Favorite Books Read in 2014

Okay, it’s been… too long since I last blogged. Perhaps this year will be different. Anyway, my last post was my favorite books read in 2012, so my first post this year will be my favorite books read in 2014. For reference, here is a list of all the book I read in 2014, courtesy of my Goodreads 2014 Reading Challenge page. I had anticipated not having a lot of time to read last year, and originally set my goal for 45 books. I ended up reading 50.

The Martian, by Andy Weir – Easily my favorite book read in 2014. Soon after starting this novel I knew I was in for a treat. I hadn’t been so excited about finishing a novel since I read Ready Player One. This book was so good I had to purchase a hardcover for my bookshelf.

Days to Read: 6
Format: Audiobook

Rating: 5 Stars

The Man Who Ended The World, by Jason Gurley – I ended up reading a few stories by Jason Gurley in 2014, and this one was my favorite. An interesting take on apocalyptic fiction, I was always wondering how things were going to turn out. I enjoyed the book enough to read two more stories by Gurley in 2014, and plan to read more in 2015.

Days to Read: 2
Format: Audiobook

Rating: 4 Stars

Flat-Out Love, by Jessica Park – I was curious about this book because it takes place in Boston, and I was able to listen to the audiobook for free, thanks to my Kindle Unlimited subscription. It turned out to be quite an interesting story. At some point I may read the sequel.

Days to Read: ?
Format: Audiobook

Rating: 4 Stars

Tell The Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt – An interesting coming of age story set in the 1980s. An exceptionally well-written debut novel.

Days to Read: 2
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 4 Stars

Off To Be The Wizard, by Scott Meyer – I was immediately drawn to this book by both the cover art and the plot. The main character, Martin Banks, discovers a computer file that allows him to manipulate reality, and ultimately takes himself back to the Middle Ages to live as a wizard. I have since read both of its sequels.

Days to Read: 3
Format: Audiobook

Rating: 4 Stars

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion – I found the premise interesting and took a chance on this novel, and as the only novel on this list read in eBook format, I found myself actually reading late into the night to further my progress because I enjoyed the story so much.

Days to Read: 11
Format: Kindle eBook

Rating: 5 Stars

One More Thing, by B.J. Novak – After being thoroughly disappointed by James Franco’s two short story compilations, I was skeptical of what B.J. Novak had to offer. I was pleasantly surprised by the wit, humor and insight of his short fiction.

Days to Read: 3
Format: Audiobook

Rating: 4 Stars

The Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick – It took a while after this book was recommended to me to actually read it, but it was very enjoyable. I ended up reading two more novels by the author, but this one was my favorite of the three.

Days to Read: 2
Format: Audiobook

Rating: 4 Stars


As disappointed as I am to say this, but Funny Girl, by Nick Hornby did not make my list of favorite books. I’d been anxiously awaiting a new novel from Nick Hornby for a few years now, but this one just didn’t do it for me. It was well written, and a good story, but didn’t feel like classic Hornby, and while I understand that Hornby, as a writer, has grown and evolved, I still would rather read stuff more like his debut novel High Fidelity.

In 2015, I hope to have more balance between books read on my Kindle and books I listen to the audiobooks.  I also will be making an effort to read more books my conservative indie authors. Last year I wrote a piece on Medium about conservatives and the culture war, and as a result I got invited to a closed group on Facebook of conservative authors. There’s a lot of creative talent on the right, and I look forward to reading their work.

 

Favorite Books Read in 2012

Last year, thanks to my Kindle and the Goodreads 2012 Reading Challenge, I read a total of 58 books. I originally had set a goal to read 40 books last year. When it was obvious I’d surpass that goal, I bumped it up to 55 books. I’m pretty sure I’d already broken a record for the number of books read in a year at 40 books, so it just goes to show you that having a Kindle is a good thing for book lovers, even those like me who still love physical books. Ultimately, whatever gets you to read more is a good thing.

Having a Kindle changed how I read in many ways. For starters, shopping for books has never been easier. The ability to sample books prior to purchasing them for download really streamlined the process, and Anyway, I thought I’d share my top five favorite books read in 2012, listed in the order in which they were completed.

Vertical, by Rex Pickett – finished January 12, 2012

verticalWhen I first read Sideways back in early 2009, I wanted to read more Rex Pickett… but I discovered at the time it was his only novel… so I was really excited at the end of 2011 when I found out he had written another novel… and even more excited that his newest novel was a sequel. More adventures of Miles and Jack? How could I resist? It’s true that sequels often don’t meet expectations, but I suspected Vertical might be different. I bought the book right away.

Vertical takes place seven years after the events of Sideways and takes Miles and Jack to Oregon’s Willamette Valley for the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC). But the book isn’t just about Miles and Jack and their friendship, but about Miles and his mother, who he ultimately plans to take to Wisconsin to live her last years with her sister.

I finished Vertical with a glass of Pinot Noir from my in-law’s winery.

Many people fell in love with Sideways the movie, but there’s much more to the characters of the books. I highly suggest reading them both. Of course, saying that, I should add that Rex Pickett is currently in Chile as part of research for a third book in the Sideways trilogy.

True Grit by Charles Portis – finished August 23, 2012

truegritI’d never read a western before, and decided to give it a try. It’s a well written story with a lot of depth to the characters, detail to the scenes, and suspense in the action. If you’ve never read the western genre before, True Grit is the place to start.

I’d never seen either of the two film adaptations when I read the book, but I did watch the Coen Brothers’ version soon after and enjoyed it as well, for it was a faithful adaptation of the novel. I was less impressed with the original movie with John Wayne.

Domestic Violets, by Matthew Norman – finished October 1, 2012

domesticAs a fan of Nick Hornby and Jonathan Tropper, I’ve made many attempts to find other authors of the “lad lit” genre that appealed to me. It’s been a difficult search. Domestic Violets, however, turned out to be just what I was looking for. The debut novel from Matthew Norman, is about 35-year-old Tom Violet, an aspiring novelist stuck in a job he hates, and his father has just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Tom’s work antics are hilarious, and it is a great story of family and career expectations.

Of course, since Domestic Violets is a debut novel, Mr. Norman needs to get his next novel finished quickly so I can read more.

The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker – finished October 30, 2012

miraclesI was intrigued by the concept of this book long before I actually decided to finally read it. It’s about Earth’s rotation suddenly and inexplicably slowing down, and impact of that on the daily lives of the world’s population, as seen by Julia, who is 10 years-old when The Slowing begins.

The impact of the natural phenomenon on the world is given incredible thought and eerily realistic detail by the author. But it’s not merely science fiction, it’s also a coming-of-age story as we see how The Slowing plays a role in Julia’s social and family life.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline – finished December 7, 2012

readyI first heard about this book on Twitter in a tweet by author Jonathan Tropper. I hate to admit that it took me well over a year to finally check it out, because I loved this book. As a fan of dystopian novels, technology, and a child of the eighties, this book was it was so hard to stop reading just because I needed to get a few hours sleep before work the next day. My last sitting with the book, covering the final third of it, was over two hours, and ended at nearly 1:00 in the morning.

The book takes place in the year 2044, the real world isn’t all that pretty, and most of the world is connected to a vast virtual reality called the OASIS. The creator of the OASIS, who died prior to the start of the events of the book, has bequeathed ownership of the OASIS to the lucky individual who first finishes the quest he created within this virtual world. Everyone is trying to unlock the first clue of the three puzzles, and when Wade Watts becomes the first person to do so, the race is suddenly in full force. The story is full of action, suspense and eighties nostalgia.

Honorable Mentions

Of course, I liked most of the 58 books I read last year, so boiling them down to just the top five is difficult to do, so I have to give a couple honorable mentions.

One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper – finished June 9, 2012

I first read Jonathan Tropper in August of 2009. I read This Is Where I Leave You, loved it, and went back and read his four previous novels within a matter of months. It was a long wait for a new novel. Long enough that I managed to get an advance copy so I wouldn’t have to wait an extra month for it. The novel has all the elements of a classic Tropper novel (a dysfunctional family, an estranged/dead father, sibling rivalry) but this one is not written in the first person narrative. An interesting change of style which certainly was necessary for the story, but definitely a departure from his previous work, which took some getting used to.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith – finished June 23, 2012

This was a book I never expected to want to read, let alone read and really enjoy. I don’t care for the vampire/zombie genre at all, but my brother liked it, and it was soon to be a movie, and so not long before the movie was released I decided to at least give it a shot. Turns out it was a great read.

The story masterfully blended history with fiction and fantasy. It was clever and exciting.I finished the book a couple hours before going to to the film adaptation, which wasn’t nearly as good, quite frankly there was so much more to the book that the movie is pretty much worth forgetting.

Authors and Branding

So, I was pretty psyched this week to receive an advance reading copy of Jonathan Tropper’s new book, ONE LAST THING BEFORE I GO.

20120610-110907.jpg

I finished it in less than a day.

This is not going to be a review, that will come later, I’m actually more interested in talking about the book cover right now.

Tropper’s previous (and breakthrough) novel, THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU, had a nice cover design, which, upon the book’s success resulted in the cover deigns of his previous novels to be redesigned and the paperbacks re-issued. You can see all the book covers here.

His previous four novels had horrible book cover designs and the reissues where a vast improvement and an indication of the creation of a brand. I’m not one to advocate judging books by their covers, but that, as a freelance logo/brand identity designer, I think a poorly designed cover can reflect poorly on the words contained within. And I think a successful author can benefit by having his or her books have a similar look. I figured that’s what the Dutton books, Tropper’s publisher, was going for.

Apparently not, as can be seen by the galley in the photo above. The cover of his new book is a complete departure from the identity that had been established by the new covers designed for his previous books.

I should note, I don’t dislike the cover of ONE LAST THING BEFORE I GO, I just find it odd that money and effort was put into creating what was essentially a brand for Tropper, and then tossing it out. The lettering is reminiscent of the Superman movies of the late 1970s and early 1980’s. I thought maybe there was a connection in novel itself, but no.

So, I am not sure what the reason was for abandoning the book cover archetype that had been applied to all his previous books. But. in the end, an author proves their worth by writing good books. Tropper writes excellent books, and that, not the book cover, should be the reason people read his books.

'The Unnamed' by Joshua Ferris

I read Joshua Ferris’s debut novel, Then We Came To The End, after reading praise from the book by Nick Hornby, my favorite contemporary author. I really enjoyed that novel, and found its first-person-plural narrative to be an effective device for telling the story. Since I finished that one, I have been anxiously awaiting Ferris’s follow up novel, The Unnamed, which came out last month.

Fans of Ferris’s first novel will certainly find this novel to be very different. While Then We Came To The End was a workplace satire, The Unnamed is dark, as it deals with the mysterious affliction of a lawyer named Tim Farnsworth. Tim suffers from an unexplainable condition tha causes him to get up and walk… and just keep going and going until he collapses in exhaustion. This problem has doctors baffled, and causes incredible strain on his family and career.

Ferris effectively captures the struggle of the main character, who not only struggles with symptoms of the disease but with the lack of a diagnosis or explanation. Tim is not much different from Captain Ahab, in Moby Dick, obsessed with catching the white whale, or Dr. Frankenstein who obsesses over killing the monster he created.  The disease is slowley destroying the comfortable life he worked hard for. and that struggle certainly leaves the reader as anxious for the answer as Tim Farnsworth is. In that sense, the book is a hard one to get through in the same way that such classics as Moby Dick and Frankenstein were hard to get through.

Fans of Ferris certainly should not be expecting the same kind of dark comedy they got from Then We Came To The End, Though different, The Unnamed still has the mark of Ferris which should be recogzinable to those familiar with his work.

The Unnamed is an enjoyable read, perhaps not as fun as his first novel, but worth reading whether you are a fan of Ferris or haven’t read him yet.