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Book-blog's best reads of 2006


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It's not quite the end of 2006, but given my slowed reading times this last week--due primarily to moving into a new computer--there's a good chance that I'm not going to read any more five-star books before the new year. Here, then, is my annual best reads list, the best books that I read this year, whatever their publication date may be, with links to the complete reviews.

Locked Doors: A Thriller
by Blake Crouch

In Blake Crouch's riveting debut novel Desert Places his protagonist, suspense novelist Andrew Thomas, is framed for a series of gruesome murders committed by a pair of psychopaths. The physical evidence against Andrew is too strong for him to come forward and explain himself to the authorities. Thus Crouch's sequel to Desert Places, the equally compelling Locked Doors, finds Andrew hiding from civilization seven years after the murders in a remote cabin in the Yukon. Well-written, heart-thumpingly exciting, and nearly perfect in its execution, Locked Doors is definitely a worthy successor to Desert Places. It is in fact a little easier to enjoy than its predecessor, which was so steeped in gore as to almost be unpalatable. There is more room this time around to breathe between eviscerations and hanging carcasses. But it'll still scare the pants off you. (Read the complete review.)

Pursuit: An Inspector Espinosa Mystery
by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza

The fifth installment in Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza's Inspector Espinosa series finds the chief of Rio de Janeiro's 12th precinct looking into the case of a certain Dr. Nesse, a psychiatrist, who believes he is being stalked by one of his patients, an enigmatic young man who calls himself Jonah. There is indeed something menacing about Jonah's behavior, despite that his actions are ostensibly innocent. But as the story progresses the situation becomes increasingly ambiguous: is Jonah as bad as we're led to believe, or is the psychiatrist a paranoid? As Jonah says at one point in the story regarding his own behavior, "As you can see, the facts are the same, but the meaning is different." Interpretation is everything. The levels of possibility in the novel make for a delicious read. (Read the complete review.)

Company Man
by Joseph Finder

CEO Nick Conover has problems enough at the outset of Joseph Finder's Company Man, but in the course of this page-turner things get infinitely worse. Nick comes to realize that the people he's trusted at work are conspiring against the company. And he learns that though his family's house is ensconced behind the reassuring walls of a gated community, he and his children are anything but safe. Company Man, Finder's sixth novel, is a simply riveting read. The author masterfully ratchets up the tension, forcing his good-guy protagonist--a flawed but inherently decent Every Man, albeit richer than most--into a corner from which no escape seems possible. It's a superbly wrought thriller, played out among the cubicles of corporate America. (Read the complete review.)

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell's Blink is about decision making, in particular about making decisions on the spur of the moment. Gladwell's contention is that, however counterintuitive it may be, snap decisions are very often superior to those resulting from long hours of thought and research. The book is a simply fascinating read, studded with little mysteries--about military strategy and emergency rooms and Warren Harding and the Pepsi Challenge and innumerable other topics--that will keep readers glued to the page. Blink is also well researched and well argued and--and I don't say this lightly--stylistically flawless. This is nonfiction at its best.  (Read the complete review.)

Plague Maker
by Tim Downs

FBI agent Nathan Donovan is investigating a recent murder, the scene noteworthy for the vast numbers of exterminated fleas found on and around the victim. The crime, it turns out, may be related to World War II-era germ warfare experimentation--the Mengele-esque work of Japan's infamous Unit 731. Downs's story of a post-9/11 terror attack on New York is gripping and all too believable--at least to this average reader who is unfamiliar with the logistical difficulties inherent in breeding fleas and weaponizing the bubonic plague. The book is also studded with engaging dialogue and some superb descriptive passages. Plague Maker a ripping good story that you'll stay up too late to finish.  (Read the complete review.)

The Vanishing Point
by Mary Sharratt

In The Vanishing Point Mary Sharratt tells the story of two sisters, May and Hannah Powers, beginning in 1689, when May ships off across the Atlantic to marry a stranger in the wilderness of the American Chesapeake. Sharratt's book is an example of historical fiction at its finest. Though it wears its scholarship lightly, the book is clearly the product of a great deal of research: it is awash in details of the impossibly difficult lives people led during the period. One is transported in the reading to the verdant Maryland wilderness, loud with animal noises and buzzing insects. The story is suffused, too, with a quiet dread that keeps one turning the pages, worried about what Sharratt's characters have done to one another, what they will have done to one another by the book's end.  (Read the complete review.)

The Ruins
by Scott Smith

Four Americans vacationing in the Yucatan take a trip to an archaeological dig and discover that once you leave the tourist areas behind, Mexico can get very dangerous very fast. There are no chapters in Smith's book, which is just as well: turning the page to start a new chapter would just slow down your reading. The book is scary as hell, with a villain that is, once you put the book aside and start to think about it, frankly ridiculous, but that doesn't matter either: the book is frightening enough, the plot compelling enough to keep you reading. In a sense also, the identity of the villain doesn't matter. The Ruins is really a long character study, its well-developed protagonists, isolated from the rest of the world, put under duress and under a magnifying glass. What happens to someone, the question is, when he's subjected to fear and stress?  (Read the complete review.)

One Day the Ice Will Reveal All Its Dead
by Clare Dudman

Clare Dudman's first novel for adults takes the form of a series of vignettes strung bead-like from the memory of her subject, German scientist Alfred Wegener (1880-1930), whose theory of Continental Drift was derided during his lifetime. Dudman has managed to blend the various aspects of Wegener the man--the scientist and explorer, sibling and son and husband and father--into a book that is equal parts science and poetry. The result is a startling accomplishment, and well worth the read.  (Read the complete review.)

Course of the Waterman
by Nancy Taylor Robson

Nancy Taylor Robson's debut novel tells the story of seventeen-year-old Bailey Kraft, whose family has been fishing on Maryland's Eastern Shore for generations. Like the Kraft men before him, Bailey has river water in his veins, and a peculiar talent for finding fish: the Krafts are river royalty. But supporting a family by fishing is becoming increasingly difficult, and Bailey's father announces that he wants his son to go to college. Responding to this bombshell is only the first challenge Bailey must meet in the course of Robson's book. Bailey is surrounded in the story by a handful of characters who are as vividly imagined as he is: Robson has fleshed out her characters and explored their interlocking relationships more fully than most authors can in twice as many pages. The Course of the Waterman is a must read, for adults and young adults alike.  (Read the complete review.)

Letter to a Christian Nation
by Sam Harris

Sam Harris's principal purpose in writing Letter to a Christian Nation  was "to arm secularists in our society...against their opponents on the Christian Right." The book is in fact an indictment of all religion, but it is addressed in particular to Christians who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and maintain that acceptance of Christ is a sine qua non of eternal salvation. Harris argues, in short, that resources are misallocated and immoral decisions are made because people are deluded by Christian dogma. But in the book's ten titled sections (there are no chapters, per se) he addresses a great many topics--stem cell research, Muslim extremism, etc. Nonbelievers will find themselves nodding vigorously in agreement with Harris: his book is well argued and convincing, timely and important. But I worry that the hard-core Christians to whom it is addressed won't be picking a copy up.  (Read the complete review.)

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Hi Debra ... Love Your Best Blog Reads for 2006 ... I have only read 2 of the books so far ... One being "Locked Doors" which really scared the ..... out of me it was so riveting and "Blink" was the other ... which was highly enjoyable and very informative ... Keep up the great blog


Hi, Amba. Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I don't think I'll ever forgive Blake Crouch for one particular scene in that book, which I unfortunately think about whenever I get up in the middle of the night. You'll know the one I mean.... She hears someone in the bathroom down the hallway....


I love seeing lists of books! It took me a while, but I just finished putting together a list of all the books I read in 2006: all 110 of them! This is more than double what I read in 2005, due to various factors (explained in more detail in the post). They're broken down into categories, and I denoted the ones that I liked the best. :)


110 is amazing! I suppose I could have read, what, 35 more books this year.... But it wouldn't have been easy. 75 is the highest I've ever gone. There were quiet periods, but I found that when I read a lot I tended to get a bit burnt out and have to stop.

You and I have a number of overlaps--Troost, for example. But you read surprisingly little fiction!


Thanks for some good suggestions. The Malcolm Gladwell sounds especially interesting, and I loved The Tipping Point!


I have yet to read The Tipping Point, though I mean to one day. He's a good writer.


I love mysteries and thrillers. Your list includes some that sound especially good. Thanks for the great suggestions.

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


The Sunday by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.