When I decided to do a book blog, it was because we get so many inquiries about titles and authors I mention on the show.
Of course, we still get them, but now we can refer them here. I always find a handful of good new books each year, but my pleasure-reading is all over the place. As, you’ll see, December included titles from the ’30s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s up to today, and even Joseph Conrad’s “Lord Jim” from 1900.
“Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West” by Andrew Roberts (2008) Roberts is always an epic read, and here he takes us through WW2 in Europe as waged on the grandest scale by Roosevelt, Churchill, Gen. George Marshall and Gen. Sir Alan Brooke, with numerous other colorful character sketches and details. No matter how much wartime history you’ve read, you will learn a lot here.
“A Fearful Yellow Eye” by John MacDonald (1966) Every one of Mac’s Travis McGee outings is a gem. In this one, as always, McGee comes to the rescue of a lady and no good deed goes unpunished.
“Spies in the Vatican” by John Koehler (2009) One of the 20th century’s most underreported stories has to be the Kremlin putting a hit on Pope John Paul II. Reported, even the Reagan Administration sat on the details because it was so inflammatory. Koehler’s meticulously-sourced book picks up the thread of great prior reporting to reveal how successfully Soviet and Eastern bloc regimes penetrated the highest levels of the Church.
“The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler (1939) I reread this one every so many years because it’s literally the skeleton for almost every private-eye novel of the last 75 years.
“The Affair” by Lee Child (2011) Despite being a more recent title in the Jack Reacher story, this is the book that explains how the Reacher character came about. So, ideally, you would read it before any other Child book. Bonus: It is easily one of the best books in the series, with even more plot twists than usual, the most fascinating small-town sheriff ever, and one of Jack’s most creative judge-jury-and-executioner moments for the bad guys.
“Lord Jim” by Joseph Conrad (1900) It may sound like hyperbole, but this book is almost always included in top-50 or top-100 best English language novels of all time. The title character makes a immoral decision on the high seas, is roundly censured and judged for it, and tries to explain it to others and himself. Remove or update the cultural reference, and you could set this story in the current era, with ease.
“The Case of The Sleepwalker’s Niece” by Erle Stanley Gardner (1936) As I’ve mentioned before, it’s amazing how different the Perry Mason character in the books is from the TV version played by the late Raymond Burr. In this go-round, Perry’s facing duplicity everywhere he turns, and no one is as they seem. Again, for an 80 year old novel, the plot and action is still fresh and relevant.
“Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal” by Sen. Ben Sasse (2018) This book was one of the nicest gifts I received for Christmas, and I devoured it in a day-and-a-half. Sasse’s observations are beyond dispute, I think. Sometimes, in his examples, he tries a little too hard to be a REALLY GOOD GUY. But, even when the style annoys, the premise makes you think about yourself, your reactions to things in the news, and how hard we are on our fellow Americans.
“The Shepherd” by Fredrick Forsyth (1975) Really a novella or short story, about aviation. You should read this around Christmas time if you can. You’ll see why when you do.
“The China Mirage” by James Bradley (2015) This author also wrote “Flag of Our Fathers” about his dad at Iwo Jima, and “Flyboys”, and he explains how that experience set him on the path to explain how wrong-headed we have been in dealing with Asia these last 100 years or so. “Mirage” is highly-opinionated, but made me think and question my grasp of history and current events as much as any book I’ve ever read. So, I recommend it with the caveat that it’s a point-of-view, not a textbook.
“Funerals Are Fatal” by Agatha Christie (1953) As with the above-mentioned work of Raymond Chandler and Erle Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie taught succeeding generations how to write the private detective mystery: colorful but believable characters, combined with plot twists and seemingly-impossible knots to untie. In this one, a down-on-its-luck British family is attending funerals that really are fatal.
As always, let me know if you read any of these, and how you liked them (or didn’t).