Sunday, January 2, 2000

2011 Book Reviews

As with last year, I haven't been good about actually writing reviews. I expect I'll come back and review the more notable entries at some point, but probably not everything. In the meantime, this is at least up to date with everything I've read this year.
1. What Distant Deeps by David Drake
The latest in Drake's RCN series- while some of the elements in this felt a little repetitious, this was the best entry in a while, as it focused on some of the changes in the characters over time. Very enjoyable –if you've read the series, this is one of the better ones. If you haven't, I'd recommend starting at the beginning.

2. Search by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
This book took a lot of well-used elements- secret societies, ancient puzzles, the obsessed billionaire, the dedicated team of government agents and the loner with a quest and put them all together in a fast-paced and enjoyable whole.

The book suffers somewhat from weak characterization—some of the motivations and back-stories are not very convincing—but the flawless pacing and intriguing puzzle don't give you a lot of time to think about it.  
I'd give it a solid B. Just the thing to make a long flight go by faster, or unwind with a light thriller.

3. The Kingmaker by Brian Haig
4. Conflict of Honors by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
5. Private Sector by Brian Haig
6. Channeling Cleopatra by Elizabeth Scarborough
7. The President's Assassin by Brian Haig
8. Man in the Middle by Brian Haig
9. All Clear by Connie Willis
10. Blackout by Connie Willis
11. The World's Greatest Sleuth by Steve Hockensmith

12. His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
13. Lords of Finance by Liaquat Ahamed
14. Intrigues by Mercedes Lackey
15. Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett (reread)
16. Clay's Ark by Octavia Butler
17. Separation of Power by Vince Flynn
18. Foundation by Mercedes Lackey (reread)
19. Side Jobs by Jim Butcher
20. Trio of Sorcery by Mercedes Lackey
21. The Columbo Collection by William Link
22. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
23. Owl's Well That Ends Well by Donna Andrews
24. Jinx High by Mercedes Lackey (reread)
25. Subspace Encounter by E.E. “Doc” Smith
26. Flesh Wound by Paul Grescoe
27. By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey (reread)
28. Murder with Peacocks by Donna Andrews
29. Murder with Puffins by Donna Andrews
30. Revenge of the Wrought Iron Flamingos by Donna Andrews
31. Rotten Lies by Charlotte and Aaron Elkins
32. To Catch a Cat by Marion Babson
33. The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
34. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
35. How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown
36. Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon by Donna Andrews
37. One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde
38. We'll Always Have Parrots by Donna Andrews
39. No Nest for the Wicket by Donna Andrews
40. The Penguin Who Knew Too Much by Donna Andrews

41. Cockatiels at Seven by Donna Andrews
42. Six Geese a-Slaying by Donna Andrews
43. Swan for the Money by Donna Andrews
44. Dear Mr. Holmes by Steve Hockensmith (Holmes on the Range short story anthology)
45. Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews
46. WWW:Wonder by Robert J. Sawyer
47. Star Precinct by Kevin Randle and Richard Driscoll
48. Tiassa by Stephen Brust
49. Descent: The Heroic Discovery of the Abyss by Brad Matsen

50. The Information: A Theory, A History, A Flood by James Gleick
51. The Carbon Murder by Camille Minichino
52. The Hydrogen Murder by Camille Minichino
53. Scorpia Rising by Anthony Horowitz
54. Cathedral Cats by Richard Surman
55. Gently Landed by Alan Huntly


56. The Affair of the Thirty-Nine Cufflinks by James Anderson
While not as inventive as the first in this trio of charming period
mysteries, it had all the classic elements- maps, timetables, mixed motives, secrets and of course, a murder. Delightful- I'm only sorry that this is the last.

57. The Worst Thing by Aaron Elkins
A thriller from the hand of a mystery master- fast-paced, tense and an excellent read.

58. Shadow World by A.C.Crispin and Jannean Elliott
YA SF with interesting aliens, third in Crispin's Starbridge series.

59. The Black Swan by Mercedes Lackey
A fairy tale retelling. Readable but slight.

60. Guards, Guards by Terry Pratchett (reread)
61. Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett (reread)
62. Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett (reread)

63. The Affinity Bridge by Charles Mann
This author needs to go back to the part of creative writing class where they explain 'show not tell'. More style than substance, but fans of zombies and steampunk will doubtless like it.

64. Journeyman Wizard by Mary Frances Zambreno
A YA fantasy with mystery elements. Charming but slight- it would have been a better book if the protagonist had been allowed to actually solve the mystery as opposed to having to catch the bad guy in the act.

65. Agent of Change by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee (reread)
66. Carpe Diem by Steve Miller and Sharon Lee (reread)

67. The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush by Howard Blum
Although this is nonfiction, it is not written as a history, but rather as a tale- a story with slippery villains, a brave cowboy detective and a prospector who dreams mightily but always returns in the end to the lure of gold. Well written and well paced, this is a great read for any fan of adventure and derring-do. And it has to be true- if it were fiction, no one would ever believe it!

68. Exile's Honor by Mercedes Lackey
This is another book set in her Valdemar universe, about twenty years before the first trilogy. Probably interesting only to readers who are already invested in the universe.

69-71. The Arrows of the Queen trilogy by Mercedes Lackey (reread)
72. Winds of Fate by Mercedes Lackey (reread)

73. The Shadow of the Lion by Mercedes Lackey, Dave Freer and Eric Flint.
Better than I expected- fantasy set in an alternate Venice, adventure, political intrigue. I'll probably look for more of these.

74. A Natural History of Seeing by Simon Ing
This is a book stuffed chock-a-block with interesting facts. No contintinuing characters, no narrative thread, just lots of interesting facts. I enjoyed it- and so will anyone else with an interest in the history of science, and the inner workings of the natural world.

75. The Sorcerers and their Apprentices by Frank Moss
This is a series of short essays about the work of the MIT Media lab. I found it interesting for the glimpses of technology in development and the cross-disciplinary nature of the work, but would have liked a more in-depth look at the projects. However it's explicitly intended to make the case for the rapid-prototyping model of development (which it does well) and for the benefits of undirected research and development. It's not overly long- an interesting short read, but not notable for its quality of writing.

76. Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman
Another interesting book on neurobiology, this one focused on just how much of the brain's functions are completely invisible to us. Well written, has a lot of overlap with other books I've read, but did a good job of expressing some of these ideas from a differently focused point of view.

77. Vengeance of Dragons by Holly Lisle (The Secret Texts #2)
Surprisingly readable considering it's the middle book in a trilogy, and I have not read either the first or third. I thought it suffered a bit from a excess of villainy- as best I can tell most of the damage the bad guys have taken has involved fights with other bad guys rather than the direct action of the heroes. It covers well-trodden ground with some original twists and competent narration. I probably won't rush to seek out the others, but if they come my way I'll read them.

78. Heat Wave by 'Richard Castle'
I don't think this will work for anyone who hasn't seen the TV show Castle, but it's a fun couple of hours for fans of the show. It reads rather like an episode, with most of the series characters present and only thinly disguised. Slight but amusing for Castle fans.

79. Magic Casement by Dave Duncan
80. Faery Lands Forlorn by Dave Duncan
81. Perilous Seas by Dave Duncan
82. Emperor and Clown by Dave Duncan
These are part of a four-part series called A Man of His Word. They should definitely be read when you have all of them in hand, because cliffhangers are not uncommon. It's a fantasy quest, distinguished by imaginative worldbuilding and excellent pacing. I found the female heroine a bit annoying, but the series as a whole quite engrossing. I read the four books in a bit over three days, and stayed up (unwisely) late finishing two of them. Very enjoyable.

83. The Cutting Edge by Dave Duncan
84. Upland Outlaws by Dave Duncan
85. The Stricken Field by Dave Duncan
These are part of a four-part series called A Handful of Men. See the review at item 96, the last book in the series.

86. The Cold Light of Mourning by Elizabeth Duncan
A first book, one part novel, one part amateur sleuth mystery and one part police procedural. A little uneven- the killer was fairly obvious to the reader at about the midpoint, and one crucial clue was handed to the protagonist early on and simply overlooked until the climax. But it was lively enough that I'll have a look at the second, and see if it's better.

87. Dragon's Blood by Jane Yolen
This is YA science fiction and a book that inspired legions of imitations. A bit simple for my adult taste, but I'd have enjoyed in my younger days.

88. A Brush with Death by Elizabeth Duncan
I'd had hopes that the second novel in this series would be less rough than the first one...unfortunately I was rather disappointed. This was much as the first only with less editing. It doesn't lack appeal- the author has a lot of good ideas, if only they were better put together. For example- the setup - new information turning up about a thirty-year-old death is perfect for a ball-of-twine type mystery, where one clue leads to the next. But was aimed halfway between the ball of twine and the jigsaw puzzle (where all the clues are out in the open but it takes the detective to show how they fit together)- and didn't quite settle on either. Clues turn up that the protagonist assumes are part of the puzzle (based on no evidence whatsoever) --and turn out to be completely irrelevant- not red herrings, they simply have no effect on the story at all. Two possible suspects are introduced and then dropped from the narrative without being developed. A second murder is committed for very little apparent reason. The person eventually revealed to be the murderer is located by chance about halfway through the book...but not until the climax does the detective try to investigate this person. And even taken as a straight novel with mystery elements...the protagonist makes some frankly silly decisions that are both not especially well supported in the narrative, and which lend nothing to the mystery. I really wanted to like this, for the book it was trying to be, but I can't give it better than a C-. And there I'm probably being too generous.

89.  In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson is always good fun, but this is outstanding even among his other work.   I giggled intermittently through this account of his travels in Australia, and learned a lot I hadn't known along the way.  Highly recommended.

90.  Longshot by Dick Francis (reread)


91.  Knit One, Kill Two by Maggie Sefton
I was unimpressed with the second in this series, but the first one landed in my living room by chance.    This is more a novel with a mystery plot than an actual mystery- the murder is solved by having a giant Clue plopped down in front of the protagonist once enough book had gone by that it was nearing a salable length.    The characters are pleasant enough, and I quite like the looks of the recipe and knitting pattern in the back, but I won't be seeking any of these out.

92.  A Rumor of Bones by Beverly Connor
Interesting archeology and forensics don't really compensate for the lack of plot.   This was an improvement on my last read, mainly because it didn't try to be a whodunnit, and rather fed the reader a steady stream of new bodies and information, but the eventual revelation of the killer was anticlimactic, and a second murderer is caught only by having a crucial piece of evidence turn up at the end of the book...moreover, a piece of evidence that was actually found much earlier.   I'll probably give another of these a try, if only because forensic anthropology is interesting, and Aaron Elkins doesn't write fast enough.
93.  In the Frame by Dick Francis (reread)

94.  Big Black Hole by Wilma Kahn
A mystery and an author I hadn't heard of, evidently for good reason.  It starts promisingly enough- a private investigator, and a suicide that might not be.  However the detective unfortunately fails to detect anything, and only succeeds in catching the killer because the murderer is stupid enough to make three unsuccessful attempts to kill her, for no obvious reason. A good deal of the book is taken up with the detective's relationships with various secondary characters, none of which particularly have anything to do with the story.   Profoundly unimpressive.

95.  The Sniper's Wife by Archer Mayor
Mayor writes a workmanlike mystery, but I tend to find his usual main character, Joe Gunther, pleasant but a little dull.  The kind of guy you invite for barbecue, introduce to your sister, and can count on to help move heavy furniture.    In The Sniper's Wife, Mayor has shifted Joe to the back seat and has written a book featuring Gunther's usual sidekick Willy Kunkle- who isn't nearly as nice but is a lot more interesting to read about.   It's got clues, it's got action, it's got complex motivations, and if there were a few details about the ending (which happens to be set in an area I'm extremely familar with) that are more dramatic than realistic, it's okay- I didn't really notice until afterward because the narrative had my full attention.   A good read.

96.  The Living God by Dave Duncan
In any multibook fantasy you have the problem of repeating yourself, and this series, A Handful of Men (sequel to the four book series A Man of his Word)  does suffer a bit from sameness.  At the same time, it has the satisfying quality of returning to likeable characters some years later and seeing what they've done with themselves.  Basically- another fantasy quest, with some of the same players and some new ones.  Very enjoyable and entertaining.  And if the climax wasn't much of a was at least very well executed.    If you liked the first series, you'll probably enjoy this one as well, and if you haven't read the first series, that's definitely the place to start.  Also- get all four books in a section before starting the first- between book cliffhangers are pretty much the rule.

97.  Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik
Second in the Temeraire trilogy, this is unusually a coming of age story... for the dragon.  The story moves a bit slowly, but is saved by the charm of Temeraire himself, and the appealingly honorable Laurence.  It is considerably more idea-focused that most fantasy.  I'll be interested to see what is done in the third book.

98.  The Bad Place by Dean Koontz
A reprint of one of his early novels, it's his trademark mix of horror and SF.   Interesting characters make it more appealing than the usual horror midlist,   The violence was unusually graphic for Koontz.

99.  The Conspiracy Club by Jonathan Kellerman
One of Kellerman's standalone novels, and a clever and twisty thriller.  Very enjoyable.

100.  Monster by Jonathan Kellerman
This is #13 in his Alex Delaware series.  Competent and workmanlike, and certainly a good beach or plane ride diversion, but it irritated me that I had figured out the plot by the middle of the book.

101.  Mind Prey by John Sandford
Exquisitely craftsmanlike, very well paced, it's the perfect blend of a thriller and a police procedural.   Extremely well done.  On the downside, there was a considerable amount of crude language and I didn't especially like or identify with any of the characters.  But this is clearly a middle book in a series and I might have found the detective more sympathetic if I'd read some of the earlier books.  I will likely seek out at least one more of these.

102.  Break In by Dick Francis (reread)
103.  Bolt by Dick Francis (reread)
104.  Ghost Story by Jim Butcher
This is the latest installment in the Harry Dresden series, and as usual, Butcher delivers an enjoyable read.    This one explores some of the consequences of the last book, but keeps you on the edge of your seat regarding Harry's ultimate fate.  Absolutely not a good place to start the series; the Dresden series benefits from being read in order, and the last several books in this series have absolutely depended on the reader being familiar with the previous work.
105.  Simon's Cat, Beyond the Fence by Simon Tofield
Okay, to say I 'read' this is kind of an exaggeration, but for fans of animator and cartoonist Simon Tofield, this is another charming collection of acutely observed and lovingly drawn cat cartoons.   I am hard put to choose a favorite, but cat crop circles are way up there.  Go and enjoy. 

106. Storm Front by Jim Butcher (reread)
107. Fool Moon by Jim Butcher (reread)
108.  Grave Peril by Jim Butcher (reread)

109.  From the Corner of his Eye by Dean Koontz
Although I'm not really a horror fan, I do make an exception for Dean Koontz.  His horror often tends to the science-fictional (which this isn't), but more importantly, his work generally features appealing and extraordinary characters, is written with a craftsman's knowledge of plot and pacing, and is simply an entertaining read.   Plotwise, this wasn't his strongest effort, as the vastly elongated timeframe, and historical notes made the pacing a bit odd, but it was made up for by a largely quite charming lot of characters.  I give it three stars. 
110. Timecaster by Joe Kimball
If you're looking for a fast-paced SF-flavored thriller with lots of sex and violence, on about the level of an action movie, this will do very well.  Unfortunately I bought it hoping for a classic puzzle-type SF mystery.  Oh well.  I'll know better next time.

111.  A Civil Campaign by Lois Bujold (reread)
112.  A Clutch of Constables by Ngaio Marsh (reread)

113.  The Battle of Britain, Five Months that Changed History; May-October 1940 by  Tom Holland
This was a fascinating read on many levels;  it showed both the point of view of the policymakers and of soldiers and civilians, all based on thousands of hours of interviews letters and diary accounts.  It showed the attitudes of both sides- as many Germans as Britains.  And it chilling painted a picture of history balanced on a knife edge- there were many points where things could have turned out differently; had one mistake been made or rectified, had the weather been different--as well as the larger systemic reasons that history turned out the way it did.  Despite being a dense and often technical account, Holland has a clear and vivid style of prose, making this as accessible to the casual reader as to the armchair historian.  He does a good job of bringing a broad confilct to life while making clear the complex of causal factors that drove events.

114.  Crossfire by Dick and Felix Francis
A definite step up from the last father and son effort; this benefits from much stronger plotting.   It still has some ways to go to match Francis pater's best efforts -  characterization remains a bit thin- but I'm rather encouraged by the continuing improvement.  I will at last check the next Felix Francis novel.

115.  Flying Finish by Dick Francis (reread)

116. Ghost Ship by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

117. Gamble by Felix Francis

118.  An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire

119 and 120.  Radius of Doubt/Path of Fire by Charles Ingrid (omnibus of first two novels in Patterns of Chaos series).

121.  Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (reread)

122 and 123 The Downfall Matrix/Soulfire by Charles Ingrid (omnibus of third and fourth novels in Patterns of Chaos series).
This aspired to be a sweeping science fiction epic, and it had a lot of fun elements, but it didn't quite manage to make it all come together at the end.

124. A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge (reread)

125. Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik
126. Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik
127. Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik

128. Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings (reread)
129. Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings (reread)
130. Magician's Gambit by David Eddings (reread)
140. Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings (reread)

141. Children of the Sky by Verner Vinge
This wasn't as outstanding as the prior book, and it suffers considerably from many plot threads being left for the next book to resolve. However, an adequate Vinge novel is a lot better than average, and I did enjoy this one. I'm just hoping it doesn't take another ten years for the third (and presumably final) book.

142. The Good Friday Murders by Lee Harris
This had a good setup, some interesting detection--and then the story completely fell apart and had a thriller-type ending tacked on. Quite disappointing.

143. Size 12 Is Not Fat by Meg Cabot
This was a cross between chicklit and a mystery, and worked better than I was expecting. Although I tend to regard the fashion-and-appearance conscious female characters as an alien species, it was light and entertaining. The mystery was rather pedestrian, but carried out in a craftsman-like fashion.

144. Search the Shadows by Barbara Michaels
A rather slight entry into the Michaels/Peters oeuvre; the mystery was reasonable but the character was uninteresting and the obligatory romance unconvincing.

144. Enchanter's Endgame by David Eddings (reread)

145. Size 14 Is Not Fat Either by Meg Cabot
146. Big Boned by Meg Cabot
Two more in the same series as 143. Less fashion, more murder and the quirky cast of amusing characters. Lighthearted fun.

147.Access Denied by Donna Andrews
148.Click Here for Murder by Donna Andrews
149.Rules of Prey by John Sandford

150. Reamde by Neal Stephenson

151. Shadow Prey by Neal Stephenson

152. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

153. When the Tide Rises by David Drake (reread)

154. Into the Darkness by Barbara Michaels

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