April & May reading

More fiction this time, which I mostly read in April, but I was too lazy to write this up until now.

Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi is mainly a retelling of the events of The Last Colony, but from Zoe’s perspective. It felt like Scalzi wanted to give a different first-person perspective of the events, as well as filling in the gaps when the protagonist of TLC was not present to witness things. I liked it, but not as much as the trilogy.

Cat of the Century by Rita Mae Brown is the latest in the Sneaky Pie series, and possibly the most disappointing. When she’s not using the characters to be the mouthpiece of her political views, she’s writing vapid and uninteresting narrative. I keep hoping she’ll stop writing this series so I stop feeling compelled to read it, but a note at the end of the book indicates there’s at least one more on the way. I was smart this time and borrowed the book from the library rather than adding it to my hardcover collection as I have done with the previous books in the series.

Heaven – Season Five: War by Mur Lafferty is a podiobook that is responsible for making my gym visits over the past six months much more tolerable, although even that wasn’t enough to keep me going regularly through the holidays. However, I managed to kick start my workout routine again, and with that, finish listening to the book. This is the finale of Lafferty’s metaphysical spec fic series, and while I am sad that it has ended, it was satisfying enough.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell was my workplace’s book group selection for the spring. I don’t think anyone should take this book too seriously, as he tends to find facts to fit his theories and ignores or discounts facts that go against them, but he does make some thought-provoking points about the outside forces that determine if someone is “successful” by his definition of success. I would be interested in seeing some authoritative social science research on the factors he identifies.

March reading

I started reading Getting Things Done by David Allen and ReWork by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (co-founders of 37 Signals). I’m enjoying both and am forcing myself to carve out time for them, but I still wasn’t able to finish them in the month. I did, however complete two books.

Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail: An Illustrated Guide to the Cradle of Freedom by Frye Gaillard, with a forward by Juan Williams, was not a book I would have chosen myself (it was sent to me for review), but turned out to be an interesting read. It’s in part a travel guide, but mostly is a history lesson about events related to the civil rights movement in Alabama, mainly in the 20th century.

Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men by Michael S. Kimmel is the One Book, One Campus selection at MPOW this year. I refrained from reading further ahead than the chapters we were discussing, so I finished the book at the same time our lunchtime discussions ended. It’s an interesting perspective on “guy” culture and how much that dominates the rest of American/Western culture. I don’t agree with all of Kimmel’s arguments, but they gave me food for thought. I highly recommend this book to anyone in a university setting (male or female).

February reading

That’s right. Reading. Not plural. I finished only one book last month, at it was just the last few chapters I didn’t finish in January. I have a good excuse, though: my limited spare time last month was consumed with packing and moving and unpacking.

The book I finished was for the semi-annual book discussion group at work. We selected Nicholson Carr’s The Big Switch last fall, but weren’t able to meet to talk about it until early January. Here are my final thoughts on the book:

I found the parallels between the evolution of the delivery of electricity from self-contained generator systems to the modern-day grid and the evolution of personal computing applications from desktop to the cloud to be fascinating, and a good argument for cloud computing. However, once making that argument, the author proceeds to show his true colors as an anti-technology, privacy-focused, Matrix-fearing Luddite. Disappointing.

2009 reckoning

Once again I attempted to read 50 books in a year, and once again I failed. Well, actually, I pretty much gave up on it early on, so it’s no surprise to me that I didn’t get there. Anyway, here are the books I read last year (I read a lot more than just books, but these are all that I’m counting):

  1. Don’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life by Brian Raftery
  2. Vulcan’s Forge by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz
  3. Vulcan’s Heart by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz
  4. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book One: Exodus by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz
  5. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book Two: Exiles by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz
  6. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book Three: Epiphany by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz
  7. Slurp: Drinks and Light Fare, All Day, All Night by Jim Hensley, Nina Dreyer Hensley, and Paul Lowe
  8. Of Mule and Man by Mike Farrell
  9. The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education by Maya Frost
  10. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely
  11. I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago by Hape Kerkeling
  12. Libyrinth by Pearl North
  13. Kilimanjaro: A Photographic Journey to the Roof of Africa by Michel Moushabeck & Hiltrud Schulz
  14. Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights by Kenji Yoshino
  15. Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi
  16. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

My pleasure reading was mostly Spock, and all of the non-fiction was either for review or for a book group discussion. This weekend I went through my bookshelves and pulled about 80 books that I’m either selling or trading away because I haven’t read them yet and will probably get them from the library if/when I ever get around to reading them. The nice thing is that in the process of doing this, I was reminded of books I’ve wanted to read for a long time but have forgotten I have them sitting on my shelves already.

One book down already for 2010, and hopefully more to follow it. In fact, I think I’ll go start on The Ghost Brigade right now.

#11

I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago by Hape Kerkeling

I’ll bet you thought I forgot about this whole 50 books thing. No, it’s just that once again, my intentions are much more noble than reality. I have also been rather poor at reporting on the books I’ve read this year, but most of the time, I assume I’m the only one who really cares about all this, anyway.

#11 is I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago by Hape Kerkeling, translated by Shelley Frisch. This one landed on my doorstep the other week as the latest in a slow trickle of review books coming in from Library Journal. (You can search for my recent reviews, if you’re so inclined.) A little uncertain about it at first, I quickly found myself lost in the story and read it cover to cover in one sitting.

Kerkeling is a German comedy performer of some renown. Not being up on my European comedians (aside from nearly memorizing all of Eddie Izzard’s routines on YouTube), I hadn’t heard of the fellow before this book. After failing to track down any recording of a performance in English or with subtitles, I gave up. Considering that my German linguistic skills are virtually nil, I’m not surprised I hadn’t heard of him before. (If you are interested, Amazon has a short interview with him in English.)

The book is essentially the diary he wrote while hiking the Camino de Santiago in 2001. It’s not strictly a recording of events and people from the pilgrimage, but the stories he tells about his background and prior experiences add import to the things that happen to him on the trail. By the end of the story, I felt as though Kerkeling was a long-lost friend with whom I had recently reunited over a cup of coffee. In many ways, this book reminded me of Kelly Winters’ Walking Home, and that is a good thing.

#1-6

I read a book a bout karaoke and then a series on the Vulcan/Romulan/Reman history through the present.

Kicking off 2009 with a bunch of books read. I’m sure this spurt will be the only one of the year, but at least it’s a good place to start.

1. Don’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life by Brian Raftery

I reviewed this one for Blogcritics, so I’ll write more about it later in the January roundup. I will say now that it is an engaging read and inspired me to be a bit more regular in my karaoke outings.

2. Vulcan’s Forge by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz

This is a Star Trek book, as one might surmise from the title, and it’s the first of five connected books by these two authors, spread out over a number of years. The events take place in the present day, which is set shortly after Kirk was taken by the Nexus as seen in Star Trek: Generations, as well as in the past, which is set around the time when Spock officially enters adulthood. As one might expect, the events are connected, both by the individuals involved and the similarities of the locations.

Spock is a favorite character of many fans, and I am not an exception. Sherman and Shwartz clearly spent a great deal of time getting inside his head, and the readers benefit from this. Throughout the book, we see his inner struggle between his Vulcan and Human heritages. It’s one of the things I like most about him – that struggle between multiple identities and ways of life, which are all valid and true to himself.

The story itself, though, was only passable, and the best thing I can say for it is that it set up the events told in the next book.

3. Vulcan’s Heart by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz

This book, in contrast to the first one, stays almost entirely in the present, which is set around the time of Picard’s captaincy of the Stargazer. The story begins, however, a few years earlier with the betrothal between Spock, who is now an Ambassador for the United Federation of Planets and no longer a Starfleet officer, and Commander Saavik, who is well on her way to becoming a Captain.

These two end up separately traveling under cover to the Romulan homeworld to help dissidents (and the Federation) stop the corrupt government’s plans to start an interstellar war. Unfortunately for both, they don’t realize until it’s too late that they have begun to enter pon farr, which adds an unexpected layer of difficulty and danger to their respective missions.

Sherman and Shwartz deftly weave in events familiar to those of us who have already seen their aftermath, such as the fate of the Enterprise C and her crew, and draw connections between events and people that are pleasantly unexpected. I was so wrapped up in this book that even though it was very late and I was very tired, I couldn’t fall asleep until I finished it.

4. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book One: Exodus by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz

This was the book that inspired me to read the others first. When I bought it and read it a few years ago, I didn’t realize that it was the start of a trilogy and the middle part of an over-arching story line, so I struggled to fill in the gaps of information referenced by the authors. It was not a pleasant experience, but it inspired me to collect all of the related books and read them, as I have done now.

This book tells a version of the events of the Vulcan philosopher Surak’s life that led to the embrace of logic over emotionalism and the eventual end of the devastating wars on Vulcan. However, rather than the usual history that those who left Vulcan at that time to become Romulans were those who rejected Surak’s logic, this story tells of scientists and others who embraced logic and decided to take their knowledge out of the war machine equation in order to preserve the Vulcan race, as it seemed that the eventual destruction of the planet was inevitable.

The Vulcan/Romulan history is only part of the story, though. The book alternates between the history (“memory”) and the present, which is set shortly after the end of the Dominion War. An unknown and powerful species calling themselves the Watraii have destroyed a Romulan colony and have declared that they want nothing less than the total destruction of the Romulans, who they claimed stole their homeworld. Admiral Spock and Captain Saavik, along with Admiral Chekov and the Romulan exile Ruanek, are sent on a clandestine mission to somehow stop the Watraii and attempt a peaceful negotiation with them, if possible.

Now that I have read the two books that introduced some of the characters involved, such as Ruanek, and the events referenced, this book makes a little more sense than it did the first time I read it. However, the jumping around of times and places makes it very difficult to follow what happened when, even thought the authors have helpfully noted the years when appropriate.

5. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book Two: Exiles by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz

Unfortunately, not everyone who left with the ships were followers of Surak, and not everyone who left made it to what became Romulus and Remus. This book tells the story of their 100+ year journey across uncharted space, and their search for a livable planet that did not already have sentient life on it.

It seems that the politics and fighting that drove them into space have followed them there. Ultimately, this leads to death and betrayal, and we learn more about the history of the Remans — the Vulcans who made Remus, Romulus’ non-rotating twin planet, relatively habitable — and the reason for their second-class status in Romulan society.

Meanwhile, in the present, tensions between the Watraii and the Romulans remain high, as well as those between the Romulans and the Federation. The Romulans believe that the Federation’s unwillingness to side with them against the Watraii is a betrayal, particularly since the Romulans had fought along with the Federation against the Dominion. However, the Federation is unwilling to trust their long-time enemy and sometime ally, particularly since it is not unreasonable to believe that the Romulans would have taken a planet that was not theirs, as the Watraii claim.

Once again, Captain Saavik and Ambassador Spock lead a clandestine mission to retrieve a valuable historical object that the Watraii stole from the Romulans, as well as to rescue Chekov who had been captured by the Watraii and who the had believed to be dead. This time, they are joined by Captain Scott and Commander Data, as well as Ruanek, of course.

By the end of this book, it is fairly clear where the story is going, and I had a pretty good idea of who the Watraii are and the source of their beef against the Romulans, but Sherman and Shwartz had a few more surprises left for the next book.

6. Vulcan’s Soul Trilogy Book Three: Epiphany by Josepha Sherman & Susan Shwartz

While it is true that the Romulans are essentially the same race as the Vulcans, with a few adaptations that came from the radiation exposure in their long voyage and the biology of the planet they found, it is not true that the Remans are the same. We learn why in this book, and it is not at all what I expected. We also, finally, learn the origins of the people calling themselves the Watraii.

Things are not going very well in the present, either, and once again the usual cast of characters are called in to rescue a captive and stop a war, with a little help from Captain Picard’s Enterprise. As you might expect, they succeed.

The book ends on an odd note. You might recall the female Romulan Commander from the original series episode “The Enterprise Incident.” She wasn’t given a name in the episode, as far as I can tell, but Sherman and Shwartz have dubbed her Charvanek. She has played an important role in the events of the previous four books, and surprisingly, the authors chose to make her reflection upon the events between the cessation of hostilities with the Watraii, through Shinzon’s praetorship, and finally to whatever may come after the events depicted in Star Trek Nemesis. It’s an interesting element of character development, but it also leans a bit too far towards being an info dump.

books read: 2008

No surprise that I did not meet the 50 book challenge again this year, and considering how few books I read in the latter half of the year, I’m not surprised to discover that I read fewer than I did in 2007. Oh, well! I’ve come to accept that the goal will likely not be met, and is simply the carrot I dangle in front of my bookshelf face.

This year featured much more non-fiction than what is reflected in my TBR collection, since I ended up mostly reading books I was reviewing for publications, or in a few cases, books that I was discussing with others at work. I’ve been keeping track of my reading on GoodReads, and you can follow it in real time if you are so inclined.

  1. Open Your Heart With Geocaching by Jeannette Cézanne (non-fiction)
  2. Lipstick & Dipstick’s Essential Guide to Lesbian Relationships by Gina Daggett and Kathy Belge (non-fiction)
  3. Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Space Between (fiction)
  4. The Purrfect Murder by Rita Mae Brown (fiction)
  5. Eccentric Cubicle by Kaden Harris (non-fiction)
  6. Stewards of the Flame by Sylvia Engdahl (fiction)
  7. Wikipedia: the Missing Manual by John Broughton (non-fiction)
  8. Star Ka’at by Andre Norton and Dorothy Madlee (fiction)
  9. How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation by Marc Bousquet (non-fiction)
  10. Scion’s Blood by Pat Nelson Childs (fiction)
  11. Dragon Harper by Anne & Todd McCaffrey (fiction)
  12. Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian by Scott Douglas (non-fiction)
  13. Everyday Cat Excuses: Why I Can’t Do What You Want by Molly Brandenburg (non-fiction)
  14. Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis (fiction) (re-read)
  15. Nine Tomorrows by Isaac Asimov (fiction)
  16. Out Front With Stephen Abram: A Guide for Information Leaders by Judith A. Siess and Jonathan Lorig (non-fiction)
  17. The Starship Trap by Mel Gilden (fiction)
  18. The World Is Your Litter Box: A How-to Manual for Cats by Quasi, with Minor Help from Steve Fisher (non-fiction)
  19. A Year of Festivals by Lonely Planet Publications (non-fiction)
  20. Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty (fiction)
  21. Santa Clawed by Rita Mae Brown (fiction)
  22. slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte (non-fiction)
  23. Smart Blonde: Dolly Parton by Stephen Miller (non-fiction)

reviews on blogcritics: december

Things I reviewed in December.

December was a busy month for me, which left me little time to do much reviewing. I had hoped to get quite a bit done over the holidays, but instead I relaxed with friends and family. I think it was worth it, but it means working a bit harder in January.

A Princeton Christmas: For The Children Of Africa, Vol. 1 & 2

If you’ve heard a country version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” one too many times this season, or if any other rendition of “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” performed by your grade school child/sibling/cousin/whatever will push you over the edge, then I suggest you pick up either or both volumes of A Princeton Christmas: For The Children Of Africa. With the selections of classic and classical Christmas songs performed by musicians who care more about the music than about cashing in on the season, these are Christmas albums worth owning.

Smart Blonde: Dolly Parton by Stephen Miller

In addition to the fairly comprehensive 60-year overview of Parton’s life, the book contains a selective discography, source notes, a bibliography, and an index – all useful tools for researchers. I particularly enjoyed looking at the 16 pages of plates of photographs of Parton at various points in her life. Unfortunately, only the most dedicated fans are likely to read the book from cover to cover.

#17

It has been nearly a month since I last finished a book for pleasure, although I am slowly reading my way through a couple others, and I read and reviewed a book for The Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship (which may or may not be published — I won’t know until the issue is printed ’cause that’s how my editor rolls). Last night, I was feeling bored of my usual procrastination tools, so I decided to do a bit of fluff reading. It had to be short, though, because it was already past midnight, and I needed to get a little sleep eventually.

My selection came from among the stack of old Star Trek books on my to-be-read shelves. These are always good for a light read and stories that (usually) wrap up on the last page. This one was nearly what I wanted. The Starship Trap by Mel Gilden was your typical Trek story, but his characterizations weren’t particularly compelling. Mainly told from Kirk’s perspective, there were several rabbit holes that seemed to go nowhere, in addition to some of Kirk’s behavior being slightly out of character.

The hard science fiction aspect of the Aleph plot device was, at least, interesting. Much more so than the villain’s fixation on 19th and 20th century European and American classic literature or one of the minor character’s obsession with the American Old West. C’mon, Gilden — your ethno-centric roots are showing! For all the aliens and cultures on Star Trek, there is a disproportionate number of stories with references to American or European modern (to the reader) history.