Sunday, June 9, 2013

Short Reviews

1. Gun Machine by Warren Ellis (3/5). Good thriller about a NYC cop hunting down a serial killer after finding an apartment full of guns used in unsolved murders. Detective John Tallow's partner is killed when they answer a domestic disturbance call in NYC. One of the things that this book does best is show the loss and sense of emptiness that a cop feels after losing a partner of almost 20 years. The best scenes in the book are those where Tallow, who is socially inept, tries to deal with other people after losing the person that acted as his buffer in human interactions. The geeks that work at the crime lab are also fun and interesting. Where the book suffers is in the villain, a killer who has been working underground in the city for many years. He is simply not that interesting and his backstory just tries too hard. Overall a good read and I would be interested in reading another book featuring John Tallow.

2. The Dinner by Herman Koch (1/5). I can't recommend this one at all. It is a Dutch book about two couples having dinner in a fancy restaurant. They are there to discuss something dark that has happened in their life involving their children. I saw a review comparing it to "Gone Girl', but it was nothing like that. Very slow moving and very little excitement with absolutely loathsome characters. Almost gave up a couple of time, but made it through the whole thing.

3. A Higher Call by Adam Makos (5/5). Excellent aviation history story about an American B-17 bomber crew and the German fighter pilot that saved their lives. The most surprising thing to me was that 80% of the book was about the German fighter pilot. I found this very interesting, and while I have read a lot of WWII aviation books, I learned a lot from reading this. I found the book very exciting and quite moving at times. Along with "Thunderbolt" by Robert Johnson and "Flying Through Midnight" by John Halliday. one of the best flying books I have ever read.

4. Suspect by Robert Crais (4/5). This is a thriller about a Marine bomb sniffing dog that is wounded in Afghanistan and suffers from PTSD upon his return to the states. He is paired with an equally damaged LA cop and trained to become part of the K9 unit. Both of them have lost partners and are struggling to  find their way back. Story is sometimes told through the cop's eyes and sometimes through the dog's eyes. 

5. Above All Things by Tanis Rideout (4/5). Very good fictional account of the life of real life mountain climber George Mallory and his wife Ruth. George Mallory may have been the first man to summit Mt. Everest (30 years before Hillary), but disappeared near the top and his body was not found for 75 years. I found the parts of the book that dealt with George much more interesting then the parts that featured Ruth. The climbing scenes were very well done and the story is well told, but never quite grabbed me like I hoped that it would.

6. Wise Men by Stuart Nadler (4/5). "Wise Men" is a very good read following a father and son through different stages of their lives. Broken into 3 parts, the first and final sections are much better then the middle. Somewhat reminiscent of John Irving, it starts as a coming of age story but ends up looking at the young man's whole life. And while I know it is being nitpicky, there was a historical error in the first paragraph that really bothered me throughout the book. But otherwise the book featured good writing and quite interesting characters.

7. The Third Gate by Lincoln Child (2/5). Silly thriller about the excavation of a pharaoh's secret tomb in Africa. The expedition suffers numerous setbacks and deaths. Is it the curse of the pharaoh or just sabotage? Just good enough to keep my reading, but even with total suspension of disbelief, it did not pay off.

8. The Afrika Reich by Guy Saville (4/5). This excellent alternate history thriller is set in 1952, more than 10 years since the fiasco at Dunkirk forced Britain to sign a peace treaty with Germany. The Nazis now control most of Africa and have plans for the rest of the continent. The book is essentially one long chase across several countries, but the author keeps it moving and fun. It felt like a cross between "Raiders Of the Lost Ark" and a modern thriller. The ending leaves one big plot point unresolved and that ticked me off a little bit, but overall I really enjoyed reading this very much.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Death of Bees

The Death of Bees
by Lisa O'Donnell
2012 Harper
Rating 5/5

     "Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved."
     This is the way "The Death of Bees" starts, and Lisa O'Donnell manages to carry on that intensity to the very last page. Marnie and her 11 year old sister Nelly are on their own after hiding their parent's bodies after their mysterious deaths. Set in a dark, dirty, and almost always wet part of Glasgow, this story is told in the alternating voices of Marnie, Nelly, and Lennie, the lonely old gay man who lives next door. The sisters hide the bodies to avoid being taken away and separated by the welfare system. Their parents were drug addicts that did not provide for them and often left them alone for days at a time. Both girls are very bright - Marnie gets straight As and Nelly is a prodigy on the violin, but both are damaged. Marnie drinks vodka, sells drug, and has sex with an older man. Nelly wakes up screaming and has no friends at school. But they work hard to protect each other.
     Lennie notices that the parents aren't around anymore and thinks that the sisters have been abandoned. He tries to offer them help and they form a very strange family unit. This book is very dark and sometimes hard to read, but I cared so much for these characters. "The Death of Bees" is definitely my first Best of 2013 book and I can't wait to see what Lisa O'Donnell does next.