Fiction Roundup Sept. 2008 – April 2010

I started this blog to review books that I had read, but have been woefully delinquent in writing book reviews since August of 2008. But I have kept a draft post with the books I’ve read, so in the spirit of starting the blog back up (again), here’s the roundup. This post will be of fiction books, and I’ll post a roundup of the non-fiction books that didn’t deserve their own post at some point.

Of note is that almost all of these books are from the library. The Mountain View Public Library is a wonderful library, and the convenience of their bookmobile visiting Google once a week has changed my book habits. Instead of ordering things through Amazon, I send an email to Cody to put a desired book on the truck for me, and it shows up on Wednesday. Magic! It also means I read a lot more genre fiction, as I wouldn’t pay to buy these books, but if they’re free from the library, I’ll indulge myself and read whole series.

Normally, I’d link each title to Amazon, but there’s way too many to deal with that, so if you choose to buy one of these, please click on the Amazon link in the left sidebar, or just click here, to give me the referral fee.

Free Food for Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee
I’m not sure where I saw this recommended, but it was a book about Koreans and New York and Wall Street, so it appealed to me. I enjoyed the specificity of the New York setting, and the cultural aspects of Koreans attempting to adapt to American culture. However, the book is more of a meditation, as the characters wander and aren’t particularly memorable, while the plot is vague at best. I also thought the writing was inconsistent, as each chapter had a different character’s viewpoint (written in third-person), but would drop into a side-character’s head for a couple paragraphs to make a comment.
Seconds of Pleasure, by Neil LaBute
This is a book of short stories by Neil LaBute, who’s better known for his cynical plays and movies, such as In the Company of Men, The Shape of Things, This Is How It Goes, etc. While I appreciate his bitter viewpoint, a whole book of short stories that each describe how miserable we are was a bit much – I think I only read about half before returning the book (a bonus of library books – not feeling guilty for not finishing a book!).
Downtown Owl, by Chuck Klosterman
I’m a big fan of Klosterman’s essays, so I thought I’d pick up his first novel from the library. I enjoyed it – I thought it was DFW-esque in its digressions into social observations from side characters. It wasn’t particularly plot-driven, instead observing various characters wandering around a town in North Dakota. Not a book I’d read over and over again, but happy to have read it once from the library
The Time Traveller’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
One of those books that everybody’s read, and I finally got around to last fall. I slammed through it in a couple days because it was due back at the library. No particular lasting impressions, though.
Bad Monkeys, by Matt Ruff
I picked this up based on Seth Godin’s recommendation after enjoying the previous novels he’d recommended. It wasn’t until after I got this from the library that I realized I’d read Matt Ruff’s Sewer, Gas and Electric, which was seriously weird (there was an animatronic head of Ayn Rand). An enjoyable romp that I slammed through – it’s told in a locked-room style with flashbacks, and weird stuff starts happening, but it’s unclear whether that’s what happened or whether it’s an unreliable narrator. Plus the idea that a secret organization exists to cull the “bad monkeys” from the human race is pretty sweet. Recommended as fluffy relaxing reading.
Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazell
Another Seth Godin recommendation, this one’s about a Mafia hit man turned doctor whose new life is interrupted when one of his old colleagues happens to show up for treatment at the hospital where he’s serving his residency. Hijinks ensue. Again, well-done fluffy entertainment.
Twelve Sharp
Lean Mean Thirteen
Fearless Fourteen
Finger Licking Fifteen, by Janet Evanovich
A frothy mystery series that I enjoy. Happy to get them from the library rather than buying each one, though.
Another Life, by Andrew vachss
I am a huge fan of the early books in Vachss’s Burke series, but this one (maybe the final one?) was completely unmemorable, so I was glad I got it from the library.
The John Rain series, by Barry Eisler
Rain Fall, Hard Rain, Rain Storm, Killing Rain, The Last Assassin, Requiem for an Assassin are the books in the series. John Rain is a half-Japanese hit man who specializes in killing people such that it appears they died of natural causes. He’s also a general all-around bad ass with weapons and martial arts. A friend recommended the series to me as being more realistic in its fight sequences than most thrillers, as Eisler is a former CIA operative with a black belt. I obviously can’t judge the realism, but it was definitely a good read, and the tactics felt real. Obviously, I enjoyed the series since I went ahead and read all of the books, but I don’t know if they’d be worth buying.
Fault Line, by Barry Eisler
The start of a new series by Barry Eisler, but many of the same characteristics. This one was set in the Bay Area, so it was fun for me to know all the places referred to. New protagonist, but set in the same universe as the John Rain series, as there are a couple throwaway references to events that happened in those books. I’ve already requested the sequel at the library even though it has not yet been released.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl who Played with Fire
The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Stieg Larsson
Recommended by the Economist, the Millenium Trilogy was written by a Swedish journalist and is set very specifically in Sweden, with lots of references that I didn’t get. But it’s an enjoyable read over the course of the three books, as the titular girl (a borderline sociopath genius with a photographic memory) gets caught up in crazy situations and has to fight to survive. Some of the best moments are her trying to cope with normal social conventions, though; in fight-or-flight scenarios, she knows how to react, but like a stray cat, she doesn’t quite know how to deal with kindness, sometimes welcoming it, and other times spurning it. Page-turning reads – I think each of these ate a weekend day at some point where I started the book and then had to keep reading to find out what happened. Also, the first book just got released as a movie here – I might wait for it on DVD, though.
Killing Floor
Die Trying, by Lee Child
Another recommended thriller series starring Jack Reacher as an ex-military-police bad-ass who ends up in crazy situations as he wanders the country. He’s a bit too indestructible, as he’s just superior at all miiltary skills (in the second book, it’s a plot point that he was a better sniper than the best of the Marines), so it’s not too interesting as you know he’s going to win. But the twists on the way there are tolerably diverting. I might pick up another book in the series (there are apparently 14) when I need something totally mindless to read.
Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
I actually bought and read this in September of 2008, in the two weeks of downtime I had after moving to California but before starting at Google. I enjoyed this much more than I expected, given that I had skipped the Baroque Cycle and didn’t think that much of Cryptonomicon. Also, the book started with a character using lots of made-up words, and that always drives me nuts. But after a slow start, the plot builds in interesting ways, and ended up in a place far different than what I expected. I liked the world that Stephenson built, and even his trademark philosophical ramblings were interesting. Thumbs up.
Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds
I’ve seen this on several friends’ bookshelves, and finally got around to reading it. It is high-concept science fiction, intricately plotted to bring several plot strands together at the end, with technical jargon to make things seem different. I did not find the characters particularly compelling – the resolution felt more like chess pieces being moved into the necessary positions for the plot, rather than seeming like an inevitable consequence of the characters being who they were.
Old Man’s War
The Ghost Brigades
The Last Colony
Zoe’s Tale, by John Scalzi
Jofish recommended the first book in this series as a decent sci-fi diversion, and I went ahead and read through the rest from the library. I think calling Scalzi the new Heinlein, as the blurb does, isn’t quite justified, but he comes up with an interesting concept, and explores some of the consequences. Plus, it’s a fun, quick read, and that’s all I ask of my diversions.
Breakpoint, by Richard Clarke
I saw some recommendation of this as an insightful look into the future of security, from a former security expert in the government. Alas, it was really lame. The technical threats were all overblown (it sort of felt like the annoying news stories that say a crime was committed “with the Internet!”), and the characters were paper thin. Lame.
Freedom, by Daniel Suarez
I think I first heard of Daemon when Suarez was asked to speak at the Long Now talks, as I’m a fan of those. I finally got around to reading Daemon and its sequel Freedom from the library recently, and they’re pretty good. He takes current trends and projects them forward in logical but unnerving directions. Plus, the posited technology, especially in Daemon, is super-slick. Nothing that is out of the realm of possibility even today, but some pretty sweet extrapolations. And it combines with a rollicking good story. The only weakness is that the characters are fairly thin, but I barely noticed as the plot rocketed along. Worth a read.
Makers, by Cory Doctorow
Another Seth Godin recommendation, although I’ve read another of Doctorow’s books before. Some interesting thought went into this one, as Doctorow digs into what a free-for-all society might look like where anything can be manufactured ad-hoc. I enjoyed the extrapolations and where an Instructables society might end up.
The Twelve Houses series, by Sharon Shinn
Mystic and Rider, The Thirteenth House, Dark Moon Defender, Reader and Raelynx and Fortune and Fate are the books in the series. I had mostly liked Shinn’s Archangel world, so gave Mystic and Rider a try and liked it enough to plow through the whole series. Fantasy world, magic, warring factions, romance, etc. Not fantastic, but tolerably diverting, and I really liked the main characters. In fact, I’ve picked up a couple of these from the used book store, and they’ve been added to my comfort book rotation.
Jhegaala, by Steven Brust
I love the Jhereg series, and own the first several, but the last few have been less memorable, so I was happy to get them from the library.
100 Bullets, by Brian Azzarello
Y The Last man, by Brian K Vaughan
Maus and Maus II, by Art Spiegelmann
Black Hole, by Charles Burns
Another awesome thing about the Mountain View Public Library is that it stocks graphic novels. All of these were series I’d heard recommended at one point or another, and I finally got around to reading them when I didn’t have to pay for the privilege.

Not much to comment on the last few and I’m running out of gas here, so I’m just going to list them for my own reference.

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss
Foreigner, by C.J. Cherryh
The Return of Santiago, by Mike Resnick
Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner
Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

Good grief, that’s nearly 50 books read in the last year and a half. Not counting the non-fiction books, which is another couple dozen or so. Or the TV shows I follow. Or the DVDs I watched from the library or Netflix. I guess I know what I was doing with my free time now :)

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