Now, if a book's not resonating with me I will give it a chance, then put it down and not finish. So many more books out there that need reading, I don't want to waste time on something that's not for me. Doesn't mean the book's bad (Cujo by Stephen King was one such book, and I'm his number one fan - menacing smile), just not working for me, or picked the wrong time to read it. Not counting these, I finished 21 books last year. All very good in their own way, and entertaining, but if I had to pick five that completely blew me away (in order that I read them):
Blackout by Tim Curran: I forget why I ended up on horror publisher DarkFuse's mailing list, but I am, and noticed the cover of this Tim Curran novella, and loved it. Yes, I bought the book for the cover (and, as a horror writer, was curious as to the quality of DarkFuse's books). I had never read Curran before and now I see that's a damn shame. This short, intense novel was horror as it should be: scary, intense, with characters you like (or if you don't like them at least their strong, well rounded people) thrust in a situation that is otherworldly and terrifying. Think War of the Worlds meets Darkness on the Edge of Town. Fun, fun horror story.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett: So this book, I picked up at the library in the For Sale pile for a buck. The name Ann Patchett rang a vague bell (but probably because of author Terry Pratchett), but the premise was interesting. Hmm, thought I, someday I'll read this random book I've uncovered and see what is does. It ended up being on of my favorite books of not only last year but the last decade. A birthday party is being held in an unnamed South American town for a major Japanese businessman, to try and woo his business into their country. It's held at the Vice President's estate. Invited to perform is an Italian soprano opera singer. In the midst of the gala, terrorists raid the home and take everyone prisoner. The book is the story of the guests trapped in this sudden turn of events, focusing mostly on the Japanese CEO, his translator, the opera singer, and a good number of the terrorists, who are painted as very real, very identifiable people. Beautifully written, wonderful story. Like the rest of this top 5 list, I looked forward to coming back to the next chapter every day.
The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom: My friend (and pastor) Marty suggested this book to me. Albom is a huge figure in writing, his books having sold millions around the world (think Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, etc). It's the life story of a major rock star named Frankie Presto, born in Spain in the midst of a bloody civil war and raised by so many people throughout his life, it leaps back and forth from his boyhood to young adulthood to his death. In fact, his death is the arching story. He has died under amazing circumstances in a concert in Spain, and as many famous music personalities come to his funeral, we hear about his life from them (as well as a quasi-linear narrative interwoven throughout). It's Mitch Albom, so you know the writing is more than stellar, and the story is fun, and touching and heart-warming. It's a much longer book than his usual fare, but so well worth it.
Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee. Another book I've had on my shelf for years. I've lately been turned off by books specifically written for the Christian market because of the sanitized factor of the writing (it's such a tightly restrictive market, no swears, no physical romance in any way, no non-Christian main characters unless they get saved and if they are Christian they'd better be Baptists). But everyone has said this one is different. Somehow it got through the filters. This book did amazingly well when released, and not just in the CBA market but everywhere, because it is an amazing book. Her writing is so colorful and flowing, poetic without getting in its own way. She can describe something with five words and the entire room is painted for you, vividly. Lee plays with the "censors" all the time, wording things so brilliantly I had to laugh, as a writer. In short, a demon approaches a down-on-his-luck wanna-be writer (now an editor for a publishing house) and begins telling him his story - and thus the story of Lucifer and his demons, from the creation of the universe through Christ's arrival to modern day. Extremely well-researched - this could almost be one of those books people might consider divinely-inspired, like Dante's Inferno or in more modern times The Shack. I finished it feeling I understand why demons hate us so much - and yes, remembering this is a work of fiction. Gritty at times, it's a dark book written so wonderfully you'll never notice.
One In a Million Boy by Monica Wood: Finally, a very recent book from someone who has now been inked in on my Favorite Author list: Monica Wood. A few years back I read a collection of interconnected stories called Ernie's Ark (picked that up because of the title, curious since I'd written Margaret's Ark and I wanted to see another author's take on that kind of a title). Ernie's Ark was my favorite book read that year. And One in a Million Boy is my favorite (well, ok, one of my favorite) book this past year. A boy (he's never named), somewhat autistic though that word is never used, begins helping out a 104 year old woman as a Boy Scout requirement. He and she quickly become fast friends. Then he suddenly dies. His father, somewhat estranged, is a guitarist for a myriad of rock bands and had not seen much of the boy, forcing his ex-wife to raise him. He decides to make amends in some way by finishing his son's obligation of helping this woman. Through a series of tape recorded interviews the boy has made with the old woman, we learn of her life (and she begins to remember it herself). The story is told through these, and from the perspective of the father and the woman. It's a perfect book, touching, warm, riveting in the simplicity of the character's lives and pain. Wood is such, such an incredible writer.
The other fiction books I read last year (again, in order of reading) were: Monster by Keith Ferrario (Kieth was a fellow Samhain Publishing author and I wanted to give it a read), The Devil's Serenade by Catherine Cavendish (another Samhain author, the book was pretty unique), Revival: A Novel by Stephen King (though I've been trying to read King's older stuff, the description of this one intrigued me, though it's a hard book to pin down genre-wise, until the very end), The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (I heard so much about Lewis' non-Narnia writings I wanted to try this, a collection of fictitious letters written by a demon to his son on how to tempt mankind... this short novel is very interesting with some deep insights masked in fiction), Fountain of the Dead by Scott Goudsward (buddy Scott's debut novel, a zombie apocalypse with some fun twists), A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle (the book whose opening line made "It was a dark and stormy night" famous, this has been on my to-read list since the kids were younger and I noticed the line one day when opening to the first chapter, a classic young adult novel with at times heavy messages, a little dated but that's the joy in reading these classics, isn't it?), Alien: Sea of Sorrows by James A Moore (the second of a trilogy of original novels in the Alien universe between the movies ALIEN and ALIENS, this one was a feast for those who like their aliens non-stop and their soldiers burning and firing weapons, it was relentless until the end - Jim had some major fun writing this and it shows), After: The Shock by Scott Nicholson (Scott's been cranking the books out Chris-Golden-like for years, and doing it full time, this is the first in a series called After, a post-apocalyptic group of novels about the Earth after a series of solar flares... and MAYBE the rapture, he hints at it, but might cover it more in later volumes... fast-paced with some great characters), Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig (the first in a series of novels set in the Star Wars universe prior to Episode VII, this story takes place a few weeks after Return of the Jedi and the crippling of the empire, the book was a fun ride, a bit scattered at times but the main story line a lot of fun), The Visitation by Frank E. Peretti (I've been wanting to read Peretti for a long time and finally decided on this one - half the book is flashbacks in the life of a disenchanted pastor - in fact the flashbacks are much more interesting than the modern day story line, so much that I wonder if he had to do the modern story as a way to sell the book, but overall a good read), Madhouse anthology edited by Benjamin Kane Ethridge and Brad C Hodson (I have story in this one, see gdanielgunn.com for more info, and wanted to read through all the stories - I will admit I have a few more to go, but this shared-world antho is just so much more than the usual fare, very clever and well done - and dark, dark, dark).
Finally, on the fiction front, I began collecting early editions of a science fiction series called Perry Rhodan. When I was a teen I bought a book in this series called Action: Division 3, which ended up being #81 or something in the overall story arc. Decent enough book, but there were a lot of references to events, etc, I didn't get. And Perry Rhodan wasn't even in this one! Forty years later I decided to read the early volumes of the German sci-fi series to find out who this Perry Rhodan was. Now this was a HUGE seller in the 60's, and Ace paperback in the late 60's / early 70's finally caught up and translated them to English. Seems that each volume, which is small in its own right, is actually two different books (novellas, if you will), packed as one. They tell a linear story, from the first moon landing crew discovering an alien vessel to the slow build of a new world power on Earth by the very same astronauts. It's quite interesting, especially if you read this remembering the time and culture of its creation. Could even be said some aspects were ahead of its time (culturally, I mean - definitely not technically). The books I read this past year were:
The Radiant Dome (Perry Rhodan #2) by K.H. Sheer & Walter Ernsting
Galactic Alarm (Perry Rhodan #3) by Kurt Mahr & W.W. Shols
By the end of Galactic Alarm I was getting a little tired of the sometimes-rough writing (sometimes it's also quite good, other times not - and a lot of building Perry Rhodan to demi-god like status in how he's portrayed, though I figure this is deliberate). I've always wanted to write a long-running sci-fi serial like this, and am enjoying seeing one way it was done so long ago.
Before I sign off (this is always a long post), there were two non-fiction books I read as well.
Loving Our Kids on Purpose: Making a Heart-To-Heart Connection by Danny Silk: at my wife's suggestion, this small book is full of very good insights into how to manage your kids, especially young children (as we're adopting a two-year old, it's very applicable). Much reference to a teaching series called Love & Logic as well, which we've gotten and it also is quite good.
The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey: Yancey writes very clear, approachable books, and this is no exception. Tore through it pretty quickly. He claims (justifiably) that the church has built this false persona around the Jesus of the Bible, and he uses scripture after scripture to show you that the sanitized Jesus is not who is represented in the Book. A great way to reboot your faith by rebooting how you see the Messiah throughout the Bible, Old and New Testaments.