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Book Review: City Of Thieves

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City of ThievesCity of Thieves by David Benioff
My rating: ★★★★★

Let me say this up front, City Of Thieves is one of my favorite books from the past couple of years. This audiobook had me laughing, crying, horrified, amazed and uplifted all the way through, and totally enthralled me during my long drive to Florida. An absolute stunner, and one I recommend to everyone.

City Of Thieves tells the story of Lev and Koyla, two guys trying to survive the German siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) during World War 2. They meet in jail, sure to be shot for looting (Lev) and desertion (Koyla). Instead, they are given the impossible task of finding a dozen eggs for a powerful colonel, who wants to make a cake for his daughter's wedding. So they begin their unlikely quest, through the starved city of Leningrad and beyond, having one week to find this impossible item, that hasn't been seen since late summer of the previous year.

And adventures they have. Cannibalism, whores, chess games, bomb carrying dogs, cold, starvation, deprivations of all kinds, they come in contact with. Impossibly evil Nazi troopers, partisans scratching at the occupation, everyone doing what they can under deplorable conditions. Through it all, Kolya maintains a bountiful energy, an irrepressible spirit and humor in the face of all odds, while Lev, the narrator whose story has been pulled extracted by grandson, just tries to figure out the world, barely 17.

What can I say? The storytelling is simply amazing. I am driving and laughing, crying, horrified and amazed as the story unfolds. Benioff's descriptions of the cold and hunger are vivid, and what goes on is, at the same time, believable and unbelievable. You just never know what Lev and Kolya are going to uncover and what they go through during their search for the eggs.

And of course, looming over it all is the indescribable evil of the Nazis, and, more specifically, the Eizengruppen murder squads, as Kolya, Lev and a group of partisans set out to take down their most infamous leader. And yes, there is even a little sex and a little love. Like I said, wow, this book has it all.

There were only two (one small and one not so small) drawbacks to the book. The small drawback was that some descriptions were repeated. Lev would tell his story to others and the shorthand version was repeated a couple of times which, even listening on an audiobook when repetition is often welcome, got annoying.

Spoiler alert! Highlight to read.

The second, and fairly big one, was the death of Kolya. Throughout the novel, I kept feeling like Kolya was wearing a "red shirt", in that it seemed inevitable that he would die. I can't figure out if that is how it should have been, both the feeling and the inevitability of it all, or just a mistake. If I was writing the book, I would have just split Kolya and Lev up, and just have Lev wonder what had ever happened to Kolya, as Lev wonders about many of the people he came across in his amazing journey. I thought his death, while splendidly handled and wonderfully ironic in a Catch-22 / M*A*S*H sort of way, was somewhat deflating and an easy out after such an amazing odyssey. But again, maybe that is how it should have been.

The second, and fairly big one, was the death of Kolya. Throughout the novel, I kept feeling like Kolya was wearing a "red shirt", in that it seemed inevitable that he would die. I can't figure out if that is how it should have been, both the feeling and the inevitability of it all, or just a mistake. If I was writing the book, I would have just split Kolya and Lev up, and just have Lev wonder what had ever happened to Kolya, as Lev wonders about many of the people he came across in his amazing journey. I thought his death, while splendidly handled and wonderfully ironic in a Catch-22 / M*A*S*H sort of way, was somewhat deflating and an easy out after such an amazing odyssey. But again, maybe that is how it should have been.


But in the end, City Of Thieves is one of my favorite books from the past couple of years. I am a tough grader and I would probably give it 4 1/2 stars if I could, but this was good enough to push it to 5 stars. I simply love it and if you don't cry and laugh at least a half dozen times, I feel sorry for you!

Ron Perlman at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con.

Ron Perlman

A word on the audiobook - it was incredibly well done. Ron Perlman did an amazing job with the narration. He didn't really stretch to do the character voices, but he still lent the needed gravitas to the words and added the emphasis where needed. It truly felt like the grandfather was narrating into a tape recorder. I am glad I was able to listen to it for long stretches of time during a long drive, as I was transported to a different world and enjoyed every bit of it. There were just the right musical touches during chapter segues and I couldn't have asked for anything more from the book. I don't regret for a minute not reading it myself, although I think I will tackle it as a real book again real soon.

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Book Reviews


Getting caught up on some book reviews, as I am almost back on schedule for my goal of 50 books this year.

The Lock Artist: A NovelThe Lock Artist: A Novel by Steve Hamilton
My rating: ★★★★✩

The Lock Artist was a very intriguing novel about a mute safecracker. After a traumatic childhood experience, Michael never talks again. Through a series of incidents, he uncovers a real talent, even a gift, for cracking safes. Told in an interesting first person fashion, written as an autobiography, with alternating childhood and later chapters, I enjoyed it very much. Not a whole bunch really happened, but the story was told with real style. Micheal's experiences became yours and you really pulled for him to get on the straight and narrow.

The Tricking of FreyaThe Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley
My rating: ★★✩✩✩

Sorry, but I just couldn't get into The Tricking Of Freya. Telling what could be an interesting story of Icelanders transplanted to Canada, trying to hold on to their heritage, it just wasn't all the interesting in the end. I gave up.

Expiration DateExpiration Date by Duane Swierczynski
My rating: ★★★★✩

The Expiration Date tells the amazing story of a guy down on his luck and some time traveling pills. Can he go back in time and solve his father's murder without tearing up the fabric of time? Seems unlikely, but in a typically brash fashion, Swierczynski manages to pull it off. The story hurtles along to a very wild conclusion, again trademarks of Swierczynski novels. While not as crackling as The Wheelman or especially The Blonde, it's still a tremendously fun ride.

The News Where You AreThe News Where You Are by Catherine O'Flynn
My rating: ★★★★✩

I listened to The News Where You Are as a book on tape and found it an excellent slice of life book. Not really much of a mystery, despite its nomination for an Edgar this year, it tells the story of a news anchor trying to figure out the somewhat puzzling death of a former co-worker who has gone on to bigger and better things. I really enjoyed the repartee, laughing out loud a few times. Frank, the protagonist, is just trying to figure things out. His 8 year old daughter is very precocious and his mother, in an old age home, is truly a curmudgeon. O'Flynn's descriptions of BBC newsroom politics, old age, and time marching on, really hit home. While more of a 3.5 star book, it's worth while enough for 4. The narrator did a very nice job.

Gone WildGone Wild by James W. Hall
My rating: ★★★✩✩

Gone Wild is another entry in Hall's long running Thorn series, although Thorn himself doesn't show up for quite a number of pages. Told mostly from Allison Farleigh's point of view, this wild thriller about exotic animals, poachers and wildlife preservation has plenty of memorable characters. Maybe too memorable in some cases, as the bad guys in this book are quite over the top, both in craziness and money. Like all too many recent thrillers, it depends too much on stupid police. In one case, Allison is shot at while in a zoo at night, and the night watchman is killed, but the police don't believe her story at all, pinning the killing on a random robbery. And no one in power seems willing to lift a hand to help out, despite the mounting evidence. And the two main antagonists, Orlon and Rayon (I kid you not), just don't seem bright enough to have survived this long. So it was a fun read, but nothing too believable or deep. Maybe a good beach or airplane paperback.

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Book Review: Griftopia

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Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking AmericaGriftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America by Matt Taibbi

My rating: ?????

Funny, ascerbic, absorbing and ultimately depressing, this expose on just how deep the tentacles of Wall Street and big money have dug into Washington is a must read for everyone. As Taibbi says, it isn't Red Vs Blue or Liberal vs Conservative, or even Democrat vs Republican - it's the big money guys (and it's almost all guys) raping our country, sucking it dry while they can, vs everyone else. They just don't care, as long as they keep cashing the ginormous paychecks. The only drawback to the book? He never offers up any solutions and, despite his protests, I wish he'd have some ideas, because it is just so damned depressing otherwise. We elect someone based on "change" and yet the same bloodsuckers and vampire squids either stay in charge or are put in charge.

Shoot me now.

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Books in 2010

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Here's my 2010 reading overview via my Goodreads profile. As you an see, it wasn't a great year, with the only 2 five star book being a couple of reference books. But there was a pretty good list of 4 star books and a real dearth of 1 & 2 star books, so it was a solid, if not spectacular year.

My absolute favorite books of the year, besides the 2 reference books, were, in no particular order:

  • The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron : the one book that kept me up late reading. Its wonderful evocation of Maine and hunting really hit home and the mystery was taunt to boot.
  • Columbine by Dave Cullen : as a parent with 2 school aged kids, this extensively researched document of evil was very chilling.
  • The Lost City of Z by David Grann : wow, what a gripping true-life adventure yarn!
  • The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro : not much of a horror book fan, but man this kept me on the edge of my seat. Can't wait to read book 2.
  • The Road by Carmac McCarthy : chilling apocalypic view, relentless dark but incredibly gripping.
  • Quicksilver by Neal Stepheson : exhausting but worthwhile book 1 of a hefty trilogy, with entrancing writing
Swamp Thing Vol. 1: Saga of the Swamp Thing
Nov 28, 2010
Nov 28, 2010
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Nov 21, 2010
The Beatles:  The Biography
Oct 29, 2010
The Spies of Warsaw
Oct 28, 2010
Beautiful Maria of My Soul
Oct 27, 2010
The Thin Man (Mystery Masters)
Oct 25, 2010
Sep 07, 2010
L.A. Outlaws: A Novel
Sep 2010
The Shot
Sep 2010
The Breach
Aug 29, 2010
Quicksilver (Baroque Cycle, #1)
Aug 16, 2010
The Gamble
Aug 10, 2010
Homeland (Forgotten Realms: The Dark Elf Trilogy, #1; Legend of Drizzt, #1)
Aug 10, 2010
The Poacher's Son (Mike Bowditch Mysteries)
Jul 29, 2010
The Other Lands (Acacia, #2)
Jul 20, 2010
The Best Old Movies for Families: A Guide to Watching Together
Jul 10, 2010
Murder at Manasses: A Harrison Raines Civil War Mystery
Jun 29, 2010
World Cup 2010: The Indispensable Guide to Soccer and Geopolitics
Jun 23, 2010
March Violets (Bernard Gunther, #1)
Jun 17, 2010
The Exile
Jun 09, 2010
The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty
May 27, 2010
The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks
May 2010
Apr 26, 2010
Wolf Hall
Apr 23, 2010
Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)
Mar 19, 2010
The Road
Mar 09, 2010
The Egyptologist: A Novel
Mar 09, 2010
Freedom (TM) (Daemon, #2)
Feb 25, 2010
Xombies: Apocalypse Blues
Feb 11, 2010
A Cold Day In Paradise (The First Alex McKnight Novel)
Feb 04, 2010
Tropical Freeze
Jan 31, 2010
Under Cover of Daylight
Jan 23, 2010
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
Jan 15, 2010
The Strain (The Strain, #1)
Jan 09, 2010
The Bloomsday Dead: A Novel
Jan 04, 2010

Machine of Death - free eBook

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Free eBook (in PDF form, unfortunately) of the sci-fi short story collection called "Machine of Death". It is a group of stories based on this Dinosaur Comic:

Machine of Death � free PDF download of MACHINE OF DEATH

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The Friday [5] for Nov. 5

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friday-5a.jpgRestarting ross's The Friday [5], wherein I comment on [5] things in the world of media that have attracted my attention over the past week or so.

  1. Barnes & Noble has a new feature where you can subscribe to a magazine or newspaper on your nook and get a 14 day free trial, so I took the plunge and subscribed (well, re-subscribed) to the Boston Globe. We have been getting it delivered for years and years, but at almost $600 per year (discounted even), it just was too much. So we cut back to just the Sunday paper, but I was going into withdrawals, not having my newspaper. And it just wasn't the same reading it online. But I have really been enjoying it on my Nook. It can be a little slow navigating, but it is still the Globe and I love it. It is US$10 per month, which is much more reasonable.
  2. Really enjoyed Up. I added it to my Movie Watching Log, but I need to add a real review.
  3. My favorite music discovery of the week is School of Seven Bells. You can get a nice sampling of their mystical, ethereal, yet substantive music on my music blog, Vehement Flame.
  4. Speaking of Vehement Flame, check out my music-biz Daily, which uses the cool webapp, to generate a "daily" based up a list of tweeps I listen to via my @vehementflame1 account.
  5. My favorite radio station is WZBC, which is the Boston College radio station. It has some really great indie and alternative rock, as well as its block of No Commercial Potential sounds in the evening. You can download the shows from the past 2 weeks in hourly blocks here and I enthusiatically recommend Alexandra's Friday morning show, Melody du Jour.
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Recent Books

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Some short reviews of the books I've finished(!) in the past month or so.

 Solar Solar by Ian McEwan My rating: ★★★✩✩ Solar was a very strange book. It tells the story of Michael Beard, a dissolute former Nobel Prize winner late in life, just floating along between speaking gigs, government panels and spots on company boards. He's gaining weight, getting divorced (for the 5th time) and finds it impossible to get motivated. A few things happen (good and bad) and his life is chronicled. I almost gave up on this book, deciding to follow Hank Stuevers' 50 page rule but before the 50 pages were up, he traveled to the Arctic for some pretty interesting comic (mis)adventures and so I stuck with it. Still not sure why, as Beard isn't that attractive, interesting or clever a character. I guess I just wanted to see what happened to him next, and was wondering if it would ever be explained why an aging, overweight, egotistical blowhard like Beard could keep finding women, especially attractive women (it wasn't).
L.A. Outlaws: A NovelL.A. Outlaws: A Novel by T. Jefferson Parker My rating: ★★ L.A. Outlaws is the first in a series by crime fiction veteran T. Jefferson Parker. The series features LA County Sheriff Charlie Hood and in this one, his path crosses with Suzanne Jones, a teacher by day and car thief / holdup artist / Jesse James-like Allison Murietta at night. Told both from Hood's and Jones/Murietta's point of view (plus a few slightly jarring other first person bits), it was a good ride, telling an interesting story of robbery and redemption, with plenty of blood and violence as well. I listened to it "on tape" (actually, MP3s burned to CD from my library) and it was really well done, with a male and female reader who both did a great job. Pretty good story marred by an all too predictable and far too clean ending. I'm anxious to try the second in the Hood series, The Renegades.
Quicksilver (Baroque Cycle, #1)Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson My rating: ★★ Quicksilver is a book I've been reading for quite some time - according to Goodreads, I started this book on April 29, 2009! I'm not sure why it took so long. I guess it is pretty dense and it is a very big book (about 1,000 pages), but I really loved every minute of it. What a wonderful cast of characters, great writing and some exciting scenes. Hard to really describe in a nutshell. A very meandering book, written in many different styles. One chapter could be a mini-play, another chapter written as a letter, yet another a normal 3rd person chapter, it basically tells the story of three people - Daniel Waterhouse, an English intellectual who is a close friend and supporter of Isaac Newton; Jack Shaftoe, a swashbuckling adventurer and "King of the Vagabonds"; and the very pretty and whip smart Eliza, rescued by Jack from a Turkish harem. The first of a monstrous trilogy, I can't wait to get started on The Confusion!
The BreachThe Breach by Patrick Lee My rating: ★★★✩✩ The Breach was an interesting sci-fi'ish thriller, the first in a series, about a weird "breach" from which strange and almost magical artifacts come through, and how these powerful items, in the "wrong" hands, could destroy the world. It started of well, with the usually very compelling "average" man thrust into a situation where he needs to adapt (rapidly!) or die, but then it wanders off into some pretty weird territory. It includes some pretty hard to swallow scenes of total urban destruction, with little or no repercussions. In many ways, The Breach reminded me of Suarez's Daemon, with its near future plausibility and pretty mixed up storyline (both were first novels as well). It was a page turner though and I am looking forward to the next one.
The ShotThe Shot by Philip Kerr My rating: ★★ The Shot is a Philip Kerr thriller about an assassination attempt on John Kennedy and the efforts of the Mob (!) to thwart it. A very odd book, with mostly repugnant characters, made it one of my least favorite Kerr books. It has a problem it shared with The Day of the Jackal, about de Gaulle getting assassinated - you know it isn't going to happen (well, tragically in Kennedy's case, not yet). Although he does make it all plausible in the end, and even hints of a conspiracy on the real assassination, it still wasn't a very compelling book. When your "best" character is a corrupt ex-cop hired by the Mob, you know you have problems.

One interesting thing about the above "books" is just how many different ways you can read one these days. One was a borrowed hardcover (The Shot from a friend and ), another a library hardcover and then finished in paperback (Quicksilver), another a book on tape (L.A. Outlaws) and the other two were ebooks borrowed from my library and read on my Nook. I'm really enjoying my Nook, and A10.0 is reading Little Women on it and loves it too.

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Book Review: The Beatles

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The Beatles:  The BiographyThe Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz

My rating: ★★★★✩

I finally finished this nearly 1000 page behemoth! And, actually, it was worth it. Never really a huge Beatles groupie (before my time - honestly!), but I have most of their albums and really like their later stuff. The earlier music, while catchy, just isn't sophisticated enough for me.

In this massive biography, Spitz starts with John Lennon and then Paul McCartney growing up in Liverpool, a grungy industrial backwater. Both had pretty tough childhoods - Lennon's father left the family when Lennon was very young, and Paul's mum died of cancer. Both turned to music as a refuge, as neither was a very good student. They quickly bonded and even began writing songs as teenagers, despite very little exposure, as during that time, only a few foreign stations carried any interesting music.

The Beatles wave to fans after arriving at Ken...

Image via Wikipedia

George Harrison, a few years younger, starting hanging with them and they formed a band with some other mates. The music business was even more insular and hard to crack than it is today, but they persevered and were off to Germany for some hard living and hard playing. 8 hours a day on stage, they honed their craft to a fine point. After they got back, they canned their drummer, Pete Best and hired Ringo Starr. Some say it was due to a lack of technical prowess, although Spitz also claims that part of it was jealousy on McCartney and, especially, Lennon's part as Best was drawing too many fans.

Spitz then chronicles the rapid rise of Beatlemania and just how crazy things got, as The Beatles tried to survive their crazy fandom. It is a wonder they toured even as little as they did, as it must have been very exhausting. Then, as they made money like the printed it, they spent it on various endeavors, from clothing to plays to music.

The book ended as they split up, in the late 60s, as jealousies really tore the band apart. John was mad at all the control Paul was trying to take, while George was tired of being the 3rd, unappreciated wheel. Even Ringo got tired of the bickering, so it was a relief to all when they went their separate ways.

A very read
Screenshot of The Beatles from the trailer for...

Image via Wikipedia

able book with only a few nitpicks. I got tired of all the armchair psychology Spitz went into. Some of it was possible but plenty of it was junk. I just didn't believe the part about being jealous of Best, and a few other times. I realize these guys are high strung "artists", but they must have been a little more confident of their own strengths than Spitz makes them out to be. I also thought he delved into the childhoods of too many peripheral characters. While I realize Brian Epstein, their first manager, is an integral part of the story, there was just too much detail of his background, going back a couple of generations.

It was really eye opening just how little control The Beatles had over many things, from financial to even music. It was amazing how mangled their US releases were. The record labels just kind of picked and choose the songs that went on what albums, packaged new ones, all willy nilly and without anything The Beatles could do, especially in the early years, But even later, when they were the biggest thing on the planet, their music was turned over to Phil Spector for "production" without any of their input. It was crazy.

Spitz did an excellent job describing the music, though. Each album's creative process as described in fascinating detail, from the early days of just 4 of them playing intensely, to the wildly creative days of Rubber Soul, Revovler, and then, of course, Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, where they were just breaking new ground in music every song, or even every bar. What a heady time that must have been!

I really enjoyed the background into the phenomenon that was The Beatles. Certainly, it was a book that had its own soundtrack, as the songs constantly played in my mind while reading. Highly recommended!

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Beautiful Maria of My SoulBeautiful Maria of My Soul by Oscar Hijuelos

My rating: ★★✩✩✩

Just didn't do anything for me. I last about 3 CDs worth but reading about "the most beautiful girl in the world", and the dozens of ways to say that, just got plain tiring. She wasn't really all that interesting as a main character -just a blank slate. And while the seedy underworld of Havana was well described, everyone seems to be a lout. I just moved on.

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Subterranean for free

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Issue #4 of Subterranean, edited by prolific blogger and accopmplished sci-fi author John Scalzi, was just released on the web for a free download. Lots of short stories, all with a twist to a "cliche". Check it out!

Subterranean Press � Blog Archive � Subterranean #4 — Completely FREE

100 sci-fi books to read


Yet another list, this time the 100 sci-fi books you have to read. The original is here. I've read a few of these, mostly the older ones. Makes me want to go back and try some of them, like Triton, Zanzibar, and, especially Canticle.

  Index of the 100 science fiction books you just have to read
Childhood's End Written by Arthur C. Clarke
Foundation Written by Isaac Asimov
Dune Written by Frank Herbert
Man in the High Castle Written by Philip K. Dick
Starship Troopers Written by Robert A. Heinlein
Valis Written by Philip K. Dick
Frankenstein Written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Gateway Written by Frederick Pohl
Space Merchants Written by C.M. Kornbluth & Frederick Pohl
Earth Abides Written by George R. Stewart
Cuckoo's Egg Written by C.J. Cherryh
Star Surgeon Written by James White
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch Written by Philip K. Dick
Radix Written by A.A. Attanasio
2001: A Space Odyssey Written by Arthur C. Clarke
Ringworld Written by Larry Niven
A Case of Conscience Written by James Blish
Last and First Man Written by Olaf Stapledon
The Day of the Triffids Written by John Wyndham
Way Station Written by Clifford Simak
More Than Human Written by Theodore Sturgeon
Gray Lensman Written by E. E. "Doc" Smith
The Gods Themselves Written by Isaac Asimov
The Left Hand of Darkness Written by Ursula K. Le Guin
Behold the Man Written by Michael Moorcock
Star Maker Written by Olaf Stapledon
The War of the Worlds Written by H.G. Wells
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Written by Jules Verne
Heritage of Hastur Written by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Time Machine Written by H.G. Wells
The Stars My Destination Written by Alfred Bester
Slan Written by A.E. Van Vogt
Neuromancer Written by William Gibson
Ender's Game Written by Orson Scott Card
In Conquest Born Written by C.S. Friedman
Lord of Light Written by Roger Zelazny
Eon Written by Greg Bear
Dragonflight Written by Anne McCaffrey
Journey to the Center of the Earth Written by Jules Verne
Stranger in a Strange Land Written by Robert Heinlein
Cosm Written by Gregory Benford
The Voyage of the Space Beagle Written by A.E. Van Vogt
Blood Music Written by Greg Bear
Beggars in Spain Written by Nancy Kress
Omnivore Written by Piers Anthony
I, Robot Written by Isaac Asimov
Mission of Gravity Written by Hal Clement
To Your Scattered Bodies Go Written by Philip Jose Farmer
Brave New World Written by Aldous Huxley
The Man Who Folded Himself Written by David Gerrold
1984 Written by George Orwell
The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyl And Mr. Hyde Written by Robert Louis Stevenson
Snow Crash Written by Neal Stephenson
Flesh Written by Philip Jose Farmer
Cities in Flight Written by James Blish
Shadow of the Torturer Written by Gene Wolfe
Startide Rising Written by David Brin
Triton Written by Samuel R. Delany
Stand on Zanzibar Written by John Brunner
A Clockwork Orange Written by Anthony Burgess
Fahrenheit 451 Written by Ray Bradbury
A Canticle For Leibowitz Written by Walter Miller
Flowers for Algernon Written by Daniel Keyes
No Blade of Grass Written by John Christopher
The Postman Written by David Brin
Dhalgren Written by Samuel Delany
Berserker Written by Fred Saberhagen
Flatland Written by Edwin Abbot
Planiverse Written by A.K. Dewdney
Dragon's Egg Written by Robert L. Forward
Downbelow Station Written by C.J. Cherryh
Dawn Written by Octavia E. Butler
Puppet Masters Written by Robert Heinlein
The Doomsday Book Written by Connie Willis
Forever War Written by Joe Haldeman
Deathbird Stories Written by Harlan Ellison
Roadside Picnic Written by Boris Strugatsky & Arkady Strugatsky
The Snow Queen Written by Joan Vinge
The Martian Chronicles Written by Ray Bradbury
Drowned World Written by J.G. Ballard
Cat's Cradle Written by Kurt Vonnegut
Red Mars Written by Kim Stanley Robinson
Upanishads Written by Various
Alice in Wonderland Written by Lewis Carroll
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Written by Douglas Adams
The Lathe of Heaven Written by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Midwich Cuckoos Written by John Wyndham
Mutant Written by Henry Kuttner
Solaris Written by Stanislaw Lem
Ralph 124C41+ Written by Hugo Gernsback
I Am Legend Written by Richard Matheson
Timescape Written by Gregory Benford
The Demolished Man Written by Alfred Bester
War with the Newts Written by Karl Kapek
Mars Written by Ben Bova
Brain Wave Written by Poul Anderson
Hyperion Written by Dan Simmons
The Andromeda Strain Written by Michael Crichton
Camp Concentration Written by Thomas Disch
A Princess of Mars Written by Edgar Rice Burroughs

July Book Reading

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I haven't done one of these for a couple of months now, but that doesn't mean I haven't been reading. I've been doing pretty well, a normal reading schedule - finish a few, make a dent in a few, return most. Nothing has really reached out and grabbed me, but there have been a few enjoyable moments since the last posting in May.


    Update from May

  • Daggerspell by Katharine Kerr. A solid entry into the fantasy epic sweepstakes. I lost some of the backwards references, as the book revolves around some kind of reincarnation, and a main character who has to live (and relive) life until he rights a wrong he did. But once it started getting into battles, and spells, and the main storyline and stopped jumping around in time, it really jelled, and I'm looking forward to reading the followup, Darkspell.
  • River of Gods by Ian McDonald. I was doing really well with this 600 page behemoth. I was about 300 pages into it and was finding it interesting reading. Set in the near future in a fractured India, it described an advanced cyber-society, and a war of some kind raging. But then I was sitting in bed with my daughter reading it while she read her book (I think it was Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill, as mentioned in Laura's post) when she asked me what my book was about. And, after reading nearly 300 pages, I couldn't give her a synopsis at all, that either of us would understand! So I gave up. What a wimp.
  • Pennant Race by Jim Brosnan. In the end, I don't think this book on the 1961 Reds pennant race was as good as his first, The Long Season. It felt more forced, with more long conversations recorded, rather than the personal impressions of its predecessor. And it ended before the World Series started, which I thought very odd. Maybe it was too painful to write about, as they lost to the Yankees in 5 games. There were still some laugh out loud moments though.
  • I returned both The Raj Quartet and Dreaming the Eagle, making no start at all on the former and practically none on the latter. I started reading Dreaming, but, I guess not surprisingly, it had plenty of dream sequences and, as I've mentioned before, I just don't like reading about dreams. It just too easy a cop out for the author.
  • Rereadings edited by Anne Fadiman. Reprints of essays found in The American Scholar where authors comment on rereading a favorite book from long ago. It was moderately interesting, although many of the writers were unknown to me, as were many of the books (and one album - David Michaels wrote about Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band) being written about.
  • The untied states of America : polarization, fracturing, and our future by Juan Enriquez. Interesting book about today's political and cultural atmosphere, wondering if we as a country are on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Written in a graphical style, with bold, italic and normal typefaces and strange formatting, which both works and repels. Interesting book nonetheless.
  • Night Fall by Nelson DeMille. My mother-in-law is a huge fan of today's turgid thriller, whereby men (almost always) of strong will, dashing looks and witty repartee stave off certain demise of either the world or our country. She's always fobbing the latest paperback bestseller off on me. So I try to read it for a little bit, only to get put off by the bad writing, stereotypical characters and laughable premise. But this one hooked me, perhaps because I was wondering just how he was going to get himself out of the jam he created. This book posits a terrorist connection in the downing of TWA Flight 800 off of Long Island in 1996. And it is a real problem when you try to novelize a true historical action. Like Day of The Jackal (about a proposed De Gaul assassination), the audience knows how it will end, so you need to do some good writing to make it worthwhile. So, I admit it, I read it pretty much constantly for about 3 days, to see what John Corey, ex-NYPD man of steel and his anti-terrorist FBI agent wife, Kate Mayfield, would find out. My mother-in-law said the ending was stunner and kept her up at nights. Well, I have to agree with that, but only because it was stunningly inept and cheating! If you're reading this book, you should stop now. If you haven't started it, I say don't bother and I'll tell you why. And it's funny, because in the afterword he even says:
    I'd like to thank my son, Alex... It was Alex who came up with the perfect ending to this book, helping me out of the corner into which I'd painted myself.
    Yeah, I'd say it was a corner alright. And to kill off everyone involved except the main characters in the World Trade Center attack is the ultimate cop-out. And to not even offer up a single answer to any of the questions you pose throughout the book is just plain wrong. Don't bother with this one! I used to read a lot of these potboilers, but that was a long time ago, and now I know why. Speaking of rereadings, I should go back and read The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. I was a huge fan of Ludlum, especially this book, until I read few more of them and realized they were all the same, and started to get tired of the straining prose and italics. I wonder if I would still like this book today?

    Currently Reading

  • Smartbomb : the quest for art, entertainment, and big bucks in the video game revolution by Heather Chaplin & Aaron Ruby. I write sporadically for a video game review site, The Game Chair and I like to include the occasional book review. I wrote up a short review on the book Game Over (about Nintendo), and so I'm reading this one with an eye towards another short review. So far, it's the typically smarmy mainstream coverage of the game industry, with this wry "aren't they cute and geeky?" tone to it.
  • Two books on absinthe, because I've become fascinated by both its colorful and checkered past, as well as the emerald (usually) liquor itself. In fact, a friend and I have started an absinthe blog called In Absinthia, where we write about our absinthe discoveries. The two books are Hideous Absinthe : a history of the devil in a bottle by Jad Adams and Absinthe: History in a bottle by Barnaby Conrad. The former is a pretty solid overview of absinthe in the 19th century, albeit with a condescending tone, while the latter is more of a picture book of absinthe and its lurid past.

    In The Queue

  • The miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinniss. Bill Harris, writer of one of my favorite blogs, Dubious Quality, has been raving about this book since the Soccer World Cup started. It's the true story of a small Italian town and its soccer team, which made the miraculous leap to the top division of Italian soccer.
  • The devil's picnic : around the world in pursuit of forbidden fruit by Taras Grescoe. Continuing my absinthe obsession, this is a book by a veteran travel writer who tries out various "forbidden fruits" like unpasteurized cheese, bull testicles and, yes, absinthe.
  • I got my Feast for Crows and Gardens Of The Moon books back from my sister, so I'll have to read those. I still think I'll hold off on Feast until the next one comes out. Maybe I'll reread the last one in the previous trilogy first.

Expensive books

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Some cool lists about AbeBooks, the used book aggregator and seller.  The first one is the most expensive books ever sold on, with a US$65,000 top prize, for a first edition of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit. Ten years of sellings gives them these lists:

Abebooks: Powers of 10

May Reading Update

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I've actually been doing pretty well in my reading schedule. I finished three books, and am making good progress on another one. Having the Stanley Cup playoffs on TV helps, as I like to get in bed early, turn on the game(s) and read.

    Update from Last Month

  • The Tyranny of the Night by Glen Cook. I was doing pretty well on this. He had just gotten beyond the background and started to get into the story, when I gave up. I still might try this one more time. (ha)
  • Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier. I almost gave up on this a couple of times, but I pushed on and ended up enjoying it. Like several other fantasy & sci-fi "first in a series" books I've read over the past few months (Old Man's War and Hammered), it spent most of its time setting the situation and was just getting into the main story when it ended. But it was good enough to make me want to try the next in the series (Magic Lessons). The protagonist is a 15 year old girl, just learning about her magic powers after her now-committed Mom spent her formative years shielding her from them. It'll be interesting to see where she goes from here.
  • Now I can die in peace : how ESPN's Sports Guy found salvation, with a little help from Nomar, Pedro, Shawshank and the 2004 Red Sox by Bill Simmons. I saw this in the New Books shelf at my library, so I took it out again. This time, I just read the last half or so, where things got interesting. This book has probably come the closest to telling the real story of the season, from a fan's point of view, but there are a number of annoying quirks that keep it from being the definitive one. For one, he's too much of a TV culture name dropper and I find it both tiring and boring to read about Survivor, Real Life, OC, etc. I don't watch "normal" TV, and I could care less about it. He also intensely disliked Fever Pitch, which I happened to like. His hatred felt forced, like it was expected of him to dislike it in order to be "cool". In fact, striving to be "cool" was probably the most annoying thing about the writing. I was also surprised at just how much autonomy he lost when he signed on to be an ESPN columnist. They won't let him badmouth announcers on other stations, because it wouldn't be fair as they won't let him badmouth ESPN announcers. And there were numerous examples of where he would say that the editors made him change columns, like when he wasn't allowed to say that working at Taco Bell was a bad thing, due to the fact it might be construed as racist. Huh? But I enjoyed the ending a lot:-)
  • The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr. A book about the search for a missing Caravaggio painting, The Taking of Christ (see above). Interesting book, except I just couldn't feel the passion for Caravaggio that the author and his subjects obviously had. Much ado about nothing to me. And he spent the first part of the book talking about two Italian researchers, when in fact they had nothing to do with finding the painting, as was described in the second half. They did uncover much of the back story, I guess.

    Currently Reading

  • River of Gods by Ian McDonald. A book set in the near future, India 2047. A huge book at nearly 600 pages, with a George RR Martin like "persona per chapter" way of writing. So far, so good. Heavy going, but now that the table is set, the characters are beginning to come alive.
  • Pennant Race by Jim Brosnan. Followup to the classic The Long Season, it follows him playing for the pennant winning Reds of 1961. Seems to be even funnier than the first one.

    In The Queue

  • The Raj quartet by Paul Scott. Ha! I didn't even know that The Jewel In The Crown, a classic historical novel I had borrowed from the library before (also set, oddly enough, in India), was the first of a trilogy. This book contains all three books and clocks in at nearly 2000 pages long! Unlikely I'll ever finish this, but I couldn't resist taking it out when I saw it on the library shelf.
  • Dreaming The Eagle by Manda Scott. Turns out the book I mentioned last month, Dreaming the Bull was, in fact, the second book of the series. So I picked up this one, the initial book. It is about Boudicca's Rebellion, a subject I find pretty interesting.
  • Eats, shoots and leaves : the zero tolerance approach to punctuation by Lynne Truss. I saw the new edition of this classic and popular book for a good price at the local Super Stop & Shop and I couldn't resist buying it.

April Reading List


I'm having some trouble finishing fiction books these days. I have been doing pretty well on the non-fiction, but not so well on the fiction. Looking back on it, three of the books I finished were on baseball - must be Opening Day still in the air! Still adding about as fast as I can subtract, though.

    Update from last month

  • The Long Season by Jim Brosnan. Wow, what a fun book! It was a fascinating insight into the life of a major league ballplayers, especially a pitcher. And my guess, life still hasn't changed all that much for the overgrown adolescents since it was written nearly 40 years ago. Still playing juvenile games in the bullpen, ragging on each other about salaries, calling guys who actually read books "Professor", etc. Definite thumbs up!
  • The Last Best League by Jim Collins. A very good book on the Cape Cod League, which is a summer amateur baseball league down on the Cape. Notable for being one of the few amateur leagues that still use wooden bats (only the pros don't use metal bats), so it gives scouts a good feel for how both hitters and pitchers will fare in the pros. It must be so hard to adjust to "real life", being a sports star in high school, if you just aren't good enough (or healthy enough) to move on. Lucky for me, I was good enough to play a few sports in high school, but never good enough to have any illusions of going anywhere with my "talent". Very well written indeed.
  • Cypress Grove by James Sallis. Another winner by the author of Drive which I had read earlier. In fact, I think I liked this one even better. The story of an ex-cop, ex-con who is living a life of seclusion in the south, and who gets drawn into a murder mystery. Very interesting characters and some real sharp writing. My only complaint is the presentation is identical to Drive, with interwoven chapters alternating between the present and retelling his past. Felt a little overused by now even.
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Tony Massarotti and John Harper. Not bad, but I'm still looking for the perfect 2004 storybook retelling. Like pretty much all the other books on the season written by sportswriters, it dwells far too much on the personalities, and press relationships for my liking. Don't care, exactly, who treats the sportswriters with respect and who doesn't. Don't care, really, who is a "nice" guy and who isn't. But it was fun reading the NY/Boston interplay between the writers.
  • I started but didn't finish:
    • Captain Alatriste by Arturo Pérez-Reverte - just never clicked with this historical novel of mideval Spain.
    • Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott - this historical novel set in 1800s India looked real good, but I just never found the time for it. I will get back to it, though.
    • Why Black People Tend To Shout : Cold Facts And Wry Views From A Black Man's World by Ralph Wiley. Race relations are not my strong suit. Nor are books of collected columns.
    • 1776 by David McCullough. I wanted to finish this fascinating book of a pivotal year in US history, but our new car doesn't have a tape player, so now I don't know what I'm going to do for books on tape!

    Currently Reading

  • The Tyranny of the Night by Glen Cook. The first book in a new fantasy series called Instrumentalities of the Night, by the author of the Black Company series of fantasy books. I really like the first 1.5 books of the Black Company series, and have been meaning to restart it, as I have the sci-fi book club edition that comes with the first three. He's an interesting writer, in that he doesn't seem to explain much straight off, not even what the narrator knows. It is sort of assumed you know what is going on, and it gradually begins to make more sense as the pieces fall into place. An interesting way of writing, but one that requires more concentration than I am usually capable of, given my 30 minute reading chunks. But it is a rewarding effort, so I want to try again. So I thought I'd try this new one by him when I saw it on the new books shelf of the library. So far, very reminiscent of his prior style of writing. Through the first chapter, a very intricate portrayal of a world in upheaval, both spiritually and physically, and I'm not really clear on what is happening.

    In the Queue

  • Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier. A fantasy book highly recommended by sci-fi author John Scalzi over at Whatever. I read too many sci-fi/fantasy blogs, or blogs by folks who like sci-fi and fantasy, and keep trying out these kinds of books, although they don't tend to be my cup o' java. But I'm always game to try another. Oh, and Scalzi even pointed out a lukewarm review of his Old Man's War, which actually mirrors my feelings about the book exactly. You can read it here. To be honest, that same ssite also has a pretty warm review of it here!
  • Dreaming the bull by Manda Scott. The other thing I keep picking up is historical novels. This series is on Boudicca, the warrior queen of England who fought the Roman armies to a standstill for two years in AD 61. I think there are four books currently in the series, and I saw the latest on the new book shelf at the library. So after checking it out, I notice the library also happened to have the first three, so I grabbed this first one to check it out.

And I really have to get back to my Lifetime Reading Plan and read some more classics. There's nothing quite like a book having stood the test of time - the writing is usually stupendous and the ideas mind blowing. Maybe DH Lawrence or even get back to my Arabian Nights.


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