Monday, February 23, 2009

Note to Audio Book Manufacturers

My last audio book experience was less than pleasant. I had selected Dirty Money by Richard Stark. Like most of my audio book selections, I was trying a new author, and looking forward to the story. I read the cover blurbs thoroughly but nowhere was there any indication that this book was part of a series. In fact, it was part of a large series but also the direct sequel to the previous book. I was lost from the beginning, feeling like I had delved into the middle chapters, as indeed, I had. I just could not get into the novel at all. I did some research on Amazon about the book and it is apparent this author has legions of adoring fans. The book itself has an average 4 1/2 stars, higher than most books and yet here I was, lost in the middle.

In addition, the mechanics of this audio book were atrocious. There was no "this is the end of disk 1" announcement so my CD player just started up at the beginning automatically and because I wasn't as "in" to the book as I normally am, I did not even notice! Now that's bad. The audio quality itself was also poor as I found myself having to constantly change the volume to try to keep it at a reasonable level.

I almost always have good audio book experiences, even if the story is less than ideal. This one was bad and I had to give up on the book all together...a truly rare occurance for me. The unfortunate consequence is that I will likely overlook other books by Richard Stark as there will always be this negative stigma attached to his name. With so many other reading opportunities out there, my attention will be elsewhere than with Mr Stark.


I've been reading a series of young adult books for a couple of years now, usually reading 4-5 each year. The series is called Warriors and is about a society of cats (house cats, not lions, tigers, etc.) that live in the wild and are forced to cope with "real life" issues like hunting for prey, maintaining shelter, and the inevitable cycle of life. There are major issues to overcome including the politics of the four clans as well as the deaths of major characters. The books are suprisingly philisophical and readers are introduced to an entire theology that the clans of cats live by and, of course, the warrior code of honor is prime.

We bought the first few books at the behest of our kids back when we were home schooling; they had really cool looking covers, you see. Well, as usual, I started to read them as well and really enjoyed them so I've kept going. The first series contained 6 books and was a self-contained story arc, basically describing the rise of FireStar, the protagonist of all 6 books. Then there is a stand-alone book that serves as a bridge to a follow-on series of 6 more books. Dawn is book number 3 in that series, Warriors, The New Prophecy. There is yet another 6 book series that follows. The author, listed as "Erin Hunter" is actually a pen name for a group of women (3 at first but now 4) who jointly build the world and write the story.

I really enjoyed that first set of 6 books; it was unique, it was exciting, I cared very much for the characters, and I was really impressed with the well thought out world that had been created for this society of cats. I felt the authors did a great job of letting us see this world through the eyes of the protagonist, watching him struggle as he made onerous practical as well as moral decisions. That first set of books was great. The second set is still very good but it does suffer from the "this is great but what is new" syndrome. We no longer have Firestar as the chief protagonist although he is still a key player in the clans. But now we have the next generation taking on bigger roles and there is more than one key player on the stage. I think something is lost in that aspect. Dawn, being book 3 of a 6 part series has the burden of being the one that depicts the "just when you think things can't get any worse...they do" part of the story arc. Our cats are in dire consequences and when it rains, it really pours. That means this is a dark book, a real downer. But that should lead to better times ahead, the darkness before the "dawn".

Anyway, these books are a quick, easy read and they do keep you turning the pages. I will finish out this set of 6 books but may not continue as, even now, I can see some repetition creeping in.

Next up will be a combination of things as I make my reading selections for this week's business trip. For now that will have to remain a surprise since I haven't yet made my choices :)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cherokee Trail

Do you ever get tired of the world we live in today? With all the stress of day-to-day life compounded with news of how bad the economy is, no end in sight, terrorism, crisis after crisis, etc. don't you just want to hide in a little cubby hole and not come out until it's over? Well if that sort of day ever comes your way then I heartily suggest a good western novel by Louis L'Amour. I've just completed Cherokee Trail and it took me to another place and time that somehow made our current predicaments fade away, at least for a while. I've probably read 40-50 of L'Amour's novels now, interspersing them throughout all of my other reading and I just never get tired of them.

Cherokee Trail is about a widow who takes over the management of a stagecoach stop in northern Colorado during the years of the Civil War back east. She is a very strong female character and it is a pleasure to see how she copes with the wildness of the times in a man's world and succeeds with her business. Now these novels will not win a Pulitzer prize, of course, but I don't read them for their literary merit. But I am impressed with L'Amour's knowledge of western life and I think he gets short shrift by historical purists who often discard his research and consequently his novels as "typical westerns." Yes, there are some cliched characters, the gun fighters, the ranchers, the stage operators, etc. but his protagonist displays the same sense of honor and courage that we find in all of his novels. And that's why I read them. I can always count on them to be what they are. I don't expect more or less than a good ol' fashioned western.

This morning I borrowed some time form my morning reading book to work on another Deaver short story. "Locard's Principle" is an original Lincoln Rhyme story (Deaver's main sleuth in his novels) and this story is consequently a bit longer than the other short stories in this volume. And you can see that Deaver is comfortable with these characters; in fact the very style of writing differs than the other stand alone stories I have read here. Unfortunately, I have not read any of his novels and I can't escape the feeling that I am eavesdropping on somebody else's story this time. It's like I am missing the inside jokes or perhaps I should know more than I do as I read the story. That's to be expected I suppose but while this story is probably the major draw for most readers, it doesn't work as well for me. But what irked me the most is that Lincoln Rhyme solves the case and doesn't fall for the bad guy's twist. That in itself is OK but an earlier story depicted Sherlock Holmes being duped by the bad guy's twist. Somehow that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Of course an author can do anything he wants, within copyright laws, but to have your own sleuth be infallible and somebody else's sleuth be tripped up...well, I just don't care for that.

Next up: Dawn, part of the second Warriors series of young adult books.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Name of the Wind

Boy oh boy am I looking forward to today's blog entry! Patrick Rothfuss has written a masterpiece, or at least the first third of a masterpiece, in The Name of the Wind. This book is the first part of a projected trilogy, called the Kingkiller Chronicle, and unlike other fantasy authors lately, I believe this to be a true trilogy. From the way the story unfolds, it is obvious that the author has the entire story well planned. It won't be one of those series that keep on growing as the author/publisher sees best seller revenues pile up.

The author himself says the story is about the myth of a hero seen from backstage. The protagonist of the novel, Kvothe, (pronounced Qwothe) is essentially telling the story of his life to a chronicler although we do occasionally cut back to snippets of the present. We know he is a hero of some sort at the beginning but how that came to be is a mystery. This novel has everything that makes a fantasy novel (or any novel for that matter) great. It has great characters who we profoundly care about. It has a great, well thought out setting, a complete society that fits together logically. It has a steady pace with highs and lows of action. It has comedic moments as well as tragic moments. It has mystery, particularly with the characters of Dianne and Bast. The protagonist is very intelligent but does make mistakes and must deal with the consequences. We are caught up in the emotions of the characters as they interact with all that happens. And the prose is written in such a way that is easy to understand and yet is not "simple"; the words paint the proverbial picture we always look for in a good book. It flows and that, along with the rest of the aspects of this book, makes us want to keep on reading and ignore our bedtime.

Patrick Rothfuss is considered one of the bright new fantasy authors out there and I can easily see why. He resists cliches and even makes fun of them. The good news is that supposedly all novels in the trilogy are written and they plan to publish them one per year. The bad news is that this was published in hardcover in March 2007 and we have yet to see the second book here in 2009. Amazon has it listed as coming out in April 2009 but the author's own blog tells of how he has isolated himself in a cabin to speed up the process of finishing the second book...that was as of last week so I doubt the April 2009 date. At any rate, whenever it does come out, I will have great difficulty in following my "no hardback purchases" policy and waiting for the paperback. It's that good!

I also finished another Deaver short story last night in the More Twisted collection. "Tunnel Girl" was a nice little story even though the twist came about half way through and was predictable once again. I was hopeful there might be a double twist as the protagonist's wife seemed to be figuring out the real mystery but she fell short of that so it was a bit of a let down.

Next up, a dependable author for me and my first Western of the year: Cherokee Trail by Louis L'Amour.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

All The Best

This morning, I completed my "morning reading" book, All The Best, George Bush. For those of you who have read my first couple of postings on this blog, you'll remember that I have one book that I read exclusively in the mornings before going to work. I read about half an hour per day on it and just keep going Monday through Friday. That's why it has taken me all the way from January 1st to today to get through this one.

This was a book that has been on my shelf for quite a few years. I received it as a Christmas present from my parents and I thought its format would suit my morning routine well. You see, it's a collection of letters and personal dictations from George H. W. Bush throughout his life. The book is divided into major sections that align with what he was doing at the time. It includes letters to his mom back when he voluntered to enter the US Navy after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and goes all the way up until the date of publication of the book, just prior to 9/11. It includes sections during his time as an oil man in Texas, as a congressman, as the Ambassador to the UN, as the Chairman of the RNC (during the Watergate era), as the Director of the CIA, as the US liaison to China, and of course as the Vice President to Ronald Reagan and ultimately as the US President.

I have not read very many political autobiographies, at least not of the modern era. I figure they are pretty much attempts to justify their own actions, show things from their point of view, etc. But since this was a collection of actual letters written at the time I think that phenomenan is lessoned. Overall, I was very happy to have read this was a far better experience than I was expecting. Afterall, George Bush, our 41st president is usually considered forgetable, despite Desert Storm. This is probably due to being only a one term president sandwiched between the personalities of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. It was fascinating, however, to see what his thoughts were regarding all of the events he participated in. He spent a lifetime at or near the top of huge events in this world and that fact can be easy to forget. I was struck by the very nature of the man. This book confirmed my impressions of him, showing him to be a compassionate man, who holds high ideals, who loves his family above all else, and who tends to give everybody, even his political foes, the benefit of the doubt. Of course an arguement can be made that only the letters that showed him in a positive light were included but there is just too much here to dispute the very nature of the man himself.

I'm not sure of my next pick for my morning reading program...I have plenty of books to chose from but I prefer to use this time for factual reading, not fiction. So we'll see...

Monday, February 9, 2009


This is a book that I can't believe has taken me so long to get around to reading! Carrie, by Stephen King is one of the classics of the horror genre and, indeed, was the one that really launched King's career. I haven't actually owned a copy of the book for very long and when I snagged a copy at the used book store, it quickly rose to the top of the "to-be-read" list (horror category).

I have to say that it was pretty much what I expected, at least plot-wise. This is early Stephen King, and I really like early Stephen King. The book was shorter than I had thought but it was told in a unique way (something I often find with King's works). We see the fairly straight forward plot unfold from a variety of viewpoints, from the protagonist's own eyes, from other characters as the events take place, but more uniquely, from the perspective of newspaper accounts, court testamony, and the autobiography of one of the major charcters in the novel. And all of these perspectives are interwoven to tell the tale. Sounds complicated but it all fits together nicely and keeps the reader turning pages.

The plot itself is a bit dated by today's standards of shock horror. The scenes we see are, indeed, shocking...horrifyingly so and yet for somebody like myself that has read lots of King as well as other horror seemed less shocking somehow. I have never seen the movie staring Sissy Spacek but I have seen pictures from it showing Carrie at the prom, covered in blood. I had visions of reading the book and being grossed out at how so much blood could come to be but it turns out it is cow's blood dropped on her as a prank. This novel is much less a gore fest novel than a novel of a bullied girl that finally has taken all she can take and get revenge. We hear of the destruction of the town, bit by bit but we "see" very little of it. Since this is Stephen King's first published novel, it is easy to compare it to his later works and see how he has grown as a writer.

I rounded out the weekend's reading with the next of the Deaver short stories in More Twisted. This one was called "Double Jeopardy" and was one of the best of the batch so far. I like courtroom drama anyway and they often incur "twists" in the plot so this story had a less contrived twist than the others. And when the twist was done, the story ended promptly. No need for explanations on what we just read. Very enjoyable.

Now that I was done with Carrie, I had a dilemma. Normally, I would read a genre that I haven't read in a while...I like to keep things stirred up by not reading too much of any one genre, style, author, etc. in too short a time span. So I was due to read a Western, a Young Adult, or a straight fiction book next. But since I had just read too fairly fast reads in a row I wanted something a bit longer...something into which I could sink my teeth. And I really really wanted to get to what is being talked about so much on all the fantasy forums I visit...the new sensation Patrick Rothfuss and his debut novel, The Name of the Wind. Boy it sure is starting out great and I'll be looking forward to my next blog entry when I can tell you how it worked out!

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Chairman

On the way into work this morning I completed the audio book, The Chairman by Stephen Frey. This was my first book by this author so far and I sufficiently enjoyed it so I will probably read more. At the same time, it was not so special that I feel the need to go out and aquire more of his work right now. I believe I had heard that Stephen Frey is to high finance thriller novels as John Grisham is to legal thrillers and that's pretty much what it was. But where most Grisham stories really captivate me and draw me in, this novel didn't quite live up to that standard.

The main character, Christian Gillette, is pretty well fleshed out, and I liked it that he is not without character flaws. The author does a good job in developing a story that includes a relatively complicated plot, filled with intrigue but his minor characters are mostly one dimensional. I did like the character of Quentin Stiles, the bodyguard, mostly because his background and motivation is fleshed out well. I hadn't realized it when I began listening to this audio book that it is the first of a projected series. That's good because the fate of several characters is not depicted, including Quentin Stiles. I also found it a bit difficult to suspend my disbelief when time and again, the corporate leadership resorted to murder as a way to garner power.

So overall, it was a good book, if not great and I'll definitely consider Stephen Frey for audio book options when I go to the library; but I don't think I'll add him to my home library.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Deadly Relations - Bester Ascendant

The second book in J. Gregory Keye's Babylon 5 Psi Corps trilogy, Deadly Relations - Bester Ascendant, was a marked improvement over the first. I think the first was necessary to provide the complete background to the Psi Corps itself but it involved a lengthy timeline, and multiple characters that all served to set up the story of Alfred Bester himself. And afterall, most readers of this trilogy will be fans of the TV series and Bester is who we want to read about.

The book itself was very nicely written. We get to see Bester from the age of six all the way up until his first visit to the Babylon 5 station. It effectively captures the essence of his younger life and the circumstances in which he grew up, leading us to understand how he evolved into the character on the TV show. It answers many questions on how he came to be so ruthless, how he came to allow himself to bend the rules to get things done, and, most importantly, how he came to be so prejudice against non-psi powered humans (homo sapiens vs homo supremes).

I do tend to like it when "villains" get to have their side of the story heard. Bester, in this book, is a sympathetic figure, more of an anti-hero than a villain. I've read some background on the book and it apparently ties in with other B5 novels and comic books just as well as the TV series. Of course, J. Michael Straczynski has fleshed out the history of his B5 universe far more than most other writers...far beyond what is even hinted at in the TV series. And since he provided the outline for this novel as well as approved the final version, it is no wonder this novel ties in so well. Between his care in building the universe of B5 and the superb writing of Mr Keyes, this book is a winner!

So I finished that book last night and I was able to complete another Deaver More Twisted short story this morning. Afraid was at first very predictable. When I got to what I thought was the "twist" I was thinking "Oh no," I can't believe this made it through the editors...but then I got to the actual twist. This time the twist was not in the suspense story itself (the predictable one) but in the fact that what was happening to the protagonist wasn't what she (and I) thought. It turned out to be a Lady or the Tiger ending, the reader not knowing what the protagonist decided. Those always frustrate me but my complaint on this one is more of the same I have had for other stories in this book...the twists are just a bit too contrived.

Next up...a long past due Carrie by Stephen King.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sweet Revenge

Another good weekend for catching up on my alternate reality lifestyle :) I was off work on Friday due to "SkiFest" a boondoggle excuse to take the day off whether you go skiing or not. I spent a lot of time catching up my World of Warcraft warrior to get her ready for the weekend's play, especially a really long dungeon crawl we had planned for Saturday. I also spent some game time on Fallout 3 as well as watching an episode of Stargate SG-1 (up to season 4 now) and about 7 episodes of BattleStar Gallactica (also season 4).

I completed my reading of Diane Mott Davidson's Sweet Revenge on Saturday. This is the 14th of her Culinary Mystery series featuring caterer Goldy Schulz. These books have sort of become an obligation for me, rather than ones I look forward to with baited breath. I will keep reading them I'm sure, because it's like catching up on what's happening with old friends. The actual mysteries are OK but seem to be getting a little repetitive. This time around it's the height of the Christmas season and so Goldy's catering business is packed with business. This serves to drive the hectic nature of the events that occur; actually now that I think about it, all of these books are "hectic" as Goldy struggles to juggle all that comes her way.

I have to say I am a little worried about the future of this series. It is hard for the plot to top previous plots anymore and so Goldy is starting to act more and more outrageously. In this novel she acts spontaeously quite a few times with very little fore thought and gets herself into so many dangerous situations that you have to wonder at her judgement. She breaks the law to get answers to her questions, even though she is married to a cop. And even he seems to be growing tired of the way she takes matters into her own hands all the time. The supporting characters were two dimensional and added little to the plot except to be in the right place at the right time in order for Goldy to become even more of a busy body. And the residents of Aspen Meadow, the Colorado town that is the centerpiece for all of the novels in the series, are as kooky as can be. So much so that realism suffers as well as credibility.

It may be time for Ms Davidson to retire this series and begin a new one.

I also read the next entry in the Deaver More Twisted collection. Interrogation involved a good cop interviewing a villain who turns the tables on him, ingratiating himself to the cop (as well as to the reader). I will follow my "no spoilers" policy and stop there only to say that once again, the twist at the end was predictable, probably because I knew there would be's in a "twisted" collection afterall. Had I read it alone or in some other kind of collection it might have worked better.

Next up, number two in J. Gregory Keyes' Babylon 5 Psi Corps trilogy, Deadly Relations, Bester Ascendent.

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