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Mark Butler (Northwest Washington USA)
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U.s.s. Seawolf
U.s.s. Seawolf
by Patrick Robinson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.49
68 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Great Adventure Story, weak ending, Jan. 26 2004
The story is gripping, a sub captured, the crew being tortured, the SEAL's being sent in to rescue them. The whole concept is a bit farfetched but fun.
The first section details the mission up to the capture of the sub, its exciting as we follow the sub around sneaking in and out of Chinese waters, evading capture, etc. The actual capture seemed a bit goofy, why didn't the sub just sink when they attached the cables? but you have to give some leeway to get the story rolling.
Then there is the in-between section where the crew is being moved to their jail, being tortured, the SEAL team is being formed, etc.
The big story is the mission to rescue the captives, its all written with exact detail and seemed very believable to me (an armchair quarterback with zero practical experience)
Finally the weakest part of the book is the wrap up. I really feel that the book should have ended at the "fist pumping in the air - rah rah" moment, instead we are treated to a series of bad things and the whole book ends with a whimper - I'm trying not to give it away here, but for me the ending was really depressing.
The characters are perfect in their own way, the chinese are perfectly bad, no redeeming qualities, the US forces are perfectly good, no bad decisions are ever made, no mistakes happen, no hidden agendas, nothing. This is a straightforward action book, your not reading it because you want a complex CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) your reading it because you want the US to kick some serious booty.
And it does, the action sequences are great and very realistic. As with all of Patrick Robinsons books you follow along like a travelogue, there isn't any "oh my god" sequences of sudden understanding or of a secret plot revealed - you know the one, where suddenly all those unexplained things that have been happening now make sense, in these books each step of the process is methodically layed out and followed.
If I had stopped 50 pages from the end I would have given this a 5 star rating, but the ending so turned me off that I would have dropped it 2 stars except for the excellent middle. The ending just doesn't work, throughout the book the characters are all fairly simplistically handled and we are all used to them being that way, then suddenly a "deep psychological" twist happens and everything starts to unravel. If that was planned to happen why were the characters not given more time to develop? and the lack of closure for several key characters makes it difficult as well, the Chinese C-and-C, the XO - both of these characters are just dropped with their lives and futures hanging...
Buy the book for the exciting action sequences and to read about the SEAL's kicking tail - my recommendation is to read up through the end of chapter 12 and stop there - you'll finish with a big smile.

Around the World on a Bicycle, V1
Around the World on a Bicycle, V1
by Thomas Stevens
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 44.42
4 used & new from CDN$ 44.42

4.0 out of 5 stars A terrific (if long) book, Jan. 23 2004
This simply an amazing book. Back in 1884 when bicycles had just been invented and "wheelmen" rode the bicycles with the giant wheel in the front and the tiny one in the back, Thomas Stevens had nothing better to do so with typical American pluck, decided to obtain a bicycle and ride it all the way around the world. He started off with only his bicycle, a pistol, a jacket and a lot of determination.
This book follows his adventures day by day, mile by mile through 1880's America, Europe and into countries from another era (Yuzgat, Slavonia, Erzingan and Erzeroum for example). It is an absolutely astonishing feat and an amazing adventure. Remember this is only 15 years after Jules Verne IMAGINED the idea of a round-the-world trip in his "Around the world in 80 days".
The book has a very large wealth of information about what the everyday people were like, what they wore, their customs, the major places seen. Some of them quite poignant, for example his vivid descriptions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For anyone with an interest in the cultures and people of olden times it is invaluable. Many things mentioned are probably quite rare or altogether gone today, for example in India he used the services of a "punkah-wallah" which is person hired to keep the sleeper cool by waving a fan at them all night. In this era of electric fans and air-conditioning I would imaging the venerable punkah-wallah is long gone.
This is a BIG book, my edition is 477 pages long and the pages are larger than the normal paperback having over 400 words per page so its at least 2 "normal" books in length and this can be a downside. Despite that he writes in a very good and easy to read style, I found the narrative tended to drag a bit through Asia, endless tiny countries of people living in unbelievable poverty and for a dozens of pages at a time the narrative will be filled with nothing but:
In the evening I rode to a village
I had to eat the local food
Everyone hounded me to see me ride the bicycle
I had difficulty getting to sleep because everyone was hounding me
I got up the next morning and rode out
In the evening I rode to a village
etc.
The first 3rd of the book covers America and Europe and these are really exciting and interesting. Seeing his impressions of familiar surroundings really highlights how things have changed (and remained the same) over the last 120 years. The last third of the book gets exciting and interesting as he attempts to get into the Arabian countries and is turned back at Afghanistan forcing him to backtrack 800 miles and go around to India, then India and China and finally Japan.
All in all a book well worth reading, don't expect fast-paced action but this is a jornal of a long trip in a time long forgotton and vividly brought to life by someone who experienced it firsthand.

Give Up
Give Up
Price: CDN$ 16.34
20 used & new from CDN$ 5.44

2.0 out of 5 stars One great song, Jan. 15 2004
This review is from: Give Up (Audio CD)
I purchased this album on the strength of hearing "Such Great Heights". This is an absolutely terrific song, mixing a upbeat electronic tune with great singing and a wonderful topic (lovers separated by distance and a song to "guide you home").
I really expected great things from the rest of the album, alas.. this is the only song like it on the album. The rest of the songs are a mixture of slow-paced (really slow!) songs and upbeat songs about depressing topics.
The album starts off with "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" which is a good example, it starts off with 2 minutes of extremely slow, quiet music.. if you can stay awake long enough it picks up, but the subject is about a destroyed relationship and the singer hanging around her apartment feeling like a stranger and discovering that "I'm the one worth leaving" whatever that means.
Other thrilling subjects are a person who discovers there isn't any true love and makes a movie with his ex to try and simulate it, the depressing life of hanging out in anonymous bars (or possibly prisons depending on how you interpret it) and about people dying and exploding...not exactly the subject matter I want to listen to.
Other reviews have praised the production qualities but I found the vocals tended to get lost in the music, many times I found I was straining just to hear the vocals. Ben Gibbards vocals are very unique and easy to listen to, but for many of the songs he is half whispering and half talking rather than singing and tends to get lost in the background.
So a mixed review.. After listening to the entire album quite a few times I can honestly say the only song I like is "Such Great Heights"...however if you like slow serious electronic music or the upbeat tempos and don't mind the subject matter, perhaps this one is for you.

Flaming Iguanas: An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing
Flaming Iguanas: An Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing
by Erika Lopez
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.74
22 used & new from CDN$ 4.38

3.0 out of 5 stars Just too wierd for me, Sept. 7 2003
I bought this book based on the 11 pages available online from Amazon. Its interesting, funny in a wierd sort of way and sounded intriguing. I was looking for a kind of journey description with the funny wierd things that happen along the way.
The book started that way, with her description of how she decided to become a biker gang of one called the Flaming Iguanas and the difficulties of getting someone to go with her and why she went. I found it tedious to delve into her broken past all the time though.
FInally she got out on the road and I expected the pace to pick up a bit, but it didn't, the road stuff takes up about 5% of the book, the rest is a stream of consciousness about everything and anything. Some of its good but I found myself getting impatient after sections like 5 pages of what songs she sang into her helmet (and why).
So if your looking for a road-bike book this probably isn't the one for you, if your looking for a wild ride following a completely mixed up woman with a rough past and some very funny writing then it may be just the ticket for you.

Life Is a Road
Life Is a Road
by Daniel B. Meyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.00
18 used & new from CDN$ 9.73

5.0 out of 5 stars A great read, June 23 2003
This review is from: Life Is a Road (Paperback)
This is one of those books that you either love or hate, either it touches you and makes you long for the open road and the adventures beyond the next "twistie" or you throw up your hands in disgust and consider it wasted time.
This is not a novel, on the surface its a simple set of small narrations of what happened during a trip: I took road x, stopped and had x for dinner, slept in motel x, etc. For many people this is all they get from it and its not terribly exciting.
For others, those who have the travelling "bug" this is a thrilling narrative of the romance of the open road. What it feels like to leave work on a friday, all strung out and hit the "twisties" and stop at small places where people call you "hon" and to begin to put your priorities back in order.
Mr. Meyers feelings towards his ride and his enjoyment of the open road, the desire to just start riding, pick roads at random and see where you end up... more importantly his ability to enjoy things that others avoid, like riding in the middle of a storm or right through the middle of a dust-devil..appeal to me, its something that people either understand or look at you funny about. If you understand then this book is for you!

Indiana Jones And The Emperor's Tomb
Indiana Jones And The Emperor's Tomb
10 used & new from CDN$ 34.87

3.0 out of 5 stars Just so-so, June 5 2003
I really wanted to like this game, I really did. I loved Infernal Machine even though it looks so hopelessly dated graphically now. This one promised great things and the graphics are beautiful. On my machine they look like photographs. The fighting was fun for a little while but I found that it gets boring quickly and is so hard to control, Indy is always whacking away at a blank wall because the guy skidded sideways during the battle - see note below about the controls.
Whats fun is its Indy! I'm only part way through it so I don't know the whole storyline yet but its good enough to keep you going.
Whats not so fun are the save games. For some unknown reason LucasArts decided that they knew when you wanted to save better than you did and only let you save at stage end, I have replayed and replayed level after level to the point where I'm sick of some of them. I'm not one of those players that can manipulate all the key combinations with ease (there are 24 key combinations and most keys do different things depending on whats going on at the time) I'm also not very good at memorizing mortal-combat style fight combos so having to try and hit LMB+RMB (Left Mouse Button, Right Mouse Button) then anouther LMB+RMB then the "W" (4 mouse buttones and a keystroke) to make an attack leaves me helplessly trying to find the W key while Indy stands there and gets shot in the back. If your a fan of this style of fighting then this game is for you because there is a LOT of it.
The music isn't what I had hoped, I wanted lots of swelling "Indy" themes when I did something good, but its mostly non-existant.
I found the controls the worst part of the game, they are so non-intuitive that even now I hate them, I'm sorry but if I had known the controls would be like this I would not have bought the game - download the demo and try for yourself! The controls direct Indy in relation to the screen and not Indy, so if Indy is pointing left and you hit the forward arrow he doesn't go forward he instantly turns right and runs away from you, if he is pointing left and you push left, he doesn't turn left he moves towards the left of the screen (forward to him), actually its not directly left as he moves in a big circle while pointing left.
Apparently Indy has been to swimming class as well, for when he is underwater he moves at about 50 miles per hour. He can swim the whole length of levels and back bouncing off walls while underwater.
I feel really bad to bring up so many bad things about the game, its fun to be Indy but the controls and saves ruined it for me and the fighting got boring quickly. I doubt if I will finish it..sigh...

Timestruck
Timestruck
23 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Lots of fun with an unexpected focus, May 30 2003
This review is from: Timestruck (Paperback)
Gina is transported back in time to meet and fall for handsome Dominick. OK so the plot isn't very complex, what does set it apart is the focus on the court of King Charles and his spoiled wife. The first part of the book wasn't as I expected as Gina struggles to figure out what has happened, how to live in this time period and for her growing feelings for Dominick. I was surprised at the "ease" with which it all happened, I really expected more drama and tension but Dominick is so perfect, he has no flaws, nothing to have tension with and she quickly abandons her lifelong hatred of men to fall for him. On his side he suspects her of complicity but doesn't really do much about it which seemed a bit unrealistic.
However once she finally succumbs to him and they start feeling like a pair of lovers, the story then abruptly shifts to palace intrigue with a attempt on King Charles' life. Interestingly this seem to consume most of the rest of the book and their love is moved to the side, they get together for a fierce quick 2 page passion every chapter but the rest of the book is about the intrigue. There are lots of twists and turns and it has a great ending! One which you could probably see coming but nevertheless had me grinning like an idiot.
So all in all its a fun book with a strong historical focus without pages and pages of drippy syrupy google-eyed lovers, but I think it could have used more love and romance and I think a chance was missed to do more of the differences between now and then, for example having her be more agressive in bed than was the norm back then or open mouth kissing or whatever would fit with the story.
I enjoyed it and I'm glad I read it.

Breathing Room
Breathing Room
by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Edition: Audio Cassette
2 used & new from CDN$ 168.66

5.0 out of 5 stars A superbly read novel of complex characters, April 22 2003
This review is from: Breathing Room (Audio Cassette)
This book was a joy to listen to, its not terribly exciting in the action sense, it doesn't have long detailed descriptions of sexual action. What it does have is a complex set of characters who reveal themselves and evolve under the power of a love that both try to deny.
First let me congratulate Kate Fleming as the reader, she does a superb job, not only with the voice inflection but conveying the tone of the words, it is worth the audio edition just to hear her read it. Rather than saying "he said disgustedly" she will deliver his lines in a disgusted tone so the words are almost unnecessary. It is treuly amazing how an accomplished reader can enhance the enjoyment of the material itself.
Ren and Isabel are interesting complex characters that I found myself getting more and more involved with as the story progresses. At the start they both are living a kind of fantasy and denying the reality of what they are like. She believes herself perfect and can't tolerate any imperfections in herself, he believes he has no redeeming qualities at all and can't tolerate any hint otherwise. As they come together and start to unravel, the journey is sometimes painful, sometimes joyful and it is only the power of their love that can keep it moving forward. The love that both sees as a threat to their way of life and thus to be avoided at all costs. The tension and change in them is well crafted and made me want to keep listening.
There are some subplots about the mystery at the well and the ex-wife but its mostly about Ren and Isabel.
I heartily recommend this story for anyone who is interested in well-written dialog and interactions and wants to watch two very real seeming people become intertwined and mature.

To the Far Blue Mountains: The Sacketts: A Novel
To the Far Blue Mountains: The Sacketts: A Novel
by Louis L'Amour
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 6.64
98 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars A mixed bag, April 20 2003
I picked up this book because the intro on the back cover sounded good and I've liked almost every L'amour book I've read. Its written in a first person narrative as though he was sitting across from you on the couch telling the story.
The first half of the book is terrific, following his escape from England. We learn of his thirst to be out in the wild open spaces of the newly discovered America, he is falsy accused and is running from the law collecting people to join him as he describes the new beginnings they can have in the New World. Its very tightly written (though I think his escape from prison was way too easy) and you really love the character.
Once the group got to America things changed. In an effort to show the WHOLE life of Barnabas the whole story changes, now we have 50 years of history in 100 pages. So the narrative changes from a day-by-day upbeat story where friends are joining the group to a list of significant events, usually where one of the group dies from an indian raid. It becomes a series of "we built a fort", "xxx died in an indian raid", "the fort burned down", "we went down to sea and traded our skins for supplies", "yyyy died in an indian raid", "we built another fort", etc.
I didn't like the ending either, I think the whole story basically got pretty depressing towards the end with all the group dying or leaving to go off and do other things. All the next generation were grown up and strong but we don't have the emotional connection with them that we did with the first group.

Starfist: Technokill: Book V
Starfist: Technokill: Book V
by David Sherman
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
40 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Good - but not much action, Oct. 3 2000
Fans of rough and tumble action should look elsewhere. The back of the book says "the toughest fighters in Human Space confront their fiercest battle." which is stretching things quite a bit. Basically out of 346 pages there is a 6 page fight with the aliens (who use clubs and 22-caliber rifles!) and a 13 page assault on a spaceship. The whole spaceship sequence was really a dissapointment as the setup was great: a desperate band of pirates, a heavily modified ship with unknown defenses, but with the exception of the bridge the whole ship was taken in 4 pages - and this is most of the big climax to the book!
Obviously the focus of this book in the series is not on combat. It is much more about the characters and the aliens, who are well fleshed out and believable. I tend to prefer action stories which may be why I am harsh on this one, but I also like happy endings with the good guys winning..which makes this one tough for me...I'm trying not to give away too much here, and although it may be more realistic, the whole ending wasn't satisfying to me. The issue with the scientists never was resolved, the issue with Captain Coronado wasn't resolved to my satisfaction and the issue with Corporal Doyle - a very interesting character sure didn't sit well with me...but then I prefer Disney'ish happy endings..so take what I say with a grain of salt.
With all that you may think I didn't like it at all.. not the case, it was a good read, just slower than others, and a lot more info about the universe around the marines, the government, the lives of the pirates and especially the aliens. It wasalso cool that it was specifically a believable sequel to Book 4, with everyone still wandering around wondering about the aliens in that book.
But my interest is primarily action and fighting with cool futuristic weapons. I want my heroes down on the ground slugging it out with the bad guys. Here the Marines don't arrive at the planet until page 148 and really, the whole problem could have been resolved with a couple of knock-out gas bombs - which I would imagine the 25th century Marines have. I'm hoping the next book in the series will have more action....

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