May Reads

Apparently, I started my summer reading early this year, as is demonstrated by both the amount of books that I went through in May and the number of them that were mind-numbing, page turners.  There was also a definite murder/serial killer theme amongst many of them this month.  Unfortunately, they weren’t all winners.  Due to the volume, I’m keeping my commentary brief.

  Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

Devil in the White City is a non-fiction novel that tells the tale of the 1893 Chicago World Fair, focusing on two very different men: Daniel Burnham, the persistent architect who designed and oversaw the creation of the fair, and H. H. Holmes, a serial killer that used the distraction of the fair to help him murder between 27 and 200 people (depending on who’s calculation you use).  I found the story of these men to be extremely fascinating, and Larson does a great job at keeping it interesting.  It gets a little long and overly detailed in parts (there’s a lot of time spent on the various spats between the architects), but overall, I very much enjoyed the book.  Who knows if the project will ever really come to fruition, but I was very excited to see that IMDB report that the screenplay has been picked up to be made into a movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the charming murderer.

  The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

I don’t want to propagate stereotypes about Scandinavian crime authors (Nesbo is Norwegian), but this book reminded me a lot of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books.  It started very slowly before speeding up to a frenetic pace, followed a damaged and dangerous protagonist and continually used awkwardly outdated terms like “pumping iron.” It took me a little while to get into this story but, once I did, I was addicted.  As a story it’s a little cliché, a lot predictable, but very entertaining.

 

  The Road by Cormac McCarthy

This book definitely didn’t wow me and it was anything but a page turner.  After reading this, I was surprised that it has received as much attention as it has.  It is an extremely depressing and hopeless story of a father trying to protect his young son as they wander through the bleak countryside of a post-apocalyptic America.  The writing is great, I just definitely feel like McCarthy didn’t bring anything new to the table.  I wouldn’t say that I hated it but, given the choice again, I’d rather just watch the first two Mad Max movies and save myself a few hours.

  The Righteous by Michael Wallace

I’ve become slightly addicted to Amazon’s Kindle Deal of the Day, in which they offer select books for $.99.  As a bona fide cheapskate, less than a dollar is right in my price range. Also, I’ve found that buying books this way forces me outside my comfort zone and opens me up to reading books I wouldn’t normally consider.  A couple months back, the special offer was all the novels of Michael Wallace for under a dollar apiece.  I was intrigued by the short description of the series, so I decided to give the Righteous Trilogy a shot.  So far, I have not been disappointed.  In the first book, a gory murder occurs within a Mormon polygamist community.  Unable to go to the police for help, the sect calls upon Jacob Christianson, a young medical student from a sister sect in Canada.   Jacob and his sister Eliza uncover plenty of juicy secrets and conspiracies that could destroy the entire community.  These books are the epitome of brain candy, but I really enjoyed them.  They are quick reads that were definitely worth the dollar.

  Mighty and Strong by Michael Wallace

Mighty and Strong is the second novel in Wallace’s Righteous series.  After working with him in the first book, the FBI turns to Jacob Christianson for help (as I think the FBI does fairly regularly) in penetrating a Salt Lake polygamist sect and rescuing a missing FBI agent.  The story line of this one is just as far-fetched and unbelievable as the first book, yet I still found it fun.

  The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

As Prague is one of my favorite places in the world, I have wanted to read this book for a very long time.  It’s possible that I had it built up too much in my head or something, but I found it pretty underwhelming.  Unbearable focuses on two couples living in Prague during the Soviet occupation, and chronicles their various infidelities.  Kundera is a beautiful writer, and his prose is enjoyable throughout the story.  I just didn’t feel like there was much story to tell.  Most of the book is a jumble of individual scenes that compare the lovers’ relationship to each other to other relationships in their life (to their dogs, to their homeland, etc.)  I love philosophical books as much as the next guy, but most of this book left me feeling like I was missing something.  When all is said and done, I’m glad I read it, but it’s definitely not going to sneak into my Top 50.

  How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper

After reading my second Tropper novel in the last few months, I definitely sense a pattern (and, in this case, I don’t mean that as a bad thing).  I enjoyed this book, as I did the last one.  His books are like good sitcoms.  The characters are young, beautiful and successful, yet all have jobs that don’t require them to ever actually work.  The stories are wacky and yet predictable.  There are moments that make you laugh out loud, and several melodramatic, sappy moments that sober your elation.  It seems to me so far that, when you grab one of Tropper’s novels, you have the comfort of knowing exactly what you are going to get: it’s not going to rock your world or change your life in any way, but you will be very entertained, and you will be glad you read it.

  Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris

This book was kind of a snoozer for me.  Hannibal Rising tells the story of Hanibal Lecter’s life before Red Dragon or Silence of the Lambs.  Unfortunately, I felt the same way about it as I felt about all of the Star Wars prequels:  I don’t care what any super-villain’s childhood was like. Part of the intrigue and mystery of Bad Guys is not knowing their full stories.   Further, I didn’t feel like it paid off in illustrating how Hannibal became the monster that he is in the later books.  It definitely justifies how he came to kill the specific victims in this story but, at its finish, I feel there is still a huge gap between the revenge-killing youth and the man who later admits to randomly killing and eating a census taker.  I would say watch the movie and save yourself some time, but the movie’s pretty dumb too.  You’re better off just watching Silence of the Lambs again.

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