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Book Break-Downs: "Doctor Sleep", "Sycamore Row", "Goldfinger"...

by yumi


DOCTOR SLEEP

Just finished reading the sequel to Stephen King's universally acclaimed horror masterpiece, The Shinning, entitled Doctor Sleep. The story primarily occurs many years after the first novel, with Dan working at a hospice in rural New Hampshire, where he uses the remnants of his shining ability to ease the suffering of the dying at the moment of death. He meets a young girl named Abra Stone, who also has the shining. Abra is in mortal danger from a group of quasi-immortals called the True Knot, who live off the 'steam' that children with the shining produce when they are slowly tortured to death. Dan risks everything, to protect Abra from the murderous paranormals, just as s young black cook at the Overlook Hotel once risked everything to save him.

As a sequel, Doctor Sleep starts off promising. Early on, Dan winds up exactly where his father started in The Shinning: drunk, and hitting his rock bottom, and wanting desperately to find a good place to escape his own personal demons. Reading about Dan falling into the same fate as Jack Torrance, the exact fate I had hoped he'd avoid, was an extremely painful experience, but also a welcome one. It nearly moved me to tears, and proved to me that I still cared about the little boy I met years ago reading the first novel, even if I didn't care to much for anyone else in Doctor Sleep.

If the quality of a piece of literature is judged solely by the extent it makes you emotional, then the early chapters were the best. As Doctor Sleep got further and further away from the plot of The Shinning, I cared less and less. I think Stephen King tried hard to make me love Abra the same way I loved Dan, but I just couldn't. She was a smart and funny character, and her relationship with Dan was cute, but everything was far to easy for her. It is a characters struggle, and the fear of what might happen to them, I think, that causes people to care about fictional characters as though they were real. Abra's shinning was so powerful that I never once felt she was in any real danger. The almost comical villains with their silly names didn't exactly help make things suspenseful. I wanted to truly fear them, but there was nothing frightening about them. I wanted more along the lines of Horace Derwent or the dead woman from Room 217, and what I got was the Wicked Witch of the West. Hat and all. I remember, even though I was older when I first read it, The Shinning was genuinely scary at times, reading it alone in the dark with a flashlight. Especially with the loud BANG! caused by people bursting through my bedroom door at random intervals. I did not have the same experience with this novel. It is very different from the Shinning, not only in terms of the plot of the story, but also how it was written, even though both were obviously written by the same man.

At no point does Doctor Sleep ever come close to approaching anything I would call "horror." To use movie terms, Doctor Sleep the book felt more like a direct to DVD successor to The Shining then a true sequel. By the end, Doctor Sleep had plenty of faults, but it was still a good book, because at no point did it actually bore me, and worth the read. It just wasn't anywhere near as good as The Shinning."

SYCAMORE ROW

Just finished Reading John Grisham's excellent novel Sycamore Row, which is a direct sequel of the modern classic A Time To Kill. In A Time To Kill, Jake Brigiance, a young trial lawyer in the small town of Clanton Mississippi, successfully defended Carl Lee Hailey in a controversial trial after the incensed black father took the law into his own hands by killing the two white rapists who had molested his little girl in a courthouse shooting, bringing forth the communities hidden racial tensions.

Now, three years later in Sycamore Row, Jake is financially strapped, but enjoying the lingering fame the high-profile Hailey case brought him, if not the vast wealth he had expected. Jake receives an opportunity for steady pay when in the form of a mysterious letter from Seth Hubbard, an elderly man who had killed himself the day before. Seth wants Jake to represent his multimillion dollar estate and enforce his will. His handwritten will that leaves 90 percent of his fortune to his black housekeeper, and gives nothing to his family. The validity of the will is viciously contested and Jake finds himself embroiled in yet another struggle against racism that will expose a dark secret from an old mans tortured past.

As a successor to a novel that is arguably the greatest legal thriller of the modern era, Sycamore Row is nothing less than a slam dunk. It is more than just a re-visitation of familiar places and faces. Grisham expands the backstory and personality of favorite characters, yet he introduces a whole new cast that is worthy of the original. He breathes fresh life into the theme of racism by reexamining it in completely different legal struggle with different stakes that the added titillation of a possible sex scandal and a dark family secret. It might not be as violent as A Time To Kill, but Sycamore Row is a multi-layered story that is every bit as intriguing, if not more so.

John Grisham is a tremendously talented writer famous for his ability to make the mundane, day-to day tasks of a lawyer seem gripping and exciting. His sharp dialogue and his atmospheric prose make every scene worth reading. John Grisham is the undisputed master of the legal thriller, and Sycamore Row is, in my opinion, his most masterful book. Reading it has been perhaps the most pleasurable experience I have had reading a book so far this year.

DIVERGENT SERIES

Essentially, Divergent is the story of Beatrice Prior, an average, misunderstood, flat chested, never-been-kissed, pre-war heroin, sixteen year old girl who must decide between right and wrong. There are too many problems with the plot of Divergent to even begin listing them all, I wouldn't know where to begin. I would describe the overall plot of Divergent in following arithmetic terms: 2 + 2 = 5. The plot of Divergent is painfully simplistic and more than a little logically handicapped. There is virtually no world-building and almost nothing is ever adequately explained, concretely defined, or sufficiently developed in the series. The logic behind the concepts in Divergent as well as the actions of the characters are at times so full of holes that they could be comparable to Swiss only possible exceptions are Beatrice and her unlikely lover/teacher Tobias, who are, at least for the most part, strong and individual creations. Divergent is, at best, nothing more than an over-hyped attempt to at least partially replicate the success of the dystopian Hunger Games trilogy.

But Divergent, in particular the first novel in the series, isn't very dystopian at all : the novels are standard PG-rated teen romances, with dystopian elements tacked on as gimmicky plot devices or reduced to window dressings in order to appeal to popular trends. The last book in the Divergent trilogy, the newly released Allegiant, at least attempts to remedy this and become a legitimate science fiction novel, and much of its plot revolves around human nature and requires an explanation of genetics. However, large portions of the explanations provided in the novel are just simply wrong and incorrect. Which is confusing because basic genetics isn't exactly complicated.

This isn't a cautionary tale, but if it was, the Divergent series would be warning people about scientists and scientific advancement. There were moments where it almost implied scientists are inherently evil because of their profession, which is pure nonsense, to say the least. A series that is anti-science will probably bias my opinion against it, but my opinion is what it is.

In my opinion, Divergent is the most plainly ridiculous thing to happen in literature since the notion of sparkly vampires. And yet… In spite of its many flaws, I read the series compulsively, every chance I had, and finished it in two days. I was inexplicably and annoyingly entertained.

DYING OF THE LIGHT

George R. R. Martin's unforgettable space opera, "Dying of the Light." :I had almost forgotten how amazing this book is. Written exquisitely, this novel not only stands out because of the vivid imagery the beautiful prose creates in your mind, but also because of it's originality. in spite of the premise of the book, which at first seems deceptively simple, this admittedly short novel is wonderfully complex, and set in a richly detailed world.

Essentially, "Dying of the Light" is the story of a man, Dirk, who is asked by his former lover, Gwen to meet her on a strange planet called Worlorn, a dark place mostly abandoned by both its sun and the worlds former inhabitants. Gwen is in need of his protection, and Dirk realizes he will do anything to protect her, even if it means challenging the barbaric man who has claimed her.

"Dying of the Light" is, like most of Martin's work, not intended for those who want a light-hearted adventure novel. Loneliness is a strong theme throughout, and almost everything about this work of fiction is depressing. But it is an engrossing tale that may literally take your breath away. This is a rare work of fiction whose flesh-and-bone characters stick with you, long after the rather philosophical, yet highly satisfying ending.

GOLDFINGER

Goldfinger by Ian Fleming, the 7th volume in a classic novel series that detail the world famous exploits of British secret agent 007, otherwise known as James Bond. The novel has the same plot as its movie adaption which is arguably more famous then the book ever was. Bond has to stop the dastardly Auric Goldfinger from stealing all of the billions in Fort Knox and using the money to finance anti-American spy interests. To someone completely unfamiliar to spy novels, this concept might seem "breathtaking" just as the back cover claims, but to an experienced reader, the plot is rather typical, and unexceptional in any way. For a classic novel such as Goldfinger, a description like "typical" is actually more compliment then insult, since classics are, by definition, made up of what we know. Calling a classic "typical" is really just a way of admitting the extent that certain elements of it have invaded pop consciousness.

There are many typical James Bond elements in this story, some work, and some don't but all of them are classic. Thinking about what doesn't work, the villains method of "killing" James Bond is always comical. We get the famous, "Here is how we are going to punish you: with this slowly rotating saw moving at 1 centimeter per minute. Now, excuse me while I leave the room, Mr. Bond, to serve myself a cup of tea.. " The villains attempting to do the killing are typical cartoonish James Bond bad guys, with smirk worthy names such as "Oddjob" and "Pussy Galore." You'll find no evidence morally grey, complex characters here, not even among the good guys, but at least James Bond will take a moment to reflect on somebody he just killed while sipping his morning booze. And at least James Bond knows how to kill.

The prose is worthy of neither praise nor condemnation. Ian Fleming efficiently tells the story, which I suppose is all I have a right to expect, but I expected more anyway. I have no specific criticism of the way it was written, other then the writing was standard, which I found disappointing. That doesn't mean I found it boring though. Goldfinger is a thriller that successfully managed to thrill. Nearly every chapter ended in a plot twist, and this kept me happily engaged for the couple of hours it took to read it cover to cover. I should add though, The lengthy and completely unnecessary descriptions of golfing at the beginning wasn't a high point. Golfing just doesn't have the sexiness of car chases. The book is most fascinating as a document that reflects the sexism and racism of a (mostly) vanished era: an era where, for example, Koreans are genetically more cruel, and lesbianism is an unfortunate but predictable outcome of allowing women to vote. These ideas are so ludicrous they would be genuinely laughable, but for the fact that I know of people who earnestly believe both these things.

Overall, Goldfinger was a decent book that has aged reasonably well. It managed to entertain me, and make me feel better about how far most of society has progressed in such a short time. I'll probably read another Bond novel... if I have nothing better to do.

THE AQUATAINE PROGRESSION

The Aquataine Progression by Robert Ludlum, the great perennial thriller writer of the 20th century... This book firmly falls into the thriller / suspense category, and the plot is stuffed full of very interesting political action in the best of Ludlum's traditions, recognizable to most because of his Bourne trilogy of novels, which have now been turned into a trilogy of movies starring Matt Damon, where Damon played the character, the amnesia afflicted super spy, Jason Bourne. Like the Bourne series, The Aquataine Progression is a fast paced, paranoia filled novel, with plenty of plot line to the story, which surpassed many of his contemporary competitors novels, such as Vince Flynn's "The Third Option" in that regard by a long distance.

The Aquataine Progression follows a slightly James Bondish plot involving an attempt at world domination by a group of fanatical generals. And, like a Bond film, the story is far-fetched, and there are a lot of very lucky coincidences, but I raced through book nonetheless. In it, the group of aforementioned. formerly highly-regarded but extremely right-wing generals from some of the west's biggest countries (US, UK, Germany, France and Israel) are planning a what is to be a daring, ambitious and meticulously executed strategy to take over of the entirety western civilsation under the codename Aquitaine. The plan hits a bump when a former POW and current attorney in international law, Joel Converse, is brought in to expose the generals. His efforts take him all over Europe and on the way, he's forced to become the lethal soldier he was in Vietnam in order to survive. A string of false charges, thanks to a compromised Surete, Interpol and almost every law-upholding agency in Europe makes him a pariah, a fugitive running from everyone and able to trust nobody.

The characters are believable, and sympathetic, and the story is exciting, but it is highly exciting nonsense. For instance, the idea of non-speaking-other-than-English main character crossing the European borders, buying food and checking in hotels without no problems at all seems a bit surreal, if typical of a generic espionage tale. The pleasure derived from reading this is unavoidably lessened somewhat also by the conscious thought of how It somewhat surprisingly dated to me a book like this is and how, now, the story could not possibly happen in the days of fast computers, satellite phones, security checks, and so on. Still. Robert Ludlum distracts you from these flaws with gorgeous depictions of exotic scenery more potent then the imaging of even the most experienced tour guide, and I began to love how Ludlum intermixed nationalities and religious characters throughout his novel.

In the end, this is a tightly plotted, highly enjoyable piece of writing, well beyond the quality of any of the more well known thriller writers, such as Tom Clancy or others. The book is stuffed to bursting with plot twists and stunning prose, and for those are willing to look past a few minor narrative flaws typical of the genre, the last 150 pages in particular give this book a truly epic and even smart ending that is well worth the wait. Read it and love it.

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11 Reviews


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Tue Jan 05, 2021 5:11 pm
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EthanWrites wrote a review...



First and foremost, this was good. It genuinely made me want to read a few books, but also watch out for some. Your writing has a lot of opinion and it doesn't give away too much of the story to the reader to make them not want to read it. Your vocabulary is exquisite and your explanations are thorough and engaging, I would like to read more and see what you have to say. I am not the best at giving reviews, but I know when I personally enjoy something, and this was great!

Hope to see more from you!





“A good book isn't written, it's rewritten.”
— Phyllis A. Whitney, Guide to Fiction Writing