Friday, December 11, 2015

read: Ashley Bell (4 stars)

Ashley BellAshley Bell by Dean Koontz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If the purpose of a book like this is to be unsettling, then Ashley Bell is a big success. I had to set it aside for a time. The descriptions of someone facing brain cancer hit too close to home for me.

When I picked it back up, so did the story, careening forward with a well-told and bizarre tale that seemed to be happening in two completely different worlds. Actually, three worlds, because key portions of the story are told in flashback. The author made it easy to keep track of the timeline, all the various characters and made it all interesting with a deepening mystery for the main character to solve.

This was my first Koontz. It won't be my last.

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

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Friday, October 16, 2015

read: Death Before Decaf (3 stars)

Death Before Decaf (A Java Jive Mystery, #1)Death Before Decaf by Caroline Fardig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm obviously not in the intended demographic for this book: wrong gender and probably too old. Yet I didn't struggle at all reading it through to the end. There was a pretty decent mystery, some suspense and likable characters. The first-person narrator's voice was just snarky enough and never whiny. I think the comparisons being make to Evanovich's Stephanie Plum are pretty apt.

There are some rough patches. Every so often, a sentence would make me go 'huh?'. But it did not stop the story and I moved on. I also thought a few more clues needed to be dropped about actual murderer. They were a bit of a surprise.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised and I can easily recommend this book to anyone in it's intended audience.

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

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read: Failure Is Not An Option (4 stars)

Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and BeyondFailure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond by Gene Kranz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this. As a child of the Space-Age, I grew up with Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. I thought I knew a lot about these programs, but Gene reveals some backstage drama and even some mission peril that I did not previously know about. There were some points where the litany of names became a little tiresome. But the space program was built by real people and they deserve every shout out. Recommended.

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

read: The Scam: A Fox and O'Hare Novel (3 stars)

The Scam: A Fox and O'Hare NovelThe Scam: A Fox and O'Hare Novel by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fun, light and quick read. Though not quite as fun and a little more light than the previous volume in the series. An on the nose call-out in the middle of the book compares events to 'The Sting', 'Ocean's 11' and 'The Thomas Crown Affair', though I would throw in 'Remington Steele' and 'Burn Notice' for the added romantic 'tension' and quick pacing.

You've still got a Federal agent working both sides of the law paired with an art thief who's supposed to be helping her pull cons on behalf of the United States government to nab criminals that are beyond the reach of normal investigations. This time around her combat skills are ramped up to Jason Bourne levels and he's got international connections that are worthy of James Bond. They bring in several of their usual cohorts to scam a casino owner who'd using his gambling operations to help mobsters, pirates and terrorists launder their money.

This paragraph is lifted from my review of the previous book: Just like a television movie, none of the story makes any sense when submitted to any scrutiny. The capers are paper thin. The characters are cardboard flat. Real motivation is missing in action. And yet, like a television movie, it's fast-paced, colorful, and eye-catching.

Pick this up for a read on a plane trip or sitting on the beach and the minutes will fly by.

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

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Authors and Web Sites and Platform, Oh My!

As I mentioned earlier (Dehosted and Rehosted), I had to find a new virtual home for my small amount of personal web site content. The move has given me the opportunity to rethink the content of that site. Up until now, it's been a haphazard collection of widgets and links to my haphazard collection of (so-called) social media outlets: Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Goodreads and BlogSpot (but not yet Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr and Google+), along with a sort of personal profile in bullet-list form.

It turns out, I had already been thinking about what I should be doing with my web site to prepare for promoting my authorly activities, assuming I would buckle down and turn one of my projects into something publishable in the not too distant future. I wanted to at least polish up my bio and weed out the less pertinent tidbits and links.

That still leaves some questions to answer. How does someone who has not published a book create an 'author' web site? What should a writer who has written at least eight unfinished novels (for National Novel Writing Month and in-between) say about their creations? Should I list them? Describe them? Should I be teasing about projects that are in-progress or the worlds I have created for them? Or just wait until I have something finished and at least submitted before doing that? I know I should (and want to) spend more time writing and finishing the stories than producing 'extra' content about them.

Of course, there are plenty of folks out there with opinions on what such a web site should include. I found this one on Creating a Website as an Unpublished Author by Amanda Luedeke pretty insightful. I guess I'll keep it focused on who I am and what might make my work interesting. I'll leave a few clues about the sort of stories I've been writing (maybe super short blurbs about my NaNoWriMo work). Keep the social media links intact. And work harder to keep the blogs active.

Meanwhile, until I get my site settled and a book published, have a look at the web sites (and books!) of some my favorite authors. They give me something to aim at and I'm amazed to actually call several of them friends.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Dehosted and Rehosted

I haven't put much effort into my personal web site in quite a while. There was not much point. I'm not selling anything. I'm horrible at blogging (I have a couple of infrequently updated channels). It was fun to play around with HTML and some layouts and graphics, back in the day. But it was easy to just ignore it. There were plenty of other ways to spend my time and effort (or not).

Then Comcast forced my hand.

Since I use them as my Internet provider, I have been hosting what little content I did have on their free service. It had a somewhat ugly URL (, but that was easily dealt with by simply forwarding my much easier to type domain ( there. They recently decided to discontinue the free hosting. I had to find a new place to host my stuff.

My options:
  1. As a consolation for discontinuing the web hosting service, Comcast gave their subscribers two years of a Pro subscription to Weebly offers drag-and-drop web site construction and a spectrum of features and services.
  2. Add hosting to one of my GoDaddy domain registrations. This would allow me to either upload my existing, but lame, web content or use their web site constructor to create something more interesting. Either way would cost me a little more each month.
  3. Research and find another way to get free, or almost free, hosting. Been there, done that. I'd probably wind up and someplace like (a Weebly competitor) or back at GoDaddy.
For now, I'm going with option #1. Why not? It's paid for (for two years). The functionality seems fairly reasonable. It even takes care of making the site compatible with the smartphone form factor and I can use one of my existing domains for it. The only thing is, I can't just upload my existing site content (just a bunch of HTML). I need to recreate it. I might as well take the opportunity to update what I have and make it more attractive.

More on that in a subsequent post. For now, you can find my new web site (in progress, under construction and all that) at

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

read: Of Noble Family (3 stars)

Of Noble Family (Glamourist Histories, #5)Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've mostly enjoyed this series of novels. A couple of them were very fun and all have been fascinating glimpses into this period of history (knowing full well that the magic changes things up a bit). The big draw that this episode has for me are the intrigues and details about plantation life when slavery was still quite active. The author does a good job of balancing the fine line between historical accuracy and modern sensibilities.

I did knock off a couple of stars. The first one has more to do with me than the book: I'm not in the target audience for the book. This volume swung the pendulum far into the Romance (with a capital R to the 10th power) genre and I cringed at every breathy breath, silently clenched muscle, faint, archaic euphemism and throat clearing.

The second star gets knocked off for the audio performance. While Mary does her usual excellent job. The other actors, while bringing in the island accents that were needed, always seemed insert too ... many ... pauses ... in ... unnecessary ... places. I had to put the Audible player into 1.25x playback mode to avoid losing my sanity.

If you've followed the adventures of Jane and Vincent thus far, you will want to read this closing volume of the series. Otherwise, read one of the other stories (I recommend Glamour in Glass or Valour and Vanity).

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

read: THE Star Wars (3 stars)

The Star WarsThe Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a mess. As such, it is an interesting take on one of the early drafts of what eventually became the Star Wars we all know and love (it took years and many revisions of the story and script to make that film). It's pretty amazing that the author and artists were able to make this into something as semi-coherent as it is. You should only read this if you are a giant Star Wars fan and your little fan-boy heart won't be broken when you see the names of your favorite characters attached to almost unrecognizable new characterizations. I had fun reading it.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

read: The Girl on the Train (4 stars)

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very unsettling and suspenseful story. Written in first-person from the point of view of three female characters, all unreliable narrators, the reader is never certain what is fact and what is a made up. The three men they interact with are also not very reliable. By the middle of the book, it's clear that everyone is a psychological mess and anyone could be responsible for the unfortunate event. In that way, the comparisons with Gone Girl could be fair (I've only seen the film). But thankfully, this book has a completely different twist.

Ultimately, this is a familiar tale. It's just told in a compelling way.

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

read: Empire State (2 stars)

Empire State (Empire State, #1)Empire State by Adam Christopher
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was not the book I thought I was going to get. The reviews and cover blurb advertised alternate history, dimensional rifts, super heroes, gangsters and detectives. It had all those, but the story felt like they'd all been put into a food-processor and roughly chopped together. Nothing fit. There was very little cause and effect and zero character motivation (other than simple survival). It felt a lot like an old comic book or television show where stuff happens because the story needs it to happen. There is no 'why'. Disappointing.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

read: Before Tomorrowland (3 stars)

Before TomorrowlandBefore Tomorrowland by Jeff Jensen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The second half of this book is pretty darn fun. It's full of action and robots and alternate history and fantastic other worlds. It's good setup for the motion picture without giving away anything about that story.

The problem is that the reader is misled into believing they must wade through the first half of the book to get there. And the first half of the book pretty much sucks. One could argue that the first half helps us understand the characters better. Except it doesn't. All it does is bog the reader down with angst, tragedy and opaque mysteries. Better to hit the ground running and invite the reader to tag along. At least let them actually care about the characters. I completely understand folks who gave up.

I'm glad I didn't though. Knowing a bit more back story for the world of Tomorrowland helped me enjoy the film just a little bit more.

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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, February 28, 2015

read: Star Trek: City on the Edge of Forever (4 stars)

Star Trek: Harlan Ellison's City on the Edge of ForeverStar Trek: Harlan Ellison's City on the Edge of Forever by Harlan Ellison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alternate versions of a well-known story are funny things. One is usually drawn to them based on fond memories or the reputation of the original. Yet, the very reason for their existence is that they are different than the original. Here is a good case in point.

COTEOF is often touted as one of the best, or at least a favorite, episode of the original series. It's a rock solid Kirk and Spock adventure, with bonus time travel, WWII, Joan Collins and drugged-out Dr. McCoy. Who needs to mess with that? Apparently, the irascible Ellison, who has repeatedly mourned the changes to his original script.

The differences are many and varied, though the overall plot remains. Which version is better? Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I think the TV producers made the right choice in sending McCoy back, rather than yet-another-Redshirt. And many elements had to be jettisoned due to time and budget constraints. Face it. The finished version of a television show or film cannot be the same as its source material, even if the source is a well-written screenplay. I think both can stand on their own. This version of COTEOF is a worthy addition to the Star Trek universe.

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

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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 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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