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Finish Line 2011 > Neil's books of 2011

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Neil McCrea | 57 comments 2010 was my worst year for reading in terms of numbers in the 20 + years that I've been keeping a reading journal. Here's hoping 2011 will be better.

"Have You Seen . . . ?": A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films

Personal essays on 1,000 + films. Thompson unearths rare gems and attacks sacred cows without succumbing to the tired notion that art of any sort can really be ranked in any sort of top ten style hierarchy.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments #2

I re-read Elizabeth Inchbald's A Simple Story in order to compare the style with Radcliffe's. The book is still surprisingly engaging for a novel of the 1790's. Any Jane Austen fans out there would be well advised to read this major influence on her work.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments #3

I also re-read Ann Radcliffe's The Italian for the above mentioned style comparison, and it was just as plodding as I recall. If I wasn't able to read it in the context of her literary "feud" with Matthew Lewis it would be hard to get through.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments #4

A collection of Lovecraft inspired stories intended to showcase stories that work from the themes and atmosphere of Lovecraft rather than be caught up in all the trappings of the mythos. It succeeds in its statement of intent.

Anthologies like this tend to be hit or miss by their nature. Lovecraft Unbound is an exception only in that the stories range from excellent and memorable to entertaining but quickly forgotten, there are no real clunkers here. The best stories come from the authors I expected them to come from: Michael Chabon, Joyce Carol Oates, and Caitlin Kiernan. Nick Mammatos' story was also unique enough that I will be keeping an eye out for his work. Lovecraft Unbound by Ellen Datlow


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments #6

The Return of Sherlock Holmes (fully annotated)


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments #7

Dope

A tightly written crime novel from a unique perspective. Set in 1950's New York City, a recovering female heroin addict is hired by a wealthy couple to find their missing daughter. It reads as if someone had taken one of Burroughs' early non-experimental novels and constructed a crime novel out of it. It would come as a great surprise to learn that Ms. Gran didn't use his work as a major reference. Fortunately, she uses it very well. A fresh approach to some tired tropes.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments #8

Walking Dead by Greg Rucka

Greg Rucka takes his bodyguard character, Atticus Kodiak, deep into Andrew Vacchs territory, but with a well researched international angle.

Atticus is no longer the easily relatable character he was in the early novels, but I imagine the extreme events that take place in these types of thrillers are apt to change someone into a more extreme personality.


A quick, satisfying read for the genre, but it doesn't surpass the expected tropes that genre writing presupposes.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments #9

The Passport (Masks) by Herta Müller

Herta Muller won the nobel prize for literature. I thought I should read one of her books. The Passport is a very short novel. Muller writes in very short sentences. The novel is about German speaking Romanians. Many of them wish to get a passport to leave Ceaucescu's Romania for Germany. The novel contains many non-sequitors of tangential import. I once met Ceaucescu on a visit he made to Canada. The novel contains touches of surrealism and dream imagery. The woodpecker on my coffee ta...moreHerta Muller won the nobel prize for literature. I thought I should read one of her books. The Passport is a very short novel. Muller writes in very short sentences. The novel is about German speaking Romanians. Many of them wish to get a passport to leave Ceaucescu's Romania for Germany. The novel contains many non-sequitors of tangential import. I once met Ceaucescu on a visit he made to Canada. The novel contains touches of surrealism and dream imagery. The woodpecker on my coffee table taps with the rhythm of Muller's prose. This novel is a drag. This novel is a drag. This novel is a drag. Muller's writing may be of significant cultural import. Muller is interesting enough that I may read another of her works. I have endeavored to write this review in the style of her prose. This novel is a drag.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments #11 Wisdom & Dust by Neil McCrea

Yes, I'm including my own book here. In preparation for a long series of book store readings this spring, I've had to read and re-read Wisdom & Dust in order to figure out which excerpts to perform.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments #12 Howl and Other Poems (City Lights Pocket Poets Series, #4) by Allen Ginsberg

I reread Howl prior to watching the recent movie about the related obscenity trial. I was reminded that although I don't care for Ginsberg's work in general, Howl itself is a hell of an achievement.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments #13 The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Caitlin Kiernan riffs on the styles of Blackwood and Machen, in a thoroughly contemporary idiom. Simply one of my favorite books in some time, of any genre.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments 14. Moominland Midwinter (Moomin Books) by Tove Jansson

I've long been aware of the Moomin books, but had never read one despite having a sister who has majored in the study of children's literature. A Finnish friend sent me the book in a care package, and I found it to be delightful. It addresses bigger issues in a more matter of fact way than most children's literature, and yet there is no lack of wonder and joy in it.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments 15. A MAN, OSTENSIBLY

During the meet and greet after a poetry event in which I was reading, the publisher of this book gave me a free copy. I don't recollect why, but I'm glad they did. Baxter's great gift is the ability to write sonnets in a completely modern idiom, obeying all the rules of form but accessible to the casual reader as well as the English majors out there.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments 16. Money for Sunsets Money for Sunsets by Elizabeth J. Colen

I recently read some of my work at a National Poetry month event. The event was probably overbooked, containing more poets than most people would be able to absorb readily. Of the 18 poets I listened to Colen really stood out from the crowd, and I quietly snapped up a copy of this book after the event was over.
Many poets who work with a regional theme get caught up too much in raw geography, be it wilderness, country or city, but Colen manages to capture the psyche of the Pacific Northwest, from bright surfaces to dark corners. In the introduction her work is compared to Twin Peaks, the comparison is surprisingly apt.
I note that this book is categorized as LGBT lit, and while I recognize the need to celebrate LGBT lit, I certainly hope this volume is not ghettoized by that label as it certainly deserves a wider audience.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments 17. The Golden Gizmo The Golden Gizmo by Jim Thompson

The goofiest and least convincing of all Jim Thompson's work, that said it is still a Jim Thompson novel and you could make a much worse choice in your reading material.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments 18. Ender's Game Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1) by Orson Scott Card

My geek cred has long suffered because I had never read this book. After having read a few other of Card's novels, I grew weary of his heavy handed didacticism and ignored his most famous work for years. I'm sorry that it took me so long to come around, Ender's Game is eminently worthy of its classic status. The novel is not only remarkably prescient in regards to the internet, but as a child thrown into a ton of different "gifted student" programs throughout the 70's and early 80's, I can verify that it captures a certain pedagogical mindset very well. I'm a little surprised at how much I enjoyed this book, although I will likely avoid the sequels as this book works so perfectly on its own.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments 19. Haiku: A Novel Haiku A Novel by Andrew Vachss
I've long been an Andrew Vachss fan, largely on the strength of his prose style. It's tight, stripped to the bone, and unmistakable. That said, reading Vachss has also been a frustrating experience for me. In the last 10+ years he has been strongly tied to a formula, to his credit it has largely been a formula of his own creation, but it is a formula nonetheless.

Haiku manages to break this formula, and I'm grateful. So grateful I may have given it an extra star. The novel is far from perfect, but I'm glad to see Vachss stretching his chops.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments 20. Horse Soldiers The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan  by Doug Stanton Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan



Non-fiction that reads as if the ghost of Rudyard Kipling were writing about the current conflict in Afghanistan.

The book does an excellent job of putting a human face on US special forces, Afghan civilians, the Northern Alliance, and the Taliban. Readers of all political stripes have much to gain from this account


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments 21. A Star Shall Fall (Onyx Court, #3) by Marie Brennan A Star Shall Fall

I'd say that the Onyx Hall books are a guilty pleasure, except that isn't quite right. I'm not particular taken with the characters, but i have no major complaints about them either. Brennan is not much of a stylist, but her prose doesn't irritate either.

My enjoyment of the series comes entirely from the primary plot conceit. The Onyx Hall is a series of novels that documents the influence of the faerie court on the royal court of England throughout various historical time periods. Brennan's grasp of history, and her ability to inject figures from folklore and myth into events is enough to keep me reading.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments #22 Interstate Chokehold by Frank Reardon



Hard drinkin', Boston Irish, word brawler.

Too reductionist a description for you?

Your loss.


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments #23 The Wilding by Benjamin Percy

The Wilding is less an eco novel and more a study on the nature of masculinity both socialized and inherent. Oddly, it reminded me of Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs even though the plots bear little resemblance to each other.

There are two main threads in this novel that run side by side and reflect off each other rather than intertwine. In one thread we have the story of grandfather, father, and son attempting to bridge the generation gap while battling a wilderness area that grows increasingly hostile as the story progresses. The other, slighter thread involves the mother battling a temptation to her fidelity while being stalked by a disturbed veteran. I liked the conceit of these parallel stories that seldom intersect, but although there are moments when the events of one story shed a nicely philosophic light on the events of the other, I think it ultimatly fails. The weaker stalker storyline is unable to keep pace with the much meatier wilderness adventure.

The novel touches on interesting issues in interesting ways, and I will look for more from Percy


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments #24 Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory




My rating:


edit my review
shelf: read


Someone is going to start a cult based around this book. In less than a generation its followers will outnumber the Mormons and have a greater impact on the media than the Scientologists. There will be schisms, heresies and wars. It is entirely possible that I will rise to power as a Torquemada like figure in the Loory-following theocracy that the Western US shall become. I shall spend my every waking moment rooting out and torturing those who have not read this tome.

It would be for the best if you just read it now


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments #25 Bells for Her by Samantha Ledger

Samantha Ledger writes in the style of the "confessional" poets. This sub-genre can be a dangerous arena, the reader knows when the poems ring untrue and they cry for blood if the poems appear to be back-handed forms of self-aggrandizement. Confessional poetry is almost a battle between writer and audience, and only one can come out the other side unscathed. Failures in this mode are legion, but Samantha Ledger, like Sylvia Plath before her, is a champion of the form


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Neil McCrea | 57 comments #26 Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

I love the vintage found photographs and the design of the book in general, but ultimately the book fails for me. It is the first book of a series and does not hold up on its own. In essence, the book establishes a few interesting characters, sets up a few problems for them, then gives you a wink and declares that the story will start in the next volume. bah.


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