1. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
It feels great to start of the year with an excellent book. I loved this book of stories that all feature the character Olive Kitteridge, sometimes front and center, and sometimes just a brief mention of her in someone else's story. And what a character she is: flawed, fierce, passionate, perceptive. In the final story, "River," she calls herself a "peasant...(with) the strong passions and prejudices of a peasant." There are many moments of lonliness in the book, but just as many moments of appreciation for the world and joy. The prose is very subtle and never seems to say too much. It'll be hard to top this book this year.
2. White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages
The sequel to the youth novel, Green Glass Sea. Fast, fun read. Does a nice job with helping kids visualize what it would be like to live in 1947. The "red menace" portion was not terribly prominent, but I was relieved that the book didn't go full steam ahead in making Terry Gordon a victim of paranoid fears about communism.
3. Free Food For Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
A sort of soap-opera-ish novel about a Korean young woman and her conflicting desires. I had some trouble relating to her rabid materialism and her inability to see shades of gray: Casey saw her choices as either her parents' grim lives working in a dry cleaning business, or an ivy league pedigreed, big-money investment banking life. Seems to me there are a lot of more moderate options in between the two. But parts of the book were interesting and well written.
I'm missing a few here...January has been nutso. But here are a few:
4. A Mercy by Toni Morrison
Read for book group. Didn't blow me away, but then I think all of Toni Morrison's books suffer by comparison to whatever one is your favorite (mine is Song of Solomon). Put any other author's name on the book and I'd probably be raving about how terrific it is.
5. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
6. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Loved it. Blogged it.
7. March by Geraldine Brooks
MUCH better than People of the Book
8. The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman
Liked it a lot. Blogged it.
9. The Glimmer Palace by Beatrice Colin
Reasonably entertaining novel about Germany in the Weimar (and a bit of pre and post) years. I liked all the cultural detail but found the main character, Lilli a bit dull. We are told a few too many times how "soulful" she looks, but often she just strikes me as a bit numb.
10. The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
Oh wow--this is going to be a good year. Already I've got three favorite books--Olive Kitteridge, The Knife of Never Letting Go and this book--which will be duking it out for best book of the year. I'm going to have to blog this one too.
11. Run by Anne Patchett
Really liked this one. Blogged it.
12. Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner
Not very well written. I continued to read this one more as a curiosity of what YA stuff is being published and some of it is not that good. There were a few quirky things I liked, like the ways trees had become malevolent, but characters were too thin and plot was basic quest with obstacles.
13. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Really good, very fast read. I really liked the work the main character did to maintain her humanity in a brutal setting--her relationship with Rue was my favorite part. I may even have sniffed back a few tears when Rue died. I look forward to the sequel coming out in September.
14. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
A good first novel. I thought the main character's journey to be master of her own actions was compelling. Lots of action.
15. Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff
Short story collection by the author of Monsters of Templeton (which I loved). I liked the stories--they are very well written--but I didn't love them. Maybe because they were all a bit grim, without the moments of lyricism and humor that were in her novel. The title story made me think of Suite Francaise and I found that a little distracting.
16. Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Another good YA distopian novel. Includes a truly harrowing scene in which a boy is "unwound"--99 % of his body is harvested while he remains conscious.
17. The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg
I really liked this book. The voice of the main character was clever but not cute and made me want to turn down beverage requests from my kids with "I prefer not."
18. The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
This one won a Newbery Medal but I preferred the above book. This one was clever though.
19. Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
A so-so Holocaust story. I found the daughter's story and the representation of academia to be dull and inaccurate. The mother's story was interesting, but a little predictable.
20. Wake by Lisa McMann
I liked the beginning of the book a lot but thought it lost steam as it went along.
21. Cold Hands, Warm Heart by Jill Wolfson
A well-written, realistic novel about organ donation. Very interesting to read alongside Unwind. I'll blog my thoughts about these two.
22. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
Well good golly, here we have ANOTHER book about organ donation. Hmmmm....what's going on with that? I liked the interior voice of the main character.
23. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork
Really lovely book about a teenage boy with Asperger's emerging from the protective happy life he has been in to see that the real world, while much more complicated, can provide a different kind of happiness.
24. The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
Fun mystery novel. Haven't read a real mystery in a long time. The only complaint I have is that the main character is a little too "perfect"--she doesn't struggle with just about anything except for her past. The present is a little too easy-breezy for my taste.
25. Resistance by Owen Shears
Interesting book that considers an alternate WWII history--if the German's had invaded and occupied Great Britain. Set in a remote Welsh valley. Though it could use a little more in explaining why the main character, Sarah, missed her husband so much. The author said it a lot, but I didn't feel it because I couldn't picture him. I did like the ending when she finally sets out.
26. Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi
It has been a while since I read "true" sci fi and this was a lot of fun. I haven't read the other books that preceded this ("Old Man's War" and others) but plan to. This one does stand on its own and the voice of the narrator a 16 year old girl is really fun and sarcastic.
27. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
Love the title. Had mixed feelings about the book. There were things I really admired--the accomplishment of making a story about zombies both a serious post-apocalyptic tale and a romance is no mean feat. And I loved how the author used color--drabness in particular and the power that a flash of red has. But I thought that the story would have been better if told in 3rd person rather than 1st person. I found some of the scenes repetitive and there were some inconsistencies that drove me a bit batty: the character is clearly curious and questioning and I find it hard to believe that when she stumbles across newspapers from pre-apocalypse days that she wouldn't dive right in. Instead she waits until the last possible moment, while the zombies are knocking down the door of the attic, to look at them. There were a number of instances like this that just rang false. But it will be interesting to see what she does with the series that this appears to be developing.
28. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the next two. I thought the concept was clever and plausible, that the characters were well drawn and their banter rang true and I thought it was plotted well. In fact, I liked the pacing so much that I'm mapping the book to learn more about how to do it with my own writing.
29. Downsiders by Neal Shusterman
Enjoyable, but not gripping. I found it helpful for my own writing in how the author revealed a hidden world.
30. Exodus by Julie Bertagna
An author who took global warming seriously--she published this YA distopian novel in 2002. It's a good read: the three worlds are richly realized, the main character is compelling and spirited and the technology is pretty cool sounding. There were a couple of things that kept poking at me though. The main character is from a small Scottish island that is about to be swallowed up by the ocean. But why set the main character in a location so close to sea-level to begin with? Wouldn't the idea of all land being swallowed by water be even more of a crisis and believable if, say, she came from a small village in the Alps? I kept thinking of all the places that were way above sea level that they could have gone to which is too bad, because the rest of the story is really pretty good. Good enough that I'm going to read the sequel titled Zenith.
31. Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman
It took me a couple of tries to get into this one, but I'm really glad I did!
32. Zenith by Julie Bertagna
Sequel to Exodus. Some similar mixed feelings about the follow up book. Characters were compelling, scenario remained interesting, but a few science-y questions kept poking at me and keeping me from completely getting into it. Things like how the trees survive at the North Pole when there is no sunlight for months, or the (ahem) hygiene/waste issues that come from living in caves. The ending felt a bit rushed--about 20 pages before the end of the book we are told that about 15 years have passed. It's basically a set up for book three of the series but I found it a bit jarring. Still, as I mentioned with book one, I'll probably still read the book three when it comes out because there is enough compelling stuff still in there.
33. Impossible by Nancy Werlin
Decent YA novel about the elvin prince; this one takes the Scarborough Fair song and makes the impossible tasks into a curse that must be broken. The most startling thing for me was the key plot point that the Bay of Fundy makes in the book--I had only just heard of the place the night before reading about it in the novel (it's a great kayaking destination and Brian was showing me videos of the extreme high and low tides) so when it showed up on the page I got one of those creepy coincidence feelings.
34. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Yes, I still do read books intended for adults! I had mixed feelings about this book--it is beautifully written, observations of people and places that makes them feel like they are right in front of you. But I'm still trying to figure out what the appeal was supposed to be--a narrator who you grow to dislike more and more as the book progresses? A view of the class system that starts out with disgust and turns into pity? I guess that since I'm still thinking about it it was an effective book, but I wouldn't exactly say that it was enjoyable. It would probably make a good book for a book group since I think the discussion of people's varied reactions to the book would be interesting.
35. City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
Third in the trilogy. Very fun read. I really enjoyed the pacing and character development. The only thing that I objected to was killing off Max--it seemed like he was so marginal in the three books that he only existed to be killed and to give something for the family to mourn about. But that's a pretty small gripe. This is one series that made me feel like a greedy teenager again, as far as my reading habits go.
36. The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
A good YA mystery told from the perspective of a kid with Asperger's. Seemed to do pretty well with the representation of the syndrome. I liked in particular the way the kid described some of his physical manifestations--the flapping hand he has to control when he gets tense, the way he tilts his head which annoys the hell out of his typical sister. Of course, this being a YA book, his disability allows him to perceive things differently than other people and helps solve the mystery. A little pie in the sky dream for most kids on the spectrum, but not ridiculously so.
37. The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
Book 5 of the Percy Jackson series--loved it! I can't wait to read this series with the kids. I know they do a unit on Greek gods in 5th-6th grade and having the background is pretty essential to enjoying the books. Maybe we could read them sooner with some good reference texts?
38. Sonata Mulattica by Rita Dove
Exquisite. One of my favorite books so far this year. Narrative/history told via a series of poems.
39. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacquline Kelly
Pitch perfect novel about a young girl discovering her love for science at the turn of the century. It could very easily have become "precious" but never did--I believed and empathized with the main character's spirit and frustration at the traditional roles for women and cheered her on.
40. Genesis by Bernard Beckett
Clever future speculative history. I wish the cover art was different because it gave away the twist and the end for me.
41. The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry
Middle grade novel--kind of predictable. The main character was well drawn but some of the supporting characters--particularly the Amaranth witch were very sketchy. I'm not a big fan of "love at first sight" and that is essentially what the main character experiences. There isn't a whole lot of substance to her attraction to the prince other than the fact that he's pretty.
42. Woodsburner by John Pipkin
This novel about when Thoreau accidentally set the Concord woods on fire was remarkable for the degree to which it was told via internal musings. Often this can become leaden, but this book, by alternating between a number of very distinctive voices, keeps flowing. The only character I found I trouble getting through was the freaky Opium addicted preacher--I could never really "see" him. But the rest of the characters, from Thoreau himself whose panic and justifications strike me as pitch-perfect, to my favorite character, Oddmund, the unlucky immigrant, kept me following their thoughts and progress as the fire raged around them.
43. The Photographer by Emmanual Guibert, Didier Lefevre, Frederic Lemercier
Really lovely non-fiction graphic book of mixed drawings and photographs about one man's journey into Afghanastan with Medecins Sans Frontieres during the Russian war in the 1980s. I wish people involved with the present war would read this--it might help them see the conflict in human terms.
44. French Milk by Lucy Knisley
Light little graphic diary about a young woman who stays in Paris for a month. I thought the musings on growing up and adulthood were good and wished there were more. The appreciation of the food was something I could relate to, but thought it was a bit like a list; not that much for someone else to get from it. And the title struck me as kind of tacked on. I guess it's a little unfair to the book to read it right after The Photographer--it isn't trying to say anything profound, but still, I wish it had been directed a little bit in a different direction.
45. Alan's War by Emmanuel Guibert
Another graphic biography by the same illustrator as The Photographer. Interesting story, pleasant read. Nothing earth shattering, but still enjoyable.
46. Stone's Fall by Iain Pears
Complicated, twisted and meticulously plotted. It was a very involving, fun read, though one did have to pay a LOT of attention to small details to follow the plot (so not so good for when you are really tired), this can be a very good thing if you do have the brain power to devote to it! The book is told in three parts which go back in time (which I am a big sucker for). Lots of complicated finance transactions that are crucial to follow and some very interesting characters. I liked part two the best.
47. Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey
A YA book of two (related) stories, separated in time, told in alternating chapters and with alternating points of view. Very effective. It's part one of a series that I'll be following.
48. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
Entertaining mystery set in Medieval Cambridge. Lots of detail and some interesting perspectives on how England differed in this period from places futher south (Italy to be specific). I noted a few inaccuracies and a few histrionic characters, but found it to be an enjoyable read.
49. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
Very good YA book (not exactly a surprise since it won the National Book Award).
50. The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway
One of the best books I've read this year. Edgy, funny, sad. Not for everyone's tastes--a touch of Douglas Adams' humor, lots and lots of references that keep your brain popping, scenarios that stretch your imagination.
51. A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert
Really lovely novel about multiple generations of women in a family. I found Evelyn the most interesting and could have read a whole book about her, but I was pleased that she got the last chapter. The ending was just beautiful.
52. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Good Middle grade fiction. Nicely drawn characters and setting. I did find the "mystery" a little less than mysterious, though it was nicely executed.
53. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Good novel about the South in the early 60s, told in 3 voices. I found the two black women much more believable characters than the white one, whose naivete got a little annoying. But that was a minor gripe in a very richly told story.
54. Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey
Book 2 of 3, following Skin Hunger. Keeps the story going and does have some good moments, but suffers from Book 2 problems--nothing resolved and some dragged. Still, it is an interesting series--Hahp's story was more compelling than Sadima's and I'm curious how she'll draw the two story lines together.
55. Deafening by Frances Itani
Good historical novel, though I felt like it had two different tales that didn't necessarily come together: the story of the main character's deafness and how she functions in the world was only barely linked with the story of her husband's experience as a stretcher-bearer in WWI. The time they spent together was ok, but didn't really justify in my mind their connection or longing for each other--that part seemed like a convenient overlay and way to put the two stories in one book.
56. Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan
Incredibly depressing stories about children being exploited/starved/suffering in Africa. I think every politician should read it (and a good number of their constituents) because it makes clear the problems in Africa, though it offers no solutions.
57. The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles
Really beautiful historical fiction about the clash between the Plains Indian tribes and North Texas settlers. Shows both sides with their flaws and their beauty.
58. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
I'd heard mixed reviews of this book, but enjoyed it quite a lot. Some readers have found the main character too self-involved and naval gazing, but to me this is a coming of age book that just happens to be set in a world where magic is real. I found Quentin's temptation to escape to his childhood fantasy world all too relatable--I've had dreams of fictionalized worlds myself when the present was particularly miserable. I thought the book packed a great deal into a book that didn't feel overly-long and could have easily become bogged down. The only thing I couldn't quite figure out was how Alice went from a mousy creature to some gorgeous woman, but I guess that I'm supposed to see her through Quentin's eyes--maybe it is just his appreciation/love that transforms her and to anyone else she isn't different.
59. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Sequel to The Hunger Games which I loved. This is book 2 of 3 and I think the middle book is a hard one to write--can't wrap things up but can't have it feel too much like filler. This one did a pretty good job. It advanced the conflict and didn't feel too repetitive. Don't think it stood on its own since a lot of the references relied on key plot points and characters in book one, but then again, I don't think Collins intended it to stand on its own.
60. Fire by Kristin Cashore
The book is said to be a "companion" to Gracelings. It was ok, but I felt like the main character was too good to be true (I would have liked her better if she was a little less virtuous) and the story had a lot more momentum for the first 1/4 than for the last 3/4. Once the main character got to the King City I thought it got a bit bogged down. Also, I didn't buy the romance between her and the prince. It just didn't have much spark.
61. After the Flood by Margaret Atwood
This book is a companion to Oryx and Crake and I enjoyed it more than that book. I really liked Toby's story and appreciated Atwood's sharp, dark humor.
62. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Man, Swedish people drink a lot of coffee. Someone made a pot on pretty much every other page. Other than that little gripe this was a really fun read--it has been a while since I read a thriller. Yes, I will read the next book in the series.
63. The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
Part two, following The Knife of Never Letting Go. Compelling read, even though it didn't have the thrill of discovery that the first book contained. The number of times the Mayor could trick Todd and Viola got a little tiring, but the narration, with the alternating voices kept it from dragging the book into stagnation. I know the ending is there to set up the next (final) book, but I thought the Spackle war at the end was a little predictable.
64. Looking for Alaska by John Green
A book that really captures what it feels like to be a teenager--the chaos, what is and isn't important, the humor, the wild surges of emotion. Funny and sad and hopeful too. Excellent YA read.
65. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
I love how Nick Hornby can take a meditation on a mundane topic and make it funny and philosophical. His books contain such kindness towards the invariably flawed characters that it is hard not to love all of them. I didn't fight it--I let go and fell for them and it was lovely.
66. Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford
This YA novel had me laughing out loud--the clueless, sex obsessed, gangsta talking white boy perfectly captured the confusion and craziness of puberty. The voice is so continually flailing for meaning that some of the predictable plot points can be overlooked.
67. St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves by Karen Russell
I LOVED the title story and was not an enthusiastic reader of the rest of this collection. Strange to have such extremely different reactions. I would push the book on people with the caveat that they only read the last story which for me brought to mind the Native American boarding schools that tried to wipe out the student's connection with their culture. It was beautiful and sad and funny and lyrical. Wish the rest of the stories had been too, but I was left after reading them thinking that I missed something (or a lot of things...)
68. Coventry by Helen Humphries
A nice piece of historical fiction about the devastating bombing of Coventry in WWII. It made for a nice companion to The Facts of Life: A Novel by Graham Joyce (which did much more imaginative things with the same event).
69. Paper Towns by John Green
Good, but not my favorite of his books. I can see why it will make a really fun movie though. And his wry, nerdy wit is such a pleasure to read, no matter what direction the plot takes.
70. The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge
Almost 600 pages of Hardinge bliss. Well worth waiting for. Wonderful alternative universe with scrambled logic and beautifully imagined cultures.
71. In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker
Fun sci fi book set both in the future and in Elizabethan England. A little heavy handed on the emotions (though they are perfectly appropriate for the 17 year old main character), but really fun to read and lots of sharp, funny observations. Glad to have discovered this as it is the first in a series and I'll definitely be reading more of them.
72. Wings by Aprilynne Pike
A pleasant though kind of thin YA faerie novel. To me the lesson was don't make your main character and male love interests too perfect. They're kind of dull without some sort of edge.
73. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr
It took me a couple of tries to get into this YA book but once I did I really enjoyed it. Loved how the girl heroine refused to compromise and stood up for herself and her own desires.
74. Liar by Justine Larbalestier
Best YA book I've read this year. Took the idea of an unreliable narrator to a new level. The voice was incredibly compelling and I gobbled this one down. Makes me want to read more of her stuff.
75. Forest Born by Shannon Hale
Decent sequel to the other Bayern books, but a bit flat. I guess Rinn never really came alive to me. I recently listened/re-read to River Secrets on CD while driving and found it much more vibrant and interesting.
76. Stitches by David Small
Sad but beautiful memoir told visually.
77. How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier
Much more interesting than the title led me to believe, though now that I have read "Liar" I'm not surprised that this author transformed a book with "fairy" in the title into a snarky good read.
78. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Pages 1-162 were fantastic then the book lurched to a weird time shift (6 years pass--why?) and summary. Wish the author had found a different way to wrap up the compelling story that she starts.