Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the tag “Reading”

Book review: The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham

The Dying Hours (Tom Thorne, #11)The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve always wondered how many professional killers like to stage suicides. Purely on an intellectual curiosity basis of course. Honest.

Mark Billingham’s The Dying Hours is another in the successful run of Tom Thorne crime novels. In the last book, Thorne was bumped back down to uniform and is loving it so much that he starts an investigation into a suicide that didn’t seem right to him. It isn’t long before he finds others that aren’t suicides but part of a hit list for a retired criminal. And that’s pretty much the novel summed up.

Therein lies my problem with the book. Crime novels are as full of tropes and cliches as any other genre and there are only so many plots to go around, it is about using the tropes in an interesting way. Billingham is highly regarded and I’ve heard good things about his work, but this story felt flat to me. There were too many well-worn steps being trod over the course of the novel and it bored me. Reading other reviews there were many long time fans who felt the same way.

If you want a standard crime novel, this will fit the bill. But it might be worth checking out the other books in the series, or other works from Billingham, instead of this one.

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Book review: Back Story by David Mitchell

Back StoryBack Story by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s no book quite like the autobiography, since they are usually biographies with some poor ghost writer having to make an illiterate celebrity (sportsperson) sound interesting. Odd that I’d decide to read an actual autobiography.

Just so we’re clear, this is a book by David Mitchell the comedian, not David Mitchell the award winning author. David Mitchell is a particularly funny comedian from the UK, one part of the Mitchell and Webb team, and Back Story is his tale of growing up and “getting on the tele”. Listening to the audiobook had the added benefit of David telling his story and giving his various rants and jokes the life they deserved.

That’s right, this book is funny from start to finish. Many comedic efforts fail to do this, either trying to squeeze too much out of a one joke premise, failing to be consistent, or having the jokes become tired – more of the same – somewhere in the middle of the book. Ostensibly told as David walks to work one morning, and recounting his life thus far, he manages to pack in a lot of commentary about schooling, university drama societies (Footlights), and the oddities of making shows for TV. And in true David Mitchell style there are plenty of witty insights, comedic rants, and down the barrel jokes to tell the tales.

I generally think that celebrity biographies are symptomatic of what is wrong with publishing and book stores. Someone has gone to a lot of effort to convince the reading public that these celebrities actually wrote the book (because they have heaps of spare time, and are well known for their writing prowess) and that they have something interesting to tell you that the tabloids haven’t already used as filler around those telephoto swimsuit shots. They’ve even managed to convince people that this is what you buy people as gifts, especially Xmas gifts for your dad. I don’t know if this was a big campaign or just one of those things that happened, but it would be great if people could stop pretending that sports people are interesting, are literate, and are actually writing a tell-all-book.

It is probably because David Mitchell is clearly the writer of this book, that the humour and the story told are entertaining yet honest, that I’ve enjoyed this autobiography. Too often in the past I’ve been disappointed with biographies and comedy books, so this was not just a good read, it was refreshingly good.

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Book Review: Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer

The Sins of the FatherThe Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If there is one lesson to be learned from this novel it is that no matter how bad things look – be it war, prison, fraud, or being a prisoner of war – as long as you are rich or have rich friends you’ll be fine. Oh, and having a peerage title is kinda inherent in the rich part.

Sins of the Father follows several characters through the events in and around the second world war. Harry Clifton was going to marry Emma Barrington, and despite Emma being pregnant, decides to join the navy after finding out that she could be his sister. Harry trades identities with Tom Bradshaw because reasons, which lands him in jail…… Okay, so this is just one long tale of misfortune disguised as a plot: you get the idea.

Archer deftly weaves his way across multiple time periods with multiple characters suffering multiple hardships. But I found that I was only really interested in two characters, Maisy Clifton (Harry’s mother) and Emma Barrington. This may have been because these were the strong willed characters who were grabbing circumstances by the horns and winning the tussle (or at least fighting the good fight). Archer takes several potshots at the issue of class and the peer system in the UK, the ones that work hard are rewarded, the ones that just sit back and inherit ultimately lose (is that a spoiler alert?). But he still manages to have the rich and peerage-d folk avoid death when their less fortunate and not rich commoner friends aren’t so lucky.

This was an engaging read but was let down by the ending. I’ll quite happily ignore the idea of the House of Lords having nothing better to do than spending an entire day debating who gets to inherit what, rather than say running the country as per the job description. I’ll even allow the speeches being included as part of the story. But I won’t abide Archer leaving this plot point unresolved until the next novel. That’s a deduction of one star from the rating right there.

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Book Review: The Valhalla Prophecy by Andy McDermott

The Valhalla Prophecy
The Valhalla Prophecy by Andy McDermott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At the rate Andy McDermott is going there aren’t going to be any ancient historical mysteries left to blow up. In this one, Nina and Eddie destroy Valhalla.

This is the ninth Nina and Eddie adventure, so at this stage there isn’t much need to describe the plot…. Oh okay. Ancient myth turns out to be real, there is a race to get to the archeological site first, things get blown up, people get shot at, world crisis averted. Or as my friend Iain summed it up: “Stupid, overblown, ridiculous, unbelievable, and utterly fucking brilliant.”

I always enjoy Andy’s adventure series, and his Persona Protocol was also good fun. You can’t help but enjoy his stories.

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Book Review: Deep Storm by Lincoln Child

Deep StormDeep Storm by Lincoln Child
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

It isn’t often that scientists are the good guys. Usually they are the bad guys, or at least facilitate things going horribly wrong, or they are socially inept losers. This time it is the military trying to ruin the planet…. I suppose you can’t do away with every cliché.

Lincoln Child of the widely successful Preston and Child writing duo, wrote this stand-alone novel, Deep Storm. Dr Peter Crane is a medical scientist recruited to help discover what is ailing a military and scientific team operating in a top secret deep water facility. The team have discovered something deep in the North Atlantic and are trying to uncover what it is, where it came from, and what scientific marvels it will unveil. If only people would stop going crazy and if they had left the saboteur behind.

I’m a huge fan of Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston’s work. I’ve previously read Preston’s stand-alone novels Impact and Blasphemy, the latter being one of my 5 star reviews, but until now I hadn’t read a stand-alone from Child. Deep Storm is definitely not as strong as either of Preston’s stand-alones, nor as good as most of their joint novels I’ve read. This novel had a lot of elements I liked about it, including the fairly well thought out plot. Normally techno-thrillers get bogged down in details (e.g. Crichton’s Timeline) or get the science wrong (e.g. Crichton’s State of Fear), but Child managed to balance accuracy with pacing.

The main reason I think this isn’t as strong a novel as the others in the Preston and Child oeuvre is that Deep Storm feels like a “by the numbers” thriller. Blasphemy had some interesting things to say about humans and beliefs. The Pendergast novels are underpinned by one of the more interesting central characters in the thriller genre. Which is why this book, whilst entertaining, felt lacking in comparison. This was still a tense, fast paced, engaging read and definitely one for Preston and Child or techno-thriller fans.

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Book Review: Sign of the Cross by Chris Kuzneski

Sign Of The Cross (Jonathon Payne & David Jones, #2)Sign Of The Cross by Chris Kuzneski

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sometimes when I’m reading a book I’m not sure if I’m meant to be excited, enrapt, or cringing. It’s taken me a few days to arrive at a decision and I’ve decided to cringe.

Sign of the Cross is a fast paced action adventure novel in the vein of Steve Berry, James Rollins, or that guy who wrote the book that annoyed the Pope; what was his name? In the second instalment of Payne and Jones’ adventures, the mercenaries are hired to hunt down two archaeologists who have uncovered a secret that could bring down the Catholic Church. Meanwhile a team of killers are reenacting the crucifixion, because, you know, that’s what Jesus would have wanted. With everyone hunting for Payne, Jones and their pet archaeologists, and a few murderers running around, who at the Vatican knows and who wants the secret, and do they want it for power or payback?

This is the first Chris Kuzneski book I’ve read, and it will be my last. Now that I’ve had time to reflect upon the story and writing, I’m actually surprised I finished the novel. Kuzneski came up in my recommendations because he writes fast paced adventure novels like two of my favourite authors, the previously mentioned Berry and Rollins. Unlike those two, however, Kuzneski takes all of the same ingredients for a novel, mixes them in an overly large bowl (the book is over 400 pages), and manages to make gruel.

The novel started well, but I noticed myself cringing at the end of the chapters with the ham-fisted foreshadowing. This continued until I would start preemptively cringing as I reached the end of each chapter. Seriously, it felt like the end of every scene or chapter Kuzneski would have a line like “Little did they know that only two of them would return.” But wait, there is more. There is an underlying casual sexism and racism to the novel that is unintentional, but jarring. An early scene has one of the characters, Nick Dial, surprised to see a woman Interpol agent. Not that Nick was sexist, women could be just as good as men……. No, Nick explained that he wasn’t sexist, but some of his bosses weren’t as open minded. Yeah. I’m not sexist, but….

These two points are just the major problems I had with the writing of this novel. And it is mainly the writing that lets this book down. In the example I just mentioned, there are many ways authors could discuss Nick’s surprise at seeing a woman on the job. But the way the scene was written it sounded like the author was desperately trying to sound progressive and PC. This poor writing happened throughout the book, which actually has a reasonable plot, a bit of humour, and great pacing. Some readers may not notice these issues, although I note many reviews complain about the foreshadowing, and it was entertaining enough for me to finish reading, so others may find this enjoyable. But I would recommend reading anything by Steve Berry or James Rollins instead.

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Book Review: Rover Red Charlie by Garth Ennis

Rover Red CharlieRover Red Charlie by Garth Ennis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whenever the apocalypse happens in fiction there is always a plucky band of survivors trying to make it in the post-apocalyptic world. In real life post-apocalypse waits a few million years for the next species to come along and dig up the fossils and fail to learn from history. But in both these scenarios, no-one thinks about the dogs.

In Rover Red Charlie, Garth Ennis has journeyed back to his apocalyptic world of Crossed to ask the question, “What about the dogs?” How will they cope without their “feeders”, will they still be able to bark “I’m a dog”, and are they the ones who will inherit the planet once we’re all gone?

When I read Crossed three years ago I presented a one word review: “Disturbing.” It was quite possibly the most graphic depiction and the most depraved apocalypse I’ve ever read. Yet despite being set in the same world, Rover Red Charlie is quite light and fun; exactly what you would expect from the dog’s take on the apocalypse. The usual Ennis humour and social commentary is present (“The feeders went and messed up this world, guess they had to go.”) and the three friends and their journey of discovery is enjoyable.

An original take on the apocalypse and one for fans of Ennis and the genre.

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Book Review: Deadpool Kills Deadpool by Cullen Bunn

Deadpool Kills DeadpoolDeadpool Kills Deadpool by Cullen Bunn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is there anyone Deadpool hasn’t killed? Not after Deadpool Kills Deadpool.

In the previous instalments of Deadpool Kills our titular merc with a mouth killed everyone in the Marvel Universe and then moved on to killing everyone in the Ideaverse (Killustrated). Odd that he didn’t kill the DC Universe whilst he was at it. Regardless, this time Deadpool is killing himself across the multiverse. And yes, that is just as awesome as it sounds.

Most recently I read Killustrated, also written by Cullen Bunn, which was a fantastic story but felt abridged or not fully realised. This instalment felt the most fully realised in the series. The irreverent humour, quips and quirkiness are on fully display, right next to the full tilt action. But the fun stuff is also backed up with the story being fully realised this time, instead of being glossed over as it was in the other Deadpool Kills. As if to illustrate just how quickly the previous plots were glossed over, we actually have the synopsis delivered multiple times without upsetting the pacing here (although it might feel a tad trite to some readers).

Next stop will have to be Deadpool Classic.

Also it is worth noting that in my review for Killustrated I mentioned the leaked test footage for a potential Deadpool movie. Well, that movie is now being made!! I guess someone saw how well Guardians of the Galaxy did at the box office and decided humorous comic book movies could be made after all.

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Down with Reading?

An interesting table of statistics – yes I am assuming statistics are interesting, why yes, I am a huge nerd – crossed my feed today. The table, presented below, shows the household expenditure breakdowns over time (1990-2009). The highlighted lines show the amounts spent on entertainment and reading.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics (with labour spelt incorrectly)

US Bureau of Labor Statistics (with labour spelt incorrectly)

For those of you who are blind or prefer reading my words rather than a table of numbers, the statistics show that since 1990 there has been a pretty steady increase in household expenditure on entertainment, but the amount spent on reading has been in steady decline. Clearly it is time to panic. Movies, TV and gaming have won. Time to give up reading and writing. No future in it.

Well, that would be the conclusion if you don’t go and look for the source data.

Now I am rather lazy, so I haven’t bothered to look up every year of data and tried to recreate the table. But what I have done is looked up the figures from a few of the years not included in the table: 2010, 20112012 and 2013. The spend on reading from those years is $100, $115, $109 (no 2013 data as yet) and entertainment spend of $2,504, $2,572, $2,605 and $2,482. Seems like that trend stopped, or something.

Actually, the trend has more to do with the household demographics and income than any change in book buying. Whilst in the early 2000’s there was a drop in reading for entertainment from ~0.4% of household expenditure to ~0.2%, this has been consistent since. So readers are still buying and reading books at roughly the same proportion as always.

And who are the readers? Well, from the demographics breakdown the readers tend to be middle-aged or older, higher income, educated households, or households without kids. Apparently having kids stops you reading, can’t think why. And clearly older and more affluent people are the ones who can afford the hardcover prices, or see the value in them, or just like having something on the bookshelf surrounding their money pile – rich people have money piles in their houses, right?

To me this doesn’t say reading is a dying industry, rather that there are groups being missed by the current industry. Of course I’m biased and probably daydreaming about a magical place where books hunt down DVDs for sport. The younger people tend to have less entertainment expenditure, with the average consumer spending 5% of their income on entertainment, whilst under 25s spend between 4 and 5%. Their book buying appears to have declined and is lower than the average consumer, at 0.14% (2012). This makes them a missed market (or possibly buying cheaper e-books). The other groups spending less on books are the less educated and lower income people, and again, not just in total expenditure but in the proportion of household expenditure.

Clearly these three groups could be reading just as much but instead of buying books they are borrowing them from friends or libraries, or they might be buying cheaper books. But something tells me this isn’t the case, what with the kids these days with their hippity hop music and haircuts. To my mind the fear that the market for books is shrinking, as suggested by the above table, is not borne out by the more recent data. We see more competition for entertainment dollars yet books don’t change that much ($150 to $110 over 22 years is 3 paperbacks in the US) suggesting that the problem is in who is reading. If reading is going to be only for richer, older and more educated people then we have a problem, especially if we aren’t creating the next generation of readers.

It’s banned book week again

What better way to celebrate one of my favourite weeks than with a quote from John Green about his book, The Fault In Our Stars, being banned:

I guess I am both happy and sad.

I am happy because apparently young people in Riverside, California will never witness or experience mortality since they won’t be reading my book, which is great for them.

But I am also sad because I was really hoping I would be able to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California and thereby crush their dreams of immortality. (Source)

There are all sorts of weird reasons that books have been banned in the past and present. Last year I covered the topic at length with both the reasons and the recent favourites for the book banning trolls. As another year rolls round, nothing has really changed. Please, won’t somebody think of the children!!

More here:

http://tysonadams.com/2013/04/15/banning-books/

http://tysonadams.com/2013/04/18/banned-books-the-huff-post-sequel/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/krystieyandoli/mind-boggling-facts-about-banned-books-in-america#2r6o5qf
(I promise, this is the only time I will ever link to Buzzfeed)

http://io9.com/the-12-weirdest-reasons-for-banning-science-fiction-and-1639136022

Book Review: The Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver

The Kill RoomThe Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Fishing is a strange sport. You sit around getting drunk for hours on end and hopefully catch some food. But red herrings are highly overrated, especially when they inspire novelists.

Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are back with another mystery to solve. This time a sniper has killed Robert Morano, an American citizen who doesn’t like America, whilst he was in a hotel room in the Bahamas. There are suspicions this was a government authorised hit, the local police are more concerned about a missing tourist, and Morano may be the first of many targets. The investigation is lacking in evidence and cooperation, frustrating Rhyme enough that he decides to go swimming.

Deaver is one of the most respected mystery crime writers for a reason. Rhyme and Sachs are an interesting investigative team and there are plenty of other interesting characters throughout the novel. Deaver keeps the mystery intrigue running for the entire novel. But the points that I felt counted against this novel were the overuse of red herrings (in one case a double fake). It is one thing for mysteries to have dead-ends and other points of narrative tension, but it felt like Deaver was trying to fool the reader just a little too often.

To some extent this is probably because of Deaver’s success and the mystery reader fanbase. Readers are going to find plots too obvious or recycled if a writer like Deaver doesn’t mess with them a bit. I felt there were other ways he could have kept the mystery going without such blatant red herrings, but others may not mind them. A solid effort but not quite as good as earlier books in this series.

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Book Review: Personal by Lee Child

Personal (Jack Reacher, #19)Personal by Lee Child
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jack Reacher fought a little person in 61 Hours, so definitely time he fought a giant in Personal. Oh, and some other stuff happens… like beating up a giant!

Lee Child’s continued adventures of Sherlock Homeless – Jack Reacher – have reached (boom tish) their nineteenth installment. Reacher is manipulated into searching for a former army sniper he had put away 16 years ago, a sniper who has taken a shot at the French President and is threatening to shoot some other world leaders at the G8 summit. This is the first Reacher novel that isn’t set in the US, seeing him travel to Paris and London, for his manhunt. Of course, it is never as simple as a manhunt, especially when the sniper bears a 16 year old grudge.

What I love about picking up a Lee Child novel is starting the novel and finding I’m already 50 pages into the action before I realise it. Lee effortlessly steers you through the story and keeps you entertained. He makes you appreciate just how good an author he is compared to his contemporaries. It was also refreshing to have Reacher leave behind his small town problem solving in favour of an international, high stakes, manhunt. Not that this stops Reacher beating up people and solving problems: wouldn’t be a Reacher novel without that.

Hard to find fault with the latest Reacher adventure. The only criticism would be that it feels like a “standard” Reacher adventure, despite the break in location tradition. My own observation is that since 61 Hours Lee’s writing has become taut and that he skilfully plays with the reader, making him my favourite author.

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Book Review: The Fifth Profession by David Morrell

The Fifth ProfessionThe Fifth Profession by David Morrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How do you tell if a book has samurai in it? Don’t worry, they’ll put a katana on the cover. A book about ninjas is a little harder, since they are invisible to anyone that hasn’t just been killed by a ninja. How do you tell if a book is a thriller? Don’t worry, they’ll put a gun on the cover.

Professional protectors – the fifth profession…. get it! – Savage and Akira are teamed up to protect a travelling businessman. Things go horribly wrong and Savage is beaten to a pulp after seeing the businessman and Akira killed. Akira is also beaten to a pulp and sees the businessman and Savage killed. And so begins the twist in this David Morrell thriller.

A lot of thrillers take you from point A to point B very efficiently to the point of cliche. Some authors even churn out the same book dozens of times in this manner. The thing that keeps you coming back is the the taut writing, thrills and cool escapism. The strength of The Fifth Profession is that it starts with the standard thriller plot setup and then eschews that for a different plot entirely. It makes the entire story novel. See what I did there?

There are some annoying aspects to Morrell’s novel. David has a habit of hammering certain points and descriptions at the reader, to the point I started assuming everyone had “karate” calloused hands. To some people this could be annoying and enough to throw the book against a wall – which I wouldn’t be doing this since I read this on my iPad. To others the plotting and pacing will keep you entertained, as it did with me.

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Book review: Hitman by Garth Ennis

Hitman, Vol. 1: A Rage in ArkhamHitman, Vol. 1: A Rage in Arkham by Garth Ennis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sometimes you read something that leaves you scratching your head. I think this is one of those books. Either that or I need to change shampoo.

Garth Ennis’ Hitman is an interesting tale, almost something you would expect from a different publishing house to DC Comics. Tommy Monaghan is a freelance hitman working in Gotham city when he is bitten by a demon and picks up the ability to hear people’s thoughts, see through walls and wear sunglasses at night without looking like a douchebag. With his new abilities he makes the move into killing supercriminals. And since he works in Gotham, Tommy is soon confronting Batman. Well, Garth Ennis’ version of Batman….

I’m a huge fan of Garth Ennis’ work. He combines interesting story lines with humour and irreverence, simultaneously embracing and satirising whatever genre he is writing in. The Boys would have to be one of my favourite series, and Garth’s run in Punisher Max is legendary. It is these two series that leave me scratching my head about Hitman. There are a lot of similarities between Hitman and Punisher, and the main character of Tommy bears no small resemblance to Butcher from The Boys. So for me, having read Punisher and The Boys first, Hitman feels like a pale imitation – despite coming first.

So despite this being at times confusing (a poetic demon who inhabits a human discusses stuff with himself… oookaaay…) and unpolished versions of the above mentioned series, I did enjoy reading about Tommy killing people in Gotham.

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Book review: Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett

Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 1: LegacyGuardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 1: Legacy by Dan Abnett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My name is Tyson and I am one of those people.

You know, the people who only read the book after they’ve made a movie of it. I’m not quite as bad as the people who only read the book after they have seen the movie: those people are just pure evil.

I’ve had Guardians of The Galaxy Volumes 1 and 2 sitting on my TBR list since I heard something about a movie with a talking racoon in it. Any movie that has a talking animal in it falls into only a few categories: kids film, lame comedy film, or worst movie ever. What piqued my interest was the movie hadn’t trodden down the Jar-Jar Binks route and had instead turned in solid gold awesome. To the bookshelf!

Guardians is a very entertaining read. It is action packed, has plenty of humour and has a cast of interesting characters who are meant to be a team, but are always in a state of social flux. They are also fighting against many foes as they try to keep the universe from falling apart or being invaded from other dimensions. They even find time to make jokes about how lame it would be to have an altered timeline plot as they kick off an altered timeline plot.

The thing that held Guardians back from being a four star read for me was the intercut frames. During most action sequences the writers/artists interspersed post-action debriefing scenes. Whilst this did give the humour a place to really dig in, it did also detract from the tension of the action scenes to an extent. Several times I noticed myself rapt with the life-or-death struggle only to have one of the characters talk about it post tense: “That was pretty close.” Now this isn’t that big a deal, since heroes don’t die. Ever. Not permanently at least. So it could be argued that they’ve instead decided to parody or make some jokes about, or around, action scenes. Thus, even my opinion could be swayed up if I were to read this on a different day.

In other words, worth a read, preferably before you see the movie.

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Book Review: Deadpool Killustrated by Cullen Bunn

Deadpool KillustratedDeadpool Killustrated by Cullen Bunn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve never entirely gotten onboard of Deadpool. On paper (boom tish) Deadpool should tickle all of my reading spots: humour, irreverence, action, my Ryan Reynolds man crush. But so far I’m still on the fence about being a fan. Admittedly I haven’t read Joe Kelly’s classic run, so maybe that is tainting my perspective.

So why read Deadpool Killustrated? Well, funny you should ask, voice in my head. I thought the premise and execution of Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe was an interesting story: a very meta tale. After you’ve read Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe, you’d think that the idea of one Marvel character finding a way to kill all the other Marvel characters is pretty much tapped out, but the Deadpool version took that idea so much further. Killustrated is the logical extension of that story, and hence worth a read.

I’m only giving this three stars, however, as the story felt somewhat abbreviated/abridged (much like Deadpool Kills). The story concept wasn’t fully realised, but still worth a read.

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Also, the Deadpool test footage proves they need to make a movie, with Ryan Reynolds and Tim Miller:

Book Review: The Protector by David Morrell

The ProtectorThe Protector by David Morrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It surprises me just a little that I only just discovered David Morrell’s books. He writes thrillers, he’s been doing so since before I was born, yet I’d never heard of him, let alone realised he was the brains behind the Rambo franchise…. Okay, that latter point is not a huge selling point, unless you like seeing people sawn in half with a machine gun for the final act of a movie (Hint: my answer is yes).

In The Protector we have a protective services operator, Cavanaugh, protecting a client, Prescott, from two groups who want Prescott dead… Guess where the idea for the novel’s title came from. Of course there is more to Prescott than it first appears, the groups after him are highly resourced, and the straight forward protection assignment goes sideways. Car chases, gun fights, black helicopters, several fires and a knife fight for good measure: you know, thriller.

This book moves at a cracking pace and was very entertaining. I’m definitely checking out more of David’s novels.

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Book Review: Criminal by Karin Slaughter

Criminal (Will Trent, #6)Criminal by Karin Slaughter
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

If you ever want to feel better about yourself and your life, there is nothing like reading a book with characters that have a litany of personal problems and struggles. I can’t think of too many people with serial killers for dads, so that has to make your lot in life look better.

Unlike the previous Will Trent story I read from Karin Slaughter, this novel novel is split into two timelines, one in the modern day with Will, the other in the 1970s focuses on the early career of Will’s boss, Amanda Wagner. Karin handles the multiple POVs and timelines seamlessly and I really enjoyed the trials and tribulations of Amanda’s first homocide investigation, and the insights it gave into equality. It is really odd to think that only 30-40 years ago that people would have been phoning the police to report women impersonating police officers, because the idea that women could actually do the job seemed too ridiculous. Check out the interview with Karin discussing this:

It’s good to know that society has come a long way in a generation, not that you’d notice on the Youtube comments section.

Despite enjoying this novel, the characterisation, the social insights, the murder mystery, I could only give it 3.5 stars. The only reason for this was that I’ve had a very busy time of late, with many things competing for my spare time, and this book wasn’t compelling me to pick it up and keep reading. I didn’t have to force myself to read the book, by any means, more that I wasn’t drawn to it in the way I am with my favourite reads.

I’d recommend this book for people who’ve already read some of the Will Trent series, as they’ll get more out of the story than someone new to the Will’s world.

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Death of the e-reader?

 

E-Readers Are Cool

For quite some time now, which is another way of saying I can’t remember when exactly, I’ve been saying that e-readers are one screen improvement in phones/tablets away from redundancy. Now tech writers (whom I love) are coming round to my way of thinking, with a recent article in Salon suggesting that e-readers are going the way of mp3 players and vinyl:

Tech writers have begun rolling out their eulogies for the humble e-reader, which Mashable has deemed “the next iPod.” As in, it’s the next revolutionary, single-purpose device that’s on the verge of being replaced by smartphones and tablet computers. Barnes & Noble is spinning off its Nook division. Amazon just debuted its own smartphone, which some are taking as a tacit admission that more people are reading books on their phone these days, to the detriment of the Kindle. The analysts at Forrester, meanwhile, expect that U.S. e-reader sales will tumble to 7 million per year by 2017, down from 25 million in 2012.

At New York MagazineKevin Roose argues that this is “bad news for the book industry.” He writes:

If you’ve ever tried to read a book on your phone, you’ll know why. Reading on an original Kindle or a Nook is an immersive experience. There are no push notifications from other apps to distract you from your novel, no calendar reminders or texts popping up to demand your immediate attention. And this immersion is partly why people who use dedicated e-readers tend to buy a lot of books. (One survey indicated that e-book readers read about 24 books a year, compared to 15 books a year for paper-and-ink readers.)

A drop in e-book sales, which are actually more profitable for publishers than hardcovers, would certainly mean trouble for the industry. But I’m not convinced that’s where the death of e-readers will lead. Nook and Kindle owners might buy more books than your typical American, but I’m guessing a lot of that is simply because they’re more, well, bookish. As Pew wrote in January, “Adults who own e-readers like Kindles or Nooks read e-books more frequently than those who only own other devices (like tablets or cell phones). However, it is difficult to know whether that is because dedicated e-readers encourage more reading or because avid readers are more likely to purchase e-reading devices.”

Devices come. Devices go. The Kindle and Nook helped teach us all to pay for e-books, and I’m guessing that will be delivering publishers dividends for years to come.

I think we can all agree that e-books themselves aren’t dying, or books for that matter. I’d argue that reading a novel, or similar, will continue to be a pastime for many years to come, regardless of medium: digital, physical, or metaphysical. We’ll probably still be reading books when flame breathing giant lizards enter our dimension to destroy civilisation. After that time we’ll be too busy building something other than giant robots to fight the monsters to worry about reading.

When e-readers originally hit the market, phone screens were much smaller and the iPad was in its infancy, thus the e-ink screens of the e-readers offered a much better reading experience. They were a hit with the avid reading crowd, with the ability to shop for books, read them, shop for more books, read them, maybe do a bit more reading, then think about charging the e-reader in between side-loading some more books. But all of those advantages were heavily reliant upon the better reading experience.

Phones and tablets as e-readers have many advantages: they tend to go everywhere with us; they can access all libraries; they can access all online bookshops, not just the one you bought the e-reader from (*cough* Amazon *cough*); they can be used for audiobooks; they have a larger market share so better technology advancements (i.e. where’s the colour e-ink we were promised?); and they can do things other than be used as a reading device. Now with a range of screen sizes in phones and tablets (e.g. Samsung Note, iPad Mini, iPad, standard phone, etc) there is a non-dedicated e-reader suited to you!

Although, let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. This magical new screen I’m seeing in my crystal ball – did I mention I see a breakup on the horizon for Brad and Angelina? – isn’t here yet. Until we have the new screen and e-reader owners are upgrading or replacing their old devices, the dedicated e-ink e-reader is still going to be the device of reading choice for avid readers. The articles are talking about a decline in sales from a peak of 25 million in 2012, to a “predicted” 7 million in 2017. Is this really surprising regardless of a tech upgrade?

You see, this is why I love tech articles so much: the lack of a reality check. 25 million sales in 2012 (26 million in 2011 from my source), on top of other sales in previous years, pretty much taps out the avid reader market to sell e-reader devices to. So any sales after that are going to be from old e-readers dying and needing replacement, which is probably where the 7 million figure comes in (note that my source shows that to occur in 2016, not 2017). That isn’t the death of the e-reader, that is the maturation of the market. I guess we could try to convince avid readers to not spend as much money on books and instead spend more money on buying e-readers, but that would lead to all sorts of problems. We’d need shelves to store all of these e-readers on, maybe even taking up entire walls; file them using some sort of system that allows us to easily find them in order; perhaps hire a person, let’s call them a librarian, to look after these e-readers until someone comes to use them.

So despite my agreement that e-readers will eventually be replaced by other devices, I think that news of the death of the e-reader is greatly exaggerated.

20 Proven Benefits of Being an Avid Reader

This fMRI scan reveals distinctive increases in brain activity during close reading across multiple brain regions, with strength of activation shown in red for horizontal cross sections of the brain.

This fMRI scan reveals distinctive increases in brain activity during close reading across multiple brain regions, with strength of activation shown in red for horizontal cross sections of the brain.

If TV is the lard developing, heart attacking inducing, entertainment form, then reading is the brain workout. I’ve previously posted about how reading is good for the brain, but science is keen on finding out more, so there is always new research that brings up cool findings. I’m reposting an interesting article I found (here) that lists some benefits from reading with links to the research, proving that reading is good for you.

ENHANCES THE SENSES

Merely reading a word reflecting a colour or a scent immediately fires up the corresponding section of the brain, which empathises with written experiences as if they actually happened to the audience. Researchers believe this might very well help sharpen the social acumen needed to forge valuable relationships with others.

ENABLES LIFELONG LEARNING

In correlation with the previous perk, sensual stimulation makes it easier for aging brains to keep absorbing and processing new information over time. This occurs when the occipital-temporal cortex essentially overrides its own programming and adapts to better accommodate written language.

ALLOWS FOR BETTER SKILL RETENTION

Avid readers enjoy a heightened ability to retain their cognitive skills over their peers who simply prefer other media — even when exposed to lead for extended periods, as indicated by an article in Neurology. It serves as something of a “shield” against mental decay, allowing the body to continue through the motions even when facing temporary or permanent challenges.

IMPROVES CREATIVITY

When educators at Obafemi Awolowo University incorporated education-themed comics and cartoons into primary school classrooms, they noted that the welding of pictures to words in a manner different than the usual picture books proved unexpectedly beneficial. Exposure to these oft-marginalized mediums actually nurtured within them a healthy sense of creativity — a quality necessary for logical and abstract problem solving.

BETTER VERBAL ABILITIES

On the whole, readers tend to display more adroit verbal skills than those who are not as fond of books, though it must be noted that this doesn’t inherently render them better communicators. Still, they do tend to sport higher vocabularies, which increase exponentially with the volume of literature consumed, and may discern context faster.

INCREASES ONE’S STORES OF KNOWLEDGE

Anne E. Cunningham and Keith E. Stanovich’s “What Reading Does for the Mind” also noted that heavy readers tend to display greater knowledge of how things work and who or what people were; once again, findings were proportionate to how much the students in question devoured in their literary diets. Nonfiction obviously tends to send more facts down the hatch, though fiction certainly can hold its own in that department as well.

HIGHER TEST SCORES

Some students obviously don’t perform well on tests despite their prodigious abilities, but in general, findings (such as those offered by the National Endowment for the Arts) show a link between pleasure reading and better scores. The most pronounced improvement, unsurprisingly, occurred on exams focused on analyzing reading, writing, and verbal skills.

REDUCED STRESS LEVELS

According to a 2009 University of Sussex study, picking up a book could be one of the most effective strategies for calming down when life grows too overwhelming — great for both mental and physiological reasons. The University of Minnesota built on these findings and recommends reading some form of literature for at least half an hour every day for optimum relaxation.

IMPROVES CRITICAL THINKING

Fully engaged reading sessions — not just skimming, in other words — actively engage the sections of the brain responsible for thinking critically about more than just texts. Writing, too, also serves as an excellent conduit sharpening the skills necessary for parsing bias, facts vs. fictions, effective arguments, and more.

STAVES OFF DEMENTIA

In a British Medical Journal article, academics at the French National Institute of Medical Research showcased their findings regarding the relationship between a mind occupied by reading and a lower risk of dementia. Obviously, literature isn’t going to act as a cure, but nonreaders are 18% more likely to develop the condition and experience worsened symptoms.

DEMENTIA SETTLES IN AT A SLOWER RATE

Readers genetically or environmentally predisposed to MCI, Alzheimer’s, and other disorders characterized by cognitive decline won’t escape their fate if they live long enough; but not only do their literary habits push back the onset, these conditions also encroach at a more sluggish pace. More than any other way to pass the time, picking up some sort of book (no matter the medium) proves among the most effective strategies for delaying and slowing dementia.

BETTER REASONING

Along with bolstering critical thinking skills, the authors of “Reading and Reasoning” in Reading Teacher noted that literary intake also positively influences logic and reasoning. Again, though, the most viable strategy for getting the most out of reading involves picking apart the words themselves, not merely flipping through pages.

CONFIDENCE-BUILDING

Improved literacy means improved self-esteem, particularly when it involves kindergarten and middle school students whose grades will swell as a result, although high schoolers, college kids, and adults are certainly not immune to this mental health perk. Set realistic reading goals and work toward them for an easy, painless (and stress-free) way to kick up the spirits when confidence starts wavering.

MORE WHITE MATTER

Neuron published a Carnegie Mellon paper discovering how the language centers of the brain produced more white matter in participants adhering to a reading schedule over the period of six months. Seeing as how this particular tissue structure controls learning, it’s kind of sort of a good thing to be building, especially when it comes to language processing.

INCREASES BRAIN FLEXIBILITY

Brain flexibility is how the essential organ stratifies itself, delegates tasks, and compensates for damages, and Carnegie Mellon researchers believe reading might serve as a particularly excellent way to encourage this. These discoveries of how the brain organizes itself beg for further insight into the autism spectrum and other conditions that may stem from poor neurological communication.

IMPROVED MEMORY

The physiology of reading itself contributes to better memory and recall, specifically the part involving bilateral eye movement. However, it holds no influence over implicit memories: most of the benefit comes when recalling episodic memories.

BUILDS RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN PARENTS AND CHILDREN

Kids and parents who read aloud together enjoy tighter bonds than those who do not, which is essential to encouraging the healthiest possible psychological profile. Along with the cognitive perks, these sessions build trust and anxiety-soothing comfort needed to nurture positive behavior and outlooks.

BETTER LISTENING SKILLS

Listening skills improve reading, and reading improves listening skills, particularly when one speaks words out loud instead of silently. When learning a primary or secondary (or beyond) language in particular, fostering interplay between the two ability sets makes it much easier to soak up vocabulary and grammar.

AN EASIER TIME CONCENTRATING

Once again, any bookish types hoping to claim the full benefit of this cognitive phenomenon gain it via close reading and analysis, not skimming, speed reading, and skipping. Because the activity is far from passive, it challenges the mind to focus, focus, focus: which certainly carries over into other areas of life!

ALLEVIATES MENTAL HEALTH DISORDERS

Psychology professionals in the United Kingdom and United States gravitate towards bibliotherapy when treating non-critical patients, thanks to studies printed up in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy. The practice involves prescribing a library card, which recipients use to check out one of the approved 35 self-help books for 12 weeks; as a supplement (not a replacement) to conventional therapy, it has proven extremely valuable to the clinically depressed and anxious.

Bonus: It’s Good for Author’s Brains Too!

Yes, who’d have thought that writing could be good for the brain? Slaving away writing seems to be like practicing sports or music, stimulating the brain to be better. Dr Martin Lotze used fRMI to look at novice and experienced writers’ brains – probably to steal ideas for a new book – and how they worked in different writing activities. Some regions of the brain became active only during the creative process, i.e. not while copying, with brainstorming sessions lighting up the vision-processing regions. It’s possible that they were, in effect, seeing the scenes they wanted to write.

But the two groups differed slightly in how their brains worked whilst being creative. Novice writers activated their visual centres, whilst experienced writers showed more activity in regions involved in speech. “I think both groups are using different strategies,” Dr. Lotze said. It’s possible that the novices are watching their stories like a film inside their heads, while the writers are narrating it with an inner voice. Experienced writers also had a region called the caudate nucleus become active, the part of the brain involved in skills that comes with practice. In the novices, the caudate nucleus was quiet, showing that practice works the brain.

Some other articles to read:
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/your-brain-on-books/
http://theairspace.net/commentary/stanford-researchers-reading-jane-austen-a-truly-valuable-exercise-of-peoples-brains/
http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/september/austen-reading-fmri-090712.html

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