Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book 14: Double Indemnity

What a thrill ride.  Short, sweet, with enough noirish highlights, but surprisingly strong character development.  Actually a bit believable until the very end.  Very enjoyable, easy read.  Sorta perfect thing for a poolside in Hawaii.  Wish I read it there. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book 13: The Great Gatsby

I'm not sure I've ever actually read The Great Gatsby even though I know that I was assigned it at some point during my school career.  After seeing the trailers for Baz Luhrman's upcoming film adaptation, I figured it was time to finally read it for real.  And I found it extremely enjoyable.  Themetically pitch perfect, well written, yet never boring.  As far as so-called great novels go, it is extremely accessible even though it's around 80 years old.  I'm surprised whenever I go to good reads on a book like this because the trashers get much higher billing than they should.  Sure, not every book is for everyone, but if you like solid paced plotting, thematic richness, and historic perspective, The Great Gatsby is awesome. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Book 12: Last Watch

For someone who has read all four books of the Night Watch series, I'm not as big of a fan as I probably should be.  The series itself focuses on a magician who works in the Night Watch (good), making sure that the opposing forces (bad) adhere to the treaties.  In turn, the Day Watch watches the good guys.  Of course, this G vs. E construct is not as black and white as it comes across in writing and Anton, the magician, is well aware of this. 

While I liked the first book, I think Sergie Lukyaneko has smartly gotten away from the more fantastical elements as the books have moved on, focusing much more on Anton and his growing cynicism and disenchantment.  Each book delves into these elements more and I think it makes them stronger as the reader is treated to a very real crises of his soul.  To me, the night watch series is a superior example of urban fantasy.  It's not always what it seems, oftentimes setting up the supposed good guys as having character issues.  Interestingly, the watches are set up more as chaos vs. order than good vs. evil, which allows Sergie to plumb some interesting conflicts.  The fourth book is the best, weaving the murky morality of the players with solid action throughout.  Sure, it has a few dopey moments, but overall, I really enjoyed this one.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Book 11: Strangers on a Train

In my mostly worthless opinion, Patricia Highsmith does not get nearly enough run as a top American writer.  Perhaps it's because her novels are sometimes dismissed as genre fiction.  Maybe it's because she deals in depth with disturbing psychologies.  Maybe it's because people want to think that over indulgent messes masquerading as great fiction is where its at. Whatever.  Highsmith is great and though Strangers on a Train has some weaknesses, its still a thrilling ride.  The slow degradation of the main characters is astonishing and the book, gratefully short, careens towards a great ending.  Highsmith's later novels smooth over the rough points a bit (I found this book to spend too much time in the protagonists psyche), but Strangers on a Train is still a great example of a great writer.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Book 10: Bite Me

Didn't realize this was number three in a series when I read. Christopher Moore gets a lot of press as a funny guy, and he certainly can bring the humor. Though it was a lot of fun, I really wish I read the first two. It didn't stand alone very well at all with a ton of references to the previous characters. My bad for not checking that first. As to the book, if the whole thing had been done in Abby Normal's voice, I probably would have loved it anyway and given it five stars. One of the best and funniest narrators I've ever encountered. But the rest of the book, while sorta funny, never really got above the mildly amusing mark and just made me miss Abby that much more

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book 9: A Plague of Wolves and Women

Reading this was like really rough sex. While it is mostly outstanding, there are moments where I wondered if those marks are going to be permanent or at least how long they'd be visible. Riley Michael Parker delivers a horrifying tale told in 2-3 page koans reflecting on the experience of a boy in a cursed village of indeterminate time or place. The violence is real and shocking at times, but the narration, effectively first person with an almost worldly matter of fact retelling that is vital in not allowing the often gruesome details to become torture porn, Parker somehow manages to bring a heaping amount of poignancy through the little kindnesses and smiles. It is dense and extremely complex, sad, and terrifying all at once. This book is in many ways indescribable. I cannot recommend it to anyone but I found it absolutely amazing. Strangely, I let my mother read it, who also loved it not despite the horribleness, but because of it. Parker kept the book very short (less than 100 pages), a good decision as the subject matter wouldn't hold up to much more. There's a not so subtle satirical element here as well. Hunger Games and it's ilk where violence against children is presented in fairly weak and disposable thematic environment while masquerading as young adult fiction gets it's comeuppance. In Parker's world, violence isn't pretty, the motivations aren't rational, and there are no banquets or celebrations for the survivors. It is grim business and finding virtue despite it is what Parker goes for. This is a love or hate book. You'll either find yourself sucked in very quickly, examining your own like for the book or you'll put it down after a few pages. I finished this in a day and was mesmerized the entire time>

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Book 8: Devil in Silver

There are elements of this that are entirely brilliant. The writing is crisp, characters easily distinguished, realistic dialogue. The mental asylum is effectively presented as a horrible, beauracratic nightmare. The main character, an incredible bulk named Pepper, provides a great filter for the story to unfold, though the supporting characters are dazzling in their own rights and often steal the proverbial show. The only complaints I had was that there were a lot of unanswered questions (which is okay sometimes, but Lavalle seemed to go out of his way to clean up some items while leaving others completely dangling) and the ending seemed inevitable and a bit predictable, though I feel like that's quibbling. But I loved the ride in getting there and have LaValle on a short list of my favorite contemporary authors.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book 7: Call for the Dead

So, given my history, this should be some crazy zombie does camelot sort of dealio, right (maybe I'll write that one)? But, this is just a John LeCarre spy novel. Of course, saying "just" doesn't do it justice (groan). I actually got into this after watching the really boring "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" starring Gary Oldman. I figured it must have come from a book because who the hell would intentionally write a spy movie that doesn't have gadgets or explosions, or boobs busting out of swimsuits. So, found out it came from a John LeCarre novel about Smiley (the Oldman role) and although the movie was a snoozefest, it seemed like the kind of cold war intrigue that I find interesting. So, I ran out and got the first Smiley book called "Call for the Dead."\ I really enjoyed the book. It was gratefully short as it could have been quite boring, but I found the anti-Bond element (I read most of the Bond books in high school) quite refreshing. Smiley is not super in any way (though he is pretty smart) and he has no cool gadgets and manages to mostly avoid the deus ex machina that defines most spy thrillers I've read (and especially the films which I admit to having seen more films on spies than read books). It's a bit more of a short story, but a very good into to Smiley. I'm very interested to read the rest.

Book 6 and Book 28: My Life as a White Trash Zombie AND Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues

This just felt like it needed to be read. Sometimes, I don't ask why, and the title is just so kick-ass. It's like some twisted movie pitch. The book itself was good, about what I expected. Easy page turner, not needing a lot of concentration. Public transportation consumption seems in order. It's basically a mystery, but the pacing is good with some pretty great moments (a lot to do with the sense of smell) along the way. Overall, quite enjoyable and I'm very much looking forward to the next one. On a side note, I think this is what they call Urban fantasy. I'm not sure the progenitor (or if there really is one), but I seem to be reading a lot of books like this. Maybe it's because the first one I encountered is the Dresden books, so they all seem a bit like Harry Dresden. Something mysterious is out there stalking or otherwise threatening the main character, main character must use the strange and sometimes macabre tools at his/her disposal, solved mystery and saves self. Most of them are written more like Young Adult in terms of sophistication, but they are enjoyable page turners nonetheless. Personally, I enjoy them, but I can't really take them too seriously.

Threw down the sequel in a couple of days.  Hugely satisfying.  Angel's progression is fantastic as she starts to really understand her new world.  And plenty of side stories to keep me hungry for the next installment.  I suspect that there will be a third one added here eventually.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Book 5: Amped

Here's my review from goodreads which I posted right after reading. The more I think about it, the less I like this book. It just never becomes even a genre book let alone a probing sci fi with the sort of implications one might expect from a story of superhumans created by implants. "Let me start by stating that I think my two stars are a bit harsh. Wilson has created a very engaging, page turner focused on some interesting ideas. In fact, I liked the book well enough to pound it down during a sick day from work. But, ultimately, it is just an action book. Elements of the science are interesting, but Wilson really fails to fully realize the exploration of humanity explicit in his plot. It veers from mystery to action yarn to political thriller but seems to fail at what I wanted, namely, science fiction. Wilson has such a great grasp on the science behind his books, on par with any of his predecessors and contemporaries. But, the deep exploration of the human elements gets lost in an effort to keep the book moving. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but felt cheated by expecting more, especially when it seemed to be readily made for it"

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Book 4: Hexed

The worst cover art (for straight guys riding muni anyway). Not much here really. Fun, zippy read. Second book in the ongoing adventures of a 2100 year old druid. Requisite magic, goofiness (sometimes intrusive). Don't expect much, read it fast. Feels pretty derivative from Dresden and Sandman Slim, but moves fast, doesn't slow to explain the "finer" points (well, the more absurd than usual points). Overall, if you like that sort of cheeky urban fanstasy noir blah blah blah, this is a good book. I like it and enjoyed it for what it is.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Book 3: Big Machine

Victor Lavalles excellent novel, Big Machine, comes in at book three. An interesting work told from a fairly unique (at least to this white guy) perspective, Big Machine is loaded with interesting and very real characters. Ostensibly a horror novel (which is moderately successful), it's really just a fascinating potrait of characters seeking redemption. The dialogue sparkles and the characters are engrossing. Plot level, once the bigger parts of the plot expand, the book gets onto shakier footing, which would have completely derailed in a less talented writer's hands. Lavalle manages to prevent this from becoming absurd thanks to some great writing. Next up: Hexed.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Book 2: The King of Thorns

Of course, after reading Prince of Thorns, I had to get the second book. The first book was thoroughly enjoyable in many ways, but I felt as though there were a lot of opportunities left on the table. Which the second book picks up. And then some. King of Thorns is my second favorite sequel of all time, putting the first book into much better perspective while providing the usual depravity and insanity told from two timelines with a deftness that suggest a very quick maturation of the writer. While the pacing continues to be brisk, there's a bit more restraint that and weight in the down moments to make it seem a bit slower (in a good way). Most surprisingly, there's a real pathos in the book that, again, is restrained enough that it's not bludgeoning, but also with enough commitment that it feels real. Ultimely, the protaganist, Jorg Ancrath, remains an irredeemable shit despite his tepid and thoroughly unsuccessful attempts to be anything else. In fact, his biggest problems seem to arise from any deviation from his monstrous self. Further, when Jorg is at his most ruthless that he seems to rise above himself, almost as some sort of "be yourself" message. It's not Jorg who provides the unexpected pathos though. It's the secondary (and oftentimes tertiary) characters that provide the window. Jorg is a bastard shitbag who really deserves a rather awful death. But, being a "gritty" fantasy book, bad guys rarely get what they deserve, so we get all the delicious delinquent and psycopahting behavior one can want (of course, you better like this sort of thing, or don't bother picking either book up). But the viewpoint, which is often skewed, that Jorg sees people is where the true heart lies. Every character that's a potential substitutre father figure is seen with uncharacteristically (did I really just type a word that long? This ain't German!) rose colored glasses. Goroth, Makin, his uncle, Codden, and others all get similar star treatment from Jorg. And, I found that Lawrence actually had Jorg age and mature in the four years that sets apart the last book from this one without too much wistful memories. And, holy moly, there's some great action and moments of real "WOW!" Lawrence is a very talented writer and I'm ecstatic to see what his finale will be.