Tuesday, January 27, 2009

War, Terrible War

I've completed the 6th volume in Joy Hakim's A History of US: War, Terrible War. You may remenber that this is the first of my WOE (While Otherwise Engaged) reading for the year. Refer to the first couple of posts in this blog for further clarification of "WOE reading".

This volume covers the years 1855-1865 in the history of the U.S. These books are written for young readers and so it does tend to simplify the major issues of the Civil War, however, I think they do a good job of portraying the ebb and flow of history. If this is the first book on the Civil War read by a teenager, for example, they will walk away with a fairly good idea of the prime players as well as the under currents that lead up to and through the war. The author, as in other volumes of this history, does a great job of including lots of relevant snippets, sidebar facts, and pictures to keep us turning the pages. Students of US history won't find much new here but that's not the role of the book (or the series). It effectively reviews the relevant issues of the time period, and that's what we expect. The slavery issue takes a lead role here as expected but other issues are not swept under the rug. All in all, a good entry in the series.

Next WOE read is Orwell's 1984.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Throne of Jade

I used the weekend to complete the second book in Naomi Novik's dragon series. Throne of Jade was a good read although since the concept wasn't as fresh and new as the first book, it suffered a tad because of that. A large part of the novel takes place during a boat trip from England all the way to China and I think the pacing that results from such a course slowed a little too much in some places. Let's face it, when you're stuck on a ship in the middle of the ocean with a huge dragon, we all get a little restless and yearn for the trip to reach it's conclusion.

On the other hand, such a trip does leave ample room for characterization and this novel went far to build up the main characters' motivations and points of view. It struck me, near the end of the novel, that the author has really developed some multi-dimensional characters here. They really stay true to their natures as they interact with each other and with their environment, especially when they reach China and find themselves with a mystery to solve. It was there that the question of how dragons are treated by different cultures really comes into play, a definite comparison to the slavery issue. Watching how different characters react to this was very realistic. In fact this series is probably the most realistic portrayl of dragons in a human society that I've ever read. The third book of the series is coming up soon, sometime in February no doubt.

Next up: Sweet Revenge by Diane Mott Davidson.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I completed an audio book yesterday, Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. As I've mentioned in an earlier post, I hate to waste time so during my 30-40 minute commute to work each day I plug in an audio book. It usually takes me about three weeks to get through a whole novel this way but I get tired of listening to AM radio all the time (my FM button broke about a year ago). And even though I have a new car radio now with a working FM option (and iPod port, etc.) I prefer to listen to books.

There is no real rhyme or reason as to how I pick my audiobooks. I just go to the library and get a new one whenever I finish the old one. It's almost always based on whatever I see on the shelves that looks good. I tend to avoid those that I want to read the actual book someday but the "bad" side effect is that I tend to discover new authors that I really like and then (being the compleatist that I am) I find myself wanting to buy the rest of that author's works. No wonder I have over 300 books in my to-be-read pile.

This time it was a little different though. You see, I tend to come up short in reading enough "classics" every year so I thought I'd begin 2009 with one right off the bat. I have heard a lot about Rebecca but never thought it was one for me. I expected a sort of gothic romance...and that is more or less what it is. I have to say though that I enjoyed this book far more than I thought I would. A large part of that is due to the excellent narrator of the book, one of the best I have ever experienced, Alexandra O'Karma. Her voice really painted the picture for me. The story itself took a little longer to tell than what modern audiences demand. It was a bit like watching an old black and white movie and several times I grew a little impatient with the pace of the plot. The story is told from the first person POV but since the protagonist is such a timid soul, she takes quite a while to work herself up to getting something done. Lots of musing about what people might think if such and such were to happen. But then again, since the story takes place in the 1930s, perceptions and family status was paramount. It did keep my attention though and I'm glad I experienced this novel. Overall, it was a pleasant surprise.

My next pick is called The Chairman by Peter Frey, another author I have never read. I may get myself into more trouble with this one if I like it:)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


It was a very nice 3-day weekend for me; we built another book case and I spent the rest of the time living in my own alternate reality (better than this one most of the time). I played lots of "World of Warcraft", lots of "Fallout 3" watched 4 episodes of Prison Break (Season1), 2 episodes of "Ghost Whisperer" (Season3), 2 episodes of "Bones" (Season 3), 4 episodes of "Supernatural" (Season 1), and 2 episodes of Stargate SG-1 (Season 3). Whew! Talk about avoiding all semblance of work! It was a great weekend :)

And yet I still had time to complete the third "Repairman Jack" novel, Conspiracies by F. Paul Wilson. I had actually approached this one out of loyalty to others who highly recommend this series. Frankly I was a little apprehensive because up to this point I had found the series to be OK but not outstanding. I knew from reading various reviews that there is a large supernatural element to the series but it was fairly minor (monster of the week) in the first book (The Tomb) and non existent in the second (Legacies). Each of those two books had quite a number of years in between them and I wonder if Mr Wilson was still in the process of determining exactly what kind of novels these were to be. Supernatural? Straight mystery? TBD?

I need not have worried though. This novel was different, a super read in fact. Now I know why so many others swear by this series and this character. These books are very difficult to genre-classify, containing elements of mystery, thriller, horror, sci-fi, and perhaps even fantasy. This book really gets the overall series story arc going, letting us in on "the otherness" and whatever that might exactly be. Couching the secret behind-the-scenes mystery in the middle of a convention of conspiracy theorists is masterful and Mr Wilson pulls this off brilliantly. We are just as skeptical as Jack is when confronted with the very real happenings taking place all around him and, apparently, with himself in the center of it all. And just like Jack, we're not sure who is the good guys and who is the bad. I found this book marvelous and I very much look forward to further adventures by Repairman Jack as I get to experience more revelations of the supernatural aspects of the story. And to top it all off, it's a very good mystery novel as well!

I did also complete another short story in Jeffery Deaver's More Twisted collection. "Surveillance" is like a chessgame between a highly intelligent robber and the master detective who is convinced of his guilt. I enjoyed this story but once again, the "twist" was known very early on and so the reader is left to watch how it unfolds. Next up is The Jade Dragon, number 2 in Naomi Novik's fine series.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Short Stories

Every time I finish reading a novel I will read a short story. I began this process about 8 years ago because I found myself never reading any short stories at all. It's not that I mind reading them but I dislike reading many short stories in a row. So...in order to actually read some, particularly those collections that I already had sitting on my shelf, I started this process. Right now I am reading Jeffery Deaver's More Twisted: Collected Stories, Vol. II. I picked up this volume during my family's Alaskan Cruise this past year. We had on-board coupons to use for merchandise and I used most of mine to pick out a few books from their very limited supply. I've wanted to try Jeffery Deaver for quite some time but have been so focused on whittling down my large "to-be-read" pile that I just haven't acquired any of his works.

The cover marketing on this book emphasizes the twists that Mr Deaver is famous for. That may be true but so far (I've finished 3 stories to this point) they have been a bit more predicatable than I was expecting. I enjoyed the second story, "The Commuter" quite a bit, releashing the protagonist's falling victim to his own arrogance. But I could see that coming from the beginning. The "twist" was more about how it would happen than the fact that it did happen. I think I was expecting a bit more Jeffery Archer style stories perhaps. The third story, "The Westphalian Ring" was a pretty good read but (**SPOILER ALERT**) I disliked the way Sherlock Holmes was presented at the end. Yes, I also get perturbed from time to time when Sherlock picks out all of the clues by cursory examination and concludes "facts" that could have led him in an altogether different direction. I think Deaver is making fun of this here but somehow it violates a cardinal rule of published fiction: Don't mess with other author's characters by making them look stupid, particularly such well-loved classic characters as Sherlock Holmes.

Right now it's on to the the third "Repairman Jack" novel, Conspiracies. So far it's great!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dark Genesis

I completed Dark Genesis, The Birth of the Psi Corps last night. I watched all 5 seasons of Babylon 5 via DvD a couple of years ago and came away with a profound respect for the work of J. Michael Straczynski. Not only did he create the show but he built the entire story arc and authored almost all of the scripts for the show. But even in 5 complete seasons, there is always room to learn more about various aspects of the show. The background and fate of the character Bester has always interested me so I specifically looked for the Psi Corps trilogy written by J. Gregory Keyes. I was gratified to learn that Mr Keyes wrote his Babylon 5 novels from an outline by Mr Straczynski so I felt confident that the novel was an "official" part of the Babylon 5 canon.

This first novel of the trilogy serves largely as background. I enjoyed seeing how the Psi Corps began and watching the evolving dichotomy of humans with psychic abilities vs those without. I liked seeing characters with familiar names (ancestors of some on the show). But overall I felt it was a little flat. I think there was just too much territory to cover, too much of a timespan to cover in a fairly thin book (~280 pages). The novel really was a series of connected short stories depicting certain aspects in time of this great transformation in society. The fact that the human race also experienced first contact with intelligent life outside Earth (Centauri) was largely lost in the rest. I have read a few reviews of the rest of the trilogy though and most agree the second two books really pick up, especially as they concern Bester himself. So I look forward to reading them soon.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The New Year 2009

I'm a little late getting started with my journal this year. I wanted to start the year with a sure-fire hit and so I chose Wilbur Smith's River God. I had read a couple of his other books in past years: Birds of Prey and Monsoon so I knew it would at least be a fun book to read. I wasn't disappointed! It was a great read, a real page turner. This one is the best Wilbur Smith novel I have read yet. It is also the first of his ancient Egypt series so I look forward to others.

From there I went to my fantasy pile. By far the largest genre in my "to-be-read" pile is fantasy so I tend to read more fantasy than any other genre in an effort to catch up. I chose the first book in Naomi Novik's series about dragons fighting in the Napolenonic era, His Majesty's Dragon. I have looked forward to this for over a year; it gets a lot of good press in the forums I visit. I was also a bit worried because it comes close to what my own novel is to be like, at least the concept of dragons fighting alongside humans in a military setting. But after completing Ms Novik's novel I feel comfortable that mine will be sufficiently different. But I did enjoy reading the novel. Good character development and a very interesting plot and setting. I believe the first three novels of her series were all published at the same time so I am wondering if they were originally one novel and the publisher chose to publish them seperately. I know that sort of thing happens. However, this first book was well paced with a definite climax and ending so perhaps that is not the case at all.

I always have other books going as well, reading them over a much longer time period (several weeks or even a month or two). My morning reading (what I read before going to work each day) is All My Best by George Bush. This is a collection of letters by my country's 41st President that covers his life. I received this as a gift about 7 or 8 years ago and it just never seemed to fit what I like to read. But I am enjoying it more than I suspected I would and it fits well into my morning reading time slot when I can only devote 20 minutes or so to reading. This morning's reading saw George end his tenure as chairman of the RNC during the Watergate era and become the US liaison to China.

I also read "while otherwise engaged", also known as WOE reading. I hate to waste time doing anything and so I choose to read while doing my business in the ol' water closet. I tend to read classics this way (because I might not ever get to them otherwise) and in the past have read such greats as The Jungle, The House of Seven Gables, The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes, The Complete Works of O. Henry, The Phantom of the Opera, Catch-22, and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. This isn't really a testament to how much time I spend on the john but to my age (mid 40's). But I do read non classical stuff WOE and currently my WOE reading consists of Joy Hakim's American History set, The History of US, aimed at young adults. We had our home schooled children read these so I felt I ought to as well. I normally read one volume a year WOE and I am up the Civil War volume (6 or 7 I believe).

That all brings me to my current main title selection, a science fiction entry in the Babylon 5 universe. But this post is quite long enough already so I will put that in the next post. Besides, it's lunch time and I'm getting hungry!

Personal Library Management

I manage my personal library (currently at over 5,000 books) using a fairly sophisticated MS Access database. I suffer from "Desiderius Erasmus syndrome" to some extent so have a definite need to keep track of my books. For those who might not know, Desiderius Erasmus lived from 1466-1536 and is the one who is often quoted, "When I get a little money, I buy books; if any is left I buy food and clothes." In my case that is a bit of an exageration but I definitely buy more books than I can read. Right now my "to-be-read" pile is over 300 books.

My database keeps track of the title, subtitle, author(s), cover price, copyright date, published date, etc. and how many times I have read it. Generally I do not re-read books. I have nothing against it and would love to have the time to re-read some of my old favorites. I'm just always curious about what else might be out there. Of particular importance in my data base is the number of pages that each book has. This is because at then end of the year I keep track of how many pages I have read and publish that in my "Year in Review". I know...ridiculous isn't it? But it's fun to do that so I do.

For my Year in Review, I list all the books I read during that year by genre. For example, I will list all historical fiction, all mystery, etc. Then the one I enjoyed most in each category is given an award. I also have an honorable mention category where I list all of those books that came very close to being the best but just didn't quite make it. And of course, I give the top prize to the best of all books read during the year. I have listed my winners of the past 20 years or so on the front page of this blog. It's sort of funny looking back at them...my tastes may have changed some since I selected particular books as my overall winners many years ago; had I to make the decisions today, the selections may well be different.

I also use my database in other fun ways, sorting it to see how many books I own of each type, what authors I have read the most, etc. I have all sorts of hot buttons that allow me to instantly run a report telling me whatever I want to know. I even have one report that prints out a listing of all of my books (in tiny print) so that I can have it in case my house ever burns down.

Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire