Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Best Books of '09

"There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it." Bertrand Russell

I know I write about the books I read each month, but being the listmaker I am, I like passing on my statistics at the end of each year. Yes, partly in the spirit of boasting (I never said I was perfect) but also in the spirit of the following quote by Gustave Flaubert: "Read in order to live."

There is a deal of truth about my life in the lists I keep about my reading. Not that I necessarily know myself what that truth is, but here it is for those smarter than me.

Total books read in 2009: 120
Non-fiction: 36
Young Adult: 12
Fantasy: 18
Historical: 26
Mystery: 41

There is on glaringly obvious truth that I see: for someone who's waiting to hear from an agent about a YA historical I wrote, I could certainly have read more in both categories. And let's face it, mysteries are apparently always and forever going to be my first love. Maybe I should take that into consideration before starting my next project . . .

Rather than simply list my favorite books of last year, let's see how helpful I can be for someone who wants to know why I loved each book.

Best book about a character I thought I knew all about: THE PRICE OF BUTCHER'S MEAT/Reginald Hill/In this (19th? 20th?) in the Dalziel/Pascoe mystery series, Hill turns the focus on Andy Dalziel and his recovery from a bombing that left him in a coma. Being Andy, he's not so happy about being confined to a nursing home, but fortunately for him a murder happens nearby and his formidable brain is engaged not only by the killing but by the characters surrounding it. I may even like Dalziel better than Pascoe after this book.

Absolutely stunning case of a second book being better than the first: THE LIKENESS/Tana French/I teetered on the edge of loving or hating French's first book (IN THE WOODS) but this one had no teetering at all. I loved everything about it. Cassie Maddox, a detective from the first novel, takes center stage as the narrator when a body is found that looks exactly like her. Even more disturbing, the body's identity is one that Cassie herself created years ago as an undercover officer. This book has everything, but mostly a complex, empathetic, wonderful narrator in Cassie.

Best New YA series: THE HUNGER GAMES & CATCHING FIRE/Suzanne Collins/A brilliant view of a dystopian near-future in which teenagers are forced to fight to the death on TV for the entertainment of the Capitol and in hopes of bringing extra food to their own impoverished districts. When Katniss Everdeen takes her little sister's place in the games, she and Peeta, the boy from her district, set in motion a movement for rebellion that they can't control. Can't wait for the third one this fall!

Best Non-fiction Book of the Year and Possibly the Decade: HOW THE IRISH SAVED CIVILIZATION/Thomas Cahill/It's short, readable, and downright brilliant. If you care at all about books and the history of western literature, you must read this book about how the Irish monks and nuns, converted wholeheartedly and passionately to Christianity, first preserved western literature by copying feverishly while continental libraries vanished almost overnight and then spread that literature back to Europe by their ministry far from home. It will make you wish you were Irish.

Best New Historical Mystery Series: MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH/Ariana Franklin/When Christian children are murdered in Cambridge, the Jews of the town stand accused. King Henry II brings a coroner from Salerno to solve the crimes--a woman named Adelia. I didn't always like Adelia, but her faults make her all the more appealing as a long-term character. And the medieval setting and sense of place is faultless.

Best Cliff-hanging Continuation of one of My Favorite Series: THE LANGUAGE OF BEES/Laurie R. King/Mary Russell Holmes is a character I would like to be. Mary is front and center in this book when Holmes' past rears up and presents him a case that might be too close to home for him to see clearly. Can't wait for the next book this spring.

Best YA book of the Year: INK EXCHANGE/Melissa Marr/In this companion book to her novels of the Summer King and his once-mortal queen, Marr gives a brilliant story about violence, belonging, and independence. Not for younger teens or the easily squeamish, but highly recommended.

Best book for Making me Feel I've Climbed Mount Everest Without Dying in the Process: INTO THIN AIR/Jon Krakauer/In a case of being in the wrong place at the right time, Krakauer signed onto an Everest expedition to write about it for a magazine and ended up being a survivor of the May 1996 tragedies on the mountain. A wonderful book about those who survived and those who didn't. And I have no desire to ever climb Everest myself.

Best Book About Twins, Identity, and Family Secrets: THE LACE READER/Brunonia Barry/Towner Whitney tells you from the first page that she lies. But only when I reached the end did I understand how and why her lies are woven into the story. Powerful themes wrapped in an amazing story.

Best Mystery of the Year: THE BRUTAL TELLING/Louise Penny/ I just started reading her Armand Gamache novels last year and I still can't believe that she did what she did in this fifth book. Haunting, real, cannot-shake-it-from-my-head. Start at the beginning of the series with STILL LIFE and read on.

So what have you discerned about my life from my reading? That I'm disturbed? A little (more than a little) dark? That I have a plethora of secrets haunting me? Or that my life is so achingly normal that I have to escape into drama?

I'll tell you the one thing I know for certain . . . I love stories. Not just books--stories. Give me a story over pretty language any day and I'll be happy.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to finish reading my latest can't-wait-to-see-how-it-comes-out story: SEPULCHRE by Kate Mosse.

Happy Stories, everyone!

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