Sunday, January 05, 2014

2013 Reading List

2013 proved to be a banner year for me and my books.  After having had several years in a row of relatively low outputs (20 books read in 2012 and a dismal 18 in 2011), I finished 46.5 books this year (the half-book will be explained below).  That's the most I've finished in a single year since 2005, when I completed 48 (I was also unemployed for the first 6 months of that year, and living alone).

The daily routine that I developed after my heart attack played a vital role in my reading, I think.  I developed a regular habit of reading in the morning after waking up, exercising, having lunch, then getting ready for work.  Most nights, I also would read to unwind before going to bed after work. 

So, let's get to it.  Italicized titles are non-fiction books.  Books with an asterisk (*) are nominees for Book of the Year.  Book of the Year will be revealed at the end of the post.  (I know you can't wait!) 


The Rosetta Key – William Dietrich

This was the second book in the Ethan Gage series, which is set during Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and the Middle East.  It's an adventure book and I only kind of liked the first one (which I finished in December of 2012).  Still, I gave book two a try and it wasn't much better.  I didn't continue with the series afterward.  

The Eye of the Tiger – Wilbur Smith

11/22/63* – Stephen King

This book, about a time traveler who attempts to stop the Kennedy assassination, is hands down the best Stephen King book I've ever read.  I've always had a love-hate relationship with Stephen King and have only read a handful of his books.  I've started three or four others and never finished them.  I've never really loved any book by him that I've read.  But this one was an exception.  

Boy’s Life – Robert McCammon

Collapse – Jared Diamond

Diamond is a Pulitzer Prize-winning environmental scientist, and this is a book that analyzes the causes of various societal collapses over the centuries, and then applies that to our own modern society.  Very illuminating if you're into that sort of thing.  A bit disturbing too.  I came to realize, after reading this book, just how easily a society can collapse when its population overtaxes its resources.  

Usher’s Passing – Robert McCammon

One of McCammon's earlier books from the 1980's, this book re-imagines Edgar Allen Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher" as a real event, and essentially tells the story of the Usher family up through the present day.  

The Hangman’s Daughter – Oliver Potzsch

A book written in German, I read the English translation.  It's set in the 1600's in Germany and is a mystery book.  As the title implies, the main character is the town executioner.  It's the first in a series, which I intend to continue with.  

The Last Camel Died at Noon – Elizabeth Peters

This is sixth book in the Amelia Peabody series, which is a sort of fireside mystery series about a married team of British Egyptologists around the turn of the last century.  It's like humorous Agatha Christie set in 1890's Egypt.  I really loved this series at first, but I've started losing interest in it.  Not sure if I will continue with it beyond this book.

King Solomon’s Mines – H. Rider Haggard

This is an old adventure novel that was actually referred to in the above Elizabeth Peters book, and it piqued my curiosity so I found a free Kindle copy and read it.  It was written in the late 1800's and, as the title suggests, it's a story about the search for the mythical mines of King Solomon.  As 19th century British adventure fiction goes, it was pretty good. 

Tutankhamen: The Search for an Egyptian King – Joyce Tyldesley

It’s So Easy (And Other Lies)* – Duff McKagan

Loved this book, which is a memoir about Guns n' Roses by the band's bassist.  Surprisingly well-written.

1356 – Bernard Cornwell

Slash – Slash

I figured since I read Duff's book, I should read Slash's too.  His was ghost-written, and you could tell.  Still, it was interesting to see a different take on a lot of the same stories. 

The Girl Next Door – Jack Ketchum

A disturbing novel based on a true story about a girl in foster care who is abused to death.

The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

Relic* – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Before reading the latest installment of the Agent Pendergast series by Preston and Child (which was set to come out at the end of 2013), I decided this year to re-read all the previous Pendergast novels, as well as 2012's installment, which I owned but had not yet read.  Relic was the first of the bunch, and it was nice to revisit this book again after so many years.  I think I first read this book around 1996 or so.

Reliquary – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

The Places that Scare You – Pema Chodron

One of my favorite Buddhist writers, this was a book read after my heart attack.

The Cabinet of Curiosities* – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Of all the Pendergast novels, this is probably the best.

Still Life With Crows – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Brimstone – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Dance of Death – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

The Book of the Dead – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World – John Shelby Spong

Spong is one of my favorite progressive Christian writers and this book is a sort of handbook to go along with reading various books of the Bible.  There is a chapter devoted to each of the 66 books of the Bible, giving the historical background and a brief analysis of what the book is about.

Gin O’Clock – @Queen_UK

This book was written by an anonymous Twitter user who goes by the name @Queen_UK.  It's a parody account of Queen Elizabeth with more than a million followers.  I think she (or he?) is funny as hell, so I read her book.

The Wheel of Darkness – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Cemetery Dance – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Fever Dream – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Cold Vengeance – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Paul & Jesus – James D. Tabor

Two Graves – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

This was the last of the Pendergast books, published in 2012, but this was my first time reading it.  It was the third of a 3-book series, and it was, hands down, the worst Pendergast novel of the bunch.  It was like someone other than Preston and Child wrote the book.  I gave it 1-star in my Amazon review, and would have given it 0 if that had been an option.

Pirates of Barbary – Adrian Tinniswood

The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

This was a re-read that I had started shortly before my heart attack, abandoned afterwards, and then came back to later in the year.

I Travel By Night – Robert McCammon

The Night Boat – Robert McCammon

An early McCammon book, this one was awful.  In fact, I would go so far as to say this might be the most plodding, clumsy, and poorly-written novel I've ever read.  I read somewhere that, for a long time, McCammon refused to let his publisher re-publish some of his early novels because he hated them, and after reading this one (which was only republished in Kindle format), I can see why.  I only finished it out of loyalty to him.

The Ghost Writer – John Harwood

This was a unique story about an Australian man who slowly uncovers his mother's mysterious and violent past in England, largely through reading short stories written by his grandmother decades earlier, and through corresponding with a pen pal in England.  A good Halloween read.  

Before I Go To Sleep* – S.J. Watson

This is another good Halloween read about a woman with short term memory loss that basically causes her to forget everything from one day to the next.  She wakes up every morning with no idea who she is, makes new memories throughout the day, then forgets everything again when she sleeps.

Written through her perspective, she slowly uncovers some disturbing secrets about her life before the accident that caused her amnesia.  This was a very cleverly-conceived book and is very suspenseful.

The Insanity of God – Nik Ripken 

This is the half-book that I read.  I quit almost exactly halfway through because I just couldn't go on.  This book was written under a pen name by a missionary who was associated with my college when I attended there back in the 1990's, and an old college friend of mine suggested it to me.

I quit halfway through because the book was just too out in left field for me.  It represented intense evangelical Christian perspectives, with a specific focus on the persecution of Christians in war-torn non-Christian countries.  There is a certain brand of evangelical Christian that just LOVES this sort of thing.  I personally can't stand it.  

There were also a number of reports in the book of supposed miracles that I personally found absurd.  For instance, the author claimed to have literally and physically heard the voice of God speaking to him in the back of a cheese factory when he was a teenager.  Others may marvel at such testimony; my reaction is to simply assume that when a person hears voices, they need psychiatric help.

Killing the Kordovas – Kathryn Lively

Koko – Peter Straub

This was the first Peter Straub book I had ever read.  It was a very long book set in the early 1980's about a group of Vietnam vets trying to chase down one of their old comrades, who they suspect is a murderer.  It was sort of a psychological thriller.  If focuses a lot on the mental strain many veterans of Vietnam suffered through.

Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease – Caldwell Esselstyn

This book is written by a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic who advocates an ultra low-fat, plant-based diet to, as the title suggests, prevent and reverse heart disease.  I haven't adopted his diet, which I think is totally unrealistic and hyper-restrictive, but I have altered some of my eating habits based on insights from his studies.

‘Salem’s Lot – Stephen King

It might be obvious by now that I read a lot of suspense and horror writers this year.  After searching online for recommendations for a classic horror novel, I decided to give this old King book a try.  Unlike 11/22/63, this was typical King fare.  Okay, but not great, way too slow-paced, and too far out in supernatural left field to actually be scary.

The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic – John Shelby Spong

An insightful analysis of the Gospel of John for a mainstream reading audience.  I think Spong stretches it a bit on some things, but overall this was an illuminating look at a gospel that has probably had a more important impact on Christian theology than any other single book of the Bible.

White Fire – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

This was the latest installment of the Pendergast series.  THANKFULLY, the boys returned to normal form in this book and left the travesty of Two Graves behind them.  Seriously have no idea what they were thinking on that book.

Fin Gall – James L. Nelson

I read several books by this author years ago, but he hadn't really published anything in about 10 years, until this book, which is set in Viking-era Ireland (800's A.D.).  It's sort of like a Bernard Cornwell historical adventure book, but not quite that good.

Zealot* – Reza Aslan

This is a controversial best-seller about the historical Jesus.  I intend to make a whole blog post about this book, so I won't go further other than to say it was excellent.

Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn 

Flynn's most recent book, called Gone Girl, has made her a hot author right now.  I haven't read Gone Girl - I decided instead to start with her first novel.  It was about a Chicago journalist who goes back to her Missouri hometown to investigate a serial killer.  It was a short, gritty psychological thriller and although it took me some time to get used to her blunt writing style, I enjoyed this one.


Now it's time to name the annual Serene Musings Book of the Year for 2013.  Last year's winner was Robert McCammon's Speaks the Nightbird.  McCammon, in fact, has won two years in a row.  Swan Song took this coveted award in 2011.

Here are the nominees for 2013, in no particular order:

Before I Go To Sleep
The Cabinet of Curiosities 
It's So Easy (And Other Lies)

And the winner is.........

There really was never a competition this year.  I finished this book the second week of January and no other book I read after that really came close to capturing me the way this one did.  I absolutely devoured this novel.

If you want to buy yourself a copy, use this link and I'll get a commission:

You can find the Serene Musings Book of the Year list at the bottom of the main page.


James Gibbon said...

I read 0.5 books in 2013.

Scott said...

That's not very good.