Books 33 - 35

33. Hero by Perry Moore - I was hoping for something beyond a "coming of age" plot from this winner of the 2008 LAMBDA Fiction for Young Adults, and I wasn't too disappointed. Thom, the main character, has more pressing matters than coming to terms with being gay - he's got super powers, and although that's not all that unusual in the world Moore has created, it's not all that easy, either. Super powers don't make the other people any smarter or less judgmental or less likely to have problems of their own, as Thom learns when he's accepted to train with an organized group of crime fighters. And dealing with his father's fall from public grace and his mother's abandonment are still crappy facts of life, even if you hang out with people who can fly and throw flames and all kinds of other cool tricks. The book isn't especially strong on writing style (I wondered if Moore equates writing for young adults to writing like a young adult) and the world Thom lives in is a little grey when it comes to sense of place, but as a story about how we're all the same in that we're all different, it's a pleasant read.

34. M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman, read by the author - A collection of short stories by Gaiman that have all been published previously, this time collected with the Young Adult reader (listener) in mind. There's a definite building of story depth as you progress through this book, from the beginning "The Case Of The Four And Twenty Blackbirds", a noir crime fiction using some of the best known names in nursery rhymes, to the final "The Witch's Headstone" that brings together all sorts of dark magic that doesn't end badly, if not well. Gaiman is one of the very few writers that I know of that is also an excellent story narrator. (For evidence of that, listen to The New Yorker's podcasts of authors reading their favorite authors!) Every story in this collection by Gaiman has the sound of being told to entertain - and they do.

35. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Jazz Age Tales by F. Scott Fitzgerald, audio book read by Grover Gardiner - I'd like to be more positive about these stories, but as the collection progressed, a single, sad thought kept coming to my mind - Fitzgerald really was a one hit wonder. That might be unfair, in that these stories are his early works, but they were published, so they do stand as a part of his body of work. The titled story is pretty good, especially in concept. And the arc of the main character gives an interesting look at what would happen if we really were more mature when we were younger rather than older. But the story never goes too deep, and the supporting characters are more like backstops, there to bounce dialog and action off of, but never adding structure. The stories are all surface, glitzy and wordy and overwritten, and if you try to look deeper, you'll discover Fitzgerald didn't go any deeper. I suppose that's a good portrait of the era he was writing in, but beyond their historical significance, I'd have a hard time recommending this collection to anyone.


Books 30 -32

30. Waking the Dead by Scott Spencer- Now I understand why so many people appreciate Scott Spencer's work. Thanks to a user on LJ for recommending I try again after my disappointment with Willing. Fielding Pierce is a man who wants to be a part of the system. When he falls in love with a woman who believes the system is flawed and devotes her self to working for those who can't fight for themselves, it would seem that there's no way the relationship would work. And it wasn't working when she was killed as part of collateral damage in a political assassination. This sets Fielding on a path of loving what he has lost, but at the same time, achieve his goal of playing the political game so well he ends up running for election for Congress, with all the right backers. Still clinging to the dream of what might have never been with Sarah, he appears to slowly be losing his grip on reality. The story is set for the most part in wintery Chicago, a place Spencer seems to know really well. He also has a good grasp of what it is to grieve for the future when the rest of the world has already moved on.

31.Death Masks:Book Five of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher - This time around, Dresden goes in search of a very well known and very investigated sacred relic of the Roman Catholic church. That means Michael and a few other Knights of the Cross get involved, and in my opinion that always leads to a Dresden File that's a little better researched than the ones that don't use these characters. Also back for this book are Susan, who adds little to the plot but quite a bit to Dresden's character development, and my favorite supporting character, White Court vampire Thomas Raith. The plot isn't Butcher's strongest, but he makes great use of his Chicago setting in this book, including an off-season Wrigley Field. (Side note for fans of this series who also listen to Podcasts. Jim Butcher did a short "Meet The Writers" audio interview that is available through Barnes and Noble. He comes across as a very likable guy (not unlike Harry Dresden) and his explanation for how Bob's physical appearance was chosen is pure writer gold.)

32. The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield - This was probably not the best book for me to choose as I switch from being curious about Buddhism to actively investigating it as a path I might want to follow, as it goes deep into the how Buddhism heals the troubled mind and skims the fundamentals. I still got a lot from it, possibly because I have a small background in Jungian psychology (I had no idea they shared so much) and also because Kornfield has so much experience in the are of Insightful Meditation that he's pretty much got an easy to understand example for every situation. So may examples they sometimes break the flow of the teaching of something he has entitled The Principles of Buddhist Psychology, but they do keep the book from getting mired down in psycho babble. The lessons at the end of each chapter are easy to follow and demonstrate that if someone does choose The Middle Way, it's not an overnight conversion. Be prepared to work on yourself.