Books that I read in January

Books that I read in January:

1. Forward, Eve. Villains by Necessity (446 p.)

2. Harrison, Harry. The Stainless Steel Rat Returns (Stainless Steel Rat) (304 p.)

3. Sayers, Dorothy L. Murder Must Advertise (Lord Peter Wimsey) (344 p.)

4. Sanderson, Brandon. The Alloy of Law (Mistborn novels) (332 p.)

5. Bujold, Lois McMaster. Cordelia's Honor (Vorkosigan Saga) (596 p.)
(Contents: Shards of Honor; Barrayar)

6. Hubbard, Freeman. The Phantom Brakeman, and Other Railroad Stories (91 p.)
(Contents: The Phantom Brakeman; The Tain That Never Came Back; The Broken Lantern; Casey Jones and the Cannonball Express; Signal-Tower Decision; A Depot Rescue)

7. Jackson, Robert B. Road Race Round the World (63 p.)

Total: 2,176 pages
YTD Total: 2,176 pages

Villains by Necessity has its share of first-novel flaws (e.g. a character with a surprise twist to his subplot being named "Sir Pryse"--albeit a twist that is guessable a mile away, so it isn't much of a surprise unless you aren't paying attention), but it's overall an excellent reversal of the usual fantasy tropes of good struggling against all-powerful evil, with good having already won, and the few villains left banding together on a quest to restore the balance before the world ends, sublimated into pure white energy. It's long out of print, often expensive as heck in print form, and not available as an e-book as far as I can tell, but if you can find a library with a copy, I highly recommend it, despite the flaws.

The Stainless Steel Rat Returns is almost a good Stainless Steel Rat book, but just doesn't quite make it. It's better than most of the other later Rat novels, though. If anything, it reminds me of Asprin's co-written Myth novels-- you can sort of see where the magic would have been, and it's reminiscent of the good times, but feels more like a shell that's missing the true soul. Recommended to fans who aren't sure whether to bother with any of the novels after the first three (and possibly the prequel), but otherwise skippable.

Murder Must Advertise is excellent, both as a view into the world of advertising agencies before the industry got so thoroughly scientific, psychological, and calculated, and as a mystery. It's technically set in the 1930s, but could easily be read as taking place any time between then and the late 1950s without any appreciable changes. Recommended, though I think it's probably more enjoyable if this isn't one's first Lord Peter Wimsey novel.

I've had several people recommend the Mistborn series to me, but when I went to the library, the original trilogy was all checked out. But this one, the first of a trilogy set a few centuries later as Sanderson's fantasy world has moved out of a stereotypical medieval period into a steampunk industrial revolution/Wild West setting. It's quite good, with a very inventive and thoroughy thought out magic system; I can't wait to read the rest of the series.

I'd previously read Barrayar, and am now catching up on the first half of the story with Cordelia's Honor. They definitely read better together than separately, and tell some important stories in the backstory of the Vorkosigan universe. Having a strong female protagonist who isn't necessarily all that strong in the physical sense is also quite refreshing. There are some triggery scenes for those sensitive to that, but otherwise highly recommended.

The Phantom Brakeman and Road Race Round the World are both children's books that I've re-read so many times I've lost count. The nostalgia factor is high for me, but they really are good reads in their own right. The first is a collection of various true stories involving railroads. The other is about the first automobile race to circumnavigate the globe, with lots of photos of the cars and race conditions. Not necessarily easy to find, but well worth the read; if nothing else, they can make good, yet also informational palate cleansers.

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Books that I read in December

Books that I read in December:

49. Bujold, Lois McMaster. Young Miles (The Vorkosigan Saga) (838 p.)

50 & 51. Sim, Dave. Church & State, Volumes I & II (Cerebus, v. 3 & 4) (1,219 p.)

52. Lee, Stan, et al. Essential Hulk, Volume 1 (Marvel Essentials) (528 p.)

December total: 2,585 pages
YTD total: 12,550 pages

Another year done. Made my goal of 50 books, but didn't quite make my goal of 15K pages.

The first three here are re-reads. All very good stuff; I don't have much to say about them. Young Miles is definitely recommended as a handy introduction to the Vorkosigan saga, even though these stories are not chronologically first in the series. Church & State collectively are some of the best-drawn comic stories out there, but this is definitely where the series' writing started to go off the rails. It's still excellent here, but the cracks show more and more as the story goes on.

I've previously read very few Incredible Hulk stories, from any era. I was a bit surprised at how often the Hulk got re-dosed with gamma rays, how often the Hulk's intelligence changed, how often the conditions to change from Bruce Banner into the Hulk and back changed, how early his "secret" identity became public knowledge, and how very late the basic characterization of "the madder the Hulk gets, the stronger he gets" happened. Good stuff, but 1960's Marvel stories aren't going to to everyone's tastes.

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Books that I read in September, October, and November

Books that I read in September:

42. De Crevecoeur, J. Hector St. John. Letters from an American Farmer; and Sketches of Eighteenth-Century America (501 p.)

Books that I read in October:

43. Jones, Diana Wynne. Howl's Moving Castle (212 p.)

44. North, Ryan. To Be Or Not To Be: A Chooseable-Path Adventure (740 p.)

Books that I read in November:

45. Sim, Dave. Cerebus (Cerebus, v. 1) (535 p.)

46. Sim, Dave. High Society (Cerebus, v. 2) (512 p.)

47. Sim, Dave. Cerebys Number Zero (92 p.)

48. Archie Jumbo Comics, 75th Anniversary Celebration, #2 (Archie Library) (222 p.)

September total: 501 pages
October total: 952 pages
November total: 1361 pages
YTD total: 9,965 pages

So. Three months gone by. Life's been busy and I've been sick and I just haven't had the time, or spoons, or spare brain-power, or get-up-and-go.

Anyone into Revolutionary-era American History should read Crevecoeur. Also, those who mindlessly worship the Founding Fathers and the patriots who followed them should be sat down in front of the "landscapes" that finish off the second half of this volume--unlike the pristine glory that you see in history textbooks, it's an uncomfortable look into the mob justice & corruption from the winners that punctuated the everyday life of everyday folk for much of the time before, during, & after the Revolutionary War, and shows that some of America's current dark undertones have been there since the beginning.

I read Howl's Moving Castle before seeing the Miyazaki film for the first time. The movie is excellent. The book is so much better.

To Be Or Not To Be is a choose-your-own-adventure for adults that nominally tells the story of Hamlet. And instead of a play within a play includes a choose-your-own-adventure within the choose-your-own-adventure. And also gives you the option to play as Ophelia or Hamlet's Dad. (Hint: Choose Ophelia for some of the storylines that veer furthest from the original.) Highly recommended and hilarious.

The first four volumes of Cerebus are some of the best comics writing ever; High Society is one of my favorites, and reading the election story in it right after the U.S. elections made for an interesting set of parallels. It's unfortunate that it veered off into misogyny and navel-gazing after that. (There's some good stuff sprinkled in some of the later volumes, but it's so very different that they might as well be completely different novels by the same author.) I'm still deciding whether to re-read Church & State (v. 3-4). Probably will, but it's a bit more nihilistic than I've been in the mood for lately.

And what to say about Archie. It's a light palate-cleanser. Also, this volume also reprints the first part of the "Archie meets Kiss" story (yes, Gene Simmons, Ace Frehely, and the rest) that is basically plaid crack on paper.

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Books that I read in August

Books that I read in August:

40. Conley, Erin Elizabeth, Karen Macklin, & Jake Miller. Crap (95 p.)

41. Asprin, Robert & Jody Lynn Nie. Myth-gotten Gains (Myth Adventures) (278 p.)

August total: 373 pages
YTD total: 8,604 pages

Busy few months here. Not much time for reading, less time for writing.

Crap is mostly aimed at teenagers & perhaps younger college students, but most of the advice for dealing with and overcoming various kinds of crap in one's life is applicable to anyone.

Myth-gotten Gains has a kernel of a good idea, but the execution is uneven. I mostly liked it, and if you've already read all of the Myth books that Asprin wrote himself, it's good enough for what it is, but if you haven't read the originals, go read those instead.

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Books that I read in July

Books that I read in July:

30. Moon, Elizabeth. Winning Colors (Heris Serrano, bk. 3) (409 p.)

31. Sayers, Dorothy L. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (Lord Peter Wimsey) (345 p.)

32. Sayers, Dorothy L. Unnatural Death (Lord Peter Wimsey) (285 p.)

33. Harrison, Harry. The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell (The Stainless Steel Rat) (253 p.)

34. Ennis, Garth. Dixie Fried (Preacher, vol. 5) (223 p.)

35. Ennis, Garth. War in the Sun (Preacher, vol. 6) (238 p.)

36. Ennis, Garth. Salvation (Preacher, vol. 7) (248 p.)

37. Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit (317 p.)

38. Asprin, Robert & Jody Lynn Nye Class Dis-mythed (Myth Adventures) (300 p.)

39. Munroe, Randall. Thing Explainer (61 p.)

July total: 2,679 pages
YTD total: 8,231 pages

Whew, that was a lot more reading than I've been doing of late--or since.

In the interest of getting this posted before it's time for the next one, I'll make this very brief:

Winning Colors: Quite good, but I was hoping to get more details of Esmay Suiza's backstory (which is a direct sequel to this), but in both books the key incidents take place frustratingly off-panel.

Lord Peter Wimsey: Both excellent, with lots of fake-outs that make perfect sense... right up until they get disproven.

The Stainless Steel Rate Goes to Hell: It's okay, has some good bits, but the humor felt too much like the slapstick of Bill the Galactic Hero than the self-confident quasi-suaveness of the original Stainless Steel Rat trilogy. (Self-deprecating but ultra-competent even if not always successful? Yes. Bumbling self-important blowhard? No, not really.) Entertaining, but not an essential read.

Preacher: Good stories. Salvation seems to have been the basis for a lot of the TV show.

Hobbit: This was a read-aloud to my daughter. Always enjoyable!

Class Dis-mythed: Better than I feared it would be (as the co-written Myth Adventures books don't have the best reputation), but also not as good as the original books in the series.

Thing Explainer: For being written in "simple" English, this is fairly hard to read, yet both informational and frequently hilarious. Definitely recommended.

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Books that I read in June

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.

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Books that I read in May

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

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

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

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.

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