redbyrd_sgfic (redbyrd_sgfic) wrote,

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So this is all loriel_eris's fault.  She keeps posting interesting booky things, and I wanted something to point to when I refer to books in conversation!

But I'll cut to save your screen real estate.

Books I have read recently:

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson-
This is nonfiction- a sort of dual account of Dr. Hawley Crippen, the famous murderer, and Guglielmo Marconi, whose wireless transmitter was used to catch him.   The Marconi information was well presented and entertaining, though it heavily duplicated the recent Marconi biography, Signor Marconi's Magic Box by Gavin Weightman.  The Crippen story was one I had not read before, and was fascinating in a train-wreck sort of way (the wife richly deserved it!).  The contrast between the two men was quite striking- Crippen, universally described as kind and considerate, but ineffectual and browbeaten vs. Marconi- young, visionary, egotistical, and not above climbing over the bodies of friends and enemies alike to achieve his goals.    An interesting read, though the author did have some pacing difficulty in making the parts of his narrative match chronologically, and he introduced one theme (the influence of spiritualism) which kind of petered out about halfway through.  An interesting snapshot of a time of technological change.

Just for Fun by Linus Torvalds and David Diamond-
This is a biography of Linus Torvalds, and his creation, the operating system Linux.  It's fairly lightweight and its occasional ventures into philosophy border on the pretentious.   However, for the most part it's a very engaging and tech-lite account of how a Finnish college student came to write an operating system that would become the poster child for the open source software movement.   The portrait of young Linus growing up in Finland is quite fun (c'mon, how often do you get to read about people living in Finland?!), the interviews with his family are very amusing (his mom wanted to know how he was going to meet girls, when he never left his computer!), and Linus himself comes out looking very much like a regular person- the kind you might find living next door.    A fast read.

Under Orders by Dick Francis 
This is a fairly typical Dick Francis- better than his last couple (Second Wind and Shattered were IMO some of his weaker works). It's the third (and just published) book featuring Sid Halley.      (If there's anyone out there who hasn't heard of Dick Francis, he's a mystery writer whose stories tend to revolve around British horse-racing.)    While the mystery part of the story was more polished than his last couple, this still isn't Francis at the top of his form.  His forays into genetics were weakly presented and not especially central to the plot, except as they gave the main character access to information he wouldn't have otherwise had.  The ending in particular was formulaic and the jeopardy less compelling.   In the second Sid Halley book, the bad guys produce a bloodcurdlingly credible threat to the hero- this one just couldn't match it for suspense.   If you've read all Francis' other work, this is a fine way to while away a tedious plane flight.   If you haven't read Francis before, try Reflex, and see what he could do at his best. 

Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen
For the uninitiated, Carl Hiaasen is a Florida journalist who has written a number of over the top comedic novels set in Florida.  He mercilessly skewers nearly everyone, but has a special hate on for developers and large corporations.   Ordinarily he structures the book as a mystery. He may need to return to that format, because Nature Girl is deeply, structurally flawed.  As in the 'bad guy' doesn't actually show up until halfway through the book.    For Hiaasen fans, there's still plenty of the usual weird screwed up characters, and bizarre over-the-top scenes.   But the plot kind of wanders around looking for itself through the first half of the book until all the characters meet halfway through.  The only people with actual motivations are the antagonists - one disgusting, one pathetic.  The most sympathetic character in the book is the title character's son, a teenage boy who spends relatively little time onstage. 

I'm frequently ambivalent about Hiaasen, as I tend to want to give even his sympathetic characters a boot in the rear.   This book didn't have enough plot to make me overlook the characters and the characters didn't make me care enough about them to forgive the weakness in plotting.   Not one of his better efforts.   (Note- Hiaasen is also not for the squeamish.  If you're not up for seeing bodies graphically decompose- sometimes while the inhabitant is still alive- you may prefer to avoid all but his YA books.)

No doubt I'll be adding to this- I'm a compulsive reader, and while my recent schedule has interfered with my reading time, I couldn't possibly stop entirely!
Tags: books
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