« Book Review - Tribulation Force | Main | Friday Bible Blogging - Job 11 to Job 20 »

Books, A Year in Review - 2013, Part II

Old Book Bindings, from Wikimedia Commons It's taken me a little longer than I'd hoped to get this done, but here is the second part of my review of the books I read in the last year, just in time to click a link to pick up a Christmas present for the booklover in your life. (More precisely - these are books I read from October 2012 through October 2013). Part I was an analysis of my reading habits, while this entry will give a brief review for each book.

I've made it a tradition to use this space to list my favorite books from the year. And like many years, it's tough to pick my favorites again this year. As far as fiction, I really liked both The Kronos Chronicles and The Uglies Series. If you're interested in the Bible, I can't recommend the New Oxford Annotated Bible highly enough. The Around Pottstown (Postcard History Series) and Wichita Falls (Images of America) books were both very interesting. I actually have a couple more books from that series on my nightstand that I'm looking forward to reading. I also really liked Feynman and Primates, but I guess I'd rank them just a little behind the rest of my favorites. As far as regular non-fiction, I really liked Night, The Darwin Experience, and Pterosaurs.

But I can't just list every book I read as a favorite, so if I have to narrow down that list, I think I can limit it to The Uglies Series, Around Pottstown, Wichita Falls, and Pterosaurs.

Here's a list of all the books reviewed below. Click on any title to jump to that review.

Children's & Young Adult Fiction

Adult Fiction


Light Non-Fiction


Wild Jack
by John Christopher

This book was set in an advanced future, where most people lived luxuriously in cities. The cities were pretty well isolated from the wilderness, mainly to reduce the environmental impact that had been such a problem in previous generations. However, the utopia isn't quite so utopic as it first appears, as our young hero learns, while also discovering a rag tag band of 'rebels' living off the land outside of the cities.

I read this book shortly after The Hunger Games, and it struck me as similar, but from the point of view of one of the rich, privileged citizens, rather than one of the down trodden masses. It's a decent story that won't take too long to read, so if you like dystopia stories, and you happen to come across this book, it's worth picking up.

On a personal note, this was a book that I've been meaning to read for decades now. I bought it at a library book sale back when I was in elementary school, but now I finally get to check it off the list. I still have a few more of those types of books to go.


by Neil Gaiman

My family loves the movie, Stardust. As the tagline on IMDB describes it, "In a countryside town bordering on a magical land, a young man makes a promise to his beloved that he'll retrieve a fallen star by venturing into the magical realm." The first time I saw it, I didn't know beforehand that it was based on a book, but it just had that feel that it was. So when I learned that it was based on the Neil Gaiman book of the same name, I was excited to read it. All the parts of the movie that seemed a bit rushed would be expanded. Characters I liked would be fleshed out even further. However, I was very surprised reading the book, in that it was very different than the movie. Yes, there were some obvious similarities - Tristran (with a slightly different spelling than the movie), Yvaine, Victoria, Lord Septimus, Lady Una, The Witch-Queen, Ditchwater Sal - they were all in the book. But the pace of the story was much different, there were different plot lines, different endings, and just a generally different feeling. Perhaps most disappointing to fans of the movie is that the big plot line with Captain Shakespeare (Robert Deniro) was missing from the book.

Anyway, the book should be judged on its own merits, and in that regard, it's very good. I don't think I've been disappointed yet by a Neil Gaiman book.


The Hobbit
by J. R. R. Tolkien

As nearly every knows, The Hobbit was J.R.R. Tolkien's first book based in the Lord of the Rings world of Middle Earth. Tolkien wrote it, and the story itself takes place, before the events in Tolkien's masterpiece Lord of the Rings trilogy. In fact, Tolkien didn't have the whole story arc in mind when he wrote The Hobbit, though he had been toying with Elven languages and the concept of Middle Earth. But that means, unlike something like the Harry Potter series, where J.K. Rowling had planned it all out in advance, the continuity between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings seems a bit forced. Tolkien even went back and changed some parts of the originally published book to better match his sequel. The Hobbit was written for a different audience, as well. While The Lord of the Rings is more of an adult book that can still be read by young adults, The Hobbit is more of a children's book that can still be read by adults.

Perhaps it's not fair to compare The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings or to a fully formed series like Harry Potter. It was, after all, originally published on its own as a standalone book. And in that sense, it is very good. I still remember the first time I read The Hobbit. I was home from school on a snow day, and we had it laying around the house, so I picked it up to start on it. And I couldn't put it down. I read the whole thing in one sitting that day. It follows the adventures of the Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, as he joins with a group of dwarves and a wizard on a trek to recover the dwarves' family treasure that had been stolen by the dragon, Smaug. It's been cited by many people as the book that started the modern fantasy genre, and it's the sixth best selling book of all time (excluding religious texts). It's definitely worth reading if you've never read it.


The Kronos Chronicles
by Marie Rutkoski

This series was recommended to me by my daughter, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is definitely a children's book, and there are scenes that seem a bit cartoonish because of it, but that just goes with the territory. It's interesting in that it mixes real historical details into a fantasy world the author has created. The story begins in late 16th-century Bohemia. After a brief prologue with a man who could communicate telepathically with horses, we were introduced to the protagonist, a girl named Petra Kronos, and her pet/companion mechanical spider, Astrophil. After a few pages of background, Petra's father is returned from Prague, where he had gone to build an extravagant clock for the prince, Rodolfo. But the cruel prince, rather than pay Petra's father at the completion of the project, instead removed Mikal Kronos's eyes (magically so that the prince could use them himself) and sent Mikal back to his hometown tied up in the back of a wagon. From there, Petra's adventure begins, traveling to distant lands, meeting exotic foreigners, training to develop her untapped magical abilities, and of course working her way out of tight scrapes.

I know it's cheating a bit to just point to other people's reviews of books, but I found a really good one for this book on Amazon, La Vie Boheme. It reveals a few more plot spoilers than I would do, but it's very informative.

Like I wrote in the introduction to this entry, this series wasn't my favorite one I read this year, but it was close to it. I'd definitely recommend it.


The Uglies Series
by Scott Westerfeld

If you haven't already done so, read the first paragraph to the review of Wild Jack.

This book was set in an advanced future, where most people lived luxuriously in cities. The cities were pretty well isolated from the wilderness, mainly to reduce the environmental impact that had been such a problem in previous generations. However, the utopia isn't quite so utopic as it first appears, as our young hero learns, while also discovering a rag tag band of 'rebels' living off the land outside of the cities... That's actually about where the similarity ends. The Uglies is a bit more sophisticated than Wild Jack. It's a series, so there's more time to tell a more involved story and explore more themes.

In the future world of the Uglies, society is organized a bit differently than it is now. Children, or 'littlies', live with their parents when they're first born and until they turn 12. At that age and the start of the next school year, they move into dormitories to be raised by the state. Now known as 'uglies', they live there and finish out their primary education until they turn 16. Right after their birthday, they undergo extensive surgery which is partly cosmetic and partly 'upgrading'. This ensures that everyone is healthy and beautiful, ostensibly to eliminate discrimination based on appearance and other differences. After they're turned into 'Pretties', they go through a several year hedonistic stage, full of partying and drinking and fun, until the next surgery that turns them into 'middle pretties', when they become responsible adults, find jobs, and get married. The final stage of this progression comes when they retire, and are then known as 'crumblies'.

The original trilogy follows the adventures of Tally Youngblood, a 15 year old ugly who begins the story eagerly awaiting her 16th birthday, having watched most of her friends who were slightly older get the Operation and move to New Pretty Town ahead of her. But in those last lonely weeks before the big day, Tally befriended a girl in a similar situation, Shay, who made her begin to question everything she thought she'd known about her world.

The fourth book, Extras is a kind of sequel to the trilogy, following Aya Fuse in the aftermath of all that happened in the first three books, but I can't really say what without spoiling the story.

This was a very good series, and I'm glad my daughter recommended it to me. I hear there are even plans to turn it into a movie, so you better hurry up and read it so that you can say you knew about it before it went all Hollywood.


Tribulation Force
by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

I've already posted a full review of this book. I'll just quote two of the paragraphs from that review here (the second of which was nearly quoting what I wrote for Left Behind).

"Let me start off this review by saying that I was entertained by this book, enough that I'll probably continue reading the series (though not straight through without breaks for other books). And let me also preface this review by admitting that when I first saw the Left Behind movie while I was still a Christian, it seemed reasonably plausible, if not particularly likely to occur any time soon. It wasn't until I abandoned Christianity, read the actual book, and discovered Slacktivist's Left Behind reviews that I realized just how implausible the story is (thanks for making me feel so gullible, Slacktivist)...

"Since my impressions of Tribulation Force are so similar to those I had for Left Behind, I'll end this review by adapting what I'd already written in my brief review of Left Behind. Tribulation Force wasn't great, but it wasn't horrible, either. The series so far isn't, as Slacktivist said, "The Worst Books Ever Written." At the very least, it gives you some insight into the mindset of premillenial dispensationalists. If you can get past the corny dialog, unlikeable heroes, and lack of detail, and then suspend your disbelief about the implausible scenarios, you can enjoy the books. Like I wrote above, I liked Tribulation Force well enough that I'll probably try to finish out the series."


New Oxford Annotated Bible
by Michael D. Coogan, Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom and Pheme Perkins

I can't recommend the New Oxford Annotated Bible highly enough. I'm currently in the process of reading the entire Bible cover to cover for my Friday Bible Blogging series, and this is the print version of the Bible I'm using for that project. It includes thorough and informative introductions to each of the traditional collections, and then each of the books in those collections, and then extremely informative footnotes throughout the text. And at the end of the book, there is an entire series of appendices with yet more information. Keeping up with the notes in the NOAB while reading the text of the Bible adds a whole additional level of understanding and comprehension. Additionally, it uses the New Revised Standard Version translation, which as I discussed in Friday Bible Blogging - Introduction and Picking a Translation, is just about the best translation currently available.


Around Pottstown (Postcard History Series)
by Patricia Wanger Smith

If you haven't seen any of the books from Arcadia Publishing, you really have to make the effort to find some. They're not terribly in depth and don't take too long to read, but they're incredibly fascinating. This one is from the Postcard History Series, which, as the title suggests, is a collection of postcards all from Pottstown, Pennsylvania. A few of the oldest postcards are engravings - not photographs, and many of them pre-date automobiles. Each postcard is accompanied by a short caption explaining the image. Taken together, the postcards and captions cover the history of the Pottstown region from the late 1700s on up to nearly the present day. Having grown up in that area, it's interesting to see some of the early history of the region, as well as a bit of a trip down memory lane (hey, I recognize that church, and that's the house my parents lived in for a while, etc.). Arcadia makes similar books for cities, towns, and regions all throughout the country, so you'll likely be able to find one for the locale you're interested in.


Wichita Falls (Images of America)
by Kenneth E. Hendrickson Jr.

This is another book from Arcadia Publishing, this one from the Images of America series. This book is very similar in format to Around Pottstown, except focusing on Wichita Falls, Texas, and being composed mainly of photographs rather than solely postcards. It covers a span of history from the late 1800s on to the present. Being a Texas city, some of those pictures cover the latter days of the Wild West. On a personal note, I recognized the name of the author as a guy I used to play with in a tennis league. Wichita Falls really is an oversized small town.


by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick

My daughter went to a big book fair last year down in the DFW area (the Dallas International Book Fair, maybe?). There were lots of publishers giving away free books to generate a bit of publicity, and a good deal of authors present to sign their books. My daughter saw this book and the one reviewed below, and figured I'd like them, so she picked them up, and got Jim Ottaviani to sign them for me. (She came home with 20 or 30 books that day, a bunch of them review copies that weren't even available at bookstores, yet.)

This particular book was a comic book biography of Richard Feynman. If you've ever read Feynman's own books, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think, then you'll already be familiar with many of the stories. However there's still a bit from some other sources that will be new to you. I was particularly interested in the portions on quantum electrodynamics. Also if you've read those books, you'll be familiar with Feynman's way of just jumping from story to story, without much of a larger overall narrative to tie it all together. Ottaviani matched Feynman's style in this book, so it's really just a collection of isolated episodes and lectures with Feynman being the only common point.

If you've never read Feynman's other books, this is a very entertaining short introduction. Give this book a shot, and if you like it, then go and invest the time in the longer text only source material. I'm thinking I might just have to go and read the Feynman lectures myself, now.


Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas
by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

This book came from the same book fair as described above. Unlike the book above, this one is much more coherent. As the subtitle indicates, it follows the careers of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas, three very prominent primate researchers. All three of them are united by having been sponsored by the famous archaeologist, Louis Leakey, and have since been given the nickname of Leakey's Angels. Goodall was the first of Leakey's Angels, studying chimpanzees in in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. Her unprecedented discoveries have made her a household name. After her success, Leakey sponsored Fossey to study gorillas in the Virunga Volcanoes of Rwanda, and then Galdikas to study orangutans in Borneo. Of course, Fossey's death at the hands of poachers is well known and the subject of the movie, Gorillas in the Mist. Ottaviani covered this tragic event in a sensitive manner, without turning the book into a tragedy. Overall, this was a very interesting book, and well worth the time to read it.


by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel is a survivor of the Holocaust. He grew up in Sighet, which had been part of Romania, but was ceded to Hungary in 1940. In 1944, when Wiesel was 15, his family (and the entire Jewish community of Sighet) was deported to the German concentration camp at Auschwitz. Since the camps were segregated by sex, Elie and his father were separated from Elie's mother and sisters. He never saw his mother again. The book, Night, is Wiesel's telling of his experiences just prior to and during his internment, along with the liberation. To quote Wikipedia, the book is "just over 100 pages of sparse and fragmented narrative", but it is very powerful. In some respects, it's exactly what you would expect of a book about the Holocaust, describing the suffering, death, and torment that occurred. But the perspective of someone who lived through it is very enlightening, and not necessarily the emotions you might have suspected. This is a very sober book, but one that everybody should read.


Self-Made Man: One Woman's Year Disguised as a Man
by Norah Vincent

This book had an interesting premise. The author, Norah Vincent, decided to disguise herself as a man, and then put herself into different situations to see how she would be treated, and how that was different than the way she had been treated as a woman. Most of these situations were for at least somewhat extended periods, such as joining a bowling league, getting a sales job, attending a monastery, and joining up with a men's support group. The shorter term situations were when she entered the dating scene. At a certain level, this does seem dishonest, and Vincent noted this herself in the book. In fact, the constant deceit led to her having a mental breakdown at the end of the project.

Some of her observations are to be expected - being able to walk down the street without being ogled, having a car dealer treat you as an equal, seeing that men really do cuss and drink and spit in each other's company. But some of her observations surprised her - how welcoming and open men could be in their own way with each other, even if there wasn't a lot of explicit talking about feelings like happened with her female friends. Vincent also saw how society's gender stereotypes for men can limit them in a similar way to how they limit women. In fact, in an interview with ABC News, A Self-Made Man, Vincent noted, "Men are suffering. They have different problems than women have, but they don't have it better. They need our sympathy. They need our love, and maybe they need each other more than anything else. They need to be together."

Many of Vincent's surprises were understandable, but one in particular struck me as something she should have already known - how difficult it can be for men to try to pick up women in public. In that same ABC interview, she had the revelation, "In fact, we sit there and we just with one word, 'no,' will crush someone. We don't have to do the part where you cross the room and you go up to a stranger that you've never met in the middle of a room full of people and say the first words. And those first words are so hard to say without sounding like a cheeseball or sounding like a jerk."

Being a man myself, I don't quite agree with everything Vincent said. As the most obvious reason, all people regardless of gender are individuals, and stereotyping is still stereotyping even when you're trying to be helpful. And while I think there are societal expectations that put some limits on 'acceptable' male behavior, I also think she went a bit far in playing up men as victims. Really, not too many people through history have had it as good as us white males in the modern day U.S. But overall, it was a very interesting book with many thought provoking observations.


Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature
by Brian Switek

I read (past tense) Brian Switek's old blog, Dinosaur Tracking Blog, and follow him currently at his new blog, Laelaps, so I had high hopes for this book. And while it was a good, solid effort, it wasn't a masterpiece. It covered evolution in more of a narrative format, explaining the stories and people involved in discoveries and new theories. And while books like that can be very entertaining (see Carl Zimmer's Soul Made Flesh), it just didn't work as well as it could have in this book. There are plenty of introductions to evolution out there, and there are two in particular that I would recommend before this one. The first is Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne, which is probably the best all around introduction to evolution I've yet read. The second is Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters by Donald Prothero, which is probably the best introduction to the fossil evidence for evolution I've read. A third recommendation would be The Tangled Bank by Carl Zimmer, marketed as a textbook for non-biology majors (with a price to match) that gets into the theory a bit more.

But like I said, this was a solid effort. If you've read Coyne's and Prothero's books and are looking for another introductory book to round out your reading but without getting as technical as Zimmer's textbook, this would be a good addition.


The Darwin Experience: The Story of the Man and His Theory of Evolution
by John Van Wyhe

This is one of those books that came out to celebrate the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of On the Origin of Species. It's almost like a pop-up book for adults. It was full of little fold outs and inserts, which, to quote an Amazon review, were "reproductions of Darwin's letters, pages from his journals, maps or illustrations from his books, and other sundry documents such as a Chilean passport or a ticket to his funeral." With its emphasis on visuals and presentation, the text isn't too terribly in depth, but it was enough to teach me things I hadn't known before. The book focused much more on Darwin himself rather than 'His Theory of Evolution'. If you're looking for an introduction to evolution, this isn't it. But if you're interested in Darwin the man, this is an interesting book to read and experience.


Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy
by Mark P. Witton

This book is awesome! However, you have to be a fairly well educated layman with a keen interest in pterosaurs to really appreciate it. This isn't a book to give to your 10 year old nephew who likes dinosaurs. And in fact, if you think pterosaurs were dinosaurs, then this book may be a little over your head. (It reminds me very much of Peter Wellnhofer's Archaeopteryx: The Icon of Evolution in regards to the expected knowledge of the reader.)

The book starts off with a short introduction dispelling some of the popular misconceptions of Pterosaurs (they were weak, they could only take off from cliffs, they were predominantly ocean going creatures and many were skim feeders, etc.) It then jumped right into the science, starting with evolutionary relationships, then moving on to anatomy, and then proposed behavior. The final 3/5 of the book focused on individual pterosaur groups.

One of the best parts of the book was the artwork. In addition to being a doctored paleontologist, Mark Witton is a renowned paleoartist. The book is full of creative illustrations of pterosaurs. It's not just a bunch of pictures of the creatures on the wing, but in various situations that would have occured in their real ives, such as foraging, competing for mates, or even swimming for some that were likely aquatic. And of course, there were plenty of photos and drawings of actual fossils.

There were also moments of humor sprinkled throughout the book. Granted, it was of a type that takes a certain mindset to appreciate. I found myself chuckling out loud a few times, but when I would read those passage to my wife, she'd just roll her eyes at me.

There are a few excerpts available online with illustrations and text to see what to expect. Two pages that make these availabe are MarkWitton.com - PUP Pterosaurs and Princeton University Press - Pterosaurs.

While not necessarily for the casual reader, this book is a great resource for anyone with an interest in Pterosaurs.


atorvastatin 10mg us atorvastatin tablet lipitor 80mg generic

buy cheap generic baycip - ethambutol for sale online amoxiclav medication

cheap ciprofloxacin 1000mg - order ethambutol 1000mg online cheap augmentin 1000mg

buy generic metronidazole for sale - order generic terramycin azithromycin oral

purchase ciplox - cheap chloramphenicol pill order erythromycin 500mg for sale

valtrex drug - buy mebendazole online cheap buy acyclovir 800mg for sale

generic stromectol for humans - cefixime 100mg sale purchase sumycin generic

purchase flagyl sale - buy amoxicillin cheap azithromycin online order

order ampicillin online cheap purchase doxycycline generic amoxicillin cheap

furosemide 100mg without prescription - candesartan brand capoten over the counter

buy glucophage 1000mg pill - order ciprofloxacin 1000mg without prescription order lincocin 500mg

retrovir 300 mg brand - buy avapro without a prescription zyloprim 100mg ca

buy clozapine 100mg generic - order clozapine sale buy famotidine 40mg generic

quetiapine 100mg without prescription - order geodon 40mg online cheap cheap eskalith generic

buy clomipramine 50mg generic - order anafranil order generic doxepin 25mg

order hydroxyzine 10mg generic - cheap nortriptyline 25 mg order endep 25mg for sale

where can i buy amoxil - order amoxicillin generic cipro 500mg ca

amoxiclav sale - purchase septra online buy cipro 500mg sale

cleocin 150mg cost - order terramycin 250 mg for sale generic chloramphenicol

order azithromycin 250mg pill - order ciprofloxacin pill ciprofloxacin 500mg over the counter

stromectol australia - eryc 500mg cost order cefaclor 500mg generic

order albuterol online - buy theo-24 Cr for sale buy theo-24 Cr generic

clarinex 5mg without prescription - buy triamcinolone 4mg pills buy generic albuterol

generic depo-medrol online - astelin 10ml sprayers purchase azelastine sprayer

buy glyburide 2.5mg online - glipizide 10mg oral buy dapagliflozin 10mg generic

buy repaglinide paypal - jardiance 10mg drug buy jardiance 25mg generic

glycomet where to buy - precose 25mg cost order precose 25mg

buy terbinafine 250mg pills - griseofulvin pills purchase griseofulvin generic

buy rybelsus - glucovance oral buy desmopressin sale

ketoconazole price - order itraconazole pill buy sporanox 100mg for sale

famciclovir 500mg oral - buy valcivir 500mg pill order valcivir 500mg sale

cost digoxin - order labetalol 100mg for sale lasix over the counter

microzide uk - prinivil medication bisoprolol buy online

brand lopressor 100mg - inderal 20mg uk adalat 30mg generic

nitroglycerin medication - buy cheap generic catapres purchase diovan online cheap

simvastatin hurry - tricor extraordinary lipitor end

crestor many - rosuvastatin pills unless caduet pills face

acne medication generous - acne medication amuse acne treatment midnight

inhalers for asthma generous - inhalers for asthma thud asthma treatment name

uti antibiotics beckon - uti medication belief treatment for uti pile

prostatitis treatment stuff - prostatitis medications keep pills for treat prostatitis gain

Post a comment


TrackBack URL for this entry:


Selling Out