Sunday, November 18, 2018

read: The Consuming Fire (3.5 stars)

The Consuming Fire (The Interdependency #2)The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The epic story of the collapse of The Interdependency continues with the fallout from the events of the first book. That takes a while for everyone to discuss and bring the reader up to speed with more history. Then we finally get into some new action and the story takes off with the same smart-ass, ribald humor, now with a bit more science and some clues that more is going on in the universe than the residents of The Interdependency were aware of. (3.5 stars)

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

read: Shadow Tyrants (4 stars)

Shadow Tyrants (The Oregon Files, #13)Shadow Tyrants by Clive Cussler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The crew of the Oregon have so much to do in this story that they are frequently split into two or even three separate teams. The foes are bigger and more ancient and the stakes are more global than ever. There's arguably too much going on for a single book. I couldn't put it down until the last crisis was averted.

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

read: House Divided (3 stars)

House Divided (Joe DeMarco, #6)House Divided by Mike Lawson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As with the other books I've read in this series, Joe DeMarco is not so much a hero as a stubborn, sonofabitch that gets caught up in other people's messes. In this one, a distant cousin is gunned down at the Iwo Jima Memorial and he doesn't quite buy the FBI's story about how things went down - a drug deal gone bad. He starts poking around and draws the attention of two factions of the Defense Department that are both involved in his cousin's death. Most of the story involves the characters in the NSA and Pentagon. Joe is just along for the ride. Again.

After a long, slow build up (Mike Lawson has a very relaxed writing style), the pace picked up about 2/3 of the way through the book. So did my interest and I hung on to the end. For a political suspense story, I feel like that first 2/3 should have been compressed to about half its length. Or stuffed with more action. It's mostly just talk and analysis.

I give it three stars for being a solid, though not sizzling, suspense story.

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Friday, September 7, 2018

read: In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox by Carol Burnett (4 stars)

In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the SandboxIn Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox by Carol Burnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This memoir is focused on Carol's TV show. There are some new stories and many I've heard before. Hearing our old friend Carol tell them again, with enthusiasm and warmth, makes it worth the listen.

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Thursday, September 6, 2018

read: The Razor's Edge (3 stars)

The Razor's EdgeThe Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On my second attempt, I managed to finish this. And because I did, I am able to change my rating from 2 stars to 3. This pretentious tale of upper-class life between the great wars has a certain charm about it. But I don't feel it has aged well at all.

The single best word to describe the story is 'contrived'. The author places himself in the center of the story. As first-person narrator, he's the bit of glue that holds it all together. But this, of course, means that he must find a way to either be present at every turn or at least hear about those events secondhand. And so he either contrives a way to be present or to get the other characters to freely unburden themselves and then have perfect recollection of their uncharacteristic soliloquys.

And then he has the gall to rearrange the episodes, meetings and ruminations into the chronology he feels is best suited to telling the story, rather than allow it to unfold in any organic way. This is on top of the archaic way in which he, as narrator, is telling us, dear readers, how and why he is doing this. Sheesh.

Of course, everyone speaks in that unnatural vocabulary that only a scholarly British novelist would put into their mouths. Even the Americans speak like Cambridge dons, except when they are constantly using the unrecognizable contraction "d'you" (as in "d'you really think so?"). All the characters sounds essentially the same. Except for poor Gray, who is consigned to rarely speak and then only in cliché (which the author/narrator explicitly mentions near the end of the piece).

Perhaps this is the crux of the matter. If you want real American characters, acting and speaking like Americans, go to an American author like Twain or Faulkner or Fitzgerald. These are just chess pieces placed onto a board so that the author can have a dialog with himself about philosophy and religion.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

read: Damage Control (3 stars)

Damage ControlDamage Control by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a pretty solid story that kept me engaged and turning pages. The prose itself is crisp. The characters and locations are well-drawn. The overall plot and twists hold together and provide some surprises.

But I have removed a couple of stars for several distractions. First is the general feeling that the story is overstuffed. Too many cool ideas kept competing for attention. It often felt like important things, like dogs and kids and jobs, got forgotten for long stretches. Then there's the implausibility of the main baddy's ability to singlehandedly keep track of and hunt down everyone he kills without getting caught. After a while, I just gave in to it. But nobody is that good.

This is skippable, unless you're a big fan of the author and a completist. Like me.

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

read: Boundary Waters (4 stars)

Boundary Waters (Cork O'Connor, #2)Boundary Waters by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mystery, thriller, adventure, family drama, travelogue. This book has it all going on and had me turning pages as fast as I could. Country singer Shiloh has disappeared into the Boundary Waters wilderness of Northern Minnesota and her father recruits ex-sheriff, now burger stand owner, Corcoran O'Connor to help him find her. Then the FBI and the mob show up with their own motives to locating her and a local Native American and his young son are added to the expedition. Once the canoes head north, the bodies start stacking up and it becomes clear that there is more going on than a simple rescue.
The cast of characters are all strong and distinctly drawn, including Shiloh, who is not just a damsel in distress. The locations, action and Native American culture are vividly described. The plot twists are well-formulated and often surprising.
I liked the first book of this series because of its potential and its ties to Minnesota. I recommend this one because it is even stronger.

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Saturday, July 14, 2018

read: Blood Orbit (3.5 stars)

Blood Orbit (Gattis File #1)Blood Orbit by K.R. Richardson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was really looking forward to this book. I'm two volumes in to the author's (Kat Richardson) Greywalker series and starting to like it a lot. Science fiction is more up my alley, which made this an easy choice for me. After the first couple of chapters, I was hooked. A heavy-duty, noir, police procedural set in the future on a far away planet.

And then she lost me. The characters were still doing some interesting things. But they were sure doing a lot more talking than doing. The setting seemed like it should be interesting - terraformed future planet and all that. But the picture never came into focus for me. And all the complex background of the characters and corporate corruption was alluded to. But somehow I didn't really care until about the last 25-30% of the book. I was actually considering giving up about 1/3 of the way in. But there was too much positive vibe to be a quitter. Things did get better. I did finish. And I will pick up the next one (and continue working my way through Greywalker).

4 stars only because it's more than 3 stars.

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Monday, June 25, 2018

read: Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor (4 stars)

Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie ActorHail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor by Bruce Campbell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bruce's earnest and irreverent voice comes through in this amusing memoir that just about brings his story up-to-date. It's all here: life in rural Oregon, making B movies for SciFi channel, making Burn Notice, remaking Evil Dead. Bruce is that guy with dozens of funny stories that will keep you entertained for hours and still want more.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

read: The Color of Magic (3 stars)

The Color of Magic (Discworld, #1)The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Discworld, The Beginning. I give it 3 stars for uniqueness of vision and giving me a few smirks. Mostly I found it jumbled and confusing.

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

read: The Collapsing Empire (4 stars)

The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1)The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Scalzi opens the epic story of the collapse of The Interdependency with a not-so-epic story of politics, family, lust, science and academia all centered around the discovery that the natural phenomenon that society depends on to keep the far-flung empire connected is collapsing. The writing is crisp and fast moving, full of smart-ass characters and ribald humor.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

read: House Justice (3 stars)

House Justice (Joe DeMarco, #5)House Justice by Mike Lawson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A spy is dead because a newspaper story leaked her identity. The leak probably came from someone in Congress. Speaker of the House, John Mahoney, needs the leaked plugged and calls in his go-to-guy, Joe DeMarco. And we're off to the races. Except, we're not.

This is the second book I've read in the DeMarco series and it does the same slow burn that I found in the first one, The Inside Ring. It's more suspense than thriller. This time around we spend more time with the other characters in this intricate plot than with DeMarco. That's mostly okay because these other characters are the ones that are making things happen. Joe is just fumbling along, trying to make sense of it. It's a little amazing that he's able to keep up at all with the few resources he has at his disposal.

Eventually, the story picks up steam and we start getting answers. But we also start racking up dead bodies. And then we're finished with a reasonably satisfying ending. It's not a bad read. It touches on some interesting points about politics and morality and spies. I just think it could have been tighter and stronger.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

read: Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches (4 stars)

Vacationland: True Stories from Painful BeachesVacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by John Hodgman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's obviously not about vacations, though the author does 'summer' in New Hampshire and Maine and Maine's official motto is 'Vacationland'. Rather, these are the author's amusing anecdotes and deep thinking about those summers, along with childhood, growing up, adulting and death. I don't recall any LOL moments, but most stories are amusing and John Hodgman does a bang-up job on the audiobook as his own narrator, rendering them with a goodly amount of humor and pathos, as necessary.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

read: Grumpy Old Rock Star: and Other Wondrous Stories by Rick Wakeman (4 stars)

Grumpy Old Rock Star: and Other Wondrous StoriesGrumpy Old Rock Star: and Other Wondrous Stories by Rick Wakeman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love getting autobiographies and memoirs read to me by their author-subjects. Rick does not disappoint. His enthusiasm is evident and his stories are often hilarious. If you're interested in Rick or Yes or progrock from the 70s, this book is for you. One unintended bit of humor for me is that Rick's speaking voice sounds an awful lot like Peter Jones, another Brit and narrator of the television version of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". I started having HHGttG flashbacks.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

read: True Blue Murder (2 stars)

True Blue Murder (African Violet Club Mysteries #1)True Blue Murder by Elise M. Stone
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this goofy little cozy mystery set in a senior citizens' residence in a small town near Tuscon, Arizona. My beloved Arizona settings came across as true to life. The descriptions and interactions of the wide variety of distinct characters seemed spot on. But the overall story was disappointing and fell flat.

The best word I can find to describe most of the prose is pedestrian. The action and relationships came across as stiff and clumsy. Then there's the uncompelling mystery, with an unlikable victim and a complete lack of suspects capable or inclined to have done it. This forced the author to end the story with a completely invented perpetrator and what amounts to a fanciful motive. The 'clues' that were supposed to support these inventions were unconvincing.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

read: Gun Church (2 of 5 stars)

Gun ChurchGun Church by Reed Farrel Coleman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I can only give this 2 stars because, even though I could tell the writing was extraordinary, I cannot say I would recommend it to anyone who wasn't predisposed to enjoying this sort of thing. I did not find it entertaining.

I didn't particularly enjoy the first-person narrator. He was just too meandering and self-centered. This might be the point, since he's this self-destructive, washed-up writer. He's still not someone I wanted to spend 500 pages of my life with. Maybe I'm dense. I didn't get the literary references that were no doubt sprinkled through out. It even felt a little 'overwritten' to me. Also, repetitive. Five chapters in and he's still calling someone "St. Pauli Girl" (not to her face, thankfully) even though he knows her name and is constantly sleeping with her. I got it after the first two or three times. But I don't get why she keeps throwing herself at him. Maybe it's part of the gun church plot. Maybe it's author-worship. It's just inexplicable at this point.

The gun church of the title makes an early appearance and then disappears. If it had reappeared earlier, along with some more interesting characters and some actual plot, I might have hung on and finished the book. It was intriguing. Moving on to something I do enjoy.

Notice that this is all just my reaction. There are plenty of 4 and 5 star reviews. This might be the sort of thing you'd like, if you like this sort of thing.

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Sunday, February 25, 2018

read: A Steep Price (4 stars)

A Steep Price (Tracy Crosswhite, #6)A Steep Price by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert Dugoni continues to hit all the right notes with the latest entry in the Tracy Crosswhite series, "A Steep Price". This around, the story delves into issues as varied as race, drugs, poverty, culture, education, pregnancy and workplace.

Tracy and her partner, Kins, are called in to help investigate the disappearance of a young University of Washington student. When her body is found at the bottom of an abandoned well not far from her home, the initial ruling is suicide. But Tracy's not buying it and investigates it as a murder.

Meanwhile, Faz and Del are assigned to the killing of a local mother and activist in a high crime neighborhood. Their investigation puts them at odds with both the community and the cartel that seems to run things. It also puts them into real danger.

The author keeps everything fluid and moving and real, including Tracy's conundrum about when and how to announce her pregnancy. As usual, the writing is crisp and clear and realistic, right down to the park I pass almost every day on the way to work.

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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Saturday, February 17, 2018

read: The Escape Artist (5 stars)

The Escape ArtistThe Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of those books that keeps you guessing right up until the end, when you tell yourself "I should have seen that coming." But you won't.

Brad Meltzer loads up the story with distinct and interesting characters and keeps up a magician's patter of interesting facts to distract you as he spins a complex tale. It's a mystery wrapped in a thriller wrapped in tragedy. And it works.

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

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

read: Over Your Dead Body (4 stars)

Over Your Dead Body (John Cleaver, #5)Over Your Dead Body by Dan Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm really liking this Audible series. The narration is well-done and the story is pretty spellbinding. This one is a little different in that the demon is not really discovered until late in the book. The pace is a might leisurely up until then. But then it sticks the landing.

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

read: The 5 Love Languages (4 stars)

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That LastsThe 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This may not be the ultimate guide to saving your marriage. But it could be a good starting point for a discussion with your spouse. Or it could be an inspiration to rethink how you are relating to your spouse. Or it could be a good reminder to revive some behaviors that you've allowed to become stale. No book on relationships can cover all the bases or be the balm that heals all wounds. But this one is pretty clear and direct and well-motivated.

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Monday, February 5, 2018

read: Moving Mars (4 stars)

Moving MarsMoving Mars by Greg Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent hard science fiction set about 150 years from now. Humans have expanded into the solar system and haven't really changed that much. Mr. Bear does a great job of telling a multi-threaded story from a single viewpoint. There are very few info-dumps, usually to explain politics and history. Most future technology is simply taken for granted. The big exception is a major advance in physics that drives the story. Amazingly, even tech that was far-fetched when the book was written 25 years ago is still pretty speculative so that the story does not feel dated.

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