Tag Archives: Pros and Cons

Review Via Pros and Cons: Brown’s “Origin”

I’ve read all of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon Series. I don’t usually consider them to be high literature (said with a smarmy expression while adjusting an invisible monocle), but some of them I have considered a downright good time. In fact, I thought Inferno was very entertaining, like a literary scavenger hunt! Some of Brown’s novels, though, are more successful in my esteem than others, and upon finishing his most recent novel, Origin, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. You know what to do!! When in doubt, hash it out (via pros and cons, my favorite review process)!

But first, this obscenely long blurb from Goodreads:

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself… and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face-to-face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery… and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us.

Now, to weigh out the Pros and Cons to decide if I liked this novel:

PRO: Robert Langdon. I like the character of Robert Langdon, the Harvard professor who keeps finding himself in mess after life-threatening mess. His knowledge is obscure but somehow repeatedly pivotal to saving the world. Maybe more of us should be Symbologists, just so we don’t have to rely on Robert Langdon so hard and so often. Regardless, the small touches, like the claustrophobia and the Micky Mouse watch, make Langdon likable and slightly more believable.

CON: These novels are intended, I believe, to be able to stand alone from the series as a whole, meaning you could easily read Origin as your first Brown novel and not lack any information. In a way, I think this is a good thing, but also, it’s unrealistic af!! Throughout the series, Langdon has been THROUGH IT! This man has been kidnapped, he’s been pursued by police and criminals, he’s been chased through inaccessible historical monuments, and his life has been threatened innumerable times in innumerable ways. So you’re telling me that he wouldn’t learn from these experiences?? He’s just following anonymous instructions and trusting people like he doesn’t know better?? I can’t get on board with that. He would (understandably) have PTSD by now and would be way more cautious.

PRO: Artificial Intelligence plays a big part in this novel. In fact, I’d say the AI is one of the main characters. The way “he” is portrayed feels a bit unrealistic at times, but the point of the novel is that one man has contributed to the advancement of technology in ways we didn’t think were possible, so I was willing to buy into it. The AI is often likable, helpful, suspicious, and all other human-like characteristics.

CON: I figured out the “bad guy” pretty early. There were a few loose ends that eluded me until the end, but overall, I assumed relatively early on who was orchestrating all the evil. I vastly prefer a novel that keeps me in the dark the whole time, or even misdirects my attention. The ending still managed to be something of a surprise, but once I figured out the major instigator, I lost a bit of interest.

CON: Each novel in the series focuses on a different “search” and they’ve all set up organized religion as the ultimate bad guy in one way or another. Origin is no different. However, instead of analyzing historical locations or documents, Origin predicts scientific advancements and the repercussions such revelations would have on the religious community. At this point, I was still on board, but quite often, the text dives into the science of potential origin theories, advanced technology, and more, and it flew right over my head. Brown tried to talk down to me, but I was apparently further “down” than he anticipated.

PRO: New City – New Google Search History! I am now somewhat acquainted with Bilbao, Spain. As always, I can’t read a Dan Brown novel without having WIFI, since it lists a million pieces of art or landmarks that I feel compelled to research. For instance, have you seen the Tree of Life monument outside the Dohany Synagogue in Budapest? I can’t believe this is the first time in my Holocaust-researching-life that I’ve heard about it. I learn a lot from reading these novels. I think that PRO counts for double.

CON: Same as above. I love that I learn from these, but it almost makes it impossible for me to read the novel when I don’t have access to internet. In fact, at one point I had to mark a few pages so I could go back to them in order to Google something when I got home later. It’s an overload of information sometimes.

CON: I lost interest well before the ending. It took me almost a month to read this book. Yes, it’s almost 500 pages, but still. That’s too long to read that much. I just got bored. There was a great deal of science-talk within the last 50 pages and since it was flying right over my head, I lost motivation to keep reading.

PRO: I guess there’s the potential for another Tom Hanks movie?? Have they made all the other ones? I saw “The Da Vinci Code” and maybe “Angels and Demons” once, but did they make the others? I feel like Inferno would make a great addition to the franchise, but Origin might be a little too… thought-heavy. Nobody likes to think!!

I wrote more CONS than PROS, but I really do think they balance out. This wasn’t Brown’s best, but I don’t guess I regret reading it. I imagine I’ll forget all the details in no time at all.

Have you read it? Did you like it? Do you typically like Dan Brown novels?

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Review Via Pros and Cons: Brian’s “Shadowlands”

You know my policy: when in doubt, hash it out (via pros vs. cons). Today’s subject of uncertainty is Kate Brian’s Shadowlands, which is the first in a trilogy. As always, we start with the obligatory summary.

Rory Miller had one chance to fight back and she took it. Rory survived and the serial killer who attacked her escaped. Now that the infamous Steven Nell is on the loose, Rory must enter the witness protection program. Entering the program alongside her, is her father and sister Darcy. The trio starts a new life and a new beginning leaving their friends and family behind without a goodbye.

Starting over in a new town with only each other is unimaginable for Rory and Darcy. They were inseparable as children but now they can barely stand each other. As the sisters settle in to Juniper Landing, a picturesque vacation island, it seems like their new home may be just the fresh start they need. They fall in with a group of beautiful, carefree teens and spend their days surfing, partying on the beach, and hiking into endless sunsets. Just as they’re starting to feel safe again, one of their new friends goes missing. Is it a coincidence? Or is the nightmare beginning all over again?
 

I’m very unsure about how I feel about this one, so the only thing to do is to weigh the pros and cons. Here we go!

PRO: I read it in two sittings. That has to say something favorable about the book. Undoubtedly, there were issues with the story, but I found it compelling enough that I plowed through it. I saw several reviews that said they “couldn’t put it down” and, to be honest, I agreed.

CON: I’m afraid that the “must keep reading-ness” of it wasn’t due to it being good, but rather was due to confusion. I was constantly confused by this text. It contains dream sequences that reveal themselves after much ado, and I grew to distrust the heroine’s POV. Additionally, some of her experiences are so wildly unbelievable that I needed an explanation because I was becoming, in a word, peeved with the whole thing.

PRO: I’m still thinking about it. Again, this ins’t a specific complement, like “the characters were compelling” or something, but I looked online for the next installment immediately after finishing this because I feel strongly that I must continue the series.

CON: A LOT of questions were raised during this reading, which is in no way a problem. The problem is that the majority of those questions, which are essential to understanding the plot, are not answered in this novel. Goodreads gave a sneak preview of the next book in the series and I got answers to 90% of the questions raised in book one in the first chapters of book two. Where is the sense in that?!?! I would’ve gotten the next book regardless, so at least give me some resolution in this one.

PRO: I hope to bond with a student over this novel. I had one delightful student who found time to talk to me about how much she loved this book. In fact, I walked by her as she finished reading it on the last day of school and she closed it, let out a sigh of exasperation and relief (which I now understand), physically hugged the book for a moment, and handed it to me so I could read it and add it to my classroom library. If she comes to see me next year, I’ll be ready to geek out with her.

CON: It’s very stereotypically YA. The protagonist is a standard “nerdy” girl with a standard “popular” sister and a standard “disconnected” parent. Although I would think that being hunted by a serial killer would be all-consuming, apparently cute boys still manage to be a huge distraction. As per usual, I’m not thrilled with the depiction of teen relationships, but I rarely am.

CON: I might be too critical of an audience, but the depiction of law enforcement in reaction to a serial killer is insulting. Without including spoilers, I’ll just say that I find it hard to believe that the FBI would be as aloof about the threat to this family as they’re depicted in this novel. After a very invasive and intense threat, the family is sent off without escort, without access to phones, and without a way to contact the FBI should the threat continue. To say the least, law enforcement is not portrayed in a positive light.

CON: Who is this person on the cover?? You’d think it would be the protagonist, Rory, but it is very clearly stated, on multiple occasions, that she has blonde hair, so who is this brunette? Also, what’s with the crows?? And the clouds? None of this is relevant!

CON: On a similar note, what is the title referencing? This term is not used even once in the novel. I got that sneak peek and it is explained (poorly) in the first few chapters of book two in the series, but if it won’t even be mentioned in the first book, why name it that?!?!? WHY???

CON: The POV very occasionally swapped from 3rd person limited omniscient (Rory’s perspective, thoughts, and feelings) to those of the serial killer. Those chapters should have been more thought out or left out entirely. As a character, the killer wasn’t developed enough for us to care about or understand his POV. In fact, it was very specific at times (he wants to eat her hair) which implies a really juicy backstory, but it was painfully clear that his perspective was only present so that we would know his progress in hunting her. He wasn’t developed outside of his obsession over her. It was forced and inorganic.

I’m afraid it’s painfully clear how I felt about this novel, and yet, I’ll be darned if I’m not going out to find the next volume tomorrow. Whether you love a novel or hate it, as long as you want to talk about it, isn’t that the goal?

Did anyone else read it? What does everyone else think? Interested in other Pros Vs. Cons reviews? Check them out here and here.

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Review via Pros and Cons: McNamara’s “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark”

All the hype surrounding Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark made it clear that a lot of readers found it to be extremely upsetting to read this at night before bed, or really at any point at home alone. In fact, I listened to a press release where Patton Oswalt told (sensitive) people to read it during on a sunny day in a public, well-populated area. To me, this level of hype is irresistible. I’ve never succeeded in being scared by a book, but I very much yearn for it. So, I ran off and bought it, along with another, shorter toxicological history of poisonings, which has been my night reading and which I’ll review when I finish soon.

Now, my husband and I bought a house last year and are adjusting to life without immediately available neighbors. We have a security system and a fierce beast of a dog and we truly enjoy our neighbors, but we have odd schedules and, like anyone, I do spend a bit of time at home alone. Since I have a natural proclivity for paranoia, I elected not to torture myself with nocturnal readings. I’ve been reading it during lunch breaks or weekend mornings, patiently awaiting the promised disturbing information, so this means that I have spent weeks trying to pencil in short sprints of time in order to make progress on this book instead of devouring it as is customary. The issue is that not only does this mean it’s taking forever to read this, but also I’m frustrated every time my bright, populated readings aren’t disturbing at all!

Let me be clear: I am not as bothered by this as I thought I would be, but it is undoubtedly bothersome and I can easily see how it disturbs and disrupts lives. I have been ingesting true crime for years and have a natural interest in psychologically challenging subjects, so I’ve nonchalantly been entertained by stories that others cannot tolerate. Different strokes, yadda yadda yadda. However, foundationally, the history of the Golden State Killer is that which keeps me up at night. His story fuels and validates my paranoia. I assume you’re all out to get me. Having said that, reading the details has bothered me but little. I don’t know how to feel about this book, so I’m including my famed “Pros/Cons” analysis below.

PRO: It’s true crime! As much as I love true crime, I equally hate fake crime. Fabricated mystery almost feels insulting to the victims of REAL crimes, so I avoid it like the plague, for the most part. McNamara spent decades researching the East Area Rapist/Original Night Stalker/Golden State Killer and her dedication is palpable and deserves the credit it’s due.

CON: It was published shortly before the GSK was finally caught. I see this as a con because it means that I have so many more questions now that the horrific perpetrator has been caught. Now, we know more about him and who he was while he committed these heinous crimes, so it almost feels like there are unfinished chapters containing resolution that I wish could have been included.

PRO: It was published shortly before the GSK was finally caught. Yes, I see this as a pro and a con. While I do feel unresolved now that we know the GSK’s identity and I have more questions than the book had answers, it also gives such a unique perspective to the unsolved, decades-old-mid-investigation. It conveys the desperation and grasping at straws that was felt by investigators, victims, and anyone else who followed the case. It’s a true reflection of a feeling and a time that (thankfully) has changed.

CON: There was a lot of down time. Because McNamara was an obsessed civilian, the information conveyed is not pure investigative journalism, a.k.a. facts on facts on facts; it is mixed in with her own personal struggle with her obsession and the roads it took her down, which were interesting, but often made the story feel a little too disconnected and stream-of-consciousness. At one point, she finished a paragraph saying a man asked asked a witness a question and when the next paragraph went off on a sidebar story, I didn’t find out that question until over twenty pages later and I’d long since forgotten the thread.

PRO: I like the personal narrative aspects of the book. I know some people (HVA, looking at you) are worried that the book will be more about McNamara than the GSK and the corresponding investigations. However, I think it gave unique perspectives, especially since McNamara gives an everyday-woman POV while having really important connections, meaning you get to see the emotions of society AND the investigative, secret details.

PRO: It has pictures of many of the victims. It also has a map of the locations of some of his crimes.

CON: The map is not all inclusive. I was hoping for a map of all 50 rapes and 12 murders. However, I realize the book isn’t big enough to include a map of that size and detail. Nonetheless, I want it.

PRO: Paul Holes. (#HotForHoles #AnyMurderinosOutThere?)

More pros than cons tells me how I feel about this book. I must admit that I never doubted that I was enjoying the experience of reading it, and I’m not usually into non-fiction, so to enjoy this speaks volumes. Like all stories, it has strengths and weaknesses that a reader must navigate, but the overall it’s a massively informative and insightful book.

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Review Via Pros & Cons of Glines’ “Until Friday Night”

Someone else: “What do you think of that book?”

You: “… Well… I don’t actually know…”

Someone else: “Okay well, do you at least like it?”

You: “… I don’t know that either…”

Sound familiar? The hubs is used to the fact that he can never keep up with what book I’m reading at any given time so, almost daily, he asks, “what are you reading and what do you think of it?” I can usually give an answer, favorable or not, and convey what I do or don’t like about it. However, now and again, I come across a book that leaves me at a loss for words; I can’t decide if I love it or hate it, which usually means it is an amalgamation of both with no clear winner.

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To everyone who knows him, West Ashby has always been that guy: the cocky, popular, way-too-handsome-for-his-own-good football god who led Lawton High to the state championships. But while West may be Big Man on Campus on the outside, on the inside he’s battling the grief that comes with watching his father slowly die of cancer.

Two years ago, Maggie Carleton’s life fell apart when her father murdered her mother. And after she told the police what happened, she stopped speaking and hasn’t spoken since. Even the move to Lawton, Alabama, couldn’t draw Maggie back out. So she stayed quiet, keeping her sorrow and her fractured heart hidden away.

As West’s pain becomes too much to handle, he knows he needs to talk to someone about his father—so in the dark shadows of a post-game party, he opens up to the one girl who he knows won’t tell anyone else.

West expected that talking about his dad would bring some relief, or at least a flood of emotions he couldn’t control. But he never expected the quiet new girl to reply, to reveal a pain even deeper than his own—or for them to form a connection so strong that he couldn’t ever let her go…

When in doubt as to how you feel, make a pros and cons list:

PRO: I read the whole 330 page novel in less than 24 hours, so I think that hints at it being engaging and interesting. I’ll go ahead and make it clear that I found the subject of football-minded high schooler drama to be as unappealing as having my toe nails forcibly removed, but my least favorite genre just might be a student’s favorite, so I must read some. Truly, it was centered around football players and football dreams, but I didn’t have to endure endless tactical or technical discussions. It was like 25% football and 75% stupid relationship drama and yet, against all odds, I was drawn in right from the beginning.

CON: Aside from our main character, Maggie, it seems as though there isn’t a single decent, kind, or non-hormonal/non-idiotic female at this high school. Apparently, Maggie is pretty, so every encounter with another female shows the other female either scowling with envy or shrieking with jealousy. EXCUSE YOU, Abbi Glines, but I spent high school surrounded by beautiful, popular young women and, amazingly, it did not remove my ability to act with kindness, be a friend to them, or function in society. I kept waiting for someone to come along and just be nice to the new girl; I would’ve even accepted the stereotypical representation that the ugly/chubby, nerdy girl is the only one capable of displaying kindness, but no. Even the nerds were seething with jealous rage and meanness. I resent the depiction that women (even the most immature teens) are incapable of acting with kindness towards an attractive peer. Get out of my face with this crap.

PRO: I think this is as close to YA true crime as I can get. As stated in the Goodreads excerpt, Maggie witnessed her father shoot her mother and hasn’t spoken in the two years since that event. Sadly, we never get insight into this event, so I had to live off of the fleeting mentions of that juicy event and then hurry back to the mind-numbingly dumb minutiae of her budding relationship with West. Blerg!

CON: What is with the names of these kids?!?! West, Nash, Asa, Ryker, Gunner… STAHP. I could get behind one or two, but every single “hawt footballer” has a totes dudebro name to further accentuate the exaggerated hotness. I guess this is the way our society is headed. Gone are the Jameses and Johns of yesteryear and hello to Rocket and Legend and Bryte. Whatever. Who am I to judge?

PRO: Get back to me on that.

CON: Remember the Twilight series? Remember how it caught a lot of flak for representing a relationship that could only, at best, be categorized as insanely unhealthy and codependent? Well, samesies! The relationship featured in this novel is similarly unhealthy. The characters do acknowledge this fact and Maggie sensibly calls for a “break,” but goes back on that request in fewer than 24 hours and some sweet talking. The entire relationship goes from 0 to 60 within 2 weeks, when ladyfriend gives it all up for a hunky boy’s attention, and then it only takes another 2 weeks for them to endure that tragic 24 hours apart and profess their undying love for each other. These are the “lessons” readers learn and behaviors being normalized in this text:

1. It is not only okay, but also totally satisfying and fulfilling to utterly obsess over your crush, abandoning friends/family/responsibilities in order to spend more time obsessing.

2. A couple of weeks of obsession and a little sweet-talking are enough to validate going from never having been kissed to going all the way.

3. Love is nothing more than infatuation, obsession, attraction, or lust.

4. If you’re pretty, there are no such things as friends, just men who want to sleep with you and women who want to kill you.

5. If you witnessed a horrific event and suffer from PTSD in the form of muteness, just find a cute guy who is a complete jerkface to you, because it probably means he’s dealing with something difficult and you can form a co-dependent relationship.

6. If you’re lucky enough to have family who want to help you overcome tragedy, ignore and lie to them and instead share your pain with another impressionable teen who knows nothing more than you do.

PRO: Again, I’m coming up empty.

CON: The school! The teachers! Who is monitoring these hallways?! There are cheerleaders prowling the halls with hyena-levels of bloodthirsty fierceness, assaulting and threatening their peers. There are teens making out and grabbing butts in hallways and having scandalous meetings in bathrooms. Kids are being pulled out of classrooms (with teacher approval) in order to make time for ownership and “love” to be discussed at length. Kids are skipping classes and arriving late with no consequences. Effectively, this school is not a place for learning, but more a place for socializing, confronting, canoodling, what-have-you. SUPER! Fab representation of school, thanks. Way to further emphasize the importance of the teen emotional breakdown and de-emphasize the importance of education. Kewl. That should help me, as a teacher of emotional teens.

It has become painfully clear that I now know what I think of this book. More cons than pros couldn’t be clearer; I’m glad I took the time to go back and forth, since it is now clear to me that I will need to monitor this text within my classroom. In the hands of certain personality types or life circumstances, this could easily steer audiences towards empty “solutions.”

Has anyone read this? Similar thoughts? Totally different thoughts? Or maybe you know what it’s like to be on the fence about a book? I’d love to hear from everyone!

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