A FEAST OF SNAKES  Harry Crews
A former high school football star goes on a killing spree at a rattlesnake roundup. Fascinating, disturbing, grotesque - vintage Harry Crews . . . "He did not know what love was. And he did not know what good it was. But he knew he carried it with him, a scabrous spot of rot, of contagion, for which there was no cure. Rage would not cure it. Indulgence made it worse, flamed it, made it grow like cancer. And it had ruined his life."
BROKEN BULBS  Eddie Wright
Frank Fisher is nothing. He wants to be something. When a mysterious young woman named Bonnie offers assistance by injecting seeds of inspiration directly into his brain, Frank finds himself involved in a twisting mystery full of addiction, desperation and self-discovery. Broken Bulbs, a novella by Eddie Wright, tells the story of the lengths one young man will go in the pursuit of "something." Broken Bulbs is a brilliant and stunningly original work, by far the best novel I read in 2008. Technically, I suppose, Broken Bulbs would be classified as a novella since it runs just 132 pages and I read it in about an hour or so. Fast-paced, energetic and totally eclectic, Broken Bulbs reminded me of a quote from William S. Burroughs in Naked Lunch: "I am a ghost wanting what every ghost wants—a body—after the Long Time moving through odorless alleys of space where no life is only the colorless smell of death . . ." In Broken Bulbs, the horrors of drug addiction and total despair collide with blunted creative aspirations, destroyed hopes and fear of failure on a twisted road leading to self-discovery. If you truly enjoy reading the latest, force-fed pabulum that can be found on The New York Times best seller list, stay the hell away from Broken Bulbs. However, if you welcome the challenge of tackling something totally authentic, surreal, disturbing and existential (and yes at times downright weird!), I strongly recommend Broken Bulbs. Where else can you find a stream-of-consciousness narrative full of references to such diverse subjects as A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Peter Brady, Norman Bates, Albert Einstein, Iggy Pop, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Woody Allen, as well as a demented mailman and six-foot-tall hamster wearing a suit (not kidding!). I particularly enjoyed many of the great creative passages such as "The seeds grow beautiful trees with endless fruits of creativity dangling from the branches just waiting to be plucked but instead I let them fall to the ground and die. Sometimes I take them. Sometimes I take them and bite them and they taste wrong. They taste bad. They taste like poison. They taste like pain." Ironically, the last three months have been a creative black hole for me. Day after day, I would sit around and write down ideas on scraps of paper and file them away as I soon got distracted by mindless pursuits. Wasted hours, unfocused, staring at a blank computer screen and then reaching for a bottle of cheap wine or glued to the TV watching a bunch of worthless crap. And so in the end I felt just like Frank Fisher, I am Frank Fisher . . . Aren't we all? "There's nothing like that millisecond when thoughts and feelings and dreams and creativity and pride pile on top of each other to form a mountain of hope that you can climb to overlook all the shit that cloud your existence. But there's also nothing quite as horrifying as the inevitable fall that comes when you realize that you've been standing on false hopes, broken dreams and idiotic, unrealistic thoughts and you plummet right back into the middle of all that shit and it's worse than you remember. There's nothing quite like nothingness."
CONSPIRATOR'S ODYSSEY: THE EVOLUTION OF THE PATRON SAINT  A.K. Kuykendall
As a conspiracy theory buff, I enjoyed Conspirator's Odyssey from the very first page when I came across the following quote from John F. Kennedy: "The very word secrecy is repugnant in a free and open society. We are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers, which are cited to justify it." Conspirator's Odyssey skillfully blends major conspiracy theories from the Roswell Incident to the Bay of Pigs to the JFK assassination to Vietnam to Watergate to 9/11 and beyond into a tightly wound, suspenseful thriller. At its core, however, is a plea for the United States to dismantle the "Military-Industrial Complex" and return to the idealism represented by President John F. Kennedy: "The historic actions that took place during his administration and his unfortunate assassination by power-hungry modern-day cowboys made us average Americans take notice. These cowardly modern-day cowboys hired gunmen to ambush him from a distance, waiting for the opportune moment to wreak havoc upon our nation. This single action made us notice the corrupt powers that hovered—and still hover—over American society. His choice to go against the grain instead of following the corrupt flow of history sealed his fate with certain powerful Americans. These men are hidden within the corrupt bowels of secret societies—the very secret societies he boldly denounced. Things have gotten completely out of hand since his death, for these secret societies are running amok within our government." Conspirator's Odyssey is one of the first conspiracy thrillers I've ever read that introduces a complex and dynamic female character as its protagonist. Captain Kalista Flaker, an Army Ranger with a troubled past ("Raised in a home filled with drunks and drug addicts, it was hell on earth . . .") who is sent on a covert operation to Vietnam in 1998, uncovers a vast conspiracy with roots that stretch back to the Roswell UFO Incident in 1947. The debut novel of author A.K. Kuykendall, Conspirator's Odyssey is a compulsive page turner that I highly recommend. Any reader obsessed with conspiracy theories will want a copy of Conspirator's Odyssey on their bookshelf (conversely, if you aren't into conspiracy theories, you will probably want to skip this one). Fortunately it is the first in a planned series of "conspiracy thriller" novels. I believe this series will soon develop a deserving cult following and I eagerly look forward to the next installment!
KANOOK KIBBUTZNICK  Mike Hoover
Kanook Kibbutznick is a fascinating story, highly recommended, the most original novel I've read all year. It's one of the few books ever that I was compelled to read in one sitting, a thoroughly engrossing story that is based on true events in the author's life. The first-person, picaresque narrative follows the protagonist from a strict childhood in Vancouver that leads to a rebellious adolescence to his enlistment and basic training in the United States Marine Corp at the age of 17 to combat in Vietnam. After being wounded in action, he returns home and attends college in West Virginia until he hears a televised speech by Golda Meier that so inspires him that he flies to Israel, where he winds up working on a kibbutz and is subsequently recruited by the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service. He soon joins a mission to help track down and assassinate two of the Munich terrorists who are residing in Montreal. Through it all, he overcomes enormous obstacles with a fierce independence, single-minded determination and, at all times, an eclectic sense of humor about his circumstances. Kanook Kibbutznick reads like an action-paced thriller and pulls no punches in detailing the brutality of war—whether slogging through the jungles of Vietnam or going out on combat patrols with the Israeli Defense Forces. Along the way there are numerous cultural references from Shakespeare to Pink Floyd. The novel is also very cinematic in a way that reminded me of scenes from some of my favorite movies such as basic training in Full Metal Jacket, the patrols in Platoon and all the rigorous preparation that led to the secret retaliation in Munich. In fact, Kanook Kibbutznick has all the elements of a great film and I believe it will make it to the silver screen in the near future. I'm also looking forward to reading the sequel.
ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE  Robert M. Pirsig
"We're in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it's all gone." A well-worn copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance sits prominently on my bookshelf. I can open it on any page and start reading—it's truly original, thought-provoking and extraordinary. A real treasure.