Monthly Archives: December 2013

Book Reviews: The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles

Click the cover to visit the review on Amazon. Please vote it ‘helpful’ if you find it so!

As usual, I received this book through the kindness of some giveaway or other. In this case it appears to have been an actual GoodReads giveaway. That certainly doesn’t happen much any more!

So to begin, I realize that this book is probably in a genre more generally considered appropriate to the female gender and because of that, as a dude I’m a bit of an interloper. Despite that slight misalignment, I found this book pretty delightful. It’s complexity of character made me realize just how bad I am at keeping names straight. After 40 pages I came up short and found I had no clue who all these people were so I went back through those pages and made a nice tidy relationship diagram of who slept with whom and who was previously dating whom and which characters were, in fact, screwing like rabbits in the back storeroom. Of all these there are many examples.

On the positive side, after sorting out all the ‘whos’ in diagrammatic format, this story had quite a bit to say. The intrigues were entertaining as well as demonstrating a clear and refreshing evolution of character and story. I found myself very invested in the characters and fervently rooting for some justice at the end and for things to turn out just so. I took a couple days getting started but by half way I was staying up late and reading before work to get through it. It does get ahold of you.

On the neutral side, some of the subplots came across a bit weakly. I was tied up in most of them but others just left me rather quizzical. There are certainly high points and “meh” points. Also, in this translation some of the dialog just doesn’t come across as very Parisian. At times the characters seem more Midwestern than European and one wonders how a passage from Little House on the Prairie leaked into the novel.

One final item of note is that this book is exceptionally graphic at times. It’s not exactly pornographic but it certainly pulls no punches when it comes to who’s doing what to whom. If you’re easily offended by such things then don’t bother. Personally I found such candid talk refreshing but then again, I am a guy and we do have a different view on such things most of the time.

In summary, a grand and enthralling book that could have used just a little better translation job. It’s a quick and entertaining 430 pages.

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Movie reviews: Frozen

(I never quite know what anyone cares about or doesn’t, but just to shake things up, here’s a movie review)

Click the photo to visit the review and give it some love on Amazon.

To begin, I went to this movie because my 8-year-old daughter decided she wanted to go 12 minutes before showtime so we dashed in a huge hurry to the movie theatre 11 minutes away and got the Sunday matinee. Since this movie isn’t really targeted to my demographic, I won’t really try to make a value judgment so much as state a few random observations. (Also: No spoilers whatsoever)

OK, so the most important reaction is that of my daughter. Everything I say in paragraphs after this is merely silly adult-talk that matters not one iota. My 8-year-old was absolutely transfixed. She bounced in her seat. She bit her nails. She gasped audibly. She raised her hands in triumph. She was thoroughly and completely sucked in to this. When asked at the end what she thought she went on at length about the music and one particular character. As she says after every movie, “This was the best movie ever!!!!” Also, she’s fairly sensitive to violent situations for her age but she was fine in this case. On the edge of her seat but certainly not under it.

Alright, silly adult talk commences.

At a plot level this one is a mix of a lot of other Disney movies. A bit of Beauty and the Beast, some Shrek plus some X-men to mix things up. There’s some grand variety to be sure. The music in this one wasn’t bad but in the first hour or so it seemed we had a 4-minute song about every 5 minutes. Song quality was wonderful but I thought at points that I was watching a cartoon opera. In the second half of the movie the vocals settle down to a more reasonable level and we get on with an actual plot. No single song stands out for me (they were all fairly pop-ish) with the exception of one sung by a group of trolls. That one is assured to be lodged firmly in my head for a while. It’s musically entertaining and so very, very, very true all at once. As always, the graphics were jaw-dropping. Some scenes drew audible gasps and whispers from the audience just from the standpoint of quality of the artwork. Human characters have become so natural that they’re often difficult to distinguish from real actors.

My only complaint is the standard one that I make about all such movies. At the risk of a mild spoiler I will merely say that it bothers me when movies are all wonderful fireworks and bubblegum at the end. Eventually kids should learn that there is a price to success so it bugs me when absolutely EVERYTHING turns out just wonderfully for EVERYONE involved who’s not a terrible villain.

In summary, Izzy loved it, I was entertained though very slightly grumpy in exactly the way I’m grumpy about all Hollywood movies. Take that for what it’s worth. Which is probably everything and nothing in exactly that order.

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Book Reviews: Wiki Management: A Revolutionary New Model for a Rapidly Changing and Collaborative World

As usual I received this book for free because someone gave it to me for review. This time it was a LibraryThing drawing. Despite that kind consideration I give my candid opinions below.

Usually in my reviews I try to draw out some positive and negative aspects of a book and make an argument for the assigned rating. That’s difficult to do with non-fiction because the topics are so varied and of sometimes dubious interest. Instead I’ll just try to tell you what this book is and what it isn’t.

The first third of the book argues quite vehemently and specifically for tearing down traditional hierarchical management structures. By these I mean those archaic constructs in which a boss controls 6-7 employees and he in turn has a boss above him controlling 6-7 of his peers onward and onward. It argues instead for a collaborative structure in which groups of employees choose their own teams based on work needs at a specific time with leadership positions only there to referee in the event of deadlock. Rather than the usual 6:1 ratio of employees to managers the book recommends 60:1.

After it makes its case for why you should organize your company in this way, the book settles down in the latter two thirds to give specific practices that successful organizations use to make this style effective. It goes on at length and in great detail about how to manage such an organization from meeting styles to employee evaluations. It is a soup-to-nuts treatise on modern management structure and practice.

My only real beef with the book lies in the practicality of what it has to say. As a non-management professional in the software industry I respect the proposition and would love to work in such an environment but I have trouble imagining any workplace I’ve ever been in successfully pulling off anything from this book except dangling bits and pieces. Unfortunately, when companies try to reinvent themselves in the way the book describes the outcomes are almost always unpleasant. You can’t really piecemeal your way into an entirely new style of management and no company I’ve ever worked for has been willing to go at this sort of thing with sufficient gusto. So if you’re looking to start a company or are the CEO of a really tiny and nimble operation, I invite you to the book and suggest you build your company around it. I’ll sign up to be your first employee as would every professional acquaintance I have.

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Book Reviews: The One Who Turned Them On (The Energy Scavengers)

Click the image to view my review on Amazon (And vote it helpful, of course. Every vote helps)

As usual I didn’t pay anything for this book but instead received it for free because somebody wanted me to have it for the purposes of review. In this case the author emailed to let me know it was free on Amazon for the next two days.

The story summary is fairly easy; a planet full of sentient robots are abandoned by their creators and set up a civilization of their own. It’s a mix of Wall-E plus any Apocalypse movie ever. It’s written from the dual perspectives of a tunnel-bot and a near-omniscient weather-computer.

To the positive side of things the author has cobbled together a milieu with real potential. His characters, heartless though they may be, are rather sympathetic and when the story reaches its climax I was pretty riveted. There’s great potential for a series here in which we explore this world in more detail.

Sadly though, as always, there’s a negative side to all my reviews. At times the author’s use of language is cloying and childish and I thought during the first few pages that English might not be his primary language. Further, the introductory sections of the story seem rather disconnected while the story really finds its feet.

In summary, the novella absolutely reeks with potential but just needs a bit of tweaking from the title (which is a real turn off, ironically) to the language. For 99 cents it’s a worthwhile buy but just can’t quite reach my usual editorial standard for 5-stars.

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Reviews: Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him

Click the image to see the review on Amazon

Firstly and as usual, I received this book for because someone was giving it away in exchange for a review. Despite that kindness I’ll give my candid opinions below.

This book is at once a biography and a textbook on sociology. The opening chapters focus on black comedy and the environment into which Pryor entered the entertainment world. Throughout the book the names fall like rain and anybody who ever was or hoped to be anybody entered the scene for at least a bit. About a third of the way in we get down to the man himself.

On the positive side, the background presented in this book is thoroughly entertaining and much of the information was eye-opening and uniquely informative. I found myself scrounging YouTube looking for snippets of the people and bits referred to. It’s a fascinating period of history. As to the bits about Pryor himself, the story of his life is at once horrifying and hilarious. This lived a life of incredible pain, as with most comedians, and the book doesn’t hesitate one bit to be absolutely candid about what happened. From the sexual abuse he suffered as a child to the night he set himself on fire, this book goes into it all in sometimes painful detail.

On the negative side, all that detail can sometimes be a bit much. The story is only roughly chronological and meanders in sometimes confusing fashion. All the parts of a great story are here but they need to be straightened out a bit into a more cohesive whole. I felt at times that we were just jumping about for no good reason. There’s a real lack of cohesion.

In summary, after the first third of the book I thought this would be a keeper. I tend to get rid of almost all the review books I get but on rare occasion I’ll keep one about permanently for future rereading. After getting to the end though, it’s just not quite earned the bookshelf space. The first half makes me want to find a more general book about show business in the 60s-70s and put THAT on the shelf instead of this.

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Reviews: An American Outlaw

Click the image to visit my review on Amazon

As usual I paid nothing for this book as the author approached me with a free copy in exchange for a review. Also as usual though my absolute candid thoughts follow.

On the positive side, the author has a great grasp of his setting and his characters; I’d be unsurprised to find out he’s an ex-Marine from Texas. The book has a great air of believability and action and the author’s short, choppy, not-quite-sentences give the text a unique textual flow that works very well with the grim subject matter. His choice of characters in the person of an ex-Marine turned outlaw is innovative, relatable and timely.

To the negative, the book suffers from a rather typical lack of editorial polish. There are quite a few typos and misspellings and the author’s use of short action-oriented sentences can at times make the text rather disjointed and this leaves the reader wondering what they just read. Further, the language is very colloquial in nature and while this adds to the atmospheric feel of the work it can sometimes be rather befuddling.

To summarize, this novel stands out among its peers at this pricepoint but can’t quite earn five stars because it’s up against more refined competition. I could see this one picked up by a major house and republished with a bit more of the proverbial spit-and-polish.

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Reviews: Killing His Fear

Click the photo to visit the review on Amazon

As usual I received this book for free at the hands of the generous author. Also as usual, despite that great kindness, I give my candid opinions below.

On the positive side, the author has a keen grasp of psychopathic behavior and understands well the inner workings of the mind of someone suffering from schizophrenia. The narrative is also reasonably interesting and has a circumspect style told from the viewpoint of both the killer and the police who pursue him.

Sadly, the negatives far outweigh the positives of the storyline. At the simplest level, the grammar and typography is in need of a good, sound editing. Punctuation is misplaced, words are misspelled or misused, and most amusing of all there are two chapter 39s. The whole thing just seems rather slap-dash and it completely ruins the effect of story. Further, the dialog is unrealistic and childlike as characters go through stiff and unrealistic interactions with each other that just don’t sound like natural verbal discourse at all. The author seems to go through phases in which he will use a particular word (one jarring example was the word ‘gonna’ as a form of ‘going to’) 7 times in the space of one and a half pages and then never uses it again in the entire rest of the book. In another case he seems to decide that contractions are bad and just stops using them for several chapters resulting in almost robotic dialog.

In summary, the author knows his subject matter but his mode of connecting the pieces is just a shambles. His strength is portraying the mind of the mentally deranged but anything outside that realm just turns to improbable plot points that come to conclusions that are far too easy and predictable. At the heart of this novel there’s a real talent but it’s buried under rather a dark and murky bushel.

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