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Aardy R. DeVarque

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Books that I read in June [Jul. 20th, 2016|09:12 pm]
Aardy R. DeVarque
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Books that I read in June:

20. Ennis, Garth. Gone to Texas (Preacher, vol. 1) (198 p.)

21. Ennis, Garth. To the End of the World (Preacher, vol. 2) (244 p.)

22. Ennis, Garth. Proud Americans (Preacher, vol. 3) (229 p.)

23. Sayers, Dorothy L. Whose Body? (Lord Peter Wimsey) (252 p.)

24. Harrison, Harry. The Stainless Steel Rat (126 p.)

25. Harrison, Harry. The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge (149 p.)

26. Harrison, Harry. The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World (159 p.)

27. Moon, Elizabeth. Once a Hero (Esmay Suiza series) (400 p.)

28. Moon, Elizabeth. Rules of Engagement (Esmay Suiza series) (393 p.)

29. Ennis, Garth. Ancient History (Preacher, vol. 4) (221 p.)

June total: 2,371 pages
2016 YTD total: 7,923 pages



Preacher and The Stainless Steel Rat are re-reads. One is now a TV series, and the other one should be (or a series of movies).

Preacher is filled with graphicly vile characters and acts, which is part of its appeal. However, the storytelling & art are the best parts. Of these four, I liked the first volume & the first story of the fourth volume the best.

The Stainless Steel Rat series is at its best when it has a story to tell with a hefty dollop of humor & over-the-top action rather than mostly humorous action with a veneer of story--you can usually tell the difference, at least where Harrison's books are concerned, by the amount of characterization that goes into anyone other than the main character. The first has to set up the the character of James Bolivar DiGriz and the world, and so has a lot of that. The second picks up where the first left off, but adds something to the formula that is something of a rarity in series fiction-- a stable marriage, with a spouse who is as able (or more so) than the protagonist. The third starts off by destroying the universe and runs straight into a time-paradox loop. The first two are excellent, the third is merely good.

My first exposure to Lord Peter Wimsey was the amazing mystery The Nine Tailors, so I decided to try reading some of Sayers' other novels with the same character; this is the first. The two are quite different in setting & tone, but Sayers can definitely weave a good tale either way. Of the two, The Nine Tailors is by far the better, while Whose Body? is still quite good in its own right.

I picked up Once a Hero thinking it was book one of a series. Turns out it's actually book 4, but is the first of a story arc. It starts in media res, referring back to prior events as made me think there had to be a previous book... and there is, except these particular events all take place off-screen, which is frustrating. Otherwise, Once a Hero and Rules of Engagement are well-written, and similar enough to the early Honor Harrington books that if you like one series, chances are you'll like the other, too. Though that comes with a major caveat for Rules of Engagement, which prominently features a fundamentalist religious sect somewhat loosely derived in a somewhat exaggerated form from late 19th century Texan Mormon splinter groups, complete with kidnapping, imprisoning, and impregnating women to keep their colony going, and generally treating all females as lowest-class servants. Lots of potential triggers in that book, enough that it comes with a disclaimer forward, but Moon is definitely writing on all cylinders in both of these, and has important analogies she wants to to make about, among other things, the role of women in society.



Feudalism: Serf & Turf
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Books that I read in May [Jun. 26th, 2016|02:01 am]
Aardy R. DeVarque
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Books that I read in May

17. Thompson, Jill. Magic Trixie (Magic Trixie, 1) (93 p.)

18. Gaiman, Neil & Terry Pratchett. Good Omens (366 p.)

19. Pratchett, Terry. Small Gods (357 p.)

May total: 816 pages
2016 YTD total: 5552 pages



Been busy, stressed, and busy. Decided to take a little break from the classics; two re-reads and a kids' graphic novel this month. All excellent; Good Omens in particular is a must-read.



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Books that I read in April [May. 19th, 2016|11:19 pm]
Aardy R. DeVarque
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[Current Mood |morosemorose]

Books that I read in April:

14. Lowe, Derek B. The Chemistry Book (527 p.)

15. Olson, Ken. The Art of Hanging Loose in an Uptight World (204 p.)

16. Newman, Mildred & Bernard Berkowitz. How to Take Charge of Your Life (115 p.)

April total: 846 pages
2016 YTD total: 4736 pages



The Chemistry Book is a a history of chemistry's milestones (some major and famous, some mundane but important), presented as one page of text opposite a full-page illustration. The author is a long-time blogger, mostly about the pharmaceutical industry, but also about chemistry in general--his Things I Won't Work With category is both absolutely scary and absolutely hilarious, usually at the same time. (Keep an eye out for his blog posts about chlorine trifluoride--especially "Sand won't save you this time".) This book is absolutely fantastic, a must-read. Lots of solid history, fascinating trivia, basic information, and mostly accessible to the average person--or at least the average person who has survived a high school science class or two.

The Art of Hanging Loose in an Uptight World and How to Take Charge of Your Life are both pop psychology books from the 1970s. I think they reflect more what was in the air at the time, and any timeless truths are few & far between, at least for me. They generally come off as quite dated now (especially the former, as it is primarily centered around a set of analogies to audio reel-to-reel technology or perhaps to teletypes--i.e. "running a tape of [something]"), and are aimed at people who are basically doing okay but just want a little direction (as opposed to people with, say, clinical depression), but both still include some useful tidbits; the latter book had more for me than the former. I wouldn't recommend seeking them out these days, but if you happened to stumble across them, you might find a helpful nugget or three.



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Books that I read in February [Mar. 14th, 2016|11:08 pm]
Aardy R. DeVarque
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[Current Mood |tiredtired]

Books that I read in February:

10. Friedman, C.S. Crown of Shadows (The Coldfire Trilogy, bk. 3) (525 p.)

11. Crane, Stephen. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, and Other Short Fiction (192 p.)
(Contents: Maggie: A Girl of the Streets; The Monster; The Blue Hotel; The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky; The Open Boat)

February total: 717 pages
2016 YTD total: 3,288 pages




I said most of my bit about The Coldfire Trilogy last month. It's good. It's really good. Each volume shows how to have an epic fantasy story that finishes in one volume, then the next volume raises the stakes and expands the scope. Then does it again in the next volume.

The titular Maggie is a peek into life in the tenements in late 1800s New York City; somewhat similar to O. Henry's stories, though a little darker, perhaps by way of Upton Sinclair. If anything, the short stories are somewhat similar to the stories that accompany Kate Chopin's The Awakening. My only previous familiarity with Stephen Crane is with The Red Badge of Courage; these stories show that that one wasn't a fluke (despite being a 21-year-old writing about a war that took place before he was born), he really was an excellent writer. All of the stories here are quite good--examinations into the dark corners of human psyche, though not constantly as oppressively bleak as one might think from that. Highly recommended, especially the other four stories.



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Books that I read in January [Feb. 21st, 2016|01:50 pm]
Aardy R. DeVarque
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Books that I read in January:

1-3. Harrison, Harry. Deathworld 1; Deathworld 2; Deathworld 3 (The Deathworld Trilogy) (440 p.)

4. Harrison, Harry. A Stainless Steel Rat is Born (The Stainless Steel Rat, [bk. 6]) (214 p.)

5. Harrison, Harry. The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted (The Stainless Steel Rat, [bk. 7]) (214 p.)

6. Baum, L. Frank. The Patchwork Girl of Oz (Oz, #7) (340 p.)

7. Friedman, C.S. Black Sun Rising (The Coldfire Trilogy, bk. 1) (586 p.)

8. Friedman, C.S. When True Night Falls (The Coldfire Trilogy, bk. 2) (617 p.)

9. Willingham, Bill. Farewell (Fables, #150 / vol. 22) (160 p.)

January total: 2,571 pages
2016 YTD total: 2,571 pages




Gah. A usual-sized writeup just isn't going to happen this month. Short form:

Liked Deathworld 1; interesting twist on colonization of an alien planet. Also liked 2 & 3, but not quite as much--also creative and interesting, but they're less "man vs. nature" and more "man vs. man", and thus not really what I expect from something called "Deathworld".

It was fun to read about Slippery Jim DiGriz growing up into becoming the Stainless Steel Rat.

The Patchwork Girl of Oz is a fun travelogue of sorts. Somewhat marred by some of the recurring characters being jerks to the protagonist when they first meet, then swooping in to save the day at the end.

The Coldfire Trilogy is a re-read, but it's been long enough since the last one that I didn't remember how it turned out. A very inventive take on the source of magic, "gods", etc. in a fantasy story. Has a sci-fi twist, close but not quite on the level of midichlorians (and more succesfully handled). Also a well-done integration of a Christian-ish church. I like these books a lot. (If there were a TV show or movie series, there would be a swoon of fangirls writing kawaii slashfic manga about Damien Vryce & Gerald Tarrant.)

I'm sad that Fables is over, but happy that at least some of the characters got happy endings. I've been somewhat meh on it ever since the war against the Emperor story arc, but would love to read more Fables stories set around the time of the first few collections.



Feudalism: Serf & Turf



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Books that I read in December [Jan. 19th, 2016|09:30 pm]
Aardy R. DeVarque
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[Current Mood |thirstythirsty]

Books that I read in December:

24. Cooper, J. Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans (Leatherstocking Tales) (330 p.)

25. Spoor, Ryk. Spheres of Influence (Grand Central Arena series) (567 p.)

December total: 897 pages
2015 YTD total: 7,713 pages



Well, I didn't get to either 50 books or 15,000 pages, my usual anunal goals, but I did reach half of both targets. That's much better than I was afraid I might do this year, so I'll take it.

I didn't know all that much about The Last of the Mohicans going in, expected to find it tolerably interesting, and instead found it to be a quite readable adventure story, especially surprising to me given when it was written. I also expected it to be a bit more one-dimensionally, negatively stereotyped in its portrayal of Native American culture than it turned out to be. Don't get me wrong, there is some of that, but it's definitely more nuanced than novels written fifty years later were, and the settings and basic action pieces seem to be relatively true to life, at least compared to what little I know about the time period between the French & Indian war and the Revolution. It did take me longer than it should have to figure out which character's first name went with which character, as several of them are usually referred to by their last name, except when they aren't, and all of the natives and Natty Bumppo have at least two if not three or four different names they are referred to by various other characters and the narrator, and it did seem a bit slow and flowery in spots, but some of both of those may have been due to reading most of it in smaller chunks at a time. Recommended; I liked this one a lot more than I expected to.

I decided to end the year by taking a break from the shelf of Classics and read something fun--Spheres of Influence--a book I'd been holding in reserve for a while now, actually, for when I needed just such a break. No regrets; it was refreshing to be able to read through a long book that constantly kept me wanting to find out what happened next, and still finish it in a fairly short time. I liked it even more than I liked the first book--which was quite a bit--but despite the presence of a "what went before" preface, I would still recommend reading the first book rather than starting cold with this one. The addition of the Monkey King, in particular, adds an element of more overt humor, swashbuckling, and "sensawunda" that wasn't quite there in the first book. The one drawback, if one can even call it that, is that the book's ending feels too open-ended for my tastes, as it's more of a "to be continued" than a "and they had many more adventures, which we might tell you about someday"; the book's own A-plots that get resolved feel more like B-plots due to the near-omnipresence of the overarching continuing story-arc that gets moved along a few notches but otherwise is still not even close to being resolved. (That said, it's obviously an intentional pacing decision and doesn't really detract that much, it just hits a personal hot-button, since I don't have all that much time to read these days and thus tend to stay away from ungodly long epics like Wheel of Time or Game of Thrones, and while I wish GCA the level of popularity of books like that, I'd also rather see existing plots come to a climax and new plots start, than spin wheels for 2,000 pages.) I also groaned out loud at the source of one character's name (Maria-Susanna), though it makes sense in context and is explained in-story in such a way as to make it clear it's the author being tongue-in-cheek and actually doing something with the concept rather than too cutesy by far with a throwaway Easter egg. But don't let either of those points dissuade you; it's an excellent book that is both a throwback/homage to the classic science fiction stories of the 1930s and a unique, solid, modern story in its own right. Highly recommended. (The usual disclaimer: I've known Ryk online for more than 20 years now, so might have a bit of bias. I don't think I do, but you be the judge.)



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Books that I read in November [Dec. 5th, 2015|12:06 am]
Aardy R. DeVarque
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[Current Mood |tiredtired]

Books that I read in November:

22. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness (245 p.)

23. Sakai, Stan. Senso (Usago Yojimbo) (167 p.)

November total: 412 pages
2015 YTD total: 6,816 pages




Heart of Darkness would've been best paired with Things Fall Apart, as they tell opposite sides of the European colonization of Africa, with similar time frames & locations. Neither is all that sympathetic to the Europeans, but Things Fall Apart is clearly more accurate & nuanced in its portrayals of native culture, as Heart of Darkness is written through the lens of the "white man's burden" to civilize the uncivilized natives still being accepted dogma, even when satirizing some of the worst excesses of the colonists and colonial bureaucracy. The point of Heart of Darkness also isn't its portrayal of the culture, but rather delving into the human psyche and how far it can bend in tough conditions. I was surprised to learn that Heart of Darkness is not-so-loosely based on Conrad's personal travels in Africa and stories of other white travelers he heard about while there. It's shorter than I though it'd be, too; this particular copy (edited by D.C.R.A. Goonetilleke) is half appendices containing contemporary reviews of Conrad in general & Heart of Darkness in particular, as well as contemporary essays about colonial efforts in Africa. It's a little slow in spots, and condensed in others, but it is a solidly good read. Recommended

Senso is built from the premise "What if the events of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds were preceded a couple centuries by a scouting mission that landed in the medieval Japan of Usagi Yojimbo?" The main difference is that Wells is making a point about the futility of war, with the end result being completely out of the protagonist's control, while Sakai is more telling an adventure story that involves the heroes personally winning the day in the end, even if they suffer some setbacks & deaths along the way. It's billed as the last (chronologically) Usagi Yojimbo story, but even if it's officially in-canon it isn't really the last story, because it also directly bridges the gap between Usagi proper and the Space Usagi story. I'd prefer for it to be non-canon--not because of who lives & who dies, primarily but because I don't think a science fiction alien invasion story (complete with a giant Gundam-like robot in an otherwise mostly period-accurate medieval Japan--which is fun, but also more than a bit tongue-in-cheek silly) really works in the overall story of Usagi Yojimbo, though it's fun & enjoyable as a "What if?"-style side story. (I also don't like having any further adventures of Usagi in the main series have to be limited to building towards all of the characters turning out as they did here.) Recommended, as Sakai always writes good stuff, and I liked this story quite a bit, but if you aren't already a fan of War of the Worlds or invasion-style or monster-fighting robots anime/manga like Attack on Titan or the actual Gundam series, you may want to give this one a pass.



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Books that I read in September [Oct. 13th, 2015|12:24 am]
Aardy R. DeVarque
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Books that I read in September:

19. Chopin, Kate. The Awakening, and Selected Stories (286 p.)
(Contents: The Awakening; Emancipation: a Life Fable; At the 'Cadian Ball; Désirée’s Baby; La Belle Zoraïde; At Chênière Caminada; The Story of an Hour; Lilacs; Athénaïse; A Pair of Silk Stockings; Nég Créol; Elizabeth Stock’s One Story; The Storm: A Sequel to "The 'Cadian Ball")

20. Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street (110 p.)

September total: 396 pages
2015 YTD: 6,190 pages




Running late this month, so just brief comments.

The main character in The Awakening annoyed me so much I wanted to slap some sense into her, which I don't think was quite the author's intent. The short stories that make up the rest of this collection, however, were quite good overall, and those are highly recommended.

The House on Mango Street is a memoir made up of a series of very brief (often 2-3 pages) vignettes about life as a kid in a poor, Hispanic area of Chicago. It's good, and contains plenty to make you think about.



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Books that I read in August [Sep. 1st, 2015|09:44 pm]
Aardy R. DeVarque
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[Current Mood |tiredtired]

Books that I read in August:

16. Brown, Charles Brockden. Wieland, and Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist (365 p.)

17. Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange (192 p.)

18. Camus, Albert. The Stranger (123 p.)

August total: 680 pages
2015 YTD: 5,794 pages




Ah, that's better. And three surprisingly readable books this time, too. One might even argue that all are (very loosely) linked by a theme of "mental illness".

Wieland, and its unfinished prequel/companion, Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist are among the first "American" novels--written by an American, set in America, and featuring American sensibilities; Wieland (published in 1798) is also one of the origins of the American "gothic" genre later perfected by Edgar Allan Poe. In brief, in a time & place where ventriloquism is almost unknown, someone who has mastered the arts of both ventriloquism and vocal mimickry manages to throw other people's voices into places where they aren't, and thus cause a whole mess of trouble, including helping to convince the title character that he hears angels commanding him to do various tasks--and starts hearing them when the ventriloquist isn't around, too. Things go from bad to worse and several characters end up unjustly shamed, miserable, insane, dead, or any three of those four. Putting aside that ventriloquism generally doesn't work the way it's described here, I rather enjoyed this one and think it would make a dandy TV movie with just a few tweaks to cover over the worst narrative foibles. The Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist, on the other hand, tell the tale of how our resident ventriloquist wasn't really such a bad guy at heart, at least at first, but fell in with bad influences. Because it was never finished, it doesn't have as much impact, but it does provide some key insights into the character and how he came to be able (and willing) to do what he does in Wieland. It has its warts, but Wieland is worth the read, especially if you also like Poe and Mary Shelley. (Carwin is less so, especially since it ends mid-action, but I still recommend it after one has read Wieland.)

I've seen Kubrick's movie of A Clockwork Orange, but hadn't read the book until now. Also of note is that this was an unabridged edtion, which includes the last chapter that was originally left out for American publication (and as a result was also left out of the movie). The Russian-Cockney slang is pretty much an impenetrable wall for basic comprehension in large parts, but with the help of a second copy that has a partial glossary, I could follow it just well enough most of the time to figure out what was going on. Kubrick stuck extremely close to the novel, so if you've seen the movie, you've pretty much read the book, except for the last chapter... which just happens to radically change the protagonist, by having him start to grow out of his chaotic, antisocial ways and grow up into a rational adult who might actually care for someone other than himself. (From the point of view of Piaget's theories of cognitive development, one could argue that at the end, our dear Alex started to achieve formal operations.) Marks off for invented slang that is worse than that of a bad fantasy novel, but otherwise highly, thoroughly recommended.

I never had to read The Stranger in school, but I knew people who did and weren't exactly fans of it. I wasn't either at first (as it's almost Joycean or Seinfeldian in being a book about nothing, and that sort of book usually bores me to tears), but then I concluded that the protagonist and the way he describes his actions and reactions makes significantly more sense if he's read as having undiagnosed autism, but on the highly functioning, highly verbal part of the spectrum--in any case he certainly doesn't process emotions the same way as "normal" people do--at which point the book became much more interesting to me and the protagonist much less of an unambitious slacker and much more sympathetic. It's not a long or particularly difficult read, so I recommend it, but also recommend that while reading it, you consider the possibility that the main character may have Asperger's Syndrome or a related condition--it throws the whole book into a new light, especially the protagonist's treatment at the hands of the French legal system.



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Books that I read in July [Aug. 1st, 2015|10:47 pm]
Aardy R. DeVarque
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[Current Mood |disappointeddisappointed]

Books that I read in July:

None.

July total: A big, fat 0 pages
2015 YTD: 5,114 pages



It's finally happened. -sigh-

Don't get me wrong, I did actually read some this month, but I haven't finished any of those books yet.



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