A recent study indicates that reading literary fiction can help improve your social skills and help you be a better conversationalist.
As I pondered t...moreA recent study indicates that reading literary fiction can help improve your social skills and help you be a better conversationalist.
As I pondered that and glanced over at my (ever-growing) pile of books I want to read, Michael Chabon's The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay began to call to me. So, I decided I'd pick up the book, read a chapter or two and dazzle friends, family and myself with my improved conversational tone.
Whether or not reading this novel has made me a better conversationalist remains to be seen.
But I will say that I'm glad the study serves as a catalyst and finally got me to crack the cover of this book.
Simply put, this is an outstanding novel and one that I wish I'd read before now.
It's the story of the creative team of Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay, Jewish immigrants who create a wide array of comic books and superheroes during the Golden Age of comic books. Early sections of the novel detail how the team comes together and looks at some of the characters they create, including their most popular and enduring creation The Escapist. The book unfolds into something deeper as you turn the pages, detailing Joe's increased frustration that is fame and fortune can't help him get his family out of Nazi occupied Europe and Clay's frustration with his own sexual identity.
The novel delves into how two men who appear to have everything they could want are fundamentally unsatisfied because they each can't have the one thing they most desire. The entire novel is a fascinating, compelling character study of these two men and the various people who come into their circle of influence.
That's not to say that the novel is dry or without humor. Chabon creates some nice asides and witty observations during the close to six hundred pages the novel runs. One running thread involves Joe's on-going and ever escalating feud with a group of anti-Semetics, all leading up to a cartoon bomb being planted in the headquarters of Empire Comics and Joe chained to a desk in his refusal to leave. (You may have to read it in order to fully understand and enjoy the implications of it).
Kavalier and Clay weighs in at close to six-hundred pages, but it's one of those books that is so absorbing and utterly readable that it feels like it's over far too soon. Yes, the novel is satisfying in every sense of the word and it's one that has struck with me in my thoughts long after the final page was turned. But it still felt like it had ended far too soon and I found myself wondering if and how the next book I picked up could live up to the high bar this one had set.
If you're like me and this one is languishing on the TBR pile, pick it up and start reading.
And for the record -- people who ask me for a recommendation of something good to read will be hearing this novel mentioned a lot for a long time to come. Highly recommended. (less)
I should preface this by saying I've never read the original novel that Fuzzy Nation pays homage to, but...moreLeave it to John Scalzi to do a reboot right.
I should preface this by saying I've never read the original novel that Fuzzy Nation pays homage to, but after reading/listening to Fuzzy Nation the book will probably make its way onto my to-be-read pile in the near future.
Jack Holloway is a disbarred lawyer, working as a prospector on the distant planet Zarathustra. While surveying a local mountain with his companion Carl, a dog who can set off explosives, Jack discovers a rich vein of sunstones, the most valuable gem in the universe. Suddenly Jack is going to be rich beyond his wildest dreams, as will ZaraCorp, who own the mining rights to the planet.
That is until Jack comes home to find a new creature has broken into his jungle dwellings. Dubbed a "fuzzy" by Jack, the creature is highly intelligent and adaptive, which could be a huge problem for ZaraCorp. If the creatures are proved to be sentient, then ZaraCorp must give up all rights to exploit the new found mineral wealth of the planet and pack up shop.
Jack turns to his ex-girlfriend and ZaraCorp biologist, Isabel to help him look into the matter and to determine if the fuzzies are sentient.
Written in the vein of Scalzi's The Androids Dream, Fuzzy Nation is a masterpiece by one of the genre's best working authors. If you're only familiar with Scalzi from his military SF "Old Man's War" series, leave those expectations at the door. Fuzzy features the same kind of addictive, compelling writing but there's a lot of humor, fun and serious thought-provoking stuff at work here. In fact, I may even go so far as to declare this my favorite work by Scalzi to date.
The audio version is a delight as well. Read by Wil Wheaton, the story comes alive though Wheaton's delivery. In his introduction, Scalzi says he can think of no one better than Wheaton to read the audio version of his book. And having heard it, I heartily agree.
If you're looking for a thought-provoking, stand-alone sci-fi novel that shows the genre can still be fun, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Fuzzy Nation. (less)
George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" is everything epic fantasy should be--a richly crafted world, fascinating characters and no abandon when...moreGeorge R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" is everything epic fantasy should be--a richly crafted world, fascinating characters and no abandon when it comes to inflicting horrible fates upon the cast of what seems like thousands.
The third installment in the epic series is the longest, so far, and the best of the series. Building on everything set up in the first two books, "A Storm of Swords" delivers from the first page, grabbing you by the collar and never letting go. The story is an epic one and if you've heard that you shouldn't become attached to any character or set of characters, you've heard correctly. Bad things happen to a lot of the characters in this novel and Martin doesn't pause much to allow you to catch your breath as he moves from one revelation to the next.
There's not much more I can say about this book and series that hasn't already been said. It's epic, it's compelling and it's fantasy done exactly right. It'd be a shame to let one more second go by without reading it, if you haven't already done so. (Assuming you've read the first two installments, of course!) (less)
I was inspired to finally pull this off the to be read pile when I attended a recent live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion at the historic Ryman...moreI was inspired to finally pull this off the to be read pile when I attended a recent live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion at the historic Ryman Auditorium.
Garrison Keillor's stories of his fictional town of Lake Wobegon have been some of my favorite companions during my commute and journeys by car over the years. I've listened to some of my favorites multiple times, even doing a term paper on Keillor years ago while in school. I firmly believe that the Lake Wobegon stories work first and best as audio. So, it's always a bit strange at first to sit down and read them on them on the printed page or woven into the larger context of a full novel.
I've also got to admit that one of my favorite authors has left me cold on his last couple of fictional books concerning his fictional town. I found them too jaded and cynical and at odds when what I recall as being the best aspects of the Lake Wobegon stories.
This collection Life Among the Lutherans is a breath of fresh air after those other recent releases. Centering on the lives of his fictional Lutherans in town, this collection features some of the funniest, wisest and best observed stories Keillor had told not only about that particular denomination but about his fictional creation. It helps when two of the earliest entries are two of my favorites, "Pontoon Boat" in which 24 ministers head out on Wally's new pontoon boat (I love it, but it still works best when Keillor tells it. It's on CD in his second Lake Wobegon set. If you haven't heard it, you should. I'm old enough to have hard it on first broadcast and for years I had an unedited version of the story recorded off the air.) and "The Young Lutheran's Guide to the Orchestra" which asks the question of which instrument would our Savior play. There were some newer stories that I was unfamiliar with in the collection and it was nice to discover a few new gems.
Also in the mix are a couple of poems (that I believe were performed as songs on a PHC). While not quite as memorable as Keillor's "Obedience" or "The Finn Who Would Not Take a Sauna," they're still good.
As a collection, this will sit well on the bookshelf alongside Lake Wobegon Days and Leaving Home. Keillor is a great storyteller and this collection shows off some of his best. (less)
A good friend always used to comment that she looked forward to the latest Lynley and Havers novel not just because it would have a good mystery, but...moreA good friend always used to comment that she looked forward to the latest Lynley and Havers novel not just because it would have a good mystery, but because she enjoyed her annual check in with Lynley, Havers, Deborah, Helen and Simon.
On a certain level, I have to admit I agreed with her.
Based on that, I should have loved the latest installment in the series from George a lot more than I did. After a couple of books focusing on Lynley in the aftermath of Helen's death, it's nice to see George getting back to including some of her other characters in the story. That doesn't mean that Lynley still isn't haunted a bit by what's happened to Helen and is still grieving (although his engaging in a strictly sexual relationship with his boss at Scotland Yard seems exactly like the kind of rebound relationship both parties would pursue), but this is a novel about Lynley coming out of his mourning and trying to get about the business of living again.
It helps that he's been given a special assignment by Hillier. When the nephew of a family friend of Hillier slips and drowns, Hillier sends Lynley to a small village to make sure that no stone has gone unturned in investigation.
If you're looking for a murder mystery, you won't find one here. George takes a break from his typical "whodunnit" mystery with a story in which Lynley is brought in as a catalyst for a family who makes a regular habit of lying to each other. As the story unfolds, the lies told by various characters in their day to day interaction--not only to each other but also themselves--come to light, all with intriguing and, at times, unintended consequences. But the shining a light into the darkness isn't limited to the cast created for this novel--the light also is shone on the regular characters as well.
All of this works fairly well for the first three quarters of the book as George establishes that everyone has something to hide and something to lose or gain from its coming to light. It's one the revelations start coming in the final quarter of the novel that Believing the Lie drops from what was once a four star book to more a three and a half star one. Simply put, some of the revelations just don't work as well as they should and others test the boundaries of credibility-at least as far as I was willing to go with the story.
That's not to say the ending isn't effective. It just isn't quite as solid as some of previous efforts and many of the revelations surrounding the dead man's family connections fray at the edges.
However, George wisely leaves certain elements hanging in the Havers' story line to ensure I'll be back for her next novel.
Believing the Lie is a thick, long book that it's easy to get lost in for pages at a time. When it's working, it's among the most solid, entertaining and enthralling entries in the series. It's just too bad that the last quarter collapses under its own weight and isn't quite as satisfying as it could or should have been. (less)
I picked up Flood a few years ago, just days before real-life flooding took place in Nashville. And while my family was spared any major damage or dir...moreI picked up Flood a few years ago, just days before real-life flooding took place in Nashville. And while my family was spared any major damage or direct impact from the flooding, I still knew a lot of people whose lives were impacted by it.
And so it was that this novel languished on my to-be-read shelf for what a couple of years. Finally, a few weeks, it rose to the top of my to-be-read pile and I decided enough time had passed that I decided to pick it up and give it a try.
As with all Stephen Baxter novels, there are some fascinating ideas here. There's a lot of solid, hard science and the story about water levels rising on the planet and the consequences of that are told without too much political hay made about climate change or global warming.
It's just too bad that Baxter couldn't create any characters quite as compelling as the situation and the science unfolding on the page. (It's why I'm uncertain of just how exactly his tie-in Doctor Who novel, set in the second Doctor era will go. It could be utterly fantastic or a complete train wreck). The big issue I have with these characters is they're all archetypes and little else. And their story arcs tend to follow a fairly routine and at times predictable path. There aren't enough surprises from a character standpoint. It's not quite as bad as other apocalyptic genre novels (I'm looking at you Lucifer's Hammer) where I wanted the cataclysmic event to occur simply to kill off the characters, but it ws close at times.
However, Baxter does create enough of an interesting mystery as the book closes that, dang it, I will probably pick up the sequel to this one (a library check-out, probably not a purchase) sooner rather than later.
Ironically, as I finished this novel, the local forecast calls for heavy rains this weekend with possible flooding....(less)
Most of the time when Stephen King cites a book as an influence or recommends it, I'll give it a whirl. Over the years, I'd say I've enjoyed at least...moreMost of the time when Stephen King cites a book as an influence or recommends it, I'll give it a whirl. Over the years, I'd say I've enjoyed at least 90% of what King recommends -- either on the pages of Entertainment Weekly or in the forwards or afterwards of his various novels.
One of those recommended reads is Earth Abides which King cites as an influence for one of my favorite works by him, The Stand. And so it was that I scoured a couple of used book stores to find a copy of George R. Stewart's influential, post-apocalyptic novel. And then, it sat on the to be read pile for a while, collecting dust. For a while I just wasn't in the mood for the end of the world as we know it and rebuilding humanity again. But finally, I got into a place where I wanted to read about the world ending and so I finally got around to reading the story of Isherwood Williams (Ish), who survives a mutated strain of the measles thanks to a rattlesnake bite. Isolated in a cabin in the woods (but not the one used in the Joss Whedon movie, mind you), Ish rides out the poison and the disease to find he's one of the last surviving human beings on the planet. He also finds a hammer, which will become pretty important in the days to come -- not only to break into various establishments to gain supplies, but also as a symbol to the community that Ish helps establish.
At first, Ish takes the news that he's one of the last men on Earth fairly well. In fact, I'd have to say that Ish takes it in stride. He takes a cross country tour of America to see the full impact of the disease and if anyone has survived, before returning to the Bay Area. Here he meets a woman named Em, they settle down, get married and start building a new community. Thanks to much of the technology of the time being powered by water falls, things like electricity and running water are around for a lot longer than you'd expect.
The story is told over the course of several years, with long sections focusing on the current situation and then short chapters that fill in what happened in between. It helps keep the novel moving and doesn't dwell too much on the ins and outs of daily life in the post-disease world. And that may be a good thing, though at times the sections that detail the between years end up feeling more like a genealogy than anything else. As the years go along, Ish realizes that his little group has to being to establish things like farming if humanity is going to survive. Ish is also driven to make sure humanity's knowledge and culture aren't forgotten, setting up a school for the younger generation and attempting to preserve the library so the great works of literature and much of humanity's history and knowledge won't be forgotten.
I suppose if I'd read this when it were first published or before I'd read a lot of other end of the world, doomsday novels, it might have had a greater impact on me. As it stands, Earth Abides is a good novel, but it didn't really stand out from the rest of the pack. Stewart creates some vivid, interesting and memorable moments over the course of the novel, but isolated moments don't make up for a lack of overall drive to the plot or any significantly interest characters beyond the central character of Ish. For surviving the end of the world, the characters here have it fairly easy for much of the novel since running water is still around and there is very little, if any, external threat from predators -- either human or animal.
And while Earth Abides was never adapted as a feature film, it was adapted for radio. Escape adapted the novel over two episodes in the 1950's and it's certainly worth a listen. The first part is fairly faithful to the source material, but part two diverges quite a bit. It's still worth a listen, though. You can find both halves of the adaptation HERE.. And if you're worried that by downloading it, the FBI might show up at your door, don't. A majority of OTR shows are public domain these days, so you're free to download, listen and share with family and friends. (less)
If you're expecting D.C. Pierson's novel The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To to address and resolve all the issues related to the title charac...moreIf you're expecting D.C. Pierson's novel The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To to address and resolve all the issues related to the title character and his sleeping disorder, you're going to be sorely disappointed by this book.
However, if you approach this book and view the title as a hook to get you interested in the story of the friendship to two young, geeky teenage boys and their trials, tribulations and first loves, then you're probably going to love this book. I know I did.
Darren Bennett is a bit of a loner, constantly doodling in his notebooks, textbooks and anything else he can find. One day, Eric Lederer notices the drawings and the two begin their friendship -- one that includes developing the outline for an epic franchise of space fantasy films. It also involves avoiding Darren's older brother and his bullying friends, falling for the same girl (though dating her at different times) and, oh yeah, the secret that Eric doesn't sleep and never has.
Despite having a sci-fi element to it, Pierson keeps his novels and characters ground, interesting and utterly relatable. This is one of those books that had me losing sleep just wanting to spend a few more minutes in the world of Darren and Eric. Of course, it's the girl who comes between our two heroes that leads Darren leaking Eric's secret and the inevitable complications that arise from it.
Pierson's writing is enveloping and this entertaining, charming story has earned a spot on my favorites shelf and it will likely remain there for a long time. I picked up this one in the hopes of scratching a book off my to-be-read pile and discovered a real gem. (less)
When I first heard that Alastair Reynolds was writing a Doctor Who tie-in novel, I was equal part curious and skeptical.
After reading Stephen Baxter'...moreWhen I first heard that Alastair Reynolds was writing a Doctor Who tie-in novel, I was equal part curious and skeptical.
After reading Stephen Baxter's Second Doctor tie-in, I wasn't sure the melding of a big-name genre writer with the universe of Doctor Who could be very successful.
Which is why I was pleasantly surprised that within twenty pages of Reynolds' The Harvest of Time that not only had he captured the spirit of the Jon Pertwee era on the printed page, but that I was also enjoying the book immensely.
Set at the height of the Pertwee era, The Harvest of Time takes place before the on-screen events of "The Sea Devils" and finds the Doctor and UNIT trying to fend off an alien invasion brought about by the Master. But instead of the season eight cliche of the Master bringing a group of aliens to Earth and rapidly losing control of the situation, Reynolds makes this alien invasion one unintentionally triggered by the Master. Seems that our favorite Time Lord villain was sending out a signal to himself across the timelines to help his present self escape his Earthly prison. However, his signal is picked up by an alien race who has already destroyed one world and has now set its sights on Earth and gaining the Master as part of their nefarious plot.
Harvest of Time feels like a story that could have been made during third Doctor's tenure -- assuming they had the budget and special effects technology that help bring the new series to life on our screens. All of the UNIT-era regulars are on hand and it's clear from Reynolds use of them that he is not only a fan of classic Who but also a fan of the Pertwee era. And while this novel feels like it could easily take place during that era, it still has a scope and scale that simply couldn't or wouldn't work as well on our TV screens. Examining the nature of time and the implications of time travel, the story is one of the most entertaining novels -- tie-in or otherwise -- that I've read this year.
It even made me year to dust off some of my old third Doctor era DVDs and give them a viewing (again). It also made me want to run out and read more of Reynolds' non-Who offerings.
Easily the best of the big name genre author tie-in novels, The Harvest of Time gives me hope that the editors of this line would be willing to try this experiment again with some other more recognized authors. And hope that Reynolds might have another Doctor Who story in him because if he does, this is one fan who'd love a chance to read it. (less)