Multiple-Mini-Review: Doc’s Tale of Two Knigi

Image may contain: one or more people and textIt was the best of books, it was the worst of books. Well, that’s not quite fair – the Strugatsky boys are a couple of authors I really enjoy reading, but this time around, all characters and no plot. I got through the halfway point and bailed. I can’t see waiting around for two hundred pages, waiting for something compelling to happen. I’m the opposite when it comes to watching slow movies, not sure why I don’t have the patience when it comes to reading.  As such, Doc’s really unable to offer a grade for this one.

The Scalzi book, on the other hand, hits the ground running. It’s more a novella than a novel, at only 130 pages. It reads quick, and it’s a very entertaining story. The cover art is a bit of a disappointment, I will admit – it gives the overall package a vanity press feel, which doesn’t seem right, since Scalzi is fairly prolific and has done well for himself.  The writing is tight and muscular, and the plot is pretty fantastic.  A quick and dirty “A-” for this effort.

If you’ve read “Monday…” and love it, convince me to give it another shot.

Doc Reviews “The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn

Image may contain: textLiterature it ain’t, but if you’re a fan of the psychological suspense/thriller genre, you might enjoy this. Borrowing heavily from Hitchcock (and more or less acknowledging as much through the plot), we have a novel in which Anna, living alone, suffering from agoraphobia, sees her new neighbor and friend Jane stabbed to death in the house across the street. Battling her anxiety disorder and the bottle or so of wine she had drunk that day, Anna tries to make her way to the house to help the neighbor – she awakens in the hospital the next day, having passed out from the alcohol and the anxiety, and being told that her neighbor is alive and well. When Anna insists on her version of events, the neighbor comes in to show herself to be alive and well. But it’s an impostor – – it’s definitely not Jane. What the hell’s going on?

The author, A.J. Finn, leaves a handful of breadcrumbs and very few red herrings; on the way to the finale, I had solved almost all of the subplot mysteries to help me draw my own conclusion of what was going on, but in the end, I think Finn had either left out details or simply obscured them so well that I got a nice surprise. Events were tidily explained, and at the end of the day, we have a satisfying read. Probably just another book in the “The Woman…” titles (“…in Cabin 10,” “…on the Train,” “…Who Wrote Another Book to be Unfairly Yet Unavoidably Compared to ‘Gone Girl'”), but a fun read regardless. On a scale of 1 to 10, Doc would offer a good old “B+” on this one.

Doc Reviews “The Frozen Woman” by Jon Michelet

rfs1Finally finished this one. It’s not a massive book – quite slim, in fact, at 256 pages. In what may be a case of mistaken identity, a woman is murdered and dumped in the garden of a shady lawyer. We’re given a fairly decent bundle of clues as to who did it, but the why remains to be seen.
The book starts off with a bang, but bogs down after the first handful of chapters. Only once the reader is aware that the book may be reaching its climax does the pace pick up again. Another obstacle for me was the introduction of so many key figures throughout the book, and frankly, trying to juggle the two dozen Norwegian names was a task for me. I don’t recall having this issue with other Norwegian thrillers, but for some reason, in this one, I had a hard time keeping the characters straight in my head.
I will also fault the translator in somewhat, because the translator’s job is to do more than translate: there were a few jokes that probably fell flat because the wordplay didn’t bridge the languages. A good editor would have made suggestions to correct this.
Overall, an entertaining read, but at times it felt like a chore. On a scale of 1 to 10, Doc’s going to be kind and throw this one a B-. There’s a reason it’s not gotten any 5-star reviews on Amazon.

Doc Reviews M.R. Anderson’s “Landscape With Invisible Hand”

Image result for landscape with invisible hand
Went to the library to pick up something quick and easy to read in between bigger tomes, and this one grabbed me. The description made it sound interesting – the planet has been invaded by the vuvv, an alien race who has been studying our planet since the 1950s (and has fallen in love with the music and movies from that era), and has (for all intents and purposes) led a hostile takeover of the government, buying out politicians and business owners, and initially providing a sort of utopia by automating almost every occupation in existence. Larger industrial cities are the most heavily impacted, but as people lounge around, living the life, they realize that they are no longer bringing in money to feed themselves. What little money that is saved or earned through the few jobs left is mostly worthless, as the vuvv have introduced their own currency.
The story is told through short (two- to six-page) vignettes from the point of view of Adam Costello, a creative teen who hopes to turn his artwork into money for his mother and sister through a vuvv-sponsored contest to present the best artistic talents the Earth has to offer. The vuvv highly prefer still lifes and landscapes, but Adam is set on presenting the world as it has changed after the vuvv arrival. Meanwhile, he is also broadcasting live footage of his faux romance with Chloe, which provides a little income for his and her family – but their relationship, which started off as very real, is showing cracks. Is it possible that they can resolve their differences to make sure their families are able to eat?
What I liked: the author, M.T. Anderson, expresses a wry sense of humor in his writing (“I love you like my own leg” is a standout line) and it trickles even into the most troubling of scenes. Adam’s at times very public difficulties with a very uncomfortable and embarrassing gastrointestinal affliction are also handled with a mix of laugh-out-loud and what-did-I-just-read. But the underlying theme of the buying and selling of those who already have all the money in the world, and waiting for the invisible hand of the economy to fix things, maddeningly all too real, also strikes a deep chord.
What I didn’t like: Anderson seemed to be in a race to wrap up the book; perhaps when he sat down to start writing, he had the entire plot in mind, from start to finish, but this reads more like a book that started as a great idea with nowhere to go. Unlike the hero of the story. Who goes all over the place.
On a scale of 1 to 100, Doc gives this one a respectable C+.

Doc Reviews “Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi

Image result for children of blood and boneWell, this was an amazing book, an amazing first book, and an amazing first book in a fantasy series. It’s been three days since I completed it, and it’s taken me that long to gather my thoughts and try to put them down in a coherent fashion. And I can’t.
In a land not unlike the African continent, the people of Orïsha are represented mostly by the maji and kosidán – the former, endowed with magical qualities across the elements, depending on the individual, and the latter endowed with the royal heritage that allows them to rule the land. Twelve years before the action of this novel takes place, out of fear for his family’s life, the ruler of Orïsha has somehow devised a plan to rid the land of magic of any kind, causing those of maji blood to lose their ability to defend themselves and provide for themselves; they are, in essence, systematically oppressed by the kosidán. In the sweep to ensure that the magic stays dead, efforts are made to kill the leaders of the maji community, including the mother of our book’s hero, Zélie.
We are provided a number of glimpses into the cultures of both the maji and the kosidán through the narration of four of the main characters – a son and daughter living among the maji, and the son and daughter of the King of Orïsha. When it becomes apparent that some of the relics from the period of magic are somehow popping up, and the promise of using them to return magic to the maji people, both sides of Orïsha are anxious, for obviously different reasons. There’s definitely an axe or two to grind from both sides, and it looks like neither is interested in getting along.
A series of misadventures brings the four narrators together; each of the four carries with him or her the ultimate goal of trying to build a just and fair Orïsha, but each has his or her own definition of what that means, and how to go about achieving it. The writing here is muscular and violent at times, but not without purpose. The author, Tomi Adeyemi, has pulled a JK Rowling in offering a first novel of what I hope will be many, richly layered with a fresh voice on what it means to be a human among humans, rather than a member of a class or race pitted against others.
Image result for Tomi AdeyemiAs good as the book is, I found the Author’s Note at the end to be the pièce de résistance. If I tell you what she offers, I fear it will be as much a spoiler as anything I could reveal about the book. But it made me set the book down and view everything I read in an entirely different light. It will definitely not be to everyone’s taste – you’ll know why when you read it – and for this reason, the book has suffered a bit in the “reader’s reviews” section of any of your favorite online booksellers. But I say give this marvelous book a chance. It is an absolute winner. Staple your socks to your calves, because otherwise they may be knocked clean off. On a scale of 1 to 100, Doc give this book a solid old-fashioned “A”.

Doc Reviews Sophie Hannah’s “The Orphan Choir”

Image result for orphan choir bookDoc just finished this one up. I liked what the author did here, but it will definitely not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s as if she had two rough ideas for a novel, but didn’t have a way to 1) start one, and 2) finish the other. It’s an interesting exercise, and for me, it worked.
The first half of the book involves Louise, a mum living in Cambridge with her husband and 7-year-old son, who attends boarding school and is a promising young chorister. Louise is having serious problems with her next-door-neighbor, whom she calls “Mister Fahrenheit” because of his insistence on playing Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” and any number of other loud tunes well into the night. The book thus far reads like a piece of fluffy humorous fiction as she plots to somehow get Mr. F. to tone it down or face her wrath. The mood of the book changes quite dramatically at about the halfway point, however, when we slowly come to realize that some of what Louise is hearing might very well be hallucinations, brought about by her drifting into what appear to be psychotic episodes.
It’s not a book I’d hang onto, so a library copy will do the trick. It’s got me interested in Ms. Hannah’s other works, however. It’s nice to bump into a work that challenges our perception of reliability in a narrator, a narrator we’ve come to trust, but only for so long.
Seems like a lot of the reading community are quite torn on whether they like or dislike this one – I’m not sure why; no one is being fooled here, we know (hopefully) what we’re getting into when picking it up, but the starkness of the switch from humor to despair is very real.  Doc likes it, and on a scale of 1 to 100, I’m busting out a “B” for this’n.