Category archives: Recommended

The Ringworld Engineers

by June 7, 2010 in Books, Recommended, Science Fiction

It was probably 5 years ago that I read Ringworld - the tale of a group of 3 adventurers who are tempted to travel to beyond the known universe to explore a giant Ringworld in search of treasure and fame.  Unfortunately, that's about all I remembered about the first book, and so when I was looking to read the sequel last week, I decided to check Wikipedia for the details I could not recall.  To my great disappointment, Wikipedia had only an extended, spoiler free summary.  Yet another reason I wish I had started my book database years earlier!

Despite my failed memory and lack of information online, I went ahead and read The Ringworld Engineers.  In this sequel, Louis Wu and Chmee return, against their will, to the Ringworld in search of a mysterious object.  Louis and Chmee, however, spend most of their time looking for freedom from their paranoid Puppeteer captor.

Ultimately, not remembering the details of the first book was a minor point.  I wish I had, but only because I think it would have added depth to the development of Chmee and Louis Wu as characters.  As it was, I could only watch them grow within the context of the book.  And while this was an enjoyable experience, I can't help but think it would have been more meaningful if I could have seen them evolve from their original incarnations.  Of course, the possibility also exists that they behaved in foolish and unbelievable ways in comparison to the first book, but I like to remain hopeful.

While I recommend this book, I do so with the caveat that this is hardcore science fiction.  In fact, in the introduction, Niven admits that the whole reason this sequel was written was so he could deal with all the scientific and mathematical questions and concerns that readers raised after the first book.  Now, if you're like me, you just thought "Yes!  Can't wait to read it!" but if you are a normal person, feel free to pass on this series for something a little more down to earth.

"You only learn to ask more questions" (215).

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Don Quixote - First Part

by May 17, 2010 in Books, Fiction, Recommended

Don Quixote - First Part

Okay, I confess I cheated; I decided to read only the First Part of Don Quixote.  This part, at 459 pages, is technically a complete book in its own right.  It was published in 1605, 10 years before the second part that makes up the other half of the copy you see depicted to the left.  I will get around to the rest of it eventually but, honestly, I just needed a break.

I feel bad saying I needed a break because I really enjoyed Don Quixote.  If you read my First Line post on Don Quixote you know I was having a blast halfway through the first part.  It was funny, intelligent, modern, and creative.

At about 300 pages in, however, Cervantes decides to interrupt what could have easily been the most interesting and entertaining part of the book with two complete novellas.  Seriously, he interrupts the action to tell two complete stories that deal with characters and plot that are entirely unrelated to Don Quixote.  To be fair, these stories are good, but at this point in the main novel I'm reading, I honestly just don't care what happens to these other characters.  I want to ...

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The Book of Three (Audio)

by May 10, 2010 in Audio Books, Books, Fantasy, Recommended

The Book of Three (Audio)

I can't exactly remember who or what referred me to The Book of Three.  All I know is a few weeks ago I received a "the book you placed on hold is now available" email from the library and so I went and picked it up.

The Book of Three tells the story of a young assistant pig-keeper named Taran who lives in a mythical realm known as Prydain.  If you have seen the movie "The Black Cauldron" you have seen a movie loosely based on this book.  (Interesting note - the second book in this trilogy is actually called The Black Cauldron, but the movie of the same title is based on the first book.  Go figure).  Anyways, Taran has to recover his lost pig, but ends up having a grand adventure along the way.

The story is your classic hero quest, but what makes this book so good is the plethora of interesting characters.  From the sassy and hilarious Eilonwy, to the pathological liar/bard/king Fflewddur Fflam, The Book of Three is absolutely bursting with entertainment.  By the end, the story was just a means for placing these great characters into situations in which they could interact ...

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First Line: Don Quixote

by May 5, 2010 in Books, First Line, Fiction, Recommended

First Line: Don Quixote

You might not be aware of this, but Don Quixote is a massive book.  As a result I will probably be doing multiple posts about it so that this blog doesn't screech to a halt while I work my way through it.  Note:  I'm reading the Edith Grossman translation. Also, I am already about 240 pages into the book, so this discussion is being informed by more than a blind reading of the first line.

"Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing" (1).

First of all, I love the irony of Cervantes writing a 900+ page book about Don Quixote, but being unwilling to remember where in La Mancha he comes from.  Not just because it's inherently humorous, but also because it shows, immediately, the tone we can expect from the entire book.  Though this may be a classic work of fiction, it is not a dry, dusty tome that we must put upon a shelf and venerate from a ...

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The Well at the World's End Volume I

by April 23, 2010 in Books, Fantasy, Recommended

The Well at the World's End Volume I

We spent Easter weekend with some friends in Denton, TX.  While there, I had the opportunity to go to the best used book store I've ever seen:  Recycled Books.   In addition to being clean, well-organized, and having the most amazing selection of books, they also had a wide array of collector's items.  As I was perusing the fantasy/sci-fi collector's section, my attention was drawn to The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris.  I glanced at it, saw that it claimed to be "the first fantasy novel ever written", but decided to put it back and picked up The Well at the World's End instead.  I didn't know anything about this book, but it fascinated me for some reason.  Plus, the back had a quote by C.S. Lewis saying it was great.  That, plus the $4 price tag, were enough to sell me.

All that said, I probably should have actually read some of the book to see if I would enjoy it, rather than buying it blindly.  I was quite shocked when I opened it up and the first thing I read was "Long ago there was a little land, over which ...

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Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary

by April 7, 2010 in Books, Fantasy, Recommended

Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary

First of all, I apologize for the recent lack of updates.  Between traveling, Easter, and being sick I've been reading a lot, but not writing much.  I have a nice little backlog of finished books, though, so hopefully I'll be able to catch up and post some more over the next few weeks.

Now onto Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary.  I don't actually know what else I can say about the Fablehaven books that I haven't said previously.  They are fun, creative, exciting books that are perfect when you want something that is well executed, but does not requiring extensive emotional investment.

I guess the most important thing I can share with you at this point is as of the 4th (and penultimate) volume in the series, they are still very enjoyable.  I didn't find myself captivated quite as quickly with this book as I have with the first 3, but I ended up there eventually.  So, if you are a fan of fun juvenile fiction that mixes magic and realistically developed characters, give the Fablehaven series a shot.  And if you have been reading the series, send me an email so we can make ...

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The Graveyard Book (audio)

by March 25, 2010 in Audio Books, Books, Fantasy, Recommended

The Graveyard Book (audio)

I have a weird relationship with Neil Gaiman's books.  His stories always fascinate me conceptually, but upon reading them, I'm inevitably underwhelmed.  That isn't to say his books are bad, just not as great as I hope they will be upon reading a plot summary.

The Graveyard Book suffers this same small letdown.  The idea - a young boy, orphaned after the brutal murder of his family, is raised by the ghosts that inhabit a nearby graveyard - is pretty awesome.  The execution, while still very entertaining and enjoyable, is just enough less awesome to be disappointing.  Maybe I expect too much from Gaiman, but if that's the case it's his own fault for having such awesome ideas.

The best part about The Graveyard Book is how it celebrates life through the constant presence of death.  This theme emerges so naturally from the content of the book that it doesn't ever feel cliche or preachy.  Gaiman also ties everything together nicely in the end.  Unfortunately, there are too many parts that drag along the way to make it excellent from beginning to end.

On the whole this a good book and, if you choose to go ...

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

by March 17, 2010 in Books, Fiction, Recommended

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I’ve read a lot of books in the last 2 years (43 – 120 if you include audio books, but who’s counting?), and I’ve enjoyed the vast majority.  Part of this is because I enjoy the very experience of reading, so for most books I can find some aspect of it that I enjoy.

Some books are funny (Areas of My Expertise), some are sad (Firmin), and some are both (I Am a Cat).  Some are weird (Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), some fun (Fablehaven, Percy Jackson and the Olympians) and some are, apparently, only for me (Botchan – sorry Nicole).  I’ve enjoyed all of these, and I recommend them for various reasons and to various people.

There are some, however, that are so good that it’s hard to even discuss them.  I love to read, and I enjoy talking about books, but how do you discuss a great book if you aren’t a great writer?  How do I fit into a blog post or database entry the scope, the characters, or the beauty of East of Eden?  How do I explain the moving, subtle, and amazing experience of reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?  Do I give ...

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Dubliners

by March 12, 2010 in Books, Fiction, Recommended

Dubliners

It is clear from Dubliners why James Joyce is so highly regarded.  The most impressive thing, for me, was his ability to capture so much emotion, so realistically, in so few pages.  Without feeling forced, or cliched, he would perfectly express anger, jealousy, fear, or love.  I also enjoyed how these short stories each had their own unique voice.  It wasn't one narrator telling 15 different tales, but 15 different narrators, each telling their own story in a style perfectly suited for their respective themes, characters, and plot.

All of this becomes even more impressive when we consider Joyce was only 25 when these stories were first published.  If you enjoy short stories, I would definitely recommend this collection.  For the rest of us, though, I think there is still a lot to like about these tales.  Plus, what with them being so short, you don't have to read them all at once and, taken individually, there's no reason not to give each of these stories the mere 10 to 30 minutes that they require.

“He watched the scene and thought of life; and (as always happened when he thought of life) he became sad. A gentle ...

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So why does Harry Potter have a scar?

by March 4, 2010 in Books, Fantasy, Recommended

So why does Harry Potter have a scar?

Note:  the following discussion spoils certain aspects of the entire Harry Potter series.  Please don't keep reading if you don't already know what happens, unless you don't mind having it spoiled.

There is a chapter in How to Read Literature Like a Professor called "Marked for Greatness" that discusses how heroic, important characters are literally marked for greatness.  Several examples are given, but at the end the author asks why does Harry Potter have a scar?  What does this scar represent beyond the fact that Voldemort tried to kill Harry after murdering his parents?  I've thought about this over the last week and I have some ideas I'd like to share.

There is, of course, the obvious meaning evident upon a surface reading - the scar is the physical reminder of Voldemort's failed attempt to murder Harry.  Beyond that, at a slightly deeper level, the mark also reveals the connection between Voldemort and Harry.  We eventually learn that this connection is so strong that Voldemort is literally a part of Harry.

All of this makes sense, and is fairly evident in the text itself.  However, the question of why Harry Potter has a scar is ...

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