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January 31, 2011

Top Reads of 2010



I stopped posting my monthly summaries some time last year. I fell behind and decided it was too much effort to try to get caught up. But no matter how late I am with my Top Reads, I simply can't skip posting this annual summary. It's not yet February, so technically it's still the New Year, right?

I've been keeping track of how many books I read each year since 1999. I don't know if those early records included the books I quit on or just the ones I finished, but this year's total is a bit of an improvement from the previous two years. Take a look:

1999 42 books
2000 60 books
2001 63 books
2002 72 books
2003 88 books (includes books I quit on)
2004 82 books (doesn't include the books I quit on)
2005 57 books (quit on 12)
2006 73 books (quit on 17 more)
2007 58 books (quit on 9 more)
2008 46 books (quit on 6 more)
2009 45 books (quit on 7 more)

and this past year...

2010 52 books (quit on 3 more)

2010 Stats:

Male Authors 15

Female Authors 37

New-To-Me Authors 29

Fiction 43

Nonfiction 9

Epistolary 1

Current Affairs 0

Cultural Studies 0

Audio 11 (an all-time record!)

Historical Fiction 12 (this must be a record, too)
Classics 0

Graphic Novels 0

Poetry 1

Teen 3

Kids 0

Science Fiction 0

Fantasy 0

Horror 1
Romance 0

Culinary 1

Humor 1

Travel 1

Memoir 5

Mystery/Thriller 14
Re-read 2

Did Not Finish 3

Advanced Reader Copies 14

Borrowed 23

From my stacks (including ARCs) 29


It appears to have been the year of historical fiction, audio books and mystery/thrillers. And not too many that I couldn't finish.

And now for my Top Ten for 2010 (listed in the order read) ...

Mudbound by Hilary Jordan

The Help
(audio) by Kathryn Stockett


Lift by Kelly Corrigan


Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Faithful Place by Tana French

World Without End by Ken Follett

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Room by Emma Donoghue

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel

Honorable Mentions:


Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens


Click on the titles to read my reviews

You can also find a list of reviews for all the books I read in 2010 here.

My goal for 2011? Read more from my stacks before our second floor collapses into the living room!

January 30, 2011

January Hymn

The Decemberists
The King Is Dead



On a winter’s Sunday I go
To clear away the snow
And green the ground below

April all an ocean away
Is this the better way to spend the day?
Keeping the winter at bay

What were the words I meant to say before you left?
When I could see your breath lead
Where you were going to
Maybe I should just let it be
And maybe it will all come back to me
Sing: O January O

How I lived a childhood in snow
And all my teens in tow
Stuffed in strata of clothes

Pale the winter days after dark
Wandering the gray memorial park
A fleeting beating of hearts

What were the words I meant to say before she left?
When I could see her breath lead
Where she was going to
Maybe I should just let it be
And maybe it will all come back to me
Sing: O January O

I've been listening to this album pretty much all week. Constantly. N
onstop. I love the lyrics, the instrumentals, the vocals and the simplicity of each track. Amazing music.

Product Description (
from Amazon):

The Decemberists have announced their new album The King Is Dead (Capitol Records, EMI). The album—a set of 10 concise, country-based songs—marks a deliberate turn towards simplicity after the band's wildly ambitious and widely acclaimed 2009 song-cycle The Hazards of Love. Produced once again by Tucker Martine, The King Is Dead features special guest appearances by Americana luminary Gillian Welch on seven tracks and legendary R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck on three tracks.

The King Is Dead showcases the ways in which The Decemberists—Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query, and John Moen—sound just as glorious in simple, stripped-down compositions as they do on the elaborate structures that have defined their work for years.

Meloy points out, however, that creating straightforward, unadorned songs can be at least as hard as building complicated musical epics. "For all my talk about how complex those records were, this one may have been harder to do," he says. "It's a real challenge to make simple music, and lot of times we had to deliberately hold off and keep more space. This record is an exercise in restraint."

The album was recorded in a converted barn at Pendarvis Farm, an 80-acre estate of lush meadows, forest, and Mt. Hood views outside of Portland, and it was the concept of the barn—as recording space and as attitude—that informed the making of The King Is Dead. "We wanted that ethos," he says. "That was the color we wanted the record to have."

To Meloy, in some ways The King Is Dead also represents his own musical journey coming full circle. "Over the last eleven years or so, since I moved to Portland, I feel like I've been mining mostly English traditions for influence", he says. "I guess I've kind of come back to a lot of the more American music that got me going in the first place - R.E.M. and Camper Van Beethoven and all these bands that borrowed from more American traditions like Neil Young and the Byrds."

"Sometimes I kind of miss the epic-ness of the other albums," he continues, "but it's nice to get all of the information across in three minutes. It's like going from reading a novel to reading a bunch of short stories."

Go here to listen to January Hymn. Go here to buy the album, The King Is Dead.

January 29, 2011

Heart of the Matter


Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin
Fiction
2010 St. Martin’s Press
Finished on 1/4/11
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
FTC Disclosure: Received ARC from publisher via B&N



Publisher’s Blurb:

Tessa Russo is a stay-at-home mother of two young children and the wife of Nick Russo, a renowned pediatric surgeon. Valerie Anderson is an attorney and single mother to six-year-old Charlie—a little boy who has never known his father. Although both women live in the same upscale Boston suburb, the two have relatively little in common, at least on paper. But one night, while Charlie is at a sleepover, a split-second accident sends him to the hospital and Dr. Russo. From that night forward, everyone is changed forever, their lives intersecting in ways no one could have imagined.

In alternating points of view, Giffin tells a story of three good people caught in an untenable triangle, each questioning everything they once believed about love and loyalty. And each ultimately discovering what is truly at the heart of the matter.

Every now and then, I like to try an author or book that one of my customers has suggested. I give them my recommendations so it only seems fair, right? It’s also no secret that I like to read a bit of fluff every once in a while.

Coming off a very hectic holiday season, I perused my shelves in search of just that sort of novel and came across an ARC of Heart of the Matter. The book was released in May, so it’s not one that I’ve had lurking for too long. (Some of my ARCs are easily a decade old!) While I have no marked passages to share, I did enjoy Giffin’s writing and was quickly drawn in to the narrative. The engaging dialogue and alternating points of view made for an easy read. That said, this is not the sort of book I’d recommend for a book club. Other than one engrossing and occasionally disturbing aspect of the plot, there simply wouldn’t be much to discuss. This isn’t a meaty novel like Loving Frank, Left Neglected, or Every Last One. I’ll probably forget most of the details in a month or two, but while I was reading, I was definitely entertained. However, I’m not sure I’m ready to dive into Giffin’s backlist. I think most of her books are geared to a younger reader. Fans of Jennifer Weiner, Cecelia Ahern and Sophie Kinsella are likely to enjoy Heart of the Matter. How about you? If you’d like my ARC, please leave me a comment with your email address and I’ll draw a name on Valentine’s Day.


Go here to read an interview with the author on Bookreporter.com.

January 23, 2011

Still Missing


Still Missing by Chevy Stevens
Thriller
2010 St. Martin’s Press
Finished 12/24/10
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
FTC Disclosure: Received ARC from publisher via Shelf Awareness





Product Description

On the day she was abducted, Annie O’Sullivan, a thirty-two-year-old realtor, had three goals: sell a house, forget about a recent argument with her mother, and be on time for dinner with her ever-patient boyfriend. The open house is slow, but when her last visitor pulls up in a van as she’s about to leave, Annie thinks it just might be her lucky day after all. Interwoven with the story of the year Annie spent captive in a remote mountain cabin — which unfolds through sessions with her psychiatrist — is a second narrative recounting the nightmare that follows her escape: her struggle to piece her shattered life back together, the ongoing police investigation into the identity of her captor, and the disturbing sense that things are far from over. The truth doesn’t always set you free. Still Missing is a shocking, visceral, brutal, and beautifully crafted debut novel about surviving the unsurvivable — and living to bear witness.

Wow. This was quite a train-wreck-of-a-thriller! Had I not been so wiped out at the end of the day (it was by far the craziest, busiest and most exhausting holiday season in my retail history!), I probably could have managed to devour this compelling debut novel in a mere two or three days, tops. Instead, it took me closer to two weeks. That said, it’s one of the most riveting psychological thrillers I’ve read in quite some time. As the suspense increased, I found myself holding my breath, anticipating the worst possible outcome. And, due to the horrific nature of one particular scene, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. This is definitely not for everyone, as the villain is truly one twisted individual. But, yes, I continued. And overall, I thought this was an excellent debut thriller.

My only major complaint is Stevens’ use of a narrative device in which the reader learns of Annie’s abduction (and subsequent drama) through her discussions with a therapist. This wouldn’t have annoyed me so much had the sessions not been presented only via Annie's interior monologue; not once did the author allow the therapist to speak or show any dialogue between her and Annie.

In spite of my quibble, I highly recommend this terrific book to anyone who doesn’t shy away from the (occasionally gruesome) works of Cody McFadyen, Linda Castillo, or John Sandford.

Read what other bloggers have to say:

This is Chevy Stevens debut novel and what a doozy it is! The only reason it did not receive a 5/5 from me was due to one scene. The scene was an important one, and I thought it came just too easily. Other than that - it was authentic, compelling and visceral to only name a few adjectives. (Joy, from Thoughts of Joy)

and

This was a very good debut by Chevy Stevens. It’s a thrilling and terrifying suspenseful story. Despite the fact that I knew Annie survived her ordeal, the suspense of her captivity was still there. Another reason the story remained suspenseful was that in addition to telling her therapist about the events of the past year, Annie is also telling the story of her continued terror and post traumatic stress. Still not knowing the identity of her abductor and why she was held captive, Annie is home but still a captive to her fears and uncertainties. (SuziQoregon, from Whimpulsive)

Be sure to click on the links to read their full reviews of Chevy Stevens' novel.

And, lastly, there’s a wonderful review here, as well as an author interview here. Enjoy!

January 22, 2011

2011 Edgar Award Nominees




From Bookreporter.com:

On January 19th, the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) announced the nominees for the 2011 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, marking the 202nd anniversary of his birth. Honoring the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction and television published or produced in 2010, the 2011 Edgar Awards will be presented to the winners at the MWA’s 65th annual Gala Banquet, to be held on April 28th in New York City.


The nominees for the 2011 Edgar Awards are:

BEST NOVEL

CAUGHT by Harlan Coben (Dutton Adult/Penguin)
CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER by Tom Franklin (William Morrow/HarperCollins)
FAITHFUL PLACE by Tana French (Viking/Penguin)
THE QUEEN OF PATPONG: A Poke Rafferty Thriller by Timothy Hallinan (William Morrow/HarperCollins)
THE LOCK ARTIST by Steve Hamilton (Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books)
I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE by Laura Lippman (William Morrow/HarperCollins)

I've read three of these and thought two were excellent. I will definitely try the others, especially Coben's, as I'm a big fan of his writing. (Click on the titles to read my reviews.)

I've only listed one category here. For a complete list of the nominees, go here.

For more information, visit the Mystery Writers of America site here.

January 10, 2011

Beautiful Lies


Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger
Mystery/Thriller
2006 Audible Books on Tape, Unabridged Edition
12 hours and 50 minutes
Read by Ann Marie Lee
Finished on 12/12/10
Rating: 2.5/5 (Average)



Product Description

What if your family was a lie?

What if your name was a lie?

What if your whole life was just a pack of Beautiful Lies?

If Ridley Jones had slept ten minutes later or had taken the subway instead of waiting for a cab, she would still be living the beautiful lie she used to call her life. She would still be the privileged daughter of a doting father and a loving mother. Her life would still be perfect—with only the tiny cracks of an angry junkie for a brother and a charming drunk with shady underworld connections for an uncle to mar the otherwise flawless whole.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, those inconsequential decisions lead her to perform a good deed that puts her in the right place at the right time to unleash a chain of events that brings a mysterious package to her door—a package which informs her that her entire world is a lie.

Suddenly forced to question everything she knows about herself and her family, Ridley wanders into dark territory she never knew existed, where everyone in her life seems like a stranger. She has no idea who’s on her side and who has something to hide—even, and maybe especially, her new lover, Jake, who appears to have secrets of his own.

Sexy and fast-paced, Beautiful Lies is a true literary thriller with one of the freshest voices and heroines to arrive in years. Lisa Unger takes us on a breathtaking ride in which every choice Ridley makes creates a whirlwind of consequences that are impossible to imagine . . .

Meh. I spent two months (on and off) listening to this audio book, which when it was all said and done, turned out to be mediocre at best. I kept thinking it would improve and was curious enough about the murder to stick with it longer than I might have, had I been reading it. I wasn’t that impressed with the reader and can’t help but wonder if I would’ve enjoyed the printed book any better. I certainly didn’t find the writing as riveting as other reviewers (both Publishers Weekly and Booklist gave it starred reviews) and wonder what I missed. If I decide to give the sequel a chance (Sliver of Truth), I think I’ll read it instead of listening to the audio.

January 9, 2011

I Remember Nothing


I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections by Nora Ephron
Nonfiction – Essays
2010 Alfred A. Knopf
Finished on 12/2/10
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)




In my early days of forgetting things, words would slip away, and names. I did what you normally do when this happens: I scrolled through a mental dictionary, trying to figure out what letter the word began with, and how many syllables were involved. Eventually the lost thing would float back into my head, recaptured. I never took such lapses as harbingers of doom, or old age, or actual senescence. I always knew that whatever I’d forgotten was going to come back to me sooner or later. Once I went to a store to buy a book about Alzheimer’s disease and forgot the name of it. I thought it was funny. And it was, at the time.

Here’s a thing I’ve never been able to remember: the title of that movie with Jeremy Irons. The one about Claus von Bulow. You know the one. All I ever succeeded in remembering was that it was three words long, and the middle word was “of.” For many years this did not bother me at all, because no one I knew could ever think of the title either. One night, eight of us were at the theater together, and not one of us could retrieve it. Finally, at intermission, someone went out to the street and Googled it; we were all informed of the title and we all vowed to remember it forever. For all I know, the other seven did. I, on the other hand, am back to remembering that it’s three words long with an “of" in the middle.

My note to the curious: It’s Reversal of Fortune. Now see if you remember this in two days. ;)

As with Ephron’s previous collection of essays (I Feel Bad About My Neck), I found several gems that caused me to laugh out loud. Others, not so much. They’re mostly all about growing older, but it’s the ones about memory (or lack thereof) that resonate so strongly with me, probably because I'm beginning to worry about my own forgetfulness. I keep meaning to ask my doctor about this, but I can never quite remember to!

The Senior Moment has become the Google moment, and it has a much nicer, hipper, younger, more contemporary sound, doesn’t it? By handling the obligations of the search mechanism, you almost prove you can keep up. You can delude yourself that no one at the table thinks of you as a geezer. And finding the missing bit is so quick. There’s none of the nightmare of the true Senior Moment—the long search for the answer, the guessing, the self-recrimination, the head-slapping mystification, the frustrated finger-snapping. You just go to Google and retrieve it.

You can’t retrieve your life (unless you’re on Wikipedia, in which case you can retrieve an inaccurate version of it).

But you can retrieve the name of that actor who was in that movie, the one about World War II. And the name of that writer who wrote that book, the one about her affair with that painter. Or the name of that song that was sung by that singer, the one about love.

You know the one.

I’m sure we all recognize ourselves in this one:

I know you. I know you well. It’s true I always have a little trouble with your name, but I do know your name. I just don’t know it at this moment. We’re at a big party. We’ve kissed hello. We’ve had a delightful conversation about how we are the last two people on the face of the earth who don’t kiss on both cheeks. Now we’re having a conversation about how phony all the people are who do kiss on both cheeks. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. You’re so charming. If only I could remember your name. It’s inexcusable that I can’t. You’ve been to my house for dinner. I tried to read your last book. I know your girlfriend’s name, or I almost know it. It’s something like Chanelle. Only it’s not. Chantelle? That’s not it either. Fortunately, she isn’t here, so I haven’t forgotten both of your names. I’m becoming desperate. It’s something like Larry. Is it Larry? No, it’s not. Jerry? No, it’s not. But it ends in a Y. Your last name: three syllables. Starts with a C. Starts with a G? I’m losing my mind. But a miracle occurs: the host is about to toast the guest of honor. Thank God. I can escape to the bar.

This next one is very similar to a post on my cousin’s blog. Go here now – before you forget! – to give it read.

Have we met? I think we’ve met. But I can’t be sure. We were introduced, but I didn’t catch your name because it was noisy at this party. I’m going to assume we know each other, and I’m not going to say, “Nice to meet you.” If I say, “Nice to meet you,” I know what will happen. You’ll say, “We’ve met.” You’ll say “We’ve met” in a sort of aggressive, irritable tone. And you won’t even tell me your name so I can recover in some way. So I’m not going to say, “Nice to meet you.” I’m going to say, “Nice to see you.” I’ll have a big smile on my face. I won’t look desperate. But what I’ll be thinking is, Please throw me your name. Please, please, please. Give me a hint. My husband is likely to walk up, and I’ll have to introduce you, and I won’t be able to, and you’ll know that I have no idea who you are, even though we probably spent an entire weekend together on a boat in 1984. I have a secret signal with my husband that involves my pinching him very hard on the upper arm. The signal means, “Throw your name at this person because I have no idea whom I’m talking to.” But my husband always forgets the secret signal and can’t be counted on to respond to my pinching, even when it produces a bruise. I would like to chew my husband out about his forgetfulness on this point, but I’m not exactly in a position to do so since I myself have forgotten (if I ever knew it) the name of the person I’m talking to.

A few other essays that resonated with me, (but are far too long to share) include The Six Stages of E-Mail, What I Won’t Miss, and What I Will Miss. I especially like the latter—a list of what will be missed after dying. I think I’ll start a similar list and make a point to appreciate every single item while I’m still alive!

I started my list. I was afraid if I didn’t do it right away, I’d forget. ;)