July 31st, 2011



The Army of Northern Virginia sought to spare its home state from fighting during the growing season, and the Army of the Potomac sought to shield Washington City and Baltimore from direct attack.  Neither commander wished to blunder into a battle without knowing where the other army was, and both commanding generals attempted to issue orders to the various corps commanders to that effect.

Collapse )Stephen Sears's Gettysburg, tonight's Book Review No. 24, went with me to Gettysburg, in part to provide me with background information.  I recommend the book to any reader seeking one readable analysis of the events.  It explains a number of the decisions the commanders made, many of which have been second-guessed (or changed so as to create counterfactuals), by which the general engagement did take place at Gettysburg by default.
Collapse )  Thus did the accidental encounter become the turning point of the war in the eastern theater.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Books 19 - 23

#19: The Walking Dead, book 3 - Robert Kirkman (2010, 304 pages)

The story of survival continues in Book 3 of Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead comic series.

Still camped at a prison in Georgia, the group is simply trying their best to turn the place into a home. With the zombies maintained and tensions calmed, order finally seems to be coming in the midst of the chaos of the current world.

One day, the group stumbles upon riot gear and find that they are able to reach out beyond the prison to gather gasoline for their generator. But they find that the further they move beyond the prison the more danger they find themselves placed in. And the find just that when they come across a community not too far away that seems to have found its own way to survive the zombie apocalypse. The Governor runs a very tidy town, and he doesn't take too kindly to strangers.

The situations found in Book 3 move on to the more horrific side of humanity when order has failed and chaos reigns. The Governor's tenure of terror brings new but believable horrors to the series, and as the story progresses, it is only fitting that we see some of our favorites severely injured or killed. And that is what keeps readers turning the pages and seeking the next books in the series. Humans are terrifying creatures, and this book perfectly demonstrates that. While horrific, I have to be honest and say that I'm still enjoying the series, which is why I give this a strong four out of five braaaaaaains.

#20: Bite Me - Christopher Moore (2010, 309 pages)

One thing I have always been open about is my absolute love and devotion of Christopher Moore's writing. So, when I began rereading his books earlier this year, it was inevitable that I would find myself reading through all the books in the Bloodsucking Fiends vampire trilogy. And giggling the entire time.

Bloodsucking Fiends continues upon the love between Jody and Flood. Book two saw the two trapped in bronze statues by their loyal servant Abby Normal, her boyfriend Foo-Dog and her goth, gay bestie Jared. But when a vampire cat threatens the city, the group have to bring Jody and Flood back together to save the day.

Many readers complained about the story being told through Abby's contemporary voice, but I thought it was a fun and refreshing turn to the series. Sure, Abby's very immature, but that's what makes her voice all the more realistic. I not only enjoyed the voice, but I also enjoyed the plot. How many vampire novels tackle the idea of vampiric kittehs? And then, you just have to love the situations that Moore is known for placing his characters in; they're silly, sordid, and lots of fun. Moore always entertains, which is why I give this a fun three and a half out of four bloodsucking felines.

#21: The Walking Dead, Book 4 - Robert Kirkman (2010, 304 pages)

The story of survival takes a more dark turn in the fourth book of The Walking Dead series.

It is only a matter of time before The Governor's men turn up at the prison seeking revenge. Rick has been grievously injured, though he is doing his best to make do, and after an ambush, one of their own has been stolen away. When the attack does come, the group is at their most vulnerable.

Book four is the most dire of the series, so far. While we've lost characters along the way, the deaths in this book are staggering, brutal, and nothing is held back. If you have a weak constitution, or if you find it hard to deal with the other deaths presented in the series, I don't know that this book would be good for you. It's harsh and stark, but it is incredibly well done. It is only fitting that people be injured or die, but even knowing that doesn't make it any easier to deal with. But you know  what? Despite all of that, it is a great book. I am really glad I read it, and I look forward to reading book 5. So it's only fitting that I give this a brutal but deserved four out of five losses.

#22: Hell House - Richard Matheson (1971, 301 pages)

About a year ago I discovered Richard Matheson's writing, though I had seen many film and TV adaptations of his works. In reading several of his books of short stories, I came to understand why he's been labeled The Master of Horror. Matheson's writing is dark, imaginative and amazing.

Earlier this summer, I took up reading my first Matheson novel, Hell House. I honestly didn't know what to expect, other than I thought that the story might seem dated, especially as it is older than I am. But it surprisingly isn't all that dated. In fact, I could just as easily see this happening today or 40 years ago.

Belasco House, AKA Hell House, is the most haunted home in the United States. Only one person has ever survived a visit to the home, and he is about to join three others for a five-day stay. If they survive , they each receive a sizable sum of money. The group is comprised of Dr. Lionel Barrett, a skeptic who is set upon disproving the house's reputation of being haunted; Barrett's wife Edith; psychic Florence Tanner; and Benjamin Franklin Fischer, the house's soul survivor. Only Tanner and Fischer believe there are spirits present, though Tanner seeks to find the good in the situation whereas Fischer is much more realistic. As the week progresses, the situations faced by the group grow more and more dangerous.

Hell House is a great ghost story. I thought it would start slow and build up as the story progressed in a fashion similar to Paranormal Activity, but fortunately, the horrors stretched throughout the book and the week, forcing me to keep turning the pages. I didn't know where things were going or how they would turn out, but the tension was built so well, that I had to keep reading to find out. Matheson really is a wonderful writer, and I look forward to reading more and more of his work, which is why I give this book a spooky four and a half out of five frights.

#23: I Don't Want to Kill You - Dan Wells (2011, 311 pages)

After successfully killing two demons, John Cleaver is moving on to fighting a third. At the conclusion of Mr. Monster, Cleaver challenged a third monster to a fight. Problem is, he doesn't know who he challenged or how it will strike.

As the book opens, the city finds itself once again in the hands of a serial killer, this one set upon exposing the disgraces and sins of the city's most prominent members. And worse, teenage girls are committing suicide at an alarming rate. Cleaver, again, must control the monster inside him and find a way to save his town from the evil that seems insistent upon tearing it apart.

I won't lie, I love how Wells has been churning out these stories about John Wayne Cleaver. As one book ends, I look forward to learning who the next demon is and how Cleaver will find a way to defeat it. The demon in this book is a good twist on the previous ones, and I hope that it will catch you as off-guard as it did me. And once again, I have been left anticipating the next book and adventure for Cleaver, which is why I give this book a fun three out of five demon eyes.

Total Books Read: 23 / 50 (46 percent)
Total Pages Read: 7,795 / 15,000 (52 percent)
*More books to come. I haven't updated in ages.
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El Corazon

93. The Cuckoo's Egg...; 94. The Life of Henry the Fifth

The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage
by Clifford Stoll

Started: July 26, 2011
Finished: July 30, 2011

This book is awesome. The writing about hacking and mid-1980s computer systems and networks was very technical but Stoll somehow also made it very understandable to the lay reader. Basically, Stoll was a computer systems manager at Berkeley who saw that his computer lab's network phone charge accounts were off by seventy five cents. He decided to spend a few minutes trying to figure out what was going on. The few minutes turned into a year of around-the-clock and around-the-globe chasing of a group of German computer hackers who were trying to break into United States military computers and sell the secrets to the KGB. One of the more unique and interesting true crime novels that I've read in recent years. 326 pages. Grade: A+
The Life of King Henry the Fifth
by William Shakespeare

Started: July 1, 2011
Finished: July 31, 2011

Damn, I'll be glad when I finish up with the Shakespeare histories and move on the tragedies. I'd never read this before but I remembered loving the 1989 Kenneth Branagh movie version of it. Maybe I need to watch that again as I just really got nothing out of this. A few great lines, of course, but the actual story did nothing for me. I was especially annoyed by the so-called comedic interludes with Pistol and Gower and Fluellen. 33 pages. Grade: D
Total # of books read in 2011: 94
Total # of pages read in 2011: 26,975

Books 24 - 33

#24: Regarding Ducks and Universes - Neve Maslakovic (2010, 331 pages)

I found Neve Maslakovic's debut novel quite by accident. Amazon recommended it after I had purchased Jasper Fforde's newest book in the Thursday Next series. I looked at the description and was immediately hooked.

In 1986, the universe split - everyone born before that time split as well, creating a new universe. Everyone born after that date was an individual, having no counterparts in the alternate universe. In addition to discovering the new universe, scientists found a way to travel between the two. Felix Sayers is traveling from Universe A to Universe B, and finds himself in the midst of a conspiracy in which someone is trying to kill him and keep him from discovering the universe bifurcation.

The premise of this novel is very imaginative, and the way in which Maslakovic spins the plot is creative and fun. Sayers is driven by jealousy of a man he once was but never met, and it's that inspiration that pushes the plot forward. I quite enjoyed following his journey, just as I enjoyed this novel. It would be nice if Maslakovic ever wrote a sequel, but even if she didn't, I'd be happy to read anything else by her. That's why I give this a great four out of five duckies

#25: Blink - Malcolm Gladwell (2005, 296 pages)

According to author Malcolm Gladwell, every person has the capability to  make positive decisions based upon a split second of thought. With time, we have the capability to understand without formally understanding simply based upon specific details.

Using many examples of how people "thin slice," make decisions based upon few details, readers can gain a greater understanding of how to rely more on intuition than what the facts may seem to reveal. The book kicks off with a fake statue that manage to fool some of the greatest art historians. Other examples focus on how sometimes intuition can fail us in decision making, and that, instead, we need to find a way to slow time down and think things through.

I found the book to be quite fascinating in the idea of thin slicing and how it can work to our advantage. My main problem with the book, though, stems from the fact that, while Gladwell tells us we need to think this way, he does not help provide any ideas for how we can do so. Had he done so, I think this could have been an amazing self-help book, which is why I give it three out of five thoughts.

#26: Handling the Undead - John Ajvide Lindqvist (2005, 364 pages)

John Ajvide Lindqvist, the Swedish author of Let the Right One In, has had his second book translated into English. Where his first book took on the vampire genre, his second novel looks at zombies.

After a heatwave hits Stockholm, accompanied by some very strange electrical issues and painfully blinding headaches, something strange happens the moment the symptoms disappear: the dead start to rise. Following three families as they deal with the crisis, the book adds a sense of heartbreak and humanity to the zombie legend. The dead in this book are not flesh-crazed monsters; instead, they are people who seek their families and the familiar. But no one is prepared for the things that happen in conjunction with the zombie's visit, including psychic abilities and the fear of the unknown.

The reviews for this novel are not all kind. Many readers seemed to expect that this novel be as grand and epic as Let the Right One In. It feels like they don't realize that these books are two very different, yet similar, animals. Both deal with the idea that no one asked for what they are experiencing but are trying their best to deal, and I think that's what holds up some of the readers. Lindqvist provides a sensitive and heart-wrenching look at what happens when your loved ones return from the grave - it's not all gross and gory, nor is it scary and terrifying. But that's what I love about it. It's a new twist on the zombie genre, one in which we shouldn't be hiding under the blankets, and that's why I give this a strong four and a half out of five Swedish paranormal entities.

#27: Button, Button: Uncanny Stories - Richard Matheson (2008, 205 pages)

My journey to discover Matheson's writing continues with the collection of short stories Button, Button: Uncanny Stories. Of course, the most famous story in this collection is the titular story "Button, Button," which was made into the recent travesty of a film The Box. The film proves why it's hard to take a short story and turn it into a 90-minute feature story, and it trashes what was a great story.

Other stories in the collection include "No Such Thing as a Vampire," a fun little twist on the vampire genre; "A Flourish of Strumpets," which tells what happens when sex takes over a small town; "Mute," a heartbreaking tale of how some people must force others to conform, stealing away their gifts; and "Dying Room Only," where two travelers find themselves living the most horrible of stories on the road.

I enjoyed most of the stories featured in this collection, though I was sick when I read it, and think that played a role on my dislike of the stories. Like Matheson's other works, the stories are creative. I love how he manages to take something normal and twist it until it becomes new, strange and even unsettling. But the stories are not all dark, some are sweet, and all are smart, which is why I give this book a good three and a half out of five death machines.

#28: If You Were Here - Jen Lancaster (2011, 306 pages)

My favorite author of comedic, nonfiction essays is back with her debut novel, If You Were Here, and it's fantastic!

Mia and Mac have decided it's time to leave Chicago for the suburbs after one too many run ins with their thug neighbor and socialite landlady. House hunting has become a nightmare, until Mia finds her dream  house - a house featured in Sixteen Candles in John Hughes' hometown of North Brook, Illinois. But Mia's rose-colored glasses leads to the couple having to take on extensive renovations that threaten their careers, sanity and marriage.

If you follow Lancaster's books and blog, you can see the influence her own house-hunting adventures had upon the novel, and that makes it all the more enjoyable. Though Lancaster maintains this did not happen to her (yet), you do have to wonder if some of the situations may have tried presenting themselves, causing Lancaster to imagine such a reaction. Regardless of where her inspiration came from, the book is a great and fun read. I laughed so hard throughout, which is why I give this a perfect five out of five Jake Ryans.

#29: Before I Go to Sleep - S.J. Watson (2011, 360 pages)

Christine wakes up everyday filled with confusion and terror. She doesn't know where she is, who the man lying in bed beside her is, or even who the woman is when she looks in the mirror. Soon Christine learns that she suffered a severe injury in her late 20s that leaves her unable to retain new memories and wreaks havoc on the ones she had prior to the accident.

Another thing Christine learns is that she has been keeping a journal of each day and everything she has learned about herself and her past. Working with her is Dr. Nash, a neurologist who is convinced he can help Christine's condition improve. But as she works, Christine begins to unravel a mystery that will throw everything she has learned into turmoil.

Watson created this novel as a participant in the first-ever Faber Academy Writing a Novel course, and for a first novel, it is absolutely incredible. She builds up such a great panic in Christine's discovery of who she in the book's first chapter, and she creates a fascinating mystery. You're never sure if you should believe Christine or if there really is something sinister going on, and you have to keep reading to find out for certain. I really enjoyed this book, which is why it gets a perfect five out of five strangers in the mirror.

#30: Of Bees and Mist - Erick Setiawan (2009, 404 pages)

There are many books that I love, but few books that I would describe as absolutely amazing and beautiful, wrapped up in a beautiful ribbon of perfection. Of Bees and Mist, the debut novel of Erick Setiawan is once of those books. I have been fortunate to find some amazing debut novels recently, and of them, this book is at the top of my list.

Set in a world where magic and the mundane live hand in hand, the book follows Meridia from her birth through her late twenties. Meridia's life isn't easy, living with her cold mother Ravenna, her hateful and absent father Gabriel, the ghosts in the mirrors, and the mists that hover outside the door to her home. As she grows, she meets and falls in love with Daniel, whose family ranges from sweet and generous to down-right hateful. Daniel's mother Eva is evil incarnate, and her ability to drive bees to people to get what she wants, causes much of the book's tension.

There are so many things I love about this book. First, is the magical world in which Meridia lives. The mists carry away and bring back her father from his nightly trysts, Meridia's best friend is invisible and curses are commonplace. Second is the plot itself. The story of a young woman experiencing cold parents and an evil mother-in-law is nothing new, but the way Setiawan presents it is refreshing and captivating. It's hard not to read this book without falling in love with it, which is why it gets a perfect five out of five stings.

#31: Son of a Witch - Gregory Maguire (2005, 334 pages)

For nearly as long as I have been reading books, I have had a fondness for books that take a familiar tale and twist it to present readers with a new and fascinating point of view. Maguire did so with his novel Wicked, later turned into a smash Broadway musical. He continues that story in the book's sequel Son of a Witch.

The book continues after the death of Elphaba, the "wicked" witch of the West, with Liir, who may or may not be her son. Liir is found some 10 years after her death, battered, broken and near death himself. What happened over those 10 years? From the time he left Kiamo Ko with Dorothy and her band of travelers to the unfortunate incident that brought him back to the monastery where he had been born, Liir's journey has not been easy. After what comes next will change him from a boy desperate to find acceptance into a man living stepping into the witch's former shoes.

My biggest beef with Wicked was that it was a slow read. I loved the story, but it was a struggle to get through. Son of a Witch was a much easier read, and because of the mystery in the opening, you are encouraged to read on to learn where Liir has traveled and what he has experienced. What he has experienced hasn't all been pretty, but you read nonetheless. Liir is a bit more of a weak lead character than I would prefer, but he's not awful. He grows, but I just wish we had been given a bit more, especially at the end of the novel. I feel like it ended at least a chapter early, but maybe the third book in the series will answer the questions I have. I liked it, but I didn't love it, which is why I give this an average three out of five broomsticks.

#32: Darkness Under the Sun - Dean Koontz (2010, 60 pages)

Before Dean Koontz released his novel What the Night Knows, he teased readers with the novella Darkness Under the Sun. The story presents readers with a glimpse of another family terrorized by the serial killer Alton Turner Blackwood.

Howie Dugley knows what it's like be called a freak after being horribly burned by his father. When he meets a deformed giant, he thinks he's found a kindred soul, but as time goes on, he learns that his new friend is much more frightening than he appears. Soon, he learns that his family is Blackwood's next target. Can he save his family in time?

I thought this novella was a great accompaniment to the novel, but to be honest, I'm glad I read it afterward. The ending of this tale gives away how the book will end, something that would have frustrated me to no end. As I said in my review of What the Night Knows, Koontz appears to have gotten out of the slump of writing predictable stories, and it is evident in this novella as well. I enjoyed it, but I mean it, don't read this until you've read the novel. And that's why I give this a good three out of five cases of the willies.

#33: I Am Legend - Richard Matheson (1954, 160 pages)

Before Will Smith and even Charlton Heston were involved, Richard Matheson dreamed up a world where one man seemed to be the only person in the world left to battle the plague of vampires that took over.

Disease has somehow managed to produce vampires. The sick and the recently dead soon come back and will do anything to get Robert Neville, seemingly the only man left on the planet, to join their ranks. Robert, himself, is all too human - tempted by the female vampires who taunt and tease, driven to drink by the despair over the death of his wife and daughter and so alone he will look for companionship in any way.

I must admit to having seen the Will Smith film before having read this, so I had a few preconceptions of what this novel would contain. Boy, was I surprised! The vampires still retain their human qualities, even the power of speech. And the ending. Wow, that ending came from out of nowhere, and I must say, I really liked it, because it was not predictable. Matheson has done it again, creating a novel that is fascinating and not really dated. I really enjoyed this book, which is why I give it a strong three and a half out of five bloodsucking fiends.

Total Books Read: 33 / 50 (66 percent)
Total Pages Read: 10,615 / 15,000 (71 percent)
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