Eddie Rickenbacker, for me, has always been one of those names from 20th century history that I had heard of and even knew a tiny bit about…but not mu...moreEddie Rickenbacker, for me, has always been one of those names from 20th century history that I had heard of and even knew a tiny bit about…but not much more. I knew he was an American flying Ace from World War I and generally well regarded but have long wished to know more about him, his life and the times he lived in.
General George S. Patton famously said, “Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory.” He was talking about leaders like Rickenbacker, America’s leading ace of WWI with 26 kills. The story of how he got there is simply incredible. From an adventurous youth demonstrating a genius for machines and mechanics to becoming a renowned race car driver (racing in the very first Indy 500), to becoming America’s ‘Ace of Aces’ pilot in WWI, his story reads like one of those thriller novels where the hero constantly encounters incredible danger but always survives. It’s so refreshing to read of a person who actually lives up to the hype of history and who learns from his plentiful mistakes throughout his life. This quote from him sums it up: “I've cheated the Grim Reaper more times than anyone I know, and I'll fight like a wildcat until they nail the lid of my pine box down on me.”
Most of the book is devoted to the two main “eras” of Rickenbacker’s life: his car racing career and his WWI successes. Less is devoted to his post war career even though that is pretty phenomenal as well: starting up “Rickenbacker Motor Company”, buying and managing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, clashes with FDR over policy, and a lengthy stint as the leader and eventual owner of Eastern Airlines. There are a couple of nicely done chapters on his near-fatal airplane crash in 1941 as well as his most famous near-death experience, 24 days adrift at sea after a plane that he was a passenger in got lost over the Pacific and had to set down in the middle of the ocean.
I would add that this book is about more than just the life of Eddie Rickenbacker. The title is entirely appropriate in that it is about the times and events and the people that surrounded Rickenbacker during his extraordinary life. These men had what it takes or what later generations would refer to as “the right stuff”. It’s an amazing story and is definitely an example of how true life can be more incredible than fiction.
Biographies tend to fall into one of two categories. They are either lengthy and filled with every conceivable detail and really meant for a serious scholar of that individual, or they are more succinct and serve to introduce a reader to the individual. This book lies in between. There is quite a bit of detail but not so much as to bog it down. I commend the author for finding that balance between too much detail and too much surfing over the events and issues of the time.
Having recently completed Michael J. Sullivan’s "Ryria Revelations" series of fantasy novels, I was anxious to give Hollow World a try. Anxious but al...moreHaving recently completed Michael J. Sullivan’s "Ryria Revelations" series of fantasy novels, I was anxious to give Hollow World a try. Anxious but also nervous. A fantasy author giving a try at science fiction? That could turn out in several different ways and not all of them good.
This book is not heavy on the science as acknowledged in the Author’s note. I won’t summarize the plot but I will say that this is a book that involves time travel. But it’s not at all about how time travel works. It’s about the story of the characters and how traveling forward in time affects not only the awe of discovery of the new times and settings but also a great deal of self-discovery.
Having read Sullivan before, I expected a well-written story but with a pretty straight-forward plot with a few surprises thrown in to keep you turning the pages. For the first third of the novel, that’s what I got. It even occurred to me that what I was reading was really a book about a character from our present day world thrust into a new future setting…but in many ways very much like a fantasy novel. No elves or castles or anything like that but still a sort of fantasy world. Nice world building, a cool history, even a mysterious murder or two.
But then everything changed. No spoilers here but suffice it to say that this nice neat little sci-fi/fantasy story became a large-concept piece and the ending could even be considered controversial. Sullivan tackles some big issues in this book, issues of cultural values, gay rights, religion, political viewpoints and the very nature of what society is and/or should be. I admire the way he presents both sides to many issues, successfully arguing each angle from various characters’ points-of-view. It becomes evident that more than one viewpoint can be correct, depending on how a character looks at an issue. And yet, through all of this, he never loses sight of the story. The book is light on the hard sciences but heavy on the “soft” sciences of philosophy, sociology, etc. Don’t expect a sci-fi novel akin to works by David Brin or Greg Bear. It also happens to be a Kickstarter project, a most successful one I might add. It does work as a stand-alone novel but there is plenty of room for more stories here if the author chooses to pursue them.
There will be those who really like this novel and those that hate it, even among the legions of fans of Sullivan’s fantasy novels. But I found it thought-provoking, insightful, but most importantly, once again, a darn good story from Mr. Sullivan. If he writes more in this world, I will most definitely read them.(less)
I'm not exactly the target audience for this book and yet I really enjoyed it anyway. It's a young adult novel, with heavy paranormal romance overtone...moreI'm not exactly the target audience for this book and yet I really enjoyed it anyway. It's a young adult novel, with heavy paranormal romance overtones. Sounds like the typical book that seems to be taking over the shelves in Barnes & Noble these days. But I saw a couple of reviews here on Goodreads from people I trust, including a "Wow" from Patrick Rothfuss so when I saw it on a GR giveaway, I threw my name in the ring and was fortunate to be a winner.
This is a very interesting novel with a complex new take on the nature of angels and demons that is juxtaposed over our own. The main character of Karou is instantly likeable and discovering the secret nature of her past drives the story for both herself and for us. There is some teen romance stuff in here that makes me want to run the other way but it is done well and isn't overbearing. But it is the world building, the creative society and realistic structure that really impressed me. And, as in other novels I've read recently, the nature of just who are the good guys and who are the bad...depends on your vantage point.
I see a movie version of this book is listed as "in development" which is not a surprise since Hollywood seems to be banking on YA titles quite a bit lately. I could see this book trilogy being successful like Hunger Games rather than unsuccessful like Vampire Academy. This is way more than a teen love triangle with supernatural overtones.
I'll be looking for the next novel in the series.(less)
The third book in William Dierich's Ethan Gage historical adventure series will appeal to those who liked the first two and as much as it will annoy t...moreThe third book in William Dierich's Ethan Gage historical adventure series will appeal to those who liked the first two and as much as it will annoy those who didn't care for the first two. Of course, if you didn't like the first two books in a series, why would you attempt a third?
Many reviewers compare Ethan Gage to Indiana Jones albeit at an earlier time period. While both characters are rakish adventurers who utilize a knowledge of science and history to further their fortune and glory habits, I would say a better comparison would be to George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman. A large part of both characters' outward personalities is the pursuit of what is most important for themselves, sometimes to the point of being a cad. But in the end, they show remarkable selflessness to save the day.
Ethan's adventures in this volume begin in 1800, just months after the end of The Rosetta Key, and while they start in Paris, the action quickly moves to the young United States where Nathan meets and agrees to perform an exploration for the newly elected president Jefferson. This is 3-4 years before the Lewis and Clark expedition but the similarities of the journey westward are similar. Add to this the idea that the coast of America was visited by the Norse long before Columbus, and in fact, following evidence that these early explorers actually made it far into the inland plains, adds to the intrigue of the novel.
Yes, this is an "historical" novel of sorts in that it takes place in 1800. But there is much literary license taken to ensure a swashbuckling, frolicking adventure story. I suggest reading it as such rather than expecting to gain keen insights into actual historical events.(less)
This book truly is an "interlude" between the main Odd Thomas novels. Dean Koontz originally published these 3 parts as an in-between story while Odd...moreThis book truly is an "interlude" between the main Odd Thomas novels. Dean Koontz originally published these 3 parts as an in-between story while Odd Thomas fans were waiting for the publication of Odd Apocalypse. It's important to understand that these three parts are collected into this book, "Odd Interlude"; they are not three complete novellas but rather one complete short novel.
I've always been hot or miss with Koontz but have been enjoying the Odd Thomas series thus far. Unfortunately this one just didn't grab me. I really enjoy the character of Odd Thomas in the previous installments, especially his outlook on life. He is a nice guy and he is pretty introspective about life in general as well as the strange peculiarities of his own abilities. But this time around there is just way too much spent on his introspective thoughts. The actual plot could have been accomplished in a nice tight short story. I do appreciate the tie-ins to the Christopher Snow books, Moonlight Bay, and Fort Wyvern (no, Christopher Snow does not appear in this one) but that wasn't enough to pull me into the novel.
I'm hoping the next novel in the series will return to the style of novel that came before.(less)
This 10th book of the “Alphabet” series is the first one I’ve rated with 5 stars. I’m having a hard time pin-pointing exactly why though. It’s not spe...moreThis 10th book of the “Alphabet” series is the first one I’ve rated with 5 stars. I’m having a hard time pin-pointing exactly why though. It’s not specifically because Ms. Grafton has “stepped it up a notch” in her writing although the writing has gotten better and better over the series and she is now content to let her characters interact naturally instead of forced into a plot. It’s also not due to our heroine Kinsey Millhone becoming an even more interesting character, even though I find myself identifying with her personality and actions more than ever before.
This is the first novel in the series that I recall where Kinsey is not out to solve a murder (although I could be mistaken in that). Rather she is doing a side job for her old employer, an insurance company, trying to prove a dead man is still alive and thus avoid a large insurance settlement. The danger level is actually ratcheted down a notch or two from previous novels but that seems to allow room for a better story to be told. I don’t always need edge-or-your-seat action or for Kinsey to get shot at the end to enjoy a good story.
There is a great mystery here and we also get to see Kinsey’s personal back story develop quite a bit. We’ve known her as having been raised as an orphan from the age of 5 but now she (and we) get to have the gaps of her back story filled in. Add some fundamental new information from that backstory (no spoilers) and it should be an interesting recipe for changes in future books.
Maybe this was just the right book for me to read at the right time. Enjoyed it a lot and plan to continue at my present rate of reading 4 of these each year in order to finish up at just about the same time the last book (“Z”) is published. (less)
This is my favorite of the Oz books so far and since I am now near the end of the original Oz series written by Baum, it might well become the best of...moreThis is my favorite of the Oz books so far and since I am now near the end of the original Oz series written by Baum, it might well become the best of the lot. While the first book was ingenious for its time, the story in this one was more complete and satisfying. For those that haven't read these books, generally, each book introduces a new character or two and the story is pretty much about their adventures somewhere in the land of Oz, often with them making their way to Emerald City and meeting all of the other characters that have come before.
This time, however, Ozma, the Princess of Oz, herself has gone missing, along with other key artifacts including Ozma's magic mirror and Glenda's Great Book of Records. So this story is about how most of the characters we've met in previous books get together and search the land of Oz for their missing princess. Of course, along the way we do get to meet still more oddball characters including the Frogman, Cayke the Cookie Cook, and the Little Pink Bear.
All in all this is a pleasant read with a happy ending (despite a rather obvious and annoying deus ex machina near the end that allows Dorothy to save the day).(less)
I love it when I pick up a book on a whim, not expecting overly much...and it turns out to be a gem. That was the case with this one that I found in a...moreI love it when I pick up a book on a whim, not expecting overly much...and it turns out to be a gem. That was the case with this one that I found in a used bookstore. I was drawn to the title simply because I live in Colorado. Never heard of the author or anything about this book. But it turned out to be a darned good read.
It's a western, and has a few of the standard western tropes, including the tough manly main character that is driven to his purpose. But it's also a nice historical novel filled with historical characters and places. The plot concerns a visit to Colorado territory by President US Grant and the need to protect him during his visit. There are subplots of lost gold, old miners and trappers and the obligatory romance but I quite enjoyed the characters and the story.
I will have to look up other books by this author...hope there are some...(less)
Wow, what a great ride! This third volume of the Riyria Revelations contains the final two books of the series. Wintertide, the shorter of the two nov...moreWow, what a great ride! This third volume of the Riyria Revelations contains the final two books of the series. Wintertide, the shorter of the two novels takes place entirely in a single city while Percepliquis is more of a ‘journey’ novel with a group of uneasy comrades on a quest. Both novels are extremely entertaining while at the same time pushing the plot in a more serious direction, ultimately, with the fate of the known world to be significantly altered depending on the outcome.
Michael J. Sullivan has completed an awesome achievement. For authors in a crowded fantasy market, it is difficult to separate yourself from the also-rans but Mr. Sullivan has pulled it off. And considering this series is pretty much traditional high fantasy, that’s really saying something. As I’ve pointed out in my reviews for the first two volumes, the story is simply done so well, that you forget you’re reading. It’s so easy to get absorbed in the pages. Not only is the plot an intriguing and complex one, the pacing perfect, but the subplots all help to push the narrative forward. The characters grow and change in response to events and are easy to root for or against. And talk about an emotional journey. You just have to keep reading to see what happens next. And that is what makes a great read for me.
The conclusion is very satisfying and not necessarily what you would expect. I’m sorry to see it come to an end but happy to have the prequel books still to read. Highly recommended. (less)
1929 Los Angeles is a fantastic setting for a noir-style crime novel, especially when Raymond Chandler, in his historically accurate role as an oil co...more1929 Los Angeles is a fantastic setting for a noir-style crime novel, especially when Raymond Chandler, in his historically accurate role as an oil company executive is one of the main characters. Along with cop Tom James, likely the real-life model for Philip Marlowe, the pair investigate a quasi-religious cult suspected of bilking thousands of dollars off of unwary fools. The writing is high quality and leans toward the “literary” style more than the “hard-boiled PI” style and the pages definitely ooze noir.
An intriguing concept of a novel but it felt incomplete. Kim Cooper obviously knows her historical Los Angeles as proven by all of the location name dropping that is scattered throughout this novel. A little too much I would say, as sometimes street names, restaurant names, etc. were just dropped in for no added benefit. It distracted from the story. The characters were not quite as fleshed out as I would prefer, concentrating on known qualities like Chandler’s boozing. The case itself, the historical “Great Eleven Club” was handled well but I would like to have learned more about the infamous mother-daughter pair that began it all. Interactions with them were minimal and not very revealing.
My favorite character was Muriel, Chandler’s secretary and lover, who took it upon herself to infiltrate the “Harmony Hamlet” and witness the bizarre activities and beliefs of the cult. (less)
This is the 11th Grisham novel I’ve read but somehow this early one has escaped me up until now. But I will say after reading a substantial number of...moreThis is the 11th Grisham novel I’ve read but somehow this early one has escaped me up until now. But I will say after reading a substantial number of his books, early Grisham is the best Grisham. That’s not universally true but seems to hold thus far in my experience. I’m interested to see how his latest novel, (the sequel to this one) holds up to that axiom.
This, in fact, was John Grisham's first novel, and despite several rookie mistakes, it definitely kept me turning the pages. A white lawyer in the American South defending a black man amid rampant racial prejudices...sounds a lot like To Kill a Mockingbird and yet Grisham pulls it off.
Yes, it rambles in places, as conceded by the author in the preface, and many times there is just too much detail in courtroom scenes. But then again, if you need to bone up on your courtroom procedures and terminology, reading such a novel is a lot more fun than studying a textbook. (less)
Often by this point in a series (book #5) they start to grow stale or repetitive but this one seems to be holding steady and even becoming better each...moreOften by this point in a series (book #5) they start to grow stale or repetitive but this one seems to be holding steady and even becoming better each time. The author mixes up the plot and introduces new characters well but probably the sheer scope of the material is what allows it to keep going at a nice pace. After all there is a lot you can do when you come to understand that the entire history of our planet and every significant event was actually shaped and manipulated by aliens.
Still quite a bit of military-style action to suit those fans but this entry in the series delved more into the historical aspects of what’s really been happening throughout human history. The author used a cool technique this time around to help give us some excellent backstory on the alien history. He uses the famous explorer from history, Sir Richard Francis Burton, to tell us the story. But rather than use some kind of flashback tool, the characters of the story translate some of his lost material throughout the course of the novel, feeding us awesome pieces of the puzzle one translated chapter at a time. I happen to be a huge fan of Burton and have read several biographies of him. He had an amazing life and if you haven’t had the chance to really “discover” him yourself I urge you to do so. The author of this novel could not have chosen a better historical figure to enhance the plot here.
Looking forward to the next with continued hopes that this series doesn’t peter out. (less)
This is one of those books that is written to the lowest common denominator. Lots of sexy situations, and characters that have complex backgrounds and...moreThis is one of those books that is written to the lowest common denominator. Lots of sexy situations, and characters that have complex backgrounds and yet are curiously one dimensional. The plot was fairly predictable but filed with way too many convenient coincidences just so it would turn out the correct way.
Still, it kept my interest to the end. However, I suspect that I won't remember much about it next week.(less)
I confess to not knowing much about the historical event, the “Dreyfus Affair” prior to discovering this novel. But this, my friends, is why I so much...moreI confess to not knowing much about the historical event, the “Dreyfus Affair” prior to discovering this novel. But this, my friends, is why I so much enjoy historical novels. It is possible to gain keen insights into historical events through the format of a novel, so much more so than through text books or encyclopedia entries. Robert Harris has once again, through formidable research, allowed readers to travel back in time and be an eyewitness to a remarkable story.
The “Dreyfus Affair” was a French political scandal that divided the country from the affair's beginnings in 1894 until its resolution in 1906. Today we view the affair as a modern and universal symbol of injustice and one of the most striking examples of a complex miscarriage of justice where a major role was played by both the press and public opinion. We get to witness this incredible story through the first person point of view of French Army Lt Colonel Georges Picquart who takes over as spymaster just after the arrest of Alfred Dreyfus for high treason. During the course of his duties, Colonel Picquart discovers the identity of the real traitor but all efforts to correct the miscarriage of justice fail. This is the essence of the novel. It’s not so much about Dreyfus as it is about Picquart and his relentless efforts to do his duty to get the truth out.
This is a complex novel as is the historical event, itself. It is also a bit of a genre-bender in that it combines elements of spy novels, courtroom dramas, and an intriguing mystery. Because of the author’s meticulous research, I felt comfortable with the novel’s accuracy. The characters here are real historical figures and must act accordingly. But it is a novelization so, of course, those characters have to come alive for the reader and Harris does a marvelous job of that. The plot, the characters, the setting, the unfolding mystery all combine to make this a page turner even though most would characterize the book as a literary novel. That’s quite a feat.
When I read the first book of this series, Theft of Swords, I felt it was a great fantasy story, full of adventure, etc. but suffering a bit from too...moreWhen I read the first book of this series, Theft of Swords, I felt it was a great fantasy story, full of adventure, etc. but suffering a bit from too many standard fantasy tropes. In my review I had expressed my hope that as the series progresses, we would see the author take a few more chances with his work and let this evolve into the truly epic fantasy story that it could be.
Happily, I am pleased to report that Mr Sullivan has succeeded...in spades! This middle set of the series (actually books 3 and 4 of the original 6 novels) is an absolute delight. Strong characters, an interesting plot filled with danger, intrigue, and political shenanigans, and several tightly woven underlying themes have made this series rise to the top tier of my favorite epic fantasy series. But even though the scope of the story and the cast of characters has increased significantly, the author has managed to keep it all readable. In other words, he obviously loves to tell a great fun tale and does not get caught up in trying to impress readers with some kind of misguided literary style. This is good old-fashioned fantasy adventure with high stakes and with characters you really care about.
A couple of weeks ago I came across a bunch of vintage paperbacks by Edward S. Aarons, all with the word “Assignment” in their title. I had never hear...moreA couple of weeks ago I came across a bunch of vintage paperbacks by Edward S. Aarons, all with the word “Assignment” in their title. I had never heard of these books or the author, but they looked to be spy thrillers from the 1950s and 60s and since they would cost me all of 25 cents each, I took a small chance and bought a boatload of them.
And so it was that I picked up this first novel in the “Assignment” series. This novel came out just after Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel Casino Royale was published and so many people today seem to regard this series as a Bond rip-off. But since this novel was published before 'Casino Royale' had a chance to make much of an impact yet, I would disagree. The main character in this series is CIA agent Sam Durell and yes, he is sort of like an American version of Bond. But in its day, the books in the Sam Durell series were very popular. There are 48 novels in the series; the first 42 were written by Edward S. Aarons and the final 6 were reportedly written by his son although there is speculation that the name Will B. Aarons was just a house name for Fawcett. All were published over a span of 28 years. That’s quite a successful run by any standards.
The novel itself is a hoot. Of course, the reader must keep in mind the age in which it was written and so, like the Bond books, you’ll see some cultural references and attitudes that may seem odd today. What we would call male chauvinism today was treated more like chivalry in the 1950s. World War II is over and the world’s concerns tend to revolve around rockets and the power that can be unleashed at the whim of a mad scientist. Durell is on the lookout for a missing American scientist, one of the brains behind the world's first man-made satellite, named Cyclops, a bomb of dramatic proportions. With just a few hours to go before launch, it is vital that Durell find the man and put an end to the sabotage.
Another nice thing about the series is that they absolutely do not have to be read in order. There are no overarching story lines that reach across individual novels. In fact the publisher usually lists them in alphabetical order rather than by published date. I am a stickler about reading series in order if at all possible but with so many in a series it would be a shame to hold up reading them just because you can’t locate book #2 in your local used book store.
Largely, because of the Bond movies, series like this Sam Durell set have fallen by the way side. I’ll definitely be reading more and doing my best to spread the word about their existence. If you’ve enjoyed Bond or other spy novel series of that era, I recommend you give these a try.
It’s difficult to imagine being handed the task of writing a Philip Marlowe novel. Raymond Chandler, the original author is now such an icon of classi...moreIt’s difficult to imagine being handed the task of writing a Philip Marlowe novel. Raymond Chandler, the original author is now such an icon of classic crime/noir fiction that it would just be too daunting for most authors to attempt. On the other hand, what an honor to be asked to do so! Benjamin Black (pseudonym of Man Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville) was an excellent choice in my opinion as he captures much of what we readers look for in a Marlowe novel.
Set in early 1950’s LA, of course, the plot surrounds a case presented to PI Philip Marlowe by the titular black-eyed blonde, Claire Cavendish. It seems she wants him to find her former lover. Almost immediately, Marlowe discovers the guy had previously been killed in a hit-and-run but that Ms. Cavendish has since seen him walking the streets of San Francisco. From there events take off in all directions and it isn’t long before Marlowe finds himself entwined among the rich and famous, movie stars, the underworld, and of course, the femme fatale.
The author totally captures the atmosphere of a Chandler novel, the mood of the city, the action of brutal fights, dead bodies, and an exquisite investigation. He also captures the essence of the character of Marlowe, himself, truly a testament to the skills of this author. That being said, this is not an exact replica of a Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe novel. While Black does come close to the style and all of those memorable lines that Chandler seemed to come up with so effortlessly, I think he wisely steered clear of overdoing that for fear it would result in a sense of fakery. There are still plenty of one liners and amazingly descriptive phrases, very much like Chandler’s style, but thankfully, the story is not plastered with them.
I would also recommend that you first read Chandler’s The Long Goodbye before diving into this one. Several characters and circumstances from that story are involved here and, in fact, this novel is pretty much a sequel to that one. While you can read and enjoy this one on its own, there is a small but necessary information dump near the end of this novel for those who haven’t read ‘The Long Goodbye’.
Overall, this is a superb novel that Chandler fans will certainly appreciate. For those who have never read a Philip Marlowe novel, this is very enjoyable noir fiction and will likely lead you to seek out the original Chandler stories. (less)