That's right! It's time for my 8th annual Patty Awards for the best books I've read this past year. The red carpet has been rolled out. Everyone is here at the Shriner Auditorium in Los Angeles. All the big stars can be found including: Gabe Kaplan of "Welcome Back Kotter" fame. Is that Robbie Benson and Adam Rich smoking cigars next to Don Rickles? Hey look! There's the Latin Rapper Rico Suave! It's a star-studded gala folks so let the action begin.
#10 Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boule (274 pages)
A surprisingly funny, fast-moving, sophisticated, and deeply ironic sci-fi novel about American Astronauts who end up on a planet where humans are primitive and Apes rule everything. It's a very clever book and a fast read.
#9 Wool by Hugh Howley (550 pages)
It is sometime in a post-apocalyptic future and the only human survivors on Planet Earth live in a large, underground silo. The roles are strict, everyone knows their place, and no one dares venture outside of the silo to the destroyed world. Better than "The World Inside" which I also read this year about an over-populated world where everyone on Earth is confined to living in 900 story high-rise buildings.
#8 Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate by Robert D. Kaplan (448 pages)
My favorite home-doggy-dogg Robert Kaplan writes about the power of geography to determine the fates of nations. It's all about geo-politics past and present.
#7 The Kingdom of Childhood by Rebecca Coleman (347 pages on Kindle)
An American girl raised in Bavaria becomes a high school teacher and has a good, suburban life. What would possess her to throw it all away for a boy in her school? Coleman has a smooth writing style that keeps the story moving quickly.
#6 Falling into the Fire: A Psychiatrist's Encounters with the Mind in Crisis by Christine Montross (257 pages on Kindle)
A psychiatrist shares about cases that she has been involved in that deal with abnormal psychology. The challenges people face are shocking, and the moral questions that doctors and health care professionals have to deal with leaves your mind-boggling. This would be an excellent book for anyone considering going into psychiatry, mental health, or choosing psychology as a major in college.
#5 The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Sheppard (368 on Kindle)
A gay screenwriter trying to make a film about Matthew Sheppard's life, runs into all kinds of inconsistencies in the well-known story of a gay Laramie Wyoming boy who was bullied, crucified on a fence, and murdered. Well-researched, what emerges is a story of three young men that not only knew each other, but worked very closely together in the crystal meth trade in and out of Laramie. It's a story of lost, small-town youth turning to drugs, alcohol, and sex to ease their pain.
#4 Paterno by Joe Posnanski (416 pages)
A biography of one of college football's most celebrated coaches who also experienced one of the quickest falls from grace after it was revealed his assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had been molesting children for years. The portrait that emerges of Paterno is that of a nice, hard-working, sheltered, naive man from a different era who knew nothing in life but football. That tunnel vision would ultimately lead to his downfall.
#3: Waiting to Be Heard: A Memoir by Amanda Knox (480 pages)
Yes, I think she's innocent. Amanda Knox a teenager from Seattle hopes to spend a year studying Italian in Perugia, Italy and ends up in prison accused of the murder of her roommate. She obviously contends that she is innocent. A very naive young girl, she is easily man-handled by the Italian justice system; their incompetence having been exposed in another book about an unsolved Italian crime that made my list 3 years ago entitled the "Monster of Florence," which features some of the same inept, bullying prosecutors that Amanda faced. Her life is pretty wrecked no matter what, and the real murderer is either an African also charged and currently in prison (most-likely) or is still on the loose.
#2: Robert F. Kennedy: His Life by Evan Thomas (512 pages)
I've read a lot of JFK bios, but was ready to read a book exclusively on RFK. Evan Thomas writes history as it should be written--in a highly, readable way. Just how distant the two brothers were from each other until the Cuban Missile Crisis is a surprise, as is the fact that RFK was a late-bloomer as far as his intelligence. It's a very balanced portrait neither idealizing him, nor throwing him under the bus.
#1: Fall of Giants (Book 1 in the Century Trilogy) by Ken Follet (960 pages)
Part one of a three part series spanning much of the 20th Century, Fall of Giants takes place mostly around the time of World War I. For those Downton Abbey fans, the book will be very rewarding as it sheds more light on the Britain Downton Abbey covers. Following the lives of different families: Russian, Welch, English, German, and American, the book spans the globe and looks at World War I from all different angles. The characters are fun, the action is exciting, and you learn a lot of the world back then. Follet can have a few too many coincidences, but it makes these multi-character books highly readable. He reminds the reader who is who and what is what often, so you never feel lost even if you have to put the book down. It's a cracking novel and I couldn't put it down. I'm currently reading Part II. Part III is due out later in 2014.
Winter's Bone: Meth addiction destroys the residents of the rural Ozarks in Missouri. The movie is great too. Jennifer Lawrence's performance is mind-blowing.
The Last Man in Russia: An Englishman re-traces the steps of a Russian Orthodox Priest that stood up to the Soviet Union's leadership in the 70's and 80's.
Christ Stopped at Eboli: A memoir of a man's 1 year spent in the 1940's living in the backwaters of Southern Italy in a village that is deeply primitive and superstitious.
In the Pleasure Groove: John Taylor, bassist for Duran Duran, writes about his love of music and his experiences in Duran Duran and struggling with sobriety.
Okay folks. That's it! Congratulations to Ken Follet who will be receiving his Patty award in the mail. I'm sure he's thrilled.
Coming up in 2014: a central American journalist covers the Mexican drug wars, Philip Yancey on "the Question That Never Goes Away," the battle of Stalingrad, a pilot's recollections of all his near disasters, a new biography on Karl Marx, Francis Fukuyama on the history of the world's political order, part II of Ken Follet's Century Trilogy, and a novel about the colonization of Mars.