June 11th, 2006
Jeffery Deaver - Garden of Beasts - 269[He] knew that the most invaluable man in any job is the one who can make his colleagues -- and his superiors especially -- appear invaluable as well.

Empire Falls - Richard Russo

June 7th, 2006

Empire Falls by Richard RussoMiles Roby has been slinging burgers at the Empire Grill for 20 years, a job that cost him his college education and much of his self-respect. What keeps him there? It could be his bright, sensitive daughter, Tick, who needs all his help surviving the local high school. Or maybe it's Janine, Miles's soon-to-be-ex-wife, who's taken up with a noxiously vain health-club proprietor. Or perhaps it's the imperious Francine Whiting, who owns everything in town -- and seems to believe that "everything" includes Miles himself. In Empire Falls Richard Russo delves deep into the blue-collar heart of America in a work that overflows with hilarity, heartache, and grace.

Empire Falls came recommended to me by a professor of mine from a few semesters ago. From many talks about books after class, she suggested I look into this and Last Days of Summer.

The book briefly describes the lineage of the Whiting family -- the family with nearly sovereign status over the small town -- and the Roby family -- one of many families who serve the Whitings, though in a manner different from all the rest. A man (Miles Roby) with a teenage daughter hides from the conflict in his life. He avoids dealing with his wife who leaves him for a man who frequents the diner he manages and he avoids dealing with the oppressive woman who owns the diner.

The story was set in a small town in the state of Maine. I had expected the story would spend more time championing the little guy, though it opted to keep him down a little longer.

The writing was pretty good, though there were random interjections of harsh language and sexual situations which stuck out like sore thumbs. Those two things can easily be an acceptable addition to any story, though it has to fit. In a story about a man struggling to earn his living and keep his family together, an excerpt from an erotic novel that he found in a friend's school bag over 15 years earlier does not fit. I don't think so anyway.

The book, overall, was just ok. I did like the simple theme in every character's life that they were just doing what they needed to do to find happiness in their own world. Unfortunately, some of the rest of the book left me bored.

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June 6th, 2006
Michael Chabon - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - 113[He] felt an ache in his chest that turned out to be, as so often occurs when memory and desire conjoin with a transient effect of weather, the pang of creation.

Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates - Tom Robbins

May 23rd, 2006

Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates by Tom RobbinsSwitters is a contradiction for all seasons: an anarchist who works for the government; a pacificist who carries a gun; a vegetarian who sops up ham gravy; a cyberwhiz who hates computers; a man who, though obsessed with the preservation of innocence, is aching to deflower his high-school-age stepsister (only to become equally enamored with a nun ten years his senior). Yet there is nothing remotely wishy-washy about Switters. He doesn't merely pack a pistol. He is a pistol. And as we dog Switters's strangely elevated heels across four continents, in and out of love and danger, discovering in the process the "true" Third Secret of Fatima, we experience Tom Robbins -- that fearless storyteller, spiritual renegade, and verbal break dancer -- at the top of his game. On one level this is a fast-paced CIA adventure story with comic overtones; on another it's a serious novel of ideas that brings the Big Picture into unexpected focus, but perhaps more than anything else, Fierce Invalids is a sexy celebration of language and life.

I found Tom Robbins while playing on Amazon.com one day. If you haven't played with the Listmania! yet, you are missing out. One book led to another which led to a different author which led to this and to that which gave way to Tom Robbins. The book that I found listed as a "must read" was not Fierce Invalids, but rather Another Roadside Attraction. While walking through a bookstore one day, as I often do, I was actually holding a copy of Another Roadside Attraction when I saw Fierce Invalids on an end cap. I picked it up, read the back, and put Another Roadside Attraction back on the shelf. I know where I can find it when I go back, but on this trip Fierce Invalids won me over.

I can honestly say that I have never read a book like this. I cannot say that I liked the book, though I was fascinated by the writing style. I would actually like to read more books based on the character Switters, though I doubt another will ever be written. He was a character so full of quirks and personal protests against the ways of societies everywhere. He is a man who has been around the world and developed an interesting set of peculiarities from here and there along the way.

The book was about so many things. The topics were minute, cosmic and everything in between. Unfortunately I just felt there was a little too much going on for the book to be enjoyable. I would not say the book was hard to follow necessarily, but more that it was just too much information to want to follow.

Robbins's ideas were interesting and thought-provoking. His writing was poetic and almost seemed too easy to read given the profound nature of the topics he tackled. When I finished the book I said that though it was not my favorite, I would be curious to read more by Robbins. My next conquest, based upon recommendation of a friend (and Tom Robbins veteran), would be Still Life With Woodpecker.

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Book of the Month - June, 2006

May 20th, 2006

Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom RobbinsStill Life With Woodpecker is sort of a love story that takes place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes. It reveals the purpose of the moon, explains the difference between criminals and outlaws, examines the conflict between social activism and romantic individualism, and paints a portrait of contemporary society that includes powerful Arabs, exiled royalty, and pregnant cheerleaders. It also deals with the problem of redheads.

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May 16th, 2006
Tom Robbins - Still Life With Woodpecker - 4

'Does the moon have a purpose?' she inquired ...
Albert Camus wrote that the only serious question is whether to kill yourself or not.
Tom Robbins wrote that the only serious question is whether time has a beginning and an end.
Camus clearly got up on the wrong side of bed, and Robbins must have forgotten to set an alarm.
There is only one serious question. And that is:

Who knows how to make love stay?

Answer me that and I will tell you whether or not to kill yourself.
Answer me that and I will ease your mind about the beginning and end of time.
Answer me that and I will reveal to you the purpose of the moon.

Relic - Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

May 12th, 2006

Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln ChildJust days before a massive exhibition opens at the popular New York Museum of Natural History, visitors are being savagely murdered in the museum's dark hallways and secret rooms. Autopsies indicate that the killer cannot be human...

But the museum's directors plan to go ahead with a big bash to celebrate the new exhibition, in spite of the murders.

Museum researcher Margo Green must find out who -- or what -- is doing the killing. But can she do it in time to stop the massacre?

A very long time had passed since I last read a book like this. This was the type of book that pretty much got me hooked on free-reading nearly 12 years ago. Back then I would entertain my brain with as many Michael Crichton books as I could get my hands on. His earlier works were more on parallel with Relic in terms of similar story. I was taken back to a time when I could not wait to read the next Crichton. I read Congo, I read Sphere and of course Jurassic Park. I love those books; they will always have a place on my bookshelf. I would not even know which way to turn to find a book similar to them, however. That was the case anyway, until a friend suggested I read Relic.

A publicity quote on the cover of the paperback edition touts Relic as better than Jurassic Park. I happen to disagree, but that may be my biased "my dad can beat up your dad"-feeling interfering.

This was the first book I have read by either Douglas Preston or Lincoln Child, and not so surprisingly the first I have read by them both. I would have to do a bit more research before picking up one of their books to see what it is about, hoping it would be along these same lines. Relic was a very quick read, even for someone like me who is not the fastest of readers.

I liked the suspense created by the writing itself, but also the cliffhanger chapter endings. I liked the setting inside the old museum; it was perfect for this type of story.

Never underestimate the recommendation of a friend. This was not by any means the best book I have ever read, but it was quick, fun and exciting. And I would have never read it had a friend not suggested it. So my thanks to him.

(The movie came out so many years ago that I have forgotten the details and cannot comment on their similarity.)

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May 8th, 2006
Tom Robbins - Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates - 82We have nothing to lose but our winnings, and only the winners are lost.

A Clash of Kings - George R. R. Martin

May 4th, 2006

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. MartinIn this eagerly awaited sequel to A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin has created a work of unsurpassed vision, power, and imagination. A Clash of Kings transports us to a world of revelry and revenge, wizardry and warfare unlike any you have ever experienced.

A comet the color of blood and flame cuts across the sky. And from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns. Six factions struggle for control of the divided land and the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, preparing to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war. It is a tale in which brother plots against brother and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside. Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, victory may go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel...and the coldest hearts. For when kings clash, the whole land trembles.

Have you ever been weary of seeing a sequel because you know it will not be nearly as good as the original? Or have you been hesitant to see a something a second time because you just know it will not be as good as it was the first time? I have. And that is how I felt as I tried to talk myself into reading A Clash of Kings. At a time when I was struggling to find any books that I was enthusiastic about, I read the first of this 4-(so far)-part series, A Game of Thrones. I enjoyed it so thoroughly I was hesitant to read the second installment. I was skeptical. The book could not be as good, I thought. The book will tarnish the near perfect reputation of its predecessor, I told myself. That is not fair, I reasoned. And I decided that it was time to read the second book.

To be fair, A Clash of Kings is not as good as A Game of Thrones. From a chronological standpoint I feel that it would essentially be impossible for the second book to be as good as or better than the first. The first was the introduction; everything was new. In the second book, though there is still more to introduce and many things are new, the story continues. And there is much more to come.

I apologize if this comparison carries a negative connotation, because it is not my intent. Book two of the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin, in my opinion bears a resemblance to J. R. R. Tolkien's The Two Towers (also the second book of its series). Both books have "set-up" roles. A lot happens without anything happening, if you follow what I am saying. The pieces are put into place in these books, and they are poised for action in the book(s) to come. That is not to say that there is any lack of action in A Clash of Kings. Far from it, rather. The story is ready to pounce. Book three, A Storm of Swords, should be a thrill ride.

I am still fascinated by the chapter style. Through the entire series George R. R. Martin chooses a handful of characters and each chapter is from the perspective of one of them. Readers are able to be essentially omniscient in the realm of the Seven Kingdoms by seeing the trials and tribulations of characters good and bad, here and there. The book is a series of cliffhangers and it makes the suspense pleasurable is a strange masochistic sort of way. The tension will build and build and then just as it nears its apex, the chapter ends. The action picks up from that point...or not...a few chapters later. It sounds more frustrating than fun, but when you read the books it is actually fun and not frustrating. It also makes the books easier to get through. You will fly through a few chapters to get to the next part about whatever character you are following.

I know that sci-fi/fantasy books are daunting. They seem to all be 700-1100 pages and most are but one piece of a multi-part series. It makes for a lot of reading because by taking the first you may be signing yourself up to read an entire series. I feel the same way and I just try to space the books out so it does not seem as bad. I have a decent memory and found that even though I read the first book almost eight months ago, I was able to pick up right where the story left off. I did not have to re-acclimate myself with the story. This was important because the author does not take time to recap what happened in the previous book. There is a lot of detail and it would make a long book even longer to go through it all.

I do not read many books in this genre, but I truly get excited about these books. I loved A Clash of Kings and I loved A Game of Thrones before it. I look forward to continuing this series.

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May 3rd, 2006
Richard Russo - Empire Falls - 446Is there a term for that? ... The thing everyone is searching for and hoping not to find?