Sunday, March 15, 2015

2015 RR - The Vision by Dean Koontz

I'm no Dean Koontz fan, but I somehow ended up with four or five of his novels in my home library. The third book I tackled for my 2015 Reading Resolution is The Vision. For the life of me, I couldn't find an online image of the edition I have (a 1987 reprint), so I took a picture myself.

What can I say about this book? Hmmm... Uh... It reads quickly? I actually abandoned it several years ago due to the painful dialogues, and only read it now to complete my resolution. Needless to say, I didn't enjoy it.

Plot

Mary, best-selling author who lives with her new husband Max in Bel Air, is a clairvoyant who visualizes murders before (and sometimes while) they occur. She helps police intercept the killers before they can continue their rampage. However, one day Mary's visions change: she can feel the pain of the victims and she fears for her life. It seems the murderer knows she's observing him, and is after her.

Pros

A quick, effortless read.

Cons

There are so, so many things I didn't enjoy about this book. For the sake of brevity, I'll give you a list of my top peeves.

1) The story itself it crammed with clichés up until the final showdown with the villain, who (of course) takes the time to give a fully detailed recount of all his antics and motives before swooping in for the final kill.

2) The characters feel like paper cutouts and constantly share "as you know, Bob" conversations. It's ridiculous to read page after page of characters explaining things to each other--things they both already know! There has to be a more elegant way to transmit back story. I'd prefer a simple narrative paragraph every now and then instead of having the characters talk to each other like they're all going through acute bouts of amnesia.

3) The writing style itself is sometimes irritating. In this novel, Koontz seems to have developed some sort of allergy to conjunctions. What happened to the humble "and"? Gone. Here are some examples:

     - He sat up, switched on the lamp, looked around the room.
     - He let go of her wrist, pushed his hair back from his forehead.
     - At last the intense, dark-skinned young man stood up, helped the blonde to her feet.

I wouldn't mind if these parallel structures appeared every now and then, but here we're talking about page after page.

4) Another problem I have is the amount of scene breaks. The novel feels like it was written for a TV drama. We get two paragraphs, scene break, two more paragraphs with the same character five minutes later, scene break. Is it really necessary to cut scenes every time a minute goes by? Where's the flow? Just have a look at page 189 of my edition:

  7:00 P.M.
     Mary squeezed Max's hand and waited tersely. Any minute the walkie-talkie would crackle with a report from one of the deputies. [One more longish sentence.]
  7:03.
     Mary repeatedly glanced at her watch in the back glow of the police cruiser's headlights. She shifted restlessly from one foot to the other.
  7:04.
     For the first time in more than an hour, Chief Patmore looked at her, met her eyes. He wasn't happy.
  7:06.
     She was beginning to feel that she had been outmanoeuvred, outwitted. [Two more sentences.]
  7:09.
     She was numb with fear. "Something's wrong," she said.
     "What is it?" Max asked.
     [Scene continues for a very brief conversation and then we cut again to 7:30.]

In this case, the cuts are meant to increase tension, but come on. I just--I just can't. No. Really. I can't.

5) The author attempts to slip the reader a big fat red herring, but in my opinion fails miserably. So much attention is drawn to a single character in an attempt to make the reader think he's the culprit, that it quickly becomes uncomfortable and embarrassing.

The Vision is one of Koontz's earlier works--but not his first. Have another look at that cover. Yeah, it boasts he's the author of Strangers and Darkness Comes. Inside the book, we have a list with a total of seven Koontz titles. So, The Vision might be an early Koontz novel, but with seven others under his belt, I would hardly call it the work of an amateur.


*Sigh*

I'm not a big fan of giving bad reviews, but I can't lie, either. At least it's a quick, mindless read.


Bonus rant round!

Take a load of this conversation from page 20:

     "What a mayor you are," [Harry Oberlander] said with heavy sarcasm. "Hiring a witch to do police work."
     Henderson responded like a weary giant spotting yet one more tiny challenger with delusions of grandeur. "She's not a witch."
     "Don't you know there's no such thing as a witch?"
   
What did I just read? Oberlander accuses Henderson of hiring a witch. Henderson responds that she isn't a witch. Oberlander reminds Henderson that witches don't exist. Then why does he even accuse Henderson of hiring a witch in the first place?


Final round: The Longest Sentence in the History of Sentences

I'm not saying this sentence is bad. It does its task perfectly and really sets the scene. Do you want to read it? Do you? It contains spoilers, so only proceed if you dare.

Pages 244-245:

     Even before he completed the thought, the knife ripped into him, rammed out of darkness and into him, felt like the blade of a shovel, enormous, devastating, so devastating that he dropped the gun, feeling pain like nothing he'd ever known, and he realised that the killer had pitched the flashlight aside as a diversion, hadn't really been hit at all, and the knife was withdrawn from him, and then shoved hard into him again, deep into his stomach, and he thought of Mary and his love for Mary and about how he was letting her down, and he grappled with the killer's head in the dark, got handfuls of short hair, but the bandage came off his finger and the cut was wrenched open again and he felt that pain separate from all the others and he cursed the sharp edge on the car's jack, and the flashlight his the floor ten feet away, spun around, cast lunatic shadows, and the knife ripped loose from him again, and he reached for the hand that held it, but he missed, and the blade got him a third time, explosive pain, and he staggered back, the man all over him, the blade plunging again, high this time, into his chest, and he realised that the only way he could hope to survive now was to play dead, so he fell, fell hard, and the man stumbled over him, and he heard the man's rapid breathing, and he lay very still, and the man went for the flashlight and came back and looked down at him, stood over him, kicked him in the ribs, and he wanted to cry out but didn't, didn't move and didn't breathe, even though he was screaming inside for breath, so the man turned away and went towards the arch, and then there were footsteps on the tower stairs, and, hearing them, he felt like such a useless ass, outsmarted, and he knew he wasn't going to be able to recover his gun and climb those stairs and rescue Mary because stuff like that was for the movies, pain was pulverizing him, he was leaking all over the floor, dripping like a squeezed fruit, but he told himself he had to try to help her and that he wasn't going to die, wasn't going to die, wasn't going to die, even though that was exactly what he seemed to be doing.

And that's it for The Vision! I haven't had much time to post on the blog recently, but I have had time to read. I just finished the fourth book in my 2015 Reading Resolution list: The Princess Bride. Well...I finished the main story but still had to read the epilogue of sorts, and then my cat puked on the book so now I'm not sure if I actually got the nerve to finish those last pages...

Thursday, February 12, 2015

DIY Headboard - Iberian Style

After painting our bedroom, Salva and I thought it would be nice to buy a decorative headboard. We asked in several stores and went "whaaaaaaa?" at the prices. Four hundred euros for a simple headboard? Are you kidding me? At that point, we decided it was time to take matters into our own hands...with a DIY project!

The following is a DIY project Salva and I successfully completed Iberian style. That is, without using the materials we should have used. We simply couldn't find most of them in stores. Did that discourage us? Noooooooo!

For a simple headboard, we needed:

1) Thin plywood cut to desired size (they cut it for us at the store).
2) Foam filling. We couldn't find the typical couch cushion filling we wanted so we went with the ugly grey one you can see below. It's not very floofy.
3) Padding to go over the filling. Again, we couldn't find it so we *ehem* bought a fluffy blanket from Ikea *ehem* and used it as padding. A month after completing this project, we found a store that sold the padding... Typical.
4) Some nice fabric, which will be the final touch. We bought the fabric at Ikea.
5) Staple gun and staples. Finally! Something we do have!
6) Extra strong glue. Make sure it's a type of glue that doesn't eat away at the foam. We went with the marvelous "No Más Clavos", which is ABSOLUTELY AWESOME.

Materials (excuse the cats; they're everywhere and I've given up):


Steps:

1) Cut the foam to size. Salva, being a thoroughbred Iberian male, cast aside scissors and saws and razors and opted for the largest kitchen knife we have. (Absolutely no kitty was harmed during the process.)


2) Glue the foam onto the board. Let it sit for a little bit before moving on to the next step. We put a stack of dictionaries on top to weigh down the foam.


3) Pull the fluffy fabric over the foam. Begin the stapling process. First, we cut the blanket to size, leaving about four extra fingers on each side, and spread it over the table. Then we laid the headboard on top, wood facing up.

To correctly staple fabric to wood, first you must staple the center of each side while pulling the fabric tight. Pull tight on the front side, staple the center, release. Repeat on the center left, center right, and center bottom. Once the four main staples are in place, you can continue stapling working your way out towards the corners. Always keep your fabric taut to avoid wrinkles.


4) Staple the corners. This is the final stapling step and the most complicated one (though not so complicated you can't pull it off). I don't even have a picture of myself doing this step because Salva and I, plus my mother who was helping out, were all trying to do the same thing at the same time in the same place.

To staple a corner, simply fold in the sides, as if wrapping a present. Pull tight and staple. You can also cut off excess fabric so there isn't a big bump at each corner. Staple as many times as necessary until the fabric is taut and presents the minimum amount of wrinkles possible. There will always be some wrinkles at the corners.

5) Repeat the stapling process with the final cloth. Be extra careful because this will be your headboard's final look! If you choose a striped pattern, make sure your lines are all straight as you staple. You don't want wonky stripes!


Finished! Now to hang this baby up on the wall. This is the bed without the headboard:


It looks like it's missing something, right?


There we go! Much better!

The beauty of this is that whenever we get tired of the design, we can just buy new fabric and stable it over the old one!

And that's how we make a decorative headboard--Iberian style.

Note: "Iberian style" = do what you can with what you have. ;-)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Meet the Feline Family

After blogging (on and off...) for over two years, it's about time you met the feline family. You might have caught glimpses of them in some photos. Here they are, in order of appearance.

Mixa ("mee-shah")

It was hard to find a nice picture of her.
She's extremely UNphotogenic.
Mixa is the oldest cat in the house. She turned 10 in September 2014. Don't let her age fool you, though. She can be just as chirpy and silly as the rest. She's a beautiful traditional Siamese (or Thai) with a very cuddly and at the same time cranky personality (she can purr and growl at you at the same time). Like most Siamese cats, she's extremely talkative and after so many years with her you reach a point in which you actually understand what she's saying.
Mixa disciplining kitten Pebre.

A few years ago when I got her neutered, the vet discovered she had several tumors in her ovaries. That alone wouldn't have been a big problem, since he took them out. The vet, however, also noticed a strange lump on her spleen. He sent a biopsy to the lab and, yup: it was also cancerous. Barely two weeks after her neutering operation, Mixa went back to the OR to have her spleen removed. It was such a traumatic experience that she completely stopped eating and drinking. She had decided to let herself die, but Salva and I wouldn't have any of that. After a couple weeks of intensive care at home, Mixa recovered and was soon back to her chatty bossy self.



Pebre (Catalan for "Pepper")


Pebre was a bit silly-looking as a kitten.
Pebre is a gorgeous three-year-old European black tabby. He might look solid black, but I assure you he's covered in stripes! He's the largest and most photogenic of my four cats, but he's almost always in a bad mood--especially in the summer. Pebre CAN'T STAND the heat. Even though he growls a lot and hisses, he doesn't attack. Come winter, he's in a much better mood and he likes to cuddle up with us on the couch or in bed. He's the most cowardly feline in the house (if you just go "cht!" at him he'll run for his life), which is a real shame because he's huge and could be very strong and powerful if he for once decided to be assertive. When he was a kitten, he fell off our balcony (just a one-storey drop into our neighbor's patio--he didn't get hurt or anything), and I think that fall smacked all the courage out of him.

VERY silly-looking.


Pirate


Pirate is the first cat we rescued from an extreme situation. As you can see, he lost an eye. He used to belong to some ex-friends of ours (I wonder why we're not friends anymore...), who constantly neglected him and allowed his eye to
Pirate as a kitten.
His eye was already a lost cause.
burst. When this happened, they decided not to tell anyone and let nature run its course. In other words: they didn't have money to pay for the vet so they decided to abandon the animal in the garden and let it die an excruciating death. Luckily for Pirate, Salva saw him and we took over from there. Once Pirate was better things turned ugly and the old owners began stalking us. Of course: the bills had all been paid and now they wanted their neglected cat back... It's a long and complicated story. In the end, the police had to come and give our ex-friends a briefing on the Catalan animal protection law. The cops told us to microchip Pirate fast, so that these people couldn't claim him again.

Pirate is now a little gangster. He's cocky and loves to wrestle with Taques, and he follows me everywhere and watches me as I go to the toilet, as I get dressed, as I cook, as I watch TV... Sometimes I feel bad because we might be on the couch and I can tell he's very comfy and doesn't want to move, but the moment I get up he feels the imperious need to follow me.

He also got fat.

Taques (Catalan for "Spots" or "Stains")

A month later, Taques was practically cured.
Taques is the newest addition to the feline family, and our second extreme rescue kitty. I found Taques on May 28 2014 in the middle of the sidewalk--dying. A thick layer of pus covered both eyes and he could only gasp for breath. He hadn't eaten in a very long time; he had absolutely no muscle, only dry skin covering brittle bones. I picked him up then and there and ran to the vet (who, luckily, was just one street away). The vet wasn't too optimistic, but he knows I cry over anything animal-related so he didn't dare tell me to put the kitten to sleep. Instead, we spent weeks feeding Taques with a syringe every two hours, giving him his medication, cleaning his eyes, trying to clean the buildup in his tiny nose...

Taques has a wonky tail.
One (late) night, he scratched his eye and ripped off part of his third eyelid. It scared us so much that we ran him straight to the twenty-four-hour vet hospital. That day marked the beginning of his new life. The vet on duty spent over an hour with him carefully cleaning his eyes, ears and nose--and it made a huge difference. From that night on, Taques began to react much quicker and actually started to gain weight. It still took him a long time to recover, but he made it in the end and now he's an absolute banshee. He loves Salva and me to death. He's talkative, funny, quirky and hyperactive. He always needs to be the center of attention and he purrs so loudly it sounds like he'll take off at any moment.

And that's the feline family! Too many cats! Toooooo many cats! But that's how life went, and I'm happy we have them. :-)
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