Sean191's challenge for 2015

Converses75 Books Challenge for 2015

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Sean191's challenge for 2015

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1Sean191
gen. 23, 2015, 2:27am

It's been years since I've officially qualified for this group - I think I read 100 books in 2011 and hit 75 a few times before that. Last year, just a measly 26.

But I'll give it a go and see if I can get back into the swing.

2Sean191
Editat: març 25, 2016, 10:56am

1. Man V. Nature - Diane Cook
2. Lighting the World - Merle Drown
3. I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith
4. Get in Trouble - Kelly Link
5. Thank You for the Flowers - Scott Nicholson
6. Making Nice - Matt Sumell
7. Brighton Rock - Graham Greene
8. The New Wild - Fred Pearce
9. The Secrets of Happily Married Men - Scott Haltzman
10. Neuromancer - William Gibson
11. The Beautiful Bureaucrat - Helen Phillips
12. The Real Doctor Will See you Shortly - Matt McCarthy
13. Last Exit to Brooklyn - Hubert Selby Jr.
14. The New World: A Novel - Andrew Motion
15. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - by Rebecca Skloot
16. A Trace of Footprints - Ruth Wolff
17. Brain on Fire - Susannah Cahalan
18. Lost Canyon - Nina Revoyr
19. Plugged! - Eoin Colfer
20. Wild Thoughts from Wild Places - David Quammen
21. Outlaw of Torn - Edgar Rice Burroughs
22. Magic Kingdom for Sale - Sold! - Terry Brooks
23. Tunnels - Sally O. Lee
24. Elfquest - Journey to Sorrow's End - Wendy and Richard Pini
25. With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change - Fred Pearce
26. Hunters in the Dark - Lawrence Osborne

3Sean191
gen. 23, 2015, 2:36am

1. Man V. Nature by Diane Cook

Strange, magical, funny, haunting. Cook puts together a strong collection of short stories here. All of them were great - quirky and twisted for the most part, but great. I think the weakest might have been The Mast Year about a woman whose good luck attracts hundreds of strangers to her home and without saying too much to give things away, the story takes a turn from there. Fortunately, even that story was pretty good and it was the next to last one. The last one, "The Not Needed Forest" was the kicker.

It's a great one but not for the faint of heart. It's a combination of Lord of the Flies and Alive with something else thrown in. I can't go into more for risk of giving it away. But an awesome story.

This put 2015 off to a good start for me - which stalled with the book I read immediately after (see next post).

4Sean191
gen. 23, 2015, 2:37am

2. Lighting the World by Merle Drown

The immediate problem with this book is the teaser on the cover. If you have any interest in reading the book, I'd say avoid reading the cover since it is pretty much a giant spoiler. That said, I'm not sure how you would know you'd be interested without reading the teaser...

Unfortunately, that wasn't the only problem for me. If the book was being narrated by the protagonist I would have thought the narrator's voice was reasonable. As it was, the narrator was as simple as the main character or maybe moreso and it just didn't make sense to do that. There were a lot of forced metaphors throughout (most to do with hunting). Also, the talk of hunting over and over, rather than creating a deeper sense of the protagonist just made him seem more and more simple (as in mental capacity) and even that just didn't seem to make sense. The other characters were shallow too with no real displays of emotion it seemed and no one expressing any worry about someone with obvious over-the-top issues that seemed readily apparent.

I just couldn't find much to like about this book.

5Sean191
feb. 14, 2015, 3:21am

3. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

This book started out wonderfully. The characters were interesting and full - although I was confused about the main character's (Cassandra's) brother for a bit, I either missed his introduction or there wasn't one.

For a large part of the book I found Cassandra's voice to be great. But maybe the last quarter or maybe the last fifth even, her personality took a turn. It was a decent enough reason I suppose, but it went from a book where nothing much happens even though a lot is happening, to the same, but not quite as light and warm.

Still, I think Dodie Smith would have fit in well with the Brontes or Jane Austen. And I think fans of those authors would do well to read Smith.

6drneutron
feb. 14, 2015, 1:32pm

Welcome back! Fortunately, we don't care how many you read, just what you read! :)

7Sean191
feb. 18, 2015, 12:44am

Good thing! I'm on track to beat last year, but far from the years when I traveled to work on mass transit.

8Sean191
feb. 24, 2015, 3:45pm

4. Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

Kelly Link's collection was good, but as is often the case with short story collections, it was a little uneven. That said, I figured I'd get my ratings together by averaging out the ratings on all the stories.

The Summer People - was creepy and a great setting with developed characters. I'd give it 4 stars
I can see right through you - so much of this reminded me Joe Hill's "Horns" and I wasn't a fan of that book. 3 stars
Secret Identity - I'm not sure what to think of this. Quirky, but didn't quite hit the mark for me. It was pretty much a first person narrative of a meet-up between an underage girl and a guy she met in an online fantasy game. And there's superheroes and dentists in it. 3 1/2 stars
The Lesson - a couple have a surrogate carrying their baby. They go a friend's wedding and stuff happens, but nothing's very clear. I didn't think the characters were as well-developed as The Summer People 3 1/2 stars
Valley of the Girls - the hieroglyphic text or I guess what was meant to be that, just threw me off. It was a little hard to follow the story with a lot of characters and doubles of them too 3 stars
Origin Story - again, superheroes, but again, I didn't think the characters were developed enough. 3 stars
The New Boyfriend - weird, dark, creative. Great story with some great twists. 4 stars
Two Houses - again, great twists, a great story within a story...this was probably the best of the lot 4 1/2 stars
Light - it teetered back and forth between strong and not so strong. In the end, the ending almost made it four stars, but not quite ..3 1/2 stars

9Sean191
març 16, 2015, 2:08am

5. Thank You for the Flowers by Scott Nicholson

I had my book signed at a book show when it was first released. Scott wrote a bit of a cheesy poem with the signature that had me worried about the content of the book. Fortunately, the poem was really the only off-note. Maybe he was just playing a trick...

The book, a collection of short stories really was solid.

The first story, Haunted, I believe it's been done before, but I can't go into it without giving it away. The second story though, The Vampire Shortstop, is where things started to roll. Great original story, followed by Skin - about a patient haunted by the ghost of the man who is looking for something the patient has....

Dead Air seems reminiscent of someone else - maybe Stephen King? But still a good story.

I thought two of the big standouts were Thirst and The Boy Who Saw Fire. Both felt like the could be Native American folklore and they were both great.

The other story that worked really well was Constitution, about a guy who manages to keep it together even as he's falling apart - quite literally.

Overall, a solid effort and every story was worth the read.

10Sean191
març 26, 2015, 1:06am

6. Making Nice by Matt Sumell

In Making Nice, Matt Sumell delivers a generally unlikeable character with a few redeeming qualities. But the character didn't really ring true to me. He acts like a total idiot, but actually seems smart in some ways. I think he would have some kind of social disorder. In general though, it was too over the top until the last quarter of the book. The last quarter of the book moved it from 2.5 stars to 3. If the main character was toned down like he was in the last quarter, I think the book would have been better and Alby would have been more believable.

11Sean191
abr. 12, 2015, 1:29am

7. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

This was the fourth or fifth book I've read by Greene. It's been a couple years since the last one, but I still really enjoy him. This book had giant characters, but they didn't seem ridiculous in Greene's masterful hands. And the ending of this book was just amazing. It's not often that I physically react while reading a book, but the ending...eyes wide, and I may have said, "No!" out loud...

12Sean191
abr. 26, 2015, 10:36pm

8. The New Wild by Fred Pearce

I gave this three stars, because I believe there were some valid good takeaways. I almost gave it two stars because I think the author had a set agenda and it bothered me that there was a reporter stance, but it was actually shrouding a lot of personal opinion. It was kind of a gonzo journalism for the eco set.

Pearce spent a bit of time on the positives that alien species bring into an ecosystem and thoroughly underplayed the negatives. A number of the points he was throwing in I knew about (Chernobyl's flourishing wildlife sanctuary for example), but some of the horror stories I knew about he touched on so lightly that if you blinked, they were gone. He mentioned the basic extinction of the American Chestnut in a sentence with zebra mussels and something else that escapes my recollection right now... one sentence for one of the largest losses of biomass on the east coast of the U.S.

It was clear at that point where the agenda was going. Two other things that worried me and annoyed me were the relative dismissal of species extinction - Pearce would make statements along the lines of "well, only 10% of native species went extinct, but the biodiversity of the region increased by 20%" - that's not a direct quote, but close...so ONLY 10% and that's offset by greater biodiversity, but he didn't acknowledge, or at best, only very, very briefly, that the biodiversity of the planet just dropped with the loss of that 10%.

He also bashes conservationists who are anti-invasive species, saying they have to get their mind set to the "new wild" (a term he uses enough times to make me think he's got a trademark pending). But the problem here, part of his argument is that nature takes care of itself, it regenerates, even in cities...etc. But that's if it's left alone. By bashing some of the conservation efforts, he's poking a finger in the eye of a group that he should be trying to get onto his way of thinking if he really believes in it.

There are fewer people that step outside for more than the time it takes to get into their car or another building. Yet, there are plenty still working to pave over what we have. It's important to create a story worth telling to convince people to get back to nature a bit. One way we do that is by creating engaging narratives and one of the most engaging narratives is delivered in success stories about bringing species back from the bring. And I disagree with Pearce on that - yes, there are some species that will always require human shepherds to keep them going. But there are success stories where we just gave a nudge or stopped nudging and those animals have come back and don't need us anymore - and don't need us putting them back into a bad spot again.

In all, some of Pearce's argument was interesting and engaging, but some of it was questionable and suspect. I saw the titles of some of his other books and they seem intriguing, but I don't think I have the desire to take that trip with Pearce again.

13Sean191
maig 19, 2015, 11:51pm

9. The Secrets of Happily Married Men by Scott Haltzman

I think as far as self-help books go, this was pretty good. It wasn't beating me up and telling me I was wrong about everything. But it did give some practical advice and I think it's been beneficial.

14Sean191
Editat: maig 20, 2015, 12:15am

10. Neuromancer by William Gibson

I know I'm not the first to think of this (confirmed via Google just a moment ago) but to me, if the director/producers of the Matrix didn't pay William Gibson something when they made that movie, they really screwed him over.

There's a reason this is a class - and I wish I had read it years sooner. The story is awesome. I guess one thing about reading it now is getting to see some of the technology Gibson wrote about actually being used today...

Gibson does a masterful job telling a compelling story that may have been a little difficult for the average person to follow back when it was first published, but there's a lot of aspects that are almost commonplace now.

15Sean191
maig 20, 2015, 12:04am

11. The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Philips

To me, there were aspects of the book that were just annoying. The boss' name for instance....the mix of wordplay that didn't really seem thought out....too much that just didn't work for me.

I think Kafka handled bureaucracy much better.

16Sean191
maig 29, 2015, 12:34am

12. The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly by Matt McCarthy

If Scrubs were a book, true and maybe a little less quirky, I think this would be it.

McCarthy tells a great story and it's a story of his growth as a doctor.

My only reservation, it just seems too fantastic at times to be true, but I'm taking it at face value and going with it.

Very entertaining and well-worth the read even for those who don't have interest in medicine.

17Sean191
juny 13, 2015, 4:32pm

13. Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr.

This book is brutal. None of the characters are redeemable and it's so heavy handed with their development that I am only able to believe that Selby was being masochistic rather than artistic in his representation.

In comparison, Graham Greene's book, Brighton Beach, has some horrible characters, but it's done more artfully.

18Sean191
jul. 21, 2015, 8:45am

14. New World: A Novel by Andrew Motion

Even though The New World was supposed to be tied to Treasure Island, it seemed more like a Huck Finn to me - right down to riverboat travel. But that's definitely too complimentary. Although not bad, it's far from a classic. It's just alright. Too much depended on Deus ex machina for my taste. Also, even the climax seemed anti-climatic and I never could figure out what the narrator or other main characters were really supposed to be feeling, or why I should care. Some of the writing was nice and poetic, saving it a little, but overall it was a forgettable novel.

19Sean191
jul. 21, 2015, 9:00am

15. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Incredible, compelling, heartbreaking. If this isn't at the top of the must-read suggestion list for everyone from high school students to medical professionals to just the average citizen, I'd be curious to know what would be in its place.

Skloot does an admirable job of getting to the bottom of what's been a small mystery for decades, practicing a bit of Gonzo journalism, but in an admirable way, to get the story told. Henrietta Lacks should be on U.S. currency, but short of that, this book should be provided to everyone free-of-charge (preferably paid for by some type of charitable trust set up by the medical industry). Lacks' inadvertent contribution to all of humanity can't get enough recognition I think and getting the history of one of the biggest finds in the medical field (I'd say pretty high up there near the discovery of penicillin) should be of interest to all.

Skloot does a great job of presenting some complex information in an accessible way and her treatment of the family is respectful, but honest.

20Sean191
jul. 21, 2015, 9:09am

16. A Trace of Footprints by Ruth Wolff

Maybe an accurate description of this book would be that it's like The Andy Griffith show, but with a bit more gossip and ever-so-slightly racier.

In all though, it was a pleasant read and I found myself caring for nearly each character that came and went and maybe even...getting some dust in my eye at one point...

Every once in a while, there's just a book that has a comforting, welcoming "I'm home" kind of feel...some of Tolkien's work, some of the work from Peter S. Beagle and I think this hits the category, although unlike the others, there's no touch of fantasy.

21Sean191
Editat: ag. 1, 2015, 3:23am

17. Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan

I heard an interview with Cahalan on NPR a couple of years back. The story sounded terrifying and fascinating, but it took me a while to pick up the book. Overall, I regret it. Somehow, the story didn't end up that interesting after all. The bigger problem was just the self-centered way the story was told. Obviously it was about an illness that she experienced directly, but the way she said things rang with such a sense of entitlement that it was incredibly off putting. She also didn't seem to worry too much about who she was writing about or who she hurt.

But then, she did and does work for the New York Post...so I should have took that as an early warning.

22Sean191
ag. 1, 2015, 3:15am

18. Lost Canyon by Nina Revoyr

The first three quarters of this book was rough to read. The characters weren't nuanced and the way they were described and built up was so heavy-handed it seemed like satire.

I guess the saving grace was the last quarter of the book. Revoyr seemed to dial it back a little and let the characters grow through actions rather than incredibly stereotypical internal monologues. If the rest of the book dealt with character development like the last quarter, with a little more finesse, I think it could have been much better.

23Sean191
ag. 19, 2015, 10:15am

19. Plugged! by Eoin Colfer

Not much for crime/detective type novels, I still found myself enjoying this book quite a bit. I read it over an extended time - I kept it in the car and read whenever my wife had to run into a store for something. Even so, it was easy to pick up where I left off. The characters all were painted vividly, making them easy to remember and the protagonist was great. Seems like it's ready-made to be a Jason Statham movie.

24Sean191
ag. 31, 2015, 9:21am

20. Wild Thoughts from Wild Places by David Quammen

The writing was fine....the topics should have been exciting, but they were also somehow, just fine...

I guess that's why I'm rating this pretty low. The subject matter - crazy white river rafting, some serious treks...should have been more exciting than they came across as. Quammen is a good writer, I can't really find fault, but I don't think the stories aged well and at least for me, the tone didn't hit right. That's not to say others won't love this book (I see plenty of high ratings) but it just wasn't for me.

25Sean191
set. 23, 2015, 1:04pm

21. Outlaw of Torn by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The "Outlaw" is nearly mythical...the intrigue is great and the ending suspenseful. A fun, somewhat silly read.Burroughs has a way of writing very poetically without it being overbearing

26Sean191
oct. 1, 2015, 3:22pm

22. Magic Kingdom for Sale Terry Brooks

Magic Kingdom was kind of a linear quest book. The protagonist, a lawyer from Earth named Ben gets to a magic kingdom and through a series of adventures/meetings moves through the world he's bought a kingship in. To be fair, the book is 30 years old, so it likely suffers from many imitators, but I think the recipe had already been well-baked before Brooks cooked this book up. Still, it's a fun enough light read.

27drneutron
oct. 2, 2015, 8:46am

Oh, definitely well baked! And done by better. It is fun, though. :)

28Sean191
Editat: oct. 5, 2015, 1:41pm

I was entertained enough - I don't regret picking it up and wouldn't be against following-up to see what the gang gets up to in the next story.

29Sean191
Editat: oct. 5, 2015, 1:41pm

23. Tunnels by Sally O. Lee

Tunnels - so very loosely ties to Meniere's disease (brief mention in the actual story, dedication to those suffering from it). But the short book is mostly a conversation between the protagonist and God...which is weird, because by trying to tie it to Meniere's disease (basically a disease that can cause hearing loss and vertigo) it makes things confusing and makes it seem like it also causes hallucinations or hearing voices, etc.

Nothing made sense - the protagonist from what I could piece together, went to college dated here and there etc. but she seems to have the mental capacities of maybe a 10-year-old at best. There was a little bit of interesting dialogue, but I would have thought it was freewriting if it had contained typographical errors.

Overall, if it wasn't for it being short, I don't think I would have finished it.

30Sean191
oct. 26, 2015, 10:38pm

24. Elfquest: Journey to Sorrow's End by Wendy and Richard Pini

I was excited to find this book - I never knew the novels existed. As a kid in the early '80s I had read nearly the full collection of the comic books released by Marvel, but I had missed a few issues (definitely some of the later issues). So I figured I'd get the blanks filled in.

Obviously the artwork in the comics was a big draw (no pun intended) so the novel mostly lacked that, but there were some full page illustrations here and there for a nice touch. The writing overall was probably just alright - maybe a 3 star, but since it was like I was visiting childhood friends, I pretty much looked past that.

This novel isn't the whole story from those comics I read 30 years ago...so that was a big disappointment, especially when I couldn't find mention of further novels at first. Fortunately, this is a trilogy and it should fully tell the tale covered in those books. I'll be picking up the other two.

If you're familiar with the comics and loved them as a kid, you'll probably enjoy this. If you've never heard of Elfquest or didn't like the comics, I'm less confident in the recommendation.

31Sean191
nov. 24, 2015, 2:04pm

25. With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change by Fred Pearce

I read this recently, over many lunch breaks - although not sure how I managed, since it's enough to make one lose their appetite. The book is nearly a decade old, but that actually made for some interesting points. It covers predictions and concerns that were for the near future which basically translates to now. Quite a bit of what was being discussed came about and more is still on the way. It lends more credence to the idea that the time for action is now.

Of particular concern is the idea that many scientists operate in their silos of specialty. They're not necessarily comparing notes with others outside of their area (who can blame them, with all the different types of research?) But that means that things like positive feedback loops are only being explored in narrow ways. They're not necessarily being looked at and compounded by positive feedback loops from other issues, so there's likely an underestimating of the severity of the climate change issue.

32Sean191
des. 28, 2015, 10:53pm

26. Hunters in the Dark by Lawrence Osborne

Suspenseful, entertaining, engrossing and really well-written. I'd like to dwell on the last comment a bit - it's possible (and I'd say fairly common) to have a book hit the first three, but the really well-written to a level that you start thinking of some of the late greats (I believe Graham Greene was invoked somewhere and i don't disagree) is something altogether different.

I think fans of Graham Greene will enjoy this. The mood, the atmosphere and the characters are all described at a topnotch level.