- The Becoming, Jeanne C. Stein
- I, Lucifer, by Glen Duncan
- The Secret History of Moscow, by Ekaterina Sedia
- The Sword of the Lady, by S.M. Stirling
- Walking Dead (Book 1), by Robert Kirkman, et al.
- We Bought a Zoo, by Benjamin Mee
- Manual of Detection, by Jedediah Berry
- An Echo in the Bone, by Diana Gabaldon
- Walking Dead (Book 2), by Robert Kirkman, et al.
- Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
- Walking Dead (Book 3), by Robert Kirkman, et al.
- The Devil's Food Dictionary, by Barry Foy
- Sandman Slim, by Richard Kadrey
- Soulless, by Gail Carriger
- Bite Marks, by Terrence Taylor
- The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell
- Unseen Academicals, by Terry Pratchett
- Making Money, by Terry Pratchett
- Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett
- The Fifth Elephant, by Terry Pratchett
- Men at Arms, by Terry Pratchett
- Tempest Rising, by Nicole Peeler
- Heat Wave, by “Richard Castle”
- Darker Angels, by M.L.N. Hanover
- Ghost Ocean, by S.M. Peters
- The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson
- Terra Incognita, by Ruth Downie
- Moon Called, by Patricia Briggs
- Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada
- The Art of Detection, by Laurie R. King
- Forever Flowing, by Vasily Grossman
- Blood Price, by Tanya Huff
- Blood Bound, by Patricia Briggs
- Kitty and the Midnight Hour, by Carrie Vaughn
- Kitty Goes to Washington, by Carrie Vaughn
- Kitty Takes a Holiday, by Carrie Vaughn
- Kitty and the Silver Bullet, by Carrie Vaughn
- Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand, by Carrie Vaughn
- Kitty Raises Hell, by Carrie Vaughn
- Kitty's House of Horrors, by Carrie Vaughn
- Divine Misdemeanors, by Laurell K. Hamilton
- Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English, by John McWhorter
- Storm Front, by Jim Butcher
- Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris
- Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron, by Jasper Fforde
- The Fortune Cooke Chronicles, by Jennifer 8 Lee
- American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
- Waiter Rant—Thanks for the Tip, Confessions of a Cynical Waiter, by Steve Dublanica
- Far North, by Marcel Theroux
- Day After Night, by Anita Diamant
- The Law of Nines, by Terry Goodkind
- Blackout, by Connie Willis
- Cooking Dirty, by Jason Sheehan
- Black Magic Sanction, by Kim Harrison
- The Hundred Thousands Kingdoms, by N. K. Jemisin
- Unlikely Disciple, by Kevin Roose
- Blue Nowhere, by Jeffrey Deaver
- Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
- A Spectacle of Corruption, by David Liss
- Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation, by Elissa Stein and Susan Kim
- A Conspiracy of Paper, by David Liss
- A Touch of Dead, by Charlaine Harris
- Changeless, by Gail Carriger
- Bite Me, by Christopher Moore
- Midnight Guardians, by Sarah Jane Stratford
- Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
- Bean Trees, by Barabara Kingsolver
- Pigs in Heaven, by Barbara Kingsolver
- Club Dead, by Charlaine Harris
- Dead to the World, by Charlaine Harris
- Dead as a Doornail, by Charlaine Harris
- Definitely Dead, by Charlaine Harris
- All Together Dead, by Charlaine Harris
- From Dead to Worse, by Charlaine Harris
- Dead and Gone, by Charlaine Harris
- Dead in the Family, by Charlaine Harris
- Serpent's Shadow, by Mercedes Lackey
- Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters
- Florence of Arabia, by Christopher Buckley
- 61 Hours, by Lee Child
- Bitter Seeds, by Ian Tregillis
- Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larrson
- Deadly Dinner Party and Other Medical Detective Stories, by Jonathan A. Edlow, M.D.
- Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton
- Lost World, by Michael Crichton
- Breathers: A Zombie Lament, by S.G. Browne
- Owl Killers, by Karen Maitland
- Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
- Daemon, by Daniel Suarez
- Burning Wire, by Jeffrey Deaver
- Sizzling Sixteen, by Janet Evanovich
- Passage, by Justin Cronin
- City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare
- Naamah's Curse, by Jacqueline Carey
- City of Ashes, by Cassandra Clare
- City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare
- Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, and Jose Marzan, Jr.
- Story of Sushi, by Trevor Corson
- Blood Oath, by Christopher Farnsworth
- Last Chinese Chef, by Nicole Mones
- Johannes Cabal the Detective, by Jonathan L. Howard
- Kitty Goes to War, by Carrie Vaughan
- Moonshine, by Alaya Johnson
- Persuasion, by Jane Austen
- Rembrandt Affair, by Daniel Silva
- Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile, by J.L. Bourne
- Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld
- Persona Non Grata, by Ruth Downie
- Timeline, by Michael Crichton
- Julian Comstock, by Robert Charles Wilson
- World War Z, by Max Brooks
- Mila 18, by Leon Uris
It's that time again. Here are the books I've read during the previous year:
We meet our cast of characters in 1939, a scant handful of days before the Germans invade Poland. Some of the characters serve in the Polish Army, which was shockingly outdated. (One of the main characters was even in a cavalry regiment. They were ordered to go up against Panzers.) Before long, we're in a besieged Warsaw. About a third of the way through, the anti-Jewish laws and directives start to get passed and the ghettos are established. While most descriptions of Mila 18 that I'd read before I started the book make it seem like the book is primarily about the Uprising, it's actually mostly about how people survived in the ghetto. On the one hand, you've got the puppet Jewish Civil Authority who try to save lives by compromising. On the other, you've got the Zionists and the Communists and other political groups who form a kind of shadow/underground government.
Not only does Uris show us characters in both of these organizations, but he also shows us characters on the Nazi side. At first, the book seems very Zionist. I thought for the first hundred pages or so that it was going to be a rah rah book for the Jews, like Inglourious Basterds but without the humor or the revenge fantasy. But the characters grew more complicated as the book rolled along. There were cynical Nazis who knew that what they were doing was a crime, Jews who were out to save their skins and make money while others suffered and died, and Poles and Catholic priests who both helped the Jews in the ghetto and turned their backs on them. Some characters start out good and slowly drift towards being self-serving and cowardly. Others go the other direction. Meanwhile, there is the history telling you that no matter what any of them do, a lot of people are still going to die. This complexity helps make the book terribly real.
Uris, especially in the last quarter of the book, works hard to not only get the reader to see what life in the ghetto was like, but also to hear and smell it, too, especially when most of the Jewish characters have to move permanently into their bunker at Mila 18. While nothing can compare to what it was actually like to be in the ghetto, Mila 18 was, at times, almost unbearable to read because you always know that the horrible, soul-crushing things that Uris is describing really did happen.
Whenever I read or watch something about the Holocaust, I always end up asking unanswerable questions. Why did the Holocaust happen? Why did people let it happen? Why didn't more people help the Jews and other people targeted by the Nazi regime? But one thing that makes Mila 18 different from other books I've read and movies I've watched is that it describes one of the times that the Jews fought back. Even though I new most of them were doomed, I also know that some of them survived. Some of them, even made it to Israel. At the end of the Uprising, these escapes became more important that fighting back the Germans and their allies. One of the characters comments, "There is a line which we cross when it is no longer our duty to die but to live" (512*).
Mila 18 is one of the hardest books I've ever read, but I would recommend it to strong readers who want to experience a slice of history.
* Bantam Books paperback edition.
The book is narrated by a young Adam Hazzard, a childhood friend of Julian Comstock. While setting the scene and remarking on the unusual history that derailed the future into an odd recreation of the nineteenth century, Adam pulls us into the conspiracy surrounding Julian. In this America, the Presidency is inherited. While Julian is the President's nephew, the President is trying to kill Julian. There is a vague plan to conscript Julian into the army and send him to the front lines in Canada, but Adam and Company manage to evade death. The first third to half of the book reminds me a lot of what I've read about the American Civil War. They even have blue uniforms. Along with Adam's folksy Twain-flavored prose, the nineteenth century feel really starts to come through. And yet, it's set 160 years in the future.
Adam and Julian's Army adventures were my favorite parts of the book. After they leave the Army, things start to get out of hand. I don't just mean that the plot starts to heat up--which it kind of does--but the book derails a little bit.
SPOILERS AHEAD. I'M GOING TO TALK ABOUT THE ENDING, SO IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS, SKIP OVER THE NEXT PARAGRAPH.
Adam has been dropping hints about how people in his future write books about Julian's Presidency, how turbulent a time it was, etc. etc., but I just don't see anything Julian does that merits that kind of attention. It's not like he permanently overthrew the status quo. He didn't right many past wrongs. He just seems to spend most of his time as President pissing off the clergy and working on his movie about Charles Darwin. For most of the book, Adam builds Julian up as a hero, but Julian just doesn't live up to the hype.
Julian Comstock is an interesting story about a possible (but highly unlikely) future for the United States. It's also a good Western(ish) yarn. I had a lot of fun reading it. The only major complaint I have is that it's too condensed. Even though it's over 400-pages long, it feel abbreviated because Adam keeps glossing over what he thinks are the uninteresting parts. (Not only that, but the narrator calls attention to this all the time.) While it does keep the book from possibly bogging down, I wanted to spend more time in the world of this book.
In Timeline, this cautionary tale begins with an escapee drawing attention to a company that's up to something secret. Then the academics are introduced. In Timeline, they are historians, currently excavating a castle in France. The historians are flown in to investigate the technology and, because it's a Crichton novel, things go to hell right rapidly. The technology, based on some interesting ideas about quantum physics, effectively transports people through time. You'll have to read the book to find out how the science works, because I know it will sound ridiculous if I try to explain it.
One more similarity between Timeline and Jurassic Park: the technology fails right when they need it. The historians are stranded in the past until the time machine gets fixed.
The historians get transported back to their castle during one of the hot points in the Hundred Years' war. And just like we learned in Jurassic Park, Timeline reinforces the point that the past is a lot more dangerous than we give it credit for. The middle ages, as Crichton portrays it, are not a place of courtly love and ignorant peasants. The knights are deadlier than raptors if only because we know to stay the hell away from the raptors. Within seconds of arriving in the past, the historians' guides are dead and they are on their own. I lost count of the number of times they almost got killed.
Even though it's even less believable than Jurassic Park, Timeline is a fun read. It's one of the few works of historical fiction that I think actually get close what life was like. The only thing that could have made it more real was if the publishers put scratch and sniff on the pages. Crichton did a terrific job of describing the sights and sounds of medieval France. With the clock ticking down the minutes until their time machine irreparably fails and the historians trying not to die, the plot just hums along.
|Persona Non Grata|
Downie has the same talent that my other favorite writers of historical fiction have: the ability to share historical detail without bogging down the narrative. It's clear that Downie--a part time librarian--has done her homework. She even prints a short bibliography of sources at the end of the book. Roman history fascinates me. Their laws were complex and sophisticated, even if they could be surprisingly brutal. Every time I read about Rome, I wonder where we would be if Rome hadn't fallen and the Dark Ages hadn't happened.
One of the other things that drew me to this series is to see a possibility of how murders and other mysteries might be solved without anything like a police force or, in this case, without even thief takers. As in the other books, the investigation amounts to Ruso asking questions and trying to piece together what really happened. Also as in the other books, Ruso has the help of Tilla, a Briton who used to be a slave. Of course, her kind of help often works at cross purposes to what Ruso is up to and then spend about half of their conversations arguing with each other. The sparks of their relationship really help being this series to life and gives the main characters a lot of personality.
Along with her refusal to dump information on the reader, Downie also doesn't over-write the books. It's a pleasant challenge to piece together the world of this book from just the necessary adjectives and details. Compared with the last book I read, Leviathan, with its illustrations, it was wonderful to have to use my imagination again. This goes for the mystery as well. There are so few clues at first that it's hard to see how Ruso's going to solve it and find out who really murdered the slimy Severus.
Persona Non Grata is a wonderful escape book, with just enough challenge to it that it pulls you along--but not so much that you feel like you need a degree in criminal psychology and ten years experience in law enforcement to fathom what's going on. The only problem I had with it was that I only took me a day to read it. I wish I could have spent more time with Ruso and Tilla.
This alternate history is set in 1914, as Europe gears up for what in our history would be called the Great War. Germany and Austro-Hungary are literally gearing up for war against Serbia, France, Russia, and Great Britain. What makes this historical timeline different from ours is a very early discovery of DNA and the ability to manipulate it. In addition to the alliances, Europe is also divided into two technological camps: the Clankers and the Darwinists. Germany and Austro-Hungary are Clankers, who build war machines from engines and gears. The rest are Darwinist, who build their own war machines out of genetically fabricated animals. It sounds a little unbelievable when you put it baldly like that. (Come to think of it, the plots of a lot of the books I read are like that.) But in this world it works. And normally, I pass on books with illustrations. I like to imagine the characters for myself, thank you very much. But here, they're a great addition, especially when they show the fantastical beasts the Brits have created.
The story follows to adolescents, one Austrian and one Briton. The Austrian is the orphaned son of the Archduke Ferdinand, Aleksander. The Brit is Deryn Sharp, a girl in disguise who joins the Air Corps at the beginning of the book. Their paths collide rather spectacularly near the end of the book. Before they do meet up, we get a lot of simultaneous background information and action sequences. It's very deftly done and no expository characters in sight.
As I said before, one of the things I appreciated about the book was its darkness. Even though the characters are about 15, they're in mortal danger for big chunks of the book. Deryn's airship gets blown out of the sky by German zeppelins. Aleksander gets in a fight to the death with a German soldier. Westerfeld doesn't soften anything just because the characters are young teenagers. Because of the high tension level, it was easy to get caught up in the book and to genuinely worry about the characters.
This book claims to be the first in a series, but I haven't seen any news about a second book--not even on the author's website. But if a second book is published, I will gladly spend another couple of evenings in Deryn and Aleksander's company.
We met our nameless hero in the first book in San Antonio. In order to deal with everything and to keep a record of his life--for however long it lasts--our hero keeps a roughly daily journal. Beyond Exile finds him at Hotel 23, a missile silo somewhere in Texas with the other survivors that he collected in the first book. Just when it seems like there's no one else alive, the crew at H23 intercept a distress call from a group of marines. After rescuing the marines, Nameless' people makes contact with what's left of the US military.
Things hum along at Hotel 23 until a reconnaissance mission goes wrong and strands Nameless more than two hundred miles away from his safe haven, all on his own. The rest of the book (more than half) is all about his attempts to get home to his girl and safety. It's a bit like reading a narrative version of Max Brooks' Complete Zombie Survival Guide. It's all about fighting off hordes, noise discipline, and finding shelter. It's a cracking read. Even though the writing style is spare and our hero doesn't do a lot of reflective thinking, you feel like you're right there, riding along on Nameless' shoulder, dodging the undead and trying not to die.
The book ends with a clear set up for a third book and I am very much looking forward to spending another day reading. (I sure as hell won't read it at night.)
|The Rembrandt Affair|
After a few chapters to set the scene, an old friend visits Gabriel to enlist his help in tracking down the stolen painting. It takes a little arm twisting by Gabriel's wife, but soon Gabriel is headed for the Continent to track down the painting by finding out its provenance. Meanwhile, we get to see what's happening to the painting. For a while, it seems like the painting is just getting further and further away while Gabriel turns up old horrors about Dutch Jews being forced to give up their property before being deported. The provenance trail leads to Argentina, then to a wealth Swiss industrialist with a spotless reputation.
It is a law of fiction that two apparently unrelated plot lines will eventually converge. When they do, a simple (for a given amount of simple) job of recovering a painting turns into an operation involving the intelligence services of three different countries. Nothing ever goes off without a hitch in a Silva novel. The only problem I had was that most of the action took place in the last sixty pages. Everything else was background and buildup. Until the big finale, I felt like Gabriel was taking a back seat to the action. I kept waiting for him to take the lead, but it just wouldn't happen until almost the end of the book.
I was reminded as I read it of my favorite books in the series, the ones that weren't just about terrorists. But it wasn't quite as good as those books. I saw a few things in this book that worry me and make me worry about the future of the series. Is Gabriel going to start taking a more behind-the-scenes role? Are his fighting days really behind him? If so, who's going to be the new Gabriel? I hope this isn't the end of the line for my favorite assassin/art restorer.