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The Heroes
The Heroes
by Joe Abercrombie
Edition: Hardcover
65 used & new from $0.01

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Come for the action, stay for the bloody, f***in' action!, February 15, 2011
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This review is from: The Heroes (Hardcover)
Joe Abercrombie is on a mission from God to take the moribund, hackneyed, sword and sorcery genre, and pound it multiple times directly in the face until it collapses in a heap of broken teeth. At which point, Abercrombie will proceed to kick said genre right in the groin, and then stomp it right into the mud with an iron-shod boot.

When I first came across Abercrombie's First Law trilogy, I fell in love with the characters, the setting, and the briskly paced plot. Logan Ninefingers is perhaps one of my top 5 favorite fantasy characters of all time. With THE HEROES, Abercrombie continues the same recipe of tight plotting told from multiple characters' points of view in a realistically bloody world.

Unlike THE FIRST LAW trilogy or BEST SERVED COLD, THE HEROES chronicles a single battle over three days. The more civilized Union invasion of the barbarian North has been dragging on from skirmish to skirmish, and the wizard Bayaz has decreed that it is high time for this war to be brought to a swift conclusion. The Union forces the Protector of the North, Black Dow, and his screaming horde of Carls and Named Men, to fight a winner-take-all battle around a hill called The Heroes. As the battle seesaws from favoring either the barbarian horde or the well-armed Union, we see the action through the eyes of the cowardly, yet devious "Prince" Calder, the ambitious Finree de Bock, the self-flagellating Colonel Bremer dan Gorst, the straight edge Named Man Curnden Craw, as well as few of the "ordinary" soldiers. Each character's viewpoint moves the action and provides a uncharitable, unflinching gaze of the horror and attraction of battle.

While the plotting is excellent, Abercrombie's true talent lies in the ability to craft multiple authentic voices. Regardless of which side a character is on, or how flawed a character is, Abercrombie's use of voice has you rooting for them. By the end of the book, they all feel like old friends somehow. Evil, twisted, depraved friends.

The only drawback for me was my beloved missing Bloody Nine. Ah well, you gotta be realistic about these things.

The Hangman's Daughter (A Hangman's Daughter Tale)
The Hangman's Daughter (A Hangman's Daughter Tale)
by Oliver PŲtzsch
Edition: Paperback
50 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Buddy Cops in the 17th Century, January 31, 2011
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It's 17th Century Germany, and the forces of evil are afoot in Schongau. But evil isn't ready when grizzled veteran executioner Jakob Kuisl joins forces with Simon Fronwieser, a rookie doctor with a head for fashion. Even though the chief.. ur.. town clerk is demanding that Kuisl and Fronweiser follow the rules and condemn an innocent midwife to witchcraft, these two mavericks take justice into their own hands. Now they are face-to-face with the devil himself and the powerful mastermind who's hired him.

Can Kuisl and Fronweiser solve the mystery in time? Or will Kuisl be forced to torture and hang the innocent midwife?

THE HANGMAN'S DAUGHTER is a well-plotted historical mystery with two great lead characters and a fine plot. The pacing carries you forward, and, though the translation can at times be stilted, the setting and the intriguing life of the hangman carry us through. The only drawback was the heavyhanded way the author tried to keep the mystery mysterious. Pötzsch's early scenes with our villains are all without names, leaving us in the frustrating position that the narrator knows more than the readers and arbitrarily decides not to tell them.

Nevertheless, the book should keep lovers of historical mysteries up through the night to find out the conclusion. A good addition to the canon. 4 stars out of 5.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.31
1117 used & new from $0.01

52 of 74 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Heroic Life. Stilted Prose. Glacial Pacing, January 23, 2011
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While the heroic life of Louis Zamperini is well worth telling, Hilderbrand's stilted prose and glacial pacing severely detract from what should be a gripping tale of survival and redemption. I cannot recommend this.

UNBROKEN is divided into three main parts and a short epilogue. In the first part, we learn about Louis Zamperini the Olympian. In the second part, we learn of Louis's experience in WWII and his harrowing survival in the Pacific after his bomber has crashed. The final section details Louis's imprisonment in Japanese POW camps and his eventual release.

Obviously, the facts of Louis's life would be tremendous material for a story of heroism, growth, bonding, crushing oppression, rescue, and forgiveness, but Laura Hildebrand gives none of that here. Instead we receive a straightforward account filled with cardboard depictions of Louis's friends and enemies. Hildebrand's characterizations are so bland that I would often confuse the names of Louis's fellow inmates. I would occasionally go back to try and figure out who was who, but eventually, I realized that it didn't matter.

In a well-edited book, an author can occasionally overcome flat characters and pedestrian prose, but, unfortunately, Hildebrand compounds this with very poor pacing. In particular, the chapters on Louis's experience in Japanese POW camps drag on and on with no momentum, change, or insight.

Very disappointing given the potential of the material. In short, do not buy this or borrow from the library. I'm sure that 80% of this story is on Zamperini's wikipedia page. There are too many good books to read out there to spend your precious time on this one.
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 23, 2012 8:06 PM PDT

Blue Heaven: A Novel
Blue Heaven: A Novel
by C. J. Box
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
125 used & new from $0.01

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There's a reason why some books win awards, May 10, 2009
When I need a good book to read, there's no better place to start than looking at book award winners, especially the genre awards such as the Edgars, the Hugos, and the Nebulas. These contests seem to know exactly what their fanbase wants and expects.

So when I saw that C. J. Box won this year's Edgar Awards, I quickly checked it out from my local library.

That was yesterday. Today, I finished the last page of an immensely satisfying book. BLUE HEAVEN is a story about two children who witness a murder, the old rancher who vows to protect them, and a conspiracy of retired LA police officers who want to shut them up.

Each chapter propels the story along from one of several different characters' perspective, and though some of these characters make mistakes, we find ourselves rooting for almost all of them.

Plus, the novel slowly reveals the nature and depth of conspiracy over the course of the book that's very rewarding. C. J. Box shows us how that conspiracy has ensnared the small Idaho community BLUE HEAVEN is set in.

And, like many modern Westerns such as TRUE GRIT or UNFORGIVEN, BLUE HEAVEN paints a picture of a small-town lifestyle that is modern suburban development and big box stores are eating up "like a snack".

Box writes in clean, economical prose that captures the setting, characters, and tension in the plot almost perfectly. Very highly recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 10, 2011 2:14 AM PDT

This American Life: Season 2
This American Life: Season 2
DVD ~ This American Life
Offered by Heaven Sent by revdwl
Price: $4.97
64 used & new from $0.01

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real life, beautifully filmed, May 2, 2009
This review is from: This American Life: Season 2 (DVD)
I still remember when I first came across the radio show for This American Life. My wife and I were first dating, and, coming back from a movie, we sat in the car from 11pm to midnight, listening to the story that so captivated. In the 12 years since, I have never missed an radio show.

Ira Glass has taken his ear for story and married it to a beautiful eye. Each episode this season is lovingly filmed, the themes running through each episode are familiar, yet meaningful, and the stories will stay with you for most of your life.

From the first episode in the series, "Escape", which chronicles the life of an young man striving to be on his own but constrained by a disease that leaves him physically helpless, to the last episode in the series, "Meet John Smith", which chronicles a year in the life of 7 men named John Smith at different ages, this is what you Edward R. Murrow must have hoped TV would become.

Not a wasteland of reality TV shows and laugh tracks, but a respectful and deep record of the dignity and challenges surrounding everyday life.

I got this season on iTunes, but I would highly recommend that you pre-order this season. You will not be disappointed.

The Warded Man: Book One of The Demon Cycle
The Warded Man: Book One of The Demon Cycle
by Peter V. Brett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $28.00
41 used & new from $0.01

25 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Soon to be forgotten, May 2, 2009
There are days (sometimes weeks) when I long for escape. Often, I turn to fantasy fiction for that escape. Ever since I read THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy as a young man, the environment and conflict in your standard fantasy novel provide me with amusement on Saturday afternoons or before bed.

So after a hard week, I heard about Peter Brett writing a fantasy novel on his I-Phone as he took the subway to work. I went to my local library and checked out THE WARDED MAN.

In many ways, I was not disappointed. THE WARDED MAN tells the story of three protagonists: Arlen the Warrior, Leesha the Healer, and Rojer the Bard. These three must band against demons of different stripes that stalk the world by night. Luckily for humanity, magical wards can shield the human population from the demons' ravenous onslaught.

Arlen, tired of the cowardice of the human populous and motivated by a desire to avenge his mother's death, goes in search of magic that can bring the fight to the demons.

But while this book satisfied my hunger for some fantasy, I don't think I will remember having read it 6 months from now. The character's in this book are flat. They don't grow much with experience. There's also little humor in this book, nor any innovation of the genre.

For fantasy with better characters and for something that expands the genre, I would point you to THE FIRST LAW trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. If you haven't read those books, spend your money there before buying this one.

The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education
The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education
by Craig M. Mullaney
Edition: Hardcover
213 used & new from $0.01

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Broad brushstrokes left me hungering for detail, May 2, 2009
In an alternate reality, I would have loved to attend one of our nation's service academies. So when I see books like Pat Conroy's THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE or David Lipisky's ABSOLUTELY AMERICAN tempting me from the display at my local bookstore, I wind up giving in and buying them.

So it's no surprise that, after hearing Craig Mullaney's interview on NPR, I went in search of his memoir THE UNFORGIVING MINUTE.

Like many memoirs written by young men with much life yet to live, this book is more a coming of age story than the story of a full life. Mr. Mullaney allows us to chronicle his growth from a poor but earnest teenager to a married man who leads other men in battle and who must live with the consequences.

This book is divided into three main parts: Cadet Mullaney's education at West Point and the various Army schools he attends, Mr. Mullaney's education at Oxford and the courtship of his future wife, and Lt. Mullaney's deployment in Afghanistan.

Mullaney does a great job of providing us with a heroic figure--someone with just enough humility and self-doubt to allow us to bond with him as he accomplishes tremendous success.

But while I enjoyed and learned from Mullaney's life, I ultimately was dissatisfied by the level of detail and the lack of conflict. Many of the events chronicled in this memoir hammered on the same themes of self-sacrifice and discipline without providing additional light into the experience of an Army officer.

I think this book would have benefited through focus. As I read this book, I hungered for a book that focused just on Mullaney's West Point experiences in more detail, or just on his experiences learning the craft of platoon officer and seeing that craft exploited. I would have liked more detail into the lives of the men Mullaney went to West Point with, or led in Afghanistan. I wanted to know more about the self-doubts of his Indian wife, deciding to marry a non-Hindu military man.

Mullaney hints at these other stories throughout his book, but doesn't show us the detail so that we can envision ourselves in that situation.

All in all, this is a fine book, by an admirable man, but I can't help but wish for the great book that's lies hidden between the lines.

If Looks Could Kill
If Looks Could Kill
by Kate White
Edition: Hardcover
257 used & new from $0.01

23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Glamour and passion were always the fashion, May 20, 2002
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This review is from: If Looks Could Kill (Hardcover)
Cat Jones, editor-in-chief of the Cosmo-esque Gloss magazine, goes to confront her nanny early one Sunday morning, and when she doesn't get a response to the live in apartment, who does she call? No, not the police, or her husband. Cat calls Bailey Weggins, friend and freelance crime journalist at Gloss magazine.
When Bailey enters the nanny's apartment, she finds the 22-year old nanny dead. And Cat, always the editor-in-chief, assigns Baily to mirror the police investigation and determine what is going on.
When I read the pre-releases for IF LOOKS COULD KILL ("Bridget Jones Meets Nancy Drew") I thought it sounded like a fun book. I've enjoyed good mysteries (such as THE ALPHABET MYSTERY SERIES by Sue Grafton) and I liked THE NANNY DIARIES, so I thought a marriage between the two would be fun.
Unfortunately, we get a fairly standard mystery, and somewhat pedestrian plotting.
Bailey Weggins is supposed to be observant, beseeched by her friend Cat to involve herself in this mystery because of her unique way of looking at things. Mostly, Bailey looks at clothes. Every character is first described by what they're wearing.
Bailey is also into good food. Each chapter has her hankering after a good penne putenesca or a fine rissoto. I almost expect for the recipes and restaurant reviews to be included as an appendix.
Also, the motivations of the main characters here are somewhat forced. Why does Cat choose Bailey, of all people, to help her out with this? When Bailey senses herself in danger, why doesn't she just beg off somehow?
All in all, this was a disappointing entry into what will probably turn out to be a fairly average mystery series. If you like mysteries in general, or if you are really in to behind the scenes glimpses of glamour magazines, then this book is for you.
Otherwise, take a look at some of the other beach reading out there.
Kilroy's Rating System:
5 stars - Loved it, and kept it on my bookshelf.
4 stars - Liked it, and gave it to a friend.
3 stars - OK, finished it and gave it to the library.
2 stars - Not good, finished it, but felt guilty and/or cheated by it.
1 star - I want my hour back! Didn't finish the book.

About a Boy
About a Boy
by Nick Hornby
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.97
285 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A character study of two boys, May 9, 2002
This review is from: About a Boy (Paperback)
My wife is not as much of a reader as I am. So when I found her cutting out her sleep and TV time to devour Nick Hornsby's ABOUT A BOY, I thought I should take a look.
I was pleasantly surprised to find a clever, tightly written story about Will Freeman, a 36-year old adolescent who has discovered the pleasures of dating single mothers, and Marcus, a socially awkward 12-year old boy of a depressed hippy. Fabricating a fictional child, Will meets Marcus at a picnic for a support group for single parents. Upon taking Marcus home with another single mother, Will and Marcus find Marcus's mother, Fiona, passed out from a suicide attempt.
This incident launches Marcus on attempt to expand his social circle to insulate himself from tragic events. So Marcus inserts himself into Will Freeman's life. Marcus soon discovers that Will Freeman, a jobless man obsessed with coolness and style and supported by the royalties of his late father's Christmas song, is the perfect guide to usher Marcus into the social world of adolescents.
Chapter by chapter, Hornsby alternates viewpoints between Marcus and Will, mirroring their parallel journeys: Marcus, the outcast, social incompent's journey from childhood to adolesence, and Will, whose own journey from adolescence to adulthood stalled out some time ago. The catalyst breaking both Marcus]s and Will's inertia is, of course, love.
ABOUT A BOY paints vivid portraits of its two main characters. Both Will and Marcus are written quite authentically. (I was reminded quite vividly of Judith Rich Harris's book, THE NURTURE ASSUMPTION when reading about Marcus's desire to be accepted by his peers and Will's understanding that to be accepted is to be similar to your peers.) The interaction between these two characters is poignantly detailed.
Unfortunately, the book begins to lose steam when the love interests, Rachel for Will and Ellie for Marcus, are introduced. Though the plot point seems necessary to move the book along, Hornsby doesn't provide the same level of detail or motivation for Rachel or Ellie, and, as a result, the book slows down.
This doesn't keep the book from being a good read or from provoking good thoughts. One of the most interesting thoughts that Hornsby brings up is the idea of "The Point" (as in "What's the point of it all?") When Will plans to confront Marcus's mother about the possibiltiy of another attempt at suicide, he worries that "the Point" will come up, and Will doesn't have a good idea and what "the Point" is. In detailing the daily workings Will's life, Hornsby examines the existential angst and boredom that comes by default to most modern human beings, and when Will finds no one point, but rather, a multitude of daily small points (a daily quiz show, the daily crossword puzzle, and, most importantly, meaningful relationships with other people.), Hornsby proposes a way of coping with the lack of some overarching purpose to human existence that I could relate to.
Sometimes, looking forward to finishing a good book is all you need to get through a tough day.
Dav's Rating System:
5 stars - Loved it, and kept it on my bookshelf.
4 stars - Liked it, and gave it to a friend.
3 stars - OK, finished it and gave it to the library.
2 stars - Not good, finished it, but felt guilty and/or cheated by it.
1 star - I want my hour back! Didn't finish the book.

Dance for Two: Essays
Dance for Two: Essays
by Alan Lightman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.86
118 used & new from $0.01

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An exploration of human nature launched from the scientific, May 8, 2002
This review is from: Dance for Two: Essays (Paperback)
Last weekend, I was wandering through my local bookstore when I chanced upon Alan P. Lightman's collection of essays DANCE FOR TWO. I remembered reading Lightman's EINSTEIN DREAMS and GOOD BENITO in college over 10 years ago, when I picked them up from the student bookstore because I liked the way the books felt in my hand, and, after reading them, I liked the way Lightman's prose stuck in my memory.
So I added DANCE FOR TWO to my stack of purchases and read it over the last two nights. I was not disappointed.
DANCE FOR TWO is a collection of 24 short essays that Lightman has published over the last 15 years in various magazines and journals. Each essay is written in a economical, nearly austere, style that is reminiscent of the clear, autumn days on the East Coast that must have influenced Lightman. Though the prose is spare and distilled, the essays themselves are strangely moving. In reading, "Smile", a boy-meets-girl story reduced to the mechanics of the eye, ear, and brain, I got choked up when I read the ending lines "All of this is known. What is not known is why, after about a minute, the man walks over to the woman and smiles." I still don't know why I got choked up.
Unfortunately, like any collection of short works, some of the essays that would be quite enjoyable on their own pale in comparisons to the more beautiful siblings. While most of the essays here are excellent, one or two only rise to the merely good.
The subject of these essays is ostensibly about the role of science in everyday human experience, and Lightman does a masterful job of communicating sometimes complex topics into common language. But, as the title of the collection suggests, a dualistic theme pervades throughout the book. In particular, Lightman is constantly comparing and contrasting science and art, finding the hidden creative and human aspects in the hard sciences, as well as craft and objective nature of art. Lightman also explores other dualistic notions.
In his essay "Students and Teachers", Lightman explores the two seemingly opposite roles and finds their hidden connections. In his fable "Mirage", Lightman explores the difference between theorizing on the world and having the courage to act on those theories when he creates a city in Persia where the inhabitants seem enringed by distant fortress walls. In "Flash of Light," Lightman discusses the difference between theoretical science and experimental science by examining a humorous episode in his attempt at experimental science. In "Seasons", Lightman contrasts the certainty provided by the world of physics with the messiness and uncertainty of the political climate on college campuses during the Vietnam War. In "Pas De Dux", Lightman explores the effect of the dancer on the earth she dances upon. The ending paragraph of this essay is quite beautiful. "For an ending, the ballerina does a demi-plie and jumps two feet in the air. The Earth, balancing her momentum, responds with its own sauté and changes orbit by one ten-trillionth of an atom's width. No one notices, but it is exactly right."
But perhaps the biggest dualistic theme threading its way throughout this book is the relationship between the reader and the writer. In his Introduction, Lightman warns us that "writing is a selfish and self-centered profession," and he remarks on the pleasure he receives on going through his old works and being surprised at the small fraction that is pleasing. But while Lightman may be performing this task egotistically, one gets the texture of humility throughout all of his essays. Lightman, rather than being proud of his writing ability, seems more amazed by it, as if his writing ability was another type of natural phenomena outside of the author to be studied and measured if it can. And if it cannot be subjected to the tools of science, then it should at least be appreciated for the beauty it provides.
And that seems exactly right.
Dav's Rating System:
5 stars - Loved it, and kept it on my bookshelf.
4 stars - Liked it, and gave it to a friend.
3 stars - OK, finished it and gave it to the library.
2 stars - Not good, finished it, but felt guilty and/or cheated by it.
1 star - I want my hour back! Didn't finish the book.

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