Review of ‘X’ by Sue Grafton


xSue Grafton, X (New York: Putnam, 2015). Hardcover | Kindle

X is the twenty-fourth installment in Sue Grafton’s long-running Kinsey Millhone mysteries. Set in Santa Teresa, California—a lightly fictionalized Santa Barbara—the novel follows two story lines: Kinsey looking for a client’s long-lost son and trying to close out a late colleague’s still-open case. There’s also a contretemps with her annoying, elderly neighbors.

I am a huge fan of this series, having read each of the novels in order, beginning with A Is for Alibi. Patrick Anderson has written, “Grafton’s Millhone books are among the five or six best series any American has ever written.” I agree. Kinsey is likeable, whip-smart, and plucky. You cheer for her as she sees justice through in each case.

That said, X is the best novel of the series. (I wonder if it has to do with the difficulty of finding a suitable crime to include in the title. The other novels follow the A Is for Alibi title formula. Here, there’s no X Is for _____.) It opens with one story line but spends the bulk of the novel focused on the other story line. The lines never come together, and the annoying neighbors seem like a distraction too. The neighbors get what’s coming to them in the end, but of the two major storylines, only one reaches a satisfactory resolution.

X may not be the best novel in the series, but it’s always good to hear from Kinsey. I’m already looking forward to Y.

—–

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘Peacekeeper’ by Christopher Bryan


PeacekeeperChristopher Bryan, Peacekeeper: A Novel (Sewanee, TN: Diamond, 2013). Paperback | Kindle

Peacekeeper is a supernatural thriller, and like all such thrillers requires a willing suspension of disbelief. If golems, demons, apparitions, the music of the spheres, and an imminent apocalypse aren’t your cup of fictional tea, don’t read this book. You won’t like it.

If, on the other hand, you’re a fan of C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce and That Hideous Strength, by all means, take a look. Peacekeeper draws inspiration from those books (and others) and tells an interesting tale about a diabolical plot to launch World War III and the people who try to stop it. It is the second volume of a trilogy that follows the police work of Detective Inspector Cecilia Cavaliere.

My general rule of thumb for evaluating popular fiction is simple: Was it written so well that I kept turning pages? By that rule, Peacekeeper mostly succeeded. Unfortunately, Chapter Nine introduced a supernatural element into this thriller at too early a point in the novel. Supernatural thrillers work by slowly uncovering the super in an otherwise natural setting. Given that the novel has eighty-one chapters, Chapter Nine’s “reveal” came way too soon.

But I still turned the pages…

—–

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

 

 

Review of Anker PowerPort 6 (60W 6-Port USB Charging Hub) Multi-Port USB Charger


Anker-PowerPort-6My family of three has at least nine devices that need to be charged via USB cables: two iPhones, two iPads, a Kindle Fire, two Bluetooth headphones, portable Bluetooth speaker, Mophie battery pack… You get the picture. That adds up to a lot of cords and a lot of chargers needing a lot of outlets. So, you can understand why I purchased this six-port charging USB charging hub: one device connected to one outlet charging six devices at the same time. The packaging was easy to open, the hub was easy to assemble (plug power cord into the back of the unit), and my devices charged up just fine. It’s small, so I’ll be taking this on family vacation too.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘Master and Commander’ by Patrick O’Brian


Master-and-CommanderPatrick O’Brian, Master and Commander (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1969). Hardcover | Paperback | Kindle

Several years ago, I read The Complete Aubrey-Maturin Novels, which begins with Master and Commander. They recount the exploits and misfortunes of Jack Aubrey, a rising British naval officer, and Stephen Maturin, his friend and ship’s doctor, across the globe in the first two decades of the Nineteenth Century. “The best way to think of these novels,” Patrick Reardon has written, “is as a single 5,000-page book.”

If you, like me, are a series reader, Master and Commander will suck you in. Set in the western Mediterranean, it follows Aubrey as he takes command of the sloop Sophie to harass Spanish and French merchant marine and navies alike. The battle sequences are well drawn, but most of the novel takes place in calmer seas and on land. O’Brian’s character studies are insightful: Aubrey and Maturin are almost perfect “types” of the choleric and melancholic humors, respectively. In addition to sailing (Aubrey’s expertise), the reader will be immersed to the natural philosophy of that era (Maturin’s expertise).

Master and Commander and the other novels in the series are pegged as historical fiction, and indeed the novels draw inspiration from British naval warfare in the Napoleonic Age. What is difficult to convey in a review is the sheer literary beauty of O’Brian’s prose. I am a fan of Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe novels. They are set in the same era as the Aubrey-Maturin novels, though they focus on the British army. But Cornwell is to O’Brian what Lee Child (of whom I’m also a fan) is to Tolstoy. O’Brian’s novels, in other words, in addition to being well told, attain to high literary art in a way that Cornwell’s do not.

Recently, my Uncle Paul found an entire set of Aubrey-Maturin first editions, including the first edition of O’Brian’s unfinished twenty-first novel, and gave it to me as a present. (Yes, I am a lucky nephew!) I decided to reread Master and Commander. Just as the first time, Master and Commander drew me in; now I’m committed to reading the entire series again.

One thing that I had forgotten but was reminded of as I read: O’Brian assumes a familiarity with the British Navy, sailing, and geography that most landlubbers (like me) won’t have. It might be helpful to purchase Jack Aubrey Commands: A Historical Companion to the Naval World of Patrick O’Brian, Patrick O’Brian’s Navy: The Illustrated Companion to Jack Aubrey’s World, and/or A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O’Brian as background reading. They will enrich your understanding of the entire series.

—–

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘Small Wars: A Jack Reacher Story’ by Lee Child


Small-WarsLee Child, Small Wars: A Jack Reacher Story (New York: Delacorte, 2015). Kindle

In the spring of 1989, Lt. Col. Caroline Crawford of the Pentagon’s War Plans department is executed—military style—in the Georgia backwoods outside Fort Smith. Maj. Jack Reacher is called in to investigate and in the process uncovers a traitor and exonerates an innocent man. A quick and entertaining read, Small Wars will whet your appetite for Make Me, the Jack Reacher novel forthcoming in September.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of Vansky Car Mount for Smartphones


  I have a iPhone 6 Plus. When I drive, I use my phone to make phone calls and to get directions from Google Maps. On long drives especially, I like to mount my iPhone on the dashboard so I can see where Google Maps is taking us. The problem is that a dashboard mount exposes the phones to the sun and excessive heat. The Vansky car mount solves the heating problem by mounting the phone to the air conditioning vents. One arm hooks onto the vent and a second arm balances on the bottom of the vent. When I first opened the packaging and felt how light the car mount was, I worried that it wouldn’t be sturdy enough. When I saw how it mounted to the air vents, however, I realized that it was quite sturdy. The top arm can be rotated to fit either vertical or horizontal vents. The phone holder can also be rotated vertically or horizontally, depending on which screen view you want to see. This is an inexpensive and ingenious device that solves a crucial problem for me, namely, using my iPhone safely while I drive.

Review of ‘The Affair’ by Lee Child


The-AffairLee Child, The Affair: A Reacher Novel (New York: Delacorte Press, 2011). Hardcover | Paperback | Kindle

If a whodunit is still a page-turner on the second read, it’s a good book. The Affair is a good book. Even though it’s my second time reading it, even though I knew how it would end, I still found myself turning pages late into the night until I finished it.

The Affair is set in 1997. Major Jack Reacher is an active duty soldier and an experienced investigator in the military police. In response to the Clinton Era peace dividend, the U.S. Army is winnowing the ranks, and Reacher’s own career is on the line.

He is ordered to investigate under cover the murder of a woman near an Army base in Mississippi. Members of a special ops group are considered suspects, but the Pentagon wants to make sure the blame is placed anywhere except on its soldiers. The case is political suicide, professionally speaking, but like a good soldier, Reacher takes it anyway.

And solves it. I won’t reveal the solution, but readers of Lee Child’s previous novels will now understand why Reacher left the service and began his peregrinations across the American heartland.

The Affair is the fifteenth novel in Lee Child’s Reacher series, but its events precede the other fourteen. You can read the series in publication order, starting with The Killing Floor, whose events are foreshadowed in The Affair. Or you can start with The Affair. Either way, you’re in for classic Lee Child—even the second time around.

—–

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.