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Interviews | April 8, 2014

Shawn Donley: IMG Gabrielle Zevin: The Powells.com Interview

Gabrielle ZevinThe American Booksellers Association collects nominations from bookstores all over the country for favorite forthcoming titles. The Storied Life of... Continue »
  1. $17.47 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

    The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

    Gabrielle Zevin 9781616203214


Customer Comments

Tung has commented on (29) products.

Graveyard of Memories (John Rain Thrillers) by Barry Eisler

Tung, April 11, 2014

I've read all of Barry Eisler's John Rain novels, as well as the Ben Treven sequel "Inside Out," and I've liked most of them. But with the series going on past a decade now, Eisler had to deal with the fact that Rain, already near 50 in the first book, would now be something like 62 in real time. Now, I'm sure that Rain at 62 would still be lethal compared to most of us when we were in our 20s or 30s, but in the world in which he plays, he's got to be slowing down compared to younger adversaries.

On top of that, while I found Dox and Delilah (his steady allies) to have been interesting additions at first, in the later books, I felt that they somehow detracted from the central theme of the novels - the lone assassin who has to plan everything to the end, who may use other people to help but only through manipulation and deception.

"Graveyard of Memories" solves both of those problems by going back to the very beginning of Rain's career -- really, an origin story of how he became an assassin for hire, how he developed his code (exclusive contracts, no women/children targets, and principals only), how he learned to make his kills look like natural deaths, and so on. It's not unlike how the late Vince Flynn found it difficult to sustain his counterterrorism assassin Mitch Rapp into middle age, so he wrote two prequel novels.

This one is ostensibly being narrated by a present-day Rain, because there are occasional instances of commentary of how he would do things differently today, but hadn't yet learned back then. Otherwise, it reads like you are there, back in Tokyo in 1972.

The plot isn't convoluted, but there are twists along the way. In the beginning, Rain is confronted by two Japanese punks. Rather than walk away, he beats the heck out of them, so badly that one of them dies shortly after. Unfortunately for Rain, the deceased is related to an important Yakuza boss, who takes great offense. That sets into motion the rest of the novel, which involves Rain trying to deal with his CIA handler to get the information he needs to eliminate the Yakuza threat, with the CIA demanding that he perform a set of tasks....
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Dumbbell Training by Allen Hedrick

Tung, April 3, 2014

I've been exercising pretty avidly for the past three+ years, mostly running (30-40 miles/week), but with a bit of resistance training. Until recently, I would lift about once a week, mostly barbells and dumbbells in the gym. However, after digging out a set of home dumbbells that we had, I switched to doing my lifting 2-3 times a week, and at home.

Since my primary interest is running, I lift for two reasons: (1) to improve my running; and (2) to minimize muscle loss now that I'm in my 40s. In other words, I read and think a lot about running; lifting, not so much. Now, the basic dumbbell lifts, I can figure out myself -- i.e., shoulder press, bench press, squats, deadlifts, rows. But this book opened my eyes to the HUGE number of dumbbell exercises you can do. I mostly don't do them, but it's very useful to see what else there is if I need to develop some area of my body.

As with running books, you can probably find a lot of the material in this book freely available on the Internet. So this is mostly useful if you like to have a book to hold and page through.

Oh, and aside from explaining and showing different dumbbell exercises, the book also provides samples of workout routines based on specified goals (explosive strength, etc.). In this regard, unfortunately for me, it failed to provide a routine for distance running.
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What Makes Olga Run?: The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star and What She Can Teach Us about Living Longer, Happier Lives by Bruce Grierson
What Makes Olga Run?: The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star and What She Can Teach Us about Living Longer, Happier Lives

Tung, April 3, 2014

I tend to put running books in two categories: those about how to run faster/better, and those about runners. This is in the latter category, so reading it is not likely to make you run faster or better (unless, of course, you aren't running at all right now but get inspired to start).

The main character in the book is Olga Kotelko, an international track star based on her incredible age-based records in a whole host of track events ranging from sprinting to high jumping to javelin throwing. She's doing this at 92 years old!

So, a good deal of the book is about how she got into track at an advanced age (70+), what her training is like, and what scientists and doctors have learned about her from her voluntary cooperation with their research. Another part of the book is about author Bruce Grierson's developing friendship with Olga, and in the most self-critical parts, comparing his own relatively bad state of fitness to Olga's. Along the way, Grierson provides a lot of exposition about the current state of research about fitness and longevity. It concludes with a set of guidelines for living better; while readers are unlikely to be as dominant in the age 90-94 bracket as Olga is, the guidelines are workable.

I enjoyed the book. As a protagonist, Olga is not the most interesting person, but as a study in what is possible at such an age, and what tangible benefits result from such activity, she's pretty fascinating.
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Influx by Daniel Suarez

Tung, February 19, 2014

I really liked Daniel Suarez's controlling AI novels "Daemon" and "Freedom", so I was pretty excited to get a hold of "Influx." The premise was intriguing: an inventor (and his team) make an incredible discovery -- a way of "reflecting" gravity that heralds a whole new understanding of physics -- but before they can publicize the result, they are bottled up by a mysterious government agency charged with keeping dangerous technological breakthroughs from destabilizing society. The inventor is invited to join the agency, but if he won't join, he's going to be locked up . . . and the agency is about 50 years ahead of the rest of the world in technology, so forget about trying to escape.

I thought that this would turn out to be a mash-up of the old Christopher Lambert movie FORTRESS (trying to escape from a high-tech prison) with INDEPENDENCE DAY (defeating a technologically superior foe), and I suppose in very broad strokes, that is kind of accurate. But the sum is less than the parts, as the parts are curiously flat. Parts of the initial detention are pretty harrowing, but the escape lacked tension, as did the fight back.

I still think Suarez is a talented author, but "Influx" was at best a sidestep from "Daemon"/"Freedom."
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The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel by Benjamin Black
The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel

Tung, February 19, 2014

I'm a big Raymond Chandler fan, and every few years I go back and re-read the Philip Marlowe novels. I love the hard-boiled style, the rich similes, the wisecracks (even as they haven't aged all that well). But unfortunately, Chandler spawned many imitators, almost all of whom verge into unintentional parody. (Probably the best imitator I've come across was Mike McQuay's sci-fi detective series about Matthew Swain -- start with "Hot Time in Old Town.")

I haven't read Robert B. Parker's continuation of the Marlowe series, but that was an authorized work, as is Benjamin Black's "The Black-Eyed Blonde." So these guys aren't imitating Chandler so much as attempting to replicate his work.

Alas, I found "The Black-Eyed Blonde" so tedious that I gave up after 54 pages, skipped to the end, and found that while I obviously missed a lot of stuff, I was able to follow the denouement. In terms of style, the best I can say is that this is the literary equivalent of vegan meat substitutes that sort of taste like meat but something is off. Black is, by reputation, an enormously talented writer, and there are glimpses of that talent that come through. But large parts of the book just don't sound like Philip Marlowe, and worse yet, it's a boring read where not much happens. Chandler's books, by contrast, were lean and taut.

I gave this two stars instead of one because the ending does reward readers who've read Chandler's novels.
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