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