A Dance With Dragons (a.k.a. "The Fifth Game of Thrones book"), by George R.R. Martin
What it is: Another thousand pages about Westeros, and the last ones written to date.
How I'm liking it so far: First, a confession: I've just finished this story. Usually I limit these posts to what I'm actually reading at the moment, since I think that's more interesting (and probably more revealing) than cherry-picking from what I've read over the last month or two. But I'm making an exception for this one because of a conversation I had last week with a friend. I told him I was nearly done with the last Game of Thrones book, and he told me that he'd gotten bogged down and given up partway through book four, when he realized that there just wasn't going to be any Daenerys, Jon Snow, or what have you in that book (gotta make room for more Dorne chapters, dontcha know). Then, he told me that he was thinking of giving it another try, but alternating chapters between books four and five--since book five covers all those characters, and through the first two-thirds or so of its length is concurrent with book four.
Personally, I think that's a great idea, and I wish I'd read them that way. Maybe if there wasn't so much Dorne all at once I'd have been less hostile to the glut of new characters seemingly replacing ones I'd already developed an interest in reading about, and there are several bits of Dance With Dragons which would have been stronger coming on the heels of an important revelation in book four, rather than being a hundred thousand words removed from it. I mean, what would have been a really great idea would have been for Martin to keep the books basically chronological instead of splitting them up by characters, but here we are.
Recommendation: Look, if you made it through the first four books, this one's not gonna make you give up the series. I will say, though, that it's a definite step up from the almost aggressive directionlessness of book four.
The Physics of Christmas, by Roger Highfield
What it is: Popular physics, presented through a thin veneer of Christmassery.
How I'm liking it so far: Hey, 'tis the season! I picked this one up because I like popular science, and I like Christmas, so what could go wrong?
Nothing too disastrous, thankfully. The biggest problem with this book is that it doesn't really do much with its Christmas theme. Sure, it uses "cooking turkey" as an excuse to talk about thermodynamics, but this is more "science" than "the science of Christmas." If that doesn't bother you, though (and it doesn't me, really--it just feels like a bit of a bait-and-switch), then this is a well-written, accessible look at how the world works vis a vis reindeer, presents, and pine trees.
Recommendation: This is definitely on the "popular" side of the popular science genre; it probably won't appeal to anyone heavily-read in modern physics. But for dabblers like myself, it's a fun, seasonal read.
Battle Angel Alita, by Yukito Kishiro
What it is: A set of graphic novels first published in the early 90s. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, it revolves around the titular cyborg, her absurdly violent journey of self-discovery.
How I'm liking it so far: Like so many, I went through a brief anime phase in high school, and this was my favorite series at the time (I understand that the author later rebooted the series, but I didn't read any of those). I found the nine graphic novels which make up the series about a week ago, and have been re-reading them to see how they hold up.
Turns out, they're a mixed bag. On the plus side, the bizarre water-drop-in-place-of-expressions stuff that I've never liked is mostly absent here; with a few notable exceptions, the series is well-drawn, with plenty of attention to detail. Also, the setting is great; the city where the first stories take place is literally "the Scrapyard," which has sprung up around the dumping grounds of the floating utopia of Tiphares. On the downside, a lot of the stuff I thought was really clever when I was fifteen was, in retrospect, me feeling smart because I got some "totally obscure" reference which was the author's way of making himself sound smart. That bit hasn't aged so well. Plus, a lot of philosophical points are brought up, then immediately dropped, such that the end result is a muddle.
Recommendation: This isn't something I'd much care for if I read it today, but it's definitely still a decent read. For fans of graphic novels, especially hyper-violent dystopian ones, I'd feel comfortable recommending this.
The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It, by Neal Bascomb
What it is: The story of the three middle-distance runners who successfully broke the four-minute barrier in mile-running.
How I'm liking it so far: I was vaguely aware that the four minute mile was a big deal before I started this book, but I hadn't realized just what a big deal it was. It was compared (and not just by the runners) to the scaling of Mount Everest or the conquering of the poles, and many people believed that it was not physically possible (never mind that the record was something like 4:01:02 at the time; that extra second was impossible). Bascomb has a knack for setting the scene and establishing his characters, though he does get a little to moralistic at times, when discussing the motivations or backgrounds of various persons.
Recommendation: This is very readable, focusing more on the personalities than the minutia of running. For readers looking for an accessible history of miling generally and the four-minute barrier specifically, or who're just looking for a sports book that you don't have to be a sports freak to enjoy, this is worth checking out.