One-Minute Book Reviews – vol. 13

I had been on a roll, posting one of these a month for eleven straight months, until this past November.  Dangit.  But that means I read about 60 books last year.  Not bad.  Part of the reason this slowed down was because of the 33-chapter novel I was finishing.  Not bad either.

Oh well. Let’s get this overwith.  Please remember this is only supposed to take about a minute.  They’re not thorough reviews, just enough to give you an idea if you should or should not read them.  So, if you’ve got a minute, pay attention…

1. The Wright Brothers – Biographywright (1)

David McCullough – 2015

Considering this is a David McCullough book, I knew before I read it that I was going to enjoy it.  I like when I’m right.  We all know enough about what the Wrights did, but what’s most amazing about the story of Wilbur and Orville is not just what they accomplished but why they accomplished it – because they knew they could.

It clearly wasn’t about money or fame because they took steps to avoid both.  They turned down money offered in support by Andrew Carnegie and others because they didn’t want to owe anyone anything.  They avoided the press and questions when, today, most people would be inviting the cameras and reporters in order to simply say, “Look at me!”  Whatever happened to attitudes like that?

The breakthrough for the Wrights came not from government funding.  It came from observing the tiny physical intricacies used by gulls as they glided in the constant winds of Kitty Hawk.  Each time they noticed something different, they employed it in their flying device.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes not so much.  Still, they remained focused, dedicated, and willing to spend their own money and risk their own lives to break that flight barrier.

One of their fears was the US government wanting to use their invention as an aerial death machine.  Interestingly enough, the Feds ignored them, probably because of how much money they had given to Samuel Langely, their chief competitor.  Even after the Wrights’ success, Langley was still credited by the Feds simply to justify their failed investments in his failed attempts to fly.

To recount the most significant facts of the book would rob you of the fun in reading it.  Also, it was fairly short.

Recommended if you care at all about history.

2. Love in the Time of Cholera – historical fictioncholera
Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 2007

Most readers hate backstory.  I hate backstory.  The first 20% of this book was backstory.  I bailed after about 20%.

How can you tell when it’s “backstory” instead of the “story”?

  1. “Telling” instead of “showing”
  2. Large periods of time covered quickly
  3. Feels like a summary instead of a story
  4. Few details given while they gloss over events

Just couldn’t get into it.

3. The Magician’s Lie – fiction, suspenselie
Greer Macallister – 2015

I don’t like stories told in first person because I never feel that I can trust the narrator.  A first-person narrator is not objective.  They’re telling you what they want to tell you and not necessarily everything that happens.  That’s in the real world, not always in fiction.  However, aren’t we supposed to pretend that fiction is the real world in order for it to be successful fiction?

I also don’t like stories told in present tense.  It’s annoying to read “says” instead of “said.”  Another reason I don’t like present tense is because 90% of stories written that way eventually break tense.  In this story, there were two different first-person narrators in two different time periods.  We had Arden, a woman who grew up through troubling times, became a magician’s assistant, and eventually took over the business.  She narrates the story in the “past” that begins about 1892.  We also have Virgil, the police officer in the “present” who arrests Arden in about 1905 for murder after a body is found beneath the stage after one of her performances.

I put present and past in quotes because it annoys the hell out of me when two different time periods are both written in present tense.  It’s completely illogical and a big strike against a book.  Two different first-person narrators was a second strike.  A book full of clichés like “not the worse for wear” and “knocked me back on my heels” was a third strike.  It didn’t need a fourth, but they came along for the ride anyway.

The story is basically Arden telling her life story to Virgil as he has her handcuffed for arrest.  Getting back to logic, it’s not very likely that a veteran police officer would sit and listen to hours upon hours of a suspect’s history instead of just tossing her in jail and letting the authorities do their job.

There is a character who seems to have a real magical/supernatural power, but it doesn’t really get used for anything significant.  Why have a character with the power to heal severe wounds, such as a broken leg or deep laceration, but not have it play a part in the actual story?  Also annoying was the magician creating a fabulous new illusion for her stage show, yet it’s an illusion most of us have seen before.  It’s called The Metamorphosis.  It’s very well known, and it makes no sense to pretend the fictional magician in this story invented it.  It feels a bit plagiaristic.

The dialogue was too contemporary for 1905 or 1892, and I didn’t buy

Regardless of that minor fact, the climax of the story seemed forced and unsatisfactory.  I was very happy when I got to the end not because I enjoyed it but so I could read something much better and wash away any memory of The Magician’s Lie.

Not even close to recommended.

4. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride – memoiras-you-wish-9781476764023_hr
Cary Elwes – 2014

If you haven’t seen the film The Princess Bride, then you’ve got two problems.  First, there’s no need for you to read this book.  More importantly, there’s no need for you to go on living without seeing The Princess Bride as soon as possible.  It’s a beautiful movie about a beautiful tale of love, revenge, adventure, and humor.

The story is told by Elwes, and luckily for me he also reads the audio CD version to make it a little more fun.  With the help of Rob and Carl Reiner and a few others, Elwes reaches way back to tell the story not just of the trials and tribulations of the actual filming but the maze of problems director Rob Reiner had to go through simply to get a studio to “green light” the project.

Elwes is not only a great actor and story teller, but he also does an above average job of impersonating those involved who were unable to record their own moments and tales in the book, most notably the director’s nasally whine.  It’s not significant to anyone other than those who listen instead of read, as I do.

As for the actual book, the most notable of the inconceivable tales were those involving André René Roussimoff, aka Andre the Giant.  He plays Fezzik, the villain’s hired strongman who is too strong but also too nice to work for a villain.  The stories of his physical challenges, both positive and negative, are greatly entertaining and sad.  The apparent rivalry between Elwes and Mandy Patinkin, his swordfighting mate who plays Inigo Montoya, was also great fun.

Among other production problems were drinking too much, broken bones, cast relationships, safety precautions, and fears of being fired that all contributed to a fun read.

Highly recommended for anyone who enjoyed the film, which should be everyone.

5. Tyrannosaur Canyon – thriller, science fictioncanyon
Douglas Preston – 2005

If you ever happen to find a notebook filled with nothing but numbers, it would be really convenient if you also happen to live near a monastery in which a former CIA agent is attempting to become a monk, even though he has a room with a computer and satellite equipment that can hack into a university database in which he can translate the numbers into coordinates and somehow get a satellite view of something that is underground.  Hey, it could happen.  Not.

Tom Broadbent is a veterinarian who lives in the desert but happens to be very wealthy, just in case.  While riding a horse in a nearby desert, he hears and follows gunshots until he finds a dying man who hands him that notebook and tells him to give it only to his daughter, not the cops.  Naturally, when the cops have a witness to a possible murder, they put the man’s name in the paper so the murderer can try to kill the witness.  Standard operating procedure, if you’re an idiot.

At that point, I had already known I would dislike the book because if you can’t get that little thing right, then you can’t get the big things right.  I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure the cops don’t release the names of witnesses until they have a suspect because the defense attorney needs to know who they will be interviewing and questioning.  Once the murderer in the story sees Broadbent’s name in the paper, he naturally kidnaps his wife and holds her hostage in exchange for the notebook.

There are other things that make zero sense, such as when Ford, the monk, absolutely refuses to help Broadbent decipher the code because that part of his life is in the past, then within a minute he agrees.  He explains the reason he wanted to help was the challenge of decoding.  Yet all he did was pour the numbers into a computer program and watch the computer do all the work.  Where’s the challenge in that?

This also applies to the military outfit that is a trained pack of ruthless killers who never defy orders but don’t hesitate to balk at exactly what they’re not supposed to balk at.  Yeah, that’s a spoiler, but the tension was about a phony as a brick wall made of Lego.

Other illogical things include a hitman/murderer who buys things with a credit card and rents a property in his real name.  It doesn’t make sense for the hitman to take out a notepad and pencil to sketch the property where the witness lives when he could easily take a picture with a cell phone.  It also doesn’t make sense for that hitman to go to great effort to build a cell to hold a hostage before he actually has the hostage, considering he might not actually need the cell.

I suppose that one is debatable, but what isn’t debatable are the stock characters who can all be introduced with the same gravelly-throated voiceover talent:  The former CIA agent turned monk who stepped down after his wife was killed in the line of duty.  The sophisticated and scholarly gray-haired gentleman with a dark side who will slit your throat or slay you in bed.  The strong but sexy wife who looks great in either jeans and cowboy boots or a little black dress and whatever the hell those shoes are with the red bottoms.

Also straight from a made-for-TV movie was the talking criminal, the hitman who only needs to put a bullet in the hostage to end the game.  Instead, he talks to her for ten minutes in order to spout predictable exposition only so we’ll know it while also buying enough time for the hostage to carry out an escape plan.  While we’re at it, let’s add some of the worst clichés, including cold as ice, hot as hell, piercing blue eyes, if it’s the last thing I do, kill him or die trying, and lock stock and barrel.

Not recommended unless you like the cliché and predictable.


8 thoughts on “One-Minute Book Reviews – vol. 13

  1. I disliked Love in a Time of Cholera for the same reasons. My problem is that I am a stubborn reader and am always determined to fight a book to the end. I read One Hundred Years of Solitude last year and did not like that one either!

  2. I, too enjoyed As You Wish, although many of the stories have been recounted elsewhere and thus were not entirely new (to me, anyway). The cover is amazing.

    I wonder if you might have enjoyed Cholera more if you’d read it instead of listening to it? Probably not, as you said you despise backstory; nevertheless, it’s a thought.

    I’ve been avoiding The Wright Brothers as I cared for neither John Adams nor 1776. However, his narrating voice is excellent. Maybe these are books I should listen to instead of read on paper.

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