Friday, June 22, 2012

Mid-Year Update on What I've Been Reading

It's unfortunate that I've been extremely busy at work and training my new dog that I have no time to watch TV, or go to movies.  But I have been listening to tons of music (blog to follow), and still reading a good amount.  The last book I wrote about was a Life by Keith Richards which I finished in early April.   Since then I have read 8 new books.   I will update them here:
1) Animal's People - Indra Sinha (366 pages) - D+
Not much for me to write about this book.  It was the latest book club book and I'm not saying it was bad, but it happened to come into my life when I wanted to read many other things, and I had to read this.   It never grabbed me.  I didn't care about the main character, I could not get into his voice and all I kept thinking while reading it is that I didn't want to read it.  I tried my best to enjoy it, but it just wasn't for me at that point in my life and that's unfortunate since it had a chance to be good.    Sometimes your mood really has a bigger affect on how you enjoy a book than you'd like and I think this time it was me and not the book.

2) Run -  Ann Patchett (296 Pages) B+
This book was almost the opposite as the previous one.  Here's the back-story to this book.  My co-worker started talking to me about an author and I was kind of tuning her out as she mentioned she would let me borrow her copy of it.  I said OK, not thinking she would actually follow through.  When she brought the book, I felt bad since I was not excited to read it based on the description.  I saw how short it was and decided to just try and knock it out as quickly as possible.
To my surprise, the book was just amazing.  I cannot really explain why it was so good.  It is not the type of book I would normally read, but the writing was so engaging and the characters were all so endearing that I couldn't put it down.
The book follows an ex-Senator from Massachusetts (think a less famous Kennedy) who adopted two black brothers when they were children.  The story unfolds that sheds light on those brothers now that they are young men and their history that they didn't even know about.
I was so surprised by this book and its description of a less-than-normal family that it made me want to read more of Ann Patchett's books and I think I will since I've read all of her books are this good.  I would say she reminded me a lot of John Irving, but without all the strange sexuality that always seems to run underneath his writing.    I cannot stress how pleasantly surprised I was by this and think all my readers should give her a try.  I may even suggest Bel Canto as my next book club suggestion.

3) Wizard and Glass -  Stephen King (699 Pages) - A

 Stephen King's epic Dark Tower story is one of my most favorite things ever written.   I started a re-read of the series about 18 months ago when Stephen King announced that he was going to be returning to this series.
Some history:  Stephen King wrote a 7 book series and completed the story, but found later on that he had more to write of the characters he created.  He announced he was going to write a new book that would basically be book 4.5 and would fit between some of the other books.  We already know how the story ends, and this will not change the ending, but new stories are new stories.  I decided to reread the series in preparation (for the 4th time...).
I was actually dreading this book.  This book goes back and tells the story of the main character when he was a young man and does not really progress the story as a whole much.  The only problem:  This may be the best book Stephen King has ever written.  This is not an opinion.  He has gotten much acclaim for this book, but it is very inaccessible to the novice reader since it is sandwiched exactly in the middle of this series.  No one wants to read JUST book 4 of a seven book series (but they could and would be a little confused, but very happy).  And no one wants to read three books just to get to this book (even though they should since books 1-3 are DAMN good.
Well, this was the fourth time I've read this book, and was as engaged as all the others times.  The story of this book is a simple star-crossed-lovers tale, but told so well that it can really be recommended for anyone.   I implore anyone to read this book and to tell me "I don't like Stephen King".   This is not a horror book.  It is a simple, beautiful love story that anyone can relate to.

4) The Wind Through The Keyhole - Stephen King (307 pages) - B+
I read Wizard and Glass because the newest one (book 4.5 as described above) finally came out.  It has been 7 years (I think) since there was a new Dark Tower book and I was very excited.  I am giving this book a B+, and I admit that is a high ranking for this book.  I would give anything that even mentions Roland a B, and returning to visit some old friends of mine, and read new stories of theirs was great.
That said, this book was not great.  It was boring at times and the majority of it was a retelling of a "classic children's tale" from Mid-World.
It was still good, and fun.  But I would have preferred more time with the original Ka-Tet then to read about the new hero of this book.
My hope is that Stephen King finds his way back to this world a few more times so we can have more stories featuring some of my favorite characters ever.   If this book was just a start of more stories from Mid-World, I would be ecstatic.  Either way:  The tower is closer........

5) The Devotion of Suspect X - Keigo Higashino (440 pages) - B-

 My friend Alice gave me this book at a party at her house.  She had just read it and thought I would enjoy it.  Nothing makes me happier than someone reading a book, thinking about me and giving it to me.  As you can tell by this blog post alone, I will always try and read the book no matter what it is.
This is another type of book that I never would have read.  I don't read many Japanese authors, and this is not a very famous book here in America.   But, I have to say I didn't love it.
It was definitely a page-turner and a very quick read.  But I think I've read many books in a similar vein as this and this one didn't really bring anything new to the table. 
Also, the writing style was very simple (admittedly, this could have a lot to do with the translation) and spelled out and the twists weren't very twisty since they were very slow to develop so you could see where they were going.
But in the end, I enjoyed the book for what it was.

6) Frankenstein - Mary Shelley (256 pages) - B+
At our last book club meeting we all agreed to read a "Classic" next.  Someone finally decided on Frankenstein.  I had always wanted to read this book, but for whatever reason never pulled the trigger.
I read this on my phone (which I do not really enjoy, but it was free), but I cannot believe how much I loved this book.
I can't give it an A grade simply because of some of the slow parts it had and I had a few parts where I was bored.
But, the writing of this book is absolutely beautiful.  I enjoyed the style of the multiple narrations and really loved the eloquence of The Monster.
Of course, being someone that consumes pop-culture, the only Frankenstein I knew was from the movies.  My only question after reading this book is: How could they get that iteration from the novel I just read???  It barely resembled the story we all know.
This was a story about the responsibility one has to their off-springs/creations.  And a struggle of like and what we are all owed/deserve.    The book really was nothing like what I was expecting or could fathom.
A few years ago, I read Dracula and although that wasn't what I expected either, it had most of the same ingredients.  Not so with this this gorgeous novel that I look forward to rereading in the future.

7) Under The Banner of Heaven - Jon Krakauer (365 Pages) - B
I was up at my friend Bridget's house reading Frankenstein and saw I only had a few pages left.  She had a bookshelf of books just sitting there. I grabbed this one since I just bought tickets to the musical The Book of Mormon and am fascinated by most religions and how people can blindly follow a set of arbitrary rules on how to live their lives.   Also, since there is a chance our next President may be of this faith, I figured I should at least be relatively knowledgeable about what he believes in.
I grabbed this book also since I have read a few other Krakauer books and enjoyed them.  Under the Banner of Heaven tells the history of the Mormon church as well some of the more recent controversies that have plagued it.
The book itself has some slow parts (as most non-fiction accounts do), but it is an interesting assessment of the struggles the Mormon people have had and how they have grown over just about 150 years.
Of course this book is skewed to paint the Mormons in a less than favorable light, but some of the facts are purely fantastic.  The only thing I believe about Mormonism is that Joseph Smith was probably one of the most personable and charismatic people to have ever lived to have pulled off what he did.  Much like L. Ron Hubbard, he seems to have simply created a story that tapped into something and got people to believe him.  It seems crazy to a rational person, but these influential people are around all the time and always are able to gain followers, for good or for bad.

8) The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Grove - Christopher Moore (320 Pages) - B+
I've read a few of Christopher Moore's books and enjoyed them, but after the last one I read I thought I was done with him.  I thought of him as a wannabe Tom Robbins.  I still think this, but since the odds of me getting another Tom Robbins book are slim, I figure he may be what the doctor ordered from time to time.
I found this book in my office while we were moving.  It was in the "give-a-book, take-a-book" section and I grabbed it while we were moving.  I think it came to me just at the right time.  I needed a book like this after all the non-fiction I've been reading in order to just make me giggle and get excited to see how silly/stupid the next page could get.
The story revolves around a small town where an ageless monster shows up at a time when everyone is susceptible to its charms.  The characters include, but are not limited to a Dude Lebowski type, an aging ex B-Movie star, a Blues musician, a dog, a psychiatrist, and a pharmacist obsessed with aquatic life.
I do not want to give anything else away for anyone that wants to read this.  But it really was one of the funnier books I've read in quite some time.  If you're in the mood for something really ridiculous, give it a try.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

New Batman Plot?

I've been reading comic books pretty regularly for over 20 years.  Now that they've become kind of mainstream with the popularity of Avengers and the awaited conclusion to the newest Batman trilogy I feel vindicated in my love for "kiddy books".

But something that is kind of fun for a comic fan is to try and figure out how the stories are going to be adopted before they even come out.   Like comic fans and non-fans, I enjoyed Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and now the last chapter is being released in a few months and although the studio has released some teasers about the story, they have been pretty secretive about what the story is actually about.  I figured this would be a fun place to put my guestimate about what we are all in store for with one of the biggest movies of the year a month before it comes out.

From what I can tell, this story seems like it is going to be a combination of the classic Batman stories Knightfall and No Man's Land.

In the comics during Knightfall, a new villain named Bane broke all of Batman's villains out of prison and exhausted Batman by making him fight all of his old villains and exhausting him before breaking in to The Bat Cave and fighting Batman himself and beating him by breaking his back, but not killing him.  This forced Batman to find a replacement for a while as he recovered and then eventually coming back and beating Bane and the new Batman who went a little overboard with his new power.

A few years later, there was another epic storyline in the comics called No Man's Land which showed a huge earthquake hit Gotham City and the city was so crime-savaged and the damages became so expensive that the US government decided to let Gotham City exist on its own and they declared Marshall Law and blew up all the bridges going to and fro Gotham City and Batman and his co-horts (Robin, Huntress, Batgirl etc) were the only people to keep order.

If my guess is correct from what they are showing in the trailers the movie will start with Batman being on the run from the law after the events of The Dark Knight, but although he's a vigilante in the shadows, he has a pretty strong grasp on the crime element in Gotham City and crime is not a huge problem in Gotham anymore since all criminals fear Batman.
I expect Bane to come to Gotham City early in the movie with a challenge to himself to find and beat Batman.  Bane is a character that enjoys challenges to perfect himself since he is a criminal genius as well as a drug addict who is addicted to a steroid called Venom.
I believe within the first hour of the movie, Bane will fight Batman and beat him, most likely because Batman has not had a big challenge in some time, and in this fight Bane with break Batman's back and claim Gotham City as now his instead of Batmans.

The next half-hour of the movie will feature Bruce Wayne and Alfred trying to figure out if he will ever walk again and Batman dealing with his fear of Bane while we also see Bane take over and raise up a new Underworld.

Eventually there will be an earthquake which will force Marshall Law on Gotham City and this will also force Batman to come out of retirement and face his fear of Bane.

This is of course a rough outline and I am not sure of how Catwoman will fit in. (Will she be a lackey of Bane, or someone that is out for her own? My guess is the latter)    Also, the studio is heavily hinting that Batman may die at the end of this movie.  I think it's possible this will be true, but not in the way that they are hinting.  I think what may happen is Batman will beat Bane somehow (most likely by turning his Venom feed against him in some way and making him OD), but then the movie will end followed by a flash into the future of showing an old man Bruce Wayne living in a utopian Gotham City that he helped create with Batman's form of protection.  This way we will see an old man at peace with what he did for the first time and he will die old and in peace.

This is at least all that I would like to see, and understand I may be way off.

If I'm close, or wrong, I am excited for this movie and am hopeful that it will be entertaining either way.