Monday, March 31, 2008

First Truth

This is by the same author of another book, The Decoy Princess. I'm starting to repeat on authors here. I liked The Decoy Princess and so did David, so when we were in Barnes & Noble on a date night we got this one, just to see how it was.
I really liked it, enough that I ordered the sequel from our local bookstore, but I'll write about that one later.
The funny thing about First Truth is that I can't point to one single thing I thought was really good, but as a whole, it was. The characters, and the plot, and the whole fantasy world all work very well together. The characters are humorous, but not so much they are just caricatures. The plot travels along well enough, but not so much to keep you up all night. Which is a good thing when your kids have to get up for school and want to be fed and all that stuff no matter how late you were up.
It was just a good book to read, to share bits of with your husband, and to quietly enjoy when you need a bit of a break.

First Truth. Dawn Cook. Ace Fantasy. 2002

The First Counsel

I think this is the last of the books from the box from my neighbor. Cammie, do you want them? If not I will just give them to the thrift store.

Anyway, this one was very similar to the other book of his I read, The Book of Fate. It is a political thriller, set in the White House, or more properly among the staff at the White House. And has several characters damaged by things that have happened in their past that they can't let go of. It was a pretty good thriller. If I was in an airport or grocery store and wanted to buy a book, I would choose his over a lot of other standard best sellers you find out there.

The big plot surprise was slightly predictable. I had suspicions about it from the beginning, just because those types of things are pretty trendy right now, but I wasn't sure until almost the end. That is better than average.

It did have an intense plot that kept you wanting to read. And the characters were good for the purpose, meaning they were not so likable. Any of the people surrounding the main character could be the one setting him up because they are all slightly not-likable. So you spend the entire book suspicious of everyone, which is the goal of the good thriller writer. You want to be in the same sort of suspense that the characters are in.

The First Counsel. Brad Meltzer. Warner Vision. 2001

Friday, March 28, 2008

Crazy --NB

So the thing about not writing about a book is that I don't have to hunt around for the books I've read before I say anything. And it is more convenient than journals because no one comes to steal my pen and draw pretty pictures on the screen like they do to my journal.
I've had a rough week, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because my thyroid medication makes me crazy and so does my doctor. He wants to put me on hormone replacement therapy, to correct some low hormone levels and other problems, but I'm thinking that since I'm not menopausal this seems like a bad idea. I'm on thyroid meds, cortisol and now this. I really don't think just throwing medicine at the problem is going to fix anything, except for making me crazy and ruining my marriage.
So even though my insurance coverage sucks I am going to see an endocrinologist. I hope he has something relevant to tell me or the bill and the 8 hours of driving its going to require will really tick me off. Have I mentioned that my meds make me crazy? And how do you change your diet so as to drop your cholesterol number 70!!!! points and still gain 10 pounds?
Boy, its nice to rant and feel like someone might read it, and not just your children 20 years from now and think, "Boy, Mom was a wacko." Now all my friends can think that right now:}

Monday, March 24, 2008

Different Things- N.B.

So, if anyone is still reading this other than Jenny, I have decided to post other things as well as the books. I'll mark the title differently so you can tell the difference. But I have no scanner, digital camera or inclination to surf the web much, so no extra cool stuff, just me and my thoughts. But I can almost surely guarantee that they will be different from what you normally get.
So is Doing Dance Dance Revolution for exercise really useful? I get bored doing other stuff. And yes, I live in Moab, world capital of outdoor recreation, but have you ever tried to recreate with five kids in tow? when you are out of shape to begin with? Give me a couple of years.
Happy Easter, belated. And Happy Spring to come. My daffodils are blooming and my kids are starting to play outside. Yippeeeee!!!
So no other thoughts, just a little announcement.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Conspiracy Club

This was a good mystery. It was written by the husband of an author I read previously, she wrote The Ritual Bath. Which I also liked. This one had a lot of weird things that helped you get into the story and want to find out what was happening. A few red herrings and misdirection were also done very well. Most of the time I can tell what is pertinent to the story and what is stuck in just to mess you up but this was written very skillfully.
The one complaint I had is that the guilty party is someone we don't meet at all until the end. That is annoying. There are certain unspoken rules about mysteries, and one of them is the killer should be someone we have seen, even just briefly, before in the book. Whenever it is not I can't help but think the author cheated. I guess it all depends on if you think the book is a mystery or a thriller. Thrillers don't have those sorts of rules. It is a free-for-all with anything that can get the reader's heart pumping allowed.

The Conspiracy Club. Jonathan Kellerman. Ballantine. 2003


This was an interesting mystery novel. I think this had the best version of common person caught up in something that I have ever read. Mostly because this person didn't turn out to have unexpected skills with firearms, explosives or surveillance equipment. The main character is a jockey with a broken ankle. So he knows horses, and he falls down a lot.
His brother dies and he is responsible for the brother's company and his effects, and all that stuff. And he stumbles around and can't find things and all the stuff that we would do if we happened to have to do something like that.
A lot of times the added details seem just that, added after to try and pad the book a bit, these details blended in and nothing about the book felt artificial. No, that's not true. The main character is reticient to the point of stupidity. He is in a terrible car crash and repeatedly gets mugged and re-injures his foot, yet he doesn't mention it to the people he works with until it ends up in the paper. That was pretty artificial.
I don't know if I am in a better mood or if the latter books from that box are better, but I am enjoyng them more. I really liked this one.

Straight. Dick Francis. Fawcett Crest. 1989

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Grand Alliance

Holy Cow there is a lot I didn't know about WWII! Of course I guess that is the same with anything, once you start investigating you find out a lot of new things.
The things I found most interesting in this book were the Battle of Britain and what happened with Russia and Germany.
I knew Winston Churchill had a reputation for good insults, but he had some very blunt things to say about how Stalin managed things before the Germans invaded. "Gross mismanagement" was one of the phrases he used.
The two-faced behavior of the Soviets would have been socially crippling but I guess you can't afford to ostracize someone you need to successfully fight a war. Before the Germans invaded they had made treaties with them, dividing up Poland and the Baltic states. They instructed communist groups in Great Britain and America to agitate against the war and ignored all intelligence from Allied sources saying the Germans were going to attack them. Then, once they were attacked, they screamed for a "Second Front Now!" Meaning they wanted Great Britain to invade France immediately to take some of the pressure off them. Which was impossible and Churchill repeatedly sends messages to Stalin telling him why and that they were doing all they could. They even sent on some of the supplies from the United States to Russia, at great risk. But every time they heard from Stalin all he could say was, "Why aren't you invading yet?"
He does point out the horrific things that were happening in Russia, as a mitigating factor. But I think it is a credit to Churchill that he never sent a message back saying, "Where were you when we were being bombed and all our shipping attacked and we were fighting the Germans alone? At least you have allies."
And we learned more about Africa and the back and forth that went on there to preserve some freedom of shipping in the Mediterranean and to keep the Suez Canal free.
And Churchill was really glad when Pearl Harbor happened. Not that all the people and ships were destroyed, but that America was going to enter the war. It says, I went to be at ease, knowing that no matter what happened, or how long it took, we would win the war in the end.

The Grand Alliance. Winston Churchill. Houghton Mifflin. 1950

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Through the Grinder

This is the second, I think, of the coffeehouse mysteries. Everything I said about the previous one applies to this one. Lots of romance and more sex, including a passage that I skipped. That gets annoying. If I wanted sex scenes I would get Harlequins. Why do people think if they are writing for adults they have to show that stuff? I really don't need details, what happens is mostly pretty standard.
And it was the jealous ex this time. Knew it pretty quick too. If it had taken me more than an hour or so to read it I would have quit. But it did change the ending in that not only did the psycho ex fall off the building, but the romantic interest saves the lead and falls of the building and dies to save her (sniff, sniff).

Through the Grinder. Cleo Coyle. Berkley Mystery. 2004

The Ritual Bath

This is another mystery. This one was interesting to me because of the way it treated a religious community. The plot revolves around a crime in yeshiva community. A group of very orthodox Jews who have gathered together to be apart from the rest of the world. They are not completely isolated, they go to the grocery store and such, but in gathering together they can live their religion more easily and more fully.
This was definitely more complex and thoughtful than your standard mystery. The interactions of the characters were full of the tensions that make a character driven novel good. Especially because the tensions come from such varied sources. The Jews are naturally suspicious of any outsider, then they are worried about the crime and that it might be one of their own. Then the Gentile detective is very attracted to the central witness and so the tension of attractions outside of the faith are involved too.
I can see from the dedication that the author is writing from experience. I don't know if she has lived in such communities, but she is obviously Jewish and tends toward a more orthodox approach.
It is nice to read books where religion is written about with such support and sympathy. The believers are not mystics and weird or kooky, just religious, that is how they lived their lives. I liked this one.
One outside thing that cracked me up was noticing that whoever gave these books to my neighbor counted the "S word", seven times in the book. In a book about rape and murder it seemed a little trivial to worry about that. I object to a lot of swearing, and especially the "F word" will turn me off of a book pretty quick, but that little note at the beginning of the book made me laugh.

The Ritual Bath. Faye Kellerman. Avon Fiction. 1986

On What Grounds

This is another book from the box. It is a coffeehouse mystery. Another in a long line of specific gimmick mysteries. There are catering, chocolate, herbs, tea, antiques and quite a few cat themed mysteries. I've only seen one dog one though, I wonder why? They are usually aimed at middle aged women, so they have less blood, guts and swearing and more recipes and shopping. Unfortunately they are also more than usually predictable.
In most of them the new to the series male that hits on the female lead is the killer, though sometimes they make his ex the jealous killer. And you have to have some sort of relationship with the investigating police officer, in several they end up getting married after a few books.
This was a pretty standard example. I didn't really care for the coffee aspect of things, but I can ignore that part, after all I read a lot of books in which alcohol plays a part and I don't drink either.
And I must admit, I didn't guess who the killer was until right before you found out anyway. Though the author did cheat and not introduce the killer until near the end of the book. Not too bad for a female type mystery.

On What Grounds. Cleo Coyle. Berkley Mystery. 2003

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Brother Odd

This book drove me nuts. I liked it better than the other Dean Koontz novel I read recently, EXCEPT for the silly quantum physics in it which made me want to yell at the author and tell him to give up his subscription to Popular Science, since that seemed as in depth as his research went.
I liked the characters, other than they seemed a bit slow to figure out what the reader could figure out in the first third of the book. And there were some cliches and very obvious bits, but that seems par for the course for a Koontz novel. That's OK, books like this aren't intended for a heavy analysis. But the science thing drove me nuts and made it so I really disliked the book by the end. Either do some research or write about some thing you know about, don't just toss buzz words in and expect everybody to follow along. Lazy writers bug me. I know I am lazy but I don't try and pass my shoddy housekeeping off as anything but. If you expect people to pay money to buy your books you should put some craftsmanship into it. You can tell the difference.

Brother Odd. Dean Koontz. Bantam Books. 2006

3rd Degree

So I thought maybe Cross was a fluke and Patterson is a better writer than that. There was another of his novels in the box so I read it as well. Not as bad as the other one, but then he had a co-writer. A nice plot idea, modern terrorists in USA, who are using the causes of the late 60s as a starting point.
But I still feel like his characterizations are weak. Each book seems lacking in reasons to like these main characters, like he uses the extended time of a series to replace actual character development in a single novel. I think what bugs me most is that I can see he is a lazy writer.
He has a good idea, but seems reluctant to put the time in to make a tight plot, and characters that work together and you care about. A lot of cliches thrown in the pot and stirred around a lot. I wasn't impressed, still don't know why people buy this guy's work enough to make it on the best seller list.

3rd Degree. James Patterson & Andrew Gross. Warner Book. 2004


Temptation, thy name is Sharon Leavitt. My next door neighbor brought over a box full of books that she had been given and then finished, so she gave them to me. Mostly they are things I don't read unless I'm pregnant or feeling especially brain-dead or shopping for a book at the grocery store. Best sellers, thrillers, even a few romances. They are also incredibly fast to read. I think I read this one in little over an hour.
So I sorted the box and about a third I'm not even going to try, and another third I'm embarrassed to say I have already read, So only a few more to go. I mean its like giving a box of Godiva -strike that, they aren't that good of books,- M&Ms to a chocolate addict on a diet.
So anyway, I am completely confused as to why James Patterson is on the best seller list. This book was awful. If it wasn't so short I would have quit. I've decided a good way to see how good an author is is length of chapters. If most of them are only two or three pages long, its a gimmick to flesh out the novel and make it feel more like you are getting your money's worth. I didn't really care for the main character, most of the story was flashbacks and the actual plot pretty thin. And lots of blood as a replacement for suspense. I hate it when I don't mind if anyone gets killed.

Cross. James Patterson. Little, Brown & Co. 2006

Monday, March 3, 2008

Their Finest Hour

Reading this book I realized how American centered our teaching of history is. Not that it is unexpected or wrong really, we just leave stuff out because it doesn't directly relate to the US. For example, I knew WWII started in 1939, I just didn't know much about what happened before Pearl Harbor. In a lot of things I've read, and especially watched (I'm talking History Channel here) Germany invaded Poland, then nobody did anything else for almost two years until Pearl Harbor when suddenly every part of the world was involved.
This volume details how Germany took France and almost every other part of continental Europe and then what Britain did and how she fought on, basically alone, for more than a year, until the US entered the war. It helped explain to me what the heck was going on in Africa. I've seen all those cool shots of tanks racing around in the desert and heard about Montgomery beating Rommel (the Desert Fox) and never had any clue why they were there in the first place.
Italy, and then Germany, fought back and forth in North Africa for two years before the US got involved.
I knew about the Battle of Britain, but I didn't know that England got the snot bombed out of them for seven straight months. Or that they had nearly 100,000 civilian casualties because of it. Or the cool tricks they played with their radar beacons to mess up the German planes. And the fact the Yugoslavia got the tar beaten out of them because the government allied with Germany, then a popular revolution forced the pro-German government out and the new government repudiated the Germans. This made Hitler mad and he carpet-bombed Belgrade for 3 days. Iraq tried to go Pro-German, but British forces staged a coup and took over. The same thing almost happened in Iran. The naval battle for control of the Atlantic and Mediterranean was incredible. And I had only heard a few bare mentions of all of these things.
This was a seriously cool book to learn about all this new stuff from a time in history I thought I understood.

Their Finest Hour. Winston Churchill. Houghton Mifflin. 1949

Only You Can Save Mankind

This is a Terry Pratchett book we haven't read yet. It was written back in the early 90s. I think the most interesting part of the book was the forward explaining the few changes the author made when it was reissued. "If you were away from home you had to use a phone attached by a wire to the wall. It was terrible." It is funny to watch old movies, or not even that old movies and see how things have changed in just the last five or ten years. Watching someone talk on a cell phone the size of a brick and feel cool about it is pretty funny.
This is a lot like the movie the Last Starfighter. Same basic premise. Or so David told me, I haven't actually seen that movie. It was alright, but nothing wonderful. Pratchett has definitely gotten better as a writer over the last fifteen years.

Only You Can Save Mankind. Terry Pratchett. HarperTrophy. 1992