In a steel-and-lead-encased bunker 20 feet below the basement level of his house, a soldier waits for his final orders. On the surface, a plague ravages the planet, infecting over 90% of the populace. The bacterium burrows through the brain, destroying all signs of humanity and leaving behind little more than base, prehistoric instincts. The infected turn into hyper-aggressive predators, with an insatiable desire to kill and feed. Someday soon, the soldier will have to open the hatch to his bunker, and step out into this new wasteland, to complete his mission....
I have never had any interest in the living dead. I have seen a couple movies which, in the end, seemed rather unimaginative in their approach to generating a reliable adrenaline rush and not much more. Still, though I clearly don't share it, I have always recognized that the topic holds an intrinsic fascination for many people beyond the simple shoot-them-in-the-head-and-don't-get-bitten basics of the genre, and perhaps I was missing something I simply had not connected with as yet. So when I saw "The Remaining" at reduced price, I decided to take the plunge and see if I could get used to the water.
Unfortunately nothing about this book gave me any reason to read another zombie thriller, whether it be the next in this series or one of the others which have been so successful lately. Even these supercharged hordes were not enough to make up for the fact that the scope of the plot and the action is so limited by the basic premise. Even when you add the presence of petty local war lords energized by the loss of societal structure, the possibilities of situation and character are sadly circumscribed. A writer, certainly a run of the mill writer, has very little leeway given the requirements of the genre. It is not a formula which encourages really interesting character development or a finely crafted plot.
I suspect that the real appeal of the genre lies in the question, "What would I do and could I survive," and I might be able to get caught up in that challenging world of the imagination if it were not for the fact that nothing about the story line is believable. Main characters make foolish decisions to provide a path to the next confrontation with the hordes or the thugs. Then the characters we are supposed to care about overcome the swarms in completely unrealistic action sequences because they must in order for the story to go on. And the story going on seems, really, to be the actual point of this particular book. It is short and ends very much in the middle of things in hopes that our curiosity will drive the sale of the next in the series. Is that all there is? No, no, there is much much more to come, but I am reasonably certain that none of it will be anything "more" at all. I'm out.
12 of 16 people found this review helpful
Meet Peter Brown, a young Manhattan emergency room doctor with an unusual past that is just about to catch up with him. His morning begins with the quick disarming of a would-be mugger, followed by a steamy elevator encounter with a sexy young pharmaceutical rep, topped off by a visit with a new patient - and from there Peter's day is going to get a whole lot worse and a whole lot weirder.
Josh Bazell stretched my suspension of disbelief well past the breaking point on several occasions, but I was having so much fun listening that I really did not care. Resident physician with a dark past as a mafia hit man who only hit really naughty people. Gritty realism it ain't, but it is paced perfectly, lasts just long enough to avoid becoming tiresome, is read brilliantly, and manages to surprise in a series of grotesque but strangely satisfying ways. If you are sensitive to gore or street language, give it a pass, but otherwise you might find it a perfect diversion when you need something light and a little outrageous.
15 of 20 people found this review helpful
Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive - and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plainold "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.
Normally I would not write a review for a book with so many 5 star reviews already in place, but I had never heard of this book, and I would like to point it out to anyone who reads my reviews. The story is consistently engaging both because of the man marooned on Mars situation and because the first person narrative is a wonderful blend of desperation, temporary triumphs and, above all, self deprecating humor. The book is extremely well read, the perfect voice for the central character, and there are really no places in which the momentum sags. The bonus, for people who love science and engineering, is that the the entire thing is scientifically detailed without ending up sounding like a text book or lecture. I am stingy with 5 star ratings, but this book does what it sets out to do with terrific skill and I recommend it very highly.
47 of 63 people found this review helpful
A stunning look at World War II from the other side.... From the turret of a German tank, Colonel Hans von Luck commanded Rommel's 7th and then 21st Panzer Division. El Alamein, Kasserine Pass, Poland, Belgium, Normandy on D-Day, the disastrous Russian front - von Luck fought there with some of the best soldiers in the world. German soldiers. Awarded the German Cross in Gold and the Knight's Cross, von Luck writes as an officer and a gentleman.
Hans von Luck's memoir is heavy on unit maneuvers and very light on the sort of combat detail and anecdote which makes Stephen Ambrose's writing so compelling in "Band of Brothers." One learns almost nothing about what it was like to go into battle inside a Panzer tank either tactically or from the standpoint of moment by moment experience. Very serious devotees of military history will, however, be extremely pleased with his comprehensive description of the movements of his battalions or regiments in each of their engagements especially since he was involved in so many of the crucial campaigns of the European war. He also provides a window into the workings and mindset of the Wehrmacht from the first shots of the invasion of Poland right through to the allies' inexorable advance on Berlin. We get a fascinating view of the culture of the professional military as it was confronted with command decisions ultimately in thrall to an obsessed ego maniac.
Along the way von Luck introduces us to a long series of individuals who played a variety of roles in his wartime experience. Occasionally these characters are brought to life in colorful anecdotes; at times they seem like instances of simple name dropping, and very often they are plainly heartfelt acknowledgements of revered comrades.
For me the most satisfying part of the book was the account of the author's years in Soviet prison camps. He does a fine job of bringing us into a unique world about which few others have written. I found it fascinating and often surprising.
Finally, Bronson Pinchot does an extraordinary job of narrating the book. As a theatre professional for my entire life I know that there are very few real experts on dialect. This is because there is a huge range of authentic variety in the dialects for any language. There are, in fact, dozens of German accents just as there are dozens of "southern" accents in the U.S. For a voice actor the challenge is to find one which fits the character and master it so that you can be consistent and use the language effectively to express a wide spectrum of emotion and intention. I continue to be deeply impressed by Pinchot's ability to do this with such great facility.
6 of 11 people found this review helpful
On the first Sunday in December 1941, an armada of Japanese warplanes appeared suddenly over Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and devastated the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Six months later, in a sea fight north of the tiny atoll of Midway, four Japanese aircraft carriers were sent into the abyss. Pacific Crucible tells the epic tale of these first searing months of the Pacific war, when the U.S. Navy shook off the worst defeat in American military history and seized the strategic initiative.
Toll's research is impressive and he writes superbly. What's more, Grover Gardner delivers the book with his usual precise craft, and I could happily have listened for far more than the 22 hours it took to take us from the approaches to Pearl Harbor to the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Midway. In fact, I wanted to since I was somewhat disappointed to find that, while the title promises "1941-1942," the account actually only covers the first six months of the Pacific naval war. Thus it wraps up months before the vital actions surrounding the holding of Guadalcanal. I would gladly have exchanged the prolonged biographical material on political and military leaders on both sides of the conflict, for more detailed accounts of the naval struggles at the Santa Cruz Islands and Iron Bottom Sound.
Still, it is probably churlish to complain that a terrific writer has not aligned his focus with your particular predilections. This is a very well written piece of history, and anyone interested in the rest of 1942 will find an extremely fine account in "Neptune's Inferno" by James D. Hornfischer.
10 of 11 people found this review helpful
Between April and July 1944, Truman Smith flew 35 bombing missions over France and Germany. He was only 20 years old. Although barely adults, Smith and his peers worried about cramming a lifetime's worth of experience into every free night, each knowing he probably would not survive the next bombing mission. Written with blunt honesty, wry humor, and insight, The Wrong Stuff is Smith's gripping memoir of that time.
I suspect I could have sat happily by the fire listening to Tru Smith tell stories of his service in the 8th Air Force for countless evenings without ever tiring of the experience. This is a fascinating man who lived through a harrowing time doing his duty with growing skill, fatalistic courage and even a good deal of style and humor. One can, however, respect his sterling qualities as a B17 jockey and as a man without having to admire his writing style, which is pedestrian and sometimes wanders, or his choice of narrators which was unfortunate. I found the content of the book, especially the detailed accounts of his adventures in and out of the air, worth the time it took to listen, though I think another voice could have dressed Smith's words up so that they were even more engaging.
4 of 10 people found this review helpful
Frank Machianno is a late-middle-aged ex-surf bum who runs a bait shack on the San Diego waterfront. An affable Italian with a love of people and life, he's a stand-up businessman, devoted father, and a beloved fixture in the community. He's also a hit man - specifically, a retired hit man. Back in the day when he was one of the most feared members of the West Coast Mafia, he was known as Frankie Machine.
I love Don Winslow's nearly flawless prose style and the way his vivid and colorful characters elicit strong responses in the reader or listener. The ability to attach us powerfully to a character was particularly important for a story built around a mobster hit man, but I had no problem hanging in Frankie's corner to the end. Still, this was definitely not my favorite outing with Winslow. The long string of flashbacks interspersed with an ongoing cat and mouse game playing out in the present felt a little clunky to me in this instance, though the author has used it more effectively elsewhere. In addition, well before we reached the final confrontation it had become fairly clear where we were heading and who would be involved, and Frankie had been established as so superior to his adversaries in every way that it was next to impossible to work up any tension or suspense in any of the episodes. One is reduced to enjoying the mechanisms he uses to frustrate the poor klutzes who pursue him.
Even with my reservations, I still enjoyed Frankie Machine's winter's tale. Winslow's best is a high bar to set. There is plenty to enjoy and savor even in his lesser efforts.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
Lalu Nathoy's father called his thirteen-year-old daughter his treasure, his "thousand pieces of gold," yet when famine strikes northern China in 1871, he is forced to sell her. Polly, as Lalu is later called, is sold to a brothel, sold again to a slave merchant bound for America, auctioned to a saloonkeeper, and offered as a prize in a poker game. This biographical novel is the extraordinary story of one woman's fight for independence and dignity in the American West.
Clearly Lalu (later Polly) Nathoy was an extraordinary woman. Sold into slavery by bandits in China, she survived and ended up thriving in the hostile, alien Idaho frontier at the turn of the last century. Unfortunately this fictionalized account of her life is fragmented and disjointed as well as being somewhat sentimental and less than artful stylistically. Perhaps the author could not find enough reliable material to tell the story with the continuity and depth it deserved and did not want to invent enough to fill in the huge gaps, sometimes of a decade or more. In that case, straight historical reportage would have been preferable to giving us neither the simple facts nor a satisfying story arc. The narrative as is leaves the reader thinking, "Hunh? What happened in between?" The episodes which make up the book are often fascinating; still I would not recommend it, though I would love to read more about the resourceful and inspiring heroine.
11 of 13 people found this review helpful
In the wake of civil war, Bren Cameron, the brilliant human diplomat of the alien atevi civilization, has left the capital and sought refuge at his country estate, Najida. But now he is trapped inside Najida - which has been surrounded by enemies - with the powerful grandmother of his ally, Tabiniaiji, atevi leader of the Western Association. Ilisidi, the aiji-dowager, is not inclined to be passive and sends Bren into enemy territory, to the palace of the leader of the rebels.
C.J.Cherryh is an established and revered master of the SF/F genre so, not having read any of her work for a while, I snapped up this book and its sequel when I saw them on sale. Unfortunately that was a mistake. This is the 13th book in the series, the first in the 5th three book sequence, and I was almost completely lost for over half of the nearly thirteen hours it took to finish listening. Joining in the middle of any series is difficult and ill-advised, but Cherryh made it an almost insurmountable task in this case. She creates extremely intricate and fully realized worlds for her stories, including an entirely alien system of names and titles, a culture which is completely distinct from humanity, and byzantine social and political structures which, while brilliant in their conception and consistency, resist every effort to understand them when joining a narrative "in medias res." Add to that the difficulty of retaining it all as spoken without being able to see the alien terms on the page, and the result was glassy-eyed bewilderment. All of Cherryh's literary assets of imagination, plot integration and subtlety of effect conspired to make it a real chore to get through the book.
In addition this is a book about diplomacy with dozens of factions involved and with years of history undergirding it. There is virtually no overt action. The leading character comes across as unassailable in his skills of negotiation and persuasion so that we never really fear an unfavorable outcome. The arc of the narrative is long, uninterrupted and without a great deal of suspense. In context with the precedent events of the four earlier three book sequences, I have no doubt it fascinates and delights, but even given Cherryh's superbly drawn characters and evocative descriptions of settings, it was at times tedious.
It's unfair to ask an author to overcome the obstacle a reader faces when starting in the middle of a series, but we often do it anyway, don't we. Usually we lose something but get up to speed fairly quickly and perhaps decide to go back later and pick up what we missed. Please heed the warning, however. If you ever have the urge to sample the Foreigner series, do not even consider starting here. I began it at the beginning many years ago and lapsed. I think I will go back and pick it up again at the proper place now.
9 of 12 people found this review helpful
For Australians, Kokoda is the iconic battle of World War II, yet few people know just what happened and just what our troops achieved. Now, best-selling author Peter FitzSimons tells the Kokoda story in a gripping, moving story for all Australians.
I had never heard of Kokoda before listening to this book. That is a shame. I am not likely to forget the name now. This is one of the more amazing chapters in the annals of war.
It is very much a story of the indomitable spirit of common soldiers called upon to perform impossible tasks with inferior equipment, little or no training, some of the worst terrain in the entire world and stupid, pig-headed leadership at the highest level. FitzSimons does a fine job of keeping us engaged with the narrative even as the action of the men on the ground is reduced to an interminable, repetitious slog between indefensible positions which are held in the face of overwhelming odds and casualties only to be given up as the serial holding actions continue. He does this by giving us detailed and moving accounts of individuals and etching in our minds indelible images of moments of extraordinary heroism and gallantry. Nor does he fail to include Japanese participants among these glimpses of war's exquisite anguish. In addition we are regularly taken to the rear to witness the unpardonable, ego-driven pig-headedness of MacArthur and the Australian high command which failed the troops in almost every way.
This is an account made all the more gripping because it played such a pivotal role in turning the tide of the Japanese expansion in the South, holding the door shut while the U.S. put Marines in place on Guadalcanal where they would dig in to face their own ghastly ordeal. Without Kokoda, there would have never been a victory at Guadal and the war would doubtless have lasted significantly longer. The poorly trained, unprepared, mostly unsupported men of the Australian home defense forces at Kokoda deserve to be remembered with reverence, and this book tells their story brilliantly. I highly recommend it.
14 of 16 people found this review helpful