Thursday, August 27, 2015

What I've Been Reading: August 2015

I'm blaming the fact that there are 5 more days in the month for the fact that I've only (I know, only) read 5 books this month. But they have, in several cases, been huge! What do I mean? Read on.

Dune, by Frank Herbert. I'm not normally a science fiction reader. Except that in the last year or so, I've read quite a bit of science fiction (The Martian, Ready Player One, Armada)--and really enjoyed it! So maybe I'm a sci-fi reader after all? In any case, somehow I never got around to reading Herbert's classic Dune until this past month. Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Muad'Dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family--and would bring to fruition humankind's most ancient and unattainable dream. Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what it undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction. The audiobook also won an Audie for its full cast recording. I would absolutely recommend this to readers who are intimidated by the idea of science fiction--I really found this quite accessible. (Even if it is over 500 pages!)

The Best of Enemies, by Jen Lancaster. What can I say? I read a wide variety of genres. Jack and Kitty have been at war since a college misunderstanding-gone-nuclear left them with a single thing in common--a mutual best friend, Sarahbeth Chandler. Jack is a journalist, spending months at a time in war-torn countries, writing about falling nations and rising despots, with no place to call home. Kitty is a SAHM and lifestyle blogger whose biggest battles seem to be fought at PTA meetings. The two haven't spoken in years, until crisis befalls Sarahbeth and within hours, Jack and Kitty are on a roadtrip to solve a mystery and save their friend, with typical Lancaster-ian hilarity. Light, breezy and fun, but with a good heart--if you need one last easy read this summer, make it this one.

Broken Promise, by Linwood Barclay. If you haven't read Linwood Barclay (a Connecticut native), you should start. But if you start, I might not start with this one, only because you'll miss out on some great backstory. Promise Falls, NY is a small town in a slump. The local paper has closed, as has the local amusement park. Times are hard. And dark things are happening. David Harwood (seen previously in Never Look Away), recently returned to his hometown of Promise Falls after nearly a decade away, is almost immediately caught up in a family crisis that is tied to several powerful figures in the community. The ending leaves several threads hanging, meaning a direct sequel should be on the horizon for readers.

Armada, by Ernest Cline. As you know, I read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline last month. Just in time to turn around and read his new book, Armada, this month! (FYI, both will be turned into films in the next two years or so, and Steven Spielberg has signed on to direct Ready Player One, so these could be amazing. Cline also has screenwriting chops, have written 2009's Fanboys, starring Seth Rogan, Kristin Bell and Jay Baruchel, among others.) In any case, Armada is the story of one high school senior, Zack Lightman, whose father died in a freak accident when he was a baby. Raised by his mother, Zack is still fascinated by the boxes of video games, movies, mixtapes and notebooks left behind by his father, forming his loves of old science fiction movies and classic rock. He's also an elite player of a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada, which turns out to have been a training course for when the aliens attack. And that day happens to be today. While not as strong as Ready Player One, in my opinion, Armada is still full of ordinary-guy-turned-hero moments and lots of 80s culture references. It just felt like parts of it were missing. It's not a bad way to pass some time, but it doesn't have either the compulsive readability nor the re-read potential of Cline's debut.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: four women undercover in the Civil War, by Karen Abbott. Okay, I admit, my reading list looks a little...scattered this month. But I've been meaning to get around to this title for months.
Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies.
After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives. Abbott's work has an entertaining narrative, making it an easy, enjoyable read--I'd recommend it not just to history buffs but also fans of historical fiction.

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