books: Reading List

I've been able to carve a bit of reading time from the sheer cliff of Fuss Care lately- here are the results.

A Dance with Dragons - George RR Martin

Long awaited latest volume of his ever-expanding fantasy series.  Well done for what it is- if you like the series you'll enjoy yourself.  It continues the author's unfortunate course of continually adding new characters and storylines which are woven in with the existing dramatic core of the book rather haphazardly.

It's as if the success of the early volumes empowered him to shatter the power & sanity of his editors, reducing them to pliant yes-men.  But Martin is a much better writer than Robert Jordan, who's series suffered excruciatingly from the same problem, to the point I stopped reading it.  Martin's digressions are less tedious, his new characters more engaging and he does spend the majority of his time on the characters you care about.

It's several hundred pages too long, but I don't begrudge them.  Reading them was enjoyable enough, and if the end was completely arbitrary I'll forgive the author this transgression provided I don't end up waiting ten years for the next installment.

The Birthgrave - Tanith Lee

Feminist heroic fantasy for the reader with a literary bent.  It's a book that looked so hokey I've purposefully avoided it my whole life- and I'm the guy who choked down the entire Brak the Barbarian series! But I recently re-read all of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover books, which put me in the mood for a specific type of 70's vibe.
I gave it a shot in spite of its cover:
I'm not sure artful wisps of hair obscuring the decolletage are an improvement on the traditional 'chainmail bikini' look.

Anyway, great book so far.  It works as both a straight ahead adventure tale & a gender allegory, and her writing is tremendous.  Nearly every page harbors a description that surprises & delights me, which is a tough assignment.  This was her first published novel, which makes me happy as I now have a 30+ year back catalog to work through.

Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey

Genre-bending fantasy, Clive Barker by way of Raymond Chandler. The enthusiasm of the author is palpable, and this is that rare sequel that's better than the original. It's a straightforward story- if the idea of The Big Sleep with an demonic hitman as protagonist appeals to you, this is the book for you.

The Big Fight by Sugar Ray Leonard

An essentially self-serving project by one of the most relentless self promoters boxing has ever known, and another victim of the fascinating story poorly told ailment common to most boxing autobiographies.

Happily for this reader he is just barely self aware enough to provide fresh insight on an extraordinary career, particularly regarding why a financially secure superstar would keep fighting well beyond the point where even casual observers of the Sweet Science realized it was over.

He also does a good job illuminating the atmosphere of a really big fight and the crushing pressure it imposes on the participants, and does better than most at clarifying the action & tactics inside the ropes for us non-fighters.  If you're one of those boxing fans who would trade a kidney to reverse the result of his second fight with Tommy Hearns, this isn't the book for you.  For everyone else, it contains enough worthwhile insights to justify your time.

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis

A compilation of magazine articles that serve as an engaging introduction to the current global financial crisis. His hook, that 'national character' somehow played a role in the downfall of the various nations covered, is lacking.  Along with his barely restrained man-crush on Ahhhhnuld the Governator it is the book's main flaw.  Still, the actual reporting is spot on and his prose is, as always, compelling and illuminating even for a total economic dunderhead like myself.  It's a light, fast read and I'd recommend it to anyone wondering why Ireland has hundreds of thousands of abandoned, half constructed houses dotting its countryside.

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