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Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice
Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice
by Bill Browder
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.39
97 used & new from $4.32

2.0 out of 5 stars It’s important to gain insight into the criminal mess that ..., June 11, 2015
It’s important to gain insight into the criminal mess that is Putin’s Russia, but this book is overlong, self-absorbed and not very well-written. More information about Russia would have been gladly received, but too much of this book is about Browder, who represents himself as a sort of hero for spending half of his life on planes and getting a bill passed in Washington, D. C. that basically just says, “bad boys,” to a bunch of thugs who probably couldn’t care less.

It’s depressing to witness Browder’s lifestyle. He can’t take his wife and son to a movie, or take his son for a hike, or lie on the patio at some gorgeous vacation spot, without being glued to his cellphone and Blackberry, and he admits that he can’t pay attention to his family because he’s so distracted by his 24-7 job. I don’t care how much money he’s got, this is not a life worth having.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed
So You've Been Publicly Shamed
by Jon Ronson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.04
78 used & new from $13.64

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars should have gone farther, June 2, 2015
Ronson raises an important issue, with some fascinating examples, but doesn’t go nearly far enough. Why doesn’t he discuss the reason why so many cowards enjoy screaming digital obscenities and threats, from the safety of their own anonymity, at people who haven’t harmed them? Why doesn’t he address the issue of whether or not an employer should promptly fire an employee just for being the victim of tweeted rape threats?

Perhaps the accused and his or her employer could address the situation calmly, with explanations and apologies if appropriate, and perhaps, some form of compensation or other action. This might allow some sort of learning to take place, and the threatening tweeters would be depressed, since there would be less drama and self-righteousness.

The Daylight Marriage
The Daylight Marriage
by Heidi Pitlor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.17
86 used & new from $5.49

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars don't bother, June 2, 2015
This review is from: The Daylight Marriage (Hardcover)
Brief, choppy and dull. None of the characters have any personality, and the solution to the mystery is unsatisfying. If this novel is meant to be a dissection of marriage, it fails. The author is ostensibly an editor, but doesn’t know the difference between bringing and taking, nor between “braking” and “breaking.” Perhaps publishers should stop trying to cash in on the popularity of Gone Girl.

The Border: Exploring the U.S.-Mexican Divide
The Border: Exploring the U.S.-Mexican Divide
by David J. Danelo
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.95
57 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars vague and scattered, May 21, 2015
Danelo is not very literate (“anarchy and injustice is already the norm”) and either he or the publishing house does not know the difference between hyphens and dashes. “The campus genuflects before multiculturalism’s altar-learning about the border issues tepidly and diplomatically-while forsaking the plunge into the real thing.” I actually stopped dead at this point to try to figure out what “altar-learning” was. He keeps saying that he wants to “understand the border” but he does not explain any of the issues. He just wanders around. He refers to eminent domain as “imminent domain.” He also refers to preventing “wonton violence.” I love it! We must protect that Chinese food!

Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II (P.S.)
Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II (P.S.)
by Mitchell Zuckoff
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.51
122 used & new from $1.25

2.0 out of 5 stars poorly written, May 14, 2015
This is a lightweight, overlong piece of pop nonfiction that zigzags wearisomely back and forth in time between 1942 plane crashes and a 2012 search expedition, using the fatigued flashback device over and over and over, even though this repeatedly irritates the reader, slows down the pace and destroys almost all possibility of suspense.

The author doesn’t know how to use words with dexterity or precision, in spite of modestly describing his work as “epic.” He twice calls ropes “rope umbilical cords.” Umbilical cords provide nourishment and keep a fetus alive; they don’t just tether it. There’s a “round ball” on a throttle lever in spite of the fact that round things are two-dimensional and balls are three dimensional.

To Zuckoff, nature has emotions and purposes; a glacier “fulfills its destiny by hurling itself piece by piece into the water;” “Glaciers pour like lemmings into the waters of the bay;” “Some portions of glaciers creep while others race, as though eager to fling themselves into new lives as icebergs. “It was tempting to imagine that Greenland had surrendered,” Zuckoff announces ominously, but no: “Greenland had struck back;” “Greenland had regained the upper hand.” Glaciers do not race each other, nor do they have purposes they’re trying to fulfill, nor is Greenland a sentient being.

Other silly statements include a man’s being “the size of a longshoreman” (are all longshoreman the same size?) and “It’s possible that I’m neither as young nor as fit as I think.” Surely the man knows how old he is. “Tall and lean, with long strides balanced on size-fifteen feet, Nick’s peripatetic past includes a year as a whitewater rafting guide;” this means that Nick’s past is tall and lean with big feet.

The author doesn’t seem to realize that his description of the petty bickering of the 2012 search team is simply tasteless set next to the prolonged suffering of the men who crashed in planes during World War II. The reader does not care at all about what supplies the expedition bought or whose feelings were hurt, and Kuckoff seems to discuss the latter in excessive detail simply because he was present. After hundreds of pages of buildup, Zuckoff ends with the flat statement that things “did not end as we had hoped” and directs the reader to his blog. This book should have been written in simple language, with no metaphors or similes, and related the events in chronological order.

I Am Pilgrim: A Thriller
I Am Pilgrim: A Thriller
by Terry Hayes
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.40
122 used & new from $0.90

3.0 out of 5 stars needs pruning, March 7, 2015
Pilgrim is a pretty competent thriller that could have been much better if the author understood more about suspense.

Most of the book is narrated by the ex-government-agent hero, and he gets into a number of situations, and makes a number of references to the past, that get the reader very intrigued to know what’s going on and how all of these things tie together. But large chunks of the book consist of the description, in excruciating detail, of a terrorist plot carefully carried out, for years, by the villain of the book. These chunks of plot, all told in flashbacks, slow the otherwise swift momentum of the book to a crawl, and also cancel out much of the suspense, because the reader learns tremendous amount of detail that the hero cannot possibly know, or even have found out later. The book would have been much more suspenseful if it had been told solely from the point of view of the hero.

Pruning out the long descriptions of the villain’s actions would also have reduced the excessive length of the book (and would also have deprived real terrorists of a carefully-described plan for killing almost everyone on earth).

The hero is, of course, an unrealistically brilliant, uber-competent, macho man who can accomplish anything and survive the inevitable bloody sadistic violent climax (and literally sail away afterward although horribly wounded), but one expects this in this type of novel. His inheriting hundreds of millions of dollars worth of paintings is really over the top.

Philomena: A Mother, Her Son, and a Fifty-Year Search (Movie Tie-in)
Philomena: A Mother, Her Son, and a Fifty-Year Search (Movie Tie-in)
by Martin Sixsmith
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.12
448 used & new from $0.01

1.0 out of 5 stars phoney and offensive, February 10, 2015
Occasionally the movie is better than the book, and BOY, is this ever one of those occasions. This book is TERRIBLE.

Although presented as nonfiction, this book recreates, in sloppy, stale prose, hundreds of completely unrealistic, unconvincing, phony, badly-described conversations that the author cannot possibly defend as being truthful representations of what was actually said. For one thing, everyone’s conversational style sounds exactly like everyone else’s. For another, some conversations were held by two people both of whom are now dead, so how can there be any evidence of what was said? For a third, no three-year-olds on earth (or any other humans, actually) talk as they are represented as talking here.

The author relies on tired, exaggerated, purple prose that frequently does not even make sense. “The [phone] line seemed dead for a second, then thrashed wrenchingly into life . . . The line heaved with Otto’s grief . . . his voice was hoarse and faint, as if grief had dragged him away to some distant, untrodden land, stretching and beating to airy lightness the copper line between them.”

But the second-most-depressing thing about the book (after the awful writing style) is the complete lack of any narrative suspense. In the movie, Philomena, Martin and the viewer don’t know what they’re going to find out. In the book, the reader slogs along knowing all too well, since 90% of the book describes Mike’s life.

The movie was about Philomena, and the search for her son. The book, in spite of its title, hardly mentions Philomena (she’s mentioned on fewer than 10% of the pages), and there is no “fifty-year search.” It is simply a drippy, badly-written bio (or perhaps fictionalization of the life) of poor screwed-up Mike. Don’t waste your money on this offensive drivel.

The Red Garden
The Red Garden
by Alice Hoffman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.06
86 used & new from $0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars gimmicky, November 29, 2014
This review is from: The Red Garden (Paperback)
This book consists of a dozen or so vignettes in the history of a town in Massachusetts, from 1750 to the 1980's. Each vignette is short and told in short, choppy sentences. A few of the vignettes are pretty, most of the characters are related to previously-mentioned characters, and the (skimpy) descriptions of how the town changes through time are mildly intriguing, but there is no character development at all and the choppy terseness leaves the reader feeling cheated. Then, near the end, sex is casually and repeatedly referred to using the f-word, with shocking unexpectedness and inappropriateness, leaving the reader feeling even more jerked around and betrayed by an author who, overall, seems to have contempt for the reader. Or perhaps herself.

11/22/63: A Novel
11/22/63: A Novel
by Stephen King
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.47
184 used & new from $3.06

2.0 out of 5 stars bogs down and never gets unstuck, October 25, 2014
This review is from: 11/22/63: A Novel (Paperback)
This novel starts out well and then descends into a long, long, long, flabby midsection that leaves the reader begging for relief from its self-centered sentimental schmaltz.

The initial time-travel, and the descriptions of how different things were in 1958, are pretty gripping, but the hero has to spend five years waiting for Oswald to try to kill Kennedy, so he lives in a small town in Texas, and it’s just nostalgia heaven. Oh, how close everyone was then and how they helped each other out. Oh, how much everyone adores the high-school-teacher hero and how wonderful they think he is and they’ll all do anything for him. Oh, how wonderful the high-school plays are that he directs, and how wonderful a dancer he is. Oh, how great it is that he’s presented with a perfect girlfriend and she’s even still a virgin but immediately becomes wonderful in bed (due to her strange previous history, he doesn’t even have to marry her). Oh, how happy she is to help him with his quest, which no sane person would believe in. It just goes on and on. He does throw in a few concerns about the appalling racism in Texas, but overall it’s heaven and he intends to spend the rest of his life there.

We finally get back to the stopping-Oswald motif, but by this time the reader is just slogging through for the sake of finishing the book. This could have been a good book if it had been drastically pruned.

The Dangerous Islands
The Dangerous Islands
by Ann Bridge
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.29
25 used & new from $12.30

2.0 out of 5 stars English and out of date, June 24, 2014
This review is from: The Dangerous Islands (Paperback)
I loved this book and the other Julia Probyn books when I was thirteen, but they drive me crazy when I reread them now. In The Dangerous Islands, Julia is thirty-one, so God forbid she stays single. She falls in love, God knows why, with a forty-five-year-old man with no personality at all; we don't even find out what he looks like (but he's rich). As soon as she's accepted his proposal, he appears to think he has the right to tell her what to do; but hey, at least she won't be (horrors) single or childless. As with all Ann Bridge books, there is sentimental patronizing approval of servants and peasants, all of whom adore Julia and wish only to wait on her. In spite of the fact that the main characters are chasing Communists, they are VERY concerned with what they're going to eat, will the hotels be up to their standards, and, more than anything else, will they have enough alcohol and cigarettes. God forbid they should ever have to be subjected to less than excellent food, Commies or no, nor do any of them seem to have the slightest notion of the possible health effects of all their continual drinking and smoking.

I love the description of the Hebrides, but alas, less than a third of the book is set there. I love the Englishness of these books, but not the narrow-minded self-centered arrogance.

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