Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the tag “Reading”

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

Lying about books you’ve (not) read

book-pic

As with most things Hank and John Green are involved with, I have become a fan of Mentalfloss. Their recent article on embarrassing things we all do was interesting, but had one point in it that made me think “what the hell is wrong with you people”.

By “you people” I obviously mean it in the pejorative dissociative sense, in that I’m not having a shot at you, or Mentalfloss, just the ubiquitous and ethereal “them” and “you”. Unless of course what I’m about to write does hit home, in which case, stop it now!

One of the items listed as an embarrassing thing that everyone does, was people claiming to have read books and watched movies they haven’t in order to appear more intelligent. I have previously discussed the list of books people claim to have read and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve haven’t read certain “classics”. I do have to admit to having claimed to have read a book I haven’t, To Kill a Mockingbird (still on my TBR pile), but that is also why I’m coming out against the practice.

And that is the point I wish to make here, there is no shame in not having read a classic book or watched a classic film. Maybe you don’t like extraordinarily long and self-indulgent wedding scenes in a movie (Deer Hunter). Maybe you don’t like novels with more than 450 main characters (War and Peace has over 500). There isn’t any shame in that. And how many “classics” have gone unread because they were in the wrong language, poorly translated, never got published, or just lucked out (John Green made mention of this recently).

Essentially we are worried about our subjective taste disagreeing with someone else’s subjective taste. The stupidity here is that we are being judged for something we haven’t done, rather than a strong opinion one way or the other on the actual topic. If we came out and said “Well, I hated 1984, it was rubbish” or conversely “Well, I loved 1984, and anyone who says it’s rubbish is a poo-poo head” we’d get into deep arguments about the relative merits of the novel. That is perfectly acceptable. But if we say “I haven’t read that one (yet)” or “Never seen it” then the response is something along the lines of calling us crazy, implying we have lived too sheltered a life, and/or that we have missed out on something great.

They could be right, of course. We may have missed out on the single most impressive book or movie ever. Our lives may be dramatically improved by reading or watching the work in question.

Or not.

The reality is that it really doesn’t matter. Some people will never have enjoyed a Jack Reacher adventure, or clung to the edge of their seat reading a Matthew Reilly novel, because they have been busy reading all the “great literary works”. Who is to say that their choice of entertainment was superior? Some people prefer to watch sports: are they any less entertained?

I think we have to stop pretending that our subjective opinions are something to be ashamed of. Like what you like, don’t be ashamed to say so either. I’m always amazed at the number of closeted Buffy fans there are, which only shows how damaging this mindset of “worthiness” is.

From Cracked.com

From Cracked.com

Book review: Freezing Point by Karen Dionne

Freezing PointFreezing Point by Karen Dionne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For anyone not familiar with the Killer Thrillers group, Karen is one of many great authors who are on the list with Zoe Sharp, Sean Black and Boyd Morrison (to name just 3 off of the top of my head). They have a tag-line: Great reads – guaranteed. I think it holds true.

Anyway, Freezing Point is an eco-thriller that moves along at a cracking pace. Plenty of conspiracies, corporate greed, wacky environmentalists, scientists in the frozen wilds, idealists caught in a mess, and rats that have developed a taste for humans, all competing for the most precious resource: water.

I enjoyed this novel, which I believe is the first in a series of related eco-thrillers by Karen. The only thing I disliked was the abrupt ending. I felt there was more to come, several chapters worth, but it was wrapped up with a few lines in what was essentially an epilogue. Regardless the “great reads” tag-line holds true.

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Book review: The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Heist: A Novel (O'Hare and Fox #1)The Heist: A Novel by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit, I haven’t read a Janet Evanovich book in years, despite my wife having most of them on our shelf. I haven’t read a Lee Goldberg book in a least a couple of months. So when I picked up this collaboration between two witty and highly entertaining authors I was playing “try to figure out who wrote which bits” without any success. Unlike some author collaborations, this was an actual collaboration.

I will now try to write a paragraph without using the word ‘collaboration’…… Dammit!

Lee and Janet have written a very entertaining novel and I think this will make for a cool series of adventures. The setup is the standard odd couple device we’ve seen done to death. Fortunately Lee and Janet have the charged paddles of ‘interesting take’ on the odd couple romp. I think it was the stock moments that kept this good novel from being great. Then again, they did manage to include a conman, FBI agent, thief, corrupt lawyer, embezzler, fake drug lord, and real pirates in the same heist novel. Add in ninjas for the next one and it could be perfect.

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Book review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought this book for my wife when it first came on sale. When she finished reading the book she was immediately asking me when the sequel was being released – a year later, of course. So considering that this trilogy has been finished and the movie has already been released, it shows just how long my TBR list is that I’ve only gotten to this one now (even then, only as the audiobook).

There is something refreshing about a young author writing young adult novels. And it is enjoyable to have a good mix of action, introspection, character development, and social commentary. Some have criticised the five factions, that are the basis of the story’s society, as unrealistic…. Because wars over fuel would never happen in reality – the criticism levelled at Mad Max. What I’m saying is that people making this criticism have kinda missed the point being made.

Definitely worth a read, even for non-YA fans.

NB: This cool cover art was the reason I originally bought the book. I knew nothing about it, except that the cover looked cool and the blurb sounding like it would appeal to my wife. Cover art is really important (for me at least).

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Reading isn’t boring

book-pic

The damage from reading

reading cures ignorance

Is fiction actually fiction?

There has been an interesting duo of videos by PBS’ Ideas Chanel. Mike discusses some interesting concepts surrounding fiction, like the fact that fiction is as much real as it is made-up and vice versa. Worth a watch.


The two videos cover a lot of ground, but one of the more important points I’d like to highlight is the idea that we can’t have fiction without reality. We need something to anchor our ideas and make-believe, shared experiences that allow us to understand and accept these fictions. There are plenty of examples of this, but one of the cooler examples is looking at depictions of the future at various stages throughout history. Compare what sci-fi movies of the 50s thought computers would look like now to what they actually look like, and you see a 1950s computer. Our imaginations actually suck a lot more than we think.

But here’s an idea about our inability to imagine the future: what if our imaginations don’t actually suck, but instead we ignore the outlandish imaginings that are actually more likely in favour of stuff we already know? Think about it. Or don’t, I’m not your boss.

Perth Writers’ Festival 2014

My annual pilgrimage to the Perth Writers’ Festival is over for another year. According to reports, I was joined by 38,500 other reading and writing fans, with ticket sales up on last year (can someone confirm that figure, I thought I read it here but I must have been mistaken. Edit: confirmed figure from WritingWA).

Some write-ups have discussed the heat; we are 1.6 degrees hotter than the long term average for February: thanks climate change! Some write-ups have discussed the wonderful talks from literary authors; can’t be less entertaining than their books. Some write-ups have tried to imply that Perth people gasped when Scott Ludlam used the word crap; yes we clearly are a simple folk over here in the west, not accustomed to swearing and impolite behaviour like taking notes. So I hereby present my write-up.

Friday 21st

I started off my festival adventure with the panel discussion Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Susan May chaired a discussion on writing, publishing, and thrilling books with Chris Allen and Joe Ducie. It was an interesting session, although Joe is not what you’d call a gregarious person and he is limited in what he can say without being sent to a black site for breaking the secrets act. This session attracted a lot of teen readers, a first for any writers’ festival I’ve been to, in part due to the young adult theme of Joe’s book and Chris’ campaign to get more boys reading. Also, why is it that the nice and friendly people always seem to write the books with the largest body counts?

My plans for the day were beaten with a cricket bat when the session Fair Go Mate was filled past standing room only. Not being able to gain admittance I’m going to say the session was clearly for doo-doo heads. Instead, I went and saw The Inner Life of Others. Amanda Curtin discussed building and writing characters with Debra Adelaide, Chris Womersley and Andrea Goldsmith. I was sitting next to the fan for one of the much-needed air conditioners for this session. So while I was quite cool and sweat free, I couldn’t hear the speakers clearly. I think in future the festival need monitors for the speakers or better technicians on hand to get the sound levels right.

I had hoped to see the session Boom Town Rats in the afternoon, as David Whish-Wilson was speaking. He wrote my favourite novel of 2013 after-all. I had to settle for asking him how things went via Facebook: apparently it was an interesting discussion session. Instead I went to Annabel Smith’s workshop on Social Media Marketing. Annabel discussed various aspects of social media and the Hub and Outpost model, with your blog/website being the hub. We had a range of people in the room from social media novices to professionals, and a couple of people who didn’t see the point – I mean, being able to talk and form communities with people on the other side of the planet instantly is so overrated. Annabel did well in catering to such a wide spectrum.

Saturday 22nd

Lee Battersby’s fantasy writing workshop, Universal Law, kicked off my Saturday with a teddy bear explaining humans to aliens (you had to be there). This was a fantastic session and I got a lot out of it. Okay, that could just be confirmation bias talking, because Lee did confirm a lot of my own thoughts on fantasy and fiction writing in general, but I’m just going to pretend we’re both right. Plus, I’ve got the beginnings of a cool little absurdist short story from the session, which may have made the session pay for itself.

Hungry and in need of golden ale refreshments, I headed to the UWA Club. David Marr was holding court with a throng of fans/questioners/listeners after having finished his discussion panel. I was tempted to join the group and ask him when he was going to finally stab Andrew Bolt to death for crimes against journalism, but decided to not ruin his day.

After a leisurely lunch at the UWA Club, I skipped the next beer and went to The Game Changers: What’s In Store? Stephanie “Hex” Bendixsen chaired a fascinating discussion about the games industry and story telling. Dan Golding, Dan Pinchback, and Guy Gadney were all insightful speakers and kept the audience of preteens to curmudgeons entertained. Guy Gadney also showed a quick wit when a young lad couldn’t remember Guy’s name, with the boy ending up on stage answering questions (which he handled quite well).
Hex-and-special-guest-panelist

Although, as if to prove that the games industry has a long way to go, or that men are still dickheads, one of the audience members started his question with “Damn girl, you fine!” when addressing Hex. If there was only some way to breed this behaviour out of the population….

The next session I attended was Hi-Viz Days with author and comedian Xavier “Matty” Toby. As a general rule I don’t read non-fiction, as it is often more fiction than non-fiction, is often boring, and has far too low a body count to be entertaining for me. But having attended this session and listened to Xavier read out some sections from the book, I would recommend you read his book about his mining experiences. Having lived in rural Australia for a large chunk of my life, a lot of the conversations, the style of speech, and the characters portrayed sounded like the people I’ve met and know. A few award winning authors should read Xavier’s book to see how rural and regional people actually speak (or at least hand back the awards for capturing the ‘bush lyricism’ in their novels).

Sunday 23rd

My Sunday started rather early. Or rather, my Saturday didn’t really finish until Sunday morning. My little bundle of joy was ill and had trouble sleeping, which meant I did too. It also meant I’ve contracted his illness: parenting is lots of fun.

I’d already missed one of David Whish-Wilson’s sessions on the Friday, but I went the whole hog and missed his Sunday session as well. His interview on Perth, the city and his non-crime, non-fiction book, on Sunday apparently went well (full house). David assured me that there were plenty of interviews being done around the festival on this book. Which means if we check his webpage we could probably track down an interview with David on Perth; the book and the city.

The only event I managed to attend on Sunday was Susan May’s workshop on Standing Out From the Crowd. It turns out that Susan and I had been in the same all day workshop on publishing a few Perth Writers’ Festivals ago. Her take-away from that event had been to avoid the slush pile and somewhere along the way, after developing industry contacts to help avoid the slush pile, she self-published. I agree with one of the other attendees that Susan’s session was enthusiastic and genuine.

And that concludes my Perth Writers’ Festival adventure for another year. It was good to catch up with friends and other attendees over the three days and I hope others enjoyed the event as much as I did.

Top Suspense Hangout video

Today was the start of the Perth Writers’ Festival, the local festival for my fellow pale, short-sighted, readers and writers. Once a year we gather together to fulfil our in-person social interaction requirements for the year.

Before I left the house, Libby Hellmann, Lee Goldberg, and Paul Levine had a Top Suspense Google+ Hangout. They discussed a number of issues around writing suspense stories. Funny how the title of the group and hangout gives away the topic. It was a good session and I highly recommend my fellow writing friends to have a watch of the embedded video below.

Book Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining GirlsThe Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I met Lauren two years ago now, when she was running a class on writing (d’uh). This first sentence of the review is essentially a name drop… move along, nothing to see here.

The Shining Girls is such an interesting take on crime novels, with a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey*, plot and some fascinating story telling. Lauren has an interesting setup for the serial killer and his victim protagonist, a setup that you hope has a good payoff. Well, it doesn’t have a good payoff, in the final pages it has an excellent payoff.

The version I ‘read’ was the audiobook, which is worth mentioning because there were multiple narrators to take on the various points of view used in the book. This was a great touch that I wish more audiobooks would do. For a complex novel like The Shining Girls, it is almost necessary. I can say I have stopped listening to at least two audiobooks in the past year that probably would have been improved with multiple narrators to clarify changes in points of view. Or you could just read the novel the old fashioned way, just not whilst driving, or using a table saw, as I was able to with the audio version.

* If you don’t get that reference I pity your TV viewing habits.

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