Reviews of the books I've read

A list of all the books I've read this year. For these reviews, this is my book review scale:

burn Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.
mock This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.
don't Don't read this book.
desert If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.
fan If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.
worth This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.
strongly I strongly recommend this book
amazing OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.

Post date:

Last Coyote

Book Notes

Harry Bosch, Book 4

Okay, now things are getting absurd in this series. Seriously, how the f--- does a cop manage to get a 100% close rate when he's investigating murders that are 30+ years old? I mean, COME ON, how f---ing stupid were people 30 years ago that THEY MISS THE OBVIOUS? Oh, wait, THEY WEREN'T STUPID. There were, of course, cover-ups and shameful acts and people-who-need-to-confess.

Upside, the book wasn't boring like Concrete Blonde was.

Oddly, no tunnels.

I enjoyed this book, too, even if the level of suspension of disbelief was a little high. Coyotes talking to people who haven't had peyote and 30 year old case solved, my foot. Doesn't happen unless the killer confesses on his deathbed.

Concrete Blonde

Book Notes

Harry Bosch, book 3

Okay, this is the third book of the Harry Bosch series, and, well, the most boring and predictable of the three. The previous ones weren't boring, so having to listen to this one at 3x speed to get through it was surprising. The main plot point of the story is Bosch is being sued in civil court for the wrongful death of the Dollmaker from four years previously, a plot point mentioned many times in the previous two books, giving us lots of court scenes and predictable characters: the tough plaintiff lawyer, the bumbling city lawyer, the asshole judge. The plot does give us a way to understand the plot of the Dollmaker murders without having to read about the past, which was a good history fill-in that I liked. The misdirections in the plot, though, were boring enough to be eye-rolling with the obvious clues for the reader to figure out they were immediate misdirections.

My worry is that in three books, I've figured out Michael Connelly's style and the remaining 11 Bosch books will be boring past two. The upside is that the area of Los Angeles that the books take place in, as well as the time, are all familiar to me, making the old books a trip down memory lane.

5 in 7 days

Black Ice

Book Notes

Harry Bosch, book 2

Like Bosch book 1, I've had this book in audio format for two and a half years. I better have bought these on a steep discount, given how long I've had them and not read them. That said, I enjoyed this book, too. Similar to the first book, it had tunnels, bad cops, stupidly annoying and bumbling IAD officers (they can't possibly be this awful in real life), Los Angeles circa-my-era, the dame, and Harry Bosch in his hard-boiled detective glory.

I enjoyed the book and I'll keep reading them until I've read two in a row that suck. So far, this one is good enough to keep going.

Four books in five days. Maybe I should have set last year's 52 books in a year for this year instead.

Black Echo

Book Notes

Harry Bosch, book 1

I bought book fourteen (yes, 14) of the Harry Bosch series. I hadn't quite realized it was book fourteen of the series. The only series where I've read fourteen of the books in the series is the Harry Dresden series, and yes, that Harry is well worth the read. I didn't realize this Harry was up to fourteen books, but, eh, sure, I'll give the series a try. It's not like I don't have a stack of 60 books just waiting to be read on my nightstand or anything.

So, book ONE of the Harry BOSCH, not Dresden, not Potter, series is Black Echo. I swear I've had this book in my audio book list for two and a half years (June of 2012, actually, I just checked, so I'd be right), and have no idea why I haven't read it or listened to it. Fixed that today, and by "today" I mean, "today," because I spent the whole day putzing around the house, cleaning up the yard, and listening to it.

Okay, right, enough rambling, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is set in Los Angeles in the late 1980s with enough similarity to when I was there in the late 1990s, that I knew where everything was. A lot of the scenes in Hollywood were where I had gone to night clubs to listen to new bands coming up, or in the canyons where I had hiked, or along Wilshire where I worked, or UCLA where I went to play ultimate, or along Silverlake where I'd bypass traffic when riding to work, that all of it came rushing back and it was a great. The book is like the old hard-boiled detective novels, with a slight twist at the end, with the good cop (Harry, of course) who everyone suspects of wrong doing because he's sticking to finding the truth even when the bad guys dressed in good guy clothes don't really want him to find the truth.

And wheeeee!

So, the personal connection kept me interested in this book. The references to the Vietnam tunnels provided a history lesson and it was a fun read. I'll read book two, which is good, because I already have it.

Three books in three days. Zoom!

How to Speak Baseball

Book Notes

Okay, THIS is the book I needed fifteen years ago. It is a list of baseball terms, in alphabetical order, with some cute illustrations thrown into it. Much of the baseball lingo I've heard Kris use, and a lot of it that I had never heard, was in this book. I was, after reading it, surprised to realize how many terms I did know, which just proves you can learn baseball by osmosis.

The only problem I could find in the book is that it lacked the definition of "High Cheese Ball." I can't understand why such an auspicious term would have been left out of this wonderfully enjoyable baseball lexicon.

White Night

Book Notes

I am uncertain how many times I've read this book. This is at least the fourth time through; my count is likely higher, though. It has one of my favorite Harry scenes in it, even though it isn't one of my top three favorite Dresden books.

The book has the typical Dresden banter and an interesting plot twist. It wraps up a couple ongoing story points, presents Harry and human, and gives us a moment to see Harry's breaking point. The story arc of this book isn't quite the typical Dresden story arc, which is refreshing if you've been on a Dresden streak and understand Butcher's Dresden formula.

I like that Elaine is back in the storyline. The glimpses into her life, as well as the display of her power, are interesting. Reading about Molly and her apprenticeship from the perspective of having read the subsequent seven books is also refreshing.

As always, love the Dresden books. I will, unsurprisingly and of course, read this one again.

2014 Year in Review

Book Notes

I read these books in 2014. I didn't reach my goal of one book a week, for 52 books for the year. I did okay, though. Instead of doing full book reviews, I'm just dumping them all in this list. Hopefully, I'll be better in 2015.

  • The Shining Girls (Lauren Beukes)

    Fast read, a bit jarring in the plot twists that come with trying to span two stories that occur 100 years apart.

  • Darkness Visible (William Styron)

    Styron's account of depression, and the closest account I've read that describes the descent into the hell that blackness is.

  • Acceptance (Jeff VanderMeer)
    Authority (Jeff VanderMeer)
    Annihilation (Jeff VanderMeer)

    I did not like these books. I read them as fast as I could. I was confused after the first one, slightly less confused after the second and ready to throw the third book into the fire. I was never able to see the world VanderMeer was trying to create. It was one gigantic white blur of crappy story-telling.

    Plot is some event happened that made this dome of the East Coast impenetrable, where time is accelerated and man's influence (toxins and poisons and the like) are removed. It's a bizarro worm hole to another world, but you never really know that and it's all a giant fog, like the writing. I do not recommend these books.

  • The Witch with No Name (Kim Harrison)

    Final book of the Hollows series. An eye-roll but expected ending to the series. I enjoyed all of the books, though I think Andy stopped reading a few books back.

  • Hidden (Alex Verus 5) (Benedict Jacka)

    Enjoying the series. Read it. Enjoyed this one.

  • Personal (Jack Reacher) (Lee Child)

    Reacher. Not else needs really be said. Recommended.

  • Lock In (John Scalzi)

    Scalzi. Not else needs really be said.

    Okay, a little more. I enjoyed it. Feels like it'll be a series. Will definitely be a movie or tv show in the future.

  • Not a Drill (Jack Reacher novella) (Lee Child)

    Novella that leads into Personal, short, with a nominally pointless plot, but Reacher.

  • Chosen (Alex Verus 4) (Benedict Jacka)
    Taken (Alex Verus 3) (Benedict Jacka)
    Cursed (Alex Verus 2) (Benedict Jacka)
    Fated (Alex Verus 1) (Benedict Jacka)

    Okay, I think Jim Butcher recommended Benedict Jacka's books. Well, Butcher or maybe Harry Connolly. Either way, the books are entertaining. I read all four of the published books, boom, boom, boom, and thoroughly enjoyed them. The world is different than the Dresden world, but Jacka hints at Harry Dresden, which is just delightful.

    The books are serial, you should read them sequentially. The humour isn't Dresden/Butcher-esque, but the books are a fun read. I preordered the fifth book immediately, and added Jacka to my buy-the-next-book-published list.

  • City of Heavenly Fire (Cassandra Clare)
    City of Lost Souls (Cassandra Clare)
    City of Fallen Angels (Cassandra Clare)
    City of Glass (Cassandra Clare)
    City of Ashes (Cassandra Clare)
    City of Bones (Cassandra Clare)

    I read these straight through. I really enjoyed the first one. The second one was fun. I grew tired of the series around the fourth one and had to plow through the last one to finish. One of the great things about the books is that the main female character is a strong one, though, god, are teenagers really that stupid about communication? I remember just asking the boy questions instead of assuming what an inane action meant, but these characters seem to assume the worst in each other. When I realized the author was probably trying to recreate her childhood in a favorable way, well, the series lost its sparkle for me.

    That said, the part that I REALLY liked about these books was the idea of one's character riding in one's soul. I'm not saying that correctly, but something like when a soul is taken from a body, that person is no longer who you thought they were, that the new soul / entity in the body is that, a new person. I'm not describing it well. The idea is thought provoking, to the point that I consider it still, from time to time. It's like the tumor that causes certain behaviors in people, remove the tumor and the unexpected, erratic behavior disappears. It's a fascinating bit of ethics.

    Thankfully, these books WERE NOT Twilight, he's so perfect, Bella Swan crap. *shudder*

  • Skin Game Dresden 14 (Jim Butcher)


    I read it three times. It's a good one.

  • Unlocked (Locked In prequel novella) (John Scalzi)

    Okay, having read World War Z, I have to say that this book paled in comparison. They are both oral histories of the world they are describing, this one being a lead into Locked In. The big difference is that in WWZ, Brooks managed to get the different voices of the persons being interviewed, whereas Scalzi did not. In WWZ, you could feel the shift in tone, demeanor, phrasing of the different interview subjects; you could hear the different voices, the accents; you could see the body language.

    In Unlocked, all I heard was Scalzi's story-telling voice. It was one person, first person omniscient, telling everyone's stories.

    However, see above: Scalzi.

  • Allegiant (Veronica Roth)
    Insurgent (Veronica Roth)
    Divergent (Veronica Roth)

    After the Hunger Games, but unsurprised that I read these. Thankfully, I read them before the movie came out. The first book was great. The second book is as most second books are: get me to the third book. In this case, the third book was okay. I enjoyed reading about O'Hare, since I go through there a lot, and can imagine the airport. Downside, holy crap does the author have her distances wrong. The people in the city would totally see the airplanes taking off, and Lake Michigan is not that far away that they wouldn't know about it.

  • The Antidote (Oliver Burkeman)

    Read this one three times. Highly recommended.

  • The Undead Pool (Kim Harrison)

    Second to last Hollows book. Enjoyed it.

  • 47 Ronin (John Allyn)

    Did not particularly enjoy this one. Listed to it at 2x speed most of the way, with 3x speed to hurry it up.

  • A Forest of Stars (Saga of the Seven Suns, Book 2)
    Hidden Empire (Saga of the Seven Suns, Book 1)

    There are seven books in this series. After book two, I couldn't have cared less about the characters, I cared so little. The books are written to describe large time spans, with brief glimpses into moments, so that you don't see the years of boredom in between the glimpses. After I finished the second book, my thought was, "F--- it, where's the Wikipedia page?" I read that, knew the plot, and felt nothing but relief about my choice not to continue with five more of these books.

  • Emperor Mollusk vs the Sinister Brain (A. Lee Martinez)

    Okay, I know what the author is trying to do here: something so campy and over the top that it's unpredictable and humorous. It failed. I found it campy and annoying. Not recommended.

  • Anansi Boys (Neil Gaiman)

    Kris recommended this one. I enjoyed it.

  • One Second After (William R. Forstchen)

    Wow, I struggled with this one. The struggle likely began with the forward by Newt Gingrich. If that's not a turn off, I don't know what would be.

    The basic premise is that America goes post-apocalyptic after an EMP takes out all electronics in the United States. I can totally agree with the premise, I can even agree with the horrors that would happen with no communication methods and the lost art of self-reliance. The book itself, however, I had to play on triple speed because it was so slow. If I had had the print version, every fourth word would have sufficed.

    So, boring, but important.

  • Deadly Decisions (Kathy Reichs)
    Deja Dead (Kathy Reichs)
    Death Du Jour (Kathy Reichs)

    Well, I liked these books well enough to read three of them. Which is to say, I bought the first one, read the first chapter, liked it enough to buy the next two books, continued reading the first book, and thought, ugh.

    The books are good enough to read the first few. I didn't enough them enough to keep reading past the ones I had already bought.

  • World War Z (Max Brooks)
  • First Grave on the Right (Darynda Jones)
  • Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely)

Being Mortal

Book Notes

Read this book.

I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. Aside from the fact that Atul Gawande's writing is wonderful and engaging, the topic of end-of-life care is too important not to read about it, especially when you're young enough to be able to do something about it. Saving for retirement is not enough. Thinking about this and preparing can't be stressed enough. Having read it, I am no-way-no-how going to move my mom or my dad or Eric or anyone elder and well-established whom I need to care for, from their homes when they are older.

I can seriously hope that if I'm faced with "do this procedure, get maybe 3 more years of questionable-quality life" vs "don't do this procedure, get maybe 1 more year of quality life" I have the strength and wisdom to choose the latter.

Read. This. Book. I mean it. I'll buy a copy, I mean it so much.

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking

Book Notes

When at Webstock (holy f---, once again, an amazing conference) this year, Liz Danzico gave a great talk about giving up, quitting, and how, "... sometimes, the middle is the end" in projects. The talk was engaging and struck close to my heart in many ways. One of the many books she referenced and drew from was The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking (affiliate link). With a title like that, heck yes, I bought a copy before the conference was over.

The book has 9 sections, ranging from the cult of positive thinking to stoicism to embracing insecurity to the folly of focusing on goals to accepting death as a way of life to negative capability. Each section / chapter has a central theme, some story or author adventure, and a suggestion on how this different way of not-embracing positive thinking has helped others and can help the reader in leading a better life (for their definition of better).

Having read a number of studies about how positive thinking doesn't really work in many cases, as it's essentially sticking your head in the sand about reality, and that visualizing achieving your goals causes your brain to reward you for already having achieved them reducing your desire to continue to pursue them, I was eager to read this book.

It did not disappoint.

There's immediate advice that I took to heart, much of it about stoicism and meditating, along with embracing insecurity and letting go of the belief we can control things. I've been seeing the world as it is, and less through my emotions, opinions and history. I've taken the few minutes, not always as long as I'd like, to listen to my breathing and calm myself. I've been trying to go outside of my comfort zone every day for the last couple months ("An adventure!"), and have experiences I would normally never consider. And, I've been accepting that things happen, whether from the actions of other people, entropy or whatever.

I highly recommend this book. I bought the audio version to listen to when I'm doing non-concentrating activities around the house (dishes, cooking, riding the bus). It's one of very few audiobooks I listen to 1x speed, instead of my usual 1.5x speed, it's that well read and written.

Along with The Happiness Hypothesis (also an affiliate link), this book goes into the "will read again, likely once a year" category, for finding balance.

World War Z

Book Notes

Having read Mira Grant's Feed Trilogy, er, Newsflesh trilogy, with Feed, Deadline and Blackout, I have to say, I'm enjoying zombie apocalypse books more than I expected to enjoy them. Those three are great, if you want a good zombie series. With the movie World War Z out, I thought, well, hey, let's read the book.

And to my surprise, I enjoyed the book, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War a lot. More than I was expecting to enjoy it.

The book is a collection of interviews, as told to a reporter who published them when he realized they wouldn't be included in a report about the zombie apocalypse. The interviews go from the first responders for patient zero, through denial and folly of what was happening, through the eventual figuring out how things work, to recovery. The writing style is quick and enjoyable, yet the interviews are in different voices, something often hard to do with a writing structure with many people speaking. I liked how the stories tied in, with some interviews referencing other interviewees and some interviewees reinterviewed years later.

For a quick zombie book, this one is great. Worth all the positive reviews it received.

First Grave on the Right

Book Notes

I'm not sure why I purchased this book. I think I wanted more of the Anita Blake series, but Anita Blake from the first two books, not from the crap that came later in the third through whatever books. This one, The First Grave on the Right, seemed to fit the bill: female protagonist with supernatural powers (can't get more super than being the Grim Reaper) with a bit of mystery or crime drama and plot points. Yeah, sounded like it could work.

Imagine my disappointment when the book opens with a sex scene. I really thought I wouldn't get another vampire crappy erotica book.

Fortunately, this book wasn't all erotica, which was great. Wasn't any vampires either. Yay!

There was a lot of sass, and not the Sass kind, a bit of humour, a number of zinger one-liners, some mystery and an entertaining reader (since I listened to the audiobook). The sass became tiresome a few times, with the main character, Charley Davidson, coming across more as a spoiled, whiny brat than a functioning private investigator with the abilities of not-dying and talking with ghosts. There seemed little unfinished at the end of the book, no tantalizing question that would lure the reader to read another book in the series (and apparently it's an ongoing series, six books).

It was an amusing fast read. I'd say, play the book at 1.5 speed on the audiobook for best effect, and worth a discounted Kindle or Audible read.

Predictably Irrational

Book Notes

I tried reading Predictably Irrational (affiliate link) about a year ago. I made it about half way through before other books captured my attention. I restarted it at the beginning last week and read through it rapidly. Totally worth reading it. I recommend it highly.

The basic premise of Predictably Irrational is exactly what the title is: people don't act rationally with a lot of things, yet that irrational behavior is somewhat predictable. The book is a gentle introduction to behavioral economics, which doesn't believe that people act completely rational when making decisions about their economic well-being (that rationality being a fundamental belief in most economic models people know about). The book explains that people do a lot of odd things, describes experiments that address the odd things, and gives the outcomes, explanations, and interpretations of the results.

There are immediate applications of the explanations, both from an offense (I'm trying to sell you something) and a defense (I'm trying not to be hoodwinked into buying something I don't really need / want) perspective. The chapter on Free! is great, as well as the section on how we overvalue what we own more than if we don't own it; which explains why, say, people selling an item (car, house, thingy) always want more than the non-owners are willing to pay. We all suck at making decisions when we're sexually aroused, and oddly how price affects the effectiveness of placebos.

I'm glad I read it twice. While I absolutely don't act rationally with a lot of financial items (hello, house next door to Dad), I recognize more frequently now when I'm not. I also notice when I'm being influenced by some of the techniques and observations presented in the book. This self-awareness is fantastic.

So, yeah, highly recommended.

Pragmatic Guide to Sass

Book Notes

Pragmatic Guide to Sass, by Hampton Catlin and Michael Lintorn Catlin
128 pages
Published: 2011-12-16
ISBN: 978-1-93435-684-5

When I was first becoming a professional programmer, I worked with a consultant who, despite being newer to the language and IDE I was using, was able to teach me some new syntax and features. When I asked how he knew these things, he pulled out an intermediate book on the language and commented, "You find a lot of new tricks reading the manual cover to cover."

In that vein, I picked up the Pragmatic Bookshelf's Pragmatic Guide to Sass by Hampton Catlin and Michael Lintorn Catlin. It is a relatively short read at 126 pages, made shorter by the function reference that starts at page 107, and the Haml introduction at page 114

The book is a fast read, made up of tasks and Sass solutions. The basics of the concepts are introduced: variables, imports, mixin, extend, math operators, @each and @if, along with a number of conventions that would surprise anyone who didn't know about them. I'm thinking of the underscore-prefixed file name convention for Sass files that are not standalone after compiling (partial imports) with that comment.

The book is a couple years out of date, and could be updated to include new Sass and Compass features such as namespacing and possibly defining custome sass functions.

As a introduction book, which this book describes itself as, it works. As a refresher book, which this book describes itself as, it works less well. It skims over some of the whys one would use a feature, in favor of how one uses a feature, and doesn't contrast features much. As an introduction, this could be okay for most designers or developers. I prefer the whys, even if only in a sidebar.

This book was good for what it is, an introduction, but left me wanting far more.