Monday, March 03, 2014

Kidd's The Invention of Wings soars


Book Read - February
14.       Kings of the Road, Cameron Stracher
15.       Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
16.       Andrew’s Brain, E.L. Doctorow
17.       This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett
18.       The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd
19.       March (Book One), John Lewis and Andrew Aydin,
            illustrated by Nate Powell
20.       The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, Alan Bradley
21.       The Pagan Lord, Bernard Cornwell
22.       Catch and Release, Lawrence Block
23.       A Compendium of Collective Nouns, Woop Studios
24.       Orfeo, Richard Powers
25.       Tom’s Town, William M. Reddig
26.       The Kept, James Scott
27.       This Dark Road to Mercy, Wiley Cash
28.       The Free, Willy Vlautin
29.       Granta #124 Travel

Books Bought – February
B.B. King's Lucille and the Loves Before Her by Eric Dahl
A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
The Free by Willy Vlautin
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings is an early entry for the best book of 2014. This fictional account of the Grimke sisters, daughters of the confederacy who became leading voices in the movement to abolish slavery, and of a slave, who valued freedom more than life, is a powerful and moving novel.

Kidd’s prose is crisp and clean with impressive flights of lyricism.

Reading Wings and John Lewis’s autobiographical March during African American History Month was unintentional on my part. But whether serendipity or the subconscious at work, the timing brought a depth to my reading in February.

March Book One (I eagerly await Book Two) demonstrates how the graphic novel – or in this instance a graphic autobiography – can tell a story simply, yet powerfully. Nate Powell’s illustrations are the perfect complement to Lewis’s voice.

The Kept, This Dark Road to Mercy and The Free all fall into the same nebulous category of books that elude easy categorization. The Free, the newest novel by Willy Vlautin, is the best of these three books.  You may have passed the books protagonists on the street today, as you checked out at the supermarket or visited a friend in the hospital.

Not literally, of course, but Vlautin draws an affecting portrait of everyday people – a kind-hearted nurse, a dying soldier, a man holding down multiple jobs yet still schuffling to survive.

Vlautin is largely unknown as a novelist. Those who have read his books, such as Lean On Pete, know that he writes simply, yet powerfully. Perhaps, he’s little read because we see ourselves too clearly in his characters.

After reading This Dark Road to Mercy I rushed out and bought Cash’s first book. Dark Road is the story of two sisters who have been kidnapped by their father. Dad has stolen some money and is being followed a murderous fellow intent on reclaiming the money and taking revenge for an eye injury suffered years before in a baseball game.

Events converge in St. Louis with the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase as a backdrop. It’s not great literature, but entertaining as hell. Cash is a writer to watch.

Revenge also figures in The Kept, which follows a mother and son, the only survivors of a family mysteriously slaughtered by three men. In uncovering the motive for the murders, the son learns a disturbing truth about his mother.

Death Comes For the Archbishop by Willa Cather continues my 2014 plans of re-reading one great book each month. I don’t think this is Cather’s best book -- that status is held by My Antonia – but it’s close. Cather’s respect for the archbishop, his work and faith, for the people of New Mexico and for the country’s landscape, infuses the book with a palpable grandeur.

New books by Alan Bradley and Bernard Cornwell are each part of a series that I recommend without reservation.  Both characters – a 12-year-old sleuth with a disturbing knowledge of poisons and a Saxon warlord who wields a mean sword – are vivid  characters. I am always, always, ready to read their next adventures.

E.L. Doctorow’s new book, Andrew’s Brain, was hugely disappointing for a work by a major American author. The same was true of Orfeo by Richard Powers.

Catch and Release, a collection of short works by Lawrence Block is uneven.

Ann Patchett’s collection of essays and articles, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, illustrates Patchett’s range as a writer. Frankly, I’m a fanboy. She’s funny and insightful in equal measure. Plus she owns a bookstore. No wonder I’m crushing on her.

Tom’s Town, a history of Kansas City and boss Tom Pendergast, is a product of its time. Despite showing its age, it remains a fascinating read and told me a lot about the town I now live in.

I enjoyed Kings of the Road, about Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar, but was left wanting more.

No such disappointment with A Compendium of Collective Nouns. If you’re a word person, this is a delightful book, best enjoyed a few pages at a time.

Friday, February 07, 2014

He's back! Thoughts on books read in the first month of 2014


Books Read --
1.  Jar of Fools, Jason Lutes
2.  Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
3.  Stalin’s Ghost, Martin Cruz Smith
4.  Blue Heaven, C.J. Box
5.  Iron Council, China Mieville
6.  The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker, Stanley Crouch 
7.  The Astral, Kate Christensen
8.  The Silver Dream, Neil Gaiman, Michael and Mallory Reaves
9.  Ten Years in the Tub, Nick Hornby
10. Below Zero, C.J. Box
11. The Yankee Years, Joe Torre & Tom Verducci
12. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling
13. The Rapture of the Nerds, Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross

Books Bought --
Black is the Color, Julia Gfroer
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Alan Bradley
Death of Kings, Bernard Cornwell
March (Book One), John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd
Orfeo, Richard Powers
Andrew's Brain, E. L. Doctorow

My recent reading suggests three ledes for this first post of 2014. I cannot decide between them so here they all are:

Lede 1 -- I have shamelessly stolen Nick Hornby's format for his column in Believer magazine, listing both books read and books bought. I will neither be as funny nor as insightful as Nick, but I like the format. My intentions are clearly influenced by reading his wonderful collection Ten Years in the Tub.

Lede 2 -- I plan to start January and each month thereafter with a truly great book.  The rest of the month may be nothing but plonck, but among the 100-plus books I read in 2014 there will be 12 that are dependable. Starting with the best of the best, Dicken's Great Expectations.

Lede 3 -- January is a month when there are few, if any, notable new releases (although that was far from true this year), so I like to work through a reading pile that's been growing taller throughout 2013. This consists of an author or series that I am trying to work my way through. Harry Potter, all the books by C.J. Box. That sort of thing.

And it was a good month if for no other reason than I finally read Great Expectations. I am surprised as you, Dear Reader, that I had never read this classic before. I consider Dickens the greatest English novelist (I want to say writer, but then what do I do with Shakespeare?) and Great Expectations is clearly one of his great novels, if not the greatest.

Everything that makes Dickens a joy to read is present here. The humor (and if you don't find humor in Dickens you aren't reading him closely), the numerous plot strands that all unexpectedly convergence into a single, satisfying whole and the vivid secondary characters.  What other writer's minor characters so dominate the landscape of our literature and imagination? Here we have Miss Havisham, the convict Abel Magwitch, Joe the blacksmith, Mr. Jaggers and the pompous Pumblechook.

Ten Years in the Tub is the other book that I would most recommend to other readers. Hornby makes me laugh and he sends me scrambling for a pen so I can scribble down another title or writer I want to read. If you're not familiar with his long-running column in the Believer pick this book up. I have read two previous collections and I didn't mind one bit re-reading some columns for the second or third time.

Blue Heaven by C.J. Box was difficult to read. Not because of the writing, but because two children were in jeopardy and that caused me no end of anxiety. Blue Heaven is a one-off and doesn't feature Box's recurring character, the Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince seems to me to be the book where J.K. Rowling finally learns to writ. It's the best book in the series, yet also the penultimate book, which tells you a great deal about how lukewarm I am about this series.

Science fiction often relies on conventions or conceits that assume a pre-existing familiarity on the reader's part. That's especially true of Iron Council by China Mieville and The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross.

After completing these books I thought I'd enjoy them more if I immediately went back and read them again, but who wants to do that? I like Stross and Mieville -- just not these books.

The Astral isn't Kate Christensen's best book.  I'd recommend The Great Man, which won the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award.

The Silver Dream is young adult novel.  It's the second in a series that I find mildly entertaining. 

Martin Cruz Smith's Stalin's Ghost takes a long time to take off. Honestly, unless you just want to read all his books, I'd give this a pass.

And that's also true for Jar of Fools, a graphic novel by Jason Lutes. 

I reserve my greatest disappointment for two works of non-fiction: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker, a biography of the jazz great by Stanley Crouch and The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci.

Crouch's book left me wanting to read a biography of Charlie Parker. It's an extended rift on many topics, including the influence of Kansas City jazz, but Parker is often off the stage entirely.

Baseball reads. Normally. This book doesn't. It's rather odd. Torre appears to be the co-author, but he appears in the book in the third person and is quoted, rather than just telling his story. Still, a Yankee fan is going to enjoy this peak behind the pin-striped curtain.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

2013 reading list -- 170 books in all

Final total for books read in 2013 – 170.

Previous highs were 160 in 2008 and 161 in 2009. That works out to a book read about every 2.1 days – not bad when I recall the days in 2013 when I didn’t read at all. There weren’t many days like that mind you. Reading is like oxygen, something I can’t go without for very long.

Here’s my favorite fiction from the past year:

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Tenth of December by George Saunders

Five other novels worthy of your perusal:

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon
The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly
Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III
Harvest by Jim Crace
Joyland
by Stephen King

In non-fiction, I especially liked:

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
The Unwinding, An Inner History of the New America by George Packer
The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Double Down by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann
The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane
The Great War by Joe Sacco

Sacco’s book falls under the broad category of a graphic novel. It’s actually a history – a panorama of the first day of the Battle of the Somme – and just an incredible work by this talented journalist.

My biggest thrill came in reading Minecraft by Daniel Goldberg and Linus Larsson. My oldest son, Brandon Reinhart, is mentioned twice. Yeah, that’s cool. Very cool.

“You always read too many books . . . That can’t lead to any good.”

January
1. Under the Bright Lights, Daniel Woodrell. Noir
2. Married Love, Tessa Hadley. Stories
3. Hunting Badger, Tony Hillerman. Mystery
4. A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L’Engle, adapted and
illustrated by Hope Larson. Graphic Novel
5. Winterkill, C.J. Box. Thriller
6. The Best American Short Stories 2012, ed. Tom Perrotta
7. L.A. Outlaws, T. Jefferson Parker. Thriller
8. The Polish Officer, Alan Furst. Espionage
9. Vietnamerica, G.B. Tran. Graphic Novel
10. Bad Signs, R.J. Ellory. Thriller
11. Extraordinary People, Peter May. Mystery
12. The Aliens of Earth, Nancy Kress. Stories
13. Muscle for the Wing, Daniel Woodrell. Thriller
14. Trophy Hunt, C.J. Box. Thriller
15. The Patriarch, David Nasaw. Biography
16. The World at Night, Alan Furst. Espionage
17. The Leopard, Jo Nesbo. Thriller

February
18. Suspect, Robert Crais. Thriller
19. Watching the Dark, Peter Robinson. Mystery
20. Fax From Sarajevo, Joe Kubert. Graphic Novel
21. The Critic, Peter May. Mystery
22. Speaking From Among the Bones, Alan Bradley. Mystery
23. Edge of Dark Water, Joe R. Lansdale. Thriller
24. 38 Nooses Lincoln, Little Crow and the Beginning of the
Frontier’s End
, Scott W. Berg. History
25. The Chess Men, Peter May. Mystery
26. Bordersnakes, James Crumley. Thriller
27. Out of Range, C.J. Box. Mystery
28. Final Account, Peter Robinson. Mystery
29. The Book of Magic, Neil Gaiman. Graphic novel
30. Red Gold, Alan Furst. Thriller

March
31. Tenth of December, George Saunders. Stories
32. The New Yorker Stories, Ann Beattie. Stories
33. Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Karen Russell. Stories
34. The Dream Hunters, Neil Gaiman. Graphic novel
35. The River Swimmer, Jim Harrison. Novellas
36. Harvest, Jim Crace. Fiction
37. The Old Ways, Robert Macfarlane. Walking
38. The Tiger’s Wife, Tea Obreht. Fiction
39. Marvel 1602, Neil Gaiman. Graphic novel
40. The Death of Bees, Lisa O’Donnell. Fiction
41. Ghostman, Roger Hobbs. Thriller
42. Benediction, Kent Haruf. Fiction
43. Will Eisner, A Dreamer’s Life in Comics, Michael Shumacher. Biography
44. Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead. Fiction
45. The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists, Granta. Stories
46. Intervention, Richard Russo. Stories
47. Joyland, Stephen King. Thriller

April
48. Joe Simon, My Life In Comics, Joe Simon. Biography
49. The Antagonist, Lynn Coady. Fiction
50. Paris Review Winter 2012, literary journal
51. The Fruit of Stone, Mark Spragg. Fiction
52. Life After Life, Kate Atkinson. Fiction
53. The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer. Fiction
54. The Paris Review, Spring, 2013. Literary Journal
55. Capital, John Lanchester. Fiction
56. The Burgess Boys, Elizabeth Strout
57. The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins. Fiction
58. Eminent Outlaws, The Gay Writers Who Changed America, Christopher Bram. Literary history/criticism

May
59. Dark Lies The Island, Kevin Barry. Stories
60. Red Planet Blues, Robert Sawyer. Science Fiction
61. Bad Monkey, Carl Hiaasen. Fiction
62. Seduction of the Innocent, Max Allan Collins. Thriller
63. Punk Rock Jesus, Sean Murphy. Graphic Novel
64. Cooked, Michael Pollan. Food/Natural History
65. A Delicate Truth, John le Carre. Thriller
66. Instructions for a Heatwave, Maggie O’Farrell. Fiction
67. In Plain Sight, C.J. Box. Thriller
68. The Book of My Lives, Aleksandar Hemon. Memoir
69. Life After Life, Jill McCorkle. Fiction
70. Complete Essex County, Jeff Lemire. Graphic Novel
71. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, Kristopher Jansma. Fiction
72. Mint Condition, Dave Jamieson. Baseball/Collecting
73. With or Without You, Domenica Ruta. Memoir
74. Bossypants, Tina Fey. Memoir/Humor
75. A Thousand Pardons, Jonathan Dee. Fiction

June
76. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra. Fiction
77. Rage Against the Dying, Becky Masterman. Thriller
78. King Rat, China Mieville. Fantasy
79. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Edington & Culbard. Graphic Novel
80. The Killer (Vol. 1), Jacamon & Matz. Graphic Novel
81. Free Fire, C.J. Box. Thriller
82. Cairo, Willow & Perker. Graphic Novel
83. Pride of Baghdad, Brian K. Vaughan. Graphic Novel
84. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling. Fantasy
85. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, adapted by I.N.J. Culbard.
Graphic Novel
86. Mickey and Willie, Allen Barra. Baseball/Biography
87. Little Green, Walter Mosley. Thriller
88. Donnybrook, Frank Bill. Thriller
89. The Complete Maus, Art Spiegelman. Graphic Novel
90. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde, Edginton and Culbard. Graphic Novel
91. TransAtlantic, Colum McCann. Fiction
92. The Wilding, Benjamin Percy. Fiction
93. Nightwoods, Charles Frazier. Fiction
94. The House at Belle Fontaine, Lily Tuck. Stories
95. The Story of Roberto Clemente, Wilfred Santiago. Graphic Novel

July
96. How To Read The Air, Dinaw Mengestu. Fiction
97. Hothouse, Boris Kachka. Books on books
98. Al Capp, Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen. Biography
99. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Fiction
100. Bobcat and Other Stories, Rebecca Lee. Stories
101. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman. Fantasy
102. The Murder Mile, Paul Collicutt. Graphic novel
103. The Panopticon, Jenni Fagan. Fiction

August
104. This Town, Mark Leibovich. Non-Fiction
105. The Son, Phillipp Meyer. Fiction
106. Raven Girl, Audrey Niffenegger. Graphic Novel
107. The Illusion of Separateness, Simon Van Booy. Fiction
108. Let It Burn, Steve Hamilton. Mystery
109. The Rules of Wolfe, James Carlos Blake. Thriller
110. Blood Trail, C.J. Box. Thriller
111. My Bookstore, edited by Ronald Rice. Books on Books
112. City Primeval, Elmore Leonard. Thriller
113. Tin House #56, Literary Journal
114. City in the Desert, Moro Rogers. Graphic Novel
115. Brewster, Mark Slouka. Fiction
116. Will Eisner’s New York. Graphic Novel
117. In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, Matt Bell. Fiction

September
118. Snow Hunters, Paul Yoon. Fiction
119. The Paris Review #205. Literary Journal
120. Interworld, Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves. Fantasy
121. Swann’s Way, Book 1, In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust. Fiction
122. St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, Karen Russell. Stories
123. Night Film, Marisha Pessl. Fiction
124. Nom De Plume, Carmela Ciuraru. Books on Books
125. Maigret and the Wine Merchant, Georges Simenon. Mystery
126. Bicycle Days, John Burnham Schwarz. Fiction
127. Zeitoun, Dave Eggers. Non-Fiction

October
128. How the Light Shines In, Louise Penny. Mystery
129. Granta #122, Literary Journal
130. Never Go Back, Lee Child. Thriller
131. Boxers, Gene Luen Yang. Graphic Novel
132. Saints, Gene Luen Yang. Graphic Novel
133. Sweet Thunder, Ivan Doig. Fiction
134. The Double, George Pelecanos. Thriller
135. The Unwinding, An Inner History of the New America, George Packer. Current Events
136. 100 Things Kansas Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, Ken. Davis. Basketball
137. Claire of the Sea Light, Edwidge Danticat. Fiction
138. The Maid’s Version, Daniel Woodrell. Fiction
139. Persepolis 2, Marjane Satrapi. Graphic Memoir
140. MaddAddam, Margaret Atwood. Fiction
141. The Good Lord Bird, James McBride. Fiction

November
142. Someone, Alice McDermott. Fiction
143. Palestine, Joe Sacco. Graphic/Current Events
144. Campy, The Two Lives of Roy Campanella, Neil Lanctot. Baseball/Biography
145. Straight Herblock, Herbert Block. Graphic/Current Events
146. The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri. Fiction
147. Archangel, Andrea Barrett. Fiction
148. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi. Graphic/Biography
149. Children of the Revolution, Peter Robinson. Mystery
150. Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem. Fiction
151. The Childhood of Jesus, J.M. Coetzee. Fiction
152. The Death of Santini, Pat Conroy. Memoir

December
153. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt. Fiction
154. Legends of the Blues, William Stout. Blues/Bios
155. The Circle, Dave Eggers. Fiction
156. Saints of the Shadow Bible, Ian Rankin. Mystery
157. Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, Sebastian Faulks. Fiction
158. The Great War, Joe Sacco. Graphic/History
159. Death of the Black-Haired Girl, Robert Stone. Fiction
160. The Embassy of Cambodia, Zadie Smith. Fiction
161. The Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin. History
162. Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon. Fiction
163. Minecraft, Daniel Goldberg & Linus Larsson. Gaming
164. The Gods of Guilt, Michael Connelly. Mystery
165. Dirty Love, Andre Dubus III. Fiction
166. The Wild Party, Joseph Moncure March. Poetry
167. Double Down, Mark Halperin & John Heilemann. Politics
168. Brown Dog, Jim Harrison. Fiction
169. The Boy Detective, Roger Rosenblatt. Memoir
170. Spirit of Steamboat, Craig Johnson. Fiction

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rawlins' return the highlight of recent reading

A few thrillers, a graphic novel and a couple of fantasies are among my recent reading.

Book 87: Little Green by Walter Mosley

Easy Rawlins is back from the dead.

His resurrection is a welcome one.  Not only to readers, but to Mosley, too. The author writes with verve in Little Green, with a vibrant muscularity that's been missing from his books since Easy's car plunged off that cliff at the end of Blonde Faith.

Easy -- largely recovered from his injuries and awakened from a months-long "semi-coma" -- grows stronger and more vital with each passing page.

He locates a missing man, quickly quashes a case of corporate blackmail and makes the scene with L.A. hippies. Impossible activities for most men with one foot in the grave, but not the indomitable Easy Rawlins.

Welcome back Mr. Rawlins. Mr. Mosley, too.

(And, in the event you were wondering, the novel has nothing to do with that marvelous song from Joni Mitchell's Blue album.)

Book 88: Donnybrook by Frank Bill

Reading Frank Bill's first novel leads me to think of Miranda Lambert's song, Time To Get A Gun.

Or perhaps a freakin' tank. That's what I've been thinking.

The characters in this fast-paced and violent yarn -- men and women, alike -- are as deadly as a cottonmouth and just as quick to strike.

As with his debut collection of short stories, Crimes in Southern Indiana, Donnybrook is set in southern Indiana, a patch of country along the Ohio River that I've sworn to avoid.

Book 81: Free Fire by C.J. Box

C.J. Box, a former newspaper writer and editor, excells at turning today's headlines into captivating myseries.

That's exactly what he's done with Free Fire, the 2007 entry in his stellar series featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett.

Joe, fired in the previous book, is back on the Wyoming payroll. The state's bombastic governor has dispatched Joe to Yellowstone's "Zone of Death" where a shifty Wyoming attorney has escaped prosecution for the murder of four people due to a loophole in the law.

While probing into the motive behind the murders, Joe uncovers a scheme between park personnel and a shady corporation to steal Wyoming's natural resources. A scheme that could make billions and may lead to directly to the governor's office.

Book 77: Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman

On the strength of her superb debut thriller, Rage Against the Dying, author Becky Masterman is guaranteed a publishing contract for more novels featuring her protagonist Brigid Quinn.

A retired FBI agent, Quinn is a novelty in the genre -- she's an older woman.  And as much a gritty, determined rule breaker as any of her male counterparts.

Masterman's debut is masterly and Quinn is a welcome, and refreshing, addition to the ranks of fiction's hard-boiled heroes.

Book 78: King Rat by China Mieville

King Rat is China Mieville's debut novel. It's a spookhy, noirish mashup, equal parts fantasy and fable.

Every book that's emerged from Mieville's pen since King Rat is lurking in these pages in the shadowy recesses of London's sewers and slums.

Book 85: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft and adapted by I.N.J. Culbard.

The graphic artist I.N.J. Culbard has a genuine knack for capturing the eerie atmospherics of H.P. Lovecraft's stories.  This is another fine adaptation.

Book 84: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Let me just put this out there: I don't like Rowling's series. I don't like its characters or the premise itself.

My biggest beef is with Harry Potter himself. He's a prat (look that definiton up, please). Spoiled. Pouty. Quick to take offense. Short tempered. And, frankly, a bit dense.

The stories are a simplistic high school confidential with the thinnest veneer of fantasy and magic.

What disturbs me the most is that Rowling talks down to her young readers. The best YA (young adult) books -- those written by John Green, for example -- are edgy and honest and reflect a genuine respect for young readers.

What saddens me the most is the thought of the many fantasy novels and series vastly superior to Rowling's books that have gone unread in favor of books featuring this half-Muggle prat.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Inter-connected tales in Lemire's Collected Essex County are worthy of Alice Munro

Recent reading includes several graphic novels and three works of non-fiction.

Book 63: Punk Rock Jesus by Sean Murphy

Religion and reality TV collide in this dark and provocative graphic novel written and illustrated by Sean Murphy.

DNA from the Shroud of Turin is used as a starter kit to clone a modern-day Jesus Christ.  Many doubt his divinity, others wants to use him for their own ends. Jesus -- who calls himself Chris -- has his own ideas about how he wants to live life, including a star turn as the lead singer for a punk rock band.

Punk Rock Jesus is a disturbing work with more questions than answers. It amply demonstrates the broad range of subject matter found among current graphic novels. It lends itself perfectly to Murphy's artistic vision.

Book 70: Collected Essex County by Jeff Lemire

Collected Essex County by Jeff Lemire features inter-connected stories worthy of fellow Canadian Alice Munro.

The stories of a lonely boy living on a remote farm with his uncle, two brothers whose dream of playing professional hockey are shattered when they fall in love with the same woman and a country nurses who tends to her patient's emotional needs each build on the other into a satisfying whole.

Lemire's seemingly rough-hewn art perfectly reflects the poignancy of these stark tales. This is a graphic collection that fits nicely on the shelf alongside the best literary fiction.

Book 79: The House of the Baskervilles adapted by Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard

This adaptation of Conan Doyle's classic tale of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson lacks the spooky atmosphere of Culbard's take on Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. Still it's loads of fun.

Other graphic novels worthy pursuing: The Killer (Vol. 1) by Jacamon and Matz, Cairo by Willow and Perker and Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan. (These were books 80, 82 and 83 for me this year.)

Book 72: Mint Condition by Dave Jamieson

A lively account of the rise and fall of the baseball card industry. Remember -- it's only cardboard.

Book 73: With or Without You by Domenica Ruta

There's a formula for memoirs of a certain type: 1) self-centered parents (or better yet one parent) given to drink or violence; 2) failure to learn the lessons imparted by the parent's mistakes; and 3) the author repeats those mistakes as an adult only to reform and write a hit memoir.

Memoirs they do get weary.

Book 74: Bossypants by Tina Fey

Tina Fey is a funny woman. A very funny woman.  Bossypants is funny book -- at times. At times, it's not. And sadly when a joke falls flat on the page, there's no where for it to go.

I'm told the audiobook of Bossypants is a hoot. I'll bet that's right.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Joyland is King at his finest

Recent reading: two novels from the Hard Case Crime series and a third book that belongs in the series.

Book 47: Joyland by Stephen King

As I read Stephen King's Joyland, I forgot that I was reading a book by Stephen King.

A back-handed compliment, perhaps, but a compliment nonetheless.

A little bit of a murder mystery with a touch of a ghost story, Joyland's deepest pleasures derive from its tender coming of age story.

This is King at his finest.




Book 62: Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

In the 1950s, Fredric Wertham, a German-born American psychiatrist, nearly destroyed the comic book industry with his charges that funny books led to juvenile delinquency.

Max Allan Collins uses those real-life events as the backdrop for his delicious murder mystery, Seduction of the Innocent.  (Wertham's book was also titled Seduction of the Innocent. A recent New York Times articles reports that a recent study suggests "Wertham misrepresented his research and falsified his results.")

I was unfamiliar with Collins until stumbling upon this Hard Case Crimes entry. Now, like the girl in the TV, commercial "more, I want more."

This is unadulterated fun.

Book 61: Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen almost plays is straight in Bad Monkey, a new thriller that isn't as over the top as many of his previous books.

While fishing near Key West, a tourist reels in an arm that appears to have been separated from the rest of its body by sharks.  But Andrew Yancy thinks it was murder. And if Yancy can prove it, he's confident he can reclaim his job as a sheriff's deputy.

In typical Hiaasen fashion, there is a bizarre story behind how the arm came to be floating in the waters near Key West.  A story that Yancy uncovers through diligent police work.

But you'll have to read the book if you want to know whether he got his job back.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Le Carre's A Delicate Truth recalls Smiley, Karla and the Circus

Book 65: A Delicate Truth by John le Carre

The tension is palpable in John le Carre's fine new thriller, A Delicate Truth. In his most recent novels, the story has been sacrificed to le Carre's anger. Here his anger -- at private security forces, wealthy Americans and Britain's inattentive national leaders -- drives the narrative and produces a high caliber thriller that recalls the author's best work.

Book 60: Red Planet Blues by Robert Sawyer

Sci fi author Robert Sawyer expands on his award-winning novella, Identity Theft, in Red Planet Blues. I wish he hadn't. This is a disappointing book. Sawyer's concept of a shamus on the red planet is more clever than convincing.

Book 67: In Plain Sight by C.J. Box

In Plain Sight is the sixth (2006) book in the Joe Pickett series by C.J. Box. It's a violent story in which Joe makes an unfortunate decision certain to reverberate in future stories. Unless you're committed to reading the entire series -- as I am -- I'd take a pass on this particular novel. It's not Box's best.