Book 32 of 52: "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams

Yes, it’s a series.  I’m counting it as one book.

If you haven’t heard of this famous series by Douglas Adams, you’re missing out on a massive trove of English comedy mixed with science fiction.  “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is a series that spans five novels, a couple of short stories, and even has a movie about it!

The story’s pretty easy.  An Englishman is rescued from the Earth by his best friend, who turns out to be a stranded alien, just before the Earth is destroyed to make way for a new interstellar bypass.  Englishman (whose name is Arthur Dent) and friend (Ford Prefect) go on adventures, steal spaceships, meet interesting aliens, have dinner at the end of the universe, and end up searching for the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Well, not quite.  The Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42.

But what’s the question?

Ah, there’s the question.

I’ve read this book many times before, and I love it.  So much of the humor is just so odd, so irreverent, that you have no idea where it comes from and you have to just stop to laugh.  It’s the ultimate British humor story – just set in space.

Time to read: A couple days or so.

Book 31 of 52: "Dead Girls Don’t Wear Diamonds" by Nancy Martin

So this book is #2 in the Blackbird Sisters mystery series, a light-hearted series about a former member of high society who, now broke after her parents fled the country with their millions to evade taxes, now has to get by with a working job as a society columnist.  If this sounds like the setup to a lighthearted mystery series, well, you’re absolutely correct.

These books are not deep literary masterpieces by any stretch of the imagination, but they are fun to pick up on a warm sunny afternoon and read outside.  When I want something that’s light and doesn’t require much deep thought, books like these are great.
In “Dead Girls Don’t Wear Diamonds,” our heroine goes to a party, hosted by the father of her ex-boyfriend to celebrate his nomination as Secretary of Transportation.  The ex-boyfriend is married to a kleptomaniac young woman, who, by the end of the party, has turned up dead in their pool.


I’m already forgetting some of the plot, but it’s a good little exploration of various crazy high-society folks and their hangers-on.  We get a little heat between the main character and her boyfriend Mick, but there’s no real sex – just enough hints to keep us hooked and wanting them to get together.

I’ll pick up the next one, but I’m in no rush.

Time to read: 2 hours.

Book 30 of 52: "The Republic of Thieves" by Scott Lynch

Author’s note: I’m writing this entry in mid-June.  I’m quite a few books ahead on my challenge!

I’ve already written about my experiences with the first two books in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series: The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies.  After reading those two, well, I was hooked!  I actually got “The Republic of Thieves” as an ebook, so that I could read it on my MacBook Air late at night.

The first book in Scott Lynch’s series featured Locke and Jean in the city of Camorr, pulling heists.  The second book sent the intrepid and squabbling duo out to sea, where they played at pirates.  Now, in this third book, the two dive into the deepest and dirtiest world of all: politics!
But what could two thieves possibly contribute to a profession where everyone is already a lying bag of sleaze?  As it turns out, in the city of Karthain, home of the magi (who are complete and total bastards, by the way), an election is held every five years.  The magi cannot directly participate in this election, but they each pick a side, and choose a champion to represent their side.  Locke and Jean are the champion for one side!

But who’s the champion for the other?  It turns out that the opposing party is being run by none other than Sabetha, a long-absent Gentleman Bastard (Gentleman Bitch?) who, as well as knowing all of Locke and Jean’s tricks, also happens to be Locke’s first and only love!

The book is about half in the present and half flashbacks, as we see how Locke and Sabetha’s relationship first developed.  I would definitely say that the stakes in this book were lower, given as how we know that everyone survives the flashback episodes, as they are around in the present.  Still, there were plenty of light-hearted moments in this book that made it a great read.

Can’t wait for the next one!

Time to read: probably about 8-9 hours.  It’s a little slower in ebook, because I’m not used to digital pages.

Book 29 of 52: "Red Seas Under Red Skies" by Scott Lynch

I’ve already written about Scott Lynch’s first book, “The Lies of Locke Lamora,” but after learning that there was a sequel, I first put in a reservation request at my local library… and then, unable to wait, went out to Barnes & Noble and bought the book immediately.  There is still a benefit to brick and mortar bookstores!

The first book in the Gentleman Bastards series, “The Lies of Locke Lamora,” took place in Camorr, the massive city where the thieves run thick as, well, thieves.  At the end of the book, however, most of Locke’s posse is dead, the city is in disarray, and Locke and his companion, Jean, decide that it would perhaps be best for them to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

So the first book was heists and dishonesty.  The second book?  Pirates and dishonesty!

Locke and Jean soon find themselves held captive by the Archon of Tal Verrar, a city built on islands.  The Archon gives the two men a slow-acting poison and promises them regular antidotes… as long as the man obey his commands!  And the man’s first command is for Locke and Jean to start a pirate raiding vessel, to increase the city’s demand for a military to fight back.

Of course, there’s plenty more action – there’s a Pirate Queen, naval battles, treachery, and plenty of deceit and robbery to go around.  Although it went in a totally different direction from the first book, Red Seas Under Red Skies was just as action-packed and thrilling!

Time to read: This is a big book, around 800 pages.  I’d say about 6-7 hours.

Book 28 of 52: "The Martian" by Andy Weir

Surprisingly enough, this book was recommended to me – by someone who doesn’t usually read science fiction!  That’s either a really good sign, or a really bad one, and until I actually crack open the book, there’s no way to know for sure.

As it turns out, as a very proud and self-professed geek, The Martian, by Andy Weir, is an amazing book.
The book starts with our hero, Mark Watney, realizing that he’s been abandoned on Mars.  He wasn’t the first man to set foot on Mars (he was the sixth), but he was the first to be seriously injured there, and abandoned for dead as the rest of the crew flees back towards Earth.

Now, all the man has is the remains of the landing vehicle and habitat set up on Mars.  He has to figure out how to survive on his own until the next Martian landing is scheduled – four years from now.

The Martian is masterful.  It blends very detailed and geeky science (how do you turn hydrazine into water?), high tension and thrills (will Mark survive the multiple challenges?), and a good bit of down-to-Mars humor that helps break up the tension of the book.  If there was a sequel to this book, I’d be first in line to buy it – and I’m going to definitely look for more works by Andy Weir.

Time to read: I read this at an airport while waiting to get on my plane.  I finished it after the plane landed, keeping myself at the airport.  It was that good.  3 hours.

Book 27 of 52: "The Lies of Locke Lamora" by Scott Lynch

I picked this book off of a recommendation from the website Imgur, and man, it was a great choice!

Locke Lamora began his life in the city of Camorr as a street urchin, barely even qualifying as a thief, but found himself adopted and trained by a master manipulator and schemer.  The man soon rose to become a prominent thief who, although only somewhat adequate in public, privately masquerades as the Thorn of Camorr, the only thief daring to steal from nobility!

How would I describe this book?  Think of the confidence schemes and smoothness of the TV show White Collar, combined with the “rob from the rich” attitude of Robin Hood, merged with a fantasy city straight out of The Wheel of Time.  Although the setting does require a couple of consultations with the map at the front of the book, many of the locations are introduced well enough to keep the readers from feeling too confused.

The characters are realistic, their dialogue is smart and sassy, and the action is fast-paced.  Although it feels like Locke has everything under control, every loose end stitched up at the beginning of the book, we rapidly see things spiral out of control, and the master thief is struggling to hold on and ride out the storm.

By the end of the book, not to give away any secrets, the man seems to be on his very last lifeline, and it seems impossible that he’ll be able to escape with his life, much less come out ahead of his enemies.

And yet, by the end of this book, I was flushed, cheering, and panting as if I’d just fought off the Yellowjacket police officers myself!

I’ve already got a reservation in at my library for the next book in the series, and my only concern is that, when it arrives, I won’t be able to spare the time to sit down and read it all at once!

Time to read: 6 hours, all in one sitting.

Book 26 of 52: "Top Secret 21" by Janet Evanovich

Sometimes, I can’t believe a few facts about Janet Evanovich:

1. This woman has written over twenty books starring a single character, and in all of those books, that main character still has not advanced significantly in any of her personal relationships.
2. Somehow, this woman is able to write a two hundred and fifty page book that feels like it’s all fluff and can be read through in an afternoon.
3. They’re all bestsellers.
4. I have read all of them…

Doesn’t that seem crazy to anyone else?

In any case, Evanovich’s latest offering, Top Secret 21, has one of main character Stephanie Plum’s two boyfriends, a mysterious dark-skinned Latino man named Ranger, under siege by some unknown attacker, who uses poison to take out the man’s whole building.  Ranger, of course, doesn’t even seem bothered, but Plum takes the worry for him.

At the same time, Plum is chasing down a high-value bond who jumped bail – but all of her suspects and connections keep on turning up dead!  This seems more annoying rather than terrifying, perhaps given how many dead bodies, just in sheer numbers, our heroine has stumbled across during her last score of novels.

In the end, of course, everything resolves wonderfully.  Evanovich may be incredibly formulaic, but that formula certainly seems to be working for her!

I’m just glad that these bestsellers pop up at the library, given how quickly I chew through them.

Time to read: 2 hours.

Book 25 of 52: "Moriarty" by Anthony Horowitz

A fiction book!  And a book set in the same universe as Sherlock Holmes, just after the famous consulting detective has vanished, locked in the clutches of his foe Moriarty, over the Reinenbach Falls?  How could I pass this up?

“Moriarty”, as I mentioned, is set in the same era, where our hero is Frederick Chase, a detective with the Pinkertons, sent across the pond to England while tracking Moriarty’s American equivalent.  Now that the evil professor is gone, Chase fears that Clarence Devereaux, the American version, will move into the power void and create an evil empire spanning both continents!
Chase, although initially at a loss, soon finds himself teaming up with Athelney Jones, a local detective who has his own hero-worship for Sherlock Holmes.  As the two dig further into the case, following a seemingly never-ending trail of bodies, we start to pick up some comparisons between Jones and Chase that mirror the original relationship between Watson and Holmes.

I’m sure that’s intended.

As the book began to draw to a close, however, I felt that everything seemed to be wrapping up a bit too neatly.  And, just as that thought entered my mind, BAM!  Twist!

Admittedly, I should have seen that twist coming, given several clues, but I was still quite surprised.  Although there doesn’t appear to be much chance of a sequel, this book was a great read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, staying up extra late to finish it.

Time to read: 4-6 hours, but one single day!

Book 24 of 52: "The Reputation Economy" by Michael Fertik

Sometimes, especially when I read non-fiction books, I feel a bit of despair (especially when the book discusses some large-scale environmental, governmental, or economic problem).  But other times, after I’ve read a book, I feel galvanized to take action, to get out into the world and start working on improving my status.

“The Reputation Economy,” by Michael Fertik, falls strongly into that latter category of books.
This book talks about how, in the near future, there will be far too much available data on any person for hiring agencies, airlines, and other companies to make a manual evaluation.  Instead, these companies and corporations will turn to computer algorithms, using these algorithms to create “reputation scores” for each person.

How valuable are you?  That depends on your reputation score.

There are lots of ways to increase reputation scores, Fertik insists, by doing everything from leaving Yelp reviews, to building social networks, to keeping an up-to-date LinkedIn profile, to modifying your online browsing habits.  The author recommends checking out what happens when you Google yourself (is the first page links to your professional work, or links to an amateur blog that just won’t seem to die?).

In the future, Fertik argues, online, automatically calculated reputation will be reflected in nearly every facet of your life.  Whether you earn that promotion at work, whether you get bumped up to first class on your next flight, whether you get a good rate on your home mortgage – it all depends on reputation.

Of course, there are some caveats to the author’s rosy vision of the future.  Most of the current computer algorithms can best be described as “good, not great”, and a lot of sites can’t offer a full, all-encompassing “reputation score.”  And these days, with privacy concerns looming large, more people are taking steps to cloak their online actions.

Still, I felt compelled after reading this book to get on Yelp, get on LinkedIn, and start trying to polish up my outward-facing reputation.

Can’t hurt, right?

Time to read: About 6 hours.  It’s pretty straightforward, but I paused a lot to consider the far-reaching consequences of some of the author’s suggestions.

Book 23 of 52: "Junkyard Planet" by Adam Minter

When I picked up Junkyard Planet, a book with a bright cover showing a huge heap of garbage (see the image above), I was expecting to find a doom-and-gloom depressing story about how we are creating far too much garbage, our current lifestyle is unsustainable, and how our world is basically going to fall apart in the near future because of our current practices.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this book is nothing like what I expected.

Instead of focusing on doom and gloom, Junkyard Planet is written from the first-person observations of Adam Minter, a man who grew up in a junkyard (his father owned a local scrapyard in Minneapolis, Minnesota).  Adam talks about how the junk trade, once a small and local process, has been profoundly affected by the process of globalization.  It’s too expensive here in America to recycle anything – but all of that garbage has a ton of value overseas.

America shreds and stores its trash, from paper to old automobiles to thrown-away Christmas lights, and sends these bales of recycling over to China in returning shipping containers (that once brought Chinese-made goods to our shores).  In China, where the labor is cheap, these items are broken back down into their components, mostly metal – and then turned into new items to be sold to America.

The recycling trade is vast, extensive, cutthroat, and always balanced on a knife’s edge.  Even tiny shifts in the prices of commodities can make – or break – a trade.  And there’s always competition for the rich resources of America; Chinese traders will cut each other’s deals to the bone to be the one who walks away with a shipping container, often containing hundreds of thousands of dollars of raw metal.

The recycling trade is, by no means, clean.  Especially in developing countries, there’s an abysmal lack of safety regulations, and many people develop diseases or die early because of their exposure to heavy metals or breathing in of toxic fumes.  Yet still, these recycling jobs often pay more than anything else, by huge margins.

It takes nearly 1,000 tons of gold ore from a mine to harvest one ton of gold.  But that same one ton of gold can be harvested from merely 41 tons of cell phones and other electronic devices, where gold is used for circuit board connections.  There is huge wealth, almost all of which is extracted in one way or another.

It’s not a clean or environmentally friendly process – but nearly everything is recycled, in one form or another.

Time to read: About a week, in chapters here and there, mostly before bed.