Summer Reading List 2020: Finale

The past few weeks have been utterly miserable for me. What reading I’ve done has mostly come while I was eating, because that’s the only time I can keep my mind focused on something other than how awful I feel. That I managed to finish two more books despite the depression, the anxiety, and now the dissociation boggles my mind.

But enough about that. Let’s see the other two entries in the Summer Reading List Challenge for the worst year ever.

History (non-fiction)

Title: Northumbria: The Lost Kingdom Author: Paul Gething and Edoardo Albert Genre: History/archaeology Year: 2012

I’m an archaeology nut. Ever since I started writing my Otherworld series, I’ve found a passion for studying ages past. More recently, I became enamored with the series The Last Kingdom, first by reading the Bernard Cornwell book of the same name, then watching the show. It’s gritty, it’s fun, it’s epic, and I love the setting for multiple reasons.

Well, the protagonist of The Last Kingdom, Uhtred, hails from the English town now known as Bamburgh. Long ago (before the ninth century, when the series is set), Bamburgh, with its imposing castle overlooking the North Sea, stood as the seat of a kingdom: Northumbria. And the castle has offered up a wealth of archaeological findings that help us better understand life in Anglo-Saxon times. How the people there lived, what they ate, what they wore.

Gething and Albert explore the strange world of ancient Northumbria in this book. They call it a “lost” kingdom for many reasons. It’s obviously just one corner of England now. It was the first Saxon kingdom to fall to the Viking incursions. And we simply don’t know much about it. But now I know a lot more than I did, and I find myself even more interested in that long-gone world than before.

To be fair, there are problems with the book. At times, the authors come across as overly preachy. They do the usual politically correct dismissal of the term “Dark Ages”, which is entirely appropriate for a period of centuries with social and technological stagnation, if not regression. They’re always quick to go on about ethical concerns. On the whole, though, it’s not too obtrusive. The faults are minor, and they don’t distract from a lively, humorous, and above all informative journey through Anglo-Saxon times.

Suspense (fiction)

Title: Verity Author: Colleen Hoover Genre: Suspense/mystery Year: 2018

Rules are rules, and one of my self-imposed rules was to read something from a genre I don’t normally read or write. Fortunately, my partner had talked enthusiastically about a novel she read some months back. She’s big into mysteries and thrillers, neither of which normally tickle my fancy, so I thought right then and there that her suggestion would make the perfect addition to the Summer Reading List.

Verity was a short novel, but a hard read for me. Partly, that’s from parts hitting too close to home. The protagonist, Lowen, is an author. She’s had a lot of family troubles lately. She lacks self-esteem and pride in her work. She suffers from anxiety. The parallels are obvious, but they end pretty soon. Lowen actually has things I don’t: a publisher, an agent, a portfolio that gets her a job ghostwriting for the preeminent author in her genre, Verity Crawford, who has suffered a major accident that leaves her unable to continue writing. Thus begins the mystery, because something is up with the whole situation.

Without going too far into spoiler territory (it’s a mystery, people!), I’ll say that I was somewhat hooked. The way the story is told left me jarred, as it cuts between the first-person perspectives of Lowen and—through an autobiography manuscript Lowen finds—Verity herself. Even I couldn’t pull that off in Nocturne. Credit where credit is due, because Hoover managed it. The autobiography parts left me feeling unclean from the sheer depravity that sometimes came out, while the “main” narrative eventually veered into some quite explicit romance that made this red-blooded American male a bit uncomfortable.

I’m constantly comparing myself to “professional” authors of fiction. I can’t help it. Lately, in my preferred genres of fantasy and science fiction, I’ve judged my own efforts equal to, if not better than, the pros more and more often. As I’ve never written suspense or mystery stories, I’ll withhold judgment here, apart from a couple of nitpicks. Hoover’s prose is occasionally…off, in some way I find hard to explain. She repeats herself too often for my tastes, and I almost wonder if that was padding a word count for what was already a fairly short novel. The final twist also left a bad taste in my mouth. It doesn’t come completely out of nowhere, but it was definitely a blindside hit. In all honesty, I feel it’s the weakest part of what was otherwise a great, if unconventional, novel.

Conclusion

Another summer is in the books, but I’m not done. Later this week—assuming nothing else goes wrong—I want to look at a couple of my aborted attempts at the challenge. There’s a very good reason, one I’m not going to tell you just yet. Always leave them hanging, you know?

I hope you enjoyed the last three months more than I did. If you participated in the challenge, I can only thank you from the bottom of my heart. Win or lose, you’ve done a great job. If you’re just here to read about me, then I have two things to say. One, you probably need your head examined more than I do. And two, I did have fun with these books. Maybe they aren’t perfect, and they might not be to my exact tastes, but they were worth my time. I’d like to think I’m worth yours.

Thank you again, and remember to keep reading!

Summer Reading List Challenge 2020: Number one

I actually finished reading this book a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve been so caught up in other things that I forgot to post my thoughts on it. And since I’m persona non grata at my old fediverse haunt, this is probably the only place you’ll see 2020’s entries in the Summer Reading List Challenge.

Science (non-fiction)

Title: Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors
Author: Matt Parker
Genre: Popular science
Year: 2019

The author is an Australian living in Britain, so you’ll have to forgive the misspelling in the title. Never fear, however. The rest of the book more than makes up for it. Humble Pi is a fun little look at some of history’s oddest, funniest, or occasionally deadliest math fails. The Gimli Glider, a jet airliner forced to land on an airstrip definitely not built for it, all because someone read the intended fuel load in pounds instead of kilograms. NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter, which crashed into the Red Planet because of a similar units mix-up. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the “flash crash” of 2010, overflow bugs, and secret islands, all these and more are covered in an irreverent, yet knowledgable, style.

I consider myself a recreational mathematician. I’ve read books about numbers and math since I could read, so going on 35 years now. I love this kind of thing. And I’ll admit that I already knew of most of the stories in Humble Pi, but not always the details. Parker does a good job of explaining those to the lay reader, while keeping the interest of someone who doesn’t need hand-holding. He’s deliberately vague in a few cases, which irks me. Fortunately, those don’t distract, and he makes up for it with good descriptions of things non-experts wouldn’t even care to learn. SQL injection attacks, for instance. Or statistics as a whole.

All in all, unless you’re deathly allergic to numbers, you’ll be entertained. Why? Because you get to see that, no matter how much everyone wishes it would, math just doesn’t go away. And people make mathematical mistakes the same as in any other field. Which is great for readers, as who doesn’t like to laugh at a billion-dollar corporation or government agency failing at something we’re taught in elementary school?

Summer Reading List 2020

Once again, Memorial Day is upon us. Although the world has been turned upside down in the past few months, some places are beginning to return to normal. Slowly but surely, cooler heads are prevailing. And one way to speed the process of recovery is to get back into your routine.

Thus, here at the unofficial start of summer, it’s time once again to start the Summer Reading List Challenge! This will be the 5th year I’ve done this particular self-imposed challenge, and I’ve refined the rules over time, polishing them into something simple yet daunting.

The rules aren’t so much rules as recommendations. Guidelines, except that that has become a loaded term lately.

  1. The goal is to read 3 new books between Memorial Day (May 25) and Labor Day (September 7) in the US, the traditional “unofficial” bounds of summer. (Anyone in the Southern Hemisphere reading this: yes, you get a winter reading list.)

  2. A book is anything non-periodical, so no comics, graphic novels, or manga. Anything else works. If you’re not sure, just use common sense. What’s important is that you’re honest with yourself.

  3. One of the books should be of a genre you don’t normally read. For example, I’m big on fantasy and sci-fi, so I might read a romance, or a thriller, or something like that. Nonfiction, by the way, also works as a “new” genre, unless you do read it all the time.

  4. You can’t count books you wrote, because they obviously wouldn’t be new to you. (Yes, this rule exists solely to keep me from just rereading my books.)

That’s it. You have over three months. I’ll be posting my progress here at Prose Poetry Code, as well as on the fediverse at mikey@letsalllovela.in when that server actually works.

Have fun, enjoy the summer, and keep reading!

Summer Reading List 2019: A delayed finale

(Note: I posted this late because I wrote it late. But I’m slipping it in like it was here all along. Rest assured that I did finish the reading on time, as you can see on my fediverse postings: @mikey@letsalllovela.in.)

Summer is over, at least in the unofficial sense. We’ve still got a few days left in the actual season, but the vacation part is done, so let’s take a look at what I read.

This year was a little different, owing to my…current relationship status. I only had about a week and a half of that during last summer’s challenge, but this one has seen me interested in someone (and seen her interested in me, which is far more surprising!) for a full two months of summer. And it thus became a lot harder to complete the challenge, because I barely have any reading time as it is, and that just caused a bigger crunch. So I actually didn’t finish the third book until the last few days of August.

But that’s okay. I accomplished my goal. On time is on time, even if it’s the 11th hour. You saw the first book I read back in my midpoint update. Here are the other two.

History (non-fiction)

Title: The War that Made America
Author: Fred Anderson
Genre: History
Year: 2006

This was the last book I finished, but the first I started. Throughout the summer, I used it as kind of a “background” book, one I read when I had a few minutes and didn’t want to get into anything. As a general-audience history text, it’s perfect for that, divided into small chapters and littered with numerous illustrations that I mostly ignored.

The topic is the French and Indian War, and that hooked me for one reason: I like more obscure events in history. Considering how pivotal this war was for creating the United States as we know it, you wouldn’t expect it to be that obscure, but it’s a bit of a forgotten war, in much the same way as, say, the Spanish-American War. (I suspect that Korea will follow that, once it passes beyond living memory in a couple of decades.)

Mostly, the book describes how the British nearly bungled their attempt at conquering French holdings in North America. By a series of fortunate events, they got a few important victories. That, coupled with the way they were able to play the various Indian nations off one another (and the French), enabled them to take vital forts and trading posts in the modern Midwest and Pennsylvania, but at a high cost of men and honor. At the same time, they and their allies in Germany were fighting a much more “traditional” sort of conflict in Europe—the Seven Years War, of which the French and Indian was merely a theater of operations—so this could be considered, in effect, the real first world war.

Anderson does a good job of telling the tale, though he focuses more on the events leading up to the important battles than the fighting itself. Yes, there is some description of 18th-century siege warfare, as well as the way the rules of engagement differed between the Old World and the New, but this is definitely not an action-packed account of a war. Instead, it’s a higher-level view that shows why that war came about, how it almost fell apart, and what happened next.

That’s both the best and worst part of the book. George Washington had a command in the French and Indian War, and he pretty much blew it. For that effort, he becomes the “wrapper” for the text, which is an odd choice, in my opinion, as he then all but disappears from the tale until the end. Still, it’s nice to see what is, in effect, the prequel of the American Revolution.

All in all, I liked The War that Made America, but I won’t say it’s great. It’s a solid, well-researched account of an undervalued part of history, but it’s not the kind of book you want to scour for trivia. Really, it’s more a teaser than anything, because now I do want to delve more into the world circa 1760.

Science Fiction

Title: Red Mars
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Genre: Science fiction
Year: 1993

I don’t read a lot of science fiction. This may seem odd, considering I’m writing a novel of that genre at this very moment, but I just don’t. That, I’ve learned, is related to my depression: the future described in so many of the stories that interest me is so far away that I’ll never live to see it, and that makes me very sad for myself and for the world that, to my eyes, has all but given up on advancement and is looking instead to return to the barbaric times before the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment, two of mankind’s three greatest eras.

The greatest of all, of course, is the Space Age, and that is where we have squandered our future the most. Reading Red Mars, I can’t help but think this. Written over a quarter-century ago, it shows its age mostly by referring to a present that never was.

Anyway, I’ve made it pretty clear on here that I love space exploration, and I love Mars. So this novel should be right up my alley, but I just didn’t like it that much. Maybe I’m too critical, but the whole thing felt like a scientist writing fiction, not a fiction author writing science. The prose style is grating in a way I find hard to describe. The pacing makes the novel feel more like an anthology of short stories. On the other hand, the scientific aspects are mostly impeccable. Mostly. I’m an amateur, but even I noticed a couple of errors that can’t entirely be attributed to optimistic projections. (The most egregious example is setting up solar panels at ~80°N latitude on Mars. That’s…not exactly a power move.)

Story-wise, Red Mars is all over the place. At the start, you’re unceremoniously dumped into a tense situation, with little idea of who’s who or what they’re even fighting about. But that’s a flash-forward. After this extended prologue, the story jumps back to the trip from Earth to Mars, the founding of the first human colony on another planet. Honestly, the voyage itself is underwhelming (I blame the POV character for this part). The founding of Underhill and the events of Part 3, on the other hand, contain some of the most evocative passages I’ve ever read. Then, after a large time-skip, the second half of the book seems to be a rushed mess that still somehow lasts for about 300 pages.

To sum up, I’ll say that I see Red Mars as a flawed masterpiece. In setting, it’s great. The Mars painted by Robinson is, as Buzz Aldrin said of the Moon, magnificent desolation. And a lot of the colony-building aspects are surprisingly deep. Alas, there’s just not enough time to explore, whether that’s the beautiful wasteland of the Red Planet or the inner space of the few characters who aren’t total sociopaths or misanthropes. I’ve been told that the other two entries in the trilogy make the story more complete, so I’ll give them a shot, because the setting itself is worth it.

Conclusion

So that’s another summer in the books. (Heh. Look at my puns.) If you played along, I hope you had fun, you achieved your goals, and you broadened your horizons. Two of my three choices—the two above, in fact—were never on my radar until the end of May, and that’s really the point of this challenge. Try something new. You won’t know what you like until you do.

Even though the Summer Reading List Challenge is over for 2019, that’s no reason to stop, so…keep reading!

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.