November 5, 2012 by jiejie768
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It’s that time again. As the calendar flips to November, I (Ryan) will offer a quick review of the books I read during October. I have read five books since last we discussed my literature list (six if you count the first 475 pages of “A Feast for Crows” as a book, even though it’s not even the halfway point of said book).
Anyway, off we go (numbers correspond to the ongoing quest to read 52 books in 52 weeks):
5.) “Don’t Put Me in Coach,” by Mark Titus. 8/10 for guys/hoops fans; 4/10 everyone else.
This book was extremely entertaining, but is probably best suited for a niche audience. Mark Titus was a four-year walk-on basketball player at Ohio State University — a walk-on is a non-scholarship player who pays his own way at school and pretty much only plays at the ends of blowout wins.
He gained notoriety during his collegiate career when he started the blog Club Trillion, named after his usual stat line — 1 minute played followed by 0s in the other nine statistical categories. His blog became popular among Buckeye fans as it offered comical, behind-the-scenes perspective to the highly-rated hoops squad. It took off nationally when he was invited onto Bill Simmons’ podcast and after graduation he was hired by Simmons as a college basketball writer at Grantland.com.
This book is basically a more in-depth version of Club Trillion. Titus was a talented high school player who eschewed playing time at mid-major schools to attend a Big 10 school. He was convinced to walk-on by his longtime AAU teammate and college superstar Greg Oden, who entered school the same year as Titus. Titus basically served as the team’s comic relief, frequently pranking his higher-profile teammates and doesn’t hold back in sharing the goings on behind the closed doors of a college athlete’s life.
The book is rude, crude and hilarious. As I said, it’s not for everyone, but any college hoops fan who can smile (or laugh out loud) at R-rated locker room stories will definitely enjoy it. I literally read it in a single day as it was kind of like reading a 275-page blog entry.
6.) “The Redbreast,” by Jo Nesbo – 7/10
This book is reminiscent of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy — or “The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo” books as it is better known. It is a murder mystery set in the Nordic countries — though Nesbo is Norwegian whereas Larsson was Swedish.
The main character, detective Harry Hole, is a recovering, not-always-on-the-wagon alcoholic who must unravel the mystery behind the murders of several Norwegians who had served in the German army in WWII. “Redbreast” does not quite equal the “Millennium” books in terms of intrigue and pacing, but after a rather lengthy and confusing exposition (about 200 pages) to set up the story — it frequently switches from present-day Norway, to WWII Stalingrad, to 1944 Vienna — the final 400 pages fly by as the intrigue grows and the seemingly disparate storylines begin to form into a gripping, cohesive murder mystery.
I will likely revisit Nesbo and his recurring lead character (Hole) somewhere else during this 52-book quest.
7.) “Sacre Bleu,” by Christopher Moore – 6/10
I am a huge fan of Christopher Moore’s work — most notably “Lamb,” which is one of the three best books I have ever read — and have read, I think, all of his dozen or so books. This one is not my favorite, but it’s also not the worst. Similar to “The Redbreast” above, it took me about 1/3 of the book to really get into it, but by the end it was a good read.
That, however, is where similarities to the Nordic crime thriller stop. Moore is best defined as whacky or off-beat and laughter is the lynch-pin of any of his novels. The story is set in 1890s Paris among a cadre of (now) ridiculously famous artists — Monet, Manet, Teaurouc, and others. It begins with the murder (in this book, though in real life it’s deemed to have been a suicide) of Vincent Van Gogh and follows his artist-friend’s efforts to uncover the utterly bizarre circumstances behind his death. The main character is one of the few in the book who is not a true-life famous painter, but rather a baker who likes to paint. The title refers to the color of paint that, in addition to being the required hue for the cloak of the Virgin Mary, just may have other properties beyond beauty on a canvas.
As fans of Moore will know, that’s about as well as I can sum up the plot and I’ve barely scratched the surface. A worthwhile read for any Moore fan and also probably a fun read for any art lover who won’t get bent out of shape when creative liberties are taken with historical fact. If you’re familiar with Moore, I’d offer this: This book falls well short of his best, non-“Lamb” work (as I said, “Lamb” is in a class of its own among all books, not just Moore’s). That is to say, I’d rate it lower than the three “Bloodsucking Fiends” books, “Dirty Job” and “Fool,” but probably higher than any of the Pine Cove novels (“Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove,” “Stupidest Angel,” “Practical Demonkeeping”) and well ahead of “Fluke.”
8.) “The Submission,” by Amy Waldman — 8.5/10 enjoyment; 10/10 in terms of quality
This book was absolutely phenomenal. It was surprise birthday gift from my mother-in-law which returned to Peru with Aunt GeGe last month. The story begins with a jury of selectors picking a submission for a memorial for the 9/11 terrorist attacks (they never outright call it the World Trade Center attacks in the book, but it’s obviously supposed to be that, or an identical event in a parallel universe). The submission of a garden-based memorial is championed by the lone widow on the jury and ultimately selected by the committee. Only after making their selection, do the jurors learn that the garden was designed by an American Muslim. This sets off a firestorm of criticism and debate as various groups around the country rally to either support or condemn the selection. The architect in question is thrown into the middle of the debate as a healing, and wildly distrustful, country debates whether it is appropriate for a Muslim to design a memorial to victims of an attack carried out by Muslims.
There is little I can say here that hasn’t already been proclaimed loudly by the vast majority of book critics across the country. Waldman’s book found itself on, or at the top of, just about every significant “Best Books of 2011,” list and rightfully so. She expertly dissects the various arguments and emotions raging in this fictional, but all-too-believable scenario. I gave it an 8.5 out of enjoyment mainly because the realism is often stomach-turning as some truly despicable and inexplicable opinions and actions are carried out by various groups throughout the book. However, never once did said actions feel forced or made up, but rather a true and, often, sad reflection of the way our nation frequently struggles with the true meaning of words like freedom, equality and acceptance.
9.) “The Mark of Athena: Heroes of Olympus,” by Rick Riordan – 4.5/10
This is the third book in the second series about Percy Jackson, a demigod son of Neptune in a poor-man’s Harry Potter series. These books are entertaining and understandably popular among teens, they however fail to come close to the true magic of J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard. Riordan is talented enough at manipulating mythical history into a modern world, but falls short in making his characters believable teenagers, or really people for that matter. The dialogue often feels forced and the adventures of the main characters are a little bit too cookie-cutter simplistic to be truly engaging. It’s not a terrible book, or series, by any stretch and makes for a quick and distracting read. But unless you’re 12, or a true devotee of young adult fiction (like Meg), there are a good number of better options out there. The book jacket will tell you “It’s the new Harry Potter,” the first five pages or so make it clear that it is not.
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