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February 2004: Book Reviews

This is an archive of my shorter book reviews and notes, which historically have been posted over at the 50 Book Challenge on LiveJournal, but which I’m starting to move over here. I’m posting them with altered date-stamps, but they might show up in my LiveJournal cross-post anyway. Bear with me, please.

Note: Many of these books also have full reviews available in the book review podcast (RSS).

#9: Drawing the Line, by Mark Monmonier by Mark Monmonier. It’s a series of essays about mapmaking and cartocontroversy. Ranks up there as one of the more esoteric subjects I’m interested in. I actually had someone ask me last week *why* I was interested in it, why I was reading the book. To be honest, I don’t really know that there’s any good answer to a question like that. “Uh, cause I’m interested in it?” Whatever.

#10: Stuper Powers Deluxe!, by WingNut Games. StuperPowers is a humorous role-playing game in which the players take on the roles of all those guys for whom being bitten by a radioactive spider didn’t result in Cool Abilities. Instead, Stuperheroes have such abilities like projectile vomiting and literalizing street signs. The last game book by WingNut that I read made me laugh so hard I almost peed my pants. This one was less so, primarily because I don’t read superhero comics, and I’ve got a head cold and laughing makes me cough. But it’s a fun book, a funny book, and a nice, quick read.

#11: FUDGE game rules. All right, technically this is a 96-page PDf that I printed off to read, but I did read it all the way through. FUDGE is another RPG, though more universal than StuperPowers. FUDGE lets you create characters using any concept, and customize as you will, and is very easy to learn to play (I played in my first FUDGE game this Friday night). Because the rules are fairly simple, it lends itself to comedy play pretty well– if you can’t tell, I’m trying to inject some humor into my biweekly role-playing group; we’re too serious much of the time.

#12: A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks. I read it last night– took me about 2 hours.

Meh. It’s great if you’re into the “yank your emotional heartstrings” kinds of books. For me, it irritated me that the female love interest pretty much had this whole “fainting Camille” thing going on. Also: WAAAAY too much god in this book for my taste.

I felt that the author used cheap tricks (like really contrived images and certain over-done phrases) that were obvious and heavily telegraphed, in order to provoke tears from his audience. Hallmark uses the same kind of cheap stuff in their commercials and made-for-TV movies. They work, but I resent them. Good storytelling would make me care about the characters, would move me to tears without yanking my chain.

#13: The Quantum Rose by Catherine Asaro.
I originally read the first part of this serialized in Aasimov’s (I think– it may have been Analog). Unfortunately, my subscription ran out before the last installment, and I was left wondering. When I finally figured out who had written it (and that, ironically, I’d heard her speak about it at WorldCon), I tossed it into my amazon.com wishlist.

Anyway, this is a science fiction/romance genre-crosser. It would probably be a more convincing sci fi novel if all the beautiful quantum physics that Asaro put into her author’s note at the end had been able to make it into the rest of the novel. But since the protagonist and viewpoint character of the book is illiterate and barely-educated, there were frequent points where I was left scratching my head and wondering whether it was realistic for the protagonist to know a certain detail or not. Nonetheless, at least Asaro did not make her protagonist too inconsistent– for all her little bits of insight, Kamoj is no physicist. There’s a good deal of steamy scenes in this novel, which ends like all good romance novels: love conquers all.

I recommend this for a weekend of fun, light reading. I’d probably read other books by Asaro, based on having finished this one and knowing what to expect from her writing.

#14: Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi.
I wouldn’t call this light reading, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s an autobiographical account of Primo Levi’s 10 months at a concentration camp near Auschwitz. It was simply told– almost sparse. There were significant gaps that I wanted filled in, though– Levi devotes an entire chapter to thanking a civilian man for helping him without personal gain, for making him remember what it is to be a man, but he does so without really explaining how these transactions took place, without heightening the tension for the reader, to understand who this man was, who helped him, or how much personal risk he went to.

Nonetheless, I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in concentration camp survival stories. Some people might find this very difficult to handle– if you can watch Schindler’s List, though, this is less graphic.

#15: Black Horses for the King by Anne Mccaffrey. Some of you may remember I posted about this one earlier today. I’ve never consciously decided to stop reading a book because it was so bad, but this one sorely tempted me. I made it to 50% today at lunch, so decided to just finish the thing and be done with it.

NOT recommended. I think Anne McCaffrey can no longer write– I wish she would retire and tell stories to her grandchildren or something. She clearly thinks she still has stories to tell, but she’s wrong and has forgotten how to tell them in any sensible and meaningful way.

But I finished it, at least.

#16: The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King Jr., Clayborne Carson.
I just finished listening to The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. from audible.com. Not only is this unabridged, but it’s intermingled with speeches from Dr. King’s life. I Have a Dream is about halfway through the download; a real treat.

Anyway, it’s a great book, of course, especially appropriate to listen to during Black History Month and when the issue of gay civil rights is in the nation’s focus. One has to believe that, at least based on his own words throughout his book, he would have embraced gay marriage rights as the next logical step in the civil rights movement, but that he would have been far more concerned about the rights of the disabled, the elderly, and the right to be free from poverty that is still not a reality for millions of people of all races.

I think he would be embarassed by the state of our country today, but I think he would have also been overwhelmingly proud of how far we have come.

#17: Even Grues Get Full by Illiad, JD Frazer.
This is a collection of comic strips from the webcomic User Friendly that were published in 2001. It includes the 9/11 tribute strips. My particular copy was a gift from the cartoonist, who signed it for me when he came out to San Jose in January (J.D. is waaay cool). User Friendly is a comic by, for, and about geeks. Pros: It’s a very funny book, and takes me down nostalgia lane to a time when jokes about living in a missile silo were funny. Cons: Some of the jokes are even above my geek IQ, so I don’t always get them, and they can tend to be a little repetitive (which is OK in a one-a-day format, because you’re not reading them all at once). It helps to read one storyline, finish it, and stop reading for the night; this is why I took 3 days to get through the book, by the way.

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