Hey, Mom! Talking to My Mother #551 - End of the Year Book Review Roundup - part two
Hi Mom, This is part two of how I continue to clear my Good Reads queue. I posted part one yesterday, here: HEY MOM #548 - End of Year Book Reviews Part One.
Some of this starter text and the image grid of books I read repeats from yesterday just for convenience and redundancy.
This is going to be a big one, even with restricting myself to brief comments.
I try to avoid SPOILERS, but I would warn caution as I am claiming that the following is completely SPOILER FREE.
I read a lot of books this year. Not as many as some people manage to read but a lot at least for me.
Here's the grid of these books below. I have already reviewed many of them, such as the following link, which takes you to the category of book reviews for this blog.
BOOK REVIEWS ON HEY MOM
According to this count, kept on my Good Reads account, I have read 42 books in 2016 not counting those to be reviewed in this entry. Adding the new books, the total 58 because two of the books in the grid in the header (Preacher volume two and Against Authority, I have not finished reading yet and will not review here). The actual book count for the year, subtracting the graphic novels, is 34, as I read and logged here 24 graphic novels. Of the remaining 34 books, I read by listening to audio books 18 of them, leaving 16 that I read with my own eyes. I started Avenue of Mysteries as one I just read (no audio) and then switched to audio. I read Between the World and Me three times. Twice without audio and once with audio. There are probably many nonfiction books not included here.
As I did with previous review wrap up installments (like this one) I listed the books to be reviewed with my ratings next to each using a ten point scale, which I think has better options and accuracy than the five star scale on Good Reads that only uses whole number integers (no decimals). I plan to review Between The World And Me in a separate post as I am teaching it and I will refer my students.
Here's the list (not in order of appearance below):
The Demolished Man = 10
Avenue of Mysteries = 8.9
Mr. Mercedes = 9.8
Finders Keepers = 10
End of Watch = 9.4
Normal = 9.6
The Swarm = 9.4
Rat Queens = 9.1
The Girl on the Train = 9
The Dispatcher = 10
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August = 10
Weapons of Math Destruction = 9.4
The Ritual = 7.9
Prince Lestat = 9.2
Prince Lestat: The Vampire Chronicles
Paperback – July 7, 2015
by Anne Rice (Author)
4.2 out of 5 stars 2,340 customer reviews
Book 11 of 11 in the Vampire Chronicles Series
MY RATING: Prince Lestat = 9.2
AMAZON TEXT: THE VAMPIRE WORLD IS IN CRISIS . . .
Old vampires, roused from deep slumber in the earth, are doing the bidding of a Voice commanding that they indiscriminately burn their kin in cities across the globe, from Paris to Mumbai, Hong Kong to San Francisco. Left with little time to spare, a host of familiar characters including Louis de Pointe du Lac, Armand, and even the vampire Lestat, must embark on a journey to discover who—or what—is driving this mysterious being.
An Amazon Best Book of the Month, October 2014: Over a decade since the last installment of the Vampire Chronicles, Anne Rice’s Prince Lestat reignites the love affair with the quixotic nosferatu who inspired writers, readers and Hollywood filmmakers. The newly resurrected, but no less rebellious, Lestat addresses a mysterious twenty-first century vampire genocide with the same panache, self-absorption, and drama readers have come to know and love. Rice masterfully populates the present-day storyline with a cast of characters from her previous novels along with new blood, so to speak, and reading this book is like seeing old friends whom you’d sort of forgotten about, but are thrilled to meet again—even if you are reading about them for the first time. Prince Lestat raises interesting questions about the boundaries of science, conflicting beliefs, and a universal need to belong; a welcome return to a narrative that spawned an entire subgenre of fiction. --Seira Wilson
I would not claim to be a huge Anne Rice fan, but I am definitely a fan. I have not read all the vampire chronicles books. I was hot and heavy in the early days. I remember sitting in the KVCC library back in the 1988-89 between classes devouring The Queen of the Dammed sitting near those huge windows that look out on the wooded valley. I kept up with the next offerings though not always promptly. I made it through Memnoch the Devil, but then lost interest. I skimmed Pandora, but I did not read the others.
I assume I am not alone in skipping many books because Prince Lestat acts a s a primer and a refresher course for those who have strayed (or even as a jumping on point for new fans). There's a listing of all the books and how they fit together. There's a glossary of terms and names. In fact the "blood argot" of important terms lead the book as a preface to aid readers. However, this book may be far too dense and unapproachable for new readers. The history Rice has created is so rich and filled with so many characters that even with these aids new fans may be quite lost without reading at least the first three books of the series before attempting this one.
I bought this book because I had pre-ordered Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis and so I wanted to read this one first as it's her new re-launch of her work on the vampire chronicles.
The book is dense with multiple shifting POVs of a huge cast. Much history and science is covered in various narrative ways (mostly in characters discussing things). I love this kind of stuff, and so I was riveted. Others might be bored. I especially liked that Rice finally defined what caused vampirism in her world and what it actually is and how it works scientifically. I was fascinated by this revelation. Of course, Lestat features prominently in how that part of the story develops and so I am eager to read Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis.
I listened to the audio for this one, and it was so dense that I am keeping the paper copy of Prince Lestat around to review and to consult as I read Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, which is next up after a short diversion for another Terry Pratchett Discworld novel.
Rice fans will love this one. New fans may struggle but ones who love this detailed and rich tapestry of characters, history, magic, and science.
As I skim the reviews on Amazon, I am pleased to see that the five star reviews far out number those with fewer, especially the one star reviews. I read one review by a supposed fan who gave the book one star and really had no good reason. This person was very put off by the glossary and the large cast. Though I was put off a bit by those things as well, there was so much to like about this book, especially for long time fans, that it all clearly outweighs the negative downsides.
Paperback – November 29, 2016
by Warren Ellis (Author)
4.1 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews
MY RATING: Normal = 9.6
AMAZON TEXT: A smart, tight, provocative techno-thriller straight out of the very near future―by an iconic visionary writer
Some people call it "abyss gaze." Gaze into the abyss all day and the abyss will gaze into you.
There are two types of people who think professionally about the future: Foresight strategists are civil futurists who think about geoengineering and smart cities and ways to evade Our Coming Doom; strategic forecasters are spook futurists, who think about geopolitical upheaval and drone warfare and ways to prepare clients for Our Coming Doom. The former are paid by nonprofits and charities, the latter by global security groups and corporate think tanks.
For both types, if you're good at it, and you spend your days and nights doing it, then it's something you can't do for long. Depression sets in. Mental illness festers. And if the abyss gaze takes hold there's only one place to recover: Normal Head, in the wilds of Oregon, within the secure perimeter of an experimental forest.
When Adam Dearden, a foresight strategist, arrives at Normal Head, he is desperate to unplug and be immersed in sylvan silence. But then a patient goes missing from his locked bedroom, leaving nothing but a pile of insects in his wake. A staff investigation ensues; surveillance becomes total. As the mystery of the disappeared man unravels in Warren Ellis's Normal, Adam uncovers a conspiracy that calls into question the core principles of how and why we think about the future--and the past, and the now.
I admit that this review will be very biased. I am a huge Warren Ellis fan. I subscribe to his newsletter. I take his music suggestions to heart. I follow him on Twitter. I have read most everything he has written. His comic Planetary is one of the single best comic books of all time. I loved his two novels. I loved his collected talks (which still sits in my currently reading list as I read and re-read them). I feel very connected to Warren and to his work.
So, I liked Normal before I even read it. I knew I was going to like it. There has not been a single thing by Warren that I have not liked.
This book was originally released in four weekly digital installments, which is how I initially read it. Loving the idea of episodic fiction as I do (otherwise I would not be a comic book fan) makes me drawn to this type of delivery, much like when John Scalzi released The Human Division in weekly installments. Genius idea and very fun to receive the weekly episode. With Ellis, four episodes felt manageable, and I managed to read each one each week. With Scalzi's many episodes, I fell behind, but this did not indicate lack of interest.
Ellis' Normal allows him to show off some good learning, such as his bit, through the character Lela, on New York's water pumping system: "...they pump more than thirteen million gallons of water out of New York every day just to keep the fucking subway running" (pt.2, location 297). "The five boroughs have to process a billion gallons a day. Remember Hurricane Sandy? Sandy took out half the pumps and almost all the treatment plants in a fucking second. And it was just barely a Category One hurricane when it hit. A thirteen-foot surge over the wall by Battery Park. That released ten billion gallons of raw sewage into the city and the surrounding waters..."
That's Ellis. He learns things; he shares them. But his work is more than that. I saw others reviewers call it darkly funny, abnormal, weird, but to apply such terms almost seems dismissive. Almost like those people don't "get" Ellis and what he's trying to explore and how he's trying to explore it. I don't want to call the story wonderfully weird either, which strikes me as both dismissive and yet approving of the dismiss. It's stupid.
This is a very good short novel about a bunch of things Ellis has been noodling on about lately, which you would know if you read his newsletter: doomsday scenarios, privacy, ancient nature magic, and futurism. But it's also a locked room mystery. Just the premise of an asylum for burned out futurists is a smart idea.
It's short, but it will open a wealth of ideas.
Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass & Sorcery
Paperback – April 8, 2014
by Kurtis J. Wiebe (Author), Laura Tavishati (Editor), Roc Upchurch (Illustrator), Fiona Staples (Illustrator)
4.7 out of 5 stars 318 customer reviews
AMAZON TEXT: Who are the Rat Queens? A pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire, and they're in the business of killing all god's creatures for profit. It's also a darkly comedic sass-and-sorcery series starring Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief. This modern spin on an old school genre is a violent monster-killing epic that is like Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack!
Collecting the first five issues of the sold-out hit series at the special introductory price of $9.99!
I really dislike a synopsis like the one I re-posted from Amazon here. Aren't we to a point in our culture in which fantasy does not have to be compared to Lord of the Rings and any story with a girl and a sword with some humor does not have to be compared to Buffy?
I bought this comic as digital book via ComiXology, which, somehow, when I was not paying attention, got bought up by Amazon. This comic was recommended to me by my friend John.
It's a fun and somewhat "feminist" send up of fantasy (eg. D&D) characters and situations.
Audible – Unabridged
John Scalzi (Author), Zachary Quinto (Narrator), Audible Studios (Publisher)
4.5 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews
MY RATING: The Dispatcher = 10
AMAZON TEXT: Zachary Quinto - best known for his role as the Nimoy-approved Spock in the recent Star Trek reboot and the menacing, power-stealing serial killer, Sylar, in Heroes - brings his well-earned sci-fi credentials and simmering intensity to this audio-exclusive novella from master storyteller John Scalzi.
One day, not long from now, it becomes almost impossible to murder anyone - 999 times out of a thousand, anyone who is intentionally killed comes back. How? We don't know. But it changes everything: war, crime, daily life.
Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher - a licensed, bonded professional whose job is to humanely dispatch those whose circumstances put them in death's crosshairs, so they can have a second chance to avoid the reaper. But when a fellow Dispatcher and former friend is apparently kidnapped, Tony learns that there are some things that are worse than death and that some people are ready to do almost anything to avenge a supposed wrong.
It's a race against time for Valdez to find his friend before it's too late...before not even a Dispatcher can save him.
I am very faithful to a few authors whom I follow religiously: Warren Ellis, Margaret Atwood, John Scalzi, Cory Doctorow, among a few others (recently, now, Claire North). And so it is no surprise that when John Scalzi releases a novella narrated by Zachary Quinto that it moves to the top of my list.
This release (on October 4th) was unique as there's been no print copy yet. It was an audio only production and the print version is not due until May.
As I have mentioned, I love stories with a strong premise, and this one fits that bill. This idea that people come back when they are intentionally killed created the need for Dispatchers, licensed killers who facilitate this strange new process. It's a great idea, and I feel it is very well executed here.
Once again, I am looking at an Amazon account in which this book received exactly ZERO 1 star reviews and very few two and three star reviews.
Also, apparently, many people discovered Scalzi with this release because if its unique nature, so perhaps this marketing ploy worked well for John.
No spoilers and no republished reviews. This one is worth your time. Check it out.
The Girl on the Train
Paperback – July 12, 2016
by Paula Hawkins (Author)
4.0 out of 5 stars 55,273 customer reviews
MY RATING: The Girl on the Train = 9
AMAZON TEXT: EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
Liesel read this book before I did and recommended it. I bought it and moved it up my stack to get it read before the movie came out, assuming we would go out on a date and see it together, and then Liesel went to see it without me.
I liked the book quite a bit. Though I feel the characters are a little wooden at times and the situation a bit contrived at times, overall the story is engaging, the main characters, Rachel, is excellent, and the mystery is very well wrought.
I loved the idea of the main character being an alcoholic and having blackouts so that she cannot remember what happened during her drunken binges, which becomes central to unraveling a murder mystery.
I found some of the reviews too laudatory but others too harsh. This is the problem with Amazon, right? Why should I take the word of "blondewriter99," which is a stupid user name just to start with, just because she wrote a lengthy review and her two star condemnation of this book comes up in the top search results? It's useful that Amazon shows me all of her other reviews to give perspective on how to take this one. She's over harsh on Hawkins, calling her work "about the level you would get from a first year MFA student," which makes me wonder if blondewriter99 has an MFA because I see little evidence that she does from her comments.
She claims that she did not care about any of the POV characters and that they all have the same voice except one drinks. I feel that this is a bit over harsh and not really true. I did care about the characters, but then I was aided by the audio, which used three different narrators for the women, and so that helped.
The review by blondwriter99 seems fueled by jealousy. Hawkins has a huge blockbuster turned into a movie; blondewriter99 does not.
And yet, the book is not as sharp as Gone Girl to which it is compared only because it is written by a woman and has a main character who is a woman. There's really no other similarities, which makes the comparison about piggybacking on success and not actual comparison. I also saw someone compare the story to Rear Window because the story launches with a bit of voyeurism and then, really, becomes more about stalking and obsession than voyeurism, so again, not a reasonable comparison.
Good enough and entertaining. I will see the movie some day, but I may not have read it if the movie had not been due soon.
Paperback – February 14, 2012
by Adam Nevill (Author)
4.0 out of 5 stars 187 customer reviews
MY RATING: The Ritual = 7.9
Liesel recommended this book to me, and I recommended The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August to her. It has a great beginning, but then it doesn't really live up to other books she has recommended, such as Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and best of all Night Film.
Things become more and more dire for our heroes as they are lost, without food, without shelter, and then killed one by one. The story takes a really dark turn when the main character is badly injured and then loses his only "friend" (traveling companion) left. But the direction the story takes to explain what happened to him and his friends in the woods and then resolve itself is not as good as the lead up as the situation becomes more and more critical and frightening for the characters.
In the end, I skimmed a great deal of the text to finish, and I am willing to give it a C+.
Liesel really needs to read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August as does anyone reading this blog. You wouldn't like it Mom (there's not really any romance), but I did give it to Dad for Christmas.
The Demolished Man
by Alfred Bester (Author)
4.2 out of 5 stars
169 customer reviews
The Demolished Man = 10
I read this book when I was in high school, maybe even junior high, I forget. It is one of my all time favorite books. I had forgotten that it won the first ever Hugo Award, which makes me love it all the more.
I was very intrigued by the premise when I was a teenager. The idea of murder becoming almost obsolete because of telepaths was a revelatory idea to me when I first read this book in the 1970s.
I also love how the book is a unique twist in some respects of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.
One fan in Amazon reviews called the book the "hallmark of science fiction." It's a high concept exploration of this future with telepaths. And though we often think of science fiction as requiring rocket ships (or at least space travel of some kind), this is a great look at a possible future. And though space colonies are mentioned and some ways travel to Mars is central to the plot, the story takes place entirely on earth.
Older science fiction shows its age in reading the work compared to current work, just like 18th or 19th century novels show age and different conventions of language, plot, and characterization.
Bester was the vanguard of modern science fiction along with peers, such as Theodore Sturgeon and James Blish, with whom he socialized at the Hydra Club, an exclusive club for writers in New York.
Science fiction author Harry Harrison wrote, "Alfred Bester was one of the handful of writers who invented modern science fiction" (Bester, Wikipedia).
The Demolished Man has pulp feel to it, owing to having been published beginning in 1952, serialized in Galaxy magazine before being collected as a single volume, but it has many of the modern flairs that would inspire writers like John Brunner and Harlan Ellison while some writers point to this book as a forerunner of what would later be known as Cyberpunk after William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984).
For as good as he was, Bester is not well known and his output is scant. I plan to re-read his other book The Stars My Destination, which is considered by many to be the best science fiction novel of all time.
The Swarm: The Second Formic War (Volume 1)
Hardcover – August 2, 2016
by Orson Scott Card (Author), Aaron Johnston (Author)
4.5 out of 5 stars 171 customer reviews
MY RATING The Swarm = 9.4
The first invasion of Earth was beaten back by a coalition of corporate and international military forces, and the Chinese army. China has been devastated by the Formic's initial efforts to eradicate Earth life forms and prepare the ground for their own settlement. The Scouring of China struck fear into the other nations of the planet; that fear blossomed into drastic action when scientists determined that the single ship that wreaked such damage was merely a scout ship.
There is a mothership out beyond the Solar System's Kuiper Belt, and it's heading into the system, unstoppable by any weapons that Earth can muster.
Earth has been reorganized for defense. There is now a Hegemon, a planetary official responsible for keeping all the formerly warring nations in line. There's a Polemarch, responsible for organizing all the military forces of the planet into the new International Fleet. But there is an enemy within, an enemy as old as human warfare: ambition and politics. Greed and self-interest. Will Bingwen, Mazer Rackam, Victor Delgado and Lem Juke be able to divert those very human enemies in time to create a weapon that can effectively defend humanity in the inexorable Second Formic War?
But I am engaged with these books, and as I am invested, I am along for the ride.
After his original series with Ender, I was impressed when OSC returned to tell Bean's story and later a novel filling in the gap between Ender's Game and The Speaker for the Dead, but then I was even more impressed when he and co-author Johnston returned to the events leading up to Ender's Game to tell the tales of the First and Second Formic Wars.
OSC and Johnston have created a great cast of characters and are doling out the plot points with smart pacing. Great stuff if you like this space war type fiction. I am eager to get the next volume.
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
Hardcover – September 6, 2016
by Cathy O'Neil (Author)
4.0 out of 5 stars 179 customer reviews
MY RATING: Weapons of Math Destruction = 9.4
Longlisted for the National Book Award
New York Times Bestseller
A former Wall Street quant sounds an alarm on the mathematical models that pervade modern life — and threaten to rip apart our social fabric
We live in the age of the algorithm. Increasingly, the decisions that affect our lives—where we go to school, whether we get a car loan, how much we pay for health insurance—are being made not by humans, but by mathematical models. In theory, this should lead to greater fairness: Everyone is judged according to the same rules, and bias is eliminated.
But as Cathy O’Neil reveals in this urgent and necessary book, the opposite is true. The models being used today are opaque, unregulated, and uncontestable, even when they’re wrong. Most troubling, they reinforce discrimination: If a poor student can’t get a loan because a lending model deems him too risky (by virtue of his zip code), he’s then cut off from the kind of education that could pull him out of poverty, and a vicious spiral ensues. Models are propping up the lucky and punishing the downtrodden, creating a “toxic cocktail for democracy.” Welcome to the dark side of Big Data.
Tracing the arc of a person’s life, O’Neil exposes the black box models that shape our future, both as individuals and as a society. These “weapons of math destruction” score teachers and students, sort résumés, grant (or deny) loans, evaluate workers, target voters, set parole, and monitor our health.
O’Neil calls on modelers to take more responsibility for their algorithms and on policy makers to regulate their use. But in the end, it’s up to us to become more savvy about the models that govern our lives. This important book empowers us to ask the tough questions, uncover the truth, and demand change.
— The Guardian, Best Books of 2016
— Boston Globe, Best Books of 2016, Non-Fiction
— New York Times, 100 Notable Books of 2016 (Non-Fiction)
I am interested in big data as I am studying computer science and may well work with big data as most everyone is these days.
Reflect and connect.
Have someone give you a kiss, and tell you that I love you.
I miss you so very much, Mom.
Talk to you tomorrow, Mom.
- Days ago = 553 days ago
- Bloggery committed by chris tower - 1701.08 - 10:10
NOTE on time: When I post late, I had been posting at 7:10 a.m. because Google is on Pacific Time, and so this is really 10:10 EDT. However, it still shows up on the blog in Pacific time. So, I am going to start posting at 10:10 a.m. Pacific time, intending this to be 10:10 Eastern time. I know this only matters to me, and to you, Mom. But I am not going back and changing all the 7:10 a.m. times. But I will run this note for a while. Mom, you know that I am posting at 10:10 a.m. often because this is the time of your death.