Have space suit – will travel

I was crazy about outer space as a kid.  I had astronaut pajamas, and I remember as a 5-year old jumping into bed to go to sleep and doing a countdown (5…4…3…2…1 – Blastoff!) before closing my eyes and pretending my bed was a rocket.

I also had the book “You will go to the Moon” and re-read it endlessly.  I suppose with that kind of a background, it is not very surprising to learn that I eventually ended up reading science fiction.  After all, astronauts had already gone to the moon – I needed something more.

My ticket to this interest in reading was granted by a kind librarian at my public library.  On my first visit to their new building, she noticed me wandering in the stacks and asked me what kind of books I liked.  I replied, “Books about outer space!”  She led me to a section of the stacks and pointed to some books that had rocket ships on the spines {something like this:  scifi-rocket}

She handed one to me titled “Have space suit – will travel.”

It was my first book by an author named Robert A. Heinlein.

Robert Heinlein is generally acknowledged to be one of the giants of early science fiction, not just by readers and fans, but also by other authors.  His writing career, started only after prematurely ended stints in the military, politics, and as an inventor (for example, one of the first modern designs for the waterbed in 1942) began with his first published story in 1939; originally written for a $50 prize in a writing contest, he instead sold it for considerably more.  He quickly dominated the science fiction genre; in the year after (1940), he wrote and saw published three short novels, four novelettes, and seven short stories. One could say that no one else really dominated their genre as Heinlein did in the first few years of their careers.

The book that won me over [Have space suit – will travel] was the last of his twelve titles that were known as “Heinlein juveniles.”  What would now be known as YA, or Young Adult, these twelve titles are considered some of his best works – I quickly found and read all the earlier titles after discovering this author. Published by Scribner’s, these books came out every year before Christmas between 1947 and 1958.  However, Heinlein felt constrained by his editors and their target audience, and he jumped to a new publisher (Putnam) when his 13th title was rejected by Scribner’s.  That book was Starship Troopers, and became rather controversial in its time for its admiring portrayal of the military; it was followed by titles that were real game-changers and blockbusters in science fiction: Stranger in a strange land, and The Moon is a harsh mistress.  Each of these is considered by many to be a contender for being known as his best (vs. his juvenile titles).

Heinlein wrote 32 novels, 59 short stories, and 16 collections published in his lifetime. Four films, two TV series, several episodes of a radio series, and a board game were derived from his work. He wrote a screenplay for one of the films. Heinlein edited an anthology of other writers’ Sci Fi short stories.

Three non-fiction books and two poems have been published posthumously. One novel has been published posthumously and another, based on Heinlein’s notes and outline and written by Spider Robinson, was published in 2006. Four collections have been published posthumously.

From waterbeds to waldos, from TANSTAAFL to “grok”, from Space Marines and powered battle armor to Tribbles and the concept of “paying it forward,” Heinlein left his mark and legacy on our time. He has had an asteroid, a crater on Mars, and an endowed chair in Aerospace Engineering at the US Naval Academy named after him.  Try one of the 153 works under his name found in NC Cardinal, and you might find him, as I did, to be a favorite.

Celebrity, Crime, and Bad Behavior Revised

Celebrity, crime  and bad behavior seem to run in the same circles,  especially with the media watching and the 24/7 news cycle.  Anyone who remembers the O. J. Simpson trial of twenty years ago can testify as to the impact of the media, fueled by the internet, on celebrity, and for that matter, on justice.   Or, recall the bad behavior of celebrities.  Their names and images have been in living rooms around the world, after their bad behavior was made public.    But celebrity based on crime and/or bad behavior is nothing new.  Starting in the recent past, books based on political celebrities recently caught having extramarital affairs have been best sellers.    John Edwards’ campaign aide’s book about his boss’s affair, The Politician : an Insider’s Account of John Edwards’s Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal that Brought Him Down, received a lot  publicity when it was published earlier this year.  Jenny Sanford, ex-wife of then South Carolina governor, now Congressman Mark Sanford, wrote a memoir, Staying True, chronicling  the effect of her husband’s affair on their family.  Both authors made tours of tv talk shows.  Hilary Clinton’s run for President brings to mind her husband’s affair with an intern when he was president.

If you think politicians having affairs is a relatively new thing, check the story of President Warren G. Harding, who was elected in 1920. Although married,  Harding had a long relationship with another woman from his home town in Ohio.   In the 1960s, the author of The Shadow of Blooming Grove was served with injunction forbidding him to publish letters between Harding and his mistress.  Forty years later, the author of The Harding  Affair had no such barrier to revealing the correspondence between the two lovers.  A different woman accused him of fathering her child in a White House closet.

John Wilkes Booth was a celebrity as a stage actor before he assassinated Abraham Lincoln.  James Swanson’s Manhunt:  the Twelve Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer describes the well-known actor trying to evade the authorities who were looking for him.

A modern fugitive who became a cult hero and was much more successful in evading capture was Eric Rudolph.  After three years running  from searchers in Western North Carolina, Rudolph was finally run to ground in Murphy, North Carolina.  This book describes his life on the run:  Lone Wolf.

Before the  internet, television, newspapers and newsreels fed the celebrity mill.  Bonnie and Clyde became notorious for robbing banks before being gunned down in an ambush in Louisiana.   Fontana Regional Library has several books about the gun toting  couple, the most recent of which is Go Down Together: the True Untold  Story of  Bonnie and Clyde.  Don’t forget the movie version starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, which in the Fontana catalog.

Celia Cooley was not as famous on the national scale as Bonnie and Clyde, but she achieved her own level of celebrity in New York city, where she was famous or notorious (take your pick) for robbing grocery stores in the 1920s.  Her tale is told in The Bobbed  Haired  Bandit.

Zoe  Wilkins was trained as an osteopath early in the twentieth century, but she spent more time seducing men and becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol than pursuing a medical career.  Towards the end of end of her life, when she contended with legal problems, her lawyer was the son of Jesse James.  You can read about  her in The Love Pirate and the Bandit’s Son : Murder, Sin, and Scandal in the Shadow of Jesse James .

Note:  This blog was originally published in April 2010.

 

 

A man for all genres?

Genre fiction is probably the most popular of what circulates at a public library.  Mysteries, romance, science fiction, fantasy, etc. always have devoted readerships.

Many authors are known for the kind of genre they (mostly) write in – the late Louis L’Amour, although he wrote in a few other genres, will be remembered (and still read) for his Westerns.  Agatha Christie wrote some romances but is famous for her mysteries.

One contemporary author, however, seems to be trying very hard to play “genre bingo” (see Chris’ blog from last summer).  He’s written juvenile fiction, contemporary mysteries, science fiction, young adult superhero novels, and high fantasy. He has stand-alone novels, series, and even finished a highly popular high fantasy epic series that was started by another author.

This author is Brandon Sanderson.  He first came to attention with his first novel, a stand-alone fantasy called Elantris.  (available also as a CD Audiobook)

He next ventured into the territory of a fantasy series, called the Mistborn saga.  (that series now has seven titles as of 2016).  As you might guess by those numbers, the series was highly successful.

But before he’d even completed his original planned trilogy, he shifted gears and started a children’s series, the Alcatraz series, about a young hero whose special gift is that he’s very good at breaking things.  Many libraries bought the first book because it was titled Alcatraz versus the evil librarians. There are now 4 books in that series, again a measure of their popularity.

His next work was another standalone fantasy called Warbreaker.  This was followed by the announcement that Sanderson had been chosen to complete the extremely popular fantasy series The Wheel of Time.  Its creator, Robert Jordan, had passed away but had time to complete notes and recordings on how to complete/resolve the series.  Sanderson was chosen by Jordan’s widow and editor, and his work in completing the series has received acclaim.

While completing the Wheel of Time, Sanderson began another high fantasy series of his own called the Stormlight Archive, which is planned to be a ten-book series.  So far, two have been published.

In 2012, he started a contemporary mystery series with a radical protagonist who suffers from a split personality disorder.  There are two books in that series.

In 2013, Sanderson began a young adult series with the title The Rithmatist. Later that same year, he started another YA series, this time in the popular superhero genre, called The Reckoners series.  That trilogy was just completed this year with the title Calamity.

Sanderson has been a top 10 New York Times bestselling author, has won several major awards, and also teaches creative writing at the university level.  His fantasy novels are admired for his unique takes on magic and magic use, while his mystery and YA series are known for their sometimes surprising characters and plots.

If you’ve been counting, he has been published in 6 areas/genres – fantasy, science fiction, mystery, superhero, Young Adult, and children’s.

Fontana Regional Library has about 24 of his titles, in formats from eAudio to eBook to CD Audiobook, and even print.  If any of this sounds interesting, try one and let me know what you think!

I Did It! Bingo!

It was last summer that I blogged about genre bingo, and it has taken me that long to finally get bingo myself. Believe me, I have been reading up a storm since then. I just haven’t been reading the right books, I guess. One thing I pledged to do, and obviously kept to, was to not read books specifically to fill in blank bingo spots. Some books I read did not fit any of the criteria, and in some cases they fit a space I had already filled. Despite all that I overcame and finally was able to shout BINGO! across the library. (The shouting may or may not actually have happened.)

I was actually a little surprised when I realized it. I was preparing a blog post about the random reading habit I have developed, but had to put that aside (for now) to cover this momentous event. Of course I will talk about the books that made all this possible, but first, here is the current status of my Genre Bingo card:

Genre Bingo Complete

Okay, I know what you are going to say. That sure is a lot of spaces filled in, but it does not actually qualify as bingo. My reply is that you are correct. I have not actually obtained bingo on that card. However, you may remember that I created two separate types of bingo cards, the second being called Something New Bingo. Here is how my card for that looks:

What what!
What what!

There you have it, right across the top. Bingo! Interestingly, I have 15 spots filled in on each card. Many books I read qualified for both of them, but not all. I also like how I have three stars in each of the vertical columns for the Something New card.

HappyNewYearFromPrague (1)

A couple of minor caveats here. The “book with a red cover” I read certainly had red on it, but it was not entirely red. Probably more orange than red overall. Still satisfies the criteria in my book (pun intended), plus it is set on the “Red Planet“. The second issue is that the “book made into a movie” was technically made into a TV series. A TV series with long, movie-like episodes, so I have no qualms marking it off here. Also, several of these titles would have worked for other spots than the ones I used them in, so if I rearranged them I think I could still make it work for bingo.

Book With A Red Cover: The Martian, by Andy Weir

the-martian-coverThis was the one that finally gave me bingo. It had been sitting around the house just waiting to be read, which lead to my random approach to reading (blog post on that coming soon!) It is the story of astronaut Mark Watney, a crew member of the third manned mission to Mars. A dust storm strikes the landing site, and during their evacuation Watney is hit by debris and, quite understandably, presumed dead by his fellow astronauts. The others head back to Earth, mourning their fallen comrade.

Mark is alive, though and has to find a way to survive not only day-to-day, but until the next mission arrives. He does so with a wonderful mix of ingenuity and humor. A great example is one time when disaster once again befalls him, he solves the problem almost with regret, since he thinks his crazy backup plan would also have worked. The science in the book is strong but still very approachable. Overall, a very fun book. I have not yet seen the movie. Also, this would have worked as both a Debut Novel and a “Book Made Into A Movie”.

A Long Book (500+ pages): The Tommyknockers, by Stephen King

TommyknockersOver the last couple of years my wife and I have started to beef up our Stephen King collection. This is one thing I appreciate having a smartphone for: easy access to lists so I don’t have to try and remember which books we already own.

We have both been King fans for many moons, and I read this one before. Way before, like maybe around 1990. Okay, maybe that means it is not technically “something new”, but 25 years gives me some leeway here. Although not one of King’s strongest works, it is still Stephen King, which means it is still an excellent book.

The tale is of an insidious alien invasion. A woman in rural Maine (this is King, after all) uncovers a spaceship that crashed eons ago. The aliens within are only sort-of dead. Their physical bodies are destroyed, but they can still imprint themselves upon hapless humans, and use us to start recreating themselves. It then becomes a race to see if they can be stopped before their plans come to fruition.

A couple of hallmarks of King’s writing, besides length, are foreshadowing and showing the perspective of the villain. Many of his stories have a BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy). This may be a prototypical one, such as in The Stand or It, or one a little more unusual, such as in Misery or Cujo. In The Tommyknockers, you do get the foreshadowing, but the villains are just regular people. Admittedly ones controlled by evil aliens, but still people.

Also, I have to start taking better pictures.
Also, I have to start taking better pictures.

This may not be a book that inspires you to create online discussion forums about it, but it is a page turner. It checks in at 558 pages, which is not so bad. Not like it is Harry Potter or something. The Tommyknockers is another one made into a movie, albeit a crummy TV movie.

Debut Novel: Koko Takes A Holiday, by Kieran Shea

kokoShea’s 2014 debut is a science fiction romp about an ex-mercenary, the titular Koko, who is trying to enjoy an early retirement. Of course that does not happen, as her past comes back to haunt her. It isn’t even her own past that is really the problem, but that of a former associate.

Mayhem ensues, and she goes on the run to both escape those hunting her and to find the person who caused her this trouble. The characters are well formed, the action is tight, and the future society predicted seems plausible. The story touches on some interesting social issues, but not in a distracting or limiting way.

If this sort of story sounds like something you would like, then you will almost certainly enjoy this book. The sequel is already out, and I am looking forward to reading it.

Recommended By Someone You Know: War of the Encyclopaedists, by Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite.

War of enThis book is about Seattle hipsters and their self-made art scene. Hmm, no, that’s not quite right. Let me try again. This book is about the war in Iraq, and the effects it had on people. It is about love and obsession, about how people change and how the stay the same. It is about longing and wishing and missed opportunities. It is about art and Wikipedia and how one defines the truth. It is about IEDs and hard choices and juxtapositions.

This is a book I recommend you read. I’m glad someone recommended it to me.

 

Book Made Into A Movie: A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin

Game_of_thronesThe first book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, it was first published in 1996. Over the next decade it, and the series, slowly gained in popularity. How popular? The fourth installment hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, and HBO optioned the books for a television series. That series is simply called Game of Thrones, and has won multiple awards. It may not be a movie per se, but it is close enough for my purposes. And yes, you can get the DVDs at the library.

A Game of Thrones is a fantasy novel set in the kingdom of Westeros. The title refers to the scheming done by various persons to sit upon the Iron Throne and to rule. It is low fantasy, meaning that while magic exists in the world, it is rare and seldom a factor. Dragons are real, but are presumably extinct, and so on.

The main focus is on the Stark family, who lord over the  cold northern end of Westeros. Chock full of lively characters and brimming with relevant and interesting side plots, this is a book to be reckoned with. There are good guys to root for, bad guys to despise, and ambiguous guys to wonder about. It’s popularity is well deserved.

I had watched the show before reading the book, and I will say it is a masterful adaptation. The TV series format gave them about 10 hours to work with, instead of the two or three a movie would have provided, and they make good use of it. Most of the changes from page to screen are minor, or things that you recognize had to be changed for budgetary reasons and the like. The casting was top notch, with a special nod to Peter Dinklage. Once you see him in the role you will always read Tyrion Lannister in his voice.

I'm still celebrating.
I’m still celebrating.

There we have it, my road to bingo. It was a fun ride, or should I say fun read? I am still tracking my progress, as I hope to score Genre Bingo one of these days. And to keep things interesting, I just created a third bingo card, this one for characters. It will be fun to see how that this one goes!

Character Bingo

Since I made this I have finished a couple more books, so I can cross off Zombie, and  one other. The second book had several characters that would apply, so I can move it around as needed as I fill in more spaces. Maybe next time I really will shout Bingo! in the library.

 

BOOKS AND MORE BOOKS

This, I believe, is the 50th blog in this series, so I thought I would review, to the best of my memory, some of books I have read over my lifetime.  I have always had books at home.  Being I was a history major in undergraduate and graduate school (not counting MSLS degree) and history is a reading intensive subject, my education brought me in contact with even more books.
Like me, Emily Dickinson loved books and even wrote a poem about them:

There is no Frigate like a Book

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –
                                        EMILY DICKINSON
 I do not recall what my parents read to me before I could read.  Babar is the first character in book I can remember.  Enid Blyton, who was a famous author of children’s adventure stories in Great Britain, had published six of the “Famous Five” series by the time I left Scotland in 1948. I think I had read them all.
When we moved to Memphis in 1949, one the first things my mother did was to visit the old Cossitt Library downtown to get us both a library card.     There I discovered Joseph Altsheler, who wrote a number of series of historical novels for what we now call middle school boys. (I was delighted to discover Altsheler’s books are still available in either paperback or Kindle editions from Amazon.)  As a sixth grader and on into junior high I read his books and a series of biographies of famous baseball players and managers and other sports figures.   In fiction my choice was also sports including John Tunis, who wrote about all sports, not  just basketball, baseball, and football.
In high school and college I had little time for pleasure reading, but when I did, I read Leon Uris, James Jones, and James Michener each of whom wrote historical novels, some based on their experiences in World War II.  Meantime, in classes, I was introduced to a number books I still have in my personal library:  The Tennessee: the Old River by Donald Davidson, which I had to read for class in Tennessee History;  and  Mont Saint Michel and Chartres by Henry Adams, which was required reading for Medieval History.  A graduate reading course in Southern history made me familiar with William Faulkner’s  Absalom, Absalom!, Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, and Eugene Genovese’s powerful study of the world slaves lived in Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made.    For other classes I read Nixon Agonistes by Gary Wills and The Quiet American by Graham Greene.
In the mid-1970s a colleague introduced me to a genre of fiction that has given me pleasure ever since:  the mystery.  In this vein, I just learned that one of favourite mystery writers, Ruth Rendell, died last May.   She was equally at home with psychological mysteries or police procedural  novels.  In fact, her Inspector Wexford series was adapted for television.   Anne PerryTess Gerritsen, Rhys  Bowen, Jacqueline Winspear, and, of course Agatha Christie, are a just a few of my favourite mystery authors.
Mysteries are my habitual fiction reading tastes.  In non-fiction I tend to read military (mainly Civil War, WWI and WWII) history and biography.  Such interests have seeped through onto this blog.  See, for example, previous  blogs on Shelby Foote, Winston Churchill, and John Keegan.  During the last few years, when I’ve evidently have had more time,  I have read and am reading multi-volume works such as Foote’s The Civil War, Douglas Southall Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants: a Study in Command, Rick Atkinson’s The Liberation Trilogy,  about the American army in North Africa and Europe, Volumes 1 and 2 of Ian W, Toll’s in progress Pacific War Trilogyand Carl Sandburg’s massive biography of Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years and The War Years.
About fifteen years ago, I decided to keep a log showing what I had read and the date I finished the book.   Beginning in 2002, I have, on my computer, a complete list of books I have read each year.  I also keep a record of the number of pages in each volume so I can see how many pages I have read.  (BWT: I don’t tell my wife because she thinks I read too much already!)  That came in handy a few years ago when a friend accused me of reading nothing but boring history books, I could tell that person that over the past few years I had read fiction and non-fiction equally.   And I plan on doing that as long I can read!

Random Book Day 2015: You’ll Know It When You Read It

Ah, that rare moment when it happens. You start reading a book, and at some point (usually early on) you realize that it isn’t a book at all, but a BOOK. A revelation. A work of art. This doesn’t happen often, and many times it is by chance. It is wonderful to be surprised in such a way. This happened to me not long ago, and that book kicks off our third annual Random Book Day blog.

This is not a random bear.
This is not a random bear. The cat pic comes later.

 

Here by Richard McGuire

Here book cover

I could start by saying that Here is a graphic novel, but that is so limiting. Graphic novels (and I blogged about them before) simply tells us the format of this book. It has pictures. It is illustrated. A much better descriptor of Here is “literary force of nature”.

Here tells the story of a particular room, or more accurately a particular place. Each page is like a snapshot of the room at a different period in time, from the distant past to the far future, but mostly focusing on the last 100 years or so. We can see what was happening there throughout the years, and see the people who were there. Birth, death, happiness and sorrow. Ultimately the story is not as much about the room but about the life that happens there, and believe me life suffuses this book start to finish. Maguire both wrote and illustrated it, and I think he deserves a medal.

I finished reading it while on my lunch break, and it is a good thing I did so because otherwise I would have been late coming back. There was no way I was not going to stop reading it. It wasn’t just my favorite book of the year, it was the best book I read this year.

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room book cover

Speaking of rooms, my next book is called, umm, Room. It is told from the perspective of Jack, a five year old, which that alone would be interesting, but Jack’s life is not typical. He has spent his entire life, all five years, in the same room. His mother was kidnapped and imprisoned in the room by the only other real life person Jack has ever seen, Old Nick. Jack does not realize this man is his father via the rape of his mother.

Okay, you can tell already that this is an intense story. I had reservations about reading something that would be such a downer, but it came well recommended. As in I asked my wife for something to read and she literally stuck this in my hand. While it is intense, everything being filtered through the innocence of Jack (who thinks the entire world is contained within the room) softens the blows a bit.  And, mild spoiler alert here, when they escape Jack is thrust into a world of wonder that also terrifies him.

The emotional impact of the book can be rough at times but it is well worth the effort. Many others would second this. And now there is a movie of the book, starring the talented Brie Larson, that is on my must watch list.

Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb

Bimbos of the Death Sun book cover

And now for something completely different. McCrumb mostly writes contemporary historical fiction set in the Appalachian Mountains. This is not one of those books. It is a murder mystery set at a science fiction convention. A prickly author is killed, and the convention attendees are left to both keep the show going and try to discover who the killer is.

Bimbos (the title is the name of a book one of the protagonists had written) serves as a perfectly fine mystery, but also realistically captures the feel of both the setting and the people who inhabit it. There are a lot of stereotypes involved, but McCrumb never makes them seem cliche. Plus, just like me, you can learn about filk music (that is not a typo).

This book may seem at first to be lowbrow, especially considering the pulp style cover, but it rises well above the masses. In fact, it won an Edgar Award. A good choice to do some genre breaking. it is also fun to see the differences in technology, such as a lead character talking about this new thing called email they are using at the university he teaches at.

Random House Tower in NYC. Because books.
Random House Tower in NYC. Because books.

 

Ghostman by Roger Hobbs

Ghostman book cover

Hobbs debut novel is quite impressive. Jack is a career criminal, a ghostman, a man who can hide in plain sight and disappear without a trace after a job is finished. Jack is very good at his job, but a mistake he made years ago comes back to haunt him, and to pay off his debt he is off to clean up a botched New Jersey casino heist. Of course the job is not as straightforward as it sounds, and Jack has to use all of his skills to come out alive.

Hobbs does a great job of keeping the suspense high, and of giving an inside view of how a man like Jack operates. I was honestly surprised that a new writer could craft a book is such a masterful way. Fans of Lee Child and Robert Stark are doing themselves a grave disservice by not reading this. Granted, the follow up Vanishing Games certainly falls short of the high mark set by Ghostman, but I am still looking forward to what else Hobbs produces.

In Red by Magdalena Tulli, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston

In Red book cover

I mentioned I was going to read this not long ago, and indeed I did read it. And it was good enough to add to this list. Set in a small town in Poland in the early 20th century, In Red is a mixture of gritty realism and fancy surrealism. I found myself reminded of The Grand Budapest Hotel in some ways, and also of Salvador Plascencia’s wonderful book The People of Paper. Bouncing from character to character, one scene will be a straight telling of standard doings in the town and the next will feature something like a girl whose heart had stopped refusing to die and going about her regular routine of reading French romance novels, or a bullet that was fired years ago striking someone after completing its circumnavigation of the globe.

I started to grow disheartened as the end of the book, as it all seemed to be heading towards an incredibly sad ending, but Tulli reminds us that these are all just stories, and that stories are told in many different ways. This book is told in a very entertaining way, and my hat is off to both Tulli and Johnston, who translated it so well. Also, I don’t typically wear hats.

Armada by Ernest Cline

Armada book cover

I feel a bit bad for this book, because Cline’s first one, Ready Player One, was not only a really fun read but had such a distinctive voice to it that it makes it hard for Armada to get out from under its shadow. Nevertheless, Armada is a fine read, a rollicking sci fi adventure that does some clever lampshading.

Zack is a pretty standard high school kid. Having lost his father at a young age he has some anger issues to deal with, which gives his character depth that many teens depicted in fiction do not. He of course spends a lot of time playing video games, and one day while sitting in class he looks out the window and sees a spaceship directly out of Armada, his favorite game. It turns out that the game all along was intended as a training simulator for an inevitable alien invasion. Zack, being one of the best players in the game, is recruited along with many others to combat the alien threat.

The book stays focused on Zack, but because of his skills and his background he is exposed to the highest levels of the military and we get to follow both his story and the big picture of the invasion. Armada is filled with sci fi and 80s references, but not to a distracting degree, and not to a level that you feel like you are missing out if you don’t get all of them. I also really liked how Cline pokes some good natured fun at the genre. Zack realizes quickly that this invasion has massive plot holes in it, much like so many books and movies do, and he starts asking questions and doubting the official narrative. A fun read, and one that has a bit more depth than is first evident.

Time to play the game. Some of you know what I mean.
Time to play the game. Some of you know what I mean.

 

Swan Song by Robert McCammon

Swan Song book cover

Well, enough of the fun and whimsical reads. Swan Song is horror, and lives up to the genre. It tells the story of survivors of a nuclear war who find themselves on the opposite sides of a conflict between good and evil. Sounds a bit like Stephen King’s The Stand you might be thinking, and you would be right to a degree, although Swan Song is certainly not a derivative work.

One thing that happens is that many of the characters start being afflicted by growths that cover much of their bodies, especially their faces. In this way even some of the good guys have the outward appearance of monsters for much of the story. On one side is the girl Swan, who has the power to bring life back to sticken plants, and her ex-wrestler protector Josh. On the other side is former survivalist Colonel Macklin, and his protegee, a teen by the name of Roland who shows us that real monstrosity comes from within.

Swan Song is a long book, and set in the 1980s it is a bit dated now. Plus you really have to wait for the payoff at the end. But that payoff is certainly worth it. In fact it was the co-winner of the first Bram Stoker Award, along with King’s Misery, so that should give you an idea of the quality of this book.

The Last Days of Video by Jeremy Hawkins

The Last Days of Video book cover

So in full disclosure I will say that I work with someone who is related to the author. That being said, I wouldn’t talk about this book if it wasn’t any good. The title is pretty self explanatory. Waring Wax is the proprietor of a small independent video store in a small college town in North Carolina. Wax muddles drunkenly through life without much concern until threatened by the arrival of a shiny new Blockbuster across the street.

See what Hawkins did there? This is a new book, published in early 2015, and we all know that there are no more Blockbuster stores anymore (sort of). Hawkins presents a standard enough story that has a lot of non standard elements. Wax has to overcome his personal issues, and his employees who chip in to help have to overcome theirs. Throw in a director of a movie being filmed in town who believes himself haunted by the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock and you end up with quite the tale.

Hawkins has said he was influenced by the BBC bookstore comedy Black Books, but I think there is some A Confederacy of Dunces in their too, and there is nothing wrong with that. Plus it has a really cool cover.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

The Rook book cover

This was my favorite book of the year up until the point I read Here. I wouldn’t have said it was the best book I had read, but I sure did enjoy it. Like Ghostman above it is a debut novel, and it was recommended to me by the same person who recommended Ghostman. Hmm, there is another book on my list he told me about. I think I ought to read that one too.

The Rook is the story of a woman who awakens in a muddy park surrounded with bodies and with her memory largely gone. She finds a letter in her pocket addressed to her that starts explaining things. Her name is Myfanwy (sounds like Tiffany) Thomas, and she works for a secret British organization that is basically a supernatural MI6. She herself is a high ranking member of the unit, a Rook. The memory loss was the result of an attack by a rival, and anticipating it she had written the letter in the pocket, and many others as well, so her future self might have a chance to survive. And to track down her assailant, an enemy who poses a threat not just to her but to the Britain itself.

On the surface one might think this was a version of James Bond crossed with Lara Croft, but it isn’t really. Myfanwy is not so much the action type, and in fact previously was loathe to use her powers. Her new self, however, isn’t as timid, much to the chagrin of her enemies and rivals.

I liked the various powers characters had. Many felt fresh in a genre where it seems like we have seen it all before. The book does have a conclusive ending, but is well suited for a sequel(s). Something I am eagerly awaiting.

Well, that wraps up Random Book Day 2015. I hope you’ll find your own random, or not so random, reads this year that will make you want to share them with the world.

Random Book Day 2013

Random Book Day 2014

Not so random kitten.
told you.

Genre Bingo!

Once upon a time I mostly read books from one literary genre: fantasy. As the years have gone by I have found that I read a much wider range of things. In fact, I voted for several genres in last weeks poll.  I don’t have a master plan here. I read whatever I come across that looks interesting, or is recommended to me. In fact I even went so far recently as to tell my wife to stick a book in my hand, and that is what I would read next. She did, and I read it. It was a good book, and it was something that I probably wasn’t going to read otherwise.

This is the main point of this post: reading things you wouldn’t normally read. It is easy enough for me to say you should try reading outside your comfort zone, but that doesn’t really help you do it now, does it? Oh, and if you only ever read, say, novels about 18th century conflicted Persian poets, than that is fine. You can keep reading those. But for the rest of us it is time for…Genre Bingo!

Genre Bingo pic
Feel free to print, use, or share this bingo card in any way that helps you (and others) read more.

The goal here is to read a book from each of the genres in a line across, down, or diagonally on the genre bingo card. Once you complete that line, you win! The Free Space space isn’t actually free. You still have to read a book, but you can read any sort of thing you want and count it for that space. There is no set order, and there is no time limit. You can read 20 mysteries before you get around to reading a book of short stories if you want. It can even be a book of mystery short stories. However, each book can only be counted for one space.

I know what you are thinking at this point. You are thinking “this is just the greatest and coolest, but how on earth am I going to find books from genres I am not familiar with?” Good question. I’m glad you asked. (Also, Genre Bingo is totally not my idea. Lots of people have done it before.) You can always ask your Friendly Neighborhood Library Practitioner for genre help and advice, of course. That is always a great option. You can also use this handy list of links to genre books that I am providing.

Fiction Essentially, any book that doesn’t fit into a specific genre. Most best sellers will fit this category.

New York Times best seller list

Mystery Who-done-its.

The Edgar Awards

Science Fiction Spaceships and aliens.

The Nebula Awards

Fantasy Wizards and unicorns.

The Hugo Awards

Romance Love is in the air. Also known as “happy ending” stories.

The RITA Awards

Horror To quote my niece coming out of the Haunted Mansion at Disney, “scary monsters, Mommy”. Also, zombies.

The Bram Stoker Awards

Western Howdy there, pardner.

The Spur Awards

Christian Fiction Also known as “gentle reads”.

The Christy Awards

old books
Random photo of old books to break up monotony of text.

Short Story Books of short stories are often anthologies with numerous authors, but can also be compilations of a single author’s work.

The O. Henry Prize

North Carolina Books set in North Carolina, or written by North Carolina authors.

A blog about books set in North Carolina 

Nonfiction Books with real facts in them.

A list of National Book Award winners for nonfiction

Biography A book detailing a person’s life. An autobiography is one written by the actual person.

A list of Los Angeles Times Book Prize winners for biographies

Young Adult Books for teenagers. Although us library types will tell you that there is some good reading for adults in YA.

The Alex Awards which are for adult novels that have appeal to teens

Historical Fiction Books set in the past.

The Walter Scott Prize

Classics All those books that we should have read but haven’t gotten around to.

A challenge to read 100 classics of which I have read like 25

Urban Fiction Usually features African American characters. My wife had a side gig reviewing submitted manuscripts in this genre a few years ago.

The Street Literature Book Award

Realistic Fiction Books where the characters, plot, and settings are are true to real life.

A list of realistic fiction books

Imperator Furiosa
Imperator Furiosa is skeptical of your realism.

Humor Books that make you laugh. Hopefully. Remember, British humor is different than ours.

The Thurber Prize

Adventure The Indiana Jones and Errol Flynn part of the blog. Can be fiction or nonfiction.

A list of 50 adventure books

Poetry It doesn’t even have to rhyme.

A list of Poets’ Prize winners

Thriller Hero vs the bad guys in a modern setting, such as spy novels.

The Thriller Awards

Graphic Novels Fully illustrated books. See my post here for a more thorough explanation.

List of award-winning graphic novels

Award Winners Any book that has won a literary award.

A list of literary awards which link to lists of the award winners

Crime This would include detective stories and police procedurals.

The Daggers Awards

 

So, what happens when you get genre bingo? First the fireworks go off.

fireworks
Disclaimer: these are Canadian fireworks.

Then you get a prize. There is an exciting list of prizes to choose from.

  1. Reading is its own reward.
  2. The admiration of your peers.
  3. Something to gripe about (if you didn’t like some of the books you read).
  4. A cookie.
  5. Another cookie.
  6. A free cheat day (dieters only).
  7. Bragging rights.
  8. A personalized prize from me. (Seriously. Send me an email at cwilder@fontanalib.org with the details of your winning genre bingo card and I will do my best to send you a real life prize.)

Am I going to play genre bingo myself? Sort of. I think I am going to continue my reading habits as normal and keep track of what bingo spaces I hit on. In a year, if I remember, I will revisit this and see how many I got.

As a finale I present to you an alternate bingo card. Instead of genres we have random types of books to read. Same rules and prizes as above. Feel free to share your thoughts and bingo progress in the comments. and Happy Reading!

random book bingo card
Feel free to print, use, or share this bingo card in any way that helps you (and others) read more.