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I posted this at an off-time last week and not a lot of people saw it, so here it is again.

Well, another year is heading into the history books.

Here's what I read this year:


Taking Sudoku seriously: The math behind the world's most popular puzzle by Jason Rosenhouse and Laura Taalman

The publishers sent me a reader's copy of this.
At one level, a lot of people say Sudoku is not a math puzzle - because you could just as easily use letters instead of numbers. But the authors know this just means Sudoku is not an arithmetic puzzle, and they also know that arithmetic really doesn't have that much to do with math.  Full Review

Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik.  Volume 3 of the Temeraire series.  Temeraire and Lawrence are off to China, and then back to England with lots of adventures

[Quite enough of Calvin Trillin] Collection of essays from the last 40 years by the inimitable Mr. Trillin. Funny and sensible. Food, politics and deadline poems

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett.  This is a "young adult" novel. But, when Terry Pratchett is writing "young" means "not dead yet". It's a fantasy; the heroine is Tiffany Aching, age 9, who lives on a farm and wants to grow up to be a witch. Why? Because an old woman who was accused of being a witch was recently bullied to death, and Tiffany doesn't want that to happen again.  Her allies are the Nac Mac Feegle, the "Wee Free Men" (think of leprechauns and you'll have some idea).

Wonderful stuff for anyone. And if you happen to know a girl, age around 9 .....


A Hat Full of Sky The continuing adventures of Tiffany Aching.  Just wonderful.

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett. The third and penultimate Tiffany Aching novel. Wonderful stuff.  Tiffany has to battle the Wintersmith or spring will never come back.

I Shall wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett. The final book in the Tiffany Aching series.

Best American Science Writing 2009 ed. by Natalie Angier. A collection of essays on science. I requested this from book mooch a while ago, and now I have it.  As in any essay collection, my interest varies

The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined by Steven Pinker.  
A great book, and cause for optimism. full review

The Chalk Girl by Carol O'Connell. A serial killer murder mystery featuring Mallory. What Carol O'Connell does best, in my view, is write about odd people. And Chalk Girl is full of odd people. Not only Mallory (who is sui generis) but genius Charles Butler, also a regular in this series. And this particular book features a little girl with Williams Syndrome, an adult woman with schizophrenia, a boy who is bullied to death .... not to mention the killer, whoever he or she may be. Full review


Embassytown by China Mieville. Far future SF. Mieville plunges into a very different world, and uses his skills (which are enormous) to write a novel about language, identity and contacts between two very different species. Full Review

Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi. Jack Halloway is a miner on distant planet Zarathustra. He loves his dog, fights with his girlfriend and argues with people in authority. Then he discovers a new life form - like a cat. And he hits a huge vein of ore. Nothing profound here, but it's a lot of fun. full review


The Last Colony by John Scalzi. This is the third book in the series that started with Old Mans War  and the Ghost Brigades.  John Perry and his wife are retired from the military and living a quiet life, when they are called on to lead a new colony. Then they are back in the thick of it. Good fun. Full review

A re-read of The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power by Robert Caro. This volume covers roughly the first 40 years of Johnson's life. Anyone who wants to understand LBJ should read this (if they have the time!) and anyone who wants to know (if they need to) what the New Deal meant for America, particularly one of its poorest areas (the hill country of Texas) should read it too

A re-read of Eric by Terry Pratchett. Eric is a smart but nebbishy 13 year old. He wants to summon a demon and make a deal - beautiful women, ultimate power, lots of money. Three wishes. But instead of a demon, he gets Rincewind. A short review

[Years of Lyndon Johnson v 2: Means of Ascent by Robert Caro. The 2nd of what will be 5 volumes in a magisterial biography of Johnson. This is dark stuff: In the first part of this volume, Johnson is stymied in his quest for power and pursues money with both hands. In the second part, he is back to politics, and being dirty, even for mid-century Texas politics, which is saying something.


The Universal Computer: From Leibniz to Turing The history of the idea of the computer as a universal machine, and of the logic that makes it possible, up to the time of Turing. Fascinating. Re-affirms my belief that Leibniz is under-rated and that Godel was a very strange man. Full review

Another re-read of Cryptonomicon, one of my favorite novels. My review

Sovereign by C. J. Sansom. The third in the Matthew Shardlake series of mysteries set in Tudor England. Wonderful, both as history and mystery. Full review

Mallworld by Somtow Sucharitkul. Comic SF in which mankind is restricted to the solar system by the Selespridar. We won't be let out until we're mature, in the meantime, shop at the mall the size of a small planet. Fun but light. Full review

Choice of Evil by Andrew Vachss. In this novel in the Burke series, Burke's girlfriend has been killed by a homophobe. Now a killer is killing all the homophobes he can find. Then Burke is contacted by an organization that wants him to find the killer so they can help him escape.

Lullaby by Ace Atkins. This is a new novel in the Spenser series that the late Robert Parker created. Atkins has been chosen by the estate to continue the series. It's pretty good. A 14 year old girl has asked Spenser to investigate the death of her mother, 4 years ago. full review

The Choke Artist by David Yoo. The memoirs of a Korean-American writer who constantly fails to measure up to his own and his parents' visions of what he should be. Funny but also touching. Full review

Redshirts by John Scalzi. Funny and weird. Time travel, multiple worlds, Star Trek spoofs and all with a whole lot of humor

The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four remarkable friends who transformed science and changed the world by Laura Snyder.  A group biography of Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell and Richard Jones, four friends who met at Cambridge early in the 19th century, and of how, together, they changed the role of science into something like what it is today.

[The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society 1250-1600] by Alfred Crosby. Crosby's idea is that the reason the west rose rapidly in this time period is because of the invention of the idea of quantification. Fascinating. Full review

Touched by an Alien by Gini Koch.  SF-Romance-comedy.  The Earth is being invaded by evil aliens. But don't worry, the Alpha-Centurions are here to help defend us (and have sex with us too!). When the heroine Katherine "Kitty" Katt defeats one of the aliens using a Mont Blanc pen, she is recruited by the ACers to join their secret organization. There's lots of "science" that's unexplained (many ACers have powers and abilities far beyond those of normal men) but never mind. There's lots of action (in both senses of the word) and humor and the plot keeps zipping along. Full review

Making Modern Science: A Historical Survey by Peter Bowler and Iwan Rhys Morus.  A survey of the history of science from Copernicus to now.


Cop hater by Ed McBain. The first in the famous 87th precinct series.  I don't see what the fuss is about; the writing is clunky to an absurd degree. It's interesting as a view into the past, since it was written in the 1950s. But unless the series is better, later, I don't get it.

The Trinity Game by Sean Chercover.  The protagonist is a detective for the Catholic Church, investigating miracles. Politics removes him from that post, and he's off to investigate a mysterious evangelist, who happens to be his uncle and who raised him as a child. Interesting.  full review

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell. The story of a doctor (and former hit-man for the mafia) who now has to keep one of his former associates alive or face retribution of the worst kind. Dark. The author's view of nearly everything (from medicine to international relations to holocaust memory to the mafia) is grim. But it was a good book and kept me turning the pages.
To promote the general welfare: The case for big government. This is a collection of essays by historians on the idea that the federal government has always played a key role in Americans' lives, from the founding of the Republic to the present day. Each chapter is about a different area of life - transport, education, etc. - and each outlines the history of the federal government's role. Full review

A re-read of Guards! Guards!. This is early in the Discworld series and is the first book introducing the Night Watch and Sam Vimes. The watch is nearly defunct. Vimes is a drunk. Crime is organized and accepted. But now Carrot (the 6'6" dwarf) has arrived in AnkhMorpork. And some people have summoned a dragon.  Marvelous. One of my favorites in the series.

Alien in the Family by Gini Koch. The continuing adventures of Katherine (Kitty) Katt, defender of the Earth from evil aliens, fiancee of one of the good aliens. Pretty silly, but fun. Lots of sex (but mildly described), lots of violence (Kitty kicks ass), not a lot of explanation or profundity.

A Wanted Man by Lee Child. The latest in the Jack Reacher series.  Reacher is hitchhiking to Virginia from Nebraska. Meanwhile there's been a murder in Nebraska. At first it looks like nothing extraordinary but soon the FBI, the CIA and the State Department are involved.

The First World War by John Keegan.  This is widely regarded as the best single volume book on WWI. Full review

Wild Thing by Josh Bazell.  The continuation of the life of Dr. Pietro Brnwa that was started in Beat the Reaper.  Brnwa has been in witness protection for a long time and is working as a doctor on a cruise boat when a reclusive billionaire hires him to help investigate claims of some "wild thing" living in an obscure lake in Minnesota - a sea monster. Violence, sex, science and a surprise visit from no Kossack's favorite vice presidential candidate.  

Mad River by John Sandford. The latest in the Virgil Flowers series. Here, Flowers is dealing with a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde on a murder and robbery spree in rural Minnesota.   A good page turner.


A dirty job by Christopher Moore. Charlie Asher is a very nice guy. He's a bit of a nebbish, or, in Moore's phrase a "beta-male".  He's a very happily married brand new father. Then his wife dies. Then he becomes .... well, I won't spoil it completely, but death. Or Death. Moore isn't afraid to add humor to the big issues, and he's always funny. But this isn't my favorite of his works.

Dodger by Terry Pratchett. This is very different from Discworld. It's set in early Victorian London. The protagonist is, indeed, loosely based on the Artful Dodger of Oliver Twist, but only loosely. He does live with an elderly Jew, but they live alone and the old man is a watchmaker, nothing much like Fagin.

Dodger is a "tosher" - that is, he hunts through the sewers of London, looking for coins or other valuables. He's also a thief (can he help it if people aren't careful with their stuff?) but then he defends a young woman who he sees getting beaten, and it turns out she is no ordinary young woman at all.

Delightful. With appearances by Charles Dickens, Robert Peel, and others, including a young Queen Victoria (who is amused).  full review


Louis D. Brandeis: A life by Melvin Urofsky. Supreme Court Justice Brandeis was fundamental in shaping the modern state of the law and of law firms and played a key role in many reform movements as well. A fascinating man and a well written biography. Full review:

Moranthology by Caitlin Moran.  A collection of essay (some humorous, some political, some about pop culture) from the author of How to be a Woman.  Full Review:

and I am still reading:

Cooler Smarter: Practical tips for low carbon living by the scientists at Union of Concerned Scientists, a great group. These folk make sense, concentrating on the changes you can make that have the biggest impact with the least effort.

Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman.  Kahneman, most famous for his work with the late Amos Tversky, is one of the leading psychologists of the times. Here, he posits that our brains have two systems: A fast one and a slow one. Neither is better, but they are good at different things. This is a brilliant book: Full of insight and very well written, as well.

What hath God wrought? by Daniel Walker Howe. Subtitled "The transformation of America 1815-1848. I am reading this with the History group at GoodReads.  This is very well written, and does a good job especially with coverage of the treatment of Blacks and Native Americans.

The hard SF renaissance ed. by David G. Hartwell.  A large anthology of "hard" SF from the 90's and 00's. I think Hartwell takes himself a bit too seriously, but the stories are good.

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meachem.  So far I've only read a few pages, but this is an extremely admiring look at Jefferson.

The van Rijn method by Poul Anderson. The first volume of collected stories that make up Anderson's Polesotechnic League, when mankind spans the universe.

A Devil is Waiting by Jack Higgins. The president is going to visit London. Some Islamic terrorists plan to assassinate him. Sean Dillon has to stop them. Higgins does this sort of thing well.

Master of the Senate by Robert Caro. The third in Caro's monumental, amazingly researched bio of LBJ. I had been reading this but put it down. Not because it's a bad book - it is a great book - but because Johnson was so viciously nasty that I had to stop for a bit. Johnson wanted, craved, needed power. And he was absolutely brilliant at getting it and using it. But he let nothing stand in his way.  Regardless, this is vital reading for understanding the senate.

The irrationals by Julian Havil.  The history of irrational numbers, nicely presented.

The Readers and Book Lovers schedule

Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule

DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
Sun 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
Bi-Monthly Sun Midnight Reading Ramblings don mikulecky
MON 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery Susan from 29
Mon 11:00 PM My Favorite Books/Authors edrie, MichiganChet
TUES 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left bigjacbigjacbigjac
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views Brecht, bookgirl
WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
Thu (third each month) 11:00 PM Audiobooks Club SoCaliana
FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
Sat 4:00 PM Daily Kos Political Book Club Freshly Squeezed Cynic
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

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