Review for The Passage & Breathless

My streak of running into books I love is now up to 4. After The Windup Girl and Year of the Flood last week, it’s The Passage and Breathless this week.

The Passage by Justin Cronin. At $13.99 it’s not even worth linking to – just get a used hardcover for $3 instead. On the other hand, it’s about twice the size of a normal book.

This is nearly as good as The Road, The Windup Girl, and Perdido Street Station. It’s a mix of post-apocalyptic survival, horror and twisted vampires. It’s also about hope and the journey of self-discovery.

It’s one of the rare vampire/zombie books that manages to avoid being a royal mess. There are one or two vampire references that will make you cringe but 99% of the book is solid. The vampires are amazing. There are parts where the author loses his sanity and tries to paint them as 5% human and spoil the fun – For the most part, he just lets them go about their evil and ruthless ways.

There were a lot of good things about the book –

  1. It’s long – you’re definitely not going to feel cheated after buying it. It is perhaps a bit too long – but that’s much better than being too short.
  2. The Passage in the title refers to something deeper that runs throughout the book – and not just the physical passage the protagonists make.
  3. Some of the main characters are great.
  4. It really is several books in one, and they are intertwined quite well.
  5. The journey at times is reminiscent of The Lords of The Rings (in a good way).
  6. It does pull you in – it’s hard not to get vested in the survival of everyone.
  7. It manages to reduce hope to a flicker and then bring it back to full burn surprisingly well, and several times. 
  8. It’s a story. There’s a lot of life in it and a lot of story-telling and even the author’s attempts to movie-material the story don’t affect it. It’s a rich story. 

There are also some obvious pain points –

  1. There are a few places where it becomes obvious you’re being set-up for a follow-on. It doesn’t help that the forthcoming two books in the Trilogy arrive in 2012 and 2014.
  2. There’s a little bit too much improbability. Not in the ‘wow this is so fantastic and wonderful and imaginative’ sense, but in the ‘the author ran out of logical ways to fill in the story’ sense.
  3. You do get the feeling a few times that the author was thinking about how good of a movie-scene a passage of the book would make. You almost wish his mother had sat him down and reminded him – In 50 years there will be 3D movies catering to all 5 senses and no one is going to care about the movies that were made in 2011. Your story, however, has the potential to be treasured for another 1,000 years.
  4. There are moments that are truly frustrating. This actually adds to the overall appeal of the book because the flawed parts better highlight the truly great parts. You almost suspect the author put in a few (not many, just a few) appallingly bad things in there to make the rest stand out.
  5. There are two very obvious editing mistakes in the ebook towards the end – the type that are very hard to miss.

Can’t go into more detail. Let’s just say that this book is almost at the level of the books mentioned above – at times it soars above them, at times it disappoints (but not for long).

If the remaining two books of the trilogy can keep the good parts of the first, and perhaps get rid of a few of the flaws, this trilogy has a chance at becoming a classic. The best vampire story since Dracula. It really does have that much potential – the story really is that good.

Breathless by Dean Koontz.

This is a very hard to categorize book. Haven’t read the other reviews but it wouldn’t be a surprise if this were a very hit or miss type of book with divided opinions.

Update: It seems a LOT of people hate the way the storylines are brought together. Interesting.

It’s 4 parallel stories with 2 of the smaller ones merging at the end. The main story meets up briefly, and rather awkwardly, with the last one. They are all good stories – each would make a decent novella and the characters certainly are interesting.

The main story is almost a fable. There’s a lot of ‘trust in the universe’ and ‘believe in your heart’ in the story and it’s done in a way that isn’t condescending. It’s interesting how Dean Koontz talks about Science – that in some ways science has forgotten that we don’t really know anything for sure. It would be easy to misinterpret what he’s saying but it isn’t meant in any obtuse way – just as a fact. That scientists today should be careful because what they hold in their hearts as true might just be today’s equivalent of the flat world theory.

There are a few things to like about the book –

  1. It’s very full of hope. I’d go so far as to say there’s a sense of wonder.
  2. It’s very open. It has a surprisingly quick ending but one that is digestible and open (not in the sense of ‘sequel open’ but in the sense that you can take the story where you want to take it).
  3. At least 2 of the 4 storylines are very good.
  4. Dean Koontz writes very well – You’ll be reading something and suddenly something will strike you and the truth of it will be evident and it’s puzzling how it’s just wrapped up in a normal story.
  5. Basically, it’s a book that’s very approachable and normal. Yet, at the same time, it has some pretty high level concepts.
  6. It’s not very deep and exceedingly deep at the same time. One person could read through and get nothing except the story and another could find something that’ll stun him.
  7. It has an Irish wolfhound in it. How can you not love a dog that is capable of hunting wolves.

In his Frankenstein series there was always a sense of ‘building up for the next book’ but with this book he’s managed to get rid of that while still keeping the good writing. It also has a demonstration of some pretty evolved writing skills – fitting in all these things that surprise you with their lucidity in the midst of a completely separate, different story. It doesn’t have the pace of the Frankenstein books (or rather the sense of pace).

It’s not recommended to read this book if –

  1. You went to Harvard.
  2. You are in love with Costume National.
  3. You hate any mention of hope or positiveness. This book is practically drowning in it.
  4. You think evolution is a universal truth and think there is no other possibility (scientific, random, or spiritual).
  5. You like a writer to demonstrate his knowledge of elaborate words as opposed to his storytelling abilities.
  6. Update: From reviews it seems you might not like it very much if you’re expecting to find a lot of horror in it or a nice, relaxed merging together of the storylines or a long, exciting rollercoaster ride at the end.

It’s a really good book in the sense that it’ll almost certainly make you happy to read it – provided you don’t fall into the above 6 categories.

The best words to describe this book would be Different and Divisive and Potentially Delightful. It really struck a chord with me because of the parts that are easy to miss but really stand out. A lot of people seem to hate the fact that it didn’t give them their usual Dean Koontz horror/thriller rush.

Kindle with Special Offers Review

Kindle with Special Offers is $114, which is $25 cheaper than the normal Kindle WiFi.

The following Kindle with Special Offers review is based on around 9 months use of the Kindle 3 which is basically Kindle with Special Offers without the offers (ads) but with 3G.

The Kindle 3 Review covers all the features of Kindle with Special Offers except there is no 3G on the Special Offers Kindle and it has ads (Operation Special Offers). This post covers the pros and cons of the special offers part plus a quick list of major pros and cons of the Kindle itself.

Are the Special Offers just Advertising?

Yes, though to be precise they are more accurately described as Groupon style offers. The newest member of the Kindle family is basically Groupon in your Hand. A way for Amazon to leverage the Kindle as an offers portal and to sell Kindle owners everything (as opposed to just books).

A few examples –

  1. $10 for $20 Amazon Gift Card.
  2. $1 for an album in the Amazon MP3 store.
  3. $10 for $30 of products in the Amazon Denim Shop.

There are also going to be offers from other companies such as Buick and Olay.

Where will these special offers be shown? How often?

  1. They will be displayed as screensavers.
  2. They will be displayed on the main page.
  3. They will NOT be displayed in books.

My understanding is that the screensavers are always special offers and the main page special offer is always present.

By not having ads in books Amazon has saved itself from an avalanche of criticism. At the same time, adding ads to the Kindle is not really the best move. A lifetime of ads for a one-time saving of $25 is not exactly a great deal.

Is $25 worth the pain of advertising on the Kindle?

 It’s hard to say.

You get – A Kindle for $25 less. Some offers which seem pretty decent.

You lose – Your screensavers are now ads instead of dead authors. You have an ad (aka special offer) on your main home page.

The Saving Grace – The purity of books themselves is left untouched.

You could always hack your Kindle and get other screensavers. You could develop screensaver blindness and learn to totally disregard the offers.

Kindle with Special Offers Review

Do check out the Kindle 3 Review for a detailed list of pros and cons. The difference with Kindle with Special Offers is that you get Kindle for just $114, do not get 3G, and have these ads (special offers) built-in.

Main Pros of Kindle with Special Offers

  1. Just $114. A very impressive price. 
  2. Some of the offers sound pretty good.
  3. Kindle is the best dedicated reading device.
  4. Kindle has an amazing eInk screen that is great for reading books.
  5. WiFi support.
  6. Kindle with Special Offers is very light and compact. It weighs just 8.5 ounces.
  7. Kindle Store has the best range of books, and the best prices for non-Agency Model books.
  8. There are regular free offers though they are mostly romance, business, and religion related.
  9. There are millions of free public domain books available in Kindle format through Project Gutenberg, Many Books, and the Internet Archive.
  10. Kindle has up to a month of battery life with wireless off, and up to 3 weeks of battery life with WiFi on.
  11. There is enough memory for 3,500 books (total memory is 4 GB, out of which 3.3 GB is available).
  12. There is text to speech – unless the Publisher of a book has turned it off for that book.
  13. There is a very limited lending feature – If lending is turned on by the Publisher then you can lend a book once, to one person, for 14 days.
  14. Kindle is very simple to use.

There are definitely a lot of pros.

Main Cons of Kindle with Special Offers

  1. There are ads instead of screensavers and ads on the Kindle Home Page.
  2. $25 is not a very big amount given you will have to put up with a lifetime of ads.
  3. The eInk screen does not have a backlight so you will need a reading light at night.
  4. You need access to a WiFi network if you want to browse the Kindle store, browse the Internet, or download a book. You can buy books through your PC and then transfer them to your Kindle. Note: You do not need WiFi when reading – you can read books without wireless.
  5. There is no color and no touchscreen.
  6. It is only good for reading.
  7. PDF support is decent but not exceptional. Also, the 6-inch screen is not ideal for PDFs.
  8. There is no ePub support – which means no support for library books.
  9. The battery is not replaceable.
  10. There is no memory card slot.
  11. It’s rather delicate.

The cons are the regular cons of the Kindle 3 with the added negatives that there is no 3G and that you will have advertisements instead of screensavers.

A Strange Move by Amazon

Kindle with Special Offers is a rather strange move by Amazon.

$25 is not much – In fact, $114 is a pretty unremarkable price. A $100 price, on the other hand, would have been a huge difference maker. You almost feel as if there is more to come. This release seems to be a hasty, cobbled together offering.

Is this move an indication that Amazon is positioning Kindle as a personal shopping device? Is Amazon just introducing ads to lower the price and thus sell more Kindles? Is this the first step in turning Kindle into Groupon in Your Hand?

Perhaps the strangest part of this strange Kindle with Special Offers release is a Kindle app and website that will let users vote on ads and pick their favorites.

Will update this Kindle with Special Offers Review once more information is out. For the moment – You get $25 off the price of the Kindle if you are willing to have ads on your Kindle. Thankfully, the ads are not in your Kindle books.

Thoughts on an unpolished, excellent indie novel

Ended up buying and reading The Demon Girl (The Rae Wilder Novels) by Penelope Fletcher. It’s rated 4 stars on 14 reviews at Amazon and my rating would be 4 stars too.

Update: You can find The Demon Girl free at Smashwords.

It’s the sort of book that’s got a ton of qualities – good and bad.

The good –

  1. It captures the ‘this makes zero sense to me. Why would she do this?’ feeling perfectly. Any man knows the feeling – the utter incomprehensibility of women. A world full of strange things like feelings and self-sacrificing empathy and stubbornness/strength mixed with delicateness/vulnerability. It was exactly how you feel when the woman you’re with gets upset over something that makes zero sense to you – Like not asking her where to go for dinner or asking her where to go for dinner.
  2. There’s a lot wrapped into the story. There’s a vampire, a good fairy, an evil fairy. Predictably, they are all after the Demon Girl. Even more predictably, and in the most frustratingly true way possible, the Demon Girl is in love with two of them.
  3. It captures another thing very well – the whole love triangle thing. Look carefully and there’s usually one person in that triangle who wants it, perhaps even needs it. The book captures it perfectly without adding any excuses. It would be presumptuous to claim that a large percentage of women have a fantasy about having 2 men vying for their love – but there might be a lot of truth to the claim.
  4. The characters are very human. They might be vampires and demons but you can relate to them.
  5. It was a good read and an engrossing one. Things moved quickly – both on the story level and on the emotional level.

A good comparison in terms of the protagonist’s feelings would be Robin Hobb’s Assassin series. There, the protagonist is a boy, and the feeling throughout was – He’s doing something crazy but I know why he’s doing that.

In this book you have no clue – Rae (the protagonist) switches between utter self-centeredness and total empathy for others. She’s totally driven by emotion – it’s almost as if she can’t control her emotions at all.

The bad –

  1. The level of editing is shockingly bad. If the author confessed that she wrote this in an opium induced haze and then sent it out without ever looking at it again it would explain the utter lack of polish perfectly. It would also explain the beauty.
  2. This wasn’t a major pain but the book is the first book in the series. You’ll have to wait until summer for part 2.
  3. The strength (that it’s very driven by how the protagonist feels) is also the weakness. It’s literally a sea of emotions and everything is viewed through the eyes of the protagonist Rae.
  4. Everyone’s names have excess e’s and n’s stuffed into them.
  5. It could really, really use more polish.

Strangely, a book like this highlights that editors and publishers (of some sort) will always be needed.

With 6 to 9 months of polish and shine this book could be a Top 10 book. It has the basic ingredients. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with this author and this series. It’s not that different from I Am Number 4 in terms of movie potential. The only thing is that this book is so real (as opposed to the Walt Disney ‘love you forever’ romance in #4) that it might not interest Hollywood.

That’s actually the best thing about this book – It’s real. It’s frustrating because the people in it behave like real people and do crazy, incomprehensible things. However, that’s the beauty of it – at no point are you laughing at how much of a fairy tale it is. It’s a book about real life with demons and great possibilities thrown in.

One last thing – the author is making a huge mistake by not putting this at $1. It’s a make-or-break mistake. She has a shot at hitting the Top 100 with this book – By going for $3 she’s losing that opportunity. The book is totally worth $3 but it has to be at $1 to minimize friction and increase sales volume. It’s the most short-sighted thing possible – she can price the later books in her series for $2 or $3. She has her big window of opportunity right now and she’s throwing it away.