Well, here are the books that I scoured my brain with this week. It is, if I do say so myself, a pretty varied collection of randomness.
Alien Hunter: Underworld: A Flynn Carroll Thriller (Alien Hunter Series) by Whitley Strieber (*)
The nutshell summary of this book is simply that it’s gritty alien noir. Aliens come to earth. One man must stop them. That man stops them. Sorry if that’s a spoiler but that’s essentially what it boils down to.
To the positive side, the author has a unique take on the genre and the setting. No aliens are like Strieber’s and he isn’t afraid to go with something new and different. These aren’t your captain Kirk aliens. These are the terrifying and quiet Grays of your nightmares along with their many comrades from the stars.
To the negative, the whole thing is so incredibly implausible that it borders on idiocy. The aliens work in their quiet way but the hero somehow manages to go through so much and yet come out on the other side unscratched. I stopped counting the number of crippling injuries he had and almost threw the book in the trash when he underwent open brain surgery and then walked out of the hospital a few hours later. Related to this, the author wants to keep you engaged with gripping action but often when he tries to do so he seems to lose his grip on the narrative thread and the reader is simply pushed forward in the story and left wondering what happened. Many times a crescendo is reached and problems are somehow immediately resolved in a way that just isn’t explained. It’s as if a curtain of misdirection is laid over the story and we simply move on to the next bit. I’ve never quite read anything so poorly written.
In summary, this is a pretty strong avoid. It tries to be something great but just ends up being a disconnected mess. I read this through to the end but feel I could have spent my hours much more productively doing just about anything else.
I Don’t Believe God Wrote The Bible: The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To Another Reality. (Life) (Volume 1) by Gerald Freeman (**)
The nutshell on this book is that it’s the autobiographical retelling of the author’s adolescent adventures in Europe after overcoming his drug addiction and stepping out into the wider world. The story is a pretty typical hippie adventure of youthful excess and exuberant living. It does have a fairly strong moral thread that basically boils down to living the life you want to lead rather than feeling you have to adhere to someone else’s expectations.
To the positive, I love the book’s central message. The idea of grasping at life’s opportunities and not adhering to some societal standard is a strong one. The author gives us a fine example of how to pull yourself up by the proverbial bootstraps and suck the marrow from existence. We’d all do better to try to live more of our lives true to the example the author gives.
To the negative, as a narrative the story has a strong ‘you had to be there’ component. Freeman did a lot of amusing things but they all start to run together after a while. There’s not a lot of real surprises and things turn out in a pretty predictable way. It’s just not quite interesting or diverse enough to be a novel of wide appeal. Those who know the man will be vastly impressed but most casual readers will get bored after the 57th or 58th drunken escapade. Also, the book suffers from some textual errors which are fairly distracting. The whole thing needs a good sound drubbing by an editor.
In summary, this is an interesting slice of one man’s interesting life but it’s just not interesting enough to appeal to the average reader. It lacks narrative arc and progression and manages to travel across a fair amount of the European continent without actually going anywhere.
I Take You: A Novel (*****)
The nutshell view of the story is, as the blurb states, the story of a woman who really shouldn’t be getting married. She’s got every issue that traditionally disqualifies a woman from being ‘marriageable material’ from substance abuse to a Federal criminal record. Despite that, she still manages to be an incredibly adorable person.
To the positive side, this book is just a delightful romp. It fails to take itself seriously for even a full page and the vibrantly drawn characters are just made for a movie. The story is constantly and delightfully shifting and touches on some deep human questions specifically in the area of human sexuality and relationships. I’m a guy, not exactly the target audience, and I inhaled this in one long sitting while getting my knees tattooed. It’s a wonderful distraction even to the most obnoxious pains of life.
To the negative, this book will be incredibly polarizing to many. It’s got drugs and sex and alcohol and more sex and infidelity and incredibly graphic descriptions of sex. There’s a lot going on here and it’s not always terribly light-hearted and fluffy. But then again, what normal life IS all light-hearted and fluffy? Our protagonist is deeply “flawed” by societal standards, but is she really?
In summary, this was, for me, a grand highlight to the genre. I could have done without some of the gratuitous sex scenes, but the richness of the depiction was one that made you wish that maybe YOU were marrying into this land of ribald dysfunction and merriment.
Amsterdam: A Novel by Ian McEwan (***)
The nutshell view on this book is that it is essentially the story of a friendship torn asunder. The narrative is fairly complex and the writing exceptionally literary but it does take a really long time to get to its ‘hook.’ Even when it does so, the hook isn’t terribly strong and takes a fair amount of willpower to carry forward with.
So on the positive side, the book is exceptionally erudite and paints a fine and detailed picture of its protagonists. They are very real and vividly portrayed and one could imagine knowing them in real life. Their intercourse is fairly realistic and they carry on like old friends tend to.
To the negative, the book takes a long time to get find its way to something interesting. The first full third of this short novel sets the stage and I found my mind wandering terribly and I wondered what exactly why I was bothering. Once I found the hook the a-ha moment was brief and only mildly impactful.
In summary, I can’t really find any group of readers to whom I would recommend this book. It wallows in the shallows of mediocrity and is not one that will come to mind unbidden over the coming months. In fact, utterly forgettable I’m afraid.
Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders by Cole Cohen (***)
The nutshell view on this is that it’s the memoir of a woman who finds out one day that she has a hole in her brain the size of a lemon. From that point of introduction, the story spirals forwards and backwards in time describing her struggles before her diagnosis and her coping mechanisms afterwards. All in all it is an exceptionally detailed but rather disconnected tale.
To the positive side, the author is completely honest with us about her life. She’s candid and leaves no stone unturned from her sex life to just getting around town. The level of insight she grants us is extreme and she invites us into her life without apparent hesitation. Because of this, her treatise is a wonderful guide for anyone that finds themselves in a similar situation at least to the extent of the emotional and social aspects of such a diagnosis.
To the negative, the book as a narrative fails in many spots. The storyline is at times disjointed and fails to flow in anything approaching a consistent manner. The author seems to jump around in her story as much as she does geographically during this period. It is disconcerting and at times completely impossible to follow.
In summary, this is an intimate portrait painted with a confused brush. The author lets us into her life but once we get there the whole thing is a mass of carnival mirrors and foggy recollection. I understand the spirit of what the author is trying to say but her thesis is lost in a mass of proverbial spaghetti.
PS: I hope my review was helpful. If it was not, then please let me know what I left out that you’d want to know. I always aim to improve.
Snoopy, Master of Disguise (**)
The nutshell view on this book is that it’s a collection of about 100 classic strips from 1966 through 1987 in chronological order with one 4-panel comic per page. Most of the strips feature Snoopy prominently as doctor, Joe Cool, Masked Marvel, etc. The Red Baron is strangely omitted, however.
On the positive side, it’s hardly possible to say anything negative about Peanuts and Snoopy in particular. Snoopy is as adorable as always. However, as collections go this one just fails to be at all evocative. The omission of Snoopy’s most famous pseudonym aside, the collection just doesn’t have any cohesiveness; it’s as if comics were picked out somewhat at random. In a few instances a series of 3-4 consecutive days appears but for the most part each comic is a standalone. As a person who has ready the entire strip from beginning to end, I felt this a rather pale shadow of the true spirit of Schulz’s work. Further, printing one comic per page in a horizontal format seems like it’s just trying to waste paper and print as little content as possible.
In summary, a pretty large disappointment. I was really looking forward to this one but it turns out to be a very poor value.
The Worrier’s Guide to Life by Correll, Gemma (***)
The nutshell view on this book is that it is, simply, a collection of small graphical witticisms drawn from daily life. The topics covered range from women’s hairstyles to the contents of their purses and all the typical mundanity in between.
My fiancée and I both took a look at this book and ultimately I found it slightly more entertaining than she did. Even with my direct prompts of the form, “Don’t you think THAT is a little bit funny?” she just looked at me with almost a look of pity. On the grand scale of humor I found one “heh” in about every 5 pages or so (my favorite reference was the “twerker’s carbuncles”) my fiancée saw nothing of redeeming value. Our shared decision was that the author was “trying too hard” to be funny and thus failed more or less completely. (though I still have affection for those carbuncles).
So on the positive side, the author did provide a few amusing turns of phrase and her artwork is very simple and easy to digest. Unfortunately, it just never quite makes its way to humorous for either of us. Sad to say that this was well intentioned but just didn’t quite make it to the starting gate.
Girlgoyle by Army, Better Hero (*****)
Firstly, this is a YA novel and my criteria for judging those is fairly straightforward and three-pronged. First and foremost, I ask myself if there’s anything in the book that I would not want my own children to read or be exposed to. I have absolutely zero tolerance for sexual or drug references and this book has none of that. In fact the only thing I can find of even remote concern is some light non-graphic violence and exactly one profanity in the use of the phrase “p***ed off”. So this is a clean one for all but the youngest and most sensitive children who might have difficulty with the fight scenes.
Secondly, I ask myself if the book offers anything positive for the reader. In this case, it’s not effervescing with positive themes but it’s not entirely devoid of them. During the course of the book the female protagonist deals positively with and overcomes her own misgivings about her body and manages to overcome her initial misgivings about a group of girls that she had initially had difficulty with. There are strong themes of reconciliation and cooperation and shows the reader a good example of building trust. It also teaches the key idea of not judging people based on their appearances.
Thirdly, and most importantly to the reader, will it entertain them? I’d say the answer is a resounding positive. I pulled through the book in a few hours without difficulty and it has an early hook and brings you along quite steadily throughout the story. The 14-year-old female protagonist is relatable, kind and she finds herself in a varied and unique situation with engaging characters who are both friend and foe. I can easily imagine this as a prolonged series as the heroine develops into a woman.
The only negatives I can cite about the book I relate to overall story cohesion. At times the story makes reference to previous points in the story that just don’t exist. It feels as if the story was cut down from a longer version and in doing so lost some hunk of the story. I cannot prove that, of course, but in a few instances the text calls back to previous stories and plot points that just never happened. This is a fairly minimal concern, however, since context wins the day and one can make assumptions around the missing bits.
In summary, I was thoroughly entertained and the book is a positive one for the target audience. The plotline seems to be a mix of “Dead Like Me” and a standard youth exceptionalism tale like “Harry Potter”. I’m excited to see where the series goes from here.