Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best of 2011

Best Adult Fiction (novel) - The Lover's Dictionary, by David Levithan
Also Awesome
Ed King, by David Guterson
The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides
Zone One, by Colson Whitehead
The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta

Best Adult Fiction (short stories) - Blueprints for Building Better Girls, by Elissa Schappell

Best Adult Fiction (mystery or thriller) - Wicked Autumn, by G.M. Malliet
Also Awesome
Rogue Island, by Bruce DeSilva

Best Adult Fiction (sci-fi or fantasy) - When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan

Best Adult Fiction (Historical Fiction) -  American Heiress, by Daisy Goodwin

Best Graphic Novel  - Lost and Found, by Shaun Tan
Also Awesome
The Scrapbook of Francie Pratt, by Caroline Preston

Best Adult Non-Fiction - Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, by Michael Lewis
Also Awesome
Sex, Death and Oysters: A Half-Shell Lover's World Tour, by Robb Walsh
Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks, by Ken Jennings
Few Eggs and No Oranges, by Vere Hodgson

Best YA Fiction -  Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor
Also Awesome
All These Things I've Done, by Gabrielle Zevin
Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick, by Joe Schreiber
Cinder, by Marissa Meyer

Best Childrens' Book - The Grimm Legacy, by Polly Shulman

Best Picture Book - Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, by Jerry Pinkney

Best Documentary - Exit Through The Gift Shop

Best Feature Film - The Social Network

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

I haven't read this since high school, so was interested to revisit Huxley's consumerist, pill popping vision of the future, and found it disturbingly on the mark in many ways, but still wildly off the mark in others. The promiscuity, consumer culture, and pill popping surrender is here, but the sentimentality regarding the family is definitely still here, and then some, in hallmark variations... so good, and so sad. Soma for all.

Bunheads, by Sophie Flack

Wonderful YA about the struggles of being a ballet dancer. 19 year old Hannah has lived at the Manhattan Ballet since she was 14, and is striving to become a soloist, rather than a member of the corps, but when she begins to realize how much she has sacrificed, she must decide whether she wants to live her life as a bunhead, or branch out into the outside world. This was so well done, and apparently quite autobiographical, and gave a fantastic sense of the closed and claustrophobic and pain-filled world behind the stage.

The Grimm Legacy, by Polly Shulman

Charming and absorbing young fantasy, set in the special collections are of the New York Public Library. The magical objects mentioned in the Grimm fairy tales are kept in the Grimm Collection, but evildoers are out to steal them. Elizabeth Lew, a student in a nearby high school, is one of a handful of workers allowed access to the special collections. The exceedingly far-fetched plot is one of the reasons I think this was more of a children's book than YA, but Shulman's special brand of clean and delightful characters made this a great read. She is an author I often recommend to young readers who are reading above their age level, but aren't ready for some of the darker actual YA out there.  

So Pretty It Hurts, by Kate White

Enjoyable Bailey Wiggins mystery, with a glamourous cast of models, actors, journalists etc trapped in a snowbound Connecticut estate. When Devon Barr, supermodel, is found dead in the night, Bailey and her friend Jessie have to solve the question of whether or not Devon was murdered, which of course she was.
Fun and quick.

The Complete Book of Home Crafts : Projects for Adventurous Beginners , by Carine Tracanelli

Pretty uninspiring craft book- lots of basic ideas, but not a single one I was tempted to try, which says a lot, I think.

The Hedgehog Feast, by Edith Holden

Delightful children's book about a hedgehog family gathering with the other small beasts to have a wonderful feast before winter settles in.

The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson

YA paranormal. American Rory Deveaux from Louisiana is a student in a London boarding school, making friends and having crushes on cute English boys, when a near death choking experience leaves her with the ability to see ghosts. She is then initiated into an undercover group who seek ghosts to eliminate, and gets caught up in ghost Jack the Ripper's return to London to continue murdering women. It was almost as bad as it sounds.

The Death of Corinne, by R.T. Raichev

Another solid and well crafted mystery from the interesting Raichev. From what I can tell, he is a Bulgarian national, who wrote a university dissertation on the classic English Crime Novel, and moved to London in 1989. For some reason, this back story appeals to me immensely- I imagine someone living behind the Iron Curtain reading the golden age classics and the country houses and butlers and real-estate porn of the great Christies and Teys and longing to disolve into that world...
This was a tightly plotted investigation into the death of a French singer in the Piaf mode, and was thoroughly enjoyable.

420 Characters, by Lou Beach

Microfictions, in the rather limiting format of 420 characters, the length of a facebook update. Interesting concept, but not as successful in execution as I had hoped. I wish the stories had been more linked, more... something. In terms of experimental fiction, I think there will be a lot more published in this style, but I still doubt anyone working in tiny formats will ever achieve the devastating poignancy of Hemingway's 6 word heartbreaker- "Baby shoes for sale, never worn."

Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes, by Yotam Ottolenghi

Lovely, lush cookbook from the famed Ottolenghi- the only thing is, many of the recipes were so elaborate, it seemed a lot of work for a vegetable, lol. I would love to make a few of them, leek fritters (p. 36), asparagus mimosa (p. 182), mushroom ragout with poached eggs (p. 50), , and the broccoli and gorgonzola pie (p. . 92) looked amazing... maybe on a day with plenty of time? ha ha ha.

Reel Life Starring Us, by Lisa Greenwald

Sweet young YA- middle school, I think- from the author of My Life in Pink and Green. In this one, new student Dina is assigned to work on a project with Queen Bee Chelsea, making a video about the history of their school, and of course, in the process, learn about themselves and each other. Charming and well done, clean and fun.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Every You, Every Me, by David Levithan

A haunting, thoughtful and freshly done YA novel. After Ariel goes mad, her best friend Evan and her boyfriend Jack are left- Evan to wallow in doubt and guilt, and Jack to try to move on. What was so wonderful about this book- told in Evan's own depressive voice- was the stylistic risks Levithan took- the crossed out pages, the crossed out thoughts. The photographs throughout added great richness to a story that could have been thin, and in the afterword, one realizes anew what a great writer Levithan really is. He wrote one of my favorite adult novels of the year in The Lover's Dictionary, and now one of my favorite YA books of the year.

Assassins at Ospreys, by R.T. Raichev

Clever mystery reminiscent of Agatha Christie's novels involving Ariadne Oliver- not my favorites, but still very good- this one had mystery writer Antonia Darcy become involved with some fans who turn out to be much more complicated than they initially seem. An inheritance plot, of course, and some dastardly twists. Nice.

The Burglar in the Library, by Lawrence Block

Very well done and funny mystery. This was a treat, a kind of classic English style cozy set in America with a hardboiled tone and many references to other mysteries. When Bernie and his friend Carolyn head to a weekend at a country house hotel, his mind is on thieving a rare book there, but murder gets in the way. Fun and lively.

The Lighthouse, by P.D. James

OK but not excellent Adam Dalgleish mystery. The setting was great- Combe Island, a retreat for the great and well known, and it held so much promise, but the inexplicable inclusion of SARS was bizarre, and the book was ultimately unsatisfying.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cinder, by Marissa Meyer

PHENOMENAL new YA book. Sci-Fi Cyborg retelling of Cinderella, and a fantastic, thrilling and thought-provoking beginning to a new series, the Lunar Chronicles.
Cinder is 36.7% artifical- a terrible accident as a child left her orphaned, and her adoptive new guardian had her body repaired with the best technology available, until he died too, leaving her with his wife and 2 daughters. In this version, only Pearl, the eldest sister, is truly evil, Peony, the younger, does love her cyborg adoptive sister and Cinder loves Peony and Iko, her android. Cinder is licensed mechanic, with a knack for fixing all machinery, and is known throughout New Beijing for her skills.
I've read a lot of re-told Cinderella tales (a recent favorite being the lesbian twist in Ash, by Malinda Lo) but this was really a stunner- impossible to put down, great classic sci-fi imagery, and a heroine whose human-vs-artificial rights/and intelligence was so much better addressed than in The Fox Inheritance.

The Hunt for Sonya Dufrette, by R.T. Raichev

Pretty good country house murder mystery, with only a few offputting bits- I would have enjoyed it much more if not for the bit about Sonya's disability. Am giving the author another try, though, and hoping for the best.

The Problem of the Wire Cage, by John Dickson Carr

A very appealing and cleverly constructed 1939 whodunnit, with a bit of an un-fair trick to it, but still, very clever and fun. The body of obnoxious Frank Dorrance is discovered- after an afternoon filled with tennis and threats- dead in the center of the clay court, with only one set of footsteps leading to the body. Dr. Fell, Carr's hero, works out how it was done, with some very Nancy Drew-ish red herring characters along the way. Very enjoyable.

The Mistress of Alderley, by Robert Barnard

Very good mystery. This was fun, it had a pretty classic set up, but with a very modern approach, and the characters were unusual enough to feel fresh. Caroline knows she is Marius' mistress, and that he will not divorce his wife, but she is sure that he has bought her Alderley House, and that they have a very special relationship. When Marius is murdered, however, Caroline learns that all he has told her has been lies, and the unraveling of the story was quite satisfying.

Little Women and Me, by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

A writing assignment where she has to list a flaw from a favorite novel sends Emily March into Little Women, as a 5th sister. Clever concept, and well done, but not a knockout. Emily's character development throughout the novel was nice, but the best bit by far is the trick about Amy.

The Vault, by Peter Lovesey

Excellent and atmospheric procedural set in (and under) Bath. Well plotted, with ties to both the history of Bath and also to the novel Frankenstein, which has surprising links to the area- this was very satisfyingly done.

Micro, by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston

Well, this was sad. Obviously, this is the last book Crichton was working on when he died, and you can pretty clearly see where Preston took over- the philosophical kind of musings and speculation that raised up the level of Crichton's thrillers was no longer there after the first hundred or so pages, and after that, it was pure thrill-driven action adventure with an eye to being made into a movie, if you know what I mean.
The shrinking of people down to half and inch has been approached before, and so have the dangers of nanotechnology, in Crichton's own (and much better) Prey.

Diary of a Chav: The Fame Diaries, by Grace Dent

Another delightful entry into Dent's series. Not the strongest, but happily this one seems to kind of wind up Shiraz's search for a way to return to school, which made me very glad.
I hope she writes more of these, but am beginning to sadly suspect this is the last- I'm so glad I got to read them.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Diary of a Snob: Money Can't Buy Me Love, by Grace Dent

Second book in Dent's hugely enjoyable new series, based on Poppet Montague-Jones and her adventures in trying to find herself amid the trappings of quasi-royalty and her eccentric family. Really fun.

Diary of a Snob: Poor Little Rich Girl, by Grace Dent

87th in line to the throne, Poppet Zanzibar Montague-Jones has led a very sheltered life, but things get real in this fantastic start to a new series by the always enjoyable Grace Dent. Loved it.

Diary of a Chav: Ibiza Nights, by Grace Dent

Fun new addition to Dent's wonderful Diary of a Chav series. Shiraz and her friend Carrie go off the rails a bit in this one, but Shiraz's charm carries the day, and it was a quick fun read, if not the best of the series.

The False Princess, by Eilis O'Neal

Ok but predictable YA fantasy. Female protagonist, but lots of dialogue that clunked or was out of place in the fantasy setting ("breaking and entering" was one egregious example) and a plot that could be guessed a mile away.

Reading the Forested Landscape, by Tom Wessels

This was a remarkable and wonderful book.
Wessels takes New England scenes, and by analysis of the trees and rocks, traces back the history of the area for years- in some cases to the glacial ages. Fascinating, and I think I will never look at the world in the same way, which is a heck of an impact.

The Red House Mystery, by A.A. Milne

Nice country house mystery, but not as good as I was hoping, given its status as a classic in the genre.

Stagestruck, by Peter Lovesey

Very good mystery set in a theater, featuring Inspector Peter Diamond. Fair play procedural, and done well.

Dandy Gilver and The Proper Treatment of Bloodstains, by Catriona McPherson

Another really excellent Dandy Gilver between the wars mystery. This one had some interesting political side-stories, including a miner's strike, and that added depth to the enjoyable mystery.

Ashes Ashes, by Jo Treggiari

Pretty bad post-apocalyptic YA. Plagues have decimated the population, but ludicrous earth-upheaval events keep happening too, along with the silliest tsunami since Deep Impact. Lucy - oh, the plot was so bad I'm not going to bother.

Decorating with Books, by Marie Hueston

WORST book ever. I had hoped this book would give me ideas to make my house look less overrun with books, but this was about books as objects alone, separate from meaning. One suggestion included covering all spines with plain white paper covers!!!

Ruthless, by Sara Shepard

Another juicy and addictive Pretty Little Liars book. They get more and more implausible, but I still love to read them and look forward to each new one.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Fox Inheritance, by Mary Pearson

An interesting but frustrating follow up to the excellent The Adoration of Jenna Fox. In this book, set 260 years after the accident that left only 10% of Jenna's brain, and let her parents re-create her using Bio-Gel, Jenna's friends Kara and Locke, who were 'killed' in the same wreck, have been re-created by a mad scientist from a hair of Kara's and a fingernail of Locke's. It seems that Jenna's parents scanned their brains at the same time they did Jenna's, and a corrupt assistant stole the 'boxes' that imprisoned their 'minds' for all those years. The exploration of AI rights was interesting, but the book didn't settle whether the Fox Standard of 10% was ethically right, and the ending was disappointing and left the essential question unanswered.

Survivors : a novel of the coming collapse, by James Rawles

Whacked out far right near future apocalyptic thing. This had so many plotlines, and so many different characters trying to survive "the crunch" that it was hard to follow, but the main point was definitely buy guns (many), ammo (as much as possible), and hoard metals. In this particular vision of worldwide upheaval, US inflation lead to Weimar-era style worthless paper, and riots and such quickly followed. The rest was pretty standard Ayn Rand-leaning survival stuff, but it did have an interesting and exciting recipe for home-made molotov cocktails, which was a nice touch!

1 pint jar
thickened gasoline- thicken pure gasoline with styrofoam until it is thick like molassas
1/2 cup battery acid

put both in pint jar, seal, and wash carefully.

put 2 rubber bands around jar.

soak sheets of paper in potassium chloride solution, let dry, cut into strips.

put strip of paper through rubber bands.

when ready to use, shake jar and throw- supposedly, once the mixture inside touches the paper, BOOM.

(I am not- repeat- NOT saying anyone should try this or that it works - just that it was highly unusual to find recipes for homemade weaponry in a terrible novel.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Explosive Eighteen, by Janet Evanovich

Another entry into the endless Stephanie Plum series. This is a fun one, but the love triangle between Stephanie, Ranger, and Morelli is getting tired and almost gross, and the hints that she might be pregnant are very worrisome, as I think that would be a rotten way to end the series. Gah. Its like cheetos, I dont know why I bother.

Legend, by Marie Lu

FANTASTIC dystopian YA. Rebel Day and Agent June are of opposite sides of a battle to control a near future police state California, but they are more alike than they know. When they come into contact with each other, explosive chemistry and an intense clash of ideals create a great tense read, and one with satisfying and memorable characters.

The Burry Man's Day, by Catriona McPherson

Another well done Dandy Gilver between the wars mystery.

The Dead of Winter, by Jane Adams

Not very good locked country house mystery. A group gets together to reenact a sceance that had gone terribly wrong a hundred years ago, and a snowstorm traps all the participants. Too many coincidences, and just not great.