Earlier reads. . .

Murder in Mesopotamia, by Agatha Christie
Ok, this one's better. I've been a little disappointed by my recent Christie selections, but this one was great. I figured out who the murderer was, but not the motive. I like mysteries set on archaeological expeditions anyway. Best of both worlds.

Cry Wolf, by Tami Hoag
Tami Hoag is such an awesome writer. I didn't like this quite as much as Ashes to Ashes, mainly because she's still transitioning from romance author to thriller author at this point, but it was still pretty great. I didn't guess the killer, which means a lot to me. And I love Louisiana, so the Bayou setting was an added bonus. I could live without the smooching, but until Dust to Dust comes out, I'll deal with it...

Neanderthal, by John Darnton
This book is like a cross between Jurassic Park and Jean Auel's books. Not as incredible as either, but I was really impressed by it, regardless. It didn't have the scientific edge that the others have, but it was engrossing and quick-paced and fascinating. And not so over-the-top that suspension of disbelief balks. Unlikely but certainly not impossible. The author is a journalist, so I don't know if we can expect more from him, but I'll read it if he writes it...

The Pelican Brief, by John Grisham
Another masterpiece by John Grisham. Second best to The Firm. Perfectly believable, and the suspense is so constant, and the twists so bizarre, you can't put it down. I tried. This one sucks you in, offers you a comfy chair, and says goodnight. Don't start it if you have an early meeting tomorrow.

The Tomb, by HP Lovecraft
I expected more, here. It's a collection of short stories, which I like, and it's Lovecraft, which made me think it'd give me a permanent case of the crawlies. Some of the stories were creepy, but none were really scary, and there were no surprise twists. Smoke and Mirrors, by Neil Gaiman, was exactly what I expected. Read that instead.

Elvis Jesus and Coca-Cola, by Kinky Friedman
I hadn't heard of Kinky Friedman when I picked this up, purely for the title. I have heard of him since. Very nice. Funny and deep and mysterious, with enough self-deprecation to take the edge off of the implied ego. ("Hey! That's Mister D*ckhead to you!") I will definitely be reading more.

Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie
This is the one you hear so much about. The title tells the plot. It was good, but not outrageous. Some of her mysteries are so brilliant, they tarnish the others a bit...

The Magus, by John Fowles
Another one that I expected more from. This was recommended by someone whose taste in literature I trust implicitly. I hated the characters. That may have been the point, but I didn't hate them enough to wish them dead, just to wish for the book to end. And then I was irritated at the ending, and its ambiguity. It isn't that I hated the book. I was fascinated by it, and I literally couldn't put it down. But I was disappointed by the outcome. I wanted the visions to be what they seemed, and what the title implied they would be.

Coyote Waits, by Tony Hillerman
Not what I had hoped for. He has so many books and such a following, I expected something more like John Straley. It was good, but the characters didn't really capture me, and I expected more... culture. I'm going to try an earlier book in the series.

A Pocket Full of Rye, by Agatha Christie
I didn't think this was one of her best. The setup was great, but the conclusion was a let-down.

Fables and Fairy Tales, by Leo Tolstoy
Yeah, ok, it's Leo Tolstoy. It wasn't really what I expected. These are more like fables than fairy tales, and they lose something in the translation. Read it for a glimpse of Russian life, for an amusing brush with socialist rhetoric directed at young children. It's a fast read and an intriguing peek into life in the ussr.

Death and the Language of Happiness, by John Straley
I can't get over what a brilliant wordsmith this guy is. He writes these great detective novels set in Alaska, but he could write anything. I'd read his laundry list. It's a neat combination of crime-solving mystery, a great underemployed detective, personal interaction with women and his autistic roommate, Inuit folklore and characters, extremely visual landscapes, and simply fantastic writing. He drags you in with the story and captivates you with the eloquence.

Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett rr
This might be my favorite book. I've read it a couple of times, and it still knocks me for a loop. I'm amazed at the intricacies of the story, and the little details that sneak in from every corner. A black comedy about the apocalypse, an angel and a demon who are trying to decide whether or not to let it continue, the antichrist and his dog, and the witch who foretold it. It's a perfect blend of Gaiman (dark and eloquent and clever) and Pratchett (witty and punny and clever), who are two of the most astounding writers of our time. This one rocks!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by JK Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by JK Rowling rr
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by JK Rowling rr
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, by JK Rowling rr
Believe the hype. These are some of the best books ever. I've coerced so many adults into reading these stories, who would *never* touch a childrens' book. Seriously, guys, they're as good as the Hobbit. As good as A Wind in the Willows. They are so magical and sweet, yet fast-paced, and extremely clever. Amazingly clever. They suck you in, and you'll be an addict like the rest of us. Trust me.

Smoke and Mirrors, by Neil Gaiman
"Each of these stories is a reflection of or on something and is no more solid than a breath of smoke. They're messages from Looking-Glass Land and pictures in the shifting clouds: smoke and mirrors, that's all they are. But I enjoyed writing them, and they, in their turn, I like to imagine, appreciate being read. Welcome."

The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul, by Douglas Adams rr
"The only thing the machine communicated to the outside world was that there was a slot into which coins of a variety of denominations might be inserted, and an aperature to which a variety of different cans would be delivered if the machine was working, which it was not. There was also an old sledgehammer leaning against it, which was, in its own way, odd."

The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
"A telephone-bell rang in darkness. When it had rung three times, bed-springs creaked, fingers fumbled on wood, something small and hard thudded on a carpeted floor, the springs creaked again, and a man's voice said: 'Hell. . . . Yes, speaking. . . . Dead? . . . Yes. . . . Fifteen minutes. Thanks.'"

Five Patients, by Michael Crichton
"Eventually I decided not to revise the text, but to let it stand as a statement of what medical practice was like in the 1960s, and how issues in health care were perceived at that time."

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard
"To be taken by the hand and led, like being a child again, even without the innocence, a child -- it's like being given a prize, and extra slice of childhood when you least expect it, as a prize for being good, or compensation for never having had one."

The Curious Eat Themselves, by John Straley
"My mother was the first person to tell me that the earth was round. She said that it had been discovered by women waiting for their husbands to return from sea. They would stand on the balconies of their houses, waiting and watching the horizon. When the ships first appeared, the flags would seem like tiny disturbances above the shimmer of the distant line. Then the masts became apparent. Then the hulls. And they would watch all afternoon as the ships came closer and closer, rising up over the hump of the earth until they could make out the striped shirts of the sailors in the rigging. They would strain to see if their husbands were standing on the deck. They would watch and say their Christian names under their breath as each face came into focus, as the long boats were lowered, as the lines came out from the bow, the anchor let go, and the chain rattled. The women would come down from their perches to go to the harbor to learn if they were widows."

Mother Knows Best, by Carol Lea Benjamin
the natural way to train your dog -- "With all the assurance, serenity, and natural wisdom of her species, a mother dog teaches her young with a dazzling economy of effort. She almost never has to repeat her action a second time in order to be effective. She never loses patience, gets frustrated, gives up. Yet, neither does she harm her puppies with an inappropriate use of force or an unnatural withdrawal of her affection. She knows just what to correct and precisely what to ignore. Her timing is sheer perfection."

The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Afanasevich Bulgakov
"He has not earned light, he earned peace," Levi answered sadly.

Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard
I love this story for much the same reason that I loved Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which is by the same author. The rapid-fire banter, innuendo which is sometimes subtle and other times positively tawdry, fantastic and amazingly developed characters, beautiful scenery so easy to behold in the mind, random and accidental physics lessons, and humor grand enough to make one laugh aloud in public without feeling silly.

Night of January 16th, by Ayn Rand
I would love to see this play performed. Performed as the original script is written, not as Ms Rand says it was actually done, against her will. It is much like Atlas Shrugged -- a love story about two powerful and determined people, both of whom are rejected by society for their abilities. In the play, a trial takes place, in which the jury is chosen from the audience, to decide the innocence or guilt of the female half of the couple. Quite a good mystery, too, with a twist worthy of Agatha Christie. I like Ayn Rand's writing anyway, but this is really wonderful. A whole lot of story packed into quite a short play, without losing an ounce of her objectivist philosophy.

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
I love Neil Gaiman. He is the ultimate modern fairy tale master. This book is absolutely gorgeous. It's all about the underside of London, which is full of the people who managed to slip through the cracks of real life. If you're familiar with London, it will be funnier and make much more sense, but it's brilliant, either way.

Second Hand Dog, by Carol Lea Benjamin
My puppy dog came from the Humane Society, and he was misdiagnosed as psycho-dog by a nasty vet. This book was very helpful, not just because it helped me to see what Goliath is going through (separation anxiety, bonding, etc), but also because it helped me see that I'm already the alpha to him, and how to keep it that way. Carol Lea Benjamin is a genius among canines. If you have trouble with your dog, grab this book or others of hers. Quick!

Space Cadet, by Robert Heinlein
I haven't read much of Heinlein's earlier stuff. This is all about one young man's quest to join a peacekeeping organization in space, and it isn't so different from the Foundation books. There's a very interesting section about preparing men for maximum and zero gravity situations, and the rigorous testing of applicants for the service. I like Heinlein's later work much better, as I find his politically incorrect philosophies incredibly refreshing.

The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook
Should you ever need to know how to wrestle an alligator, survive quicksand, get out of a sinking car, perform a tracheotomy, or any number of other bizarre feats, you'll wish you had read this book. Not all of these scenarios are really that far-fetched, either.

Anthem, by Ayn Rand
I had forgotten that I had read this before, in school, at roughly the same time as The Handmaid's Tale. I only remembered when I read (paraphrased), "We, who are one, alone, love you, who are one, alone." The epilogue contains the English text, which has been Americanized in Rand's own handwriting, but other than that, I wasn't as impressed with it as I have been with some of Rand's later works. Her writing style definitely improved as she realized exactly what she wanted to say, what she believed, and what her concept of an ideal man exactly personified...

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, by Stephen King
Stephen King is really coming into his own. This book is about a brave little baseball-loving girl, who has become lost in the woods. It's absolutely horrifying, and utterly gripping. It reminds me of Cujo, in a lot of ways. Sometimes you don't need an undead evil clown, or a vampire, or a pissed-off ghost coming after you in the dark. Sometimes hunger and your own fear and imagination are more than enough.

The Snake Oil Wars, by Parke Godwin
I've been looking for this book for years. I read WFTGB for the first time in about 1993, and I've been searching for this, it's sequel, ever since. It's almost as good as the first. Better in some ways. I missed Barion, tho. He's my favorite character. But this one is much more outspoken about organized religion, and what Jesus would (and does, in the book) think of hypocrites who label themselves "Christian," but hold hatred as their highest credo, and who believe Jesus to be white, blonde, and Christian. (Ever been to Israel? Not many blondes, not many Christians...) Not for the faint of heart.

Waiting For the Galactic Bus, by Parke Godwin
This is my favorite book. I've read it at least half a dozen times. I managed to find it and the sequel (above) on ebay, in hardcover with the original dustjackets, for under five bucks. Yum! The benefits of loving a virtually unknown author...

The Woman Who Married A Bear, by John Straley
I picked this book up in a used bookstore about a year ago, just because I liked the name. What a nice surprise! It's a detective story, set in Alaska, of a long-solved crime, which was actually never solved at all. Pretty cool. But the author is just an amazing writer. He throws in these little segues, which have no bearing on the story, but are infinitely cool. Just little scenes which the main character observes, like a man and woman arguing on the other side of a soundproof glass wall, and a woman in a bar talking about her journeys in South America... They give such a feeling of completion to the story, and are just so much like real life. You see so many things in daily life, just like this, which mean nothing, and are never explained, but which stick with you. Fortunately, he has a few more books for me to read. I'll keep you posted...

Angela's Ashes, by Frank McCourt
There were parts of this book that made me laugh. None of it actually made me cry, but I sighed quite a lot. Overall, the feeling I took away with me was one of deep depression. For days after reading it, nothing could cheer me up. The only redeeming fact is that the main character is now grown, with a daughter of his own, making a ton of money from this book and its sequel. Just the same, I wouldn't trade positions with him for anything. It's a beautiful story, meticulously crafted, told as only an Irish father can tell a story, with life and laughter in the hardest situations, but it's also utterly heartbreaking. I wish him well.

Ozma of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
I read this story several times as a child, and I find it funny how much I had forgotten, and how quickly it came back to me. It's nice to see Ozma, Tiktok, Billina, and Dorothy again. I was terrified of Princess Langwidere and her heads, as a child. Really she's just silly and vain...

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
This is the sort of book that changes your life. I see so much of Dagny Taggart in myself. I feel like one of the people that the destroyer has stolen away. As if someone has said to me, "Don't you see what you've been living for all along?" It explains to me the adoration, almost idolization, I feel for Don Steger and Andrew Lucas, the two men that I consider my greatest mentors, and the reason that their respect for me and my work means so much to me. Why I'm so disgusted by lawsuits placed by people who didn't realize that coffee was hot. I realize why I love the people I love, and my work, and my friends. How could I have overlooked it? My whole life is suddenly so clear...

What Do You Care What Other People Think?, by Richard Feynman
Have I mentioned how much I love Richard Feynman? Oh, right, we've been through this. My crush on him is so much worse after reading this. It's much more serious than SYJMF, and it includes the details of the Challenger investigation, but it also includes his own version of his love for Arlene, and letters to Gweneth, and a bunch of pictures, too. What a darling.

The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
I used to read this book every winter when I was a kid. My grandfather had an old hardcover copy of it, and every year, my grandmother would ask "Are you going to read that again?" And I did. I had forgotten how good it was, tho. The story isn't exactly the same as the film. There's quite a bit more violence, and much more adventure into strange lands. I liked the original drawings better than the ones in this paperback, too. But overall, it was quite like curling up in Grampa's chair all over again. And I miss him.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses, by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
Interesting book. It took me *forever* to read this, and I had to put it down twice, because the first 200 pages are really dry. The entire book is made up of letters (aren't all books made of letters? -- you ask) passing between a group of about seven people. I love you, I don't love you, my love, my husband, he's wrong for you, etc. But it's the same letters, or the same message, over and over and over. Dull. For a book of seduction, intrigue, and deceit, that's pretty sad. But it really picks up near the end. The last 150 pages, I couldn't put it down. Unfortunately, you can't skip the beginning, because it's setting the story up...

Dragon, by Clive Cussler
This is, by far, the cheesiest book I have ever read. The main character's name is Dirk Pitt, for cryin out loud! (why not Dirk Flint? Dirk Daring?) The three English spies are named Plunkett, Salazar, and Stacy (guess which one's the girl... *barf!*). There are lines like "Pitt could still be alive. He's not a man who dies easily." And the author is in the book as a minor character (talk about Stephen King envy). All signs of a dreadful book. But somehow, thru all this junk, comes a really good story. It's high-paced adventure, spies, mindgames, and nuclear warfare, and it's really quite good. Against all odds.

The Road to Gandolfo, by Robert Ludlum
This book is so funny and weird, it's hard to believe it's by Robert Ludlum. He mentions in the beginning that his publisher didn't want to publish it under his name. It's almost like a spoof on his normal stuff. Strange humor and misunderstandings, but with the traditional Ludlum action and suspense. It's very clever, and I'm going to read the sequel.

Ashes to Ashes, by Tami Hoag
This is an awesome thriller. Twists everywhere, intense police/crime details, and great characters. I did figure out who the killer was, quite early in the story, but I was still enrapt when he/she/it (don't want to ruin it for you...) was revealed, rather than utterly certain and bored. As much as I hate to say it, I found myself surprised, several times, that it was written by a woman. The violence and gore are very graphic, which I don't expect from a female writer, frankly. Also, I've heard extremely good and extremely bad reviews of her style, and didn't know what to expect. It was awfully good, tho, and I'll *definitely* read more.

Faust Eric, by Terry Pratchett
Here's Terry Pratchett back on track after the last one. This is more like what I expect. It's just about this annoying bratty kid who thinks he wants three wishes and soon realizes that he's sadly mistaken. Oh, and a wizard who's not a demon, and a bunch of demons who, well, are. The Luggage is my favorite character, and I can't wait to find him in another book. What a riot.

Ghost Dance, by Mark T Sullivan
I've read a lot of really awful books by talented authors, and this one is just the opposite. Sullivan's writing style isn't all that professional. He writes like he's in a creative writing class in high school. Too many misplaced, weird adjectives, too many cliches, but the story is wonderful! When this guy settles down and stops writing like it's a job, he's really going to be a force to be reckoned with. The story is about a guy who uncovers a murder, and stumbles into a hundred-year old mystery involving a priest, a young Sioux woman, and a town of loonies. The interweavings in the plot, and the storyline in general are awesome, and it's a definite thriller. Great stuff.

Mort, by Terry Pratchett
I didn't like this one as much as the other Diskworld novels. I quite like Death as a character in these books -- I think he's a riot -- but I was in the mood for a laugh, and this one was a bit too serious. And the romantic interests were confusing. I love the idea of Death having an apprentice, because it seems like a job that would grow tiring after a few gazillion years, and the episodes with the newly deceased were brilliant, but it went off on a few too many odd tangents...

Black and Blue, by Anna Quindlen
I actually started reading this book in First Chapters, must have been a year ago. Good thing, because I would never have picked this book up if I hadn't gotten hooked on the first chapter. An Oprah Book? Please. I mean, I greatly admire Oprah, but I'm not into girl-books... This one, however, is awesome. I have a chip on my shoulder about women who stay with men who beat them, and this one's about a woman who has finally had enough and hits the road. Apart from being powerful in that way, it's just a good book. I read it until I was finished, forsaking all other things...

Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
This is one of the most beautiful fairy tales I've ever read. It's absolutely magical, and flawless. It's about a boy who sets out on a journey to find a fallen star, in order to win his true love's heart. I already know that I'll read this one a dozen more times, because I didn't know stories like this could even still be written. Neil Gaiman is a genius.

Bag Of Bones, by Stephen King
It's been ages since I read any Stephen King, and I'd forgotten how much I like his style. Apart from scaring you stupid (which I like, I admit), he has such a great way with words. I find that I can picture every scene, and every person, which makes it that much worse when something miserable happens to the nice guy, which it regularly does. He writes like he's writing for a friend, rather than for nine zillion faceless fans, which I really admire. The review? If you like Stephen King, you'll love this. I can't believe he keeps getting better. If you don't like him, you might want to give this one a try. Carrie, it ain't.

Kiss The Girls, by James Patterson
A billion years ago, when I was acting in LA, I auditioned for a part in this movie. Scary? I think so. And that's what kept me from reading it for so long. The movie looked really good, and I assumed the book was even better, but I couldn't face it. Sorry I waited. This is a great book. The character development is awesome, and the tension between the two main characters is some of the best I've read. The plot is truly horrific, very possible, and utterly creepy. I couldn't put it down, and I'm looking forward to reading more.

The Meaning of It All, by Richard Feynman
Have I mentioned how much I love Richard Feynman? Not lately? Man, I *love* Richard Feynman. I would totally have been one of his groupies. I'd drop everything to be his groupie today, if, you know, he was alive and all that... This book is great. It's just a transcript of a lecture he gave in Seattle, many years ago, but it is so good. I'm so stricken that I never met him, never heard him speak. This one's a three-day lecture about the balance between science and religion, where morality and theology come into play, when science makes "faith" so hard. It's absolutely brilliant, like the man himself.

To Sail Beyond the Sunset, by Robert Heinlein
Typical Heinlein. If you haven't read several other books of his, you won't have a clue what's going on. If you have, it's like coming home. I love his characters, especially Lazarus, and it was great to hear "Time Enough For Love" from another point of view. I didn't particularly like Maureen in the other books, but she's a little easier to take in this one, mostly because she doesn't seem so starstruck and naive (which makes sense in this plot). I'm glad I kept reading his work. It really annoyed me in the beginning that I couldn't figure out who anyone was. I like it now...

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