Jaded Optimist

Mothering, making, and generally blathering on

Books Read 2011 February 3, 2011

I started reading  the blog of someone attempting to read 52 books in a year and thought…I wonder how many books I am reading in a year? Let’s find out! I am only tracking reading books here, so not counting manuals–sewing, knitting, marathon training, cooking, etc. And don’t count on in depth reviews.

  1. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (for bookclub #1, loved it)
  2. A Final Arc of Sky: A Memoir of Critical Care by Jennifer Culkin (eh. jumped around between personal and professional with no real overarching theme, and kind of depressing)
  3. Once A Runner by John L. Parker, Jr. (apparently the seminal novel about running, but definitely not my level of running!)
  4. The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris (for bookclub #2, my pick, liked it but not sure I loved it. Definitely makes you think though)
  5. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (for bookclub #1, haven’t figured out all my feelings about this one, very sad book, but feel like it was Titanic-esque, downplaying the overarching horror of an event to make you sad about one essentially unimportant story)
  6. Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenson (sequel to Three Cups of Tea, adventures in Afghanistan while building schools for girls. Hopeful)
  7. End of the Pier by Martha Grimes (one of my favorite authors for her Richard Jury series, moody English mysteries without too much gore. I think I had read this one before (not part of the series), but didn’t recall the ending so pushed through. More like a few character studies than mystery book)
  8. Room by Emma Donoghue (WOW. Tremendous. Interesting perspective on a “ripped from the headlines” type topic. Instead of being maudlin and hitting you over the head with the horror (see: Sarah’s Key), the author’s matter of fact treatment of the situations made this believable. The 5 year old narrator was great, with only a few lines that struck me as unlikely. Highly recommend.)
  9. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez (Like the Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao without the nerd, swearing, or untranslated passages. Interesting background on the dictatorship in the Dominican Republic combined with a family story.)
  10. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch (for bookclub #2, not the kind of book I would pick—had to go to the self-help section to find it, gah. Work hard and you can make all your dreams come true. Very Chicken Soup-y which is fine as far as it goes I guess, but not really life changing for me)
  11. Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George (book 2 in a series recommended by a fellow reader in bookclub #1. The library didn’t have book 1. English mystery series by female author? SIGN ME UP. [Long time Martha Grimes fan here] Read this one in about a day…making for a late night. Exactly what I like in a mystery if not necessarily award winning literature—did not figure out all the twists and turns in advance, interesting characters in the investigators, fairly well written, not overly gory/focused on torture/etc)
  12. Well-Schooled in Murder by Elizabeth George (heh heh, you can see where this is headed..book 3 in above series)
  13. Too Many Cooks: Kitchen Adventures with 1 Mom, 4 Kids, and 102 Recipes by Emily Franklin (I hesitate to count this as a book; it is about half cookbook. Thought it would give me some inspiration with my picky eaters, but her kids start off liking salmon and broccoli, so not much help for me here! I have made several of the vegetable recipes though which G and I liked.)
  14. A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George (book 1)
  15. A Suitable Vengeance by Elizabeth George (book 4)
  16. Far North: A Novel by Marcel Theroux (for bookclub #1, a post apocalyptic, mostly depressing book. Not sure if the voice was authentic and some questions about the author’s portrayal of “primitives”. Thought provoking though!)
  17. For the Sake of Elena by Elizabeth George (book 5)
  18. Missing Joseph by Elizabeth George (book 6)
  19. On Kingdom Mountain: A Novel by Howard Frank Mosher (recommended by a friend and took it along on vacation. Quirky characters in a “homespun” tale…OK book and I read it in two nights, but can’t really recommend anyone run out and get it)
  20. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (non-fiction about a poor black woman with very invasive cancer in the early 1950s, the scientific discoveries due to research using cells cultured from her cancer, the ethical issues around informed consent, whether we own our tissues/DNA, and barriers to scientific progress, and more. several very sad parts, but learned so much! Really liked this one)
  21. Playing for the Ashes by Elizabeth George (book 7)
  22. In the Presence of the Enemy by Elizabeth George (book 8)
  23. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (for bookclub #1, a series of [fictional] letters from the mother of a Columbine-style school mass murderer to her estranged husband/boy’s father. Without giving too much away, she was able to draw out the suspense so you aren’t sure just how many terrible things are going to happen. Discussion seems to frame this as a nurture vs. nature book, but I didn’t get a lot of confusion about why the boy did what he did. Interesting character study of the mom, and I guess I liked it, but a fairly downer book.)
  24. Deception on His Mind by Elizabeth George (book 9)
  25. Skipping a Beat: A Novel by Sarak Pekkanen (for bookclub #2. argh, chick lit at it’s worst, although the other three attendees all liked it. Found the main character irritating and irrational, the main timeline was completely unbelievable to me, and the “happy” ending was not the kind I think is actually happy. Oh, I cried at the sad parts but I hated myself for it—similar to watching Titanic in that regard)
  26. In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner by Elizabeth George (book 10)
  27. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde (fforde is one of my favorite clever writers—his Thursday Next series is always entertaining. I found the start of this new series highly entertaining and will read the sequel when it comes out)
  28. A Traitor to Memory by Elizabeth George (book 11) (This one fiddles with the time line so much that portions almost didn’t make sense.)
  29. I, Richard by Elizabeth George (a set of short stories, only one of which contains the main character from her series, and that one doesn’t add anything to his character. overall, fully skippable.)
  30. A Place of Hiding by Elizabeth George (book 12) (eh. think I will take a break on these for a bit. Not sure if they are getting worse or just reading them too fast, but starting to burn out on this series.)
  31. The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison (for bookclub #2. a lyrical writer who tends towards the repetitive and overly self-focused. mothering doesn’t enter much into the first 100 pages or so. there was some interesting discussion at the club meeting, but overall I wasn’t a big fan of this one)
  32. The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow (for bookclub #1, although I missed the discussion. Alternately depressing and hopeful story of dealing with your past for a mixed race young girl, sole survivor of a serious accident. Several details were unbelievable to me. The message I took away was tell your kids the truth and then help them deal!)
  33. Sights Unseen by Kaye Gibbons (found in the library through a “if you like…” sign. Character study of a woman with manic depression told from an interesting perspective. A small but lovely book)
  34. The Truth-Teller’s Lie: A Novel by Sophia Hannah (eh. A bit Law and Order SVU with rogue cops, sick crimes, and twist after twist. However, I figured out most of it about 2/3 of the way through, and not by the author’s intention.)
  35. Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons (interesting little character study of a girl determined to make it no matter what the odds. Nicely told from the child’s perspective)
  36. Almost Perfect by Julie Ortolon (for bookclub #2. This is exactly the kind of book I hate, and reading it was painful. Irritating female characters of the Crisis! Bring chocolate! buddy type, lots of dull sex, and people making stupid judgments. Not a fan at all, I can’t believe this has four stars on amazon!)
  37. 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Novel of Fiction by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (found this on the paperback shelf at the library, and was the perfect book for me—atheism, academia, numerical discussions. Definitely won’t appeal to all, but for several reasons appealed to me)
  38. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (steampunk is one of those genres that I feel should appeal to me but I have not gotten very into. Tried again…but this one was just OK. zombies, 1850s Seattle, airships…but at the end I couldn’t help but feel that I couldn’t remember enough about the book that it could have filled as many pages as it did)
  39. Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner (bought this in the airport for the trip home from Cleveland, but of course only got about 10 minutes of reading in on the flight. Interesting perspective of the wife of a politician caught in an affair, but the characters make some unbelievable decisions. Just OK)
  40. An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke (for bookclub #1) (Actually read this one a year or two again but had to reread it as could not recall any details on the book. Not a good sign. Not much more memorable the second time around—a few good lines, but overall the main character isn’t likable and isn’t written coherently.)
  41. Bossypants by Tina Fey (like an episode of SNL—one great joke for every four bad ones. Good quick read, although she doesn’t come off as liberal as I expected)
  42. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (for bookclub #2)  (What can I say? The writing is so good and clever, it was a breath of fresh air to read this again. Surprised at how quickly the last chapter or so wraps everything up, it feels kind of hurried.)
  43. The Whole World Over by Julia Glass (eh. Another story where you just want the people to talk to each other honestly. Seems like nothing is going to turn out well for anyone, and then boom…Sept. 11 happens and everyone ends up happy-ish.)
  44. With No One As Witness by Elizabeth George (book 13) (the break did me good and I read through this one quickly. Although I knew before of the surprise twist, that just increased my dread during reading rather than spoiling it.)
  45. What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George (book 14) (started this one right up, incredibly depressing story about the projects in England.)
  46. Half a Life: A Memoir by Darin Strauss (honest story of how the author learns to live with inadvertently killing a girl when he was 18. he manages to give voice to confusing emotions that were very relatable. not an uplifting story, but liked this one)
  47. Elegy for April: A Novel by Benjamin Black (eh. certainly dreary and atmospheric, but the story moves slowly and I just didn’t care that much. “shocking” ending has been used too often and didn’t totally flow out of the rest of the story.)
  48. Careless in Red by Elizabeth George (book 15) (a bit too long and I figured out the ending before the characters did…but some interesting secondary story lines.)
  49. This Body of Death by Elizabeth George (book 16) (This was OK although I found the newest character unbelievable. I might be tiring of this series.)
  50. The Black Cat: A Richard Jury Mystery by Martha Grimes (Sadly, another favorite series that is starting to repeat itself too much.)
  51. Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch (for bookclub #1) (I can’t imagine why this one has so many stars on Amazon and a recommendation by Nancy Pearl. I like police procedurals but this one had too much random fantasy crap and read like the pilot of a new show—one that I won’t be tuning in to.)
  52. The Girls: A Novel by Lori Lansens (for bookclub #2) (I love this book—I have read it before, but reread the whole thing as it was my pick for bookclub. I think it was generally liked by everyone too. A little sappy, but I love all the little stories and feeling of truthfulness in this book.)
  53. A Wife’s Tale by Lori Lansens (Not as crazy about this one, the character was mostly appealing but the end feels more like the book just stops than that the story ends—and not in a good way.)
  54. The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey (This one dragged a bit for me. Interesting how the second half of the story is first. Informative on Trinidad.)
  55. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (for bookclub #1) (From the title I thought this was going to be “fried green tomatoes” but in fact the first 2/3 or so are pretty hard hitting WWII stories. The last 1/3 though is frothy and irritating and somewhat removes my positive feelings about the rest.)
  56. The Disappeared by Kim Echlin (for bookclub #2) (Wow, this one was pretty depressing. Another book about the selfishness and self-centeredness of middle-class white women when faced with real tragedy (see: Little Bee, Sarah’s Key). Was surprised that so many people in my bookclub had never heard of the Cambodian killing fields.)
  57. Memory Wall: Stories by Anthony Doerr (this author is one I have returned to repeatedly since his first short story collection. These stories all deal in some way with memory, a topic I find fascinating, and the writing is quite lovely.)
  58. Nightingale Wood: A Novel by Stella Gibbons (feeling like I had read enough genocide, death, and destruction to last me a bit, turned instead to a charming, comedy of manners type light read. Definitely light, but with bitingly funny comments at times. About the last third seemed to be tying up every loose end with a happy ending. In the end, a bit too happy for me)
  59. Started Early, Took My Dog: A Novel by Kate Atkinson (I haven’t read all the books in this series and didn’t remember much from Case Histories, the one I have read. The author seems to favor some brutal crimes and harm done to children. Multiple interweaving story lines that cross and double cross and flip between the 70s and today. Two incredibly unlikely decisions, one central to the plot,  were disappointing. Several open questions at the end, and not in a good way, but overall OK.)
  60. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (for bookclub #1) (As you will see, these books got me hook line and sinker. Is the writing poetic? no. Are there details that don’t work if you think about them too much? yes. Was it fast moving and exciting? hell to the yes.)
  61. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (second verse, same as the first verse is how I would describe this one…how can she take the first story and write it again and make money? But it works, I couldn’t put it down)
  62. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (third book, and the worst of the three. I did read all 3 in 4 days, 3 of which were work days. There were a bunch of details in this one that didn’t hang together for me, and I couldn’t understand the motivation in several places.)
  63. A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks (winning my award for most cynical book read this year. Draws parallels between the destruction done by religious fundamentalism and hedge fund managers. Several realistic story lines, but overall found this one a depressing slog.)
  64. Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell (for bookclub #2) (not often that I like the movie better than the book, but as much of the movie as I remember I think it was better. She introduces her husband by saying she loves him “like a pig loves sh*t” and then can’t imagine how their relationship starts falling apart. Lots of details about her job and friends, but explanations for why she loves Julia Childs are few and far between. Not a very likeable character, but not unlikable in interesting ways either. If only a blog could still score you a book deal, ha ha.)
  65. Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan (another book in a best summer reads list from Nancy Pearl, and I am undecided about this one. Interesting background on Malaysia, the quiet, slow destruction of a family from the inside out, and the little and big ways we hurt each other. A bit too much jumping about in time with surprise revelations.)
  66. Home Before Dark by Susan Wiggs (won this in the Christmas book exchange we do in bookclub #2. Chick lit of the “woman with both past and current problems can’t help but be saved by the love of a man also saddled with pain!” type.)
  67. A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons (Gibbons does small stories/character studies so well. The writing is lovely.)
  68. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (I admit to buying this book a while ago, and I just couldn’t get into it at the time. Also, technically finished this on 1/1/12 but counting it towards my ‘11 total. Anyway, liked it well enough and am happy to have given it a second chance. On to 2012!)

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