Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber

The hero of this novel is Peter, a minister in the UK.  He is selected by a private firm called USIC to be sent to another planet to minister to the natives there (i.e., aliens to him).  Unfortunately, Peter's wife Bea must stay behind.  The letters they write each other are an important part of the story.

Mr. Faber avoids developing any kind of plot around the planet's natives. There's no explanation for the USIC not wanting to learn more about them, or for the ambivalence about a couple of missing humans.  There was an abundance of opportunity for interesting story directions and yet none of them were taken.

It was not particularly fun to read this book; I kept going out of hope that some of the questions would be resolved in some satisfying fashion.  Far from it. Nothing was resolved. I do not recommend this book.

The Book of Strange New Things: A Novel

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Damascus Count Down, by Joel Rosenberg

In this novel a CIA agent of Iranian heritage has infiltrated the regime. A caliphate has gained control of virtually all Islamic nations and plans to destroy Israel. Missiles fly, mayhem ensures.  Two women are in love with him (of course). The US President is lily livered and unreliable. The UN is patently evil. So far, quite believable of course.

I was well into this book before I realized that it fits the genre, "Christian fiction."  That because there's more than a little bit of proselytizing going on. As blog readers probably have noticed, I'm into suspense novels for the suspense novel part, not for the savings of souls part, so this was a distraction to me. Still, an okay read.

Damascus Countdown

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Intern's Handbook, by Shane Kuhn

This is an innovative on the assassin genre: the novel is written as a handbooks for colleagues at a firm that specializes in infiltrating companies and agencies with assassins. Another spin is that the method of entry is as an intern. Because "interns are invisible."

The narrator of the story is 25-year old assassin John Lago.  He's on his last assignment because he's getting too old to pass an an unpaid intern. I won't say more because to do so is to introduce spoilers. This is a top notch novel with a number of twists and turns.


The Intern's Handbook: A Thriller

The Last Colony, by John Scalzi

Wow.  In this, the last of the "Old Man's War" trilogy, Mr. Scalzi has accomplished something unusual: he's written three outstandingly enjoyable novels, and this last one is even better than the others.

No, it isn't like me to gush, but I really liked this book.

This novel features the heroes of volumes one and two as a couple: John Perry and Jane Sagan. No longer soldiers, they end up leading the colonization of a new planet along with their adopted daughter, Zoë. Unfortunately, the Colonial Union doesn't explain all of their plans to our heroes, and problems occur. Sagan and Perry are unamused, and take things into their own hands with huge impact.

This novel is lower on military action than the first in the series, instead focusing on the political intrigue and issues around colonization and inter-species cooperation. The writing is stellar and the interest level is kept high throughout.


The Last Colony

The Ghost Brigades, by John Scalzi

I enjoyed the first of Mr. Scalzi's "Old Man's War" trilogy so much that I was eager to read this, the second volume. This novel is also excellent. But might not be what some readers expect, so I'll say more.

What makes it a sequel to the first book is that the setting is the same.  I've read a few unhappy reviews and suspect they come from two sources: first, the hero of volume one, John Perry, has no role in the story.  Instead it is all about Jane Sagan, a soldier who was introduced in the first volume. My guess of the second reason is related: it is all about Jane, a female lead character. But perhaps I'm mistaken about the misogyny of sci-fi readers...

The other main character in this book is Jared Dirac.  In Mr. Scalzi's universe, DNA can make clone-like people, and consciousness can be moved from being to being as well. To track the dangerous and brilliant traitor, Charles Boutin, his consciousness is moved to a clone built of Boutin's DNA. That person is Dirac, but he's Dirac - himself - and not Boutin. Very interesting events unfold, but I can say no more as I wish to avoid spoilers.

Another outstandingly enjoyable novel from Mr. Scalzi.

The Ghost Brigades


Saturday, January 17, 2015

All Your Worth, by Elizabeth Warren

I read this because I know a few folks who are actively working on fine tuning their money management skills, and this was recommended by a colleague of one of my children.  The concept of Ms. Warren's book, co-written with her daughter, Amelia Tyagi, is to provide a big picture guide to personal money management.  Big picture meaning they don't focus on a highly detailed budget.  Instead, they give readers just three buckets to manage:  needs, wants, and savings.

The tough conversation is separating wants from needs, and this book seems to do a good job of it. It is chock full of good advice, like avoiding credit card debt.

I skimmed some of the book and I'm really not the target demographic, but my impression is that is is a good approach.  A similar but far more detailed an approach comes from Dave Ramsey, with books like The Total Money Makeover and Financial Peace Revisited.

My advice:  borrow this one from the library, as I did.  If you have debt, read something from the Dave Ramsey website to start, and perhaps invest in one of his books.


All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan

Old Man's War, by John Scalzi

My first novel of the new year and it is excellent.   First published in 2005, this is the first of a three book series.  It is similar to Evan Currie's Odyssey series, but perhaps even better.

The concept is that one may choose to join the Earth's interstellar army, the Colonial Defense Forces, at age 75.  Taken off of Earth, recruits are the beneficiaries of presumably alien -originated technologies which make them young again in body.  After a minimum two year term, these elderly soldiers may choose to transition back to civilian live as colonists on other planets.

For folks who are a couple of decades from death anyway, this seems like a good deal.

Of course, things aren't quite as shiny as the recruiting propaganda might suggest.  Our hero, John Perry, finds himself an excellent soldier and in a variety of entertaining, suspenseful, and always interesting situations. The risk of spoilers is too great to say more about this highly recommended novel.


Old Man's War

Saturday, January 3, 2015

2014 Best of Lists

The ten books that made it to my 2014 best of the year list were split, half non-fiction and half fiction (although a trilogy comprised three of those).  Considering that non-fiction books made up only 16% of the books that I read in 2014, the books on that list are presumably stand-outs.

Best non-fiction of the year:
A comment on the non-fiction choices:  everyone simply must read both Dr. Welch's and Dr. Esselstyn's books; your survival depends upon it. Anyone who considers business with or travel to Mexico must read Ms. Hernádez' book. And anyone who has an opinion about politicians in the USA or the actions they have or will in the future take, especially with regard to putting soldiers in harm's way or spending your tax dollars on conflict, really must read Mr. Lewis' book. Really.

Best fiction of the year:
As always, the numbers. Of the 127 books I read, only 21 were non-fiction. My reading was up from 2013's 111 books, by 14%.















In 2014 I started using Goodreads to list the books I've read, although I write reviews for very few of them.  To my delight this means that I can use cool, automatically generated statistics, e.g., my 2014 reading totaled 40,564 pages. Oh yes, it shows only 125 books read. (Which means that I missed one. But it seems like far too much work to ferret out which one that is.) Anyways, perhaps more cool is this chart that depicts the books I read by the number of stars I assigned to them:





Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fluent Forever, by Gabriel Wyner

The subtitle of this intriguing book is "How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It." I can't say -- yet -- how well Mr. Wyner's techniques will work for me, but I'm encouraged by his logical approach to learning.

Perhaps I can report in a follow up for the 2015 best of list posting whether or not I've succeed using his techniques to become fluent in another language quickly and effectively. So I'm marking this as one of this year's top-ten candidates, but we'll have to wait and see if it makes the grade based on my experiences in 2015.

One of the cool things about this book is that in each chapter Mr. Wyner points the reader to his web site for all sorts of (free) tools and add-ons.

The short story here is memorization techniques based on research in the field. As such, if all you want to do is memorize the periodic table, this book will help you do it (or at least will claim it can) with little hassle. Mr. Wyner adds to this some insights about languages, how to learn pronunciation, and which words to learn first.

I'm eager to use these techniques.


Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It