Reading List 2020

Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Rating: 5.0 stars * * * * *
One of the indications of a 5 star book is that it's 2:30am you finally tell yourself that you need to put the book down so you can get some sleep. That was this book. In the distant future civilization is divided into colors - red being to lowest in the hierarchy, gold being the highest. Darrow, a red, lives with a community of workers under the surface of Mars, mining helium-3 to terraform Mars for future generations. Except… all is not what it seems. This wonderful book is a cross between Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games. I just simply could not put this book down. Full of action, sadness, vengeance, and everything in-between, this is a book you simply must read. This is book one of a three book series. Now onto book two, Golden Son.   


Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
Rating: 4.0 stars * * * *
I really liked Monza (the main character in the book) and her overall transformation throughout the book. One of the best-known assassins, she is betrayed by her employer and left for dead. She miraculously survives, and goes about seeing vengeance for her killers. This book is full of betrayal, plot twists, and an interesting set of characters. The story, while good, dragged on a bit and got a bit tiresome towards the end. I didn’t really care for the war scene towards the end of the book - it really didn’t fit with the personal vendetta part of the story, and the story got a bit confusing about how people ended up one one side of the country one day, and the next at the battleground on the other side of the land the next day. Overall, a good and entertaining story, with strong, multi-dimensional characters.  


Crooked River by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Rating: 4.0 stars * * * *
After reading The Labyrinth of the Spirit I felt I needed to read something a little lighter, so I decided to read the most recent Pendergast book. Being a big fan of Preston and Child (and in particular the Pendergast books), I wasn’t disappointed in the least. I really liked this book. It moved exceptionally well and continued to keep my interest, well into the night. Constance Greene played a big role in this book, particularly towards the end of the book (no spoilers though). The thing I liked most about this book is the way the mystery unfolds, with the final twist not being revealed until the very end of the story. 

Tales of the Wild West Vol. 1 - 9 by Rick Steber
Rating: 3.5 stars * * * 

I picked up this 9 volume author-signed gem at a used bookstore in Colorado Springs, and really enjoyed these stores. Each volume has stories within the context of a particular topic (Oregon Trail, Miners, Loggers, Pacific Coast, etc.) that the author captured through journals, newspaper articles, and other similar sources. The stories are short one-page anecdotes that are sometimes amusing, sometimes sad. The thing I really liked about the series is that it provided a good perspective into what is was like living in the wild west. Most of the stories surround Oregon and the Pacific Coast rather than the rough-and-tumble western desert (with the exception of the “Cowboys” volume. Even through some of the stories were a little silly, all-in-all a fun and enjoyable read.


The Labyrinth of the Sprits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Rating: 5.0 stars * * * * *
This book made me laugh, smile, frown, and cry. An amazing book, all 800 pages of it. This book brought together the entire story of the Semperes (and Carax) and all of the mystery and intrigue that surrounded Barcelona during that time period (early 1900’s and through the war, eventually leading up to the 1990’s). While Fermin remains one of my favorite characters through the 4 book series, enter Alicia Gris, a character I shall never forget. Tough and no-nonsense, but with a fragility that works so well with her character. While the first book in this series (Shadow of the Wind) will always be my favorite, this book comes close (or ties) with first place.     


The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Rating: 5.0 stars * * * * *
I very much enjoyed this third installment of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. This book dives into the mysterious history of Fermin, one of my favorite characters in the series. There are many flashbacks to the first book (The Shadow of the Wind) as well as the second (The Angel’s Game), so while it’s not required, I would strongly recommend reading those ones first. I liked this book much better than The Angel’s Game - much more concrete. The author introduces another character in this book, one that The Labyrinth of Spirits is about (Valls).    


The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Rating: 4.5 Stars * * * *
I’ve seen the movie The Princess Bride 6 times so far, and finally decided to read the book (the classic one, complete with hardcover, antique pages, and so on). I had heard that the book was a little different from the movie, and those tales were true. The main scenes were the same as the movie, but the book has much more to offer - additional chapters, narrative from William Goldman about what was skipped in the abridged version, and some extra chapters at the end that were not in the movie. It certainly helped seeing the movie first, because I was able to visualize Billy Crystal as “Miracle Max”, which was perfect, and also all the other characters in the book. Awesome stuff! 

 

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Rating: 4.5 Stars * * * * 
What an intense book. Like The Shadow of the Wind, this book was about David Martin, a writer who essentially loses his mind, and was filled with tons of interesting plot twists, action, suspense, and intrigue. The ending was a bit confusing, so much so that I am going to re-read the last couple of chapters to fully understand what happened at the end. I rated it only 4.5 stars rather than a full 5 only because I didn’t think it had quite the same poetic and flowing prose and character development as The Shadow of the Wind. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and am realizing that Carlos Ruiz Zafon may end up on my favorite authors list. I’m anxious to read the next two books in the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” series.

 

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Rating: 4.0 Stars * * * *  
By far the darkest book I’ve read from Cormac McCarthy. This book painted a picture of the West, but rather than the “riding off into the sunset” romanticism about the wild west, it painted a picture of the West as filled with mindless violence and savagery. While I really enjoyed the writing style and the characters (especially the Kid and the Judge), I couldn’t quite get over the amount of violence and mistrust between people. Maybe it reminded me too much of our current bifurcated society we live in. Regardless, this book certainly came alive and had well-developed characters. If you read it, be prepared for a high body count...


The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Rating: 5.0 Stars * * * * * 

What an amazing book! My good friend Alan Beaulieu (author of Learning SQL) recommended this book to me. I was so captivated by the wonderful style of writing and the great characterization (the fact that the setting is in Barcelona really helped as well). This book had numerous twists and turns, and kept me interested until the very last page. It was so good that I immediately ordered the other 3 books in this “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” series. Fermin was my favorite character in the book. A must read!

 

A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie
Rating: 5
.0 Stars * * * * * 
I was originally hesitant to read this book when I first saw it, just because the description on the back cover didn’t interest me so much. I was so wrong. I should have known better since I given almost every one of Joe Abercrombie's books I’ve read 5 stars. I didn’t even hesitate for an instant to give this one another 5 star rating. The story and characters were amazing in this book. The book intertwines the stories and adventures of 5 main characters as their lives continue to intersect in interesting ways. What an incredible book! I am looking very forward to book 2 in this series when in comes out in September 2020.


The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim et. al.
Rating: 4.5
 Stars * * * *  
I finally got around to reading The Phoenix Project after hearing so much about it, and now I am mad at myself for waiting so long to read it. This book is a must-read for anyone in IT. Having lived many of the scenarios described in the book, I almost felt like it was a busman’s holiday reading it. There were times the book got so intense I had to actually put it down because I felt like I was responsible for fixing one of the many outages described in the book! All-in-all an excellent read about the perils of IT projects. If you haven’t read it yet, please do so right away.


Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell
Rating: 
4.0 Stars * * * * 
I fell in love with the history of the battle of Waterloo after reading the Sharpe series by Cornwell many, many years ago. This book is very similar to Sharpe’s Waterloo, only dives into much more of the detail about the logistics, planning, troop positions, and the battle itself. Being a fan of the battle, I really enjoyed this book. 


Innovation On Tap by Eric B. Shultz
Rating: 
4.0 Stars * * * * 
What a great concept - take twenty-three of the nations greatest innovators from Eli Whitney to Lin-Manuel Miranda and have them all meet at a bar to tell their stories. Eric organizes these twenty-three stories into five progressive themes: mechanization, mass production, consumerism, sustainability, and digitization, and then ties all of them together into the final theme of social and cultural entrepreneurship. My favorite story in the book was that of Alfred Sloan, with Eli Whitney’s story my second favorite and Mary Elizabeth Evans Sharpe my third favorite. I really like how Eric relates all of the stories to an underlying theme - the stronger the community, the greater the chance of success. All-in-all a really good book, with lots of history, stories, and lessons learned from some of the best innovators in the nation. 


The Outsider by Stephen King
Rating: 4.0 Stars * * * * 

I usually don’t read a lot of Stephan King novels, but my good friend recommended this to me and, unlike other King novels, I was not disappointed. I really liked the character Holly, but felt Ralph fell a little flat from a characterization standpoint. That said, the action was great and the “murder mystery” part of it kept me going. Like most books I read, the ending was a bit disappointing, but I’ll have to admit the end wasn’t as drawn out as in other King books I’ve read. I read some reviews about the “ridiculous alien stuff at the end”, but I would have to disagree - I thought for once the whole King “supernatural” thing wasn’t drawn out in this book as in his other books (such as Under The Dome - ugh.) and was tastefully done. All-in-all a great and moving “lockdown” read.


Reamde by Neal Stephenson
Rating: 2.5 Stars * * 
My favorite Neal Stephenson books hands-down are Seveneves and Cryptonomicon. This one doesn’t even come close to that list. I really didn’t care much for this book, and I figured out why about half-way through - characterization. I didn’t like the characterization of Richard, and especially Peter. Not surprisingly, I didn’t care for Fall either, which was the follow-on book to this one (same character - Richard). The Peter character was off from the very opening family reunion scene with the target shooting - it didn’t match the rest of his “IT geek” persona throughout the rest of the book. The action was pretty good, which is why I bumped it up to 2.5 stars. Overall - meh.      


All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Rating: 
5.0 Stars * * * * *
This book was amazing. Cormac McCarthy is quickly becoming one of my top five authors, so be prepared to see more of his books appear on my list in the coming months. This story, while not quite as dark as The Road, still has plenty of human suffering and adventure in it. The story follows 3 boys (teenagers) as they set off from Texas on horseback to find adventure across the border in Mexico in the 1930’s. And adventure they do find, both good and bad. Not giving anything away (because it’s on the back cover of the book), but their adventures are indeed paid for with blood. McCarthy does such a good job with the settings and characters in Mexico that I felt I was actually there while reading the book.   


Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell
Rating: 4.5 Stars * * * *

This 12th book in the Saxon Series started out slow, but picked up significantly, particularly the last third of the book. I got very confused in the beginning of the book about all of the players vying to be the next king of Wessex, East Anglia, and Mercia. And, as you can guess, Uthred gets in the middle of all the politics. Uthred almost met his match in this book, but, as Bernard Cornwell is find of saying, he will live to see yet another adventure. Northumbria, Uthred’s home, is still up for grabs as the last kingdom still under Danish rule - but for how long??


The Bone Ships by RJ Barker
Rating: 4.5 Stars * * * *

This epic fantasy novel took a while for me to read, but it was worth it. I’ll admit it was hard getting used to the gender of the ships and crew - ships are named “he”, and the captain a “shipwife” (regardless of the captain’s gender). The book had plenty of action, and I loved the characters Joron and “Lucky Meas”. Barker created an interesting world in the book filled with war, treason, and, in the end, morality. A long read, but a good one. 


Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows
Rating: 3.5 Stars * * *
The first half of this book was great. Such a good explanation of systems theory and the factors that go into a system. I felt the last part of the book was a little drawn out, not adding much more to the book than what the first half did. I would recommend this book for anyone working as a software architect in the IT field as it helps understand how everything fits together and interacts.  


The Lost Queen by Signe Pike
Rating: 4.5
 Stars * * * * 
This novel is an account of sixth-century Scotland, specifically focusing around Languoreth, who eventually became Queen of Strathclyde, and her brother Lailoken, a “Wisdom Keeper” of the Old Ways who is thought by some scholars to be Merlin from the Arthurian era. I particularly liked this book for several reasons - first, I like anything about the Medieval times. Second, Pike did a great job describing the difficulty women had during that era. Third, Pike did a great job showing the struggles and conflicts between the Old Ways and the rise of Christianity during those times. There was plenty of treason, murder, blood, intrigue, hardship, and everything else that represented the Medieval era. Being a novel, Pike weaved in a bit of romance in the book as well, something I found I was able to tolerate because it wasn’t overplayed. Overall a fascinating book. Be sure to read the authors notes at the end of the book!



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