Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (Five Stars)

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Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

(Five Stars)

“Your car goes where your eyes go. Simply another way of saying that which you manifest is before you. I know it’s true; racing doesn’t lie.”

Amazing. Books like this are why we should ration our five-star ratings, so that they mean something. You need not love either dogs or racing to love this book; breathing suffices. (The movie is tighter and brighter than the book, but read the book first.)

“We had come so close to greatness. We had smelled it, and it smelled like roast pig.”

Told from the dog’s point of view, Stein both embraces and supersedes the obvious limitations. Excellent characterization and sensory tags. The reader feels what Enzo feels, and it tastes like roast pig.

“The true hero is flawed. The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles—preferably of his own making—in order to triumph. A hero without a flaw is of no interest to an audience or to the universe.”

Enzo has flaws, but most aren’t his doing. What happened to the stuffed zebra and the squirrel may have been his fault, but mostly he was doing the best he could without having thumbs or speaking.

“Somewhere, the zebra is dancing.”

Reading this book, I recalled Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Though they overlap in ways that are impossible to explain, this is so much better. Simultaneously more entertaining and more thought provoking. (Tempted to lower that book’s rating to four stars.)

“I am a racer at heart, and a racer will never let something that has already happened affect what is happening now.”

Next time I want to be Enzo. (Take your pick.)

“What I want now is what I’ve always wanted. One more lap, Denny! One more lap! Faster!”

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Book Review: Stranger Than We Can Imagine by John Higgs (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century by John Higgs

(Three Stars)

“There’s a moment for every generation when memory turns into history. The twentieth century is receding into the distance, and coming into perspective.” Giving charlatans—oops, I mean historians the opportunity to revise and reinterpret with less fear of contradiction.

An ambitious attempt to bring order out of the chaos of the last hundred years. Spanning the gamut from astrophysics to po culture, Higgs finds patterns in the twentieth century which may help us understand how we got where we are, though little help in projecting what’s next.

“The future is already here. It is just not very evenly distributed.” William Gibson

Higgs is English, which will slow non-English readers, as his historic, political and cultural references center on England. Though non-North American English readers have dealt with the self-referential nature of Americans for years; it’ll be a new experience for Continue reading

Book Review: Shadow’s Son (Shadow Saga #1) by Jon Sprunk (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Shadow’s Son (Shadow Saga #1) by Jon Sprunk

(Three Stars)

“It is not the Night We Fear,/ But the Gathering Shadows Beyond our Ken.”

Good, if pedestrian epic fantasy. Another bad guy who isn’t, good guys who aren’t, orphan who is (oops, spoiler) …. You get the idea. You’re read dozens of them. Gave Sprunk an extra star for clean storytelling and a satisfying conclusion.

“He hated admitting she was right, but he’d probably hate dying even more.”

Uncomfortably numerous parallels to Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations. Not quite plagiarism, but not as good either.

“There’s always someone looking for trouble. You try to avoid it when you can, but—” “But sometimes it finds you anyway.”

Non sequiturs: “a charcoal etching of a lighthouse” Charcoal etching? “You’re good with your hands. You could lead men.” Does not follow. “the crackle of blazing pinewood logs” (Who heats a palace with softwood?)

“We don’t cry for them, Caim. We cry for ourselves.”

Book Review: Code Girls by Liza Mundy (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World Wear II by Liza Mundy

(Three Stars)

“Almost everybody thought we were nothing but secretaries.”

A true and important part of American history. World War II was also won by thousands of women who labored in secret to penetrate the encrypted communications of America’s adversaries.

“Major General Stephen Chamberlin, who served in the Pacific, announced that military intelligence, most of which came from code breaking, ‘saved us many thousands of lives; in the Pacific theater alone, ‘and shortened the war by no less than two years.”

Three hundred pages of story crammed into 456 pages. The book wanders down many rabbit trails. Mundy seemed not able to resist inserting every fact, no matter how trivial and unconnected to her theme.

“Nobody cooperated with the Army, under pain of death,” said naval code breaker Prescott Currier.

Interservice rivalry, office politics and pure bureaucratic stupidity often impeded the mission more that the obtuseness of the cyphers. “Many cited as the chief workplace outrage during the summer of 1943: a directive that all window blinds had to be lowered to the same position.” Some things never change. “Growing up with the ideas that our newspapers always told the truth, I quickly learned about propaganda.” Each generation learns this truth anew.

“The Midway victory also set in motion one of history’s great bureaucratic backstabbings.”

A better book is Jason Fagone’s The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies. Better: read them both.

“’Mother, how dreadful! You killed all those Japanese sailors, and you were pleased about it!’ Elizabeth was dumbfounded. America quickly forgot what the war had felt like—how real the menace had been.” We wallow in that same ignorance today.

“And for every hero brave/ Who will find ashore,/ his man-sized chore/ Was done by a Navy WAVE.”

Movie Review: The Lion King, directed and produced by Jon Favreau (Three Stars)

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Movie Review: The Lion King, directed and produced by Jon Favreau

(Three Stars)

Computer-generated remake of Disney’s 1994 classic. The characters look more lifelike but act less so. Not nearly the expressiveness or humor of the original.

The live look increases the impact. Parents of younger children beware.

Stuck to the original score with the addition of a single public-domain staple.

Book Review: Treason (Star Wars: Thrawn #3) by Timothy Zahn (Four Stars)

Book Review: Treason (Star Wars: Thrawn #3) by Timothy Zahn

(Four Stars)

“May warrior’s fortune be ever in your favor.”

A fun read, if shallow and obvious. Hey, it’s Star Wars. The question is never whether Thrawn will outsmart most everyone, but how.

“I don’t think he said no,” [she] said. “Just not yet. So stop pouting, Senior Lieutenant, and get your crews ready.” She looked out the viewport. “The universe is about to get interesting again.”

Timothy Zahn is exceptional in the Legends (formerly Expanded Universe) of Stars Wars (both BD and AD: Before Disney and After Disney) for creating new characters and stories which really do expand the SW universe below the basic story thread. (Karen Traviss is another.) Characters he created, most notably Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Mitth’raw’nuruodo, contribute richness and depth to Legends. Jade was an unfortunate casualty of the Disney buyout; Thrawn weathered the transition intact: to the point that this series ties into SW Rebels series as well as the central SW thread.

“Learning about each other’s ways and learning how we’re alike despite our differences is a way to enrich our lives.”

This rating is relative to other Star Wars Legends stories, not an absolute scale against all literature.

“Waiting was always a chore. Waiting for combat was excruciating.”

Book Review: Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville (Three Stars)

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Book Review: Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street by Herman Melville

(Three Stars)

“Nipper’s ugly mood was on duty and Turkey’s off.”

A shaggy dog story. First published in 1853. Nothing much happens; that seems to be the point. Told realistically and with a touch of humor.

“I should have been delighted with his application, had he been cheerfully industrious. But he wrote on silently, palely, mechanically.”

Imagine what a different world New York City was 150 years ago,. Can you imagine making a living copying legal documents? Yet Melville connects with the reader. As does, sadly, poor Bartleby.

“The bond of common humanity now drew me irresistibly to gloom. A fraternal melancholy! For both I and Bartleby were sons of Adam.”

Movie Review: The Farewell, written and directed by Lulu Wang (Four Stars)

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Movie Review: The Farewell, written and directed by Lulu Wang

(Four Stars)

“Based on an actual lie” semi-autobiographical movie about a Chinese American dealing with her paternal grandmother’s terminal illness.

High-quality production despite the obvious small budget and lots of on-site filming in Changchun, China. Much tension and comedy as family gathers from America and Japan for a cousin’s supposed wedding.

Book Review: The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi (One Star)

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Book Review: The Consuming Fire (The Interdependency #2) by John Scalzi

(One Star)

“To save as many lives as possible, through every means possible.”

Disappointing. The core of this story is an excellent five-star novella, however as presented I don’t recommend it to anyone. My rating of John Scalzi books averages four stars, but this one gets one because I can’t give it zero.

“If.” “When.” “And you’ve seen this in your visions.” “One does not need visions when one has data. In both cases, however, one does need to be willing to see.”

Scalzi weaves an intricate plot of discovery and betrayal that’s part who-dun-it and part space opera. As usual, his characters are varied and deep. Most of the principals are female. Underlaying the main plot are reflections on the nature of truth and lies and Continue reading