Thursday, January 31, 2008

January Reading Wrap-up

As we close out a snowy cold January, I've managed to finish a few books that I've enjoyed a lot. Have I mentioned that I keep track of my book collection on Librarything? I have not participated much in the discussions over there yet, but they look pretty lively.

Anyway, on to the book reviews...

My recent Patrick O'Brian post was inspired by the completion of H.M.S. Surprise, the third in his series. Jack Aubrey, given command of the H.M.S. Surprise, pulls off a rescue of his friend, Stephen Maturin, from a Spanish prison and they set sail for the far east. We get some anticipatory promises of closure to their respective love lives (one good and one bad), Jack finally clears his debt, and they both have some great adventures. Another satisfying tale in the series.

As I mentioned, O'Brian has a definite rival in Bernard Cornwall when it comes to writing Napoleonic era military fiction. Sharpe's Trafalgar has to have the best description of the Battle of Trafalgar that I've ever read. The battle scene lasted for some 100 pages, and I don't think I blinked as I read through them. (pictured above is The Battle of Trafalgar, as seen from the mizzen starboard shrouds of the Victory by J. M. W. Turner (oil on canvas, 1806–1808))

On the lighter side, I finished the third book in the Artemis Fowl series, The Eternity Code, by Eion Colfer. My son read through these last year and really liked them. They are a nice easy light read, and very enjoyable. Colfer's writing is similar to Jonothan Stroud's Bartimaeous trilogy in his tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and humor, and boys especially love Mulch Diggums, the dwarf because he... well, I won't ruin it for you.

Finally, I gritted my teeth and read the second book in Stephanie Meyer's vampire love triangle trilogy, titled New Moon. I say gritted my teeth because I read the first book (Twilight) on a recommendation by my wife and by many many students who absolutely loved it. I should've known better. Think teenaged Dark Shadows crossed with Lost (and here). To be fair, I enjoyed the second book a lot more than the first, mainly because the main vampire boyfriend wasn't really around very much. My 12 year-old daughter will like them I think. I have the third book, which I hope wraps things up a bit, on my shelf to read in February.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why I'm Not An Entomologist has an interesting and humorous article describing the 5 most horrifying bugs in the world. Pictured here is the Japanese Giant Hornet, that apparently, according to cracked, spits acid and is responsible for 40 deaths a year in Japan. Yuch!

There is some rough language, be warned...but in my opinion, a three-inch hornet that spits acid needs some special descriptors.

Monday, January 21, 2008

All things British

Patrick O'Brian (and here and here) wrote 20+ historical fiction books about the British navy during the Napoleonic wars. His books center on two main characters: Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. Aubrey is the dashing, hardheaded and hard drinking ship captain, while Maturin is the introspective, intellectual ship's surgeon and naturalist doubling as an undercover British agent.

Being a regular at any bookstore that happens to be within 30 miles, I had been aware of this series for a long time, but had never picked up the first book. Like a lot of others, my interest was piqued by the movie Master and Commander, and I broke down and bought the first book in the series. I've since completed the first three in the series, and once you get used to the nautical and British jargon, have found them to be very good. A contributor on the Chronicles forum has suggested reading Men-of-War, O'Brian's non-fiction historical perspective on the British admiralty to truly gain an appreciation on the subject and era.

Not to be outdone... Bernard Cornwell (here and here) stands as the primary author of British army historical fiction. Cornwell covers roughly the same era as O'Brian with his Sharpe's series, and while not nearly so jargonistic (is that a word?), the books are every bit as exciting and interesting. The BBC ran a series of 1 hour movies based on the novels starring Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe. I've ordered the first 2 from netflix.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Coup d'Etat

The wife was curious about this game. Found an image, and can see why it appealed to 10 year old me. Aside from the cool box cover, you can just barely see the little metal daggers (over on the left) that were used to keep score.

Friday, January 18, 2008

R.I.P. Bobby Fischer

I was 13 when Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky for the world chess championship. My father taught me chess at about the same time and we followed the chess news with some interest. Fischer sank into paranoia and insanity in the following years and his memory of being perhaps the greatest chess player of all time will be forever tainted with his madness.
RIP Bobby and thanks for some of the greatest chess the world will ever see. Go here for my favorite Bobby Fischer match.

Board Game Geek

When I was growing up, I loved playing boardgames with my grandparents. We played Monopoly, Parcheesi, and a complicated card/board game called Coup d'Etat. I loved those evenings in my grandparents kitchen drinking soda and just being with them. I discovered Avalon Hill a few years later, and collected a number of games over the years (which I wish I still had). These "war" games never had my mother's approval, but I spent many many hours poring over the rules and setting up and playing these games.

Flash forward 30 years and I've rediscovered board games with my own children, and since boardgaming is experiencing a rennaissance, there's lots to choose from.

New (or merely new to us) games that the family is enjoying:
Carcassone (pictured) w/several addons
Ticket to Ride
Pirate's Cove
Bang! (cool western themed card game)
10 Days in the USA (mensa game that I'm not smart enough to play...but my kids love)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Birds in general

I've lived for 48 years with little but a passing interest in birds. Having an interest in nature and the outdoors, birds were really nothing more than another part of the scenery, to be enjoyed...

Until I went on a birdwatching walk with Mark McKeller. Mark is an expert on birds who is also an enthusiast about the hobby of birdwatching. That first walk, we didn't see many birds, a Carolina Wren and a Sharp-shinned Hawk was about all. I didn't even have binoculars so I couldn't really tell the hawk from any other flying bird. Anyhow, I've since purchased binos, several reference books (
National Geographic is my favorite), and been on several more trips with Mark, and by myself. I took some students on a trip as an extra credit project for them. I've started a life list of birds (surely a sign of obsession if there is one).

Good places to see birds:
Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge near Mound City Missouri
Otter Slough Conservation Area near Dexter Missouri

Books In January

January, historically, for me has been a good month for reading. Since I started tracking by month, I've read 8 books in 2005, 11 in 2006, only 4 in 2007 (4 long ones). I'm off to a good start in 2008.

As of today I've finished:

The Black Ice by Michael Connelly; second in his Harry Bosch detective series. I am enjoying these stories a lot, even though I've come to the author a little late. According to
Fantastic Fiction, there are 13 titles in the series (the first was written in 1992), so I have loads to look forward to. This story includes one of the saddest 5-6 pages I've ever read in this type of book. A description of Harry's childhood along with his discovery of who his father is. I won't spoil it for anyone who may read this but I was literally moved to tears...unusual in a hardboiled detective type book. Connelly is very good, something I wish I had known years ago.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin; I know I know, I call myself a reader who loves science fiction and fantasy, yet I've never read this series??? This is, of course, a very good beginning to a classic fantasy epic. I liked it a lot and have ordered the Sci-Fi channel movie from Netflix. I borrowed this book from the local public library, and will likely see if I can obtain the rest via ebay.

Books in progress include
H.M.S Surprise by Patrick O'Brian
The Sunrise Lands by S.M. Stirling
Birds of a Feather by Scott Weidensaul

January '08

Previous blog efforts to be thoughtful, pithy, or witty have generally fallen short and been somewhat embarrassing to read later. So, I'll just stick to the facts. I hope.

Categories include (but not limited to):
Books and reading
Birds and birdwatching
Video games
What I'm doing and reading on the inet