Books Read: 2018

December 31st, 2018

Using my (now aged) Kindle, I do a fair bit of reading. For some reason, whenever I finish a book I put it into a folder on my Kindle named for the current year. These folders exist only on the Kindle itself, so I thought I might start to keep track of them here on the blog.

At the end of 2017 I was reading a lot of memoirs of people who moved into the wilderness, both in recent years and in centuries past. That continued into 2018 and the first book I read was:

Winds of Skilak, by Bonnie Ward
This was an excellent book, written by Bonnie, about her and her husband’s journey leaving Ohio and moving to an isolated island on Skilak Lake in Alaska. Her section on driving their jeep across the melting lake was a real nail biter!

Next, I read a book I received as a gift, Chernobyl 01:23:40: The Incredible True Story of the World’s Worst Nuclear Disaster. I’ve always been facinated by the story of the nuclear disaster but I had never read too deeply into it. I really enjoyed this book, which feels more honest and unbiased than much of the reading I had done to date. It was a fast read and did a nice job explaining what happened, both on a human and scientific level, without loosing me in the finer points of nuclear power generation.

After that it was back to a number of few more ‘moving to the wilderness’ memoirs.

First was Our Life Off the Grid: An Urban Couple Goes Feral. This was a great, very pragmatic, story about a Canadian couple that left the city to live on island in coastal western Canada. This couple chooses a harder life than most, but they had far more neighbors than many of the stories I had read. It was very well written and far less stoic than some of the others I read that were written by men.

Then I read Arctic Homestead: The True Story of One Family’s Survival and Courage in the Alaskan Wilds. This one was enjoyable, though it contained a couple of sections that I found completely unbelievable. This was written by the wife and mother of the family and much of it read like she was trying to keep life happening as usual while her husband spent his time making rash or short sighted decisions that had consequences for the family down the road. Without reading both sides of the story its hard to be sure just where the truth lies…

Next I read a book about the Appalachian trail called A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. I enjoyed the book, and the more diary-ed approach to his writing. It was a journey in multiple parts and it was great to hear about the situations and people. Many of the themes he touched on resurfaced in other books I read on the topic.

I then wanted to do a bit more reading about other trails here in my home state, New Hampshire. I decided to read Not Without Peril, Tenth Anniversary Edition: 150 Years of Misadventure on the Presidential Range of New Hampshire. To be frank, I did not enjoy this one. For someone who isn’t a hiker, or needs a graphic warning about the dangers of being unprepared and uninformed, it would be an important read. But, for me, it simply read like an unending string of people who made bad choices reaching the end of their life on the side of a mountain, or coming very close.

I decided to then read another story of someone walking the Appalachian trail, called Becoming Odyssa : Adventures on the Appalachian Trail. This was excellent. It’s written similarly to the previous book on the trail, but from the point of view of a young woman who chose to hike it more or less on her own. It was great to read about her journey and perseverance.

Next, it was time for a change of pace and I read Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years of Lockheed, which was an excellent book about the history of Lookheed Martin’s Skunk Works division but someone who was there during it’s heyday. Since I was very young I used to love the aircraft they designed, especially the SR-71, and I really enjoyed hearing about those years at the company.

Next up was quite a short book about life atop Mount Washington written by a scientist living in the observatory for a year called Among the Clouds: Work, Wit & Wild Weather at the Mount Washington Observatory I read this very quickly and wished it had been much, much longer!

Having finished that book, touching on weather, I then read a book about a hurricane that struck Texas in 1900 called Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History. This book was truly fascinating. It goes into meteorology at the turn of the century, and how that data was used (or not…). Beyond the actual story of the storm and those involved, it was incredible to see how people were interacting with each other. Husbands, in suicidal hubris, telling their wives to stop worrying about nothing and get back to baking, when in fact they should have fled the area. Impactful for sure.

After the previous book, I needed something a bit lighter and I dug into Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Apparently, this was her first novel and introduced to the world Hercule Poirot. I’ve long loved reading murder mysteries and this was the first of many.

First though, I read a book given to me as a gift: To the Edges of the Earth: 1909, the Race for the Three Poles, and the Climax of the Age of Exploration. This was a real slog. It was given to me in hardcover, which is Ok, though I do prefer to read on the Kindle. The book is actually pretty good, but the writing style differed greatly from my preference. I am comically bad at recalling which character is which in books (and TV shows, Movies…) and this book is written interweaving three stories about three groups trying to summit Mount Everest and reach the two poles. Had it been written in three parts, I’d have loved it but it kept switching from group to group and I could never tell who was were. Very interesting material, and I’m glad I read it… but it was slow going for me. I was reading a book every 10 days or so, but this one took me months!

After that, it was surely time to enjoy reading again! We were going on a bit of break and I wanted to fill up my Kindle with a few, light, stories to enjoy while away. I did a search for Agatha Christie’s book and snagged Dead Man’s Mirror: A Hercule Poirot Story, The Affair at the Bungalow: A Miss Marple Story, Problem at Sea: A Hercule Poirot Story, and The Witness for the Prosecution. I basically sorted by best reviews, filtered for $0.99 books and bought the top 6. I enjoyed them all but there was an interloper.

The final book of the bunch, and no doubt an advertisement Amazon slipped past me, was a book by Faith Martin called MURDER ON THE OXFORD CANAL a gripping crime mystery full of twists. I really enjoyed this book, which was a bit meatier than the Christie’s, and I then went nuts and read 11 more in the series. They all follow a DS in Oxford, England as she solved murders. They are light reading and a bit predictable in form, but I enjoyed them. The actual murder investigation is always interesting and there is a good bit of procedural detail in them. Additionally, she weaves in extra story lines with the book’s primary characters to create a larger story arc that takes place across three or four books. Each book had one such story line coming to a close, while others were percolating away. It was these extra details that kept me reaching for the next book. I read the following:

1. A Narrow Escape (2004)
aka Murder on the Oxford Canal
2. On the Straight and Narrow (2005)
aka Murder at the University
3. Narrow Is the Way (2006)
aka Murder of the Bride
4. By a Narrow Majority (2006)
aka Murder in the Village
5. Through a Narrow Door (2007)
aka Murder in the Family
6. With a Narrow Blade (2007)
aka Murder at Home
7. Beside a Narrow Stream (2008)
aka Murder in the Meadow
8. Down a Narrow Path (2008)
aka Murder in a Mansion
9. Across the Narrow Blue Line (2009)
aka Murder in the Garden
10. A Narrow Point of View (2010)
aka Murder by Fire
11. A Narrow Exit (2011)
aka Murder at Work
12. A Narrow Return (2012)
aka Murder Never Retires

There are a few more yet in the series, which I may get to next year, but I’ve put them to one side for the moment and have started reading some more varied murder mysteries.

I read a pretty good mix of fiction and non-fiction this past year, which was a surprise to me. Until the second half of 2017 I’m not sure I’ve ever sat down and read a non-fiction book for pleasure before. We shall see what 2019 holds. If I have the time, I’ll try to post monthly about my reading through the year. That being said, if I end up bingeing on one author’s collected murder mysteries perhaps a more broad digest is best…

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