January 30, 2014

Recent Books I've Read and Enjoyed

I read a lot. It is a way for me to relax or learn something new. Most everything is from the library, though occasionally I will buy a Kindle download if that is the best way to get the book. It is rare for me not to have three or four different books stacked by the bed or in my office, each in some stage of completion.


The recent post asking for suggestions on topics for me to address included several requests for book-related posts. So, here is a list of what I have read in the last few months. Maybe there is something here that will interest you, too.


Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz. A fascinating look at John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry, an incident that many say was the trigger for the Civil War.

A Confederate in the Attic also by Tony Horwitz. I just finished this look at the Civil War through the eyes of contemporary citizens of the American South. Even though the war ended over 140 years ago, for some in Dixie the struggle continues. This book was a real eye-opener for this lifelong Yankee.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Unlike his spy or espionage novels, like Eye of the Needle, this is a 1200 page historic epic set in twelve century England. It involves Gothic cathedrals, religious leaders, commoners, war, titantic struggles, evil, and love that cannot be stopped. I found this book absolutely enthralling. Mr. Follett says it is the best thing he has ever written.

Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. All about "choice architecture," or the ways in which society can nudge people to do what is best for them. I found it somewhat disconcerting and unsettling. It is a rather slow read and gets quite technical for us non-scientific types.

The Sixth Man by David Baldacci. I have read at least half a dozen of David's crime mysteries. His plots are always intriguing and his writing is first rate.

The Everything Store by Brad Stone. This is the biography of Jeff Bezos (I learned his last name is pronounced Bay-zos), the founder and maniacal force between Amazon's quest to be the on-line store for everything. Working for the company sounds miserable, but the drive and determination of its leader is worth learning about.

California Fire & Life by Don Winslow. Another mystery writer I recently discovered. His style is sparse and sardonic, his dialogue snappy and fun. In this book you will learn more about arson and setting fires than you thought possible.

You Gotta keep Dancing  by Tim Hansel. Probably the best book I have ever read about dealing with pain, not with medicine, but with your mind and attitude. This is the book to read if you are faced with chronic pain and don't know where to turn.

The Waterworks by E.L. Doctorow. This one was tough for me to complete. It is historical fiction but written in a way that produces a slow narrative and story that unfolds at a glacial pace. He is a very well respected author but I struggled.

Storm Front  by John Sandford. Another mystery author I enjoy. This is his latest. It involves Israeli spies, archaeological relics, Minnesota, and enough twists and turns to keep me riveted.

One book that I have tried to read before and couldn't, I tried...and failed again. I know War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is considered a classic and one of the best books ever written. But I just couldn't stay motivated to wade through all the Russian names and detailed descriptions of their parties and life.

Recently, I learned of two web sites that look perfect for book nuts like me:

Goodreads is a site with thousands upon thousands of recommendations, based on previous books you've enjoyed, in every category under the sun. I could get seriously lost here.

Library Thing is a place to keep lists of what you have read and what is on your shelves. The other 1.7 million members help you decide what to add with reviews and conversations about books.



OK, what about you? What has kept you up well past bed time or enthralled as you watched the snow pile up outside your window on a winter's day?



43 comments:

  1. Thanks Bob! Ken is fascinated by fire..so there's a book on that list he will enjoy.You got me interested in the Civil War now!! And I see a few new mystery authors in there to investigate.. now that we are RETIRED we have even more relaxation time for good books by the fireplace.. Today is our LAST DAY in the office.Wow..where did the time go..??????? I am having 15 people over this evening for a casual celebration.Your posts and your thoughts and encouragement have been very powerful for us,Bob!!

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    1. I just started "The Long Road to Antietam," a fascinating book that uncovers another side to the Civil War: we were very close to a military dictatorship taking over the government in 1862. Everything hinged on a Union victory and whether General McClellan would attempt to wrest command from Lincoln.

      If Ken is into fire-based mysteries, The Don Winslow book will become a favorite of his.

      The last day....Yeah! Congrats on a long journey that has you set up for some very exciting changes.

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    2. Madline, I have to jump in here and say that Don Winsow is the best author you never read. I have never, ever, introduce a person to the guy and have him not like.

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  2. Some of my favorite authors: Lisa Scottoline, fun mysteries involving a female lawyer from Philly.

    Deb Macomber-- women's fiction, she explores themes of relationships,friendships, and community and she includes all age groups in her books..even the 60-somethings fall in love! And Her characters always have flaws we can relate to!

    Wayne Dyer-- his inspirational books are food for my Soul.

    Thomas Perry--great author! Mysteries .

    Randy White-- I love his mysteries set in Florida and various islands.. he has at least a half dozen books in the library--really fast fun reads. Great characters in all his books..

    Stephen White-- his books are also mysteries, set in Colorado, the main character is a practicing psychologist who has a wife with a disability.His practice and her job as an assistant D.A. provide lots of drama.

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    1. I have read a lot of Randy White and Stephen White and enjoyed them. Thomas Perry is a new name for me to check out.

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    2. Madeline, if you like Lisa Scottoline you would enjoy her facebook page. She lives on a farm outside of Philly and does a weekly column in the Phila. Inquirer. Her dogs are adorable!

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  3. Where would my life be without books? I can't even begin to imagine.

    Some time ago Oprah launched her now-famous book club. I was inspired enough to launch my own, and we've just celebrated our five year anniversary. We are a group of five, and over the years we have read and robustly discussed many fascinating books, including E.L. Doctorow and Tolstoy from your list. I encourage you not to give up on Tolstoy - his books really aren't that difficult to get through as long as you keep a list of the various names each character goes by at hand!

    Since you have a Kindle, I'll recommend some free downloads of classic I have recently read and enjoyed that are now in the public domain: 'My Antonia' by Willa Cather, 'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley, anything by Charles Dickens, 'Pride & Prejudice' by Jane Austen and one of my all time favorites, 'The Jungle' by Upton Sinclair.

    More current books I've recently enjoyed would include 'Unbroken' by Laura Hillenbrand, a true story of one man's amazing struggles to survive during WWII, 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' by Rebecca Skloot, another non fiction book about the collision between race, ethics and medicine, and 'The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night' by Mark Haddon, a well written, amusing fictional book about a boy, autism, and society's struggle to deal with people that are different. All three left me permanently altered, which I always appreciate.

    And to Madeline: Congratulations!!! I feel like I've been on the journey with you two over these last couple of years.

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    1. The availability of so many classics for free from Kindle makes it a must-have for serious readers.

      Thanks for all the suggestions. I am starting a rather extensive list from the comments generated by this post!

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  4. I just started The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win WWII (Denise Kiernan). I've been waiting for my library to get it electronically, but finally splurged and spent the $11 on Amazon to read it on my Kindle. I love history, and am always looking for interesting reads that give a new or different perspective.

    This is a story about young women who were recruited from small towns across America to this secret city in Tennessee. Until the end, they never really new the true nature of their work. The author interviewed many of the women who are still alive. It looks like it will be a quick read, unlike some of my reading that ends up delving into the minutia of historic events. Perfect vacation read!


    Thanks for sharing your list. You've given me some new books to pursue!

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    1. The thing I love so much about reading is that one book leads to others or opens up new avenues to explore. I completed an excellent on-line video course from Yale University on the Civil War and reconstruction. That prompted me to read two of the books written by the professor, which lead me to the two Tony Horwitz books listed above, the book on Antietam I just started, the Ken Burns series on the Civil War on Netflix, and a desire to tour some of the battlefields during an upcoming RV trip.

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  5. Reading & scrapbooking have been on my agenda for Jan/Feb. I'm doing well with the reading but no scrapbooking yet. I'm currently reading "The Book of Negroes" by Lawrence Hill. Lawrence Hill is a Canadian author who researched the actual Book of Negroes, "the largest single document about black people in North America up until the end of the 18th century." It's a story of resiliency and how the human spirit prevails. Also on the completed list: "Annie G. Freeman's Fabulous Travelling Funeral" by _ Radish. This would probably be a chick flick if made into a movie, but it chronicles the grief work and personal growth of a circle of friends after their friend dies; "The 13 Original Clan Mothers" by Jamie Sams teaches us about "Orenda" the spirit essence in all of us (check out Joseph Boyden's new book, "Orenda") and the feminine teachings of elders; "Maya's Notebook" by Isabelle Allende, another book of resiliency and redemption as the main character, Maya, finds her way and her family. I'm going to a "book club" meeting next week, initiated by a friend. Instead of everyone in the group reading/discussing a common book, we're invited to speak about the books we're reading, just as you've done with this post. I love the library. I remember going to the library the first time as a little girl. It was just like Christmas and I still get that feeling when I go to the library and no I can access so many books. I've always maintained that we can learn anything and never have to be "bored" with book to read. I've got an electronic reader but have yet to use it. I like the feel of a book in my hands.

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    1. Because of budget cuts the branch library I use is not open on Fridays. I have adapted to it being closed on that day, but when it first happened I felt like I had absorbed a kick to the gut. I was so worried that was just the first step in the slow shutdown of the branch.

      Since then, even though that branch is still closed on Friday, evening hours have been added back to three nights of the week and it is opening an hour earlier most weekdays. I think the crisis has passed.

      I would have a very tough time dealing with no local library.

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    2. I loved reading the Book of Negroes and was amazed at my ignorance on the subject considering I am a Canadian is this is a significant event in our history! I also recently read Orenda (a weak moment of Kindle shopping!) Canadian history is so NOT discussed, it seems, in Canada! I am always amazed at how little I really know.

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  6. SUPER post!!! I knew about Good Reads but not about Library Thing. Will use it for sure. Absolutely can't wait to dig into some of the recommendations. A Confederate in the Attic should be interesting as I am a Southerner who left the South, then returned to retire. There is a different mindset here. Can't really describe it, but I have often tried to figure it out. It will be interesting to see how Horwitz handles it. I also love Barbara Kingsolver. She writes novels, personal essays and even a great book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle about her experience eating only locally grown food for a year. It sounds boring, but it is very interesting. Also Anne Tyler is good. Someone mentioned crime novels by Scottoline. She also writes really funny essay books like Why My Third Husband Will be A Dog. Will definitely keep checking out the comments on this post.

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    1. I found Confederate in the Attic to be one of those books that disturbed, upset, fascinated, and captivated me. It gave me a glimpse into a culture that I had never really understood.

      I have read several Barbara Kingslover. She lived in Tucson for awhile and wrote a few books about her experiences in the desert which I enjoyed.

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    2. Just read Confederate in the Attic. Fascinating read. I have no doubt that you can find people like that in the South, but I have been back here 20 years and I have not run into them (although I remember some from my youth). Oh, you sometimes get a remark made in jest, often to a Yankee friend. Of course I can't speak for the whole region. You can find your eccentrics in any region and we are all in some ways products of our pasts. Because Horitz chose to emphasize the "extreme" rather than the "norm" he examines only a sliver of the pie. There are, of course, your tourist traps that capitalize on Southern history, but that is just a money making gimmick Southerners have unique characteristics, some good and some not so good. But no room in this comment for that. If you are looking to understand this culture, you would need to go beyond this book.

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    3. I was pretty sure that Confederate in the Attic was a look at a particular and very narrow and extreme slice of the Southern culture. Even so, the book helped me understand how the civil war so strongly affected a part of the country based on the abrupt end of a lifestyle and culture. The north suffered nothing even remotely similar.

      I just finished watching Ken Burns 9 part series of the Civil War which certainly helped me more completely understand the impact on everyone.

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  7. Great kindle tips from Tamara on some freebies! Tamara, I also REALLY enjoyed the Henrietta Lacks book as well as "Unbroken.." Both incredible non fiction stories!!! How fun to go through all these recommendations and make up new book lists!!!!!

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  8. The book I'm reading, THE NEW JIM CROW: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, hasn't kept me enthralled, but I recommend it to those interested. I understand some will be incensed just at the name of the book. To be frank, I find it difficult reading this book. It's rife with case law as becomes an author who is religiously documenting her conclusions. That's not what makes the book so difficult to read, however. It is those conclusions themselves, the documented difficulty in proving racial bias without overt racial statements being made, even with massive statistical proof; the hopelessness engendered by reading it so far (I'm not finished); and, to be honest, the discomfort that arises from reading about such people. They are incarcerated for drug crimes, and the reader has to resolve how to feel about that and then deal with the helplessness and hopelessness about resolving the problems presented here. A close family member by marriage, of an ethnic group now subject to hatred in this country, used to routinely be stopped as a young adult, his car and all belongings searched, every time he visited a family member, so I have long known this kind of thing occurred. However, I did not understand the scale, not being of an ethnic group or inclination (no drug use, even in the wild 60's) to experience what is experienced by some. It is both the massive scale and the individual stories that are so discouraging. This is the book that the local reading group will discuss at the next meeting, the first I've been well enough to attend. I'm taking notes and hopeful that the author addresses specific steps that might be taken by the end of the book. I recommend it. It won't be enthralling, however. It will be discouraging and uncomfortable, but perhaps we all need to be made uncomfortable from time to time.

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    1. Linda, I recently read The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson, which could probably be re-labeled as "The Original Jim Crow Laws," so I'm very intrigued by your recommendation. Thanks so much!

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    2. After my several years of prison ministry work, this sounds like a book I should make the effort to find and read. Thanks, Linda.

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    3. Linda I will have to read this, for sure. My 24 year old was raised in a multi ethnic environment and he regularly deals with his friends and the bias they receive that no one realizes.

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    4. Tamara, I've added the book you suggested to my wish list. Bob Lowry, if you do read THE NEW JIM CROW (sorry for the all caps, but I can't figure out how to italicize in the comments), I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts, due to your experiences.

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  9. You might get a kick out of literature-map.com .... enter a favorite author name and then it gives you suggestions.

    I read SF & fantasy anthologies to get ideas about new authors. I figure if I like their short stories, there's a good chance I'll like their longer works.

    I also use paperbackswap dot com

    Karen

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    1. That site, literature-map, is amazing. What a cool concept. I typed in the author, Don Winslow, and the page is covered with dozens and dozens of other writers in varying degrees of closeness to the center.

      Great find, Karen.

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  10. War and Peace is a wonderful book, if you can get past all the confusing Russian names. I watched the Masterpiece Theater version first and that helped me identify the main characters, then I really enjoyed the book.

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    1. Maybe I should try the movie to help me get past the names and all the parties and gossip and to give me a sense for where it is going.

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  11. My favorite books by Don Winslow involve the old surfer turned detective. The first one is called Dawn Patrol. I believe his other books are "sharper" in tone.

    I like Michael Connelly's books. He has two different series of mysteries and is the author of The Lincoln Lawyer. Lee Child is always reliable for an over-the-top story with his Jack Reacher character.

    I've also read a few books set in Phoenix by a Seattle writer named Jon Talton. I enjoyed two titles but may not continue reading him-- not sure why really. The Concrete Desert and Camelback Falls were the two I read.

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    1. I loved Dawn Patrol. Don Winslow really has a way with words and characters.

      Jon Talton was a reporter for the Arizona Republic when he wrote those two books. I enjoyed them just because they were so "local" but don't remember them being terribly engrossing.

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  12. Well, now of course, you have to read "World Without End". Read "The Historian". I just tried a David Baldacci and I can say that I don't love the King and Maxwell books but I will try another. I was just wondering when Robert Crais was going to come out with another book. I suppose I should read unbroken before I watch the movie. I'm always looking for new authors and have just discovered CJ Box. I also finished a JA Janz book (the Beaumont series which I like less than the series set in Arizona. As always, to many books, too little time.

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    1. At last count I have read 18 JA Jance books and a dozen from Robert Crais. Like you, I prefer the Jance books centered on the female detective and sheriff in southern Arizona. But, since she lives half the year in Seattle then the Beaumont series make sense.

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    2. I forgot about CJ Box. His game warden character, Joe Pickett, is an interesting one.

      Bob, Talton writes a financial type column for the Seattle Times, too.

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  13. Spook, Stiff and Gulp....all by Mary Roach...heard about her on NPR...what a very funny lady...imagine John McPhee combined with a female Mark Twain...humor and great investigative writing about some very different subjects...read Stiff (the curious lives of cadavers)a while back..sounds gross but it was an amazing book...in the middle of Gulp right now ( Adventures of the Alimentary Canal) and then on to "Spook".how science looks at the afterlife..she really digs in and talks with experts in each subject for a riveting read...also read The Man who saved the Union Ulysses S Grant in War and Peace by H.W. Brands...an excellent book about an amazing and much mis-aligned president. also another good read about Edward Curtis, the photographer that took pictures and wrote about the last native tribes in the United States...his life story was amazing as was his iconic photograpy of these tribes...all great reads..

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    1. Mary Roach and Edward Curtis just went on my search list. Now that I am on a mini-Civil War kick the Grant book sounds like one I might enjoy, too. He really did save the Union and insure the reelection of Lincoln in the fall of 1864.

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  14. Bob, I meant to add (and its a little thing), that when you appear as a sidebar on our blogrolls (its not just mine), it still shows your most recent post as the one about family. Not a problem for those who subscribe or stop by every day and not sure how it gets fixed but I just wanted you to know.

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    1. Thanks, Barb. I don't know how to change that. Maybe another user of Google Blogger does.

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  15. Thanks for a great post. A couple of ideas for those that may be interested. Ivan Doig is a native Montanan who has adopted the Pacific Northwest. He writes both fiction and non-fiction. I've read 'This House of Sky', an autobiographical account of growing up the son of a Montana sheep rancher, and The Sea Runners, a work of historical fictional work four indentured servants escape Alaska in a sea canoe bound for Oregon. I'm currently working on Winter Brothers, an annotated review of the diaries of a pioneer on the northern Olympic Peninsula in the mid 19th century. This latest book is interesting, but I'm finding it to be a hard read. Another author of interest is Nevada Barr. She has written a series of murder mysteries, each set in a different national park and ultimately solved by her lead character, Anna Pidgeon, a woman park ranger. In addition to being engaging stories and easy reads, these books provide an interesting glimpse the nature and importance of the national park settings.

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    1. I particularly like the concept of the park ranger as a focus for as story. I will see what I can find by Nevada Barr (what a great name!).

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  16. I loved Pillars of the Earth - it was so informative, engaging and inspiring! I just finished reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I was enthralled by the unique perspective and found myself wishing I had wrote it! It was that good!

    I too succumb to downloading titles on my kindle - but the library is my "friend"!

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    1. Pillars of the Earth was so different from his other books. Obviously, Ken loves Cathedrals and the architectural details involved in building such a structure. It was a great story with enough twists to keep me reading through all 1200 pages.

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  17. I read War and Peace long ago, when I was younger and had more time. I am an E.L. Doctorow fan. John Sandford is okay, but I like others such as Michael Connelly and Robert Crais better. As for the others ... I'm putting them on my list. Thanks for the recommendations!

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  18. I read so much online I don't have the time I would like for actual books. I like having kindle on my phone so I can read when I'm riding in the car or waiting online, etc. I think my all time fave author is Ken Follett, for sure!

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  19. For the ladies in the group - if you haven't read anything by Fannie Flagg (of Fried Green Tomatoes fame) you are missing out on some amazing reading. I just finished her latest - "The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion". Just a delight. I was laughing out loud by the 3rd page, and many pages after that, and I don't usually laugh out loud when reading a book. She's a surprisingly wonderful author, an easy but interesting read, and I highly recommend her books. I'm a Mystery/Suspense nut but this was well worth the change in genre.

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