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.

Books – January 2009

January was a month where I burned through a ton of books. I’m not sure exactly why, but it worked out well. Many of them were not exactly long so it wasn’t a big thing to do, but it was a 6 book month and set the tone for the year.

First up:
Man In The Dark – Paul Auster – Oh Paul Auster how you keep breaking my heart recently. Reading Auster has become a chore when it used to be a pleasure. As I wrote elsewhere once, it seems he’s writing and pumping out books to finish out a contract. It’s got all the hallmarks of an Auster novel (the stories within stories, lines of reality and imagination blurred and the ever present idea of chance happenings), but it feels just so dialed in, and not with the spark I’ve missed since Book of Illusions.

My hope here is that he takes a bit of time off before the next one to recover his passion and his creativity that brought me to his work, and made him one of my favorite authors.

Visualizing Middle Earth – Michael Martinez – Ahh, the Tolkien nerd in me comes out. Here’s a great collection of essays written by a guy who knows more about Middle Earth and the Lord of the Rings than is probably good for you, but then again, the “Elvish” language is actually studied seriously by some linguists! Like so many people, I first discovered fantasy novels through Narnia and Middle Earth, and each time i get back into Tolkien’s books I find something more, a new depth, a new moment that I had missed earlier. He truly built a world and populated it, and gave it a history, and gave it’s peoples reasons for being where they were. This book was released before the movies, so it carries a bunch of movie speculation baggage, but the articles that focused on different aspects of the Tolkien world are quick, easy to read and really make sense out of the complex history he created.

The 39 Steps – John Buchanon – A very early “thriller” novel from the early part of the 1920’s I believe, it’s the story of a normal man who gets mixed up in a spy plot after an American spy is murdered in his apartment. It’s quick and short, but you can easily get swept up in it quickly and want to see where he’s chased to next, and who will betray who. It’s no hard task to see why Alfred Hitchcock picked up this and made a movie from it. It’s just the type of thriller he is so well known for.

Last Argument of Kings – Joe Abercrombie – Ah, one of my new favorite fantasy authors. Here Joe Abercombie finishes out his First Law trilogy with a really great ride. Abercrombie, who took genre staple characters in the first two books and fleshed them out and made them more alive than your typical novel, but also took their stories in new directions, holds nothing back by the end of the book, and while everything is resolved, it’s not the picture perfect ending. One of his great traits is creating sympathetic characters out of seeming villains, and villains out of those who you should connect with the easiest. Highly recommended

.Foundation – Issac Asimov – It’s probably my third or fourth time reading this book (I say possibly fourth, because looking through a box of old family photos I found one of me reading this book at a young age, but I have no memory of reading it way back then!), and it’s one of those quick easy early science fiction books that can be so great to read. Asimov’s genius doesn’t come from the quality of his writing, but from the incredible ideas and projections of where all of these new technologies of the day would take the human race. The Foundation series, along with his Robot series, are his two most well known fiction works. It’s a book I’d place on a cannon list of novels that should be read in Science Fiction.

And we end it with:
The Road – Cormac McCarthy – Good god this book hits you like a ton of bricks. I picked it up on hearing great things about his writing, and I must say that for his sparse style, he is a powerful, emotional writer. The story of a father and son trying to survive in an America of the near future that is a wasteland, it’s the story of them, their bond, their will to live and damn if every few pages I wanted to put down the book and go kiss my son on the head as he slept. The relationship between the boy and his father is powerfully told, and the struggles and heartaches of their journey do not allow you to stop the book at any point. In fact there is no easy stopping point in the book for a night, as there were no chapters! I am looking forward to the movie release of this book this fall.

All right, so February won’t have a post. I was (and still am because I took a break from it) working my way through a book on the American Revolutionary War, but by the end of February I needed a break and oops I haven’t returned to it yet. Next up – March!