Thursday, December 30, 2010

Books Read in 2010

I love reading, but over the past few years, I haven't had the chance to read as much as I'd like. Until this year, that is. I had set a goal for myself of 15 books, but actually read (or listened to, thanks to audiobooks) 31 books this year. As I've done in the past, here's my review of those books. Let me know which ones you've read and if you agree with my review or have a different opinion. I'd also love hearing any recommendations for my 2011 list! Happy reading!

James Rollins: The Black Order
I listened to this on audio book and I really enjoyed it. This Sigma Force book is a non-stop thriller, catch-me-if-you-can that takes the reader to far-off places like Mount Everest, Cape Town, South Africa, and Washington. It’s another book (like Dan Brown’s) that requires the deciphering of ancient Rune symbols (why don’t they teach this stuff in grade school?) and is about the creation of the Nazi Aryan perfect race of super-humans using Quantum Mechanics. Very engrossing and a great quick read.

Neil Gaiman: The Graveyard Book
This is supposed to be a children’s book, but I think it’s a bit too sinister for kids to read. It’s about a kid though, a kid named “Bod” (which is short for Nobody Owens). This young boy is raised and protected by ghosts in the graveyard and in classic Neil Gaiman style, it’s an entirely different world inside those graveyard gates. I listened to this audio book (I’m totally getting into this new method of reading, usually while I'm driving – although I even “read” sometimes while folding laundry or doing dishes!) and it’s relatively short – under 8 hours. A totally different read than most books out there. I enjoyed it.

Kitty Sewell: Ice Trap
It was winter and the snowy book cover caught my eye in Costco so I picked it up. The best way to sum up the life of the main character is “when it rains it pours”. This guy bumbles through life and finds he’s facing paternity suits from a previous chapter in his life. It’s a fairly quick read, but definitely not one I’d recommend. There's a bunch of randomness to the plot, it's a downer, and not worth your time.

Alice Sebold: The Lovely Bones
This story tears at your emotions… it’s about a teenage girl who’s raped and murdered and life following her disappearance. In an interesting twist, the narrator of the story is the victim and with her you watch as her family tries to hold itself together and the murderer eludes capture. It’s a fast read that captures your attention and was released as a movie this year. Despite the dark subject, I really enjoyed the book – except for the ending. It’s like the author thought it was getting long, so she just ended it abruptly… I would have liked a little more there. But overall, a well-done novel.

James Rollins: The Doomsday Key
In classic Rollins style, in this thriller you will get non-stop action, taken to locales all over the world (Rome, Italy, England, Norway, a seed vault, France) and follow the Sigma Force operatives in another game of cat and mouse. I listened to this audio book mostly in my car and was sad when I’d arrive at a destination and have to put it on hold for later. The premise is that a leading biotechnology company is trying to slow world population growth by spreading contaminated genetically-modified corn seeds. But the ancient fungus is unstable and if not stopped, will lay waste worldwide, just as it did in ancient villages. Connecting interesting historical facts like bee colony collapse disorder, GMO, the Black Madonna, and Saint Malachy, Rollins creates a story that keeps you entertained. Oh, and there’s a couple of good twists at the end.

Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler’s Wife
I really like both Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana (who star in the movie) and so I decided to read the book before watching the flick. I felt like it was a guilty pleasure because it’s a sweet love story about two people whose entire lives are intertwined in ways that are almost hard to comprehend. The man, Henry, is a time traveler who has no control over his travels. He meets Clare, his future wife, in his early thirties (when she is in her mid-twenties) but she’s really known him since she was six (and he was in his forties). It takes a little time to wrap your head around it (especially the parts when he meets up with his younger self and teaches him things like how to pick-pocket) but I just adored it. Guilty pleasure. And a great movie to boot.

Stephen King: Under the Dome
I haven’t read a Stephen King novel since “It” a couple of decades ago (and it scared me so badly that I still don’t like walking past gurgling sewer drains!), but I saw this book advertised and was intrigued. It’s about a small town that has been sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible but powerful (and deadly) dome. While the military tries to free the town, the townsfolk are falling apart more as each day passes. With untimely deaths, major town bullies that you loath, small town hicks, increasing pollution, and a whopping 40+ key characters (many of whom use crass language), this book can be a tough read at some times. It's a little like watching a reality show... you can root for the good guys but have to watch the good, the bad, and the ugly all the way through to see what happens. My main criticism of the book is that it is too long. I know Stephen King is known for his lengthy tomes, but this one could have used some editing down. I listened to this on audio book and it’s the longest one I’ve ever heard – 35 hours! – but overall it’s worth it, if you’re up to seeing it through. I recommend it, and Brian loved it too, so he recommends it highly!

Stephenie Meyer: Eclipse
I blew through this 630-page tome in less than 2 weeks. Since this is the third book in the Twilight series, I was excited to get back into the Bella-Edward-Jacob characters and their unlikely love triangle. The book could have been a bit tighter, but I enjoyed watching the werewolves and vampires have to suffer through working together. As with the others in the series, I do prefer the movie to the book, but recommend them both. Stephenie Meyer writes for the young adult crowd, and her writing style reflects that, as it should. I liked this book about the same as Twilight, both of them more than New Moon. Get into the Twilight series if you haven't... at least go see the movies (do a movie marathon!) if you don't have time for the books.

Kathryn Stockett: The Help
This NY Times bestseller has been getting rave reviews for awhile and my friend loaned me the book. So off I went to read it... and I am so glad that I did. Written in the voice of two black maids and one white woman and aspiring author, it tells the story of what life was like in Mississippi in 1962 and the relationships, both good and bad, between housewives and their housekeepers. I find that I never wanted one of the character's sections to end... I flew this book and really enjoyed it. I'd definitely recommend it, so read it if you haven't.

Gregory Maguire: Son of a Witch
Awful. This is, quite literally, one of the worst books I've read in a long time. It was complete randomness. There was no point to the story, the main character was a complete downer, and just a bunch of random events happen that have no relevance. I'm so disappointed because I really enjoyed Wicked, the first book of the trilogy, and I was looking forward to the second book. But it is a disaster, in my opinion, and now I'm really seriously debating if I should bother reading book three just to see how the trilogy ends. Regardless of whether I punish myself to read book three, under no circumstances do I recommend this book of randomness... run in the other direction!

Jodi Picoult: Plain Truth
Jodi Picoult is a gifted writer. Not only do you learn something about life for her characters, but she makes you turn introspective at the same time. This is a story of a teenage Amish girl who is put on trial for the death of her newborn son. The peek into Amish culture is fascinating, but the subject matter puts a damper on things overall. It's not a happy book, but it's a well-written fast read. Picoult does a mastery job of showing how the legal side of things is at times separated from the truth. The truth in court is the side that is most believed by the jury, not what is factually accurate. Picoult has complete mastery of her craft. It's a solid read, although not uplifting.

Stieg Larsson: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
This Swedish novel is taking the world by storm. Brian and I both listened to this audio book and I whizzed through it in no time. Lisbeth Salander is a feisty girl that's had a hard knock life, but she takes crap from noone. She helps the disgraced financial investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, dive into the history of a prominent family, the Vangers, and solve the murder of Harriet Vanger. It's a fast read - and well worth your time. Some people thought it took a little while to get into, but not me. I liked it from the start. It's a gripping crime mystery/thriller that will keep you engaged. Every question you pose to yourself is answered, and it's only after following a trail of speculative leads that the mystery finally gets solved. Go read it or listen to it! Enjoy!

Michael Crichton: Prey
This is a good, engrossing book (or, in my case, audio book listen). I suppose it's more directed to a sci-fi fan like me, but I think anyone looking for a fast-paced, sit-on-the-edge of your seat thriller will not want to stop reading this until they are done. A smart, responsible, stay-at-home dad of 3 kids who was laid off from his computer programming job is suddenly forced to stop the torrential mess that has come of his wife's classified research. His Pred-Prey computer model had been used to teach nano-particle robots she developed how to operate together to reach goals. But noone expected the robots to start to evolve on their own and replicate into swarms intent on killing the scientists. It pushes you to think beyond what you know or see, and you have to hope the humans are smarter than the machines. Read it!

Dean Koontz: By the Light of the Moon
What a disappointment. Dean Koontz is a gifted author, but he missed the boat with this thriller. The story is of 3 people who are injected with an unknown substance that gives them super powers (premonitions and the ability to "fold" through space and time). Despite a few exhilarating scenes, the book lacked any real plot and the book ended up as a series of random events. The only positive I have is Koontz' portrayal of one of the protagonists, a 20-year-old autistic boy. I listened to the novel on audio book and I wanted to stop when I was a third of the way through. It was only my self-punishing need to finish a book that I've started that made me finish trudging through it. Do yourself a favor and skip it.

Elizabeth Strout: Olive Kitteridge
After hearing all of the rave reviews, I was really excited to read this book. It's an interesting (and at the same time kind of strange) format of chapters that are more like individual short stories that tell of the people from a sleepy town in Maine. Each chapter mentions Olive at some point, although she's not the main character in many of the chapters. I wanted to like this book, but frankly, I found it rather depressing. I got stuck at about p. 60 and had to force myself to finish it. It has a rather accurate portrayal of the hardships of real life, but does every chapter have to be sad and dark, full of death or disappointment? I'd enjoy seeing a little sun shine through. I do contend that it is well-written and obviously others have liked it, but it is not my cup of tea. I am saddened to say I wouldn't recommend it, but there you are.

Stieg Larsson: The Girl Who Played with Fire
After having thoroughly enjoyed his first novel in the series, I have to say that this book (which I listened to as an audio book) just didn't quite live up to my expectations. There were brilliant parts of this book that made me sit up and get excited, but there was so much extra "stuff" that just muddied up the waters. This novel was lacking some serious editing. There were way to many insignificant characters (you could barely keep them all straight) and quite a bit of the same information was repeated too much (from each character's point of view). The underlying story, with a few clever twists and turns, is well-done and there are exciting scenes, but be prepared to say to yourself "okay, get on with it" a few times.

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: Half the Sky
Amazing! I believe that this should be required reading for everyone. I was compelled to continue reading this book - and I literally could barely put it down - despite the fact that at times it was emotionally difficult to read some of the heart-wrenching stories that women, especially impoverished, marginalized, rural women have had to endure. What's wrong with people that they would think that treating women like those discussed in the book is okay, humane, or even a right? But as much as this book points out the disgusting atrocities that half of our species struggles against, it also galvanizes you and really makes you want to take action and be a part of the change. Our family is an avid giver to charity, and now Brian and I are looking into some of these charities named in the book so we can try to be a part, however small, of the solution. I have a daughter and know that there are other little girls out there, just like mine, who deserve a chance. Please read this book and take action. I highly, highly recommend this book... like the subtitle suggests...we can turn oppression into opportunity.

Stephen W. Hawking: A Brief History of Time
There is no question that Stephen Hawking is a genius. I've never ventured to think that I am a genius, but have always been proud to think that I'm a smart, well-educated woman... until I listened to this short 6-hour audiobook and realized that I'm stupid. Well, at least compared to Stephen Hawking. I can't say if I recommend this book or not, because I quite literally couldn't understand it. The concepts were way above my head and I even like math, science, and physics! For 6-hours I felt like I was listening to a foreign language, albeit I knew that it was brilliance just the same. Hawking discusses everything from the Big Bang to Black Holes, and I did chuckle at a joke he told when he was discussing matter and anti-matter. He said that if you ever meet your anti-self, don't shake its hand because - poof! - you'll both disappear instantaneously. Ha! Okay, that's about the funniest thing in this hard-core physics lesson. It's supposed to be a book for the lay person, but don't be fooled (and consider yourself forewarned)... you'll probably feel dumb as you read it.

Jodi Picoult: Vanishing Acts
I think Jodi Picoult is a good author, but I was a bit ambivalent about this book that I listened to on audio tape. It's about a woman who was kidnapped by her father when she was a girl because of a tragedy revealed later in the book. She doesn't remember leaving her alcoholic mother, and it's not until her father is found, arrested, and put on trial that she has to face truths she wishes she could avoid. I think parts of it are well done, but the love triangle bothered me a bit, as did the ending. I wouldn't recommend it, but it was a fast listen nonetheless.

Greg Mortenson: Three Cups of Tea
Fresh on the heels of Half the Sky, I was stoked to read this book that my father loaned me. It's an inspiring book, encouraging the reader to consider how just one person can make the impossible possible with enough grit, determination and will. Greg Mortenson, a former mountain climber, tirelessly devotes himself to building schools in places such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. He demonstrated to me how valuable education is in creating peace. He didn't reach K2's summit, but he's moved mountains instead to make the world a better place for all of us. He's so driven that he doesn't have time for the other pleasures in life and those around him pay a toll for all of his time away from home and dedication to education, but we all thank them and him. This is an inspiring read that I recommend to those who can (or want to) see the big picture.

Lincoln Child: Deep Storm
This audio book was a great listen. I absolutely enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone looking for a decent thriller/sci-fi blend book. It's a fast read and has some fun, wild gadgets that come with living on the ocean floor. Nothing prepares the protagonist, naval doctor Peter Crane, for what he finds when he is flown to a top secret deep-water research facility to investigate an unknown illness. He finds much, much more...

Jen Lancaster: My Fair Lazy
I randomly came across this book and decided it would be a refreshing change from all of the thrillers and heavy nonfiction I've read lately. This is the memoire of a comedian who says it frank (but not crass, usually) and is not afraid to make fun of herself as she tells you the tale of her attempt to become more cultured. I laughed out loud a number of times and found myself loving her family (and love of animals!) and her circle of friends. It's a very light read that's more meant for a female reader. I recommend it as a great beach book. Enjoy!

Kate Jacobs: The Friday Night Knitting Club
This chick lit book was just like you'd expect from a book with the word "knitting" in the title. It was a warm, comfy book that you felt comfortable slipping into reading when you had a free minute. I listened to this on audiotape as I was visiting NYC, and since it takes place on the Upper West Side, it was fun to imagine the shop just around the corner and walk by spots mentioned in the book. The story is about a white single mom and her mixed race daughter and the life they share living above the knitting shop she owns and uses to host a Friday night club for their knitting friends. There are stories of love, friendship, family, and there's a theme of time passing by too quickly. There are sad moments in the book, as expected, but a lot of it is uplifting, reminding the reader to savor the sweet moments in life, forgive those who may have made mistakes in the past, and value the loved ones in your life. I liked this book.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Eat, Pray, Love
I really liked this book and found that the timing was good as my heart was open to its lessons. I needed a refreshing reminder to enjoy life, myself, and love. The book is broken up into 3 sections (each with 33 short chapters) and you follow the author's year-long personnal odyssey to find herself in Italy (where she eats all the time), India (where she meditates all the time), to Indonesia (where she tries to find balance). I liked Italy's stories the best, but found a few good take-aways from each section. It's a good read for a woman, I believe. Check it out (or consider seeing the movie).

John Hart: The Last Child
I thought that this book was very well done. This is the first library book I've checked out in quite some time, and I ended up liking it so much that I went out and bought it after I'd read it, just so I could have it on my bookshelf! This is a mystery/thriller cross-over about a boy and a cop who are trying to solve the mystery around his sister's kidnapping. While it's not a happy subject, you are racing against time and watching as both protagonists follow their clues. There are good twists and I recommend that you go read it to find out what they are!

Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go
While the book is about human clones whose purpose in life is to donate their organs to "regular" humans, the story really centers on the relationship between three friends (2 girls and a boy) as they grow up. The author (who also wrote Remains of the Day) has an uncanny ability to understand human emotions. He is also very creative, describing what life is like being a clone. It's not a "wow" book and it's not high action, but it was a satisfying read (and it's currently being made into a movie).

David Baldacci: The Camel Club
This book is the first in a series about the Camel Club, a group of four washed up old geezers, lead by ex-CIA agent "Oliver Stone", who meet regularly to discuss political conspiracies in Washington D.C. They witness the murder of a Secret Service agent and decide to investigate it. Unbeknownst to them, this is a much larger conspiracy by Islamic extremists to kidnap the President of the United States. I thought the book was good, but not great. I thought that the story dragged in the beginning (took too long to build up suspense), although there are some great scenes littered throughout. I did especially enjoy the scene in which the president is kidnapped. Again, a decent audio book listen, but not a favorite.

Andrew Morton: Angelina
I got this book on a whim and this was an interesting read (or audio book listen, in my case). The story of Angelina was not entirely surprising, as she's been fairly open with her life in the media, especially if you take what the author says with a grain of salt. But what I did glean about it is that while Angelina grew up in what is considered "dysfunction junction", she really didn't have it too tough. She had a dark, experimental, exhibitionist, depression-ridden, rebellious childhood that is probably as much a result of early childhood abandonment as it was her personality at the time. She largely blames her loving but cheating, sometimes clueless, and heavy-handed father, Jon Voight, for much of the problems. The book, however, paints the picture that her beloved mother, Marcheline Bertrand, who is depicted as emotionally manipulating and a total enabler of Angie's unhealthy behaviors, as much to blame. Regardless, it seems to me that Angelina needs to let bygones go, forgive where necessary, and appreciate that there are many out there who didn't have it a quarter as good as she did as a child. The "new" mothering, good-will ambassador Angelina seems to be on a better trajectory, so for that I say hooray. I'm glad to see the path she seems to be headed in. As for the book, there was extensive time spent on her childhood and distant past, but much less on her recent years, which is the part I was more interested in. What I found truely fascinating though was the extremely incestuous nature of the Hollywood crowd... it's just shocking! You don't need to talk about 6 degrees of separation... maybe only 2 degrees! Overall, I found it interesting, but I can't say that I'd recommend it.

Kristin Hannah: Firefly Lane
I borrowed this book from a friend and was sucked into it immediately. It's as much a book about best friends as it is about mothers and daughters, and it should touch something in most women, I would suspect. It has happy moments, touching moments, tough moments, and some deeply sad moments. As you follow these two best friends over several decades of their friendship, their marriages and romances, their children, etc. The author does a fantastic job of describing the emotions of the characters in such a realistic way; I was impressed. I cried (okay, bawled) at the end, so yes, it's sad, but definitely worth the read. It makes you take a moment to reflect upon your own life, your choices, and your priorities.

Orson Scott Card: The Worthing Saga
The premise sounded interesting and it started off decently, but then it took a sharp turn downhill and never recovered. I wanted to like this sci-fi book, but in actuality, I hated it. It is the story to a man with a special, cursed gift that allows him to read other people's minds and his quest to start a new colony in a far-off galaxy. What turned me off so badly was how it started to cross over into horror. It was all about sinister deaths and misery. I rarely stop a book part-way through, but I had to stop listening to this audiobook. And I was so glad that I did. Good riddance. I will give Orson Scott Card one more chance to win me back as a reader.

Gretchen Rubin: The Happiness Project
This is a well-done self-help sort of book. What I love about it is that it's written for the person who is already happy in life and satisfied with their lives, but is always looking to improve and be even happier. Aren't we all? I'm a pretty happy person, which I'm very grateful for, but I know that there are things that I can do better, so why not? This isn't rocket science, these are just simple steps to either organize your life, prioritize your life, or focus your life better. It's about making resolutions (which she distinguishes from goals in that they are meant to be permanent lifestyle changes rather than something to reach and be done with), which is perfect to tackle come the New Year. My father and I both read this book and we both liked it. Check it out and consider making some lifestyle resolutions of your own come January. I plan to.

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