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Death in Brittany: A Mystery
Death in Brittany: A Mystery
by Jean-Luc Bannalec
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.62

4.0 out of 5 stars A strange murder in a bucolic seaside village kicks off a satisfying mystery, April 27, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Jean-Luc Bannalec (pseuodonym) has written a handful of successful crime/mysteries set in France - originally published in German and already translated into several languages, the novels are now being translated in to English. "Death in Brittany," translated by Sorcha McDonagh, introduces the reader to Bannalec's hero, Commisar Georges Dupin, a caffeine-addicted detective who has been exiled to the French backwater of Brittany after too much insubordination in Paris.

Only in France could an idyll such as Brittany be considered a suitable exile location. Pont-Aven is one of those bucolic seaside villages where every view is a postcard just waiting to be snapped. So gorgeous that the 19th-century art scene descended upon the village by storm - Paul Gaugin painted here for years and led many of his lesser-known cohorts to do the same. Indeed, "Death in Brittany" revolves around that artistic legacy.

Commisar Dupin's daily life in Brittany is rather dull, consisting of dispensing minor justice and being reminded that he is not from Brittany - indeed, even if Dupin were to settle in Brittany and raise a family, his children would still be referred to as "Parisian." And then something shocking happens - an ancient, legendary, proud hotelier is brutally stabbed to death one night, just before the tourist season opens. Who would want to murder a man in his early nineties?

Some mysteries make you question the goodness of man - such as "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." "Death in Brittany" is a much brighter, sunnier affair. Sure, there has been a murder, but Bannalec does not linger on the horrific side of the crime. Instead, we spend most of the book inside Dupin's head, where he is more likely to agonize over his lack of caffeine than he is the awful details of a mutiliated body. Additional bodies may be found, but Bannalec is a good enough writer that he builds the necessary tension through the investigation itself rather than a gratuitous flood of violence.

At its heart, the mystery is steeped in local lore and the artistic legacy of the community, which makes the mystery all the more realistic and enjoyable. Dupin works the mystery through thinking and questioning, and we do not see any ridiculous coincidences that undercut so many other mysteries.

As much a love letter to Brittany as a murder mystery, "Death in Brittany" will have you reconsidering your next vacation plans and checking out vacation rentals. Highly recommended, and I look forward to reading the other Dupin mysteries.

Mr. Coffee SK13 12-Cup Switch Coffeemaker, Black
Mr. Coffee SK13 12-Cup Switch Coffeemaker, Black
Offered by ShopChanute
Price: $32.68
23 used & new from $17.50

4.0 out of 5 stars This $25 workhorse isn't perfect, won't replace your Keurig and won't impress the coffee snob, but it's hard to beat the value, April 17, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Mr. Coffee's SK13 -12-cup coffeemaker is a no-frills kitchen appliance that offers the level of quality you would expect for $25. When the first 'feature' listed on the Amazon site is 'On/off indicator light lets you know when your coffeemaker is on or off,' you know you're not getting a high-performance machine.

What you will get is a very reasonably price little workhorse. Our family shifted to a Keurig a few years ago and have absolutely no complaints. One reason we shifted is that we had a ten-cup coffeemaker, and we were forever pouring out a cup or two at some point in the day as we brewed a little too much coffee for our needs. Generally speaking, our family is fine with a one-cup-at-a-time approach.

But there are times when you just want to brew a quick pot of coffee, and you aren't looking for a cup that will impress your friends who bring their own 'cupping spoon' to your house. When you and the brood are heading out to Saturday morning soccer games and all you want is a thermos-full of hot coffee, Mr. Coffee's little workhorse gets the job done.

This is not the best coffeemaker on the market, but it will be hard to beat the value at $25 - it's the same price as five cups of my coworker's favorite 'coffee' at the megachain kiosk at our office. If you get five years' worth of work out of it, I'd say it's paid for itself twenty times over.

I do like the 'pause' feature that allows you to stop the brewing process and sneak a cup of coffee for yourself. It works reasonably well.

Scotts Turf Builder Grass Seed - Dense Shade Mix for Tall Fescue Lawns, 3-Pound
Scotts Turf Builder Grass Seed - Dense Shade Mix for Tall Fescue Lawns, 3-Pound
Price: $11.59
11 used & new from $11.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent grass seed for our reasonably shaded areas, but there may be "dense" shade beyond this seed's powers, April 11, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Our back yard lawn has been a bit of a struggle - lots of trees lead to wide varieties of sun and shade. We have a side of our yard that is shaded about 3/4 of the day, and one 10' by 20' corner that is pretty much shaded all day. We've tried unsuccessfully to get grass growing there for years, including using seed designed for shade, and have had only sparse grass growing in the mostly shaded area. We've also tried amending and tilling the soil and laying down new sod, but it eventually died out back there as well.

This is the first seed I've seen described as being intended for DENSE shade, so I was hopeful. The seed is blue because of the coating that helps it retain water. I spread the seed a little heavier than recommended in the bare areas, and according to directions in the area where we had very sparse grass. Then I scattered some into the sunny part of our yard to blend the two areas. The weather conditions were ideal and we had rain on enough days that I only had to water a few times, and the seed started growing quickly. Where the seed has grown it is thick, beautiful, and healthy-looking. It is a slightly lighter shade of green than the rest of my lawn, so blending turned out to be a good idea.

The bad news is that the one corner I described as being shaded nearly all of the day only has very sparse grass growth. I'm very happy to have beautiful grass growing in the part of the yard that is shaded 3/4 of the day. However, I am giving this 4 stars instead of 5 because the seed isn't growing in that one part of our yard that I would describe as having "dense shade". Different climates might fare differently - we are in the Pacific Northwest. But at least for this part of the country I would say this seed works beautifully in dense shaded areas that receive a minimum of 2 hours of sun every day. I suspect that a shaded area that gets filtered direct sun as the day goes on would also see success with this seed.

It is definitely the best "shade" grass seed we've ever tried, just wish it truly worked in our dense shade areas.

Isn't That Rich?: Life Among the 1 Percent
Isn't That Rich?: Life Among the 1 Percent
by Richard Kirshenbaum
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.59

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Richard Kirshenbaum sells a skewering of high society, but delivers an ode to self-regard, April 4, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Before you read Richard Kirshenbaum's "Isn't That Rich? Life Among the 1%," his collection of 'New York Observer' society columns and new essays, prepare yourself for the staggering arrogance lying inside these pages - the reek of entitlement, the misplaced priorities, the name-dropping, the pervasive sense of being better than everyone else and the corresponding assumption that everyone hangs on your every word.

And we're just talking about the author.

With this slim 'book,' Kirshenbaum purports to be your helpful tour guide into the exotic lives of the uber-rich, a safari to the land of billionaires and their luxuries. Unlike Robin Leach's TV program, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," which gave you a video glimpse of a life you should envy, Kirshenbaum's purpose is to show us the shortcomings and faux stresses of the massively wealthy. But Kirshenbaum cannot help himself - the real point of the book is to sing his own praises - he may live among the pompous rich, but he is superior to them (and you) in every way.

Kirshenbaum tells his stories by passing along interviews that invariably take place at a restaurant where Kirshenbaum is only too happy to imply that won't give you a table. (He often refuses to give the name of the restaurant or club, as some "do not appreciate 'press mentions.'") These are people for whom "breakfast" is a verb and who assume you know what bottle of Domaines Ott to pour with which entree. He tantalizes by referring to his many wonderful, glamourous friends by titles, allegedly to protect their anonymity - you will meet L'actrice, the Silver Fox, the Fifth Avenue Heir, and so on, titles that tell you everything you need to know about the titled and the writer who employs the title. Presuming that Kirshenbaum is not sitting at the table with pad and paper, these interviews are naturally his recollection of what was said, which undercuts their veracity a bit.

These interviews are where Kirshenbaum gets his stories of the shameless whims of the uber-rich - paid friends, spoiled kids, bragging-by-not-bragging ("I just don't know if I can sit through another private Elton John concert again"), navigating unhappy marriages and the struggles of being bicoastal. He consistently points out how he flies above these problems - the billionaires may have spoiled their kids rotten with private drivers and bottle-service tables at age 15, but Kirshenbaum's kids are perfect. The men of the American jet set agonize over how to drape a cashmere sweater over their shoulders because Italian men have mastered the art for the all-important passeggiata, but Kirshenbaum gets mistaken by an aristocratic Italian woman of being Italian because *he* wears his sweater correctly. (Kirshenbaum also points out that he has twenty-five cashmere sweaters of different colors, and "I do love seeing them all folded together. It makes me happy, my collection." Yeesh.) And while the uber-rich are treating art collections as one more status symbol, rest assured that Kirshenbaum's personal art collection has been acquired the proper way - through diligent searches and a sense of personal taste.

Never mind that Kirshenbaum works in several plugs for his own column, his wife (who is of course superior to the spouses of the uber-rich in every way), his advertising concern, and Blackwell rum (he's an investor). One should not shill while one dishes, but I suppose that Kirshenbaum feels that he is above that little rule - his tailored blue blazer has actual buttonholes, after all.

This is my first time reading Kirshenbaum, so perhaps I should have done my homework and would have known what to expect. What I had expected was a comic skewering of New York high society by a daring writer willing to let it all hang out. What Kirshenbaum delivers is "Kirshenbaum, On Living Well," with a tepid critique of the jet set. Perhaps this is all we could expect - clearly Kirshenbaum wants to keep getting invited to the parties, lunches, clubs, and cocktail hours that comprise his life.

Not recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 13, 2015 9:09 AM PDT

The Full Catastrophe: Travels Among the New Greek Ruins
The Full Catastrophe: Travels Among the New Greek Ruins
by James Angelos
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.89

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A frustrating tour through the wreckage of modern-day Greece, often self-inflicted, March 31, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
America may be emerging from the Great Recession, but the effects of the economic shockwaves were far worse in several countries. For a variety of reasons, the shockwaves hit Greece as hard as anyone. With "The Full Catastrophe," author James Angelos travels across Greece to bear witness to those effects. "The Full Catastrophe" offers a sad, but often comic, picture of a country confronting its own shortcomings.

Angelos focuses much of his book on the Greek paradox - modern-day Greeks have built their very idea of "Greek-ness" on their legacy as the heirs of the founders of Western Civilization, but they do very little to bring credit to that legacy. Instead, for many modern Greeks, the idea of the good life is not exploring philosophy and pondering mathematical and scientific issues, but instead consists of receiving a stable pension that allows you to sit in a cafe sipping your favorite beverage and complaining about non-Greeks. The Greek political class has created a Byzantine system of pensions and benefits that have made Greece into a Tea Party nightmare - the country is so dependent on government handouts that on one island, approximately one in four islanders is legally blind. To be sure, the Greeks provide a generous pension for the blind, which may explain why several blind islanders still have their driver's licenses.

Angelos explores the systemic corruption in Greece and it is clear that the corruption is so great, it's almost wrong to single out any person for blame. In the blind islander example, who do you blame? The doctor who certifies blindness? The politician who approves the pension? The islander who bribes the doctor and the politician? Angelos interviews several Greeks who play different roles in society, and it's clear that pride is a major stumbling block for reform - reading a Greek defend his or her role in the corrupt system is like listening to Fonzie try to apologize on 'Happy Days' - they just can't admit they did anything wrong.

The corruption goes beyond pensions. Americans may dislike paying taxes, but in Greece it's painful to the soul. Tax fraud is rampant and efforts to reform the system are charmingly ineffective. The Greeks are told by the EU to step up audits to improve tax collections, so the Greeks send out hundreds of auditors who, indeed, find unpaid taxes. So what do the auditors do? They create the "40-40-20 rule," where for every $100 of unpaid taxes they find, $20 goes to the state, $40 stays with the taxpayer, and $40 goes to the auditor. Everyone's happy, right?

Well, not the Germans and the rest of the EU, who have bailed Greece out. Angelos writes about the German-Greek hatred, which has obvious roots dating back to Greek independence (a German monarch became ruler of Greece) and of course World War II, when the Germans unleashed hell on the Hellenes. But today, the Germans are upset because they are cutting huge checks to bail out Greece, only to hear tales of Greeks working ten-hour weeks and generally wasting German money. And so it is that in Greece today, Angela Merkel is the second coming of Hitler and the Greeks are demanding WWII reparations from Germany.

That isn't to say that all Greeks hate non-Greeks. Indeed, the political and wealthy classes of Greece (well, they are really one singular class) prefer to keep most of their money in Paris and in Swiss banks.

But the rank and file of Greece has receded into an isolationist, "Greece for Greeks" camp where the foreigners are to blame. While the Germans are waging economic war against the country, the rest of the EU is turning Greece into "the basement of Europe" where all the immigrants fleeing war-torn Africa or the Middle East are allegedly dumped. "Greece for Greeks" has become so pervasive in northeastern Greece, which shares a short border with Turkey across a narrow river, that a neo-Nazi party recently seized political power. Due to its proximity to the Middle East and its shared border with Turkey, northeastern Greece faces an illegal immigration problem that many Arizonans could likely relate to. The question is, how do you respond to the crisis? An older Greek priest says that compassion must rule the day, but a younger priest and the neo-Nazi party disagree.

While Angelos writes that he hopes that his deep love for Greece comes through the pages of "The Full Catastrophe," it's hard to find room for optimism in his tale. The more natural reaction is a mix of frustration and disappointment, the same sentiments the Romantics felt when 19th-century Greece regained its independence but, rather than rebuilding classical Athens, descended into petty arguments and corruption.

In Angelos's defense - it's Greece, and who doesn't love the idea of Greece? That is worthy of optimism.

Samsung MotionSync Bagless Slim Design Upright Vacuum with Long Lasting Suction - Spring Green
Samsung MotionSync Bagless Slim Design Upright Vacuum with Long Lasting Suction - Spring Green
Price: $190.23
10 used & new from $54.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent light-weight, highly mobile and powerful vacuum nevertheless struggles a bit with border collie hair, March 23, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is my first bagless cyclone technology vacuum, but I had been interested in whether it would be good for me because in our house we have a dust allergy sufferer and endless dog hair. We have become Samsung fans in the last few years and are in love with our Samsung TV, smart phone, and fridge. I will compare this vacuum to our 15 year old Royal, which is a traditional vacuum that is an all steel, large motor workhorse that has served me well, but uses a paper bag, has no hose, and does not maneuver easily.

The Good: This vacuum is much quieter than my Royal, yet seems to pick up just as well. The quieter sound made me think it wasn't picking up well, until I saw how full the canister was getting - impressive! The ball makes this so easy to maneuver, though it took me some time to get used to it and how to get it to push smoothly in a straight line along a wall edge. The canister is very easy to remove and empty. Turning the brush on and off so easily is more useful a feature than I originally thought it would be, making it easy to vacuum the downstairs of my home that has mostly wood floors, concrete in the kitchen, and a few area rugs.

The Bad: Even though this vacuum easily picked up all the dog hair on my wood floors, the roller brush caught a surprising amount of the hair before it could get sucked up. I'm not sure if it is easier to sweep the dog hair into a dust pan and dump it, or vacuum it with this machine and then have to pick all the stuck hair off the brush. I know there are some new vacuums that are designed to handle pet hair and maybe that's the only kind of vacuum I should be looking at, but this has just never been an issue with my old Royal. It can take 6+ weeks before the Royal accumulates enough human hair and random threads on the brush to require cleaning. Another negative is that it appears that everything that can be made of plastic is made of plastic, including the two rear wheels which are maybe an inch in diameter and half an inch wide turning on a thin metal rod. Those wheels, and all the plastic clasps and clips that hold things like the hose and canister in place, just don't seem to be made to stand the test of time.

Overall, I love this vacuum and will enjoy using it. But I'm giving it 4 stars instead of 5 because of the way it handles pet hair and because I don't trust all the plastic moving parts to have the longevity a vacuum should have considering how much it gets used.

The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering: A Novel
The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering: A Novel
by Jeffrey Rotter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.26
63 used & new from $9.74

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Wordcraft cannot save convoluted, muddled dystopian tale, March 21, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Jeffrey Rotter's slim novel, "The Only Words That Are Worth Remembering," bears a revealing title. Rotter clearly loves words and uses them carefully in this latest entry into the dystopian future genre. While Rotter crafts many lovely sentences, the novel wears out its welcome long before the reader reaches Page 206.

I confess that I've never been much of a fan of the disenchanted teen novel - this is the other genre in play here, and I've seen this book compared to "The Catcher in the Rye," which is a book I don't care for. Rotter's hero is Rowan Van Zandt, the cowardly, introspective twin brother to the violent, passionate Faron. The Van Zandt men - including their gigantic Pop - find themselves at the mercy of the law. Pop murdered a man for stealing Pop's rum, and the brothers put a busload of senior citizens in a gator pond on a joyride. The law gives them a choice - rot in prison, or train to be astronauts.

This choice is a little more harrowing given that in the near future, science has gone the way of Creationism and everyone believes that Copernicus was wrong - the sun actually revolves around the earth, and the night sky is actually the Night Glass.

While this is a terrific set-up for a story, Rotter seems more focused on the craft of writing his story than actually telling a good story. The plot jumps around, the story is narrated by Rowan to his young daughter for no apparent reason, and Fanta gets more time on stage than Sylvia, Rowan's love interest and the most intriguing character in the book. Supporting characters pop up for brief passages and fade just as quickly. While I enjoy a good 'Pulp Fiction' storyline that cuts and loops, this novel's cuts and restarts serve only to muddle the tale and destroy any momentum the story may have.

And there's my ultimate frustration with this novel - Rowan is not an interesting character, yet we're stuck with him. The people he meets are intriguing, but for a novel hyped as comic it ultimately just reads as sad. I'm fine with bleak fiction - at times - but this novel seems to want to have it both ways, thereby satisfying none.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 12, 2015 9:30 PM PDT

Olay Fresh Effects Clear Skin 1-2-3 Acne Solution System Kit
Olay Fresh Effects Clear Skin 1-2-3 Acne Solution System Kit
Price: $17.59
7 used & new from $17.59

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit expensive, but it's working for our tween, March 15, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
We picked up this kit for our 11 year old daughter who is going through puberty and dealing with breaking out for the first time. (I'm sure many of you can relate to the fun times this is leading to!) This is the third kit we've tested, and in my opinion most kits are similar in their use of salicylic acid. For our daughter, the results with the three kits have been fairly similar, which is to say that they are reasonably effective. Full disclosure - I'm not sure that any product on the market can keep up with teen acne without causing irreparable damage to the skin.

Our daughter is still getting used to having to wash her face twice a day and sometimes skips, and as you would expect, we're finding that that is the biggest factor in how effective these kits are. Though we both believe when she uses the Olay Fresh Effects product twice a day without skipping, this kit works better than the others. The main benefit we see is that our daughter does not experience the over-drying effects of some other reviewers, which could easily be attributed to the fact that herskin may just be oilier than others.

One difference with this kit that our daughter likes is the mattifier. She is not yet wearing makeup, and the mattifier gives her skin a non-shiny appearance that she couldn't otherwise get without wearing makeup. For that reason I think this kit could be the best choice for those tweens or teens who don't wear makeup. We also like the 3-step process because it's helpful for establishing a routine and it's helping her learn about her skin and how to care for it.

We are giving this product 4 stars instead of 5 is that I'm learning that I can buy the products (2% salicylic acid cleanser, mattifier, toner, etc.) individually in larger sized bottles for the same price.

Never Go Back (with bonus novella High Heat) (Jack Reacher, Book 18)
Never Go Back (with bonus novella High Heat) (Jack Reacher, Book 18)
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Promising first part of novel is a return to the best Reacher stories, but promise fades, March 13, 2015
I've been a big Jack Reacher fan for years, but have taken a bit of a hiatus from his story as Reacher has started to show some signs of becoming Superman.

I sympathize with the creative obstacle that Lee Child's success causes for him. (That sympathy goes only so far as Child has earned millions from the Jack Reacher storyline.) This is the 18th Reacher novel, and Reacher is more or less the same guy - a force of nature who could scare Shaquille O'Neal in a bar fight, guided by a brilliant detective's brain that has its fight-or-flight reflex locked into "fight" mode. Reacher has beaten geniuses and strongmen, murderers and thieves, and we're now in the territory where no villain created by Child can really be a threat to him. He's like James Bond- he's survived so much, no *this guy* is going to take him out?

In this novel, Child creates a fascinating prospect - can Reacher fight the legal system? You can't use your fists to fight your way out of a paternity suit, and Reacher's fists may have gotten him into hot water thanks to an alleged beat-down sixteen years ago.

Even more promisingly, it seems that the wheels of military justice are grinding Reacher at the behest of sinister off-screen villains who can track Reacher's every move.

Without getting into spoilers, let's just say that Child does not wrap up this promising start very well. The ending is anticlimactic and unsatisfying.

The early chapters are terrific as Child sets the stage and as Reacher starts to fight back. These chapters are vintage Reacher - quick-thinking, original, and daring. But the promise quickly fades.

"Never Go Back" also has another Reacher Girl - in nearly every book, Reacher falls in bed with a singular type - strong-willed, fit, gorgeously-low maintenance, and no nonsense. "Never Go Back" serves up this archetype in spades - Major Turner is the woman who Reacher has traveled across the country to find, and she checks across all of Reacher's favorite criteria.

If you're a Reacher fan, you can read this novel and enjoy it, but it's not in the pantheon with the great Reacher stories.

The Ascendant: A Garrett Reilly Thriller
The Ascendant: A Garrett Reilly Thriller
by Drew Chapman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.95
173 used & new from $0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Paint-by-numbers 'thriller' fails to deliver on its promise, March 8, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Drew Chapman's "The Ascendant" purports to be the first in a series of thrillers focusing on the arrogant, brilliant bond trader Garrett Reilly. While Reilly shows plenty of potential as an anti-hero, "The Ascendant" offers pedestrian thrills and a paint-by-numbers plot that fails to get the pulse racing.

That's a fairly harsh critique, and I freely confess that Mr. Chapman has proven he can earn a living as a writer, which is something I cannot claim. So if you want to stop there with this review, then fine.

But "The Ascendant" does little with an intriguing premise. What works is the broad outline of Reilly's character. He's a brilliant jerk working in the perfect industry for brilliant jerks - Wall Street. A literal genius when it comes to identifying patterns in the tidal wave of financial data, Reilly seems content making good money, drinking, smoking pot, and getting into bar fights. But once the time comes for the details of the book need to get filled in, "The Ascendant" relies on cliches and leaps in logic that just don't hold up. Mild spoiler alert below.

Reilly identifies a nefarious plot by the Chinese government to undermine the American economy. This turns out to be the first in a series of attacks the sinister Chinese launch against the United States . . . but why? Reilly is offered the chance to lead a super-secret team to fight the Chinese without fighting them - beat the Chinese without launching World War III.

As Reilly fights his unusual war, "The Ascendant" veers wildly as Reilly's unorthodox methods cause his own government to turn on him (but not everyone), a poorly-explained "movement" catches fire in China, and a truly odd subplot emerges involving an evil journalist/spy/alien going by the name of Hans Metternich. Reilly's lifelong hatred for the military, thanks to a family tragedy, flames out early on and is never revisited. His conflict with his mother occupies some pages, but never goes anywhere. A revolutionary figure in China meets up with a key U.S. operative - in China!! - without explanation or apparent tactics but with some twenty-something cheerful bonding. Characters are seduced, shot, neutralized, or betrayed without coherence or effect, including a self-sacrificial take-one-for-the-team dive that comes entirely out of left field. Truly, "The Ascendant" reads like the screenplay for the kind of political/action thriller Hollywoood dumps on audiences in late February, in this case likely starring Taylor Lautner as Reilly and Jessica Biel as his love interest.

We even get a literal count-down to global war.

What bothers me is that "The Ascendant" has the bones of a great thriller, but it glosses over the fascinating stuff. Secret wars are awesome! I'd love a book on how to start a revolution in modern-day China. A book about an obnoxious Wall Street genius fighting against the U.S. military bureaucracy could be incredible. But "The Ascendant" is pedestrian, at best, darn it.

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