Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 - Literary Summary

2013's done, and there were a lot of good books that moved from my to-be-read pile to my read-it pile. I've narrowed the list down to my top ten for the year, but there were several that would be on an honorable mention list if I chose to assemble one. Here are the top 10 (in no particular order) along with a few other book-related bits of information.

American Decameron by Mark Dunn
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
Winter of the World by Ken Follett
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Phases of Gravity by Dan Simmons
To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson by Heidi Swinton
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
A Simple Plan by Scott Smith
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

For the second time in three years the author of the worst book I read this year was Chuck Palahniuk. This year it was Pygmy that I couldn't wait to finish.

Number of books read this year - 60

Booksignings attended this year - Craig Johnson A Serpent's Tooth, John Stockton Assisted

Books I'm looking forward to that are scheduled for 2014:
Pandemic by Scott Sigler
Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Revival by Stephen King
The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore
The Revolutions by Felix Gilman
The Son by Jo Nesbø
The Devil's Workshop by Alex Grecian
Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson
The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman
Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Assisted

by John Stockton
349 pgs

I was 11 years old when John Stockton was drafted by the Jazz and I was 30 when he decided to hang up his sneakers. That's 19 years worth of Jazz memories that are indelibly associated with the Hall of Fame point guard from Spokane, Washington. I remember dozens of game winning shots he made for the team, including, of course "The Shot." I remember the countless no-look passes he made threading the needle between defenders into the hands of Malone driving to the basket for a hammer dunk. I remember the hard screens he'd set on opponents double his size that would free up his teammate for an open shot at the basket. He was a gritty player who teammates loved, and opponents couldn't stand to play against.

Assisted offers a surprisingly candid insight into the life and career of a man who was notorious for his disdain for fame and the spotlight as well as his insistence on privacy for himself and his family. The irony of him writing his autobiography is significant and not lost on him as the author.

First off, and importantly, it's very apparent that the book was written by Stockton, and not some professional writer hired to do it. It's written in a frank and direct manner, without embellishment and without any sense of pride and bravado. Not very surprising coming from Stockton.

He spends a significant amount of time describing his background, his family life growing up, and his years of schooling at the hands of Catholic nuns. Unsurprisingly he describes his love for sports and competition from an early age. He tells of his early association with great coaches, who instilled in him a sense of discipline and excellence that carried over into every athletic activity he participated in.

My favorite parts of the book deal of course with his years with the Jazz and his two Olympic experiences. I especially enjoyed the insights into his teammates, coaches, and the team's ownership that he included in the book.

I don't read much non-fiction and very few biographies. I'm usually just not that interested in other peoples' lives. But Stockton is someone whose life I found very interesting. I admired him as a basketball player for 19 years, and now after finally getting an insight into his life, I admire him even more.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Doctor Sleep

by Stephen King
527 pgs

I'll admit to being a little nervous about reading Doctor Sleep. Not because it might be scary, but because it's the sequel to The Shining, and as such, inevitably leads to the comparison between the two. I was worried that it wouldn't live up to my expectations and that it would somehow remove its predecessor from the pedestal it's been placed on by myself and most King readers. Now, having finished it, comparing the two books is surprisingly difficult. They're so separate and distinct from each other, both in style and in the overall story's timeline, that comparing the two almost seems like a moot point.

King quickly gets you up to speed on what's happened in Dan (Danny) Torrence's life since the end of The Shining. He grew up and inherited his father's alcoholism, his mother Wendy passed away, and he's been drifting about nearing rock bottom for years. While he's been trying to overcome the demons his shining and his experiences at The Overlook have given him, a girl, whose ability to shine makes Dan's seem weak by comparison, is born in New England. Abra's "gifts" are alarming to her parents, but more significantly, they make her a target to the True Knot, a group of seemingly innocent RVers who continually roam from one part of the country to another country. They appear to outsiders to be middle-aged vacationers, but if they stayed in one place for long, others would notice that they age rapidly but then have the ability to rejuvenate. Their rejuvenating ability comes from torturing and killing those who shine and it's what has kept them alive for over a century.

As Abra grows up, her ability to shine links her to Dan and the two form a relationship that brings them together, once again giving Dan a purpose and possibly a way to rid himself of his demons once and for all.

It's very obvious, even early on in the book, that King has changed a lot as a writer in between writing these two books. His views of what's scary have evolved as well. The Shining is the type of book that strikes a chord with the fears that we all experienced growing up: ghosts, haunted houses, and the possibility that some adults might want to hurt us. While Doctor Sleep targets the types of fears we don't experience until adulthood. Both books are excellent, but in their own rights and not by their association with each other.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, December 16, 2013

Death Without Company

by Craig Johnson
271 pgs  (Longmire series #2)

Death Without Company is Johnson's second Walt Longmire book. It picks up a few months after the conclusion of the first book--The Cold Dish, and it begins with the death of an elderly Basque woman, Mari Baroja, who had been residing at an assisted-living facility for the last few years of her life. Initially it was believed that she died of natural causes, but as Walt and his deputies look further into her past, they quickly discover that she had been poisoned.

Walt's investigation reveals that Baroja's past involved ties to the lucrative methane industry in Wyoming and to Walt's predecessor in the Sheriff's Office, the cantankerous and highly-enjoyable Lucian Connally. The more Walt and his deputies uncover about Baroja's life fifty years earlier, the more complex the mystery behind her death becomes.

Death Without Company is just as good as its predecessor and it increased my anticipation for reading the rest of the books in the series, both those that have already been written and those still to come. While I was reading it I also learned that A&E's Longmire has been renewed for a third season. So I've got plenty of Walt and his supporting cast of characters yet to enjoy.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, December 5, 2013

White Fire

by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
368 pgs  (Pendergast series #13)

This is the type of Pendergast book I've been wishing for for quite some time. The past several books by Preston and Child have revolved around the enigmatic FBI special agent, and in my opinion, while he's an interesting character, the books that have been about him have been less entertaining than those that are about an intriguing case he's investigating. White Fire is a return to form for Preston and Child and it's a welcome return in my opinion.

Corrie Swanson was introduced into the series a few books back as a side character whom Pendergast had taken under his wing and was mentoring. This time she takes center stage as she travels to the mountainous town of Roaring Fork, Colorado to work on her thesis. She's studying criminal justice and has learned that the remains of several miners reportedly killed and eaten by a bear back in the 1870's, have been exhumed from a cemetery which is being replaced by a multi-million dollar development. A study of periomortem trauma on human bones by a large carnivore has never been conducted before and Corrie sees this as a chance to make a name for herself.

Corrie is initially given access to the miners' remains and a quick examination of them reveals some disturbing evidence that contradicts the claim that the miners were eaten by a bear, but her access is quickly rescinded as the developers surprisingly step in and start throwing their weight around and Corrie ultimately ends up in jail. Pendergast travels to Roaring Fork to save her and realizes that there's a connection between the deaths of the miners and a rumored lost Sherlock Holmes story written by A. Conan Doyle.

Pendergast and Corrie soon find that Corrie's investigation threatens to uncover a long-buried secret that powerful individuals would rather keep hidden. It's a secret that Doyle was told of in 1889 and one that disturbed him so much that he eventually incorporated it into a case for his famous detective to solve. Pendergast has to find that story in order to unearth the truth behind what's been happening in Roaring Fork while trying to protect Corrie from those who would like to bury her along with their secret.

White Fire is a return to form for Preston and Child. For me it reinvigorated the series and hopefully is an indication of the direction it will be going in the future.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dexter's Final Cut

by Jeff Lindsay
368 pgs  (Dexter series #7)

I didn't know what to expect with this latest installment of the Dexter series by Lindsay, and I'll admit to being a little nervous about what was going to happen at the end of the book. Showtime ended its popular series based on Lindsay's character with the recently concluded seventh season, and when I learned of the title of this forthcoming seventh book I feared the worst--would both the literary and televised versions of Dexter be ending this year? Would there be no more devilishly diabolical Dexter?

In Dexter's Final Cut Dexter is given the chance to put his acting skills to more use than simply acting like a man who possesses human feelings and emotions. While working as a technical advisor on the set of a new crime drama being filmed in Miami, he's been given a small role in the pilot episode being shot. He's also protecting the leading actress, Jackie Forest from a mentally unstable stalker. Jackie confided to Dexter, after multiple women bearing a striking resemblance to her are discovered brutally killed in Miami, that someone had been sending her increasingly frightening and threatening letters recently and she hasn't told anyone about him for fear of becoming too much of a liability in Hollywood to ever be hired again. She needs Dexter to find him and get him into police custody before the industry learns about him. But Dexter doesn't bring killers into custody, he makes sure they'll never be a threat to anyone ever again.

This was definitely not my favorite book in the series. There were parts that were disappointing, first and foremost was Lindsay's decision to give Dexter feelings in this one. Why? Dexter's better being emotionally dead. It's one of the main reasons he's so endearing, but overall, the book was enjoyable and well worth the time to read it. Is this Dexter's swan song? I hate spoilers, so I'll stop here. I will say that I wasn't disappointed with the ending.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Simple Plan

by Scott Smith
335 pgs

If you stumbled upon millions of dollars in cash and were fairly certain you could get away with it, would you take it? I would. I wish I could say with any degree of confidence that I'd do the right thing and turn it in to the authorities--but I know I wouldn't. I'd take it.

In Scott Smith's first book, this is the decision faced by three men--two brothers and their friend, when they discover a small plane that had crashed in the woods on the outskirts of their town containing a dead pilot and a duffel bag with $4.4 million dollars in cash. Without much debate they devise "a simple plan." Hank, one of the brothers, will be in charge of taking the money and hiding it. They won't spend any of it for six months while they wait to see if anyone comes looking for it. If someone does, they'll burn it and no one will ever know they had taken it. If no one does, they'll be free to split it three ways and go off to start new lives as millionaires.

Fortunately for the book's readers, and unfortunately for the three of them, their simple plan is quickly undermined by loose lips, distrust, and a spur-of-the-moment murder committed by one of them in order to keep their secret safe.

The book is fantastically written. It succeeds in not just telling a great story that will make it difficult for you to put it down, but it also makes a compelling statement about just how close to the surface the evil that exists in some men's hearts can be. The book is very much in the spirit of Breaking Bad and Lord of the Flies and fans of either are bound to enjoy it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆