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scottakennedy

scottakennedy

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Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth
J.R.R. Tolkien
Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension
Michio Kaku
Swords in the Mist
Fritz Leiber
Helping Children with Autism Learn: Treatment Approaches for Parents and Professionals
Bryna Siegel
The Apex Book of World SF
Lavie Tidhar, Dean Francis Alfar, S.P. Somtow, Jetse de Vries, Kaaron Warren, Zoran Živković, Aliette de Bodard, Mélanie Fazi, Tunku Halim, Anil Menon, Jamil Nasir, Nir Yaniv, Aleksandar Žiljak, Han Song, Guy Hasson, Kristin Mandigma, Yang Ping
The Hugo Award Showcase
Mary Robinette Kowal, Elizabeth Bear, John Kessel, Nancy Kress, Robert Reed, Michael Swanwick, Kij Johnson, James Alan Gardner, Ian McDonald
Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa
Jason K. Stearns
The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband
David Finch
The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories
Jeff VanderMeer, Ann VanderMeer
Plastic: A Toxic Love Story

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

Behind the Beautiful Forevers - Katherine Boo Others have already said it better than I can. An amazing bit of reporting about people living in the direst sort of poverty in the modern world that ranks up there with some of the depression era fiction of Algren and Steinbeck, except, of course, for that fact that this book is non-fiction.

The One I Left Behind

The One I Left Behind - Jennifer McMahon I really loved McMahon's Don't Breath a Word, but this thriller just didn't hold up for me. There's a lot of time jumping in this book, both in chapters that alternate between the present (2010) and 25 years prior, further compounded by constant flashbacks within the POV character's thoughts. While McMahon's prose is smooth, precise and unencumbered, the constant flashbacks, especially within the first quarter of the book, kept bouncing me out of the narrative and made the book a tougher read than I'd expected.But mainly I'm giving the book two stars based on the serial killer plot, which I found both predictable (the murderer is relatively easy to guess early on) and unbelievable by the end. The strengths here are the characters. Reggie Dufrane is a fine protagonist, and her relationships with her friends and struggles with the issues of her family and past are all compelling. If you enjoy McMahon's characters, it's still worth the read. I just found myself wishing that the book had dealt with its serial killer in a more realistic fashion, perhaps by leaving it unsolved, because the resolution presented felt predictable, forced and unbelievable to me.

Sacrifices

Sacrifices - Roger  Smith Roger Smith's crime novels set in the environs of Cape Town paint a picture of dystopia and income inequality every bit as riveting as those in the science fiction works of William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, or the ever popular Hunger Games of Suzanne Collins.Unfortunately, Smith's work is taken from present day reality, and in this world the light of a cell phone turned on in the Cape Flat slums works as a beacon to attract thieves. The gnawing disparity of living conditions corrodes the inner lives of nearly all the characters, slowly, like the steady drip of a leaking faucet.Sacrifices examines the steady corruption of two sets of choices, choices of guilt and lifestyle preservation for the white characters, and choices of survival, despair, rage, and need for the black ones.These choices all stem from Lane and Beverly's choice to cover up a crime and blame their black housekeeper's son, and the consequences that the human psyche delivers (to different degrees) to those who do so. Unlike crime narratives where coincidence is a driving factor, nearly every outcome in Sacrifices feels driven and caused by earlier choices. Quite a few time while reading I found myself thinking, "Of course."This book proceeds at a less frenetic pace than some of Smith's previous thrillers, but the pace is still beguiling. It thrums, slowly and steadily, spiralling towards its inevitable outcome. While prior Smith works reminded me of Ludlum, Stark, Thompson or Simenon, this one, by its end felt reminiscent of Hitchcock's Vertigo in its searing portrayal of psychological devastation and obsession. And it's ending is perfect. So buy it. Read it. Now.

Shift Omnibus Edition

Shift Omnibus Edition - Hugh Howey While I enjoyed Wool, this prequel left me cold for a number of reasons. First, there was the protagonist, Donald, whom everyone seems to value so highly but who never seems to do very much. One of Wool's strength's was that its mechanic thought like a mechanic, fixed things, and took action. Donald, as both architect and congressman, seems rarely to think like either, with his main action being going with the flow while wondering what is really going on.I suppose if you're big conspiracy buff, that can make for a compelling narrative, but I'm not and it didn't for me. Shift's main characters -- Donald, Thurman, Anna, Mick -- act more like a high school clique than a bunch of people in government.First Shift is set in 2049, but it feels more like 2000. The global villains are still Iran and North Korea. Anna crawls under Donald's desk to install a new computer. The computer technology of Howey's future seems to have calcified in some pre-touchscreen era, and remains unconvincing. Social media seems non-existent. By 2049, no one uses Twitter or any kind of replacement. A small segment of society undertakes what is a difficult experiment -- setting up self-sustaining silo habitats -- a real technical challenge. This would have been fascinating to read about. But instead the book is mostly structured as a repeat of Wool's conspiracy tropes. Those worked well in Wool, when this society has been running for centuries. But here, where the very engineers and support crews running the whole thing take daily amnesia drugs -- which somehow let them selectively forget their past, their acquaintances, but not their job skills -- well, it just left me smacking my forehead, especially when used to justify an impersonation. Because these people who think through all forward consequences would never foresee that being a problem with their amnesia pills, when a simple photo ID would solve the problem.Additionally, Donald continually gets awakened to solve rebellion problems in other silos but then does very little to solve them, instead spending his time moping around trying to uncover "the truth." And to this reader, at least, the rebellion narratives in the other silos merely repeated the much stronger realization of rebellion in Wool. So, to sum up, if you really love conspiracy narrative, such as the never-ending later season conspiracies of something like the X-files, and repeats of Wool-like rebellion sequences, you might like this. But if you want a convincing origin story for the silos, you may be sadly disappointed. I actually wish I hadn't read this one, as it also diminished my opinion of Wool by the end.

Thinking Person's Guide to Autism

Thinking Person's Guide to Autism: Everything You Need to Know from Autistics, Parents, and Professionals: 1 - Jennifer Byde Myers, Shannon Des Roches Rosa, Carol Greenburg, Emily Willingham, Liz Ditz The best easy to read book I've found that cuts through much of clutter and noise regarding autism. This book is especially recommended if you want to steer clear of Jenny McCarthy style pseudoscience. It's an assemblage of years of blog posts by various writers, grouped by subject, covering the wide range of issues that an autism diagnosis raises.While I found some parts more useful than others and skimmed some sections, it's an absolutely essential book for anyone dealing with this diagnosis.

Lankhmar: Swords and Deviltry: 1

Swords and Deviltry - Fritz Leiber Re-reading this book 30 years after first reading it as a teen, it has not aged as well as I expected. This is likely due to the book's deep influence in the evolution of role-playing games (especially the original Dungeons and Dragons) and subsequent computer games. This has rendered the story tropes and plots that seemed fresh to me a 16 to seem over-used now, as people have been beating them to death for well on 30 years.The sentences sparkle, as one would expect with Leiber, the humor is nicely understated, the male characters the exact sort that appeal to adolescent male egos, and the women sadly disposable. But the murkly morality still seems somewhat ahead of its time, and the lightness of Leiber's wit feels like a breath of fresh air compared to grimdark fantasy. I also rather love the way the characters mostly flee from danger, and turn to fight it only when cornered or enraged.

The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien,  Christopher Tolkien Unless Tolkien imprinted deeply on your psyche as a child (as he did me), I'm not sure you'd enjoy this, and even then, you'd have to be the sort of person who enjoys the appendices in Return of the King. But if you need a middle-earth fix, written in a staid narrative voice, then I'd recommend it. There is no objectivity to this opinion, as I first read this one at the age of 13.

The Hobbit

The Hobbit - This is the book that started me reading, when my third grade teacher let me read it instead of a textbook called The Mustard Seed. I love this book.

The Spy Who Loved Me (James Bond Novels)

The Spy Who Loved Me - Ian Fleming As a snapshot into male imagining of female charaters circa 1960 it has some historical insterest. Which is a polite way of saying reading this book felt, well, icky.

Live and Let Die (James Bond Novels)

Live and Let Die - Ian Fleming A compelling breezy read, but marred by some artifacts of its time, the main one being the sort of patronizing colonialism embedded in the POV (whether neutral or character embedded) that just plain feels racist throughout. Chapter titles like "Nigger Heaven" don't help either. While some might feel that Fleming's portrayal or Harlem or creation of a Black supervillain were progressive in 1956, there are so many Jim Crow era tropes (bulging eyes, comparisons to apes, lust for the white woman, all being superstitious) that's it's quite jarring to read in 2013. Some of the underwater sequences (esp. Octopus) also feel a bit silly by modern standards, but the writing throughout is admirably lean and the descriptions often striking. And some of the set pieces -- esp the gunfight with Robber -- are just superb.I would actually love to read a re-hash of this story from the point of view of Mr. Big, as he tries to exist in a world where whites project all their fears onto him.

SWEET TOOTH

Sweet Tooth - Ian McEwan Four stars for being beguiling throughout, but whereas reviewers seemed to have liked the end, I found it highly disappointing. Frankly, Charles Palliser did this sort of thing years ago in Betrayals. And the ending McEwan comes up with is one that occurred me about halfway through but which I dismissed as unlikely, as it seemed so trite. Still worth reading for the characters, however.

Just Like That

Just Like That - Les Edgerton A chilling evocation of a criminal. This book is rambly, but that's part of it's strength. It's layered with stories like a George V. Higgins book, and paints a completely believable portrait of a criminal living from moment to moment, inside of prison and out. If you're at all interesed in criminals or life in prison, this book is highly recommended as a realisitic portrait (although I did wonder a little at the period being portrayed--a lot of this feels like it took place in the 60s and 70s--which is all fine, I'm just not quite certain what decade the events in the book were taking place in).

The Girl Next Door

The Girl Next Door - Jack Ketchum Harrowing. A horror novel to compare with Lord of the Flies, albeit a bit worse in this case as an adult enables the kids' depradation. Does a superb job of portraying someone sliding into normalized evil actions.

Capture

Capture - Roger  Smith Roger Smith's South African noir novels explore conflicts between the lives of the privileged white population and the grindlingly impoverished black majority in the post-Apartheid era. They're deeply uncomfortable books, filled with flawed characters who do despicable things.Capture takes the reader on a relentless descent as it explores an act filled with guilt: the drowning of a child. It's an act of complicit guilt, involving a stoned father, an unfaithful wife, and Vernon Saul, the security guard who watches it happen so he can take advantage of it later. That's the starting point of this uncomfortable book: a character, Vernon Saul, who is so shorn of mercy that like a top predator, he sees in a child's drowning not potential for heroism but advantage. The book only grows more intense from there. I'm a big fan of Smith's books (Mixed Blood, Wake Up Dead, Dust Devils, Ishmael Toffee), but it's taken me some time to know how to approach reviewing this one in particular. That's perhaps because this book has more in common with some of the searing psychological portraits of George Simenon than anything more modern. I still find myself ruminating upon it two months after reading it. And this is perhaps one of the largest strenghts of Smith's work, which is that the characters are so vivid they stay with you and haunt you. Vernon Saul in this novel remains one of the most terrifying villains I can recall, possessing a languid corruption akin to Robert Mitchum's Max Cady in the original Cape Fear. This is contrasted with our white hero, who commits fool act after fool act, but still remains the best chance any of the other characters have of escaping the cauldron they're drowning in. Imagine a film noir made by Michael Haneke and you'd have a good idea of how beguiling, upsetting, and thought provoking Capture is. Highly recommended.

Dust Devils

Dust Devils - Roger  Smith I'm left a little speechless by how engrossing this book is. Thrilling, enlightening, caustic, moving, and thought provoking. The toxic legacy of colonialism scars this narrative, leaving all its characters damaged and lashing out with pain, ignorance, and grief that just won't go away. Smith's facility with point of view leaves you hating a character in one scene and empathizing with him in the next. This book burns with a distilled rage, and paints a devastating portrait of the many-sourced injustices that throttle life and hope in South Africa among those living in poverty.It's a top-notch thriller, like a South African version of The Wire, with the brilliantly succinct characterizations of Simenon and the insane pace of early Ludlum. And it captures the grit of daily living with a level of detail comparable to Richard Price or George Pelecanos. But in truth it's like none of these other writers. It's simply Roger Smith, and comparisons undercut the fact that he is an original. It's a thriller that's genuinely worth your time to read, and the best part is you won't even notice the time passing. There's an underlying social conscience to this book that's truly powerful.

Fortune's Fool (Star-Cross'd, #3)

Fortune's Fool (Star-Cross'd, #3) - David Blixt David Blixt delivers another thrilling installment in his Star Cross'd series.Picking up right where Voice of the Falconer left off, this third installment in the Star Cross'd series begins by continuing storylines begun in previous volumes, namely: Cesco (Mercutio) fighting to remain unbroken under the merciless training of his father, Cangrande della Scalla; Pietro Alighieri fighting his own excommunication and that of the Scaliger in the corrupt court of the Avignon Pope; and the continuing war and civil unrest in Padua. To this are added the new plot lines involving a disguised assassin, a masked rapist, the Emperor Ludwig, a paternity scandal, and a blossoming romance (although not yet for Romeo and Juliet, as their characters remain small children in this volume).This all makes for compelling reading, peppered with Blixt's usual expert set pieces, in this case involving a jousting/melee tournament, a burning mill, a chase through the canals of Venice, and, unbelievably, an excommunication trial that's as engrossing as a swordfight. Oh, and you get Petrarch and Occam thrown in as well.If you've already invested the time in reading the prior volumes, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up as well. A few plot lines from earlier in the series are finally resolved, sometimes with blood, sometimes without. A few new developments are truely upsetting.However, if you have not read either The Master of Verona or Voice of the Falconer (each which stand on their own, in my opinion), you should not start with Fortune's Fool. As the author's endnote makes clear, this book is very much a continuation of Voice of the Falconer. Like George R.R. Martin, Blixt has trouble fitting all of his narrative within the confines of a single volume, and in the case of Fortune's Fool, it is the middle volume between the storyline started in Falconer and to be ended in the next volume, The Price's Doom. I can't imagine Fortune's Fool making any sense to a reader without knowlegde of the preceeding storyline. Also, being a middle book, this one felt less focused than prior volumes, which had stronger central narratives. With Fortune's Fool, you can feel Blixt letting the canvas of his world expand, and the immersion into the politics of the time feels even deeper than prior volumes. This is a more discursive narrative, and if you enjoy Blixt's 14th century Verona I expect you'll like it.