Monday, December 7, 2009

Book #15

The Cold Six Thousand by James Ellroy does not quite attain the heights of its predecessor American Tabloid but it comes pretty close. This is a cannot-put-it-down; of reading experience. The plot picks up right after the breathless final seconds of Tabloid; it's Dallas - November 22, 1963. Once again Ellroy uses a triple character format to weave his taut, complex, Shakespearean tale and it works brilliantly. The narrators are connected and know each other but only appear together as a triumvirate at one, brilliantly searing point in the novel. This scene occurs at the jaw-dropping midpoint of the book and illustrates Ellory's achievement in his Underworld USA trilogy. Two of the characters, "Big" Pete Bondurant and Wayne Tedrow Jr. are hunting down one of their Vietnam Cadre companions who is responsible for a civil rights bombing. The other character Ward Littell, former Fed turned Mob lawyer and clandestine Civil Rights activist shows up at the last possible second, surprising his two allies. What happens in that hotel room with the three men sends the rest of the novel spinning towards its harrowing climax - and their ultimate fates. The fact all three characters converge at all and converge only once in the entire novel serves to separate the narrative theme and the links - and separations - of the main characters.
Plotwise, Ellroy bumps and slides through the dirt of the sixties, tying together Fed, Mob, CIA and Vegas conspiracies into a violent ride through subterranean American history. He concludes with the assassinations of RFK and Martin Luther King, as well as Howard Hughes takeover of Las Vegas. Vietnam, and particularly its heroin trade, loom over all.
The twists are shocking and delivered like a machine gun blast to the English language. This is a dark, hard book that stands not only as a linguistic achievement but also as the definitive "fictional" take on American history through its most turbulent times.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The 1st Annual Books of the Year Awards

This has been a great year for books; and in the spirit of issuing their Best of 2009 already, I decided to get on the bandwagon and release mine. I have read some great books this year and I have read some not so great books. Here are the good, the bad and the 5 best books I have read this year.
The Clive Cussler Award (The "I Could Not Put it Down" Award):
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
This book was a masterful thriller that twisted, turned and finally had the reader spinning in complete circles. It keeps you from truly placing a label on it by being so many different books crammed into one thrilling package - a thriller, a serial killer mystery, industrial espionage and a straight up whodunnit. Terrific writing, and I have heard the second in the series is as good, if not better.
The David Simon Award (The "Smartest Book" Award):
The Things they Carried by Tim O'Brien
A masterful blend of fact and fiction that plays off the darkness of Vietnam while also taking a metaphysical view on storytelling itself. Not to mention the fact it makes you want to keep reading it incessantly...without any pause. A personal favorite portion - when O'Brien tells you about war stories; how they are never heroic and how a true war story makes you feel sick afterwards. Compelling, vivid and the rare book that truly deserves the handle: masterpiece.
The James Patterson Award (The "Worst Book I read this Year" Award):
Thug Life by Sanyika Shakur
To be honest I only read 100 pages but you can get a sense of a book in 100 pages. I loved Monster by Shakur, it was a book that changed my life. Unfortunately, lightening only struck once for this reformed gangbanger. Atrocious does not begin to describe this text. Not only was this the worst book I attempted to read this year, it definitely falls into my top ten worst books I have read in my life. It was that bad. Not recommended.
The Rick Reilly Award (The "Best Written Line of the Year" Award):
Tim O'Brien - The Things They Carried pg. 68
"A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue."
Michael Paterniti - "Never Forget" the opening of a haunting article about the shattered remenants left behind by the brutal Khmer Rouge.
"Once upon a time - 1975, actually, in Cambodia - there was a regime so evil that it created an antisociety where torture was currency and music, books and love were abolished. This regime ruled for four years and murdered nearly 2 million of its citizens, a quarter of the population. The pervasion was so extreme, the acts so savage, that three decades later, the country still finds itself reeling. Now, as the surviving leaders of the regime go to trial and unimaginable past rises again, we're left with this question: What took us so long to remember?"
The Top 5ish Book of the Year
5. Travels by Michael Crichton - Given that Crichton died recently, I figured he deserved a place on the list with one of his lesser known books. This book challenges the way you look at the world and is written as well as any of his previous thrillers. An autobiographical look at the world and the things in it we do not understand.
5A. A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr - The fifth book in Kerr's series about former Nazi Bernie Gunther took the character to Argentina in 1950. As usual, he uncovers a trail of death and destruction he is powerless to stop. Powerfully written, haunting, hilarious, stunning and with twists that literally take your breath away, this is one of the best of the series and without a doubt one of the best written books of the year.
4. The Way of the Dog by Don Winslow - As I recently wrote, this examination of the growth of the Mexican drug cartels spirals into an epic saga wrought with the consequences of revenge. Expanding outward and yet intently focused inward, this book was quite simply incredible.
3. The Stand by Stephen King - Given our fears about H1N1 this book is very topical...except for that fact it was originally written in 1978 and revised/added to in 1990. King mentions swine flu and creates a horrific picture of a world devestated by a superflu and the battle of the survivors against an even worse evil. Thematic, allegorical and a triumph of modern literature, this is the best book King has written and, will likely ever write.
2. Generation Kill by Evan Wright - Firstly, any book in which I can draw parallels from HBO's The Wire is tops in my list. Secondly, this book forced me to completely reexamine my position on the Iraq conflict. I tried to ignore the books about the war that weighed down the history section but this book changed that for me. It takes the chaotic first few weeks of the conflict and shatters all you thought you knew about it. The author's final stand that we have abandoned a generation we sent off to do our dirty work is one of the most profound - and important - things I read this year.
1. American Tabloid by James Ellroy - For me, only one book could be number one this year. James Ellroy has created a book that is completely unlike any other out there. He strips language down to its brutal base and crafts a machine-gun style that spits out evocative prose that peppers the reader and says more with less. That is only the praise of his writing style. Plot wise, Ellroy takes the magnificently large canvass of American History in the Kennedy years...before he takes a sawed-off shotgun to it. His history turns on the dark undercurrents and goings on behind the scenes in the tumultuous times. His characters rise and fall along Shakespearean arcs that are indelibly complex and perfectly crafted. When each of the three main characters turns on the Kennedy Brothers, you know where Ellroy is headed...Novemember 22, 1963. This book also boasts one of my all-time favorite characters in print "Big" Pete Bondurant, a sadistic, ex-LAPD, mob killer who works tirelessly to create the invasion of Cuba - while also serving the CIA, Jimmy Hoffa and working as a Howard Hughes goon. Without a doubt this one of the best books I have ever read.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Book #14

The Ticket Out by Michael Sokolove is the incredible true story of the most talented collection of high school basbeball players in history: this team featured two future major league all-stars including Darryl Strawberry. This collection of young men were incredible players and from Crenshaw, of the worst parts of South Central LA. This book functions on many levels - it shows how powerful sports can be in overcoming socio-economic status (and the lures of gang life) but also details the perils of stardom which can lead to the downfall of young men who grew up with nothing; Strawberry serving as the prime example.

The team was so good they stormed through the regular season and playoffs, virtually unchallenged. However, in the league championship they met a previously unknown foe: John Elway - yes, that John Elway. Ultimately, Crenshaw lost that game and the players went their seperate ways. While many have been moderately successful, others have been completely destroyed. Strawberry's story is a tragic and cautionary tale but pales in comparison to that of his teammate, catcher Carl Jones. After succumbing to the street, Jones was sentenced to an automatic 25 years in prison for violating California's three strikes laws.

The book serves as an examination of the laws which are in place to punish those who can least defend themselves. Sokolove examines the "three strikes" rule and argues passionately against it, detailing how even the man for whom it was enacted knows the difference between "the life of his daughter and someone stealing an air conditioner for the third time".

The examination of this talented but troubled team is a haunting account which weaves through time, lives and the power of sports to provide a ticket out.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Book #13

The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow is an incredible complex novel detailing the rise of the Mexican drug cartels and their impact on life in Mexico and the United States. This is a page turner, but it is also a thought provoking book. Several themes dominate throughout including a meditation on the destructive seduction of revenge. In the novel, revenge is on the mind of each of the four, interwoven, main characters. They are, in no particular order, Art Keller (a DEA agent waging war with a Mexican cartel due to the torture and murder of his partner); Nora (a hooker who forms a complicated bond with a kingpin); Adan Barerra (the aforementioned drug kingpin who takes the drug trade in Mexico to amazing heights with his genius and brutality) and Callan (an Irish gun for hire who drifts through the carnage of the drug world).
Ultimately, the journeys of these characters is what makes this novel a deeply satisfying read. There is more of course, as we witness the drug trade from a unique standpoint - the winning side. These are criminals who are making hundreds of millions of dollars and have become so engrained in politics and society it is virtually impossible to root them out. "Good guys" or "heroes" is a lax term in this book and the characters are rich, vivid and perfectly drawn. This book is impossible to put down and stays with the reader long after the final page is turned.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book # 12

The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin is a great, thrilling read. Some books are hard to put down - this book grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go. This book is taut, harrowing, powerful, thought-provoking and detail oriented. Levin has created a masterpiece of the genre and it shows through the ridiculously tense scenario he perfectly plots. One of the reasons the book works so effectively - in just nine precise chapters - is his plot is semi-plausible and a good mixture of fact and fiction. He begins with a cabal of former Nazi's in Brazil led by the infamous Josef Mengele - he has a plan and needs their help. Before long, an aging Nazi hunter is investigating a series of mysterious murders and trying to piece the puzzle of Mengele's plan together.
If there is a better example of how a thriller should be written I have yet to find it.
Levin's vision is brilliantly crafted and builds a plausible scenario that incorporates what Mengele was doing at Aushwitz and how deeply engrained the Nazi ideology was in South America at the war's conclusion and on into the seventies.
Evocative, haunting and literally impossible to put down.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Book #11

James Lee Burke has written more than a dozen mysteries featuring New Iberia detective Dave Robicheaux and each has been critically acclaimed and sold well. That said, The Tin Roof Blowdown is his best book.
How can one distinguish between a plethora of similar works by Burke, each featuring inevitable confrontations between Robicheaux and the darker elements of New Orleans? Easily as this book takes Hurricane Katrina as its backdrop. Not only is this a fantastic mystery about Robicheaux, but it also serves as what may be the best book for understanding Katrina and its impact on Louisiana. At the opening, the hurricane hits and in the pages that fly by afterwards we see the devestation and apocalyptic aftermath of the tragedy.
Into the void of this destruction comes (Burke's best known character) Dave Robicheaux, a former alcholic with inner demons constantly consuming him, and his journey post-Katrina is not a pretty one. Burke has always had the ability to draw the reader into his books and you do not simply read one of his books - you live it. Burke evokes all the smells, tastes, feelings and descriptions other writers dream about. You feel every haunting, searing, beautiful, near poetic sentence as you are drawn deeper into the dark and seamy underbelly of New Orleans.
This book, written shortly after the disaster has a much darker and more cynical tone than his previous works (which I would not have thought possible) and as usual the characters pop off the page into reality as truly as if they were sitting beside you. New Orleans culture and community was severly damaged in the storm and this book is an anguished swan song for a city that will never be the same. It is truly a book that only an author as talented as James Lee Burke could write and it says something about the skill of the writer when his 14th book featuring the recurring characters is without a doubt his best work to date.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Book #10

American Tabloid by James Ellroy represents a departure from the "master of noir"; instead of investigating dark and twisty crimes in LA, he dives headfirst into the web of conspiracy surrounding the Kennedy Presidency. Some books are hard to put down. Some books are page turners. When I bought this one, the guy behind the counter told me to get ready to lose a week. I didn't lose one week - I lost a week and half.
This book explodes and sprawls like the literary answer to an incendiary grenade. It consumes the reader in the underworld beneath American History as it examines the "truth" of complex times. Ellroy contends that America was never innocent and JFK was killed at the perfect time to ensure martyrdom - just before all his discretions came to light.
The three central characters are conflicted, deep and perfect. They rise and fall along a Shakespearean arc with such real life figures as (among others): Howard "Dracula" Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover, RFK, Santo Trafficante, Jack Ruby, and Jimmy Hoffa. These men, Pete Bondurant (a brutal, mob-connected, Cuba entwinned, pimp, former policeman); Kemper Boyd (an FBI agent turned CIA asset bent on Castro's assassination) and Ward Littell (a disgraced drunk turned mob lawyer), manipulate the years 1957 - 1963. We see them at their lowest and at their highest and the plot swirls them in new directions with a single, perfectly carved sentence. Ellroy's style is machine gun bursts of beauty and deplorable violence.
This book surges like a tidal wive toward the brutal axis the reader knows is coming: November 22, 1963. This may just be the best book for understanding not only the conspiracy surrounding Kennedy's death but also the mob men who played a role in his rise and (possibly in his) demise.
Better yet? There are two more books following American Tabloid which complete Ellroy's Underworld USA trilogy. So when he leaves you twisting, off-balance and in complete awe on Novemeber 22, 1963, you can be assured that yes, there is more.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Book #9

Generation Kill by Evan Wright is a story about and beyond Iraq. It reads like the best novels and informs like the best history. The ideas in this book helped shift my opinion of the Iraq war and its ultimate consequences on the American populace. And I almost didn't read it.
In my humble opinion, books on the Iraq war tend to be out too quickly - it is hard to get real depth on an ongoing conflict. Once they began cluttering up the Military History and New Releases book shelves I began to make a beeline away from them. It seemed hard to read about something which we do not yet have a historical perspective on. This is an evolving engagement which requires continual adaption. Certainly the definitive account has yet to be written.
Some would argue of course the definitive account of World War Two has yet to be written
and we are closing in on seventy years gone.
That said, Generation Kill is an incredible achievement. If you want to read one or two books on the Iraq war to understand the ground conflict, make sure this is at the top of your pile. The author was embedded with the Marines who formed the "tip of the spear" on the initial engagement. They were trained for a completely different mission and used against type. Through his writing, Wright exposes incompetence among command and a general sense of what could they possibly have been thinking? However, his human portraits of the men in the unit and their commitment despite bad decisions is richly detailed and defined.
Ultimately, Wright argues, the American people have let down the current generation who are fighting in our wars - we sent them away and abandoned them when we turned against the war. Regardless of the reasons for war, we must accept responsibility for the mess we rode a wave of patriotism for. As Slim Charles stated in HBO's epic The Wire: "Whether or not we fight on a lie, we got to fight...We in it now."
Powerful stuff.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Interlude - Whatever happened to Clive Cussler?

In lieu of a regular book review, I decided instead to ask a simple question: What happened to you, Clive Cussler? You used to be so cool, now your books are better used as sun protection on the beach then as beach reads. It did not always go like this; as I posted a little while ago, you've written some of the most fantastically entertaining novels around. Sahara is a personal favourite of mine and has been for a long time. Most of your Dirk Pitt books have been thrilling, adventurous reads that I have torn through with reckless abandon. However, times have certainly changed my old friend. Take for example your most recent "Clive Cussler" Dirk Pitt novel. Most of it, is, in fact written by your son Dirk whom I am sure is a nice fellow. He is not, on the other hand, a novelist of your caliber. The book will go along at a tight pace, then hit a patch which appears to have been written by a slightly imaginative fourth grader. I know you want your son to carry on your legacy Clive, and for sure it is easy money, but your readers deserve better.
Another problem has become the recycling of plots which is not surprising given the fact you are writing five or six ongoing series. All written with collaborators who do not share your prosaic gifts. Clive you used to make the incredible possible and somewhat plausible. Now, you've just given up trying to write semi-three dimensional characters. Let's compare your villians from a couple of books shall we? In Shock Wave (one of your better efforts) the bad guy is played by Arthur Dorsett, a man shrewdly intent on collapsing the diamond industry to propagate his fortune with rare gems. The murderous effects of his mining technology are unintentional but he ultimately views them as necessary to make his profits. In another of your efforts, the first with your son, Black Wind, the villain is named Kang - a man who intends to fire biological weapons at Los Angeles and blame Japan. In order to unify Korea. Okay...
I used to look forward to a new Cussler like I looked forward to Christmas. It was always my favourite book of the year. I tore through them and re-read each with eager anticipation of discovering a new avenue of thought I had previously missed. Now, I glance at them in the bestseller section and wonder who is still putting them there.
The essential Cussler begins at Raise the Titanic and ends with Atlantis Found (barely squeaks through). These 12 books are Cussler writing with imaginative history woven with action. These 12 books are about a man who saves the world...a lot. These 12 books take place before Dirk Pitt's grown children show up, which was a very regrettable plot point.
I read my first Cussler in some time, The Chase and halfway through I realized why I was enjoying it so much: he wrote it solo. No interruptions from other authors. When it ended I was happy he wrote a solid one - off book. Alas, I saw on that he intends to continue working with the character in new adventures, and with a writing partner.
Clive, when did you become the James Patterson of adventure fiction? Please Clive, come back to writing good books that actually make sense. Here's an idea, very hot, very edgy: start at the beginning. Look at all the reinventions of old characters that have breathed life into dying series: Bond, Star Trek, Batman... Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino still have life left in them, and adventures to endure with stoic humor. Maybe you cut back to one book a year and trim some unecessary characters, but at least it will be one book worth reading. Quality Clive, not quantity. I know the money is crazy, but give the fans who wait breathlessly for your work a treat: a Dirk Pitt book just written by Clive Cussler and set in the early 90's. Otherwise you may as well just kill off the character and start over, but please, do it on your own.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Book #8

It is the rare book that entertains as well as it informs but The Stand by Stephen King succeeds where many others have failed. Originally, I bought this book because it seemed like a great travel book: long, heavy, thematic and epic in scope. After looking at it on my shelf for nearly nine months, I could not put it off any longer and reached for it since I have some time this summer. I was not disappointed - in fact I should have started it sooner.
I only recently began reading Stephen King and have enjoyed several other novels he has written including IT which can also rightly be called a masterpiece. However, that said, I have never read a novel that can properly stand up (pardon the pun) to The Stand. It is a post-apocalyptic tale that does not ever really cross into the fantasy realm. The novel is classified as horror fiction and the vision of a world devestated by a superflu is chilling, terrifying and at times downright awful. King has succeed in making the book more than just the simple elements of a great story. There are powerful themes and allegory at work here, in addition to an epic struggle between good and evil (probably the finest yet crafted in print); the writing is fluid and brilliant.
In the course of reading a long novel (this one clocks in at 1141 pages) there are always spots which drag and King had a few...that said, they were countable on one hand (name another thousand page book you can say that about!). King's forte has always been his characters and they are so well drawn here the reader finds themself living in the same, devestated world for the duration.
Yes, the book is long, but remains the most fascinating vision of a world completely destroyed. King's reconstruction of the world and his social commentary are spot on and haunting in their shattering reality.
Bonus: Never has this book been as topical as it is right now with the threat of a major outbreak of H1N1 virus looming next fall. At one point in the novel King mentions swine flu - once again ahead of his time. This is not a simple read, but it is a rewarding one and the pages fly at a clip. One of the rare books I dreaded finishing, as I knew it would probably be some time before I read anything this good again.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Book (s) # 7

The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk are the quintessentially classic American novel. However, simply classifying these books as an American saga undermines the true thematic value and presence the story has in our world. They tell the tale of an epic romance, a world devestated by war, and characters who evolve and measure the ultimate theme the author has staked them too: we must stop war not through fear of war, but through love of peace. Wouk's twin tales are long - get ready to tuck in to two-thousand plus pages - but worth every sentence.
The epic tale is about the Henry family and those who come in and out of their orbit. The family is led by pugnacious navel officer "Pug" Henry; his wayward son Byron; shining star Warren; sister Madeline and mother Rhoda. Other characters cycle through the text particularly Natalie, the great love of Byron and her family Aaron and Berel Jastrow.
The Winds of War covers the rise of war in Europe and concludes dramatically with Pearl Harbor. War and Remembrance works through most of the war in the Pacific contrasted with the Holocaust at Aushwitz and across Europe.
However, that is quite simply, too simple a summary. The level of detail within the text is incredible. The main story is interladen with both commentary from a book by Pug Henry in addition to the memoirs of a fictious German General named Armin von Roon. No battle from the Russian saga to the battle of Guadalcanal is omitted and the details are powerful and illuminating. Fictional characters also interweave with historical ones as Churchill, FDR, Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Goring, Himmler etc. all make appearences. Wouk handles these characters as deftly as the ones he has created and they never seem hokey or placed in the text under any fake pretenses.
However...the true triumph of the novels is in their description of the Holocaust. No book before or since has really captured in such exquisite detail the excrutiating depravity of the Nazi death machine. Not one horrifying moment is spared. The portrayls of the Nazi extermination system are sparse, taut and harrowing. Again, though, there is more than simply meets the eye.
Take, for example, the character of Berel Jastrow. His brother Aaron, while in a concentration camp in Czechslovakia, tells a group of youngsters the tale of Job from the bible. He discusses his opinions on why Job suffered ultimately for the greater good of his people. Berel is the Job of this story. The story of the Nazi extermination of the Jewish people is mostly told through his stunned eyes. His character experiences every significant event in that terrible oddessey and shies away from none of it.
When I was reading this book, it struck me at the end to make the connection between the story told by Aaron and the character of Berel. I went back and reread several pages - keep in mind I had already thoroughly enjoyed the entire fourteen hundred page book - and suddenly the story made sense in a whole new, exhilerating way.
I cannot recommend these books more highly, for years I was told to read them and demurred. When I developed an interest in World War Two I could not put it off any longer. One gets a true sense of the world being ripped apart in these books. The prose is incredible, the sentences are a beautifully constructed ballet that comes together as well as any other novel I have read. In particular, the final sentences and ending are indelible, fascinating and heart-breaking. As we draw farther and farther from the defining war of our lifetimes, it is important to look back and remember. Wouk's message is as powerful today as it was in his time. If you wish to read books which give an overarching illumination of the second world war, these are for you. If you want to read an incredible story of love, triumph and war - these books are for you. In all truth, Wouk was absolutely correct in his assumptions: we cannot stop war through fear of war, but only, truly, through love of peace.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Book #6 + BONUS

Lamb by Christopher Moore is one of those books that catches you off-guard and takes time to be truly appreciated. The premise, is hilarious and simple: the gospel according to Biff, the best friend of Joshua (Jesus to some). One of the interesting approaches that Moore takes is in relying as much as possible in a hysterical comedy of a novel on the truth of the gospel. No one really knows what happened to Jesus from the time he was little boy until the time he was thirty. Suffice it to say in Moore's version: hilarity ensues. On the back one of the tag lines states what if Jesus knew kung-fu? That should get some people to buy the book, but obviously not all.
At this point the book could easily be dismissed as a comedy of errors but it is much more than that. The writing is fluid, deep, engaging and emotional. This story tugs at the heart strings and at the end the soft beauty was evident. This is a touching book, and it is easy to get involved with characters whose names we have heard before in the bible. There is a slow melancholy at work here, and it mixes perfectly with the humor to create a wonderful blend of a novel.
There are others who will dismiss it based upon the whole "blasphemy" thing, but prove to me that this is not how Jesus spent thirty years and we will talk (and no, the bible does not count as "proof").
Highly recommended, and highly readable this story has a little bit of something for everyone. Read, learn and enjoy!
The Bonus:
From time to time, we are struck by something we read because it is so frighteningly powerful it becomes nearly overwhelming. Just last week, I learned something new about a part of the world where a history of brutality is becomming lost in the shadows of time. I was born after 1983 and thus had never really heard about the Khmer Rouge before, as there was really no connection to make. It seems as if that time period is still struggling to be understood by those who were silent witness to the atrocities. The level of brutality has never been connected to the Holocaust or "ethnic cleansing" and I believe we are at a crossroads. Should we continue to hold on to memorys of past atrocities in order to make sure they do not repeat, or should we try and put them past us? I say we can never forget the past because it will inform the future. Despot dictactors continue to exert control but their names are blurring over time - sure, I had heard the name Pol Pot but I never made the connection until I read this article on entitled "Never Forget" by Michael Paterniti. I read magazines now and again, mostly when I am intruiged by five or more of the articles. Gary Smith who writes for SI is my all time favorite magazine writer and had written the best article I had read. Until last week. Yes, this article is that good. It is long, haunting, powerful and really, there are not enough adjectives to do it justice. Go to the website and hit features to read one of the best pieces of literature I have yet come across. Period. If he ever writes a book on the subject, I will be first in line on the first day it comes out. The article pushed me to research and discover new things on the topic. Good articles make you curious; Great articles push you into entirely new territory. "Never Forget" falls into the great catagory. I have a new magazine writer who I will faithfully follow. Read this article, and never forget.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book #5

Darkness Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane is one of those books that grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go until the last, brutal page. I read Mystic River and Shutter Island by Lehane but steered clear of his PI books featuring the team of Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro.
That was a huge mistake.
I love the way Lehane writes, he truly makes you feel as if you are along for a pulse pounding ride with the characters. He writes with such emotion and naked truth that you cannot but glimpse the dark side of life and how it affects his protagonists. This story, like most that he writes, starts with a simple premise that explodes into a twisty landscape one can barely hold on to. Lehane shifts the mysteries within his book with a deft hand and pulls the reader from a confrontation with a mob enforcer to a story of a twisted serial killer looking for revenge against a mob that killed his partner. The twists are breath-taking and the writing elegant. Lehane is a master and this book stands out for me above all else. He examines the worst of us and finds a strange, twisted beauty beneath the darkness. All the Patrick Kenzie books are incredible and he writes few unmemorable bit players. The character Bubba, a childhood friend of the protagonist is an example: he is a psychopathic, homicidal, near-warlord, arms dealer who just happens to like the flawed hero of the story.
This was the book that reignited a love for mysteries I felt I had lost. I tend to have one guy for areas of the US (Pelecanos for DC, Burke for NO) Lehane is, and will always be, my Boston guy.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Book #4

Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr actually comprises the first 3 books of his Berlin Noir trilogy (since expanded to 6 books!) These first three books grab you by the throat and refuse to let go for the entire time you are reading them. In order they are: March Violets (a tale in which intrepid detective Bernie Gunther searches for a missing girl amidst the background of the 1936 Olympics), The Pale Criminal (in which infamous Nazi Reinhard Heydrich brings Bernie back to the police to investigate a murder in 1938) and finally, A German Requiem (which takes place after the war in 1947 with Bernie still struggling to escape the Nazi grip through a shattered Germany and Austria).
These books trace the Nazi arch throughout Europe and, in the next three books of the series South America. What makes these thrillers so fantastic is they are written so beautifully and hauntingly that being drawn in is unavoidable. Philip Kerr mixes humor, with the horrors of the Nazi regime which moves like an inescapable top spinning towards the edge of the table. One of the best things about the books is the way Kerr slowly builds you up and then completely pulls the rug out from under you. His twists are pitch perfect and staggering. Nothing seems out of place, even when Bernie is crossing paths with among others: Herman Goring, Heinrich Mueller, Himmler and Heydrich. He drifts dreamlike amongst the worst of the worst and still comes out seeming to be better than them, even as he frequently drops to their level. Bernie Gunther is a hard nosed detective quick with a quip and his gun. These novels are hard boiled and envoke a range of feelings in the reader. When I finished the second one, centered around the infamous Kristalnacht, I felt almost sick. The third was nearly a spy novel, with Bernie battering between the Americans and Soviets in postwar Europe. The fourth and fifth novels (watch for them in future posts!) were also taut, staggering achievements.
These books combine mystery and history in the best possible way. If you are at all interested in Nazi Germany and like mysteries, READ THIS BOOK! There is also a sixth Bernie Gunther mystery coming out in September, it's already at the top of my "To Buy" list.

Book #3

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson is the rare book which successfully combines history, true accounts, suspense, drama and harrowing survival stories. When I was younger I dreamed of becoming a wreck diver and undersea jack-of-all-trades. However, this book showed exactly what wreck diving - dangers included - is actually like. Suffice it to say, it is not as fun as originally expected. The dangers are at times insurmountable. The plot details the journey of two men - John Chatterton and Richie Kohler - who attempt to discover the truth and identity of a U-Boat discovered off the coast of New Jersey. Slowly, their quest takes over their lives and the lives of several others, ultimately leading three people give their lives in an attempt to discover the truth about the sub. Chatterton and Kohler, once bitter enemines become closer than brothers and find an incredible chemistry under water.
The book is incredibly written, well detailed and a fantastically gripping story. I was recently talking with a friend about the best books we have ever read, we both agreed on Shadow Divers as one of our top three. Another example of how incredible gripping this book is: my grandmother, who has read nearly everything under the sun, wanted me to find the email address of the author so she could send him a note telling him that Shadow Divers was the best book she has ever read...period. Yes, its that good. This is a read-it-at-red-lights kind of book and once you start, you cannot put it down. Without a doubt, this is the best example of what a true account history book can be. Everyone I have given this book to has torn through it and declared the same thing: Five stars, worth the hype, highly recommended.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Book #2

Book #2 is a recent read and I cannot honestly say it was one of the best books I have ever read. However, the first 200 pages came as close to representing my own childhood as I have ever found in print. The lazy summer mornings of bike riding, hanging out with friends and searching out the answers when weird things happened (invented or not). Like the characters in this thriller, I grew up with a group of kids who have remained lifelong friends. Throughout reading this book I continually wondered about how I would have reacted to the circumstances and placed myself into the vivid characterizations. The straight forward plot of this book contains a town which is beset upon by an ancient evil and group of kids who have to come together to fight it. I picked this up because it sounded alot like another book I had recently enjoyed, Stephen King's masterpiece "IT" (more about that book in a future post). I figured it would be generic and very similiar and could not have been more wrong. It was entertaining for all 600 pages but sort of fell apart at the end. While the conclusion was touching, it was a tad unrealistic and seemed hollow at times. However, that will not stop me from recommending this book to those who want to recapture small town summers of their youth. A fantastic book, terrifying at times and overall a great accomplishment of rememberance and terror. Simmons expertly captures the essence of why, deep down, we are all scared of the dark, even in the dead of sticky, hot summer nights.


In the last little while I have posted more infrequently than Steve Nash on Dwight Howard. A grevious lack of time is the only excuse I can offer. Perhaps I took on too much, or perhaps I just did not have a wonderful flow of ideas I expected to. Well, in any event I am going to try and post at least once a week with an "AWESOME BOOK" of the week which I will review and write about. These will be books I have read over the course of my life and enjoyed in one way or another. Just a note about my reading habits in case anyone worries they are being left out: I read non-fiction true accounts, history, mystery, thrillers and some horror. I apologize if those are not really your cup of tea...without further ado, here is book #1.

Sahara by Clive Cussler

I decided to start off with a book which hooked me on reading. Now, Clive Cussler does not write the most "realistic" fiction but this book is a staggering achievement. His hero of over twenty thrillers, Dirk Pitt faces just about everything the world can throw at him in this rip-roaring page turner. This is the definition of what a novel should be. It is well written, contains characters who are more than just stock "good guys" and "villians" and at times the suspense is gut wrenching. A quick summary: A red tide out of Africa is threatening to decimate the world's population, Dirk Pitt and longtime confederates Rudy Gunn and Al Giordino agree to ride up a river into Mali and the source of the outbreak. Along the way they have a few run ins with corrupt African dictators, one of the best imagined war standoffs in novel history and a heart shattering conclusion. If you need a beach read, grab this book. It takes you by the throat and refuses to let go for five hundred plus pages. Many will know Clive Cussler only by the moderately entertaining mass market novels he "co-writes" but this way Cussler in his heyday. This book has something for everyone - a love story, action, heroism and a scene in which the intrepid heroes walk across the blazing Sahara desert. Truly, this among all the other novels he wrote remains the gold standard of Dirk Pitt novels. Highly, highly recommended. I was once asked what one novel I would take to a desert island: this is it.