Thursday, September 12, 2019

Trucking Through Time

Trucking Through Time
by Charles E. Harris


(My Silly) Blurb:

In the middle of what they believe will be just another job hauling cargo, trucking duo Chad and Dale end up having the adventure of a lifetime.  This isn't a simple trip across the country: Chad and Dale are... trucking through time!


My Reaction:
Wow.  Another great selection by the 372 Pages We'll Never Get Back podcast book club. (As always, this was a shared read-aloud with Donald.)

In the immortal words of Dale Rhea (*ahem*), this is indeed a stirring tale of "mystery, drama, excitement, compassion, horror, and romance along with many, many other words that could never explain the trip [they] took"!

Truly.

Look, there's no way I can fully explain this book.  Just know that it's bizarre and unintentionally hilarious, but there are also some sections that are boring and/or  repetitious.  (Fellow podcast-listeners, by no means is this a 64-Squares situation, though!  Rest assured on that account!)  Harris had a tendency towards preachiness on his pet subjects, too, and there will be times when you'll shift uncomfortably in your seat and reflect that sometimes a book reveals a bit too much about its author...

The humor (again, completely unintentional) is wonderful, but the writing is bad (thus my rating).  If you're going to read it, I recommend giving the 372-Pages podcast a listen. 

(However, I must say I'm surprised that Mike and Conor didn't notice/mention the fact that Harris obviously "borrowed" his idea of the white girl adopted by Indians from Dances with Wolves, which incidentally was also about the Sioux and had a character-- the titular wolf-- named "Two Socks", which Harris one-upped with his own richly-developed character named "Three Socks"!)

One final note: I can't help but wonder who designed the cover art.  I can't find any credit for it.  Did Harris create it himself?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Gabriel Hounds

The Gabriel Hounds
by Mary Stewart


Blurb:

It's all a grand adventure when English Christy Mansel unexpectedly runs into her cousin Charles in Damascus. And being young, rich, impetuous, and used to doing whatever they please, they decide to barge in uninvited on their eccentric Great-Aunt Harriet— despite a long-standing family rule strictly forbidding unannounced visits. Because when the Gabriel hounds run howling over the crumbling palace of Der Ibrahim in the Lebanon, someone will shortly die.
A strange new world awaits Charles and Christy beyond the gates of Dar Ibrahim— "Lady Harriet's" ancient, crumbling palace in High Lebanon— where a physician is always in residence and a handful of Arab servants attends to the odd old woman's every need. But there is a very good— very sinister— reason why guests are not welcome at Dar Ibrahim. And the young cousins are about to discover that, as difficult as it is to break into the dark, imposing edifice, it may prove even harder still to escape.


My Reaction:
Either I managed to read the best of Mary Stewart's romantic suspense first, leaving only the "lesser" ones still to read, or my tastes have changed since I started them.  In any case, I seem not to have enjoyed the last two or three as much as I'd hoped or expected.

First, the positives:
--Stewart writes a beautiful, vivid setting. 
--There was a brief period in the middle of the book when I thought things were about to get interesting... (And then it went in a different direction, and honestly, I was disappointed, even if this is the "positive" section of the review!)
--...Um... There were some cute dogs?  What else?  Not much comes to mind, I'm afraid!

The negatives, now...
--The setting isn't my cup of tea, I'm afraid, though the seraglio garden sounded beautiful.
--I tend not to get too bothered about old-fashioned ideas in older books, but this one irritated me in some of its attitudes toward women and "natives". 
--For most of the book, the story moved at a snail's pace. 
--The hero's and heroine's main personality traits seemed to be that they were rich, privileged, and sometimes a bit obnoxious.  Christy was much more annoying than Charles, but he didn't even feel like a real person, with his affected way of talking...  I'm not sure which is worse!
--Christy is... well, she's either naive or just a bit dim. And she always seems to need rescuing!
--There are some remarkable coincidences and outlandish, unlikely occurrences.  I can overlook those if the book creates enough of a feeling of goodwill to compensate, but in this case, that goodwill is somewhat lacking.  It just comes across as lazy writing.
--The title has almost nothing to do with the book!  Annoying.

And then there's this one, which deserves its own paragraph... I don't usually have a problem with "cousin romances" in older books.  It just doesn't bother me.  However, this one was a huge turn-off for a number of reasons.  First, the fact that "they" changed it from first cousins to second cousins for the American version makes the whole thing seem a bit dirty!  Second, the cousins look too much alike (and their fathers were identical twins?!?!). Third, the cousins seem to have been raised almost as siblings-- and refer repeatedly to have bathed together as children and... "played doctor" when they were young (unless my crazy brain just manufactured that on its own, which I almost hope is what happened, rather than for it to have been in the book... but here it is: "I had discussed sex with him at the age when we had no physical secrets from one another...").  I'm sorry, but that's gross. It's almost as if it's not enough that they were first cousins (with identical twin fathers?!?!); Stewart had to push the envelope even further by making them essentially siblings with a strong family resemblance and a weird habit of reminiscing over the shared baths of their childhoods.  Yeah, sorry, but that's gross. Why put that in a romance novel?!  Why?!  She didn't have to do that, so the only conclusion I can come to is that she thought it was... cute, or even sexy.  (Blurgh.)

Sadly, the novel simply didn't do it for me.  There were some beautiful descriptions, and it was interesting to see a severe 1960s take on "hashish", given the desire of so many to normalize it, these days-- but the positives were outweighed by the negatives listed above (and a spoilerish thing that I'll put down at the bottom of the post behind a warning).  I'm not sure how many of Stewart's "suspenseful romances" I've yet to read, but I hope they'll be stronger than this one was!



Okay, here's the spoilerish thing...

Avert thy eyes, lest thou be spoilt!

Ugh.  Did that idiot Christy actually suggest using one of the salukis as a guinea pig to determine whether or not the soup was poisoned?!  Yeah, I get that she was trying to prevent the other woman from being used as a test subject, but why suggest giving it to the dogs instead?!

And while I'm on a roll, I was similarly displeased when Christy and Charles only cared about saving the poor dog at the end of the book when they realized it was the Great-Aunt's dog.  The poor dog would've needed their help in any case, but they were just going to leave it there until they recognized its name on the collar.  I found that obnoxious, too.  (But admittedly, I was kind of disgusted with the whole family, by that point, so I'm probably not being fair on this point.)

...Oh, and what was with that weird bit at the end where Christy couldn't tell the difference between her own father and her uncle?!  I know they're identical twins, but it's her father, and adult twins aren't usually that indistinguishable, are they?  By that age, they usually have some fairly telltale differences that family members should easily recognize!  I just thought that was (extremely) strange.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Relic

Relic 
by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child


Blurb:
Just days before a massive exhibition opens at the popular New York Museum of Natural History, visitors are being savagely murdered in the museum's dark hallways and secret rooms. Autopsies indicate that the killer cannot be human...
But the museum's directors plan to go ahead with a big bash to celebrate the new exhibition, in spite of the murders.
Museum researcher Margo Green must find out who-- or what-- is doing the killing. But can she do it in time to stop the massacre?

My Reaction:This isn't my usual fare, but on the whole, I enjoyed it.  (I'd give it 3.5 stars.)  The museum made for a fascinating and atmospheric setting, and I found the main characters interesting and sympathetic enough that I cared what happened to at least a few of them.

The references to 1990's technology brought back memories from my youth... In many ways, modern tech is of course wonderful, but I do feel some nostalgia for the good old days-- especially the time before smart phones!

Without giving away too much, I wasn't really surprised by the twist, since it had occurred to me as one possibility earlier in the novel-- still interesting reading, though.

Ultimately, I'm not sure whether I'll read more in this series or not.  It was a reasonably enjoyable but oftentimes slow read for me, until the action finally kicked in and the story flowed more easily.  Psuedo-scientific thrillers are a little outside what I generally like to read, but I might give the next one a try, at some point.  I took a sneak peek at some plot points from later on in the series, and I have to say, it sounds a little crazy, but maybe...

The Mister

The Mister
by E.L. James


Blurb:
London, 2019. Life has been easy for Maxim Trevelyan. With his good looks, aristocratic connections, and money, he’s never had to work and he’s rarely slept alone. But all that changes when tragedy strikes and Maxim inherits his family’s noble title, wealth, and estates, and all the responsibility that entails. It’s a role he’s not prepared for and one that he struggles to face.
But his biggest challenge is fighting his desire for an unexpected, enigmatic young woman who’s recently arrived in England, possessing little more than a dangerous and troublesome past. Reticent, beautiful, and musically gifted, she’s an alluring mystery, and Maxim’s longing for her deepens into a passion that he’s never experienced and dares not name. Just who is Alessia Demachi? Can Maxim protect her from the malevolence that threatens her? And what will she do when she learns that he’s been hiding secrets of his own?
From the heart of London through wild, rural Cornwall to the bleak, forbidding beauty of the Balkans, The Mister is a roller-coaster ride of danger and desire that leaves the reader breathless to the very last page.

My Reaction:
Let me waste no time in absolving myself of this book choice by pointing out that it was a 372 Pages podcast selection (and as such, a read-aloud shared read with Donald).  I have no problem with romance as a genre (though it can be difficult to find one that I truly enjoy, now that I'm so much pickier, as an adult), but this particular one is kind of embarrassing...

It's just not good, in so many ways.

I can't be bothered to think up a cohesive, thoughtful review for this one-- or even the thrown-together, not especially cohesive type of review that I usually end up posting.

The characters are stupid, uninteresting, and unrealistic.  The plot is an odd mixture of the predictable and the bizarre.  The sex scenes are cringe-inducing and mind-numbingly repetitive.  (I think I probably sighed and rolled my eyes every time it became obvious that we were in for yet another of the "romance" scenes.  They were awful, and reading them aloud made them a hundred times worse!  I quickly made the executive decision to just skim through them and only read aloud any particularly hilarious tidbits that leaped off the page.)

There is very little going for this book.  ...Unless you happen to be reading it explicitly for the purpose of finding the humor in it, which is what 372 Pages boils down to.

Reading this "as a joke" made it so much more enjoyable than it would've been, read seriously.
It's still not a good book, though.

DNF: Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff

Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff
by Sean Penn


Blurb:
Bob Honey—a modern American man, entrepreneur, and part-time assassin. He’s just a guy trying to make it through each day while grappling with loneliness, alienation, violence—uncertain of his place in a culture that considers branding more important than being.
Bob Honey has a hard time connecting with other people. He dreams he is sleeping with his ex-wife every night, and imagines waking up unhappy next to her every morning. Advertising, entertainment, and commerce rule his days; he’s sick of being marketed to every moment, but is unable to pry himself away from the constant feed. A paragon of American entrepreneurialism, Bob sells septic tanks to Jehovah’s Witnesses and arranges colorful pyrotechnic displays for foreign dictators. He’s also a part-time assassin for an off-the-books program run by the CIA that targets the elderly, the infirm, and others who drain this consumption-driven society of its resources.
When a nosy journalist starts asking questions, Bob can’t decide if it’s a chance to form some sort of new friendship or if it’s the beginning of the end for him. With treason on everyone’s lips, terrorism in everyone’s sights, and American political life racing to ever-lower standards, Bob decides it’s time to make a change. If he doesn’t get killed by his mysterious controllers or exposed in the rapacious media first.


My Reaction:
I can sum up my reaction to this book (and the audiobook version read by Penn himself, which is how I "read" it) in one single word: UGH.

Yeah, big surprise: I absolutely hated it.  I'd give it negative stars, were it possible.  If not for the 372 Pages podcast, I never would have been tempted to read this one, and even with that as an incentive, we didn't get very far.  (This was another shared read/listen with Donald.)  I don't remember how far we got before saying, "Eh... Let's just listen to the podcast episodes without reading the rest, okay?"  (For the record, that's the first time we've done that, and it does reduce the listening pleasure of the podcast when you haven't read the book.  In this instance, however, I think we still came out ahead by avoiding further exposure to Bob Honey.)

Imagine my surprise upon discovering that there's a sequel in the works! 
Nope, not for me.