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.
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.
As a high schooler in the UK we covered the French Revolution in some depth, round about the same time I had roles in various productions centered around those events so I used to think that even all these years later I had a reasonably good handle on that period. As it turns out I really didn’t. The revolution took place over a longer period than I remember and was both more strange and bloody than I ever imagined. This story retells the stunning events of those times through the eyes of Madame Tussaud. Our heroine gives modeling lessons to some of the royal family whist entertaining many of the instigators of the revolution in the rooms above their exhibit. It’s a terrifically successful device, allowing the reader access to both sides of the events through the same perspective. The wax works as the CNN of their day, with the displays changing almost day by day to mirror the rapidly changing events.
The author maintains historic accuracy whilst weaving a dramatic narrative through the protagonists; it feels authentic without being dry or dull. If I have any criticism; the story does wander a little into romantic fiction in a few spots, they are slight transgressions and she rapidly snaps back. If you have ever wondered about that turbulent time or wandered through the modern wax works inspired by the genius of Tussaud you will find this tale gripping. It’s also fascinating for the history enthusiast as it brings great detail and color to the events. For example; in modern terms the French Royal family and their many thousands of hangers on cost the French economy 166Bn a year….which is a lot when many of your populace are starving in the streets. It was also fascinating to see how the extremists of the time foreshadowed the excesses in thought and deed we have seen many times since, the same kind of madness which gripped Fascist Germany, Stains Russia and Pol Pots Cambodia.
I love Terry Pratchett, I have read everything by him I could find….I would read his grocery list or the label in the back of his underwear. So when I discovered that this wasn’t a Disc World novel was momentarily disappointed….but that didn’t last. This is a terrific read, it’s closer to straight science fiction than the Disc World books…it feels a little like Strata (one of my favorite Pratchett books which is only tangentially Disc World based). Once it gets going (which it does pretty quickly it’s a brilliant ‘what if’ book which imagines a world where almost anyone can step between alternate universes each of which contains a variant on the earth we currently inhabit.
I found the plot a little untidy in places. It develops then somewhat abandons multiple sub themes all of which I enjoyed and most of which would have deserved their own book. Nevertheless I found myself enjoying the book and its impeccable reading like you might enjoy a fine wine or a sunset.
The story weaves quantum physics and universal branching theory with Cyberpunk, The Lost Gate by Scott Card and even a smattering of Little House on the Prairie. Although frequently amusing, its tongue is nowhere near buried as deep in cheek as with the Disc World books, but the story entertains mightily none the less. If you are already a Pratchett fan you can buy this book in the confident knowledge that whilst lacking Vimes or Vetenari you will enjoy a diverting diversion from the typical Pratchett cannon. If you have kids or young adults you might also want to point them in the direction of this book. The style is engaging, fun and easy to follow, whist still posing some intriguing scientific questions.
King is the consummate story teller. Many of his stories inhabit a magically realistic world where reality and magic over lap. This story is a little different in that it’s essentially a grownup fairy story pretty much from beginning to end. The tale is inserted into the gap between book 4 and 5 in the Dark Tower saga but can easily stand alone. You really don’t have to ‘follow the path of the beam’ to enjoy this tale. Many of the reviews are critical of the reading, and it’s true King does have a rather thin nasal Maine accent. It would be great if Audible would offer the book voiced by (for example) George Guidall with King as an interesting alternative. Having said that, it’s a marvelous tale which feels closer in style to Neil Gamin than King and it’s so compelling you really get used to the narration after a while. It draws the listener in from the very beginning and never disappoints. At a little over ten hours in King terms it’s a quick light listen I can highly recommend it.
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