The Reading List, No. 6: Yuletide Edition

Here’s another blog about books that have recently made their way down my chimney and into my stocking, hung with care. 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 Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling: The second novel in the series, in which we find the young wizard in his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A series of messages suddenly appear on the walls of the school’s corridors, warning that the “Chamber of Secrets” has been opened and that the “heir of Slytherin” would kill all students who do not come from all-magical families. These threats are found after attacks that leave residents of the school petrified! Throughout the year, Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione investigate the attacks.

I stole that description pretty much verbatim from Wikipedia, because I hate recounting complex book plots.

As noted in an earlier blog, I began reading this series because our oldest daughter began reading it, and I wanted to share some of her interests. Now she is on book four and I have not advanced past book two, because I learned that she, like most kids approaching their teen years, does not have a massive desire to discuss her interests with her Dad. Which is fine; I, too, was once a tweener. This book takes a slightly darker turn than the first book, maybe because Rowling doesn’t have to spend as much time setting up the various backstories. It’s an engaging read for all ages, as long as you enjoy fantasy and witchery and all that. Not being the biggest fantasy fan, I’m not sure how much longer I will press forward with Young Mister Potter. But I can see why Harry Potter has become an international money-printing franchise with millions of fans.

Later, Stephen King: Stephen King is like the ham sandwich of American fiction. Whenever I’m not sure what I want to read, I’ll just buy one of his books, because I know I’ll probably enjoy it to some degree, just like I always enjoy a ham sandwich to some degree. This is a new novel published in March by Hard Case Crime, one of my favorite imprints because of its focus on classic crime noir fiction. I finished Later a couple months ago, and I’m going to try and remember it without peeking. It’s a kind of combo crime novel/coming of age tale whose narrator is a fellow from a working-class part of New York City. The title comes from the narrator’s tendency to write, “But that happened later,”  a clever hook that keeps the reader turning the pages. There is some kind of crime involved. His mother plays some kind of major role. It was a mildly interesting story that I frankly don’t remember much more about right now. It was a good enough ham sandwich. That’s all I can tell you.

Doomsday Clock, Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Brad Anderson: This graphic novel, first published in 2018, combines two of the comic book world’s biggest franchises: Watchmen, and the DC Universe. Watchmen is the name of Alan Moore’s groundbreaking graphic novel series from 1985-86 that took place in an alternate reality where superheroes have fallen from grace, and the world has gone slightly mad. DC Universe, of course, is home to Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and lesser lights. Doomsday Clock features those characters, as well as Watchmen mainstays Adrian Veidt, The Comedian, Doctor Manhattan, and the ever-mesmerizing Rorschach (or is it?). If you’ve never read Watchmen, and you’re not a fan of comics, then those names might not mean much, and you’ve probably moved on from this review by now. But if this is your kind of thing: Doomsday Clock is not nearly as epic or compelling as Watchmen – what could be? – but it’s still a fun read full of dystopian nightmares, dysfunctional characters, bloodshed, paranoia, morality clashes, political statements, and humorous sendups of putzes like Putin and Trump. Perfect for the era.

The Roads to Sata, Alan Booth: The sometimes hilarious, sometimes exhausting account of one Englishman’s journey through Japan, on foot. In 1977, Booth walked the full 2,000 miles from Cape Sōya, the northernmost point of Japan, to Sata, the southernmost point of the country’s main island. He wrote about the experience in the ensuing years and published this book in 1985 to great fanfare. Booth, who died in 1993, had a journalist’s eye for description, never more so than when chronicling his encounters with people along the road. He mainly stuck to rural paths and small villages, preferring those to the dense cities he clearly hated. Many of the Japanese he ran into had never seen a white man before, and were alternately fascinated and repulsed by this tall, light-skinned gent who spoke fluent Japanese and refused all offers to ride in their cars.

Booth walked at least 30 kilometers a day, through all kinds of weather, and spent most of his nights in traditional Japanese inns called ryokans, which provided a basic bed and food. Many Japanese assumed he was American, which got on his nerves. Many asked him a series of probing questions about his ethnic exotica, which also got on his nerves. Beer helped him get through the journey, along with the occasional interesting conversation with the locals. The writing is elegant and witty, and as a travelogue, this is still a valuable resource. But there are stretches when the material begins to sound the same, and it takes true dedication to grind your way to the finish line.

Little Green, Walter Mosely: This is the 12th book in the series of Easy Rawlins novels, which tracks the lead character’s life in south central Los Angeles from the 1950s onward. Rawlins is a black private eye of sorts who gets hired to solve problems for the locals, or peek into things that need peeking into. The series acts as both traditional hard-boiled detective fiction as well as social commentary on the racial, political, and cultural forces that engulfed L.A. during the latter half of the 20th century. It was one of my favorite crime series in the 1990s and 2000s – all the way up until Blonde Faith (each of the titles features a color), a book that was as bad as the others were good. It was as if Mosely had grown bored with the series, decided to phone one more book in, and call it a day by maybe killing Easy Rawlins off in a ridiculous finale.

But no! (Spoiler alert): Easy miraculously survived the car crash, and the series continued! Anyway, Little Green, published in 2013 and set during the 1967 Summer of Love, begins with Easy waking up from a coma and discovering that he’s alive (he’s pretty sure). His badass buddy Mouse makes an early appearance and gets Easy to look into the disappearance of a young man named Evander Noon, aka “Little Green.” Easy’s search takes him to the Sunset Strip counterculture, where trouble lurks. A pretty young hippie chick beds him down and helps point him to where Little Green might be hiding out. (On a side note: Easy Rawlins, like most American private eyes, still scores with women half his age even though he’s a balding, middle aged man with a bulging gut. Go figger). This book isn’t as good as some of the earlier Easy Rawlins novels, but it’s pretty good, and that’s good news for fans of the series.

Take A Girl Like You, Kingsley Amis: This is one of those British gabfests in which the characters spend pages and pages chatting about this and that (usually sex), and do so with that special English mix of surface politeness and underlying venom. The story follows the exploits of Jenny, a pretty young schoolteacher from the north of England who moves south to teach in a town full of horny older men who keep hitting on her. One of those horny men, Patrick, is a handsome and randy university professor who apparently boinks any woman he wants. The novel, published in 1963, has a certain boozy, Rat Pack-era vibe whose take on gender roles hasn’t aged well. The plot, such as it is, mainly centers on whether Patrick will deflower Jenny, who’s still a virgin at 20 years old. There are (fleeting) moments of tenderness, punctuated by outright hilarity, and Kingsley Amis – father of Martin, another famous and famously acerbic British author – had a brilliant ear for dialogue. But he could have told this tale in half the pages.

Voodoo Hideaway, Vance Cariaga. What better Christmas gift than this thrilling debut novel, in which 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:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Book Depository

Atmosphere Press

Indiebound

Waterstones

Oh, and Happy Holidays to all!

2 Comments

  1. Admittedly, I’ve been pretty poor on the side of reading fiction in recent years. Your book was one of two I’ve completed this year (the other being Matt Haig’s “The Midnight Library”). I highly, highly recommend both 😊.

    Like

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