Maura (maura853) - , - Reviews

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After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall
After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall
Author: Nancy Kress, Marty Halpern (Editor)
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 7
Review Date: 6/2/2018


Ultimately disappointing novella (novelette?), in which the huge questions and issues that Kress tries to tackle crushes the slight format. Questions are left unanswered, and characters are left undeveloped, which is fair enough for a slim volume of under 200 pages -- but as the title (possibly the best thing about it) suggests, Kress could have gone for so much more.


Alas, Babylon
Alas, Babylon
Author: Pat Frank
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.2/5 Stars.
 111
Review Date: 1/1/2018


There are two ways to review Pat Frank's "Alas, Babylon." The first, as literature, would result in perhaps a 3-star rating: readable, but little in the way of verbal finesse or sophisticated character development. At least half-a-star of that would be for its accurate depiction of the attitudes (political, racial, gender) of a late 1950s small town in Florida.

The second way to approach "Alas, Babylon," and the one that results in my 5-star rating is as a faux-documentary, expertly designed to scare the Living Bejaysus out of you. Frank wasn't aiming for clever writing, or poetic imagery, or complicated narrative -- you could say that the text itself is a metaphor for his thesis, that in the aftermath of nuclear devastation of the kind he describes, the clever sophistications of life will mean nothing. Survival will depend, to a great extent, on luck -- the luck of your location, the luck of the community that surrounds you, and the luck of each individuals willingness to adapt, and let go of comfortable assumptions.

Supposedly, in the past year or so, the question has been asked, "If we have nuclear weapons why can't we use them?" I wish the person who asked that question would read this book, He won't, of course. Which is why Pat Frank's tightly written, almost journalistic vision of the aftermath resonates -- and should terrify us all -- as much as it did when he first wrote it.


All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries, Bk 1)
All Systems Red (Murderbot Diaries, Bk 1)
Author: Martha Wells
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.2/5 Stars.
 11
Review Date: 8/6/2018


The Security Unit assigned to the planetary surveying mission should obey orders without question. Its primary directives should be to serve its clients without question, say only good things about the Corporation that has leased it (at vast expense) to the clients, and sit quietly in its recharging module when it is not required, waiting patiently for an opportunity to serve.

But this SecUnit has hacked its governor. Worryingly, it has renamed itself Murderbot, and it daydreams about Hot Robot Mass Murder. Fortunately for the clueless clients, at the moment, it's too busy watching "Sanctuary Moon," its favorite soap opera. It's downloaded all 700+ episodes, and it is very good at multitasking. But Murderbot's dreams -- whether of murder, or a quiet life -- are shattered when someone actually does start murdering the other survey teams on the planet.

Enjoyable and very entertaining novella. The mystery at the heart of the threat to life and limb for the plucky Murderbot and its team of planetary survey clients is a little thin. But the real pleasure here is Murderbot's snarky voice, and its interactions with the team, which become increasing complicated emotionally, as it realises that it has become invested in their survival.

Another quibble is that, for me, Wells could have done a bit more to make the eight humans more distinctive and differentiated -- I actually made a list of their names to refer to (yes, I know: sad, sad, sad.) but even so, by the end, I was still unsure whether one character was male or female.

But having said that, if there were ever a kick-starter to get this adapted for TV or film, with a good cast and production values, I WOULD SELL THE FAMILY SILVER. Just sayin' -- And I really need to see "Sanctuary Moon" -- preferably all 700+ episodes, but most especially "...the one where the colony's solicitor killed the terraforming supervisor who was the secondary donor for her implanted baby." That really sounds like my kinda soap opera ....


All the Birds in the Sky
All the Birds in the Sky
Author: Charlie Jane Anders
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 4/6/2017


I wanted to like this. I really did. I am familiar with CJA's work for io9 -- her columns on movies, fiction and the State of SF brightened many a morning. And, with the opening chapters of this book, I thought I was on to a winner -- a book like Lev Grossman's "The Magicians" which took the "child magician" phenomenon, looked at it coolly, and in the context of other pop culture phenomenons, did something interesting. I even liked the absurdities -- the unnaturally abusive parents, the "Dotheboys Hall" schools, the unrelenting attentions of the mean kids -- not fun, but very appropriate for a fairy tale, and who said fiction was always supposed to be fun, anyway?

But once Delphine (the apprentice magician who will save the world) and Laurence (the apprentice nerd who will save the world) have grown up, I found their further adventures dreary and very difficult to care about.


Almost True Confessions: Closet Sleuth Spills All
Almost True Confessions: Closet Sleuth Spills All
Author: Jane O'connor
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 1/24/2017


Very disappointing follow up to "Dangerous Admissions," which showed a lot of potential.


Anne Boleyn: The Final 24 hours
Anne Boleyn: The Final 24 hours
Author: Marcella Mayfair
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 2/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 2/6/2018


I was fully onboard with this interesting approach to popular history -- until the scene in which Anne apologies to her niece. That seemed like an abrupt shift from actions & dialogue supported by the evidence to a Tudor episode of Dr. Phil ...


The Art of Deception (Boldt / Matthews, Bk 8)
The Art of Deception (Boldt / Matthews, Bk 8)
Author: Ridley Pearson
Book Type: Mass Market Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
 78
Review Date: 10/3/2018


For my In House Thriller reader, this was the novel that made him finally lose patience with Pearson. Too much of the plot depends on characters doing stupid, unprofessional things. A great shame, because it was a series that started well ...


Ash & Bone: A Frank Elder Mystery
Ash & Bone: A Frank Elder Mystery
Author: John Harvey
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 13
Review Date: 3/14/2018


Excellent police procedural which handles its dark themes with great skill.


The Atrocity Archives (The Laundry Files)
The Atrocity Archives (The Laundry Files)
Author: Charles Stross
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 2.5/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 9/7/2017


I gave up on this book after about 70 pages. It wasn't the jargon that tried my patience, as with some negative reviewers -- a well-plotted novel can make the most esoteric jargon feel like wallpaper, something you make a note of and glide past as you get where the author is going.

No, what finally made me give up was the realization that Stross was mistaking world-building for plot. The narrator grumbles about how hard his job is. This is supposed to be cute because he does it with lots of jargon and pop culture references. See, you're smart, just like the narrator. He goes home and grumbles about how hard it is to live with roommates who are in his line of work. He goes into the office, and grumbles about how hard it is to do his job when his supervisors are such job's-worth jerks. Finally, around page 50, Our Hero is sent out into the field, and I thought we were getting to a PLOT -- but no. The assignment goes pear-shaped, Narrator returns to base in ignominy and ... we're back to the grumbling, the jargon, the cute pop references, and I'm outta here.


Behind Her Eyes
Behind Her Eyes
Author: Sarah Pinborough
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 2/5 Stars.
 4
Review Date: 6/15/2017
Helpful Score: 1


Awful, simply awful. After a couple of chapters (in which the author mistakes short, choppy chapters for building tension ...), I skipped to the end, just to find out what the "twist" was. What a load of codswallop.


Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens
Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens
Author: Eddie Izzard
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 3/14/2018


Very interesting and enjoyable account of his life, by an interesting and very enjoyable performer. If you've even seen just one of Izzard's stand up performances, you'll know what I mean when I say that he writes like he performs -- and that's a good thing and a not so good thing. His mind leaps all over the map, footnotes, both serious and jokey, pepper every page, and if you're a big fan of well-organized and tightly edited prose ... welllll ....

But this is Eddie Izzard, for heaven's sake! Like, a god of comedy!! (Eddie: note the small g -- I was paying attention!) It's all about the journey, and the journey -- his heartbreaking account of the loss of his mother when he was so very young, his dawning realization of his sexuality, his account of his career, and his creative processes -- are definitely worth wrangling some footnotes.


The Best of Michael Swanwick
The Best of Michael Swanwick
Author: Michael Swanwick
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 5/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 9/5/2018


An excellent taster of one author's versatility, and the scope of his imagination. As the blurb says, the stories range from Hard SF to the archetypes of mythology, from bleak and deadly serious, to light and humorous. Personally, I prefer the SF, but that's just one person's opinion; Swanwick has a knack for approaching his stories -- SF, Fantasy or near-future social commentary -- from "outside the box".

My personal favorites are
⢠"The Feast of Saint Janis" (1980), a diplomat from New Africa embarks on a journey through a nightmarish future America;
⢠"Slow Life" (2002), a member of the first research team on Titan faces deathly peril, and gets help from an unexpected source;
⢠"Legions in Time" (2003), a spunky widow discovers her calling when she stumbles into the business end of a time war;
⢠and "Triceratops Summer" (2005), a lovely little story about living in the "now." With triceratops ...


Birdcage Walk
Birdcage Walk
Author: Helen Dunmore
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 5/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 5/7/2017


Out of the unpromising material of a headstone inscription and a few lines from a scrap of a letter, Helen Dunmore has created a beautifully written and constructed novel that tells the story of the most dramatic and heartbreaking months of a young woman's life. While the "great events" of the early days of the French Revolution unfold three hundred miles away, Lizzie Fawkes endures loss and makes discoveries that could destroy her. This novel is a fascinating reminder that each and every life is a drama: every one of us has a story to tell, that the "great" personalities and events of history have no monopoly on drama, terror and grief.

Like Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall," Dunmore's sense of period and tone is impeccable: she hits exactly the right balance between characters who feel very real and relatable, while at the same time are obviously products of a different time. (For example, Lizzie's placid acceptance of her husband's controlling abuse: when she married him, she became his property, and she accepts that it's her obligation to adapt to his demands, whatever they are.)

Dunmore's Afterword provides a fascinating glimpse into her methods, and her theme: the way that fiction can save forgotten lives from being lost in the background noise of history.


Birthday Boys
Birthday Boys
Author: Beryl Bainbridge
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 5/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 3/20/2017


If you are new to the story of Robert Falcon Scott, and his four companions, who were beaten to the South Pole by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, and died in their attempt to get back to home base, then this novel isn't the place to start. (One place to start: "The Worst Journey in the World," by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a member of Scott's final expedition.) This novel consists of five first person stream of consciousness "reflections," which depend on some knowledge of the legend of the tragedy, and its key characters: the "noble" leader Scott; scientist Wilson; plucky, gung-ho team player "Birdie" Bowers; taciturn, self-sacrificing Oates; and the "gentle giant" (and only representative of the non-officer class) Petty Officer Evans.

Without knowing the cliches that these five men were turned into, in the "Boy's Own" fairytale that their disastrous mission became in the 100+ years since their death, I don't think it would be obvious just how cleverly Bainbridge puts flesh on bones that hero-worship had stripped of most of their humanity. While revisionist histories put the blame squarely on Scott, as a poor leader who made very bad choices, Bainbridge does a remarkable job of channeling the voices of the five, demonstrating how the weaknesses of each one (and even their strengths) contributed to the tragedy. And at the same time, she gives credit to the power of the legend, leaving the reader with a sense of profound sadness that such good intentions and --yes, let's be old fashioned for a moment -- nobility should have ended so badly. I'm greatly looking forward to Bainbridge's take on the Titanic ("Every Man for Himself") -- another tragedy that might have ended very differently if only one person in a position of authority had thought for a moment and said, "Hey, wait ...."

So if you're familiar with the story of Robert Falcon Scott, I highly recommend this novel for its canny insights into the characters involved, and how an expedition that was supposed to demonstrate an Empire's strength of technology and character went so badly wrong. And if you are new to the story of Robert Falcon Scott ... it's a great story. And this wonderful novel will be waiting for you.


Black Dog
Black Dog
Author: Stephen Booth
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 5
Review Date: 2/12/2017


Very readable, well-written, and the locale is very evocative of the wonderful setting of the Peak District in Derbyshire. But I'm hoping for better as this series gets into its stride.

Other reviewers have (quite rightly, I think) commented on how the author tries too hard to make the female half of the detecting pair "complicated" -- I don't mind unlikable, but DC Diane Fry's moodiness and sullen assumption of the worst in everyone says more "psychotic cow" than "complicated" ... The fact is, we eventually learn that the woman has very good reason to be defensive and depressed, and the authors "cute" drip-feed of her backstory belittles that. While, dare I say it, her reluctant partner, DC Ben Cooper's personal problems and personality quirks just make him seem more real and likable.

Another thing I found very worrying -- Possible SPOILER (but I think this becomes obvious from an early stage in the novel) -- is what I would describe as "victim blaming." The victim and her family are not nice people, and that's ok. But there's a relatively superficial attitude to the murder, and her family's grief that rings very false.

This review started at 4 stars, and I've talked myself down to 3. I think I'd better stop ...

(Just an additional aside: Diane Fry is NOT Ben Cooper's "sidekick"!! I think it's to the author's credit that he really is trying to depict a partnership of equals -- two detectives whose personalities and talents balance each other out, and even causes friction.)


The Blackhouse (Lewis, Bk 1)
The Blackhouse (Lewis, Bk 1)
Author: Peter May
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.2/5 Stars.
 11
Review Date: 8/27/2018


There were aspects of "The Black House" that annoyed me (structure and psychology), but I think May got the balance of plot and setting just about right: scenery, language, geography, weather, wildlife. All, in their way, part of the plot -- the murder that brings police inspector Fin Macleod back to the island of his birth) and the history (personal and community) that drove him away, and makes it so hard for him to return, are all interwoven with the things that make the Hebrides unique.


Blind Eye
Blind Eye
Author: Stuart MacBride
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 3
Review Date: 9/15/2018


Another great outing for MacBride's Aberdeen detective, Logan McRae.

Over the course of five volumes, McRae's cases have become darker, and his personal and professional life more complicated. This is all lightened by MacBrides's keen sense of observation, and wit -- please don't judge, but even at the darkest moment, there's something that makes you laugh out loud.

In the course of this novel, McRae is dispatched to Poland to investigate possible links between his investigation in Aberdeen and a long series of horrific cases in Warsaw and Krakow. Someone really should have warned the Warsaw Tourist Board .... how do you say persona non grata in Polish?


Blind Sight (Mallory, Bk 12 ) (Large Print)
Blind Sight (Mallory, Bk 12 ) (Large Print)
Author: Carol O'Connell
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 2/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 6/25/2017


Once again, a report from the In-House Mystery & Thriller Expert: we both read a couple of Carol O'Connell Mallory novels back in the 90s, and lost patience with the super-human Mallory (brilliant, beautiful psychopath who is always two steps ahead of everyone else. Just as brilliant, beautiful psychopaths always are ...) I recently picked this up at the library for the IHM&TE, thinking that the author's name sounded familiar. He dutifully plowed through it, but he says that, in this the 12th Mallory novel, she has, if anything, become even more smug, annoying and ... psychopathic ...


The Blinds
The Blinds
Author: Adam Sternbergh
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.
 1
Review Date: 9/12/2018


One of those books where the stars were gradually whittled away as I read. I began by being very impressed by Sternbergh's cool, clear writing style, good control of characters, and intriguing premise. By the end, however, I felt let down by the failure of the internal logic of the story. Note, I say "internal logic": I don't mind a story being a bit implausible, but I really like to feel that the implausibilities are working together like a well-oiled machine, and in the end, achieving something better than crude ol' plausibility! I didn't really feel that we got that here.

On balance, a bit of a bubblegum read.


The Bone Readers
The Bone Readers
Author: Jacob Ross
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.
 2
Review Date: 8/24/2018


Fabulous piece of story-telling: great characters, wonderful local color, and a meaty, intriguing mystery which seems all-too plausible. Highly recommended!


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