Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

It took nearly a week, but I finally finished Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol." I would have read faster -- it's hard not to, considering Brown's breakneck pacing and three-page chapters -- but beautiful weather kept me outside over the weekend.

I'll say upfront that I enjoy the codes and puzzles that move the plot in Brown's books, even if they are fairly simple. I'm also a fan of historical novels, or those that draw heavily on historical information. And there is plenty of both -- puzzles and history -- in "The Lost Symbol." Professor Robert Langdon moves through some of Washington, D.C.'s most prominent buildings, including the Capitol and the U.S. Botanic Garden, as he pursues an ancient mystery -- and is pursued by a tattooed madman. At every step, he encounters encoded clues related to Freemasonry, a social order that has included many prominent Washingtonians, including Washington himself.
Brown is at his best when he simply focuses on plot: the madman's quest and the physical dangers faced by Langdon and mentor Peter Solomon, who heads the Smithsonian Institution. Or when Langdon confronts another ingenious puzzle. As in "The Da Vinci Code," the puzzles refer to distant religions, artists and scientists. Brown gives the book some depth by developing Solomon's family backstory -- we learn much more about Solomon's feelings than Langdon's, in fact. But that backstory and some drawn-out historical anecdotes periodically slowed the pace.

What the story really lacks is a powerful, over-arching conspiracy. The Masons seem a likely target, but Brown quickly explains away claims that they hold secret power over the government. The CIA, which interferes with Langdon's mission, is another convenient target for conspiracy theorists, but I was let down by the resolution of that conflict. All in all, it seems to be a kinder, gentler Dan Brown, aiming for a more inspirational message.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Something non-book related: in order to keep track of all my various activities online, I recently joined a site called LeapFish. Check it out at

Monday, December 21, 2009

Under The Dome by Stephen King

Under the Dome is one of Stephen King’s longest novels – at 336,114 words – and one of his more typical. His stories tend to be about people trapped in an increasingly lethal environment: an empty hotel in The Shining; a prison in The Green Mile; in Salem’s Lot and here, a small town in his native Maine.

One fine October day, the town of Chester’s Mill is cut off from the world by a transparent and unbreakable dome. I was initially reminded of The Simpsons Movie, in which President Schwarzenegger orders a similar dome to be placed over Springfield after Homer pollutes its lake; and so were others on the internet. “I have never seen the movie,” King replies on his website, “and the similarity came as a complete surprise to me.” But it doesn’t matter, he argues, because unless there is outright plagiarism, “stories can no more be alike than snowflakes. The reason is simple: no two imaginations are exactly alike.”
Just so. Like Springfield, Chester’s Mill has dozens of memorable characters, including a town drunk, feckless young stoners and corrupt police – and like Grampa Simpson, some of the characters experience precognitive visions. But though he is by no means averse to jokes, King’s intentions are quite different. What interests him, as always, is evil and cruelty, which he explores step by squelching step, wading ever deeper until the reader is fully immersed.

Evil in Chester’s Mill is personified by “Big Jim” Rennie, used-car salesman, crystal-meth manufacturer and sanctimonious fascist, who uses murder, riot and arson to turn the town into a police state, with himself as dictator. As with Annie Wilkes, the nurse/torturer in Misery, who says such things as “the cock-a-doodie car”, one immediately knows Big Jim is a baddy by his euphemistic style of cursing, which somehow sounds more obscene than the real thing.

The chief goody is Dale Barbara (“Barbie”), short-order cook at the Sweetbriar Rose, who knows about evil from his military service in Iraq. When the dome descends, Barbie is promoted to colonel and given command of the town by a concerned President Obama, but Big Jim (a Palin supporter) frames him and throws him in jail, where he is threatened with waterboarding: “it was how these things went; how they went in Fallujah, Tikrit, Hilla, Mosul and Baghdad. How they also now went in Chester’s Mill, it seemed.”

The sci-fi aspect of the story – the origin and purpose of the mysterious dome – is kept for the most part on the back burner, which was a disappointment to me, as I find it difficult to suspend my disbelief in such stuff, but when it does emerge it has an ingeniously metaphysical plausibility. The focus remains mainly on the human element, the “little lives” of characters engaged in an epic moral battle.

“I have tried,” explains King in an author’s note, “to write a book that would keep the pedal consistently to the metal.” Whenever he faltered, he recalls, his editor “jammed her foot down on top of mine and yelled (in the margins, as editors are wont to do), ‘Faster, Steve! Faster!’” Author and editor have succeeded, and Under the Dome has terrific pace, whizzing from one cliffhanger to the next on narrative wires strung to an admirable tension. Which I think acknowledges that audiences are less interested in reading for depth and more interested in Michael Bay movies in book form.

Critics are likely to dismiss the literary quality of King’s work. This strikes me as unfair. He is certainly no Proust, but nor is he a Dan Brown, possibly a Shakespeare, crude but popular. Besides his evident ability to create compelling plots and monstrous characters, he can turn a good simile (seen from inside, the blue of the dome “has a yellowish cast, like a film of cataract on an old man’s eye”). And he can write consistently good sentences, such as these, which sum up the spirit of his work: “When dawn was still long hours away, bad thoughts took on flesh and began to walk. In the middle of night thoughts became zombies.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I, Alex Cross by James Patterson

Alex Cross is a police detective who has a degree in psychology and is involved in a lot of the major cases. His cases usually revolve around serial killers and his life has been endangered on more than one occasion. In fact, some would say he's the luckiest man alive! Alex's life doesn't just revolve around work and he has a family to take care of. At the time of this book, he has his daughter Jannie and sons Damon and Alex. Sadly his wife, Maria, was gunned down and died in his arms so Alex has the help of Nana to bring up his children. Alex is constantly juggling work with his family in order to get the perfect balance, but he can't seem to let these big cases go, no matter how many times he resigns.

Alex Cross has never managed to find the perfect balance between family life and his big serial cases but this time he's determined to put his family life first. He's managed to find a woman he loves in the form of Bree who has more than settled in to family life. It's his birthday and they're about to cut the cake when the house phone rings - not his pager or his mobile so he assumes it isn't work and answers it.

Time for the devastating news that his niece has been brutally murdered and her "remains" have been found. "Remains"? A harsh way to describe a body of such a beautiful young woman but Cross can't give up this case, after all it's family. Cross begins his trail and is soon uncovering evidence that points to the impossible. Could it really be? What secret has Cross uncovered that will rock the entire world? Will the secret be out or will Cross finally meet his match?

Some Thoughts

I, Alex Cross is a fantastic title for this book as it totally centers around him. His books usually include a character or two or pages from the killer without revealing the identity but this one seemed to have very little of that. There were a few pages from people at the White House but for some reason my brain couldn't figure out who was who and I kept having to refer back to the start of the book. This could have been sheer tiredness on my part or it could have been confusing on purpose, I just don't know.

Patterson has still included Alex's family in the book and you quite simply couldn't have the same book without it. There's a slight change in the family this time though as one of them battles for their life. What will Cross do? Someone he loves is possibly dying but his niece is already dead. Who do you get justice for? Any normal man would probably sit at the hospital bed day and night but Cross doesn't have that in his nature and instead combines the two. But can he possibly do that?

With so much going on his life it starts to get even more complicated. The FBI are shutting him out and people are trying to take his case away - why? Then comes the mysterious call from the White House that alerts Alex Cross even more to the possibilities of what he has uncovered. Sounds thrilling right? Well, I found myself disappointed as the big killer scenes that Patterson is renowned for were missing. There were no real big chases and I never actually felt that Cross' life was at risk. Definitely a disappointment for me as I love that danger feeling that Patterson usually manages to put in his book. It's a slightly different feeling this time of a cover up of something that would change the entire world. It felt as if he wanted to get away from the murder mystery genre and explore the conspiracy thriller. 

His style of writing stayed the same throughout this one though with his short chapters that make you keep on reading when really you should put the book down and get back into real life. It took about 3 hours to read the book with a little break in between as I kept looking for the real excitement to start. Was it similar to other story lines? Not really. Repetitive in parts? Not at all. Something I'd read again? Definitely!

Whilst I've described feeling slightly let down by the book this time round, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Cross' emotions came out more than ever with his family member in danger and the case of his nieces murder to solve. My only real criticism is that the amount of usual danger was missing and it did leave me feeling a bit disappointed. Little warning if you intend to read this - it can be graphic at times so be prepared!! So if your looking for a fun weekend read, this is a good one for you.

ISBN 9780316018784

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett

"Meat pies! Hot sausages! Inna bun! So fresh the pig h'an't noticed they're gone!"
Lights! Camera! Action! The alchemists of Ankh-Morpork have taken a break from trying to turn lead into gold just long enough to turn cellulose into gold instead. They have discovered a way to put images onto a reel, then project them onto a screen so lots of people can see, called the "clicks". Though they've started small, in a back alley, their about to get a whole lot bigger.
Victor Tugelbend is a student at the Unseen University, the Disc's premiere site for magical learning. Of course he's been a student for years now, taking advantage of a bequest that will pay all his expenses while he's in school, with no requirement that he ever actually graduate. A man coasting through life, waiting for his chance to do something great. And then the clicks came.
Theda "Ginger" Withel is a young woman from a "town you've never heard from", a beauty looking for a starring role in the clicks. How she came to be in Ankh-Morpork in the first place, even she doesn't understand, but she's ready to be a star.
And then their "Cut-me-own-throat" Dibbler, the Disc's ultimate salesman. First seen in Guards! Guards!, Dibbler is a humble late-night sausage salesman who's just biding his time til his chance comes along. And when he sees what the alchemists have created, he knows his chance has come.
And so Dibbler, Ginger, Victor and the alchemists, along with hundreds of others looking to break into the clicks, find themselves drawn to Holy Wood, an empty stretch of beach where they can work in peace. But someones been there before them, and some force resides there still, waiting for its chance to break into the Discworld. And as the lines of reality begin to blur on the screen, so to does the line between dimensions. And it'll take a boy, and his dog, to get things back to right. 

Buy Moving Pictures Now at

Some Thoughts
A great story, once again. Moving Pictures is another semi-independent novel, where only the places are the same, and the main characters are only seen in this story, then fade into the past, with three exceptions: Dibbler, who is a fixture of Ankh-Morpork, Gaspode the Wonder Dog (the Disc's only talking dog) and Detritus, the troll. The three of them make significant appearances in several of the books, especially the Nightwatch group.
Part of the fun here is seeing the evolution of Hollywood through a prism of weirdness that is the Disckworld. You can guess the results when they try and do the Civil War epic Gone With The Wind. The story traces, in many ways, the development of movies, from the original silent films, to the first black and white talkies, through the quest for color and beyond. Many of the characters evoke the spirits of Hollywood stars long past, and it's enjoyable to see them brought to life on the Disc.