Posts Tagged ‘Dan B.’s Picks’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Dan B’s Picks

December 18, 2014

Some of my favorite books that were new to me this year include a space adventure with hostile aliens, the memoir of a comedy legend, a dystopian teen novel, a fantasy with a magic-wielding librarian, and a story of super heroes in the big city.

DreadnaughtDreadnaught by Jack Campbell
Admiral Jack Geary was rescued from cryogenic sleep several years ago to lead the Alliance Fleet to victory over the Syndicate. Now, however, humanity is also up against an unknown and hostile race of aliens on the far side of human colonized space. Geary also has to deal with a government that fears and resents him, as well as the remnants of the Syndic forces. This is the first in the Beyond the Frontier series, which is a continuation of Campbell’s Lost Fleet series, which starts with Dauntless.

What's So Funny?What’s So Funny? My Hilarious Life by Tim Conway
Whether you know him from McHale’s Navy, The Carol Burnett Show, Dorf, or any of his numerous other appearances on TV and in film, Tim Conway is one of the great funny men of the last century. His touching memoir gives readers insight into his Midwestern upbringing, his Army service, and his career from the middle of the Twentieth Century through recent years. Anecdotes along the way will have you smiling, laughing, and genuinely appreciating Tim for all he’s given us. My only disappointment was that he didn’t narrate the audio book.

For the WinFor the Win by Cory Doctorow
In this dystopian future teens in countries like India and China must work for the corrupt bosses of huge corporations “gold farming” from massive online video games. The large cast of characters, each struggling to make enough money for their families, begin to learn that their plight is not unique. They start to form relationships online while also forming unions for this new kind of labor. The story is compelling as Doctorow blends a tech-heavy dystopia with real world lessons about economics. It’s also a great audio book.

LibriomancerLibriomancer by Jim C. Hines
What’s not to love in a book about magic wielding librarians versus evil vampires?! Isaac Vainio works as a librarian in Michigan, but, he also catalogues books for a magical group of libriomancers. Those are people who have the magical ability to draw forth objects from inside books. This branch of magic was founded by none other than Johannes Gutenberg. But what happens when Gutenberg goes missing and vampires start attacking libriomancers, leading to a war which could expose all magic to the rest of the world?

After the Golden AgeAfter the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn
Celia West knows that her lack of super-powers has always been a disappointment to her father, billionaire industrialist Warren West, a.k.a. Captain Olympus. Celia is an accountant whose firm is working with the D.A.’s office to prosecute The Destructor, her parents’ arch-nemesis, for tax evasion. While he’s behind bars, a new crime wave breaks out, and though her parents think he’s behind it, Celia isn’t so sure. Is there a new evil at work in Commerce City, or is what’s going on now related to events from over fifty years ago?

Best New Books of 2014: Dan B’s Picks

December 3, 2014

My favorite books of this year include a dark and grim Fantasy, a book about meditation, the newest Star Wars novel set far, far away, and two near future Sci-Fi thrillers. Here are some of my top picks from 2014:

Half a KingHalf a King by Joe Abercrombie
Move over George R.R. Martin, there’s a new author of grim, dark Fantasy in town. Prince Yarvi is the titular “half king” due to his deformed and crippled left arm, with which he can hold neither sword nor shield. That’s fine with Yarvi, as he never wanted to be a warrior or king, and is content to continue his studies. However, Yarvi’s plans change when his father the king and his brother are both murdered by a rival king from across the sea. Yarvi must strike back against treacherous enemies, but some are seen and others are hidden.  See my full review.

10% Happier10% Happier by Dan Harris
ABC newsman Dan Harris has never been a very spiritual guy. The news biz is pretty cut throat and for years he was driven to succeed and get on air as often as he could. One fateful day the mounting pressure got to him, and while reporting the news on Good Morning America, he had a nervous breakdown – live on national TV. Harris’ memoir-cum-self-help book about the benefits of meditation takes readers through his journey, and if doing something can make you 10% happier, wouldn’t you want to try it?

A New DawnA New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… Kanan Jarrus is a former Jedi student who’s become a loner, never staying put too long. Almost 20 years before A New Hope, the Empire defeated the Republic and the people of the galaxy began to suffer. The Emperor has sent Count Vidian to the planet Gorse and its moon Cynda to ensure productivity is high in their mining operation, no matter the cost. There just might be a spark of rebellion soon. This novel takes place shortly before the new Star Wars Rebels cartoonSee my full review.

Lock InLock In by John Scalzi
In the near future, a virus spreads that leaves about 1% of our population locked inside themselves, unable to control their bodies. They can interact with the world two ways: through an “integrator” (a person who lets them ride inside their body), or through the use of a robotic body that they control remotely, known as a “threep.” When a murder occurs involving an integrator, rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is partnered with Leslie Vann to solve the case. Chris, a victim of the disease who uses a threep, soon discovers the real mystery goes much deeper.

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
Astronaut Mark Watney becomes stranded on Mars when a dust storm forces his team to evacuate and return to Earth earlier than planned. He is presumed dead, but has miraculously survived, and although he knows he’ll be the first human to die on Mars, he fights to stay alive. As the mission’s engineer, Mark may have just enough know-how to figure out how to get enough air, pressure, food, and water to live. By turns thrilling and laugh-out-loud funny, this tale of survival set against a Science Fiction backdrop will have you turning pages past your bedtime.

Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

October 21, 2014

RoguesThis collection includes 21 Fantasy short stories from authors such as Neil Gaiman, Connie Willis, Joe Abercrombie, Gillian Flynn, and Patrick Rothfuss. As my coworker Keith mentioned in his review of this book for LibraryReads,

“This anthology is worth reading for the Rothfuss story alone! ‘The Lightning Tree’ follows Bast spending a day outside the tavern, which left me anxious for Kingkiller Book 3 to come out.”

I couldn’t agree more! Some of the other stories are also set in worlds we know and feature characters we love – such as Neil Gaiman’s follow up to his popular novel Neverwhere, “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back.” So there you go, read this book and get a couple of very amazing stories from two of the masters of modern fantasy, Rothfuss and Gaiman. What’s that? You want more? Okay, how about these:

Joe Abercrombie’s story “Tough Times All Over” in which a package is stolen from a courier, only to be re-stolen and appropriated over and over as it changes hands multiple times during its journey across the city. We’re treated to multiple viewpoint shifts of the colorful cast of ne’er-do-wells and blackguards as the package shifts from one person to the next. Action, world-building, and witty dialogue are among Ambercrombie’s trademarks demonstrated here.

Carrie Vaughn‘s story “Roaring Twenties” is set in a hidden watering hole and gambling den frequented by villains and scoundrels. In this magical speak-easy one old practitioner of nefarious magic has come to confront a rival and hopefully reach an understanding. However, as with any gathering of rascals, magical or otherwise, everyone is looking out for themselves and watching their own backs, and when the fur starts flying, understandings are hard to come by.

Garth Nix‘s story “A Cargo of Ivories” features his knight and sorcerer duo Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz. In this entertaining story, the pair are sent to recover ivory figurines which contain energy anchors for minor gods. When we meet them here, Sir Hereward and his former teacher Mister Fitz – who happens to be an enchanted puppet – are doing a bit of burglary to recover the figurines from the magically protected home of a rich collector. Naturally, their plans go awry. They meet another thief ransacking the house and the trio pair up to pursue one of the escaped godlets before it can wreak havoc.

One of the best things about short story collections is that they expose you to newer authors or authors you just haven’t gotten around to reading yet. After reading Scott Lynch‘s story “A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” I decided to bump his novel The Lies of Locke Lamora higher on my “to-read” list. If you like short stories by Fantasy authors, also check out the Martin & Dozois edited Dangerous Women, released last year.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller

October 6, 2014

Star Wars: A New DawnA long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

The legendary “Dark Times” in Star Wars span about twenty years between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope. This is when the Empire rises, growing in power and taking over across the galaxy. A New Dawn takes place about six years before the events in the new Star Wars Rebels cartoon. This novel is also the first in the new, official Star Wars Expanded Universe – created in consultation with Lucasfilm.

In this story we’re introduced to a whole new cast of characters. Kanan Jarrus is a drifter, a loner who never stays in one place too long. He’s been hauling miners and explosives between the dark side of the planet Gorse and its moon, Cynda, when he gets sucked into larger events beyond his control. Hera Syndulla is a Twi’lek female and one of the earliest members of the secret, underground rebellion. She’s come to Gorse to observe the Empire’s takeover of the mining operations and to scout for potential recruits. Skelly is a Clone Wars veteran and munitions expert who believes that the moon Cynda is in great danger of being destroyed through unsafe mining practices. Unfortunately for him, he can’t seem to get anyone in power to listen to him and he comes off as if he’s got a few screws loose.

Count Vidian, Emperor Palpatine’s efficiency and business expert, has been dispatched to Cynda aboard an Imperial Star Destroyer to increase production of the mining facilities – by whatever means necessary. Count Vidian is a cyborg, part human and part machine, similar to other baddies like General Grievous and Darth Vader. The Count makes for a ruthless villain, treating everyone from the Captain and crew of the Star Destroyer ship to the mining industry representatives with contempt and violence. He cares only that the Emperor’s demands are met – and that he’s able to turn a tidy profit while doing so.

There’s plenty of action as the events unfold, and some great world-building too, since just about everything happens on either Gorse or Cynda. We learn quite a bit about the unusual relationship between Gorse and Cynda, as well as the hardy miners and rough civilization that has settled on a planet that has a permanent dark side. One of the things I enjoyed most about this novel is that the characters and setting were all new, while still very much a part of the larger Star Wars universe.

John Jackson Miller also wrote the great Sci-Fi Western story, Kenobi, which I reviewed last year.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Join us on Saturday, October 11 from 3-5 p.m. for Star Wars Reads Day when we’ll have fun crafts, trivia, books, and more in an event for all ages to celebrate all the reasons why we love Star Wars.

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

July 21, 2014

Half a KingMove over George R.R. Martin, there’s a new author of grim, dark, and bloody Fantasy in town. Well, actually, Joe Abercrombie (Twitter handle: @LordGrimdark) lives in Bath, England, and he’s been publishing his brand of “grimdark” Fantasy since 2006,  so he is neither “new” nor “in town.” But, I still maintain that Martin better watch his back and keep pecking away at his DOS based word processor as Abercrombie gains in popularity – and readers. Half a King is the first in the new Shattered Sea Trilogy and is a gripping yarn and page-turningly good read.

Prince Yarvi features as the titular “half king” due to his deformed and crippled left arm, with which he can hold neither sword nor shield. That’s fine with Yarvi, as he never wanted to be a warrior or a king. He’s content to continue his studies with Mother Gundring to enter the Ministry (think adviser / lore master, not priest). However, Yarvi’s plans are greatly changed when his father the king and his older brother are both murdered by a rival king from across the sea. Yarvi must take up the circlet and cloak of the King’s of the Gettlanders and strike back against the treacherous Grom-gil-Gorm, king of Vansterland. Yarvi swears an oath by the six tall gods to avenge his father and kill those who mudered him. King Yarvi, his uncle Odem, and an army of Gettland warriors set across the Shattered Sea for vengeance. One of the best lines in the book is “I may be half a king, but I swore a whole oath!”

Those are just the beginning of Yarvi’s adventures as the young man who wanted to be nothing more than a Brother in the Ministry and one day advise his father and brother becomes a reluctant king. Soon, betrayal leads to desperate circumstances and unlikely alliances. Abercrombie does a wonderful job with his world building, especially considering that this is a fantasy novel that’s less than 300 pages long. There’s tons of action, much of it as bloody as in Game of Thrones, and some great characters that I hope return for the second book in the trilogy. So, if you’re bummed that we’re in between seasons of GOT on HBO, and that we still don’t know when Martin will finish writing the next volume in his epic Song of Ice and Fire series, then give Joe Abercrombie a try this summer.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Wool by Hugh Howey

June 16, 2014

WoolI don’t often say this, but this novel is a must read for Science Fiction fans, especially those who love dystopias! Hugh Howey originally self-published it as eBook short stories, and when they started topping lists of eBook best-sellers, they were published in one volume. The story opens with Sheriff Holston slowly climbing a very long spiral staircase, and then locking himself in a jail cell in the top level. He confesses to his Deputy that he wishes to commit the greatest crime possible – he wants to “go outside.” We quickly learn that everyone in this future world lives underground in a huge silo hundreds of stories deep after some unknown apocalypse has occurred.

And that no one ever leaves. Or rather, those that do leave the silo are either sent outside never to return as the ultimate punishment, or have cracked and come to believe that life must somehow be better on the outside. When someone does go outside, they are given a protective suit and are also given the chore of cleaning the outside of the windows at the top of the silo. Shortly after Sheriff Holston goes out, he makes a startling discovery that could change life for humankind forever, if only he could communicate with those back inside the silo. Unfortunately, he can’t.

With the Sheriff gone, it falls to the Mayor to select someone new for the job. She and the Deputy soon begin the long climb down the stairs to select their new recruit. As they descend we learn that the silo is divided into different levels, which are responsible for specialized tasks: administration, manufacturing, farming, mechanical, and I.T. – where the real power is.

Juliette, the woman selected to be the new Sheriff, is not the obvious choice for the job, and those in I.T. who must approve all administrative positions, have some serious concerns about her abilities to do the job. She was raised in the medical & nursery part of the silo, where her father is a doctor, but she left when she became an adult to become an apprentice in the mechanical bowels of the silo. After some dealings with those in I.T., Juliette develops suspicions about what’s really going on in the silo.

This is a powerful story of class and freedom and one of the best dystopias I’ve ever read. The trilogy continues with Shift and Dust.

Find and reserve this title in the library.

The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

April 25, 2014

The Long Earth by Terry Prachett and Stephen Baxter

Terry Pratchett has a birthday coming up on Monday, April 28, so this is a great time to talk about the first book in one of his newer series.  Why not post this on the 28th?  Well, April 28th is also the birthday of another popular author.  Check back on Monday to find out who!

Sir Terry Pratchett is one of the most prolific and popular authors writing in Science Fiction and Fantasy today. Stephen Baxter is almost as prolific, and due to his education in mathematics and engineering, tends to write “hard SF.” Together they have come up with a very intriguing sci-fi concept: what if people were able to “step” across to innumerable, parallel Earths on which humans never developed? Now we have infinite room for humankind to spread out, to explore, and to begin again. It would seem that this new discovery would be of tremendous benefit to humankind, alleviating our looming over-population problem as well as the drain we’re placing on the Earth’s natural resources. However, this new discovery brings its own set of problems for humanity to deal with.

Iron cannot be stepped, so each new world has pre-industrial technology once settled. A few people can “step” naturally, most can do it with the help of a small machine, and some cannot step at all. Families are stepping out to distant Earths to explore this new frontier, and sometimes one member of the family is unable to step and must be left behind. This, naturally, causes resentment and a fundamental extremist group is started to protest stepping. The governments also become concerned when people start emigrating from “Datum Earth” to these new lands en masse, deserting cities and towns and no longer paying taxes to support their home world. Laws are passed which state that anyone living within the same boundaries of the U.S. on other Earths must pay taxes to – and are subject to the laws of – Datum Earth. Anyone who’s watched old Western movies knows that enforcing laws in a distant and vast frontier is difficult at best. Last, but not least, there’s also an artificially intelligent consciousness named Lobsang, who recruits one of the first steppers, Joshua, for a vast exploration by airship of the seemingly limitless worlds throughout “the long Earth.”

Pratchett and Baxter have written a great story with very real characters and truly infinite possibilities! Be warned, though that it ends on a cliff-hanger and you’ll need to continue with the sequel, The Long War. The third in this series, The Long Mars, is due to be published in June. Get ready to start a great reading adventure, and it all starts with a single step – to the library.

Find and reserve a copy of this book in our catalog

Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

April 10, 2014

Libriomancer by Jim C. HinesWhat’s not to love in a book about magic wielding librarians versus evil vampires?! I’m a sucker for a good Urban Fantasy novel with plenty of action, and this one delivers. I also enjoy books about books and books that make me laugh out loud. It’s rare that I find a book that hits all three of these, but that’s what Jim C. Hines has done with the first book in his Magic Ex Libris series.

Isaac Vainio works as a librarian and cataloguer at the Copper River Library in Michigan. He catalogs books for the local library, but also for a magical group of libriomancers, known as the Porters. Libriomancers are people who have the magical ability to draw forth objects from inside books. This branch of magic was founded by none other than Johannes Gutenberg, the man who invented the printing press. But what happens when Gutenberg goes missing and vampires start attacking the Porters, leading to an all-out war which could expose all magic to the rest of the world?

Oh, and did I mention that there are as many different types of vampires as there are authors who have written about them? Yup, because in addition to the real vampires that the folklore was based on, there are breeds with different characteristics and abilities who have come from the fictional words of authors from Bram Stoker to Stephenie Meyer. Other magical creatures from books also exist in our world, such as Lena Greenwood, a motorcycle riding dryad, who helps Isaac in his adventures battling vampires and trying to figure out what’s really going on to cause this war. Fans of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series will certainly appreciate Isaac’s witty banter and one-liners, as well as the much larger story of book based magic.

I had heard of Jim Hines from reading about his blog posts addressing the misogynistic depiction of women on Sci-Fi & Fantasy book covers. Jim brought attention to this issue in a rather ingenious and funny manner – he posed in the same outfits and positions that the women on the book covers did. He’s even followed it up with several other “cover poses” including some with other authors and has raised money for charity. I’m so glad I finally picked up one of Jim Hines’ novels and will definitely be reading the sequel, Codex Born.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog

After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn

February 6, 2014

Author Carrie Vaughn is best known for her Kitty Norville series of Urban Fantasy novels in which Kitty, a late night radio D.J., hosts a talk show for supernatural beings. However, in this novel she writes a different kind of speculative fiction, one which stars the daughter of Commerce City’s most powerful superheroes. Celia West knows that her lack of super-powers has always been a disappointment to her father, billionaire industrialist Warren West, a.k.a. Captain Olympus. Her mother, also known as Spark, has tried to care for and connect with her daughter, but Celia has always felt in the way of her parents heroic lives. She has very little contact with them these days and after college she got a nice normal job in an accounting firm. Now her firm is working with the District Attorney’s office to help prosecute Simon Sito, a.k.a. The Destructor, her parents’ arch nemesis for tax evasion and fraud.

Naturally, things get more complicated when a new crime spree starts while The Destructor is in custody awaiting trial. Is he masterminding this new wave of robberies and kidnappings from behind bars? Captain Olympus and the rest of the Olympiad team think so, but Celia’s not so sure, since it doesn’t seem to fit his motive of causing wanton destruction. Meanwhile, Celia starts dating a cop named Mark, who is the son of the Mayor, and they are both present at a symphony gala when one of the new gangs of criminals strikes. As much as she wants to distance herself from the world of her parents, Celia keeps getting dragged back into the thick of things related to the superheroes. In her investigation she stumbles onto the fact that Simon Sito once worked for her grandfather at West Corp as a scientist over fifty years ago. Does that have anything to do with his life of crime and what’s happening now?

I really geek out over superheroes and I just can’t get enough – from big budget movies to comics and graphic novels. My favorite Pixar movie is The Incredibles and at times I couldn’t help picturing Captain Olympus as Mr. Incredible, complete with Craig T. Nelson’s voice. Two of my favorite superhero novels are The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon and Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman. I’m happy to say that I’m adding Vaughn’s novel to my list of recommendations and I’m even happier to learn that she’s written a new sequel, Dreams of the Golden Age, which chronicles the next generation in Commerce City, Celia’s teenage daughter Anna.

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Greatest Hits: One Jump Ahead by Mark Van Name

January 10, 2014

We kicked off the new year with The Book-A-Day Blog’s most popular posts of 2013! Today is the last day of this feature for 2013 books.

One Jump Ahead by Mark Van NameI first met local author Mark Van Name several years ago at an author panel at a local Barnes & Noble and as I listened to him speaking (including a somewhat disturbing story from his youth spent in a para-military youth group) I thought that this is a guy I would like to hang out with.  He seems pretty laid back, he’s very friendly and loves to talk about Sci-Fi, so what’s not to like?  I bought One Jump Ahead, had it signed, and introduced myself as a local librarian.  We’ve since hosted Mark at several author panels at several different Wake County Public Libraries, and he even helped us with our writing series be recording this video on finishing your novel.

In addition to his writing career, Van Name runs a technology assessment company, based here in the RTP area and had published over a thousand computer related articles.  He’d also had several short stories published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including The Year’s Best Science Fiction.  The year following its publication, One Jump Ahead won the Compton Crook Award for best new Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror novel at the Baltimore Science Fiction Convention.  It’s the first in the Jon & Lobo series and is the story of Jon Moore, a retired warrior enhanced with nano-technology within his body, and his partner, Lobo, an artificially intelligent ship complete with a personality that more than occasionally irks Jon. The two seek some R&R on the lush and pristine planet Macken, but Jon is tricked into kidnapping a girl thinking that he’s returning her to her father.  This is just the latest event in a plot involving two mega-corporations battling for control of the planet’s “jump-gate.”  (The jump-gates are what allow humanity to travel quickly between the stars – entering a jump gate in one area and ending up somewhere else in the galaxy entirely.  No one is sure if they are a natural phenomena or artifacts from an  alien race.)  Jon naturally must set right the wrong he accidentally committed, enlisting the help of some of his former comrades in arms. Throughout this action packed story we learn a bit about Jon’s background and the sorry life of a mercenary as he shows that it takes brains even more than brawn to prevail.  I also loved the fact that it was Jon who came up with the brilliant plan to defeat the bad guys, and not the super-intelligent sentient ship, Lobo – proving that man can surprise even machines, at times.

The other books in the series include Slanted JackOverthrowing HeavenChildren No More (Mark has donated all of his proceeds to the charity Falling Whistles, which helps real child soldiers in Africa), and No Going Back; he is currently working on the next book in the series: All the Worlds Against Us.

Mark also has a blog that is really quite cool and worth checking out – it covers a wide variety of topics – from his writing, his life and family, to music & movie reviews, from all kinds of food, to the UFC, the State Fair and much, much more.

Find and reserve this book in the library catalog.

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