Wednesday, May 2, 2012

For a Change, Let's Talk About Actual Books

First, an update: The Thessalonica Legacy is very long, and I'm still working my way through it.  Moreover, Wednesday and Thursday are both going to be full days for me, so I doubt I'll have much time for reading then.  At this point I still expect to be able to post a review on Friday, but it will probably be sometime in the late afternoon/evening, rather than going up right at midnight like usual (all times US central).  If that expectation changes, I'll throw up another post to let you all know.

But for now, I thought it might be fun to tell you what I read when I'm not going over fanfics!  So I grabbed all the books I'm actively reading at the moment (I'm one of those people who's totally incapable of not being halfway through several books at any given moment), and below the break I'll give each a quick summary and a recommendation.  Then you can all judge me on my literary taste.  Here we go:

Four Colors Suffice, by Robin Wilson

What it is:  A history of the four colors theorem, which states that any map can be drawn such that no two countries which share a border also share a color, using four colors or less.  First proposed in the mid-1800's, the theorem wasn't proven for more than a century, and stumped some of the greatest minds in mathematics along the way.

How I'm liking it:  The topic is interesting; the book itself isn't.  I was expecting the book to be in the "biography of an idea" genre, but instead a lot of it's very technical and dry--really, it's more math than history.  I'm learning a lot, but I can't say I'm enjoying it.

Recommendation:  I'm about 50/50 on whether or not I'll finish this.  For math buffs, it's probably very good.  For more casual readers, it's not terribly accessible or interesting.

The Secret History of Moscow, by Ekaterina Sedia

What it is:  A fantasy novel about a young woman in 1990's Russia, a place and time filled with upheaval and chaos.  When her sister turns into a jackdaw and flies away (which is as surreal as it sounds), she teams with a policeman investigating a rash of recent disappearances.  They discover a mysterious world of magic and forgotten races hiding deep beneath modern Moscow.

How I'm liking it:  I'm only a few chapters into this, so I can't say too much with certainty.  But so far I'm enjoying the portrayal of post-soviet Russia, which really nails the sense of dry humor mixed with despair which I associate with that time and place.  I think this is one I'll end up liking a lot.

Recommendation:  Based on what I've gotten through so far, I think this is going to end up being a good modern fantasy.  It reminds me a little bit of Neil Gaiman, so fans of his might consider giving it a look.

The Story of English in 100 Words, by David Crystal

What it is: It's exactly what the title says it is; the origins and usage through the ages of a hundred different English words.  The author uses these words to highlight the major developments in the English language, from  its origins 1600 years ago to the modern day.

How I'm liking it:  This is just a wonderful bit of writing.  Each word is given a few pages of history and background, which makes it a great book to digest in bite-sized nuggets.  The format is accessible and fun, but the author carefully chose words that would form a loose narrative of the English language as one reads.  I've read a number of books about the history of English, but I'm learning plenty of new things from this one.

Recommendation:  This is a great book for anyone interested in English and how it got that way.  It's every bit as readable as Bill Bryson at his best, and the short, semi-independent "chapters" make it easy to pick up and put down in a few spare minutes.

The Blitzkrieg Myth, by John Mosier

What it is:  A controversial rebuttal of the standard interpretation of WWII's tactical lessons, Mosier asserts that the conventional wisdom that using tanks and air power to rapidly crush an opposing force was the secret to Nazi Germany's early success, and Patton et al's later victories, is fundamentally untrue.

How I'm liking it:  Military history has always interested me, and this book is facinating if only because of the obvious glee which the author takes in trying to disprove the traditional lessons of the German Blitz.  I'm not far enough in to be sure how seriously I'm willing to consider his argument, but the book appears to be very well researched, though even in the early chapters I've noticed a few troubling omissions which would seem to undercut his point.

Recommendation:  This would be a very thought-provoking book for anyone with an interest in the strategic lessons of WWII.  But it's definitely not a good jumping-in point for studies about that war; as a rebuttal to classical theories, it assumes reader familiarity with the major conflicts and leaders.

Witches' Forest, by Mishio Fukazawa

What it is:  For this one, I'm just going to go ahead and quote the blurb on the back cover: "Duan Surk is a Level 2 fighter who gets lost in the spooky Witches' Forest with two other adventurers: Agnis, a beautiful witch, and Olba, a highly skilled fighter.  The trio embarks on the quest of a lifetime--battling mythical creatures, outwitting evil sorceresses, and attempting to rescue Agnis' mother from an evil spell!"

How I'm liking it:  This book was recommended to me by a friend who described it as a "really neat deconstruction of RPGs."  Having made it about a quarter of the way through, I'm not convinced my friend knows what "deconstruction" actually means.  This book reads like a novelization of the most cliche, boring computer RPG ever written, with all of the elements least suitable for transmission into novel format (for Chrissake, the characters have ID cards which track their current XP!) dutifully rendered.  I figure I'll try to get halfway through it, so that I can say I gave it a fair chance, but then I'm done.

Recommendation:  Seriously guys; this is so bad.


  1. You wish to be judged? THEN PREPARE FOR JUDGEMENT!

    Judging in 3... 2... 1...

    You really like literature! Good for you! :D

    (ah ha I'm so sorry but I had to do that XD)

  2. Is the last one a Japanese light novel? Because the author's name and subject matter reminds me of that.

    1. Yes, or at least I assume so; it was published by TokyoPop, at any rate.

  3. That's a nicely broad spread of genres. I'm going to have to look up The Story of English in 100 Words, that sounds fascinating.

  4. Huh. I am going to have to try and get my hands on 'The Blitzkrieg Myth'. I am intrigued!

  5. Are you on/do you know about Goodreads? It's a great website for cataloguing books you've read. You can review stuff and stuff like that. I dunno, I use it.

    1. I'm not familiar with the site, but I'll go check it out; sounds like it could be useful.

  6. A book that sounds similar:

    To the David Crystal book you mention is A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor. From a stone tool found at Olduvai Gorge through an Egyptian mummy case to a credit card, he goes from then to now... :)


  7. I just realized, I think 'Thessalonica' is going to be the first story dealing with humans reviewed on this blog.

  8. I'm halfway through "11/22/63" on my Kindle at the moment, with a couple other YA summer reads waiting in the wings. I'm also maybe 75 or 100 pages into "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies", and I need to get back into "Lies My Teacher Told Me" before I ship out for college.

    And of course, there's writing, which I'm terrible at staying on task for. Which is a problem, considering that sooner or later you'll actually get around to reading it if this blog goes on long enough to reach it. o.0

  9. Yes! Books! . . . Oh, wait. I've been spared (maybe) two hours to devote to eyes on print over the past 6 months, so I haven't even made a dent in the top of the stack I mentioned the last time the subject came up (elsewhere). On said stack, it's copypasta time.
    Michael Crichton's Prey: A sci-fi thriller about nanotech gone horribly wrong. Not his best work, but good in its own right. Gripping enough to keep me reading.

    Clive Barker's The Books Of Blood: Highly recommended for any horror fan. Reading his work'll give you an idea of how badly filmmakers botch his stories in favor of cheap shocks.

    Edward Rutherfurd's Sarum: The Novel of England: Historical fiction (or is it fictionalized history?) about England's Salisbury region from ~7,500 B.C. to near-present. It's a long-winded read, and the earlier parts are more interesting than entertaining, but I like this kind of stuff.

    [And, saving the best for last,] Christopher Moore's Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal: An absolutely hilarious story, filling in Jesus' boyhood years from the perspective of his best friend. Probably not something zealots would enjoy, but I'd recommend it to anyone--Christian background or no.
    Now I'm going to have to add The Story of English in 100 Words to the pile as well. Sounds like it would be right up my alley.

    1. I am of three opinions on Michael Crichton: 1) he knew just enough of the topics he was writing about to take in laymen, but any deeper knowledge by the reader exposes just how badly he botched it; 2) he had absolutely no idea how scientists actually think; and 3) he got worse as he got older. He was a great popularizer, though.

      I haven't read [i]Sarum[/i] (though it is on my shelf), but I have read almost all of his other book, [i]London[/i] (much the same thing--short stories taking place in and around London at different points in history). Interesting, mostly early on.

    2. More DO you do italics in these posts?

    3. HTML tags.

      <i> The text you want italicised goes here. </i>

      Bold is: <b> Bold text goes here. </b>

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Definitely gonna have to check out Four Colors Suffice and The Secret History of Moscow. I mean her sister turns into a Belgium-ing jackdaw in Soviet Russia. I would make a joke about the jackdaw turning you, but holy Belgium that is awesome.

  11. Witches' Forest sounds like it should be a parody, or a joke, from what you described. Is it possible that that the humor is very subtle? I mean ... ID cards? That could certainly be played for laughs.