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Subject: What did you read in January 2015? rss

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It's a new year, everyone! New challenges, new resolutions, new resolutions already broken, and new books to read!

For me, this year started out with a couple of big books, the first being The World of Ice and Fire. This was a Big Honkin' Book, with a bunch of material for the die-hard A Song of Ice and Fire fans. It gives a lot of historical background into Westeros, mostly of the Targaryen line of rulers who came to an end with Robert's Rebellion. The writing is pretty dry (you can tell when you're reading Martin's bits, and when you're reading the bits by the other authors), but it's fascinating stuff. I'd only recommend it to the staunchest of fans of the series.

As I was reading this, I also started reading the first book in the Anno Dracula series by Kim Newman, Anno Dracula. It's an alternative history novel, set in a Victorian England where vampirism is open and accepted (more or less), and Dracula is the Prince Consort of England. That's the backdrop for the real story, that's about Jack the Ripper. It was a fascinating retelling of both tales, and they meshed perfectly together. The remaining books in the series -- The Bloody Red Baron, Dracula Cha Cha Cha, and Johnny Alucard -- were just as intriguing, even if the last two books weren't quite as engaging. Newman is an outstanding writer, though.

Amidst that series, I also read a few shorter works, one of them being The Day the Sea Rolled Back by Mickey Spillane. This was something I read purely for the nostalgia, since I had remembered reading this when I was a kid. It was still a decent story, even though some of the dialogue and plot was a bit hackneyed.

The other two shorter works I read were two Neil Gaiman treasures, a short story called Shoggoth's Old Peculiar, and a fake travelogue co-written with Gene Wolfe called A Walking Tour of the Shambles. Both of them were cute reads (with "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar" being the real treasure; much of A Walking Tour of the Shambles seems to have been written by Wolfe), but neither would be of much interest to anyone outside of the rabid Gaiman fans (and yes, I am one of those fans).

Lastly, I somehow convinced myself to finish up the Governor series by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga with The Fall of the Governor. Originally, the last book was published in two volumes, which would have put me off reading it all together, had I not convinced myself after reading the second book that it wasn't worth finishing it out. But I saw an edition on sale at a bookstore that had both parts in one volume, so I did the stupid thing and bought it. Then I did an even stupider thing and actually read it. The first book was horribly written, but ended on a surprising note that encouraged me to read the second one. It, too, was horribly written, and didn't take that surprise ending anywhere interesting. Well, the third one was also horribly written, but got even worse by taking the exact events out of the comic series and rewriting them, making it an even larger waste of time. I wouldn't recommend this book -- or even this entire series -- to anyone. It was a worthless waste of time.

What about the rest of you? What new reads has the new year brought for you?
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Dark Places by Gillian Flynn - Read because I like her Gone Girl so much. This had the same sense of excitement from Gone Girl, but all the same it was a much weaker book, because so many times there as I read I would say "No way would anybody ever do that." Otherwise "normal" characters would suddenly do something so incredibly stupid and out of character that it became ridiculous. Can't recommend it.

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley - A Flavia De Luce book. Not one of the better ones. A minor character suddenly appears in the end and explains everything. Even after the explanation a lot of it doesn't really make sense. "So he was killed because of this? Huh?"
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I finished reading The Hobbit to my two girls. I was tickled at how the chapters start out being reeeaaaaally long, and by the end they are only a few pages, like JRR was going "what the hell was I thinking?!?". Anyway, great book. I needed to get The Hobbit lodged in their minds before it was ruined by exposure to a certain set of movies.

We read the version with illustrations by Jemima Catlin. Verdict on the art: fugly and charmless.
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I tried really, really hard to get into an awful Chinese science fiction novel but it was just too much like a fossilized lakebed—too flat, too dry and too salty. So I salved my aching psyche with the gooshy-weird goodness of H.P. Lovecraft's Book of Horror (Jones & Carson, editors), a collection of early weird fiction by authors like Poe, Bierce, Kipling, Wilde, et al., that influenced the eponymous man. It contains HPL's essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature", and each story is fronted with a specific shout-out from his own correspondence where he cites why the piece is significant to him. It was a reread, but a good one to hit every so often—it's chock full of great stuff.

Like the Kipling yarn where three British officers defile a temple of Hanuman the Monkey God and are summarily cursed by a leper-priest; all well and good, you think, that'll teach them—

Spoiler (click to reveal)
TO KIDNAP THE PRIEST AND TORTURE HIM UNTIL HE LIFTS THE CURSE

It made me feel less bad about some of the things that, uh, "just kinda" happen in Call of Cthulhu games.

Then I got the weird-bug real bad and went on a specific HPL reading spree, looking deeply into his use (or not) of standard human-scale monsters like zombies, werewolves and vampires. (Yes on the first one, no on the other two.)
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The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
It's a British action adventure type story set right before WW1. I did not like it, though I think I'm going to watch the hitchcock movie because I think I would enjoy this story more as a movie. I know that is weird but there's something about this flavor of story I just like being told through a different medium.


The eye of the world by Robert Jordan
book one of the wheel of time series
recommended by a friend aaaaaaaand now committed to a long series. I enjoyed reading it but I think the whole series a a story and I kinda doubt it has a good stopping point. It had a climax and end but I didn't feel like I could stop there so I got the next book in the series. It will take a solid year for me to properly rate the book I think, its a long series
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I've actually been reading HPL as well. It's my first time reading any of his stuff, so I didn't really know what to expect. I'm really enjoying it.

A while ago in one of these forums, someone posted some recommendations on stories to read, so I'm going for those in order.

So far:
1- The Rats in the Walls
2- The Call of Cthulhu
3- The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
4- The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

I pretty much enjoyed all of them but the Dream-Quest. That one dragged. The Case was probably my favorite of those.

I'm currently in the middle of The Colour out of Space, which is already jumping to the top of my short list of HPL stories.

BTW, there is talk of vampirism going on in The Case, though no outright vampires...
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Catching up a bit... blush



Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre

Before picking up this book, I'd never heard of Operation Mincemeat. It was a remarkable and gutsy plan to use a corpse to fool the Axis into thinking the Allies weren't going to attack Sicily, but rather Greece and Sardinia.

The book is a good overview of the leadup, operation, and aftermath. The level of detail the team went through in order to fool the Germans was amazing. So many things should have raised red flags and blown the whole operation. If that had happened, the Axis would have been more prepared, rather than less. What would that have done to the whole of the war? We'll never know, thank God.

The beginning, as they're hatching the whole plan, and the end, where they're pulling the whole thing off, are interesting. But the middle starts to drag a bit, as Macintyre seems to be looking for things to write about to pad the length of the book.

But overall it was a solid book about a fascinating plan.



The Fort by Bernard Cornwell

I grabbed this book for a few reasons.

1) I've been wanting to read a Bernard Cornwell novel after hearing good things about his ability to write about battle.
2) It was a standalone novel from him.
3) The library had an unabridged copy of it on CD.

I've really, really tried to care more about the Revolutionary War, and I just can't. And this book doesn't help. It's boring. The story was boring. The writing was boring. The characters were boring. The Revolutionary War was boring.

It might have been the subject matter, so I'll give Cornwell another chance, but with one of his better-known novels from a series.



Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

This was excellent, just as Dad Is Fat was excellent. It's basically Jim just taking a food, or a food type, or a food region, or a food event (Super Bowl, for instance), and riffing on it. You wouldn't think there would be enough food-related material to fill a book, but you'd be wrong.

As with Dad Is Fat, I listened to the audio version of this, and I really believe it's the way to go. The only idiosyncrasy was that Jim sometimes gets the timing off--he breathes or pauses in the wrong place, so the pace is off. I suppose it could also be a place where they spliced two tracks together. Regardless of the reason, it just sounds weird. It's not often but enough to notice, for sure.

I'm a big-time Gaffigan fan, and I'll keep listening as long as he keeps churning them out. I hope he writes a book on marriage next.




A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin

Much and more of this book should have been edited away.

I know, I know. "Martin broke down the tired old tropes and made fantasy 'realistic.' "

But even if he did forge a new path (and I'm not sure he actually did), he's no longer the forerunner he was. The first book came out almost 20 years ago! There are lots of "realistic" fantasy writers now--whatever that means.

This book is over 1100 pages, and once again not much happens. Instead, very little happens to many, many people. People who were on journeys in A Storm of Swords are still journeying, because with a cast this large you have no choice but to spend only a little time with everyone. He adds characters for no apparent reason. He adds arcs that go nowhere. He has characters who are in the same place--physically, internally, or developmentally--they were at the beginning. The cynical side of me says he adds these things because he doesn't know what to do with some of the main plots. So he adds side plots and characters as smoke and mirrors, to buy himself time.

I think one of his goals with the series was to show that good guys are sometimes bad, and bad guys are sometimes good. He wanted to show the characters as nuanced. But the series has become so bloated that there's no time or room for nuance. So the characters just fall into their niche and mostly stay there, because so-and-so only has five chapters in this 1100-page behemoth.

I've now read thousands of pages in this series, and I irrationally feel compelled to continue, since I've invested so much time in it. But the books just get worse and worse. He's written himself into a corner, and I don't think he's good enough to get out of it. Should I leave now? Will it get better? Why does it sound like I'm in an abusive relationship?

If his publisher was actually editing him, rather than rushing his book to press as soon as possible because it's been seven years since the last one, then perhaps that would force Martin to tighten up the plot and get rid of the offal that's crept in over time. I believe it's too late for that now, unless he just jettisons some of the side plots. It would be jarring, but the alternative has thus far been maddening.

This series started strong, and got stronger. But it's become a bloated mess.




The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

A woman and her daughter are tormented by her ex husband. When she kills him, she finds her unassuming mathematician neighbor willing to help her get away with it. That's not really a spoiler--it happens early on. What the book is about is a match of wits between the mathematician and his old classmate, a physicist who happens to help the police. Which one is smarter, and who will end up on top?

Unfortunately, the plot is just...goofy. (Mild spoilers ahead.)

The woman has been divorced from her husband for 5 years, and as far as the police know, she hasn't seen him. Her alibi also holds up. But somehow she's the only suspect. Her husband was a dirtbag crook, but there's no one else they suspect?

The twist seemed unrealistic. And the coincidences were numerous. Not sure what the big deal is with this book.



Sucker's Portfolio by Kurt Vonnegut

Sometimes uncollected and unpublished pieces are a treasure trove--wonderful works that make us grateful someone unearthed these gems and shared them with the world.

This is not one of those times.

These stories were unpublished because they weren't very good. I'm not sure how finished Vonnegut felt they were, but most feel undeveloped at best, and downright rotten at worst. I'm a big-time Vonnegut fan, so I know what he's capable of, and he's better than this. I don't need these as a sort of historical record. Keep them buried.

BUT! The lone nonfiction piece, "The Last Tasmanian," is just terrific. It's long and kinda rambling, but it's also everything I love about Vonnegut. There's also a very short, unfinished science fiction story called "Robotville and Mr. Caslow" that cuts off suddenly because that's where Vonnegut left it. It draws you in with interesting characters and interesting concepts, and then it just ends. And you cry because you'll never read the rest of that beautiful story.

Those two gems aren't enough to lift this book above an "it's okay." So it goes.



Usagi Yojimbo Volumes 1-3 by Stan Sakai

I don't really have a review of these. The first one was a little disjointed, but he starts telling a more cohesive story with the second volume. You can see the end of some of the stories coming from a mile away, but that's my only real complaint.
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i read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


It was such a wonderful surprise & is now one of my all time favorites. If you grew up or were alive in the 80's, this novel will invoke countless memories of things long forgotten. here's the synopsis from amazon:

Quote:
In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.

But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.
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Naomi Novik: His Majesty's Dragon, the first of the Temeraire series. fun read, reminded me of Hornblower but thenwith Dragons. not very deep but I knew that when I started it and it did not dissapoint.

Steven Erikson: Willful Child. a very silly Star Trek Parody. if you've read Eriksons Malazan books and liked the conersation of Tehol Beddict then this is very much a must read book. if you worship StarTrek and can't stand parody then stay away.

Robert Hutchinson: the Spanish Armada. a book about the Armada that clearly tells the tale of why the whole entreprise went bust.

started on Iain Banks' Player of Games
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I read Ready Player One a couple years ago and found it a charming distraction, but not really good. The author beats you over the head with his politics from time-to-time, in an annoying and cultish way. But it did hit the nostalgia vein quite well. Big, heaping gobs of nostalgia, piled all on top of each other.

I did get through a couple last month. Quarter Share, which was different from most other SF I've read. It's a story about a high school kid whose mother dies in an accident, so he signs on with a merchant ship. There's no grand enemy to struggle against, just learning to grow up and earn a living. It was a refreshing change.

I also spent the time to get through What If, by xkcd writer Randall Munroe. I'd read a bunch of them before, but they're always good to revisit. (So, what happens if you have a mole of moles?) And the new material was as much fun as anything he posted to the website.
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robbbbbb wrote:


I also spent the time to get through What If, by xkcd writer Randall Munroe. I'd read a bunch of them before, but they're always good to revisit. (So, what happens if you have a mole of moles?) And the new material was as much fun as anything he posted to the website.

I bought this book from a exchange voucher last December and there are lots of weird, insane ideas in there.
Quote:

Q: can you drink a beverage so cold that it would make your teeth shatter on contact?
A: thank you for my new recurring nightmare
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Only one this month - As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes. It's a light memoir from the making of what is one of my top 5 movies ever. No huge revelations, no real "dirt", just a man writing with obvious and deep affection about a very special time in his life. Actually, from all the little snippets from the other actors, and the writer/director/producer as well, it is clear that they all hold a very special place in their hearts for each other and for the movie. This book just made me feel good to read it, almost as if by liking the movie I have become a part of the history of it.
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It's still January!! I hope to finish what I'm reading by tomorrow!

PLACEHOLDER!!!
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bigthos wrote:
I've actually been reading HPL as well. It's my first time reading any of his stuff, so I didn't really know what to expect. I'm really enjoying it.

A while ago in one of these forums, someone posted some recommendations on stories to read, so I'm going for those in order.

So far:
1- The Rats in the Walls
2- The Call of Cthulhu
3- The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath
4- The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

I pretty much enjoyed all of them but the Dream-Quest. That one dragged. The Case was probably my favorite of those.

I'm currently in the middle of The Colour out of Space, which is already jumping to the top of my short list of HPL stories.

BTW, there is talk of vampirism going on in The Case, though no outright vampires...


I Read most of Lovecraft's stories in my early 20s, and then for Christmas my hubby got me a beautiful bound copy of his collective works! So I have been reading that all January. Although I found out that finishing The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, while alone in the house, right before bed, is possibly the worst idea I ever had. I swear my house had never made noises like the ones I heard that night before...surprise
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Annihilation and Authority from the Southern Reach trilogy. I'm enjoying the trilogy so far, though I did feel that Authority let itself get preoccupied with things that weren't ultimately interesting to the reader. I assume the author was trying to pursue a particular thought, something to do with the struggle for control of one's environment, of other people, and of one's self, but this made for an unsympathetic main character and for conflict that felt insignificant compared to what the reader experienced in Annihilation.

Still, I'm looking forward to reading Acceptance.
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Gola wrote:
Authority let itself get preoccupied with things that weren't ultimately interesting to the reader. I assume the author was trying to pursue a particular thought, something to do with the struggle for control of one's environment, of other people, and of one's self, but this made for an unsympathetic main character and for conflict that felt insignificant compared to what the reader experienced in Annihilation.

This was my thought, as well, and considering that the main character goes by the name "Control", I'm pretty sure you're right. Though whether or not he's the main character is debatable (I felt like Grace and/or Ghost Bird were the real protagonists).
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Gola wrote:
Annihilation and Authority from the Southern Reach trilogy. I'm enjoying the trilogy so far, though I did feel that Authority let itself get preoccupied with things that weren't ultimately interesting to the reader. I assume the author was trying to pursue a particular thought, something to do with the struggle for control of one's environment, of other people, and of one's self, but this made for an unsympathetic main character and for conflict that felt insignificant compared to what the reader experienced in Annihilation.

Still, I'm looking forward to reading Acceptance.

Looking forward to your final report. I heard this trilogy doesn't stick the landing and leaves too much open.

I've been hesitant to start.
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January is always a big reading month for me for some reason. I logged a lot of pages.

Nell Zink - The Wallcreeper


This author used to send short stories to her friends for fun. She sent this one to her friend Jonathan Franzen who told her to flesh it out and publish it. My book club hated it, but I thought it was very good. There is a solid Marxist reading where the protagonists proletarian sexual identity revolts to form a redefined sexual perspective. There is something here.


Kel Symons, Mathew Reynolds - The Mercenary Sea


I don't normally log comics or trade paperback comics, but I crazy loved this collection. I read the trade paperback volume 1 and I cannot wait for the next one. In 1938 an ex-bootlegger and his ragtag team of expats have their own stolen sub and they cruise the South Pacific picking up dicey jobs and also searching for the legendary lost island of Koji Ra. The art is amazeballs and the story is super high adventure. I absolutely love it.


Eleanor Catton - The Luminaries


This book sucks. Sucks hard. Don't read it.


Alex Soojung-Kim Pang - The Distraction Addiction


The bullet points were solid, but as is always the case with these kinds of books, the anecdotes and exposition were all fluff.


Jacqueline Woodson - Brown Girl Dreaming


I bought this for my daughter for Christmas but she was afraid to read it because she thought it would be just about victimization and oppression and overall just sad. I am happy to report it is a sweet story of a girl growing up through the civil rights movement of the '60s and it is none of those things she feared. In the end, the author says her life is ordinary and amazing. And that is what is so sweet about this book. We are all just ordinary and oh so amazing at the same time.
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Feels like the story is getting past far enough of the setup to where the story can really start to take off.

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HiveGod wrote:
I tried really, really hard to get into an awful Chinese science fiction novel but it was just too much like a fossilized lakebed—too flat, too dry and too salty.


Which book?

I haven't read much this month... soblue
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I am reading a 1000 pager. Will return in March.
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"All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid" by Matt Bai.

In depth dive into the story of Gary Hart's worst week in politics, how it came about, how the 24 hour news cycle came about & the change in relationship between politicians & the journalists that usually covered them, the tabloids, and possibly what really happened. To a degree.

I really loved this.
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mister lunch wrote:
HiveGod wrote:
I tried really, really hard to get into an awful Chinese science fiction novel but it was just too much like a fossilized lakebed—too flat, too dry and too salty.

Which book?

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu).
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Pretty solid month of reading for me. They're all winners:

The Bone Clocks - David Mitchell - Good god, I loved this book. It's the story of a secret war among immortal psychics and the mortals who are affected by it, but it has a structure I've never encountered before (because I haven't read Cloud Atlas by the same author)--it's divided up into several parts, each part taking place several years in the future from the last and told from a different point of view, so the book starts in the 1980s and finishes somewhere in the 2040s. The book is also about 80% prologue and 10% epilogue, so there's only one part of the book where everything starts to make sense (ironically, through the use of a lot of confusing jargon). Basically, if you like your modern day fantasy overloaded with character study, give this a look.


Blackbirds - Chuck Wendig - It's The Dead Zone starring Reese Witherspoon from Freeway. It's the tale of a trashy drifter woman who has the ability to see how and when people die, and uses that to empty their wallets right after their deaths. It's a fun, quick read with a healthy dose of raunch (the protagonist has a seriously filthy mouth and the sex scenes are equally strange, disturbing, fun and funny).


The Descendants - Kaui Hart Hemmings - I haven't seen the movie yet, which is odd, because I love Alexander Payne's films, but I loved the book. For the subject matter (husband of woman in a coma finds out she's been cheating on him), it's very funny. You also can't go wrong with the Hawaiian setting, though knowledge of some Hawaiian terms will come in handy. ("Haole" means white. "Hapa" means half, usually used to describe half-white Hawaiians.)

Also, thanks to the punk band The Descendents, I've been spelling "descendants" wrong for 15+ years.
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