Saturday, January 11, 2020

Top Reads of 2019

I read 73 books in 2019, a total of 22095 pages. The oldest book I read was published in 1974 (The Summer of the Great-Grandmother) and the newest was a beta version of a book that will be published in 2020 (Boundless Ambition). I rate 26 a 5/5, I gave six a 3/5, and the remainder scored 4/5.

Here are the top 5. Only one of these books was from an author I had previously read. I have already read more books by Cavanaugh and have more Ruth Ware books on my list for 2020. On to the books.

In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware (2015)
A female crime writer is invited to a hen party (bacholerette party) in a cabin in a dark wood. But she hasn’t seen this friend in a decade and their parting was on bad terms. Why was she invited? This English psychological thriller alternates between Nora in the present, who cannot recall what happened although she was found covered in blood and taken to the hospital, the recent past in the wood, and the distant past. Some have called this the next Gone Gone, it is an atmospheric gothic crime thriller that kept me reading.

The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel Wilson (2019)
For 50 years Fairchild Air Force Base, Project Eternal Vigilance has been watching for the Andromeda strain without even a single incident. And then a drone shows the presence of the alien substance deep in the Amazon in Brazil. This sets into motion a story that finds a small team, that spans both earth and space, in a literal race against time to save humanity form extinction. It is necessary to have read Michael Crichton’s original 50 year-old book (The Andromeda Strain) to understand some of the nuances of this book. But unlike other readers, who found this book disappointing, after I read both I really enjoyed this one, much more than its predecessor.

The Institute by Stephen King (2019)
In the middle of the night, a sinister team kills a boy’s parents in Minneapolis and kidnaps him. Luke Ellis wakes in the institute, a place that houses children with supernatural talents. What are the doctors and staff trying to get out of these children? Billed as horror, this is more of a thriller. The latest book from King starts quite slow with a section about an ex-cop traveling slowly up the eastern coast that seems to have no relation to the story. I almost gave up, but persevered and am glad I did. King ties it all together in the final third.

The Defense by Steve Cavanaugh (2016)
Who ever heard of a con man becoming a defense lawyer? Hello Eddie Flynn, the hero in the first of a series of legal thrillers. But Flynn has given up on his law career at the start of this book. That is, until he meets the head of the mob in New York City. The crime lord tells Flynn he has kidnapped his daughter and forces him to be his defense attorney in his trial for murder. The catch is that Flynn to wear a bomb to court to blow up the courtroom and kill the main prosecutor witness. Although you have to suspend disbelief a little, this is a crackling story that literally explodes off the page. This is one of my new favorite legal thriller authors.

The One Minute To Do List by Michael Linenberger (2015)

Obviously not a thriller or fiction of any kind, this  radically changed my approach to managing my tasks at work. I read Linenberger’s 100 page book in a couple of hours and decided to give his approach a try. I liked it so much, I bought his 500 page book (Total Workday Control) to use his advanced tools (Manage Your Now) for MS Outlook. It has allowed me to get my tasks under control and manage them in 15 minutes each day. 1MTD is a great starting point, and better yet the pdf version is available for free from his website (

Monday, December 23, 2019

New Music for an Old Fart

One of my goals for the year was to discover new music I might like as I have been in a musical rut. So, to that end, I asked each of my kids and their spouses/significant others to give me a list of their favorite albums/artists that they thought I might like. I also included my biking coach, who is more of my age, to keep it closer to my era. And from these lists, I tried to listen to one new album a week in 2019. I didn't quite hit that goal, but met the spirit of the target in listening to over 40 new albums and found some new groups I actually like. I also added some albums I came across on Amazon Prime just by surfing around.

Here are some rambling thoughts with personal anecdotes where I jotted them down.

Really Really Liked:

  • Pretty Gritty -- Seven Year Itch. We had discovered this band when we went to McMenamin's Grand Lodge in Forest Grove. This folksy duo were playing downstairs. We liked them enough to buy their album and have since listed to them play live a couple more times (when they performed outside Kaye's in Sellwood.)
  • Lang Lang -- Piano Book. Found this by chance on Prime and loved it. Clean classical piano music that is great to read or work to.
  • Khruangbin -- A Calf Born in Winter. Beautiful funky/jazz mostly instrumental. Love it. 

Liked a Lot:

  • Beth Hart --  Fire on the Floor 
  • Lady Gaga  -- The Fame Monster. Had to give the Lady a go after a family friend went to see her in concert in Vegas. Liked her voice and range and catchy pop style.
  • Nils Frahm -- All Melody
  • Taj Mahal and Keb'Mo -- TajMo. Great bluesy music.
  • Badbadnotgood -- IV
  • Diana Krahl -- The Look of Love. She has a wonderful voice for the jazz/blues style.
  • Phillip Glass -- The Hours. Lovely instrumental music to relax to.
  • Morphine -- Cure for Pain. I liked this. The rough sax added to the rock to make it sound raw and edgy with lots of energy. 
  • Alvvays -- Alvvays. Liked most of the tracks on this album.
  • Leon Bridges -- Coming Home. I had heard Leon's other album before and found the music reminiscent of the 70s or 80s.
  • Maren Morris -- Girl. Not sure why I listened to this but for a pop-country album it was upbeat and enjoyable.
  • Joe Bonamassa -- Redemption. My biker buddy came good again with this cross between blues, R&B, and rock. Good stuff.
  • Joseph -- I'm Alone, No You're Not. Very nice acoustic/rock girl band. 
  • Soundtrack from Hamilton. This was the biggest surprise. I don't enjoy musicals and didn't like the first couple of tracks. But kept listening, as I had promised myself to give every album a fair shake, and it started to get catchy and interesting. I have listened to this more than once. 
  • Gerry Gibbs Jazz Band -- I listened to a YouTube video and then saw this musician live in a New York basement club. Very atmospheric and very cool. I loved it.
  • Big Thief -- Capacity. The first few tracks sounded a little boring, but the music grew on me. It's a cross between indie acoustic rock and folk. The later tracks mentioned me a little of Jack Johnson crossed with Norah Jones.
  • Streetlight Manifesto -- Everything Goes Numb. Listened as punk it has an exciting, upbeat vibe. I liked the music a lot but didn't enjoy the lyrics or the singing as it seemed too noisy.
  • Taylor Swift -- Lover. Another find from Prime. Very pop but liked the upbeat melody and catchy lyrics. Might have to listen to more by her.
  • Ed Sheeran -- X. After seeing and hearing Sheeran in the movie Yesterday, I found this on Prime. Liked his music and voice. Will have to listen to him.

Uh? OK:

  • Courtney Barrett -- Tell Me How You Really Feel
  • Cigarettes After Sex
  • Gungor -- I am Mountain. I found this repetitive and boring, and didn't really like the male vocalist.
  • Soviet Kitsch -- Regina Spektor. The music was OK but I couldn't get past the singer's voice or the lyrics.
  • Blockhead -- Funeral Balloons. The music was OK but the vocals/lyrics were weird and definitely put me off the album. 
  • The Walters -- Songs for Dads. The male vocalist was too twangy and annoying.
  • Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. I found this folks with a symphonic background.
  • Ojos del Sol -- Y La Bamba. Too folksy for me.

Didn't Really Like:

  • Paul McCartney -- Ram. I am a big Beatles fan and love some Wings music, this didn't do anything for me.
  • Arctic Monkeys
  • The Vaccines
  • Tank and the Bangas -- The Big Bang Theory. There was too much talking, some ranting and raving, but not enough singing for me. I found it to be discordant.
  • Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn -- Echo in the Valley. This was too twangy bluegrass for me. It never got a hold of me.
  • The Good, the Bad & The Queen -- Merrie Land. So-so indie-rock. Nothing special. The British accents were a little grating (did I just write that?).
  • Bruce Springsteen -- Nebraska. I've never really gotten into the Boss. But wanted to give it a shot. This album never grabbed me and I've still not gotten into Bruce.
  • Tame Impala

No, Don't Make me Listen Again!

  • Labor Days -- Aesop Rock. Wow, I really didn't like this hip hop. It was not music to my ears. 
  • The Mars Volta -- Noctourniquet. Loud. Did I say LOUD! Noisy, almost discordant. 
  • Titus Andronicus -- A Productive Cough. I didn't like the vocals and the music was just noise.
  • Sir Lord Baltimore -- Kingdom Come. Didn't like the voice of the lead singer.

And if you're interested, I had 15 goals for 2019 across 5 categories (health, intellect, relationships, hobbies, spiritual) and I met 8, with at least one checked off from each category. I consider that a big success. Now to think what to set for 2020 -- 20 goals for 20?

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Book Review: 29 Seconds

Title: 29 Seconds
Author: T. M. Logan
Publisher: St Martins Press
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Rating: 5 out of 5

What a great premise: you can give one person’s name and he or she will get disappeared forever, no questions asked, no repercussions, no traceback. But there is no do-over, no going-back. You better be sure

Sarah is a PhD contract lecturer at London University striving to become tenured faculty. But the professor of her English Department is a sexual predator who holds her future in his hands: charming on the outside, criminal on the inside. Sarah faces harassment bordering on rape, but with no recourse since he is the university’s golden boy and is smart enough to avoid any evidence.

When Sarah does a remarkable good deed, she is given a remarkable offer. One name and the person is gone. When she makes that call from a burner phone lasting 29 seconds her life is changed completely. As the plot unwinds, her life unravels and she is forced to make unimaginable choices.

The book gripped me from the start and rarely let me go, twisting till I could not predict what would happen. Even at the end, I was surprised with the way it worked out. It was a great read.

I received this book as a free pre-publication galley version in return for an honest review.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Book Review: Run Away

Title: Run Away
Author: Harlan Coben
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: March 19, 2019
Rating: 5 out of 5

Harlan Coben remains the master of domestic suspense. His books focus on normal families facing abnormal, even disturbing, circumstances. Run Awayis no different in that respect.

When Simon Greene, the protagonist, finds his junkie, college drop-out daughter busking in Central Park, an altercation breaks out. Captured on iPhone video, it goes viral and he is seen as a villain, an example of corporate American oppression. But when faced with a murder and then the disappearance of his daughter, Greene has to descend into the depths of his daughter’s life in an attempt to find and rescue her.

Mixed into this major plot line, is a frumpy private investigator looking into the disappearance of a Chicago man. When their paths cross, Green and the PI seek to work together. But neither is aware of the depths or history of the mystery facing them. And neither is aware of the ultimate cost of solving it. 

Everyone has secrets. Families even more so. And this book slowly reveals those secrets until the biggest ones are disclosed on the final pages. This is a fast-paced suspense thriller, that is engrossing and engaging. I did not figure out all the connections until they were explained in the climax. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves suspense mysteries.

I received this book as a free pre-publication galley version in return for an honest review.