Thursday, May 19, 2011

Gun, with Occasional Music

Title: Gun, with Occasional Music
Author: Jonathan Lethem
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1994

Recommendation: A solid science fiction parable with a mystery plot and a message to boot.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Conrad Metcalf is a down-on-luck detective in the future Oakland. He is hired to investigate the murder of a man who was his client just before and follows the threads of murder in a society where animals talk, everyone uses drugs, and asking questions is impolite.

Reactions: One of my co-workers mentioned this book to me a while back and I remembered it because of the unusual title. It turned out to be a good recommendation despite the blurb on the book that didn't sound too interesting.

Conrad Metcalf is a very intriguing character. He is a man not afraid to ask questions in a world where questions are taboo. He is not motivated by money, even though his business isn't doing too well. At the same time, he is a drug addict and not a stranger to violence. It's hard for me to say that I really liked him, but I really rooted for him throughout the book.

The futuristic world that the plot takes place in is a rather bleak one. Most people are on mood altering drugs all of the time. The government encourages the drug use and the main character is no exception in this regard. The world is run by karma points which can be given or taken away by the police. If your karma points run out, you are placed in a freezer to be released months or years later. Children can be given a treatment to mature faster and turn out smart and cynical. Animals walk on two legs and speak, but are second-rate citizens in the world. It's not a pretty picture.

The plot revolves around the murder of Metcalf's previous client. I found the mystery part of the plot to be well constructed if a bit slow at first. It picks up the pace mid-book and kept my interest well. I was very satisfied with the resolution of the novel. The second part of the book is definitely my favorite.

Gun, with Occasional Music is the sort of book that is entertaining, but also clearly written as a parable to the dangers of losing the critical thinking skills. It's full of ironies and clever subtext. On one hand, I appreciated some of that, on the other it makes the plot feel somehow secondary to the message at hand. All in all, definitely a book I would recommend reading, but at the same time not my favorite this year.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Boy Book, The Treasure Map of Boys, and Real Live Boyfriends

Titles: The Boy Book, The Treasure Map of Boys, Real Live Boyfriends
Author: E. Lockhart
Series: Ruby Oliver, books 2 - 4
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2006, 2009, 2010

Recommendation: The rest of Ruby Oliver quartet is just as fun as the first book.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Ruby's saga continues over the next 3 years of her high school experience.

Reactions: Having read the first book in the series, I decided that the rest would be fun as well. Unfortunately I couldn't find the sequels in a local bookstore, so I decided to continue reading in my Kindle app. I found myself relieved because the second book switched the footnotes formatting to make them easier to navigate, however books 3 & 4 returned to the original formatting. "Ag." as Ruby would say.

I couldn't imagine myself writing separate reviews for the three books though. It would probably take me longer to write the reviews than to read the books themselves. All three were quite a breeze to read and I gobbled them up without pause.

There's something strangely addictive about these books. I got involved in Ruby's life, her progress in making herself a better person, her parents' contentious relationship, and her boy drama. So I've read the rest of the series and was pleased to see Ruby grow, but at the same continue having adventures as ever. All in all, it was good fun.

In a way I regret getting these novels as ebooks. I doubt I would re-read them, but I can imagine giving them to a teenager and sharing the fun I've had reading the books. I am looking forward to the time when there will be an easy way to do so with ebooks. Meanwhile I have to pick what to read next...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Boyfriend List

Title: The Boyfriend List
Author: E. Lockhart
Series: Ruby Oliver, book 1
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2005

Recommendation: Entertaining high-school drama narrative.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Ruby is experiencing panic attacks after her boyfriend breaks up with her and her friends shun her in school. Ruby's parents send her to a shrink, who gives Ruby an assignment to write the boyfriend list. Then Ruby's story is told through discussions of the boys on the list.

Reactions: I've read another book by E. Lockhart a while back and enjoyed it a lot. I noticed this book being reviewed on another blog and decided to pick it up. Overall, the book was just what I expected. A novel aimed at young adults with lots of relationship drama, a fun main character, and amusing writing. It's a super simple read, but not any less enjoyable for that.

While Ruby's high school experiences are nothing like my own, I found that Lockhart got the high school atmosphere just right and many of the things resonated with me. The cliques, cafeteria seating, boy drama, rumors -- all of it is part of most girls' high school experiences and it was definitely fun to follow Ruby's steps in this world.

I found Ruby to be a sympathetic character, though somewhat clueless. The story is told from 1st person narrative and the reader gets a good feel for her personality. Many of Ruby's snarky side-remarks are printed in the book as footnotes and I thought it was a pretty interesting way to organize the book.

My only issue with the footnotes was one of technical nature -- the Kindle app on my iPhone made it a very finicky business to jump between the footnote and my current place in the book. Half the time, I would end up on the previous page and the other half I would get back to where I was, but all the text would be shifted to a different position on the page. That was rather frustrating. If I buy the next book in the series, it's going to be a physical book.

All in all, this was a quick read. Nothing earth shattering, but a solid book with a good understanding of teenage psychology and a funny narrative.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Book Shopping

It's May, it's nice weather, the mood is good and got even better as I visited a few book stores today. I came away with 5 books and pretty happy with my purchases. Here's what I picked up:

1. The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks. This is the second book in the set of Culture novels. I believe it's a standalone set in the same world as Consider Phlebas. It's commonly mentioned as one of the best Culture novels and given my enjoyment of the prior novel, this was not a difficult choice.

2. The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi. This is the continuation of the Old Man's War. Another easy pick since I really liked the previous book.

3. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. I've never read anything by Vinge before, but the book came highly recommended. It's an alien-contact type sci-fi and not my typical fare, but I think I may find it interesting.

4. The House on Durrow Street by Galen Beckett. Another instance of second-in-series buy. This is a fantasy novel that continues The Magician's and Mrs. Quent.

5. Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem. This is another pick of an author I've never read before. However, I got a strong recommendation from a co-worker and flipping through the book in the store made me even more curious to try it. Looking forward to reading it.

Now that I have replenished my TBR pile, time to get reading :)

April Recap

This month has been pretty good for reading, though I am very much falling behind in my reading projections for the year. I've been intending to read 4 books per month, but has been doing 3 instead pretty consistently. This month is no exception, the books I read were:

The quality of the books read was quite good though. Ship Breaker was everything I hoped for from Bacigalupi and the other two books were very enjoyable with solid writing. With all these solid books, I think you'll find my next book pick pretty frivolous, but I am enjoying it -- review coming soon :)