Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spycatcher by Matthew Dunn

I wanted so badly to really enjoy this book. I'm not sure what my reasoning was, as I had this ARC sitting on my bookshelf for almost 2 years by the time I finally started it, but I recall really wanting to enjoy this. And I thought I would; it sounded so similar to all the other spy thriller books that are out there, and I thought I had found a new protagonist hero in Will Cochrane (there's only so much Alex Cross I can take before the stories become stagnant and redundant).

Unfortunately, I feel like Spycatcher fell short of my expectations. It was interesting to read this knowing that Matthew Dunn really did work for the MI6 in England, and so the story was based in facts regarding espionage in the governments of both America and England. The story itself, however, just felt flat. My biggest peeve about Lee Child's Jack Reacher series is that everything was so monotonous, and the characters seemed uninterested in their own lives. How can a reader become interested then? Spycatcher is a 2 out of 5 star book in my opinion, but because I know many other readers are much more interested in the Jack Reacher books than I am, I still recommend this to any Lee Child fans as they are very comparable.

From the publisher:
Will Cochrane, the CIA’s and MI6’s most prized asset and deadliest weapon, has known little outside this world since childhood. And he’s never been outplayed. So far…

Will’s controllers task him with finding and neutralizing one of today’s most wanted terrorist masterminds, a man believed to be an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general. Intending to use someone from the man’s past to flush him out of the shadows, Will believes he has the perfect plan, but he soon discovers, in a frantic chase from the capitals of Europe to New York City, that his adversary has more surprises in store and is much more treacherous than anyone he has ever faced—and survived—up to now.

My thoughts:
Okay, Cochrane is basically the bad-ass hero that was missing from "The Expendables". Willis, Stallone, Statham, Cochrane; they're all big and brawny and up for kicking some bad guy butt. And I get that. I like explosions and fight sequences and all of that. I need some kind of realism in it though. These guys need to take a few hits as well, otherwise it's a bad mock-up of Star Wars and James Bond.. The villains outnumber the hero a million to one, but can't hit their mark if they were aiming at the Titanic. It's unrealistic and boring and people need to be hurt. And yes, Cochrane sustains a few severe injuries in this novel, but what's weird is that he gets up by the next day, every time. And he's supposed to be in his mid 30's, easy. You don't just bounce back from some injuries, no matter who you are. It's weird how much things like this bother me sometimes.
Isn't there terrorist/villain training or something?
 And speaking of Bond, (SPOILERS) Megiddo really bothered me as well. Didn't he watch any action movies before? As the villain, you don't sit and talk with your rival about your plans. You show up, shoot him, and be done with it. Megiddo is the predictable villain who thinks he's infallible, and so tells his entire plan to the man he intends to kill, without really knowing for sure that things will work out that way. I mean, come on! If you fail, then the hero knows what the plan is and can stop it anyway!  (NO MORE SPOILERS)

Will Cochrane has suffered a lot in his early childhood and teenage years, and it helped to shape the man he grew up to be. I understand that. Especially from a psychological perspective, I'm not surprised he grew up to become a government agent, working to protect innocents from evil and harm. After what he witnessed and was involved in, it would have been surprising for him to do anything else like a normal person. And I can even understand the need to avoid relationships and social situations. I can't figure out why, even though this story was from his perspective, we the reader never really get true debates and inner discussions. He is very methodical and logical, and a lot of the novel reads as I would expect a calculator to read. There were a lot of moments where I had to manufacture the emotions that I felt I should be experiencing through Cochrane, because he repressed any emotions, and rarely even let them cross his mind. Is that really how spies function? Because if so, that's remarkable. And also psychopathic. I'm a psych major, I know these things.

The story itself was very interesting and well laid out- Cochrane must work with a small US special operations unit to take down a man responsible for most of the Middle East's terrorist attacks against the Western world, before he can launch a new attack against one of the western nations. I would have loved to see different interactions between Will and Lana, because I think it would have made reading this more enjoyable to see some emotions in Will's thoughts and actions, rather than his cold and calculating demeanor. Let's see some surprise, some true happiness, anything!

Sometimes I think I can be a bit harsh in my critiques of books. All I really want, though, is a captivating story, with characters that are fun to read about and potentially to relate to/identify with, told in a way that keeps my attention and takes me away from the real world for a while. That's not too much to ask for in a book, I hope. Anyway, Spycatcher was a bit unemotional for my tastes, but I think fans of Lee Child would enjoy this debut novel from a former MI6 field operative.

- Justin

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Almost a Turkish Soap Opera by Anne-Rae Vasquez

So, I have had this review in draft form for a couple weeks now, because it was so difficult for me to properly review this book. I didn't want to be overly critical or complementary of something based on my own subjective tastes and interests. I rarely read out of my comfort zone, which is something I've tried working on to expand my horizons and so I could expose myself to different types/genres of writing that I would almost never pick up otherwise. And this story certainly takes me away from my standard literary fare, and deserved a more objective review than I would have written right after I finished reading it. Almost a Turkish Soap Opera is precisely what the title intimates, and while I was very entertained by the plot I was not so much a fan of the layout of the novel. This story was written as a screenplay, and reads just as a television show summary would. Almost a Turkish Soap Opera is a fascinating look into the Turkish culture in today's society, and is worthy of the 4 out of 5 stars I'm giving to it.

From the publisher:
Almost a Turkish Soap Opera is a story about Adel,a young Turkish man whose family has lived in poverty while his grand uncle controls the inheritance money which rightfully belongs to his father. Adel travels to the USA with his best friend Kamil, works illegally, and is deported back to Istanbul. He flies to Canada, marries his rich grand uncle's spoiled obnoxious granddaughter in exchange for his permanent resident status. He becomes infatuated with his beautiful English teacher and tries to hide this from his wife. How did his life turn into a Turkish soap opera?

The novel paints a vivid portrayal of the lives and struggles of young modern Muslim adults trying to make a life in the West. The story will attract audiences of popular contemporary movies such as the Kite Runner and the Brick Lane. A published author, Anne-Rae Vasquez, wrote the novel, Almost a Turkish Soap Opera (to be released in 2012), Gathering Dust, a collection of poems, and Teach Yourself Great Web Design in a Week, published by (a division of Macmillan Publishing).

My thoughts:
As I stated above, I was not a fan of the layout. Screenplays are difficult to read because it's essentially just a play by play of what would be happening in the show/movie. There is little in the way of inner dialogue and conflict; most of the writing is devoted to the actions and what the characters are doing. I need inner conflict! I need to hear more of what's going on in Adel's mind, and what he's thinking about throughout his dramatic time in America and Canada. He's got a very interesting inner dialogue, based on what Vasquez did put in her story. I could definitely see this on TV, though, kind of a dramatic Turkish "Days of Our Lives" or something else (I only know that show because my mother used to watch it)  :P

Although I would have preferred to see a 'standard' novel version of this story, the plot and the characters are a lot of fun. The plot is interesting, easy to follow, and fun to read, and offers a lot of insight into the lives of modern Muslim families. Adel and Kamil are likable characters, and I had a good time reading a story where I had to really extrapolate to picture myself in their shoes (particularly since I am not Muslim, and won't really have to worry about having an arranged, loveless marriage). I would definitely feel the same way though, and fight with my family to be able to pave my own way through life, and marry who I choose, rather than who my family decides I should marry.

All in all, while this wasn't something I normally sink my teeth into, I'm glad I did and I definitely recommend it for anyone who regularly watches/reads soap opera types of stories, or who's looking to try something new and exciting. Who knows, you might learn something new, or just find a new genre you enjoy!

- Justin

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hannibal House by David Nicol

If you're interested in reading this story for yourself, grab a copy here for a great price!

My first comment regarding this book was that I was rather surprised to see it was only 40 pages. I was expecting a longer, full-length type of novel. Not, of course, that I dislike short stories or was anything short of impressed by Hannibal House. It did after all earn 4 out of 5 stars in my book for giving me the creeps even though I read it in the middle of the day, on a treadmill no less. I just had that expectation in the back of my mind that I think threw me off more than anything.

Nevertheless, David Nicol (who I thank for sending me a copy of his story to read and review) does a fantastic job making me just a little more paranoid and jumpy today, even though it's the middle of the day and I know I'm safe.. Everyone knows at least one story like this, where a house is haunted and practically has a mind of its own. I think my first scary house story might have been a Goosebumps novel. In any case, Hannibal House was reminiscent of "The Amityville Horror" in that you never see the monsters or demons or what have you, but you know they're there and watching you. Part of me spent the entirety of my time reading this story shouting out "Get out of there!" at Troy, even though I obviously knew this fictional written character wouldn't respond to my pleas. I like that the subtle clues as to what was happening in the house were so obvious to the reader, yet I'm sure I wouldn't have thought anything of them had I been in Troy's position. I have three favorite events that hint to the dangers lurking in Hannibal House- the pictures Troy took of the house to send to his mother, Gary seeing Troy walking into his pub, and the newly installed television Troy had delivered to his new house. I won't give away what happens, but just know that I really enjoyed these moments in the story.

Like I said, I would have personally liked to see this story last a bit longer (especially after finishing it and knowing how entertained I was the entire time), but David certainly knows how to weave a tale. I really found it interesting how the places mentioned actually do exist, and if I had the money I would love to go visit the famed house myself. Maybe I'll return with my own material for writing a new story...

Justin :)

And I just want to point out how much of an idiot I am; I just went to post this review to Goodreads where I noticed the original cover of the story states "a short story" right on the cover. Whoops. I'm so smaht.

Monday, March 4, 2013

To the Last Breath by Francis Slakey

In all honesty, I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed reading this memoir. Not because I had heard bad things, or anything like that; I just wasn't expecting to really get as into the story as I did. Slakey does a fantastic job sucking the reader in, and making what could have been a more technical and boring story quite the page-turner, earning itself 4 out of 5 stars from me.

From the publisher:
Before Georgetown physics professor Francis Slakey decided to climb the highest mountain on every continent and surf every ocean, he had shut himself off from other people. His lectures were mechanical; his relationships were little more than ways to fill the evenings. But as his decade-long journey veered dangerously off course, everything about him began to change.

A gripping adventure of the body and mind, To the Last Breath depicts in crystal-clear prose the quest that led Slakey around the glob, challenged his fiercely held beliefs, and opened his heart. Expanding his tale with riveting science and arresting insight into our relation to the earth and one another, Slakey takes readers across the plateaus of Tibet, into the heat of Tanzania, to the desolate edge of the Arctic, and beyond.

My thoughts:
I started reading this book because mountain climbing and surfing had always appealed to me, and thought this book would be about Slakey's record climbing/surfing. By the final chapters, however, it was evident that there was much more to this story than meets the eye. Slakey shows a marvelous progression from objective to subjective writing. Details about mountain climbing or surfing are ignored, and instead, Slakey talks more and more about the people he met along his journey, and the many lessons he learned as a result of his interactions with these people. I couldn't help but cheer when he returns from his trip to Antarctica determined to be more sociable and get to know people better, mostly because that's how I've always lived my life (I think/hope). You can't go through life in a shell of isolation and mechanical behavior. Life's all about leaving your mark on everyone you come into contact with, and having your life marked by all the people you yourself meet. And to be quite frank, I learned more about Buddhism and the interconnectedness of the human race through this memoir than through any classes/lectures that I've had on the subject. I am definitely going to be finding more reading material on this religion, and the remarkable people that follow it.
I also kind of wish I wasn't typing this on a laptop right now; being less materialistic and reliant on technology is something I've toyed around with in the past, and it'd be rather refreshing to truly be able to follow through on that. What sucks is that living in this country in this day and age, it really is almost impossible to go without material goods for longer than a couple days. People continue to be surprised that I managed it for a week when I lost power after Hurricane Sandy, not realizing just how easy it really can be to turn everything off and enjoy the peace and relaxation that follows. It really was peaceful without a phone/computer/television, seriously.

I'll leave you all with a few inspirational quotes I found throughout this book that I really liked:
- We are in a world of darkness, and people are sleeping through it.
- Do not believe because it is written in a book. Do not believe because it has been handed down for generations. If after observation and analysis, if it agrees with reason and can benefit one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
- Some things stand apart from scientific calculation. Those things are the stories, the color, the texture of life and reducing them to equations would be like trying to trap a warm welcome breeze in my fist.
- You only live once, but if you work it right, once is enough.

Justin :)