Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Books read in 2011 with brief comments

Yes, I'm still doing this.

1. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
There's delicate balance between over-explaining and talking down to your audience, which Marchetta certainly does not, and underexplaining and leaving your audience scratching their heads. I was often in the latter camp with this book. I appreciate the themes she's working with but really needed more to understand the actual characters. "She's a silent simple novice, NO she's a crafty manipulator, NO she's the Queen!" Whaaaa?

2. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Very sweet YA romance. There were a few things that were a little too convenient for my taste (how easy it was for the Main Character to fall in with the hippest kids in the school, for example) but the author nailed the giddy and confusing and exciting feeling of discovery that comes at this phase of life.

3. Let it Snow: three holiday romances by Maureen Johnson, John Green and Lauren Myracle
Should have read it the week before x-mas rather than the week after (but hey, I was deep in Vampires with Cronin then). Always nice to get a little dose of John Green and I liked the other two authors, whose books I haven't yet read, too.

4. Starcrossed by Elizabeth Bunce
Enjoyed this though I kind of got my hopes up that it would be a can't-put-downer and it wasn't quite that.

5. Plain Kate by Erin Bow
Absolutely LOVED this. Language beautiful, voice of the cat is perfect, just an exquisite book.

6. Factotem by D.M. Cornish
Third book in the Monster Blood Tattoo series. Such a richly imagined world.

7. Away by Amy Bloom
Good book but a little out of balance. I found Lillian traveling a bit hard to believe.

8. Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve
Prequel to the Mortal Engines books. I'm not sure if I would have cared if I hadn't read Mortal Engines (which I liked but didn't love).

9. Sunshine by Robin McKinnley
If you can stand another book about vampires, this one is pretty entertaining. That said, I felt like it went on too long and got kind of lost in the visualization of the alternate world near the end. Kind of similar to the way I felt about The Hero and the Crown.

10. The Demons Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan
Sequel to the Demon's Lexicon. I enjoyed it, even if the main character attractions felt kind of over-done. Then again, it's meant for teenagers, not me, so it would probably fan the flames very well.I thought the character Jamie was much more interesting and fleshed out (and funny) in this book, and Alan was less of a saint.

11. The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley
A good Middle Grade read, though I wasn't thrilled by the Main Character's "girlieness" at the end. I know it's about self-acceptance and, since she is a girl passing as a boy at the beginning of the story, that accepting her gender is a part of the development. But I wished that the way she expressed her girl side was a bit more linked to the tough character that we've grown fond of.

12. Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
Really good YA. Funny, smart, and a little scary. Almost no-cringe worthy moments which, when you are dealing with a plot about self discovery, is pretty amazing.

13. Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England by Amanda Vickery
Reliving my past life as an 18th C scholar! Excellent history book, though perhaps not for everyone.

14. I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn
Re-read of the excellent book for book group. Beautiful.

15. A Feast For Crows by George R.R. Martin
The epic fantasy series continues. So many characters to follow that the author split their stories into two separate books.

16. A Visit from the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan
Mostly wonderful contemporary fiction. The only thing that bugged me were the little coincidences that were a bit cute (does Lulu have to end up with the African Warrior's son? Really?) I know the book is about interconnectedness but those little links distanced me. I was surprised how much I liked and was moved by the Power Point chapter. At first glance it looked like a gimmick, but it worked for me.

17. Percival's Planet by Michael Beyers
Really enjoyed reading this. Beyers obviously loves his characters and I loved all the science that was woven into the human struggles.

18. Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
I'd tried reading this before, but found the audio book sooooo much better than the voices in my own head. Really, really great reader, especially considering all the Scottish dialect. Kids loved it too. Best line "When he played the mouse pipes it sounded like a spider trying to fart through its ears."

19. Love Invents Us by Amy Bloom
I love how complicated and un-idealized her characters are. Major flaws, but still sympathetic with that stubborn doggedness that I don't find all that often in contemporary fiction.

20. The Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
Fun read with some of the characters who appear later in Wee Free Men. Nice to have good light fiction available for when the stress kicks in and serious lit feels like work.

21. She-Wolves: the women who ruled England before Elizabeth by Helen Castor
The English history geek in me loved this. Not sure how someone who hasn't been through a War of the Roses obsession would receive it...

22 and 23. A Hat Full of Sky and The Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
Audio books w/kids. Stephen Briggs is an excellent reader. Love the Nack Mac Feigels. Sadly, the library doesn't (yet) have the 4th audio book in the series.

24. 25. and 26. Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies and Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
Following all the antics of Granny Weatherwax.

27. Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
Decent enough sequel to Incarceron. I never really got the whole mystique/mythology of sapphique that the book relies upon so never totally bought into it.

28. A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
The third fun Flavia de Luce mystery. Really just a lovely, funny and vulnerable voice.

29. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Interesting new fantasy (with at least one sequel--maybe a whole new series?). The only part I found a bit implausible was when the main character goes through a few years as a beggar. Since the rest of the book is dependent on his outstanding abilities, it seems a little hard to swallow that they would go totally dormant for a long period (result of trauma blah blah blah). I think maybe the author did it so that the reader would feel sympathy for the character because it can't be easy to generate audience support from someone who is a bit of a know-it-all.

30. The Great Night by Chris Adrian
I read the short story (one chapter in this book) version in the New Yorker last year and it was so good that I saved the magazine. The only issue I saved and just for this story.  I liked the novelized version too, though it didn't quite have the poignancy of the short story.

31. Eona by Alison Goodman
Sequel to Eon. Good follow up, richly realized culture and dragon religion.

32. Chime by Franny Billingsley
Terrific YA book with a horrible schlocky cover that turned me off so much that I almost didn't read the book!  The cover I would have designed would have been dark and murky like the swamp in the book with some of the mysterious character like the Boggy Mun and Mucky Face peeking out of the rushes.  Anyway, wonderful voice with a healthy dose of snark and twists and turns to the plot.

33. Divergent by Veronica Roth
Decent enough Hunger Games-style series. In the last couple of chapters there was a sudden insertion of GOD and reference to baptism which I found totally distracting for a distopia (if GOD was a big deal to the character, shouldn't it be a part of the culture of the futuristic society?). So all in all, meh.

34. Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention by Katherine Ellison
Interesting NF book about ADHD both observed (in her son) and experienced (in herself).

35. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Lovely "Importance of Being Ernest" + time travel novel. I'm reading another one of these (this one set in WWII London) and so far it isn't quite as fun as this one.

36. Blackout by Connie Willis
Part one of a two part series. Decent, but not as compelling as #35. But good enough that I requested part 2 from the library.

37. Started Early, Took My Dog: A Novel by Kate Atkinson
Another sharp, clever Jackson Brodie mystery.

38. The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicholson
Still not sure of the point of the book. A history of one summer before WWI in England. Gives a portrait of the time, but to what end? Lots of gossipy bits, some labor history, weird little tid bits like the origin of the term "Loo" for toilet, etc. I suppose it is the history of daily life rather than historical event, but I supposed I'd rather get this from a novel. Re-reading EM Forester would fill in the same gaps in the imagination of pre-WWI life.

39. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Wonderful novel. Self and world discovery, exotic and familiar, really just a terrific read.

40. Doc by Mary Doria Russell
Really wonderful western about Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp, with hardly any shooting. It all takes place before their infamous Tombstone stuff and is so wonderfully character driven.

41. All Clear by Connie Willis
Sequel to Blackout. Satisfying follow up. Loved the characters Alf and Binnie Hodbin. Maybe a bit exasperating when the characters keep missing each other, but there was a point to it in the end.

42. The Maytrees by Annie Dillard
Decent book, helped by the fact that I read it partly while on Cape Cod, where most of it is set. Memorable bits, but I didn't think the whole thing was terribly compelling. Quiet.

43. Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
Massive next installment in the series. Entertaining enough.  I particularly loved the (few) bits told from Arya's point of view.

44. The Domesday Book by Connie Willis
Good time travel story set in the era of the black plague. The past parts were more compelling than the present (which got a bit repetitive for my taste).

45. Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
I read it all the way through but kept criticizing it throughout. It did not feel like it was set in the 1600's. And there were big sections where Caleb is lost entirely. I think a rotating point of view, alternating between Bethia and Caleb, would have been helpful.

46. Not Even Wrong by Paul Collins
Nice exploration of autism both personal and historical.

47. The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier
Decent enough fantasy, though I thought things came a little easily to the main characters which decreased the sense of accomplishment when they did achieve stuff.

48. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
Another book from the "Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight" author. This time focused on her mother. Some of the story is familiar from the previous book, but the focus is different and makes for a very compelling portrait of an eccentric, exasperating, but admirable woman.

49. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
Second book in a series.  Good, long. I got a little fed up with the Felurian episode, thought it was a little goofy (particularly the rhyming) and lacked subtlety. The main present/past story is still compelling.

50. The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell
Fun re-imagining of the 12 Dancing Princesses story, set in Eastern Europe. Local author. Nice light touch.

51. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
What took me so long? It was the creepiness of the opening chapter, I guess. Not many children's books start with a triple murder and then turn out to be heartwarmingly lovely. But this one did.

52. The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman
Newberry winner; historical fiction. Full story while still being very economical.

53. The Apothecary by Maile Meloy
Meh. I like her adult fiction much more. The concept was fine but the characters were flat.

54.  Blood Red Road by Moira Young
Fantastic YA read! Reminded of the Knife of Never Letting Go: voice, action, intensity. Just no aliens. Can't wait to see what she writes next (room for a sequel).

55. I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
A satisfying ending to the Tiffany Aching series of books. I thought the introduction and appeal of Preston was very subtle and lovely, not really the first qualities that come to mind when thinking of Discworld. Of course there was plenty of humor and wry wisdom too.

56. My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe
I really enjoyed this, despite expecting to only be mildly interested. Funny, poignant. I related to the author's sense of bewilderment about how the world works.

57. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Faerie land--quirky, violent, unpredictable. Nice storytelling.

58. Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi
Fun read. A lot of it takes place in a court room which isn't exactly what one expects from Sci Fi.

59. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Enjoyed a whole lot. Nice way to end the year.

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