Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reading List - December 2015

Back to baseball cards soon, maybe tomorrow, but probably Monday.

Happy New Year everybody!

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

In many areas, sex sells. In near future science fiction, dystopia sells. Set perhaps 50-60 years in the future, "The Water Knife" tells the story of the US Southwest, nearly completely dry after many years of drought. Angel Velasquez works for the city of Las Vegas. His job is to, more or less, legally, acquire the water rights of communities for the Southern Nevada Water Association, He's the "water knife" of the title. In this time, Las Vegas is a thriving metropolis, while Phoenix and most of the rest of the American Southwest is drying up and blowing away. Pretty well written and a bit too real sounding and apparently the beginning of a new series. called it one of the best works of science fiction of 2015.

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

This coming-of-age novel is set in the rugged backwoods and swamps of 1870s Florida. 12-year-old Jody Baxter lives with his father and mother in a small cabin. They are just managing to survive by growing crops and hunting. The story is told from Jody's viewpoint. Most things are a wonder to him and he works hard on the farm. The book was the best selling novel in 1938. I imagine that in 1938, many adults living in cities or farms were just one generation from the hardscrabble frontier life of Jody Baxter. I wish I had discovered this book when I was 12, I would have really loved it.

The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

This is the first novel in the Harry Bosch series. Harry is about 40 years old and currently works on the Hollywood Division. He'd been with the elite Robbery Homicide Division but broke too many rules there and now found himself in a less prestigious position.  He catches a case involving what looks like a simple overdose but Harry recognizes the guy as a fellow 'tunnel rat' from Vietnam and subtle clues convince him that the death was not accidental.

Alphabetical by Michael Rosen

Rosen tells the story of the alphabet and language through stories illustrated by every letter. Each chapter starts with a little history of the letter, where it originated, how it evolved over the years, how it is pronounced and how it is used in words. Chapters like "A is for Alphabet", "Q is for QWERTY" and "F is for Fonts", illustrate the use of letters. Pretty interesting.

Love In the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This is a 1985 novel by Columbia Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I oped for the audio version very ably narrated by Armando Duran. It tells the story of Florentino Ariza and his 50+ year unrequited love for Fermina Daza. They met in the 1880s when she was 14 and he 18. After her father found out about it (by stumbling upon the letters Florentino wrote), he took her away for 2-years, visiting family. When she returned, she realized she didn't really love him and married the dashing and rich doctor Juneval Urbino. Florentino, while having many affairs through out the years, remains faithful to Fermina (by never marrying) until Urbino finally dies. It was made into a movie in 2007. According to one account, the movie is the worst movie ever made from a great book.

Artemis Awaking by Jane Lindskold

Considerably lighter reading than the last book. This is the first book of a, so far, 2-book series. I had picked up the second book and within a few pages realized I was reading a sequel. Artemis is a planet lost for over 500 years since the fall of the great star empire. Griffin Bane believes he has discovered the location of Artemis and secretly travels there. The planet was originally a haven for the rich of the empire, which had been designed and populated with genetically enhanced people and animals for the enjoyment of the rich. Griffin finds a thriving culture still surviving on the plant awaiting the return of their former masters. His landing craft is destroyed on landing and he has to search for the remains of the former empire if is going to have any chance of returning home. I almost gave up on this because the writing is somewhat juvenile. Lindskold, at least according to her Wikipedia entry, isn't know as a YA author, but this book seems could fit into that category. But the story was interesting so I stuck with it.

Coming Home Jack McDevitt

This is the 6th of 7th book in a series about ancient artifacts dealer Alex Benedict and his pilot/partner Chase Colpath. I've liked the earlier books in the series, but the book previous to this kind of dragged. This entry, really dragged. Not only that but it followed the plot structure (and nearly the entire plot) of the previous book. And it was boring.

Artemis Awaking by Jane Lindskold

The second book of the series follows right from the 1st. Griffen Dane is trying to make sense of the planet Artemis, lost of 500 years. Characters introduced in the first book are still with him. The main characters are Adara, the beautiful woman trained as a hunter and her mentally linked puma and Terrell, a man trained as a guide. Their training and even their genetic make up go all the way back to when Artemis was vacation spot for rich people of the former Empire. The three are looking for relics of the Empire that may help Griffen get back to his home world. Meanwhile, the planet itself seems to be awaking. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Reading List - November 2015

...door creaking...
...chair knocked over...
...light switch...
...sweeping and dusting...

OK, the cobwebs are cleared, the floors swept and we're back in business. I've not posted in over a month so I'm going to start with something simple, November's reading list. I'm gonna follow with December's reading list, and then get back to mostly baseball cards.

The Woods by Harlan Cobin

This is the 3rd Harlan Coben book I've read. I liked the first two, which happened to be his latest. This book is from 2009 and I liked it well enough but the action of the main character at the end was so flabbergasting that I was sorry I put in the time.

The End of All Things by John Scalzi

The latest in Scalzi's "Old Man's War" series. When Earth expanded into the stars it found the galaxy teeming with aliens who were not friends. Earth's colony planets banded into The Colonial Union to battle the aliens and pretty much keep Earth in a backward state. The series title refers to the Union's practice of recruiting from Earth's older population for troops, first turning them young again. This latest edition is more like a selection of interrelated short stories. It's like Scalzi had some good ideas for a novel but couldn't work any of them into a full book.  Not my favorite of the series.

Zero World by Jason M. Hough

An interesting take on parallel worlds. One parallel Earth is trying to keep the secret of travel among the worlds from all the others. It sends out agents to brutally suppress such knowledge. Peter Caswell is one such agent. In order to keep him sane, the terrible things he does on his missions is deleted from his memory when he returns His latest mission is to an Earth very close to our own Earth (the zero world). While there, he learns that his missions have not been what he thought they were. Pretty good, and certainly the first in a series.

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly
Detective Harry Bosch of the Open Unsolved unit in the Los Angeles police force has a new partner, a young woman, on her way up in the force. Harry, 60+, is on his way to retirement. Their new case involves a 10-year-old shooting where the victim just died of his injuries. His young partner, Soto, has her own motive for being in the Open Unsolved unit. She's interested in an arson case from 20 years ago where several children in an unlicensed child-care facility were killed in the fire. She convinces Bosch to help her. I've read a couple of Bosch novels without realizing they were the latest in a long series, going back to 1991. 

The Devil's Eye by Jack McDevit
Alex Benedict and his partner and pilot Chase Koplath buy and sell ancient artifacts. The stories are set about 10,000 years in the future when humankind is spread across the galaxy. In this one, they go to a planet beyond the edge of the galaxy trying to solve a mystery. This plant is so remote, only one star is visible, the so called Devil's Eye. This pair is pretty much causes trouble where ever they go. Here they discover that the planetary government has been keeping secret for hundreds of years that the Devil's Eye has gone nova and the expanding wave front will hit the planet in within the life time of the current inhabitants. I have a love-hate relationship with this series. I generally like the stories but the writing is sometimes juvenile.

Humankind by Alexander H. Harcourt
The subtitle says it all. The author traces humankind's journey from Africa to around the world in many different ways, culture, language, body shape, artifacts and genes. This was one of the hardest books I've read recently. It's packed with information.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Trade from across the sea

I haven't made a trade with John from England for awhile but I got an email from him last June proposing our usual trade, Red Sox cards for Astros cards. We finally got it pulled off. John writes a card blog "The Pursuit of 80's (ness)" but hasn't posted since earlier in the year. Come on John, let's see something new.

I always get a pretty varied collection of stuff from John and I always wonder where he finds this stuff in Kent.

Let's have a look and some of what he sent.

1965 Milkana Astrodome

This is a real oddball. Milkana is a German cheese company which apparently sold from a location in London. In searching for something about it the only substantial information came from a post John did in 2010. We both are guessing that the card dates from around when the Astrodome opened in 1965. The painting was done by someone who probably didn't know anything about baseball. Milkana is still around. They have a cartoon blue heart with hands as their mascot that goes by the name of Mr. Doo Dhu.

1976 Topps #171 Greg Gross

I don't actually collect Astros from before 1995, but 1976 cards are always welcome as I only have a few and most of them are Phillies. Future Phillie Greg Gross shows off the colorful Astros uniform in full splendor. The Astros have incorporated some of this rainbow goodness in their current unis but not like this. I assume that the '40' on the shoulder was a tribute to someone. His uniform number is on his pants.

1997 Score Reserve Collection #487 Chris Holt

1997 Score wasn't a very attractive set but they made up for it with a series of confusingly named parallel cards. This featured a silver foil background with raised silver foil rays behind the player.

Score Hobby Reserve #370 Brad Ausmus

This one featured an embossed gold shield conveniently placed for Ausmus to sit on.

2002 Donruss Fan Club #160 Lance Berkman

Donruss also issued in 2002 "Best of Donruss Fan Club" which had exactly the same cards as above but were printed on foil board.

2003 Upper Deck 40-Man #369 Octavio Dotel

From 2002 through 2005, Topps issued their Topps Total set which contained every player on each team's 40-man roster. Not to be outdone, Upper Deck did the same thing in 2002 and 2003. These sets were huge, with about 1,000 cards each.

2003 Upper Deck MVP #17 Lance Berkman

This was an inexpensive set which I never cared much for so didn't buy much of. This is now the only Astro from the set that I have. I only had one Phillie as well. This drove me to eBay where I was able to pick up the Astros and Phillies team sets for a couple of bucks apiece.

2008 Upper Deck Goudey Autographs J. R. Towles

As named by the Night Owl, the "Ken Griffey says" set. Pretty forgettable but still an autographed card and much appreciated. Towles (pronounced tolls) hit .375 in 14 games in his 2007 debut year and looked like the next big thing. In 5 total years with the Astros (155 games) he only hit .187.

2012 Topps Gypsy Queen Blue Framed Paper #256 Nolan Ryan

Another much appreciated card from the 2nd year of Gypsy Queen. I didn't get any variation of the Ryan card from that set. This is numbered 147/599.

2013 Triple Play #32 Matt Dominguez

If I were Matt Dominguez, I'd sue over this card.

2015 Donruss Studio #7 Jose Altuve

Panini's not entirely successful attempt to revive Donruss Studio.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Two Consecutive 2015 Topps Update Cards

Tell me, do you think Topps did this on purpose, or is it just one of those coincidences that make life worth living?

Chad Qualls - Topps Update #292

Cesar Ramos - Topps Update #293

Or is it just my imagination that these two cards look remarkably alike?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The 1990s Baseball Card Face-off - 1991 Fleer vs 1996 Pinnacle Aficionado

I'm going to determine the best baseball card set from the 1990s. Check this post to see my methodology.

As promised, I'm going to finish off the first level of the Babe Ruth Division 2nd Quadrant. Here are the standings at present.

Today we've got kind of a weird match up, a very old-school card trying to be new vs. a one-shot, modern gimmick card.

1991 Fleer vs. 1996 Pinnacle Aficionado

1991 Fleer #61 Eric Davis

1991 Fleer #276 Matt Williams

1991 Fleer makes a statement, and that statement is YELLOW! Other than the color and the photo on the back, there is not much difference between 1991 Fleer and any other year going back to 1981. A solid Stage 3 card for sure but but starting to fall behind. Based on what I've seen in other blogs, I believe that 1991 Fleer is not much favored by collectors but I always liked it for its boldness.

1996 Pinnacle Aficionado #24 Kirby Puckett

1996 Pinnacle Aficionado #89 Gregg Jefferies

1996 Pinnacle Aficionado was a one-off set that was a bit weird. The all-horizontal card features a sepia-toned photo on the front with a 3/4 head shot of the player in rough textured silver foil. The card backs are black with another head shot in black and white. But the really weird thing about these cards is that they have a smell. The smell is pleasant and is supposed to be of bubble gum although it didn't smell like bubble gum to me. The smell is subtle, not say like a perfume ad in a magazine. Now, nearly 20 years later, the smell is difficult to detect. I always thought the silver foil head shot on the front was kind of creepy. 

The result: You might think, sight unseen, that almost any card from the later 1990s would beat out 1991 Fleer, but I'm giving this to the Fleer product. Despite it's color, it's still a solid, uncomplicated baseball card. Aficionado is just too gimmicky.

Next week we start the upper level competition to crown the champ from the 2nd quadrant of the Babe Ruth Division.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Random Cards From My Collections #77

Card #5,083
2004 Skybox Autographics #47 Greg Maddux

Comments on the card/player: A pretty nice set from Fleer/Skybox with a bit too much gold foil logo on the front. You'd think with a name like Autographics, it would at least, have a facsimile autograph. These cards had a high catalogue value in 2004 which dropped rapidly.
How/When acquired: I bought a few packs for $0.53/per card. A little pricey for 2004.

Card #11,793
2004 Fleer Genuine Insider Tools of the Game #6 Jim Thome

Comments on the card/player: Fleer had so many sets in the early 2000s it was hard to keep track. This was an insert in 2004 Fleer Genuine. As you might expect, there was a relic version of this card, but with a jersey swatch instead of a bat chip.
How/When acquired: I got this as a gift from a friend of the blog in 2009

Card #12,416
2001 Upper Deck Minors Centennial #88 Adam Walker

Comments on the card/player: This was a pretty nice looking minor league set put out by Upper Deck in 2001. Adam Walker was a 27th round draft pick by the Phillies in 1997 who never made it to the majors.
How/When acquired: I got this in a trade with a fellow blogger in 2009.

Card #21,111
1995 SP #92 Heathcliff Slocumb

Comments on the card/player: One of the nicer SP sets. The blue triangle on the left is a nice holographic foil. I always like cards featuring players signing autographs.
How/When acquired: I paid $3.94 for the 8-card Phillies subset in 2010

Card #33,251
1992 Stadium Club #92 Rob Deer

Comments on the card/player: 1992 was a pretty good year for Rob Deer. He hit 32 homers but only struck out 131 (his career average was 198 Ks per year). He also hit for a .241 average, well above his career average of .220.
How/When acquired: Don't know.

Card #20,707
1993 Topps #99 Mike Williams

Comments on the card/player: This was the pitcher on the 1993 Phillies not nicknamed "Wild Thing". Mike was 1-3 in his 2nd year with the Phillies. He only appeared in 17 games, including 4 starts.
How/When acquired: Don't know.

Card #35,055
1982 Fleer Stamps #107 Pete Rose/Larry Bowa

Comments on the card/player: In 1982, Pete was an All-Star for the Phillies (his 13th time) while Bowa played for the Cubs.
How/When acquired: I got a bunch of these 1982 Fleer Stamps for 3 cents each in 2012. As a bonus, the seller through in the album.

Card #25,789
1992 Triple Play #204 Jim Abbott

Comments on the card/player: I bought a lot of this set in 1992, thinking because it was the inaugural set it would gather some value. Well, I was wrong. It sure is garish though.
How/When acquired: I'm sure I got it in 1993, but I don't remember the cost. It was not expensive as it was meant for kids.

Card #28,615
2011 Topps Lineage #26 Grady Sizemore

Comments on the card/player: Here's a set I never much cared for. That's probably due to the fact that most of the cards in one of the rack packs I bought we very badly cut. And they're ugly.
How/When acquired: Paid $0.38/card for 2 rack packs of Topps Lineage in August 2011.

Card #26,351
1990 Fleer #444 Mel Hall

Comments on the card/player: There's not much to say about 1990 Fleer or about Mel Hall. Mel was an average player with a 13-year career. Of course average is way better than anything I could have accomplish.
How/When acquired: Paid $0.04/card for a Fairfield cube repack in April 2011. I haven't checked recently but I must be pretty close to having the entire 1990 Fleer set, acquired mostly in repacks.