Cozy home library with books and a chair

I set a goal this summer to read a little each day and work through my reading list on Goodreads. I managed to make it through nine books! If you’re looking for some interesting books to read, this post highlights several of the ones I enjoyed.

Tom Clancy

I saw all the big Tom Clancy movies as a kid, such as The Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger, and Patriot Games. All of them felt so real and so possible. My goal was to read them in order of publication and I went through a few this summer.

Before the summer, I read The Hunt for Red October, Without Remorse, and Patriot Games. Red October reins supreme as my most favorite of the Jack Ryan universe so far, but I really enjoyed the origin story of John Clark in Without Remorse. It shed so much more light on his character that explains his actions in later books.

The Cardinal of the Kremlin

This book packed a lot of suspense into each chapter. It followed three groups: members of the US intelligence community, members of the Soviet Union, and tribes in Afghanistan. At many times in the book I found myself wondering how big the clash would be if all three groups ran into each other. 😱

My favorite parts of most Tom Clancy books is that the plot usually feels plausible and the plot devices feel extremely well researched. The story in this book is no exception. Also, the book gives you a follow-up on Red October and explains what happened to Ramius and the boat itself.

Clear and Present Danger

I was very familiar with the movie of the same name starring Harrison Ford as I watched it multiple times. The movie has always been one of my favorites, but as soon as I started the book, I realized the movie covered a tiny part of the story in the book.

The book had an incredible amount of action (more than the movie!) and the story went much deeper into the US drug war. The culture of cartels and infighting among them was laid bare many times. You really begin to question who had more virtue – the US coming in to fight the cartels or the cartels themselves.

There was also a lot more to many of the higher-up government characters that appeared briefly in the movie. If you thought you disliked Ritter after seeing the movie, just go ahead and read the book. 😠

The Sum of All Fears

This book has it all. Nuclear weapons, submarine warfare, tensions in East Germany, battles in the Middle East, and a US presidential cabinet that is incredibly dysfunctional. During all of it, Jack Ryan finds himself in very challenging conditions where he questions many of his beliefs. Many parts of this book feel predictable for a while, but then something crazy happens and nothing you predicted comes true.

💣 Warning: the movie version of this book is awful. The movie features the wrong bad guys, about 5% of the story from the book is included, and Jack Ryan isn’t even in the same stage of his life as he is in the book! The ending made no sense and the presidential cabinet challenges were cut down to almost nothing.

Trust me: read the book, skip the movie.

Business time

In an effort to change gears, I sat down to read Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar. It’s the very detailed story of the leveraged buyout (LBO) of RJR Nabisco in the 1980’s. Many people say that it’s one of the best business books out there and I can see why.

Barbarians at the Gate

The book has tons of quotes and stories from everyone involved in the process and those are woven into a (sometimes meandering) story that showcases how everything gradually fell apart. Greed, incompetence, and ego reigns supreme throughout the book and I learned more about LBOs than I ever wanted to know.

You don’t need deep business knowledge to read this book, but knowing a little bit about how the stock market works is helpful. The book focuses mainly on the people and the author works diligently to explain some of the trickier financial events.

Something dark

I was looking for a new video game to play with a good story, and Spec Ops: The Line showed up in one of the lists. I played it a long time ago and the story was incredibly unique and gripping. The only thing that came close for me was Half-Life. The story was loosely based on Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. I set out to read the story to better understand the connection. (If you’ve seen the movie Apocalypse Now, that one is loosely inspired by the same book.)

Heart of Darkness

First off, this story is quite dark and there are quite a few cringe-worthy and racist descriptions of people that the main character meets along the way. The book was written in the 1890’s, so take that into consideration if you read it.

The book is told in first person by a single man. Some of it feels really clear while some of the story is shrouded in a haze. The author leaves a lot to the imagination and I found myself going backwards a page or two to figure out what was happening. Prepare yourself for a dark, troubling story that will leave you with more questions than answers.

What’s better than an apocalypse?

After reading Heart of Darkness, I searched for some apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction to keep the dark theme going. I read through a bunch of recommended lists and found two books: The Passage and Earth Abides.

The Passage

The Passage is the first book in a trilogy by Justin Cronin. My favorite part about this book is that you get to see events before the apocalypse, the events during, and the events long after. So many of these books seem to jump in after something bad has happened and you’re left wondering what the event really was. (The Road from Cormac McCarthy fits this description but it’s an incredible book and I recommend it.)

The book starts in a version of the USA that feels like the present, but some things are a little off. For example, there are government checkpoints on various highways and New Orleans is essentially abandoned. A strange virus was discovered in South America that somehow cures various conditions (even cancer), but then people either die after a while or they go into an unusual vampire/zombie state. However, this isn’t your average zombie book – it goes much, much deeper.

The first third of the book covers the time before and during the world-ending event. The second third goes forward about 100 years to people trying to survive afterwards. The last third goes forward a few more years when everything gets worse (you wonder how this is possible).

This book has deep commentary on life, death, love, relationships, religion, and humanity. It lays bare what it means to be human. I wish I could explain it better, but that’s the best I can do.

I could not put this book down.

Earth Abides

I took a break from The Passage trilogy to change gears and read one of the original post-apocalyptic (called “after the fall” back then) books called Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. It was written in the 1950’s and follows the main character as he wakes up after a snake bite to find out that some kind of disease has stricken the entire USA.

At first, he’s confused at where everyone has gone, but he finds newspaper clippings and clues in his small town that help him understand what happened. The thing I liked about this book is that things at first are easy. Lots of people had food left over in fridges and grocery stores were well stocked. Even the power and water were working.

Over time, all of that degrades, as does the main character’s mood. Things become more desperate and a gap widens between the people who lived before the apocalypse and those born after.

This book has some derogatory and outdated stereotypes around people of color and women, but there is plenty of commentary on humanity and society that holds true. I found it to be quite boring in parts, but I enjoyed it overall.

The Twelve

Back to Justin Cronin’s trilogy I went! His second book shows that there’s a lot more to the infected people (called “virals” in the book) than meets the eye. The disease has mind-control properties where certain beings used as test subjects in the first novel had power over the viral hordes.

Many of the character from the first book are back and different challenges await them. This book feels much more desperate than the first. Sometimes I find that the second book in some trilogies lacks in suspense compared to the first, but you’ll find plenty of suspenseful moments here.

If you don’t think things can get worse, they can. This book proves it in great detail.

The City of Mirrors

The final book of The Passage trilogy ties up all of the loose ends. As you read it, you’re bouncing between two or three different events at the same time that all seem like they will come together to destroy everyone.

The book begins on a fairly positive note, but later, everyone seems to be running on empty and all may be lost. One of the most critical characters in the book, Amy, has her true purpose exposed (finally!) and you finally learn why you see those diary excerpts being presented at a conference after the year 1000 A.V. (after virus).

This trilogy ends in such a way where you feel like the story is resolved, but you still have questions. Some may look at the ending and say “Wow, that’s terribly sad and soul-crushing.” while others look at it as the most beautiful ending imaginable. You’ll have to see for yourself. 😉

Photo credit: Nick Hillier on Unsplash