Books read in 2007
I’m going to try to keep better track of the books I read this year, so I’ll be attempting to update this page as the year goes by. Any and all suggestions are welcome, books you’ve loved, books I should avoid, books you think everyone should read…
I started the year with:
1. Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst. Very interesting and intriguing story about grief and dealing with loss. Disturbing in parts (involving some very intense description of inhumane treatment of animals), but beautifully moving in others – I would recommend it and I’m looking forward to her more recent book (which is what I was originally looking for when I found Dogs).
2. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. Another Kari recommendation that was awesome! Ruth was the New York Times restaurant critic for several years in the 90s, and she describes the places she ate, the disguises she had to wear, how she got the job, how her family dealt with her fame, and lots more – it was a very fun ride through the life of someone with a job I’ve always wondered about. My only problem with the book was that I was constantly hungry while reading because of her passionate, amazing descriptions of the food she critiqued.
3. Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst. The book I was originally looking for when I started Dogs of Babel. It’s set in the final legs of a ‘The Amazing Race’-type game show, where pairs of contestants are racing around the world with bizarre objects to collect and drag along with them. There’s a lot of stuff in it that I can’t easily relate to (for example, two of the final 4 teams are struggling with repressed/undisclosed homosexuality), but it was interesting in that it was definitely a character-driven book in the middle of a very dramatic plotline. I loved the relationship that developed between Laurie (middle-age widowed mom) and Carl (divorced father) over the course of the race, and the behind-the-scenes look at a race-style game show (and according to Kari, Carolyn did a lot of research including interviewing people who’d been on/worked for shows like that). It was definitely an interesting read, and a lot less emotionally traumatic than Dogs. And I had a hard time putting it down.
4. The Pact: A Love Story by Jodi Picoult. Not my favorite JP book, but still an interesting read. I picked it up at EdMcKay without even reading the back, that’s how much I like Jodi’s writing, but this one is a little different than her others that I’ve read so far. It’s about a pair of teenage lovers, and what starts out looking like a failed suicide pact and turns into something much more complicated. Worth reading, but not one I’ll probably read again.
5. Thirty-three Swoons by Martha Cooley. This is a rather strange story that flits between current day NYC and the past, both the recent past of the main characters, and the seemingly almost un-related past of a Russian theater master. It was different than a lot of the books I’ve read, but I don’t know if I can really express why – I think it was something about the ‘past narration’ done by a … spirit? someone claiming to be a doppelganger, a double who uses dreams and unconscious thoughts to urge you on in a certain path. Strange, and while you could see how it all tied in towards the end, at the beginning it all seemed kinda convoluted and I almost wanted to skip his parts of the chapters. But the book definitely sped up towards the end, and while I could see partially what was going to happen at the end, there were still a few surprises. And the book definitely made me want to find out more about the perfume industry (the main character’s father was involved in perfume-making), and the way perfume and scents were worked into the book was quite wonderful.
6. Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult. A quickly engrossing read, this was an interesting story about a mother and young daughter and about their relationship through a series of particularly tough times. It’s no surprise that the story delves into some pretty controversial topics, given Jodi’s history of not shying away from the difficult stories. And there are some pretty good twists and turns, and a characteristically unclear ending that leaves the reader to draw some of their own conclusions. She addresses a lot more immediately relevant issues in this book, issues about God and religion and faith, and that hits home more often than some of her other topics. Probably one of my favorite Jodi Picoult books so far.
7. Speaking with the Angel edited by Nick Hornby. A collection of short stories from 12 British authors, collected by Nick Hornby with a portion of the proceeds going towards a school for autistic kids in London (Hornby’s son is a student there). Some of the stories were way too explicit (sexually, language), but some were just fun. Colin Firth wrote one (his wasn’t the best, but it was cute), and Helen Fielding – some of the others I’d not heard of, so it was an interesting way to be exposed to their work quickly. I might check out a few of the author’s books once I get through more of the books I already have on my list.
8. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. One of the most deeply disturbing books I’ve ever read (really only rivaled by The Handmaid’s Tale). And I can’t really say anything about it without giving it away, except that it really makes you re-consider things, things that you take for granted. It’s narrated by Kathy and it deals with her life as it is currently, and in memory flashbacks to her childhood at a special boarding school. That’s really about as much as I can say without ruining anything for those of you who might want to read it, which I highly recommend.
9. The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. A murder mystery set in Boston in 1865, where a serial murdered is killing people in the way Dante describes sinners being punished in his Inferno. Members of the Dante Club (a group of Dante scholars better known for their own literary contributions – HWLongfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and others) set about to solve the murders before more are committed. An interesting read, though it definitely had some problems. You don’t need to have read the Divine Comedy to enjoy the mystery, but it probably helps some. I enjoyed it, but I don’t know that I would read it again anytime soon.
10. Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner. A beautifully written, short book that covers 11 Jewish traditions/rituals that Lauren believes could make Christianity richer. She explains the things she misses about the Jewish community and how some of those things could be translated into the church, things like sabbath and mourning and fasting. Very quick read, but very enlightening.
11. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards. A book about the power of secrets, and the force of those secrets to tear apart relationships. The book covers a span of time starting with the birth of twins in 1964 and ending up in the late ’80s, as it follows the life of the two children and those affected by their lives. I really enjoyed it, and would definitely read it again.
12. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. A beautiful but slightly confusing book about a young girl named Alma and an old man named Leo and how their stories become inextricably linked. Really interesting story, though I think I’ll need a second reading to really fully understand all the ways the stories end up connected.
13. Good Harbor by Anita Diamant. A book about a spontaneous friendship that develops between two women both struggling with big issues in their lives. It was fairly short, so I didn’t feel like we got the full development of either the women’s characters or their relationship, but it was interesting, though I don’t know that I would spend the time to read it again. I loved her earlier book The Red Tent (about the Biblical story of Dinah), so maybe my hopes were just too high for another one of her books.
14. Everyone Else’s Girl by Megan Crane. A fun, light chick lit story. About going home as an adult, and facing old memories and ex-friends. Quick to read and quite fun.
15. The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillippa Gregory. A fictionalization of the events surrounding the ascension of Anne Boleyn to the throne of England. Narrated by Anne’s sister Mary (a member of the court, and also one of Henry VIII’s many mistresses), it tells the story of one family’s grappling for the ultimate position and one woman’s thirst for the ultimate power. Though quite racy in parts, the book also covers a lot about the gender politics and religious debates of the time, not in explicit detail, but as a member of the court would have observed. It was quite enthralling and even knowing the ultimate ending of the story, I was still anxious to see how the last 100 pages would turn out. (And y’all, the book is loooong – over 650 pages!)
16. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Just thinking about this book is kind of traumatic. It tells the story of two boys who grew up together in Afghanistan before the Russian invasion and the Taliban takeover, and it covers through 2002 in their lives. Not for the weak-of-heart, but the book was definitely good for me to read – I gained more perspective on life in Afghanistan and growing up there, and being an Afghan in the States, as well as over-arching themes in terms of relationships, family, guilt and secrets, all of which I could relate to, even I couldn’t relate to the Afghan-specific parts. I would hestitatingly recommend it, as long as you’re aware of what you’re getting yourself into.
17. Intuition by Allegra Goodman. Recommended by Kari (so I could fact-check the science – hehe), it tells the story of two post-docs in a high-power cancer research institute associated with Harvard, and the troubles they, and those around them, have once one of them is suspected (by the other) of falsifying data. Really interesting, but not as much of an escape read for me, since it’s about the pressure of scientific research and I’m immersed in that all the time. (And science-wise, it was fairly accurate, from what I know about my research extrapolated onto cancer research.)
18. On Agate Hill by Lee Smith. The story of Molly Petree, beginning with her diary as a 13-year-old in the 1870s in post-Civil War NC, following her through boarding school and ultimately to her adult life in the rural mountains, where she is accused of a horrible crime. The first third of the book was really difficult to get through (her diary entries are full of spelling and punctuation variations, as well as colloquialisms of the time and place), but after that, the book really had me sucked in. I really enjoyed the book as a whole, though it did take me a while to get through because of the first third.
19. The Faith Club by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner. I have put off writing about this book, not because it wasn’t interesting to read, but I just don’t know what to say about it. It’s bascially set up as a conversation between three women of different faiths (Islam, Christianity and Judaism, respectively to their position as authors), as they break down prejudices and develop friendships in spite of their differences. It was definitely informative, especially on issues surrounding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (about which I’ve realized I know very little) and the cultural significance of religion and faith in difference communities. However, as I was kinda fearing from the beginning, the book seems to end in a big message that ‘all paths lead to God’ (with at least two of the women stating that they hold or are leaning towards a universalist position). So while it was a worthwhile read for educational purposes, it was difficult to read as a Christian woman, especially since the Christian representative in the group was not at all close to my belief system (she was one of the universalists).
20. Heat by Bill Buford. This was a fun account of Bill’s foray into the world of professional cooking, under the tutelage of none other than Mario Batali. Bill starts off in the prep kitchen and slowly (slowly) works his way up, learning the proper way to prepare fresh pasta, seafood, meat and various other wonderful-sounding foods. I did really feel like I knew Bill Buford at the end of the book, like I could have a conversation with him if I ever ran into him in NYC (where the majority of the book takes place). And his descriptions of Batali were wonderfully full of life and I could totally picture Mario doing and saying the things Bill describes in the book. He kinda lost me a bit at the end, when Bill travels to Tuscany to learn the proper Italian way to cut meat, focusing on pork and then beef – but all in all, it was a fun behind-the-scenes look at being in a high-powered professional kitchen, surrounded by people who are all very good at what they do.
21. Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir. This was a really good follow-up to having read The Other Boleyn Girl, as this book picks up roughly where that one left off, chronologically speaking. It covers the time from the birth of the Lady Jane Grey to her ultimate (and short) reign on the throne of a Protestant England. Her death marked the beginning of the very bloody reign of Queen Mary (known as ‘Bloody Mary’ for that reason) as she sought to cleanse the realm of the protestant ‘heretics’ and bring England back under the rule of Rome. I enjoyed the book very much, and I actually listened to it on CD in the car, and the performance was narrated by several actors, which added to the inherent drama of the story.
22. The Last Girls by Lee Smith. I really enjoyed On Agate Hill, also by Lee Smith, so Beth let me borrow The Last Girls, since she’s a big Lee Smith fan. The Last Girls follows the lives of a set of girl friends from an adventurous ride down the Mississippi River on a raft in 1965, through to their middle age reunion on a luxury cruise down that same river, this time to dispose of the ashes of a now dead friend. I liked how Smith was able to write with depth about each of the many individual characters, despite the narrative being spread out quite a bit, due to the expanse of time and the number of characters. The book was much more humorous (I thought) than On Agate Hill, and as my college sorority is planning a reunion retreat for this summer, it was a good time to read about re-connecting with old girl friends and the way that our different perceptions of the same events in the past can really color our present and future.
23. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. Jodi’s latest book is about the nineteen minutes that elapse during a school shooting in a New Englad high school in a post-9/11 world. The book involves several characters that have played big roles in previous books, so that was nice, to be able to get a little more of their stories and understand a bit more about their motivations, having already seen them in other stories. Like most of her books, she doesn’t shy away from the tough questions that people ask in these kind of situations, and while the book ends with some resolution, there are clearly no easy answers when you’re talking about things like school violence. I really enjoyed this one, despite the tough topics.
24. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. While technically a re-read, I haven’t read it in, say, 12-ish years? I was watching Night at the Museum with some friends and realized that the movie reminded me of that great book I read as a kid about the brother and sister who ran away and slept in the Met Museum in NYC, which completely fascinated me when I was growing up, though I never had any real inclination to run away. Anyway, the book was fun to read, and brought back lots of memories of reading it for the first time – it makes me want to spend more time with kids that age to encourage them to read fun stuff like this book! A great way to walk down memory lane.
25. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I read this for a book club, so I’m not going to say much about it, at least til after the discussion. The book follows the life of a boy from India, Pi (his nickname), as he grows up with his family running a zoo in India, and as they ultimately leave India on a cargo ship with several of the zoo animals. You’d know this from reading the back cover (so I’m not ruining anything), but Pi gets shipwrecked on a lifeboat with an assortment of zoo animals after the cargo ship sinks with everyone else aboard. He survives an incredibly long and ardurous journey across the Pacific (you also know from reading the first part of the book that he makes it), including some of the more gruesome descriptions I’ve ever read in a book (which, really, isn’t saying much, because I don’t read scary/gruesome books or watch scary movies). I think it will be really good for discussion, and maybe I’ll update this then.
26. The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory. A continuation of the story of the wives of Henry the VIII, this time the 4th (Anne of Cleves) and 5th (Katherine Howard). Overall, I liked it, though I liked The Other Boleyn Girl better, largely I think because of the change in narrators. I specifically had an issue with Jane Rochford/Boleyn’s narration, as she turned out to have so many issues with self-knowledge that she was, as Kari says, an ‘unreliable narrator’ in places. It’s still a fun look at the lesser-known wives, but I think I may have Tudor-ed myself out with this one. Hehe.
27. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling. I’ve begun my final re-read of the series before the final installment comes out in TWO MONTHS! I wanted to re-read it now, keeping what happens in Book 6 in mind so I can be fully prepared for the conclusion. I’m going to go slowly and alternate other books in between so I don’t get too far ahead of myself.
28. English as a Second Language by Megan Crane. Fun chick lit about a 20-something girl from NYC who decides to go to England for a masters program in literature, after a spiteful ex-boyfriend told her she’d never get in. A quick read, and I related to this main character probably a little more than the protagonist of her other book (Everyone else’s girl), just based on personality and situation.
29. Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, from Cocaine to Foie Gras by Jeff Henderson. I first heard about this book on NPR (I’m pretty sure), when the author was being interviewed. It’s the memoir of a guy who was one of the top cocaine dealers in San Diego in the late 80s, and after landing in prison for trafficking for 10 years, he ends up becoming a top chef, working his way up to eventually be executive chef at one of the top restaurants in Las Vegas. While quite profane (especially in the first half of the book, which chronicles his rise and fall from power in the drug dealing world), it was an interesting story of perserverance through adversity, and an inside look at the world of high rolling drug dealers in the cocaine boom of the 1980s.
30. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling. Continuing my re-read for the July 2007 release of book 7. On my list of favorite HP books, this one is probably third of the existing 6 books.
31. The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz. Another of Kari’s recommendations, based on a review that said it was reminiscent of Veronica Mars. I really enjoyed it, especially how neurotic her family (and she herself) was, and how they managed to function despite the dysfunctionality of their relationships. I did find it to be a bit stilted in places as she jumps around quite a bit, telling the different stories that come together to wrap up the final mystery of the book. I would definitely read another book about the same characters, if Lutz chooses to make it a series.
32. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I don’t think I can accurately express how much I loved this book – much less traumatic for me than his previous book The Kiterunner, but certainly still dealing with the difficult issues, this time those surrounding being a women in Afghanistan during the Soviet and Taliban eras, through to fairly modern-day time. This book was definitely more predictable than Kiterunner (which surprised me constantly), but there is still a memorable mix of hope and regret that comes through, especially in the ending. I was worried about Hosseini’s ability to write accurately and sympathetically about women’s relationships, but the connections between the two major female characters are some of my favorite parts of the book. I would definitely recommend it, especially for those who wanted to read Kiterunner but might want an easier introduction to Hosseini’s work.
33. Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos. A really fantastic read, narrated by a women in her thirties, and an eleven-year-old girl. The book chronicles the way their paths intersect and how they become connected through some fairly life-shattering events. I was anticipating something like chick lit, but it’s much deeper than that (not that I think there’s anything wrong with chick lit, as evidenced by my reading list ). There’s a lot more introspection on the part of the characters, for one thing. She apparently doesn’t have any other books out, so I’ll be looking forward to her next book being published.
34. The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry. The first in a series of Victorian mystery novels, written by a women who was convicted of murder herself in New Zealand in the 1930s. The series came recommended by a lab friend, and I enjoyed this one. Quite a bit like Agatha Christie, with a bit more social commentary thrown in – plus I’ve read almost all of Agatha Christie’s books, so it was nice to read something similar but not know the ending.
35. Unnatural Exposure by Patricia Cornwell. A continuation of Cornwell’s series with Dr. Kay Scarpetta, Chief Medical Examiner in Virginia – not brilliant literature, but still an interesting (if gruesome) story about a serial killer and bioterrorism. I actually realized about 1/3 of the way through that I had read it before (I listened to it on CD), but since I didn’t remember who did it, I kept going. Probably not my favorite of her books that I’ve read, but interesting, especially from a lab research standpoint.
36. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling. Continuing my re-read of HP before book 7 comes out. I’d forgotten how many little differences there are between the book and movie – I’d seen the movie more recently than I’d read the book, so my impressions of the overall story were more along the lines of the movie, so that was interesting to see while reading. The one thing I’ll say is that the movie made Snape a more sympathetic character than the book does – in the movie when they emerge from the whomping willow and Lupin has transformed and is threatening the kids, Snape’s first impulse is to jump in front of them to protect them. And the book makes him a more passive player in the whole whomping willow/shrieking shack story. On to book 4!
37. The Same Sweet Girls by Cassandra King. For book club, so I don’t want to talk about it too much – not my favorite book ever, but not bad by any means. Just not my typical book to read. About a set of college girlfriends who have stayed (somewhat) connected over the years, and how their relationships change in response to some big things that happen in their lives. If I were going to pick a ‘girlfriend reunion’ book, I would pick Lee Smith’s The Last Girls over this one, but I’m hoping we’ll find enough to talk about with The Same Sweet Girls.
38. Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson. I really enjoyed this one, as dark as it was in places – reminded me of Fried Green Tomatoes in parts. It tells the story of Arlene, who grew up in Alabama but has not returned in the ten years since high school graduation and must now return to face the ghosts (and real people) of her past. Quite funny in places, and I listened to it on CD with a very good (southern) narrator, so it was a good experience. I’d recommend it to anyone, especially those who like Southern Gothic style fiction.
39. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling. Continuing my re-read of the series – this is not my favorite book of the series, but this one has one of the best ‘oh my gosh’ reveals at the end. And now on to my favorite book of the series!
40. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling. This is my favorite book so far in the series – I love the Order, and the DA, and Neville and Luna. Only one more left in the re-read!
41. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling. The last part of the re-read – I like this book, especially all the history of Voldemort’s life at Hogwarts and beyond. It’s an even darker book than Phoenix, but the series is clearly heading into darker territory, so that makes sense. And that’s the end of the re-read, until Deathly Hallows can be added to this list.
42. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling. Finally!!! The long-anticipated completion of the series, where we learn at last the final outcome of Harry and Voldemort, and get many other questions answered by Ms. Rowling. I won’t say anything here, as I don’t want to spoil anything for those not finished, but I was very satisfied with the book and the way things were wrapped up. It’s kind of surreal knowing how things end finally. Sooo worth the wait!
43. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin. This is basically a murder mystery set in the 1100s in England, during the reign of Henry the II (I think it was II). A female doctor (unheard of in England at the time, but accepted in Sicily where she is from) comes to Cambridge to help acquit a group of Jewish residents of the gruesome murders of 4 little children, at a time when antisemitism was high and getting worse all the time. Adelia (the doctor) is basically an early version of a coroner/medical examiner, so it was interesting in a lot of ways to see how much she could learn from the bodies, without all of the fancy equipment and knowledge we have now about death and physiology. I was less than satisfied with the ending, though that’s largely to do with the non-medical things going on while Adelia is in England. But it was an interesting read, though not one that I’d want to read again in a hurry.
44. Possession by A.S. Byatt. For Kari’s virtual book club this summer. The book was not quite what I expected, but not in a bad way. I’ve not seen the movie yet (with Gwyneth Paltrow), but I’m looking forward to it, based on my enjoyment of the book. The book tells the story of the relationship between two poets in the 1800s, and follows the lives of the two modern-day researchers who discover the relationship between the two. It was a fascinating read, though I think I would have done better if I’d just read all the way through at once, rather than trying to break it up into the smaller sections we were discussing each week – it would have kept the flow of the story going a lot better. And I’m definitely looking forward to a re-read at some point in the near future, and maybe then I’ll be able to more fully appreciate the poetry that plays a pretty significant role in the lives of the characters.
45. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman. The first of the His Dark Materials series. I was apprehensive about reading this series, having heard conflicting reports on the anti-Christian-ness of Pullman’s writing, but I have to say, I really enjoyed this book. The plot is fascinating to me, and while it’s not as complex or deep in meaning (in my opinion) as the Harry Potter series, it’s still quite good. There’s definitely an ‘anti-church’ feeling in the book, but it’s more anti-organized religion at this point.
46. The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman. The second of the His Dark Materials series. I definitely liked the first book better, but this one was also shorter, so slightly less developed. (I also don’t like Will as much as a character compared with Lyra, so that’s also probably part of it.) There are some really interesting plot points in this book, about exploration between worlds and physics and friendship. It’s hard for me to separate the individual books, having read them back-to-back, so they all flow together really. There’s definitely more of a cliff-hanger at the end of this one than there was for the first book.
47. Callander Square by Anne Perry. I actually read this a while back but realized today that I didn’t have it on the list. This is the second book in the Victorian mystery series by Anne Perry, which I read directly after finishing the first book. I recall liking the first book better, but this was still an interesting mystery, and it was a nice break from the more serious books I was reading at the time.
48. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. One of the most beautiful books I think I’ve ever read. Seriously. I was constantly amazed by the writing, how descriptive she was without being overly flowery or anything. What starts at the beginning of the book as a hostage crisis turns into something else entirely, concluding with a very dramatic ending. Simply amazing – maybe I’ll add more once we talk about it in book club.
49. The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman. The finale of the His Dark Materials trilogy. There is definitely a different vibe to this book, as compared with the other two, at least it felt quite different for me. There was less plot development and more focus on the characters and the changes they are going to have to make as a result of the events of the first two books. I don’t find the books as subversive as I thought I might (mostly, again, because I feel like Pullman’s ultimate issue is a critical misunderstanding of ‘The Church’, or at least, Christianity), but I strongly disliked the very clear message sent in this third book that the present is the only thing to live for, that there is nothing beyond our short lives here on earth, at least nothing that matters any. So I’m glad I read the series, and I found the story quite intriguing, but I wouldn’t recommend them for children or young teens, at least.
50. Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg. This was a really funny book, and I somehow didn’t expect it to be quite as funny as it was. I haven’t read anything by FF since reading Fried Green Tomatoes ages ago, but this was a much lighter (despite the plot revolving around death) story overall. It was a quick read, and while I of course don’t agree with the concept of death/afterlife presented in the book, it was an enjoyable look at life in a small southern town.
51. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. I originally picked this one up because Kari’s book club was talking about doing it later on, and it sounded interesting – so several months later, I finally got it from the library and listened to it on CD (thank heaven for audio books!). While fairly predictable in its plot, I thought, the book was set up as a memoir, so the plot wasn’t really the focus anyway – the book focused instead on the relationship between two women, Lily and Snow Flower, which began when they were 7 and endured in many forms through the course of the book. It’s set in 19th century China, so the most enjoyable part for me was learning about the customs on the time, mostly surrounding women’s roles in Chinese homes and culture, things like foot binding and marriage and childbirth and friendship. While completely foreign (in several ways) to my way of life, it was interesting to read about, maybe more so because of the foreign-ness of the culture.
52. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. My second time through this book this year, this time for a book club. Such an incredible story, with such depth of characters and relationships. It spurred a really great discussion too, about big things like Islam and women’s rights, but also about the smaller things like day-to-day relationships between women. Strongly recommended, especially as an introduction to Hosseini’s writing.
53. Evensong by Gail Godwin. A continuation of the story started in Father Melancholy’s Daughter, following Margaret’s life into marriage. While I related to Margaret more in FMD, her story was still beautifully developed in this book, and it was nice to read about the struggles faced and overcome by a couple as they deal with the conflicting pressures in their life that threatens to tear their marriage apart.
54. The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig. The second in the series started by Willig in The Secret of the Pink Carnation, which I read last year. They’re basically spin-offs of the idea of ‘flower spies’ like the Scarlet Pimpernel – in this case, the Purple Gentian, the Pink Carnation and the Black Tulip – in the Napoleonic era. Not destined to become classic literature, but still a fun (though risque in parts) read.
55. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. A re-read (of course) several times over. I’m planning on re-reading all of her novels, but with other books in between, so as to not get too over-Austen-ized.
56. Patron Saint of Liars by Anne Patchett. I picked this one up for cheap at the used bookstore, barely even looking at the back, just based on how much I loved her writing in Bel Canto. And while I didn’t love this one like I did Bel Canto, it was still a great book, with interesting characters and plot turns that I didn’t necessarily expect. The main chunk of the book focuses on the events at a home for unwed mothers in the southern US, and the author explores some of the effects of our lies on the lives of those around us. Really good.
57. The Deception of the Emerald Ring by Lauren Willig. The third in the series of the Pink Carnation stories by Willig. As usual, the story bounces back and forth between modern day Eloise and Colin, and the flower spies of the ‘past’. I didn’t find the past plot of this one as compelling as the previous books, but the modern day one was quite fun at times. She’s apparently working on the fourth book currently, which I will probably read.
58. Atonement by Ian McEwan. I had a hard time with parts of this book – I listened to it on audio CD, which is probably part of it, but there were parts, especially leading up to the halfway point in the book, where there was such a strong feeling of inevitability about where the events were leading that it was almost overwhelming. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s how I’d describe it – like you were being dragged along with the story, even though you knew it was going someplace bad, someplace painful and wrong. That’s not to say that I didn’t like the book – I really did. But it was still hard in parts. (Though I could have done with a LOT less of Robbie’s war story, which felt out of place to me) I would recommend it, but I would suggest a reading, not listening.
59. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. I read this for book club, but I’d been wanting to read it anyway. I have to say, I’m not a huge fan – I really liked her writing, but the story didn’t appeal to me very much. We had a great discussion, and I think I probably liked it better after we talked about it, but I don’t know if I would read it again. But I would try another of her books – the way she described the process of painting was truly beautiful, and even though I didn’t like the story, I was still incredibly drawn into the book and finished it in under 24 hours (it’s not very long, but still). And I like the concept of fictionalizing something like this story, essentially creating a backstory for how Vermeer painted ‘Girl with a pearl earring’ and other paintings – that part was fascinating – I went online and looked up some of his other paintings and found all the ones the author referred to, and it was fun to see how she’d used stuff in the paintings (people’s expressions, the random objects around the subject) to create her story. So I’m glad I read it.
60. Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson. I loved Gods in Alabama so much, so I got this one based pretty much solely on that. And while it didn’t have quite the same feel as Gods, I ended up liking it pretty well. It tells the story of Nonny, a girl raised between two families, and how she deals with the conflict between those families as she returns to her hometown. This one didn’t seem to have the depth or weight of Gods, but there was still some of that dark humor that I loved about Gods. Also, I read this one, and I listened to Gods, so I wonder if that has any impact on my perception of a book?
61. The Alchemyst: Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott. This is another from Kari’s book list – my interest was piqued by the title and the mention of Nicholas Flamel, which Harry Potter fans will know as the famous alchemist and keeper of the sorcerer’s stone. The story doesn’t mention HP at all, which is fine. It’s basically the story of a set of twins, a boy and girl, who get dragged into an ancient battle between the forces of good and evil (well, that may be overstating it a bit, but not much!). My favorite thing about this book, and these kinds of books in general, is the ‘explanation’ we get from the author about things that we already understand or think we understand. This book was really funny about those things, using historical references and such and creating a whole new framework for how things actually happened. Things like the great fire of London being caused by a war between two sorcerers, and things like that. I think that wouldn’t make sense unless you read it, sorry. Anyway, I really liked it, and I’m looking forward to continuing to read the series as he writes it.
62. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. This is a re-read for me, and I have to admit, I liked it a lot better when I was younger (maybe 16-17?). It’s a fictional re-telling of the Biblical story of Dinah, but it takes some pretty serious liberties with the story. It is, however, an interesting look into what women’s lives may have been like at that time in history – the struggle to achieve and maintain a positive position in the family by giving birth to children (especially boys), the way that story and knowledge would pass from mother to daughter, the traditions surrounding childbirth. I ended up feeling very unfulfilled at the end of the book though.
63. Borrower of the Night by Elizabeth Peters. I’d only ever read Elizabeth Peters’s books with Amelia Peabody, which I love – but I found several other series she’s also written, so I decided to give them a try. This is the first Vicky Bliss mystery, and while it was a fun story, I wouldn’t say I loved it, or her as a main character. The book seemed rather dated to me, which the Amelia Peabody books never really did. I think Peters got the best blend of strong female characteristics and cunning feminine wiles in Amelia, and Vicky Bliss just didn’t feel that well-balanced to me.
64. 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith. This is the first AMS book for me, and it’s a serial novel that was originally published daily in The Scotsman. It’s about the interconnected lives of several people in Edinburgh, and the normal and/or neurotic things that they do and say and think. In concept, it reminds me of movies like Love Actually, where you get glimpses of people’s lives and see how they connect, though the lives of these characters are a bit more connected than in Love Actually. I really enjoyed it, enough to check out the second book of the ‘series’, that was also published serially.
65. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. This is a re-read for me as well, also from my first time reading it when I was about 16-17, and just like The Red Tent, I liked this one a lot better the first time through. I think a lot of that has to do with my ideas of love and marriage having changed quite a bit over the past 10 years, from a more idealistic, romantic form of love/infatuation to a more committed, realistic version of love. I wasn’t a fan of a lot of the decisions Tita made, especially at the end, but I could still see why she made them as a character. And it was hard to get past the surreal feeling of the book, where so many things, while based in reality, were not real in the way they would happen in our lives. I did enjoy the way that the emotions and feelings of the characters made such an impact on their physical surroundings, to the point of people feeling the emotions of the cook when the food was being prepared, or the shower catching on fire because of the heightened emotions of the person inside.
66. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. This was a really fun book, about Colin, a child prodigy (different than a genius, as Colin would be quick to point out), and his determination to figure out, mathematically, what went wrong with his last relationship. Colin had dated exclusively girls named Katherine (18, in fact), and after his break-up with K-19, he is dragged off for a road trip by his friend Hassan, and they end up in a tiny, rural town in TN, where Colin tried to show that relationships happen in such a predictable fashion that they can be graphed and described by a formula. It was a fun read, and I want to check out more of John Green’s stuff (he writes for young adults, I think).
67. The Copenhagen Connection by Elizabeth Peters. Just like Borrower of the Night, I still like Peters’s Amelia Peabody books so much better than either of these. This one follows Elizabeth Jones, as she travels to Denmark originally on vacation, before getting involved in a plot of murder, kidnapping and artifact theft. It was a fun mystery, with funny characters, but there was the inevitable cheesy romantic plot point where the two characters who hate each other vehemently in one brief instant both realize that they ‘love’ each other. I don’t know if I’ll continue with either series at this point.
68. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. This is another re-read, for book club. I remember really liking this book when I first read it (maybe 5-6 years ago?), but I really loved it this time. The story really sucked me in, and I do admit that I love the Frenchy-ness of the names and places and history. It covers the story of Edmond Dantes, a man wrongly accused of a crime against his country, and the measures he takes to secure revenge, and the lessons he learns in the process. There is such high drama, and great character development. My one issue with the book is that the names can be really confusing, as people go from one name to another as the book progresses through 15-ish years. But I really loved it, and can’t wait to discuss.
69. Feast of Love by Charles Baxter. This is a series of stories told by a group of interconnected people in Michigan. I enjoyed how the stories built towards the end of the book, connecting people even more throughout the course of the story. Baxter writes well from many different points of view, as each character narrated their own chapters and told their story. In some ways, I was strongly reminded of Dogs of Babel when I read this one.
70. Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith. The second in Smith’s Scotland Street books – a continuation of the stories begun in the first one, following Pat, Bertie, Domenica and all the others as they continue their lives in Edinburgh. Just as much fun as the first one, and I’m looking forward to reading the next one, Love Over Scotland.
71. Run by Ann Patchett. Patchett’s newest book (just came out in the summer I think) takes place mostly over the course of 24 hours in the life of a Boston family – mainly the former mayor of the city and his two adopted sons. I adored her writing in Bel Canto (see up the page a bit for that review), and while this one didn’t strike quite the same chord with me, it was still really, really good, with a good mix of beautiful descriptive writing and captivating story-telling. This might be my second favorite of hers, between Bel Canto and Patron Saint of Liars (which was her first novel).
72. Digging to America by Anne Tyler. I’ve never read any of Tyler’s books before (I don’t think so anyway), but I was still kind of shocked by how much I liked this book. It follows the story of two families in the states after they both adopt a little girl from China, and while that is a compelling story in its own right, there is a relationship that develops between two of the grandparents of the two families that really made the book for me. It’s such an amazing picture of how people sometimes have to change and adapt to let new people into their lives. I would definitely read more of hers based on this one.
73. Looking for Alaska by John Green. A young adult book about a boarding school near Birmingham, Alabama, focusing on the friendships between two boys and a girl that develops over the course of one school year. I didn’t realize how serious this book would become (the other Green book that I read this year, An Abundance of Katherines, wasn’t nearly as serious/intense), but it dealt with young adult issues in a very real kind of way. It was also quite fun to listen to as an audio book, with the accents and voicing.
74. The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler. I read this one based on how much I liked Digging to America, and I have to say that I was a bit disappointed. I especially felt unsatisfied with the ending. But parts of it were really good, describing the course of one family’s life over several decades, from the parental couple meeting in the street during wartime through the various marriages and children of several generations. I didn’t dislike her writing, but was very unhappy with the way things were resolved.
75. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett. The story of Ann’s friendship with author Lucy Grealy over the course of their lives from college onward. I was thinking it would be something more like Madeleine L’Engle and Lucy Shaw’s book on friendship, but this was more of a biography of Ann and Lucy’s lives during their friendship. It was interesting, and I love Ann’s writing, so it was worth reading, and it made me want to read some of Lucy’s writing (she was a poet as well as publishing at least one book), but I don’t know if it would have widespread appeal.
76. Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson. While not the most well written book I’ve ever read, this is still an inspiring story about the work one man started by building a school to educate kids in rural Pakistan, and how that spread into building schools all over the middle east to give kids an alternative to extremist educational methods. I learned a lot, just about the area and the history of the conflicts, as well as the intricacies of running a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting peace in the middle east.