Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Year in Books - 2009

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown: (genre: Fiction/Mystery) Another enjoyable but completely formulaic Robert Langdon novel. Change ocations and the names of the supporting cast and you have essentially the same story told in Angels and Demons and The Davinci Code. The identity of the villain was so obvious, I was a little disappointed. In fact, that character was poorly developed. Despite this, Brown keeps things moving at a nice pace and inserts enough trivia to keep things interesting. Grade: B-

The Stepsister Scheme - Jim C. Hines: (genre: Fiction/Fantasy) What happens after "happily ever after?" Well, Prince Charming gets kidnapped by the evil stepsisters and Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty have to team their bad-ass selves up to save him. Fun twist on the old fairy tales. Grade: B+

Crashed - Robin Wasserman: (genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Science Fiction) The follow-up novel to Skinned. This book follows Lia as she becomes more adjusted to her new "life" and the challenges she faces as opponents of the technology that brought her back from the dead fight to take away the rights of the "skinners". Grade: B+

Fire - Kristin Cashore: (genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Fantasy) Corresponding to her Graceling novel, this book takes place in a parallel land where people and animals are endowed with special traits, but in this world they are called monsters. I actually enjoyed this book more than Graceling. Grade: A-

The Maze Runner - James Dashner: (genre: Fiction, Young Adult) When he awakens at the bottom of a black hole with faces looking down at him from the only opening at the top, Thomas has no idea what has happened or what to expect. What he finds is that he has been placed among a group of boys living in a compound at the center of a maze and all he wants is out. Grade: A

Good Omens - Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett: (genre: Fiction/Supernatural) The forces of good and evil eagerly await armageddon. But it all rides on the will of the 11 year old son of darkness. Funny and insightful, this is not my favorite Neil Gaiman, but a good read nonetheless. Grade: B

Rollback - Robert Sawyer: (genre: Fiction/Sci-Fi) 38 years ago, Sarah Halifax translated the first message from beings from another planet. But when a response comes in the twilight of her life, a rich sponsor offers to give her a "roll back," a process that turns the body's age back. She insists that she will only do it if her husband, Don, can do it, too. Unfortunately, the process fails on Sarah but is successful on her husband. Suddenly, 80-year-old Sarah is married to a 25 year old. Now it is a race against time to solve the riddle of the new message. Grade: B+

How I Became a Famous Novelist - Steve Hely: (genre: Fiction) After being fired from his shady job writing college entrance essays, Pete decides he'll find fame and fortune by writing a novel. A charming faux-memoire that kept me thoroughly entertained and questioning my own thoughts on popular fiction. Grade: A

The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon: (genre: Fiction, Supernatural, Mystery) Daniel finds a book written by an unknown author when he is 10. As he grows older, a search for the author leads him on the chase of a decades old love story. Grade: A

Stardust - Neil Gaiman: (genre: Fiction, Supernatural) Tale of a young man who finds his destiny beyond the "wall" in the land of fairy. I just love Gaiman's writing. Grade: A

This Is Where I Leave You - Jonathon Tropper: (genre: Fiction) Shortly after separating from his wife, Judd Foxman's father dies. As a last wish, his father requested that his wife and four children sit shiva, a Jewish tradition where the family stays in the family home to mourn the dead for seven days. Not an easy task given just how dysfunctional the Foxman family is. At times painfully graphic, this novel is intelligent and heartbreaking and real. Grade: A+

I'm Down - Mishna Wolf: (genre: Non-fiction/Memoire) The story of young white girl and her struggles to find a place within her mixed family living in a predominantly black neighborhood. I couldn't love this book. I found myself frustrated and angry, my opinions tainted by my own experiences. There is humor, but not enough. Grade: B-

Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris: (genre: Fiction, Supernatural) Sookie Stackhouse is just your regular beautiful, warm young woman working as a waitress in a bar in her small northern Louisiana hometown, except for one thing: she can read minds. Her world is turned upside down when she meets a vampire, Bill, and strange and horrific things begin to happen around her. I've been watching the TV show, True Blood, and quite enjoying it, so I thought I would give the books a try. I struggled to finish this book. One as short as this would normally only take me a couple of days, but I just couldn't get into it. The rest of the series is sitting on my bedside table, so at some point I will plod through the rest, but I'm not as enthusiastic as I would have liked. Grade: B-

The Giver - Lois Lowry: (genre: Young Adult/Fiction, Science Fiction) Set in a not too distant future where all aspects of life are controlled, each child is assigned his occupation at the age of 12. When Jonas is given the role of Receiver, the person who holds all the memories, good and bad, he learns that the idyllic world they live in is not all it seems. I made a mistake and looked at the back of the book before I finished it, where I read the "Questions for Discussion" and saw an analysis of the ending that completely shaded how I interpreted it. My advice: Don't do this! Grade: A

City of Glass - Cassandra Clare: (genre: Young Adult/Fiction, Supernatural) The third, and final, in the trilogy begun with City of Bones. Clary learns the whole truth about her family and heritage as the shadowhunters gear up for war with a demon army led by her father. Excellent conclusion to an engrossing series. Grade: A

Spin - Robert Rave: (genre: Fiction) I wanted to like this. Recommended by one of my favorite authors, Jen Lancaster, I had high hopes. I'm sorry to say I struggled to get through it. I contemplated quitting after about 100 pages, but decided to trudge through. It is The Devil Wears Prada without all of the realistic and interesting characters and situations. Grade: D

Blue Moon - Alyson Noel: (genre: Young Adult/Fiction, Supernatural) The second in The Immortals series begun with Evermore. As Ever grows her gifts as an immortal, Damen loses his. A race to find out why, including what the new guy, Roman, has to do with it, and fix the problem, ensues. Grade: B

City of Ashes - Cassandra Clare: (genre: Young Adult/Fiction, Supernatural) The second in the trilogy begun with City of Bones. In this one, Clary continues her quest to save the world from her father, who has plans of usurping the current Shadowhunter leadership and taking the reins himself. Can't wait to read the last book! Grade: A

City of Bones - Cassandra Clare: (genre: Young Adult/Fiction, Supernatural) The first in a trilogy about a young girl, Clary, who finds herself thrust into a world of demons, vampires, werewolves and and the Shadowhunters who police them all. Nice twists. Grade: A

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins: (genre: Young Adult/Fiction) The sequel to The Hunger Games. I loved that book and this one did not let me down. It kept me riveted from the get go, wondering what was going to happen and surprised at plot twists. Now, the torture of waiting for the third (and I hope final) book to come out. Check out my full review at Blissfully Domestic. Grade: A+

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict - Laurie Viera Rigler: (genre: Fiction) The other side of the body switch related in Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. This time it's an 19th century woman in the 21st century and all of the confusions and misunderstandings that ensue. I enjoyed this book just a teensy bit more than Confessions, but was left with a few questions at the end. Grade: B+

The Motion of the Ocean - Janna Cawrse Esarey: (genre: Non-fiction/Memoire) A couple makes a trans-pacific journey on their sailboat discovering more than just how to navigate an ocean. An engrossing and beautifully written book. Check out my full review at Blissfully Domestic. Grade: A+

Evermore - Alyson Noel: (genre: YA/fiction, Supernatural) Relocated to sunny California to live with her aunt following a car accident that kills her entire family and leaves her with psychic powers, Ever struggles to overcome her guilt while trying to fit in her new school. Then she meets Damen. Handsome and clever, Damen is full of one surprise after another. Grade: B+

Skinned - Robin Wasserman: (genre: YA/fiction) Set in the future, this is the gripping story of a young woman who's body is destroyed in a car accident so her brain is virtually recreated and placed in a new mechanical body. She and those around her struggle to adjust to her new condition, one that is violently opposed by "faithers" and ostracized by just about everyone else. I ate this book up, but the ending was a little dry. Not enough resolution for me. Still, a great read. Grade: A-

It's Not Me, It's You - Stefanie Wilder-Taylor: (genre: Non-fiction/Memoire) A comedic but often dark look at one woman's neuroses-filled life. I have one weird gripe about this book: she often made internet references when talking about her early life. Knowing that her early life was in the 70s and 80s, obviously there was no internet. Hell, not many people even had computers then. In no way ruined it for me, but these anachronisms popped up here and there and it was like the grain of sand in your shoe that drives you crazy. Grade: B

The Outlaws of Sherwood - Robin McKinley: (genre: Fiction) Yet another retelling, this time it's the Robin Hood legend. In this version, he's a reluctant leader who isn't actually all that good at archery but it has the usual cast of characters and takes the reader on a fun ride. Grade: B+

Amanda Bright@Home - Danielle Crittendon: (genre: Fiction) Amanda Bright struggles with her role as a stay at home mom and wife of a high profile (but low salaried) Department of Justice lawyer. Readable, but the characters were flat stereotypes and the story was predictable. Grade: C

Rose Daughter - Robin McKinley: (genre: Fiction) Another retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fable. By the same author. This one was a little darker and veered a little further from the original story. Overall, I liked it, but I don't recommend reading them both so close together. Grade: B

Rattled - Debra Galant: (genre: Fiction) Heather Peters is a woman who gets what she wants. And when that something is a big, beautiful house in rural-ish New Jersey, she goes after it. Unfortunately, it is also the home for a Timber Rattlesnake and chaos ensues when she has a run-in with the slithery current occupant. Quick, fun read. Grade: B

At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream - Wade Rouse: (genre: Memoire, comedy) Fabulous gay man drags his equally fabulous boyfriend to a remote Michigan cabin to find his inner Thoreau. Funny, touching. I can't help it, I just love gay men. Is that weird? Grade: A

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict - Laurie Viera Rigler: (genre: Fiction, historical, romance) Cute book about a modern woman who is magically transported to Jane Austen's England. She quickly discovers that they glossed over a lot in the miniseries of Pride and Prejudice. Like how much everyone smells. Overall an enjoyable read, but the ending was a bit of a letdown. Grade: B+

The Westing Game - Ellen Raskin: (genre: Mystery) A fun murder whodunit that will keep you guessing right up until the end. Written in the late sixties, it's a tad dated, but still a solid read. Grade: B+

Beauty - Robin McKinley: (genre: Fiction) An inventive retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale. Fun read! Grade: A-

Zoe's Tale - John Scalzi: (genre: Sci-fi, YA) Clever tale about a girl who is part of founding a colony on a new world. There is new love, war, political intrigue and a few aliens. Grade: B+

The Guernsay Literary and Potato Peel Society - Mary Ann Shafer: (genre: Historical Fiction) A truly wonderful book. Told through letters, this book is engaging and emotional. I was reading it on the treadmill when I got to a certain part (when you read it, you'll know where I'm talking about) and I started crying. At the gym. It's that good. Grade: A+

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley: (genre: Young Adult/Mystery) 11 year old Flavia has a passion for science and solving murders. A well told tale that is a quick, interesting read. Grade: B+

The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton: (genre: Fiction, historical, mystery) Following her grandmother's death, Cassandra visits the cottage she inherited from her. Once there, she finds more questions than answers. Well written, meaty storyline with a nice twist at the end. Just a teensy bit predictable, though. Grade: B+

The Rest of 2009, in alphabetical order by author:
Galilee - Clive Barker: (genre: Supernatural) This is the story of two powerful families with a long history and more than their share of animosity. I've read other Clive Barker books including one of my favorites, The Thief of Always, and I continue to marvel at his ability to paint pictures with words. He can depict great beauty and horrible ugliness. Grade: A-

The Brief History of the Dead - Kevin Brockmeier: (genre: Supernatural) Turns out, when you die, you go to a city, where you stay until everyone that ever knew you on Earth is dead, too. Then you move on. Following a virus that kills everyone on the planet except for Antarctic explorer Laura Byrd, the city is populated only by people from her life. Great premise, well written, certainly thought provoking, but the book wandered off onto unnecessary tangents and the ending left me wanting more. And not in a good way. Grade: B-

Big Boned - Meg Cabot: (genre: Chic Lit) Typical chic lit. While it was mildy entertaining and certainly a fast read, it was chock full of stereotypical chic lit chic behavior. Nothing really to recommend here. Grade: C-

Graceling - Kristin Cashore: (genre: Young Adult) Story of a young woman with a special talent, a grace. In her world, graces are something to fear. Luckily, she finds a friend and companion who is also graced with a special talent. Together they search out the person who kidnapped his grandfather. Very enjoyable. Grade: B

Kiss -Ted Dekker: (genre: Mystery) Following a tragic accident that left her brother crippled, Shauna McAllister awakes from a six week coma without any memory of the past six months of her life. Participating in an experimental drug trial to help recover her memories, Shawna discoveres she has some unusual side affects. As she recovers her memories, she finds all is not what it seems. Grade: B+

The Good Thief's Guide To Paris - Chris Ewan: (genry: Murder/Mystery) Fun book. I love Paris, so anything that relates to it is going to interest me. The story was well thought out and I didn't see the ending coming. Grade: B+

Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman: (genre: Supernatural) After he saves a young woman, Richard Mayhew finds himself thrust into a fantastic world under London. In a mad chase to find the murderers of the young woman's family, he finds himself as well. I loved this book! LOVED. IT. Grade: A+

The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman: (genre: Young Adult) The tale of a young boy who after being orphaned as a toddler is raised by the ghostly inhabitants of a local graveyard. A beautiful and well written tale. Grade: A

Coraline - Neil Gaiman: (genre: Young Adult) Coraline, bored with her inattentive parents, discovers a door in her new home to an alternate universe inhabited by her "other " mother and father. She quickly realizes, though, that all is not what it seems. Not my favorite Neil Gaiman, but a quick, fun read. Grade: B+

Water For Elephants - Sara Gruen: (genre: Fiction) Great book. When I checked it out, the librarian said I would cry. Well, I didn't, but I can see why he (I know, right?!) would say that. It was touching and vivid, a real taste of life in the circus in the 30s. Not to mention the sadness and frustration of an old man living in a retirement home. Grade: A+

The Accidental Time Machine - Joe Haldeman: (genre: Sci-Fi) An interesting story about a man who stumbles upon a time machine and his adventures as he moves through time. This is the third book I've read by Haldeman and they have all been very readable but kind of predictable. Grade: B+

Camouflage - Joe Haldeman: (genre: Sci-Fi) Two aliens have been living among us for thousands of years, both moving inexorably towards an artifact that was recently discovered on the bottom of the ocean. Grade: B

Book of a Thousand Days - Shannon Hale: (genre: Young Adult) A spin on the Rapunzel fairy tale, this is the story of Dashti, a maid hired to serve her mistress during a 7 year exile in a tower. I really enjoyed this book. It was readable and relatable, even though it was set in what must have been medieval Mongolia. Grade: A

The Gone Away World - Nick Harkaway: (genre: fiction) I stalled out at 75 pages. Just can't get into it. I'm returning it to the library. When I finish the current round of books I'll revisit it.

Tomorrow's World - Davie Henderson: (genre: Sci-fi) In a post-environmental apocalypse future, people live in "communities," their entire world maintained by the Ecosystem. The story was reasonably interesting, a suicide that might be a murder as investigated by two cops, one a "name" or naturally born person and the other a "number" or genetically enhanced, test tube baby, but the author spent so much time selling his global warming morality lesson that frankly, I had a hard time finishing it. Grade: C-

Princess Ben - Catherine Murdock: (genre: Young Adult) Lovely book about a young women who finds her better self through tragedy. Grade: B+

Life As We Knew It - Susan Beth Pfeffer: (genre: Young Adult) The diary of a young girl's experience after the moon is struck by a meteor causing massive environmental backlash on Earth. I loved this book! Grade: A

The Forest of Hands and Teeth - Carrie Ryan: (genry: Young Adult) Captivating story of a young woman living in a world that has been taken over by a virus that revives the dead to become human flesh hungry zombies. The zombies are really the backdrop, though. The story is of a young woman finding love, hope and faith. Great book! Grade: A

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield: (genre: Suspense/Mystery) A young woman is tasked with assisting in the biography of one of the world's most popular authors, a woman who's personal mystery is far greater than any she has written. Great twist at the end! Grade: A-

I Capture The Castle - Dodie Smith: (genre: Fiction) A wonderful coming of age tale of a young woman living in pre-WWII England as she deals with first love, family and heartbreak. Grade: A

2012, The War For Souls - Whitley Strieber: (genre: Sci-Fi) A race of reptilian beings from another dimension are bent on taking over Earth, not just for habitation, but for the high quality souls it possesses. While I was intrigued by the concept, I was frustrated by this novel. It veers too far into moral and religious themes for my taste. There were too many areas where my capacity to suspend disbelief in the name of fiction was stretched too far. Grade: C-

Rainbow's End - Vernor Vinge: (genre: Sci-Fi) Set in the mid 21st century, this book follows a man who has been brought back from Alzheimers through the magic of future medical technology. One big complaint of mine about novels set in the future is they so often spend a lot of time referring back to the 20th century. How often do people do that now of the 19th or even the 20th for that matter? Story was alright, although the conclusion was hohum. Grade: C

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle - David Wroblewski: (genre: Fiction) A modern day Hamlet set in a rural Wisconsin dog kennel. Beautifully written, this tragic story is absolutely engrossing. Grade: A

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak: Told from the perspective of Death, this is the wonderful, sad story of a young girl in WWII Germany. I loved this book. I cried, happy and sad tears. Grade: A+


  1. I need to post about books soon, but I'm reading one now that I think you might like -- it's a YA title called The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

  2. Oh, I love to see what everyone is reading! It looks like we have very similar tastes. Did you read the companion piece to "Life as we knew it?"

    And I have just finished one of the very best books I have read in a long time - "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. I am working on getting my bookclub to go off our current choices to read it.

    My other amazing book this year is "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy.

  3. I recently finished Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, too. Have you seen she has a new one out... Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. It's the story of Jane... who is now living Courtney's life.

  4. I agree w/ Ms would love The Hunger Games!

    You also might like a book I accidently found in the used book section of my library for a buck! It's called "The Traveler" by John Twelve Hawks and after reading it I've discovered that it is a 3 book series and I have the other 2 ordered and on their way. It's a good one!

  5. I agree w/ Ms would love The Hunger Games!

    You also might like a book I accidently found in the used book section of my library for a buck! It's called "The Traveler" by John Twelve Hawks and after reading it I've discovered that it is a 3 book series and I have the other 2 ordered and on their way. It's a good one!

  6. I should be coming here to check on a regular basis to see what you are reading.

    How are you liking Stardust? I LOVED it. But I tried to get my daughter to read it and she thought it was boring. You need to read "Good Omens" -- I think it's Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It is hilarious.

    Did you ever read any of those Robert Sawyer sci-fi books? I am working on a blog post about him and the tv show Flashforward. Of course, with me who knows when I'll actually have it ready to publish...

  7. Glad I found this! I am also doing a year of books, but only about 3 a month. And Shadow of the wind is stunning.


Give me some sugar, baby!