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Ruso and the Demented Doctor

In Book Reviews on December 18, 2013 at 6:00 am
Penguin Books 2009

Penguin Books 2009

Hello, my dears! I’m very much aware that it’s been a couple of weeks since I did a post. Apologies for that. I’ve had a bad case of the winter blahs. You know it’s bad when it takes me two weeks to finish a 463 page book. I just felt really burnt out and listless. I’ve started my holiday already, though, and am already starting to feel refreshed. And I’ve finally finished a book, so woo!

Nutshell blurb: This is a crime novel set in Roman-occupied Britain. Gaius Petreius Ruso is a Roman medicus stationed in Britain who haplessly ends up solving murders.

This is the second book in the series and I’ve gotta say, I’m not really feeling these books. I read the first one┬áin the series earlier this year and when I looked it up on my Goodreads shelf, I noticed that I didn’t give it a rating. I enjoyed both of them, yet I came away feeling strangely unsatisfied.

In this book, Ruso takes his slave girl, Tilla, to a fort up north that is near her family. Just before they arrive, someone is murdered and mystery lands right in the doctor’s lap.

As you might know by now, the stories I love the most are the ones that are character driven. This is why I don’t read a lot of crime stories. I’ve found that in the (admittedly few) crime novels I’ve read that most of the effort seems to go into fleshing out the plot and the details that surround whatever mystery we’re dealing with, leaving the characters feeling a bit shallow or thin. I feel the same way about crime tv shows as well. I particularly love NCIS, Castle and Law and Order as they delve into the relationships and personalities of the people involved rather than just the crimes.

I think that this is perhaps why these stories aren’t fulfilling all of my storytelling needs. I really want to like these books more than I do, which is why I picked up the second one. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a crime story placed in Roman Britain? I can’t fault Ms. Downie’s storytelling abilities. She has a whimsical style that also makes me want to like these books more. There’s just something missing.

Ruso isn’t the best leading character. He is portrayed as an old fuddy-duddy but I think that he’s meant to be in his 20s. I don’t know if his age was ever mentioned. I picture him as an intensely boring middle-aged man in these books. (Let’s be clear that I don’t think that middle-aged men are boring. People of any age can be incredibly dull and this is just how I picture this character.) He doesn’t seem to care about much but just muddles through his life. Tilla, his slave girl, isn’t much better. I’m just not convinced by their interactions with each other and I don’t find either of them sympathetic at all.

I would speculate that my winter blahs might be partially responsible for my reaction to this book except that I read the other one at the beginning of this year and had the exact same reaction to it.

It’s a pretty fun read if you don’t pay too much attention to the characters but my overall reaction to this book is: Meh.

The Dark Half

In Book Reviews on December 4, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Hodder & Stoughton 1989

George Stark. Not a very nice guy.

Nutshell blurb: Thad Beaumont is a writer. He’s written some books under his name and some under the pen name of George Stark. He decides to ‘kill’ George Stark and write only under his own name, but what do you do when your alter ego comes to life and starts killing people?

This book was deliciously creepy and I’m really glad that I’ve decided to renew my relationship with Stephen King. He’s such an amazing writer and has a knack not only for characterisation but also for scaring the bejeezus out of me. I never know who’s going to kick the bucket in his books. It’s usually pretty safe to assume that most of the characters will be killed off. I try to prepare myself for it so that I’m pleasantly surprised if they manage to live through the book.

I liked the premise of this book a lot. A guy’s nom de plume manifests himself as a real person and kills off the people who killed him off. Also, who knew that sparrows could be so sinister?

Mr. King’s timing is impeccable as well. He never reveals things too soon and when he does it always leaves me breathless. He certainly is the master.

I think that one of the aspects of this book that I connected with deeply was the idea of having a darker half wandering around, knowing what you know with the ability to screw your life up monumentally. It makes me wonder what my dark half would be like.

As with most Stephen King books I’ve read, this one is incredibly gory. If that’s not your thing, you might want to steer clear. Otherwise, it’s a thrilling read that kept me gripped until the very end.

Monster Island

In Book Reviews on December 1, 2013 at 5:38 pm
Snowbooks Ltd 2007

Snowbooks Ltd 2007

Nutshell blurb: The world has been taken over by zombies and the only places who have a hope of surviving are the 3rd world nations such as Somalia that are used to fighting. A group of girl soldiers is accompanied by a former UN inspector to find supplies necessary for their survival. They happen upon a zombie who is not like the others; he can still think.

This book has a very interesting premise. Apparently most of us first-world citizens are too soft to face the undead hordes as they overwhelm the earth and it is those who are used to constantly fighting for their survival every day who are best prepared for the zombie infestation. I was really excited when I read that because I expected the bulk of the action to take place in third-world countries such as Somalia, but instead most of the story happens in New York City. (Yes, I realise that the Statue of Liberty is on the cover. I still expected it to be a bit different.) So, I’m not sure what the relevance is of having only the third-world countries surviving unless it was a way of getting a bunch of Somalian girl warriors over to an infested Big Apple. It seemed a bit tenuous, but I was able to suspend my disbelief a bit.

Overall, this book was fun and the writing was pretty good. I felt that there was a lack of description when it came to the action, however. One minute they were holed up in a Virgin Megastore and the next minute they were running for their lives outside. There were quite a few times when all of a sudden something would happen, but I had no idea of how we got there. Sometimes I read really fast which means that I sometimes miss things, but this happened quite often. There was often no explanation as to how we got into certain situations.

The remainder of this post is going to be a bit spoilertastic, so if you don’t want to know what happens, please stop reading now. I’ll keep my spoilerage to a minimum, but there are things I have to tell you so that I can explain what I thought about them.

So, there’s this character called Gary. He was a doctor in NY when the infection hit. (There’s no explanation about how people became zombies, by the way. I can only assume that will happen in subsequent books as this is part of a series.) Anyway, Gary pretty much figured out that there was no way for him to escape the inevitable so he decided to take matters into his own hands. He thought that the reason that the zombies were mindless animals is because there is no oxygen to the brain between death and reanimation. He reasoned that it was only a matter of time before he became one of them so he hooked himself up to a ventilator and threw himself into a tub of cold water. This stopped his heart immediately and he eventually reanimated and still had his intellect. He also somehow formed an attachment to other zombies in that he could control them.

I thought that this was a really cool concept as this is the first book I’ve read that features a zombie with a fully functional brain. It was interesting to see how he acted when he was up against the living. He started out wanting to be a good guy but couldn’t control his tendencies. He teams up with a druid and some Egyptian mummies and goes up against the UN inspector and his team of child soldiers.

I felt as though the author could have explained things more carefully to us, but the action he did describe was gruesome and over the top. It’s definitely not for the squeamish.

Like I said, this book is fun even if there are some things that I question. If I see the next book lying around, I’ll probably give it a go but I probably won’t go out of my way to get it.

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