Thursday, December 31, 2009

Co-review: 2009 Best and Worst

Happy New Year! But before we move on to 2010, let's take a look back at 2009. For December's co-review Jenny and I decided to share the best and worst books we read in 2009. Keep in mind that these are not necessarily books that were published in 2009, but rather were read for the first time that year.

Caren's List of Favorite Reads:
I had quite the battle trying to decide which books should make the "best" list. Some deserved to be on it because I had so much fun reading them, but weren't necessarily amazing examples of literature. While others deserved to be on it because they were fantastic literature that left me deeply moved, but weren't necessarily the kind of thing I would pick up and read again anytime soon. In the end, I decided to include both.

1. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski. I love when a new author can blow me away with an amazing work, and this was definitely one of those "wow" experiences.
2. A Girl Named Zippy, by Haven Kimmel. This lighthearted memoir is elevated beyond just a funny-yet-forgettable personal story by Kimmel's keen wit, observation, and powerful command of language.
3. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. Definitely not to be taken lightly, this is one work that gets deep inside you and won't let go, leaving you forever changed.
4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. A delightful story with a deeply human touch, as well as a wonderful nod to the power of literature in improving the human condition.
5. These is My Words, by Nancy E. Turner. A fascinating period piece with a great mix of action and sympathetic characters.

A Few More I Just Can't Leave Out:
And then there were a few more that I can't in good conscience fail to mention, even if they didn't quite make the "best" list.

1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley. Fun and a little bit freaky, but in a good way.
2. The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry. More than a little bit freaky -- okay, a lot freaky -- but a well-crafted story if you can stomach the bad language and themes of abuse.
3. The Thursday Next Series, by Jasper Fforde. Some were better than others, but the whole series provided me many hours of entertainment this year.
4. She Got Up Off the Couch, by Haven Kimmel. This follow-up to Zippy continues Kimmel's story in a similarly delightful style, but leaves some of the childhood innocence behind.
5. Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Worth reading even if it did put me to sleep more than once.

Definitely Worth Skipping:
I try to avoid books that I suspect I won't enjoy, which helps keep my "worst" list pretty small. But these are the ones that I disliked the most, ranging from mild irritation to serious aggravation.

1. Spare Change, by Aubrey Mace. Such a major waste of ink and paper that I didn't even bother reviewing it. Think "local author spends too much time watching lame romantic comedies" and you'll get an idea. To add to the insult (because I did feel insulted reading it), I accidentally spilled water on it right before returning it to the library and had to buy the stupid thing!
2. Freddy and Fredericka, by Mark Helprin. Helprin's sense of humor might have redeemed it if he had cut the thing down by, oh, about 500 pages.
3. The Friday Night Knitting Club, by Kate Jacobs. This one falls more into the mild irritation range. Jacobs over-estimated her abilities and the result is shallow and forgettable.
4. Running with Angels, by Pamela Hansen. Worthy message, but poor execution. But what else can you expect from someone who isn't a writer?
5. The Middle Place, by Kelly Corrigan. Corrigan has some skill as a writer, but I had a hard time really connecting with her as a narrator of her personal story.

And now I'm excited to see what Jenny has picked for her top reads of 2009!

Jenny's List of Favorite Reads:
This project of picking favorite books over the year is harder than it looks, people. It has taken me literally minutes and minutes of thinking to determine what I loved best this year. Like Caren said, it isn't always about great literature but about how much I enjoyed reading it.

1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
I kept coming back to this book whenever I would try to tabulate my favorite books of the year. The story was so engaging and the people so lovable that I felt like I was living on the island with them. It was the best book all around.
2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I put that book down and felt altered forever. Stockett gives the women of this story three dimensions and made me respect and relate to them. Amazing writing.
3. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This book completely freaked me out, frightened me to death and refused to be put down for more than a few minutes at a time. Kostova reinvented the Dracula tale in such a compelling way that anybody could enjoy it, if they can handle the scariness.
4. Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. Such a beautiful tale of friendship in a setting that completely blew me away with its beauty and painful atrocities.
5. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker. An unusual heroine who you can't help but root for, with mystery, love and suspense all tied in.

Honorable Mentions:
I read and review lots of books for young adults and younger readers and oftentimes, I find them to be the very best of books to read for both me and my kids. A few of those made it into my honorable mentions list.

1. Clementine by Sara Pennypacker. Not since Ramona Quimby has a little girl caught my family's adoration like Clementine. The three books written so far were read out loud with delight and thoroughly enjoyed.
2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Never has a group of ghosts been so lovable. Or a villain quite so deliciously terrifying. It got me hooked from the first chapter.
3. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. Oh my heavens, the quirk! The hilarity! The quirky hilarity!
4. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Eye-opening and informative, a look at how Americans eat and where our food comes from. It made me take a serious look at what I was feeding my family.
5. The Gathering Storm by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan. The long-anticipated newest installment of The Wheel of Time series was given new life by Sanderson and did not disappoint.

Books I hated with a fiery vengeance or just plain didn't like:
1. The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale. A book by Hale should never leave me with a bad taste in my mouth, but this one did. It had many redeeming qualities but the inappropriate and incomprehensible friendship ruined it for me.
2. Freddy and Fredericka by Mark Helprin. Oh my gosh, will it never end? I have never forced myself to read beyond my tolerance of a book since I was in college. It was painful.
3. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen. Was funny for about five seconds then just turned out to be stupid.
4. My Abandonment by Peter Rock. Child abduction is terrifying and upsetting, and yet this author makes us want to believe that a 10-year-old girl would be okay with it. Sick.
5. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. I never blogged about it because I never finished it. After pages and pages of her sexual awakenings and exploits, I couldn't stomach another page. Plus, Julie Powell comes across as a selfish, horrible person. Wasn't this supposed to be about cooking? And Julia Child? The movie was a million times better and not at all a waste of time, unlike the book.

Hey, I'm impressed by all the reading we did in 2009! Not bad for a couple of moms with nearly ten kids between them.

1 comment:

  1. The Historian, The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, and the Thursday Next series were all on my list of good reads. Jenny, I was with you 100% with The Actor and the Housewife. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth, too. I will be sure to avoid the others on your bad list.