Books in review, February 2016

It’s been a very full month, but I’ve also had a lot of hurry-up-and-wait to do, and waiting = pages. An embarrassingly high page count follows:

(Updated in 2020 to reflect my refined genre classifications. Also to note that this is what a considered an embarrassingly high page count in 2016? Then I have embarrassed myself many times over since then.)

Proof, by Adam Rogers

I wrote a prohibition-themed murder mystery, and as I was gearing up to run it again, I thought I’d read a book about prohibition. I wound up getting a book about the science of alcohol instead, but that was still cool. The author takes us through all of the key ingredients and steps of the process, and concludes with some sketch neuroscience about what it does to you. I wish the science had been written in more detail, but that’s my demanding scientist self talking – the detail level was well balanced for a pop non-fiction work.

Format: nonfiction. Subject: chemistry. Rating: 2/3, some of the science is a little too simplistic to the point of losing accuracy, but an entertaining overview.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K Dick

I have no recollection of purchasing this book (which seems far too thematically apropos). But I do own it, and I dimly recall starting it when I was home from college one time and then accidentally leaving it behind when the term started up again, so I didn’t finish it then, and then resurfaced it because I wanted a book I could take to the beach without caring what various crevices got full of sand. The story and world-building was really gripping, but I was weirdly unmoved by most of the characters, and I was really put off by the entrenched misogyny. It was definitely worth a read, if for no other reason than it’s incredibly influential, but it wasn’t my favorite.

Traditional genre: science fiction. Setting: science fiction. Story genre: specfic, thriller, allegory, commentary, extremely high concept. Rating: 2/3, earned its reputation as a seminal work in 20th century scifi, but its omnipresent regressive gender politics don’t hold up.

Skin Game, by Jim Butcher.

Book 15 (out of currently 15 and still coming out) in the Dresden Files series. Harry Dresden gets himself backed into a corner again and has to help one of the most terrifyingly real villains I have ever encountered rob a bank vault. In a different dimension. That belongs to Hades. (Who I pictured as Hades from Disney’s Hercules the entire time I was reading it, which was definitely not the author’s intent, but which did make it about 300% more hilarious and 500% more disturbing.) This was basically The Sting set in the literal underworld (including a double cross, spoiler?) and it was amazing. 

Traditional genre: fantasy. Setting: fantasy and possibly apocalyptic, who knows, but I don’t trust Jim Butcher. (2020 me adds: you also had to wait five years for the next book, you poor thing.) Story genre: quest, specfic, mystery. Rating: 3/3, might be my favorite in the series yet, but you have to read the prior 14 before jumping in and you should be starting that, oh, yesterday.

The Fiery Cross, Diana Gabaldon

Book 5 (out of currently 8 and still coming out) in the Outlander series. Since I am several books deep here, I can’t say much about the plot without risking major spoilers (like, non-trivially, who doesn’t die earlier on). But seriously, if the extended Fraser-MacKenzie-and Company clan would JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER then like half of the plot would be totally averted. Just like its predecessors this book is charming and intense and routine and extraordinary and gross and I loved every page. Side note: I can say with absolute confidence that at over 1400 pages, this is the longest book I’ve ever read.

Traditional genre: good question, but usually fantasy, literary fiction, or romance. Yes, it could be anywhere. Setting genre: fantasy premise, mostly realism. Story genre: kind of everything, but mostly relationship and ensemble focused. Rating: 3/3, but you have to read the other 4 books before this one for it to make any sense at all.

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