What a book!

October 4, 2011

Review: Sharp Teeth

Filed under: Crime,Fiction,Noir,Poetry — mike @ 5:34 am

Sharp Teeth
Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are an awful lot of awful and irritating supernatural books out now so you may be leery about this one, as it’s ostensibly about werewolves. But you should read this anyway.

If you had to make your way through The Odyssey and Beowulf in high school (I enjoyed the former then and did not appreciate the latter until much later), you are of course familiar with the writing of stories in verse, which more or less made its way out of the oral tradition of telling stories, I guess. This story is told in verse, but it doesn’t feel like someone looking for a hook for an MFA project to appear all high-minded. Rather, this is what would come out if Homer read Dashiell Hammett and pitched a new epic poem to Steven Spielberg. “Sharp Teeth” would be darn good story that comes out of it.

The story is basically a noir LA gang story, and the gang members all happen to be werewolves. And that trait is presented as straightforwardly as any other quality, like height or hair color. Other, non-were, characters include a dogcatcher (lots of dark little humor in this, as well as bigger laughs) who wonders about some dogs acting strangely, and a cop who’s tracking a series of strange, savage murders of dogcatchers.

And thanks to the cleanness and spareness of the verse, this story moves along quickly so you want to keep turning pages, long after your eyes begin to droop, as you can almost hear the author muttering the tale out of the side of his mouth in a fluorescent-lit, whiskey-soaked, smoky agora.

If you like noir, read this book. If you like some supernatural fiction, read this book. If you’re Team Jacob, or wish you were one of the meth-crazed hillbilly wolves in ‘True Blood,’ it may not be wolfie enough for you, but read it anyway to broaden your horizons.

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September 18, 2011

Review: The Brothers of Baker Street

Filed under: Fiction,Mystery,Uncategorized — mike @ 5:43 pm

The Brothers of Baker Street
The Brothers of Baker Street by Michael Robertson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The second in a series of books about two lawyer brothers who have offices at 221 B Baker Street in London, famed address of Sherlock Holmes. As I mentioned in the review of the first book, the author is a Boilermaker, so I am “reading local” or whatever you want to call it.

I enjoyed this one more than the first. Like the first, I don’t think the chain of events would stand up to the way the law really works, but still, reading these is like watching a fun detective show on television. They are quick reads and I heartily recommend them as good books-to-read-when-you’re-in-between-books reads.

This installment finds the Heath brothers back in London, with Reggie going back into criminal law to defend a cab driver accused of murder. All the while, he is still getting letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes (because he’s at the address), with one coming from a vengeful “descendent” of Professor Moriarty.

One note, I was hoping to find that the name of a character would be an anagram of a famous Holmes character, and it comes so close, but not quite. It would have been a nice touch.

The narration is by the terrific Simon Vance, which I credit a good portion of my enjoyment of this book to. You really can’t go wrong with an audio book narrated by Vance.

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September 8, 2011

Review: The Baker Street Letters

Filed under: Fiction,Mystery — mike @ 6:21 pm
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The Baker Street Letters
The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not bad for a mystery. I ran across the audio version of the second book in this series and grabbed this one to catch up. I’ll be honest, I only read it because the author is a Boilermaker, like me. But, whatever gets somebody to read, right?

That said, I normally steer clear of Sherlock Holmes pastiches. What a pleasant surprise to discover this is not a Holmes pastiche. The premise is that this barrister moves his office into 221B Baker Street and as a result, people write letters to Sherlock Holmes asking him to solve cases, among other things. And then the rest is more or less straightforward mystery.

I’m not a huge mystery fan, but I like the occasional one, and this one was an entertaining and fun, light read. A found a few situations a little unrealistic, I just didn’t see some of the characters, or any person of the intelligence of the people in this book, actually making some of the decisions they end up making. But it’s a minor complaint.

This is a fun, quick, book-to-read-between-books read. And it was engaging enough to continue with the second book, “The Brothers of Baker Street,” which I am so far enjoying even more.

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April 6, 2011

Review: Echo

Filed under: Science fiction — mike @ 5:02 pm
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Echo (Alex Benedict, #5)Echo by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The newest Alex Benedict/Chase Kolpath novel. Really, how much does McDevitt really have left in this series, considering the previous accomplishments of these two? It’s getting kind of hard to top.

So what McDevitt does here is try to shift the accomplishment from being a notable one to the Earthbound 21st century reader to a notable one for the readers in this future civilization (which is who the narrator is writing for anyway) and make the 21st century reader care just as much.

I won’t say this is the best or my favorite of the Benedict/Kolpath novels (that honor is reserved for ‘Polaris’), but it certainly is, as usual, enjoyable and a page-turner and second or third-best in the series (a series that you can, more or less, read in order or out of order if you want). I blasted through it on spring break. And while the previous novel in the series bogged a little down with some politics that seemed to go on a little too long, this one manages to move along well. I thought the appearances of the mysterious assassin mentioned in the plot summary were either too few in number or mentioned too far apart, but overall, another fine entry in the series.

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March 18, 2011

Review: Seeker

Filed under: Science fiction — mike @ 6:51 pm
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Seeker (Alex Benedict, #3)Seeker by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not really sure why I bother recommending individual Jack McDevitt books. You should simply read all the Jack McDevitt books you can find. This third book in his Alex Benedict series is no exception.

‘Seeker’ won the Nebula Award for 2006 and it was well-deserved. The beauty of McDevitt’s books is that the story takes its time to build (without being slow, at least at this point in McDevitt’s writing) and then sudden;y kicks into a page-turning high gear.

Like the previous novel in this series, ‘Polaris,’ this one starts out as a lost/ghost ship plot and then switches to a ‘lost colony’ plot. Alex Benedict and his assistant, Chase Kolpath, once again try to unravel a long-abandoned mystery of the galaxy.

I liked ‘Polaris’ a little bit better than this one, but that by no means this one is a bad book. Like the blurbs on the book say, you really should be reading Jack McDevitt.

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January 16, 2011

Review: The Red Pyramid

The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1)The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Percy Jackson books were OK for me (my son and daughter both really like those) and this was described to me as “Percy Jackson but with Egyptian myth.” And it kind of is, but I liked this one a little better.

I did not care so much for the device of alternating chapters between the Kane siblings, Carter and Sadie, recording the events of the story for you to “listen” too, as the narrative unfolds in such a way that you wouldn’t tell it that way if you were recording it, but I don’t think a kid’s really going to notice or care. That said, that did allow Riordan to develop two main characters really well. Carter and Sadie are both quite distinctive, with both having important roles in the story and not being in the shadow of the other (eg, neither cliche of Sadie being overshadowed by her big brother or Carter is outdone by Girl Power of little sis is present here). Each needs the other’s special skills and abilities.

Overall, this will be a great read for kids and a nice “in between books” read for adults (actually, it’s much better than a lot of adult level books you could read). And while it may look thick, the chapters move quickly and the final battle (there’s always a final battle) will keep you turning pages.

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January 8, 2011

Review: Towers of Midnight

Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time, #13; Memory of Light, #2)Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Wheel of Time series is back and has shaken off the sloggy funk it was in from Winter’s Heart clear through to Knife of Dreams. Gone are many of the entire physical descriptions (hips and bosoms for women, mustachios for men) and life histories of characters whose only role was to utter one line and then exit the story. Now there are battles and skirmishes and political machinations and plots that actually seem to advance the story. And the Last Battle is no longer the talked-about thing it’s been for the past 13 books, it is here.

Some people I know liked The Gathering Storm, the last book, more than this one, but, while I enjoyed Gathering Storm, I enjoyed this one much better. I found myself anxiously waiting to either go to work or leave for home at the end of the day so I could hear what happened next (obviously, I had the audio version).

As promised by the supernatural effect of ta’veren Rand,, Mat and Perrin, all the storylines and characters are coming together, so this penultimate book in the epic series is a satisfying setup to the finale, A Memory of Light, which, I have read, is due out next year.

Michael Kramer and Kate Reading once again read the audio version, switching off based on the character being followed by the narrative. Each gives an excellent, un-self-conscious performance (and let’s be honest, nerds, reading fantasy out loud can easily make you feel self-conscious) and I marvel at how they have managed to, over 13 books, keep true to the accents of the different nationalities, races and creatures they introduced in the first book.

If you dropped the series for the same reasons I was thinking of dropping it, force yourself through the sloggy bits so you can get to the end. You’ll be glad you did.

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October 31, 2010

Review: The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier’s Account of the War in Iraq

The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in IraqThe Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier’s Account of the War in Iraq by John Crawford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quick recommendation: I read somewhere, I can’t remember where, that the current armed forces are the most literate soldiery in world history and the volume of war memoirs in the past few years are proof of this.

I heard this author interviewed on NPR and he was very funny, which made me read the book.

The book, of course, wasn’t always funny because it is about war after all. It is funny, sad, heartbreaking, and sometimes inspiring. There are a number of excellent war memoirs, so many you certainly can’t read them all. Be sure to make time for this one.

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October 14, 2010

Review: Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food

Filed under: Audiobooks,Food,Non-fiction — mike @ 5:49 pm
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Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild FoodFour Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paul Greenberg does a terrific job of summing up a complicated subject in this book. With farmed animals, genetically modified animals, environmental and habitat destruction for animals much on everyone’s mind, this book offers a balanced and well-reasoned look at the four main fish mankind has fished for food (although Greenberg does sneak a few more in here and there).

That it’s written in such an easily engaging manner without dumbing the subject matter down is a plus. And he does not really beat the drum for any one cause (nor does he get preachy). Of course the book offers no quick and easy solutions, but one book can’t really do that, I am afraid.

Some may find the state of the wild fish stocks detailed in this book depressing. And it is. But don’t let that stop you from reading the whole book. The epilogue/lament at the end sums up his point of view (hint, the section is labeled “Conclusion”) and, while the depressing aspects of the book are revisited (Greenberg is a fisherman himself, and he can only be saddened by the decline of wild fish stocks), he still holds out hope that man can fix things, and not just through technology.

You will like this book: If you liked “Cod” by Mark Kurlansky (which is referenced in this book), you will enjoy and be interested in this one. As a side note, I am going to read “Trying Leviathan” now as a result of its inclusion in this book. Apparently, a whale was considered a fish for a lot longer than necessary because a reactionary response by a jury in New York in an oil labeling dispute.

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August 27, 2010

Review: Pushing Ice

Pushing IcePushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ll be honest, I was sucked in by the cover. This just looked cool.

How refreshing to find it was hard SF too, which I have been neglecting of late. So what happens is this ship full of comet miners is sent to intercept Saturn’s moon Janus, which has suddenly left its orbit and is flying through space, directly for the star Spica, shedding ice as it goes to reveal a metallic surface. What is it? Who made it? The crew of the Rockhopper are sent to find out. But things go wrong, as they always do in novels, and this first-contact story takes some twists that you don’t always see.

The story, to me, was more about two strong people, who suddenly find themselves on opposite sides of an issue and what happens as a result. This novel could have easily been set in frontier America, Victorian England, modern Texas, anywhere really. But it’s the freeing from present-day restraints that science fiction allows that really makes a story like this engaging (see ‘The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress’ by Robert A. Heinlein) as it explores its ideas.

About the hard SF part: Reynolds is an astrophysicist, which keeps the science and even the geopolitical parts of the story fairly well grounded in some kind of plausibility. Character-wise, well, I would have liked to have seen a little bit more from some of the characters, but I will say there is no confusing characters in this book. Each is distinctive.

Some people may find the fact that some basic questions a reader might ask aren’t answered. But I think that’s part of the point. The Earthlings who are finding their way in this book don’t have all the answers, and they find them, some of them anyway, at the same speed as the rest of us.

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