Summer Reading List 2019: Midpoint madness

We’re around the halfway point of summer, and considerably farther through the unofficial season of the Summer Reading List Challenge. This year, thanks to what we’ll call “fortunate events”,1 I haven’t finished all three of the books, but I do have one, so here we go.

Fiction

Title: Sins of Empire
Author: Brian McClellan
Genre: Fantasy
Year: 2017

I’ll go ahead and say this up front: Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage series quickly became one of my all-time favorite fantasy trilogies. It occupies a small but growing niche variously referred to as flintlock fantasy or riflepunk, which counters the oft-held belief that fantasy ends with the invention of gunpowder. I love that sort of genre-bending, and those three novels hit a sweet spot for me.

Well, Sins of Empire continues the story. It’s the first of a new series, Gods of Blood and Powder, but it carries over many of the characters. Set about ten years in the future, on a new continent, it has a kind of “summer blockbuster” feel: full of action, with a few nonsensical twists and an epic finale. The prose is, at times, not the greatest, something I’ve begun to notice with increasing regularity. But this book makes up for it in worldbuilding, in pacing, and in the sheer fun of the ride.

I’ve had this one sitting in my to-do pile since last Christmas, and I’m glad I chose it for this year’s challenge. It’s not a filling meal. No, it’s more of a dessert, something for a reader’s sweet tooth. Which isn’t all that bad, as long as you don’t over do it.

Coming up

I still have two more books to finish in the next month or so. I’m more than halfway through one, but I haven’t started the other. It looks like this might be a summer of procrastination, but that’s okay. It’s what I did in school, right?


  1. One of those fortunate events doesn’t like my completely logical punctuation style, but she’s not reading this. 

Summer Reading List 2019

It’s that time of year again. Hard to believe it’s been twelve months already, but here we are. Memorial Day, at least for those of us in the United States. And that means it’s time for the 4th iteration of my Summer Reading List Challenge!

As with the last three, the whole thing is all for fun. Don’t worry too much about it. Think of it as a chance to try something new, or to clear out that growing stack of books (or files, if that’s how you roll).

The rules, which are really more recommendations than rules, are as follows:

  1. The goal is to read 3 new books between the US holidays of Memorial Day (May 27) and Labor Day (September 3). These are the “unofficial” beginning and end of summer, respectively. (Obviously, if you’re south of the equator, this is a winter reading list!)

  2. Books are loosely defined as any non-periodical work. Comics don’t work, nor do individual chapters of manga. Pretty much everything else is fair game, though. The important thing is that you’re honest with yourself.

  3. At least 1 book should be of a genre or subject you don’t normally read. (In the past, I’ve used a rule that you should have 1 nonfiction book, but I’m shaking things up this time around.) So, if you’re a big fantasy reader like me, try sci-fi or something like that. Or nonfiction. Nothing wrong with that.

  4. Anything you wrote doesn’t count. That makes sense, because they wouldn’t be new to you. And if I didn’t have this rule, I’d only read my own stuff.

That’s all there is to it. You can track my progress on my Patreon or my blog, Prose Poetry Code. For you social types, use the hashtag #SummerReading to spread the word. And you can follow me on the fediverse, now at a new address: @mikey@letsalllovela.in.

However you do it, have a great summer, and remember to keep reading!

Summer Reading List 2018 – finale

Labor Day is here, and the Summer Reading List Challenge is over. Did you read 3 books this summer? I did. Actually, I read more than that, but I specifically wrote that you can’t count your own, which disqualifies most of my reading material. Here’s my third entry.

Literature

Title: From the Earth to the Moon
Author: Jules Verne
Genre: Literature/science fiction
Year: 1865

Verne is often described as the first true science fiction author, and for good reason. Yet I’ve never actually read any of his works. I watched Journey to the Center of the Earth in elementary school (can’t tell you which one, but it was in 1993), and that’s about it. So I thought this would be a good time to fill that void in my knowledge, and what better way than with the original space trip?

Well, it’s not that simple. In fact, From the Earth to the Moon doesn’t actually involve any space travel. The whole story of this novel is about the buildup. It’s a nicely fantastical premise: a bunch of Yankee artillery aficionados are sad because the Civil War is over. They think there’s nothing left for them to do, since all the world’s at peace. (Little did they know…) So the president of their gun club—sounds like the NRA, if you ask me—gets the bright idea to build the world’s largest cannon, with the goal of sending a shot to the moon.

That’s not exactly plausible, but it is fun. There’s no deep characterization here, or subplots or scheming, because the book’s just too short for that. What we do have is a lengthy description of the effect our dear gunman’s announcement has on America. For what it’s worth, Verne seems remarkably prescient, which makes me wonder just how much the Apollo Program looked to this book for ideas a hundred years later. The builders choose Florida for their launch site, thanks to its latitude and lack of urbanization. They use aluminum to build their projectile, because weight matters. And the mission even ends up with three astronauts, exactly the same as Apollo 8.

All told, it’s a nice read. If there’s any downside (besides the part where From the Earth to the Moon never gets to the moon), it has to be the sometimes jarring shift between humorous dialogue and dry scientific exposition. Because the author goes into excruciating detail about the construction of the cannon, the orbit of the moon, Civil War weaponry, and anything else that tickles his fancy. At times, it reads like Tom Clancy playing Kerbal Space Program. But it was worth the time, and I think I’ll have to go back for the sequel. I’m pretty sure it won’t be nearly as grounded in reality, but science fiction has always shared a nebulous border with fantasy.

End of the line

So that’s the list this year. The Core, From Tyndale to Madison, and From the Earth to the Moon. A great epic fantasy, a biased history of religious freedom, and one of the first sci-fi novels. Could’ve been better, I’ll admit, but there’s always next year.

Summer Reading List 2018 – halfway point

Summer has reached its height. The temperatures are awful, the storms are coming fast and furious, and it’s a good time to just sit inside, turn that AC on high, and read.

Back at Memorial Day, I announced the 2018 version of the Summer Reading List Challenge. Your task: 3 books read by Labor Day. As of today, you have 32 days remaining, so how are you doing?

Although I’m writing this on July 19, the two weeks between then and now won’t see me finishing a third book for the challenge. There’s just too much else to do. But that’s okay. I’ve got 2 so far:

Fiction

Title: The Core
Author: Peter V. Brett
Genre: Fiction/fantasy
Year: 2017

This is the final part of the five-book Demon Cycle that started way back when with The Warded Man. I’ve followed along through the whole thing, and I have this to say about the series as a whole: the worldbuilding is excellent. Here we have what’s basically a distant post-apocalyptic setting. Demons come up out of the ground every night, preying on humans, keeping them corralled into a handful of cities and numerous small villages. There’s magic, war, sex, violence, and pretty much everything you’d want out of an epic fantasy saga.

Well, this book cranks everything up to 11. That’s really the only way to put it. And it works, for the most part. The worst complaint I’ve heard about the Demon Cycle is the author’s use of dialect, which some found confusing or even incomprehensible. As someone who is used to Southern and Appalachian speech, it never bothered me one bit. Instead, I was more annoyed by the fanboy-like fawning over a certain group of people, the sometimes blatant Mary Sue nature of quite a few characters, and the Mass Effect 3 ending.

Other than that, it was a fun read, a fun journey. I won’t say The Core is the best book I’ve ever read, and at over 700 pages, it’s a pretty big investment, but this one was worth it. I love worldbuilding, I love interesting settings, and I love cinematic action. Going by that standard, this book’s got it all.

Nonfiction

Title: From Tyndale to Madison
Author: Michael Farris
Genre: Nonfiction/history
Year: 2007

One of the requirements of the Summer Reading List challenge is a nonfiction book. My choice for this year is a fairly obscure work I got from…somewhere, entitled From Tyndale to Madison. Its goal is to link William Tyndale’s 16th-century attempt to translate the Bible into English with the concept of freedom of religion expressed in the 1st Amendment.

Well, it pretty much fails at that. I have nothing against Christianity per se, or indeed Christian authors, but this book is a case where an author looked at a topic from a biased angle and, wonder of wonders, came to a biased conclusion. The historical parts of the book, a series of cases where the established English (and later Colonial) church used its power to suppress lesser sects, work just fine. They’re informative even for someone like me, someone who has researched the period to some slight degree.

Where I take issue is the notion that these nonconformists were the sole reason why the Founding Fathers made sure to include the free exercise of religion (or the lack of such) into our country’s second most important document. The author tries to prove that this had nothing to do with the Enlightenment, the single most pivotal era in the history of science, philosophy, and rationality. He also dismisses the very well established evidence that many of those who founded the US, who were responsible for ensuring that Christianity in any guise would not reign supreme, were deists.

Yeah, that doesn’t exactly work. Even in its own text, the “debunking” fails. The colonial laws of tolerance the author so often quotes as being the precursors to the Bill of Rights invariably continue to outlaw deism, atheism, and other non-Christian philosophies. If, as his theory supposes, these were what Madison and the others of his time were trying for, then they failed miserably. And it’s a good thing they did.

So I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. The history parts are fine, but it’s blatantly obvious that the author has an agenda, and he’s willing to distort the evidence to confirm it. Leave that to Fox News. We don’t need it in our books.

Coming up

There’s still a #3. I haven’t decided what it’ll be just yet, but I’ve got a few ideas. I do want to read something a little older, maybe even a classic. The box I have yet to check is “a genre you don’t normally write”, so fantasy won’t cut it. Probably not sci-fi, either, unless I go for something a little…out of the ordinary. I’ll tell you around Labor Day, or you can follow me on the Fediverse (using Mastodon, Pleroma, or whatever your favorite platform): @mikey@toot.love. Keep reading!

Summer reading list 2018

Here we go again.

Two years ago, I came up with what I thought was a great idea. Inspired by the summer reading lists I had to suffer through in school, I created a simple reading challenge. So, now that the unofficial start of summer is upon us once more, let’s try again, shall we?

As in the previous installments, the whole thing is unofficial. It’s just for fun. There aren’t any prizes, you won’t have to write any book reports, and you get to pick what you read. That said, there are a few general rules:

  1. The goal is to read 3 books between the US holidays of Memorial Day (May 28) and Labor Day (September 3). These are considered the “unofficial” endpoints of summer, and they roughly match the months when school isn’t in session. (If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s a winter reading list, but I can’t help that.)

  2. A “book”, for the purposes of this challenge, can be just about any non-periodical. Use your best judgment. Graphic novels are okay, but comic books probably aren’t. Just be honest with yourself. That’s what counts most.

  3. One of the books should be nonfiction. Doesn’t matter what kind, as long as it involves actual events and people. History, biography, true crime, and even technical manuals all work for this, though historical fiction obviously doesn’t.

  4. (Writers only) One book should be of a genre you don’t normally write in. For example, a fantasy author should give, say, science fiction a shot. This is your chance to step outside your comfort zone. Of course, you can count the nonfiction book from Rule 3 for this, too.

  5. (Writers only) You can’t count anything you wrote. Not even if it’s under a pen name. That one’s pretty simple, and it’s mainly because, if I didn’t put it in there, I would be tempted to use my own works.

So that’s it. That’s the challenge. I’m crossposting this to both my Patreon and my blog. Feel free to spread it wherever you like. If you’re one of those who likes to put everything on social media, let’s see if we can stake a claim on the hashtag #SummerReading. I don’t go in for Twitter or Facebook, but I have recently created an account on Mastodon, so you can follow me or check my progress there. I’m @mikey@toot.love right now, but I’ll probably move somewhere else later on.

Have fun, everybody. And have a great summer.

Summer Reading List 2017: The End

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.

Fiction

Title: Bands of Mourning
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fiction/fantasy
Year: 2016

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.

Nonfiction

Title: Apollo 8
Author: Jeffrey Kluger
Genre: Nonfiction/Space History
Year: 2017

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
Year: 2010

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.

Next year?

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.

Summer reading list 2017

Last year, I had what I thought was a great idea. It was a simple thing, really: read three books between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Now that we’re working our way through 2017, and we’re at that time of the year, let’s give it another shot.

Unlike the summer reading list of school, this one is all in fun. There are no tests, no book reports, and no assigned texts. No, this is something far more informal and (I hope) fun. As before, you can’t have an actual challenge without rules, but I’ve tinkered with them slightly. Here’s what I’ve got for this time around:

  1. You have to read three (3) complete books between May 29 and September 4, 2017. Giving up halfway doesn’t get you partial credit, so make sure you pick something you can stand to finish.

  2. One (1) of these books should be nonfiction. Any kind of nonfiction will work, whether history, biography, self-help, technical manual, or even a collection of witticisms, but it has to be real. (Historical fiction doesn’t count for this, by the way, even if it is set in the real world.)

  3. Graphic novels count, but comic books don’t. The distinction is subtle, I’ll admit. I’d say a comic book is a short periodical, usually in magazine-style binding, while a graphic novel is a longer work presented in the same way as a text-only book. You can be your own judge, as long as you’re honest with yourself.

  4. If, like me, you’re an aspiring fiction writer, then one (1) of the books must not be from your preferred genre. For example, a fantasy writer should read a non-fantasy book, perhaps sci-fi or a modern detective story. The idea is to branch out, to dip your toes into some other pool for a while.

  5. If you’re a writer, then books written by you don’t count at all. It doesn’t matter what they are; if your name’s on the cover (or in the metadata, or whatever), then you can’t use it.

Like last year, this is all in fun. The only prize is the satisfaction of a job well done, and the knowledge that comes with broadening your horizons. Also, it’s not meant to be anything serious. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t pull it off, but there’s no reason to boast about going above and beyond, either. If you want to share what you’re reading on Facebook or anywhere like that, there’s nothing stopping you. I’ll be doing the same here, and probably on my Patreon, too. (By the way, I’ve got quite a few books up over there. Nothing stopping you from using one, you know.)

Most of all, enjoy yourself, enjoy your books, and enjoy the summer. That’s what it’s all about.

Summer Reading List 2016: Wrap-up

So it’s Labor Day, and we’ve reached the unofficial end of another summer. Last month, I posted my progress in my Summer Reading List challenge. I had read 2 out of 3 then, and I’ve since finished the third.

Literature

Title: New Atlantis
Author: Sir Francis Bacon
Genre: Fiction/literature
Year: 1627

Yes, you read that year right, this is a work almost four centuries old. You can find it at Project Gutenberg if you want to read it for yourself. That’s where I got it, and I’m glad I looked it up. Genre-wise, I’m not sure what to call it, so I went with the catchall of “literature”.

New Atlantis is what we’d call a short novella today, but that’s mainly because it was never truly finished. It’s also an incredibly interesting text for its vision. Written like many old stories purporting to be travelers’ tales, it describes the utopian land of Bensalem, supposedly located somewhere out in the Pacific. The inhabitants of that land are far advanced (compared to the 17th century) and living in a veritable paradise of wisdom and knowledge.

By my personal standards, however, it reads more like a dystopia: despite professing a very progressive separation of church and state, for example, Bensalem is hopelessly rooted in Christianity, to the point where even the Jews living there (the narrator meets one) lie somewhere in the “Jews For Jesus” range. The whole place seems to be governed in a very authoritarian manner, where societal norms are given force of law—or the other way around. Yes, Bacon describes a nation better than any he knew, but I would take modern America, with all its flaws, over the mythical New Atlantis every time.

But people today rarely look at those parts of the text. Instead, they’re more focused on what the scientists of Bensalem have done, and this is described in some detail at the very end of the work. Bacon’s goal here is to overwhelm us with the fantastic creations, but they read like a laundry list of the last hundred years. If you read it right, you can find airplanes, lasers, telephones, and all kinds of other things in there, all predicted centuries ago. And that is the real value of the book. It’s further proof that earlier ages did not lack for imagination; their relatively unadvanced state was through no fault of their minds. As an author myself, I find that information invaluable.

Next year?

I had fun with this whole thing. I read something I never would have otherwise, and I pushed myself outside my normal areas of interest. I’m not sure I’m ready to make this a regular, annual occurrence, but it seems like a good idea. I hope you feel the same way.

Summer Reading List 2016: halfway home

We’re halfway through the official summer, about two-thirds of the way done with the unofficial season we’re using for our Summer Reading List. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got two out of three.

Fiction

  • Title: Shadows of Self
  • Author: Brandon Sanderson
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Year: 2015

This is the fifth book in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, the second of the second trilogy. It’s a pretty good one, though I feel it’s a bit weaker than some of the previous four. Compared to its predecessor, The Alloy of Law, it’s a bit lighter on the action, but far heavier on the worldbuilding. That’s fine by me. If you haven’t noticed, I love worldbuilding, and Sanderson is one of the best there is when it comes to it. I’ll definitely give this one high marks, and I can’t wait to read the trilogy’s finale, The Bands of Mourning. (It’s already out, by the way.)

Nonfiction

  • Title: A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Everyday Life
  • Author: Greg Jenner
  • Genre: History
  • Year: 2016

I found this one not too long ago (somewhere…), and I’m glad I did. It’s a fun look back through the history of everyday things and activities, following and relating to one modern man’s Saturday. I love history, and I especially love those smaller, less popular bits of it. History is not all about wars and religion and politics and race. It’s about people living their lives, and those lives never really change that much. And that’s the message of this book. Definitely worth a look, especially from a worldbuilding perspective. (Funny how that works out, huh?)

And one more…

I haven’t decided what the final book on the list will be, but I’ve got another month, so I should be okay. I hope you’re playing along at home, and that you’re having fun doing it.

Summer reading list 2016

In the US, Memorial Day is the last Monday in May, and it is considered the unofficial start of summer. Time for the kids to get out of school, time to fire up the grills or hit the water. Although the solstice itself isn’t for three more weeks, late May feels like summer, and that’s good enough for most people.

But there’s one hint of school that stays with us through these next glorious weeks of peace: the summer reading list. Many will remember that awful thing, the educational system’s attempt to infringe on a child’s last refuge. I hated it, and you probably did, too. The books they chose were either awful (Ayn Rand’s Anthem) or tainted by association with school (Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer). Just like the reading assignments of the other nine months, the summer reading list seemed designed to suck all the enjoyment out of a book.

Now that we’ve outgrown it, things are different. We no longer need to read to please others. But that doesn’t mean we stop reading. No, we instead choose our own path.

So here’s a bit of a challenge for you. Read three books between now and Labor Day (September 5). That’s roughly one a month, so it shouldn’t be too hard. There won’t be any reports due, so you don’t have to worry about that, either. Remember, adults can read for fun rather than work.

It wouldn’t be a challenge if there weren’t rules, so here they are:

  1. You have to read three (3) complete books between May 30 and September 5 of this year. (For following years, it’s the last Monday in May to the first Monday in September.) Giving up halfway doesn’t get you partial credit, so make sure you pick something you can stand to finish.

  2. One (1) of these books should be nonfiction. It can be anything from history to self-help, but it has to be real. (Historical fiction doesn’t count for this, by the way.)

  3. If you’re an aspiring fiction writer, then one (1) of the books must not be from your preferred genre. For example, a fantasy writer should read a non-fantasy book, perhaps sci-fi or a modern detective story. The idea is to branch out, expand your horizons.

  4. Graphic novels count, but comic books don’t. The distinction is subtle, I’ll admit. I’d say a comic book is a short periodical, usually in magazine-style binding, while a graphic novel is a longer work presented in the same way as a text-only work. You can be your own judge, as long as you’re honest with yourself.

And that’s it!