Category Archives: books

2016 Top 5: Books I read

I just finished sending out my Christmas cards, and I feel the need to do some 2016 recap posts.  I haven’t done those in a while…

As of last count, per Goodreads, I have read 62 books this year, and I can probably knock a few more out before December 31. Here are my favorites for the year.

#1 – The Expanse

My absolute favorite for the year is The Expanse series by James SA Corey (who is actually two people, neither named James. The more you know…)  The first book is Leviathan Wakes.


If I’ve talked to you about books this year, I have gushed about The Expanse. At last count, there are 6 novels and something like 3 novellas. (The novellas aren’t particularly worth it, in my opinion, but do add something to the background of the series.) There is a fantastic show on SyFy adapted from the novels, season 2 starts in February.

The Expanse is a fantastic addition to the Space Opera subgenre. The characters are real and believable, and the series delves deep into the moral quandaries of otherness and belonging, of created families, of the consequences (often unintentional) of telling what one believes to be the truth.

It has been a long while since I have found a series where I have to pick up the next book as soon as I am finished with the last. After  I finish Babylon’s Ashes, I am going to be in a sad place while I wait for the next book.

#2 – Locke and Key

From this point on, I’m not ranking the books, because there is foolishness in that, but these are my favorites.

Locke and Key by Joe Hill is actually a series of graphic novels, but I listened to the Audible adaptation, and ZOMG was it amazing.  Not only was it a full cast reading, the sound effects and music were amazing too.  I ended up checking out some of the books from the library to just look at the art and see how it was translated to audio.

Locke and Key tells a spooky coming of age story of a family that moves into a family mansion filled with keys that don’t just unlock doors.  An evil spirit wants to be released and will do anything to manipulate the kids in the family to discover the keys that will enable it to escape the underworld.

Both the graphic novels and the Audible adaptation are top notch.  You will not be disappointed.

#3 – Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword,  and Ancillary Mercy (The Imperial Radch series)

The Imperial Radch series by Ann Leckie was another favorite this year.  I ended up re-reading Ancillary Justice with my SpecFic bookclub because I enjoyed it so much, and I purchased both hard copies and Audible versions.

Ancillary Justice and its sequels could almost be classified as Space Opera, but they are far more human than just space battles and such (and when you read the books you’ll understand the irony of that statement). In fact, they have elements of first contact, classism, and a strong undercurrent of what it means to be human. Also, lots and lots of discussions about tea.

4 – The Wright Brothers

Lest you think I only enjoyed SciFi, and dark fantasy this year, I also really enjoyed David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers. I thought I knew something about the story of the first flights, but I realized my (admittedly basic) understanding more or less ended at Kitty Hawk in 1903.

There is a whole lot more to it than that, as it turns out. From the absolutely critical involvement of their sister, to the time spent trying to convince governments at home and abroad that their flying machine was not some crackpot inventor’s fever dream, there was a lot of the story I was missing. And McCullough masterfully pulls it together, as he always does.

I was doubly lucky that The Henry Ford museum has two replicas of the Wright Flyer and I was able to stop by after work one day while I was listening to the book to more closely examine the genius work of those two bicycle builders from Ohio.

#5 – The Boys in the Boat

I didn’t know going into the year that I needed to read the story of a crew team from Washington working towards a gold medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  And yet somehow I did need exactly that.  In The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown tells a fascinating story of everything that came together to bring home the gold medals, from a very talented boat builder, the dedication of both the crew and its coaches, to its  rivals, to the production of the Berlin Olympics themselves.

I think there is no more quintessentially American story than this one.

Bonus!: All the Birds in the Sky

Because my top 5 list already has 12 books in it, why don’t I just throw in a 13th for good measure (Although technically, Locke and Key is collected in 5 or 6 volumes, so, you know, I’m really bad at top 5 lists.)

I just finished All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, and if it isn’t in all of the year end round ups of best SciFi and Fantasy novels of 2016, someone is doing it wrong. Simply put, this book should win all of the awards next year. It tells the story of two people whose lives keep intersecting at critical and sometimes awkward points. One is a modern witch, the other a techno wunderkind. They are best friends, enemies, lovers, and more, but more than anything they are, they are there for each other when no one else is. Also, their middle school guidance councilor is a trained assassin. So there’s that.

These were some of my favorites this year. What did you read this year that you loved? Couldn’t put down? Kept you thinking?

I read a whole bunch of books. You won’t believe which are my favorites. Number 3 made me laugh

I’ve been doing a lot of reading this year, thanks in no small part to Audible and Overdrive, which let me read while I am commuting, cooking, and working out at the gym.  So far, I have 46 titles accounted in my Goodreads account, and I am 171 days ahead of my annual reading goal. Granted, at least 10 of those are graphic novels (I had a mild Flash obsession going there for a bit.).

Here are some of my favorites so far this year, in no particular order.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store  by Robin Sloan – If you love quirky mysteries, Google, Helvetica, awkward protagonists, or glow-in-the-dark dust covers, this is the book for you.

The Stand by Stephen King – The forces of good and evil gather in a post-apocalyptic show down. This was the second of three books in a row that I read that start with a virulent pandemic.  That was not on purpose, and it stressed me out. I could not be an epidemiologist.

The Martian by Andy Weir – Fantastic science fiction.  There’s a movie coming out later this year.  I bought a second copy for my Mars themed bathroom.  XKCD described it thusly :

American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company by Bryce G. Hoffman – This was the story of the first few years of my career at Ford Motor Company.  It was interesting getting the behind the scenes look at some of the things that happened.  It is also a fantastically well written book if you are interested in the auto industry in general.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – I don’t rightly know how to describe this book.  Gaiman writes books that demand to be read but elude description of why you should read them. I put this one off for a long while, but I picked it up and couldn’t put it down.

What have you read and loved so far this year?

Top 10 Books Meme

So there is a meme going around Facebook, asking you to list out 10 books that have had an impact on your life.  My cousin tagged me, and I think someone tagged me last year.  I honestly have struggled both times with this question, mostly because I read so many books that it is hard to choose 10.  Thinking about it, I came up with 5 books fairly easily.  I’m not sure about the other 5, so we’ll do this in phases.

Here are the five that I came up with quickly:

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin:  The book helped me think about setting specific goals to be manage my own happiness and also to think about what happiness means.

Start with Why, by Simon Sinek: This book is one of my favorites and has greatly influenced the way I think about communication and leadership.  My Affirmation talk was largely based on this one.

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card:  As a kid, this was probably one of my favorite books, and one of the books that got me into Sci-Fi.  I think it speaks to smart kids a lot.

The Dark is Rising series, by Susan Cooper: Another one of those series that I read as a kid, and I loved, and probably got me into epic fantasy.  It is Arthurian legend tied up with good vs evil. You should never ever ever watch the movie that was based on this book.

The Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling: I started reading the series in a three day jag, right after I came back from my mission, and it really defined the next 6-7 years of my life.  I was obsessed with theories and websites, and everything to do with Harry Potter.

Those were the 5 that I immediately thought of.

While I was writing up the list, I remembered one more.

The Oz series, by L. Frank Baum: My hometown library had a fantastic old set of the Oz series, and I read every single one of them. It was a great series for a kid.

I’m really struggling to pick others, so I think I’m just going to pick some of my favorite  books from the last several years.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline: I picked this one up after my local library sponsored a game based on the same concept.  Anyone who grew up in the 1980’s and 1990’s would absolutely love it. It is replete with references to the pop culture of the time, and it is a pretty snappy read.

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, by Kate Wilhelm: Have I raved about this book on my blog yet? Maybe? I don’t know. I picked it up at random while choosing audiobooks at the library. Didn’t know what I was getting into, but it wowed me. I made my book club read it the next month, to some degree of controversy. (It features some odd discussions of cloning and casual clone sex, so you are warned.)  It was one of the first sci-fi books to deal with manmade environmental disaster, and raised some really interesting moral questions.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson: A really strange, kind of dense, have to learn a new language kind of book, but it was oddly satisfying and gripping.  It’s gonna take some time to read, but in my opinion is worth the payout.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan: A koala only has one choice for what it eats: bamboo leaves. But we humans are omnivores, so almost everything is open to us.  If we have all of that choice, how do we use it? What should we eat? Per Pollan: Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.  Got me thinking about how the way eat interacts with the environment, our health, and etc.

So, fairly successful listing, I guess. The last 4 are good ones, but I could have listed 6 or 7 other unique sets of 4 too.  It’s hard to choose.

What books influence you?

Backwards in Oz

I apparently have to share this because after discovering this yesterday, I had very vivid dreams last night about telling other people.

I know that you probably won’t be as blown away as I was, because you probably didn’t devour all of the Oz books when you were a kid, like some people I know.

I’ve been listening to the Wicked Years series by Gregory Maguire during my commute recently, and I’ve been holding a map in my head of Oz, of you know where Munchkinland and Gillikan and the Emerald City are.  And I keep getting tripped up.  Something wasn’t working quite right with my assumptions about Oz.

Large portions of the book took place in Munchkinland, where Dorothy originally landed.  In my mind, (like the map below), Munchkinland is on the left side of the country.  But wait! Dorothy landed on the Wicked Witch of the EAST!  Munchkinland in my mind is on the West!  No wonder I keep getting things messed up.

 

But notice that compass rose on the map. It’s oriented so that North is up, and East is left.  Crazy!

According to Wikipedia, Mr. Baum had a map on a glass slide that he used in a traveling show.  When he later copied it from the slide, he accidentally reversed it, and rather than redraw it, he just reversed the compass rose.  His editor later flipped it back the normal way, adding to the confusion.  Apparently, I am not the only one that this mixed up.  Even the woman who took over writing Oz books, Ruth Plumly Thompson, reversed directions in Oz frequently!

And now you know! And maybe your mind was just as blown as mine was.

Speculative Fiction

I love me some Speculative Fiction.  Since I last posted about it, I’ve added at least 5 books from the NPR list to my have-read or am-reading lists.   I expect to finish Slaughterhouse-Five (#19) on my commute home tonight, and then I will finish a re-read of Hitchhiker’s Guide (#2) and finish up Watchmen (#15).  That’ll

I’m struggling to pick the next book for our Speculative Fiction book club.  It’s my turn again, and I’ve got so many I want to read. I considered Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, but found it wanting.  I originally thought about Watchmen, but it is really disturbing, enjoyable, but disturbing.  I ruled out Slaughterhouse-Five for language.  I’m playing with the idea of Cormac McCarthey’s The Road (#63).

But how can I leave out?
– Ready, Player One!
– The Warded Man
– Cold Magic
– Elantris

and tons of other books that I would love to read and discuss?

In other news, I’m going to be very indecisive until Thursday.

How many have you read?

You know that silly Facebook meme, the one that lists 100 books that the BBC has allegedly selected as the best evAH, and then goes on to claim that the average reader has only read like 6 of them.  It’s fun, but completely bunk.

Well, our friends over at NPR, (who are like the BBC in a non-British way, I guess), recently put out a call for the best SciFi and Fantasy books.  Over 5000 people nominated books and series in the comments.  (I might have. I thought about it, but then I don’t know if I actually did or not).   Then they slimmed the list to the top 237 nominations, specifically excluding books that didn’t make their strict criteria (basically, they excluded horror, paranormal romance, and YA  from the list), and asked for votes.

50,000 votes later, and mine was for sure one of them, and they came up with a list of the top 100 SciFi/Fantasy novels (excluding YA. They are running a YA poll next summer.  Sorry Harry.)

I don’t propose a meme, although go ahead and play along if you want.  I’m just curious to know how many of them I have read.  I’ve got the top 13 down, except I have never finished 1984

Here’s the list.  I bolded the ones I’ve read at least one of the series, although in most cases, I’ve read the whole she-bang. 

Continue reading How many have you read?

Best Books Ever!

I’m a huge fan of reading.  Ever since they taught me how to (and probably before), I’ve been practicing as frequently as I can.  There was one teacher I had in grade school who claimed that she would either visit in our homes or call our parents, and if we were reading when that happened, we’d get something special. (I don’t remember anymore what the reward was.)  Because of that (threat/promise/challenge), I read a lot.  And kind of kept going.

More old books...
More old books... by guldfisken

The statistics on reading baffle me.  A few years back, a survey showed that the average American who reads regularly read only 7 books per year. And one in four adults read no books.  No Books?!?!? I’ve already read six since the beginning of the year, and most of a seventh (it’s mostly a running book filled with tedious training plan details. I don’t really need the part of the book that I haven’t read until later when I’m going to run a marathon). If I stopped now, I’d be there with the average reader, and I still have ten and a half months to go!

The problem with reading that much is that you start to run out of things to read.  I have always been a strong genre reader.  I come back again and again to specific genres because I know them and I know that I will generally like what I read.  My genre is typically Epic Fantasy, although I will occasionally fiddle with some other aspects of Speculative Fiction.  I’m open to other genres and types of books, but I generally don’t know where to start outside my genre.

Late last year, I decided two things.
#1- I was going to read at least three books out of genre before returning to Epic Fantasy.
#2- I was going to leave Young Adult Fantasy and Sci-Fi behind me for the time being.

To point the first, I was pleasantly surprised by the books which I did read.  The World Without Us is one that I’ve brought up in conversations with many of my friends and family.  And while I don’t think I could recommend Ragtime in good conscience to most people, it was a good read.  I think that my “adventure” with James Joyce could best be described by not describing it.

To point the second, I recently decided that while most YA Fantasy is good reading, I needed to read less of it.  The plots were becoming predictable for me, and I was tired of the sanitization that happens in YA.  Several years ago, I drew a line that placed that vampire series (you know the one) on one side of a line, and Harry Potter on the other.  Lately, I’ve pushed a whole lot more past the line.  Once my detox is complete, I think that I might reevaluate where the line sits. (There will always be at least 4 books on the other side of the line.  You know which ones.)

After returning from my out of genre stint, I’ve actually had some fun.  I’ve been reading classic science fiction works from the ’60s and ’70s.  These were some of the real pioneers of the sci-fi genre.  I also read a heady Speculative Fiction novel and a Literary take on fantasy.

With all of this reading,  my To-Read shelf has dwindled.  I have one or two more novels there, one of which I am saving because it might take some re-reading of some previous novels.  So I took my problem to Facebook, and asked my friends what the best book they’ve ever read is.  I was blown away by the response.  Some clearly didn’t understand the assignment.  (I’m looking at you, Clint.)  I got a huge list of books to read! Of those suggested, I had only read four.  And while a few were YA, most looked like ones that I could come back to after my self imposed ban is over.

I was so happy with the list that I thought that I should share it.  So, below the break, I’ve included a cleaned up list of The Best Books, at least according to my Facebook friends.  I linked them all to Amazon, in case you’re interested in more information about any of them.  I’ve already ordered one (Scar Gate), and I’m looking forward to reading many more of them this year. (If you were wondering, I marked the ones I’ve read with (R) and the Young Adult Fantasy and Sci-Fi with (YA).)

So what about you? Did this list miss the best book you’ve ever read?  Let me know in the comments!

My Latest Borders Discovery

Get a load of these two books I saw at Borders last night. Wurthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice, except they’re all dressed up with Graphic Novel covers. They caught my eye, but they didn’t get me to purchase. I’m guessing I’m not quite the target audience… There was a third one running around close by, but now I don’t remember which classic it was (Jane Eyre, maybe?)

What do you think? Would you have been tempted to read the book based on these new covers?

Favorite Books = Awful Movies


I just finished watching the screen “adaptation” of one of my favorite books, The Dark is Rising. It was horrible. I wanted to stab my eyes out after I realized how horrible it was. The screenwriter should be stripped of his membership in the Writer’s Guild, and quite possibly incarcerated for crimes against literature. (Where’s Thursday Next when you need her?)

I’ve basically decided that no one should ever be allowed to adapt my favorite books to movie format. They’ll just get it so terribly wrong.

The Dark is Rising sequence is one of my favorite books from childhood. I’ve read the books many many times, and they always thrill me. The story is a common one in the childhood fantasy genre… Young boy discovers he has powers. Boy is sent on a quest. Turns out failure in quest will result in the destruction of all that is good and right in the world. Boy doubts himself. It seems the wrong people will win, but at the last possible minute everything pulls together, and boy completes quest, saving us all. And defeating Evil or Voldemort or something.

The sequence is rooted in Welsh and Celtic mythology, and comes complete with a poem that guides the characters.

The movie, however, has none of these things. The quest was reduced to episodic happenstance, where the boy who will save us all, basically had to stop snivelling to succeed. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the tale of the good and bad in all of us turned into a moody teenage tale. There were two moments where the stupidity of the screenwriter stood out. The first, in a scene not even imagined in the book, Will, the Boy, distracts a Viking bent on killing his sister with a lucky ring of his wristwatch. (Really? The alarm just happened to be set to go off when the viking had his ax raised? At like 2:47 in the afternoon or something… Who sets their watch that randomly) The second involved a prize fighting chicken that had been taxidermied in 1690, and kept in the same pub for over 400 years, at which point it still looked as good as new.

The book would have made a great movie. It probably wouldn’t have competed with the likes of Harry Potter, but the sequence has potential as a valid fantasy offering to stand alongside The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Mr Potter. That of course relies on the screenwriter not completely destroying the soul of the book at his whim and burdening it down with stupid trivialities.

At least I know that Orson Scott Card will never allow Ender’s Game to become a crappy movie. At least, I hope so. Maybe I shouldn’t count that chicken before it hatches.

Top 5 Books of 2008

Ok, It’s the 6th and I’m still doing Best of 2008 lists. This one should be my last. This is the one that was the hardest for me, because I couldn’t make up my mind, so every time I decided to do one of my blogs this one got pushed back. Originally, it was a top 10 list, but I decided that I probably could never make up my mind on 10 books, and so 5 books was easier. My biggest problem was trying to figure out which books I’d read this year. I kept an ok record over at GoodReads.com, but I know that I missed quite a few in the last several months of 2008.

So here’s my list:


5- The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger


I found the concept of this one both intriguing and compelling. The main character is afflicted with “Chrono Displacement Disorder.” He often and involuntarily will be displaced in time, although his time walks mostly seem to center on people and places that are important to him. The story focuses on him and his wife, who obviously are living in different time lines. She first meets him when she is a young girl, he first meets her when he is 28 or so. The story jumps around a lot, giving hints and whispering secrets, all the way through. It’s a very interesting read.

4- A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson


I became obsessed with the Appalachian Trail at some point in 2007. I was, in part, feeding my obsession by reading this book. Bryson tells of his experience hiking the AT with his friend Katz as Bryson became reacquainted with America. His story is both funny and poignant. The two parts that stick out most in my mind is the story about Katz flinging his food from his pack because it weighs too much, and the tragic story of the American Chestnut, once prevalent in American forests, but decimated by blight. Of course, I wanted to hike the AT even more after reading this. Maybe 2009 is the year for it.

3- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss


It’s really hard to explain why I liked The Name of the Wind. Perhaps the best way is to drop a quote from the main character, and let him speak for himself :

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during the day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me.

The story dragged me in, without me even realizing that I was being dragged in.

2- The Final Empire (Mistborn #1) by Brandon Sanderson


I’ve blogged about this one before. I picked up Sanderson’s first book, Elantris, to see if he would make a good substitute for Robert Jordan. I’m glad I did. It lead me to this one. Of the three in the series, this was by far the best. It really comes off as a caper story (Think Ocean’s 11) dressed as a Fantasy novel.

1- The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan


The Omnivore’s Dilemma is one of the books that most influenced me this year. I plucked it from Amy’s bookshelf and read it. I’ve been having an internal conversation about food all year. (You’d never guess that, coming from the guy who obsessively blogged his vegetables… 😉 ) Pollan investigated the origins of his food chains. He followed four meals from four distinct food chains from beginning to end. In doing so, he described America’s unhealthy relationship with food. I think I’ve changed the way I eat (fresher, more diverse food) and the way I think about food (closer to home) because of it.

So there you have it. My top 5 books from 2008. What are yours?

Bonus:

Schlock Mercenary by Howard Taylor

It’s not really a book, it’s more of a webcomic, but I spent a lot of time reading it in 2008. The story is great, the characters even better, and I’m still only part way through 2006. Go figure. I’ll get all caught up one of these days.