Monthly Archives: October 2012

Just 2 Seconds (Gavin de Becker, Tom Taylor, and Jeff Marquart)

0.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
I must admit that I was unable to force myself to read this whole book.  However, I don’t believe it deserves a “20 Pages of Terrible” review because I think if you are part of a very narrow audience, this could be an excellent read.  Due to what I consider to be rather misleading marketing, I wrongly assumed that this book was aimed at laypeople, like some of de Becker’s others, but it isn’t — unless you work in security or are planning on hiring a security firm, this book is not for you.  The first section describes the training techniques at de Becker’s security firm, and then there is an exhaustive documentation of practically every attack on a public figure in the last 50 years, and then some forms and letters de Becker’s firm uses.  I was hoping for a fascinating analysis of various historical assassination attempts; this wasn’t it.

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Posted in Nonfiction

The Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Spare, precise, vivid and powerful, this is one of my favorite short story collections.  The overarching themes of immigration, relocation, loss, and recreation of identity explored here perfectly showcase Lahiri’s powerful voice and an undeniable attention to detail.  We are immersed in stories that range in location from India to the East Coast and feature refugees, lonely children, Indian tourists visiting India, couples regretting arranged marriages or just coming to terms with the loss of a child.  Though this was her debut collection, it won the Pulitzer, and is an emotional, memorable tour-de-force that will linger with you long after you’ve finished reading.

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Posted in Literary Fiction

A Secret Love (Stephanie Laurens, Cynsters #5)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is Laurens at her best – an engrossing blend of mystery, an especially well characterized heroine, and of course, her trademark steamy sensuality.  Though Laurens’s characters are always attractive and intelligent, they sometimes feel a little interchangeable; this is one of the few examples to the contrary.  Alathea is a twenty-nine-year-old spinster who willingly sacrificed the possibility of marriage to become the titular financial head of the family and Gabriel, though he’s a little more of the stereotypical strong, protective, masculine trope, is nonetheless engaging enough to follow.  You need to take a small leap of faith at the set-up: that Alathea and Gabriel are childhood friends, but when she needs his help, she comes to him in disguise (one that he doesn’t see through).  Once you do, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well their dual day/night relationships develop, and be engrossed in what is a very enjoyable read.

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Posted in Romance

Alpha Wave (James Axler, Deathlands #88)

0 out of 5 stars

20 Pages of Terrible (an incomplete review)
This is number eighty-eight in the horrifyingly prolific Deathlands series.  I had the misfortune of picking up one of the previous books when I was a young child and found it so disturbing and dreadful to read that I abstained from science fiction for over a year.  Once I had identified that this book was in fact another from the same series I thought it best for my appreciation of the genre to to stop reading and throw up a quick cautionary review to save others a painful encounter with this series.  The Deathlands universe is incredibly dark, and from what I can tell everyone the protagonists encounter is either a short-sighted, incredibly dim, heinous monster or the imminent victim of a heinous monster put there to prove just how awful the heinous monster is.  The protagonists are flat, forgettable caricatures which kind of makes sense given that they have to be jammed into at least 88 books.  The world itself is bizarre, and it’s unclear with all the violence and with everything destroyed how anyone is left alive for the protagonists to even encounter as they wander around for some reason (which remains unrevealed in the one and a quarter books of the series I have read).  If you like a dreary, depressing setting, mopey, flat protagonists, lots of lopsided violent action, and an endless stream of sequels, then by all means check out Deathlands, but otherwise I would advise you to stay far, far away.

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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Divergent (Veronica Roth)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
After the huge success of The Hunger Games, several young adult authors came out with US-set dystopian trilogies with teenage female protagonists; many of these appear to have modeled their first books after the first in that series, before branching away in the remaining novels. This is the first of Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, and she builds an interesting, novel (if not entirely believable), dystopian world. She makes the mistake of missing one of the things which made The Hunger Games so remarkable, which was that romance was the last thing on Katniss Everdeen’s mind — not the case here. Despite this, Roth’s heroine, Tris, is a strong character with a clear identity and agenda outside of chasing her man, and the story is intriguing. However, the relationship between Tris and her love interest is frustrating: they have a misunderstanding, vow that there will never be secrets between them again, immediately begin keeping secrets from each other, lather, rinse, repeat. Further, there’s a lot of violence in this book, some quite graphic, so be warned; there’s also some minimal teen sexual activity, mostly kissing and touching. Overall, it was an engaging concept and story with fleshed-out characters and was quite well executed with the exception of the romantic subplot; I’d recommend it for fans of dystopian stories.

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Posted in Children's/Young Adult

Kop (Warren Hammond)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is a gritty, futuristic, dystopian take on a police mystery.  The characters are strong, brimming with compelling facets to explore, the plot is well put together for such a complicated mystery, and overall the world is well defined and believable even if its not an environment that is particularly fun to spend time in.  There is a main subplot that takes place in the past and is stitched into the narrative awkwardly, but it is what makes most of the characters interesting in the main plot, so its inclusion is essential, and I’m not really sure how it could have been added in a less jarring way.  The  mystery portion is quite complicated and for that reason I wouldn’t recommend the book to anyone with a tendency to lose track when a book has a lot of fairly interchangeable, often dead, minor characters.  I would recommend this book overall, but only if the concept of a dark, dystopian police mystery appeals to you; there isn’t a lot to recommend it besides the main concept of the book.

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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Scandal in Spring (Lisa Kleypas, Wallflowers #4)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This book has a lot of trademark Kleypas strengths – interesting character development, great dialogue, sensual lovemaking, and an engaging supporting cast.  It is not my favorite within her four-book Wallflowers series, and there are some uneven bits, but Daisy and Matthew are well developed, engaging characters, and a couple of their interactions are particularly memorable (and very, very re-readable).  This is a little less of a standalone book relative to the rest of the series, which is one of its weaknesses.  As the conclusion to the Wallflowers, time is given to reviewing how each of our other three heroines have fared, which does take away from how developed our protagonists are.

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Posted in Romance

Free Will (Sam Harris)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
In this mini-book, Harris sets out to convince us that free will is an illusion.  He shows us some science to support this point, and then he provides numerous, repetitive examples to drive the point home.  I suspect he did this for two reasons: one, this is not a concept that is easy to accept (I’m still working to wrap my head around it), and two, if he’d taken out the repetition this already very short book (the paperback edition is a mere 96 pages) would’ve been about a third shorter.  The first few repetitions were helpful, and maybe they all are helpful if you’ve never read anything on this topic before, but for me it was a bit much.  Harris spends the second half of us book convincing us that a lack of free will is really OK; that our morals, politics, and criminal justice system do not need to fall apart if we all accept out puppetness (puppetude? whatever).  This is far more enjoyable and less repetitive, and I wish he’d spent more time here; there’s a lot to say about these topics which Harris left unsaid.  While I still recommend this book (not that I’m free to do otherwise, apparently), Harris can do better.
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Posted in Nonfiction

In the Garden of North American Martyrs (Tobias Wolff)

4.5 out of 5

Cut to the Chase:
With vividly drawn characters that each have a heartbreaking story to tell, In the Garden of North American Martyrs is an amazingly well-written collection of misfits and outcasts.  It seems to be Tobias Wolff’s specialty to condense a character’s loneliness into just a few short pages, a couple of scenes that somehow relate everything of importance about a person. The stories are intensely personal, and you’ll find yourself relating to everyone from an irascible gentleman having to suffer through a golden anniversary cruise to a scholarship boy trying desperately to become an insider at an elite preparatory school.  Though there are a couple of near-misses in this collection, overall, the writing is powerful, memorable, and enthralling; the dialog is sharp and witty and deftly hints at deeper truths.
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Posted in Literary Fiction

How the Marquess Was Won (Julie Anne Long, Pennyroyal Green #5)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This whimsical Cinderella story between a dashing, trend-setting marquess and a somewhat plain schoolmistress who reforms recalcitrant young girls is an enjoyable and entertaining read that is mostly good… but definitely not great.  Long has a wonderful sense of humor and wit, and the dialogue between our main characters is handled quite well, with references to a variety of literature and mythology, so that we can be duly impressed with the breadth and depth of their knowledge.  The main problem is that Long seems to sometimes get carried away with her own cleverness: some of the incidents with cats, tripping waltzes, and forelocks feel farcical and pull the reader out of an otherwise engaging novel.  Still, it’s a slightly above average historical romance, and is worthwhile for those of us who have run out of other options.

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Posted in Romance