The Martian by Andy Weir: When I saw the preview for the Matt Damon movie based on this book, my thought was, “Bet that is a great story that will be turned into a mediocre movie.” While I can’t give an opinion on the film, I loved the book. If science fiction and action adventure had an alien baby with a good sense of humor and a bit of a potty mouth, it would be The Martian. Enough science to keep this chemistry dummy on my toes and with enough drama to keep me turning the pages as fast as I could read them. If you haven’t seen a preview of the movie or heard of the book, the plot is simple. Mark Watney is separated from the rest of his crew during a mission to Mars. Believing Watney dead, the crew begins their journey home only to discover that he is, in fact, alive. My favorite aspect of the book, besides the fact that the main character is a Chicago Cubs fan, is Watney’s perspective on the obstacles standing in the way of his safe arrival back to earth. While author Andy Weir infuses Watney’s quest to survive with breathless suspense, he never tips the scale in favor of melodrama. The book reads more like a guide on alien planet survival, calmly presenting one’s options when trapped in outer space. A huge thumbs up.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt: Finally! A contemporary author, other than J.K. Rowling, whose book releases I will now mark on my calendar. I tracked this book down after hearing the author being interviewed on public radio and when I finished, I promised myself to be kinder to NPR regarding its antidotal news coverage. Wow. If Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson got together and wrote a book and then Alfred Hitchcock edited out most of the stylized violence, language and sex, the book would be something like this. Well-developed and gripping characters inhabiting an engulfingly reality of showdowns and amazing discoveries. I don’t even want to summarize it for you for fear of robbing you of the joy of discovering the plot and characters yourself. Just go out and read it. Now.
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough: How does he do it? David McCullough has the gift of taking monumental figures and moments in history, fleshing them out and making them feel like the neighbors next door, all without losing site of the big picture. I literally could not stop recommending this book to people. The Wright brothers are the kind of men you wish we had more of these days. Clever, hard-working, loyal and principled. I took some of the kids to Dayton on fall break to visit their cycle shop and museum. Thanks to McCullough, as we walked around Huffman Prairie, where they practiced with and perfected their flying machine, I felt like I had been there before. The man makes history come to life in the best possible fashion.
Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear: For me, mystery novels are like comfort food, I try not to overdo it, but indulge in them as often as I can. This series is a bit of an enigma. In an attempt to help Maisie Dobbs stand out in a crowded sea of detectives, the author has muddied the waters a little too much for my taste. The main character is part detective, part psychologist, part clairvoyant, and sometimes you can’t tell if you are reading a mystery novel, a study in psychology, or supernatural historical fiction. Having said that, I keep reading them so there must be some merit there after all. Like Grandma’s cheesy potato casserole, too good to turn down, but after a while you just have to say enough’s enough.
Finding Mom by Stephen Messer: One of my book club’s selections this year, this book was written by a Taylor University history professor who graciously led our group discussion. When he was only six years old, Messer’s mother committed suicide and after 50 years of silence, he set out on a journey to discover more about her life, family and struggle with depression. Finding Mom is a quick read which helps you see the tragedy of suicide from all sides. An inspirational story of healing that kindled a desire for many of us in the group to discover our parents outside of their role as mom or dad and more as people in their own right.
The Mighty and the Almighty by Madeleine Albright: I have to confess the pickings were slim in the audiobook section when I chose this book. I also have to confess I only had a vague recollection of who exactly Madeleine Albright was before I started. The topic, the role of religion has played in foreign affairs past and present, as well as Albright’s opinion of what role it should play in the future, is an interesting one. It was made more interesting to me coming from the other side of the political aisle. There were your predictable jabs at the right and not surprisingly all the examples of good diplomacy came from the left, but I appreciated Albright’s desire to present a fair and balanced case for religion in the public square. Nothing earth shattering and somewhat outdated given the current state of the affairs in the Middle East, but it was a good exercise in walking a mile in someone else’s political viewpoint.
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedmen: This book deals with a classic case of good people making a very bad choice. An interesting story centering on the isolated yet beautiful life of a lighthouse keeper and his wife off the coast of Australia. It will probably come more to life when I get a chance to discuss it with the person who recommended it to me. A few unconvincing characters and turn of events, but I would read it again.
The Night of One Hundred Thieves by Devon Trevarrow Flaherty: This book is by a friend whom I both love and respect, as a person and a writer, so I have no excuse for having taken this long to getting around to reading it. When I saw Devon recently after several years, I thought, “I love everything she has to say! Why on earth have I not read her book?” The genre, medieval fantasy (is that really a genre or did I just make that up), is not really my cup of tea so it should speak to the book’s quality that I read it. A bit Chaucer meets Tolkien. Devon has created a world that feels real with a character who feels the same. Looking forward to making up for lost time and reading her other novel, Benevolent.