Books Read – 2016

I’ve been keeping track of the books I read for a long time now. The list over on my Books Read page is more or less up to date, but I’ve been… forgetful the last couple of years when it comes to making sure it’s always 100% accurate. For those curious readers, you can check out my Library Thing catalogue which is a much more accurate list, and includes books I own but haven’t yet read. Basically, it’s my own library catalogue (currently standing at 778 titles).

This year was a slow year for reading (and posting!) for me, mostly because I got married and then traveled for a good portion of the summer. Other than when I was on the plane, I didn’t read much. All in all, I’d say it was a particularly good trade-off!

# books read: 9
# pages read: 3425

These are books I read, generally, outside of school work. I don’t include textbooks or reading material I assign my students, for example.

For 2017, I expect that the numbers will be higher, as right now I don’t have any significant travel plans. That may change, but I have reasons to stay parked this year, which I’ll go into once I get a firm handle on a couple of deadlines.

Book Review: Reamde

steph-n_reamdeTitle: Reamde
Author: Neal Stephenson
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 1044

First Line: Richard kept his head down.

This book is a beast. What’s more, it’s a joyously ridiculous beast. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did Anathem (nor will it, I suspect, stick with me as long as the brilliantly mind-numbing Anathem), but it’s a surprisingly fast-paced read for such a huge book.

Most often, I thought of the book as a satire of the “big book” phenomenon that is sweeping though so many genres these days. For while the storylines are tightly woven, still they sprawl – not just from chapter to chapter, but also around the globe. The plot twists and turns are engrossing yet ridiculous, the characterizations enjoyable yet laughable. The story itself is a romp and seems to mock itself – mock not just what it is, but also what it isn’t.

Which isn’t what I was expecting at all, so it took me a good while to make the adjustment. I’m used to Stephenson’s ultra-intelligent examinations of social and technical constructs. Reamde, however, seems to be rooted in how ludicrous the whole thing is. The vast majority of characters are static stereotypes – tropes that are easily identifiable and, somewhat fascinatingly, just as easily relatable.

As usual, it takes about 200 pages for Stephenson to really get things moving, but when he does it’s virtually a non-stop game of cat and mouse as characters chase one another (or try to escape from one another) from the US to China to Canada and a host of other international locations. With several different (but closely related and/or intertwined) storylines going on at the same time, Stepehson has plenty to work with to keep the reader cruising along at a good clip. His handling of the pacing is one of the main strengths of the book.

The weakness, for me at any rate, is that this just isn’t that “smart” a story – not in the traditional Stephenson-sense, anyway. Even though I ended up reading it as a satire, I still couldn’t get past just how “stupid” it all felt – how the story just didn’t seem to work, how plot twists never felt quite honest, how character decisions and actions often didn’t feel quite justified.

At the end of the day, when I finally turned that 1044th page, I was glad to be shut of it. I didn’t want to read any more about these characters or their absurd situations. It’s a decent read, and I recommend it to fans of Stephenson, but I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who has never read him before.

What should I read next?

2013-02-06-IMG_1020I just started reading Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart. While I will read darn near anything Sanderson writes, my “To Read” list is so damn long it took me about 30 minutes to decide what I wanted to dive into last night. And, as the saying apparently goes, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

So next time, you decide for me. You can choose up to 2 books. Here are the choices:

[poll id=”8″]

Also pictured: Goofy – because he’s awesome.

Readings: Looking Forward and Back

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Looking Back…

2013 was a pretty good year for leisurely reading for me. While I didn’t read as much as I have in the past (23 books, 11,471 pages), I read some good stuff and discovered a couple of new (or new to me) authors to keep an eye on. Brent Weeks has me anxiously awaiting the 3rd book of his Prism series (not reviewed yet, but they are coming!), Daniel Suarez blew me away with Daemon, and I was very impressed with the beginning of first time author Michael Gallagher’s Lizzy Blaylock series. Also, LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program kept me busy with several good selections, with Gallagher’s Bridge of Dead Things and Patrick W. Carr’s A Cast of Stones being the standouts.

Also of note is that I finished up the re-read of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, capping it off with Sanderson’s fantastic 3 book conclusion. If you’ve been hesitant to finish it because of the new author, don’t be. Sanderson does the Jordan estate proud with his tying up of all the individual storylines. And let’s be honest… as much as I loved Jordan’s WoT, he wasn’t nearly as adept a writer as Sanderson is. These final books are pure Sanderson, as he doesn’t attempt to mimic Jordan’s writing style. He simply takes Jordan’s story and finishes it in the best way he knows how. And it’s worth it. Is it worth it to start from the beginning of the series, though? I can’t make that call. For me, absolutely. But I read a lot. If you only manage to read 3 or 4 or even 5 novels a year, it would take you 4 or 5 years to finish the series, and honestly I’d recommend you read something else.

meme-reading4Looking Forward…

One of the fun things I did in 2013 was build my Christmas tree out of books. I’ll be doing that again, for sure, but it also hammered home an important realization. See, I tell everyone to get me books for my birthday or Christmas, and most folks who give me books are careful about it. They either choose something off my Amazon Wish List or check out my LibraryThing catalogue to make sure I don’t already have a book that they are considering giving me. But even if I get a book I already have, that’s ok! Because I can always return it and – ta da! – I get a new book I don’t have! I’m like – the easiest person to shop for ever.

The down side of this is that I currently have over 50 books I have received as gifts that I haven’t read yet. Embarrassingly, some were given to me over a decade ago. And while my goal this year isn’t to read all of those books, I do plan on making that the focus of my leisure reading this year. I won’t list them all, but here’s a short selection of a few books at the top of my reading list for 2014:

Doctor Sleep – Stephen King
Far and Away – Neil Peart
Reamde – Neal Stephenson
Steelheart – Brandon Sanderson
Dreamsongs (I and II) – George R.R. Martin
The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing – Melissa Holbrook Pierson
Long Way Round & Long Way Down – Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman
Jupiter’s Travels – Ted Simon

Additionally, I have the following queued up from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program:

Hitter – Daryn R. Guarino
Out of the Mountains – David Kilcullen
I Am Currency – Whitney L. Grady
The Angels of Resistance – David V. Mammina
Everyday Writing Tips – Midge Raymond

Lastly, there are the book series I am enmeshed in that may or may not provide me with a book that puts everything else on hold. Writer’s guilty of monopolizing my leisure reading time:

Patrick Rothfuss
George R.R. Martin
Brandon Sanderson
Brent Weeks

Yeah, I’ll read basically everything they write, but whenever the next book comes out in their respective series, I’ll have to go out and stock up on food and water before I start reading.

So there’s a bunch of pages on my plate, which makes me happy.  What’s on your reading list? Anything you are simply dying to get your hands on?

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The Scarab Heart by Michael Gallagher

gallagher_tshTitle: The Scarab Heart
Author: Michael Gallagher
Publisher: Seventh Rainbow Publishing
Format: e-book (Kindle)
Pages: 250

First Line: “Lizzy, have you any news of Albert?”

The Scarab Heart is the 2nd book in Michael Gallagher’s Lizzy Blaylock series (I discussed the first book, The Bridge of Dead Things, here). There’s a lot to admire with this book, but it ultimately fell a bit short of the first book for my taste.

Things I liked:

The amount of research Gallagher incorporated is impressive. The Scarab Heart is a very nice blend of ancient Egyptian history/mythology and Victorian era culture. At times I thought it was a bit forced, but overall it was extremely well done and quite compelling. The setting of the novel is an Egyptian archeological dig where, thanks to Lizzie’s paranormal talent, an investigation of the murder of one of the dig workers overlaps with an ancient Egyptian murder mystery. I especially enjoyed how Gallagher used Egyptian history and mythology to suit the needs of his plot. I’m no scholar on ancient Egypt, but I knew enough going in that I was very impressed.

Things that didn’t quite work for me:

Lizzy seems to have lost a bit of her sassiness from the first book, and I think that’s a shame. Instead, she comes across as a bit more petulant and selfish as opposed to the self-confident, mouthy little girl from The Bridge of Dead Things. I never quite got 100% behind her in this one – I was never quite on her side. More importantly, the climax of the novel is telegraphed by this change in characterization in the opening pages of the novel, which left the end extremely predictable and, ultimately, flat.

I also found the narrative style of the novel problematic at times. The vast majority of the narrative is people sitting around telling stories about things that happened to them. The stories themselves are involved and active, but I found it difficult to get past the fact that most of the time this is a story about people telling stories. I found myself not knowing what or whom the narrative was actually focused on and not really caring about the storytellers. In the end, the multiple stories did come together, but they seemed to fight each other every step of the way until the final pages.

Overall:

The Scarab Heart is a good book. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first in the series, in the end I did enjoy it.