Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Anticipated of 2010

Here now are some of the books I am eagerly awaiting in 2010...
1) Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
Why: Supposedly thirty years in the making, this could end up being the novel about Vietnam. A very important story for the next generation, in order to help them make some sense of the conflicts in which we are currently entangled.
2) If the Dead Rise Not by Philip Kerr
Why: A new Kerr book about Bernie Gunther is like a visit from Santa Claus - you know you are going to get a deep story that will spin you around like a top before you finish. After you turn the final page it will haunt you far beyond.
3) Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
Why: This one was a bit of a surprise - I read a review of it that singular work that has a chance to become the novel of the next ten years. A state of the world kind of book that intermarries everything from the coming of age story of one boy with string theory and the economic recession.
4) The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick
Why: It has been many years since Philbrick's fantastic last book (Mayflower) and he will continue to entertain and enlighten readers to previously misunderstood moments in American history. This time he tackles Custler v. Sitting Bull, sure to be a grand history none of us will forget again.
5) War by Sebastian Junger
Why: Junger has written some great true accounts and now he takes on one of the best topics around - the troops in Afghanistan. This book has the potential to rival Generation Kill.

6) Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane
Why: Lehane returns for one final visit with his intrepid (and twisted) Boston PI duo of Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. This book is sixth in the series and works as a direct sequel to Gone Baby Gone and should re-establish Lehane as the master of modern noir. Welcome back Dennis, we have missed you.
7) The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke
Why: Returning to his stand-by character Dave Robicheaux for the first time since his haunting Swan Peak, Burke is sure to have written on of the best books of the year. This time, he puts Robicheaux back in New Orleans to solve a series of grisly murders, this one will be memorable, atmospheric and powerful - what more could a reader ask for?

Book #22

In honour of "Irish Christmas" this week, I decided to review the best book by my favorite Irish author: Ken Bruen. If you have never read Bruen, you are in for a treat; he writes dark, lyrical, crime poetry. If those things seem to clash, and trust me - they do, it is all for the better. His books are a breakneck jaunt through a tormented, post IRA Ireland as seen through the eyes of his intrepid hero Jack Taylor. Taylor, a book-loving, drunk, former police officer, solves crimes as Ireland's version of a PI: in between totally destroying his life with drink and horrible deeds.
The books are sparse and the writing lyrically beautiful. Bruen does not waste a single word.
In The Killing of the Tinkers Taylor is asked by an outcast gypsy community to figure out who is brutally murdering their residents. He finds acceptance amongst them, destroys it, then lays the path for a staggering twist that gets him deeply indebted to the local crime chieftan. While reading this book, it is difficult to find time to exhale - let alone draw breath. It is a fast and furious read that can be demolished in a couple of days. Bruen's books may be lightweight when it comes to word count but are deep on meaning (the man has been nominated multiple times for the Edgar Award).
Bruen's take on Irish Noir has catapulted him to the top of the crime writers stratosphere and he has written seven Jack Taylor books thus far, each driving deeper and and deeper into the darkness of modern Ireland.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Book #21

Mario Puzo's epic The Godfather is a true classic in every sense. To this day it remains a vivid, powerful saga that reflects cultural values and the idolization of the American dream. The story is rich and complex, full of well drawn characters who jump off the page through their savage acts of moralistic depravity. The Godfather, the Don of New York is the undisputed mafia kingpin but has trouble on the horizon. Other families have allied against him and a protracted war has begun. Into the fray come the Don's sons - Santino "Sonny", Fredo and Michael. Both Sonny and Fredo work with the Don, but Michael has chosen his own path away from the family business. However, the brutal shooting of his father changes everything for young Michael.
Here the phrase - "Godfather-like descent into evil" is born. Michael does not simply become a Don: he becomes the Don. Turns out, the kid is capable of doing very bad things in the name of legitimizing the family business. He takes over and his story begins a deep arc into a place from which he cannot return.
There is more to it than that, and some people point to the fantastic movie adaption as proof they know what it is all about. The movie, while great, is nowhere near as deep and thoughtful as the book. Puzo's journey through the heart of darkness and his illumination on the lives of the characters is fascinating. His short, direct prose elegantly captures the world he is writing about and fits hand in hand with his overarching plot.
The Godfather is a seminal work in fiction, and deserves not only to be read over and over again, but also to be deeply studied and comtemplated. A masterpiece that could not come more highly recommended.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Book #20

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is one text which caught me off guard. There was a lot of hype about this novel and I was not sure it could possibly live up to it. I was shocked to discover not only did the book match the hype, it blew it clean away.
Zusak has crafted a delicate and beautiful story set amongst the worst atrocities in our history. The main character is a young girl named Liesel whose father changes her life when he gives her a book called "The Grave Diggers Handbook". She becomes obsessed with reading to escape the brutality of the world around her. After the death of her mother and brother, young Liesel is sent to live with relatives she barely knows who ask her to keep the most dangerous of secrets - they are harboring a hidden Jewish man in Nazi Germany during the depths of the war.
The bond Liesel forms with other characters is poignant and wonderfully written. Yet, the most brilliant part of the book is that, quite simply, the reader knows what ultimate tragedy is on the horizon. How, you may ask, does the reader know? The entire story is narrated by Death - a weary, worn out traveller who has seen enough horror to last him an eternity. Death tells us he meets Liesel three times in her life and each time, tragedy has befallen her.
Yet, when those moments of anguish come for Liesel, they are moving and so shattering that the effect on the reader is not diminished in the slightest by the foreshadowing. In fact, the final twist is so gut-wrenching, harrowing and powerful the reader may have a hard time making it through. Yet, there are moments of brightness which cut through the gloom and some of the supporting characters are fantastically drawn and totally hilarious.
This is a story about the power of human strength, and how we can draw on our resources at unexpected times. It is also a story of tragedy and death, and the evil humanity is capable of. This is a story I cannot recommend more highly.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Banned Books vs. Religous "Types"*

For as long as there have been books, some religious "types"* (to discover what the * means, scroll down to the end) have sought to ban them. Their reasons are varied, but mostly come down to "in the bible or not / not awesome in the bible". One set of books widely critisized by various religious "organizations" is the Harry Potter series. Yet, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why? How could a book series - second in popularity only to the bible - that got hundreds of millions of children reading, possible be on the "hit list"? Various...and serious reasons, according to religious "types". Firstly, it contains witches, wizards, warlocks and all manner of supernatural creatures which are not looked upon kindly in that ol'sleepin aid - Secondly, some have argued the main character - himself, a wizard! - lacks a moral journey and progression through the books. Harry, evidently, missed out on the type of moral gravity that made the magic filled Chronicles of Narnia just dandy with the church.
Well, religious "types", prepare to be shock and awed: your arguments may be a little skewed.
First of all, have you read the bible? God is essentially a pretty powerful wizard throughout, conjuring up all kinds of crazy magic / plagues to help / smite (okay, mostly smite) various god-fearing folk. There are more fantasy elements on one page of the bible then in the entire Harry Potter series - seriously, cover to cover? People frequently live pretty amazing lifespans (hmmmm? I sense wizards at work...) and that garden of eden with its "tree of knowledge", sounds a little too sci-fi for my liking.
Secondly, to argue that Harry Potter does not go on a moral journey is incredibly flawed - but then again, you never took the time to read the series before passing summary judgement and banning it. (Editors note: Good thing religious "types" don't pass summary judgement very often!)
How can a story about a chosen one growing up to fight the ultimate evil not have a moral heart? Harry Potter, for the record, is dripping with more religious allegory than any good versus evil story has a dedicated right to: His character chooses to sacrifice himself for the redemption and survival of all his kind. Hmmm...sound like anyone you relgious "types" know?
I am willing to bet you would argue vehemently Jesus went on a "moral journey", yet you won't even concede the kid written in his image did the same? I must say, you religious "types" are sending out some mixed signals here.**
However, one of the largest mistakes you can make is to ban books, any books - specifically this series. If kids get super excited about reading good and evil stories, how long will it be before they turn to your "bible" for entertainment and not just because you force them to? Now, I am not the biggest Harry Potter fan in the world, but the books are entertaining and whatever gets children to read is awesome in my book - if not yours?
So when your (long-con pulling) religious "type" leaders, tell you what books not to read, ask them to give you a reason that actually makes sense. They can't? Interesting...
(* any time I write "types" I actually mean "nuts" - seriously, the picture of those two dudes at the top of the page was found on google by searching "religious nuts" under images)
(** I could have chosen more than a dozen examples but this one still remains the most ironic for me)