Monday, January 16, 2017

2016 Reading List

Only 8 posts on Serene Musings in 2016.  Pretty pathetic blogging by yours truly, and for that I'm sorry.  Maybe I'll be better in 2017, but no promises.

In any case, here's my reading list for last year.  A mere 25 books in 2016, largely due to the prodigious length of several of the books I read.

I am forgoing the Serene Musing Book of the Year Award this year, not because I don't want to do it, but simply because, quite frankly, I didn't feel that there were any books I read this year worthy of this prestigious award.

Seriously though, it's not that I hated everything I read, it's just that nothing I read this year really struck me as a fantastic book - as something I'd want to read again. So there will be no 2016 winner this year. Yes, Serene Musings is a bit like the Nobel Prize in Literature. It's only awarded if someone earns it.

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Carrion Comfort – Dan Simmons

Another massive horror tome, this time about vampires, from the most long-winded writer who ever lived, with the possible exception of James Michener (see below). Aside from the fact that the story could have been told just as well with 500 pages instead of 1200, this was still a really good book for anyone who enjoys good character-driven horror fiction. The twist on the vampire genre in this book is that the vampires don't suck blood - instead they feed on other people's minds by mind control: forcing people to do their will.  

First Blood – David Morrell

This is the book that inspired the Rambo series of films. If you've seen the first Rambo movie, it follows the book pretty closely, except that Rambo kills a lot more people in the book than in the movie (in the movie they intentionally had him only kill one really bad cop in order to make him seem more sympathetic; in the book, it's intentionally left unclear who the actual hero is - whether Rambo or the sheriff who is intent on capturing him.) One other change is that the movie is set in the upper northwest, while the book takes place in the backwoods of eastern Kentucky. 

Crimson Shore – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

The latest installment in the Agent Pendergast series.  As always, it was solid.  

The Martian – Andy Weir

I decided to read this one after the movie starring Matt Damon came out.  I don't read a lot of science fiction, but I was drawn to this one largely because of the backstory of the author and the book itself. He initially self-published this book for Kindle through Amazon and simply advertised it on his blog (sound familiar?).  It took off and went viral and started selling a lot on Amazon. The publishing industry took notice and before long he had a New York Times bestseller in hardback and a hit movie. The book was good, although it's very, very technical - but not to the point that you can't follow what's going on. 

One Corpse Too Many – Ellis Peters

Book two in this historical mystery series starring Brother Cadfael, a crime-solving monk in the vein of Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot.  It's set in 12th century western England. 

Never Binge Again – Glenn Livingston

A self-help book about binge-eating that sadly didn't do me much good. #fat

The Fall of the Roman Empire – Peter Heather

This was another one of the "prodigious tomes" I read this year. It took me from October 2015 to March of 2016 to get through it. If you a very in-depth look at the reasons for the fall of Rome, and you DON'T want to read Edward Gibbon, this is a good place to start.  

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

I read this one in an effort to read more critically-acclaimed literary fiction (this one was  Pulitzer Prize winner).  It was okay.  A little too artsy in the writing style, which is, of course, something that high-brow literary critics love.  

The Five – Robert McCammon

This was somewhat of a departure from the norm for McCammon, who is typically a horror novelist in the vein of King or Simmons. This book centers on a struggling rock band who gets stalked by a serial killer, but it's less of a horror story and more a character study. I gave it a solid 4 stars.  

The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle

A very famous self-help novel that falls into what the old Southern Baptist Scott would have called "new age-y" stuff. It's inspiring, but ultimately sort of impractical. 

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Another book I read in an effort to read more "great novels."  This one was interesting if for no other reason than to see how Huxley got his predictions for the future right and wrong. As far as dystopian novels set in the future go, however, it doesn't hold a candle to 1984. 

Masters of the Planet – Ian Tattersall

A fantastic overview of anthropological studies on human evolution, including a survey of all the various bones and skeletons of pre-modern humans that have been found.  Very informative. 

You Look Like That Girl – Lisa Jakub

A memoir by the actress who played the oldest daughter in Mrs. Doubtfire and also the daughter of Randy Quaid's character in Independence Day. She left acting in young adulthood and teaches yoga and memoir-writing classes in Virginia now.  An interesting "inside" look at a working actor's life in Hollywood, without the glitz and glamour and gossip.  

This Naked Mind – Annie Grace

Another self-help adventure, this time on drinking responsibly. 

Chesapeake – James Michener

One of Michener's thousand page historical dramas, centered on a series of families in the Chesapeake Bay region, starting right before Europeans arrived there in the late 1500s and leading up through the modern day. 

Zachary Taylor – John S. D. Eisenhower

A short biography of one of my favorite ex-presidents. Taylor is the only person prior to He Who Shall Not Be Named to ever become president without having any political or top general military experience.  He was a general, and very successful one who was given wide acclaim for his victories in the Mexican-American war, but he was a field general, not a commanding general. That may be splitting hairs a bit, but it set him apart from all other U.S. presidents until Señor Cheeto got elected.

He died from food poisoning a year and half into his term and was the subject of speculation in the 1980s that he might have been assassinated. The speculation was rampant enough that the Kentucky state coroner agreed to disinter him from his tomb in Louisville to check fingernail and hair samples for signs of arsenic. Arsenic was found, but it was in low enough concentrations to be considered normal. The test, however, was only able to rule out arsenic as a cause of death, but no other potential poisons.  

Monk’s Hood – Ellis Peters

Book three in the Brother Cadfael series. Speaking of poisons, the murder victim in this one got poisoned with monk's hood - also known as wolf's bane - a super poisonous flower that grows throughout the northern hemisphere and occasionally kills unsuspecting flower-pickers in places like England and northern Europe. 

The Great Emergence – Phyllis Tickle

A book about the emergence of a new kind of Christianity, which the author believes (or believed - she's dead now) indicates a new reformation is taking place.  Tickle was the long-time religion editor at Publisher's Weekly.  

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain

See a trend here?  Another great work of literature I had never read until this year. 

The Ice Limit – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

This was a re-read from a book first published (and which I first read) in 2000. I re-read it in preparation for the long-awaited sequel. 

Beyond the Ice Limit – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

The aforementioned long-awaited sequel. It wasn't as good as the first book, but it was okay. 

Before Adam – Jack London

Earlier in the year, I downloaded a bunch of old Jack London novels (he of Call of the Wild and White Fang fame). This was the first one I read.  It was intriguing because it was basically set in prehistoric times. The main character is a caveman (although he's more ape-like than human) and it basically tells this guy's story. London, who was writing at the beginning of the 20th century, was inspired by new advances in the study of evolution. It was interesting to see (especially in light of the book on human evolution I had read earlier in the year) a century-old take on human evolution by a novelist. Needless to say, he got a lot of things wrong. But it's a bit like opening a time capsule. Very illuminating.  

Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

And yet another great work of classic literature. 

Refuge Recovery – Noah Levine

And yet another self-help book on drinking responsibly. 


Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

Another classic, but this one was a re-read. I read this originally about 20 years ago, and decided to read it again. Still the prototypical pirate adventure story.

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Serene Musings Books of the Year, 2005-2015