Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's the End of the World as We Know It...and I Feel Fine

At around 3:30 this morning I woke up, and while I was trying to figure out exactly why I would wake up at such an ungodly hour of the morning, 50 mile per hour winds told me why. I'm a recent first-time home buyer, and I'm quite convinced my house is going to collapse while I'm sleeping. We had some pretty nasty winds a few weeks ago in the middle of the night, which caused my house to shake. Last night was a repeat performance - needless to say I got very little sleep.

Since I tend to lean towards the melodramatics and because of my (what I consider) life-threatening experience last night, today's post features non-fiction disaster books. I just cannot get enough of this stuff. Am I just a horrible human being that revels in other people's misery?  Regardless, recently I've read quite a few books in this vein and I've got quite a few on my TBR pile to get to. I'll keep this post on the ones that I've read, and will do a follow up post later when I've read more. (note: I found several of these books on the fantasic user-voted list on GoodReads here).

The Johnstown Flood (Paperback)The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough
Man, David McCullough knows how to write a book, no doubt about it. This is one of three in his engineering series (the other two go over the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal). Being from Pennsylvania myself, this hit a little closer to home, mostly by being able to recognize some of the main characters in the steel business. Thousands of people died in this disaster, a result of a dam failure. McCullough does an excellent job recounting the exact events in this book and is easy to follow, but also shows a lot of respect for the tragedy that occured and those who lost their lives. This was one of my favorite books that I read in 2009. Pennsylvania residents as well as people interested in the steel business will also enjoy this book.

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in HistoryIsaac's Storm by Erik Larson
Best known for the book, The Devil in the White City (a phenomenal read), Larson's earlier work Isaac's Storm should not be overlooked. It tells the story of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 mostly through the eyes of the meteorologist of the town. If you though Katrina was bad, you were wrong. Larson has a particular gift for weaving a story without getting into to much speculation on the thoughts of historical figures. If you can, read this after the Johnstown Flood, since this event did occur later and there are a few meaningful references to it.

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship EssexIn the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
If you like your disaster books a little, well, less national but still want a fascinating slice of American history, I highly recommend In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. The sinking of the Essex was the inspiration for Melville's Moby Dick, but the true story goes so much further than that. It does go into detail in the whaling industry, so if you're squeamish about that kind of thing you might want to steer clear of this book. If not, please do not miss this one. I found it incredibly riveting, and was also one of my favorite reads of 2009.

I think the reason I enjoy these types of books so much is it shows two extremes of human nature: the lengths that man will go through for money, fame, and respect, and the the lengths that man will go through to survive. Just like any Shakesperian tragedy, these real-life events feature a villian whose decisions (often small ones) come at the expense of the others, and the heroes who manage to live through some of the most daunting experiences humankind has ever faced. Or maybe I really am just a sucker for tragedies.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Spotlight on Series: The Dresden Files

Alternate title: "Yes, please, I have way too much time on my hands so I'd be delighted to read a series of 11 books that's showing no signs of slowing down."

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, Book 1)
A year or so ago I happened to catch a few episodes of "The Dresden Files" on a marathon. It was a SciFi original series that, unfortunately, only lasted one season before it was cancelled. Flash forward to January of this year - I was going through my TiVo Season Passes and lamenting that SciFi couldn't even play reruns of the show for my enjoyment, when I ambled over to IMDB to learn more (I have the unfortunate habit of looking up any movie or TV show I watch for interesting facts). Turns out, the series was based on a series of books by Jim Butcher.

I immediately bought the first one, Storm Front, and downloaded it to my Sony Reader. By May, I had read the entire series (including the latest book, which was released that month). And that was trying to stretch it out as long as I possibly could. I'm not sure what made this series so deliciously awesome, but I'll try and put my finger on it.

Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, Book 2)The main character, Harry Dresden, is a wizard for hire in the city of Chicago. This is modern day Chicago though, so don't expect everyone to believe he's a wizard. You might be thinking, gee, this sounds an awful lot like a recent young adult series that took over the entire world, and you'd be slightly right. The Dresden Files is a Harry Potter for grownups. Yup, evil forces are always trying to take over the world and it seems like Harry Dresden is the only one who can stop them. Also like HP, you've got a great cast of mythological creatures (such as vampires, ghosts, zombies and werewolves) and other occult references. But what Harry Potter doesn't have is a millenia-old talking skull named Bob that has an addiction to cheap romance novels. That in itself should give you an idea of what you'd be expecting from this series.
Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, Book 3)
I loved the "snarkiness" of Harry Dresden, who is really just sick of dealing with all of this crap with bad guys trying to take over the world, all the while he can hardly afford to pay his rent. But when push comes to shove, he's a guy you can count on. He's constantly struggling to portray himself as a good guy (he's had some black marks against him in the past), and some of the best parts of the series are when he realizes that what he's about to do, even though he knows it's right, will push him back in bad-guy territory in the eyes of others.

I've recommended this series to many people, and almost all of those who tried it out enjoyed it as much as I did. The rest stumbled around book four, but kept with it and said that the series picks up after that. Here's the series order (links go to amazon.com)
#11- Turn Coat

Changes (Dresden Files, Book 12)Book #12, Changes (Dresden Files, Book 12), comes out in April 2010, and looking at the description it is sounding really good. I'm honestly not sure how I'm going to make it that far. Anyway, if I still haven't convinced you to give this series a shot, feel free to check out the TV show, which is available for free viewing on Hulu.com (note: the TV series was aired out of order, and the pilot was meant for later in the series. "Storm Front" was meant to be the pilot, and should be viewed first).

I really enjoyed this series, and I hope you do to! This series is available at all bookstores, and is also available in ebook from the major retailers.

Genre: Fiction - Fantasy

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Climbing Mt. Everest

No, I'm not talking about my to-be-read pile (although that's a serious contender in size). It's Sunday night, and on the Discovery Channel they are running a marathon of "Everest: Beyond the Limit." If you've got even a passing interest on this famous mountain and those determined to scale it, check out Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster. This riveting book is about the tragedy on Mt. Everest in 1996, which the author was witness to. It spotlights the incredible lengths these climbers go through to scale the mountain, and the very high costs of that goal.

Also, if you want to inject some mystery into Everest, check out the story of Mallory and Irvine. I have not read any books on the topic, but there are several books mentioned in the Wikipedia article that sound interesting (if I do read one of these, I will post an update). George Mallory and his companion Andrew Irvine may have reached the summit of Mt. Everest years before Sir Edmund Hillary's successful attempt, but they disappeared in the attempt. In 1999, Mallory's body was located, but only deepened the mystery. Check out the Wikipedia article here.

And, if you're still in the mood to read about more mountain disasters, you can check out Alive by Piers Paul Read. This book (and the movie of the same name) covers the 1976 Andes plane crash in which the survivors were reduced to cannibalism for survival before they were rescued. I have not read this book, but it is on my list for 2010.

Now that we're on to mountain disasters and cannibalism, let's go to the more recently released The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown. It recounts the tragedy of the infamous Donner Party and is getting great reviews. I have this book on loan from the library and should be getting to it in the next few days, so check back for a followup.

If anyone has anything to add to this list or has read any of the books mentioned in the Mallory Wikipedia article, get over to the comments section and let me know. In the meantime, I'll be staying somewhere near sea level sipping some nice warm hot cocoa.

Books about Books

Over the past few months I've read several books I've enjoyed that are about, well, books. I'll put the spotlight on some of my favorites.

John Dunning's Cliff Janeway Series

Booked to Die (Cliff Janeway Novels)(Booked to Die is the first book in this series)
Description: "Denver homicide detective Cliff Janeway may not always play by the book, but he is an avid collector of rare and first editions. After a local bookscout is killed on his turf, Janeway would like nothing better than to rearrange the suspect's spine. But the suspect, local lowlife Jackie Newton, is a master at eluding the law, and Janeway's wrathful brand of off-duty justice costs him his badge.

Turning to his lifelong passion, Janeway opens a small bookshop -- all the while searching for evidence to put Newton away. But when prized volumes in a highly sought-after collection begin to appear, so do dead bodies. Now, Janeway's life is about to start a precarious new chapter as he attempts to find out who's dealing death along with vintage Chandlers and Twains."
Genre: Fiction- Action/Thriller

Allison Hoover Bartlett's The Man Who Loved Books Too Much
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary ObsessionDescription:"Rare-book theft is even more widespread than fine-art theft. Most thieves, of course, steal for profit. John Charles Gilkey steals purely for the love of books. In an attempt to understand him better, journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett plunged herself into the world of book lust and discovered just how dangerous it can be.

Gilkey is an obsessed, unrepentant book thief who has stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of rare books from book fairs, stores, and libraries around the country. Ken Sanders is the self-appointed "bibliodick" (book dealer with a penchant for detective work) driven to catch him. Bartlett befriended both outlandish characters and found herself caught in the middle of efforts to recover hidden treasure. With a mixture of suspense, insight, and humor, she has woven this entertaining cat-and-mouse chase into a narrative that not only reveals exactly how Gilkey pulled off his dirtiest crimes, where he stashed the loot, and how Sanders ultimately caught him but also explores the romance of books, the lure to collect them, and the temptation to steal them. Immersing the reader in a rich, wide world of literary obsession, Bartlett looks at the history of book passion, collection, and theft through the ages, to examine the craving that makes some people willing to stop at nothing to possess the books they love."

Genre: Non-Fiction- True Crime

Kate Carlisle's Bibliophile Mysteries
Homicide in Hardcover: A Bibliophile Mystery(Homicide in Hardcover is the first in this series, with the second, If Books Could Kill, due out in paperback in February 2010)
Description: "The streets of San Francisco would be lined with hardcovers if rare book expert Brooklyn Wainwright had her way. And her mentor wouldn’t be lying in a pool of his own blood on the eve of a celebration for his latest book restoration.

With his final breath he leaves Brooklyn a cryptic message, and gives her a priceless—and supposedly cursed—copy of Goethe’s Faust for safekeeping.

Brooklyn suddenly finds herself accused of murder and theft, thanks to the humorless—but attractive—British security officer who finds her kneeling over the body. Now she has to read the clues left behind by her mentor if she is going to restore justice… "

Genre: Fiction: Mystery/Cozy Mystery

Since I can always read books about books, I'm going to keep this as an ongoing series as I find them. Got any recommendations on where I should look next? Let me know in the comments!

Welcome to my blog!

My first post will be short and sweet. I started this blog in the hopes of sharing what I learn every day about books with others. I love recommending books to people, and I get a lot of satisfaction when people report back to me saying they enjoyed what they read. I hope to take things to the next level with this blog by exploring genres, resources for reading, and sharing deals.

So if you need something to read (or need something to read like a hole in the head), check by here and see what I've got going on. Or if you need something more specific, drop me a line either through the comments or email.

Happy reading!