Tuesday, October 12, 2021

read: Litani (4 stars)

LitaniLitani by Jess Lourey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a dark story. Thankfully, Jess Lourey built it around Frankie, the tough-as-nails 14-year-old protagonist who shines a light into every corner she explores. She has just lost her loving father and been sent to live with the mother that cut off communication with her years ago for no good reason.

On her first day back in the small town of Litani, her mother sends her outside 'to play' with the other 'children'. but her first encounters with the children are not fun. As she explores further, she (and we) discover that the town is sick, with a twisted history that casts an ominous tone over everything and everyone.

I don't really enjoy reading stories like this one. You know, the usual trigger warnings: kids in danger, Satan worship, creepy adults. Who do you trust? On the other hand, Jess Lourey is crafting such interesting stories, inspired by (gulp) true stories, populated with interesting characters and masterful plots that it's difficult to stay away. And once you start reading, you daren't put it down or look away.

So here we are. A book that creeped me out and I can only recommend to the more adventurous or tolerant of my friends. Yet, I will probably vote for it as one of the best books of the year.

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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read: Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events by Brent Spiner (4 stars)

Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True EventsFan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events by Brent Spiner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the author, Brent Spiner, points out, this is not a memoir. It's a mem-noir - a fanciful whodunnit inspired by some real-life incidents. But it's not real-life. And that's a shame, because I really want to know which of the nicknames for himself and his Next Gen co-stars are really used: Dorny (Michael Dorn)? Burt (LeVar Burton)? Also, although they're obviously no longer shooting, where did they gather for drinks at the end of the week?

I found the writing to be engaging, lighthearted and entertaining. To label this 'noir' is not really that applicable, even when the fictionalized Brent is portrayed as getting a bit depressed and paranoid, it's shrouded in humor and self-deprecation. On the other hand, this is not quite the madcap adventure I had hoped for. It's not entirely over-the-top and not always funny. But it does provided a bit of mystery and diversion. Recommended for fans of Star Trek and celebrity.

Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin's Press for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

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Sunday, August 15, 2021

read: Private Investigations: Mystery Writers on the Secrets, Riddles, and Wonders in Their Lives (4 stars)

Private Investigations: Mystery Writers on the Secrets, Riddles, and Wonders in Their LivesPrivate Investigations: Mystery Writers on the Secrets, Riddles, and Wonders in Their Lives by Victoria Zackheim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was not what I was expecting. Maybe I didn't read the cover blurb closely enough. I just saw the names of some favorite authors and how they 'cope with the perplexing world and what keeps them up at night.' What I got were those same authors, and more, telling some of their most personal stories and how those stories made them into the writers they have become. Well done, intriguing and worth a read (or two).

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Friday, July 30, 2021

read: The World Played Chess (4 stars)

The World Played ChessThe World Played Chess by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It seems that no matter what Robert Dugoni writes, he nails it. His mysteries and spy thrillers are top-notch. His mainstream The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell was uncomfortably compelling. Now his historical look at the Viet Nam war and its impact on various lives hits the same sweet spot of character and story and setting.

For someone that missed the draft by only a year or two and went to high school in California, it also feels personal. I wasn't a jock, didn't go to a private school, didn't work construction and wasn't a soldier (or marine). But I was a contemporary to all that in time and space and felt all the feels that Mr. Dugoni put into this work. Much of this ground has been covered before. But Dugoni gives it a fresh perspective. I am still thinking about the three men and how their lives intersect in 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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Sunday, June 6, 2021

read: Grave Reservations (4 stars)

Grave ReservationsGrave Reservations by Cherie Priest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am surprised at how lighthearted the latest book from Cherie Priest is (although the cover should have been a giveaway). It's much more cozy mystery than any of her other paranormal genre fiction (I've been a fan since Boneshaker and even Bloodshot). It's so light, I almost thought I wouldn't like it. But the characters and situation grew on me. And what mystery there is needed to be solved. I stuck with it and was not disappointed. I look forward to further adventures with Leda and Grady.

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

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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

read: Murder by Other Means (4 stars)

Murder by Other Means (The Dispatcher, #2)Murder by Other Means by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How can a story involving so much murder be so enjoyable and borderline humorous? You make sure that very few of the victims actually die. That's the improbable conceit of the story and the author makes it work. The audio book of the first Dispatcher novella is sitting in my Audible queue (the pandemic really messed up my listening habits). But this was thoroughly understandable and entertaining without that introduction.

As with most stories from John Scalzi, the value is in the writing. The snappy dialog and colorful characters whisk you along for a pleasant ride full of twists and turns and a totally believable outcome (ignoring the previously mentioned improbable conceit). Highly recommended for a few hours of entertainment.

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

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Friday, May 7, 2021

read: Project Hail Mary (3 stars)

Project Hail MaryProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Just to be clear. I loved The Martian. I got wind of a little while before it got really popular (thank you, Writing Excuses podcast!), got my book club to read and discuss it and devoured it in no time. I also liked Artemis (not as much as The Martian; but apparently more than many other readers).

When I heard about Project Hail Mary and Peter Weir's return to gritty, science-based storytelling and interstellar setting, I knew I had to read it. It had to be my kind of book. Then, I started reading and felt very let down. A first-person account of waking up out of a coma, confused and in a closed room didn't pull me in. I almost gave up before the main character finally started having flashes of memory about who he was and what he was supposed to do. His recollections of Earth and the other characters brought some actual life, albeit stick-figured, cliché-ridden life, to the stage. I stuck with it.

When Rocky showed up, I was as charmed as anyone. And I've got to hand it to Mr. Weir, he came up with some intriguing science-based mysteries to unravel during the second half of the book. The entire story gave me flashbacks to stories from the middle of the previous century, and not always in a good way. There were a few nice modern touches and genuine effort was made to avoid too much handwavium. But I still feel like there was plenty of that.

I give the first half of the book 2.5 stars and the latter 3.5 stars for an average of 3 stars and some hope that the next book from the author is more well rounded and modern.

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

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Friday, April 30, 2021

read: Fugitive Telemetry (4 stars)

Fugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries, #6)Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Murderbot continues to be a joy to read. The novellas are the perfect length to consume the snarky stream-of-consciousness (does a construct actually have consciousness?) slices of life of the rogue SecUnit. This story is essentially a murder mystery with a delightful twist.

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

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Tuesday, April 6, 2021

read: The Four Winds (4 stars)

The Four WindsThe Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Relentless. That's my one word summary of this book.

Elsa, the main character is relentless in her love for her husband and children (but sadly, not herself). She somehow finds the strength, day after day, in circumstances that would crush most of us, to get out of bed and do whatever it takes to take care of her family.

The weather and its impact on the people and the society of the Dust Bowl years is also relentless. The heat. The dust. The simple grind of trying to eek out of living from the land, when it won't cooperate in the slightest.

The story is also relentless. It kept me caring about the main characters and whether or not they would survive the relentless weather and the grind of living through a time of historical destitution. The writing is straightforward and the characters might be perceived as one-dimensional. Or both can be seen as stripped down to the bare essentials of what it takes to survive.

This is not a book to be read for pure enjoyment. But it is well done and satisfying and paints a vivid picture of a time that shares some aspects of our own. Recommended.

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Friday, February 19, 2021

read: This Tender Land (5 stars)

This Tender LandThis Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When someone describes a book as a "page turner", they usually mean that it is action-packed and the reader can't turn the pages fast enough to keep up. This Tender Land is a page-turner, but in the manner of a long letter from a well-loved relative regaling the reader with news both good and bad that must be both savored and rushed so as not to miss any nuance and yet get to every detail as quickly as possible. It is one of those books that leaves the reader both relieved and saddened that it is over. It must be read again.

Krueger has written a truly American epic that is often, and rightfully, compared to both The Grapes of Wrath and Huckleberry Finn. Yet it is neither of these. It is its own lovely thing. A love letter to Minnesota and the Mississippi River and a time gone by that was magical, awful and beautiful. It is a coming-of-age story for both the characters and the country. It must be read again. It definitely deserves five stars.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

read: In Her Tracks (4 stars)

In Her Tracks (Tracy Crosswhite, #8)In Her Tracks by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tracy Crosswhite is a heckuva detective and Robert Dugoni is a heckuva writer. That's why I can't figure out why I didn't love the heck out of this book, like I have the previous volumes in the series. The prose is as solid and true-to-life as ever and the intertwining plots are exceptionally well-done. There are plenty of surprises. In this novel, Detective Crosswhite solves three different cases, two of which had been left unsolved by previous detectives (technically, one case is actually two unrelated victims with similar circumstances).

Upon reflection, I think I see two issues I had during my initial reading. First, there is a lot of dialog and reflection about Tracy's recent transition to being a working mother. While this is indeed an important perspective and does affect how she is dealing with her co-workers and cases, it seemed to really bog down the early chapters of the book. The second factor is that more pages than usual seem to be spent with apparent antagonists, rather than tracking them down. I didn't like spending that much time with these creeps. Scanning through the book again, I don't think these are actually major flaws and probably had more to do with my reactions than the writing itself.

This book is definitely aimed at readers that are already following the adventures of Tracy Crosswhite. That doesn't mean a new reader will be lost. Mr. Dugoni is too talented a writer to let that happen. But I would recommend reading an earlier book in the series before picking up this one. You won't be disappointed either way.

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 15, 2021

read: Marauder (4 stars)

Marauder (Oregon Files, #15)Marauder by Clive Cussler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another solid story about the valiant crew of the newly replaced spy ship, Oregon. They are facing another seaborne menace that may be too much for them, even with their upgraded (though unfinished) weaponry. Not to mention a crisis that threatens the balance of power in Asia.
Not quite as gripping as other recent entries in the series. This one is still fun and satisfying.

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