Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon:
This was the 3rd of 4 books I read on our OBX beach trip. It's much more effective, and tightly edited, than The Corner, although both books do an equally effective job of convincing me not to move into downtown Baltimore. The book jumps around between characters a fair amount, so it takes a little time to get them all straight. Fans of the true crime genre will enjoy it, although the story focuses more on the detectives themselves, rather than the crimes they investigate.

Final Grade: A-

Dexter, Season Six:
I have never been a fan of Julia Stiles' acting abilities, and this point was driven home when she woodenly stumbled through the three Bourne movies, obviously out of her depth and looking for someone to save a dance with. For this reason alone, the sixth season of Dexter gets a tiny bump in grade over the fifth season, but it still doesn't reach the series high points of season two and four.

The theme of this season is faith and religion, but it seems like every "lesson" that Dexter learns throughout the season in endless voice-overs was already learned in a past episode. This highlights the broader problem of inconsistent writing that unbelievably breaks continuity. Dexter often acts out of character, making sloppy mistakes, attacking in broad daylight, or (in the worst episode of the season) speeding down a highway firing a stolen gun out the window at billboards. His voice-overs are overused to provide exposition on things we already know about, to the point of self-parody. As a non-spoilerish example, Dexter escapes from a crime scene. In the next scene, detectives are remarking that no one was found there. Dexter's voice-over helpfully adds, "Because I escaped." He might as well have added, "By swimming away. I eventually reached the beach. Then I had a burger. Then I went home."

The season does build to a great ending, but it feels intentionally drawn out. Had the fifth and sixth season been compressed together, it would have been a much tighter, engaging story to tell.

Final Grade: B-

Dead Like Me, Season One:
This was Bryan Fuller's first show about death before he made Pushing Daisies. It tells the tale of Georgia Lass, who dies at the age of 18 and then has to spend eternity as a grim reaper, finding people who are about to die and helping them to cross over. It has a lot of high reviews on Amazon, and plays with a few fun concepts and characters, but it simply isn't very good. It tries hard to be clever and sound deep, but ultimately has to stretch too hard to tie everything together. Skip it, and watch Pushing Daisies twice instead.

Final Grade: D+

More Java Pitfalls by Michael Daconta, Kevin T. Smith, Donald Avondolio and W. Clay Richardson:
The information in this book is solid, useful, and well-organized. Its only flaw, unfortunately, is that it's now dated by about nine years. Many of the tips cover Java GUIs, or web practices from the days before Struts and Spring took center stage. However, this book would be good for a new CS grad to read for awareness when leaving the cocoon of academia for a real job (as well as Effective Java).

Final Grade: B

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