Rather than make my title infinitely long, I choose to add this caveat here: My reading list actually begins at the Solstice of 2006, but what is a week between friends?
My rating system: 1 to 5 stars, 1 means don’t bother, 5 means don’t miss.
1. Time and the River Flowing by Francoise Leydet **** A beautiful coffee table book with an axe to grind. This was the Sierra Club’s attempt to get people to harangue their leaders until they decided that damming the Grand Canyon would be a bad idea. It worked, thank heavens.
2. A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon ***** A “typical” family in which a daughter is getting married, her brother is gay, and her father is going crazy. Funny. Wise.
3. Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan **** 12 Americans travel to Burma. Their scheduled guide is dead, but along on the trip anyway.
4. The Motive by John Lescroart *** Potboiler “Law and Order” type of detective novel.
5. Broken Flower by V. C. Andrews * Psychobabble “mystery.”
6. The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost **** What happens when idealistic youth move to the ends of the earth. Will make you count your blessings and appreciate such simple things as water and electricity.
7. 1001 Dumbest Things Ever Said edited by Steven D. Price ***** Great coffee table or bathroom book filled with such gems as: “Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can’t help but cry. I mean, I’d love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff.” (Mariah Carey); or “It will take time to restore chaos and order.” (GW Bush); or “Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery, Hundreds Dead”(actual headline).
8. The Bancroft Strategy, by Robert Ludlum. **1/2 Once again, Ludlum has followed the formula he has been using for the last decade or so. There is a beleagured hero, who has his negative sides, a beautiful and intelligent heroine. There is a conspiracy. They are both remarkably obtuse, the reader can pick out some obvious patterns that ought to be apparent to the hero. There is gratuitous violence, with some rather graphic descriptions of death. I read the whole thing, glad I got it from the library and didn’t spend money on it.
9. Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain. **** There is a reason why this is considered a classic. It is because of the marvellous descriptions of learning to be a pilot on the Mississippi River. Very readable.
10. Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey **** Worth reading, if only for the amazing prosy descriptions of Victorian philosophy and life. I mean, where else are you going to find paragraphs that are over a page long? Frankly, I have a caveat in my rating. This is a good book, and worth reading. But much of it seems rather immaterial to my life and thoughts. In the biography of Cardinal Manning, much of the story is about his struggles to resolve his dilemmas of faith, and his eventual conversion from the Anglican to the Roman Catholic faith. I read all that, with mostly no understanding of the great dilemma, and not really much caring about it either. My favorite vignette was the description of Florence Nightingale.
11. Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich **** Stephanie Plum is at it again. Kidnapping, bombs, donuts, laughs. Lula is in a band. Stephanie still can’t decide between Morelli and Ranger. Good, fun read.
12. The Short Reign of Pippin IV by John Steinbeck. **** This is the Steinbeck of Cannery Row rather than the one of The Grapes of Wrath. Light, funny, satirical. Basically, this is the French Revolution turned upside down: the French government fell for a lack of a vote of confidence. For some reason, they end up voting unanimously to re-establish the monarchy. All sorts of reasons bring this about. For instance, the Communists vote for it because “the Communist party’s natural functon wa revolution. Any change which made revolution more feasible was undeniably to the party’s advantage. French politics were in a state or anarchy. It is very difficult to revolt agains anarchy, since in the popular mind,undialectically informed, revolution is anarchy.” and so on and so forth. Fun, a good read that hides some deep truths beneath the silliness.
13. Judge and Jury by James Patterson. ** Formulaic, violent thriller with cardboad characterizations.
14. A Superior Death by Nevada Barr. **** National Park Ranger Anna Pigeon is the main protagonist and series star. Beautiful descriptions of scenery and wildlife, a true love of our National Parks is exhibited. It is obvious the author has hiked, camped, and observed in the wild country she writes about. Well crafted mysteries about a believable heroine. Good enough I am starting to immerse myself in the series.
15. Hard Truth by Nevada Barr **** Another fine tale starring Anna Pigeon. The bad guys here are truly bad guys, there is a very fine red herring but there are also enough clues given during the tale that you can figure out who the actual criminal is if you pay attention.
16. Jingo by Terry Pratchett **** A great read, especially if you like Terry Pratchett, which I do. This time Sam Vimes is involved in keeping the peace in a time of war. My favorite lines: “Sir Samuel, the Klatchian language does not even have a word for lawyer,” said Mr. Slant [a lawyer (ed.)] “Doesn’t it?” said Vimes. “Good for them.”
17. Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen ***** Another fine novel by one of my favorites. Hiaasen writes a good, amusing story. You know the good guys are going to prevail, they always do. The fun is in seeing just how they do it and just how poetic the justice will be. These books bring a new meaning to the term “eco-terrorist”. Example from book:
“What do you want?” Chaz asked shakily.
“Thought it might be a deer poacher. Five rounds froma shotgun means somebody’s trying to kill something.”
“Yeah, me.” Chaz turned to reveal the pellet marks in his backside.
“Close call,” the man said,with no abundance of concern.
If he was a game warden, Chaz thought, he must have been lost in the boonies for decades. He wore a tattered Stones T-shirt, filthy dungarees and moldy boots that had long ago come unstitched at the toes. A plastic shower cap was stretched over his hair, and one misaligned eyeball stared emptily at the sky. His silver beard, intricately braided, was accented by a necklace made of teeth.
Human teeth, Chaz observed with consternation. He could see the amalgam fillings.
The stranger noticed Chaz gawking and said, “They’re real, if that’s what you’re wondering. I took ’em off a guy who killed a momma otter for no good reason.”
Gotta love it. I recommend all Carl’s books.
18. Coming Into the Country by John McPhee ****1/2 Discursive documentary style beautifully delivers descriptions of the country and people of Alaska in teh 70s. A book in three sections, the first short section describes a canoe/kayak trip down the Salmon River to the Kobuk River. The second describes the Alaska State Capital Site Selection Committee meeting as they fly around looking at sites for a new capital. The people had passed an initiative to do just that. Beautiful descriptions of the country around McKinley (now Denali) National Park. Ironically, after voting on a site near Willow, the people of Alaska repealed that initiative in l982. The last section is a description of life in the Bush, and the people who live there. Wonderful characterizations, descriptions of the country. Good stories.
19. Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers ***** There is a reason why Sayers is listed as one of the premier detective novel writers. The characters are old fashioned. There is no magical technology, no internet to search. Just tightly woven threads peopled by intricately portrayed characters. This one is not very long, and quite enjoyable.
20. Santa Cruise, A Holiday Mystery At Sea by Carol and Mary Higgins Clark. *** It’s 261 very short pages long, and took me about 3 hours to read. Silly, amusing “mystery” set in a Christmas themed maiden voyage. There are hardened criminals, fugitives from justice, lost treasure. We the readers are in on the whole thing, the fun is in watching the sleuths figure it out and participating in the difficulties the unfortunate co-conspirator with the bad guys has in hiding their presence aboard ship. A Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labor was Lost but All’s Well That Ends Well.
21. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. ***** The finely limned personalities and characters draw me in. Atwood piles detail on detail, giving you access to her characters thoughts, actions, fears and joys with no pulling back. I loved the form of this book as well. It took me a little while to get the hang of the way the flash backs were working; several places in the story a character flashes back to a period in her past, and as she is remembering that she starts to remember something even earlier and then again, until you are taken all the way back to the childhoods that shaped the women in the present. The story was interesting too, and came to an unpredictable ending. I really enjoyed this book.
22. When in Rome by Ngaio Marsh. **** Old fashioned mystery starring Roderick Alleyn, Superintendent CID of Scotland Yard. In this tale, a double murder in Rome is wrapped up in a drug investigation. Marsh does not cheat, you get to know the clues and you can figure it out if you think on it.
23. Curtain Calls by Ngaio Marsh. ***** A collection of three of her novels, all based around theatre settings. Gives you a pretty good idea of the backstage culture of the London stage scene in the early part of the 20th century. Good tales, well crafted.
24. Next by Michael Crichton *** Thriller; extreme postion carried to the logical (?) extreme. Trying to motivate the reader to become politically active. Possibly well researched; just because you list references does not mean you are actually quoting them or interpreting them fairly. Anyhoo, I finished it.
25. The Dark Room by Minette Walters *** Worth reading psychological mystery.
26. Death of a Fool by Ngaio Marsh **** Alleyn figures it out; you can too if you think hard enough. You get all the clues but you don’t get all the results of Alleyn’s ratiocinations until the end. Fun read.
27. Dear John by Nicholas Sparks *** I can’t figure out why this was a best seller. Unless because it is short and easy to read. A love story. Nicholas Sparks knows zip about being in the military.
28. Too Close to the Falls by Catherine Gildener ***** Hey, a wonderful memoir of a genius girl being raised in the fifties by a pair of very unconventional parents.
29. A Salty Piece of Land by Jimmy Buffett **** Pretty good fairy tale about reconstructing a light house with lots of side trips along the way. It makes me think of the Charge of the Goddess. Lots of wisdom. A side exercise for fans: there is a scavenger hunt for you in finding the snippets of lines from his songs hidden in the prose. Fun.
30. Five Complete Novels by Ngaio Marsh ***** More vintage murder mysteries.
31. Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs *** So it was on the New York Times best seller list. It is a well enough written memoir. I don’t rate it higher because I don’t know that it is really that great of a subject. He’s famous because he wrote this book about his rather crazy childhood courtesy of a manic depressive poet mother. Searing descriptions of his parents fights and his love affair with a pedophile.
32. Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson. ****1/2 I really enjoyed this book. However, I really love Robert A. Heinlein too. This book incorporates many of his ideas about sex, love, religion, relationships. I can’t discuss the plot without spoiling it utterly, except to say that the last 50 pages kept me riveted to my chair. The characterizations are great. The interesting thing about this book is it made me want to learn more about Bhuddism, which, apparently, according to information in this book is not really a religion because it does not require belief in deity. So there. A novel that makes you want to study something. Oh, and listen to more jazz saxophone.
33. Fresh Disasters by Stuart Woods. * Okay, if you like formulaic “thriller/mysteries” with lots of gratuitous sex and are really good at suspending your disbelief, then go ahead and read this author. How this unethical lawyer manges to score with so many inevitably beautiful women is beyond me. This last book was particularly annoying to me because the protagonist engages in a sexual relationship with his massage therapist, which is a big no-no ethically for her. But they say like attracts like, right? Stupid book, with a stupid premise and a stupid plot.
34. Cold Service by Robert B. Parker **** Spenser, a hardboild straigh-shooting detective (gun for hire?) and his sidekick Hawk in a story of revenge, a dish best served cold. Parker’s work is an exercise in story telling using almost strictly dialogue. It makes it a fast read, and he is quite good a getting nuances across using that style. The violence mostly happens off stage, the sex is implied. I enjoy this series enough to dip into it every once in a while.
35. The Testament by John Grisham ** A moral tale, the moral being “Love of money is the root of all evil.” A book I only finished because I couldn’t sleep last night and it was better than watching late night tv. The cast of characters consisits of all my least favorite people: spoiled rich people, lawyers, and born again Christians. Read at your own risk.
36. Endangered Species by Nevada Barr. **** I enjoyed it. It wasn’t long enough for the whole round trip to Philadelphia, though.
36. Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy. **** Another good read. I particularly like the way she uses different voices and mini-biographies to tell the larger story. I did not find the ending predictable, and yet it was satisfying and believable.
37. In progress: The Windup Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. I’m having a hard time reading this one.
38. Liberty Falling by Nevada Barr. *** More fun. A pretty good mystery, and yet — I find myself getting a little annoyed with the consistently “perils of Pauline” endings. Could Anna not just once solve a mystery without a near death experience???
39. Obsession by Jonathan Kellerman. ** I found myself bored by the people in the book, the plodding detective work being done. I don’t really like stories about serial killers anyway, and so I found myself skimming the book to discover the ending. Because, ultimately, I always want to know whodunnit. But I was not sufficiently engaged to want to toil through the all the twists and turns and red herrings. I even completely skipped about 20 pages, and still completely understood the ending. Not really a good recommendation.
4o. The Know-It-All, by A. J. Jacobs. **** I really enjoyed this book, a combination of book report on the Encyclopedia Britannica and an autobiography. Since I have always sort of wanted to read the entire EB, this book was a must read for me. Funny, wise, surprising.
41. Angel Light by Andrew Greeley. * The Archangel Raphael is a woman with a husband and children. A “love story” based on Oh I can’t go on. Simply dreadful, I couldn’t force myself to finish it.
42. The Crow Road by Iain Banks ***** A lovely book. I have reviewed it in a post dated Sept. 4. It was challenging for me to follow the story, as it was full of flashbacks. I found that if I put it down for too long, I had a hard time following the story because of the rapid changes of time and viewpoint. But it was well worth the challenge. A book that made me want to start reading it over again as soon as I finished it.
43. Complicity by Iain Banks. **** Scary. Way too much gory detail for my taste, and yet I read every word and enjoyed it. Perhaps some people may think the punishments meted out to the “criminals” of the book were too harsh. I don’t know, I fantasize about murdering litterers upon occasion.
44. God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Chritopher Hitchens. ***** I read this book almost immediately after I read “The Crow Road”. A very cogent, well written, well reasoned argument in favor of atheism. I beleive that everyone, religious or otherwise, ought to read this book.
45. Drop Dead Beautiful by Jackie Collins *** Fun read. No real mystery here. The good guys, meaning the rich and the beautiful, always win in a Jackie Collins book.
46. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling * or ***** It all depends. If you are following the series, of course you must read it. If you aren’t the world will not end if you don’t read the books. A tale of heroes and bad people, derring do, confusion, hope in the midst of horror and terror. No spoilers here. It was fun. I read really fast, so I don’t feel like I am overwhelmed when I have to read 750 pages to get the story. It took me about 7 hours total to consume this book. Rowling will never rival Tolkien because her language and world construction are nothing as wonderful and beautiful as his. But she made a lot more money. go figure.
47. The Passion of Mary Magdalene by Elizabeth Cunningham * I did not finish this book. I found it too annoying. For one thing, I found it very disconcerting to have a person who is supposed to be living during the time of Christ addressing me in modern idioms and slang. If you are a committed Christian, this book will merely offend you. This is the second book in a trilogy. I did not read the first book, and probably won’t. I will say that if you are planning on wading through the trilogy, you should do it in order, because the second book contains many spoilers for the first. The first book purports to be the story of how Maeve (Mary Mag.) met Yeshua (Jesus) while he was on walkabout in Gaul, how they fell in love and how she saved him from being a human sacrifice. Maeve is a priestess of Isis, and an energy worker/healer. In this book we spend the first half with Maeve in Rome as she is a slave/whore. About the time she made it to Palestine I gave up on the book, skimmed the ending where we learn that Jesus learned his healing from MM, and he was resurrected courtesy of Isis and MM’s vial of whore’s tears, which will cure anything. Okay. Ms. Cunningham apparently felt compelled to write the back story for the DaVinci Code. Whatever.
48. Dead Heat by Dick Francis ***** One of my all time favorite mystery authors. I started it one night, read until I could not stay awake and then got up in the morning and sat down and finished the book. The protagonist in this one is an up and coming young chef who is upset because his budding reputation is about to be ruined by the accidental food poisoning that occurs at a dinner he catered. Because he cares about his reputation as a chef he just WON’T stop asking questions and thereby hangs a tail.
49+. Five books on shrubs. Only worth reading because I am trying to plan a shrubbery and stroll garden for the back yard.
50. Acorna’s Children Third Watch by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough *** It’s an okay adventure. I’m not crazy about time travelling and telepathic unicorns though. I have found this series unengaging.
51. The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander I found this so unreadable I did not even finish it. It is not often that I set a book down after I have read 15 pages.
52. Losing Battles by Eudora Welty. ** Okay. So this is supposed to be one of our classic southern women writers. I found it mildly amusing, contrived. It took me a long time to wade through it.
53. Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin ****** If this book does not inspire you, nothing will. A climbing bum who funds his addiction by being a Registered Nurse goes to Pakistan and is inspired to build a school in a remote village. So far the foundation he ultimately starts up has built 55 schools in the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Read this and prepare to open your wallet.
54. The Burnt House by Faye Kellerman **** An entertaining police procedural mystery starring Peter Becker and his sidekick Marge. An airliner crashes into an apartment house and during the cleanup the remains of a body murdered 30 years previously is discovered. Meanwhile, the parents of one of the flight attendants reported dead in the crash insist she was not on the plane. Yep. She was murdered too. Once again, a little too much discussion of religion which really does not advance the plot. Family scenes involving Becker’s family are supposed to add depth to Becker’s character, but I guess I just don’t really care about anything except the mystery. An amazing coincidence, which I am willing to accept because I have experienced way too many amazing coincidences in my own life. Not too much gore, no psychopaths.
55. IF YOU DON’T READ ANTHING ELSE ALL YEAR, READ THIS: “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali ***** A fierce and scathing indictment of Islam in regards to its attitude towards the status of women. Written by a woman who lived through it.
56 “Book of the Dead” by Patricia Cornwell. *** Another Kay Scarpetta mystery. At least the serial killer in this one was not sexually motivated. But Cornwell could not write a book without a sexual assault in it, the assault was gratuitous and did not advance the plot. I found the denouement a little too contrived and pat. I also found it very hard to suspend disbelief when a manic depressive megalomaniac is portrayed as a popular TV psychiatrist. All the people dying of cancer was depressing too.
57. “Making Money” by Terry Pratchett. ***** Another great tale by Pratchett. This time he explains how banking works in a way anyone can understand.
58. “Kyoto Country Retreats” by Michio Fujioka **** Beautiful photographs of the Shugakuin and Katsura Palaces and gardens.
59. “Japanese Gardening Hints” by Katsuo Saito **** From Saito’s preface to the book: “Japan’s oldest written historical account, the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) contains a poem describing a brave man who, for the sake of a long life with his beloved wife, built a fence and planted a garden around their house. As human society progressed form this fundamental level, the garden too expanded its significance to include social ties of friendship. . . . Although the Japanese garden is often mistakenly believed to consist largely in stately, elaborate landscapes for the mansions of the wealthy or for temples or public buildings, its true nature, as I hope I have shown, is deeply related to fundamental human ties of marital affection and of friendship.” An easy to understand dissertation on the design and philosophy of designing and building a “proper” Japanese garden.
60. “Japanese Stone Gardens: how to make and enjoy them” by Kazuhiko Fukuda **** Few words well chosen coupled with dozens of illustrations. Very informative.
61. “The Art of Japanese Gardens” by Herb Gustafson. *** Slightly useful. Nice pictures, a good plant list. Not quite Japanese Gardens for Dummies.
62. “Space and Illusion in the Japanese Garden” by Teiji Itoh. ***** A lot less practical and much more philosophy. A lovely representative quote: “Stones, for example, are products of nature that have gone through long centuries of patient weathering. Moreover, like human beings, they have faces and hands and legs and feet. Regardless of their differences in size and type, they have facial expressions, and every stone has a will of its own. Novice gardeners are unable to read the facial expressions of stones, and gardeners with a certian degree of experience know that stones are thoroughly reluctant to obey orders, but master gardeners know how to coax and humor these willlful stones into submission. For this reason, when a master gardener sees a stone that some heartless garden owner has ordered to be placed in an obviously upside-down position, he expresses his pity for it by raising its head and lowering its feet, at the same time perhaps saying something like this: “I’m sorry for you. You must have had a rough time of it.” ” Jim and I both love this book. It was wonderful to read that passage and realize that my need to look at rocks and place them carefully in a way they seem to like, to be able to hear them talking to me, is not a sign of some mental disorder.
63. “Double Cross” by James Patterson. *** Okay read. Sets you up for a sequel, needless to say. I’m already tired of these stories about serial killers being sought and sort of captured by indefatigable male/female detective team red hot lovers (I must go wash my hands now)
64. “Merle’s Door” by Ted Kerasote **** Great if you love animal biographies. Read my review here.