Rollicking Reads from 2016

It is the time of year for retrospectives.  And rather than recap celebrity deaths (Prince, Bowie, Mariah Carey’s career), I thought I’d pick a handful of materials I’ve checked out from the library that gave me hours of enjoyment this past year of 2016. They were not all published in 2016, but 2016 was the year I read them for the first time.

Overall, I’ve read 80 eBooks this past year, and about 20 additional books in print.  From those 100  I’ll select 10 things to recommend, all available from Fontana Regional Library or the NC Cardinal state system that FRL belongs to.

One explanation about my selections: I like science fiction and fantasy genres, but also like thriller and adventure novels, good comedies, and even some mysteries; when reading non-fiction I like histories, biographies, and memoirs.  So you will see “all of the above” in the ten titles/series I’ve chosen.  I’ll start with a memoir…about a movie, made about a book, that was written about a fictional book.

1.As you wish: inconceivable tales from the making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes (2014)

A memoir by the actor who played Westley in the now-classic movie The Princess Bride.  Hilarious and heart-warming, behind the scenes stories of how the movie came together, from the screenwriter (who also wrote the original book) to Billy Crystal to Andre the giant.

2.The Brilliance series by Marcus Sakey

3 titles: Brilliance (2013),  A Better World (2014), Written in Fire (2016)

An edge of tomorrow science-fiction thriller-adventure, about the social problems that occur when a percentage of the world’s children start manifesting savant-style gifts (like lightning calculation, but also mind-reading, pattern recognition, fantastic reflexes, etc.). It’s the story (somewhat similar to the story line of Blade Runner), about a special agent who hunts down the “Brilliants” who have broken the law.  And he and his youngest daughter are also Brilliants…

3.The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman

3 titles: The Invisible Library (2016), The Masked City (2016), The Burning Page (2017)

This fantasy series contains the tales of an alternate reality wherein many alternate realities can be traveled to, and the Invisible Library where the librarians attempt to collect all the versions of various books by travelling to the multi-verses involved.  Each alternate has a varying degree of Law vs. Chaos – Law based realities are like ours, with science and technology, whereas Chaos realities have fairies, dragons, magic, etc.  The realities are on a spectrum, so many of them have a mix. One of the first places the first book goes is a steampunk world with a Sherlock Holmes surrogate vs. vampires.

4.Chronicles of St. Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor

8 novels, plus novellas: https://www.goodreads.com/series/109102-the-chronicles-of-st-mary-s

In this fast-paced science-fiction series, St. Mary’s is an historical institute where historians study history via time travel.  A secret to all but their sponsoring Thirsk University, these tales tell of a the madcap adventures of the historian Madeline Maxwell, as she bounces with her colleagues from the fall of Troy to the Gates of Thermopylae to encounters with Isaac Newton and dodo birds.

5.Night School by Lee Child (2016)

Like all the Jack Reacher books written by Child, this one can be read as a standalone work, and not in any particular order.  Some of the Reacher books are “contemporary” and others are set back in Reacher’s past, while he was still in the Army.  This is a “past” title detailing how Reacher and a select team of both FBI and CIA agents undertake a secret mission to stop terrorists before they strike.  The appeal of the Reacher novels lies in the Jack Reacher character himself, as his unique brain and his indomitable physical gifts combine to thwart evil wherever he encounters it. In total, there are 21 books as of Night School.

6.Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo

2 titles: Six of Crows (2015), Crooked Kingdom (2016)

This fantasy duology is set in a steampunk world with some magic, and is sort of a fantasy version of Ocean’s Eleven. A group of six misfit but highly competent mercenary/criminals set out to infiltrate an un-breachable fortress and liberate the prisoner held there. There are lots of plot twists, with the leader Kaz usually (but not always) one step ahead of his opponents.

7.Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley

8 published novels and one novella : https://www.goodreads.com/series/46160-flavia-de-luce

A mystery series set shortly after WW2, whose heroine Flavia is only 11 (in the first book), but possessed of a mind like Sherlock Holmes, a rather morbid interest in chemistry (specializing in poisons), and the youngest of a very interesting English noble family.  Most of the books are set in the environs of the decaying mansion and grounds of the de Luce estate, but one of the books sees Flavia off to Canada.  The series has ongoing themes, and is not really designed for standalone reading, but it can be done that way without undue difficulty.

8.The Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson

3 novels and one novella: https://www.goodreads.com/series/93010-reckoners

An Earth where there are no super-heroes, only super-villains (the Epics), opposed by an extraordinary band of non-superpowered human rebels known as the Reckoners. Their goal – somehow defeating the Epics and restoring their world. Their only hope is to exploit the secret weakness of each super-villain.

9.Ex-heroes series by Peter Clines

5 titles: https://www.goodreads.com/series/67447-ex-heroes

{from the author’s website} In the days after civilization fell to the zombie hordes, a small team of heroes—including St. George, Zzzap, Cerberus, and Stealth—does everything they can to protect human survivors. Each day is a desperate battle against overwhelming odds as the heroes fight to keep the undead at bay, provide enough food and supplies for the living, and lay down their lives for those they’ve sworn to protect. But the hungry ex-humans aren’t the only threats the heroes face. Former allies, their powers and psyches hideously twisted, lurk in the shadows of the ruin that lies everywhere…and they may be the most terrifying threat of all.

10.The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013)

[from the publishers webpage] “The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.

Rosie Jarman possesses all these qualities. Don easily disqualifies her as a candidate for The Wife Project (even if she is “quite intelligent for a barmaid”). But Don is intrigued by Rosie’s own quest to identify her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on The Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.”

*****

As you can see, I discovered some wonderful series last year, as well as individual books, that kept me up too late, made me laugh out loud, and grabbed my imagination.  I hope you find something here that you will likewise enjoy!

[disclaimer: with series I am just linking to the first title in the series for you to get started, but I either list the existing books in the series or provide a link so they can be read in order]

Keep moving forward

Heya folks,

As both Cornelius Robinson and Walt Disney said, one  must “Keep Moving Forward!”  I’ve not done a blog before, but YOLO, to quote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. So, I’m going to give it a shot.

I like to read, and I read a lot. So hopefully I’ll have enough subject material to share.  I don’t have any great themes ready yet, but I’m reminded of how Bill Gates and Paul Allen got their big break.  They had launched Microsoft, but I believe they were a bit unready when IBM came calling and asked the young software company to provide the operating system for their Personal Computer.  Microsoft had acquired an operating system called QDOS for Quick and Dirty Operating System, and that ended up being MS-DOS (the PC’s operating system) and the rest is history.  So this will start out as a QD blog, and hopefully move forward from that.

Many folks have heard of or seen True Blood, an HBO series that ran seven seasons and garnered both an Emmy and a Golden Globe.  Not me, never saw an episode.  But the creator of the books behind the series, Charlaine Harris, spoke at a conference I went to last year, so I decided to read some of her titles. Although she’s written SIX series including the one “True Blood” was based on, I picked her most recent series on which to cut my teeth (no vampire pun intended).

It started with Midnight Crossroad,Product Details

 

continued with Day ShiftProduct Details

 

and just concluded with Night Shift.Product Details

 

So what’s it about?

Characters: a friendly witch, a “good” vampire, a female assassin for hire, an internet psychic who is also the real deal, and other perhaps even more strange residents of an extremely small rural town.

Setting: Midnight, Texas – a middle of nowhere, “wide spot in the road,” “sneeze and you’ll miss it” town.  By the end of the trilogy it will become as much of a character as the macabre inhabitants.

Audience: mystery readers, supernatural aficionados, and/or folks who grew up or spent time in miniscule rural communities.

Essentially, the residents of Midnight do what they can to keep their town and themselves “off the map” despite forces almost, but not quite, beyond their control.

I’d recommend all three books of the trilogy, as there really was not a drop off in quality in my opinion.  It wraps up fairly neatly, with the multitude of mysteries and questions raised in book one almost all answered by the conclusion of the third and final title.

Check out the first book (in print, Large Print, or in eBook format) from FRL and let me know what you think!

Advice on Books

So many books; so little time....
So many books; so little time….

By Stuart

Fans of Goodreads, fear not! Even though your web site has been acquired by Amazon, there are still many other sources for book recommendations on the internet that are free from the taint of merchandising. I’m thinking in particular of print book-reviewing publications that post some or all of their reviews online for free, along with literary essays and publishing industry news. I confess I’m addicted to book reviews, and often congratulate myself on being well read when in fact it’s just the book reviews that I have consumed—and not the books themselves. But before I came to the Hudson Library, I spent many years working in bookstores where—as at the public library—one has to keep up with the latest titles, as well as classics.

Goodreads, as the name implies, is more about reading, than the books themselves as physical objects, and features reviews by regular readers—which is great, as far as it goes, and is made possible by the culture of the Internet; I am signed up with Goodreads. But I like to think there is still room for trained, paid professionals to bring their knowledge and experience to book criticism.

All of our Fontana Regional libraries have complimentary copies of BookPage which features author interviews as well as reviews and columns focusing on mysteries, romance, cooking, audio books and book clubs. All these can be found at their online site, as well as “web exclusives” which currently features a profile of Theron Humphrey and his hound, Maddie, who travel the country as Mr. Humphrey takes photos of the interesting people he meets along the road. But Maddie has a way of stealing the show and it looks like their new book, “Maddie on Things,” could be reminiscent of William Wegman’s Weimaraners.

We also have subscriptions to the New York Times Book Review, which appears every weekend and is probably the most widely read book review in the country;  you can find them in your library’s periodical section. But I’ve become so obsessional in my book-review quest that I find their selections ho-hum, and lately about half the pages seem to be taken up with the various best-seller lists, with their combinations of print and ebooks, etc. The Wall Street Journal—also found in your library’s periodical section has an excellent selection of book reviews in it s Saturday “Review” section (which also includes other arts coverage). Thanks to NCLive–accessed through your library’s public computers or via the Fontana Regional Library’s homepage on your own device (but you’ll need both your library-card number and your password)—Fontana Regional Library cardholders can access all of the Journal’s articles, features and reviews for free, which is amazing considering the current introductory, three-month subscription offer for the print and online versions of the newspaper is $25.99. Last weekend’s section was devoted to Spring Books, and included reviews of:  “Return of a King” about the disastrous 1839 British invasion of Afghanistan by William Dalrymple, a wonderful historian and memoirist (I loved his “City of Djinns” about life in New Delhi); a biography of CIA chief William Colby (“Shadow Warrior” by Randall B. Woods); a history of Greenwich Village by John Strausbaugh and Meghan Cox Gurdon’s column on children’s books, among many, many other great offerings. If you know exactly whichWSJ  review you’re looking for, you can also get there via Google.

 My favorite book review is the weekly Times Literary Supplement, published in London and founded in 1902. Print subscriptions aren’t cheap (though the online version is much more affordable) but some of the most interesting recent reviews in all categories can be viewed for free at their web site

The Times Literary Supplement, published in London
The Times Literary Supplement, published in London

The TLS reviews books published in the United Kingdom and the U.S., as well as some books published in German, French, Italian, etc. and covers literary fiction and everything non-fiction. Among the interesting, free offerings on their web site now is one about literary hoaxes, with particular interest in the purported 1862 London meeting between Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoevsky; it’s a fascinating piece of sleuthing. Plus there are not one, but two free blogs, including “A Aon’s Life” by classics professor Mary Beard. The web site has this puff from the prize-winning Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa: “I have been reading the TLS since I learned English 40 years ago. It is the most serious, authoritative, witty, diverse and stimulating cultural publication in all the five languages I speak.” I just speak English, barely, but I agree—and I have a print subscription.

BookForum: A little more cutting edge...
BookForum: A little more cutting edge…

Another favorite of mine is Bookforum, (five issues a year) brought to you from the folks of Artforum. Bookforum is more cutting edge than the reviews discussed above. That is, both the reviewers and the books themselves are more likely to question the status quo, whether now or in 1700. Under “Reviews,” their website offers not just some of Bookforum’s more recent offerings, but also links to yet other book reviews of note from various publications; “Omnivore” has links to interesting articles from the press about culture and current events; “Paper Trail” has the latest literary and publishing news and gossip—yum yum. The most recent issue includes Vivian Gornick taking James Salter task for his new (but really same old, same old) novel “All That Is.” As Gornick puts it:

“Certainly, it is true that most writers have only one story in them—that is, as Flannery O’Connor put it, only one they can make come alive. Then again, it is also true that it is the writer’s obligation to make the story tell more the third or fourth time around than it did the first. For this reviewer, Salter’s work fails on that score. In his eighties he is telling the story almost exactly as he told it in his forties.”

Her review is available online for free.