Sunday, January 3, 2010

Books Read in 2010 with brief comments

1. Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's by Tim Page
Decent Asperger's memoir from a famous music critic. I would have liked more introspection, but then, this is a book about someone who has trouble understanding what other people want from him socially so it isn't exactly surprising that I felt some of the more human parts of the story were left out. They probably are of the least interest to Page. It was hopeful in that he figured out how to channel his intense interests into a career. I think I prefer Look Me In the Eye if I had to pick one hopeful Aspie memoir though.

2. Dearest Creature by Amy Gerstler
Really lovely, quirky book of poems. Very accessible. Loved Mrs. Monster in particular.

3. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
It has been a long time since I read such a compelling and elegantly written piece of historical fiction. (And it is particularly good if you are a late-medieval/early-Renaissance English history buff. This made me want to see the whole series of Shakespeare's war of the roses plays again.)

4. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Read for book group; very beautiful, moody novel that links up a wide variety of New Yorkers. Had a little trouble with imagined vertigo in the highwire parts but I expected that.

5. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
Fun sequel to Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. More violence, a little less sex and a little less of the intricate mystery in this one. I liked imagining daily life in Sweden with its excess of coffee and stuff like frozen pan pizzas (nice to know that a culture I romanticize has crappy 7-11s too).

6. The Blue Star by Tony Earley
Sequel to Jim the Boy. A really lovely read--sweet, fresh, nostalgic but not excessively so. Makes me want to go back and re-read the first book. And hope that there is another one in the works.

7. Moribito by Nahoko Uehashi
First book in this Japanese YA series in translation. It was good and I liked the female warrior. Still trying to decide whether my kids would like it as a read-aloud.

8. Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier
First book in a trilogy--did a good job of laying out the mystery that the MC is confronted with and revealing her past. Will read the second to see how it develops.

9. Moribito II by Nahoki Uehashi
Good, but I can see how this might become formulaic in a series.

10. and 11. Magic Lessons and Magic's Child by Justine Larbalestier
I liked book 2 until near the end and was kind of confused by book 3. I didn't get the old man's magic or why it was different than all other magic and had trouble envisioning the transformation of the MC under this magic.

12. The Art Student's War by Brad Leithauser
Really lovely, poignant novel about Detroit in wartime and one family. Blogged about it here.

13. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
Breezy memoir about a woman reflecting on her Mennonite upbringing. Some very funny moments.

14. The Klipfish Code by Mary Casanova
Children's novel about the Nazi occupation of Norway. Decent enough.

15. Foundling by D.M. Cornish
It took a couple of tries for me to get into this but once I was in--Wow! Really good alternate/fantasy world. Characters were compelling and complex and I can't wait to get my hands on book 2 of the 3 part series (part 3 comes out this summer).

16. Blackbringer by Laini Taylor
Again, took a couple of tries to get into the book, but it was fun once I was in. Liked the main character and loved her Crow companions.

17. Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish
Sequel to Foundling. Fun read, though the secret of Rosamund's past seems like it keeps bringing up obvious questions that get set aside.

18. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Interesting post-apocalyptic story. Good forward moving energy and the first of a trilogy, though the reason for the experiment left me going "huh?" Maybe it will be settled in the next two books but that seems the weak spot in the whole concept.

19. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Wow--so rare that a best-seller deserves to be so. I (cynically) thought that this would be a light, trite marketed-for-women's-book-clubs type of book and instead found it to be raw and genuine and funny and inspiring. The only trouble I had was my usual challenge of empathizing with an extrovert. As an introvert, I get mighty envious of people who move through the social world with such ease. But I got over it and enjoyed the book.

20. Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Wells
Thought I would like this one more than I did. Maybe I'm just not a tough-love kinda person.

21. The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow
I didn't expect to like this one so much because it is based on a rather sensational true story, but ended up being caught up in it. It is beautifully written and the characters are very compelling; the author--sensibly--does not morbidly fixate on the tragedy, just lets it lurk there most of the time.

22. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
What's not to love in a British mystery series in which the young main character refers to her older sister as "the Devil's Hairball"? And the next one in the series is already out!

23. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Wonderful book of manners in contemporary Britain. Could have been painfully twee, but it managed to mock all the right bits while preserving a deep affection for what is appealing about British culture. Must be read with a large supply of good tea on hand.

24. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
The next book for my book group--I really enjoyed it. The process of self-discovery of the main character was so compelling and the depiction of the strengths and limitations of the two cultures (small village Ireland and Brooklyn) were very well developed. The author didn't feel the need to impose what the "right" decision was on the reader. I know where I came down on her choice, but could easily see another reader deciding the opposite.

25. Angelolgy by Danielle Trussoni
Stupid beyond belief. Can't believe I actually kept reading it. The Da Vinci Code is way better and since that book is absurd (though sorta fun in a dopey thriller-no-one-ever-has-to-go-to-the-bathroom-or-sleep way), it gives you a sense of horrible this one is.

26. The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork
Really good YA book about anger and living. I was really glad that the author hinted at the way that things could turn out but didn't go for the tear jerker of a deathbed scene. There was still plenty of ambiguity about how Pancho's life would turn out--no pat resolution. But it did end on a note of hope and dignity for both of the main characters.

27. Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough
Ok-ish YA book; a lot of it felt obvious, particularly the main character's romance and her problems with her sister.

28. A Faraway Island by Annika Thor
Children's novel set in WWII following two Jewish sisters sent to a remote island in Sweden. Decent, though nothing revelatory. Apparently the first in a series that is only now being translated into English.

29. Grave Goods by Ariana Franklin
Third in the "Mistress of the Art of Death" mystery series. I didn't read the second yet--whoops!--though it didn't really matter. Pretty fun read, particularly in the portrayal of King Henry II.

30. The World We Live In by
Susan Beth Pfeffer
Third book in her YA series about a world that has changed when the moon is hit by an asteroid. I liked the first book, missed the second (whoops again...) and thought parts of this were quite good. I didn't feel the attraction of the main character for the boy who tumbles across her path, just heard her proclaim it and the religion stuff, while understandable, didn't make an impact on me. A good YA book to get kids thinking, none the less.

31. A Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin
Second book in the mystery series. Decent enough, though perhaps I've had my fill for a while.

32. Sabriel by Garth Nix
First Garth Nix book I've read and I liked it--glad to know there are more. The visions of the gates of death was very effective and I was surprised by how little explaining of the Main Character's abilities he did. He expected his readers to accept it (or not to continue reading). Interesting move in the "confidence in your reader" department.

33. Incarceron by Catherine Fischer
Interesting and inventive, though for some reason, I never really connected to either of the two main characters. I'll probably read the next book in the series though since there were some really creative, visual scenes.

34. Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve
Cool, futuristic novel about mobile cities in a post apocalyptic world. Excellent adventure.

35. The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
YA fantasy that won the Newbery Medal back in 1984. Good, traditional storytelling w/recognizable quest plot. I enjoyed it a lot and really liked the character's sense of humor (found that a bit unexpected).

36. Thirteeth Child by Patricia Wrede
YA fantasy, first in a series, set in an alternate version of the old west where magicians protect settlers. I enjoyed the historical setting, though, like other readers have written, think that the complete absence of Native Americans is disturbing. (Why not include them and make them shamans?)

37. Dragon Haven by Robin McKinley
Really great 1st person voice in this one. Book had a lot of momentum until about 3/4 of the way through, then it ran out of steam. I'm trying to figure out why--it was still interesting and the persecution of the hero was increasing in intensity. Maybe the voice got a little tiresome by then? Don't know.

38. Savvy by Ingrid Law
OK-ish YA book. I never got into the voice of the MC and also thought that the MC didn't grow or change over the course of the book.

39. Long for This World by Michael Byers
It took me a long time to trust the author on this one--I was worried that he was going to punish his very appealing characters for their hubris, but thankfully not. It was a tender book with sympathy for all the characters's pale underbellies. Didn't know until after I finished the book that the author lives in Ann Arbor.

40. The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Staci Lloyd
Really good distopian future YA novel. Loved the Main Character's voice, observations and screwed up family. Looking forward to the sequel.

41. Windsinger by William Nicholson
Interesting middle grade/YA book to read for craft--the author did interpersonal conversations so well and action sequences so poorly. I still haven't put my finger on why the latter failed--I was bored bored bored when "things were happening" and loving it when the characters were featured front and center in scenes. Don't remember ever noticing such a discrepancy in a writer's ability.

42. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Steig Larsson
Fun summer read, wrapping up the trillogy. Less violence and more hacking in this one.

43. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Re-read for me, first read for the kids as I read it out loud to them. They love it, particularly the funny chapter titles. I was gratified by how much Greek mythology they are learning through it. When we were in the Met, Fiona kept recognizing statues of different Gods and heroes.

44. The Carbon Diaries 2017 by Staci Lloyd
Interesting sequel to 2015. Lots more about growing up and the choices people make--what they can and can't live with and what takes top priority in their lives.

45. Innocence by Jane Mendelssohn
Blergh! Can't believe that this was the book that came after "I was Amelia Earhart" which is one of my favorite books. I suppose it was well written and a super fast read (I think I read it in 2 hours) but ick...what a histrionic/melodramatic story about a girl and a predatory step mother.

46. A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner
YA follow up to The Thief trilogy focusing on a secondary character who appeared in the first book. Good, but not really stand alone. The most interesting parts were the interactions with Gen, the master trickster. Did make me want to go and read The Thief again.

47. The Road Home by Rose Tremain
Difficult book to read, due to my own personal anxieties about being in a world w/no support system. Interesting view of contemporary England (and Eastern Europe) and some very vivid characters. The ending was a bit tidy, but ok.

48. The Thousand Autums of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
Exquisite historical novel. Took my breath away.

49. The Manny Files by Christian Burch
Good YA book about being the only boy and a middle child in a family of vivacious achievers. Everyone was a little too perfect so that even their failings turned out to be positive, but a fun read.

50. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
Pretty interesting YA novel about the afterlife and one girl's experience in Death. There were a few awkward bits that were ducked (attraction and sex between dead people of different ages, most prominently), but it was a fun read.

51. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
I re-read this one and enjoyed it a second time. This time I paid attention to how she made a fulfilling quest plot in a relatively short book.

52. The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
I know Goodman is a really good writer, but something about her latest books leaves me cold. I think the most interesting characters in this book, the two rabbi's, were so peripheral to the storyline, while the two main characters seemed so "typed" as to be sort of obvious.

53. Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman
Will make you like or at least understand Sarah Silverman (if you didn't already) or appreciate her more (if you already did).

54. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Can't believe I never read this when I was a kid--compelling, spare, no extraneous mess to make the point about freedom, joy and pain.

55. The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
A YA book that started out ok, but built up to a very cool ending. No spoilers here, but the last few chapters do make you re-think the first part of the book.

56. The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
Not sure what makes this "steampunk" though I've heard the term bandied about. It was pretty good and reminded me of something Tim Burton or Terry Gilliam might put into movie form.

57. Except the Queen by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder
I really enjoyed this fantasy book about the intersection of faery and mortal worlds, particularly the dark faery/folk characters.

58. Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun
Pretty grim book, though well written.

59. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Fast paced ending to the Hunger Games series. Not a lot of surprises, but enjoyable and reasonable. I was glad that the MC remains damaged after all she's been through and that some happy ending isn't glued on.

60. Mendoza in Hollywood by Kage Baker
Another book in the Company series; fun read, if a little strangely plodding for the first 2/3rds. Then it takes off with a bang.

61. The Graveyard Game by Kage Baker
I'm on a Company roll now--loved this one, with the wily Joseph and doomed-romantic Lewis at the focus.

62. The Children of the Company by Kage Baker

63. The Machine's Child by Kage Baker
64. Black Projects, White Knights by Kage Baker
Yep, the Kage Baker Love fest continues!

65. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Exciting distopian YA. Set on the Gulf Coast, but could have as easily been set in Detroit.

66. A Game of Thrones and
67. A Clash of Kings by George Martin
Some really compelling bits and some that have me rolling my eyes...and yet I keep on reading... and have requested book 3. Maybe curiosity as to how all the plot lines (and there are MANY) will be pulled together?

68. Where the God of Loves Hangs Out by Amy Bloom
Loved, loved, loved this collection of stories. And I was very happy that some were linked stories so I didn't have to say goodbye to really terrific characters after one story.

69. Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
Final book in the Knife trilogy. Very fast paced--the author is the master of the quick cut and cliff hanger with his alternating narrators. I did get a little frustrated in the first third of the book--I wanted to glue the two main characters together but they kept going off on their own and then getting into trouble and worrying about each other. But still, a very cool series, so that's a minor gripe.

70. The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk
Kind of obvious teen mystery. The fact that the main character is deaf is kind of irrelevant in the bigger picture and I thought the mystery facet was kind of a gimmick; it seemed a lot easier than making the focus the kid's experience being deaf in a hearing school.

71. Sons of Heaven by Kage Baker 
Wrap up of the Company series. Ok, but more like a really long epilogue than a novel.

72. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Re-read, paying attention to fantasy world-building.

73. Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
Clearly lots of research went into this book, but it didn't come to life for me the way the author's previous book, Northern Light did.

74. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
Book 3 in the series. I must say that I was surprised at some of the characters who were killed off in this volume. I skim the Daenerys chapters which may be a disservice to the plot of the series as a whole, but they drive me crazy. My favorites are the Arya and Tyrion chapters.

75. Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
Decent YA book told in alternating chapters. I found the final performance of Tiny's musical to be clunky (it's hard to write really well about live performance and this chapter didn't capture it for me) but enjoyed the individual characters.

76. The Passage by Justin Cronin Lots of hype but really fun. Loved having this book to retreat to when holiday stress got too intense. Only gripe I had was the Haven section which was just too close to that part of Watership Down where the warren is kept by a farmer and the rabbits knowingly sacrifice a few members each month. Ending was a little head-scratching, but then I found out there is a sequel in the works.