Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Review - Dean Koontz' TickTock

What?  Dean Koontz' TickTock. 

What’s it about?  A Vietnamese-American novelist who comes across a rag doll at his door step which turns into a shape-shifting monster when he brings it inside.

Backcover Description:  Tommy Phan is a successful detective novelist, living the American Dream in southern California. One evening he comes home to find a small rag doll on his doorstep. It's a simple doll, covered entirely in white cloth, with crossed black stitches for the eyes and mouth, and another pair forming an X over the heart. Curious, he brings it inside. That night, Tommy hears an odd popping sound and looks up to see the stitches breaking over the doll's heart. And in minutes the fabric of Tommy Phan's reality will be torn apart. Something terrifying emerges from the pristine white cloth, something that will follow Tommy wherever he goes. Something that he can't destroy.

It wants Tommy's life and he doesn't know why. He has only one ally, a beautiful, strangely intuitive waitress he meets by chance--or by a design far beyond his comprehension. He has too many questions, no answers, and very little time. Because the vicious and demonically clever doll has left this warning on Tommy's computer screen: The deadline is dawn.


Time is running out.

So, is it worth reading?  Horror screwball comedy, anyone?  I picked up this book because of its cover and the backcover description.  Never judge a book by its cover, I know. Knowing Dean Koontz, I was looking for a good horror/supernatural thriller and came across this. The cover image and the description is quite tempting and so I picked it up. Expecting some decent scares for a few nights, I was stupefied to find the exact opposite inside and I must add, a tad disappointed.  But not one to leave a novel unread midway, I plodded on.  And I'm glad that I did.

Tommy Phan is a Vietanamese-American detective novelist who tries a little too hard to shed his Vietanamese origins and secretly aspires to be as suave as the detective character in his books, Chip Nguyen. He fulfills his childhood dream of buying an aqua blue Corvette and goes to see his mother who fights with him for dishonoring his roots and trying to be an American.  He reaches home to find a rag doll at his doorstep which he takes inside and then eerie things start to happen. Then he gets a deadline on his computer screen that he's got till dawn and the doll morphs into a monster which grows steadily. His only hope out of this mess is Deliverance Payne, a waitress who served him greesy cheeseburgers and a milk shake.

Despite expecting a bona fide horror story, I still managed to have quite a great time with this one. Dean's character development is eminently likable and all the characters are quite humorous in their own right, even Del Payne's dog, Scootie. This novel contains some really witty repartee between the characters and it's quite humorous, mostly, which will elicit a few smiles and maybe some chuckles. Despite being a screwball comedy, it does have a very tangible element of suspense especially regarding Del Payne which manages to hold almost till the end.

If you're looking to read something light and breezy and have never tried horror comedy, this novel might be a really good start.

Rating: 3.5/5 (find out about ratings here).

Final Word (Go or no go?): Go!

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Review - Dan Brown -- The Lost Symbol

What?  Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol.

What’s it about? Roberg Langdon getting blackmailed (what? again??) by a tattooed villain to uncover an ancient and powerful secret symbol/artifact which if revealed will have catastrophic consequences on the world. If he doesn't, his friend gets killled (sigh). For some reason, the CIA is involved to ensure the secret is not revealed but mainly they are there to make the proceedings a tad more interesting.

Backcover Description: 
As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol Building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object--artfully encoded with five symbols--is discovered in the Capitol Building. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient invitation . . . one meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom.

When Langdon’s beloved mentor, Peter Solomon--a prominent Mason and philanthropist--is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him. Langdon is instantly plunged into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and never-before-seen locations--all of which seem to be dragging him toward a single, inconceivable truth.

So, is it worth reading?  Perhaps I should not do this review. Why you ask?  Particularly because I'm still vexed by the fact that there's no symbol in the The Lost Symbol (what the ?) and its grandiose preposterousity.  Let's do away with the bad stuff first.  There is no symbol to be found. That's weird, especially for a book titled 'The Lost Symbol'. The novel is filled with bombast and preposterous claims (that shouldn't bother you much, if you're a DB fan like me).  As usual, there are again too many coincidences that keep the plot going. The CIA is along for the ride to make things tad more interesting but it's never particularly clear why the CIA is there.

Despite this, the Lost Symbol is a really taut thriller which can keep you turning pages late at night before realizing that you've already read half the novel.  Dan Brown still remains the author who scrupulously does extensive research and is able to pull off a really taut thriller out of the fringes of religions and history which are particularly messy and turns them into highly readable and enjoyable parts of the story.  The quintessential clever use of geography as a plot device that has been a Dan Brown trademark since Angels & Demons is there and has been utilized particularly well.

If the novel is that good, why was I just lamenting about its, well, lameness? Well, it's preposterous, downright, for starters. Noetic science, now come on.  That's pretty loony, even by Dan Brown standards.  Plus for a book titled The Lost Symbol, it should at least be about a symbol, right? Lost or not. It turns out there was no symbol to begin with. The fact that you just read a 500-odd page book titled 'The Lost Symbol' and (maybe) spent a few sleepless nights reading it and ultimately finding out there is no symbol/artifact or even a secret to be found, let alone 'Lost', is bound to infuriate anybody.

And claiming that the world's most famous scripture which hawkers peddle door-to-door is the world's biggest secret is really stretching it. And of course, it can hardly be termed as 'Lost' or even a 'Symbol' for that matter.

And that's what the problem with Dan's latest novel is.  Even if you're really generous granting liberties in fictional plots (which probably you are, if you're reading this review and read Dan Brown's books), this novel asks for a huge loan on the liberty part, then overdraws on it and defaults on the payments big time, particularly in the end.

Why am I giving it a good rating then? Because once you overlook these shortcomings (and are prepared to be disappointed with the climax), The Lost Symbol remains a taut thriller which has the potential to keep you flipping pages late into the night.

Rating: 4/5 (find out about ratings here).

Final Word (Go or no go?):  Go! (read warnings above though)

Where do I buy this?  See link below.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review - Stephen Coonts Deep Black

What?  Stephen Coonts' Deep Black.

What’s it about?  An ex-marine sniper who joins a deep cover NSA team comprising of a hot undercover agent, a burly one and an expletive-loving helicopter pilot to act as a babysitter (huh?) to them and to prevent a coup to overthrow the present government in Russia. But basically even after reading the novel, it's not clear what he is there for really.

Backcover Description: 
A spy plane gathering data on a new Russian weapon is blown out of the sky by a mysterious MiG.  Is it an accident or the start of the next world war?  One U.S. agency has what it takes to find out—the National Security agency and its covert operations team: Deep Black.

Working for the NSA, ex-Marine sniper Charlie Dean is dispatched to Russia, hooking up with former Delta Force trooper Lia DeFrancesca to find out what happened to the plane.  A Deep Black team stumbles across an even more alarming secret—a plot to assassinate the Russian president and overthrow democratic government by force.  The coup could have dire consequences for Russia and the world.  With no clearance from the government it’s called on to protect, the National Security Agency goes to war.  But before Lia and Dean can unravel the conspiracy, they learn that one of the spy plane’s passengers—an NSA techie—survived the crash.  Critical information could fall into enemy hands.  And that enemy is playing the game to the death.

So, is it worth reading? The backcover description reminds you of early Tom Clancy novels.  Having never heard of Stephen Coonts before, I picked this one on a whim.  The novel starts with Charlie Dean, an ex-marine who is asked by the NSA to join a deep cover special-op team in Russia after one of NSA's spy planes is shot down. The objective? To ensure that the plane is really FUBAR and nothing can be salvaged from its debris. A convincing objective? Didn't convince me.  Anyways, once in Russia the team gets new orders to prevent a coup that CIA intel suggests is imminent.

The plot is asinine for the most part. Most of the time the actions of the characters don't justify the cause and you wonder what exactly the brouhaha is about. The novel starts off at a fast pace as a thriller and you start anticipating for the plot twist or the big bang but unfortunately, it never comes. It's mainly just skedaddling across Russia to follow one objective or the other but the plot just never takes off. And therein lies the inherent problem with the novel.

What Stephen Coonts succeeds in is painting a very real picture of the Russian continent. You could almost imagine yourself along with the protagonists in their wild-goose hunts. But Coonts particularly excels at churning out some really slick repartee, especially among the protagonist and his lust interest, hot NSA agent Lia DeFrancesca. Also, the sexual tension between Charlie Dean and Lia is almost electric but alas, that also is not cashed upon even till the very end.

The novel has some of the best dialogues and repartee that I've ever read and that makes me want to give Mr. Coonts another chance which I guess I will, pretty soon. But somehow, this one is just not it.

Rating: 2.5/5 (find out about ratings here).

Final Word (Go or no go?):  No go.

Where do I buy this?  You don't.  But in case you're interested, see link below.

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