Obviously I need a good swift kick for not finishing, but we're focusing on the positives today. For example, there are fourteen books crossed off that list, and I'm sure I forgot to add a few. That's more than one book per month. Which is not a number to laugh at when said reader eloped and single-handedly tackled an international move. (And I do mean single-handedly. Husband was conveniently gone to a week-long range when the movers finally brought our things. Care to guess who did all the unpacking?) So let's get on with the show, shall we?
The top notch, five star spots on the list went out to My Name is Memory, by Ann Brashares, and Eat, Pray, Love, by the now-quite-famous Elizabeth Gilbert. (The movie, however, was severely disappointing, and this from an avid Julia Roberts fan.) When I say "READ IT OR DIE" in my rating guide, what I mean to say is "read this quite excellent book, or your soul shall wither with grief." My seriousness in this assessment can be proven by the fact that even though I loved many of the books I read this year, only two were given the highly coveted (I'm sure) fifth star.
My Name is Memory was probably my favorite read this year. The story follows the romance of Daniel and Sofia throughout the many lives of their souls, the catch being that only Daniel retains his memory from one life to the next. You can find my complete review of this excellent novel here.
|Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, & Committed|
Also noteworthy on the list were the four books earning four stars: The Help by Kathryn Stockett, J.R.R Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Room by Emma Donoghue, and my second non-fiction choice The Homefront Club, Jacey Eckhart's "Guide to Raising a Military Family."
The Help boasts high reviews, perhaps a little too high. NPR.org raves (on the cover, I might add) "If you read only one book...let this be it." While I enjoyed this book, I can't say it would be my pick for the only book of the year. The story follows the lives of Aibileen and Minny, two black house maids in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, and Skeeter, one of the innumerable white children raised by "the help." Skeeter breaks the mold of the average girl of her time by refusing to marry and secretly writing a book that exposes the hardships of the black maids in her community. The book was wonderfully written, the characters are developed flawlessly, and the story is indeed meaningful. That cannot and should not be argued. The Huffington Post was spot on in saying that there is a big attraction to The Help because it's "about something. That is, something real. Something that matters." My only complaint with the overwhelming praise is that while Stockett makes a big impact, she isn't really breaking new ground. The horrors of post-slavery America have been exposed in many other novels. (Just off the top of my head, Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees has similar themes. The main character Lily is raised by her beloved black nanny Rosaleen after her mother's death.) Simply put, The Help was a really good book with a great message. I highly recommend it, hence the four stars. But I also recommend you read other books this year.
I was more than a little late in jumping on the Lord of the Rings bandwagon. If by some chance you've been living under a rock for the last fifty-seven years and don't know anything about the series, here's the wikipedia page. This was another read that didn't warrant a full review due to current exposure. I've been told more than a thousand times that I JUST HAVE TO read these books. Somewhere around the 1,254th time, I gave in. I have to say, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The level of detail was delightful. Everything from the landscape to the wardrobes of the characters to the varying languages was perfectly laid out in the novels. It was astoundingly simple to picture. By the end of the last book I felt like I'd been walking every step of the dangerous journey with the hobbits and their company. It's a series I recommend not only because of the long lasting hype and captivating story, but because it is a display of masterful writing. The Lord of the Rings trilogy has found a place both in my heart and on my shelves. If you have not yet read these books, allow me to be your 1,254th annoying fan and say: "YOU JUST HAVE TO!"
(On a side note: I read the 50th Anniversary One-Volume Edition, and was amazed by how many forwards and notes were included before I even got to the prologue. I read them all. Total geek that I am, I was fascinated by the description of the evolution of the books during the many printings. If you're at all interested in publishing or the writing process you should check it out. Also: Tolkien didn't so much create a story as a complete world. The appendices in the back were also very interesting, as they detailed the many languages and cultures of the different races in the books.)
Emma Donoghue's novel Room was a truly original masterpiece. The story is told by a five year old boy named Jack, who lives in Room. Room is Jack's whole world. He is not aware that anything exists outside this 11x11 square. Jack has Ma and a few sparse furnishings, and nothing else is real. Cats and dogs and roads and cars are all "TV," just things that are made up for fun. It is through Jack's innocent eyes that we learn the true horror of his existence. Ma is the victim of a seven year kidnapping, kept hostage in a sound-proof shed in a back yard of a residential neighborhood. Jack is the product of her kidnapper's cruelty, but he is also the driving force in Ma's life. If anything this profoundly astonishing has been written before, I am not yet aware of it. Jack's story touched my heart, terrified me, and gave me hope. If you'd like a full review, here is the link to the New York Times'.
The only other non-fiction book to make my list was Jacey Eckhardt's The Homefront Club. While there are hundreds of self-helpish books on the market targeting military wives, this one is my pick. (It should be noted that this decision was made after one day of sampling, not after extensive research.) Eckhardt is funny, easy to relate to, smart in a very no-nonsense manner, and most of all, compassionate. She can give excellent advice to the average military wife based on one credential: She is one of us. Her book touches on the main frustrations of military life -- the frequent moves, the crazy hours, the impossibility of making new friends every year, the horror of trying to maintain your own career, and last but certainly not least, dealing with the "dreaded D(eployment) word." Somehow she even manages to talk about the worst case scenarios without making us run for our lives. I heartily recommend this one for you girls who (like myself) sometimes feel like you're drowning in your husband's job. Assuming that job is the thrice accursed military, of course.
Some of my other reviews from this year:
- Redwall by Brian Jacques
- The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks
- Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce
- Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding*
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez*
- *These reviews appear on Goodreads and are not full reviews so much as a dialogue of my thoughts.
- The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: Stephenie Meyer's spin off of the third novel in her Twilight series, Eclipse, was was less than thrilling. While I am an ardent Twilighter, I can't say that this novella was satisfying. Maybe it's just because readers of the series already know the ending, but I found that there wasn't much suspense. In all honesty, while the writing was decent, the story wasn't so much a true tragedy as it was...well. Just plain depressing.
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Stieg Larsson is certainly a masterful storyteller. This thriller was a highly entertaining read with a seamlessly woven plot. True to its genre's goal, it kept me turning pages and guessing right up to the end. I loved it. What kept this book from earning its fourth star was a personal preference: I don't like slutty men to be the heroic main character. However, I still enjoyed the mystery and host of other well penned characters, and I heartily recommend it. (Especially for plane reading.)
- The Vampire Diaries I & II: I picked up these books because I love the CW series by the same name. I could not have been more disappointed. How the CW wrung a hit TV show out of L J Smith's books, I will never understand. The plot in both books was non-existant, nearly all the characters are shallow and reliant upon their stereotypes, and the writing often felt choppy. I cut a little slack and gave The Vampire Diaries a second star only because it was obvious they were geared toward a much younger (pre-teen) audience. Do yourself a favor: If you're over age 11, skip the books and go rent the first season of the TV show.
- Committed: The follow up to Elizabeth Gilbert's mega-success was a little less than satisfying. While it was nice to hear the "sequel," so to speak, some of the gusto and purpose of Eat, Pray, Love was missing. It's worth a read, but maybe just check it out from your local library.
As always, I look forward to hearing your opinions.
Did you read any of these books?
Any recommendations for my 2011 reading list?
What is your favorite book from 2010?
image sources in order of appearance: