Level up!

Three main types of books I'm into: -Fantasy (pure indulgence) -Childrens (also fun- none of this pretentious "YA" crap) -Classics (this is where I'm "leveling up" my intelligence stats. +1!)
Next - Michael Crichton

Aside from the obvious puns about how this was the Next book I was going to read, and that my wife was going to read it Next....

 

 

So this was one of the least enjoyable Michael Crichton books out there.

 

All about genetics, genetically modifying organisms, gene editing, gene therapy, etcetera.

 

Crichton comes off kinda heavy handed and preachy in this one. Although I enjoyed learning a lot about genetics (see, that's what you get from reading Crichton-- you learn about stuff without realizing it), the story was really fragmented. It's like the author had lots of okay ideas about stories involving genetics, but no real good ideas, so he just mixed them all together.

 

One thing this book suffered from is lack of any real good guys. Nearly every character was slimy, underhanded, despicable, or weak in some way. Part of me wonders if this is a deliberate way for Crichton to get his readers to involuntarily dislike genetic engineering, but based on his diatribes (spelled out awfully clearly in-text, and even more deliberately in the afterword), he's not opposed to genetic engineering, and in fact, thinks it's the wave of the future.

 

Anyway, some of the sci-fi stuff was a little out there (a human-chimpanzee hybrid that we're supposed to sympathize with?), but I guess I shouldn't  rag on this book too much. After all, it was a fun, quick read, and I learned stuff.

 

...but if you're looking for a good Crichton book to start with, this is not it. Instead I'd recommend Sphere, Congo, Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain, Prey.

 

The Satanic Verses - Salman Rushdie

I've been hesitant to read this one, because I heard that it doesn't quite live up to the legend surrounding it.

 

In case you don't remember the hoopla about this book, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Satanic_Verses_controversy should get you up to speed.

 

I also read Joseph Anton before I read this, which was really interesting and shows that truth is almost as strange and compelling as fiction.

 

 

Anyways, in short? No, this doesn't live up to the hype. How could it? That being said, this is definitely a Major Work and one of Salman Rushdie's better novels.

 

 

Was it blasphemous? Well, I might be a bit offended if I were a muslim, as it does fictionalize an account of the prophet Muhammad, and gently question him. I could see how it could offend people, but honestly? a death sentence for a non-believer? That's beyond the pale. I am firmly in the camp that nobody can tell the other team what to do or not to do. I drew a stick figure on Draw Muhammed day, too. Je Suis Charlie.

 

Anyway, any ideology that can't take this gentle of a ribbing obviously won't stand up to serious intellectual scrutiny anyways. I've heard Jesus jokes before. I don't repeat them, but I also don't kill those who make them.

 

 

...but was the book good? Yeah, it was. A little tough to follow in parts, but great. It had about 6 intertwining sets of characters/storylines, some of which shared names, etc. They didn't come together the way I expected (which was a good thing) and kept me guessing until the end what was going to happen.

 

I love how the book starts out-- with a conversation between two guys falling from an exploding plane at 24,000 feet... It only gets weirder from there.

 

In the end, I think Rushdie's message was about ideas and power. How do the powerless act towards the powerful, and how do they act when the roles are reversed? That's also interesting in light of the book's controversy, as a certain powerful world religion with millions of followers with AK-47s, and their reaction to one (mostly) powerless author is telling.

 

 

One thing that surprised me about the book, is I expected the Devil to become a major character. There were a few small hints throughout that our characters were being manipulated by some nefarious force, but in the end, it just ended up being their own human faults that drove them onward.

 

Oh-- and a very, very Rushdiesque moment-- there's a character, Alleluia Cone, always described as imposing, cold, maybe icy. ...and then 3/4 of the way through the book, Rushdie calls her "The Icequeen Cone" and I almost fell over laughing... all that setup for a pun. Oh man, I love Rushdie's writing. It works on so many levels, including stupid puns.

(show spoiler)

 

Also, the novel does a good job of describing the cultural circumstances of contemporary (80s) London. Boy, there was a lot of racism and badness happening. Apparently 80s London was way more "Guns of Brixton" than "Our House". I have a hard time imagining that much racist badness happening in my lifetime, in the era of Princess Di. Guess that's my privilege showing again.

 

Anyway, a great book. Not Rushdie's best, because he's a fantastic author, but a great book nonetheless.

 

 

Airframe - Michael Crichton

I read this in about 24 hours, so that speaks of how compelling of a read this one is.

 

Somehow I missed this Crichton thriller when it came out. It's a gripping thriller, plus I learned a lot more about aircraft manufacture in 1 day than having a brother work at Boeing for a few years.

 

What makes Crichton books interesting is that he takes you into the minds of experts, and you inadvertently learn a lot about the subject material (dinosaurs, archeology, medicine, what-have-you). This didn't have any really sci-fi technology (we're not bringing dinosaurs to life), but was still super interesting.

 

That being said, I don't think this book is one that will stay with me like Sphere, Jurassic Park, or Andromeda Strain. A fun read, though.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library - Chris Grabenstein

A very fun kids' book. This book knowingly (and even textually) admits a big debt to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but if there's room for more than one Willy Wonka in the world, Mr. Lemoncello is a fantastic second.

 

This is the kind of book I've dreamed about writing-- a book-lover's ode to books. There are many of those out there, but it was still nice to read all the references to great kid lit, and know that I've read about 90% of the books referenced. (now to track down the other 10%).

 

Anyway, my only complaint is that the book is very pro-Dewey Decimal system, while I'm a convert to Library of Congress. (they do mention LoC organization at one point late in the book)

 

This book was fun and silly. The kid characters were a little one-dimensional and not all the way fleshed out, but what can you expect from a kid's book?

 

I'm going to stop overanalyzing it and read some more. You should too.

Shalimar the Clown - Salman Rushdie

One of Rushdie's best.

 

Somehow managing to span continents and worlds in the way that only Rushdie can do, our character Shalimar the Clown manages to learn dying kashmiri folk art, mujahdeen terrorism, how to join a prison gang, and how to drive a deLorean.

 

Complex and interwoven, it manages to break down the boundaries between east and west, between good and evil, between political and personal.

 

Aw heck, read it already.

The Figure in the Shadows - John Bellairs

Definitely not as classic as The House with the Clock in its Walls.

 

Most jarring was the change of illustrators. Mercer Mayer (!) .... doesn't really come from  the same planet that Edward Gorey does. Now don't get me wrong, I love me some Little Monster, and he actually captures the new character Rose Rita pretty darn well. It's just hard for him to be creepy and have me take it seriously.

 

There were some definitely chilling parts to this book, but the general level of peril seemed lower. Also in this book (just like the first), everything could have been solved if Lewis ever actually talked to his Uncle Jonathan... He apparently didn't learn his lesson the first time.

 

Ah well, kid fiction. It was fun and quick, why am I complaining?

The House With a Clock in Its Walls - Edward Gorey, John Bellairs

I swear it wasn't until halfway through reading this that I learned that they're making a movie of this.

 

...although SOMETHING inspired me to seek out this book. I remember classmates reading it when I was a kid, and I remember the creepy Gorey illustrations.

 

I wasn't much for horror as a kid. Didn't have an appetite for it. Now that I'm grown-up, scary kids books are just about right. Definitely no scary grown-up books for me (=

 

So I thought this book was charming. Magic, derring-do, characters both charming and creepy. Great illustrations by Edward Gorey (recommended: The Shrinking of Treehorn)

 

There wasn't a lot of substance to it, but I loved the creepy imagery, the real childhood fitting-in drama juxtaposed with the magic stuff.

 

Definitely not in my top 10 adventure/magic books for kids, but fun nonetheless.

 

So, I guess I'll be seeing the movie.

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights - Salman Rushdie

Salman rushdie-- dense, funny, lyrical. There were many places I laughed out loud. "This is just like Gozer the Gozarian..."

 

...so why wasn't this book better? It seems like Rushdie spent the first two-thirds of the book setting up this fun world, with these bizarre coincidences, wordplay, allusions to history, himself, pop culture, comic books, and everything...

 

...and then he lost interest in the last third and just kinda halfheartedly completed it.

 

It didn't help that the book is written in Rushdie's usual flashbacky past-tense, so that by the time the action happens, it's already been alluded to five or six times.

 

Anyway, not the best Rushdie, but Rushdie is one of the best authors.

The Face In The Frost - John Bellairs

Wizards!

 

This is my introduction to John Bellairs. I'm going to read his more well-known gothic horror stuff next.

 

,,,but first, wizards!

 

 

There is something ineffably '60s about this book, but in a light and fun way. Some passages are downright funny and remind me of Hitchhiker's guide.

 

Bellairs does a good job of writing emotion. He doesn't explain the mechanics of the world, or how spells work, or even really describe a scene, so much as the associated emotions.

 

This book was full of fear and dread, and I can see why he is known as a horror writer. Every time night fell, I was dreading what would happen next to our plucky heroes. They tended to stumble through their adventures and come out alright, although they never seemed to know what they were doing until it was over.

 

Anyway, it's an enjoyable read. I can see readers getting frustrated over the lack of detail or consistency in the magical world, but I think it's super fun and would highly recommend it.

The Hidden City - David Eddings

Again, not much to say other than this is book 6 of 6 of my favorite book series.

 

 

Bhlokw for the win.

The Shining Ones - David Eddings

My favorite book series.

 

I don't have much more to say, but I sure devoured these books again, and loved them as much as I always do.

Domes of Fire (Tamuli) - David Eddings

Book 4/6 of my favorite series.

 

You would think that after destroying an evil god, saving a princess, and generally kicking the forces of evil's collective butt, that Sparkhawk would be done. Instead, he's got strange new countries to visit and new adventures.

 

I'm so glad we get to spend time with Stragen, Mirtai, queen Betuana, Elron, Empress Elysoun, Caalador, and Princess Danae (just to name a few). Ulath hates sieges, yet

suggests one at every opportunity,

(show spoiler)

and they have

not one, but at least three great siege battles

(show spoiler)

in this book. The business at the end with

the rioting and the defending of the Elene Castle

(show spoiler)

is one of my favorite scenes in all these books.

 

Plus, we've got Elysoun vs. Berit, and Emperor Sarabian, who is a force unto himself.

 

If I ever have twin girls, I'll name them Danae and Aphrael. If it's triplets, Danae, Aphrael, and Flute.

The Sapphire Rose - David Eddings

Sparhawk-from-Elenia hunts! Now, go away!

 

I'll say it again: THIS IS MY FAVORITE BOOK SERIES.

 

So fun to spend time with these characters. It's especially good to have Queen Ehlana awake in this one. I remember being quite surprised at her personality and ...umm.. assertiveness the first time I read this.

 

I think that one could read the character of Ehlana as some sort of authorial wish-fulfillment or something, but as I reread these, Ehlana's got her own very distinct and interesting personality, and I can't help but wonder whether she's based on Eddings' wife Leigh. I can tell he's got a lot of love for this character, and I guess I project that on a cantankerous old author.

 

Well, the book ends more or less how you would expect, but the journey is half the fun...

 

Maybe except for the twist at the very end about Princess Danae (!) Onwards to the second trilogy!

The Ruby Knight - David Eddings

Following Sparhawk and company on the great adventure. Did I mention these books are my favorites? Don't expect much criticism here...

 

It's been just long enough since I've read this series that I can't remember all the details of what's going to happen next, but I sure remember the characters.

 

It's in this book where the character Flute goes from never speaking in one chapter to non-stop chatter for the rest of the series. I don't mind. She's one of my favorites.

 

 

The Diamond Throne - David Eddings

A reread of what is possibly my favorite fantasy series by my favorite fantasy author.

 

Eddings has his faults -- over description of the weather, a tendency to write himself into deus ex machina, and some overreliance on racial prejudices which would be truly awful if we weren't talking about fictional races here (you know-- the whole Tolkien all-orcs-are-evil trope).

 

But who am I kidding? The reason I love fantasy (and probably the reason you love fantasy as well) is the character drama and interaction. These are fun, funny characters embarking on a fantastical adventure, and I absolutely love every single one of them

 

List of folks I love:

 

Sparhawk

Kalten

Kurik

Talen

Berit

Vanion

Dolmant

Sephrenia

Flute

Ulath

Tynian

Bevier

Platime

Arasham

 

plus I love to hate Annias, Martel, Adus, and Krager as well.

 

plus plus all the folks (Ehlana, Mirtai, Stragen!, Kring, Danae, etc. etc.) that we encounter in books two through six

 

What I did not remember was the level of adult content in these books-- nothing shocking, but don't expect me to introduce this to my 9-year-old who is devouring Harry Potter just yet.

 

Anyways, don't expect anything beyond pure gushing from me over this series. It's like coming home to an old familiar friend. I am SO enjoying this.

 

East, West: Stories - Salman Rushdie

Delightful, bite-sized Rushdie.

 

I would even recommend starting here, or with Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

 

Nine short stories told by Master Storyteller Salman Rushdie.

 

Rushdie takes us to the dusty streets of Bombay (or wherever), to Shakespearean England, Rennaissance Spain, and magical futures.

 

Each story had its own flavor-- no overarching narratives other than the collision of cultures between east and west.

 

Of course, this is Rushdie's first published work of fiction after The Great Fatwa. Makes me wonder how many of these were composed pre- or post- fatwa.

 

Anyways, It's good. And short. A nice weekend's palate cleanser.