yendi: (Brain)
Only five books in 2.5 weeks? Yep. A combination of work, a few false starts on books that weren't worth the effort, and lots of time spent reading comics (the entire V2 run of The Flash -- from Baron to Messner-Loebs to Waid to Morrison to Johns -- and the first fifty issues of Garth Ennis's Punisher run under the Max imprint).

As for the actual books that I read, there were a lot of sequels:

98. Axis, by Robert Charles Wilson. A year-and-a-half ago, I raved about Spin. Axis, the sequel, isn't as good, but there's no way it ever had a chance to be. Wilson hit on every cylinder in the first novel, and comparing anything to it is just unfair. On its own, Axis still tells a very nifty follow-up story (one I won't detail extensively here, for those who haven't read the first book), introducing a new cast of characters dealing with the world years after the ending of the first story. We get some great world building and explorations of a not-quite-alien world, and (as always) some masterful character development. Highly recommended, but read Spin first.

(Also, if there's a third book in the series, it should be called Allies. Just because.)

99. Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch. The follow-up to The Lies of Locke Lamora (reviewed here) has all the advantages of the first one (swashbuckling, great characters, nasty happenings), while showing a much more mature sense of plot and pacing. This time, the Gentlemen Bastards really are trying an Ocean's Eleven-style casino heist, but in this fantasy world, there are so many things that can -- and do -- go wrong. This includes Locke and Jean getting forced to foment a pirate revolution, a plotline that dominates the second half of the story. If I have one small complaint about this sequel, it's that Jean is rapidly becoming a much more interesting character than Locke, even as the latter remains the nominal focus. It's a minor quibble. I truly cannot wait to see the third novel. Highly recommended (but again, read the first book to start with).

100. Dexter in the Dark, by Jeff Lindsay. The third Dexter novel has a fascinating hook -- Dexter losing his "Dark Passenger," the not-quite-alternate-personality that informs his more grisly actions-- but fails to deliver a good follow-up, as Lindsay sends the novel into a supernatural plotline that he really doesn't have the chops to handle. That said, the continued development of Dexter's relationship with Cody and Astor (his stepchildren-to-be), Dexter's wonderfully cynical comments about Miami, and the subplot involving the preparations for Dexter's wedding are are still enjoyable. Here's hoping the fourth book keeps things on track. Mildly recommended for fans of the series.

101. Up in Honey's Room, by Elmore Leonard. I snagged this off the Express shelf at the library, figuring that I'd finally get out of my unintentional rut of sequels. Imagine my surprise when I learned that it was a follow-up to The Hot Kid (which I thought I reviewed here a couple of years back, but I can't find any record of it). Up in Honey's Room tells a WWII-era domestic spy story, with the usual zaniness that you'd expect from Leonard. That said, it's weak as a sequel, with Carlos simply being one of many assorted goofballs running around. The only characters who stand out here are Vera, the reluctant and sexually predatory head of a spy ring, and the titular Honey, ex-wife of a wannabe-assassin. Honey is a seductive and sexual while still maintaining a believable air of innocence. Some of the wackiness is still wonderful -- Vera's crossdressing and murderous lover, the German POW/escapee who falls for a Nice Jewish Girl, etc -- but this book doesn't showcase Leonard at his top form. Mildly recommended.

102 A Companion to Wolves, by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette. On the one hand, Bear and Monette tell a superb high fantasy story about wolves and animals bonding that nicely cuts through many of the cliches of that genre (and throws in a damned fine story at the same time). On the other, every character has an impossible-to-pronounce Germanic name, and some have two (since a standard cliche of the genre being subverted here involves the act of companionship leading to a new identity). This leads to characters named Hrolleif, Grimolfr, and Viradechtis. I know this doesn't bother some people -- this is an issue purely on my head as a reader -- but dealing with lots of Germanic names frustrates me to no end (especially in a high fantasy setting in which they're not strictly necessary). Still, there's lots of good stuff here, including trolls, wyverns, battles, death, and lots and lots of sex. Note that much of the sex is rape, and while it's deconstructing a convention, that doesn't necessarily make it less triggery. Recommended unless naming conventions annoy you and if you can handle some of the nastier elements.
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91. No Beast so Fierce, by Edward Bunker. Bunker -- an ex-con (who shared prison time with Danny Trejo) -- wrote one of the first crime novels that really got into the head of a career felon. You can see the influence on, say, Brian Azzarello or Andrew Vachss here, with a stark look at an ex-con attempting to adjust to life in '70s California. Highly recommended.

92. Seven Touches of Music: A Mosiac Novel, by Zoran Zivkovic. This collection of seven stories (all with some musical element, not surprisingly) is simple and haunting. The collection is very short (expect to read it in one sitting -- I did so on a bus trip into Harvard Square), but each story is its own little work of beauty, with only a fleeting meeting of the disparate elements in the final tale. It's a quick read, but one that will stay with you for a while. Highly recommended.

93. Splinter, by Adam Roberts. This isn't as good as Gradisil or Switfly, but Roberts still spins a good tale. In this case, he presents a world in which Jules Verne's novel Off on a Comet was not a work of fiction, but a prediction of a catastrophe that would hit the earth today. It throws in a character with some severe family issues, a modern cult, and other fun stuff. It is hampered by some very awkward moments in which Roberts drops the trans-Atlantic dialogue ball (at one point having the American male lead apologize to his girlfriend for his having acted like "a cunt"), and, at times, seems to obsess over its own (admittedly intriguing) narrative structure a little too much. Still, the concept alone was enough to hook me, and "lesser" Roberts is still very worth reading. Recommended.

94. Terminal, by Andrew Vachss. If you know me, you know how much I adore the Burke novels. This is more of the same, although I do think it's a step down from the previous few. We get a mostly-straightforward plot in which the gang needs to extort money from some folks who did some very bad things years ago, and most of the book is just the gang figuring out how to do so. We do get some great scenes with Terry (finally!), and more of Burke's wonderful political rants, but (even with a very tense ending), this one just didn't have the impact of the last few. As with this entire series, Vachss does a great job of filling in relevant details from past books, but I do think that this series is best approached from the beginning. Recommended.

95. Promises to Keep, by Charles de Lint. This made one hell of a follow-up to Terminal. Vachss and de Lint both address similar themes (you choose your own family; children can and often do get hurt by those who should protect them, etc), but approach things very differently. Promises to Keep, telling the early story of Jilly, gets a lot more stark than de Lint normally does (in fact, it gets positively Vachssian at times), but is, at its core, a story of hope. It's also a damned fine jumping-on point for new readers, as most of the story is set before any of de Lint's novels (or any of the stories other than "In the House of My Enemy," with which it overlaps). We see Jilly's first meetings with Wendy, Sophie, and Geordie, which is worth it by itself. But we also get a great look into how Jilly evolved into the person we know and love today. Highly recommended.

96. The Hazards of Space Travel: A Tourist's Guide, by Neil Comins. This is a quick and fun non-fiction read, noting (without malice) many of the flaws in contemporary fictional looks at space travel. Comins addresses radiation, atmospheric issues, volcanic activity, and even social issues that would affect any space flight. Any writer planning on focusing on space travel should have a copy of this book on hand, and anyone with any sort of interest in space flight will find this a fascinating little book. Highly Recommended.

97. The Servants, by Michael Marshall Smith. Smith (writing under his full name!) serves up a nice (if a little tame) book of weirdness. Mark, an eleven-year-old, is dealing with the facts that his mom is sick and possibly dying, his dad hasn't seen him much since the divorce, and his step-dad seems to be getting in the way of everything he wants to do. When his downstairs neighbor shows him the old servant quarters hidden in their house, he stumble upon a world of magic, but one he doesn't fully grasp (aside: I literally read this one right after reading the short story "The Princess, the Page, and the Master Cook's Son," by [livejournal.com profile] sartorias, another tale that focuses around servant quarters; pure, but amusing, coincidence). It's not as weird as some of Smith's works, but it's still a very nice read, with some wonderful imagery. Highly Recommended.
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90. Making Money, by Terry Prachett. Awesome. I'd thought it was a bit soon to revisit Moist (since he was the lead just two books ago, not counting the YA Tiffany books), but this book works brilliantly. From the Patrician solving sudoku in his head in under twenty seconds to the final, brilliant fate of the book's villain, there's not a wrong moment in this book. We even get, for the first time in ages, actual chapters! Plotwise, this is Terry's take on banking, economics, the gold standard, and other fun topics, with digressions into Golem rights (we also witness a female golem for the first time), ancient history (had the civilization of Um been mentioned before in the Discworld books? The very idea of it had me giggling), and those rich folk who leave untold millions to their dogs. We also get yet another Igor, the real name of C.M.O.T. Dibbler, some nice cameos by assorted Guards, and lots of laughs. Highest recommendation.
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Sigh. I'm sure I'm missing something, and I know I keep vowing to not go two weeks and change without updating this list. If I remember what else I read, I'll add it later. Then again, these are four of the better books I've read this year (and that's in an already-good year for book reading), so something else might easily have slipped through the cracks. I've also read a bunch of graphic novels and magazines over the last few weeks, which might account for all the gaps I have when I'd swear I'd read something.

86. Brasyl, by Ian McDonald. I confess: For years, I avoided McDonald, because I'd see his books on the shelf, get momentarily excited that Ian McDowell had released a new novel, and then put down the McDonald book once I'd realized my mistake. My real mistake, of course, was in not examining the book I'd held in my hands, if Brasyl is any indication. Brasyl is simply an amazing book, one I'd fully expect to see join Bull's Territory on the Hugo shortlist next year. We get three alternating narratives, telling the stories of a contemporary Brazilian TV producer, a near-future street thief, and an 18th-century Irish Jesuit missionary. Each of them eventually gets drawn into a conspiracy involving quantum physics and the death of the universe itself. It's an absolutely riveting book, full of wonderful characters and big ideas that never get in the way of good storytelling. Highly recommended.

87. 'Til Death, by Ed McBain. McBain does a nice job of shifting gears here. By this, the ninth 87th Precinct novel, he might have felt a little jaded, so he relegates the police procedural portion of the story to almost a c-plot, with Meyer leading that portion of the investigation. The core of the plot is almost a garden cozy, with Carella, Kling, and Hawes attending the weeding of Carella's sister and attempting to figure out who's trying to kill the groom without disrupting anything. It's a cute twist on both McBain's characters and the classic genre. Recommended.

88. One for Sorrow, by Christopher Barzak. I got this when La Gringa, over at The Swivet (which any fan of genre lit should really have on their RSS reader), offered free copies to the first five or so commenters. Since I'm a complete whore for free shit l appreciate saving money on books, I snapped it up, and I wasn't disappointed. Barzak's tale focuses on the murder of a teenage boy, and the affect that his ghost has on two other teens: the girl who found the body, and the boy who was his closest friend. The book is beautifully written, dealing with multiple losses and tragedies and their aftermaths without ever getting twee or maudlin. There are some "first novel" cliche moments, such as the four millionth instance of a character reading and disliking Catcher in the Rye, but they tend to be the exception. Barzak's debut novel is a hell of a start to a career, and a quiet, lovely read. Highly Recommended.

89. The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. The blurbs on this one tend to cite Ocean's Eleven, but Brust's Dragera novels (along with the luck of Westlake's Dortmunder) are probably a better analogy. Lynch creates a world of swashbuckling thieves, ancient (and not fully comprehended) magic, and nasty, brutal politics. Locke Lamora is a young thief heading the gang known as the Gentleman Bastards, robbing from the richest folks in society and hoarding their wealth. Through a mix of flashbacks and present-day events (well, within the context of an alternate world) we get some great world building, some wonderful capers, and a lot of nasty, horrible deaths, often suffered by nice characters. At least one such dead involved a character created solely to die and make us (and some of the characters) upset, but for the most part, the plot moves along smoothly without cheating. Although entirely different in tone and scope than One For Sorrow, this is also one hell of a good debut novel. The tone -- alternately flip and dark -- might frustrate some, as will some of the overdone seeds for future books. Still, it's a fun, engaging read, with some wonderful characters and nice twistss. We've already requested the sequel
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81. Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany, by Bill Buford. The idea behind this book: Buford, a successful writer and editor for the New Yorker, decides to quit his day job and work in Mario Batali's restaurant Babbo. HIs experiences, both in the kitchen and in Italy (he travels there to learn the arts of pasta making and charcuterie) are entertaining and engaging, even if it's hard, as a reader, to view the entire journey as something that anyone but a dilettante could afford to undertake. Buford combines tales of the kitchen with biographical looks at many of the cast of characters. It's a fascinating book for anyone with a love of food or restaurants, and Buford is every bit as talented a writer as Batali is a chef*. Highly recommended.

82. The Worst Team Money Could Buy: The Collapse of the New York Mets, by Bob Klapisch and John Harper. Although this book is primarily a chronicle of the debacle that was the 1992 Mets, it casts its net as far back as 1986, and is very much a history of the assorted peccadilloes of the team as a whole. Ron Darling and David Cone participating in foursomes? You got it. Kevin Elster scoring with an opposing player's girlfriend in the middle of a game? Check. Jeff Kent throwing a tantrum when he undergoes the traditional rookie hazing (even having witnessed Ryan Thompson undergo the same treatment)? It's in there. Jeff Torborg showing the worst managerial instincts in baseball history? Yep. "Born-Again" Tom Herr sexually harassing female reporters? Sure. It goes on and on. In the hands of lesser writers, this would be nothing more than a tell-all cheapie. But Klapisch and Harper do a masterful job of making most of the characters human, and of bringing us behind the scenes not only of a crippled baseball organization (Mcilvane, Cashen, and Harazin are every bit at fault for most of what goes on), but of the relationship between baseball journalists and the game they cover. Highly recommended for any baseball fan.

83. Undertow, by Elizabeth Bear. Bear is a sneaky author. This book (which takes about twenty pages to really get going for me) starts out innocuously enough, appearing to be your standard Oppressed Alien Race Adventure Novel, with a little magic tossed into the sci-fi mix. But then she sneaks off and brings quantum physics into the mix, and throws some alien biology and sociology into the mix that catches me completely off-guard (and, for the first time in a long, long time, actually makes me want more POV from an alien race). The characters themselves aren't quite as engaging as in Bear's other novels (they start as archetypes, but they never evolve enough past that stage for me to really care who lives and who dies), but the plot and world-building here are more than enough to keep me going. Highly recommended.

84. Cold Caller, by Jason Starr. The publicity folks must have had it in for Starr, tossing comparisons to both Jim Thompson and Patricia Highsmith onto the cover. That's a but like comparing a new playwright to Ibsen and Marlowe, and expecting audiences to like him. In fairness, Starr is clearly influenced by both authors, although Bret Easton Ellis seems to be the primary source. Cold Caller follows Bill Moss, a former ad exec, in his down-on-his luck days as a telemarketer. He's not quite a full sociopath or psychopath, but has elements of both, and eventually gets caught up in a heat-of-the-moment murder. The book is certain fun, but the pacing suffers a lot, and the characters just never pull me in. Still, it's a good plane (one coast only -- you'll need a bigger book if you're traveling cross-country) or beach read. Mildly recommended.

85. The Intruders, by Michael Marshall (Smith). Short review: It's a novel by Michael Marshall Smith, and therefore good. Longer review: As with the previous books Smith published under his semi-pseudonymous "Michael Marshall" name, this isn't a tenth as good as any of his actual sci-fi works, but is still better than 99% of the similar works on the shelves. Once again, we've got an ordinary man sucked into a conspiracy that dates back centuries, but there's a more overt supernatural element throughout. The characters are all engaging, and the plot itself is tight. There's an unfortunate slight overlap with the mythology of 100 Bullets, something not helped by the presence of an enforcer named Shepherd, but there's more than enough divergence here to make that a minor issue. Less minor, of course, is the fact that even the best conspiracy thrillers (and this is one of those) are slumming compared to works like Only Forward and Spares. Highly Recommended, but still disappointing.

*Having eaten at Babbo years ago, I can safely say that this is NOT a backhanded complement. Batali is a superb chef.
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78. The Lady Killer, by Ed McBain. McBain slammed out this entire novel in a nine-day period at a Martha's Vineyard vacation house. One draft. And, although it only follows one plotline (instead of McBain's usual A and B plots), it's as good as anything else he's written. That asshole. As far as plot goes, the cops at the Precinct are racing against time (like McBain himself) after receiving a note threatening to kill "the lady" at 8 that night. We get lots of false leads, and the reader will solve the identity of the victim well before the cops do, but it's still a fun and quick read, with the usual snappy dialogue. Recommended.

79. Dearly Devoted Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay. The second Dexter book is just as good as the first. Dexter is forced to hide his "hobby" to avoid the attention of his nemesis, Doakes, and eventually gets sucked into a case involving ex-CIA spooks. This, in turn, spirals into ghastliness (the tortures perpetrated by the villain are amongst the nastiest I've ever read about), and comedy (the twists Dexter's romantic life take are wonderful). Again, the Miami police department comes across as a gang of morons, but it's not like they ever exactly had a stellar reputation. We do see one cop, finally, do something impressive near the end of the book, so they're looking better than they did in the first novel. Overall, a quick and gruesome read. Highly recommended, but read the first novel for starters.

80. Portable Childhoods, by Ellen Klages. Wow. I'd only read one Klages story to date ("Triangle," probably the weakest story in the collection), and hadn't known what to expect, really. But it was there at the library, and had an intro by Neil Gaiman, so I figured I'd give it a shot. That one story aside, there isn't a story here I don't adore. Some are slight ("Ringing Up Baby," a cute look at the ability to preselect genetic traits in children, and "Intelligent Design," reinterpreting God as a pre-teen), but most are touching. "Basement Magic," a Nebula-winner in 2005, and "Green Glass Sea," which was expanded into Klages's first novel, are probably the best-known, but I'm partial to "A Taste of Summer," a beautiful tale of magic and ice cream. The titular story (one of a handful of tales first seeing print in this volume) is probably my personal favorite, and will likely me a favorite of any parent. I just can't speak highly enough of this volume. Highest recommendation.
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75. Crooked Little Vein, by Warren Ellis. This book starts out with Godzilla bukkake, and only gets more fucked up as the plot progresses. That plot, incidentally, is a search across America for the Lost Secret Constitution of the US, which will keep everyone in line. Along the way, down-and-out detective Michael McGill encounters the royally-fucked underbelly of America, featuring serial killers, cultists, businessmen (in ascending order of evil), and lots of sex and violence. We also get conspiracies, humor, and a heroin-addicted White House Chief of Staff. Highly recommended. Also recommended: Whatever drugs Ellis takes.

76. Your Movie Sucks, by Roger Ebert. This compendium of Ebert's negative reviews takes its title from his famous slam on Rob Schneider. Like many critics, Ebert is at his best when he's slamming a deserving target, and this book, which takes on such worthless wastes of time as Chaos, A Cinderella Story, Christmas with the Kranks, and Failure to Launch, is full of witty insults and Ebert's usually-sharp analysis. He does drop the ball at times, most notably with Josie and the Pussycats ("The movie is a would-be comedy about prefab bands and commercial sponsorship, which may mean that the movie's own plugs for Coke, Target, Starbucks, Motorola and Evian are part of the joke." Um, you think? Emphasis mine, btw), but my disagreements with him are, more often than not, a matter of degree and/or different strokes. It's a quick and fun read which reminded me of many, many reasons to hate Hollywood. Recommended.

77. Killer's Wedge, by Ed McBain. The final in the trilogy-within-the-series featuring McBain's unwilling attempt to bring in Cotton Hawes as a lead character, this one still manages to make Steve Carella the focus even as he's away from most of the action (spending his time in a b-plot solving a locked-room murder). Over in the A-plot, a widow who blames Carella for imprisoning her late husband takes the polices station hostage (thanks to some nitro her husband had left around), threatening Hawes, Meyer, and the rest of the 87th Precinct gang. As always, it's a quick and entertaining read, with some wonderful prose thrown into the otherwise-straightforward plot. Recommended.

ETA: I forgot to mention that Killer's Wedge is the book that reveals that Meyer Meyer's wife's maiden name is "Lipkin." I'm amused. :-)
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72. The Last Colony, by John Scalzi. The final book in the saga of John Perry (or, if you prefer, the journey of John Perry) is a perfect coda to the series. Picking up well after the first two books, it brings many of the more epic plot threads from the second book to a satisfying conclusion, throwing in government conspiracies, information control, Deadworld-style planetary colonization issues, and genuinely interesting alien races (a rarity nowadays) into a very enjoyable story.

I do have one nit to pick. I'll cut, as it technically spoils a wee bit of the second book, and it's entirely a reflection of me as a reader, not Scalzi as a writer:

Read more... )

Scalzi also does a great job of providing enough background information for new readers, without bogging down the plot with pages of "what came before" exposition for the rest of us. That said, even if The Last Colony is accessible for the new reader, you're cheating yourself a little bit if you don't grab Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades first, as Scalzi tells amazing stories in all three books, and the conclusion to TLC becomes a lot more satisfying with the first two books in mind. Highly recommended.


73. Territory, by Emma Bull. About halfway through this novel, I commented to [livejournal.com profile] shadesong that I was reading the best Tim Powers novel of the year. By the end, I was pretty sure that this would be the case even if Tim really did have a 2007 release scheduled. I hadn't forgotten how good a writer Bull is (even though it's been, shockingly, ten years since her last novel, and thirteen since her last non-collaborative one), nor had I forgotten how adept she is at switching genres and subgenres. But Territory, which presents the events leading up to the Gunfight at the OK Coral in a fantasy light, is nothing short of brilliant. Like Powers, Bull weaves fictional events into known history without disrupting (to the best of my admittedly less-than-perfect knowledge) any of the recorded events themselves. We get Doc Holliday, the Earps, Ike Clanton, the McLaurys, and all the rest, seen through the eyes of a reporter and a reluctant magician. In other hands, it would be an above-average adventure novel, but Bull deftly avoids the cliches and gives us an incredibly rich tale of the mythology of the American West.

Bull tells an amazing story here. I'm talking about the sort of "amazing" that should, in a just world, land this book on lots of award ballots and short lists. I'll have to process (and reread) it for a little while before I decide if I think it's her best work, but it should certainly satisfy any fan of Bull's writing. Or, frankly, writing in general.

Highly recommended. And then some.


74. Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay. I still haven't seen the Showtime series based on this novel, but I loved the theme when I heard about it, so I put it in my queue at my library. The concept -- a serial killer who kills other serial killers -- isn't necessarily novel, but Dexter himself is a fascinating character, disassociated from the world, undeniably amoral, but also aware of the need to pass for normal. Lindsay writes with a lively style, throwing lots of snappy dialogue into the mix, as well as some memorable characters. The conflicts -- both Dexter's internal struggles with what he is, and his external battles involving police politics and other serial killers -- drive the plot nicely. Not for the faint of heart, of course, but nothing here was any worse than a typical CSI episode, imho. Recommended.
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67. Eifelheim, by Michael Flynn. For the first time in ages, I've read all five Hugo-nominated novels. After reading Eifelheim, I remembered why I usually don't bother; the fact that four of the five books are actually good is a minor miracle, but this one is dull enough to almost counterbalance the rest of the slate. The hook -- the traditional "aliens stranded on Earth/First Contact" concept transported to the Middle Ages -- is a great one, and there's about 100 pages of interesting plot, science, and character development. Alas, the novel's over 300 pages long, and William Godman's fictional dad would have trouble cutting it down to just the good bits. That said, Father Deitrich, our protagonist, is a solid, compelling character, and he saves what little there is that's worthwhile about this read. The lowest points of the book are those moments set in the present day, as none of the contemporary characters (searching for the reason that the titular town was never resettled, the "explanation" for which never flies, incidentally) are interesting, believable, or likable. Recommended only for Hugo nominee completists.

68. The Fungus, by Harry Adam Knight. Knight -- the pseudonym of John Brosnan and Leroy Kettle -- crafts a fun, nasty little horror tale. A mycologist, like all good fictional scientists, Messes With Nature, and Bad Things Happen. In this case, an enzyme is released that causes funguses to grow and mutate rapidly (although not to spore, the only reason the world's not dead in a heartbeat). We get some great early scenes of Nasty Things happening to the residents of England (athlete's foot, a venereal fungus, and wood mold all do nasty stuff to people), followed by an attempt by the military and some scientists to get back into London and find the cause (and potential cure) for the problem. The Fungus is a fun but gruesome little horror novel. Recommended for the non-squeamish.

69. Killer's Choice by Ed McBain

And

70. Killer's Payoff, by Ed McBain. I'm still steadily working my way though the 87th Precinct books, nabbing them as they come in through interlibrary loan. These two introduce Cotton Hawes, but still provide plenty of time for Burt Kling and Steve Carella, as well as more appearances by Meyer Meyer (I believe that Killer's Choice is the first time we've seen his family and home life). As always, McBain writes with a flair that few of today's crime writers could even hope to approach. Recommended for fans of crime/police novels.

71. Little (Grrl) Lost, by Charles de Lint. This YA novel from CDL is not set in in the suburbs of Newford (as far as I can tell -- the city remains nameless, but we get some familiar characters), but has the same magic feel of his other books. TJ is a fourteen-year-old girl whose family, thanks to some bad financial mojo, is forced to move away from her friends. While moping, she discovers a six-inch-tall "Little," in this case a sixteen-year-old runaway with a punk attitude. Elizabeth (the runaway) and TJ set off on a quest to find a local author (Sheri Wood) who has written books about Littles, and, en route, Bad Things Happen. It's not CDL's best work, but it's a solid YA (sub)urban fantasy novel, with good characters and some surprising twists. Highly recommended.
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66. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling. This obscure, unheralded small-press novella by a first-time author. . .

Oh, for fuck's sake. Is there anything I could say that could convince a fan not to read it (most are likely finished), or a hater to reconsider?

Quick opinion: I loved it. Nice job wrapping up all sorts of loose threads, bringing minor characters forward, and providing closure. It's not a perfect book, but it's a damned fun and engaging read.

Highly Recommended, but you really should read the first six books before touching this one.
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63. Ragamuffin, by Tobias Buckell. The follow-up to Crystal Rain (which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago) starts elsewhere in the future universe developed by Buckell, but eventually ties directly into the characters we met in the first book (and I highly recommend reading them in order). The first two-thirds of this novel are probably better than the first book, but the final third gets tied down in an overdrawn (and not overly engaging) space battle. Still, the characters and the world are both fleshed out nicely, and I've got no regrets about reading this one. Recommended.

64. Ranbows End, by Vernor Vinge. Earlier this week, [livejournal.com profile] matociquala commented on the need for books that are fun and not overly serious (without sacrificing things like plot, relevance and a sense of wonder). This is a book that meets those needs beautifully. I expected the great vision of the future, of course -- Vinge being Dr. Singularity, of course -- but I'm amazed at just how much of a rollicking adventure this book is. Hell, just look at some of the chapter titles: "How-to-Survive-the-Next-Thirty-Minutes.pdf," "You Can't Ask Alice Anymore," "So Much Technology, So Little Talent," and "The Myasthenic Spelunker Society." Throw in walking buildings, a future society in which everyone is as aware of Pratchett as they are of Tolkein today, mind control, poets, cyberpunk tropes, government conspiracies, and a talking cyberrabbit, and it's hard to find anything to dislike here.

Vinge gets bonus points for a moment of brilliance near the climax, on either page 286 or 288 of the hardcover (I'm writing this from work). One character finally delivers on a joke that had been hanging over the plot since the first few pages (although it's impossible to tell if the characters themselves get the joke), and everyone pauses, just as in a sitcom, to let the audience get the punchline and laugh. It's something that could have flopped miserably (and thrown the reader out of the book -- for all the humor, this is very much a plot-driven book), but Vinge manages to pull it off wonderfully. Highly recommended.

65. Everything is Miscellaneous, by David Weinberger. I've been a fan of Weinberger since The Cluetrain Manifesto, and I've seen him speak a handful of times. So I'm not surprised that I enjoyed this book, or that it dealt with issues that are just up my alley. The argument that organization, in the traditional sense, is no longer relevant, is well presented, perhaps best in his comparison of the outdated and increasingly-silly Dewey Decimal System to the flexible and useful style employed by Amazon. This is a quick but brilliant read, and dovetails quite nicely with the ideas in Vinge's book. Highly recommended.

65.5 Usagi Yojimbo #21: The Mother of Mountains.. I haven't been recording graphic novels (because few of them take that long to read), but this is just too damned good to not recommend. Sakai just keeps getting better, and follows a string of very Usagi-centric volumes (focusing on Usagi's relationship with his son) to a volume that features Tomoe and fleshes out her history and family. A damned fine read (even if it once again relies on the excessive coincidence of Usagi happening across Tomoe in a battle -- there are times when I suspect that Usagi, Tomoe, Gen, and Kitsune are the only four people in feudal Japan). Wonderful stuff. Highly recommended.
yendi: (Default)
This is the special mule edition of Books Read 2007. Both books feature mules (the four-legged ones who don't smuggle drugs in their stomachs). Which makes that two more books featuring mules than I'd read in the past, um, ever?

61. The Shadows, Kith and Kin, by Joe Lansdale. This collection is something of a mixed bag, but there are a few highlights. The title story, written before the VA Tech shootings (and inspired by the Charles Whitman case), is disturbing without ever feeling sleazy, and one of Landsale's better recent works. "Deadman's Road" and "The Gentleman's Hotel" will be fun for Dead in the West fans, but don't really offer anything new, story-wise. "The Long Dead Day" is a short but touching zombie story, and "White Mule, Spotted Pig" is just plain good. The weak point in the volume is "Bill, the Little Steam Shovel," which is not only mediocre, but also written in a smug, "look at me! I'm breaking new ground" tone that the story simply doesn't deserve. The volume also suffers greatly from a lack of proofreading (so much so that I had to look on the spine to verify that it was from Subterranean, and not a late Meisha Merlin book). Recommended for Lansdale fans, skippable for others.

62. The Secret City, by Carol Emshwiller. This is a short but enormously touching novel, dealing with first contact, star-crossed lovers, and aliens who look shockingly like humans, complete with many similar faults. A group of said aliens, having visited our planet as tourists, are now trapped here, and this novel focuses on two of them. Lorpas has been living amongst the humans, passing as a bum, while Allush has been living in the titular "city," hiding out with a few other survivors and waiting to be rescued. Both discover much about the nature of "humanity," as it's represented in their two races and their respective worlds. The Secret City is a lovely little book about innocence and innocents; there are some horrible events in this book, but Lorpas and Allush both strive to overcome these events beautifully. Highly recommended.
yendi: (Brain)
58. All Together Dead, by Charlaine Harris. This is the seventh book in the Southern Vampire series. By the seventh book in the Anita Blake series, things had already started to head rapidly downhill, so the fact that this series remains enjoyable speaks volumes about how much better a writer Harris is when compared to Hamilton. We do get plenty of sex (early on, in fact), tons of violence, and lots of political machinations, as Sookie gets dragged off to a vampire convention (the political kind, not the sci-fi kind). As always, Harris deftly balances many characters, ongoing plotlines, and multiple threats, leading to a fast-paced and enjoyable novel. I'm still not sure the series needs to be in hardcover, as the books are fast and disposable reads, but I still enjoy them. Recommended.

59. Crystal Rain, by Tobias Buckell. This is a hell of a debut novel (and one that seems to have fallen between the cracks of last year's releases, certainly not helped by the fact that 2006 was a hell of a good year for sci-fi). In the far future, man has not only colonized space, but has managed to lose some of those colonies as the result of what appears to have been an interspecies war (complete with EM pulse that ruined much of their technology). On one planet, the colonists, descended from Caribbean and Aztec ancestors, have lost their memories of colonization, but remember their ancient religious traditions. Along with some of the stranded aliens (treated as Loa and Teotl gods), they now alternate between attempting to live their lives, and warring with each other. Throw in a good use of Hero Archetype #3 (man with mysterious abilities and no memories of his past), and it's a damned fun and well-written novel. Recommended.

60. The Con Man, by Ed McBain. The fourth book in McBain's 87th Precinct series is just as well-written as the previous one. Steve Carella, again, gets the starring role, with Teddy Carella (in her best appearance yet), Burt Kling, and Arthur Brown getting most of the rest of the attention. McBain's constant riffing on the idea of the con -- from the minor confidence men out of a Damon Runyon story and the ladykiller running amok to the attempts by Kling to free his girlfriend from her college exams and the idea that authors themselves are the biggest con men around -- is a joy to read. I'm also amused by the author's note, which contains an excerpt from the original printing in which he goofed and had Teddy (who's deaf) "hearing" laundry machines at one point. Highly Recommended.
yendi: (Brain)
56. Grey, by Jon Armstrong. This is a damned fine debut novel. Set in a satircal, class-striated future in which those who have it all are slaves to the need to be constantly fashionable (or die trying), it features romance, corporate warfare, drugs, and some great characters. Grey defies easy description, but it's fun and highly recommended.


57. Blindsight, by Peter Watts. Watts continues to blow me away. I adored the Rifters saga, and Blindsight contains much of what makes that series good: phenomenal scientific ideas, great characters, and some amazing twists. In the first 100 pages, Watts introduces deliberately-induced MPD, an earth in which interest in "real" sex has faded as virtualized sex has taken over (with the resultant decrease in population growth), a protagonist missing half his brain, a resurrected (and largely scientifically-sound) vampire, and a first contact mission. Throw in major explorations of neurological functions (the title refers to a condition in which the brain can see something and might even react to it, but the person is not consciously aware of their ability to see it) and evolutionary strengths and weaknesses (for humans and aliens alike), and you've got a book that's nothing short of brilliant. I haven't read the Flynn or Vinge books yet (both are on order at my library), so I won't say that it would be a crime if this didn't win the Hugo, but I'd be happy to see it get the recognition it deserves. This is an amazing work. Highly, highly recommended.
yendi: (Default)
53. βehometh: Seppuku . Wow. The entire RIfters series is just phenomenal, but if you start with this book (which is actually the second half of the third book, and wasn't originally intended to be a standalone novel), you'll be completely lost. Since the entire series is, sadly, out of print, you should just go read the books Online. Highly recommended.

54. Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, by Ruth Reichl. This book, detailing Reichl's tenure as New York Times Restaurant Critic, is a joy to read. Reichl focuses on the self-discovery she experiences as she builds disguises with which to anonymously visit restaurants and finds herself lost within the new identities she's created. It's also a fascinating look at both the restaurant and the newspaper business, neither of which comes off all that well. Throw in some of Rechl's reviews and a few recipes, and you've got a great read. Highly recommended for foodies.

55. One Pitch Away: The Players' Stories of the 1986 League Championships and World Series, by Mike Sowell. This was impressive. The 1986 postseason was the most exciting one in baseball history, and Sowell has managed to make the most uninteresting book imaginable about it. We get eighty pages of inconsistant, rambling descriptions of the three postseason series, with major moments glossed over, minor details highlighted, and no rhyme or reason to where the focus lies. Then we get interviews with a handful of players (and Donnie Moore's widow), but this includes things like twenty pages about Doug DeCinces and his real estate business, and nothing with Ron Darling, Bruce Hurst, Wally Joyner, and others who were pivitol in that postseason. We also get no follow-ups at all to the accusations of mismanagement leveled against Mauch and MacNamara, or to the repeated accusations of backstabbing against Angels GM Mike Port. Not recommended, but if you do end up with it, at least it's a quick read.
yendi: (Default)
48. Cirque du Freak #11: The Lord of Shadows by Darren Shan. After the otherworldly adventures of the last novel, this one takes us back to the titular Cirque, with some devastating consequences for many of the members (including one that completely floored me). Those consequences, combined with a prophecy that seems to indicate that the world will be destroyed no matter what the hero does, ratchet up the tension quite nicely. Recommended

49. Cirque du Freak #12: Sons of Destiny by Darren Shan. And this one finishes it off perfectly. The resolution to the primary conflict is well-handled (if not entirely surprising to older readers). The twists that come after that, though, are amazing, and manage to resolve some issues that had lingered since the first novel. It's surprisingly -- and effectively -- metafictional, without subverting the eleven and a half books of narrative that come previously. Highly recommended.

50. Generation Loss, by Elizabeth Hand. I was not a fan of Hand's work (based, admittedly, solely on Walking the Moon) before reading this book . I am now. Generation Loss defies easy categorization/genrefication, combining trappings of the gothic, the thriller, and something else that I can't even begin to put my finger on. It tells the story of Cass Neary, a photographer whose flame burned briefly and brightly during the '70s punk movement. Now, as she continues on her downward spiral, she gets convinced to take a job up in Maine, writing about another famous (and now-reclusive) photographer. On the surface, the rest of the novel deals with a mystery involving disappearing teens, but underneath that, it's a story about damaged people, brilliantly paced, somehow taking a group of unsympathetic characters (Cass first and foremost amongst them) and forcing the reader to care deeply about what happens to them. Highly recommended.

51. Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde. Thursday's back! Yay! It's fourteen years later, and she's thus older and wiser, but it's still a Thursday Next novel, with all the chaos and literary twists that entails. Alas, the ARC I read (thanks, [livejournal.com profile] yunatwilight) lacks the illustrations, but otherwise, this was as enjoyable as the first four, with some nice shots at reality TV, Bush, and the state of literature as a whole. We also get the first cameo by someone else's copyrighted character in the series. Warning: although the primary plotline is wrapped up, there's a secondary one that remains open for the sequel. Highly recommended

52. The Pusher by Ed McBain. I'd forgotten about this series for a while, but I'm back reading it. McBain's not Hammett, but he's certainly on a par with MacDonald or MacDonald (and thus better, if less funny, than McDonald), writing sharp action sequences, crisp dialogue, and nifty criminal twists (which still stand up fifty years later). This one develops Peter Byrnes (the lieutenant) for the first time, and features the usual solid police procedural work by the rest of the crew (with some emotionally gut-wrenching moments for some of the cops). It also, according to the author's note, featured a different ending when McBain turned it in originally. His agent and his editor both yelled at him to change it; if he hadn't, I'm very curious how the rest of the series would have turned out. Highly recommended.
yendi: (Brain)
Once again, I've dropped the ball, with nearly a month since the last update, and I've likely let something fall through the cracks.

40-42. Cirque du Freak 8-10 (Allies of the Night, Killers of the Dawn, The Lake of Souls), by Darren Shan. Shan has mastered the art of making his lead character suffer by having shitty things happen to everyone he cares about. Although I was expecting the major twists at the ends of books 8 and 9, Shan still does a nice job of creating doubts about where things are going, and continues to develop a fascinating vampire mythology, and the otherworldly journey in book 10 offers a nice change of pace while still advancing one major character arc. Recommended

43. Little Gods, by Tim Pratt. This is just as enjoyable (if not as polished) as Pratt's more recent collection (Hart & Boot and Other Stories, as seen in this post). The title story alone is worth the price of admission, but since you can read that one online, you should buy this for the rest of the collection, including the never-before-published novella "Pale Dog," a really fun urban fantasy (and one whose characters are, I believe, set to pop up in his next series). Highly recommended.

44. Under my Roof, by Nick Mamatas. This is the novel that shocked dozens of community college students! At its core, it's the perfectly fun story of a pre-teen telepathic boy, his separatist father, and the all the fun stuff that happens when the latter declares his house a sovereign state. Wonderful satire (which, naturally, relies on good storytelling). Highly recommended.

45. The Jennifer Morgue, by Charles Stross. I like this one much, much better than The Atrocity Archives. Where TAA was a cute take on spy novels and Lovecraftian mythos, TJM is all that and a very witty deconstruction of the James Bond mythology as well. It's sharp, funny, and has some perfectly-delivered twists. Highly recommended, especially if you're a James Bond fan.

46. Acolytes, by Nikki Giovanni. Giovanni is far from my favorite contemporary poet (that'd be Louise Gluck), but her recent works continue to impress me. Acolytes isn't as good as Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea, but it still has its moments, and is certainly an enjoyable read. Recommended.

47. Gradisil, by Adam Roberts. I raved about Swiftly, a story collection by Roberts, years ago at Bookslut. Back then, I noted that Roberts had a talent for making the human reactions to the scientific (or fantastic) changes the focus of his best writing. Gradisil takes this a step further, showing the reaction of language itself over time, with the prose evolving over the course of a century (dropping silent letters like the "c" in "black"). In the hands of a lesser author, this would be a disctraction, but here, it flows right into the narrative stream, which is concerned with the development of a "nation" of folks living above the atmosphere and the political machinations undertaken by the title character. Although the developments (technological and political) drive the structure of the narrative, it's the tales told by Gradisil's mother, her husband, and others around her that pull the novel together. Highly recommended.

(Why is almost everything I read recommended or highly recommended? Because if a book blows from page one, I'm not about to keep reading it if I don't have to).
yendi: (Brain)
36. Cruciverbalism, by Stanley Newman and Mark Lasswell. This was actually read earlier, but I forgot it in the last mega-update. If you're a fan of crosswords, you need to read this book. Newman had always been a minor hero of mine, as my crossword addiction was fueled by the Newsday puzzles*, which I knew were better than those of the Times, without knowing the backstory of the Maleska/Newman war. It's fascinating for that bit of history alone, but Newman also provides some nice insight into what goes into a crossword editor's work, and the book is breezily written. Highly recommended to puzzle fans.

37. The Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross. This book actually contains the titular short novel and a follow-up novella, "Concrete Jungle." The former is superb, if you're a fan of spy/espionage novels and Lovecraftian variations, which I am. Throw in lots of computer and hacker stuff, Nazis (what spy novel could exist without 'em?), good pseudo-scientific explanations for the creatures from beyond, and a wry narrative voice, and it's a blast (although not nearly as complex as the speculative spy novels of Tim Powers). "Concrete Jungle" isn't as good a story, but the basic concept behind it (featuring basilisks and Milton Keynes) is fun. Recommended.

38. Cirque du Freak #7: Hunters of the Dusk, by Darren Shan. The first book in each mini-trilogy within this series tends to be more about setting stuff up than anything else (in fact, books 1, 4, and 7 are, so far, the only ones not to see the deaths of any named characters, although some unnamed vamps do get killed here). Here, we meet the final vampire prince, learn two major prophecies, get lots more backstory on the history of the vampires, and finally get a return (however brief) to the titular Cirque. Recommended, but read the series in order.

39: Schrödinger's Ball: A Novel, by Adam Felber. I don't listen to NPR much, since I read on my commute, get distracted by noise at work, and don't listen to the radio during the morning shower/breakfast routine. So I had no idea who Adam Felber was when I read this, and thus no expectations. What I got, though, was something that felt incredibly like a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Not as good, mind you, but it's a lofty subgenre to practice, and Felber does it well. This book, which is both funny and touching, features the President of Montana, Dr. Schrödinger, a woman capable of regular half-hour orgasms, a man who has accidentally killed himself but is still walking around because no one has discovered his body, a bag lady intent on flashing scientists, lots of Cambridge scenes, recursive scenes that cause the book to crash, busking, and a rat. It's a blast, and is highly recommended.


*Yes, even though I subscribed to Games Magazine starting in the fourth grade, I never cared much for the crosswords for years.
yendi: (Brain)
Man, it's been a while since I've updated this list. I probably left something out, and I know I got the order wrong on some of these (deliberately, to the extent that I read at least one book between each of the Shan novels). I also have this fear that I left something out. Here's hoping that's wrong.

26-30. Cirque du Freak #3-6: Tunnels of Blood, Vampire Mountain, Trials of Death, and The Vampire Prince, all by Darren Shan. As YA series goes, this one's keeping my interest, largely because of the genuinely interesting take on vampires and their mythos. Shan's also very much from the school of writing that believes in doing bad things to nice characters. I have a strong suspicion I know where the prophecy-based plotline is headed, but I'm still enjoying the journey. Recommended for YA and vampire fans.

31: Missile Gap, by Charles Stross. A fun little novella, from the Robert Charles Wilson subgenre*. Sometime late in 1962, the entire population of the planet was somehow transported across the universe and repopulated on a dense and insanely large disc with odd gravitational laws. With the Cold War still very active, the reactions to the situation some fifteen years later form the basis of the plot. Damned fine writing from Stross. Recommended.

32. Keeping it Real, by Justina Robson. I think I set myself up to be disappointed here. When I heard the description, I had hopes for something approaching Bordertown levels of quality and originality, but in the end, it's much more traditional contemporary elf/rock music fantasy. Which isn't to say that it's bad, but it doesn't break much new ground or offer characters as interesting as in, say, Mappa Mundi. Approach it with lower expectations (Meredith Gentry, say), and it'll probably come across as much more enjoyable). Mildly recommended, but I'd have fewer regrets if I'd bought it used or nabbed it from our library.

33. Hart & Boot & Other Stories, by Tim Pratt. I'd read one of Pratt's novels, but I'd never encountered his short stories before**. I feel much shame over this. He's not just good. He's fucking incredible. One of the blurbs compares him to Gaiman. I think that's pretty damned accurate, qualitatively, although they've got very different voices. The title story is a blast, but Romanticore and the Hugo-nominated Impossible Dreams are probably my favorites. Or maybe "Living With the Gorgon." Really, everything in this collection is damned good. Highly recommended.

34. Of Tales and Enigmas, by Minsoo Kang. This collection, alas, didn't please me as much. It's not that the stories were bad; there's not a genuine stinker in the bunch. It's just that none of them really sparked for me. Kang's got a wonderful writing style, and he's experimenting with some fascinating themes. The works themselves just left me a little cold. I'll still be keeping an eye out for more of his stories though, as I suspect I'll find quite a few that I enjoy. Mildly recommended, but if you're not already a fan of Kang's work, you're probably best doing what I did and nabbing it from your local library.

35. The Man Who Melted, by Jack Dann. Inspiration for the classic game! The book isn't nearly as funny, but it's still good. Damned good. It's enough of a classic that I probably don't need to (or want to) overhype it. Just read it. Recommended.

*"Hey, a big and incomprehensible event fucked the world up. Let's find an explanation."

**Actually, I just realized this statement is wrong, considering the fact that I reviewed an anthology containing one of his stories. Oops.
yendi: (Brain)
21. Cirque du Freak #2: The Vampire's Assistant, by Darren Shan. I'm continuing to enjoy this series. It's fluffy, but also nicely dark, with a definitely feeling that no character other than the narrator is truly safe. And the narrator himself is nicely flawed, not a hero by any proper standard. I've taken the next two out of the library, so we'll see if the books can keep it up. Recommended.

22. Take Big Bites: Adventures Around the World and Across the Table, by Linda Ellerbee. Who knew that Linda had it in her to be a good food writer? These essays are fun, well-written, and they made me hungry*. Recommended for foodies.

23. The Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks. I was pleasently surprised by how readable this was. Most of the assorted "survival guides" and "hero manuals" are cute, and fun to flip through, but not that enjoyable to read cover-to-cover. This one is a damned fine read, with lots of "history" sprinkled throughout, and a thoroughly well-developed background behind the outbreaks. Highly recommended.

24. Everfree, by Nick Sagan. The final book in the Idlewild trilogy, it's a damned good conclusion to the series. I won't go overly into the plot (since it would spoil some of the previous two novels), but I really love the way the stuff put into motion in the first book finally play out here. Sagan's got great ear for dialogue, and switches narrative voices smoothly here. The subtitle of part two of this book is also one of the more elegant puns I've seen in a while. The series as a whole is a great twist on the typical post-apocalyptic future. Highly recommended (but read the first two volumes first).

25. Dark Harvest, by Norman Partridge. Yet another reason I love our library -- I can find signed, limited-to-2000-copies editions of works just sitting on the 14-day rental shelf. The concept for Dark Harvest isn't anything you haven't seen before in works like The Lottery: a small town with a Dark Secret that Consumes Its Own. But Partridge does a great job of telling this tale with some decidedly dark twists, a wonderful narrative style, and a nice open ending. Recommended if you can find a copy.

*Hungrier, actually. I'm pretty much always hungry.

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