Reading List 2021

The Every by Dave Eggers
Rating: 4.0 stars * * * * 
While this book got not-so-great reviews, I actually enjoyed it. This was a follow-up book to the “Circle”. The end really surprised me, and the prediction about what could possibly happen if society were controlled by bad-idea apps was both entertaining and scary. I thought Delany’s rotation got a bit long and somewhat overdone, and I didn’t like the unbelievable transformation of Wes her friend. Overall an entertaining read and a cautionary take about how not to completely destroy society. 

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
Rating: 3.5 stars * * *
The “high five” are at it again, this time a quest to seek the seven shards of the siren’s song.While parts of the book were good, I was generally disappointed in the book. I didn’t like the beginning (almost gave up at page 70, but then it got much better), and there was WAY too much 80’s movie and song trivia that didn’t interest me that much. The ONI headset theme was good, and was what kept my interest going. The end was a bit like Lawnmower Man, and a little hard to grasp. Definitely not as good as the first book.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
Rating: 2.0 stars * * 
I actually only made it half-way through the book, then I had to put it down. This book for some reason didn’t resonate with me. I couldn’t get into the plot, and the characters weren’t very interesting to me. I also thought the writing and dialog was a bit cheesy - maybe it was because I started reading this immediately after Homer’s Iliad, which was such incredible verse for the telling of a war story. I also didn’t like the bouncing back and forth between Miller and Holden. Just as I would get into the Holden part of the story, it would shift to Miller, who I found a bit boring. Nevertheless, I might pick it back up at a later time, but as they say, so many books, so little time, and there are way too many great books that I was anxious to read. 

The Iliad by Homer
Rating: 4.5 Stars * * * * 
When I mentioned to people that I was reading The Iliad, they sort of looked at me funny and wondered if I was back in school doing a required reading assignment. A friend of mine read it, was telling me about it, and I fell in love with the story as she was recounting the highlights, so decided to read it finally. I wasn’t disappointed. While it wasn’t an easy story to read, it was so rewarding. The verse form was full of very poetic material, which is quite amazing for a war and battle story. I loved the verse towards the end of the book (verse 874): “…down to this very day the gods prefer old-timers”. Ha! That means I’m blessed! Definitely a commitment to undergo reading it, but well worth the effort.

Tech Stress by Erik Peper, PhD
Rating: 5.0 stars * * * * * 
It’s hard to rate a non-fiction book, so I gave it 5 stars based on the significance of the topic and how deep it was covered. This book is a must-read for anyone in IT or a job that carries a lot of stress with it. So many great tips about ways to avoid stress, and a really good explanation of the science behind all of it. While many of the tips were common sense, the authors backed up those common and obvious techniques with the WHY part of how they work and what the chemical impact is on the body. My favorite chapters were chapter 7 on our obsession with our cell phones, and chapter 18 on ways of coping with burnout. A great book!

Mr Penumbras 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Rating: 3.5 stars * * * 
While the mystery within this book was somewhat intriguing, it didn’t interest me enough to make this one of the good reads of the year. However, one thing I did take away from this book: sometimes, there is joy in the process of doing something, as opposed to achieving the outcome. Mr. Penumbra has a very interesting bookstore indeed, which leads to unfolding a mystery about secret codes and messages buried within the books Mr. Penumbra keeps in his store. With the use of technology, the main character (with the help of his friends at Google) uncover the mystery. I was a little disappointed with the ending of the book, but all around an interesting read.

Servant of the Crown by Duncan M. Hamilton
Rating: 4.0 stars * * * * 
This book picks up right where the other one left off. There were some surprise elements in this book, particularly at the end. As a matter of fact, I only had 4 chapters left, and dragged out reading the ending because I figured it was relatively predictable. I was wrong. The ending really added an interesting twist, one I in fact did not predict. Overall, this was a good three-book series that I very much enjoyed. Not great literature, but a good story with some interesting characters. 

Knight of the Silver Circle by Duncan M. Hamilton
Rating: 4.0 stars * * * * 
This book was a little slower than the first one, but I still very much enjoyed it. The interplay between the treacherous Amaury, Solene, and Guillot was great. We see a lot more about Guillot’s character transformation in this book. The action at the end was really good, but the book just…simply ended. If you are going to read this book, you will be required to read the third book in the series to find out what happens, as the third book is really a continuation of the story. The only thing I didn’t like about this book was some inconsistency with one of the main characters, Solene. I got really confused about halfway through the book with regards to some of the things Solene was thinking and doing, and had to go back to the beginning to see if I missed something. I don’t think her character was a developed in this book as the first one.

Dragonslayer by Duncan M. Hamilton
Rating: 4.0 stars * * * * 
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book, but I was pleasantly surprised. This was a great read, and I love the main character Guillot. The aspect of magic in this book was done well, and the dragon aspect was equally done well - not overdone, not "yet another silly dragon book". Can’t wait to read the others in this series! 

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Rating: 5.0 stars * * * * * 
This was such an amazing book! I simply could not put this book down. It’s hard to write a good review of this book without giving it away, so let me just say this: read this book! A struggling writer does the unthinkable and steals a plot from one of his students. It has a plot within a plot within a plot, and the ending will blow you away.

The Trouble With Peace by Joe Abercrombie
Rating: 5.0 stars * * * * * 
Wow, what a GREAT book. This was a follow-up to the other book I loved, A Little Hatred. Things ended with peace after that book, but now, not everyone is happy, and war is brewing between the Union and other countries. My favorite characters actually switched in this book form the other one - Savine became my favorite character, and Rikki not so much. Joe Abercrombie once again did a great job describing conflict, betrayal, and a surprise ending. Can’t wait for the next one in this series!

The Only Life That Mattered by James L. Nelson
Rating: 4.5 stars * * * *  
This book was in novel form about the real accounts of Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and “Calico Jack” Rackam. It was so well done and so well-written that I simply could not put this book down. Anne Bonny and Mary Read were real woman pirates who joined the “sweet trade” - a short life but a merry one. The stories, battles, and conflict were extremely well done. If you are interested in prates, then this book is a must read.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Rating: 4.0 stars * * * * 
This book was very much like “The Martian”. Alone in a spacecraft, Ryland Grace must figure out how to survive alone and save the world. I won’t give anything away in this review, but I very much enjoyed the story, as well as all of the science (and science fiction as well). The technical descriptions and application of astrophysics was very detailed and spot-on. Although a few parts of the book were a little far-fetched in terms of reality, overall I found this book a very enjoyable and captivating read.

The Best of Roald Dahl by Roald Dahl
Rating: 5.0 stars * * * * * 
What an amazing collection of short stories! I simply could not put this book down. There are so many favorites out of the 25 stories in the book they are too numerous to mention, but some of them that I absolutely must call out were “Dip in the Pool”, "Parson’s Pleasure”, “Royal Jelly”, “The Sound Machine”, and “Taste”. However, ALL of the stories are a must read. Each story ends in some sort of cleaver and unexpected twist. 

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Rating: 4.0 stars * * * *
I very much enjoyed this second book in the series. I felt the characters came alive a little bit better than in Wolf Hall (the first book), and it was a little more interesting. Like Wolf Hall, there was an amazing amount of plotting, treachery, deceit, and intrigue. I found it amazing how allegiances so strongly formed in the first book can end up with one losing their head (literally!). 

Wolf Hall
 by Hilary Mantel
Rating: 4.0 stars * * * *
This book is beautifully written and tells, through dialogue, the life of Thomas Cromwell and King Henry VIII through the early 1500’s when Henry, dissatisfies with Queen Katherine for not producing a male heir, wants an annulment in order to marry Anne Boleyn. It is full of history, politics, influence, and power, and tells the story of King Henry VIII’s conflict with the Catholic Church. I’m anxious to move on to the second book, which tells about King Henry VIII’s rampage in beheading those he is disappointed with (including Anne Boleyn, his new wife). 

Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy
Rating: 4.5 stars * * * * 
The conversations between John Grady, Billy, Mac, and all the other characters is pure magic. On the outside they might seem like meaningless prattle, but they get to the heart of the character and paint a vivid picture of life as a cowboy and ranch hand. John Grady has a simple but happy life as a horse trainer on a ranch, but tries to enter into a life he is not by falling in love with a woman in Mexico - a woman way out of his reach. Things get ugly as John tries to leave his simple life and enter into the life of thugs and debauchery. The ending is particularly intense, bringing this trilogy to an unexpected end. 

The Pirate Round by James L. Nelson
Rating: 5.0 stars * * * * * 
This was one of the best books in the 3-part Brethren of the Coast series. Marlowe sets out for London with his trusted crew to ship tobacco, only to be spotted as the notorious pirate Barrett (Marlowe's prior life). Barely escaping with their lives, they forgo their precious tobacco cargo and head off to Madagascar for the pirate round to make their fortunes as pirates and recover their losses. Little did they know danger awaits them at every turn. Such a wonderful book about pirating and surviving during the early 1700’s on the high seas. Totally 5 stars for this book!

The Blackbirder by James L. Nelson
Rating: 5.0 stars * * * * *
There was so much happening in this book! While the slavery theme bothered me greatly, the story itself was absolutely amazing. The year is 1701, and Marlowe’s comrade-in-arms, King James, stumbles upon a slaver ship (in those times called a “Blackbirder”)  near the Virginia coast and murders the entire crew in an outrage (King James being a prior slave himself, but freed by Marlowe). Now a fugitive, King James frees all of the slaves aboard the blackbirder and sets off to Africa to return the slaves aboard the ship back to their home. Sounds easy, but it was not. Full of intrigue and piracy on the high seas, in Africa, and also at Marlowe's plantation in Virginia. A fast and interesting read. Now onto book three of the series!

The Guardship by James L. Nelson
Rating: 5.0 stars * * * * * 
I read this book about 20 years ago when it first came out, and absolutely loved it. I was thinking back on this book and realized how much of the story and the main character (Thomas Marlowe) I’d forgotten, so I decided to put on my sword and red sash, and enter back into the world of pirates I so much enjoy reading about. This book takes place around 1700 in the Virginia colony, where planting tobacco and rising to high social circles was so much part of the life in those times. Thomas gets on the wrong side of a prominent Williamsburg family, and they set out to destroy him. However, so does the notorious pirate LaRoche, who has just sailed into the waters off Chesapeake Bay. Such a fun and fast story, complete with great characterization and great naval battles. I highly recommend this book! Now onto book two of the series...

What Tech Calls Thinking by Adrian Daub
Rating: 4.0 stars * * * * 
Very interesting read about the “big tech” industry and Silicon Valley in general. Each chapter introduces a major figure in literature, philosophy, and phycology and draws parallels between that person’s thinking and ideas and how “big tech” essentially gained its success by “riding on the shoulders of giants”. Daub postulates there are very few innovative and fresh ideas in tech - that they all come from others in unrelated fields. Being in tech, I am not in full agreement with all his ideas, but he does draw some fascinating parallels. My favorite chapter was “Disruption”, then “Failure”, and finally “Communication”. 

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2020 by Diana Gabaldon
Rating: Overall 3.5 Stars * * * 
Given this is a collection of 20 short stories, I really couldn’t give the overall book a star rating. There were many stories I really enjoyed (such as Life Sentence, Bullet Point, The Bookstore at the End of America, and Up From Slavery) and there were some I really didn’t like at all. Most of the stories made me think I was reading something from The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, or Black Mirror and had that sort of clever twist or clever concept that made those shows so fun to watch. Overall an enjoyable read.

Crimson Shore  by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Rating: 2.0 stars * * 
Agent Pendergast is hired to investigate the theft of a 2 million dollar wine collection, only to uncover a surprising secret about the towns past. This leads to murders in the town, with further uncovers even larger dark secret about the towns past. Sprinkle in a bit of poorly defined characters, witchcraft, demons (really?), and it all spells…confusion. This book is a good example of what is known as the “witches brew” anti-pattern - a ransom collection of ideas poorly integrated, resulting in a non-cohesive book. The book should have stopped at around page 293 when the original mystery was solved - and if it did, I would have given this book 3 stars. However, the last 60 pages were totally absurd and had nothing to do with the book or the mystery. If you are a Pendergast fan, I would strongly urge you to skip this book entirely. Not a bad mystery story (hence the 2 stars) but horribly put together with an end that was one of the worse book endings in my reading experience. 

War Lord by Bernard Cornwell
Rating: 5.0 stars * * * * * 

What a great conclusion to this wonderful saxon viking series. Both the south (Englaland) and the north (the Scots) have their sights set on conquering Northumbria (the final link to a unified England), and Uthred once again gets involved in conflict and battle. Cornwell did such an amazing job spelling out this final conflict in clear and vivid terms. I won’t give away the end, but it was indeed spectacular. I’ll be sad to say goodbye to Uthred and his adventures, but I’ll certainly be revisiting him again in a couple of years when I reread this entire 13 book series form start to end again.     

Golden Son by Pierce Brown
Rating: 3.5 stars * * *  
Betrayal - multifaceted betrayal of the worse kind. This second book of the Red Rising trilogy started out great and ended even better, but the middle was very disappointing. A bunch of kids commanding starships and ordering adult commanders around was a bit too much for me, and at one point I almost considered not completing this book. But I held on, kept reading, and I was glad I did. The last 80 pages of this book were amazing - reminiscent of his first book Red Rising. I did not care for the war scenes in the middle of the book, nor the interaction between the characters, particularly Sevro. It was almost like the author took great care in writing the first part and the last part of the book, and just slapped the middle together in a rush to get the book out. That said, the last part of the book was great. I’ll be taking a little break from the trilogy to read other things, but based on the ending of the book I’ll definitely be reading the third book in this series.  

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