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Reading Diary for 2011

  and earlier
by China Miéville
KrakenIf not as good as his nearly perfect sci-fi murder mystery "City & The City," "Kraken" returns China Miéville to the sort of epic alternate reality that he so excelled at in "Perdido Street Station." While you can see where the definately atheistic Miéville is using the story's squid cult to try to mock organized religion, as an author his ultimate loyalty is to the integrity of the story – and so one of the most honorable characters in the book turns out to be the most devout believer. And yet, the story of a squid cult trying to fight off the end of creation is well enough crafted that it will lead even the most devoted Christian or Jew or Muslim to at least see the inherent absurdity of religious faith. (That Miéville doesn't grasp that it is the embrace of the absurd in the face of all logic that makes religion such a rich expression of the mysteries of the universe is a bit sad for him, though.) And in Goss and Subby, Miéville has crafted yet two more classic characters, bad guys whose paranormal abilities are neither fully realized nor explained. As with all of Miéville's works, the many things that aren't explicitly explained are what lend the book its atmosphere. There is as much fog and uncertainty here as in "Perdido," and while in lesser hands that lack of clarity would be maddening, here it only lends to the mystical feeling of another grand tale.

by David J. Schow
InternecineTaut, well-constructed thriller that revolves around an LA advertising executive who finds an airport locker key in his car on his return from a business trip. Inside the locker is a briefcase with an assassin's kit. When the would-be assassin shows up to claim her gear, he finds himself draw into a deadly we of organized crime. Audaciously cheesy concept brilliantly executed.

"The Vault"
by Boyd Morrison
The VaultA B-level thriller that, despite two-dimensional characters and a plot more contrived than a Dan Brown novel (King Midas really had the golden touch and his body is hidden beneath Naples), manages to hold your attention due to author Morrison's deft touch at action scenes.

"Ghosts in the Fog"
by Samantha Seiple
Ghosts in the FogYoung readers' history of the Aleutian campaign in World War II, when Japan invaded the Alaskan islands. Solid read, lots of interviews with survivors of the campaign. It will even interest adult military history buffs.

"Ghost Story"
by Jim Butcher
Ghost StoryPicking up where "Changes" left off, Chicago private eye and wizard Harry Dresden finds himself in the afterlife. And just as the appearance of a daughter he never knew he had presented him with life-altering decisions (no matter which option he chose), so does death. (Read full review.)

"Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN"
by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPNOral history of the 24-hour sports network that, along with MTV and CNN, helped legitimize cable TV alongside the broadcast netwworks. Fairly informative with dozens of different people interviewed, although Chris Berman reveals almost nothing and is rarely the focus – a bit odd, given his dominant role on the network.

"White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s"
by Joe Boyd
White BicyclesAn insider's tale of the late '60s rock culture that ends up being pretty boring, mostly because the author spends far more time talking about himself than he should. While Boyd did play an important part in springing several talented and ultimately influential bands (Pink Floyd, Keith Emerson, Fairport Convention), the knowledgeable reader will wonder if maybe those bands' talents didn't have a bit more to do with their success than Boyd's skills as promoter and manager. He also suffers from that curious malady common to Baby Boomers: Their belief that it is they, not their parents, who are the real "greatest generation" – and that their greatness springs from their rejection of all that came before. By the end, it was as tiresome a book as I think I've ever read.

"The Devil Colony"
by James Rollins
The Devil ColonyA combination of "National Treasure," "The Librarian" and any number of characters from military thrillers, James Rollins' mythical black-ops Sigma Force is an interesting concept with some pretty cool potential. But in Rollins' latest Sigma Force novel, "The Devil Colony," the suspension of disbelief required of the reader becomes too great, the conflict with even a basic knowledge of science too jarring. (Read full review.)

"Adrenaline: A Thriller"
by Jeff Abbott
adrenalineIn the same vein as Christoper Reich's "Rules of ..." series with Jonathan and Emma Ransom, or Len Deighton's earlier Bernard and Fiona Samson spy thrillers ("Berlin Game," "Spy Sinker," etc.), this entry promises a similarly long run. CIA agent Sam Capra is suspected of treason when his wife, also an agent, calls him and tells him to leave the agency's London office shortly before it's destroyed by a bomb. Now Lucy is missing, Sam is suspect, and he has to find out if his wife betrayed their country – and marriage. What it lacks in originality (maybe we should have a new genre called "infidelity thrillers") is more than made up for by Jeff Abbott's sharp dialogue and well-constructed plot devices. (Read full review.)

"Why Geology Matters: Decoding the Past, Anticipating the Future"
by Doug MacDougall
Why Geology Matters: Decoding the Past, Anticipating the FutureDoug MacDougall, emeritus prof at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, has presented one of the most balanced explanations yet of global climate change and man's likely role in the current warming. His new book, "Why Geology Matters," lays out the current state of the art in how our scientists try to figure out past climate change in a way the average, non-scientists can easily understand. (Read full review.)

"I So Don't Do Famous"
by Barrie Summy
I So Don't Do FamousGlancing over their catalogue, it seems the folks who run Delacorte Press (a Random House imprint) have a rule that four books make a series in its juvenile titles for tweens and teens. After that, come up with a new protagonist and move on to the next four-book series. It will be a real shame if such inflexibility is imposed on Santee author Barrie Summy's "I So Don't Do ..." tweener series, whose fourth and hopefully not final title, "I So Don't Do Famous," shows junior high detective Sherry Baldwin to be just coming into her own as a memorable character. (Read full review.)

"Gideon's Sword"
by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
Gideon's SwordRun-of-the-mill revenge thriller with a not particularly memorable antagonist.

"Perdido Street Station"
by China Miéville
Perdido Street StationAs ambitious and fully realized as any literary sci-fi universe, China Miéville's Perdido Street Station manages that rare feat of creating an alternate universe that is so different from ours yet so very realistic that we can't help but see it as would a young child or first-time visitor – and when we've finished reading, to look around at our own world with eyes forever changed. The story of a researcher in New Crobuzon asked to help a maimed bird-man fly again, and what happens when his research unleashes forces far more dangerous and powerful than anything his city-state has seen before. On a par with Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land" or Arthur C. Clarke's "Rendezvous With Rama" in terms of sweeping vision, memorable characters and a story you just can't forget.

"Among Thieves"
by David Hosp
Among ThievesA neat what-if based on a real-life art heist in Boston that's never been solved. Hosp imaginse how the theft might have taken place, and why the stolen masterpieces have never been recovered. Some great (imagined) characters and a believable story line combine for a pretty fun read.

"The Book on the Bookshelf"
by Henry Petroski
The Book on the BookshelfA pretty fascinating history on how we store books, from the earliest libraries storing volumes of scrolls up through the latest modern shelving. I suppose with the advent of e-books, the art of the book shelf may be endangered, but for those of us who still love the feel of a printed book in our hands as we read, it's a really interesting read.