The Martian – Andy Weir
As I mentioned in my December wrap up, this is the book I began in 2014 but finished on Jan. 1, 2015. I destroyed this book. Once I started it, it was hard to put down. In fact, I started it after midnight on Dec. 30 when I could not sleep. I went downstairs, flipped on the Kindle, and thought I would read 20 minutes or so and then try to sleep again. Two hours later I had to force myself to go back to bed.

This is just an awesome book. It’s sci-fi, and written by a sci-fi geek, but completely accessible for folks who don’t usually dig on sci-fi. It tells the story of Mark Watney, an American astronaut who, through a series of mishaps and misunderstandings, is left for dead on the surface of Mars. Only he’s not dead. But he has no way of communicating with his crew mates, who have fled for home, or with NASA back on Earth. And while he has the food that was stocked for a several week mission for a large crew, he also knows that the next manned landing on Mars isn’t scheduled for another four years.

In other words, he’s fucked.

But Watney is not your average astronaut. He’s sarcastic and witty. He’s ingenious, in the vein of McGyver. And he is really good at math.

Yes, there’s a lot of math in this book. I heard many complaints about that before I read the book. And I freaking hate math. But I love the way Weir presents the math. I approached it as a humorous element that moved the story forward, rather than something you have to dig into and understand. I think if you take that approach, there’s no need to fear the numbers.

Through a series of miraculous events, Watney makes contact with earth, then his old crew, comes up with a crazy way to make enough food to get him almost through four years, and generally kicks Mars’ ass. There are some pleasant twists and turns, and a thoroughly satisfying ending.

It’s not high literature, but this is a great book.

The Twelve – Justin Cronin
Book two of The Passage trilogy. Book one I liked a lot. It was spooky, scary, and played up the apocalyptic angle nicely.

In The Twelve, we’re (mostly) over 90 years after the US has been overrun by the vampire-like creatures created during research on a virus in a secret lab in Colorado. There are pockets of normal life, but for the most part the US is an empty wasteland. Cronin bounces us back-and-forth between the days immediately after the 12 test subjects escaped and nearly a century later as the new master race and its helpers are preparing for the next step in their evolution.

There are a few epic quests. New wrinkles in the overall story. Some familiar characters. Some new ones.

After finishing the book, I read that it generally received positive reviews. I don’t know if I was distracted while reading it or what the deal was, but I found the book a lot less interesting and engaging than the first. I kept thinking “What’s going on?” and not in a good way. To me, the book seems a lot less focused than the first. The final third is solid, but all the lead-up to that finale was rather tedious to get through. And where the first book paid homage to Stephen King and The Stand, this one felt, at parts, like a straight rip off of The Stand.

Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand
I read an excerpt of this before the hardback version came out in 2010. It immediately went on my To Read list. And for some reason – perhaps the brutality of that excerpt and the understanding that the book was even more intense – I never got around to it.

Until my wife asked me to get it for her from the library and then I dove in once she was done.

It’s an amazing book. If you haven’t read it, or seen the movie, it centers on Louis Zamperini, a track star in the 1936 Olympics who became a bombardier on a B–24 in the Pacific in World War II. After his plane goes down in the ocean, well, things kind of go to hell. I’ll leave it at that. It’s an insane story. It’s a classic “If you wrote this as fiction no one would believe it” story. There is unimaginable brutality, amazing acts of kindness, and a will to survive that I can not fathom.

Let’s Go Crazy – Alan Light
Wrote about this one already.