Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel Outstanding historical fiction (which is not a genre I tend to favor); the start of Thomas Cromwell's rise is seen alongside the dissolution of Henry VIII's marriage to Katherine of Aragon. It's brutal, long (lots of characters to keep in mind, all of the important ones real people), and intriguing, with politics and religion taking center stage in Tudor England. One of the best fiction novels I've read, and, yes, it took me a long, long time to get through it (with no updates for a long time), but I'm glad I did. This is what great fiction should be.

The Aether Age: Helios

The Aether Age: Helios - Christopher Fletcher, Brandon H. Bell Great start leads to an abrupt ending. Just when I was really invested in the story, Junger ends it with a few short paragraphs and no real resolution. I wanted more, and while it's a testament to his skills as a fiction writer (I'd only ever read his nonfiction), he didn't end the story well enough.

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic - David Quammen A fascinating topic made frustrating by a flippant and awkward tone throughout. While I learned quite a bit (the information about bats as carriers is quite interesting), Quammen's tone is almost too casual, and his diversions into sarcastic observations are unnecessary. I'm not a scientist, and I know this book is written for the layperson, but a slightly more professional tone would have kept me more involved. As it is, I'm likely to recommend his book, but with the warning that the tone might put some people off. Academic writing doesn't need to be boring nor dry, and popular science writing doesn't need to be uptight and snarky. Find a happy medium.

I Want My Hat Back

I Want My Hat Back - Jon Klassen A children's book best appreciated by adults because it's adorable, sly, and just a touch subversive. This is the book you read to your future deranged children, and share with your co-workers and adult friends of goofy humor dispositions. It's really quite wonderful.

Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession

Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession - Chuck Thompson Little to add to the discussion of cultural differences between the north and south of the United States, with no interest in pursuing reasons behind "why" certain people feel the way they do; there's too much snark, little thought, and no new information. Dull.

People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman

People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman - Richard Lloyd Parry Densely written, thoroughly researched, very objective and (unfortunately) somewhat dull, Richard Lloyd Parry's book on the disappearance of Lucie Blackman is worth reading if the reader is willing to be patient. This reader, sadly, was not able to be as patient as she should have been. The facts are presented, the context is explained, Lucie Blackman exists in fragments of memory and her resulting tragedy, her parents exist as two people who either despise one another or simply can't agree on who's wrong, and the ones Lucie Blackman left behind - her friends, siblings, those who truly knew her - can only describe her in terms that feel distant. By the end, Lucie is a ghost, no longer a real person, she is a memory battled over by the ones left to wonder 'why'. That's the real question left: 'Why? Why did this happen? Why did Lucie Blackman disappear and suffer this death?'If the book was not so thoroughly journalistic (it feels like a case study in How To Write Investigative Journalism), I would highly recommend it, as it does open some doors into contemporary Britain and contemporary Japan, and how these two countries are not what we in America think they are. As it stands, the writing of the book is stiff and somewhat dull.

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus - Monica Murphy, Bill Wasik An interesting cultural history that strays into academic mush too often, and while it clocked in at just under 300 pages, at least 200 of those pages were unnecessary. The introduction and the last three chapters are fascinating stuff, but would have made for a better magazine series of articles as opposed to a published book. While I learned some information, little of it felt like information I could carry to other sources, and the chapter on Pasteur and his developments of vaccinations did not feel as fascinating as they should have been. In the hands of a better science writer, 'Rabid' might have been a chilling read; instead, it veers between fascination and dull, and dull is never something that a popular science book should be.

Syndrome E: A Novel

Syndrome E - Franck Thilliez, Mark Polizzotti I wanted to like this book, I really did, but after reading through it, I couldn't help thinking that it's simply a French thriller writer doing what American thriller writers have been doing for years: put two dysfunctional people (preferably cops) in a case with a creepy supernatural-ish twist and a conspiracy theory, and you'll get a bestselling story.And Syndrome E has everything included to make a bestseller: a male and female lead who initially clash and have to learn to work together, a series of unsolved murders, a creepy film that might be killing people, conspiracy theories, and lots of technical jargon that is supposed to be smart, but comes off as silly instead. The only thing that sets Syndrome E apart from any other thriller on the American market is that it was written in French, translated to English, and sold in the States.Looking past the familiar plot - an art house film causes blindness in one viewer in Lille, and might be linked to the deaths of at least a half dozen people in southern France - Syndrome E has other problems. Its characters are two-dimensional (at best); the female lead is predictably torn between motherhood and the job of being a detective, and the male lead is a paranoid schizophrenic whose psychosis presents itself more vividly as the story goes on. He might also take the prize for most ill-conceived male lead detective character of the year.The translation from French to English is what ultimately killed this book for me. Certain terms and idioms are translated from French to English in such a fashion that they jarred me out of the experience. When I saw the phrase 'the whole shebang' used in the book, as well as the frequent use of 'the cop', 'CSI', and 'ME' to describe police personnel, I started to get frustrated. These are American phrases and terms, not French, and they kill the flow.I'm ultimately disappointed, because I was hoping for something more along the lines of Koji Suzuki's The Ring (novel that the film is based on), not a weak French-written American thriller. While reading Syndrome E, I was reminded why thrillers are at the low end of my reading spectrum. I like brain candy, but it has to make me think, not make me want to give myself a concussion.

All Seeing Eye

All Seeing Eye - Rob Thurman Jackson Lee, the 'All Seeing Eye', psychic and generally cynical person is recruited (kidnapped?) by a shifty federal agent named Hector Allgood into participating in a research study on psychics. Naturally, things are never what they seem. Rob Thurman shifts from her usual urban fantasy fare to a more suspenseful tone with this novel, and it's a welcome change. While Jackson is Thurman's familiar snarky protagonist, his characterization feels more mature than some of her leads. jackson's more haunted by the memory of his little sister's disappearance than by any real ghost, but the ghosts of the living seem to cause him more trouble than any real phantasm could. Hector adds a flare of drama and barely-restrained professionalism to the story, a man haunted by his own losses, but who has chosen different coping mechanisms than Jackson. Watching their friendship evolve is Thurman's opportunity to show off, once again, how well she writes men, and how she captures their voices to suit her stories. I'm uncertain if this is a stand-alone novel, or the start to a new series, but regardless, it's a good suspense novel, the perfect way to end the summer reading season.

Titanic's Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler

Titanic's Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler - Bradford Matsen The new theories on why the Titanic sank boil down to 'the ship was built cheaply' therefore 'hubris and greed sank the ship'. This is kind of interesting, but the contemporary bits of the book involving Chatterton and Kohler and their researchers are less interesting than these bits should be. I was more fascinated by the historical section (Part 2) which talks at length about Harland and Wolff's engineering department and how the Titanic was designed and built. There is an incredible history of ship building and engineering hidden in this section, and I really wish more time had been devoted to that. The recreation of the sinking is somewhat detached and feels like a creative non-fiction writing experiment. So, in short, I wanted more history and more evidence exploration but I didn't quite get it, and the brief interviews at the end with the archivist, McCluskie, are not in depth enough. I wanted to learn more about him and his research. Decent book, but it left me with more questions, and a growing curiosity about early-20th century engineering.

Batman: Earth One

Batman: Earth One - Geoff Johns Fantastic new take on Batman. Geoff Johns one again proves he's one of the best writers out there, and Gary Frank's artwork is nothing short of spectacular. This is a familiar and yet wholly original take on the Batman, and I loved every minute of it.

Red, White, and Blood (A Nathaniel Cade Novel)

Red, White, and Blood - Christopher Farnsworth A predictable but terrifying ending makes this third entry in Farnsworth's series a must for fans of horror and thrillers. I eagerly await the next volume.

Infinite Horizon

Infinite Horizon - Gerry Duggan, Phil Noto A brilliantly retold version of The Odyssey, seen through the eyes of a nameless soldier as he fights to return home to his wife and son. Beautiful, sometimes stark artwork, with shifting color schemes, make this one of the best graphic novels to fall into my hands. Highly recommended.

The President's Vampire

The President's Vampire - Christopher Farnsworth An entertaining second outing, if suffering from the usual flaws of second outings in series books: this one just isn't quite as good as the first. 'The President's Vampire' is much more of a horror-angled story, as opposed to the political thriller nature of its predecessor. While still good, the inclusion of conspiracy theories (the lizard people, Area 51, etc.) makes it feel a bit... well... silly. Cade is a fantastic character - charismatic, cynical, and brutal enough to keep readers on their toes, while Zach, his handler, continues to grow from the whiny, ass-covering political brown-noser of the first book into a harder, colder, more reserved, and slightly tougher adult. These two really anchor the book, and kept my interest, even if the plot itself felt a bit too goofy. Overall, this is still a strong novel, and I'm eager to dive into its follow up.

Blood Oath

Blood Oath - Christopher Farnsworth Engaging and exciting, this political thriller / hardcore horror / espionage story is one of the most pleasant reading surprises I've had in a long time. Characters who don't act predictably, a refreshing twist on vampire mythology, plenty of dirty political tricks, some not-so-thinly-veiled jabs at the American military's treatment of military dead, and some deliciously nefarious plot twists put this one high up on the recommended list. This is a book that's never quite what it seems, and even when it does veer into some mildly silly territory, it always draws you back to the action.

Doubletake: A Cal Leandros Novel (Cal and Niko)

Doubletake - Rob Thurman The 7th entry in the Leandros series offers some serious meditations on family and fate. That said, it's still wickedly funny and stirring with some Lovecraftian nastiness in the form of the various monsters that pop up. With this entry, we see a side of Caliban that I suspect is his new personality - somewhere between honorable ass and monster. Thurman continues to amp up the conflict level in these novels, especially on an internal level, and impresses with her characterizations. The addition of new character Kalakos is a welcome change of pace, horrified as he is by the what the Leandros brothers are capable of, and what they do on a daily basis. While female characters still play more or less a background role, I like how Thurman presents Promise, and she continues to be one of my favorite characters in this series, based on her underplayed role. Few series continue going strong at book 7, but with this exceptional entry, here's hoping for a few more adventures.