Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Book Review: The Authorities by Scott Meyer

I've read and enjoyed all of Scott Meyer's Magic 2.0 series, so I was curious to see his take on the crime and mystery solving genre and whether it would be as entertaining.

The Authorities is comedy crime adventure written by Scott Meyer. It's available in all formats: eBooks, Audiobooks, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

Overview


A rich man has assembled a team of specialists to investigate crimes using cutting-edge technology and techniques. A police officer is hired to join the team and draw more attention to the team thru his crazy antics.

The Good


Technology. I'm a big fan of gadgets and gizmos. Q is my favorite James Bond character and his gadgets are my favorite parts of the movies. This book contains a lot of cool gadgets and technologies that don't exist in the real work--yet--which makes the story a lot of fun.

Comedy. While none of the jokes are laugh-out-loud funny, the whole tone of the book and content of the conversations is very amusing and definitely entertaining. It's the source of charm for the story.

Main Characters. The four or five characters who appear the most in the story are explored in pretty good depth and have interesting personalities and stories.

Luke Daniels. Luke Daniels is a great narrator and the reason I discovered this book. He does a great job conveying emotion and character with his voice. I was never unsure who was speaking. At times it felt like a whole cast of voice actors had recorded this audiobook.


The Bad


Mystery. The main story of the novel is solving the murder of a somewhat known psychiatrist
. Following the clues and the reveal of the guilty party was pretty mundane.

Minor Characters. Most of the minor characters, including a few members of The Authorities, are pretty two-dimensional and little more than plot devices.


What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the jokes had been funnier, the characters more memorable, and the mystery more engaging and enthralling. Everything was good, but nothing ever reached the level of great.


Overall


The Authorities is a funny book with a mostly interesting cast of characters and an entertaining take on the crime/mystery genres. The jokes are amusing but never reach the level of a guffaw like in the author's previous books. They mystery is interesting enough but certainly not the strongest element. It definitely held my interest, but I'm not sure I'd pick up a sequel if one comes out. I give it 4 out of 5 eReaders.



    



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Monday, May 22, 2017

Book Review - The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough

I knew the Panama Canal and been built and it was a boon to shipping because of how much time it saved sailing from ocean to ocean, but other than that I was clueless as to its history or the challenges and sacrifice associated with its construction, nor did I really care. But I love this period of history, so I was curious.

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 is a nonfiction history of the creation of the Panama Canal (hence the title) written by David McCullough. It's available in all formats: eBooks, Audiobooks, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

The Good


Information. This book is chuck full of information and answered questions I never thought to ask. Every aspect of the construction from the initial idea to the discussions to the financing and planning to the fundraising to the political challenges to the completion was explored thoroughly. 
I had no idea that it was the largest, most expensive venture undertaken by modern man outside of war.

Complete and Thorough. The author really did his homework. He covered all angles and answered all questions that could be answered given what information is still available. Ancillary events that affected the construction in one way or another were also explored to give the reader a clear view of what was happening in the world at the same time and what effect it had.

The Bad


Storytelling. This book reads more like a scholarly documentary or a list of facts than a story. Some people may appreciate that, but I found it boring. The author took the identical methodical approach to every last detail making the narrative feel very repetitive. After reading Wright Brothers, I know the author is capable of conveying history in a much more interesting fashion. 
Considering the subject matter and all the drama and intrigue that went on during the entire process, he certainly had plenty of material to work with.

Pacing. This book is very long and feels very long. I felt like I was in the trench digging the path between the seas. 

Treatment. The small, seemingly insignificant details are given the same treatment as the intense drama, unbelievable intrigue, and heart-wrenching sacrifice of human life. This had the effect of downplaying the really important and moving events and exaggerating the importance and role of lesser matters.


What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the author had written this as more of a thrilling novel than a dry recitation of facts like in a press conference or a question and answer session. The potential was there with all the drama, intrigue, triumph, and tragedy.



Overall


As a scholarly account of history, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal is excellent in its thoroughness telling you everything that is known or can be deduced about the entire process. As a story, it doesn't work as well downplaying all the drama and intrigue as mere matters of fact. It's a very long book that feels like a very long book. The information is worth 5 eReaders, but the poor conveyance of it forces me to give the book 
4 out of 5 eReaders.


     



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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I wasn't sure what to expect from the first Guardians of the Galaxy film and ended up loving it. I was hoping the find that same love with this film. Lighting didn't strike quite as hard twice.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a 2017 superhero, space opera, live action science ficiton film based on Marvel Comics characters. It's rated PG-13 due to violence and language and is appropriate for teens and up.

Overview


After saving the galaxy, the Guardians of the Galaxy go from rejects to rockstars. So how do you follow that up? Explore the individual characters backstories and what family and friendship mean.

The Good


Characters. The characters are as compelling in this film as the first. Because we've been introduced to them, the writers did something smart and focused on backstory and development instead of just bigger and louder fights. The backstories were interesting and added to the characters we already know instead of trying to change them.

Action. This film had a lot of great actions scenes. They were a little video-game looking and feeling, but still enjoyable.

Themes. This movie really focused on what it means to be family, and looked at that from several angles and used the idea to drive the narrative. It was a smart way to go and made this film necessary to expand the story and not just a sequel to rake in more money.

Ego, the Living Planet. When I heard Ego the Living Planet was the villain, I wondered how they would do that. Visions of Galactus from Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer flashed thru my head of one disappointing approach they could take. But they kept him very true to the comic while still making him a believable motion picture villain. He was great and a high point of the movie.

The Bad


Humor. The jokes just weren't as funny in this film as in most Marvel films. There were a few that had me laughing a little too loudly, but most of them fell flat.

Pacing of the First Half. The first half of the movie moved very slowly, and the gratuitous action scene at the beginning didn't help. There seemed to be a lot of pauses to build up to jokes that weren't very funny. I get what the director was thinking and trying to accomplish, but it just didn't work.

Content. This movie felt like it had too little story. The first dragged because so little happened and so many pauses. The filmmakers should have either cut out a half hour and tightened up the plot or added more story.

Video Game CGI. The first film created a world that felt very real and very used and worn out. That fit with the nature of the movie and the characters. This film felt like a video game with less convincing CGI and the characters not interacting with it in a believable way. This film would have benefited from either more sets or better direction.

The Sovereign. The Sovereign were lousy villains. They were stiff and uninteresting. I get that they were supposed to be this perfectly designed society, but they came off as filler so the good guys had something to blast.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish this movie had more story and more interesting villains (Ego was great, but he wasn't revealed as a villain until the end). I also wish the jokes had been funnier and a little more of the dirt and grit from the first film had been preserved.

Overall


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a fun space opera action flick. The characters are still great with each one's backstory explored and a great new villain in Ego. The jokes weren't as funny and the other villains, the Sovereign, were disappointing. The first half was slow and felt dragged out from too little story, but the second half was great and everything I expected from the film. I give it 4 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.



   

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Book Review - Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi



I've been on a John Scalzi kick lately. Some of his stories I've loved, and others have left me a little disappointed. Being the avid fan of short story anthologies, I was very curious to read his.

Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi is a science fiction anthology by John Scalzi (not that you couldn't figure that out). It's available in all formats: eBooks, Audiobooks, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

The Good


Humor. Most of the stories are pretty funny and present jokes I haven't heard before.

Unexpected Perspectives. The author definitely is a sociologist and humorist first and science fiction writer second. His approach to the genre is very different from the hard scifi writers or classic scifi masters I usually read. I especially like how he applied basic economics to superheroes and super villains. Why hasn't anyone thought of that before?


The Bad


Too Little Variety. Most of the stories in this collection are very similar in the subjects they deal with and the way they are dealt with. Just a few stories in they start to sound very repetitive
.

Same Jokes. The author has a very particular sense of humor and writes to a very specific audience telling a very specific type of joke. This is fine if you only read one work at a time with a break in between, but when you read several together like this, they get a little tired.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish there had been more variety in the types of stories and the type of humor. Most of the stories tell the same kind of jokes, and some tell the same jokes.


Overall


Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi has some humorous stories with very unique perspectives that I haven't heard before, but too many of them have very similar jokes and deal with too similar situations. I give it 3.5 out of 5 eReaders.



   



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Friday, May 12, 2017

Book Review - Destroyer: Rewinder, Book 2 by Brett Battles



I love time travel stories, but it's rare to find one that isn't just a rehash of a story I've read or watched or heard over a dozen times. Rewinder presented a really fresh take on time travel that really grabbed me, but it seemed complete. So I was curious to see where the author would go after that with two more novels.

Destroyer: Rewinder, Book 2 is science fiction, time travel adventure written by Brett Battles. It's available in all formats: eBooks, Audiobooks, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

Overview


The world where Great Britain won the Revolutionary War has been changed to our reality where America triumphed. Now a new mystery faces the main characters threatening to further change history.

The Good


Interesting Mystery. Most of this novel involves a strange man in grey following the main characters, and they have to figure out who he is and why he is following them. The answers and motivation are definitely interesting. If only it had stopped there.


The Bad


Undermines the Original Novel. The first novel, Rewinder, was a concept story. 
Instead of taking our reality and changing it to an alternate history, the author did the inverse taking an alternate history and changing it to ours which was really clever and rarely done. The story was finished. There was nothing new to add to the concept. Unfortunately the author decided to add two more books which completely undermine the original concept.

Unlikeable Character. Being a concept stories, the characters are not fully developed, because they aren't the focus. That's fine for first book and half of this book which is a mystery. But then the time jumping begins, and although the reader has figured everything out just past the midpoint, the protagonist is not very bright so the reader has to struggle thru the rest of the novel waiting for him to catch up and figure things out, which he never fully does.


What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the author hadn't written this book. The first book had such a fresh approach: the original world was the alternate version of our planet that had a change in a major historical event, and when the time travelers went back to study it, they accidentally changed history to create our world, the one we currently live in. The story was finished. There was nothing new to add to the concept, and this book proves it.



Overall


Destroyer: Rewinder, Book 2 is a disappointing follow up to an excellent science fiction novel with an almost never used twist on the time travel genre
. The story actually undermines all that was accomplished by the first. And the characters were mainly plot devices to advance the ideas of the first, not interesting individuals that the reader cares enough about to want to see further adventures featuring them. I give it 3 out of 5 eReaders.


    


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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book Review - For We Are Many: Bobiverse, Book 2 by Dennis E. Taylor



Sequels are an interesting challenge. The author has to balance including the elements readers enjoyed from the first story with something new to justify a second book. Most of the time they don't succeed as well as the reader would like. But sometimes they do.

For We Are Many: Bobiverse, Book 2 is science fiction, philosophical adventure written by Dennis E. Taylor. It's available in all formats: eBooks, Audiobooks, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

Overview


The "Bobs" have found several new worlds capable of sustaining human life and have begun transporting the survivors on Earth to Vulcan and Romulus even though they know they don't have the resources to transport everyone before the Earth become uninhabitable. But new dangers continue to emerge including a Borg-like species determined to strip mine the galaxy and new "Bobs" feeling less and less connection to or responsibility for humanity.

The Good


Philosophical Discussions/Dilemmas. While this is a science fiction story and space opera and includes a lot of cool scifi elements, the real story is about the nature of existence, identity, and the interactions of societies. This author does an excellent job of taking a well known scifi idea the readers will quickly be able to understand and be comfortable with and uses it to explore these philosophical and sociological ideas in great detail. Star Trek couldn't do any better.

Comedy. This book is filled with great humor and pop culture references.  For those who are into those, you won't be disappointed.

Ray Porter. Ray Porter may just well be the greatest reader ever. He is able to convey so much emotion without every going overboard or sounding over dramatic. He also reads so well that you feel like he is talking to you and not reading to you. The man can do no wrong.


The Bad


Character Uniqueness. The "Bobs" are all supposed to be copies of the original, but all of them exhibit unique characteristics and become unique individuals. This presents fascinating philosophical implications. Unfortunately, they aren't unique enough and there are so many of them that they aren't immediately recognizable, so when the author switches to a new "Bob" each chapter, it takes a few pages to realize which one it is, because all the reader has is a name which isn't enough.


No Exposition. This story picks up right where the first novel ended with no exposition or explanation. I had just finished the first book a couple of weeks before, so the characters and action were fresh in my mind, but for anyone who took a measurable amount of time between books, they may find themselves confused.


What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish the characters were a little more unique so that I could more easily follow what was happening. Each chapter shifts to a new "Bob", but it takes several pages to realize who it is and what he was doing because they aren't unique enough to be immediately remembered.



Overall


For We Are Many: Bobiverse, Book 2 is a great follow up further exploring the themes and ideas from the first book and continues right where the first book left off with no explanation or catch up, so you need to read the first one to understand what is going on here. 
It contains the same philosophical discussions and comedic tones readers enjoyed in the first book. The story is advanced while new elements and conflicts are introduced. I give it a solid 4.5 out of 5 eReaders.


     


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Monday, May 8, 2017

Book Review - Spaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Mike Massimino



I've always been a huge fan of space and dream of going out and seeing it for myself someday (hopefully in a Star Trek-type ship and not the current shuttles or rockets we're sending up).

Spaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe is an autobiography written and read by Mike Massimino. It's available in all formats: eBooks, Audiobooks, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

Overview


Spaceman is an autobiography telling the story of Mike Massimino, how he became an astronaut, and details his two spacewalks to the Hubble Telescope.

The Good


Subject Matter. This book tells one boy's story of watching the moon landing and wanting to be an astronaut and then growing up to live that dream. It covers the steps he had to take to make that happen and the challenges he had to overcome. It's an interesting story that never seems to get told but is well worth telling.

Details. The most interesting parts of this book are when the author describes the experiences in detail from his first-person perspective, telling you things you never knew about or have heard before. For example, he describes getting into the space shuttle and launching into space. On TV that takes a couple of minutes and you're in space. In real life there is a lot of waiting and a lot of procedures and a chance of cancellation right up to lift off that the public is never aware of. And the trip itself is several hours.


The Bad


Weak Storytelling / Narration. It's clear the author is not a professional writer, storyteller, or speaker. 
In so many areas it reads more like a technical manual than a great adventure. A good storyteller can weave the technical details in while still keeping his audience on the edge of their seats. Unfortunately, no such writer was involved in the production of this writing.

Too Much Telling. The author has a bad habit of going off on rants about how important something is or how difficult or how amazing, etc. but doesn't always describe the incidents or challenges in sufficient detail for the reader to really see or experience the wonder, amazement, or difficulty. When he does it's wonderful and we really feel what he is feeling. But too often we have to simply take his word for it.

Pacing. This novel has a very even pace throughout. It never gets really exciting, even during times that should be really exciting, because of the way the story it told. 

What I Would Like to Have Seen


Normally I'm not one to say "show, not tell", but in this case it's the most apt. Mike spends way too much time telling us how wonderful and important and challenging and amazing things are when he should be giving more detail and helping us experience his experiences for ourselves so we can see for ourselves how wonderful and important and challenging and amazing all of his experiences are.



Overall


Spaceman tells an interesting story most people probably aren't familiar with--the journey to become an astronaut and what life is like once you've made it. Unfortunately, the way it's told doesn't do justice to the story. All too often is sounds like a bureaucrat delivering a report or a technician writing a manual than a great adventurer telling about his latest journey. I give it 3 out of 5 eReaders.



   



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Friday, May 5, 2017

Book Review - When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales from Neurosurgery by Frank T Vertosick Jr., MD


I really enjoy reading about other people's lives and getting a peek at what they go thru and how they arrived at where they are at. I also enjoy science and learning more.

When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales from Neurosurgery is collection of autobiographical stories with a few personal essays in between written by Frank T Vertosick Jr., MD. It's available in all formats: eBooks, Audiobooks, and those paper things your grandparentused to read.

The Good


Author's Attitude. The author isn't the typical conceited doctor who thinks he's god and can do no wrong. He is, instead, a bit of a psychopath. He even devotes an entire chapter to how it may be necessary to be a successful surgeon. He is also irreverent and sees the medical practice as some giant cult with the old doctors the high priests that demand all entrants be initiated in the same manner they were. His whole attitude really added to the reading experience and gave a whole different perspective that was refreshing and amusing and brings the necessary but otherwise boring exposition to life.

Visceral Nature of the Stories. The author selected only the most extreme experiences to share and tells each one so masterfully to elicit the maximum emotional response. He does include a disclaimer that names and details have been changed to protect patient privacy, so some of the drama may be imagined.

Personal Philosophy. The author stops every so often to deliver his personal philosophy about some aspect of life. I find his views very insightful and well thought out. He definitely has his views, but I never felt he was trying to force them onto the reader or tell the reader his views were wrong. He merely presented what he believed and why with great conviction.

Afterword. This was written in the 90s about experiences mostly in the 70s and 80s, so some of the information is a little dated. Many advances have been made, and the author takes time at the end to address those, show how parts of the practice have progressed and how others haven't changed since the 50s.


The Bad


Ummm...



Warning



Mostly Focuses on Negative. Most of the stories the author tells are quite horrific and upsetting. I really enjoyed them, and they help the reader understand just how dangerous and amazing and unpredictable surgery is. I'm glad he included them; I just want those with weaker constitutions to beware.



What I Would Like to Have Seen


Honestly, I think it's just right.



Overall


When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales from Neurosurgery is a fascinating collections of stories from one neurosurgeon at different points in his career. The stories go from the grotesque and gut wrenching to absolutely stunning and heart warming. Each is well told and elicits the maximum visceral response. The author's irreverent attitude brings even the most mundane parts to life. I give it a solid 5 out of 5 eReaders.



     


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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Book Review: The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens


Legal thrillers are fun for several reasons: 1) There's always a mystery to solve, and who doesn't love a mystery, 2) One of the lawyers usually ends up solving the crime and exposing the guilty party instead of the professional detectives, police, etc., 3) The reader is treated to a fictionalized version of the justice system that is usually both entertaining and just, unlike the real thing.

The Heavens May Fall is a legal thriller mystery byAllen Eskens. It's available in all formats: eBook, audiobook, and those paper things your grandparents used to read.

Overview


A woman is found dead in an alley wrapped in a child's quilt. Her husband, a highly-paid criminal defense lawyer, is the prime suspect. A cop who had previous negative dealings with the lawyer is in charge of the investigation. The case brings back many memories of his own wife's killing three years earlier.


The Good


Backstories. The characters were fairly standard for this type of story, but each had enough unique quirks to keep them interesting. They each had a backstory that not only added interest and helped developed the characters but was a fun little tale on its own.

Not Too Easy, Not Too Hard. Sometimes the mystery is solved too easily because of convenient plot twists or a main character that is so smart they're practically prescient. This story was very logical with events unfolding in a realistic manner and no convenient plot points.

Twist Ending. I wasn't all that surprised at the twist ending, but there was an extra kink I didn't see coming but should have that made it a satisfying payoff.


Satisfying Ending. While the ending was pretty much a "happy ending", there were a few twists and struggles that made it feel like the characters had to work for it and earn it with not everything working out perfectly.

The Bad


Subplot Resolution. There is a subplot involving the main character's wife that is resolved at the end a little too quickly, a little too neatly, and a little too unsatisfactory.

What I Would Like to Have Seen


I wish there had been something really compelling or gripping in this story. It's a solid story, but it doesn't really stand out as an incredible story. I'll probably read another book by this author, but I won't feel bad if the cast of characters is completely different, because these were interesting enough for one book, but I'm not sure they could sustain a series.



Overall


The Heavens May Fall is a really good legal thriller, but not an exceptionally good one
. It has solid characters and a solid story with several plot twists to keep the story interesting leading to a not-unexpected ending that contained an additional turn to keep it above average. I give it 4 out of 5 eReaders.


      



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