Posts Tagged ‘books’

30 Days of Books: Day 05 – A book that makes you happy

This may be the easiest day of the 30 day book meme for me.  As soon as I saw this prompt, I knew exactly which book I wanted to write about.

glory_road Glory Road is Robert Heinlein’s one true foray into the fantasy genre, and he pulls it off admirably in a fun Swashbuckling-Musketeers meets Young-Galahad meets Hero-for-Hire plot in a whimsical and humorous set of worlds (yes, that’s meant to be plural) of Heinlein’s creation.

Oscar Gordon (as the protagonist is soon nicknamed) is a veteran of the unWar in Vietnam, and suffers from a bureaucratic Catch-22 of the unWar – namely, he is ineligible to have his much-deserved university education paid for by the G.I. Bill.  In a fit of desperation, he answers an intriguing advertisement he discovers in the Personals section of a newspaper:

ARE YOU A COWARD? This is not for you.  We badly need a brave man […] proficient with all weapons, some knowledge of engineering and mathematics essential, willing to travel, no family or emotional ties, indomitably courageous and handsome of face and figure.  Permanent employment, very high pay, glorious adventure, great danger.

(What young man HASN’T daydreamed about answering just such an advertisement at one time or another?)

Along with a beautiful woman (nicknamed Star) and sarcastic but trusty sidekick Rufo, our hapless hero fumbles his way through dangerous foes and hazardous obstacles on the way to retrieve the Egg of the Phoenix from the labyrinthine Dark Tower where it is guarded by the dreaded Soul Eater.

Yes, the above plot sounds like standard fantasy-fare, but you don’t need a completely original plot to develop a fun story.  Especially when Heinlein puts his own special twist on the fantasy genre and does more than just permit the Hero to achieve his quest and win the girl – he explores what happens to the Hero after the quest is over and done, and the Glory Road has dead-ended with no further goal in sight.

As he does in most of his works, Heinlein also works in quite a bit of commentary about society, cultural morals, sexuality, government, and the quality of life.  Many of the more critical reviews of the book harp unceasingly on his heavy-handed references to free sexual societies and the implication that the monogamous norms of present-day humanity are outmoded and unjustified.  While I too find his arguments hard to accept at face value, they in no way caused me to devalue the fun I had every time I joined Oscar, Star, and Rufo on their foray along the Glory Road. (After all, sometimes a good debate won’t change your mind, but it will make you think, and become more confident in the reasoning behind your own opinion.)

This book exudes some special sort of aura that makes me happy when I pick it up – I can’t explain it but I certainly can recognize it, and that is why this is the perfect book for me to write about in today’s book prompt.

30 Days of Books: Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series

Building on my last 30 DoB post, where I revealed that Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series narrowly edged out Stephen King’s Dark Tower series for the #1 spot in my series deathmatch, I’m back with more Bujold today.  My favorite book in the Vorkosigan series is, by far, The Warrior’s Apprentice.

Although the third book, chronologically, in the Vorkosigan universe, Apprentice is the first book where Bujold introduces a young Miles Vorkosigan, son of military genius and Prime Minister / Advisor to the Throne Aral Vorkosigan.  Miles, the protagonist in almost all of the series volumes from this point forward, is more “special” than most – his fragile bone structure, short stature, and wonky biochemistry are the result of a poisonous-gas attack his mother survived while pregnant with Miles.  In spite of his physical limitations, Miles’ keen intellect and manic nature power him ever forward through an increasingly more convoluted set of circumstances.

In the first few books of this series, Bujold borrows heavily from a classic space opera heritage, and there are plenty of battles (both in space and planetside), twists, political/planetary conspiracies, and enough energy and dry humor to please just about any science fiction fan.  Later in the series, Miles takes on more of a detective role, and there are some romance aspects and political/court intrigue that come into play that add another dimension to the characters and keep the series fresh.

Yet it is this first  book of Miles’ adventures that I return to when I want to re-read my favorite from the series – early on, he still has the naivety to believe if he just tries hard enough, everything will fall into place just as planned, and enough energy and determination to see things through when they don’t.  He is vulnerable, flawed, and yet constantly struggles to make the best of what he has and come out on top.  His charismatic way of attracting the loyalty and respect of those he comes in contact with is arguably the most fascinating aspect of his personality, and one I personally envy.  The Vorkosigan series is an entertaining romp through the life of Miles Vorkosigan, and Bujold has stated that the series structure is modeled after the Horatio Hornblower books, documenting the life of a single person (yet another series I need to add to my to-read list!)

If you’re a fan of science fiction, or just want a quick and energetic read, I’d recommend checking out The Warrior’s Apprentice. But be warned – once you get hooked on Miles Vorkosigan, there’s no turning back, and you’ll have at least 12 or 13 other books in the Vorkosigan series that you’re liable to beg, borrow, or steal to get your next Vorkosigan fix!

30 Days of Books: Day 03 – Your favorite series

I swear, it’s taking me ten times as long to work out which book/series I want to talk about in these entries as it does to actually write about them! There are just so many series that I adore (most of the ones I’m thinking of I’ve read at least 2-3 times) that it’s hard to narrow it down to just one. So I’m going to sort of bend the rules here, and give you my top 10 favorite series.

Yes, my preferences lean staunchly towards science fiction and fantasy, which is why these series all fall into those genres. I promise I’ll include some other genres in other entries in this 30 Days of Books exercise!

10. C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series – I read these avidly as a child. Back then, I saw only the wonderous plots and characters and was relatively immune to any of the religious underpinnings. Playing Fenris Ulf (Maugrim for those reading a version printed since 1994) in a city production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe helped cement my love for all things Narnia. It only made #10 on my list, however, because in my last re-read of the series as an adult, they had lost some of their luster.

9. Piers Anthony’s Bio of Space Tyrant series – This one would be a bit higher in the list but I still haven’t read the 5th and final book of the series. I got my hands on it last year, though, so I am planning to spend some time this summer re-reading all of them and closing it out. These are great novels though, chock full of space-pirates, intrigue (political and military) and some grandiose ideas about colonization of the outer planets and the implications stemming from such societies.

8. E.E. Doc Smith’s Lensman series – By far the oldest of any of my choices, the Lensman series harkens back to the days of pulp publications, and sadly, shows some of its age in the language and two-dimensional characterization of the mostly-male cast of characters. In spite of that, this is space-opera at the Golden Age’s finest. With a scope that spans galaxies and aeons, the series is a fun romp through the technological, mental, and moral evolution of humanity into something much greater than our current society.

7. Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series – I’d be remiss if I left this series out – it makes my previous comments about “grandiose ideas” seem paltry in comparison. What can you say about a world that has everyone who has ever lived waking up side-by-side with each other, learning to coexist in an environment where basic necessities are almost magically provided for, but virtually no other technology exists? Farmer leads Sir Richard Francis Burton (of 1001 Arabian Nights fame) up and down the river, making allies and enemies on his quest to discover the source of the giant river that bisects the planet, and uncover the secrets of those who resurrected the world and gave everyone a second chance. Makes for a fascinating and truly unforgettable read.

6. Jim Butcher’s Codex of Alera series – This is Butcher’s fantasy series, combining the culture of Ancient Rome in a world very different from our own. The biggest difference? Elemental spirits, called “furies”, are linked to and controlled by the humans who populate the continent of Alera. I love the depth and details Butcher includes to make this world and the people within come alive. He does an amazing job with military/battle engagements, and has a great grasp on what makes for interesting political intrigue. Add in the magic scheme and you’ve got me hooked almost within the first chapter.

5. J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series – Not much to say about this series that hasn’t already been said. I grew up with Bilbo and Frodo, reading these books to their exciting conclusion before I was even out of the 7th grade. Unlike some others, I don’t get too bored or tired with Tolkein’s forays into language and history that add little to the plot. I haven’t read these aloud but from what I’ve heard they go down much more smoothly that way, and if you can get them on the audiobook format, you’ll enjoy them that much more.

4. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series – I think two or three of these books were out before I dove into the world of Hogwarts, and I probably should have waited even longer! As it was, I was anxiously awaiting each new publication in the series, and voraciously devoured each in turn as soon as I could get my hands on them. Sure, it’s not the best-written of all the series I’ve read, but it captured something special that hits me just right and just makes me love these books.

3. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series – Butcher is the only one to get double-billing on this list, but for good reason – I’ve got just about everything he’s written in either of his two hit series, and can’t get enough. Yes, urban fantasy and wizard-detectives might be getting played out a bit, but I don’t think it’s the genre that draws me to this series as much as the character of Dresden himself. His strength, ethics, magic, and of course his loner/outsider image all strike me just the right way – painting a picture of someone I sometimes daydream about being. The fact that Butcher layers on the complex plots and cadges them in a quasi-mystery format only adds to my affection for the books.

2. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series – I almost made this #1 on my list, and it is the most recently re-read of all the series I’m listing in this post. I’ve reviewed most of the individual books on my Goodreads account, and I urge you to go check those out if you want to hear my thoughts on any of them. Until I read this series, I thought King was a decent and entertaining writer. After reading about Gunslinger Roland and his adventures traveling to the Dark Tower, however, I know how talented Stephen King really is when he hits his stride. With the news that King’s got a new in-between novel in the series on the way and with the plan for a series of Dark Tower movies in the works, I’m a very happy camper.

1. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series – In the end, this series, one I had not heard of AT ALL until about 7 years ago, won out over all the others. Bujold has a way of drawing me into the world of the Barrayar and Cetagandan empires that I just can’t describe. I live inside these books when I read them. I can’t help smiling as I experience manic/depressive Miles Vorkosigan use a combination of smarts, determination, and lucky timing to blast his way through the stolid and entrenched culture and traditions of a militaristic society, shaking things up and leaving a trail of bewildered, shocked, and impressed disaster-victims in his wake. I’m probably not doing them justice with this short teaser of the series – they’re better experienced than described. In day 4, I’ll try to share that experience with you as I talk about my favorite book from this series.

This is a 30 Days of Books entry.

I just looked back over my Goodreads account at the 45 or so books I read in 2010, and checked out their ratings.  Some of them I’m not sure I’d still rate as highly as I did immediately after finishing the book, but there was one that definitely earned its 5-star rating, and merits the title of “Best Book I Read in 2010”.

That book is World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.


This book was so amazing, that it went past the point of “can’t put it down” and into the realm of “make it last as long as possible.” The world of the novel (post Zombie-Apocalypse) is horrifying, but not without its own hope for the future. No one is left unscathed from the horrors visited across the entire planet by the zombie infestation, but that’s where the beauty of the novel comes into play.

The book is so wonderful because it’s more than an idea and its implications; the voices of the people in the 2-4 page-long “interviews” are so vibrant and real that you can’t help but get sucked in to their lives and imagine yourself in their place. The Zombie War is portrayed from so many viewpoints, each with an amazing story of its own, that by the end of the book I felt I too had lived through this fantastic apocalypse.

I’m a big reader, and a book fan in general.  So while I don’t normally do any of these type of challenges, this is one I think I can get behind.  I don’t know that I’ll be able to handle it 30 days consecutively, but I’ll at least try to post 30 different entries about these prompts over the next month or two…

Day 01 – Best book you read last year
Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than 3 times
Day 03 – Your favorite series
Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series
Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
Day 07 – Most underrated book
Day 08 – Most overrated book
Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 10 – Favorite classic book
Day 11 – A book you hated
Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore
Day 13 – Your favorite writer
Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer
Day 15 – Favorite male character
Day 16 – Favorite female character
Day 17 – Favorite quote from your favorite book
Day 18 – A book that disappointed you
Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie
Day 20 – Favorite romance book
Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood
Day 22 – Favorite book you own
Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Day 24 – A book that you wish more people would’ve read
Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 – Favorite title
Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked
Day 30 – Your favorite book of all time

Ancestor by Scott Sigler
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scott Sigler's writing style reminds me of a cross between Stephen King's and Michael Crichton's.  Sigler has a grasp on modern science and technology, and uses it to invest the reader emotionally in the well-being of his stories' characters, creating gripping tales that leave you wanting to read "just one more page" all the way until the end of the book.

Ancestor, one of Sigler's earlier works, definitely feels a little less polished than some of his later books (e.g. Infected).  For a book whose main premise is supposed to be about primordial, ravenous monsters, the "ancestors" don't really show up until about 2/3 of the way through the story.  However, Sigler spends this time weaving a web of plot, characters, and settings that play out beautifully once the savage killing-spree begins.

Overall, this is a really engaging story with just enough science to make things seem plausible without going overboard and making most non-biochemistry students' eyes glaze over.  It showcases the potential perils of genetic engineering WITHOUT preaching them, and ties it into a plot with decent characterization, engaging the reader and keeping him/her on edge right up until the last page.

Note: This review refers to the eBook version released by Scott Sigler and Dragon Moon Press in March 2007.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

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Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this novel.  This is one of those rare few young-adult novels that adults will be able to read, appreciate, and enjoy as much as its "intended audience".  Like Heinlein's "juveniles", just because The House of the Scorpion's main character is a juvenile doesn't mean the writing, plot, and characterization have to be second-rate.

This book paints a very interesting picture of a quasi-future where Mexico and the US have made "The Devil's Pact"; they have turned over a tract of land between the two nations to a group of drug-lords known as the "Farmers" who grow and harvest poppies for opium in return for curbing all illegal immigration between the two surrounding countries.  In the 100 years of their existence, the Farmers have created a civilization of their own, rich and isolated and abusive of its workers, most of whom have computer chips implanted in their brains that turn them into "eejits", or zombie-like workers who won't even take a drink of water without being told to do so.

The main character is a young boy who is a clone, but a very special one: he is the clone and heir-apparent of El Patron, the despotic dictator of the country of Opium.  And as he grows and begins to learn about what makes him different from all the servants and other clones in this repressed land, the household cook Celia (his adoptive mother) and El Patron's most trusted and faithful bodyguard, Tam Lin, help him discover some shocking truths about himself and the world into which he has been delivered.
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Doomsday Book
Connie Willis

I stayed up late last night to read almost the last 100 pages of this book to finish it off.  Doomsday Book is a very entertaining read, but it started off so SLOW that it took me almost 6 months of reading in fits and starts to get through it.  It wasn't until about halfway through the novel that I found myself drawn back into the book with a desire to put off doing other things to finish the novel.  This is the only reason I gave it 3/5 stars instead of a higher 4/5 stars rating.

In one sense, Doomsday Book could be described as the cousin of Michael Crichton's well-known thriller Timeline, but with less overt action and a far more introspective and thought-provoking study of human nature and emotion.

A historical researcher named Kivrin is sent back through time from 2048 to the Middle Ages, circa 1320.  An influenza epidemic sweeps through "present-day" Oxford, stranding her in the past just as she discovers that an error in the transport has dropped her into 1348, right before the Black Plague had started to kill approximately half the entire population of Europe.  The book jumps back and forth between Kivrin's struggles to survive and care for the family who took her into their home, and her colleagues in 2048 who are struggling with their own version of the plague while still trying to figure out how to rescue Kivrin.

Willis has a talent for imbuing her characters with a three-dimensionality and emotionally investing the reader in their lives.  The descriptions of the Middle Ages were fantastic, and it was interesting to see not only the range of wealth and poverty that existed even within a single village, but how Kivrin interacted with these people who had never been exposed to almost anything that denizens of the 21st century take for granted.  Willis holds up a mirror of human nature to contrast the behaviors and beliefs of present-day people with those of the past, with thought-provoking and sometimes surprising insights about ourselves and others around us.

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From PJStar:

Science fiction author Philip Jose Farmer died this morning at his home. He was 91.

The Peoria-based writer had written more than 75 books and was awarded the top honors in his field. That includes the Grand Master Award for Science Fiction in 2001, an award also given to noted authors such as Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein.

I "discovered" Philip Jose Farmer when my I was a kid – my father owned or gave me a copy of the first book of his Riverworld series To Your Scattered Bodies Go, and I remember really enjoying it, even though there was no way I was mature enough at that time to comprehend much more than the main plot of the book.  Any novel whose scope is so great that it includes all 36,006,009,637 people ever born on earth (from to origin members of homo sapiens through the early 21st century) is sure to make a lasting impression that stays with you.  My father told me that he read all of the Riverworld series and some of the other Farmer novels, and I planned to follow suit. 

Somewhere along the way I couldn't find any more books by Philip Jose Farmer at the library and forgot about searching for them until my interest was rekindled this month when I began to re-read the Riverworld series all over again (as you'll see from my GoodReads profile, if you're following me there).  Although the series does have some minor issues, it's as awe-inspiring now as the first time I read the novels.  Maybe even more so as I'm catching philosophical, theological, and historical references that totally blew by me when I was younger.

The world has lost a great author today, and is a little bit darker for it.  Farmer was one of those great authors whose works I could read over and over again.  There's a lot of his novels I haven't yet read, but now each one that I pick up will remind me of the passing of a writer who had such a strong influence in developing my love for reading in general, and sci-fi in particular.

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I'm not an overly big fan of the social networking and/or 2.0 websites, but I do use a few of them.  The big ones (Facebook,, Delicious, Flickr, and Twitter) have already been rehashed in great detail, but there's a couple others that really do what I need them to do, and are worth a mention here – namely, Goodreads and RunningAHEAD.


Goodreads is my favorite book-related website.  In essence, it's a way to catalog and organize books.  You can use it any number of ways – as a way to log what books you read, categorize books in your library using "bookshelves" (essentially tags, so you can put one book on multiple "bookshelves"), review & rate books, and then add friends so you can view all of this information on other like-minded people's accounts.  I find it a great way to keep track of what I'm reading, how many books I'm reading a year, whether I already have a book in my library and whether I've read it, whether I'm borrowing/lending a book from/to someone else, and even my wish-list of books (hint: make a bookshelf called "wish-list" and then you can direct people to the books on it directly). 

In addition, everything is hyperlinked, so clicking on the author of a book will bring up a list of his/her works, clicking on the title of a book will show links to pages where you can read reviews and/or purchase the book, cover art is imported automatically, and you can subscribe to a feed and/or summary email of someone's activity, if you want to see what they've read/rated lately.

Goodreads is completely free, with no limit on the number of books you may have in your library.  They even have easy ways to import books from a spreadsheet or from ISBN numbers, if you already have them in some other format.  If you join or are already a member, be sure to add me as a friend – I love to see what other people are reading and how they rate the books they've read.  My profile is here, and it's easy to sign up and start keeping track of your own books!


Recently, I've gotten back into running regularly for exercise, and as part of my efforts, I find it interesting and motivational to log my running activity.  Prior to signing up with RunningAHEAD, I used to keep all my runs in a spreadsheet on my computer.  The biggest issue with this was I never seemed to have a copy of the spreadsheet on the computer I was near after finishing my run.  Now I have a single, centralized location where I can enter my workout information, track my running shoes and the mileage I've put on them, and even map routes and add extra information about my run.  The website also has some decent graphing and trending tools to allow you to visualize any of the data variables you choose to record regularly.  The site even has capabilities to join or start a training group – all members that join are listed together under the group heading, and you can then chat in a separate group forum, share running reports, etc.  Overall, a very nice little site that does what it should do, and is free to boot.

If you want to see my RunningAHEAD info, my info is here.   Be aware I only update on a weekly/biweekly basis with all of the runs I did that week, once I download them from my Forerunner, so it may not show the most recent run status for me.

[NaBloPoMo 2008 – #29/30]

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