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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!

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.

10. Superfreakonomics by Levitt & Dubner (audiobook) – The Freakonomics guys are controversial but always interesting. This sequel has interesting studies on doctors and hand-washing, altruism versus selfishness, and prostitution.

11.  The Robin and the Kestrel by Mercedes Lackey – Book 2 of a trilogy on gypsy bards. A decent fantasy read, but not one of Lackey’s best.

12.  So What Are You Going to Do with That? by Susan Basalla & Maggie Debelius – Excellent book for academics who want to find a job in the “real world.” Look for a review here in the near future!

13.  The Eagle and the Nightingales by Mercedes Lackey – Book 3 of the bardic trilogy.

14.  The Room-Mating Season by Rona Jaffe (audiobook) – Retro-feel chick lit centered on a group of girls who were roommates in the 60s and the tragedy that affected them for the rest of their lives. The narration alternates between the girls over the span of decades, replete with “hey remember the 80s” culture flashbacks for each time period. The characters didn’t feel real to me, and the plot points were a bit forced.

15.  In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan – Excellent book! This was the first I’ve read by Pollan, and I have the rest of his books on my (far too lengthy) to be read list now. If you’re interested in eating natural food, the reasons why our food culture has evolved to its current over-processed state, and the health benefits of avoiding “fake” foods, this is a must read.

16.  First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival by Ken Wheaton – The story of a young, conflicted priest in middle-of-nowhere Louisiana who decides to hold a festival to keep his parishioners from leaving for the lively new evangelical church being built down the road. It’s a very funny story, but not recommended for those who are easily offended (particularly if you’re uncomfortable with depictions of drunk, unhappy priests). I picked this one up because my  husband is from this neck of the bayou, but I don’t think I’ll be passing it along to his parents…

17.  A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg – Finally read this lovely Christmas present! Wizenberg’s book is a quick read, and you can certainly feel the blogginess of it (though not in a bad way). Chapters are about the length of a long blog posts, and each one culminates with a mouth-watering recipe.

5. The Lark and the Wren by Mercedes Lackey – Do I have to admit to reading this? Oh dear. I blame any fantasy or sci fi selections on my husband. Last summer as the wedding was fast approaching my brain could no longer handle any books that required much of me, so my then-fiance went to his bookshelves and handed me some of Lackey’s fairy tale books and then her Heralds of Valdemar trilogy. I’ve never been a fantasy reader, but I was completely hooked. He was sneaky though! He didn’t tell me at the time that the Valdemar trilogy had evolved into dozens of books set in this world. I think I’ve read all of them now — every time I’ve thought I was done, another trilogy would appear in the depths of his bookshelves. (Now that we’re married, I have alphabetized his shelves. I couldn’t help it.)

As for The Lark and the Wren… Hrm. Not as good as the Valdemar books, but interesting enough. This  trilogy (Bardic Voices) is about traveling bards – some magical, some gypsy – and each book focuses on a different pair of bards, though the three stories do build an overall story arc.

6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (large print. Yes, I said large print.) – I’m not sure there’s much left to say about this international bestseller. I did feel that it took a LONG time to get to the meat of the story, but once Larsson gets to the action, you realize it was worth the wait. Some of the more gruesome scenes were too much for me, but I liked that the lurid parts were empowering instead of demeaning to women, as is so often the case. I would not recommend this book to anyone sensitive to detailed depictions of violence, but if you can handle those parts, it’s a great read. Several people have also recommended the movie, which recently came to our local indie theater. If I can convince my husband to sit through three hours of subtitles, we’ll be seeing it soon!

As for the large print? Well, the library’s hold list for the regular version of the book had at least 100 people on it, so I put my name down on the large print list instead. This saved me months of waiting, but I think that the large print contributed to the feeling that the book was at times overly long or slow. It also made me feel either very old (like my Grandma reading the large print Reader’s Digest) or very young (like a kid with her first large print chapter book).

7. Something Blue by Emily Giffin (audiobook) –  This was one of those books you pick up because you need desperately an audiobook for your commute and the library selection is slim. I hated the protagonist. HATED. Perhaps it’s unsophisticated of me to feel this way, but it’s human nature, yall: I prefer books with sympathetic, compelling narrators. Giffin’s lead does eventually show some degree of character development, but it was too little, too late.

8.  The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs – Apparently February was chick lit month… Not my genre, but it was a stressful month. This was a quick read with a collection of predictable plot twists. The story is primarily about a single mother who owns an NYC knitting store and her daughter, but the narration alternates between the various ladies of the knitting club, giving you a glimpse into the tangential stories of a quirky and diverse group (though fairly stereotyped). Recommended if you’re crafty and looking for an easy read.

9.  An Arsonist’s Guide to the Writer’s Homes of New England by Brock Clarke (audiobook) –  Welcome back to the land of unsympathetic narrators! This was an odd one. The more I read (or listened), the more I realized how strange and unreliable the narrator was. Unless you’re prepared to descend into a sad, dark, confusing, mentally ill world, I would not recommend the Arsonist’s Guide. It certainly didn’t meet my strict audiobook criteria, which I will tell you about some time soon.

Picasso's Woman Reading

  1. I, Rigoberta Menchu – Highly recommended memoir of a woman growing up in Guatemala, particularly if you are interested in Central American revolutions or women’s studies. Heart-breaking and informative.
  2. My Losing Season by Pat Conroy – I HATE basketball, but loved this memoir of sports and life at the Citadel. A must-read if you like sports stories and want to read one about a losing team for a change or if you’ve had a bad experience with military schools.
  3. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood – Ohhh, how I love Atwood! This was an excellent companion book to Oryx and Crake. The stories are concurrent, but you really should read O&C first. This dystopian vision is dark and fascinating, without the overwhelming depression of The Road.
  4. Wicked by Gregory Maguire (audiobook) – The hubs and I started the audiobook on our big Christmas trek, and we both enjoyed it considerably. I may be 10 years behind on this one, but if you’re behind as well – check it out! The unabridged audiobook was a bit long for my taste at 19.5 hours, and it ended up being too long for even our over the river and through the bayou drive since we like to mix in some satellite radio time as well. We’ll be going to the musical when it comes through town in a few weeks!

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