I have a theory about Dan Brown: He lives in New Hampshire and as a former Granite State resident I can attest to the fact that winter is cold and usually lasts six months. If I had Da Vinci Code money, I too would spend at least six month of each year hanging out drinking espresso in the most beautiful and interesting places in the world…then to justify the expense I too might cobble together a pot boiler on the scale of Inferno and palm it off on my fans. Note, Mr. Browns books aren’t typically set in Manchester or Cleveland…I think I see a pattern here.
Don’t get me wrong, Inferno isn’t horrible…I mean I finished it, and some of the characters are quite interesting….but it’s a bit of a mess. I was interested to read that Mr. Brown was raised Episcopalian and has a love or organ music from an early age, so his intense affection for mediaeval architecture and symbolism is quite understandable…I share a similar affection, you just can’t beat visiting cathedrals as a way to spend a few days in Florence or Venice. However page after page of what is essentially Trip Advisor meets James Bond can get just a tiny bit much.
My biggest problem with the book is the plot; why would a super villain (think evil Steve Jobs) go to the trouble of leaving an elaborate set of symbolic clues to allow possible thwarters of his evil plans to track down that evil pan and thwart it? It makes no sense at any level. Any plot, which starts off with amnesia, is suspect from day one in my book. The plot even throws in an old fashioned switcheroo in the middle so that all the good guys are now bad and vice versa…after I recovered from the whiplash I could hardly stop laughing.
Overall it’s a lumbering bloated (albeit lavish and well read) story packed full of plot turns, which go from the breathless to the down right silly. If you are already a fan and happen to have a spare credit and 17 hours go ahead and dive in. It lacks the pacing of Da Vinci Code but is a better read than the fairly awful lost symbol. Ultimately the story deflates at the end…which is a shame. A confection as large and sugary as this shouldn’t leave you regretting all those empty calories.
There is something disturbingly familiar about the evil described in Mr. King’s latest work. The phenomena of school or workplace shootings typically carried out by the criminally insane…or in rare cases the just plain evil are so common they are frequently gone in just one news cycle. So it was an interesting twist for the weapon of choice for the nut bar in this book was a car. Mr. King writes crazy meets evil better than probably anyone writing today, and this is no exception. At its core this is a very well written, extremely well read police procedural, where a retired depressed cop gets his groove back by going after the monster he failed to catch when he was still working as a cop. The plot is a little untidy here or there but that’s completely forgiven when you look on the credible and comprehensive evil so brilliantly portrayed in this tale. The style is very cinematic and sure enough it’s already in the works for movie adaptation. The narrative grabs you by the throat and pulls you through the police work and madness at a blinding pace. It’s as good as any King book out there and better than quite a few. It touches on addiction and recovery without being dry and preachy but above all it describes in skin crawling detail the pathology of true evil. It poses the question is this insanity or evil? With ISIS beheading journalists on the nightly news are we even able to tell the difference any more. Buy this book…you will greatly enjoy the ride…but you may not sleep quite so well after you have read it.
As a white Londoner now living in SoCal I witnessed the ‘war on drugs’ and the resulting boom in prison growth with a combination of disinterest and perhaps mild confusion. Many things confuse me about the US; like why poor working class white people vote against their own best interests so often, and why do people with so much economically in common not get along better. I experienced the phenomena of racism in America at a distant third hand. It did occur to me on occasion that the entire weird situation of race, colorblindness and the massive growth in the prison population could be seen as a massive socio political “Pelican Brief” style conspiracy… it couldn't be could it? Well, if this book is even only a fraction true that is precisely what this is.
This book proposes that what we have seen in the last few decades is exactly that. A conspiracy between right wing political elites to control a section of our society which had formerly been controlled by slavery then by Jim Crow. It’s an excellent example of evil flourishing when good people do nothing. If you are a member of the hard right this book will make your blood boil. It makes an excellent case against your core views and beliefs with extensive and detailed evidence for the case, which will likely send you running back to Fox News to get your reality reinforced. If you lean even slightly liberal or are just a busy middle of the road kind of person who has scratched your head about “those people” getting sent to jail in such large numbers this book will rock your world. Either way you should read this. I defy you not to have at least one “aha!” moment per chapter….this book will haunt you…it may even make you cry.
If you want to attempt to come to terms with what ‘the war on drugs’ unfair policing, mandatory minimums and the impact that so many people getting felony convictions for such minor crimes has had on our society this book will take you by the hand and lead you through the last hundred or so years of our history and open your eyes. The conclusion is as startling as it is depressing, every thinking person in our society should read this book…and perhaps we can then start to solve the problem it so disturbingly describes.
Dan Savage is a polarizing kind of guy, he’s one of the bogeymen for the religious and political right, a leading LGBT rights activist and tireless campaigner for marriage equality. He’s also a funny, clever enormously readable and (a characteristic quite rare nowadays) wise writer. This well written and frequently quite moving book will likely particular appeal to certain constituents.
If you are GGG with the whole LGBT marriage equality message this book is a handy guide to your positions and arguments. If you are a Fox News aficionado who thinks that women should not have control over their own reproductive health and two people of the same gender being married threatens your marriage then you may still find this book entertaining and it will give you something to shout at in the car.
Dan calls out the misogynist, homophobic, anti-science and bigoted vocal crowd led by Bachmann, Palin and Cruz one topic at a time. He gives the arguments for issues, many of which aren't even regarded as topics worthy of debate in the rest of the civilized world.
It’s a little depressing to hear the level of stupidity that Dan calls out and answers so succinctly. If you follow Savage Love (his excellent weekly podcast) you will be familiar with his brand of pithy and frequently very funny common sense, this is a must read for you. If you have seen Dan speaking on LGBT issues as the “Token Gay” on shows like Bill Mahr or even Fox News you might have noticed how approachable and funny he is. This book gives him room to explore and explain in much more depth but always with that wry good humor we have come to expect from him. This is a well thought through, well structured, well informed and enormously entertaining exploration of the social and political questions which most divide our country…if you care about these issues (from either side) you should read this book.
I was drawn to the story by the excellent HBO trailer for the upcoming drama based on the book. The premise is brilliant…suddenly a random 2% of the population disappears. The book starts well but stubbornly refuses to go anywhere. The writing is measured and generally interesting but the plot development just doesn't happen. There are several interesting maybe compelling plot areas opened but never really explored. There are no real villains or heroes and nobody to root for or against, everyone in the story is dealing with their corner of loss in each subplot more or less in isolation. I read that this started out as a satire on the left behind books and some aspects of the story are mildly amusing…but it’s far from biting social satire. It’s a great idea which just doesn't go anywhere...which is a pity.
Being a professional radio sidekick is apparently injurious to your health. A year or two back Robin Quivers (the woman of color who has made a career out of being living proof that Howard Stern is neither misogynist nor racist) was struck down (but fortunately made a full recovery from) ovarian cancer. At age 30 “Bald Bryan” Bishop the perpetual sidekick and boob of the Adam Carolla show was laid very low by brain cancer…and this is his story.
On the whole it’s reasonably entertaining. The great Dr. Drew Pinsky raved about this book as “important” and as a complete idiots guide to surviving brain cancer it does a good job. High on the list of prerequisites for that survival process would appear to be; (a) having good friends like Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew, (b) major medical insurance, (c) access to experimental treatment at Cedar-Sinai, (d) a super long suffering girlfriend/wife and (e) the ability to organize a personal benefit concert which kicks in “six figures” towards your finances. The rest of us are on our own. By the way, if you are known for an attribute like baldness or your stutter (witness Stuttering John from Howard Stern) and you achieve a measure of fame by standing next to greatness and carrying luggage for that great talent, please let’s not mistake proximity to talent for for actual talent.
Part of this book is a how to survive cancer (presumably given a through e above) and that part is by far the better part. The rest is a rambling self-apology which I have to tell you I nearly gave up on in chapter two. Bald Bryan is notoriously self-satisfied…it’s a recurring joke on the Carolla show. Given that fact and his admitted self-consciousness about it, one has to wonder why he would turn out such an unbearably smug book…unless he just can't help himself. Some of it is so smug it’s hilarious…I have never heard anyone else use the word “gracious” about themselves un-ironically. Bryan is a smart guy who believes himself to be a great deal smarter than the rest of the world actually thinks he is. The first part of this book is dedicated to him explaining or excusing his failure to study in school or finish his degree…”I had undiagnosed ADHD”…”the essay scores were based on facts”…it’s so self-serving it’s actually funny…but stick with it…the book gets a lot better when the cancer shows up. His questionable attitude continues into his medical experience which veers from whiney or unsympathetic to just plain mean. He mocks various medical professionals for not meeting his elevated needs. I’m sure getting the right kind of care is important but is being gratuitously rude about professionals attempting to do their best for you really necessary? I didn't actually find myself rooting for the tumor, but I can see how someone might.
If you are a fan of the Carolla show and are interested in the details of what you heard happen week to week on the radio/pod cast a few years ago this will entertain but probably not very much. You would be better off spending the credit on Adams new book “President Me.” If you, or someone you care about, is experiencing this horrible disease you may well find this book interesting (and perhaps annoying given a through e above) and remember if Bald Bryan can beat it…anyone can.
This book is great…it’s Disc World great, it’s PG Wodehouse great, it’s Tom Sharpe great. It’s as British as Chicken Vindaloo or Soccer Violence. As an ex-Brit, raised in London now in SoCal this book hit me like the smell of damp overcoats on the underground or fresh fish and chips. If you are a follower of BBC America or PBS and have already found and enjoyed "Doctor Who", "Luther" or "Top Gear" I invite you to shout “Yipee” and jump in the deep end. This is a funny, gripping and fiercely entertaining romp through modern day London where the ghosts are as real as science, led by our reluctant hero; a junior policemen with unexpected magical powers. If Harry Potter had joined the London cops after Hogwarts this is what might have happened.
If you are an American, not quite so well versed in the parlance of London and its police force then you may be a little confused by the pervasive used of London and Police vernacular....but read this book anyway. It's brilliantly narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith whose accent is 100% authentic London street…and Kudos to the producers for not attempting to “RP” it up. Its basic premise is at once completely silly and absolutely sublime. The characters are authentic and in many cases hilarious.
It’s not often that I find myself gushing …but I simply have to in this case. To find a new, funny, authentic and creative voice in the often ghastly genre of urban magic is refreshing and encouraging. This book is everything the dreadful Stackhouse or True Blood books aren't. It’s funny and credible, without taking itself too seriously. I tried this book as a special offer from Audible which promotes the first book of series presumably with the aim of hooking me in… and it worked. I invite you to follow and enjoy this exercise in Britt-erati at its best.
This is a strong, interesting, well written and superbly performed historic pot boiler which may on occasion play a little fast and loose with the facts but makes up for that with a compelling narrative drive. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good book. It’s a long and at times harrowing read which deals with the rise of Fascism and World War Two through to the start of the Cold War. What is a little irksome is the structure which relies on coincidences which draw the main actors to just the right place at the right time. It’s a device he used to great effect in Fall Of Giants but it’s wearing a tiny bit thin in this second episode. In his much under rated movie Zelig Woody Allen has his character show up in pretty much every major news event of the 20th century to great comic effect. The frequency with which his protagonists pop up at just the right place and time to witness firsthand the salient event of WWII does stretch credibility just a little here and there. Having said that, it’s still a terrific read.
I was a little troubled by a couple of historic inaccuracies which I noticed….for example one plot line features the Nazi T4 euthanasia program which actually happened in a Berlin suburb but Follett sets in a remote small town well outside Berlin. Follett dwells in gruesome detail on the mass rape carried out by the invading Red Army but almost completely ignores the entire Holocaust. Working through the events covered in this book it’s almost inevitable that the political bias of the author will show through from place to place. It’s pretty clear that he has a soft spot for the working class heroes of the British Labor movement with a healthy contempt for aristocracy of any kind. These books are also fairly racy, certainly not for the under 16 set. If you enjoyed Fall of Giants you will likely love this book. If you haven’t read FOG yet, start there and you will likely follow straight on to this second book with your eye on the release date of the third in the series.
We are all familiar with Scientology in general terms as a weird, sinister quasi religion/cult. However the depressing and shocking detail offered by this book brings home the reality of the horror to a new level. What makes the story even stranger is that the author is the niece of the current leader of the "church" and a distant relative of the Sci Fi scam artist L Ron Hubbard who created this fake “religion.”
Her story starts at a very young age with her account of life in the concentration camp like setting of a Church communal compound in California. I have read stories of the lives or orphans raised by Priests in Ireland and if you thought that kind of abuse was a thing of the past this story will set you straight. The author becomes a member of the Sea Org the quasi priesthood of the organization. Even though she is effectively a member of the Scientology elite inner sanctum the persecution, abuse and maltreatment continues well into her adult years....indeed until she flees the "Church."
Her accounts are quite as disturbing as anything you may have read about the excesses of communism, fascism or Cambodia under Pol Pot. The methods of though control and exploitation are straight out of the 1984 playbook. The fact that this kind of abuse and insanity is alive and well and happening right now in a town about an hour from where I live is doubly horrifying.
The author is obviously inexperienced and stylistically it’s a little clumsy somewhat in the vein of Anne Frank’s diary, but that doesn't get in the way of the reality she describes. This is disturbing, sad and compelling reading about a corrupt, abusive organization which currently enjoys tax exemption as a religion from the IRS.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I worked on the same block as the London Headquarters of the Church of Scientology. Pretty much every day, often both too and from the subway station I was approached by cute young things seeking to inveigle me into taking a 'personality test' the first step into the religion. At the time I found this annoying but not actually sinister. Subsequently a couple of friends of mine did get involved peripherally with the organization and they told be horrifying, fascinating tales of how they were ruthlessly pursued for years after only a glancing encounter with the “Church.” Ever since then I have had something of a fascination with this mysterious and dangerous cult.
This book gives a surprisingly even handed account of the life and times of the churches founder L Ron Hubbard, taking us from the it's foundation in the early fifties all the way to the couch-leaping massage-seeking antics of the Churches modern glitterati Tom Cruise and John Travolta. The story is a heady mixture or creepy cult and celebrity machine. It reveals a religion founded on fake science, fake psychology, the manipulation of the young and naive and that most addictive of all drugs… fame. The “Church” as painted in this well written and engaging book has overtones of Hitler’s Germany combined with Apple under Steve Jobs.
It’s well sourced and thoroughly littered with footnotes from the “Church” which fiercely deny each and every well researched accusation and story. There are tales of hubris, violence, abuse which beggar belief. It exposed the weird practices and frankly ludicrous secrets of the organization, prompting the reader to ask over and again…”how could they get away with that?” Perhaps the strangest story is the account of how the Church took on the IRS and beat them at their own game.
If you have ever pondered the weirdness which is Scientology this book will fill you in on the history and hagiography of what has to be the strangest and most successful invented religion since Mormonism. It’s a compelling, strange ride which will leave you shaking your head and maybe reaching for your rosary.
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