BTT: Highlights of 2007

This week's question from Booking Through Thursday:

What were your favorite books this year?

Apart from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, there was one other book I read this year that might make it to my all time favorites list -- The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. There were a few other books that I really liked, but nothing that I would call really outstanding. Here's a list of ten books I liked best this year. Last week's meme was about books that were published in 2007, so I'm assuming this one's not restricted to 2007 books. (Other than HP7, none of these books were published last year.)

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J. K. Rowling

  2. The Rule of Four, by Ian Caldwell, Dustin Thomason

  3. Chasing Cezanne, by Peter Mayle

  4. Icon, by Frederick Forsyth

  5. Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, by Stephen King

  6. Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton

  7. Three Act Tragedy, by Agatha Christie

  8. The Other Side of Me, by Sidney Sheldon

  9. N or M?, by Agatha Christie

  10. The Guardian, by Nicholas Sparks

So what were your favorite books this year? And did any of these books make it to your list? Please do leave a comment.

Best of 2007: The Nominees

Last Thursday, Booking Through Thursday asked for nominations for the best fiction and non-fiction books published in 2007. I've been going through the nominations in the blogs that have replied. Most people (including me) don't usually read books the year they were published so many good books might be missing from these nominations. Anyway I've put together a list of books that were nominated more than once in the fiction category. There weren't many nominations in non-fiction, and there wasn't even a single book that got more than one nomination. Here are the lists:


Forty one people have made 125 nominations in the fiction category with ninety six different books. Of these books, only fifteen books were nominated more than once and only three got nominated more than twice. The most nominated book was... Did I hear you shout Harry Potter? No points for guessing that one. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was nominated by ten people. (Where's my prize for being the first one to nominate Harry?) [grins] Six people nominated A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and four nominations went to Eclipse by Stephanie Meyers. To list all the books that were nominated will take too much time, so I'm putting up the list of the books that got two or more nominations:

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling (10 nominations)

  2. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (6 nominations)

  3. Eclipse by Stephanie Meyers (4 nominations)

  4. Each of these books were nominated twice:

  5. Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs

  6. The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

  7. Dangerous Games by Lora Leigh

  8. Dead of the Day by Karen E Olson

  9. Extras by Scott Westerfeld

  10. Ice Blue by Anne Stuart

  11. Ice Storm by Anne Stuart

  12. Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich

  13. Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade by Diana Gabaldon

  14. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

  15. Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert

  16. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

Non Fiction

Only twenty one people gave nominations in the non-fiction category. Twenty five nominations were made and all of them were for different books. Here's the list of the books:

  1. Chrysalis by Kim Todd

  2. The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

  3. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

  4. Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart

  5. The Gift by Lewis Hyde

  6. Have You Found Her: A Memoir by Janice Erlbaum

  7. I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert

  8. Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

  9. Louder Than Words, A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism

  10. Mosaic by Amy Grant

  11. Mountains So Sublime by Terry Abraham

  12. Other Colours by Orhan Pamuk

  13. Paula Deen: It Ain't All About the Cookin' by Paula Deen and Sherry Suib Cohen

  14. Persian Girls by Nahid Rachlin

  15. Pies and Prejudice by Stuart Maconie

  16. The Places In Between by Rory Stewart

  17. Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar by Thomas Catchart and Daniel Klein

  18. Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer

  19. Rainbow's End: A Memoir of Childhood, War, and an African Farm by Lauren St. John

  20. The Reagan Diaries by Ronald Reagan

  21. Taking Things Seriously by Joshua Glen, Carol Hayes

  22. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Relin

  23. The Verneys by Adrian Tinniswood

  24. The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth by Tim Flannery

  25. Wildwood by Roger Deakin

How many books published in 2007 have you read? And how many of them do you think will make it to your all time favorites list? Do you see any really interesting books missing from the lists? Do leave a comment here, or a link to your reply if you've already answered the meme in your blog.

BTT: Best of 2007

I don't know why I'm doing this week's BTT. I've read only one fiction book published in 2007 so far and non-fiction isn't something I usually read.

  1. What fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007?

  2. What non-fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007?

  3. And, do "best of" lists influence your reading?

Best fiction book is easy enough for me. Being an incurable Potter fan(atic), I would have suggested Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows anyway. And with that book being the only one published in 2007 that I read, there aren't any other nominees. I'll skip the best non-fiction book nominations, because I haven't read any.

Do "best of" lists influence me? I think they do. I usually pick books at random from the library, but if I find a book for which I've seen a lot of good reviews, there's a better chance that I'll pick it up.

Review: The Other Side of Me (Sidney Sheldon)

I have never read an autobiography before. In a way I'm entering a new genre of books with The Other Side of Me. But now, having read Sidney Sheldon's autobiography, I'm not completely sure if that is an accurate description of this book. Yes, it's all about Sheldon, but the style is so much like that of his other works that I'm almost tempted to label this as a thriller. A look at the opening sentence ought to tell you why...

At the age of seventeen, working as a delivery boy at Afremov's drugstore in Chicago was the perfect job, because it made it possible for me to steal enough sleeping pills to commit suicide.

Sheldon starts with a description of his childhood during the 1930s. It was the time when the Great Depression had left a great many people poor and unemployed, and Sheldon's parents too weren't spared. Then he moves on to the early days of his career when he didn't achieve any success even as he struggled with manic depression (that nearly led him to commit suicide at the age of 17) and then finally to his successful career in Broadway, and in television and Hollywood.

The style of the book, as I mentioned before, is that of a novel. Every sentence is designed to make sure that you read the next. It's nearly as un-put-down-able as any of his novels, but the final third of the book slows down the narrative a little bit. Once he becomes successful in Hollywood, there are so many anecdotes about celebrities that it starts getting a bit irritating.

Sheldon uses a very interesting metaphor to describe his life -- that of an elevator that's always going up or down. He started off at the bottom floor, had bumpy ride upwards and finally settles somewhere near the top floor in the 1970s when he switched over to writing novels. My biggest disappointment with the book is that Sheldon's career as a novelist is hardly mentioned. The book is good for anyone who wants to read about his television and Hollywood careers. I didn't know a thing about that part of Sheldon's life, and I think a lot of fans of his books are going to agree with me on that. And looking back at the book now, I must admit that leaving out his writing career wasn't such a bad idea after all. Being the brilliant storyteller that he is, Sheldon knows better than anyone that people like reading about an elevator that's on a bumpy ride more than about one that's comfortably perched on the top floor.

Rating: 7/10

BTT: Catalog

This week's question from Booking Through Thursday:

Do you use any of the online book-cataloguing sites, like Library Thing or Shelfari? Why or why not? (Or do you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking to? [grin])

If not an online catalog, do you use any other method to catalog your book collection? Excel spreadsheets, index cards, a notebook, anything?

Having only around 20 books in my "collection", cataloguing my books isn't something I have to worry about. Whenever I buy books, they get "borrowed" and never manage to find a way back to my hands. Even if they do, they are often so badly mutilated that I sometimes feel that having them back in such condition is worse than not having them at all. So I'm left with a collection that cannot be called a collection at all. And I really don't see the need to catalogue such a small collection.

I wanted to post about a related topic, that is cataloguing books that you read instead of those that you own. For this, I've tried almost all the methods mentioned in the question. I started off with the trusted pen and paper option. I used to write the names of all the books I read on sheets of paper. Later when I got my computer I started using Excel to list the books. I switched to using a simple text file soon afterwards.

Recently I joined Shelfari (my profile's here), which looks great, but I wish the website were a little bit faster. I hate having to wait for two minutes to add one book to my list. So I started adding books to Google Books' MyLibrary and importing the list to Shelfari, but never got very far. (I've only added 40 odd books to my shelf so far.) LibraryThing also did interest me, but there's a limit of 200 books that you can catalog if you're using a free account.

Right now I'm using a little Python script to catalog books on the computer. It is command line and a bit of a chore to work with, but it's been working fine for me so far. But at the same time, I've gone back to using the good old pen and paper method just in case the computer decides to go on a holiday (which it did recently).

PS. That's four BTTs in a row now, but not even a single book review in over a month. Maybe I should spend less time blogging and more time reading.

BTT: Out Of Print

This week's question on Booking Through Thursday suggested by Island Editions.

Do you have a favourite book, now out of print, that you would like to see become available again?

I can't really think of such a book. Most out of print books would still be available as ebooks on websites like Project Gutenberg. But there are a couple of J K Rowling books -- Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Magical Beasts... -- that aren't really out of print, but are very difficult to find anywhere. The names of Kennilworthy Whisp and Newt Scamander that appeared on the covers of the books probably lead the books to be almost unknown to many people even though they were actually written by Rowling. And while I'm on the topic, I should say that I really hope that Tales of Beedle the Bard somehow doesn't remain out of print for too long. (Keeping a Rowling book out of print ought to be made a criminal offence.) ;-)

BTT: Rolling

Late again. I'm nearly in time for this week's question. Anyway here's last Thursday's question from Booking Through Thursday:

Do you get on a roll when you read, so that one book leads to the next, which leads to the next, and so on and so on?

I don’t so much mean something like reading a series from beginning to end, but, say, a string of books that all take place in Paris. Or that have anthropologists as the main character. Or were written in the same year. Something like that... Something that strings them together in your head, and yet, otherwise could be different genres, different authors...

Not really. Unless I'm looking for books belonging to the same series, the books I read are usually unrelated to the previous ones. Even if I were to read "a string of books that all take place in Paris" there's no guarantee that I'm going to like all of them. I might love one book about Paris and hate the next one, so there's not much point in searching for books related that way.

Coincidentally, though, I actually am on a roll right now. I've just finished reading two Agatha Christie mysteries and picked up a third one -- all three books involving Hercule Poirot. The only other time when I go on a roll is when I'm re-reading the Harry Potter series, reading the entire series in order. But otherwise, I hardly ever think of two books belonging to different genres, by different authors as related to each other.


This week's question from Booking Through Thursday:

Are you a Footprint Leaver or a Preservationist?

Preservationist, generally. But a footprint leaver when it comes to textbooks. I don't usually need my textbooks after the end of semester, and I mostly get them secondhand. Those books usually have all kinds of footprints on them already -- underlines, notes, doodles, everything. So I don't really feel guilty about adding to them. But even then I would never use anything other than pencil to underline something. When it comes to other books, I wouldn't even touch them with pencils. You wouldn't find anything handwritten on the book, not even my name on the first page. That's probably the reason why people often don't return books they've borrowed from me; because they can't find the owner's name. If I really wanted to go back and read a particular page, I'll write the page number on a little scrap of paper and keep it in the book. That way, I can re-read pages without dog earing the book.

Review: Chasing Cezanne (Peter Mayle)

Freelance photographer Andre Kelly sees a $30 million Cezanne painting being loaded into a plumber's van in France and just can't stop worrying about it. When the owner of the painting doesn't seem to be too bothered about the incident, he gets even more suspicious. To find out what happened to the priceless painting, he takes the help of Cyrus Pine, a wealthy art dealer who immediately suspects a scam. These two, along with Kelly's girlfriend Lucy, travel across France as they investigate the whereabouts of the painting. Along the way, they have to find a master forger and escape a very determined hit man in this charming and very funny novel.

I didn't know this kind of a book existed anymore. A book in which the plot strolls along at its own pace and still manages to keep you interested. Where the good guys have enough time for three hour meals even as they try to save the world (or rather, a painting in this case). And where the descriptions of exotic places don't really annoy me (they normally do). Mayle's effortless sense of humor kept me interested throughout and the lack of a what-happens-next kind of plot never bothered me. You know right from the beginning who the bad guys are and you know that the world's going to be a happy place at the end of the story, but you just want to read it all the way through anyway.

Another thing I loved about this book is that even though the story is set in France and many of the characters are French, Mayle avoids using too many French words in the book. A mistake that many authors make is that they assume that their readers can somehow understand half a dozen European languages, thereby leaving us poor readers with little option but to either skip those lines or look up a dictionary to translate the sentences. But this book hardly ever challenges my French vocabulary, which consists of two words -- bonjour and au revoir (both of which I can't pronounce). Even when he does use a French word or phrase, Mayle finds a way to translate it without affecting the flow of the story. And for that, he's definitely earned a fan. Myself, I mean. And maybe this book isn't what I'd rate as cent percent perfect; but it's nearly there. :)

My Rating: 9/10.

Review: Contest (Matthew Reilly)

This is one of those books that you just sit back and enjoy without exercising those little grey cells. No place at all for the brain here. Just lots of non-stop action, adrenaline, aliens and violence.

Seven warriors, one from each of seven planets that have intelligent life forms in them are teleported into a labyrinth in a contest that is held every 2000 years. The contestants then start fighting each other until only one remains alive. Dr. Stephen Swain is selected as the contestant from Earth and ends up in the labyrinth with his daughter (who accidentally gets teleported along with him) as the weakest contestant and the only one who doesn't know why he's there. From there, the plot rushes forward with Swain surviving each confrontation with the aliens simply by running away from them until most other aliens have killed each other off.

I almost feel guilty about liking this book. Had this been written by some other sci-fi author whom I read regularly, I'd have cried bloody murder for the lack of depth in the characters and the impossibility of so many alien life forms resembling those on earth. But Reilly doesn't seem to be remotely bothered about writing a believable story (yes, I feel even stories about aliens must be to some extent believable). Instead, he takes the story forward at such a ruthless pace that you hardly get the time to stop and complain. It's a pretty good effort for a debut book and his next book Ice Station is already on my "To Be Read" list.

My Rating: 7/10

Booking Through Thursday: Volume

This week's question from Booking Through Thursday:

Would you say that you read about the same amount now as when you were younger? More? Less? Why?

I've been reading roughly the same amount as I used to. My list of finished books for the last few months says I've finished reading 20 books since July -- that's one book per week. Much less that what I'd like to read, but college life's always a bit harsh on bookworms. In terms of number of books read, I might have read a little bit more back in my school days, but those books were shorter and easier to read. And I always had plenty of time. Now I have to rush through longer books in a terrible hurry so I don't have to face the librarian scowling at me for being late.

Oh, Horror!

I'm late, as usual. Nearly in time for this week's question from Booking Through Thursday, but I'll do last Thursday's meme anyway. This was the question:

What with yesterday being Halloween, and all... do you read horror? Stories of things that go bump in the night and keep you from sleeping?

Halloween was last Wednesday, not yesterday. Like I said, I'm very, very late. Okay, now coming to the question... No, I don't read much of horror. The only books that I've read in recent years that fall into the genre are Stephen King's Pet Sematary (review here) and David Moody's ebook Autumn. Pet Sematary -- although it was quite scary -- was a bit of a disappointment, since I was expecting something much better from King who's considered one of the best horror authors. Autumn, with its Resident Evil style plot and non-stop violence managed to scare the hell out of me. Of course, the fact that I was reading the ebook on the PC with the lights switched off did play a part in that. ;)

Apart from those, there are hardly any other horror stories I remember, except for Frankenstein or Legend of the Sleepy Hollow, both of which I remember more as classics than horror fiction.

I thought about asking you about whether you were participating in NaNoWriMo, but I asked that last year. Although... if you want to answer that one, too, please feel free to go ahead and do both, or either, your choice!

That was the second part of the question. And again the answer is no. Until now I never had a clue about what NaNoWriMo stood for. Well, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. So I obviously will stay a good distance away from it. Writing novels isn't my kind of a thing. It takes a lot of hard work to write a 50,000 word novel. And a bit of talent. Perseverance. Time. That's four reasons (and counting) not to participate.

But the "quantity over quality" thing about NaNoWriMo might make me reconsider this decision. I liked the whole idea behind it. Maybe I'll participate after all. And being the incurable optimist that I am, I'll even hope that I'm the next one on that list of seventeen NaNoWriMo authors who have been published so far. But not much chance of doing it this year, with nearly a week already gone. Twenty four days is too little time to do it. Nah, just kidding there. You could give me a year and I still couldn't write 5,000 words. And let's not even start thinking about 50,000!

Meme: Reading In Public

I found this meme in Between The Covers (originally from Booking Through Thursday) and now is perhaps the best time to do this meme yesterday I tried to read a book during my 90 minute bus journey from college to home.

Reading In Public. Do you do it? Why, or why not?

I should be ashamed that I'm saying this, but my answer is no. At least not very often in the last three years. Most people who knew me from school would be surprised, because back then I wouldn't let a free minute slip by without reading a few pages off a book. On the way to school, on the way back, free hours, lunch hour. Sometimes I'd even be holding a book open with one hand even when I'm having lunch. But all that has changed now. The MP3 player has replaced books as my must-have on the bus, so I don't read there. And there are hardly any free hours in college, and even if there are any, I'll be busy completing long overdue assignments every single free minute.

Yesterday, however, I was actually desperate enough to open a book when I was coming back home from college. I've been late thrice in a row in returning the books to the library -- I didn't want to make it four. But I hadn't anticipated the difficulties of reading on a bus that's moving at about 60kph on terribly potholed roads. The bus was shaking so badly that I could only manage to read 20-odd pages in one hour -- less than a third of what I would read in that time had I been siting someplace more comfortable.

Lying comfortably on my bed without any noise nearby to disturb me is the way I prefer reading. And I like reading books a few hours at a stretch. A public place is the last place where I can read that way, so until I change my reading habits, that's definitely out of the question.

Meme: Trying A Simpe Meme

Looking around the blogosphere, I found a whole lot of bloggers who occasionally do memes on their blogs. I even found one blog, Booking Through Thursday, that's entirely dedicated to book related memes, and I thought, why not try a simple one on my own blog. So here it is...

Now for those of you who haven't heard of memes, here's a definition: "a unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another." (For a better idea about memes, especially blog memes or "blemes", read this post.)

  1. Grab the nearest book.

  2. Open the book to page 123.

  3. Find the fifth sentence.

  4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.

  5. Don’t search around and look for the "coolest" book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.

Now, for the nearest book, there are thirty two of them lying two feet away from me on the shelf. I ignore Step 5 (because I'm still on Step 1 [*wink*]) and pick up one of the "coolest" books, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. In the fifth sentence on page 123, Hermione is trying to get Professor Lockhart to give her permission to go through the restricted section of the library.

"I wanted to -- to get this book out of the library"

That's one easy meme. And a really pointless one. But at least it got me started on memes. Next week, I'll hopefully do (if at all I actually manage to do) something that's a bit more difficult than this one.

PS. In memes everywhere, I've noticed that the blogger tags a few people (usually five) to continue that meme. Unfortunately for me, I don't think there's much of a chance for me to find five people who will actually read this post, much less continue it. So I'm not tagging anyone, but you can continue this meme if you want to. And do leave a comment here if you found a really interesting sentence that just happened to be sentence 5 on page 125.

What Book Are You?

I was going through the blog, BookLust today and came across this post. I took the Book Quiz at Blue Pyramid. Here are the questions (options in brackets) and my answers. From my first answer, it's obvious that I'll have something more to add to everything, [*winks*] so I've put my own comments in brackets.

Q1: Are you long winded or concise? (Well, I do tend to go on and on and on... / Concise.)

A: Well, I do tend to go on and on and on... (and on and on and on...)

Q2: Do you feel old?

A: No. (Isn't 21 is a bit too early to start feeling old?)

Q3: Which of these is your mantra? (Just the facts ma'am... / Truth is stranger than fiction.)

A: Just the facts ma'am... (If fiction weren't strange, I wouldn't be reading books, would I?)

Q4: What do you study more? (Philosophy / Science)

A: Science. (As a matter of fact, I don't study anything except on the day before exams. But for the sake of argument, let's assume that I study science; I've never had to learn too much of philosophy for my Electronics and Communication Engineering course.)

Q5: How do you feel about messiahs? (A messiah would really help. / What messiah?)

A: What messiah? (The way things are going these days, the messiah himself would need help.)

Q6: Aren't dinosaurs cool? (Yes! / Uh, if you say so...)

A: Yes! (What could be more interesting than watching a velociraptor chasing its prey at a speed of nearly 24 mph (39 kph)? I'm assuming that I'm not the prey here.)

And the final result was:

You're Jurassic Park!

by Michael Crichton

You combine all the elements of a mad scientist, a brash philosopher, a humble researcher, and a money-hungry attracter of tourists. With all these features, you could build something monumental or get chased around by your own demons. Probably both, in fact. A movie based on your life would make millions, and spawn at least two sequels that wouldn't be very good. Be very careful around islands.

Not entirely surprising there. Jurassic Park is one of my favorites. But I was expecting something more on the lines of Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary or maybe Tom Sawyer. But Jurassic Park will do just fine.

Review: Red Dragon (Thomas Harris)

My rating: 7/10.

This is the book that introduced the cannibalistic Dr. Hannibal Lecter to the world -- although it's only a brief glimpse of the famous psychopath here. The book mainly focuses on another psychopath and an FBI agent who's pursuing him...

This is my first Thomas Harris book, but I've really wanted to read the Hannibal Lecter tetralogy after I came across this Hannibal Lecter article on Wikipedia. So I decided to pick up the first book in the series from the library.

A few weeks ago, I read Pet Sematary, my first Stephen King book. And what I felt about that book probably applies to this one as well. I wouldn't rate either of the books as outstanding, but they certainly left me wanting to read more of these two authors. Red Dragon is the kind of book that keeps surprising you right through to the last page, as it examines the mind of the psychopathic serial killer Francis Dolarhyde and the (psychic?) FBI agent Will Graham who's hunting him. I didn't at all like the beginning of the book. I read the first two or three chapters without having a clue what was going on. But I have to admit that after getting used to the book's style, it was difficult it put it down until I finished reading it.

The book is good, and at times you almost feel sorry for the serial killer, especially when Harris describes Dolarhyde's childhood and the circumstances that turned him into a psychopath. At the same time I was disappointed that except for a brief glimpse, there is very little about "Hannibal the cannibal", and Hannibal's the character I wanted to read about. Anyway, there are three more books left in the series. Now I can't wait to read Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal.

Related Posts:

Review: The Brethren (John Grisham)

This is probably the first time that a John Grisham novel has failed to impress me. It's not actually a bad story, but it's not really as good as the rest of the Grisham novels I've read.

The plot of this book -- at least to me -- feels quite unrealistic. Three judges in a minimum security prison convicted of various offenses doling out justice within the prison?! And at the same time running a mail scam without being caught? The CIA selecting a man to run for President and then flooding him with campaign funds? And the Director of CIA himself working on the election ads!? You'd think the CIA had nothing better to do!

Grisham drags you through nearly a third of the book with two seemingly unrelated plots before you start seeing the connection. Then he ups the pace a little bit, but still I found this a very, very average book.

The book is different from the normal John Grisham books -- there's very little of legal jargon here, none of the courtroom battles or the "lawyer-hero fighting against all odds to save his innocent client" type stuff. This is my seventh Grisham book and I think this is the farthest he has ever ventured from his legal thrillers, and maybe he deserves a pat on the back for trying to explore a different genre. But give me the choice and I'll pick the courtroom drama any day.

My rating : 5/10.

Review: Terminal (Robin Cook)

A few years ago, I'd have definitely rated Robin Cook as one of my favorite authors. But for some time now, I've had this feeling that his books have lost their charm and all that medical jargon that used to sound so unique and interesting feels too technical and unnecessary. Fever, Outbreak and Acceptable Risk were the earliest Robin Cook thrillers I read, and I loved all of them. But since then most of his books have been disappointing, and Terminal is perhaps the worst of them all.

A Harvard medical student gets an opportunity to work in a cancer research center with a cent percent remission rate for medulloblastoma patients. When he's not allowed to work on the cancer research project, he starts snooping around and finally discovers that the research center is itself causing the cancer that it later cures, so that the patients donate money generously for "saving" their lives.

Well, that was supposed to be the plot. It's difficult to notice, but if you read carefully enough, you'll find that plot scattered across the book. But for most part Cook goes on and on about -- to roughly quote one of his lines from the book -- "... the new commercialism that is poisoning science in general and medical research in particular..." I do agree that Cook's thrillers generally have a message within them, but this is taking it to a totally different level. This one sounds almost as if it's a preachy message with a thriller hidden somewhere inside it.

Okay, maybe I'm being a bit too harsh here, and having not taken a biology course in more than three years makes the book less easy to understand. But we must remember that the vast majority of this world cannot tell the difference between medulloblastoma and medulla oblongata. Many of the people who read Cook -- like me -- have a very superficial knowledge of the subject and mainly read his books only because they like his plots. (I mean some of his plots. Not this one.)

Robin Cook's strength is his fast paced narrative laced with some medical jargon. I've never read his books for their literary merits, and that's because they don't have any. They're just a story that you read only because the plot keeps you interested right through to the last page. So when the plot gets bogged down with too much of preaching, there's nothing much left in the book to enjoy. Right now I can only hope that the dozen odd of his books that I have yet to read are better than this one. Much better than this one.

My Rating: 3/10

Review: Pet Sematary (Stephen King)

Stephen King has this reputation as one of the best horror novelists around. Add to that King's claim in the introduction to this book that it's the scariest book he's ever written. So it's reasonable to expect that someone who's never read King before would be more than a little bit scared by this book.

Unfortunately, Pet Sematary doesn't succeed in doing what you'd normally expect any good horror story to do -- scaring the readers. And when it comes to someone who's considered the King of horror -- sorry about the pun there ;-) -- you'd expect something more than just good... it must be outstanding, which I'm afraid this book isn't.

The interesting thing that I noticed here is that King has relied less on gory images and more on uncomfortable ideas to create the horror. Yes, there is plenty of gore -- like Victor Pascow with half of his skull smashed in, or the accident that kills the little boy Gage Creed, or towards the end of the book where... er... well, read it yourself, I'm not revealing spoilers here. But that's not what creates the horror here. When you read about Pascow who's lost half a skull and is dripping his brains everywhere on a hospital floor, the curiosity about what he wants to tell Louis Creed overweighs the feeling of sickness over his condition. The questions that King asks are far more terrifying than these images.

And he does ask quite a few questions. Like, what if you could bring back the dead? What if you were in Louis Creed's place, would you have acted the same way? Would you care that your loved ones weren't the same as before, as long as they weren't dead? And why? Why would you do it if you knew that once they're back they'd be somehow... empty..?

Here I must admit that even though I'm not very fond of this particular book, I'm not writing off the author as someone I wouldn't read. I'm not even saying that it's not a good book. Although I don't consider it scary enough to qualify as an outstanding book of the horror genre, it's still a book I wouldn't want to miss. And it's hard to forget some of the mis-spelled lines from the book -- "Pet Sematary", "Smucky the cat, he was obediant" -- and Ellie Creed's screaming "Let God have his own cat..." when faced with the fact that someday her pet will be dead. And the ending of the book will definitely leave you wondering "What next?" After coming back from the dead, is Rachel Creed going to ever be the same person again, or...??? King leaves that question open to us to answer it anyway we like.

My rating: 6/10.



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