Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I'm Not Dead...I've Just Been Reading

To make up for my slacking off earlier in the year, I have been reading books at a breakneck pace. Everything from comics to literary nonfiction. Thanks to this aggressive reading schedule, my “To Read” pile of books has been reduced from almost 40 titles to 17.

See full post for review of 23 works. The breakdown:
2 Comic books
3 Historical Romance Fiction
7 Science Fiction Novels
2 Science Fiction Short Stories
3 Young Adult Novels
1 Mystery/Crime Fiction
1 Autobiography
1 History
2 Science & Technology Nonfiction
1 Opinion/Current Events

“Barnum! IN Secret Service To The USA” by Howard Chaykin & David Tischman. (Comic) What do you get when PT Barnum & his gang of sideshow freaks teemed up with the US Secret Service to save the US from the nefarious schemes of the evil Dr. Nikola Tesla? You’d get this fun and engaging comic book. Great premise, good story and just very amusing.

“From the Hands of Hostile Gods” by Darren R. Hawkins. What a strange wonderful read. A mind bending mystery tale wrapped up in a love story. Set in an isolated outpost on a world being terraformed, the author does a brilliant job conveying the isolation and little social quirks that come with such locations. And when the mystery ramps up into disaster, Hawkins is equally up to the task of writing suspense. This is a good creepy book at a time when I read several bad to so-so creepy books (see below). Definitely worth downloading.

“The Remarkable Worlds of Professor Phineas B. Fuddle” by Boaz & Erek Yakin. (Comic) A lost-in-time absent-minded professor, Victorian London being overwhelmed in temporal paradoxes and two wayward adventurers. Again, ridiculous but wonderful fun.

“The Ghost Map” by Steven Johnson. An account of an 1850s cholera outbreak in London, the investigative aftermath and the historical consequences. A completely riveting book that ties together sociology, epistemology, globalization, urbanization, paradigm shifts in science and other awesome topics. Although I wouldn’t recommend reading it on a sick day (total mistake), it was an excellent book.

“The Sea of Monsters: Percy Jackson & The Olympians – Book 2” by Rick Riordan. The second book in this series is just as good as the first with some emotionally interesting plot twists on the inherent evilness of Cyclops and the Olympian gods’ opinions on redemption for their fallen children. Actually, pretty interesting in that the larger conflict of the series steps up a bit and the book-specific adventure has a really, really great payoff at the end. I will definitely be continuing this series.

“Fairest” by Gail Carson Levine. A fairy tale with a twist. While there are curses & such as expected, this isn't a predictable tale. For all it's fairy-taleness, it is really a story about a young girl coming into her own. Pretty interesting. My only complaint is that after making you hate a character for most of the book, she ends up being a non-entity in the end.

“Life At The Bottom”
by Theodore Dalrymple. Dear God what a depressing book! Basically, the book is a bunch of anecdotes and opinions based on years of serving as a medical practitioner in some of Britain’s rougher neighborhoods. If you ever had any doubt that people could do self-destructive and stupid things, this book will cure of that doubt quickly. Sociologically interesting but not exactly enjoyable just for the unrelenting negativity of the subject.

"Mr. Darcy's Daughters", "The Exploits & Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy", & "The Darcy Connection" by Elizabeth Aston. Basically this is published fanfiction set in Austen's “Pride & Prejudice” universe. It follows the daughters of Mr. Darcy & Elizabeth Bennett and their assorted cousins. Definitely quick enjoyable reads if you like Austen.

“Into the Looking Glass” by John Ringo. WHA-HOO. That’s the only fitting description for a book that opens with a 60KT explosion in modern day Florida….and then gets worse (or more exciting depending on your point of view). Very good pulpy military sci-fi with an interesting premise and a breakneck pace. I’m seriously looking forward to the other two books in this series.

“The Creature From Beyond Infinity”, “The Dark World” by Henry Kuttner. The titles aren’t related, just two works by the same author. “Creature” is a typical golden-age sci-fi work with a lot of optimism hiding under its dismal premise. The back & forward story structure is also quite engrossing. Overall, “Creature” was surprisingly enjoyable for a book I read because of its amusing title. “Dark World” is a good deal stranger. It does have a unique approach in that the main character is (one of) the antagonist(s); past a certain point you don’t really feel sorry for what happens to him. I give “Dark” points for being creepy and disorienting, but I still don’t know if I liked it.

“A Strange Manuscript Found In The Copper Cylinder” by James De Mille. Ugh. This is what happens when you combine Jules Verne, a talky-preachy frame story and lots & lots of cannibalism. Based on this book, the reader might develop the mistaken belief that people in the mid-nineteenth century were greatly obsessed with cannibalism and death cults. Seriously, WHAT THE HELL? This is just a weird, gross story that never really became a good story. The mentality of the death cult was academically interesting but that’s really the only good thing I can think of at this point. Yuck.

“Evil Genius” by Catherine Jinks. What would you do if you discovered your psychiatrist was the head henchman for your super-villain-in-jail biological dad? That’s the premise of this wildly entertaining read. Initially, it seems more like a comedy but as the plot progresses, things that were hinted at for laughs now become deadly serious as the main character realizes that maybe, he isn’t really cut out to be a super-villain. Very good read which also has a sequel that sounds interesting.

“The Cosmic Expense Account” by CM Kornbluth. (Short Story) Well, this was different. Sorta a zombie story that combines rational empiricism and questionable publishing ethics (really). It’s amusing but not very engrossing. The best parts are the complete antipathy between the two main characters and the fact that the super-villain is a little old spinster lady.

“The Crystal Egg” by HG Wells. (Short Story) Ever wonder how the aliens in “War of the Worlds” gathered intelligence on humanity before they invaded. This story is your answer. The concept is good but none of the characters really gelled into actual people for me. And the ending is a bit unsatisfying.

“Japan’s Longest Day” by The Pacific War Research Society. This is an absolutely riveting account of the last day before Emperor Hirohito’s announcement to the Japanese people that Japan was surrendering. What’s most amazing by the tale isn’t how close Japan came to fighting on at the behest of their military officers but how many of the officers and other government officials were genuinely offended by the very idea of a coup d’etat. Excellent book for anyone interested in the final days of WWII.

“Hard Corps” by Marco Martinez. The autobiography of how a guy from New Mexico went from gansta teen to Iraq War hero and winner of the Navy Cross. The Marine training was actually harder for me to read than the combat scenes, which seems weird but maybe all those military sci-fi stories have desensitized me or something. Still, very good read even if Martinez comes across a bit too strong sometimes (but honestly, what else am I to expect from a Marine?).

"Magyk: Septimus Heap Book One" by Angie Sage. Sorta like “Harry Potter” lite. A fun read but it dragged a bit in the middle. I did like how it kept you guessing about a couple of plot points while revealing others almost right off. I'll probably check out the others in this series.

“Agent to the Stars” by John Scalzi. Instead of evil insect invaders, Earth gets contacted by very poli
te aliens who knowing their slime-like forms aren’t appealing to humans decide to hire a Hollywood agent to introduce them to the world. Comedic premise with emotional payoff = Writing gold. Great read with the physical nature and capabilities of the aliens integrating into the story in a hundreds wonderful ways.

“Edison Conquers Mars” by Garrett P. Serviss. Written as a response to HG Wells “War of the Worlds”, it starts just after the great Martian invasion has failed. Thomas Edison & other great scientists of the day reverse engineer & improve the Martian's machines of war and take the battle to Mars. Very engaging and delightfully quaint sci-fi written by someone who apparently accomplished a great many sci-fi firsts even though I'd never heard of him before. A surprisingly fun download.

“Bones to Ashes” by Kathy Reichs. Another great book in the “Temperance Brennan” series that spawned the TV show “Bones” (which I love). The books are very different in tone and set-up but are quite enjoyable in their own right. Reichs has a real talent for creating mysteries with “expected” outcomes that don't payoff in expected ways. Great weekend or travel book (it's no wonder I always find her books in airport bookshops, they make long journeys feel short).

“Breakthrough: From The Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility” by Ted Nordhaus & Michael Shellenberger. Absolutely excellent book on the environmental movement, right & wrong. Although the authors liberal bias is very prevalent, they do present a fair portrayal of both parties’ stances. Their prescriptions for reforming our energy situation are thought-provoking. I found this a hugely interesting read.

1 comment:

Darren R. Hawkins said...

You realize, of course, that having posted a positive review of my work, you just became one of my favorite people ever. :)

D.