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.

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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”

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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.

Doc Looks Ahead at the Coming Week AND (for a limited time) A FREE BOOK!

rfs1Doc’s got a handful of irons in the fire for the coming week.  As you are no doubt aware, he’s going to be tucking into a smorgasbord of cinematic delicacies at the 2018 Russian Film Symposium in Pittsburgh.  Between reporting on the collection of motion picture greatness, there’s three books in particular that Doc wants to tell you about: Reservoir 13, Mister Monkey, and Hard to be a God.  All three of these are (spoiler alert) awesome in their own right, and I can’t wait to tell you about them.  Watch this space!

Image result for An Unusual Occupation: Part One of The Journals of Bob DrifterIn the meantime, M.L.S. Weech is hawking a free book through our good friends at Amazon in celebration of the upcoming release of the second book in his Journals of Bob Drifter series.  The free book (An Unusual Occupation) is actually the first in the series, and remains free until 30 April.  Matt’s second book, to be released any dang minute, is heavily discounted (99 cents, guys!) until 15 May.  Head on over to his blog to check out the details.  I’ve downloaded my copy of this intriguing book, and can’t wait to read it and review it!  Thanks, Matt!

 

Listen Like Doc: Doc Reviews Neil Gaiman’s Audio Book “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains”

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This will be a bit of a different tack for me.  I commute many, many miles each week, and find the comfort of a good podcast relaxing enough in my mobile man-cave to keep me from bursting at the seams at the morons that litter our highways.  Never mind that they commit the same transgressions that I do on a routine basis – they’re different, because they aren’t me.  Harumph.  But every now and then, a short audio book comes along that strikes Doc’s fancy, and with that, I’ll dive in to today’s review – the utterly delightful “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains.”

Image result for neil gaimanLet me start by saying I am a huge Neil Gaiman fan.  He could write out a shopping list and I’d cry like a slapped baby for hours, I’m almost sure of it.  So perhaps the well’s a bit poisoned whenever I open up a new book of his: I take a swig already knowing it will be my Favorite New Thing.  “The Truth…” is no different.

I downloaded the audio from my library’s Overdrive site – please, please, please: if your library offers Overdrive, a free way to download books and audio, you’ve GOT to jump on it!  It’s an amazing world of free stuff, on loan to your device, just like any other library loan.  Go to their website and see if your library is a participant; if not, talk to your library’s management, and see if there’s anything that can change their mind.

Image result for eddie campbell illustratorWhere was I?  Ahh.  I downloaded the audio to find that 1) it’s a swift 82-minute listen, and 2) it apparently comes fully loaded with its own soundtrack – performed nicely by the FourPlay String Quartet.  The book itself, in print form, is apparently a very nice package to thumb through, adroitly illustrated by Eddie Campbell, whose artwork adorns the cover of this particular audio piece.

The story tells the tale of a mysterious small man – a dwarf, by some accounts – who is seeking the assistance of a villager, Callum MacInnes, a man known to have visited the mysterious cave of gold in the Black Mountains.  The dwarf, who is our narrator, seeks to hire him as his guide.  The gold has its own tale to tell; those who have entered the cave and taken its gold find that whatever purpose they find for their purloined treasure, there is no joy or happiness to be gotten from it.  Callum explains this to the dwarf, warning him that nothing good will come of it – he himself used his gold to buy a nice parcel of land, build a lovely house, woo and marry a beautiful woman, and sire a loving son – but he himself is without joy.  He is destined to live the rest of his days this way.

Eventually, Callum agrees to serve as the dwarf’s guide, but on one condition: he himself will not enter the cave.  He will bring the dwarf to the foot of the cave, and allow him to spend as much time as needed within, but the dwarf is to understand that Callum must not enter, and that the dwarf himself can only take out what he himself can carry.  The dwarf readily agrees.

The trek to the island on which the misty Black Mountains rest fills up the first half of the little story.  On the way, we learn a little more about the guide – not much about his history, but about his nature.  We also learn that he has hidden quite a dark secret from everyone, even his own wife, but is coaxed by the dwarf into telling the tale, a tale of a life he took inadvertently, an act that continues to play a role in his own life.  It is when the two arrive at the mouth of the cave, after a few misadventures and questionable actions, that we start to get an understanding of the dwarf’s motivations and how he will choose to spend his time digging through the gold in the cave.  We are greeted with a number of sides of the dwarf throughout the book, and eventually come to understand his actions by the tale’s end, even if we might not agree with them.

The book is peppered throughout with indications of what’s to come.  Still, and even though the ending was no surprise, the whole package left me breathless when it had finished.  Bravo, Neil Gaiman.

Image result for The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains audioThe audio book may pale in comparison with the print version, and getting to enjoy the illustrations provided by Campbell – in fact, listening to it made me vow to seek out the printed version to be able to see how well Campbell did – but those of us who are able to hear the audio version are given the additional treat of the music of the FourPlay String Quartet.  They are as much like the Kronos Quartet as ever I’ve had a chance to experience; this seems to be the perfect book for their performing ability – their strings tickle the listener’s emotions as much as the reader.  And oh, what a reader!

Gaiman doesn’t simply read the story, he performs it.  As its author, he knows the inflections he was after, the cadence of the dialogue, the crests and waves of the flow that pitch us forward and back in our seat as we listen to his telling of the tale.  His voice is a slice of butter-and-honey toast: all smooth and sweet and lovely to taste, but quick to turn into a sharp bit of crust when you least expect it.  God, does he get it right throughout the story.

Doc thoroughly enjoyed this story.  He understands that his man-crush on All Things Gaiman probably is playing its role in the final verdict, but because of the duration, presentation, and story telling, we’ve gotta give this one a solid A.  Highly, highly recommended.  This might be tied with “Meddling Kids” for my favorite book of the year so far.

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Doc Reviews “Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero

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I can tell you one thing: You need to read this book.

This was a very good book. “Ready Player One” (for the 70s and 80s vibe) meets HP Lovecraft (for the Lovecraft vibe). It’s NOT, as the cover and title might lead you to believe, got anything to do with Scooby Doo. The plot DOES sound familiar, though.  There are four teens and a dog, who solve a series of “mysteries” that usually end up with the unmasking of some greedy profiteer, sheep rustler, or erstwhile lawyer who had been trying to scare off the locals in an effort to hoodwink the town out of prime development land.  Or something along those lines.  Although I’m not sure I used the word “erstwhile” correctly.  But bear with me.  The action in the book takes place 13 years after the gang solves The Mystery of the Sleepy Lake Monster, where they seem to get their true notoriety as teenage supersleuths.

Fast forward 13 years, and our heroes – Andy (Andrea), Kerri, Peter and Nate – well, most of them – are getting the band back together, so to speak.  Peter, the leader, is there in spirit – he died a few years back, and only Nate is able to see and hear him.  And Tim, the dog – actually the great-grandson of Sean, the weimaraner who helped solve the case back in Blyton Hills so many years ago.  The problem?  The case may not have ever really been solved.  There have been reports of some mysterious – possibly even supernatural – events over the past few years.  On top of that, memories of scenes from that harrowing case involving scenes far too elaborate to have been staged by a money-grubbing yokel, have been nagging at the gang.  The three surviving members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club, sprung forward from their own interesting new backgrounds, are compelled to investigate once again.

The book was brilliantly penned by Edgar Cantaro, who is not only an offensively gifted writer, but also a cartoonist as well.  An example of his work, showcasing his image of the characters: medkids

This was masterfully written with sparklingly cheeky dialogue and humor running the spectrum from comatose-subtle to slap-nuts hilarious. Very few dry spells throughout, not all that many twists or “aha!” moments. Worth picking up if you enjoy reading. And I know you do.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Doc’s gonna throw a bone to this one: A.

Doc Reviews “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” by JK Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

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This review is 98% spoiler-free!
Doc finished reading this snappy read about an hour ago. I haven’t really read any reviews of it, other than some of taglines like “So many twists!” There are no more twists to this story than any other Potter story. Perhaps the cruelest twist, then, is in expecting readers who have never read a play to hope it reaches them as emotionally as the first seven stories did.
Without the narrative and inner voice to accompany what is little more than dialogue and stage direction, the authors are forced into weaving slight contrivances into the dialogue to help shepherd the reader into understanding the motivation behind any given character in any given scene. In the end, it works, but I wonder how many readers get that far without becoming frustrated.
ccThe story centers around Albus Severus Potter – remember reading that name in ‘Deathly Hallows’ and almost being moved to tears at the significance behind it?  It seems that Albus isn’t all that interested in what made mom and dad name him that; in fact, his priority appears to be in coming to grips with being the son of Harry Potter.  Another of the main characters is a kid named Scorpius Malfoy – who also seems to be having issues living up to his own father’s best wishes.  Through a series of encounters, and early on in the story, we learn that Albus and Scorpius, who somehow have found themselves to be kindred spirits, are contriving to step back into the past with a Time Turner to right a wrong and make the world a better place.  It wouldn’t be much of a story if they succeeded in doing just that, so there’s all sorts of misunderstood actions and missteps along the way.  You don’t have to read too many books on time travel to know that sometimes things can really go wrong with the slightest of actions.  A temporal butterfly effect.
In true Rowling fashion, things get off to a bang, and there’s loss of life at stake (on a massive scale) depending on whether or not the Potter and Malfoy progeny can undo what’s been done.  Of course they can’t, not on their own.  And even then…
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There are some minor complaints about the writing – at times, it seems as though this is a story wrapped up in a Trivial Pursuit game; many names from the past are re-introduced, as can be expected in any series that has run this long, but often we are met with obscure names that may have been mentioned once in an early chapter of an even earlier story in the set – and that’s the only mention. Are the authors offering a nod to the true Potter geek? I didn’t consider these moments as roadblocks, but they were certainly distracting and seemed to be shoe-horned into the text in as unwieldy a manner as could be expected.
The story was very good, everything a true Potter fan could have hoped for. Among the best-written parts in the play are the redemption and acknowledgment of past courageous acts for a number of well-known characters; this seemed to also be a nod to true devotees who may have felt certain characters’ sacrifices, both known and assumed, went unappreciated for too long. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll leave that up to your imagination as to whom I’m writing about. Regardless, these passages could have been written in a ridiculously syrupy manner, and perhaps if this were a traditional novel, that would have been the case, but the stage is too swollen with action for characters or audience to dwell too much on them. The authors are, to paraphrase one exchange, planting acorns for the ride home and for the weeks to come.
One thing that stands out to the even mildly observant reader is that trying to stage this play as written would be a courageous endeavour. There are seemingly hundreds of scenes scattered through the acts, and the magic is deeply ingrained throughout – how certain actions could be translated to the stage are beyond me, but that’s happily not my job. It does make me want to see the play in person, however.
What would be even more interesting would be to see how it could be brought to the cinema screen. It would be interesting to see it happen, but it would have to occur with at least one major change in the cast – Alan Rickman’s passing would demand someone that could handle Snape’s lines – not much of a spoiler, since it’s already been revealed that the play involves a good deal of time travel.
So anyway, a good read, almost a must-read for the true Potter fans, with a gentle warning to approach with caution – remember it’s not a novel, there is a good deal of reading between the lines required in order to follow along without getting too frustrated.
On a scale of 1 to 10, Doc’s giving this one a solid A-.  Worth the purchase if you’ve already got the other books.  I hope this puts a nice final ribbon on the series.
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