I alternate fiction and non-fiction books. For fiction is like action/mystery/crime and for non-fiction I like all different types of books on science, engineering and biographies. Book selections come from recommendations from friends and family and from Entertainment Weekly, which has a good book review section. Click here for previous Book Reviews - Fiction or here for previous Book Reviews – Non-Fiction
Here is my rating scale: ¶ Couldn’t finish it; ¶¶ A few interesting parts; ¶¶¶ Generally very good; ¶¶¶¶ Couldn’t put it down
Unbroken A World War II Airman's Story of
Survival, Resilience, and Redemption / Laura Hillenbrand ¶¶¶¶
This is the first book that I borrowed and read on the Kindle App on my iPad. Laura Hillenbrand is the same author who wrote the book about Seabiscuit. This book is about Louie Zamperini, a World War II aviator who survived 47 days at sea only to suffer incredible cruelty in Japanese POW camps. It is an uplifting book of survival.
11/22/63 / Stephen King ¶¶¶¶
I hadn’t read a Stephen King book in a while and heard about this title that involves some time travel to I was interested. It the story of a high school teacher who is shown a portal by that can take him back to 1958. He is encouraged to go back and change history by preventing the death of President Kennedy in 1963. It turns out that history is very resistant to change. It is a very entertaining read with the best part being trying to predict the ending. Is he able to do it or not? If he doesn’t or does what happens to history?
The Orphan Master's Son: A Novel / Adam Johnson ¶¶¶¶
This was a fascinating book about life in North Korea told through the improbable life of Park Jun Do, the son of a man who manages an orphanage. Orphans are the lowest level of society in North Korea. Pak Jun Do encompasses the stories of several people during his life that is ultimately a love story. Pak Jun Do stars off his life being confused with the orphans he lives with, and then becomes a tunneler and soldier under the DMZ. He is then assigned to kidnap Japanese citizens, then to work as a radio surveillance operator on a fishing boat and then he ends up on a trip to Texas as part of a North Korean delegation. Then the book gets really interesting! It is a fascinating look at life in North Korea and even features the recently departed Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il.
Art of Winning an Unfair Game / Michael Lewis ¶¶¶¶
This is a non-fiction book about Billy Beane, the Oakland ‘A’s manager who used analysis of baseball statistics to compete against teams with four times the team salary. It’s been made into a movie which is also very good, but the book is much more interesting as it explains the statistics and has deeper information about the players featured in the film. At first glance this appears to be a baseball novel, or then maybe a statistics novel, but it’s actually novel about business and how to use the right statistics to your advantage.
The Affair: A Reacher Novel / Lee Child ¶¶¶
I always enjoy Lee Child’s Reacher novels. This is a flashback to when Reacher started his career as an accidental investigator and fixer. Here he is in Mississippi where a murder points to the local army base which is protected by powerful friends.
The First Rule / Robert Crais ¶¶¶
This is a Joe Pike novel where he investigates the murder of a friend and his family which appears to show that he had been involved illicit activities. Joe goes in to punish the killers and clear his friends name.
The End of the Wasp Season: A Novel / Denise Mina ¶¶¶¶
I’ve been enjoying Scandinavian and Irish murder mysteries by Jo Nesbø, Henning Mankell, and Tana French. (See reviews below). This is the second book I’ve read by Denise Mina and it is very good. The book starts with the murder of a young woman in a wealthy suburb and the death of a notorious businessman. You already know they are related! It’s a great story of detective work with the main character, Alex Morrow, as a fine female detective.
So Much Pretty: A Novel / Cara Hoffman ¶¶¶
This is an interesting book about the closeness of small town life the reaction of people in the town when a women is found murdered. The new reporter for the newspaper, Stacy Flynn, finds it very difficult to talk to people about what is going on.
Click here for Book Reviews - Fiction.
Japan 1945: A U.S. Marine's Photographs from Ground
Zero / Joe O'Donnell
I picked this up from the non-fiction shelf after leafing through it a bit. It is a book with much more photos than text. Photos were taken by Joe O’Donnell who was the first American landed on Japan after the surrender. (He had to be first because he took pictures of the Americans landing!). Joe roamed the country and took pictures of daily life after the war including unforgettable photos of the devastation of the two atomic bombs. It is a sobering and interesting look at history.
The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival / John Vaillant ¶¶¶
I plucked this book from the new non-fiction shelf when it caught my attention. This is a true story of the Siberian tiger which lives in the remote southwestern corner of Siberia. The local anti-poaching police are involved in tracking down and killing a tiger that take three lives before it is caught. There is a delicate balance between the tiger and man and the author speculates that the first victim had taken some tiger cubs from a mother. The Siberian tiger is a magnificent animal.
Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and
The Greatest Race The World Has Never Seen / Christopher McDougall ¶¶¶
I’m not into running, but I was intrigued by tribe of native Mexicans that run everywhere in the mountains are truly incredible runners. The book explains the method and science of ultra marathon running and the brief time when the Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon, Mexico competed and beat the best ultra marathon runner in the US. The author manages to organize a race on the Tarahumara Indians home turf. It is an interesting read.
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of
Cancer / Siddhartha Mukherjee ¶¶¶¶
This book won the Pulitzer prize for Siddhartha Mukherjee and it is well deserved. Cancer is one word, but in reality it is a multitude of diseases with a multitude of treatments. The amazing thing about the treatments is how each of them was developed by a special insight that tapped a weakness in cancer. This is well worth a read.
Road Work: Among Tyrants, Heroes, Rogues, and
Beasts / Mark Bowden ¶¶¶
This is a series of articles published by Mark Bowden (Black Hawk Down) over the years. An article on the life of Saddam Hussein is one of the featured articles. Generally, the book was good, but I did skip over stories that didn’t interest me!
A Short History of Nearly Everything / Bill Bryson ¶¶¶¶
This is a great book which covers just about everything that is important to know about the universe. It is intended for people who don’t know a lot about science, but I found his summary explanation of topics refreshing to read, particularly his notes on opposing viewpoints. I like this book and will probably read it again.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks / Rebecca Skloot ¶¶¶
I had never heard of the HeLa cell line before I read this book, but they are probably one of the most important line of cells used to develop vaccines and to study the effect of drugs on cancer. They were from a cervical cancer biopsy done on Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman from Virginia in 1951. The cancer was extremely virulent and she died soon after as the cancer spread all over her body. The cells were cultured and were the first ones that were easy to grow. Since human cells, even cancerous ones, were needed for research, the cells were sent all over the world for study. The amazing ability of the cells to grow is partially explained after they discovered HPV and found that the cells were infected multiple times with an extremely strong variety, HPV 18. There are many other cell cultures now, but HeLa is still extremely important. The author delves into the history of Henrietta Lacks, her current family and all the issues and ethics surrounding human cell research. This is an interesting read…
The Essential Engineer: Why
Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems / Henry Petroski ¶¶¶
Henry Petroski addresses major scientific problems in the world such as the future energy crisis and global warming. The theme is that science and engineering must work together to solve these problems.
Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in
the Void / Mary Roach ¶¶¶¶
There have been numerous stories on the internet recently about the feasibility of going to Mars. One particular item is to send older astronauts on a one-way trip and have them explore for us. This would make the mission much less complex, but the main reason is that the human body could not likely stand the radiation from a return trip. Mary Roach gives a great overview of all the issues confronting a mission of this length and complexity.
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of
the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements / Sam Kean ¶¶¶¶
I read a great book years ago on the discovery of the elements in chronological order from when they were found. Sam Kean gives an interesting take on this story, by grouping like elements based on the stories around them. This is an interesting book for all readers.
e: The Story of a Number / Eli Maor ¶¶¶
There is no doubt that this is a very geeky book to read. Even after I read it I have a hard time explaining exactly what “e” is even though there are many examples in mathematics. Unlike “π” which is the ratio of circumference to diameter of a circle “e” is more difficult to define. This is why it took a long time in history to recognize it’s special nature. Maor does a good job of reviewing the history of the number and how it came to be recognized.
Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy / Melissa Milgrom ¶¶¶
This is a very interesting book about the history and personalities in taxidermy. The popularity and acceptance of taxidermy has waxed and waned over the years and there is a great emphasis on how taxidermists are foremost naturalists and love to watch nature. When I went to a museum as a child there was a natural history wing with dioramas of animals from around the world in their “natural” setting. These dioramas are the height of taxidermy while most people know taxidermy as deer heads on the wall. This book follows the history of taxidermy by focusing each chapter on a person or period of time. For example, Damien Hirst has become famous for taxidermy in his art work where he collaborates with Emily Mayer. Emily Mayer is featured in the book as the expert taxidermist who makes Damien Hirst’s that much more realistic. (Side note – Architects don’t build their own buildings.) Mayer does domestic animals for clients such as sleeping cats and dogs. See her work here I would be great to have had pictures I the book to see.
Bringing Down the House / Ben Mezrich ¶¶¶¶
I was flying on a short hopper flight and found this book in the seat back pocket. I hope the previous owner had finished with it and not forgotten it. An entertaining book about a group of six MIT students recruited to take Vegas for millions of dollars using an elaborate blackjack card counting scheme.
The Complete Guide to Night And Lowlight Photography / Michael H. Freeman ¶¶¶
This book has a lot of information about low light photography and is a great reference book on programs that correct noise and color errors. I got this book to find out about high dynamic range (HDR) photography where photos of different exposures are combined to make an image with higher dynamic range. I found that this area is not well developed. Photoshop CS3 seems to do a poor job of it.
Photoshop Restoration & Retouching / Katrin Eismann ¶¶¶
I’m always interested in tips on how to retouch photos since this comes up occasionally and it’s always good to know more. Katrin Eismann has many practical tips on how to correct many different items and this is a good reference for this type of work.
The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom / Graham Farmelo ¶¶¶
I have to admit I know very little about quantum mechanics, but now I know exactly how little I know! Paul Dirac was an eccentric genius who applied himself to understanding the fundamental nature of matter. He was particularly intrigued by relativity and combined this with quantum theory to advance knowledge in this area. He lived in very interesting times and knew Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg and many other famous physicists. I found the book very interesting.
The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science / Richard Holmes ¶¶¶
This book was listed as the #1 non-fiction book on a list somewhere so I thought it would be interesting. It chronicles the explosion of science at the end of the 18th century starting with Joseph Banks, the science officer on James Cook’s voyage to Tahiti. Joseph Banks eventually became the president of the Royal Society and witnessed many interesting developments. William Herschel built a telescope at home that was better than the telescope at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich and eventually discovered Uranus. He also found out that Polaris is actually a double star (triple, if you include a star orbiting nearby). I didn’t know that! There is an interesting section on ballooning which went from novelty to impracticality when it was found difficult to control your direction. Humphry Davy is also highlighted for his exceptional ability in chemistry and the invention of the Davy safety lamp which undoubtedly save thousands of miners’ lives from explosions of methane gas. An interesting theme in the book is that the arts and sciences were very much intertwined and period poets often wrote poems about science. Humphry Davy himself was unsure whether to be a poet or a scientist (note that the word scientist hadn’t been invented yet.)
Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed The World / David Maraniss ¶¶¶
The 1960 Olympics in Rome was a surprisingly interesting event. Cassius Clay won the gold medal in boxing, but the biggest celebrities at the games were American athlete Rafer Johnson who defeated his rival and friend C.K. Yang in one of the greatest decathlon events in Olympic history and Wilma Rudolph won 3 gold medals after surviving polio as a child. There was still reluctance to allow women to allow women to compete in running. The Russians decided to make an effort at the 1960 games to show the world the benefits of the communism and won the medal competition. Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia won the marathon, running at night, bare-footed to become the first black African Olympic champion.
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster / Jon Krakauer ¶¶¶¶
This is a really great book – well written about a powerful story. Jon Krakauer was hired by Outdoor Magazine to climb Mount Everest as a journalist to document the increasing popularity of this climb with amateur mountaineers. It turned out to be a deadly season. I never realized how difficult the climb is emotionally and mentally, and the extreme effects of low oxygen on the body. It is difficult to believe that you can reach the summit without supplemental oxygen. There was a lot of controversy over the events of the day and a lot of research was required to try to sort out. One sobering fact is that of all the people who have reached the summit, one quarter of them have died.
An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 / Robert Dallek ¶¶¶
I read a biography of Lincoln and was impressed by the person. The same is true for this JFK. I had assumed that he had been elevated in history because of his untimely death, but he was a critical person when the Cold War was at its height. There were a lot of things that were not impressive such as his incessant womanizing, fringe dealings with the mob, and hidden health issues, but JFK had a vision for the country and a zest for his job that make you wonder what might have been. The book is long if you just want to get the basic history, but some of the details are interesting. JFK’s family wealth and status with his father being ambassador to England gave him unlimited access to travel and great opportunities in life. He was present when Churchill gave his famous “never surrender” speech in parliament.
Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam / Mark Bowden ¶¶¶¶
This is a timely book considering the recent news about the development of nuclear weapons and shaky election practices in Iran. Mark Bowden does a great job of setting the scene and reviewing the entire story of the hostage taking. He generally gives President Carter good marks for the handling of the situation although this was one of the items that led to his reelection loss. It was also interesting to read about the failed rescue attempt which probably had a zero chance of success even if they had managed to get to the hostages. This book really outlines the state of mind of Iran which really hasn’t changed. Other Mark Bowden books that are worth a read are Black Hawk Down (also a great movie) about American forces in Somalia and Killing Pablo about Pablo Escobar, a notorious Colombian crime boss.
The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design / Richard Dawkins ¶¶¶
Richard Dawkins continues his dialogue on showing that evolution explains the current state of life on the planet. The “watchmaker” is a reference to the famous creationist theologian William Paley who made the argument that a watch is obviously designed and that life is so much more complex that it must have been designed as well. The “blind watchmaker” is evolution…
Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders / William R. Drennan ¶¶¶
I greatly admire Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural designs and have made a visit to Spring Green, Wisconsin to see the valley of his family and his monumental home Taliesin. On August 15, 1914, Taliesin was the scene of a horrific murder of 7 people, including 2 children, by Julian Carlton, a servant. Carlton died 6 weeks later from acid he drank after the murders were committed. Wright had built Taliesin for his mistress, Mamah Borthwick, one of the victims. The book tries to make some sense of the times and the crime and does a good job of describing Wright himself. While he was a great and talented architect he generally did as he pleased.
Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body / Neil Shubin ¶¶¶¶
Neil Shubin has been on some extraordinary adventures looking for fossils particularly for the transitional fossils when fish moved onto land. He highlights the common ancestry we have in DNA and in body parts from all kinds of creatures. It is a fascinating voyage through the human body.
Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power / Richard Carwardine ¶¶¶
I was surprised to find out that Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on exactly the same day – February 12, 1809 so there has been a lot of news about the impact of these two important people on the 200th anniversary of their birth. I went to the library looking for a book on Lincoln to further my knowledge and chose this one by Richard Carwardine, who is a British author, and the recipient of the Lincoln prize for his work. The book has a brief history of his early years, but generally focuses on his time in Congress representing Illinois and his maneuvering to be the first Republican president and the first president from that state and the first. Lincoln’s management of the war is of course discussed in great detail and it is obvious that his fame is his deft management of the Union in a time of crisis. It’s a difficult read, but has many interesting moments.
The Illustrated Origin of Species / Charles Darwin (with an extensive forward by Richard Leakey) ¶¶¶
There has been so much controversy over this book that I thought I had better read it. The really nice thing about this book is that Richard Leakey, the famous paleoanthropologist, provides an extensive forward that explains a lot of the biology discussed in the book. Leakey also has addenda in the body of the book that explains some of Darwin’s missing information, for example genetics. The illustrations are great as well. This book is based on the 6th edition of the book and Darwin had already added sections addressing criticism from religious groups.
Outliers: The Story of Success / Malcolm Gladwell ¶¶¶¶
I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time as it is a big seller and it is easy to see why after reading it. The story of success and how this is affected by culture is brought home by excellent examples. The basic summary is that opportunity gives you the best chance for success.
Exploring Photoshop CS3 / Annesa Hartman, Ken Sholar ¶¶¶
I’ve been looking for a good Photoshop book and this one is pretty good. I find I learn snippets of information from each book that I read on Photoshop and I learned a few interesting things here.
A Gap in Nature: Discovering the World's Extinct Animals / Tim Flannery & Peter Schouten ¶¶¶¶
This is really a picture book organized by the year the animal became extinct with a short synopsis of the life of the animal and what happened to cause it to become extinct.
Breaking the Slump: How Great Players Survived Their Darkest Moments in Golf – And What You Can Learn From Them / Jimmy Roberts ¶¶¶
This is an interesting book about the ups and downs of golf and how great players have gotten through very rough patches in their careers. It’s hard to believe that David Duvall was neck and neck with Tiger Woods and is now completely gone. It also shows what a phenomenal player Tiger Woods is since a slump for him is that he hasn’t won a major tournament! The book has a short chapter per person and it’s interesting to read about each person’s early history.
T. Rex and the Crater of Doom / Walter Alvarez ¶¶¶¶
This book was mentioned in the “River Out of Eden…” book below as a great example of a detective work that uncovered the catastrophic event 65 million years ago that ended the reign of large dinosaurs like the T. Rex. This book is a great blend of science explained and a great story that finally uncovered the location of the Chicxulub crater in Mexico. It is also interesting that alternative points of view are given full weight in the analysis of the evidence. I would like to see the band of clay that shows the abrupt change from the Mesozoic to the Cenozoic eras of history.
River Out Of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life / Richard Dawkins ¶¶¶
I’ve been reading some books on evolution in honor of the 200th year of his birth and 150th anniversary of his book “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.” This is a book from the “Science Masters” series. Dawkins does a good job of explaining the course of evolution and the descent of genes in a river to present day times. I liked the section on mitochondrial DNA.
Teach Yourself Swedish ¶¶¶¶
I like the “Teach Yourself…” series and find it gives you facility with the language very quickly. It uses examples of conversations on useful subjects explaining the grammar and vocabulary as it comes up. I don’t find that tapes that useful because I am not usually reading the book with a handy CD player around.
Teach Yourself Korean ¶¶¶¶
Korean is a lot more difficult to learn, but because it is a phonetic language with well set rules it is possible to learn to read very quickly. “Teach Yourself Korea” uses the same format of conversations, but adds an English transliteration which makes is easier to digest. The transliteration is in a format not used in Korea anymore, but can be handled easily. The section where pronunciation is explained is weak. It would be a lot better to have a few pronunciation tables that you can get in other places and there is a pattern to the letters that could be explained better. I could write this section based on learning the hard (or heard) way. I’m on Chapter 5 after 3 years of working on it off and on!!
Thunderstruck / Erik Larson ¶¶¶
If you read "Devil in the White City" you already know Erik Larson's style. He juxtaposes two concurrent events and intertwines them into a great story. In this book tells the tale of Harry Crippen, mass murderer juxtaposed with the invention of the radio. Crippen was captured sailing to America by a wireless transmission from the ship after being recognized by the captain.
The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory / Brian Greene.
The World without Us / Alan Weisman. ¶¶¶¶
What would the world be like if we suddenly disappeared? This book does a good job answering this question. The best parts of the book are the examples of areas that have reverted to their natural state such as the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective / Kate Summerscale. ¶¶¶
The interesting thing of this book is the setting. It is a shocking murder of young 4-year old boy. Eventually, Constance Kent confessed to the murder years later. Unfortunately, the investigation ruined the lives of the people involved and the reputation of the inspector. You can look on Google Earth and still see the location of the town. The house is still there and most of the roads are exactly the same. The name of the town has been changed from Road to Rode.
Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail or Succeed / Jared Diamond. ¶¶¶¶
Jared Diamond continues his work "Gun, Germs and Steel which looked at why the Europeans were so successful in the world with a new look at how societies in the past and present have dealt with the numerous factors that make then successful or extinct. The book has many interesting examples of success and failure. Where are we going today?
1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus / Charles C. Mann. ¶¶¶¶
This book reviews information from many sources and provides a realistic look at what the Americas were like before the devastation of European diseases. The sad thing is how much was lost before we even knew it was there.
1421: The Year China Discovered America / Gavin Menzies. ¶¶
The premise of this book is that the Chinese explored the world before everybody else did and provided the maps for Columbus and Magellan. The story also provides is the plausible explanation of the Bimini Road in the Bahamas as being man made. The weakness of the book is the frequent reference to what will be proven in the future, but passing it off as current fact so naturally there is some controversy about the claims in this book. I didn't like the pompous nature of some of the passages.
Professional Portraiture / Annabel Williams. ¶¶¶
Studio Lighting: A Primer for Photographers / Lou Jacobs, Jr.
You can always get tips from these books and there always great things to learn.
The Man Who Knew Too Much / Leavitt ¶¶¶
Alan Turing was a great mathematician who was the key mind behind the breaking of the Enigma code used by the Germans in World War II. It was estimated that his work saved two years of further war. Much of the book speculates on the effect of his homosexuality on his life which was illegal in England at the time. Eventually this was the cause of his downfall and overshadowed his achievements.
Finder Keepers / Bowden ¶¶
A man in the suburbs of Philadelphia literally finds $1.2 million that falls of an armored car. It is an interesting story and well written, but not compelling enough for a book. Bowden has also written “Black Hawk Down” and “Killing Pablo” which are great stories.
Opinions expressed here are of course my own. Send comments to email@example.com
The Snowman / Jo Nesbø; Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett ¶¶¶¶
I’ve read all of Jo Nesbø’s novels and this one is also very good. The story is of a serial killer who only attacks at the first snowfall. He leaves a snowman behind. Naturally, the case takes Harry Hole and has a surprising interaction with his new partner.
The Devil's Star / Jo Nesbø; Translated from the Norwegian by Don
I’ve read all of Jo Nesbø’s books and this is another good one. Harry Hole is on the trail of a serial killer who appears to be killing people based on a geometric design on the map. At the same time he is trying to avoid his nemesis, Tom, a dirty police officer pressuring to join him.
The Troubled Man / Henning Mankell; Translated
from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson ¶¶¶¶
I’ve really enjoyed the Kurt Wallander series and (spoiler alert) this appears to be the last one. Kurt is called to investigate the disappearance of a naval officer who coincidentally is his son-in-law’s father. The interesting part of this book is the different sense that Sweden has of world events and of the interplay of world powers. It turns out that the naval officer has something to hide. This is Kurt’s last case as he slowly slips away from us into Alzheimer’s disease.
The Sentry / Robert Crais ¶¶¶
This is a good action novel with Joe Pike getting involved in a murder mystery after he tries to help a restaurant owner with trouble from local gangs.
61 hours / Lee Child ¶¶¶
I read every Lee Child book that comes out and this is another great read. Jack Reacher always finds trouble and this is no exception. He gets stuck in a snowstorm while traveling in South Dakota and gets involved protecting a woman from a very capable assassin.
The Likeness / Tana French ¶¶¶¶
I read Tana French’s previous book, “In the Woods” and I really liked her writing style and the setting in Ireland. “The Likeness” begins with a murder where the victim has been using the undercover name of a police officer and looks just like her. The police officer returns to undercover work to find out what happened. The characters are 3-dimensional and interesting and the story is compelling. It is unlikely that someone could really infiltrate into an intimate surrounding like this, but the story is very well done. It was so compelling that my daughter read it after I was finished!
The Fifth Woman / Henning Mankell ; translated from the Swedish by Steven T. Murray ¶¶¶¶
I’ve been enjoying mysteries by Jo Nesbø and, of course, the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson so I thought I would try this book by Henning Mankell. It was very well done and I plan to read others in the series. Kurt Wallander is a police detective in Sweden looking at two seemingly unrelated crimes with few clues that will lead him to 5 murders that took place in Africa years before and a serial killer in his midst.
Shatter: A Novel / Michael Robotham ¶¶¶
A psychologist, Joe O’Loughlin is called to try to prevent a suicide and gets pulled into a battle with a devious serial killer. This book is a great read and well written.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest / Steig Larsson ¶¶¶¶
This is the last book in what is commonly known as “The Millennium Trilogy.” It carries on directly from the previous book “The Girl Who Played With Fire” with our heroine Lisbeth Salander, shot and left for dead by her evil father. The second and third books are really one story while the first book, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a separate story that introduces the main characters. “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” is a really enjoyable book and I’m sorry that it’s over. Stieg Larsson died before the books were published, but there are rumors of a fourth book. Larsson did not leave a will so this is mired in legal proceeding between his common law wife (not recognized in Sweden) and the author’s brother and father, the legal heirs.
Rough Country / John Sandford ¶¶¶¶
This is the first book I have read with Virgil Flowers, the eccentric Minnesota police investigator. It was a great story with a great plot twist at the end to make it entertaining right to the last page.
Dearly Devoted Dexter: A Novel / Jeff Lindsay ¶¶¶
This is the second book in the Dexter series. I read the third one first because it was available at the library so I’m going in reverse order. Dexter is hounded by Sergeant Doakes who suspects that Dexter is more than he seems when a gruesome serial killer from Doakes’ past comes to Miami for revenge...
The Redbreast / Jo Nesbø; translated from Norwegian by Don Bartlett ¶¶¶¶
This is the first book in the Harry Hole series. I read the second book, Nemesis, first and it is much better to read them in order. The Redbreast is a great book. Police detective Harry Hole starts off the book accidentally shooting another officer and ends up in the national police force on assignment. He becomes suspicious when he finds out that someone has ordered a rare and very expensive sniper rifle. This is a really great book. Jo Nesbø has just come out with a new book in the series called “The Devil’s Star”. I’ll be reading this one too…
Dexter in the Dark: A Novel / Jeff Lindsay ¶¶¶
I’m a fan of the Showtime television series Dexter. If you are not familiar with this series let me summarize by saying that the hero of the series is a complicated character of the same name who is a serial killer. He only kills bad people. The television series is based on the Dexter series of books. This is the third one. I was surprised at how accurately the television series captures the dialog and feel of the novel. In this particular novel Dexter is pursued by another serial killer who also has a “Dark Passenger” who compels him to kill.
Ravens / George Dawes Green ¶¶
This is a novel about two men on vacation in the southern US who hear about a family that has won a lottery. They decide to extort half the winnings from the family in a strange scheme where one of them lives with the family and the other who creates the illusion of a threat. The book has some interesting parts and is well written, but the story is not really compelling.
Nemesis / Jo Nesbø; translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett ¶¶¶¶
I read two Swedish mystery novels by Stieg Larsson so I thought that this novel by a Norwegian author set in Oslo would be interesting. I was surprised to find that the book was very good. The story centers on Harry Hole, a fine detective with a lot of issues in his past working to solve the murder of a bank teller during a bank robbery while he is implicated in another death. I have previous book in the series, “The Redbreast”, on my reading list.
The Lost Symbol: A Novel / Dan Brown ¶¶¶
This is another book with the protagonist, symbologist Robert Langdon, caught in a life and death drama trying to solve the secrets of Freemasonry in Washington DC. It is an entertaining book and has some interesting information about symbology. It is an entertaining book that goes from clue to clue until the surprising ending.
Gone Tomorrow: A Reacher Novel / Lee Child ¶¶¶¶
Jack Reacher novels are always entertaining and I wonder when there will be a movie made of one of these novels. In this novel, Reacher, who wanders the USA with no permanent home, encounters a woman he thinks may be a terrorist. This gets him involved in a plot full of intrigue involving the government and foreign terrorists. Overall it’s very entertaining.
The Girl Who Played With Fire / Stieg Larsson; translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland ¶¶¶¶
Stieg Larsson wrote three books, gave then to his publisher and then died. It’s a shame as this second book in his series is even better than the first book “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”. It continues the story of Lisbeth Salander, a complicated woman introduced in the first novel who is fiercely private and independent. Three people are murdered and she is implicated in their deaths. The plot weaves between Salander, her journalist friend and the shady underworld that plotted the murders. It’s a great book.
The Tourist / Olen Steinhauer ¶¶¶
This is an interesting adventure book that is a cross between the cold war works of John le Carré, the adventure of Ian Fleming’s James Bond, and Jason Bourne in “The Bourne Identity”. A “tourist” is a special agent with no identity who is sent around the world to deal with problems, generally by making sure the problem never surfaces again. Milo Weaver, a former tourist, is forced to go out into the field one more time and mayhem ensues. It is a pretty good read.
In the Woods: Tana French ¶¶¶¶
This is a murder mystery set in and around Dublin Ireland. Two boys and a girl go missing and only one of the boys is found with the blood of one of the other children in his shoe. He can’t recall anything that happened and eventually the police give up trying to get the story. Twenty years later the survivor is now a police detective Ryan called to investigate the murder of another child in the same woods. Are the crimes related? Will they be able to solve either of the crimes? This is the first novel for Tana French and it is very good. The focus is on the psychology of the crime, the relationship between the detectives and the natural angst felt by Ryan as he tries to solve the new murder while skirting around the unknown horrors of this past.
Long Lost / Harlan Coben ¶¶¶
This is the latest Coben book featuring the intrepid sports agent Myron Bolitar. The plot involves a long lost girlfriend who calls Myron from Paris needing help. It is particularly convenient time to get lost himself so he goes to help her uncover a terrorist plot that comes right back to America. The book is fast moving and fun to read.
2666 / Roberto Bolaño ¶¶¶
This book took me a long time to read because it is actually five books published in one volume. I had to take it out of the library three times because it was on short loan. Roberto Bolaño is a Chilean author who died at a young age in 2003 and requested in his will that the chapters of the book be published separately. His heirs decided that they really belonged together as they all are the same story, but different points of view. I think either decision would have been acceptable. The general plot of the book revolves around a mysterious and elusive German author named Archimboldi who becomes famous, but no one has seen him. The plot eventually revolves around a small Mexican town on the US border where a series of brutal murders have taken place. The book is very well written, but a bit gory in parts and doesn’t resolve the story at the end so that was a bit disappointing. Maybe this was the next chapter, never written. What does 2666 mean? It is never mentioned in the book and the author never told anyone. The afterword discusses that it is probably a reference from another of Bolaño’s books.
The Scarecrow: A Novel / Michael Connelly ¶¶¶
I like Michael Connelly books and this is a good read, but I would classify this as more commercial than his other books. The scarecrow in the book is a computer security specialist who uses his skills to target women using the Internet. In on the chase are an FBI agent and a journalist.
The Secret Speech / Tom Rob Smith¶¶¶¶
I read Tom Rob Smith’s first book “Child 44” and really liked it. This book continues the story of Leo Demidov in 1956, three years after Child 44 finishes. Khrushchev has replaced Stalin and he publishes a secret speech admitting that mistakes were made by Stalin and many innocent people were arrested. Suddenly people that were involved in these acts are being targeted. Demidov’s adopted daughter disappears. I really like his style and it captures Soviet life behind the iron curtain.
Watchmen / Alan Moore, writer; Dave Gibbons, artist; John Higgins, Colorist. ¶¶¶¶
I got interested in Watchmen because of the heavy promotion of the same name. What is interesting is that the book is a comic book (called a graphic novel when it’s for adults! It’s definitely an “R” book.) Alan Moore wrote the story with explicit descriptions of what the scenes should look like. He also wrote “the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, and “V for Vendetta” also made into films. I thought that Watchmen would be a quick read, but it actually takes careful attention to the text and to the pictures to understand the story as several scenes are often woven together and there are flashbacks to the stories of the individual super heroes. The setting is New York in 1985 in an alternative reality where the Vietnam War has been won by the Americans with the help of the superheroes, Watergate didn’t happen and the constitution has been changed to allow Nixon a third term in office. The Soviet Union is threatening nuclear war with the USA. Freelance costumed vigilantes have been outlawed by the Keene Act so most superheroes are in retirement or working for the government. The story begins with the death of the Comedian, a government agent, which follows attacks on other superheroes. Forces are rallied to solve the crime. Since this is a compilation of all the individual comic books with each book being one chapter, there is some added material between the chapters that helps get more depth to the story.
Slip of the Knife: A Novel / Denise Mina ¶¶¶
Set in Glasgow, Scotland with journalists as the main characters, Denise Mina weaves a murder mystery tale that is interesting and not too complex. The interesting part is the description of the tensions between religion, class and ambitions that create a rich background for the story.
Beat the Reaper / Josh Bazell ¶¶¶¶
This is the first book for Josh Bazell and he has written a surprisingly entertaining book with a completely implausible story. Who cares about that! The book reads like a comic book, but without the pictures if you can imagine that. The protagonist is a medical doctor who is in the witness protection program since he used to be a mob hit man. The author is a medical resident and there are many footnotes about terminology and medical procedure that are interlaced with the story that make it more interesting. Perhaps Josh Bazell will become the next Michael Crichton?
I really like all the novels of by Lee Child particularly the “Jack Reacher” series. It is great entertainment, easy to read, but well written. If you need to while away the hours on an airplane (or in the waiting room) they are great. I’ve read all the ones that are out.
The Night Gardener: A Novel / George Pelecanos ¶¶¶
This is the first book I read by George Pelecanos and I liked it. It reminds me a lot of Michael Connelly, but it is set in Washington rather than Los Angeles. It is story of two police officers who take different paths in life, but are reunited by a murder that seem eerily similar to a murder that occurred 20 years before. I generally don’t like endings that hang, but this one was nicely done. Can’t say too much otherwise I’ll ruin the story!
The Night Manager / John le Carré ¶¶¶¶
John le Carré really knows how to write a spy novel. This book is about a man who is recruited to spy on and disarm the arms dealer who killed his girlfriend. I highly recommend the film “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” with Richard Burton if you would like to get a flavor of his novels. If you have more time the two BBC series starring Alec Guinness as super spy George Smiley are fantastic.
I also like the stories of Harlan Coben, but I find that the interest I have in the stories varies. For example I really liked “Gone for Good” and “No Second Chance”, but I lost interest in “The Woods.” The stories have great double and triple twists and the final answer is slowly revealed throughout the book.
Michael Connelly is one of my favorite authors. He has a great story, set in the turbulent world of the LA police department and an eccentric police detective Harry Bosch working to solve it. Each story is original so every new book is a pleasure to read.
The Lincoln Lawyer / Michael Connelly.¶¶¶¶
The Lincoln lawyer, Mickey Haller works out of his fleet of Lincoln Continental's with a drive taking him where he wants to go. He needs to go to all of the courts in Los Angeles County to represent his clients in criminal court so this is a handy way to travel.
The Closers / Michael Connelly.
A Darkness More than Night: A Novel / by Michael Connelly.
The Concrete Blonde / Michael Connelly.
The Overlook / Michael Connelly.
You can tell that I'm a big fan of Michael Connelly books, particularly the Harry Bosch series.
Void Moon / Michael Connelly.
Lost Light : A Novel / by Michael Connelly.
The Brass Verdict : A Novel / Michael Connelly ¶¶¶¶
I found out on the last page of the book what a "brass verdict" means. This book has two of Connelly's greatest characters, Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer) working for and against each other. The focus is mainly on Mickey Haller in this book.
Next: A Novel / Michael Crichton. ¶¶
The Quiet Girl / Peter Høeg ; translated from the Danish by Nadia Christensen. ¶¶¶¶
This is an interesting story set in Denmark that is half drama, half science fiction.
The Secret Servant / Daniel Silva.
The Silver Swan: A Novel / Benjamin Black ¶¶¶
I liked the setting of the book in Dublin, Ireland the protagonist, the coroner is good. I found out after I read this book that Christine Falls really goes first.
Christine Falls: A Novel / Benjamin Black ¶¶
I liked Christine Falls less than "The Silver Swan."
This first book by Tom Rob Smith is one of the best fiction books I have read. The setting of Stalinist Russia was researched and is chillingly realistic enhanced by the protagonist being a high level internal secret police operative. Murder is officially not recognized in the Soviet Union making the solution to the puzzle all the more difficult.
The Golden Compass / Philip Pullman. ¶¶¶¶
The Subtle Knife / Philip Pullman. ¶¶¶¶
The Amber Spyglass / Philip Pullman. ¶¶¶
Our family rule is that you should read the book before you see the movie. We do a good job of doing this and it’s interesting to compare the book to the movie. Books win most of time. These three books are from The Dark Material Trilogy. I read the Golden Compass first and it was pretty good. I found the last one a little less interesting even though it was the climax of the story.
Thirteen / Richard K. Morgan. ¶¶¶¶
The setting of this book is in the not so distant future. The world is split into Pan-Oceanic countries with big industry having a strong influence. 13 is a super human genetically altered bounty hunter who gets involved in solving a murder by another 13.
The Alienist / Caleb Carr. ¶¶¶
This is a fictional murder mystery set in New York City at the turn of the century starring a number of real characters such as Teddy Roosevelt when he was the police chief of New York City. The alienist is the original term used for the psychologist who solves the crime.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo / Stieg Larsson; translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland. ¶¶¶¶
This was a particularly interesting book for me as it is set in Sweden in several places I have been. The characters are highly eccentric and deep. This excellent story is a search for the truth of a murder committed a long time in the past.
Rules of Deception / Christopher Reich¶¶¶¶
This is a fast-paced action thriller where a doctor finds out that his wife is more than she appeared on the surface. He gets drawn into a dangerous net of terrorists and the people trying to stop their plan.
Hit and Run / Lawrence Block. ¶¶¶
Keller is an assassin and a stamp collector. This is another entertaining (but not deep) book in the series. Keller is framed for a murder and goes on the run.
Opinions expressed here are of course my own. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text copyrighted 2012.