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Subject: What did you read in December 2011? rss

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Jonathan "Spartan Spawn, Sworn, Raised for Warring!"
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Guess everyone is recovering still! laugh



The last was co-authored by our very own Hivegod and is an excellent book!
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Mystery McMysteryface
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Edited to add more commentary.....for Morgan!

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett - very enjoyable children's mystery book/series. The children stumble on many clues and try to solve mysteries, meeting interesting characters along the way. The kids take risks, and there is some good tension when they do. The children's relationships are also explored as well as their home lives.

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. I really enjoyed this book which is like a travelogue with adventure and mystery mixed in. It is also a race/chase story. Very unique, different, and pretty good even when compared to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea which is a much denser and serious read.

Swan Lake by Mark Helprin. Sad, but beautiful book that recounts/retells(?) the Swan Lake story sort of with a story within a story tale. Very well written and engrossing. Poignant and sad--just as the story actually is.

The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett (sequel to Chasing Vermeer) I found this one to be much better than the first one and can't wait to read the 3rd! The mystery and crime-solving aspect in this one is better written and with more tension. The characters get more dimensional and interesting.

Started on The Stone and the Flute by Hans Bemmann and loving it thus far! (plus it is like 3 books in one!) The first book is very interesting, sort of like a buddy trip story that holds your attention. Lots of fantasy elements that are not over the top, but super interesting. I am reading the second book which is a bit slower and less interesting, more of a coming of age story for the main character. We'll see...
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The Passage - finally
The White Lioness

and many more. Good month to read while recovering from a spot of surgery.
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Chad Burnett
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The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Shadowmarch by Tad Williams
Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb
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Edited per Morgan's request to add commentary

Extremis: A Starfire novel by Steve White and Charles E Gannon
I'm a sucker for military sci-fi, and since I've read all the others in this series, I had to finish this one. Not a groundbreaking novel by any stretch (man and alien try to annihilate each other due to misunderstanding, brave individuals on both sides fight the powers that be to communicate and stop conflict). More of snack food reading, but oh so good.


Crescent Dawn by Clive and Dirk Cussler
Typical Dirk Pitt novel. Nothing spectacular, but enjoyable.


Death Star by Michael Reaves and Steve Perry
I try to stay away from Star Wars fiction because I'm pretty done with that whole genre, but every once in a while one pulls me in. Usually, it's when a back history is filled in, rather than continuing the story forward. I enjoyed the back history of the Millennium Falcon, and I really liked this one as well. This gives us the back history of the design/building of the Death Star, and a look at the lives of those who were on it, right up to the point it gets destroyed. Very enjoyable.


The Confession by John Grisham
An intriguing premise - a man is about to be executed for a crime he didn't commit, and when the real killer confesses, no one believes him.
It's an interesting commentary on the death penalty, disguised as fiction. A very good, if depressing read. I think that maybe the characters were pretty one dimensional, but I still enjoyed it.
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Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

Both amazing books!
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Hogfather - Terry Pratchett, all of them are by him.
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Orson Scott Card:
- Ender's Game (umpteenth re-read),
- Ender in Exile(first read),
- Speaker for the Dead(umpteenth re-read).

{edit:}
Commentary in the Book Lover's guild for sisteray where I sorta had already commented on this.

Short summary: Speaker is my all-time favorite Ender book. Ender In Exile is my new second favorite.


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Not to be too critical, but I'm sad that so few people on this list are actually talking about the books they are reading. I used to love these lists, and looked forward to them as they came out each month. Listing off titles is disappointing and it seems like this and the last couple ones were a bit light on critical commentary. Any chance you guys could elaborate?
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Morgan Dontanville
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Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass
by Bruno Schulz

Really gorgeous amorphous writing that flows like a tone poem. It's like reading one very long Lawrence Ferlinghetti piece only with far less plot. It is a dreamy recount of fleeting childhood memories where everything blends and melds in a viscous sticky web. The best way to describe it is how when you are really tired but you are really enjoying reading a good book, you push yourself to read more but after a few pages you have no idea what you just read and you are totally confused as to what is going on. The whole piece recreates that feeling.

The problem is that it often feels like the ravings of a madman. It is meandering and often pointless. In writing there is always a discussion of show don't tell, but when it comes to story, Schulz likes to show scenes and scenarios but doesn't seem at all interested in telling a story.

I have to admit, that for as beautiful as I felt that the writing was, this book was a tough slog to get through. Even though the book runs under a hundred pages, this took me a few weeks to get through, I'd read a few pages and then just had to put it down. I had to muscle through to the end of the book. That said, I do think that it is good, and the writing is compelling, but everything is in the moment, and often is depressing.

I appreciate the groundwork that this author has done, but I can't help but feel that Thomas Ligotti borrowed his style and made something better out of it; something cohesive and with a direction, rather than just navel gazing.




Carbonel: The King of Cats
by Barbara Sleigh

It's ok, we've seen it all before: Aristocratic cat, a curse, a prophecy, kids without dads on an adventure to get magic items before the clock runs out. In 1955 perhaps it was fresh. Decent quick read. I like that there is a strong female lead. The biggest problem with the book though is that the barely tolerable Carbonel is royalty by birth. He expect things done for him (though will occasionally help). There is a pervasive cloying and nostalgic sympathy toward monarchies. The king was gone and the lowly rabble took over the administration and everything went became terrible. They became authoritarian as if not having pure blood would not allow you to properly govern. It is too antiplebian for my taste




The Old Gods Waken
by Manly Wade Wellman

Fun little romp. Remarkably innocent feeling for a horror adventure story. While I came for the action, the book actually is better at building the mythos of the novel. I love how it explored the history of the mysticism involved. It was nice to see how it drew from both Appalachian folklore and tied it into old world cultures. The dialect was great. It captured the feeling of life in the hills. I'm sure that some the the colloquialisms were likely hooey but I felt it worked well.

The ending does drag a bit as our heroes have to face 7 challenges. It deflates the suspense when everything is spelled out for you (and you know that they won't fail). What's funny is that even the narrator talks about how tired he is of describing the trials. Clearly Wellman was more used to writing short stories at this point and padded the ending a bit. That said, those bits were fun, but after a while they many didn't feel like they added anything.

I'm looking forward to reading Wellman's short fiction.



Vicious Circle
by Mike Carey

I'm about 100 pages into this. I really enjoyed the first Felix Castor book. I came to these books from loving Mike Carey's work in comics. I searched around looking for urban fantasy that didn't make me throw the book down in frustration. The first book was a nice simple hard-boiled mystery with some fun supernatural elements. This book embraces the supernatural a bit more in a fun way. I like the characters and he takes his time to build the characters' environment without feeling like anything is wasted. The main character is an enjoyable dude, and in the grand tradition of the Rockford Files can take a beating like no other...

It has fun obscure references that are fun to look up without seeming overbearing. It has a little grit, while still feeling light.
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Gregory Amstutz
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sisteray wrote:
Not to be too critical, but I'm sad that so few people on this list are actually talking about the books they are reading. I used to love these lists, and looked forward to them as they came out each month. Listing off titles is disappointing and it seems like this and the last couple ones were a bit light on critical commentary. Any chance you guys could elaborate?



Per your request, edited my OP to add commentary
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I read lots of scientific articles on forest structure and diseases, but was able to squeeze in The Way of Kings and The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson.
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The saga continues for me....

Not as good at the previous three, but I felt it was a must read anyway. Lots of story progression in this one, but some characters are left out (reasons explained by the author on a page torwards the back of the book). Those characters are promised to return in next book (sitting on my night stand)

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Chad Burnett
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Shadowen wrote:
The saga continues for me....




I was kind of disappointed with A Dance with Dragons. Seemed like it was 900 pages of "waiting for something to happen".
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Crossing Borders--Confronting History: Intercultural Adjustment in a Post-Cold War World - a professor's text.
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David Dixon
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Busy reading month for me this month.

First, Slow Learner by Thomas Pynchon. I like Pynchon a lot and was interested to see his earlier work, and note how certain themes that continue to resonate in his works started developing at earlier times. Also, his introduction to them all is excellent--a serious writer who doesn't take himself too seriously (here's looking at you John Updike, Philip Roth, et al.)

And Pig Bodine. I like Pig Bodine.

His earlier works are more accessible than his later stuff and I'd almost say that if you were scared to start reading Pynchon then Slow Learner would be the place to start except for...

Inherent Vice. This is Pynchons' latest work, and he plays it almost completely straight (as straight as he can, I guess). It's his easiest read since The Crying of Lot 49. A reviewer I know said it wasn't "real Pynchon" though, and I'm inclined to agree.

It has some Pynchon themes (fear of power, paranoia, etc.) but in Inherent Vice there's some indication that maybe his characters might feel these things because they have just smoked way too much weed. Anyway, it's a pretty straightforward detective story that takes place at the end of the 1960s and features a diverse and colorful cast (in typical Pynchon fashion) made up of some crazy bikers, black power revolutionaries, fascist cops, a drugged out detective, wealthy real estate developers, and a conspirasy of tax-dodging dentists.

It's good, but it's like a guilty pleasure, which isn't why I read Pynchon.

Anyway, I also read, Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World. Calling this book bad is an insult to bad books everywhere. I discuss the depth of what's wrong with this shoddy Lord of the Rings ripoff in this thread: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/737864/robert-jordans-wh... .

I stand by every word I wrote.

I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It was, after reading Robert Jordan, like a breath of fresh air: Hey, characters that act like real people! Wow, a plot that while obviously influnced by other works, isn't painfully derivative! Prose that isn't terrible! What do you know!

Good light reading about a futuristic dystopian society. Sort of Running Man meets The Most Dangerous Game meets... Soylent Green or something.

Read it--even if you don't like it, it won't take you very long, but you'll probably like it anyway.

(All bets are off when it comes to the movie though--I'm not hopeful)

I read Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, which is, like most of Vonnegut's works, both amazingly beautiful and archly depressing. My wife sometimes says sad books are depressing.

She is wrong.

Vonnegut's books are depressing, even when they aren't sad. He makes your heart ache at the plight of the human condition. Breakfast of Champions is especially poignant in that regard because Vonnegut is both the author and a character and he discusses in very frank terms his flirting with suicide and dissatisfaction with himself, his life, and his work. It's rare to see an author bare his sole like that.

(Off topic digression, but if you like that sort of thing, achingly sad though it may be, might I suggest listening to a band [sort of] named Pedro The Lion. The singer/songwriter is a man named Dave Bazan who, over the course of his career slowly lost his faith--listening to his albums is sort of like listening to someone destroy their foundations. As someone who has also lost his faith so to speak, I find it very moving.)

Lastly, I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo just because I figured I'd wind up seeing the movie and I wanted to read the book first, as is my policy (And yes, I do enjoy going to movie theatres because I enjoy complaining afterwards, yes, thank you very much).

I'm not sure what all the fuss was about. Yes, it's well written, but I'm not so sure it would have been as well recieved had it not been set in a place and among a people foreign to most of us US readers. Taking a step back, it's basically a run of the mill murder/serial killer thriller (a genre which I'm not fond of at all), with a "twist" ending that I (and I'm sure a lot of others) saw coming from about chapter two. And the titular "girl with the dragon tattoo" is not really that unique a character; she's the loner, diturbed yet wunderkind investigator with a goth look and tattoos. She's been in lots and lots and lots of movies and even (dare I say it) as a milder form in the dreadful NCIS (its popularity notwithstanding, it's still dreadful).

My biggest qualm is the way its characters behave sexually. The main characters jump around in bed a lot, but nobody's really jealous because the book would have us believe that those cool Swedes are over stuff like personal jealousy and sexual monogamy within relationships.

Perhaps it is that way in the Nordic countries--by no means do I think US sexual mores are universal--but I'm ignorant... and so are many of the rest of US readers, so we'll let it go. But had that been tried in a book set in the US, or Mexico, or somewhere like that, it would have been dinged for its silly protrayal of relationships.

Maybe some Swedes can give me some insight--or, even better, tell us if they thought the book was really all it got made to be in the US.

Overall, I'd say skip this one and if you're in a hard boiled crime novel mood, stick with Raymond Chandler or Dashell Hammet.

Diis
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Morgan Dontanville
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Diis wrote:

Off topic digression, but if you like that sort of thing, achingly sad though it may be, might I suggest listening to a band [sort of] named Pedro The Lion. The singer/songwriter is a man named Dave Bazan who, over the course of his career slowly lost his faith--listening to his albums is sort of like listening to someone destroy their foundations. As someone who has also lost his faith so to speak, I find it very moving.


Whoa, really? I really only knew the first two records because he was a local act and knew friends of friends. I actually stopped listening to him because of his pervasive faith. I felt that his lyrics were important to the body of the music but were absolutely not my thing. Now knowing this, I'm interested in checking out some of his later work. Any recommendations?
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Hmmm. I started reading Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase, but it was a legally purchased ebook and had a DRM spazz-out episode. I suppose the lesson is to download pirated stuff next time. It's been restored to working order and I'll continue reading it soon. The bit that I've read thus far was good.

Thereafter I took a leaf from MMB and read Around the World in 80 Days, which was enjoyable. It was odd to read a novel without a subplot... I wondered whether subplots existed at that time and then remembered that Shakespeare had them prior to Verne. Anyway it had some interesting politically incorrect commentary on the dastardly Hindoo, primitive Papauans, etc.

What else? Starfish by Peter Watts. This is a free Creative Commons cyperpunk type novel and was surprisingly good. It is about deep sea volcanic vents and domestic violence. A page turner, you would dig it if you like ye olde cyberpunk.

Finally I reread a lot of Bone comics, which were great and funny as always. Phoncibile P. Bone Will Get You.
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I read World War Z by Max Brooks. Was it heavy reading? No, lay off me. I'm in graduate school and I also had to read a BILLION DENSE AND HEAVY PLAYS. LITERALLY A BILLION.
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I had the first five volumes of Girl Genius on the nightstand, and just got through with them.



Upon returning them to my friend, I received the next five, "...and then you'll be all caught up." What is there to say? It's a steampunk webcomic featuring a richly imagined history that is only alluded to in small, hilarious bits, with a Chosen One in the form of the titular Agatha Heterodyne, a ridiculously exaggerated voluptuous beauty who seems to often find herself in her underwear, and who is apparently the last of the famed Heterodynes. The insane burst of creation that Sparks like the Heterodynes unleashed upon the world has come under the suppression and control of a powerful tyrant, also a Spark, who uses the excuse of peace and order to justify his tyrannical rule. Other than the clanks (your standard steampunk automaton constructs), this world is populated by Jagers (some sort of Germanic troll race that appears to be secretly aligned with Agatha's ancestors) and the Geisterdamen, scary spidery women who had a nefarious agreement with Agatha's mysterious (and likely crazy) mother Lucrezia. See? Makes perfect sense. Anyways, it is beautifully illustrated and has enough gags to keep everything humming along in spite of the dark material.

Also finished How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu.



I described this last month as a post-modern dalliance, and I think that holds true after I got past the initial rat-a-tat of gags and in-jokes aimed at science fiction fans everywhere, and got into the real story about the author/main character's relationship with his father. I did enjoy it, mostly, but it didn't hang together as well as it might have. I got the feeling that the author used the blank slate plot to stretch his writer's chops to demonstrate his range. I can attest that he does indeed have range, but needs to work on his composition. Still, I'd be inclined to try out his next effort.

I'm now 10% of the way through Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson, according to my new used Kindle 2. I'm loving it so far.

Happy New Year!
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Time of the Ghost by Diana Wynne Jones - Another good story from a favorite author (this one reminded me a bit of Hexwood). I especially liked the hate/love relationship between the sisters contrasted with their relationship to their parents.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor - Read it because it was supposed to be similar to Jones's books, but found it a bit disappointing. A decent story and interesting world but little characterization and no real ending. Not recommended.

The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander - Draws loosely on Greek mythology - I especially liked his take on "Odysseus" - but otherwise a very standard young adult story.
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Only read two books in December which concludes my reading of must read sci-fi/fantasy books for a while.



Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes


Interesting idea on how a sudden dramatic change in intelligence can change your life, but overall way too slow to keep me interested.



The Princess Bride by William Goldman


Love the movie which I have seen lots of times, first time I read the book. I for one think it would have been even better without the fake narrative. My copy even includes the first part of the sequel that never came.
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Three great books :






and



For any WWII fan, Rck Atkinson's books are golden and must-reads. Egan's Quarantine is a fun quick read.

Cheers,
~Robin
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sisteray wrote:
Not to be too critical, but I'm sad that so few people on this list are actually talking about the books they are reading. I used to love these lists, and looked forward to them as they came out each month. Listing off titles is disappointing and it seems like this and the last couple ones were a bit light on critical commentary. Any chance you guys could elaborate?


Done!! Just for you, Morgan!!

kiss
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