July 20, 2005

On Books: The Catch-up Edition

If you pay attention, you'll know that at the end of each month, I create a long-winded post in which I review all the books I've read. If you're really paying attention, you'll know that I've dropped the ball a few months in a row. So I've got a new strategy - I'm going to review books as I complete them! Novel concept, eh? (No pun intended) In order to do that, I have to catch up. I give you the last two months of books...

The Innocent by Harlan Coben. Coben writes effortlessly readable books. They're thrillers that don't really differentiate themselves from any other thriller except for the likability of their characters and the fact that Coben paints them so well. So, its pretty obvious when he's slacking off as he did with this one. Its just meh.

Here, There and Everywhere by Chris Roberson. I really wish this had lived up to its bizarre, time-traveling potential but in the end, it just felt like an under-developed Dr. Who script (okay, so, I like Dr. Who...I never pretended I wasn't a dork.). It's still a fun book. Just don't expect miracles.

Killing Floor and One Shot by Lee Child. Is there a more kick-ass hero than Child's Jack Reacher? I think not. Killing Floor was Child's first and, luckily, not his last...as evidenced by One Shot, his latest. Both were entertaining and well done. Reading them so close together provides some strong evidence that Child's remained a strong, consistent writer.

Subterranean by James Rollins. Question: What's the dumbest book ever written? Answer: This one. Let's look past the minor detail that this book has essentially been written before (the name is Verne, Jules Verne). Here's the plot - group of explorers heads deep into the bowels of the earth. Bad shit happens. Quite a few of these annoying people die. Sadly, not all of them. I mean, there's a Middle-Eastern character here who, during the course of the narrative, bitches other characters' assumptions that he's a terrorist because of his nationality. And then he blows half of them up.

Plan B by Jonathan Tropper. Look, I'm a sucker for Hornby-esque books like this one. Sure, this is Tropper's first and it suffers a little bit because of it. And like his next two books, reads like it will soon become a Major Motion Picture (which it will). But still, there's something about Tropper and the stories he tells that you can't help but like.

The Amber Room by Steve Berry. A historical thriller in the same vein as The DaVinci Code yet, unlike many books touted as "being in the same vein as The DaVinci Code" it didn't suck. At its core is some interesting history, some of it true. If nothing else, its a decent story, reasonably well-written, that provides some cheap entertainment.

The Poo Bomb by Jeff Vogel. The Poo Bomb is an anti-parenting book parenting book and gets a hearty recommendation from me whether or not you have kids (or are thinking about it). How can you not love a guy who's favorite baby picture depicts his daughter in a roasting pan surrounded by herbs? Before anyone calls social services, no, I am not planning on doing that. Really.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. With this, Foer has delivered a minor miracle of a book. He writes of 9/11 without capitalizing on it, without using it and develops a character that will truly shine among all other created in literature this century. Reading is often a feeling thing that, ironically, words don't to justice to. This is one of those novels. And what I felt was nothing short of incredible.

Tokyo Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta. Very Canterbury Tales-like in its approach but somewhat lacking in its execution. Picture this - a flight is cancelled and a group of thirteen wary passengers are forced to spend the night in an airport swapping stories. The stories themselves are more urban mythology than anything. And while I usually enjoy things such as this, it seemed largely pointless. The threads tying these stories together were too loose. The author would have been better off releasing this as a collection of short stories and giving up on the gimmick.

The Impossible Bird by Patrick O'Leary. O'Leary's Door Number Three was fantastic, odd and fun. The Impossible Bird was a mess. Okay, maybe not a mess but it had a bizarre plot that wasn't always well executed. Worth reading, because O'Leary's a decent author. But try Door Number Three first.

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. Even Hornby at his worst (see How To Be Good) is still excellent. This, his most recent, shows a fantastic return to form while tackling reasonably dark subject matter. Okay, dark. No "reasonably" about it. We're talking suicidal people here. That said, this is funny stuff. Definitely not to be missed.

Resurrection Dreams by Richard Laymon. I do like some horror...even some b-movie grade horror like this. Laymon's final novel, The Island, was fantastic. Since then, however, I have yet to discover one of his books that is even half as good. This one's no exception. Its typical, run-of-the-mill horror. 'Nuff said.

Deception by Denise Mina. Deception is an exceptionally literary mystery. And by that, I mean its not a cheap thriller but something into which a lot of serious effort was channeled. Mina's portrayal of a husband dealing with his wife's conviction for the murder of a serial killer is subtle, plodding and well-done. However, I was ultimately dissappointed that there was never a big TA-DAAA moment. It was much more subtle than that.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. From the very first page, there's a strong parallel between this and Foer's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. There's a reason for that - they're married, a subject that, from the interviews I've read, she's not willing to discuss. But the similarities are astounding. Because of this, its tough to allow the book to stand on its own merits, yet her debut, Man Walks Into A Room, was a fantastic debut novel that I believe I rated as one of my top picks last year. History of Love is good, not as astonishing as her husband's latest effort, but good.

A Certain Chemistry by Mil Millington. Known primarily for his website and his debut, Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, Millington spins a tale of infidelity and fame. Since I've already mentioned Hornby twice, third time's a charm. Millington writes like Hornby on speed. Or maybe Hornby after a few bottles of wine and two packs of cigarettes. Its unclear. Anyway, what I'm getting at is that this book is aggressively funny. It never lets up. And yet, there's something truthful at the core. Its not all laughs.

Unimaginable Zero Summer by Leslie Stella. You're aware of the "chick-lit" phenomenon, right? Welcome to the next big thing - nostalgia-lit. I can't tell you how many books I've read about high school reunions, friends providing interventions for other old friends, people journeying back to their hometowns after many years...you get the picture. Most of them have been quite good. This, however, was not. Actually, it was really lame. Nothing happened. I finished it, closed the book and honestly wondered what the whole point was. I didn't take that as a good sign.

Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman. Klosterman, an editor for Spin took a road trip. In a rental car, he set out west from NYC to visit sites at which many major and minor rock legends died. But that's not what this is really about so if you're not into music, don't worry. It sounds like a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie but this is more a memoir of self-discovery. I liked it. Klosterman's about my age and, while I didn't grow up on a farm or spend any of my formative years in North Dakota, I found I could, to a degree, relate.

Posted by Chris at July 20, 2005 07:16 PM

I am still curious of what you will think of "The Diceman" by Luke Rhinehart!

Posted by: ::c:: at July 20, 2005 07:18 PM

Thanks for the reviews. Every time I go to the library, I'm looking for new books. If I find an author that I can tolerate (right now it's Jane Heller) I read everything I can find, then move on. So pointers towards good books is always appreciated.

Besides, I'm tired of picking out books simply because they have a bright pink cover! (Although, surprisingly, I've had some amazing luck with that technique.)

Posted by: Heather at July 20, 2005 08:28 PM

You've read all those books, and still have time to blog? You're a better man than me, Chris.

Think I'll check out Subterranean. Sounds like an easy read. LOL!

Posted by: Dumbass Reporter at July 20, 2005 08:34 PM

Now I feel like a total slacker. I have 4 books on my dresser right now that are overdue and I have not started one of them. I also have the new HP book and have not even looked at it. I need to get on the ball and at least read something... oh yeah I read blogs I'm good....;)

Posted by: Beanhead at July 20, 2005 10:06 PM

I've picked up some fun hot pink books heh. Usually a wonky comedic mystery sort of thing. My problem with reading is though I like to consider myself an intelligent person, and I don't "waste" much time on TV, I read some pretty silly novels. But I want to check out that Nick Hornby one. Now if only the lbirary site wasn't down I could put a hold on it.

Posted by: Heather at July 21, 2005 07:08 AM

You've made a good thing..now I can choose what to read next week, the week after...:)

Posted by: Missy at July 21, 2005 08:24 AM

I'm sure you've already got a heft pile or two of "to read" books but based on your reviews and reading history I would recommend "The Namesake" by Jhumpa Lahiri. The storyline itself is good but it was the characters and how the author fleshed them out that kept me from putting it down until I finished.

Posted by: Bill at July 21, 2005 08:25 AM

You should watch the movie "Door Number Three"...it's excellent! (at least i thought so!!)

Posted by: Michelle at July 21, 2005 08:25 AM

I'm consistently amazed by the number of books you read on top of everything else you seem to do. Meanwhile I consider my month a success if I've finished two of whichever pile of books I'm currently in the midst of. Quite frankly, I think I've put more effort into the books section of my site than the actual reading lately. Ah well. It's still book related so I say it counts. Totally.

Posted by: patricia at July 21, 2005 10:04 AM

Hey Chris, I really appreciate hearing your opinions on these! You read a lot of books that are really in the zip code of my style but that I probably would overlook on my own. Thx for helping me find some gems; I'm linking to this on my blog.

Also, I'll be thinking of you and Beth tomorrow!!! Best of luck--I'm sure everything will go so well. :)

Posted by: susannah at July 21, 2005 03:47 PM

Am glad to hear you liked Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, along with The History of Love. Both are on my amazon wish list, to buy in the very near future (along with about 30 gadzillion other books, my husband doesn't call me bookworm for nothing). You may have already read these, but here are some great books I just finished reading (it's amazing, now that I'm off my meds I'm back to my voracious reading, and off of marathon tv sessions, hooray!), and forgive me if you've already read/mentioned them...and you probably have 40 gadzillion you've got que'ed up to read, but hey, in case you're needing some new material. Because, being a new parent and all, you'll have NOTHING but time! And, you love books, like me, and I'm always looking for good material, so, if you want, voila.

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (beautifully written, and the story pulled me in right away).

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant. Fascinating for its period details, and also, I love art and Italy, so reading about Florence during the renaissance was particularly intriguing (however, that makes it sound boring and stuffy, but it's really wonderful, even if you're not arty.

Mind Catcher by John Darnton. I don't even know how to describe this book, except to say I was riveted from the get-go. It asks a lot of ethical questions about medicine and technology, but also about our souls, and what makes us, us, yet is also a thriller-esque type novel. It's not an easy one to categorize.

A Blessed Event by Jean Reynolds Page. This is also an extremely well written book. It's a story that unfolds so beautifully, with so many thought provoking turns.

You can take it for what it's worth. Although, I have a feeling you'll be diving more into What to Expect the First Year than tearing through novels as per usual. Oh, and here's a question (because like I said, you've got nothing but time now, right?), did you like A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius? I, personally, loved it, but have yet to read You Shall Know Our Velocity, as I've read just so-so reviews of it.

Posted by: Kelly at July 22, 2005 02:06 AM