Friday, February 7, 2014

Some great books I read in 2013

As I had mentioned in my previous post, I lost considerable information regarding books I had read.  This will therefore be a partial list of some interesting books I had read during 2013 and some I might read again.

Nevada Barr: Track of the Cat
This is actually the second book I had read by Nevada Barr.  The first was The Rope, the prequel that was published in 2013, which I read for a f-2-f mystery group.  It wasn't bad, just highly improbable I thought,  but other members assured me that many of her other works were much better.  So, I grabbed this one which had been the first in the series.  I found it to be a much more enjoyable read and consequently I will go on to read others in the series.  I also found that being familiar with the park the book is set in just adds to the fun.

Harry Beston: The Outermost House
This is from my post last year about this book: "Beston had had a cabin built on Cape Cod, not far from the Atlantic shore of the peninsula.  In September of 1924 he went to the cabin, planning on spending only a few weeks there.   Instead he found himself reluctant to leave.  His two-week stay eventually lasted a full year, in which he took copious notes about the seasonal changes occurring there to the beach, the weather, and the birds, plants, and animals that were his neighbors.  The Outermost House is the result of that unplanned year on Cape Cod."   This was my second reading of The Outermost House, and I doubt very much that it will be the last.

Giles Blunt:  Until the Night
Until the Night is the sixth in the Canadian police procedurals in his series featuring Detective John Cardinal.  It's hard to find Blunt now in the US, so I have to check his website and hit the internet to buy his books.  Blunt is one of those few whose books I always buy, if I can't get them in the library.  He does include some issues that involve Cardinal away from his job, but he doesn't let them intrude into the main flow of the work, which is a police procedural.  His plots tend to be complex.  Occasionally we are told the identity of the killer(s) early on, and the focus is then on Cardinal and his fellow officers' attempt to solve the crime and the killers who are trying to remain hidden.  If we don't know who the killer is, then the plots are complex, and I don't remember guessing correctly until later on near the end. 

Joseph Conrad:  The Secret Agent  
Contrary to many of Conrad's earlier works, The Secret Agent is set in London England.  A foreign government, which appears to be Russia, attempts to influence the English government to rescind its policy of being a safe haven for those suspected of terrorist acts against other governments. One of the foreign government's tactics is the use of an agent provocateur to encourage the terrorists to become active in England and thereby eliminate England's tolerance of them.  Verloc is one of those employed by the foreign governments, but they are unaware that he is a double agent, for he is spying on the local anarchist group for the London Police.  It all goes wrong when he is persuaded to blow up the Greenwich Observatory.  (The novel is based on a true incident.)

Joseph Conrad: Mirror of the Sea
One of two autobiographical memoirs by Conrad that relates to his years as a seaman, officer, and captain.  He talks of various ports, captains, storms, and perils of the sea.  In Conrad's own words, "I have attempt here. . . to lay bare with the unreserve of a last hour's confession the terms of my relation with the sea, which beginning mysteriously, like any great passion the inscrutable Gods send to mortals, went on unreasoning and invincible, surviving the test of disillusion, defying the disenchantment that lurks in every day of a strenuous life;  went on full of love's delight and lover's anguish, facing them in open-eyed exultation without bitterness and without repining, from the first hour to the last."  He writes for us landlubbers, with little technical terminology.  It's an eye-opener from a seaman's point of view.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky:  The Demons or The Devils (aka The Possessed)
This novel is Dostoyevsky's satire of  various political ideologies and specifically of Turgenev's earlier novel Fathers and Sons.  Turgenev is satirized by Dostoyevsky in the character of the writer Karmazinov, who attempts to win the favor of  the Russian Western/European-leaning social critics.  The novel, published in 1872, is almost prophetic as it depicts the revolutionaries as favoring the use of terror to cow the population and the creation of three person cells to protect themselves from government infiltrators.  The contrast of conflicting ideologies of social democracy and radical totalitarianism is depicted in the differences between Stepan Verkhovensky, the idealistic social democratic reformer, and his son Pyotr Verkhovensky, the nihilist terrorist (the descendents of the social reformers), and therefore Dostoyevsky's version of Fathers and Sons.   

Karin Fossum: The Caller
A disturbed boy plays mischevious and sometimes malicious tricks on his neighbors.  For example, he sneaks into a neighbor's house and spills blood on a sleeping infant.  The parents, of course, are panic-stricken until they learn it was a hoax.  Now, they are angry.  The boy commits a number of these acts as a self-appointed messenger attempting to disturb their complacency. However,  some of his victims are determined not to let it pass, once his identity is known.  This is where Inspector Sejer gets involved.  Again, a great novel from a author whose works I get without even thinking about it. It's automatic.

Hermann Hesse:  Magister Ludi
Hesse, who, in his previous novels, argued for the superiority of the  spirit, the mind, the intellect, creates a small province in which certain inhabitants are able to live the life of the mind, the intellect, without concern for the necessity of earning a living.  They are supported by a government subsidy and the only requirement is that they provide teachers for the rest of the country.  But, here in what should have been the Eden that characters in his previous novels had searched for, Hesse turns his back on his previous beliefs and argues that the life of the intellect must be meshed with the material world, the world of striving and getting, of achieving and earning, and of greed and power. 

Drew Magary:   The Postmortal
The following is from my post last year about The Postmortal:   "Drew Magary's  The Postmortal is probably the best SF novel that explores the theme of an extended life span that I've read in decades, if not ever.  It attempts to realistically depict the effects of the development of an anti-aging medical treatment on society.   A researcher accidentally discovers a gene that controls aging and eventually comes up with a treatment that shuts down the gene.  Those given the cure (as it is popularly known) immediately stop aging and remain at whatever physical state they were in when given the treatment.  It is not immortality.  They can still die from accidents, disease, etc., but they will remain physically the same for an unknown length of time.  I read it twice last year and will read it again.

Walter M. Miller, Jr.:    A Canticle for Leibowitz
This is another reread and one of my favorite post-holocaust novels. It is really three novellas, which focus on a religious order of monks who initially were followers of Leibowitz, a scientist.  Leibowitz gave his followers the task of preserving whatever scientific knowledge they could find. Like the monks of the Middle Ages, they spent their lives copying out whatever written materials they could find. The three novellas take place several hundred years apart, going from a subsistence level of existence in the first part, to a society that is now rich enough to permit some of its members to do something other than bring in food in the second section, to a society that has developed science once again to the point that they now have nuclear weapons.

Leo Tolstoy:   Anna Karenina
A very complex telling of an adulterous relationshipA: the initial stages, the emergence of the relationship into the open, and the gradual disintegration resulting from the characters of the two people,  and the effect on them of the responses of the people about them.  This is my third reading, and it well repays the time spent.


  1. Thanks for the reviews, Fred! Magister Ludi has always both intrigued and intimidated me. Was it a difficult read? Are you glad you read it? Maybe I will get up the courage to attempt it.

  2. Cheryl,

    I think I've read Hesse's _Magister Ludi_ at least three times now. It's a paperback copy and beginning to fall apart. I'm debating about whether to buy a new copy now. It is one of my favorite novels by Hesse. I didn't find it a difficult read.

  3. Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon series is one I used to keep up with but fell away from in recent years. I enjoyed all the early ones. I think my favorite is Blind Descent. Unlike most series mysteries, these (the early ones anyway) don't necessarily need to be read in order since Anna moves around and there's a new set of characters each time.

  4. madamevauquer,

    I've only read two of hers and both recently: The Rope, for a F2F mystery group, which piqued my interest because many of the group said her earlier ones were better, and Track of the Cat, which I guess is her first one.

    Her sister was the only character that was in both stories, and even then, she was present only on the phone.

    I will go on and read the next in line.

  5. I totally forgot about her sister. I think she talks to her on the phone in a good number of the books. There's one (if I remember correctly) when we finally get to meet her.

  6. That's what happens in the two stories I read. She seems to rely on her sister to a considerable extent since several times she called when she needed support and reassurance.