Books – November 2009

So November with the holiday and birthday for Ash, I found myself either going to bed too late, or getting distracted with a game on the phone. Needless to say I only completed two books for the month.

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez – So the sad reason of what pushed me to get this book was one of those cheesy Facebook quizzes that told me what “book” I was based on answering a couple of random questions. It’s one of those books that’s always on the Borders “recommended” reading tables, and you see it on lists of great novels. One trip to Half Price Books later and the book came to reside on my shelves.

It’s a fascinating novel concerned with the rise and fall of a family and the parallel and very joined story of the rise and fall of the town the patriarch founded. The family history has all the scandal, love, war and odd dynamics that can happen. There is a sense of the mystical, and superstition rules many members of the family, but others are war veterans trying to escape their past, or tireless carousers who meet early ends. It’s characters are what really keep this novel together. With many generations of the families drama played out, and all their names typically being a continuation of the family name, it never descends into a muddle of characters because of the strong personality that each of them displays.

One of the mothers of a generation had a meek personality, and at a portion of the book you even forget she exists, because of the forcefulness of her offspring and their wives, but as she outlives them and enters he own old age, you see her try and reassert herself by repairing and restoring the home, but eventually succumbing and failing. It’s a fascinating book and I couldn’t have asked for more in an unknown novel to me. Please read!

Angels & Visitations – Neil Gaiman – A random pickup from Goodwill one afternoon, I picked it up for the love of his comic work and a couple of his novels. Neil Gaiman, the wonderful comic book writer known for his Sandman series, is one of those wonderfully creative writers when it comes to wondrous stories. Very steeped in myths and legends, this collection of some of his short stories, introductions and poetry is a good quick look at some of what he’s about. From a hard boiled detective story about Humpty Dumpty or a modern telling of Billy Goat’s Gruff or a great tale about the Holy Grail, it’s a wonderful, fanciful ride through some great reading and well worth it.

Books – October 2009

So really, October was Harry Potter month. I ended up getting hooked, and couldn’t stop reading them until I had finished with them, and the only reason I had another book in the middle of them all was I had it in my car for reading on my lunch breaks at work. We’ll start with the non-Potter book first and then a general Potter fest to complete the rest of the month out.

Moneyball – Michael Lewis – A very controversial book when it came out, Moneyball tells the story of Billy Beane (General Manager of the Oakland A’s Baseball team) and his uncanny ability to put together a consistently winning team that had a budget much less than half of his major competition in Baseball (think of the Yankee’s payroll!). Great book that shows a front office that in an effort to save money looked to the stats of a player and what the players statistics told about their potential. It pits the “old guard” scouting core who looked more at the physical and mental make up of a ballplayer. They frequently would pass on players who didn’t look like a ballplayer physically, but Beane and his staff would find something about the player in his stats to like – Walk to Strikout ratio or their On Base Percentage – and discover diamonds in the rough. \Unfortunately others picked up parts of his ideas over these last few years, and it’s harder to find a good deal anymore for those lackluster A’s. Our own Mariners now have a GM in place who has similar principles in evaluating talent and has helped turn the M’s from a 2nd worst team in the majors to a winning record and significant growth in only a year. Great read, and I want to read his other book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, which covers the story of the Left Tackle position in Football. Great writer.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J. K. Rowling
So I went to town in October when it came to Harry Potter, like I said above. I started down that path and ended up not being able to resist starting on the next book so I could find out what happened to Harry and his pals. What can I say. J.K. Rowling writes well enough of a story to keep me hooked until the end. I’m actually pretty glad I waited until now to read them when the series is complete, as I stare back at my bookshelves looking at a couple of series that are still in progress and the patient wait for the next novel can be maddening. Like I said in a previous post, I read these books on a Sony Reader, which was great for nighttime reading in bed. Lightweight, easy to pick up and down, but so much less satisfaction of finishing a book when you can’t really close it and pick up the next one and start at the beginning again.

I’ve not looked at lists of others favorite Harry Potters, but I found that I enjoyed Goblet of Fire probably the best out of the series, followed by either The Prisoner of Azkaban or Order of the Phoenix. Book 4 just had a great mix of action, new characters with the other schools joining in and giving you a bigger picture of the wizarding world at large. Plus Harry Potter vs. a Dragon. Excellent. Still book 5 and 6 continued well, but book 7 was almost a let down, saved by the excellent scenes at the end, the middle part just drug on and on as Harry and co. wandered through the wilderness for months seemingly doing not much other than arguing. Thanks guys. Let’s get back to saving the world please!

As a modern book series for children, I can’t believe how well Harry Potter succeeds. I’m also so pleased at how well it reads for an adult as well, and can see why so many people were gladly toting these things when each new one came out. As I’ve mentioned before, I love books that get people reading and how much these books helped many kids who wouldn’t normally read, actually sit down and do so is wonderful. Bonus points for them being actual good books! What’s also great is how this series also has flawed characters. Harry’s not perfect. He get’s angry, he looses his temper over silly things, but has a hard time apologizing sometimes. But, in the end he’s also got a great heart, and he’s got great loyal friends who all learn to stick with each other through thick and thin. He’s occasionally whiny and boorish, but then it helps make him all that more believable of a kid stuck in an impossible situation.

In the end, it’s a series I’d recommend to anyone. Looking for a relaxing book to enjoy on a rainy day? Potter. Looking for the beach book? Potter’d work. Looking for a fantastical take on England? Potter there sir. I’ll gladly have my son read these in a few years when he gets older and is looking for books to start reading. With his appetite for books already I’m sure he’ll love to read these when he get’s of age and I’d love to share them with him and read them again when that time comes.

Books – September 2009

Ahh, September. Great month September is. The summer is closing down, but it’s still warm. Evenings start to get shorter and the start of the football season make it just wonderful. Plus? Great books!

Dust of Dreams – Steven Erikson So I had to import book nine from the UK because it’s not due out in the US until 2010, and I just couldn’t wait that long. The continuing story in the ten book series of The Malazan Book of the Fallen, we continue to watch and see how more things get completely shaken up and stirred up in this series. It’s hard to write generally about a series where most anyone who reads this will probably never get to, but as I’ve mentioned before about this “fantasy world”, it’s been an amazing journey along the way. With other long series I’ve read they loose steam mid-way through (see The Wheel of Time), but each of these books keeps pushing your understanding of the world it’s characters inhabit, and doesn’t pull punches or let people off easy. The history is rich, fulfilling and never complete, and always has different interpretations based on who’s viewing it. Highly reccomended series, you just have to get over the difficult first novel (Gardens of the Moon, which was written 10 years before he got the contract to do the final nine, and while good, he grew a lot as a writer by the time the second book came around), and you’ll be rewarded richly.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World – Jack Weatherford – Driven to find out more from just a wonderment about the man, as well as some of the references to him in the book I read on the Crusades, I got a recommendation to this book and was very pleased. The amazing history of the Mongol empire, which was the largest in human history, and how a tribe of nomadic horse people managed to do it! Such things as novel military tactics, adopting the best and brightest of any nation the conquered, setting up systems of management and couriers to allow them to rule their vast empire, religious tolerance and freedom, and the free exchange of ideas. Truly an amazing amount of achievement was accomplished with their rule, and while the author does seem to overstate all of the influences of the Khans, it really does show how far behind Europe was until their own age of enlightenment and the re-discovery of so much knowledge that had been lost or deemed heretical. Easy to read, and not dry, I high recommendation for anyone with even a passing interest in the man behind the legends and myths and the amazing truths as well.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter – Amy Tan – The second of my two book dare by a friend of mine, a book that was supposed to make me cry at the end, like so many of these style novels seem to do to friends of mine. Actually I was impressed by the book. Like so many high school students, I had to read The Joy Club for English class, and like probably most students, I didn’t enjoy it much. I was plenty worried when I stated the book and found the narrating author character to be annoying and uninteresting, but as soon as she got to translating the diary of her mother and grandmother’s life growing up in China, the story became fascinating, so much so that when the book returned to the modern day I didn’t mind so much anymore as it pulled everything together and closed itself off well. I’m sure I missed some of the mother/daughter symbolism that was in there, but even missing that I found the story to be well worth reading and quite enjoyable. I remain a skeptic no more, and it doesn’t mean I have to hand in my “man” card either. Oh yes, no tears either. Sorry.

Books – August 2009

Somehow I missed doing the month of August, and with September already done it’s time to catch up.?

Magical Thinking – Augusten Burroughs – Ah, the memoir. Given to me to read by a friend with strong recommendations, I went in with low expectations. In a lot of ways Augusten Burroughs (who’s previous Running with Scissors was made into a movie) is similar to David Sedaris. Both are quite funny gay men who have had some wonderfully silly experiences in their lives, some sad, some heartfelt and all told with a large dash of self-deprecating humor. Great fun to read, and I read it fast because of it, but in the end I just am realizing here, two months after reading it that I’m hard pressed to remember a single vignette out of the book. Reccomended? Yes, for a fun light read, but it’s flavor washes away too quickly.

Crooked Little Vein – Warren Ellis – Here’s a comic book and screenplay writer turned novelist, who brings his patented brand of finding some of the weirdest and creepy things you’ll find about humanity to a book. The story of a down on his luck PI who’s tasked with finding the “real” constitution of the United States, he runs into some quirky and shocking things along the way to the ending. It’s again a quick read, entertaining, but ultimately forgettable as well. It just felt a bit forced and tried to hit all the notes that would shock you, but unlike Palahniuk, you don’t get the same payoff at the end. Ultimately, I love the guys comic work, and will stick to reading him that way. Check out his Freak Angles which is a free online comic which he writes and is updated every Friday with a few more pages.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone – J. K. Rowling – Yes, it’s Harry Potter, and yes, I’m a few years late here. I’m going to read the entire series here on a Sony Reader device. I’ve never used one before this book and while I won’t give up my dead trees and ink for this anytime soon, I’ve found it to be a wonderful device to read a book on. But we’ll get to that some other day. Here today is Harry Potter and his first year at Hogwarts. I’ve seen some of the movies, and such, but never actually read these books somehow. They are truly a lot of fun, and I think when Ash get’s older and starts to read this will be on my list of recommended books for him. I can see how these sold well. Easy, quick, accessible, but you don’t get the feeling you are reading a children’s novel either. I was looking forward to the rest of these.

Bleak Seasons – Glenn Cook – Took this one with me to Man Camp to read for fluff on the plane and for those down moments when I needed a break. Glenn Cook’s continued stories of the Black Company, a mercenary company who’s exploits have changed the world and always find themselves in over their head. Good fun, and I’ll continue the series after I finish off the three books that came before this one (which is what happens when you pick out a book from Half Price books without bothering to see where it fits in the overall story first). Thankfully the three before this come all bound in an omnibus edition for easy reading later this year.

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets – J. K. Rowling – And onto year two at Hogwarts. I enjoyed this one more than the first. More details into life at the school and how they actually filled their time in between all these crazy classes, death threats, and more. Seriously, this school has issues! But of course Potter and the gang come out on top and survive for another day of classes and fun. Again this was read on the Sony Reader, which while it’s makes for easy reading, the joy of finishing a book is much less. You can’t see your progress as measured by a bookmark, or that thrill of realizing that you could finish the book tonight if you just stay up a little later and get through those last 20-30 pages. You miss out on some of the more physical parts of owning the book for sure. Especially the satisfaction of putting a completed book up on your bookshelf.

Books – July 2009

Wow, July went fast. It was a whirlwind of good times and good reading as well. With it being light later, and warmer it’s harder to get to sleep, and so I read until much much later. I love actually hearing the sounds out my open window of the trains, the planes and the neighborhood cats enjoying the company of the neighborhood raccoons.

Choke – Chuck Palahniuk – Ah Chuck! Famed writer of the shocking Fight Club! Actually I enjoy his writing, once you get past his characters who end up in the dregs of society, he does have a lot of good insights and characterizations of people in this crazy world we live in. Borrowed from a fried who loves him, I enjoyed it, watched the movie and was sad that it was another book->movie conversion that lost something in the translation. All the pieces and plot points were there, just something was missing and I couldn’t figure out what! I also found it interesting that the “Choke” part of the book plays such a minor role, but was the part always talked about with the book blurbs I’d read in the past. Anyways, good book, read if you’re a Palahniuk fan, otherwise, I’d read another of his books first, like Survivor or the now way overhyped Fight Club.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams – Don’t Panic, 42, and did you remember to bring your towel? Hitchhikers has a ton of little jokes, and has been a nerd favorite for decades now, and rightfully so. It’s a funny book, filled with little jokes that are easy to miss, lots of humor, poking fun the world and it’s people, and in the end a delight to read. I’ve probably read it now 4-5 times over the years, and it never ceases to be enjoyable. It’s quick, fun, and it’s a sad thing we lost Douglas Adams from this world as a writer and humorist. Since I referenced the movie for Choke above, I’ll recommend the Hitchhiker’s movie. It pulls some of the book plot, but goes in it’s own direction and in the end still holds true to the spirit of the story. Plus, it’s got Zoey Deshanel! That’s worth at least an extra thumbs up.

Restaurant at the End of the Universe – Douglas Adams – Continuing on the Hitchhiker’s track, I picked up an omnimbus book that collected the first three novels of the trilogy (yes, I know…) so I was able to read them all fairly quickly. A good follow up that had a great strong beginning, that really petered off at the end for me. Still more great humor with Author Dent, Ford Prefect, Trillian and Marvin the Paranoid Android.

The Cleft – Doris Lessing – So I picked this up at Powells in Portland when I was down there for work. It has a “Nobel Prize Winning Author” medal on the cover and I thought well why not. I’m always on the lookout for a new author to read, but now I see why this was on the bargain table. The story of a group of women who live and reproduce all on their own, called The Clefts, who’s world is irrevocably changed when Monsters (aka men) are born into their midst. The Monsters are initially killed, then exiled and then they learn to live together with the Clefts and the world moves on, but oh the agony of this book. Filled to the brim with cliches of nurturing women and men who don’t understand why the women don’t want to play all day and worse. Please do not read this book. I really would like to give Lessing a chance, but I am going to give her a long break and really pick a book that she would have won the Nobel Prize for, and not this bargain table crap. If you know of what is good by her please let me know!

Life, the Universe and Everything – Douglas Adams – Last of the Adams books for the month. I enjoyed this one more than the previous one, great story lot’s of laughs. I really don’t have a lot to say about them, which is sad for how enjoyable they are. I want to add some great thoughts as to why these books work but I’m at a loss at how to express it. Good, but subtle, comedic writing is difficult. Only a few books have succeeded with me in presenting this, and Adams is one of them. The other? The Princess Bride novel takes all that you love about the movie, and expands upon it greatly but makes you laugh from page to page. Loved it as well.

Best Served Cold – Joe Abercrombie – Abercrombie’s latest book in which he continues to amaze me with his writing. I wrote somewhere else on why I like Abercrombie, and it boils down to this – I love world building books, where the author builds up his world with a fiction and history and culture all it’s own. I love Tolkien and Erikson so much because of this. Abercrombie has his world built in his mind, and you get tiny glimpses of it in his books, but for him the world doesn’t take center stage. His books, like Best Served Cold, are about the people who inhabit that world, and their fears, their aspirations, their motives for revenge or their ideals of redemption, and how their own past shapes them, and not the past of the world they live in. You get the flawed, gritty characters, who plunge forward of their own will sometimes, and at other times by the will of those they surround themselves with. It’s a ride, like the previous First Law trilogy by him, that takes you into familiar, almost cliche, characters and places, but yet moves beyond them to much more nuanced and deep understanding of how thin the line is between good and evil, and all of the huge wide swath that the gray ground covers. You’ll find understanding for murders, and pity for those who attain that which they most desired. He’ll be on my short list of books to recommend to others when they ask for sometime to come.

So July was a good month, and well read. Only one bad spot and it was quickly erased by the good that followed it.

Books – June 2009

With this I’ll be caught up for the year so far, but I’ve been toying with a few other book related entries. Why? Especially since so much of this rambling, slowly to never updated, blog has been so unfocused before? I think a set of ideas that I can write multiple times about works quite well for me, and gives some incentive to keep writing something.

So June. Good reading month. Weather was getting nicer, and I laid in bed till late many an evening reading with a cool night breeze.

The Winter of our Discontent – John Steinbeck – Steinbeck is truly a great author. I been meaning to read more of him over the last couple of years, and now that I need to build up the library again, I decided to start the journey. Here, in a rare Steinbeck novel that takes place outside of California, is a great story of a man in a small, old coastal town. All he has left is his family name, which used to own much of the town. In a wonderful way, the man is an unreliable narrator, who you can see struggle with his lot in life and the decisions he must make, but comes up with a plan to change it all. He only gives you clues and little peeks into what he’s planning and this leads you deeper into the story, not knowing exactly what he’s planning. It’s got a few of the traditional tragic parts of a Steinbeck story, but it’s a wonderful read and I look forward to my Steinbeck quest now.

Night of Knives – Ian C. Esselmont – Here’s another by Esselmont set in the Malazan world, taking place in a single night, it’s the story of an assassination and take over of the empire through nefarious means. It’s really great that Esselmont is taking his opportunity to write books that are set within the same world and time line of those by Erikson, but covering stories that were glossed over or only mentioned in passing. It gives the world so much more of a lived in feel, and a great sense of history and place. I love the world building that some of these types of series do, but Erikson and Esselmont go above and beyond the efforts of so many that came before them.

Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World – Karen Armstrong – Long title, but great book! The Crusades were one of the many holes in my sense of history. They are constantly referenced, and the term “on a crusade” has many strong connotations in the modern world, but I knew nothing other than early Christians decided it was a great idea to “liberate” the holy land. Armstrong takes an incredibly fascinating look at the history of the crusades, but also much of the more modern history and how so much of the misguided pre-conceptions and prejudice the West and the Arab culture have of each other come from ideas and policies of the Crusades. She does a wonderful job of trying to remain neutral through her histories of the three cultures at work in the Middle East. Each has made colossal mistakes and misjudgments of each other, and through this all so much destruction and needless death, but she presents it fairly and with very little judgment. If this period in history even somewhat interests you, this book is worth a look.

So goes June.

Books – April/May 2009

April and May were both escapist months when it came to reading and books, so a lot more “colorful covered” books, before I started tackling the Crusades in late May.

Red Seas Under Red Skies – Scott Lynch – The continuing adventures of Locke Lamorra! Again fun characters abound in his books, but his protagonists continue to bend believability again and again as they get through more and more scrapes and dead ends through sheer pluck and luck. Still the book is highly entertaining, and the heists and cons they pull off are always fun to read. It’s not a top series in my book, but I’ll continue to read these adventures for the time being when he continues to write them. Gotta love finding a cheap hardback version at Half Price Books as well.

Return of the Crimson Guard – Ian C. Esselmont – The other half of the writing duo for the Malazan saga. Bought this up in Canada when visiting my aunt, since it’s not due out here in the states until later this year, and was very very pleased. The writing style is different than Steven Erikson, but he more than holds his own when it comes to telling a story in this sprawling world they’ve created. A twisted tale of betrayal and civil war, it really adds to what has already been built upon, with an ending that really impacts the main storyline of Erikson’s books immensely! If you’re a fan of Erikson’s books at all, you owe it to yourself to make sure you read what Esselmonts been writing as well.

Venus – Ben Bova – Somehow I return for more. I think at the time my “to read” shelf was fairly empty, and I just wanted a lightweight book to read. So it was. Actually I enjoyed it best probably out of the three Bova books I’ve read this year. This time it’s about an expedition to Venus, told with a great attention to actual science and plausible problems and solutions to making a voyage to the second planet of our solar system. Somewhat better characters, but I really don’t think I’ll be reading Bova in the future, unless someone says they have the greatest book ever and all the others pale in comparison to this new book! Just not enough to hold me to read more.

Halting State – Charles Stross – I’d heard a lot about Stross over the years and never picked him up for some reason. Sad that I didn’t. Halting State takes you into the story of a crew solving a bank heist in a virtual world game, that has real world consequences and value. An interesting take, considering economists are writing papers on the economies of MMORPG’s, and the actual real world value of in game currency and items, make this story all too plausible in the future here.

So now another couple months knocked out. This is getting fun. I should have done this months ago!

Books – March 2009

March. Ahh March. I read a bit. Mostly to fall asleep and exhaust myself that month, but I did read a few books, and enjoyed them. Let’s see what we’ve got here. A lot of Science Fiction it seems.

Foundation and Empire – Issac Asimov – Continuing down the Foundation Trilogy track, this one is good, and brings a strong story line throughout the book, but it’s not as “fun” as the first. I really enjoy the antagonist through the book, the Mule, who throws all the plans of The Foundation, into flux, but the protagonists are a tad annoying and that doesn’t help the book at all. Still, I love the series, and the last book in the trilogy does it well. Maybe I’ll read that later this year on a Goodwill pickup or something. I’ve read them before, but it never hurts to go back to enjoyable popcorn books at times.

Mars – Ben Bova – This, along with the other Ben Bova book below, was given to me by a friend who recommended Bova highly. It’s less a typical SciFi book, with aliens and laser blasters, but more of a fiction book that takes current science and projects a story into the future. It’s about the first manned mission to Mars, and the crew of people sent there. It was good, but there is something about Bova’s writing I can’t put my finger on. It’s enjoyable, but I finished the book feeling that something was still lacking in the end. Still it was a good diversion.

Lies of Locke Lamorra – Scott Lynch – Recommended through the same place I discovered Erikson, here’s a story of a band of con artists and the elaborate stunts they pull off against a backdrop of a city under turmoil. Quite enjoyable, with many times you are left in the dark as to how they’ll pull off their next stunt, but by the end of the book the amazing cleverness of the lead starts to wear thin as he avoids yet another deathly situation through his quick thinking. I enjoyed it enough to get the sequel, which I read in April, but I wouldn’t put it on my must read list for friends who are looking for a new book or series to read. That says a lot there.

Orion – Ben Bova – Ah, Bova is back with a story of a man sent back in time to try and stop a mysterious opponent who’s traveling forwards in time at different key points in humanity’s past. Good? For a quick summer read maybe, but in the end I found it very disappointing. I read up on it later and found out there were two sequels to it as well, but I know those will not be part of my reading this year. It’s got a fun little gimmick to get the story started, but I just didn’t feel that it really delivered. It just left no taste, good or bad, after I was finished, when usually I’ll at least have a reaction either way. Nothing to really recommend it.

So March had a few books, and April and May have a few more. Actually I’m finding this enjoyable. I realize now that I don’t always read good books, but in the end it doesn’t matter. It’s still reading, and while I may begrudge the Dan Brown’s of the world, I also know that more than anything he’s got millions of people reading who don’t normally. I’ll take people enjoying a book any day. Glad that they can join me and many others in the comfort of a book, be it good or bad.