Category Archives: books

More great books from this summer and fall

I’ve enjoyed reading a handful of awesome books the last couple of months. The sci-fi ones, in particular, have been greatly enjoyable. I wrote up some books from earlier this year back in June, and this is the next batch.

In fact, I’ve read 3-4 of my top 10 sci-fi books ever during the past couple of months. Wool, Ready Player One, The Forever War, and The Player of Games, all were outstanding.

The entire Wool series / Silo saga by Hugh Howey is excellent. There are 9 books in total, collected into 3 books (Wool, Shift, and Dust in the omnibus editions), all flowing together smoothly. What an amazingly-creative piece of work, a scary possible view of the future.

Ready Player One, by Ernert Cline, was so good that I read it twice, back to back. It also features a scary view of a future where everyone is plugged in to the “Oasis,” a world-wide massive virtual reality game, neglecting their real lives. There are heroes and villains there, naturally, and a battle to control the game, and thus life itself.

Close on its heels I read The Player of Games, by Iain M. Banks, which was also superb. It’s one of several books that take place in the same world, Banks’s “Culture” series, but the only one of those I’ve personally read so far.

Just yesterday I finished Joe Haldeman‘s classic novel, The Forever War. Wow, what an excellent book. I literally couldn’t put it down on the train / subway, and while walking around. It’s not a new book, but it was one of the few Hugo + Nebula joint award winners that I hadn’t read. The parallels to Heinlein‘s classic Starship Troopers are so clear, but the books play off each other perfectly.  And it turns out the author is a professor of creative writing at MIT!

Killing Pablo, by Mark Bowden, was a fascinating book as well. It led to a late night reading about Pablo Escobar and other drug figures on Wikipedia. Very detailed but not repetitive, and does a great job of expanding the Colombian context to Pablo’s life.

Lee Child‘s Never Go Back and High Heat, both Jack Reacher novels, were predictably good beach reads. Simple, but entertaining to read and fast-paced.

These are the best books I’ve read the couple of months — there have been a couple of duds, too, but that’s for another day.


Assorted recent book reviews, and maybe a couple of wines too

I noticed I’ve stockpiled a couple too many “write a brief book review” tasks in my to-do list, so this is an attempt at clearing them out. None of these are in-depth, but that’s OK, since if you care enough you’ll read the book (or a sample thereof).

Karin Muller‘s “Japanland: In Search of Wa” was fantastic. Every single chapter tells a wonderful story about the author’s year in Japan. One of the final stories is about how she undertook the famous Shikoku pilgrimage. The story of her received o-settai made me tear up a bit.
I’m a big John Rain fan, so when Barry Eisler came up with a new (relatively…) novel, “The Detachment,” I snapped it up. It sat unread in my Kindle app for a while, then I randomly noticed it on the beach a couple of weeks ago. Fast-forward about 24 hours later, and I greatly enjoyed the book. All the John Rain novels are a ton of fun, including this one.
I also read the related short story, “Paris is a Bitch,” also by Barry Eisler, and much of the same applies, although it all takes place in Paris, without the usual Tokyo shenanigans.
John Grisham‘s “Playing for Pizza” was the first non-detective, non-lawyer-type book I read from this famous author. It’s a well-written, fascinating story about a failed NFL quarterback moving to Italy to play, and adjusting to the local life.
Sara Gruen‘s “Water for Elephants” was interesting. I didn’t enjoy it as much as friends suggested I would. It’s an unusual book, and it’s well-written, but I just didn’t find it as engaging.
Alexander Maksik‘s “You Deserve Nothing,” on the other hand, was great. I don’t remember how I found out about this book, but I’m happy I read it.
I’m in the middle of the Singularity Series by William Hertling, and it’s amazing. There are three books: “Avogadro Corp,” “A.I. Apocalypse,” and coming soon, “The Last Firewall.” These books are incredible: fascinating, tight, well-written, wow. I found out about them from the Feld Thoughts blog, which is also recommended.
OK, that’s the last few weeks of books. While I’m clearing out my to-do list, maybe I’ll toss a couple of my fav recent wines on here.
Stag’s Leap “Hands of Time” from 2010 was surprisingly smooth and delicious. It’s not a wine they bottle on a regular basis, and so it’s extra-challenging to obtain, but if you see it, snag a case.
Maybe the most interesting wine I’ve had recently is an Alvarelhão, Forlorn Hope “Suspiro del Moro” 2012, from Silverspoons Vineyards. It’s an unusual grape, small production, especially outside its homeland. The winery also has several other unusual wines, exactly the kind in which I like to invest.
The Caymus Conundrum, from both 2010 and 2011, has been consistently excellent. A great wine with some raw bar or shellfish on a hot summer day. 
A great bottle for a Newport summer sunset.
My favorite rose of the sprint / summer so far is the Isola del Nuragi from Serra Lori. It’s a great balance of tasty and light. Perfect with some Island Creek Oysters, for example…
Whew, that feels good.

The rest of the Hunger Games trilogy

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed the first book of The Hunger Games trilogy, also called The Hunger games: read that first.

During the subsequent 36 hours, staying up much of two nights, I finished the next two books, Catching Fire and Mockingjay.  They’re addictive, easy to read, entertaining, and highly recommended.

Just like the Matrix movies, I think the first book is the best.  But just like the Matrix movies, you kind of can’t stop until you’re done with the trilogy.  It’s that gripping.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I won’t reveal any details here, but I can’t wait for the movie next month.

And there’s no way I’m writing a blog post that mentions the Matrix without plugging one of its many awesome scenes.

Book review: High Crimes

I read this book last year, and I’m not sure why I didn’t review it then, but it was eye-opening.  High Crimes, written by Michael Kodas.

The book talks about how over time, once permits became more easily available to anyone with enough money, the Everest mountaineering scene has changed.  More tourists, less qualified folks, more accidents, more shady guides and expedition organizers, a sketchier black market in equipment, and more.

It’s a good read not only for mountaineering fans like myself, but for anyone interested in some unintended consequences of apparently-good economic decisions (opening up a previously closed / controlled market in permits to free capitalism).

Well-written, fun to follow, and both shocking and entertaining at different times, I liked it.

Book review: The Hunger Games

Last week I started and finished a great book, The Hunger Games.  Enough friends told me I should read it that I just caved and moved it to the top of the queue.  It’s also #2 overall in the Kindle store right now, so apparently I’m not the only one raving.

It’s an excellent book, highly recommended.  It’s the first in a trilogy, and I’m reading the second book right now.  (In fact, I stopped just to write this review, because I imagine I’ll want to review the second book as well, and I don’t want them to blend together on this blog.)

The book is extremely well-written by Suzanne Collins.  The universe it describes is epic in size and scope, richly-detailed, and fascinating.  I won’t spoil any of the details here, since you should all read the book yourselves.

And there’s a movie coming out in March, so you’ve got a couple of months.  It’s an easy read, does not take long, and well worth the time.

The book reminds me of Ender’s Game, one of my all-time SciFi favorites, which is a big compliment.  The sense of hopelessness in the protagonist facing impossible odds, the community tie-ins so it’s more than just one against the world, the story and character development, the internal dilemmas faced by key figures, it’s all great.

I might be late to the game on this one, but it’s a great game 😉  Go read it.

Book review: "Invasive Procedures"

I saw Invasive Procedures at the airport store and bought it right away because of its author, Orson Scott Card.  Card is the author of Ender’s Game, one of my favorite sci-fi novels ever.  Ender’s Game is one of those books, like the Godfather in movies, that has elements imitated so often they’ve become cliche, but it’s the original, the inspiration to many others.

Invasive Procedures is a near-future story, not as far-fetched as Ender’s Game.  It’s about gene therapy and bioengineering, and it’s fascinating.  I don’t want to spoil the story here (I never do), but it’s a good, taut read.  Highly recommended.

Book review: Tina Fey’s Bossypants

I read Tina Fey‘s “Bossypants” on vacation in Israel last month.  I don’t remember why I picked it up, but one day I saw it in the Kindle app, and it fit my mood.

It’s a light-hearted funny book with plenty of interesting stories.  There’s a few rants and raves in there, but they’re mostly very entertaining, and well-written as you might expect given Tina Fey’s professional experience.

A fun book to read on a beach day (as I did) or on a snowed-in day (as are forthcoming…)

Book review: "Diary of Manhattan Call Girl"

A couple of days I finished reading Tracy Quan‘s novel, “Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl.”  This novel was recommended by a friend (who is not a call girl ;)) and it was a strange, but good, read.

It was a bit meandering at times.  There are a bunch of side stories, of which some are amusing, and others are less interesting.  But the main story is so stressful, I felt stressed myself while reading it.  It does resolve well at the end, but I didn’t think it would.

I think that’s a compliment to the author, who managed to take me along for a ride and convey some real stress, and then surprise at the end.

An interesting book.

A couple of quick reviews: Forum, Cafeteria, Harry Potter, and The Scarecrowd

Getting in a couple of quick reviews in the middle of a long Labor Day weekend.

On August 23rd, Alli and I went to Forum, a new restaurant in Boston’s Back Bay, for our monthly date night, aka “the 23rd.”  Forum is the replacement for Vox Populi, a restaurant / bar we both liked.

You could tell the restaurant is new and still working on its operations.  Our server was friendly and well-intentioned, but did not know the menu or cocktails very well.  The food itself was pretty good, featuring beautiful presentations and interesting ingredients, but the flavors themselves were underwhelming.  The decor was beautiful, and the location cannot be beat, so hopefully as the restaurant tweaks and improves, it will become great.

Yesterday we had a quick brunch at Cafeteria, on Newbury Street.  It was a beautiful summer Saturday, and we ate outside, which was great.  I had the crab roll, which was delicious, and Alli had the greek salad which was decent.  The place has a broad menu that aims to please, with nothing too crazy or inventive, and a lot of comfort food.  Service was friendly, if a bit slow.  All in all, a fun place to sit outside and watch the crowds, but not a foodie destination.

On Friday night, we met up with friends from work and saw the last Harry Potter movie.  We wanted to go see it on opening weekend, but that didn’t work out.  We both enjoyed the movie a lot.  I’ve read all the books, but Alli has not, and yet we both liked the movies.  Great cinematography, great stories, a pretty fun movie.

Finally for this quick review roundup, a book I just finished: The Scarecrow, by Michael Connelly.  I read the Hebrew translation of this book, not the original in English, but I imagine they’re similar.  It’s a good, captivating story about seriali killers.  I like that genre in general, but this one is well-told and features some cybercrime and cyberespionage to make it even more interesting.  Highly recommended, and a great beach book.

That’s it for this quick review roundup.  Happy Labor Day everyone, and remember, my birthday is tomorrow 😉  (September 5th…)

A couple of great books I just read, both Navy SEAL-related

I just finished reading two Navy SEAL-related books in a row, and both are highly recommended.  I don’t want to spoil the surprises with too many details, so I’ll keep this brief. Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 tells the story of Marcus Luttrell and his unit mates on an operation in Afghanistan.  The operation (“Red Wings“) went badly, and after a variety of adventures, Marcus was the only one left alive to tell this story.  It’s non-fiction, but it’s as fascinating as any action movie I’ve seen recently.

The next book I read after that is older, but it has a bunch of connections to the people in the above book.  It’s called The Warrior Elite: The Forging of SEAL Class 228, and among other people, it has the above Luttrell completing his initial SEAL training.
This book, too, is very well-written and fun to read.  The author, Dick Couch, is a former Navy SEAL and Captain, and as such he was given unprecedented, unlimited access to the same training he underwent himself years ago.  More than any journalist or other external party would get.

The result is the most in-depth, detailed description of the training program and its purposes that I’ve ever.  Really fascinating.  Both books also have some side rants and discussions about US policy, the impossibility of some of the “rules of engagements” limitations, digging into warrior philosophy, and more.

Both of these books are highly recommended, great reading.  I’ll close this post out with a clip from GI Jane, a fun movie from a few years ago, showing some small piece of Navy SEAL training.