Top Eleven Favorite Reads of 2010

I found 2010 to be an interesting reading year.  I'm surprised how many on this list were actually published this year, and I attribute most of those finds to Kathy and Carole.  Others are sequels or written by already-favored authors.

ArchEnemy — The third (and final) installment of the Looking Glass Wars series, the clash between good and evil of Wonderland is as big as author Frank Beddor's imagination.  Who will be sacrificed to save the kingdom?  Is Queen Alyss strong enough to beat Black Imagination?  Will England survive? Begin at the beginning with this series, and enjoy every page.

Black Hills — Paha Sapa is an explosions expert working on carving Mount Rushmore.  Only this Sioux doesn't exactly see the destruction of his holy mountain as a positive effort.  Readers glimpse the history of South Dakota and the nation through a man's life story.  Dan Simmons' sweeping saga with personal anecdotes will make readers think.

The Gates — Samuel Johnson, age eleven, and his dachshund Boswell decided to beat the rush and go trick-or-treating a few days early.  What he saw through the Abernathys' basement window sent him running straight home — and should send readers straight to their bookstores. John Connelly has a fabulous sense of humor as he follows the happenings in Biddlecombe on the cusp of Halloween.  Nothing and no one is safe from Evil (with a capital "E"), but if one can find the unlikeliest allies, even the impossible might very well be within reach.

Have a Little Faith — The best way to find out what you believe is to look beyond those borders.  Mitch Albom does that with Rabbi Albert Lewis and Reverend Henry Covington, two very different men of faith.  It made me reassess my own faith, and deeply appreciate the true, deep and loving faith of others.

Her Fearful Symmetry — This ghost story by Audrey Niffenegger was filled with fascinating characters, including memories, ghosts, lies and children who truly do not know their parents after all.  Elspeth is dead, to begin with, or soon enough; however, her life extends beyond the grave to many who don't realize its grasp. Nothing is without a price, especially life and death.

Johannes Cabal the Detective — The second book by Jonathan L. Howard finds Johannes in his next situation: in an Eastern Europe country on the brink of war.  Bureaucrats do not fare well in this tale, nor do necromancers, soldiers or dirigible captains.  The afterward is worth the price of admission alone.

Little Bee — Little Bee is not her name, but she explains her story in exquisite English and offered observations and perspectives that made me catch my breath again and again.  Chris Cleaves' story will remain with readers long after they turn the last page.

One Day — Everyone has read "a day in the life," but no one has read about the story of Em and Dex, Dex and Em, two college friends whose life intertwines in lovely, sad, startling and profound ways.  David Nicholls follows these two for decades, watching their lives intersect on a single day every year.

This is where I leave you — I wish I had the courage to reveal a story and characters the way Jonathan Tropper does in this amazing story.  The Foxman family sits shiva for their recently departed patriarch, and they haven't all survived in that house together in decades.  The language was true, the story was amazing, the characters unique and weirdly lovable even when they weren't.

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise — Carole noticed this book one day at Politics and Prose and was drawn to it because of her summer travels with her daughter to England.  I was intrigued as well and picked up my own copy of Julia Stuart's novel. It was delicious: not always easy to read, but always rewarding.

The Swan Thieves — Elizabeth Kostova proves lightning strikes twice with this complex, interesting and compelling novel.  She guaranteed I won't view Impressionism the same way, as she guaranteed Dracula was reborn to a new generation.  She draws us in with mysterious letters and a mute psych patient and rivets us as the story goes full circle.

Bonus Favorite: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  Author Rebecca Skloot spent a decade researching and writing this book, and I am glad to have been able to thank her for persevering.  It wasn't an easy read, but it was fascinating as Skloot introduced us to the HeLa cells, and what they meant to everyone — especially the family of the woman whose cells spawned them.

Worst book of the year: Beatrice and Virgil.  As the bookseller and historians asked the fictional writer in this book, "What is it about?"  As if taxiodermy wasn't enough to put me off this book, it tossed in the Holocaust, rabid dogs, euthanized felines and a flayed fox.  Yum-ee!  Thanks, Yann Martel.

What did you enjoy reading this year?  What did you hate?  Tell me!