Booked Up

Five Great Books I Meant To Review

A farewell to my readers, with five must-read books of 2014.

By - Dec 30th, 2014 10:44 am
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

This is my last regular book column for Urban Milwaukee Dial. I have enjoyed the experience immensely, but would like to leave the weekly grind behind. I will continue to post occasional reviews on my “Booked Up” page on Facebook. Please feel free to follow me there or register for my e-mails.

I am grateful to Bruce and Dave of Urban Milwaukee for the opportunity to write about books I love. I am also thankful for the many supportive readers who gave such excellent feedback; especially Richard Runkel, Christina Zawadiwsky, Betsy Blair, Mimi Czarnik, Jon Little, and Carole Barrowman. You and the many other readers unknown to me are my inspiration when picking the books I recommend.

2014 has been an exceptional year for good writing, but as I have come to believe, we live in a golden age of good writing and brilliant writers. As the end of the year approaches, here are five wonderful books I read that will be my final recommendations to you:

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James is a brutal cultural and criminal recreation of Jamaican life as seen from the bottom up. Centering on the craziness that surrounded a failed assassination of Bob Marley in 1976, this book is a poetic elegy to the troubled island nation told by the dead and dying. As many readers have noted, Mr. James’ language is so arresting that you may stop people on the street to read from this book!

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters is a mesmerizing and sensual novel set in 1920’s London. A widow, Mrs. Wray, and her daughter Frances are forced to take in boarders to make ends meet. Their ill-fated paying guests are the Barbers, a couple who bring danger and excitement into the staid household. There is a love affair, a murder, and enough complications to keep you reading non-stop. Readers may remember Ms. Waters’ Fingersmith. I enjoyed this novel even more!

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan is this year’s winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. One reviewer called it the Australian War and Peace. It is a brutal and romantic exploration of truth and suffering in all their guises. The hero, an Army surgeon, Dorrigo Jones, is a prisoner in a Japanese POW camp. While more than a story of wartime survival, the book deals with cruelty in a way that may haunt readers for years.

Lovely, Dark, Deep, by Joyce Carol Oates, is this master storyteller’s newest collection of short fiction. While there are two opposing camps when it comes to Ms. Oates’ multitudinous novels, there is near unanimity when it comes to praise of her short stories. I first started reading them in the 1960’s and found myself just as engrossed with this new offering. Often sad, macabre, darkly humorous, and always memorable, this is a great book to dip into periodically, before you start the next big novel.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell has to be the most ambitious novel I’ve read this year. If you know his previous Cloud Atlas, (made into a popular film) you will have some inkling of the complex and challenging territory here. Holly Sykes is a young girl who hears voices. Those voices make her very valuable and place her at the center of a secret war that travels through time and space. From the past (Holly can channel memories of the long-dead) to the future she is able to foresee (and which could change if she  disappears), Mitchell uses the universe as a canvas to experiment with the future of storytelling. The pieces explode and come back together in new permutations, each one more fascinating than the next. This is a difficult, but deeply rewarding book.

I also have All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber on my shelf, but have not yet finished them. From what I’ve heard, they are both worth your time and consideration.

2015 appears to be another stellar year for good books. Please go to your local, independent bookseller and ask for recommendations. And support the Milwaukee County Library System, without whose help I could not have read so many new books so quickly. We are blessed to be readers in a city where books are appreciated. Spread the word and happy New Year to one and all!

Upcoming Book Events:

Tuesday, December 30 (7:00 PM): John C. Eastberg, local author of Pabst Farms: The History of a Model Farm, at Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee. (414) 332-1181

Tuesday, January 6 (7:00 PM): Local author David Mulroy, translator of Oedipus at Colonus, written by Sophocles, at Boswell Book Company.

Send your book club picks and author event information to

0 thoughts on “Booked Up: Five Great Books I Meant To Review”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for all the great reviews and essays Bill. How will I select next year’s books?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for all your wonderful recommendations and insights.
    You will be missed!

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