Friday, February 01, 2019

Well, that was a disappointing way to end this trilogy

The Kremlin's Candidate (Red Sparrow Trilogy, #3)The Kremlin's Candidate by Jason  Matthews
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Such a disappointing third book to close out this trilogy. Some will defend the repeated body blows this book delivers to readers who felt invested in these characters, saying it's more realistic than what the author might otherwise have written. I understand that, but this isn't non-fiction. It's fiction, and entertainment is a big part of why we're reading it. So to turn such brutality loose on characters we'd come to know and admire (I won't say which ones, so I don't spoil things) seems unnecessary and cold. As I read the parts I have in mind, I couldn't believe the author would do this.

Yes, people in service to their countries can get hurt and can die. We all know that. But again, this is entertainment. Good guys versus bad guys. Jason Matthews had visited death upon good characters before, but there's almost a sense of betrayal in reading The Kremlin's Candidate, and I'm sorry I didn't stop after the first two books. If you loved Red Sparrow and Palace of Treason, you may want to stop there and hang on to the good memories of those books.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 14, 2019

A great spy novel! One of the best I've read!

Palace of Treason (Red Sparrow Trilogy, #2)Palace of Treason by Jason  Matthews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you like spy novels, you should read the Red Sparrow books. I enjoyed the first book, Red Sparrow, and Palace of Treason is even better! This is the continuing story of Dominika Egorova, Nate Nash and their colleagues (who themselves are interesting, rich characters). They're both smart and dedicated but also flawed, doing things they know they shouldn't do, but we cheer them on as they fight evil and corruption.

Jason Matthews knows how to build tension and develop his characters. The tension never feels contrived, and there's a real connection to these people we want to see succeed but are so afraid won't be able to overcome the obstacles and enemies in their way.

Palace of Treason is one of those special novels. I wasn't sleeping well anyhow, but it probably didn't help that I was so drawn into this story. It was almost 4am when I put the book down. On top of the quality of the characters and well-developed suspense, there's the fact that the story sounds like non-fiction stories of espionage I've read. Jason Matthews has gone to great lengths to make his stories not only exciting but believable! (His lengthy career with the CIA probably helps.) I'm already grabbing the third book of the trilogy! Can't wait to continue reading!

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley StartupBad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

John Carreyrou shares the story he worked on for The Wall Street Journal, putting it together in a compelling book about a young woman who was smart but apparently a sociopath. She lied and was willing to hurt pretty much anyone, as long as she got rich and was lauded as a trailblazer. The scariest part wasn't that someone like her exists; it was that she got so many accomplished, powerful people to support her and defend her, even in the face of clear evidence she was lying, cheating and endangering the lives of countless others.

This is the story of the founding, rise and eventual fall to earth of a company known as Theranos. Started and headed by Elizabeth Holmes, with help from her secret boyfriend and now-indicted co-conspirator Sunny Balwani, Theranos promised to be able to replace lab tests that currently require the drawing of blood from a vein with much easier finger sticks. As it became clear the technology for such an approach didn't exist--and the necessary volume of blood for many important tests wasn't there to make them possible from a simple finger stick--rather than admit defeat or change their approach, Holmes and Balwani engaged in repeated deceptions and did their best to destroy the lives and livelihoods of anyone who tried to bring honesty and integrity to what was going on. Happily both Holmes and Balwani now are under indictment, but the trail of destruction they left is sad and should be a cautionary tale.

Bad Blood is an excellent book, both because the underlying story is so extraordinary--mostly in terrible ways--and because John Carreyrou is a good writer, bringing the skills of a reporter who knows how to tell a good story!

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Past Tense (Jack Reacher, #23)Past Tense by Lee Child
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Once again, Jack Reacher is drawn into a highly improbable scenario that lets him be the capeless superhero, coming in to save the day.

I've enjoyed the series overall, but some of the scenarios Lee Child uses are truly eyeroll-inducing. Even if Reacher comes across as a nearly-omniscient superhero-cop in the ones where we're looking back at his Military Police days, at least those make more sense in terms of how he comes to be involved in various unusual scenarios.

In Past Tense, there's a truly evil ploy going on. That and his coming to the rescue of a random person in a small New England town both drive the tension of this book, such as it is. The evil plot's setup is too drawn out, considering how little connection/empathy is created with the intended victims of the plot. Given his history and the relative incompetence of his adversaries, there's not much question how all of this will turn out.

There's still satisfaction in Jack Reacher taking out the bad guys, but the odds of his once again stumbling into a one-in-a-million evil plot really stretches credulity. I'm hoping future books either are more focused on his MP days or somehow draw him back into law enforcement. This country has its issues--as all countries do--but I'm thankful there aren't extraordinarily sinister plots around every corner as Jack Reacher's travels would have one think!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Book Review: Lawrence in Arabia

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle EastLawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle East tells the story of T.E. Lawrence, known to most of us from the sweeping classic film, Lawrence of Arabia. The book also provides insight into the Middle East situation during World War I, the various players involved in the machinations of the day, and the imperial ambitions of European countries that helped further undermine any chance the Middle East ever had for peace and normalcy.

T.E. Lawrence certainly was an unlikely person to play the role he did. With no military background or training, he backed into wearing a British uniform. Then, through audacity and a gift for bureaucratic duplicity, he became a key figure in working with Arab leadership as the British pursued their imperial dreams while fighting a war that was unprecedented in its brutality.

It's also fascinating to see the attitudes of the imperial powers--and here, the French are painted in a particularly bad light--towards the Middle Eastern lands. They had no valid claim to any of these lands, and yet they made plans to simply take and keep them, exercising jurisdiction over them as if they had any right to do so.

The actions of these European countries didn't help an already-difficult situation, with different tribes and leaders vying for dominance. The author also notes that whatever chance there might have been for peace between the Arabs and the Jews certainly was severely undermined by these imperial maneuverings. True, lasting peace might have been unlikely, particularly when dealing with groups like Ibn Saud's followers, who were adherents to the Wahhabi sect of Islam. Nevertheless, Britain and France, and the famous Sykes-Picot Agreement served only to pour gasoline on a smoldering fire.

T.E. Lawrence was himself an interesting figure whose prominence is based on a combination of his character, a fair helping of dumb luck and a big budget movie (he was known in Britain, certainly, prior to the film, but the film rocketed his recognition into the stratosphere), but Lawrence in Arabia is more interesting for the overview of all the different players and how what seemed like a sideshow to World War I made a lasting impact, for better or worse, on a region that continues to be of strategic importance to this very day.

View all my reviews

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Oh, Lexi

Our girl has been bad a number of times lately. When Tucker arrived, he came with lots of toys, beds, blankies, all kinds of things. His late mom loved him and bought him all sorts of stuff. Well, we have taken our time getting his stuff put away or tossed out. (He seems to have no interest in the toys. We've tried.)

To be fair (to ourselves!), we have been moving a lot of it out, but some remained at one end of the dining room table. Unfortunately, any amount of Tucker's stuff up there offends Lexi. We went plant shopping today, and when we got back, we found that she'd been on the dining room table, where she found a brush of his. She chewed that. She also managed to tear up all sorts of our stuff that was on there and scatter debris around the entire dining area. I guess she decided we needed punishment.

She'd already had periods where she got crated when we went out, but I kept giving her another chance. At this point, Marc says she'll be crated when we're out until she's a little old hound, hobbling around with a walker! (I give it a couple of weeks.)  ;-)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A book review: Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and PurposePromise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose by Joe Biden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I usually tend to steer clear of sad stories. I feel like I've had enough pain and loss in my own life, so why latch onto someone else's? But something about Promise Me, Dad and what I'd read from prior reviews drew me to it. Also, I think Joe Biden is a good, kind-hearted, caring public servant, and I was interested for that reason, as well.

The pain of loss encapsulated in Promise Me, Dad comes as no surprise to anyone who reads the news. Joe Biden lost his son, Beau, to an aggressive brain cancer known as glioblastoma. Despite aggressive, cutting edge treatment, Beau slowly lost a painful battle. This book recounts that battle, as well as the way the Biden family pulled together, supporting each other while doing their best to protect Beau's privacy and dignity. It's also a remembrance of family history and cohesion, as well as a recounting of the support they received from so many, including President Obama.

Interspersed with the story of Beau Biden's cancer battle, and his family's agony as they watched it unfold, is a look inside the top-level politics Joe Biden was engaged in, from legislative history to his deep involvement in international affairs. This well-written and deeply personal book did something few books can; it made me cry. The genuine feeling of it tapped into my own emotions of loss. As things progressed, I found myself hoping for a surprise happy ending, despite knowing how things really did end. It was that level of connection and feeling.

I can see how some readers might not want to go along on this particular ride. As I said above, I often steer clear of such things. But if you don't mind the sadness interwoven within this story, it's a story well told about good people who have made it through a lot while still focusing on how they can make the world I better place. It's worth reading!

View all my reviews