Friday, October 02, 2009

Books Read September

The Long Goodbye (1953), Farewell My Lovely (1940) - Raymond Chandler

I hadn’t read any Chandler since reading The Big Sleep a few years ago, so taking on two of his novels was a real treat. The Chandler imitators are a dime a dozen, but nobody captures the spirit of hardboiled like Chandler when he’s penning Philip Marlowe tales. Marlowe is a tough, hard-drinking thinker of a private detective getting involved in cases that have no tidy solutions, mostly because, beneath his jaded hard shell, he is a moral man who can’t help but at least try to do the right thing, even at a cost to himself. I love everything about these novels: the gritty L.A. atmosphere, the 1940s and 1950s feel, the language, the femme fatales, everything.

Life As We Knew It (YA 2008) - Susan Beth Pfeffer

(This is one of the ten books I’m reading for Books for the Beast [hereafter referred to as BFTB], an upcoming conference on Young Adult literature.)

I have some problems with Life As We Knew It. The action that gets the story moving involves science. That science is essential to the novel’s premise and while I’m not a scientist, I have researched the premise and think Pfeffer’s premise is, if not wrong, at least weak.

As the book opens, the teenage narrator Miranda tells us (from her diary, a novel format I don’t like to begin with) that the moon was struck by an asteroid and thus moved closer to the earth, creating most of the problems detailed in the rest of the book. From what I could find, such an event is possible in theory, but for any object to have sufficient force to move the moon, it would have to at least equal the moon’s mass. Since the moon is at least 100X larger than the largest known asteroid, Pfeffer’s premise is weak at best. (Dr. Phil, please feel free to provide your expertise on this topic!)

This brings me to my second problem with the book: According to Miranda, the media was all over this event prior to its happening, but no one (especially the scientific community) warned of any potential danger associated with the asteroid striking the moon. Seems unlikely that they would say nothing.

I also felt that Miranda acted like a 12-year-old throughout the book, and not a 16 or 17-year-old. I will say, however, that some of the scenes of what life would be like after such a cataclysmic event are quite effective. Maybe I’m just the wrong audience.

The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership (NF 2009) - Bill Walsh with Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh

Thoughts previously published here.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (NF 2005) - Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell is always thought-provoking and is also an engaging reader, which is why I listened to this audiobook again after having heard it two years ago. Very interesting stuff.

World of Faith and Freedom: Why International Religious Liberty is Vital to American National Security (NF 2008) - Thomas F. Farr

The concepts of democracy and religious liberty are closely tied to our nation’s history, yet the State Department has largely left religion out in matters of U.S. foreign policy. Veteran State Department officer Thomas F. Farr’s book explains why and argues that religious freedom should be an indispensable element of our foreign policy.

The Siege (2009) - Stephen White

I’d never read anything by White before now, but I may keep reading him on the basis of this one. The action takes place at Yale, where someone is holding an unknown number of students inside the building of one of the university’s secret societies. At various intervals, prisoners are released to deliver messages from their captor, messages which are sometimes confusing, sometimes deadly.

Ravens (2009) - George Dawes Green

When a Georgia family wins over $300 million in the lottery, two low-life drifters try to cash in on the winnings by holding members of the family hostage. It seems a lot of reviewers have dismissed Ravens as out-of-control, over the top and simply unbelievable. I think it’s one of the most revealing looks at the culture of greed and, oddly enough, how the Stockholm Syndrome works. (Check out the book trailer on Amazon.)

Unwind (YA 2007) - Neal Shusterman

Thoughts here.

Slammer (2009) - Allan Guthrie

Some people seem to gravitate to the jobs they're least suited for. That's certainly true of Nicholas Glass, a young rookie guard in a Scottish prison for violent offenders. Nick is indecisive, awkward, non-assertive and tentative - attributes that can get you into serious trouble in a prison, especially one like "The Hilton."

It's not long before both the inmates and Nick's co-workers size him up. They can smell fear on a man and it's all over Nick. Yet all Nick wants to do is hold onto the job so he can provide a decent life for his wife and young daughter.

Taunting by both colleagues and inmates escalates until Nick is pushed into a corner faced with a decision: unless he helps a group of inmates, someone on the outside will kill Nick's family.

Guthrie's premise is familiar, but how he handles and develops it is far from routine. Slammer is not only a full-throttle thriller filled with hard-boiled violence, it's also a commentary on what is true, what is false, and the ways we try to convince ourselves we know the difference. A lightning-quick read not for the squeamish or faint of heart.

Wake (YA 2008) - Lisa McCann (BFTB)

This story of how Janie, a 17-year-old gets sucked inside other people’s dreams is a nice concept, but sketchy on background and character.

The Sacredness of Questioning Everything (NF 2009) - David Dark

Nobody writes on Christianity and culture like David Dark. Dark is always a challenging, but rewarding read.

That's it for what I read in September. Get out there and read something.

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