Thursday, April 28, 2011

Book #29

The Gift, by Bryan Litfin. Paperback.

In Book 2 of the Chiveis Trilogy, Teo and Ana continue their search in a post-apocalyptic world four centuries in the future for the lost words of Deu, which we know as the New Testament. This novel includes swords, pirates, betrayal, kidnappings, darings rescues, forgiveness and discovery.

Litfin separates Teo & Ana on more than one occassion, allowing the main characters to develop their strengths, as well as their feelings for each other. Tension is developed well, and Litfin's skillful use of language is again on display. There were a few CBA tropes that appear here, such as Ana falling sway to the glamorous life, developing a love of fine clothing and high society out of nowhere. Of couse, the ultra-manly Teo remains upstanding and stalwart.

I do have one indelicate issue with the books. In these first two books, Ana has been imprisoned for many weeks combined, by a range of ruffians who continually threaten to rape her or sell her into prostitution. But for all the time she has spent alone with pirates and kidnappers and all kinds of horrible men, nobody actually treats her inappropriately. I did not "want" Ana to be raped, but I wonder if there is an underlying message here that being a victim of sexual abuse would make Ana less pure, both to Teo and to the Lord. This is a message that I find wildly inappropriate, and potentially harmful.

That being said, there are some aspects of the world and the story that I find encouraging. The fact that it takes place in Europe was cool, as well as the central role that Rome plays in the remnant Christian community. These are positions that are atypical among the CBA world, and appreciate Litfin's broad view of the Church.

My only worry about the series is whether it will sell enough to guarantee the publication of the last novel in the series. I am often tempted to wait on CBA series, especially genre series, to be complete before diving in. I have been caught hanging before, waiting for a further book that will never come. Christian fiction is itself a niche marketplace, and when a CBA novel strays from prairie romance, sadly the potential audience shrinks even further, and the line between a profitable and non-profitable book must be very thin.

While not trying to get my hopes up only to see them dashed, I do want 2012 to bring us the final book in the trilogy.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Fond Farewell

I don't remember the exact first podcast I ever listened to after getting iPod #1 at Christmas 2008, but among that first batch was the family of podcasts from GeekShow, including their flagship GeekIn' podcast. I downloaded all the available early shows, then started listening along as I got current. There were some ups and downs, the occasional long lag between episodes, and even a change of co-hosts.

And now after six years and 150 episodes, GeekIn has come to an end. The 150th episode was a reunion of sorts, with original co-host Wayne joining Randy & Scott for a review of the show, a discussion of podcasting, and a general celebration of the show.

The GeekShow network has plenty of continuing shows, and another flagship show will be coming down the feed in a few months, but I appreciate them giving this show a "farewell" episode.

When a show just podfades away without notice, that totally bums me out. But when a show has an actual ending, that should be a cause for celebration, albeit a sad one. I would encourage all podcasters to have a "farewell" episode when they are ending a show. As a listener, it gives us a sense of completion.

Thank you, Randy, Wayne, & Scott, for 150 fun episodes.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Book #28

True Blue, by David Baldacci. Unabridged audio. Despite having put out a few clunkers in his career, for the most point I enjoy David Baldacci's novels. This one is one of the good ones.

Introducing a new set of characters, True Blue is a thriller that ties in the DC police, government assassins, a framed ex-con heroine, and international intrigue. Recently released from prison "Mace" Perry, the sister of Washington's police chief, jumps into a murder investigation in an attempt to clear her name and get back on the force. But she is quickly in over her head, and perhaps even her sister's connections can't keep her out of trouble when the danger spins out of control.

The character of "Mace" is very well-drawn, and Baldacci gives her strong motivations for her behavior. The sister and other main characters are equally well-drawn, and even the villains are given legitimate motivations other than "being evil." This is not to say that the work is a literary masterpiece, but Baldacci does put out some of the best titles in the mystery/thriller genre.

I also want to add a note particular to the audio production of this book. Though mostly a straight read, there are some sound effects and music cues, just enough to be pleasantly noticeable, but not so much to be annoying.

I assume this is an attempt by Baldacci to launch a new series, and I welcome it. I enjoy his "Camel Club" series, as well as his "King a& Maxwell" series. If there is another book on the way featuring this crew of characters, I'll pick it up.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Book #27

The Extra 2%, by Jonah Keri. Hardcover.

Every year, around this time, I read a baseball book. This one just came out a few months ago, so the timing was right to make it my 2011 baseball book.

The book takes a look at the "worst-to-first" seasons that the Tampa Bay Rays have pulled off the last few years. After a decade of hard times under the reign of their first owner, the Rays were taken over by a young trio of Wall Street geeks who used quantitative analysis and out-of-the-box baseball thinking to find ways to be successful despite working on a shoestring budget compared to their big-market competitors. Teams such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox had far more resources than the Rays, but the Rays were able to win their division twice in three years, making it once all the way to the World Series.

Comparison to Michael Lewis' groundbreaking Moneyball are inevitable, and justifiable. Both chronicle the efforts of non-baseball people to bring non-baseball analytics to the great old game. But Keri's book does not focus primarily on one man, as Lewis' did, but instead discusses a total top-to-bottom overhaul. It is this additional layer that separates The Extra 2%, and makes it seem like a fresh read.

After reading similar books the last few years, about new methods of analysis and sabermetrics, all of which I enjoyed, I think for next year I'll go back and find a more old-school book to read.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Book #26

Rest in Pieces, by Rita Mae Brown & Sneakie Pie Brown. Unabridged audio.

The first four novels in this series were not available in audio when I started the series, so I never read any of them, and just began with #5. When this one (the 2nd) showed up on the library shelves, I grabbed it.

It was very fun to read about the characters' earlier lives, when some characters had not yet married (or divorvced) and the "stranger" in town is someone I now know as a series regular.

But the strength of this novel was the intricately-plotted story. I haven't thought too much about this next point, but I do notice that ongoing mystery series tend to focus more on character moments as the series progress past book 10 or 15 in the series, as if the plot is just an excuse to get to these character moments, which by then have become well-established. Earlier in series, plot seems to come before character, and habits/patterns have not yet become predictble.

I've checked, and books 1, 3, & 4 are not yet available at my library via audio, but I'll keep looking.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Audio Drama & Podcast Fiction

As many audiobooks as I listen to, and as big a fan of podcasts as I am, you'd think that podcast fiction would be right up my alley. But I haven't listened to much of it, to be honest. And I can't really come up with a good reason why.

Maybe it's my bias towards the self-published nature of these works -- as old-fashioned as the publishing world is, I do buy the "gatekeeping" function of publishers and editors, and the handful of self-published novels I've read have all been of well below average quality. So I admit to being cautious about podcast novels, and careful about which I choose to listen to.

I should listen to more audio dramas, and as a huge fan of Doctor Who, I know I am missing out on a huge part of that character's adventures. Paeter Frandsen's audio dramas, from his Spirit Blade Productions studio, are excellent. He has two complete audio dramas available, Spirit Blade and Spirit Blade:Dark Ritual. He is also working on a modern retelling of Pilgrim's Progress. Frandsen's work contains top-notch production and audio quality.

In terms of short fiction, I am a big fan of sister podcasts Escape Pod (SF) and Podcastle (Fantasy). I am a bit behind, maybe 4 or 5 months on each, but I am slowly catching up. Good stories, good readers, and I appreciate the fact that they rate the stories G, PG, R, etc ... and explain why.

In terms of longer fiction, I have listened to the following Audio Novels:
Archangel and Archangel: Shadow of the Valley, both by Scott Roche
Heaven, Hell, and Playing for Keeps, all by Mur Lafferty
Guild of the Cowry Catchers, by Abigail Hilton
Purgatory, by Tim Dodge

Friday, April 8, 2011

Book #25

Star Island, by Carl Hiaasen. Unabridged audio.

Early in his career, when he was still a reporter, Carl Hiaasen wrote a trio of thrillers with William D. Montalbano. After these, he turned his attentions to his solo works, which included trademark whacky characters and humorous situations. And I enjoyed all of those novels to one degree or another.

After writing a trio of YA novels (none of which I read), Hiassen has returned to his familiar territory of adult humor novels set in and around Miami. But this one falls short of its target. Very short.

The basic story is of a self-destructive Britney-style singer facing a career crisis, a photographer who is banking his career on capturing her in a compromising position, and the actress hired by the singer's family to impersonate her publicly when the singer finds herself in a compromised position. Many of Hiaasen's stable of characters appear, including the reclusive Skink. His scenes are the novel's strongest.

The key problem with this novel is that is far more sad than it is funny. I mentioned Hiaasen's early works because this one actually resembles them more closely than it resembles his later works, but this comparison is not intentional. The humor tends to be at the expense of the characters, who are more to be pitied than reviled. So the bad things that happen to them often feel less like deserved retribution, a balance that Hiaasen more successfully struck in many of his prior works.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Book #24

The Sword, by Bryan Litfin. Paperback.

This is Litfin's first novel, but as a college professor he is certainly not new to writing. It doesn't always read like a first novel, and there are more than a few moments of skillful writing.

This is the first volume of a planned trilogy, which takes place in a post-apocalyptic earth of approximately 2400. Many things from the Old World, including technology and religion, have been lost in the last few centuries. This allows Litfin to cobble his land of Chiveis from aspects of ancient, medeival and prairie cultures. This gives us a unique world that nonetheless has a familiar feel that allows us to fully enter the narrative as readers.

The core relationship of the novel is between manly man Teofil and womanly woman Anastasia. They rescue each other regularly, and (this is not a spoiler) they fall in love by the end of the novel. The crux of the story is Teo's discovery of an ancient scroll, which is in fact an Old Testament. He, Anastasia, and a small group of others begin to study the work, realizing that the religion of the land is very different from this ancient religion. This group comes to believe in the truth of the religion of Deu, the one true God.

The powers that be, most notably the High Priestess of the land's religion, knows of the religion of the cross, and has made it her mission to make sure it does not take root in the realm. As is typical of Christan novels, the villain's motivations lack subtlety.

When word comes to her that the scrolls have been recovered and a group is studying them, she demands that the young new King outlaw the religion, and has empowered her forces to execute followers of Deu. The book ends with the small group in hiding, and Teo & Ana riding into the unknown borders of the land.

The world-building aspects of The Sword have some strengths, although every character who becomes a follower of Deu seems to adopt the beliefs and practices of modern American evangelicals. I understand the marketing aspects of knowing who your audience is, but this does seem unlikley. I am encouraged by the few hints that the greater believing community has a more diverse history, and certainly hope Litfin develops this in the series' remaining two novels.

Christian novels often follow predictable paths, and this one certainly treads much familiar ground. Little new or unexpected happened here, but the characters and setting were strong enough to convince me to read book #2 in the series.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Book #23

The Women of Marvel. Graphic novel.

Covering Marvel's first seventy years, this collection presents a range of stories featuring Marvel's leading ladies. Included are action stories from the forties, romances from the fifties, golden age and modern stories. Elektra, She-Hulk, Invisible Woman, Ms. Marvel, Storm, Mary Jane ... these are all featured. I would have liked a Scarlet Witch Avengers story, but I admit that's nitpicking.

I enjoyed Frank Miller's Elektra introduction, and well as MJ's first full appearance. But more, I appreciated having a volume that tracked the history of comics, changing art styles, changing narrative structures, story-telling techniques, etc ...

As we moved into the modern age, I admit I skimmed some of the stories, as they covered characters I was less interested in, and in one case presented part 1 of multi-part story, and I didn't want to get sucked into that storyline. But for the comic historian in me, I enjoyed this volume for what it was.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Book #22

The Drunkard's Walk, by Leonard Mlodinow. Unabridged audio.

A book about mathematics, specifically probability and statistics, might not sound like the most intersting read. But as we've seen from Freakonomics and its many counterparts, books of this nature can be made interesting.

I admit that I am a math guy, and even more particularly a stats guy, so the book may appeal to my particular tastes more than others. I enjoy seeing how math finds its way into the "the real world," and so am intrigued when someone endeavors to demonstrate the practical implications of math. There were moments where the book got a lttle lecture-y and a little slow, but it made intersting and important points about how all aspects of our lives are greatly effected by unforseeable causes.

I enjoy John Allen Paulos' math books slightly more than I did this, though I did find Mlodinow's work an enlightening read.