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Top 10 Books of 2009

Another year gone, another stack of books read and shared.  The books listed below are a good cross-section of titles on my reading list.  A few of them were provided by Carole and Kathy, two of my most trusted book critics, and a few titles I stumbled upon on my own.  Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.



Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society — A compelling story that also serves as a history lesson.  I knew people suffered, did without during World War II, but I never stopped to think of what exactly that meant.  This book tells that story with heart, wit and engagement — and a few interesting voices.

Drood — Long, but oh so good.  I loved every page of this tale of Charles Dickens' last years of life, told by his friend Wilkie Collins (himself an author of great repute: The Woman in White, anyone?).  I was absolutely smitten by the second chapter. 

Beginner's Greek — I re-told this lovely, charming and breathtaking tale of star-crossed love over and …

Can You Recall Your Favorite Books of the Year?

This has been a great year for books, and I'm sure it's easy for you to identify your favorite books.  Get those lists ready to compare with my "best of" list to be published at the end of the year, and see how our lists compare.

Can you guess my faves? Check out the books reviewed in 2009 not only on this blog, but also on Book Lovers, Get Your English On!, another blog on which I worked this calendar year.  See if you can guess my top 10.

If you have a blog, e-mail me your URL and I'll try to guess your favorites of 2009 in return. Maybe we read the same books.... you never know.

When I publish my "best of" list, be sure to chime in and share your ideas and opinions. I'm always looking for a new great book to read!

Review: The Lace Reader

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I can sum up The Lace Reader in one word: disappointing.

I don't mind an unreliable narrator, especially if it's one who identifies herself right off the bat as a liar.  I don't even mind a delusional, psychotic one. 

I don't mind when the narrator shifts from first person to third person — and from one character to another — in the middle of a section, then shifts back.  All with no explanation or preamble.  Toss in yet a third narrative with no preamble or explanation: a journal written in the first person by someone who is writing fiction — or not.  (Despite Brunona Barry's best attempts to derail me, I usually could figure out who was telling the story.  Usually.)

What I do mind is surprises that come out of nowhere.  When a book changes course, a story has a shift, it has to make sense or be explained to where it makes sense in that universe.  In this case, the shifts were incongruous with the storyline.  We are tooling along, the story is ambling in a certai…

Reading a Classic for the Villain

When asked why someone reads a classic story, the answer often is that the characters are memorable.  Often, characters are redemptive, loving, loveable, attractive.

But what if they're not?

Listverse intrigued me with a recent list of the 10 Vilest Villains in Literature.  I now am revising my classics reading list to include one or two of the more interesting villains.

I am already familiar with more than half of the villains on the Listverse list.  (I'm not sure if I should be pleased or concerned.)  I have met the Wicked Witch of the West courtesy of two different authors.  I'm also intimately familiar with Sauron, thanks to my recent obsession with The Lord of the Rings (thank you, Peter Jackson and J.R.R. Tolkien!).  I know I read Beowulf in college, but I claim no ability to retain anything I was scheduled to discuss in excruciating detail at 8 a.m. on a Monday.  I also know Satan, though not on a first-name basis.

However, I have yet to meet the Transylvanian count…

End of the Year Listmania Examined

December starts the rush for year-end "best of" book lists.  Every reader, reviewer and publisher with a publication (e or print) has an opinion about every category of every book.

I am no different.  I identified my Top 10 books in 2007 and 2008.  I most likely will do the same this year — if only to help me re-live the good books and banish the bad (and, alas, there are always, always bad books).  I make my list at the end of December, so I can include all books for the calendar year.

I understand that newspapers and magazines don't have the same flexibility as I do, but every year I feel bad for the December books.  Those of us born in that dark, cold, busy month know it's easy to be overlooked, trampled in the holiday rush and crushed by the approaching end of the year listmania.

I read book sections and reviews all year long, so rarely does the list completely surprise me.  It does, however, distill for me what ultimately rises above mediocrity.  As a frequent…

Review: The Genesis Secret

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People get so excited about novels that venture into the world of religion.  The uproar over The DaVinci Code was immense (though one could gauge its success by the number of books published as a "response" or "rebuttal").  People forget that "fiction" can be translated to mean "making it all up, no matter how many real elements one injects into the story, like in Fargo, the Coen brothers movie."

So, should anyone get excited about The Genesis Secret?

If so, it's entirely unnecessary.  The fact that it's a novel rather than a news story never escapes the reader at any time.  At the beginning of the book, debut novelist Tom Knox states two true elements of the story: the existence of an archeological site and a religious group.  The foundation of the story is realistic  — tension, politics, religious issues, public safety responses — but the character-based story never enters the realm of realism for me.  And that makes me glad.

Two story…

Review: Olive Kitteridge

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I started Olive Kitteridge with great skepticism: a series of short stories as a novel did not sound like a smooth, cohesive story.  However, within a dozen pages I was glad it was nearly midnight because I would have called Carole to ask her why she hadn't forced me to start the book sooner.

Elizabeth Strout creates an incredible level of intimacy necessary for this kind of tale, where readers meet the title character through rumor, reputation, association and in person.  She is not all that likable, especially at first; in fact, throughout "Pharmacy," I actively wondered why the gentle and loving Henry was married to her in the first place. However, to be fair, she was seen through the filter of his perception, and there was a very stark contrast between his life at the pharmacy and his life at home.

Not until the second story, "Incoming Tide," did I actually find any redemptive, or even likable, qualities to Olive.  It was then, when a reader could see her i…

Review: Rebecca

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The problem with classics is that everyone expects the mystery to have expired.  Right before I watched Citizen Kane for the first time, a classmate asked, "You know Rosebud is [SPOILER], right?"  I responded, "Well, I do now."

So I approached Rebecca like reading it was a state secret (except to Carole, who was her fabulous no-giveaway self, as I knew she would be).  No bonehead was going to tell me about Daphne du Maurier's "Rosebud," so  I started the novel with no information other than the brief and completely innocuous summary on the back of the 1970s-era paperback I picked up at the thrift store.

Thank heavens.  There were so many great elements I would have been quite vexed to have had any of them spoiled.

The summary is simple: a young woman is rescued from a life as a "traveling companion" (a.k.a. maid) to the American bore Mrs. Van Hopper by Maxim de Winter, who owns the legendary English estate  Manderley.  There in the halls of…