Tuesday, December 31, 2019

My 2019 In Books

According to the Goodreads 2019 Reading Challenge, I read 54 books this year. Six more than my goal of 48. One goal was to clear out my backlog of physical books. I made some progress. Several of these are actually short stories, novellas or graphic novels. Audio books helped, too. Here are some highlights:
  1. Non-fiction. I gravitate toward fiction. But I also managed to keep it real:
    1. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow - Lin Manuel Miranda's inspiration for the musical. I started this in late 2018 and took almost six months to finish, but it was worth it.
    2. Why We Sleep - informative and highly recommended!
    3. Factfulness - also informative and highly recommended! And surprising! This will challenge how you think about the world, and your neighbors.

  2. Novellas. These have been a way of keeping up the overall book count without investing large amounts of time. A couple of series were very enjoyable:
    1. Binti, Binti: Home, Binti: The Night Masquerade - highly readable science fiction about cultures that are both foreign and alien to me
    2. Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, Exit Strategy - further adventures (that starts in All Systems Red) of a self-aware SecUnit 'droid calling itself "Murderbot" that's really good at its job and doesn't actually murder

  3. Netgalley. I limited myself to previewing 5 titles on Netgalley this year. All authors I already read. I still owe a few reviews. The best:
    1. The Eighth Sister - darn good spy/legal novel from Robert Dugoni
    2. A Cold Trail - another spot-on crime thriller from Robert Dugoni
    3. The Last Good Guy - third book in a series by T. Jefferson Parker. Now I have to go read the first couple.
Some other treats this year:
  1. Motherless Brooklyn is a mystery story told from a quirky point of view character. Now a movie.
  2. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett was languishing on my reading list. I finally read it before I watched the off-beat television series.
  3. Stumptown - the graphic novel inspiration for the new television series about a low-rent PI in Portland. The same, but different.
  4. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (audio book). I wish I'd read/heard this while he was still alive. It sheds a different light on who he was and how restaurants work.
My Goodreads.com 2019 wrap-up is at https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2019/3195690

I'll have a slightly different strategy in 2020. I still want to clear off my TBR shelf. I'll set my Goodreads.com 2020 Reading Challenge at 48 books (4/month). But I also want to…
  1. Read more current titles. I don't want to be stuck in the past, in constant catch-up mode. I want to read at least six books published in 2020 that aren't just the latest by authors I already enjoy.
  2. Read more actual non-fiction. I should move beyond biographies and how-to books about writing.
Keep reading! And share a book with a friend.

Monday, December 30, 2019

read: Southern Harm (3 stars)

Southern Harm (A Southern B&B Mystery #2)Southern Harm by Caroline Fardig

The first half of this book was a bit too slow and chatty for my taste. The mystery is about a death that happened thirty years before the book opens. Because the characters have a lot of catching up to do, they spend a lot of time catching up instead of getting things done. When enough suspects finally get lined up things start happening and the second half of the book feels more like the kind of book I like to read. The mystery does come together and is played very fairly and makes for a satisfying ending. Readers looking for a talkative mystery of Southern manners and murder should enjoy this book.

Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Alibi/Random House for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Sunday, September 15, 2019

read: A Cold Trail (4 stars)

A Cold Trail (Tracy Crosswhite, #7)A Cold Trail by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tracy Crosswhite and her husband Dan have returned to the small town of Cedar Grove, Washington while their home in Seattle is being remodeled. Tracy is on maternity leave from her job as a homicide detective, training the new nanny for Daniella, and Dan is shuttling between his law office in Seattle and some work for a local businessman feeling hassled by the town. Of course, Tracy can't avoid getting involved in a local murder investigation related to a cold case and this complicates her promises to herself and her husband and makes her question her motivations for work and motherhood.

Dugoni's typical facility for strong character development and plot are on display here, amplified by the more confined canvas of a small town. The population is familiar. But not stereotypical. The cases are puzzling. But the clues are all there. The suspense mounts. Shots are fired. And then the winter weather becomes a factor. Someone is not who everyone thinks they are. The writing is clear and compelling and enjoyable.

Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

View all my reviews

Monday, July 29, 2019

read: The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington (4 stars)

The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George WashingtonThe First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington by Brad Meltzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brad Meltzer tells a very compelling story. I liked the detailed explanations of political relationships and the chronological revelation of the story. It does almost read like a novel. But it's also very interesting history for a reader that is not well-read on the era.

I do agree with other reviewers that the narrative is very repetitive and overblown - very much like the author's breathless television shows, including frequent [chapter] breaks [for commercials].

A pretty solid 4-star book, with a half star off for being a pot boiler, and a half star back on for keeping me reading to the very end.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Saturday, July 27, 2019

read: Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff (4 of 5 stars)

Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical RiffInfinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff by Michael Nesmith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ramble on, rambling man. This rambling riff on his life fits the man, the music and the career that I had previously perceived and that comes to life in its pages. Mike has never fit anyone's preconceptions of what a musician, writer, producer ought to be, even his own. It seems like most things that happened to him came as surprises, pleasant and otherwise. And here he lays it all out in a not-quite-chronological order that lets the reader in on the surprise, too. Devoted Monkees fans will likely be disappointed. But readers interested in a true story of semi-success will be fascinated.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Friday, July 12, 2019

read: The Toll (3 stars)

The TollThe Toll by Cherie Priest
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Don't go driving into the Okenfenokee Swamp when it's dark. That was the first mistake that Titus and Melanie Bell made. Not paying attention and turning around when things get a unfamiliar and weird was their second. As a result, Melanie goes missing and Titus winds up in the town of Staywater, filled with odd folks that don't always give him a straight answer. Two of the odd folks are a pair of spinster grandmothers and their godson Cameron. It all makes for a great set up for a creepy Southern Gothic horror story.

Cherie Priest knows creepy and she keeps ramping up that factor, with a friendly ghost in the local bar, an abandoned house full of dolls and a other oddities. But the story feels too rambly and repetative and lacks tension. It's mostly Titus not getting any answers and Cameron puzzling about his lot in life. Either the book should be shorter or the various back and side stories need expansion and depth. When everyone finally starts taking action toward the end, it finally feels like a real story and comes to a reasonable finish.

I found this to be an easy, entertaining, but a little frustrating read.

Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Tor Books for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Friday, April 26, 2019

read: The Barbary Pirates (4 stars)

The Barbary Pirates (Ethan Gage, #4)The Barbary Pirates by William Dietrich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Plenty of swash is buckled here, once the yarn gets ripping. After a rather rousing start, the story bogs for a while in order for the pieces to get positioned on the board. Then the dice are rolled and Ethan Gage starts shredding the scenery with all of the enthusiasm and grit, but not quite as much suave, of James Bond. Yes, there are pirates. Plus more Napoleon, now with added Archimedes, Robert Fulton and plenty of old friends and enemies.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

read: Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think (5 stars)

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You ThinkFactfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Does it seem like the world is getting more and more difficult to understand? Does it feel like everything is getting worse, yet you know that some things must be getting better? Does it seem like all of what is presented as news is bad news and disasters? Does it feel like everything you learned about the world in school might be wrong?

All of the above are true for me. After reading Hans Rosling's book, I'm pretty sure I'm necessarily smarter. But I think I have a better handle on how to approach the issues of the day and how they are presented in the modern media. And that's really the point of the book. It's not trying to provide simple facts (although it does present some astonishing statistics that are meant to challenge your world view). It is intended to give the reader the tools to digest all of the input that is flooding our lives.

If you want a taste of what the book contains, watch Hans' TED Talk: https://youtu.be/Sm5xF-UYgdg

Then, read his book.

Then encourage everyone you know to read his book. Let's all become dedicated to factful living.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Thursday, April 4, 2019

read: Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded (3 stars)

Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded (Steampunk, #2)Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded by Ann VanderMeer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The usual mix-bag of good, bad and meh stories. I started out enjoying the eclectic feel of the stories, which didn't always (or even usually?) fit into my preconceived notion of what Steampunk is supposed to be. A great many of them tended to veer quite a more into fantasy than expected. Toward the end, however, the slow pace and intentionally archaic language became tedious and I started a lot of skimming.

I picked this volume up because it included, "Tanglewood", a "Clockwork Century" story by Cherie Priest. As expected, it was one of the good ones, though also not what I expected. My favorite was "The Strange Case of Mr. Salad Monday" by G.D. Falksen, with it's odd take on 19th Century social media.

Anyone that is really into this genre will probably find the collection enjoyable. If you're not already a Steampunk fan, the odds are more like 50-50.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

read: The Last Good Guy (4 stars)

The Last Good Guy (Roland Ford #3)The Last Good Guy by T. Jefferson Parker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One sign of a good series is when you can jump in at the third book and not feel completely lost. It's even better when you're immediately engaged with the series protagonist and swept up in the story. T. Jefferson Parker is such a writer and Roland Ford is such a character.

In this novel, private eye (ex-marine, ex-boxer and ex-sheriff's deputy) Ford is hired by the older sister of a girl that's gone missing. As he works the case, he encounters a church that his hiding something, white supremecists that are hiding in almost full view, and a client that's also hiding something. Helping him uncover the truth, save the girl and save the world are 'the irregulars': the motley group of people that reside in the casitas on the large ranch that he has inherited from his late wife and her family and he is obligated to keep.

There's a lot going on here and the story is so fully packed that it could have gone off the rails at any time. The author keeps it hanging together and I can't wait to go back and read the other books in the series.

Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Group Putnam for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 21, 2019

read: Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams (4 stars)

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and DreamsWhy We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not getting enough sleep is bad for you. This book tells you how bad (it's worse than you think) and why. More than just a survey of sleep research (although it is that), it's a needed explanation of the many ways that sleep affects our physical, mental and emotional health. It doesn't provide a one-size-fits-all solution to your specific sleep issues. But readers should come away with a better understanding of how sleep works and some strategies to improve their own situation. Highly recommended.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

read: The Eighth Sister (4 stars)

The Eighth SisterThe Eighth Sister by Robert Dugoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been devouring everything Robert Dugoni has written ever since I picked up a copy of Wrongful Death and met him at a book signing. When I heard he was returning to the world of David Sloane with a spy book focused on his friend Charlie Jenkins, I could not wait to get a copy. I figured the author's skill at writing thrillers would serve him well. I was not disappointed.

Charlie is approached by his former CIA station chief and reluctantly recruited into what is supposed to be a few quick trips to Russia to gain some valuable intel. It will also provide some needed cash to keep his business afloat. His first trip is suspenseful, but successful. On the second trip, things go horribly wrong and we're off to the races.

As usual, the author's writing is clear and vivid. The characters, locations and action come alive, even when they fall into some obvious spy novel stereotypes. The reader is kept on the edge of their seat, turning pages to find out what happens next. Then, about two-thirds of the way through, the story takes a bit of a left turn, changing from a spy novel to a legal drama. By this time, the story has the reader hooked and anxious to finish. But the change in pace is a bit jarring.

I won't say I saw the end coming. But I feel like I picked up on most of the clues to the underlying mystery as they were dropped along the way. This didn't detract from my enjoyment of the story. But I like it when spy novels keep me guessing a little more. Even so, I enjoyed this book and recommend it.

Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Saturday, January 26, 2019

read: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (4 stars)

Alexander HamiltonAlexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book based on Lin-Manuel Miranda's enthusiasm for it and the subsequent popularity of his Broadway hit, Hamilton. It's a daunting tome, at almost 800 pages. It took me 5 months to get through it, mostly due to only reading it part-time and finishing several other books during that period. But it is well worth the persistence.

I found it easy to read and quite compelling. No matter how many facts and quotes the author managed to cram into it (and I'm certain he left out far more), almost every word is fascinating. The story of Hamilton's rise from obscurity to successful lawyer would be story enough. Add in his Revolutionary War exploits and contributions to the Constitution and early government and his life is quite astounding. This book doesn't overlook his foibles and failures, either. It all paints a quite different picture of that period of American history than I had ever heard before.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

read: Street Player: My Chicago Story by Danny Seraphine (4 stars)

Street Player: My Chicago StoryStreet Player: My Chicago Story by Danny Seraphine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is for fans of the rock band Chicago. You've all heard some of the stories. But Danny gives us the insider's look we've always wanted, along with his personal journey from literal 'street' player to founder of one of the most successful rock bands of the 70's and 80's. Chicago, the band, was his way out of Chicago, the city.

It's a fast read, full of sex and drugs and rock-and-roll (obviously). It's also filled with street brawls, mob connections and shady record executives. Danny doesn't hold anything back. He freely admits he hasn't always been the nicest person or easy to get along with. Based on his recollections, it's a wonder that anyone in the band is still alive. But he is. And they are. And life goes on.

View all my reviews on Goodreads