Books in Review for 2009

So, in an experiment last year, I kept a written record of all the books I read and ended up writing each of them up on here. It was different to do so. It for one thing kept me writing a little bit, but it also provided a way to talk a bit more about the books I’ve read. It’s not that anyone else reads this site, but maybe others will come by some time and find something they didn’t expect and enjoy it as well. Or be warned off it.

So I went back and took a look and compiled a few stats of what I did last year. Maybe in years to come I’ll be able to compare them to each other. All the page counts came from Amazon, and I tried to find the copy of the book I read to get close to the right page count.

41 Total Books Read in 2009
17,160 Total Pages
3.4 Books a Month Average
1,430 Pages a Month Average
419 Pages Per Book Average

Sadly only 4 out of the 41 were non-fiction, which I’ll strive to improve this next year. I’ve been building up my “to read” shelf quick a bit in January and February, and along with books given to me by friends, I have my work cut out for me already in these first few months of the year.

I really enjoyed seeing what I’ve read listed out. Call it the nerd in me, or just the satisfying feeling of completion and love of reading, but this exercise had worth. I’m thinking of recording other areas of my life for a bit of reflection, but am not sure what other area lend themselves to this type of record. Any ideas?

Here’s a link to all the past entries for 2009:
January 2009
March 2009
April/May 2009
June 2009
July 2009
August 2009
September 2009
October 2009
November 2009
December 2009

Go 2010.

Books – December 2009

Yes, I know I’m really really late at getting this going for the month of December. My bad.

Bauchelain and Korbal Broach Vol. 1 – Steven Erikson – A collection of three novellas that were previously only available from a small private print house, these stories are a great, well written, and humorous look into the pair of necromancers Erikson has created for his Malazan world. Here, with the freedom that comes from not writing a novel, Erikson pulls an incredible amount of wit and humor, but serious good writing to back it all up. I know I’ve read a lot of this series over the last year, but I’d put this as a highlight just for the sheer fun of the stories.

Invisible – Paul Auster – Ah, probably my favorite modern fiction writer has finally put out a book that doesn’t frustrate me completely. I wrote about his last book and wished he’d just stop writing for a while, because it felt like he was just phoning in a story and fulfilling a contract, and had no interest in producing something new, but instead rehashing his familiar themes over and over.

Invisible was different. It felt fresh from him. The story of students experiences in 1967, and the three different perspectives of that continuing story, and the encounters with a mysterious Frenchman and his girlfriend. Deeply compelling, I read it over the course of three nights, so I couldn’t put it down, it relied so much less on his typical themes, but at least did bring out his favorite of a writer writing about writing. The book leaves you with questions as to the truth of the different stories, and the what lies were told and what the motives the characters may have for lying. His best since Oracle Night for me personally.

I’m also planning a 2009 retrospective on all the books I read last year. Some nerdy stats, some breakdowns by type and the like. Can’t not do that! I love making lists and collecting things along that nature!

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 – 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!

Books of 2009

So for the first time this year, I’ve been writing down all the books I read. I’ve always mean to keep track over the years, but never managed/remembered to keep it up. So this time around I’ve actually been doing pretty well.

17 books as of the end of June so far this year. Mostly fiction. Okay pretty much 95% fiction, though I’ve been reading two non-fiction books on and off since the beginning of the year, they just take a bit longer usually.

January and March have been my most productive months of reading, while February and May most all of my time was spent reading through my two non-fiction books.

I’d planned on doing a year end type of post with all the books, and a quick blurb on them, but I’m realizing that if I wait till the end of the year, I’ll have so many to do, that there is a good chance it would never get done. So we’ll do monthly posts, and a few catch up ones to get us up to date. So soon – January 09 – 6 books.