The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
A bittersweet fictional memoir from the POV of a dog. Some people found the POV of the dog annoying, but I didn’t think so. That may be because I’ve read so many “talking animal” novels I’m used to it. The ending is satisfying. But this wasn’t as unforgettable a book as people are making it out to be. Some are like “it changed my life”, but I thought “it’s just another one on the pile”.
In this book, you learn a lot about racing. I have to admit it made me appreciate the nuances of the Daytona 500 and Cars as an actual sport instead of a gas-guzzling waste of money and environment. Not that it’s turned me onto the activity, but at least now I know it’s more than rednecks watching car crashes.
The problem is there is a LOT of racing and if you’re not into the sport, you won’t get much out of at least half the book. It’s not like it’s really part of the story–it’s meditations on the subtleties of racing, the zen of motorsports if you will (I kept thinking this book was called Zen and the Art of Racing in the Rain).
The other part of the story, which hardly relates to the first, is a family drama. Short version is that the mean old in-laws are trying to take away his kid after wife dies. At times I thought the antagonist’s actions were pretty cliche–the main plot feels like a Lifetime movie called “Not Without My Daughter” (which I think is the title of half of all Lifetime movies — how do they make so many with the same plot? Sorry, I’m digressing).
I think if you’re a cynic or keep a generally negative outview on life, you won’t get much out of this book. But if you’re the type that loves animal stories and cried during Milo & Otis, you will.
The Hidden Goddess (Veneficas Americana #2) by M.K. Hobson
This is the second book in the “The Native Star” series, the first of which I read way way back when I was first starting the blog. I didn’t stop because I forgot all the characters, I stopped because so damn little happened. It didn’t help that I barely remembered the first book, but it wasn’t the reason. The reason was that after fifty pages no events of note had happened. Again, there was a prologue that had no reason to be there except bringing “up” the lackluster beginning. It was all setup and establishment and exposition and events happening to characters that are supposed to provide foreshadowing and foreboding, but when I have no context for the characters or consequences, it’s all meaningless.
A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
I really loved Lamb, so I decided to try the next most popular book by this author. But honestly, it got pretty boring in the middle of it. It’s advertised as a story about a man becoming the grim reaper, but he doesn’t do that much reaping. Various unusual things happen to him in the course of the novel, like his daughter seems to be the spawn of Satan and is followed around by two hellhounds that won’t get out of the tub without her. It’s not as funny or as good as “Lamb”.
I feel like it’s trying to be Good Omens, but it lacks the talent and imagination of a veteran writer. And the talk about Beta males falls flat in this current age of Weinsteins and Men’s Rights Activists and GamerGate and everyone being called a cuck. That’s the problem with humor books–the reach tends to exceed the grasp. You don’t have the benefit of timing. If Good Omens is an epic novel, A Dirty Job is a sitcom. From the 90’s (which is better than the 2000s but not as good as the 1980s).
Kill the Dead (Sandman Slim #2) by Richard Kadrey
Another attempt to read the second book in a series I started a long long time ago. And another case of too much exposition and not enough happening. Just because it’s a sequel, people, doesn’t mean nothing has to happen. It still needs a plot, still needs a catalyst to start the plot. The first 25% is all updates on what characters from the first book are doing now, like it’s an e-mail newsletter or a VH1 Behind the Music. It was like he was writing slices of life and forgot to start the story.
The style is still fantastic. I loved Butcher Bird and the first Sandman Slim book. The sequence of events is always go-go-go, but I needed a main quest to keep me anchored, and being a bodyguard to the devil as he does a Hollywood premiere is not it (it seems a step down from the last novel, didn’t he save the world in that one?).
It kept me going but it could not hold me long enough to get to the plot. Maybe it’s because I’m not into hell demons and black magic anymore. Dark urban fantasy does not cross my “to-read” list very often.
The 13 Clocks by James Thurber
Well, that book certainly was… something. It’s heavy on style, light on plot. Is it fantasy? Is it a fairy tale? Is it slipstream? I don’t know. I guess it’s like Gabriel Garcia Marquez for kids — fantasy realism. I didn’t see what made it a classic. The cover made me think it was going to be more like a Hardy Boys mystery, but I shouldn’t judge by what I expected, only by what I got. And what I got was an extended fairy tale. I guess it’s a little like The Last Unicorn or Howl’s Moving Castle with that tongue-in-cheek satire going on.
Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentleman Bastards #2) by Scott Lynch
Ah, finally we’ve got a real sequel, not a bunch of meandering “slice of life” events after the first book. This one has some real events, some real goals. And it’s just as good as the first.
Now keep in mind, you are not going to get the same as the first. The first was a heist story set in a fantasy world with awesome characters. This one still has the awesome characters, and there’s still some light heisting and thievery, but the majority of the story is pirates. Also keep in mind, you are not going to get the pirates right away. There has to be a tailing off from the last novel to this one.
But at its most basic, the plot is like “Avatar” or “Dances with Wolves”, where our two heroes are forced into piracy (yes, they’re blackmailed into becoming pirates. If only all of us could receive such a curse) and grow to love the lifestyle.
It’s actually all pretty awesome, and it doesn’t fall into second book syndrome. I don’t understand anyone who wouldn’t like this book, unless they’re absolutely adamant that they should receive the first book again with a different cover. But to those people, I say if you want the first book, read the first book again. No story is exactly like another. Not even if the same author were to rewrite it. Besides, you get a cool new world, cool new characters, and a cool new plot to go through. Why are you complaining?
Will you enjoy it just as much as the first? I had a little trouble in the beginning, because it seemed like a lot of setting up dominoes (although it’s all done with that same style) and the end knocks them down too quickly. But this is a rare book where you come for the middle. Especially if you love Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
Swim the Fly by Don Calame
The plot is like a combination of Milk Money (a horrible movie in which cusp-of-puberty kids hire a prostitute to teach them about sex) and American Pie, with some The Sandlot thrown in. This summer, three boys decide that their mission in life is to see a naked girl. Not just on the Internet, but in real life (picky, picky). In the meantime, our main character has accidentally (to impress a girl) volunteered to the be the butterfly swimmer for their swim team (hence the title).
It sounds like it’s another case of misogynist teenagers treating women as a prize to be won, but it’s not like that. It’s wonderful, funny, and heartwarming. And it doesn’t take itself too seriously–it knows its premise is, er, problematic, but has ways around that so that our heroes learn that women aren’t just to gawk at. If nothing else, it’s a nice break from all the YA about apocalypses and dystopias. It reminded me a little of Superbad, but not as raunchy.
The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim
Okay, this needs a bit of explanation. So this has been on the desk of my tech lead for some time. I don’t know if he’s reading it or not, but I wanted to make a good impression/be like him. When I looked it up, I was intrigued–it’s a non-fiction informational book wrapped into a fiction novel. What a novel idea! (Pardon the pun.) Why doesn’t everybody do this–put your education into an entertaining novel instead of a dusty old textbook. Hell, maybe this could be my avenue into publishing!
So what is it like? It’s heavy on the education and material, light on the novel part. That doesn’t mean it’s bad–I was entertained and learning at the same time. There’s a lot of mentor/mentee type dialogue, as one might expect, as the smart people who know the material impart it onto the harebrained. But it’s in a conversational way, not a lecture.
You end up rooting for the guy, trying to learn the better way to deliver products in IT. On the other hand, if you’re not part of this industry, not even a little bit, you won’t remotely get anything out of it. It kind of expects you to be in the IT industry already. Secretaries and teachers need not apply. If you’ve never dealt with a server crash at three in the morning, then these are not problems you need to worry about.
On the other hand, if you ARE that kind of person, and especially if you’re on a management track, you’ll definitely want to pick it up. Who wants to read another dull IT management book when you could be reading a story?
Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky
First things first, this is written by the same author as The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a coming-of-age novel that changed my life. This book is NOT LIKE THAT BOOK. If you are coming for more Perks, you are looking in the wrong place.
Second things second, do you remember the episode of Futurama where Beck has a concert and he’s like:
This appears to be how the book was written. “I usually don’t write a 750 page book, but I got into a serious thing. And then I didn’t know how to end it so I just kept writing.”
Okay, all joking aside. This is a horror story in the vein of Stephen King. It seems to be Donnie Darko meets The Tommyknockers (which is not his best work). It’s got all the earmarks–bullies, alcoholism, kids in danger, supernatural stuff that never gets an explanation, overwriting. This is not what I was expecting, but I can dig it. I like Stephen King, I like horror, it’s October, throw it at me.
Here are some words I would use to describe the book: boring, suspenseful, drawn-out, simplistic, unnecessarily long, unsatisfying. The biggest problem is that you cannot draw out the same emotion over 100 chapters. There has to be breaks. There has to be up and downs. Every chapter, there’s trying to be some kind of gasp but it’s gasp after gasp after gasp and you get burnt out after a while (the fact that it’s so long doesn’t help). The style is remarkably simple. Really short sentences. You’d be amazed how the guy got so many pages out of a style like this. The first 30-45% entertained me, but the remaining felt like “How am I going to write myself out of this corner? I’ll make a new corner.”
Then there are so many corners the plot becomes repetitious nonsensical, not the least because there’s no explanation for anything. The character motivations get muddled. It goes in a direction where it becomes more “The Stand” than “It” and it’s not earned.
I’m disappointed. I waited twenty years for Chbosky’s next work, and I got a Dean Koontz knock-off. This book is going to go into the paperback section of the supermarket, like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One versus Armada.
Embrace Your Weird: Face Your Fears and Unleash Creativity by Felicia Day
So I was expecting (hoping for) a book that would help me with writing, but would be more generally focused on creativity in general — art, literature, film-making, sewing, puppets, acting, and so on. But it feels more like a self-help book for creatives. There’s a large portion of it about “defeating your enemies” (feelings of anxiety, perfectionism, outward critics, etc.) and “embracing your friends” (mentors, role models, etc.).
It didn’t help me as much as Neil Gaiman’s master class or Brandon Sanderson’s lectures did, but it’s still an entertaining read. I really liked Felicia Day’s memoir and this has the same funny, quirky style of writing. So even if you’re not creative, you can get something out of it (although you’ll probably think it’s a touch hippy-dippy). If you’re wondering if you should get a paper or e-copy, get the paper. There are “activities” to do inside that are not so easy to do in a Kindle. Even if you’re using a separate sheet of paper.
Misery by Stephen King
It starts out a little unfocused. If I hadn’t seen the movie and known that it starts with a car crash, I would have thought it too abstract and maybe put the book down. As I read further, I got the sense that the movie would end up being better. It’s hard to dismiss the performance of Kathy Bates, the only actor to win an oscar for a Stephen King work. I mean, just the test of time proves me right. When you remember Misery, do you picture the book or the movie? Now play the same game with Cujo.
Anyway, back to the book. I finished it surprisingly fast for a King doorstopper. I find myself having a hard time writing a review for it though. I’ve read so much King that the horror works tend to blur together. If it’s not a bipolar nurse, it’s a bloodthirsty car. If it’s not a bloodthirsty car, it’s a psychotic father in a hotel. I’m not saying this book is the same as all his other works. I just mean the movie cuts out the filler. There’s no point to put in the chapters of the novel that the author is writing. No reason for the book inside the book–it doesn’t help move the story along. I guess it’s one of those books that is above the 50th percentile, but nowhere near the great ones, like James K. Polk.