LET’S TALK BOOKS
One of the most important things anyone who writes can do is read the work of others. I know, it sounds sort of counterproductive – I should be writing, not reading – but it’s true. The more one understands what makes a good book and how and why the author did whatever she of he did, the better one’s writing will become. Trust me here, I really do know what I’m talking about. The following books have been read recently, are being read or re-read, or the are simply on the short list to read as soon as I can (in no particular order):
IN THE PRESIDENT’S SECRET SERVICE – Interesting book that will likely scare you if you feel the secret service is all powerful and all capable in their protective duties. A fast read, it’s stories of doing good and of failing, of administrative folly and the men and women on the line. I enjoyed it for the information I didn’t already know and think it’s worth a read. It appears to have tried to vet information given and there are contradictory replies for some of the protectees to information provided. It did not make me feel good about how the president and others are protected. With any sort of luck, a new congress might pay attention to the needs discussed. I certainly hope so.
THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER WEB (a new book in Stig Larsson’s series, different writer) -Point blank answer – didn’t like it. Sting Larsson’s books about Lisbeth Salander were exceptional and consistent, but this book was exceptionally slow starting and then assumed the reader knew the major characters. As much as I wanted to, it was very difficult to get into and the plot itself was weak, lacking the intrigue, plot twists, and smartness of Larsson’s work. I felt the characters could have been much better developed as they lacked any reason to like or dislike them. The worst part, I think, was that a scene would happen and then it would re-happen from a different viewpoint – infuriating to read and confusing. While the author might be an excellent writer, he was not the right writer to continue this series. Very disappointing.
THE COUNTRY OF ICE CREAM STAR – Interesting book written first person with a character using heavy dialect throughout. I’m a fan of good dialect ,and feel it really doesn’t impede understanding with care and this book, for the most part, was understandable. Lots of odd words and odd dialect, but that made it interesting (to me). My guess is it will resonate with some and others will hate it and I doubt it will not be one or the other. Plot is okay, though a bit convoluted and it seemed to just end a bit abruptly. Will check out future books by Sandra Newman and while worth reading, I’m a bit torn about this one.
LIARS AND THIEVES – If you like Tom Clancy’s work, you’ll probably like that of Coonts. He has a similar major character, Jake Grafton, and the supporting characters are there through each of the Grafton books. This is a book in his series about a different character, Tommy Carmelli, a CIA guy who used to be a thief (and Grafton shows up in it too). Well written, good page-turner. I think this is his latest. He wrote FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER and he’s also a pilot. I read a nonfiction book of his years ago, THE CANNIBAL QUEEN, about a journey he made cross country in an open cockpit Jenny tail dragger that I enjoyed. Solid work and entertaining.
SEVEN HILLS OF AFRICA –
NO BETTER FRIEND –
THE RESURRECTIONIST: A NOVEL –
THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE –
A FREE STATE –
THE LEAGUE OF NIGHT AND FOG – An excellent espionage/thriller novel. Well plotted, good characters, lots of action. Ver much reminiscent of Clancy at his best for want of another phrase. Definitely wort reading, but the ending is a tad odd. When you get to what appears to be the end, read on. There’s more. Worth a read if this is your type of book. Lots of action and well done.
THE ENCHANTED LIFE OF ADAM HOPE – Another interesting book with an unusual plot. I liked it and thought the author handled the oddness quite well when it would have been easy to make it difficult to follow sometimes. The ending was a bit predictable but the book was solid. Very different.
THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN – A favorite book written from the viewpoint of the dog. Have recommended it to a number of people. About love and dogs and auto racing and life-changing illness and life and decisions. Solid book, solidly written. Recommended.
FALL OF GIANTS –
THE LAST PILOT –
THE DOG –
THE INVENTION OF WINGS –
BULL MOUNTAIN – Interesting and had a nice surprise in it. Well written, good characterizations, interesting concept. I liked it.
ELLEN FOSTER – One of my all time favorite books, this is a re-read – actually a re-read, re-re-read as I have read it a number of times. Subtlety drawn characters, excellent story, heroic in scale and character. Wish I’d written it. Very much recommended.
BLOOD MERIDIAN – What can one say about Cormac McCarthy? Read his work, especially his odd, older stuff. Marvelous writer with words and I can almost guarantee you will become a fan if you like literary fiction. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and THE ROAD are newer work and who both are good, the older work is my favorite. I occasionally re-read them, as well as his trilogy, ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, THE CROSSING, and CITIES OF THE PLAINS both for inspiration and as a look at how he turns a phrase and uses words.
MERLE’S DOOR –
FREEDOM FLYERS –
MIRACLE AT DUNKIRK –
THE BOOK THIEF – The movie is good, but like it is most of the time, the book is better. Read this one.
THE UNFORGIVEN – okay overall, though not particularly engaging to me. I really didn’t feel strongly about the major character family so I wasn’t very invested in what happened to them. It also felt a little rushed to me as this could have been – and should have been to me – a much bigger book.
THE INVENTION OF WINGS –
YELLOW CROCUS –
INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE – a classic now but the inspiration for the many lightweight vampire books that have been out. Big is size, story, and scope, it’s one of the best, of not the best, of her work. Lestet is marvelous as a character.
THE LIGHTNING THIEF – my hometown YA writer’s first big book that turned YA on its ear. Worth reading even if you aren’t a YA fan. And the backstory about it and his other books and the connection to his son is worth looking into. Excellent writer with many more books in him, I’m certain. Get your kids started reading with this one.
HOUSE GIRL –
I AM LEGEND – A re-read also, and not as good as I remembered but then it was one of the first of its kind. I expect it was startling good in its era and fascinating, but even though there are a bajillion vampire/zombie books around, it was still okay. Should be read by anyone interested in the genre as foundational information.
PHOENIX ISLAND –
DINOSAUR FOUR – Reminiscent of Jurassic Park in some ways but an interesting concept. Scientists accidentally blow up heir lab sending the coffee shop below back in time. Characters could have been better developed but the plot was solid and well done. I never really cared a lot about the characters and, to me, that is critical in this type of sci-fi/adventure novel. The ending is a rush and a bit hard to follow but it’s a decent read overall.
NIKOLA TESLA –
THE GREAT SANTINI –
WEST WITH THE NIGHT – Hemingway referred to it as “a bloody wonderful book.” I most certainly agree, even today, because of both her prose and he way of describing Africa and the early days of flying in ways that make one a part of the adventure. A marvelously independent woman at a most interesting point in time, Beryl Markham would have be terrific to know as woman, writer, pilot, horsewoman, and child of the Africa of the thirties. A good, literary read.
A DIFFERENT ALCHEMY –
LOST IN SHANGRI-LA – Well written, historical and factual. Did an excellent job of making non-fiction readable for anyone even vaguely interested in the era and one of the many odd events of that time. I liked the descriptive and thought it was done well. Good characterization, nice depth to them.
A HOUSE IN THE SKY –
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO – No real need to review as there are many out there. Do read it and the series in sequence as Lisbeth Salander is a great character to build a readership around. Very different.
THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE -No real need to review as there are many out there. Like the others, a definite read.
THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST -No real need to review as there are many out there.
THE BOY IN THE SUITCASE –
EVERY DAY BY THE SUN: A MEMOIR OF THE FAULKNERS OF MISSISSIPPI –
SIX DAYS OF THE CONDOR –
STATE OF FEAR – Eco-thriller from 2004 and not what I consider one of Crichton’s best books. Okay overall, fairly fast read and story, but one of those books that I know I’ll have trouble remembering what it’s about before too long, meaning, it wasn’t memorable overall. Too many other, better, books by this guy, like Jurassic Park, for example. Skip this one unless you’re simply a Crichton fan and can’t help yourself (I’m pretty much like that about Clancy when I want to read thrillers).
LIAR, TEMPTRESS, SOLDIER, SPY –
THE BOOK OF NIGHT WOMEN –
THE LAST KIND WORDS SALOON – Wow. Was I ever disappointed. I love the early works – Lonesome Dove, Streets of Laredo, Dead Man Walking, and the characters he developed. Even read some early work while pursuing my masters that I liked, but I did not like this. Really lightweight compared to previous work even though I really, really wanted to like it.
MOCKINGBIRD/BLACKBIRD/CORMORANT – You might want to read Chuck Wendig if you like irreverent and really odd books that are well-plotted and which have strange but satisfying characters. I liked the book, and I’d buy him a beer just to see if he’s as weird as I think he is. He too has a strange female character and writes her well, but be forewarned – language is a bit tough if you have virgin ears. He’s earthy, practical, and just a bit twisted.
FIRST FIFTEEN LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST – a very different book and worth reading for the way it’s setup. I tend to like books where the writer does something different and does it well and this is a good one.
TUNNEL IN THE SKY – A blast from my past when I was a kid and read Heinlein somewhat religiously. Re-read it because I always liked the story and as good to me now s it was back in the early sixties. This is YA and it would make a terrific movie with Speiberg and some good special effects.
THE GOLDFINCH – Slow to start for me and I almost put it down. My wife’s reading group chose it so I picked it back up and I’m glad I did. Well written and a great story. Really, really liked the plot, writing, great characterizations, depth, land literal feel of this book. Highly recommended.
ALL THE KING’S MEN –
THE CALL OF THE WILD –
PIRATE LATITUDES –
AGAINST THE COUNTRY –
JURASSIC PARK – A classic now and still a heck of a good book. Definitely a page turner and worth a read regardless of how many times you’ve seen the movie. The book is (almost) alwas better.
WILLIE NELSON (It’s a long story) – It’s a good, long story and the man doesn’t gloss over his warts. Really solid Texas ledgend stuff and worth a read if you are a Willie fan at any level. Liked it a lot and recommend for anyone wanting to know more about the man or the music business. Solid book.
BAD BLOOD –
STATION ELEVEN – Strangely lyrical and an interesting story. Has a sometimes gentle feel to a post apocalyptic world story and yet still has the terrors you’d expect. Makes one feel that it might be possible to live in a world not of one’s choosing if one were luck enough to know the right people.
WOOL OMNIBUS – as expected, a solid set of stories by an author who actually self-published and did extremely well before moving to the mainstream press. Very, very few self-published books are worth reading, but these are. Plotted well and strange enough to be interesting. If any interest in reading or writing science fiction, you need to read some of his work. Start here.
BAIT DOG – Another Chuck Wendig and a bit gory, yet a story that is essentially true and needs telling. He tells it sideways and a tad bent, but that’s Wendig’s style. You’ll either love or hate him. I love him for his oddity.
TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE – Classic and not particularly well written. The movie is good though the book is iffy, to me, due to time of writing and the prevalent style at the time. Read if you want depth to the movie or read and then see the movie for clarity and expansiveness.
THE RETURN OF LITTLE BIG MAN –
SEVEN EVES –