Pub Day Post: Mr. Neutron by Joe Ponepinto

Mr. NeutronMr. Neutron

by Joe Ponepinto

eARC, 300 pg.
7.13 Books, 2018

Read: March 1 – 3, 2018

It couldn’t be real. Just couldn’t. Besides, if someone brought a cadaver to life today, it would be under controlled circumstances—in a lab at some university, with the media and religious protesters in attendance. It would go viral on the web. He would have heard about it.

Still, Gray couldn’t dismiss the possibility. His timid psyche often cleaved to the supernatural, if only to explain the failures in his life. And dead men had been elected before, although they typically stayed in their graves and didn’t campaign.

Before I get into this — yes, this is a political satire. But it’s pretty apolitical. There are almost no political points made, few actual policies advanced or discussed, and certainly no mainstream parties are either pilloried or lauded. The satire is of this strange thing called American politics — the campaigns, the process, the press, the people involved. Conservatives, liberals, statists, libertarians, and everyone in between can read this safely without worrying about getting much tweaked by the book.

In the opening paragraphs we meet Gray (Davenport, we’re later told) and Reason Wilder. Gray is running a mayoral campaign and one of his candidate’s opponents is Reason. Right away, you can tell this book isn’t going for subtlety. We later meet Patsy Flatley (the advisor to Gray’s candidate), The Reverend Inchoate Hand, Breeze Wellington, and Randy (of various last names) — all of these names tell you a good deal about these characters (and I could’ve listed other examples). Ponepinto lays his cards on the table right away when it comes to his characters and the type of people they are.

Reason isn’t the best funded, most articulate, or most polished candidate — but there’s some impossibly strong magnetism about him and his simple promise that “Together we will do great things for this city,” without ever giving a specific idea how they’ll do that, or what a great thing might be. Virtually everyone who encounters Reason falls under his spell but Gray. Not only does Gray maintain some sort of skepticism about Reason, he notices a disturbing odor about him, the way his body doesn’t seem to work together organically, and frankly, doesn’t seem to belong together. It’s almost as if someone stitched him together from spare parts.

Once Gray starts speculating down that path, he becomes convinced that’s the case — and sets out to prove it. Along the way, this effort causes problems in his marriage (well, it brings problems in his marriage to a head); brings some powerful people into his life; and puts him in league with the strangest journalists you’ve probably encountered. This kicks off some overdue self-examination to go along with his hunt for information about Reason.

All the while, the campaign goes on: Gray’s duller than dull candidate tries to build a voter base, the well-funded front-runner has to work to remain relevant, and Reason’s cult grows in a way no one can believe (or deny). We see a debate, a fundraiser or two, press conferences, polls, and money — and the ways all of those can alter a campaign, especially the money.

One difficulty I had while reading this book was remembering it was a satire — Ponepinto’s writing frequently comes across as highly-crafted and nuanced, and then he’ll have someone named Randy do something filled with innuendo or something equally obvious or ridiculous and I’d have to remind myself I was reading a book about a Frankenstein’s Monster-like being running for mayor, and perhaps I shouldn’t take it too seriously. I do think that’s a strength of the book — I’d forget I was reading nonsense about impossible tings because the narration was just so serious. It is a funny book, at times, but not told in a way that underscores it, which somehow works.

I didn’t love the ending, honestly. But I absolutely get why Ponepinto did it — and good satires rarely have satisfactory endings anyway. This was better than a lot of them — for example, I’ve read almost all of Christopher Buckley’s novels and there’s only one of them that had an ending I can tolerate. So, “didn’t love” is pretty good. I thought the last couple of paragraphs were far too preachy, and could’ve been cut without really harming the novel and/or its message.

But before all that, we’ve got a very strange ride. You’re not going to see a lot like this — a little supernatural/monster, some pointed commentary on politics, a dash of romance, a nice friendship, and an odd collection of characters bringing all this to you. You should give it a shot. I have no idea what kind of follow-up Ponepinto might have in store, but I’m very curious.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC in exchange for this post and my honest opinions.

—–

4 Stars

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Timekeepers by Simon Garfield

TimekeepersTimekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time

by Simon Garfield

eARC, 368 pg.
Canongate Books, 2018

Read: February 16 – 23, 2018

Time, once passive, is now aggressive. It dominates our lives in ways that the earliest clockmakers would have surely found unbearable. We believe that time is running away from us. Technology is making everything faster, and because we know that things will become faster in the future, it follows that nothing is fast enough now. . . But the strangest thing of all is this: if they were able, the earliest clockmakers would tell us that the pendulum swings at the same rate as it always has, and the calendars have been fixed for hundreds of years. We have brought this cauldron of rush upon ourselves. Time seems faster because we have made it so.

I remember a few books pretty distinctly from my childhood — particularly those I read that were my first forays into “grown up” books — Ian Fleming, Erle Stanley Gardner, Mario Puzo, Richard Hooker, and so on. The first non-fiction book that I remember trying along those lines was Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, which may have ruined me for a lot of the non-fiction that would follow (we can talk about my discernment later). It was funny, it taught me a lot, it made me think of the early US Space Program a little differently than what I’d been taught, and it was told in Tom Wolfe’s voice (which I love to this day). But it cemented the way I look at non-fiction books. Today, when it comes to non-fiction reads, there are a number of ways I tend to judge them (rightly or wrongly) — first (always first): Is it well-written? I’m not saying it has to sound like Wolfe, but does the writer know what he’s doing? Even if I end up learning a lot from a book, if it’s not well-written, I’m not going to like it. Secondly, is it informative? Do I actually learn something, or is it a re-hash of things that any number of books have said (do we really need that many biographies of Abraham Lincoln?)? Thirdly, does it make me think of something in a new way, or challenge my preconceptions (does this examination of Don DeLillo make me re-think White Noise? (I know of no book like this, but would love to read one)). Fourth, this is not essential — but is the book entertaining? It gets bonus points for that.

Simon Garfield’s Timekeepers, clears the bar for every one of these standards. Since he does it more succinctly than I could, I’ll let Garfield sum up the book:

This is a book about our obsession with time and our desire to beat it. . . The book has but two simple intentions: to tell some illuminating stories, and to ask whether we have all gone completely nuts.

He begins with telling the well-known (at least in brush strokes) story about the invention of time zones — but man, did I not understand really how this came about. Then he covers the experiments with the calendar, the clock, etc. tried following the French Revolution (and how some of those experiments live on). We get a couple of chapters on time and the cinema. Music (Beethoven, The Beatles, recording and more), photography, filibustering, the work day, and other sundry topics are covered as well. You can’t forget watch-making, watch-marketing, watch-design, watch-capabilities, watch-symbolism, and a few other watch-related notions that I can’t think of at the moment.

Let’s get to the writing itself. Garfield has a way with words — the number of sentences that I highlighted because of his use of the language is pretty high. If I quoted every one that I wanted to, this post would quickly move into the tl;dr range — and into the copyright infringement range not long after that. It wasn’t just his style, the book simply displays some well-crafted writing. It’s not perfect — but it’s good. I’ll freely admit that not every topic he covered really interested me, but his writing kept me reading — and I was rewarded pretty frequently. Even when my interest waned, his writing would stand out here and there so I could appreciate the how he said it, even if the what didn’t interest me. Rarely, the topics that did grab me would have a paragraph or so that didn’t rise to that level, however. I’m not going to go into specifics on this point, though — I didn’t bother to note those, and I bet that comes down to taste and others won’t think of those passages the same way, and they were brief moments, so they didn’t detract from the whole.

Did I learn something from the book? Much more than I expected to. The chapter on the French experiments alone probably taught me enough to justify the whole book. I didn’t/couldn’t stick with the details of watch-making (I have a hard time visualizing that kind of detail), but even that was fascinating and informative on the surface. Most topics broadened my understanding and taught me something. Also, the sheer amount of trivia that I picked up was great (the amount of time spent recording the first Beatles LP, why pop music tends to be about 3 minutes long, etc., etc.

But it’s not just about the information gained — it’s what that information means (both in terms of the book’s argument(s), but in how the reader considers that information in the light of what they already know and personal experience. Every time that Garfield moves from the “here’s what happened” or the “here’s how this works” bits to the “because this happened” or “because this works” bits, it was something I don’t know that I’d spent too much time thinking about previously. Sometimes those took the form of quick “huh,” moments — but occasionally he brushed against profundity, which I really appreciated.

And yes, Garfield picked up bonus points for entertainment. After the first paragraph in Chapter 1, my notes read “Between the Introduction and this paragraph, I’ve laughed four times. Am going to dig this book.” Later on, I wrote that I didn’t care about the content, really, I was having too much fun reading it to worry about it being right.

There’s room for improvement, I think. If there’s a design to the organization, I’m not sure I see it. He appears to hopscotch around between his topics. I’m honestly not sure how he could have arranged them to flow from one to another, but I do believe it could’ve been done. I think he could’ve lessened the detail occasionally (and increased it in a spot or two). But generally, this is me being nit-picky for the sake of not being a push over. There’s really almost nothing to complain about.

Garfield scores across the board with this one, however. I do think the survey hops around a bit too much without obvious connections between the ideas so that the cumulative punch is less than it could be. In his concluding thoughts, Garfield raises some issues and asks some pointed questions that could be more forceful, more pointed if the preceding chapters had been more clearly linked. Nevertheless, the points were made and I, like most readers (I suspect), had to give some serious thought about my relationship to time and what I actually value. I’ll have to continue this thinking for a while, actually — the fact that I have to — and want to — is because of this book forcing me to consider things I’ve taken for granted about time and how my life is governed. I suspect I am not alone in this.

Thought-provoking, interesting, educating, well-written and generally entertaining — Timekeepers really covers all the bases and covers them well. You’d do well to check it out.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the swell folks at Canongate Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. I’m very sorry this posted after the release date, my notes had that in March.

—–

4 Stars

The Meifod Claw by JW Bowe

The Meifod ClawThe Meifod Claw

by JW Bowe

Kindle Edition, 384 pg.
Serious Biscuits, 2017

Read: February 14 – 16, 2018


I’m going to keep the synopsis-y part of this vague because the blurbs for this book are pretty vague, and to a great extent, so is the book. This takes place in Wales, it involves a former sailor now confined to a wheelchair and a mostly abandoned farm-house (it fills up after a chapter or so), his niece, his nephew (who pretty much owns the house and funds everything in the book) and his nephew’s friend — who dropped out of a master’s level physics program to take part in the hi-jinks that occur. Oh, at some point a dog is introduced — he doesn’t seem to add much to anything, only serves to derail the progress of the plot for a bit, but he seems like a cool dog, and I’m a sucker for cool dogs.

The guys have assembled at this abandoned farm to work on a project and the niece/sister drops in every now and then to “tsk” at them and examine the books. When they’re not working on the project — and frequently as an aid to working on the project — the uncle, nephew and friend get high, drunk, stoned, and wasted, at the same time. There are probably a few other nearly synonymous terms I could throw in there, too.

I’m honestly not sure if the project is supernatural in nature (there’s a salt circle involved, but it doesn’t seem to do anything, and I’m not sure anyone believes it ought to), based in some sort of physics/”fringe” science (there’s a lot of talk that indicated that), or some sort of combination thereof. Frankly, I’m not convinced that the novel is all that certain of the nature of the project. I know a whole lot more of the drinking and drug habits of the characters than of the reason they’re together. The nephew is the Visionary, the friend is the brains behind things (although there’s very little time that I can tell you that he’s doing anything), and the uncle is the guy who lives in the house.

I do know that one of the side effects of this project is that it is some sort of miracle-grow product for plants — which means that the marijuana they use and sell to finance this project is larger, higher quality, etc. than one should expect. There is some contact with supernatural/spiritual entities, some with alien life (or they’re all three), a government agency and someone who’d done the same kind of work as these three earlier (and hints that they’re not alone).

I got frustrated with this novel quickly, but stuck with it hoping it’d change my mind (or that I’d at least figure it out), but the way that the story was told got in my way. Every time someone makes a decision, or gets a new piece of information, relaying that information/acting on the decision is put off for a day and a half (at least) for alcohol and recreation pharmaceutical use. During that day and a half any number of things can be said/happen that delays the relaying/acting. It is so infuriating. Maybe it’d have been better if the results of the binge-drinking, acid use, cocaine snorting, etc. were amusing or interesting, but I doubt it.

There was every reason in the world for me to get into this book, and I just couldn’t. Maybe it was my mood (I don’t think so, I wanted a book just like this at the time), maybe it was something else outside the book, so that I should recommend this to you all. But I’m pretty sure it was the book this time — if you’ve read this and disagree with me? I’d love to hear why. I wouldn’t mind changing my mind.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book by the author in exchange for my honest opinion.

—–

2 Stars

Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz

Orphan XOrphan X

by Gregg Hurwitz
Series: Orphan X, #1

Hardcover, 354 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2016

Read: January 17 – 18, 2017


Wow. Just wow.

I firmly believe, and have said so repeatedly here, that it’s not the novelty of an idea that makes a book worth reading, it’s the execution. But for some reason, because I’ve seen/read this story (at least what one can tell from the blurb) so many times, I put off reading it. That was stupid. There’s a reason some stories, some ideas are told so many times: when done well, they are great.

That’s what we’ve got here. Evan Smoak is an Orphan (he’s also an orphan, but that’s not all that important). From a pretty young age, he’s been trained as an off-the-books special operative for the US government, with a tie to only his handler. No other connection whatsoever to any covert agency, budget, oversight. Nothing can possibly go wrong with that, right? At some point he runs into another Orphan and is struck by the differences between the two — clearly, Evan’s training involved the cultivation of a conscience and a modicum of ethics. This splash of humanity gets this human weapon into trouble and he leaves the program.

But it’s not like he’s got a backup plan for his life, he’s trained for only one thing, so he becomes The Nowhere Man. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him…maybe you can hire, well, the A-Team. Because The Nowhere Man can’t be hired. If he helps you, all he asks is that you find someone else in trouble and give them his phone number. Evan goes on for some time like this, helping people who can’t help themselves, getting some justice for those who are let down by the system, etc.

Until one day, things go pear-shaped when meeting a new client, and suddenly Evan finds himself (for the first time in his life) the hunted.

About the same time that his professional career is blowing up (almost literally), he finds himself having a personal life. Until now, Evan’s lived a pretty monkish life — free from personal ties, anyway. A lonely existence to be sure. and he starts to have friends? Not surprisingly, at all, this adds some complications to his already pretty complicated week.

This is an exciting read, fast-paced, energetic, incredibly violent — the fight scenes are great. This is essentially a Jason Statham movie in text form (although Statham always looks like someone who could star in an action flick and Evan doesn’t). It’s fun, it’s impossible to take seriously, (but I can’t imagine that Hurwitz expects anyone to). Evan’s The Punisher without the anger, The Equalizer without the age, Jason Bourne without the memory issues, James Bond without the government backing/British accent, John Wick without the dog or criminal record.

Okay, it’s clear I don’t know what to say about Orphan X at this point . . . this is a fun read, I’m glad I finally got around to it, and I’m looking forward to the sequels. If you like action flicks, give it a shot.

—–

3.5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

2018 Reading Challenge: First-Reads!

Okay, I decided to up by Reading Challenge Game in 2018.

The next one I’m talking about is one I’m really looking forward to tackling.

(text stolen from the sign-up page)
Do you remember the feeling when you read the first book by your favourite author? Yes well, its for that feeling that I have come up with this challenge. Also, there was a time when I would only stick to the books written by authors I had previously read and enjoyed. But soon I realised that I was missing out on a lot other books. So, readers & bloggers, come together to this challenge that will make you pick up books by authors that you haven’t read before! You never know, you just might find another author to love and follow.

Points to Know:
1. Read & Review as many books as possible, by authors that YOU haven’t read before.
2. You do not have to be a blogger to participate. However, you have to post a review on some site in order to participate. It can be on Goodreads and/or Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble and/or Smashwords.
3. If you are a blogger link up your permalink to the review posts. If you aren’t a blogger, then link up the permalink to your reviews from whichever site you have chosen to post the review on.
4. The books can overlap with other reading challenges.
5. Books read may be any form (audio, print, e-book).
6. Post your links to your reviews each month to share with other participants.
7. The challenge runs from January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018. Its never too late to Join In!

Sign Up Here. I’m at least going for the Lover level, maybe the Expert.

I’ll be tracking my reads here or you can see the posts about the books here.