Review of “They Shall Not Grow Old”

“They Shall Not Grow Old” is a marvelous movie to see. It is a WWI documentary, but unlike any documentary I have ever seen.

It is essentially old WWI films, enhanced and colorized, coupled with some poignant narration from the point of view of the soldiers who did the fighting. It traces the experience of soldiers in the trenches of WWI, starting with the joining-up process, through training, shipping to France, arriving in France and marching to the front. It describes life in the trenches, preparing for a charge from the trenches, making the actual charge, returning from the charge with German prisoners, and finally transport back to England and the soldiers’ return to civilian life. The movie is heartbreaking and pulls no punches. Several members of the audience left midway through, most likely unable to watch the incredible, vivid carnage.

The technology is magnificent. Very old film is enhanced, colorized, slowed down, to make it seem like this was happening today. As I left the theater, what struck me most was the sound. I can only recall being so impressed by the sound in a movie one time, during the landing scenes in “Saving Private Ryan”. The voices sounded like they were standing on the stage speaking to me, and when there was some singing involved, particularly at the end of the movie, it was beautifully done.

This movie was exceptional at every step, from the concept to the execution. It is not for the faint of heart, but viewing it was a fantastic experience. I don’t believe I can recommend a film any higher than this one. If you know what you are walking into, this film is something to see.

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Review of “The Terminal List” by Jack Carr

 

The Terminal List

Author:  Jack Carr (joint pseudonym)

Publication Date: March 2018

Publisher: First Emily Betsler Books / Atria Books

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8081-1

Agent: Alexandria Machinist

Source of Book: Borrowed from local library

Blurb:

On his last deployment as a Navy Seal, Lieutenant Commander James Reece’s entire team was killed in a catastrophic ambush that also claimed the lives of the aircrew sent in to rescue them. But when those dearest to him are murdered on the day of his homecoming, Reece discovers that this was not an act of war by a foreign enemy but a conspiracy that runs to the highest levels of his own government. They have taken everything from him. Now it’s his turn.

With nothing left to lose, Reece applies lessons learned in more than a decade of constant warfare toward avenging the death of his family and teammates. In a thriller told with breathless pacing and relentless suspense, Reece ruthlessly targets his enemies in Washington’s upper echelons without regard for the laws of combat or the rules of law.

Driven by the love of his family and country and an undying need for revenge, James Reece is on a one-man mission to confront the corruption of absolute power and those who would do anything to achieve it.

(Source of Blurb: inside dust cover)

Review:

This book is riveting. I enjoyed it from beginning to end. I highly recommend this debut novel. It is masterful.

While I find the ex-Navy Seal superhero main character is a little overused in today’s thriller market, this one is very well done. Steve Berry writes a blurb on the back of the dust cover “Double the trouble, twice the action, and quadruple the enjoyment. Careful while reading this, it could leave a mark.” Consider me marked. This tale of revenge and righteous violence struck a chord with me. I found it emotionally engaging, powerfully written, and surprising in its depth. I am not a  weapons or tactics expert, but I would guess Jack Carr has his weapons and tactics presented with the highest possible level of accuracy. His detail is astounding, but not at all overwhelming to this non-technical reader. Carr has a great story to tell here. It is sufficiently anchored in reality to frighten the reader. The story has enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, and the suspense continues until the very last page.

My only criticism is a very tiny one. I found the bad guys a little bit too evil to be believable. Once you buy into the bad guys, however, there is a really clever, emotionally complex story.

I also posted this review on Amazon and Goodreads.

Rating: 4.9 / 5.0

Link to Author’s Website:  https://officialjackcarr.com/

Purchase Link: https://www.amazon.com/Terminal-List-Thriller-Jack-Carr-ebook/dp/B074ZL7LY1/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=The+Terminal+list&qid=1550936793&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Review of “The Korean Woman” by John Altman

 

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The “Korean Woman” is a very well-crafted 2019 thriller from John Altman. The plot revolves around the activation of a “sleeper” spy from North Korea. The “Korean Woman” is living a very contented life in New York City, having been married and is in the process of raising children. This is something of a domestic thriller, but not entirely. On the surface, this sounds like a very implausible plot, but Altman is very successful in developing this character and her motivation. If you are a reader looking for a strong female character, “The Korean woman” delivers. The strongest part of the story involves a chase by a group of Central Intelligence Agency spooks, using all sorts of high-tech equipment, but the spy manages to elude them using low-tech methods. I am reminded of an old movie, “Lonely are the Brave” in which a criminal is being pursued by the authorities with almost unlimited resources. In that movie, the viewer winds up rooting for the criminal. Altman takes this premise in a different direction, and does it very well. He has some pretty good twists up his sleeve along the way.

I was a little less impressed with the character development of the Central Intelligence Agency pursuers, however. They were not as well developed, particularly the character named Bach. I also was not a fan of the ending of the book, largely due to the undeveloped characters among the pursuers of “The Korean Woman.” I think this book could be a lot stronger with better development of the characters pursuing the spy.

If you enjoy a good chase scenario with a small taste of domestic thriller, this book will provide that for you.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from NetGalley.

Writing–The Plot Matrix

It’s been a while since I have written about writing. It’s been very slow.

I had a first draft of my novel written some time ago. I wasn’t very happy with it. My foray into the world of thriller reviewing gave me a lot of ways I could improve the novel. You learn a lot by reading the work of successful writers. My plot could be a lot less complex.  The stakes in the novel could be a lot higher. The characters could be a lot less flat and better developed. Too few of the characters were female. This is probably a vestige of old thrillers that I have read along the way. Any new thriller needs to have at least one strong female character or it won’t get too far in the publishing world, and will cut down on the potential market. My continual reading about the craft of writing also showed me in no uncertain terms that my writing could be a lot better. I delayed diving into the second draft. The demon of lack of self-confidence manifested itself. Now I believe I am ready.

In order to get things moving, I created what I call a plot matrix. It is a simple two-dimensional outline. The vertical part of the matrix is chronology, a time order when things happen in the novel. The horizontal element of the matrix is by character and character grouping. I can see at a “glance” what each character is doing or not doing at a specific point in time.   Right now it has over 40 rows.  Each row represents a particular point in time, and 15 columns, each with a character or character group. This way I can see the sequence of things, and determine who is doing what and when they are doing it. The more complex it gets, however the more difficult it is to see what is happening.

I learned some things by doing this.

Some of my chronology was not logical. Things were out of order, and it wasn’t clear how some situations came to be. Some of the events could be relegated to backstory.

I had too many characters. Some may have been unnecessary. I could collapse some of the characters.

I spent a lot of time and mental energy doing this matrix. I still don’t feel it is perfect. There are several inconsistencies remaining. I do feel I have a starting point for the writing of the second draft, however. I can see which of the old scenes can remain as is, which scenes need to be revised in order to enrich the characters or support the new, higher stakes plot, and which scenes can be trashed. There appears to be a path through the woods, but many weeds, thorn bushes, and predatory animals remain along the way.

Paralysis had me for a while. Insecurities abound, and I have found many excuses to do other things than move forward with the second draft. The matrix is providing a way, and giving me some hope about moving forward. I need to make sure the matrix doesn’t constrain me, and that if I get a great idea about the plot or the characters as I move forward, I can have some fun with it.

We’ll see how it goes.

A Review of a “Bad” Book

Should I ever write a bad review?

This question has haunted me for some time now. I usually finish every book I start, but I had one book that just didn’t grab me. I won’t name it. I don’t believe it was a “bad” book, it just “wasn’t for me.” It was a thriller, by a very famous author who has been writing for a very long time and REALLY knows how to write. In fact, this book most likely achieved a level of market success that a writer like me could only dream about. The first three chapters were a prologue, and each chapter briefly and poignantly discussed a different aspect of the Nazi reign of terror prior to World War II. These were fantastic chapters, and made me anxious to read more. Once I got past the prologue, things went downhill for me. I found the book jumpy, and the characters were not well developed at all. I couldn’t finish it. The most likely reason for this was that the book was the third part of a trilogy, and I never read the first two. I didn’t know it was a trilogy until I was well into it. Probably the characters were very well developed in the earlier novels in the trilogy.

My question is should I ever write a review of a book that I didn’t like? Would it do anyone any good. On the “yes” side of the argument, words like “journalistic integrity”, “truth”, and “honesty” cross my mind. I believe it is the job of a reviewer to point out the good and the bad. Absent that, the review becomes simply a form of “free” promotion for the author.

On the other hand, I have absolutely no desire to hurt anyone. I have no delusions that my review would do any harm whatsoever to the well-established author referred to above who was guilty of nothing more than penning a novel that this insignificant reviewer did not like.  Words do hurt, however, and the last thing I would ever want to do is harm an author that was publishing a novel for the first time and is very sensitive to any feedback, good or bad. My own insecurities as a reviewer come into play here as well. My personal review may not be “accurate” or “well-informed.” I may not have even read the novel with as much attention as it deserved. I have learned that writers need to have a very thick skin, but I do not want to be the one to test anyone’s skin thickness. Not yet, anyway. If I REALLY don’t like a book, I will probably not write about it here.

In the meantime, I will probably not publish a lot of completely negative reviews. I will try to focus on where the book could be improved or itemize parts of the book that didn’t work for me.

Review of “The Moroccan Girl” by Charles Cumming

the moroccan girlI saw a notice in NetGalley.com that an advanced electronic copy of “The Moroccan Girl” by Charles Cumming was available in exchange for an honest review. I took NetGalley up on this offer. The mechanics of requesting this book, receiving it on my Kindle, and filing the review were very user-friendly.

The publication date of “The Moroccan Girl” is February 2019, but I prepared the review shown below in late November 2018.

This is an excellent espionage thriller.

Charles Cumming has again written a believable espionage thriller in the tradition of John LeCarré. His story involves a thriller writer who is recruited to work for British Intelligence. His thriller writer protagonist seems very real, flaws and all. He is certainly a refreshing break from the superhero military operative so prevalent in today’s thrillers. Cumming’s strength is the creation of a feeling of paranoia experienced by an ordinary person with some training or knowledge of intelligence who is thrust into a situation far more dangerous than he had anticipated. Like LeCarré, Cumming’s plot has many twists and turns. His protagonist sometimes does foolish things that a normal person might do. Sometimes the protagonist does not read the situation correctly. The reader is never sure of exactly who the villain is. To me, this makes for a very good espionage story, and I enjoyed “The Moroccan Girl” very much.

As the title indicates, much of the story is set in Morocco, and Cumming does enough research to make this setting come alive and provide additional richness to the story.

My only criticism is probably the result of the fact that I read a galley proof on a Kindle. I found the use of various interview reports spaced throughout the book a little difficult to deal with. The switch from narrative to the document was a little confusing to this reader. I am sure this issue can be fixed with some clever formatting.

Other than that small issue, I found this book very enjoyable, and look forward to read many other books written by this author.

Review of “The Gray Man” by Mark Greaney

 

the gray man

Author:  Mark Greaney

Publication Date:  2009

Publisher:  Jove Books, The Berkeley Publishing Group

ISBN: 978-0-515-14701-8

Agent: Scott Miller, Trident Publishing Group

Source of Book: Local library

 

Blurb:

Courtland Gentry is a good man. But he’s a great assassin…

To those who lurk in the shadows, he’s known as the Gray Man. He is a legend in the covert realm, moving silently from job to job, accomplishing the impossible and then fading away. And he always hits his target. Always.

But then there are forces more lethal than Gentry in the world. Forces like money.  And power. And there are men who hold these as the only currency worth fighting for. And in their eyes, Gentry has just outlived his usefulness.

But Court Gentry is going to prove that, for him, there’s no gray area between killing for a living and killing to stay alive.

(Source of Blurb:  Back Cover)

Review:

I really enjoyed this book. The Gray Man is becoming one of my favorite thriller characters. I tend not to enjoy superheroes, but the Gray Man has shot and killed his way into my heart. The plot is very simple. The Gray Man is a professional assassin, and it seems like agents from many nations are all simultaneously trying to kill him while he is engaged in a rescue mission. The plot is a little preposterous (actually very preposterous), but it is a lot of fun. I particularly enjoyed a scene in which the Gray Man is driving to the rescue while a veterinarian’s assistant is giving him a blood transfusion while suturing up a stab wound in his stomach area. Good quips abound. The author, Mark Greaney, has a great imagination and is a terrific action writer. The book moves from action scene to action scene without letup, and I managed to read this very quickly.

The Gray Man is a “complex” character as well. He only seems to kill bad people, and he abhors acts of dishonesty. I have a feeling the author had a huge amount of fun writing this book, and creating difficult situations for the “Gray Man”. I enjoyed the author’s creativity, and my sense of disbelief was overshadowed by the cleverness of the almost absurd situations in which the “Gray Man” found himself.

I normally prefer a more intellectual story, but this one is a lot of fun. I highly recommend it. Buckle your seatbelt and have a really great ride.

I have read two other books in Mark Greaney’s “The Gray Man” series and enjoyed each of them, so I wanted to read his debut novel, so I sought it out. I was not disappointed.

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Link to Author’s Website:  https://markgreaneybooks.com/

Purchase Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002N83GSA/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1