My pick for the Best Book of the Year and other reading highlights of 2014

Total Books Read 207

 
The 5 enjoyed the most:

 
*My pick for the best book of the year*
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is one of those books that you don’t want to finish and when it is you can’t stop thinking about it. Every one of the 530 pages is a gem. You follow two lives that are unknowingly, to them, intertwined – that of a young French girl that goes blind as a child, and a young orphaned German boy. I don’t want to tell too much of the plot because part of the joy of this story is its unfolding. It is nearly impossible to find the words to describe this elegant, mesmerizing, story of two people caught up in WWII and the unimaginable affect of science, music and words in a book.

The Martian by Andy Weir – There are some books that you can read and thoroughly enjoy, but a year or two later the memory of the book has faded. If you see the name of the book, you remember that you read it, but that’s about all. There are other books that you will always remember. For me, The Martian is one of those. An astronaut is presumed dead and left behind when a tremendous storm forces the rest of his crew to leave the planet in a hurry. But Mark Watney isn’t dead and is determined to survive. I don’t know how possible the scenario is. It doesn’t really matter to me, since this is fiction. But Andy Weir makes you absolutely believe it is possible and you cheer for Mark every step of the way.

The Samurai’s Garden – I finished this book by Gail Tsukiyama in tears. Stephen, a young Chinese, is at college when he contracts TB and his family sends him to their summer home in Japan to get well. He will be in the care of Matsu, an older man whom Stephen always felt was very remote. Away from the hectic, frenzied world of China Stephen finds himself in the quiet remote village. This book is not for anyone that demands action or conflict or high drama but it will be one of the treasures on my bookshelves. The writing is spare, clean and lovely.

The Midnight Mayor by Kate Griffin was the second in the Matthew Swift series that started with The Madness of Angels. I fell in love with this authors writing when I read the YA trilogy that began with The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle under her real name Catherine Webb. The plot, the characters are great, the writing brilliant. It is not a quick read, but it is enjoyable every single minute. Matthew Swift/blue angel is once again in a world of trouble. Yes, the plot is exceptional, the dialogue great, characters that you can’t help but be involved with – but the real greatness of the book (and all the other books by this writer) is the beauty of her writing. “Life is magic.” I find it sad that those people who think they wouldn’t like urban fantasy will miss knowing what a fantastic writer Kate Griffen/Catherine Webb is.

 
Measuring Eternity by Martin Gorst- What an excellent read! Measuring Infinity traces the search for the time the Earth was created, a search that began as early as 400+ years AD, and ultimately the birth of the universe as well.

It covers the scientists we are all familiar with and those we have probably never heard of. It covers the exciting ‘real’ discoveries and the amusing ‘mistakes’. It shows the great scientists, such as Newton and Einstein, making ‘right’ discoveries and their heartbreak when they were sometimes glaringly wrong.

The book shows the wide range of disciplines that were involved. The early naturalists – working to find answers through biology, fossils, geology and later the chemists and physicists.

The book is well written, telling you a tale of search, rather than being pages of data and formulas. It is a tale of people.

It’s even fun. At the end of the 1600s, people were trying to explain how fossils were buried in so many layers of the earth, – if they had been deposited by the Flood. One explanation was that ‘the water for the Flood came from an interior ocean hidden beneath the Earth’s crust. In the normal state this was held in place by gravity, but at the time of the Flood, God had momentarily suspended the full force of gravity and the water had spilled out.’ Later when God restored the gravity the fossils were sank by their density – therefore the heavier ones being lowest.

Other great reads
Two Old Women by Velma Wallis
Death of a Swagman by Arthur Upfield
Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky
Endangered Alphabets by Tim Brooks

Not so good
Concealed in Death by J. D. Robb
Shadows in the Vineyard by Maximillian Potter
Dakota by Gwen Florio
Grifter’s Game by Lawrence Block
Black House by Peter May

5 Most Enjoyed Hard-Boiled Detectives
The Last Cop Out by Mickey Spillane
Motor City Blue by Loren D. Estleman
Retro by Loren D. Estleman
Black-Eyed Blonde  by Benjamin Black
Ice Cold Kill by Dana Haynes

Enjoyed Sci-fi/Steampunk
Lock In by John Scalzi
The Return of the Discontinued Man by Mark Hodder
The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick

5 Most Enjoyed Mystery Oldies
The Mouse In the Mountain by Norbert Davis
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Death of a Swagman by Arthur Upfield
Maigret and the Bum by Georges Simenon
Murder By the Book by Rex Stout

Series present challenges
Skin Game by Jim Butcher was a delight, more like the earlier books than the last few.
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan C. Bradley was a slight disappointment. Flavia had lost a bit of her brightness.
Another slight disappointment was The Long Way Home by Louise Penny. I didn’t enjoy Armitage in his ‘retired’ status.
Concealed in Death was awful.

Special Highlights
Sometimes a book is just ‘fun’ or it was just the ‘right’ book at the ‘right’ time.
The Corpse Wore Pasties by Johny Porkpie was one such. It wasn’t great writing, or even a challenging mystery, but it was tons of fun.
Brother Cadfael’s Penance by Ellis Peters seemed like the perfect historical mystery. Couldn’t see it getting any better than this.

 

May 2015 by a great reading year for everyone.

Blood on the Water by Anne Perry

blood on the waterThis is the 20th, and perhaps the best, book in the Monk series. Here, Monk is witness to the explosion of sinking of a pleasure boat on the Thames and the loss of over 200 people. The investigation should fall to Monk and the River Police, but it is handed over to the Metropolitan Police and the reason given is that it is ‘politically sensitive’. Monk watches as a man is quickly arrested, brought to trial and convicted of the crime, but flashes of memory of what he saw that night leads him to believe the wrong man has been found guilty. When evidence turns up that the convicted man could not have been the guilty party the case is handed back to the River Police.

They find and arrest another man, but it will be impossible to find him guilty in court as long as another person has been convicted of the crime. In order to prosecute, the first case must be overturned. Monk finds there is a lot of political ambition, and other motives at work to prevent this from happening, and they can’t find a motive.

As in the other Monk books, questions must be asked and answered about personal honor and integrity, the purpose of law, and how far can a person bend in order to protect the people they love without losing their moral compass.

The characters from former books in the series are here, as real as ever, but one could fully enjoy the book without having read any of the earlier books. The case has a good sense of reality about it. In our ideal worlds there is no corruption, no cover-ups, but in the actual world we know differently. The way the case evolves seems only too possible and the ending proves that truth, even painful truth, revealed at the beginning could never be as damaging as truth revealed after attempts to cover up the facts and corrupt justice. (A fact that people in power, and those that crave power, never seem to grasp.)

The book was tremendously enjoyable and I look forward to the next in this great series.

My Favorite Spy – Appleton Porter – What? Never heard of him?

Somewhere in the company of George Smiley and James Bond you will find Appleton Porter, a very British spy created by Marc Lovell. Appleton (“Apple” as he is known by his friends) is about as memorable as a spy can be. He is 6’7″ tall, with red hair, freckles (when he is not blushing) and a problem in that he blushes very easily.

His boss describes him as “six feet seven inches tall…How could he ever blend into the background?…He is kind to the aged and small creatures…and falls in love at the traditional drop of a lace handkerchief…training scores were pretty dismal…It makes me sigh myself to wonder why Porter didn’t have the cunning to try and fake his ratings. Is there no guile in the man at all? Finally, Porter blushes.”

His favorite snack is tea and toast with lemon marmalade – it helps him think. Often after just such a snack his mind is clear enough to see the solution to whatever problem he is facing.

The Spy Game is the first in this fourteen book series.

In the fifth book, Apple to the Core, Appleton manages to buy Ethel. Ethel is a very old British cab that has long been used by the Secret Service and for which Appleton has a great fondness. Ethel had been featured in the previous four books and it was nice to see the cab finally belong to Apple.

If I had to think up a description for this wonderful series I think I would call them “cozy spy”. While he does often have to fight physically the books aren’t full of killing, neither does Appleton swear. The circumstances he sometimes finds himself in are at times a bit crazy, but it makes the story so much more fun. The books are about 200 pages, give or take a few, and are a quick read.

While it is hard to choose among them, because they are all so much fun, Apple Spy in the Sky is one of my favorites. Appleton is an unlikely spy and in this episode he is up against a KGB agent as unlikely as he is.