Best Books of 2004

This was my year for escapist, fun fiction. I had too much stress in my life to handle anything too deep but I’m sure that will change (soon I hope.) Meanwhile, fiction first – alphabetically by author. And I couldn’t keep it to the arbitrary 10, sorry.

FICTION
The Enemy by Lee Child
: This may be the pinnacle of a wonderful series. Child, a British writer, brings ex-U.S. military loner Jack Reacher to life, and in this book we finally learn his back story. A perfect place to start this series if you haven’t yet, and a wonderful place to wait for the next.

The Narrows by Michael Connelly:  The detective series master. How he takes a character that’s been around as long as Harry Bosch yet makes each book more compelling than the last is truly amazing. Flawless plotting, crisp writing and an endearing, enduring, though damaged character.

Jury of One by David Ellis:  Ellis is definitely one of the great undiscovereds and I don’t know why. This is his third book and the third time he’s been on my favorites list. He writes really well plotted legal thrillers built around an ordinary guy in extraordinary circumstances with plenty of twists yet somehow makes it all totally believable – no easy feat, believe me.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: I must have had this book in my to-be-read pile for more than a year. I kept picking it up and putting it down – it had great reviews and everyone I knew who read it loved it, but I would look at the flyleaf and think, do I really want to read a book about a hermaphrodite? I finally did, and it was terrific – think dysfunctional family saga taken to the next level with lots of laughs and lots of angst. Great reading.

Paranoia by Joseph Finder: Another ordinary guy in extraordinary circumstances, this time in a corporate espionage thriller with a terrific ending. Movie in the works.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: I can’t say enough about this book – it was a truly amazing first novel, and the kind of book that will stay with me for a very long time.

Whiskey Sour by J. A. Konrath:  A first novel in a darkly comic new police series. Lt. Jack (Jacquelyn) Daniels deals with a serial killer – this is definitely a good start.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsey: Another first novel about a serial killer, but told from an unusual point of view – that of the serial killer. We crawl inside the mind of the very creepy Dexter but somehow we root for him to get away with it. First of a series.

Bury the Lead by David Rosenfelt: Another annual placeholder on my favorites list. Rosenfelt has great characters, lots of laughs and enough suspense to keep the pages turning. And how can you resist the best golden retriever in the world?

The Confession by Sheldon Siegel: This latest installment in the Mike Daley/Rosie Fernandez series is just as good as the last, and the first – hell, they are all terrific. Another great story set in San Francisco – Siegel brings the city to life, the good and the bad, not to mention Mike and Rosie – I love these people! Courtroom scenes haven’t been this well written and fun since Perry Mason.

Live Bait by P. J. Tracy: Second novels have a lot of pressure when they follow one as terrific as Monkeewrench, but these ladies do not disappoint. Another winner from this mother/daughter writing team, this time dealing with a Holocaust theme.

The Godfather Returns by Mark Winegardner:  I was prepared to hate this book because I loved the original book and the first two films are among my favorites, but Winegardner surprised me. He did a good job, he didn’t change anything and he filled in some gaps in the story. It did jump around a bit but so did the original. In fact, the style was reminiscent of Puzo and for that, he makes my list.

NONFICTION
Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond
: A book about chocolate, what could be more delicious than that!

What’s the Matter with Kansas by Thomas Frank: This book helped me understand some of what is going on politically in this country that appears to be so divided with red states and blue states. Frank picked one, figured it out and helped explain it to the rest of us.

America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction by Jon Stewart:  This book made me laugh during the worst of the election year while somehow also being thought provoking. Kudos.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss: Truss has given me the confidence to approach the singing ice cream scoopers at Cold Stone Creamery and inform them that “cinnamon” has two N’s in it, without feeling obnoxious in the process.

Confessions of a Tax Collector: One Man’s Tour of Duty Inside the IRS by Richard Yancy: Scary yet fascinating and at times laugh out loud funny look at how our government gets its money from the citizens who don’t feel like paying up.

Geoff’s 2004 Favorite Books
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there were a lot of books I liked this year. In particular, I explored some old and new Irish authors, many of which I was not familiar with. Ultimately, none of them made the cut, but this is a pretty arbitrary list and I probably could have stretched it to 50 or even a hundred books. 

1. Gilead – Marilynne Robinson

Simply put, the finest work of fiction I read this year. The moving story and reflections of a dying minister told in the form of a letter to his son.

2. The Narrows – Michael Connelly

The master of American crime fiction at the top of his form. No one combines metaphor and gritty reality in the compelling fashion that Mr. Connelly does.

3. When I Was Cool – Sam Kashner

The story of the author’s experiences as a young man who is the first student at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Life with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs (father and son), Gregory Corso and others. Just plain fun.

4.The Price of Loyalty – Ron Suskind

Not fun. Paul O’Neill discusses his tenure as Secretary of the Treasury. A chilling insight into the complete absence of any coherent or rational policy-making at the highest levels of our government.

5. Hard Revolution – George Pelacanos

Meanwhile, in the other Washington, D.C., things are going to hell. Fast. Hard-nosed crime fiction.

6. Queen of the South – Arturo Perez-Reverte

Like the male heroes in his other novels, Teresa Mendoza lives by a particular code of her own, formed by her work which has become her life. In this case, rising to become Queen of the narco-traffickers.

7. Danger on the Peaks – Gary Snyder

Like Robinson, poet Snyder has been storing up his words for some time. In both cases, the wait was worth it.

8. The Story of Bill W – Susan Cheever

The life of the co-founder of AA. I should note that I read some other wonderful biographies this year also. Wrapped in Rainbows, the story of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd is superb and very readable. Khrushchev by William Taubman is scholarly, complete and interesting.

9. Surrogate Thief – Archer Mayor

Staying comfortably within his regional mystery form, Mayor continues to grow and his stories get better and better. It worked for Robert Frost, didn’t it?

10. Absolute Friends – John Le Carre

Just as he was vigilant and dubious about the activities government’s undertook in the fight against communism, Le Carre brings an equally brilliant searchlight to current actions being performed in the name of the “war against terrorism.” Far more than a buddy story.

    I would also like to express my thanks for the reissue of two of my old favorites – Charles Willeford’s Hoke Mosely stories and the novels of Ross Thomas (my personal favorite – Missionary Stew).

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