Books in 2023 - A Recap

So, we're in a bit of a lull between Christmas and New Year, so let's see how far I can get with my annual What Did I Read and Watch Posts. 

Overall, I read (or listened to) about 34 books. Most of these were fiction for one genre or another, but there were also a good number of non-fiction. To be honest, I didn't finish every book. (I put down for one reason or another - wasn't connecting or what have you.)


If I had to pick the Top 5, in no particular order because, to be honest, I liked them all equally, they might be:

Bewilderment by Richard Powers: Richard Powers, my word what a writer. After being completely blown away by his Pulitzer Prize winning The Overstory a couple of years back, I was able to pick up this short novel on audiobook, about a father trying to navigate single parenthood of an autistic son and a career, and juggling what is, and what should be, important. The answer is never cut and dry, but the author (with the help of the book's stellar narrator Edoardo Bellarini who infused such emotional resonance through the words) weaves these questions, along with his trademark environmental battle cry seamlessly and with such a passionate love. 

Mistborn (The Final Empire #1) by Brandon Sanderson - After seeing Sanderson's books top so many charts, then hear about his great experiment of going directly to his readership without dealing with the soul-crushing world of traditional publishing (because, to be honest, he can), I gave his first big series a try. Sanderson is, without a doubt, one of the best fantasy world - and character-builders around. Loved this book, about an oppressive world dominated by one god-like person, and the lower-caste rebels trying to change their world. Great book, never got boring and not a trace of the usual fantasy stereotypes.  Excited to jump into book #2. 

Shards of Earth (The Final Architecture
, #1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky. As I've said before, Tchaikovsky has become my all out favorite (or at least top 3) science fiction author. He writes BIG books, but they weave and bob without ever getting bogged down, with very, very unique characters. Like his previous book I'd read, Children of Time, Shards of Earth is riveting in its world-building. It is pure joy reading.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh - Based on an award-winning blog series, this book of oddly-drawn (which gives it so much of its charm) cartoon tales deals with simple, almost mundane issues like training an untrainable dog, all wrapped around very open conversations about depression. It's Erma Bombeck for the new generation. Loved every single page of this book.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. This book snuck up on me with a lot of surprising turns. The perfect family, struck with the sudden death of their oldest child. As we see how each remaining family member deals with this, or not, the veneer is removed to expose a very messed up family. One thing also I learned a lot about was how badly and/or patronizingly Asian Americans were treated over the past 50 years. 

Of course, there were other superb books I also enjoyed:

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay. I've always loved Paul's left-of-center stories, even when we wrote a story together which will never see the light of day because it's cursed. I wanted to read his book before watching the movie adaptation (Knock at the Cabin (2023) from my hero M. Night Shyamalan). As usual, the author trusted his unique vision and made another book which leaves the reader with a Did It or Didn't It Happen the way the characters thought. This is a fast moving book that keeps you guessing, and to be honest, having now seen the movie, have to give the book's different (and more shocking) ending a leg up.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel. This was my second book by Mandel, and to be honest it didn't strike me as much as Station Eleven. There were very interesting characters, the story just got too bogged down with too many varying storylines. She tried to bring them together at the end, and it almost worked. I have it up this high mostly to explain how much I loved her next, more experimental book: 

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel. I am SO glad I read Glass Hotel before reading this one. Sea of Tranquility seems to almost be an homage to all of her other books. Mandel brings in characters and events from (I am assuming) all of them to tell an interesting story of - what ever happened with this character? A book full of secondary characters from other books. I was riveted and entertained and so glad I read this one. I own more Mandel books, and need to get to them soon.

Tiamat's Wrath (The Expanse, #8) by James S.A. Corey. I'd decided to finish the Expanse series of books. Tiamat's Wrath was a step up I think from the previous one, though to be honest I can't remember where this book ended and the final volume, which I'm reading now, picks up. Nevertheless, the two authors do not disappoint with this one.

Tenth of December by George Saunders. I heard so much about George Saunders, finally was able to read one of his biggest story collections. Interesting stories, sad sometimes with a common theme (usually) of desperation and envy, never quite having "it" in one's world). Very unique at times, the stories are read by the author, who is able to inflect the right emotion and nuances into his characters, though at times, usually at beginning of each story, tends to mumble a bit. Ok, a lot.

Robopocalypse (Robopocalypse, #1) by Daniel H. Wilson. Really enjoyed this. Told through series of vignettes, a fun, throwback story of robots taking over the world. Pretty intense in parts, lighter in others, the balance made for a quick, interesting read. This was an audiobook and narrator was extremely good.

Babel by R.F. Kuang. A fascinating, original novel, an alternate history where the British empire is growing more powerful using 'spells' etched into silver bars by multilingual translators, most of whom are taken from other countries as children and rigorously educates at Oxord. Bizarre, yes. It made me think of an alternate Harry Potter, for the intellectual, librarian types. Great characters and story, though at times wanders off into a lot of mini lectures on the history of languages (which sometimes makes this long novel actually feel too long) either in the narrative or the many footnotes. The audio book was superhumanly narrated.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles. There were a number of books I remember reading in high school which had an impact, though I forget their names. This was one from that time, but NOT the one I'd been looking for. Similar time period and setting, and I do remember this book too. Well told, somewhat rambling but with distinct story of friendship and love. The audio book itself had a few glitches though.

Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau. Simple, beautifully written coming of age story around 15-year-old Mary Jane from a stale, oppressive (but loving) home who becomes the summer nanny for the daughter of right-brained hippie-ish parents in the 70s. One of whom, a psychiatrist, is treating a major rock star for addiction with his famous movie star wife. Mary Jane's view of love is stretched and redefined. Wonderful book.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Since the author and screenwriter were same person, expect the two to be very similar. Goldman was clever with this, however, as he builds a fictitious history around a fictitious older novel written by a fictitious "Florenese" author, making the book an abridgement with commentary. I might have enjoyed the commentary more. A fun read, though. especially for a fan of the film.

Foundation (Foundation, #1) by Osaac Asimov. I'd started this decades ago, finally restarted, and did enjoy it. Plotwise, it was not a fast-moving book, as it was mostly people standing around talking to each other. Asimov was definitely a tell, not show kind of writer. Still, it's fascinating, seeing how he progresses the universe-building which these books are in. He's a good writer, and this kept me reading, even if the plot itself was lean. 

Foundation and Empire (Foundation, #2) by Isaac Asimov. Like the first volume, F&E is more tell vs show, but still does some great world building. The dialog is quick and smart, given the era it was written in. Clever ending and setup for the 3rd volume, but I'll take a break for a bit then come back to finish the trilogy.

Blue Beetle, Vol. 1: Shellshocked by Keith Giffen. This was a fun series. Hearing that a film was pending, I wanted to get caught up with it. Standard superhero plot, but the story was clever with some unexpected turns and realistic reactions to events. The movie ended up keeping pretty close to the plot.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. I can't believe my favorite author's biggest book has sat on my TBR list this long. Like his best book, Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury plays with English here as only he can, but in this book it got too much, often. Now truly, this book should be considered a really long poem. Every description is lyrical, almost surreal, yet somehow works. The problem comes in volume. Halfway, it became a wee bit much. Had to put it down for a long while. He writes with such joy and abandon, though. A great, unique read, but in doses.

Whalefall by Daniel Kraus. In the beginning, wow, what a book, and the research is admirable. Strong story, but I was exhausted by the last quarter of the book. With one setback after another after another, I found myself fast forwarding the audiobook. Maybe I have claustrophobia, but it was too relentless, maybe too long for a book with such a constant stream of setbacks. Amazingly unique and creative idea, though.

Consider Phlebas (Culture, #1) by Iain M. Banks. Very well written, with amazing world building. One would think that with the plot jumping from one bizarre situation to another, the book would race along. In truth, it felt like 17 distinct novels pushed into one, like an overpacked suitcase. I was mentally exhausted at the halfway point (a polite way of saying I got bored). Someday, I may pick up the threads where I left off. There are probably five or six more plots left, but for now.... just too much of it. 

Non-Fiction, In Order of Enjoyment

The Reset: Returning to the Heart of Worship and a Life of Undivided Devotion by Jeremy Riddle. Short, powerful, and doesn't pull any punches, Riddle calls out (in a loving way) every worship team to remember the why of what they do and the responsibility of leading others. Five stars, highly recommend to anyone on worship or tech teams at their church.

A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L'Engle, Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Sarah Arthur. For a fair and balanced biography, especially from someone who had become, over time, a personal friend of the subject, Arthur did an amazing job. I went in, curious but knowing nothing about L'Engle except her most famous book, and by the time I'd finished had become a fan, and owner of two other of her books I immediately jumped into. Just getting a glimpse of her own, personal faith, gives me hope for the Church, if only others could follow her lead. Very interesting, and again, well balanced. Highly recommend.

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L'Engle. My first nonfiction from L'engle after ready a biography of her. This is a sweet, sometimes rambling journey through her views on art, writing, and faith, and how the three can often be very intertwined. Short, interesting book with some great points. The audiobook was well-narrated, too.

Back to Acts: How to Start A Home Church by Martin Holman. My dear friend Martin Holman's short book is bursting with tremendous insight and advice not only for those considering starting a home church, but truly anyone who is in a leadership role in any form of church. With brevity and humor, the author covers so much great information. Highly recommend.

The Confessions of Saint Augustine by Augustine of Hippo. Wow, to hear a writer from 1600 years ago asking questions and struggling with things still relevant today, fascinating read. I'm sure much of the kudos goes to the translator, who brought Augustine's words into the modern day.

Crazy God Story (Revised Edition): Faith Isn't Blind by Christopher Randall. This little indie book is full of firsthand accounts how God has moved in Randall's life, and those around him. Simple read, but magically in its no-gloss, honest testimony.

Boys Should Be Boys: 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons by Meg Meeker. With three little boys in the house, I needed this book to be reminded what it is little boys (vs girls) need in growing up - there are definite differences in the two sexes especially during development. Some are cultural / environmental, but most differences at that age are obvious, and how to tap into that and give them outlets, both from father's and mother's perspective is critical knowledge. This book is a little dated and hasn't been updated to reflect modern day distractions kids face, but overall was good to hear another's perspective, when we in the trenches tend to lose ours. :)

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman. Started out interesting, though author was clearly trying to build a case for "everyone has been deceived because the wording of much of New Testament is different than originally written". When he does talk about the significant differences, they really aren't any that would change anything major which would sway anyone's faith one way or another. It is fascinating (for a while, until halfway it got a too dry for my taste) to read about years of alterations, then later years of trying to find the exact wording again (something which I agree with author might be impossible). His main point: Christianity, like Judaism, is a book-based belief system, so much over the centuries has become dependent on the Bible being the inerrant word of God, so people lose sight of the bigger picture when confronted with possibility some of them words might not be exact. In the end there was truly nothing here very shocking. Good history and perspective to learn, which Christians and people of faith can't be afraid of.

There were nine books I had started but quickly put down because I wasn't enjoying them much. Nothing against the authors, just didn't work for me. Specifically, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (well done, but plot rather languished), Age of Iron (Iron Age, #1) by Angus Watson (over the top violence and bloodshed, almost glorified, too much for me); House of X/Powers of X by Jobathan Hickman (this comic series tried too hard to be different, to point I got tired of trying to follow); Airport by Arthur Hailey (this slightly dated book is interesting if you're interested in mundane day to day workings at an airport, the movie was probably culled from last quarter of book... I'll probably never know). Art and Faith: A Theology of Making by Makoto Fujimura (if I hadn't already real L'Engle's book this might have resonated with me more, but it was too ethereal and non-concrete in its discussions); Mr. Mercedes (Bill Hodges Trilogy, #1) by Stephen King (I hate serial killer books, bad people doing terrible things to good people, but tried king's take, for a while, no thanks); The Department of Truth: The Complete Conspiracy, Vol. 1 by James Tynion IV (too negative and depressing); Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl, #1) by Eoin Colfer (tried to read this to my 9 year old, he wasn't interested, maybe if he was older, but likely not); Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (fascinating read in small doses, but in end too experimental and stream of consciousness for a full book length)

Ok, that's it. Good year for reading. So many books, so little time.


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