Friday, December 30, 2011

Crappiest Books of 2011

Only a Bottom 5, given the few books I made it through this year.

It's not really fair to have #3-5 in this list, given that they're not sucky books--and especially not in the league of suck that #1-2 occupy. They're just not as good as those in the Top 5. If I'd managed to read more in 2011 these three would have been middle of the road.

5. Pronto.

4. Castle of Deception.

3. The Chaos Gate.

2. I, Jedi. Well-deserved second-suckiest. I still hate to do it, since Stackpole's a good guy, but I can't cut this book any slack.

1. Darksaber. I can't bag on this one enough. I still want to have it mounted in a block of acrylic, opened to the suckiest part, but that might mean having to read this hideous construction again.

Top Books of 2011

It's been a rough year again as far as reading goes. I've been too tired to read much of the time.

It took me close to two months to read "Buckaroo Banzai"--and only part of that is because the book drags somewhat.

I made it through 22 books this year; last year it was 36. Compare that to somewhere just under 100 in 2009.

Twenty-two books is a lot of down-time--a lot of sleeping, actually. Once I'm done here, I'm headed for bed again.

I don't really have enough for a Top 10, though, so here's the Top 5 for 2011:

5. Jaws. Actually, I'm still in the middle of this book, but it could be several more weeks before I'm done, at this rate.

4. Zahn's Thrawn Star Wars trilogy. They're still as good as the first time I read them in the early '90s. I wish the other SW books were as good. Too many of them suck.

3. Getting Great Guitar Sounds, because of a simple phrase near the end: "If you make a mistake, make it like you mean it." I took this to apply to all playing--Play it like you mean it. It helped me to stop worrying so much about sounding like the recording I'm playing along with and just have fun.

2. Maximum Bob. The title alone makes it worth reading.

1. Dresden #13: Ghost Story. Dammit, Jim, now I have to wait till mid-2012 for the next one!

Jaws (Benchley, Peter)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 1974
Genre: Horror
Read again? Yes.

Summer is only days away; Amity's 1,000 permanent residents will soon be joined by 9,000 summer visitors.

When Christine Watkins' mangled remains wash up on the beach where tourists might see, Amity's politicians step up and bravely order police chief Martin Brody to keep his mouth shut. The beaches will stay open, the paper will stay silent.

There were no witnesses.

A few quiet days pass, and within hours of each other a 6-year-old boy and a 65-year-old man are killed.

This time, there are witnesses.

Brody gets the beaches closed, but now (as he expected) he looks like the bad guy. Those politicians wouldn't dirty their hands with responsibility.

A shark expert from Woods Hole--Matt Hooper--thinks the killer is a Great White shark.

Now July 4th--the big weekend that could make or break Amity--is less than two weeks away. People are canceling their leases or just walking away from them. The Mayor's freaking out (he's one of the major real estate owners in town) more over the financial losses than over the killings.

Brody's wife Ellen has a shagfest with Hooper; we're treated to all of her rationalizations for this (lonely, bored, unhappy, etc.), but I wasn't sympathetic to her plight. Perhaps it's mostly there to heighten tension between Chief Brody and the shark expert later in the book, but it really made me dislike her.

Otherwise, Benchley tells a good story and moves it along. Characterization is reasonably good and there's only the amount of exposition that the reader needs.

Buckaroo Banzai (Rauch, Earl Mac)

Rating: 4/5
Year: 1984
Genre: Sci-Fi/Adventure
Read again? In another 10 years

Adventurer, neurosurgeon, rock star, physicist, engineer, and all-around genius Buckaroo Banzai races his Jet Car through a mile-wide mountain and into the 8th Dimension!

But first, Buckaroo had to attend to a bit of tricky neurosurgery.

Meanwhile, Emilio Lazardo, aka John Whorfin, a Red Lectroid from Planet Ten!--plans his escape from a mental institution and schemes to steal Buckaroo's Oscillation Overthruster, the amazing device that allowed Buckaroo to cross the Dimensional barrier--and which will let Whorfin return home to Planet 10!

John Whorfin has a sort-of team of people--all Red Lectroids in disguise: John Bigboote and John O'Connor are running Yoyodyne, an aerospace company front that's suposed to be building their way back to Planet 10. But Bigboote and O'Connor seem to enjoy the human life too much.

Buckaroo Banzai has a team of people--a small army, actually, but his inner circle and rock band are known as the Hong Kong Cavaliers. It's up to all of them to save the world.

But first, they'll celebrate breaking the Dimensional barrier by playing a gig.

Save the world? Yes. Those Red Lectroids are bad guys banished from Planet 10. The good guys, who call themselves Adders, have threatened to blow up the Earth if Buckaroo can't stop the Lectroids.

The book is narrated by Reno, one of the Honk Kong Cavaliers and Buckaroo's official chronicler. Reno's got an entertaining heroic/cowboyish style that could be distracting or annoying if it weren't so tongue-in-cheek. There's a real-world feel to the narrative, thanks to Reno's footnotes and references to a backlog of Buckaroo Banzai adventures. Maybe a little long-winded. The book does drag in places, just enough that I zapped a point.

Bard's Tale 2--The Chaos Gate (Sherman, Josepha)

Rating: 4/5
Year: 1994
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Maybe

It's been four years since the end of Castle of Deception. The boy-hero of that book, Kevin, is a Count and a full Bard, now. Has his own castle and everything.

But he's bored. There's no adventure in the day-to-day affairs of running a castle and tending to the needs of his people and the Kingdom.

Then his friend the Dark Elf Naitachal--now a full Bard himself--comes to visit. When an envoy from a neighboring Count brings a portrait of his daughter and a marriage offer, Kevin makes a snap decision to sneak out to see her for himself, disguised as a lowly minstrel. Naitachal tags along in hopes of amusement.

Of course things don't go well; Kevin's would-be lady-love is sharp-tongued and argumentative and clearly uninterested in marriage. When he reveals his true identity, all hell breaks loose!

Naitachal is very amused.

Meanwhile, at the enclave of evil Dark Elves, the Boss Elf is stewing and scheming, evilly wanting revenge against Naitachal for turning away from the Dark Side. His evil consort hatches a spell designed to ensnare Naitachal....

A bit too melodramatic and long-winded. Pacing could have been tightened up quite a bit. Characterization could have been better; the Dark Elves are oh-so evil and two-dimensionally bland.

Raylan 01: Pronto (Leonard, Elmore)

Rating: 4/5
Year: 1993
Genre: Crime
Read again? Yes

This is the first of several stories about Deputy US Marshall Raylan Givens; they cover the events that led to Givens being "exiled" to Kentucky in the TV series "Justified."

Raylan is assigned to protect Harry Arno, a Miami bookie and witness against small-time Mobster Jimmy Cap. Harry finds out he's been screwed by the Feds: they faked a call from an angry bettor who hasn't been paid off, making it look as though Harry skimmed several thousand bucks.

As it turns out, Harry's been skimming, all right--a few million bucks over four decades. The Feds' screwing blows things up just as he's about to "retire" and run off to Italy.

He gives Raylan the slip, but the Marshall has dealt with Harry before and easily finds the Bookie in a little town.

The Mob doesn't have much trouble tracking Harry, either....

Leonard doesn't waste the reader's time in extra syllables or meandering prose, but "Pronto" doesn't move as quickly as "Maximum Bob," the only other Elmore I've read. It still has the "ordinary people" feel of "Bob" and of "Justified," but I still felt the need to take a point for the pacing.