Friday, February 17, 2017

top ten books of 2016

Read the other two posts that precede this.... first, my love of audiobooks, and second, the books that didn't make the top ten.

HONORABLE MENTION

"Superheroes Are For Real" by Ethan Bryan (2016)
I didn't count this in my Top Ten, as it's a children's book, but it's still worth the 15 minutes it takes to read.  It glorious comic book style color, its the story of a little girl who sees her dad as... well, a superhero.  It's so much fun, and such a sweet story, and my favorite anecdote from Ethan Bryan (who is a friend of mine, and pasty white) is "Someone asked me why the dad and daughter in the story are black.  My answer was 'Why not?'"  Get this book and read to and with your kids.

Oh, hey Anna Kendrick.  How you?
10 - "Scrappy Little Nobody" by Anna Kendrick (2016)
One of my favorite "new era" of actresses, as in, those in their 20s who we are witnessing the early part of what will be a long career (see, "Stone, Emma" or "Watson, Emma"), she writes various stories of her coming-up, from theater to auditions to love to life in general, all with a sort of awkward tone... because as fun as she may be, she's awkward, and that's part of her charm.

9 - "End of Watch" by Stephen King (2016)
After "Mr. Mercedes" and "Finders Keepers" (which I think is the best in the trilogy), King ends the Bill Hodges Trilogy with the reemergence of the Brady Hartsfield, the villain in the first one (with only a cameo in the second). Its a solid ending, and a great effort.  Will Patton is a regular King narrator, and though his female voices border the line between decent and silly, its still a great journey.

8 - "Right for a Reason: Life, Liberty & a Crapload of Common Sense" by Miriam Weaver and Amy Jo Clark, aka The Chicks on the Right (2014)
Let's put it this way... if you are conservative, you'll love this indictment of Black Lives Matter, Hillary Clinton, the liberal media, the hypocrisy of Hollywood and more. If you are a liberal, you will think this book is full of crap.  You can probably tell where I fall on that spectrum.

Oh, and she does.  Lauren Graham is one of my favorites on TV, playing one of my favorite TV roles ever -- Lorelei Gilmore -- and this is a quick dash through her early career, her experience on Gilmore Girls and the awesomeness of the new Gilmore Girls series.  She's full of jokes and one-liners (most land, a few do not) and great energy, and you just want to sit with her and ask all the questions about all the things. 

Before he was the best selling author of "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" (along with "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter", which was turned into one of the worst films I've seen in recent memory), Grahame-Smith wrote up this little ditty about what to do when facing the travails and problems of a horror film. You'll learn what to do when faced with such horrors as cannibalistic hillbillies, serial killers, zombies, vampires, haunted Japanese videocassettes and more.  It's the funniest book I read all year, and anyone who's ever watched a coed go into a dark basement with a low-bulb flashlight in a film will appreciate the pop culture here.

This book is crazy good. Two parallel stories -- one is Daniel Burnham, an architect who was given the task of constructing and pulling off the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago.  The other is the story of H.H. Holmes, who was a sadistic killer who built a "murder castle", full of torture rooms and dead bodies... and both stories intertwine even though the Burnham and Holmes rarely cross paths within the story itself.  While Burnham's story is compelling, dealing with the politics and limitations of the day in an effort to make what was then one of the biggest events on the planet, its Holmes' story that brings this book to life. The building he constructed was pure evil, purposely built for killing and disposing of lots of bodies, many of them being women and children.  Oh, and this isn't a fiction book -- this is a true story, soon to be a movie with Leonard DiCaprio.

SIDEBAR... I finished the last 4 hours of this book while on a plane headed to Anaheim for training in Disneyland last September.  I was around 30 minutes from completion as I walked out of John Wayne Airport towards the Disney transportation area.  And I spent the entire trip from the airport to the Disneyland listening to the rest of the book, literally hearing the last few words as the bus rolled to a stop in front of the Grand Californian.  True story.

4 - "The Whistler" by John Grisham (2016)

Investigator Lacy Stoltz and her partner Hugo Hatch get a call from a mysterious source named Myers, who has information on the corruption at a high judicial level centering on a casino on the Tappacola Indian Reservation in the Florida panhandle.  Thus begins the unfolding of a tense tale of mafia, bad judges, money laundering and more.  Grisham went through a period of novels that told a good story and had terrible endings (I'm looking at you, "The Appeal"), but his last four or five have been at the least solid and at their best, stellar.  This falls somewhere in between, but I really enjoyed the twists.   Note:  Make sure you get a copy of the "prequel", "Witness to a Trial", available on Kindle and Audible.com -- its not mandatory, but it sets up "The Whistler" really, really well.

Flynn novels always have ominous
and cool covers
3 - "Sharp Objects" by Gillian Flynn (2006)
I avoided this book for a while, because while I enjoyed "Gone Girl", and really loved "Dark Places" (avoid the movie, its terrible), I wasn't sure if I wanted to read a tale about a chick who cuts herself obsessively.  Finally, though, I felt I needed to read it to cross off all of Flynn's novels.  And I'm glad I did.  Camille Preaker is a journalist with many, many issues, who is sent by her tiny newspaper to her Missouri hometown to investigate the murder of a little girl.  Soon, another body shows up, and Camille and detective Richard Willis -- also her love interest -- try to unravel this case.  And it keeps taking bizarre turns, culminating in an ending that I sorta saw coming, but was thrilling nonetheless. 

I've heard rumors that Flynn has a new novel coming out in May, and I'm sure I'll be listening to it the day it's released.

Being a pop culture junkie, how about a book that essentially runs down the Top 100 television shows of all time, gives an additional list of "almost there" shows and another list of shows that could make future lists.  They start right out of the gate with their Top Five, as they go back and forth on which one could actually be the greatest show of all time -- The Simpsons, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire, Cheers or The Sopranos.  (I'll let you read to find out how they end up finally ranking out)

It's a great reminder of the history of television, as they dive deep into old shows like The Rifleman, Twilight Zone and Dark Shadows, and argue over how good or how bad shows like The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island were.  It's a fat stack of 436 pages, but I breezed through it, wondering where my favorite all time TV shows ranked... hint:  Out of The Wonder Years, Facts of Life and Scarecrow & Mrs King, only one of them showed up.  Sad!

SIDEBAR: It's no secret I'm slowly working on my own book.  It's a movie book, and it pretty much discusses my favorite 500 films of all time. I'd already decided the "talk about one by one" format was how I was going to go, and the fact this works so well here makes me comfortable in my own decision.

And.. the best book I read all year...



Just re-watched this movie this week. Its got
great re-watchability.
Math confuses me sometimes, so you toss in elements of subprime lending, collateralized debt obligation (CDO) and credit default swaps, and I'm all like "Huh?"  Enter Michael Lewis, the amazing author of "The Blind Side" and "Moneyball", two books (and movies) I love very much.  Lewis' take on the housing market collapse of the mid-2000s that led to the bankruptcy and demise of generations old firms like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers is fantastic, and spelled out pretty easily. There is still a lot to absorb, and I'd be lying if I told you I understood most half of it, at least well enough to explain it to you, but I did come away with an full understanding of it. 

The characters in the book have depth -- especially since they are real people -- including Howie Hubler who literally lost $900 Billion (that's with a B, not a typo) in a SINGLE DAY... Steven Eisman, a hedge fund manager who is working to system to get rich and yet is still appalled by the entire thing... and Michael Burry, a market analyst with Asperger's, who saw the collapse coming and pushed through the derision and criticism of everyone else to make a boatload of cash at the end. 

If you've seen the equally excellent movie "The Big Short", Christian Bale portrays the Burry character, and what you see on camera -- the nervousness, the loud music, the shorts and t-shirt in the office, the slight lisp and speech impediment, the socially awkward style -- is exactly who he is in the book. 

SIDEBAR:  Personally, I thought he and Tom Hardy's character in "The Revenant" were miles ahead of anyone else in 2014 and should have split the Best Supporting Actor Oscar which went to the undeserving Mark Rylance in "Bridge of Spies", but that's me. I mean, its my opinion, but I'm still right.

So there ya go...  my favorite ten books of the year!   





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