redbyrd_sgfic (redbyrd_sgfic) wrote,

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So, I haven't posted book reviews in a while, but that doesn't mean I haven't been reading. Therefore:

The Courts of the Crimson Kings by S.M. Stirling
This is the sequel- of sorts- to Stirling's prior book set on Venus- and where Venus had dinosaurs, jungles and scantily clad barbarian priestesses, Mars naturally is the home to the decaying remnants of a vast and advanced alien civilization. The worldbuilding is fantastic, and I adore the way the Martians talk- best line ever: "Maintain an attitude of terrified submission and harmony will be sustained."

The plotting is a bit weak and frankly suffers from the occasional intrusions of arc that purports to link the series together. But the stellar world-building still made this enormous fun and well worth reading.

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson
This is a book that shines a light on the workings of our international transportation system and explains just how and why it came to be that a shirt can be made in China for less than the fabric can be purchased for in the US. It also shows how a fairly simple technology- standardized shipping containers- could remodel the faces of port cities, and change the lives of thousands of workers.

This is comprehensive history of the development of shipping containers- and the consequences both intended and unintended. To me the most interesting parts were in the first half of the book, as it describes how and why containers were invented (much of the cost of shipping pre-container was the time and labor to load and unload the ships). In the second part of the book, the interminable labor disputes regarding the use of containers were described- this part of the story was less linear, and also less interesting, at least to anyone without a keen interest in labor disputes. The earlier part of the book makes it worth reading, however.

Stargate SG-1: Do No Harm by Karen Miller
Not great, not awful. The characterization of Jack seemed a bit off to me. Also, this includes a backstory for Dave Dixon's introduction to the SGC, but I found little here of the dark humor that made the character so memorable on the series.

Temping Fate by Esther Friesner
A slight humorous fantasy. Amusing airplane read, but not exceptional.

Area 7 by Matt Reilly
A fast paced military thriller in the over-the-top mode. Set in the US by an Australian author- Disbelief will need to be hung by the neck until dead, but if you enjoy lots of creative explosions and unambiguous action, this is a fast, fun read.

Ice Station by Matt Reilly
The prequel to Area 7, this is more fast-paced action in the Antarctic.

Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones
Urban fantasy meets a British SF I have to say more?

Hidden Magic by Vivian Vande Velde
A fairy-tale fantasy, where quick wits are often a match for magic. Amusing but slight.

Skeleton Dance by Aaron Elkins
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

Space Tug by Murray Leinster
It's no Brain Stealers, but it's also not good. Some good orbital action, but clunky characterizations and badly dated technology.

Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome
An amusing period tale of three bumbling young men on a river trip. Best known to genre readers because of Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog.

People of the Wind by Poul Anderson
Interesting worldbuilding in search of a plot. I was initially quite interested in the society, but by the end of the book, I really didn't care about any of the characters.

The Android's Dream by John Scalzi
If Carl Hiaasen wrote SF, this might very well be the sort of thing that would come out. From the opening pages, where a character causes a diplomatic incident by farting, to the villainous alien thug who digests people for money, this is a very Hiaasenesque comedy. However the various over the top characters and wild coincidences work in the comic medium and the whole is very tightly plotted. Fun, funny, and unexpectedly engrossing.

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
Where there are airships, there are also sky pirates! This was marketed though not marked as YA, and proved well written and fun. In particular, the unsympathetic characters are not presented as two-dimensional ciphers, but rather more complex, and the main character is appealing and believably youthful.

Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel
The sequel to Airborn, this was less compelling, but still fun and worth reading – more airship action, villainous bad guys, and mysterious technology on an airship ghost vessel. I look forward to the third book (due out in the US in December) with keen anticipation.

Cobweb by Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George
Another oddly Hiaasenesque tale- the quirky characters and odd plotting are strongly reminiscent of Stephenson's The Big U. This isn't as satisfying as Stephenson's best solo work, but a fairly good read.

The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett
One of the Rincewind series of books by Terry Pratchett. It's Pratchett- need one say more?

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt
I want to never drive again. Really. This was an interesting read, but it's conclusions- that many of our worst driving habits are the result of inherent biases we can't do much about- is seriously worrying.

Silks by Dick and Felix Francis
A more enthralling effort than the first father and son mystery, this is still not the equal of Francis' best work. It suffers from some pacing difficulties in the middle section while the authors fill in time waiting for important plot elements to turn up. It does give a fascinating look at the inside of the British law profession, however, and Francis' always likeable characters are seldom poor companions for a few idle hours.

Contest by Matthew Reilly
An earlier book by Reilly, it has much of his trademark pacing, and improbable technology (which is at least explained as 'aliens' this time). Entertaining, and has a really rather nice plot twist at the end.

Scarecrow by Matthew Reilly
The third book featuring Reilly's military hero Shane Scofield, following Ice Station and Area 7- more fast-paced and improbable action. Enjoyable in the same way as a shoot-'em-up action movie is.

You're Wearing That? Mothers and Daughters in Conversation by Deborah Tannen
Like Tannen's prior books, this follows her format of anecdotal analysis. I felt that it did more to document common types of mother-daughter conflicts than it did to explain them or offer solutions.

Anahem by Neal Stephenson
My husband describes this as a hard SF book where the science is philosophy. And it works astoundingly well. It helps that it's a more linear narrative than many of Stephenson's works- all in first person and fairly direct. It does fall down somewhat on the ending, but with Stephenson it's never the destination but the journey that is so enjoyable. His evocative language and intricately realized history are ornaments to a well-told story. Highly recommended.

Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett
Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett
First Channel by Jean Lorrah and Jacqueline Lictenberg
Channel's Destiny by Jean Lorrah and Jacqueline Lictenberg
Ambrov Keon by Jean Lorrah
Unto Zeor, Forever by Jacqueline Lictenberg

Nation by Terry Pratchett
The latest Pratchett is a YA but not a Discworld book- an enjoyable read, though I thought that the SFnal and fantasy plot elements did not play well together.

Love Masque by Caroline Campbell
Don't ask how this one wandered in- probably part of a box of other books. Regency romance, not particularly distinguished. It was refused admittance to our library and will be seeking a new home elsewhere.

Seven Deadly Wonders by Matthew Reilly
Indiana Jones meets a military thriller- with mixed results. The fast pace and large explosions had their usual appeal, along with the strongly visual imagery. However the mashup of archeology was improbable enough to occasionally throw me out of the story.

Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter
A book about a kitten posted through the library drop box slot on a freezing night. About as sweet as you're probably imagining- but also an interesting portrait of a small midwestern town and its library in the depths of the farm crisis.

The World in Six Songs by Daniel Levitin
Like it's predecessory (This is Your Brain on Music), this was an interesting read, however it featured less of the intriguing results of current neurobiological research and more evolutionary speculation, along with a fair amount of outright rambling.

Demons are Forever by Julie Kenner
Latest entry in the urban fantasy series- much like Kenner's prior books.

Temple by Matthew Reilly
The usual mix of fast-paced action and improbable archeology.

On Being Certain by Robert Burton
Some intriguing discussion of the neurology of certainty, however its discussion of other books does not necessarily represent their theories fairly. The science is interesting, the analysis and author's personal experiences less so.

Whose Body?,
Clouds of Witness,
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club,
Strong Poison,
Five Red Herrings,
Have His Carcase,
Murder Must Advertise,
The Nine Tailors,
Gaudy Night,
Busman's Honeymoon, and
Lord Peter (anthology), by Dorothy Sayers
I'm not going to review these individually- they are deserved classics of the mystery genre- not only for their puzzles but for their literate and entertaining characters. Its notable that the Gaudy Night (and to some extent Busman's Honeymoon) are vastly different in style from the prior efforts- and are more novels than mysteries- and therefore may appeal to different audiences.

The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards
If you're the kind of person who likes a psychological modern novel set in a beautiful and interesting area, flavored with a dash of mystery, you'll likely enjoy this. I spent most of the book wanting to smack the main characters and tell them to stop dwelling on their personal histories and get on with investigating the crime already. A pity, because the setup, setting and crime were all quite interesting- and there was an effort at giving the reader a chance to figure things out, albeit feeble. I may try another by this author, to see if the main characters become less silly and self-absorbed.

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue by John McWhorter-
A fascinating look at English grammar, why it's weird, and how it got that way, in a lively and engaging narrative. Highly recommended for those interested in linguistics and history.

Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare
A mystery set in 30's Britain. The writing was amusing, but I felt it suffered for lack of a definite main character.

Blood Sport by Dick Francis
Summer of the Dragon by Elizabeth Peters
Curses! by Aaron Elkins
Longshot by Dick Francis
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett
Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
Point Blanc by Anthony Horowitz
Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz
Eagle Strike by Anthony Horowitz
Ark Angel by Anthony Horowitz

Pale Gray for Guilt by John D. MacDonald
A middle one of the Travis McGee novels. Classic hard-boiled detective/suspense fiction.

Suicide Excepted by Cyril Hare
With a Bare Bodkin by Cyril Hare
Classic murder mysteries with dry British humor and literate style.

Evil Star by Anthony Horowitz (Book 2 of the Gatekeepers)
Nightrise by Anthony Horowitz (Book 3 of the Gatekeepers)
YA horror. It's got an interesting premise but he had to work too hard getting people where he wanted them, and the third book switches mostly to new protagonists which weakens the series considerably. Not in the same class with his Alex Rider series.

San Andreas by Alistair MacLean
It's a common phenomenon with popular authors that later books sometimes read like outlines for the books they wrote at the height of their powers. That's the case with this one. Set on a merchant marine ship in the North Sea in winter, a saboteur stalks the decks. The plot is reasonably good, but the characterization and development of subplots is sketchy at best. I quite often had to remind myself who the various characters were. And the dramatic setting lacks the evocative and visceral descriptions of Ice Station Zebra or The Secret Ways. It's hardly MacLean's worst book and was a reasonably fast read, but it's not up to the standard he set in earlier years.

Six Sacred Stones by Matthew Reilly
The even sillier sequel to Seven Deadly Wonders. To improbable action and goofy archeology we add even goofier astronomy. The action still remains amusing and fast paced, but the plot is so far over the top that it's rather hard to suspend disbelief.

Duainfey by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
I'm sorry to say that I found this very disappointing. It suffered from several major structural problems. There were two plots which basically do not intersect (it's strongly implied that they will in the sequel). The A-plot starts off in a way that suggests one kind of story, but then turns into quite another- one rather reminiscent of the later Laurell Hamilton, it must be said, something I was not expecting. In both plots the characters take very little action that obviously advances the read like a fairly extended setup for another story. This is IMO more likely to appeal to Hamilton fans than to those of more traditional fantasy.

Stratification: Book 1: Reap The Wild Wind by Julie Czerneda
Now this is more like it! Hard SF, with Czerneda's trademark excellent biology, this has a nicely paced plot that does a slow reveal of the three native societies and an interesting first contact with alien visitors- humans. It's not a total cliffhanger- but it's definitely first in a series. I'm pleased that I waited for the second one to come out-and a bit sorry I don't have all three in the bag.

Stratification: Book 2: Riders of the Storm by Julie Czerneda
Book 2 continues the slow reveal, exposes more of the various plots, history and more of the planet, and moves the story along somewhat. Not as strong as the first, but then, it's a middle book. I look forward to reading the remaining book or books when they appear.

And Four to Go by Rex Stout
A collection of four short stories in the Nero Wolfe series. As my husband puts it, a lot of the pleasure of reading these is in spending time with Wolfe and Archie. Classic mysteries, neither especially distinguished nor disappointing. Reading them in the 21st century, they strongly evoke the era in which they were written.

With the Lightnings by David Drake
Lt. Leary Commanding by David Drake
The Far Side of the Stars by David Drake
The Way to Glory by David Drake
Some Golden Harbor by David Drake
Tags: books
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