Reading Diary
Music Reviews
Favorite quotations
Contact Me

Reading Diary for 2010

  and earlier
"The Osiris Ritual"
by George Mann
The Osiris RitualThe second in the Newbury & Hobbes Victorian steampunk mystery series, "The Osiris Ritual" is another fast-paced yarn that shows author George Mann is very likely onto something special here. Following the events in "The Affinity Bridge" (in which robot-piloted dirigibles began crashing all over early 20th-century England), British Museum curator Sir Maurice Newbury is assigned by Queen Victoria (kept alive by a giant breathing apparatus and other medical technology) to track down a rogue royal agent. (Read full review.)

"Sinatra: The Voice"
by James Kaplan
Sinatra: The VoiceThat there even exists a market for a new biography of Frank Sinatra a full 12 years after his death is due entirely to his art. Whatever foibles and weaknesses he may have had as a human being, when you put a microphone in his hands he was one of the greatest popular singers of all time. And yet, a much ballyhooed new biography of Sinatra only hints at the music, and offers almost no new insight into what made Sinatra the iconic singer he was. The book is subtitled "The Voice" (Sinatra's nickname in the press for the first part of his career), but James Kaplan's exploration of the first half of Sinatra's life is much more focused on his personal relationships, the more salacious the better. (Read full review.)

"Candle Man Book Two: The Society of Dread"
by Glenn Dakin
Candle Man Book Two: The Society of DreadThe billions of dollars made from the Harry Potter books and movies ensure that there is no shortage of would-be heirs to J.K. Rowling's literary empire. Among the better entries is the Candle Man series by Glenn Dakin, the first entry of which was published last year. Back for its second volume, the new book ("The Society of Dread") finds young Theo Wickland now free of the control of his late master, Dr. Saint. (Read full review.)

"Pacific Southwest Airlines"
by Alan Renga and Mark E. Mentges
Pacific Southwest AirlinesHawaii and Alaska have their namesake airlines, and Hawaii also had Aloha Airlines for a good run. But San Diego may be the only city that was associated with an airline. A new book from Arcadia Publishing, and written by two staff members from the San Diego Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park, will remind locals of how much the long-gone Pacific Southwest Airlines personified Southern California in the 1960s and '70s. Largely a photo history drawing on the museum's extensive archive, "Pacific Southwest Airlines" reminds us of how influential the regional airline was. A trend-setter in both business practices and pop culture, PSA's influence was felt far from its relatively small service area. (Read full review.)

"The Demon's Parchment"
by Jeri Westerson
The Demon's ParchmentEven more important than an engaging storyline, what every great mystery has possessed is a compelling character at its heart – and this is obviously even more true for a continuing series. On this score, Jeri Westerson has succeeded perhaps beyond her own expectations. Crispin Guest is certainly the most unusual "detective" in the current field of mystery protagonists, and in Westerson's hands one of the most fully developed and intriguing as well. (Read full review.)

"No Ordinary Joes"
by Larry Colton
No Ordinary JoesWritten with the best of intentions, Larry Colton's history of four American submariners who spent the bulk of the Second World War as prisoners of war in Japan is ultimately undercut by a consistent lack of focus. Unable to decide whether he was writing a straight-ahead war story or an epic tale with historic and political overtones, Colton ends up bouncing from one style to another. The end result is a book that at times does a solid job of documenting the horrors of life in a Japanese POW camp, but too often wanders into amateur psychoanalysis more common to modern histories than most literature on WWII. (Read full review.)

"The Invisible Order, Book One: Rise of the Darklings"
by Paul Crilley
The Invisible Order, Book One: Rise of the DarklingsAnother contender in the race to replace Harry Potter, this juvenile magical mystery has two young orphaned siblings drawn into a fairy war on the streets of Victorian England. Well-drawn start to a new adventure.

"Pirate Latitudes"
by Michael Crichton
Pirate LatitudesPublished posthumously, presumably because it's similarity to the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies would have embarrassed Crichton too much (even though it was probably written by Crichton before the movie script), it's a fun summer read. Not as reflective of social mores as his better-known works, it's still well-crafted and entertaining from start to finish.

"As Time Goes By"
by Michael Walsh
As Time Goes ByA cheerily cheesy (and authorized) sequel (and prequel, too) to the film "Casablanca," with the literary characters clearly based on the iconic portrayals the actors gave them in the film. Michael Walsh's novel is true to these characters (giving Rick a back story that explains his presence in Paris before Casablanca), and the plot line is at least credible – finding Rick, Ilsa, Laszlo and even Louis taking the fight to the Nazis. Fans of the great film will enjoy.

"The Sherlockian"
by Graham Moore
The SherlockianA fun if rather formulaic mystery – with the hook of having the murder occur at a convention of Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts. A bit slow at times, the author does do a nice job of weaving Holmes trivia and history into the novel, offering up a plausible scneario involving real-life unsolved mysteries related to Holmes creator A. Conan Doyle.

"The Baker Street Letters"
by Michael Robertson
The Baker Street LettersKind of a neat premise: An English lawyers rents office space on Baker Street in London, and finds that the fine print on his lease requires him to send form letters back to all the fans who write to the mythical Sherlock Holmes – and which arrive at the attorney's offices. One of the letters spurs his ne'er-do-well brother to travel to Los Angeles to help solve a mystery, dragging barrister Reggie Heath unwillingly into the detective business. Good narrative flow, decently drawn characters, but some of the leaps in the storyline are a bit much.

"The Affinity Bridge"
by George Mann
The Affinity BridgeFun steamppunk alternative history set in the early 1900s, with robot-piloted airships and an elderly Queen Victoria hanging on via new medical technology. British Museum functionary Sir Maurice Newbury is really a special investigator for the queen, and when airships begin crashing and their robotic pilots disappearing, Newbury and his new assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes, try to find out what's really going on. Two appealing characters and a credible (by steampunk standards) mystery combine for a fun read.

"Rules of Betrayal"
by Christopher Reich
Rules of BetrayalThe third entry in the "Rules" series finds humanitarian doctor Jonathan Ransom ever more caught up the spy world of his estranged wife, Emma. Turns out he's got a knack for it, too – and that Emma has yet another surprise for the man she only married for cover. (Read my interview with Chris Reich.)

"Falcon Seven"
by James W. Huston
Falcon SevenBest-selling author James W. Huston's latest offers up a tale that not only is satisfyingly taut (and disturbingly plausible), but contains an ending that strongly hints this isn't the last we'll hear from these characters. The story opens with the two-man crew of a Navy attack jet receiving orders to bomb a secret Taliban meeting place in Pakistan. Shortly after releasing their ordinance, they find themselves shot down by a dozen or so surface-to-air missiles – and then whisked away to The Hague to stand trial for war crimes. It seems the military's information about the target was faulty (or at least incomplete), and the flyers' bomb killed dozens of completely innocent civilians. Lots of this is predictable thriller fare, but Huston writes with a practiced discipline that keeps the story on track and focused. (Read full review.)

"The Rule of Nine"
by Steve Martini
The Rule of NineSteve Martini's "The Rule of Nine" isn't a full sequel to last year's "Guardian of Lies" so much as it is the first half of that sequel. Yes, it picks up where "Guardian" left off – San Diego attorney Paul Madriani is still trying to avoid the clutches of Mexican hitman Liquida following a failed nuclear attack on Coronado. But only half the loose ends get tied up in "The Rule of Nine," leaving the reader with a distinct lack of closure. (Read full review.)

by Jim Butcher
ChangesMy introduction to the long-running Harry Dresden series, and it has me hooked. Hard. Equal parts hard-boiled noir detective and sci-fi fantasy, "Changes" is a sort of "The Long Goodbye at Hogwarts." Dresden is a Chicago-based private eye, and a full-on wizard. His ex-lover is now almost a vampire, he's got a platonic sort-of friendship with a local cop, and, it turns out, a daughter he never knew about. (Read my interview with Jim Butcher.)

"The Edge of Physics"
by Anil Ananthaswamy
The Edge of PhysicsScience journalist Anil Ananthaswamy had the ability through his work to travel to some of the most remote scientific outposts on the planet, to where cosmologists are setting up sensitive instruments as far from the elecgtromagnetic pollution of civilization as possible. The result is part travelogue, part popular science – and Ananthaswamy has a nice touch with both. From the South Pole station to a frozen lake in Siberia, from the high desert of the Andes to a venerable observatory overlooking the suburbs of Southern California, Ananthaswamy introduces not only to the latest research into our understanding of the universe we find ourselves in, but to the characters that these researchers very much are. (Read my interview with Anil Ananthaswamy.)

"The Killer"
by Tom Hinshelwood
The KillerA paid assassin is the protagonist in Tom Hinshelwood's debut novel, a spy thriller that is equal parts Patricia Highsmith and Robert Ludlum. Fast-paced, smartly done – one of the best of its kind in a while. (Read full review.)

"Treasure of the Golden Cheetah"
by Suzanne Arruda
Treasure of the Golden CheetahSet in pre-war colonial Africa, the Jade del Cameron mysteries hearken back to the era of Hemingway and Bogie, and author Suzanne Arruda mostly pulls it off with style. Del Cameron, an American woman of mixed ethnicity working in British Kenya, works a variety of odd jobs, mostly packing backcountry tours and safaris. She has a pet jaguar, two men vying for her hand in marriage, and a series of murders to solve. Fun stuff – read this, and you'll want to delve further back into the series. (Read my interview with Suzanne Arruda.)

"Muhammad Ali and the Greatest Heavyweight Generation"
by Tom Cushman
Muhammad Ali and the Greatest Heavyweight GenerationAn insightful collection of memoirs and essays from the longtime Philadelphia Daily News and San Diego Evening Tribune sportswriter who made boxing his specialty. With regular access to some of the greatest figures in the heavyweight division's true golden age – Ali, Frazier, Norton, Foreman, Holmes – Cushman's book offers an insider's view of a very special time in the history of prizefighting. (Read my interview with Tom Cushman.)

"I So Don't Do Spooky"
by Barry Summie
I So Don't Do SpookyThe follow-up to 2008's "I So Don't Do Mysteries," Barrie Summy's sophomore title follows lead character Sherry's stepmom, the principal at her junior high school and the apparent subject of a stalker. As in the first book, Sherry assists her late mom (now in ghost form, after she was killed on the job as a police officer) in solving the mystery. Good stuff, as Summy's writing grows in confidence and polish. (Read full review.)

"Matthew A. Henson's Historic Arctic Journey"
by Matthew A. Henson
Matthew A. Henson's Historic Arctic JourneyA reissue of Henson's memoir of leading Adm. Robert E. Peary's multiple (and finally successful) attempts to reach the North Pole, commemorating the century anniversary of that final attempt. Given a more politically correct title (it was originally published in 1912 as "A Negro Explorer at the North Pole"), the new edition benefits from an opening essay by Deirdre C. Stam that gives some important context to the times, to Peary's quest, and to what his acknowledgement of Henson's role meant to race relations in the United States in the early 20th Century. Still, Henson's own account of his role in organizing the eskimo dog teams is what will rivet fans of any good adventure book.

"The Only Thing Worth Dying For"
by Eric Blehm
The Only Thing Worth Dying ForStraight-forward narrative follows a Green Berets A-Team charged with getting Hamid Karzai, a popular tribal leader, back into Afghanistan to help organize resistance to the Taliban. Karzai eventually became president of Afghanistan, but every member of that A-Team was killed or wounded. Author Eric Blehm's old-school, "just the facts" style does a nice job of presenting the soldiers' personalities and experiences. Read my interview with Blehm.)