May 2009
Book Reviews by Meg Wood


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(5/19) Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. (read me! )

Yes, I read this. Shut up. I bought it for an airplane trip, and I read it on an airplane. I feel that it's vital I make this clear: I did not pick this book up expecting it to be GOOD. I merely picked it up expecting it to be amusing. And then when I saw it also happened to be about CERN (the Large Hadron Collider people in Europe), I kept reading it despite its numerous flaws because: GEEK.

This is the prequel of sorts to The Da Vinci Code, which I never read (but I did see the movie, which I think should count for something when it comes to this genre -- which is to say, the genre du crappe). I say "prequel of sorts" because Brown actually wrote this one first, it's just that it flopped due to its terribleness and nobody read it until the second book came out and hit the bestseller list.

Now Angels and Demons is also a movie, this time starring Tom Hanks without the bad hair, and so the paperback has worked its way back onto airport newsstand shelves. Coincidentally, I was recently at an airport newsstand. And thus, this.

The plot of this novel has to do with a container of antimatter stolen from CERN by terrorists and then hidden somewhere in the Vatican, set to blow up just as the Papal Conclave elects the new Pope. The flaws in this novel regarding science are too many to list, but I can sum them up by telling you that there is a chapter in which the Pope's First Officer (or whatever they call that guy in non-Star-Trek terms) delivers a speech that includes the phrase, and I quote, "science killed wonder."

This is a phrase only someone who is completely clueless -- and I mean COMPLETELY CLUELESS -- about science would ever say. Pshaw. Utter nonsense.

Here's the thing, though: the parts of this novel that involve running around looking for the clues that will lead Tom Hanks and Whatshername to the antimatter so they can save the Pope People? Those parts are actually kind of fun. Brown's problem isn't that he can't tell a thrilling story, it's that he can't do it without cluttering up the good parts with a lot of totally boring and pointless crapporama. Also, he is a bad writer -- that is, his actual wordsmithing is BAD. His writing lacks in flow; it's choppy and amateurish. His dialogue doesn't feel legitimate. His descriptions of settings and people lack creativity and panache. And entire chapters were complete throwaways, which is something I hate with a vengeance.

What this novel needed was stronger editing, and it's too bad it did not get it. Did The Da Vinci Code? If you've read that one and thought it was dramatically better than this one, let me know in the comments and I'll give it a try.

I bet the movie version of this book is total goofy fun, by the way. But I'll definitely be waiting for the DVD. [comment on this book review]

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(5/10) Whiteout by Ken Follett. (read me! )

I've been having a really hard time reading books lately (and an even harder time getting reviews of the ones I have read written, as you've probably noticed). I just can't seem to concentrate on anything I pick up. Possibly because everything I keep picking up keeps on being crappy or unsatisfying. Kinda like this one.

At the very least, I thought this novel would be a pretty safe bet when it came to being entertaining. After all, the description on the back mentioned a variety of subjects I typically am all over: killer viruses, biological terrorism, blizzards that trap people in big spooky houses, devious research facility shenanigans, prodigal sons with chips on their shoulders. . .

Unfortunately, this book ended up being all-too predictable, which in and of itself is not necessarily an unforgivable failing, at least for me. But it was made all the worse here by being badly edited as well. Follett has a terrible habit of putting in tons and tons of stuff that just doesn't need to BE there. There were entire chapters in this novel that served no real purpose. They felt like filler intended to make the book look more impressively dense, and meanwhile, it becomes harder and harder to engage with either the characters or the situations they're being thrust into.

The story does finally pick up towards the end, when the blizzard hits, trapping a band of desperate thieves inside the very house they intended to rob, face-to-face not only with the scientists who developed the killer virus they were trying to steal, but with that very virus itself. But man, the entire middle hundred or so pages were a real slog.

This novel isn't terrible, especially if you give yourself permission to skim through the sloggy parts. But my advice is that you only pick this one up if you are absolutely desperate for anything -- ANYTHING! -- to read. Otherwise, I think it's safe to move along. [comment on this book review]

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