July Books To Read: The Dresden Files, Bill Bryson, A City of Thieves

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The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files: Storm Front & Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Many friends recommended this series so I finally decided to check it out. It sounds like it fits my interests. The main character is a wizard named Harry Dresden. I guess Harry is a popular wizard name. But Dresden is different, okay. He’s in the yellow pages.

Essentially book 1, Storm Front runs like a P.I. novel. Dresden runs a private investigation service but also works with the police department at times. Since he is involved in wizardry, the department are skeptical of him. Even to the point of basically accusing him of the plot-point murder. Everyone is against him. Everyone thinks he did it. As an introduction to a character, it’s a weird one. So he spends the whole time trying to prove his innocence. It’s weird.

As a character, Dresden is a mess. Your stereotypical bachelor. He is a super powerful wizard! But can’t take care of himself. He can’t clean, pay his bills on time, or even eat & sleep without someone reminding him to do it. He just keeps falling apart.

This wouldn’t be annoying except this caricature behavior didn’t change in the slightest from Book 1 to Book 4, Summer Knight. After not liking the first book, I was told to jump straight to book four. The first three weren’t edited very well and the later books pull together the bigger plot. I was told that would make it more interesting.

Four books later and Dresden is still sitting in his dark apartment because he forgot to pay his electric bill. Sometimes he cares about money, but sometimes he doesn’t. His personal behavior is inconsistent and frustrating. I get it. He’s so smart and powerful yet he can’t pay his bills. I just don’t like that it is such a defining characteristic of him. Why doesn’t he get another job? How do other wizards make money? I want to see Harry Dresden create a budget.

Admittedly, Summer Knight wasn’t nearly as predictable as Storm Front. I was able to see that there is an over-arching plot. Unfortunately, I just don’t care about it. I can see the appeal here, but overall it’s just not my type of story. I did enjoy in this one that he was able to bring an outsider into the wizard world. And this book seemed to be less The World V. Harry Dresden. That made it easier to read.

I do not plan to read the rest of the books. I wish Butcher would write an essay about how much Toot Toot loves pizza.

Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 2/5
Summary: Harry Dresden is a different kind of wizard. Kinda. Not really.

bill bryson the lost continent small town life

Bill Bryson’s cross-country trip across the United States; he is miserable the entire time

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson

It’s unfortunate I have to say this, but this book has completely turned me off from Bryson’s writing. I have no further interest to read anything he writes. Being young isn’t an excuse to be a fat-shaming, arrogant, pretentious, racist asshole. His humor in this is so over the top, at first I thought it was a satire. But nope, it’s just an American calling all other Americans dumb.

According to Bill Bryson, all tourists are idiots. Although he, of course, wasn’t one of those tourists. All fat people are food experts, but he wasn’t one of those greedy food grubs. All Americans are idiots but he’s not an one because he lives in Great Britain.

The hypocracy in this book is too much to count. Aside from his “I’m perfect, you’re the problem” attitude. He steps on his own toes a lot. There’s a whole paragraph dedicated to him as a kid persuading their father to visit a tourist attraction. His dad gives in then also buys them toys in the gift shop, though begrudgingly. Later Bryson dedicates a paragraph to how his father thought anyone who stopped at roadside attractions were idiots and never paid for anything because he was so cheap.

After about 30 pages, I had grown accustomed to Bryson being a curmudgeon. Then he went too far, even for me. And then this brash attitude continued the rest of the book. Here’s a direct quote from The Lost Continent:

“I share a birthday with Eisenhower myself,” the lady with the bluish hair went on, still loudly, consolidating her position in front of me with a twitch of her ample butt. “And I’ve got a cousin who shares a birthday with Harry Truman.”
I toyed for a moment with the idea of grabbing the woman by both ears and driving her forehead into my knee, but instead passed into the next room.

Here is another paragraph of Bryson at a roadside cafe in Vermont judging a husband and wife, wanting to hit their child:

Poor guy! And on top of that here he was married to a woman who was slovenly and indiscreet, and had a butt like a barn door. Even his kids were ugly as sin. I was half tempted to give one of them a clout myself as I went out the door. There was just something about his nasty little face that made you itch to smack him.

Please tell me this is a satire.

It’s not a satire. So I bailed on the book after 200 pages. I read all of his trip through the Eastern part of the United States. I just couldn’t bare to read what he had to say about the West. Actually I started it but the first bit was just mocking Nebraska and I couldn’t take it anymore. The saddest part is his mocking is so repetitive. I mean, there’s only so many ways to make fun of hicks & southerners. Bryson exhausted them after the first few pages. The rest of the book are just the same jokes over and over.

Aside from Bryson’s horrific writing style, the book itself was laid out oddly. Comparing it to A Walk in the Woods, he never explains why he’s taking this trip. He never explains the route. He skims over a lot of his travels. He dedicates about 100 pages to the south (because there’s plenty to complain about) and barely 10 pages to all of New England.

Even his incorporation of facts, practically what he’s known for now, was scarce. Any interesting information he gave was immediately buried under him berating everyone and everything.

Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Travel Memoir
Rating: 0/5
Summary: A misanthrope travels around the US complaining about everything repeatedly.

A City of Thieves; Historical Fiction of the Siege of Leningrad by David Benioff

A City of Thieves; Historical Fiction of the Siege of Leningrad

This story was based on Benioff’s grandfather’s experiences during the Siege of Leningrad as a teenager. And most of the historical references are correct. The story itself is fictional. But it’s a good one.

We are immediately introduced to the two main characters: Benioff’s grandfather Lev and Kolya, as they meet in a prison. Instead of being executed, they are sent off to see a colonel. And are given the mission to find a dozen eggs in a week. This begins the story.

City of Thieves is most certainly a coming of age story. Excluding the war context, two teenage boys are given the punishment of having to scour the country-side to run an odd errand in a certain period of time. It’s been done before. And it’s predictable. However, the journey is absolutely worth it. As a reader, going along on this literal and figurative journey with Lev and Kolya really is an entertaining ride. I say that with caution because this is a war story, some parts are gruesome. Most parts are not happy. But I have read worse on the subject.

This is the first book by Benioff I’ve read and I enjoyed his writing style. It’s an easy read. And the scenes are pretty theatrical. But not overly simplified. Besides, he really seemed to put in some effort to the historical accuracy. Granted, I haven’t read many books on the Russian perspective of the war. So this was a good change for me. Most of the places he references are real. And the descriptions of hunger and loss felt very real.

There are a few things that help keep this story fresh. It is a war book but not about the front lines. It is about the people who were left behind. Boys too young to go out to the war. Doctors without supplies. Women conflicted between loyalty and survival. Also, it is based on true events. Sure there are exaggerations and dramatizations. But some parts of it are real, and that alone is pretty amazing.

I should also point out that I’m a sucker for coming of age tales, so this story was definitely right up my alley.

Author: David Benioff
Genre: Historical Fiction WWII
Rating: 4/5
Summary: A teenager’s life during the Siege of Leningrad.
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