Monday, January 02, 2006

Books o' the year

Not nearly as inclusive as the notable book list in the NY Times Book Review but here's a list of books I read that I enjoyed over the year.

From most recently finished to the earliest books I read last year:

Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers. This book was a big bastard but was just a pleasure to read. The author really has the ability to combine the young Sammy, the adult Samuel and the author Mark Twain into one understandable person.

Fledgling by Octavia Butler. This was the first book that Butler had released in about seven years. I devoured it over a weekend. I'm sorry I read it so quickly but I was starving for something new by her. It's the story of a vampire child who is recovering from serious injuries. I won't ruin the plot, it's too good to give away. It's Butler, it's awesome.

A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous. A diary by a young woman living in Berlin during the time the Soviet Union won and occupied her portion of the city. It's an honest account of the life lived by a woman during an enemy occupation. It's not pretty but she does maintain her humor and her humanity.

Wrecking Crew: The Really Bad News Griffith Park Pirates by John Albert. Another book I tore through this year. It's the story of a group of freaks in Los Angeles that start up an amateur baseball team and use it as a sort of support group. It's incredibly honest, very funny and, at times, heartbreaking.

The First Crusade: A New History by Thomas Asbridge. This one surprised me. I had read a good review of it and decided to give it a shot. It really sucked me in and I polished it off in just a couple of weeks. I was surprised by how lucky those crusader were to live to get to even see Jerusalem, let alone win the city and then kill and rape everyone inside in the name of god. Most striking image: the victorious crusaders, covered in the blood of their defeated foes, standing in the Holy Sepulchre thanking god for their victory.

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. This book was another surprise. I read it because it had been praised by Orson Scott Card and he introduced me to Octavia Butler so his reccomendations catch my attention. It's been a while since I finished a fantasy novel. I've started a few in the last couple of years that were positively reviewed but I think I've lost interest in pure fantasy. This one, though, was different. It's the story of a city that used to house people with magical powers. They weren't born with these powers, the powers came to them during the night while they were sleeping. Once you had this gift you were allowed to live in the city of Elantris. Ten years before the book opens the people of the city lost their powers although they are still "gifted" with a long horrible existence of pain. Also, throughout the kingdom people are still waking up changed but now they are zombie-like in their appearance and are banished into the city rather than awarded residence there. The real strength of this book is a struggle between two religions that begins as a sub plot but emerges as the main plot. One of the religions is much more agressive in spreading its word than the other. The character that is charged with spreading the word in the kingdom in which this novel takes place is a pleasure to follow as he comes to grip with his faith and its ultimate goals.

That's all for today. I'll do a few more tomorrow.

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