Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Reading Wish List for 2015

I've been using the "BookWatch" app on my iPhone to keep an eye on what my favorite authors are doing. Combining that with reviews I've read or author interviews I've heard, I've put together a list of the ten books I'm most looking forward to reading in 2015. Some of these are already available, others have not yet been released:

1. "The Empty Throne" - When it comes out on January 6, 2015, will be book 8 in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Tales series (which I wrote about in a previous post). I actually still have books 6 and 7 to read, but they are fairly quick reading -- as well as addictive -- so I expect to finish both before the end of the year.

2. "Stonehenge" - This book is also by Bernard Cornwell, although it is not new (published in 2009). I've been wanting something set in the neolithic, preferably Orkney, but I'll take Stonehenge (and a dip into the bronze age). Folks on the Goodreads historical fiction group generally seemed to enjoy it, although it sounds like it's not typical Cornwell.

3. "Lamentation" - "Lamination," scheduled for availability on February 24, 2015, will be the 6th book in C.J. Sansom's series of novels featuring Tudor-era lawyer, Matthew Shardlake.  I've become hooked on this set of historical mysteries, and the central character -- a lawyer who can't let go of an investigation until he gets to the truth. By no means an action hero, Shardlake specializes in pointed interviews and sifting through mounds of administrative documentation to uncover secrets that dangerous folk would rather keep to themselves. Mostly I've consumed these books as audiobooks. I do like the narrator, so I'll probably go that route again.

4. "The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher" - "Assassination" is a collection of short stories by Hilary Mantel, Booker Prize winning author for her historical novels, "Wolf Hall" and "Bring up the Bodies." In contrast, these stories are set in modern times, and from the descriptions have something of a surreal touch. Having loved her Cromwell novels, I'd like to see what else she has up her sleeve. Besides, the title is dead intriguing!

5. "Revival" --  I'm considering the prospect of delving into Stephen King's latest novel with some trepidation -- and not because I'm scared of the horror aspects. While I'm generally a King fan, sometimes he just misses for me. Among his more recent works, I particularly loved "Duma Key," "11/22/63," and "Joyland." On the other hand, and I can't put my finger on why, but "Dr Sleep" just never grabbed me. I got somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 way into it, got tired of struggling, and moved on to something else. Maybe I'll give it another try some day -- as I always did like "The Shining." From the descriptions, "Revival" sounds like it might be similar to "Dr. Sleep," so I'm not sure how it will go, but I have enough overall faith in King to give it a hopeful try.

6. "Prune" -- "Prune" is the name of Gabrielle Hamilton's New York restaurant, the origins of which (among other parts of her life) she wrote about in her previous book, "Blood, Bones and Butter." As a memoirist, she wasn't afraid to come across as downright unlikeable (at least at times) at the same time as she is clearly gifted and hard working.

This new book is a cookbook from her restaurant. I have a lot of cookbooks, although I seldom follow recipes from them. I tend to keep them more for inspiration and to check technical details if I'm unsure how to do something. These days, I mostly try new recipes that I've found on a favorite food blog, or spotted on Pinterest. What appeals about this book is her cooking style: rustic, grouchy simplicity, based on high quality ingredients. 

7. "Stone Mattress" -- A collection of short stories by Margaret Atwood, author of "The Handmaid's Tale" and many more works that push genre envelopes.

8. "Blue Labyrinth" -- Blue Labyrinth is the latest (book 14) in the Special Agent Pendergast series by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. The series has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me -- the plots a bit too fantastical, and Pendergast a bit too much of a superhero. Still, the earliest volumes such as "The Cabinet of Curiosities" and "Relic" got me hooked. More recently, the plots and formula started to rely on chestnuts like "Secret Nazi holdouts conducting human experiments and plotting world domination in the Amazon jungle." I thought the well must have gone dry, and seriously questioned my loyalty. On the other hand, I did really enjoy the penultimate offering, "White Fire," so I'm willing to give this one a try.

Part of my addiction to the series is due to the wonderful narration of the audible versions by Rene Auberjonois ("Odo" from Star Trek Deep Space Nine). I would probably enjoy the phone book if he was reading it.

9. "Sleep Donation" --  Karen Russell's new novella might be worth a try. Her work twists and turns beyond everyday reality in a way intrigues me. I found her collection of short stories, "Vampires in the Lemon Grove" to be a mixed bag. Some of the stories were amazing, others good and a few seemed like all set-up and no point. Still, she is one of the authors I follow on my "BookWatch" app.

10. "Travel as a Political Act"  --   Travel writer Rick Steves writes about how the act of traveling can and should broaden our world view. Rick concludes that travel (at least travel with an open mind) is incompatible with a narrow, fearful view of life. Rick outlines some of his points on his website.

While I totally agree with him, I have to wonder whether people become open minded because they travel, or are drawn to experience travel because they are already open minded. I suspect both factors are at work.

Scottish independence election signs, Stromness, Orkney
Neighbors in Stromness, Orkney, Scotland politely disagreeing on the independence vote, Sept 2014

Personally, my main interest in travel is to visit historical sites, but it is always interesting to chat about current events with locals when opportunities arise. It was fascinating, for example, to be in Scotland for the independence vote -- America could learn a lot about functional democracy.

You know what else opens the mind and leads to greater empathy? Reading!

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