readings
Here's where I post my thoughts on the last dozen books I've either read or attempted to read.
updated: 12 january 2017

 
Almost Silent

Almost Silent • Jason

Almost wordless (it's a graphic novel and using 'novel' very loosely). But cool and witty, nonetheless. But, admittedly, out there on the fringes.


finished 31 December 2016

 

 

 

Uprooted

Uprooted • Naomi Novak

Finally. A fantasy that I was looking forward to picking up again every time I put it down. This was an engrossing tale of a teenage girl, Agniezska, who finds herself unwittingly apprenticed to a wizard. Together they battle against a malevolent force that lives in the woods. The author does a wonderful job of setting the mood and portraying interesting characters. It has the feel of a dark fairy tale without any silliness. The writing is polished, the story pulls you right in and the finish is very exciting and rewarding.


finished 15 December 2016 Amazon

 

The Joy of X

The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity • Stephen Strogatz

Math geek book that is not nearly as good as other math geek books. Pretty boring actually. What was I thinking? I read this very sporadically with no enthusiasm whatsoever. WTF!? --Finished it only because it was easy to read. And short.


started 1 june 2014, finished November 2016 Amazon

 

 

Silent Hall

Silent Hall • N S Dolkart    (abandoned)

Five refugees from a plague-stricken island cross journey to find answers. They meet a wizard and do some errands for the wizard. Some things happen, but mostly they talk and stuff. Sort of like a boring reality show where disparate characters interact and you begin to wonder why you're watching. So yeah, I stopped reading — and I was over 200 pages in too. A fair try. Some interesting characters, sure, but the plot was not propulsive at all. So I ditched it. Life's too short.


started sep 2016, abandoned oct 2016 Amazon

 

The Keep

The Keep • Jennifer Egan    (abandoned)

It was a promising set-up: there's two cousins, they played imaginative games together as kids. Then one, Danny, played a cruel prank on the other, Howard, and soon after they lost touch. Now they're adults. Howard has changed, become exceedingly rich, and has bought a castle somewhere near Prague. He invites Danny over for some nebulous help in Howard's renovation of the castle. What are his motives?

I got a hundred pages in and then... Nope. I'm not finishing this. First of all, Danny is too much of a weird loser to be interested in as the main character. What kind of supposedly straight 30-something guy wears brown lipstick, anyway? And then there's the shifting viewpoints with unexplained other characters. Got kinda meta, kinda fast. And, finally, the whole bit about having people conversing but not including quotation marks in the text... I find that style highly annoying. Not for me.


started 19 sep 2016, abandoned 21 sep 2016 Amazon

 

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell • Susanna Clarke

I'd heard that the BBC were producing a show based on this book. That got me interested and I was ready for something unusual as well. This book is set in the late 1800s during the Napoleonic wars. Magic is a real thing but no one has been practicing it in England for hundreds of years. Until Mr. Norrell enters the scene.

This book is just over a thousand pages set in tiny type (my paperback copy, anyway). The pace is leisurely but the subject is interesting and the style is old-fashioned. So I was drawn in pretty quickly in the first few hundred pages. But trying to read this at night with tired eyes, reading glasses, and small type often meant that I'd only get through about ten pages at a time. I started this book in March, got to page 750 and decided I needed a break. That break included reading about seven other books.

And then Netflix picked up the BBC show. I watched the first two episodes and thought the show was great fun. So that got me all interested again and I wanted to finish the book before getting to a point in the show that was beyond where I'd read to in the story. Those last 250 pages were read pretty quickly and, indeed, the pace quickened considerably as well. I was glad I perservered. I'm about halfway through the show now and ready to continue watching. I think they've done an excellent job with the casting so far and the pace of the show is brisk.


started 14 mar 2016, finished 18 sep 2016 Amazon

 

S.

S. • J J Abrams & Doug Dorst

And now for something completely different. It's sortuva meta-book. Imagine a young college student named Jen finds a book in the library called Ship of Theseus by the mysterious, yet prolific author V.M. Straka. She sees that there are notes written in the margins and she writes a reply to one of them. Eric, a disgraced grad student, writes back and they continue doing so through multiple readings (and multiple-colored pens) throughout the book. In the margins they discuss the book, themselves, and the mysterious author and equally mysterious tranlator. The story concerns an amnesiac man (called S.) who gets shanghaied onto a strange ship with a very strange crew and sets off on a weird, dangerous journey. The book is stuffed with almost two dozen inserts ranging from postcards, to letters, to copies of telegrams and newspaper articles, etc. Ship of Theseus is made to look like a library book from the 50s. It's very cool. It's also very puzzling, ofttimes confusing, but pulls you in nonetheless. Probably would've taken me a lot longer to plow through it had I not read it while on vacation. And even though I was mystified by much of it, I was captivated by the twin stories and kept reading all the way through. Not all the book's questions are answered. I was glad I read it but would hesitate to blindly recommend it. This book was concieved by J.J. Abrams and written by Doug Dorst.


started 11 August 2016, finished 26 August 2016 Amazon

 

Die Trying

Die Trying • Lee Child

Took a break from the weird to get back to crime fiction. Doesn't get much lighter than a return to Jack Reacher, the 6-foot-5 ex-MP who ends up in trouble all the time. In a kidnapping screw-up, Reacher gets abducted along with a hot FBI agent named Holly Johnson. Bad guys get what they deserve. Hey, while I'm on the subject, does anyone out there know which book the new Jack Reacher movie (starring 5-foot-7 Tom Cruise) is based off of?


started 1 august 2016, finished 11 August 2016 Amazon

 

Six of Crows

Six of Crows • Leigh Bardugo

My son discovered this author not long ago and quickly became a fan. He pressed this on me and said I should read it too. It's the story of a small band of thieves hired to break out a valuable prisoner from an impregnable fortress. It's also a fantasy so there are some magical elements which manifest themselves in the people known as the Grisha. The Grisha have varied powers that fall into about seven different categories, mostly having to do with manipulation of elements. They've appeared in a prior trilogy set in the same world as this one (one I haven't read.) The band of thieves, six of them, are interesting, distinct characters, each with their own motivations. The plot is straightforward, linear, and easy to follow. It was an enjoyable story. It continues in the followup called Crooked Kingdom.


started 16 june 2016, finished 1 august 2016 Amazon

 

Enna Burning

Enna Burning• Shannon Hale

This has been a read-aloud book for my daughter and has been sporadically attended to. Making the time for it gets harder and harder. Still, we soldier on.

Anyway, this book is a sequel of sorts to the very good The Goose Girl. But we've got a new main character and she learns the ability to control fire, sort of like a medieval version of Steven King's Firestarter. Only her control of this power is tenuous and comes with its own problems. Enna, our protagonist, wants to help her country of Bayern in its war with, um, okay I forget right now. Let's call them the mucky-mucks. Well, things get a little heated with the mucky-mucks. (See what I did there?) And the plot is interesting — in parts — but it didn't really catch fire. And, yes, fizzled out in the end.


finished 19 july 2016 Amazon

 

Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?

Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir • Roz Chast

This memoir by cartoonist Roz Chast is about her dealing with her aging parents. As the only child of parents who are advancing into their 90s, Roz has many uncomfortable issues to deal with and she handles it with a healthy dose of humor. It's a fascinating look at someone navigating the issues that arise when dealing with the final months, weeks and days of your parents' lives.


finished 27 june 2016 Amazon

 

NOS4A2

NOS4A2 • Joe Hill

I was getting bogged down in another book and needed a break. So I turned to this, a horror tale written by a son of Stephen King. It was kinduva cool, weird tale of a girl, Victoria (Vic) who can ride her bike across a certain bridge to find whatever she's looking for. But then there's an evil guy named Charlie Manx who has his own magical ride (a Rolls Royce Wraith with the license plate NOS4A2) that takes him to his nightmarish vision of Christmasland. Manx also kidnaps children to bring them to Christmasland and occasionally murders their parents. Lovely, right? Well these two cross paths and after a close call, their fates are intertwined. For a 700+ page book, this one reads pretty fast. I think I took about two weeks on it. It was fun to delve into horror again. (By the way, in case you didn't already know, NOS4A2 = Nosferatu, the German equivalent of vampire.)


finished 16 june 2016 Amazon

 

Stuff Matters

Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World • Mark Miodownik

When I first caught wind of this book in the New York Times Book Review some weeks ago, I added it to my wish list. Then I gifted it to myself for my birthday. (It's important to love yourself.) I intended the book as one to dip into when I wanted a break from the huge fantasy tome I'm in the midst of. But then I kept going back to this one and read it fairly quickly.

This is just the sort of science book I enjoy. Not too heavy for a layman, not so dry that it puts you to sleep, and filled with interesting things about the world, in this case, materials science. In eleven breezy chapters, University professor Mark Miodownik, explores some common and some not-so-common materials, from concrete, porcelain, and chocolate, to aerogels and implants. Fascinating stuff and told with witty verve. I wished it was longer.


started 30 mar 2016, finished 22 april 2016 Amazon

 

 

 

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