Pelecanos, George P. The Double.

NY: Little, Brown, 2013.

This is the second entry in the author’s new series set in the nation’s capital and it maintains both the frenetic pace and the often dark psychological tone of the first one. Spero Lucas is an adopted Greek, a Marine vet of Iraq, and both an investigator for an attorney and a finder of lost cash and goods for anyone willing to pay his forty percent recovery fee. And while he makes a pretty good living, it’s not really about the money for him. It’s about the danger and the action, the buzz he got clearing houses in Fallujah.

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Harris, Robert. An Officer and a Spy.

NY: Knopf, 2013.

Harris is very good at thoughtful, carefully researched historical novels, whether they’re set in ancient Rome or in the 20th century. This time, he undertakes to tell the story of Alfred Dreyfus, Alsatian Jew and captain in the French army in the 1890s, who was accused and convicted of treason — spying for the Germans — and who was packed off to Devil’s Island (reopened especially for him) as an object lesson to everyone else.

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Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome.

NY: Liveright, 2015.

Until recently, Beard wasn’t that well-known outside the world of academic classicists, her occasional appearances on BBC notwithstanding. Then this engaging and engrossing volume of her thoughts on the Roman republic and the early empire came out after (literally) fifty years in the making, and everyone’s reading it. She may have done more for popular interest in ancient Rome than any writer since Gibbon.

First, she makes it clear that this is not a complete history of the 1,500 years of Rome’s existence in various forms. She’s interested mostly in the city’s establishment and the slow, nearly mythical formation of the Republic from its period of what were essentially warlords and gangsters. And she ends with Caracalla’s extension of citizenship to all free people within the empire in 212 CE, because after that it was an entirely different game with different rules, and not really “Roman” any more.

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Kearsley, Susanna. The Shadowy Horses.

NY: Bantam, 1997.

I read a great deal, in nearly every genre and flavor of fiction, and I strongly disagree with the elitists who insist that certain entire categories of books simply aren’t worth their time. That’s pure snobbery, and it’s generally based on prejudice, not experience. Because a book is either well-written or it isn’t, and while there are plenty of books that I haven’t bothered to finish, and certain authors whose repeated lame attempts I have learned (usually) to avoid, the occasional losers are spread across the whole of literature. There are almost always books in any niche that are worth your time. And this one, a romance novel with a strong psychic flavor, is one of them.

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Anvil, Christopher. Pandora’s Planet.

Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972.

Anvil never really hit the big time, but he was a popular author in the 1970s and ’80s, when he was a regular contributor to ANALOG. His signature style was wry and ironic observations and commentary about those irritating humans, and this novel (his third) is filled with that sort of thing. It’s an original on the “invasion of Earth” theme, in that the Centrans (who somewhat resemble humanoid lions) conquer our planet — but just barely.

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Yukimura, Makoto. Planetes. Vol. 2.

Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2016.

The first volume, in which we met Hachi Hoshino, orbital garbage man, and the debris-collection crew of which he is a part, was an amazing combination of plot, narrative, characterization, philosophy, and nicely done, very clean art to support it all. The overarching theme there was the preparation for the seven-year exploratory voyage to Jupiter, and Hachi’s determination to be a part of it, no matter what.

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Lord, Walter. Day of Infamy.

NY: Holt, 1957.

Lord was one of the best popular historians of the mid-20th century, best known for his classic books on the Titanic and the San Francisco earthquake and the major events of World War II. And seventy-five years ago last December an event took place after which the entire world changed completely and forever: The Japanese sneak attack on the American naval presence in Hawaii. It brought the U.S. into the war, all isolationist thoughts forgotten, with a thirst for revenge. (No one these days announces they’re about to go to war, but in 1941, Americans were still outraged at being jumped from behind.) And that did, indeed, change everything.

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Published in: on 27 March 2017 at 7:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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Corey, James S.A. Caliban’s War.

NY: Orbit Books, 2012.

This second volume in the space-opera series “The Expanse” is at least as good as the first. The manufactured alien life form known as the “protomolecule” has been sidetracked to Venus instead of striking Earth, thanks to the fatalistic heroism of Detective Miller of Ceres, and our neighboring planet is undergoing major changes that no one understands. Captain Jim Holden and his tiny crew, hardcore survivors all, are working their way around the system in their stolen/salvaged Martian Navy assault ship, acting as enforcers for the rebellious Outer Planets Alliance, which is now on the way to becoming an actual goverment for the Asteroid Belt.

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Cole, Allan & Chris Bunch. The Court of a Thousand Suns.

NY: Ballantine, 1985.

This is the third volume in the ongoing military career of Sten (no first name) in the service of the Eternal Emperor in the 40th Century. The first two volumes, which began with young Sten’s successful quest for revenge and his early career in the Guard and then in the super-secret Mantis Corps, were pretty good action/adventure space opera, but this effort is considerably weaker.

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Roach, Mary. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War.

NY: Norton, 2016.

Roach has become known for her popular science journalism which combine a dorky sense of humor with an investigative journalist’s endless curiosity. She likes short, punchy titles and her subject matter often is not for the squeamish: The first book of hers I read was Stiff, about cadavers.

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Published in: on 1 March 2017 at 7:53 am  Leave a Comment  
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