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May 1, 2010

Mini Book Reviews

Readers of this blog know that I do book reviews for Curled Up With a Good Book (that's the nice, shiny link over on the side that nobody ever clicks on). The owner of the site gets books from publishers and us reviewers can pick and choose which ones we want to read and review. Of course, you have to review what you choose, so if you pick a bad one, you still have to suffer through it.

Sometimes, though, I read something that I have bought myself. I used to review everything that I read, but I've found my urge to write reviews going downhill over the last year or so. Maybe it's because my writing muscles have stretched too thin, I don't know. Anyway, I no longer do that, generally not reviewing the books I have bought at all.

I decided this morning that one thing I could do is mini-reviews of these books on this very blog.

Here's what I have been reading over the last little while.

Spandau Phoenix - by Greg Iles

This was Iles' first book, written back in 1993. Did Rudolf Hess really die in Spandau Prison in 1987? Or was it a double? And did he commit suicide, or was he murdered by British Intelligence? This is an explosive novel of deception, history, nuclear terrorism, twists and turns that take the action from Berlin to South Africa and back to the bowels of history. It's also a convoluted mess. Iles' writing style usually grips me even when I don't really care for the characters in the novel, but this one was hard work. I found the concept fascinating, but Iles just piles plot lines on top of plot lines until the whole thing is ready to collapse under its own weight.

The other problem is that Iles pauses right in the middle of the action to go back in time and show us most of what "really" happened during the Rudolf Hess affair in 1941. While it was important to know this and I did enjoy how Iles played with history, it robbed the book of all the momentum that was built up during the frantic search for the Spandau diary.

Decent for a first book, but really hard to get through.

2.5 Stars

Unspoken Truth - Margaret Wander Bonanno

This is a Star Trek book about Lt. Saavik (Kirstie Alley, Robin Curtis) that takes place mostly after the events of the third and fourth Star Trek movies. The half-Romulan, half-Vulcan product of the horrible Romulan experiments on the planet Hellguard, she must deal with her past catching up with her. Other refugees from these experiments, who had settled on Vulcan after their rescue, are being murdered. Saavik must find out what's going on and how it ties into a plot to remove Ambassador Sarek from his lofty position, the man who took her in when Spock brought this wild child to his parents for safe keeping.

While I found the exploration of Saavik's character interesting at times, I didn't care for the "exploration" plot, where Saavik and her shipmates find a planet with seemingly intelligent giant worms. The plot moved at a glacial pace at times, and while it ultimately ties together, I didn't like the journey. Not to mention that I really hate it when we see inside a character's thoughts and then we find out later none of it was true. As a reader, I felt betrayed. Tie that together with a plot that jumps back and forth in time as we explore first the "current" Saavik and then Saavik's memories of growing up on Vulcan and you get a book that is a real slog to get through.

2 Stars

The Sorrows of Empire - David Mack (Star Trek Mirror Universe)

Pocket Books, the publishers of Star Trek fiction, have done a wonderful thing with the "Mirror Universe" created in the original series episode "Mirror, Mirror". They've fleshed out what we saw in the Deep Space Nine episodes, linked the two stories together, and created a history of that universe that's full of brutality and evil.

David Mack fleshes out his original Sorrows of Empire short novel to a full book-length, and does a great job doing it. Immediately after the original series episode ends, Spock begins his plan to transform the Empire. Convinced by our James T. Kirk that the Empire is an evil monstrosity, Spock uses brutal efficiency to rise to the very top of the Empire. It's only at the top, he realizes, that he can begin the transformation. He's also seen that the Empire must fall and be reborn before it can truly be benevolent. This is Spock's story.

I love a David Mack Star Trek book, and this one is no exception. I had read the original novel but had no qualms about reading this one as it flowed very nicely together. The seams where Mack inserted stuff don't show at all unless you're really familiar with the original work, and Mack's writing style is a joy to experience. While I did find some of the events a bit too convenient, that didn't mar my overall enjoyment.

Those of you who enjoyed "Mirror, Mirror" (and I'm looking at any Trekkies in my family, most of all) should love this book as well.

4.5 Stars

Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor - by Matthew Stover

This is just a fun Star Wars novel that takes place a couple of years after Return of the Jedi. It's a time in the Star Wars universe when the series hasn't disappeared up its own backside with angst and depression, a time of adventure and derring-do.

A newly-risen warlord called Shadowspawn, reborn from the dregs of the smashed Empire, is making things very difficult for the newly established New Republic. Pirate attacks on Republic shipping are calling for a heavy response. Luke Skywalker leads a Republic fleet against the planet Mindor, where Shadowspawn seems to be based. But is all of this part of Shadowspawn's plan? And will Luke have to commit genocide in order to save the universe?

Sounds heavy, doesn't it? In a way it is, but Stover's writing also brings back the adventure of the original movie trilogy as well. Even in the face of imminent doom, our heroes face it with a smile and a joke. Shadowspawn is almost more evil than the Emperor, and his plan is actually quite intriguing. The climax of the book does take forever to happen, making me wish Stover would just get on with it at times.

However, Stover just makes it all work somehow. His writing kept me riveted even during the inevitable slow spots in the novel. This is why Stover is one of the few Star Wars authors who I will buy even if the subject matter of the book doesn't really trip my trigger. I know he'll do something interesting with it. His was my favourite of the "New Jedi Order" series, a book called Traitor.

Can he do any wrong? I don't know, but he hasn't yet. This is a great book.

4.5 Stars


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