I Have Returned.

I am Grand Admiral Thrawn. I have been away, but now I have returned. I know some of what has occurred. You will fill in the details of the rest when I come aboard. Rejoice, Captain, for the Empire will rise again.

–Grand Admiral Thrawn, from the story A Grand Admiral Returns

Yes, dear readers, it is true: I have returned. I’ve been away from blogging for a while—over a month, by my count—and I was questioning whether I wanted to continue writing this blog. You see, there have been certain events taking place in my life over the past month or so that really threw me for a loop. These events are ongoing, by the way, so unfortunately there is no resolution (yet). Due to this, I’ve been having trouble doing anything I enjoy lately, aside from reading.

Since I wasn’t doing other things I like—writing, knitting, playing violin—I’ve been reading. A lot. I’m on track to read over a hundred books this year. So much for getting a lot of writing done like I planned. To look on the bright side, though, I’ve had the chance to read a ton of random books I may not have picked up. I read a Star Wars trilogy, which isn’t something I ever thought I’d do! I’m not a hardcore Star Wars fan—I’ve seen one of the movies, know the basic premise of a few others, and that’s about it. I do like science fiction a lot, though, so the books I read (Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy) were right up my alley and I enjoyed them immensely. I haven’t read the story from which I took the quote at the beginning of this post, though. I’d love to read it, but it’s a short story, not a novel, and I can’t seem to get my hands on the book in which it was published.

What else is new? I’ve been trying to study Russian more. I feel like I’ve gradually gotten away from Russian and I don’t want that to happen, so I’ve been making a conscious effort to incorporate more Russian into my life. (And just so you know, you can never have too much Russian in your life.) I’ve been listening to some audiobooks and knitting—doing two things at once is amazing, especially when they’re two things you like. And I’ve been going to work, of course, since I need money to fund my reading and knitting.

One thing I have not been doing is writing fiction. The certain events that are taking place made me so upset I couldn’t write. I became especially upset at the novel I was working on—I can’t even look at the thing right now. (To be fair, I had been getting rather frustrated with that book long before the events started taking place. I have a bit of a history with that manuscript and I’m beginning to think it’s time to just let that idea go and work on something else.) I’ve started brainstorming for a new book I’ve wanted to write for years. It’s historical fiction that takes place in Soviet Russia. I also have a manuscript I need to sit down and edit, but I haven’t done that yet, either.

I am back, though. I don’t want to give up blogging. I don’t want to give up Russian. I don’t want to give up writing fiction. I’ve missed having them in my life. It’s late enough right now that I’m going to bed soon—but I will work on some writing tomorrow, even if it’s just editing a few sentences in my manuscript for fifteen minutes.

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When To Quit Reading A Book

At what point when you’re reading a book and not enjoying it do you call it quits?

When I was younger, I never quit books. Even if I despised them, I kept reading and stuck it through to the bitter end. This was pre-Goodreads days, so I didn’t even get to do any cathartic venting online when I didn’t like something.

After I started working and had limited time to read, I started being more picky about what I read through to the end. Plus, I enjoyed the freedom of not being in school anymore. In school, I had to read a lot of books, many of which I didn’t like. But they were required for class, so not reading them wasn’t really an option. (Unless I wanted a bad grade, which obviously I didn’t.)

Suddenly, after I started working, I realized there were a lot of books I just didn’t want to read. Moreover, I realized it wasn’t a bad thing that I didn’t want to read them. If I started something and just couldn’t get into it, I would dump it.

I still do this. My local library has a fantastic ebook collection and I’ve started many books that I didn’t end up finishing. It’s actually liberating because it means I have more time to read what I want. This doesn’t mean that I don’t force myself to read difficult books. I’m slowly working my way through Jane Austen’s works. I think they’re difficult reads, but I still enjoy reading them.

At least the cover is cool?

No, the type of books I’m talking about quitting are ones like Red Queen. Years ago, everyone was talking about this book. I decided to read it last year—only to put it down in disgust after a few chapters. I just couldn’t get into it. I figured it wasn’t for me.

Earlier this year, one of my coworkers said her sister recommended it to her. My coworker hasn’t read it, but said her sister loved it. I decided to try it again. I made it a bit further than last time, but I still didn’t get very far.

Last week, I saw that the library had the audiobook version of Red Queen available. I’ve been somewhat getting into audiobooks lately, so I thought I’d give this book yet another try. Third time’s the charm, right?

You’ve got to give me some credit: I made it over halfway through this time. I still ended up abandoning this book, though. I just don’t care for it. I think the plot is dumb and the characters are like cardboard. I know it sold well, so obviously I’m missing something here. I guess it’s just not my kind of book. And that’s okay because I will spend time reading books that are my kind of books.

When do you quit reading a book if you don’t like it? Have you read Red Queen? If you have and you liked it, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts. When I look at good reviews of it online, I feel like everyone who wrote a good review read a different book than the one I did!

Everything Wrong With Mark Henshaw’s ‘The Fall of Moscow Station’

At least the cover is nice…

Okay, the tile of this post is slightly misleading. There may be more wrong with this book—Mark Henshaw’s The Fall of Moscow Station—that I don’t know about because I stopped reading on page 70. (To put things in perspective, there are 338 pages in this book.) All of the inaccuracies have to do with Russia or the Russian language. They drove me so crazy that I could not finish this thing. I’d had really high hopes for it, too.

  • Page 24: A character says, “I am familiar with military tattoos. The one on the victim’s shoulder is not uncommon among soldiers of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate. You might know them as the GRU, the old masters of the Spetsnaz Special Forces.” Honestly, this isn’t wholly inaccurate—the Spetsnaz served in the GRU, but they’re also in other branches of the military and intelligence services. Perhaps the author knows this and omitted it from the book because it was beyond the scope of information we needed. However, I’ve been unable to locate any information about tattoos specific to the GRU or Russian military. I could be wrong, but I feel like the author might be confusing this concept of tattoos with the Russian criminal underworld, where there are specific, distinctive tattoos used.
  • Page 27: “‘Spasibo.’ Arkady Lavrov ignored the American in favor of the sentry. ‘Pozhaluysta zakroyte dver.‘” Maybe it’s just me, but throwing in a pozhaluysta (please) when asking someone to close the door boggles the mind, especially since the speaker is an intense spy who’s the director of the GRU. To me, it would be more likely he’d bark in Russian, “Zakroyte dver,” with the implication in his tone that if the door wasn’t closed promptly, there’d be hell to pay.
  • Page 42: On a CIA dossier describing a character’s resume, we have the following information: “Listed as Vice President for Communications Security, ‘Zelyonsoft’ [zelyeniy is Russian for ‘gold’].” No, zelyeniy [зелёный] is green. Zolotoi [золотой] is gold.
  • Page 60: Remember that GRU director on page 27 who was ever so polite in asking for the door to be closed? Well, here we have this sentence about him: “But the FSB general was a solider and appreciated the willingness to take the initiative.” People, the FSB and the GRU are two totally different intelligence organizations! The FSB grew out of the KGB when the Soviet Union fell. The GRU is foreign military intelligence. And then there are other intelligence organizations like the SVR for external intelligence (though allegedly the FSB works in this area as well). My point is, they’re all different and you’ve got to keep them straight if you’re including them in a book. Wouldn’t it be rather silly to mess up the FBI and the CIA in a spy thriller?!

And there you have it. I was so frustrated with the book because I kept being jolted out of the story by these issues, so I stopped reading it on page 70. Maybe I’m picky, but there are lot of books out there and limited time to read them, so I’ve got to be choosy. I finished reading an alternate history recently (SS-GB by Len Deighton) and I’m still plugging away at Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard in Russian. If someone else has read The Fall of Moscow Station and tells me it greatly improves later, maybe I’ll finish it. But until then, I think I’ll read other books.

Look What Arrived In The Mail…

Dear readers, look what arrived in the mail for me last week.

From Russia with love
From Russia with love

In English, the title is Kolchak: Supreme Leader of Russia by Pavel Ziryanov. Yes, I ordered this online and about a week later, it arrived. It actually didn’t come directly from Russia. The seller I bought it from is based in New York. I read parts of this book when I was in graduate school and had access to an excellent collection of Russian-language books at the university library. I meant to buy it but forgot until recently. Luckily, I found it online, impulsively ordered it, and here it is.

And seriously, I got it for an excellent price. Only $19.00, including shipping. I found this exact book on a Russian website and even with the exchange rate that’s favorable to America right now, it was more expensive. Plus it would have taken forever to get here and the shipping was more expensive, as the site ships internationally with a private carrier. (Because, trust me, you don’t want to entrust the Russian postal service with anything of vital importance.)

Horatio Hornblower

Back in the day—circa 2003—I discovered a book series by Patrick O’Brian. It is called the Aubrey-Maturin series, named after the main character, a British Navy captain in the Napoleonic era and his good friend, the ship’s doctor. I first became aware of said series after seeing an excellent movie based on these novels. The movie is Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to do so. It’s so much better than the drivel they pass off as movies nowadays (but that is a subject for another blog post).

Anyway, I spent about two years reading all twenty of the Aubrey-Matruin novels (I never did get a chance to read the unfinished twenty-first book, sadly enough). They weren’t easy to get through, as the writing can be dense and confusing, but I persevered. By the time I finished, I was a bit tired of Patrick O’Brian’s writing style, but I had developed a lifelong love of the Napoleonic era.

The whole time I was reading the Patrick O’Brian books, I kept seeing reference to a series by C.S. Forester about a character named Horatio Hornblower, also a Royal Navy captain during the Napoleonic Wars. Forester’s books were written before O’Brian’s and were allegedly the inspiration for the Aubrey-Maturin saga. Alas, I took a long break from fiction about the Napoleonic era and didn’t get a chance to check out C.S. Forester’s books—until now.

Dear readers, these books are fantastic! I really love them. I’ve devoured four of them already. The one I just finished today, Commodore Hornblower, even has the advantage of taking place in Russia for most of the book, which is great. And this is the Russian Empire, which as you may know, is basically my favorite thing ever. Forester’s writing is a lot less turgid than O’Brian’s, which makes the whole experience a lot more enjoyable. I like the character development and all the nautical descriptions and historical delights and all the other goodies present in this series. Seriously, these books are great fun to read.

After I schedule this post to be published, I think I’m going to go start on the next book in the series. See you in a little while—I’ll be traveling at sea (vicariously) as I read!

2016: My Year in Books

A couple of other bloggers I read, K.M. Weiland and Kiera, wrote posts about the best books they read in 2016. Usually, by the end of the year, I forget which books I read that year, but thanks to Goodreads, this is no longer the case. 2016 was the second year I tracked my reading on that website. This year, there’s even a convenient little page that sums up all of one’s reading.

I read a lot in 2016—126 books to be exact. It was actually fewer than 126 because some of those were short stories that tied in to series I’d read. But still, even without counting those, I still read a ton of books. Here are some of my favorites.

Continue reading “2016: My Year in Books”

‘The Swarm’ Is Out… And It’s Amazing

Found here, modified from original.
Found here, modified from original.

Remember when I wrote about Orson Scott Card’s next book, titled The Swarm? Well, it came out in the beginning of August. I was on a mini-vacation, so I didn’t get a chance to snatch it from the library. Luckily, I remembered it last week and the library branch near work had a copy, so I went during lunch to check it out. You guys, it is amazing. Seriously. Though I would like to say that even though it’s marketed as the first in a trilogy, you really need to read the three prior books to fully understand it. I’m not sure why these six books (four of which are published now) are divided into two trilogies. Maybe that’s the way the contract for the author is written, or maybe he sold the first trilogy before the second. Whatever the reason, they’re not really two trilogies but rather one sextet (I think that’s the right word) of books. Trust me, read the first three before tackling The Swarm.

That being said, it’s nice to return to these characters in The Swarm. I remember them from the prior trilogy and avid readers will understand what I mean when I say they’re like old friends. I think my favorite character is a lady named Imala, an auditor. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past couple of years, it’s that 1) most people don’t even know auditors exist, and 2) auditors never get any glory, ever. In these books, though, this auditor is instrumental in saving the entire planet, and that’s just plain awesome.