Summer Reading 2013

As I mentioned in my recent review of the book Bold Spirit, I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading this summer but haven’t gotten around to writing many reviews.  Figured I’d just hit them all in brief in a little round-up.  Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Controversial Religious Shelf

goingclearzealotGoing Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright (2012)

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan (2013)

Both these books are absolutely fascinating.  And that’s all I have to say about THAT, aside from the fact I was a little disappointed that despite spending half his book talking about Paul Haggis, Lawrence Wright did not once mention Due South, Haggis’s greatest achievement.  Whatever, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist.

Craptacular Shelf (You knew there would be one)

deep stormDeep Storm by Lincoln Child (2007) – Scientists discover a stash of powerful alien weapons in the Mohorovičić discontinuity under the ocean!  In trying to get to it, lots of people die!

Utopia by Lincoln Child (2002) – Scientists discover that hackers getting into into the robot-programming system at a robot-controlled futuristic theme park can wreak a lot havoc!  In trying to stop it, lots of people die!

riptideRiptide by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston (1998) – Dudes, pirate treasure hidden in a deep pit that is perpetually filled with water AND there’s also a monster and the computers go all wonkeroo!  BAM!  Lots of people die!

Thunderhead by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston (1998) – AZTEC FUNGUS!  ET CETERA!

Look, I know it seems ridiculous. FOUR Lincoln Child/Douglas Preston novels in a row?  The thing is, I really enjoyed Deep Storm, which is essentially the book version of every good-bad disaster/sci-fi movie I’ve ever seen.  That got me started on the kick, and  once you’re reading super cheesy science fiction, it’s incredibly hard to stop.  Man, that was a fun book binge.  I might be through it now – but only for now.

Mystery Shelf

killroomsweetnessThe Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver (2013) – Lincoln Rhyme’s latest case.  A bit of a yawn, unless you are SUPER DUPER into bitching about how evil Obama’s drone program is.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (2009) – Nerd-girl solves a mystery.  A little too adorable for its own good.

Non-Fiction Other Stuff Shelf

cleanClean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy by David Sheff (2013) – Sheff’s first book, Beautiful Boy, is a book I still recommend to people (read my review) four years after reading it.  A memoir of his years  as the father of an addict, it not only laid out his personal agonies, but also delved deep into the science of addiction.  This book, his second, is less a memoir and more a handbook for parents.  It too covers some of the science of addiction, but it focuses predominantly on youth prevention, treatment, and recovery — how to talk to your kids about drugs, what to do if you think your kids are using drugs, how to help your kid after s/he’s been in treatment, etc.  Wise reading for all parents of youths, but not nearly as engaging for me as Beautiful Boy.

Sad, Party of Two Shelf

bookthiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2006) – You know what’s weird about this novel?  It was apparently written for adults, and marketed thusly in Zusak’s country (Australia).  And then when it jumped the pond, or whatever the Aussies call that, it was repackaged as a book for young adults.  After having read it, I can only assume that’s because the American distributor reacted to it the same way I did, which was to think, “Man, I would’ve loved this book when I was 13.  NOW, on the other hand. . .”

Having read a number of novels set in Nazi Germany in WWII, not to mention seen a lot of truly devastating films about the Holocaust, it was hard to get into the more cutesy elements of this novel, which is narrated by Death, to unaffecting effect.  It’s about a little German girl, Liesel, whose family is hiding a Jewish man in their basement (Max). She steals books from the local mayor’s wife, with the help of her best pal Rudy, which is why she’s called the Book Thief by the author and his narrator.  It’s sort of a way to take control of her own losses, which are numerous, I would say. The kids are sweet and confused about the world around them and their feelings for people and each other, and lots of people die in horrible ways.  It’s enough to make a grown woman cry, really.  Only, despite a few flashes of brilliance here and there, I was pretty underwhelmed by both the story and the writing.  It’s sluggish and clumsy in many places, and it’s also very predictable (though I suppose you could argue that any book set in Nazi Germany is bound to be predictable, but whatever).  I read the whole thing, and I got a little teary at the end.  But it’s not one I’ll revisit or that I particularly recommend.  No plan to watch the movie.  I’ve seen enough.

unvanquishedThe Unvanquished by William Faulkner (1938) – This is a novel I’d read before (I’m pretty sure I’ve read all his novels before by now), but not since early college days and I had forgotten how great it was.  It’s the rare Faulkner novel actually set during the Civil War instead of after it, and also the rare Faulkner novel loaded up with humor as well (to specific effect, of course — the man’s not jovial for kicks).  This is an incredibly brilliant, moving story about two boys, one white boy and one black, raised together on a plantation and forced to grow up REAL FAST when the war begins.  “Men have been pacifists for every reason under the sun except to avoid danger and fighting,” one of the characters remarks.  Ain’t it the truth.  Man, whew.  So good.  It’s not a happy story, but it’s a joy to read nonetheless.

There are two other books I read this summer, but I’m going to do full reviews on them later.  Until then, hie thee to the library, and let me know if you come across anything great you want to recommend!


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4 Responses to “Summer Reading 2013”

  1. RogerBW Says:

    I’ve read the first four of Bradley’s Flavia de Luce books, and I’m inclined to agree with your impression; they’re sort of OK-ish (and #2 was probably the strongest), but Flavia grates on me with the sweet breath of incipient diabetes, and somehow they never seem to get anywhere (particularly in the matter of her father’s financial embarrassment, which I think it’s not a spoiler to say is still hanging at the end of #4 just as it was in #1). I think Flavia’s meant to be an iconic heroine (i.e. the books are about what she does rather than how she changes), which normally I’d consider fair enough for a series ‘tec, but somehow when it’s such a young girl with a fixed personality it doesn’t quite work for me. Not sure whether I’ll pick up #5.

    Will take a look at Lincoln Child… 🙂 I think I got my recommendation for Robert B. Parker from you, for which thanks again.

    In other ‘tec reading:

    Recently I’ve been reading J. D. Robb’s “In Death” series; she’s Nora Roberts the romance author, and the first few certainly are romance-shaped, but they’re also decent SF police procedurals (with only a few gaping holes in the worldbuilding) with appealing characters.

    I’ve also been enjoying Simon Brett’s Fethering series, dealing with two middle-aged women retired to a seaside town who run up against multiple murders, largely for the waspish observation of self-important people (including at least one of the leads).

    Quite liking Peter Lovesey’s DIamond books too. More middle-aged cynicism. Oh dear, am I getting predictable?

  2. megwood Says:

    I’ve heard of Robb, but I don’t think I’ve read any of those. And definitely not the Brett or Lovesey series — both sound great! I would love to dig into a new series — a lot of the ones I used to read I’ve given up on these days because they just got too crappy to bear anymore (Kathy Reichs, for example). But I miss that character development and consistency!

    • RogerBW Says:

      Yeah, I got that way with Patricia Cornwell — the first few were quite fun, the later ones felt very samey. (And describing things from the criminal’s viewpoint, that the cops don’t know about, feels to me like cheating.) Slightly ashamed to say that I enjoy Bones the series more than I did the one Reichs I read.

      If you don’t mind older material, most of Austin Freeman’s output is on Gutenberg — his Thorndyke, while clearly influenced by Holmes, is arguably the first fictional forensic scientist.

      And of course if you haven’t met him I must recommend Christopher Brookmyre — not so much mystery as “tartan noir”, but if you like the sort of lunacy you get from Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey, he’s worth considering

      • megwood Says:

        Oh yeah, Cornwell I’ve long since given up on. She and Reichs suffer from the same problem, I think, which is that they got so popular, they started shooting for volume instead of quality. Never good! Not even if you’re Charles Dickens!

        Bones is fun! Nothing to be ashamed of there!

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