December 8, 2012 by jiejie768
Click here for Month 1 of Ryan’s books
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Click here for the complete list of books we have read to date
Just in time for the last-minute holiday shopping season (remember, if you click on any of our links and buy ANYTHING at Amazon, we might get a little kickback in return), I present to you the latest edition of Ryan’s books. This about a week later than usual due to a travel schedule and the fact that today marks the quarter pole in our quest to read 52 books in 52 weeks. At 16 books completed, I like my pace but am running low on obvious selection, so please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.
10. “A Feast for Crows,” by George R.R. Martin (Book 4 in the “Song of Ice and Fire” (“Game of Thrones”) series) – 8/10
This book and the fifth book, which appears later in this list, are essentially a single volume and as such kind of go hand-in-hand. For those unfamiliar with Martin’s epic fantasy (and what are you waiting for, get into it!), he tells his tale from the perspective of a rotating cast of a dozen or so characters as the story moves along a linear timeline. Each chapter is titled with the name of the character from whom we will view the ensuing events. This is an excellent means of storytelling as it allows the reader to learn how different developments came about and/or are interrupted from different factions from within in the fictional universe. It can also be frustrating as a chapter about your favorite character can often end with a tantalizing cliff hanger only to see the story moved thousands of miles away for literally hundreds of pages. In the case of “Feast for Crows,” this quirk takes on a whole new dimension as Martin decided to exclude at least six of the primary characters altogether and move their stories (which take place concurrently) to “Dance With Dragons,” the fifth book. Even so, “Crows” opens up several new lines into the seven kingdoms as readers get their first in-depth looks at the kingdoms of Dorne and the Iron Islands. Though many of my favorite characters were relegated to the fifth book, I still was able to tear through this one (two weeks, which is lightning speed for these 1,000-page opuses) and was fascinated by the direction many characters’, whom I’d previously found marginal, stories took them. At this point a recommendation for this book is superfluous outside of simply recommending the series as a whole. If the “Song of Ice and Fire,” is running through your head, you’ve already read or committed to read to this book. If it’s not, well, get with the program (even the HBO program, which isn’t quite as good, but still an excellent way to enjoy Westeros and the Free Cities).
11. “Is Everyone Hanging Without Me?,” by Mindy Kaling – 6.5/10
This book was hilarious. I didn’t give it a top flight rating because it often drifted into territory I didn’t care about (i.e. shopping, romantic issues, etc.). But there was a lot to like. Her insider stories about being a writer (and actress) on one of my favorite TV shows (“The Office”) were fun to read. I also enjoyed her self-deprecating take on various stages in her life including high school, college, and post-college-broke-young adult in New York. Her tales of being a 20-something professional babysitter were particularly enjoyable. As I said, this book probably isn’t for everyone (I think women would enjoy it more than most men), but it was a quick read and the tales from behind the scenes whetted my whistle for “Live From New York,” a history of Saturday Night Live that I’ve yet to read but am very excited for.
12. “Harry Potter y La Piedra Filosofal,” by J.K. Rowling (First Harry Potter book, but in Spanish) – 10/10
Anyone who knows me, knows how I feel about Harry Potter. These books are an iron-clad lock to remain in the top 3 of Ryan’s favorite literary things of all time. Reading in Spanish provided an extra challenge, and was why allowed myself to count it toward my 52 books despite having read the story about 10 times. It’s a vocabulary stretch and I was able to glean at least four or five new phrasal structures from the book that I previously did not know. As for the overall story, if you haven’t read Harry Potter yet, I’m not sure what’s wrong with you, but it’s your loss. These are some of the greatest books of all time.
13. “The Casual Vacancy,” by J.K. Rowling. 7/10
As I mentioned above, I am HUGE Harry Potter fan and was thereby unable to resist picking up J.K. Rowling’s first non-Potter endeavor. Even after a lukewarm critical and fan reception, I felt I owed it to her and myself to give it a try. Suffice it to say Rowling’s warning that “THIS IS NOT HARRY POTTER!” was 100 percent accurate. It’s hard to imagine that the author of something so (literally) magical and steeped in the value of things like loyalty, love and friendship could pen something so cold and brutal. If books were rated like movies, this one would get a hard R as the characters here are no stranger to words and actions that aren’t so much as hinted at in the hallowed halls of Hogwarts.
A good friend and fellow Potter-phile mentioned that this book was like hanging out with the Dursleys. I see where she’s going with that, but to be fair, neither Vernon, Petunia nor Dudley would appear on a Top 5 list of the most despicable characters in this particular book. The story centers around a longstanding political conflict between the haves and the haves with a soft spot for the have-nots in the small British village of Pagford. The decades long standoff comes to a head when the leader of the soft-spotters on the city council suddenly drops dead and leaves a void (the titular “Casual Vacancy”) on the council. The story unfolds from the viewpoints of several characters, offering harsh and unflinching glimpses into the worlds ranging from the snobby and entitled to the drug-addicted and wretched. J.K. pulls no punches and there is no Dumbledore waiting with sage-like advice for any of the characters, good (very few) or evil (pretty much all of them in some way or another).
14. “A Dance with Dragons,” by George R.R. Martin. (Book 5 in the “Song of Ice and Fire” (“Game of Thrones”) series) – 8/10
I’ll try to stay brief here. I enjoyed this book much more than the fourth, but ultimately rated them as a whole because they basically follow the same timeline with each book giving you the story from different characters. I like this one better because of my four favorite characters, three (Jon Snow, Tyrion and Danerys) were featured heavily in this one (the fourth, Arya Stark, is in book four, but also appears again toward the end of “Dance”). I will, however, say that I was kind of frustrated with where the story lines of these particular characters went. I suppose it’s a casualty of getting embroiled in such an epic tale, but I was rooting for a lot of things that didn’t happen, and am now left awaiting a sixth book that is likely to remain unpublished for several years (the wait between book 4 and book 5 was six years … Yikes!).
15. “Savages,” by Don Winslow — 8/10
This book — which was recently made into a movie starring Tim Riggins and directed by Oliver Stone — takes readers into the (mostly) marijuana side of the illegal drug trade in Southern California and Mexico. I wouldn’t call it classic literature, or anything, but it sure was a lot of fun. The main characters are two 20-something, intelligent stoners turned hugely successful manufacturers of high-grade, top-quality pot. Ben is a genius botanist and business man who used his Cal-Berkeley education to build perfectly crafted strains of weed specifically tailored to any number of stoner needs ranging from couch-lock to productive high and everything in between. His partner and best friend, Chon, is the ex-Navy SEAL who is ruthless and responsible for handling (and understanding) the less savory elements of their otherwise peaceful existence; that is to say he’s the muscle (though quite intelligent himself) to “Gentle Ben’s” more laid-back business mind. Their world is turned upside down when their mutual girlfriend, O, is kidnapped by a Mexican drug cartel who wants to take over Ben and Chon’s successful marketplace to further line their own pockets.
Again, this isn’t high-brow, but it does offer a thrilling and often exhilarating look, albeit fictional (for a real-life look at the Mexican drug trade, check out my buddy Keegan’s piece in the Atlantic), into the wild and crazy world of the border war for the business of America’s many stoners.
16. “Kings of Cool,” by Don Winslow – 8/10
I enjoyed “Savages” so much, and finished it so quickly, that I had to check out this prequel that takes readers back a few years to the early days of Ben and Chon’s business operation. I don’t know which book is better; I read them back to back and so quickly they basically feel like a single story to me. For Ben and Chon’s part, the book follows them from fledgling entrepreneurs into their first brush against the Powers That Be. As the buddies’ business booms, they quickly learn that there is more to being a pot magnate than getting high and paying off a few realtors to hook you up with primo grow house locations. Even the mellow life of the pot dealer gets violent if you fly too high. Intermixed into the adventures of our budding businessmen is the back story of the drug counterculture in Laguna Beach, dating back to the 60s and the formation of “The Association” which began by smuggling weed over the border for surfer-dudes and over the years found itself at the epicenter of Nixon’s Drug War on the opposite side of the battle lines (usually) from the DEA.
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