Another Plethora of Books

So apparently there was a hurricane here in New York last week. I had a lot of extra time on my hands as a result, so I pulled myself away from other…endeavors to update the blog. I’ve read a lot of books since my last “Plethora of Books” entry, and decided I should write a bit about them before I fall even further behind. And the below books aren’t even all that I’ve read! As I said in my last books entry, I’ve decided not to discuss books that are published by my company. That being the case, unfortunately the books I’ve enjoyed reading the most the last two months were published by my company. Oh well.

Dear Marcus, by Jerry McGill

First up is Dear Marcus, by Jerry McGill. This non-fiction title is a letter written to the man who shot Jerry McGill in the back when he was a teenager growing up in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The bullet entered Jerry’s spine around the neck area and permanently paralyzed him. The person who shot Jerry was never identified much less their reason for shooting him, but Jerry takes to calling he/she Marcus as he delves into his mental, emotional, and physical scars in trying to come to terms with being shot and paralyzed for no reason. Jerry writes with brutal honesty, asks questions you wouldn’t think to ask unless you were in his shoes, and works through his complexity of emotions he feels for the man (or woman) who shot him without holding back. It definitely isn’t a warm, feel-good story about how he overcame his adversity, though there is some of that too.

My only real complaint isn’t content, but structure. I really thought the letter format was interesting, but it falls away into standard memoir fare pretty quickly during Jerry’s rehab. It is still a good read, but where it really shines is when Jerry directs those hard questions at the anonymous Marcus, all while knowing the answers will never come.

The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater

Before I say anything else about The Raven Boys, let me say this: it’s a book targeted at teenage girls. I didn’t really think to pay attention to that going in, but I picked up this book for free at the Book Expo of America and read it because, well, I could. I am not the target audience, and I didn’t care for The Raven Boys that much. I can’t say whether or not the teenage girls who’ll likely be the primary readers will enjoy it, but I do have some praise for The Raven Boys. Before that though, a bit about plot. Blue Sargent is a teenage girl who lives with a family of psychic women, and all of her family members have always told Blue the same thing: her one true love (actually her first kiss, and we all know how “true love” those are) will die as a result of Blue’s future actions. Enter the Raven Boys. A group of mostly rich teenage boys who attend the local private school. The Raven Boys are searching for mystical ley lines to help them find the grave of an exiled Welsh king who presumably came to the Americas hundreds of years before Columbus. The Raven Boys come to Blue’s house to seek guidance from her psychic family, and Blue is immediately smitten with one of them, and learns her fate is inextricably linked to another.

Alright, here is the good. Basically, Maggie Stiefvater is one hell of a writer when it comes to her characters. They are all extremely well rounded and develop magnificently. Learning the stories of all the Raven Boys was actually a real treat. The book’s main story, on the other hand, is pretty unremarkable, and the budding crushes of Blue and the Raven Boys are uninteresting, at least to me. Again, maybe a teenage girl will like it, but I never really cared. Apparently there will be sequels, but I won’t be reading them.

Frozen Heat, by Richard Castle

I need to start off this one with another disclaimer. I love Castle! Yes, the author, Richard Castle, is a fictional character played by the perfectly awesome Nathan Fillion on a TV show called Castle, but ABC/Disney/Hyperion had a brilliant idea of actually producing tie-in novels to the TV show. The Nikki Heat series is the result, starring the eponymous NYPD Homicide Detective. Frozen Heat is the fourth novel in the series. While working a fresh murder case, Nikki Heat learns that the victim was a friend of Nikki’s murdered mother whose killer was never found. The evidence also shows a direct correlation between the fresh murder and the cold case of Nikki’s mother. Nikki must now deal with the emotional trauma she experienced after her mother’s death and come to terms with her fears if she is finally going to find the killer. Good thing she has the ruggedly handsome investigative reporter, Jameson Rook in her corner, and the two of them go on a journey to learn more about the life of Nikki’s mother, but what they learn may be too much for Nikki Heat to bear.

As much as I love Richard Castle (or whoever the real person is who writes the Nikki Heat books), Frozen Heat is merely okay. The characters are strong, the action is thrilling, and the resolution is satisfying. Unfortunately, the 300 plus pages it takes to get there can get pretty tiresome. Yes, they’re working a cold case, but there aren’t even that many red herrings to keep the reader intrigued. Mostly it is dead end after dead end with the characters (and readers by extension) frustrated at the lack of the case’s progression, and the book’s pacing suffers right up until the last twenty or thirty pages. Still a fun read, but not as good as either Naked Heat or Heat Rises.

Lost Girls, by Ann Kelley

Like The Raven Boys, I am not the target audience for Ann Kelley’s Lost Girls, but since it is another book I was given during the NYU program I read it. However, while I was able to find some really good writing in The Raven Boys, Lost Girls is pretty much atrocious on every level. I won’t speak much on story. My impression was that it was a more modern version of the seminal Lord of the Flies shipwreck story, only with girls. The characters even reference Lord of the Flies numerous times. But really, this is no Lord of the Flies, at all! The writing and pacing are awful, the characters are all stereotypical and irritating, and some of the plot contrivances are as laughable as they are inexplicable. There is only one, extremely minor aspect of Lost Girls that I somewhat liked, and that was a bit of realism with the characters’ battles with mosquitoes, chiggers, and other insects/wildlife. But if I have to endure more than 300 pages of terrible writing to get a tiny bit of realism then I’ll stick to the unrealistic stuff. In summary, don’t even bother with this book. If you see it at a bookstore, ignore its existence.

Blood Work, by Michael Connelly

I received the World Book Night edition of Blood Work during the NYU program. There were other books that I was interested in taking, but by the time I got to the book table my peers had claimed them. So I ended up taking Blood Work.  Terry McCaleb retired early from the FBI because of heart problems that eventually led to him needing a heart transplant. His rare blood type made finding a donor organ extremely difficult, but miraculously a donor heart becomes available and McCaleb is saved. Not long after his surgery, a woman named Graciela Rivers appears on the boat where Terry lives and tells him that he is carrying her dead sister’s heart, and that her sister had been violently murdered in a convenience store robbery. When Graciela discerned that McCaleb, who had gained notoriety as a former FBI agent after he was featured in a recent newspaper article, had received her sister’s heart, she approached McCaleb with the hope that he can solve her sister’s murder, which has hit a dead end. Feeling a sense of responsibility toward his donor, McCaleb begins to investigate, but with his health fragile from surgery he risks squandering the gift the murdered woman gave him.

Blood Work starts slow, but it really picks up as the case progresses. It takes some pretty fun, and intense twists later on in the book and when those twists started rolling in it became difficult to put the book down. It’s by no means perfect, and falls into some of the cliches of hard boiled detective fiction, but it was a fun read nonetheless.

Metro: A Story of Cairo, by Magdy El Shafee, Translated by Chip Rosetti

I picked up Metro while touring the Three Lives bookstore in Manhattan. I liked the art on the cover and the premise sounded noir and cool. Shehab is a genius but arrogant software designer living in the near ubiquitous corruption of Egypt’s capital city, Cairo. Frustrated by the corruption, and owing money to an Egyptian gangster, Shehab plans to rob a bank using his knowledge of security software and use the money to escape Cairo and start a new life. But, as one might expect, the robbery doesn’t go as easily as planned, and Shehab is forced to hide the money and himself while avoiding the gangsters, the police, and the politicians who are searching for him. If caught, Shehab faces certain death. But it turns out that perhaps what he is searching for outside of Cairo has been in the city all along.

If there were a graphic novel of James Sallis’ fantastic novel Drive, I think it would look like Metro. The story is raw and gritty, and the art reflects the tone and theme very well. Shehab’s story is strong, and though he may be a typical anti-hero, it’s hard not to like him. The quality of the art varies. Many pages look as great as the image on the cover, but there are plenty of pages where the art looks like rough sketches rather than a polished final version. Those pages make it hard to tell who is who and what is happening. My only other complaint is that there is often little to no indication of changes in scene and setting that made reading somewhat disorienting. Otherwise, it was an enjoyable, if short, read.

The Guns of Heaven, by Pete Hamill

I wrote about Hard Case Crime in a previous post, and The Guns of Heaven is the third book I’ve read published by the HCC imprint. The book’s title is cool, and the premise sounded interesting, so I picked this one up at Barnes & Noble after finishing Fifty-to-One. Sam Briscoe is an investigative reporter whose Irish heritage makes him the perfect choice for covering the conflict between Catholic and Protestants in Northern Ireland. He has written numerous articles on the subject, but every year around Saint Patrick’s Day his newspaper sends him to Ireland to get the latest news. This time, Sam meets one of the key members of the IRA, a man simply known as Steel. After the interview, Steel gives Sam an envelope and asks him to deliver it to an IRA ally in New York. Upon leaving Ireland, Sam quickly realizes he is being followed. Upon returning to New York, and delivering the envelope, the people following Sam rear their heads and put Sam’s family in danger. Now Sam must find out who is following him, and why, and time is running short because the mysterious people trailing him have kidnapped his daughter.

The Guns of Heaven starts off well. When Sam is in Ireland and Europe the book is at its most intriguing. Unfortunately, the plot quickly devolves into a confusing nightmare that makes little sense. I never really could tell where Sam’s motivation came from to doggedly pursue answers. I’m sure that this book has faced criticism for a seemingly pro-IRA message, and I hate to agree with it, but that is how it reads. I don’t talk politics, especially about those in a country where I really don’t know what is happening or what the situation is. I just don’t like being beat over the head with an agenda, and that is what The Guns of Heaven does. I can’t recommend it for that reason.

And that’s all I have for now! I’ll still probably neglect the blog a bit through November because I’m still kind of busy with other things. But I have plenty of things to write about once I get around to them.

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