Books

Reading is my very favorite thing to do. I like TV as much as the next guy. In fact, I binge-watch more shows than a person ought to. But it’s books I can’t live without.

I know I’m not alone.

There are a lot of book lovers out there, and I would be interested to hear your recommendations as we all kick off another year of reading.

I knocked out 23 books last year and enjoyed most of them, with only a couple of exceptions — Stephen King’s “End of Watch” being one of them. A mass murderer, who is now comatose, uses mind control over his nurses to continue his deadly rampage. The plot was so absurd, I wanted to throw the book against a wall (but since it was on a Kindle, I restrained myself).

Another letdown was “Mississippi Blood” by Greg Iles, the final installment of a trilogy set in Natchez, Miss., that culminated in a much anticipated courtroom trial. That’s when the story took an unrealistic turn with antics no judge would have ever allowed. I just couldn’t buy it.

I’m not a big fan of medieval tales, but “A Feast for Crows” and “A Dance With Dragons” by George R.R. Martin — No. 4 and No. 5 of the Game of Thrones series — consumed me. Martin’s imagination is a thing to behold.

Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a frightening look at a futuristic, puritanical society, written from the main character’s stream-of-consciousness point of view. Hulu produced it as a miniseries and, I hate to say it, being a book lover and all, the TV version was more entertaining.

I read two books by Jeffrey Archer: “Cometh the Hour” and “This Was a Man,” which concluded a seven-novel series subtitled “The Clifton Chronicles.” This generational family saga was filled with both lovable — and despicable — characters. It moved at a good clip until the middle of the final book, when it began to drag. It did tie up all the loose ends, however, and I appreciated that.

Ken Follett’s “Edge of Eternity” interwove fictional characters with real people (such as Kennedy and Gorbachev) to revisit the days of the civil rights movement, Vietnam and the Berlin Wall going up, then down. It’s lengthy, but filled with exquisite detail.

My friend Ann Morgan encouraged me to read “I Am Pilgrim” by Terry Hayes and I’m so glad she did. It’s loaded with heart-racing suspense. A brilliant spy is called out of retirement to do battle with a cunning terrorist. What the terrorist has planned for the USA is, indeed, terrorizing. It’s a real page-turner and the best mystery I read all year.

I enjoyed several other mysteries, three of which were written by Michael Connelly. “The Wrong Side of Goodbye” and “Two Kinds of Truth” featured Harry Bosch, a California homicide detective. Connelly is my favorite author, and anyone who has met Bosch understands why. In “The Late Show,” Connelly introduces a new character, Renee Ballard, a female detective who works the LAPD graveyard shift (aka the late show.) She’s tough, fearless and clever — just like Harry Bosch.

 “The Whistler” by John Grisham (state investigator takes on crooked judge) and “Home” by Harlan Coben (a family is reunited with their long-lost son) were decent reads that didn’t dig too deep.

A more intense one was John Sandford’s “Buried Prey.” A construction crew unearths the skeletal remains of twin girls. It’s an intriguing cold case that our hero, Lucas Davenport, is determined to solve.

 “We Are Water” by Wally Lamb was not a mystery, but just good, solid storytelling about a married couple raising three children in New England. Sounds innocuous enough, but Lamb’s talent for bringing his characters to life is pure entertainment. He has a tendency to end a book abruptly, and this one’s no different. I prefer more closure, but the overall story, from beginning to end, is nothing short of captivating.

I wish I could say the same for “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman. Ove is a grumpy old codger who doesn’t want to live after his wife dies. In his pursuit to end it all, one thing after another gets in his way. It’s a unique plot, but I just didn’t embrace it like most of my friends did.     

In “Prayers the Devil Answers” by Sharyn McCrumb, the local sheriff falls ill and dies. His widow takes over the job. The setting is rural Tennessee, circa 1936, and the story is rich with Appalachian dialogue.

I know Jodi Picoult has been around for a long time, but I had never read her until last year when I picked out “My Sister’s Keeper,” “Vanishing Act” and “Small Great Things.” Of those three, the stand out was “Small Great Things,” a disturbing tale of racism and underground hate groups. It’s the kind of story that haunts your thoughts long after the book is done. “My Sister’s Keeper” was also compelling and had a surprise ending I did not see coming.

Not all the books I read last year were fiction. “A Street Cat Named Bob And How He Saved My Life” by James Bowen is about a heroin-addicted street musician who adopts a homeless cat. It’s a quick read and an uplifting story.

I don’t know what made me choose Bryan Cranston’s autobiography “A Life in Parts,” but it certainly held my interest. I was impressed with the odd jobs he worked between acting gigs to pay the bills. Cranston clearly loves his craft and takes serious ownership of the roles he plays, especially “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White.

There you have it. That’s my list for 2017. I’d love to hear from you. What were the best (and worst) books you read last year?

Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at donnabarton@cableone.net.