Saturday, January 1, 2011

What Am I Reading 2011

I'm a reader. Always have been. There is little I love more than escaping into a good book. And it has been fun keeping track of what I've read the last two years. So into 2011 I go, a universe of literature at my fingertips. As in the past, please feel to leave comments on books you read, opinions on my "reviews" or suggestions.

The Year in Books 2010
The Year in Books 2009 

The Scorch Trials - James Dashner (Genre: Young Adult) The second book in the Maze Runner trilogy, Thomas and his group of maze survivors are now out in the outside world facing a whole new series of trials. I wanted to like this book, I'd heard good things, but it felt like a lot of running around and getting nowhere. I guess I won't be able to say until I've read the third and final book, but I honestly didn't feel this book advanced the story other than to throw the boys (and girls) through more hellish torment for reasons unknown. Grade: B-
Probability of Miracles - Wendy Wunder (Genre: Young Adult) When I received this book, my first thought was "a book by Wendy WUNDER called Probability of MIRACLES. Pfft. Can we try a little harder folks?" It is a very good thing that I didn't judge this book by the cover (or the name, in this case), because it is one of the best books I read this year. 

It is the story of Cam, a 16 year old girl with terminal cancer. She's been through every treatment and experimental therapy available and while she doesn't believe in miracles, her mother and 11 year old sister do, and they think they'll find them in the aptly named town of Promise, Maine.

As she pursues her "flamingo list", Cam begins to truly enjoy life. She finds herself, almost unwittingly, a part of a group of friends and involved with a boy who believes in the magic of Promise more than anyone. So despite her grim outlook and determination to stay that way, she unexpectedly finds hope.

My criticism of our last book of the month was that, while good, the dialogue and behavior didn't feel true to teenagers. This book does. The characters were real witty. Their interactions were believable. I loved Cam and her unique family. Everyone should have a nana who has to make herself angry at them so she can let them leave without breaking down.

I sobbed as I finished this book in the locker room at my gym. I just couldn't put it down to wait to finish it at home. It is the first book that has truly captured me in a while. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for Wendy Wunder's next book. Grade: A

Sapphique - Catherine Fisher (Genre: Young Adult/Science Fiction/Fantasy) The sequel to Incarceron, we follow Finn and Claudia on the outside as they struggle to prove Finn as the rightful prince, and on the inside, Attia and Keiro, who, with the glove of Sapphique, are searching for a way out of Incarceron. This book left me wanting more, in a good way. Grade: B+

Finding Somewhere - Joseph Monninger (Genre: Young Adult)
Most girls go through a horse phase, but Hattie and Delores take theirs to a whole new level. Speed is Hattie's "one" horse. Beloved, he is the one that will be all horses to her ever after. When his owners decide that his time has come, these two unlikely friends make a cross-country trip in search of somewhere to give the dying horse a last taste of freedom.

This book was written from 16 year old Hattie's point of view, and while the descriptors used were beautiful and evocative ("when the moon is full and woodsmoke lips out of the chimneys"), they just didn't ring true to the way a girl her age would think. Going along with that, these two girls were unnaturally self-aware for 16 and 18. Dolores apparently suffers from Bipolar Disorder and both she and Hattie are very attuned to her fluctuating moods, so much so that they would work to head off her depressive phases. As a 37 year old woman with familial and personal histories with this disease myself, I can only say that even now it's really darn hard to see the shifts as their happening and almost impossible, barring medication, to do anything about them. I struggle to believe that a 16 year old would be this perceptive.

Finally, I was frustrated with character development, specifically, Hattie's backstory. Why did she drop out of school and get her GED? Her father is clearly not in the picture, but there is very little in the way of explanation there. The girls had planned a cross-country trip before Speed, so while the horse was the specific impetus for their journey, the idea had already been set in motion before they realized his situation. I don't need comprehensive exposition, but I would have understood her need to make this trip a lot better if I had some of these details.

As a woman who loved horses as a young girl myself, I liked this book, I empathized with Hattie and Delores and I wanted Speed to have his day in the sun as much as they did, but... I needed a little more. Grade: B 

The Power of Six - Pitticus Lore (Genre: Young Adult) The second in the Lorien Legacies, we continue where we left off with John Smith, aka Number Four, as he runs from the the Mogadoriens. He has been joined by Number Six as they search for the remaining five Lorien children. Good action, interrupted by some not at all surprising plot twists. My beef with this book, as with so many lately, is that it does not stand alone. It begins in the middle and ends in the middle. Authors don't waste the energy to make each novel satisfying on their own because it is all about the series. Since this book is written expressly for monetary gain, it shouldn't surprise me, but I'm disappointed nonetheless. Grade: B-

Consider Phlebas - Iain M. Banks (Genre: Science Fiction) A promising opening with an intriguing central character drifts off into a collection of disjointed experiences that left me not really caring about anyone in the book. There was some good action and a well developed universe but it wasn't enough to make this book truly likable. Grade: B-
Blood Wounds - Susan Beth Pfeffer (Genre: Young Adult) Part of what seems to be a happily blended family, Willa's life is thrown in to upheaval when the biological father she doesn't remember suddenly becomes a very scary part of her life. I loved Pfeffer's Last Survivor series so I went into this book with quite high expectations and while I had no trouble zipping through it, I never really identified with any of the characters as I did so strongly with the characters in her other books. The characters in this book all felt very stereotypical and two-dimensional: the doting mother with her hidden small town past; the too-perfect stepfather with the evil ex-wife; the stepsisters who get everything while Willa lives on hand-me-downs. Additionally, there were significant areas of the story that didn't ring true for me. I simply can not believe that any mother, let alone Willa's overprotective one, would allow her child to travel on her own following such an unbelievably traumatic event. Moreover, the personal issue that Willa struggles with felt like a forced connection to her father, one that was too quickly and easily resolved in the end. Pfeffer can certainly string words together, but this book fell flat for me. Grade: C+ 

Little Bee - Chris Cleave (Genre: Fiction) This is one of those books that I really want to say I love, but I just don't. The writing was well done, the story interesting and yet. It just didn't capture me. This novel tracks a young Nigerian woman and a thirty-something British couple, and the catastrophic intersection of their lives. Grade: B 

Under the Mesquite - Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Genre: Young Adult) Lupita is the oldest of eight brothers and sisters in her close-knit Mexican-American family. She dreams of pursuing a career in acting but her world is torn apart when her mother is diagnosed with cancer. As her mother undergoes treatment, Lupita struggles to hold her family together while simultaneously traversing the pitfalls of adolescence. Through tragedy, she discovers hope and promise. When I first realized this book was written in free verse, I worried that the form would make the story of  difficult to follow. I am very happy to say my fears were unfounded. Moreover, this captivating book evoked a range of emotions astonishingly complex for such a quick read. McCall's words brought me back to my own difficult teenage years and the complicated relationship between my mother and I. A beautiful but sometimes painful read. I can't say enough good things about this book. Grade: A+

Divergent - Veronica Roth (Genre: Young Adult) In a future distopian society located amid the ruins of Chicago, five distinct factions have emerged. Each embodying a necessary element of society, children are required to select their faction at the age of 16. Despite being raised among the peace-loving Amity, Beatrice chooses the Dauntless faction, who are the protectors of their society. As she struggles to complete the initiation, she discovers a plot that will change her world forever. Fast-paced, well written novel. Grade: A

Domestic Affairs - Eileen Goudge (Genre: Fiction) Just another bland novel without much in the way of originality or creativity. The characters were flat and there wasn't a single twist that I didn't see coming from the very beginning. Even the writing was lackluster. The fact it has 4 stars on Amazon completely baffles me. All I can think is that the people rating this book on there must be comparing it to the Twilight novels or your run of the mill Danielle Steele. Grade: D 

Judas Unchained - Peter Hamilton (Genre: Science Fiction) I am hesitant to talk about the story because it will give too much away for any who might not have read Pandora's Star. I'll just say that it was a reasonably satisfying conclusion to this epic story. It was a long, long road but I'm happy to have made the trip. Grade: B+ 

Pandora's Star - Peter Hamilton (Genre: Science Fiction) In the future, travel by wormhole and rejuvenations that essentially make humans immortal are accepted parts of life. When an entire galaxy is found enclosed within an impenetrable opaque barrier, no one is prepared for what they find within or the implications it will have for the human race. Grade: B+

Room - Emma Donaghue (Genre: Fiction) Told from the viewpoint of a 5 year old boy, Room is the heartbreaking story of a woman and her son and the world they create within four walls. At times painful for me to read, as a mother, it was deeply engrossing. Grade: A 

Jellicoe Road - Melina Marchetta (Genre: Young Adult) The story follows the stories of two groups of teenagers, one in the past and one in the present, who are inextricably linked to their predecessors. Grade: B+

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender (Genre: Young Adult/Supernatural) Ten year old Rose discovers that she has a very unusual skill: she can taste the emotions of the preparer in the foods she eats. The complexities this creates in her relationships with her mother and those around her reveal more than just the usual struggles. I loved this book. Grade: A

Bossypants - Tina Fey (Genre: Memoire) Perhaps I've overdosed on memoires in recent years, but I just didn't love this book like I expected to. I love Tina Fey. It certainly made me laugh. But. There was a cohesiveness that was missing. I don't expect the structure of a novel in these sorts of essay books, but I do expect a broader theme. And I just didn't feel it was there. Having said that, it was definitely an entertaining read and I recommend it for the laughs. Grade: B
The Paris Wife - Paula McClain (Genre: Fiction) The story of Ernest Hemingway's marriage to Hadley, told from her viewpoint. In the end, I enjoyed this book, and it was undeniably beautifully written, but it dragged. I struggled through the middle hundred pages but the end was satisfying. Grade: B

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest - Stiegg Larsson (Genre: Fiction) The third, and erstwhile, final book in the The Girl Who... series. A worthy finish to these interesting books. My only complaint was that there were some storylines that were not wrapped up. I won't say which to avoid spoilers but it left me wanting. I hope the rumored fourth book is eventually published and that it addresses these storylines. Grade: B+

The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stiegg Larsson (Genre: Fiction) Following the same characters as the Dragon Tattoo, we get into the search for a mysterious character in the sex trade world that winds up being very key to our heroine. Grade: A- 

The Postmistress - Sarah Blake (Genre: Historical Fiction) Set during World War II, this book follows three women and their experiences in Europe and America as they dealt with the changes the war brought. Well written, but unexpectedly unsatisfying. Grade: B

Goblin Quest - Jim C. Hines (Genre: Fantasy) Runty goblin Jig winds up a captive/guide for a group of adventurers, among them a dwarf, fairy and two humans, in search of a treasure at the heart of the mountain that Jig calls home. Their adventure takes twists and turns as they battle the magic of a the dangerous wizard Necromancer. Grade: B

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson (Genre: Fiction) After a humiliating public conviction for libel, a financial journalist is hired by an elderly industrialist with a complex family history and a missing person mystery that needs solving. Well paced, interesting read with some great twists and facinating characters. I look forward to the next book. Grade: A-

A Reliable Wife - Robert Goolrick (Genre: Historical Fiction) Set in early 1900's Wisconsin, this is the story of an aging businessman and the wife he met through an advertisement. There are a couple of twists but I wasn't terribly surprised by any of them. A well-written book, and the story was solid but I wasn't really taken in. Grade: B

On Deck: 

Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand
A Visit From The Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
Here Lies Bridget by Paige Harbison:
The Opposite of Me - Sarah Pekkanen
Disquiet - Julia Leigh
Truth - Robin Wasserman
Wake - Lisa McCann
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Blue Bloods - Melissa De La Cruz
Uglies - Scott Westerfeld
Still Alice - Lisa Genova
Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
The Road - Cormac McCarthy
The Happiness Project - Gretchen Rubin
Willow - Julia Hoban
Private Life - Jane Smiley
The Domino Men - Jonathan Barnes
Eat Pray Love - Elizabeth Gilbert

Going forward this post will be updated after I read each book and can be reached by clicking the "What's On The Bookshelf" link at the top right of the page. I pick almost all of my books based on suggestions from friends, so please feel free to leave a comment with a recommendation at any time during the year!


  1. Awesome, thank you for the new book suggestions! I have, currently on my night table, quite a few books. I'm reading Sarah's Key right now, and have the new Maeve Binchy boo there too for something light and fluffy for after. Then I have The Postmistress, My Name Is Memory, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and I have to finish (again) Fifth Business. I also need to read Barney's Version.

  2. By the way, adorable picture of your little girl on your sidebar! :)

  3. A good list! I look forward to hearing how you find them x

  4. I am also reading, girl with the dragon tattoo! I don't read super fast, and am trying to also read a new earth and school is about to start up again, but I am reading it! ha!

  5. OH - and House Rules is on my night table, too! And 2 new Stephen King books.

  6. Oooh this is a great resource. I've read dragon tattoo and all the uglies, pretties etc. I really liked them

  7. I had to take The Hunger Games back before I could read it. :O( I have put it back on my list and will read Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart and Eat, Pray, Love while I wait.

  8. You will love The Happiness Project. It's so down-to-earth and practical that you can't help but apply it.

    Also, have you ever read any Emily Giffin? Love her stuff.

  9. Do you recall my post on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?

    I read it, but didn't care for it. I'll be interested to see what you think...

    Have you not read the Outlander series yet? Girl, what have you been waiting for?!

    I'm currently reading Millie's Fling by Jill Mansell. It was a free Kindle download... so far, I like it. It's a good beach/vacation read. As soon as I finish it, I'm going to read Water For Elephants. Have you read that one? Angie let me borrow it MONTHS ago, and I read the first chapter. Then got sidetracked and haven't picked it back up since.

  10. I did not know there was a rumored fourth Larsson book. I just finished the second and am taking a little break before the "final" one. If you find yourself wanting more Swedish thrillers, let me know. One of my good friends gave me tons of recommendations and I can forward his email.


Give me some sugar, baby!