January 4, 2018

2017, The Year In Books

2017 was a low volume book year, totaling just 16 visual books and 23 audiobooks.  This is even less than 2016's 22 visual books and 32 audiobooks, and way down from 2015's 29 visual books and 48 audiobooks.

I'm now done with full-time traveling, and a member in 2 book clubs, so I'm hopeful that alone will increase the reading in 2018.  Also, I'm hopeful my body will let me keep increasing my running mileage, and soon it will be gardening season.  Since I tend to rip through audiobooks while running and gardening, there's also that to look forward to.

Without further adieu, here's the write-up of the final books I read and listened to this year (see part 1 and part 2 for the earlier stuff).

Visually Read Books:

Anonymous (C)
Analee Newitz
A dystopian future where robots are indentured servants until they earn their way to freedom (which rarely happens), and humans born into bad socio-economic situations are as well.  Our heroes are reverse engineering anti-patent folks (although the patent law in this book is *super* way off reality's basis).  The most heart-warming characters are a robot who was raised by humans and appears to have some level of agency as well as a human illegal drug-runner who traffics commercially developed therapies that are artificially inflated as to price and unavailable to the masses.  Worth a read, but not worth the hype in the press.
The Hundred Secret Senses (A+)
Amy Tan
My favorite Amy Tan book so far.  I felt so taken in by the characters and dialogue and references to places that I know, it was as if I'd known these people in my past.  The magical realism of Kwan's view of the world juxtaposed against Olivia's attempts at pure rationality are wonderfully lovely.  The story comes together on both planes slowly, but inevitably, and the ending feels so satisfying and obvious even though I couldn't have guessed where it would go 30 pages earlier.  Highly recommended.
In the Name of Salome (A+)
Julia Alvarez
This book was gifted to me by a good friend years ago.  I finally found time to read it on our trip to Mexico and was so glad that I did so.  The history of the Cubans, the Dominicans, the Puerto Ricans, the other Spanish-conquered and American colonized areas in this part of the world (including Mexico) and all of their US American immigrants is so intertwined and complex.  The exceedingly well-researched but fictional telling of the 19th century stories of Salome Enrique Unrena, a real-life poet and girls' education pioneer in the Dominican Republic is epic.  Sad, defiant, and full of love of life in a way I can't explain but often recognize in good Latin American literature -- I loved this book so much that I packed it back up and brought it back to the U.S. to gift to a good friend rather than leave the copy at the hotel as a gift to a stranger, as I typically do. 
The Wrong Side of Goodbye (B)
Michael Connelly
I bought this at a CVS across the street from the hospital and it was everything I was looking for in a book at the time.  I like Michael Connelly's Lincoln Lawyer books, but I've read them all as he doesn't produce them at the rate he produces his detective Harry Bosch books.  I'd listened to The Crossing, the Harry Bosch book prior to this one, and I'd enjoyed his transition into private investigator practice, so I was hopeful this one would be good as well, and it was.  Fast paced, excellent portrayal of Los Angeles as the setting and also almost a character, and, of course, an solid murder mystery that keeps you guessing but is neatly wrapped up by the end.


The Bourne Supremacy (B-)
Robert Ludlum
Glad I went back to re-enjoy this one, as it was so very different than what the movie made the story out to be.  Set in Hong Kong and China.  Marie is kidnapped but not killed at the beginning and her life in danger is a major plot point. 
Tough Sh-t: Life Advice From a Fat Lazy Slob Who Did Good (B)
Kevin Smith
I'd had a bit of overload with the doom and gloom I encounter on twitter and the news (and the dark side of the Jason Bourne stories didn't help), so I sought this one out for solace.  I've always been a big fan of Kevin Smith.  It was fascinating to listen to this book, now, after all the Harvey Weinstein revelations, as Kevin Smith is very open about worshipping Harvey in his early career and owing his entire film success to the early chances that Harvey took on him.  Over the years, their relationship soured and Kevin's outlook matured to the point of realizing that when he thought he was just so "Indy" he'd really been a "Miramouseketeer" and "credibility clown" whenever Harvey asked him to do some press to ensure that bad rumors about Miramax or the Weinsteins would be squashed.  I was curious to see what his take on the revelations was, and when I researched it was pleased to see that he was clearly upset and is donating all of his residuals from all of the films he made with Harvey Weinstein to a non-profit that helps female filmmakers.  This book is, as you'd expect, funny, profane, and lovably honest.  The key message is that life is short and you should live your dreams, which frankly, is a message that needs much more airtime than it gets.  Exactly what the doctor ordered to cheer me up a bit.
Bourne Ultimatum (B-)
Robert Ludlum
I wanted to finish the full series, and I was glad I did.  At this point, the plot is so far off from where the movies went that it's not remotely the same story at all. David Webb is married to Marie, they have kids, and they are living in a protective program in the Northeast US.  Someone has revived the mythical Jason Bourne as an assassin in Asia and some US intelligence operatives decide to kidnap Marie to blackmail David into returning to the role (as a 50 year old) to catch the imposter.  The plot is obviously ridiculous, but it's still a fun romp and a final showdown between the Jackal and Jason Bourne.
Turtles All the Way Down (C+)
John Greene
This book was enjoyable YA, as you'd expect from John Greene.  The main character has mental health issues and much of her inner monologue makes up the prose, which means, as a reader, you are subject to obsessive thought cycles, and detailed descriptions of compulsive behavior among other things.  There's young love (of course) and youth struggles with loving, but flawed parents (of course).  All told, it was a light and easy treatment of some difficult topics. 
The Power (A-)
Naomi Alderman
A very clever exploration of physical power and gender set in a science fiction/fantasy future where women develop electrical impulse control and society evolves accordingly.  My only complaint about this book is that at times I felt the analogies were too forced.  I get it, in this society, men are the more sensitive, emotionally nurturing gender, and they are subject to the spectrum of treatment from women in power that goes along with that.  I couldn't help but feel that a book set in today's society with that much of a focus on gender discrimination would seem fake and preachy.  The lack of random interspersal of decent treatment with the discriminatory treatment was the part that pulled this down from a true A/A+ for me. 
Manhattan Beach (A)
Jennifer Egan
Well researched tale of a female scuba welder working for the Navy during world war II interspersed with timely drama related to immigrants, unions, the Irish and Italian mobs, and the choices that were available to those of lesser means at the time.  Engaging and believable. 
Bonfire (B)
Krysten Ritter
A good debut novel by a multi-talented actress, author, and musician.  The portrayal of small town America was mercilessly dead on, and the main character was fascinatingly flawed while being believably semi-aware of it -- these two aspects were the things that most impressed me with the book.  As far as thrillers go, it was good, but not great.  Occasionally, a turn of phrase would catch me off guard with its insightfulness, but most of the time I didn't notice the writing (which is typical for thrillers I enjoy).  Overall, it was intriguing, light, and easy to process.  The voice acting was good, although I was a little surprised that Krysten didn't do it herself given her voice performance background.  If I have one complaint, it would be that it seemed to me to have too much stereotypically "20-something feminine drama" for my taste and a habit of dropping important plot points in half-explained sidebars.  Worth a read.
Murder on the Orient Express (A)
Agatha Christie
The new theatrical release of the film based on this book inspired me.  I adore Agatha Christie novels and had read most of them in my teens.  However, as I'd discovered when I'd re-read 10 Little Indians for the first time since teenagerhood, for Murder on the Orient Express, I had also completely forgotten the characters and plot.  This Audiobook production was excellent, with a team of voice actors doing all of the various characters such that it was more like listening to a play reading than a typical audiobook.  Almost the entire text is made up of the investigation by the famous detective Hercule Poirot after the death of one of the passengers is discovered while the train is stopped in a snow drift.  It's impressive how much plot Ms. Christie created in the words that are simply dialog between Poirot and the other passengers regarding their behaviors and belongings.  The tightness of the language and her ability to contain an engaging and full story within such strict constraints made me appreciate just how talented Ms. Christie was.


Angela Knotts said...

I keep going back & forth on whether to read "Turtles All The Way Down" but I didn't love "The Fault in Our Stars" so he may just not be my cup of tea.

bt said...

@Angela -- it was *meh*. But a fast read, so it didn't take a ton of time...