Book Reviews

Fish — A Graphic Novel Review

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Fish! With legs!!

FishFish by Peter Kielland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was given Fish as the next step up in my using graphic novels as part of my reading rehab. A traumatic brain injury — a concussion type — had stolen my ability to read books. I remained literate, just couldn’t read. It’s a too-common problem unaddressed by health care professionals who think the band-aid solution is just fine. It’s not. In discussions with a psychology professor, we thought graphic novels may help my ability to see, conceptualize, and follow a plot. Take the text out and maybe my brain can process ideas. The first one worked well, so on to this one!

Uh, well . . .

Fish was bizarre!

I began each weekly reading session, recalling out loud what I’d read so far. I read four, five, or six pages, recalling each page out loud at the end of it. I tried to motivate myself to handwrite a summary at some point during the week. And I struggled to understand what the heck was happening; then as I began to understand the what, I continued to flail at understanding why and what it all meant. It revealed to me (because health care people taking care of my brain aren’t working with me on this, so it’s just me myself and I figuring this whole thing out) that I have trouble building up the picture of a story not because it’s presented in text but because my brain can’t do it, period. This also means I can’t understand concepts that have depth to them. And Fish ain’t a superficial, silly story about a fish with legs that ends up in a city! Each scene means something. The sequence of the scenes is probably important. Being able to not only recall but also to tie the scenes and dream sequences together, to be able to remember a scene from early on and tie it to something much further on in the book, is necessary to “see” the big picture and understand a concept being built up.

But as I worked at reading four pages at a time, then eventually six pages — always reading to the edge of my fatigue — little bits of what the author meant by the dream sequence of Calvary and other scenes began to populate the big blank in my mind, like filling in a jigsaw puzzle. Mid-October, it was still difficult for me to see the point of the story, the story arc, and the plot. But after a break during most of November while I wrote a novel, I returned to it in November’s last weekend and surprised myself by how much I recalled and how I suddenly understood concepts I hadn’t before. Boggled!

Being able to understand the theme somewhat abruptly changed the book in my mind from being a chore I had to slog through to being slightly curious to see what would happen to Fish next.

The following weekend, as I reread the previous four pages I’d read then read the last five pages of the book, much more of that jigsaw puzzle filled in. I still don’t have a solid feeling of the book. It’s like seeing the author’s ideas through blackened glass with pieces cleared here and there, but it’s enough for me to feel pretty good about my reading progress and to sense the author was making some rather pointed comments.

As for the book . . . it’s strange and disturbing. I’m not a fan of that kind of drawing style. I admit that I could have benefitted from discussing it with someone, in the way that using a new word in conversation three times helps one understand and remember the word. Those kinds of discussions as I progressed through the book may have made me appreciate Fish’s story more. But, again, to be honest, the drawing style kind of repelled me. Only as I’ve digested the book, gotten away from seeing the pictures so that the character of Fish emerges stronger, do I feel sorry for Fish while admiring how he reveals the people around him.

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Book Reviews

Review: Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories

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Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories: A Hercule Poirot Collection with Foreword by Charles Todd
Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories: A Hercule Poirot Collection with Foreword by Charles Todd by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A lot of these I’d read before because they are published in other books of hers. For that reason, if you haven’t read Christie’s short stories featuring Poirot, then this is a good book or ebook to read. But if you have, you’ll be flipping through the book a lot…unless you’ve read her shorts once a long time ago or like to reread familiar stories over and over.

The one interesting addition to familiar material is seeing where they were originally published. And there were a few stories I hadn’t read before and enjoyed getting to know.

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Book Reviews

Review: Aban’s Accension

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Aban's Accension
Aban’s Accension by Shireen Jeejeebhoy
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

After talking to fellow indie writers on Twitter, I posted Aban’s Accension on Wattpad for feedback. The response was overwhelming, and I was particularly affected by readers who shared how Aban’s story affected them. I’m pleased to say that by the end of 2013, it is professionally edited and out in paperback, ePub, and Kindle.

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Book Reviews

Review: Crime Machine

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Crime Machine
Crime Machine by Giles Blunt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s been awhile since the last book came out in the Cardinal series, and I wanted to see what happened to him after those tragic events when I saw Crime Machine ebook in the library. But I must say: Blunt has quite the gruesome imagination. I wondered at one point if I wanted to continue reading Crime Machine. I did because I wanted to see the “why” of the events, to see what would happen to the characters in jeopardy, and to see how long it would take Cardinal to solve the crime. In the end, the motivation for the murder(s) was explained; yet it kind of felt…strange, like it wasn’t quite plausible. I suppose that was maybe because the original event was not explained satisfactorily. In the context of the plot, it couldn’t be, tis true that, and so it’s up to the reader to decide, to think it through. But as vivid as my imagination can get, I wasn’t able to make it make sense. And frankly, maybe I wasn’t in the right head space in the context of my own life. Perhaps if I was reading it on a quiet Sunday afternoon, I’d have come at it from a different perspective and thus be more open to thinking through the motivation. In any case, I’m not sure if I want to continue reading this series, even if I do love the Canadian context and settings. I’ll think on it!

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Book Reviews

Review: Death of a Dude

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Death of a Dude
Death of a Dude by Rex Stout
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Boy, is this ever a different kind of Nero Wolfe book. There’s no brownstone, barely any fine cooking, no orchids, and most amazing of all, Wolfe is out and about. The book is set in Montana, so Wolfe having to travel is a given. But it’s fun to read how Wolfe conducts himself and copes with this unexpected turn of events.

Archie Goodwin really comes into his own here, and we get a deeper glimpse into his private life than we normally would. A thoroughly enjoyable read for Goodwin fans like me.

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Book Reviews

Review: The Brass Verdict

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The Brass Verdict
The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m pretty sure I read this book already, but I enjoyed reading it again. I like how Connelly brings in the protagonist of his other series and creates tension in the reader to see when the lawyer will figure out the cop, how much longer it will take the lawyer than the reader.

This series is good escapist fare. I’ve placed a hold on the next book in the series at the library already.

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Book Reviews

Review: Blind Descent

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Blind Descent
Blind Descent by Nevada Barr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anna Pigeon is always beaten up so much, one would think she’d be permanently concussed, bruised, and broken. But she’s made in the style of 1970s’ male TV action heroes: gets a lickin and keeps on bouncing back up, albeit limping.

I like this series for its sticking to one viewpoint, not bouncing around between villain and heroine, which I find takes me right out of the story. I also like the slightly anti-social heroine, and the way she sets about solving a mystery or two. And I particularly like how this series introduces the reader to a different park and a different environment in every book in the series. In this one, it’s caves. I got a bit lost in the details, but I certainly had no trouble envisioning the darkness and claustrophobia of the caves Barr describes.

Publishers do this anti-reader thing of not supplying series in order or all of the published books to date, starting from the beginning, to libraries. Very annoying. And so since I wanted to read another Anna Pigeon book, I had to skip two in the series as the Toronto Public Library didn’t have them in stock in their ebook collection. It’s not so bad skipping a book or two in a series like Poirot by Agatha Christie, but Nevada Barr doesn’t keep her heroine static; Anna Pigeon grows and matures and changes throughout the series. Miss a book, and you miss a part of her life. Luckily, I seemed to have missed only one small thread of her story, and it didn’t impede my thorough enjoyment of another adventure in Anna’s life.

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Book Reviews

Review: Until Proven Guilty

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Until Proven Guilty
Until Proven Guilty by J.A. Jance
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Borrowed the ebook from the library. Whizzed through it during my staycation, rolling my eyes for some part of it. You see, I thought he was a bit of a twit at first. But Jance is a skillful writer who knows how to draw a reader into the characters. She turned my antipathy and rolling eyes into sympathy and understanding, as well, as harpooning my cynicism. Ahem.

This book was written awhile ago, and I found the need to find payphones and people not being instantly accessible or not having access to Google or specialized searching, a little disconcerting. I had to check the copyright page (1985/1995/2002) to see what era we were in because, other than those details, it read modern! A good beginning to this series, and it left me wanting more.

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Book Reviews

Review: Death in the Age of Steam

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Death in the Age of Steam
Death in the Age of Steam by Bradshaw Mel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I acquired this awhile ago, maybe during Toronto’s Word on the Street when publishers have those last-minute fire sales before the festival ends. It’s been sitting on my bookshelf for ages, but the time came that I needed a break from gritty modern-day British crime and to snooze awhile in 19th century Toronto.

Well, okay, I didn’t snooze. But this book isn’t gritty or realistic either in the sense that everything must be depressing and dour and all despair and cocked up. Instead, it has suspense, romance, history, adventure, and interesting characters. The romance part is central. The protagonist of this tale Isaac Harris is a true white knight. He lost his love to another man, but when she goes missing, he’s the one who hares off searching for her. His search takes us travelling north, south, east, and west of Toronto and into all manner of modern-19th-century conveyances. His conflicts give us a hint of politics pre-Confederation style. And the characters cover every strata of society. Some of the characters, in fact, are so well drawn, that I had to find out if they were real, based on real people. Nope. But they continued to seem like real.

Death in the Age of Steam is a good romp, as they say. My only objection to this book is the exposition. I know, I know, exposition is very 19th century. But this was written in the 21st century for 21st-century readers. We get bored. Fast. Exposition is good and needed at times, but is not so hot when dialogue suddenly turns into exposition. It confuses the reader as well as deflating the conflict or emotion between characters that the dialogue had been creating. The exposition-instead-of-dialogue got entirely too much, and I have to admit, I skipped a few bits just so that I could get back to the action. But all in all a good tale with a good ending. Definitely liked the ending!

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