Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Split Second, by Catherine Coulter

The promise of this novel is an action mystery starring FBI agents.   I got that, along with two unanticipated extras:   first, it borders as close to a romance as a murder mystery can.  Second, it introduces a para-normal sub-plot.    Can't say more as I don't want to provide a spoiler.  But neither development thrilled me.   Pleased I borrowed this one from my public library.

Carte Blanche, by Jeffery Deaver

"Carte Blanche" represents the re-birth of British spy James Bond, 007.    Mr Deaver took Ian Flemming's iconic hero (and the hero of a dozen movies to date, another coming in 2012) and resurrected him as a current day spy in his mid-30s.

This is a good thing: the 007 concept is great for the spy genre, and Bond had might as well be remade as current; after all, that's what the movies do.

Now to this novel:  well, not so great.  As the first re-make of the Bond series, I was motivated to read it.  But it really wasn't compelling.   Maybe a C+ or perhaps B-.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan

This is a pleasant surprise:  a very well written dramatic novel cloaked in a werewolf's story.    The hero (if you can use that description for someone who eats an innocent stranger once a month) learns he is the last werewolf on earth.   He's chased by some who want to eliminate his kind, others who want his passing to be an dramatic event, others who want to use and abuse him.

BTW, this is clearly an NC-17 book.  It turns out that while vampires in literature (include their appearance in Mr Duncan's novel) tend toward fine wines and music, werewolves have less imagination but a heck of a sex drive.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Buried Secrets, by Joseph Finder

It has been a while since I last read one of Mr Finder's novels and I'd forgotten that I didn't enjoy it.   But this novel is solid.   It helped that I recalled some of the back story as this book continues with the exploits of its hero, Nick Heller.   I expect that even without the familiarity the story would be understandable; Mr Finder handles this continuation / back story reference far better than some other (failed) authors.

Nick is a private eye with a mysterious, spy oriented background.   He helps out a friend of his mother's whose daughter has been abducted.

As mentioned, a solid story - say a strong B.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield

This is an outstanding novel!   I'm not a fan of history or military books and this is both, yet it is so well written and so compelling that is transcends genre limitation.

The novel is about the Spartans and the battle at Thermopylae in 480 CBE.   The king of Persia, Xerxes, wanted to incorporate Greece into his enormous empire; the Spartans sought to slow their advance and, by sacrificing their lives, affect the morale of both groups (the Persians negatively, the other Greek forces positively).

The story is told by Xeo, the only Spartan survivor of the battle who is captured by Xerxes' forces and asked to explain the thinking that led to the Spartan's campaign.   Consequently there's ample room for story line that goes far beyond the gory battle description.

I was impressed by Mr Pressfield's writing in another of his novels that I read recently; this one, however, is even stronger.    I recommend it highly as a dramatic read that happens to have some war scenes, that happens to take place a long time ago but which stands on its own as an excellent work.

Blood Trust, by Eric van Lustbader

I'll cut to the net-net first:  do not waste your time reading this novel.   Spending 90 minutes watching reality shows on TV would be a better choice.

No point in listing the many failures of this book, but here's an example:  the way you realize that this is a sequel to a prior novel with the same characters is the cryptic and confusing reference to characters' back stories, told as though you should understand what is going on.   Well, either that or hideous editing.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Profession, by Steven Pressfield

This is a war novel, with a bit of suspense and drama.   It takes place in 2032 at which point the USA has turned the bulk of its military activity over to private contractors.   Our hero, Gent, follows his Patton-like commander, General Salter, with love and obeisance, even as Salter prepares to change the governance of the nation.

The paragraph above doesn't convey how well written this novel is; it pulls you forward, demanding you read it in a single setting.    Highly recommended.

Spycatcher, by Matthew Dunn

Mindless action with a comic book action figure hero.   There is an interesting plot line but it is overshadowed by the silliness of the hero.   Shot multiple times - no worries, up and about in a day or two. Shot again - no worries, hardly did any damage.   Stoic about his mission, but kicks furniture like a poorly behaved child when upset.  Sigh.

For a borrowed read (support your local public library) on a hot day with nothing else to do but sit by the pool, well sure, you'd might as well read this as any other trashy best seller list novel.    As an alternative to reality TV, absolutely worth reading.   As an alternative to reading any real fiction:  nah, don't bother.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shut Your Eyes Tight, by John Verdon

I was concerned at first that the hero of this novel, Dave Gurney, retired heroic NYPD homicide detective, would spend too much time groveling in misery over the tense and nearly dysfunctional relationship with his wife.  This would make it far less of a murder mystery and far more of a novel I wouldn't prefer to read.

Fortunately though, Mr Verdon compensated for this initial direction with an interesting and engaging novel.  One that I can wholeheartedly recommend.

To avoid inadvertent spoilers to the plot, I'll stop with that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store, by Ben Howe

This is a book of unattained potentiality:  it could have been great.   The author, then an editor at The Paris Review, is the epitome of WASP, tracing his heritage back to the Mayflower.   Living with his wife, of Korean heritage, and his in-laws, he gets sucked into buying and running a deli in New York.

It is close enough to good that I don't regret reading it, but can't recommend it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Peaceful Stillness of the Silent Mind, by Lama Yeshe

I've written before about Lama Yeshe and the wonderful job the people at the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mayahana Tradition are doing in making books about Buddhism readily available, in particular through the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.   This is another wonderful collection of transcribed talks from the starter pack.

In this book, Lama Yeshe talks about religion and its relationship to the practice of Buddhism, and about calmness.   Asked how to control emotions, he says:

"Instead of letting your emotions run wild with your mind, unable to forget whatever it is that's bothering you, sit down, relax, and focus your mind on the flow of your breath -- watch exactly how your breath flows into your nervous system on inhalation and out of it on exhalation.... When you concentrate on your breath, you automatically calm down.... I can guarantee that if you watch your breath for just twenty-one cycles, your nervous emotions will vanish."

I highly recommend this book.

Making Woodwork Aids & Devices, by Robert Wearing

This is a bare bones book:  no narrative, just a catalog of jigs for different woodworking situations.   Some of them seem low on aesthetics, some seem unnecessary (a jig for photographic slides -- anyone remember what they were?).   I flat out couldn't understand the tools for drawing perspectives.

In spite of this, the book seems well worth having as a reference.   What if you need to cut a disc (item 170) or put a groove in a dowel (item 121) or precisely gauge a cylinder (item 66)?