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pontalba's place

Discussion in 'Member Book Reviews/Journals/Blogs' started by pontalba, Mar 29, 2014.

  1. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    Thanks. :) One of my all time favorites is Taylor Caldwell's A Pillar of Iron. Her research was extensive, using actual correspondence between Cicero and Julius Caesar and his (Cicero's) publisher, Atticus......and writings of Cicero for her dialogue.
    Robert Harris's Imperium and Conspirata are also fictional takes on Cicero...they are the first two of a supposed trilogy. Its' been 4 years since Conspirata, so I'm no longer holding my breath for the third. grrrr
    Not directly Roman, but connected would be Pride of Carthage: A novel of Hannibal by David Anthony Durham.
    and Augustus by Anthony Everitt. Non-fiction, a trifle dry, but really well done, and fascinating.
    There is a detective series placed in that time frame by Steven Saylor......I've only read a few, but enjoyed them, mostly.
     
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  2. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    I've started and discarded several books in the last week or so. The latest is Alafair Burke's Angel's Tip, a police procedural that seems rather run of the mill to me. I'm not including it in my list of read books even though I read 68% before discarding it. It's ordinary, pulls all the politically correct strings and generally annoyed me. Plus, I really don't care for stories about serial killers cutting up young women.
    All in all, I found the book rather distasteful. I'm being generous, but a 2/5 rating will suffice for fairness.
     
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  3. Maine Colonial

    Maine Colonial Moderator Staff Member

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    I really dislike serial killer books too. This isn't going to come out sounding right, but I prefer my murders to be more personal. :eek:

    I hope you can find something more appealing for the weekend.
     
  4. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    Thanks, MC. :) I did, sorta, kinda.....

    The Postman, by David Brin 3/5

    Nuclear War survivor, traveler, con man Gordon Krantz searches for a safe place to finally settle, without much success. He doubles as a traveling minstrel, until one day he stumbles upon something that will change both his life and the lives of all he encounters.

    The title of the book tells of his find, a postman, long only skeletal remains. But his uniform and carrying bag remain. Krantz becomes The Postman, first as a con, then slowly he feels the weight of responsibility to what for him is a con game.

    This is the story of the small pockets of humans he encounters, and how something so simple can change the course of a civilization, bit by bit.

    I suppose the big question is....can a lie become the truth? Can people want so much to believe it that the fantasy becomes fact?
     
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  5. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    11/22/63 by Stephen King 4.5/5

    King is most adept at creating just the right amount of tension in this novel. Not enough to scare the reader silly, but enough to keep the leash on, to draw the reader along willingly, to find out what happens next, or more accurately, 50 years ago.

    Jake Epping is an English Literature teacher, loves his work, and is divorced in 2011. How he ends up back in 1958 is an interesting story in itself, but what his mission entails could change the world. Will he succeed? And if so, is that a good thing? Will the past allow itself to be changed? Who is the Yellow Card Man and how does he affect the story?

    There are King's usual tie-ins with at least one of his other books, IT, that lend a creepy ambiance to parts of the book.

    Not a horror story, but a should have, could have, would have been tale of suspense. And enough murder and mayhem to satisfy any reader of thrillers. Oh, and a love story. :) Natch.

    I must add that I've only read 5 or 6 or so of King's books, I haven't gotten into his really creepy books. So, if you're worried about it being too creepy, don't. It isn't.
     
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  6. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda 4/5

    Two teenaged girls set out in an inflatable boat off of the New York City, Red Hook shore. One survives, one does not. The effect of this girl's disappearance in the Red Hook area is described by the author, first in a series of third person narratives focused on each protagonist at the time, then in a more general narrative. The narrative seemed a bit choppy in the beginning, but slowly evened out as we learned the who, what, where and part of the why of everyone's situation.

    Pochoda built the characters realistically, I cared about all of them, and wanted all to succeed in their endeavors. They are a ethnically diverse group, friends of the girls, shopkeepers, and neighborhood people interacting in a very true to life manner. I thought the author described a slice of New York life that is often overlooked in fiction.

    The book was published by Harper Collins under the Dennis Lehane imprint. Lehane's involvement is really the reason I picked it up in the first place. I was not disappointed. Although I've wavered between a 3.5 star and 4 star review, I used the 4 stars above because giving it only three just didn't seem fair, or give it the credit it certainly deserves.

    Recommended.

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    Naoko by Keigo Higashino 4/5

    "He didn't see it coming. At all." The very first line allows the reader know that even though all seems pretty idyllic, that won't last long. Heisuke and Naoko have a happy marriage, and a beautiful daughter, Monami. Their lives are shattered by a horrific accident that takes the life of one of the two latter ones mentioned. It appears that Monami has survived, she is in a coma and when she awakens, refuses to speak. Therein lies the human mystery.

    How these two, Heisuke and Monami, deal with their very unusual situation is the heart of the book. Love and sacrifice are explored, thoroughly.

    I've read two other books by Higashino, The Devotion of Suspect X and Salvation of a Saint. This author knows how humans think and operate, and is able to put that knowledge to use on the page.

    Highly Recommended
     
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  7. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot 3/5

    The World War I French battlefields vie for the most terrible time and place in all of the history of war. Horribly enough so called enemies fight each other, but when your own turn upon you and so callously treat you.....well, that is the epitome of horror.

    Five French soldiers, hands tied behind their backs, accused of self-mutilation to get out of service are put into No Man's Land.....the area between the armies. They are left to die by whatever means the enemy can muster.

    The story revolves around whether or not one, or any, of the men actually manage to survive. The fiancé of one of the men searches for the truth, never giving up until she can find what has actually happened to her man. The Army, for obvious reasons, wants to keep the secret and has done it's bureaucratic best to do so. Her quest forms the nugget of the tale. It takes her into many directions, some false leads and finally, the truth.

    A certain amount of repetition is necessary to the story, but I did find it bit much after a while. I would have appreciated more depth to the characterization of at least the main protagonists. I felt I didn't know any of them as well as I could or should have. In some ways they were stock characters. The plucky heroine, the avuncular family friend, the simple soul, and more.

    I've read several other novels of WWI, recently A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry, which was far more evocative of the feelings and effects of the so called Great War. And there is, of course Pat Barker's fantastic Regeneration Trilogy that just hits the ball right out of the ball park. For me A Very Long Engagement did not show the effects, it told of them. It could have been so much better.
     
  8. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    A few more this weekend.

    A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr 4/5

    Tom Birkin, World War I veteran arrives in the Yorkshire area in the summer of 1920. He is there to uncover and restore a mural in a local church that has been covered over for, probably, hundreds of years. He is the right man for the job, and the bucolic countryside is soothing to his shell shocked psyche.

    The author beautifully portrays a man searching for peace. A man that has been through hell and managed to survive. Barely. The relationships that Birkin forms are healing to his body and his soul. His month in the country is that oasis of peace he so desperately needs.

    Recommended.

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    The Return of the Solider by Rebecca West 4/5

    Chris returns from the WWI battlefields of France, a man that cannot remember his wife, deceased child, or the last 15 years of his life. His last memory before being injured is that of a lost love.

    West beautifully portrays the agony and rethinking of each of their lives. Her prose is evocative, yet rather straightforward. She shows us the agony of the women in Chris's life, and makes us feel it. She shows us the motivations, for good or bad of each woman without telling us.

    Recommended

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    How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny 4/5

    The 9th in Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache series does not disappoint. It (finally!) brings resolution to some of the overarching storylines of the series and opens up fresh possibilities.

    Of course there is a murder that brings Gamache to the beautiful but slightly mysterious village of Three Pines. But Penny's interweaving of the long running stories plays a large part as well. To say more would get into spoiler country.

    Recommended.
     
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  9. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    Drive by James Sallis 4/5

    The protagonist of this story is not named, he is only known by what he does. Drive. He drives. A man alone, not necessarily lonely. He drives stunt cars for the movies, and on the side he sometimes drives a getaway car for burglaries. Nothing else, he isn't in on the planning or execution of said crimes. He drives. But sometimes, as we all know, the best laid plans of mice and men go astray. Involvement, or more importantly, perceived involvement, is inescapable. Blame is laid, consequences follow.
    Sallis grabs the reader by the throat on the first page, and doesn't let go.

    Recommended.

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    Driven by James Sallis 4/5

    The sequel to Sallis's Drive has just as much nail biting action as it's predecessor. It's 7 years later and Drive has taken a name, Paul West. Although we don't see much of that name as Drive has to fade into the background again as sins of the past are catching up to him. Seemingly out of nowhere killers are after him again, and it's a cat and mouse adventure ride. Nothing makes sense to him, the facts just don't jive.
    Sallis, again, gives us a fast paced, concise adventure. Lots of action and lots of driving.
    Recommended.
     
  10. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    Wanted to mention Zone One by Colson Whitehead. Twice I've started and abandoned this book. Both times I've only managed to get to page 23 or 24. Usually not enough to really judge a book, I've thought in the past. However I believe this one has changed my mind. I've had the book since not long after it's 2011 publication. A fellow poster over on Constant Reader (goodreads) spoke of the author being one of the speakers at the annual Key West Seminar. That is held in..........Key West, Florida.....(giggle). It's held in January of the year. She said that he was an excellent and very interesting speaker. She'd read the book and was impressed. Zombies are not her usual thing, so I thought, why not?
    Maybe it's just me. But Colson's level of callousness, casual callousness, is just more than I could take. The aura of those first pages is totally smart aleck and shows a complete disregard for human......anything. Dignity, feeling, substance...you name it. They say, never say never, so I won't, but I do not foresee ever finishing this book. It is truly abandoned. [​IMG]
     
  11. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters 3/5
    If an asteroid is due to smash into the earth in 6 months, does it really matter if an alleged suicide is in fact a murder? What are the moral implications of just letting it go? People are committing suicide left and right, so what's one more or less?

    Hank Palace a newly minted detective in a small town in New Hampshire, United States thinks it matters. He cannot let it go, won't let it go until he finds out what happened. Why it happened, and whodunit.

    The first of a trilogy, The Last Policeman shows how a small town comes to grips with imminent disaster. And how one man can really and truly make a difference.
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    Recoil by Jim Thompson 3/5

    Why would a powerful political insider help a man in prison obtain parole? Could it be out of the goodness of his heart? Or, could there be an ulterior motive? And, is that possible motive be personal or political? This is just what happens in this 1953 neo-noir suspenseful story of corruption.

    How can Patrick Cosgrove, a fairly innocent convict (I know how contradictory that sounds) understand and combat the machinations of a powerful man?

    The story is a bit dated, but the suspense is kept high, and the reader confused. Always a good thing.
     
  12. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    A Dish Taken Cold A Novella by Anne Perry 4/5

    Revenge is a dish best taken cold.
    Anne Perry has sliced off a bit of the French Revolution and personalized it in the form of Celie, a young woman whose baby has died. Malicious gossip, true or not, bends the young woman to find her revenge in a most cold-blooded manner.

    The Revolution itself is a wonderfully drawn character. The madness is certainly felt at every turn.

    Will her revenge succeed? Should it? Take an hour and read it and find out.

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    Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1) 3/5
    Fool Moon (The Dresden Files #2) 3/5
    Grave Peril (The Dresden Files #3) by Jim Butcher 4/5

    Since I read the first three of the Harry Dresden books together, I thought I'd simply write one review.
    Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is the Wizardly incarnation of Sam Spade, wisecracking his way through murders by Werewolves of all stripe, Vampire Queens, Bad Wizards and Faerie Queens, not to mention your run of the mill ghosts, goblins and various and sundry spooks littering the Chicago landscape. Then there is Harry's "home life", a whole 'nuther ball of wax.

    He has a side gig with the Chicago P.D.'s Special Investigations Unit that investigates, um, weirdness. But not all of the Department believes in the um, weirdness, so Harry has his hands full on that field of operation as well.

    Butcher's descriptions, and character sketches are very well done, and the story just pulls the reader along. I had to know what happened. And, how on earth was Harry going to get out of this one.

    These are the only three I've read so far, and I'll certainly read more. They are different enough to keep my interest.
     
  13. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    Dance for the Dead, A Jane Whitefield Novel by Thomas Perry 4/5

    Fast-paced action, beginning to end, with practically unpredictable turns and twists seem to be Thomas Perry's trademark. This is the second in the Jane Whitefield series, an Indian Guide that helps people disappear.

    An 8 year old boy being hunted for his inherited fortune, a con woman on the run, seemingly unconnected but intertwine into an exciting and tension filled chase. Lives are at stake, including Jane's. Her hunt for the perpetrator is danger filled, and frankly scary as heck.

    A wonderfully enjoyable chase and evade story.
    Recommended.

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    Slip & Fall by Nick Santora 3/5

    An honest hardworking man, an honest lawyer. Robert Principe is both, but his honesty isn't paying the mounting bills. Upkeep for his storefront office, his home mortgage and his newly pregnant wife swamp him. In a moment of desperation Principe concocts a flim-flam plan and floats it with his cousin who just happens to be in with the local mobster. Panic ensues and masks are dropped in this tense tale of desperation.

    While the story is somewhat predictable, the tension that Santora keeps up makes this a worthwhile read.
     
  14. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    Well, now I've read the first 5 of the Dresden Files stories by Jim Butcher.
    I'd rate them all either 3/5, or 3.5/5 and have really enjoyed them a lot. I don't know that my ratings really reflect that, but it's what I consider a fair rating anyhow. For me to rate them higher, there would have to be less repetition of certain phraseology, and circumstances.
    I have to believe I'm noticing it more because I've read them practically in a row. They are rather compulsive! [​IMG]

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    I've also read the second in The Last Policeman Trilogy, Countdown City. It was a little slower to begin with, but sped up nicely about a third of the way into the book. I've reviewed the first one above and it could almost qualify as a review for this installment.
    The difference being that this one brings in more conspiracy theories about the asteroid and the government's lack of intervention. Could they, should they, will they? That sort of stuff.
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    Vanishing Act by Thomas Perry. Definitely a 4/5
    The first of the Jane Whitefield series. She is a part Seneca Indian and a guide in the modern world. She helps people that need to hide. They need to get away from someone that is trying to kill them, and they have no other recourse. Jane has the connections.
    This tension filled installment was full of surprises and extremely instructive of Native American History. Perry incorporates the history of her people into the weave of the story beautifully. He makes full use of Jane's talents.
    I don't want to give anything away of the story, so I won't give details, but be prepared to be surprised. [​IMG]
     
  15. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    Supreme Justice by Max Allan Collins 4/5

    A politically Conservative Supreme Court Justice is shot and killed in the course of a robbery of a Washington, D.C. restaurant. But what is the true purpose, the robbery or the killing? Is it an assassination, or an armed robbery turned violent? An FBI/D.C. police department/Homeland Security taskforce is formed immediately. An ex-Secret Service agent, Joseph Reeder, who heads his own private Security agency nowadays is sent the security tape of the robbery. He notices an anomaly in the body language of the Judge just before the shooting that seems to open a path to a new theory.

    Reeder is then attached to the Task Force and he and his new partner try to work their way through the labyrinth of clues, missed opportunities and deaths to find the truth.

    One of the really cool things about the book is the way Collins has inserted a quote from a famous, deceased Supreme Court Justice, or a former President that is applicable to the following chapter. The quote gives of course, the name...but includes the Section, Lot number, and Grid number in which that person is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

    A fast paced thriller that I can certainly recommend
     
  16. steffee

    steffee Active Member

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    Pontalba, I've just read your thread with interest and now have several titles in my Amazon basket. So thank you.

    I did quote something you wrote but seem to have lost it o_O

    Anyway, not to worry. I also don't fancy the title The Husband's Secret, and haven't read it even though I did enjoy What Alice Forgot. And Visitation Street looks very promising. I'd never heard of that before.
     
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  17. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    Ahhh, my work is done! :D
    Glad to see you, thanks for visiting.

    I was torn regarding The Husband's Secret, it isn't my usual cuppa. Something about it really stuck with me though. Even though there were several characters that I thought needed a swift kick to the nether regions. heh.
     
  18. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    Last edited: Jun 8, 2014
  19. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    Flags in the Dust by William Faulkner 5/5++

    This restored version is from the original manuscript and writings of Faulkner, and is the original version of the much truncated novel Sartoris that was published in 1929. That publisher drastically cut Faulkner's book, saying it was six stories and was too complicated. What an outrage.

    Every Faulkner I read simply blows me away with the lyrical quality of his prose. His insight into the workings of the Southern soul is as accurate as an arrow hitting it's bull's-eye, and as kind as a Mother's arms.

    The Sartoris family of Yoknapatawpha County is one of the oldest and best regarded families in the area. This is really the story of the dissolution of a family, and the effects of War in general on impressionable and vulnerable young men. World War I in this case. But the effects of the American Civil War are still felt strongly and affect the dealings and treatment of all involved. Although written in the late 1920's, we also see evidence of the beginning of dissatisfaction with the status quo among the younger black men.

    We have a family friend that reads History. But only contemporaneous tellings are good enough. He says that the later tellings of the events are usually colored by those politically correct wishful thinkers, and of course the winners. While not exactly "history", Faulkner's stories are contemporaneously told, and tell the story as it was then. Not as we wish it could have been, or even should have been, but accurately. Whether it is pretty or not, the story is told. With truth, with honor, and dishonor. It is all told.

    Highly Recommended.
     
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  20. pontalba

    pontalba Well-Known Member

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    Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh 4/5

    Some someone(s) exploded a dirty bomb(s) in New York City, downtown in Times Square, naturally the city just isn't the same. Seemingly the rest of the country is limping along in a fairly normal manner. That isn't discussed much. Only about a quarter of NYC's residents are still there, somehow scraping out some sort of existence. Of course, as usual, the rich have it "better". I'll let that explanation stay in the book for you to discover. It's interesting, I must say. Even innovative, I'd say.

    Garbageman turned hit man, Spademan, is a killer with a attitude that is made quite clear on the first page. "I don't care." He receives a phone call, the money is electronically transferred, and the buyer knows the deed is done when, "The dead guy, that's how."

    Post apocalyptic, on the dystopian side, smart aleck to the Nth degree. Sternbergh dispenses with quotation marks, and some other paraphernalia of grammar. I found that only helped the rather staccato quality of his writing come more alive on the page.

    BTW, it's the first of a proposed series. [​IMG]
    Recommended.
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    Also read a novella by Diana Gabaldon, The Space Between, a novella set between the 7th book, and the upcoming 8th book. It takes place in Paris, France and covers a bit of story line regarding Comte St. Germain (he isn't dead!!, and this isn't a spoiler, as we meet him on the first page) and one of the offspring of Ian Murray's family, Joan. She is crossing to France to become a nun.
    It's vintage Gabaldon, sucks the reader right into it! [​IMG] Drat! [​IMG] def 5/5
     

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