Monday, March 23, 2015

2015 Reading, Books 34-36

34. Animal Weapons: The Evolution of Battle by Douglas Emlen

More popular biology, this time comparing animal weapons to human weapons across military history. An interesting, quick read, though not the best book of its kind I've ever read. I could've done with fewer pictures and realistic line drawings of insects (you know how I mentioned above that I hate spiders? I really prefer my animals with four legs or fewer, thank you), but that was unavoidable given that the author's research specializes in dung beetles!

35. When Britain Burned the White House by Peter Snow

And my non-fiction binge continues, though I really need to get on the stick if I'm going to make ten books on the month... ::looks around for some SHORT books, whether fictional or otherwise::

Anyway, I recommend this book for anyone who'd like to know more about the War of 1812--though it doesn't get into the causes, the overall sweep of the war, or the peace negotiations except tangentially--it's strictly about the invasion of Washington and the bombardment of Baltimore. It's even-handed and sympathetic to both sides, which you'd think would be easy to do 200 years after the fact when writing about countries who are now firm allies, but you'd be surprised how many War of 1812/Napoleonic histories can't pull it off.

It's also a contrast to a lot of the military histories and biographies I've read because both sides were so plagued with indecisiveness, mediocre or downright incompetent commanders, etc. A nice reminder that the Napoleons and Wellingtons, the Hannibals and Scipio Africanuses, etc. are the exception rather than the rule! (Though it's an interesting exercise to imagine how the campaign would've played out if Andrew Jackson had commanded the American forces and Wellington had been persuaded to take on the British command. IMHO Wellington was by far the better commander, but Jackson was no slouch and home-field advantage counts for a lot in war.)

36. Ms. Marvel Vol 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

Maybe I'm finally getting the hang of reading graphic novels, because this one completely blew me away. It's about a 16-year-old Pakistani-American girl in Jersey City who's suddenly bestowed with shape-shifting superpowers--and then has to figure out how to control them and make use of them even while grounded. And the characters and setting are SO vivid.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

2015 Reading, Books 28-33

Wow, I hadn't realized it had been THIS long since I'd updated. Life has been a little crazy of late, especially the past week after a misstep on uneven pavement led to a faceplant, three hours in the ER, five stitches holding my lip together, and a face full of scabs.

But I'm now mostly recovered and trying to get caught up on everything that took a back seat to napping between doses of the good Tylenol. I'll have more to blog about later, but for now here's six books instead of three:

28. Rita book #8

This one came out in a near-tie with #4 as my favorite of this year's slate--and, as it happens, both are from the same imprint of the same publisher. Neither was necessarily the kind of book I rush to read in terms of setting, character type, etc., but both were strong enough that I think I'll be looking to the imprint in question for change-of-pace/palate cleanser reads in the future.

And that's it for Rita reads for the year, though I expect to be back in 2016 with more vaguely worded and cryptic contest commentary.

29. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Well, that took forever, but I finally completed my first book for March. (It wasn't this book that bogged me down--I spent too long on a book that just wasn't working for me because it's one enough other people have raved about that I kept plugging along thinking I'd eventually appreciate it. Didn't happen.)

But this book proved fascinating. It's a complex and intriguing debut SF novel, a bit more cerebral than my ideal for leisure reading, but compelling and impossible to put down for all that.

30. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

A book that manages the neat trick of being a compelling page turner despite its depressing subject matter--how we as humans are driving an extinction event that's beginning to rival that of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs.

31. The Nile by Toby Wilkinson

A sort of historical travelogue traversing the Nile from Aswan to Cairo. The book assumes a certain familiarity with the basic outline of Egyptian history, but as long as you have that I recommend it as a way to better tie that history to the geography. And it will never not blow my mind to reflect on the fact that the pyramids are more distant and time from Jesus and Julius Caesar than we are from them.

32. The Oldest Living Things in the World by Rachel Sussman

This is more of a coffee table book than the kind you'd ordinarily read straight through. I did read it quickly, but only because A) I got it from the library, and B) in my current wounded state, a book like this hits just the right spot. It's a photography book, with each set of pictures accompanied by a short essay on the ancient subjects and Sussman's experiences visiting and photographing them. Most of the life forms--trees, along with some lichens, mosses, corals, and the like--aren't all that impressive to gaze upon, though there are some striking exceptions, like the sequoia and baobab trees. And it's striking how many of the long-lived organisms are in bleak environments like deserts or the Arctic/Antarctic. Overall, the book is a testament to both the endurance and fragility of life, since many of the ancient lives recorded here are threatened by climate change.

33. Unbound by Jim C. Hines

Third in the Magic Ex Libris series, which continues to be one of my favorite current fantasy series. Hines continues to expand his world and bring added nuance to his core characters even while the plot races along at breakneck speed. And he's finally convinced me to wish I had a fire spider like Smudge even though I hate hate HATE spiders.