Friday, December 22, 2017

read: The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell (4 stars)

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell: A NovelThe Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell: A Novel by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I heard that Robert Dugoni, one of my favorite thriller authors, had a different sort of book coming out, I had to have a look at it, too. The rich characterizations in his plot-driven thrillers have kept me enthralled for many an hour. I figured he could pull off a more character-driven story. He does.

I give this story four stars, which on is supposed to mean "I really liked it" (on my personal scale it means "I would recommend it"). I ultimately did like it. As expected, the characters and settings are richly drawn. The prose is crisp and clear. The dialog and action are realistic. On the other hand, Mr. Dugoni is never kind to his characters and in this character-driven story he's positively brutal. Saying too much about that would ruin the story. Suffice to say that anyone who had to deal with elementary school bullying will be squirming during the early chapters.

As the saying goes, it gets better. Sam and his few friends grow up and cope. Life continues to throw hardship at them and they deal with it. They don't always make the best choices. But they keep going. They wrestle with meaning and faith and love. They have extraordinarily ordinary lives. I do recommend this book.

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

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

read: Lost (And Found) In Space (4 stars)

Lost (And Found) In SpaceLost (And Found) In Space by Angela Cartwright, Bill Mumy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The cover says 'A memoir in photographs'. That's exactly what it is. Light on prose. Abundant with rare photos. And full of memories from the two youngest members of the 'Lost in Space' cast. More than likely, only fans will enjoy this. That's exactly who they wrote it for.

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

read: Travel as a Political Act (4 stars)

Travel as a Political ActTravel as a Political Act by Rick Steves
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rick Steves' thought-provoking ramblings about politics and travel are well summed up by a quote from Mark Twain he includes in the last chapter, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." Don't be narrow-minded. Read this book and consider broadening your views and expanding your tolerance. Travel and meet people you wouldn't normally meet. You don't even have to leave the country (but, if you can, you should).

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

read: Typhoon Fury (4 stars)

Typhoon Fury (The Oregon Files, #12)Typhoon Fury by Clive Cussler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another rip-roaring adventure, well-researched and well-told.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

NaNoWriMo 2017 Ain't Happening

This was my 13th attempt at NaNoWriMo. It is now my 3rd instance of not finishing (see 2009 and 2013). I have mixed feelings about this, as usual. I'm obviously disappointed. This is something I look forward to and boast about and enjoy. Mostly I'm relieved. What are this year's excuses?
  1. I became a grandfather. We spent a week focused on family. As my wife keeps reminding me, I have the best excuse ever.
  2. Statistics don't lie. In previous years, I've hit flat spots in production and had to pull out all the stops (including some 6K and 8K word days) to succeed. But this year, I had a full week of no output. And when I did get back into it, production it was not matching what I needed to push the curve to the top. I was only achieving a normal pace.
  3. Basically, I had 30% of my words and was 60% into the month. That looks like I was halfway there. But look again. I needed to produce 70% of my words in only 40% of the month, with more holidays and family time in the mix. I can write pretty quickly. But I've never been one of the NaNoWriMo overachievers that cranks out 50,000 words (or even 25,000 words in a single week).
  4. The words were not flowing. Even though I was writing in a world I thoroughly enjoy and thought I had a good story concept, that's all it was, a concept. And even that had kept shifting as I did my planning in the previous weeks. I had the protagonist. But no antagonist. I didn't have enough of a specific situation. I tried to write my way into it, like I usually do. But things were not really clicking. And my analytical brain kept me from just doing a worthless word dump (believe me, I tried). Hence, not enough words per day.
  5. Besides the grandfather thing, other life and commitments were piling up and I was getting too stressed out to completely enjoy my writing time. 
On the good side:
  1. I still love the world I was writing in. I will finish this story. This year's NaNo project is the third book in what I think is a trilogy. I do know what basically has to happen. I just need to break down the story better before I write.
  2. My attempt to write my way in revealed holes in my world-building for the entire series that need to get repaired. I will continue to work through that during the rest of the year and then get back into writing production (I promise) after the first of the year.
  3. 10 out of 13 ain't bad, ya know. I read that only 30% of those that attempt NaNoWriMo actually 'win'. I've beaten those odds. And I will again.
So, pass the remote and bring on the turkey. I have some shows to get caught up and some holidays to enjoy. I should get back to the gym, too.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

read: Rogue Wave (4 stars)

Rogue WaveRogue Wave by Boyd Morrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A gripping, enjoyable, disaster-movie read. The author does an admirable job of creating tension and excitement from the very beginning, while holding back enough mystery without making it feel like a cheat. Yes, there are way too many coincidences that keep the main characters in the center of all of the action. But that's what readers want and it all feels plausible. Recommended. But not just before you plan a trip to Hawaii.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

read: The Catcher in the Rye (3 stars)

The Catcher in the RyeThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Just some run-on ramblings about some teenager wandering around Manhattan after he gets booted out of a crumby prep school for about the third time. I never read the thing in high school and all. And it's supposed to be some kind of classic. I guess to a jaded adult it just seems kinda outdated and phony. But I wouldn't argue with you if you wanted to say you loved it. I really wouldn't. Ugh.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

read: Close To Home (4 stars)

Close to Home (Tracy Crosswhite, #5)Close to Home by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert Dugoni changes things up again in Close To Home, the latest entry in the Tracey Crosswhite series. This time she's investigating a hit-and-run death, rather than a cold case murder. We also dig a little deeper into the lives of her coworkers in the Violent Crimes Section and we take a trip across Puget Sound to the nearby Navy base and get caught up in a court martial that seems to be both a slam dunk and a railroad job. What's not different is Dugoni's skill at creating flesh and blood characters and vivid settings. He also weaves a gripping tale of mystery and intrigue.

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

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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

read: Window on Main Street: 35 Years of Creating Happiness at Disneyland Park (4 stars)

Window on Main Street: 35 Years of Creating Happiness at Disneyland ParkWindow on Main Street: 35 Years of Creating Happiness at Disneyland Park by Van Arsdale France
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A gem of a book for any fan (or former employee) of Disneyland, written by the Founder of Disney University, Disneyland's training program. All of the usual anecdotes from the early days of Disneyland are here, given added depth by being told by someone who was actually there. The author continues the story on through the early days of Disney World and EPCOT and the 1980s.

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

read: Brew or Die (4 stars)

Brew or Die (A Java Jive Mystery, #4)Brew or Die by Caroline Fardig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've stuck with this four book series since the beginning and am enjoying each one. This is the best yet. Juliet now has her PI license, which means she's getting some training and has a reason to be investigating crimes. But she still manages to get her personal life twisted up into the mysteries and that complicates things in entertaining ways. This is a cozy mystery story, after all.

The writing is light and airy and smooth. The characters are likable, the situations are mostly believable and the mysteries are intriguing.

Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Alibi/Random House for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

read: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (4 stars)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter, #7)Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The series ends as strongly as it began. The author does an amazing job of weaving all of the loose ends of the story together into a rather satisfying whole. And she does it without resorting to too many info dump scenes. There are so many reviews and analysis of the books and movies out there that it is quite pointless for me to add to them. Let me just say that I read it and enjoyed it and can recommend the books to anyone seeking a compelling fantasy story.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

read: The Trapped Girl (4 stars)

The Trapped Girl (Tracy Crosswhite #4)The Trapped Girl by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another strong entry in the Tracy Crosswhite series by Robert Dugoni. This time around the murder is less of a cold case and more of a deep mystery. The identity of the victim, discovered by accident in a crab pot in the frigid water of Puget Sound, seems obvious after a bit of forensics. That also reveals an obvious suspect and their motives. But the clues never add up until the final chapters. Just following the investigation and getting to know the investigators on Tracy's team a little better make a wonderful story.

The author isn't satisfied with that story. He also weaves in the background story from the perspective of the victim. This both clarifies and confounds (in a good way) the reader's understanding of what's going on. There is misdirection all around. I can hardly wait for Mr. Dugoni's next entry.

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

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Friday, January 13, 2017

read: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (4 stars)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter, #6)Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In most ways, this book was much better than either of the previous two, which by comparison were just marking time. The pacing was better. The characters more interesting. The author still doesn't have a clue how to write about teenage (or any other age) love. But this is forgivable, since it isn't the focus of the story.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

My 2016 In Books

By the skin of my teeth and a few last minute graphic novels, I read 52 books in 2016, which was the goal I set. At times, this felt like a bit more of a chore this year (compared to last year, when I had the same goal), like I was under pressure to perform. I think there are a few reasons for this:
  1. Long books. I decided to attack several longer works this year and that made it more challenging to keep up. I've been avoiding longer books in previous years in order to enhance my bottom line. Forsaking any of these would have added 1 or 2 additional works to my 'done' pile. But then I would have missed:
    1. Game of Thrones (wondrous)
    2. Leviathan Wakes (stupendous - 5 stars)
    3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and …the Order of the Phoenix (there's a better, shorter book inside each of these)

  2. Fewer graphic novels. These have been a way of keeping up the overall book count without investing large amounts of time. I read 14 in 2015, but only 7 in 2016. My favorites were:
    1. Leaves on the Wind (Serenity #4) - good follow-up to the Serenity film for Firefly fans
    2. Lost in Space - The Curious Galactics - just like a TV episode (because it's based on unproduced scripts)
    3. How to Talk to Girls at Parties - Neil Gaiman (need I say more? I also loved the short story)

  3. Netgalley. I trapped myself into 9 titles on Netgalley in 2016 (vs. only 4 in 2015). On the whole, this was a good thing. I read a couple of titles I would have otherwise missed. But it did mean I felt the pressure to perform (and I'm still behind on posting feedback). I'm not a reviewer. I know what I like. Putting that into words does not come easily. Some surprises:
    1. IQ (a quirky mystery novel that doesn't read like one)
    2. Mug Shot/Whole Latte Murder (#2 & #3 in a chick-lit series that I enjoy more than I should)
    3. Curious Minds (an unexpectedly dull and unfunny book from Janet Evanovich)
Some other treats this year:
  1. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is quirky and fun and marvelously performed on audio book. 5 stars
  2. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ranson Riggs is also quirky and fun and worked remarkably well on audio, considering it is based on odd photographs. (What's the deal with possessive titles with P's in them?)
  3. In the Clearing and The Trapped Girl by Robert Dugoni, the 2016 and 2017 releases in the Tracey Crosswhite series. The biggest benefit of Netgalley is getting to read stuff before it's generally available. I bought both of these (and his 2016 stand-alone The 7th Canon), anyway.
  4. The Emperor's Revenge by Clive Cussler and Boyd Morrison took me on a completely different trip than I expected.
My 2016 wrap-up is at

I'm going to keep reading in 2017, but will slow the pace a little.
  1. Fewer Netgalley books. That was too much pressure and I have plenty on my TBR list already, including…
  2. Finish off more series. I probably won't get through much more of Game of Thrones (actually A Song of Ice and Fire) or The Expanse. I do plan to finish Harry Potter, Old Man's War, Wool, and Cinder and get back to Mystborn (at least the 'alloy' era) and Reckoners (Steelheart). Just this list could fill up my entire year. Except I also want to…
  3. Read more Young Adult titles. One reason I want to reduce the pressure on my reading is to do more writing and my current project is shaping up as YA. I need to understand the genre.
Keep reading! And share a book with a friend.