AJAX BELL

Author of the Queen City Boys books


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50 Books: Book 20

Holy Fools, Joanne Harris

I can't decide if this could have been a good book and just wasn't executed well, or if the whole thing was just doomed from the get go.  I didn't hate it.  I mean I read the whole thing.  The author can construct scenes and chapters in such a way that who have to start the next one right away.  That is skill for sure, however that content in general lacked something and I figured out all the mysteries long before I think I was supposed to.  For the most part it was pretty transparent which isn't really a plus in mysteries, right?  The premise was convoluted at best: in 1610 a nun turns out to be a former traveling gypsy player, hiding out in a convent.  The Mother Superior dies and everything changes and part of the the protagonist's past arrives at the nunnery and the mystery unfolds (such as it is).  It did make me long to be in convent on the coast of France, which says something for the writing.  I don't know, I don't want to completely pan it, I know some people would enjoy it.  And I didn't not enjoy it, it just doesn't stand up to reflection or any sort of post reading scrutiny. Why did I read it in the 'first place? Well a while back my mom handed me two books and told me one sucked and the other was great.  By the time I got home I couldn't remember which was which.  So they've both been sitting on the shelf for a while since I feared picking the sucky one to read.  Now of course I have to read the other one just make sure this one is the sucky one.  Obviously I'm doomed if this one was the good one.

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50 Books: Book 19

Pretties, Scott Westerfeld

The second in the triology goes inside the culture of the Pretty People and reveals more secrets about whoever the bad guys running the world are.  Good enough that I'm anxious to get my hands on the final book so I can find out what happens.  I think girls might enjoy this series more than boys, but you definitely don't have to be a young adult to get into it.  It's a fairly quick read too.  I finished it in about 4 hours.

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50 Books: Book 18

Uglies, Scott Westerfeld

This is the first in a triology.  A YA SF series in post-apocalypitic America in which everyone is controlled by some nefarious organization that makes everyone beautiful through surgery and let's them party themselves into stupidity.  Like creating generation of Paris Hiltons (but more attractive, I assume).  The heroine sort of figures out what's going on and gets drown into the underground and away from the weird, antiseptic completely controlled cities.  It's actually pretty interesting, though anvilicious in it's social commentary.  Westerfeld isn't a bad writer, either I might pick up some of his adult books.

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50 Books: Book 17

The Time Traveler's Wife
Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

If you haven't already read this book, go do it now.  I'm sorry I waited so long.  It took me 7 hours to finish it.  It might take you longer if you like have a job or something.

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50 Books: Book 16

The Accidental Heretics, E. A. Pearson

It seems cruel to review unpublished books here.  Painful even for me, since if I loved it as much as I loved this, I can't make you rush out and get it because it isn't here to get. Quelle tragique.  But it's list of what I've read and I did read this.  A very long, dense book, so action packed you loose track of time or decide to read "just a little more" before doing things that need doing and then find yourself at the end of the day having done nothing but read.  This story is set in the Catalan region of France and Spain in the early 13th century.  Someone is hunting the grandchildren of Crusaders and trying to destroy their families. The three grandchildren end up thrown together trying solve the mystery of who is after them.  It's set among actual events of the period, when the French launched a new Crusade against heretics at home instead of the infidels in the Outremer.  The new Crusade leads our heroes in to even more danger.  The book is clever, exciting, awesome and generally the best thing ever. Half the characters here I love so much I wish I could make them real and tiny and carry them around in my pocket with me forever.  Keep your fingers crossed that someday I can send you off to Amazon to get it for yourself.

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50 Books: Book 15

Ammonite
Nicola Griffith

Ammonite, Nicola Griffith

I found this right after finishing Slow River which I enjoyed so much, I snatched it right up.  Hmm.  I liked this book, but I don't know that everyone would.  It's way far out future, space SF and reads a little like those Sheri S. Tepper books, where people go to the planet which is populated by humans, presumably colonists, who have developed such a different cultural that the other federation of people or whatever, sends anthropologists to study them (except Griffith is much less pedantic and annoying than Tepper, and I like her writing style better too). In this case the planet also has a virus that kills all the men and no one can figure out how the women and continuing to reproduce without men.  Sort of feminist SF, though there's no anti-male sentiment here (like in some of Tepper's works).  It's enjoyable, but if you've read other Griffith books, this is recognizable as a first book.  I did loved it, but if you aren't already familiar with Griffith, I'd recommend the Aud Torvingen books first (The Blue Place, Stay and I think the new one is out or coming out soon in this series) which are speculative fiction (near future) noir mysteries and really awesome.

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50 Books: Book 14

Slow River
Nicola Griffith

Slow River, Nicola Griffith

I've read this before, recently I grabbed it off the shelf, thinking it was a different book and found myself stuck with nothing else to read on a long flight.  Luckily this held up very well to a second read.  Sort of combination of speculative fiction and environmental outcry (like Stephenson's Zodiac, though I think this is a much better book).  It's unfortunately been touted as gay fiction which I think does the book a disservice.  Yes the main character is a lesbian, but it's not talked about in the story, it simply is as she is.  Which really is how it should be in fiction and real world, not a big deal, simply accepted, right?  I find it disappointing that critics and others would choose that as something to focus on in this story, because the story is so great and not really about that.  Basically it's about the heir to a huge financial corporation, who gets kidnapped and ends up on the other end of the food chain.  It's told in real time and series of flashbacks, which Griffith does an excellent job of not making confusing and revealing information slowly, so you figure out the mystery as the protagonist does.  My only real complaint is that they never name the city the main character is in which is weird, since every other place she goes is named. It's left vague enough that it could be Scotland, Norway or Sweden and for some reason not knowing really bothered me.  Otherwise, excellent, book, enjoyable read, totally recommend it.

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50 Books: Book 13

A Cook's Tour
Anthony Bourdain

A Cook's Tour, Anthony Bourdain

Is there anything better than reading Tony Bourdain?  Maybe going out drinking with him, but I haven't done that yet so I'll have to just be in love with him for his writing. This is great from beginning to end, but the best parts are the parts about Vietnam because he clearly loves it so much and it comes across really vividly in his descriptions.  Seriously I want to hang out with this guy so much that I've actually been dreaming about it lately.  Even if you saw the series when it aired, the book is a must read as you get everything that was cut out and more real Tony and less TV Tony.

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50 Books: Book 11

Starwater Strains
Gene Wolfe

Starwater Strains, Gene Wolfe

This collection of short stories felt a little disjointed to me.  Perhaps because it's simply a collection of stories that all appeared other places and there's no real cohesion.  Without a doubt Wolfe is an excellent writer, but the stories here jump from fantasy to horror to straight SF.  On the one hand, it was good book for a reading a story at a time, but when I wanted to read for a while, it was hard to jump from the headspace of one story to the next.  I think my favorite's here were "The Seraph from it's Sepulchar," "Has Anybody Seen Junie Moon?"  and "From the Cradle."   "Empires of Folliage and Flower" left me wanting more.  It was a nice play on words and ideas, but execution fell a little flat for me.  As did "Mute," which was sort of a classic last-man-on-earth scenario, but didn't have enough substance.  It's hard to say if the characters were the only ones left, or if they'd just made a horrible mistake.  Which I guess was the point but it didn't work for me.  So, I think if you like Wolfe and/or good short stories, this is worth picking up used and keeping around for every time you want just a little bit to read, but it's definitely not a good introduction to the author.

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50 Books: Book 10

Dorothy Parker's Elbow, Kim Addonizio and Cheryl Dumesnil

This book was disappointment.  A collection of stories about tattoos.  Could be good, but really most the interesting stories in it were all stories I'd previously read elsewhere: Flannery O'Connor, Ray Bradbury, Sylvia Plath, Franz Kafka, etc.  It didn't suck, but I guess maybe I expected more.

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50 Books: Book 9

Breath, Eyes, Memory
Edwidge Danticat

Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Danticat

I had a whole thing with Caribbean lit a few years ago, that I've never completely recovered from. I can't help but pick a book from an author that I know in that genre.  It's oddly something I've always identified with even though I've never been there and met very few people from there.  I find most writing from that region to be breath-takingly painful, but painted over in such brilliant, colorful, fascinating stories full of metaphor and strange fables in such a way that you almost can't not read it.   Breath, Eyes, Memory is predominately about mothers and daughters and the hurt they often inadvertantly cause each other in their attempts to be individuals.  This story covers the mother/daughter aspects of aunts, grandmothers, daughters, nieces and great-granddaughters and all the possible permutations of how they can relate to each other and love each other and raise each other and hurt each other.  Yet despite the possibility of suffering, this is overall is a tale of love.  Taking place alternately in New York City and Haiti, the horrors of everyday life in those places are not discounted, just left to background details in the lives of the women trying to find happiness when the world seems stacked against them.  I completely love this book and would recommend it to anyone, but I did have really detailed nightmares about the Tonton Macoutes two nights in a row while reading it and I think if rape is a really triggery subject for you, then you probably want to skip this one.

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50 Books: Book 8

Blood Sugar
Nicole Blackman

Blood Sugar, Nicole Blackman

This is the second time I've read this book straight through, cover to cover.  I have, in between, picked it up and read a poem here and there.  This collection of poems and essays really, really touched a nerve in me when I read it the first time a couple years ago.  I find it still very affecting, but it seems less raw and painful now.  Blackman covers rightgeous anger, romantic angst, emotional trauma and suffering, eating disorders, family relations and that general feeling that you are just crazy even when you feel like you're just trying your hardest go through life normally.  I can only speak for myself, but think there's a poem or spoken word piece in here for everyone, though it strikes hardest at experiences of young, urban women.  Currently my favorite poem in the book is Drown.

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50 Books: Book 7

Halo 'Round the Moon, Annie Stewart

Maybe someday you'll be able to read this book.  Hopefully.  My mom wrote it for me. For me.  Because that's real love.  I'm clearly biased, but I think it's publishable, we'll see. It's chick-lit sort of romance, about a case of mistaken identities.  A famous alt.country singer picks up former opera singer, thinking he's her friend's cousin, she thinks the same, he's her friend's cousin. He figures out first that she doesn't know who he is and romance and wackiness ensues when stalkers, record company execs and crazy country diva ex-wives get involved.  This is actually my third reading of this, in it's near final form.  I was doing some copy-editing and I was just supposed to work on it, but after the third chapter I got sucked in again and had to re-read it all.  It's, I think, a good all day at the beach book.  Everytime I've read it I haven't been able to put it down even when I know what happens.

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50 Books: Book 6

The Corpse on the Dike (Amsterdam Cops)
Janwillem van de Wetering

The Corpse on the Dike, Janwillem van de Wetering

When my mom gave me this book she described it as Frog and Toad Solve a Murder in Amsterdam.  And now I can't really see it as much else.  Her description refered to the entire series Amsterdam Cops and though this is the only book I've read in it, I can't see the others  being much different.  Don't get me wrong, this was a very enjoyable book.  It was, well, weird.  Weirdly written, oddly constructed, full of strange characters and bizarre moments.  And the two cops, de Gier and Grijpstra, spend an awful lot of time describing the world to each other and themselves (like Frog and Toad!) and are very unlikely cops (at least from an American perspective).  The book definitely makes you long for Amsterdam.  And hey, I've always thought that Dutch people are a little peculiar and this book certainly did nothing to disabuse me of that notion.  So, yeah, pick it up if you see it in the store.  Plus it has the added benefit of being set in the 70s so all the cops are wearing denim suits and jaunty colorful scarves and have bristling mustaches and long hair.  Heee!  It feels a little like reading a very, very twisted alternative universe Dirty Harry set in Holland.  Wheeee!

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50 Books: Book 5

Something Rotten, Jasper Fforde

 If you've read the other books in this series, then you'll probably find this one equally enjoyable and satisfying.  If you haven't read this series then, wait, what?  Why aren't you reading it!?!?!?  Oh yeah, I get it probably isn't everyone's bag, but man if you've been a voracious reader your whole life, especially of classics and SF, then you are totally missing out of you don't read Fforde (pronounced 'Fuh-ford-dey' if you're me, yeah I know better, no I don't care).  I figured out what was going to happen about 40 pages in and then went to sleep.  The next night I stayed up 'til 4 am reading the next 280 pages.  Yeah, seriously page turning.  That man knows how to end a chapter.  I'm telling you.  It's good for the in jokes, the wacky hilarity, the loveable characters, but really, old Jasper, he just knows how to end a chapter so that you have to turn the page.  He's got Surprise on his side, even without old Acheron around.  (2 points for getting the original reference there, 2 more if you can identify where Fforde used it.)  Also the cover actually kind of scares me.  Scary toast, who'da thunk?  Also for all their light-heartedness, Thursday's relationship with her father in these books always makes me vaguely teary.  Take Your Vacation in the Socialist Republic of Wales.

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50 Books: Book 4

The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick

I'm not sure how I feel about this book.  I've been putting off writing this because I can't think of anything to say except that I read it.  It's alternative history, the Japanese and Germans won WWII and now occupy the US.  It's totally up my alley, but it didn't sit well with me.  Not the concept, that was fine, but the story itself sort of meandered over multiple characters. I kept waiting for it to all come together but it never quite did.  It sort of resolved into two parallel stories neither of which had a satisfying outcome.  The language of the book wasn't as dated as I'd expected although the dialogue was written in this weirdly stilted way.  I got all the metaphor in it.  I got the clever use of deterministic philosophy.  I got how it's supposed to mirror our own world.  I just don't care.  Not about the story or the characters.  I wonder if all the praise this book seems to get is from people who read it when they were young and still forming concepts of reality and their own philosophies of the world.  I'm sure the book seemed ground breaking when it was written, but the concept has since been done to much better effect elsewhere.  And TMitHC is all concept and sadly lacking in story.  Huh, I guess I had something to say about it after all.

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50 Books: Book 3

Latro in the Mist
Gene Wolfe

Soldier of Arete, Gene Wolfe

The second book in the series, as good as the first though things become a little confusing in the end. Intentionally so, I mean when the narrator can't remember anything for more then 24 hours not everything he says is going to be coherent and since you get only his perspective things become all turned around. These books are definitely the most transportive kind of fantasy. I'm just done now and I have work to do and household chores, but I'd much rather spend my day pretending I'm traipsing through ancient Greece with heroes and gods. Alas the laundry calls and I must hearken its cry. So I will strap on my sword and bronze armour and get to it. Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete are now bound and sold together as Latro in the Mist. Go get them. You won't be sorry.

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50 Books: Book 2

Latro in the Mist
Gene Wolfe

Soldier of the Mist, Gene Wolfe

It's like Memento only WAY better. A soldier in roughly 470 BC suffers a battlefield injury that causes him not be able to remember anything for more than 24 hours. He keeps a journal of what happens most every day so he can re-read it and remember who and where he is and who the people with him are. There characters here are really rich and bright and amazing, especially since the narrator is essentially re-introducing them all the time as the soldier starts each day only able to remember a little of the day before. Often you know who his enemies are even when he does not which is pretty tense at some points. The book overall reads vaguely like Mary Renault, but less purple and overblown. There's two more books published in this series and I can not wait to read them. Like want to call in sick to work and read all day kind of can not wait.

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50 Books: Book 1

Kafka on the Shore
Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami

I love Murakami.  Does he revist the same themes over and over? Sure, but I care not, in fact I find it somehow comforting.  His books are stories of personal change and transcendence in a very Japanese magical realism kind of way.  The themes he uses to to explore these are recurring in each book (wells, talking animals, other worlds that exist next to ours and sometimes overlap) are present in Kafka though I think slightly changed from previous books.  About this book I can say it's better than Norwegian Wood, lesser than Wind-up Bird Chronicle, so maybe at about level?  Overall enjoyable and worth the time spent.

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50 Books in 2007

I'm moving my 50 Books posts here as a permanent home, since I'm not doing much else here and yet I feel some odd compulsion to keep this blog up.  Also the nifty little book tracking thing is groovy. So this I guess becomes, by default, my reading blog.

The challenge is to read 50 books in 2007. Most the years of my life, since I was about 9, this would be no challenge at all.  I would have scoffed at a mere 50 books. In recent years I've found I just don't read as much as I once did, whether because of work, or because I'm too busy reading fanfic and magazines and watching TV or whatever.  I tried this exercise in 2005 and read 52 books.  Not as good as I'd hoped, but respectable and goal acheived.  I didn't keep track in 2006, but I'd guess I read maybe 11 books in the entire year. Tragic. Reprehensible even. So this year I will strive to do better.

I've got a huge stack of unread books awaiting me, but I am taking recommendations, if anyone feels the need to share.

As I said, I didn't keep track last year (BAD ME), but here's what I read in 2005:

1. Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris
2. A Series of Unfortunate Events 1: The Bad Beginning, Lemony Snicket
3. A Series of Unfortunate Events 2: The Reptile Room, Lemony Snicket
4. A Series of Unfortunate Events 3: The Wide Window, Lemony Snicket
5. A Series of Unfortunate Events 4: The Miserable Mill, Lemony Snicket
6. The Life of the World to Come, Kage Baker
7. Black Projects, White Knights: The Company Dossiers, Kage Baker
8. The Persian Boy, Mary Renault
9. Butterfly, Sharon Sala
10. A Home At The End of the World, Michael Cunningham
11. Dark Angel (Night World #4), L.J. Smith
12. Spellbinder (Night World #3), L.J. Smith
13. The Visitor, Sheri S. Tepper
14. The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, Chris Fuhrman
15. Altered Carbon, Richard K. Morgan
16. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ann Brashares
17. The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd
18. A Series of Unfortunate Events 5: The Austere Academy, Lemony Snicket
19. A Series of Unfortunate Events 6: The Ersatz Elevator, Lemony Snicket
20. The Probable Future, Alice Hoffman
21. Shade's Children, Garth Nix
22. A Series of Unfortunate Events 7: The Vile Village, Lemony Snicket
23. The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, Ann Brashares
24. The Companions, Sheri S. Tepper
25. As Meat Loves Salt, Maria McCann
26. Children of the Shaman, Jessica Rydill
27. A Series of Unfortunate Events 8: The Hostile Hospital, Lemony Snicket
28. Naked, David Sedaris
29. Dancer, Colum McCann
30. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón
31. The Accidental Heretics (Book One of the Confraria Cycle), Annie Stewart
32. The Heaven of Mercury, Brad Watson
33. Villa Incognito, Tom Robbins
34. White Queen, Gwyneth Jones
35. The Children of the Company, Kage Baker
36. You Don't Know Me, David Klass
37. Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers : More Mad, Marvy Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, Louise Rennison
38. Seven Seasons of Buffy, Glenn Yeffeth
39. Secret Vampire (Night World #1), L.J. Smith
40. A Series of Unfortunate Events 9: The Carnivorous Carnival, Lemony Snicket
41. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling
42. Old Man's War, John Scalzi
43. Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky
44. Mona Lisa Overdrive, William Gibson
45. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
46. Firelands, Michael Jensen
47. All Tomorrow's Parties, William Gibson
48. White Jenna, Jane Yolen
49. The Turkish Gambit, Boris Akunin, Andrew Bromfield (Translator)
50. Sister Light, Sister Dark, Jane Yolen
51. Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood, Ann Brashares
52. The Midnight Work, Kassandra Sims

I'm not sure, looking over this list, if I should resolve to read less YA fic and SF, or if I should figure I got a good thing going and stick with it.

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