Tour’s Books Blog

September 1, 2013

eBook vs Print and Some Mystery/Thriller Reviews

I just had three lessons in ebooks vs print books.  The first was Elysian Fields by Suzanne Johnson, third in the Sentinels of New Orleans) which I had read as an ARC ebook (twice) and then got in print and read again (twice).  The second was Inferno by Dan Brown which I only had in print.  For the record, I bought Elysian Fields on a pre-order through BAM.  Inferno came to me via Paperback Swap and it’s already leaving next week, though I did end up with 2 copies – one from a swap and one from my wish list which I forgot to cancel.

So what lesson did I learn?  Well, I enjoyed Elysian Fields in ebook, obviously, I read it twice, but reading it as a print book was a very different experience.  I felt more involved and when I was done, more satisfied than with the ebook.  It will even get a higher rating, and not just because all those minor proofing errors got cleaned up, but because I quite literally experienced the story differently.  Result – print book was superior all around for reading satisfaction.

The next was Heart of Venom by Jennifer Estep, the latest in the Elemental Assassin series.  I read it as an electronic ARC as well, and bought the books.  Oddly, I found less of a difference in how I experienced the story.  That could be the more straightforward ‘action thriller’ style of the series, or the difference in writing styles.  I’m inclined to think it’s the straightforward and fairly uncomplicated plot.  I noticed those books I liked best as ebooks were all very much in the same vein – uncomplicated plot lines, so I could just enjoy the characters.    While certainly not the intricate, multi-layered, cast of thousands book, written with flowing, complex prose and a demanding vocabulary, that say one of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books is, Ms Johnson does write a more layered and complex story and atmosphere and characters require greater attention.  And yes, the writing style, syntax, and vocabulary will slow down my reading speed.  Some writers are worth savoring – William Kent Kruger may not write the best mysteries, but they among the most lyrically written.  And that works better for me in print.

Now Inferno, is a different story.  Part of the problem is the fact that Dan Brown is a complex plotter, but lousy character author and as a writer, not the most skilled in his turn of phrase.  In that he’s much like the late Robert Ludlum.  This makes staying involved in one of this maze like stories a challenge.  But there was a bigger problem – the book itself.  It weighed a ton.  I switch hands when reading, holding the book more often in my left so I can turn pages with my right.  This isn’t usually an issue – or it wasn’t until two things happened:  1) I developed arthritis in my thumbs and, 2) I broke my left wrist 2 years ago and had a plate implanted to stabilize the bones.  While the recovery from the break was excellent given my age, the wrist is just not as strong as it was and like most broken bones, sensitive to the weather.  So reading big, heavy books is actually quite taxing to the wrist and hand, which makes for an uncomfortable situation and shortens the attention span.  Add to that Dan Brown’s less than enthralling writing skills and it was a long, slow, oft interrupted slog.

Now keep in mind, I own a Kindle that I hardly use.  I downloaded the software to my laptop and read on it instead.  Why?  I have an older Kindle and it’s a PIA to use and heavy to boot.  Heavier than a paperback, but not as heavy as a hardcover.  I just found the short page length annoying.  Actually, that’s pretty much true of ALL ebooks.  Fewer words per page.  It makes keeping a train of thought going harder.  With a book, you see two pages at once and do not have to think about changing pages every 225 words.  It keeps breaking the story’s flow.

So yes, I will still buy ebooks, but truth is, they are less than 10% of my book purchases.   The experience with Elysian Fields showed me why.  Trow away books, like romance, and even basic plots like Heart of Venom, ebooks are fine and cheap.  Book you want to sink into – for me it’s paper – DTB (dead tree book).

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Inferno

Dan Brown hasn’t written many books, but that could be because of the amount of research he puts into his plots.  Like Robert Ludlum, Brown relies on the compelling story of a puzzle being unraveled to avert a crisis, not on any character development, though each book does have character elements as the underlying motivation.  The other reason might be the fact that his books are really LONG – just shy of 500 pages in hardcover.  Not as long as Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time epic fantasy books, but for a thriller, it’s a long book.

With Inferno, Brown steps up to bio-terrorism plate, an area usually explored by action thriller writers with former Spec Ops heroes battling their way to the truth.  But Robert Langdon is no soldier and uses his odd eidetic memory and his vast knowledge of history, art, and symbology to unravel clues to avert some kind of global disaster.  Only this time his memory is failing for the first time in his life – thanks to a bullet wound to the head.  He wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy, a city he loves and knows well, but the last thing he remembers is being in Cambridge at the Harvard campus several days earlier.

What follows is classic Brown …… fast, filled with exquisite detail, and often tedious.  And not one single outstanding character leaps off the page.  Langdon has three dimensions in large part thanks to Tom Hanks.  The nerdy academic who unravels complex clues.  Though why these brilliant villains always leave these trails of breadcrumbs has always baffled me.  Kind of like James Bond villains who always screw up because their gloating.  A brilliant scientist leaving a trail even though he leaped to his death to avoid revealing anything?   hummmmm

Anyway, let us accept the master villain left these arcane clues only a master scholar could follow – bring on Robert Langdon.

WARNING:  Spoilers below

What’s right with Inferno:  The pacing is fast, and Langdon thinking he’s averting a global bio-terrorism plot gives it an edge.  The armed men chasing him do too.  As usual,

What’s wrong with Inferno:  The ending.  It fell flat in the last 75 pages.  All the tension built up over 400 pages as Langdon races against time to prevent a disaster and the solution was a classic WTF moment.  Unfortunately, for the reader, it was also a “WTF did I just waste my time on this?”

As a thriller reader, the dénouement after such – well sort of – breathless journey to avert the disaster was EPIC FAIL.

The other huge problem was the lack of any aftermath for an event of this magnitude with economic, social, religious, and political consequences.  Two scientists walk off into the ‘brave new world’, Langdon flies home, and ………… That’s it?  What about what happens when the world finds out?  What happens to fertile females?  Will they be made into baby factories under control of the government?  Jeeze, talk about a disaster.  Someone didn’t think this through – including Dan Brown.  No wonder he just threw Langdon on a flight home.  I would have run from that mess too.  The author just ignored the ramifications of the event completely.  Astonishing.

Inferno gets a D+ (2.3*) from me in large part due to the ending.  I know his legion of fans will hate me, but come on, he did NOT think this through.  He just abandoned the whole thing in an abstract, professorial way.  It did not register with the man.

Thankfully, I got Inferno through Paperback Swap.  Free is the only way to go here unless you are die hard Langdon junkie.  Then but a CHEAP used copy.  This is no keeper.

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the-english-girl-daniel-silva

Will this 13th outing be Gabriel Allon’s last mission?  We’ll see.  Here Allon is minding his own business at home in Israel restoring a Bassano when he gets a visit from the ‘the old man’, the legendary Ari Shamron.  Seems something has happened in the UK and Graham Seymour is calling in a favor.  An English girl, late 20’s, vacationing in Corsica with friends has disappeared.  This is no ordinary English girl, she a rising star in the PM’s party – and his very secret mistress.

The kidnappers have made contact – but strangely, no demands.  Gabriel finally agrees to go help, not as assassin, but as an investigator.  He hears the story first from John Lancaster, the PM with his ‘power behind the throne’, Jeremy Fallon.  From all outward appearances, Madelyn was a middle class success story, a beautiful, brainy young woman who caught the eye of party powers and was raised thru the ranks, getting groomed for an eventual run as an MP.  Her disappearance in Corsica is even more mysterious as no ransom demands have been made – just notification to Lancaster they have her.

Gabriel goes to Corsica to see the local Don who makes his money in olive oil and contract hits, and ask to borrow one of his assassins, an Englishman, former SAS thought to have been killed in the mid-East – and a man who was once contracted to kill Gabriel and didn’t.  The two men began the investigation all over again – and starting with a picture of Madelyn at a table with an unknown man, they begin trying to piece things together.

All the elements are there for a great story, yet somehow, it didn’t quite cut it for me.  It was obvious they knew Gabriel’s personal history and they also knew entirely too much about things that were known by only a few, and had Gabriel not been so lost in his cycle of personal angst, he would have seem it.  I guess that’s the part that annoyed me.  Allon is known for his ability to puzzle out motives, yet he failed to do confront a key one for a long time.  Perhaps, Gabriel’s concession to age and the need for a new man to take his place in the field – and who he apparently tries to recruit at the end, was the single most interesting part.  It looks like the baton may be passing to a new lead character, and someone who is interesting and enigmatic too.

The English Girl is not quite up to DeSilva’s usual standards, but is a good read.  I give it a B- (3.7*) and a recommendation for fans, but only in mmpb.  The HC is over priced.  My copy of The English Girl came through an online book swapping site and will leave the same way.

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breaking point

Like Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire series, C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett books went a long time unnoticed outside hardcore mystery readers.  Not anymore.  Longmire and Pickett have a lot in common, especially a bone deep respect for nature and the fundamental kind of survival instincts that keep a man alive in the unforgiving wilderness.  They also have the fierce independent nature that is typical of Westerners, tough, self-reliant, men that enforce laws but respect personal freedom and the land itself.

Box incorporates a lot more aspects of government intrusion into citizen’s lives and in Breaking Point he used an actual lawsuit and Supreme Court ruling as a springboard for his plot.  One of Joe’s friends is former black ops man Nate Romanowski who was featured in his last book Force of Nature, (not my favorite) and since disappeared.

The story opens with two armed EPA enforcement agents driving from Denver to deliver a cease and desist order on a man in Wyoming.  The Corp of Engineers man who is supposed to meet they and go out to the land with them is aghast at the order and the person they plan to serve it on.  In the end, both officers are dead and buried under a berm of dirt.

Joe’s out riding a line of watering trenches set up so wildlife stays away from domestic herds to get water.  He sees a cut fence an follows it to a camp where local builder Butch Roberson is.  Butch is a real outdoors type, but something about their whole encounter feels wrong.  Still, Joe heads back and then gets the call about the murders.

Over on Butch’s land, new sheriff and paraplegic Mike Reed is doing all the right thing to keep evidence and crime scene conditions in tact with a loud, obnoxious, and obviously self important EPA Juan Julio Batista shows and has the FBI claim jurisdiction.  Reed is not about to be bullied by some high level desk jockey and tells him to get a court order and get out of his crime scene.

Now Joe is only a game warden, but even he knows something here isn’t right, and it’s more than 2 dead agents and an over-reacting desk jockey who starts calling Butch a terrorist.  As his new boss keeps caving to the increasingly outrageous tactics of the feds, Joe goes and hunts for Butch – and the fools he’d taken hostage when they’d tried capture him – said fools including the former sheriff who sent Mike out into a surefire armed confrontation that put him in the wheelchair – all because Mike was running against him in the election.

McLanahan, the former sheriff, with his ego and an ax to grind ends up one of the hostages trying to show up Mike.  But it’s when the EPA idiot calls in a drone strike with a Hellfire missile kills the wrong man and sets off a monumental forest fire that thing go really south and pushes Joe to find out what the hell is REALLY going on here.  And Butch has most of the answers.

Box spins a tight, well written mystery and has his usual twist at the end, a twist that puts everything into perspective and puts the real motives behind the whole incident that led to the deaths of 2 agents, firefighters, and other people, into perspective – and it all started long ago with a lover spurned.  An innocent man willingly goes to jail to protect another.  That part I saw coming, the rest I didn’t.

Box does have an ax to grind with the high-handed tactics of the EPA thanks to what even the US Supreme Court calls a ‘badly crafted law’ that Congress has no interest in fixing.  That does not control the story, which is more about hubris, long held grudges, and people who use connections to screw others, in addition to the abuse of federal authority – a favorite theme of writers who live out west.  It also sees Joe quit his job, a job he loves, but can’t do thanks to the weak management caving to what he sees as highly illegal and ethically and morally questionable tactics.

Breaking Point is just a really good read on several levels, but there is no question political points are part of the story and Box has some strong views that did not make Joe step out of character, but remained within his own well established ethical boundaries, a lesson some other authors should take to heart.  Breaking Point gets a B+ (4.2*) from me and a recommended read.  I got Breaking Point through an online book swapping site.  Buy a discount copy as the current online price is over $18.  This is a series to read!

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