May 2010


I’ve not been a very active blogger this month.  With a myriad things that came my way plus being in the midst of preparing for a life presentation for my grandmother who turned 100 years old  yesterday,  my hands were just too full for posting reviews.

But here’s one for a book I just couldn’t resist plucking off the store’s shelf.  I’m a fan of Michael Crichton for his story-telling versatility.   As an author who never seemed to have written about the same thing in his entire career,  his fiction would careen from  corporate politics to dinosaurs, from global warming to aircraft investigations.  After his death, I sadly thought I had read the last of his stories.

But surprise, surprise!  Someone discovered a full manuscript in his hard drive ; hence this new book.  Of course, I just had to have it….

Author :  Michael Crichton

Publication Date :  January 1, 2009  (Hardcover)

Publisher :  Harper Harper Collins Publishers

ISBN-10: 0061929379

ISBN-13: 978-0061929373



The Story :

It’s the mid-seventeenth century, a time of profitable privateering in which a man could make his fortune if he were daring enough to do so.   At the English colony of Port Royal in Jamaica, Captain Jack Hunter sets his sights on the impregnable Spanish dominated  island of Matanceros where a galleon sits at anchor, heavily laden with treasure.

Never mind if the island is infamous  for its unconquerable reputation with a fearsome protector, Callas,  its terrifying canons and 300 men at arms.  Assembling a crew with special skills, Hunter attempts to take the island and its treasure by the very route which has remained impassable to all.  Up unassailable walls, through fetid jungles, and in terror-filled waters, these pirates fight to steal treasure and glory, enough to satisfy all who love excitement in tall tales.

The Review :

This latest written creation,  discovered  among the late author’s  memoirs, is a jolly romp in the high seas for those who get a kick out of shallow entertainment.  The plot is complete with everything a  tall tale of a  pirate story should have :  treasure, kraken, damsel in distress, and risks Indiana Jones would have envied.    If you’re looking for realism, this wouldn’t be up your alley.  Plus, don’t expect any depth or multi-facets in any of the characters either.  There aren’t any.

The story reads like it were Crichton’s first attempt at novel-writing — amateurish, bumbling.   I guess there must have been a good reason why this book remained in the author’s  hard drive.  I don’t think he meant to publish it yet or it wasn’t ready for publishing.  Perhaps, this book is still in its drafting stage because although it has a compete enough outline for a story, it just didn’t feel finished.   It  definitely isn’t up  to the standards of a Crichton novel,  given that his plots are always so much better  thought out than this.

In other words, this book is a big COULD HAVE BEEN , and it’s sad that this is all it can remain to be — a potential.

But a thought just occurred — the book may not be too bad as a YA novel.  Its very shallowness and swashbuckling appeal  would just be grade-A with action-inclined youngsters.  In hindsight, it’s quite good if I had approached it with that genre in mind.  But, I was expecting the same style for the usual Crichton target readers.

Despite what I’ve said though, I admit Pirate Latitudes was still rather mildly entertaining and a breezy read.  I just wish the author were still around to refine  it to  a  marvelous adventure-thriller.

In A Nutshell :

This may be great with teeners.    Read if you must;  you might enjoy it for the moment.   Just don’t purchase a hardbound.

My Mark :  Mediocre — Ok

A respite from the fantasy-like quality of reading imposed by my two challenges.  So on to science fiction in the realm of epidemiology for a little more reality hashed into the fiction.

Author :  Juris Jurjevics

First Publication Date :  August 18, 2005  (Hardcover)

Publisher :  Viking Adult

ISBN-10: 0670034371

ISBN-13: 978-0670034376

No. of Pages :  416

The Story :

Something has killed four prominent scientists at the Trudeau station, a marvel of a habitat built  for the harsh environs of the Arctic.   Top scientists around the world who had come to the station to study this inhospitable frontier, are at a loss to explain the gruesome deaths of their colleagues.   The unknown “bug”  leaves its victims with their pupils missing and their bodies horribly contorted from excruciating spasms.

As an answer to the station’s plea for help, top epidemiologist Dr. Jessica Hanley braves the perils of the Arctic in winter to discover the nature and cure for the new disease.  No mean feat this, but on top of it, Dr. Hanley discovers a plan to sabotage her mission.  She must protect her work to find the “bug” and its cure as quickly as possible.

The Review :

The Trudeau Vector is a  biothriller with loads of  fascinating trivia.  It’s the trivia that thrills primarily over the formulaic plot.   It seems the author didn’t think much of the story line and simply followed what worked in the past with others.  He also does that “evil Russian” subplot to add  to the thrill  of the chase.   Corny but then again your concentration isn’t riveted on this angle.  It’s all on what malignant vector this author had cooked up.

What I think Jurjevics wanted to do was pack the book chock-full of info about the Arctic and epidemiology.   It really isn’t tedious if you were interested in the premise of diseases and environments in the first place. 

Take these little factoids:

“…Remember, viruses can’t really die.  They are not alive; they can’t reproduce unless they have living cells to hijack and turn into virus factories.  But toss the pieces of a virus in a test tube with living cells and it recombines, self-assembles, resurrects.”  — p. 191

“Inuit can’t do milk. We don’t have the extra enzymes to process it…”  —- p. 282

“…So what else is unusual about Inuit physiology, besides no body hair?”…” An extra artery near the heart.  Supposed to keep us warm.  We’re mostly right-handed, rarely left.  And we have small hands…”  — p.283

Some of you may want to know about the characters.  Well, character building is mediocre at best but not bad; however, Jurjevics does not make it clear what his characters are thinking.  For instance, the reader will be surprised why Dr. Hanley would  suddenly feel  like going to bed with one of the Trudeau scientists without a hint nor clue as to why she would.  Perhaps, depth is not much of an issue where thrillers are concerned, as action pacing is of prime importance.  In this, Jurjevics succeeds as the action unfolds in very good strides so that you do get engrossed in the novel.

For a debut novel, The Trudeau Vector is quite good and comes across as very well researched.  On the premise that it is so, then I have learned new things.  And I do love my fiction interspersed with hard facts.

However, I must say that the conclusion, about 5 pages toward the end,  left me a bit unsatisfied as its resolution was somewhat anti-climactic.  I guess I preferred a great bang of an ending to this one.  But then, the conclusion was plausible.  So not much complaint from me.

My Mark :  Very Good







I’m well on my way toward completing my two challenges way ahead of schedule :  Spring Reading Thing 2010 and Once Upon A Time IV.    Anansi Boys is my fourth book in a list of five.

Author :  Neil Gaiman

First Edition’s Publication Date : January 1, 2005

First Edition’s Publisher :  Harper Collins

This Edition’s Publication Date :  January 22, 2008 (Paperback)

This Edition’s Publisher :  Harper Perennial

ISBN-10: 0061342394

ISBN-13: 978-0061342394

No. of pages :  368

The Story :

Fat Charlie’s (who really isn’t fat) humdrum, safe, comfortable life goes out of whack the moment he learns of his embarrassing father turning up his toes  on a karaoke stage.  Charlie Nancy had no idea his father was a god; neither the fact that he had a twin.  Now brother Spider, the hip, dashing, cool side of the family has turned up to say hello and is determined to stay.  Problem is, Spider has Charlie’s fiance all starry eyed with him and his boss, seething with murderous revenge.

Charlie just wants Spider to go away.  So he dabbles in some magic which backfires on them both.  Now, Spider and Charlie have to face the consequences and dredge their strengths from within.

The Review :

I have never read a Neil  Gaiman novel before… I mean one where he is the sole writer.  Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch was from a Gaiman-Pratchett tandem so I couldn’t tell where Gaiman was or Pratchett began as I’ve never read a Terry Pratchett either.  Now, I understand all the hype about Neil Gaiman.  He is an original, if not a very good mish-mash of perhaps a lot of  influences, who had morphed into a writer altogether of his own kind.  He has a unique way of writing which marries well with his peculiar imagination.

With Anansi Boys, Gaiman  takes the Caribbean folk god, Anansi and weaves his own creative legend around Anansi’s two sons.  The premise is simple, that of a man coming to terms with his lineage.  But Gaiman is a writer who is anything but simple.  So the fundamental premise is layered with lots of other threads: sibling rivalry, filial love, forgiveness, dualism, and self-actualization.

Gaiman here is not given to being serious, though.  His writing imposes a lot of humor, levity, charm, quirkiness and  of course that bit of surrealism that,  I think, marks his style.  Part of his forte here is his characters who he fashions into people we can like or at least pay sustained attention to.  You may not identify with them but somehow  he can make them interesting in their own way.  Take his lead, Fat Charlie, who is something like a push-over, rather passive and calm, painted as boring and yet you get to like him for what he is and how he is developed.  Even the cantankerous mom-in-law-to-be is an amusing figure who will, strangely, get on your good side as well.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Anansi Boys is strange and funny at the same time, but I suspect, with  the author’s piles of accolades, this is isn’t the best of his work.   Perhaps I should get hold of more of  his novels to experience him at his best.  But as an introduction to him, Anansi Boys doesn’t fail him, although it may not effectively goad some new readers to shell out for another one of his novels, unless they can tell from the book that the author has a lot more to offer.

Although this seems like a YA novel, the youngest readers who would probably appreciate this book fully would be in their late teens.  The more mature, the better of course because of a bit of complexity in Gaiman’s concepts and writing style.

On the whole, Anansi Boys is a rather enjoyable book.  Just be in the mood for some eccentricity and you’ll have a nice solo time with this one.

My Mark :  Very Good