Saturday, December 31, 2005

2005 - The Year in Books

At the beginning of this year I decided to keep track of the books I read over the course of the year. I am not sure what I was thinking when I started this list. I had done this in 1999 to find out how many books I read throughout the year and find out how many pages a day I read that year. I wish I could find the spreadsheet I tracked that year of reading on, so I could compare the two years, however I can’t, so 2005 will have to stand on its own two feet. This year:
  • I read 29 books
  • I read, on average, 31.7 pages a day
These numbers do not take in to account all of the comic books, graphic novels, and magazines I read over the course of the year. Over all, not a bad year.

Gates of Fire
Steven Pressfield
440 pages

This book recounts the battle of Thermopylae in which 300 Spartans led an allied force of Greeks against the Persian army of over 2 million soldiers led by Xerxes. However, as with Pressfield’s other novels, this book delves much deeper into the nature of man, specifically courage. One of the best books I read this year.

Barrel Fever
David Sedaris
196 pages

Last year while I was out doing some Christmas shopping (or maybe while I was going to the comic book store for my weekly fix) I caught Sedaris’ “SantaLand Diaries.” This piece had me laughing so hard I had to sit in my car for a few moments and collect myself before I was able to go in to the store. This served as a gateway drug for the rest of Sedaris’ work, which I planned on reading this year. Sadly I only finished one other collection of essays from Sedaris. This is particularly sad since both this collection and Naked were both fairly fast reads and both very enjoyable, although I have to admit, some of his essays made me a bit uncomfortable. I highly recommend you check this out.

The Last Kingdom
Bernard Cornwell
333 pages

I love historical fiction, as you can probably tell since five of the books on this list fall into that category. I find that I particularly love a very well-written and well researched historical fiction as it is the best of both worlds. They will entertain me while teaching me a little something about the past. Cornwell succeeds in both categories with this novel, which deals with the struggle between the Anglo-Saxon English, who are seeking to protect their four kingdoms, and the Danes. Eventually Alfred the Great emerges from this struggle to unite the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the kingdom of England, however all of that has to wait for the next book in the series (The Pale Horseman which is being released on January 17th.) Another book I would recommend, however in this case I would only recommend it to people who have either a taste for historical fiction or have an interest in the time period.

Lionel Sotheby’s Great War
Donald C. Richter, editor
142 pages

This is not something I would have picked up on my own, but I am very grateful that Tami and Steven saw fit to give it to me as a Christmas present in 2004. This book is a collection of letters and diaries from Lionel Sotheby, who served in the British army during World War I. What separates this book from the other war diaries and memoirs is that Lionel died during the war and thus did not have the opportunity to edit his papers for later publication. The words you are reading, when you read this book, are the words he wrote to his family and friends almost a century ago. It offers a rare glimpse into the life of a soldier on the front line. A very enjoyable, if somewhat tragic read.

David Sedaris
291 pages

The second, and last, offering from Sedaris to appear on this list, Naked is, coincidentally, his second collection. This was another book that was a quick, though enjoyable and somewhat disturbing read.

The Maltese Falcon
Dashiell Hammett
217 pages

The standard classic of noir fiction and I finally got around to picking it up. I have not seen the movie, so I cannot offer you a comparison of the two, but I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed this offering from Hammett and felt that it read more like a modern thriller than a novel that is seventy-five years old. Now I have to go watch the film (the 1941 version.)

Garden of Beasts
Jeffery Deaver
536 pages

I picked this book up in Murder by the Book, Houston’s homegrown mystery bookstore, on the recommendation of one of the staff members and on the power of the fact that it won the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award from the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain. It appeared to have all the elements that should make a good thriller. A morally compromised anti-hero as the protagonist, Olympic athletes, an exotic setting (Berlin, 1936), and Nazis. How could this go wrong? Well, it isn’t so much that things went wrong as things just didn’t go right. At the end of the novel I found I just did not care for the main character anymore, even though he redeems himself.

Black Out
John Lawton
392 pages

Another book that I picked up in a trip to Murder by the Book, this thriller, set in WWII just prior to the D-Day landings ended up being a disappointing read. While the action was good and the mystery intriguing, there just seemed to be too many coincidences for the story to be believable. This is too bad, because I really enjoy Lawton’s prose and may give some of his other books a spin.

Startide Rising
David Brin
458 pages

I cannot remember what drew me to this novel, but I think it was the concept of races ‘uplifting’ other races that they deem worthy of being sentient. I am also fascinated by dolphins, so the chance to read some as protagonists, regardless of whether their genetic code has been fiddled with. I enjoyed the book, and it is full of fascinating concepts, however I was not entranced by it and will probably not pick up the rest of the series.

Lone Star Nation
H. W. Brands
526 pages

I am very proud of being Texan and I really enjoy reading the history of how Texas came to be. Couple that with the accessibility of Brands’ book and you almost ensure that I am going to like it. This book was a home run for me. Brands did not gloss over the ugly pasts of some of the founding fathers of the Lone Star state, and rather than seeking to encompass all of the history of Texas, he focuses on the time beginning with organized American settlement through Texas’ acceptance into the Union, which is the most fascinating time in Texas’ history. I highly recommend this book for anyone seeking to read up on Texas history.

Writers on Comic Scriptwriting 2
Tom Root & Andrew Kardon
248 pages

This is one of those books that has a rather narrow audience and I picked it up because, as a writer, I believe it helps me to read interviews with other writers where they discuss their craft. If you are interested in either writing or comics this book is for you, if not, don't bother.

The Romanov Prophecy
Steve Berry
384 pages

I had seen this book in the store a couple of times and was intrigued by the storyline. A lost descendant of the Tsar Nicholas II? A Russia seeking to restore the monarchy and people attempting to stop them? I was intrigued, so when a friend lent me the book, I was excited. My excitement did not last long and quickly turned into joy as I realized I had not spent my money on this book. I can’t remember why I did not like the book (I read it at the beginning of the summer) but suffice to say I will not be reading anything else by Steve Berry.

The Historian
Elizabeth Kostova
642 pages

I really enjoyed this book, but if you have been reading the Opiate from the beginning, you already know that. If not, you can read my long review of this book here.

Killing Rain
Barry Eisler
331 pages

The John Rain series are the books responsible for getting me back into the thriller/spy genre. Again, this is another book I have reviewed here, in my first book review I ever wrote.

Shake Hands with the Devil
Romeo Dallaire
548 pages

This book was very readable, almost compulsively so, and very illuminating, even if it illuminated parts of humanity that I would rather not consider. My long review is here, however this is another book I can recommend without any reservations.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
J. K. Rowling
652 pages

Ah, Harry Potter, you addictive little twerp. I resisted reading the Harry Potter novels until the eve of the release of the first movie. I was intrigued by them, however there are times where I cling tenaciously to my aura of coolness (yes, I was able to type that without laughing) and resist the new craze that is sweeping the nation (this is also why it took me so long to read The Da Vinci Code.) The Harry Potter craze came with the built in excuse that they were for kid’s and thus beneath my notice. Again, I have no leg to stand on as one of my favorite novels of all time is The Samurai’s Tale, which is aimed at the same age group as Harry Potter. I enjoyed this book, despite the continuing downward spiral into darkness that Rowling feels the need to take her readers on.

The Rule of Four
Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason
450 pages

You can read my previous review of the book here, but to sum up, I enjoyed it and look forward to more books from Messrs. Caldwell and Thomason.

The Professor and the Madman
Simon Winchester
242 pages

In a weird bit of synchronicity, my father was reading Krakatoa by Simon Winchester while I was reading this book. My review this book can be found here however the quick hit on this book is to go read it. Seriously, I recommend this for anyone and everyone.

How I Paid for College
Marc Acito
278 pages

My almost embarrassingly fanboyish review of this book can be read here. To say I liked this book would be a bit of an understatement. Reading this book was one of those few experiences where you really feel like the author is sharing something very special and close to their heart with you. I have both purchased this book as a gift for a couple of people this year as well as encouraged all of my friends to pick it up. Hands down this was my favorite book that I read this year.

Tides of War
Steven Pressfield
416 pages

I received this for Christmas in 2004 (my Christmas lists tend to consist of books, movies, and Lego sets) and finally got around to reading it sometime over the summer. Much like Gates of Fire, this book deals with both the facts of the matter, in this case the Peloponnesian War and Alcibades involvement in that conflict, while illuminating other facets of the conflict. In this case, through the various rises and falls of Alicbades, he explores the ugly side of unfettered democracy. Another book I would highly recommend.

A Gentleman’s Game
Greg Rucka
481 pages

You can read my review here, however the short form is that I enjoyed the book and went ahead and picked up the follow-up, Private Wars, when it was released. If you are a fan of the comic or a fan of spy thrillers, definitely give this book a read.

The Constant Gardener
John Le Carre
556 pages

You can read my thoughts on the novel and the movie here. I enjoyed both and feel that I need to read more of Le Carre’s work to see if some of the issues I had with the book were unique to this book or are a function of Le Carre’s writing style.

To the Last Man
Jeff Shaara
636 pages

Now, I really like me some Jeff Shaara, particularly his treatment of the American Revolution (Rise to Rebellion and The Glorious Cause) and the Mexican-American War ( Gone for Soldiers,) so I was anxiously awaiting the paperback release of his treatment of World War I. Much like his father he is able to take historical figures and breathe life into their stories. His one failing is that sometimes he attempts to tell too much of the story in one novel, or rather, he tries to tell too many stories in one novel. I feel like this was the downfall of Gods and Generals (particularly the movie version) and so goes this book as well. In the first part of the book he tells the story of Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron, and Raoul Lufbery and the Lafayette Escadrille, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Once their story is finished he moves on to telling the story of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) through the eyes of General John ‘Black Jack’ Pershing and Pvt. Roscoe Temple. Like his other novels this was an illuminating and exciting read, however the disconnect between the two sections of the novel was a bit disconcerting. Nonetheless, I recommend this book for fans of historical fiction or military history and I am looking forward to his next novel.

Silent Bob Speaks
Kevin Smith
325 pages

To say I am a fan of Kevin Smith’s is putting it a little lightly. I am a slavish Kevin Smith fanboy, so when I say I really enjoyed this book, you need to take that under consideration. Having said that, this book combines two of my guilty pleasures, Kevin Smith (already discussed) and well written slice-of-life essays (which is why I enjoy Sedaris’ essays so much.) Smith’s prose flows very easily, much like his dialogue, which made this book a very fast read (I finished it in an afternoon) without being a waste of time. If you like Kevin Smith and his sort of humor you will enjoy this book, I certainly did.

Private Wars
Greg Rucka
412 pages

I have already written about the Queen & Country comic on which this novel is based and A Gentleman’s Game, Rucka’s prequel novel, both of which I enjoy thoroughly. This novel lives up to the promise of A Gentleman’s Game and I am some what disheartened to find out that Rucka is returning the Queen & Country franchise to comics after this book.

The Truth (with Jokes)
Al Franken
336 pages

The only reason I picked up this book is to have Al Franken autograph it at the recent fundraiser for the Houston chapter of the ACLU. I have always admired Al Franken but felt that he was just a liberal demagogue, but then I caught a little of his talk at the gala. At that point I became interested in what he had to say and so that weekend I began to read the book. While it was not an epiphany for me, I found it to be very well thought out and a humorous read. Like most books of this stripe it will not convert the faithful, but that notwithstanding it was an enjoyable read.

Bringing Down the House
Ben Mezrich
257 pages

This book recounts one man’s experience as a card counter on one of the blackjack teams from M.I.T. I had caught a bit of a documentary about these kids, or rather pieces of a documentary, and the bits I saw didn’t delve into how in to the gambling life-style the kids on these teams, or at least this particular team, got. The documentary also did not delve into why the teams eventually broke apart. All of this is covered in the book which reads like a well-crafted thriller rather than a chronicle of a twenty-something Amer-asian kid from M.I.T.

Christopher Paolini
503 pages

I have wanted to pick up this book since it was published. I was intrigued. I wanted to see what an author could do with a manuscript he began in when he was fifteen years old. But then again I am a cheapskate, so I waited until the book was available in paperback, and quite honestly I am glad that I did. It is not that the book was bad so much as it felt like so many of the other fantasy novels out there. There were a couple of interesting concepts, but really nothing that made the book stand out. While this book was not a waste of time, and I will probably read the sequel, Eldest, when it is available in paperback, there is really nothing to recommend this book beyond the novelty of the author’s age and the fact that it has dragons.

The Virtues of War
Steven Pressfield
344 pages

I read this book in the week between Christmas and New Year’s in an attempt to read all of Pressfield’s historical fiction. I failed (I still have to complete his Last of the Amazons). In this book we have Alexander the Great instructing one of his young squires in, as the title suggests, the virtues of war through examples from his life. While this book hits the high points, it glosses over much, particularly Alexander’s campaigns in Afghanistan (which might be of particular interest considering current events.) I found this, like all of Pressfield’s other work, to be a very enjoyable read, although Gates of Fire remains my favorite, and would recommend it to anyone.

On the night table:

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin
Flowers of Chivalry by Nigel Tranter
A Little History of the World by E. H. Gombrich
The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman
Last of the Amazons by Steve Pressfield
Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
Baudolino by Umberto Eco
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins
Pretty Birds by Scott Simon


Anonymous said...


Gates of Fire is the BOMB, yo. If you manage to scrounge up a copy of the audiobook (only on tape cassette, out of print, and about 200 dollars on ebay) GET IT and make a copy! Found one here in the public library. *boggles*

An absolutely fantastic read, and it makes the book even more powerful. Much love.

And dude, you READ that book we got you? I feel all...teary eyed and stuff. Wow.

Want some book recommendations? *waggles eyebrows* You know me, I'd LOVE to give you some!

~TamiJean SuperQueen

James said...

Suggest away, but I make no promises on whether I will get around to reading them or not.

Anonymous said...

Ha, that's more than fair.

We're both aware that I'm only going to suggest fantasy books, since that is my forte. =] And although some fantasy books make it on your list, I'm aware that it's not necessarily your favorite genre.

1. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede.

The EFC is a series of four books in the young adult section of your local library or bookstore. What on earth am I doing recommending a youth book to you? *winks* Have faith in me, dear friend.

These books are thin (especially compared to your usual fare) They are insanely easy to read, as they flow beautifully from chapter to chapter until you find yourself at the end of the book, blinking a bit bemusedly.

These books are the cool whip of the book world. Light, fluffy, and fun. =] They are absolutely hilarious, and spend most of their time mocking traditional fairy tale morals and plotlines (but not in an irritating way that some stories do).

These stories revolve around talking dragons, enchanted forests, magical swords, and all the normal fantasy fare. But when you throw in a six foot levitating blue talking donkey named killer who used to be a rabbit, a no-nonsense witch who owns everything but a black cat, a princess who much prefers the title of Chief Cook and Librarian, thank you very much, and evil wizards that melt when a bucket of lemony soapy water is thrown on them, you're sure to have a good time.

The amusement-per-page value of these books is not to be denied. If you're looking for a light and fluffy read, look no further.

2. Hunter's Oath/Hunter's Death by Michelle West

This pair of books comprises the entirety of this series, to my great dismay. These books are highly involving and well written, while rejecting almost every single pulp fantasy staple. No fierce dragons, no perfect gleaming hero, no damsel in distress. Instead a story wrapped around a unique and fascinating society and following a truly engaging and believable set of characters. The Hunters, their dogs, and their Huntbrothers have always known what they risked every year at the Great Hunt. But destiny, ancient evil, and the mysterious woman Evayne intercede in the lives of the Elseth family and a group of street rat children, changing the face of the world forever.

These books are heavy, real, emotional, and very very good. I highly recommend them.

3. The Gandalara Cycle by Randall Garrett and Vicki Ann Heydron (may be misspelled)

If you take no other recommendation from me, please, try these books.

The biggest hurdle is, of course, the fact that they are no longer in print. You can often find parts of them at Half Price Books or Amazon.

These books are pure fascination. A dying man sees a comet and wakes to find himself in the body of an apelike being in the middle of a vast desert and telepathically bonded to a giant cat. (I know, some of that sounds like cheese, but it's NOT, I promise)

Honestly, I hesitate to say more for fear of ruining the joy of reading these. They are heavy books, with a long and complex storyline, not intended for casual reading. If you can find these, do so. You won't regret it.

I'll stop there for now. =] mmmbooks.

~TamiJean Bookophile