Book Reviews [2]

February 24, 2013

I’ve read some more since my last book-related post, though not as much as I’d have liked. First the ones without any redeemable quality. I’m not even going to upload cover pictures for these, try and avoid them if you can at all:

  • Kathy Reichs; Flash and Bones (typical popular tripe, happens to be a No. 1 best seller)
  • Jeff Abbott; Cut and Run (typical popular tripe, not a best seller per se, but certainly written by an author who wrote other best sellers)
  • Michael Ridpath; 66° North (typical popular tripe feeding on wide-spread antipathy in the wake of the financial crisis, books fails miserably to deliver on tagline “In Iceland, revenge is best served at arctic temperatures…”)
  • Ruth Rendell; Not in the Flesh (I’m increasingly annoyed by the tendency in modern detective stories and tv series to let the murderer kill everyone before the detective in charge finally arrests the one remaining suspect on account of all the others being dead, put some frikkin’ thought into it already and solve the case before 4 more people die).
  • Robert Ludlum; Bourne Trilogy (typical popular tripe, highly repetitive writing. All of them international best sellers obviously) I’m amazed how the movies have absolutely nothing in common with the book apart from a few character names).
  • Seth Godin; Linchpin (Self help bunkum, normally I quite like Godins books, but this one was hogwash).

Now for the middling to good stuff, in no particular order.

David Sedaris: When You Are Engulfed in Flames


Collected short stories by the master of the anti-climax (or at least shared first place with Woody Allen and Roald Dahl). Great for bathroom or travel reading as most stories are a just a few pages long.

Hannu Rajaniemi: The Quantum Thief


Reasonably interesting Hard Science Fiction. Pretty depressing in its dystopian setting but manages to keep both human and technological interest alive. Pretty impressive debut.

Iain Banks: Transition


Good prose and interesting characters, but I think the story itself fell somewhat short of what it could have been. The premise of the book is better than the final result.

Sean Carroll: The Particle at the End of the Universe


As an aficionado of Carroll’s lecture series on Dark Matter and Dark Energy I had high hopes for this book but it ultimately didn’t teach me much I didn’t already know. That’s not because Carroll doesn’t talk about a lot of things I didn’t already know but mostly because I couldn’t keep up. The clarity and accessibility that defined the DM&DE lecture series was mostly absent from the book. Despite several chapters I’m still no closer to understanding quantum field theory and gauge symmetries, let alone what exactly the Higgs Boson is supposed to do and how it does it.

Shalom Auslander: Beware of God

Auslander_BOGA collection of short stories that mocks a sub-culture (American Jews) I know little about. In fact almost all my knowledge about Orthodox Jews comes from satire by ex-Orthodox Jews, which I must say I actually find rather endearing. I think Auslander lacks a certain prose though which is definitely present in the work of Sedaris and Allan, perhaps he hasn’t matured as a writer yet. Still, a reasonably fun read.

David Brin: Existence

Brin_ExistenceThis is a good one. Proper Hard Science Fiction with an all too believably depressing hypothesis of the fate of intelligence in this universe. Although not entirely dystopian, it certainly brings home the message just how lucky we are to be alive in this Universe that seems to care nothing for Life and is probably teeming with other Life which is potentially hostile to us. Brin does a good job of asking questions without answering them right away which certainly enhances the readers experience. This one comes highly recommended.

Tim Powers: The Drawing of the Dark, Last Call,

The Stress of Her Regard, Three Days to Never,

Declare (not pictured)


After reading —and thoroughly enjoying— The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, I went on a Powers-spree and read five more from his oeuvre. Although none was quite as good as The Anubis Gates I have to say Powers is one of only two writers I know (the other being Gaiman) who can handle the topic of magic* without me shouting profanities every second page. Powers is certainly one of the few writers who manages proper fantasy.

Boris Akunin: Murder on the Leviathan,

The Winter Queen, She Lover of Death


Thee books from the Erast Fandorin series, fairly light-weight reading material. But well written and an interesting window into late 19th century Europe and specifically Russia. These days Russia just conjures up images of squalor and dictatorship so it’s good to be reminded that it was once amongst the elite cultures in Europe.

Mark Forsyth: The Etymologicon


Actually one of K’s books, but a great read for short bursts. It’s like a collection of related newspaper columns or magazine articles adapted for book form. If you’re into linguistics (specifically English linguistics) this is definitely a worthwhile book. Forsyth manages to be interesting, witty and educational at the same time.

* in a non-satirical fashion, Pratchett doesn’t count

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