retrospective reviews. It is directed more at someone trying to bootstrap an agile process or fix a broken one. But it can also be useful for someone looking for fresh ingredients to add to a more established situation. The suggested team exercises sometimes come across as a bit more touchy-feely than I (or my team) are comfortable with. And the cheerful tone got a bit tiresome.

On the other hand, all that is exactly what I expected in a book like this. I was able to easily scan through it in an evening, culling the applicable ideas. Now it's just a matter of determining when I can add them into the mix.

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read: Hard Target (3 stars)

Hard TargetHard Target by Howard Gordon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Once again, I have to clarify: Three stars means I (ultimately) liked Hard Target. It had a tight plot with page-turning suspense, realistic situations and settings, and spare writing. Once I connected with the situation and the plight of the characters, it was not easy to put down. That should have gotten it four stars, but I have to knock off a few points.

First, a half point off because I did not immediately feel connected with the protagonist. The author used a prologue to try to get the reader into the situation and define the bad guys. While this might work for a television show (the author is a successful television writer and producer), in this case it seemed more of a distraction. When we meet up with Gideon Davis in chapter one, the reader is wondering why we are spending time with this loser on his way to work, instead of finding the fate of the poor woman in the prologue.

Another half point comes off for all the head hopping. This is the not the first time I've been assaulted by viewpoint roaming from character to character in a thriller. This may be a stylistic choice and most readers might not notice. I find it jarring and distracting when it happens within a single chapter or scene. It just chops things up too much, giving the story the feel of a badly edited movie-of-the-week.

Otherwise, this was a pretty decent read and I can recommend it for anyone looking for some hard action adventure.

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

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Monday, January 2, 2012

"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" [B+]

Don't think too hard about this one. It's "Mission: Impossible". This entry in the series starts off closer to the flavor of the television show, and pretty much maintains that throughout. Certainly there are plot holes you can drive a truck through. The team is out to prevent the megalomaniac from getting the nuclear launch codes that will start Armageddon. In order to do that, there are guards to fool, parties to attend, and gadgets to deploy. It's all done with a good deal of earnest tongue-in-cheek, great stunts and visual effects, and that's exactly why you paid the price of admission.

Word of warning to anyone with a touch of vertigo. You will want to close your eyes during some of the high-rise scenes in Dubai. No, really, you will. I'm not fooling around.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (IMDb)