Book review: Stone Cold by Robert B Parker

Stone Cold (Jesse Stone, #4)Stone Cold by Robert B. Parker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wonder if new sex partners actually enjoy being told how much you love your ex?

In the affluent town of Paradise, someone has decided to start killing people. Two shots to the chest. The victims are unconnected and there are no clues for Jesse Stone to investigate. As the pressure mounts, he has to balance the murder investigation against getting justice for the rape of a high school girl, and his love life. Especially when one of Jesse’s sex partners becomes a victim of the serial killer.

I’ve been meaning to read some of Robert B Parker’s novels for quite some time. Parker was regarded as one of the best detective crime novelists in contemporary (American*) fiction, like Michael Connelly or James Lee Burke. I can see the similarities between Parker and Connelly, both having a relatively bleak and realism to their investigative tales. The life of an investigation is important to Parker and Connelly’s narratives, which often involves waiting on the lab results, or going home without having solved the crime, or going on a drive to chase a dead-end – a Connelly staple. Parker tends to pare back the prose, however, which made this feel like quite a short and fast-paced novel.

I’m not sure if Stone Cold is a good representation of Parker’s writing or not, but this was only a serviceable crime novel. Nothing really elevated it above okay to my mind.

*An important caveat that is often left out of these accolades for American authors.

View all my reviews

Book review: Torment by Hank Janson

TormentTorment by Hank Janson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dames: amiright?!

Hank Janson spots an old friend who has a new mentalist act they claim is really clairvoyance. He offers to promote the friend and his female assistants’ act via a test. Meanwhile, a woman approaches Janson about helping her find her sister’s killer. Also meanwhile, another woman approaches Janson about helping her brother with a pornography conviction. Then finally, the police contact Janson about covering a gruesome suicide – no women needing help with this one, so he was a bit disappointed. How are all of these things linked? Janson intends to find out.

A friend from my writers’ group recommended the Hank Janson novels to me last year. Janson was the pseudonym of Stephen D Frances and was used as the main character in a series of highly successful pulp crime novels in the 40s and 50s. It is immediately obvious why these novels were popular: fast-paced, women wanting Janson, intriguing plot, women wanting Janson, noir sensibilities, and women wanting Janson.

Noir, particularly crime noir, doesn’t date as badly as some other genres. Even with the dated attitudes and ideas, Torment didn’t make you start shaking your finger in admonishment of the -isms on display. For example, a subplot about going to prison for possessing (run-of-the-mill) porn might seem ridiculous today, but it doesn’t feel odd here.

These re-released 50th Anniversary Janson novels by Telos Publishing are worth a read for anyone chasing a crime noir or great pulp crime novels from yesteryear.

View all my reviews

Book review: Ice Station by Matthew Reilly

Ice Station (Shane Schofield, #1)Ice Station by Matthew Reilly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Suddenly I have a sudden urge to suddenly write a review of this book. Very sudden.

Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield has been dispatched to Wilkes Station after receiving their distress call. Some of the Wilkes science team have mysteriously disappeared after finding an unidentified “alien” craft deep under the ice. His crack team of Marines arrive to find they aren’t the only ones who responded. Clearly, more than one nation are interested in securing the craft, less so rescuing the scientists. With no support, and enemies coming from everywhere, Scarecrow will have to stay alive long enough to be in even more danger.

I can’t remember exactly when I first read Ice Station, but it must have been roughly a decade ago. It has been interesting to revisit a novel I enjoyed from an author who reinvigorated my love of reading. Some books lose their magic the second time around, and Ice Station, despite its fun and fast-paced narrative, wasn’t the novel I remembered.

Ice Station was still entertaining but the flaws stuck out this time. I found myself laughing a little bit everytime Reilly used the word sudden or suddenly. I’m not sure if I’m being too harsh or too forgiving – I derided a book for using a phrase I saw in this book – so I’ll have to revisit all of Reilly’s novels to check.

View all my reviews

Book vs Movie: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – What’s the Difference?

maxresdefault2

This month’s What’s the Difference? from Cinefix covers Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

This month I’m just sharing.

Yep, that means I’ve neither read the book nor watched the movie.

Feel superior in the comments.

20 years ago a new generation was introduced to the peak of Gonzo Journalism with Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Really great filmmakers have tried and failed to bring the savage journey into the American Dream, so what makes Terry Gilliam’s version so successful? Time to get cracking and ask What’s the Difference?!

Book review: Zen in the Age of Anxiety by Tim Burkett

Zen in the Age of AnxietyZen in the Age of Anxiety by Tim Burkett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clear your mind, relax, and read this review.

Zen in the Age of Anxiety is a guidebook and teaching manual that focuses on how to deal with stress, anxiety, and address the underlying mental behaviours that cause them. Burkett lays out the teachings and key points with easy to follow explanations and a series of anecdotes from his +50 years as a Zen practitioner and draws on his background in psychology.

This was a very interesting book. I originally borrowed a copy from the library because I’d previously read Lao Tzu’s Dao De Jing. Okay, a bit of a leap between the two, but Zen teachings have their roots in Buddhism, which in turn has roots in the Dao (Tao), something Burkett mentions in passing. There are a lot of helpful insights and practices in this book that could help most people in their lives. At the very least, it was interesting to read something with such a different perspective on life.

My only gripe was a minor one. A lot of practices and philosophies, especially those with “Eastern” origins, tend to be tied up with spiritualism and mysticism. As a result, there tends to be a blending of nonsense (both ancient and modern) with the good stuff. As an example, in a later chapter, there is an example given that involves an analogy with how vaccines and homoeopathy work. Except that it incorrectly describes how vaccines work, and incorrectly describes homoeopathy as working at all. So best to use a critical eye when reading.

View all my reviews

How Is Tech Changing the Way We Read?

maxresdefault1

With the rise of social media and smartphone use, we are all reading fewer books than we once did. All, not just those pesky millennials. Some people are worried about what this means for the future of literature and, well, our brains. But is it true that we are really reading less? And should I care?

Above The Noise recently did a video in which Myles covers some of the research on reading.

I always appreciate it when a Youtuber or Journalist manages to discuss a topic without devolving into head-shaking admonishment, especially when it comes to the topic of reading and books. Too often these sorts of videos and articles cite bad research or buy into industry propaganda.

I’ve previously discussed the misrepresentations made about reading ebooks, the overstating of the benefits of reading – when there are some well-researched benefits documented –  and even the way we write. And the Pew Research into reading was one of several references I’ve used in my discussion of Who Reads, something I cover quite a bit here.

And yet, there were still some things in the video that I hadn’t been aware of. So I think it is worth sharing. Enjoy.

From the video:

Reading has been an important part of the human experience for thousands of years, but believe it or not, that’s not a long time on the evolutionary timescale. Before the internet, it made sense to read long texts in a linear fashion, but that’s now changing as people are adapting to skimming shorter texts on their computers or phones. But what does this mean for the future of books?

What is literary reading?

Literary reading is, quite simply, the reading of any literature. This includes novels, short stories, poetry, and plays.

Are we reading less?

The rate at which Americans are reading literature for fun is down around 14% from the early 1980s. This doesn’t necessarily mean we are reading less, however. Many people still have to read for school or work. Then there are all the words, sentences, and messages we read on the internet from emails to texts to tweets. Some people believe that this means we are possibly reading more individual words than ever. It’s just being done in a different way. I’ve also discussed the decline of literature.

And this is changing our brains?

Some neuroscientists believe that scanning shorter texts the way we do on the internet, often jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink, is actually changing the wiring in our brains. We are becoming better at searching for key terms and scanning for information, but this means it can become more difficult to read a longer text all the way through without missing major points.

SOURCES:
Children, Teens, and Reading
The long, steady decline of literary reading
Who doesn’t read books in America?
Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say

Book review: American Assassin by Vince Flynn

American Assassin (Mitch Rapp, #1)American Assassin by Vince Flynn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Apparently, covert operations groups keep an eye out for future killers on lacrosse teams.*

Mitch Rapp lost his high school sweetheart in the Pan Am Lockerbie terrorist attack. He then dedicates himself to becoming a covert operative to kill terrorists rather than grieve and move on to a professional sports career. For some reason, the government decide Rapp is totally mentally stable and they should train him to become an assassin and hope that decision doesn’t backfire.**

Okay, so I’m being a little unkind in my review of American Assassin. Flynn’s book is a pretty solid thriller with plenty of action. It avoids the common flaw of these sorts of thrillers by not painting the terrorists as one-dimensional zealots. Even the decidedly gauche flag-waving moments that any book with “American” in the title is obliged to have are well handled. As long as you accept the basic premise – that Rapp is awesome because everyone around him says so, despite Rapp himself being a rather bland character – you have a good time.

But ultimately this book fails to actually put a character arc in for Rapp. College athlete turns into an assassin should involve some sort of an arc, but Rapp just kinda glides through. At some points, Rapp is even described as not pushing himself, because this gruelling training is just that easy for him. That makes American Assassin all feel a bit flat.

*Think how many school shootings they’d be preventing if they were keeping an eye out for budding killers!

**Which it kinda does. I don’t know what happens in later books in this series, but you’d have to conclude from this one that Rapp will be a loose cannon.

View all my reviews