Saturday, August 11, 2012

Yet Another Book Post

It is the first week of August, and since my last post in June, I have read five really good books, one not so good and a few great comic books.  For those that care, here they are:

1) Devil In The White City - Erik Larson (396 pages) - B
This seems to be one of those books that everyone you know has read.  It is marketed as being a "Non-Fiction book that reads like a Fictional one".  That seems to be what everyone says about it.  I disagree.  For me it is a non-fiction book that reads like a pretty well-written non-fiction book.    So don't believe the people that say that.
BUT, the book is quite good.  It's not great, and there are parts that are boring as sin, but the plot of the book follows two separate trails:  1) The trials and tribulations of the city of Chicago trying to build and put on the greatest World's Fair in history with minimal time and no ideas as to how to make it as great as the previous World's Fair in Paris which introduced the Eiffel Tower.  2) While this is going on, there is a charismatic business man that has the unfortunate hobby of killing young, single women in a house that he built with specific intentions of carrying out his plan.

Parts of this book are great and hearing about the history of Chicago, and by extension America, at the turn of the Century when America was trying to claim its dominance on the world-stage are fun to read about.  The famous and influential people that went to this World's Fair seem impressive, but my biggest problem with the book is that the two story-lines only had a loose connection and didn't tie together as well as I would have preferred, or how they probably would have had this book been Fiction.
This book also had that strange sub-culture that seems to happen with some books:  I actually got stopped on the street and around the city at least six times from strangers who were very enthusiastic that I was reading this book since they seemed to love it.  This happens rarely with books, but when it does, I find it interesting that this book affects some people so much that they have to stop me and let me know they too have read that book and enjoyed it.  I wonder why that seems acceptable for some and not others.   Not that I mind, but it's an interesting phenomenon.

2) The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest - Steig Larsson (655) - B+
There have been a bunch of books on my list for a while that I hadn't gotten around to for various reasons that I was able to catch up on this month (I guess that's what summer is for) and this was one of them.  I have been excited to read the concluding book in this trilogy for a while and since I had some time I decided to finally go for it.
The first 100 pages or so, I thought I made a mistake.  Maybe it had been too long since I read the last one (almost two years), or maybe this one just wasn't as good since the author died soon after he finished writing it.
But once a pseudo-main character was shockingly (to me) killed off, the book really picked up speed.   It ended up being another great page-turner and a pretty good conclusion to this trilogy. 
I'm sad we will never get another story about Lisbeth Salander since she will truly go down in the annals along with other great literary characters/anti-heroes.  My only problem with the entire series is whenever a new woman is introduced it is really just a matter of time before they are in bed with Mikhail and it gets to be kind of stupid.

3) The Color Purple - Alice Walker (288) - B+

 I have always read more than the average person, but when I graduated college I specifically started reading a lot in order to continue by education on a personal basis.  This meant reading anything and everything I could get my hands on including all of the books that I didn't read in High School that most people did.  The Color Purple was always on that list of books. Side note: I remember seeing the movie version of this story in the theater when it came out with my mother.   She has a famous story that while walking to the car I told her "That's how you feel about your sister" and she started crying. (yeah, I was a damn cute kid).
While at my neice's 3rd birthday party in January, I saw this book in a "give a book-take a book library" and took it.  This summer I finally got around to reading it after having not seen the movie probably since the mid-80s and barely remembered the plot.
My initial thoughts was how graphic it was since I know many students read this book in Junior High School and I think I would not have been mature enough to deal with many of the issues of incest, bisexuality and abuse (I barely am now).
My other critique is that although I understand the writing style was done on purpose to show the differences in education between Celie and Nettie, and it was executed flawlessly, I get annoyed by writing styles that take how people talk and translate them into broken english.   I understand that this technique must be well-respected (Mark Twain did it with Huck Finn) and literary people must loe it, but I like to read good writing.
However, even with these small critiques, this was a beautiful story about strength and love.  I also have to say, I was a little surprised by the happy ending.  I haven't spoken to an English Teacher about this, but I'm wondering if the last chapter may have been made up in Celie's head in order to cope better with her sister's death and instead she made up the last chapter of Nettie eventually coming home.  But maybe I'm just jaded.

4) The Walking Dead: The Rise of The Governor - Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga (308) - D+
I'm a huge fan of the comic book The Walking Dead.  I also enjoy the TV show it is based on, although probably a little less than the average viewer since I feel the source material is so much better.  So when I was in the bookstore and saw this novel about a lost chapter in the Walking Dead universe, I thought it could be fun.  I was wrong.
The book is slow, and boring.  I saw the "twist" on page 2 and had to wait 300 pages for the pay off.  I understand that a bit of the point of this book was to show how boring this world can be at times.  There are no people and once you find shelter from the zombies you can get into a monotony that can drive you crazy.  But that doesn't make for interesting reading.

This book also was supposed to be the story of how The Governor got to where he was when we met him in the comic book as one of the most sadistic characters I've ever read about and this book did not show that at all.  Instead it was a bout a weak character and how he eventually came into his own a little bit, but this book really didn't go far enough.
I have heard there is a sequel out now to this book showing more how the Governor became "The Governor" that we know, but after reading this book and its style, I am not that excited to give it a whirl.

5) Destiny of the Republic - Candice Millard (260) B-
 Another Non-Fiction book (I've read a ton this year) was selected as my latest Book Club offering.   This was an account of the president selected in the 1880 election and his assassination.
I have to say, I was not excited about reading this book at all.  I didn't care and just picked it up at the library and tried to burn through it as quickly as possible.  It ended up being a well-written, great story about a historical figure that I knew nothing about and seemed to be someone that may have been good for our country, had he had more time to make a difference.
I was mostly taken aback by all of the changes our country has gone through in 130 years (I write this as I watch Mitt Romney choose his running mate on TV).  I was mostly amazed how well-spoken and eloquent our leaders used to be while today they seem to have to dumb their speaking down in order to seem more like the masses.
There are written testaments to James Garfield's fear at being the president, his desires to make changes and differences that are better written than most novels I read.  By that, I was impressed.
This book also had a lot of similarities in tone to Devil in the White City with how famous people were a factor in his shooting and recovery.  How Alexander Graham Bell and Joseph Lister tried to help him but the common practices of the time did not make their "new" science as attractive as what was being done to him.
This is a book not only for History buffs (although it helps), but for anyone that is curious about America and how things used to be.

6) Fables: Inherit The Wind - Bill Willingham & Mark Buckingham
The latest trade paperback in the wonderful Fables comic book.  I have even gotten my friend Bridget (who has never read a comic in her life prior to this) to hunger for the next chapter.
This one is mostly a bridge book and focuses mostly on the fall-out from the death of a major character last book and who will take over that character's roll.
This is not the greatest of the Fables books out there and reads more like the calm before the newest storm to hit our lovable cast of characters.  But it is still a great book, with great characters and art.  I look forward to the next installment once again.

7) Locke and Key: Clockworks - Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
I can't believe there is only going to be one more installment of this book after this one.  Joe Hill has created a world (and numerous keys) that I get happy to read about every time.
This chapter took us into the past to understand how and why many of the keys were made.  This told the history of Dodge and the demon.  We also got to fill in a lot of the missing pieces and got answers to some mysteries that I never really expected to learn about, mostly about the kids father, and his group of friends from when he was a kid.
It also gave explanations as to why the house and the keys seem only to reveal themselves to the youngest children.
Right when I finished reading this book I wanted to go back and start over from the first book and absorb everything that happened.  But I may wait to do that until just before reading the final chapter in six months time.

8) Bel Canto - Ann Patchett (318) B+/A-
 My co-worker gave me the book Run by this author earlier in the year and I really enjoyed it.  I did some research on Ann Pratchett and found out Bel Canto was her "best" book according to most.  It sounded interesting, so that same co-worker brought in this book for me.  I finished it yesterday and agree that it is amazing.
Again, I can't explain why this book is so good.  But it all comes down to how strong of a writer Ann Pratchett is.
The story follows a Japanese business man that gets invited to a nameless South American country that wants his business to invest in them.  To goad him into coming, the government hires his favorite opera singer to sing for him knowing he can't resist.  A bunch of militants hear about his and decide to crash the party in order to kidnap the president who is supposed to be there.  Unfortunately for the militants, the president decides not to show up because he wants to watch his favorite soap opera that night.
Instead, the militants decide to keep the entire party hostage instead of the president.
What follows is an amazing situation where hostages and kidnappers are together for months  and must learn to live and love together.  It is a beautiful story made even more beautiful by the writing.  I think I can recommend this book for virtually anyone.  But I cannot say why I enjoy it as much as I did.

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