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.

I’m a What?

Words are funny things.  What a word conveys to one person is different from what another person hears.  The good old dictionary provides a more-or-less reliable definition, yet the word carries weight, power and color that often go beyond the “true definition”.

Also, words change their meanings over time; taking on new meanings long before the dictionary catches up to the new meaning.

Take the word ‘steampunk’, for example.  Even though the term has been around for about twenty years I was unfamiliar with it.

How did I learn I might be a steampunk fan?  I had been venturing into the areas of fantasy and alternative history in my mystery reading.  Mike Resnick’s Fable of Tonight series was right up my alley.  In the first, Stalking the Unicorn, the detective, Mallory, was a classic hard-boiled detective. It had all the ingredients of a noir mystery.  A valuable object is stolen (remember the Maltese Falcon?) and Mallory is hired to find it.  Then the fantasy world comes along.  The theft has taken place in an alternative New York City and the object stolen is a unicorn.  I loved it. In fact, I bought the series.

Recently my wonderful librarian handed me her personal copy of The Buntline Special also by Mike Resnick. (She reads sci-fi like I read mysteries.)  This is a wonderful alternative history of the Wild West, with the Earps, Doc Holliday and Bat Masterston.  It would have made a great dime-novel back in the old days of the Wild West.  It was fantastic.  It was so much fun.  When I had finished I turned the book over, read the back cover, and found to my confusion that the book was a ‘steampunk’ tale.

When I was younger, the work ‘punk’ had a very negative connotation.  Punks were losers – big time; one step away from juvie hall.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that I was a ‘steampunk’ fan.  It was rather a shock because I didn’t have the foggiest idea what ‘steampunk’ was.

After investigation, I learned that ‘steampunk’ was a sub-genre of science fiction. I do read sci-fi once in awhile, but not often and certainly not often enough to know about all the sub-genres it offers.  (Much like mysteries!)  Steampunk is set in the time period (the 19th century) when steam was the major source of power.  It has elements of fantasy, and/or alternative history, which usually involves futuristic inventions.  (Think Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.)

If you are unfamiliar with this genre a couple of movies might ring a bell ~  The Wild Wild West and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  I am still very unfamiliar with the genre and find it hard to tell if a book is, or isn’t steampunk. One series that I enjoyed was Gregory Keyes’, The Age of Unreason, which might belong to this genre as well as Matthew Pearl’s upcoming book, The Technologists and Catherine Webb’s wonderful series beginning with The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventure of Horatio Lyle.

Perhaps I am only a border-line steampunk fan, but I can hardly wait until The Doctor and the Kid, the next Weird West Story from Mike Resnick, is available.

The Technologists by Matthew Pearl

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Matthew Pearl’s book, The Technologists, has all the elements that have made his other books so immensely satisfying. It is well crafted, carefully researched and best of all, a “whale of a tale”.

It is 1868 and the first class is about to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There are many people that would like to see MIT fail and when a group of disasters hits Boston, ‘technology’, ‘science’ and MIT are blamed. A small group of students, determined to help save Boston from an even larger disaster and to help save the reputation of MIT, band together to use their scientific knowledge to find the person behind the disasters.

As in Pearl’s other books, the main central characters existed in real life and were, indeed, students at MIT. Likewise, the issues and attitudes the students faced were the issues the students faced in those early days of MIT. In actuality, the same issues are still faced today in different disguises and the story provides an entertaining way of viewing these issues over time.

I found the pace excellent; moments of quiet allowed the adrenaline to ease between moments of page-turning tension.

This gripping tale should be satisfying for those who like historical fiction, adventure, suspense, steampunk and/or ‘just good fiction’.

Published in: on October 10, 2011 at 7:31 am  Comments (2)  
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