The Harry Potter Book Series

I read* the Harry Potter books this summer. Harry Potter fans and superfans, if there’s something I’m missing or being unfair about, let me know.
*Note: For those with strong opinions about that word, I’ll point out I actually books-on-taped it during hiking trips. I’d say it’s 85-90% of the experience of actually reading it. I listened to the Stephen Fry version which seems to be the UK version. It’s practically “acted” more than read, and I’d wholly recommend it.
 
First, I’ll point out I had seen all the movies prior to this summer, and I very aggressively read the Wikipedia pages when the later books were released to keep on top of the story. I will recommend the books (audio or actual) and movies (well, not the second one) to anyone, so the below isn’t meant as a list of complaints, though I suppose it may be read as that. I’ll stick with saying I really liked the books, and this is just a list of things that came to mind when I was listening this summer.
 
Book 6: It seems like people like MacGuffins. Do you think 6 is too many?
Book 7: Hold my beer.
 
As far as I’m concerned, “pensieve” is an anagram for “plot dump.”
 
Movie 3 is something special. Book 3 is just as good as any other of the better books but not necessarily a stand-out. It is the first book that establishes that the novels’ “world” is huge, not merely big, though.
 
The movies gloss over the dynamic of the magical world vs. the non-magical world. In the books, there’s some very neat stuff there, from the Prime Minister having a relationship with the Minister of Magic to Hermione’s non-magical, dentist parents wanting her to get braces instead of using magic to fix her teeth to Ron’s dad’s hobby of figuring out how non-magical items work. There’s also lots of the magic/non-magic crossover at the beginning of the 4th book (almost entirely removed for the movie without much impact).
 
Book 5 just never ends. He gets the vision he needs to go to the Department of Mysteries then just waits until he has additional visions with more details. It’s the longest book (30 hour audiobook! Others range from 14 to 23 hours), but the least happens. Neville meeting his parents at the hospital was a nice, sad moment, though. This one was struggle to get through. And Umbridge is as entertainingly awful in the movie as she was in the book.
 
Maddening patterns:
  • “He who must not be named”/”you know who” — UGH. STOP IT. Then the last book lampshades it by actually making it so if you say “Voldemort” the bad guys are magically alerted.
  • After 7 story years, people STILL don’t listen to Harry’s concerns and continue blow off his ideas. I wanted to yell, “HIS NAME IS IN THE TITLE OF THE BOOK; HE’S PROBABLY CORRECT.”
  • Slytherin: “They’re not all Deatheaters, but all Deatheaters are all from Slytherin. Best to keep them part of the school.”
  • Draco Malfoy: there’s no possible way that even in the world of the books he’d not be in more trouble. He goes from annoying brat to generally criminal at the beginning of the 6th book. (Then much further later in that book.) The series handwaves it away in an earlier book (‘his father has sway in the ministry.’) but come on.
  • PEOPLE CONTINUE TO NOT LISTEN TO HARRY POTTER. AFTER EVERYTHING. DUMBLEDORE, JUST MAKE DRACO SHOW YOU HIS FOREARM.
Fleur Delacour was needlessly made into a “light” villain in book 6. Why? Were they running out of bad guys and unlikeable characters already?
 
(HOT TAKE WARNING)
Voldemort should have killed all the Weasleys at once, leaving one Weasley to survive, either Ron or Ginny, preferably Ginny.
Why? In the 7th book, when Voldemort casually says he will kill anyone supporting Harry Potter as well as their families, it doesn’t have as much weight as it should. Also, it’s a black and white action Voldemort can take to “show” instead of “tell” with respect to how evil he is.
 
Where are the other wizards from around the world when Voldemort is attacking Hogwarts? If he wins, he’s a world-wide threat. He’s not just going to be the United Kingdom and Ireland’s problem. Is this a Batman+Gotham thing where the threshold for accepting outside help is ridiculously high?
 
The series has a habit of John Galt-esque speeches. When Voldemort comes back in the 4th book… Holy Infodump. And Harry is right there for the entire speech! I suppose mystery (intrabook and throughout the series) is a big component, but Harry and his friends generally don’t solve the mysteries, they just end up getting explained (at length) at the end.
 
Some sequences in the movies are better:
  • Hermione removing herself from her parents’ life lands with stronger impact in the opening of the 7th movie.
  • The movies realized we didn’t need a lengthy sequence at the Dursley’s at the beginning of every installment. We got the point after the second one.
  • The 6th movie doesn’t feel as aimless as the 6th book.
  • Ron’s exit in the 7th book’s camping sequence was just as awkward as it was in the movie… and it’s resolved with another infodump.
  • The romantic/relationship sub-plots from the books weren’t missed in the movies.
  • Wand-fighting in the movies was more interesting than it was in the books.
  • Jeeves and Percy Weasley weren’t missed in the movies.
  • Luna Lovegood is better in the movies than the books. It didn’t feel like too much was cut between book and movie, so I think that’s a statement on the quality of the actress. The character doesn’t really pop off the page but is very memorable in the movies.
  • The eighth movie is really, really good.
  • The fourth book is the best book. The third movie is the best movie.
  • The second book (and movie) doesn’t need to exist.
The 6th book’s plot is literally Harry waiting to get invitations from Dumbledore to watch a series of different flashbacks. If you’re following along, notice that this isn’t a plot. Then they go to the cave, then Dumbledore dies.
 
I’m all about expanding the world, but the Grindelwald and Dumbledore stuff in the last book feels out of place. It should’ve been a hinted at but unaddressed plot point to be followed up upon in a later series (which they seem to be doing in the Fantastic Beasts movies). It didn’t add anything to this book series.
 
Speaking of explaining things, it would’ve been good if, by, you know, the second time Harry Potter’s life was threatened, Dumbledore told him everything he knew. Sure, that removes a lot of the mystery and revelations throughout the series, and maybe a 12 year old wouldn’t do well with learning he had to “die” to stop Voldemort. But having Harry spend every day working on offensive and defensive magic for years in anticipation of that fight makes a lot more sense than trying to have him be a “normal” (magic) kid. Potions class and astronomy didn’t help him beat Voldemort. At all. Have him beat Voldemort, then make up for the missed school time with a Wizard GED later.
 
Hagrid is a moron.
 
Hagrid has no arc. He fits in with a story about 10 and 11 year olds, but he’s completely out of place after that.
 
I love that, based on one reference in the 2nd book, Harry Potter fans have unnecessarily “calendared” out every single moment in the series. For example, did you know Dumbledore died on June 30, 1997? J.K. Rowling seems to be amused by this aspect of the fandom, too. But in one of the later movies, the Dursley’s car has a 2006 registration sticker! I really hope someone got fired for that blunder.
 
Go read the books!
****½
The Harry Potter book series gets 4.5 stars. There is a constant level of excellence throughout, but books 2, 5, and 6 just aren’t as good as the others.

Urgent Warning Review: The Last Templar

Later tonight, NBC will be showing the second half of the two part “The Last Templar” mini-series. DO NOT WATCH THIS. It’s rare that I feel tasked to present my opinion as a public warning, but it is entirely, absolutely necessary in this case.

I’m not proud of myself, but I fell for the “well, I should probably buy a book before I get on an airplane for thirteen hours” business model. That’s right – I spent $10, the full retail price, based only on, “I liked The DaVinci Code well enough and that giant red cross on a white background on the cover of the book looks familiar. Ooh, it has ‘templar’ in the title, too.” Not one of my finer moments. Not one of my finer moments.

templar cover

Don’t fall for it – you’re better than this. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

Why the warning? People are quick to complain about The DaVinci Code for perfectly valid reasons; poor structure (action, explanation, action, explanation, ad nauseum…), clunky writing, the fact that it’s more-or-less the product of generously editing Angels & Demons and using “find and replace” to swap “Catholicism” with “Christianity,” and so on. BUT, The DaVinci Code worked well enough. I liked the book enough to also read Angels & Demons as well as Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and most significantly, there are few people have haven’t read The DaVinci Code, and I really don’t know anyone that truly hated it. I stand by the complaints detailed above, yet I wouldn’t tell someone not to read it if I were asked.

Of course, based on the overwhelming financial success of The DaVinci Code, a cottage industry sprang up around the Knights Templar and literary background checks of Jesus H. Christ ranging from the academic to the pulpy. Simply everyone who’s remotely interested in such things has read at least The DaVinci Code and is acutely aware of the recently-renewed discussion on whether Jesus should be referred to as “Dude” or just “dude.”

The Last Templar is the second worst kind of “DaVinci Code cottage industry” detritus. The single most damning error of the book is that the characters live in a vacuum where The DaVinci Code never existed. This is preposterous – as readers, we’re no longer shocked that there are “major revelations” about Jesus’ divinity and holding that like a carrot to keep the reader engaged just doesn’t work. Within the world of the story, it’s equally ludicrous that an archaeologist would be shocked (SHOCKED!) to hear that there are alternate theories of Jesus beyond those of the Gospels and Qur’an. It’s just plain inexcusable.

The story itself is of the relic-hunting variety: beheadings, ancient mythology, suspect foreigners, the two lead characters getting it on, a encryption/decryption/codex device, and so on. Passable, but the obliviousness detailed above checked me out of the book almost immediately. Well, the obliviousness and the fact that the romantic thread in the story was written with the fluidity and grace matching that of a teen-aged love letter saying, “I want to do you.”

I do have to comment on the selection of quotes on the front and back covers. On the front, we see “Like The DaVinci Code, Khoury’s novel features age-old mysteries that play out in a modern setting.” Let that sink in a bit. It’s equivalent to the quote reading, “The DaVinci code is a book. This novel is also a book.” There’s not even an implicit recommendation; in fact, one can extract an almost negative tone from it, as if the quote continued as, “…, but this is not even The DaVinci Code.” Imagine a Battlefield: Earth poster saying: “Star Wars was a movie in space. This one is, too.” No, don’t fall for it.

Moving to the back cover we see, “[will] satisfy your historical thriller craving.” One could say the same thing about Stalingrad Vodka and alcoholism. Similarly, “For those who think Dan Brown doesn’t write fast enough,” doesn’t actually provide a comment on the quality of the book. Think of a review of the Arena Football League: “Because the NFL off-season is February to August.”

½

The Last Templar mini-series gets half of one star. Bad books make for bad movies. Sure, the guy who got dumped on Scrubs is perfectly likable and Mira Sorvino looks fancy, but you’re better than this. If you feel the need to get your artifact-hunting itch scratched, re-read or watch The DaVinci Code, or, even better, read The Rule of Four.

Empty Bookshelf’s First 100 Reviews


Oh, those kids. Always at it. You guys really shouldn’t’ve.

So here we are at the first of what may be a few reviews of our first milestone, 100 reviews. Not only is this the first review of this milestone, but of what could be very many milestones. We here at the Bookshelf like the word “milestone“, and don’t believe in Thesauruses. So here we go, our first hundred in a nutshell.

The first actual review happened way back in October of 2005… remember that time before the Steelers won the superbowl, before “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” movie, before Dick Cheny accidentally shot his friend while hunting, and before Bristol, United Kingdom celebrated the 200th birthday of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (actually April 9) by relighting the Clifton Suspension Bridge?

Dan’s first review was aimed at complaining about post-game hype surrounding an extremely long baseball game. Of course our readers probably care about boring Astros-Braves baseball games as much as they seemed to care about my terrible review of the dictionary. Even though that picture was good, it was nowhere near the five star quality of this image. I too tried my hand at reviewing food, but it was an utter failure. On the plus side, my review of the letter to the editor is one of my favorites, and my first review actually got eight comments, including this link. The few following that grilled chese review focused mostly on music, my opinion of “Good Night, and Good Luck”, a particular episode of Trading Spouses, and Dan’s opinion of My opinion of “Good Night, and Good Luck”. Dan also said that the Colbert report wouldn’t last, which seems to have been proven false.

October seemed to be us finding our footing.
***

November saw Dan’s Cleveland Trifecta, a diatribe against horses, a road that he liked, an episode of “Coach“, and his complaints about how much he aches, now that he’s an old man. I started the month strong with the Beth review, but struggled through the rest of it, with lame reviews like Thursday, a type of tooth”paste” that doesn’t work for me, and an insightful, yet completely unnecessary complaint about my nosebleeds. My FAO Schwarz review kinda made up for them, but the highlight of the month involved Dan and I sparring about how Christmas is coming earlier every year, and something about me being a time-traveling sheep.

November didn’t see much improvement over October, but the Christmas stuff was entertaining.
***½

December got a bit better, even with a few less reviews. I busted out the old NES games, for a few reviews that I swear are not trying to copy off of XE, another personal favorite, Christmas Cards, Adam’s first review, Dan throwing the hate down on Pitchfork media, and a suprising amount of people commenting on Roger Ebert’s take on video games. The biggest advance in December was the pop-ins, that added added some clarity to our parentheses-obsessed-writing.

December was a highly engaging and entertaining month, even with only nine reviews.
****½

2006 rolled around, and January saw Dan get political, review half of a book, not like warm winters a lot. I only contributed three of ten reviews that month, but all three of them were relatively alright, mostly because “Where In Time is Carmen Sandiego“, and “The Simpsons” after season 9 is so easy to complain about.

January’s topics fell off a little.
***½

February, while being the shortest month, was also a monster for us, as far as number goes. A whopping twenty-one reviews. To be fair, 17 of them came in our envelope-pushing live superbowl reviews, the biggest stunt pulled in the history of reviewing anything and everything on a five star scale. The only other reviews of any substance were my Gauntlet Review of the Beatles albums, and Dan’s digging up of our one-issue underground high-school newspaper.

Despite the big stunt, and two good reviews, February was kinda lacking.
**½

March just plain sucked. Four reviews total. One by me. Three megareviews by Dan.

½

April was slightly better, with another of my top five of my reviews, Legacy of the Wizard. The other four I would give an average of 3 stars to, but since there were only four during the month, that’s going to cancel out the Legacy of the Wizard bonus and take it down a half star.

**½

For my money, May was our best month yet. Dan’s contribution was the lengthy three-part TV landscape review. I threw out quality stuff with my Songs for Silverman, and Degree Navigator reviews. The shorter American Dreamz and Davinci Code video game reviews were serviceable, but my immense LOST season 2 review tops everything.

*****

June fell off a bit. Four reviews total. Split two and two. Mine were based on a ridiculous news story, and anger at other people for coincidentally coming up with the same ideas as me. Dan tried to put everything into perspective by seeing how well the entire history of human ingenuity and artistry stacked up in the interstellar community, and complained a little about how the national geography of roadways isn’t designed to suit his needs.

**

July was filled with the (I gotta admit my ignorance as to the relevance of this phrase… and wikipedia does nothing to help) Navel Gazing set. I was had for a few minutes by a Jimmy Kimmel hoax, and I thought the critics were a little too harsh on Shayamalan. Despite the mediocre numbers for the month, I’d give it a 3.5

***½

This gives us a per-month average of 3 stars, which isn’t too shabby.

In my first ever review, I reviewed the concept of this website. I claimed that we wouldn’t be able to keep it fresh, that we’d run out of ideas, and that we wouldn’t be able to stay somewhat funny at least. I believe my exact quote was “It has the potential to provide hours of entertainment for readers, and shape their lives for years to come. However, the downside is that it could get old real soon, and provide us with nothing but an excuse not to get real jobs.”

Well, I think we’ve significantly proven wrong every single point that I just brought up. We have 29 categories, 19 subcategories, and even two sub-sub categories. We’re still writing about reasonably different things, and while we may have slacked on the funny in recent months, we still bring the ‘A’ game on occasion. As far as my quote goes, I’d be willing to bet that we’ve provided maybe a few hours of entertainment for a handful of people, which probably did nothing to shape their lives for even the near fututre. On the upside, it hasn’t gotten old, and we have gotten real-ish jobs.

For all of these reasons, I’m willing to up our star rating by half a star, over the average rating of 3. I’ve also realized that my method of calculating the rating might not be the best, so I’m gonna throw in another half star for a final rating of 4 stars out of five.

****

And for those of you playing along at home, yes, this technically is the 100th review and so therefore should be included. This review receives 3 stars for not having much to offer in the way of witty musings, and for having a faulty overall rating method, but for packing so many subjects and links into one review.

***

The Critical To-Do over Lady in the Water


The cast of the movie Miami Vice hard at work

If you keep tabs on the movie world, you’re probably aware that right now, two sort of big deal stories are going on between critics and directors. The first one involves Joel Siegel making a big to-do and walking out on a screening of Clerks 2, and then being called out by Kevin Smith on the Opie and Anthony radio show. Interestingly enough, Smith’s going to be filling in for Roger Ebert on the “Ebert and Roeper” show this weekend. The second one is a little more high-profile, mostly because the movie’s director is a little more mainstream.

M. Night Shayamalan’s new movie “Lady in the Water” was released into the wild this past Friday, and was met with mostly bad reviews. Strike that; terrible reviews. Strike even that: Reviews that not only claimed that the movie was bad, but “a charmless, unscary, fatuous and largely incoherent fairy tale“, or “idiotic, contrived, amateurish or sub-mental… [and] pretentious, paralyzing twaddle” among other things. The movie pretty much received pans across the board, with rottentomatoes counting only 28 “positive” reviews out of 130 total, with nearly all of the major papers/writers, Variety, Entertainment Weekly, and in probably the best-written of all of them, Roger Ebert’s MAMMOTH Mega-Review, completely tearing the movie apart.

Movies get bad reviews all the time though. Just look at the 15 percent that Little Man got on Rottentomatoes, or the 20 percent that You, Me and Dupree got. The difference in these reviews though is that they’re written about the movies themselves. They’re not out there angrily insulting the Wayanses, or whoever was behind the latest Owen Wilson vehicle.

With such terribly scorching reviews claiming that Shayamalan has basically declared himself a god, and that this movie is the “biggest ego-trip” ever devoted to celluloid, I was terribly worried about going to see it. But you know what? I enjoyed it. I didn’t take any of it seriously, because I knew that much of it would involve highly elaborate mythology that was quite silly. I didn’t care though. The movie looked good, was well-acted, and paced well for what was written, which by proxy means that it was directed well. Was it written well? That’s a matter of opinion, and usually that opinion is no. I’d say it’s serviceable while watching it, but the more you think about it, the worse it gets. Ignoring the overelaborate mythology for a second, there’s the way most all of the characters are said to have a specific purpose, and I guess that’s true to an extent, if you count being a red-herring, or standing around watching something as purposes. There are a lot of characters and they are diverse, and so in order to get their personas across in such a short time, he uses some stereotypes, which I don’t mind, but seems to be another cause for the death sentence he’s being handed. To me, the worst part of the writing was the obnoxiously expositional way that the “mythology” was told to the main character and how easily he and the rest of the people in the apartment complex believe it. Yes there are flaws, but while you’re watching it, it’s for the most part an enjoyable film. I’d give it two and a half stars, out of five.

It seems though that the only person who really shares my sentiment is the guy from the Boston Globe. Everyone else seems to be caught up in this M. Night-hating party that’s all the trend. It’s one thing to criticise the movie, but they’re taking aim straight at him for being a complete egomaniac who won’t listen to other people’s ideas and who presents himself as a savior. What’s their basis for these accusations?

Well, first of all, there’s this book that some guy wrote about why Touchstone Pictures (read:Disney) didn’t want to make this movie unless changes were made. Supposedly he refused to make the changes and they walked away, leading him to go to Warner, where they let him have free reign. Secondly, he likes to cast himself in his movies. That’s not a secret. People who thought he was full of it for casting himself in the role he had in Signs will probably be even angrier at this role. It’s not the size of the role that seems to be bothering critics though; it’s the importance of it. He’s cast himself as the person whom the Lady has come to see, whom she’s come to inspire to write a great piece of literature that will cause a great change in the world. Critics have seen this as the ultimate sign of messianic aspirations.

What angers them the most though is the idea that he had the guts to throw in a character who’s a movie critic. He’s cold and unfeeling, snooty, likes to talk about annoying movie conventions, and (this isn’t much of a spoiler because it’s been talked about and the character isn’t important anyway) he dies.

My take on the whole thing is “Why should I care about this book?”. This goes for both the people who put it out, and the reviewers who care to bring it up in every review. They see the book as being a publicity stunt for the movie, and not the possibility that the book people might want to put it out when the movie comes out as a publicity stunt FOR THE BOOK. Even if it was the case, I don’t see why these movie critics chose to review him instead of his film. When “War of the Worlds” came out, critics didn’t say anything about Tom Cruise’s shennanigans. In fact, they all liked the movie, even though the story was terrible and had more plotholes than both Lady in the Water and The Village combined.

As far as casting himself goes, I don’t mind. I find his acting competely fine for the roles he’s cast himself in. He’s usually cast himself in inconsequential parts, and in his most emotional role in Signs, he was perfectly serious and brooding. His delivery seemed natural and all. In this movie, I understand the reasons why they’d think that he was full of himself for putting himself in the role that he was in. But he was perfectly capable in the part. When he wrote it, he knew that he was going to be playing a fictional version of himself, or maybe how he seems himself. But criticizing him for doing this is like complaining about Eminem in 8 Mile, or Woody Allen in that movie with “Humphrey Bogart”. Acting-wise they could do a lot worse, and any no-name actor would’ve been just as good.

As far as the last issue, I actually agree with the critics. The character is useless in serving the story, except to provide some “wink wink”-type moments meant to criticize both the lack of originality in movies, and the pretensiousness of movie critics. At the same time however, the criticisms that the character has of movies seem to all appear in the film. Examples include characters talking aloud to themselves (ironically, this is done by the critic himself, when confronted with an angry creature), “seemingly unimportant” characters actually being “important“, and the climax taking place in a rain storm. He’s simultaneously written himself into a corner AND been brilliant about it. It’s as if halfway through it he realized that plot elements were too convenient, and so he needed a way to say “I know that that these things are too cliche”. While I understand the character’s “purpose” in the story, it would’ve been better off had he decided to either fix the story issues, or get take the character out entirely. The critic is basically the lazy way out.

I guess my thought about the whole thing is that with such bad reviews, I figured I’d be squirming at how terrible it was, or want to walk out on it, or rip my ticket up out of anger. I didn’t, and I think that for critics to go this ballistic is unnecessary, especially attacking the director, and not the movie itself.

For the amount of complaining that everyone does about how there is nothing new and unique that ever gets a big release, or all the gratingly bad horror movies, or Wayans Brothers projects that keep coming out, M. Night is ALWAYS putting out something different and unique. People should at least give him credit for attempting something like this, even if there were majorly unresolved story issues.

*½

The critics’ response to Lady in The Water gets one and a half stars for having a few legitimate issues with the movie to complain about, but instead opting to attack the director for off-screen dealings and the role he’s cast himself in, nevermind about whether he was a capable actor in the role. I think that critics should spend more of their time vocally ripping apart terrible movies instead of mediocre ones.

“Diary” by Chuck Palahniuk

It’s important to note that I formulated my opinion of this book without the knowledge that it was so universally acclaimed by book critics. This review has nothing to do with their opinions, nor my opinions of their opinions, and is solely based on the merit of the book. “Just for the record“, I think they’re all out of their minds.


I thought it was about cattle farming. Boy was I wrong!….. Ahhh, who am I kidding? That probably woud’ve been a better story, anyway.

Of the five Chuck Palahniuk books I’ve read, “Diary” is undoubtably the least engrossing, and the most difficult to “get”, at least for the first fifty pages or so. Most of that difficulty comes from the fact that the “voice” switches between 3rd, 2nd, and 1st person perspectives at seemingly random times. For the first few chapters the reader is entirely confused. It’s not until later that we’re clued in to the reasoning of the writing style, and even then, it’s still a little hard to figure out why. The book is written as the “coma diary” of Misty Marie Wilmot, an account of the events of her life, for her husband, laying in a coma after his failed suicide attempt. She writes from a detatched 3rd person point of view for most of it, discussing “Misty“, but saying “you” or “I” to re-iterate that her husband is responsible for things being the way they are, or when taking the blame herself, respectively.

Of course, without the clarification that this is indeed her talking about herself, the reader is left with a jumble of “I”s, “you”s, and “Misty/Peter”s, and totally distracted, but knowing the way the author writes, I’m sure that’s how it was intended. Effective, yet at the same time offputting for first-time “Chuck” readers. A common theme in his books is that he hides who characters really are, through tricks of language, and unfortunately, that payoff in this book is both early and underwhelming.

The bigger problem with the story, though, is that there doesn’t seem to be enough plot elements to warrant the length of the book (even though it is pretty short). The story revolves around Misty of course, who met her husband Peter at art school (the details of their courtship are a separate subplot thrown in every few chapters or so, “just in case” Peter doesn’t remember it when he wakes up… conveniently for us), got married, and moved in with his well-to-do family on the tourist trap Waytansea Island. Strangely enough, even though there’s a large influx of non-natives during the summer, somehow all of the rich island people have run out of money and are angry/resentful at/of the tourists. Their sole purpose is to reclaim their life of luxury and exclusivity. And Misty, they say, through her art, will be the one to do it for them.

The main action of the story involves Misty’s discovery of walled-up rooms inside houses that Peter built for the “Summer People”. Inside the rooms he has scrawled incoherent warnings on the wall in large print with spraypaint. The whole time that she is investigating, she is being manipulated by the island inhabitants, including her 13-year-old daughter, into basically becoming immobile and drugged-up, so that she can channel the spirit of a painter who’s been dead for 100 years.

The problem is that the mystery of the walled-up rooms doesn’t go anywhere. Once you read the first message, you realize that he probably didn’t want to be a part of the manipulation, and that’s why he tried to kill himself. There’s no point in dwelling on these rooms at all, yet there are countless chapters devoted to it. It feels like it was just tacked on to lengthen the story, and provide us with those trademark “Chuck” factoids that he fills his books with, namely construction superstitions.

His foreshadowing in this book is also pretty terrible, in that instead of hinting that things aren’t as they seem, he pretty much has the narrator discover that they aren’t, and through her, the reader as well, but not do anything about it. For example, early on, Misty asks around about the cause of Peter’s father’s death, which is met with different responses from different people. Of course she, and we, realize that they are lying to her, but when he appears at the end of the book, alive and well, it seems that we’re expected to be surprised that he is alive. Not only that, but there’s no explanation given as to the reason they faked his death in the first place.

Of course, as with all of the author’s other books, this one is filled to the brim with useless tidbits of knowledge about a few specific subjects, including facial musculature, graphology, the artwork patterns on fine China, and the methods used to make early paints. Unfortunately these factoids fail to be as interesting as how to make soap/explosives, the environmental impact of new species entering a habitat, or even how to clean impossible stains .

The book’s biggest detriment is that there’s no sense of the unexpected about to happen. The only reason I kept reading was just to see if I was right in my guess about the rest of the story.

I can’t in good conscience recommend this book to anyone but die-hard fans of the author. You’d be much better reading Survivor, Lullabye, Fight Club, or Invisible Monsters… probably in that order too.

*

This book has too many extraneous stories that don’t really resolve well enough. The characters aren’t likable in the least, even the character we’re supposed to be rooting for. The writing style is confusing at first and once explained, just tedious. The foreshadowing is too blatant, and there aren’t the traditional surprises that make his books interesting. The factiods quite possibly are the most boring of all of his books, even beating out the complete overkill of the items in Survivor. On the whole though, it’s a lot more of a pleasant read than most of the stuff we had to read in 9th and 11th grade of high school, namely “The Good Earth”, “Jane Eyre”, “The Scarlett Letter”, and “The Red Badge of Courage”, all considered classics.

The First Half of “The Rule of Four”

Mini-review!

So, maybe reviewing half of a book is not the most fair thing to do, but I’m about half of the way through The Rule of Four, probably the most notable of the non-Dan Brown authored so-called “it’s like The DaVinci Code” books popular during the “great historical artifact mystery novel boom of the early-to-mid 2000’s.” It was popular enough to spawn a “the truth behind” sort of exposé into its central historical mystery.

ruleof4.jpg
My mysterious masterwork invokes something called “The Rule of Floors.” It has a prominent place in “The Dalrymple Freak-Out Factor.”

Keeping up the mini-review theme, here’s a mini re-cap: the historical artifact is a book written in the late 1400’s, entitled Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. If you’re familiar with The DaVinci Code, replace “works of art” with “big book.” But, The Rule of Four, so far (of course), rises above whatever one would consider the DaVinci Code to be in terms of quality with actual interesting writing with (what we so ambitiously learned in 7th grade) “voice,” not just the author writing “x,y,z, happened, Mr. Smith thought a,b,c, then said, ‘l,m,n.'” Maybe this is just the product of the first-person point-of-view, but it works.

Oddly, the authors move between past tense (normal for adventure-fiction) and present tense depending on the (sometimes upcoming) action. It works for creating tension, but once you realize that they move between the two tenses, it’s easy to expect something dramatic to happen as soon as someone “sees” something instead of “saw” it. BUT, the book is enjoyable to read during the parts of “low action,” very unlike The DaVinci Code, so their stylistic choices/risks work out well.

****

The first half of The Rule of Four receives four stars (coincidentally) due to its setting up of a potentially solid second half. Because of the relative obscurity (compared to anything by Leonardo DaVinci) of the historical artifact in question, there isn’t any built-in suspense. “There’s a murder clue in The Mona Lisa!!!” is interesting on its own, while “There are clues hidden about a 600 year old secret in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili!” gets more of the “huh?” response than intrigued readers. BUT, being that the authors are tasked with not only devising an interesting story, but making readers intrigued in an historical artifact they’ve never heard of, they’ve succeeded admirably on both fronts: making me curious about this 600 year old book and wondering how their book will end.

The Dictionary

Sean Connery suggests reading, but not the dictionary
Sean Connery suggests reading, but not the dictionary.

Finally done. I was told last year, that if i really wanted a challenging book to read that I should pick up this new book called “Dictionary” by Webster. Man, were they right. This book took me five months to finish, and I still don’t get it. It’s like the author decided to take a bunch of big words, and write a giant, avant garde poem about each one, e.e. cummings style. The typeset is all not formal, with two columns down each page, making the reader look all the way down and then back down a second time.

The nearest I can tell, it’s the story of Adj. and his on-again, off-again lover Adv. in a coming of age story that involves all kinds of science related terms that are ten letters or more, “the act of” doing things, and having the reader turn to other pages to “see” other words. This “choose your own adventure” style storytelling may have flown ten years ago, but now it’s just tedious. I haven’t been this annoyed trying to read a book since “House of Leaves”.

To make matters worse, it seems this format has recently been copied by authors such as Roget, and Oxford, going as far as even naming the book the same. I’m sure a lawsuit is impending.

One other note. After the great (and completely dumbfounding) success of this book, the author decided to continue the story in a sequel entitled “Thesaurus”, which I assume involves the two scientists, going back to the age of dinosaurs, in yet another completely incoherent writing style.

*

The Dictionary receieves 1 star, as it has a completely incoherent story and writing style, much in the same vein as Jane Eyre, or The Scarlett Letter. I’ve also deducted points for the pompousness required to write a sequel.