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!

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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.

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”

Book Review: The Billion Dollar Spy

The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and BetrayalThe Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal by David E. Hoffman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really fantastic book that tells the story of Adolf Tolkachev, a Soviet engineer who spied for the CIA and gave the United States hundreds, maybe even thousands, of technical documents pertaining to Soviet radar, military planes, weapons, and much more.

The book briefly traces the history of the CIA in Eastern Europe. At the start of the Cold War, it was very hard to recruit and run agents within the Soviet Union itself. Most of the assets spying on our behalf were doing so outside of the Soviet Union and were diplomats or intelligence officers working abroad. Eventually, this changed, and the CIA was able to recruit in Moscow itself. There was a setback during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, as the director of the CIA during this time placed more importance intelligence gained through technical means as opposed to intelligence from actual humans.

This was the environment in which Tolkachev approached the CIA. It took the poor man about a year to get the CIA to actually respond to his overtures for contact—but once they did, he produced an impressive amount of material. Originally, he hand-wrote valuable intelligence, either from what he’d seen over his career as an engineer or from documents he memorized, but the CIA quickly realized this wasn’t feasible long-term, so they supplied him with miniature cameras to photograph documents.

It wasn’t easy and he ran the risk of being caught many times, especially when he took documents home to photograph them. At one point, his wife discovered his spying and told him to stop, not because she liked the Soviet Union but because she was worried about the potential consequences for their family. In fact, Tolkachev’s hatred of the KGB and the Soviet Union stemmed from Natasha, his wife. Her family was murdered in Stalin’s purges in the 1930s and she was briefly reunited with her father when she was eighteen. He was released from a labor camp in poor health and told her everything: how Natasha’s mother Sofia was arrested and shot because she dared go visit family living in Denmark, a capitalist country, and how he refused to turn against Sofia, which led to his long sentence in the labor camp.

Tolkachev spied for many years, asking for payment in an escrow account he would have access to upon defecting, and also asked for everyday items that were hard to come by in 1970s and 1980s Moscow, including Western music for his son Oleg.

Unfortunately, despite the CIA and Tolkachev’s efforts to evade KGB surveillance in Moscow, Tolkachev was arrested, tried, and executed. His capture was the result of an internal betrayal; both Edward Lee Howard, a disgraced former CIA trainee, and Aldrich Ames helped the KGB identify him. He was executed in 1986. His intelligence helped the United States well into the 1990s: thanks to him, the United States was able to fight Iraqi pilots during Desert Storm since the Iraqis flew Soviet aircraft. Hoffman also emphasizes that the Tolkachev case shows how valuable human intelligence is, as there was no way to have acquired all this intelligence without having a source like Tolkachev.

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Review: Star Nomad

Star Nomad
Star Nomad by Lindsay Buroker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In recent years, it’s become increasingly rare for me to become so absorbed in a book that I stay up super late reading and neglect doing other things in order to finish it. It’s not that books have been getting bad over the years—it’s that I don’t have time anymore to do this.

However, this book is an exception. I started reading it late on June 3. I stayed up to probably 2 am (I was too scared to look at the clock!) trying to finish it. I didn’t finish it, so I went to bed and finished it the next day, on June 4. Then I immediately went and bought the next one when I saw it was out.

I’ve read a ton of Lindsay Buroker‘s books before. I devoured her Emperor’s Edge, which I highly recommend if you like character-driven stories set in a fascinating fantasy universe. (They have magic and scary creatures and an empire and all sorts of good stuff.)

However, I usually prefer science fiction to fantasy, which is one reason I enjoyed this book so much. The plot is intriguing—the protagonist has to work with a character who fought in the same war she fought in, but he was on the opposite side—and the characters are great. That’s one thing I like about this author’s work: she always makes her characters seem like real people. Their banter is always fun to read, too. It’s very realistic and often quite funny.

As I said, I immediately went out and bought the second book in the series and finished it within an afternoon because it was also so good. Now on to the third book. Here’s to hoping the author releases three more books very soon!

Note: I didn’t receive a free copy or any sort of payment in exchange for this review. I just really, really liked this book!

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Review: Ratcatcher

Ratcatcher
Ratcatcher by Tim Stevens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Why can’t every spy thriller be this good? Not only does this book have unexpected plot twists and turns, but it’s actually properly researched. The Russian characters have real Russian names—what a shock! There are no random names of historical figures that aren’t actually common in Russia, like those that appear in Christopher Reich’s Rules of Vengeance. (To be clear, I really like Reich’s book. I was disappointed that he gave one of his characters the last name of Witte, though. Sergei Witte was a famous tsarist minister, but his name is actually relatively uncommon in Russia. It’s as if the author plucked it from a history book without knowing.)

Anyway, back to the review of Ratcatcher. This book is fabulous. The author even gets the tensions between Russia and Estonia right. If you want to read a fast-paced spy thriller with believable, realistic characters and a fascinating situation heavily influenced by historical events (I’m an amateur historian, so I appreciate when authors are aware of historical events), check out this book. When I got it, it was free on Kindle, so you really have nothing to lose by giving it a try.

If I could give it SIX stars out of five I would. Well done indeed.

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Review: Starforgers

Starforgers
Starforgers by Ken McConnell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think the plot of this novel is quite interesting, but there were some problems that kept me from enjoying it. In no particular order:

-Comma usage was so not right. There were commas missing where they should have been and commas added where they didn’t belong. Remember, when someone is addressed directly by name, title, etc., that needs to be set off with commas. For example: “I’m so glad we had the chance to fly together, Devon.” That comma before Devon is NOT optional! Not having it is a glaring omission and one that this book had throughout.

-Typos and/or misuse of words also occurred. A few I remember off the top of my head: shudder should have been used instead of shutter; purr instead of pure; from instead of form (this is one I’ve done myself many times!); and furry instead of fury. There may have been more that I don’t recall.

-Head hopping was also rampant in this book. I think the author was trying to do third-person limited point of view, but there was way too much jumping around into other characters’ heads in the middle of scenes, especially towards the end. I was practically getting whiplash!

-Finally, this book doesn’t just end mid-sentence—it ends mid-word. (I don’t think it was supposed to. This isn’t some literary device, as far as I can tell. It’s an error.) I’m assuming the last part of the last sentence is supposed to read “the next thousand years” but it says “the next thousan” and just ends like that.

Seriously, I liked the concept of this book. If the above technical errors were fixed, I would have given it four stars. (I’m docking a star because the author killed off one of the most interesting characters, a villain who I thought was one of the more well-drawn characters in the novel.)

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