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SpartHawg's Book Corner!!! Part 2!!! 2011 Edition!!!

So, word on the street is that it's next year now. And you know what that means! Well, you should, if you read the title of the blog. New Year, new books to read. And then to record here in my little corner of the Wiki. Why, you ask? Lots of reasons. For posterity's sake, boredom, vanity, and because apparently some people did read my previous book blog. Some of them even commented. Neat, huh? So anywho, here's where I'll record my reading exploits for 2011. I can't promise I'll meet or exceed my 2010 total of 31 books (that vacation really helped me catch up on my reading), but I'll try. And, thanks to the awesome Kindle my folks got me for Christmas, maybe I'll manage to set a new record. So, without further ado:

(Haven't updated since October and I've definitely been reading since then, so this will take a while... and I'll finish one more just in time to make the list!)

  • Semper Mars, book one of the Heritage Trilogy by "Ian Douglas" (a pen name of William H. Keith, Jr.) - A pretty great little sci-fi novel that is the first part of a trilogy that is itself the first installment of a trilogy of trilogies (meaning that the first trilogy is followed by a second trilogy of novels set some time later, which is then followed by a third trilogy of books, set even later, all in the same fictional universe/storyline). Good story, lots of rousing action, characters you can relate to or despise as warranted, and characters who actually show some development. And on top of all that, the bad guys are the UN! (This appeals to me for several reasons, though I understand some people may feel differently) So, if you're looking for a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi read, I'd recommend this book. It gets a 10.
  • Luna Marine, book two of the Heritage Trilogy, by "Ian Douglas". - Book two of the trilogy. The same pluses as the previous installment. Most of the characters are new, or are characters whose involvement in the previous book was peripheral at best. Still, you can relate to them pretty well. It's a good book, and it gets a 10.
  • Europa Strike, book three of the Heritage Trilogy, by "Ian Douglas". - Book three of the trilogy. Basically the same pluses and minuses as the other two. It's set about twenty years after the second, a much bigger gap than the one between books one and two. Many returning characters, including the main protagonist of the first book, who didn't appear at all in book two. A thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi read. I'm definitely going to read the two follow-on trilogies, just maybe not right now. It gets a 10 though for sure.
  • The Roots of Obama's Rage, by Dinesh D'Souza - I want to start by saying Dinesh D'Souza is awesome! He's my idea of a great American. He was born in Mumbai, India, and arrived in the United States in his late teens thanks to a program run by the Rotary International. He then went to Dartmouth, and has since made a name for himself as an author, political commentator, and as the president of The King's College in New York. The book is about, of all things, Barack Obama. Basically, D'Souza posits that Obama's true motivation is a form of anti-colonialism which he more or less "inherited" from his dead-beat dad, as evidenced by the revealing name of his autobiography, Dreams from my father, as opposed to Dreams of my father. D'Souza makes a compelling and thought-provoking case, one that really, really makes sense. It even makes some of our illustrious President's more... confusing... actions (such as deciding to change NASA's primary mission from space exploration to making the Muslim world feel good about itself) make sense. I highly recommend it, and give it a solid 10. I will likely be taking a breather from political books for the moment, though I have many more on my agenda, but I'm glad I read this one when I did.
  • Island in the Sea of Time, by S. M. Stirling - the first book in the Nantucket series. It's a book in which, in 1998, the island of Nantucket (of dirty limerick fame) and the Coast Guard training ship USCGC Eagle get sent back to the year 1250 B.C. by a mysterious event (known as "The Event"). Most of the book is fairly interesting, dealing with the struggle to survive cut off from modern conveniences and necessities, and dealing with personal conflicts and the usual ner-do-wells and such. At times though it gets ridiculously preachy and P.C. (as in politically correct), in particular when one character is featured. This character is (get ready, and no, I'm not making this up) a black, female, middle-aged, Southern, divorced mother-of-two, lesbian Coast Guard Captain/martial arts whiz who ends up hooking up with a teenage princess/priestess turned slave girl from Britain, and who, when not gallivanting around as a cross between George S. Patton and Xena, Warrior Princess (with a dash of Bruce Lee thrown in), is busy preaching about how, gosh darn-it!, now that she's in charge, her world and her Coast Guard are going to be different, and she'll show those bigots a thing or two! Unfortunately, she's also one of the main characters. The plot is great, the characters are (mostly) enjoyable and such, and it's an interesting premise. Unfortunately, the book suffers from too much of this P.C. nonsense. As such, while I like it, I have to give it the lowest score I've ever given a book, a 7 out of 10. I'm still planning on finishing the series, but all the 'oh brother!' eye-rolling moments really hurt this book, at least in my opinion.
  • Against the Tide of Years, by S. M. Stirling - the second book in the Nantucket series, this one has most of the same strengths and weaknesses of the previous book. Mostly fascinating characters, fascinating premise, interesting settings and culture, etc. Unfortunately, it also has my most recent nominee for the most ridiculous literary character ever... Marian Alston (now known as Marian Alston-Kurlelo, following her civil union to her domestic partner, the teenage girl from Bronze Age England). She's not any preachier, actually a little less, but a little more shrill now that she has two adopted daughters (one white and one black, of course... gotta keep the P.C. going here). And this books also has one other aggravating feature. It highlights the fact that the author knows less about the military than he thinks he does. Real members of the US Coast Guard and Marine Corps would know that you call a Brigadier General 'General', never 'Brigadier'. As such, this book gets another 7 out of 10. The enjoyable parts are good enough to make me want to finish the series, but the annoyances are growing rapidly here.
  • On the Oceans of Eternity, by S. M. Stirling - third book of the Nantucket series. Mostly the same strengths and weaknesses as the last two. Several really good and interesting characters... and a couple of abysmally ludicrous ones. Problem? The book deals disproportionately with the latter. Really interesting concept. No real weakness, as it's a very cool concept. Some ridiculous moments though, where you find yourself going "Really?", or "These people are supposed to be brilliant, so why am I the only one noticing how stupid this is?", or my particular favorite, "These two situations are exactly the same, so why the huge double standard?" It's a good book from a good series with a lot of potential, but the one and only super-warrior/martial arts expert/poet extraordinaire/black lesbian Coast Guard Captain/potential pedophile Marian Alston-Kurlelo kinda ruins it for me. I give this book, and the series as a whole, a 6.5 out of 10 (the first time I've used anything other than a whole number. Neat!) It may be your cup of tea, and it wasn't terrible, but it also wasn't what I'd call great. I won't be reading these books again.
  • FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression, by Jim Powell - a book dealing with FDR, the New Deal, and the Great Depression (duh!). For starters, just so you don't think this guy is some junk-economist yabo, the book earns high praise from not one, but two, Nobel Prize winners in the field of Economics, Milton Friedman and James M. Buchanan. Word on the street is you don't get one of those unless you know your stuff as far as economics goes. The book simply examines facts (such as the fact that during the New Deal years, the median unemployment rate was 14.2 percent, and it never dropped below 12%), and asks questions. Each chapter title is a question, and the content of the chapter then answers the question. The questions include: "What caused the Great Depression?", "What did FRD borrow from Hoover?", "Why did New Dealers break up the strongest banks?", "Why did FDR seize everybody's gold?", "Why did FDR triple taxes during the Great Depression?", "Why did the New Dealers destroy all that food when people were hungry?", "Why did the Supreme Court strike down early New Deal laws?", "How did Social Security contribute to higher unemployment?", and many more. You learn some deeply disturbing things about the New Deal. Among them (and this is one of the more well-known tidbits, so some of you may have heard it), is FDR's decidedly unsound method of determining gold prices: one morning his Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau, Jr, asked FDR what the price should be, suggesting a modest 5 or 10 cent increase. FDR responded by demanding a 21 cent increase. When Morgenthau asked 'why 21 cents?', FDR replied that 21 was 3x7, and 3 and 7 were lucky numbers. Scary stuff. You also learn how FDR and his cronies used their power to persecute people he didn't like, such as former Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon. Everyone should read this book. I give it a solid 10.
  • Ripples of Battle: How Wars Fought Long Ago Still Determine How We Fight, How We Live, and How We Think, by Victor Davis Hanson - a book by Hanson examining the "ripples" of battles, which is to say the impacts they have on society, culture, and on individuals. This book is truly fascinating. He examines three battles, choosing major battles that are overshadowed by others within the same wars, and so are not as well known today, and he examines the ripples from them. First is the Battle of Okinawa, a brutal battle between the Allies (i.e. the US and UK) and the Japanese in WWII. The ripples of this battle are the decision to use atomic weapons on Japan (a direct result of the horrendous casualties of the battle), and the use of, and response to, suicide tactics and weapons as means of war. Next is the Battle of Shiloh, a battle of the U.S. Civil War where the Union defeated the Confederates. The ripples here are the birth of the "Lost Opportunity" myth which resulted from the death of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, the resurrection of the career of General William Tecumseh Sherman, which had grave consequences for the South, the downturn of the career of General Lew Wallace, and how this impacted him and caused him, through his penning of the epic novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, to change literary landscape of America and to open books up to the masses, and lastly, the birth of the legend of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, which in turn led to the birth and strengthening of the KKK. Lastly, Hanson looks at the Battle of Delium, examining the impact of the battle on the city of Thespiae, chronicling how the battle changed the way war was fought in the West, with the introduction of combined arms, the use of reserves, and massing of forces, the meteoric rise (with unfortunate consequences for Athens) of the Athenian Alcibiades due to his valorous performance in the battle, and the impact on Western culture of the survival of Socrates, who fought as an Athenian hoplite in the battle, and how vastly different our world would be had he fallen. It's a great book, and the author touches on all this while also tying it in with modern events. It gets a good solid 10 from me!
  • Halo: Cryptum, by Greg Bear - the first book of the new Forerunner Saga. I was looking for a slight change of pace, and this book hit the spot! It's a good story, well written with good characters, an interesting premise, and good plot development. At first, it's a little odd because the book is written in a first-person point of view, but you get into it pretty quickly. It reads pretty quick too, which actually kinda sucks because now I want to read the next one! It gets a 10!
  • Dies the Fire, by S. M. Stirling - the first book of the Emberverse series. This series sorta ties into the Nantucket series, mentioned earlier in this blog. Basically, the same Event that throws Nantucket island back to the year 1250 BC causes all "advanced" (basically post-Middle Ages) technology (guns, steam and internal combustion engines, electronics, etc) to stop working. The book chronicles a few groups of people in Oregon's Willamette Valley as they attempt to cope and to cobble together new societies. It's a good book with good characters. There are a few things that bug me, some similar to the issues from the Nantucket series, but none as bad as the ones from that series. For example, one of the main groups is a bunch of Wiccans who fancy themselves to be Celts, with their leader taking on all sorts of Scottish and Irish affectations. This bugs me for a few reasons: First (and I apologize if I offend anyone. My intent here is purely to explain why this part of the book irks me), Wicca is #2 on my list of most ridiculous "religions", just below Scientology and just above Unitarianism. Second, as someone of Scots-Irish descent, seeing my heritage reduced to a fad by these nutters just peeves me to no end. That, however, is about the only gripe I have with the book. All in all, I'll give it a 10. The good parts nullify the bad, so it gets top marks.
  • The Protector's War, by S. M. Stirling - book two of the Emberverse series. This one continues on with the growth of the Bearkillers, Clan Mackenzie, the PPA, and the rest. It's eight years after the first book, so things have changed somewhat. It's cool too because in this one we get to see some of how the Change impacted the rest of the world, thanks to the introduction of some Englishmen. I did some creative class scheduling, giving me ample time to read between classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and if you dedicate a little bit of time (maybe 6-10 hours or so a week), this goes pretty quick-like, as does the last book. One minor gripe having nothing to do with the quality of the book itself: If you read books on a Kindle, be aware that as of right now, every book in the Emberverse series except this one is available for Kindle. That's right, you heard me. Book one (Dies the Fire) is on Kindle. Book two (The Protector's War) isn't. Books 3-7 are. Kindles are great, but this can be really frustrating at times. But that aside, and barring the recurrence of the annoying Wiccan mystical-crap and Old Irish-wannabe bits on the part of the Mackenzies, the book gets a 10 from me!
  • A Meeting at Corvallis, by S. M. Stirling - book three of the Emberverse series. This one picks back up where the others left off. We spend more time with the Bearkillers, Clan Mackenzie, the PPA, etc. We also for the first time get a real in-depth look at my favorite faction/government, the warrior-monks of the Mount Angel Abbey. These guys started as an order of Benedictine monks, then when the change hit, they turned the reigns over to a fairly new brother who had previously been a soldier, and under his direction they turned the already well-sited abbey into the most formidable fortress in the region, and founded a warrior order (similar to the real-life Knights Hospitaller) to defend the locals from the nefarious PPA. This one is a pretty good book. There's still a lot of the Wiccan nonsense, but there's also a great part where Abbot-Bishop Dmowski (the abbot of Mount Angel and a bishop in the Catholic Church) reminds some Wiccans who are trying to play all smug and superior that their so-called "Old Religion" is actually fairly new (as in 'started in the 19th century by some old English guy' new), so maybe they should tone down the self-righteousness. Anywho, good story, great characters, good action. All in all, it's gonna get a 10 from me.
  • The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier: Dreadnaught, by "Jack Campbell" (a pen name of John G. Hemry) - the first of (currently) four planned follow-ons to the outstanding six-part Lost Fleet series (two books are planned in the Beyond the Frontier series and two in The Phoenix Stars series). I don't want to spoil things for anyone who hasn't read the books of The Lost Fleet series but wants to, but suffice to say that it left two main storylines sort of unfinished. One of the follow-on series addresses one, and the other will be taken care of in the second. It's a great book, and a real page-turner. I got it the day it hit bookstores, and I could not put it down! Even reading it only between classes, at lunch at work, and at night before bed, I still finished it in under a week. And there's the problem: It ends (being the first of a planned two-part series) on a huge cliffhanger, and now I'll need to wait several months (at least) to find out how it ends! Currently, no info is available on when part two is expected to be completed. However, aside from that one disappointment, which should only serve to underscore the excellence of the story, the book is great. Great characters, great action, great story, etc. It totally gets a 10 from me!
  • The Sunrise Lands, by S. M. Stirling - the first book of the second part of the Emberverse series (the fourth book overall), this one takes place about twelve years after the last one, and focuses on several key members of the next generation. There's a new bad guy faction too (a real-life group, to boot!), the Church Universal and Triumphant, led by their prophet, Ted Kaczynski (yes, that Ted Kaczynski). Long story short, a new guy appears from the far east (Wisconsin), and riles things up, so a band of stalwarts (the children of the leaders of the PPA, Clan Mackenzie, and the Bearkillers, as well as some others) sets off east. In the first book, they traverse eastern Oregon and Idaho. This book introduces one of my new favorite characters, Father Ignatius, a Knight-Brother of the Order of the Shield of St. Benedict. He's a Catholic priest and Benedictine monk from Mount Angel Abbey, and is also a skilled warrior. This character is, IMO, long overdue. Anywho, the book is really good, and gets a 10 from me!
  • The Scourge of God, by S. M. Stirling - the next book in the Emberverse series. The title refers to the new prophet of the CUT, Sethaz, who refers to himself at the end of the previous book as "the Scourge of God". In this book, our stalwart heroes trek through Idaho, Wyoming, and South Dakota, and enter Iowa, which is the single most wealthy and powerful nation in America at this point. On the way, they encounter a community built around a Buddhist monastery, and a resurgent Sioux nation. All along the way, there's great action and good character interaction. There are a few little things that bug me, like the stupid habit the Mackenzies have of telling people what 'sept' they belong to (meaning what house within the religious community of their nation), as if "my sept-totem is Raven" is going to have any meaning to someone who's never heard of a Mackenzie, or a sept, or the (not so old) "Old Religion". But no work is perfect, and this one is pretty good, so I'll give it a 10!
  • The Sword of the Lady, by S. M. Stirling - the next book in the Emberverse series. In this one, our intrepid band leave Iowa and make it all the way to the Atlantic Ocean, arriving at the (in this series) fabled isle of Nantucket. There, at the end of this particular book, they find what it is they came all that way to seek out. Along the way, there's the usual character development, romance, fights, etc. The book is pretty darn good, one big 'are you serious?' moment aside. This one is nice too in how they say that, even though the silly Wiccans dominate the story, they aren't necessarily right, nor are people who believe differently (particularly Catholics, given the context of the scenes) wrong. Anywho, it's a good book, so I'll give it a 10.
  • The High King of Montival, by S. M. Stirling - the most recent book in the Emberverse series. This one finds our intrepid band working its way back towards home (now loosely affiliated under the name Montival, and arranged as a "High Kingdom". As with previous books in the series, it was quite good. Lots of action, good storytelling and characters, and quite a few new twists and turns. I can't wait till the next book, which comes out later this year! It gets a 10 from me!
  • Feminists Say the Darndest Things: A Politically Incorrect Professor Confronts "Womyn" on Campus - by Mike S. Adams, PhD - a phenomenal and hilarious book by one of my favorite political commentators. Dr Adams is a professor of Criminology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and this book is all about the nonsense he deals with from Marxists, feminists, and Marxist feminists. It's a series of letters, some of which were actually sent, and some of which were not, due to ongoing litigation. It's freaking hilarious though, and a quick read. I highly recommend it! It gets a 10!
  • The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany's Bid for World Power, by Sean McMeekin - a truly groundbreaking book, in which the author looks at the behind-the-scenes history of the First World War, and attempts on the part of the Kaiser and certain other prominent Germans (sometimes aided and sometimes hindered by the Ottomans) to build a railway spanning the Continent, and to spread the idea of pan-Islamic jihad against the enemies of the Central Powers. I've never read anything like it! The book was intriguing, thought-provoking, and all around, simply phenomenal. I cannot recommend it enough! It gets a big 'ol 10 in my book!
  • Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media's Attack on Christianity, by S. E. Cupp - an outstanding book detailing the unrelenting assault on Christianity (the religion to which an overwhelming majority of Americans ascribe), and how that assault, meant to minimize Christianity's impact and meaning in America, harms our nation and its democratic processes. Now, I know that some people will probably roll their eyes and think 'Not another one of these books by some self-righteous Christian'. Have no fear, it isn't. Far from being a Christian sticking up for her own faith, Cupp is actually an atheist, and defends Christianity because she feels that the Judeo-Christian values upon which the country was founded are pretty outstanding, even if she doesn't ascribe to Judeo-Christian beliefs herself. She also wants to stick up for a group under attack, an attack she sees as being damaging to America. And she does so admirably. I'm giving this book a solid 10!
  • The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, by Kevin D. Williamson - one of the newest books in the outstanding Politically Incorrect Guide series, this one covers, you guessed it, socialism. The book examines socialism itself, particularly Marx's 'labor theory of value', and points out the flaws in the system, flaws that render the entire system unworkable. The author also examines examples of socialism in action, looking at states like Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea. He even debunks the myth of Sweden, which socialists like to hold up as an example of a socialist success. He debunks numerous arguments, including the ever-frustrating "Well, real socialism has never been tried", pointing out that, while defenders of socialism point this out, they conveniently ignore the fact that real free-market capitalism (which they constantly denounce) has also never been tried. An ideology must be judged on its real-world application, not its theory and wishful thinking. It's a very insightful book that definitely merits a 10.
  • The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War, by Phillip Jennings - a great book, also of the Politically Incorrect Guide series. This one takes a comprehensive look at the Vietnam War. Jennings examines the lead-up to the war, the politics involved, the conduct of the war, the South Vietnamese government, etc. He dispels many of the myths surrounding the war and its conduct, such as the ludicrous notion that the Tet Offensive was a defeat for the United States and South Vietnam. It wasn't. At least, not militarily. All in all, this book rocks! It even sheds new light on President Richard Nixon, who I think tends to get an overly bad rap. Anywho, it's a very good book, and I highly recommend it. It gets a 10!
  • The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, by Wayne Coffey - a phenomenal book. It details, as the title suggests, the 1980 U.S. men's Olympic Ice Hockey team (the "Boys of Winter), and their most famous game, known in popular culture as The Miracle on Ice. For those of you not familiar with this game, which Sports Illustrated named the Top Sports Moment of the 20th Century, the underdog US Olympic National team defeated the Soviet national team, which was indisputably the single most formidable hockey team in the history of the Olympics, 4-3, allowing the US to progress to the Gold Medal round (which we won, the Soviets winning the silver). The game was fortuitously timed, giving the American people a much-needed morale boost. The book chronicles the team (primarily the two most famous members, goaltender Jim Craig and team captain Mike Eruzione, but also the other members, such as poor backup goaltender Steve Janaszak), and the coaches - legendary head coach Herb Brooks and assistant coach Craig Patrick. The book is divided into three parts, covering the first, second, and third periods of the game, while also featuring interludes on the development of the team, and the biographies of the players. It's a truly extraordinary book. Anyone who likes hockey, or anyone looking for a good inspirational piece, should read it. As such, it's a no-brainer that it gets a 10!
  • Perilous Fight: America's Intrepid War with Britain on the High Seas, 1812-1815, by Stephen Budiansky - a great book detailing the War of 1812 at sea. People call the Korean War the Forgotten War but (and meaning no disrespect to Korean War vets), the War of 1812 is truly America's Forgotten War. While America's efforts against the British on land were (at best) mediocre, at sea, America dominated, dealing grievous damage to the British which far outstripped its meager size, especially compared to the behemoth that was the Royal Navy. At the start of the war, the US Navy's strength consisted almost solely of six frigates. America had no ships of the line, unlike Britan, which had dozens, augmented by hundreds of frigates and smaller ships. Yet, through grit, determination, superior ships, better training, and innovative tactics and strategy, America inflicted substantial harm on the British, while sustaining comparatively minor losses. This book examines the ships, the men, the policies, and the battles of that war. My sole complaint is that virtually no attention is paid to the war on the Great Lakes. That aside, this book earned a 10 in my book.
  • His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik - the first book in the Temeraire series. Now, bear with me: either you'll find this concept awesome (as I did), or bizarre. So, the series is based on the Napoleonic Wars, with dragons. Yes, dragons. This may sound odd, but it's seriously an awesome series. This first book details how Captain William Laurence came to be paired with the dragon Temeraire, his transition from the Royal Navy to the Royal Aerial Corps, and their early exploits in the service, including battles against the French. It's seriously an awesome book, so I'll give it a 10.
  • Throne of Jade, by Naomi Novik - the second book in the Temeraire series, this one chronicles the adventures of Captain Laurence and Temeraire as they travel to distant China, where Temeraire originated. We see a good deal of character development in both Captain Laurence and Temeraire, and we get to see how China deals with its dragons, as opposed to Britain. It's equally action-packed, and a great read from start to finish. It gets a 10!
  • Black Powder War, by Naomi Novik - the third book in the Temeraire series. In this book, Laurence, Temeraire, and the rest of their crew travel overland from China to the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul. Their mission is to acquire a number of dragon eggs the British have purchased from the Turks, including a real prize, a Kazilik (a prized breed of heavy-weight fire-breathers). Following the conclusion of their task, Temeraire and company then proceed north through the Austrian Empire and Prussia. While in Prussia, they aid their Prussian allies in battling Napoleon's forces, before heading home to England. Great book, so it gets a 10!
  • Empire of Ivory, by Naomi Novik - the fourth book in the Temeraire series. In this one, our dynamic duo (plus their crew and some other dragons and aviators) go all the way to exotic Africa. They're on a mission of grave importance, but of course, there are complications. After many twists and turns, they return home, to find that trouble is waiting there too... This one definitely gets a 10!
  • Victory of Eagles, by Naomi Novik - the fifth book in the Temeraire series. This one takes place in Great Britain. All sorts of awesome action, and in this one, we really see a lot of character development, particularly in Captain Laurence. We haven't seen this much internal development in Will Laurence since book two. It's a great read, so it gets a 10!
  • Tongues of Serpents, by Naomi Novik - the sixth book in the Temeraire series. In this book, Will and Temeraire find themselves in Australia. I won't say more about the plot than that, but this one is really good too. A lot more development in the characters, especially in Laurence. It's a great book, and the only downside is that the next book in the series doesn't come out till next March. So it gets a 10!
  • The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe, by Andrew Wheatcroft - a phenomenal book dealing with the Siege of Vienna. The author gives an in-depth look at the Austrian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the long-lasting conflict and enmity between them. Wheatcroft does a great job of portraying the characters involved, including the Ottoman Sultan, the Austrian Emperor, and the King of Poland, the various generals, and quite a few of the others involved, chroniclers and the like. It's a fascinating read, and I give it a 10!
  • Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America, by Ann Coulter - another of those political books I read from time to time. I really like Ann Coulter, and find her books to generally be insightful and fascinating. Demonic did not disappoint. Coulter examines the mentality of mobs (both historical and contemporary), the majority of whom, these days, tend to be liberal (anti-war protesters, the pro-Obamacare crowds, etc), relying heavily on the pioneering work in the field of crowd psychology that was conducted by Gustave Le Bon. It's a truly fascinating piece on how modern mobs and mob mentalities endanger the country much as they did in France in the late 18th Century. As such, I give it a 10.
  • Cry Havoc: How the Arms Race Drove the World to War, 1931-1941, by Joseph A. Maiolo - this book is a captivating look at the arms race that erupted amongst the major powers in the years spanning roughly 1930-1941. We always hear that the disarmament following WWI was a major contributor to WWII, but in this book Maiolo points out that there was actually a major arms race that erupted in the years directly leading up to WWII. The book is truly fascinating, as it takes an in-depth look at things which really don't get much coverage, such as the state of the Italian industrial base, the strategic planning of the Japanese regarding Manchuko, and other such diverse topics. It's a great book that really makes you reassess your view of the interwar years, and I'll give it a 10!
  • The Tears of the Sun, by S. M. Stirling - the latest installment in the Emberverse series. In this one, the heroes are safely ensconced back at home, and we're seeing the war between the allied nations and the CUT and Boise play out. The format is a bit different, as at least half of the book is based on recollections of past events (past but previously unseen by the readers), mostly from two previously minor characters. I was a bit disappointed that this was the case, as I'd really wanted to get to the meat and potatoes of the war, but at the same time, there are two books left to go, so I can see why he'd want to hold off. It's still a very good book, and I guess I'll give it... a 9.
  • The Infernal City, by Greg Keyes - re-read in preparation for the second novel. See my review in the previous book blog. Suffice to say, it still gets a 10.
  • Lord of Souls, by Greg Keyes - the second The Elder Scrolls novel. It's just as good as the first. The same cast of compelling characters, plus a few new ones. I like these books because the characters don't stick to the usual ho-hum fantasy novel archetypes. They're different, and very interesting. Anyways, I won't give away too much, but if you like The Elder Scrolls, you NEED to read these books. It gets a 10 from me!
  • 48 Liberal Lies About American History (That You Probably Learned In School), by Larry Schweikart - This is one of those (laudable, IMO) books in which an author, in this case a history professor at the University of Dayton (right near where I'm from), attempts to dispel some commonly believed myths about history. It does a pretty decent job. My only quibble is this: While some of the myths are indeed liberal or PC myths (the Mexican-American and Spanish-American Wars were evil imperialist jingoist efforts, Sacco and Vanzetti were innocent, Gorbachev and not Reagan was responsible for ending the Cold War), others are not liberal myths but rather loony conspiracy theories (9/11 was an inside job). Some of the items discussed though are simply fascinating, such as the discussion on the Transcontinental Railroad and how, despite assurances to the contrary by many history books, it actually could have been built without government intervention, and how the private transcontinental railroads were more efficient and cost-effective than their government funded counterparts. All in all, I give it a 9.
  • Gears of War: Aspho Fields, by Karen Traviss - the first of Karen Traviss' Gears of War novels based on a certain video game franchise you may have heard of! Very good book. I should have read the novels sooner, as they explain so much backstory, and fill in a lot of what happened between the first and second and the second and third games. This one is set in two parts, between the first and second games and in flashbacks to before the first game, to the Pendulum Wars referenced in the first game. You may recall the first Carmine expressing awe that Marcus Fenix was the Marcus Fenix from Aspho Fields. Superb book. It gets a 10 from me.
  • Gears of War: Jacinto's Remnant, by Karen Traviss - the second in the series. This one, again, is set in two time periods. The main plot takes place immediately following the end of Gears 2, while the flashback starts shortly after E-Day, when the Locust first emerged. Again, there's a good deal of explanation of things from Gears 3, including the introduction of the Gorasni, who I really like. It's a great book, and gets a 10.
  • Gears of War: Anvil Gate, by Karen Traviss - the third book in the series. This one chronicles both the Siege of Anvil Gate during the Pendulum Wars, where Hoffman made his name, and more of the events that took place between Gears 2 and Gears 3. This book really displays some of the phenomenal character writing that really makes the entire series so enjoyable to read. The character interactions in the books are great, and the squad interactions and such (Baird, Dom, Cole, etc, and how they interact with everyone) feels organic and straight out of the games. Definitely a 10.
  • Gears of War: Coalition's End, by Karen Traviss - the fourth and most recent book in the series (a fifth book is due out in 2012), this one also chronicles the events leading up to Gears 3, and closes out the books by placing everyone where we find them in 3. Again, the writing is superb and the character interactions are great. I cannot recommend these books enough, especially for those who want to know more about the backstory. Really though, any sci-fi or military/action novel fan should read them. Again, it's a 10!
  • Halo: Glasslands, by Karen Traviss - so, it appears that Karen Traviss was pretty much my author of the year. I didn't remember that this one was by her too. That makes five in a row! Anywho, this is a Halo novel set pretty much immediately following the previous Halo novel Ghosts of Onyx. It's somewhat contemporaneous to and then following the events of Halo 3. It's a really good book that deals with a lot of the unanswered questions of Halo 3 - what kind of relationship do humans and Elites have now, what's the balance of power like, how have things changed since the breakup of the Covenant, etc. It's not a one-off story, as there will (judging by the end leaving plot points unresolved) be a sequel, but it's still a great book. I give it a 10.
  • Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, by Charles J. Chaput - this is a book by Archbishop Charles Chaput, a Catholic clergyman who at the time he wrote this was Archbishop of Denver and who currently serves as Archbishop of Philadelphia. The book basically addresses how American Catholics can take part in our democratic political system in a manner that is true to our religious beliefs. It's a book that, despite the unabashedly conservative nature of the author, is extremely nonpartisan. Chaput never endorses particular individuals, parties, or positions. In the one instance where he compares two Catholic politicians and how they deal with abortion in their states (both are/were governors) despite being personally and religiously opposed to it, both politicians are from the same party. The book is extremely thought-provoking, and I would strongly recommend it to any person who holds religious beliefs, not just Catholics, as the book doesn't "push" the Church, and is written to be suitable for a wide audience. I give it a 10.
  • How the Obama Administration Threatens Our National Security, by Victor Davis Hanson - in case the title wasn't enough of a give-away, this is a political book, by one of my favorite authors. Hanson, who is himself a Democrat, highlights, among other things, the Obama administration's enabling of rouge nations like Iran and North Korea, dismissal and snubbing of traditional allies in favor of countries that dislike us (telling Poland and the Czech Republic to shove off in order to make Putin happy, etc), minimization of the office of Secretary of State (in order to marginalize his rival, Hillary Clinton), and other actions, and illustrates how these acts have deleterious impacts on our national security. It's a quick read from a thought-provoking author, and I give it a 10.
  • The Unincorporated Man, by Dani and Eytan Kollin - this novel, written by two brothers, is a gripping sci-fi piece. The synopsis is this - a wealthy industrialist from our very near-future secretly cryogenically freezes himself due to a terminal case of cancer. He is revived in the 24th century to find a society that spans the solar system, and is built upon the concept of personal incorporation, i.e. the buying and selling of stocks of individual persons. The book is well written, the characters are interesting, and they do a good job making the concepts relatively relatable. The book espouses many libertarian ideals, which I also like. I highly recommend it, and give it a 10.
  • The Unincorporated War, by Dani and Eytan Kollin - the second book in The Unincorporated series (the third book is The Unincorporated Woman, and is next on my to-read list) picks up where the previous installment left off. Justin Cord, the Unincorporated Man, has done the unthinkable. The solar system is now divided. On one hand, the core planets (Mars and Earth plus the Moon), supported by the corporations and by Cord's nemesis, Hektor Sambianco, and on the other, the outer planets and systems (the asteroid belt, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Pluto, Dis, Eris, the Oort Cloud, etc), following Cord and his banner. As the name of the book suggests, war soon erupts. It's a great book, full of action and thought-provoking ideas just like its predecessor. I give it a 10!
  • Finland's War of Choice: The Untidy Coalition of a Democracy and a Dictatorship in World War II, by Henrik O. Lunde - this book details Finland's involvement in WWII. For those not familiar, Finland was a de facto member of the Axis, though they maintained the charade of being a "co-belligerent" rather than an official signatory, though their involvement in the alliance belies this convenient diplomatic farce. The book briefly details the Winter War in which the Soviets launched an unprovoked assault on the Finns, the Finns later desire for revenge and conquest, their involvement with Germany, the later Continuation War (an offshoot of the Eastern Front) in which German and Finnish troops fought the Soviets, and finally the Lapland War, in which the Finns turned on the Germans after being overwhelmed by the Finns. The book also focuses on the fact that Finland was the sole democracy in the Axis, and the issues and conflicts this caused. At times the book can be a bit dry and academic, but all in all it's a worthwhile read. I give it a 9.

So, if my shoddy math is to be believed, that looks like 48 books for 2011! A pretty good increase over last year, which I attribute in large part to my new Kindle (Kindles are AWESOME), and which gives me quite the benchmark to try and beat in 2012!

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