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Subject: What did you read in March 2015? rss

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I've been embroiled in Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos for much of the month. It's a heavy story that requires reading slowly, so my output for the month feels a little low. Like reading A Song of Ice and Fire, though, the average length of these books makes each book equivalent to two or three standard novels. At least, that's what I'm telling myself. I'm not going to finish the last book before tonight, either, so I'm posting this a little early.

I started on the final series in my Unfinished Series project that I started last year with Dan Simmons' Hyperion. I read this for the first and only time over 20 years ago, and while I remembered much of it, most of it was new to me all over again. I liked the way that Simmons structured the story like a futuristic Canterbury Tales, and as you read the book, it will feel more like a collection of novellas than a novel proper. The one connecting elements between all the stories, though, is the Shrike, as the alien creature is the motivating factor for all the main characters. Since the stories are all different, though, some resonate more than others, and not much happens plot-wise outside the retelling of the tales. It's pretty amazing, though, how well Simmons builds the world of the overarching story through those individual tales.

I moved on to The Fall of Hyperion directly afterward, and confirmed my suspicions that the two books together are really just one story, and that the entirety of Hyperion was just exposition for the larger story that takes place in the next volume. And whoa nelly, was that a story. Readers seems to be mixed on whether or not The Fall of Hyperion is good, but I thought that the overarching story that made up both volumes was incredible. Honestly, I see these two books as one story that has to be judged together.

Following that, I moved on to Endymion, which was a completely different story from the first two books. It lacked the weight of the first half of the series, and was more like a grandiose road novel than anything else. Given that the first half of the series was split into exposition/real story, I'm holding out hope that The Rise of Endymion will make this something more. It is Dan Simmons, after all.

What about everyone else?
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It's been a slow month for me. Continuing my Conan stories from last month's entry, here is what I read in March.


A Witch Shall Be Born
Shadows in Zamboula
The Devil in Iron
The People of the Black Circle
The Slithering Shadow


I just started reading The Pool of the Black One last night.

My five star rating still applies. These stories are quick, simple, and fun. I should finish up the rest of the collection this month.

One thing I love about the Kindle and Amazon Prime is I keep choosing the slower shipping option to get more $1 credits to my Kindle account.




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Javascript, the Good Parts: Explains a lot of javascript idioms that I've seen in code but didn't fully understand before. I still think the language sucks though.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf: Parts of this book were funny. Parts were interesting (mostly the beginning, up until Sasha leaves). But lots of it was just boring. I can see why the book became famous, it's an early magic realism book, and I can see that there's a lot of thought in it about what it means to be a writer and what role writing plays in Orlando's life. But frankly I didn't much care so it became a big snoozefest. For Virginia Woolf, I'd recommend To the Lighthouse instead; that book wasn't exactly compelling but it had a lot more in it that I found interesting

Reunion by Hannah Pittard: I liked the main character a lot. She was a pretty horrible person but entertaining. But it seemed that every single scene had layers of symbolism and meaning on top of it, most of it explicitly pointed out by the narrator. Saying X really means Y, character Z did A which means B, etc. It seems the author was trying to add complexity everywhere but added these helpful tips to make sure the readers didn't miss any of it. Bleah.

Overall not a great month. But the book I'm reading now seems like a winner, so I have high hopes for next month.
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It was OK. A bit of departure from his other Grand Tour series.
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Gotta be practical once in a while.

Also,

The Best Mystery Stories of the Century

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The Alex Crow - Andrew Smith
I'm a huge fan of the author's previous novel Grasshopper Jungle. He again channels Kurt Vonnegut in his style of writing, this time in the time-jumping style of Slaughterhouse Five. The story jumps from the narrator's war-torn old life, his new life in present-day America at a creepy summer camp, and a doomed sea voyage from 1885.

It has some great bits, like the narrator's adoptive brother's endless euphemisms for masturbation (my favorite: "working on my five-digit multiplication tables") and the Melting Man, who is a more comedic version of the Trashcan Man from Stephen King's The Stand.

It's a great read, but I feel the author didn't quite know what point he was trying to make. Not as good as Grasshopper Jumgle, but worth checking out.



The Girl With All the Gifts - M.R. Carey
Yup, it's a zombie novel novel (like we don't have enough of them already), but it's written by proven comics writer Mike Carey.

Despite being a post-apocalyptic zombie novel, the book does take some new approaches. The bulk of the story is narrated by Melanie, a zombie who has retained much of her humanity, but is unaware of her condition. The first section of the book, where she and similar children are being studied in a military bunker is fantastic.

Unfortunately, when It All Goes To Hell like it always does in these books, things start to get a little cliched ("you know, kids, the real drowningest catch is man"). It's salvaged by a strong cast of characters and the author's willingness to take add some twists to those cliches.

I'm not the biggest fan of zombie books, but this one still retained my interest.


Chew Volume 9: Chicken Tenders - Jon Layman, Rob Guillory
Chew and Saga are in a dead heat for most batshit insane comic book on the market. Both use a wild setting (Chew: zany food-based psychic powers, Saga: basically The Fifth Element turned to 11) to sneak in surprisingly effective stories on family, both hereditary and surrogate.

Volume 9 lets up on the bittersweetness of Volume 8 and returns to its slapstick roots, including a heavier focus on Poyo. That's what makes the ending even more disarming.

Part of what makes Chew so great is Guillory clearly had the plot mapped out from day 1. (He released issue #27 between #18 and #19 for kicks, one panel from volume 9 flashes forward 20 issues.) I can't wait to see his end game.
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This month was a good month.

Started with What To Read (And Not) by book critic, author and professor Tom LeClair. It is a collection of essays, criticisms, and lectures he's given about literature since the late 1990s. His focus area is postmodernism, which I tend to enjoy, and I know him (not IRL but through the convoluted internet methods that make strange connections these days).

He's got good reviews and discussions on William Vollman, Richard Powers, Don DeLillo, and Thomas Pynchon as well as David Foster Wallace. He's got takedowns of Jonathan Franzen and a few others. I don't agree with all his likes and dislikes, but that isn't the point.

If you want a serious, academic, look at literary fiction, this is a good place to look.

Next, I read Cormac McCarthy's Child of God. I really, really, really like McCarthy--he writes with a great sense of place, but what really gets me is that he writes what I'll call "out of time"--that is, he tends to write people and places at the edge of society and morality who live right on the knife's edge of existence--people who exist simultaneously in every time, any time, and no time at all. Child of God's picture of rural Tennessee in the 1960s reminded me very much of the rural area of Western North Carolina where I grew up in the 1980s and '90s.

The hardscrabble characters I knew living in the eastern foothills of the Smokies did not live any differently thirty years later than do McCarthy's characters in the western foothills of the Smokies.

I do some writing myself about desperate times and places, and while I love to read, big, sprawling post-modern novels by people like Pynchon and DFW, I can't seem to write like that. I'd love to be William Gaddis, but if I can be a poor man's McCarthy, I'd take it in a heartbeat.

Next up was our very own Joe Gola with The Satanic Bridegroom. I'm not much of a genre fiction reader and my experience with Tales of the Weird is limited to a few Lovecraft stories and the sort of stuff that makes up flavor text in games like Arkham Horror.

That said, even though I'm not the target demographic, Gola managed to keep me interested and racing along with his plot the entire time. The book is incredibly well polished and put together--moreso than several books I've read by mainstream publishing houses. What's more, it captures the period feel (the 1920s) in a great manner, with it's unhurried discussions of exotic locales and asides common in late 19th and early 20th Century fiction.

By the time the reader gets to the Heart of Darkness style jungle expedition, they'll have the overwhelming sense of dread and disaster that makes such tales what they are and just might learn a little about human psychology as well. Great work by Gola.

Last, I read Italy's Sorrow: A Year of War, 1944-1945 by James Holland. The book picks up after the OPERATION SHINGLE landings at Anzio and continues until the German surrender of forces in Italy in 1945. It is more of a popular history than I prefer, and I've read better books on both the breaking of the Gustav Line and the Anzio breakout, but I've never read a book that discussed as much the plight of the Italian civilians as well as the increasingly violent and brutal partisian versus Fascist civil war that simmered during and after the Nazi occupation. They were new facets of the campaign to me, so kudos to Holland for that.

Overall, my problems with the book are more due to my preferences than any real problems on Holland's fault, and if you're looking for information on partisian warfare in Italy, you could do a lot worse.

Diis
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Locke & Key

Just the first book, but I partly hate myself already for not just waiting so I could afford to pay and jump on the complete collection at once. Been awhile since I read something that made me instantly want to grab the next part.
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Well march was a dud for me as far as books go.
I need to first explain that there is a series called the sword of truth by terry goodkind which I like, the first book in the series lands somewhere in my top three books I've ever read.
So with great happyness I found that there was more books! But I didn't realize what was going on, my library marked these new books as part of the series, they are not. Same characters and all but I shoulda known something was up.
So the first book was called the omen machine, I read it about two months ago thought it was bad but continued because I thought it was part of this trilogy set ending the series. Now after reading the third kingdom and served souls I find out there's more to come. But whats getting me so annoyed is the randomness and somberness of whats happening and that the books have become crazy repetitive as if the author is getting paid per page. The other books got a bit elongated but these are just having characters repeat themselves over and over.
So if anyone wants a fantasy book wizards first rule is great. And you may like the rest of the 12 book series but don't you dare go further than that!
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I'm still grinding the massive tome I was reading last last month—a real chore that goes against my avowed policy of dropping bad books like trousers in a brothel—but I'm hell-bent on finishing the series (another transgression as I don't do sequels). So, yeah—I'm pretty much just rage-reading so I can authoritatively savage this pile at cocktail parties.


Note 1: Not gonna mention the book 'cuz mama said talk nice.

Note 2: Silver lining is a shiny new ms awaiting my eyeballs, written by a fellow Chit Chatter...
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I finished a scholarly work on a little-known pre-WWWII battle that had a huge impact on the course of the war: Nomonhan 1939: The Red Army's Victory that Shaped World War II. Very good. The writing was clear and concise, and very good at articulating the key personalities and what drove them. I came away with a good appreciation not only for what happened, but why.

In between heavier works, I've been working on The Chronicles of Prydain. I just finished The Black Cauldron this month. The prose isn't very good, but you can see where the origins of modern fantasy literature come from in this one. The second was much better than the first, and I'm hoping that the books in the series continue to get better.

I also read through Warship, which is the first book in a trilogy by Joshua Dalzelle. Meh. Pretty cookie-cutter space opera. Nothing particularly new. It was a nice lark; the literary equivalent of a Schwarzenegger movie. Turn brain off. Stuff blows up. Thin characterization. It's not that it was bad, it's just that there's not much to recommend it, and I can find better space opera. I probably won't pick up the next book in the series.

I read a lot more than usual this month. I was able to carve out a little bit more reading time at bedtime, I guess.
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Finished the Gentleman Bastard series (published so far at least) by Scott Lynch with Republic of Thieves, the third book in the series.

I'd rate it at

Still a good book, but unfortunately the series is having a downward trend. The first book was better than the second which was better than the third one. I hope the fourth book will change this. What bothered me the most here (mild spoilers) was that the main hero of the series behaved like a lovestruck teenager the whole darn book when he meets and has to compete against his old girlfriend. Didn't fit his character at all.

Then I read Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I rate it but will still say that everyone should read this one. It's less than 200 pages.

So it goes.

Finally I read The Human Division (Old Man's War #5) by John Scalzi. This was originally published on-line as a digital series but now combined into a book. I rate it:

Unknown to me this seems to be the start of a new block in the series. Doesn't bother me that much but would still be good to know it wasn't a finished book so to say.


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In March:
The Lost Fleet: Courageous by Jack Campbell (Lost Fleet 3 of 6)
The Lost Fleet: Valiant by Jack Campbell (Lost Fleet 4 of 6)
Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb (Farseer 2 of 3)
The Warlock in Spite of Himself by Christopher Stasheff (Warlock #1)
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
The Late Byzantine and Slavonic Communion Cycle: Liturgy and Music by Dimitri E. Conomos

In progress:
The Color of Magic by Terry Prachett (Discworld #1)
The Lost Fleet: Relentless by Jack Campbell (Lost Fleet 5 of 6)
Thirty Steps to Heaven: The Ladder of Divine Ascent for all Walks of Life by Vassilios Papavassiliou
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I read two classics that caught my interest the last time I visited the library: Beowulf and Robinson Crusoe. I had only read parts of each before. Defoe's quaint writing style amused me, and now I'm eager to try Ignacy's game with this work fresh on my mind.

In honor of Texas Independence Day I read Sleuthing the Alamo: Davy Crockett's Last Stand and Other Mysteries of the Texas Revolution. The author's tales of historical discovery made for quite an entertaining yarn.

I'm also half way through the Y: The Last Man series. It was recommended to me as a good commentary, but geez is it ever obtuse and juvenile up to this point. It's definitely not as good as the Locke & Key graphic novels.
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leemc13 wrote:
I'm also half way through the Y: The Last Man series. It was recommended to me as a good commentary, but geez is it ever obtuse and juvenile up to this point.

I made it through the first two volumes before I had to quit. I had heard a lot of good about the series, but was put off by the sexist vibe of the whole thing.
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The Magus - John Fowles
The Long Earth - Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

I started The Magus half a life time ago, late in High School or early at University. It fit perfectly into my middle class, philosophy reading worldview.

But apparently I never read more than the first chapter or so . . .

On rediscovering it this month, amongst all the other books I have rediscovered since refusing to put any more books on my nook and just read what's already there, I found that I should have stuck with it, all those years ago.

It is interesting and thought provoking, made me smile and even laugh out loud in moments. I was thoroughly enjoying my gentle visit to Nicholas' world, his not-quite-home-away-from-home in Greece.

Then things started getting weird.

I don't want to spoil the book, so I will be vague as vague can be. But I believe this is the most disturbing book I have ever read. And as such I couldn't put it down.

Straight into my Top Ten, I would hazard (using that word with great care, as it is throughout the book . . .)

Picking carefully through the emotional minefield that was The Magus took me most of the month, and with the passing of Terry Pratchett I knew that one of his books needed to be next on deck. The Long Earth was already in my queue, so it was natural to open it up once I was done with Folwes.

My wife had a really hard time with The Long Earth - she found it horribly depressing. I understand where she is coming from, but do not feel quite the same way. Joshua is melancholy in his solitude, but I do not find him or his situation to be the downer that my wife experienced. (Of course, I am a couple of chapters from The End still - not to mention several hours from the end of the month - so I suppose something might change my mind . . .)

Very strange month of reading for me - depth over breadth, and all very backwards looking . . .
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HiveGod wrote:
Note 2: Silver lining is a shiny new ms awaiting my eyeballs, written by a fellow Chit Chatter...[/size]

So *you're* the one who has been hacking into my laptop!
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nycavri wrote:
HiveGod wrote:
Note 2: Silver lining is a shiny new ms awaiting my eyeballs, written by a fellow Chit Chatter...

So *you're* the one who has been hacking into my laptop!

I wish!
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Verkisto wrote:
leemc13 wrote:
I'm also half way through the Y: The Last Man series. It was recommended to me as a good commentary, but geez is it ever obtuse and juvenile up to this point.

I made it through the first two volumes before I had to quit. I had heard a lot of good about the series, but was put off by the sexist vibe of the whole thing.


That's kind of the point of the series. It's like being put off by a war movie because of the violence.
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erak wrote:
Verkisto wrote:
leemc13 wrote:
I'm also half way through the Y: The Last Man series. It was recommended to me as a good commentary, but geez is it ever obtuse and juvenile up to this point.

I made it through the first two volumes before I had to quit. I had heard a lot of good about the series, but was put off by the sexist vibe of the whole thing.

That's kind of the point of the series. It's like being put off by a war movie because of the violence.

Eh, I don't see the comparison, really. What I saw was Yorick thinking that every woman left would want to sleep with him because he was the last man on Earth, and the female characters seemed shallow and cliched.
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I've been reading a lot of graphic novels/comics lately. The Sandman, Walking Dead, Judge Dredd, Injustice: Gods Among Us etc.
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Wreckers Gate, and its sequel, Landsend Plateau by Eric T. Knight.

These are the first couple of books in a fantasy series by a local writer. I am delighted and surprised by them - the author builds an interesting world, with a unique system of magic (based far more on Castaneda-esque shamanism than standard fantasy novel magic tropes), and best of all, he wrestles directly with moral ambiguity in a way that most serious fantasy series do not--the characters seem required to do real evil themselves in order to defeat evil, and the author does not flinch away from showing this.


The Ocean At the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
This is Gaiman at his best - exploiting mythology to tell a deeply personal story of pain and grief.


Myth of the Eternal Return by Mircea Eliade
Nonfiction that explores and compares the linear perception of time in western culture with the non-linear perception of time in world religion and myth. This book was WAY over my head, so I don't know what to say about it. I am still trying to figure out what it means.

LAST MONTH (since I forgot to post):


Undoing Yourself by Christopher Hyatt.
Non-fiction. Once I got past the incredibly cheesy 1970's self-help book tone, the exercises were pretty amazing.


Shamanism by Mircea Eliade
As with his other book above, this was way, way over my head--definitely an academic examination and closer to a college graduate level textbook on the subject. Too much too absorb to speak clearly about its value and power, but this may be my favorite work of non-fiction now.


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nycavri wrote:
The Magus - John Fowles

I started The Magus half a life time ago, late in High School or early at University. It fit perfectly into my middle class, philosophy reading worldview.

But apparently I never read more than the first chapter or so . . .

On rediscovering it this month, amongst all the other books I have rediscovered since refusing to put any more books on my nook and just read what's already there, I found that I should have stuck with it, all those years ago.

It is interesting and thought provoking, made me smile and even laugh out loud in moments. I was thoroughly enjoying my gentle visit to Nicholas' world, his not-quite-home-away-from-home in Greece.

Then things started getting weird.

I don't want to spoil the book, so I will be vague as vague can be. But I believe this is the most disturbing book I have ever read. And as such I couldn't put it down.

Straight into my Top Ten, I would hazard (using that word with great care, as it is throughout the book . . .)


I think you nailed it. It's one of those books that starts out with such mediocrity, but by the end becomes something deeply and profoundly puzzling - simultaneously concealing and revealing some deep truths about human nature. I am really glad you not only gave it a chance, but that you enjoyed it. It's a strange novel.
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I have been reading Cossack Girl by Marina Yurlova. It is the extraordinary tale of a girl who was 14 in August 1914. She ran away from home, joining women who followed their husbands to the Russo-Turkish border, was adopted by a Cossack unit, was twice wounded in battle, was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks, and trekked across Siberia to escape to Japan. Extraordinary but autobiographical.
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The Wise Man's Fear by Pat Rothfuss. Really good writing saves a by-the-numbers coming-of-age hero fantasy. There's really not a trope left unturned, and Mary Sue says Hi. But I really enjoyed it anyway, and can't wait for the next one.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch. I loved The Lies of Locke Lamora, but was quite disappointed by the 2nd book in the series--to the point where I thought the first book was a fluke. This one had everything I loved about the first book and then some. Lynch even managed to demonstrate some competency in writing a somewhat realistic female character, and she didn't even die in the end. Baby steps.

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. It's one of the better ones.
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