Best Books of 2016 – Chapter One

Happy New Year!! What better way to start off the year than talking about books!

For 2016, I set a goal for myself of reading at least 36 books, on average one every 10 days. I came up with this realistic goal based on my previous three years of keeping track of the books I read—30 in 2013, 27 in 2014, and then 34 in 2015. I actually met this goal by the end of the 3rd quarter and so by year-end, had exceeded this goal by reading a total of 45 books, 20 fiction and 25 nonfiction mainly due to two reasons.

DSC_2791

First, I was off from work for 12 days in February recuperating from surgery and so had a lot of extra time to read while I lay around. Second, although certainly not intentionally, I read a number of short books as will be explained. So not only did I read more books in 2016 than I had in the three prior years, but more than a third of those I read were really good books so my book review this year is longer than usual.

To make the most of my reading year in 2016, it literally started out on New Year’s Day when I began reading—Bond, James Bond.

CasinoRoyale

I actually became interested in reading about 007 in 2015 when Casino Royale was one of my featured daily book deals. Having finished this relatively short book (less than 200 pages) in December, I decided I wanted to read more in 2016. And when the SPECTRE trilogy also was featured on my daily deals, I snapped it up.

SPECTRE

For those familiar with the James Bond 007 movies, but not necessarily the Ian Fleming books upon which many of the movies are based, this trilogy is a combination of three separate books: Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and You Only Live Twice, all of which finds Bond battling with the notorious organization SPECTRE, the SPecial Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion.

Although not what you would necessarily consider “great literature”, these books were definitely a pleasure to read. And for someone who is a professed slow reader and still working full time, they were quick, fun, enjoyable reads (I read the first book in 10 days, the second in 7 days, and the third in 5 days). Earlier in 2016 I wrote a more detailed review of these three books so I will refer my readers to that post rather than repeating myself. But suffice it to say that if one characteristic of a great book is one that makes you thirst to read more, then these books certainly delivered in a triple, “shaken, not stirred” kind of way. And read I did as I went on a binge and read six more in a row after finishing SPECTRE (on average about 250 pages each).

dambusters

Another daily book deal I read in 2016 was Dam Busters: The True Story of the Inventors and Airmen Who Led the Devastating Raid to Smash the German Dams in 1943 written by James Holland. Recognizing the book cover photo, it was a vague familiarity from my childhood that peeked my interest to purchase this book. A thoroughly researched and well-written account, it was truly amazing to learn the details of this true story.  And the chapters in the book covering the actual raid were absolutely page-turners, on par with any action novel I’ve read.

Of particular interest to me was the fact that the book covered not just the military efforts to achieve this war-changing raid but included the trials and tribulations of the inventor who brought this fast spinning 8,000-pound bomb to reality. And even more amazing is that all of this came about in about 8 weeks, a time frame dictated by the need to hit the dams when the reservoir level would be at its highest so that the water could add its own devastating effect to the breach. Any child who has built a small dam in a stream knows the water’s destructive force once that held-back water starts to topple their handiwork.

While the pilots who normally flew at 30,000 feet were learning to fly an airplane with a 100 foot wingspan at tree-top level (about 60 feet off the water) at over 200 miles an hour, the inventor was overcoming the numerous design flaws and failures of the bomb dropping technique literally days before the attack. Because the bomb had to spin and skip up to a third of a mile over the dam’s reservoir and then sink right next to the dam before exploding, the crews had to train to hit their practice target drop within about 10 yards at just the right angle to be effective. But due to extreme secrecy, the crews didn’t even learn their targets until the day of the attack.   They only knew during training that their bomb would be dropped over water.

The outcome of the raid was tremendous but one that came at a heavy price. I won’t spoil the ending but just encourage you to read this book in the future.

martian

I had been wanting to read this book ever since I heard an interview with the author. It is quite interesting how Andy Weir originally wrote The Martian as a series of posts on his website and then based on requests from readers, released it as a Kindle book. It proved to be a phenomenal success that ultimately led to a published book and movie deal within a week of each other.

I have but one word to describe this book: Wow! Not only were the accurate details of how the protagonist figured out how to survive for so long awe inspiring, but the mathematical calculations and chemical reactions he had to master were entertaining details for someone like myself who is a scientist. It is rare that I read a book that I have to force myself to put it down when it has gotten too late at night. Usually, my reading before bed often ends with me falling asleep, but not with this book. And I would encourage you to read the book before watching the movie, which I did, as details in the movie will make more sense.

memoryman

Following immediately on the heels of this page-turner I read another great book, which I couldn’t put down. I am a long-time, avid fan of the author David Baldacci and Memory Man did not disappoint. In fact, when I was about half way through the book, I got to a certain part of the story where I couldn’t put it down; I just kept reading one chapter after another to find out what happened next. Fortunately I had the time on a Sunday afternoon and so proceeded to read the next ¼ of the book without stopping.

This is an intriguing story about a cop/detective who has an extremely rare condition that allows him to remember everything—hyperthymesia—an incredible advantage for someone in law enforcement to have not just a photographic memory, but also total recall. But following the unsolved, brutal murder of his wife and daughter, he drops off the force until a school shooting in his hometown thrusts him back into the fray. The plot has a number of surprises and as more murders accumulate, it becomes apparent that the murders are not random but are a part of a bigger picture. How all this story plays out is an amazing, intricately woven tale that will keep you on the edge of your seat. If you chose to read this book, be sure you have big blocks of time available, as you will not want to put it down, but rather continue to follow the ever-twisting story.

To be continued…

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