Tag Archives: Book review

A Good Excuse to Read

For the last two weeks I’ve had the flu!  What fun.

Actually, it was kinda. Last year when we got the flu after our Christmas trip, I read a Vince Flynn book that I’d had on my shelf for ages: Transfer of Power. I enjoyed it a great deal.

Tranfer of Power

I’d read his first novel, Term Limits, years ago and thought it was really lame and juvenile, so I never tried another. But he went on to become a very popular, best-selling author, so I decided, in the hopes that he had improved his skills over time, I would try his second book, mentioned above. Surprise!  I liked it.

Of course I did have the flu, and it was a welcome diversion from the wretchedness of being ill, but really, I thought it was pretty good. Transfer of Power is the first one where his series hero, Mitch Rapp is the main character, and it is about terrorists taking control of the White House, killing dozens and taking hundreds hostage. Rapp, the CIA’s “top counterterrorism operative” is sent in to take care of the problem.

With this most recent bout of the flu, I turned to Flynn again, seeing as I had found at the used bookstore the next two of his novels in the series: The Third Option and Separation of Power.

Third Option

I read both, back to back, all the while going through boxes of Kleenex almost as if I were some sort of Kleenex soiling machine. (I couldn’t believe how fast I went through them, nor how much “stuff” I had to soil them with!)

The verdict? I enjoyed both books, though I struggled at bit with The Third Option at the beginning because I kept getting lost. Finally about a quarter of the way through, when I realized I had no idea what was going on, I wondered if I was no longer capable of reading books as complex as these with my aging brain… Or was the problem really Flynn simply not being clear? After all, the characters in The Third Option had been presented as if I should know who they were, but I couldn’t remember any of them and there were no reminders for those who might be in my position.

Finally I went back and dug up my old reviews of Term Limits, his first book, and made my first discovery — the characters I was puzzling over In Transfer of Power were indeed the main characters in Term Limits. A book I’d read 11 years ago!  No wonder I couldn’t remember them nor the operations they’d taken part in!

I also went back to the beginning of The Third Option and started going through the writing itself, just to see if it really wasn’t very clear.  (This is the kind of thing a writer does. Normal people probably don’t. If you are an aspiring writer, however, I recommend you do this… It can be very enlightening and help you avoid similar mistakes)

And what was the result of my investigation of technique? The writing was, indeed, unclear.

For one thing, Flynn writes from the omniscient point of view, which means he jumps into any characters’ viewpoint whenever he wishes all within the same scene. The problem with this type of point of view (pov) is that if you’re not careful you can lose your reader along the way, and that’s exactly what happened. You have to be very clear you’re making a pov jump and to whose point of view you are jumping, which Flynn didn’t always do.

For example, the first chapter starts in Rapp’s point of view where he’s walking alone through the woods in Germany, reconnoitering the estate he is about to “invade,” then returns to a cabin where his two teammates have set up.  He enters. There’s some description of the man and woman already there,  the interior, and some equipment. Then it says

“Rapp had never met the man and woman before. He knew them only as Tom and Jane Hoffman. They were in their mid-forties, and as far as Rapp could tell, they were married. The Hoffmans had stopped in two countries before arriving in Frankfurt. Their tickets had been purchased under assumed names with matching credit cards and passports provided by their contact. They were also given their standard fee of ten thousand dollars for a week’s work, paid up-front in cash. They were told someone would be joining them and, as always not to ask any questions.”

All of that is consistent with Rapp’s point of view, which we were clearly in. In the next paragraph, there’s no reason to think it’s not Rapp’s as well, recalling things the Hoffman’s have told him about their journey to this point (or perhaps that he knew from other sources since he’s running this operation):

“All of their equipment was waiting for them at the cottage when they arrived. They started right in on surveillance of the estate and its owner. Several days later they were paid a visit by a man known only to them as the professor. They were given an additional twenty-five thousand dollars and were told they would receive another twenty-five thousand dollars when they completed the mission. He had given them a quick briefing on the man who would be joining them…”

The problem is that this second paragraph is all from the Hoffman’s pov and includes information Rapp does not have. But there’s nothing in the text to give you even a hint of that. In fact, in paragraph one they’re told by their contact that someone will be joining them and in paragraph two that this “professor” has joined them… so… it seemed logical to put those two together, all of it stuff that Rapp knows about.

Except that he doesn’t, as I said, the viewpoint having shifted out of Rapp’s specific awareness at the end of paragraph one and into a general omniscient.  And since that’s not remotely clear, the result is confusion on the reader’s part. At least on this reader’s part.

You could say this was the fault of the reader not reading carefully enough, but I disagree. As an author, you want the reader to rip through your story, especially if it’s a thriller. They aren’t going to be reading carefully, they’re reading to find out what happens and “How is he going to get out of this?!”

 No, it’s up to the author to make it all clear and smooth so the reader always knows through whose eyes he’s experiencing the story.  C.S. Lewis once said something to the effect of (I’m paraphrasing) “Readers are like sheep going down a path. If there’s any way for them to go besides the way you want them to, that’s where they’ll go. Hence, you have to make sure that every gate is closed to them except the ones you want them to go through.”

I don’t think Flynn did such a great job of that in The Third Option, at least not in the beginning. Once I had figured it all out, though, I enjoyed the book quite a bit. And it was especially  good to know I wasn’t all washed up as a reader of complicated political/military thrillers, which I love! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

A Big Little Life

Big little lifeA Big Little Life: A Memoir of a Joyful Dog by Dean Koontz.

My son got me this book awhile back and recently I finally had opportunity to pick it up. Yes, my “To Be Read” stack is a mile high, but Dean Koontz and his Golden Retriever, Trixie have a special place in my heart. This is not only because I’ve read many, many of Koontz’s books, always admired his writing and even used it as a “model” to study for my own, but because he is also a fellow dog lover. I’ve been subscribing to his Useless News newsletter for years, wherein Trixie always made an appearance, usually funny (she was even a ‘writer’ in her own right, with a few articles in the News and several published books to her name), and through that I came to “know” her.

In fact it was in an issue of Useless News that I learned she had died, about a year after we’d had to put Bear down, so when I got the book, I didn’t know if I wanted to read the story — knowing how it ended — until I had a bit more distance from our own event. In fact, as a kid I used to check the ending of all books that featured a dog to make sure the dog didn’t die. If it did, I wouldn’t read the book. (Which is  why I’ve never finished Swiss Family Robinson and why I’ve never read Where the Red Fern Grows or watched the movie based on it (that one made doubly onerous not only in that the dog dies, but that the dog is a Redbone Coonhound!).

Anyway, I finally had an open spot in my reading list, felt as if I was ready to tackle going through that and picked it up, thinking I’d only read a chapter.

Ahem.

In fact, I did manage to read it with a bit of control through the first chapter or so (at the Y, while riding the stationary bike, as I recall). But it wasn’t long before I was hooked and put in one of my all day reading jags. I think I finished it maybe two or three days after I started it, though I read the bulk that last day.

Oh my. What a wonderful book! I LOVED it in so many ways. Yes, the end with Trixie’s death was horrendous — way worse than Bear’s. I bawled outright — for quite some time. I even had to go demand a hug from Quigley, which he gave reluctantly. (He doesn’t come over to comfort you when you’re upset like Bear used to. In fact, he even pulled away a little, but relented at last. Admittedly I was acting very weird, as far as he was concerned.)

Anyway, Trixie was indeed a wonderful dog. And I think Koontz is right in his assessment that God used her in his life to pull him back from the dark, increasingly negative path he was following when she arrived. She was a purebred, but an adoptee, having gone through the entire training sessions for being a service dog, only to wash out before she ever went to work when a  congenital problem with her elbow surfaced. Since assistance dogs might sometimes have to pull the wheelchair of the person they are assisting — or even bear the weight of the person themselves, they can’t have finicky elbows that might go out at the worst possible moment. Thus she was put up for adoption and Mr. Koontz and his wife got her.

Of course the memoir centers on her, and Koontz does a fantastic job of conveying the wit, the exuberance, the intelligence, the grace — the loving nature — of this wonderful animal. That would have been enough to make the book remarkable, but it also had much else of interest to me in particular as pertains to Koontz’s writing life, his habits, his having to deal with weird fans,  what his office is like, how he works. (His wife, Gerda, handles all the finances and he has a close-to-full-time assistant to do the correspondence, answer the phone, deal with publishers, movie people, agents, the above mentioned weird fans, etc.) And yes, he is a workaholic. So is his wife. I knew that he put in 14 hour days before I read this, but now I have a much better idea what that means.

Still, it’s plain he loves what he does. In fact, the only time he’s ever suffered writer’s block was in the weeks following Trixie’s death.

(And now I can no longer take myself to task for not putting in 14 hour days as well, because I do not have an assistant, a finance officer, a cook, a housekeeper, or a gardener. He did not, however, have a dog walker — he and Gerda did that, one going in the morning, the other at night.)

Anyway, I found it all fascinating, funny, learned a lot about his past and present (which gives insight into why he writes what he does) and as I said, just thoroughly enjoyed this book. Koontz is a wonderful writer, personable, entertaining, his writing heartfelt. I think that comes through in all his works, and is part of why I enjoy his novels so much, even though I don’t care for horror novels (or however his novels are categorized — I think they are in a class of their own). In any case, if you like dogs, or are a writer, or want a glimpse of what a fairly humble, best-selling novelist’s life is like, I highly recommend you read A Big Little Life.

 

The Last Patriot and Abrogation

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been reading The Last Patriot by Brad Thor over the weekend and finished it today. I enjoyed it. Kind of like reading about Jack Bauer.  Plus I learned some interesting things.

Part of the plot hinged on Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary Wars against muslim pirates in the early 1800’s and Jefferson’s search for Mohammed’s supposed last word/revelation from God which, according to the principle of abrogation would supersede all preceding text.

This was the first I’d heard of abrogation (at least under that term and that I can recall!) which is a concept in Islamic scholarship dictating that since the Koran was written by one man over the period of his own lifetime, documenting a series of visitations and revelations from the angel Gabriel, when any contradictory verses come up, the later verses abrogate the earlier. Thus a last word urging muslims to abandon violence and embrace peace, would nullify all those verses about violent jihad in Sura 9 and supposedly do away from Islamic fundamentalism as we know it today.

As far as I know there was no last word — the author admitted devising that part as a plot device — and really, I would expect there not to be. In fact, I had a bit of trouble suspending my disbelief on that one count, though it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story. Rather it provided food for thought, and I always especially enjoy books that do that.

Abrogation seems like a weird idea to be applied to something that is supposedly the pure word of Allah, and a “perfect” book. Allah must not be eternal, immutable and omniscient like Jehovah if he kept changing his mind, or didn’t know how his commands were going to turn out and needed to refine them. This quibble is especially true  in the context of The Last Patriot, where we were supposed to believe that once it came out that Mohammed’s last words were about living in peace, everyone would just throw out the stuff in Sura 9 and the jihadists would be without a route to martyrdom. But … what kind of god is that? Either the infidel is evil and must be killed or he is not. How can Allah not know?

Well, that part was made up by the author, so I can’t fault Islam. But my opinion is that Mohammed was not met by Gabriel but more likely Beelzebub or someone of his ilk, and that Islam, like all religions (true Christianity is a relationship, not a religion), is yet another device of Satan to deceive and to counterfeit what God has done.

In doing some reading on Roman religion recently, I was struck with the fact that prior to the coming of Christ the dominant religions all involved idol worship. The Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks and Romans all worshipped many gods. Only the Jews were monotheistic (which quite ticked off the Romans since they thought everyone should be nice to everyone else’s god… sound familiar?) Then came Christianity, also monotheistic and eventually coming to power and superseding the old idol worship of the Romans. Some six hundred plus years after the birth of Christianity, Mohammed had his visitation and Islam was born. And to me the whole thing looks like a rip off and distortion of Christianity and Judaism combined into a new religion to distract people from the others. 

I find it interesting that at first Mohammed approached both Jews and Christians in friendship, wanting to join together with them, wanting them to help confirm his claims of being visited by God. When they rejected him, I don’t suppose it’s surprising he’d eventually receive word that they were now the enemy and worthy of destruction. Which so echoes Satan’s view on the matter, it’s clear to me Mohammed was only a pawn. (If Satan can destroy the Jews, then God will not be able to fulfill His promises to them, and will be made a liar, impotent and not-God. Which gives Satan a chance; and of course he just hates Christians outright since each of them is a member of Christ. He likes nothing better than to trip them up, make them look like fools, make them “curse God and die”, and get them sidetracked from the true plan of God for their lives. But if he could, I have no doubt he’d just wipe us all out…

Anyway, that wasn’t much about The Last Patriot  I guess, but it was an example of one of the thought trips its premise took me on. It was a fun and engaging read and, as you can perhaps tell from my trip, very informative and relevant to today. In fact, having first learned of ‘abrogation’ only last week, today I received an email on the three important things about Islam that most people don’t know. The first was abrogation!  (the second was sharia law and the fact that while the word “islam” does mean “peace,” it also means submission and thus is the perfect word for the religion — because when all others have been forced by its devotees to submit to it, by conversion or death, and it is finally is the only religion in the world, there will be peace.  But no freedom.

And the third important thing about Islam most people don’t know? That for muslims, deception is okay. In other words, taqiyya.

(I felt rather well-informed today!)