New Book Loves of 2012

15922261This year held several new-to-me authors that I fell in love with. I already covered some of them over in a post about Loud Reading, but I couldn’t contain myself to a single book love post. What follows are more of my favorite reads of 2012.

As a scifi classic, I know I have had plenty of time and opportunity to read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. After reading this book, I can see why he has such a fan base, even with its few flaws (such as only 1 female main character). The plot, the narration of the audio version, and the lovable AI character made this a keeper on my shelf.

A pleasant surprise in this category was Shifted Perspective by J. Bridger. Were-cocker spaniels. Yep. I bet you weren’t expecting that. This book snuck up on me with it’s quiet way, a light snuffle, followed by a cold velvety nose to the armpit that made me sit up and take notice. I was turned into a cranky child, not wanting to put this book down and staying up far too late on a work night reading it.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed is the first Arabic fantasy tale to save the world using flawed humans who enjoy cardamom tea. There’s ghuls, and shape shifters, and sword warriors, and magic, and bad folks who do really bad things.

The biologist in me was fascinated by the nonfiction Mushroom by Nicholas Money. This read was easily accessible, not too long, and left me with a deep respect for fungi – mostly because they can kill us in oh so many ways.

Now I know this series has been around for many years, and I even heard someone mention a tv series based on the books, but it was only lately that I stumbled across George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. It’s nitty gritty, complex, and full of flawed characters faced with tough decisions. I definitely plan to continue on with the series; in fact I am on the library waiting list for Book 2.

Diane Setterfield entertained by greatly with her The 13th Tale. An eerie tale featuring twins, it was part historical fiction, part ghost story, and one very large part suspense. The audio version worked very well.

Hands down, one of the best origin stories I have ever had the pleasure to read was Zorro by Isabel Allende. Piece by piece, she drew together over a period of years all the bits that made Diego the man we know as Zorro, from his warrior mother, to his years spent in Europe, and his time as a pirate captive, to finally the conflicts as a young man that drove him to put on the mask. Excellent read.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon was unlike any other book I have read. Part fantasy, part historical fiction, and part mystery, it was super intense. Oh, and the audio kept catching me off guard with an accentuated Spanish accent popping off such phrases as, ‘They are just a bunch of ass-lickers!’.

Elif Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul was an intense modern-day fiction about a Turkish family of women and their ties to a young Armenian American who comes to visit. Some might call this magical realism, as there is a djinn at some point that no one thinks odd. I enjoyed it because it was different from what I normally read and because it opened the door a little wider for me on the Turkish culture.

Giraffe by J. M Ledgard is a historical fiction based on facts, almost a nonfiction. Basically it is about a group of giraffes brought to a Czechoslovakian zoo and how all these folks are affected by their presence. Let me just say that the ending was not sudden, not over quickly, and was immensely sad. In fact, my man refused to listen to this book because of how sad it made me – but that is a sign that the author got the point across in full color.

GrapesWrath

I am not well versed on the classics and through Darkcargo’s efforts to encourage reading of the classics, I tackled The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck this year. this book was so poignant and moving, especially the ending (which is definitely not shown in the black and white movie). Steinbeck didn’t hold back from showing the gritty parts of Depression Era USA and the affect on migrant workers.

Dracula by Bram Stoker has received so much hype over the years and so many versions of vampires now abound in our world, that I simply did not expect how good this book would be. The suspense is high all the way through, and then there was the description of the Romanian and Transylvanian food that inspired some cooking of my own.

Pico with my book.

Conn Iggulden provided me with many, many hours of entertainment via his Emperor series covering the life of Julius Caesar, a part of history that has fascinated me for decades. From a young Julius running around getting into scraps with other idiot children, to his days captured by pirates, on to Greece, and eventually a long stint in Gaul, and finally Egypt and the birth of his son, and then Rome and his death. The four books in the series are worth the read (The Gates of Rome, The Death of Kings, The Field of Swords, The Gods of War).

TreeBook Review: Mushroom by Nicholas Money

Awesome on top of more awesome. If you are looking for the world of strange, odd, even alien, then check out the Fungi Kingdom. Mushroom is a great way to introduce yourself to the basics of fungi. Nicholas Money brings his own sense of wonder and his acerbic sense of humor to this book. The book was organized into easily digestible chapters filled with all sorts of tasty bits of info.

Beatrix Potter, the author of those little bunny books, was a mushroom hunter – with watercolors. Her efforts at building the knowledge of mushrooms went unrecognized at the time and it was cool to see a nod to those efforts here. The life cycle of the mushrooming fungi was a mystery until as late as WWI. Humans have been eating these things since probably before we were fully human. Lots of animals eat mushrooms, including my chickens. The fact that it took so long to figure out this much is a testament to how odd an organism the mushroom is.

Mushroom by N. Money covered with Shitakes

There is no correlation between the color of the mushroom and toxicity. There may be some correlation between odor and toxicity, but why some mushrooms are more poisonous and others are not is not well understood. Some are inedible uncooked but perfectly fine, and quite delicious, after cooking. Mushrooms were first cultivated for eating by the French King Louis XIV using animal dung. Reliable cultivation has always been tricky and that is why so few mushroom varieties are available in the store. The white button mushrooms, criminis (or baby bellas) and portobellas are all the same species of mushroom – just some are allowed to grow bigger than others. I know – I felt cheated too when I read that.

Modern genetic science have made it possible to identify some of the largest living organisms on Earth – fungus. Specifically, the largest identified so far is a honey mushroom of the Malheur National Forest in Oregon at 2200 acres. Samples of the fruiting bodies (mushrooms) were taken throughout the national forest and DNA tests show that the mushrooms all sprout from the same underground mycelium. I don’t know about you, but my mind has a hiccup trying to wrap around that. There is also evidence that some mushrooming fungi can live 100s to 1000s of years. Another thing to think about is the size of the mushroom cap of the Termitomyces titanicus – up to 1 meter!

Mushroom spores can be found everywhere. Hence, mushrooms have turned up in some of the oddest places, and I don’t mean just under the kitchen sink. They have been found in the human body: nose, throat, brain, bone marrow, and even on an installed prosthetic heart valve. Yeah. Mushrooms can sometimes have the creepiness factor going on. Even so, some mushrooms form symbiotic relationships with insects; the fungus gets tended to while providing nutrition for harvest to the insects. Leaf cutter ants and African fungus-growing termites are two examples.

So even with all those bits of info, I have left plenty for you to discover on your own. Enjoy!