How do you pick the next book you’re going to read?

I get asked that question a lot, especially from friends that have wandered into my office and see the bookshelves full of stuff I haven’t read yet. Right now my “to-read” list is about 200 books long (I don’t count it that often and don’t remember the exact number it was when last I did), which is a lot when you consider only books I own are on that list. But picking what I’m going to read next isn’t as hard as one might think.

Right now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m working my way though W.E.B. Griffin’s “Badge of Honor” series. As I’m reading them one after another picking what I’m going to read next is easy: the next one in the series. Like last summer when I ran though Michael Connelly’s books this summer was supposed to be all Griffin, but his stuff reads a lot slower than Connelly’s so it’s taken longer. “Badge of Honor” is the third series of Griffin’s I’ve read this year, and after I finish it (two more books to go!) I’ll just have his “Men At War” series about the OSS left.

After I finished his “Brotherhood of War” series I took a short break and read a few other things, two books I’d been waiting for that were in the military/thriller genre and then I went to Karen Miller’s “Godspeakers” trilogy for a change of pace. Picking the Miller series was easy, I said to myself “pick a fantasy trilogy”, and when I looked up there was “Godspeakers” right in front of me at eye level.

Then it was back to Griffin again for his “The Corps” series about the US Marine Corps, and when that was over I once again took a break for a book I was waiting for and continued on to Stephen Lawhead’s “King Raven Trilogy” while I waited for another book to come out. I picked the Lawhead books because I noticed they were separated into different bookcases. My OCD needed to keep them together, and the easiest way was to read them next. After I got bored with the fantasy stuff I saw I had a book misfiled (Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith) so instead of moving a ton of stuff to put it in the right place I read it next.

Which brings us to where I am now, nearing the end of the “Badge of Honor” series. Now as to what I’m going to read next I’ve already decided it will be The Gods of Guilt by Connelly. Assuming nothing comes out that I’m looking for before I finish the Connelly book it’s a good guess I’ll be switching back to sic-fi/fantasy for a bit. As some point before the end of the year I’ll start “Men At War”.

I know I’ll likely never read every book I’ve bought, mostly because I buy a lot of stuff from new authors just to support their hard work. Obviously most people don’t have as many at their finger tips to chose from as I do, so I’m curious as to how other decide what to read next. Do you just wander into a bookstore and pick up what catches your eye? Do you just fill up your e-reader and pick like I do? Or do you buy a large amount of books and work your way through them before buying more? I’d love to read your answers…

Random Review: Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith

This review contains no spoilers.

Book Name: Agent 6
Author: Tom Rob Smith
Series: 3rd in an apparent trilogy
Publisher(s): Grand Central Publishing
Format(s): Hardcover/Trade paperback/eBook/AudioBook
Genre(s): Historical fiction/Thriller
Release Date: January 5, 2012

Rating: 8/10

For those that missed it, I’ve also reviewed the second book of the trilogy, The Secret Speech. It gives some insights on how I came across this series.

Agent 6 picks up soon after the events of The Secret Speech take place, but unlike the first two books Tom Rob Smith writes a story that covers nearly 30 years and deals with the Cold War between the USSR and the USA (often referred to in the historically correct term of “The Main Adversary” in Agent 6) and then into the Soviet Union’s ill fated invasion of Afghanistan. If you were looking for a “feel good” story, let me tell you, Agent 6 isn’t it.

Like the two books before it Agent 6 is really about the redemption of main character Leo Demidov, forced to deal with the emotional and intellectual trauma of his past actions with the MGB (the Soviet’s Ministry for State Security) and later the KGB. Unfortunately, those issues come right to the forefront again when during a trip to the United Nations for a concert performed by American and Soviet school children tragedy strikes Demidov’s family. When Demidov is refused permission to travel to the US to investigate the circumstances of the issue, deep depression takes over his life and eventually results in him being “exiled” to Afghanistan.

While it is incredibly well written, once what is going to happen becomes apparent it becomes a difficult book to read because the reader knows where the story has to end. Smith handles every scene well and sets the stage for what is undoubtedly the toughest thing that Demidov ever had to face, and then knowing the true facts of the tragedy what Demidov had to do to complete his redemption. The obvious ending, which is not written but only implied by Smith, is both uplifting and gut wrenchingly sad.

Smith is most certainly headed to the top of the list of great thriller writers. Folks should get on board by reading his trilogy about Leo Demidov, and they do need to be read in order to get the maximum out of them. I whole heartedly recommend Agent 6, after you read Child 44 and The Secret Speech, of course.

Random Review: The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith

This review does not contain spoilers.

Book Name: The Secret Speech
Author: Tom Rob Smith
Publisher(s): Grand Central Publishing
Format(s): Hardcover/Trade & Mass Market Paperback/Audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Historical fiction/Thriller
Release Date: May 19th 2009

Rating: 8/10

Several years ago I remember watching a movie on the cable network Showtime called Citizen X. It was about Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, who admitted killing 56 women and children in the Soviet Union from the late 1970s until 1990 when he was captured. What fascinated me about the case was not the killings but the politics of the Soviet system that prevented a thorough investigation of the crimes. I’ve read a couple of books on the case and the book the film was based on, The Killer Department by Robert Cullen, sits on my “to read” shelf. Tom Rob Smith’s first novel, Child 44, is a fictional account based on Chikatilo’s crimes using MGB Agent Leo Demidov as the protagonist. That was my introduction to Smith’s writings. I won’t spoil Child 44 by mentioning who Smith uses as the killer; readers should pick up the book and find out on their own.

Smith once again uses an actual Soviet event as the back story for The Secret Speech, Nikita Khrushchev’s “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences” speech at the Twentieth Party Congress in February of 1956 (AKA, the Secret Speech). In the speech Khrushchev denounces Josef Stalin and the atrocities committed against the Soviet peoples in Stalin’s name, and strives to move the Soviet Union back toward Leninism. The Secret Speech opens as the period historically referred to as the “Khrushchev Thaw” begins.

Demidov, now working for the Homicide Division within the KGB, returns as the lead character in The Secret Speech and the story contains more plot twist than you can count. Demidov’s family, wife Raisa and adopted daughters Zoya and Elena, play a huge role in determining the plot’s direction as his past in the MGB (Ministry of State Security) comes back to haunt him. Under Stalin the MGB did some terrible things to the citizens of the Soviet Union in the name of State security, and while Demidov’s actions are tame by comparison they still would keep him off any “good guy” list.

As Zoya turns her back on her adoptive father, something that was already happening well before antagonist Fraera even enters the picture, the story twists and turns so telling who is doing bad things for good reasons and good things for the wrong reasons is hard to figure out until we learn the entire truth. All the main characters have a story to tell, and somehow Smith manages to tell each story with enough depth and detail that eventually the reader can understand the motives of everyone involved.

The 1956 uprising in Hungary is the stage for the final scenes of the book, and as well as Smith intricately winds the twisting plot through the major characters his descriptions of the violent encounters are just as vivid. In the end it’s Demidov’s actions that show his true goodness despite the not-so-good things that he did in the past under the rule of Stalin. It’s a story about redemption, and Tom Rob Smith writes it well.

Smith has a third book featuring Leo Demidov called Agent 6, which is on my “to read” shelf, along with a stand-alone novel earlier this year entitled The Farm.