Monday, January 28, 2013

The Devil's Waters, by David L. Robbins

This is the first volume in what the author signals to be a series.   The context is an Air Force rescue unit (called PJs) who swoop into dangerous situations to rescue servicemen and occasionally civilians.  The hero of the story is LB DiNardo.

Here, Mr. Robbins' may have gotten the market research dead on correct, but it is also where the story annoyed me:  his hero has the genre -traditional anti establishment (even working within the establishment) chip on his shoulder.   So the hero doesn't play well with others, doesn't follow orders well, and yet of course saves the day.

On plot line and overall writing, the book is fine.  On the specific character development of what I found to be an unlikeable bloke, I'm less impressed.   But since it fits the genre's model, I'm sure it will be well received.

For me, not so much though; I was just mildly irritated.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Zombie, Illinois, by Scott Kenemore

This is not a sequel to Mr. Kenemore's "Zombie, Ohio."   In fact, that it involves zombies at all is a minor detail to a book that's about Chicago, its politics and geography.  The novel intertwines narratives from the three main characters, a reporter for a business paper, a minister, and a drummer, who connect through the experience of chaos following zombie sightings.

Compared to "Zombie, Ohio," this is not terrific, but it is interesting enough.   And folks who aren't interested in zombie fiction will find enough "normal" drama here to keep their interest.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Locked On, by Tom Clancy

Many years ago, novels like "Patriot Games " were really fun to read, and Mr. Clancy was a highly regarded author of well researched military -based novels.   So when I saw a new Clancy novel, I was optimistic.

Let me cut to the chase:  just say no.

Now here's why.   I could live with the tedious prose.  Or with the cartoonish description of Democrats as immoral and stupid tools of terrorists.   But I just couldn't take the boredom.   I skimmed through at least a quarter of the book.

The plot was okay (and just okay).   Good editing might have reduced this book by 400 pages, and that might have helped.

Not a winner.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Taken, by Robert Crais

Since I quite enjoyed the last novel of Mr. Crais', featuring his heroic duo Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, I tried another.  Now I am hooked on the series.

This novel introduced another lead player (new to me), Jon Stone.   And quite a bit of action.   Mr. Crais had the action moving back and forth in time, and with different narrators; this was well done.

In the mystery + action genre, this is a winner.

The Graveyard Game, by Kage Baker

This is the fourth book in the late Ms. Baker's series about the "Company," whose employees are time traveling immortal cyborgs who rescue art, endangered species and more over the centuries.

Usually entering an established series four novels in would be annoying, but Ms. Baker did a fine job of catching up a new reader on the premise.   The writing gets tiresome; a great editor could have removed 30 or more pages from this to tighten it up.   But the plot is interesting, and gets more interesting at the very end.   By mid-novel, I'd decided to not bother reading another in this series, but by the last page, I've decided to at least look for the next volume at my public library.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Watchman: A Joe Pike Novel, by Robert Crais

I really enjoy a well written mystery.  Mr. Crais is a reliable producer of such.   This novel features the enigmatic hero Joe Pike, his sidekick private investigator Elvis Cole, and is well written and fun to read.  Every time I read Mr. Crais I'm pleased and commit to read another of his books; now I wonder what took me so long since last time.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything, 1966-2012, by Carol Loomis

I am a fan of Warren Buffet, both of his investment model (value and long term thinking) and his view of business ethics (keep it simple, true and transparent).   Similarly of his long time associate and vice-chairman of Berkshire, Charlie Munger, whose book ("Poor Charlie's Almanack) I gushed about back in 2007.

Several books have been written about Mr. Buffet, one of which, by Peter Bevelin, was less a biography and more an introductory text to basic business.

Ms. Loomis' book is quite different:  she collected all the Fortune Magazine articles about Mr. Buffet up through mid 2012 into this well edited book.   So the reader gets a very long term view of the subject and also a view of the changing economic times of this period, since Fortune obviously prints materials that meets its audiences' interests.

If you're a fan like me, you'll enjoy this book.   Even if you're non-committal about Mr. Buffet, the book provides many good lessons on investment strategy, some on ethics, quite a bit on philanthropy (although the counter effect of the work that Mr. Buffet and Bill Gates do together in this space is that it hardly seems worth while for me to throw my nickel into a pot dominated by their billions).

If you're an investor in Berkshire Hathaway, or want to be, you'll get a sense of how the chairman runs the business.   It might be a good investment to own their shares, although returns of the last decade don't look as great as the prior three decades(1).   As of this writing, the A shares are at $140,803 each, which seems pricey.   The B shares are $93.85 each, which fits the rough formula that a B share is worth 1/1500th of an A share (and has 1/10000th the voting rights).

Finally, even if this book sounds like a yawn to you, if you are at all interested in business or investing, I suggest the habit of reading Mr. Buffet's amazing letters to shareholders, his being the most interesting of any firm's annual report.

(1) This assertion clearly demands a footnote.   The share price has not been distinguished in recent years; valuation has not kept up with even the S&P 500.    This, however, doesn't tell the entire story.  Net income per share has grown faster than the S&P 500's earnings, as has book value (at nearly 10% / year).  The graph below shows the comparison of BRK:A to the S&P 500 for the past five years.  Is the stock is a bargain?  The PE is of this writing 17.45, price to book is 1.26.

Data from on 5 January 2013.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 - 5), by Hugh Howey

I read this book based on a recommendation from a buddy, and what a good recommendation it was!   Because Mr. Howey self publishes on Kindle, the five books of his Wool novel are available for $5.99, which would be a bargain even if the novel weren't as well written, engaging and clever as it is.

Wool describes a future world where folks like in a silo:  neighborhoods are defined by floors, and there is no going outside.  This is because outside is a contaminated, scared world where one can't live long without protection.

But don't imagine that this book is a downer; the characters and story line kept me going without hesitation.

If you are interested in this novel but don't have a Kindle device, realize that you can read the book on your computer or Android with free Kindle software.   Or, you can download Mr. Howey's books in the Apple store as well.  Or from his website.

Update (1 Feb 2013):  I just read that Ridley Scott bought the movie rights, and Random House the hardcover publishing rights.   Mr. Howey not only writes outstanding science fiction but also has demonstrated that self publishing is a completely credible approach to both getting one's works read and making money.