Saturday, January 07, 2012

30 Second Book Reviews: 2011 Wrap Up and 2012 Gems

Here's my last book review post for 2011 and a little entry into 2012. I expect 2012 to be a little lighter on the reading. I'm focusing on editing that novel draft that I wrote in late 2010, instead of trying to read everything ever written, so I don't know how many reviews I'll be posting this year. On a side note, I started editing the draft of that novel a couple of nights ago, which for these first few days just means actually reading the draft all the way through for the first time, and I have to say after reading 25 or 30 pages I don't hate it as much as I thought I would. Oh, it's a little boring, not as funny as I'd hoped. The dialogue is a bit stilted and I have a very extended probably totally unneccesary flashback that probably needs to be exised entirely, but it didn't make me weep or vomit to read it. That's a good sign, right? But back to the book reviews!

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley - I stayed up very late finishing this book. Set in both present day and early 1700's Scotland, I loved the main characters, the history, the politics, the twists and turns, the romance and the windy, rocky seaside atmosphere. A really great novel.

Sea Change by Jeremy Page- This book is also set on the sea, but it couldn't be more different. It is a lonely, beautiful poetic novel of loss and grief. Head over here if you want to read my longer review about it for Blogher, but I loved it.

Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman - Ok, what's with the water theme? This book terrified me. It's set in the South in the 1930's when a young author and his new wife move into his old family home. Mysterious deaths, un-friendly small town locals and things that growl and go bump in the night. If you like Stephen King or Joe Hill, I highly recommend this one. But don't read it alone late a night. Just don't.

Three Cups of Deceit by John Krakauer- This book, tearing down the myth of the Three Cups of Tea nonprofit empire infuriated and frustrated me. John Krakauer is known for his thorough and detailed nonfiction accounts and this book takes careful steps to research and pull apart the stories told by Greg Mortenson about building schools in the Middle East. This expose of financial shenanigans, poor leadership and flat out lies should be read by anyone who has read Three Cups of Tea. Don't give to this organization. There are many other worthwhile nonprofits out there, this isn't one of them right now.

Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky - Oh that Marie, she is bad. This was another 3.5 stars for me. The writing is deceptively simple and the story a bit convoluted, but I found myself along for the ride. Marie is fascinating, morally flexible and deeply selfish and all of this makes her a horrible person and an excellent character. I loved the sudden ending and Marie's wild luck. Quick crazy little read.

Leaving Paradise and Return to Paradise by Simone Elkeles -These were light, silly, but of course intensely dramatic young adult romances. The first one was decently written with an compelling story line. The second, not so much. An amusing read over Thanksgiving.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen - I like Rhoda Janzen. She is hilarious and this book is filled with bright moments of honesty and humor and insight. But it got a little long and I lost momentum after the first half. Worth a read.

Petty Magic by Camille DeAngelis - This was my jury duty book that I devoured the first day that I had to sit around waiting to be selected. This follows the witching family of the Harbingers and specifically Evelyn Harbinger, who though she is an old women, slips into the looks of a young woman to slut it up around town. Her adventures, friends and family, boyfriends and the whole setting of the book are delightful and fun. A little romp to distract me from the horrible chairs in the jury room.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever by Julia Quinn - Clearly I read nothing of substance while waiting, this is the book I read the second day of jury duty. A total fluffy tart of a book, historical romance, heated arguments, illicit kisses and misunderstandings abound. I liked it a lot.

The Girl in the Blue Beret by Bobbie Ann Mason - I wanted to like this book that follows the story of a WWII pilot but it bored me. The characters were rather flat and unlikeable and I just could never care about where the story was going. It had a happy ending. I guess that's a plus.

The Devil in Pew Number 7 by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo - This is a memoir. I like memoirs usually, but written by a very religious preacher's daughter with a tendency toward over the top, flowery and dramatic language, plus a lot of religious references, I just couldn't recommend it. Her family was essentially terrorized by one crazy powerful neighbor in a small Southern town in the 1970's, tragedy and loss followed. I read it because I wanted to see what happened, but I didn't like it.

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow - I loved this book. It's told in the form of an epic poem and it follows a werewolf pack through street battles, love, death and chaos of present day Los Angeles. Does that sound odd? It is, and it's also a fantastic, violent sexy dark noir adventure.

The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan - Another unique format, this novel, the story of an unnamed couple's romance, is told through dictionary entries. Each entry or word definition describing a scene or emotion or event in their romance. It's introspective and serious and melancholy and it rings true. It's a lovely piece of writing. Smart, small and a bit morose, but in that sweet way like The Cure can make you feel morose.

And on to the few that I've read so far this year! Though Bloodroot took much longer since it was a 13 hour audio book and spanned December and January.

Bloodroot by Amy Greene - I adored this novel. I listened to the audio version which was superbly done, like sitting in the audience of a small Broadway play while driving to work everyday. It's set in the 1930's through present day in Tennessee, specifically on Bloodroot Mountain and follows the story of the Lamb family: Birdie the grandmother, Cleo her daughter, and most importantly, the center of the story Myra Lamb, her granddaughter, and Myra's children. The six actors on the audio book were impeccable and their accents, tone of voice and emotion so clearly portrayed the poverty, the experience of living close to nature, the way people can be so cruel and yet so kind to those we love, and the deep connections of blood. The way that each section is told by a different member of the family and the masterful way that Greene ties the book together in the epilogue helped make this book one of my favorites.

In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard - I loved this book. It was the first book that I bought to read on my new Kindle and both were Christmas presents from Joe. Nancy Pearl, the librarian and book critic over at NPR, highly recommended it and she was dead on. Set in the late 1970's in Illinois, it is told from the perspective of a fourteen year old girl and took me so clearly back to that age that it was uncanny. Beard is a wonderful writer and manages to capture the innocence, selfishness, hormonal intrigue and social politics of suburban teens in a painful and hilarious manner. Just gorgeous.

The Giver by Lois Lowry - Rather like the less action packed, less violent, less flashy and war prone version of The Hunger Games series, The Giver is set in a Dystopian world were everyone gets along, everyone has polite manners, follows the rules and behaves themselves or they are sent Elsewhere. This was a perfect world until for Jonas, our twelve year old protagonist until we watch his journey from naive child into wise teen, shouldering more of a burden than I could imagine. His discoveries, fury, frustration and ultimate heroic effort made me stop and think, and give greater thought to our culture and the risks that authority with too much control can have on the diverse, insane, beautiful, maddening world that we live in now.

Next up The Lake of Dreams which I'm stuck on at page 35 and not sucked into quite yet, I'll keep trying and then a very short nonfiction about the Catholic saint selection process and then a library book that just came available, The Tiger's Wife and finally, the one I've been waiting for that I just bought and am anticipating greatly, The Night Circus. I cannot wait to begin that one, which is sort of why I'm delaying gratification. It will be all the sweeter when I do read it later this month.

So what are you reading now? Any recommendations?

1 comment:

bethany actually said...

I've just devoured the entire Harry Potter series in the past week or so, for the first time. I'm currenly on book 7. I knew I'd enjoy them, but I've still been pleasantly surprised by how much I've liked them.