Category: "Books: Read"

Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

May 29th, 2007

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre DumasSet against the turbulent years of the Napoleonic era, Alexandre Dumas's thrilling adventure story is one of the most widely read romantic novels of all time. In it the dashing young hero, Edmond Dantès, is betrayed by his enemies and thrown into a secret dungeon in the Chateau d'If -- doomed to spend his life in a dank prison cell. The story of his long, intolerable years in captivity, his miraculous escape, and his carefully wrought revenge creates a dramatic tale of mystery and intrigue and paints a vision of France -- a dazzling, dueling, exuberant France -- that has become immortal.

I approached the book with a nervous excitement. It is a book I had always wanted to read; the classic story intrigued me. But I was afraid of "old" books, especially ones that tip the scales at over 600 pages. I expected to read Count of Monte Cristo for the better part of a year, but it took no time at all. Sure the book was long, but the pages turned effortlessly. I will admit that I had some trouble keeping up with the many names and titles given to each character. I was confused a few times, but I was able to figure it out. Other than that, this was a surprisingly easy read. And a great book.

The Count of Monte Cristo is a man of great power and wealth who is the best man to know...if you play by his rules. If you break those rules, well let's just say you shouldn't break his rules. (I am sorry that I am unable to provide any particular evidence, but I had an overwhelming feeling that the Count of Monte Cristo was a lot like Willy Wonka.)

This is the tragic tale of love, love lost, revenge, and new beginnings. I kept wondering when I would be buried under the many layers of the story, but it never happened. I was able to stay on top of the plot as it unfolded for me.

I loved Count of Monte Cristo. It has easily become one of my favorite books. If it suits you, take your time like I did. There is no need to rush into it, but do read it.

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling

May 3rd, 2007

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. RowlingHarry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick. He's never worn a cloak of invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. Harry's room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that's been waiting for him...if Harry can survive the encounter.

There are probably not many people who list this as their favorite Harry Potter book, but it still deserves a lot of credit. While, without book 1, the rest could never happen, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone deserves more credit than that.

The later books will focus on Harry and the others learning and performing magic, this one IS magic. One thing that I wish Ms. Rowling had not gotten away from was the feverish excitement of the magical environment of Hogwarts. I am sure it was a difficult thing to sustain when the details had already been given in the early book(s), but I would argue that some of the fun has been lost over the series. Here everything is new to Harry and each time I reread Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone it is new to me all over again.

I am continually amazed at how many things were foreshadowed by this book. So many times things were mentioned, seemingly in passing, which are brought up later in the series. To be able to think that far ahead has been one of the great strengths shown by Ms. Rowling as she has given this series life.

I know many people avoid these books for any number of reasons. If you are included I hope none of your reasons has anything to do with the fact that these were branded as "children's books." The books do seem to age as Harry does. The story line grows up, but maybe not enough. I can, however, understand that the magic of these books (pun intended) is in their youthful energy, which may be a deal breaker for many readers.

If you have not yet squashed your inner child and you have not yet read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, frankly I am not sure what you are waiting for...

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Boy's Life - Robert McCammon

May 2nd, 2007

Boy's Life by Robert McCammonZephyr, Alabama, is an idyllic hometown for eleven-year-old Cory Mackenson -- a place where monsters swim the river deep and friends are forever. Then, one cold spring morning, Cory and his father witness a car plunge into a lake -- and a desperate rescue attempt brings his father face-to-face with a terrible vision of death that will haunt him forever.

As Cory struggles to understand his father's pain, his eyes are slowly opened to the forces of good and evil that are manifested in Zephyr. From an ancient, mystical woman who can hear the dead and bewitch the living, to a violent clan of moonshiners, Cory must confront the secrets that hide in the shadows of his hometown -- for his father's sanity and his own life hang in the balance....

Boy's Life is somewhat like Mystic River in how it portrays the excitement, despite the ignorance, of youth. Yes I know that Mystic River focuses on childhood very briefly, but it was the first book that came to mind as I read Boy's Life. Both books seem to glorify (with good reason) childhood; life was simpler when we were younger. And while both books also revolve around plots which require the boys grow up in a hurry, the details surrounding the loss of innocence are very different from one book to the next. We can draw parallels all day long to other works about children -- Stand By Me comes to mind quickly -- but that isn't fair to the book or its author.

Every once and awhile a book makes you pause. It may be for only a moment or maybe longer. It may be just once or maybe more. These seemingly rare occasions happen to reflect on a genuine appreciation for the writing, which I certainly had for Robert McCammon as I read Boy's Life. It has been a long time since I read a book like this.

The story, at times, became strange. A few pieces of the plot revolved around unbelievable and even supernatural events. They were central to the story, but they still felt out of place in it. A story about a boy growing up in the south, however, needs some excitement to make it worth reading. I feel comfortable in saying that your childhood was nothing like the one chronicled in Boy's Life.

Best friends. Bullies. That brand-new bike. Baseball. McCammon describes each of these themes in Boy's Life. Each is celebrated in its own way and none becomes cliché. With the nostalgic thoughts which will swirl around in your head, so too come harsh realities. We grow up. We drift apart from those to whom we were the closest. The world moves on, but sometimes people, places and relationships cannot keep up.

The supernatural elements to the story made it unrealistic to be sure. However, without them the story could not have progressed. If you are looking for a writer's words which will hold you with the tenderness of a mother's arms please do not be discouraged by the sometimes-bizarre nature of the plot.

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About A Boy - Nick Hornby

March 27th, 2007

About A Boy by Nick HornbyWill Freeman may have discovered the key to dating success: If the simple fact that they were single mothers meant that gorgeous women -- women who would not ordinarily look twice at Will -- might not only be willing, but enthusiastic about dating him, then he was really onto something. Single mothers -- bright, attractive, available women -- thousands of them, were all over London. He just had to find them.

SPAT: Single Parents - Alone Together. It was a brilliant plan. And Will wasn't going to let the fact that he didn't have a child himself hold him back. A fictional two-year-old named Ned wouldn't be the first thing he'd invented. And it seems to go quite well at first, until he meets an actual twelve-year-old named Marcus, who is more than Will bargained for...

I have known some Nick Hornby readers, but I had never taken the plunge. The due diligence I had done seemed to confirm the reviews from friends: Hornby writes with such a charming wit that it is easy to overlook how alarmingly exposed he leaves the male perspective. Finally I decided to see for myself, though it wasn't by reading this book. I started with High Fidelity, which I enjoyed enough to want more Hornby in my life.

About A Boy tells the story of how a man -- who is not getting any younger -- finally starts to grow up. It is, however, less about his slow transition away from the shallow, playboy persona and more about the unexpected relationship with a young boy that makes the transition possible. (Man does that sound awkward.)

Will's latest scheme to meet women involves a fabricated story that he is a single father of baby Ned. Single mothers, he has decided, are the greatest untapped natural resource available to single men. On a date to the park with just such a single mother, Will has his chance meeting with Marcus -- the socially awkward young man whose poor conversation skills and even poorer fashion sense are the product of his parents' divorce. The woman who takes Marcus to the park -- and into Will's life -- is not Marcus's mother, she had...other plans.

Will knows more about what to wear, listen to, and talk about as a teenager than Marcus does. Seeing the opportunity to improve his social status at school, Marcus latches on to Will. While Will teaches Marcus about being a kid, Marcus teaches Will about the importance of family.

I can definitely see why some readers think that Nick Hornby offers a little too much "playbook" information from the man team. In About A Boy, as in High Fidelity, he writes very candidly about how (stereotypically) men feel in certain situations. Some men may feel like their secrets are betrayed, and some women may feel that they have been given the key to finally understanding their less-emotional (or even emotionless) counterparts. I don't think anything he writes leaves men that vulnerable at all, but they are certainly entitled to their opinions.

Regardless of the subject matter, Nick Hornby writes in a comfortable voice that I enjoy. His books are short and simple to read and there is enough humor in the right places to move the book along. I liked About A Boy, and my desire to read more Hornby has not been extinguished.

The only complaint that I have with About A Boy is that I would have preferred a little more development of Will's unwillingness to consider Marcus as his friend. I understand the arm's-length approach that Will uses for his interpersonal relationships, but Marcus could not have been seen as a threat to the personal sanctity of Will's carefree lifestyle. He would go out of his way to do nice things for Marcus, but on an inconsistent basis.

If you have seen the movie, which starred Hugh Grant as Will, here are a few thoughts on the differences. Hugh Grant is significantly more charming than Will is as he was written. The movie was clearly more upbeat as the book was written from a darker perspective. The young man who played Marcus in the movie was a very good casting choice.

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Pure Drivel - Steve Martin

March 9th, 2007

Pure Drivel by Steve MartinSteve Martin's talent has always defied definition: a seasoned actor, a razor-sharp screenwriter, an acclaimed playwright, and, of course, the ingenious comedian who turned King Tut into a national craze. In this widely praised collection of humerous riffs, Martin shows he is a master of the written word.

From a wildley imaginative meditation on who Lolita would be at age fifty, to a send-up of the warning labels on medicine bottles, these pieces, many of which first appeared in The New Yorker, hilariously and intelligently skewer the topics at hand.

This is truly one of the most delightful books I have ever read. In a very uncharacteristic move, I have made a mental note to hang on to this book so I can go back to it periodically. Martin's writing is just plain funny. I am a tough customer when it comes to humor, but this book had me laughing out loud. Not that it was ever in question, but in this book you begin to see just how intelligent Steve Martin is. Some of the comedy I am sure was over my head, but there was plenty that was not. (Sometimes such intelligent writing may be a pitfall when it might make the book funny to a smaller number of people.)

Steve Martin writes with witty prose in a manner that is comfortable to read and easy to understand. Like many avid readers, I too have that hope in the back of my mind that one day I will be a published author so that I may tease the emotions of readers similar to how I like mine teased. I have read books before which I have visualized myself emulating in my own writing, but before this book I had never felt so strongly an appreciation for the author. This, for the most part, is how I wish I could write.

Pure Drivel is a series of short stories, which I normally avoid because I have had a few bad experiences. I had no problems and I have nothing bad to say about this book. I loved it and have had multiple conversations about it with a friend to whom I lent it. She loved it, too. The book is very light reading when you are in the mood for something quick and minimally involved. The writing is complex and the ideas are abstract, but that should not contradict the previous sentence. I am not ashamed to admit how embarrassingly out loud I laughed at this book.

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The Black Ice - Michael Connelly

February 27th, 2007

The Black Ice by Michael ConnellyNarcotics officer Cal Moore's orders were to look into the city's latest drug killing. Instead, he ends up in a motel room with his head in several pieces and a suicide note stuffed in his back pocket.

Years ago, Harry Bosch learned the first rule of the good cop: don't look for the facts, but the glue that holds them together. Now, Harry's making some very dangerous connections, starting with one dead cop and leading to a bloody string of murders that wind from Hollywood Boulevard's drug bazaar to the dusty back alleys south of the border and into the center of a complex and lethal game -- one in which Harry is the next and likeliest victim.

After his richly acclaimed debut, Michael Connelly brings Bosch back in an achievement even more stunning and suspenseful than its predecessor -- a time-bomb of a novel supercharged with tension and non-stop action that doesn't let up until the final, explosive ending.

I like reading Michael Connelly because typically he writes his characters as free-speaking without being too over-the-top. There is a certain irony with that feeling and this book, but I still enjoyed it. Harry Bosch is Connelly's serial character and he is a misfit detective in Hollywood because...well, because cops who get along with other cops are no fun to read about.

I found myself thinking that, in The Black Ice, Harry Bosch was a little too "rogue warrior action hero." Some of the things he did and situations into which he was written were maybe a little extravagant. I wondered if after the book was released if anyone considered optioning the character for the Harry Bosch Action Figure.

Normally when you read detective fiction you should expect to read about cops who have seemingly endless supplies of both cash and contacts which move their cases along with the greatest of ease. I have come to accept that. It doesn't bother me anymore, and I definitely know that it is not how things really work (most of the time); it just makes good books. This was a little different from that, but while it stood out in my mind, it did not bother me.

Rather than read the Harry Bosch books as they come out and skipping the earlier books because I found the series late, I have decided to read the series in order. The Black Ice is the second installment. It had the unfortunate duty of following a very highly praised novel in The Black Echo. The Black Echo lacked the commando vibe I tried to describe about The Black Ice, so I had not expected it. Sophomore slump? I don't think so. I think I liked The Black Ice a little more than The Black Echo. So who knows, maybe there will be more of that feeling, or maybe not. I am not done with this series, not by a long shot.

I love a good mystery/suspense novel. Sometimes the lengths to which the detectives go are a little unrealistic, but that is part of why it is on the fiction shelf. The Black Ice was a little unrealistic at times, but it was still a fast-paced story that I enjoyed greatly.

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The Poet - Michael Connelly

January 9th, 2007

The Poet by Michael ConnellyMichael Connelly has written one explosive thriller after another featuring Detective Harry Bosch. Now, in an electrifying departure, he presents a novel that breaks all the rules and will keep your heart racing and your mind guessing until the very last page.

Death is reporter Jack McEvoy's beat: his calling, his obsession. But this time, death brings McEvoy the story he never wanted to write -- and the mystery he desperately needs to solve. A serial killer of unprecedented savagery and cunning is at large. His targets: homicide cops, each haunted by a murder case he couldn't crack. The killer's calling card: a quotation from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. His latest victim is McEvoy's own brother. And his last... may be McEvoy himself.

I have heard that a major key to writing well is to write what you know. In turn, as a murder-mystery writer you cannot write well about a crime scene unless you have actually stood outside the yellow tape and taken the situation in with all of your senses, or so the story would go. And that is the emphasis behind Michael Connelly's The Poet as I see it. Before becoming a best-selling author, Connelly wrote for newspapers, "primarily specializing in the crime beat" ( So before he wrote books, Connelly was a reporter. And instead of "typical" detective fiction, The Poet is about (what else?): a reporter.

I was immediately drawn to main character Jack McEvoy. He was sculpted with more precision. He was written with more passion. I may be way off base with this, but it seemed to me that McEvoy was a more natural character for Connelly to write. I have been to talks given by Michael Connelly where he shares experiences with police officers he was privileged to have, so you know there is truth in his detective fiction, but it was fun to read the same type of story wrapped in a different package. He had ridden along with the officers, but he had lived as a reporter. It was entertaining to get some insight into how reporters fight for information since they do not have the authority or the reputation with the police, and see just how competitive their world can be.

Yes, there is a girl. And right away I was closed minded to the whole thing. "This story did not need romantic involvement," I pleaded to the book in my hands, "it is so good without it." But I was wrong. Too often the romance is built in to make the book more marketable to a wider audience. Not so in The Poet.

I cannot remember the last time I came across a book that was so hard to put down. The Poet was interesting, entertaining and suspenseful. I found myself finishing the last page, closing the back cover of the book and wanting for fresh air. "THAT was a good book," I said aloud, to no one in the room.

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Running with Scissors - Augusten Burroughs

January 5th, 2007

Running with Scissors by Augusten BurroughsRunning with Scissors is the true story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of Anne Sexton) gave him away to be raised by her unorthodox psychiatrist who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. So at the age of twelve, Burroughs finds himself amidst Victorian squalor living with the doctor's bizarre family, and befriending a pedophile who resided in the backyard shed. The story of an outlaw childhood where rules were unheard of, and the Christmas tree stayed up all year-round, where Valium was consumed like candy, and if things god dull, an electroshock-therapy machine could provide entertainment. The funny, harrowing, and bestselling account of an ordinary boy's survival under the most extraordinary circumstances.

I was worried. And as the book began, I became more worried. I was not worried that my expectations were too high, because they weren't. I was worried that they were so low that I was doomed.

For so long David Sedaris has been the benchmark for dysfunctional memoir. I was not afraid the new guy on the block would unseat Mr. Sedaris from his position, but rather I was afraid that someone else was just trying to ride Sedaris's coat tails to sell a few books. I was not excited for "My childhood was horrible, but boy am I glad I made it through...and somehow learned to write" to become the next hot genre. That would surely turn into a shouting match about whose story was more horrific and it would get out of hand. And the writing, which would not be done very well to begin with, would suffer. (And yes, I do over-analyze everything. Thank you very much.) In fact, I had heard that the writing in Running with Scissors left much to be desired.

To my surprise, not only did I enjoy Burroughs's writing, but I enjoyed the book as a whole.

Even though I wrote above that I became increasingly worried over the first few chapters, I found myself really enjoying Burroughs's colloquial writing style. It was funny and very easy to read. I do not think that I laughed nearly as much as other people that I know who have read the book, but I am harder to please in that regard.

The only bump I hit came early in the book. There was a brief recounting of a story involving the actions of the 6-year-old boy in the house. I was immediately concerned that the rest of the book would be filled with unnecessary anecdotes about other people. I was afraid that Burroughs had written a book that solely focused on the crazy things that happened around him and the crazier people who were a part of them, rather than actually writing about himself. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I only had that feeling at that one moment.

From what I can gather, Augusten Burroughs did not write this book to get anyone's sympathy. Nor did he write it as a self-deprecating book of jokes to make us laugh at his misfortune. But do not be surprised when you can laugh at some parts and you will easily feel sorry for what he had to go through. Running with Scissors was a touching memoir written with crisp wit. The language was very harsh at times and there were...unconventional sexual situations; if that is a red flag, you would probably do best to stay away from Running with Scissors. Otherwise, I will probably not seek out other works by Burroughs, but I am glad I read Running with Scissors and I believe it lived up to much of the praise it has received.

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A Storm of Swords - George R. R. Martin

January 3rd, 2007

Storm of Swords by George R. R. MartinOf the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage, as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, victim of the sorceress who holds him in her thrall. Young Robb still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons left in the world. And as opposing forces maneuver for the final showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost limits of civilization, accompanied by a horde of mythical Others -- a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords...

My struggle here will be trying to express things about book three of a series that I have not already said about book one or book two. It is very difficult for me to try to write my thoughts on the book without either saying things I have already said or tripping over my excitement for the series while trying to give you a down-to-earth recounting of the book.

I can tell stories about me sitting up at night reading in bed and getting entirely too animated with my reactions to things Martin wrote...or I can compare it with the first two books of the series. When put that way, I think I'll opt for the latter.

By starting, or continuing, the series through book 3 you will not be disappointed. Not on a grand scale anyway. (One thing about George Martin is that he is not afraid to kill off main characters. As with the first two books, in book 3 main characters die. If you were attached to one or more who is killed/dies then you may be disappointed on a smaller scale.) The series is not new to me anymore; I no longer have the honeymoon feeling with the books. Gone is the initial excitement from finding something I loved, but my devotion is renewed at the end of each book.

The excitement in the series slowed somewhat in book 2, but not in book 3. A Storm of Swords is aptly named for the fast-paced action. There is a lot that happens, and you may find yourself (as I did) going back and forth trying to decide which is my favorite character. Sit tight, it is going to be a bumpy ride, but it will be a fun ride. With George R. R. Martin, I am consistently entertained.

I guess it boils down to this: If you have read the first two books, I would imagine you were somewhat eager to read book 3, but do not want to be let down. Don't hesitate. Get your copy of book 3 today and start reading. I tried to pace myself through the first three, knowing that there are still unwritten books in the series, to spread out the amount of time between books more evenly. I have given up on that idea. Book 4 here I come!

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Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk

November 30th, 2006

Fight Club by Chuck PalahniukAn underground classic since its first publication in 1996, Fight Club is now recognized as one of the most original and provocative novels published in [that] decade. Chuck Palahniuk's darkly funny first novel tells the story of a god-forsaken young man who discovers that his rage at living in a world filled with failure and lies cannot be pacified by an empty consumer culture. Relief for him and his disenfranchised peers comes in the form of secret after-hours boxing matches held in the basements of bars. Fight Club is the brainchild of Tyler Durden, who thinks he has found a way for himself and his friends to live beyond their confining and stultifying lives. But in Tyler's world there are no rules, no limits, no brakes.

I like to read things that come from Chuck Palahniuk's mind. The result could be good (Diary) or bad (Invisible Monsters); sometimes you never know. What you do know is that the story will likely be something you could never come up with on your own. That is not to say that they are mystery novels and the suspense is imaginative. Though Palahniuk's suspense is certainly imaginative, his stories follow no mold I have seen before.

Chuck Palahniuk is probably just what you would expect him to be like, should you have an opportunity to see him. I saw him give a speech a few years ago, and he was just as I expected. He said that when he writes books he tends to pick one music album to listen to while he writes. One album. For Fight Club, he said he listened to The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails. Again, probably just as you would have expected. Neat guy. Wonderful speaker. Incredibly interesting writer.

I have seen the movie adaptation for Fight Club. I love the movie and am always impressed with the parts played by Brad Pitt and Ed Norton, Jr. I was not hesitant, but rather curious to read the book. Normally I figure a person will prefer whichever version they experience first. I wasn't reading the book in hopes that it would be better than the movie since as they say, "the book is always better." I wanted to see this story on paper through Palahniuk's eyes and with his words rather than a Hollywood adaptation of both.

I found exactly what I had hoped for. The foundation was the same as the movie, but the writing was a little rougher around the edges. It was rough because it was not written to appeal to a broader audience like the movie script was, and it was rough because it was his first book. Like many authors, Palahniuk's writing has become...smoother, for lack of a better term, with each book he has written. Please do not interpret that as a complaint with the book or a negative comment, it is only an observation. If anything, it made the book better as it was more fitting with the feel of the story.

I have seen the movie. Any potential, big plot-twist at the end of the story, if one existed....would not have been a surprise reading the book. I did not care. I wasn't reading the book for the story to be new again. I was only interested in seeing the story a different way, which I was able to do. Fight Club isn't the best book I have ever read, nor is it one of my favorites, but I am glad I took the time to read it. And I recommend it. You have no excuses, it's short.

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