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Prepare To Die, Hitless Wonder!

Time for another look at the books I've been reading lately. This covers the period from mid-June to this morning, when I finished the last book in bed.

Prepare To Die! by Paul Tobin - It should come as no surprise that I have a fondness for reading novels set in original super-hero universes (they call it "Genre Kryptonite" over at Book Riot). This is the story of Reaver, whose power is that he takes a year off of a person's life when he punches them. I don't think I've ever seen that as a power before, which I enjoyed. At the start of the book, Reaver is defeated by Octagon and a coalition of villains then is told to "prepare to die." He accepts but asks for two weeks to settle his affairs and is granted that respite. The novel is both his journey back home and a flashback to how he got to this point. It's an origin story and a love story and a story of what it actually means to be a hero. The character of Reaver has a tendency to reduce all the women in the story to their physical attributes, which can be grating, but otherwise I really enjoyed the novel.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - This is one of the books of the summer, one that everyone has been talking about and for good reason - it's fantastic. Amy and Nick have been married for five years but she disappears  on the morning of their fifth anniversary. The police naturally suspect Nick had something to do with it; there is evidence pointing in his direction. The novel alternates chapters between Nick's point-of-view and Amy's journal, which tells the story of the years leading up to their marriage and her disappearance. Things, of course, are not always as they seem and the novel has great twists and turns in the plot, which mirrors how you feel about certain characters. The book also delves into how the media and television and film have seeped into our brains when it comes to cases such as this. Highly recommended.

Redshirts by John Scalzi - It should probably also not be a surprise that I used to read a lot of Star Trek novels. A lot. Of course, I knew exactly what Scalzi was referring to with this novel's title - in the Star Trek universe, the characters wearing red shirts would usually be the ones to die in episodes, thereby raising the stakes without truly endangering the show's stars. The book begins with several cadets coming aboard the Intrepid, the flagship of the Universal Union (our Enterprise and Federation analogues). Andy Dahl is assigned to the Xenobiology lab, where he starts noticing some things that aren't right - his co-workers hide from the senior staff and there are strange machines that shouldn't work. It's a ship where people like him go on away missions and don't come back. He and his friends start investigating, which leads to time travel, meta-commentary, and all sorts of chaos. It's smart and funny and I had a great time reading it, enough so that I need to dig into Scalzi's back catalog.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins - I made sure to have this ready to read on my new iPad when we took our vacation to Canada Lake in upstate New York for the 4th of July and I did, in fact, start reading it on the 4th. Didn't take me long to finish it either. Katniss has to deal with being a figurehead for the revolution while also dealing with her own physical and emotional scars. The plot has plenty of twists and turns and Katniss is removed from the main action at several points but it builds to something that might not be what readers expected. Yes, I know I'm being vague but I don't want to spoil it. So, here are the questions...is it a perfect book? No. Is it and the series as a whole worth reading? Absolutely.

Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball by R.A. Dickey with Wayne Coffey - My brother, a Mets fan, had this book with him on that same vacation and would occasionally read me a passage. I'd been following Dickey's season with interest this year and had actually just heard about the book, so I asked my brother if I could borrow it. Graciously, he let me. Dickey's story is about more than just baseball and his long struggle to stick in the major leagues; there is some real darkness in his past and I have a ton of respect for how honest he is in the book. That darkness is balanced with some humor and plenty of baseball. A good read.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker - I'm often interested in how books are classified, in what makes a book literary or science fiction. This novel is a case in point. It could be considered SF because it deals with the earth slowing its rotation to the point of days that are 60 hours long. This messes with gravity and has consequences for humanity that go beyond mere sleep cycles. Walker does a solid job of extrapolating how the world might reach to such an event. Our viewpoint character is Julia, who is 11 as the novel begins, and she has to navigate not only the world-changing events but also the universal constant of growing up. Here is your literary territory. Regardless of categorization, this novel is engaging and full of lovely writing. I liked it.

Year Zero by Rob Reid - Speaking of categories, this novel blends science fiction with music. The Year Zero in question is actually 1977, which is when our music reached alien ears (or their equivalent) and the aliens flipped out over it. Turns out that the one thing humanity is good at is music. So good, in fact, that the aliens now owe us all the money in the universe for all the illegal copies they've made. Nick Carter, an entertainment lawyer (not the Backstreet Boy), is visited by two aliens which set the whole plot in motion. Nick tries to work out a way for humanity to prosper but no be destroyed by this development. The early part of the book felt more like a mouthpiece for Reid's thoughts on our current thoughts on downloading music and so forth but then a plot twist kicked in and I was able to relax and enjoy the novel for its humor.

Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll by Joe Oestreich - Speaking of music, I just recently learned about this book, which chronicles the ups and downs of Oestreich's band Watershed. The band started in Columbus, Ohio and had a couple shots at the big time that didn't quite pan out, which makes the story that much more interesting. Why are they still at it in their late 30s and early 40s, grinding through tours that can be disappointing in ticket sales and leaving their families behind? Ah, the lure of rock and roll. A quick, good read.

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