Sunday, January 1, 2017

My 2017 Reading List

This is the fourth year of doing this, keeping track of everything I read during the year. Don't ask me why. It makes me happy and gives me something to do with this blog, I guess. Anyway...

Although I'm probably going to keep doing this, I finally broke down and joined Goodreads. On my My Books page you can find all the books that I've read over the last three years and a few others.

1.  Blood's a Rover -- James Ellroy

Book Three of Ellroy's "Underworld USA" series. This book picks up after the events of The Cold Six Thousand (2016 list, #45), more of Ellroy's action-packed, hard-boiled, conspiracy-laden secret history of the United States.

2.  This Census-Taker -- China MiĆ©ville

An intriguing, compelling little novella. I'm interested in reading something a little more substantial from MiƩville in the near future.

3.  Acceptance -- Jeff VanderMeer

 Book Three of the Southern Reach Trilogy, a well-written, but bizarre sci-fi series. This is definitely not a standalone novel, you must read the others, Annihilation and Authority, to get any sense out of this one (and maybe not even then.)

4.  The Nest -- Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

I was hesitant about this book, not sure if it was just chick-lit or something a little deeper. It turned out to be a pretty decent family drama that moved along at a brisk pace. 

5.  April 1865 -- Jay Winik

Non-fiction. Subtitled The Month that Saved America, this is an engrossing account of the final days of the Civil War and the remaking of America.

6.  A Man Called Ove -- Fredrik Backman

A comical, touching, affecting tale of a Swedish curmudgeon. It's hard for me to imagine anyone who wouldn't love this book.

7. The Widow -- Fiona Barton

A page-turner of a crime thriller involving a missing child and the widow of the man who was the main suspect telling her side of things.

8. The Wrong Side of Goodbye -- Michael Connelly

It's not very often that I read the same type of book back-to-back, but here's another crime thriller. A typical Connelly book; not as good as most, but still pretty damned good.

9. Just After Sunset -- Stephen King

I've been re-reading this collection of short stories over a long period of time, throwing a story or two in from time to time between books. Not King's best short story collection, but some good stories in the mix.

10.  Terror in the City of Champions -- Tom Stanton

Non-fiction. Subtitled Murder, Baseball, and the Secret Society that Shocked Depression-era Detroit. This book explores the heyday of Detroit, the mid-1930s, when the city won championships in three sports, baseball, football and hockey, in the same season, and juxtaposes that with the activities of the Klan-like Black Legion terrorizing the region.

11.  A Feast for Crows -- George R. R. Martin

Book Four of  Martin's seven-part "A Song of Fire and Ice" series. This is my least favorite of the books so far and deviated the most from the HBO series, but still an exciting, action-packed ride.

12. The Moviegoer -- Walker Percy

Like most of the National Book Award winners I've read, this book failed to impress for quite a while. It seemed like a pale imitation of A Confederacy of Dunces. Gradually, I got into the rhythm and spirit of the story and was sorry to see it come to an end.

13. Kindred -- Octavia Butler

When I'm reading a book or watching a movie about strange phenomena like time travel or the like, I like to have some kind of explanation to work with -- Doc Brown invented a time-traveling DeLorean or there's a portal in the back of a diner, something. This book doesn't have that. It's just a modern (1976, when the book was written) black woman repeatedly traveling back in time to the antebellum South to save the life of one of her ancestors. No explanations, no control over the process. Other than that, it was an exceptional book; part slave memoir, part fantasy.

14. The Scarecrow -- Michael Connelly

Not one of Connelly's best, but still a page-turner.

15.  Last Night in Twisted River -- John Irving

This one kinda turned into a chore to read for a while, but shaped up to be a pretty decent novel.

16. Escape Clause -- John Sandford

A typical Sandford crime thriller with Virgil Flowers trying to find some Amur tigers stolen from the Minneapolis Zoo.

17. Plainsong -- Kent Haruf

Again, my pet peeve, no quotation marks, but that's about the only flaw of this stark, emotional novel about a select group of people in small-town Colorado. Like A Man Called Ove (#6), it's hard for me to imagine anyone who likes to read not loving this book.

 18. The Jealous Kind -- James Burke

Most of Burke's books are mystery/crime novels that are a cut above the norm. This one is a first love/coming of age/tangled up with mobbed up guys in 1950s Houston story.

19. White Trash -- Nancy Isenberg

Non-fiction. Subtitled The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. It droned on repetitiously on some topics and skimmed over others that I wish Isenberg had gone into more depth on, but overall, an interesting telling of the history of America, focusing on the human waste, bogtrotters, scalawags, rascals, crackers, mudsills, hoosiers, tar heels, hillbillies, trailer trash, rednecks -- the poor white trash.

20. Darktown -- Thomas Mullen

An excellent mystery/crime story, but more than that, the story of the integration of the Atlanta Police Department in 1948.

21.  A Dance with Dragons -- George R. R. Martin

Book Five of the "A Song of Fire and Ice" mega-series. When the series started, the main characters were very young, just kids or teenagers. Martin said, I believe in the preface to Book Four, that he originally wanted to jump forward a few years to allow these characters to grow up a little, but changed his mind and wrote Books Four and Five to fill in the gap. Then he split it up, the two books cover the same period of time, focusing on different groups of characters in each book. Book Five is the more interesting of the two -- I guess because I was more interested in these characters than the others -- and is very action-packed, but didn't advance the overall plot very much. Now, like millions of others, I'll sit back and wait for Martin to eventually finish writing Books Six and Seven.

22. Stolen Prey -- John Sandford

Brutal murders, Mexican gangs, Federales, DEA, and Lucas Davenport in the middle of it all. Typical fast-paced Sandford.

23. The Associate -- John Grisham

Agent: The deadline is here. The publisher really needs your manuscript now.
Grisham: I've got a good story going, but I'm stuck on the ending.
Agent: They need what you've got. NOW!
Grisham: Alright, give me another day or two. I'll throw together a couple of chapters and wrap everything up.

24. Limitations -- Scott Turow

It's not very often that I read two of the same type of books back-to-back. I like to mix things up a bit, but two lawyer books? I needed something short to read while waiting to pick up some library books and this fit the bill. An interesting story, a little deeper than I was expecting.

25. Lincoln in the Bardo -- George Saunders

It took me a little while (maybe 50-75 pages) to figure out just what in the hell I was reading, but this turned out to be an amazing book. Highly recommended if you're looking for something different.

26. I Am Legend -- Richard Matheson

I was surprised to find that I Am Legend was a novella comprising about half of this book; the rest was short stories. I Am Legend was a really great vampire story, closer in tone to The Omega Man adaptation than the Will Smith movie of the same name. The short stories were a mixed bag, ranging from awesome to head-scratchers.

27. The Quiet American -- Graham Greene

Vietnam in 1952. Political intrigue and a love triangle between a naive American of dubious occupation, a jaded British journalist and a Vietnamese woman. I'm going to be on the lookout for one of the two movie adaptations.

28. Day of Confession -- Allan Folsom

A so-so novel of international intrigue and shenanigans in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

29. The Devil in the White City -- Erik Larson

Non-fiction. Subtitled "Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America." A superb history of the herculean effort of Daniel Burnham to bring the 1893 World's Fair to Chicago juxtaposed with the story of serial killer Herman Mudgett, a.k.a. H. H. Holmes, who killed nine people at the very least and whose victims probably numbered in the dozens.

I was unaware of any of this until I saw the Timeless episode "The World's Columbian Exposition" (Season One, Episode 11) in which the intrepid time travelers ended up in Chicago in 1893 and had to have Harry Houdini's help to escape Holmes's "Murder Castle." A Google search for more information led me to this book, which promptly ended up on my reading list.

30. Neverwhere -- Neil Gaiman

Gaiman's books, or, at least the three I've now read, are sort of like adult fairy tales. This excellent book is the story of an ordinary human who suddenly finds himself in London Below. I read the "Author's Preferred Text," which combines and expands on the UK and US versions.

31. Hillbilly Elegy -- J. D. Vance

I don't read a lot of memoirs, but this one has been in the news a bit lately and seemed interesting. In some ways it was the story of my family, but the differences far outweighed the similarities. This book made a pretty good companion piece for White Trash (see #19), but I thought both came up short in coming up with solutions to some of the problems faced by poor or working-class white people.

32. The River of Souls -- Robert McCammon

McCammon has, thus far, written six books about Matthew Corbett. This is the fifth. Corbett is a "problem solver," a sort of private detective, in the early, early 1700s. They're good adventure stories.

33.  Feast Day of Fools -- James Lee Burke

Not one of Burke's better books. A well-written crime thriller, but a quite convoluted plot.

34. The Songs of Distant Earth -- Arthur C. Clarke

Not one of Clarke's better books, and to be quite honest, I've always thought he wrote better short stories than novels anyway. Spends a great deal of time setting things up, then not much happens.

35. Storm Front -- John Sandford

Not one of Sandford's better books. Gets a little too convoluted and outlandish when it strays into international intrigue.

36. A Canticle for Leibowitz -- Walter M. Miller Jr.

A sci-fi classic. Actually three different stories centuries apart centered around a Catholic monastery in the American Southwest. The monastery is tasked with preserving scientific knowledge through the dark ages following a nuclear holocaust until mankind is ready for it again.

37. Dark Money -- Jane Meyer

Non-fiction. Subtitled, "The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right," this engrossing book focuses on the Koch brothers and others who are pouring millions of dollars into subverting our democratic system.

38. Ford County -- John Grisham

Short stories. I read this a story or two at a time between other books. A mixed bag -- some of the stories are really good, one or two would have worked better fleshed out into novel form, another one or two were barely more than plot outlines.

39.  The Revisionists -- Thomas Mullen

After reading Darktown (see #20), I've become a big fan of Mullen's work.  This is a nifty novel -- part science fiction, part suspense thriller, part psychological thriller -- as Zed has come from the future (or has he?) to make sure the Great Conflagration happens in order to protect his Present Perfect.

40.  Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West -- Cormac McCarthy

 I liked this book much more than the only other McCarthy book I've read, No Country for Old Men, which I didn't care for much at all. A Western tale of Indian fighting of the Texas/Mexico border, this book is stunning for its casual portrayal of extreme violence. I just wish someone would explain to McCarthy to the purpose of the quotation mark and the apostrophe.

41. Oliver Twist -- Charles Dickens

I'm still slowly making my way through the Dickens oeuvre. A very good story if you can overlook the anti-Semitism.

42. Beartown -- Fredrik Backman

Every now and then you read a book by a new author and it's so amazingly good that you want to read another (see #6, A Man Called Ove), then that second book is so good that you want to read everything that author has published. That's where I am right now with Fredrik Backman.

43.  The Late Show -- Michael Connelly

Since Connelly has written Bosch pretty much into retirement, he's come up with a new character to solve the many crimes in LA. This is fairly decent; not his best work, but not his worst.

44. Al Franken, Giant of the Senate -- Al Franken

The author of  Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right and Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations has toned it down a bit since becoming a US senator. This book humorously details the decision to run, the campaign, the eight-month long recount, and the beginning of his career in Washington.

45. American Pastoral -- Philip Roth

Seymour "Swede" Levov is living the perfect American life, then his daughter commits an unthinkable terrorist attack that shatters that life. This excellent novel chronicles his downfall with a strong theme about the death of the American Dream.

46. And the Mountains Echoed -- Khaled Hosseini

Hosseini's previous books, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, are better; this book skips around too much through different times and characters. But still an excellent novel.

47. The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy -- Jacopo della Quercia

A fun alternative history/steampunk/adventure story. Robert Todd Lincoln, William Howard Taft and host of other historical figures travel the globe to defeat an international conspiracy that threatens the future of the United States.

48. Nine Innings -- Daniel Okrent

Non-fiction. Subtitled The Anatomy of a Baseball Game. This book would have been excellent if I had read it thirty years ago -- it was published in 1985 and chronicles a game between the Milwaukee Brewers and Baltimore Orioles in 1982. Now, it's just badly outdated and of little interest to anyone except the most hardcore baseball or Brewers fan.

49. The Gods of Guilt -- Michael Connelly

I'm often slow to update this list, sometimes adding two or three books at a time. While checking out My Year in Books at Goodreads, I noticed that they had me down for 50 books read this year and I only had 48 listed here. They were counting Infinite Jest which I didn't quite finish (see below), which left one book unaccounted for. After comparing lists, I discovered that I had inadvertently omitted this book. I guess that's appropriate. This novel, the fifth, I think, about Mickey Haller, the Lincoln Lawyer, was a fun read, but mostly forgettable in the long run.

Now reading: Dubliners -- James Joyce, Reamde -- Neal Stephenson

Started, but gave up on:

Infinite Jest -- David Foster Wallace

Many pages of phenomenal writing, followed by many pages of "what the hell am I reading?" I plodded through 845 of 981 pages, but I just couldn't bear to pick it up anymore. This book, it seems to me, is in desperate need of an editor who knows what they're doing.

Some things I don't like while reading: one thousand page books that would be about fifteen hundred pages long if written in a readable font, books that are not in a readable font, reading along for over an hour before reaching a natural break, having to refer to "notes and errata" in the back of the book that breaks up the reading flow, "notes and errata" that are in an even more unreadable font, paragraphs that are four or five pages long, sentences that are half a page long, using 57 words when a handful would do, etc., etc., etc.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My 2016 Reading List

Once again, for the third year, I'm putting together an ongoing blog post of all the books I'm reading during the year. I've found that when you read 50+ books a year it's nice to be able to go back and jog your memory about just what you've read and when.

1. Middle of Nowhere -- Ridley Pearson

I've only read a few Pearson books, but, like Michael Connelly or John Sandford, he seems to always be good for a page-turning thriller.

2.  The Racketeer -- John Grisham

Another gripping page-turner. Typical Grisham; better than some, not as good as others.

3.  The Human Division -- John Scalzi

Book #5 of Scalzi's Old Man's War series; you'll need to read at least some of the other books to get anything out of this one. Scalzi has put together an interesting format for this book, telling the story in thirteen stand-alone short stories, and throws in a couple of bonus stories.

4.  L.A. Confidential -- James Ellroy

Book #3 of Ellroy's L.A. Quartet; though some minor characters appear in each book, it's not necessary to read them to understand this one. The 1997 movie barely touches the elaborateness of the book's plot.

5.  Saint Mazie -- Jami Attenberg

A nice bit of historical fiction; a fictionalized account, through 'diary entries' and 'interviews,' of the life of Mazie Phillips-Gordon, the Queen of the Bowery.

6.  The Innovators -- Walter Isaacson

Non-fiction. The subtitle pretty much sums it up: "How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution;" a fairly comprehensive history of computers, electronics, software, the Internet, etc., going all the way back to Ada, Countess of Lovelace.

7.  Girl at War -- Sara Novic

One of those books that you want to read slowly to savor every word, but can't help reading at a breakneck pace. Incredibly moving.

8.  Deadline -- John Sandford

Speaking of page-turners, I blew through about 300 pages of this one in a day, finished it off the next. One of the best Sandford books I've read in a while.

9.  White Noise -- Don DeLillo

A post-modernist novel that explores many themes, most notably fear of dying, in an absurdist sort of way.

10.  The Final Storm -- Jeff Shaara

I've read everything by Shaara now until he gets around to writing something new. I thought this was going to be a history of the War in the Pacific, but he recapped the first three years of the war in the introduction, then spent 330 pages on Okinawa and the rest on Hiroshima.

11. Chasing the Dime -- Michael Connelly

A fairly typical Connelly crime story even though it doesn't feature any of his main recurring characters.

12.  Men of War -- Alexander Rose

Non-fiction. Subtitled "The American Soldier in Combat at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima," this book is an American version of The Face of Battle by John Keegan, which focused on the British battles of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme. A fascinating, sometimes intense look at what it's like to be in combat and the evolution of the American fighting man, his tactics, weapons, attitudes, etc.

13.  The Prophet -- Michael Koryta

An entertaining crime story, a murder in a small town/echoes of the past tale with some football thrown in. I'm going to put more of Koryta's books on my reading list.

14.  The End of All Things -- John Scalzi

The sixth book of the Old Man's War sci-fi series. The last book, The Human Division (see #3), was written as a series of short stories; this one is in four novellas. Scalzi might one day decide to write another book of this series, but this one kinda reached a real good stopping point.

15.  A Stir of Echoes -- Richard Matheson

I've had the movie in my Netflix queue for quite a while now, but decided I needed to read the book first. A first-rate ghost story.

16.  Whiteout -- Ken Follett

Much better than the last Follett book I read, Night Over Water (see the 2015 list, #47). A decent crime thriller.

17. Let the Great World Spin -- Colum McCann

Wow! Highly recommended. A series of interconnected stories explore life in New York City in the days of Philippe Petit.

18. Mister Slaughter -- Robert MacCammon

Book three of MacCammon's Matthew Corbett saga, the story of a detective in 1700s New York. Works okay as a stand-alone book, but you'd probably get a little more out of it if you read the previous books, Speaks the Nightbird (see the 2015 list, #44) and The Queen of Bedlam (2015, #53).

19.  White Jazz -- James Ellroy

The final book of Ellroy's LA Quartet. There are different main characters in each book, but a lot of minor recurring characters. It's not necessary to read the other books to understand this one, but is highly recommended to get the full flavor of Los Angeles in the late 1940s and 1950s.

20.  A Confederacy of Dunces -- John Kennedy Toole

A comic romp through old New Orleans with some of the strangest characters ever committed to paper. Highly recommended.

21.  It -- Stephen King

The first book I've intentionally re-read in a long time. I had a weird false memory that I read this the first time while I was still in high school, but discovered that it was first published in 1986, a couple of years after I left college. I didn't remember it being so jumbled chronologically, jumping from 1958, when the protagonists were kids, to the present, which in this case is 1985. King's first really ambitious book; it probably would have been better if it had been trimmed just a bit.

22.  Shots on the Bridge -- Ronnie Greene

Non-fiction. Subtitled "Police Violence and Coverup in the Wake of Katrina," this book focuses on the events on the Danziger Bridge and the aftermath. This is one of those books that's infuriating to read because of the recounted injustices.

23.  Seveneves -- Neal Stephenson

An epic sci-fi story concerned with the survival of the human race after a catastrophic event. I loved it; my only complaint is that the plot was occasionally broken up by long explanations of scientific concepts that sometimes made my eyes glaze over.

24.  Rain Gods -- James Lee Burke

This book was very reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men with similar themes and characters. I enjoyed this book more, though it did go on a tad too long.

25. I Travel by Night -- Robert McCammon

Finally, some horror from McCammon in the form of a vampire story. Too bad it's just a little novella of less than 150 pages. Hopefully, we'll see more fiction about this Trevor Lawson fellow soon.

26.  Lock In -- John Scalzi

A nifty, page-turning science fiction crime story.

27.  All the Light We Cannot See -- Anthony Doerr

An incredible novel of historical fiction; one of the best World War II novels I've read.

28.  The Ridge -- Michael Koryta

The only other Koryta book I've read, The Prophet (see #13), was a fairly straightforward crime novel. This one started out that way and then turned into a sort of horror novel.

29.  A Game of Thrones -- George R. R. Martin

I've seen all of the HBO series except for the latest episodes, and decided to see what the books were like. As is almost always the case, the book is better than the movie (or Season One of a series in this case.) One disadvantage to seeing the series first: there weren't any real surprises as I already knew what was going to happen next. An advantage: I was better able to figure out who was who in this cast of thousands.

30.  Eileen -- Ottessa Moshfegh

"Crime novel" or "psychological thriller" doesn't really do this book justice. A bizarre, engrossing story about an unsympathetic character. A first person account by an unreliable narrator recounting a week fifty years in the past.

31. The Hum Bug -- Harold Schechter

Not quite as good as I thought it was going to be, but still an interesting piece of historical fiction. The story is told from the point of view of Edgar Allen Poe who is working for P. T. Barnum to solve a string a murders in 1830s New York City.

32.  The Confession -- John Grisham

One of Grisham's better books, a fast-moving account of the impossible task of preventing the execution of an innocent man in Texas.

33. Wicked Lies -- Lisa Jackson and Nancy Bush

Meh. What I thought would be a page-turning crime novel turned out to be something I had to force myself to finish.

34. A Thousand Splendid Suns -- Khaled Hosseini

I didn't think this novel could be as good as Hosseini's first, The Kite Runner, but it's better.

35. Wicked Prey -- John Sandford

Typical Sandford; a fast-moving crime thriller.

36. The Sixth Extinction -- Elizabeth Kolbert

Non-fiction. There have been five mass extinctions in Earth's history, the most notable being the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. This sobering book documents the many ways humans are driving the sixth extinction.

37.  The Gray Man -- Mark Greaney

A fast-paced international hitman-type thriller, a la Jason Bourne. I was also reminded of Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt character, who just can't be killed no matter the odds.

38.  Saturn Run -- John Sandford and Ctein

It's odd to see a writer you're very familiar with leave the bounds of the genre he's famous for. Sandford, best known for his crime novels, teams with Ctein to write an epic hard-science fiction novel. Very reminiscent of Seveneves (see #23), but where Sandford and Ctein mention the scientific concepts and move on, Stephenson beats you over the head with them for an inordinate number of pages.

39.  The Circle -- Dave Eggers

A suspenseful, engrossing tale of where we might be in a few years. A tale of an Internet company that's like Google on steroids, a company that has subsumed or absorbed Google, Facebook, Twitter and others, in a world where secrets and privacy are rapidly become relics of the past.

40.  A Clash of Kings -- George R. R. Martin

Book Two of Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" seven-part mega-epic series. This book corresponds to Season Two of Game of Thrones with some deviations from the TV show.

41.  Point of Impact -- Stephen Hunter

A nifty thriller; the basis of the movie Shooter.

42.  Scandalmonger -- William Safire

An interesting piece of historical fiction, focusing on the newsmonger James Callender and the scandals he unearthed about Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.

43.  White Butterfly -- Walter Mosley

A tight, gripping murder mystery.

44.  On Such a Full Sea -- Chang-rae Lee

Here's one of my pet peeves again: a book without quotation marks. Also, some strange narration, told by someone left behind, filled with details the narrator couldn't seem to know. The story seems to have been passed around from teller to teller, each embellishing the story to the point of legend. A fairly amazing novel.

45.  The Cold Six Thousand -- James Ellroy

Book Two of Ellroy's Underworld USA trilogy, a sort of Secret History of the United States. This novel picks up immediately after the events of American Tabloid (see the 2015 list, #24) and follows the boys through the subsequent coverup of the JFK assassination and new adventures with the civil rights movement and Vietnam, culminating in the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

46.  A Little Life -- Hanya Yanagihara

This book is not for everyone. It's a difficult read due to the harrowing subject matter, an emotional punch to the gut. But, if you can make it through, it's an incredibly good book. The New Yorker review sums it up nicely. 

47.  Long Ride Home -- W. Michael Gear

I like a good western every now and then. This one is very nicely done, avoiding many of the stereotypes of the genre and actually throwing in a little historical accuracy.

48.  Shutter Island -- Dennis Lehane

Despite all the stuff in the blurb on the cover about nothing being as it seems, I really didn't see the ending coming. A great psychological thriller from the author of Mystic River.

49. The Black Ice -- Michael Connelly

One of Connelly's earliest books; a typically fast-paced crime drama.

50.  A Storm of Swords -- George R. R. Martin

Book Three of Martin's "A Song of Fire and Ice" seven-part mega-series. While the HBO series Game of Thrones follows the books fairly closely, there is some deviation, especially with this book.

51.  Suspicion -- Joseph Finder

A fairly decent page-turner of a crime thriller.

52.  End of Watch -- Stephen King

Book Three of King's "Mr. Mercedes" trilogy. The series started out as a fairly straightforward crime story and got a little weirder and more toward what you'd expect from Stephen King as it went along. You definitely have to read the prior books, Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, to understand this one.

53.  In Cold Blood -- Truman Capote

Capote's classic "New Journalism" tale (or, as Capote himself called it, a "nonfiction novel") about a multiple murder and its aftermath. Immensely readable and engrossing.

54.  The Providence Rider -- Robert McCammon

Book Four of McCammon's Matthew Corbett novels (there are six so far), detailing the adventures of a detective in early 1700s New York City. The other books have worked well as standalone novels. For this one, you really need to read the previous book, Mister Slaughter (#18), to know what is going on.

55.  The Secret History of Las Vegas -- Chris Abani

This book started out as a crime novel and turned into something really strange involving a shadowy government-sponsored institute, apartheid atrocities, sideshow freaks and more. Not one of my favorite books, but very memorable. (NY Times review)

56. High Fidelity -- Nick Hornby

A coming-of-age story. The twist is the protagonist is in his mid-thirties. Since I love music so much (and used to be as much of a snob about it as our hero is) and grew older without really growing up, I found it highly relatable.

57.  The Girl in the Spider's Web -- David Lagercrantz

At a time when I wasn't reading much, I flew through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy (what the publisher is now calling the Millennium Series) one right after another. But the series seemed to be wrapped up nicely and author Stieg Larsson is dead, so I went into this one with quite a bit of trepidation. While this one is not quite as good as the original novels, it's still an exciting, fast-paced thriller.

58.  Empire Falls -- Richard Russo

A serious/comic look at life in a small town in Maine.

59.  Long Lost -- David Morrell

A bare-bones, page-turner of a crime thriller.

60.  Annihilation -- Jeff VanderMeer

A bizarre, little (under 200 pages) sci-fi story. Book One of the Southern Reach Trilogy.

61.  The Witches -- Stacy Schiff

Non-fiction. A thorough telling of the events surrounding the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.

62.  The Appeal -- John Grisham

Not one of Grisham's best, but a fast-moving tale that explores the folly of the people electing judges.

63.  Certain Prey -- John Sandford

A typical fast-moving, page-turning Sandford crime thriller.

64. The Dead Lands -- Benjamin Percy

Dystopian sci-fi/fantasy chronicling a new Lewis and Clark expedition across post-apocalyptic America.

65.  Razor Girl -- Carl Hiaason

A typical Hiaason weird, wild, wacky South Florida crime saga.

66.  The Underground Railroad -- Colson Whitehead

Part brutal depiction of slave life, part Gulliver's Travels through the Old South. Highly recommended. The interview on NPR's Fresh Air sums it up nicely.

67. Authority -- Jeff VanderMeer

Book Two of the Southern Reach Trilogy. A slow read, but an engrossing, bizarre sci-fi series. This was a drastic change from the first book, Annihilation (see #60). I can't wait to see how this series shakes out.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My 2015 Reading List

English: Stack of books in Gould's Book Arcade...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Last year's New Year's resolution was to read more, and for some reason I decided to keep track of what I read by keeping a reading list on this blog. Unfortunately, that was the only thing I did on this blog for the entire year. I'm not sure if I'll ever start blogging again on any kind of regular basis, but I've decided to make another reading list, so here goes...

1. The Smoke at Dawn -- Jeff Shaara

By my count, this is the eleventh Shaara book I've read, so I'm a big fan of the formula. Since this book covers the Civil War battles for Chattanooga, you can find something of a review on my Chattanooga Civil War blog.

2. Gray Mountain -- John Grisham

Not as good as the last Grisham novel I read (Sycamore Row), but an interesting look at the evil coal mining companies of Appalachia.

3. Mr. Mercedes -- Stephen King

Somewhat of a surprise. None of the horror or monsters (except the human kind) you might expect from Stephen King, but a fairly straight-up crime story.

4. The Wild Blue -- Stephen Ambrose

The first non-fiction book of the year. Subtitled "The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s over Germany," this interesting book focuses on George McGovern's WWII squadron.

5. Fuzzy Nation -- John Scalzi

Scalzi calls this a "reboot" of H. Beam Piper's Fuzzy universe, "not unlike the recent J. J. Abrams 'reboot' of the Star Trek film series (but hopefully with better science.)" Piper's Little Fuzzy delved deeper into the philosophical questions surrounding sapience, but Scalzi's Fuzzy Nation is a more entertaining book.

6. Void Moon -- Michael Connelly

It's very odd to read a Connelly book that isn't about homicide detective Hieronymus Bosch, FBI agent Terry McCaleb or defense attorney Mickey Haller. This is more of an Elmore Leonard-style plot with the bad guy (in this case, a woman) trying to stay ahead of the even badder guys.

7. Fear City -- F. Paul Wilson

I'm a big fan of Repairman Jack, one of the coolest crime fiction characters of all-time. The cover said, "Repairman Jack: The Early Years," so I snatched it up. When I cracked it open to start reading it, I noticed that the title page said, "Fear City -- A Repairman Jack Novel -- The Early Years Trilogy: Book Three." Yikes! I started to take it back until I could get around to the other two books, then realized that I've read a good bit of Wilson's "The Secret History of the World" ALL out of order anyway, so what the hell. Except for a few parts (What the hell's the deal with Tony?), it works very well as a stand-alone book, telling the "secret history" of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

8. Underworld -- Don DeLillo

After some lightweight page-turners, I was looking for something a little more substantial. This book more than fit the bill. A big sprawling contender for the title of Great American Novel, perhaps a tad overly long and ambitious. The prologue, a recounting of Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard Round the World, is incredible sportswriting.

9. The Red Badge of Courage -- Stephen Crane

More than what I expected. This falls into the category of "Books I Should Have Read 35 or 40 Years Ago."

10. King's Mountain -- Sharyn McCrumb

I'm a big fan of McCrumb. I've read almost everything she's written and especially enjoy the Ballad novels that deal so extensively with Appalachian life. That said, this book, a fictionalized account of the Revolutionary War's Battle of King's Mountain, was fairly disappointing. Although the actual battle lasted just barely longer than an hour, I would have thought the telling of it would have taken more than the limited number of pages McCrumb devoted to it.

11.  A Sense of History

Subtitled "The Best Writing from the Pages of American Heritage," this book is an excellent collection of essays on a wide variety of historical topics, showing what a national treasure we all lost when American Heritage magazine folded.

12. The Uncivil War -- Robert Mackey

Nonfiction. Subtitled "Irregular Warfare in the Upper South, 1861-1865." Not exactly what I was expecting -- I was hoping to learn a little something about East Tennessee Unionists -- but an interesting look at the various types of irregular warfare the Confederates used (guerrillas in Arkansas, partisans -- Mosby in Virginia, and raiders -- Morgan and Forrest in Tennessee and Kentucky) and how the Union eventually defeated them.

13.  Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom -- Cory Doctorow

A short, fun sci-fi story. You've got to admire an author who shows such reverence for Disney's Haunted Mansion.

14.  No Country for Old Men -- Cormac McCarthy

Not a bad book, but for various reasons I wasn't nearly as impressed as I thought I'd be.

15.  Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk -- Ben Fountain

A blurb on the cover says that this could be the Catch-22 of the Iraq War. No, but it's close, damned close.

16.  Rise of the Warrior Cop -- Radley Balco

Nonfiction. I put this on my reading list after watching the police in Ferguson drive up in armored personnel carriers, pointing assault rifles at peaceful protesters. Subtitled "The Militarization of America's Police Forces," this book might best be summarized by the words of an unnamed police officer: "These guys got new toys. They want to use them." A must-read for any American, regardless of your political persuasions.

17. Echo Park -- Michael Connelly

It took me a little bit  -- maybe fifty pages or so -- to realize that this was one of the sources of the Amazon series Bosch. Typical fast-paced, entertaining Connelly.

18. Faster Pastor --  Sharyn McCrumb and Adam Edwards

An outlandish plot leads to an amusing tale of what life is like in the lower echelons of NASCAR racing.

19.  Gone Girl -- Gillian Flynn

It didn't seem like my cup of tea, but I thought I'd read a bit and see how it goes. Much more entertaining than expected. A very enjoyable psychological thriller.

20.  The Art of Fielding -- Chad Harbach

Sorta, kinda reminded me of some of John Irving's better novels, if Irving had ever had much to say about baseball or Steve Blass Disease.  An awesome debut novel.

21.  The Girl on the Train -- Paula Hawkins

Another awesome debut novel, this one an entertaining psychological thriller/murder mystery featuring a lot of screwed up people. I didn't figure out whodunit until about ten pages before the big reveal.

22.  The Man in the High Castle -- Philip K. Dick

I've read a handful of Dick's books before, and put this one on my list after seeing the pilot episode of the upcoming Amazon series. This was a very good alternative history book, but didn't bear much relation to the pilot episode I saw -- which is par for the course for Dick's books. I'm still looking forward to the series though.

23.  Tree of Smoke -- Denis Johnson

I almost quit this one about 100 or so pages in, but it shaped up to be a very good book about the Vietnam War. Perhaps a little disjointed and overrated to be a National Book Award winner.

24.  American Tabloid -- James Ellroy

About as noir as a book can get -- from the opening scene of Howard Hughes mainlining codeine while watching the news to the end. Like F. Paul Wilson's Secret History of the World (see #7), Ellroy has crafted a secret history of the Kennedy years culminating in the president's assassination.

25.  White Doves at Morning -- James Lee Burke

Burke takes a break from the crime/mystery novels to write an enjoyable Civil War tale based on his family's history.

26.  The Girls of Atomic City -- Denise Kiernan

Like The Wild Blue (see #4) this is a non-fiction book about the WWII years, relating the experiences of the ordinary Americans who were there -- in this case, at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, working on The Project, refining The Tubealloy that would power The Device that would end the war.  Kiernan's Daily Show interview (Part 1 and Part 2) explains the book very well.

27.  Heavenly Days -- James Wilcox

Sorta, kinda reminded me of a Southern-fried Garrison Keillor -- the whole small town, lost in the modern age, comic kind of story. It might have been better if he had a spent a few more pages fleshing out the story a bit.

28.  The Girl Next Door -- Ruth Rendell

I'm not sure why I've only read a couple of Rendell's books. I've enjoyed the ones I have read. This book -- one of her last -- is not much of a mystery; you learn all about the murders in the opening pages, leaving the rest of the book to see how it all shakes out.

29.  The Five -- Robert McCammon

Back in the day, McCammon was like a hidden treasure -- an author who could write a horror/thriller comparable with Stephen King, who very few people had heard of. Then, after writing his best books -- Boy's Life and Gone South -- he quit writing. For a decade. He came to mind a while back, and I put some of his newer books on my reading list. Here, McCammon shows off an encyclopedic knowledge of rock music to tell the story of a struggling band on their last tour through the Southwest.

30.  Winter's Bone -- Daniel Woodrell

Wow. I've read a lot of good books this year. This short novel, less than 200 pages, might just be the best. 

31. The Steel Wave -- Jeff Shaara

Typical Shaara military history. The second of four books on World War II, this one focuses on D-Day -- the planning, the invasion, and the subsequent battles that allowed the Allies to establish a foothold in France.

32.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane -- Neil Gaiman

Like Winter's Bone (#30), this is a brilliant, but short book -- less than 180 pages. Other than that, the two books are nothing alike. This one is a great bit of contemporary fantasy.

33.  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance -- Robert Pirsig

Part memoir of a motorcycle trip through the west, part autobiography, part philosophical discourse. I've never been a big fan of philosophy -- it starts out with grand, interesting concepts, then gets bogged down in the weeds. Zen was the same; it started out great, then Pirsig got bogged down for a couple of hundred pages talking about Quality, which made this a chore to pick up for a while, then finally got interesting again toward the end.

34.  Hidden Prey -- John Sandford

Needed some lighter reading for a change of page. Not one of Sandford's best, but a fairly decent crime novel.

35.  Fight Club -- Chuck Palahniuk

A fairly bizarre little book. This might make a good movie.

36.  The Last Colony -- John Scalzi

Typically entertaining Scalzi sci-fi; book three of the Old Man's War saga.

37.  A Prayer for Owen Meany -- John Irving

Not my favorite Irving book (that would be The Cider House Rules), but an enjoyable read. Took a little too long to get where it was going and telegraphed the ending way too far in advance.

38.  Lost Light -- Michael Connelly

A typically entertaining page-turner from Connelly.

39.  Horns -- Joe Hill

Probably my least favorite of Hill's three novels, but still a gripping horror novel. A little frustrating in that he transformed the protagonist into a demon with a few nifty demonic powers, but not enough to keep him from getting his ass kicked a few times.

40. The Black Dahlia -- James Ellroy

Ellroy is quickly becoming a favorite. An intense crime noir novel loosely based on the real-life crime story.

41.  Finders Keepers -- Stephen King

Another page-turning crime novel from King; a sequel of sorts to Mr. Mercedes.

42.  No Less Than Victory -- Jeff Shaara

Typically interesting military historical fiction from Shaara. This is the third book of his trilogy on the WWII European Theater, covering events from the Battle of the Bulge to (spoiler alert) the fall of Germany.

43.  A People's History of Sports in the United States -- Dave Zirin

Zirin, the sports editor of The Nation, explores the strange intersection where sports meets politics. I thought it might coulda been a little more comprehensive, but a great addendum to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States.

44.  Speaks the Nightbird -- Robert McCammon

I was really surprised that this story of a witch trial in 1699 Virginia was actually a mystery instead of a horror novel. I was also surprised that over 700 pages of small type went by so quickly.

45.  Station Eleven -- Emily St. John Mandel

The most sedate apocalyptic novel I've ever read, but extremely compelling.

46. Washington's Spies -- Alexander Rose

Non-fiction. History. Subtitled "The Story of America's First Spy Ring," this interesting book is the basis of the AMC series Turn.

47.  Night Over Water -- Ken Follett

Follett has written dozens of books; I've read a handful of them. The story, which is kind of meh, is made interesting by the account of the beginning of trans-Atlantic passenger flight aboard Pan Am's Boeing 314 Clipper coinciding with the beginning of World War II.

48. Welcome to Braggsville -- T. Geronimo Johnson

To all authors everywhere: Please, for the love of God, quit writing novels that don't have quotation marks. It's confusing, distracting, and irritating as hell. Other than that, this is an incredible novel, sort of a coming-of-age, sort of a Berkeley meets the Old South culture shock story, written in a variety of styles that plays havoc with a lot of social conventions.

49. The Big Nowhere -- James Ellroy

Book #2 of Ellroy's L.A. Quartet. Takes place after The Black Dahlia (see #40), but is not really a sequel. Can be read as a standalone novel. Another intense, noir crime novel.

50. Zoe's Tale -- John Scalzi

Book #4 of Scalzi's Old Man's War series. Mostly retells the story in Book #3, The Last Colony (See #36), from a different point of view. You must read the other books to know what is going on in this one.

51.  Jacksonland -- Steve Inskeep

One of the best books I've read on the plight of the Cherokees; written by the host of NPR's Morning Edition.

52.  Naked Prey -- John Sandford

Another typically entertaining crime novel from Sandford. More entertaining than the last Prey book I read (Hidden, #34).

53.  The Queen of Bedlam -- Robert MacCammon

Book Two of the Matthew Corbett story that began in Speaks the Nightbird (See #44). Corbett goes from magistrate's clerk to detective, investigating a serial killer in NYC (among other things) in the very early days of the 18th century. It is not essential that you read Speaks the Nightbird first, but is highly recommended.

54.  Brave New World -- Aldous Huxley

I've decided to go back and reread some of the classic sci-fi I grew up with. I read this back when it was first published in the, seriously, it has been almost 40 years. I first read this when I was in high school in the 1970s. Not quite as good the second time around, but holds up pretty well.

55.  The Bazaar of Bad Dreams -- Stephen King

An entertaining collection of 20 stories.

56. Nora Bonesteel's Christmas Past -- Sharyn McCrumb

A novella starring my favorite McCrumb characters, Nora Bonesteel, Spencer Arrowood and Joe LeDonne.

57.  The Fateful Lightning -- Jeff Shaara

Typically entertaining and informative historical fiction from Shaara. This is the fourth and final book of his series detailing the western campaign of the Civil War. This one covers Sherman's march through Georgia, then South and North Carolina.

58. Aftershock and Others -- F. Paul Wilson

A collection of short stories. Some are better than anything in Stephen King's latest collection.

59.  Christmas Stories -- Charles Dickens

I'm slowly (very, very slowly) making my way through the works of Dickens, and vowed that this would be the year that I finally read A Christmas Carol, but I wanted to wait until close to Christmas to do so. This volume of Dickens's novellas contains A Christmas Carol, The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth.

60.  Wayfaring Stranger -- James Lee Burke

Deeper than I thought it would be; one of the few Burke novels that doesn't feature detective Dave Robicheaux. The New York Times calls it "a sprawling narrative rumination on good and evil, with a plot conveniently attached," which is pretty much on the mark.

The books got a little better this year compared to last because I finally figured out the secret of Georgia's PINES library system. If you live in Georgia, go to your local library and get a library card and a login code for the PINES webpage, go to the page and set up an account. You are now set up to place a hold on almost any book in almost any library in the state of Georgia. They'll track down the book and send it to your local library for you to pick up at your convenience. Great, huh?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My 2014 Reading List

Right before the Christmas holidays, I started a new job at the same old place I've been working. The new job is more about how much I know as opposed to how much work I can do. Suddenly, I've got more responsibilities, but more free time to kill with nothing much to do but read.

I used to read a lot, but gradually got out of the habit when the Internet came along. My New Year's resolution was to use my newly-found free time to get back into the habit again. I also decided to keep a list of what I've read, and that's what this post is about.

I've mentioned before that I usually try to make the next book I read somewhat different from my last book. I'll read some lightweight fluff, then try to read something more substantial. If you think of something you think I might like be sure to chime in.

1. The Eyes of the Dragon -- Stephen King

This is what I was reading... um, re-reading, when the calendar ticked over to the new year. I first read this around 1987 when it was published. I was re-reading it to see if it was appropriate for my grandson, who will be entering middle school this year. I think I'll wait another couple of years before giving it to him.

2. The Mosquito Coast -- Paul Theroux

This languished on my shelf for quite a while. A strange book about a strange man who takes his family away from it all, all the way to the Mosquito Coast. I'm really interested in seeing the movie now.

3. To the Last Man -- Jeff Shaara

I've read quite a few of Shaara's books, which are usually historical fiction about the various wars America has been involved in. This is his book about WWI.

4. Co. Aytch -- Sam Watkins

I'm not quite sure why I haven't read this Civil War memoir before. The first non-fiction book of the year.

5. I, the Jury -- Mickey Spillane

I love a good crime story and had never read any Spillane books before. I found a book that combined three of Spillane's Mike Hammer books. This is the first. Not really my cup of tea, but I can understand why people ate these up in the 1940s and 50s.

6. Nickel and Dimed -- Barbara Ehrenreich

Another non-fiction book. Ehrenreich leaves her comfortable existence to work some minimum wage jobs, and does a pretty good job of relating some of the obstacles facing the poor working class.

7. Raylan -- Elmore Leonard

I've read more than a few Elmore Leonard books in my time. This one centers around Raylan Givens, the protagonist of the FX series, Justified. This book tells some of the stories from the show with some substantial changes.

8. Doctor Sleep -- Stephen King

The sequel to The Shining.

9. Joe Strummer and the Legend of the Clash -- Kris Needs

I was a big Clash fan back in the day. This book was a whole lot of hero worship, but related a lot of the stuff I missed from being on the wrong side of the pond. This was a bathroom book. (If you have to ask, you probably don't want to know. Suffice to say, I read it over a long period of time in short segments.)

10. Mountains Touched by Fire -- Wiley Sword

Another non-fiction book. Another Civil War book; this one is a narrative of the battles of Chattanooga.

11. Thirteen Moons -- Charles Frazier

Not as good as his debut novel, Cold Mountain, but what is?

12. Innocence -- Dean Koontz

Once upon a time I read a lot of Dean Koontz books, but finally got tired of him and stopped. This book reminded my why.

13. My Gun Is Quick -- Mickey Spillane

The second of the three Spillane books. (See #5.)

14. Sacred Ties -- Tom Carhart

Another Civil War non-fiction book. This one is about five guys who met at West Point, and how they all went their separate ways once the war began. A lot of stuff about life at West Point, a lot of stuff about the Eastern Theater of the war.

15. Our Kind of Traitor -- John le Carre

A typically entertaining le Carre book.

16. Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Sports Spectacular

Another bathroom book, appropriately enough.

17. Hard Times -- Charles Dickens

I'm slowly working through the Dickens catalog. This one started out fine, but turned into a chore. I'm not quite sure that I finished it, but close enough.

18. Les Miserables -- Victor Hugo

I went into this huge, huge book with a lot of apprehension. I figured I'd read a little bit and see how it went. I was immediately drawn into this wonderful story, then couldn't dig my way out. A great story, but it would have been twice as good at half the length. I really don't understand why Victor Hugo included so much that didn't really have anything to do with the plot. This book marked a turning point, my first on a Kindle.

19. Riders of the Purple Sage -- Zane Grey

My grandfather loved Zane Grey, and I like a good western for a change of pace, but I wasn't impressed by this.

20. Play Ball -- John Feinstein

Another bathroom book. A non-fiction account of the 1992 baseball season. Some good stories here, but probably not of much interest to anyone except the most hardcore baseball fan at this late date.

21. The Dark Tower VII -- Stephen King

Yeah, I read a lot of Stephen King. This is the third one on the list so far this year. I started reading the Dark Tower books in 1982, when the Gunslinger came out. Now, some 32 years later, I'm finally done. Oh, what? There's another one?

22. Liberty -- Garrison Keillor

A typical Keillor story. Another bathroom book, but I probably would have been better off reading it in a few long stretches at work.

23. 2030 -- Albert Brooks

Probably the most disappointing book I've read this year. I was expecting so much more than what I got.

24. The Drop -- Michael Connelly

I love a good crime novel, a la Michael Connelly or John Sandford. They're like the literary version of fast food. I've read these -- Connelly and Sandford -- in no particular order, as I've run across them, but have read so many that it's hard to keep track of which ones I've read.

25. Dracula -- Bram Stoker

I read this when I was much, much younger, but didn't remember much about it. The concept of telling the story through journal entries took some getting used to. It drug in places, but finished in a rush. It was one of those books where you look at the dwindling number of pages and wonder how the author is going to wrap it up, then suddenly it's done.

26. A Blaze of Glory -- Jeff Shaara

Another Shaara book. This one is the first of a four-book series about the Civil War's Western Theater, centering around the battle of Shiloh.

27. An Officer and a Spy -- Robert Harris

Back-to-back historical fiction books. The author of Fatherland tells the story of the Dreyfus Affair. A pleasant surprise, much better that I expected.

28. NOS4A2 -- Joe Hill

My first Joe Hill book, but not my last. I kept thinking what an awesome movie this would make in the hands of the right director.

29. Heat Lightning -- John Sandford

Typical John Sandford.

30. The Wind Through the Keyhole -- Stephen King

Billed as a Dark Tower novel, it's really a novella within another novella within a short story. While holed up to get out of a starkblast (an incredibly intense, sudden winter storm), Roland tells his ka-tet the story of hunting the skin-man. Within that story is another, the Wind Through the Keyhole. Very entertaining, but doesn't do much one way or another to advance the overall Dark Tower story.

31. No Easy Day -- "Mark Owen" (Matt Bissonnette) and Kevin Maurer

The two, count 'em two, subtitles -- "The Autobiography of a Navy Seal" and "The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden" -- pretty much explain what this was about.

32. Bad Monkey -- Carl Hiaasen

I'm a big fan of Hiaasen. I've read almost all of his novels. This one is pretty typical: a convoluted plot, outlandish characters and dozens of laugh-out-loud moments.

33. The War of the Worlds -- H. G. Wells

If I've read this before, it was a long, long time ago. The original alien invasion novel is a rollicking little page-turner.

34. A Darkness More Than Night -- Michael Connelly

Typical Michael Connelly.

35. The Cloud Seeders -- James Zerndt

I signed up for a couple of newsletters that keep me apprised of free and very inexpensive Kindle books. This book sounded interesting and was free, and turned out to be well worth the price. No, seriously, it was a very good read.

36. Deliverance -- James Dickey

Whoa. This book languished on my shelf for a little while. I had seen the movie years ago, so I knew the story...or so I thought. As good as the movie was, the book was light years better.

37. Redshirts -- John Scalzi

 An interesting concept, playing off the idea of the unnamed crewman in the red shirt who always gets killed in the Star Trek away missions. Clever, fun, and just a little bit meta with several laugh out loud moments.

38. City of Bones -- Michael Connelly

Typical Michael Connelly; better than the last one I read, not as good as the one I read before that.

39. The Last of the Mohicans -- James Fenimore Cooper

I can certainly understand Mark Twain's criticism of James Fenimore Cooper. I came very close to quitting this book before I had barely begun. I stuck with it though and finally, somehow, got into the rhythm of the writing and found it to be a very engaging story.

40. Fast Food Nation --  Eric Schlosser

The first non-fiction book in a while. Makes a very persuasive case that many of the ills of modern society can be traced back to the fast food industry. I didn't realize that this book was so old (published in 2001) when I started it; would love to see an updated version.

41. Sycamore Row -- John Grisham

I kinda got out of the habit of reading John Grisham as he got out of the habit of writing legal thrillers. This wasn't his best book, but was the best I've read in a long while.

42. The Glorious Cause -- Jeff Shaara

It's weird that I've read a lot of Shaara's books, but haven't finished too many of his series. I've read the first book of his four-book WWII series, and the Shiloh book, the first of his four-book series on the Civil War's Western Theater. Now, after several years, I've finally finished his two-book Revolutionary War series. I enjoyed this, but thought he tried to do to much with it -- perhaps should have made it a three-book series.

43. Murder as a Fine Art -- David Morrell

Back-to-back historical fiction again. Morrell, the author of First Blood, which gave us Rambo, has written a very entertaining mystery/crime novel about a Victorian era serial killer, featuring real people such as Lord Palmerston and Thomas De Quincey.

44. Tishomingo Blues -- Elmore Leonard

Vastly different, but back-to-back crime stories. A typical Elmore Leonard caper with the bad guys versus the badder guys.

45. Angels Flight -- Michael Connelly

As I said before (see #24), I've read so many of Connelly's books in no particular order that it's sometimes hard to remember if I've read a particular one or not. About 15 pages into this one, the scene of the crime, Angels Flight, seemed familiar, and I was sure that I had already read it, but I couldn't remember any of the plot details, so I kept reading. Now that I've finished it, I'm still not entirely sure if I had read it before. Hmmm.

46. American Gun -- Chris Kyle and William Doyle

Non-fiction. The American Sniper's posthumously released book, subtitled "A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms," shows how American history and culture have been shaped by the gun. Interesting war and crime stories illustrate firearm evolution.

47. Orbit -- John J. Nance

A page-turning thriller. I was disappointed in how neatly the whole plot sorta resolved itself.

48. Appaloosa -- Robert B. Parker

The author of all those Spenser and Jesse Stone books tries his hand at a western. Not too bad, I actually enjoyed it more than Zane Grey's classic Riders of the Purple Sage (#19)

49. Little Fuzzy -- H. Beam Piper

I'm planning to read John Scalzi's Fuzzy Nation in the very near future, so I thought I needed to check out the original first. The version I read was an unexpurgated version. As such, it got a little twisted and confusing in parts, in need of some editing, but was an entertaining and thought-provoking attempt to define sapience.

50. Heart-Shaped Box -- Joe Hill

Wow! An incredibly awesome horror story. An incredibly awesome debut novel.

51. A Chain of Thunder -- Jeff Shaara

The second book of a four-book series on the Western Theater of the Civil War, focusing on the battles to take Vicksburg. I've always been interested in the Civil War, but haven't ever been that interested in Vicksburg. I was mainly reading this one to get to the next one in the series on Chattanooga, but found it to be very engrossing.

52. American Gods -- Neil Gaiman

Wow! A wild, weird romp through America as the old gods wage war with the new gods. This book meets the goal I set for myself around the middle of the year, to average a book a week. I know that doesn't sound like much, but it took over a month to read Les Miserables.

53.  Lies My Teacher Told Me -- James Loewen

Another non-fiction book, it explores why so many people hate history, namely because of the bad high school history textbooks. Like Fast Food Nation (#40), this was a very interesting, but way out of date (1995) book in serious need of an update, as the problems outlined in the book have only continued to get worse.

54. David Copperfield -- Charles Dickens

I haven't read as much Dickens as I would like, but this book ranks as one of my favorites (along with A Tale of Two Cities.)

55. Revival -- Stephen King

 A typical King page-turner.

Started, but gave up on:

Heart of Darkness -- Joseph Conrad

Far be it for me to criticize an author of the magnitude of Joseph Conrad, but puzzling through some of this prose is like trying to hack your way through a trackless jungle with a dull machete. Not the kind of thing to read at work at 4:00 in the morning. I gave it up about a third of the way through. I'll try this again some other time.

The Half-Life of Facts -- Samuel Arbesman

For a while this was an interesting non-fiction book about the pace of scientific discovery. Then it bogged down in the arcane and uninteresting. I read about half of it, enough of it to get the gist before losing interest.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fighting the Foo

The Westboro Baptist Church brought their virulent mixture of hatred, stupidity and religion to the Foo Fighters show in Kansas City Friday.  Why?  Who the hell knows.  But the Foo Fighters fought the foo, counter-protesting the protestors by showing up on a flatbed truck to do "Keep It Clean (Hot Buns)."

"God Bless America! It takes all kinds; I don't care if you're black or white or purple or green, whether you're Pennsylvanian or Transylvanian, Lady gaga or Lady Antebellum. Men loving women and women loving men and men loving men and women loving women -- you all know we like to watch that. But what I'd like to say is, God Bless America, y'all!"

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

You might have been wondering after all my recent troubles, but yeah, I'm still online, though you wouldn't know it from all the activity here.

It took me a while to get all the things done that I had to do to get a new computer up and running the way I want it -- the downloading, the file transferring, the updating, the backing up, etc. -- but all that was finished some time ago.  The only real glitch is that there's a setting somewhere that's keeping Firefox from remembering any of my passwords.  It won't even ask me if I want to save them.  Hmm.

I've been spending most of my free time trying to catch up my Civil War blog.  In case you didn't know, it's the sesquicentennial (that's 150 years) anniversary of the Civil War, and I've been doing a series of posts that tells what happened on the day of the post 150 years ago as it relates to the war.

I've been working on this since October 2009 with several posts on John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry.  At first the posts were few and far between, but as the 150th anniversary of the start of the war got closer, the posts got more frequent.  I got all the way up to the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's election to president in November 1860, just when things were really starting to happen.  The Deep South states were about to secede, and the crisis at Fort Sumter was building.  But I was unable to get online for quite a while, leaving a huge hole in the overall timeline -- until April of this year.

But I was back online in time for the beginning of the war at Fort Sumter.  Or so I thought.  I posted the day before the anniversary of the start of the war, then my computer fritzed out on me and I was gone again for another month.  This was another big hole in the timeline just as some big things were going down.

I've been working hard to fill in the holes, plus keep the timeline current moving forward.  I'm happy to report that the first hole -- from November 1860 to April 1861 -- is now filled in with backdated posts.  It might not be exactly kosher, but you do what you can do.  I've still got the other hole to fill, but I'm working on it.  Hopefully, once that's done I'll have more time to spend updating this blog with something interesting.

I've also started the NASCAR blog back up again.  I'm not posting there like I'd like, but I'm at least summarizing the races again.

Occasionally I might post a picture or two on the old photo blog.  I've finally turned my Flickr account pro and am dumping a lot of old pictures there a little at a time.  Lately I've posted a bunch of photos I took last year of my grandson's baseball team.  I've also posted a few photos that I didn't take, scans of snapshots my uncle sent back from Germany in 1965.

If I'm not doing any of the above stuff for a few minutes, you might find me on the Twitter or checking in on the Facebook or getting caught up with some of my blog and news reading.

See you around the web!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011)

I was very saddened today to hear of the death of Gil Scott-Heron.  Scott-Heron, 62, died at a Manhattan hospital Friday.  The cause of death wasn't disclosed, but he had a long, painful history of substance abuse.

If you read through some of the obituaries you'll see Scott-Heron credited as a progenitor of rap music.  That's true in a way -- a lot of his work was just spoken-word pieces (mostly his poems) set to music, but the music was much jazzier than anything you might consider rap today.

He never achieved much more than cult status, but was best known for "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised."
The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox in 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, brother.
Scott-Heron, who had a masters in creative writing from John Hopkins University, wrote a couple of novels and a couple of books of poetry, and recorded fifteen studio albums and nine live albums.  Other noteworthy songs include "We Almost Lost Detroit," "The Bottle," "Home Is Where the Hatred Is," and cover versions of Bill Withers's "Grandma's Hands" and Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues."  My favorite was "B Movie," a scathing protest against Ronald Ray-Gun and us for electing him -- "We're all actors in this, I suppose."
Come with us back to those inglorious days, when heroes weren't zeros, before fair was square, when the cavalry came straight away and all-American men were like Hemingway, to the days of the wondrous "B" movie.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Lightning Strike

Severe Tornado Outbreak in the Southern United...Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video via FlickrSo, yeah, we're all a little skittish after the tornado outbreak.  In my case, a tornado devastated a little subdivision about a half a mile from my house, then either veered away or passed right overhead.  It was close enough that I heard the train sound you're supposed to hear when a tornado comes.  So, yeah, that was still pretty fresh in my mind.

After two torrid days that would have seemed much more normal for July, Friday was cooler and rainy.  The forecast called for scattered thundershowers, but it was mostly just some patches of rain.  Maybe a few rumbles of thunder way off in the distance.

And there I was working at my brand-new computer.  Had just bought it the day before.  Had spent a good chunk of my worldly fortune on it.

I don't know where the lightning struck, but it must have been a truly impressive sight.  I just caught a flash of it outside my bedroom window.  One Mississippi, two Mississippi.  Hmm.  Must still be way off in the distance.

Suddenly, BOOM!

It was like standing next to a big cannon when someone suddenly decides to shoot it off without any warning.  No, strike that (pun intended.)  It was like the heavens suddenly split apart.  I guess, in a way, that's what happened.

I 'bout fell out of my chair.  My first thought was about the well-being of my new investment.  Computer innards don't react too well with lightning.  But the lights didn't even flicker.

I debated for a bit about shutting the computer down.  It probably wasn't the wisest choice, but I kept it on and kept working.  I was right in the middle of one of the dozens of tasks you have to do before you can start to enjoy a new computer.  It worked out all right though.  I didn't hear much of anything else out of the storm except for the long, low rumble as the heavens stitched itself back together again.

Hope your Friday was not as eventful.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Let's Try This Again

A funny thing happened on the way to the Internet...well, okay, maybe it's not that funny.

The last time I posted here I had just gotten back online after a long absence of several months.  I even made a comment that hopefully that might be my last online absence for a while.  Everything was working great.  I was ecstatic.

The good times were over as quickly as they began.  About two and a half days into my triumphant return, my Internet connection started acting a little buggy.  It was dropping out and slowing down.  After three days, I couldn't connect to the Internet at all.  It seemed like the problem was with the ISP and I tried to work with them to resolve the problem, but it just wasn't happening.  I finally discovered that the problem was on my end with my computer -- specifically, I think my network card might have kicked the bucket.

Rather than put any more money into my old computer, I decided to wait a bit and get a new one.  Problems led to delays, and now here we are a month older.  All the pieces finally fell into place yesterday and I'm back again.  Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Don't you just hate it when you're following a blog and it suddenly goes dead on you -- no updates, no new posts, not a word of warning?  Did the author die or is he/she going through some sort of crisis that precludes posting inconsequential stuff on the Internet?

In my case, it was the latter.  I'm still alive and kicking but have been trying to work through some things lately.  To quote Genesis (the band, not the book of the Bible), "I wish that I could really tell you all the things that happened to me and all that I have seen."

My life became somewhat akin to a train wreck  But I feel like I've turned a corner and can now see a tiny bit of daylight at the end of the tunnel.  I'm slowly working my way out of the rut toward that big, bright, beautiful tomorrow.  Hopefully, my next unexpected absence is way off in the future.

When I left you, I was working on resurrecting and restructuring my blogs.  Once upon a time, I had several different blogs, each devoted to totally different topics, namely the diverse things I was interested in -- sports and photography and the Civil War.  One day I had the bright idea to close them all down and consolidate everything here at the old Meanwhile... blog.  The result, as you could probably guess, was a jumbled mess.  Somewhere along the line I got particularly interested in writing about NASCAR, which only added to the jumble. 

I finally bit the bullet, reopened the old blogs and started moving everything back where it belongs.  Now, if you're interested in the Civil War, you can go to my Civil War blog and not have to wade through photos or NASCAR results.  Incidentally, I'm was working on a series of posts there -- the Civil War Calendar.  This was a "This Day in History"-type of series exploring the sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary of the Civil War.  When last I left you, I had just posted about the election of Abraham Lincoln.  The series will resume and I've got a lot of blanks to fill in before the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter, the true start of the war, which is fast approaching.

My recently renamed photo blog, Visualizations, is also back.  I'm hoping to pull out the camera more often and update it more frequently.  I also have a big backlog of photos I haven't shown you yet.  I'm going to try to post something daily, but I'm not going to be religious about it.  I'd rather have quality over quantity.

I've also started a new sports blog.  I'm still toying around with the name.  (I'm really not too good at naming these things.)  For now, I've settled on "NASCAR, etc." because it'll generally be about NASCAR and whatever other sports story crosses my radar screen. 

I'm not sure what direction this blog will take.  I'm not very interested in writing about politics much anymore.  It's all been done before.  But this is sorta the mothership of my own personal blogosphere, so at least I can write about what's going on on the other blogs while I try to think of something fresh and interesting.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Saturday Six: Peanuts

Charlie BrownImage via WikipediaOver at Patrick's Place, Patrick is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Peanuts comic strip with a Saturday Six batch of questions about the beloved comic strip.  Peanuts is not my favorite strip of all time, but I would have to put it in my Top 5 with Calvin and Hobbes, Doonesbury, Bloom County, and The Far Side.  Peanuts was a bit tamer than my other favorites, but could get pretty deep and philosophical at times.

Anyway, on with Patrick's questions:

1. Who is your favorite Peanuts character?

Jeez!  That's like asking what's my favorite Beatles album.  All of them.  I guess I've always been partial to the level-headed, intelligent, unflappable Linus.  Either him or Snoopy and his many alter egos.  I'm also a big fan of Pigpen for some reason.  And the duo of Peppermint Patty and Marcie is intriguing too. 

2. Which Peanuts character is your least favorite?

Patty and Violet, the mean girls who seemed to exist only to make Charlie Brown's life even more miserable.

3. If it were up to you, would Lucy have to let Charlie Brown kick the football?

Yeah, probably just once.  I always thought that a good idea for a strip would have been for Lucy to hold the ball in place just once, but for Charlie Brown to flub the kick.

4. When did you last read a Peanuts comic strip?

Today.  I get a daily email of comic strips from  They rerun old Peanuts strips.  Today's edition is a strip that was first published in 1963.

5. Which of the television movies based on Peanuts was your favorite as a kid?

The Halloween show -- It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  I especially love the trick-or-treating.  "I got a rock."

6. Should the strip ever be drawn by someone else, even if that person agrees to keep the same values its creator held so dear?

NO!  While that has worked out alright for several long-running strips, I'm against it for Peanuts.  If Charles Schultz had had a successor in mind and worked with him for a while, it might have worked.  Since he didn't -- precisely because he did not want the strip to continue after his death -- I'd say "no."  Just keep rerunning the old ones.
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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weekend Assignment: History

This week's Weekend Assignment is History...
We don't all live near the site of a battlefield or other world-famous event, but any place has its own history: political, cultural, even natural history. How aware are you of the past of the town, city or state where you live now? Share with us a story of local history.

I actually do live near the site of a battlefield (several, in fact), and I'm very aware of the area's history.  I live in northwest Georgia, just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee.   The region's main moment in the historical spotlight happened nearly 150 years ago during the Civil War.  Chattanooga was an important railroad center, where several lines met that connected most of the South.  There were several battles fought for control of the town and there are historical markers and monuments scattered all over the region.

Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army of Tennessee occupied Chattanooga in the summer of 1863. Union General William Rosecrans sent his Army of the Cumberland around Bragg's flank, threatening Bragg's supply line from Atlanta.  Bragg withdrew from Chattanooga and headed south into Georgia.  The armies met at the Battle of Chickamauga.  The Union army was routed, but withdrew into Chattanooga, occupying the town.  Bragg besieged the town to try to starve the Federals out, but General Ulysses S. Grant arrived with many reinforcements and, after several battles, managed to drive the Confederates out of the area.

There are many, many interesting stories and anecdotes that occurred during this period.  It is hard to pick just one, but one of my favorites involves John Wilder.

Before the war, John Wilder was a successful businessman.  He ran a foundry in Ohio and invented many hydraulic machines.  When the war broke out, he joined the army as a private, but was quickly elected captain by the other men (a very common practice at the time.)  Although he wasn't a professional soldier, he advanced quickly and was a colonel within a year.

When Rosecrans's army first advanced on Chattanooga, Wilder's Lightning Brigade was at the vanguard of the attack.  He took a position on Stringer's Ridge, across the Tennessee River from Chattanooga, and began shelling the town.  His battery, commanded by Eli Lilly, who would later become very famous as the founder of a large drug company, succeeded in sinking two steamboats and causing a great deal of panic in the town.

Wilder settled in Tennessee after the war.  He built and operated the first two blast furnaces in the South at Rockwood, Tennessee.  Then he established an ironworks in Chattanooga to manufacture rails for railroads.  In 1871, he was elected mayor of Chattanooga.  That has to be an unprecedented achievement -- from shelling a town to mayor of the same town in just a few short years.

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