Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings – A Book Review

You may remember that my wife and I very much enjoyed Killing Eve, which aired on BBC America.  As is my habit, I had to go check out the source material, which turned out to be a novel entitled Codename Villanelle.

Written by Luke Jennings, this fast-paced, brisk thriller served as the basis for the television show.  However, as you read the book, you’ll notice the show greatly enriched virtually every character.

Villanelle is still present–obviously.  So is Eve.  Konstantin and Niko, too.  Several other characters were adapted into new characters for the show, or outright jettisoned.

The show also used the same general plot.  Villanelle is an international assassin who comes from less than nothing.  Konstantin is her handler.  Eve is a UK agent obsessed with apprehending Villanelle.  Niko is still her husband.  However, Jennings keeps them fairly bare-bones.  Yes, he introduces some of their little idiosyncrasies.  Eve is still something of a social train-wreck.  Villanelle is still a sociopath.  Niko is still incredibly patient and helpful.  But, we seem to just skim the surface of these interesting attributes.  None of them have the charm nor the depth of their televised counterparts.

The novel is very plot driven.  Jennings is incredibly specific with locations, weaponry, procedures, and technology.  There is ample action that moves at a whiplash pace, but, again, the characters are somewhat flat.

I have to wonder if I’m being unfair to the book.  Killing Eve is clearly such a special show, is it unfair to judge the source material too harshly in this case?  Could Killing Eve’s charming, odd, wonderful characters have existed without Jennings groundwork?

Honestly, I don’t think I’m being unfair.  The book was an entertaining read, but it didn’t strike me as monumental.  Without the show, I don’t think it would have made much of an impression on me.  Keep in mind, though, I don’t read much suspense or espionage spy stories.

Frankly, there were times when I thought the book was a little sexually gratuitous.  Jennings makes a point to depict Villanelle as a sexual predator.  He absolutely objectifies her and her prey.  It largely felt unnecessary to me, because it is–again–dealt with at a very shallow level that makes it seem like it’s there only to shock the reader.

If you like quick reads full of detail, action, violence, and suspense, this is the book for you.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

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Pops by Michael Chabon – A Book Review

If you visit this site regularly, you probably know I’m a bit of a Michael Chabon fan.  (I met him once, you know.)  His latest book recently released, and I could not wait to read it.

Pops is a very slim collection of nonfiction essays.  I particularly enjoy Chabon’s nonfiction because he is unafraid.  He addresses topics that would scare most authors.  Specifically, he has no issues admitting that fatherhood, and manhood for that matter, is a bit of a work in progress for him.  Even though none of us have it figured out, he readily admits that fact.

Remember, Chabon is a world-renowned Pulitzer Prize winner.  He should have an ego the size of a mansion, but he doesn’t.  His humility is both refreshing and inspiring.

At just 127 pages, Pops succinctly delves into Chabon’s adventures in fatherhood.  If I’m not mistaken, each of his children serves as the focus of an essay.  The themes range from discovering the true nature of a child to seizing upon missed opportunities to trying to teach boys not to act like assholes.  There’s much more, of course, but the unifying factor throughout is Chabon admitting to his own mistakes and simply trying to do the best he can.

The book ends, interestingly enough, with Chabon writing an essay about his own father.  If you are a consistent reader of Chabon, you understand that this is well-covered ground.  He is not mean when it comes to his own father, yet he also isn’t sugarcoating anything.  It’s obvious that he loves his own dad, but it’s also apparent that he didn’t always like the man.

If find it fascinating that in a book about his own trials, tribulations, and triumphs as a father, he ends on a note that helps us to understand the events that forged the sort of father he would one day become.  Now, I trust Chabon completely.  I’ve been reading him since 2004, and I’ve never had reason to doubt his honor or sincerity.  However, it is worth noting that in all his recollections regarding his father, we’ve only had his unique perspective.  And now, in writing about himself as a father, we only have his point of view.  What would his own children say about these essays?  Will they find Chabon’s writing compatible with their own personal experiences?

Chabon is incredibly intelligent.  It would not surprise me at all if he were to have his children participate in a podcast or an interview or something to serve as a companion piece to this novel.  It simply struck me as an interesting thought.

As always, Chabon delivers beautiful prose describing his escapades in parenting.  If you love his writing, you’ll love this book.

 

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Avengers: Infinity War – A Spoiler-Free Review

At long last, the film we’ve all been waiting for has arrived.  It’s hard to believe that the groundwork for Infinity War began all the way back in 2011 with Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor.  2012 brought The Avengers which introduced us to Thanos and his quest for those pesky Infinity Stones.

Was Infinity War worth the wait?

I literally just finished watching it about forty minutes ago and I can tell you … YES!  Infinity War surpassed my expectations and satisfied in ways I will address without getting too specific.

As always, I live a spoiler-free life, and I will not ruin this movie for you, I promise.

I’d like to first and foremost give the movie credit for fully realizing Thanos as a character.  This guy has been teased for the last several years, but this is HIS movie.  You get to know him very well and he proves far more complicated than I expected.  Furthermore, he looks great.  Special effects obviously played a big role with this character, yet they are seamless.  He looks to be physically present in every scene, and that’s rare in today’s CGI-obsessed movie world.  I’ve always considered Thanos a Darkseid ripoff and never given him much thought, but he definitely won me over as a worthwhile villain.

Also, they managed to bring us virtually the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Almost every character you know and love gets a moment in this movie.   I’m actually surprised at how much screen time several of our favorite Avengers received.  With story lines unfolding in various locales on Earth and in space, I’m amazed how it all somehow worked.  This is not a cash-grab.  Infinity War has a real story with several characters playing vital roles.

Make no mistake, by the way.  Thanos does indeed bring war with him.  He unleashes carnage, mayhem, and destruction at every opportunity.  This movie revels in chaos and pushes every one of our heroes to their breaking points.  This is the first Marvel movie in which the heroes’ victory is not a foregone conclusion.

Which brings me to my final point: Infinity War has real consequences.  This movie is not afraid to break convention.  It’s daring, bold, and, frankly, a breath of fresh air in a time of supposed cinematic super hero fatigue.  Infinity War has done something different with the cinematic super hero genre, something new.

I left the movie theater in shock.  That’s the highest compliment I can give any movie.

If you’re invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’ll want to go see this movie as soon as possible.  It will be very hard to avoid spoilers in the coming days.

All right, I have to get up for work in about five hours, so I better call it a night.  Thanks for reading!

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn – A Book Review

I took a chance on this very quick read after a friend recommended it.

Ella Minnow Pea is a unique concept.  The premise is that a small island exists off the coast of South Carolina.  This entire island’s culture is based upon Nevin Nollop, the man responsible for the blessed phrase: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

Though a literate, incredibly well-spoken people, the island’s inhabitants are thrown into complete disarray as a statue of Nollop begins to lose letters from the sacred phrase.  They take these jettisoned letters as spiritual intervention, and so they remove each letter from usage as it falls.

Because the book is written as literal correspondence between characters, a dark farce ensues.  The messages begin missing those outlawed letters, and, by book’s end, the notes between characters are nearly incomprehensible.

To make matters worse, the town punishes anyone caught using the banned letters.  Beatings, exile, even death can result as a byproduct of usage.  Things get very bleak very quickly, yet the circumstances continuously remain hilarious.

While the story itself did not make a lasting impact upon me, Mark Dunn’s execution absolutely impressed.  To literally omit those letters banned by the town in the actual story — that’s no easy feat!  I enjoyed the structure, construction, and style of the book immensely, and I would recommend reading it for that experience alone.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Batman: The War Of Jokes and Riddles by Tom King and Mikel Janin – A Book Review

I’m not totally on board with Tom King’s Batman. Tom King is a good writer, don’t misunderstand, but his take on Batman just isn’t really doing much for me.

In this volume, Bruce Wayne is in bed with Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. He is baring his soul regarding a horrific moment during his first year as Batman, a moment that occurred during The War of Jokes and Riddles.

First of all, that’s a really awkward name for a war. Maybe a little too literal as well. Don’t you think?

Anyway, Bruce is recounting his tale to Selina and we experience what is essentially a flashback. The Joker and the Riddler have declared war against each other, and all of the other villains in Gotham have chosen sides. There’s some perfunctory attempt at explaining why a band of murderous sociopaths would join forces, but it all fell a little flat with me. Eventually the story begins to focus on Kite Man. Yes. You read that right. That’s where it really lost its way with me.

I will admit that I appreciate King’s take on The Joker. Unfortunately, his Riddler seemed totally out of character in my mind. The whole story felt a little too contrived, a little too forced for my taste. It struck me as though they had a really cool idea to have Riddler and Joker wage war, but then couldn’t come up with anything any deeper than that concept.

Mikel Janin’s art, though, absolutely makes this volume worth reading. I believe his Joker is iconic, and his Batman is both regal and terrifying. I first discovered Janin on Justice League Dark, and his talent has only grown.

King’s moody, almost whiny Batman is not for me, but I appreciate the risks he’s taking and the new stories he’s trying to tell. His work is solid and well-executed, I just don’t care for his iteration of the character.

(His Mister Miracle, on the flip side, may be the best series that I’ve ever read.)

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe – A Book Review

This particular book has been on my “to read” list for quite a while after I saw that Neil Gaiman recommended it.

The plot revolves around a man named Bax — a scholar many times over, a cheat, a sometimes fraud, and a recently released convict.  He has no money and so, after drifting a bit, takes up residence in what he presumes to be an abandoned house.  He soon discovers that the house has claimed him as its own, and so he must deal with all the sorcery, monsters, mystery, and family lineage that accompanies it.  The only question is to whom the title refers.  Is it the previous owner of the home … or Bax himself?

This book is unusual in that is is comprised of a series of letters written mostly by Bax himself.  Due to this method, we get to know Bax very well, or at least the persona he wishes to display to the recipients of his letters.  These letters make for a very fast, entertaining read.

However, because Bax is essentially a first-person narrator, I sometimes found myself distracted by his near omnipotence.  It’s a tricky thing to write a book in this manner, and, at times, Bax seemed to know too much which resulted in the letters feeling less like correspondence and more like actual chapters.

Even with that being said, I did enjoy the story’s trajectory.  It felt different in that it did not conform to the typical third act showdown.  Characters came and went without much fuss, which is how I would describe this book as a whole — it doesn’t make too much of a fuss.  It handles some rather epic concepts humbly and without much of a to-do.  I found that restraint rather charming, actually.

I’m glad Neil Gaiman, a literary hero of mine, thinks so highly of The Sorcerer’s House.  I apparently did not enjoy it as much as he, but if you think highly of Gaiman, I urge you to give it a try for yourself.

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 (Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson – A Book Review

As you know, I’m honored to be a teacher by day.  An esteemed student recommended this book to my class, and he made it sound so exciting, so imaginative, and so flat-out fun that we all wanted to read it.  I ran to my local library and picked up a copy as soon as I could.

Perhaps the most astounding thing about Snow Crash is that it debuted in 1992.  In many ways, this book is downright prophetic in regards to technology, specifically the internet.  It absolutely nailed what was then considered the near future.  I dare you to read this book and not see a world that came to realization.

The plot is … complicated.  Hmm.  How best to succinctly explain?  Okay, here goes: Hiro Protagonist is an underachieving hacker who spends his days delivering pizza for the Mafia.  However, he’s also a master swordsman responsible for much of what’s called the Metaverse, which is what we would call a world of virtual reality.  There’s a new virus attacking those most adept at coding, especially hackers.  It’s called Snow Crash.  However, this virus may not be new — it may be the remnant of something from Biblical times.  There’s so much more, but that’s the driving thread of the book.

Every single sentence in this book made me work, and I mean that as a compliment.  It’s so unique, so original that the reader cannot take a single word off — it demands your concentration at all times.

My only complaint is that the book seems to end rather abruptly compared to the epic tale preceding it.  Frankly, the ending struck me as almost anticlimactic, but that seems fairly consistent with the author’s sensibilities.  Mr. Stephenson seems like a writer that refuses to follow convention, especially when it comes to endings.

Some books require no necessary rereads.  Snow Crash is NOT one of those books.  I intend to read this book again, and probably a third time as well, in order to fully grasp it.

If you’re looking for something completely unique and unlike virtually anything else you’ve ever read, I suggest Snow Crash.  Though it will remind you of The Matrix and Ready Player One, you must remember that this came first.

 

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)