Flash Reviews: A Man Called Ove & The Days of Tao

It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to post so I’m doing two quick reviews right now.

First up is A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. This is a book from my book club and I absolutely loved it. I thought it was what I like to refer to as “beautifully sad”. A widower appears to be just a cranky old man but when new neighbors move in, Ove turns out to be more than anyone expected. This book was sweet, sentimental, and sad. When done right, those three elements make for a compelling story and this book does that. An excellent read.

Next, The Days of Tao, by Wesley Chu. This is a novella that is an offshoot of Chu’s Tao series. Tao’s next host, Cameron Tan, is thrown into unexpected action and the battle between Prophus and the Genjix goes to a global level. Being a novella, this book is a quick read and enough of a taste of how Cameron is dealing with being a host for Tao. It also offers a small tidbit of info on another of Chu’s book, The Rise of Io. This is a fun book if you are a fan of Chu’s Tao series (which I highly recommend).

Eight days into 2017 and I’m two books in. Hope to keep up the pace!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Life suReady Player Onecks in 2044.  Most people live their lives via the virtual reality world OASIS – a free online, VR place for people to “live”. Wade Watts spends almost every minute of his waking life there, hoping to find a better life in a fake world.  When the creator of OASIS, James Halliday (who was also the richest man alive), dies he leaves a puzzle within OASIS where, after someone finds all three hidden keys, that person will inherit Halliday’s money.  Needless to say, this starts a frenzy of action since everyone desperately wants to be the winner. Wade doesn’t realize his quest for the keys will be fraught with danger and unexpected surprises.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, was recommended to me by a friend.  I have to admit the synopsis I read for the book didn’t sound all that enticing to me. I’m not a gamer and I had a hard time thinking that a book based in a VR gaming world could be good. But I gave it a shot anyway since I usually end up enjoying books this friend recommends. Happily,  I wasn’t disappointed with this one.

RPO is loaded with 80’s nostalgia and reading this book was like a trip down memory lane for me.  Cline is spot on with his references and you can tell he actually lived though and grew up in the 80’s rather than researched the 80’s. The James Halliday character set up his game so that those trying to find the keys would have to have almost the same knowledge of the 80’s as he did.  This means that Wade has spent hours upon hours watching, reading, listening, and researching every single pop culture, and non-pop culture, eventh, thing, or moment that happened in the 80’s. This isn’t to say Wade doesn’t have any friends.  Well, not in the real world at least.  He’s got a few close friends within OASIS, though no one has ever met the other in person.

And that is the basis of this book.  Not the 80’s tsunami of information or the additive world of gaming and VR.  It’s the strong relationships that are formed within OASIS that is the driving force. One can live in a fake world but one still needs to have other people to talk to, to get to know, to feel a connection with, even if they’ve never met face to face. The strength of Wade’s relationship is what makes him a likable person and helps him on his quest for the keys.

The first quarter of the book is very heavy with tech references. This is necessary since the book needs to set the VR world and explain how it works, how others interact within it, and how dependent upon it everyone appears to be.  Once you get past the techy stuff, the book progresses nicely and becomes more interesting.  Wade goes up against a mega corporation that wants to win the quest so that they can then start charging people to use OASIS. The struggle between Wade and the corporation forces Wade to get to know his VR friends on a much higher lever and work together in order to have a chance at winning.

I was pleasantly surprised with this book and was very happy to have read it. RPO is more about the strength of relationships, even if you’ve never met in person, not allowing yourself to become isolated due to fears of rejection, the never-ending corporate greed, and a tiny bit about the environment.I highly recommend this book, even if you don’t find video games or VR interesting. This book has so much more to it and is well worth the read.

You Killed Wesley Payne by Sean Beaudoin

wpid-20151021_074540.jpgDalton Rev rolls into town to work on the case he was hired for – to find out who killed Salt River the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015High student Wesley Payne. Salt River’s not the typical high school. The staff and faculty are all on the take and the various high school cliques are all out to get each other and would think nothing of trying to off someone. Even the town cops are crooked. All this makes for a tangled web of “who done it” that Dalton has to untie. Everyone’s a suspect. Dalton also gets tangled up in a story of his own while working on the Payne case, which complicates things a bit. But Dalton relies on his trusty private detective handbook to find his way out of the mess as well as help to find Payne’s killer.

You Killed Wesley Payne, by Sean Beaudoin, is a very unique crime-noir novel that was an interesting read.

What’s good: Dalton Rev is a cool kid. I really liked him and would love to read more books with this character. He’s witty, charming, smart, and not afraid to stand up to someone. Aspects that are required for any good detective.

The characters in the book were fun to get to know and held just enough mystery to keep you wanting to find out more. Periodic flashbacks offer insights into Dalton’s background and the reason why he’s a seventeen year old detective who hops from school to school to work on cases.

The hardcover slipcase offers extensive detail on Salt River’s cliques and a provides insight into which ones get along and the typical people found in each one. And the over all story is a fun crime, who-done-it.

What’s not so good: The cliques were hyper clichés of what is found in high school and that really got in the way of the story. At times I found it hard to read past what clique drama was happening and get to the real story. They might have been a deliberate distraction to hide the story of who the killer was, but I found it hard to read through things.

The reason for Wesley Payne’s death was brought up with minor background and caught me off guard a bit. I guess that is a good thing in a crime novel, but it seemed to take such a backseat that I found it hard to really connect the dots in the end.

Overall, You Killed Wesley Payne was a good read that had some great aspects. Some might find the hyper cliché of the cliques hard to get past and may not be able to get to the real story. The main character, Dalton Rev, is an instantly likable character that is a delight to read about and a good soul. The clique chart had me laughing out loud and is definitely worth the hardcover copy. The overall story is interesting, but will take a bit of effort to get to. If you are willing to take a chance on a different type of crime noir, this book is for you.

Redshirts by John Scalzi

It’s twpid-20151021_074435.jpghe year 2465 and Andrew Dahl has just joined the crew of the ship Intrepid as part of the xenobiology lab.  Dahl will have a the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015chance to serve on away missions with the ship’s captain and a few other high level officers. Only, things seem a bit odd.  Dahl’s lab mates seem evasive and conveniently disappear whenever the captain makes an appearance.  Dahl has also noticed that away missions tend to always involve a deadly alien encounter, the captain, along with a handsome lieutenant and three other high-ranking crew members, always survives, and a low-level crew member always dies on an away mission. Always.

What’s goodRed Shirts by John Scalzi is a humorous riff on old sci-fi shows and I really enjoyed the idea behind it.  Scalzi writes instantly likable characters who try to figure out what is going on with their ship while trying to avoid getting killed themselves. It’s a tad campy at times but I took it that it’s supposed to be that way. It’s a quick read and I did chuckle/laugh out loud a few times. After the end the are three codas told in first, second, and third person points of view. These three codas (the original name of the book is Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas) focused on three later characters and were all exceptionally written and very heartfelt.  I almost teared up during one of them and I dare say I liked the codas even better than the main book.

What’s not so good: Well, not much really.  The only thing that I didn’t enjoy was an over reliance on the use of “….he/she said.” I found it a tad distracting that almost every time there was a line of dialogue from someone, the line would be identified with “…Dahl said; …the captain said…”, etc. I actually started to omit reading those qualifiers as the book went along. Other than that, I found the book to be very enjoyable.

I don’t want to give away too much of the book since the reason for the crew members always dying and the high-ranking officers always surviving is a goofy, fun reveal that sets the plot for the rest of the story.  Redshirts was a fun, fast read that had likable characters and a good ending. The three codas were standouts for me, though I certainly enjoyed the whole book.  If you are looking for a fun, sci-fi read, or just an enjoyable read, I highly recommend Redshirts. You shouldn’t be disappointed.

The Andy Cohen Diaries – by Andy Cohen

wpid-20151003_100834.jpgAndy Cohen’s latest book, The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year, is, on its face, a shallow look at a year of the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015Andy’s life.  However, dig a bit deeper while reading this book and you can see that there is a bit more to Andy Cohen than party hopping, name dropping, and drinking.  Cohen cares deeply about the city he lives in, has a wonderful relationship with his parents, and seemingly became a better person after adopting his dog Wacha.

Admittedly, no one should read this book expecting a stellar literary experience (though it is well written). What you can except to read about is Cohen’s party life, his drama dealing with various Housewives (from Bravo’s various Real Housewives of… series), and his struggle to get in shape. All of this is a fun read. Cohen has a close circle of (famous) friends who play a big part in his life. He also has a great relationship with his parents, who are a big part of his life as well.  His search for companionship brings Wacha, his rescued Beagle mix, into his world, which allows the reader to see Cohen is capable of finding love. Throughout the book Cohen laments the gentrification of his beloved NYC – local businesses being pushed out by sky-high rents, chain stores or franchises replacing mom and pop type stores, etc. – all of which serve to take away what makes NYC unique.

The last two items, Wacha and his sadness of the changing storefronts of local NYC, were the most interesting part for me to read. Sure it’s fun to read about Cohen partying with Kelly Ripa and her husband, his European vacation with AC (Anderson Cooper), and his Met Ball experience with Sarah Jessica Parker, but a diary should connect on a personal level as well. Cohen does that when he talks about Wacha – when it sunk in that Wacha was in a kill shelter and how, after initially having Wacha live with him for a few days, he knew Wacha was his dog –  his own romance with NYC, and his love for his hometown baseball teams, the St. Louis Cardinals. These items are why I found Diaries to be a fun read.

Diaries is a fun read, and while shallow (as the title says), lets the reader see what Cohen cares about.  Family, friends, Wacha, and love are the things that really appear to touch Cohen’s life. That’s what makes this book interesting and a bit less shallow.

The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Child wpid-20150823_142426.jpgpsychologist Dr. Anya Molokova has moved back to her hometown of Dublin, Ireland and works at MacNeice the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015House, an adolescent mental health treatment center. She is asked to meet and assess Alex Connolly, a 10-year-old whose mother is hospitalized due to her latest suicide attempt.  Alex has been self-harming, disruptive, and claims his imaginary friend, Ruen, is a demon and the one making him act the way he does.  Anya has seen this behavior before and believes it is early on set schizophrenia, which Anya witnessed in her own daughter Poppy. While assessing and observing Alex, Anya starts to see strange things and she begins to question her diagnosis, making her wonder if Ruen is really real.  The true diagnosis turns out to be shocking and not what Anya expected at all.

Wow. I could not put this book down, reading it in two days. The Boy Who Could See Demons was compelling, well written, and made me want to keep reading to find out what was going to happen. I found both main characters, Anya and Alex, easy to relate to, even though I have no personal experience with either psychology or schizophrenia.  The pace of the book was very fast but not distracting. Anya’s story about her own daughter’s fight with schizophrenia was emotional and heart-breaking, making her desire to help Alex all the more difficult.

Alex’s demon, Ruen, at times seemed so real I couldn’t help thinking that Alex wasn’t imagining things.  Alex is a very grown up 10-year-old, having to deal with his unstable mother almost his entire life, and that made his interactions with Anya as well as Ruen all the more believable.  Ruen is what one would imagine a demon to be – manipulative, cruel, and deceptive.  Ruen makes Alex ask questions of Anya that would be impossible for Alex to come up on his own, thus enveloping Anya into Ruen’s dastardly plans. To say too much more would give too much of the story away.

The very end of the book takes a wholly unexpected turn that I absolutely did not see coming. This ending, however, did not make me mad and I thought it made sense.  After reading this book I did some searching of other reviews to read what others thought of it.  I found out that the UK version of this book, which was the original publication, is different from the US version. Needless to say this discovery drove me batty.  I now need to pick up a copy of the UK version so I can read the author’s original intent and ending to see how things differ.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to many others to read, though it may not appeal to everyone. Schizophrenia is not a light topic and The Boy Who Could See Demons approached it in a very real manner.  This is a fiction book but I kept thinking to myself it could easily be an account of a real person.  The imagery was vivid and I thought the author wrote about the subject manner with a great amount of respect and care.

Hostile Takeover by Shane Kuhn

HostileTakeoverWhat’s an amiable assassin to do when the woman he loves tries to kill him and the company he’s worked for all his life betrays him? the-mad-reviewer-reading-challenge-2015Why, marry that woman and aggressively take over the betraying company, of course. John Lago, the likable assassin from The Intern’s Handbook, is back in Hostile Takeover, by Shane Kuhn.  This time John is fighting for a life with Alice while at the same time trying to get Human Resources, Inc., running in his vision.  Though things don’t go as smoothly as John would like.  Helming HR, Inc. with Alice is troublesome.  Alice wants to run things her way while John wants it to go another way.  Add to that a mysterious client whom Alice is not willing to reveal to John, and you have trouble in paradise.

Hostile Takeover (HT) is the second book in the John Lago series.  I wouldn’t call this a sequel since the story stands on its own and there’s enough background on John and Alice’s past you don’t need to read the first book (though, I highly recommend you do).  HT offers more depth into John’s character and is really about John and Alice’s relationship.  Running a company is hard enough.  Throw your spouse into it and things get downright contentious.  John and Alice start things off great and the honeymoon stage is everything John dreamed of.  However when John and Alice get started with the business side of their relationship, things go downhill fast.  John has a weakness of not taking people out when he should, and that comes back to bite him in the ass in the most inopportune moment.  Alice is a cutthroat as ever, as well as a bad-ass who shouldn’t be messed with. John’s got a real battle on his hands this time around.

I’ve read comparisons where Shane Kuhn is said to be in the same vein as Quentin Tarantino in terms of the feel of his books (Dexter is another but I haven’t read/seen either so won’t speak to that).  I think Kuhn is more along the lines of Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico). Kuhn’s stories have more substance and intelligence to them than coincidence and luck (Tarantino vs. Rodriguez).  HT has a bit of a slower pace than Intern’s Handbook, but the action sequences are well written and easy to visualize. John Lago is a fun and enjoyable character who is determined to find happiness in his life. Kuhn does a good job of tying things up at the end, while also leaving room for future stories to happen.

I highly recommend Hostile Takeover (as well as The Intern’s Handbook). It’s a good, enjoyable read, with a likable main character who is easy to root for.