Saturday, December 30, 2023

read: Malibu Burning by Lee Goldberg ★★★★

Malibu Burning (Sharpe & Walker #1)Malibu Burning by Lee Goldberg
My rating: ★★★★

Engaging heist story with a little Backdraft and Fugitive thrown in.

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Monday, December 25, 2023

read: The Women by Kristin Hannah ★★★★★

The WomenThe Women by Kristin Hannah
My rating: ★★★★★

I am so glad I read this book. The historical subject matter appealed to me and I knew Kristin Hannah could write a good story. But I was a little apprehensive that a story set during the Vietnam War years might be as crushing as I found The Four Winds made the Great Depression. This turns out not to be the case.

Frankie, the protagonist of this book, isn't without her faults and challenges. She goes through some very dark times. But her story contains enough spirit, comradery and joy to help the reader power through the challenging sections. And it contains enough grit and realism to keep everything grounded. This book is a powerful statement about the Viet Nam War, the women and men that served there and the horrible way they were treated when they returned. Recommended.

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

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Friday, October 6, 2023

read: Being Henry: The Fonz . . . and Beyond by Henry Winkler ★★★★

Being Henry: The Fonz . . . and BeyondBeing Henry: The Fonz . . . and Beyond by Henry Winkler
My rating: ★★★★
I remember Henry Winkler as Fonzie. I remember Henry as a competent actor trying to grow beyond Fonzie, with mixed success. I've recently learned more about Henry as he's discussed his dyslexia and promoted his books and was finally recognized for his acting chops in Barry. Now with this book, I feel like I not only know about Henry. But I kind of know him in a more personal way.

This autobiography comes across as very personal. Henry might leave a few things out. Probably because he's so nice and doesn't want to hurt any feelings. But he still lets us get very close and see some of his pain and struggles over the years. We also see his great support network of colleagues and family (other than his parents). And we see him grow and succeed and find the joy in life. His story is worth reading.

I knocked off a star for a bit of repetitiveness and a tendency to keep things a bit briefer than I wanted. Henry has hobnobbed with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. I don't expect him to get down and dirty about them. But I would have liked him to expand on more of those stories.

Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Celadon Books for providing a free copy of this book for review.

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Thursday, October 5, 2023

read: System Collapse by Martha Wells ★★★★

System Collapse (The Murderbot Diaries, #7)System Collapse by Martha Wells

I've been consuming these as fast as they come out. But it's not fast enough. A full three years of my real time has transpired since I read Network Effect. And much has happened in those years. On the other hand, almost no time has transpired for Murderbot, since this story picks up immediately after the events of the previous novel. And Murderbot is not in a good place. Why? The current story will reveal this. But since I didn't reread the previous story before jumping into this one, my mind was spinning trying to recall the previous events and make the current events make sense.

Then I gave up and simply enjoyed the ride. The story unfolds at the usual fast pace and is still filled with quick humor and Murderbot's sweet, innocent, logical feelings for its human clients. It's fun to tag along as it evaluates and compensates for the various tactical situations, always trying for the least destructive outcome.

I wound up enjoying this story as much as the earlier ones. I have a feeling the story in the next novel in the series might again be closely tied to this one. I will definitely carve out the time to read and enjoy all three sequentially.

Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Tordotcom for providing a free copy of this book for review.

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Monday, September 18, 2023

read: The Defector by Chris Hadfield ★★★★★

The Defector (Apollo Murders, #2)The Defector by Chris Hadfield

I fully enjoyed Chris Hadfield's first foray into thriller fiction and am glad to see it was no fluke. He's followed it up with a crackerjack spy thriller that is stuffed with technological details a la Tom Clancy and nuanced double-dealing inspired by John Le Carre. I was thoroughly entranced by ex-test pilot Kaz's naïve, yet eyes-wide-open, plunge into the cold waters of Cold War spying, along with his quick-witted, realistic and gritty response. Recommended for fans of old-school NASA and espionage stories.

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

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Saturday, August 19, 2023

Devil's Gun by Cat Rambo ★★★★

Devil's Gun (Disco Space Opera #2)Devil's Gun by Cat Rambo

The sub-title of this could easily be "The Continuing Adventures of the Crew of 'You Sexy Thing'". The thin thread of a plot is supposedly a search for someone Captain Niko cares a lot about, although she spends much time fretting about her motives and her ability to lead the crew. The crew, for their part, are also wrestling with fallout from the adventures of the previous book and their own motivations and desires. A few new characters are introduced in the middle of the book to amp up the tension a little and create a worthy side quest or two. And then a few subplots are resolved before we fade to 'To Be Continued."

The characters and situations are fun and easy to read about. Like the first volume, the story plays fast and loose with science fiction and fantasy tropes, not bothering to have anything rely on actual physics or comprehendible magic. It's all just for giggles and grins and could easily be a graphic novel. I liked the first book of the series more. The plot had more drive. But I'm still on board and enjoying the ride on this sentient spaceship and look forward to the next volume.

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

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Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson ★★★★

Sea People: The Puzzle of PolynesiaSea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson

This non-scholarly, yet deeply researched, book about the people of Polynesia (everything in the triangle formed by Hawai‘i, Easter Island (Rapa Nui) and New Zealand (Aotearoa) should satisfy anyone curious about the region, its history and its people. It's structured around the chronology of European discovery, anthropology and archeology of the islands, beginning with Cook and continuing to the present, each century and decade peeling away another layer of the mystery. Not all of the questions have been answered. But a clearer overall understanding as begun to emerge from the mists of time.

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Monday, August 7, 2023

read: Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead ★★★★

Harlem Shuffle (Ray Carney, #1)Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

This is no crime thriller, though crimes are committed and witnessed. There's not much of a plot, although the storytelling keeps the reader turning pages. There are side stories and flashbacks galore all meshing into a rich tapestry of Harlem in the mid-twentieth century.

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Sunday, August 6, 2023

read: The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece by Tom Hanks ★★★★

The Making of Another Major Motion Picture MasterpieceThe Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece by Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks knows a thing or two about making movies. After all, he's written several, directed several and acted in a truckload of them. Having enjoyed his collection of short stories, Uncommon Type, I knew I would read his novel set in the world of movie making as soon as it came out. I enjoyed it. A lot.
That being said, his writing style might not be for everyone. And even I found getting through the first bunch of chapters a bit of a grind. It's all backstory. And it jumps around like collection of barely connected short stories. And there are a couple of mini comic books thrown in for good measure.
Then around page 95 we finally land on the core story of getting a movie made and I was thoroughly hooked. Mind you, the chapters still read like a set of short stories - point of view jumps all over the place - and there are diversions and footnotes all over the place. But I found myself swept along by the narrative just the same.
This should be a fun read for anyone who is a fan of the movies.

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Saturday, July 1, 2023

read: The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin ★★★

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1)The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

This is an ambitious book. The ideas are wildly imaginative and perhaps ground-breaking. It tries to portray itself as hard science-fiction, which perhaps it is. Maybe worth of 4 or 5 stars. But the story, translated from Chinese, has two problems for me that kept me from enjoying much of it and knocking it down a couple of stars. 
First, the human side, the story, comes across as clunky and old-fashioned and full of too much 'telling'. I never connected with any of the characters. They were all two-dimensional. And too many things happened because they were convenient to the story. I kept thinking that this was where something was lost in translation.
Second, some of the science stuff, especially the portrayal of an alien world and its culture, was so way out there that it came across more like fantasy than hard science fiction. The book tried to explain it all in such excruciating detail that even a nerd like me could feel my eyes glazing over.
The contrast between this and a series like The Expanse is palpable. The authors of the Expanse made their world full of real people with real motivations and emotions and then gave them inexplicable science problems to deal with. I have a feeling that whoever is adapting this to television is doing some heavy lifting in the area of story development.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2023

read: The Last True Templar by Boyd Morrison & Beth Morrison ★★★★★

The Last True Templar (Tales of the Lawless Land #2)The Last True Templar by Boyd Morrison

This is a fast-paced treasure hunt and race through medieval Europe. The reader is along for the ride with excommunicated English knight Gerard Fox and his capable companion and love, Willa, after they rescue a noblewoman from bandits in a small village in Tuscany. When they all return to Lady Luciana Corosi's castle, her husband's plot to kill her is revealed and all three are forced to escape. We soon find out that not only is Luciana's life in jeopardy, so is the fate of a vast fortune hidden by the Knights Templar before their demise. Luciana's husband will use it to wield unbeatable economic power, unless Fox, Willa and Luciana find it first.

I was completely charmed by the accurate and detailed portrayal of life in medieval Italy and France. Happily, the authors' storytelling chops ensure that all that detail does not bog down the characters or the plot, which keeps marching along at quick pace. I sometimes take a couple of weeks to get through a novel. But I devoured this in a few days. Recommended.

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

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Thursday, May 25, 2023

read: They Called Us Enemy by George Takei ★★★★★

They Called Us EnemyThey Called Us Enemy by George Takei

George Takei is most well-known for his role as Mr. Sulu in Star Trek. This recollection of growing up in the Japanese internment camps of WWII is powerful, disturbing, haunting, chilling and inspirational. This dark hour of United States history must not be forgotten, and George's graphic novel brings it too life through a little boy's eyes.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2023

read: One Last Kill ★★★★

One Last Kill (Tracy Crosswhite, #10)One Last Kill by Robert Dugoni

Of course, Tracy Crosswhite can't catch a break. She's had some time off to clear her head and enjoy some much needed family time. But the minute she's back in the office, her new nemesis, the chief of police, pushes a 25-year-old serial killer cold case to the top of her list, so that the department can get ahead of some bad press. Not only are there no new leads for Tracy to follow, the chief also pairs her up with the lead detective for the original investigation who also happens to be Tracy's old nemesis, Lt. Nolasco. Then, after 25 years, the killer strikes again, turning the cold case into a hot one and adding the pressure of preventing more killing.

After a bit of a slow start, Dugoni turns up the heat and increases the pace and gives the reader another twisty tale, steeped in Seattle settings and populated with believable characters. Where has the killer been for 25 years? Why are they killing again? How are they staying a step ahead of the investigation? Will Tracy and Nolasco be able to resolve their differences and work together. Keep turning the pages to find out!

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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Monday, May 1, 2023

read: The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution (4 stars)

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital RevolutionThe Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fairly well-rounded account of computing innovations from Ada through the present.

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read: The Overstory (4 stars)

The OverstoryThe Overstory by Richard Powers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had really hoped for this Pulitzer Prize winning novel to be 5 stars. But it never got there for me. At first it surprised me by not being a novel, but several seemingly unrelated short stories (except each one is about trees). The writing also seemed oddly perfunctory for such an artistic endeavor. I stuck with it and they grew on me.
Then the author started weaving those stories and their characters together into a more engaging epic. Here we go, I thought. Except we didn't go. At least not quickly. Perhaps the author intended the stately pace of his prose to reflect the history-spanning subject of the story: trees. They do not move or think (in the eyes of the story) quickly, relative to human experience. Yet the characters in the novel discover that they do both.
Thus, the book is actually a science fiction story. We have been surrounded by aliens all this time and did not realize it. The trees, and the rest of life on Planet Earth that they are linked to, preceded us and will succeed us. Perhaps they even harbor a bit of sentience, even if we do not understand it. Or they don't. It doesn't matter. It is still life.
For me, all of that would be the foundation of a 5-star story. Especially when it includes eco-warriors and computer geniuses and unrecognized artists. But I have to knock off a half star for the writing being just a bit too artsy and drawn out. And take off another half star for being printed in a font that's just too small for such dense prose (trying to pack 128,000 words into 500 pages). I feel enlightened for reading this book. But it was more of a chore than it probably should have been.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

read: Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life (4 stars)

Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining LifeElderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life by Louise Aronson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a big, ambitious book that is worth reading by anyone facing old age, which is everyone. San Francisco geriatrician Louise Aronson mines her decades of experience working with elderly patients to reveal nuggets of wisdom and hope, as well as a challenge for the American Healthcare System to do better. Unfortunately, the book is at least 150 pages too long. While the insights are keen and the anecdotes and case studies rich with illustration, it is often repetitive and gets sidetracked into like a memoire.

Those closer to (or in) the third act of life (after childhood and adulthood), should benefit from a better understanding of what to expect and plan for. I hope younger readers will gain a better understanding and appreciation of their possible future and what their elders are facing now.

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Monday, March 20, 2023

read: Her Deadly Game (4 stars)

Her Deadly GameHer Deadly Game by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's no wonder that I will pick up any book that Robert Dugoni writes. He had me hooked with his David Sloane courtroom dramas, kept me going with the Tracy Crosswhite detective series, intrigued me with his Charles Jenkins spy adventures and pierced me to the heart with his standalone alone novels. Now he's back in the courtroom with a new lawyer and another impossible case.

This one is a classic locked-room mystery. A woman is shot. All of the clues say she must have committed suicide. Except she's an invalid and could not possibly have done it without help. The police are convinced that the husband must have done it. With a bit of circumstantial evidence and apparently strong motive, they arrest him and he's put on trial. Enter our lawyer, Keera Duggan. Everything is obviously stacked against her and her client. His life is on the line. But so is her reputation and the family law business. Dugoni knows how to pile on the complications and complicated relationships. Bit by bit, Keera and her team chip away at the evidence, uncovering the truth and some allies that may or may not be trustworthy.

The plot is complicated. But the writing is not. Dugoni keeps the reader grounded in the story and the characters at every turn, even when information is found that flips everyone's understanding of what happened. Recommended.

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: Travel by Bullet (The Dispatcher #3) (4 stars)

Travel by Bullet (The Dispatcher, #3)Travel by Bullet by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Scalzi understands that many people read fiction largely for its entertainment value. He gets me. This latest novella featuring Tony Valdez, The Dispatcher, is yet another entertaining story that I dispatched in just a few days (see what I did there?). Tony lives in an odd, parallel universe where almost everyone that is killed comes back to life, restored to some previous level of health and in a safe place. Tony is also our first-person narrator and he's just likable enough (despite being essentially a paid assassin, a dispatcher) and snarky enough to keep us engaged as he works his way through the latest mystery that came his way.

This one begins with the arrival of another dispatcher at the emergency room of the hospital where Tony works. Mason's in bad shape and dying, having jumped out of a moving car and gotten run over, and would seem to be a good candidate for a dispatch. But he refuses the services of the on-duty dispatcher and asks for Tony. He just wants Tony to be with him, as the closest thing to a friend he believes he has. After Tony hears Mason's story, he whispers a suggestion to Mason and suddenly dispatches (kills) him. Mason disappears and we're off to the races to discover what secrets they shared and why Mason is on the run.

Scalzi keeps the story lively, deftly introducing a wide variety of characters from all manner of social strata and brings the story to a quick and amazingly satisfying resolution. Even though this is the third entry in the series, reading the previous stories in unnecessary. Recommended.

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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