Author's Note: This is one of the earliest Year in Books posts I did on the old blog. Anyone care to read what I thought of books back in 2004?
At the end of the year a lot of people put together their 10 best lists of the year (books, movies, music). Instead of doing that, I'm just going to give a blurb about each of the books I read during the past year. I still may try to put out full reviews of each book, but at least I can get my quick thoughts out. This may not be a complete list, but it has every book I've read since May 1st (I can't really remember what I read before that).
Personal Memoirs – Ulysses S. Grant: Grant wrote what some people call the benchmark that all presidential memoirs should be judged by. His style was very crisp and readable, which makes this a quick and informative read.
The Last Jihad – Joel C. Rosenberg: A geo-political thriller in the style of Tom Clancy (but without the military techno-speak). It had a very interesting premise and was well executed by the author. But there are some parts of this style that were a little distracting. He could go page after page of just dialog with no narrative whatsoever. Some parts (like his characters telling jokes) were kind of painful to read. With that being said, I’m still going to read his next book.
Theodore Rex – Edmund Morris: Biography of the presidential years of Theodore Roosevelt. I learned a lot I didn’t know about Roosevelt. Morris’s style is almost novel-like.
American Empire Trilogy – Harry Turtledove: see my review below. [SD: I'll post this review next week]
People Die – Kevin Wignall: a friend recommended this to me. It’s about a hit man who has the tables turned on him. The concept sounds like a typical action potboiler, but it’s mostly about character development with a few action scenes thrown in. I’m not sure if I liked it, but I’m going to check out Wignall’s next book before I make a final decision on him.
The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett: The classic noir novel. I was somewhat disappointed by this one. I love the Bogart movie and that’s what you get with this novel. Hammett’s prose is very tight and masculine and the movie is almost a direct translation of the novel. Not that that’s a bad thing, but reading the novel doesn’t add anything new.
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler: Another one of the classic noir novels. Like The Maltese Falcon, the Bogart movie is a strict interpretation of the novel only diverging in a couple places. Chandler’s prose, however, is nothing short of genius. If I could write half as well has he could, I’d quit my job and write novel after novel.
Out of Sight – Elmore Leonard: The inspiration for the movie Out of Sight and the ABC show Karen Sisco. I was a fan show and had always heard about how good an author Leonard was. The dialog was very natural and Leonard has a very distinctive voice. There was just something about this book that I couldn’t get into. I didn’t connect with the characters while I was reading it. Even so, there were times weeks later that I couldn’t stop thinking about certain scenes in the book. I had to go out and buy a couple more Leonard novels.
The Mike Hammer Collection Vols. 1 & 2 – Mickey Spillane: very gritty, very noir. Spillane is the opposite of Chandler. Chandler’s prose has an almost literary style to it, while Spillane is more like a comic book. All the stories are pretty much the same: Hammer out for revenge. Spillane’s frankness toward violence and sexuality seem commonplace (and sometimes antiquated) today, but in the early 1950’s it was shocking. I found the stories entertaining, but definitely not for everyone.
Farewell, My Lovely – Raymond Chandler: another genius Marlowe novel by Chandler. He’s quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.
Get Shorty – Elmore Leonard: the basis of the movie. It’s not as funny as the movie, but still entertaining.
The Thin Man – Dashiell Hammett: another disappointment by Hammett. The stories are interesting, but there’s something about his style that I can’t get into. I’m still going to read more of him.
High Window – Raymond Chandler: another good one by Chandler. He can just sweep you away with language. If you watch any noir picture of the ‘40’s and they say something like “he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food”, that was inspired by Chandler.
LA Confidential – James Ellroy: another good detective story. I seem to have read a lot of those over the summer. There is a lot more to the story than what was in the movie.
The Bushes: see review here.
Never Dream of Dying – Raymond Benson: a James Bond novel. It reads just like one of the movies. The giant set pieces come at the exact same intervals as they do in the movie. Very entertaining, but not high art.
Executive Power – Vince Flynn: the fourth in Flynn’s series about spy Mitch Rapp. Not highbrow stuff, but very entertaining action that rivals the best Clancy. I don’t think it was Flynn’s best work, but it was better than his previous effort: Separation of Power.
Hitchhiker's Guide Trilogy – Douglas Adams: the classic zany British comedy. I haven’t read these in about a decade. If you don’t know anything about it, you’ve been living under a rock for the last 30 years.
The Big Nowhere – James Ellroy: another part of Ellroy’s LA Quartet. The style is a lot more readable than the 2nd half of Confidential. Haven’t finished it yet, but I’m enjoying it so far.
Posted on the old blog 12/31/2004.