11/22/63 by Stephen King

Melanie and I are not fans of horror.  Why does someone want to be scared on purpose?  I don’t get it.  We are becoming bigger fans of Stephen King though.  Growing up I loved Stand by Me which was based on King’s The BodyRita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption was excellent.  The most helpful book I’ve ever read about how to write is King’s (see my list of recommended books in the sidebar).

We just finished listening to 11/22/63 on audiobook and both of us really loved it.  The basic plot is so well known that I won’t spoil anything by saying that this is a book about time travel and trying to stop the assassination of JFK.  Those of you who just said, “Ooooh!  That sounds good!” are in for a treat.  Those who are about to click away from this article, just wait.

King really knows how to write compelling characters.  Within the first thirty minutes of listening, we were hooked and had to know what happened to these people next.  It is easy to identify with these folks and you care about what is happening to them.  There are no action heroes or brilliant detectives.  You experience the story of mostly normal people having normal lives with the monkey wrench that one of them is from the future.  Don’t be confused though there is action, danger, and romance – just not of the supernatural monster-y sort.

The biggest surprise to me was how compelling the background stories of a 2011 man just getting through life in the 50’s and 60’s were.  This book is very long and it takes its sweet time getting to the main story, but you will not care.  That part is almost secondary.  Maybe it is secondary.  The coolest thing King achieves with this book is putting present-day you in the 50’s with a little bit of cash, some knowledge, and a goal several years down the road.  Where would you live?  What would you eat?  How would you talk?  What would you do with your time?  Who would you seek out?  Who would you avoid?

It is clear that King either spent a lot of time researching the assassination or had an army of helpers.  All of this detail really helps flesh out the setting of this book.  I can’t overstate it.  My favorite character in this book is the time period.  The abundance of these inside, and sometimes personal, facts really anchors the main character in the true-life storyline of Lee Harvey Oswald.  King has so much good info in fact, that the afterward by the author detailing more of the history surrounding the assassination is one of the best parts of the book.  Be sure to read it.

If you are looking to settle down with a good fiction book for a while, I invite you to give this one try.

Oh, and I know at least one person is going to be thinking it so I’ll just answer now.  No, the ending does not suck.  🙂

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: Fun or Fart?

If you are a child of the 80’s, if you are a nerd, or if you like videogames, you owe it to yourself to read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  As usual, I don’t like to spoil anything about the story when I talk about books here on the blog.  I will tell you that it is set in the future and focuses on 80’s pop culture.  There is a mystery to solve and an adventure takes place.  There are thrilling moments and plenty of action to keep the plot moving, but by far the most interesting part of the book is the universe that the author creates.  This book is destined to be a movie and it has so many opportunities to be visually spectacular.  It reminds me very much of Star Wars in that I like the original trilogy but I love the universe that these movies inhabit.

Is it the best book I’ve read?  No.  The writing style is not my favorite or maybe it needs to be refined a little more.  This book relies heavily on nostalgia but I wish it could have done so a little more subtly with fewer lengthy lists of books, movies, and songs.

Overall, both Melanie and I enjoyed it very much and I recommend it highly.  If you choose to listen to it on audiobook then you get the added bonus of having it read to you by Wil Wheaton.

Using the rating system from waaaay back in this post, I give this book a “fun.”

How to Make a Hardcover Book

After seeing our recovered Bibles, one of my nieces wanted to make a hardcover book that she would be able to write and draw in.  The process was basically the same but it was actually a little quicker to do.

Next time I would make two changes:
1.  Use a very thick and stiff utility knife to trim textblock or not trim those pages at all.
2.  Woven the reinforcing ribbon into the thread that stitched the loose pages into signatures for an even stronger connection between the pages and the ribbon.

Here is an annotated slideshow of the steps:

The Affair by Lee Child

Well friends, it is time for another patented Patz quick book review.  As you know by now, I love listening to audio books in the car and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books are consistently my favorites.  You can read a review of another in the series as well as a link to all the books in order here.

The Affair is a good book.  It might even be the best of the Reacher series.  Melanie and I both really liked the setting and the plot.  As usual, there were not an overwhelming number of characters and each was distinct and fairly believable.  The pacing was excellent.  It was a nice change to go back in time to a point when Reacher was still in the Army.

Unfortunately, this book has at least three extended sex scenes.  I guess Child had to make up for so little kissy touchy in the previous book.  I have absolutely nothing against sex, but I don’t need or want it described to me in a book – especially one primarily about action and solving mysteries.  It just seems like such a sharp turn in the story whenever it happens.  It would be easy enough to suggest what was happening and quickly move on.  We just fast forwarded through them.  I guess that is the biggest benefit of listening to the audiobook instead of reading it.

Overall, both Melanie and I really enjoyed this book and I recommend it to anyone looking for a quick action mystery read.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games!  The Hunger Games!  That is all I’ve been hearing lately.  Supposedly, the movie adaptation is even more eagerly anticipated than the next (last?) Twilight movie.  The book has been recommended by a few friends and I’ve seen numerous references to it.  All I knew going into it was that there was some girl with a bow in the woods.  That was a good start since I like archery.

The Hunger Games is a teen book that strikes a surprising balance between the extremes of what boys want in a book and what girls want.  It does not do this by blandly serving up a grey oatmeal of an inoffensive middle ground.  Instead it has a base storyline that zigs and zags from a kissy face girly story of the attractive boys that attempt to win the heart of the courageous female lead character and the could-you-survive-on-your-own, brutal fighting, alternate futureverse that boys will eat up.

I can’t speak to how well the author inspires young women with those aspects of the story but I could easily see this being a favorite book of mine growing up.  It has some wonderful similarities to one of my all-time favorites, Robinson Crusoe.  I worried that it would gloss over the actual hunger games event in favor of the personal relationship aspects of the story, but I was delighted to be completely wrong.  In fact, the bulk of the novel centers on what happens during the games themselves and allows the reader to wonder Would I have done that?  Would this way have been better?  Which weapon would I have chosen?

Besides the focus on the games themselves, this book held another surprise for me:  the brutality.  I have a 12-yr old niece and I would not let her read this book right now if she were my child.  Is it anything worse than what you’d read in an adult murder mystery?  Maybe.  Worse than an adult crime drama.  Probably not.  It is the fact that it is for younger readers that it caught me off guard.  I can agree that teens would be just fine reading this book but it would have to be on an individual basis until they were at least mid-teens.

I don’t want to give away anything more about the story so just go read it for yourself.  It is well written, entertaining, and imaginative.  Melanie and I can’t wait to listen to books two and three of the trilogy.

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

I keep a little Word doc of books to read on my computer.  It is a quick and easy way to jot down recommendations from articles, email and other online sources before I forget about them.  Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane found its way on to this list somehow and I ran across it at the library just when I needed something new to read.  I can’t remember why it made the list which was pretty neat.  This meant I had no expectations other than I probably would like it.

It is your basic crime and detective novel set in Boston.  As with almost any good book, there is a mystery to solve that isn’t completely obvious.  The characters were interesting and distinct.  I loved that the story was compact, providing only the minimum cast needed to tell the tale.  No time was spent trying to remember who this or that person was and why they were in the story.

My biggest gripe with this book was also its biggest strength:  the dialog.  Lehane has the ability to write believable and interesting dialog.  He reminds me very much of Quentin Tarantino in this respect.  His characters speak the way people talk and they convey ideas that people might really believe.  Of course, just like a movie, it is amped up a little.  No one is that clever or interesting 100% of the time in real life.  None the less, the dialog is the heart beat of this book.  It tells us about the characters, describes scenes, moves the plot along and more.

Unfortunately, because there is a bunch of talking, there is a lot less action.  As I think back on the story, it doesn’t move from location to location much.  It doesn’t develop much over the course of the book.  For this reason, when we were about halfway through the book, I told Melanie that I wanted to hear the rest of the story but I also wanted to take Lehane off the book list because the pace was just too slow.  By the end of book, when the action picks up, he had recaptured me as a future reader.

Overall, Melanie and I both liked it and we can see why this guy is a New York Times bestselling author.  I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a light distraction with some memorable characters.  Because of  its crime/detective theme, expect violence, but nothing too gruesome.  If you make it through the first half of the book, you will be rewarded with the second half.

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Hey gang!  Here is a very quick review for your upcoming holiday trips.  I just finished listening to the fictional sci-fi book Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson on audiobook.  It is well performed and I think it is a perfect match for travel – fast-paced, interesting, action-packed and exciting.  I liked it so much that I’ve added it to my recommended reading list in the sidebar.

The absolute worst part of it is the title.  It implies a run of the mill robots terrorize the world story, but in fact is filled with lots of creative ideas.  I noticed that the author has a Ph. D. in robotics and it shows with his command of the subject matter.  He does a good job of creating distinct characters and reasonable dialog but where this book really shines is the big picture concept and how it is realized.  Much like the appeal of the original Jurassic Park, it is the mental exercise of how robots might take over the world that makes this book shine.

With extremely visual scenes that fire the imagination and plenty of incredible action sequences, it is no wonder Steven Spielberg has been in talks to make a movie adaptation.  Any industrial designer would leap at the chance to realize this world and the creatures that inhabit it.

The laughable title caused me to pass this one by without a second glance when it initially came out.  Our local librarian actually suggested it to me along with Ready Player One (which I don’t believe is available on audiobook yet).  So read this book and support your local library!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I’ve been trying to get The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on audiobook from our library for ages.  It is extremely popular but my patience finally paid off a couple of weeks ago when I was able to check out a copy.  I had heard nothing but good things about it and the story quickly captured my attention.  Unfortunately, this book has some problems…

Was it a fast-paced book perfect for listening to on a long trip?  Kinda.  It was exciting. Not as fast-paced as something like a Reacher book.

Were the characters interesting?  Very.  The most compelling part of the book was the two main characters.  Believable and unique.

What about the setting?  Great.  It was wonderful to have it set in a location that you don’t read about much.  Added a whole other layer of interest.

What’s the problem?  Waaay too much casual sex and graphic depictions of rape.  I didn’t understand why a perfectly good story had to be completely ruined by that crap.  If it was that central to the story it could have certainly been hinted at like the murder in an Agatha Christie novel.  The author went overboard and he did it on multiple occasions.

It was a very memorable and well-written book but I couldn’t recommend it to anyone.