So way back on Day 1 of this blog, I wrote a long explanation of why I read so obsessively. I won’t rehash all of that again but feel free to check it out if you missed it. Instead of doing one big one at the end of the year, I thought I’d split it up a bit…so this is part one of my Reading Extravaganza of 2012!
* indicates a favorite
** indicates a super favorite
1. Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell Fiction—Coming of Age
I was intrigued about this book because it is set around the Kalamazoo River which is where my parents live. I thought it might be like the female version of Huckleberry Finn—how cool would that be? There were parts of this book that I liked but overall it was pretty dark throughout with a too cheery ending for my taste.
2. **The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan Fiction/Poetry
Oh I loved this clever little read! Each chapter begins with a word and then what follows is an expert of a love story that gives that word meaning. While the story is particular to one couple, it somehow delves into the universality of love. I would definitely recommend this read but my one advice is to have a dictionary nearby!
3. Wildwood by Colin Meloy Young Adult/Fantasy
This book had every single element that should make for a great adventure story but it just felt like it was trying too hard. It was still a good read but I did feel disappointed a bit by it. The illustrations by Carson Ellis were amazing, though.
4. The Little Bride by Anna Solomon Historical Fiction
I really liked the historical significance that this book portrayed—about a young Jewish girl traveling to the West as a mail order bride. But her selfishness made it tough to like her. Even more so, I found myself getting so frustrated with how she acted. It just felt like this book had a bad mood surrounding it.
5. Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier Historical Fiction
This is a story that I’ve been hovering around for several years and finally got around to reading. I was very intrigued by this book as it is a fictional story based around the real Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer and his famous painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring. It was quite simple in its prose but I was immediately drawn into the story, the household, and the painting.
6. **The Fault In Our Stars by John Green Young Adult
This book had me on such a rollercoaster of emotions—either I was bawling or I was laughing. Green has taken two very real kids who are living with the dark cloud of cancer looming above them—and shown a story of love, humor, and grace. Heart wrenching? Yes. But the questions about life, death, and love are so beautiful that it makes up for any smeared mascara.
7. It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini Young Adult
This was an interesting book to read right after The Fault in Our Stars as it dealt with another smart kid who grapples with the bigger questions in life. He is a bit unlikable in his teenage self but at the same time, his struggles with the pressures of life make him very relatable and easy to be sympathetic towards. A very good read about mental illness in ourselves and loved ones.
8. All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang Fiction
I was quite intrigued by this story while reading it. It drew me in—but quietly. It was one of those books that I finished but kept thinking about for weeks after. I can’t say it is my favorite, but it definitely is worth reading for any writer/artist/poet.
9. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling Nonfiction/Humor
I think I was on the library’s hold list for this book for roughly….7 months. I was sooo looking forward to this book and for the most part, I was satisfied. The beginning of the book was really good—especially her stories about growing up—but the funnies did start to drift off towards the end. Still gave me plenty of chuckles, though.
10. The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean Historical Fiction
This book took me a long time to get into it because it bounces back and forth between the present day story and the story set in Leningrad in ’41. The story of Leningrad during the war is so interesting that I kept getting frustrated when we’d leave the story to go into the present day lives of the characters. Towards the end of the book, I began to appreciate the jumps a bit more and could see the importance of seeing the present day story, as well as the old. Overall, it is a good read about a story you don’t always hear about.
11. Hitler’s Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti Historical Nonfiction
I grew up reading a lot of books about World War II and the Holocaust so I was a little suspicious that I had already read all that would be in this book…but I was wrong. This is a really good look at how Hitler understood the power of young people and how he went about manipulating them. A very important read!
12. Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela Fiction
This story took me a while to get into and I often thought about putting it down and moving on to something else. But I’m glad I stuck with it! As I got more comfortable with her writing rhythm, I started getting to know the characters, their motives, and their culture.
13. Feeling for Bones by Bethany Pierce Young Adult Fiction
A thoughtful look about a teenage girl suffering with anorexia as her family crumbles around her. A good subject but…I wanted more from the book. The writing somehow kept me at a distance the whole time I was reading so it was hard to really connect with it.
14. Hector and the Secrets of Love by Francois Lelord Fiction/Philosophy
This was a very fun, light read—all while asking some big questions about the nature of love. Lelord has a very interesting writing style—almost like a children’s story—which makes it seem like a lighter book than it is. My hubby gave me this book for Valentine’s Day—and it proved to be a good find!
15. Player One by Douglas Coupland Fiction/Apocalyptic
Douglas Coupland doing what he does best—asking big questions and examining our society as if through a microscope. He addresses a lot of the same issues that concerns him in his previous books but it still was very thought provoking. The book is set immediately after the price of oil sky rockets so the world is amidst chaos. As a big fan of Coupland, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If you haven’t ever read any of his books…don’t start with this one.
16. *Jim the Boy by Tony Earley Historical/Young Adult Fiction
I have to admit…I thought that Jim the Boy was a pretty lame title. And then the cover….woof. But I am so glad that I picked this book up. It is such a beautiful, simple story of a boy growing up in a small town. Quiet scenes fill the book with a strong presence and feel. One of the most surprising reads so far. I liked it so much I bought three copies and gave two away!
17. The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace Historical Fiction
This is based on the true story about the invention of the typewriter. This book almost feels magical to me—as the main character is a free spirited child who loves the natural world, her freedom, and imagination. As she begins to lose her eyesight, she learns to love and experience the world differently. There are some bothersome qualities of the book but after meeting Carey Wallace and thoroughly enjoying who she is…I can easily overlook them!
18. Great House by Nicole Krauss Fiction/Short Stories
This book intrigued me because it all revolves around one desk. Each short story mentions/focuses on the same desk and ultimately all of the stories do intersect at the end. I really wanted to love this book because I loved The History of Love so much. But…it was a bit too disengaged for me. It wasn’t quite a collection of short stories and it wasn’t quite a novel.
19. *The Truth About Celia by Kevin Brockmeier Fiction/Fantasy
This is such a clever book as it is set up as a book inside of a book. There are two cover pages—the real one and then the fake one introducing the book that the fictional Christopher wrote after his daughter disappeared. This story delves into fantasy in such an easy and believable way. It is about Christopher dealing with his daughter’s disappearance, trying to explain why she left, reliving her last known moments, and coping with life afterwards. This is such a smart, quick read.
20. **Here if You Need Me: A True Story by Kate Braestrup Memoir
Oh I loved this story. Kate Braestrup is funny, charming, honest, and a great story teller. This is the story about her husband suddenly dying in a car crash and her taking over his dream of being a chaplain for the game wardens in Maine. It is a mix of stories about grief, love, chaplain hood, and the Maine game wardens. Ugh, so good!! Read it!
21. *Blankets by Craig Thompson Graphic Novel/Semi-Autobiographical
So this book is massive. Really massive. I picked it up from the library and wasn’t quite sure that I’d be able to read the whole thing…but then I sat down and read the entire book in one sitting. The book is set in Wisconsin and deals with a young man growing up and dealing with new love, faith, loneliness, identity, and all the joys of adulthood. Oh and did I mention that his drawings are terrific?!
22. *Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork Young Adult
This book is about 17 year old Marcelo who has an autism-like condition. His father pushes him into dealing with the real world and what follows is an addicting story about experiencing the joys and pains of living. Marcelo is a unique character who should not be missed…so go read it!
23. *Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool Historical Young Adult
This is a great read that is cleverly written. The story is set in two different time periods that are connected by newspaper clippings. At first I thought this might be too confusing and wasn’t sure I was ready to remember all the character names, story lines, etc. But it quickly drew me in and I was right there next to Abilene as she got in trouble, explored, and tried to figure out the story behind her dad and the town of Manifest, Kansas. Abilene is a spirited little girl who helps a small town remember who it is.
24. Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea Fiction
I don’t listen to audiobooks very much but this one I happened to listen to while I was busy sewing one night. I really enjoyed listening to it because there were a lot of Spanish sayings and names that were fun to listen to. It wasn’t my favorite story….but it was fun to listen to.
25. *See Me Naked by Amy Frykhom Nonfiction
This book looks at nine different stories of how the Christian portrayal of sexuality has affected their lives. This book definitely added a new and interesting voice to the discussion of sexuality, religion, and moral living. Fykhom writes a terrific last chapter that gives a new way to view our sexuality and to help us remember that embracing our body can actually lead us into a richer relationship with God. She shows how we can overcome the harmful beliefs that many of us have from growing up in the church and live a fuller Christian life. While some of the stories were pretty extreme cases—I really appreciated the conversation that Frykhom started.
26. **Lovely, Raspberry by Aaron Belz Poetry
This is an awesome little book of poetry! I must have read at least half of them out loud to my husband (while he was trying to read his own book—oops!). They are so dry, so unexpected, so unpretentious. It reminds me of why I like poetry—how fun it can be!
27. House of Prayer No.2 by Mark Richard Memoir
An interesting story about a boy who is plagued with deformed hips. It is a mix of coming of age, dealing with a perfectionist father, a race against time (doctors said he’d be lame by age 30), and losing and finding his faith. A very intriguing story…but the second person writing was way too distracting for my taste.
28. The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier Fiction/Fantasy
I am a fan of Kevin Brockmeier. I think he is very clever and is willing to push the boundaries in writing fiction. The Illumination is about a world that is filled with people who glow from their wounds. If someone has a cut finger, the cut would glow. If someone has lung cancer, their chest would glow. But throughout the book, a private journal of one lined love notes gets passed from one person to the next so you end up seeing how each person deals and struggles in this new world. Some of the stories were harder for me to connect with than others, but overall I love the idea of the book and loved many parts of the book—if not in its entirety.
29. Marriage and Other Acts of Charity by Kate Braestrup Memoir
This is my second book by Kate Braestrup and it is my second favorite of hers. This book is about her experience in her first marriage, her experience as a chaplain dealing with marriages, counseling and divorce, and then ultimately about her second marriage after being widowed. She is completely honest about her journey on figuring out how to love—and it is appreciated! It didn’t have the same depth as her first book, but it was still a good read about choosing to love every day…and it is full of nuggets of wisdom for a newbie at marriage!
30. **Imagine by Jonah Lehrer Nonfiction
This is a book that makes me want to talk about it in every conversation that I have. It is so interesting! Lehrer looks at misconceptions about creativity, how the brain works, what motivates creativity, and much more! He has lots of stories inside that helped draw me through as I am not much of a nonfiction reader. A nice, light read that has definitely affected how I think about creativity!
31. Swamplandia! By Karen Russell Fiction
Hmm…this is a tough book to summarize what I think about it. For one thing, I loved the title. I wasted no opportunities at saying Swamplandia! outloud. I also wasted no opportunities at reading this book. I was drawn in and sucked all the way through the alligator wrestling, family struggles, and the dark crannies of the swamp. It is a bit gloomy and disturbing, but so original that I couldn’t help but be intrigued. Immediately after reading it, I put her book of short stories on hold at the library…always a good sign about a good book.