Another blog about books that have recently made their way through my long and varied reading list. These aren’t really reviews. Just short snapshots of what the books are about, and maybe a nugget or two about my reaction to them. If you’re a big reader, maybe you will find them useful.
Also: It’s a way to pimp my own book. So fair warning…..
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling: This (believe or not) is the first Harry Potter book I’ve read, more than two decades after the series first took the world by storm. My wife, a big sci-fi fan, completed the whole series probably a dozen years ago. She would snatch the latest edition up when it first came out and have it completed within the week. Our oldest daughter has begun reading the series, so I decided to take it up as well.
So, what to say about Harry Potter that hasn’t been repeated a thousand times before? One thing I came away with is how assured Rowling’s writing was, even as a then-unknown author struggling to make ends meet. You get the sense that she knew she had something special on her hands, and that it might break big with a little luck. The rest, as they say, is herstory. This first installment has to get much of the backstory out of the way and introduce all the characters, so you have to wade through all that. But then it kicks into a higher gear during the second half, when the plot takes you into a phantasmal world of witches, ghosts, elves, beasts, dark forces and quidditch.
Nam, Mark Baker: I found this old, out-of-print 1983 volume in a used bookstore and decided to grab it because I’ve always been a sucker for Vietnam War books. In this non-fiction account of that long and ridiculous affair, the author lets U.S. veterans take the reins by giving firsthand accounts of their experiences. It is broken down into chapters that take the reader from basic training to battle and then back home. It provides a pretty brutal account of just how cruel and inhuman the war was. Veterans talk matter-of-factly about some of the horrific things they did in Vietnam, such as slaughtering women and children they suspected of being agents for the communist-backed North Vietnamese Army. The more I read, the less I wanted to read, though I managed to press forward to the end – albeit skipping some of the darker passages. I suppose it provides some hard lessons about the horrors of war. But it’s a very disturbing read.
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene: Every few years I find myself picking up a book by Graham Greene, the celebrated British author who specialized in thrillers from exotic locales, often with a political bent. This 1940 novel is one of his more famous works. It is set in Mexico and tells the story of a renegade priest who drinks too much, questions his faith, and has to stay undercover during a period when the Mexican government tried to suppress the Catholic Church – a policy that led to the late-1920s Cristero War. The book has a lot to say about faith, government and corruption, all wrapped in a tense plot with many rich characters and Greene’s usual cynicism about the human condition. I’d recommend it whether you’re a lover of political thrillers or just like to read good writing.
The Chill, Ross MacDonald: MacDonald is the author of the Lew Archer private eye books, one of my favorite detective series from the 1950s and 60s. Archer works out of Los Angeles, a city teeming with noir crime possibilities. This installment, No. 11 in the series, involves a troubled young dude named Alex Kincaid, whose bride Dolly suddenly disappears. He hires Archer to help find her. Archer succeeds pretty quickly, only to learn that Dolly might have had a hand in a couple of murders, including one in Chicago. The mystery only deepens at this point. Saying too much would give it away.
Every Man a Menace, Patrick Hoffman: Here’s an unconventional crime thriller in which certain main characters die pretty early on (no, that’s not giving too much away). It involves a shipment of MDMA to San Francisco, with action taking place there, southeast Asia, and Miami. The book, released in 2016, is full of shady characters doing bad things, and keeps you pretty much on the edge of your seat throughout. Catnip for crime fiction freaks like me.
Voodoo Hideaway, Vance Cariaga. What a thrilling, magnificent read this is. In this novel, the author reinvents the crime fiction genre, bringing an extra dimension to a noirish tale of a homeless man who stumbles through a mysterious door one night and finds himself caught up in a deadly money scheme between a brilliant scientist, a wicked nightclub manager, a beautiful jazz singer, and a mobster on the lam. The reader is taken on a mad journey through a world of greed, deception, revenge and vanity, with plenty of blind alleys, sudden twists and dark humor along the way. Just when you think you’ve got the story figured out, it tosses you a curveball.
Here’s how to order it: