Monday, January 9, 2012

What I'm Reading 2012

Here we are with a new year and an ocean of books on my to read list. My reading dropped off a little in 2011, I somehow only made it through 24 books, but I'm back in the saddle and ready to delve into some literature in 2012! As in the past, please feel to leave comments on books you read, opinions on my "reviews" or suggestions.

The Year in Books 2011
The Year in Books 2010
The Year in Books 2009 

Beautiful Disaster - Jamie McGuire (genre: Fiction) Chronicling a dysfunctional college relationship. Grade: B-
Daughters for a Time - Jennifer Handford (genre: Fiction) After struggling with infertility, Helen and her husband decide to adopt a child from China. But their happiness is cut short when tragedy strikes their family. Grade: B+

Summer of the Mariposas - Guadalupe Garcia McCall (genre: Young Adult) After five sisters discover a dead man floating in their idyllic swimming spot in the Rio Grande River, the girls begin an odyssey to return the man to his family that takes them on an unexpected journey through the myths of Aztec legend. In the process, the bonds that hold the girls together are further cemented and they discover some unpleasant truths about their own missing father.

This book has a number of elements that should have made it a big hit for me: sisters, complicated paternal relationships, ancient mythology; unfortunately it just didn't quite hit the mark. I struggled to get into the adventure because I kept saying to myself "no one would ever do that" whenever one of the girls did something that led them into another harrowing situation. Perhaps if I were more familiar with the legends that were featured in the book, I could have been more invested in the girl's journey but the constant insertion of mythological creatures felt forced and overdone.

I loved McCall's first book, Under the Mesquite, a lyrical story that had me in tears in several places. While I enjoyed this book, it didn't have the emotional punch or connection for me. I suspect a younger audience might find this book quite enjoyable but for me the story felt somewhat flat. Grade: B

The Twelve - Justin Cronin (Science Fiction) The second in the trilogy begun so promisingly with The Passage. Middle books are a troublesome sort. They're a connector, so they don't have the clear cut ending of a standalone novel. Its always hard to tell until you've read the third book just how much was actually needed in the second and how much was fluff. This book was reasonably entertaining but often felt like filler. I guess the third book will tell. Grade: B+

Tell The Wolves I'm Home - Carol Rifka Brunt (genre: Young Adult) It doesn't happen often, but maybe once or twice a year I will read a book that burrows its way down into my psyche, that even after I'm done reading it, I'm still actively ruminating on it. A book that makes me feel so much that it almost becomes a part of my own story. This was one of those books. Such a beautifully written, poignant story about a 14 yo girl who loses her favorite uncle to AIDS and the relationship she develops with his boyfriend as they both try to make peace with his passing. Grade: A+
Legend - Marie Lu (genre: Young Adult) In a United States that is now comprised of two warring factions, The Republic and The Colonies, those in the Republic live in a strictly regulated class based society. When June, a 15yo prodigy, begins the hunt for her brother's killer, she has no idea the revelations about her government she will unearth. Grade: B-

Running With Scissors -  Augusten Burroughs (genre: Memoire) This book was painful for me to read. Grade: C-

Where She Went - Gayle Forman (genre: Fiction) The follow-up to If I Stay, the story of a young girl, Mia, who loses her family, and nearly her life, in a car accident. Now, we're following Adam, Mia's high school boyfriend. Now a hugely successful rock singer, he struggles with his newfound fame and with his unresolved feelings for Mia. Predictable, but that's not always a bad thing because this book was still very GOOD. Grade: A-
Looking for Alaska - John Green (genre: Young Adult) A 16 year old boy goes off to boarding school and finds the friendships of a lifetime in his roommate and a handful of other students, including the beautiful Alaska, the troubled girl he falls in love with. When tragedy strikes, the friends rally to find answers. Grade: A-
Skinny - Donna Cooner (genre: Young Adult) After not especially loving last month's Stone Girl, I was a little nervous coming into another book that dealt with weight issues in teens. But the premise seemed  different enough that I hoped I would enjoy it more. And I did. So much more. This is the story of  Ever, who lost her mother to cancer when she was 10 and began eating to compensate for her grief. Now 15 and 300 pounds, she is miserable within her own body, her worst thoughts and fears voiced by Skinny, the mean girl who taunts her from within. When all other diets have failed, she decides to have gastric bypass surgery. With the support of her best friend, Rat, she faces the challenges of recovering her health and her self-confidence. 

When I read the synopsis, I was afraid this book would focus on the procedure and the more clinical physical aspects. While there was certainly plenty of information about the medical side, it was purely in support of the story. This novel isn't about gastric bypass surgery, it's about a young girl and her struggles with self-esteem.  Overcoming the doubts created by our negative inner monologues and finding self-worth is a common struggle, making Ever very easy to identify with, regardless of whether you've been overweight.

I can't say that I was surprised by any of the plot twists, but I still really enjoyed this book and was rooting for Ever to the end.
Grade: A-

The Center of Everything - Laura Moriarity (genre: Young Adult) Some books hit too close to home for me to enjoy them as much as they should be. This was one of those books for me. Well written but sometimes painful for me to read because I identified in so many ways. I can't see the forest for the trees here, so it's getting a B. I wish I could go higher, because it is a GOOD book. But I just can't. Grade: B
Trapeze - Simon Mawer (genre: Historical Fiction) This book follows the experiences of a young woman who becomes a spy for the British in occupied France during World War II. I was deeply interested in the subject, as a francophile and a lover of history, but I feel a little let down by this book. Clever wordsmithing and interesting characters but just not enough meat to the story. Grade: B-

Insurgent - Veronica Roth (genre: Young Adult) Set in a future where society has been broken out into factions that each serve a distinct purpose, those who don't fit into their faction are anathema. Tris is one of these people. As the factions begin to battle, we learn more about how their city came to be.
Insurgent picks up exactly where Divergent left off and answered a few of the questions that lingered from the first book. I actually enjoyed this book more than the first and am excited for the third in the trilogy. Grade: A-
Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter Seth Grahame-Smith (genre: History/Paranormal) I listened to this in the audiobook format, which I believe was to the detriment of my experience. I fell asleep while listened at least 8 times. There was enough there to keep me going until the end but I really struggled. Maybe someday I'll go back and actually read this book as I've heard so many positive reviews but I doubt it. Grade: C

The Stone Girl - Alyssa Sheinmel (genre: Young Adult) Going into her senior year at a prestigious New York City all girls prep school, Sethie struggles with body image issues. As the year progresses, her emotional state and personal relationships degenerate as she becomes more and more obsessed with her weight and appearance.

When I received this book, I was interested to see how the author demonstrated the hot topic issue of eating disorders. They are not something I have faced personally, but I have seen their devastating effects on friends. I wish I could say that after having read it, I feel I have had a glimpse into the mind of a person who battles these demons, but I really don't.

This book was written in the third person, however we only see Sethie's point of view. I feel this was a serious detriment to my involvement in her story. If ever a story called out for first person narrative, this is it. The bigger issue for me, though, is that this book tried too hard to be too many things. While it's easy to say it's about a girl with an eating disorder, so little of the book is actually spent delving into her thoughts. A considerable amount of time is spent on the three significant relationships in her life, her boyfriend, best friend and mother. However, we still don't see enough of any of these to make a real connection.

I wanted to like this book more because I do feel the author can turn a phrase. She created a believable character in a flawed and interesting world. I definitely saw myself in some of her actions, I was that self-destructive teenager, but I left this book wanting. And not in a good way. Grade: B-

Monument 14 - Emmy Laybourne (genre: Young Adult/Science Fiction) When a series of natural disasters turn their world upside down, 14 children barricade themselves in a big box superstore in an attempt to survive the aftermath. An engrossing read. Can't wait to see what happens in the next book. Grade: A-

The Selection - Keira Cass (genre: Young Adult) The Selection is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the US has been reorganized into a new group of states and is now ruled by a monarchy. In order to make the "little people" feel like part of the family, whenever there is an eligible prince, they hold a lottery to choose 35 potential brides for him. From there a "Bachelor" style selection process ensues, complete with televised "dates" and eliminations. Sadly, my opinion of this book suffers in that I am so weary of books that needlessly draw out the story to create a trilogy or, ugh, more. I don't know what happens in the following books but I am 100% certain it could all have easily fit into one slightly longer book with some judicious editing. Despite this, an enjoyable read, just wait until they've all come out so you can power through them without having to wait. Grade: B+


The Death Cure - James Dashner (genre: Young Adult/Science Fiction) Oy vey. I really, really wanted the third in the trilogy begun so promisingly with The Maze Runner to bring a satisfying conclusion to the story. I wanted the time that I spent reading the dismal second book, The Scorch Trials, to have been worth it. I wanted to understand how in the sam hell torturing and killing children could possibly provide the information that would find a cure for the zombie virus. Sadly, none of that was the case. I struggled through every one of the 336 pages. Not good. Not good at all. Grade: D- 

The Age of Miracles - Karen Walker (Young Adult/Science Fiction) When the earth's rotation suddenly starts slowing, Julia quite literally finds her world in chaos. While I had a hard time believing the science in this book, I loved the lead character and empathized with her plight. More a coming of age tale than science fiction, this book was lyrical and beautiful. Grade: A-

If I Stay - Gayle Forman (Young Adult/Supernatural) Following a devastating car crash, Mia, a talented cellist, struggles to come to terms with her new situation. At turns heartbreaking and uplifting with occasional humor, I loved this book. Grade: A

Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher (Young Adult) After a girl he had a crush on kills herself, Clay receives a series of tapes that she recorded explaining why she did it. A heartbreaking read about teenage suicide. Grade: A-

Gone Girl - Gillian Glynn (genre: Fiction/Mystery) A real page turner, I was completely hooked from the beginning. The story of a New York couple who after losing their writing jobs moves back to Missouri to help care for the husband's dying mother. But their marriage falters under the strain of their new life and dark questions are raised when the wife disappears on their 5th anniversary. This book kept me guessing right up until the end. Loved. Grade: A+

Forsaken - Lisa Stasse (genre: Young Adult/Science Fiction) I went into The Forsaken with some dystopia weariness. There has been a dearth of series in this genre in recent years. Many of them really quite good: Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Divergent; some not quite so fantastic. I quite enjoy the genre, but even fans can find themselves a little tired of the subject from time to time. After stalling a bit starting it, I finally jumped in with both feet.

I wish I could say that I was sucked in immediately, but the first half was slow to catch my interest. The action is fast paced from the beginning, which makes it a page-turner but we don't really get to know Alenna or the supporting characters. Without an emotional connection to the lead, it was hard for me to get involved. I understand that Alenna is supposed to be "everykid" but she's the hero of our tale, so I expect a little more. But as the book progressed, I found myself more engaged and invested in the storyline, so much so that by the time there were major reveals in the second half, I was totally hooked and surprised. There were definitely some great twists!

When I began the book, I found myself constantly comparing plot elements to other books in the genre. But despite some early similarities, The Forsaken took turns that definitively set it apart from its fellows. And while I would like to see a little more character development, it is a unique and well-thought out world. I am excited to see what happens in the next books! Grade: A-

Let's Pretend This Never Happened - Jenny Lawson (genre: Memoire) I've read The Bloggess off and on since I began blogging. She is hilarious but often disconcertingly manic and this book is true to that form. Occasionally laugh out loud funny, this book was interesting but I found myself struggling at times to finish it. It was a good book for the treadmill. Grade: B+

The Unidentified Redhead - Alice Clayton (genre: Romance) When Grace returns to Hollywood at the age of 34, she never expected to begin a romance with the hot, YOUNG new star of an upcoming movie but that's exactly what happens and she's loving every minute of it. Fun, funny book. Less erotica than I was expecting, given this book was recommended as a quality alternative to the 50 Shades books, but enough titilation to keep things interesting. Grade: A- 

Sun of Suns - Karl Shroeder (genre: Science Fiction) In a galaxy comprised of a giant balloon with artificial suns and gravity, Hayden comes to Slipstream with the intention of killing Admiral Chaison Fanning but gets embroiled in a much larger situation that has him questioning his motives and allegiances. Grade: B- 

The Dark and Hollow Places - Carrie Ryan (genre: Horror, Young Adult) The final novel in the trilogy begun with the Forest of Hands and Teeth. In this book, we follow Annah, the twin sister of Abigail (Gabry). Fending for herself in the city, Annah is scarred, scared and alone. But a surprise discovery changes her world and escape seems possible. Grade: B+ 

Will Grayson, Will Grayson - John Green (genre: Young Adult) In the suburbs of Chicago there are two 16 year old Will Graysons, each facing their own challenges. On one fateful night, the two boys, previously strangers, meet and their lives are changed. I love this book. It very positively portrays young homosexuals and their relationships. Grade: A+
The Kitchen House - Kathleen Grissom (genre: Historical Fiction) I am honestly surprised by how many glowing reviews I have seen for this book. It fell completely flat for me. The characters were stereotypes in nearly every way. The dual narrative added nothing. I felt there was a lot of promise to this story. I have not heard much about the lives of indentured white servants during that era. But this book disappointed. Grade: C
When You Were Mine - Rebecca Serle (genre: Young Adult) A modern day retelling of the Romeo and Juliet tale, told from the perspective of the jilted Rosaline. Only now it's Rosie, Rob and Juliet. There is the requisite familial chasm and all the teenage snarking and bickering you'd expect from a group of hormonally charged adolescents. 

I really liked Rosie. Probably because I've been Rosie on an occasion or twelve. Falling for someone who seems to fall for you only to have them fall for someone else. And the anguish and hope and betrayal and depression that goes along with that experience. I loved the relationships Rosie had with her two best girl friends and the surprise love interest she developed.  

For the most part I enjoyed this book, but I felt the back story lacked substance. It felt like the author didn't really focus on the plausibility of the rift, only that it is there to set the stage for the current scenario. For such rational, down to earth people as Rosie's parents seemed to be, their past behavior and complete dismissal of her father's only brother seems surprising and out of character. Furthermore, the entire book paints Juliet's family as a bunch of crazies, with Juliet as the most vindictive and hateful of the bunch. We did get a glimpse of a more rational and humane Juliet at the end but by then the die is cast and we all know how it turns out for her. I think this book would have been more enjoyable if the author had veered away from villainous stereotypes (cheating politician! spoiled rotten rich girl!) and introduced believably flawed characters who did bad things. Grade: B+

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern (genre: Fiction) In the late 1800s, two ageless magicians make a wager, pitting two young people with no knowledge of the rules, each other or the price of victory against each other. Set in a magical circus, the competitors battle over the years to a dramatic conclusion. Beautifully detailed and narrated, I really enjoyed this book. Grade: A

Warm Bodies - Isaac Marion (genre: Fiction, Horror) Although I'm getting a little burnt out on the zombie thing, I had heard good things about this book so I thought I'd give it a try. This is the story of R. He's a zombie. He doesn't know what his name was or what he did but he knows that he has a real penchant for human brains. But on a routine human hunting expedition, he unexpectedly finds himself drawn to a human girl, Julie, who he saves and takes back to the airport where he lives. An unlikely friendship develops between the girl and the zombie. I would not have expected to be emotionally invested in this admittedly disgusting relationship, but I was. Grade: A-

Dead Reckoning - Charlaine Harris (genre: Fiction, Paranormal) The latest installment in the Sookie Stackhouse saga. As with all of the other books, Dead Reckoning was light fare: entertaining to read but doesn't require much in the way of deep thought. Grade: B-

The Dead - Charles Higson (genre: Young Adult) The prequel to The Enemy, The Dead takes us back to London immediately following the outbreak of the "sickness" that has created zombies out of all humans over the age of 16. We follow a group of schoolchildren as they flee their school in search of a safe haven. While this book was reasonably satisfying, it is clearly the middle of a three book series, so there's a great big question mark at the end. I will definitely read the next book when it comes out, but I'm a little frustrated at the ending. Grade: B+ 

Goodnight Tweetheart - Teresa Medeiros (genre: Fiction) Four years ago, Abby Donovan wrote the great American Novel. Oprah even gave it her stamp of approval. Fast forward to now, and she's stuck on Chapter 5 of her next book. For three years. To appease her publicist, she gets on to Twitter to engage her fans but she makes an unexpected connection. I read this book in about 3 hours. It was clever and fun. Grade: A-  

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats - Jan-Phillip Sendeker (genre: Fiction) After her father's disappearance, Julia goes to Burma to find out what happened to him. Along the way, she discovers there was so much more to her father than she ever expected. This is a beautiful and tragic love story. Grade: A

The Girl in the Park - Mariah Fredericks (genre: Young Adult)
When her former best friend, Wendy, is found murdered in Central Park, Rain starts looking for possible suspects among her fellow students at an elite New York City prep school. Rain was a compelling protagonist. We've all felt different at one point or another and I felt enormous empathy towards her because of her condition. While I often felt she was careless in her behavior, it was believable for someone of her age and experience. I enjoyed discovering more about Wendy through Rain's memories, revealing more of their friendship and Wendy's past as the book progressed. I figured out the killer fairly early in the story, but it was an enjoyable read and kept me entertained through to the end. Grade: A-

Mistborn - Brandon Sanderson (genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy) I was a little leery going into this book because it is the first in a series and I have been pretty disappointed in series lately. Too often, the books are not standalone stories that can be read independently of the series. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed reading this. It follows a skaa (peasant) girl who has extraordinary powers that she is only just learning how to use and control. Grade: B+

Getting Over Garrett Delaney - Abby McDonald (genre: Young Adult) Sadie is in love with the boy of her dreams. He's smart, handsome, witty, interesting and completely unaware of her affections. He's also her best friend. When they're separated for the summer while he goes away to literary camp, Sadie embarks on a mission to purge him from her heart. In the process, she discovers she's not the girl she thought she was.

I enjoyed this book. I would call it the quintessential beach read. The story is solid, the characters interesting, if a bit flat, and the pace is quick. But. There just isn't anything that really stands out for me. There were no twists that surprised me, the ending was entirely expected, the dialogue was witty but not too terribly clever, and there were no really outstanding characters, even Sadie herself. This book is the literary equivalent of Chinese food. Thoroughly enjoyable but you're hungry again a couple hours later. Grade: B

Born Wicked - Jessica Spotswood (genre: Young Adult/Paranormal/Historical Fiction)
I went in to this with high expectations. I enjoy historical fiction, throw in witches and I'm in heaven. Unfortunately, this book did not live up to my hopes. My primary complaint is that this book does not hold up as a stand alone story. I understand that it is part of a trilogy, but a well paced series allows for each book to be a solid, enjoyable read, one that contains all the required story elements and leads into a continuation. The characters were poorly developed and there was very little focus on the relationships between them. The sisters, the girls and their father, Cate and Sachi/Rory. The love story, or stories, are extremely shallow. I get that she's 16 and impetuous, but deciding to marry Finn? After a few weeks infatuation? When she never noticed him before? How can she so easily dismiss Paul? It strains believability for me.This book didn't hold my attention enough to even want to read the next in the series. Grade: C-

Front Porch Prophet - Raymond Atkins (genre: Fiction) We got this as a Free Friday book on our Nook. We download a lot of these, with the thought that "someday" we'll get around to them. I found myself on the treadmill with no internet and no way to watch Doctor Who, so I browsed through the books on my iPad and this one looked interesting. I might not have read it otherwise, but I'm glad I did. I really enjoyed it. Grade: B+

Maine - J. Courtney Sullivan (genre: Fiction) This was one of my book club books. It was proposed as a "beach read" type book and maybe if I had read it at the beach, my opinion would be better. It is the story of three generations of women in a New England family. This book was so uninteresting that I struggled through every single one of the 385 pages. The characters were roundly unlikable, there wasn't a single one that I could identify with and root for. But the much bigger problem is that there was no story, just a collection of scenes. There was no development, no climax, no resolution. Huge disappointment. Grade: D 

The Fault in our Stars - John Green (genre: Young Adult) 16 year old Hazel is a terminal cancer patient. She's spends most of her life in and out of hospitals. She thinks she knows what the rest of her short life will be like, but then she meets Augustus and suddenly a world of possibilities erupts. Beautiful, uplifting, real, heartbreaking, I fell in love with the characters. Grade: A+

Fuzzy Nation - John Scalzi (genre: Science Fiction) My first foray into the world of audio books. I was a sceptic, but I was intrigued by the story premise and I had a few hours to kill. The story begins with Jack Halloway finding a huge deposit of precious jewels on a distant planet, but then he comes into contact with an animal that might be sentient and things get very complicated. Quick, fun read. Grade: A-

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline (genre: Science Fiction) Set in a not too distant future where the planet's fossil fuels have been depleted and people literally live inside a virtual world, OASIS, kids go to school there, people work there, fall in love there. When the creator of OASIS dies, himself a product the 1980s, he leaves his entire wealth to whomever can solve a game he created within the virtual reality. A race ensues. Loved this book! Grade: A

Graffiti Moon - Cath Crowley (genre: Young Adult) Remember when one night could mean everything? When you could chase your dreams, and find them, in the space between sunset and sunrise? In Graffiti Moon, we relive one of those nights.

Graffiti Moon is narrated by three characters: Lucy, Ed and Leo. Lucy, who's greatest desire is to meet Shadow, a graffiti artist with such talent and depth, she has fallen in love with him through his art. Ed, who is, of course, secretly Shadow, but because of a disastrous first, and only, date with Lucy, he keeps that from her. And Leo, the other half of Shadow's graffiti team, the Poet. While the boys kill time leading up to planned late night shenanigans, they help Lucy and her friends in an attempt to track down Shadow that leads them all over Melbourne, Australia.

Beyond the principals, this book was full of real, multi-dimensional characters. Lucy's parents were quirky and unpredictable, Ed's late boss was wise and funny; supporting characters Jazz, Leo, Daisy and Dylan were flawed and believable. In fact, everyone in the book, with the exception of the psycopathic villain, were absolutely relatable.

I loved the he said/she said writing style. Being inside the principal characters' heads allows readers to see both sides of the situation. I felt their longing and their anguish. A beautifully written story. Officially my first book of the year and we're off to a banging start. Grade: A+ 

On Deck:
Prized - Caragh M. Obrien
Bitterblue - Kristin Cashore
City of Fallen Angels - Cassandra Clare
Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand
A Little Wanting Song - Cath Crowley 
A Visit From The Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
Here Lies Bridget by Paige Harbison:
The Opposite of Me - Sarah Pekkanen
Disquiet - Julia Leigh
Truth - Robin Wasserman
Wake - Lisa McCann
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Blue Bloods - Melissa De La Cruz
Uglies - Scott Westerfeld
Still Alice - Lisa Genova
Outlander - Diana Gabaldon
The Road - Cormac McCarthy
The Happiness Project - Gretchen Rubin
Willow - Julia Hoban
Private Life - Jane Smiley
The Domino Men - Jonathan Barnes
Eat Pray Love - Elizabeth Gilbert

Going forward this post will be updated after I read each book and can be reached by clicking the "What's On The Bookshelf" link at the top right of the page. I pick almost all of my books based on suggestions from friends, so please feel free to leave a comment with a recommendation at any time during the year!