Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Summer 2008 reading

A bit late on this, I know, but I'm about to start posting some more detailed reading notes from summer 2009, so I thought I'd clear some of this really old stuff out of the "to be posted" pile.

Here goes:

Clancy, Tom. The sum of all fears. New York: Putnam, 1991. 798pp.

Last summer I read A Clear and Present Danger and it was starting to show some of the signs for Clancy's patented literary bloat. This summer, it's The Sum of all Fears and the bloat has pretty well set in. Overall, it's a solid novel, telling the story of Jack Ryan's involvement in some pretty exciting standard Clancy thriller elements like terrorists, submarine tactics, lost nukes, scheming politicians and incompetent and naive liberals. Mostly pretty good stuff, exciting and involving. However, at nearly 800 pages, the book is easily 200 pages too long. Whole sub-plots could have been removed with no difference to the story. The big, explosive climactic event happens around page 600 with 200 pages to go but should have happened at page 200 with 400 to go.

Turtledove, Harry. End of the beginning. New York: Roc, 2006. 519pp.

Last summer's cottage reading included the first part of this two part series, Days of Infamy. Like with Tom Clancy, summer reading always seems to include a Harry Turtledove novel for me. They're quick and easy to read, light but very involving. The large cast of characters and multiple viewpoints make for quick and lively reading. This one is no different.

To quickly set the stage, Japan invaded Pearl Harbor in December 1941 rather than just attacking the American base there. Days of Infamy told the story of the invasion and initial stages of the occupation. End of the Beginning picks up where Days of Infamy leaves off, following the same diverse cast of characters, both American and Japanese, over the next couple of years, until the US bounces back and re-invades.

A bit slow-starting, I did ultimately enjoy the novel. It does a good job of showing the brutality of the Japanese Imperial forces in WWII, something that's certainly not as well known as Nazi brutality. POW camps and comfort women brothels are among the aspects that are well portrayed. If Turtledove's narrative seems somewhat boilerplate, well, that's the nature of what he does. He churns them out pretty quickly, all using the same basic plan. Knowing what to expect, he doesn't disappoint. On the other hand, I do often wish he would be a bit more ambitious.

Now for some super-capsule reviews:

Clapton, Eric. Eric Clapton: The autobiography. New York: Broadway, 2008. 344pp.

Entertaining, frank and surprisingly humble autobiography of guitar hero Eric Clapton. I enjoyed this one a lot, as would anyone interested in guitar players or the classic rock period.

Smith, Scott. The ruins.New York: Vintage, 2007. 509pp.

Good and creepy, a high quality horror novel with a great ending.

Hill, Joe. Heart-shaped box. New York: HarperCollins, 2008. 354pp.

Very good first novel by Stephen King's son. A quick read with some good characters.

Hassel, Sven. Comrades of war. London: Cassel, 2004. 362pp.

War is hell. Dirty, messy, ugly, violent, not for the faint-hearted, not Hollywood at all, this is a provocative read from a controversial author. Supposedly based on his real experiences in WWII, Hassel stretches credibility quite a bit, but much of it rings true.

Latimer, Jonathan. Soloman's Vineyard. London: Xanadu Blue Murder, 1990. 160pp.

A good period hardboiled noir novel. Snappy dialogue, dangerous dames, perverse plotline, at least for the 1940s when it was written. It's all there.

Slaughter, Karen. Triptych. New York: Dell, 2007. 480 pp.

Yikes. This is one violent and intense thriller. A solid cast of characters, tons of action, good suspense, lots of twists and turns. I look forward to sequels -- and must more Slaughterific summer reading. Yes, the aptly named Karen Slaughter is the perfect summer thriller reading.

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