Ryan’s Books: Months Six through Nine (Part I)

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May 26, 2013 by jiejie768

Like most everything on this blog of late, this book post is long overdue. I have managed to keep up on my reading, however, so this will be a long one (actually, it’s going to be two posts, HURRAY!). Saturday, May 25, marked then end of week 37 in my quest to read 52 books in 52 weeks. As of 1:15 a.m. on Friday the 24th, I’ve read 39 books, so my pace is strong. However, I’m going to have to really get after it in the next month or so to make sure that I’m well ahead of pace when I start graduate school on July 8.

This post features a wide range of books, and features several repeat authors. You’ll notice heavy doses of Stephen King and other names that have popped up in previous book posts.

24. “Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN,”
by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales — 8.5/10

"Those Guys Have All the Fun," by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales

“Those Guys Have All the Fun,” by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales

This book was Miller’s and Shale’s follow-up to the Saturday Night Live oral history “Live From New York” which I read and reviewed in my last book post (way back in February). It follows the same oral history format as “Live From New York” in telling of the ideation, creation and proliferation of the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

Personally, I found this book much more interesting than the SNL tome mainly because I’m much more into sports than the NBC sketch show. In both books, the authors do a fantastic job of simply sitting back and letting the people involved tell the story. Surprisingly, it seemed like there were more lurid stories of sex, drinking and inappropriate behavior during the early years of ESPN than there was at SNL.

The tale starts in the late 1970s when a father-son duo get caught in a traffic jam and dream up an all-sports network for the nascent cable industry. It follows ESPN’s unlikely story through the turbulent early years and into the 1990s when the network really grabbed control of the sports news industry.

It was fascinating to read about a time when ESPN was thought to be a silly idea that would never work. Of course in 2013, most sports fans view ESPN as almost a necessary evil, needing their content, but lamenting their almost complete monopoly over the industry. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the nostalgic flashbacks to the mid-90s Sportscenter anchors such as Dan Patrick, Keith Olberman, Kenny Mayne and more. Anyone who loves sports, or anyone who can remember watching four hours of the same Sportscenter every morning during summers off from school should definitely check this book out.

"The Devil's Star" (A Harry Hole novel) by Jo Nesbo

“The Devil’s Star” (A Harry Hole novel) by Jo Nesbo

25. “Devil’s Star,” by Jo Nesbo — 8/10

“Devil’s Star,” is the third of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series that I’ve read (“Redbreast” and “Nemesis” being the others) and I definitely enjoyed it the most of the three. That’s probably in large part due my growing familiarity and affection for Hole, the quintessential, self-destructive anti-hero. Hole is a mess, frequently falling off a wagon he doesn’t seem to want to be on in the first place. Regardless, he’s a brilliant detective with a knack for seeing things other don’t.

“Devil’s Star” finds Harry, who was relatively sober in the previous two books, in a complete tailspin as he’s lost his girlfriend and is on the verge of losing his job due to an obsession over a colleague’s murder. Adding to Harry’s problems are the fact he recently woke up in an ex-lover’s apartment to find her dead and missing any memories from the night before. The mystery follows the standard murder-thriller formula and again brings to mind Steig Larsen’s “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series (though, as I’ve said before, it isn’t quite at that level). The Scandanavian setting (Oslo, Norway) and compelling set of characters make this series of mysteries worth returning to time and again. I would, however, recommend anyone new to Harry Hole pick up “Redbreast” before diving into “Nemesis” or “Devil’s Star.” They are different, stand-alone stories, but details carry over from one to the other and having a base of knowledge surrounding the character makes each novel more enjoyable than the one before it.

"11/22/63" by Stephen King

“11/22/63” by Stephen King

26. “11/22/63,” by Stephen King — 9/10

This is perhaps the best book I’ve read over this entire endeavor. I’ve never been much of a Stephen King fan, or rather I should say I’ve never read Stephen King because I’ve never been much of a horror fan. “11/22/63” however is not a horror novel. It is a mind-bending tale of what can happen when someone is given the chance to alter the course of human history.

The book centers around a 21st-century school teacher’s attempt to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK on the titular date. This quest is made possible via a “rabbit hole” in Central Maine that allows the book’s main character, Jake Epping, to travel back in time to Sept. 1, 1958, and only Sept. 1, 1958. Obviously this leaves him with some time to kill before he can carry out his mission. I won’t give away much more than that, but rest assured there is MUCH more to this book than simply following a time traveler’s attempt to stop the assassination. The book was marketed, justifiably, around that concept, but everything else that befalls Jake while on his quest is arguably more interesting than his attempt to reach his ultimate goal.

I honestly cannot recommend this book strongly enough. To give you an idea of how thoroughly I enjoyed it consider this: It is a dense 883 pages, and I read it in less than three days, basically remaining glued to it for every free moment I could from the time I started until I finished the epilogue. Precious few books have the ability to mesmerize a reader so completely and render the real world as an obnoxious inconvenience barring one’s passage through the pages — “11/22/63” is one of them.

27. “Turn Right at Machu Picchu,” by Mark Adams — 8.5/10

"Turn Right at Machu Picchu," by Mark Adams

“Turn Right at Machu Picchu,” by Mark Adams

“Turn Right at Machu Picchu,” is the entertaining antidote to Hiram Bingham’s occasionally interesting, but perpetually boring “Lost City of the Incas” (see February reviews for more on that). Bingham is the Yale professor who almost by accident “discovered” Machu Picchu in 1912. His book was a dry recounting of his quests into the Andean cloud forest, and by the end, reading it felt more like a chore than an enjoyable pursuit.

Adams is a modern-day editor for “Outside” magazine who decided that after years tucked away in a New York office editing adventure writing, he’d actually leave the city and experience some adventure. Being married to a woman from Lima, Peru, Adams estimates he held the world record for most visits to Peru by a foreigner without making it to Machu Picchu. Looking to change this fact, he chose for his first adventure piece a hefty task: retracing the steps Hiram Bingham took during his famed expeditions in the early 20th Century.

Joined by a colorful Australian guide who has spent most of his life traversing the world’s jungles and uninhabited lands, Adams gamely takes up the quest. Throughout the book, Adams expertly blends information, humor and self-deprecation while battling the wilds of the Peruvian Andes. I’m sure being able to personally identify with some of the quirks of Peruvian life that Adams riffs on (Inka Kola, Hora Peruana, etc.) boosted my rating, but I feel confident that even someone whose never stepped foot in Peru would enjoy following Adams on his ambitious and often amusing journey to Machu Picchu and back again.

28. “Harry Potter y La Camara Secreta,” by J.K. Rowling — 9.9/10

"Harry Potter y la Camara Secreta," por J.K. Rowling

“Harry Potter y la Camara Secreta,” por J.K. Rowling

We covered this a bit earlier in the year when I blogged about reading the first Harry Potter book in Spanish, but my rating on this book is based on the fact that the Harry Potter series is just about the best thing ever put on paper. My quest to read all seven books in Spanish while in Peru is likely not going to play out, but I did enjoy reading books 1 and 2. Reading them in Spanish, combined with an uncanny (sad, some might say) ability to recall several passages from the English version verbatim, has helped me pick up a few Spanish grammatical constructions I with which I was not previously familiar.

It’s been a few months since I finished my read of “La Camara Secreta,” but I did come up with a few beefs I have with this particular Potter book (it is my least favorite of the series, hence the 9.9/10 instead of a perfect 10). I can’t remember each of them, but in no particular order here they are (warning, if you’re not a die-hard Potter-phile, you probably can just move on to the next book; also, if you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t read these books: SPOILER ALERT):

— I find it utterly impossible to believe that the basilisk didn’t manage to kill anyone during his reign of terror. Even if I stretch my suspension of disbelief to buy the various means that each petrified person was saved (mirrors, ghosts, puddles), why wouldn’t the basilisk simply have eaten the people once they were petrified?

— How is it that all of these petrified kids managed to move to the next year in school. I’ll give Hermione and her maniacal dedication to academics the benefit of the doubt, but Colin Creevey was petrified for the better part of the year. Add to that the fact that he was Muggle-born (meaning he didn’t have any background in magical education prior to Hogwarts), and it is downright foolish to assume he has the knowledge base to simply pass into the second year.

— Am I really to believe that Madam Pomfrey simply looked the other way when Hermione showed up looking like a cat. I mean, COME ON! It’s one thing to mend a broken arm or the random side-affect to one hex or another and send the kid on their way, but no red flags were raised at all when one of the school’s star pupils had to spend a month in the infirmary covered in fur. I feel like Pomfrey would have been obligated to report that one to Dumbledore. Furthermore, weren’t any of the other teachers at least a little curious about why Hermione wasn’t coming to class? Wouldn’t Snape have done some investigating, discovered her ailment and connected it to the missing ingredients from his supply closet (we know from “Goblet of Fire” that he keeps a close eye on his stores, especially the ingredients needed for Polyjuice Potion)?

I still love all these books, but I need some answers JK, answers! Feel free to contact me anytime. I’m free for lunch and in-depth Harry Potter discussion every day from now to forever.

29. “Boy’s Life,” by Robert R. McCammon — 9/10

"Boy's Life," by Robert McCammon

“Boy’s Life,” by Robert McCammon

This book rivals “11/22/63” as the best I’ve read since I’ve been here. I would say that I was more enraptured while reading “11/22/63,” but that “Boy’s Life” may have been the superior novel.

“Boy’s Life” follows the adventures of 12-year-old Cory Mackenson during one year of his life in early-1960s Zephyr, Alabama. The book starts with Cory and his father witnessing an early-morning body-dump at the supernaturally deep lake just outside of Zephyr. The man who was murdered is not a local and bears no ready sign of identification. In some ways, the book is a mystery, loosely following Cory and his father’s efforts to find out what happened that morning on the lake. But mostly, the book is about what it’s like to be a boy in the 1960s, filled with magical bike rides, beloved dogs, hapless Little League teams, sci-fi at the local cinema and all the rest of the things that captivate a 12-year-old boy’s mind.

McCammon uses Cory as the lens through which we view the undercurrents of a pre-Civil-Rights movement town in the deep South. The book is not about racism, but it deals with it in spades. The book is not about a murder, but it’s built around the mysterious death of a stranger. In a lot of ways, Cory Mackenson is McCammon’s Scout Finch. Through his eyes, we see a lot of grown-up things filtered into the still innocent mind of a young boy. Over the course of the book, as life catches up to Cory, he begins to lose that innocence and cling more tightly to it at the same time.

This is the type of book that should be taught in high school English classes. It is compelling and entertaining in a way that will make most standoffish students want to keep reading, while at the same time dealing with themes and concepts that are right in the high school English wheelhouse (coming of age, racism, right and wrong, good and evil, etc.).

30. “The Enchantress,” by Michael Scott — 6/10

"The Enchantress," by Michael Scott

“The Enchantress,” by Michael Scott

This book was the sixth and final installment of Scott’s “The Secrets of the Immortal Nicolas Flamel” series. It is a teen-fantasy series of the type that has flooded the market in the post “Harry Potter” world. From start to finish, the series is an adequate read following the adventures of two 15-year-old twins who discover there are immortals, and more, in the world around them. The twins magic powers are “awakened” and it turns out they are the key to saving the universe.

“Enchantress” brings the tale to a close, and by this point, I have to admit I was pretty much over the series. I like the first two or three books, but delays between releases caused me to lose the thread of the story and made it harder to invest in later volumes. Furthermore, the stories got more and more far-fetched and lost the tether in “reality” that captured my interest in the first place. Part what makes Harry Potter so fantastic, is how J.K. Rowling weaves a magical world into the world we know, leaving us able to imagine it is all really happening (even while we know it obviously isn’t…EDIT BY MEG: Shut your face, Ryan).

There is a realism to Rowling’s fantasy that charms readers. Scott lost that charm somewhere along the line with these books. By the sixth installment, things are so disconnected from the world we know (while still trying to exist in that realm) that it’s hard to take seriously or really care about the characters. If you’ve read the other five books, the finale is certainly worth the read, but if you haven’t picked up Book 1 yet, and you’re not a 12- or 13-year-old, I’d say leave the series be. It’s OK, not great, and there are better books you could be reading.

So concludes Part 1 of the massive book post of May 2013. Check back tomorrow for Books 31-39, including entries about Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series, Joanna Roth’s “Divergent” series and the latest in Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series.

Ryan’s Reviews:

Meg’s Reviews:



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