"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Sunday, March 30, 2014
Published in 2014 by Dutton Adult (Penguin Group)
Have you heard the stories of the engineer that invented the engine that gets 200 miles per gallon and the oil companies put a stop to it? Or, of the Japanese inventor that created the car that burns hydrogen from water but he suddenly disappeared? Or, the story that cold fusion really was invented but the energy companies nixed it?
Well, that is the premise behind Influx by Daniel Suarez. The Bureau of Technology Control (BTC) is a secret government agency that was established to identify and isolate "disruptive" technologies - technologies that would seriously de-stabilize the world economy and/or the current social order. The inventors are imprisoned or, if they are willing to cooperate, allowed to develop their technologies for the good of the BTC.
Now, imagine if the BTC's lead on technology kept on growing and the BTC started to disdain the government that it was supposed to report to (think about our own news and imagine an NSA that started to turn on its own leaders with its listening program). That's where the story starts.
Jon Grady is a physicist who has just invented a gravity mirror - it reflects gravity. The BTC has determined that this will be very disruptive and kidnaps Grady and imprisons him. But, Grady won't make it easy on his captors...
No one currently writing does near-future sci-fi better than Daniel Suarez and this book keeps that trend going with an interesting story line and a true David vs. Goliath story. He has picked up where Michael Crichton left off.
I rate this novel 5 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on March 30, 2014.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Published as a Kindle e-book in 2012 by Pretur
Estimated length: 28 pages
The story starts with two friends in the modern world trying to move a washing machine from a basement. Suddenly, they are sucked into another world (no explanation) where they discover a typical medieval fantasy village after they rescue a captive princess.
Turns out she was to be a sacrifice to a dragon and the dragon is no mood to be denied. One of the travelers from our world is a former U.S. Marine and somehow this enables him to be proficient with a sword and a bow and arrow. Actually, he is not just proficient - he is a master, as described in the title. I was not aware that the Marines trained in those weapons, but I have never been a Marine, what do I know?
So, the young men do battle not once, but twice with unfamiliar weapons against the shocking might of a dragon while hampered with almost no character development, a story with the thinnest of plots and an absurd willingness on the part of everyone in the story just to go along with this story just because it makes the story go along.
I rate this story 1 star out of 5.
Reviewed on March 25, 2014.
Monday, March 24, 2014
Originally published in 2012.
Audiobook version published in 2013 by Post Hypnotic Press
Read by Cameron MacDonald
Duration: 9 hours, 45 minutes.
Time travel science fiction can be tricky. Do you play it straight and have time traveler affecting the time line like Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis? Or, do you play fast and loose with time travel and timelines like the Dr. Who series does?
Personally, I like the stricter interpretation of time travel. I think the loose interpretation is like Robert Frost's famed comparison of free verse poetry to rhyming/metered poetry to "playing tennis without a net." I guess it comes from to many years of playing Role Playing Games as a kid - I tend to put myself in complicated plots and think about how I would get out. Unfortunately (for me at least), this book plays by a set of fast, loose and rather arbitrary rules about time travel and leaves its own plot open to its own internal inconsistencies - the entire story could have been undone with judicious use of any of the thousands of time machines that exist in this story at any point in almost any of the main characters' lives.
I have not read the first book in this series but I think that Bedford does a very good of catching the reader up to the events that transpired in the first book. I was drawn to the book because of the back of the book description of Spider Webb - a down on his luck ex-cop who fixes time machines at an Australian franchise location of the Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait chain. Spider is a likable guy who wants to get back with his ex-wife, can't see that another lady is practically throwing himself at him and has a very strong sense of right and wrong.
The story starts out with a bang but in the middle of the book there are long, long often repetitive passages of discussion and thought (and thoughts about the discussions that we just heard) that bog the book down. Sadly, the book never picks up the quick pace again and prone to shorter (but still repetitive) discussions and thoughts about discussions.
I enjoyed the reading by Cameron MacDonald. He had a nice command of Australian and Canadian accents and portrays the clueless yet committed Spider Webb quite skillfully. Plus, he made the long bouts of discussion and thinking listenable.
I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on March 24, 2014.
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Originally Published in 2010.
Post Hypnotic Press audio version published in 2013.
Read by Daniel Mate
Duration: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Canadian author Gail Bowen takes a break from her Joanne Kilbourn series to bring us Charlie D, a talk radio personality who works the late night shift. This is part of the Rapid Reads series by Orca Books. This is designed to be a set of exciting, short mysteries. On paper this book clocks in at 128 pages.
Charlie D is working the night show on Valentine's Day. His guest is the boss's wife. The boss is an ancient man who has married the young, very elegant and very expensive prostitute he used to frequent. She is now very pregnant and being interviewed about her thoughts on love and relationships.
Meanwhile, the neighborhood around the station is now awash in threatening newsletters and posters that advocate getting rid of the local prostitutes in any way possible. These vigilantes are inspired by the right wing host on the air just before Charlie D. He is a Bill O'Reilly type of host with discussions of fighting for the preservation of Canadian morality and some of his fans have gone too far - especially when they call Charlie D to show him live video feed of a local prostitute who is awaiting execution at their hands...
I enjoyed the give-and-take between Charlie D and his listeners and the guest. But, the premise of the story - the coalition of bad guys, the frank discussions of prostitution, the "hooker with a heart of gold" scenario played out twice in just an hour and a half just made the book seem less like a story and more like a political screed against the political right ("Watch out for them sexually repressed right wing nutjobs! They are all twisting the Bible to justify all kind of horrendous things because a radio guy told them to!").
I also had a problem with a discussion of sex workers that only included the positives of this kind of work (such as helping people with physical handicaps attain sexual satisfaction and providing sexual and perhaps even emotional comfort to the lonely) but said almost nothing about the downsides, including the spreading sexual diseases, dealing with pimps, human trafficking and the rampant substance abuse that often accompanies this career choice. Despite the politically correct use of the term "sex worker" in an attempt to give prostitution a veneer of respectability, I cannot imagine the day when a parent will be as proud of his or her daughter being a "sex worker" as he or she would be if she were an accountant, a used car salesperson or even a politician.
Daniel Mate's pleasant voice made Charlie D a fairly believable and likable character. The rest of it just fell flat and would have no matter how well Mate had read it.
Note: I received a copy of this audiobook free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I rate this short story 2 stars out of 5
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
This Thriller Does Not Have Much Sizzle
Originally published in Germany in 2002.
Re-published by Amazon Crossing in 2013.
Translated from German to English by the author (Christoph Spielberg) and Christina Henry de Tessan
Amazon.com's publishing house Amazon Crossing is designed to bring popular authors who do not write in English to an English-speaking audience. Award-winning German author Christoph Spielberg has brought his Dr. Hoffman series to this program. This series is quite popular in Germany, even spawning a series of made for TV movies.
Dr. Hoffman is a wise-cracking doctor in a down and out hospital. He has just got done with a very long shift and was planning to head home after one more consultation in the Intensive Care Unit when a blind gunman with a bunch of explosive charges comes in with a seeing eye dog and takes the room hostage, along with two doctors, two nurses and several patients.
While this would certainly seem to be an exciting premise for a thriller, this thriller just is not all that thrilling after the first 20 pages or so. As the hostages and the hostage-taker settle into a routine the book does too and it just becomes a waiting game until the arrival of the "fourth day" indicated by the title of the book.
There is a mildly interesting medical mystery that goes hand-in-hand with the story of the hostages but on the whole this book just sort of fizzles out.
Note: I received this book for free as a part of the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review.
I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on March 18, 2014
Saturday, March 8, 2014
Originally published in 2001.
Published HighBridge Audio in 2013.
Read by Simon Prebble
Duration: 10 hours, 32 minutes
Mark Billingham's Sleepyhead is set in London and features a serial killer with a twist. Rather than actually trying to kill his victims, the attacker is trying to paralyze them by pinching a spot in their neck for nearly two minutes in an attempt to cause a stroke in the victim's brain stem. The result, if done right, is a person who cannot do anything more than blink even though their brain is entirely functional. This is difficult and the result has been a slew of dead young women and one "successful" victim who is forced to breathe on a ventilator in a hospital.
Thanks to the inspired work of a coroner, the local police know what the attacker is trying to do - but they have no idea how to stop him. The star of the investigation is Detective Inspector Tom Thorne, a troubled middle-aged cop with his own demons. Due to a past failure, Thorne is driven to the point where he risks everything to find this attacker.
Sleepyhead was Billingham's first novel (this series now has a dozen novels) and as such it is has some room for improvement. Typically, new authors tend to skip details in an attempt to keep the plot moving. Billingham did the opposite here - some scenes included a stifling amount of detail that make the story drag. Billingham set out to set a somber mood and he successfully maintains it throughout, even to the detriment of the story.
The audiobook was read by Simon Prebble. I think the style of the book hurt Prebble's presentation. There were multiple characters that told the story from the first person perspective and there were no clues that the narrator had changed when the changes occurred. Sadly, Prebble chose not to change the voices of these characters very much so that they could be told apart instantly. I think that may have been on purpose - the book gives the reader no idea that the story is being told by another person, either. It just switches and the listener is left to try to figure out who is telling the story.
On top of that, there is a gigantic amount of British slang used throughout the book that gives it an authentic feel but sometimes lost this American listener. Combine that with the multiple, but often indistinguishable narrators and the slow spots and you can see why this can be a frustrating audiobook.
Note: I received a copy of this audiobook for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on March 8, 2014.