Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 - A Review

At the end of each year I like to look back and identify the best books I either read or listened to during the year. This year there were many books that I really enjoyed but I've narrowed it down to the following as my Top Ten List:
  1. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
  2. The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
  3. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
  4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  5. The Terror by Dan Simmons
  6. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  7. Kraken by China Mieville
  8. Speaks the Nightbird by Robert McCammon
  9. The Passage by Justin Cronin
  10. The Alchemaster's Apprentice by Walter Moers
**Worst book read - The Scorpio Illusion by Robert Ludlum

Number of books read or listened to this year - 76
Booksignings attended this year - Douglas Preston, Daniel Silva, Brandon Sanderson, & Jeffery Deaver

Monday, December 27, 2010

Dead or Alive

Dead or Alive by Tom Clancy

It's been a long time since a real Tom Clancy novel came out. His name has been associated with plenty of books that have been written in the last decade or so, but none of them were written by him. In Dead or Alive, maybe as an apology to his fans for the long delay, he includes an all-star cast of his characters: Jack Ryan, John Clark, Ding Chavez, the Caruso brothers, Mary Pat Foley, and Jack Ryan Jr..

Before leaving the Oval Office, President Jack Ryan created an extremely covert organization that answers to no politician or government agency. It's self-funded and only he and the handful of people who work for it know that it exists. It's called The Campus and its sole purpose is to find and eliminate those trying to destroy the U.S.. This time their target is the man behind numerous terrorist attacks who has managed to elude capture for years. He's known as the Emir and his next planned attack will leave the U.S. crippled for decades.

Once again Clancy does what he does best. He uses his incomparable knowledge of military operations and capabilities and  incorporates them into a quick-moving story that more often than not kept me reading long past the time I had planned to stop and do something else. Dead or Alive would be a great introductory book for those who have never read a Clancy book before. He includes enough of the characters' back stories to get readers caught up without bogging down the story.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Star Island

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen

In Star Island Hiaasen takes aim at the absurdity of today's pop culture. Cherry Pye was fifteen years old when she was transformed into a pop star by a producer at Jailbait Records. Now, at 22, her recording career is barely afloat. Her appetite for drugs, alcohol, and rock and roll drummers has forced those closest to her to hire Ann DeLusia, who resembles Cherry in every way except for the level head on her shoulders.

Ann's job is to make public appearances disguised as Cherry Pye during the lip-sincer's frequent stints in rehab. Ann is an aspiring actress who grudgingly accepts the job of Cherry's body double because the pay is good. But when she's kidnapped one night by an inept paparazzo who thinks Cherry Pye is going to be his golden ticket to fame, she decides that if she ever regains her freedom, the time might be right for a career change.

True to form, Hiaasen adds an ensemble of characters to the story that provide an extra level of ridiculousness. There are Cherry's parisitic parents, who's only concern is that their golden goose will stop laying eggs. There's Chemo, a hitman recently released from prison hired by Cherry's producer as her bodyguard. Chemo lost part of his arm during a barracuda attack years ago and decided on a custom-built Weed Whacker for a prosthesis instead of a hook or a claw because he figured it would come in more "handy" (sorry). There's also Skink, the ex-Governor of Florida, who left public office years ago in order to live in the swamp among the alligators, dining on roadkill, and sabotaging developers' ongoing efforts to ruin his state. This time Skink's sights are set on Jackie Sebago, a crooked developer who's first interaction with Skink results a trip to the emergency room to have a sea urchin removed from his more sensitive nether region.

I'd rate Star Island as an average offering from Carl Hiaasen, but with the asterisk that average for Hiaasen is better than most books out there.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, December 10, 2010

Next

Next by James Hynes

James Hynes has once again written a book that is difficult to describe. Next, along with his previous books, takes the reader down a path that feels both comfortable and familiar for the first three quarters of the book. Then, something happens. An event or a turn in that path that is totally unexpected, but which in hindsight you realize, was foreshadowed from page one. This time, that event completely changed what the book was about for me. It changed from a simple character-driven story to one that I think will cause everyone who reads it to contemplate what is, and what should be, the most important things in their life.

The story is about Kevin Quinn, a middle-aged man on a plane bound for Austin, Texas where he's got a job interview. Kevin hasn't told anyone that he's going, not even his long-term girlfriend who's half his age and who would be crushed if she knew he was contemplating leaving her and starting over in a new state. The idea of attending the interview for a job that he's not even sure he'd take if they offered it to him has become an afterthought, due to the young lady sitting next to him on the plane. He can't stop thinking about her. She's like a hybrid of two women from his past, the only women he realizes he's probably ever loved. On an impulse, he decides to follow her.

Most of the remainder of the story describes the path his life takes for the rest of the day because of that decision. It's a path filled with Kevin's ruminations about the women he's been in relationships with, his relationship with his parents, and the realization that his best years are probably behind him. Then everything changes for him in an instant.

A great book. But not one for the easily offended.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Freedom

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Books like Freedom are the reason I love to read. Most of the books I read are fast-moving thrillers, full of suspense, twists, and turns - the exact opposite of this book. However, I feel like I would have missed a wonderful experience if I hadn't decided to read a book by Jonathan Franzen. Nine years ago Franzen won the National Book Award with Corrections. The fact that it was chosen as an Oprah's Book Club selection prevented me from picking it up though. Nothing against her personally, I just assumed our tastes in literature wouldn't coincide. Fortunately for me I bought Freedom before Oprah selected it for her book club as well.

Walter and Patty Berglund are a typical Midwestern couple. They marry young and while Walter fell head-over-heals in love with Patty the moment he first laid eyes on her, Patty never felt that way about Walter. In her mind, she feels like she always settled for Walter. She loves the way he treats her more than she loves him. He's an environmental crusader, always looking after the little guy, which eventually leads him to the plight of American songbirds. She's a former high school and college athlete who was initially attracted to Walter's roommate but agrees to date Walter only after his roommate rejects her advances.

The brilliance of this book is Franzen's characters. He follows the Berglunds and their two children throughout their lives. He exposes their flaws and shortcomings as well as their humanity in a way that I can't remember reading in another book. I can't say that I considered any single character in the book "likable," yet each one resonated with me, and ultimately I ended up caring about every one of them. My only qualification with recommending this book is its frequent adult content. Some will find that aspect of the book off-putting. But it would be shame if they put the book down because of it. The book as a whole is very rewarding and is sure to appear on every "Best of . . . " list for years to come.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★