Monday, December 28, 2009

2009: Books I loved, and read

It's time for my yearly book round-up. I love writing this post and choosing my favorites. This year, I had the advantage of having joined Goodreads (thanks, Liz!) so I was able to keep meticulous track of what I read. Thanks for all the recommendations - they are noted where I remembered to add them. Let me know if I forgot you. Links lead to book reviews I wrote throughout the year. And for reference, here's the list from 2007, and 2008. For my ten favorites, I made up a new rule that to be included, I had to have read the book for the first time in 2009. That way, the list isn't clogged up with old favorites that I re-read.

My Favorite 10 Books of 2009 (in no particular order):

Moscow Stories (Loren R. Graham).

Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors (Piers Paul Read). Recommended (indirectly) by Eric D. Snider in this article. I'm going to sneak in Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home (Nando Parrado) here as well. They're both very worth reading (start with Alive).

The Princes in the Tower (Alison Weir). I loved this book, and here's why: it read like a really good modern murder-mystery novel, with the bonus of being absolutely true and absolutely fascinating. Plus, Weir's style is so understated. During the course of this book, a princess marries a king who she suspects murdered her two brothers. Also, a queen is given sanctuary with her two endangered sons in the same place she sought refuge when they were born a decade earlier. Weir takes all the potential sap and sentimentality out of these events (and others) and they are all the more poignant as a result.

Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis, The First Battle in America's War With Militant Islam (Mark Bowden). Recommended by Laura, and I am forever in her debt. I like the way one of my friends described this book: it's pretty much the only non-fiction book I've stayed up until 4am to finish.

Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins). To be honest, this one has lost a little of its luster as time has passed since I read it, but still.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer). No one was more surprised that I liked this book than myself. I haven't enjoyed a regular old non-YA fiction book like this in a long time. This, despite the fact that it's an epistolary novel and I usually hate those.

Mamma's Boarding House (John Dennis Fitzgerald). Sigh. I missed hanging out with all the folks from Papa Married a Mormon and this book brought (almost all of) them back.

The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World (AJ Jacobs). Recommended by Amanda. This one made me laugh and laugh and laugh. It is not the most reverent book but it is smart and hilarious - and informative!

Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival (Dean King). Recommended by Jeremy. With a hat tip to what I consider its companion book, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (Nathaniel Philbrick). The jury is still out on which group of sailors had it worse.

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster (Jon Krakauer). Yeah, Jon Krakauer should definitely stay away from (Mormon) history and stick to stories of disaster occurring at 29,000 feet, because he is dang good at the latter. Riveting.

And now for the rest:

Young Adult/Juvenile Literature

Sent (Margaret Peterson Haddix). This book was not nearly as intriguing as Found. Somehow, Haddix went from a freaky plane full of unattended babies to your run-of-the-mill going back in time to fix history book. I might read the next one. MIGHT.

Gideon the Cutpurse (Linda Buckley-Archer). Recommended by Laura. And I guess it's called The Time Travelers now.

The Time Thief (Linda Buckley-Archer). Recommended by Laura.

Time Quake (Linda Buckley-Archer). Recommended by Laura.

Forest Born (Shannon Hale)

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? (Eleanor Updale). Recommended by Laura. I really liked these books, but there was the weirdness of it being a YA book, with decidedly non-YA subject matter, but the treatment of said subject matter was YA-appropriate, so...?

Montmorency's Revenge (Eleanor Updale). Recommended by Laura.

Montmorency and the Assassins (Eleanor Updale). Recommended by Laura.

Montmorency On The Rocks (Eleanor Updale). Recommended by Laura.

Ambergate (Patricia Elliott). Recommended by Laura. This book (and Murkmere, below) were the definition of 'meh' to me. The mythology was underdeveloped and weird. The point of view jumped around too much. Characters were inconsistently evil or good. I never really knew who I was supposed to be rooting for - and I don't mean that in a good, suspenseful sort of way. Worst of all, it was strangely misogynistic - all the girls in this book seemed to be helpless and stupid. And yet, I couldn't muster the energy to actively dislike the books.

Murkmere (Patricia Elliott). Recommended by Laura.

City of Bones (Cassandra Clare)

City of Ashes (Cassandra Clare)

City of Glass (Cassandra Clare)

The Call of the Wild (Jack London). I liked this one better when I was an actual young adult.

The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)

Wings (Aprilynne Pike)

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler (EL Konigsburg)

Just Ella (Margaret Peterson Haddix)

Midnight Sun (partial draft) (Stephenie Meyer). For a minute there I thought I hadn't read anything by Stephenie Meyer this year. Phew!

Does My Head Look Big In This? (Randa Abdel-Fattah). Recommended by Susanne.

The Hourglass Door (Lisa Mangum). A little bit Twilight, a little bit City of Bones.

Graceling (Kristin Cashore)

The Midwife's Apprentice (Karen Cushman)

The Girl Who Could Fly (Victoria Forester). Recommended by Stephenie Meyer.

Hattie Big Sky (Kirby Larson). Recommended by Lark. This is YA fiction the way I remember it best: a young kid rising to overcome a tough situation, good family values, a strong sense of place and time, and of course, a backdrop of war (preferably with Germans).

The Thief (Megan Whalen Turner). Recommended by Laura. I liked this series (see two books below), but I had a problem with the author's style (not just her bio picture). Her mind's eye worked differently than mine, so I didn't always follow her descriptions very well. Also, this first book is absolutely mediocre until a twist at the end, which I think is disingenuous.

The Queen of Attolia (Megan Whalen Turner). Recommended by Laura.

The King of Attolia (Megan Whalen Turner). Recommended by Laura.

The Goose Girl (Shannon Hale). For all you people who complain about the weak heroine in Twilight, a little Shannon Hale might do you good.

Popular Fiction

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley). Recommended by Amanda. The best part of this book was its main character, an eleven-year-old girl named Flavia de Luce. I want her to follow me around all day and provide a running commentary on my life. It was so fun to read this book and just be inside her brain for a few hundred pages. It reminded me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, where I didn't want the book to end because I would miss hanging out with its characters.

The Little Book (Selden Edwards). I HATED THIS BOOK. From time to time, something will remind me of it and I hate it all over again.

Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey (Alison Weir)

These Is My Words (Nancy E. Turner). I could no longer stand being the only person on earth who had not read this book. It was nice. It made me appreciate Tucson more.

The Romanov Bride (Robert Alexander). Every once in a while I take another stab at regular adult fiction thinking it might not be that bad. Unfortunately, sometimes I pick a book like this and am proved wrong.

People of the Book (Geraldine Brooks)

The Other Queen (Philippa Gregory). Shockingly boring, for what an interesting story the real thing was.

Sarah's Key (Tatiana de Rosnay). I didn't realize I had already read this book, back when it was better, when it was called The Virgin Blue. 

Year of Wonders (Geraldine Brooks). Recommended by Sarah.

The Magic of Ordinary Days (Ann Howard Creel). So vanilla, so harmless.

The Lady Elizabeth (Alison Weir)


Dracula (Bram Stoker). I re-read this one for Book Club and it is almost a meta experience. You feel like screaming at the main characters and calling them imbeciles because they fail to recognize all the classic signs of a vampire...and then remember that the book itself is what taught us about those signs.

Les Miserables (Victor Hugo). Yeah, it's still my favorite book. I think next time I'll read the abridged version, though. I've learned all I need to know about 19th-century French nuns and wells made famous by the Revolution.

The House of Mirth (Edith Wharton)

The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway)

Persuasion (Jane Austen). My favorite Austen.

NPR-type Books (either I actually heard about them on NPR, or I could have)

The Female Brain (Louann Brizendine).

Busted: Life Inside the Great Mortgage Meltdown (Edmund L. Andrews). Really interesting. Also interesting was the firestorm created after this book was published because it turns out that maybe it wasn't the mortgage meltdown that caused the author's woes. Maybe it was his wife's track record of bankruptcy, or their irresponsible spending habits. Who knows?

Historical Non-Fiction

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War (Nathaniel Philbrick). Recommended by Jennifer. I think I wouldn't have been so caught off guard by the mediocre middle chapters if this book had a different title. It isn't all about Plymouth. Its scope is much bigger, perhaps too big at times. But still - I liked this book, and I was glad to find out that Patricia Clapp didn't lie to me much in one of my favorite childhood books, Constance.

Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders (Allen Dale Roberts & Linda Sillitoe). Recommended by Scott. I grew up hearing this story from my mom, but it was good to read the book. I was surprised to find that the real story isn't nearly as damning of Mormons as I thought it might be.

Massacre at Mountain Meadows (Ronald W. Walker). Speaking of Mormons not being damned too badly, the same goes for this book. Did Brigham Young order the attack on the defenseless (?) wagon train? The short answer is "yes," with an "if." The long answer is "no," with a "but." Read the book to find out more.

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (Richard L. Bushman). This book only increased my testimony of this absolutely fallible prophet.

1776 (David McCullough). Recommended by a whole bunch of people. I thought it was OK, I guess, but it seemed a little like he just picked up what was left on the cutting room floor from John Adams and slapped it together into a book.

Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England (Alison Weir)

Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley (Alison Weir)

The Children of Henry VIII (Alison Weir). I enjoyed this one almost as much as The Princes in the Tower.

LDS Fiction

The Kingdom and the Crown, Vol. 1: Fishers of Men (Gerald N. Lund)

The Kingdom and the Crown, Vol. 2: Come Unto Me (Gerald N. Lund)

The Kingdom and the Crown, Vol. 3: Behold the Man (Gerald N. Lund). I don't know. I kind of liked The Bronze Bow better.

Pregnancy & Childbirth

Born in the USA: How a Broken Maternity System Must Be Fixed to Put Women and Children First (Marsden Wagner). I have mixed feelings about this book. It was kind of shocking and negative through most of it, with a laundry list of horrifying anecdotes. The author redeems himself at the end with real, concrete suggestions for improving the maternity care situation in this country, but still. Also, I'm not sure this lady is the one you want as your poster child for a woman's right to refuse a C-section. I'm just sayin'. In short, this was like the man-version of Pushed, but with a lot more hate for OBs. Like, a LOT more hate. If you had to choose one book to read on this subject, I would recommend Pushed or Birth 

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth (Ina May Gaskin). Recommended by Brittany. Sorry, but I just can't get over the fact that she calls contractions, "rushes."

True Story/Memoir-ish Books

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer (Irene Opdyke). Recommended somewhere on FMH...I think. Amazing story.

The Devil's Highway: A True Story (Luis Alberto Urrea). Recommended by LizThis is one of those books that is interesting, rather than a joy to read. It's a terrible story but admirably told. The voice of the book was a little too butch for me, and I wish he would have fleshed out the Aftermath chapter. Once he started quoting facts and figures (like how much the hospital stays of rescued illegals cost taxpayers, very often at Tucson's own UMC), I got really interested, but he didn't go very in depth. I realize that was not the point of the book, but maybe it should have been. I can see this book fleshed out as a treatise on the ills of illegal immigration across our southern border, as illustrated by the Yuma 14. I think I would like that book better.

Career Diplomacy: Life and Work in the U.S. Foreign Service (Harry W. Kopp)

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible As Literally As Possible (AJ Jacobs). Recommended by Amanda.


Amber said...

First, can I express amazement at your ability to actually read this many books in a year's time? I have only one child, not two, and he isn't yet a toddler, I maintain two blogs, not three, and neither nearly as frequently as yours, and I think I have read exactly one book cover to cover in the last 8 months! However, this list has inspired me, and at the very least, I can no longer use the excuse of "but I don't know of any good books" because you've just given me several! My goal for 2010: to read enough books that I can put together a respectable list of recommendations. Thanks for posting it!

Anonymous said...

Hi, and thank you for the very interesting list of books!

However, for the benefit of those of your readers who may not have read them, I'd like to say a word or two in defence of Megan Whalen Turner's "Queen's Thief" books.

You write that the first book is "absolutely mediocre" until a twist at the end, which you find "disingenuous." However, I, and many other readers (including the Newbery Award Committee), found the book quite extraordinary, partly BECAUSE it is "disingenous."
When I first finished the book, I immediately started over again, and I was amazed to see that the book's ending (which I hadn't seen coming), was foreshadowed in the beginning -- even in the first couple of pages, and more and more as the narrative went on. Megan Whalen Turner creates a classic unreliable narrator in "The Thief," and shows an amazing mastery of point of view, which she continues to display in the following novels. To me, it was like a mystery novel in which you don't, at first, know there is a mystery, and I thought it was brilliantly done.

Your points about Turner's style and description are well taken. It can be a bit of work to read her books, but (imo) it's well worth it!

And if anybody would like to check out another point of view on The Queen's Thief series, there's an informative review by Orson Scott Card here:

Bridget said...

Deirdrea, you have a point about The Thief. I just felt like the book could have been awesome WITH a twist at the end, not just so-so UNTIL the twist. Maybe it's too much to ask. The King of Attolia was my favorite book of that series, by the way.

Anonymous said...

I agree about that, Bridget. The King of Attolia is my favorite, though I like "Queen" more and more the more I read it.

Brittany Cornett said...

I liked the Potato Peel Society book as well. I thought that it could do without some parts.... I always think about how I wish a mormon author had written a book and how it would have changed. But of course that would make life a bit boring.

Jeremy Palmer said...

so few? Don't forget editing my dissertation (over 300 pages), which can count as one book or more. My list is at Good Reads, but I think this past year was a 'low-read' year due to the ole diss.

Liz Johnson said...

You are my hero. Also, can I just say that, last year, I only read maybe four books, and this year, I've read 19 (and almost 20)? And you are part of my inspiration for that. So thank you. :)

Shannan said...

Got a new one for you.
Have you read The Midwife by Jennifer Worth?

Read about it on a friend's blog and finished it in about a day and a half. During Christmas Eve and Day for that matter. I immediately thought to recommend it to you.

Susanne said...

Enjoyed reading your list. Thanks for sharing!

Lark said...

Wow. You are very organized. I always love reading your reviews and recommendations. Can't wait to hear about your books for next year!


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