Monday, December 31, 2012

Best Books of 2012

Last year, I made a resolution to toast books sooner.  If you are wondering how that worked out for me, I think my "Best of" numbers speak for themselves:

2010      17
2011      15
2012      21

Trust me, I have not gotten more generous in my rating system in my old age.  It is definitely that I am not wasting my time on bad books and therefore, I am reading more good books.  I will definitely be continuing this resolution going forward.

The reads that really stood out for 2012 were:

  • The Dog Stars
  • Sense of An Ending
  • The Snow Child

If you haven't read any of the above, move them to the top of your queue immediately!  Happy reading.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler

I enjoyed this light beach read book.  I enjoyed the way Tyler would ‘skip over time’.  One minute they are getting married, the next they have a toddler and she is expecting their 2nd child.  It gave me the impression of how quickly life floats by.

Friday, December 28, 2012

These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner

My rating: 4.6

This book is told in the form of a diary written by Sarah Prine,  a tough 18 year old young woman who is a sharpshooter and a spitfire.  Her family pulls up stakes and travels towards a new home in Arizona the early 1880s.  I loved the descriptions of the frontier life.  The earlier style of the book almost lost me but, I am so glad that I hung in there as the fragmented style and misspellings soon gave way to a beautiful story.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

My rating: 4.4
Rules of Civility by Amor TowlesKatey Kontent (Katya) is the center of the story, an unapologetic working girl. She's ambitious and determined seeking success in the publishing industry. Her best friend, Eve, with a lot of spirit, refuses daddy's money and embraces her free spirit.

Eve and Katey meet Tinker Grey on New Year's Eve, 1937, at a jazz bar in Greenwich Village. Tinker's a ruggedly handsome man with an enigmatic mystique. The three become fast friends, but as with many triangulating relationships, a hairline rivalry sets in. Then a tragedy shatters their bond, and their solidarity is ruptured.

This novel is also about New York and its social scenes and the glamour of that era. This story is not without it’s flaws but, it was a very enjoyable read. I look forward to Mr. Towles next novel.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Steadman

The Light Between Oceans
My Rating:  4.7

Tom Sherbourne has miraculously survived World War I and finds himself in a small town in western Australia seeking work as a lighthouse keeper. He meets Isabel, who becomes the love of his life. They begin a romance, marry and move to the isolated lighthouse, Janus, where they hope to start a family.

After Isabel's two miscarriages and one stillbirth, a canoe washes ashore at Janus and in it is a dead man and a live baby girl. Tom wants to report the dead man and return the baby but Isabel begs him to keep the child. He gives in to her and this starts a cycle of misery for everyone.

This is not a happy story.  I have ranked it as a 'beach read' as it flows so effortlessly but, be warned that it is not fluffy or light.  The author does an amazing job of bringing the characters with all of their flaws to life and making your heart wrench for everyone.  Stedman's beautiful prose will haunt you and make you ponder choices and their consequences and how complex every decision is.

Monday, December 17, 2012

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

My Rating: 3.2

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthyThis was an enjoyable read but, it definitely went on far too long and was very predictable.  This felt like a pretentious Western in a made for tv movie.  While I do enjoy McCarthy’s writing style and love his eloquence, I didn’t care for the love interest.  It probably didn’t help to know that the female role was cast in the movie as fluffy Penelope Cruz.  I did like Lacey Rawlins and John Grady Cole’s characters and they had some very entertaining dialogue but, for me, the story went downhill a short while after they got to Mexico.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
My rating: 4.2

This book is written from a naive 9 yo boy's perspective. He comes home from school and is upset to find the maid packing his things. They move from Berlin to a new house far away as his father got a promotion. A tall fence separates thin people that live on the other side of the fence from his house. The boy ends up befriending a boy on the other side of the fence.

The author intentionally makes it so the boy is one of the few (including the reader) who doesn't know what is going on. You have to go with the premise that a 9 yo boy wouldn't understand all of the things in this new environment when he is living in WWII and his father is a Commandant in the Gestapo (this apparently was a stumbling block for a lot of people). I enjoyed this book a lot and have gotten it for my young niece to read.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley & Henry S. Lodge

My rating: 3.7 

The reason this book took so long to "finish" is that it is not a "read cover-to-cover" type of book.  Also, I wanted to be sure that the changes I got from it were lasting before I posted my thoughts.  It has now been almost 5 months and I think it is safe to say that this book has changed my life, or at the very least, my awareness and perspective on aging.  I <u><b>NEVER</u></b> used to exercise.  Since I read this book, I have started exercising at least 5 days a week and sometimes more.
Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley

While this book was life changing for me, it is also hard to recommend.  In a nutshell, it drives the same message over and over again.  You will probably live into your 80's and, it is up to you what that quality of life is like.  If you want to be like you are 50 then you need 3 things:  1) a good social support 2) the eat well 3) exercise in the zone for 1 hour x 6 days a week.  Repeating this message in different ways is effective, but also dry.  Still, with so many of us having sedentary lifestyles, I think this message does need repeating.  I am glad that I read it and will stick with my exercise program.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

My rating: 4.8

This book is a series of very direct letters written by the mother of Kevin, a teenage boy who open fired on his classmates,to her husband and Kevin’s father. These letters deal candidly with her career, marriage, motherhood and family.

I had heard about this book for many years. I postponed reading it as I thought that since I knew Kevin had killed his classmates, that I knew what the book would be about.  I had no idea.  I enjoyed the unfolding and the way the author really got you to understand the relationship of Eva and Kevin, and also with Franklin. So many layers in all of their relationships and they wrapped me up in every one and pulled me in. This book was extremely well written and will haunt me for quite a while.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

The Dovekeepers by Alice HoffmanMy rating: 3.6

In 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean desert, Masada. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. This book traces four women, their path to the Masada massacre. It is a very well told story, although it felt a little long.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Absolutist by John Boyne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is about the destructive powers of a painful secret, standing up for what you believe in, love, betrayal, the horrors of war and so much more. Tristan Sadler goes to visit the sister of Will Bancroft, a man who he fought alongside with in WWI and was killed. In the very beginning of the book, I felt I “knew” what the secret was and it irritated me how Boyne kept hinting at it. Once that secret was revealed, I had gotten to the point where I was absorbed – in the stories and the characters. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was a powerful story, told by a powerful story-teller. I sat back and let it wash over me, and absorbed it all in. This is an extraordinary book that I highly recommend.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very well written novel about Julia, an 11 yo girl’s coming of age story, that coincides with a global phenomenon called "The Slowing". Not only does Walker capture Julia’s experiences with wonderful insight but, she also described the phenomenon of the earth’s slowing in its rotation with wonderful descriptions and unexpected impacts. She uses some delightful prose, that moves ahead with good pacing. This would be a fabulous book for a young girl to read.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

The Orchardist
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

It is hard to explain why this missed that mark for me. It was good writing but, there was so much detail it just droned on, and on, and on, and on. It was boring but, don’t let that dissuade you. If you like dull tedious minutia, with depression (dead/missing sister, raped girls hanging themselves or falling to their deaths, lengthy incarcerations), this could be the book for you.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell the Wolves I'm Home
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a cute book that a young girl would really enjoy. This is a young girl’s coming of age story in dealing with her Uncle’s death from aids, her sister and her having a rift and typical growing pains. Although it was well written, it felt very long. Despite some nice portrayals my overall impression of this book was that it was just ‘ok’. I think a young teenage girl would be totally enthralled with this book.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Finally, a book that had me lying in bed, thinking of getting a book light so I could read just a few more pages. When I woke up and in those first few moments of thinking of my day, I am instantly thinking of when I can get back to this book. I chuckled, I laughed, I cried. I want more. Yes, it is reminiscent of The Road by Cormac McCarthy in that it is in a post apocalyptic world and has beautiful sparse prose that takes a bit to get used to but, for me, The Dog Stars is so much more. It is sad but it was also funny. The characters have wonderfully complex layers (yes, I even loved Bangley). Hig with his heart and compassion (don’t even get me started on Jasper!). It made me feel the deprivation and want to go out and hug a tree and breathe it in deep. I loved that the ending didn’t have a neat bow on it. The only fault I have with this book is that it is over. I didn’t want it to end…..ever.

Peter Heller, where have you been all my life. I am so happy to have discovered you and that you have other novels waiting for me to lose myself in. Although I don’t generally like to reread books, I suspect that I will come back to this novel again one day to lose myself and fall in love all over again.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

Before I Go To Sleep
My rating: 3.6 of 5 stars

This book was a strange mix of very intense and yet dragged. I do understand the necessity of having to repeat a lot of things in the book to help us get a good understanding of how it would feel to be Chrissy. The author did a fabulous job of making you wonder and doubt everyone and everything….walking the line between being paranoid and trying not to be paranoid. You feel tension all the way through. I wasn’t sure if the sense of foreboding I felt was going to come through or if it was simply from Chrissy’s perspective. I wasn’t sure where the author was going (psycho thriller or just a plain drama/story unfolding). The ending was thrilling but wrapped up a little too neatly and maybe should have left a bit more wondering to the reader regarding how Chrissy’s life ended up.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

The Kitchen House
My rating: 4.7 of 5 stars

This is the story at the turn of the century 1800’s, of a little seven year old white Irish girl, Lavinia, who is brought to a plantation house to work with the slaves in the kitchen house. It captures so many layers in the plantation life – well developed characters that, white or black, you can empathize with their plight; Laudanum/Opium addiction; Rape; Discrimination; and obviously, slavery. This book enthralled me. Every night, I would go to sleep and, as I drifted off, I found myself thinking of “Abinia”, “Belle” and their families.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald

The Irresistible Henry HouseMy rating: 2 out of 5

I really wanted to like this book and, for the first couple of chapters, I did.  In the 50’s, there were Practice Houses with Practice Babies.  This story is about one particular baby – Henry – and follows his life as he grows up.  This was a very intriguing plot that didn't deliver.  It had many plot lines went nowhere.  Although the writing was good, I didn't find any of the characters likable which meant that I didn't feel a burning desire to pick up the book again.  This same reason is why it felt the book was way too long and meandering.  It is too bad as it had so much potential but simply didn't come through.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

My rating:  4.7 of 5 stars

Wow. Talk about a myriad of emotions. I absolutely LOVED the portions of the story in 1962 Italy with the sweet Italian owner of the Villa Pasquel and the young class. Then it would flash forward and introduce new characters and have such a different feel to the writing that I wasn’t sure if I should stick with it. Then it would flash back again and I would fall in love with Pasquel and the actress Dee Moray all over again.
Beautiful Ruins

I quickly realized that I was reading something amazing that I needed to stick with it. That is was stories within stories and would all come together. The same way when you watch a really different but great movie – you just have to stick with it and at the end, you are in total awe of the writer and the story line. This book is not for everyone as it is so unique but, I think I loved it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love
My rating: 4.4 of 5 stars

From the tips of my manicured nails down to my high heels, I am a city girl through and through. I could never do what Kristin Kimball chose to do and yet, I loved this story. Kimball is a wonderful author and made me understand her choices and respect and even envy her for it. I laughed at her withdrawals from city life and loved her adjustment to farm life. She captured her process of falling in love, with the farm, the way of life and with her husband, so well. Warning, do not read this book if you are hungry as her descriptions of the textures, colors and flavors of the food will leave you drooling.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau

The Book of Jonas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is quiet and told through flashbacks. It has some wonderfully vivid descriptions in its sparse prose. It is about 15 yo Jonas who’s family is killed during a U.S. military operation in an unnamed Muslim country. He comes to America and struggles to assimilate-foster family, school, a first love. Through a counselor and therapist we find out about his past, including, Christopher Henderson, the U.S. soldier responsible for saving his life. The Book of Jonas is about memory, about the terrible choices made during war.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith

GlaciersGlaciers by Alexis M. Smith
My rating: 3.7 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this easy little read. It had an ethereal quality to the clean prose. I look forward to reading more by this author.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

The Casual Vacancy
My rating: 3.2 of 5 stars

JK Rowling has wonderful writing but, IMO, the story line was not great. It is a British soap opera and doesn't have any redeeming characters - although I did find myself turning the pages wanting to know what depths each character could sink to (like a guilty little pleasure of watching some trashy show). The ending felt like she was trying for a movie with all the characters having some calamity. I was waiting for a big car chase where the cars flip and set the whole town on fire and, I don't know that I would care. I admire her that she would cross genres with an adult non-fiction book but, the story-line just fell short and didn't leave me caring.

For anyone who is interested, I did up my own character list as I couldn't find one on the web. Once I did this up, this book is very simple and easy to follow. I hope that it helps others as well.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Casual Vacancy Character List

There are only 7 families and, once you have them straight, they are easy to follow.  Hopefully my list below helps you to enjoy the book.  The bold characters are the main characters.

The Fairbrothers
Barry Fairbrother
Died. Member of the Pagford Parish Council
Mary Fairbrother
Oldest Son

Niamh & Siobhan
Twin daughters

Youngest Son

The Mollisons
Howard Mollison
Bakery owner
Bakery partner is Maureen. Member of the Pagford Parish Council
Shirley Mollison
Member of the Pagford Parish Council and administrator of the website
Patricia Mollison
Lives in London
Miles Mollison
Son of Howard & Shirley
Samantha Mollison
Wife of Miles. Owns a lingerie shop in Yarvil

Lexie & Libby
Daughters of Miles & Sam

The Prices
Simon Price

Ruth Price
Friends with Shirley Mollison
Andrew (Arf)
Older Son
Has a crush on Gaia
Younger son

The Bawdens
Kay Bawden
Social Worker
Relocated to Pagford from London to pursue her relationship with Gavin
Gaia Bawden
Resentful of her mother
Gavin Hughes
Close friend and squash partner of Barry. Dating Kay

The Weedons
Terri Weedon
Mother, heroin addict in the Fields addiction clinic. Has had children taken away from her before
Krystal Weedon
Troubled teen from the Fields. Bussed in to attend school at Winterdown. Was close to Barry, her rowing coach. Gets counseling from Tessa
Robbie Weedon
3 yo half brother to Krystal who cares for him so he doesn't go to foster care
Catherine Weedon (Nan Cath)
Krystal's Great-Grandmother and occasional guardian

Krystal's half-sister
Older, taken from the home when she was younger. Krystal has fantasies of her swooping in and rescuing her and they would be close
The Walls
Colin (Cubby) Wall
Deputy Headmaster at Winterdown.
Close friends with the Fairbrothers
Tessa Wall
Guidance Counselor at Winterdown

Stuart (Fats) Wall
Best friends with Andrew Price
The Jawandas
Vikram Jawanda
Thoracic surgeon
Very good looking
Parminder Jawanda
Member of the Pagford Parish Council. Close friends with the Fairbrothers.
Oldest Daughter

Middle Daughter
Unpopular but friends with Gaia. Was on the rowing team.
Youngest son

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Prince of Tides: A Novel by Pat Conroy

My rating:  4.9 out of 5

This beautiful epic novel took my breath away.  It is the story of three kids, Luke, Tom and Savanaah Wingo, being raised in South Carolina in a dysfunctional abusive family.  It is told through the eyes of Tom Wingo, with his wit and sarcasm and heavily infused with his belief that South Carolina is one of the most beautiful and nurturing places on earth.

This book is told in combination of present day with the kids as adults and flashbacks to their childhood which is captured as both idyllic and extremely dysfunctional.  It is awe inspiring in the images that it paints of both their shrimping life in the Carolinas as well as that of New York City.  It goes from these beautiful images to capturing some horrid scenes of carnage – all in vivid detail.  This is definitely among my top rated books.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Queen of Water by Laura Resau

The Queen of Water
My rating: 4.2 of 5 stars

This is the story of Virginia, who is born into a poor farming family in an Ecuador village. When Virginia is 7 yo, her family sells/gives her as a slave to a well to do family who treats her cruelly. Virginia isn’t clear if she has been sold or given. Should she be receiving money from the family? She teaches herself to read and write and looks for ways to improve her lot in life. This book is about so many things – cultural differences, class discrimination, forgiveness but, most of all, making your life better regardless of the circumstances. I would think any young girl would love this book.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

A Hologram for the King
My rating: 2.8 of 5 stars

This book was well written but depressing and didn’t seem to go anywhere. Eggers presents a reasonably moving depiction of Alan, a who has made some unwise choices and ‘victim’ of offshoring. As a result, he is not well off, financially or emotionally. He also captures Saudi Arabia life and their lack of sense of urgency very well. Overall, this book missed the mark for me and was just sad.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is set in 19th century China. While I really enjoyed the story of the foot-binding and understanding laotongs and women's roles in China, I felt that it dragged at the end. Still, it captured so many beautiful images and emotions that it was an enjoyable read.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)

My rating: 4.6 of 5 stars

It is so difficult to believe that the author came up with this book in 1967. Wow. It is an amazing book - picture a combination Twilight Zone episode with and a Paolo Coelho novel. Again, I am not a Sci-Fi fan but, this is so well told and the characters and their world come to life.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

Rating: 1 out of 5

This debut novel tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I. who becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy. With her strict African American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel moves to a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring mixed attention her way. Growing up in the 1980s, she learns to swallow her overwhelming grief and confronts her identity as a biracial young woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white.

I tried to like this book but absolutely couldn't. It felt like it could have had possibilities but fell short. The characters didn't feel developed.  They felt stilted, flat and stereotypical. Rachel seemed shallow and irritating. It felt very immature and even condescending - maybe it was just the voices on audio as it was not quality reading and they definitely had a condescending simplistic tone.  Any attempts to be literary felt contrived. It felt like reading a young girls diary. I just couldn't get past the condescending tone.

This is the type of book that gives Young Adult novels a bad reputation. I realized I was forcing myself to go back to it in hopes that it would improve.  When I finally gave myself permission to give it up, I felt a huge sense of relief and happiness to move on to the next book.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

Half Blood Blues
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This started off strong. This was about Sid and his relationship with his jazz friends; the war setting provides a backdrop and the situation of black people in Berlin and Paris. Then it gets droningly long and boring. I wanted to like this book but it was just to drawn out.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

My rating: 4.8 of 5 stars

This is an extremely creative dystopian novel that takes place in 2045. Cline describes the world of high school student, Wade Watts, and the virtual reality world of OASIS in an easy way to make it reality for anyone (not just gamers). This is a sci-fantasy/treasure hunt that pulls you into the simulated world of OASIS where the creator of OASIS has recently died and left his entire fortune to the first person who is able to find the easter egg. I don’t like sci-fi, I am not a gaming addict and am not a child of the 80’s and yet I found this book extremely entertaining and intelligent and the characters real and likeable. Wade is a great protagonist and I laughed out loud frequently at Aech. Yes, there were times when this got a bit geeky and far-fetched for me but, you just have to go with it. I loved all the 80’s references (books, movies, music, tv shows). In the hands of a great producer (Spielberg or Lucas) I could easily see this becoming a cult classic movie. My hats off to Cline for such an original piece of work. Amazing that this is his first novel. I can’t wait for his next book!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak

The Sojourn
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The story of a young man, Josef’s, sojourn before, during and after WWI. He was raised in the hard existence of shepherds in the Czech mountains. This was well written and captures the brutality of that time yet some of it seems like it should have been more developed. All in all, an excellent read.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I can’t tell you the number of times I almost toasted this book. NUMEROUS! And that was in Chapter 1. This woman is a walking disaster and I have no idea how she has lived to be as old as she is. When she had a paragraph that said “I got an abortion and learned how to make dehydrated tuna flakes and ….” SERIOUSLY!? That is how much notice she gave to getting an abortion that she immediately is talking about making dehydrated tuna flakes??? It took everything I had to not chuck this book out the window at this point. The woman from my bookclub who recommended this book warned me to stick with it till it go to the actual part about hiking (Part II) After that point, it kept you hoping that Natural Selection would thrive – and she does come close. Unfortunately, it continues to inundate you with her ditziness and is so incredibly annoying that sometime into Part III I finally toasted it.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

My rating: 4.7 of 5 stars

This was a strong 4.7 stars. If you want to "go to Russia" then read this book. I was in Phoenix in August and felt cold from reading this book. This book is about an English lawyer, Nick, in contemporary Russia who's moral compass get's tilted off kilter. In his retelling of how things came about, you can feel for how it happened so gradually with the condoned Russian corruption pushing him along the slippery slope. None of the characters were likable, but I loved them all. It is easy to see why this was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It is beautifully written with phrases that you want to read and reread and yet you can't wait to turn the page to have the story unfold. An amazing debut and I can't wait to read more by this author.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sister by Rosamund Lupton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bee flies to London when her mother tells her that her younger sister Tess has gone missing. Initially with this book, I was thinking what a phenomenal writer this woman was and that was going to be a great book. Then the story became so full of false clues/red herrings and was drawn out, boring and extremely annoying. 98% of the way through, things suddenly changed and took a total left turn. It was so annoying that I wanted to throw my kindle against the wall. Such a promising beginning to go nowhere.