Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the category “Book review”

Book review: Richard Stark’s Parker by Darwyn Cooke




Richard Stark's Parker: Slayground
Richard Stark’s Parker Series by Darwyn Cooke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Please…they’ll kill me.”
“I’ll kill you…worry about me.”

A long time ago Donald Westlake (aka Richard Stark) imagined an imposing figure with large hands storming over the bridge into New York. Who was he? Why was he so pissed off? Who was intending to kill? And so was born Parker.

Fast forward past 24 novels, 8 film adaptations, and countless impersonators and homages, and we come to this graphic novel series by Darwyn Cooke. I’m not a fan of most of the film adaptations of the Parker novels as they don’t seem to understand the material – although Payback – Straight up: The Director’s Cut was pretty close to getting it right. But Cooke did understand the material.

This series didn’t just adapt the novels to the graphic novel format, it improved upon them. The artwork especially captured the grit of the original stories. This was done without compromising on the story, remaining very faithful to the originals.

I have previously read The Hunter, The Outfit, and Slayground, and managed to get my hands on an Omnibus edition to read The Score and re-read the others. It was a treat. At the end of Slayground is a short adaptation of The Seventh, a novella I have previously read. Cooke managed to capture much of the story with just a few panels on a handful of pages. I think this short work is emblematic of the skilful artwork and storytelling Cooke has brought to these adaptations.

Unfortunately both Cooke and Westlake are not longer with us. Just as there will be no more Parker novels, there will be no more graphic novel adaptations by Cooke. It is a pity.

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Book Reviews aren’t about Book Promotion

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It is no secret that I like to write book reviews. Except when I’m sleepy. Or if I’m busy. Or if I get distracted by… Where am I?

Anyway, I wrote this blog a year or so ago addressing an example of people conflating book reviews with book promotion. I’m reposting it because of a recent discussion I had where several people were angry that a Mythcreants article failed to mention the authors of books being used as examples.

The issue that people seemed to have with the names being omitted was that it “wasn’t how reviews are meant to be written”….* Apparently the important details of a book review are listing the Title, Author, Publisher, Publication Date, etc, so that people can find the books easily. Yeah, an article on the internet referencing well-known books isn’t making it easy enough to find the books. Their irony meter must have been lost with the demise of Altavista.

Let me state up front: to my mind, book reviews are about helping people find good stuff to read and promoting authors whose work you’ve enjoyed. Of course some reviewers use it as a an opportunity to break away from the internet commenter stereotype and be jerks to others. This can be frustrating for authors and readers, but about par for the course as far as internet comments goes.

Fortunately an author has written a blog post advising people how to properly review books. Because you’re doing it wrong…

As a reader, reviewer, and occasionally sober writer, I don’t think authors should be telling readers what to do or how to do it, so the post doesn’t sit right with me. Actually, a lot of things don’t sit right with me, especially if they aren’t single malt and well aged.

Who are book reviews for?

You might be forgiven for thinking that writing a book review is primarily to flatter the author, or thank the author for writing an enjoyable book.

Book reviews are for prospective readers; to inform those buyers who are browsing the Amazon bookstore, chatting on Goodreads or following on-line bloggers, to decide if they might enjoy the book as much as the reviewer did. 

The first major point is one I agree with: book reviews are for readers. But maybe not the readers the author thinks. Reviews are primarily about that reader and their thoughts. Sure, they may be trying to communicate with other readers and make recommendations, but let’s face facts, it is mostly just about sharing an opinion. Or is that shouting into the void? I can never remember the difference.

My philosophy on book reviewing – helping and promoting good stuff – is probably shared by many, or not, I haven’t checked. But I see it as an important aspect of being a reader and writer. Thanks to the wonders of technology we have access to more books than we’ll ever be able to read, and some of them are worth reading. Sharing your opinion of a book can help others find stories that will entertain them. Personally I’m not a fan of sharing reviews of books I haven’t enjoyed, just the ones I think others will enjoy reading, but negative and positive reviews are both helpful.

But, that’s just me. Readers aren’t obligated to say nice things about a book, nor promote it, nor make sure there are links to anything (except references, those are damned important I tells ya!).

The next points:

What to include:

The best single rule to remember is this: Only write about the actual book!

You can include a very brief outline of the story, but remember the book description is already right there, so consider these points:

Was the story believable, did it keep you engaged right to the last page?

Did the structure of the plot work for you?

If it’s a mystery, was there one?

The characters. Did they seem real, multi-dimensional people?

The author’s writing style. How was it for you?

The first point on this list is, frankly, rubbish. A book does not exist in a vacuum. Well, unless it was taken into space, but why would anyone do that? Unless they are an astronaut, but they’d want the book in the ship with them.

Anyway, all art/media is a product of the space it was created in, it has cultural and philosophical underpinnings that are part and parcel. And following on from that, the cultural landscape changes over time and individuals consuming the art/media are going to evolve as a result. So you can’t just write only about the book in a review, you will always bring baggage with you. Want an example? Try watching the original Ghostbusters movie without thinking Bill Murray’s character isn’t just a tad rape-y by today’s standards.

The next points about the story and how it is written are fair enough advice on things you could include. But you could include all or none of those things and still write a good review. The review has a subject and you only really need to include the stuff relevant to that subject – which means you might never mention the author, publisher, publication date, major or minor characters, etc.

The next part is where this blog post gets juicy:

What not to include:

Your possible relationship to the author, however vague.

If you need to reference the author, then use the surname only or call them the author or include their full name. Never use Christian names as it may compromise the validity of the review and some sites will remove them permanently.

Imagine if you saw this review on the latest Dan Brown: Hello Dan love, fabulous book, Five stars!  I expect the vast majority of us would laugh, Dan Brown would most certainly cringe – but most importantly, would this sort of review help you form a decision to buy the book if you’d not read it?

I don’t know about the last point, I’ve read Dan Brown’s Inferno; I’m not sure he knows how to cringe.

There are two points to unpack here: the first is the idea that your relationship with the author doesn’t have any bearing on a review; the second is the idea that you’re trying to help the author sell books. To suggest that there is a way to refer to an author or that you shouldn’t mention conflicts of interest is wrong. If I like someone I will naturally be inclined to think their book is better than someone whom I don’t know or like. Similarly, if I already like someone’s writing, their lesser works are likely to be viewed more favourably than a new author’s work.

It also irks me that the blog is implying that the author is off-limits for criticism. That is rubbish. If I know that the book or author is controversial, then that will also colour my review and is worth raising. An example was James Frey’s Lorian Legacies series published under a pseudonym. During my reading of I Am Number Four I noticed several very lazy factual inaccuracies and wanted to know who the author actually was. It was then that I found out that Frey had scammed a bunch of writing students to produce the series. Not only did that colour my (lack of) appreciation of the novel, but it was information I felt other readers should know. Because screw that guy.

This links nicely into the next point about reviews helping to sell books. It is true that book reviews help sell books: who’d have thunk? It is also true that if you want to see more great material from an author one of the things you can do is make sure people know you enjoyed the book. But since when is it the reader/reviewer’s obligation to help sell books for an author? Shouldn’t an author be happy that you bought and enjoyed their book? Well, unless you borrowed the book from a library, friend, or got a freebie. I understand the desire of authors to encourage people to review their book/s, and what it can help do in terms of recognition and thus sales, but a review isn’t about selling a book. The review is about the reader sharing their thoughts on a book they have read. Book store clerks get paid, readers don’t. Worth remembering.

The weather! I’m being tongue-in-cheek here but really, no honestly, there’s no need to mention the weather…

How long the book took to arrive in the post, or that it was damaged. This isn’t the fault of the author – stick to reviewing the book.

Likewise, problems with your Amazon account: It won’t download. This is not the author’s fault and should never form part of a book review.

These next few comments are mainly about Amazon reviews and how people talk about the buying of the book in their review. While it is completely understandable for an author to be frustrated with comments in a review that are unrelated to the story they wrote, this recommendation is not only self-serving drivel, it forgets who the review is for.

If someone orders a book from Amazon and the shipment is not filled quickly, or won’t download, or the pricing is ridiculous, or the bonus “massager” didn’t arrive with the romance novel order, then that is a legitimate gripe. Other readers on the Amazon store will want to know this stuff. But even if this wasn’t on the Amazon store, there is legitimate griping to be done. For example, in Australia several major publishers price their ebooks based upon the currently available paper version’s price.** So if the hardcover is out, you pay hardcover prices for an ebook. Where else but a book review are you going to express your consumer discontent on this? Well, aside from in a blog post like this one. Or if you are talking to one of the publishers at a writers’ festival. Or if you know someone, who knows someone, who is related to a publisher.

I’d agree that there needs to be a distinction made been the store’s service, the publisher’s pricing, and the novel itself, in site reviews. Having those categories un-lumped would be something I’d support. Along with free hats. Everyone loves a free hat. But that I can’t go along with blaming the reviewers for not making that distinction.

Spoilers: giving away crucial parts of the plot and therefore spoiling it for other readers, e.g. I’m glad Susan was dead by chapter three.

Copying and pasting the entire book description – please dont.

And the worst of all: I haven’t read it yet… so one star. Why on earth do sites allow these ‘reviews’ to remain?

Some people really hate spoilers, others love them, others still are ambivalent, others still still will hunt you down and kill you with your own keyboard for posting them. As such there is an etiquette to posting spoilers in a review. If you are an undefeated Muay Thai fighter with a decent ground game, then you can post whatever spoiler you like. If you are anyone else, you can post spoilers as long as you warn people you are going to do it. Then people can read or skip the spoilers to their heart’s content, assuming the Muay Thai fighter hasn’t ripped their heart out of their chest for posting a spoiler.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone post a book review that includes a copy and paste of the book description. If this actually happens then it is either a compliment to the blurb author for capturing the book perfectly so as to act as an appropriate review, or someone needs to learn how to type their own thoughts.

The final point is about the dismissive one star review. Now some people, such as the blog post author, complain that these sorts of reviews are not legitimate. Nonsense. Books have a cover, a blurb, the reader might have read other books by the author, etc, all of which can be more than enough information for the reviewer. For example, let’s say that someone has written a book – fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t really matter – that claims climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, NWO, Zionist Bankers to something something profit-gravy-train. Do I really need to leave a long and extensive review once I’ve read the book? Or can I just point out that it is nonsense? Is that not legitimate comment?

Now these have all been relatively minor gripes to quibble with. Fun fact: Quibbles are the Earth equivalent of Tribbles. Bonus fact: the most famous Quibble currently sits on the President of the USA’s head.

st_troublewithtribbles

Tribbles: your reward for reading this far.

Quibbles and Tribbles aside, let’s talk about complaining about book reviews not being done the way you want, when you yourself don’t review books. There is that inspiring – or is that insipid? – quote about being the change you want to see which applies here. The author of the blog post has exactly zero book reviews on their site, not counting the promotion of reviews of their own novels. The author’s Goodreads page has no books listed as having been rated or reviewed. Do as I say, not as I do. I mean, sure, that isn’t demanding at all.

In summary, it’s best to be thankful for readers writing reviews, even the bad reviews.

See also: https://bookstooge.wordpress.com/2017/05/24/i-will-make-them-cry-indie-rant/

*Let’s just ignore that the article in question wasn’t a book review but an article that was using famous books as examples to make a larger point. The poor dears are having enough problems with conflating reviews with promotion.
**Not sure this is still the case in 2017. It was the case for many years though.

Book review: The Seventh Plague by James Rollins

The Seventh Plague (Sigma Force, #12)The Seventh Plague by James Rollins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After the first nine plagues, is the tenth plague free?

A missing archeologist reappears out of the desert in a semi-mummified state. With him he brings a biblical disease that threatens to yadda yadda the world. A brilliant businessman has designs on using the disease for his own ends. Only Sigma can uncover the ancient McGuffin to you get the idea before ticking clock.

I’m going to preface this review by saying that I’m a long time fan of James Rollins’ blend of pseudo-science, mythicism, and tehcno-thriller. His Artefact McGuffin Adventures are usually very entertaining reads.

Here’s the but. I don’t know if I just had a lower tolerance for the narrative this time, or if Rollins has introduced a bash the reader over the head style to his writing now. Regardless, it is annoying and hackneyed, and something I’d expect from Dan Brown, not James Rollins. It makes you notice the other problems, like the factual errors in the story. The suspension of disbelief is always high with these sorts of novels, so to have Dan Brown-ified the writing lowers my enjoyment and rating.

An example of what I’m talking about was an exchange early on between the Sigma members about disease categories. We’ve just been told that this is a super deadly disease with X% death rate, and we’re then told the disease death categories, which again states this is super deadly. Okay, so us dumb readers need to be informed that this disease is really bad. But to imply that the Sigma team of science experts who deal with this sort of problem semi-regularly would have to be bashed over the head with the explanation the way they were is silly. I immediately had in mind four or five ways to write that section that weren’t out of character, repetitive, and mind-numbing to the reader.

That all said, this was still a reasonably well paced thriller, with decent tension, especially into the final act. If you like Artefact McGuffin Adventures, then this is an okay instalment.

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Book review: Afterlife by Marcus Sakey

AfterlifeAfterlife by Marcus Sakey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you kill enough people you become a god. Still makes you a jerk though.

Agents Will Brody and Claire McCoy are hunting a serial killer. But he is unlike any serial killer who has ever come before. He is always a step ahead. He has power. And he has help. I could give more away, but the title gives you the idea.

Afterlife is an intriguing book. The ideas underpinning this supernatural speculative fiction story are as original as you will see. And mixed with this are two interesting characters and their relationship. It hangs together nicely whilst not becoming bogged down with the sort of world-building that spec-fic can bore readers with.

That said, I almost gave up on this book. The first chapter didn’t grab me at all. It isn’t until later in the novel that you understand why that chapter is there at all. Similarly the semi-ambiguous ending may also throw some people given the setup prior to the penultimate chapter. These points, particularly the first one, could discourage people. Normally I don’t say this – since I’m big on giving up on books ASAP to make room for good books – but stick with this for a few chapters. Don’t be put off by the opener, it will make sense soon.

NB: I was provided a review copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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Book review: A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton

A Little History of PhilosophyA Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If by doubting your existence you prove that your doubting thoughts exist, what happens if you then doubt your doubts?

A Little History of Philosophy is pretty much summed up by its title. It spends a chapter on each famous Western philosopher or movement (e.g. Aristotle gets a chapter; Sartre, Camus, and de Beauvoir share one) and takes a shallow dive into each. Nothing more, nothing less.

After recently reading Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy I thought I’d read a book that covered the same topic with less of the surrounding history and more of the philosophy overview. Nigel Warburton does this well in a brief, clear, and accessible manner. A strength of the overview is how he ties theories and influences together (e.g. Brentham to Mill, Mill to Russell) so that you can see how thinking has evolved. A negative is the sometimes tenuous segues Warburton uses to end a chapter. Seriously, you really start to notice it and laugh.

This was a great way to dip my toes into philosophy. Between Russell and Warburton I feel I’ve been given enough to start the journey down the rabbit hole. Made me think.

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Book Review: Babylon’s Ashes by James SA Corey

Babylon's Ashes (The Expanse, #6)Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Take my love, take my land.
Take me where I cannot stand.
I don’t care, I’m still free.
You can’t take the sky from me.
No parallels at all.

The Free Navy have demolished Earth. They’ve taken over the system with their surprise attack utilising the latest Martian technology. Now Earth and Mars are fighting back. Cracks are appearing in the Free Navy’s plans, like the fact that they have wiped out food production and have 3 years left before humanity collapses. Great time for Marco – hubristic leader of the Free Navy – to pursue his grudge against Holden, Naomi, and the rest of the Rocinante crew.

I’ve been looking forward to reading Babylon’s Ashes since finishing Nemesis Games. The staging of a war, the political conflicts, the host of interesting and complicated characters; this was set to be a ripper of a novel. So I was a little disappointed and found myself plodding through some of the story.

This was partly my own fault, as I have less concentrated reading time currently. When I did get quality reading time the book was as entertaining as anything in this series. It was also partly that the character of Marco Inaros was fully revealed for a narcissistic authoritarian populist who is more intent on punishing minor sleights than running the galaxy (gee, wonder if he’s modelled after any particular political leader). It didn’t help that there was a tinsy bit of plot contrivance – albeit one that has had quite a bit of setup – in the final moments of the plot.

Despite these points, I did actually enjoy Babylon’s Ashes. It wasn’t the strongest instalment in The Expanse, but this still remains a stellar series.

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Book review: Gridlock by Sean Black

Gridlock (Ryan Lock, #3)Gridlock by Sean Black

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

That moment when you recognise an actor/actress but can’t admit it.

Adult film star Raven Lane has a stalker. Not the leave flowers kind of stalker, the kind that leaves bodies in the back of your car. The police are only mildly interested in catching someone killing people in the adult industry, so Raven hires Lock and Ty. Ryan Lock reluctantly takes the job, sensing that something is off about it all. There is. In the worst way possible.

It has been a while since I’ve read anything from Sean Black. His first Lock thriller novel was recommended to me by thriller author Matt Hilton, and I loved it. Sean has since branched out into writing a mystery-comedy series – Malibu Mystery – that I’ve got on my TBR (at some point I’m going to have to admit I have a book buying problem). Reading another Ryan Lock novel was like putting on a comfy pair of shoes. Sean keeps the narrative interesting, keeps the pacing fast, and isn’t afraid to land plot punches most authors would avoid.

Although, when Sean says he loves to do hands on research, I kinda wonder what he did for Gridlock.

Highly recommend this novel for thriller and crime-thriller fans.

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Book review: Peril at End House by Agatha Christie

Peril at End House (Hercule Poirot, #8)Peril at End House by Agatha Christie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you try to kill someone five times and fail, does the intended victim have to at least feign injury?

Hercule Poirot the world’s best detective thought he had retired. Then a bullet intended for Nick Buckly lands at his feet. He can’t very well continue to modestly claim the title of world’s best detective if he doesn’t solve a case that literally lands at his feet, now can he?

I’ve not previously read any Agatha Christie novels, so it was interesting to galavant off to 1930s England for a mystery. It is hard not to be familiar with the Christie tropes, what with the countless plays, radio, TV, and movie adaptations, not to mention the imitators. But seeing the tropes in their original form was entertaining in and of itself, whilst also grounding a lot of the other works.

Recently I had the pleasure of seeing The Play That Goes Wrong. Probably one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, and one that wouldn’t have worked without the influence of Christie. That alone probably added to my enjoyment of this novel. And the mystery itself was actually quite well layered. So as long as you don’t mind the slight quaintness of the characters (rich English people from 1930s high society) and the tropes (let’s go to the drawing-room, sit around the log fire, and I’ll slowly reveal who did it) this is well worth a read.

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Book review: The Water’s Edge by Karin Fossum

The Water's EdgeThe Water’s Edge by Karin Fossum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre fiction is all about escapism, said no crime fiction fan ever.

A young boy’s body is found in a remote park. It is clear he has been abused and then dumped. The only lead Inspector Sejer has to go on is the man a young couple passed before discovering the boy. And then a second boy goes missing.

This was an incredibly hard book to read. There’s nothing quite like the lurid details of crimes against children to really make you squirm. Karin Fossum doesn’t just make you squirm from the crime itself, either, she seems to want you to be disgusted with humans, as she peels back the layers on all of the characters. Goal achieved.

While this was a tough read, it was still a good solid crime novel. Unlike many other crime authors, Fossum seems to be able to poke at the reader. This is both a good and a bad thing, as it makes The Water’s Edge hard to recommend to others – especially if you have kids – and to give 5 stars to. One for hardened crime fiction fans I’d say.

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Book Review: Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

Dead Ever After (Sookie Stackhouse, #13)Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Did you hear the one about the Vampire, the Were, the Shifter, and the Barmaid?

In this final Sookie Stackhouse novel, Sookie discovers she has many enemies. One group decide to frame her for murder. Another group decide to just murder her. Another decides to steal her boyfriend. Her friends have other ideas about letting any of that happen without a fight.

I haven’t been closely following Charlaine Harris’ series. I’ve enjoyed all the instalments I’ve read so far, and Dead Ever After was no exception. Although, I was surprised to discover this was the final novel in the Sookie Stackhouse series.* This felt like any other instalment in the series to me.

Apparently fans of the series were annoyed with the less than satisfactory ending. A lot of one star reviews have been thrown at this book. One thing seems clear, Sookie didn’t end up with the right guy. Apparently. So if you are an invested fan, this book will probably be used to heat your home in winter. For the less invested fans, this will be regarded as a solid instalment to the series.

*Yes, I can see the tagline on the bottom of the cover. Kinda hard to read when it is thumbnail sized though.

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Book Review: No Time Left by David Baldacci

No Time LeftNo Time Left by David Baldacci

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

If you time travel how can you have no time left?

It is pretty hard to review this book without spoilers, and quite honestly you’ll want to read the spoilers so you won’t waste your time. This short story is about an assassin who is hired to kill his own mother in the past. He does so, he ceases to exist. End of story.

Don’t worry, I didn’t ruin anything for you.

This was so predictable as to be confusing. How could such a popular author churn out such a generic waste of space as this story? Baldacci offers no unique take on this well worn trope, he doesn’t give us an interesting character to follow, his story has massive plot holes, and he doesn’t even offer money back…. Okay, I did get this from the library, but I still feel he owes me money.

The positive reviews I have read for this story appear to be from long time fans. This is my third underwhelming outing with Baldacci. There won’t be a fourth outing.

NB: I do apologise for posting a negative review. Normally I avoid mentioning the books I haven’t enjoyed. I’m making an exception with this review because this story reeks of a big name author and their publisher putting out any old dross they feel like.

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Book to Movie: All You Need Is Kill – What’s the Difference?

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This month Cinefix’s What’s the Difference? tackles the underappreciated Edge of Tomorrow, and it’s source material, All You Need Is Kill. I’d so watch a film called All You Need Is Kill, even if it did have Tom Cruise in it.

Unfortunately I haven’t read the Manga, which appears to have some differences between it and the novel. I read the light novel of All You Need Is Kill before watching the movie. Whilst there are major similarities between the two, they are quite different. Edge of Tomorrow flirts with comedy, while anything with the title All You Need Is Kill is clearly going to have a darker tone. A film starring Tom Cruise is always going to have a Hollywood glamour to it that a novel can dispense with.

The biggest difference between the two is the ending. I said in my review of the film that they should have stuck with the book’s ending. The way the movie ended was the equivalent of “it was all a dream”, whilst the book ending had consequence and substance. Admittedly, watching Tom Cruise kill Emily Blunt would have had audiences outraged (#TeamBlunt) but I’m sure they could have deus ex machina-d something better than what was served up.

Interestingly, Hiroshi is writing a Manga sequel and they’ve announced a movie sequel. I wonder how similar those two will be?

Book review: A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

A History of Western PhilosophyA History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An important point was left out of this book: The history of philosophy is also a history of drunks.

Bertrand Russell has attempted to give a brief overview of the History of Western Philosophy. In this 900 page tome he touches on the major figures, major fields of thought, and the socio-political backgrounds that influenced (and were influenced by) them. Russell also offers up some critique on these aspects, because it wouldn’t be a philosophy book if it wasn’t doing so.

This description sounds like anathema to entertaining reading, and it would be if it wasn’t being tackled by someone like Russell. Bertrand has a very clear, concise, and accessible writing style, and is easily able to explain in plain language even the most complex of philosophical ideas. Normally reading philosophy reminds me of reading genetics textbooks, as it is overstuffed with pedantry and jargon, Russell makes it feel like he is uses no jargon or technical terms.

It should also be noted that Russell is snarky to the point that you find yourself having to laugh and share his comment with someone. His comments are withering and witty, but they also serve as a great way of highlighting the flaws with certain arguments or “great” thinkers. If there are a few takeaway points from this book it is that the great minds were way ahead of their time, but that those same minds were confined by the structures of their time. It makes you wonder how many of today’s ideas are going to look silly and biased to future peoples.

This isn’t really a book to read about certain philosophers, nor fields of thought. A History of Western Philosophy is more a cliff notes version of several thousand years of thinking. Definitely an emphasis on the history and context. And it is all viewed through Russell’s eyes, his snarky, snarky, eyes.

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More Books You Haven’t Read

I have written previously (here, here) about how people like to pretend they have read something they haven’t. To summarise my take on this phenomenon: Stop it!

People claim to have read books (1, 2, 3, 4) and watched movies they haven’t in order to appear more intelligent. From the new list that I will discuss below, you have to question who they are trying to impress by claiming to have read Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson.

Impressing people is what this is all about. We all have an inability to admit we like (or dislike) stuff because others may have a subjectively different taste and ridicule us. We even come up with the fake term “guilty pleasure” to describe something we like but are ashamed of for some reason. There shouldn’t be guilty pleasures, only pleasures… unless that pleasure is illegal or immoral or both – such as the movies of Uwe Bole.

This new list of lied about books comes from a poll of 2,000 UK adults. In it 41% of respondents admitted they fibbed about what, and how much, they read. This was part of The Reading Agency‘s look at reading habits. It found that 67% of respondents would like to read more, but 48% claimed they were too busy to read… but caught the game on the TV and did you see those new cat videos? Another interesting point was that 35% said they struggle to find a book they really like, and 26% want recommendations from someone they know. I.e. reviews are important.

As you will see from the list, most of these books have been turned into movies. That was probably why people lied. They wanted to impress people in a discussion but couldn’t just admit that they had only watched the movie. Hint: us readers can tell you haven’t read the book.

 Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

1. James Bond novels by Ian Fleming

I can’t claim to have read many of the James Bond novels – one, I’m pretty sure I’ve only read one. But I have watched most of the movies at least once. For my own part, the reason I haven’t read more of the books is partly lack of interest, and partly making time to catch up on older novels. There are a lot of influential authors and novels I’m yet to have a chance to read. Plus I’ve heard that the books have far fewer explosions.

 The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

2. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Admittedly I read the novel after the first movie came out – or possibly only finished it after the first movie came out. I’ve covered this book recently as part of my Book vs Movie discussions (1, 2, 3). I don’t think you can blame people for watching the movies instead of reading the book. The book is long, waffly, and at times difficult to parse. The movies are only long and awesome.

 

3. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

I’ve only read six of the seven Narnia novels. I read this series when I was young and pretty much lost interest before reading The Last Battle. The first two novels (chronological, not published) are well worth reading, but I can understand people not bothering to read the rest. I can also understand people having watched the movies and decided not to read the books. The movies are only okay, which is generally not enough to encourage most people to read books.

4. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

Apparently The DaVinci Code is one of the most read books of all time…. if you just go by book sales. I have a love-hate relationship with Dan Brown’s Artefact McGuffin Adventures. While I have read two of Brown’s novels, I actually prefer other authors who write superior Artefact McGuffin Adventures. Can’t really blame people for watching Tom Hanks run around historical places instead of reading about Robert Langdon.

 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I can honestly say I haven’t read this book, nor been interested in doing so, despite the paperback being on our shelves. The movies didn’t exactly inspire me either. The main reason I haven’t tackled it is that my wife only thought it was okay and similar to Divergent by Veronica Roth.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

6. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

I didn’t even realise the movie was based on a book until relatively recently. I’m sure most people will have seen the movie and assumed the book is pretty similar.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

7. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Another book I haven’t read and one I’m not really interested in reading – nor the rest of the series for that matter. I’m not sure why anyone would claim to have read this book when they haven’t, unless they want to say “Oh, the books are so much darker” when the movie is being discussed.

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

8. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

Another novel that is on our shelves thanks to my wife. The impression I have of the main character is that I would probably not enjoy this, especially since I try to be out of the room when people are watching the movies.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

9. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Ugh. I read part of this book before shredding it and using the remains to create a nest for a family of rats. Even the Wikipedia synopsis of the novel bores me to tears. Any “thriller” that starts with ten pages of descriptions of flowers, followed by a few more pages discussing home renovations had better make them giant mutated flowers with Uzis that are renovating the home with explosives. If only people would stop talking about this book so that people would stop talking about it as though it was good.

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

10. The Godfather by Mario Puzo

I bought The Godfather from a bargain bin next to a pile of remaindered books. The only reason I decided to buy and read it was that the movie was/is a classic. It is probably fair to say that most people only ever considered reading this because of the movie, so it is no surprise that people inflate that from considering to have read.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

11. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

I have neither read this book nor watched the film. My entire understanding of this book comes from Thug Notes. That’s enough for me.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

12. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This book certainly isn’t for everyone. When I reviewed it I called it literary crime fiction, which puts it between genre fiction that people like reading, and award-winning stuff people only pretend to like reading.* That means it could attract people from both audiences, or annoy both audiences – yes, I am assuming that those two audiences are disparate entities that share nothing in common. So I could see why some people would claim to have read this novel, what with the awards, and praise, and movie forcing them to either admit something about their reading habits or to make some facile excuse for not having read it yet.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

13. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This book has the dubious honour of being a novel I was only aware existed as a result of it appearing on these lists of books people claim to have read but haven’t. Maybe this book doesn’t actually exist but is inserted into these reading lists as an internal check for the survey of readers. Let’s see who notices that this book is fictional fiction.

As you can see, it is easy to admit which books you have and haven’t read. Some books you may not want to read. Some you may not have had a chance to read yet. Some you might only be aware of due to the movie adaptation. The main thing is to acknowledge the truth so that entertaining books are promoted (review books, but do it the right way), rather than dreck that people haven’t read but assume is entertaining. And if you want to continue to lie about books you’ve read, here is a summary of some classic novels:

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*Yes, that is me being snobby. Yes, I am meant to be against that judgmental stuff. Yes, I am a hypocrite at times.

Book Review: The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells

The Island of Dr. MoreauThe Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you can make an animal into a person, how long do you think it will be before someone can make a person decent?

Edward Prendick survives a shipwreck and is rescued by a supply ship headed for The Island of Dr Moreau. Prendick is cast overboard by the supply ship and is thus stranded on the island where he discovers a mad scientist (surgeon actually) has been at work for many years. The locals are huge fans of vivisection. Things go downhill when Brando is cast as Moreau.

I mostly enjoyed rereading this novel, and I definitely understood more of the issues than when I read it as a kid. At the time HG Wells wrote this famous tale, there was much debate in Europe regarding degeneration, evolution, and vivisection. Wells himself thought that humans could use vivisection for evolutionary purposes. And what better way to discuss these issues than in a science fiction novel.

There were two main issues that stopped me enjoying this novel more. The first issue is common to all of the HG Wells novels I have recently reviewed, and that is the dated style that drains a lot of the tension out of the narrative. The reader is always left at arm’s-length from the story. The second issue is a narrative device that is still commonly used today: book-ending. Book-ending (a term I’ve probably made up) is where the actual story is wedged between an external narrative that is used to recount the story proper. This does two things that annoy me: it adds needless narrative and characters; and it destroys any suspense or mystery. The latter is the worst part. In The Island of Dr Moreau we already know that Prendick survives the island and his experiences have left him emotionally scarred and unable to live among people, because his nephew introduces the tale after finding the manuscript when Prendick dies.

Regardless, this is a creepy tale that is worth reading even if you just want to learn to recite ‘Are We Not Men’.

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Book review: The First Men in the Moon by HG Wells

The First Men in the MoonThe First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Would we have a colony on the Moon if it had gold and a native peoples to wipe out? We know the answer if they had oil.

Perennial con man, Bedford, has escaped his creditors by hiding in the countryside. Here he meets an inventor, Cavor, who is a genius with no idea what he is doing. Bedford cons Cavor into using his invention of Cavorite to fly to the Moon. Upon arrival they discover the moon is hollow and filled with Moonmen (but no Moonwomen….. not sure how that works). And gold. The meeting with the natives follows tradition…

I was disappointed with The First Men in the Moon. This novel was influential to people like CS Lewis, so I was expecting there to be a lot on offer. There are a lot of interesting ideas on display in this novel, but there are also some truly bad ideas as well, even for the time this was written in. For example, Jules Verne criticised the use of Cavorite when both he and Wells had already utilised the more realistic idea of cannons for interplanetary travel. The story is also told in a way that isn’t particularly engaging, particularly the last quarter, which is possibly the most drawn out way to tie up a loose end I’ve read.

This was also one of the many works of HG Wells that was accused of plagiarism. Twenty-six years prior, Robert Cromie had written A Plunge Into Space, which was heavily borrowed from but never acknowledged. Wells’ contestations that he had never heard of Cromie nor his book would have held more weight if the accusations of plagiarism weren’t quite so common throughout Wells’ career.

Skip this classic.

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Book review: The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

The War of the WorldsThe War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interplanetary war breaks out in Woking, Surrey England. Newsreaders even less sure where that is than countries in the Middle East.

The War of the Worlds is about Martians invading Earth using advanced technology, like 21 metre tall tripod machines, heat rays, and toxic smogs. One man is able to recount his experience of living through the invasion from the first landing to the start of the rebuilding of southern England.

It is hard to comment on such a classic novel. The War of the Worlds has gone on to influence culture in many ways. The obvious influences are in books and movies, most notably the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels and the entire alien invasion genre. But it also had an impact on science, such as Freeman Dyson’s search for extraterrestrial life and Robert Goddard’s rocket development. Not many books can claim that (seriously, read the Wiki article for a brief overview). Makes it very hard to comment…

While I enjoyed this book I came away from it underwhelmed. Much of the novel is interesting, not least of which is the understated setting – because now you would be considered mad to set an alien invasion story anywhere without a prominent monument that can be destroyed. The characters the narrator meets are also interesting, particularly the artilleryman who has big dreams about leading the resistance movement. But this is all told in a memoir style that lacks immediacy, tension, and excitement. Southern England has just been invaded by aliens with death rays, yet the narrator could just as well be relating the time he watched a cricket match in Surrey.

Worth reading as a classic, especially if you forgive the narrative style.

NB: It also influenced music, such as this one by Devin Townsend.

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Book Review: The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly

The Four Legendary Kingdoms: A Jack West Jr Novel 4The Four Legendary Kingdoms: A Jack West Jr Novel 4 by Matthew Reilly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have twelve labours to perform do you get an energy drink sponsorship deal?

Jack West Jr was retired. The Fifth Greatest Warrior had saved the world and become a family man. But his old nemesis Iolanthe recruits him against his will to compete in The Games. This battle to the death takes representatives from the Four Legendary Kingdoms to compete to become the champion: a modern-day Hercules. Oh, and that champion allows an ancient machine to stop a rogue galaxy from destroying the Milky Way. The galaxy, not the chocolate bar.

With few exceptions – The Tournament, Seven Deadly Wonders – I’ve loved Matthew Reilly’s novels. They made by taking pure adrenaline, injected with amphetamines, and poured into a stack of paper. The stakes are always high and time is always short. This time Jack West Jr has to save the galaxy by winning a tournament. No doubt Reilly’s next novel will involve saving the universe…

I was a little wary of The Four Legendary Kingdoms. While The Great Zoo of China was a return to form, The Tournament was somewhat of a letdown for me. There was also the fact that Seven Deadly Wonders, the first Jack West Jr novel, is my least favourite book from Reilly. But any fears I had were well and truly stabbed in the neck. I can’t wait for the next instalment in this series.

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Book review: The Devil’s Country by Harry Hunsicker

The Devil's CountryThe Devil’s Country by Harry Hunsicker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Has there ever been a religious cult started for something other than allowing the leaders to have sex with the congregation?

Arlo Baines is wandering the state of Texas in an effort to forget the murder of his family. The former Texas Ranger sees a couple of guys up to no good, and starts making trouble in the neighbourhood. He gets in one little fight and has the local sheriff and a religious cult wanting to see him leave (for Bel Air).

It was refreshing to dive into a different take on the itinerant vigilante genre. Obviously there are similarities between any of the novels in this genre, the most prominent being Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series (of which I’m a fan). But Harry Hunsicker has brought a more haunted and reluctant hero to the page, one who feels a little more vulnerable, but no less unstoppable.

This is a fast-moving novel which hits all the right beats. While it doesn’t stray from the itinerant vigilante genre path, nor offer up any surprising twists, The Devil’s Country was an enjoyable read. Recommended for any fans of Lee Child, Matt Hilton, Zoe Sharp, et al.

NB: I received an advance review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

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Book review: The Time Machine by HG Wells

The Time MachineThe Time Machine by H.G. Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wonder if vegans object to the Morlocks’ diet?

In what is now a classic of the Science Fiction genre, an un-named narrator has local dignitaries over to his place once a week to tell tall tales and show off his latest inventions to. On one of these evenings he limps in the worse for wear, in desperate need of a steak, and discusses his pocket flower collection.

When I was a kid I read a lot of the classic science fiction stories from the likes of HG Wells and Jules Verne. It has been so long since I’ve read them that I thought it was time to revisit these classics. While I can still fondly remember the 1960 movie – let us not ever speak of the 2002 adaptation – the book felt unfamiliar and akin to virgin reading material.

Whilst The Time Machine does deserve its place in history for influencing/creating Science Fiction as we know it (fantastical ideas explored, social issues analogised), as a novel it is lacking. One example of this is the lack of tension in scenes that are literally life or death struggles. Instead of fearing for the narrator’s life and wondering how he’ll survive, we are treated to a recounting of the events that could have instead been describing someone having a cup of tea while watching the rain out of the dining room window. A wondrous adventure told as though it was just another day at the office.

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