Tag Archives: A-Z reading challenge 2013

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Published: 2005

Genre: military science fiction

Length: 314 pages

Setting: far future Earth and off planet colonies

Interest: I read his blog and enjoy his writing, so I figured it was time to read one of his books as well. This is the first in a series so it was a good place to start.

Summary: John Perry joined the Colonial Defense Forces on his 75th birthday, as many 75 year-olds do. The CDF turns these old people into soldiers by transferring their consciousness into new and improved bodies. John goes through basic training with some friends he met on the transport to the base. He is then assigned to a platoon to fight aliens and nearly dies in the battle of Coral. He is rescued by Special Forces, including someone who looks like his dead wife. He then fights with the Special Forces to retake Coral, which gives him special status as being the only realborn ever to fight with Special Forces (or the Ghost Brigade, as they are colloquially known).

Final thoughts: A good military sci-fi book. The cover compares the book to Heinlein, and I definitely see the connection, especially to Starship Troopers. Scalzi presents an interesting concept to set up an army since you can only join from the U.S. if you’re 75, and once you join the CDF you’re considered legally dead on Earth and can never go back. However, it’s the only way to get off planet if you’re from the U.S. Nothing too deep, but a lot of fun to read and definitely worth checking out the others in the series.

Title comes from: The main character is an old man put in a young person’s body and sent to fight any war the CDF sees as important.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 89/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, and an S in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (16/26)

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The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe

Subtitle: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times

Published: 2010

Genre: nonfiction, gardening

Length: 287 pages of text, 323 pages with appendices

Interest: I can’t remember why I put this book on my reading list in the first place, but I’m always interested in reading about how to improve my gardening techniques.

Summary: There really are two parts to the book. In the first part, Deppe discusses her approach to gardening. As climate change makes the weather more variable, it becomes important to garden so you get some results, even under less than perfect conditions. If one crop fails, you should have a back-up in place. She also gardens with minimal inputs, which helps ensure some harvest even if you can’t get the fertilizer, pesticides (she uses none) or irrigation on when exactly needed. In the second part of the book, Deppe discusses the particulars of growing five staples the can realistically (and tastily) feed your family – potatoes, eggs (chicken or duck), squash, beans, and corn. For each, she provides specific varieties that grow easily and taste good, and how to plant, harvest, store and keep seed for next. She also provides recipes to use the vegetables and eggs.

Final thoughts: I will admit, I enjoyed the first half of the book the most. I just don’t have a big enough gardening space (nor the desire to find more) to start growing pounds and pounds of staple crops. The specific varieties she recommends probably won’t work for me either since she’s in the Pacific Northwest and I’m on the Great Lakes. Much different climate. Even so, I found the book quite interesting and worth it to read just for the first few chapters. She certainly makes it sound easy to grow the staples she recommends, and I do wish I had enough space for chickens. Someday!

Title comes from: Deppe emphasize resilience in her garden – multiple varieties of each staple that germinate and ripen at different times so if a problem arises, you hopefully don’t lose everything. Multiple staple crops, and saving seeds are also a strategy she emphasizes.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 88/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, a D in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (15/26), and 16/14 in the Nerdy Nonfiction Challenge for agriculture

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image or the subtitle to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

Published: 2013

Genre: fiction

Length: 368 pages

Setting: U’ivu Islands in Micronesia and Stanford, 1950s to the present

Interest: It was in the new book section of my local library. I picked it up because it sounded vaguely familiar (and fulfilled a letter in my author challenge). The setting and scientific aspect of the story drew me to bring it home.

Summary: Perina Norton is a med student in the 1950s and he doesn’t really want to practice medicine. He gets the opportunity to take part in an anthropological trip, along with Tallent and Esme, to find a lost tribe in Micronesia. They find a tribe on Ivu’ivu that has been segregated from outside influences from decades. They also find the dreamers, a group of natives who are much older than any in the tribe. In fact, their bodies don’t seem to age the way everyone else’s does. Norton discovers it’s because each one of them has eaten an opa’ivu’eke (an endemic turtle). Norton takes some of the turtle home with him to conduct experiments on and he confirms the evidence provided by the dreamers in his lab. Sadly, that confirmation results in the degradation of the culture and land of the Ivu’ivuans and the extinction of the turtles. Norton continues to go back, adopting over forty children from the island almost as penance for his actions.

Final thoughts: A fascinating story told as a memoir of a scientist’s life, down to footnotes and journal references. I had to keep reminding myself it was a fiction book and not nonfiction. The story on the island of discovering the dreamers and what they meant was a curious mix of banality (everything gets routine) and hope, and then it all crashes and burns in the end. No one from that initial trip ends up with a successful life. Norton probably holds it together the longest, but at the same time I think he drops the lowest. The island is ravaged and Norton’s personal life descends into pedophilia (the very end takes a bit of a turn into “adult situations”). I do love the fact he managed to find someone to run away with and start over at the very end. Maybe this time he could be happy. I also loved how the author represented science – it’s not glamorous most of the time, but there are flashes of insight and greatness (that can easily be lost).

Title comes from: The dreamers were found wandering among the trees of the forests on Ivu’ivu.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 86/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, and a Y in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (14/26)

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Published: 1993

Genre: historical fiction

Length: 483 pages

Setting: mostly France, 1910-1918, but also England 1978

Interest: It was one of only two books in top 20 books of the BBC’s The Big Read that I haven’t read. I put it on my reading list to be sure to fill in those holes. Continue reading

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Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Published: 1997

Genre: YA fairy tale

Length: 232 pages

Setting: Frell, preindustrial age

Interest: It was recommended as a good book for young girls, so I’ve been reading it to Miss Adventure before bed most nights.

Summary: Ella was given a blessing by the fairy Lucinda at her birth that turned into a curse – obedience to any direct command. She manages to live a happy life with her mother and her fairy godmother, Mandy, who is also the cook. When Ella’s mother dies, he life becomes much more difficult. Her father isn’t interested in raising a child, so he sends her to finishing school with Dame Olga’s nasty daughters, Hattie and Olive. While there, her curse becomes more problematic, especially when Hattie learns she can order Ella around. Ella runs away one night to find Lucinda and ask for the blessing to be removed. She has several adventures along the way and makes a good impression on Prince Charmont, but doesn’t get the blessing removed. Ella’s life becomes even harder when her father marries Dame Olga and Ella is ordered to work around the house. Ella breaks off her friendship with Prince Charmont that is rapidly growing into something more in order to protect the prince and the nation. It is only when the Prince is threatened that she is able to break her curse.

Final thoughts: An excellent book that lived up to my expectations – good to read to a young girl (or boy, since Mr. Curiosity liked to listen in as well). Ella is a realistic girl who provides a good role model as she demonstrates good decision-making when she’s put in difficult situations. Since it’s told by Ella, we can see her struggles with her curse and her attempts to break it. You definitely get more out of the book if you know the traditional Cinderella story, especially towards the end of the book when we are introduced to the evil stepmother and stepsisters. Especially towards the end, the kids were begging me to read just a little more, which is always a good sign for an evening read aloud.

Title comes from: Ella is the narrator of the story and she was given a fairy blessing at birth that made her enchanted.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 83/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, and an L in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (12/26)

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The Lion of Farside by John Dalmas

LionPublished: 1995

Genre: fantasy

Length: 448 pages

Setting: MidWest during the Depression and an alternate Earth

Interest: It was a random book off my Kindle that soundly vaguely interesting based solely on the title and the author fulfilled a letter on my reading challenge. It is a Baen book that can be purchased from their site.

Summary: Curtis marries Varia and soon after finds out she isn’t from Earth. She’s part of the Sisterhood and travelled through a Gate from an adjacent world. Curtis and Varia try to run away from Varia’s commitment to the Sisterhood, but she’s kidnapped and returned. She is punished and flees the Sisterhood. She manages to escape with the help of the Cyncaidh, a high-ranking official in the ylf government. Curtis follows Varia through the Gate a month later and becomes a slave in Oz, the country the Gate is located in. Before Varia was taken, she woke up Curtis’s magical talents that are further trained by a shaman. Curtis is sent to an elite militia group, but he eventually leaves to go find Varia. Along the way, he recruits an army of rebels and eventually finds himself leading an army against the ylfs. Curtis and Varia are reunited, but both decide they’ve changed too much to get back together. Curtis eventually heads back to Earth.

Final thoughts: Enjoyable, but nothing special. Curtis turned out to be something of a Chosen One who excelled at everything – magic, fighting, leading armies, attracting women, etc. I get a little annoyed when the protagonist is so perfect. There is a fair amount of sex in the book (mostly called humping) and not all of it consensual. The book flips back and forth between Varia (again, nearly perfect and, of course, extraordinarily beautiful) and Curtis, but the last chapter is suddenly narrated in first person. Even with all the nitpicky flaws, I did want to know how it all worked out.

Title comes from: Farside is what the people from Varia’s world called Earth and Curtis was considered the Lion of Farside because of his origin and fighting ability.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 83/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, and a D in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (12/26)

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Around the World in Eighty Day by Jules Verne

Published: 1872 as a serial, 1873 as a completed book. Because it was published so long before copyright existed, you can get electronic copies free at places like Gutenberg or even Amazon. You still have to pay for a paper copy, though.

Genre: fiction – one of Verne’s Voyages extraordinaire stories

Length: 237 pages

Setting: various places around the world, 1872

Interest: When given a choice of books, Mr. Curiosity chose this one for me to read to him before bed. I shouldn’t have been surprised since he also chose Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea a previous time.

Summary: Phileas Fogg is an English gentleman with very set habits, which makes it very surprising when he takes off around the world with 20,000 pounds and his servant, Passerpartout. He has bet members of the Reform Club that he can make it back to London in exactly eighty days. While the trip starts out according to plan, he soon runs into problems. Detective Fix is sure Fogg is a bank robber and follows him on his journey so as to arrest Fogg when they get back to British soil. They rescue a widow, Mrs. Auoda, from suttee in India, and she travels with them back to London. There are several makeshift sea voyages and mishaps on trains, but ultimately Fogg makes it back in time to collect on his bet.

Final thoughts: We always enjoy reading Verne, even if he’s not the easiest to read out loud. There are a couple of parts to the story that remind you how long ago the book was written. For one, the portrayal of the natives is quite negative, both in India and in the U.S. Also, there was quite a fascination with the American countryside as Verne seemed to list every little town the railroad passed through out West. Mrs. Aouda is largely a silent character, and we never do learn her first name. Even so, we had a lot of fun tracing Fogg’s journey around the world. Verne managed to make the journey believably exciting (except for one train story). It came down to the very last chapter of the book whether or not he’d make it in time.

Title comes from: The topic of the book

Reading challenges fulfilled: 82/100 in the Read-a-Latte Challenge, and a V in my A-Z Reading Challenge author challenge (11/26)

If you’re interested in the book, click on the cover image to follow an affiliate link to the Kindle version of the book and thanks for supporting my blog!

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