Monday, January 11, 2016

Top 10 Books of 2015

   I read 70 books this year, averaging 1.35 books a week. This was 11 titles down from last year's total. I'm not sure if my reading speed is coming down with age or I just read more books this year that are a bit slower to get through. I felt like I read some really good books this year, but nothing that just blew me away like last year's "All the Light We Cannot See".

1. Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf. A beautifully written look at the friendship between a widow and widower in Holt, Colorado, the setting of "Plainsong" and several other of Haruf"s books. This was Haruf's last book before he died and that sense of mortality comes through in the writing. It starts with “And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters.” Addie is coming over to ask Louis to come over every now and then and sleep with her. Not for sex necessarily, but just for the warmth & companionship, to hold hands and not talk at all. They become the best of friends and the relationship grows until some people become embarrassed by it. This is a book that has stayed with me. Parts of this book keep popping into my head more than 6 months after I finished it. A film is in development and Robert Redford and Jane Fonda are rumored to be interested.

2. Golden Sun by Pierce Brown. By far the most exciting book that I read in 2016, "Golden Son" is a follow-up to "Red Rising", a book that I really enjoyed last year. But this one blew me away, one of the best space operas I have ever read. Epic in scale, but with characters that I really liked and rooted for. Having fully infiltrated the Gold ruling class, Darrow continues to try to bring down the society from within. There were times reading this book that I remember actually gasping out loud, it is so filled with twists and surprises. I missed this one as soon as I finished it. "Morning Star", the final book in the trilogy is due out next month - I can't wait!

3. Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt. While this may not be quite as good as DeWitt's "The Sisters Brother", it doesn't miss by much. This is kind of a fairy tale, at times laugh out loud funny, at times very dark and twisted. Think of a very dark, R rated "The Princess Bride". Lucien "Lucy" Minor is a compulsive liar, a skinny wimp in Bury, a small town full of brutish giants. He accepts a job sight unseen as the assistant to the majordomo of the remote and frightening Castle Von Aux. While learning his new job , he finds the castle and nearby village are full of dark secrets and strange inhabitants. Once I got into the book, I was grinning ear to ear from beginning to end.

4. Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson. An amazing collection of short stories from the Pulitzer Prize winning author of "The Orphan Master's Son". Every single story in the volume is a winner, a rarity in collections like this. They will either tug at your heart or punch you in the gut, sometimes both. George Orwell Was A Friend Of Mine, the story of a former STASI prison warden trying to explain to people of a unified German what and why he did, is probably my favorite of the bunch. All the stories here are highly recommended. National Book Award winner for 2015.

5. Dead Wake by Erik Larson. Easily the best non-fiction I read in 2015, this is an excellent look at the last voyage of the Lusitania. Larson does a remarkable job of bringing the passengers and crew of the liner alive and shows the long list of coincidences that brought her and the German U-boat together off the coast of Ireland. Even though I knew the fate of the ship, I was still holding my breath at the end, hoping that passengers that I had come to know would survive.

6. The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson. While not perfect, this is the first book that I have read that feels like it deserves the too often used description "the next Gone Girl". Alternating narrators, a big twist halfway through the book, and a "villain" that you find yourself rooting for. Two strangers meet in a London airport and through a friendly discussion decide to kill the wife of one of them. I really liked that the book could surprise me (several times) and make me feel sympathetic for a cold blooded killer. In my opinion, much better than the overrated "The Girl On The Train", I was happy to see it finish on the "Entertainment Weekly" Best Books of 2015 list.

7. Into The Savage Country by Shannon Burke. Outstanding short novel about a fur trader in the American West of the 1820s. William Wyeth leaves St. Louis on a fur trapping expedition. Things don't go as planned and he ends up facing off with Native American tribes, the British government, and other American trapping groups. Featuring exciting action and beautiful descriptions of nature, "Savage Country" reminded me of Phillips Meyer's "The Son". I just saw "The Revenant" at the theater and this book makes an excellent companion piece to that film.

8. Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman. I am still way behind in my Gaiman, this is only the third of his books that I have read. But I loved this collection of stories, featuring a little bit of everything. There is Click-Clack the Rattlebag, a story you should definitely not read right before trying to go to sleep. It features a Dr. Who story, a Sherlock Holmes tale, and a story that is a wonderful tribute to Ray Bradbury. The Return of the Thin White Duke is a homage to David Bowie, one of Gaiman's heroes.

9. Paradise Sky by Joe Lansdale. As a kid and well into my twenties I hated Westerns. "Lonesome Dove", "The Searchers", and Elmer Kelton made me a little more open to that genre. But it is still a surprise to me to find two books that could be considered Westerns on this list. "Paradise Sky" is the fictionalized story of the somewhat legendary African American cowboy known as Deadwood Dick. Joe Lansdale is a hell of a storyteller, and his "The Thicket" is one of the best adventure novels I have read over the last few years. "Paradise Sky" is almost that good and I wish it had been even longer, I was sorry to see it end.

10. Descent by Tim Johnston. A hard book to categorize. The first half is a depressing as anything I have read in a very long time. While out on a run with her little brother, Caitlin Courtland disappears in the Rocky Mountains. Enough of a downer that I wasn't sure I was going to finish it, but halfway through the story the book makes a fascinating turn and turns into a different type of book. I loved the second half of the story, it managed to surprise me and I love that in a book.

    Other books that I loved this year were "Make Me" by Lee Child (one of the best Jack Reacher thrillers), "Funny Girl" by Nick Hornby (a funny look at the life of a comedienne on British TV), "The Book Of Aron" by Jim Shepard (a sad but sometimes funny child's eye view of the Warsaw ghetto in WWII). "The Alex Crow" is another quirky, confusing, but vastly entertaining YA book from Andrew Smith. "Sweetland" by Michael Crummey is the genre-crossing tale of a man living a lonely life on an isolated Canadian island.
     And finally, the book that I most disliked this year - "The Girl On The Train" by Paula Hawkins. This bestselling book, touted as the next "Gone Girl", this is at best an average thriller about the murder of a young woman in London. Told though the narration of three women, one the eventual victim. I was somewhat bored by the whole thing, although I will admit the identity of the killer was a surprise. The story only worked because one of the characters suffered from blackouts, which seemed gimmickry.
     And I was very disappointed in the new John Irving novel, "The Avenue of Mysteries". John Irving may well be my favorite living author, many of his books have struck a real nerve in me and have stuck with me many years after finishing them. This wasn't one of  those, Still, even a weak John Irving is still a good read and I'm glad that I read it. The main character is a bestselling author that grew up in as an orphan in Mexico. The book switches back and forth between that time and the present in which he is taking a trip to the Philippines.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Half Year Report

    Just a quick rundown of a few of my favorite reads for the first half of the year. No in depth reviews here, just a couple of notes about them. In the order I read them, earliest first.

1. Golden Son by Pierce Brown. A follow-up to "Red Rising", a book that I read last year & really enjoyed. This is the second book in a trilogy and it really blew me away, it is one of the best space operas I have ever read. Epic in scale, but with characters that I really liked and rooted for. This is the kind of book that I missed as soon as I finished. 

2. Descent by Tim Johnston. A hard book to categorize. The first half is a depressing as anything I have read in a very long time. While out on a run with her little brother, Caitlin Courtland disappears in the Rocky Mountains. Enough of a downer that I wasn't sure I was going to finish it, but halfway through the story the book makes a fascinating turn. I loved the second half of the book, it managed to surprise me and I love that in a book.

3. The Kind Worth Killing - Peter Swanson. While not perfect, this is the first book that I have read that feels like it deserves the oft used description "the next Gone Girl". Alternating narrators, a big twist halfway through the book, and a "villain" that you find yourself rooting for. Two strangers meet in a London airport and through a friendly discussion decide to kill the wife of one of them. I really liked that the book could surprise me (several times) and make me feel sympathetic for a cold blooded killer.

4. Dead Wake - Erik Larson. Excellent look at the last voyage of the Lusitania. Larson does a remarkable job of bringing the passengers and crew of the liner alive and shows the long list of coincidences that brought her and the German U-boat together off the coast of Ireland.

5. Into the Savage Country - Shannon Burke. Outstanding short novel about a fur trader in the American West of the 1820s. Exciting action and beautiful descriptions. Reminded me of Phillips Meyer's "The Son". I grew up hating Westerns - wouldn't read or watch them, but now this period of American history has become fascinating to me.

6. Our Souls at Night - Kent Haruf. A beautifully written look at the friendship between a widow and widower in a small town in Colorado. Kent Haruf's "Plainsong" and "Eventide" are two of my favorite books and this is a beautiful conclusion to those stories. This was his last book before he died and that sense of mortality comes through in the writing. This is a book that has stayed with me, I keep thinking about parts of it for no reason. One of the best of the year.

   A few other titles of note - "The Killing Season" by Mason Cross is a thriller for fans of Lee Child. "The Alex Crow" is another quirky, confusing, but vastly entertaining YA book from Andrew Smith. "Sweetland" by Michael Crummey is the genre-crossing tale of a man living a lonely life on an isolated Canadian island.

Monday, January 26, 2015

My Top 10 Horror Novels

     I was shelving books in the bookstore and saw a book by Dan Simmons that reminded me how much I enjoyed his book "The Terror." That set me off on thinking about some of my favorite horror novels. So I put together a short list to post here. These are roughly in the order that I first read them from the earliest to the latest. I hope you enjoy it and maybe find some good reading material here.

1. Salem's Lot by Stephen King. This is the first novel that I can remember reading that really scared me. I was a freshmen in college and a friend asked if I had read anything by Stephen King. I had not and was only barely aware of him as an author (at that point, he only had 3 or 4 books out). So I gave this vampire tale a try and was soon enthralled in the story and characters. In it, a writer returns to the town he grew up in only to find it being taken over by vampires. I read the book in 2 days and became a King fan for life. In several interviews, King has said that this is his favorite of all his books.

2. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Technically, this may not be a horror novel, but it is a book that gave me the creeps and is one of the greatest thrillers ever written. "Silence of the Lambs" is a wonderful book, but I like Will Graham as a main character much better than Clarice Starling. I am fascinated by Graham's ability to walk through a crime scene and get into the mindset of a killer. This plot device is somewhat common now, but it was pretty revolutionary in 1981. I have reread this book several times and it always captures my imagination and creeps me out. There is one scene where Graham climbs a tree behind the victims' home and finds a vital clue that has stayed with me all these years.

3. Ghost Story by Peter Straub. I really enjoyed this story of four old men in Milburn, NY that accidently committed a horrible act in their youth that has come back to haunt them. The book is very atmospheric and slips seamlessly between the two time periods. We see how these four men act and react to what happened and it's eventual consequences. "Ghost Story" is another book that has scenes that stick with me decades after I read it. Straub has written some other very strong horror novels over the years.

4. The Mist by Stephen King. Actually just a novella, but it packs a hell of a punch. Soon after a powerful thunderstorm passes over a secret military installation, a mysterious mist spread across the countryside near a small town in Maine. When some of the characters drive into town for supplies, they are trapped with several others in a grocery store that becomes enveloped in the mist. There are "things" alive in the mist and they start trying to get to the people inside the store. The situation brings out the best and worst in people as they try to cope and decide whether to stay or attempt an escape. Along with "11/22/63" (not really a horror story), this is my favorite of all of King's works.

5. The Ruins by Scott Smith. I use to tell people that this was the best Stephen King novel not written by King. It is the story of 6 young people on vacation in Mexico that follow a map to a mysterious ruins in the jungle. Of course, there is something very evil that guards the ruins and horrible things start to happen to the visitors one by one. The "monster" here is at first glance somewhat silly, but when you start to realize what it can do, it becomes horrifying. It was made into a pretty bad film.

6. Nightrunners by Joe Lansdale. Only his second novel, this is not Lansdale's best book, but the circumstances under which I read it put it on this list. "Nightrunners" is the story of a bunch of vicious teens in a 1966 Chevy terrorizing the countryside. This violent, scary, and occasionally funny book is considered one of the first splatterpunk novels. The main reason this book makes my list is that I read most of it one night in a tent while camping. I read it late into the night and when I turned out the lantern, every sound outside the tent was almost certainly a teenager with a very large knife. There was not much sleep that night for me...

7. lost boy, lost girl by Peter Straub. This novel introduces us to a a middle-aged writer trying to help his brother Philip and nephew, Mark, after the suicide of Philip's wife, Nancy. There is a possibly haunted house, a serial killer preying on children, and a lost girl. Mark goes missing and Tim and Philip work together to find him before he disappears forever. The fact that the book involves children as victims and a terrifying mix of real and supernatural horrors has made it one that I have no desire to read again, but that stays with me.

8. The Terror by Dan Simmons. A hugely entertaining mix of historical fiction and horror. Based on the real life disappearance of two British ships of an 1845 Arctic expedition, Simmons brings in something very scary out on the ice that is slowly picking off the men. The mixture of the loneliness of the Arctic ice with the horrors of Inuit mythology bring a real sense of dread to this work. At over 700 pages, this was one of the books that got me started on e-books.

9. The Passage by Justin Cronin. First in a series of three books, the second book "The Twelve" is also very good (I'm still waiting impatiently for the final book to come out). "The Passage" is set in current times when a highly contagious virus begins turning people into beings that have some of the same characteristics of vampires. The book then jumps into the future where these creatures have overrun America. A small band of humans try to make it cross country to a rumored place of safety. This was close to being my number one book of 2010.

10. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill. Stephen King has two sons who also write, Owen King doesn't really do horror, but his one novel, "Double Feature", was quite good. Joe Hill, on the other hand, is proving himself as an excellent horror author. His first novel, "Heart Shaped Box", is about an aging rocker who buys a haunted suit; and his second book, "Horns", was recently adapted as a film starring Daniel Radcliffe. My favorite is his newest novel, "NOS4A2", which is the story of Victoria McQueen, a girl with the power to take shortcuts through another dimension to get places. Later in life she needs to use this power to try to save her son from Charles Manx, a frighteningly memorable villain. Manx drives around in his 1938 Rolls-Royce, offering to take unhappy children to Christmasland, where he says nothing bad ever happens. For me this book was every bit as epic, as King's "It", whose Pennywise the clown Manx reminded me of.

As a bonus pick, I think the "non-fiction" book "The Amityville Horror" scarred a whole generation of readers. Reading it while alone in the house on a very windy night with a large tree just outside the window didn't help. Jodie the pig and clouds of flies always seem to be just at the edge of my vision, making me hesitate to turn and look. I hope you try a few of these and they don't cause you to lose too much sleep.

   

Monday, December 29, 2014

Top 10 Books of 2014

       I managed to read 81 books - averaging 1.56 books a week, 10 more books than last year's total. It is much harder to keep up with the new releases working at a used bookstore, but I still read Publisher's Weekly every week and have been able to stay abreast of some of the best that way. The upside of working at Half-Price is that I see some fascinating titles come across the counter in buys, and lots of books that I have not thought of for many years.

1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. An amazing and beautifully written novel about two young people in Europe before and during WWII. One a blind French girl and the other a German electronics genius whose lives eventually intersect. The language in this book was just amazing, I could picture every scene in my head as I read it and there are some that are still clear in my memory several months later. And when I finished the book I had a feeling of joy at how wonderful a story it was, as well as being devastated by the ending. It was nominated for the National Book Award and I was glad to see it show up on several of the "Best Of" lists at the end of the year.

2. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. The author of "The Secret Life of Bees" has written an excellent historical novel told through the eyes of two Charleston, South Carolina women in the early 1800s - one white and one black. Loosely based on the life of Sarah Grimke, an abolitionist and proponent of women's rights. At the age of 11, she was presented with Hetty, a slave of about the same age and the book follows their lives together and separately over the next 30 years. One of the things that I really liked about it was that Sarah is not a likable character at the beginning of the book, but over the years becomes more sympathetic, even if not ever becoming totally likable. This is a moving, beautifully written book that takes us deep into the lives of these two women and their feelings about each other and the world that surrounds them.

3. Frog Music by Emma Donoghue. Emma Donoghue's "Room" was one of my favorite books of 2010. Surprisingly, this historical novel is even better. It is based on an actual murder of an eccentric woman in 1876 San Francisco. The book is at times brutal, but the story is fascinating and I cared deeply for the characters. Donoghue uses songs of the era to give the book an authentic feel and I found the information at the end of the book about these songs very interesting. This is an outstanding read. 

4. In the Kingdom of the Ice by Hampton Sides. Easily my best non-fiction read of the year. An amazing true tale of adventure and survival in the Arctic in the late 1870s. It was believed at that time that the North Pole was surrounded by an unfrozen sea. George DeLong led a US Navy expedition to sail there. His ship became stuck in the ice for more than a year and then sank. His men had to set out in small boats and then on foot to reach safety in Siberia. The story of how the crew handled this and other obstacles is thrilling and moving.

5. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. This is an absolutely bizarre book that was the most fun I had reading a book this year. Two teenage boys in Iowa set loose a biological agent that creates 6 foot tall praying mantises that only want to eat (preferably humans) and reproduce. Our hero, Austin, loves his girlfriend, but is worried that he may be in love with his best friend Robby too. Andy and Robby have to team up to find secrets that will bring down the mantises. The book is hard to describe but well worth reading. Sony Pictures has hired Edgar Wright to direct what could be a hell of a fun film.

6. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. An amazing literary look at the end of the world that is set both immediately before and 15 years after a disease has wiped out 90% of humanity. Most of the story is told though the eyes of the members of a traveling troupe that performs Shakespeare & classical music for survivors in small villages in the Midwest. The Symphony has a motto, taken from an episode of “Star Trek: Voyager,” “Survival is insufficient,”. Both lyrical and gut-wrenching, this novel was on the long list for the National Book Award.

7. Tigerman by Nick Harkaway. A fascinating look at how a costumed superhero might work in the real world. A semi-retired British sergeant is assigned as consul to an island nation that may be destroyed in a natural disaster at any moment. He becomes Tigerman in order to try and keep order on the island. Harkaway is an amazing writer, and while "The Gone-Away World" is still my favorite of his books, this one is a fantastic read.

8. Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell. An excellent new novel by Lisa O'Donnell, author of "The Death of Bees", which was my favorite book in 2013. Michael is an 11 year old boy living in a remote Scottish village. After an attack on a family member, he must keep a secret that no child should have to keep. Michael is a great character and has a wonderful voice. I didn't always believe in some of the actions that the adults took, but Michael always rang true.

9. I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. An absolutely engrossing, fast moving thriller. It features a retired agent that is drawn into a case when a terrorist is found to have a terrible weapon. There are several different storylines going on at once, but all were fascinating. At 600 pages, it is a bit long, but for me, it never lagged. This is an author to watch out for.

10. The Painter by Terry Hayes. Another beautifully written novel from the author of "The Dog Stars", my favorite book of 2012. "The Painter" isn't quite that good, but I still was sucked in from the very beginning. Jim Stegner is a successful artist living in Colorado with a past - years ago he shot and almost killed a man who threatened his daughter. Now he has a violent run in with another rancher and his personal life starts to come apart. The ending of the book wasn't quite what I expected, but I am not sure where the author could have gone with it.

      Other books that I loved this year were "Shovel Ready" by Adam Sternbergh (a thriller set in a partially abandoned NYC after it is hit by a dirty bomb), "The Dark Road To Mercy" by Wiley Cash (he turns out amazing Southern stories), "The Serpent of Venice" by Christopher Moore (a wonderful mash-up of Othello, The Merchant of Venice, and several other bits & pieces), "The Silkworm" by Robert Galbraith (second in a series of mysteries by J.K. Rowling), and "Eleanor & Park" and "Fangirl" both by Rainbow Rowell (a top notch young adult author).
     And finally, the book that I most disliked this year - "Missing You" by Harlan Coben. I have read and enjoyed several stand alone Coben titles (but have never tried the Myron Bolitar series), but this title just struck me as stupid. The book has an interesting premise, but the characters are so stupid and there are so many outlandish plot twists that by the end I just didn't care. I talked to others that enjoyed it, so it may not have been a bad book, but I felt like throwing it across the room by the time I finished it.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Some Favorites So Far

     Here are a few of the books that I have really enjoyed the first 4 months of the year. Several of them were on my most anticipated books of the year, always a good thing, but there were a few surprises too.

1. The Invention Of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. This is an excellent historical novel told through the eyes of two Charleston, South Carolina women in the early 1800s - one white and one black. Loosely based on the life of Sarah Grimke, an abolitionist and proponent of women's rights. At the age of 11, she was presented with Hetty, a slave of about the same age and this book follows their life together and separately over the next several decades. One of the things that I really liked about it was that Sarah is not a likable character at the beginning of the book, but over the years becomes more sympathetic, even if not ever becoming totally likable. A moving, beautifully written book. 

2. The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore. An excellent sequel to "The Fool", one of Moore's very best books. Here the author brings the Fool from "King Lear" into a mash-up of "The Merchant of Venice", "Othello", and "The Cask of Amontillado" to an absolutely hilarious end. It shouldn't work, but it does. It is bawdy, laugh out loud funny, and a great adventure story.

3. Frog Music by Emma Donoghue. Emma Donoghue's "Room" was on of my favorite books of 2010. Surprisingly, this historical novel is even better! It is based on an actual murder of an eccentric woman in 1876 San Francisco, The book is at times brutal, but the story is fascinating and I cared deeply for the characters. Donoghue uses songs of the era to give the book an authentic feel and I found the information at the end of the book about these songs very interesting. This is an outstanding book, my favorite so far in 2014.

4. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. This is an absolutely bizarre young adult book that I loved reading. Two teenage boys in Iowa set loose a biological agent that creates 6 foot tall praying mantises that only want to eat (preferably humans) and reproduce. Austin knows he is in love with his girlfriend, but is worried that he may be in love with his best friend Robby too. The interaction between Austin and Robby is great and rings true. The book is hard to describe but well worth reading.

5. Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell. An excellent new novel by Lisa O'Donnell, author of "The Death of Bees", which was my favorite book in 2013. Michael is an 11 year old boy living in a remote Scottish village. After an attack on a family member, he must keep a secret that no child should have to. Michael is a great character and has a wonderful voice. I didn't always believe in what some of the actions that the adults took, but Michael always rang true.

6. Tigerman by Nick Harkaway. Fascinating look at how a costumed superhero might work in the real world. A semi-retired British sergeant is assigned as consul to an island nation that may be destroyed in a natural disaster at any moment. He becomes Tigerman in order to try and keep order on the island. Harkaway is an amazing writer, and while "The Gone-Away World" is still my favorite of his books, this one is a fantastic read!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

10 Most Anticipated Books of 2014
     Here are a few of the books that I am most looking forward to in 2014. These all come out in the first 6-7 months of the year, so there are probably some exciting titles coming out later in the year that I just haven't seen any info on yet. In chronological order (but dates can change):
 
1. This Dark Road To Mercy by Wiley Cash (January). Cash's A Land More Kind Than Home was on of my 10 favorite books of 2012. This is his newest book, about 2 young sisters in North Carolina. They are in a foster home after their mother dies, when their wayward father come looking for them. 
 
2. Roosevelt's Beast by Louis Bayard (March). A fictionalized account of one of Teddy Roosevelt's expeditions into the Amazon jungle in 1914. Teddy's son Kermit is sent along to keep any eye on his boisterous and sometimes reckless father. Bayard wrote Mr. Timothy and The Pale Blue Eye, both of which I enjoyed very much.  
 
3. Sleep Donation by Karen Russell (March). This is just a novella, but with a fascinating premise. Sleep Donation explores a world suffering an insomnia epidemic where the healthy donate sleep to those that are suffering. Russell wrote the Pulitzer Prize nominated Swamplandia, a riveting read.   
 
4. Frog Music by Emma Donoghue (April). From the author of the amazing Room, comes this historical thriller set in 1876 San Francisco. Based on a real life murder in the gold rush boomtown, Frog Music is described as a "lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boom town like no other."
 
5. The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore (April). One of the books I am most excited about! Moore's novel Fool, was a look at King Lear from the viewpoint of the court jester. It borrowed characters and lines from other Shakespeare plays and is hilariously bawdy. In this sequel, the Fool is dropped into a mash up of Othello, The Merchant of Venice, and The Cask of Amontillado
 
6. Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell (May). The Death of Bees by O'Donnell was my favorite book last year. In this new thriller by her, a boy on a Scottish island where everyone knows everything about everyone else, will discover that a secret is a dangerous thing. It has already been released in Britain to mixed reviews, but I am looking forward to it. 
 
7. The Painter by Peter Heller (May). The second novel by Peter Heller, author of the fantastic "The Dog Stars". The plot of this one, an artist trying to outrun his troubled past, doesn't thrill me, but Heller's first novel was my favorite book of 2012 so I will give the benefit of the doubt.  
 
8. Amanda by Ernest Cline (July). More science fiction from the author of "Ready, Player One", sign me up. The book description reads "Zack Lightman is daydreaming through another dull math class when the high-tech dropship lands in his school's courtyard-and when the men in the dark suits and sunglasses leap out of the ship and start calling his name, he's sure he's still dreaming."
 
9. Tigerman by Nick Harkaway (July). Both of Harkaway's novels defy being lumped into any genre, they remind me more of Douglas Adams' books than anything else. "Tigerman" concerns a burnt out British Army sergeant sent to serve out his time on a shady former British colony. 
 
10. Lock In by John Scalzi (August). John Scalzi won the Hugo last year for "Redshirts", a funny sci-fi thriller, but not one of my favorite books. He is an author that likes to experiment with different styles of writing and types of publishing. His new book is set in the near future when a virus spreads across the Earth, afflicting 5% of the population adversely.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Top 10 Books of 2013

     I had a good year of reading, but the holidays were rough with the closing of another bookstore. I read 71 books - averaging 1.36 books a week, one book more than last year. I read three excellent books this year, it was difficult to choose just number one.

1. The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell. I read this book in January, but it has stayed at the forefront of my mind all year long. It is an absolutely fantastic book about two girls living in Scotland. When their no account parents die, they bury them in the backyard to avoid being taken away and possibly split up by the authorities. They end up forming a quasi-family with a ostracized old man who lives in the neighborhood. Neither of the girls is very likable, but you can't help but root for them. Very dark at times, but I really cared about these people. Sadly, while this book was well reviewed when it came out, I did not see it on any "Best Of" lists at the end of the year.

2. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. This is a book that I like more now then when I finished it. Long after putting it down, I kept thinking about it and it kept growing on me. It tells the story of  a British woman who's life keeps rebooting when she dies. She remembers little bits of her previous lives, but vaguely realizes that she is moving towards an unknown goal. Because of the repetitive nature of the rebooting, the book is a little hard to get into, but it is a beautifully told tale and well worth the trip it talks you on. This was one of the best reviewed books of the year, finishing at the top of several best of lists.

3. The Son by Philipp Meyer. An exceptional story of several generations of a Texas family. Eli, the first white child born in the new Republic of Texas, is captured by the Comanche at the age of 13. The book follows his adventures with them and then his later life as a Texas Ranger and a cattleman. We also follow the story of his son, Peter, and Jeannie, Eli's great-granddaughter, a woman trying to prove herself in the oil business. The scenes with the Comanche and then the Texas Rangers are the most exciting, but the story never lets up, keeping you involved throughout. Peter & Jeannie's stories are not as exciting as Eli's, but they tell a fascinating story of how Texans dealt with hardships, both natural and man made. Reminiscent of James Michener in scope, but Meyer is a better storyteller.

4. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Wonderfully comic love story about a scientist with high functioning Asperger's that sets out to find a wife using compatibility questionnaires. Rosie Jarman comes into his life to assist with the project, she is “the world’s most incompatible woman . . . late, vegetarian, disorganized, irrational”. The story manages to be touching and laugh out loud funny at the same time. The main character reminded me of Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory", but I kept picturing Benedict Cumberbatch in the role. Highly recommended.

5. The Martian by Andy Weir. Excellent story of an astronaut scientist marooned on Mars. Mark Watney is left behind by the rest of his crew in an emergency when they believe him dead. He has to figure out ways to stay alive as long as he can, first minute by minute and eventually day by day. The story is mostly told in his log entries. First a great survival story, what make it really special is the resourcefulness and the engineering Watney uses to make it through each day. I loved the characters and the story. This was an advance copy that I received from Crown Publishing and will be released February 11, 2014.

6. The Ocean At the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I am oh so late to the Neil Gaiman bandwagon. I have never tried him before this year, and I am kicking myself for it. I still have a ways to go, but have read three of his works this year. This was by far the best of them. It is a beautiful, moving tale of a boy who makes a very special friend in rural England. This is a short fantasy tale, but it really packs an emotional punch. More than anything it is about the things we experienced as children and what happens to those memories as we grow older. I have fond memories of several books that I read this year, but scenes from this one pop into my head at random times and make me very happy or melancholy.

7. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. This young adult novel started a little slow, but just kept getting better and better. It is the story of two girls in WWII England, one a transport pilot and one who works in intelligence. One of the girls is captured and interrogated by the Germans. Much like with "The Book Thief", I was surprised that this title was marketed for young adults. This adventure kept me on the edge of my seat and had me laughing out loud and in tears at times. It is an amazing story of friendship, highly recommend it and I think it would make an excellent film.

8. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. A wonderful, magical book and one that I should have read years ago. Two very good, literary friends have recommended it over the years, but I always passed until now. This is a book for book lovers, it tells the story of a beloved, but mysterious author finally telling her life story to a bookseller. The story has a fine Gothic feeling to it, it is a wonderful book to get lost in.

9. The Thicket by Joe Lansdale. Very entertaining thriller set in East Texas in the early 1900s. In a vicious attack, 16 year old Jack sees his grandfather killed and his younger sister abducted. He enlists the help of a gravedigger and a bounty hunting dwarf to try to track down the men who did it. The story moves quickly with equal parts laugh out loud humor and hard core violence, in other words, typical Joe Lansdale. One of the most fun reads of the year.

10. NOS4A2 - Joe Hill. This was a very good year for the King family. Had I picked the 20 best books, Stephen King ("Dr. Sleep") and his sons, Joe Hill ("NOS4A2") & Owen King ("Double Feature") would have all had books on the list. But this an epic horror novel about a woman trying to hunt down a mysterious man who takes children. Charlie Manx is a villain that could take on Pennywise the Clown or any of Stephen King's great bad guys. This is a book that will change the way you look at cheap Christmas decorations forever.

     Other book that I loved this year were "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck (read it for the first time this year), "A Higher Call" by Adam Makos (my favorite non-fiction of the year), "The Cuckoo's Calling" by J.K. Rowling (proof for me that she can easily move beyond Harry Potter), and "The Supremes at Earl's All You Can Eat Diner" by Edward Kelsey Moore (good Southern fiction in the vein of Fannie Flagg or Joshilyn Jackson).
     And finally, the book that I just despised this year - "The Dinner" by Herman Koch. This book was well reviewed and a moderate bestseller, but I just felt dirty reading it. It is a Dutch book about two couples having dinner in a fancy restaurant. They are there to discuss something dark that has happened in their life. I saw a review comparing it to "Gone Girl', but it was nothing like that. Very slow moving and very little excitement. Almost gave up a couple of time, but made it through the whole thing.
     I am looking forward to reading more wonderful books in 2014, but not sure what kind of year it will be. For the first time in 24 years, I may not be selling books...