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2012–My Kindle Life in Review

Since moving over to Amazon, I have been reading quite a bit more than I have been blogging.  There’s good and bad to that, but the upside is that I have discovered many new authors, explored many new ideas, and have a seemingly endless supply of suggestions to the inquiry “what should I read next?”  During 2012 I did a great deal of reading, but also took advantage of Audible on my phone and Fire HD for my commutes to listen to some great books as well.  Here’s my 2012 reading list, approximately in the order completed during the year.  The grand total came out to 48 books inclusive of novels, graphic novels and audio books.  I put down 2 titles that I couldn’t finish.

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Quick Review: Nice throwback to pop culture and video games, but ultimately the story labored under the weight of a lack of a clear focus.  This felt like a child’s version of Reamde by Neal Stephenson.

 

Title: Wool – Book 1
Author:Hugh Howey
Rating: 3/5 stars
Quick Review: This book came recommended to me repeatedly on Amazon.  The first one was interesting, but…

 

Title: Wool – Book 2
Author: Hugh Howey
Rating: 2/5 stars
Quick Review: …I just don’t get it.  I read book 2 hoping that the story would progress and become more interesting.  Book 2 is a clear departure from the story arc in book 1, though you can see how they are related.  I am not sure I can find it in me to read book 3.  Each book seems to be longer than the last, and my interest wanes.

 

Title: John Carter
Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs
Rating: 3/5 stars
Quick Review: Interesting base premise, and I will give a nod for originality given the publish date.  The story doesn’t hold up as well as I would have thought, and the story telling is a bit choppy at times.  It felt like a slog to get through this one.

 

Title: The Mote in God’s Eye
Author: Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Quick Review: I did not grow up reading Niven or Pournelle, and discovered Pournelle via his many appearances on TWiT.  The story started very well, and captured my interest.  Once they were down on the planet surface (2/3 of the way through the book), the pacing and story telling fell apart.  I was disappointed with how hard it was to finish the book, but again, given the date of publishing, I give them both a huge nod, and look forward to starting Lucifer’s Hammer this year.

 

Title: Burning Entrepreneur
Author: Brad Feld
Rating: 4/5 stars
Quick Review: I will admit I am a sucker for business and entrepreneurship books.  Granted this is essentially a repackaging of posts from his blog, Brad does a good job of creating a set of themes and matching the posts to convey the point.

 

Title: Mastering Mountain Bike Skills
Author: Brian Lopes
Rating: 5/5 stars
Quick Review: Lopes is a legend, and does a very good job of communicating what is best learned by doing via the written word and pictures.  This book illuminated many bad habits I had picked up while riding and I have become much faster for having been able to process them.

 

Title: The Blade Itself
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Rating: 4/5 stars
Quick Review: I had never heard of Abercrombie before hearing his name used on the Sword and Laser podcast.  I picked up this book and loved it.  It’s a bit long, which is one reason it didn’t rate higher.  Than and the strange side love story.  The ending was unexpected and pretty awesome, and I look forward to reading book 2 – Before They Are Hanged – this year, as well as starting Red Country.

 

Title: The Mongoliad
Author: Greg Bear, Neal Stephenson, Mark Teppo, Erik Bear, Joseph Brassey, Cooper Moo, E.D. deBirmingham
Rating: 1/5 stars
Quick Review: I REALLY wanted to like this book.  I have read many of the titles by the list of authors.  My daughter is named for the protagonist in one of Greg Bear’s books.  But this book was just terrible, and one of the rare, rare few that I didn’t finish.  The story was belabored, uneven, and you could tell when the author switched.  It was very jarring to move through the narratives written by so many hands.

 

Title: Escape from Camp 14
Author: Blaine Harden
Rating: 5/5 stars
Quick Review: Wow.  That’s all I can say about the story recounted in this title.  The life of a child born into a labor camp in North Korea, and escaping…just wow.  Hard to imagine a life such as this, and makes me feel that much more grateful for the freedoms we do have.

 

Title: After Friday Night Lights
Author: Buzz Bissinger
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Quick Review: Great follow up to the original story.  Whenever I read historical retellings, I always wonder what became of those involved.  This is a harsh look at life after football for a fallen star with minimal life skills as a result of the high school football machine.

 

Title: Love Yourself
Author: Kamal Ravikant
Rating: 1/5/5 stars
Quick Review: I found this title via a blog post, and it was cheap enough that I decided to hear why Tim Ferris thought so much of the title.  Given my disdain for Ferris as an author and a self promoter, I should have known better.  Shame on me I guess.

 

Title: The Power of the Dog
Author: Don Winslow
Rating: 4/5 stars
Quick Review: I read this title after watching the movie Savages.  That movie was a pretty good story, but I felt like the book would likely have been better.  I didn’t want to read a book for a movie I had just watched, and this title was reviewed as the best Winslow title.  He’s a violent Elmore Leonard.  It’s a great story, though a bit overly drawn out and long.  The characters were very real and authentic.  Looking forward to reading more Winslow in the future.

 

Title: Batman – Earth One
Author: Gary Frank, Geoff Johns
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Quick Review: I really do like reading graphic novels, and this was a nice origin story brought to life.  I am not deep in the DC universe, so I don’t know how this one measures up, but I enjoyed it.

 

Title: Roadside Picnic
Author: Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Quick Review: Also discovered via the Sword and Laser podcast. What an incredible premise for a story, and I loved it.  There is no doubt in my mind that the translation loses something from the native Russian.  There were sequences where I could hear the authors voice and I heard Russian inflections in my head.  Great story.  Some things were a little hard to parse, and I resorted to a wiki page to make sure I was interpreting certain events correctly.  The only real issue is the ending which was just…odd.  Not Stephen King bad, just odd.

 

Title: Kill Decision
Author: Daniel Suarez
Rating: 4/5 stars
Quick Review: The story premise was an interesting one, but this was not as strong an effort as Daemon or Freedom.  Very unique and fresh ideas, but it felt like this one relied too much on technological whiz bangery than veering off into the “not there yet” level of technology to allow for a bit of escapism in the story.  It almost felt like Suarez was ready to be there by your side as you finished every chapter to say “heh? uh? pretty cool right??”

 

Title: Feed
Author: Mira Grant
Rating: 1/5 stars
Quick Review: Another one that I couldn’t finish.  The writing wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great.  The story wasn’t all together compelling either.  It was a narcissistic escapade masquerading as a zombie apocalypse story.  It just didn’t work.  Maybe it gets better in the back half, but I gave up on it.

 

Title: You Are An Ironman
Author: Jacques Steinberg
Rating: 3/5 stars
Quick Review: I tend to consume athletic related titles centered around my current interests.  For now, it’s triathlons.  I read three titles this year, and this was the weakest.  The premise was nice – follow every day joes as they venture toward completing an ironman, and I am sure this would be compelling reading for someone at that stage of their life.  I am beyond that part, so the stories about the accomplished racers hold more interest for me.

 

Title: Untitled: Thoughts on the Creative Process
Author: Blaine Hogan
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Quick Review: When I finished this book, I liked it more than I do now.  The reason?  None of it stuck with me.  I honestly can’t tell you much about the book.  I have a nice feeling inside me for having read it, but there wasn’t anything which is memorable beyond a month from reading the book.  That could be user error.

 

Title: The Frozen Sky
Author: Jeff Carlson
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Quick Review: I read the novella, not the full novel which is available today.  Unlike Kim Stanley Robinson, the use of harder science didn’t get in the way of enjoying the story.  I found it hard to conceptualize the environment and antagonists based on the material provided, but again, potential user error.  Good story.

 

Title: What America Was Really Like in 1776
Author: Thomas Fleming
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Quick Review: Was fun to read, but little things like math errors got in the way of my enjoyment of the title.  When basic math was wrong, it left me questioning the veracity of the content presented.

 

Title: The Passage
Author: Justin Cronin
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Quick Review: It felt like I was immersed in zombie apocalypse stories this year.  The Walking Dead (print and comics) probably contributed to that, but this felt like a very original take on the story.  Ultimately this is a tale of human survival and relationships, and the zombies (er, vampires) play a background role.  Great story.

 

Title: Makers: The New Industrial Revolution
Author: Chris Anderson
Rating: 4/5 stars
Quick Review: As far as business books go, this is a pretty good one.  It has information collected in a logical manner, presented as a nice narrative, and ultimately compels the reader to go learn more.  My one major takeaway from this book was that I don’t know how to “make” anything.  I was inspired.  I plan to spend time in 2013 learning about 3-d printing and exploring some ideas I have had on the back burner for a while.

 

Title: The Twelve
Author: Justin Cronin
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Quick Review: The sophomore jinx is a tough one, and it appears to have bitten Cronin on this effort in this trilogy.  I wanted to care about how this one ended, but it felt like the story got away from him in the way books 4 and 5 got away from George RR Martin.  The editors need to do their jobs.  Had you asked me after “The Passage” if I would finish the trilogy, my answer would have been a resounding YES, but now I am not so certain.  I guess we’ll see what’s on my plate when it comes out.

 

Title: The Walking Dead
Author: Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Quick Review: Book 17 was a bit jarring, and I liked it.  In truth, I have read the hardcover books 1-7 and the trade paperbacks books 15-17 this year.  I love how the show is just different enough from the books.  The story telling is always solid, though I am beginning to get fatigue from what seems like the same trope of “discover someone new, don’t trust anyone, something bad happens, wash rinse repeat.”  Like the end of season 2 of Jericoh, I would like to see the real world get reintroduced to this world in some form or fashion.

 

Title: Justice League Dark
Author: Peter Milligan, Mikel Janin, Ryan Sook
Rating: 1.5/5 stars
Quick Review: Again, not a big DC Universe guy, but this one failed to capture my interest in any meaningful way.  I finished it, but I can’t tell you why.

 

I'm Here to Win: A World Champion's Advice for Peak Performance | [Chris McCormack, Tim Vandehey] Title: I’m Here to Win
Author: Chris McCormack
Rating: 4/5 stars
Quick Review: What I love about athlete auto-biographies is that you can learn so much more about their beginnings and their private lives.  Sometimes that is fulfilling and interesting, and sometimes not.  In the case of Macca, it was worth it.  I knew he was accomplished as a racer, but had no idea how much he dominated other races, and distances.  This book did quite a bit more to humanize him than the nonsense he allows to represent himself when he is on camera or in front of a microphone.

 

A Life Without Limits: A World Champion's Journey | [Chrissie Wellington, Lance Armstrong (foreward)] Title: A Life Without Limits
Author: Chrissie Wellington
Rating: 5/5 stars
Quick Review: What makes this story so compelling is how much more there was to Chrissie’s life before she leapt on the scene as a triathlete.  He on course exploits are very well covered, but again, I appreciate the humanizing of heroes, and learning about her diplomatic work ahead of her life as a triathlete, plus her world travels, was both eye opening and inspiring.

 

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World | [Jack Weatherford] Title: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
Author: Jack Weatherford
Rating: 4/5 stars
Quick Review: I got sucked into the history of Genghis Khan through the fictionalized accounts of his life by Conn Iggulden, starting with Genghis: Birth of an Empire.  The historical fiction was nice, but this was a very detailed, and historically accurate, recount of the life of Genghis.  You can tell that there was tons of research effort which went into this title.

 

Cloud Atlas | [David Mitchell] Title: Cloud Atlas
Author: David Mitchell
Rating: 4/5 stars
Quick Review: This is one of those books that you talk about for weeks after finishing to find out a) if other people have read it, and b) if they are as annoyed by parts of it as you are.  Mitchell does a pretty reasonable job of weaving many seemingly disparate stories into one volume, but it does feel a bit self-indulgent at times.  Having listened to this title on Audible, I give full marks to the talent, as the recreation as a performance was sublime, and the only reason this title scored as it did.

 

14 | [Peter Clines] Title: 14
Author: Peter Clines
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Quick Review: Not a particularly challenging title, but a fun, interesting, and novel storyline.  Though, at the end the story most definitely wanders into crazy town and you really have to suspend your disbelief if you want to finish the book.

 

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running: A Memoir | [Haruki Murakami] Title: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Author: Haruki Murakami
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Quick Review: A novelist writing about sports can be amazing or a disaster.  This trended toward amazing.  What will stick with me most about this book is not the discussions about running, but rather some of the more insightful comments about what motivates runners (and triathletes) to keep doing what others would consider crazy.  My favorite quote was that “it takes a very healthy body to maintain a sick soul.”  Yes, there is a sense of sickness to some of the things I do with my body, so I can relate.

 

Old Man's War | [John Scalzi] Title: Old Man’s War
Author: John Scalzi
Rating: 4/5 stars
Quick Review: I keep hearing Scalzi’s name.  He seems to be everywhere these days.  While I slog through Red Shirts, I wanted to give Scalzi a chance at pre-redemption.  This story has done quite a bit more to capture my attention and interest than he has done thus far with Red Shirts.  I appreciate that he attempts to tackle challenging social issues combined with a post-industrial neo-colonialism.

 

Saga, Vol. 1 Title: Saga
Author: Brian K. Vaughn, Fiona Staples
Rating: 4/5 stars
Quick Review: After reading Y: The Last Man, I eagerly awaited a next opportunity to read anything from Vaughn.  If you haven’t read that whole series, stop what you are doing right now and order it.  It’s great story telling with a beginning a middle and an end.  Something Robert Kirkman could learn.  Pride of Badhdad left me wanting in a major way, so when I heard about Saga, I was hoping for the best.  The first trade paperback was interesting and compelling, and I await the opportunity to read book 2.

 

The Rape of Nanking | [Iris Chang] Title: Rape of Nanking
Author: Iris Chang
Rating: 4/5 stars
Quick Review: Fascinating historical context of unspeakable crimes.  As a student in America, there are many pieces of history which are simply missing from our school system.  As I have aged, I have found history, from the points of view of other countries and cultures, to be of endless intrigue.

 

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business | [Charles Duhigg] Title: The Power of Habit
Author: Charles Duhigg
Rating: 5/5 stars
Quick Review: I was a bit surprised that what seemed like a pop-psychology book masquerading as a business book would make it so high on my list of reads for the year, but this was an eye opening book for me.  I found the use of examples from work to Olympic swimmers to be incredibly informative.  Most importantly, I have utilized information I gathered from my first read and have had a substantial impact on my life in one very small way – getting up and working out early in the morning.  For me to hit my goals, with the kids, wife, and my full time job all competing for time, I needed to change my habits.  I did, in very short order, with substantially positive results.

 

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption | [Laura Hillenbrand] Title: Unbroken
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Quick Review: I loved the book Seabiscut when it came out.  The story came alive, and Laura Hillenbrand demonstrated her talents for constructing a narrative of past events, allowing the reader to relive them as if they were there.  She continued this with Unbroken, an amazing tale of survival and hardship of a WWII bomber crew.  Simply incredible.

 

Tigana | [Guy Gavriel Kay] Title: Tigana
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Rating: 1.5/5 stars
Quick Review: This is one that I could not finish.  I was listening to it on Audible, and want to think that perhaps the strange names and places, when spoken, didn’t translate in a way that would allow me to keep track of who was who and where the characters were.  Ultimately, I cared little for the characters or their tale, which is disappointing because this came so highly recommended.  I may come back to it, as it wasn’t terrible, but I just gave up on it because of it’s length, and how little it was interesting me given the amount of time I had already put into it.

 

Green Mars | [Kim Stanley Robinson] Title: Green Mars
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Quick Review: For whatever reason, Robinson is one of those authors that I feel like I have to read, and that I feel like I have to like, though I can’t explain why.  His writing is super super hard science fiction.  HARD science fiction.  So hard that it can get in the way of the story.  In the case of his Mars trilogy (I read the first one a decade ago), it’s a series of short stories pulled together into a cohesive narrative.  Unfortunately, this one just went on and on and on.  I finished it, but had no desire to move on to Blue Mars.

 

Steve Jobs | [Walter Isaacson] Title: Steve Jobs
Author: Walter Isaacson
Rating: 4/5 stars
Quick Review: The book is amazing.  An incredible account of one of my industry’s leading lights.  Isaacson does a masterful job of story telling, pacing, character building, and leading the reader on a journey.  Sadly, what I couldn’t get past was what a complete and utter asshole Jobs comes off as.  There, I said it.  None of the reviews I read (though I didn’t read many) hit on this fact.  Perhaps it’s the whole respect of the dead thing, but there was plenty of ink about how difficult Jobs was before he died.  I had always just attributed that to a challenging visionary.  This book paints a picture of a manic, controlling, manipulative malcontent.  I am in shock that anyone ever agreed to work with this person based on his behaviors.  Collective cognitive dissonance can be a powerful thing I guess.

 

Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told about the Economy Is Wrong | [Edward Conard] Title: Unintended Consequences
Author: Edward Conard
Rating: 3/5 stars
Quick Review: An ultimately forgettable economics book which tries to follow in the footsteps blazed by Freakanomics.  Maybe it’s because my schooling and work background makes the content of the book a bit pedestrian, but I wasn’t challenged by the content.  Unlike The Big Short by Lewis, it lacks characters upon which the story is built, which made covering a known corpus of content all the more interesting because of the players involved.

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More Stories By Brandon Watson

Brandon Watson is Director for Windows Phone 7. He specifically focuses on developers and the developer platform. He rejoined Microsoft in 2008 after nearly a decade on Wall Street and running successful start-ups. He has both an engineering degree and an economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as an MBA from The Wharton School of Business, and blogs at www.manyniches.com.

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