Saturday, January 01, 2011

Books Read in 2011

To be continually updated as I read...

1. Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin. Novel about a young mom whose 5-year-old is injured at a campfire; she and her son's plastic surgeon fall in love. Two narrators: this mom, and the plastic surgeon's wife, take turns telling the story. Excellent story! A.

2. Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts. This one was a little too graphic for my taste, but it's the last one in a series of four that my cousin and I have both been reading. Roberts' Bride Quartet tells the stories of four women who run a wedding business: photographer, florist, baker and coordinator, and how each of them becomes engaged. Predictable? Yes--but there is still a part of me that wishes I was as organized as the main character in this story! The characters were interesting. C+.

3. As Young As We Feel by Melody Carlson. Four women attend a class reunion and run into their old friends from first grade--all named Linda (so they all wound up using their middle names). Though they drifted apart in high school and beyond, they wind up coming back together and all are drawn to their hometown. B+.

4. All I Can Handle: I'm No Mother Teresa by Kim Stagliano. I heard about this book on The Catholics Next Door and wanted to read it. This is the memoir of a mom whose 3 daughters are all autistic, to varying degrees. Stagliano pulls no punches--she is wide open about what she believes, how she works to raise her children the best way she can, and her feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted. I'm not sure I buy the vaccination theory of autism, and the book was heavy on that by the end. But it's an excellent look into how one family deals with life with three handicapped children. Language alert--while subject matter may be fine for high schoolers, Stagliano has a sailor's vocabulary. Kindle edition. B.

5. Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes. A young woman who left home after she became pregnant, never telling the baby's father--or her own--returns with her 5-year-old child because she is dying of cancer. This novel tells how she prepares her young daughter for life without a mom. Heartbreaking--and amazing. Kindle edition. A.

6. Room by Emma Donoghue. If you can only read ONE book this year, this should be the one. Told from the perspective of 5-year-old Jack, this is the story of a little boy who spends his entire first 5 years in an 11-by-11 room. His mother was kidnapped as an older teenager and forced to live in this backyard prison by her captor, who fathered her two children (the first was stillborn). But the mom knows that they can't stay there forever. Don't miss this book. A+!!

7. Rachel's Contrition by Michelle Buckman. There's been a lot of buzz about this book--and it's definitely worth the read. It's a tough story to read--a young mother deals with losing her mind after she loses a child. But the story of how she helps a young girl in crisis while enduring her own crisis is a touching one, with a compelling twist at the end. A+.

8. Faithful Place by Tana French. A murder mystery--not my usual fare, but this was quite good. Set in Ireland, this story has not one but two murders to solve. Is it a sign of a good reader or a poor writer that I figured out "whodunit" by page 118 of a 400-page book? No, I didn't look ahead to see if I was right, and I'm glad I persevered and read the whole story. I recommend this! A.

9. Living Oprah by Robyn Okrant. I saw this on the library shelf and was intrigued. An artist gets the idea to spend a year of her life taking every bit of advice that Oprah Winfrey dishes out. Sometimes that worked, sometimes not. I was not disabused of any opinions I have about Oprah, and I've probably watched her show 5 times. I'm not interested in Oprah, but this experiment fascinated me. She gave over an awful lot of control of her life to a TV personality she'd never met. Then she got a book deal. If you're interested in what makes people tick, this is a good book for you. B.

10. Unplanned by Abby Johnson. Reviewed here.

11. Danny Gospel by David Athey. I found this to be a strange, strange book. It was like reading about someone's dreams. I'm not giving it a grade; I barely was able to finish it.

12. Hearts on a String by Kris Radish. This was a fun book, with some interesting twists and turns. The premise: 5 women wind up sharing a hotel suite because their flights are cancelled due to severe weather. It turns into a journey of self-discovery for all of them. I'll look for more by this author! B+.

13. A Scattered Life by Karen McQuestion. This novel focuses on the lives of a few suburban women. One loves--but is a little overwhelmed by--her many children; the other has only one child and wants to expand her horizons once that child starts school. Their friendship, as well as one woman's relationship with her mother-in-law, are the subject of this excellent book. A.

14. Left Neglected by Lisa Genova. A "power mom" suffers a brain injury. This is a before, during, and after novel. The author, a neuroscientist, explores what it is like to have a brain injury that causes the sufferer to lost the ability to perceive anything coming from the left side of the body. Fascinating book! A+.

15. Gone to Green by Judy Pace Christie. The story of a journalist who inherits a small-town newspaper. Will she stay and make a difference--or sell and return to the big city? Enjoyable Christian novel. B.

16. The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell. It's two stories, alternating chapter by chapter, and you know they're going to somehow link up at the end. Exactly HOW is the surprise. There's Lexie, an artist/journalist in 1950s/60s London. And there's Elina and her husband, new parents both facing crises of memory. It didn't turn out as I suspected it would, but that didn't mean the ending wasn't plausible. Good stuff! B+.

17. Rescue by Anita Shreve. An EMT responds to a car accident and winds up falling in love with a woman who caused the accident by driving while intoxicated. How does this play out 18 years later when the woman is long gone and the EMT is raising their daughter alone? This was a well-written, compelling story. A.

18. Wading Home by Rosalyn Story. Kindle edition. Hurricane-Katrina fiction, finely done. The story of a young jazz musician who only wants to get out of town and run toward fame, and his father who is attached to his neighborhood and to some bayou land outside the city. Just as the storm hits, a challenge to the ownership of the land is also posed. Highly recommended! A+.

19. Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland. The technical details behind the manufacture of stained-glass objects were fascinating; the main character, though, irritated me. The book went on overlong, and ended abruptly. C+.

20. The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond. Memoir of one section of this popular food blogger's life: from the day she met "Marlboro Man" to their oldest child's infancy. If you like her blog, you'll like this book. Drummond writes like she's telling the story to her best friend over tea. B+.

21. Leaving Cecil Street by Diane McKinney-Whetstone. This novel takes place in Southwest Philadelphia in the late '60s. It's a vivid portrait of a neighborhood over the course of one summer and deals in large part with the consequences of a botched illegal abortion--not too different than the botched legal ones that until recently were taking place not far from that neighborhood. B+.

22. Who Is My Shelter? by Neta Jackson. Fourth in a series--read the others first. If you haven't, read the "Yada Yada" series before those. I enjoy this author's Christian women's fiction. B.

23. Long Time Coming by Vanessa Miller. Predictable, but a good read. This novel brings together 2 women of different backgrounds: a school principal in her midthirties who is dealing with infertility, and a young cancer patient who, at 23, has 3 children already. I thought this author was a little heavy-handed on the "Christian" part of the story, but it was enjoyable.

24. Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos. This book reads like poetry. A barista, heavy on the "romantic" in personality, falls in love with a shallow but extremely handsome man. Eventually she winds up caring for this man's daughter who has been surviving the roller-coaster life of a child whose mother is suffering a breakdown due to bipolar disorder. A-.

25. Getting In by Karen Stabiner. If you've got a child in high school or college you'll enjoy this look at the high-pressure world of college admissions, seen through the eyes of 5 Los Angeles families. A great read. B+.

26. I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson. A 40-something woman is transported back to her teen years when she finds an old letter announcing she has won a contest and will get to meet David Cassidy. And she claims the prize! B+.

27. Life from Scratch kindle edition by Melissa Ford. I got this as a Kindle freebie and it was funny and endearing. A young divorced woman who can't cook but has a kitchen full of expensive wedding gifts decides to start a blog and learn to cook. Great stuff. B+.

28. Hometown Ties by Melody Carlson. Second in a series about four women who met in Kindergarten, all named Linda. Now they've met again and are all getting a new start in life. B.

29. Love in a Time of Homeschooling by Laura Brodie. Interesting memoir about a year in the life of a mom and daughter who homeschool just for a year. B.

30. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This book was fascinating and intense. Told from the point of view of Death, it follows a young German girl though the Holocaust years, including a time when her family hides a young Jewish man. A+!

31. Look Again by Lisa Scottoline. What would you do if you got one of those "Have you seen this child" postcards in the mail--and your adopted son's photo was on the card? Great suspense novel. A bit farfetched at the end, but it was a fun read. B+.

32. My Teenage Werewolf by Lauren Kessler. See larger review here.

33. The Glory of Green by Judy Christie. Fans of the "Green" novels by Christie will enjoy this next installment which begins with a wedding--and a tornado. B+.

34. Townie by Andre Dubus III. There's a lot of anger and bitterness in this book, which is a memoir of Dubus' growing-up years until his dad's death. Graphic language is rampant; this book is not for kids! B.

35. Divine by Karen Kingsbury. A bit over-the-top, but a good story about the spiritual transformation of women in a battered-women's shelter. B.

36. The Potluck Club by Linda Evans Shepherd & Eva Marie Everson. An enjoyable story about a group of women--not all of whom like to cook--who get together to pray a little and dish a lot. B.

37. Delivered with Love by Sherry Kyle. A Christian romance novel about a woman who wants to find the identity of the "mystery man" in her mom's past, and ends up finding her father and more.

38. The Little Known by Janice Daugharty. A 12-year-old boy finds a bag of stolen money from a bank robbery. He tries to help others by giving them money and discovers that throwing money at people's problems can't solve them. Excellent book. A.

39.  Crazy U:  One Dad's Crash Course in Getting his Kid into College by Andrew Ferguson.  I enjoyed this book because many of the same scenes happened around my house as we went through Big Brother's senior year with him.  Ferguson's book was a funny look--and good commentary--on the college-application process.  That said, I'm kind of glad I didn't read it BEFORE Big Brother's senior year or I'd have been more than a little disillusioned.  B+.

40.  The Book of Tomorrow by Cecilia Ahern.  What happens when your journal shows what you've written for TOMORROW?  Can you change the future?  Would you want to?  Don't miss this one.  A+.

41.  Courting Trouble by Lisa Scottoline.  Lawyer drama, set in Philly.  Enjoyable!  B.

42.  Another Dawn by Kathryn Cushman.  A novel that deals with the question of vaccination--from both sides of the coin.  Interesting.  B.

43.  Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin.  You're the maid of honor in your best friend's wedding--and you have an affair with the groom-to-be.  All the neatly-tied-up endings in the world don't make this completely better; this was a well-written book but I still was uncomfortable with the premise.  However, the characters were completely believable.  B.

44.  The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  It's a big book and starts slow but is well worth it.  My one beef with this novel is the constant shift of narrator and setting.  It begins with a small child, alone on a ship from England to Australia.  Eventually she has the chance to begin to find out the story of her early life.  Her granddaughter finishes that mission.  A.

45.  Life's a Beach by Claire Cook.  A fun novel about an artist and her on-and-off boyfriend, her parents and her sister who seemingly has the perfect life.  A great summer book.  B+.

46.  Mistaken Identity by Lisa Scottoline.  Courtroom drama/mystery/thriller set in Philadelphia.  B.

47.  Running from the Law by Lisa Scottoline.  Courtroom drama/mystery/thriller set in Philadelphia.  B.

48.  Best-Staged Plans by Claire Cook.  A cute beach read about an empty-nester who wants to downsize her family home even as she grows her own real-estate-staging business.  B.

49.   Threading the Needle by Marie Bostwick.  Fourth in a series (read the others first!).  Several story lines dealing with a quilt shop in a small Connecticut town.  B.

50.  Viola in the Spotlight by Adriana Trigiani.  Teen book by an author whose work I enjoy.  This is the second in a series about a young teenage girl who's been away from her hometown and friends for a year and then returns.  B+.

51.  A Turn in the Road by Debbie Macomber.  This one is related to the Blossom Street series.  It didn't really pull me in, but I did see it through to the end and was glad it ended as it did.  C+.

52.  Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares.  Unless you are a total, complete and committed fan of the "Traveling Pants" series, don't even bother.  I was unimpressed.  C.

53.  I Totally Meant to Do That by Jane Borden.  This memoir has a fun premise:  a Southerner getting used to life in New York City.  And there's some funny stuff in there.  Unfortunately, not enough funny stuff to carry the book.  More of it winds up being the author's dithering about where she'd rather live:  NYC or North Carolina.  B.

54. All for One by Melody Carlson.  Third in the "Four Linda series" (make sure to read them in order), this is an enjoyable novel about four women in midlife who are all starting over in one way or another.  A great testament to the power of friendship.  B.

55.  Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy.  This novel began on a sad premise:  a young woman is pregnant and has cancer; she's kept alive long enough to give birth to a child she'll never even hold or see.  She contacts a man with whom she shared a one-night stand and tells him about the baby.  He turns his life around while he raises his child, and little Frankie touches the lives of the whole community as well.  Characters from other Binchy books are features, but you don't need to have read those to make sense of this story.  B+.

56.  Here, Home, Hope by Kaira Ruda.  What's with all the stories about home-staging businesses lately?  This one is about a mom who looks to reinvent her life before she turns 40.  Her new projects involve starting a home-staging business and taking in a friend's anorexic daughter, among others.  It's a sweet story and good first novel; I await more good books by this author.  B+.

57.  Save Me by Lisa Scottoline.  This is a good one!  A mom volunteering in the school lunchroom must make a choice when the cafeteria catches fire:  escort other children all the way outside, or go back for her own daughter who's trapped in the bathroom.  The consequences of her decision are far-reaching and not what you'd expect.  Don't miss it.  A.

58.  Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley.  Want to know what it's like to grow up with severe food allergies?  Want to know what a young woman with such allergies thinks about peanut-free classrooms? This was a really good book, written by someone who has "been there."  A.

59.  Seamus O'Flynn by Bill Tobin.  Detailed review here.

60.  In Name Only by Ellen Gable.  Detailed review here.

61.  A Cup of Friendship by Deborah Rodriguez.  This novel was good but not compelling.  It's the story of a cafe in Kabul, Afghanistan, and the people who work there.  There were tons of subplots, which were kind of distracting.  B.

62.  The Potluck Club Takes the Cake by Linda Evans Shepherd and Eva Marie Everson.  With this one, I've read all the "Potluck Club" novels, though not in order.  The authors do quite a good job of helping a reader new to the storyline, so it's not completely necessary to have read them in order.  These novels are fun, "clean," Christian novels about a group of friends who help each other through personal difficulties.  Enjoyable and light.  There are a few recipes at the end of the book that look really good, too!  B.

63.  Needles and Pearls by Gil McNeil.  Sequel to The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club, this novel about a single mom raising 2 little boys and running her own yarn shop is charming and funny.  Read the other book first!  B+.

64.  The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown.  Three adult daughters of a Shakespeare professor all return home after personal crises and during their mother's illness.  This book is written in first person PLURAL, which was really interesting and it worked so well for the story.  If you like literature, you'll love this.  A.

4 comments:

Esther G. said...

You read Room? Is it disturbing?

Barb, sfo said...

It's extremely disturbing--haunting. But excellent! It was amazing how the author got into the head of this little boy. I'd say this is appropriate for high school or older. Nothing graphic; it's all psychological.

Esther G. said...

Thanks. BTW, I couldn't finish The Lovely Bones. I will give this one a go.

Kim Rossi Stagliano said...

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! :) Hi, I'm Kim and thanks for the review. My editor and I agonized over the one spelled out "F-bomb." Should we? We did because it was in response to GiGi Jordan having mercilessly murdered her son with autism. I believe I said "Blank sympathy," because some in the media were expressing pity for her. Again, thanks for the review.

Best,

KIM