Khadaji's Whatcha Readin' - February 2014

Yes, it strikes me that thinking this is about my “feelings” sums up well what your problem with the book was…listen, you didn’t like it, and that’s fine. But that doesn’t make it necessarily a bad book, just a book you didn’t like. Your “technical” complaints, as I noted, are strikingly besides the point both of the book as a whole and of the chapter you complained about. But evidently that’s not something you want to talk about…

Chefguy, I do sympathize; it is at times a bit dry, though I suppose that that’s more a matter of taste–I found it quite engaging overall, but I’m not going to suggest everybody must.

On a more positive note, I’m currently re-reading Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, right now on First Among Sequels. Good books, thought on the re-read his “fun” what if books were real jokes fall a bit flat. But the plots are weird and still work anyway, so that’s a plus.

I’m also re-reading Bob Fingerman’s Pariah, which I would still say is the best zombie novel bar non–brilliant setting, excellent conflict, perfect use of zombies as a perpetual menace without letting their conceptual dullness become a problem.

And finally, as far as non-re-reads are concerned, there’s Jonathan Lethem’s latest, Dissident Gardens. I’ll probably not become a fan of Lethem’s, but the plot has me intrigued for now…

I have recently – well, semi-read – The Abominable. The first time I’ve come across Dan Simmons (I’m not in the US – possibly his books are less well-known elsewhere in the world.) I in fact started a thread on the subject, elsewhere in “Cafe Society”.

Overall, I wasn’t very impressed. In part, owing to my lack of interest in climbing – whereby for me, the vast amount of minutiae on that subject was very tedious. And the whole business with the eponymous “Abominable” and the way it was ultimately used, seemed to me very implausible.

I’m relatively new to SDMB, and don’t know how to operate the “spoiler” device; but I don’t think what I’m about to write, is likely to do any spoiling – it being about very “minority” interests, not to do with the book’s main thrust. I have a weakness for cryptozoology-type stuff, which most people regard as beyond silly – the title and the setting led me to hope for yetis to feature first-hand in the novel: basically, though referred to from time to time, they don’t.

And I noticed various greater and lesser flaws – not just of writing style – including a couple of flagrant informational inaccuracies. The worst such for me, shows up when the protagonists are making a brief trip into Germany in 1924. Simmons writes: “…at that time railroad stock ran on different-gauge rails in Germany than in all the surrounding countries. This was a defensive military measure on the part of Germany’s neighbours, of course, even though [Germany] had been defanged by the Versailles Treaty.” As I railfan, I can state for certain that this is total balderdash. All Europe’s rail systems, except for those in Russia, Finland, Iberia, and Ireland, have always been the same four-feet-eight-and-a-half-inches standard gauge, as obtains in North America. (Russia has used from the first, a slightly broader gauge, with the idea of making invasion more difficult – a ploy which basically does not work.) Perhaps Simmons has some arcane reason for having his supposed first-person narrator make this mistaken statement; otherwise, though, it is to be reckoned that about European railway gauges, he hasn’t a clue – which causes me to wonder how much of his blather about climbing (a subject re which I know nothing) might be similarly in error.

With the current upheaval in the Ukraine, I coincidentally just finished The Child Thief by Dan Smith, which is set there.

It’s the 1930s, after the war, and villagers are still losing everything they have now to the “requisition”, but they don’t expect a child to be taken—as food?
One man and his sons hunt the frigid steppes in search of a child, their country, and something to believe in.

(I wrote that. Sounds like a blurb, huh.)

No, I’m just not going to be a part of you turning this thread into your personal validation campaign. Bottom line you liked it, I didn’t and I know I am not the only person who didn’t. Now this is truly the last I’m going to say on the subject.
AS I noted earlier, I am reading Billy Straight by Jonathon Kellerman. SInce it was written back in 1998 (and has been on my to read shelf since then:smack: ) it’s so much less complex than some of his more recent stuff where he went down the rabbithole of “let’s impress the reader with how convoluted I can make this plot.” This is the Kellerman writing that I love the most.

That’s awhile after WWI - or did you mean before WWII?

BTW, I’ve started a thread as to Amazon’s 100 books to read in a lifetime: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=716532

I thought the book did a reasonably good job of answering the question “why did Europe-Eurasia-East Asia - essentially people on the European and Asian continents and/or with easy access to them - do better than Africans, Americans, or Australians over the past few millenia”.

It did not do a good job of explaining “why did Europeans, and Western Europeans specifically, set sail and dominate the globe over the past few centuries - including dominating other folks, such as the Chinese, who benefitted just as much as they from the environmental factors identified”. For that, one has to turn to “great men, politics, war”.

In short, it can explain why Spaniards had steel and Incas did not, but not why steel-carrying Spaniards were invading Incas rather than (say) steel-carrying Chinese.

After WWI, when the Imperial Army became the Red Army. Part of their history is that there has been no true peace (or chance for recovery), just continual sacrifice and fear.

Finished The Servants by Michael Marshall Smith. Although not marked as a YA book, I think it is one. The protagonist is eleven years old and there’s nothing here an eleven year old shouldn’t read. A nice moody supernatural story. Based on this, I’m going to look for adult books by this author.

Next up: Hollow City, second in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs. Weird, to say the least. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get into it because it’s been some time since reading the first, but I’m already having a great time with it.

An interesting thing my library is doing. I was about 9th in line for Hollow City, out of 24 other patrons who have it on hold. However, I was standing in line at the library to pick up something else, and I glanced aside and saw it on a display! I grabbed it up, and it has a sticker on it which reads: “Congratulations, you have found a Sizzler title! You may check this book out for fourteen days, no renewals. A late Sizzler book will block your account.”
I checked online and my library system has only five copies of this book. I’m not sure how I feel about this, although it worked in my favor this time. It seems that if you place a hold on material well in advance, your request should have priority. On the other hand, maybe fast-tracking it like this gets it to the most people in the least amount of time. Does your library do this?

I read several books over the past couple of weeks. My book club is discussing “Killing Lincoln” this month. It was all right, but there was a lot I didn’t like about it. It seemed to be going for the “gotcha” factor, while skimping on the facts a little. I liked “Killing Kennedy” much better.

I read two YA books, “Feed,” by M.T. Anderson," and “Stargirl,” by Jerry Spinelli. “Feed” is set sometime in the future, when people have computer chips implanted in their brains (called “feeds”). They can shop, look up information, and chat with one another. It definitely has some hard-hitting subject matter, but isn’t overly serious; in fact, I felt like it was poking fun at itself and other books like it at times, which was great. I really enjoyed it. “Stargirl” was fine, but went drastically downhill at the end, I thought. I just wasn’t buying the impact Stargirl supposedly had on the school and town.

On Saturday, I re-read “The Giver,” which I haven’t read since it first came out (I was in high school). I liked it even better than I remembered, and now plan to read the rest in the series.

I started “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” but was feeling pretty disgusted pretty early in, and decided to put it down. Instead, I’m reading “Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark,” and “The Light Between Oceans.”

We must stop Bill O’Reilly before he kills again!

I forgot to mention that I also read The Essential Guide to Being Polish by Anna Spysz and Marta Turek. Being of POlish descent, I had to read this. Polish history is taught very badly in schools in this country* and Polish culture is not well covered. Most books on Polish history are stultifyingly boring. So I had high hopes.
The book is good, but not satisfying. There’s not enough Polish history, and a book with a title like this needs more wit. But it has a foreword by Lech Walesa (!), and it covers all areas of culture, giving a pretty good broad overview.
*Yes, they do teach a bit , for instance, in the Polish community parochial school I attended, as did my parent’s generation. They basically had to memorize the names of Polish kings, aided by pictures that had less connection with those names than the pictures of our Founding Fathers do. We didn’t have to go through that, but didn’t get an awful lot of background. For a painless feel of Polish History, read James Michener’s Poland, but keep in mind that the book really is fiction.

Too late! Now he’s gone and killed Jesus!

Hm - interesting idea - I wonder if maybe just 1 or 2 copies of the book are “Sizzlers” and the rest go thru the regular hold queue - would require more management on the library part; but, as you say, get the book out to more people in less time. I’m “cheating” a bit as I have Hollow City on hold via my local library as well as the Indiana Digital Media website -whereever I get it from first, I’ll go ahead & cancel the other hold.

Backing up a bit, I bought Up Jumps the Devil by Michael Poore when it was on a Kindle Deal, thanks to **Tapiotar’s ** recommendation in the “Top 10 Books of 2013” thread.

Poore writes a very engaging & imaginative story about John Scratch, aka The Devil - taking familiar elements (fallen angel, makes deals for human souls) and weaving them into a darkly funny narrative that jumps back and forth between not-quite present day & historical touchpoints.

Attempting to lure the love of his left back to Earth (both fallen angels, she rejects the violence of early Earth & returns to heaven) - John helps raise Egyptian and Roman empires - but his greatest success starts once the Pilgrims make it to the New World. A good portion of the story is spent with musicians - in particular a 1960’s jam band that he assists in their rise to fame (not the Dead - a fictional group whose name escapes me at the moment). After introducing these characters, the story focuses in on John’s involvement with their lives and changes direction; I liked this storyline well enough, but kind of wish Poore had kept going with the historical touchpoints instead.

I found myself highlighting a lot of phrases along the way - not just the humorous stuff (“Great civilizations boasted the weirdest entertainment. This was and always would be true.”) but some more philosophical thoughts as well:
“This is Good,” said God, more pleased than ever. It was a strange idea, “Good.” Lucifer frowned. If this or that, from now on, was “Good,” then by implication there were things that were not. “Life” was the most complicated part of the Plan.” It reminds me a bit of Heinlein’s Job: A Comedy of Justice, in how the relationship between God and the Devil is portrayed as being more sympathetic to the Devil.

I’m not sure this will make my Top 10 of 2014 list, but I did really enjoy the story and plan on not only seeing what else Poore comes up with (as this was an impressive first novel!) but also revisiting this book in the future.

I really liked the first book in this series, but the “Book World” idea just didn’t work for me. Thursday’s own world is strange enough so that you don’t need the weird and oh so very twee book world. On the other hand, I really enjoyed “Shades of Grey” which is an equally weird world with it’s own extremely odd logic.

My annual New Year’s resolution to make more time for reading has once again failed to be realized, same as every year. But still I finished Cat Chaser, by Elmore Leonard. It’s 1981, and an ex-US Marine who took part in the 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic and is a now a motel owner in South Florida returns to Santo Domingo to look for the female sniper he chased across rooftops. While there, he gets involved with an American lady he almost got involved with back in Florida. Hijinks ensue. A good read.

Next up is another Leonard: LaBrava.

Ah, I see. Thanks.

My library doesn’t have a “Sizzler” program. Although it’s kind of an interesting idea, I agree with you - if you reserve a book, you should get first dibs.

Caveat emptor as to any O’Reilly “history”: http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/bill-oreillys-lincoln-book-banned-from-fords-theatre-because-of-mistakes/2011/11/11/gIQAhJpyFN_story.html

Although I haven’t read them, I’ve heard from history-loving friends that Manhunt by James L. Swanson and Blood on the Moon by Edward Steers Jr. are much better books on the Lincoln assassination.

I will endorse Manhunt. It’s very well done. I was on the edge of my seat even though the outcome is something we all know in advance.

Seconded. It does a good job of portraying the shock of the first Presidential assassination and the mayhem that ensued.

I read Of Mice and Men over the weekend. Somehow I had gotten to my present age knowing nothing about this book. I liked it okay, but it feels like it could have been a few chapters of The Grapes of Wrath.

I didn’t know that this novel was being parodied by the Warner Bros. cartoons: “Which way did he go, George, which way did he go?” and “I will name him George, and I will hug him, and pet him, and squeeze him.” Actually Wikipedia lists a bunch of popular culture references to this book that I’ve been missing for years.
I read Michael Chabon’s collection of autobiographical essays, Manhood for Amateurs. There’s nothing extraordinary about the book except the writing, but I liked it just for that. My favorite pieces were the ones on fatherhood (he has four kids), particularly the one about “the low standard to which fathers are held (with the concomitant minimal effort required to exceed the standard and win the sobriquet of ‘good dad’”. Chabon says that once he was merely standing in the grocery store checkout line holding his rather grubby toddler when the woman behind him in line complimented him on being a good father. He muses: “I don’t know what a woman needs to do do impel a perfect stranger to inform her in the grocery store that she is a really good mom.”
And I finished C.J Cherryh’s Regenesis. I liked it, but it’s an odd, rambling book, and not entirely satisfying. It plays out the fantasy of having personal power great enough to have absolute control over a piece of the world; to make that piece into a paradise; to pull in and protect and reward the people you love while excluding those you don’t. Nobody seems to object to this claustrophobic gathering and sheltering, but then this seems to be a universe with a disturbing lack of expectation of personal freedom. I’m not sure if I’m more creeped out by the “azi” - humans genetically designed for specific kinds of work and literally brainwashed throughout their lives to keep them stable and performing - or the cloned humans who are systematically raised as duplicates of their predecessors.

Creeped out… I had to stop reading her stuff in that Universe because the whole concept of non human humans made my skin crawl.

I finished Billy Straight by Jonathon Kellerman. Overall I liked it, it’s definitely one of his best though the multiple POVs got kind of annoying and distracting as the book got closer to the conclusion. I felt it really dragged a lot of the non action out and flattened the concluding attack. Still though, I recommend it.

Started Concrete Blond by Michael Connelly this morning. Nice surprise in the first dozen pages and a good hook to keep the reader interested.

Whoever was reading the Harry Bosch books last year around this time, thanks for bringing them to my attention.