Reading List 2018

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
Rating: 4.0 stars * * * *
This alternative-history book kept me going non-stop. The civil war never happened, and slavery is still legal in 4 states (called the “hard four”). Full of adventure with an interesting twist at the end, this book explores the social and economic issues and horrors of slavery as it would be in modern times. The book focuses on the main character from the U.S. Marshals Office as he tries to locate a runner from the south, while at the same dealing with the inner conflict of having been a slave once himself. A very thought-provoking book.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Rating: 4.5 stars * * * *
This was an incredibly interesting and intense book. An interstellar journey to a nearby planetary system (Rakhat) with a cast of unlikely characters starts out as a wondrous journey, ending in total disaster. While I would classify this book as science fiction, it is also filled with social themes and religious themes. What a ride reading this book. “Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it” - Matthew 10, verse 29. “But the sparrow still falls” - Felipe Reyes (one of the characters in the book). Lots of religious aspects to think about in this book. The story of Emilio Sandoz (the main character in the book) will haunt me for quite some time - it is quite disturbing. 

The Bridge by Robert Knott
Rating: 2.5 stars * * * 
This was not one of my favorite Cole and Hitch books from the series. The book didn’t flow well, felt sort of choppy, and at times got a little boring due to the lack of action. The ending was clever and unexpected, pushing it up to 2.5 stars. It was through this book that I noticed the difference in writing style between Robert B. Parker and Robert Knott. While I thought Robert Knott did a good job with Blackjack, I think he missed the boat mimicking the clever and effective Robert B. Parker dialogue and writing style.

Resolution by Robert B. Parker
Rating: 4.5 stars * * * *
I so very much enjoy the adventures of Cole and Hitch, and this 2nd book in the Cole and Hitch series did not disappoint me in the least. What a fun and fast read! I love the setting, I love the characters, I love the dialogue, and I love the action. Although I’ve read Appaloosa and Blackjack first, it wasn’t an issue at all reading this series out of order. Awesome book!!! Reading The Bridge next - can’t get enough.

The Covenant of Genesis by Andy McDermott
Rating: 1 star *
I’ve been anxious to read this book for a while and finally got to it, only to find it one of the most disappointing books I’ve read all year so far. The story sounded like a good one - an archeological discovery that could change everything we know about human history but was lethally protected by a group known as “the Covenant of Genesis”. However, I wasn’t able to even enjoy the story because of the ridiculous and weak 3rd grade level dialogue, incredibly shallow characters, and a habit in the book of taking strong, professional women and turning them into weak, shriveling, male-dependent characters. Yuck. Got half-way through and finally gave up. I’ve better things to do with my time than waste it on bad novels like this one.

City of Endless Night by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Rating: 4.5 stars * * * *
What a fast moving and interesting crime drama! In this Pendergast series, Agent D’Garza and Pendergast must try to solve a series of decapitations in New York City - only this time the murders have Pendergast stumped. With a fast-paced cat-and-mouse ending that will be sure to get your heart racing, this book is a real page-turner you will be sure to enjoy. 

The Pharaoh Key by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Rating: 4.5 stars * * * *
As with most of Preston and Childs books, this was an amazing story that kept me up until 2am most nights. The Pharaoh Key is the latest book in the Gideon Crew series that takes us to the most remote place in Egypt. What Gideon and Garza find there is truly amazing in many ways. A definite read whether you are a Preston and Child fan or not. 

Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell
Rating: 4.0 stars * * * *
This stand-alone historically accurate novel is about the playhouses and theater in Elizabethan England around the 1580’s. The book details the early history of theater, specifically surrounding William Shakespeare (the playwright) and his brother Richard (the player). If you like Shakespeare as I do, then you will enjoy this book. True to all Cornwell books, the characters in this book all come to life. The conflict in the book is that the play “Romeo and Juliet” is stolen by another playhouse, and Richard must work to steal it back. true to a great narrative arc, the story eventually reaches a climax, and ends nicely, bringing everything together in a great ending.   

Sand by Hugh Howey
Rating: 3.5 stars * * *
This was an interesting story with a great setting - a world covered in sand. Very similar to Waterworld (a world covered by ocean). While the story (and in particular the ending) was good, I felt the characters were a bit shallow, with the possible exception of Vic (my favorite character in the book). The book focuses on one particular family, but does not dive into the economic, social, and political aspects of a world covered in sand (hence the 3.5 stars). The diving concept the author describes is pretty cool, and a must for a story like this.  

Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie
Rating: 4.5 stars * * * *

There were lots of twists, turns, and surprises in this 3rd book of the First Law trilogy. While I thoroughly enjoyed this third book, I only gave it 4.5 stars because I didn’t care for the ending. There were too many loose ends, and it left me wanting a 4th book to tie everything together. All of the separate stories in the second book came together in this book, which added to the collective adventures and actions of the main characters. All-in-all, I would highly recommend this trilogy.

Rocky Mountain Boom Town by Duane A. Smith
Rating: 3.5 stars * * *

I was on vacation in Colorado and spent some time in Durango, and fell in love with the town, so being a history buff I had to get this book to learn more about Durango, CO. While the book was well written and detailed, I was left disappointed in that I was hoping for more about the wild west and mining stories. Durango started as a “rival train town” to Animas City when the D&RG railroad came through the area, and then became a bustling city focused on smelting. While there were plenty of historical facts in the book, I was hoping for more lengthy anecdotal stories, hence the 3.5 stars. I found the earlier history sections in the book (1880’s) much more interesting than later times (1950’s). Still, a wonderful and detailed account of how Durango, CO came to be (and how much influence the railroad had at that time!). 

Black Holes and Baby Universes by Stephen Hawking
Rating: 4 stars * * * *
While I love everything about astronomy and astrophysics, one of the best parts of this book was actually the beginning where Stephen Hawking wrote about his childhood and upbringing. This book is a collection of essays and talks Stephen Hawking has done over the years. Very interesting and deep stuff. 

Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
Rating: 5 stars  * * * * *

This is book 2 of the First Law Series, and what an awesome book! The book takes 3 story lines - Glokta and Vitali in one, Logen, Bayaz, Ferro, and Luther in another, and finally Colonel West, the Dogman, Threetrees, and the rest of the Northmen in the last, and weaves a great narrative between them. The characters are so alive in this book, and the story is great (particularly the quest Logen and Bayaz undertake). Interestingly enough, none of the stories really end in the book, but rather continue on in book 3 (currently reading). If you enjoyed Game of Thrones and the Broken Earth Series (Jemisin), then you will love this series. 

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
Rating: 5 stars  * * * * *
This is book one of the First Law Series. My friend Bruce Tate (technical author) was the one who turned me onto this book years ago, and I finally got around to reading it. What in the world was I waiting for! This was an amazing book. I loved the characters, the story, the setting, pretty much everything. The jacket cover does not do justice to the intriguing story that unfolds in this book. I’d have to say my 2 favorite characters in the book are Logen the Northern Barbarian and Glokta the Inquisitor. I don’t know enough about Bayaz yet, but I am guessing I’ll find out more in book 2, which is next on my reading list. If you enjoyed the Game of Thrones, you will love this book. I didn’t hesitate in the least to give this a 5 star rating (usually reserved for Bernard Cornwell, my favorite author).

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Rating: 3 stars * * *
While this book kept me interested, it wasn’t one of my my favorite Neal Stephenson books. I really enjoyed the 2 main characters (Hiro and especially Y.T.) and the adventures they got themselves into, but the story was a little hard to follow. I found out later that this was originally meant as a graphic novel, which explains why the story didn’t flow as well as other Neal S. books.  

Robert B. Parker’s Blackjack by Robert Knott
Rating: 4 stars * * * *
I love watching westerns (one of my favorite genres), but rarely I read them. This book caught my eye at a book sale, and figured it would be a good light summer read. I was not disappointed in the least. This book follows the adventures of Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch from Appaloosa on an adventure to first track and then later defend a murderer. This book is full of action and interesting twists of events, making it hard to put it down. I’ll most certainly be reading more Cole and Hitch novels this summer!

The Flame Bearer by Bernard Cornwell
Rating: 5 stars * * * * *
What an exciting end to the current Saxon series of books (the historical note indicates that Utrhed’s adventures are not quite over yet - can’t wait for more of this series!). Definitely a solid 5 star rating. Like the other books, this one is full of deep characters, great battles, and, in this book, the most cunning battle strategy I’ve read in a long time. Without giving too much away, Utrhed finds himself in despair, with little or no hope of survival or success, but comes up with a plan that just might work.  

Warriors of the Storm by Bernard Cornwell
Rating: 5 stars * * * * *
It just keeps getting better! Utrhed is healed and has his best battles ever in this book, It is about battles, honor, and… family. We learn more about Uthred’s daughter, and like George R.R. Martin, the female characters end up being the strongest. An amanzing book, amazing battles, and amazing relationships. As good as the Empty Throne, my prior favorite in the series. A must read!!! 

The Empty Throne by Bernard Cornwell
Rating: 5 stars * * * * *
This is book 8 of the Saxon series, and by far the best book in the 10 book series so far. The character development is just amazing, and the action is supurb. With all that is happening, it’s hard to believe there are only 2 more books to go. 

The Art of War by Sun Tzu (Sunzi)
Rating: 5 stars * * * * *
Ted Neward turned me on to this book about 7 years ago, and because I do so many quotes from it in my talks I thought I would read it again as a refresher. The book consists of 13 chapters, and this time around I chose to really study it rather than simply read it. I took one chapter at a time, paid close attention to every word, and thought about the chapter for a while before moving onto the next one. While I am certainly not going to be leading armies into battle, as a software architect I do have to negotiate with stakeholders and lead development teams through the implementation of my architectures, which is similar in a way as leading troops into battle. This book gives me lots of insite into negotiating business deals and dealing with stakeholders. A definite worthwhile read into forming overall strategies for engagement.   

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Rating: 5 stars * * * * *
This is my second reading of Seveneves, and one of my favorite Neal Stephenson books (Cryptonomicon being my other favorite). Because I’ve been traveling so much I decided to read this again on my long trips, and I’m so glad I did. This is really 2 books in one, but part 1 is my absolute favorite (part 2 is okay, but not nearly as good as part 1). I gave this 5 stars because part 1 is actually 7 stars, and part 2 only 3 stars, which makes the book as a whole 5 stars. The way Neal Stephenson describes in detail the physics and dynamics of cosmic events is amazing, and the characters are deep and well developed. A must-read for any Neal Stephenson fan.   

Bitters by Brad Thomas Parsons
Rating: 4 stars * * * *
Ok, so it might seem weird that I include this sort of book in my reading list, but if you like bitters then this is a must read. Bitters consist of herbs or fruit (or anything) infused using high proof alcohol, with only a few drops used to enhance the flavor of the drink (e.g. Manhattan, Old Fashioned). The first half of the book goes into the history of bitters (which was fascinating), and also has a whole section about how to make your own bitters. The second half of the book contains tons of recipes for drinks containing bitters, which starts the creative juices flowing for making your own bitters drinks (my favorite is a classic margarita with smoked chili bitters - amazing).  

WOOL by Hugh Howey
Rating: 4 stars * * * * 
I’ve been wanting to read WOOL for a long time, and finally got to it. An amazing book about an apocolyptic modern-day earth consisting of underground silos where communities live. It is about the eventual breakdown of a controlled and overly-governed society, with plenty of action. The author goes into sufficient detail to really get a picture of life in underground silos. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It shares some similarities to the Hunger Games trilogy about controlled society and those that choose to fight that sort of society rather than live in it. I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 because of the ending and lack of deep character development - although the ending was full of action, I felt it didn’t match the rest of the book and seemed a bit hokey to me (as most book ending do unfortunately). Furthermore, there was a part about a “governing body” overseeing all of the silos that was mentioned about 4/5th of the way through the book that was changed at the end to a group of kids - that part didn’t make much sense to me as the “governing body” concept disappeared after one page. Still, a fun and worthwhile read.    

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin
Rating: 5 stars * * * * *
This is the third book in the awesome broken earch trilogy that my friend 
Neal Ford turned me onto. Jemisin’s writing style is fantastic, and the world she creates in this series is extremely well done. While the book started out a little slow and confusing, it picked up quickly, explaining the stone eaters and making for an amazing conclusion to the triogy (in particular, the last chapter and the following acknowledgements). I would highly recommend all three books in this trilogy. Jemisin’s style of writing combined with the characters and the world she has created makes this book (and the whole series) a solid 5 stars. What I first through as a “final great sci-fi/fantasy book in an end-of-the-world trilogy" quickly became more about a book between the strong but difficult relationship between mother and daughter. The final acknowledgements section at the end of the book (as well as the final chapter) almost brought tears to my eyes. Amazing.

The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin
Rating: 5 stars * * * * *
Book 2 in the broken earth trilogy that my friend 
Neal Ford turned me onto. This book provides most of the answers to lots of question from the first book in this trilogy (The Fifth Season). I really had trouble putting this book down once I started reading it, making for some very late nights. The stone eaters are still a mystery to me, but hopefully that mystery will be solved in book 3 of the trilogy. After reading this book I can’t imagine stopping after the first one in the series. So much more is explained in this book, making it a must to read after book one to really get the whole picture of the end of the world.

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