My Year In Books: 2015

I read fewer books in 2015 than I did in 2013 (but just a few more than I read last year) and what I expect I’ll read this year, but I’m still happy with what I read. Add in the fact that I wrote a book last year, and I feel plenty accomplished. I’ll probably publish reviews on some of the books listed below, but if you have any questions about them please feel free to ask. I’ll offer a few short blurbs about a few of the books below the image.Year In Books 1

Year In Books 2

Year In Books 3

Just a few quick thoughts:

The Outermost House, by Henry Beston, was absolutely beautiful. Not a novel, it’s a chronicle of the year Beston spent living in solitude on a Cape Cod beach in the 1920s. The scenery that Beston paints is vivid, and I find myself going back to highlighted passages in this book for inspiration and escape.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest, Aurora, was a complex and enjoyable read. It proved to be one of the major inspirations for the book I wrote during November’s National Novel Writing Month contest. Robinson writes hard science fiction, and Aurora certainly wasn’t an exception. Some readers might think he goes a little too deep into the weeds in his prose (if you’ve read Red Mars, you probably remember page after page describing a rover driving over sand and rocks), but I felt as if Aurora kept me engaged most of the way through. I remember towards the end thinking the book should have ended by now, and that it was being protracted unnecessarily, but when I finished I realized there was nothing superfluous. It ended well, after all.

Andy Weir’s breakthrough novel, The Martian, was a blast. I enjoyed it along with the audiobook narration by R. C. Bray. Weir went to great lengths to produce something almost completely scientifically accurate, yet chalked full of wit and humor.

 And I can’t recommend enough, going on a Terry Pratchett binge.

Happy reading!

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Cover for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

  • Title: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  • Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • Printed Pages: 274
  • Publish Year: 2008 (The Dial Press)
  • Recommended For: Something different, bucolic scenery, a vision of history, a unique style, flavorful characters, something to read in one or two days.

First Lines: “8th January, 1946… Dear Sidney, Susan Scott is a wonder. We sold over forty copies of the book, which was very pleasant, but much more thrilling from my standpoint was the food.”

 

There’s more to love about this book than just its unique title. Written by the late Mary Ann Shaffer, with the help of her niece Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was one of those books I simply couldn’t put down. Lovable (and loathsome) characters, a quaint setting, and a beautifully-unique presentation make this historical fiction a worthwhile read.

The book is written as a series of letters (and a few telegrams) both to and from the protagonist, the writer Juliet Ashton. Juliet had earned some success as a writer thanks to her humorous columns published during the Second World War. She’s quite unsure how to handle her success and struggles to come up with an idea for her next publication. A letter from a stranger, a man named Dawsey Adams from the Channel Islands, plants the tiniest seed of an idea in Juliet’s head, setting the 32-year-old writer off on a project that will completely transform her life.

This historical fiction recounts some of the horrors perpetrated by the Germans during World War II, and exposes the effects of those tragic acts of savagery. The story doesn’t dwell on the dreadful however; it uplifts the reader more than it depresses.

When I first read about the book, I worried that the epistolary form and multitude of characters would be cumbersome to keep track of; I was pleasantly surprised to the contrary. The book reads fast and each character remains warm in your memory. If I were to have one critique, it would be that the character voices weren’t as distinct as I feel they should be.

Selected Lines:

“Now, about Markham V. Reynolds (Junior). Your questions regarding that gentleman are very delicate, very subtle, very much like being smacked in the head with a mallet.”


“In a good mood, I call my hair Chestnut with Gold Glints. In a bad mood, I call it mousy brown.”


“I sat; arms crossed, hands tucked under my armpits, glaring like a molting eagle, looking around for someone to hate.”


“If I were ever to fall off a horse, it would be lovely to be picked up by Mark, but I don’t think I’m likely to fall off a horse any time soon.”



My rating: 4/5 – Easy to read, transported me to a different place during a different time, made me sad but then made me happy, quirky in a good way.

Buy at Amazon:

Reviewing The Lord of the Flies

The original UK Lord of the Flies book cover

The original UK Lord of the Flies book cover

Somehow, I knew almost nothing about William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies prior to my beginning reading it. I had no ideas about any of the characters, the plot, or even the setting. The only thing I had heard about the book came from my cat. Well, to an extent anyhow. I was on the Amazon page for the book when my cat decided it had been long enough since the last time he walked across my keyboard. His paws expertly scrolled my browser down to the product reviews section of the page. There, before I was able to toss him aside and scroll back up and away from any potential spoilers, I read the title of a single review: “Terrifying”. Back up at the top of the page, away from the synopsis and reviews, a click of an icon immediately and magically deposited the book onto my Kindle. A few cups of coffee, a comfortable chair, and an empty house (save for the cat with his obnoxious food-anxiety issues: you keep his bowl full or he snaps into a violent rage; otherwise, he’s quite congenial) and I was deposited onto an uninhabited tropical island, spectator to unsupervised children finding their way in a seeming paradise.

I sat there, enjoying a paradisaical retreat from the burdens of reality. I quickly realized this book fell into the genre known as ‘Robinsonade’: survivalist fiction set in some sort of isolated locale, taking its name from the 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe. As the pages turned, a portion of my thoughts wandered into any number of fantasies, and memories of fantasies, that all kids, as well as adults, have about the prospects of being marooned on an uninhabited and unknown tropical island. Conveniently, our imaginations shy away from an examination into the circumstances that put us there to begin with: the scream of wind buffeting against failed jet engines, the mumbled prayers of the passenger next to you, and then, of course, everything that happens in conjunction with a jetliner tearing a scar through a jungle. If you can avoid thinking about the scene the survivors, and they’re more than likely the less-fortunate ones, find themselves in, only then do we allow our fantasy to begin. The dead and severely maimed fade away, along with the flames and toxic stench of what burning jet fuel does to metal, plastic, and corpses, leaving us conveniently plopped, and remarkably unscathed, into a simple paradise.

I relaxed as I tap-tap-tapped my way through the Kindle version of the Lord of the Flies, the completion percentage steadily reaching for 100.

 Non-spoiler Premise:
A plane full of school children, all boys, crashes on an uninhabited tropical island. The pilot and all other adults are not featured, leaving the reader to presume they perished in the crash. In any case, the cast of characters essentially consists of preadolescent boys.

Now, I’m not going to go any further than this. If you’ve read the book, you know where this all ends up going. If you somehow have not read the book and are not familiar with its twist—a group I was fortunate enough to find myself a member of—then you simply must read this story. Do not seek further reviews or commentary, the less you know the more you’ll enjoy the book.

A little past half-way through the story is when things really take a sudden turn. At one point, I set the book down and said aloud, “Whoa, that escalated quickly.” By then, the hook was set and, with a jerk on the line, I had no choice but to ride this thing out. The curtain is lifted and the allegory reveals itself. The second half of the book moves very quickly, and by the end you find yourself sitting there not unlike a scared child that just became aware that they lost their innocence.

I’ve often fantasized about finding myself mostly alone on an uninhabited island. Now, maybe not so much.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 (a must read allegory a la 1984, Animal Farm, etc.)
Genre: Robinsonade, Dystopia, classics, fiction, allegory
Length: 227 pages (Kindle version)
Kindle Price: $5.66 as of March 2014
Paperback Price: $12.11 as of March 2014
Year of Publication: 1954

First lines:

THE BOY with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat.

Selected lines:

“He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life, where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one’s waking life was spent watching one’s feet.”

 

“The crying went on, breath after breath, and seemed to sustain him upright as if he were nailed to it.”


Reviewing This Crowded Earth – by Robert Bloch

This Crowded Earth book coverIt is my intent to review this book without spoiling any of the important plot devices. I dove into this story without a clue as to what I was in for, other than that it was about an Earth that had become overcrowded–and that much can be gleaned from the title. I recommend you do the same: get a hold of this title, whether in print or on Kindle, and consume it.

Go.

Since you’re reading my words–and not yet the author of the story’s–I suppose you want a little bit more. Robert Bloch (best-known for writing Psycho, the basis for the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name, as well as its later adaptations) created This Crowded Earth as a dystopian novella set beginning four decades in the future, in 1997. By then, planet Earth is devastatingly overpopulated and the attempted regulations and laws have done little to thwart its continuance. Dr. Leffingwell, however, has come up with a solution.

Through the quick 96 pages, and the 68 years the story encompasses, both the story’s unwitting subject, Harry Collins, and the reader are left desperate for the truth and trying to unravel the mystery of who can be trusted, and what’s really going on.

The story is surprisingly prescient. While the proposed solution to the overpopulation situation is purely science fiction, its not too far-fetched that you couldn’t imagine some of the fringe conspiracy theorists of AM talk radio raving it about as fact. (That’s both an acknowledgement of Bloch’s ingenuity, and an indictment of modern, cynical hysteria.)

The tempo is quickening. While it took mankind thousands of years to move from the bow and arrow to the rifle, it took only a few hundred to move from the rifle to the thermonuclear weapon. It took ages before men mastered flight, and then in two generations they developed satellites; in three, they reached the moon and Mars.

Just as it goes in real life, the effects of Collins’s government’s benevolence–the desperation of policy-makers to do more good than harm–is shadowed by the inevitable: collateral damage of a most-disturbing kind. This theme plays off of the result of a worldwide e cold war, in which the threat of mutually-assured destruction has guaranteed peace on Earth.

Bloch’s writing is crisp and witty. The story is short enough to be consumed in the course of a couple of hours, but long enough for the reader to become involved in the story and attached to the characters. It’s also one of those stories that sticks with you, the ones you find yourself thinking about days or more after finishing it. This Crowded Earth is a worthwhile investment for any reader’s repertoire.

If you have a Kindle, this book is currently free. Download it and enjoy it.