So it’s Labor Day. (And it really is. For the first time in a long time, I’m writing a post just before it’s posted, rather than weeks or months in advance.) If you remember a while back, I announced something called the Summer Reading List. Well, today’s the day to put the books down and take stock of what we’ve accomplished through the summer. Here’s mine.
Title: Bands of Mourning
Author: Brandon Sanderson
This is the third part of Sanderson’s second Mistborn series, and I initially thought it was the finale. (Trilogies are usually 3 books, right?) Apparently, he had a bit of a Douglas Adams moment with this one, though, because it’s actually supposed to be 4.
Anyway, on to the book. It was good, I’ll admit. The not-quite-steampunk setting turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected, and the various ways it connects with the original Mistborn trilogy bring about some fond memories. The action is often cinematic, and the characters are…quirky. Not the word I want, but the one I’ve got. Some of the story elements are pretty bizarre, especially in the final third of the novel. All in all, it’s a good read, a good continuation of the story, and it left me eagerly anticipating the next book in the series.
On the other hand, Bands of Mourning wasn’t without its flaws. Chief among these was the prose, which sometimes felt off. Maybe it was my copy, and maybe it got fixed in a later edition, but the prologue was especially hard to read. I’m the last person to give myself praise, as you probably know, but I’d say that I could write that part of the story better. But I’ll have a post talking about that later in the year, so let’s move on to our next contestant.
Title: Apollo 8
Author: Jeffrey Kluger
Genre: Nonfiction/Space History
Space has always fascinated me, and it always will. In the absence of interesting missions today (and for the last 40+ years), I don’t mind delving into the history of spaceflight for a good read. Kluger, as you may know, was the co-author of Apollo 13 (or Lost Moon, as it was titled before the movie came out). You wouldn’t think the sequel would back up five numbers, but there you go. Apollo 8 was the first manned mission to reach the moon, and it was a great tale even before Kluger got his hands on it.
The book itself is good, but it’s inevitable that it would be compared to its predecessor, and there, I think, it falls short. Apollo 8 didn’t have the action, the danger, the frantic scrambling for solutions of 13. So that makes this book more of a character drama, in my opinion. The fact that they’re throwing together a mission to the moon seems almost secondary at times. And even among the early astronauts, living as they were in what was already becoming an outdated notion of society and character, Frank Borman is not the most interesting subject. (But the same author’s already done the same story from Lovell’s point of view, and Anders is forever in a supporting role, so there’s not much choice.)
Still, if you like space, especially the early years of exploring space, this one’s worth your time. And some of the backstory elements were more than worth it, like the deeper look at the Apollo 1 fire investigation. Also, the mission itself really was grand. I mean, they went to the moon. They orbited it for a day. On Christmas Eve, no less! With manned spaceflight in the eternal holding pattern of low-Earth orbit, looking back is all we’ve got, so let’s look back to our best, right?
Title: The Last Stand
Author: Nathaniel Philbrick
Genre: Nonfiction/Military History
I’ll just go ahead and say this right now: Nathaniel Philbrick might be the best author of American history alive today. He’s certainly one of the most accessible. And this is one I didn’t even know he wrote until I saw it on a…certain virtual bookshelf.
If you read (or watched!) In the Heart of the Sea, you’ve got a pretty good idea of Philbrick’s style and content. The Last Stand takes a single event in American history, Custer’s Last Stand, and dissects it, takes it down to its very core. And, unlike so many historians, he does it for the other side, too: Sitting Bull and his warriors get their day in the sun, too. Of course, like any good popular history book, the battle itself doesn’t get started until halfway through. We don’t so much as see the Little Bighorn for quite a few chapters. And the worst of it’s over quickly, just as it was in reality.
I’m not well-versed in the history of 19th-century America, especially that of the Wild West, so I can’t really tell you how accurate the book is. But we’re talking about an author who is very meticulous when it comes to his research, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. And it’s always nice to see the “real” truth behind a legend, particularly one you’ve never considered before.
That’s how I was here. The last time I so much as thought about Custer and his doomed stand was when he made a brief appearance at the end of Hell on Wheels. It’s not a period of history, or a person from history, that I’d go out of my way to research. But I thought the same of the Essex and Charles Wilkes, so there you go.
For most of the summer, I was busy reading my own books, writing and editing and revising them. By my own choice, I barely had time to read the three I named above. But that’s the point of the Summer Reading List challenge. It’s a challenge. It’s supposed to be more than you’re used to.
So I think I’ll keep doing this in the future. Maybe you won’t, but I will. It’s fun, and it’s a great excuse to read something you probably wouldn’t otherwise. And if it means staying out of the vicious heat of summer, then so much the better. Bring on Memorial Day 2018, I say.