"The art of life is to deal with problems as they arise, rather than destroy one's spirit by worrying about them too far in advance."

--From Imperium by Robert Harris

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The One with the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

329. Title & Author: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (215 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Science Fiction & Humor
Completed: 25 August 2015

Summary & Review:
Waking up to discover that his house is about to be demolished, Arthur Dent’s day is off to a rough start. Things only worsen, however, when his friend Ford Prefect informs him of a few unexpected facts: he, Ford, is an alien and the Earth is about to be destroyed so they had better hitch a ride off it sooner rather than later. Good thing they have in their possession the best travel guide in the universe: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

This was a very British book. The humor is incredibly dry and a little absurd. I thought it was consistently funny throughout and there were some great deadpan lines. I wasn’t familiar with all the backstory behind the Hitchhiker’s series before I read this so I came at it with no preconceptions or expectations. It was bizarre and entertaining and funny and strange all at once.

Apparently there are five books in the “trilogy” (British humor again) and I think I’ll probably read the second one at some point.

Rating: 6.5

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The One with Jack: Secret Histories

328. Title & Author: Jack: Secret Histories by F. Paul Wilson (304 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Young Adult
Completed: 23 July 2015

Summary & Review:
Jack and his two best friends spend hours exploring the New Jersey Pine Barrens on lazy summer days, but when they discover a body buried with a strange artifact, their world suddenly becomes much more exciting—and dangerous. After the police investigation turns up that the victim was murdered as part of a sacrificial rite, Jack and his friends start looking into the mysterious Septimus Order, a powerful secret society.

This is the first young adult novel that Wilson has written and I really liked it. It would probably be best aimed at a young teen or older pre-teen as far as reading level. Notwithstanding that, it was a fun book. Wilson did a great job tying in some of the larger themes older readers are familiar with from the Repairman Jack Series (one of my favs) in this book about Jack’s younger life. This book is the first of a trilogy of young Repairman Jack so the story didn’t fully resolve which left me looking forward to the next installment.

Another thing I really liked about this book was how deftly Wilson worked in advice to teen readers within the story. He offered words of wisdom on topics from a friend struggling with alcohol and drugs to developing a work ethic to honesty and honor. Plus, he also introduced a young reader to some excellent vocabulary and gave their explanations without sounding too teacher-y. Well done, sir!

Rating: 7.5

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The One with Shadows in Flight

327. Title & Author: Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card (237 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Science Fiction
Completed: 19 July 2015

Summary & Review:
After leaving Earth with his three children that are afflicted with same genetic condition that will lead to their untimely death after adolescence, Bean soon becomes too large to do anything but lie in the cargo hold of their starship. Centuries pass on earth as they take advantage of relativity hoping for a cure. As they travel, they encounter something entirely unexpected: a bugger ship in orbit around an inhabitable planet.

This is the fifth and currently final book in the Shadow Series, the parallel storyline to Ender’s Game from Bean’s perspective. Up until this book, I thought this was actually a stronger series of novels than the Ender Quartet. They were more consistent in pacing and tone than the Ender Series. But this novel did not follow that pattern. First of all, Bean was more of an ancillary character in this book. Second, the tone completely changed here. Rather than the geopolitical and military chess and intrigue of the first four books in the Shadow Series, this novel was more contemplative, similar to Speaker for the Dead. Card is a good writer so the book was still entertaining, just unexpected.

I do have one major bone to pick, though. So far I’ve read eight books in the Enderverse and the entire time there has been one understanding of the buggers. This book completely threw that out the window and changed basically everything about the aliens with no warning or any justification for the change in the other books. B.S., man.

Rating: 6.0

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The One with Starship Troopers

326. Title & Author: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein (340 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Science Fiction
Completed: 5 July 2015

Summary & Review:
Leaving behind his civilian life against the wishes of his parents, Johnnie Rico enlists in the Mobile Infantry, a futuristic military branch of airborne infantry with powered armor. As he progresses from boot camp recruit through non-com to commissioned officer, Johnnie will help in the battle against the “Bugs” and learn what is means to be a soldier.

I loved this book. Heinlein is one of the most influential science fiction writers of all time and I could see aspects from this book that other authors, such as Orson Scott Card, have used in their own novels. It wasn’t a plot heavy book, meaning the major action of the bug war was almost only there as a backdrop against which Heinlein could explore military life and, more specifically, the life of a infantry grunt. Almost a third of the book was spent on Rico’s time in boot camp and other large chunks were devoted to his pre-military education and time at OCS. During these scenes, Heinlein expounded on the virtues of military service, explained why war is sometimes necessary, and offered solutions to some of the ills facing modern society. It was a great book and I understand why this was one of the first books put on the USMC’s reading list.

Rating: 8.5

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The One with A Man in Full

325. Title & Author: A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe (742 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Novel
Completed: 28 June 2015

Summary & Review: 
Charlie Crocker is seeing the destruction of his real estate development empire. His grand vision of a great outer-Atlanta development put him too far in the hole to the bank and now the bank has come knocking to recoup its money. Conrad Henley, a young man with a small family, has just been imprisoned unjustly after being fired from his miserable frozen foods warehouse job. Roger “Too White” White, a black Atlanta lawyer, is proud of his station in life but often feels isolated from the black community. These men, and more, get swept up into the controversy when a star black athlete at Georgia Tech is accused of raping the daughter of a prominent white family. As tensions swell across the city, these men will all be defined by their actions in the coming storm.

This was the second novel of Tom Wolfe’s that I’ve read. I first read The Bonfire of the Vanities (#274), which is a modern classic and I loved it. This book started out just as strong, but as Steve Sailer noted, the ending sputters. I hear Wolfe was in poor health and couldn’t do the ending justice. While the wrap-up was rushed and slightly unsatisfying, reading to that point was very enjoyable so I will still look back on reading this book fondly. Wolfe is a keen observe of American culture and humanity at large and his books are always worth the time.

Rating: 7.5

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The One with Escape from Camp 14

324. Title & Author: Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden (199 pages)
Genre: Nonfiction—Memoir
Completed: 30 May 2015

Summary & Review:
Shin Dong-hyuk never even wanted to escape the North Korean political prisoner camp he was born into. He never knew that a world existed beyond his fenced-in camp or that there was any other way of life besides the constant near-starvation, endless labor, and cutthroat survival of his life in the notorious Camp 14. After enduring years of beatings, witnessing numerous executions including those of his own mother and brother, and doing anything to survive, Shin meets a new prisoner who had once traveled widely and mesmerizes him with tales of China and the West. Spurred on, largely by his desire to eat meat and rice, he and his new friend make a break for freedom.

This book was horribly fascinating. Whenever I read anything about North Korea my brain almost can’t accept that such a place exists. But, it does, and the reality is horrendous. The stark contrast between North and South Korea, two countries made up of the same genetic stock but following two wildly different political paths, is incredible. South Korea’s economy is over 30 times that of North Korea and the living standards between the two can’t even be compared. Yet, the North Korean government’s hold over their people is so strong that many do not even know what the world outside North Korea is like and, therefore, they have no will or desire to affect change.

I was unaware of many of the efforts South Koreans, including their government and churches, put into getting people out of North Korea and helping them once they arrive in the South. I wish them luck in their efforts.

As for the book, Harden had an incredibly interesting story at his disposal which I think covered a multitude of weaknesses in pacing and prose.

Rating: 7.5

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The One with The Husband's Secret

323. Title & Author: The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty (445 pages)
Genre: Fiction—Novel
Completed: 21 May 2015

Summary & Review:
Cecilia is blessed with a picture perfect life: handsome husband, three wonderful daughters, and a successful business. All of that is upended, however, when she finds a letter addressed to her from her husband with instructions only to open it in the event of his death. When the weight of not knowing becomes too heavy, she opens the letter and her life will never be the same.

After my wife read and loved Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies (#319), she bought this one and “made” me read it when she was finished. Moriarty definitely has subjects she likes to write about: school moms (or “mums” in her Australian English), marriage, secrets within marriage, suburbia, murder in said suburbia, etc. So, there were a lot of similarities between the two novels of hers that I have read. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, because I had really enjoyed Big Little Lies, too. This was another entertaining novel and Moriarty has a light prose that is easy to read. While I didn’t like this one quite as much, it was still fun to read.

Rating: 7.0