Friday, December 26, 2014

Macaque Attack, by Gareth Powell

Ack-Ack Macaque is back!  After the saving the world in Ack-Ack Macaque and Hive Monkey, Ack-Ack and his friends have to step up to save the world yet again.  The familiar characters and conflicts from the first two Ack-Ack novels are included, and Powell introduces some new faces and wrinkles to the story.

Macaque Attack opens with Ack-Ack and his companions returning to their London of origin, after traveling to various parallel universes.  They have freed many of Ack-Ack's counterparts, other uplifted monkeys and apes, but have also discovered that the villains against whom they have been fighting also have counterparts in other parallels, who have plans to invade again across dimensional borders.

Ack-Ack fans will enjoy the way Powell draws story threads from the first two books, while introducing new elements.  I have not read Powell's novel The Recollection but he brings in characters from that storyline as well.  That's the kind of thing you do when you create a world in which there are an infinite number of parallel universes.  Speaking of parallel universes, just when I (and everyone else in the book) thought I had figured this out, another twist is introduced, sort of Matrix-like.  Interesting. . . .

I'm not sure Macaque Attack is as good as the first two books in the series.  Ack-Ack reflects on his body aging and slowing down.  Paul, Victoria's husband who died but lives on electronically, is deteriorating as well.  In spite of Powell's trademark non-stop action, including lots of explosions, and Ack-Ack's new choice of weapon (a diamond-blade chainsaw works especially well against the cyborg army), I almost felt like this story was running out of steam while soldiering on.

Nevertheless, Powell leaves the ending wide open for a sequel, even referring to the Ack-Ack "trilogy/quartet" in the Ack-Acknowledgements (although he may be referring to the original Ack-Ack short story and the three novels).  If he does write another Ack-Ack novel, I will definitely pick it up.  Mars awaits!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Gray Mountain, by John Grisham

John Grisham has issues.  This is no surprise to Grisham fans; many of his novels make a statement about one issue or another.  His latest novel, Gray Mountain, takes on the coal industry, as well as addressing legal issues of the rural poor.  I did enjoy Gray Mountain, but the issues distracted from the story more than Grisham usually allows.

The story: After years of contracts and skyscrapers at a huge New York firm, the recession forces downsizing, and she takes an internship at a legal aid clinic in tiny Brady, Virginia.  She gets a quick course in black lung disease, strip mining, and the evil, unethical practices of big coal.  The story progresses in classic Grisham fashion, although the death of a key character caught me by surprise.  The ending winds up rather quickly, with most of the resolution left to assumptions.  Again, this isn't necessarily uncharacteristic of Grisham, but seemed to be more the case with Gray Mountain.  

I wonder about the coal industry.  Grisham paints them as pure, unadulterated evil.  They lay waste to pristine landscapes and treat miners like dispensable tools.  The only positive nod to the coal industry was a reference to a bumper sticker that read "Like electricity? Love coal!"  I do love electricity.  But is there any way to defend the coal industry?  Not according to Grisham.  It might have been more interesting had there been some characters sympathetic to coal.

The bottom line is that this is not the best of Grisham's novels, but mediocre Grisham is still pretty terrific.  Grisham fans will love it, and even if this is the first Grisham novel you read, I thnk you would be sufficiently impressed to want to pick up some of his other novels.

Monday, December 22, 2014

You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can't Make It Scuba Dive), by Robert Bruce Cormack

As much as I enjoyed the oddball characters and off-beat humor of Robert Bruce Cormack's novel You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can't Make It Scuba Dive), I was disappointed that story never really emerged.  Cormack writes funny scenes, but he couldn't seem to pull together an actual plot.  There is an argument for character development; there is some of that, to be sure.  But I kept waiting and waiting for a point to come, and it never really did.

When Sam Bennett gets fired from the advertising agency where he has worked for thirty years, he's not sure where to go next.  When his daughter and son-in-law come for an extended stay, and he starts hanging out with a security guard from his former employer, they all get into assorted mischief and entrepreneurial pursuits.  House painting, web casting, catering, and children's books take up the group's time, fueled by copious amounts of pot brownies.

You Can Lead a Horse to Water isn't a bad book, it's not poorly written, it just never goes anywhere.  If that suits you, check it out.  If you are like me and seek a little more from novels you read, you will likely be disappointed.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Zippy the Runner, by JiYu Kim, illustrated by JeongHyeon Seon

My son Zippy came home from school with a low grade in gymnastics.  Why?  They had a timed mile run, and he didn't make the target time.  He was discouraged, because he knows his asthma slows him down (not to mention his preference for playing video games over playing outside!) and he doesn't want to be the last kid to finish.

About that time, I happened to see JiYu Kim's new book, Zippy the Runner.  What a perfect way to inspire him!  Unfortunately, my Zippy wasn't too impressed with the book.  Granted, he's 13, so he thinks he's above such children's books!  But I was impressed.  JeongHyeon Seon's illustrations are cute and the story is sweet.  I like the fact that Zippy the zebra is always last, yet because he loves to run, he still competes and is willing to help other runners.

As a back-of-the-pack runner myself, I think it's important to acknowledge that even with lots of hard work and dedication, you might still lose every race.  But that doesn't have to get in the way of your love of running and racing.  My Zippy is doing better on his timed runs.  I just hope he'll come to love running as much as Zippy the zebra does, last place or not.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Free, by Alfred Mele

Like any philosopher worth his salt, Alfred Mele pursues questions that the rest of either don't spend any time thinking about, or stay up talking about in late-night bull sessions.  The question of free will is hotly debated in philosophical circles, but you may not be as aware that other fields have tackled the question as well.  Mele explores several scientific denials of free will in Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will.

Mele "explains why the scientific experiments that are most often claimed to prove that there's no free will in fact leave the existence of free will wide open."  His  conclusion is modest.  He points out the flaws and weaknesses of each theory, but does not make claims of his own.  That seems a worthy goal, and he does it well.

Free is brief and readable, and serves as an interesting review of the neurological and psychological challenges to free will.  There are many facets of the debate over free will that aren't covered in Free, but Mele's focused arguments will provide some useful content for those late-night bull sessions.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Stuff You Should Know about Stuff, by Tripp and Tyler

Tripp and Tyler are a couple of very funny guys.  If you've heard of them, it's probably because of their popular YouTube videos.  If you haven't heard of them, go watch their YouTube videos!  Here:  I guarantee they are more entertaining than this review!

For those of you who prefer the written word over video, or paper over pixels, they have published some of the wisdom and humor of their videos in a portable format that requires no external power source.  It's a book called Stuff You Should Know About Stuff: How to Properly Behave in Certain Situations.  Funny, random, and, at times, even informative, SYSKAS can mostly help you not be annoying to Tripp and Tyler.  As a bonus, you will become less annoying to just about everyone else, too.

You will relate to Tripp and Tyler's examples of behavior that needs correction and guidance, and you might even feel the sting (in a funny way) of their criticism.  However, they are not afraid to point the fingers back at themselves.  In the section regarding identifying insecure men, they write: "Did he publish a book that makes fun of various types of people?  This is the deepest form of insecurity.  There is no hope for these men."

On the contrary, there is hope for a couple of guys who can be hilariously funny without being crude, racist, or using foul language.  Now, back to the videos. . . .

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Love Without Limits, by Nick Vujicic

I'm continually impressed with Nick Vujicic.  Read his books, watch his videos, and you'll see a man of faith with a passion for life and a contagious joy.  All of this is on display in his latest book, Love Without Limits: A Remarkable Story of True Love Conquering All, which he co-wrote with his wife, Kanae.  In his prior books, Vujicic has told some of the story of his courtship and marriage to Kanae, but here we get the full story.

Even with his contagious joy and his "ridiculously good life," Vujicic confesses that he struggled with loneliness and rejection.  What woman, he thought, would want to marry a man with no arms and legs?  For Kanae, his lack of limbs turned out not to be an issue.  They fell in love, and even though their early romance was delayed by a romantic comedy movie style mix-up, they married and now have a beautiful baby boy.

Readers will enjoy hearing Nick's stories.  He leads an interesting and entertaining life, and has no shortage of anecdotes.  Kanae makes her contribution as well, writing several extended sections giving her perspective.  Some might object that a couple who has been married only a couple of years, and whose child is barely a toddler, doesn't have much business writing a book about marriage and parenting.  It's a fair point, but the Vujicics approach the subject with humility and a recognition of their youth and inexperience.  Many of their prescriptive sections are focused on single people and newlyweds, such as tips on purity during dating, the proposal, wedding planning, and life with a new baby.  These sections are helpful and practical, and I felt like they did not try to speak outside of their own experience.

When I read Vujicic's books, one thing that stands out is how normal his life seems.  He does talk about living with a disability, and much of his ministry is to others with various disabilities, but mostly he talks about the same things everyone deals with in life.  His wisdom, youthful though it may be, about life, love, and marriage is worth hearing, no matter your age or no matter your disability.

Thanks to Blogging for Books and WaterBrook Press for the complimentary review copy!