Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fluent Forever, by Gabriel Wyner

The subtitle of this intriguing book is "How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It." I can't say -- yet -- how well Mr. Wyner's techniques will work for me, but I'm encouraged by his logical approach to learning.

Perhaps I can report in a follow up for the 2015 best of list posting whether or not I've succeed using his techniques to become fluent in another language quickly and effectively. So I'm marking this as one of this year's top-ten candidates, but we'll have to wait and see if it makes the grade based on my experiences in 2015.

One of the cool things about this book is that in each chapter Mr. Wyner points the reader to his web site for all sorts of (free) tools and add-ons.

The short story here is memorization techniques based on research in the field. As such, if all you want to do is memorize the periodic table, this book will help you do it (or at least will claim it can) with little hassle. Mr. Wyner adds to this some insights about languages, how to learn pronunciation, and which words to learn first.

I'm eager to use these techniques.

Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It

Friday, December 19, 2014

Extreme Faction, by Trevor Scott

This is an espionage adventure novel featuring hero Jake Adams.  It was free on Kindle presumably to tempt readers to buy additional books in Mr. Scott's series.  I won't be doing that.   Instead, I'm resolved to be more selective in my reading in 2015 and to avoid being sucked in to spending time reading mediocre novels when I could be reading great books.

Meanwhile, for completeness:  Adams is former military and former CIA; he now runs a one-man security company in Portland Oregon.  He accompanies clients to a conference in Odessa, Ukraine when things go awry.  Adams ends up working with the CIA again, traveling to Kurdistan, and -- it isn't a spoiler when the author has a whole series built around the hero, right? -- he saves the day. And gets the girl. And finds the mole. Yep, these aren't really spoilers.

Extreme Faction (A Jake Adams International Espionage Thriller Series Book 2)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Twenty-five Books that Shaped America, by Thomas Foster

Mr. Foster teaches English at the University of Michigan at Flint.  In this book, he gives his personal take on the twenty-five American novels that have had the most impact -- not the best, mind you, just the most important.

I expected this to be more entertaining than it was.   Mr. Foster explains each choice in detail and seems to try to be very upbeat and enthusiastic about it all.

Twenty-five Books That Shaped America: How White Whales, Green Lights, and Restless Spirits Forged Our National Identity

Spider's Bite, by Jennifer Estep

This isn't a bad novel in terms of plot and character development.  But it needs good editing.  The writing is repetitive.  The same words are used again and again.  Did I mention, the writing is repetitive.  The same words are used again and again.  Yes, really, it is that bad.  So in spite of the book's good points, I don't recommend Ms. Estep's writing.

Oh, what's it about?  Imagine a Gotham -like city where magical creatures (but not happy unicorns, instead think vampires and such) wander about with the humans.  The place is entirely corrupt.  Our hero, Gin, is an assassin (nicknamed the "spider") with a sad back story, who usually kills with knives.  For a touch of romance, uncorrupted detective Donovan Caine joins forces with Gin to chase even badder bad guys than Gin.

Spider's Bite (Elemental Assassin, Book 1): An Elemental Assassin Book

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dallas Noir, ed. by David Hale Smith

The noir anthology concept is from Akashic Books which has done this series since 2004, each featuring a different neighborhood or city as its thematic base.  The noir notion is that there's a dark side to each story; the good guy doesn't win in the end, if you can even figure out if there is a good guy at all.

So what ties this book of short stories together is that they're all based in or around Dallas.

As for the stories:  meh.    Only one story in the collection interested me enough to want to research the author: Kathleen Kent's "Coincidences can kill you." 

Dallas Noir (Akashic Noir)

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Cleaner, by Mark Dawson

This is the first is Mr. Dawson's series about hero John Milton.   Milton is a British assassin, working for a deniable government agency after a long and successful military career.  His designation is "number one," meaning he's outlasted all of his predecessors which is apparently the seniority system, as new hire assassins start as "number twelve."

It is an interesting story and I'll read the others in the series (if they are discounted on Kindle occasionally).  I read another of Mr. Dawson's books and it was -- just okay.   This one is better.  Except.

Except that at the very beginning of this novel, things went poorly.  On page 24, Milton is on a subway (Underground) platform.  On page 26, he's at a local hospital having accompanied a stranger he encountered on the platform.  On page 27, his care is conveniently parked next to the hospital.   Oh dear.   This sort of continuity error is completely preventable.  

The Cleaner - John Milton #1 (John Milton Series)

The Fire Seekers, by Richard Farr

This book made me imagine it that it was really a pitch for a television series.  The hero is Daniel, the teenage offspring of a business genius billionaire mother and academic polyglot father.  Because he's home schooled after his mother sells her business, Mr. Farr gets to assign a seemingly infinite number of skills to our hero: he flies, climbs, dives, does martial arts, cooks -- pretty much whatever the plot line calls for at any given moment.  Just like McGyver, except that Daniel's Swiss Army pocket knife is a skill pulled out of thin air.

The general plot line is about "babblers" -- people whose ability to learn new languages is off the chart.  And a growing cult, of course, the "Seraphim."  There's not much character development other than about Daniel, and even though the book was relatively interesting, the ending was quite weak.

This is the first in a trilogy, but I won't read the next volumes unless they end up free on Amazon Kindle -- in which case I'll save them for a waiting room or airplane read.

The Fire Seekers (The Babel Trilogy Book 1)

Mac Walker's 40,000 Feet, by D. W. Ulsterman

This is the first in a series of pulp fiction suspense stories featuring, you guessed it, hero Mac Walker.  Here's the thing though:  I read this book about a week ago, and already I don't remember anything about it.   For free on Kindle I'm sure it helped pass the time...

MAC WALKER'S 40,000 FEET: Mac Walker #1: A terrorism thriller

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

This was a very challenging sci-fi novel.  It is set in a universe so alien that nothing initially makes any sense; the proper nouns are difficult to sound out, the concepts are entirely foreign.  It is kind of like being in a conversation with people who are fluent in a language in which you can barely order a beer -- you follow it just enough to be interested but realize that you have no idea what's going on.

But it is very well written and interested me even as I was mystified by most of the first 50% of the novel.   The general idea is that the Radchaii race control things; their boss is Anaander Mianaai.   Mianaai is an entity comprising thousands of identical and linked entities.  Yes, that takes some getting used to.   Our hero is a ship, "Justice of Toren," which uses this same model of multiple entities to manifest itself as human-like beings while also being the AI system of the ship.

The Radchaii aren't all that sympathetic:  they annex worlds and one either joins up or becomes a once human no longer in control -- think zombie -like but more functional -- soldier (Ms. Leckie uses the word ancillary).   There is also a complex social hierarchy that I didn't fully fathom.

Okay, back to our hero. One of the instances of Justice of Toren is an ancillary called One Esk.  One Esk finds himself separated from the AI of Justice of Toren and his peers, and fakes being a human with the name Breq.   He takes up with a Radchaai named Seivarden, and moves forward on his goal to face as many instances of Anaander Mianaai as possible, in order to kill them.  Or at least a couple of them.

Complicated?  You betcha. Worth the read?  If you're into this genre, you're likely to enjoy this novel -- if you aren't freaked out by the learning curve.

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Keeper of Lost Causes, by Jussi Adler-Olsen

This very highly regarded novel is just not my cup of tea.  Well written, sure, but just too dark for me.   Perhaps that's just the nature of Scandinavian writing.

The hero, barely, is a police detective, Carl Mørck.   Mørck has problems:  he just survived an attack that killed two of his police colleagues and paralyzed another.   He is lazy, cranky, and all around difficult to deal with.  His superiors can't just fire or demote him, given the recent attack, so they promote him to a one-man mission, "Department Q," to look at cold cases.

A better hero is Mørck's assistant, Assad, who takes the work seriously and thus pushes Mørck into action.

Meanwhile, we're taken back in time every chapter or so, to follow the sad story of Merete Lynggaard, victim of a childhood auto crash that killed her family and injured her brother.  She ends up abducted in this parallel story, and Mørck ends up investigating her disappearance.

So what didn't I like about this well written, interesting novel?  I don't have much patience for Mørck, as much as I'm amused by Assad.  And, the tragedy that befalls Lynggaard is just too horrible to enjoy reading in any sense.

The Keeper of Lost Causes: The First Department Q Novel

Presidential Shift, by C. G. Cooper

Having just read a novel that was relatively credible, let's shift to the extremely incredible with this one.

The concept is that recently discharged Marine Cal Stokes runs a private security firm which also contracts to the US Government.  Stokes though tends to run off on his own private missions of assassinating those that he deems to be bad guys.  His relationship with the US President is such that he can be rude to him.  Now with this setup, you'd expect to find a genius hacker in his employ who can break into any system, invent any required gadget, and eavesdrop on and decrypt any communication: check.  And a whole group of martial arts and weapons specialists: check.  The ability to wander the halls of theWhite House armed, and shoot people there: check.  Oh, and the hero has to have implacable judgement and the trust of many in spite of being an impulsive hot head: check.

No, I don't recommend this series.

Presidential Shift: A Political Thriller (Corps Justice Book 4)

Personal, by Lee Child

Mr. Child has recovered the Jack Reacher franchise in this terrific novel.  The past few books in the series were getting tired.  All is well now though.

Our hero, Jack Reacher, is called upon by the US Government to help out in an investigation with global political implications that seems to involve a recently released prisoner that Reacher had originally caught and brought to justice.  The story is interesting and there are very few of those far fetched contrivances one comes across that allow a lead character to be superhuman.

I was amused to read negative reviews of the book on Amazon, with comments such as:
"Jack Reacher likes to hitchhike. He didn’t in this book.
Jack Reacher always gets the girl. He didn’t in this book.
Jack Reacher is witty. He isn’t in this book.
Is this a Jack Reacher imposter?"
For me, it isn't important that the hero curiously "gets" the girl, and hitchhiking is just another means of transport.  What I enjoyed is an interesting and well told story.

If you've stepped away from this series this is the book to return to.

Personal: A Jack Reacher Novel

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Narco Land, by Anabel Hernández

This is an outstanding, albeit rather depressing look at the state of criminal narcotic trafficking in Mexico and the extraordinary degree of government complicity and corruption that allows it to flourish.

To give a sense of the book, let me just quote from Publishers' Weekly:
"First published in Mexico as Los señores del narco in 2010, this dry translation brings Mexican investigative journalist Hernández's exposé about drug trafficking in Mexico to an English-speaking audience. Five years in the making, it's an in-depth, unforgiving look at the deep-rooted corruption that has allowed the cartels to flourish; they now influence and control vast swaths of the country. Numerous anecdotes and interviews flesh out a decades-long narrative, touching on everything from CIA and DEA involvement, to how the drug lords run their empires from prison, to the way these powerful men live and die. 
It's a scathing, sobering report, as Hernández lays the blame not just on the drug cartels, but on all those who exercise everyday power from behind a false halo of legality to make their law of 'silver or lead'  a reality. While appendices containing glossaries of acronyms and short bios do much to reduce reader confusion, there's still an immense and exhausting amount of information to absorb. Those willing to slog through the dense bits will find a thought-provoking portrait of the crime and corruption that dominates our southerly neighbor." [1]
This is not an easy book to follow. At times I felt as though I should draw a mind map to show the relationships between both the criminals profiled and their government cronies. So it does take some dedication to work through.
A few key takeaways:

  1. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderón (who left office in December 2012) was clearly on the take and helped the drug gangs.  
  2. The heads of the major Mexican federal police agencies were also benefitting from their corrupt alliances with the drug gangs even as they went through the motions of taking action against them.  
  3. There is no question that the US government and particularly the DEA were aware of this; there is some potential that political concerns via the CIA and State Department hampered DEA activity against some of the more powerful political figures in Mexico's government.  
  4. Even today, Calderón lectures at Harvard, presumably not about how to be a corrupt leader.  

Does any of this change under Mexico's current president, Enrique Peña Nieto?  That remains to be seen.

In any case, a must-read. And one which leads to a number of questions, such as:
  1. Why would anyone (unless they really needed to, e.g., to visit a terribly ill relative) travel to Mexico given not only the state of lawlessness but also the complicity of authorities, from local mayors and policemen all the way up to the highest levels of government?  
  2. Why has the US domestic effort to reduce drug use failed so badly, in spite of imprisoning over 500,000 [2] Americans (as of 2011)? 
  3. And, what should we do about this?


Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords And Their Godfathers

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Days of Rage, by Brad Taylor

Mr. Taylor has a series going that features the hero of this book, Pike Logan.  It is the first of the series that I've read, and probably will be the only one.

This is a pretty generic military special forces operator novel.   The plot was interesting enough:  Russian bad guys gunning for the USA with collateral damage to and involvement of the Israelis.  The hero, pained by past losses. The girlfriend who fixes him.  The bad guy hidden in government.

For some reason it is in vogue for the hero to be slightly undisciplined when it comes to following orders.   That's not overly annoying in itself, but I found myself in this novel being jolted out of the story line a few times, thinking, "gosh that was pretty unprofessional."

So this is probably a good series to pick up on Kindle or in paperback at an airport book store before a long flight, but not worth otherwise seeking out.

Days of Rage: A Pike Logan Thriller

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Seven Kinds of Hell, by Dana Cameron

Wow: an airplane book that I enjoyed -- enough to want to read the sequel.  You'd not think it so at first glance:  our hero, Zoe, is an archaeologist who moves, with her mother, from town to town so as to avoid being found by her estranged father's family.   It turns out that Zoe has some strange habits, like attacking bad guys at random intervals, and not entirely of her free will.   She thinks herself nuts and keeps this a secret.

Have you figured it out yet?  How's the word, "werewolf" work for you?  In this novel, they call themselves "fangborn," by which they mean all manor of vampire, oracle, etc., who pop up in amazing numbers once Zoe gets clued in on things.

Oh, and her mission.  There must be a mission.  Her's is to save the world from the unknown outcome of the collection of four old statuettes and their placement on -- wait for it -- Pandora's Box. And I mustn't leave out this timely gem (after all, election day in the USA was yesterday) -- there's a nefarious US Senator involved in the action.

And in spite of all this, I really liked the novel and plan to read the next in the series .   Go figure.

Seven Kinds of Hell (The Fangborn Series Book 1)

Pentecost, by JF Penn

As an airplane book, this was great.  Who cares about plot gaps or minor typos when you're shuttling through the air trying to avoid noticing the strange behavior of the person across the aisle from you?  In crisp light and a comfortable chair, this wouldn't necessarily have made my list, even for free on Kindle.

Twelve special stones, with mystical powers, were long ago disbursed across the earth.  Now someone is collecting them with nefarious aims. Our hero is Oxford professor Morgan Sierra who gets involved in a complex way.  Conveniently, she's an Israeli with military experience and thus quicker to violent action than say the prototypical Oxford professor type.

She's helped by Jake Timber who works for a British government agency that deals with paranormal situations.  But, (spoiler alert), it isn't clear to me at the end if Jake or his agency are good or bad guys.

In any case, action ensues, lots of travel, plot holes the size of the Bay of Bengal, but hey, if you're on an airplane, who cares?

There are more episodes to this story (at least four books), but I think I'll pass -- at least until my next trip.

Pentecost. An ARKANE Thriller (Book 1)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Top Secret, by W.E.B. Griffin

My excuse is that I'm an optimist at heart.  Yes, the last book I read by this author was not very good.  And yes, I've leafed through other of his books at the library and unimpressed didn't bother with them.  But for some reason when I saw this on the library shelf I thought, this will be worth reading.

I was of course quite wrong.

The novel is set immediately after the end of World War II.  Admittedly I dislike historical fiction so that was a negative.  The positive was that the main character, Cronley, was young, inexperienced, less bright than he imagined, and naive.  So I thought we might see interesting character development as the boy grows to become a man, or some such.  Not so much.

The highlights:  don't think of these as spoilers (though they might be; if that is a concern just stop here), think of them as completely predictable.  Just run through your list of trite spy book scenarios:   Love interest dies tragically?  Check.   Brash young hero says inappropriate things to superiors yet doesn't learn?  Check.  Brash young hero makes terrible and repeated error in judgement, even as the reader says aloud, "oh no, don't do it!"  Check.  Brash young hero turns out to be wealthy?  Check.  Has ridiculously well connected and wealthy friends?  Check.  The US President has so little on his plate that he can spend time on this stuff?  Check.

Sigh.   On the plus side, I did finish the novel, so it held my interest -- at some level -- to the end.

I hope to do better than the main character of Mr. Giffin's novel and learn from my mistake: I won't read another of these novels.

Top Secret (A Clandestine Operations Novel)

The Heist, by Daniel Silva

In most respects, this the 14th novel in Mr. Silva's series featuring spy Gabriel Allon, was better  than the last.  But there was a negotiation at the end of this book that was so clumsily done as to really annoy me.  To avoid spoilers, I'll just say that it doesn't make sense to pay $6 for something you could easily get down to 50 cents.   That was not in line with the characters behavior at least as I've interpreted them over the prior 13 novels.  And the emotional call to do so, absent thoughtful discussion, also seemed out of kilter with my expectations for Mr. Silva's characters.

So would I recommend this novel?  Nah, not so much.  The hero is getting a bit long in the tooth, and I can confidently predict what will happen in his personal life and to the folks around him in the next novel in this series.  It is time for Mr. Silva to invent a new character to take the lead in his spy stories; until then there are other authors to read.

The Heist: A Novel (Gabriel Allon Book 14)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Magician's Land, by Lev Grossman

This is the third volume in Mr. Grossman's trilogy, and it is the best by far.

The Magician's Land: A Novel (The Magicians Book 3)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Angelbound, by Christina Bauer

This book is quite odd.  The hero is Myla Lewis, a high school senior in -- wait for it -- Purgatory.  She's a half-demon.  Has a tail.  And has a side job of fighting evil souls.

If you're not weirded-out just yet, then you might enjoy this novel.  I can't tell if it is youth fiction or even quasi-romance.  Then again, with a plot line like this one has, I can't tell much.  Still though, it was surprisingly enjoyable.


Wanted, by Nick Stephenson

When I picked this up I'd forgotten that I had read another of Mr. Stephenson's novels not too long ago - and really disliked it.  This one is a bit better.  Especially at the excellent Kindle price of free.  But just by a little bit.

Wanted: A Leopold Blake Thriller (A Private Investigator Series of Crime and Suspense Thrillers Book 1)

Toymaker, by Chuck Barrett

This novel was surprisingly entertaining.  It is the second in a series; I've not read the first and see no point in doing so now.  Hero Jake becomes a spy but isn't suited to the work; he's impulsive, emotional and difficult with a team.  He gets connected to an elderly genius who runs his own private spy network in between inventing cool gadgets (think James Bond's Q on steroids).   Excitement ensures.

The Toymaker (The Action-Packed Jake Pendleton Political Thriller series Book 2)

Wired, by Douglas Richards

This interesting novel features two heros, scientist Kira Miller and former soldier David Desh.  You don't have to go out on a limb to imagine that these two become an item by the end of the book.  But the rest of the plot is highly inventive and entertaining.  There are periods of long winded and boring philosophizing, but that is easy to skim over.


The Magician King, by Lev Grossman

This is the second volume in Mr. Grossman's trilogy.  As I noted after reading the first volume, the characters are flawed in a deeper way than the superficial good or bad guys of a children's book.  And thus, to me, far more interesting.

This novel is complete in its own, but does encourage one to read the next.  I'm already on the library waiting list for it.

The Magician King: A Novel (The Magicians Book 2)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Codex, by Lev Grossman

Our hero, Edward, a successful money manager in New York, is on a brief vacation prior to relocating to London for his firm.  He gets caught up in looking for an old manuscript.  Mayhem ensues, so very slowly that a snail could outpace it.   Confusing, boring, uninteresting; I finished it out of sheer stubbornness.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Act of War, by Brad Thor

As usual, Mr. Thor uses the novel as a platform for his political ideology.  But it is forgivable in this fast paced and quite interesting book.  It felt a bit rushed at the end, but overall, held up.

Act of War: A Thriller

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Taken, by Benedict Jacka

This is the third book in Mr. Jacka's series featuring Alex Verus, a mage who can see somewhat into the future and who solves problems for the good guys.  I'd previously read the second book and liked it enough to keep going.   And I'm pleased that I did because Mr. Jacka's writing has gotten noticeably better.  This novel was a delight.  For those of you who haven't read any of his books yet, I suggest just starting with this one.

Taken (Alex Verus Book 3)

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Lincoln Myth, by Steve Berry

This novel features Mr. Berry's recurring character, Cotton Malone. The concept is that President Lincoln made a deal with the Church of Latter Day Saints to hide information; a current US Senator and senior member of the Church seeks to reveal this information in order to push through the ability for several states to secede from the Union; the current President doesn't want this to happen; Malone has to save the day.

On the other hand, based on the story line, the readers may well be in favor of this fictional secession. I didn't enjoy the book much. So much I didn't that I'm not really motivated to say more about the novel in this post.

 I will no doubt read Mr. Berry's next novel, but I'm comfortable in recommending that others not bother wasting their time with this one.

The Lincoln Myth: A Novel (Cotton Malone Book 9)

935 Lies, by Charles Lewis

This is a must-read book.   Mr. Lewis is an impartial, non-partisan journalist, founder of the Center for Public Integrity, his idea of investigative reporting is to show people the truth even if it embarrasses government officials - or the corporations whose ad dollars pay for newspaper or TV station payrolls.   His book gives detailed examples of both government lies and corporate coverups.

After you read this book, you'll bookmark the public integrity website for at least weekly updates, and you'll probably want to make a (tax deductible) contribution to them as well.

A couple of examples from the book might intrigue you.   Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971.  It "...unequivocally revealed government deception and incompetence." leading to the Vietnam War.   The short story, for those of you who've forgotten that war, is this.  President Johnson told Americans in August of 1964 that US ships in the Golf of Tonkin had been attacked by North Vietnam.  A sequence of attacks on US vessels led to Congress passing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which allowed the President to go to war without actually going through Congress to "declare war" on North Vietnam.
The Pentagon Papers showed that it was all lies.  Prior to enemy hostilities, the US had been in violation of North Vietnam's ", air space, and territorial waters, including consciously planned, aggressive military provocations."  The claimed attack on the US destroyer Maddox did not actually happen at all.   58,300 US military were killed in action during Vietnam.  Over 150,000 were wounded in action.  All because of President Johnson's (and his associates') lies.

The US Attorney General put pressure on newspapers to not publish the Pentagon Papers.  Eventually the NY Times gave up in fear of government lawsuits and persecution, and stopped publishing excerpts -- which allowed the Washington Post to step up and keep the story going.  This won the Post the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

At this point, President Nixon was working to discredit Mr. Ellsberg, using the same team that would eventually be disclosed as the "plumbers" behind Watergate, and ultimately lead him to resign from office (prior to being removed by impeachment).

Now lest we all think this is just a history lesson, please consider the Edward Snowden leaks of NSA materials.   The leaks reveal all sorts of illegal actions on the part of US government agencies.   (Just like the Pentagon Papers.)  Yet the focus is on Mr. Snowden (who might enjoy being compared to Mr. Ellsberg).  You know what they say about history repeating itself?

Just one more historical parallel.  Recall how the Pentagon Papers showed that it was the then President's lies that got us into a war that needlessly took service-men's lives?  Mr. Lewis also writes about how then President George Bush got the US into a war through at least 935 false statements about the national security threat posed by Iraq.

Among the big lies: there were no WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) in Iraq.  There were no links to al Qaeda in Iraq.  (Much better links to al Qaeda were in Saudi Arabia, but close relationships with the Kingdom apparently led to no mention of this from the government.)
"The carefully orchestrated campaign of untruths about Iraq's alleged threat to US national security from its WMDs or links to al Qaeda (also specious) galvanized public opinion and led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses."
The bad news about Mr. Lewis' book is that it might make you feel depressed.  The good news is, at least you'll understand the reasons why you simply can not trust newspaper, radio or television news, as Mr. Lewis goes into detail to explain the pressures put on publishers and station owners by both government and private industry.

935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America's Moral Integrity

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Cursed, by Benedict Jacka

This is the second book in Mr. Jacka's series featuring Alex Verus, a mage who can see somewhat into the future and who solves problems for the good guys.   The library didn't have the first volume, but I figured I'd jump right in.

If you're familiar with James Butcher's series, "The Dresden Files," then you'll see similarities.  Make no mistake though: Mr. Butcher is the master, and Mr. Jacka is - at least in this episode - still the apprentice.

While not fabulous, it was interesting; I'm going to read the next book in the sequence.

Cursed (Alex Verus)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Kraken Project, by Douglas Preston

This was a strange book.  The heroes don't get much development.  One is Shepherd, a genius programer who built an AI system for NASA; it went nuts and escaped.  Shepherd runs too.  Another is Ford, who is a former CIA agent, and works for the President who oddly enough bothers himself worrying about finding Shepherd.   There may be more character development of the software program, Dorothy, than of the human characters.   In spite of all this, I enjoyed the book.

The Kraken Project (Wyman Ford Series)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Gun Metal Heart, by Dana Haynes

I enjoyed Mr. Haynes' prior novel in this series so much that I was eager to read this, the next episode.  If anything, it was even more fun.   The series features the recurring main character Daria, the freelance spy, and John, the former CIA analyst.   It is not necessary to have read the earlier book to follow this one; there are references to Daria's recovery from injuries and to her relationship with John, but the novel is pretty much free standing.

Here, Daria continues to be chased by the CIA as she seeks to stop a Serbian mercenary group from doing violence and upsetting what little stability exists in the Balkans.

A very enjoyable novel.

Gun Metal Heart

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ice Cold Kill, by Dana Haynes

This fast paced suspense novel features hero Daria, a former Israeli agent who now lives in Colorado doing private security work.   She's an adrenalin junkie and likes action.  Asher is a brilliant bad guy, who Daria had imprisoned four years earlier.   John is an intelligence analyst for the CIA who becomes a hero.   Sure there are some plot holes, but that's the name of the game in this genre.  I really enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading Mr. Haynes' next one too.

Ice Cold Kill

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Skin Game, by James Butcher

This is the 15th of Mr. Butcher's planned 20 volume series, "The Dresden Files."   I've only read two of the novels, and so I predictably get a bit lost in some of the convolutions of plot.

Here's the deal, as best I can construct it:   Dresden is a wizard who lives in Chicago.  He's a good guy. He becomes the Winter Knight, which I guess was explained in volume 14 (which I read but which did not make much of an impression on me I guess, because I'm still unclear about it, other than it makes him the Warden of an island on which bad para-normal things are imprisoned).   He works for Mab who is a bad guy but seems to be better than alternatives for whatever it is that she keeps in balance.  His friends have a variety of talents (like wielding magical swords), and his collection of friends include spirits in balls and special dogs.    His enemies form a longer list and range from horrible to just yucky.

In spite of not following say 25% or more percent of what was going on, I enjoyed the book.   Dresden was a bit less annoying a character than he was in volume 14.  The plot kept moving forward well.   So I suppose I'll keep reading the series.

Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Red Room, by Ridley Pearson

This novel continues the story of John Knox and Grace Chu, private security operators.  It is notable that the main characters in this book have no idea of what is going on for much of the story -- neither does the reader.  This is not a positive attribute.   In fact, even on the last page I was struggling to figure out what had happened.

The plot advances, however slowly, and it is complex -- to the extent that I understand it.

So do I recommend this book?  Not really, although it was impressive to have kept my attention to the end in spite of my confusion.

The Red Room (A Risk Agent Novel)

Friday, August 22, 2014

On Scope, by Jack Coughlin

This novel starts off rough: the author tries to use as many adjectives as he can fit into a sentence in some parody of descriptive writing.  Fortunately that awkwardness abated after a few pages, except for some instances of repetitiveness.  Overall, Mr. Coughlin would benefit from a better editor.

The genre is "extreme jingoism, forget about civil liberties or even the Constitution, special forces operators are going to kill bad guys as they see fit."   The good news is that Mr. Coughlin included key female operators as characters and gave them every bit the capabilities as the men.  The plot was a bit cookie cutter, but interesting enough to read to the end.  This isn't a champagne read, but it is like cold light beer on a hot day.

On Scope: A Sniper Novel (Kyle Swanson Sniper Novels)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Abomination, by Jonathan Holt

Mr. Holt refers to this novel as the first in a trilogy and I look forward to reading the next installment. The setting is Venice, and from the detailed descriptions of the city I can't decide if I'm eager to go there or happy to avoid it at all cost.   Three heroes are introduced:  Carabiniere Captain Kat Tapo, US Army 2nd Lieutenant Holly Boland, and strange mathematician and computer programmer extraordinaire Daniele Barbo.   All three end up in Venice and come together in a beautifully orchestrated intertwined plot.

The story is credible; this is dramatic fiction not a shoot-em-up mass market suspense novel (and I enjoy those too).  The writing is great, the plot, the character development - simply outstanding.  Highly recommended.

Boland gets involved due to a Freedom of Information Act request by a woman who is later found murdered, hence Tapo's participation.  Barbo plays a role for two reasons: he built the massive multi-player environment in which several informants communication for anonymity, and because his long term mentor, Gilroy is a former CIA agent in Italy who is also involved in the situation.  That situation being a conspiracy including the Catholic Church taking offense to women who claim to be priests, private military contractors, and NATO.   But really, it does all come together.

The Abomination: A Novel (Carnivia Trilogy, The)

Buddha's Brain, by Rick Hanson

Imagine you're curious about "new age" concepts of meditation or positive imaging, but you're an analytical empiricist for whom touchy feely books about Buddhism or meditation feel too far out.  Then this book is for you.   Dr. Hanson is a (PhD) neuropsychologist, and his co-author Dr. Mendius (MD) is a neurologist.  Their book takes an approach of mapping a physiological and neurological view of the brain to behavioral changes that can benefit the reader.

The introduction of concepts like breath awareness and meditation are so subtle that I can't imagine anyone would be put off by them.

My only objection is the authors' promotion of supplements (vitamins) at the end of the book; recent reputable studies[1] imply that there is no value to using any of these.

[1] Guallar E, Stranges S, Mulrow C, Appel LJ, Miller ER 3rd. Enough is enough: Stop wasting money on vitamin and mineral supplements. Ann Intern Med. 2013 Dec 17;159(12):850-1. Erratum in: Ann Intern Med. 2014 Jan 21;160(2):143. PubMed  PMID: 24490268. Retrieved from

Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Plague, by Victor Methos

With the right editing, this might be a good novel.   As is, the plot jumps around quite a bit.  The book did keep my interest though I was not pleased with the ending.   Plot spoiler follows, if you plan to read the novel, stop here. I doubt many discerning readers will be encouraged to stop.

The hero is Dr. Samantha Bower, who works for the CDC and makes irrational and poor decisions.   Some of the other supporting characters are interesting, but - did I mention that everyone dies at the end?

Plague - A Medical Thriller (The Plague Trilogy Book 1)

Primal Origin, by Jack Silkstone

In this first volume of Mr. Silkstone's series, a wealthy young businessman in the Emirates decides to fund a group of former military special forces ops to build his own vigilante organization.  Presumably targeting terrorists that otherwise are off the table for government intervention due to political reasons. The group's name is the acronym PRIMAL, hence the title.

Given that description, this book is everything you would expect.  Sketchy plots, impossible saves, and a general disregard for the law.

PRIMAL Origin: A Novella (The PRIMAL Series Book 1)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Nostradamus File, by Alex Lukeman

I'm on a roll, going through all the books in Mr. Lukeman's "Project" series.   See my prior posts for context.

The Nostradamus File (The Project Book 6)