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75. Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire – While I didn’t enjoy Son of a Witch as much as Wicked, it was an interesting sequel for those who want more of the story. And a PSA: if you’ve only seen the musical of Wicked and haven’t read the book, you’ve missed out. The well-developed plot and strong, strange characters pulled me into the book but were largely missing from the show.

76. Firebird by Mercedes Lackey – More of Lackey’s fairy tale/fantasy world.

77. Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop – The best thing I can say about this book is that it reminded me why I’ve always been skeptical of book recommendations. I think lovely book bloggers have lulled me into a feeling of trust lately because your recommendations introduce me to so many awesome books. Daughter of the Blood (first book in the Black Jewels series) was recommended to me by someone who shared my enjoyment of Lackey’s fantasy books, but our opinions on Bishop’s writing differed sharply because, well, I hated it. My issue was not necessarily the violence or perversion, but the writing itself. The Black Jewels series is wildly popular, so if you’re a fan of paranormal romance, go ahead and give them a try. I’ll file this under “I am most definitely not the target audience.”

78. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld – This is the first book of the Uglies trilogy, and I would highly recommend it to fans of the Hunger Games books. While Uglies is not as well-developed or entrancing as The Hunger Games, the story is still interesting and worth a read. I loved that the trilogy is set in a dystopian world that believes it’s a utopia.

79. The English American by Alison Larkin – This is the story of an adopted girl who grew up in a British family who finally meets her birth family from the American south. It was a quick, enjoyable read that I would recommend to others who are curious about the stories of people who were adopted, even if parts of the novel are a bit ridiculous.

68. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – Yes, I’m a couple of years behind on this one. I enjoyed the story, though the reviews were so glowing that the book struggled to live up to them at times. This is the story of a Dominican boy growing up in New Jersey, a “ghetto nerd” who doesn’t fit in anywhere. The book is in turns funny and sad, and I would certainly recommend it.

69. One Good Knight by Mercedes Lackey – I’ve written plenty about Lackey this year, so I won’t ramble too much on this one. Her 500 Kingdoms books have been hit and miss, but I would recommend this one to fans of fantasy lit with (surprise, surprise) strong, smart female characters.

70. Fortune’s Fool by Mercedes Lackey – Oh look! More Lackey. Her books make such good mid-semester easy reading. Fortune’s Fool is another of the better books from the 500 Kingdoms collection.

71. Adam and Eve by Sena Jeter Naslund – Oh dear. I don’t want to give this one a bad review because I enjoyed Naslund’s earlier books so much, but it just wasn’t good. In Adam and Eve, Naslund tells the story of the widow of an astronomer who has made a discovery that will change how we view religion and the origin of the universe. Sounds interesting, right? Instead Naslund creates a modern day Adam (mentally ill former soldier) and Eve (astronomer’s widow) and devotes much of the book to their time stranded in the middle of nowhere. Meh. To see how lovely Naslund can be, pick up Ahab’s Wife or Four Spirits instead.

72. The Snow Queen by Mercedes Lackey – You know how I said the 500 Kingdoms books were hit and miss? This would be a miss. She jumped between too many stories in the first half of the book, which left me struggling to get attached to the story or the characters.

73. The Serpent’s Shadow by Mercedes Lackey – This is the first of Lackey’s Elemental Masters books, all of which I have enjoyed. The stories are very loosely based on fairy tales, and it’s interesting to see the elements of the original tale pop up in the narrative. The Serpent’s Shadow is based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but in this version the “Snow White” character is a doctor struggling in turn-of-the-century London society because she’s a female doctor and part Indian, not to mention a mage with a mysterious enemy.

74. Un Lun Dun by China Mieville – Un Lun Dun was a sleeper success for me. I struggled to get into this YA book as I read the first 1/3, but the alternate version of London (ahem: un-London)  ended up hooking me in with its quirky take on language. Recommended for YA as well as not so young adults interested in a fun adventure with a not too preachy environmental message.

Have an incredibly good New Year’s Eve!

58.White Teeth by Zadie Smith – This book wasn’t as good as I had expected it to be based on all of the buzz, but it was an incredibly good first novel. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the mingling (and crashing) of different cultures.

59. Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold – Read this one based on a strong recommendation and wasn’t disappointed. This is the sequel to The Curse of Chalion, but I read it without reading the first book and didn’t feel that I missed anything (though I will go back and read it eventually).  Recommended for those who like fantasy but prefer their queens to be able to think for themselves.

60. This Book is Overdue by Marilyn Johnson – A hit and miss book recommended for future librarians. I nearly threw it out the window because of the incredibly long chapter on Second Life (book was pub’d in 2010, and Second Life became old news circa 2007), but otherwise I found it interesting and informative.

61. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – More than enough articles and blog posts have already been written about this lovely trilogy, so I will just say: believe them! I loved these books (as has everyone I’ve talked to about them), and the story was so compelling and easy to read that I raced through the series at full speed. There are rumors of a movie, and I hope they do the characters justice.

62. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins – Hunger Games book 2

63. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins – Hunger Games book 3

64. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami – Enjoyable memoir by the author of Kafka on the Shore and Norwegian Wood that talks about far more than just running. Though it will be of particular interest to the niche group of  runners who love literature (like me!), it would also appeal to those who only match half of that group (either readers of Murakami or people who enjoy thoughtful books on running).

65. Hello Kitty Must Die by Angela Choi – I’m trying unsuccessfully to come up with something positive to say about this book. Here’s all I can manage: if you like Chuck Palahniuk or the Dexter books, you may enjoy this. I like Palahniuk’s books and some other darker stories, but I am obviously not the target audience for this book. When I finished it, I felt like my brain needed a bath. I expected girl power and got sociopaths instead.

66. Kick Ass by Mark Millar & John Romita Jr – This is the graphic novel behind the recent movie. I saw the movie first, but still enjoyed this quick read.

67. The Organization of Information by Arlene Taylor and Daniel Joudrey – Yes, this is a textbook, but if I read an entire textbook, it gets to go on my book list! The partial reads (like my reference textbook) are relegated to an end of the year addendum in my reading notebook.

45. Scott Pilgrim Vol. 2: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Bryan Lee O’Malley – I’m not going to review every single one of these. See the review for Vol. 1 for all the details. Short version: good nerdcore fun. Read the books. Watch the movie.

46. The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall – This! This has been my favorite book of 2010. I was afraid it would fall into my least favorite genre: self-indulgent middle-aged white men. But despite sharing some traits with those “my small troubles are so important” books, it was incredibly good.  If you’re curious about plyg culture (well, a fictional depiction of it) or just enjoy a quirky story about interior crises, I recommend this book. The narration moved between the husband/father of the title, his wives, and one of his many children, and these varied perspectives on a complicated family life were fascinating.

47. You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers – Meh. I’ve enjoyed everything else I read by Eggers, but this book didn’t do much for me. The whiny 20-something guys in this book would some day become the self-indulgent, middle-aged white men I mentioned before.

48. Scott Pilgrim Vol. 3: Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness by Bryan Lee O’Malley

49. Scott Pilgrim Vol. 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together by Bryan Lee O’Malley

50. Scott Pilgrim Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe by Bryan Lee O’Malley

51. Scott Pilgrim Vol. 6: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O’Malley

52. West with the Night by Beryl Markham – I bought this book for my mother because she loves stories of strong women who travel the world. In West with the Night, Markham tells the story of her life as one of the first female pilots in Africa. Her writing style was far better than I expected from someone who claimed not to be a writer. Recommended for readers interested in women’s history or travel in Africa.

32. Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner – Why did I not read this book years ago? Several of my college roommates read it, but I assumed it was a romance novel and ignored it. I was stupid. If you have also been under a rock for the past 8 years, climb out and get this book. I really adored what she had to say about body image and relationships, even if the plot turns were a bit much at times.

33. Memoir: A History by Ben Yagoda – I was drawn to this book because of the memoir controversies in recent years (James Frey, anyone?). It is somewhat academic, but definitely accessible.

34. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth – This is an alternate history looking at what America might have been like if Charles Lindbergh had won the 1940 presidential election instead of FDR. The story focuses on a Jewish family in New Jersey dealing with burgeoning Antisemitism. If you like the idea of exploring other possible histories, I would recommend this book.

35. The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Great Texas Oil Fortunes by Bryan Burrough – As a non-Texan living in Texas, I found this book fascinating. Burrough gives the history of the big Texas oil men and how they changed the state, and in the process shares a lot of fascinating historical bits about Texas in general. I particularly enjoyed learning about local Dallas history along the way (though for most of the time period this book covers, my neighborhood was an empty field). This is a big ol’ book, but if you’re at all interested in  Texas history or the crazy, corrupt power structure of oil money and politics, read it.

36. Love, Cajun Style by Diane Les Becquets – This is a YA novel I picked up at the local library book sale solely based on the title. And yes, Cajun husband laughed at me for getting it. If you’re into YA books, this is a quick, fun read that includes all the teen crises – friendships, relationships, and family. The Cajun flavor isn’t particularly strong, but it is woven into the details.

37. The Ship Who Searched by Anne McCaffery and Mercedes Lackey – One of the many sequels to The Ship Who Sang that I read in July, and I won’t go into descriptions for each of them. Each of these books tells the story of a ship inhabited by the brain of a person whose body couldn’t support them. Depending on when the person lost their body (many were infants), they either think they’re far superior to humans or they miss human connection. These are quick, interesting sci-fi reads about space exploration and the relationship between the brainship and its “brawn” – the ship’s human partner.

38. The City Who Fought by Anne McCaffery and SM Stirling

39. The Ship Who Won by Anne McCaffery and Jody Lynn Nye

40. The Ship Avenged by Jody Lynn Nye

41. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson – Book three in Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. I enjoyed this one and zipped through it more quickly than the first two, but I still think these three huge books could have been consolidated into ONE novel. But they’re all international best-sellers, so what do I know? I found the first volume a bit tedious, especially in the first half as it set up the story. The second volume really got into the meat of the story and made me appreciate the series more. Some reviewers have complained that this third volume is set after all the real action has taken place, but Larsson still worked a lot of action and twists into the story.

42. Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner – This sequel to Good in Bed is set years later, and the narration alternates between Cannie and her rebellious pre-teen daughter. I understand that motherhood can change someone, but I found many of the changes (and the extent of the changes) in Cannie unrealistic. The central plot line appealed to me as they dealt with the delayed aftermath of the novel Cannie wrote about the experiences described in Good in Bed, and I would recommend this sequel to Weiner fans. Definitely don’t read it without checking out Good in Bed first!

43. The Ship Errant by Jody Lynn Nye

44. Scott Pilgrim Vol. 1: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O’Malley – Between the combined influential forces of Cajun husband and lovely book bloggers, I finally gave in and read the SP books. This was the first graphic novel I’ve read, and I enjoyed it enough to speed through all the sequels and watch the movie. Hubs was afraid I wouldn’t understand all the video game references, but I’ve spent enough time around him and his sister soaking up video game jokes and terms to enjoy the books and movie. You don’t have to be a comic book or video game expert to get into these, but an appreciation of geek culture would be good.

29. Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby –  Not my favorite Hornby, but still full of his signature quirk. Hornby leaves behind his usual 20- or 30-something boys in the city for an aging reclusive rock star, his biggest fan, and his biggest fan’s frustrated girlfriend. While parts of it frustrated me (the obnoxious fan character is, well, obnoxious), I enjoyed the story.

30. South of Broad by Pat Conroy – Apparently this was lesser books by good writers month. I loved Prince of Tides and several of Conroy’s other earlier works, but his past couple just haven’t been as good. I actually picked this book up, read the first two pages, and sat it down for a week because I was drowning in the saccharine ode to Charleston. Conroy’s one of those who sells enough books by being over the top that his editors will never rein him in. (Or perhaps they DO rein him in and he’s actually even MORE excessive? ::gasp::) He weaves in many of his usual elements (Charleston as central character, lead male with woman issues, dangerous figure that haunts the good guys…), and I suppose he’s successful at it. Just… ehh… When an author writes the same thing over and over again, eventually you stop reading even if you loved that thing the first few times.

31. Dixie Lullaby by Mark Kemp – This is a must read for fans of southern rock, but it’s also more. Kemp digs into his complex feelings about the South and its messy past (and present), making this as much a history of the author and southern society as of the music.  Yes, I know I’ve knocked other books for being unsure of their identity, but in my opinion Kemp balanced it well.   I’ve already waxed poetic a bit about this one when I wrote about my trip home because Kemp stirred up my own issues with my southern heritage.

(My June reading list is short, but just wait until you see July… I more than made up for it once I went on my unemployment vacation!)

image source

23. The Best American Short Stories of the Century ed. by John Updike (audiobook) – I love the Best American short story collections, but this one was just not up to par. I assumed it would be exponentially better than the single year volumes because these stories are supposed to be the best of the best of the ENTIRE CENTURY. Meh, not so much.

24. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver – Excellent! Highly recommended. I saw some griping here and there online that Kingsolver isn’t providing practical steps, but she does complete an incredible experiment and share a lot of helpful/fascinating information along the way. If you’re at all interested in eating locally and avoiding nasty stuff like CAFO beef, you should read this.

25. The Apron Book: Making, Sharing, and Wearing a Bit of Cloth and Comfort by EllynAnne Geisel – This was a gift from my mom as thanks for the apron I made her. I felt like I’d time-warped to 1950, but it was a pleasant quick read and even included some good recipes and apron patterns.

26. The Possessed by Elif Batuman – I had such high hopes for this book! It sounded so quirky and interesting, and I loved the idea of a book that explored both life in academia and Russian lit. Quirky? Yes. Otherwise? No. It was unfocused to me: one minute literary paper, the next travelogue. I had a hard time connecting to the non-story.

27. A Trailside Series Guide Bicycling by Peter Oliver – Great guidebook if you want tips on selecting a bike, improving your form, shopping for gear, and basic maintenance. I enjoyed it, but if you’re only going to buy one bike book, I would instead recommend The Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance and Repair .

28. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – A Texas classic. I struggled a bit in the early chapters, but once the cattle drive got going I enjoyed the story. If you can’t stand for author’s to kill off characters that you like, you might struggle with this one. I haven’t read many westerns in my day, but I gave it a try after several people I trust told me this was their all time favorite book. It’s not on my fave book list, but it is good.

18. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson – So much better than the first book! Dragon Tattoo was soooo slow to get started that I had decided I wouldn’t pick up this one. Then I got stranded in a podunk middle of nowhere Texas airport and picked it up in the airport bookstore (the other options were BAD). I really got hooked on this one, and I’m anxious to read the final book of the trilogy, though the reviews haven’t been wonderful.

19. Elvenbane by Mercedes Lackey – More fantasy fun. I enjoyed this one, but haven’t been able to continue the series because book 2 has gone missing from my husband’s collection (which I finally organized so that I could steal his books without going crazy!).

20. The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffery – And more sci fi fun.

21. PartnerShip by Anne McCaffery and Margaret Ball – And the sequel to more sci fi fun. Not as good as the first.

22. The Librarian’s Career Guidebook by Presicilla Shontz  – Excellent guide! I read this as I was applying to library schools, and greatly appreciated all of the advice about applying, planning your career, choosing courses, etc. This collection of essays is divided into sections for each part of a librarian’s career, so I intently read the early stage sections and skimmed more and more as I got to the discussions of avoiding late career burnout at the end. Highly recommended.

(photo is author’s own ridiculously cute kitten when he was younger and hadn’t acquired a massive milk gut yet)

I have a lifelong aversion to “favorites.”  How am I supposed to pick a favorite book? Movie? Food? How can I say that Atwood is better than Rushdie or that chocolate truffles are better than strawberry pie?  Some people might call me indecisive. I always preferred to think of it as a bias against people who appreciate variety, and I used Don Delillo’s line that such lists are “a form of cultural hysteria” to justify my cause. When so many things are wonderful for so many different reasons, who can name THE BEST?

This happened to me in dating too. Not that I couldn’t date just one guy at a time… Instead I dated a diverse group of guys over the years, none of whom would ever be categorized as “my type” because I appreciated each one for the quirky things that made them unlike all the others.  I think just about every one of my close family and friends let my now-husband know that he’s the only person I’ve ever dated who really made sense for me. At least this is one category where I finally picked a favorite!

Because of my general incompetence with favorites, I offer you instead the things I’m most likely to recommend to others:

  • Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – Excellent book. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first picked it up, but I was quickly and completely pulled into this bookish mystery.  Ruiz Zafon reminded me at times of Eco or AS Byatt. (His more recent book, not so much… But that’s a gripe for another day.)
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – I was an anti-sci-fi snob until I read this book. I recommend it to pretty much everyone, particularly people who claim they don’t like sci fi or don’t like to read at all.
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Anything by Garcia Marquez. Just do it. His stories are haunting and beautiful, and you won’t regret a minute of it. And please don’t skip the book and choose the movie. THAT you will regret.
  • Dark Chocolate Reese’s Cups – What? You were expecting this to be full of highbrow books? Get off your couch and buy some of these. Bring them home, stick them in the freezer, wait for a bad mood to strike, and consume. You can send me your love letters full of effusive thanks later. Or a box of Reese’s cups will suffice.
  • Before Sunrise / Before Sunset – Before Sunrise is the only movie I’ve ever watched multiple times before returning it to the rental store. (Yes, once upon a time people got into cars, drove to a store, and picked out a movie instead of having them magically appear in mailboxes. Up hill in the snow both ways, of course.) I haven’t forced my husband to watch these yet, but only because if he hated them I’d be heartbroken. I’d rather go on pretending that he would agree these movies are amazing. Full of dialogue out the wazoo. Smart, romantic, and not for people who are caught up on silly things like action and plot progression.
  • How I Met Your Mother – This show came out around the time that I returned to watching tv after the pop culture oblivion otherwise known as grad school. Have you seriously not watched it? This show (and Dr. Horrible) are what made Neil Patrick Harris the hot commodity he is today instead of just “that Doogie guy.”
  • Stranger Than Fiction – Will Ferrell movies are hit or miss for me, so I was hesitant to watch this one. I finally caught it at the cheap theater, and I knew I was in the right place when a bunch of people left mid-showbecause it wasn’t “a Will Ferrell movie.” I wanted to call friends and tell them they had to see it while I was still sitting in the theater. Maybe it just caught me at a particularly lost time in my life, but I got caught up in the thought-provoking, get out of your rut emotions of it. (If you have trouble telling Maggie Gyllenhaal and Zooey Deschanel apart, you may confuse this movie with Yes Man. It’s a common problem that a simple test will resolve: if the role also involves quirky singing, it’s Zooey.)

Do favorites come easy to you? Were you the kid who always knew exactly what your favorite EVERYTHING was, or did you waffle around to give each color/cartoon/book/boyfriend a chance?

After many, many long car trips home to visit the family and then three years of working from my car, I have developed a set of firm criteria for evaluating audiobooks.  Some you can rule out by carefully reading the covers, but others will leave out key details (I hate audiobooks that don’t list recording length on the case, though now a smartphone can save you with some quick googling) or have surprise pitfalls (the VOICES! Eek).

  1. Length – Audiobooks should be between 8 and 16 hours long. If it the book is shorter than that, it will end too soon and you’ll be stranded on a work trip through the middle of nowhere with only spotty local radio to rely on. Not good. If it’s longer, I get sick of it. Even though I don’t mind physically reading long books, something about listening to a 20+ hour book makes me very antsy for the whole thing to be DONE.
  2. Reader – Oh dear. A good book can go terribly wrong with a bad reader. I once picked up a David Baldacci book on CD based on a recommendation, and it was AWFUL. Really, melodramatically awful. I couldn’t imagine WHY anyone would recommend it. When we talked about the book later, I realized my opinion of the whole story was swayed by the over-the-top, noir mystery voice the reader used. The other risk that you can’t assess from looking at the case? Voices. Oh dear, the voices. If it isn’t a children’s book, don’t use “voices.” Most readers use inflection or mild voice changes to indicate changing speakers, but for the love of all things audio, don’t use goofy voices. I returned a book after listening for just 15 minutes once because I just couldn’t handle it. Unfortunately I can’t warn you away from its crazyland voices because I’ve forgotten the title and can’t remember enough details to sufficiently conjure it up via google or my library’s website. (Poor people in shacks? A wake in the first chapter? New England? And did I mention the goofy voices on the audiobook?)
  3. Mood – Do you know how hard it is to jump out of your car and sell-sell-sell when you’re crying over a book? Yep. I discovered this the hard way thanks to Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking. The story is beautifully written, but thanks to this heartbreaker I check all book descriptions for phrases like “learning to live after the death of ___,” “dealing with the pain of ___,” or “zombie apocalypse.” What? Zombies don’t make you emotional? 😉

I often check out books on CD that I wouldn’t normally read (this means YOU, Baldacci and Giffin), but I find that  fast-paced mysteries or fluffy, fun tales can really make a car trip fly by, even if they don’t turn you into a fan of the author.

Now finding an audiobook that both the Hubs and I want to listen to? That’s another story…

Twitter Updates

  • @nodakademic Congrats on her arrival! Hope you both are doing much better and that she's home very soon. 4 years ago
  • @hubbit New twist on aspirational baby naming ;) 4 years ago
  • In a somewhat ironic twist, I'm using my real name twitter account again because I have a new alias. 4 years ago
  • Is muscadine wine supposed to taste like Fun Dip and Pop Rocks? 4 years ago
  • Apparently I'm a hypocrite for believing in same sex marriage but not in incest. You learn so much on facebook... 4 years ago