Two Books that were a “No,” and Why…

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but a few years ago I stopped reading a book if I was no longer enjoying it. Taking this approach felt like both a luxury and a violation at the same time. Up to then, I was the good reader doobie who finished anything he started. But, maybe around the time you hit forty, and you start to see the end of the life’s road approaching, you put a premium on your time. Bad books don’t cut it.

Whoa (said Keanu), just went a little existential there…but it’s true nonetheless.

I can’t think of a time when it has happened for two books in a row, but it did recently, and I thought I’d post about why. Usually, I pick up a book because it’s been recommended somewhere, by either a friend or on another blog written by someone I respect or in a writing book. I’m no longer a willy-nilly, “hey, this cover looks nifty, maybe I’ll give it a try,” kind of joe. So, I’ve become choosier about what I even pick up, AND become much more judgmental about what I’m reading as I’m reading it.

I think the basic rule is: if I’m not completely lost in the story within the first fifty pages, the book isn’t for me. But for it to happen twice? Maybe I’m crossing the line into being too harsh… Continue reading “Two Books that were a “No,” and Why…”

Go Read the Chet and Bernie Mysteries

View this post as a love letter to some “easy-listening” books I have picked up at the library starting a few years ago. Ever since listening to the first one, I’ve been on a recommendation rampage. (Yes, I’m a car book fanatic.) I started book number five, A Fistful of Collars, yesterday.

For those of you not yet in the know, the basic premise is a dog (Chet, plain and simple) working with a detective (Bernie Little) to solve mysteries around “The Valley,” which is sort of a stand-in for Phoenix, AZ, although Spencer Quinn, the author, never spills this particular bean explicitly.

The essential charm of the books is that they are told from Chet’s point of view. Comedy and drama spring from this choice, and Quinn never strays from it. Oops, bad pun alert; however, if you liked that pun at all, that’s another reason you’ll love these books.

Chet’s observations about the environment around him (the sights of course, but particularly the smells which are emphasized because he’s a dog) are constantly bouncing off of the reader’s own human point of view. We fill in the blanks left by the dog’s charming naïveté, and all we need are the hints about the human behavior he picks up to gather the complete picture. It is a masterclass in showing, not telling, the reader the story.

Really, you could accept just about anything plot wise when it comes to these books. The lesser of the books, To Fetch a Thief, is about an elephant kidnapping. It closes with a set piece that is outlandish bordering on the farcical, and a resolution that is ultimately unbelievable under the cold light of day. It feels more like the plot resolution from a bad Hardy Boys book. But who cares? If Chet’s involved, ever striving to be a “professional” detective (even if he fails when there’s something interesting to eat on the ground), you don’t care too much as a reader. His love for Bernie, the relationship they have, is unshakeable and makes the whole thing hum. You root for them to succeed.

One other note, Quinn isn’t scared to give Bernie human flaws and foibles that might be more off-putting if Chet wasn’t the one describing them. Bernie is painfully bad with women to the point of being a wimp, horrible with money, and obsessed with environmentalism to the point of being nannyish. All these things would be unpalatable if the books had Bernie as a narrator. But these flaws are softened when they are described by Chet, who is confused about Bernie railing on about the overuse of water to deplete the aquifer, among other things. You end up forgiving Bernie for his foibles. He’s a do-gooder, who isn’t necessarily the smartest human in the room, but Chet thinks otherwise, so bad guys better watch out.

The first and second books are the best to-date (as I said, I just started the fifth). But for pleasure reading, you can’t do much better. Start with Dog On It and enjoy.

Review: The Ruins by Scott Smith

After reading A Simple Plan years ago, I was very much looking forward to reading The Ruins. And besides, Stephen King didn’t just endorse it – you practically have to wipe the saliva off the cover from the tongue bath the maestro of horror gives this book. The Ruins popped up on my reading list because I was bored one day and googled best horror novel lists, so I added it to my own.

To put it simply, the book is worth a read, particularly if you like horror. Would I recommend it to my wife who enjoys mainstream fiction? No. Her book club ladies would not enjoy this alongside a glass of wine and their buffalo chicken dip.

But let’s take the book from a strengths and weaknesses perspective. If you think that the strengths outweigh, it’ll solidify your choice about whether to read it, although this post may function better as a discussion forum for others who have already read the book. Be warned, some spoilers below. Continue reading “Review: The Ruins by Scott Smith”