The Books of 2011.

One of my rewards – and punishments – for being an awesomely prolific reader is that at the end of each year I get to pen a year-in-review for alllllll the books I’ve read. (ALL THE BOOKS!) I promise that I have indeed been working on this diligently over the past two weeks; it’s just that when you’ve read more than 70 books in one year, it turns out it takes you much longer than you think to say a little something about each magical (and barfical…that’s the opposite of magical, right?) adventure. So, without further ado – and not because the words are all blurring together by now – I give you: My Books of 2011.

January

1. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, and

2. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. My sister Rhi gave me the Hunger Games trilogy for Christmas. Rhi promised to buy it for me only if I promised to read them all – and to wait for Christmas. A rather unfair request given that it then tempted me to read them allatonce! Kim read the first book (maybe the first two?) in a single sitting. Mrs. E – who has very similar reading taste to my own – had also been raving about the series. But I held off – barely – and simply devoured them. I was the lone person in our department the week after Christmas and I remember being so! mad! when the clock struck the magic hour and I had to set aside my book and, you know, pretend to work. Instead of reading. The only other downside to the trilogy was knowing I had read the best book(s) I was going to read all year. It may be Young Adult, but this series has it all – politics, survival, adventure and, best of all, plenty of wit and sarcasm. It didn’t hurt that the heroine was what my sisters and I call an “anti-Bella.” 5 of 5 stars.

3. How to Be Good by Nick Hornby. I read a few Nick Hornby’s last year – Juliet, Naked, which I adored, and About a Boy, which was interesting, if not as good as Juliet. Hornby’s pieces might be considered more popular, commercial-type reads instead of high literature, but his get-at-ableness is part of his attraction. He paints a quite interesting bumbling, middle-aged man, in fact. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t really fall for How to Be Good, a tale of a woman who cheats on her husband, comes clean, leaves her husband an even more bumbling, doddering mess than Hornby usual cuppa tea, and tries to… I don’t know what exactly. Find herself? Because I don’t think she quite got there. Perhaps she did and I had just lost interest so I missed it. 1 of 5 stars.

4. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I think most of my friends read this back in high school when the movie came out and it was on all the summer reading lists. I skipped it because I didn’t – and for the most part, still don’t – dig books about eastern cultures for the sole reason that I have problems connecting with the characters. I didn’t quite feel it with Joy Luck, either, but I did find the mother-daughter relationships interesting enough I keep me engaged. But it was still engagement at a level where I felt like a scientist analyzing and observing instead of as a reader consuming, gulping, and bolting down a good, warm, delicious story. I can see what all the fuss was about and appreciate why Tan’s story was on everyone’s required reading lists, but it’s still not really for me. 3 of 5 stars.

5. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. For fun (and because I started wondering if I had just imagined my fascination with Hornby), I re-read Juliet, Naked. I still loved it nearly as much as I did the first time around. Some of the jokes were a bit thinner and the intensity of what would happen next(?!) was gone as can happen when you’re re-reading, but it was a still a highly enjoyable story for me. It’s still my favorite Hornby and I’ll probably read the story again: the way he talks about music and those who are addicted to music, you can tell Hornby loves a good song as much as a good book. If you’re one of us (music fanatics, that is), you’ll love this book, too. [Interesting aside: Nick Hornby wrote the lyrics for Ben Folds’s latest (?) album. Ben wrote music that would fit with what Hornby had given him. I’m intrigued. Anyone have it? Is it as good as the experiment sounds?] 4 of 5 stars.

6. Into the Woods by Tana French. I had such high, high hopes for this book. A mystery thriller about three childhood friends who go into the woods – and one of them is murdered. It’s like Blair Witch meets Mystic River. Only in a book. Oh, hush. The novel centers around one of the boys who has grown up to become a detective, and his current case might be related to the unsolved crime that happened to him and his mates. Sounds juicy, right? It had great reviews, too. I loved most of the subplots. His character and that of his (female) partner were complicated and interesting. The main suspects were well-drawn. It paced quite nicely…except, well, after the halfway point (it’s a hefty book – much heftier than it needed to be), the plot became much more complicated than it needed to be. Subplots thrown in to give motives to other suspects became too confusing to follow, some points weren’t full explained, and some characters started behaving erratically. The ending itself seemed a bit thrown together and left you going, whaaaaat? Not to mention one hyooge mystery is never explained. I knew there was a second book and I thought, ‘Oh. Okay. It’s part of a larger story arc.’ Except, no. It’s not. The second book veers in a totally different direction. So if you have a few days to kill and you don’t mind unresolved story arcs – go ahead. The book is (mostly) a good read – as long as you don’t need things nice and neat. 2 1/2 out of 5 stars.

7. A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Meh. This was one of those classics I read so I could say I read it. It’s a bit moralistic and preachy (though well-written), and I understand why high school English teachers love it, but it just wasn’t my thing. 2 of 5 stars.

February

8. Little Bee by Chris Cleave. I so very much enjoyed Mr. Cleave’s novel Incendiary that I hunted down any and all novels he had written. I found Little Bee and occasionally I would run into the title On the Other Hand. Except I couldn’t find On the Other Hand for sale. Like, anywhere. Too bad I’m so tenacious when it comes to books I neeeeed because it turns out On the Other Hand was simply the British title for Little Bee. Yeah, if Little Bee wasn’t one of the books I loved best in 2011, I would have cared more about all that wasted effort. Instead, I gave my extra copy to my sister (who also lurved it.) Little Bee blurred the lines between popular and “real” literature. See what else I thought in my review here. 5 of 5 stars. (Can I give it more than 5? Because I would.)

9. Holes by Louis Sachar. I read a lot of YA fiction this year. Holes was in the middle of the pack: it wasn’t the best of them, but it wasn’t the worst, either. It filled the time pleasantly while I was reading. I didn’t regret picking it up, but I didn’t think about it for a single minute after I was through. The best I can say of the book is that I can understand why it would draw in boy pre-tweens – probably the toughest age & gender group to motivate to read. For that, at least, it should get a few props. 2 1/2 of 5 stars. (Because I am neither a boy, nor a pre-tween.)

10. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Now THIS is an awesome book for pre-tweens, tweens, teens, young adults, and grown-ups. This was another re-read, one I picked up because my sister mentioned she was reading it and as soon as she said that, I had to read it. Westing Game is a fantastical mystery that was so mind-blowing to me the first time I read it that I still remembered the who-and-how-dunnit even if I didn’t remember all the twists and turns. Oh, how I wanted to be Turtle when I was younger. So much so that I was surprised what a twerp she was. Heh. 5 of 5 stars – still.

11. The Tiger by John Vaillant. I forget how I heard about this book: either through Bookmarks literary mag, or possibly from Goodreads(.com)’s e-newsletter that I pour through each month. Somehow I had heard about it right around Christmas time and I couldn’t get the book out of my mind. So I finally gave up and tracked it down at the library. I couldn’t believe it was available. So even though I had gotten an insane number of new books for Christmas (over 40, if I remember correctly), I took it out and read it over the course of a few days. The story is about both the historical evolution of the most impressive, most successful hunting machine (excluding humans, natch) and the scary-ass reality of a rogue tiger taking out several men trying to take him out. I never knew tigers were so freakishly personal. Forget sixth-senses – these things seem to have seven, eight and ninth senses! Yes, I’m a nerd from time to time and it’s tremendously fun. 3 of 5 stars. (Hint: you can skip the history and background when it gets a little boring and it doesn’t detract a bit from the gory, scary the tiger chases.)

March

12. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. My mom read both of Lamb’s doorstops (this and I Know This Much Is True) back when she was still reading. She loved them despite the fact that they were such tedious reads. So I gave She’s Come Undone a bunch of slack while I was reading. And reading. And reading. I finished it still waiting for the love to hit me. It’s a good book and there’s a lot to unpack, but I just never felt connected. The most I can say for this is that I’ll never drive through tollbooths at more than a crawl ever again. 3 of 5 stars.

13. Deep End of the Ocean by Jaqueline Mitchard. Mitchard isn’t an author I’d normally be drawn to. For one, the author pic bugs. It looks like she has Texas hair; I don’t trust people with Texas hair. But I was pulled in by the sound of the story: a boy is kidnapped from a hotel lobby while his mom’s back is turned for one minute. I’ll admit: I’m a sucker for crime dramas. I don’ t know why – I spent the first half of the book putting it down and trying to banish the badthoughts and hyperventilation away. What mom doesn’t wonder from time to time, What if? The book moved along at a decent-enough pace, the characters weren’t annoying and everyone had a role to play – it was a good foray into Crime Drama Land, for the most part. The last third of the book did start to drag and I found myself wanting the book to just be over already. I mean, I was enjoying the psychological complications and the character development, but I think the lull between the two halves of the books lost most of my interest. So, not anything I’d re-read, but I think I’ll hold onto my copy just the same. 3 of 5 stars.

14. The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I’ve actually saved this entry until nearly the end of my post: I’m just not sure what to write. When I first read The Hours, I thought I’d found another of My Books, another favorite book of all time. A book I’d somehow find a way to have Amazon deliver to my desert island. But, funnily enough, when it came time to write something about it, I had a hard time recollecting anything at all to write. Anything to distinguish it. Any of the magic I had sworn carried me through each one of its pages. I remember it was mostly the language and the construct; I felt under a spell the entire time I was reading. I loved the mimicry between the characters of The Hours and what I knew of Mrs. Dalloway. It was as if an entire book had fallen through the rabbit hole and found its twinner on the other side. I remember an intense attraction to all of the characters and an incredible investment in their stories. I cared about what happened to them; even more so when I realized that some characters (spoiler alert!) are actually fictional characters in stories belonging to other characters (although of course they don’t know this). Okay, so now I’m kind of remembering just how awesome this book was for me – pretty much the entire package deal. But what does it mean that I spent nearly a week trying to remember any and all of that? To remember any impression of all? Does it mean I read 70 books a year and that’s bound to happen? Or does it mean The Hours isn’t nearly as wonderful as I thought? 4 1/2 of 5 stars.

15. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I needed to find out how closely The Hours mimicked (paid homage to? mirrored a la Through the Looking Glass-style? scrambled? mocked?) Mrs. Dalloway. I’d heard so much about Virginia Woolf (who hasn’t?) but hadn’t read anything by her. To that affect, Mrs. D. was very enlightening, very interesting, extremely intriguing. I don’t think I would have liked it half as much if it wasn’t half of the compare&contrast, but that’s one of the things I love so much about reading: the adventure that leads us to the stories we choose. Ever since the Eat, Pray, Love Adventure of 2008, I stopped thinking and just read books when they decided to insert themselves into my lives. But that’s a post onto itself, I think. 3 3/4 of 5 stars.

16. The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I remember Mrs. E. and several other readers whom I admire gushing about this book. I knew very little about it, other than the bookart on the cover make me happy and struck a chord somewhere deep in my imagination. It said: read me. So I placed The Help on my Christmas list, was tickled to get the book, and…then I found out it was about hired help in the deep South just before the Civil Rights movement. I got cold feet and was afraid to read it because a book like that…well, it would either be really, really good or so horribly cliche that it was uncomfortable to read. So I procrastinated. And then when I finally decided to take a deep breath and jump in – well, I just couldn’t put it down. Really, I read it in just two or three gulps. Then I made my sister and my entire reading circle of friends read it. It was That Good. Mrs. E. said it was just as good the second go-round, and assuming my sister does indeed remember to bring it back this week, we shall see if I agree. I’m itching to get back into it before I make myself see how badly the movie butchered my book. 5 of 5 stars.

April

17. Black and Blue by Anna Quinlan. Oof, this book was bad. Bad-bad. So badly written, so cliched, so flat and uneven and shallowly constructed that I couldn’t even make myself finish the thing. And I hate not finishing a book once I’ve committed myself; I hate not knowing how it turns out even if I don’t care. I hate more faith in the redemption of stories than I do in human beings. But: this was that bad. I didn’t even google it to see what happened. 1 of 5 stars.

18. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. I read this one week, right after I threw down Black and Blue in disgust. I thought if I couldn’t trust myself to pick a fiction book that could live up to The Help, I might as well read one from the classics list that I had always meant to read, but hadn’t yet found the time for. Snow Falling on Cedars was good. Not great, but good enough to make me wonder about it in between lunch breaks. It’s not To Kill a Mockingbird, or anything, but an interesting enough morality play/courtroom crime thriller/Be The Change You Want To See In The World type story. The story was also set in an area in the upper northwest – not my typical story setting. Yes, I do take the setting into consideration when choosing novels – doesn’t everyone? I found the change refreshing. 3 of 5 stars.

19. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. This book cracked my 10 Best Books of All Time list. I didn’t think I would find a book so soon after reading The Help that I would think was as highly crafted – I mean, after a book like that, you just don’t get your hopes up – and then I found this. Here are the magical things I had to say about Thirteenth Tale just after I started reading. And trust me – the book only got better. It wasn’t just date-cancelling worthy; it was call-in-sick-to-work kinda lovely.

20. Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. Another disappointing read. I mean, it was okay. I finished the darn thing. But Long Way Down gave me the niggling little feeling that I had started with the best of Hornby and had no where to go but down.

21. Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary. Obviously a re-read. To be precise, it was one I read aloud to Bee and Gracie chapter-by-chapter, night-by-night. But that still counts, right? I was still impressed by Cleary’s precise capturing of the sibling dynamic (especially between sisters), and the girls were obviously attracted to the story and identified with the characters. In fact, I think Ramona might be Bee’s new hero: she has been sleeping with a Ramona book every night since, willing herself to read the type inside.

22. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. I didn’t think Heart-Shaped Box was nearly as good as Horns, but it still passed many a happy afternoon rescuing me from the tedium of….well, of ThePlaceThatShallNotBeDiscussed, naturally. No, I couldn’t quite wait until the plane ride like I had planned, and for good reason. The novel might date itself eventually, what with it hinging a bit on online auction sites, but ghosts, horror stories, lust, passion, and rock’n’roll? Yeah, I can’t see those going out of style anytime soon. The same could be said for this breakout author of creepy, creepy tales. (Related: Hill has published two bestselling novels and numerous comics/graphic novels. When do we move him from the category of Author You Haven’t Read, But Should Have into Accepted Author Everyone’s Read, You Dork, What’s Wrong With You? In other words, can I even call him “breakout” author anymore?)

23. The Giver by Lois Lowry. Surprisingly, I had never read this classic in middle school or high school or any other time it was on the Recommended Reading lists. I enjoyed it immensely. I love dystopia/utopia tales, especially ones with a slight YA bend to them. The color/black-and-white, climate control, thought-policing, and, oh! the organization of this so-called-utopia really caught my fancy. I mean – who doesn’t grow up planning City and organize every little detail like who will get what job or fall in love with which person and dictate the weather and that sort of thing? Everyone knows I heart organization. The Giver, though, that made the fine-line details a little creepy. But since I wasn’t a part of it, I’ll say it was in a good, good way for the reader. 4 of 5 stars.

24. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. This…this was an interesting novel. I very much enjoyed Edgar’s character development and his attachment to the dogs his family raised was fascinating. In fact, the entire family business was so detailed and grand and just epic that you couldn’t help getting swept up in it. I could appreciate that Edgar needed his father-figure to exit the story in order to grow along his own trajectory, and the Sawtelles’ journey through their tremendous grief was beautiful to explore. But then – halfway through the novel? more? – the novel just sort of fell apart. Plot devices were thrown in with giant, painful clunks; characters lost fidelity and started acting all crazy and bent to the will of the author instead of developing and moving organically; and the rest of Edgar’s growth and his travels through the wide world seemed forced, contrived, and pointless. And that’s before we even get to the ending. Oh, the ending. I’m glad I read the book because it was one getting a lot of attention – but I can’t say I would ever recommend it or read another by Wroblewski again. 2 of 5 stars.

May

25. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. Who doesn’t love rereading favorite stories? This time it was because the girls were in the rollover accident and I was feeling a complete loss of control over everything. Reading Harry Potter made me feel the tiniest bit better.

26. Room by Emma Donoghue. I was so intrigued by the plotline: a woman held hostage in a shed-turned-living area. She has the bare essentials – bed, TV, toilet, heating plate – and everything else is brought to her by her captor. The woman hasn’t seen the outside in years. Oh – and she has a small boy. See? Intriguing! And it was, for the most part. It was an engrossing read, but there were some magical plot points that bugged. Some rather convenient things happened that were rather irritating for all of their plot deviciveness. And the narrator, the woman, was just so….matter of fact about it. I wanted more feelings, more exploration of themes, more self-discovery and reflection. Not having any of that in the midst of a really incredible set-up drove me nutsy. Still – 3 3/4 of 5 stars.

27. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Goodness, this might have been either the year of the re-reads or the year of YA fiction. How many have I read? Hatchet doesn’t read as the best story: it’s rather dry, it’s told from the standpoint of a young tweeny boy (not really a category I identify with), and written so long ago that the reason for all of the protagonist’s angst – the breakup of his parents’ marriage – seems rather dated. That being said, Hatchet is a survival story. I pretty much lovelovelove survival stories and spent a good chunk of my childhood playacting in them. Now, since Imma really not sposed to be playing anymore, I have an entire shelf on one of my bookshelves filled with survival stories. Like Hatchet. It might not contain the greatest protagonist, but apparently the rest of the story is good enough that I have to read it every 20 years or so. 3 of 5 stars.

28. The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy. I can’t begin to tell you how much I adored this novel. I love fractured fairy tales. And I love history. So when an author who seems to know what the heck she’s doing takes characters who are fleeing internment camps during the last months of Nazi-controlled Germany (history), and twists the story to explain that the two children were left in the woods by their father and step-mother so that they would survive, and that they eventually find refuge at the cottage of a reputed witch who lives in the forest (Hansel and Gretel anyone?), you end up with an extremely delighted Katie. I loved discovering all of the ways Murphy tucked bits of the fairy tale into her story without watering down the history of the war or sacrificing anything by way of what she really wanted to say about her story. Her tale was utterly believable and still truly her own. True Story of Hansel and Gretel wasn’t always happy, but I never felt as if that was because the author was forcing plot down our throats in an effort to rain realism (the new “anti-happy”) all over the place. Some awful, awful things happen that you’ll wish hadn’t. But I think you’ll still be pleased with how things end – no matter what they are. Murphy is so talented, her writing so hauntingly melodic, her pace so brilliant that it would be impossible for you not to enjoy this beautiful novel about horrible events. 5 of 5 stars.

29. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling, and

30. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling. Looks like I found some more time for re-reading and YA fiction. I told you it was that kind of year.

31. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. These books were so brilliant and their ideas kept so persistently picking at my brain that I had to just give in and read them again. Probably didn’t help that I read them all in the space of just 5 days the first time.

June

32. House Rules by Jodi Piccoult. I am not a big Piccoult fan. For one, her novels seem very formulaic and that bugs. It feels as if there’s very little room for surprise and this story was no exception. But, somehow, even though the ending was telegraphed, I needed to know how Jacob’s mom worked through her doubts about her son’s innocence and explored the question of what came first: self, motherhood, or being a member of society? It was rather annoying that Jacob’s mother had the meaty questions attached to her storyline, but her character seemed emotionally unavailable. In fact, the only character I felt like I could connect with was Jacob. Still, when I found I could let go of questioning just how realistically Piccoult was painting her story, House Rules wasn’t such a bad read. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

33. Secret Garden by Mary Francis Burnet. I needed a quick, quiet, calming read one night and turned to Secret Garden. I hadn’t read this since my childhood and loved rediscovering the hidden garden and the discussion of so many lovely themes: self-discovery, self-improvement, the power of will over everything, and substance over surface impressions. (Well, all that and some cranky personalities who are really sweet as honeysuckle when they want to be. Who doesn’t love cranky-yet-lovable? Ahem.) Best of all, I realized that Gracie is old enough to read Secret Garden. Have I mentioned how much I love sharing books with her? 4 of 4 stars.

34. The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. This was another book I read out loud, chapter by chapter, to my girls. They were delighted by Ralph S. Mouse’s escapades; I was surprised at what a fussy, whiney, selfish creature Ralph was! So totally not how I remembered this story. Still, interesting enough to get me through it. 3 of 5 stars.

35. Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin. Having rather successfully finished one fractured fairy tale already this year, I was intrigued by the idea of a story about the real Alice in Wonderland. I loved watching free-for-all Alice Liddell’s spirit tumble about, in spite of her mother’s desire for a more ladylike child who more closely mirrored her sisters’ proper behavior. I surprised myself for rooting for the rather inappropriate relationship between 8-year-old Alice and the bumbling professor. As the story flash-fowarded to Alice’s young adulthood, I found myself rooting for anything she wanted, her brilliance was so wonderfully complicated and dazzling. And then, as Alice’s tale moves into her adulthood, I was moved by how empty, sad, and regretful her life seemed. The ending felt rather lacking, like the novel started strong and wilted, but I have to give props to an author who manipulates my emotions so easily. 4 of 5 stars.

July

36. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, and

37. Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Two more childhood favorites, revisited.

38. The Passage by Justin Cronin. I had such high hopes for this one. Post-apocalyptic America, millions and billions dead from disease, vampires (the fast, scarycreepy ones; not teen vampire porn), and a band of heroes who gather ’round a little girl meant to save humanity. Seeeee? Doesn’t it sound amazing? I thought it could possibly even live up to the standards of Stephen King’s The Stand. These were the thoughts I had as I opened the book. I was cautiously optimistic while they were telling the story about the girl and her rogue captor turned savior. But then…the survivor village sections just killed me. There were too many characters, I couldn’t keep them straight, and it was just too…meh. Uninteresting. Too…uncontemporary. AND! No girl! She doesn’t even show back up til the very end. (Okay, yes, I did enjoy the, erm, voyage that several characters take at the end, too. But that was it. Really.) So I don’t think I’ll read the rest of the trilogy – the second book comes out this year – but my sister quite enjoyed it, so go ahead and give it a whirl. It’s probably just me. 2 of 5 stars.

39. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. Need I explain?

40. Fingersmith by Susan Waters. My friend Midge has talked about this book for ages and has mentioned several times that it’s one of her favorites. Finally she gave it to me to see what I thought. WOW. This book. It was….extremely interesting. A Dickensian romp full of suspense, colorful characters, masterful villainry, thiefs and pickpockets, orphans, and class and gender bending delights. I had no idea the book was going to be as…racy…as it is, but I found the difference to be a wonderful difference from the norm to explore rather than a put-off. If you are at all conservative about what you read, this is not the book for you. But for anyone else – this is a lovely jaunt down a familiar and dazzlingly new path all at the same time. 3 1/2 stars of 5.

41. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. This was a book I picked up for the girls, or tumbled into my hands, or…well, really, I have no idea how I came into owning this book. But I did and I am always looking for books Gracie can now read (since she hoovers through them quite like her mom), so I gave it a whirl. It was…odd. It was certainly geared for Gracie’s age, despite some of the heavy content. (The usual: orphaned kids, villains, dangerous situations, kidnappings, unpleasant scenarios to contemplate.) I can understand why kids dig the series so much: it was very readable and adventurous. Still, not quite geared for Adults, Too in the way that the Harry Potter or even the Percy Jackson series is. I’ll read the others if Gracie picks them up, but only if. 3 of 5 stars.

August

42. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. This was a book Midge let me borrow. I was all about the plot – parents grow estranged and divorce after their son commits a Columbine-type massacre at his school – but something in the execution left me feeling completely disentangled from the book the entire time. The pace was boring and muddled through what could have been an extremely engaging subject if Shriver had used a different format for delivering her content – recounting your shared history through letters to your estranged husband is not the way to go. Even the twists and turns and shocking moments couldn’t revive my interest. But for some reason, most of the critics disagree with me. And apparently Hollywood, too – the movie is set to be released this year. Oh, well. Guess I’ll be right all by myself. 2 of 5 stars.

43. The Keep by Jennifer Egan. I heard about The Keep through Twitter’s 1Book140 challenge. A gothic tale taut with psychological suspense, mysterious castles, ghosts, secrets and subplots that at times interrupted and overwhelmed the main story (on purpose, in a way I enjoyed rather than found annoying), The Keep was a new possibility for my Travellin’ Stories collection. Even better, it was written by an intriguing up-and-coming author, one who was getting an awful lot of praise for her book, A Visit from the Good Squad, which eventually won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction last year. I wanted so badly to want to read Goon Squad, but every time I read the descrip, I was put off. The Keep was my way of getting to know Ms. Egan without reading Goon. It turned out to be a wonderful compromise: Egan has a fresh, creative voice that carried well. The Keep wasn’t everything I thought it could be – it wasn’t a Travellin’ Story – but I enjoyed it enough to finish it on the plane ride home. Some critics might call it overhyped and the ending won’t be for everyone, but I would certainly recommend it. 4 of 5 stars.

44. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosney. That was a productive vacation! I read The Keep on the way up, and all of Sarah’s Key on the way back. Two very, very satisfying reads. I enjoyed that Sarah’s Key wasn’t as demanding, creatively: it was “just” a simple, enjoyable visit from a thoroughly likeable, if not very strong, main character and an interesting journey as she investigates what happened to a French-Jewish family turned out from Paris during the Nazi occupation. I’m a sucker for WWII history, even more so when the story is personal and charmingly told. No, the book won’t change anyone’s life, but, all the same, it was very hard to put down.  4 of 5 stars.

45. Kite Runner by Kaled Housseini. My sister has been after me to read the two Housseini books for ages. She even bought them for me to try guilting me into it. Then Leandra started piling on with how much she had enjoyed them. And then Midge joined the chorus. So what was I supposed to do? I started reading and was all meh for awhile; I could see the draw and the literary wonderment, but the story itself didn’t really pull me in. Gradually, I started looking forward to reading the book at lunchtime, then I started caring what happened to the characters, and finally I slipped under, fully engrossed in what the heck was happening. I was won over but it all – story, writing, voice, depth. It’s a haunting story, and not a quick read, but well worth a week’s devotion. 4 of 5 stars.

46. Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Stewart Cole. This series was another recommendation from my sister. We are big YA fans, yo. I love secret-society type stories (check), YA fiction written intelligently so as to attract adult readers (check), and fancypants characters who are smart AND witty (check). The characters didn’t have much depth, but it was a nice, quick, pallette-cleansing read. I probably won’t rush to read the next in the series, but if I stumbled across it, I would certainly pick it up. 3 of 5 stars.

47. Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson. A quick smart-chick-lit book, which is to say it’s a book written by a woman, about women, and in no way is about just romance. Not that romance doesn’t exist at all within the story; there’s a smidgeon. But the focus of A&V is on the women themselves, their essential makeup, the relationships they build with themselves and their past selves that are revealed through their storytelling. The book didn’t move mountains for me, but I was engrossed while I was reading it. 3 of 5 stars.

September

48. 9/11 Report Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon. Every year I read a 9/11-themed book around the time of the anniversary. This year I read two very different books, one of which was this. It’s exactly what it says: a graphic novel outlining the timeline of 9/11 and detailing a brief background on all the elements that had to come together. It was a good refresher of the facts in an entirely fresh presentation. Everyone who saw my copy asked where they could get one and several begged for mine outright. Too bad for them – I’m keeping it for when Gracie’s ready. I think it will be an excellent introduction for her. 5 of 5 stars.

49. Still Alice by Lisa Genova. I was intrigued to see what this novel would be like, and a little scared. It tells the story of a star neuro-psychologist who develops early onset Alzheimer’s and how she and her family cope while trying to both fight and enjoy what time they have left. My mom doesn’t have Alzheimer’s – thank god – but she does have a progressive, debilitating illness that has stolen most of what makes her her. So this was a very difficult read at times. It didn’t provide any new answers or teach me any new coping mechanisms, so don’t expect any. The main character isn’t terribly likeable, although I did admire her tenacity, and her husband is even worse. So, really, unless you have an intensely personal reason for reading about a woman/family living with this disease, you could very easily become too frustrated to get far. 2 1/2 of 5 stars.

50. Firehouse by Dave Halberstam. This was the second of the 9/11 books I read. It was a tremendously rewarding but excruciating hard memoir to read. Noted historian Dave Halberstam exhaustively researched the account of a Manhattan firehouse that responded to the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Of the 13 men who went out, only 12 returned. Halberstam pinned so wonderfully and in so detailed a fashion each fireman’s personality that you hoped with each account that that man wasn’t one of the men who went out. I was depressed for days after having finished, so sad for the families left behind. To add to the tragedy, Halberstam himself was killed in a horrific car accident in 2007. Such a loss – Halberstam was an incredibly gifted journalist, someone I’d read anytime. 4 of 5 stars.

51. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I told you I read this several times this year, didn’t I?

52. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.

53. Revenge by Stephen Fry. Kim sent this to me in a care package as a loaner (yes, she italicized, bolded, and otherwise tricked up that word in her note). It’s a self-proclaimed revitalization of The Count of Monte Cristo, although you’ll enjoy the novel even without having read Count. Of course, half the fun is discovering as you’re reading all the little similarities between the two books and the other half is looking up all the easter eggs you missed. 3 of 5 stars.

54. Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton. GOOD LORD, talk about dry, depressing reads. I’ve tried reading several books by Jane Hamilton and every time I swear it’s the last. Why does everyone keep insisting she’s the bloody brilliant bees’ knees of story-telling? What? There are different tastes out there? Hunh. 1 of 5 stars.

October

55. Rescue Missions by Frederick Busch. I am not usually a short-stories type person. I can’t tell a story in less than a million-zillion words, so it rather annoys me when someone else can do it. I’m all, “But then what happened?” and fighting feelings of abandonment. That’s how it came to be October before I finally picked up the book my sister had given me for Christmas. Rescue Missions is a collection of stories centering around themes of salvation and redemption. These little vignettes of drama and tragedy and hope make  being a human feel so personal that each character seems so alike, and yet so unique. I guarantee your fixation (what, it’s only mine?) to fix everything (all the things!) will kick in. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

56. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. Oh, shoosh.

57. The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubos III. I loved loved loved this book. It took all of my favorite themes and characters from Kite-Runner and planted them in California, the golden land of opportunity. Add plenty of dysfunction, hope, and a the unquenchable belief that things will get better any minute because they have to, and you have yourself one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. 5 of 5 stars.

58. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. I loved the idea of this book much more than the actual book. It was the only book (that I know of) that was written about the war as it was going on. (Nemirovsky was captured in 1942 and taken to an internment camp where she died.) I tried so much to let that inform my reading and to breathe it all in. Maybe my book was just dusty: the stories were, indeed, remarkable and full of the WWII history I love. But something about the characters just wasn’t clicking for me. Perhaps it was the translation, but no matter what I tried, I was still all meh. 2 of 5 stars.

59. All the Way to Berlin by James Megellas. My boss was given a signed copy of this book by an acquaintance who knew the author. If the inscription wasn’t personalized, I would have been tempted to filch it. This might have been the year of WWII reading, and this one topped the stack. The tale of a paratrooper who defied the odds so many times I can’t recount them all,  and written in an engaging voice that makes you hope and pray for the safe journey of all the acquaintances and soldiers Megellas discussed, this books is a must-read for all WWII enthusiasts.

60. Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary. Bee has made this book her mission statement. Now she will tell you she is Brave Like Ramona. After reading how Ramona dealt with being the little sister walking in the very big footsteps of her (sometimes cranky, always bossy) older sister, I’m not going to disagree. Ramona stood the test of time for me much better than the preceding book in the series. 4 of 5 stars.

61. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson. I’ve read all of Jackson’s novels and this one might be my favorite. I’m usually not a fan of Southern Lit for no other reason than I’m a Yankee and I just can’t relate at a very basic level. Doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a good story when I’m in front of one. I very much enjoyed the protagonist’s sister and her delightfully evil (not really)(you’ll see) ways and the many descriptions of being from a place without any longer being of it. Jackson is another of my favorite Smart Chick Lit authors and I eagerly await her new novel being released this month. 3 of 5 stars.

62. Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles. Another clunker. A rambling letter sent from a disappointed traveler after his flight is cancelled, forcing him to miss his estranged daughter’s wedding, turns into a rambling dissection of his life and where exactly it went wrong. I think I expected too much, for one, and couldn’t quite connect with a balding, lifeless middle-aged man. 1 1/2 of 5 stars (because sometimes the protag was pretty funny).

November

63. White Oleander by Janet Fitch. Oh, oh, oh, this novel! This novel was epic. Epic as Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible kind of epic. I mean – EPIC. Fitch’s voice was truly lyrical, hypnotic, and cutting sharp. Her characters remained more loyal to themselves through the entire 800+ pages than I can remember ever happening. The psychology was scary smart and the journey Astrid follows from beginning to end was utterly believable even during the most fantastical moments. If I could make you read one book from this past year, this would be it. 5 of 5 stars (because I can’t give it 6).

64. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. If Anne of Green Gables was my hero and patron saint of middle childhood, then Laura certainly was my go-to friend for early elementary. Nothing makes me feel young and safe and at-home like reading the first few Laura books. I read this out loud to Gracie and Bee night after night and nearly cried at the end when Pa and Ma pack up the wagon and head across the prairie once more. 5 of 5 stars.

65. Just After Sunset by Stephen King. I much prefer King’s novels – especially the looooooong ones with all the happy details that satisfy my imagination – over his short stories. I find the short stories are like appetizers: I get enough to make me hungry and then find the plate is empty all of a sudden and I have nothing left to consume. Sadcakes. But occasionally I’ll find one, like the gem in here about the man who cycles his way to clean health (if a spotty mental state) on a stationary bike in his basement. That story seemed more real to me than part of my every day life. But maybe I shouldn’t admit that out loud. Go read it and tell me if you’ll ever think of exercising the same way ever again. Deliciously creepy, I promise. 3 3/4 of 5 stars.

66. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. I read some Sedaris in college and very much enjoyed it. Maybe it’s that my tastes have changed and I expect more, but I was rather disappointed by this collection. I wanted to be dazzled by wit, not thrown laugh tracks with very little thinking mixed in. 2 of 5 stars.

67. Outlander by Diana Gambaldon. About a year ago (or was it two?), Kim wrote a guest blog entry listing the books she wished I would read. Outlander was on there and so when I ran across it at a used book store, I grabbed it. Then, naturally, I started reading it. And then, I started wondering – Uh, is this really the book Kim wanted me to read? Because Outlander is a bit dippy, narrative-wise, until Claire…um…arrives in Scotland. And it’s a bit of a romance. With time-travel. That’s about when I hit the WhatTheHell?! mark. Did Kim maybe mean Highlander? Because Kim doesn’t do romance and doesn’t do history. Oh! By the way! Outlander is also a historical type romance-time-travel book. Confused yet? Perhaps the best thing to do is pick up the book and just read it without any expectations. It’s a FANTASTIC guilty pleasure – one that I can’t actually admit out loud that I read and enjoyed. Yes – enjoyed so thoroughly that the next books in the series are rewards for making it through the work week. What has become of me? 5 of 5 stars.

December

68. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. One of my best friends made me read this. Literally. She MADE me. I told her I don’t do circuses. Uh-uh no way. All it took was one reading (or, um, several re-reads because it’s fantastic in an evil, make-you-hate-clowns sorta way) of It to convince me that clowns and circuses are not the way to go. I wouldn’t even read Water for Elephants even though both of my sisters begged me. Jo promised it wasn’t really about a circus. So I gave in. Reluctantly. And then realized I should have added illusionists to my list of Not Gonna Read About It. I didn’t like the book for the first half – and maybe a little longer. Nothing was working for me. And then once Celia and Marco start interacting, I started getting sucked in. Shortly thereafter, I was gobbling huge chunks of the story during breaks, falling under the spell of the circus and the wildly fantastically imaginative tents and acts, wondering how I was ever going to let the book go. I actually screamed out loud in my car when my break was over with just 40 pages left to finish. Then I finished it and…begged every single person I knew to read it so I could discuss the ending with them. So. Go read it. Now. And then email me so we can discuss. 5 of 5 stars – even with the first half.

69. The Cricket in Times Square by George Seldin. By george, I love that little cricket. The book didn’t enthrall Gracie (or me) the way it did for me when I was little, but it was still a very enjoyable book with loveable characters. Be warned though – it’s full of stereotypes that will really bug. 3 of 5 stars.

70. Blindspot by Jill Lepore and Jane Kamensky. This was another re-read. I hated to end on a repeated note, but I had been thinking about this book for awhile and started reading it on a whim of capriciousness. Then I couldn’t make myself stop. See what happens when you’re on vacation? This is the third time I’ve read this in just over 18 months and it’s just as good as the first time I read it. 4 of 5 stars.

So there you have it. My books of 2011. I read five classics, five non-fiction books, 19 books were re-reads, and 25 were considered children’s or Young Adult fiction. (Several falling into more than one category, you understand.)  For those of you keeping count at home, I read a total of 26,207 pages this past year. I’ll leave you with a list of my very favorite books and then I’m going to go rub some feeling back into my fingers. What a lot of typing this was!

Ten Best Books of 2011
The Thirteenth Tale
Hunger Games
White Oleander
The Night Circus
The Help
Kite Runner
True Story of Hansel and Gretel
Little Bee
The House of Sand and Fog
The Firehouse

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One Response to “The Books of 2011.”

  1. Travian Says:

    Travian…

    […]The Books of 2011. « Can’t Get There From Here[…]…

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