100 Favorite Books of All Time (2020 Edition)


Way back in 2009 I published a series of posts counting down my 100 Favorite Books of All Time. I figure the list is way overdue for an update.  This time I won’t be counting it down, just one big list in alphabetical order.  Some of the books are classic works of literature and others just have a personal connection or influenced me in some way.  But I love every one of them.

I’m going to start a tradition of revising this list every year on my birthday (yes, today I turn 47), so keep an eye out every November 18th to see how this list changes.

Note: Books that are new to the 2020 list are marked in bold. Series of books are counted as one.

What are your favorite books? Do you have a list? Please share in the comments!

Book Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff


Author: Pam Jenoff
Title: The Lost Girls of Paris
Narrator: Elizabeth Knowelden, Henrietta Meire, and Candace Thaxton
Publication Info: Harlequin Audio (2019)
Summary/Review:

This novel is set during the final years of World War II and immediately after the war, and tells a story inspired by the true-life experiences of women serving as agent’s in Britain’s Special Operations Executive. The novel alternates perspectives among three different protagonists. Marie is a young woman recruited as an agent who is sent to work undercover in France not long before the D-Day invasions and has to overcome her inexperience and frequent changes of circumstance. Eleanor is the severe leader of the women’s division in France, but her strictness is due to her desire to keep her agents safe both from the enemy and from the government leaders who have no faith in woman doing espionage. 

The final protagonist is Grace, a young widowed American who finds a suitcase in Grand Central Terminal and impulsively takes a dozen photographs of women who prove to be SOE agents. Grace’s growing obsession with trying to find out who the women are and return the photos where they belong doesn’t make much sense and is a drag on the book.  Marie’s story is the most thrilling as she’s actively working in France carrying out missions she wasn’t trained for and hoping to avoid capture.  But Eleanor’s story turns out to be the most profound as it deals with betrayal and personal tragedy.

The book has a better premise than execution, but it was nevertheless an entertaining read.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Book Review: Return of the Jedi by James Kahn


Author: James Kahn
Title: Return of the Jedi
Publication Info: New York : Ballantine Books, 1983.


Summary/Review:

The original Star Wars trilogy finishes off with this competent novelization that doesn’t veer off all too much from the movie. The best part of the book is that it does get inside the characters’ minds to give their thoughts during key scenes of the story. The Vader, Palpatine, and Luke dialogue is also expanded. Also, the ghost of Obi-Wan tells Luke that Owen is Obi-Wan’s brother and that Luke & Leia’s mother lived until they were 4 (which works much better than the retcon of the prequels). All in all it’s an engaging retelling of a great story.



Rating: ***

Book Review: The Library Book by Susan Orlean


Author: Susan Orlean
Title: The Library Book
Narrator: Susan Orlean
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio (2018)
Summary/Review:
Susan Orlean’s excellent work of narrative nonfiction focuses on the Los Angeles Central Library, particularly on the April 29, 1986 fire that severely damaged the building. Orlean examines the history and aftermath of the fire and reconstruction through interviews of past and current library employees and an examination of the library’s history to its origins over a century ago. The book also tells the story of Harry Peak, a young aspiring actor and attention seeker who became a leading arson suspect. The cause of the fire remains unsolved to this day.

I actually visited the Los Angeles Central Library on my visit to Southern California in 2007, and I’ve included a couple of photos below.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar


Author: Zeyn Joukhadar
Title: The Map of Salt and Stars
Narrator: Lara Sawalha
Publication Info: [New York] : Simon & Schuster Audio, [2018]

Summary/Review:

This novel is the story of 12-year-old Nour, who grows up in Manhattan, but after the death of her father, her mother takes the family back to their native Syria. Nour find herself an outsider, unable to speak Arabic. Unfortunately, their move to Syria coincides with a time of increasing protests that grow into the Arab Spring and then the Syrian Civil War. Nour and her family become refugees crossing the Middle East and North Africa.

Throughout the novel, Nour tells herself her father’s story of Rawiya, a girl from hundreds of years earlier, who disguised herself as a boy and has adventures traveling around the Meditteranean. The two stories interweave through the novel, intersecting in the similarities of the two protagonists.

The novel is a good story and in Nour and Rawiya has two characters that readers can identify. It’s a good introduction for young adult readers (and old adults like me) to the issues of contemporary Syria from the perspective of a child.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Empire Strikes Back by Donald Glut


Author: Donald Glut
Title: The Empire Strikes Back
Publication Info: Del Ray, 1980
Summary/Review:

The best Star Wars film gets a competent and straightforward novelization. As is the case in all novelizations, there are scenes that didn’t make it into the movie, especially when Luke is training with Yoda. The book does make it feel like more time is passing in both Luke & Yoda’s stories and the Millenium Falcon storyline whereas in the movie it feels as if everything happens in a couple of days. The only startling change is that Yoda is blue instead of green! And Harrison Ford’s famous improvised line “I know” is not in the text. It’s an entertaining read for fans of the movies.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Great Halifax Explosion by John U. Bacon


Author: John U. Bacon
Title: The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism
Narrator: Johnny Heller
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2017)
Summary/Review:

As a Bostonian, we hear about the Great Halifax Explosion every year when the Province of Nova Scotia delivers a giant Christmas tree to Boston Common.  The annual gift symbolizes the gratitude they have for the people of Massachusetts being among the first to respond with relief after the devastating explosion of December 5, 1917.  Bacon’s work is a comprehensive history of Halifax during the first World War, the explosion, and its aftermath.

Bacon does a great job of finding the stories of the people who lived in the Richmond neighborhood of Halifax that was flattened by the blast.  Many of them had come to work in the port’s bustling economy, and some served in the military in Europe. Bacon also breaks down the many errors that lead to French munitions ship SS Mont Blanc colliding with Norwegian charter ship SS Imo, many of them exacerbated by wartime conditions. For example, in peacetime a ship carrying explosives flew a red flag as a warning but this was discontinued as it made ships a target for German u-boats.

Bacon also tells stories of the day of the explosion for dozens of Haligonians.  Some of them contain graphic detail such as the man who survived by landing on something soft only to discover it was a pile of human corpses.  But Bacon chiefly recognizes the heroism and self-sacrifice of many individuals and groups who helped in relief efforts and performed small acts of kindness.  This includes the great support that came from the United States and Bacon marks this response as changing the relationship between the two countries from one of hostility to one of amity.

The explosion remains to this day the largest human-made accidental blast in history.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: Schindler’s List (1993)


Title: Schindler’s List
Release Date: December 15, 1993
Director: Steven Spielberg
Production Company: Amblin Entertainment
Summary/Review:

I’ve been meaning to watch Schindler’s List since it was released but didn’t get around to it until now.  1993, the year of the film’s release, has long been a demarcation in my life from telling people name and getting puzzled looks to people responding “Oh, like Liam Neeson.”  More seriously and more important it is a film about the Holocaust and how some Jewish people in Poland were able to survive genocide.

Neeson plays Oskar Schindler, a man of German heritage from Czechoslovakia, who travels to Krakow, Poland to make his fortune as a factory-owner.  Initially depicted as a dapper and conniving man, Schindler use his charm and bribes to influence Nazi leadership into letting him take control of an enamelware factory.  Schindler puts Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) in charge of running the business, and for finding Jewish employees to work in the factory because they cost less.  Stern (who is a composite of several real-life people) is the quiet hero of the story finding some of the most vulnerable people in the Ghetto to be trained to work at the factory, thus saving their lives because they’re work is “essential.”

A great thing about this movie is that it is for most of its run it is never explicit about Schindler’s goals and where is loyalties lie.  The change from a man selfishly seeking to maximize personal profit to a man willing to put his life on the line to save thousands of Jewish people is subtle and gradual. When Krakow’s Jews are moved to Płaszów concentration camp, Schindler makes inroads through charm and bribery with the brutal commandant Amon Göth (Ralph Fiennes).  In movie terms, Göth appears to be an over-the-top caricature but the real Göth was far worse, committing atrocities that Spielberg refused to commit to film.

When the Nazis decide to carry out the Final Solution, Schindler uses the last of his wealth to bribe Göth to allow him to transfer Jewish workers to a munitions factory in Czechoslovakia and then bribe Rudolf Höss when a train full of women is accidentally sent to Auschwitz.  The list of the title is the names of 1200 Jewish people Schindler and Stern save in this way. Schindler no longer hides from his employees that his goal is to save lives and even sees to it that the factory doesn’t produces working munitions. As Germany falls to the Allied Powers, Schindler plans to escape since he will be seen as a war profiteer and collaborator by the Russians.

In the movie’s weak spot, Schindler has a mental breakdown from the guilt over not being able to save more lives.  Apart from being hammy and out of character, this seen is objectionable because the very Jewish people who have lived through unimaginable atrocities have to comfort Schindler.  It’s a strange decision to once again make Schindler unsympathetic just as his redemption story comes to its conclusion.

No movie can tell the true story of the Holocaust because the enormity of its brutality and inhumanity cannot be captured on film. One of the most effective parts of Schindler’s List for me are several scenes scattered through the film where groups of Jewish people talk amongst themselves.  They share their fears and grief, but their are also a variety of responses to the Holocaust from resignation to their lot to the often-repeated belief that it can’t get worse.  That the very people suffering the worst indignities and privations of the Holocaust also can’t see its enormity is very chilling indeed.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Franklin Park by Julie Arrison


Author: Julie Arrison
Title: Franklin Park
Publication Info: Charleston, SC : Arcadia Pub., 2009.
Summary/Review:

Part of the Images of America series, this book is richly illustrated with photographs and stories from throughout the history of Boston’s largest park. If there’s one flaw it’s that the photo captions don’t always address what’s going on in the pictures. I do appreciate the emphasis on social history that this book brings to the park, although I long to learn even more.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Book Review: Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker by “George Lucas”


Author: George Lucas (ghost written by Alan Dean Foster)
Title: Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker
Publication Info: New York : Ballantine Books, 1977.
Summary/Review:

Continuing our way through Star Wars novelizations, my daughter and I read this very first piece of “Expanded Universe” media.  Like other novelizations, the book contains scenes that were deleted or didn’t even make it to filming. Also, Greedo shot first and somehow that was never edited otherwise.  I find it interesting that with the larger mythos of Star Wars being created that Foster hints at story threads that wouldn’t be followed-up or would end up very different once the sequels and prequels were rolled out. He also tends to use analogies to things on Earth more than later Star Wars writers would do. A significant downside is that Foster’s descriptions of Jawa’s use horribly prejudicial terms.

Favorite Passages:

“Remember, Luke, the suffering of one man is the suffering of all. Distances are irrelevant to injustice. If not stopped soon enough, evil eventually reaches out to engulf all men, whether they have opposed it or ignored it.”

Recommended books:

Rating: ***