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« February, 2009 »

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded   book icon  
by Simon Winchester (2003)

read: 24 February 2009
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

This book was exactly one plane ride to San Francisco long and perfect for that event. I find Winchester a little difficult to read, he’s free with the adjectives even when they don’t forward his story terrible, and he’s a little snooty sounding. This works out better with a book like this one than it did with The Professor and the Madman. Winchester also does some really serious research and his books are at their strongest when he’s revealing things that he knows, and less interesting when he’s either talking about himself or waxing poetic about a small part of the story when you’re waiting for him to get to the explosion already! I wrote down a ton of little notes of things to go look up when I was done reading and back to noodling around on the Internet and this book was great for things like that.

The Book of Air and Shadows   book icon  
by Michael Gruber (2008)

read: 24 February 2009
rating: [+]
category: fiction

There has got to be a name for these specific sort of Davinci Code type mysteries where there’s a historical asect, some hidden thing from long ago turns up and then there’s some sort of dash for the item with a lot of different people crossing and double-crossing in a race across continents to search for it. The item is, always, soemthing that could change the face of history. I like these sorts of books. I liked the Dan Brown books fine also. They’re genre mystery types of books, but they kept the pages turning and gave me something to read while flying and that’s all quite good

In fact, this book was better than most because while I felt like I was following the action pretty well, I still wasn’t sure I knew whodunit until the very last pages and I sort of cared. There are a bunch of likeable and unlikeable characters in the whole thing and they weave into and out of each other’s lives. Nothing got too heavy but the plot was continually interesting.

Legends of Caltech   book icon  
by Willard Dodge (1983)

read: 17 February 2009
rating: [+]
category: non-fiction

This book is the first in a series of locally published volumes outlining first hand accounts of Caltech pranking. If all you’ve heard about is the Rose Bowl prank, you might enjoy reading a bit more about the day to day pranking going on at Caltech including the sweepstakes caper and the procedure known as room stacking where upperclassmen leave their rooms for Ditch Day and underclassmen try to break into them. This book covers the 1920’s through the 1980’s and is a good looking volume with a lot of personal accounts and photographs.

Into the Dream   book icon  
by William Sleator (1979)

read: 12 February 2009
rating: [+]
categories: fiction, ya

William Sleator’s book House of Stairs was a particular favorite of mine as a YA novel and when I saw this book on a free pile at the local library, I figured I’d take it home and see what it was like. I enjoyed it. it was a super quick read wiht the basic premise being two kids who find out they’re having a nearly identical dream and one that fills them with a sense of urgency. They have to muddle out what it all means, together, and the two kids are sort of opposites. He’s from a brainy academic family, she’s from more like the wrong side of the tracks but only together can they figure out what’s going on, which they eventually do. The book is well-written and suspenseful and only a little scifi-ish.

Zero Option   book icon  
by P. T. Deutermann (1999)

read: 5 February 2009
rating: [+]
category: fiction

I seem to only be reading St. Marten’s Press books this year. This book was on the share-a-book shelf at the hotel I was staying at and was a totally decent thriller-type read about a creepy chemical bioagent that disappears and the group of people -- Army FBI, random folks -- who have to try to get it back. It’s an interesting story with a lot of decent characters who all have a good news/bad news side to them and it was worth reading up until the end. I generally don’t read sort of political-military thrillers -- there was a lot of back and forth in this one about how the various federal agencies interact which sounds like snoresville but it was well done to my eyes -- but the last few I’ve picked up have been enjoyable.

The First Patient   book icon  
by Michael Palmer (2008)

read: 3 February 2009
rating: [+]
category: fiction

This book came to me in the mail from the publisher for some reason and it was the perfect book for a long series of plane rides. The basic premise is that the President of the US’s doctor has left for “some reason” and the president taps his old buddy with a checkered past to be his personal physician as he’s gearing up for running for re-election. Pretty standard stuff, but it gets into nanotechnology and all sorts of weird blackmailish stuff, better than the average political tome and a lively read.

A Gathering of Old Men   book icon  
by Ernest Gaines (1992)

read: 3 February 2009
rating: [+]
category: fiction

I found this book in a waiting room somewhere and it was on my shelves unread until I finally needed a small paperback to take on my trip. This book was great. It’s set in a post-sharecropper era in the South in a plantation town that is pretty much only occupied by elderly people who used to work on the plantation. There is some sort of altercation and one of the plantation owners is killed and there is a big to do about who will take the blame and for what reason. The old black men in town all assemble with their rifles, ready to say “I did it” in the face of what they are assuming is going to be violent opposition from the usual suspects. And that’s sort of what happens except the usual suspects are far from usual and there is a lot of change in the air and what happens isn’t quite what you expect.

Gaines' characters are interesting and full of complications and depth and the story is told in successive chapters by many different people, giving you somewhat differing perspectives, but not in the usual “who is telling the truth?” sort of way. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t enjoy the multiple perspectives but it turned out to make this story even more compelling than it would be otherwise, affording many differing views of the same day full of events.

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