Best of 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011

Best  (and worst) of   2 0 1 1  

I love end of the year reading lists! It's so fun to look over what all I accomplished (in reading) for the year and see what everyone's favorites were. My reading year, in terms of quantity, was awful this year or just not up to where I like it. But I still feel pretty good about what I DID read this year and look forward to reading way more in 2012. Here are my favorites (and least favorites) this year. 

First off, let me say don't forget to check out my Non-Fiction 2011 post for a better breakdown of this year's non-fiction reading if you haven't already because truly, I would consider all of those books at the top of my 2011 reading in general. It's super hard to break it down further than that! But as for fiction....

Let's start with what I was the most disappointed with. Keep in mind that this does not mean that these were the worst books... just what disappointed me most based on what my expectations were.

Great House by Nicole Krauss -- I didn't get it.
The Good Psychologist by Noam Schpencer -- Review to come eventually, short but not easy read
The Tiger's Wife by Tea O'Breht -- Good writing but I didn't necessarily get the story

The Best New-to-Me Author whose books (read two this year) were fantastic! (Can't wait to read The Untelling soon)

Leaving Atlanta by Tarayai Jones -- one of the character's ending scenes haunts me
Silver Sparrow by Tarayi Jones -- two girls with the same father but one is a secret

Biggest Surprises

Emily and Einstein by Linda Francis Lee -- I bought this for the cover but thoroughly enjoyed the cute story
The Four Ms. Bradwells -- Not a fluffy book at all. Had a lot of depth and women's issues

Best New-to-Me Series

Transfer of Power and The Third Option are #1 and #2 in the Mitch Rapp Series by Vince Flynn. My mom, dad, and husband have read the entire series and are obsessed. Also got my sister to download one onto her nook. I look forward to reading more of these!
The Chalk Girl by Carol O'Connell is #12 in the series. Review to come in 2012. I'm super excited to have been introduced to this series!

Honorable Mention: These weren't my very favorite but were really good and I want to include them.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown, Bent Road by Lori Roy, Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda (review to come), Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman, and The Cradle in the Grave by Sophie Hannah

Okay, fine, I narrowed down the best non-fiction to these three. (Go here for links to these three)

Most Powerful and Also in the Best of 2011 Category

The Submission by Amy Waldman -- Review to come in 2012
The Buddha in the Attic by Julit Otsuka -- Finalist for the National Book Award
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan -- Lots of food for thought

And, my very favorite of the year happens to be the second book that I read this year.....

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
I adored this book. The movie version with Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks came out on Christmas but only in limited locations, and Orlando wasn't special enough to have it showing here! So I have to wait for the movie.

That's it! Happy 2012!!

Non-Fiction 2011

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Non-Fiction 2011

This year was amazing for non-fiction! I hadn't read much of this genre prior to the past couple years, but so many that I have been reading have really excited me! Maybe I love the fact that I'm learning and that I feel smart but am enjoying it at the same time! While I'm doing a separate best of list, I wanted to highlight the best of the non-fiction I read this year.

Sociological Memoir

Little Princes by Conor Grennan (review coming in January 2012)
Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh



The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee (review coming in 2012)


Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
Tangled Webs by James B. Stewart
Decision Points by George W. Bush

Short Stories, Crime, and Memoir
Heart of the City by Ariel Sabar
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Bringing Adam Home by Les Standiford

I would  have an incredibly difficult time narrowing down these books to my favorite. Of the 11 listed here, I can only narrow it down to 6!

A Christmas Carol

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Title: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
Illustrator: P.J. Lynch
Pages: 159
Genre: Classic Fiction
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pub. Date: September 12, 2006 (this edition)

Merry Christmas!!! I'm not sure how many of you are reading blogs today, but I thought it was fitting to post my review of this book on Christmas Day. I'll keep it short.

I think this might be the first time I've actually read through A Christmas Carol from beginning to end. I've started, but not finished, in the past. And, of course, I've watched various versions of the movie. (I think A Muppet's Christmas Carol has been my favorite!) My husband and I wanted to have a tradition of reading A Christmas Carol together every year, though this is the first time we actually followed through.

I also have little experience reading Dickens. I know for sure I read Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities in junior high, but I don't remember much and I had a much different taste in literature at the time. So, that being said, I did enjoy A Christmas Carol. It's a classic story, of course, and who doesn't love the story of a Scrooge who completely turns himself around? Dickens's writing has a subtle humor to it. I suspect, though, that if he were a writer today I wouldn't quite appreciate his writing style.  Being that this was written in the 1800's I'm a little more forgiving and it makes more sense. But each sentence was so long that by the time I got the end of the sentence I couldn't remember what he was trying to say in the first place. And he had to include so many examples of everything he described, just to make a point, I guess. Those things bothered me.

But overall an enjoyable Christmas book. It is a classic, after all! And I really like the illustrations in this book. They are a little dark, but very well done.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Series: Millennium #1
Author: Stieg Larsson
Translated by: Reg Keeland
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday (Random House)
Pub. Date: September 16, 2008

I've owned this series for a while but just recently got around to reading this book. I was nervous. It's had such acclaim. My mom and husband both read this and enjoyed the series. But then I also remember reviews saying it was a slow moving book and that the first 100 pages were unnecessary. But after finally reading this for myself, I am a huge fan!! I will say that for about the first 30 pages I wondered where it was going. But I stuck to it and was hugely satisfied by the end.

For the few of you who have yet to read this book, it starts off with Mikael Blomkvist, investigative journalist and partial owner of the magazine, Millennium, being convicted of libel against a big time corporate worker. Sort of as a result of this he then becomes involved with the Vanger family, the very wealthy owners of another large corporation. Henrik Vanger hires him to write his biography and, in the meantime, to investigate the disappearance of his niece, Harriet Vanger, in the 1960's. It's a tough job to take on considering it was years ago and was very thoroughly investigated at the time. But as Blomkvist starts to find out more about her disappearance, he unveils some horrific secrets. Then there's Lisbeth Salander, a strange girl who happens to be an incredible private investigator or, rather, hacker, who ends up getting involved in the Vanger situation as well.

It's hard to explain why I liked this so much. I do enjoy the genre, but this one is just very well written and is more literary in nature. Plus, I guess I really enjoy Lisbeth's character. She's sort of unpredictable. And even though she has an extremely rough exterior, it seems like more of a shell and she is a hurt and vulnerable person on the inside. I'm totally interested in learning more about her. Even though she's sort of weird and rough on the outside, I feel like I can relate to her. The mystery and everything that goes with that is really intense and the family secrets are crazy. And this wasn't one of those mystery/thriller books where I'm able to figure anything out ahead of time. I thought the author did a great job of peeling back each layer of the story piece by piece. There also was an undertone to it about women's rights and violence against women. (In Sweden it was originally titled something like "Men who Hate Women"... something along those lines). And since I consider myself sort of a very minor feminist or at least am passionate about women's rights, this was an interesting aspect for me. I hear this theme continues through the rest of the series and that we learn more about why it is.

I am really looking forward to the next book in the series, and if it weren't for the fact that I have a specific reason for reading what I'm reading now, I would go straight into picking up the next book! The thing that motivated me to finally read this was that the American version of the movie is out in theaters as of this week. My plan was actually to finish this earlier so we could watch the Swedish version and then go to the theater to see the new one. I look forward to the movie (though I have a small fear that they will incorporate parts of the sequel in the movie... ). We shall see and I'll report on how it is once I see it!

Left Neglected

Monday, December 12, 2011

Title: Left Neglected
Author: Lisa Genova
Pages: 324
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster)
Pub. Date: January 4, 2011

I haven't read Lisa Genova's debut, Still Alice, yet so I can't compare, but Left Neglected really lived up to the hype of this author in general. While Still Alice explores Alzheimer's, this one explored another neurological disorder appropriately called Left Neglect. (Despite being largely unknown, or at least one I've never heard of, it is, indeed, a real disorder). The brain of someone with this disorder fails to recognize the left side of everything be it the left side of the body, what would normally be seen out of the left eye, the peripheral vision in the left eye, the left side of words, documents, pictures, etc. Genova's main character, Sarah, compares this to the average person not being able to turn their head all the way around to see the back. That's sort of what a person with Left Neglect experiences with the exception that the average person doesn't have to be reminded that there is something behind them they can't see. With Left Neglect, the person is convinced they are seeing and feeling everything there is to see and feel on the left. That is until they're told to do something with their left hand and can't seem to send the message from their brain to their hand.

Genova really did a fantastic job, without laying it on too thick, of depicting a type-A woman who really just fills her plate to overflowing, enduring a crazy packed schedule, working eighty hours a week, juggling the care of her three children along with her husband and the nanny, etc. Then, in a life changing second, this woman, Sarah, has an accident that causes traumatic brain injury. This is the aforementioned Left Neglect. What follows are Sarah's experiences being a successful, top-of-the-ladder, working mother who is resigned to living a sedentary and frustrating existence in which she doesn't even have control over her own body and has to accept care from everyone around her.

Genova has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, as well as a degree in biopsychology, so you can only imagine the amount of intellectual detail or understanding she has available to her for this type of book. But she doesn't drown her story in fact; instead, she blends just the right amount of medical information with an expert amount of character building to create the perfect fictional novel. In fact, I found Genova's writing to be extremely engaging and insightful, which in addition to her science background, prove her to be quite the all-around talented woman. Her style of writing was smart, and the commentary made as part of the narrative was keen and funny. I loved the book for this aspect alone. Her observations of the world, and the way she expressed her thoughts, made me smile to myself frequently. She had a way of creating such empathy for the character. Not only did I really like Sarah, but I felt like I was experiencing Left Neglect with her. And I adored all the secondary characters as well.

Left Neglected was an engrossing novel that has excited me to both go back and read her debut, Still Alice, and to see what she writes next!

Sidenote: I read this book and wrote the review back in March!! I've had it sitting in a small pile of reviews all this time and never thought to post it! 

Holiday Awesomes and Givaway Winner!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hello everyone! I'm a little late on the Book of Holiday Awesome giveaway. Here are some of the responses I got about everyone's "Holiday Awesome"!

Meg at Write Meg said, "Listening to Hanson's "Snowed In" holiday album while decorating the Christmas tree with my family. It's a tradition more than 13 years strong!" 

Anita at A Woman, a Wife, a Mom said, "Wow, there are too many! 
1. Peppermint white chocolate mocha at Starbucks.
2. Making special once a year cookies with my kids."

Kirsten said, "I love having my family all together now that I have a child in college. And the food - pies, christmas cookies!"

Mary said, "Does putting up the Christmas tree count??"  (Yes, Mary, it does!!)

Heather at Raging Bibliomania said, "Houses that have Christmas displays in the yard!"

Ti at Bookish Chatter said, "Every year we take two kids with Downs Syndrome to look at Christmas lights. These "kids" are not even kids anymore! We've been doing it since my son was born and he is 13 now! We get hot cocoa, I make cookies and we drive around listening to the Brady Bunch Christmas CD. If that's not awesome, I don't know what is. "

Liz said, "Like the overlooked holidays that can offer cheer amidst dreary days."

Carrie at Nomadreader said, "Miracle on 34th Street (1994 version)"

Kristin from Kritters Ramblings said, "Every year since we have lived in the DC area (3) we have made a date to go see the national christmas tree and get a picture taken." 

Mary from Bookfan said, "I love Christmas music (but not before Thanksgiving). And then I love putting the ornaments my children made when they were young on the tree. So many memories tied up with those! Awesome."

Thank you everyone for sharing!! And now the winner of The Book of Holiday Awesome is....

Mary from Bookfan!!!

A Train in Winter

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Title: A Train in Winter
Subtitle: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France
Author: Caroline Moorehead
Pages: 384
Publisher: Harper (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: November 8, 2011

For this book I'm including the publisher's synopsis (from
They were teachers, students, chemists, writers, and housewives; a singer at the Paris Opera, a midwife, a dental surgeon. They distributed anti-Nazi leaflets, secreted Jews to safety, transported weapons, and conveyed clandestine messages. The youngest was a schoolgirl of fifteen; the eldest, a farmer’s wife in her sixties.

Eventually, the Gestapo hunted down 230 women active in the French Resistance and imprisoned them in a fort outside Paris. Separated from home and loved ones, these disparate individuals turned to one another, their common experience conquering divisions of age, profession, and class, as they found solace and strength in their deep affection and camaraderie.

In January 1943, they were sent to their final destination: Auschwitz. Only forty-nine would return to France.

A Train in Winter draws on interviews and deep archival research to uncover a dark chapter of history that offers an inspiring portrait of ordinary people, of bravery and survival—and of the remarkable, enduring power of female friendship.

I chose to use the publisher's synopsis because I'll admit I wasn't able to get all the way through this so I wasn't sure what the best way to describe it was. I initially had my review date extended because I had difficulty with time and getting to the book. But I had plenty of time since then and found I just could not maintain interest in the book. Even though the overall story was interesting with this one, I got bogged down with all the details.I found myself confused often because of the number of people described along with all the French names (obviously that's no one's fault!)  

The story of the occupation of the French and the various reactions of the people was interesting. However, the real part of the story in the latter portion of the book, the human aspect of this story, was what I was interested in. I had so much difficulty slogging through the beginning, and I had seen other reviews discussing the second portion of the book that eventually I skipped ahead. The writing didn't necessarily change so much, but the story was what I was drawn to. One of the draws, for me, to this book as the aspect of the friendships and human bonds created through such horrifying situations. But relating in that way also made those portions very difficult to read as well.

I do think this book told an important story about a group of women, and I wish I could have gotten more into it. Even with the portions of the book I did get into, however, I didn't feel I could commit fully since I had not fully read every part of the book up to that point (maybe my own issue). Therefore, I do think my fascination of the stories was somewhat hampered. I do think that had I read this at another point in the past year when I had much more brain energy to put into the book, I would have enjoyed it much more so those of you who have the brain energy, you'll probably like A Train in Winter. But if you aren't totally and thoroughly interested in the subject, I might recommend passing on it.
Catch up on the rest of the tour here:

Tuesday, November 8th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, November 10th: Melody & Words
Friday, November 11th: Elle Lit.
Monday, November 14th: Diary of an Eccentric
Wednesday, November 16th: Among Stories
Wednesday, November 16th: Unabridged Chick - author interview
Thursday, November 17th: Broken Teepee
Friday, November 18th: Ted Lehmann’s Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms
Monday, November 21st: Jenny Loves to read
Tuesday, November 22nd: Picky Girl
Monday, November 28th: Reviews by Lola
Tuesday, November 29th: Buried in Print
Wednesday, November 30th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Friday, December 2nd: Wordsmithonia
Friday, December 2nd: Books and Movies

The Book of Holiday Awesome (Giveaway!)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Title: The Book of Holiday Awesome
Author: Neil Pasricha
Pages: 192
Genre: Entertainment
Publisher: Amy Einhorn (Penguin)
Pub. Date: November 17, 2011

I had been curious about these "Book of Awesome" books since I first saw them around last year. But anyone who knows me knows that a *Holiday* version of the book would be sure to excite me. I'm one of those annoying (to some) cheerful holiday people who absolutely loves everything about this time of the year. I like to go shopping with the crowds and am sad when there's not enough Christmas Shopping Crowd. I look forward to hopping in my car no matter the destination because my car radio is tuned to the 24/7 Christmas station and I do NOT get tired of it! Beautiful lights on houses make me happy. Peppermint mocha is not just a treat but pretty much a necessity. Movies like Elf, Love Actually, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, The Santa Clause, etc. are on constant play... and, in fact, think Will Ferrell's Buddy the Elf... okay, not quite that bad but you get the picture. Basically, I could write my own book of holiday awesome. But someone already did so I am here to present one lucky person a copy!

As I think I realized with the last installment of this series, The Book of  Even More Awesome, it truly is not the type of book you can plan on reading from beginning to end with a book mark. For me it's more of a pick it up now and then and flip to a random place in the book kind of book. Each page or so has an *awesome* thing with a brief description of that awesomeness. There are actually other holidays represented here, not just "the holidays". Not all the *awesomes* are as great as the next, but overall it's still a pretty fun book. It's a nice book to have out on the coffee table, I think, to peruse during a commercial on tv or for guests to flip through. Different people will, of course, relate to different ones of the awesomes. I don't think I necessarily need the descriptions that follow each thing and would probably prefer a more personal story. But overall this book is fun!

So, I have ONE copy to giveaway to a lucky winner! To enter just fill out the form below. I will choose a winner on Friday, 12/9, so there is enough time to get the book to you before the holidays! (I've included a spot on the form for you to include your favorite holiday *awesome* thing just for fun! Let me know if I can share it and your name/blog title and I will post those here later this month!)