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Jaws
Jaws
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $9.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stick with the movie, October 30, 2013
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This review is from: Jaws (Kindle Edition)
One generally safe guideline to live by is that if a movie is based on a book, the book is better. It's a guideline, not a rule, because there are many exceptions. Peter Benchley's Jaws is one of those exceptions.

I think it's safe to say that more people have watched the film adaptation - a classic thriller often considered the movie that ushered in the era of the summer blockbuster - than have read the book (and that people who read the book nowadays probably have already seen the movie). The general plot is the same: a resort community is terrorized by a shark.

Since the town of Amity depends on tourist dollars, a shark threat endangers not only lives but the livelihood of the townspeople. Caught in the middle is Police Chief Brody who is pressured to play down the shark attack and finds additional people getting killed. Eventually, he teams up with shark specialist Hooper and fisherman Quint to try and kill the predator.

All this is both in the book and the movie. It's what's specific to the book that is problematic: in particular, extra subplots involving Hooper and Brody's wife having a romantic fling and the hints of organized crime being tied to the mayor. They are unnecessary distractions from the main story, more filler than essential.

The bigger problem is that this was Benchley's first novel, and it shows. The writing is weak in places; for example, the backgrounds of the characters are related at awkward times, interrupting the flow of the plot.

Despite these flaws, this book also has its strengths. When Benchley focuses on the main plot - man vs. shark - this is a pretty fun read. It's just not enough to make this a good book; merely a passable one. This is one case where the movie is clearly superior to the book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 31, 2013 1:05 PM PDT


Dark Passage
Dark Passage
by David Goodis
Edition: Hardcover
6 used & new from $41.13

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Before the Fugitive..., August 27, 2013
This review is from: Dark Passage (Hardcover)
Looking up David Goodis's Dark Passages on Amazon provides a good reminder that titles can't be copyrighted. There's several books with that title, and I think it's safe to say that none of them will be as memorable as Goodis's book, if for no other reason than its subsequent adaptation as a Bogart & Bacall movie.

In fact, most people would probably be more familiar with Dark Passages from the movie version which remains - if not a true noir classic - at least a pretty good movie. The novel has pretty much the same plot as the film: Vincent Parry is jailed for the murder of his wife; it's a crime he didn't commit, but that doesn't save him from conviction. When the opportunity presents itself, he escapes from prison.

As a fugitive, Parry is luckier than most, as he is taken in a wealthy young woman who has a thing for wife-killers who she feels are falsely accused. Parry knows, however, that his freedom is fleeting unless he can get out of town, though there will be some serious obstacles to that goal.

Unlike many characters in this type of story, Parry is not interested in proving his innocence; he merely wants to escape. Though well-written enough, this book is not perfect; Parry gets too many breaks, so much of his successes are not due to his efforts but rather despite them.

Apparently, there was enough similarity between this story and the Fugitive TV series to inspire a lawsuit, one which lead to a minor victory for Goodis, although it was a rather pyrrhic one, as the case wouldn't go his way until after his death. If you appreciate old, nourish crime novels, this is a worthwhile read.


A Private Little War
A Private Little War
by Jason Sheehan
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.99
64 used & new from $1.78

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars War - What is it good for?, June 4, 2013
This review is from: A Private Little War (Paperback)
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I am not a huge fan of military science fiction; that is, I don't seek it out, but occasionally, I do read it and have enjoyed some of what I've read. The key - whether it's Haldeman's Forever War or Scalzi's Old Man's War series - is that to be good military science fiction, it needs to be good science fiction, and even more essentially, it must be good fiction.

This is apparently a lesson that Jason Sheehan, author of A Private Little War, seems to still be learning. The umpteenth novel that explores the Vietnam War theme of getting mired in an unwinnable war in a foreign land, this particular book follows a company of mercenaries hired to conquer Iaxo. Technological superiority only gets the soldiers so far; the environment (very cold and wet) eats at the equipment and the natives (the "indigs") are often unpredictable.

The minimal plot deals with the company backing the mercenaries: having realized that the invasion is not going as planned (and therefore affecting the bottom line), a business decision is made to abandon the soldiers and leave them stranded on Iaxo with dwindling resources. Both the indigs and rival invaders threaten those who remain.

Sheehan, a food critic by trade, does not make the transition to fiction very well. With a thin, rather twistless plot and shallow, generally unpleasant characters, the story is often tedious. Yes, some of the battle scenes are well-described, but if you aren't invested in the story, they mean little. In addition, Sheehan doesn't do a good job of constructing a future universe. Despite little details thrown here or there, both the technology and culture of humanity (except for space travel) seems pretty much unchanged.

The back of my advanced copy boasts that this book will be a future classic akin to Catch 22 (a novel that A Private Little War does owe something to); this is not only not a classic, it is not even very good.


Lexicon
Lexicon
by Max Barry
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.05
115 used & new from $0.03

58 of 69 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Way with Words, June 4, 2013
This review is from: Lexicon (Hardcover)
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Around a year-and-a-half ago, I was introduced to the writing of Max Barry with his witty satire Machine Man. While it didn't make me go out and seek his other books, it was definitely good enough to make me willing to give him another shot. That shot wound up being Lexicon, a book that has some of the same magic that worked in Machine Man, but wrapped up in a plot that just doesn't work.

Lexicon is centered on two characters who initially don't seem to be related to each other. Wil is coming home after an airplane trip when he's kidnapped by mysterious figures. They want information from him, but he has no idea what to tell them. Meanwhile, Emily, a homeless teenager with a gift for con artistry is recruited to go to a school that, not unlike Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books, teaches magic.

It's not truly supernatural magic, but rather the magic of the power of words. The graduates of this school are known as poets and are able to use language to manipulate people and affect all sorts of events. Some words are just a bunch of nonsense syllables, but have the power to control people's minds. Then there are the powerful barewords, words so powerful that they can raise or bring down civilizations. Essentially, it is all fantasy with a science fiction foundation.

It reminded me of the Monty Python sketch about a joke that was so lethally funny that even looking at could kill; where that sketch was played for laughs, Lexicon tries to be more serious. It is a reasonably entertaining book, but the plot is too muddled to make it a good book. The non-linearity of the story is a little bit wearing, but the bigger problem is in the premise itself. Not only did I have a hard time buying into it, I had a hard time even understanding how it fully worked.

It's fine to make a fictional world that changes the laws of the universe, but the reader should be able to understand the new rules. While I got most of what was going on in Lexicon, there were times when things should have been clearer. This is what I think of as an "almost" novel: it has almost good. It has the potential, but it is never fully realized.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 29, 2013 4:05 AM PST


Bad Monkey
Bad Monkey
by Carl Hiaasen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.99
351 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the Monkey book, May 8, 2013
This review is from: Bad Monkey (Hardcover)
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For a couple decades, Carl Hiaasen has been a dependable source of comic crime novels set in his home of Florida. His output is a bit slower than it used to be (he's also been writing Florida-based young adult novels), but Bad Monkey shows he hasn't lost his touch.

This new novel focuses on Andrew Yancy, a detective who, as the story begins, is about to lose his job, the result of an unusual assault on his girlfriend's husband. Yancy, however, wants to be a cop, so even when he moves on to a new job as a restaurant inspector, he can't let go of his final case, which involves an arm fished out of the ocean.

Determining the owner of the arm is relatively simple, but even as the authorities want to dismiss this as a boating accident, Yancy believes it could be murder. While he investigates this, he also romances a coroner, deals with his ex-girlfriend's obsessiveness and tries to sabotage a mini-mansion that is blocking the view from his own home. And yes, among the other plot elements, there is a bad monkey.

While this is a reasonably good book that fits well in the Hiaasen canon, it is also not one of his top books. Compared to many of his other books, there seems to be less off-beat characters, something that is always a feature in his books. Also (and depending on your point-of-view, this may be good or bad), Hiaasen's common themes about Florida corruption and environmental damage are more muted in this book. Bad Monkey is a good book and while probably better than most books out there, it is just okay for a Hiaasen book.


The Jugger: A Parker Novel (Parker Novels)
The Jugger: A Parker Novel (Parker Novels)
by Richard Stark
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.71
67 used & new from $7.70

5.0 out of 5 stars The not-so-safe safecracker, April 2, 2013
The world of crime has its own special slang, or at least it does in hard-boiled fiction. There are molls, gunsels, gats, second-story men, and juggers. A jugger is a safe cracker, and in his time, Joe Sheer was one of the best. It is the life and death of Sheer that form the basis of the Parker novel The Jugger.

In this book, Parker comes to the small Nebraska town where Sheer has retired under an alias. Now in his seventies, Sheer is out of the business, but still acts as a contact for various heist men looking for partners-in-crime. Parker is one of those heist men, and when he hears Sheer is in trouble, he comes out to pay Sheer a visit.

There is nothing humanitarian in Parker, a character who never does a good deed (or a bad one) unless he can see some profit in it. Instead, Parker has a concern that Sheer will blow Parker's own alias, Charles Willis; by the time he gets to town, Sheer is dead and various people - including a corrupt police captain - are looking for Sheer's supposed stash of money. Parker knows that the stash doesn't exist, but he sticks around to clean things up and preserve his own alias.

There is a little bit of a whodunit element to this novel, but for the most part, this is just a tale of Parker trying to protect himself. As usual, he is a cold-hearted fellow who has no qualms about killing, but somehow is appealing to the reader (maybe because even if Parker is bad, his adversaries are worse). If you're a fan of this series, this is another fun read.


Carnival for the Dead
Carnival for the Dead
by David Hewson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.99
40 used & new from $2.70

3.0 out of 5 stars Deaths in Venice, March 23, 2013
This review is from: Carnival for the Dead (Paperback)
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With its riddles and references to classic art (not to mention its somewhat exotic European setting), one might, at first glance, suspect that David Hewson's Carnival for the Dead is a knock-off of The DaVinci Code, trying to exploit the latter book's success. It is soon apparent, however, that outside of both occupying the genre of mystery, these two books are quite different, which is both good and bad.

The heroine of Carnival for the Dead is Roman pathologist, Teresa Lupo. (Although I haven't read anything else by Hewson, my impression is she has been a supporting character in other books of his.) Lupo has come to Venice to find her missing aunt Sofia, a rather erratic woman who shares a bond with Teresa. It is Carnival time, and with tourists crowding the city, the police have little interest in one missing woman.

Teresa has little clue as to what to do, but she does have a mysterious helper who keeps sending her stories which feature people she knows as well as Sofia and herself. They appear to be fiction, but they also are somehow tied to real events. One such event is a highly visible attempted murder, hinting to Teresa that Sofia's disappearance may have dark repercussions.

Hewson writes well enough, but I am often put out by stories where characters make things much more complicated than they need to be. Even Hewson seems aware of this, having to provide an explanation towards the end of the novel which is not that satisfying. Essentially, this is a nicely written book which does a good job at bringing Venice to life, but has plot problems that, while not disastrous, keep this from being a truly good book.


The Accounting
The Accounting
by William Lashner
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.99
49 used & new from $5.39

45 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seems like old times, March 15, 2013
This review is from: The Accounting (Paperback)
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Sometimes you don't realize you missed something until it comes back into your life. Such was the case with William Lashner, who I hadn't read in four years, not since his last book came out. I always enjoyed his books, but with no new ones coming out, he eventually faded into the background. Now, Lashner is back and he is as good as ever.

The Accounting is narrated by Jon Willing, a fortyish man with a deep dark secret. When he was in his teens, he and a couple friends stole a lot of cash from some drug dealers. In a way, it was a perfect crime, at least for twenty-plus years. Now, someone is out to get the money back.

When one of Willing's partners-in-crime is tortured and murdered, Jon knows that he could very well be next on the list. He's taken precautions against getting caught, but he soon finds that all his carefully laid plans are not as secure as he thought. This will put not only him in danger, but his family as well. To try and get out of this will require facing some demons from his past.

This book has Lashner's trademark wit and suspense wrapped up in a sharp tale of a person whose past has come back to haunt him in a big way, and atoning for the crimes of yesteryear may offer redemption, but may also kill you in the process. This is a great book for thriller fans.


Brilliance (The Brilliance Saga Book 1)
Brilliance (The Brilliance Saga Book 1)
by Marcus Sakey
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.99
77 used & new from $7.27

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliance shines, March 13, 2013
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
One man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. To a large extent, it's subjective, and it's also a principal theme in Marcus Sarkey's science fiction novel, Brilliance.

The premise of Brilliance is around 1980, a small percentage of children started being born who were Brilliants: they had enhanced mental abilities that put them far ahead of the so-called "normals". They were idiot savants without the "idiot" part.

Three decades later, the United States is dealing with the social upheaval caused by these "abnorms" who have been able to excel in almost every area, from finance to science to sports. The means of handling the abnorms is often repressive. Children who are of the highest ability are taken away from their parents and raised in special academies and a special government agency, the inocuous sounding Department of Analysis and Response deals with rogue abnorms by whatever means necessary, including assassination.

Nick Cooper is a sort of 007 for the DAR, licensed to kill. He is also an abnorm with the ability to read subtle patterns, allowing him to, among other things, read people well and outfight them. He is pursuing John Smith, an abnorm terrorist. After Smith commits a massive act of terror (the equivalent of 9/11 in this alternate reality), Cooper goes undercover to seek and kill Smith, even as more repressive measures are taken by the government.

On one level, this has a parallel to Islamic terrorism and the reaction by the U.S., but it more closely resembles the stories of the X-Men, which also deal with the reaction against a group of people with superpowers. Fortunately, the themes of terror, prejudice and oppression don't bog down the story; instead Sarkey has done a good job of creating a twisty thriller that moves along nicely and will please fans of science fiction, superhero tales and suspense.


Who's on Worst?: The Lousiest Players, Biggest Cheaters, Saddest Goats and Other Antiheroes in Baseball History
Who's on Worst?: The Lousiest Players, Biggest Cheaters, Saddest Goats and Other Antiheroes in Baseball History
by Filip Bondy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.66
47 used & new from $0.70

4.0 out of 5 stars Batter up!, March 8, 2013
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
As baseball season again approaches, it is a good time to do a little reading about the sport, a chance to do a little cerebral spring training even as the players participate in their own. Filip Bondy's Who's on Worst does a good job at getting you warmed up for Opening Day.

There is plenty of debate about who the best batter or pitcher is, but Bondy takes the opposite approach: who's the worst? It's not an easy question. While there is a select few at the top of the heap, there is a whole crowd at the bottom. For that reason, it's to be expected that Bondy's choices will not fully agree with your own, but he generally puts forth a good argument.

There are different categories of bad that Bondy looks at: worst hitters, fielders, pitchers and managers are obvious choices, but he also looks at biggest cheats, bad teammates and sons or brothers of players who couldn't succeed (how Ozzie Canseco, the mediocre identical twin of Jose, didn't make this list is one of the more startling omissions).

It's all food for thought and even if Bondy's writing is not Hall of Fame material, it is good enough to be in the big leagues. This provides a good alternate look at the game.


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