burning_nitrate (burning_nitrate) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

Reads of 2011

As a new member, after posting about my new reads of 2012 in my previous post, we thought it might be interesting to mention the books I read in 2011.  I'll also talk a bit about a few of them and some of them will be under a cut.  Genres range from thrillers and horror to acclaimed literature, classics to modern.

Joseph Kanon - The Good German  I enjoyed this book set in the aftermath of WWII Berlin a great deal and found myself really caring about the central relationship and characters of the book.  Much moreso than the average book as I really dreaded if there would be an unhappy ending for the relationship.  It reminded me of thrillers like The Third Man.  Although the relationship was the most engaging part for me, I liked the complexities of the journalist's investigations (into an American soldiers death and how it may have involved black market activities and Russians) and the issue of how much a German scientist really knew or was involved with the Nazis.

Robert Harris - The Ghost
I'm a fan of Roman Polanski's film works, but I've not seen his film version of this book.  The knowledge that it was filmed by Polanski and that the writer was also responsible for Fatherland (not read it but heard about it and saw the movie version) made me pick this up in a charity shop.  I started off slow with it, but it didn't take too long to get me hooked and I ended up reading most of it in a few days.  The central plot involves a ghost writer being sent out to a island to ghost the memoirs of a controversial former British Prime Minister and also involves the mystery of what happened to the last man who had the job.  A lot of politics and allusions to current affairs.  Quite engaging while I read it, but didn't linger in the mind with me the way that The Good German did.

Leo Tolstoy - War and Peace An acclaimed massive work of literature.  I found it very difficult at times and ultimately didn't enjoy it as much as Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.  The story with the characters is fine and some parts were involving and held my interest, but the philosophical essay parts that got inserted for whole chapters throughout (and form the last section of the book) were quite a chore at times and seemed to repeat the same threads over and over again.  Interesting read but it's not the length that would put me off reading it again.

George Eliot - Adam Bede I quite enjoyed this first Eliot book I've read.  The style reminds me a little of Thomas Hardy, but overall I probably found this much more engaging than Far From the Madding Crowd.  I particularly liked how one female character went from being treated as a bit of a joke early on to evoking much more sympathy for her plight as the story went on.  Adam Bede was a likable enough character.  There was one chapter where the preacher woman turns up again after quite an absence in the book that I found very magical in it's writing.  Some parts of the book were really gripping but alas just when the tension is becoming unbearable a particular plotline seems to just fizzle out in an unsatisfactory way and then the story limps on afterwards far less engagingly (for me anyway).  Overall I felt it was a worthy book though.

Marc Cerasini - 24 Declassified: Operation Hellgate This is the first of the 24 spin-off novels and the first I've read.  A light read that I found quite enjoyable.  Nothing spectacular but good fun for fans of Jack Bauer.  It's a prequel to the first season of the TV series and some of the familiar characters like Nina, Tony and Chapelle appear.  Others like Kim only get mentioned in passing.  Typical CTU vs terrorist plots with Jack being forced to work alone (with some unofficial help) as a fugitive.

S. J. Bolton - Blood Harvest
Okay thriller but from the cover and description I was expecting something more supernatural and cult based.  I was gripped at times but others found it a bit boring.

Captain W. E. Johns - Biggles: The Camels are Coming
The first Biggles book with an interesting author's introduction.  Enjoyable enough boys own adventure stories if you just dip into it over time.  Set in the First World War with plenty of dogfights.  Biggles becoming smitten with a girl late on in the book was particularly engaging and I found the end touching.

Karin Slaughter - Blindsighted

Karin Slaughter - Kisscut
I saw this writer's books mentioned on a forum somewhere and decided to check her out.  Both novels are part of a small town series with three regular characters (two police characters and one doctor).  I found both very gripping and found myself caring about the characters as it went along.  The first involves a serial killer with possible ties to a main character's past and the other begins from a shooting at an ice rink into something much more unsettling.  There are some gruesome parts including autopsies in both books, but the nature of Kisscut meant that it could be really stomach churning at times.  I like the characters and the writing and thriller aspects enough that I would read more by the same author.  Pretty solid modern horror thrillers with well written characters.  The identity of the killer in the first probably isn't too hard to guess.

John Le Carre - Call For The Dead First Le Carre book I've read and I quite enjoyed this cold war thriller involving his famous character of Smiley.  Fans of serious spy films like The Ipcress File (and the adpations of later Smiley novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) would enjoy it.

Robert Graysmith - Zodiac Unmasked I enjoyed this true crime book overall, but it would be warned to newcomers (and those coming to an interest in the subject through the excellent Fincher movie) to take Graysmith's claims with a pinch of salt and research other sources of information on the Zodiac killer.

Ramsey Campbell - The Face That Must Die I've enjoyed a short story by Ramsey Campbell before but this was the first novel of his I'd read.  Not quite what I expected.  The author's introduction is very interesting and honest about how he dealt with his own mother's mental problems.  The book was a bit hard to get into a lot of the time though, so much of it being from the point of view of a clearly deranged killer and only one sympathetic character in the book.  I don't think it's one I'd bother revisiting and made for dreary reading overall but others may like it.

John Skipp & Craig Spector - The Light At The End This was a book I'd read about in the 1980s and had wanted to check out, but only finally got to in 2011.  Not what I expected.  It's a Splatterpunk novel about a group of Manhattan misfits hunting a punk vampire in the subways of New York.  I was disappointed how some characters started off with potential and then got thrown away in the grand scheme of things and the lead vampire lacks menace and seems a bit pathetic overall.  Both the opening chapter and the long last night of events were pretty gripping though, but overall it was a bit uneven and didn't quite live up to the hype for me.

S. A. Hunter - Scary Mary A book I got very cheap on Kindle (or possibly even for free at the time).  Pretty throwaway stuff I suppose, but it's a pleasant enough modern horror read in a young adult style that should appeal to Buffy fans (I say 'should' because although I am very definitely a Buffy fan, I'm still probably older than the ideal target audience for this book and can't claim to speak for the typical fan or all of them).  It's about a goth girl who is unpopular in school and can sense and communicate with dead people and there's a fair bit of high school antics and humour along the way.  Nothing special or particularly original (there's a villain who might remind you a little of Freddy Kruger - at least that's my impression from memory) but I remember it being a fun enough quick read.

Guy N. Smith - Night of the Crabs The first book I downloaded onto my Kindle :D  I have a lot of nostalgia for Guy N. Smith books and others of the trashy horror type, as I used to see them on the book racks in supermarkets in the early 1980s and their covers used to fascinate me.  I even bought the sequel to this one Killer Crabs with pocket money as a child, although it was a few years later before I eventually read it properly.  That was the only N. Smith book I'd ever read though, until now.  This first Crabs novel was a pleasant enough read.  The crabs aren't used as much as I'd have expected and possibly old Guy was saving some stuff for the sequels.  It's a mixture of genteelness (a middle aged pipe smoking professor as the main character), people popping up just to be killed and a bit of sex on the beach.  Probably not as gory as later or similar offerings (and certainly not as much sex as I remember from Killer Crabs) but it's a pleasant enough slice of trashy nostalgic horror for those who can enjoy that sort of thing.

Arthur Conan Doyle - A Study in Scarlet
Arthur Conan Doyle - The Sign of Four
Edgar Wallace - The Four Just Men
Edgar Wallace - The Council of Justice
Alexandre Dumas - The Three Musketeers
Jane Austen - Emma (re-read)
Raymond Chandler - The Big Sleep (re-read)
Ann Radcliffe - The Mysteries of Udolpho (finished in 2012)

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