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Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Update December 2017

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Book Review
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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
Book Review

Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 - Jan. 5, 2018

New Caitlin Strong thriller has complex plot


Bruce Desilva (AP)

Jon Land’s Caitlin Strong thrillers usually have a “ripped from the headlines” feel, and the new one, “Strong to the Bone,” features violent neo-Nazis, industrial robots, a lethal biological weapon, the international opiates trade and a creep who buys pharmaceutical companies to jack up the price of drugs.

For the uninitiated, Strong is a trigger-happy, insubordinate, fifth-generation Texas Ranger whose exploits always have a direct link to one of her ancestors’ investigations.  In this one, the ninth book in the series, it’s her grandfather Earl Strong’s pursuit of a Nazi who escaped from a World War II prison camp in Texas in the 1940s.

The series’ other regulars, including Caitlin’s long-suffering commander, D.W. Tepper; her ex-con lover, Cort Wesley Masters; and Masters’ sons Luke and Dylan, all return.  The oldest boy, Luke, who becomes more like his father with every book, initiates the action when he faces off against neo-Nazis who harass his Mexican-American friends.

The story also finds Caitlin coming face-to-face with the darkest moment in her past.  Called to the scene of a nightclub brawl in Austin, she discovers that a young woman has been drugged and raped.  The circumstances are eerily similar to what happened to Caitlin when she was a college student — an assault Land reveals here for the first time.

Caitlin soon suspects that the girl’s assailant and hers are one and the same.  This makes Caitlin wonder if she’s always been quick to pull the trigger because she harbors a deep-seated rage against male offenders.

Eventually, the Masters’ struggle against neo-Nazis and Caitlin’s pursuit of the rapist merge into a single, related criminal case.  As always with this rollicking, entertaining series, the complex plot is resolved in a burst of righteous violence.

Saturday, Dec. 23 - Dec. 29, 2017

Bickering meets brutality in David Moody’s dystopian read

Christina Ledbetter (AP)

Hatred abounds from the first page in David Moody’s “One of Us Will Be Dead by Morning,” the first in a dystopian trilogy.  After a jolting opening scene in which a murderous adolescent beats her classmates to death with a chain, readers are whisked away to Skek, an unforgivingly cold, wet island, home to Hazleton Adventure Experiences.  This week, Hazleton is playing host to a group of office workers who despise one another.  We get to know them as they grudgingly begin their final team-building exercise of a corporate excursion.  Everyone is itching to leave the bleak landscape and return to the U.K., but a slip leaves one person dead.  What’s more, the boat to retrieve the group is nowhere to be seen.

People continue to die, proving something sinister is at work.  Soon, the island’s trapped inhabitants realize they can trust no one, including themselves.  Hysteria rises as those still alive wonder if killing is their only shot at survival.

Most of the characters hold tightly to assigned roles, like the money-hungry boss who voices his concern over how an employee’s tragic end will impact his business reputation.  (He later mourns his broken laptop while his underlings bury the dead.)  On top of this, some characters receive physical descriptions while others are presented with merely a name and job title, producing a lopsided nature to many interactions, as when Nils, a sinewy, silver-haired, goatee-sporting man speaks to Rachel, a call center team leader.

Though possessing an intriguing premise, the book is comprised largely of a feverish loop of arguments and brutal killings with few detours for character development.  In the author’s quest to convey vitriol among his cast (with dialogue relentlessly drenched in sarcasm and sneers), he forgoes endearing readers to any of the lot; thus, we’re left with lots of action accompanied by puny stakes.

Saturday, Dec. 16 - Dec. 22, 2017

Book ponders appeal, then and now, of ‘The Graduate’

Douglass K. Daniel

The title of Beverly Gray’s insightful look back at 1967’s “The Graduate,” one of the most popular comedies of all time, is a bit misleading — Mrs. Robinson seduced young Benjamin Braddock, not the generation that identified with his anxieties about the future and dreamed of joining him in rejecting the path blazed by their parents.

Indeed, one of the interesting takeaways from “Seduced by Mrs. Robinson” is how little the character played so memorably by actress Anne Bancroft and immortalized in music by Simon and Garfunkel actually drives conversation with “The Graduate” generation, at least in Gray’s telling.

One of the young people who watched the movie when it first hit theaters, Gray writes, “Many moviegoers — reaching adulthood in the sixties — saw ‘The Graduate’ as capturing their personal struggles with parents who’d come a long distance, economically speaking, and now had great expectations for the kids they’d hoped to guide toward their own slice of the American dream.”

Aside from the usual trappings of a making-of movie book, Gray is most interested in the film’s social impact on people like David Harris, a Stanford student body president from the 1960s who recalls seeing himself in Benjamin’s shoes while standing on “that cusp where you’re leaving parental authority and trying to step into the world on your own terms.”

Another point, pushed to the side too quickly, is the view of Mrs. Robinson by other women.  One young woman tells Gray that she saw the character as “a desperate housewife coerced by society into an unhappy marriage, reluctant childbearing, and furtive affairs” and resolved not to emulate her.

Meanwhile, the movie’s most scandalous aspect is barely touched on, Gray rolling past the film’s sexiness even while acknowledging its “great attraction” to a number of baby boomers.

That may well be the answer to its ongoing relevance as “The Graduate” turns 50. What was shocking in 1967 is ho-hum today, fodder for other films and even TV shows for many years now. Mrs. Robinson may have made history as the first “cougar” of post-Production Code filmmaking, but she’s been surpassed by many like-minded characters, a fond memory nonetheless.

What keeps “The Graduate” worth watching has always been at its heart: the struggle to find your own way and not end up a sad sellout, even if a sexy one. (AP)

Update Saturday, Dec. 9 - Dec. 15, 2017

Jane Hawk returns in Koontz’s ‘The Whispering Room’

Jeff Ayers

Jane Hawk, the compelling heroine of “The Silent Corner,” returns in another terrifying Dean Koontz conspiracy thriller, “The Whispering Room.”

Jane knows her husband didn’t commit suicide but proving it has been a challenge. She uncovered an evil plot to brainwash people to commit horrific acts, but her attempt to destroy the villain behind everything came with a horrible cost. She no longer has her job at the FBI and is a wanted fugitive. She keeps her son stashed away to protect him. Jane now roams the country to derail the mastermind and his nefarious plans.

A beloved schoolteacher on leave due to migraines is the latest to fall under the vicious mind games. She has dreams of walking through fire, and one afternoon she sets her vehicle on fire and drives through a hotel lobby. A sheriff uncovers her journals and sees a woman crying for help. When Jane learns of the incident, she knows the people she’s trying to eliminate are responsible. She has already gone rogue, and knowing her son is safe, she has nothing to lose by going after the culprits.

When one of her targets tells her, “You’re dead already. They’ll all know about you in the whispering room,” Jane knows she has to learn what his cryptic phrase means even though it obviously will be a trap to take her out of the picture.

The character of Jane Hawk is arguably the best character Koontz has created. Knowledge of “The Silent Corner” helps put some of the narrative in perspective, but it’s not necessary to fall under the author’s spell. It’s clear that another story featuring her quest for ultimate justice is on the horizon, and hopefully there will be even more after that.

Simply put, wow.

Update Saturday, Dec. 2 - Dec. 8, 2017

Author Weir takes readers to the moon in ‘Artemis’

Jeff Ayers (AP)

Andy Weir, author of “The Martian,” takes readers to another desolate world, but instead of the Red Planet it’s the moon, in his new novel, “Artemis.”

Weir takes readers on an exploration of the colonization of Earth’s nearest neighbor in outer space, and it’s not too far into the future. Most everything needed for the modules of the city of Artemis can be reasonably manufactured on the surface, along with the occasional supply and tourist runs from home. Each living habitat is named for a prominent member of the original Apollo programs, but each has distinct features associated with it, whether it is for the affluent or those barely able to scrape by and survive.

Living in the poorer end of Artemis is Jasmine Bashara, aka Jazz. She has talent and is quite intelligent but chooses to skate by. She works as a porter for the tourists and the citizens who sometimes want their packages from Earth handled discreetly. She blows a field test that would have gotten her a job taking tourists in EVA suits to explore the area around the original landing site of Apollo 11. Upset and not thinking clearly, Jazz receives an offer that promises more money than she can imagine if she can successfully pull off a dangerous assignment. She has the skills and the knowledge, but does she have the luck and equipment necessary to keep her in the clear when damage control begins?

Jazz is a compelling character, both clever and sharp. Weir has created a realistic and fascinating future society on the moon, and every detail feels authentic and scientifically sound.

Weir knows how to make cutting-edge science sexy and relevant without losing the story.



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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

New Caitlin Strong thriller has complex plot

Bickering meets brutality in David Moody’s dystopian read

Book ponders appeal, then and now, of ‘The Graduate’

Jane Hawk returns in Koontz’s ‘The Whispering Room’

Author Weir takes readers to the moon in ‘Artemis’


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