Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2010 Reading List Recap

We'll begin with a glance at the list itself.
Shiver ***
Redwall ***
Doomwyte ***
The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner**
- Lament
- Ballad
- Dear John
The Last Song ***
- The Thirteenth Tale
- Sense and Sensibility
- Uglies
- The Lovely Bones
Eat, Pray, Love *****
Committed ***
- Cat's Eye
- Swapping Lives
- Betwixt
- Possession
- Her Fearful Symmetry
Sisters Red ***
- Nineteen Minutes
- Violin
- Pride and Prejudice (re-read)
- The Bell Jar
burned ***
The Vampire Diaries 1&2 **
- Fight Club
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo***
The Help ****
The Lord of the Rings I, II & III ****
My Name is Memory *****
The Bridget Jones Diary ***
-The Homefront Club: A Hardheaded Woman's Guide to Raising a Military Family****
-One Hundred Years of Solitude ***
-Room ****
 RATING GUIDE:
* = It sucked.
** = Eh.
*** = I liked it.
**** = Definitely read it.
***** = READ IT OR DIE.
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
I did not post a review of Eat, Pray, Love mostly because the book is so popular that I felt it would be redundant.  Elizabeth Gilbert's story of self-exploration is almost as well known as super-series such as Harry Potter and Twilight, and with good reason.  When I picked up a copy of this book, I did not expect much from it.  I thought it would be filled with whining and complaining.  I expected it to be yet another tribute to the suppressed spirit of women, and in a way it was, but it was also more than that.  The difference between Gilbert and most other dissatisfied women is that she took action.  She wasn't content in the life she had built, so she changed it.  (By jumping on a plane to Italy, India and Indonesia for a vacation the rest of us only dream of affording...but that's besides the point.)  Eat, Pray, Love was an inspiring message to the unhappy masses that said, in the words of Richard from Texas, "You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughtta be."  For the New York Times' review, click here.

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: 
A few words about...
  • 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:

20 comments:

  1. I'm actually going to comment on the books you didn't end up reading:
    Nineteen Minutes=Really good. Had the now typical Picoult plot twist at the end. I read alot of stuff about Columbine before reading that book (not on purpose, just a coincidence) and that kind of made the book more powerful for me.
    Uglies=Weird. Really weird. And I felt that the writing was repetitive (Ok. we get the fact that one group is "ugly" and the other is "pretty"--now find other adjectives please. But I feel that this is a case of the whole is better than the individual parts. Read the whole series and to me at least, it makes it more worth your while.
    Sense and Sensibility--One of my favorite jane austens :) I found it so much more endearing that P&P (not that I'm bashing it by any means). I just think it was more real and less the stereotypical "boy meets girl, mutual hate ensues before realizing eternal love." Though really in all fairness Austen probably broke some of the ground on that genre.

    And may I just say that I too loved "The Help."

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  2. Anna, your comment is ideal, actually. :) It's good to know what I missed.

    I really love what little Jodi Picoult I've read. But I've heard that her stuff gets kind of repetitive, or stuck on the same track. Opinions?

    I actually started Uglies a few times, but it didn't really hook me. Even when I made it past the middle. Maybe I'll try a little harder and check out the next one to see if it improves.

    Thanks for commenting!

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  3. I haven't read Eat, Pray, Love, although it's on my list. I also have another one of Gilbert's books, The Last American Man, which I also have not read, but I've heard really great things about it.

    Also, I read Nineteen Minutes and loved it mostly for its analysis on the effects of bullying. I read it around the same time that bullying started to get really prominent in the news, so it really opened my eyes to how horrible bullying really is. As far as plot and characters, I agree with you that Picoult is really repetitive, bordering on formulaic in my mind, but it was the focus on bullying that won it for me.

    I would recommend The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. I loved it--great, great characters that you will just love the heck out of.

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  4. OK, I know I read your review of My name is Memory before and put it on a list, but not sure what list LOL!! I added it to the list in my phone as that one is always with me!! I have liked all of the author's other novels.

    I liked Uglies and Pretties, but could not get into Specials.

    I saw Sense and Sensibility on TV Sunday and enjoyed it. I have trouble with Jane Austen, though. I have read Pride and Prejudice and Emma, but those were for school which is why I completed them!!LOL I didn't complete the zombie version, but was enjoying it!! I may try S&S as my next classic. Right now I am working on Anna Karenina.
    I think Dear John was better than the Last Song, but both are good, as are the movie adaptations.
    I am going to add your 5 star recommends to my list :)

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  5. I think you should read Sense and Sensibility, for sure. My favorite book this year was Radical Homemakers. It's a book that actually made me take action and gave my life a new direction. I think that's extremely powerful. Three of my favorites reads were from you. The story of the girl working in the hospital, a poem about washing shirts, and a poem of the man and woman on the train.

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  6. your reviews really good! i concur with almost everything you said...well except i never really considered mikael the hero in the girl with the dragon tattoo. i'm fairly certain lisbeth was which is why i'm so obsessed with her and the series.

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  7. Shiver, Room, and My Name is Memory are on my current reading list. Having a Kindle and not having a job or classes is allowing me to catch up on so much I've missed these past few years. :)

    Great post!

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  8. I'm currently reading Sense and Sensibility.
    I think it's a pretty good. I'm into that time period right now for some reason.
    Sounds like you have a great list and I'm going to take some of those titles and add them to my To Read list. I'm always looking for some good books to read.

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  9. Ashely: I really want to read some of Gilbert's pre-Eat,Pray,Love stuff. Let me know how that one turns out for you!

    Robyn: When I read Jane Austen, I do it a chapter or two at a time right before I go to bed. Taking it in bite sized pieces helps me get through it. While I LOVE the stories (and own several movies) the formal nature of the books can be tedious even for a fan.

    Julie: You just made my day. Like, seriously. I just woke up, and now I'm all smiley and feeling productive. Thank you! <3

    Mayra: You know, you make a good point there. Blomkvist really just rubbed me the wrong way. But Lisbeth definitely has more hero-points.

    Courtney: Knowing how many books are on your kindle, I won't be surprised if it takes you months to get to those.

    Nikke: Lots of good feedback about S&S today. I'm thinking I'm going to have to move it up the list... :)

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  10. I liked The Help. I loved and hated Eat,Pray & Love book, but the movie was a big disappointment as an adaptation.
    Started with The Lovely Bones, but couldn't get used to the idea of a dead person after 30 pages. So kept it aside for the time being.
    The Millennium series was something I enjoyed very. The fire book is the best of the three.

    I liked The Last Song. Nicholas Sparks knows to touch our hearts

    I am so happy that you liked Room because I am currently waiting for the courier man to bring it. Feel good that my purchase was not a bad idea.

    Looking forward to more book reviews from you :) Have a wonderful year ahead

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  11. Elizabeth, I couldn't really get used to The Lovely Bones either. It's still on my list, but I'm having a hard time getting back to it. Room was fantastic, but be prepared: it has some really dark moments.

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  12. You read some great books last year!! I can't wait to see what you read during this year! I read 45 books last year and this year my goal is 50!

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  13. 50? Wow! That sounds like a challenge! I usually read a lot more than I did last year, but I was so busy I barely had time to breathe, let alone find new books. I have high hopes for 2011 though!

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  14. Carrie - so nice to hear from you on my blog and to see you are living in Germany with "that boy", who became your husband.

    Your reading list is worth of Oprah. You are an inspiration, as always.

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  15. I'm currently reading Ben Eltons. Dead Famous. Its clever and funny and modern...

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  16. Zen Mama - I'd missed your posts! I'm doing my best to make the rounds and catch up quickly on all the blogs I've been missing these past few months.

    Daft Scots Lass - I'll look it up...

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  17. i love talking books! i'm definitely adding a few from your list to my to-read list, so thanks for that. some recommendations off the top of my head: i recently read libba bray's gemma doyle trilogy that was actually really good and worth a read. i also agree that you needa bump up sense and sensibility on your list. and because it is one of my favorite books of all time, i have to recommend gone with the wind. long, but totally and completely worth it. most people have read the catcher in the rye, but if you haven't then you should. franny and zooey by salinger is also a favorite of mine. the bell jar is not crossed off your list so i'm guessing that you haven't read it. you should. and i'll stop myself now before my list of recommendations get too long.

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  18. Sarah, I own all three of Libba Bray's Gemma books. I absolutely love them! I'm happy to find another fan; I find they're not everyone's cup of tea.

    Franny and Zooey and Gone With the Wind are both on my "eventually" list. By which I mean, I don't have a copy and have yet to find a really good English book store here... All the ones on nearby posts are very limited.

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  19. What a wonderful post! I also enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love, though my favorite this year is Room. And while I enjoyed The Help a lot, I thought the praise from the media & others was a bit too much.

    Bree Tanner sucked! I'm a huge Twilight fan and this book was so disappointing.

    I will have to check out My Name is Memory.

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  20. Vi: Thank you. :) My Name is Memory has a special place in my heart. It should also be noted that it is the first book in a planned trilogy.

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Each comment you leave donates one smile to my day.
Thanks so much for letting me know what you think.