DoK’s Eclectic Book Reviews

A Clash of KingsA Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Masterful storytelling, engaging characters, and enough plot twists to keep the pages turning far into the night.

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A Game of Thrones  (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great writing, an engaging story, memorable characters, and a plethora of plot twists make for an entertaining — albeit long — read. Sure, some turns may seem contrived, but it is a fantasy after all.

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An engaging topic, young love blossoms in spite of prejudice and bigotry, only to be undone by adults’ misguided intervention. The point of view of the adolescent youth is well portrayed, and it appears that the details of the 1942 environment are accurate.

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Calico JoeCalico Joe by John Grisham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nice story about fathers, sons, and baseball, with no wasted pitches or intentional walks. Four seamers and cutters abound, and not just on the field. Good use of real baseball facts and actual 1970s major league players as minor characters. All in all an entertaining read, much like an afternoon at the ball park.

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Black WingsBlack Wings by Kathleen Jabs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“It was easy to get caught up in ceremony, pride, the desire not to bring disgrace or tamper with a legacy…A lot of things that should happen never did.”
An engaging, page-turning tale that dares to break icons and unearth the ugliness of intolerance disguised as honor. As a retired Navy flight surgeon, I applaud the author’s sensitive yet honest depiction of a complicated period in our service’s storied history. By exposing the sometimes dirty belly of those mighty wings that fly, Ms. Jabs also honors the women and men of courage and commitment who left positive marks on the Navy legacy and core values.
A provocative read for anyone — military or otherwise — who appreciates a good story about flawed yet intrepid heroes who dare to pursue their dreams; who forge ahead unafraid to find truth, wherever it may hide.

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The Prince of TidesThe Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A moving story about the full gamut of the human condition, born and raised and defiled and redeemed within a stubborn, harsh subculture. Lyrical description, superbly written – the story is worth not only reading but feeling. It should strike a chord in the heart and mind of anyone whose life has been less than perfect…and teaches that those who espouse their own perfect pasts are either liars or just cannot remember the truth.

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The Book Case (Bibliomysteries, # 4)The Book Case by Nelson DeMille

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An entertaining novelette featuring DeMille’s long-time protagonist, John Corey, in his earlier days as an NYPD detective. The writing is vintage DeMille, laced with dry humor and witty aphorisms (E.g., “Never have sex with a woman who has more problems that you do.”). Nice twist at the end.

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In One PersonIn One Person by John Irving

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am an unabashed John Irving fan, so I expected to enjoy the book when I started it. I did not expect it to be so amazing, on so many different levels. While some may be uncomfortable with the topic of sexual diversity and discovery, the story remains compelling. Simply approach the book with open mind and heart, and you will not be disappointed.
“If you have to be intolerant of something, be intolerant of intolerance.”

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The Summer BoyThe Summer Boy by Ray Rhamey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An entertaining page-turner about teenagers coming of age in Texas. Two city boys hire on as summer help on a ranch near Kerrville in the hill country. As they learn the lifestyle and chores of the ranching trade, they also face the challenges of emerging manhood, young love, sexual discovery, a dysfunctional family, and, well, a murder or two. The author adroitly portrays the adolescent awkwardness and angst of his protagonist, Jesse, and also his grit and courage. Jesse begins the summer as a naive boy, but arcs into a young man by August. His love interest, Lola, compels as a sensual teenager challenged by her own emerging sexuality, her abusive mother, and her lecherous uncle. She also grows through the summer, as her competitive spirit spurs her to become an independent young adult in spite of her over-controlling mother.
I read this book because I enjoy Mr. Rhamey’s writing blog, “Flogging the Quill,” in which he advocates for high tension, precise writing, and compelling action to motivate the reader to turn the page. “The Summer Boy” does exactly that. I couldn’t stop turning pages until the end.

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Larry Bond's Red Dragon Rising: Shock of WarLarry Bond’s Red Dragon Rising: Shock of War by Larry Bond

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This third book in the series presents less structure, tension, and character development than the first two. Nevertheless, a thought-provoking read; and introduces a nascent love story.

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Heat Wave (Nikki Heat, #1)Heat Wave by Richard Castle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A delightful and clever spin-off from the popular television series, “Castle.” Penned by the fictional Richard Castle, the novel’s layered sub-texts portray Detective Nikki Heat (based on Castle’s inspiration, Detective Kate Beckett) and her relationship with journalist Jameson Rook (Castle’s doppelganger). Just like the fictional novelist Castle rides along with Detective Beckett, so his fictional alter-ego, Rook, tails Detective Heat. From the TV series, we know of Castle’s infatuation with Beckett, which is also reflected in Rook’s fascination with Detective Heat. The cleverness lies in Castle’s writing from Nikki Heat’s point of view, portraying his own idealization of how he would hope that Kate Beckett feels about him. That and an engaging crime mystery — with plot twists and complex nefarious characters typical of the “Castle” series — makes for an entertaining read. And, yes, as mentioned several times in the TV series, there is a sex scene.

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The Mullah's StormThe Mullah’s Storm by Tom Young

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An imaginative, fast-paced story with plenty of action and plot twists. Main character a bit too sniveling for me, unlike the confident military aviators I’ve known. I like the female character, and would have enjoyed seeing some of the story from her POV.

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The Art of FieldingThe Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Three and half stars, because I liked some parts and really liked others. I enjoyed the mix of baseball and literature, the prose (for the most part), and the conflicted characters (for the most part). The story did bog down a bit in the middle, but picked up the pace nicely in the final quarter. The baseball and Melville metaphors didn’t always work, and the plot took maybe one too many twists at the end. But all in all a good read, along the lines of “The Marriage Plot.”

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The Buddha in the AtticThe Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Some of us enjoy this book because we live(d) in Japan. Some of us enjoy this book because we know and respect Japanese people. Some of us relate personally to this book because we know Japanese people similar to the ones portrayed in the story. Some of us enjoy this book because we have Japanese friends. A few of us love this book because it tells stories that remind us of cherished Japanese friends. Some of us enjoy this story about two cultures becoming like one. And a few of us love this book because we know and love the inner beauty, serenity, honesty, and innate strength of Japanese women.
In a lyrical style replete with rich visual images, Ms. Otsuka weaves an engaging tale of human experience that transcends race and culture. The story begins with Japanese “picture brides” migrating to California in the early 1900s to meet their new husbands. It ends with the forced emigration of Japanese-Americans out of California “across the mountains” during World War II. In the middle we learn about their disappointments and triumphs, their challenges and adventures, and their determination and ingenuity as they adjusted to a life and culture they had never imagined.
The story does not center on a single protagonist. “Some of us” remain the central characters throughout the story’s twenty-plus year timeline. Therein lies the novel’s encompassing power and beauty. It is the tale not of a person, but of a people.
A must-read for anyone who loves Japan and Japanese.

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A delightful and educational read in three parts: 1) The author’s personal memoirs of how he advanced from small town lower class childhood to prolific best-selling author. I particularly liked his expose on the origins of CARRIE. 2) His perspective and advice on the art and craft of writing fiction. I did a lot of highlighting in that section. 3) A very poignant and personal account of his near-death encounter with an errant van, and his painful rehabilitation and return to his writing craft. Most compelling to me was the constancy of his relationship with Tabitha, his wife, partner, and Ideal Reader. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys good writing, and good story.

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The Marriage PlotThe Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Wow. After 406 pages, some a bit tedious to get through, the author just dropped me on my head at the end. Ouch. In many ways, this is a marvelous story, and certainly an unconventional version of the title’s namesake. The two male characters are honestly painted. Leonard’s manic-depressive suffering is so well described that it sometimes hurt to read it. Mitchell’s Piscean naivete and unfocused meandering through religion, mysticism, and fantasy of ideal love remind one of his own clouded youth. I found Madeleine’s character comparatively more shallow, but perhaps intended that way. As much as I enjoyed the story, I gave it three stars because I found the prose uneven — at times brilliant, at other times plodding. Would have preferred less exposition and introspection to move the story along.

Quicksilver (Looking Glass Trilogy, #2; Arcane Society, #11)Quicksilver by Amanda Quick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I particularly enjoyed Dr. Spinner’s treatments for female hysteria. Wish I had thought of that.

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

That a sexagenarian would be moved and entertained by a trilogy of books written for young adults speaks to the timeless themes so expertly interwoven in a page-turning, exciting story that transcends generations. Ms. Collins not only spins a marvelous tale of mounting challenges, conflict and triumph, despair and hope; she brings her reader face-to-face with the essence of human existence: coming of age, connecting to and depending on others, anguish and joy, hate and love, failure and survival.

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Hunger Games (Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read it because it was recommended by someone who’s never steered me wrong. Didn’t know it was a futuristic YA genre, which is not what I usually read. But I loved it. Just shows that a good story with compelling characters expressed in fine writing transcends genre. Entertaining and page-turning suspense, but the central themes run deep to those most important to the human condition.

Your Republic is Calling YouYour Republic is Calling You by Young-ha Kim

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting premise. A North Korean mole living in South Korea since his early twenties is suddenly and inexplicably called back to his original homeland. He has one day to sort out the various threads of his life and to decide whether to comply or run. His troubled wife and emerging adolescent daughter deal with their own conflicts during the same twenty-four hours, unaware of the impending doom hanging over all of them. The story was engaging enough to hold my interest, but I found the prose and character development lacking. Perhaps the translation is responsible, but the dialogue at times seemed just too unbelievable. Challenged with introducing a lot of backstory within the timeframe of the event, the author sometimes lapsed into tedious exposition. The attempts at contrasting the riven cultures of North and South Korea were interesting, although I concur with an earlier reviewer’s thought that the description of North Korea was more imagined than real. All in all, an interesting and thought-provoking story, worth reading.

RoomRoom by Emma Donoghue

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Stories are a different kind of true.”
One of the many insightful utterances of five-year-old Jack, whose total view of the world is an 11 x 11 foot room where his mother has been held prisoner for seven years, giving him birth and raising him in that confined space. Jack’s exploration of life, real and imagined, with the wise and sometimes desperate tutelage of his Ma, sets up for an adventure from which we cannot turn away. This “different kind of true” touches every soul.
“We’re all Jack, in a sense…the inner child, trapped in our personal Room. But then, on release, finding ourselves alone in a crowd…reeling from sensory overload.”
Who among us has never felt what Jack feels and so innocently articulates? This story poignantly speaks to the true in all of us.

In Too Deep: Book One of the Looking Glass TrilogyIn Too Deep: Book One of the Looking Glass Trilogy by Jayne Ann Krentz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yes, I’m a guy and I enjoy reading an occasional romance novel. I particularly enjoy Jayne Ann’s books that always combine suspenseful plots with interesting, well-developed characters engaged in realistic relationships. This is the first of her Arcane Society series that I’ve read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it–especially the plot twists at the end. Even without the teaser epilogue in “In Too Deep,” I look forward to reading the next installment of the trilogy, “Quicksilver,” penned under her Amanda Quick pseudonym.

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Larry Bond's Red Dragon Rising: Shadows of WarLarry Bond’s Red Dragon Rising: Shadows of War by Larry Bond

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An imaginatively constructed, credible, and well-written tale of future conflict in Southeast Asia. Driven by climatological and economic hardship, the PLA invade Vietnam under pretext of self-defense after the Chinese stage a phony Vietnamese intrusion into China. We follow the action through the conflicts befalling Josh, an American scientist unwittingly trapped behind enemy lines after he recorded Chinese atrocities to Americans and Vietnamese; Ma, a Vietnamese orphan whom he befriends as he flees Jing Yo, the PRC commando and his men who pursue him; Mara, the CIA agent sent to rescue him; and Zeus, the former Spec Ops guy who becomes the primary strategic adviser to the Vietnamese Army. The suspense never lets up, and the plot twists are well-timed to keep the pages turning. In the end the major characters face off on a tense battlefield deep in the rugged terrain of North Vietnam. All in all a good read, and thought-provoking as well. It could happen.

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A Visit from the Goon SquadA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This award-winning novel with its multiple layers of character interactions proves that modern authors using modern techniques can create entertaining literary fiction. I read this book over several days and stayed awake during a transpacific flight just to finish it. The only reason I didn’t give it five stars is because of the numbers of different characters whose interactions over generations I had trouble following.

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Beat the Reaper (Peter Brown #1)Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book written by a young physician is a “The House of God” meets “The Sopranos.” Interesting premise that is well down although I found the ending to implausible from a clinical point of view. Otherwise I may have given it four stars. Nevertheless an easy read and very entertaining. Many of the public hospital scenarios were true to life although to the casual reader that may seem overdone. I particularly liked Dr. Friendly, the quintessential moneygrubbing surgeon.

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