12 book challenge, 2011

I’ve been trying to hit the 50 book challenge for the past few years, which basically requires me to read at least one book a week. Not happening. My average is around 25 in a year, and that’s often the result of reading a bunch while on break or vacation, and not paced throughout the year.

This year, I’m going to try something different. In addition to reading as many books as I can, I’m making a list of the twelve books that I want to try to read this year that are currently sitting on my shelves or wishlist. In no particular order, here they are:

January readings

I always do better at the beginning of the year than later on, so I’m not going to crow too much about being on track for reading 50 this year, particularly since two are graphic novels that took less than 20 minutes to read. Nevertheless, here’s the round-up:

The first and last books I read this month are The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony by John Scalzi. Continuing on in the Old Man’s War universe, the first is from the perspective (mostly) of Jane Sagan, although not in the first person like OMW. The second is once again from first person perspective of John Perry. While TLC explains more of the politics of the OMW universe, I found TGB to be more interesting reading due to the issues of sentience and self-hood that Scalzi explores in the story. The fourth book, Zoe’s Tale, is on my reading list for this month.

Star Trek: Art of the Film is one that I read and reviewed for Blogcritics. It’s “is part coffee table book and part behind-the-scenes glimpse at the creation of the film.” Most of what I have to say about it, I said in the review, so check that out if you’re interested.

I started reading the new Wonder Woman comic series last year, and I found that I’m missing the context of an incredible amount of backstory, so I picked up copies of the first two trade paperbacks, Who Is Wonder Woman? and Love and Murder. It’s still a bit confusing, since even though they are the start of a new series, there is still an underlying assumption that the reader is familiar with the history of Wonder Woman. Me, I just vaguely remember the TV show. Anyway, I think I’ll continue getting the trade paperbacks instead of the single issues. It’s more cost-effective, and I need the longer story arcs to keep track of what’s happening.

book swap/sale

I’ve been complaining for years about how many books I have piled up in my house that I haven’t read yet. Well, in preparation for moving across town to a new apartment, I’ve pulled out a bunch of them that I’ve decided I can re-acquire or borrow if/when I get around to reading them. Please do me a favor and take some off of my hands!

The books I have for trade are listed on PaperBackSwap, so they’re only available in the US. I thought about listing them on BookMooch, which is international, but I have a pile of credits over there and almost never get a book coming to me, whereas with PBS, I seem to have more luck.

The books I have for sale are listed on Half and Amazon, but you’ll get a better deal by purchasing them through Half. Two reasons: I priced them lower there because I get about $0.50 more per book due to different fee structures, and you save on shipping if you buy more than one, which Amazon does not do.

Finally, I have some BookCrossing books that I need to, um, bookcross. If you’d like any of them, please let me know and maybe we can work something out.

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)

#20

I have been collecting Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series in hardcover, but after reading the latest, Santa Clawed, I’m beginning to wonder why I bother to buy the new ones as they come out. The mystery is a hodgepodge of recycled ideas from previous books, and about the only thing that’s different is the bits about what’s going on in the lives of the main characters in Crozet. As much as I like reading about Harry, Mrs. Murphy, and all the rest, I’d rather go back and re-read the good stories than see Brown pump out more half-assed books like this one.

#15

Two nights ago I really wanted to read a book before bed, but it was late, and I knew that I would end up reading until all hours of the morning and regret it the next day. So, I scoured the mass market Mt. TBR and found a thin book, which also happened to be a collection of short stories. Yay!

Last night I finished reading Isaac Asimov’s Nine Tomorrows, and as can be expected, it was an engaging read, with each short story providing a different insight into how (in some cases, minor and insignificant) actions and events of now might evolve into the future. Some of the characters in the stories were charged with solving mysteries, but mostly it was left to the reader to figure out what was going on and how humanity got to that point.

The book is a product of its time. The copyright is 1959, and the stories themselves were originally published in magazines in that decade. Understandably, the Cold War and nuclear research play roles in several of the stories. Asimov also explores his (apparent) favorite social science theme of societies where the actions of individuals or the whole can be predicted through mathematical theory.

If you are looking for some bite-sized Asimov, I recommend picking up a copy of this book, if you can find one.

#4

I have been reading Rita Mae Brown’s (& Sneaky Pie Brown’s) mystery series for at least ten years, if not longer. I have read all of them, and in the past few years, I’ve begun to collect them in hardcover. In fact, I have bought the last three new in hardcover as soon as they were released, so you can imagine that I was pleased to greet another January with another new book in the series. Except that I didn’t pick up my copy until the first day of February….

Anyway, The Purrfect Murder is now available, and I have spent a lovely evening reading it. After the boring local and unpleasant characters of the last book, and the gruesome and dark murder in the book before it, I was pleased to note that Brown has returned to her tried and true formula for this book. Some might say it’s worn and dated, but for me, it’s just the right kind of predictable-yet-new brain candy that I crave from time to time.

Brown has allowed her characters to grow and develop over time, and she has also continued to incorporate some into the core that were originally introduced as side characters in previous books. Sneaky Pie notes in the afterwards that each book is meant to represent a season, and that four books equal one year in real-time. This was good to know, and something I hadn’t quite consciously noted before now. However, since Brown references events from previous books, it might be difficult for someone not familiar with the series to understand the context.

My only complaint with this book is that it is more noticeably preachy at times. Brown seems to use her characters to make statements on current politics, social issues, and just about any other hot-button issue of the day. I found this distracting, even when I agreed.

#21

by Diane Duane

I finally made myself read this book, despite being a bit intimidated by the 446 pages. I should have known that it would be an enjoyable read and not seem to be nearly that long. Diane Duane is a word weaver, and a very good one. This book is part of the Errantry universe that began with So, You Want To Be A Wizard. It wasn’t until I was well into the book that I realized there were others that came before it. However, Duane has set this one up to stand on its own, so while I suspect the reader might have a broader picture of wizardry in general by having read the other books first, it doesn’t detract from enjoying this one.

The main characters are New York cats that also happen to be wizards. Their job is to maintain the worldgates that are located in the New York subway system. Something is interfering with the workings of the worldgates and it’s up to Rhiow and her team to find out who and how to stop them before they open the gates to allow the sentient dinosaurs from ancient days to pass through to modern Earth.

The story is well-told. Read it, and you won’t look at cats in the same way you did before.

stay away from innocence (#19)

Book-on-demand with potential ISO editor for some red pen action or more.

by Duane Simolke

It took author Duane Simolke over twenty years to turn his short story idea into a novel. Let us hope that it does not take that long for it to evolve into a good novel. The Return of Innocence is desperately in need of an editor.

The story told in the book is fairly simple and has all the elements of a decent fantasy novel. Sasha Varov and her family are exiled from their home country of Jaan because her father tried to stop an evil wizard from doing what evil wizards do. Several years later, Sasha sneaks into Jaan on a simple mission of buying seeds. While there, she winds up killing the evil wizard and then returning home.

Unbeknownst to her, that act has made her a hero among the general populace of Jaan, although it opened the way for the evil wizard’s even more evil brother to step in and take his place. One year later, Sasha must return to Jaan for more seeds, but on the way her plans are altered and instead she decides to assist a group of rebels seeking to rid Jaan of the wizard.

There are dragons, demons, and plenty of sword fights to make a fantasy reader happy, but in the end it’s still too much work to get past the stilted writing and abrupt scene changes. In addition, the author’s attempts at humor are incongruous and uncomfortable. Take this exchange on pages 25-26:

“I—” Her fear and confusion increased when she finally recognized her captor as Wuhrlock’s brother, Tay-lii. She had seen him once, during their journey to the Tarran Isles. He was sitting on his horse, surrounded by his soldiers and staring at the exiles. But now he stood right in front of her. “Why don’t you kill him?” she finally asked.

Men can’t kill sorcerers. I learned that fact years ago. It must be a woman, and she must have been born within the territory that the sorcerer has claimed. Women are naturally rooted in the powers of Theln’s ground, because the ground absorbed Erran’s powers when she fell into it and became the first human.”

“Sounds kind of far-fetched, like a convenient plot device in a book,” Sasha stated, but then realized she probably shouldn’t start a debate during such a time.

It is a convenient plot device, and one of many that are not used well. The author is too busy throwing in a dash of mysticism here and a smattering of romance there to really develop anything fully, or even explain what is there. When it is apparent that a scene was added in order to flesh out the story into a book, one almost wishes that it had been left as it was because all it does is detract from what could be an engaging story.

The author frequently has the character tell the reader what the character is thinking or feeling, rather than giving that role to a non-entity narrator. It is usually jarring and throws off the flow of the prose. This is yet another element of the book that could be improved with editing and refinement.

The ending of the book is anti-climactic and contrived. All along the reader can anticipate the eventual outcome, and the tools for that outcome appear six scenes prior. Despite all that, certain plot points are never fully explained. The whole thing is wrapped up with a little too much “and they lived happily ever after.”

The Return of Innocence might be worth reading once it has been put through the ministrations of a reputable editor and publisher, but until then it is best left on the shelf, unless the reader is a masochist.

#9

Yesterday I came home to find my recent Amazon order had arrived. Last week while browsing LibraryThing, I discovered a new book in one of my favorite mystery series, so I pre-ordered it. It was officially released the next day. I’ve never done this before, but I’ve started collecting this series in hardcover and I decided to treat myself to a brand new tome.

Anyway. New book arrived yesterday. I finally had a chance to crack it open at 10:30pm, thinking I’d read until midnight and then finish this evening. As if. Check the time stamp on this post. I’m gonna need a grande latte when I wake up. Possibly with an extra shot.

Sour Puss is the latest in the collaboration between Sneaky Pie Brown and her person, Rita Mae Brown. As with the previous books in the series, the authors take time to set the scene, refresh our memories of the old characters, and introduce us to the new characters. The action doesn’t happen until the penultimate chapter, but Mrs. Murphy fans have come to expect that. We like spending time with our friends and family for a while before we have to get our paws hands dirty with some icky murder.

The back story deals with current events and concerns regarding bioterrorism. H5N1 makes a brief appearance, as well as theories about biological weapons used by Iraq in Desert Storm. Most important to the plot is the Supreme Court decision striking down state laws that prohibit direct sales of wines to out-of-state customers. Wine drinkers rejoice.