Here are some brief reviews of mostly crappy books.
I just read a “best of” annual mystery collection. I was most impressed by the two stories from Kristin Kathryn Rusch. Her SF isn’t memorable, but her mystery shines. I’ll have to investigate further.
Kevin Anderson’s book Forest of Stars was put-downable. In fact, I didn’t get past the intro and the first page. The intro was a soap-opera digest style summary of the plot to date, which made the series sound like, well, a soap opera. The first page was too bland to overcome that impression. Next!
Poul Anderson wrote a Conan book called Conan the Rebel. Even a writer as talented as Poul Anderson can’t make Conan interesting. I quit a couple of chapters in.
Richard Zachs wrote a non-fiction book about America’s trouble with the Barbary Pirates, the Pirates Coast. The opening chapter is incredibly strong. Just wonderfully written and historically revealing. Unfortunately the author couldn’t get away from the fact that our dealings with the Barbary pirates were not actually all that edifying or wholly constructive. He picks as a hero Captain William Eaton–who merits the pick–but can’t hide the fact that Eaton’s heroics came to naught because of the fecklessness and double dealings of his superiors. Inexplicably, about two-thirds of the way through the book transforms into an Eaton biography. The only thing I got out of the book in the end is (1) the Barbary Pirates were vicious scum who deserved to be stamped out; that it took Western Civ. so long to do anything about them is an eternal blot on our honor; and (2) Thomas Jefferson was a lowdown skunk. I already knew the second one, but it never hurts to have reinforcement.
Chasing Aphrodite chronicles the way museums, especially the Getty museums, cooperated with looters of archaeological sites to get their hands on showpiece antiquities. The museums are the designated villains, but this is one of those books where the authors’ heavyhandedness and the facts they present bring you into sympathy with the designated villains. The incompetence, sloth, and brutality of the Italian government, as chronicled in the book, go a long way to convincing you that archaelogy is probably best left to mafiosi and amoral collectors. Not worth reading the whole thing.