Looking Back at June 2014

I’m aware that this recap of the books I read during June is literally a month late as of right now, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes. I mentioned in my post at the beginning of July that things were going to be a little slow around here for a few months while some other things got sorted out and taken care of, so I suppose this is the verifiable proof.

However, I did read books in June, and some of them were magnificent. I did not quite get caught up all the way to 50 finished books by June 30th like I wanted, but I got to 47 for the halfway point of the year and I think I can make that up in the final six months. There is still hope for my goal of reading 100 books this year! There is still hope I say!

In no particular order, here are the books I read in June:

A couple of other shorter works I also read in June:

I really hit the jackpot in June because I was reading only 2 books I was confident were not going to let me down. The rest of them were all gambles to a certain extent, but only one of them left me feeling disappointed. City of Heavenly Fire is the concluding volume for The Mortal Instruments series and as such I was expecting some serious fireworks both from the characters and the plot. As it turns out, the book had a rather mopey feel to it and by the end of the much too long 725 pages I felt really unfulfilled. I’m glad I stuck with it so I can have finished the entire series and tie it off with a bow, but it wasn’t the same as the previous books, not by a long shot. I think the author was already mentally moving on to other projects before she finished City of Heavenly Fire.

My absolute favorite book of the month was The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir. I only grabbed a copy because other authors on my Twitter feed were raving about how good it is and I figured I should jump on that bandwagon sooner or later. The book is fantastic! I’ve been recommending it to anyone who will listen because while it might be a science fiction novel it appeals to a much broader audience than that. There is a little something for everyone.

Everything else from June was wonderful as well. Defenders was a wonderful discovery of mine that I’ve been recommending a lot as well. The Crimson Campaign left be desperate for the final volume of the Powder Mage trilogy. Prince of Fools was as good or better than Mark Lawrence’s award-winning Broken Empire books. Trilisk Ruins and Fool Moon were wonderful reads as well as they helped me break up the monotony of reading longer books. I heartily recommend basically everything on this list as something worth reading if you were on the fence about any of the titles previously. Give them all a shot, you won’t regret it.

In other news, I continue to do rather terribly at not starting new trilogies and/or series. I have been tying a few off as I either catch up to the current installments (and am now waiting for the next installment to be published) or finish them off entirely, but I’m also starting up new ones willy-nilly. I imagine it will never not be a problem for me to be honest.

For July I have another good lineup I think I’m going to enjoy. Some new authors, some established favorites, and a few choices I really have no idea what to expect from. July should be another quality month, I’m fairly certain of it.

Book Review: “The Dresden Files: Storm Front” by Jim Butcher

Storm FrontOnce again I’ve let myself get sucked into starting a new book series without having finished all of the other trilogies and series I’m still in the middle of reading. This time it came about because a co-worker brought me a copy of the first book in The Dresden Files and told me I could probably read it before I went home that night if I really wanted to because they are quick reads with fast pacing. Well, I didn’t finish it all in one sitting, but it did only take me about three hours to read Storm Front from cover to cover over the weekend and now I’ve got yet another lengthy (this time 13 books and counting) series to keep track of reading.

Storm Front (and The Dresden Files in general) is the story of a private investigator, Harry Dresden, who just so happens to be a wizard. This is a world where magic is real, but most people aren’t really aware of its existence. Even if they do know about it, they really don’t know the true ramifications or scope, so it’s pretty easy for them to ignore unless they are the target of a fireball or possession spell.

Everything about Storm Front is true entertainment. Harry Dresden is exactly what you want a down on his luck private investigator wizard to be. He’s got charm, a bit of snark, some ineptitude that constantly get him in a bit of trouble, the ability to improvise, and a sharp wit to bring it all together. He’s got interesting and compelling contacts he uses to get his information, he works with the local police department despite a general feeling of disdain about his work on their part, and he’s an all around interesting guy. I could not get enough of Harry Dresden and his antics. He is a powerful wizard in his own right, but he’s rather misunderstood in the magical community. He has a staff he uses to help focus his magic, but he often manages to lose possession of it at the times he needs it most. He has a small mischievous spirit living inside a skull in his basement that helps him remember how to make potions. How awesome is all of this? Very awesome!

Storm Front is packed full of great laugh out loud moments and one-line zingers that will keep you turning the pages until you reach the end. One of my favorites is right near the beginning:

Paranoid? Probably. But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t an invisible demon about to eat your face.

I was hoping I would like this book, but not like it so much that I felt compelled to continue reading the series instead of reading the other books on my reading list. Turns out, that certainly didn’t happen. I’ve got the second book on hand and plan to read a little bit of it here and there between other things so I can keep myself inside the vibrant world of The Dresden Files. My co-worker promises me that I won’t be disappointed with the direction the series takes and he even confirmed the rumor that at some point a dinosaur shows up. How can I resist that sort of thing? That’s right, I can’t.

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Book Review: “Under the Dome” by Stephen King

Under the DomeIt’s taken me a fair amount of time to really begin to appreciate the books Stephen King writes. It wasn’t even until late last year that I even picked up my first Stephen King novel, and that was Insomnia, which I’m not sure was the best choice when it comes to my first exposure to him as an author. Even reading the very widely loved book of his, The Gunslinger, didn’t have me entirely convinced. As it turns out, the book I really needed to read was Under the Dome.

My motivation for reading Under the Dome was threefold: I got a copy of the book for $1.99 as a Kindle Daily Deal, shortly after that I realized there was going to be a television show based on the book, and lastly, I was looking to read a longer book because I’d been reading lots of shorter works at the time. I also figured I would give Stephen King one more chance to convince me he was worth reading again and the premise of a town being trapped underneath a giant invisible dome was intriguing to me on a lot of levels.

In my previous experience with Stephen King I felt like his novels were driving down a long road and to start they were moving at 45 miles per hour. A decent clip, certainly enough to keep you interested in what’s happening, but not so fast as to lose you right at the start. Then those novels would slow down to what felt like a crawl of around 15 to 20 miles per hour for the middle 800 pages or so before ramping up to 90 miles per hour and accelerating from there through the end of the book. I found that frustrating. With Under the Dome it felt like I was cruising at a nice, brisk 60 miles per hour the entire time until the end when King began to accelerate the story at a nice, smooth rate right through to the last page. That kind of pacing was much more enjoyable to me personally and I hope some of his other books work that way too so I can read them in the future. The start, stop, rush format of the earlier works of Stephen King I read just didn’t do it for me.

Under the Dome is also free of the more typical spooky vibe I’ve found in other Stephen King novels and instead features a more science fiction and/or alien twist to explain the existence of the dome and how it’s changing the way the people in town behave towards each other. When the revelation of why the dome is in place was made (very late in the book by the way) I felt like it was a really interesting premise. It took me back to some things I’ve thought about before as well as some things I used to do as a kid with a magnifying glass. It almost felt like the entire story came about because King had seen a group of kids with their magnifying glasses over and anthill and things just grew from there when he started writing. I enjoyed the premise in this story much more than the others I’ve read.

However, by far the most interesting thing about Under the Dome was the impact being cut off from the world in that fashion had on the inhabitants of the town. Sure, there were some strange things going on with why the dome was there to begin with, but the things like looting, martial law, enormous suicide rates, etc were all portrayed in what I felt was a very realistic and raw manner. Having a dome slam down over a town that traps all pollutants in the air has massive ramifications if people aren’t paying attention. A small town official can easily set up his own dictatorship overnight if people aren’t focused on the right things. There were so many little details about the goings on around the town that had me fascinated as I watched the story unfold before me.

There were also some very strong political themes woven between events which I’m not sure were so much Stephen King’s personal political opinions as much as they were his attempt at showing how modern-day politics fit into a disaster situation like the one he was writing about.

If Under the Dome hadn’t worked out for me as a reader I probably would have walked away from Stephen King for good and felt I had done my due diligence in trying to see why so many people love his work. However, Under the Dome won me over because of a variety of things and now I’m willing to give him a few more chances before I walk away from his work entirely. I might just need to pick which Stephen King books I read very carefully so as not to get frustrated in the future.

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Reading List Update: Lee Child

I recently spent some time visiting my parents and while I was there I asked my Dad what books he had been reading lately. I distinctly remember as a kid that I wanted to read the same things my Dad was reading. The problem with that was he tended to read things written by authors like Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy. Things that had some very adult themes that a seven or eight year old shouldn’t be reading at that age.

Fast forward to today where I’m 29 and finally remembered to ask him for some recommendations. He gave me a list of nearly 20 authors and explained why he liked each one, but the ones he told me to read first were the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child because he really thinks Jack Reacher is a pretty interesting character.

So, I’m going to add the entire Jack Reacher series to my list:

LEE CHILD – JACK REACHER
Killing Floor
Die Trying
Trip Wire
Running Blind
Echo Burning
Without Fail
Persuader
The Enemy
One Shot
The Hard Way
Bad Luck and Trouble
Nothing to Lose
Gone Tomorrow
61 Hours
Worth Dying For
The Affair
A Wanted Man

Now, I normally don’t read much fiction written in a modern, present-day setting, so these might take some adjusting on my part to really get into them, but I think I can do it. I also don’t read much in the “crime drama” realm of things, so that will be new.

Here are a few cover descriptions to give you an idea of what the series is about:

Cover Description from Killing Floor:
After hopping off a Greyhound bus to pursue a whim (finding out what happened to a musician, “Blind Blake”), Reacher is arrested and charged with murder. After an attempt on his life while being held over the weekend in a state prison, Reacher is interested in just clearing his name and getting out. Later he finds out that the person he was framed for murdering was Joe Reacher, his brother. Unknowingly, Jack Reacher had stumbled into one of the biggest counterfeiting schemes in the United States. Subsequently, he takes on the vicious and ruthless butchers of a well established town gang operating a massive counterfeit notes racket. This novel is set in the fictional town of Margrave, Georgia.

Cover Description from Nothing to Lose:
Based in Colorado, travelling from the town of Hope to the town of Despair, it soon becomes clear that Reacher is an unwelcome visitor in a town with a lot of secrets to hide. Reacher cannot resist the opportunity to explore these secrets further, especially the peculiar town owner who has employed the majority of the population to work within his recycling factory.

Book Review: “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie

Ten people, each with something to hide and something to fear, are invited to a lonely mansion on Indian Island by a host who, surprisingly, fails to appear. On the island they are cut off from everything but each other and the inescapable shadows of their own past lives. One by one, the guests share the darkest secrets of their wicked pasts. And one by one, they die…

and-then-there-were-noneThis was the very first Agatha Christie book I’ve read. I’ll be up front and say that after reading And Then There Were None I’m not entirely sure if I will read another one. I’m definitely on the fence because I really didn’t like this book, but I also wonder if I just didn’t like this one and I might like a different one instead. It’s no secret that Agatha Christie is a popular author, so maybe this one just didn’t click with me. Heaven knows there are plenty of other options to try from her work.

As far as a mystery story goes, And Then There Were None really isn’t that bad. It has the typical suspense of “who did it,” the many small inferences that make you think you might have it figured out, the standard misdirection and plot twists, and all the other small things I’ve come to expect from thriller/mystery stories in books and movies, or on television. All of the pieces that most people take to be the important parts of creating a good mystery or thriller were there.

Here’s what bugged me about this book: All of the intriguing details about how everyone was going to die get revealed in the first part of the book. And, not even in a subtle, “you might possibly miss it if you aren’t paying close enough attention” way. Rather, in a “here, let me smack you in the face with how this is going to happen,” sort of way. That irritated me to no end and I’ll admit it even sort of ruined the rest of the book for me as I kept going. After that point I had a hard time feeling like there was any kind of major suspense left in the book for me. The little details still had a few surprises in the end, but I could see all of the important stuff coming from a mile away.

The other thing that really brought this book down for me was the writing style. The dialogue was written in a choppy style that made it difficult for me to follow who was doing what without getting torn out of the story.

On the other hand, there was one part of And Then There Were None that I did like a little bit more than the rest—the final part where the killer reveals all the details about how they pulled off the killings. I thought that synopsis at the end was by and large the most interesting part of the book. But, it really wasn’t enough to save my opinion of the book in the end. But, I’m pretty sure this is a case of different ideas of what constitutes good writing because there are plenty of people who think this book is amazing.

Grade: F
Length: 320 pages

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