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© 1997-2004 Brian F. Schreurs
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© 1997-2004 Brian F. Schreurs
© 1997-2004 Brian F. Schreurs
Here you will find books that we have read and enjoyed. Not only do we tell you what they are, but by clicking on the title you can go straight to Amazon.com and order them at a discount.
We also know a good place to order back issues of car magazines: Coltrane Productions.
The Latest BooksBurns, Max. Around the Bend (Again). It's easy to write a scathing review. Harder to write a gushing review. Hardest of all, though, is the indifferent review. Max may have scored himself a column in a Canadian magazine somewhere, but it's not because of flash insight. While Max is a good writer, he also struck me as a lazy one -- this collection of his favorite columns, pointlessly intro'd by the author for every single one, for the most part sticks to the safe gearhead rant territory of evil insurance companies, stupid traffic laws, dangerous drivers, and People Who Sure Do Things Differently Than I Would. While some of his columns made me smile, and a few showed momentary flashes of brilliance, for the most part reading this book is like reading the first four pages of any car/motorcycle magazine over and over and over. While perhaps not a bad way to spend a snowy afternoon during the off season, it's rather unlikely to be a life-changing experience.
Preiss, Byron and Michael Reaves. Dragonworld. I don't know, but I suspect, that the publisher forced the title of the book -- surely the authors would not have asked for it. I say this because, first off, the book doesn't cover an entire world, and second, it's not exactly overrun with dragons. Based on the typesetting I suspect Dragonworld is intended more for a young adult audience, and perhaps for them it would be an entertaining read. I found it to be largely a treatise on why war is bad, filled with unlikeable, petty characters too consumed by their own agendas to see the larger picture. Leaps to untenable conclusions are commonplace; unresolved subplots clearly positioned to make room for sequels are rife -- characters could hardly walk down the street without being tripped up by a subplot, and if at all possible, they would leap to a conclusion about it. But perhaps most annoying of all is that strange habit in fantasy novels where most people have weird meaningless names -- Amsel, Evirae, Jondalrun, and so forth -- except for this one guy who inexplicably has an American Indian-type name such as "Hawkwind". Call it a pet peeve, but I hate that. Fandora is such a dull community that I nearly gave up on the book, but I stuck it out, and eventually I became sufficiently curious to take interest in the conclusion of the story. Really, the book perked up considerably with the introduction of dragons and coldrakes, which makes one wonder why a book titled "Dragonworld" hadn't brought them in sooner. Overall, a good read if you're really into dragons and dragon-like creatures, but hardly cutting-edge fantasy.
Hough, David. Proficient Motorcycling. I try to read one motorcyling safety book each season to remind myself that even though the clear, clean, enjoyable rides are the norm, every now and then something will try to get me. Hough's book is chock full of those things -- indeed, slogging through some chapters I wondered whether the title of the book ought to have been 101 Things That Will Kill You If You Let Them. Fortunately, Hough's book is also chock full of ways to avoid these things, and for that, the book becomes a must-read for anyone who spends time on two wheels. It is an excellent tutorial on avoiding two-wheeled calamity, covering the basics (advantages of wearing a helmet) to the obscure (what to do about a moose). It's worth noting, though, that the book is geared toward the biker with at least a season's experience; a beginner would do well to start with the MSF book instead. One thing the book overlooks is how to deal with goats, a problem this rider recently faced (approach slowly and they will move out of the way, but watch out for the herd dog), but even at 250 pages one book can't cover everything. Motorcyclists: you need this book.
Aerostitch. Lightweight Unsupported Motorcycle Travel for Terminal Cases. Usually when someone claims to have written a handbook or pocket guide, it's a euphemism for a massive tome of totally useless minutae. Not so this Lightweight Motorcycling guide. It's small, it's short, and it's five bucks. For the money you get a stripped-down bare-bones collection of advice and tips for taking a motorcycling journey without a pit crew. The list of recommended roads alone is worth the five-spot. Will it change your life? No. But it's handy, and it fits in your pocket, so it's already two up on most handbooks and pocket guides.
Bryson, Bill. In a Sunburned Country. I really wasn't expecting all that much from, you know, a travel book about Australia, but my disdain proved entirely to be my own loss. Two and a half years of loss, actually, as that's how long it took me to go from acquiring the book to actually reading it. That's no record for me by any means, but it's only the second or third book to make me regret that choice. Bryson, it turns out, is a brilliant travel writer -- a fact some might suggest would be indicated by his frequent positioning on the bestseller list, but a point I would contend is not terribly valuable in a society where "Survivor" continues to garner excellent ratings. After the first couple of chapters I shifted from merely reading his book to actually studying it, trying to discern what about his style is so captivating. I finally distilled this into two main points: 1) an uncanny ability to capture the absurd, and 2) expending a large number of words on things besides actual travel. Pound for pound, about half this book's weight is spent on entertaining and detailed background information to make the other half of the book -- the part about actual travel -- seem more immediate and meaningful. The end result is to provide a travel book that is far more engaging and informative than actually retracing Bryson's steps ever could be, unless you went to the trouble of reading all the background material Bryson did. Which isn't bloody likely, is it?
Ronson, Jon. Them: Adventures With Extremists. I haven't read a book this entertaining in years. Ronson has apparently spent a considerable amount of time hanging around what the mainstream might call extremist groups -- radical Islamics, the Spotlight, the KKK, the ADL, David Icke, and the like -- in pursuit of any information about the Bilderberg Group, an organization which -- if these same extremists can be believed -- secretly rules the world. His adventures along the way serve to humanize the people behind these organizations while at the same time point out the absurdity of their positions. His ultimate findings on the Bilderberg Group prove quite surprising, especially with regard to the Bohemian Grove. What's it all mean, really? Much of the book is humor, British humor at that, but it turns poignantly sad in places, such as the Weaver family chapter. If nothing else, take a moment to read the Amazon.com reviews on this one; some of them are almost as good as the book itself.
Older BooksAnderson, Poul. Starfarers. In a world of cyber this and meta that, it's getting harder to find some good old fashioned venture-to-the-stars science fiction. Especially so if you prefer to read a single, well-told story rather than embarking on a lifetime commitment to a grandiose series spiralling out of control. Well, Mr. Anderson delivers. Starfarers asks the question: what if interstellar travel could approach the light barrier but not break it? That is, what if the simplest, shortest of trips -- only a few months in shiptime -- amounted to decades, even centuries back home? In a complex weaving of tales, Mr. Anderson attempts to answer that question across the span of 10,000 Earth years. Amazingly, the story that unfolds remains mostly credible over ages that strain human conception. Excellent, excellent sci fi.
Barry, Dave. Big Trouble. Dave Barry writes novels? Well, he does now, apparently. Big Trouble is his first outing as a novelist, and if this work is any indication of his skills, it's about time. It's a 300-page Dave Barry column, with his trademark humor sprinkled liberally on every page. It actually reads quite a bit like a Douglas Adams book, though instead of using sci-fi Barry employs a series of improbable -- but not impossible -- events to set the action in motion. Even attempting to describe the plot would give away too much; anyone who enjoys humor novels will find much to like in this book.
Cooke, Cindy. The New Scottish Terrier. We own lots of books about Scottish Terriers, and this is the only one we actually use as a reference. A must-have for Scottie owners and fanciers.
Dubois, Brendan. Resurrection Day. An alternate-history mystery. The premise: the Cuban Missile Crisis ended in nuclear war. The question, posed decades later: what happened to JFK? Dubois presents a dark world with unexpected answers.
Gaiman, Neil, and Terry Pratchett. Good Omens. Anything that has Pratchett's name on the cover is probably worth reading, and this book doesn't disappoint. It's a story of the classic struggle between ultimate good and ultimate evil. The Day of Judgment approaches. Unfortunately, they've misplaced the Antichrist. This is a fast and enjoyable book, clever and amusing. An excellent story for anyone who can handle a little religious humor without setting books on fire.
Gibson, William. Burning Chrome. This is a collection of Gibson's short stories, including pieces like "Johnny Mnemonic" and the title piece. I suppose it's probably unwise for me to admit here that until reading this book I was a Gibson virgin, unversed in the classics such as Neuromancer that shaped, perhaps even started, the great Gen-X cybergeek movement, of which I have been a peripheral player for over 20 years. So perhaps it was this pent-up expectation that left me a bit hollow meeting Johnny for the first time. Gibson is good, there is no doubt of that, but based on this collection's reading it may be a bit of an overstatement to call him the messiah of the cybergeeks. Gibson focuses on the darkly plausibe near future, though his glasses are tinted by the politics of his Cold War era. Once I recovered from the shock that he is basically just another writer with a uniquely defined vision, I found myself sucked further into his post-techno world.
Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold's Ghost. One tends to not think of the Belgians as a pack of conquistadores, but they had the misfortune of having Leopold II as king from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. Leopold didn't much care for Belgium, but he had a great love of money and power, and he regarded central Africa as his personal sandbox. This historical narrative reveals the despotic rule of the Congo Free State during the colonial period in Africa. It's a gripping story, all the more compelling because it's true.
Pratchett, Terry. Small Gods. At some point we've all probably wondered what happens to deities who lose their followers -- like Odin, for example. Pratchett does his best to answer that question in a Discworld novel that takes a scathing look at organized religion. This novel is much more of a satire than most of the Discworld series, which tend to nibble on lighter subjects. But, we have a soft spot for satires of organized religion, so we enjoyed it immensely.
Pratchett, Terry. Witches Abroad. One of the nice things about Pratchett's Discworld series is that you don't need to have read all previous volumes before reading whichever one you stumble across. So, our philosophy is to read Pratchett's works whenever one stumbles along, rather than meticulously reading them from oldest to newest. To summarize, in this story three witches must prevent a fairy godmother from forcing a happy ending. Along the way they thoroughly lampoon fairy tales and Mardi Gras, in addition to suffering their own mishaps. Pratchett is in no danger of receiving a Pulitzer, but for a fun book it's hard to go wrong with a Discworld novel.
Rauba, Nate and the MSF. Motorcycling Excellence. Overall this 160-page primer to motorcycling lives up to its title fairly well. It is in great need of an editor, and some of the information is a bit dated, but the laws of physics haven't changed much in ten years so the instructive material remains critical to the success of the novice rider. This is a great place to start for anyone ready to learn how to ride.
Reese, James. The Book of Shadows. So, how long can a short story drag on? I don't have a definitive answer for that, but it's at least 623 pages, because that's how long this sucker was. 623 pages a "short" story? Yes, indeed. For you see, the book is long, but the story is short. It probably could have been told in less than 100 pages, simply by removing several hundred rather tedious pages of backstory for characters who prove to only participate incidentally in the actual storyline. Indeed, I found myself finishing the book not because I was concerned for the welfare of the characters but because of idle curiosity to see which threads Mr. Reese would successfully weave into a satisfactory conclusion and which would be left tangled for the reader. In Mr. Reese's first effort, the central characters mostly stay out of the way, the peripheral characters drive most of the action, the narrator is a hermaphrodite for apparently no purpose to the plot whatosever, and the author enjoys impressing his readers with his vast knowledge of French history, tiresomely dictated by characters who surely must fall asleep from their own words. An excellent book for those who find the biography of a book's characters more interesting than the plot.
Wilson, Robert Charles. Darwinia. This sci-fi novel starts off with a bang: in the early 20th century, Europe turns into a nearly-impenetrable jungle overnight. It's definitely an eyebrow-raising premise, difficult to come up with a plausible explanation for it. Surprisingly, Wilson arrives at a creative solution, though the story does struggle somewhat under the weight of the implausibility. But it's definitely a unique book.
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