• Category Archives Books
  • 2017 in books: Part 1

    Last year, I finished 36 books. This year, I have a goal to get through 37 books. Since I’m ahead of schedule at 21 books and the list is getting long, I figured I’d split this into to posts. So, here are the books I read during the first six months of 2017.

    When Powell's Books likes your tweet...
    When Powell’s Books likes your tweet…

     

    Five-star books:

    1. The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskins. A college student from a dysfunctional family finds himself learning and writing the story of a man who spent 30 years in prison for rape and murder. The book is a sort of a thriller, but not the full-speed-ahead craziness of most books in the genre — this one was more thoughtful and focused more on the characters.
    2. Becoming Rain, by K.A. Tucker. Is it realistic? No. Is it a fun read about a cop in Oregon? Most definitely. I read “Burying Water” last year and also gave that one five stars, because they’re just the perfect blend of mild chick lit, crime, and nice scenery. This book is about a female cop who goes undercover to bust a crime ring, and that’s about all I will say to avoid any spoilers.

    Four-star books:

    1. The Bette Davis Club, by Jane Lotter.  A light-hearted tale that involves a road trip, so I was automatically interested. It wasn’t a sappy romance, but just a fun story about a runaway bride who is chased across the country by her aunt and her jilted groom — but it’s about the aunt, not the bride.
    2. The Poet, by Michael Connelly. As a former crime reporter, Connelly knows journalism, so of course I wanted to try this book that stars a reporter who starts looking into the suicide of his twin, a homicide detective. This was just a fun romp that was pretty accurate about the life of a newspaper reporter.
    3. The Scarecrow, by Michael Connelly. This was a sequel of sorts to “The Poet,” with the same main character, who is now an LA Times crime reporter who just got a pink slip. He wants to find one last big story, and of course he does, because that’s the only way we have a not-quite-realistic novel to read about a reporter once again teaming up with an FBI agent. This one involves cyber crimes that were more realistic than you’d expect, and it was just a guilty pleasure book to listen to while packing up my apartment.
    4. Whoever Fights Monsters, by Robert Ressler with Tom Shachtman. I waffled between three and four stars on this one, but went with four stars because it held my attention well, though I spent a month on it. The subtitle is “My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI” sums up a lot of it — Ressler was an FBI agent who was fascinated by murderers since childhood, and he wanted to know what made them tick. I have a lot of respect for that, and for the fact that he didn’t lose sight of the world. Side note: I was sad to learn that he died four years ago of Parkinson’s Disease; he was only 76, so I suspect he had at least another decade of lecturing and knowledge-sharing in him if that awful disease hadn’t invaded.
    5. Forgotten Secrets, by Robin Perini. Yep, another crime caper involving an FBI agent, and a Navy Seal. One’s sister goes missing, and the other comes to help him because she’s been spent 15 years looking for her missing sister. A lot of it was predictable, but it was a good, easy distraction from my world of studying for tests.
    6. Off the Record, by K.A. Linde. This was a $2.95 Audible sale, and it caught my attention because I briefly thought the author was K.A. Tucker (to whom I’ve give two five-star ratings). I was tempted to give this book five stars, though it should get, at most, three stars on my scale. Well, it gets four because I related so much to this book. It’s the somewhat fluffy story of a college journalist who gets into a relationship with a guy she’s covering for the newspaper, and they both have to keep it secret for their own careers. I devoured this book in two days and HATED the “to be continued” ending, but luckily I was able to start the next book immediately.
    7. On the Record, by K.A. Linde. This book picked up where the previous one left off, regarding the relationship between the newspaper reporter and a guy she’s writing about. I don’t want to say much about the plot to avoid spoilers, but a lot of it was pretty realistic. And, once again, I related to a lot of it and inhaled it in a few days. I’m a little embarrassed to give these four stars, but hey, we can’t all just read “War and Peace.”
    8. For the Record, by K.A. Linde. This was another guilty pleasure book, and it wrapped up the story of the journalist in the previous two books. Again, I don’t want to give away spoilers, but it continues her story of work vs romance. I’ve been out of journalism for nearly seven years, but I still related a lot to it, and also to the relationship dilemmas.

    Three-star books:

    1. Angel’s Flight, by Michael Connelly. The sixth book in the series about Harry Bosch, LAPD homicide detective. This one involved racism in post-Rodney King Los Angeles.
    2. Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple. Told from the viewpoint of a mature 15-year-old girl piecing together emails and letters about her mother, this story was great until it took a turn for the unrealistic/absurd. I guess the author just really wanted to write about Antarctica (and I can’t blame her), but it just felt like a jolt.
    3. Julie, by Catherine Marshall. I read this years ago and when the Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway threatened to send a 30-foot wall of water into Northern California towns in February, I pulled out the book and read it again. I like the story, of an 18-year-old girl whose family takes over a struggling newspaper in the 1930s (bonus points for the newspaper stuff) downstream from a large dam. But the evangelical Christian stuff was too much for me now — it was kind of like mild flashbacks for me, which weren’t necessarily bad but felt unsettling and unfriendly.
    4. Rogue Lawyer, by John Grisham. This was about a defense attorney who takes the cases nobody wants. I would have liked it more if the story hadn’t been rather disjointed (I think Grisham just wanted to write short stories this time).
    5. An Accidental Death, by Peter Grainger. I waffled between two and three stars on this one, but I erred on the side of generosity because the characters were realistic and had a lot of promise if I chose to continue with the next book in the series. It’s a British police procedural, focusing on the death of a canoeist (a word that amused me, for some reason). I listened to this one, so the British accent certainly contributed to the third star, but I wonder if the history lesson would have been less confusing if I’d read it instead.
    6. Poisonfeather, by Matthew FitzSimmons. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the Gibson Vaughn series, but I only liked parts of this one. The main character learns that the judge who saved him from prison as a teenager is now elderly, ill, and the victim of a con artist. Commence treasure hunting, a Chinese spy, CIA hijinks, and a weird ending.
    7. A Darkness More Than Night, by Michael Connelly. The new season of “Bosch” is out, so I wanted to catch up on the books. I really enjoy listening to these books while running and doing things around the house, though I also find myself sucked into them when I should be studying. Oops? Anyway, this one also featured retired FBI agent Terry McCaleb, who appeared in another book not in this series. I felt like I was missing a few things and didn’t know him because of that disconnect. The plot was also kind of ridiculous and had someone scheming to set up Bosch in order to get out of a case, and I was rolling my eyes at times. I couldn’t quite bring myself to give it two stars, though, because it was still a fun, easy read.
    8. Missing, Presumed, by Susie Steiner. I’m being generous and giving this three stars, because I think some of my disappointment was caused by comparisons to Tana French novels. This was definitely no such thing, and was kind of forgettable. It’s about a British police detective looking into a case of the missing daughter of a bigwig, and I just found it to be so mundane.
    9. City of Bones, by Michael Connelly. Yep, another Harry Bosch book, and I apparently read this one years ago. This time I did the audio book version, so I liked listening to it but kept knowing what was going to happen next. The story itself isn’t bad: Bosch is called out to look at a human bone, which turns out to be a 20-year-old murder case. Oh, and he gets involved with a newbie police officer.
    10. Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice, by Curtis Sittenfeld. I almost gave this one four stars because it was well-written pleasure reading. There were no surprises, since it is basically a modernized version of the Jane Austen book, but it certainly is modern — including paleo diets and text messages.

    Two-star books:

    1. The Art Forger, by B.A. Shapiro. The premise seemed interesting: An art museum heist has gone cold when one of the stolen pieces surfaces and the main character is asked to make a copy of it, but then she has suspicions about the artwork itself. However, the main character annoyed me (how she got that far in life is beyond me; she’s so stupid), and the art talk didn’t interest me.

    Abandoned:

    1. The Killer Next Door, by Alex Marwood. I started this as an audio book and just could not get into it. The characters were depressing, the story was slow-moving, and it wasn’t living up to my expectations of a murder thriller. I rarely abandon books, but a quarter of the way into this one, I decided life is too short to not enjoy a book.

    You can find me on GoodReads. Also, I include audio books in my totals.


  • 2016 in books

    To my pleasant surprise, I finished 36 books in 2016. (The number nerd in me liked this, and promptly decided 2017 should have 37 books, but we shall see.) Goodreads tracks this info via a website and a phone app, and while I’m not thrilled with countless time-sucking semi-social sites, I think the site has encouraged me to read more and to stay a bit more organized. The payoff: their year-end “My Year in Books” summary.

    Look, geeky numbers!
    Look, geeky numbers!

     

    Full disclosure: The site doesn’t differentiate between physical, electronic and audio books — and I plowed through a number of audio books in 2016. Am I cheating by including audio books? I’m not sure, but my conscience rests easily if I say I “finished” the books, rather than saying I “read” them. Regardless, I did consume the entirety of each book (including the lengthy end notes in a couple of them).

    Of these 36 books, I only gave a full five-star rating to three. Coincidentally, they were either set in the Pacific Northwest or about WWII, which really isn’t much of a surprise.

    1. The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown, a well-researched account of poor, hard-working young men from the Pacific Northwest who set out to beat the Ivy League crew teams and then take on the Nazis. I have a life-long fascination with WWII, I didn’t know much about the 1936 Olympics, and I could picture the area.
    2. Burying Water, by K.A. Tucker, about a woman who was left for dead but survived — with no memory of what happened to her. It wasn’t quite the typical “girl suffers amnesia, falls in love, lives happily ever after” type of plot. The characters pulled me in, and I just wanted the story to keep going.
    3. The Lost Wife, by Alyson Richman, a story of a young couple who are separated by WWII. The novel switches between his and her perspective, present and past, and somehow it works without confusion.
    I'm not sure if 3.6 stars is a good or a bad average.
    I’m not sure if 3.6 stars is a good or a bad average.

     

    In no particular order, the four-star books:

    1. The Long and Faraway Gone, by Lou Berney. Two separate crimes and two separate characters are woven together. I really wanted the story to keep going!
    2. Happiness For Beginners, by Katherine Center. A light-hearted, funny tale of a newly single woman who has no business signing up for a rugged wilderness survival course.
    3. Black-Eyed Susans, by Julia Heaberlin. A suspense story of the sole survivor of a serial killer, successfully told in both present day and 20 years earlier.
    4. The Spy’s Son, by Bryan Denson. Subtitle: “The True Story of the Highest-Ranking CIA Officer Ever Convicted of Espionage and the Son He Trained to Spy for Russia.” I came close to giving this one five stars.
    5. The Lake House, by Kate Morton. A tale about a missing person. This was a toss-up between three and four stars, but I liked the writing.
    6. An Irish Country Doctor, by Patrick Taylor. Cute little tale set in the Irish countryside: I was biased because I’ve been there and could picture it, and this was an audio book with a fantastic accent.
    7. One Plus One, by Jojo Moyes. Good blend of humor, non-cheesy romance and funny characters. Bonus: They’re on a road trip.
    8. Isaac’s Storm, by Erik Larson. One of my favorite non-fiction authors, Larson brought a 1900 hurricane to life. This was closer to five stars.
    9. Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes. A young woman takes a job caring for a grumpy man in a wheelchair. Her character is hilarious.
    10. After You, by Jojo Moyes. Sequel to the above, I continue to like the character.  (It helps that she is delightfully British.)
    11. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. I’ve read this book at least once before, but it’s been about 20 years. This was the folding pages version; I am a bad blogger who hasn’t taken a photo of it, but you can buy it here.
    12. The Diplomat’s Wife, by Pam Jenoff. A WWII story of love and heartbreak, with a plot turn that is a little too far-fetched but made it a good airplane read.
    13. I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. The story of the remarkable teenager who stood up to the Taliban — subtitle: “The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.”
    14. The Short Drop, by Matthew FitzSimmons. Another mystery of a long-missing person. Strangely, I read this in July and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I barely remember it.
    15. Anonymous Sources, by Mary Louise Kelly. When a former NPR reporter writes a crime novel about a reporter, of course I will read it.
    16. Split Second, by David Baldacci. Two former Secret Service agents team up on a crime case. This is my guilty pleasure reading at its finest.

    Moving along to the three-star books:

    1. Hell’s Guest, by Glenn Frazier. First-hand account from a survivor of the Bataan Death March in WWII, which I finished just before running the marathon that honors the victims. I wanted to love this, but the writing was mediocre and it was a little too preachy. The passion was genuine, though.
    2. Killing Floor, by Lee Child. Bad writing made tolerable by the audio book factor and the “fun action story with a cool main star so you can suspend all deep thought and just enjoy the ride” notion.
    3. Seabiscuit, by Lauren Hillenbrand. A well-written, well-researched book about the legendary race horse, which took me a very long time to read because I’m just really not a horse person. (I loved her book “Unbroken,” though.)
    4. The Girl You Left Behind, by Jojo Moyes. More Jojo Moyes fiction, this time set in WWII. This was more of a 2.5-star book.
    5. Hour Game, by David Baldacci. The second book in the “King & Maxwell” series about the former Secret Service members turned private investigators.
    6. Simple Genius, by David Baldacci. The third book in the series. This one’s plot was kind of ridiculous, but I just really get a kick out of the two main characters.
    7. First Family, by David Baldacci. Fourth book in the series. I often run without music, but when it’s a three-hour run that will get tough, this kind of audio escape is the best.
    8. The Sixth Man, by David Baldacci. Book number five. More guilty pleasure fun.
    9. King and Maxwell, by David Baldacci. The sixth, and apparently last, book in the series. Wait, that’s it? No more PI capers?
    10. The Black Echo, by Michael Connelly. Crime novels by a former LA Times crime reporter: Books I will explore. Harry Bosch, the gritty detective, is my kind of character.
    11. Black Ice, by Michael Connelly. This one took Detective Bosch into Mexico. I was a bit generous with my stars.
    12. The Concrete Blonde, by Michael Connelly.I started plowing through these Harry Bosch books because I discovered the Amazon TV series that’s taken from the books. The show is fantastic, but I wanted to read the books before seeing the episodes.
    13. The Last Coyote, by Michael Connelly. This one explores more of Bosch’s history.
    14. Trunk Music, by Michael Connelly. I polished off the second season of Amazon’s show, which ended with this book. I have a feeling I’ll binge both when the third season comes out this year.

    And then we have the two-star books. Like the five-star ones, I only gave this lower honor to three titles:

    1. The Rumor, by Elin Hilderbrand. I’ve read a couple of her books in the past and remember liking them, but this one was just too fluffy with zero substance.
    2. The Heist, by Janet Evanovich. Her books can be fast-read fun romps, but this one was ridiculous to the point of being absurd.
    3. The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth van Arnim. I really wanted to like this one because it was recommended as an antidote to a book that was miserable. But it was just so slow and seemed to have no point. A guy on an airplane was impressed that I was reading it, so maybe I am just not sophisticated enough for fine literature.

    And that last book leads to the one book I abandoned this year. I didn’t give one one star to any books, and I’m really not one to abandon books because it bothers me to leave pages unread, but I finally decided that I simply could not waste my brain cells on a book I hated. The book that gets this rare honor: Alibi, by Joseph Kanon. Another novel set in WWII, this one brings up moral questions that could be good things to think about but instead made me not want to read at all. I’ll be donating this book, which is also rare for me, though I just got the idea to leave it in my unused fireplace for the next tenant who moves in.

    And that’s a wrap for 2016 in books. What else should I read, aside from/in addition to the books on this never-ending list?

     

    2016books3
    Other things? Hmm, definitely not crocheting or cooking or quadratic equations.