Month: October 2017

“Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky Review

Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment

Author:  Fyodor Dostoevsky

Translator:  Larissa Volokhonsky

Released:  1866

I don’t reread a lot of books. Typically if I read a book more than once it’s because it’s a book I loved as a kid and haven’t read in years, or it’s a graphic novel that I love (Watchmen, Dark Phoenix Saga or Savage Dragon back issues most come to mind). The first time I read Crime and Punishment was my senior year in high school as part of a class assignment for a class called “Novels.” The class was just what it sounds like; we would read a certain number of pages every night and discuss the previous reading in class the next day. Other books we read for that class included: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, O Pioneers!, The Grapes of Wrath, and David Copperfield. I loved three of these books, liked one and didn’t care for the other, so overall it was a pretty rewarding class.

Fifteen years later, my wife needed a book to fill a slot in her current reading challenge and got the audiobook version ofCrime and Punishment so I figured I’d revisit this book that I really enjoyed in a different format. In a normal year I’ll read about 50-80 books, and I started reviewing them awhile back just because I have trouble remembering the plots on a lot of the books shortly after reading them if they’re not fantastic. Maybe it’s because this was a book that was discussed in the Socratic method for a month, or because I really enjoyed it, but for whatever reason I remembered this book fairly well even before starting it for a reread.

**Plot spoilers follow**

Boiled down to a sentence, Crime and Punishment is the story of a student who kills an old woman and then slowly unravels in his social world. I remembered that plot, but I also had some pretty strong recollections of Raskolnikov’s (the student) theories about the right of some great men to commit crimes, and his subsequent delusions and familial crisis. Subplots involving Raskolnikov’s fixation on a young woman he meets and his friend Razumiknin’s relationship with Dunya (Raskolnikov’s sister) similarly left their imprint on me. Oddly, there were two major plot points that I totally forgot about until rereading. First was that Raskolnikov actually killed two women, as the first victim’s sister shows up during the incident. Second, perhaps the most interesting character in the book is Svidrigailov, the only man who has figured out Raskolnikov’s secret and attempts to elicit a confession.

It was easy to see why I forgot about the second murder, as even throughout this book that victim is treated as more of an afterthought to the death of the wealthy landlord. I’m not sure why I had so little recollection of Svidrigailov’s story arc, as on this reread it was by far my favorite arc in the story. Svidrigailov and Luzhin (Dunya’s fiancé) are the two closest things to an antagonist in this novel, along with Raskolnikov’s own conscience. Both are motivated at times by their attraction to Dunya, though Luzhin’s villainy is more apparent early on and Svidrigailov’s character faults are discovered more slowly. The dynamic is a big part of what makes this such an amazing read, as the protagonist of the book is a repugnant murderer and the antagonists are very flawed men with their own selfish motivations. The fact that everybody gets their own retribution by the end is very satisfying as well.

**End of spoilers**

Doestovsky’s writing style is a combination of play writing and psycho-drama. Every scene in this book could be done on a play stage with probably 5 or fewer people having speaking parts on a stage. However, it’s also written in a manner that would not be interesting to watch as a play, as the dialogue is very long and analytical. The simplicity of this style was more successful for me as a prose novel than as an audiobook, where hearing somebody read these long exchanges could at times sound more inauthentic than in creating the conversation in your head.

Overall I ended up still enjoying the things I liked the first time I read this book, and coming away with even more appreciation for a lot of stuff that I forgot about. As much as I enjoy reading, the thrill of reading a new book and hoping to discover something amazing was rarely as rewarding as revisiting this good read and discovering even more to love than I’d known about before. I can already see myself trying to work a re-read into my current reading schedules based on this experience. For those that enjoyed this book, I would also recommend The Idiot. I read that book, The Brothers Karamazov, and Notes From the Underground based on my enjoyment of this book previously, and felt that The Idiot was just about equally enjoyable to this work.

5-star

Advertisements

“Invincible Vol. 24: The End of All Things (Part 1)” by Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley

Invincible 24

Invincible Vol. 24: The End of All Things (Part One)

Writer:  Robert Kirkman

Artists:  Ryan Ottley

Released:  2017

One of my favorite ongoing comic series is coming to an end. I assume this is the Penultimate Volume of the series, as I know the ongoing series is ending and the title is “The End of all Things: Part 1.” This installment is coming off one of my absolute favorites in the entire series, and it’s obviously setting up the final conclusion so it read as a bit of a letdown compared to what’s come before or will likely come afterwards.

**Spoilers for Invincible up until this point**

The main conflict in this volume arises out of Mark’s grief for the death of a family member in the last installment, and his subsequent return to the conflict against Thragg and the conquering Viltrumites. Along with Atom Eve, he enlists Allen, his dad, Space Racer and a female alien whose name I don’t remember to come up with a plan to combat Thragg. The plan is clever in drawing all the other big Invincible characters back into the story prior to the big conclusion, however it is also pretty hard to believe Mark would be willing to risk the battleground becoming the one he ends up selecting.

Another installment, another (apparent at this point) major character death, however along with Mark’s prior relative, this one was pretty predictable in terms of casualties (let’s just say it’s a fairly superheroic cliche at this point). The most interesting parts of the story going on at the moment are Thragg’s daughter’s reluctance to blindly follow him, and Robot’s dual plans involving Viltrumite children and getting involved with the space conflict. I’ve been wondering how our heroes would deal with the seeming thousands of Viltrumites when every one that they’ve encountered on their own has been a match for everybody except for Mark, and this volume explains it away in not entirely satisfying manner. Basically, Thragg’s offspring are not fully powered up, so they’re easier to kill in hand to hand combat.

I’m focusing on the negative here, because the rest of the story has been so wonderful for fifteen years now that I’m very eager to see how Kirkman decides to end it. At this point, even a total dud or ambiguous ending won’t take this one off my list of great series to reread or recommend to others. Grading the series as a whole, it’s one of the bests. Grading just this installment, this was just OK.

3-star

“The Angel Chronicles, Vol. 1” by Nancy Holder Review

Angel Chronicles 1

The Angel Chronicles Vol. 1

Author:  Nancy Holder

Released:  1998

There are a set of Buffy novelizations that are coming up in my reading order that focus on one of the supporting characters in the Scooby gang. Each book selects a few episodes that feature the chosen character prominently and do a novelization of those episodes. The Angel Chronicles is obviously about Angel and featured a two paragraph framing device prior to the first episode and another one after the final one that didn’t add anything to the story but served to remind the reader that they had indeed just read a book of stories about Angel.

The three episodes revisited in this book are “Angel,” “Reptile Boy,” and “Lie to Me.” I recalled the first two pretty well by their titles just from having watched the series a few times, but the third one didn’t ring any bells until I got to the club of vampire wannabes. As far as episode quality, none are among the best episodes of the series, although “Angel” is certainly one of the more important ones.

In “Angel,” Buffy learns that her mysterious and charming admirer is actually a vampire and the two of them must confront Darla in an abandoned Bronze shootout (this was a first season episode where I imagine budgetary constraints led all fights to taking place in the Bronze). For me the most memorable part of the episode is the crucifix kiss at the end which was nicely detailed in the book. “Reptile Boy” was a fun episode about Buffy and Cordelia being sacrificed to a demon at a frat party, and more than either of the other stories benefitted from this treatment but not for anything Angel related. Here Xander’s jealousy and scheming at the end play well in a prose format. “Lie to Me,” is about an old friend of Buffy’s reappearance and a club of people interested in becoming vampires. As a written story, this one felt the most rushed and the opening scene of Angel and Drusilla is never explained and is an odd story to end the book on.

My biggest problem with this book is that the format seems like such a missed opportunity. If they were going to do quick novelizations all dedicated to one character, more space devoted to that character’s perspective on the events would have been appreciated. The episodes selected range from the episode 7 of season one to episode 7 of season two (13 episodes in between). As a reader it’s a bit jarring to have Buffy fall in love with a guy who lies to her in story one, then won’t go out with her in story two, then is seen kissing another girl in story three, at which point Buffy then decides she loves him. I suspect my enjoyment of these books will depend a lot on the quality of the episode being revisited, but overall I’m not expecting any of these to serve as standouts in the history of Buffy prose novels.

3-star

“The Late Show” by Michael Connelly Review

Late Show

The Late Show

Author:  Michael Connelly

Released:  2017

I was loaned this book by a coworker who knows I’m a big reader. I’ve previously read one book by Michael Connelly and remember it was OK, but don’t remember anything else about it except that I read it before I used Goodreads to track my reading. I’ve generally stayed away from writers that I think of as supermarket specialists (the writers whose books I can find for sale in my local grocery store), and Connelly comes to mind in that group along with guys like James Patterson or Jodi Picoult. But, I’m also a person who never turns down a free book (or an opportunity to talk about it afterwards) so here I go.

First, on the positive side this was a very quick read and had plenty of cliffhangers at the end of chapters to get you turning the page. The book is about a late shift detective and follows her investigating three separate cases that she responds to on one evening. The book takes place over a few days, and she respond to some other calls later on, but primarily all the forward moment of the plot goes back to those first three dispatches: a woman reports her home as been burglarized; a transgender prostitute is beaten nearly to death; and a shooting at a club leaves 5 dead.

Of the three mysteries, the latter two take up the bulk of the plot. Renee Ballard is a former journalist and relentless worker and two of the mysteries don’t even take a lot of work to solve. (When I say relentless, I mean over the course of about a week, I can think of her not working on five occasions: twice by sleeping, twice by surfing and once for a family dinner.) Besides the mysteries Ballard throws herself into, there is also some drama in the former of a corrupt Lieutenant that Ballard shares history with with she was sexually harassed by him and then demoted as a result of reporting the incident.

As a page turning action story this book completely succeeded in keeping my attention and making me want to keep reading. As a mystery story this was a letdown however. I figured out the main mystery as soon as the suspect was introduced as a character, and the two smaller cases Ballard is working are solved by her by running records checks and are never something the reader can figure out. (Those are more realistic than most mystery stories but they also take a lot of the fun out of the genre.) The biggest mystery for me even went unsolved (how a certain villain knew Ballard was on to her and how to take advantage… I suspected the predictable secret villain was behind it but it was never answered one way or another. Possibly coming in a sequel?). I’ll judge the book more on what it delivered than what I expected prior to reading it, so overall I enjoyed it.

4-star

“Thinner” by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) Review

Thinner

Thinner

Author:  Steven King

Released:  1984

Along with ChristineThinner is the Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) book whose concept made me think “he’s scraping the bottom of the barrel with that.” Well before reading the book, I felt like I had enough an idea of how this book would go and that I’d never need to read it. However, at some point I thought it would be fun to read all of King’s work, so I didn’t end up skipping over this one. The fact that Christine ended up being a very pleasant surprise probably got my hopes up too much for this one, because indeed, this is just a book about a fat guy who gets cursed and loses weight throughout the book.

Ok, so there’s a LITTLE more plot than that, but not much. The fat guy is an attorney named William who was getting a handjob from his wife when an old gypsy woman jaywalked into his car’s path. Most likely, if the driver wasn’t being serviced, or if the gypsy wasn’t jaywalking, or if any other tiny detail were changed the accident would have been avoided. But, it happened, and the officers that showed up didn’t really investigate it, and the judge ends up throwing the case out, and everybody just wants the Gypsies to leave town and the incident to be forgotten.

For the Gypsies however, there is no forgiveness, no chance of it being forgotten. As the protagonist finds himself losing weight a few lbs a day, the sheriff finds his face erupting into boils and severe acne, and the judge develops an interesting skin condition (that probably would have led to a more interesting story than this one if King switched the pages to character ratio). The villain is certainly fun here; a 100+ year old Gypsy, stubborn as can be, and his traveling carny relatives were much more memorable than anything else in the story.

In order to stretch this idea out into novel length, King spends a lot of time on tracking the gypsies from town to town over the course of a few weeks. This section of the book really tested my interest, as there’s only so many times you can read about other people cringing and walking away from the sickly stranger in town before wanting to walk away and read about literally anything else. While the introduction of a criminal underworld character to assist the protagonist helped catapult the plot forward and provide some fun action scenes, I found his entire character arc (from willingness to jump into the plot through his final scene of handiwork) to be less believable than the concept of a gypsy curse for weight loss.

Conversely, the scenes of William and his wife dealing with this unique problem, and William’s attitudes towards his wife (who he blames first for causing the accident and later for everybody who doesn’t believe him) were the source of the most character development and realistic aspects found in the book. Much like in The Shining, some of the scariest moments come not from anything supernatural but from the capacity for hate from the protagonist.

**Slight spoilers follow**

I found the end of the book to be a bit of a letdown, as it seemed there were two routes King could have gone that would have felt more satisfactory. There were two possible targets in the house that a curse could be transferred to, and choosing either one would have been either 1) a compelling 180 with William turning from good guy dad/husband to vengeful villain, or 2) a devastating final victory for the Gypsy patriarch. King opted for a third option to spread the love around and while it is certainly fatalistic I think it lacked the impact that one of the other two options would have provided.

3-star

“Sharpe’s Regiment” by Bernard Cornwell Review

Sharpe's Regiment

Sharpe’s Regiment

Author:  Bernard Cornwell

Released:  1986

Sharpe’s Regiment could be subtitled Sharpe versus the London Bureaucracy. Most Sharpe books follow a familiar formula, where Sharpe must overcome a plot by the French or French supporters that will involve a battle or two. Along the way Sharpe will best a superior officer who underestimates him because he’s not a gentlemen and have sex with a woman that all the other officers lust after and would otherwise seem out of Sharpe’s social strata. Up until this point, the most that formula has diverged has been in Sharpe’s Trafalgar (where the action took place via a naval battle), and Sharpe’s Prey (which featured Sharpe operating as an intelligence officer in Denmark). In Sharpe’s Regimentthere are echoes of the familiar tropes, but for most of the book it is a very nice departure from the standard Sharpe setting that still feels true to the characters.

After Wellington’s successful campaign in Spain, the French forces have been driven out of the country and it appears there will be some downtime in the action. With no need for Richard Sharpe’s expertise on the battlefield, Sharpe is dispatched back to England to find the missing reinforcements owed to the South Essex. From my memory, this is only the third return to his homeland through 17 books in the series (once to get married, another trip was to his old boy’s home that he grew up in), but those were both minor scenes in their respective stories. Aside from a prologue and epilogue, the rest of the story is spent in England in a very different setting than the usual battlefield. Sharpe gets to have dinner with a prince, be honored at a theater, and receive countless other accolades as a hero returning to his native land.

The tension in the book comes from the question of where the South Essex reinforcements are located? According to some in the military, they are merely a “paper army,” existing only as a theoretical allotment in bookkeeping. Sharpe doesn’t buy it, and to investigate he, Harper and one other officer go and enlist under fake names and see where the trail leads. The cast of characters in this book is mostly new faces, with several inexperienced recruits falling into fun archetypes (the educated one, the one with the dog, the complainer, etc.) and evil officers in the British ranks.

Some of the best moments in the book come from the unique position of Sharpe and Harper needing to be deserters, or needing to shoot back in a situation where they don’t want to kill British soldiers. It’s easy to predict the comeuppance that will occur once their true identities are revealed but it doesn’t diminish the fun of seeing Sharpe and Harper gloat over those that wronged them. Less successful are Sharpe’s romantic exploits, which include a woman seemingly created solely to facilitate the drama, and the return of one of Sharpe’s dream girls (Jane) who was not particularly memorable in her first appearance. Cornwell struggles to make her interesting, even writing how Sharpe senses the repartee that will be forthcoming between Jane and Harper, while not delivering any actual memorable moments. Also, it feels as though Cornwell felt obligated to deliver one large battle which seemed out of place with the rest of story. Overall though, this was not only the most unique book in the series thus far, but a fun adventure that felt true to the characters.

4-star