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bookrev: Bataan Diary by Chris Schaefer

bookrev: Bataan Diary by Chris Schaefer

5 stars: Fluidly written, well researched, a story sometimes forgotten that should never be ignored.

Bataan Diary is the true story of Major Frank Loyd and his wife Evelyn. Stationed in Bataan in the Philippines at the beginning of World War II they are separated by the impending Japanese invasion, with Evelyn going home to the United States and Frank staying to fight.

They were separated for almost four years.

Chris Schaefer rebuilt their story from diaries that Frank hid while he was behind enemy lines, Evelyns diaries and letters, interviews and meticulous research. He writes a riveting story of survival, as Frank evades capture, faces malaria, starvation, desperation and dispair, while planning and awaiting General Douglas MacAuthur’s eminent return. Evelyn’s story is almost as difficult, as she has no news of Frank, not knowing if he is captured, dead or alive.

Schaefer tells their story against the backdrop of the events in the Philippines under Japanese occupation and the larger story of the overall War in the Pacific. Describing the native Filipinos, Japanese atrocities, American bravery and indecision, Schaefer paints neither hero or goat, but lets his research tell the story.

A well put-together, well researched book, who’s writing is well paced, Bataan Diary is recommended for those interested in history, war, survival and stories that show what man is capable of.

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bookrev: Hardcase by Dan Simmons

bookrev: Hardcase by Dan Simmons

From the chameleon writer of many genres, a good detective novel

Dan Simmons writes Science Fiction (he won the Hugo award for Hyperion in 1989). Dan Simmons writes Horror (Bram Stoker Award, Carrion Comfort). Dan Simmons writes Fantast (World Fantasy Award, Song of Kali). And Mr. Simmons writes detective fiction.

These different genres mostly have different writing styles. Instead of trying to force one type of writing into another genre, Mr. Simmons changes his colors, adjusts his pacing, wording and style for the hard-core nasty world of private investigation.

Hardcase is the first of three (and we hope more) Joe Kurtz novels. Hard Freeze and Hard as Nails are the other two. Joe Kurtz isn’t mean and nasty, but he also has no compunction about sticking a man’s hand in a disposal or running over an unconscious man’s legs. Kurtz has his own code. Getting out of jail after following that code, Kurtz throws himself in the middle of a Mafia mess that he learned about in prison, and starts churning up the mob and old acquaintances.

The pacing of this novel is well done, the dialogue believable. The plot integrates several subplots well, although some of the plot twists are tipped off early (ain’t this called foreshadowing?).

I also liked how Mr. Simmons slides in a reference to one of his other books, The Crook Factory, about a spyring in Cuba run by Hemingway (see page 221 in the paperback for the reference).

Language and graphic violence make this an unsuitable read for kids. Everyone else will enjoy it.

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You Suck by Christopher Moore

bookrev: You Suck: A Love Story by Christopher Moore

It ain’t LAMB, but it’s funnyYou Suck by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore sets the bar high with his writing. Very few books written these days are laugh out loud funny. When I read Mr. Moore’s LAMB, I got thrown out of more places and had more strange looks on airplanes because I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. Then my son read it (and laughs very loud). FLUKE was close.

YOU SUCK, the sequel to BLOODSUCKING FIENDS, passed the laugh out loud test in a couple of places. YOU SUCK follows former minion C. Thomas Flood, newly converted to a vampire, and his girlfriend, the now forever fabulous red-head Jody (who turned Flood into a vampire and was recently converted herself) as they try to figure out this undead thing.

But the laugh out loud pieces come when Moore turns the narrative over to “Abby Normal”, the 16 year old goth/perky female minion chosen by Flood to do the vampires daylight bidding. Her diary narrative makes me think that Moore was a 16 year old goth/perky female in another life! And Blue, the aging Vegas hooker who dyes herself blue as a gimmick, has some good lines as well.

The ending is rather convenient, leaves it open for another sequel. The plot here isn’t as compelling as LAMB or FLUKE. But it’s a fun read. Read BLOODSUCKING FIENDS first though to get the background on all of the characters. Some of the characters from DIRTY JOB get looped in (as Mr. Moore always does in his writing) but they are minor so that book is not necessary to read before this one.

bookrev: Passage to Dawn by R. A. Salvatore

3 stars: Very predictable, but pulls in some interesting new characters

After ten books (three in the dark elf trilogy, three in the icewind dale trilogy and four in the legacy of the drow series), the characters are becoming familiar and the interaction and culture of the races are known quantities. Unfortunately, the plots are becoming pretty familiar as well.

Salvatore delivers as always with his battle sequences, where his writing is always well done (makes me wonder if he physically steps through the fighting himself so as to better write it). This book also contains time on the ship Sea Sprite, and battles with pirate ships, which are well done. I also enjoyed the new characters of the wizard Cadderly and his wife Danica, although their appearance was short.

But bringing back the Crystal Shard, Ertuu (who we knew from the previous few books was going to have to make a return appearance) and the bringing of a main character back from the dead makes for a fairly predictable plotline.

I know people who have read the entire series (which at this point is seven more books), but I have to question what additional events and devices can be brought into this series to make it interesting and enjoyable. If characters die, except on soap operas they should stay dead.

Power, Faith and Fantasy by Michael Oren

bookrev: Power, Faith and Fantasy by Michael Oren

Power, Faith and Fantasy by Michael Oren Deeply researched, well written, essential history reading for all

Michael Oren’s POWER, FAITH and FANTASY is an immensely researched (80 pages of notes and a 50 page bibliography) and cohesively written accound of American impact in the middle east from the beginnings of America until the present. The background research and anecdotes provide a firm footing for any interested party who wants to know how the United States and the Middle East arrived to the situations they are in today.

Most notably, Oren describes the personalities of the people involved, and reminds us through evidence and quotes, that the policies of countries (whether democracy, autocracy or other) are shaped by the sentiments, education and background of their leaders. Mr. Oren runs through not only the leaders of the Middle Eastern countries in each phase, but goes in depth on the up-bringing and cultural leanings of each U.S. President (i.e., most of them) who had influence to bear on the events in the Middle East.

The book is crafted into seven sections, roughly paralleling developments in US History: independence, before the Civil War, during the Civil War, as America becomes a power, WWI, oil and WWII, and a brief skim over the years since WWII. In each section are weaved the three themes of Faith (religeous influences, including Zionist, pro-Arab, anti-Semite, etc.), Power (US ideas of democracy vs. European Imperialism, Soviet Communism, Arab self-rule) and Fantasy (films, impressions).

I enjoyed this book because Mr. Oren presented facts, not judgements, difficult to do in history as you can make the facts say what you want. But he convincingly presents as many perspecitves to each issue as he can.

His last section on the years from WWII to present was brief, but he acknowleded that it would be a fly-by because of so much material and interest that had already been written on the subject.

A long read at 600+ pages, but well worth it. I learned many new things and was reminded of some I had forgotten. Highly recommended.

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bookrev: Napoleon’s Pyramids by William Dietrich

Bill Dietrich is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist whose fiction books have thus far taken his readers from the Roman Empire (Hadrian’s Wall, The Scourge of God) to futuristic Australia (Getting Back) and Antarctica (Ice Reich).

In his novel, Napoleon’s Pyramids, Bill combines Napoleonic history and Egyptology with a fictional American adventurer (and assistant to Ben Franklin) named Ethan Gage. The result of this combination is a fast-paced action and fact filled novel paralleling and involving Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in the 1790′s.

I read this novel in three consecutive nights. It is one of those “difficult to put down” reads.

Ethan Gage wins a mysterious medallion in a card game in Paris just after the revolution. Many people covet it, and one thinks it worth murder, as Ethan gets framed for the murder of a call girl. Forcibly enlisted into Napoleon’s army of savants heading to Egypt, Ethan and his fellow Mason’s embark on a quest to help Napoleon unlock the power of the pyramids, to aid in his quest for global domination. Ethan, who has until this point meandered aimlessly through life, is forced to decide what he believes in, and if he discovered the secrets of the Pyramids (with the help of a mysterious woman, the savants and Egyptian sages), will he hand over the secrets to Napolean for his uses, or keep them safe from the hands of men?

My favorite parts of this novel are the historical descriptions: the filth and beauty of Paris of that time; the terror of the sea journey with Napoleon across the Mediterranean; the annihilation of the French fleet docked near Alexandria by British Admiral Nelson; and the well written mathematical decriptions of the pyramids and the puzzles surrounding them (Fibonacci number sequences in an action novel? you bet!).

Napoleon, Nelson and other historical figures are woven into the story seamlessly, breathing them to life through their interactions with Gage.

Highly recommended.

bookrev: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

5 stars: This novel shows why Scalzi won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Old Man’s War is simply amazing for a debut novel. As an author my hat is off to John Scalzi for this work. Featuring an imaginative plot with what will soon be classic science fiction settings, this is a “can’t put it down” adventure.

The premise in itself is imaginative: the Colonial Defence Force, which defends human colonies in the stars, fulfills it’s manpower requirements by signing up old men and women and “revamping” their bodies (to say more would give story points away). John Perry joins on his 75th birthday, and begins a journey which includes the revamping of his body, boot camp and battle. Along the way, different pieces of technology/culture are introduced. Some are not explained (taken for granted) but others (skip drive and beanstalk transports to name a few) are discussed as lunchtime talks between recruits, well in the flow of the story.

Scalzi’s humor is excellent, and well on display in his dialog. I actually laughed out loud at points (I usually only do that with Christopher Moore books).

There are few big philosophical ideas here (other than classic military “what are we fighting for?” concepts), and there could be quite a bit more discussed deeper. But that is a minor issue that does not diminish the enjoyment of reading this book.

Highly recommended. On to Ghost Brigades (the next story in the saga).

Illium by Dan Simmons

bookrev: Illium by Dan Simmons

Illium by Dan Simmons Intricate plot, excellent book. How does Simmons think this stuff up?

Mr. Simmons is arguably one of the best genre-hopping authors around, having pulled down awards for SciFi, Horror, Fantasy, etc. But this massive book (700+ pages in the paperback) makes me wonder exactly how does he think this excellent stuff up?

Ilium mixes the Trojan War (is it the real Trojan War, or a setup re-creation?), future humans (who are so pampered that they have forgotten or have been forced to forget their history, basic skills like reading and cooking, etc.), post-humans (evolved in some fashion) and Jupiter/Asteroid Belt organic-plus-Artificially Intelligent miner/workers into a story that is part future, part past. Combining these characters with literary references to Shakespeare, Proust (the Jupiter miners have all of ancient Earth in their databases and a weakness for literature), Homer and others, would in the hands of a lesser writer, make for a slogfest of a read.

Simmons masterfully blends these characters, time-shifting settings and science fiction creations into a plot that is a page turner for the majority of it’s bulk. The plot opens up, little by little, letting the reader slowly but surely put these pieces together, while keeping us engaged with what’s happening. The science of the science fiction is added to make this complexity quite possible, which is what good science fiction is all about.

The only issue I have with this novel is that (without giving away any spoilers) one has to read the next novel, Olympos. But it is a small issue, and, given the quality of Ilium, I will happily dive into Olympos.

Highly reccommended!

bookrev: Wanderer Springs by Robert Flynn

bookrev: Wanderer Springs by Robert Flynn

Robert Flynn’s writing is Texas

Most people think of Texas and think of Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio. But the stories of Texas are really the tales of its small towns, how they started, how they grew, how they survived or died.

Robert Flynn’s Wanderer Springs is a masterfully written novel of one such town, told through the eyes of one of its products, one of its survivors, one of its storytellers.

The novel weaves together a vast cast of characters and generations of families, and its easy to get lost or confused between the Spruill family or the Slocum family or the Shipman family (a ten page who’s who is included for your reference pleasure). But these intertwining stories and familes are what makes a small Texas town what it is, and their tales are its history.

Mixed in with the history of the town and its families is the story of Will Callaghan, heading back to Wanderer Springs for the funeral connected to a tragic event from his long ago high school life. As he gets physically and mentally closer to Wanderer Springs, the stories of the town show their influence on his life, on his friends and on the decisions he made. A history teacher and writer by trade, Will Callaghan revists several “ghosts” from Wanderer Springs: townspeople, his loving wife, his father, past loves and friends.

Bob Flynn has won several awards for his writing, and, while I have been a long time reader and fan of his shory story work, this novel is one of the most authentic Texas works to ever grace my shelves. Highly reccommended.

tunrev: Live at Luther College – Dave Matthews, Tim Reynolds

5 stars: Two virtuoso’s captured live

Unfortunately, you cannot capture the brilliance of Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds live on an album. But this one comes close.

We saw this dynamic duo in Oxford England March 2007, as they played for more than three hours. Their performance live is unmatchable.

This album demonstrates yet again what an amazing songwriter, singer and acoustic guitar player Dave Matthews is…and it shows glimpses of the amazing talent that is Tim Reynolds. Dave’s lyrics shine in this acoustic set more so than in DMB studio albums, as his voice becomes the third instrument in this duo. Through Dancing Nancies, #41, Dancing Nancies and Cry Freedom, Dave’s songwriting expertise is more visible than with the full band. Tim Reynolds is amazing live and in person, and my one issue with this album is that his contributions aren’t noticeable unless you know what you are listening for. But you can certainly hear his lead licks on #41, Dancing Nancies and Say Goodbye.

And it took me awhile, but I recognized the acoustic “Little Thing” (something “Dave and Timmy had been working on”) as “An’ Another Thing” from Some Devil…both versions are great.

An excellent album, see them in concert if you get the chance.

Re-reading MSandT

Re-reading Tad William's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

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Dusk Before the Dawn

Dusk Before the Dawn

Software By the Kilo

Software by the Kilo

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