Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 17 -- The Talhoffer Society

by Michael Edelson

Started: March 2
Finished: March 6

Notes: To my knowledge, this is the first and only novel centered around HEMA, Historical European Martial Arts, of which I am a former practitioner (former because of health reasons). It apparently involves a bloodsport type plot in which characters face off in a longsword competition that is quite deadly. I'll learn more as I read. And for those wondering who or what Tolhoffer happens to be, Hans Tolhoffer was a 15th Century fencing master.

Mini review: For anyone familiar with the historical swording community ... heck, even for those who aren't familiar ... there's a lot of longsword fanboy wish fulfillment to be found here. But ya know what, a lot of fiction is basically wish fulfillment, so there's not necessarily anything wrong with that. This is also a thriller, so there can be some moments of the outlandish common to many a modern thriller. The writing is decent enough, not great but it doesn't suck, and it gets better as the book goes along. For those with interests in historical swordsmanship, there is a lot here that's informational, especially concerning the longsword, rapier and somewhat concerning the Japanese arts. Definitely worth a read.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 16 -- Give the Boys a Great Big Hand

by Ed McBain

Started: Feb. 27
Finished: March 1

Notes: Yep, it's another 87th Precinct novel. I've a huge stack of these things, and they've got to be read.

Mini review: The title of this one is a bit of a play on words as the mystery here involves a severed hand discovered by a police officer. In the end, this is one of the more disturbing of the 87th Precinct books, but that's one of the things I love about these novels, that they're all so different from one another when it comes to plots and crimes and criminals.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 15 -- Paperbacks from Hell

by Grady Hendrix

Started: Feb. 25
Finished: Feb. 27

Notes: I read a lot of horror in the '80s. I mean a lot. So what could be more fun than taking a trip down memory lane by looking at the history of horror literature of the 1970s and '80s? Much of that literature was simply awful, but there was also much that was good. I look forward to this read.

Mini review: This was a fun read. The true horror fan who is well read in the genre will not find much new here, but they will likely discover some books or authors with which they are unfamiliar. This is not a concordance or an encyclopedia, more of a collection of reminiscences and book covers. Surprisingly, Stephen King is barely mentioned. Maybe the author felt King didn't need the shout out, or maybe felt King's career had gone too far beyond horror, but there's little doubt King had a huge influence upon the genre, helping to kick off its popularity in the 1970s. Casual readers of horror, or younger readers looking for older material, will find much here to learn about.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 14 -- The Map of Time

by Felix J. Palma

translated by Nick Caistor

Started: Feb. 15
Finished: Feb. 25

Notes: It's time to get back to some fiction, so I thought I'd try this novel about H.G. Wells in a time travel investigation.

Mini review: This book is well written, and well translated, which is no mean feat. This is really three novels in one, with H.G. Wells not always as the main character but always at least an important character to each tale. The novel plays with notions of time travel, sometimes presenting the possibilities as real and other times as not, jumping back and forth until a final conclusion, one which I will not reveal as it would ruin the story for anyone reading this. The writing here is a bit flowery, but it's by no means a difficult read. There were a few things which threw me off, but they were not enough to ruin the book for me. Such as, at one point it seems the author is including every single famous person from late 19th Century Britain, and while this isn't literally true, the story can feel that way sometimes, as if name dropping for the sake of name dropping. The thing that annoyed me the most about this novel was that the reader would follow a character along for a hundred pages or more, and then they would practically disappear from the rest of the book just as one is truly becoming interested in the character. This book is apparently the first of a series, so I might be tempted to find the others. I will point out the last 50 pages take a slight turn from the rest of the book, becoming somewhat philosophical and metaphysical, especially during the last 10 pages, and I did not quite feel it fit the tone of the rest of the book.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 13 -- Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

by Mary Roach

Started: Feb. 11
Finished: Feb. 14

Notes: The subject matter might be considered macabre by some, but I'm not expecting any shocks here. My mother's second husband was a funeral director and mortician, so I grew up in a household with some ... let's call it "unusual," reading material, probably stuff I shouldn't have been reading but was curious enough to read, and I spent no small amount of time in funeral homes, occasionally witnessing things a child probably shouldn't witness. Though I don't think it affected me any.  --twitch,twitch--

Mini review: Not for those easily creeped out or who can't stand the morbid, though the author doesn't get overly gory. Most of this book is about unusual things that happen, or can happen, or you can have happen, to your body after you're deceased. Scientific research is an obvious choice for use of cadavers, but what exactly does that mean? Some of the answers might be surprising, and the author also takes a brief look at cannibalism and other fates that have faced the deceased over the centuries. An interesting book, and I can recommend it, but it's not for the faint of heart.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 12 -- The Films of Charlie Chaplin

edited by Gerald D. McDonald, Michael Conway, and Mark Ricci

Started: Feb. 9
Finished: Feb. 10

Notes: Published in 1965, this book would have been outdated nearly as soon as it came out because Chaplin was still alive and still had one more film in him, though he would only act as director and not appear on the screen. However, this trio of editor-authors would work together on similar books for the next several decades, releasing what would basically be updated versions of this particular book. Though I don't view such films so often nowadays, there was a time when I was quite the silent movie buff and watched plenty of these golden pieces of cinema history, and I read a number of books pertaining to the subject, including a biography and autobiography of Chaplin. It's been a long while since I've dipped back into this world, so when I ran across this book in a used book store, I snagged it up.

Mini review: This was a fun trip down memory lane for me, bringing back beloved memories of a comedic genius at his heights. Chaplin's later works, those after the sound era began, are not often recalled as fondly as his earlier films, but his genius is always recognized. The majority of movies here I have seen, though there were a few I had not, and it was interesting to read about those. Each film received here a short write-up of its synopsis, a list of the cast, several still photos, and a handful of reviews from the period. Glad I read it.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 11 -- How to Study the Bible

by Robert M. West

Started: Feb. 8
Finished: Feb. 9

Notes: I was gifted this book a couple of years ago, so figured it was time I read it. I expect it to have an evangelical bent, though myself I'm usually more interested in historical and/or spiritual studies, but here goes. Maybe I'll learn some things.

Mini review: Not the most exciting of reads, but it's not necessarily meant to be. Still, this is a basic but solid beginner's book for those who wish to take part in personal Bible study. The leaning here is definitely towards the protestant and the evangelical, definitely not the historical or otherwise. New Christians especially might find this book of help.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 10 -- The Cross and the Switchblade

by David Wilkerson

Started: Feb. 6
Finished: Feb. 8

Notes: When I was a kid in the 1970s, I had a comic book version of this book, the true-life story of a pastor who went to New York City in the 1950s to help street gangs. I had forgotten about the comic book until I ran across this old book in a used book store, and then I thought it might be interesting to read the book, which was also made into a movie.

Mini review: The writing here is pretty good for someone who is a non-professional writer, though it takes a couple of dozen pages to reach a solid flow. The story is interesting enough, but as can be expected is full of the coincidences the author promptly places as the workings of God. It does seem, at least from these writings, that the eventual creation of a teen center in NYC did do some help for young people facing homelessness and drug addiction. However, as the author was a Pentecostal preacher, eventually there comes up talking in tongues and the like, which personally draws my skepticism (and I come from a family with Pentecostals). Silly? Truth? I'll let others form their own opinions. For me, my guess would be there's a mixture of truth, that perhaps God did touch the lives of the people involved with this story, or perhaps not. Either way, at least some people seemingly had their hearts in the right place and others were helped.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 9 -- On Her Majesty's Secret Service

by Ian Fleming

Started: Jan. 30
Finished: Feb. 5

Notes: A recent Bond book left a bad taste in my mouth, but because I'd read Fleming before and enjoyed his work, I thought I'd give him another shot at winning me over again.

Mini review: Bond is sent into the Swiss Alps in search of an old foe and finds a new plot hatching. I did enjoy this one more than the last Bond novel I read, but not enough to want me to read more Fleming any time soon. This must be the saddest ending ever for a Bond novel, I would think, and one that hits home for the protagonist more than most of his other adventures.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 8 -- Cop Hater

by Ed McBain

Started: Jan. 29
Finished: Jan. 30

Notes: Even though I recently read another of McBain's 87th Precinct novels, I just finished a James Bond novel which left a bad taste in my mouth, so I'm once more returning to McBain and the guys and gals of the 87th to boost my spirits. Published in 1956, this was the very first of the 87th Precinct novels.

Mini review: Someone is killing cops, specifically detectives of the 87th Precinct. It's obvious right off the bat this is the first of the 87th Precinct novels, for one thing the fact a number of characters are unfamiliar and don't appear in any of the later books (SPOILER: They're cops who don't make it through this book alive). For another thing, McBain was obviously getting a feel for his particular 87th Precinct style with this novel, though he comes through pretty good by at least halfway through. This was also a good novel for setting up Carella as the main character for the series, though he's a little different than he is in later books, not so life-weary, though maybe it's the events of this book that bring him down to Earth a little more. Anyway, enjoyable, as always.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 7 -- Thunderball

by Ian Fleming

Started: Jan. 26
Finished: Jan. 29

Notes: Been decades since I've read a James Bond novel, so when I stumbled across a couple at a used books sale, I thought I'd snag them up. Funny thing, this one had a Moonraker wrap for a cover and I didn't realize it was actually Thunderball until I got it home. That isn't enough for me not to read it, though. :-)

Mini review: Bond, with the help of a CIA agent an a U.S. Navy submarine, seeks to thwart SPECTRE, a group of terrorists who have stolen 2 atomic missiles and are threatening to set the off unless the world pays them gabillions and gabillions of money. Honestly, I didn't care much for it. The action is minimal, most of the writing spending time on setup instead of actual action. For crying out loud, the first 40 pages is Bond spending time at a health spa!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 6 -- The Frumious Bandersnatch

by Ed McBain

Started: Jan. 23
Finished: Jan. 26

Notes: It's been far too long, nearly a year, since I've read any McBain, one of my favorite authors, so it's time to jump back into one of his 87th Precinct novels.

Mini review: A rock star is kidnapped from a yacht during a party and the gang of the 87th has to move on it along with the Feds. The first chapter threw me because it took quite a while to set up the plot, and such length for a one-chapter set-up is unusual for McBain, but soon after I got into the story. I have to say, of the dozens of 87th Precinct novels I've read, this one wasn't necessarily the best, but it was definitely the most sad with the saddest ending I've yet to read from this author. A shame he's not still with us and writing.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 5 -- Waiting for Godot

by Samuel Beckett

Started: Jan. 22
Finished: Jan. 23

Notes: I do not often read plays, but I turn to this famous one because I do like to stray from my typical genre roots in order to experience other authors, styles, etc. Such readings can help one not only in thinking, but as a writer as well.

Mini review: This is one of those tales which brings to mind words like "expressionistic" and "minimalism" and "search for meaning." In other words, it's full of shit. Full of allegory and archetypes, this play has been interpreted in so many different ways, from religious to political to social commentary, etc., etc. None of which is necessarily true, or any or all of it could be true. One can't tell. One can take away whatever they want, but what I took away was, "nothing happens." That's it. An easy read with some minor humor, but I didn't come away with any epiphanies or thoughts of high meaning. If anything, I came away thinking, "This is the type of overly nonsensical material which sometimes gives literature a bad name." I'm not saying it's a bad play. I'm saying it wasn't for me and that interpretations are up to the individual. I will add, it would likely be more enjoyable to see this performed than to simply read it on the page.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 4 -- Deryni Rising

by Katherine Kurtz

Started: Jan. 19
Finished: Jan. 22

Notes: This is yet another fantasy author whom I've not had the pleasure to experience, so I thought I'd check out the first book in her Deryni series, of which I've heard a lot over the years, almost always good.

Mini review: A pretty strong read. After the murder of his kingly father, a young prince finds he must avoid courtly, magical and even religious threats before he can gain the crown for himself. There are shades of A Game of Thrones here, though obviously decades before A Game of Thrones, but without all the sex and incest, being a fairly tame novel but worth reading.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 3 -- The Blue Hawk

by Peter Dickinson

Started: Jan. 15
Finished: Jan. 19

Notes: I don't believe I've read any of the works of this author, though I recognize the name, so I thought it time I give him a try.

Mini review: I'm always pleasantly surprised when I read an author unfamiliar to me and I go away enjoying the book. A young acolyte to a god finds himself embroiled in courtly intrigues between a king and several order of priests while war looms in the background from an approaching horde of barbarians. But that's just the basics of this tale. Really it comes down to the relationship of mankind with the gods. Who is really in control? Do the gods control men, or have men enslaved the gods? Or is it a bit of both? An interesting work and a pretty good read. I'll have to look for more from this writer.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Books read in 2018: No. 2 -- Cinema and Sorcery: The Comprehensive Guide to Fantasy Film

by Arnold T. Blumberg and Scott Alan Woodard

Started: Jan. 5
Finished: Jan. 15

Notes: I picked this one up last year at the 2017 Origins convention in Columbus, Ohio, and was quite excited to discover it. I've been meaning to get to it before too long before it might become outdated. I'm fully expecting to enjoy this.

Mini review: This was a fun read, but as might be expected, I do feel a number of films were left out of this book. As a general fantasy compendium, it's not bad, a good place for your typical D&D fans to start. However, the authors do state early on that this is meant to be a collection of Sword & Sorcery movies, and for Sword & Sorcery purists, there is much here left out. For instance, there's no mention of The 13th Warrior, which technically might not include any magic, but magic is alluded to by the existence of an oracle and talk of dragons (even if this tale is meant to be more historical and the magic isn't real); while some might not love The 13th Warrior, I do believe it is a film steeped in the S&S sub-genre of fantasy, more so than most of the movies listed in this book. And while many movies which do make the cut here are great fantasy movies, such as The Princess Bride, by no means would I call them S&S movies. But really, these are just quibbles on my part. This is a good, fun read, and while not totally inclusive, it does go over nearly 500 movies from the silent era up to just a couple of years ago, so it is a worthy read.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Books read in 2017: No. 51, Books read in 2018: No. 1 -- Conan the Rebel

by Poul Anderson

Started: Dec. 30, 2017
Finished: Jan. 4, 2018

Notes: I've never been a big reader of the non-Howard Conan books, but I'm trying to give more of them a chance, so here goes.

Mini review: This one was a mess for at least the first half of the book. Conan rarely appeared, an important side character then vanished for most of the rest of the book, various enemies worked together behind the scenes in some kind of vague plot against Conan that seemed to have no real force behind it other than some even vaguer prophecy ... just a mess. About halfway through, the story became more clear, but I found the writing rather drab, and there was little sense of urgency as there was never any real threats to Conan, at least none that lasted longer than a few paragraphs, though I suppose some of that could be expected for a serial character. All in all, not a good read, and I can only suggest it for hardcore Conan fans who feel they have to read everything about the barbarian.