Okay, book reviews- here goes:
The Shiva Option by David Weber and Steve White
Structurally, this book reminded me of Clancy's Red Storm Rising, in that it had multiple plot lines and characters. It was also similar in that it was focused on military strategy and tactics. Like Red Storm Rising, I found it difficult to keep track of all the characters, and rather indifferent to most of them. The book features vast numbers of exploding spaceships. If that's the kind of thing you enjoy, you'll probably like this one.
What I found grating and even disturbing was the oft-stated (and never questioned) assertion that the alien enemies of the story were so 'inhuman' , so incapable of feeling anything resembling human feelings, that they must be exterminated. We're repeatedly told that the galaxy isn't big enough for both the humans/humanlike aliens and the enemy Bugs. They're designed to be unsympathetic- non anthropomorphic, not only are out to conquer anyone they meet, but also eat them for dinner (they can build vast space fleets, but haven't figured out that eating cows is less trouble?). Granted that what the authors were after was a straight-up shoot'em up with no moral ambiguity, but the very lack of any dissent made me uncomfortable. The book also featured Weber's trademark 'all the people represented to be heroic are good, and perfect and brave' while anyone who disagrees with them is not only Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, but stupid, ignorant and cowardly to boot.
The Infinite Cage by Keith Laumer
An interesting take on the idea of a superintelligent telepath trying to function among humans. The character's troubles are logically introduced and explored. However the book lacks a strong through-plot and the eventual ending is weak.
Welcome to Your Brain by Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang
This was a fascinating book on neurobiology- what we currently know about how the brain works. Lively enough to entertain, yet not so dumbed down as to be silly. Highly recommended.
Agent of Change by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee
Carpe Diem by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee
Plan B by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee
I Dare by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee
These are the four 'core' books of Miller and Lee's Liaden universe, which has been recommended to me by several friends. I can see why they like them- they are a great deal of fun. Lively, set in an intriguing universe with a wealth of detail that leaves you feeling you're only glimpsing a fraction of a fully realized world. I suspect if I'd started the series as a teen, I'd have loved them passionately. As a much more mature reader, I thought that they combined a number of popular fannish themes, which, to be fair were probably not so widely utilized when the first books were written. If you like lighthearted epic space adventure, these will be an entertaining and satisfying read.
Planet Run by Keith Laumer and Gordon Dickson
-Once There Was a Giant
-Call Him Lord
On advice from my husband, I did not read the first story in this collection (he said, 'mediocre, don't bother'). The second two were well-written and readable, but not outstanding, tales on themes of responsibility. Either would have worked as well in a fantasy setting.
Rising from the Plains by John McPhee
This is a hard book to describe. It's an exploration of the geology and history of Wyoming, along with the family history of geologist David Love, who grew up in the area. The two stories- eighty years or so of human time and millenia written in landscape- twine around each other, finishing with an exploration of recent human effects on the environment. This makes it sound rather drier than it deserves- McPhee is an evocative writer with a gift for bringing out the magic in the most down-to-earth of sciences.
When the Tide Rises by David Drake
The latest in Drake's Lieutenant Leary series. If you liked the last, this is much of a muchness. If you haven't read it but enjoy lighthearted military SF, start with the first one, With the Lightnings. I'm fond of this series, not for it's fairly standard plotting, but mostly because I like the character of the hero...after encountering numerous angst-ridden characters in genre fiction, it' s delightful to find a young man- talented no doubt- but a lighthearted, basically happy person with an enduring interest in wine, women and song. And yet he's a bit deeper than that, and he's allowed to become more mature as the series goes on (something I particularly noticed in this latest book). The plots move along, the worldbuilding is a lightly drawn sketch of a system based on the historical British navy. Fun light entertainment.
The River at the Center of the World by Simon Winchester
Winchester takes us along for a trip up the Yangtze river before the completion of the Three Gorges Dam project. His initial conceit is to go further back in history as the journey progresses, but this is abandoned about two-thirds of the way through the book, as he passes up into the mountains.
Interesting for its portrayal of the geography and various cultures of China, it ends with more of a whimper than a bang.
One Jump Ahead by Mark L. Van Name
Another entry in the crowded field of military (more or less) SF. An interesting character, a decent plot. As first SF novels go, I've seen worse. I would have liked to have seen some relevance of the character's quite complex back story to the plot at hand, and the pacing was a little uneven in places, but it was readable and had some good twists. I'll be interested to see what he does for an encore.
The Sharing Knife: Passage by Lois McMaster Bujold
This is the third book, and definitely not a good place to start the series. Which I feel is unfortunate, because I was largely uninterested in the drippy romance that was the focal point of the first two volumes. However, Bujold did an excellent job of worldbuilding, and the underlying mystery of the world's history and magic kept me reading in the hope of finding out more.
And in this book, we start to explore the capabilities of Dag's magic, the complex social problems that helped enliven the prior books are attacked (and prove to be *complex*, and not trivial), and we get to see more of Dag and Fawn's world. The 'main' plot's resolution is more or less obvious at the point it is introduced, but the problems of the lively set of secondary characters were more than sufficient to keep me entertained for the journey.
If you were underwhelmed by the first two books, don't stop now. It just got better.
The Widow's War by Sally Gunning
A local author and a historical setting. The protagonist, Lydia Berry, is a widow on Cape Cod, a decade before the American revolution, struggling to eke out a life in a world where all her possessions are legally the property of her closest male relative. The author does a good job of evoking the non-existent legal status of women, the Indian past of the area and the day-to-day life of a Colonial woman. I wasn't entirely convinced of the authenticity of the character, but then writing a realistic period character that a modern audience can relate to is a difficult task. Recommended more as a painless introduction to colonial life than as a story.
Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn
Okay, this one I have to put down to having grabbed the book without looking at the blurb on my way out on a trip. The blurb tells it fairly- this is a retelling of Jane Eyre in a futuristic setting. If that sounds like something you'd enjoy, you'll probably like the book. If like me, your reaction is more 'why on Earth would anyone want to do this?', give it a miss.
The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Codes by Mark Urban
While this was an interesting idea, the author doesn't quite manage to make it gell as a reading experience. It is partially a history of the Napoleonic war, partially a biography of the title character, and partially an account of a period in the history of crypography. It's not wholly successful at any of these, but it does present an unusual view of the functioning of the British army in a time when it was far more important to be well-connected than it was to know what you were doing.
The Last Colony by John Scalzi
Another enjoyable read, this is the last book in his trilogy that started with Old Man's War. I've had trouble regarding these as a trilogy, because the first two didn't seem to have a lot of relation to one another, but Scalzi did an unexpectedly good job of picking up threads from the prior books and bringing it to a satisfactory ending.
At the same time, this book is far from flawless- it suffers from being spread out over time, and from a couple of subplots that simply serve to fill up page count before being dropped completely unresolved.
The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow
This book provides a clear and readable excursion through ideas in probability, with yet more examples of how people are frequently very bad at assessing it in real life, and some nice historical anecdotes about how various ideas were discovered. If this is the sort of thing you think you'd like, you're probably right.
Snakehead by Anthony Horowitz
The latest entry in the Alex Rider series, this book tours a bunch of exotic locations and delivers a generous quota of chills and thrills as Alex foils yet another set of villainous evildoers. Really, what's not to like? But do start at the beginning of the series.
Small Favor by Jim Butcher
Another solid piece of entertainment in the Harry Dresden series. Twisty and enjoyable urban fantasy. Again, you want to read this series in order.
Night Watch by Terry Pratchet (My all time favorite of his.)
The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett
First four books in PM Griffin's Star Commandos
Comeback by Dick Francis
The Danger by Dick Francis
Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
This book reads like the bastard child of a mainstream novel and a sweeping SF epic. Wilson's use of language is excellent, and the Sfnal ideas of the book are fascinating. However, the main characters have very little to do with the eventual resolution (which would arguably have been just about the same had they done nothing whatsoever), and the viewpoint character in particular is extremely passive, taking little action through the course of the book.
Uneasy Relations by Aaron Elkins
Another entry in the Gideon Oliver series of mysteries. Gibraltar, monkeys, and remains both Neanderthal and rather fresher make this another enjoyable read. If you haven't encountered his work,he's one of the few practitioners of the classic puzzle mystery working in the field today, and he does a lovely job of sketching his cast of characters in a memorable but minimalist way.
Rereads: (I've been in a re-reading mode lately, can you tell?)
Guards, Guards! by Terry Pratchett
Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett
Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett
Fellowship of Fear by Aaron Elkins
The Dark Place by Aaron Elkins
Murder at the Queen's Arms by Aaron Elkins
Old Bones by Aaron Elkins
Icy Clutches by Aaron Elkins