June 11, 2006

On Books: Catching Up

For the last couple of years I've been writing monthly book reviews - you know, all the stuff I read the previous month. I'm not sure how many people actually read them because the comments are usually pretty light but you just might have noticed I've been slacking for the last several months. Three to be exact. I've been otherwise occupied but, with a little time off under my belt I should probably rectify that. I give you the books I read in March, April and May from best to worst.

1. The Ha-Ha (David King). King creates the ultimate hero when a Vietnam vet who lost the ability to speak following combat takes in a nine year-old boy. There is almost nothing that's not wonderful about the story and the way it's written. As a matter of fact, I was sitting next to Beth when she finished the book.
Her: That was a great book.
Me: Wasn't it? I loved it.
Her: Really fantastic.
Me: I know.
Her: I mean, really really fantastic. It's been a long time since I've read something that good.

2. As Simple As Snow (Gregory Galloway). Gallowayís quirky style and sense of humor combine to make his debut novel simultaneously tender and creepy. Better yet, thereís a mystery that you, the reader, must solve. And if you canít, you can always visit the authorís site and sign up to receive clues via email. I still havenít noodled it through but then I have to admit I haven't really tried all that hard.

3. Under the Banner of Heaven (Jon Krakauer). I know I'm well behind the curve on this one - everyone read this, like, years ago, right? Simply fascinating! I've become a big fan of HBOís Big Love and my timing in picking this up couldnít have been better. Krakauer doesnít exactly hide his bias but his research and the various subplots are both vastly entertaining and educational.

4/5. Rain Storm (Barry Eisler) and The Hard Way (Lee Child). It's a tie. Barry Eislerís third volume chronicling the life and times of John Rain is probably his best offering yet. Similarly, Lee Child brings back Jack Reacher for a tenth time in one of his strongest novels. Both authors know how to write and have created some brilliant lead characters. If nothing else, they're fun and entertaining.

6. The Geographerís Library (Jon Fasman). Fasman's entry into the DaVinci Code-style historical thriller genre is a great debut for the author. While he avoids the traps the Dan Brown copycats fall into, it's not the plot but the writing that captures the reader. His self-depricating lead character and narrator is such a likable guy - and so entertaining - it's a pleasure following him through the book's 300+ pages. I will say this - the book is slow to start and, in the end, some of the more historical information conveyed doesn't seem to have much purpose. Still, it's a decent read.

7. How The Light Gets In (M.J. Hyland). I liked Hyland's debut novel but I'm not entirely sure why. It's a strange tale of an Australian exchange student in America. It provides some social commentary from an outsider's perspective yet nothing much happens. It's stuck in my head though, and I enjoyed the way it was written. Underdeveloped, yes, but worth checking out.

8. Blood Father (Peter Craig). Craig's Hot Plastic was a fantastic, fast-moving novel. Blood Father is almost as good...but not quite. Sure, it's billed as a thriller but it's more than that - it's a story about family. The characters are remarkably drawn and the story itself is well-executed. It's something of a forgettable read but it's compelling enough to keep the pages turning.

9. American Purgatorio (John Haskell). What a strange novel. That's really all I can say without ruining the eventual non-surprising surprise. I know, that didn't make any sense. Haskell's brain works in a very different way as evidenced by the book itself, but the man can write. The book was, in parts, tedious, but there was an eventual payoff.

10. The Underminer (Mike Albo). We all have name-dropping friends who make us feel about two inches tall, right? If you're nodding, go out and pick this one up today. Albo provides readers with exactly one half of several conversations, lectures really, delivered by that annoying friend. The Underminer is funny and, sadly, quite true.

11. Drama City (George Pelecanos). Washington DC native Pelecanos is a talented guy. There is almost no one better at writing brilliantly lyrical and realistic dialogue. The problem with Drama City, however, is that dialogue is about all we get. It's more cerebral than previous novels. Gone is much of the action that typically drives his stories yet the novel never finds its footing as anything other than his standard offering. The brilliantly drawn characters and Pelecanos' style save the novel.

12. Bad Twin (Gary Troup). Bad Twin is, of course, the Lost tie-in supposedly written by Gary Troup (anagram for purgatory) who was lost in the very crash weíre watching play out on TV. I donít really dig television or movie tie-ins, as theyíre typically written by hacks and the quality is sub-standard. Not so with Bad Twin. Itís not War and Peace and clearly it wasnít ghostwritten by John Irving (itís rumored to have been penned by Ridley Pearson) but itís not half bad. If youíre hard up for new Lost material while awaiting the third season, this might help tide you over.

13. Past Mortem (Ben Elton). Elton's a funny guy. I've always enjoyed everything I've read by him and this is really no exception. The problem, I guess, is that it's nothing remarkable. It's a standard mystery-turned-love-story that I got slightly tired of 200 pages in. Past Mortem isn't bad...it's just not fantastic either.

14. In The Company Of Liars (David Ellis). I dig it when authors try something new, something that screws with the format of a novel or the way in which the story is delivered. Ellis did just that with In The Company of Liars. Unfortunately, the results weren't fantastic. In the novel, the action unfolds backwards. Given that we're dealing with an already-complicated plot, this is no easy task. Somehow, Ellis was able to pull it off, writing the action backwards while still maintaining some of the mystery until the end. That, folks, is genius. The story, though, wasn't that hot. Told the right way around, it would have been average. For that, it comes in pretty low on my list.

15. The Broker (John Grisham). John Grisham has never been accused of being John Irving but he can put together a decent story which keeps pages turning while conserving on brainpower. The Broker was just meh, only mildly insipid and moderately entertaining. Itís a great beach book. Donít expect miracles.

16. Contest (Matthew Reilly). This is, without any doubt, the worst book I've ever read. And that's saying something. I read a lot. The blurb on the back described an action-packed story in which six people are locked in the New York Public Library and compete for their lives. I thought hey, that sounds like a brainless 24-like book and picked it up. I was a little shocked when people and aliens started teleporting through space. The blurb? Not too accurate. My favorite part is the introduction in which the author bitches that this, his first book, had to be self-published because no publishing house would print it. Well duh, dumbass. That's because it's terrible. I wanted to quit a fourth of the way though but I just had to see how much worse it got. It just made me want to shove a toothbrush through my ear canal and scrub my brain. Every copy should be immediately located and recycled as toilet paper.

Posted by Chris at June 11, 2006 09:11 AM

You know I have to read Contest now, don't you?

Posted by: Alison at June 11, 2006 09:38 AM

I read the review posts, I just suck at commenting. I generally make note of some of the ones you really like and either wishlist them or mental note them, and eventually get around to reading them. heh. I have to (HAVE TO! Honest. heh.) make a book order soon, so I"ll probably add The Ha-Ha to the list. The last book I felt like that about was Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (I think that's her name.. ahh, the magic of Google.. yes, that's her name), so if you or Beth ever get a chance, maybe you'll want to check it out. :) It seems like more of a "girl" book, but it's suuuuch a great story. :)

Posted by: Manda at June 11, 2006 09:49 AM

So that must mean we'll be seeing the film version of Contest (directed by Michael Bay, or perhaps Renny Harlin) at the multiplex next year.

Posted by: Jason at June 11, 2006 10:53 AM

I, too, read your reviews and always note a few that I really must get around to adding to my huge pile of must-reads. And usually I then go into a corner and start rocking myself rapidly, remembering the good old days when I used to devour books the way you do. Nowadays if I make it through one book every 1-3 months, it's a victory. And no, I don't have kids so I can't blame that. I'm not sure whether it was the stress of law school or the devastation that was my father's illness and death about 10 years ago that led to my inability to focus very long on a book, because both things happened in the same time frame (my money's on the dad thing, though). For several years in there I read only the newspaper and a few magazines, and no books whatsoever, so it's been a big deal to get back to reading novels again, period. I miss being a voracious reader, though, and I'm completely envious and admiring of people like you who are. I'll forgive you your lapse in updates, but please don't ever stop your reviews entirely. :-)

Posted by: shelley at June 11, 2006 10:56 AM

I'm behind on my book reviews also (the books are sitting here at my elbow leering at me) but I really enjoyed Banner of Heaven as well. I think Krakauer could write about mold and find some exciting adventure in it.

Posted by: Anne Glamore at June 11, 2006 11:28 AM

The Ha-Ha is a wonderful book. I read it some time ago and it's good to see someone else who felt the same way about it. I'm going to have to pick up As Simple as Snow and Under the Banner of Heaven, they both sound interesting.

Posted by: Amy at June 11, 2006 11:42 AM

Took a glance at your sidebar and you are just reading Velocity now? One of my favorite Dean Koontz books (and I love me some Dean Koontz, but he has put out a few clunkers).

Posted by: Amy at June 11, 2006 11:44 AM

I don't know how you get through so many books in such a short time, but thanks for all the reviews. I've wishlisted a few, and it's very likely I'll read the first two sometime this summer. Even though I don't always comment on book posts, I do usually look the books up to learn more about them. Keep up the book posts!

Posted by: Jen at June 11, 2006 11:46 AM

every time you post about books the only thing i can focus on is how much you manage to read. and i also think about the fact that at one point, eons ago, i used to to go through the same number of books and i wonder now how i used to do it!

i haven't read grisham in a long time. the last one i read, i think, was runaway jury and by the end i felt like i'd reread every single grisham book written. a time to kill, the pelican brief and the firm really are his best books i think. after that, the rest is just one big unrecognizable blob of blahness.

"big unrecognizable blob of blahness" why, i do believe i've just come up with the title for my next blog. awesome!

Posted by: patricia at June 11, 2006 12:23 PM

I grew up in an area that was primarily Mormon. Some of my family is Mormon. "Under the Banner of Heaven" was an excellent book. I thought Krakuer was really fair. To me this was a must read.

Posted by: Lisa V at June 11, 2006 12:25 PM

I wonder how much that twit lost publishing his own book?

Probably not enough to teach him a lesson.

Posted by: Allan at June 11, 2006 01:32 PM

I have been wanting to read Under the Banner of Heaven, thanks for the reminder. I too am hooked on Big Love. So, how do you find time to read so much?

Posted by: Milly at June 11, 2006 02:40 PM

"Under the Banner of Heaven" was fantastic. I couldn't put it down. The writers of "Big Love" do a good job incorporating the lesser known aspects of Mormonism and, given that the belief system is one shrouded in utter secrecy, there's a ton of information there to mine. If you find this interesting, you should pick up a copy of Simon Worrell's "The Poet and the Murderer".

Posted by: wordgirl at June 11, 2006 04:28 PM

I'm still scratching my head wondering how the hell you can get that many books read inbetween work, being Mia's daddy, Beth's hubby, and keeping up with yardwork. You must not sleep at all. Either that, or you put the books under your pillow and read them via osmosis.

Posted by: ironic1 at June 11, 2006 07:25 PM

I'm with the commenter before me. When the holy hell do you have TIME to read this much? Between parenting, working (from home) and blogging, I barely have time to shower. I bow down to what I imagine are your magical abilities to bend time and make more of it.

Posted by: Izzy at June 11, 2006 09:33 PM

I'm amazed that you have time to read... I read very slowly... usually 2 pages before my eyes close and I lose my place.

I had wishlisted As Simple as Snow about a month ago... (I often click through from the sidebar) and read these reviews to the hubby, who was happy to find a couple more things to add to the list. He likes long reads so anything with more than 300 pages is a plus. We added Ha-Ha, and he is looking at the others to see what else he might like.

Thanks for the reviews!

Posted by: Karen at June 12, 2006 11:34 AM

Thank goodness for book recommendations! Just in time for summertime and sitting by the pool. Look forward to checking some of these out.

Posted by: Lee at June 12, 2006 12:58 PM

Thank goodness for book recommendations! Just in time for summertime and sitting by the pool. Look forward to checking some of these out.

Posted by: Lee at June 12, 2006 12:58 PM

I've been very bad at bringing new selections to my book exchange club the past few months, so maybe I'll pick up the Ha-Ha King next time I'm over at Barnes and Noble. Especially since it so highly recommended by both you and Beth. Thanks!

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Posted by: Gonder at June 15, 2006 09:12 PM

Yay! I've been looking for something to read after I finish my current one. Thanks for the reviews.

Posted by: Kate the Shrew at June 19, 2006 01:48 PM