Friday, July 13, 2012

Lord Foul's Bane - Stephen R. Donaldson (+)

This is book one of The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. I read the all of the First Chronicles in my teen years, and loved them.  I've never read the "Second Chronicles", primarily because I moved away from reading Fantasy fiction.  Alas, I somehow came across the news that Donaldson was writing about Covenant again...and that the "Last Chronicles" were being released.  I became intrigued again, and dusted off my copy of Lord Foul's Bane.  I'm happy to report that I still love the book.

Donaldson often gets accused of ripping off Tolkien...sorta understandable given that both novels focus on a ring as a powerful talisman, but Donaldson also departs from Tolkien quite a bit.  Certainly more than Terry Brooks, whose Shannarra series was a contemporary of the Covenant books.  Donaldson doesn't rely on the races that Tolkien defined the fantasy genre with...his are his own creations.  Also, the main character is unlike ANYTHING you'll find in Tolkien, and mainly why I have to confess to actually preferring the Covenant series to LOTR.  I know, I know...

So who is this Thomas Covenant?  He's a leper in our world, who is summoned to "The Land" (Donaldson's fantasy world).  He refuse to believe the Land is anything but a figment of his Imagination...which really pisses him off because he has made all attempt to cut-off his imagination since his leprosy diagnosis...including giving up his livelihood as an author of fiction.  Covenant's predicament, makes him a bit of an anti-hero...he's a pretty miserable SOB for much of his time in the Land, which makes his stories much more psychological than most of the Fantasy fiction I've read. 

I intend to read through the entire series...all THREE of the "Chronicles"...which I think number 9 books currently with two more to come.  But not back-back.

Currently reading and enjoying them by Joyce Carol Oates.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

New Challenge

So, I have a new challenge.  It came about for a couple of reasons.

1) I obviously have a book fetish that has gotten way out of control...I'm spending way too much money on books.

2) I obviously have a book fetish that has gotten way out of books are taking over my home, and we don't have a big place. challenge - for the rest of this year I will only read books I already own.  Fortunately or unfortunately this should still result in no re-reads. 

I'll also be taking these books to the used book store (with few exceptions, I'm sure) to trade in for credit which will be used to buy children's books for my son.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Black Ice - Michael Connelly

I've been traveling an AWEFUL lot for work.  (I won't comment much on that) This means I find myself picking up 'airport books' and reading 'airport books'. Of course, I've been reading Connelly off and on for years...

The Black Ice is the second Connelly novel...and the second featuring LAPD detective Harry Bosch.  He's a pretty interesting character, molded from the standard hardboiled detective mythos.  He's a Vietnam vet, loner cop, always on the outs with authorities, and love Jazz music...they all have to there little quirk you know.  I like Harry, always have...and like that he's named after surrealist painter Hieronymous Bosch (another little quirky thing).

Connelly is a good plotter.  He works well with common police procedural/detective novel tropes.  He's well researched.  His stories are almost always believable.  The Black Ice is no exception.  It centers on the suicide death of a corrupt cop and how it is tied to the fledgling drug trade of a new street drug Black Ice.  Connelly always does a good job of making his stories a sign of the times...and while Black Ice never really becomes the next Crack cocaine, as Connelly seems to propose (Meth, hello), he still does an admirable job of keeping this reader's interest even well over a decade later than the times of the story (and publishing date).

So, all that is to say Connelly does what he does well...hmm, well.  And really the only problem I've ever had with him is the only problem I had with Black Ice -- his authorial voice is about as interesting as eating powdered scrambled eggs for breakfast.

I've never sworn off Connelly, and probably never will.  I like Bosch. I like the stories. I just don't know whether I will ever LOVE them.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

This is Not a Review

I try to finish all of the more "literary" works that I start to read.  I know many of them take more effort, and part of the whole reading more widely experience is in my opinion struggling through reads that are not necessarily up my alley.  So, it's pretty disappointing to give up on Leaden Wings by Zhang Jie.  But I am struggling to find any interest at the moment.

I think it still holds some promise, of me returning to it at some later date.  However, right now...there are just too many characters and little swatches of dialogue/vignettes between these characters for me to keep track of them all. 

The odd thing is I have no trouble tossing most anything else I read if it doesn't catch my attention in the first twenty pages or so.  But, here I've been agonizing for several days over whether I should quit Leaden Wings.

I may need to see somebody about this...

1O Books I'd Recommend to Non-Readers

Broke and the Bookish is hosting their Top Ten Tuesday.  Don't just read my list.  Go check them out, and see everyone's picks.

This is a tough question, because it really depends on the person you're making a recommendation to. If I know somebody is an action movie fan, then I'd hardly recommend a romance.  You get the picture.  So, here's my list:

1. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee.  Literary without all the effort. Universal.
2. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien.  A fantastic children's story.  Much easier than Lord of the Rings, and probably more fun.
3. Neon Rain - James Lee Burke.  Ok, this is what I was talking about...this is a violent book.  Not for everybody.  But, I was explaining this book to my dad one time years ago, and my non-reading brother overheard me, and said that sounds like a great story!  Of course, he never read it, that I know.
4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl.  A great book to give that kid you'd like to see read, but is resistant.  Also works for adults who have children.
5. Where the Sidewalk Ends - Shel Silverstein.  Hilarious poems for children (or are they for adults?)
6. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen.  Ok, so not for men.  Hell, I've never even read it (or Austen for that matter).  But, I've never known a woman to read Austen and not like it.  So, if your non-reader is a woman, this is called playing the odds.
7. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  There's a lot of name recognition here.  There are the popular movies (which I refuse to see).  In other words, this may be an easy sell to a non-reader.
8. The Firm - John Grisham.  This was THE huge book of the early 90's. It is a page turner, and pretty simple.  Grisham used the formula over and over again, and it's pretty stale by now...but there's a reason he became a millionaire.  The Firm is that reason.  He does it well in this book.  And the non-reader, won't realize that Grisham regurgitated a lot of the magic he captured in The Firm in later efforts.
9. Hope and Glory - Robert B. Parker.  Huh?  Ok, so I thought I could use a little romance on the list (outside of Austen).  And I've actually read this one.  It's a simple, breezy, charming love story about a man trying to win back the girl of his dreams.  It's short.  Has Parker's fantastic dialogue. And IMO, appeals to both sexes.
10. Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone.  Hey eight thousand, gazillion people can't be wrong, right?  I wouldn't know.  I've never read it.

So, if you're not a reader (and if that's the case why the hell are you here?), pick up one of these.  If you are a reader, what books are on your list?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Smooth Criminals challenge

I'm late to this show.  But Ben @ Deadend Follies is sponsoring the Smooth Criminals Challenge.  Crime novels are my fave, so it makes no sense for me not to participate.

Here are my picks (subject to change on whim):

Hardboiled Classic :  Murder for the Bride by John D. MacDonald
Noir Classic: The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich
Prison Book: Papillon by Henri Charriere
Book by writer who did time: The Real Cool Killers by Chester Himes
Book with psycopath protagonist: The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
Gothic: The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hide (yes I know it's either a long short story or a novella, sue me...I've never read it.)
Classic where plot revolves around a crime: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (this is a re-read)
Why the hell am I doing this to myself book:  Ulysses by James Joyce (or Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevski)

I'm not sure if that last one is required to be a crime novel...if it is, I'll do C&P...If not, I'm on the fence.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (+)

I received Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon as a Christmas gift from my father this year (or, I guess last year). It is the third of Ms. Morrison's novels I've read.  The others being The Bluest Eye (another Christmas gift from my father a couple of years ago) and Beloved. All of them have been fantastic books, but even so I was not prepared for Song of Solomon.

I am not worthy to this review book.  Seriously.

So what is it Song of Solomon?  Hmmm.


It's a coming of age story.  It's a dark family history.  It's an assassins' story.  It's a treasure hunt adventure. It's a search for meaning in life.  It's folk legend. It's a mystery. It's beautiful, and horrific at turns.  It's powerful, and gentle. I'm sure I missing more...

It is also assuredly Morrison's masterpiece (with apologies to the tomes I have yet to read).  When I reviewed Beloved, I mentioned that it wasn't an easy read.  It was difficult. Complex. But that in the end it was worth the work, because in the end the work was more powerful for it.  Song of Solomon is none of that, and for that reason I'm going hoist it up on the shoulders of Beloved.  It is every bit as beautiful in it's simpler style, and is as powerful as the more lauded Beloved.  Yet, it is just less work for the reader.  For at the very least, the same payoff. 

Milkman Dead is a young man born into a well-off black dysfunctional family with a violent past that would make Cormac McCarthy cringe.  His family situation is so 'off', than I couldn't do their dysfunction justice by trying to explain it.  Suffice to say, Milkman's dream is to leave the family behind.  The result being a cross country trip to search for gold...a treasure left behind by his family's violent past.  The irony being that as Milkman search for answers as to what happened to the gold.  He is drawn more and more into his family's story.

There is so much more to it than that attempt at a synopsis.  There's also his cousin Hagar, whom he has had an affair with for years.  When he finally calls it off, she goes insane and begins a monthly ritual of attempting to murder him.  There's Guitar, his best friend, a member of an assassin's group that kills innocent whites when a black person is killed by a white as retribution and to "balance things."  There's Pilate, his aunt, who has unknowingly carried around a bag of her murdered father's bones for decades.  I'm going to stop there...there are just too many fascinating, bizarre characters.  And like I said I'm not worthy.

This is the best book I've read in years.  As least since reading Lolita by Nabokov.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Lit Blog Hop - To Cliff Notes or Not to Cliff Notes

Literary Blog Hop

Lit blog hop asks:

Do you like to supplement your reading with outside sources, like Sparknotes, academic articles, or other bloggers' reviews? Why or why not?

Number one, I don't even know what Sparknotes are. So that should be the first clue to this answer. I assume they are Cliffs Notes, essentially? And the answer to that part of the question is no. Why? Two reasons:

1) I'm cheap. I often buy my books (as cheaply as possible), and am not compelled to spend more on notes.

2) I'm not being tested on this stuff. And because I'm not being tested on this, I'd rather discover things on my own OR more than likely just remain oblivious. Either way is fine by me. BECAUSE I AM NOT BEING TESTED.

If I'm struggling with something in a book, I may (infrequently) do a search on the world wide internets to see if there's anything out there that can shed some light for me...ahem, Faulkner.

Finally, I don't necessarily seek out blog reviews about books I am reading, but I do keep tabs on about 20 blogs, and I often read a book because of someone's review (oddly a less than stellar review can push me to read a book, too). And just, in general, I enjoy reading others' blogs.

Monday, January 2, 2012

No Mercy - Lori Armstrong (-)

Wow, has it really been that long?  Ok, so over the holidays, I decided to go back to one of my comfort reads - a crime novel.  Without much idea of what to go for, I decided on the Shamus Award winner for Best Novel of 2011.  The Shamus Awards are PI centered novels, and I have a VERY soft spot for this sub-genre.  So anyway, that led me to purchase No Mercy by Lori Armstrong, a completely new author for me.

The book is about an Iraqi/Afghanistan soldier/sniper, Mercy Gunderson, on medical leave, who returns home in South Dakota just after the funeral of her father - a well respected Sheriff.  While home, shit starts to hit the fan in the normally peaceful town, as dead bodies start to pile up and many of them are found on the land of the Gunderson ranch...and appear to be tied to the dark cloud history that has always seemed to follow the Gundersons...indeed one of the bodies is Mercy's nephew.  If this all sound interesting to you, dear reader, I have bad news for you...

I am at a loss for how this book won any Best Novel award.  My problem was that I just didn't care...about any of it.  As is often the case in these situations, the blame lays on the shoulders of the main character. Mercy is an interesting concept for a character.  She is tied to the times.  Interesting to see a POV from a female soldier.  Also, she's dealing with post-traumatic stress...etc.  Not bad at all.  But somewhere when going from that scarecrow concept to actually breathing life into the character and animating Mercy...well let just say we're left with ratty clothes stuffed with hay.  She is tough as nail one scene...sensitive mush the next.  I understand the need for inner conflict, but wow this was bordering on multi-personality disorder...something I'm sure was not intended by the author.  And reading how Mercy went to putty every time she was around the new Sheriff, who replaced her father, was just the kind of stuff you find in a "penny dreadful".

So is there anything good to say about the novel?  The premises were good...I liked the concept of Mercy.  I like family dysfunction stories.  Plenty of that here.  I'm usually drawn to stories that explore Native American traditions/culture, etc.  A lot of the story centered on this.  So yeah, it looked like something for me. The execution just wasn't there.  I blame Mercy.

It took me about a WEEK to finish the last 30 pages of this book.  Maybe that is all that needed to be said about this one.