A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, vol. 2), by George RR Martin
What it is: A fantasy series set primarily amidst the Seven Kingdoms, chronicling the battles and schemes of dozens of different nobles, warriors, and claimants to the Iron Throne.
How I'm liking it so far: Yes, I'm several years late picking up this "Game of Thrones" thing, but when I finally watched season one I loved it, and now I'm making my way through the books. The characters are, for the most part, delightfully human, and there's an excellent mix of humor and drama throughout. There's also plenty of casual cruelty, incest, and general medieval-era morality, some of which I found offputting; the TV show aged most of the characters up, and there were times when I wished the author had done the same. Still, an all-around excellent and engaging series, halfway through the second book.
One thing I don't get, though; I've been pretty cautious about exploring the internet for Thrones-related content, not wanting to spoil anything for myself, but I gather that Jon Snow is widely beloved of the fans. Maybe he does something amazing past the point where I am, but so far he's been a decidedly "blah" presence. He's got an interesting enough story, I suppose, being a bastard child in a world where bastards have few rights, but he himself is awfully bland. On the other hand, I'm absolutely in love with Tyrion Lannister. Every time I get to a chapter from his POV, I start grinning like an idiot; his is a much more nuanced take on the distress of noble blood barred from the possibility of ascension, and I never get tired of his acidic wit. That's who I want to read more about, dangit!
Recommendation: These books are popular for a reason; anyone interested in a slightly grim, low-fantasy take on a war of succession should give these a look. There is some questionable content though, and readers looking for unambiguous heroes are unlikely to find them here.
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris
What it is: A series of bestiary fables by the famed This American Life contributor.
How I'm liking it so far: I heard that Sedaris had a new book out, but it didn't look like my cup of tea. However, the review I read compared it favorably to Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, his previous work, which sounded much more up my alley. So, I gave it a look.
This collection is... odd. A series of unrelated fables, some of these hew closely to Aesopian structure (animals demonstrate a moral, the end), some deploy Thurber-esque twists, and some lack any obvious lesson at all. Some are comic and lighthearted, some are darkly humorous, and others are just plain depressing. This is a real mixed bag. I guess on the whole I'm liking it, but there's no cohesion at all to these stories; nothing in tone, structure, or POV (beyond being about talking animals, I suppose) to connect them.
Recommendation: Anyone to whom the phrase "bestiary fables" appeals ought to check this out, if only to see what they think for themselves. I suspect that readers who are put off by major tone shifts and a general feeling of disconnectedness will have trouble enjoying this collection, though.
Vampire Hunter D Volume 8: Mysterious Journey to the North Sea (Part Two), by Hideyuki Kikuchi
What it is: A series of books chronicling the adventures of the titular D, a half-human half-vampire who travels the post-apocalyptic, monster-filled future, selling his vampire-slaying services and just generally being beautiful and inscrutable.
How I'm liking it so far: For those of you only familiar with the movies, Vampire Hunter D began as a Japanese novel series. And it's really, really bad. Seriously, if this was a fanfic, it would be infamous for its purple prose, its rampant misogyny, its Mary-Sue protagonist, its stilted writing, its... look, let me quote a bit from volume 1 to give you a taste of what we're talking about, here:
Before she'd finished speaking, a streak of white light shot toward her breast from D's left hand. In fact, it was a foot-long needle he'd taken out at some point and thrown faster than the naked eye could follow. It was made of wood. As it traveled at that unfathomable speed, the needle burned from the friction of the air, and the white light was from those flames.Mind you, that's a representative sample; if I went looking, I could easily find even "better" selections to share. So yeah, this isn't good. Also, I'm up to volume 8. Can you say "guilty pleasure?"
But something odd had happened.
The flames had come to a stop in front of D's chest. Not that the needle he'd thrown had simply stopped there. The instant it was about to sink into [her] breast, it had turned around and come back, and D had stopped it with is bare hand. Or to be more accurate, [she] had caught the needle with superhuman speed and thrown it back just as quickly. The average person wouldn't even have seen her hand move.
"If the servant is no more than a servant, still the master is a master. Well done," D murmured, heedless of the flaming needle in his hand or the way it steadily scorched his naked flesh. "For that display of skill you get my name. I'm the Vampire Hunter D. Remember that, should you live." As he spoke, D sprinted for the young lady without making a sound.
Recommendation: I enjoy these books in much the same way that I enjoy Sy-Fy original movies. I don't recommend them for their quality, obviously, but there's a certain appeal to seeing a campy, ridiculous train wreck unfold.
The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us, by James W. Pennebaker
What it is: From the dust jacket: "...social psychologist and language expert James W. Pennebaker uses his groundbreaking reasearch in computational linguistics--in essence, counting the frequency of words we use-- to show that our language carries secrets about our feelings, our self-concept, and our social intelligence. Our most forgettable words, such as pronouns and prepositions, can be the most revealing: their patterns are as distinctive as fingerprints."
How I'm liking it so far: I'm only 40 pages in, so it's hard to say too much. The premise is one I was interested in from the start, but the presentation so far has been very academic, and more focused on the mathematics and definitions used than on any actual results. That may change once I get a little farther in, but right now, it's feeling pretty dry to me.
Recommendation: Anyone interested in the confluence between linguistics and sociology might want to give this a look, though those looking for something easily accessible may find this not to be to their liking.