2010/11 Reading List

For some reason, I have a huge gap in my "date completed" data, spanning almost a whole year (from April 27, 2010 to April 24, 2011). Is it really possible that I went an entire year without reading a book? Or did I just momentarily forget what a geek I am, and stop recording the date of completion? I know of at least one book which I must have read in that time, but that aside, my memory is as blank as my database.

Come to think of it, what did I do for that year? Maybe I was abducted by aliens to fight an interstellar war, then given a (rather rude) brain-wipe before being dumped back on my doorstep...? Surely somebody would have noticed?

So anyway, with that said, it seems to make sense to combine the books I read for both years into one list (containing, sadly, a mere 28 books!)

Books completed in 2010-2011
#TitleAuthorYearFinished
1 Danse Macabre Laurell K Hamilton 2006 03-01-10
2 The Harlequin Laurell K Hamilton 2007 22-01-10
3 Blood Noir Laurell K Hamilton 2008 24-01-10
4 The Cleaner Brett Battles 2007 28-01-10
5 Blaze Stephen King 2007 20-02-10
6 Lisey's Story Stephen King 2006 10-03-10
7 Requiem for an Assassin Barry Eisler 2007 16-03-10
8 The Sign of the Book John Dunning 2005 23-03-10
9 Goblin Quest Jim C Hines 2006 27-03-10
10 Saucer: The Conquest Stephen Coonts 2004 27-04-10
-- Here be Dragons --
11 The Cobra Event Richard Preston 1998 24-04-11
12 The Luxus A W Mykel 1991 06-05-11
13 Modesty Blaise Peter O'Donnell 1965 02-07-11
14 Sabre-Tooth Peter O'Donnell 1966 10-07-11
15 I, Lucifer Peter O'Donnell 1967 18-07-11
16 A Taste for Death Peter O'Donnell 1969 26-07-11
17 The Impossible Virgin Peter O'Donnell 1971 03-08-11
18 Pieces of Modesty Peter O'Donnell 1972 11-08-11
19 The Silver Mistress Peter O'Donnell 1973 20-08-11
20 Last Day in Limbo Peter O'Donnell 1976 07-09-11
21 Dragon's Claw Peter O'Donnell 1978 02-11-11
22 The Xanadu Talisman Peter O'Donnell 1981 06-11-11
23 The Night of Morningstar Peter O'Donnell 1982 14-11-11
24 Dead Man's Handle Peter O'Donnell 1985 15-11-11
25 Cobra Trap Peter O'Donnell 1996 16-11-11
26 The Five Greatest Warriors Matthew Reilly 2009 19-11-11
27 The Ruins Scott Smith 2006 20-11-11
28 Powers That Be Anne McCaffrey &
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
1993 29-12-11

Anite Blake, Vampire Hunter Series
by Laurell K Hamilton

  • Danse Macabre (#13)
  • The Harlequin (#14)
  • Blood Noir (#15)

I started 2010 by attempting to catch up on the books I'd not yet read in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. When the series began, Anita was a wonderful character who -- along with all the romantic drama in her life (being romantically linked to both the head vampire and the king werewolf of the city) -- spent each novel tracking down some murderous beast and putting it down (hampered by the rules, of course; her post is a semi-official one in a world where the monsters are now out and legal, provided they curtail their dietary inclinations!)

I loved the early books, but as the series progressed, the emphasis began to subtly shift, with Anita's increasingly complicated personal life taking up more of each novel. This was not a problem until the series' derailment around book #8 or so; rumour has it that a nasty break-up in the author's life leaked across into the books, and suddenly Anita became a sex-addicted prisoner to her supernatural urges, spending the bulk of each book juggling lovers (and having wild revenge sex all over everything!) The low point of the series came around #11 or #12, which had the format of "bad guy kills", "Anita has sex", "Anita has sex", "Anita has sex", "Anita has sex", "Anita has sex", "Anita has sex", "Anita kills bad guy who she basically trips over on the first day in weeks she emerges from her bedroom", "Anita has sex". I've got nothing against reading porn -- but not when I'm hoping to read about Anita killing bad guys!

So tackling these three books was my attempt to return to the series, and there was some improvement here. Not a lot, but some. I know there are more books now available in the series, but I think my enthusiasm for Anita Blake as a character is practically dead; I'm unlikely to return to the series any time soon...

The Cleaner
by Brett Battles

I seem to recall enjoying The Cleaner, but I really couldn't tell you much about the plot. The title character is a "Cleaner"; he's the guy you call when you have a room-full of murder victims you need to make disappear. (Not to be confused with the movie Cleaner about the guy whose job it is to clean up a room legally after somebody has died therein -- in which he inadvertently makes a room-full of murder victims disappear.) He finds a body he shouldn't have found, and suddenly someone is trying to make him disappear.

Blaze
by Stephen King

Stephen King is another of those authors whose books I would always snatch up the moment they hit the shelves. Lately I've been falling behind somewhat -- I currently have two or three of his novels I haven't read yet. I think he has become even more prolific since his retirement from writing! Reading this (and Lisey's Story, below) was clearly my 2010 attempt to catch up!

Blaze is about a mentally challenged criminal who is attempting to follow through on a kidnapping plot hatched by his much smarter friend who died before they could proceed. The book bounces back and forth between the past -- Blaze's childhood and youth -- and present, and Blaze spends a good deal of time arguing with his deceased friend.

As is always the way with Stephen King's work, the characters are brilliantly drawn to the point that you feel like you grew up with them yourself. (This book is actually a "Richard Bachman" novel, written before Carrie and recently pulled out of a back drawer somewhere and extensively reworked to bring it up to scratch.)

What more can I say? King is the King... Of course, he's known as "The King of Horror", but this novel is more thriller than anything else.

Lisey's Story
by Stephen King

Much like Blaze, Lisey's Story bounces back and forth between past and present. Lisey is the widow of deceased writer Scott Landon; it has been two years, and she finally feels able to tackle the task of cleaning out her husband's writing attic. She also has to decide what to do with the manuscript he was working on when he died (I don't recall whether it was finished or not.) A publisher is applying pressure to get his hands on it; and suddenly, from out of the darkness, a crazed fan begins to stalk and terrorise her, wanting -- well, who knows? Did I mention "crazed"?

From the nightmare of the present, Lisey keeps flashing back to the days before her husband died. He loved her, of course, as she loved (loves) him -- but he had his own darkness to deal with. Past and present begin to blur together, and Scott's fantasy dreamland starts to seem more real than reality.

Another excellent tale by King -- so much so that even waking up my memory about it has me wanting to reread it!

Requiem for an Assassin
by Barry Eisler

Barry Eisler's Amazon page has a note regarding the original titles of his novels, and why he changed them once he split from his publisher and started self-publishing. Essentially the first four included "Rain" in the title -- a play on the main character's name, John Rain -- and once he managed to convince them to change away from that, they started inflicting equally meaningless "Assassin"-based titles. Which, I guess, explains why I never could figure out what the title had to do with the story! (John Rain is an assassin, sure, but there wasn't a whole lot of requieming going on!)

So anyway, John Rain is an assassin being forced -- his friend is held hostage -- to do a job for the wrong people. I recall enjoying the novel, although I don't recall many of the details now. Suffice it to say that pressuring John Rain into doing something against his will is a bad idea. Have these guys not seen Commando?

The Sign of the Book
by John Dunning

Cliff Janeway is a "bookman", a guy who makes a living buying and selling books. The dream job, really!

He becomes embroiled in what seems a rather straight-forward murder mystery, given that the murdered man's wife has confessed to the crime. But something doesn't ring true. Perhaps the truth lies hidden somewhere within the murdered man's vast library of books -- seemingly rather ordinary books for the library of a self-described "collector".

Goblin Quest
by Jim C Hines

This is the first book of a trilogy that continues in Goblin Hero and winds up in Goblin War. I know I read book 2 -- making it the mysterious un-recorded "book I know I read" from my Here Be Dragons phase -- and got about half-way through book 3 before being sidetracked by ... something else. I really should go back and read all three of them again.

Goblin Quest was pretty good. It begins with the quasi-RPG notion that goblins are the lowest of the low, cannon-fodder for early-level adventurers -- and takes one such pitiful, mewling creature and drags it, kicking and screaming (often literally) into a grand adventure.

There may, indeed, be dragons...

Saucer: The Conquest
by Stephen Coonts

In Saucer, Rip Cantrell finds a genuine alien flying saucer embedded in a lump of sandstone. Adventure ensues. In the sequel, Rip returns for more saucer-flying adventures, and the possibility of a second saucer having been discovered. Stuff happens. I don't remember much about either of these books -- but they were a whole lot of fun when I was reading them!

The Cobra Event
by Richard Preston

This may or may not be the first book I read in 2011; however, I distinctly remember that it was the first of two books that I took with me on my holiday to Singapore.  Once I retired to my room (after an exciting if nerve-wracking day of trying to survive the various tours we signed up for) I would read for a while before sleep claimed me, and dragged me away into the inky void of unconsciousness.  (That is, much like my normal reading habit!)

The Cobra Event follows the attempts to track down the instigators of a bio-hazard terrorist attack -- the release of a nasty little infectious agent via small wooden boxes with a cobra sigil on the lid.  Open the box and *poof*, the spring-loaded mechanism gives you a faceful of powder.  It soon becomes clear that this is simply the test run in preparation for an attack on a much larger scale.

Thrilling stuff!

The Luxus
by A W Mykel

I first encountered A W Mykel in my high-school days, courtesy of his wonderful novel The Salamandra Glass -- about which I recall absolutely nothing except that I loved it and should probably schedule it for a re-read sometime soon!  I followed that up with his equally enjoyable The Windchime Legacy.  So when I found his name on The Luxus I was understandably excited.

Meh...

It was okay, I guess -- but if I'd read this first I may not have had his name stencilled upon my brain!  The titular Luxus is a strain of engineered micro-organism designed to eat oil; great for cleaning up oil spills.  Of course, the final part of the design -- the part where they tell it to stop eating after a few days -- has not yet been perfected, so when a terrorist organism steals the Luxus and threatens to use it to destroy the world's oil reserves, tension runs high.  The race is on -- for our hero to find the bad guys, and for the creators to come up with what is basically an antidote.  Will they succeed before the bad guys plunge the oil-dependent world back into the stone age?

It was thrilling enough, I guess, but there was nothing particularly memorable about it; I had to look it up online to refresh my memory...

The Complete Modesty Blaise Series
by Peter O'Donnell

  1. Modesty Blaise
  2. Sabre-Tooth
  3. I, Lucifer
  4. A Taste For Death
  5. The Impossible Virgin
  6. Pieces of Modesty
  7. The Silver Mistress
  8. Last Day in Limbo
  9. Dragon's Claw
  10. The Xanadu Talisman
  11. The Night of Morningstar
  12. Dead Man's Handle
  13. Cobra Trap

Then there's Modesty Blaise.  My partial collection of these novels -- half of them falling apart (I bought them in that state, I swear) -- dates back, once again, to my high-school days.  I did have a copy of Dead Man's Handle, released in 1985, so potentially I bought that one new, probably after having read a few of the earlier novels.  The decision to put together a complete collection set me on a long and treacherous quest, and took me through many twists and turns; by the time I finally had a coherent set of all 13 novels, I also had duplicates (or more) of almost all of them.  (Unsurprisingly perhaps, a similar experience to putting together a complete Spaceways set a couple of years earlier -- except at one point early in my quest I ordered a complete boxed set of Modesty Blaise paperbacks from "Penguin India"; they charged me the 6500 rupees or whatever it was -- about $85 -- and the books never arrived!  Word to the wise: don't buy online from "Penguin India"!)

I say "novels", but Pieces of Modesty and Cobra Trap are collections of short novellas.

So, who is Modesty Blaise.  There are a couple of movies that tackle this question; the almost universally-loathed (by fans) spoof movie "Modesty Blaise" from the '60s, and the more recent (and low-key but enjoyable -- and really quite accurate) "My Name is Modesty" made sometime in the mid-2000s. 

Simply put, Modesty is a young woman who ran an international criminal organisation (with somewhat of a conscience; they never touched the bad stuff) from her late teens until her retirement roughly 10 years later.  She settled down in Britain -- the government there had nothing concrete that they could pin on her -- and looked forward to the easy life.  Of course, the easy life is far too boring, so when the British government approaches her with an offer of a job (okay, it was a little more complicated than that) she started doing free-lance work for the good guys, using her network of criminal connections to get the job done.

Beyond that, much of her past is shrouded in mystery -- most of the snippets revealed in "My Name is Modesty" do seem to have their grounding in the books, though.  She is -- at least to my untrained eye -- a brilliant female character.  She can go from being soft and feminine to a hard-as-nails, ruthless combatant -- "killer" only when necessary, but when it is necessary she won't hesitate.  She has no hang-ups about herself -- nudity does not phase her; indeed, once or twice she was known to employ a tactic she called "The Nailer", entering a room full of bad guys stripped to the waist, because the distraction of her bared breasts often gave her the critical extra seconds she would need to take them all down.

Modesty's right-hand man -- from the later years of her life of crime, and through her somewhat more respectable "capers" for the government -- is Willie Garvin.  Not great with a gun, but devastating with his throwing knives, Garvin is the only man in the world who dares to call Modesty "Princess" (which he means with the utmost respect -- and indeed, one of the short stories goes into the beginnings of their partnership, and the origins of the honorific.)  Both Modesty and Willie have a range of sexual partners through the books -- but the idea of sharing a bed together would never cross their minds (one of the reasons the '60s movie is loathed so much!)

Clearly I love these characters.  They are not perfect -- and one or two of the novels may even have dragged a little -- but I do think that more people should get to know Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin.  They could easily carry a movie series every bit as epic as the Bond series, if only Hollywood weren't afraid to give such a strong female role a chance -- and it's a shame that the potential start of such a series became the awful travesty it did.  So, with not much in the way of movies ("My Name is Modesty" will certainly give you a taste of her back-story -- although apparently, author Peter O'Donnell hated that, too!) all I can do is recommend that everybody go and read these books!

That said, I should point out (for those of you who don't know) that Modesty got her start in comic strips; the novels came later.  (In fact, the movie came later; the first novel was actually written to tie in with the release of the movie, but came out a couple of years before the movie because of production delays.  I believe.  The movie tanked; the books exploded.  Ish...)  The characters of Modesty and Willie (and others) as portrayed in the novels have a harder edge than those in the comic strip.

One final aside: who would play Modesty in a movie?  I imagine casting her would be as difficult as casting Dejah Thoris (see next year's list) but I've just seen the suggestion of "Monica Bellucci, in her prime".  Mmmyeah, that could work...  (And I always thought, of all the different models featured on the book covers, the girl on the cover I've shown above came closest...)

The Five Greatest Warriors
by Matthew Reilly

This is the third part (and conclusion, I believe) of the story begun in Seven Ancient Wonders and The Six Sacred Stones.  Action, excitement, impossible puzzles and hair-raising escapes.  Just another day in the life of Jack West Jr.

The Ruins
by Scott Smith

I first heard of The Ruins when the movie came out -- and before I could decide whether I wanted to see it or not (I don't mind horror movies when I'm in the right frame of mind, but I wouldn't consider myself an aficionado or anything) I heard/read several bad reviews that thoroughly trashed it for me.  And yet, when I discovered the book (thanks, cheap book bin) a year or two later, I suddenly really wanted to read it.  So I did -- and reading the book made me want to see the movie!  (There are differences, of course -- but most of them seemed to make sense for the different medium.)

The Ruins is very much a slow, creeping, atmospheric, situational horror story -- so I guess I can see why the typical slasher-fan might not like it.  It is a monster story, but again, nothing fast-paced.  I really enjoyed both the book and the movie!

One of the questions I ("we") often wrestle with is whether 'tis best to read the book first, or see the movie first.  I think the answer to that probably depends on which book, which movie -- but in the case of The Ruins I definitely think the book should be read first!  This is because the book does its best to hide the identity of the monster in the ruins, and knowing up front what it is can definitely diminish some of your enjoyment of the novel.  I know this because, sadly, I already knew that crucial detail, thanks to my exposure to movie reviews and the like.  The movie, on the other hand, makes it clear much sooner...

Powers That Be
by Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

Finally for 2011, Powers That Be is the first in the "Powers/Petaybe" trilogy.  At some point in the weeks before I read this, somebody (on Facebook, I believe) mentioned Anne McCaffrey.  I realised that I only had a handful of her novels -- and had read only a couple of those -- and, me being me, I promptly decided that I needed to pad out my McCaffrey collection.  I still don't have all of her books -- but I have a load, and Powers That Be was the first off the pile.

It's the story of the planet Petaybe (as in "PTB", as in "Powers That Be", a phrase which gets pointed at more than one group herein) and the settlers -- outcasts from the "civilised" galaxy, mostly -- who call it home.  But Petaybe has a secret, and the Powers That Be have sent an agent to ferret out the truth -- if she can be bothered to play along...

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