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I just re-read my review of Nov 6, 2010, now more than ten years ago, of the book New York: The Novel – by Edward Rutherford. It is a remarkably good book; obviously I gave it my maximum of four stars, and since it’s been 10 years, and many of my  readers today were not following me 10 years ago, I thought I’d repost the review here – it’s as fresh as ever, and it’s an extraordinary book.

It may not be the same to you if you have never visited New York. But for me, having been there many times over the years, I never looked at the city quite the same way again after reading Rutherfurd’s book.

And while I am thinking about books about New York, the list is not complete without Forever – by Pete Hamill. I reviewed this in 2009, and it’s another delightfully entertaining novel about the history of New York from the point of view of an – shall I say – extraordinary character. Another four stars.

I highly recommend both for your reading lists.

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In the late 1960s, when I was a school boy in Germany, I remember that the evening news, along with what was going on in Vietnam, often covered violence in Northern Ireland. Catholics and Protestants were always murdering each other in violent clashes, shootings and bombings. As a child, I could never understand why Christians would hate each other so much that they’d kill each other, year after year after year.

As a school boy in Bavaria I witnessed almost all my friends and school mates being Catholic. Everyone was Catholic in Bavaria, except a very few. Those who were not Catholic were called “die Evangelischen” which translates to our overall term “Protestant.” In a classroom of 30 to 40 students, there might be one or two Protestants, often none. We knew that, because there was mandatory religion class, where a religion teacher, usually a priest, would teach about religion. We had no choice but participate, except those kids that were Protestant. They were pulled out and went to some other study room, or had their own consolidated Protestant class, except there were so few of them in school that they would not be able to put  enough together to fill a classroom.

Bavarians were generally Catholic, and Protestants were the children of refugees. Refugees in Germany in the sixties always came from the east and were people who were displaced when the Russians closed in on Hitler in World War II. They spoke a very different dialect, so we could tell who they were, and they were usually Protestant.

As a kid, I never gave it much thought.

The book A Column of Fire deals with the subject of Catholicism and Protestantism in the sixteenth century in Europe and particularly in England. Queen Mary Stuart was a staunch Catholic, and Protestantism was against the law. Protestants were called heretics, and the inquisition, staffed by sadistic priests, had the power to accuse anyone of heresy, try them in “court” and burn them at the stake, if convicted. Accused heretics were tortured, like stretched until all four limbs were completely dislocated. Under such torture, most every accused person confessed to heresy, which ended the torture, but started the brutal execution, like being burned naked and alive while the public watched and the clergy looked on. Queen Mary, sometimes called “Bloody Mary” ordered hundreds of such executions of Protestants.

Reading about tortures, I also remembered that as a school boy, I once took a tour of the Regensburg Rathaus (the old town hall). One of the most memorable sights there was the Folterkammer (torture chamber).

I was in that torture chamber and was able to inspect the various implements. As a kid it didn’t affect me much, and I never thought about it. As it turned out, between the years 1533 and 1770, suspected sinners were asked to confess, and if they didn’t confess, they were shown the torture instruments, which I suspect made many of them change their minds. But the key point is, “freedom of religion” as we know it today, is a very recent invention, and just a few hundred years ago, in Germany, in England, and all over the world, if you lived in a predominantly Catholic country, the laws were such that if you were not Catholic, or if you worked against the church, you were a blasphemer or a heretic, and the punishment could easily be death, depending on the severity of the crime as determined by the inquisitor.

That does not mean only the Catholics were the barbarians.

When Queen Mary Stuart died, Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne of England. Elizabeth was a Protestant, and professed herself to be a moderate. She said she didn’t believe that people should be killed for their religion. Yes, the country was Protestant, and Catholicism was outlawed, but at least you weren’t summarily killed for it. However, since the Catholics were obsessed with their right, they felt Elizabeth was illegitimate as queen, and they tried various plots to kill her and give the throne to Mary, Queen of Scots – you guessed it – a Catholic.

The church and politics were completely intertwined, and the pope, his cardinals and bishops had as much power as the nobility and wielded it with a brutal hand.

A Column of Fire plays in the fictional town on Kingsbridge about 200 years after World Without End. It starts in 1558 in Kingsbridge and ends in 1620. It follows the lives of various prominent Kingsbridge residents as they do the bidding of famous historical figures, like Queen Mary Stuart, Mary Queen of Scots, King Filipe in Spain, King Henri in France, Sir Francis Drake, and many other historical figures of the time. A Column of Fire is the third book in the Kingsbridge trilogy, or the “Pillars Trilogy” as I have called it. You can read my other reviews here:

The Evening and the Morning – the prequel

Pillars of the Earth – book one

World Without End – book two

A Column of Fire – book three – this review

This is a historical novel about the Christian religion in its dark days. Reading it I am glad I live today, and I live in a country that prides itself of religious freedom – and I say that somewhat facetiously. Catholics and Protestants in the United States don’t kill each other (anymore), but I am not so sure whether all Jewish people and definitely Muslims in the United States today would agree that we have religious freedom. But if you want to learn first-hand what lack of religious freedom means, you should definitely read A Column of Fire.

I like Follett’s books because they make history come alive. It’s one thing to read in a history book that Martin Luther didn’t like what the Catholics were doing and wanted to reform the church, but the Catholics didn’t approve of that. That’s dry, that’s history lectures in school with no context. It’s another thing to be inside the head of a young woman in Paris who sells copies of the Bible in French or English, which were printed clandestinely, and the penalty for being discovered selling illegal books was death. Yes, the Catholic church banned bibles in languages other than Latin and the penalty for violating that rule was death. The Catholic church has, in all its history, actively worked on keeping the people uneducated, so it could wields its power over them and essentially extract money from them for its own enrichment. I may seem on a rant, and off topic now, against the Catholic church, but not really. A Column of Fire brings the power or the church in the 16th century to life in front of your eyes.

This is a very long book with 919 pages and it takes time to read. But it was time well-spent. I am now going to have to read a biography of Martin Luther, as I am embarrassed to say, I know only very rudimentary facts about him and his life and work. I need to fill in that blank. I have also concluded that I need to find a historical novel that plays during the crusades, another time in history that warrants better understanding, and I suspect I will learn more about atrocities committed by the church.

The third American colony was started in New England by the passengers of the Mayflower in 1620. It was in the context of the political structure in England described in A Column of Fire that these first pilgrims stepped onto the Mayflower in search of religious freedom, and now I understand how and why that happened.

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It’s 1985 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Rookie Special Agent Stella York is one of the first female FBI agents, and she does not have the support of her peers or her superiors. Yet, the case she is put on is completely baffling.

Two dead men are found in a van that crashed into a power pole, yet the power pole does not show any damage, while the van is totaled. The van is a GMC model nobody has ever heard of in 1985. Furthermore, the license plate expiration sticker shows “10.”

One of the dead men’s fingerprints are an exact match with those of a prison guard at a local prison – which is impossible. Then, during a chase on I-275 North, she witnesses the gory death of a suspect in a car accident, yet, she runs into him very much alive a day later. Nothing makes sense, until one of the witnesses opens up to her and tells her that she’s dealing with time travelers. From the chronological point of view, events seem to happen out of order.

Agent York is losing all her professional credibility when she approaches her superiors with her theory.

Agent of Time plays in Nathan Van Coops’ universe of the In Times Like These, a series of books I have read. See the reviews here:

In Times Like These

The Chronothon

The Day After Never

The Warp Clock

More specifically, Agent of Time plays within the In Times Like These story. I have read prequels to successful books before, and they are usually entertaining, because I know the world that comes after the prequel ends. But I have never read a book that plays “within the original story.”

If you have read the hugely famous Harry Potter series of books, you will understand what “Muggles” are. In Harry Potter, the action takes place among people who are involved in magic: wizards, sorcerers, and the like. Everyone knows that magic is real, and understands its rules. Muggles are the regular people, like you and I, who do not have magical talents and in almost all cases do not believe in magic and do not know it’s going on all around us – well – at least in the Harry Potter universe.

In Nathan Van Coops’ books, the action takes place among people who routinely travel in time. They take it for granted, and they use it creatively. But the rest of us, the time-Muggles, have no idea time travel is possible, it’s happening, and it’s routine for some people. Agent of Time plays parallel to the story of In Times Like These, but it is told from the point of view of time-Muggles like Stella York. What would it look like if there were time travelers amongst us, doing their things, and what would it be like if there were time traveling criminals?

You don’t need to have read In Times Like These to understand Agent of Time, but you will enjoy it MUCH more if you have. I would recommend that you read In Times Like These first, then read Agent of Time, and you’ll have the best experience.

Agent of Time is a short book of only 137 pages. It was free on Amazon. I literally read the whole thing in one day, yesterday. The author probably was in a rush to get it out, because it fell kind of short. The ending was somewhat abrupt, probably setting us up for the next Stella York story, the time-Muggle. But it’s a good addition to the series, and Van Coops is still, in my opinion, one of the strongest writers in the genre.

 

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It is the year 997 in England, the end of the Dark Ages. The people live in wooden houses and use primitive tools.

Edgar is an eighteen-year-old youth, the son of a boatbuilder. During a Viking raid, his village is destroyed, his father is killed, and his mother and brothers have to move to a new village and start from scratch, trying to survive.

Ragna is the daughter of a Norman nobleman who falls in love with Wilwulf, the ealdorman (you’ll have to look that up here) of Shiring. She moves to England to marry him, but she has no idea what the customs are in her new world. Quickly her life is all but destroyed.

Aldred is a young monk who wants to turn his monastery into a center of learning and culture. This is in the time when copies of books were written by hand, and when books where hugely expensive and impossible to own.

Wynston is the bishop of Shiring, a cunning, brutal man who will stop at nothing, including fratricide, to get what he wants, more power and more riches.

The lives of these four people are interlinked and connected as we watch them struggle for survival, for love and lust, for power and for enlightenment. But in the end, the story is too simple, the plot predictable, and the characters are one-dimensional and not believable.

I bought this book without bothering to first download the preview to see if I’d like it, based completely on the reputation and caliber of the author. I have read the “Kingsbridge Trilogy” starting with Pillars of the Earth, one of the best historical novel I have ever read. The Evening and the Morning is the fourth book of the Kingsbridge series, written as a prequel to Pillars. It plays about a hundred years before Pillars, when the little hamlet that will once become Kingsbridge consists of just a few hovels in the middle of nowhere.

I have no idea why the title of the book is The Evening and the Morning. Surely, Follett could have spent a little more time thinking of a better title. The book is over 900 pages long and it takes patience to read. I was hoping I’d get more history out of the experience, but I really didn’t. The story is a love story, a tale of utter evil and brutishness, power and abuse, sex (too much of it) and melodrama. Disney could have written the story, and it could have played anywhere and at any time. It just turns out it played in the decade between the years 997 and 1007, during the reign of King Ethelred II.

The Evening and the Morning is a nice attempt at a historical novel that describes life during the Dark Ages, or better, the end of the Dark Ages, but it misses a lot of opportunities. Edgar, one of the protagonists, could have been shown as an old man, jumping forward closer to the 1100 period, where Pillars starts. As it turns out, I learned more about the history of that period in England browsing wikipidia.org for Ethelred, the term “ealdorman,” the Viking raids, and court life during that period than I learned from reading The Evening and the Morning. 

Follett is a great writer, and this book leaves me with the feeling that he just wanted to write something quickly and without much imagination to make some money from his loyal followers. The book really doesn’t have anything to do with the Kingsbridge stories, other than it plays 100 years before John Builder first sets foot into the town of Kingsbridge is search of a job.

That’s when it gets exciting. You will not miss anything if you skip The Evening and the Morning.

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We all know who John Bolton is, we all know how his tenure at the White House started and ended, and we know Bolton’s role, or lack thereof, in the Trump impeachment proceedings.

So I don’t have to tell you what this book is about, but I can rather focus on telling you my experience reading the book, about what I learned, and, most importantly, what conclusions I drew.

John Bolton has been around the United States government, and particularly foreign policy, for decades. I knew little about him, and I would simply have categorized him a “hawk” in line with the generally liberal sentiment in my usual circles. When I first heard that Trump was going to install him as National Security Advisor, I was deeply worried that his hawkishness would get us into new conflicts and would even further endanger our already very dangerous world.

I bought the book the day it first came out on June 23, 2020, and started reading it right away. But it is a long book, with detailed, journal-like narration describing events as they took place with sometimes down to the minute accuracy. It really does put the reader into the room where it happened. The book is very long, and takes a long time to read, so I had to interrupt reading it when Mary Trump’s book came out, so I could read that one right way, and then again I had to lay it aside to make room and time for Michael Cohen’s book. But I kept going back and I forced myself to slog through it, and I finished tonight.

Trump fought vehemently to have the publication of The Room Where it Happened blocked. I expected some type of tell-all book, but that’s not at all what it is. It basically talks about the United States foreign policy from the point of view of a man who deeply understands it and has lived it all his life. Since Trump has no understanding of world affairs and any matters that don’t involve him personally, clearly this book will “make Trump look bad,” not because Bolton says Trump is a fool or anything like it, but because Bolton allows us to sit in the room with him, and Trump, and Mulvaney, and Mattis, and Pompeo, and we can watch Trump make a fool of himself by showing clearly and overtly that he does not know what he is talking about, that he has no interest in governing and certainly not foreign affairs, and that he is as smart as the last person he talked to wants him to be. That was particularly dangerous and ludicrously embarrassing for our country when he “negotiated” with Putin, Kim Jong-un, Erdogan, Xi, and pretty much every other adversary of our national interests.

Bolton does not make Trump look bad. Bolton just shows us how inept Trump is for all of us plain to see. Unlike Trump, where his supporters always are quoted saying “he tells it like it is,” Bolton actually does tell it like it is.

Bolton is definitely a proponent of America carrying a big stick and operating from strength. Trump just thinks of himself being the smartest man in the room, and he tells us that all the time, and he thinks he is the big stick. Yet, Bolton shows us clearly that Trump was and is our most serious security risk, consistent with what we have learned from Mattis, McMaster, Coats and the entire national security establishment. I can see why Trump didn’t want this book published.

I know that a lot of Trump supporters have blasted Bolton as a traitor for writing this. Well, let me tell you this: If 3% of all Trump supporters actually read The Room Where it Happened, I’d be very surprised. To read this, you have to be very patient, persistent, interested in foreign polity, and tenacious. This is NOT AN EASY book to read, and I predict most people who buy the book won’t finish it. So let them blab about Bolton being a traitor, or let the liberals blab about him being a hawk. Neither side knows what it is talking about. They have to read the book first before I would take them seriously.

And here is my probably shocking conclusion: On a scale from 1 to 10, my respect for Bolton, for what I knew about him before reading the book, may have been around 2. It’s now at 9 or so. I actually believe he would be an excellent pick for Biden to choose for Secretary of State. It would ensure that our foreign relations would be rebuilt, corrected, and put on a secure footing. Our adversaries would be on notice and our security would be enhanced. By choosing Bolton for this critical slot, Biden would ensure consistency from the past, a strong presence in the world, and he could focus on the many domestic issues that need attention, without having to lose sleep about what’s going on in the world. I know this opinion of mine will shake up some of my readers, but I stand by it.

Now, of course, there is no chance Biden will do such a thing, and history will continue.

I gained a lot of respect for Bolton by reading his book, and his mustache doesn’t bother me one bit.

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When Disloyal came out I knew I had to read it. Who is this most powerful of Trump’s enablers? Who is this guy that I read about long before Trump’s announcement of his candidacy, the ruthless wolverine who came after Trump’s victims and threatened to ruin them if they even tried to assert their rights?

When the White House found out that Cohen was writing this book, they tried everything they could to stop him from publishing it. It was going to be a sensational tell-all book.

Well, it is.

Cohen was there from the beginning. He knows Trump intimately, and he was his most loyal and effective confidante and protector. To understand Trump, we need to read Disloyal, because it tells what it was like to work for Trump.

Here is an excerpt:

We all flew to Green Bay, Wisconsin for the event titled Trump: The New Owner of WWE Raw. All of us invited were eager to experience what we knew was going to be a wild, fun night. In the dressing room under the stadium, we could hear the mounting noise of the crowd coming in, and it was obvious that the place was going to be sold out, not to mention the huge pay-per-view audience. This was when Don Jr. spoke out of turn, at least in the eyes of his taskmaster father. “Hey, Dad, are you nervous?” he asked. “What did you say?” Trump asked, his face reddening. “I’m going in front of millions of people. What kind of stupid fucking question is that? Get out of here.”

We all stood in awkward silence, staring at our shoes, feeling sorry for the son and his perfectly innocent question.

“God damn it,” Trump said with a heavy sigh, as if his son wasn’t present. “The kid has the worst fucking judgment of anyone I have ever met. What a stupid thing to say—to put that thought in my head.” Don Jr. said nothing, also inspecting his shoes, and no doubt desperate to flee. The hurt was evident in his face and demeanor, even though this was hardly the first time I’d heard Trump insult his son and remark on his supposed lack of intelligence. I often wondered why the son stayed around in the face of the abuse of his father, though I knew the answer, because Don Jr. had told me the story.

— Cohen, Michael. Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump (pp. 83-84). Skyhorse. Kindle Edition.

Obviously, the White House said that Cohen is a liar – and he is, by his own admission – but when you read his story, it’s obvious that he is not making this stuff up. He just tells it like it was, like a journal entry, and he doesn’t really “blast” Trump either. He just describes, almost soberly, some of his more atrocious deeds. The personality of Trump comes out, similar to how it came out in Mary Trump’s book Too Much and Never Enough.

Most of all I was struck with the realization that Trump USED Cohen, over and over again, until — suddenly — when Cohen fell due to his covering for Trump, he was no longer useful to him. Trump immediately disowned and abandoned him. Cohen is now in prison (at this time serving his sentence under house-arrest) and Trump is — still — in the White House. Trump uses people, everyone, his wife, his children, his best friends, his relatives, his employees, his vendors and contractors, and now the entire population of the United States, to serve him. Cohen’s book shows how he does that.

Michael Cohen’s book is not a “great book” or an exceptional memoir. It is a sober book, well told, revealing, and it shows us what Trump really is: a fraud.

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Too Many Books, Too Little Time

I just downloaded Rage – by Bob Woodward.

I am at 17% with Disloyal – by Michael Cohen

I am at 40% with The Room Where it Happened – by John Bolton

I haven’t started reading Donald Trump v. The United States – by Michael Schmidt

Too many books, too little time.

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Too many books, too little time!

I have never before written an “interim book report” but I found necessary to do so this time.

John Bolton’s book about his time in the Trump White House came out a month and a half ago, and I bought it on the day it came out and I started reading it.

But it’s a long (LONG) book, not the kind of work you can skim fast, so when Mary Trump’s book Too Much and Never Enough came out, I paused, read that, reviewed it here, and went back to The Room Where it Happened.

But now, I picked up Melania and Me – by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff (reading now) and Donald Trump v. The United States – by Michael S. Schmidt, and on Tuesday I am looking forward to Disloyal, Michael Cohen’s book. There are too many books to read and review before the election, but I need to fit them all in.

Too many books, too little time!

And that brings me back to John Bolton’s book and this is the actual start of the Interim Book Report. I am “only” 40% into the book, but I found it a much more insightful and convincing book than I would have expected it to be. I will do a final book report, with excerpts and a rating when I finally finish it, but I thought some of my readers would appreciate my thoughts on it before the election.

Trump and his enablers fought hard to stop Bolton’s book from getting published. And I can see why. But my take away is very different from what I expected it to be. I thought it would be a tell-all book, making Trump look bad, written by a disgruntled former staff member. At least that’s what the White House made it out to be. I also have to admit that I never really “knew” John Bolton. I took the word of pundits and critics who called him a hawk. I remember when Bolton first got appointed to be the National Security Advisor, my heart sank, since I thought that what could be worse than an incompetent president enabling a war hawk for the security of our world?

Bolton’s book is not sensational at all. It’s almost dry. If you are into foreign policy and world power politics at the highest level, kind of the Henry Kissinger level, then Bolton’s book should be required reading. Bolton must be keeping exact journals of what he does every day to be able to write that book. He does not disparage others. He observes, and intersperses his observations and opinions. He tells world history of the small slice where he was actively participating as part of the Trump administration, he tells it as it unfolded. Yes, it makes Trump look bad, but not because Bolton says so, but because we observe what Trump says and does in the room where it happened, over and over again. Bolton puts us into the room. We get to be flies on the wall, listening to what goes on, and what comes out of Trump’s mouth is “not pretty.” Make no mistake about it, the book makes Trump look bad, because Trump is making himself look bad, every day, over and over again.

Now a word about Bolton. I have to admit that I actually like Bolton. Knowing now how he thinks, and particularly what he knows, and how vast his experience on the world stage is, yes, the world was in safer condition while he was in the White House. Bolton understand world politics, and knows how to play the international game. He knows how to make and keep America strong, and still “do the right thing.”

I don’t agree with all of Bolton’s opinions and attitudes, but as much as one can ascertain this from reading a man’s book, I like the man. And now I am going to say the most controversial thing in a long time: Biden, once president, would do himself a favor and bring Bolton back right where he was: National Security Advisor.

It would be a brilliant move.

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Mary Trump’s tell-all book about her brother Donald Trump sold 1.35 million copies in the first week after publication. My copy was one of those.

Mary is an educated professional, a psychologist and a very good writer and story-teller. She is the oldest daughter of Trump’s oldest brother Freddie, who died very early in life. She has unique insight into the upbringing and lives of the five Trump siblings by her grandparents. Of course, Trump and the White House tried to stop publication of this book. Trump tweeted:

“Mary Trump, a seldom seen niece who knows little about me, says untruthful things about my wonderful parents (who couldn’t stand her!) and me, and violated her NDA,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “She’s a mess! Many books have been written about me, some good, some bad. Both happily and sadly, there will be more to come!”

Some Trump supporters have called the book a “book of lies” but I doubt that when they say this they have actually read it.

There is nothing scandalous about it. It just tells the story of a family in Brooklyn, led by an autocratic and self-absorbed man, Fred Trump, who build a billion-dollar real estate empire, and who shaped Donald Trump into the person we see today.

If Trump hadn’t ascended to the presidency, none of this would have been interesting to anyone, and the Trump Organization would have gone on doing what appears to be shady business for decades to come.

But that is not how things went.

Here is an except:

Donald was to my grandfather what the border wall has been for Donald: a vanity project funded at the expense of more worthy pursuits. Fred didn’t groom Donald to succeed him; when he was in his right mind, he wouldn’t trust Trump Management to anybody. Instead, he used Donald, despite his failures and poor judgment, as the public face of his own thwarted ambition. Fred kept propping up Donald’s false sense of accomplishment until the only asset Donald had was the ease with which he could be duped by more powerful men.

There was a long line of people willing to take advantage of him. In the 1980s, New York journalists and gossip columnists discovered that Donald couldn’t distinguish between mockery and flattery and used his shamelessness to sell papers. That image, and the weakness of the man it represented, were precisely what appealed to Mark Burnett.

— Trump, Mary L.. Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man (pp. 195-196). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Too Much and Never Enough is a very readable book, not too long to become a tedious read, and it explains Donald Trump. What he does, how he acts, and more importantly, what he doesn’t do or say just makes sense after having read this book.

I would highly recommend it to everyone, both Trump supporters and the rest of us.

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Mankind’s first mission to the stars has arrived at its destination. The trip took 10 years and due to the relativistic speed, dozens of years have gone by on Earth when Captain Jack Harrison and his small crew arrive.

They quickly find out that they are not the first intelligent beings that inhabited the new star system. There is evidence of systematic destruction and extermination.

In their quest to figure out what happened, they quickly become stranded and cut off from their ship. The science mission to explore a new star system quickly turns into a battle for sheer survival against impossible odds.

Prelude to Extinction is actually a good story with a lot of potential, sprinkled with unexpected twists, some of them aided by cosmological concepts like time dilation and distortion. It’s a somewhat hard science fiction story that quickly jumps over the science.

For instance, all the aliens use engines that can accelerate to practically the speed of light in minutes without the crews feeling any acceleration by doing some “alien tech” stuff without any regard to where the energy is going to come from, and how the ships will be protected at these speeds in the relatively crowded spaces of stars systems. I know it’s fiction, but the mixture of hard science fiction in the near future,  sprinkled with impossible technology of aliens millions of years ahead of us, just didn’t work very well for me. I also had trouble understanding that aliens so advanced seem to have nothing better to do than to try to exterminate any other species they come across, which is central to the plot.

But the worst of it is that the crew, the “best and brightest Earth has to offer” consistently act like boy scouts on a field trip at best. The captain constantly has trouble asserting his authority, and his crew of scientists keep making incredible blunders that just make no sense. By making all the human actors in the story morons, whose stupid actions eventually drive the plot along, the entire novel loses its sense of reality.

Prelude to Extinction is obviously a setup for a sequel. But the author really should hire an editor to fix the dozens, perhaps hundreds of typos and grammatical errors in this book, before writing another one.

I am passing on the next ones.

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Just three days ago I finished reading and reviewed The ’86 Fix. It’s a time travel story, and I gave it a pretty dismal review and only one and a half stars. The story was “okay” but the ending was so bad, it really disappointed me. That’s when I realized I was simply set up for a sequel. When I wrote that review, I stated that I wasn’t going to read any more books by this author, let alone the sequel.

But since I was interested in what might happen to Craig Pelling next, just for kicks, I downloaded the preview anyway. After reading about five percent of the book, I changed my mind. Beyond Broadhall is the sequel to The ’86 Fix.

I just finished it, and it’s a better book. It’s getting 2.5 stars.

The story picks up right where the first book stops. It’s now 2017. Craig is in a mental hospital, basically imprisoned, for eleven months, while counselors and psychiatrists try to figure out what’s wrong with him and set him on a course to release him into society.

As soon as Craig is free, he starts researching, trying to find his parents, his wife Megan, his coworkers, and his nemesis Marcus. He realizes that rather than “fixing” things during his visit to 1986, he did far more damage to many innocent people’s lives than he could ever have dreamed. As revelation after revelation comes to him, he gets more and more disturbed – and wiser. When he finds his father, who is now a very decent man, and very helpful to his cause, he figures out that he didn’t really need to go to the past to “fix” things. He has the power right here and now.

Here is the problem with The ’86 Fix and Beyond Broadhall. They are not really two books. They are one book. The author should have put them together back to back, making them twice as long. Then he should have edited out about 25% of the fluff and boring stuff that wasn’t necessary, and it would have been a surprisingly entertaining and complete story. The total letdown of the first book, the terrible ending, would have just been one setback to the protagonist in the middle of the story, and it would not have been that bothersome. It would have also saved the author some awkward “backfilling” he had to do to give the reader of the second book enough knowledge for it to stand on its own. But then, I do not believe that anyone would read the second book without having read the first one.

I don’t have a problem with series of books. Some are done quite well. For instance, the Harry Potter books are a good example, or the “Pillars” series by Ken Follett. Each book can stand on its own. You don’t have to read the first one to enjoy the second one, even though in most cases, people will read them in sequence.

The ’86 Fix and Beyond Broadhall are not two separate books. They are one longer book with some boring passages, but a pretty entertaining story.

My advice to the author would have been to repackage the two into one.

So, if you want to read a low-tech time travel story that provides some lessons about what life is all about and how the decisions we make affect us and all those around us, buy both of those books, and read them back to back, without skipping a beat between the two. And you’ll have yourself a comfortable read.

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Craig Pelling is a 46-year-old man in England in 2016. He lives in alcohol-soft middle-age, to use a Pink Floyd phrase. He is pudgy, balding, out of shape, lazy and overall a fairly unlikable character. He has lived for more than 20 years in a love-less marriage, and his career, by his own standards, has been lackluster. When an old high school classmate and bully of his becomes his new boss, his whole world comes crashing down.

His parents are moving out of their house into a retirement home and ask him to come home and clean out his childhood room. When he turns on the computer, something surreal happens and he is transported back into this 16-year-old body. He gets to spend a weekend as his teenage self, with his middle-aged man’s experiences and knowledge of his future. He is determined to set some things right. Can he fix his life, and the lives of those around him? He definitely tries.

The first half of the book is describing Craig’s failures and current situation in 2016. It’s kind of slow and boring, being the fairly unlikeable character that he is. At about the mid-point he performs the time travel, and things get much more interesting. The pace picks up.

But the ending is terrible. Readers want to see the hero win, they want an upbeat story. The ending is deflating and depressing, and it becomes obvious that the writer simply set us up to read the sequel.

In addition to lack of editing regarding the plot, and the marketing of the book, it also has a good number of grammatical errors that somewhat distracted me. I was going rate this book two out of four stars, but the horrible ending just depressed me and I am downgrading it to 1.5 stars.

But that’s apparently not going to stop me from buying Beyond Broadhall, the sequel. I want to know what happens to Craig next.

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After reading A Ripple in Time, I wrote this review but I didn’t think I would read another Zugg book. Then one of my readers commented under that review, challenged me by pointing out a grammatical error in my blog entry while I criticized Zugg for his, and told me there was a sequel. Well, I couldn’t leave a time travel book unread.

But, unfortunately, it’s not a time travel book.

Mason, the protagonist, makes it back to 1720 at the end of A Ripple in Time. In The Planters, he comes out on the other side and the story tells how he finds his way back to the plantation, reunites with Karen, Jeremy and Lisa, and how they make a living running a plantation in 1720.

The twist is Nathan, one of the antagonists in A Ripple in Time, who unexpectedly survived the pirate raid and comes back to the plantation. While the story illustrates life in 1720 in South Carolina, and while the four survivors are occasionally drawing on their knowledge of history to drive their actions, and while Mason uses his Glock automatic pistol once to save their lives against pirates, there is absolutely no time travel in this book. Therefore, it would have been more effective to just call it a historical novel, but as such, it would not have lived up to those of the greats like Bernard Cornwell, for instance.

There were no significant grammar error in The Planters, unlike there were in A Ripple in Time, or at least I didn’t notice them. Perhaps the author had more proofreading done. I applaud that.

The way the story ended left it open to another sequel, which I definitely will not take the time to read.

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Trappist-1 is a star system about 39.5 light years away. The star is an ultra-cool red dwarf star in the constellation Aquarius, and it is found to have several earth-like planets with the potential to support life. Humanity sends a starship to explore the system.

The Forerunner One, a starship capable of traveling at half the speed of light, is outfitted with a crew that spends the 78-year journey mostly in cryogenic sleep. At half lightspeed, time on the ship moves 15% slower than it does back on Earth, due to relativistic time dilation.

But while all this is good stuff for a solid science fiction story, it’s not really relevant. As it turns out, the crew arrives at their destination, and without much thought or preparation (would you think?) they land on one of the planets, only to be attacked by the local fauna within a few hours of landing.

The local intelligent species is aviary. They are smaller than humans, about 4 feet tall, skinny, birdlike, and they can fly. The humans call them Avari. They have far superior technology compared to the humans, and within a day of arriving, having traveled most of a century, the humans are driven back to their ship and forced to flee – you get it – back to Earth.

Spoiler Alert:

It turns out that the Avari have technology to cloak themselves and even their ships. So they can be invisible. Two of them sneak on board of the human ship undetected and start wreaking havoc on the way home. Not only that, they breed a hybrid avari-human fetus in one of the females on board. Obviously, this sets things up for a lot of surprises on the trip home.

There is a twist at the end, which makes it clear that the entire book First Encounter is just there to be a setup for a series of books called The Ascension Wars, and this is Book 1.

I didn’t care too much about the writing style, the loose and unrealistic plot, and the shallow character development overall. First Encounter seems a little bit like pulp fiction, or worse, action hero comic book material. If you like light science fiction, this might be reasonable entertainment. But for me, I am done reading this series.

 

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The Stand is about a pandemic that kills almost everyone in the world.

I read this book shortly after it first came out in 1978. Then, in 1990, King reissued the “Complete and Uncut Edition” with extra chapters and some changes. I read it again the early 1990s.

I never did a review of the book. Now might be a great time to do so.

If you’d like to read up on details, check the Wikipedia page for the book here.

A modified strain of the flu (sounds familiar?) accidentally escapes a government lab in Texas. It kills almost everyone it infects. Far less than 1% of the population, for some unfound reason, are immune. This means that in any given city or community, there might be nobody or just one person left. Within just a few weeks, the entire country is a grave yard. Rotting corpses are everywhere, in every house and building. Cars run off the roads litter the highways, usually corpses inside. A few survivors eventually run into each other and small groups band together to eek out a life after “the flu.”

The story follows a group of people who start out in New England and make their way west, collecting straggling survivors as they go. They end up settling in Boulder, Colorado. However, as one might expect, there is also an “evil” group, with its own leader, and they congregate in Las Vegas. The epic struggle between good and evil is carried out by the fragments of humanity.

The Stand is King’s largest book. This is a monster, a work the size of War and Peace. However, it’s also, in my opinion, King’s best work ever, and one of my favorite novels of all time. There are some (very) long stretches of less than exciting mystical sections getting into the supernatural of the bad guys in the second half of the book, which I found tedious. But other than that, it’s riveting reading. King portrays a lot of unique and utterly memorable characters that have stayed with me for a lifetime, including the main characters of Stuart Redman, Frannie Goldsmith, Nick Andros and the ever likeable feeble-minded Tom Cullen, “Laws, Yes!” As usual, King’s characters are deeply developed, very real and convincing. The Stand also introduced me to “Payday” candy bars, which I hadn’t known before. After reading The Stand, discarded Payday candy wrappers always bring back post-apocalyptic visions for me when I randomly encounter them.

I am writing this review as we just received the order by the governor of California to stay at home for the next month to fight the coronavirus pandemic. None of us have ever experienced anything like this before, yet here we are, and the unthinkable has happened.

Well, I have read The Stand before, and I saw how it can end. It’s not pretty.

If you find yourself with some extra time and nothing to read, I highly recommend The Stand.

 

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