Monthly Archives: October 2011

Book Snobery

Is it just me or does anyone else ever get depressed when you browse the New Books shelves at the local library and find a book you love just sitting there, begging to be checked out and meanwhile knowing that thousands of people are re-reading the horrifically bad Twilight novels for the hundred and fiftieth time?

Look, I have nothing against the Twilight novels other than they’re poorly written featuring characters who make me want to reach into the page and slap them as hard as I can (Bella, especially) and a storyline that’s a blatant and terrible rip-off of the Buffy and Angel storyline, only without the depth or subtext.   But it just pains me sometimes to know that people are re-reading these again and again when the new Laura Lippman novel is just sitting there, begging to be read.  Or that Ready Player One is sitting on the shelves and that it’s one of the more fun, engaging and entertaining books I’ve read in a while.  Oh sure, it’s not terribly deep and it’s not going to be mistaken for great literature any time soon, but it’s still a fun read that I’d highly recommend to just about anyone.

Does this make me a book snob?  Or even more of one that I think I am?

The sad answer is, probably so.

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Booking Through Thursday — Difficult Reading

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What’s the hardest/most challenging book you’ve ever read? Was it worth the effort? Did you read it by choice or was it an assignment/obligation?

This week’s question reminds me of a high school English class back in the day.  The teacher decided the class would read a Hemingway novel and the divided us up into groups based on what she took as our reading level.  A lot of the class got to read Old Man and the Sea while I and one other person got to real A Farewell to Arms.   Needless to say, it was a bit of a challenge, but one I enjoyed.

I’m not sure I’d say it was the most challenging book I’ve read.  That would probably go to A Light in August by William Faulkner.  Again, it was a high school English teacher assigning a book to challenge me.  Faulkner’s use of language was masterful, but the book required more than most bubble-gum type of novels I was reading at the time (and still do).

Since I’ve matriculated, I’ve challenged myself from time to time with reading material.  Or it’s challenged me a times.  I tried to plow through Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norville a few years ago and found it a dreadful book.  I gave up and have never regretted not finishing it.  How it won the Hugo is beyond me….

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Booking Through Thursday — Vacation

I’m on vacation this week. I didn’t go anywhere exciting or exotic, I’m just not at work. Spending time puttering around the house, playing with the dog and … oh yeah. Reading. A lot.

Do your reading habits change when you’re on vacation? Do you read more? Do you indulge in lighter, fluffier books than you usually read? Do you save up special books so you’ll be able to spend real vacation time with them? Or do you just read the same old stuff, vacation or not?

It depends on what kind of vacation I’m taking.  I’ve had two this year–one to DisneyWorld and another to the beach.  In each case, I packed books for the journey there and to read while there.  But with Disney, I was so focused on enjoying time with my family and seeing as much of the four parks as possible that I didn’t read as much while there.  I did read a good deal while on the way, though since I wasn’t doing the driving.

As for the beach, I read a bit on the beach and by the pool.  Because that’s one of the most perfect places in the world to read.

As for reading choices, I often use vacation time as a good time to clear stuff off the to-be-read list.  Sometimes it depends on what I’m in the mood for at the time.  So, I tend to overpack on books because you might be in the mood for something once you get to your destination.   The Kindle has kind of helped because it makes it easier to carry more books in a lighter form.

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Review: The Night Strangers

The Night Strangers
The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While Chris Bohjalian isn’t quite in my upper pantheon of favorite authors, he’s rapidly working his way up the list. And his latest novel “The Night Strangers” just may be the book that puts him over the top.

It’s interesting to read this novel while attempting to watch the new FX series “American Horror Story.” On the surface, the two would appear to share the common theme of a haunted house story. And while I’ve only seen one episode of “Horror Story” so far, I’d have to say that Bohjalian’s novel is the far more sinister, gothic type of experience I was hoping for based on the ads for “Horror Story.”

Chip Linton is a commercial airline pilot whose career is on track and whose family life is going well. He and his wife Emily are happily married with fraternal twin daughters. During a routine take-off, Chip’s plane encounters a gaggle of geese, taking out an engine in the plane and forcing an attempted water landing. A freak wave ensures the water landing isn’t quite as successful as the one in New York a few years ago. Chip is one of the few survivors and is haunted by these moments, even as he loses his job with the airline.

Chip, his wife Emily and the two daughters buy a house in New Hampshire, hoping the change of scenery will help Chip’s PTSD and give the family a new start. At first, things go well, but there is something more going on not only with the house but the community the Lintons have moved into.

While it would be easy to sum up “The Night Strangers” as a ghost story, doing so would be to overlook a lot of what sets this novel apart from other haunting stories. Bohjalian’s ably swifts between third-person narrative for all the characters but Chip and second-person narrative to allow us inside Chip’s addled mind. It helped keep me guessing as to what exactly was going on within the story for a long period of time without feeling like it was dragging out certain revelations. It also helps us to understand Chip’s behavior not only from within but also to see how it impacts those around him.

The story is haunting, the prose is hypnotic at times. “The Night Strangers” pulled me and wouldn’t let go at times. It’s one of those books that you need to set aside a good chunk of time to get lost in. If you do, you won’t regret it.

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Review: Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth

Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth
Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth by Terrance Dicks
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of the most memorable first Doctor stories gets a fairly standard adaption for the printed page. Part of that is the fact that this six part William Harntell story has some stunning visuals of Daleks gliding through the streets of a deserted, invaded future London. And part of that is that Terrance Dicks struggles trying to compress a six part story in to the 128-page count mandated by Target novels at the time it was published.

This re-telling of the story combines elements from the television and movie version. This was one of the Hartnell stories adapted in what I call the middle period of the Target novels, when they didn’t so much as enhance or deepen what we saw on screen but merely compressed the events onto the printed page without any flourishes or additions. Dicks does manage to make the Slither a lot more sinister than it appears on screen, but the rest of the novel is, unfortunately, rather a bland experience.

So why pick up the audio adaptation, you may ask. For one thing, it’s read by William Russell, who’s done a superlative job on his previous entries for the Harntell era stories. This alone makes listening to “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” worth the price of admission. The other is that while it’s not a great adaptation, the story is still interesting and familiar enough to me that it serves as just enough of a distraction while jogging to allow me to work a bit harder but not so much that I’m not aware of what’s going on around me (traffic, animals, etc.) or that I miss a critical detail of the plot that could be important later.

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Booking Through Thursday: Sequels

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If you could get a sequel for any book, what would it be?

Being a sci-fi and fantasy fan, I’m used to lots of sequels and series being out there–something that’s a good thing and sometimes it doesn’t work as much.  I’m thinking of the Issac Asimov Robot novels, which the first two are great and then he went back to the well in the 80s and gave us one good sequel and one that I’d rather forget about.

And I think that brings up my biggest reason for wanting or not wanting a sequel.  If there’s a good reason for going back to a universe or characters and it’s well done and not just a money grab, I’m all for it.  But if it’s just a–hey, let’s go back to a familiar property and print some cash, I’m not all the excited about it.  I’m thinking of the sequels to things like Gone With the Wind, where the original was a complete story and while there were some things you could wonder about after the last page was turned, that was all part of the fun.  I think part of the issue with a sequel is that if you’ve got a beloved property and the fans have speculated for years about where it might all go next, inevitably if the official sequel doesn’t line up with those expectations, fans will be upset.

It’s why I’m kind of nervous about the sequel to The Shining that Stephen King is working on.  I loved the original and rank it up there among the horror master’s bests…and I hope the sequel lives up to it.  If it’s something King has been working on over a period of time and years, then it should be good.  But it also has the potential to really disappoint me.

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Review: Water’s Edge

Water's Edge
Water’s Edge by Robert Whitlow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a world packed with John Grisham imitators, Robert Whitlow has always stood out from the legal-thriller crowd with his authentic characters and situations, his compelling moral dilemmas and his welcoming writing style. His early legal thrillers are among some of my favorite books and after pushing his style in his last few offerings, Whitlow returns to form with his latest Water’s Edge.

Tom Crane is an up and coming lawyer in Atlanta until he’s let go by his firm and dumped by his girlfriend (who also keeps his cat) all in the same dead. Heading home to close out his father’s law business, Tom finds himself quickly finds himself caught up in a web of mysteries surrounding the town’s biggest employer and economic savior, a mysterious trust account and the circumstances of his father’s death. He’s also having to fend off the advances of his old girlfriend who married his best friend as well as living with his elderly uncle, who thinks Tom has come home for other things besides closing up his father’s shop.

Water’s Edge is a return to the legal-thriller roots that put Whitlow on the map. And while there isn’t quite the high drama that we saw with novels like The List, Water’s Edge is easily the most compelling and page-turning Whitlow novel I’ve picked up in a long time. Part of that is Whitlow’s comfort in his storytelling. But another part of it (and it’s always been a big one for Whitlow) is his creation of authentic Christian characters within his story. With Tom, Whitlow shows us the journey Tom undergoes towards becoming a Christian, but unlike others in the contemporary Christian field, the journey never feels one-note or cliched. When Tom makes his decision, his life doesn’t become instantly a bed of roses and his decision doesn’t solve all his problems. Instead, Tom continues to struggle with things and has early doubts about things, people and situations.

Water’s Edge is Whitlow at his best. It’s among the best novels I’ve read this year–compelling, page-turning and it may even cause you to do a little thinking about something greater than just the drama unfolding on the page.

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Review: Eureka: Road Less Traveled

Eureka: Road Less Traveled
Eureka: Road Less Traveled by Cris Ramsay
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In the days before we had access to many of our favorite shows via DVD or streaming, one of the only ways to re-capture the feeling of enjoying an episode or two was via a tie-in novel. Most tie-in novels serve to remind me of why I like a particular show and serve as a nice bubble-gum type of book–enjoyable enough while chewing it, but not something I will necessarily recall long after I’m done.

Such is the case with Eureka: Road Less Traveled.

It’s certainly not the worst tie-in novel I’ve ever read, but it’s not the most memorable either.

Part of the problem is that Eureka is such an arc driven show–both plotwise and character wise–that a large portion of the first third of the book is spent trying to figure out what point during the series the novel is set. And while it’s not Chris Ramey’s fault that certain plotlines have moved forward since the book went to print, it did serve as a major distraction at times.

Not that a tie-in novel can’t overcome these things. If they’re willing to offer us something new or different or a unique perspective on things. Road Less Traveled doesn’t do any of that and ends up being a light reading experience that I didn’t necessarily hate but I didn’t necessarily love either.

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Review: Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker

Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker
Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker by Kevin D. Mitnick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Year ago before Tech TV morphed into G4 (and we were treated to endless repeats of Cops and Cheaters), I happened to tune in one afternoon to see an interview with notorious hacker Kevin Mitnick. At the time, Mitnick  promoted his book The Art of Deception and discussion in general terms how he wasn’t necessarily a hacker so much as a social engineer. Mitnick went on to say that part of his sentence was a gag order that prevented his specifically discussing his crimes and life as a hacker for the next decade or so, but he promised that we’d eventually get a book detailing his early days.

I was intrigued enough to pick up The Art of Deception and quickly read through it. It’s a must-read for anyone interesting in making sure you keep your personal or company information out of the hands of people who either enjoy the thrill of collecting it as Mitnick did or want to do something more nefarious with it.

A decade or so later, we’ve finally reached the day when Mitnick can come clean and detail his life as the most wanted hacker in America. His autobiography Ghost in the Wires is every bit as fascinating as I’d hoped it would be when I first heard from Mitnick all those years ago. At long last, we could finally see inside the world Mitnick hinted at in that interview and in his previous two books.

Mitnick’s story of how he learned how to hack various phone systems and social engineer his way into the databases of multiple phone companies is a fascinating one. Mitnick repeatedly asserts that he wasn’t interested in committing any kind of criminal act so much as he enjoyed the thrill of seeing if he could do something and how it could be done. At times, the book is a page-turner as we see inside Mitnick’s world of how his life of hacking consumed him at times, while at others he tried to walk away and not hack any more. There are some technical discussions of what Mitnick did or various software programs he was interested in seeing that, quite frankly, I just skimmed. It may be interesting to those with a detailed knowledge of these things, but what I found more compelling was the human story Mitnick tells.

At times, Mitnick is a bit short-sighted in things and that comes across. His repeated surprise that anyone would be interested in what he was doing, much less want to arrest and prosecute him is amusing.

Reading Ghost in the Wires I kept thinking that Mitnick’s story is one that is just begging to be turned into a movie–assuming you can get the right creative team behind the project. Last year, audiences watched the creation of Facebook on the big screen. I’d argue the story Mitnick has to tell is far more Hollywood ready than that one.

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Review: Cast No Shadow

Cast No Shadow
Cast No Shadow by James Swallow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

More and more these days, Star Trek novels tease me, offering great promise in the opening chapters but slowly falling back into the limitations of tie-in fiction in the waning pages.

With the franchise effectively rebooted by the movie series, it would seem the books could pretty much take some greater risks these days, exploring some new corners of the universe and offering up some compelling stories about the characters both major and minor we’ve met over the course of four decades.

And for the first hundred pages of “Cast No Shadow,” I really felt like James Swallow was going to do just that. The story is set seven years after the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.. When Klingon ship yards are attacked by a terrorist vessel that is linked to the conspiracy from the earlier film, the only connection to the group involved is the disgraced Valeris. Serving out consecutive life terms for her role in the events surrounding Gorkon’s death, Valeris is given the opportunity to wipe the slate clean legally.

Up to this point, Swallow’s story is a compelling one as he weaves in not only a lot of classic Trek history but incorporates some of the elements from the DS9 reboot. The exploration of the implications of what Spock did to Valeris and how it has affected them both in the years since it one of the most compelling and interesting aspects of the opening chapters. Even the psychiatrist sent to study and try and understand Valeris is interesting, at first.

It’s once Valeris agrees to be part of the mission to stop the terrorist cell from attacking again that things suddenly become less compelling. “Cast No Shadow” then falls into the standards tropes of the bulk of the tie-in Trek universe and makes the last two-thirds of the novel not nearly as interesting as they could be. There are a few flashbacks to how Valeris got tied into the group that offer some insight into the character and her growth, but they aren’t enough to rescue the novel from being something of a disappointment.

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