Books Completed in October

1. In Search of Captain Zero: A Surfer’s Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road, by Allan Weisbecker (***1/2)
2. Zone One (audio book), by Colson Whitehead (****)
3. Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes (****)
4. Day Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko (***1/2)
5. Alice in Wonderland: A Color Primer, by Jennifer Adams, art by Alison Oliver (*****)
6. The War of the Worlds, by HG Wells (***1/2)
7. A Stir of Echoes, by Richard Matheson (****)
8. The Eye Book, by Dr. Seuss (writing as Theo LeSieg) (****)
9. American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett (*****)

REVIEWS:

1. In Search of Captain Zero: A Surfer’s Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road, by Allan Weisbecker (***1/2)
This is a book that I’ve had on my bookshelf forever, which I picked up because I have a fascination with surfing. I love the idea of it, of standing up on a board and letting a wave carry you. I can imagine the joy of it, can imagine finding what Weisbecker describes as The Glide. (I’ve only tried it once on a water logged board and it was miserable just trying to just keep the nose of the board above water.)

This book begins with Weisbecker dropping everything and abandoning his home and possessions, except for his surfboards, truck, and dog, and heading south into Mexico. The journey is in part to return to the true surfing life, and in part to find his old friend Christopher, a.k.a. Captain Zero.

Weisbecker is a good writer and he describes wave riding and his travels in Mexico and Central America well enough to make them easy to visualize. His past adventures, including marijuana running, with Christopher are also entertaining and sometimes hilarious.

But as much as I love the idea of the surf experience on the water, I hate the posturing machismo that comes with it, the tendency toward a feeling of ownership over waves (perhaps understandable on crowded waters) and occasional assholery of some dudes. There’s also a general attitude toward women of them not being real surfers and only being as something to F*ck that I hate. All of that comes out at points in Weisbecker’s interaction with other surfers, as well as his own attitude of elitism. Not to mention, his occasional tendency to be patronizing (or “how cute”) in tone when describing the cultures and people he meets down south (not always, but enough for me to notice).

It was a good read and I wasn’t bored, but it’s not a book I’m enamored with.

2. Zone One (audio book), by Colson Whitehead (****)
Mark Spitz is a survivor. When the Last Night happened and the dead started chowing down on his neighbors, he took to the wilds and lived via a combination of insight and insurmountable luck.

Now humanity is beginning to regain small footholds, fragments of civilization amid the chaos, even if everyone is diagnosed with PASD (post apocalyptic stress disorder). Mark Spitz is working as a sweeper in Zone One (Manhattan island), going from building to building in search of any stragglers the marines left behind. It looks like the world might return to a new normal, with higher ups to repopulate Zone One, once it’s cleared.

This book is a vivid, literary and contemplative zombie novel, one that explores what it means to be human in a world of monsters that look like a more decrepit versions of yourself. As Mark Spitz explores the empty streets of Zone One, he flashes back both to the time before Last Night and his time as a survivor in the wild.

This has to be one of the most intelligent zombie novels I’ve ever read, and while it meanders through the past in poetic nostalgia and metaphoric interpretations of the apocalyptic landscape, it need looses sight of Mark Spitz as a character or the thread of the story. It remains compelling and I found myself caught up in the people he meets, in their own little madnesses. It’s at times gross (dead goo and fluids well described) and at times frightening, but always fascinating.

3. Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes (****)
This a memoir of home renovation, excellent food, and an abiding love for Tuscany. Frances describes the area in shades and textures, in rich smells and flavors. It’s a book of pleasures, of enjoyment of hard work on a project you love, making it enjoyable no matter the frustrations or compilations that happen along the way. She makes the region come alive to the point I could smell the heat on the hillsides amid the hot summer. As a book for lovers of renovations, for good food and for Italy, the book is just about perfect.

The movie, btw, has little relation to the book, except by name. The focus of the movie on recovering from divorce and finding a new home for oneself, is almost nonexistent in the book (with the divorce mentioned only in passing). And small moments from the book become major scenes or plot points in the movie. It’s an interesting movie adaptation, creating a very Hollywood story of growth. It’s a good movie, but should not be taken as a measure of what the book might be.

4. Day Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko (***1/2)
The sequel to Night Watch (which I quite enjoyed) continues to explore the world of the Others, which is split into “Dark” and “Light”, two factions that have been at unstable peace for centuries with each other for centuries. The Day Watch (operated by the Dark) watches over the day and polices the forces of Light, making sure they follow the laws of the treaty. Like the first book, Day Watch is split into three novellas, each interconnected so that they form a complete overarching story.

I didn’t like Day Watch as much as I liked the first book, and this was probably because I didn’t connect with the characters as much. The first story in the book follows a young Dark witch, who loses her powers and is sent to a children’s camp to recuperate. There she unknowingly falls in love with a young man who turns out to be a Light Other with tragic consequences. I thought this story was fine, though the witch didn’t seem entirely a complete character. Her attraction to this young man was awkward, suddenly making her a giggling girl instead of the powerful cynical witch she was. The sex scene was equally awkward.

The second story beings with a man who has forgotten his identity. He discovers he has powers and begins to follow a plan he doesn’t fully understand. Again, I couldn’t quite connect with this character and his constant referencing all he doesn’t know, but I guess I’ll follow my inner instincts got to be very tedious. If Anton (the main character from Night Watch) hadn’t shown up halfway through the story, I might not have wanted to keep going with it.

The third and final story features Anton, who along with a Dark Other, is sent to follow a group of men who are to be tried for their actions in the second story. Because Anton is one of the main characters in this story, I was able to follow it eagerly and keep entertained.

It was clear with this second book that the author wanted to explore the POV of the Dark Others, but didn’t quite connect with them, which made it hard for the readers to connect with them. This probably explains why he returned to Anton’s POV halfway through the book, which immediately made it more interesting. The book concluded well, and ultimately I enjoyed it. Since Anton is the main character of the next two books in the series, I’m interested to keep reading.

5. Alice in Wonderland: A Color Primer, by Jennifer Adams, art by Alison Oliver (*****)
This is an adorable little color primer based on Alice in Wonderland with bright, fun artwork. It kind of loosely tells the story, in the sense that it progresses from one iconic moment in the book to another. If you love Alice, you’re likely to buy this for your kid. It’s supercute and my niece seems to love it.

Apparently this is part of a series of color primers, all based on classic literature, which is awesome. I’m curious to see what else they have.

Alice

Alice

6. The War of the Worlds, by HG Wells (***1/2)
This classic tale of aliens landing on Earth for the purpose of destruction and colonization is an entertaining adventure yarn, which sets the stage for many future apocalyptic/horror stories. The main character records events after they happened and describes the landing of the Martians and their octopus-like bodies and tripod machines of destruction. There is escape, thousands of desperate and fleeing survivors swarming the roads, with scavenging and chaotic behavior. There are the empty ravaged landscapes, full of corpses and empty destroyed buildings and a sense of lonely desolation in the heart of a man who believe he may be the only survivor. In a sense, it’s very similar to apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic tales that are told today with the exception of horse-drawn carriages and trains instead of automobiles and cell phones as the backdrop. It’s a quick read and very entertaining, and it’s easy to see why it became a classic.

Now, I’m interested in finding a radio show version to listen to, especially due to all the mass panic stories from when the show was first aired. ๐Ÿ™‚

7. A Stir of Echoes, by Richard Matheson (****)
During a party one night, Tom Wallace agrees to be hypnotized. But what was supposed to just be a party trick, actually opens a door in his mind, granting him telepathic abilities. He begins to see into the dark, frightening corners of his neighbors otherwise outwardly safe and orderly lives. As his headaches grow along with his perception and his behavior becomes more erratic, his new gifts begin to threaten the stability of his own family, while some darker secret lies just beneath the surface.

This is an easy read and a really enjoyable book. It’s tied to its late ’50s era, but this is not terribly of putting and it translates fairly well. I think Matheson did a great job portraying both Tom (frightened but curious) and his wife (it must be so terrifying to see someone you love go through this and not know if they are sane or not or how to help them). I would definitely recommend this for some light reading, and while it touches the horror genre, it’s not terribly frightening.

As a footnote, I also really love the movie version with Kevin Bacon. They do change parts of the plot and make different connections, but it’s a damn good adaptation.

8. The Eye Book, by Dr. Seuss (writing as Theo LeSieg) (****)
My Review: A cute book in which a red-headed boy and his rabbit pal explore all the interesting things they can see with their eyes, from colors to people. The art is not the typical Suess style, but it’s cute.

My Nieces Review: Since she brought it over to me and sat quietly in my lap as I read, I’d say she’s rather fond of it. According to my sister, it one of the books she asks to be read all the time. ๐Ÿ™‚

9. American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett (*****)
Note: This was an ARC received through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Wink, New Mexico is a small town unlike any other. On the outside, it is perfect — white houses with white picket fences and lawns perfectly cropped and green despite the desert sun. Yet beneath the surface are secrets, strange occurs few in the night, places one does not go, shadows into which one does not look.

When Mona finds out she has inherited a home from her mother, she travels to Wink to learn more about the woman she barely knew. As she looks into her mother’s past, Mona begins to be drawn into the weird and dangerous world of Wink, a world the could cost her more than her life.

I pretty much loved this book from chapter one, when three men drag a less than human man out of a house and leave him to be destroyed by a powerful and terrible creature. The mystery and frightening wonder of that act drew me in immediately. And each new creature was introduced, all odd and frightening and fabulous, I was drawn in all the more. The tales unfolded like fairy tales, with the creatures you don’t follow into the woods and the “agreements” made for peace and safety.

I loved Mona. She was cynical, smart, complicated, persistent, wounded, and generally kick ass. She doesn’t pick up on all the weirdness right away, but in her defense the people of Wink expend a considerable amount of effort in pretending everything is normal. But once confronted with this reality, she handles it with aplomb and a big ass gun.

I also love how all the villains are interesting and frightening, each the hero of their own story. In fact, the author does so well crafting these characters that I actually pitied even the worst of them. Creating sympathy for characters you are meant (and do at times) hate is a neat trick.

There wasn’t a single character that I didn’t find interesting to read about, not one I didn’t want to learn more about. I adore this story and how it all comes together, unfolding in layers with a good mix of tension and just the right amount of blood splatter. And I as I read the final lines, I didn’t even want to put it down; I held onto it, hugging it to my chest, fighting the urge to read it again.