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Subject: What did you read in August 2014? rss

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My pace slowed down a bit this past month, partly because I got stuck on a few books that didn't keep my attention like I was expecting to. I still managed to get another eleven books read, though, so I can't complain too much about it.

I finished off the last in Mario Acevedo's Felix Gomez series, Werewolf Smackdown, and it was horrible. It was a quick read, and was mildly entertaining, but the prose, the characterization, and the overall story were a huge letdown. I'm surprised that I got anything out of this series when I started it seven years ago.

I also read the two books that make up the Tune series by Derek Kirk Kim, Vanishing Point and Still Life. I had read these online as a Webcomic, and thought that these collections were going to go further than that. They didn't, which was somewhat disappointing, but the story was still good, so it wasn't a total loss. If you want to read it for free, you can find it here.

I finished up the Straw Men series by Michael Marshall by completing Blood of Angels. It was a better book than the previous one, but the premise of the entire series seemed a little unbelievable. I still like Marshall's style (dark and nihilistic while also being poignant and deep), so I'd like to read the rest of his stuff, but I'm not sure I would recommend the series for more than that.

The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud was a book I didn't even know about until I saw someone else post here about it many months ago. As much as I liked the main Bartimaeus series, I was interested. It's not as good as the main series, but it's still entertaining and follows much of the same style as the other books.

I also re-read the first two books in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series (Foundation and Foundation and Empire, if you're not familiar with them). I re-read them to get caught up before finishing off the rest of the series, and so far, I've only made it through Second Foundation and Foundation's Edge. Those books pretty much stopped me cold on my reading pace. I found the ideas to be interesting, and the stories to be compelling beyond the second half of the book, but for the most part, the stories were dull and tedious. Factor in some odd anachronisms like still using paper 10,000 years in the future, along with some sexist and misogynistic viewpoints that can't be chalked up to the stories being written in the 1940s and '50s, and I find myself wondering why this is such a classic series. I'm not yet ready to give up on it, but my patience is getting stretched to the limit.

In the midst of that series, I also read a couple of graphic novels. Echo by Terry Moore was an interesting sci-fi version of Strangers in Paradise which had a few misses but a lot of hits, and would be a good read for folks who enjoyed his other series. I also caught up with The Unwritten, with The Unwritten Fables. I was uncertain where it was going to go once I realized the two series were going to entertain a crossover series, but the writers surprised me. They pulled off a great blend of the two stories where the strengths of one enforced the strengths of the other. I won't doubt again.

How about the rest of you? What did y'all read this past month?
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Aside from that I reread an old classic.

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My first try at an audiobook and I hated it. I certainly hated listening to fiction on audio (maybe non-fiction would be better for me) and I think I disliked the book as well. It's hard for me to tell if I just didn't give the book a fair enough shake because I disliked the audiobook format. I think, though, that I just straight up didn't care for it.



RomCom in book format. What 10 years ago they would have called "chick lit." I very much enjoyed this tale of a mother of two whose long marriage has grown a bit stale (kids, careers, etc. getting in the way) until she finds a phone in her childhood bedroom that can call the past. The phone is a story gimmick, but the themes, characters, and conflict are very poignant.



My first try at Murakami and I really liked it. I hear Murakami gets a bit samey after a few books, but it's all fresh and new for me. A very dreamy story of isolation and broken relationships. Super good.



This damn book came highly recommended and I thought it was a piece of crap. It felt like the author was just yammering on trying to let us know how clever she is. I guess this is a primer for empathy for people who never stopped to care about anyone else but themselves before. Some sections felt like she was just saying, I don't think you are feeling bad enough about this particular thing. Other times, I would finish a section and think, yeah, that sucks... did you want me to just feel bad about that... because I do... I already did... because I'm already a human... did it just occur to you? Writers in Brooklyn like to let us know that they like to think about things. And sometimes those things are the things the rest of us think about already.
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Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds

I usually don't do sequels, and this follow-on to Revelation Space was a good reminder as to why. It has essentially the same plot as every other book of his I've read (Revelation Space, The Prefect, House of Suns), which goes a little something like this:

A hurricane is coming, and it's going to wipe out your little town. But before you even get a chance to fret too much, you discover that there's this whole other thing called an earthquake that lives right under the very foundations of your homes! It, too, can scrub you off the face of the Earth. Looks like you are well and truly fu—hey, wait a minute! What if we trick the earthquake into fighting the hurricane? And then the protagonists race off to make it so.

Despite this, the book is better-than-average science fiction, well-written and mildly affecting, and impressively innovative. The only drudgeries are long bits of exposition and huge swathes of character-motivation tracts that read more like the notes for the characters rather than their innermost thoughts. Still, I find these things more than forgivable when we get the juicy details of what ship-to-ship combat would be like at a large chunk of c.


House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

A labyrinth in book form. I'm not quite finished, but so far I find it very effective in the way it sends one off into branching corridors of various texts, appendices and footnotes. This one demands the use of multiple bookmarks, like breadcrumbs, to find your way back after a particularly strenuous divergence. It's ostensibly a horror novel, I guess, about a haunted house. Or at least it's the discursive critique of a documentary film about the house, and most of the time we're getting our information third-hand. Metaphors of reflection, shadow and echo are used to wonderful effect, with reverberations of down-shifting mythology, sanity, language and even the text itself (with different typefaces and novel page layouts) canceling and reinforcing in unexpected ways. For example, a sudden chapter on the physics of echoes—no, really—ends up being the weaving of a rug that gets yanked out from under you with enough force to produce chills. At least it did for me. I might feel differently once I've completed the course, but for now it's a captivating puzzle.
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Perfect Health Diet: Regain Health and Lose Weight by Eating the Way You Were Meant to Eat

One of the best science based books I've ever read on diet, health and nutrition. A lot of people might be surprised to find out that some things that they thought were healthy, really aren't.




The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet

A history book that reads like a thriller. This may come as a shock to some people, but our government's health and dietary guidelines are NOT based on hard science. But rather, egos, budgets, politics and the mighty dollar.
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And a fresh up the rules for Tac Air
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The Daylight War (Book 3 of the demon cycle) - Peter V Brett
I admire a series where the first book is so far the worst. Book 3 is a solid effort, though in hindsight, nothing much happened. There's no Daylight War to speak of (open for interpretation at the end). Much like Book 2, the best parts go into the back story of one of the Krasians. Looking forward to Book 4.




The Magicians Land (Book 3 of The Magicians trilogy) - Lev Grossman
Strong finish to the trilogy that ties everything up nicely. Grossman gets himself out of a rut by not having his main character be a brooding mess this time around. Anyways, I recommend the entire trilogy. It's mostly a meta-commentary on Harry Potter/Narnia. Not for kids though, it's decidedly an adult story.


You Are Not Here - Avri Klemer
Our own nycavri asked me to read a draft of his recent NaNoWriMo novella. It's an interesting battle of wills between first person and second person writers. Being a NaNo project, it goes full Adaptation-style meta (even calling out Adaptation at some point) when Avri says all he needs to say but still has 20,000 words left to write. This would either work better as a shorter story or with more cohesiveness of the individual sci-fi scenes. I was hoping they would build up to something (though, to be fair, even the characters express disappointment when they don't lead anywhere).

If I have to be especially harsh on Avri, c'mon man, Another Brick in the Wall, Part II is way too obvious of a choice in the Cort scene.



Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
I first read this in college because reading Vonnegut for pleasure is part of the essential college experience along with binge drinking and not getting laid as much as you thought you would. So I'm glad the book still holds up extremely well.

If you tell me there's a better religious satire out there, I will call you a liar. If you tell me there's a book with a better final sentence, I will burn you at the stake for blasphemy.



It Starts With Food - Dallas & Melissa Hartwig
My gym advocates the Paleo diet, and my stomach problems inspired me to give it a try. This book gets you started with what is essentially a 30-day elimination diet - no grains, legumes, dairy, processed food, sugar (other than what naturally occurs in fruits and vegetables) or alcohol.

What I liked about the book is it spent a great deal of time as to why these foods should be avoided, getting down to the science of our hormonal response to everything. Basically, a standard American diet screws up our insulin and immune response, causing endless cravings and crashes, not to mention making inflammation of just about everything, from gut problems to joint pain, worse.

i haven't started my 30-day challenge yet (aiming for mid-October), but I've cut way down on a lot of these foods since reading the book and I already feel major changes (less cravings, less snacking, better sleep, etc).




Big Damn Sin City - Frank Miller
All the Sin City stories in one massive tome. You know those giant dictionaries at libraries? This is that big. 16 pounds!

The stories for the most part are great. I think the only dud in there was Family Values, so I'm thankful it was the shortest of the full-length stories.




Seconds - Brian Lee O'Malley
O'Malley's follow up to Scott Pilgrim with similar themes of using fantasy elements to tell the tale of a character's maturation. It's a quick read. It's no Scott Pilgrim, but it's no waste of time either. I did chuckle when a character has an obvious epiphany and the other characters just respond with "duh".




Hellboy In Hell Vol. 1 - Mike Mignola, Dave Stewart
It's a good thing Mignola is the undisputed master of atmosphere in comics, because, let's be honest, he's not the easiest storyteller to follow. The prologue explains the Hellboy story up to this point and my reaction was "wait, that's what happened?"

Vol. 1 collects the first 5 issues of Hellboy In Hell and I couldn't tell you what happens in the first 4. The final issue, about a man trying to get out of his contract with a demon, what a lot of fun though.

Eggie and I are reading them as they come out, but once Mignola is done, we're going to read through the entire saga again and see if we can follow it this time.
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A pretty good read, and (surprisingly) not just about travel in the South Seas.
The author is a recovering alcoholic, and you get a really good sense of how hard it is to stay sober and what the mindset of an alcoholic can be like.

Very enjoyable.

I'm reading an old Bill Bryson travelogue (Neither here nor there), at the moment, and Bill is much funnier than Maarten but Troost can turn a humorous phrase himself.
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erak wrote:
The Daylight War (Book 3 of the demon cycle) - Peter V Brett
I admire a series where the first book is so far the worst. Book 3 is a solid effort, though in hindsight, nothing much happened. There's no Daylight War to speak of (open for interpretation at the end). Much like Book 2, the best parts go into the back story of one of the Krasians. Looking forward to Book 4.

Interesting. I found that the books grew more and more tiresome as I read them. The three main characters started to sound more and more like Mary Sue characters, and I questioned Leesha's motivations regarding Jardir. It was still a compelling read, and I'll finish out the series, but it's no A Song of Ice and Fire. It probably didn't help that I read all three back-to-back, shortly after finishing Martin's series.

Quote:
The Magicians Land (Book 3 of The Magicians trilogy) - Lev Grossman
Strong finish to the trilogy that ties everything up nicely. Grossman gets himself out of a rut by not having his main character be a brooding mess this time around. Anyways, I recommend the entire trilogy. It's mostly a meta-commentary on Harry Potter/Narnia. Not for kids though, it's decidedly an adult story.

I have all three of these, and keep hearing great things about them. I'm tempted to put my Unfinished Series project on hold to go ahead and read them.

I read one more book yesterday and today, since I found Fables: Camelot at Barnes & Noble last night. I can see that Willingham is building up to the big series finale, but much of this volume is exposition for what's coming next. I'm OK with that, because he usually pulls off an effective conclusion (so long as he doesn't do another war against Gepetto).
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"The Lemon Table" by Julian Barnes. Collection of short stories; I read it because I liked "The Sense of an Ending" by the same author so much. In the lemon table, they are pretty hit or miss; a couple really good short stories, then some that were just kind of dull. Wouldn't give it a strong recommendation overall.

That's all I read. I mostly read during my bus and train ride for work, and I was on vacation for half the month.
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Verkisto wrote:
erak wrote:
The Daylight War (Book 3 of the demon cycle) - Peter V Brett
I admire a series where the first book is so far the worst. Book 3 is a solid effort, though in hindsight, nothing much happened. There's no Daylight War to speak of (open for interpretation at the end). Much like Book 2, the best parts go into the back story of one of the Krasians. Looking forward to Book 4.

Interesting. I found that the books grew more and more tiresome as I read them. The three main characters started to sound more and more like Mary Sue characters, and I questioned Leesha's motivations regarding Jardir. It was still a compelling read, and I'll finish out the series, but it's no A Song of Ice and Fire. It probably didn't help that I read all three back-to-back, shortly after finishing Martin's series.


It's definitely no Ice and Fire, but I find it enjoyable. Oh, and credit to the author for going an entire book without having a major character get raped. But I'm also not buying the relationship between Leesha and her mother.
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The Jewels of Apator

My First foray into Delaney, and apparently his first novel? If so, it did not disappoint. I am at a place in my reading (caused mostly by Gene Wolfe, Pynchon, and Proust) where I am impatient with any book that does not demand my undivided attention and labor to piece together all the myriad things the narrator isn't explicitly beating me over the head with via the expository clue hammer. And this book often challenged me delightfully. But, there was also a light-hearted, surreal, adventurousness to it that reminded me why the old-school, golden age sci-fi writers are the Olympian gods, and, with very few exceptions, the hackery that passes for contemporary science fiction is shallow, cheap, forgettable, and cobbled together by cliched tropes and empty calories.

Dhalgren

It's a masterpiece that I will need another five or six readings to digest. More poetry than anything else. Surreal and gut-wrenching and strange. Probably not a book for everyone since there is no getting near this text casually.

Pale Fire

A reread. It came up in discussion with the kids in Creative Writing as an example of "how to drive yourself crazy because you are not Nabokov and so incapable of ever doing something this excessively clever." Which pretty much sums up the experience of reading it too. Still, this is my third or fourth time through it, and I caught all sorts of clever clues that I had previously overlooked, including that first sentence of the poem which essentially reveals three or four heavy duty secrets, but only if one has taken the time to read the book at least once before:
Vladimir Nabokov as John Shade wrote:
I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane
I was the smudge of ashen fluff--and I
Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky,
And from the inside, too, I'd duplicate
Myself, my lamp, an apple on a plate:
Uncurtaining the night, I'd let dark glass
Hang all the furniture above the grass,
And how delightful when a fall of snow
Covered my glimpse of lawn and reached up so
As to make chair and bed exactly stand
Upon that snow, out in that crystal land!


And I am currently on issue 6 of Promethea

Some heavy-handed and rather unsubtle occult stuff in here - the main character is named Sophia, Hermes/Thoth shows up in the first few pages, a guy named Solomon summons Goetic boogeyman to serve as assassins (and they appear exactly as described in that little grimoire), and etc etc. As I get deeper into the story, it seems like Moore is using the whole series as an initiatory gateway for the muggle, which is hilarious but also maybe dangerous depending on your point of view about this sort of stuff. Anyhow, I think I actually really like it in spite of the fact that it is trying too hard and name-dropping Thelemic concepts in an effort to seem Mystical and Important. I can understand why it has not been very well received.
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erak wrote:

Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
If you tell me there's a better religious satire out there, I will call you a liar. If you tell me there's a book with a better final sentence, I will burn you at the stake for blasphemy.


10/10. Would thumb again.
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I finally got around to reading Ready Player One.

I believe I referred to it as a dystopia for the twenty-first century and that although the author came across more as a "gifted amateur" than professional, I couldn't put the book down and enjoyed it immensely.


He wrote a teenager well though as he did come across self-important, boastful, self-centred and with that arrogance of a successful youth with something of an obsessive.
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Gelatinous Goo wrote:
Writers in Brooklyn like to let us know that they like to think about things. And sometimes those things are the things the rest of us think about already.


You've put into words something which I've felt for sometime. Thank you.

As far as my reading goes, this month was heavy on the nonfiction.

First up was the excellent Baader-Meinhof Complex by Stephan Aust about the leftist terrorist group Red Army Faction in West Germany active from the 1960s to the 1980s. It was a fascinating look at ideologues ready and willing to die for an ideology that was emphatically not based in religion--a different kind of menace than type we are most familiar with today, but the results of true belief on the psyche are the same no matter what the Cause. The book is somewhat strangely organized to me but it works once you get used to it and the organization may be a more common in German non-fiction than it is in English language non-fiction since it is a translation.

Next I read Clean Bombs and Dirty Wars by my West Point buddy MAJ Robert Gregory. I was helping him edit and proofread so the manuscript I read will have changed by publication. It is scheduled to be published next year and lays out the assumptions (true and otherwise) that underlay US efforts to use air power to compel the actions of a foreign state in Kosovo and then links the lessons learned to US conduct in Libya. It is a sobering look at the limits of air power on its own as a foreign policy tool as well as the more complicated reality behind US and NATO briefings on both bombing campaigns' effectiveness. There is some very fascinating behind-the-scenes stuff about dissension in NATO in Kosovo and the US Army's vital-but-oft-overlooked contribution to the campaign as well as some almost unbelievable stuff about the Libyan rebels effective use of Twitter as both a tactical and operational tool.

I cut in with some fiction next and read Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude . I liked it a lot but it didn't blow me away as much as I thought it might, given the glowing reviews I'd read of it. I love magical realism, and this is a landmark of the style, but perhaps it wasn't as mind-blowing to me since I've already read Salman Rushdie and Gunter Grass and feed myself a pretty steady Pynchon diet. The book has a meandering style that you or me would get crucified for but that's what differentiates a true talent--genius, maybe--from the amateur--the ability to pull it off. True masters of the craft can take audacious chances that the amateur doesn't even realize he's taking and it is that awareness that the master has but the journeyman does not that allows him to make those audacious gambles pay off. It pays off for Marquez in spades.

Oh, in case you're interested in what the book is actually about, it is nominally the story of a single village in a magically not-real place that resembles Columbia... With Arabs. And Gypsies. The story is told along a time period that somewhat resembles the 1820s to the 1920s but takes some detours here and there. The truth though, is that it is about people and their relationships with each other--some of those people you may know and some of whom you may be.

Lastly, I read Tim Wiener's Enemies: A History of the FBI. The title is a bit misleading, since the book entirely focuses on the FBI as a counter-intelligence and counter-terror organization. The agency's track record is decisively mixed, and while Wiener definitely calls out the Bureau for its failures (which are significant) he glosses over any successes with lines like "Out of the thousands of wiretaps issued, only two Soviet spies were discovered" and then moves on. I'm definitely fine with him pointing out the FBI's abuses of civil liberties (particularly under Hoover) but if you're going to spend twelve pages laying out the underhanded methods used in the operation, don't skimp on the results. If the "two Soviet spies" discovered were little low-level flunkies, tell us, but when they are the Rosenbergs, let's not act like they weren't out to do serious and lasting harm. It was a truly enlightening and frightening history of one of the US's most secret organizations and he does a good job separating the fact from fiction (Hoover was not a cross dresser! Mark Felt is no more a patriot than is G. Gordon Liddy! Nixon is even worse [if that's possible] than you thought he was!) but the book could have been so much more.

Now that I've read it, I feel I need to read yet another history because Enemies was only half the book.

Diis
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I can't remember the last time I got to add two books at once to a WDYRI thread.



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The Assemblers of Infinity by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason.

Interesting idea, if a bit dated. The writing was so preoccupied with making sure to reinforce images. An African character's dark hands wipe her eyes. A Syrian character's brown hands fiddle in their lap. Women were often described in terms of what they wore or their demeanor, even if they are scientists or officials in government.

At one point a scientist has to explain to another scientist, who are both in a space station, what "nano-machines" are even though it was stated the research was ground breaking and several years old. And he's explaining it to the commander of the mission. These are supposedly the "best and brightest" on this mission.

The ideas were neat, but a lot of it felt like watching an early 1990's movie with some of the concepts of what the future would be. Also seemed set up for a sequel that didn't happen, because the big reveal was rushed.

Would recommend it only if someone was looking for a quick read that's pretty entertaining.



Almost done with The Last Unicorn. I adore this book. He paints with language so nicely and throws things into a fairy tale that just don't really match, but they are so off-hand I've had to reread parts just because they surprised me.

Robin Hood-like character shows a captured wizard-magician around the camp and closes the introductions with "Have a taco."

Hero is riding back from an exploit, singing of his love and the severed ogre head is harmonizing.

So many bits of assonance and alliteration. Such a wonderful thing.

Oh and working my way through At the Mountains of Madness.
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I plowed through the Mistborn trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson. It is super clear to me why he was tapped to finish off the Wheel of Time series after Robert Jordan's death. This trilogy packs in all of the world-building you'd want, epic spans of time coming to fruition, complicated but compelling magic systems, and big-reveal mysteries into just three books. Sure, I could complain about one of the main characters being overly mopey in book 3, but Jordan devoted at least two books in his quattuordecology to multiple characters doing little else. These books were a load of fun, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading them.
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Beach holiday = lots of reading.

Finished Team of Rivals, the Lincoln biog by Doris Kearns Goodwin, the day before touring Fort Sumter.

The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton looked like a beach read but was actually much better than that.

Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe was a beach read. Light and fun.

Hocus Pocus - I love me some Vonnegut.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler was a random pick-up from the Kindle best-sellers. Better than I expected and I'm really glad I hadn't read anything about it beforehand.

The Quarry, Iain Banks' last book. Banks is one of my favourites and there's a tragic story behind this one. He'd mostly finished writing the book about a terminal cancer patient before he learned of his own diagnosis. Unfortunately though, I just didn't think this one was very good

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt had its moments but didn't ultimately add up to much.

Now on Orfeo by Richard Powers which is great.
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