reviews

Sunday, June 11, 2017

is it too late for the united states?

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth CenturyOn Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a primer on how to avoid letting the United States (and any other democracy) fall into tyranny. He uses the many lessons of the 20th century to demonstrate how easy it is to let democracy slip away. If you don’t think it can happen here, Professor Snyder points out: “The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands.”

His prescription isn’t easy. It involves actual thinking and avoiding knee-jerk reactions to every outrage, real or imagined. It involved paying attention to what’s real and ignoring the distractions thrown up by would-be tyrants to obfuscate the real issues. It involves not tolerating bigotry, discrimination, and bullshit, and calling them out wherever one sees it. It involves supporting the real press, the investigative journalists, and other truth tellers.

Snyder points out that tactics employed by Trump during is rallies are precisely the same tactics Hitler used in his rise to power. He cautions that the rise of a paramilitary echoes the SS. And he stresses that so many people allow tyranny to take root because it’s the easy way.

It’s a deeply disturbing book. And painful to read. But also inspiring—there are things we can do to help avoid our slide into tyranny. I wish more people would read it.

posted by lee on 06/11/17 at 04:24 PM

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

when will there be good news

When Will There Be Good News? (Jackson Brodie, #3)When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book introduces a character I like even more than Jackson Brodie: Reggie, a smart, loyal, and resourceful 16-year-old girl strives to do the right thing while dealing with the worst circumstances.

This novel, like the earlier two in the series, is far from perfect. Sometimes there are just too many details and too many characters, sometimes there’s not enough detail about the characters who drive the plot. Not every thread is wrapped up or resolved—you can only hope things are resolved in the next JB novel (which I will read as soon as I can download it from the library) or, hopefully, the one after that. (These really are not standalone books—you’ll get very lost if you don’t read them in order.)

I love the humor of the characters. I love learning more about the characters—even the ones that are, really, unnecessary to the plot, such as Louise (she was introduced in JB2, and was unnecessary there, too) other than getting Jackson out of a sticky spot or two. (I like her, and hope it ends up well for her—she deserves a happy resolution.)

The story revolves around a 30-year-old massacre of a family leaving one survivor, a killer, a train wreck, an orphan, and fierce loyalty to loved ones. There are very sad events, some brutal events, and plenty of humor and hope. It left me wanting to know what happens next.

posted by lee on 05/20/17 at 03:38 PM

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

one good turn

One Good Turn (Jackson Brodie, #2)One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is what happens after “Case Studies,” with two the same characters: Jackson Brodie and Julia (who has become Jackson’s sort-of girlfriend). Brodie has moved to France, but gives the impression that he’s kind of bored with it. He’s in Edinburgh for a festival because Julia is performing in a play. While there, he witnesses a road rage incident, which spins out to having all sorts of repercussions.

In the meantime, a very rich but very criminal home developer who is about to be taken down for fraud has a heart attack while with a woman providing “favors” and his wife, Gloria, decides she doesn’t want to be bothered by his employees and minions so tells them he’s off somewhere. This appears to be a side story, but ...

Jackson, while doing a bit of sightseeing, comes across the body of a drowned woman, but loses it (the body, I mean) as he’s trying to pull it away from the incoming tide. This sets up a the introduction of Louise, a Scottish cop (and her son, Archie, and his bad friend, Hamish). And very interesting character, though it’s hard to see what she ads to the actual plot. Even after everything is resolved, Louise seems to be a set-up for a future Jackson Brodie book. Which is fine—I like her, just don’t see the point of her character in this particular tale. Events involving Louise and her son just kind of hang. Unresolved threads here. Maybe for the next JB novel (which I will download next).

A central theme revolves around matryoshka (the Russian dolls that stack inside each other), and indeed the entire plot is matryoshka. It all makes sense in the end, though it’s kind of dizzying while in process.

What I enjoy a lot about the way Atkinson spends a lot of time with the inner stories of many, but not all, of the characters. Some people say it bogs down the plot too much, but I think the characters’ development is the point of Atkinson’s Brodie books and not so much the plot, and I enjoy this.

There was one reference to “Case Studies” that did bother me, and that was in reference to one of the characters in that novel, her ultimate fate—seemed gratuitous and pointless. I won’t get into it because I don’t want to spoil “Case Studies” for anyone.

The main problem I have with this, and with “Case Studies,” is the plots do not quite resolve. Things are left hanging; some answers are just assumptions the reader draws based on hints. I don’t know yet if this is planned or if it’s just weak storytelling (or laziness) on Atkinson’s part. Or I’m just nitpicky. Maybe this novel ties up in the next ... ?

posted by lee on 05/10/17 at 02:08 PM

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

case studies

Case Histories (Jackson Brodie, #1)Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not your usual detective novel—it’s more of a series of character studies, I think, several stories that somehow all get connected. After I read the case histories (there are three in the beginning, and one more further in), and I was getting into the story, I was a little confused at first. But I like the “hero,” Jackson Brodie, and I especially like the way Atkinson draws you into each character when she limns their inner dialogues, the real thoughts that show who the person really is. It reminds me a lot of Stephen King’s writing, where he managed to make the characters seem like real people, people you actually know.

In this book, the stories of the survivors are more important than the whodunnit and really, much more interesting. And funny, and in some cases, sad.

I liked it so much I downloaded the second Jackson Brodie novel from the library.

posted by lee on 04/30/17 at 01:54 AM

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

a criminal defense

A Criminal DefenseA Criminal Defense by William L. Myers Jr.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well-written and interesting, but ultimately preposterous. Much too convoluted and contrived and too many things had to fall perfectly into place for the resolution to work. But it’s well-written and it kept me reading because I wanted to see how it all resolved.

posted by lee on 03/11/17 at 02:31 AM

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Tuesday, March 07, 2017

planet earth 2

Flamingoes - San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, BBC America Planet Earth 2
Flamingoes,San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, Justin Anderson (click to see it big!)

We’ve been watching Planet Earth II—and it’s just as beautiful as Planet Earth, first aired back in March 2007 in the United States.

My only quibble is sometimes the music gets twee—I loathe that. I like David Attenborough fine as the narrator, though I would be just as happy with Sigourney Weaver as narrator as she was in the 2007 US version of Planet Earth. I also like that they are pointing out the effects of climate change and encroaching development on the habitats.

In the first episode, Islands, the flight of the baby marine iguanas in Fernandina, Galápagoes to reach their parents without being eaten by waiting racer snakes was very exciting—better than a car chase by far. And in episode 2, Mountains, the flamingoes in the Atacama Desert was my favorite part. In the most recent episode, Jungles, I loved the Wilson bird of paradise mating ritual in West Papua, Indonesia. I’m looking forward to the next episode, Deserts, on Saturday.

posted by lee on 03/07/17 at 05:00 PM

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Saturday, March 04, 2017

the sleepwalker

The Sleepwalker (Sleepwalker, #1)The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Sleepwalker a really good read Probably 4.5 stars. An interesting mystery centered around a disorder I knew almost nothing about. I really liked the characters, the pacing, the layering on of clue after clue.

My only quibble is probably unfair as I wanted to know more about what happened afterwards, details and not just broad strokes. I won’t say any more as I don’t want to inadvertently spoil it for other readers.

posted by lee on 03/04/17 at 02:19 AM

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

the circle (the book)

The CircleThe Circle by Dave Eggers

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Interminable. This took sooo loong to get through—it’s like reading a series of press releases. Raised a lot of interesting ideas, to be sure, but damn it’s a repulsive book with an even more repulsive “heroine.” Technology as psychopathy. The problem is Eggers beats you over the head with it, with a really stupid ending. The worst part is the premise is not that far-fetched.

posted by lee on 01/24/17 at 02:36 AM

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

a death in sweden

A Death in SwedenA Death in Sweden by Kevin Wignall

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Very enjoyable reading despite a number of flaws.

It’s hard to root for the Good Guy when you understand his profession, which is someone who works for intelligence agencies and governments to find people and send them off to one of those secret CIA prisons or two whatever venue his boss desires. For a lot of money.

The flaws are things like dialogue: it’s difficult to figure out who’s speaking as the punctuation is so badly done. There are rules for punctuating dialogue and they’re used for a reason.

And flaw of the premise: the Bad Guy, some Berlin-based station chief for the CIA, is systematically having former freelancers who worked for the CIA killed for no apparent reason. All of Good Guy’s friends, and of course, he is on the list. He has to figure out how to get off the list—which is one thread of the story. Bad Guy has to keep hiring freelancers because so many are getting killed—seems like kind of a bad policy for getting things done—I mean, sooner or later the pool of available hit men is going to dry up when it shakes out of the grapevine that if you work for Bad Guy, you’ll get murdered.

The other thread is that Good Guy is sent to Sweden to investigate the death of a guy in a bus crash. Turns out this guy wasn’t who everyone claimed he was. He was hiding in the woods of Sweden for years, and part of the plot of this story is to find out who he really was, why he was hiding, what he was doing—and finding this all out, solving the mystery of why he was doing it. Which is fine—this is the interesting part.

There is, of course, a Swedish bombshell involved (I guess a Good Guy would only fall for a bombshell, not a non-bombshell but intelligent woman, or maybe only bombshells work for the Swedish version of the CIA or whatever it’s supposed to be. Such a cliche—getting really tired of it.)

Just wonder, too, why bodies dropping all over Europe, cars being blown up, etc., never seem to get the attention of the local cops or newspapers. Also, there is no apparent rationale for several of the murders done by our Good Guy. And there is his current boss, Patrick, not sure at all where he fit in or what his company initials stand for. Best I could tell is he’s the placement guy for the Mercenary Spy Temp Agency.

I won’t go into much more about it, but I just wonder if some of the people in this story never heard of the internet or YouTube. You will figure out the answer to the mystery—that too is a bit of a cliche.

This is not to say I didn’t enjoy reading this—I did. It was well-written enough for me to really get into it, and I will probably read more by Kevin Wignall.

posted by lee on 12/14/16 at 02:45 AM

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

optimum (cablevision) & “loyal customers”

The other day we received a letter from optimum letting us know that our promotion was about to end and, because we’re such loyal customers (Stanley since 1982!) they are going to extend the promotion. However, our bill will go up $15 per month.

First, we couldn’t figure out what promotion they’re talking about. We have Triple Play, a bundle package that allegedly saves some money if you combine all three. Plus we have the gold package. No promotions. We thought.

So I called. They claim, now, that Triple Play is a promotion, not a bundle package—guess they changed their mind about this since we signed up for it about, I don’t know, 8-10 years ago? For loyal customers, they said, they didn’t end this promotion, just turned it into a “step-up” promo and didn’t just revert the rates to “regular” rates. I asked what the regular rates are for getting three services at the same time, but nobody could tell me and it’s not found on their website, anywhere. I asked why we, as loyal, long-term customers, can’t get the new two-year Triple Play rate. Because, the guy said, we’re not new customers.

I asked how having to pay $15 more per month is any kind of a reward for customer loyalty. Got a bunch of bullshit from the customer service guy. No matter how I asked, or what I asked, I got the same answer, which was no answer at all. So I asked to speak with his supervisor.

Spoke with the supervisor—he called me back. Cablevision is, for the most part, pretty good about calling back, etc. After the same story, where he wouldn’t (or couldn’t) budge on that $15 price hike, I asked to speak with someone who could actually do something.

A while later, he called me back again and said his supervisor said to give me a one-time credit of $180 to cover the price increase over 12 months. Which they did—it’s already applied to our bill. Don’t know why the first person I spoke with couldn’t apply that same discount.

We still pay too much money for cable—and I still deeply resent having to pay $5.98 per month for sports programming since we never, ever watch sports. I want to be able to select the channels I want to pay for—ESPN would NOT be one of them. And it would be a breathe of fresh air if, for real, Cablevision actually did have a customer loyalty program where we could get a significant price break. I wish there were competition. We can’t get Fios, it’s not available, and Frontier is a joke (our clients stuck with Frontier hate it). Optimum claims without the “promotion” our internet connection would be $50/month instead of $30. Which makes no sense.

After dealing with “customer service” at Cablevision, we got a survey to fill out. I did. I was blunt: loyal customers don’t get rewarded by Cablevision. Nope. We get screwed.

So, this afternoon, yet another rep called, to thank me for my “valuable” input, to reiterate the same line of bullshit that enraged me the first five times I heard it. He offered to send the latest modem version since ours is so old, and a wireless router which is, supposedly, ours to keep. I accepted—I doubt we will use the router since Stanley says you have to go through Cablevision to set it up and he’d rather just buy a new router (ours is getting a little long in the tooth).

The rep asked if there was anything else he could do. I told him, “lower my bill.” Ha! I am not appeased. I’m not unhappy with the services themselves—good connections and good service. I’m deeply unhappy with the prices they charge and the bullshit they spew about “customer loyalty.”

posted by lee on 08/15/15 at 12:59 PM

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