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Subject: What did you read in May 2016? rss

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Rudy
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About a Night by Anat Talshir. This is Anat's first novel. She was an investigative journalist in Israel for over 30 years and winner of the Israeli Pulitzer.

In present day an old man lays in a hospital bed despairing of life. He calls a trusted younger woman from his past to help him ease out of his pain. His pain? The doctors don't know what the cause is but he knows. He misses his love, the love. The younger woman comes to see him often and he then tells her the story of his past filling in the large gaps in what she previously knew and understood.

From there the story takes you away to 1947 in the thriving city of Jerusalem. By chance a young, successful business man and a salon worker take deep notice of each other out on the streets, and their lives as they know it shifts like an earthquake. Their hearts rapidly entwine just as a long war threatens with a seemingly impossible separation. But this is no ordinary love, no, this is something far greater. Will their love survive, can their love survive?

The story takes your heart down all the roads tugging at all the strings. If you like deep relationship stories, take a look at this one. It's not perfect but it's darn good. Be warned you might need a tissue or two.

Highly recommended!


Winter Men by Jesper Bugge Kold

The story follows Two brothers in the German city of Hamburg during the time before and during WWII. One brother a mathematics professor and the other owns the family clothing factory passed down from their father. Soon their lives change drastically as the experience the horror of the Nazi machine and find themselves unwillingly sucked in.

I knew from the beginning the story would be depressing and it was, although not nearly as bad as I anticipated. You are taken along to see how each bother is forced by fear and other pressures to do things contraty to their values. As the war progresses they become less like who they were and more like what they used to despise. Real WWII events are added to give the story an authentic feel.

The book was a good look at how seemingly good men can turn ugly over time when they don't think there is anything they can do to stop the shift in culture. I felt feel sorry for the characters seeing just how difficult life was with the SS running the show. It fills in those gaps that history class could not give you with a look of how the losing side saw things.

Recommended if you don't mind the depressing moments of WWII (not graphic) and the story constantly jumping back from brother to brother. It's a sad book but one I am glad I finished.


The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

If you read any Sherlock Holmes stories, you know what you are getting. Good stuff.


The Owl Thief by Jonni Good.

A widower becomes a murder suspect when one of her handmade masks was on found on the victim. Taking matters into her own hands, and with the help of others, she starts her own search to find out the truth.

This book starts off slow and then picks up a bit towards the end. It wasn't bad but I didn't think it was all that good either. Thankfully it was free and very short.
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The initial novelty of the guy's life sort of wore thin, by the end, but it was a darned good story so I'm giving it two thumbs up and a star to boot.
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tickmanfan wrote:
About a Night by Anat Talshir.... Be warned you might need a tissue or two.


If you liked this one, try out A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.
And the stand-alone sequel Family Matters, for that matter.
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Hagakure or some such. Link to my full review. It's a book about how dumb it was to really be a samurai.

http://coinflipdies.blogspot.com/2016/05/day-9-starcraft-com...
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Billy McBoatface
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Last month I really enjoyed my re-read of Pride and Prejudice. So why not read more Jane Austen?


Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Has Jane Austen's humor and great characters, but I put it a step below Pride and Prejudice because the lead character is less flawed, and thus less interesting. I do really like how in the end, all characters, even the bad ones gets a happy ending. Well, Miss Williams doesn't get a happy ending, but she's an orphaned bastard so it's not like she actually matters or anything.


Emma by Jane Austen
Wow. Emma, the character, is amazing. She is a spoiled brat, and a snob, with far too high an opinion of her own intelligence, but she is also vivacious and genuinely good-hearted. As the book progresses she sees her flaws and works to correct them. The only reason why I rate this below Pride and Prejudice on the "Jane Austen" scale is that Emma's love interest is not nearly as interesting as she is; he is in the "too perfect" camp instead. With this later book, Jane Austen seems to be branching out a bit. Her first two novels completely ignore anybody outside the landed gentry, but here we have a farmer who is a real (albeit minor) character, and a girl of uncertain parentage who is fairly major. In the end, the non-gentry characters get their plotlines tidied up too quickly, making it clear that they are mostly props for the important (by which I mean wealthy) characters, but it's good to see them there.
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Michael Howden
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The Year of the Flood (MaddAddam, #2)
by Margaret Atwood

Best of the trilogy for my money.

MaddAddam (MaddAddam, #3)
by Margaret Atwood *

The third book was a little disappointing. The series was tied up, and I did like the way it ends, but I didn't like where some of the characters went in this one.

Neverwhere
by Neil Gaiman

Love books like this. I'm a huge Clive Barker fan, and this was so obviously influenced by him. I'm a huge sucker for this kind of stuff.

Sputnik Sweetheart

by Haruki Murakami

Read this in a day. Surprising and lovely. Meditation on the loneliness of human existence. (But aren't all novels?)

The Setup Man (Johnny Adcock #1)

by T.T. Monday

Detective books are not usually interesting to me. The baseball and the Bay Area tie-in made this a lot of fun to read. I might even read the next one. Nothing special here, predictable but with a bunch of local color.

The Girl on the Train

by Paula Hawkins

Had this one on hold forever, finally got it. Had a very good time reading it. Figured out "Who-done-it" at the end of the second act, but it didn't matter. Act three is very well written and I didn't want to put it down.

Flight of Dreams
by Ariel Lawhon

Run-of-the-mill historical fiction. Well researched and written just not that great a story. Nice descriptions of what a transatlantic zeppelin flight might have been like.




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Monster Tornado
by Mark Levine

The true story about a pair of killer tornadoes that smashed through Limestone County Alabama during the April 3, 1974 super outbreak. Well written and quite gripping.


Normandy Crucible
by John Prados

A recent retelling of the breakout of the Allied armies from the Normandy beachhead in July 1944 that culminated in the Falaise Pocket debacle for the German army. A solid read with the bonus (for me as a wargamer) of an appendix where Prados, both a historical journalist and wargame designer, walks through how he used a modified version of a wargame on the subject to explore "what-if" alternatives.

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Andy Parsons
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I have been reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I bought this book but didn't get it read before last year's terrific BBC TV adaptation that condensed Wolf Hall and its sequel (Bring Up The Bodies) into six hour-long episodes. The story opens with the fall from favour of Cardinal Wolsey, when he fails to secure a divorce for Henry VIII from Katherine of Aragon. The main character is Thomas Cromwell, Wolsey's loyal fixer, who survives his master's fall and goes on to make himself useful to Henry.

I thought I'd left a long enough interlude for memories of the TV series not to intrude, but no; Thomas Cromwell is Mark Rylance, Ann Boleyn is Claire Foy and Henry VIII is still miscast as Damian Lewis.

The difference with the book is with the level of detail in its 672 pages. Wolf Hall immerses you in Tudor England - Mantel clearly did her research. However, it wears that detail lightly and is a terrific page-turner full of courtly intrigue, subtle characterisation and crackling dialogue. My one reservation with Mantel's writing style is that Cromwell is always referred to as "he" when he speaks; that's causing me moments of confusion when there are multiple men in the room.



Mark Rylance, damn him.
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It's still May, you MONSTER!
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Chris Tannhauser
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Echopraxia by Peter Watts

The sequel to Blindsight, enthusiastically blurbed as if the blurbers were forced to write the blurb in question during a frantic pause in received fellatio, or perhaps while watching a broken man with a lit cigar pour gasoline on their children...

HiveGod wrote:
Blindsight by Peter Watts

A sideways look at the alien first contact story, compelling and repellent in equal measure. Compelling for the writing and actual hard science (the citations in the back of the book scribe a fascinating rabbit warren that can easily swallow up a week or two of Internet searches); repellent for some of the hinkier gimmicks that require massive squinting to get past (historical vampires in hard sci-fi (?) and the fact, admitted by the author, that the entire work serves primarily as a refutation of a colleague's treatise on the nature of consciousness). As a result the plot is very much secondary, and naturally does not come to a satisfying conclusion... but I learned a bunch of stuff I didn't know before, and it had me talking for weeks to anyone who would listen, so mission accomplished, right? And thinking about it made me order the sequel—just now—and I hate sequels.

Bankler wrote:
Like Blindsight or hate it, I do think it was one of the most "Holy fuck!" books I've read in a while. I kind-of knew a lot of the stuff in it, but the way it brought it all together?

More terrifying than Lovecraft.

The 'sequel' (Echopraxia) is terrible.

EgorjLileli wrote:
I first stumbled upon Echopraxia and could not understand it. When I googled it I discovered it was a sequel, I stopped reading it and picked up Blindsight; I'm still trying to recover from reading that...

Instincts honed from a near half-century of reading and thinking about reading should never be discounted; while prejudices against accents or skin color should constantly be questioned, when it comes to books it's right to be rude. Sequels blow. And this sequel blew harder than the last one I subjected myself to, an experience I kinda-sorta promised myself I wouldn't repeat...

And yet here we are.

Echopraxia is dreamlike and disjointed, but not through any turn of art—it's just weirdly lazy, with stuff happening for no apparent reason while the "protagonist" slides past the action like a frozen-banana-licking carnival goer strapped into a lurching cart being dragged through a plywood haunted house. Papier-mâché ghouls leap at the ends of pneumatic rams as the black light burns your retinas... Several times I felt like I had missed something and so backtracked, only to find that, yeah, it just didn't make any sense. This is the worst kind of science fiction where the first order of business is service to Neat Ideas, with characters and plot coming in only as begrudging tent-poles to hold up the saggy fabric of the ersatz "story".

I SWEAR TO GOD WITH ALL THREE HANDS THIS WILL BE THE LAST SEQUEL I EVER READ
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I am saving April and May for June....I'm doing a thing.
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An open-eyed man falling into the well
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All the Wrong Questions (complete 4-book series) by Lemony Snicket

The series follows a young Lemony Snicket in his apprenticeship in a small town. With only hints at the complexity and ambiguity that I enjoyed from A Series of Unfortunate Events, the result is something much closer to a typical YA series, albeit a good one.
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The Prestige - Christopher Priest


Yup, the novel the movie is based on. The structure and some plot points differ between book and film, but the film captures the essence of the book quite well. There are few instances where the film version is better than the book (Fight Club comes to mind), but this is one of them. For starters, the book uses a completely unnecessary modern day framing device. It would work much better if it was just the journals of Borden and Angier. Major spoilers for the movie (with similar plot points from the novel as well) below:

Spoiler (click to reveal)
In the novel, Angier's Tesla machine does duplicate him, but the old version (the "prestige") is in a weird state of death. His soul is transported to the new body. I prefer the movie's version where his body and soul is duplicated. It makes Angier's determination/madness more potent when he has to essentially commit suicide/murder himself each performance and not knowing which he'll be.





Chew Vol. 11 - The Last Suppers - John Layman, Rob Guillory


Some great character moments, but for all the talk the book goes into about moving the plot along, very little actually happens. With only five issues left and a ton to cover, I wonder why they would drag their heels with the story. Regardless, this is still the best running comic book along with Saga (a title that this volume of Chew pokes some good-natured fun at in a background gag).
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Andy Parsons wrote:
My one reservation with Mantel's writing style is that Cromwell is always referred to as "he" when he speaks; that's causing me moments of confusion when there are multiple men in the room.

Yes! Wolf Hall was a great read, but the continual "He, Cromwell,..." sentence opener was really obnoxious. There's also a scene near the beginning where Wolsey attempts to explain something to Cromwell through roleplay (you be this person and I'll be this person and we'll have this hypothetical discussion). That's all well and good, but there was no indication that the roleplay ever ended and I had to read it multiple times to realize it was just really poorly executed. But excellent book outside of those minor issues. And the BBC series was great as well.

Nate
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MABBY wrote:
If you liked this one, try out A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.And the stand-alone sequel Family Matters, for that matter.

I read A Fine Balance shortly after returning from a trip to India in 2005. It has haunted me since. In 2007 I moved to Bangladesh for two years and traveled fairly extensively in the region. Seeing echoes of those storylines playing out in real lives was heartbreaking. It's a tough read, but well worth it.
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MWChapel wrote:
I am saving April and May for June....I'm doing a thing.


Again?
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EgorjLileli wrote:
MWChapel wrote:
I am saving April and May for June....I'm doing a thing.


Again?

It must be a big thing.
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Kelsey Rinella
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The first two collections of Ryan North's The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. I quite enjoyed his style in Ryan North's To Be Or Not To Be, and found these to be about the best crossover appeal books for me and my eight-year-old daughter. Not a lot fits in that category.

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Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest




Seattle in 1880 is a harsh place. Sixteen years earlier, a man named Leviticus Blue crashed his wondrous ice-breaking machine under the city while on a test run, releasing a mysterious gas that turns people into the living dead. But Boneshaker is (thankfully) not a zombie book. It's a book about Leviticus' teenage son Zeke impetuously heading into the now-walled-off city center to seek answers about his father. And it's about Leviticus' wife Briar going after her son into this dangerous place, filled with zombies, airships, heroes, and villains.

First: zombies. I'm so dang sick of zombies. The only way you're going to come close to keeping my interest with them is if they're somehow different than normal zombies, or there's a twist, or anything. (Even then, I'd be fine if this fad would just fade away.) Here they're just your run-of-the-mill zombie. So...boring.

Overall, the book is fine. But it's never more than fine, and I feel as though this setup promised me more than fine. Briar and Zeke should be the most interesting characters in the book, but they're the least interesting. Everyone around them has personality, and unique aspects, and backstories that make you want to find out more about them. Zeke and Briar are lifeless.

And they're aimless, too. Other than Zeke's decision to head into the city, and Briar's decision to go after him, they're moved through the book by other people. They're always being taken somewhere by someone else. Things or people might interrupt that trip, but then they're back heading somewhere with someone--possibly someone new. They feel like passive characters that things happen to, rather than active participants in their own story.

There are a few things that just didn't make sense to me--the biggest being the fact that people live in the walled-off area at all. Super dangerous. Gas masks constantly. Zombies everywhere. Horrible life. They're not trapped, so why not just leave? The book hints at some answers but it just doesn't ring true. It feels more like Priest needed people to live there, so people live there.

I've been super harsh, but it really was a fine story. The world was evocative, and the secondary characters were well-drawn. I just kept waiting for something surprising to happen, and it never did. (Until the end, where there's a "twist" I hated.) This is one of Priest's earlier works, and it shows. But friends who have read further into the series seem to feel they get markedly better from here. I'm hopeful that's true, and I'll read on to find out for myself.


The White Road (Charlie Parker #4), by John Connolly




I was surprised to see so much of this fourth Charlie Parker novel dealing with pieces of the third Parker novel, The Killing Kind. He's referenced past events in other books, but this one has at least a portion of the plot that brings in those old elements in a significant way.

But the majority of the novel is about an old friend of Parker asking for his help in a case of a young black man accused of killing a young white woman. Parker's friend is convinced the kid is innocent. Parker comes down south to help, and gets caught up in a tale of old family rivalries, and secrets buried in the past coming to the light.

I wasn't sure I liked where I thought Connolly was going with this one, but then it veered off and ended in a very satisfying way. I really enjoy this series. But for heaven's sake, read these in order. He weaves way too much from past books into these stories to recommend anything else.


The Paper Menagerie, and Other Stories, by Ken Liu




Ken Liu's collection of short stories is a terrific mix of science fiction and fantasy--with many of the stories weaving in Ken's Chinese heritage in some way. And it's chock-full of award winners. "The Paper Menagerie" is the only story to ever win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award.

The only thing that keeps this from 5 stars is that the stories at the end aren't quite as good as those at the front and middle. So toward the end of these almost 500 pages, I was starting to drag a bit. That was my fault for deciding to read this straight through rather than in chunks, but it still made the experience a little less than top-notch. Still, I'll be adding Liu to my list of authors to read, and I've added his The Grace of Kings to my To-Read list. He's talented.


Calamity, by Brandon Sanderson




What a disappointment. This series went from 4 stars (Steelheart) to 3 stars (Firefight) to 2 stars. I wanted him to land the plane. I wanted him to wrap it up well. I wanted answers. Instead, hardly anything happened, until it finally did. And then what happened was terrible.

Sure, the characters from the first book are back. That's good. And the goofy metaphors. Okay, fine. But I kept waiting for something interesting to happen. But it felt like going through boring motions until the final confrontation. Or should I say penultimate confrontation. Because now David has to reckon with Calamity...
Spoiler (click to reveal)

This was really where it went off the rails for me. Calamity doesn't feel like a bad guy. He feels like a petulant teenager who wanted to go to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters. Who is he? Why was he sent? Why can't he leave? We're given no clue to this, and since that's the end of the series, it feels incomplete.

He says he can't leave until his mission is accomplished. (Again, we're not told what that is.) Then David and Megan show him the alternate reality where he does leave and people are mostly nice, and he disappears. "Just like that." Wait, so he can leave? I'm confused. You will be, too.

Also, if he's a godlike figure who gave everyone their powers, why is he flummoxed when they show him what Megan can do?

Anyway, the Calamity stuff was garbage. And I was iffy about the Epilogue, too. Look, I love to see David with his old man, too. That makes me feel all the feels. But it was the loss of his father in the first book that made him so interesting, and set him on the path to where he is today. So it feels cheap to be like, "Hey, you're gonna get 15 minutes with him every other day. Isn't that awesome?!" Ummm...I guess.

Finally: Suddenly Mizzy's an epic? Wha?


This felt like a rushed book with too many unclear things going on. Maybe he's trying to juggle too many things. Maybe he's planning to explain some things in the next series he's announced. But there still needed to be closure with this series, and it just felt like a rushed mess.

I'm still a Sanderson fan, for sure. This series just isn't one of his better efforts.


Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth, by Judd Winick




D.J. is stuck. He's the middle child in a large family, and compared with his siblings, he's not good at anything. Except being friends with Gina; he's good at that. They're good together. Then she moves away and he's back to being "boring."

But one day something falls to earth. Or, rather, someone. Hilo (pronounced "high-low"), a blonde kid wearing sparkly silver underpants crash lands in Berke County (a nod to Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed, I think). Hilo doesn't know who he is or where he came from. And as he slowly learns about himself and about the world around him, we partake in his infectious wonder toward everything. Even a crazy dinner at D.J.'s house is an opportunity to embrace the chaos. And burp.

Turns out Hilo is being chased by some Very Bad Things, and it's up to him and D.J. to sort it all out. Oh, and Gina. Because she's moved back. Aaaaaahhh!!!

This trio is funny, endearing, and believable. And not all white! The art and bright colors draw you in, and Winick has a great eye for panel choices. That seems like a weird compliment, but I've read plenty of comics that try to be so creative with their panels that I can't follow where the heck I'm supposed to go. But this is straightforward, easy to read, but not homogeneous. Action scenes, flashbacks, and everyday all feel different. And even the way Winick draws characters' eyes affects the way you respond to what's happening.

It's the story of Hilo, but it's also the story of D.J. realizing he's not boring, and has something meaningful to contribute. Hilo and Gina help him see that he has strength that comes out when those he cares about are in danger. D.J. is ready and willing to help his friends through the most dangerous of situations, and that's not boring at all. It's often hard to see our own worth, but it's through friendships that our value is reflected back toward us. That's why it's so important for teenagers to be connected with people who love them. When they're isolated, they listen to the voice that tells them they're worthless. When they're connected, they listen to the voices around them that tell them, "I see this in you. And it's so good."

I recommend this book for both kids and adults--especially those who like to laugh. This stew of sad, uplifting, hilarious moments is...outstanding!

Hilo Book 2: Saving the Whole Wide World, by Judd Winick




Hazzah!! A new Hilo book!

I liked the first one a lot, and this one's even better. It's exciting, poignant, surprising, and even funnier than the first. I HATE cats. Seriously...blech. But this book made me like a cat! Polly is an amazing character. I'm just waiting for the opportunity to call someone a bloated, zit-caked boil from a troll's butt. Maybe over Christmas dinner...

The worst thing is that I have to wait until 2017 to find out what happens with that cliffhanger. I just may ralph.


The Black Angel (Charlie Parker #5), by John Connolly




The Black Angel starts off simply enough. Louis' cousin is missing. And since she's a junkie and a prostitute, the police aren't exactly in a hurry to find her. So Parker, Louis, and Angel take it upon themselves. A simple disappearance becomes something much larger and much darker.

The events are tied strongly to the Sedlec Ossuary, a real-life chapel in the Czech Republic, which contains the remains of between 40,000 and 70,000 people, artistically arranged to form furnishings and decorations. There's way too much plot to easily explain in this review, and, indeed, too much to easily explain in the book, too. So Connolly resorts to exposition. LOTS of exposition.

I can see how five books into the series he's ready to set things on a larger stage, and maybe up the ante on what, exactly, is going on with Parker and the supernatural elements that seem to dog him. But the exposition, the dark tone, and the depressing ending made this a failed experiment, in my mind. The writing is still good (hence the three stars), but he messed with a the formula here, and got New Coke.

Another thing to mention: In the last book we saw a bit of it, but in this one we see much more of the point of view shifting from Charlie. All of the books are written from his first-person view, but Connolly is increasing including sections from other points of view, and I find it distracting. You've made a choice when it comes to point of view. Now stick with it--the good and the bad. Find a creative way to convey that information. Or decide one book won't be from Parker's viewpoint. When you think about the meta story, if "Charlie Parker" is writing this book--or narrating or whatever--then what are these extra bits from some other viewpoint? How would they fit into the story he's telling us? They wouldn't. So stop it.

All that aside, I still love the series, and I'm still plowing through them one after the other.


The Engines of God, by Jack McDevitt




I've managed to pick up half-a-dozen Jack McDevitt novels over the years, but never managed to read one until now. The Engines of God is one of his earliest novels, and it showcases what I love about science fiction, and what I hate.

It's a few hundred years in the future, and we've discovered monuments on planets and moons around the solar system. The book makes use of a few set-pieces to move scientists and archaeologists toward finding out what those monuments are and what they mean. We don't get a whole lot of answers, but I think those unfold in the following books.

The events are mostly interesting, with a highlight including a trip to an abandoned alien space station. A few things do ring untrue, such as how close two groups cut it on an alien planet. One group is scientists trying to dig out alien goodies, and the other group is terraformers waiting to wreck a planet (and those goodies) to make way for a new habitation for humans. They're overlapping each other to a dangerous degree, and it just didn't seem like something that would actually happen.

Another odd piece was a sequence involving crab-like creatures on a planet. It didn't seem to fit the rest of the narrative, and felt like something included solely to increase the "excitement." It did, I suppose, but it just didn't work for me.

The worst thing is the characterization--and it's that thing I "hate" about so much science fiction. As a genre, science fiction is often full of wizz-bang ideas, but peopled with flat characters that have no personality or character growth. That's evident here. Again, it's one of McDevitt's early novels, so it's very possible he gets better at it. I'm just not super anxious to find out. I am curious about finding those answers teased in this book, so I'm sure I'll dive in at some point. But with increasing numbers of science fiction authors who manage to marry the cool ideas to great characters (Alastair Reynolds and James S.A. Corey, to name two), I have other options that sound better right now.
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Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed on account of a couple of jackasses? What the hell's the matter with you?
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The Unincorporated Man, Dani and Eytan Kollin

This one started out with so much potential, and then just slid down, and down, and down, until I stopped about 2/3 of the way through. (And I usually finish everything I start. It's rare that I put a book down and walk way from it.)

It starts out with an intriguing premise: A man has himself cryonically frozen, and then is awakened hundreds of years later in a society where every person is incorporated at birth: you can buy and sell shares in other people. The authors spend some time investigating this interesting concept, and what kind of society it creates. This part of the book is not bad, although they occasionally feel the need to beat you over the head with their politics.

The best thing the book has going for it is the main antagonist, who has more depth and interest than the main character. The antagonist starts out evil-villainy, but then opens up to reveal some complexity, with believable motives.

Then, about halfway in Amazon emailed me and said, "Hey, you like that book? Here's some others you'll like. Including two sequels!" Sequels? Really? And about ten pages later the main character's love interest started beating you over the head with the authors' politics. (Politics with which I'm sympathetic!) I got a bad taste in my mouth and I put it down.

I get the feeling they were shooting for a Robert Heinlein-esque libertarian SF novel. That's great, but Heinlein would have covered this all in 250 pages, with a light touch. At least his characters are entertaining when they lecture you.

Not recommended.
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Drew1365 wrote:
Anonymouse512 wrote:
All the Wrong Questions (complete 4-book series) by Lemony Snicket

The series follows a young Lemony Snicket in his apprenticeship in a small town. With only hints at the complexity and ambiguity that I enjoyed from A Series of Unfortunate Events, the result is something much closer to a typical YA series, albeit a good one.


I have the first book queued up on my bookshelf. Skip or go ahead?


I say go. It still has some of the flavor that made the original series great, just not as much. As I said, it's still a good series.
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SEEEEEEEQUELS!
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The Princess Bride - William Goldman
NOS4A2 - Joe Hill
A Box of Matches - Nicholson Baker
Benfica to Brazil - Doron Klemer
Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives - Claire Handscombe (ed.)

The Princess Bride - William Goldman

I love meta.

And I am soooo tempted to just leave the review at that. If you know the movie, you will enjoy the extra beats of backstory. (If you don't . . . I just can't even . . .) But, even moreso than in the movie, it is the meta that makes the whole thing work.

There is an additional layer to the framing sequences which take this firmly out of the realm of children's literature. The way that Sleepless In Seattle is a movie about love in the movies, this is a story about telling bedtime stories.

And I loved it.

NOS4A2 - Joe Hill

I can only imagine what bedtime stories Joe Hill heard as a kid. But I am glad Daddy scared him as much as he no doubt did, because his writing is as creepy as it is crisp, as scintillating as it is scary.

His pacing and structure is exquisite, with exactly the right amount of foreshadowing and meeting expectations only to throw a curve once in a while, keeping the reader engaged, driving the story forward.

Hill uses some of the same mechanical tricks as Papa King, tricks I know I have at times co-opted into my own writing - messing with the way the words look on the page, odd punctuation, unexpected stops. And always in service to the story - Hill may actually be more adept at this than anyone. He also has his father's habit of subtle nods to his other works (and the occasional not to subtle nod back to his father!)

Did I mention I love meta?

The story here is long and complex, but never boring. At times Hill sketches a character, met for just a few minutes, that you quickly come to care for as much as any of the protagonists already met. A uniform, a quick interaction with another, an unexpected smile. Then he telegraphs the fact that this character is not going to survive the scene, and kills him off horribly.

Bastard. Talented, talented bastard.

The whole book is like this. If you like horror at all, just go ahead and read it. I loved Heart Shaped Box, couldn't understand why it took me so long to read Joe Hill. Having now enjoyed NOS4A2 even more, I'll be looking for even more sooner rather than later . . .

A Box of Matches - Nicholson Baker

With the insanity of Goldman and the nods to past books by Hill, it appears I have a meta theme going on in May.

Have I mentioned I love meta?

So I picked a book which sounded more like a writing exercise than an actual novel, and was not disappointed. It's not groundbreaking, or important, or even especially interesting. A man wakes early every morning, lights his fireplace from a single match and types out his thoughts. It's Beckett or Pinter in 2D without the angst (Beckett) or swearing (Pinter.)

I laughed out loud more than once. I enjoyed seeing the minutiae of the narrator's life - his relationship with wife, kids, mother - despite the fact that nothing very much at all happens. And right before I think I might get tired of the conceit, he strikes his last match and goes back to bed.

Benfica to Brazil - Doron Klemer

"One Olympics, three World Cups, a dozen countries, and a thousand stories."



Let's get this out of the way up front. Yes, Doron is my baby brother. And yes, I am namechecked a time or two throughout his debut book. But that doesn't mean I can't give a honest opinion of the writing, or even that I had heard all of these stories before cracking the spine.

If I had to elevator pitch this sports lifestyle travelogue, I might describe it as "Bill Bryson meets Roger Angell". This would be a better pitch if Angell was as large a household name as Bryson, but it does manage to capture the magical interweaving of time and place and people at which both writers excel. In Benfica to Brazil, Doron follows in these literary footsteps, exploring geography, linguistics, and culture through the seemingly universal lens of sports.

Chapters on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil anchor the book, weaved between those exploring Doron's history with many of the countries represented at that competition. Other highlights include a moving aside into his time volunteering at the 2012 London Olympics, whip smart and hysterically funny details of why life is as it is around the world, and many rants on corruption, inequality and the offside rule.

It is a non-stop, breathless ride as Doron takes his readers across continents and decades in a carefully curated arrangement of interlinked stories that make up his at times ridiculous life. Self acknowledged as equal parts fearless and fortunate, Doron has ridden these traits to an existence that others envy greatly (though usually not enough to actually attempt to emulate.)

It makes for thought-provoking, joyous, bittersweet, laugh-out-loud-on-public-transportation reading.

Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives – Claire Handscombe (ed.)

I've recently returned to yet another rewatch of the series (currently at the tail end of Season 6) and this eBook recommendation popped up in my Facebook feed. It's a series of essays - varying from short to very, very short - about the effect that a show from the turn of the millennium still has on people (apparently especially people from the UK) today. After completing the nearly 100 pages, I figured out that this was a crowdfunded effort, and it shows. The book is anchored by two or three well written, well conceived essays which are moving and thought provoking. The rest tend to be a throw away line or two. It's not a bad book, or even a bad project, but it feels more like a blog than anything else at this point. A few more full essays, a little less of the twee, "I didn't vote until I watched The West Wing", and a special show would be better served by a special book.
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The Sympathizer by Viet Than Nguyen



This one just won the Pulitzer for fiction this year and is better than the past few years. Pulitzer has been dull for a long time with only a few exceptions (Visit From the Good Squad, Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay). This story of a North Vietnamese spy coming to California after the fall of Saigon and continuing his infiltration was a very good read.


Peacekeeping by Mischa Berlinski



I have yet to really enjoy a novel set in the Caribbean. Admittedly, my experience is limited, but I tend to find Caribbean novels nothing more than an expose of "look how abjectly awful it is here... just look." With this prejudice in full effect, I entered Peacekeeping, and finally found a book that adds quite a bit more to this formula. Here we get theories for why Haiti is so impoverished and run down (many keep trying to help but ultimately leave Haiti worse off once their conscience is clear from their good deeds) and the narrator keeps reminding us how beautiful it is. Peacekeeping succeeds in being a novel of relationships. Haiti is a rough setting, but it is simply the backdrop for the human stories of love, power, redemption, and life. And all of this is told with some amazing prose from Berlinski. He balances humor and gravity and gives it to us in some well crafted sentences.
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You know, I hate saying bad things about books—as a writer I know how incredibly hard it is to put anything even reasonably coherent together, and that what took years out of someone's life can be dismissed in just a couple snide paragraphs.*

So, for as disappointed as I was with Echopraxia, there were a couple signature Peter Watts nuggets in there that are going to take me a while to digest:

- It's not so much "free will" as "will that's unpredictable enough to confuse a predator."

- The brain is a survival engine, not a truth-finding device.

- Religion allows for an internal model of reality that confers survival advantages, even if it isn't "real" or "right".

Cool stuff, honestly.


*But hey, at least I'm not a visual artist—those dudes get their soul's work drop-kicked in like seconds.
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