A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Auld Lang Syne


Before I go away for the long weekend, I just want to wish everyone a Happy New Year!  Enjoy your New Year's Eve and New Year's Day festivities, and- as the tired old joke goes- see you all here next year!

Meeting your fate


Fate of the Union, the second in Max Allan Collins' series of political thrillers (Supreme Justice was the first) featuring security consultant Joe Reeder and FBI agent Patti Rogers, was- no surprise- the usual, fast, fun Collins reading experience. Written with longtime assistant and occasional collaborator Matthew V. Clemens, this one involves a series of contract killing-style murders in the Washington, D.C. area, a terrorist plot employing a new super-weapon, and slowly emerging clues that the two things might be related.

As Patti Rogers, her FBI team, and Reeder (who is once again called in to help unravel the cases) look into things, there is a side plot about a possible third-party political candidate who is gaining traction with the masses. Is the folksy, plain-speaking billionaire, who has been successfully courting Americans tired of all the far-left and far-right rhetoric of the traditional parties' candidates, somehow connected to everything going on?  An assassination attempt during one of his speeches, thwarted by Reeder and Rogers, seems to point to that.

If I find Fate of the Union to be reliably entertaining but not top-tier Collins, it's only because of my personal taste: I often find thrillers driven by law-enforcement types (especially the Feds) and self-important politicians (even if they pretend to be modest) to be a bit ponderous.  Give me a flawed, semi-reformed hit man as a protagonist any day.  But, again, that's just me, not a flaw of this book.  The last FBI character I truly liked was Fox Mulder, because his bosses hid him in the basement and thought he was crazy.

Okay, maybe I do have one issue with this story: I would have liked more sleight of hand in the eventual revelation of the ultimate villain of the piece. Without saying too much, the person I thought was behind everything turned out to indeed be behind everything.  And I'm not particularly brilliant when it comes to unraveling whodunits.  I was a little disappointed when the rug wasn't pulled out from under me and a truly surprising culprit wasn't in the end revealed.  Also, the culprit's final fate was the kind of thing seen many times before in books and movies featuring this type of story.

But, really, those are quibbles.  I picked this book up, shot through it quickly, and was entertained.  So, yeah, give Fate of the Union a whirl if you enjoy political thrillers of this ilk.  But, even though (despite the  subjective views I outlined earlier) I do kind of like Joe Reeder and Patti Rogers, I think I'm ready for a adventure involving one of Mr. Collins' heroes on the fringe, like Quarry or Nate Heller.  You know, guys who either avoid law enforcement or work only grudgingly with them. Just call me a rebel.

Fate of the Union is readily available in print and on your Kindle.
   

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cute


Recently seen on a chalkboard in front of a coffeehouse:

Pilates? I thought you said pie and lattes.

Efficient little thriller


The first Mary Higgins Clark book I ever read (earlier this year) was The Shadow of Your Smile. Although I thought that that particular book was heavy with too many characters and plot developments, there was enough that I liked that I tried another of the author's titles, this one. I enjoyed Just Take My Heart more than the previous book, mainly because it had a nice streamlined courtroom plot, with just the right amount of side developments and extra details to enhance the main story, not bog it down.

There was one kind of funny addition, though. A serial killer in hiding lives right next door to the main heroine (the assistant district attorney who is prosecuting the case that gets most of the book's attention). The serial killer really doesn't have much to do with anything else going on in the book, which is why I said it's funny. It's like he's just a minor, quirky supporting character in there to give the book a little color. He does eventually intersect with the main plot, which does ratchet up the drama and thriller aspects of the book, but honestly, his role at the very end could have been handled by another character. I'm just not sure his brief though undeniably important role justified his peeking through his curtains and watering his flowers during the bulk of the bulk. Still, his presence wasn't a deal breaker.

I also liked the author's sleight of hand. I was patting myself on the back for discovering some buried clues about who was behind the effort to create a patsy for the central murder being prosecuted. No dice, though: I was smart enough to find the clues, but darned if they weren't false clues. I'll say no more, only that this turned out to be- despite some Lifetime movie and romance novel moments- a satisfying whodunit.

Now, which M.H. Clark book to sample next...?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Up for seconds?


Isaac Asimov's Second Foundation, the third book in the original Foundation Trilogy (and now book five of the series after Dr. Asimov later added two prequels and two sequels to the original trilogy), is a smart, entertaining little read, nicely concluding some of the business from the previous book and starting up some new, intriguing plot lines.

The final confrontation with the villainous mutant known as the Mule is the main thing that is continued from Foundation and Empire, and new attention to the mysterious Second Foundation is the central new piece of business on hand.  It all works well, though two things make this my third favorite book of the original trilogy: 1) the main heroine is a cute little girl, which- while not terrible- is a little too, well, cute, for my tastes, and 2) the book introduces the idea of the Foundation scientists and leaders feeling threatened by the existence of the mysterious Second Foundation and wanting to find it and destroy it.

I especially have a problem with that last point.  The Second Foundation was established by the great Hari Seldon, revered by the men and women of the original Foundation, as a fail safe if the First Foundation ever got in trouble in its mission to reinvigorate civilization during the galaxy's ongoing dark times. Why should the First Foundation be jealous and scared of it, and threatened by its existence?  There are some reasons put forth, but I found them less than compelling.

Still, it's a good book, and a satisfying conclusion and continuation of Asimov's story.  I added "continuation" there because Dr. Asimov seemed to know even then, before there were any concrete plans for more Foundation stories, that one day he might return to the world of the Foundation, as not every little thing is developed or resolved here, despite it being book three of the original trilogy.  For more developments and a dash of closure (but, alas, only a dash) you need to move onto the first sequel of the classic trilogy, Foundation's Edge.  But more on that one later!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry, merry


Many thanks to my staff members (at my regular ol' day job) for all the great wines they gave to me today. You guys are the best!  I'm especially looking forward to the French chardonnay (seen on the far right in the photograph), which looks yummy.

And while I'm here for a minute, let me wish all of you out there a happy and healthy holiday. Thank you for continuing to stop in to check out my (thankfully somewhat more frequent) posts.

Speaking of that, I hope to use the relatively quiet time between Christmas and New Year's Day to catch up on a few things, including my opinion of the new Star Wars (which I liked), and one or two other bits of business.

Enjoy the long weekend!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Using the force... to avoid spoilers


Star Wars : The Force Awakens is having its big Hollywood premiere today, followed by special screenings for critics tomorrow.  Shortly following these showings, you just know someone is going to leak early reviews and spoilers online, beginning sometime this evening.  And they'll do it without obvious spoiler warnings.

Sigh, I guess that means very light internet activity for yours truly between now and Friday, when I plan to see the film (or maybe I'll try to catch a Thursday evening show, if tickets are still available).  I made it this far without knowing major spoilers (not hard, admittedly, due to the tight security on everything associated with the film), so I'm not going to let anyone wreck things for me now.

Anyway, wish me luck!  Between now and the end of the work week, I guess I'll just have to limit myself to websites that don't exhibit any interest in the film.  Farm Journal Online?  Junior Stamp Collectors of America?  I'm sure I'll make out just fine!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Oasis


I enjoyed a nice glass of Chardonnay the other day at Del Frisco's, the popular steak house and upscale eatery in center city Philadelphia.  A colleague and I grabbed a drink there following a banquet luncheon hosted by the Chilean and American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia, held at the Hyatt around the corner from the restaurant.  Our company does a lot of business with the Republic of Chile, hence our attending the luncheon.

Anyway, it was just a normal, reliably good glass of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, but the elegant yet friendly surroundings of Del Frisco's, along with the warm but electric Christmas vibe of downtown, made it a nice little hour-long respite from the real world. Oh, and my friend Nick is always entertaining to hang out with.

I guess the point of all this is to say that in today's hectic world, it's important to grab an impromptu and unscheduled moment of calm from time to time.

Meeting their match


I'm not going to write a lot now about Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Empire, as I plan to produce a more comprehensive piece about all the Foundation novels by the end of the year, as I was actually successful in reading all seven of them in 2015 (doing a few of them on audio helped me accomplish this).  But I've also been checking in with individual reviews of each book as I've finished them, so I'll quickly do that about  Foundation and Empire, too.

The center book of the original trilogy, and still the center book with the two prequels and two sequels to the trilogy that were added later, the dark and complex Foundation and Empire is kind of like the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back of the series, especially when this was just a three-book series. After the clever successes of Foundation, the scientists, traders, and bureaucrats of the planet Terminus- home of the secret guiding force of the galaxy known as the Foundation- finally meet their match in the person mysteriously known only as the Mule, a super-powered mutant able to control people's minds.  Think the Killgrave character from the terrific new Netflix series Jessica Jones, but on a galactic scale.

Unlike all the other crises that the Foundation has faced during its mission to guide the galaxy through an unavoidable barbarous period and more quickly toward a new period of civilization, the Foundation's revered science of psychohistory, with its uncanny ability to predict the problems the Foundation will face during its long mission, completely misses the coming of the Mule, who causes planet after planet to fall under his sway.  And, as well as featuring dark themes and plot developments, this book is also like The Empire Strikes Back in that there are multiple cliffhangers in place at story's close, as the challenge of the Mule becomes increasingly insurmountable.

It was fun to see the word mutant thrown around in the book long before the term became popular in the X-Men comics and movies and- somewhat guiltily- I also enjoyed seeing the sometimes arrogant Foundationer characters finally have to truly worry about something, even though they're obstensibly the good guys of the series.

As said, I'll write more about this entry when I discuss the series as a whole, but for now I just wanted to report that Foundation and Empire was a highlight of my 2015 project to tackle all the Foundation novels.