Archive for March, 2018

Bishop’s Pawn

Saturday, March 24th, 2018

By Steve Berry

The Short Take:

Berry’s 13th Cotton Malone thriller wasn’t a lucky outing for me. By switching to the use of first person and a single point of view he both slowed things down and made narrative repetitions more obvious. That’s too bad, because the basic idea for this novel was very solid.


This book’s release coincides with the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King., Jr.’s assassination, which occurs April 4th. Berry created a conspiracy behind King’s death, with plot twists and surprise revelations throughout. FBI operatives past and present are the major players, with secrets to protect at any cost.

While the novel opens in the present, the bulk takes place 18 years earlier. This predates all the other Malone outings. In fact, it’s Malone’s first assignment with the Magellan Billet. He’s a rookie and it shows.

Berry always takes a historic reality and wraps it in imaginative conspiracies and dangerous conflicts. I worried this particular reality was too recent and too raw for that treatment. However, his story line was respectful and even believable. By incorporating some of the genuine disgraceful tasks the FBI carried out during the J. Edgar Hoover years, Berry reminds readers of some largely forgotten history.

Unfortunately by eliminating the multiple points-of-view of his previous novels, Berry limited what could his characters could do and say, which led to some stilted scenes and repetitive dialogue.

A Little Plot:

Cotton Malone is asked to retrieve a rare gold coin from a recently sunken boat. He’s barely gotten in the water before the shooting starts and the chase begins. The numerous antagonists all have different objectives — none of which are good for Malone’s well-being. And, it all revolves around King’s assassination.

For more about Steve Berry and his books, click here.

Queens of the Conquest

Saturday, March 17th, 2018

By Alison Weir

The Short Take:

This hefty biography of Matilda, the wife of William the Conquerer, and the next four Medieval queens of England (as well as the frustrated Maud, who should have been queen) was long on facts and short on conjecture — as a history should be. You learn quite a bit but it’s a rather dry read.


When you go back 1000 years in history there’s not a wealth of material to draw from — though Weir includes well over 100 pages of footnotes and bibliography. The result is a presentation of innumerable facts about a queen, but not much that gives you a feel for her personality.

A litany of signed charters, gifts to religious institutions, the founding of abbeys and monasteries, and travel documentation forms the bulk of the book. However, there is also fascinating history from a time that doesn’t gain the attention of, for example, the Tudor dynasty. Plus, the focus is on women who aided, financed, and often acted as ruling regents for the kings they wed.

Weir’s biographies typically focus on English royal women. She also writes the occasional historical novel about them, as well. I would love for her to take these queens as subjects for a novel. I know her history would be sound and it would certainly enliven the story telling. Until then, I’m glad I went on this journey with her.

A Little Plot:

William the Conquerer takes over England, but first he fights more than one Pope over the right to marry Matilda. His son has problems getting to marry his Matilda (not her real name, by the way), as well. Their daughter, Maud, is deprived of her crown by her cousin but wages war to insure that her son becomes king next.

For more about Weir and her books, click here. By the way, her books have different covers in England from the USA.


Saturday, March 3rd, 2018

9780553448122_custom-d8cf7964d63e6360d66a5d8d7678e514019531f0-s700-c85By Andy Weir

The Short Take:

Once again Weir creates a sci fi world built on solid scientific facts. Even better, his foul-mouthed, brainy, and fiercely independent protagonist is a woman — a rare occurrence in this genre. But be aware, there’s a lot of science in this book — mainly chemical and engineering. You might actually learn some things as well as be entertained.


This wild action ride of a novel takes place in and around Artemis, a moon colony some 100 years in the future. Like in his debut novel The Martian, this near-future setting make it more relatable to the present day; plus it gives Weir a chance to again demonstrate how scientists and engineers would/could/can creatively solve the problems of living on another, deadly world.

That’s where the similarity ends, however. Jazz, his plucky and slightly criminal heroine, is always out to make a quick buck. Then she gets a chance to make a million of them. That turns this book into a cliff-hanging crime caper where the challenges and risks she faces far outweigh those of any bank or casino heist ever imagined.

This also means a fair amount of information about things like welding in a vacuum, the dangers of mixing various gases, pressure issues, and the like. I admit to glazing over a time or two but it was worth shouldering through to learn what happened next. And, that was what was really exciting about this book. The Martian was pretty straight forward — a guy trying not to die. This time Weir concocted a plot with many twists and turns that had as much to do with human nature — greed, loyalty, ambition, love — as with solutions to deadly situations.

Not to mention Jazz is one heck of a character.

A Little Plot:

Rebelling against constant admonitions to utilize her substantial potential, Jazz labors as a delivery person with a not-too-profitable smuggling business on the side. That could all change when a richer-than-Midas Artemis resident offers her a million to destroy the operating capacity of a lunar plant that produces aluminum — and the colony’s air supply. Don’t worry, he doesn’t want anyone to suffocate. It’s business.

For more about Andy Weir and his books, click here.


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March 2018