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2011 turned out to be a light reading year. I didn’t even average a book a week, which is unheard of for me. It’s not surprising, however, when I consider that I spent the summer abroad and, once the kids started school in the fall, started treating my writing and other work as a full-time job. And that’s not even including the reading fast I was forced into as part of The Artist’s Way.

As I look over my list for the year, I must admit this hasn’t been a banner one for life-changing reading experiences. I read some good books, even some great ones, but none that made me fall so deeply in love that I wanted to shout about it from the mountaintops. Luckily, there are many more books to be read in 2012!

There were two primary themes to my reading in 2011: Italy and nonfiction. The first is obvious. I wanted to read as much as I could about the places (both in history and in the present) we were going to visit. The second is a bit surprising, as I’m way more of a fiction reader. Some of them were book club choices and some were related to the Italy trip. Still, a high percentage for me. Now, for the list of books, in the order (more or less) that I read them.

  1. The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver – Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, and while this isn’t my favorite of her books, it is still stunning.
  2. Three Junes, by Julia Glass – Gorgeously written, this was a Margareaders selection and the 2002 National Book Award winner.  Not for you if you are into plot-driven books.
  3. Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead – This series was my guilty pleasure last winter.  We shared a ski condo in Keystone, and I was often going to bed with the kids in the same room.  I started reading these on my Kindle app so as not to go to sleep at 8:00.  Very fun!
  4. The Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore – Margareaders selection.  Not my typical book but thought-provoking.
  5. Frostbite, by Richelle Mead
  6. Shadow Kiss, by Richelle Mead
  7. Half-Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls – Very good, but lacked the immediacy and poignancy of The Glass Castle (which is one of my favorite books)
  8. Blood Promise, by Richelle Mead
  9. Spirit Bound, by Richelle Mead
  10. The Last Will of Moira Leahy, by Therese Walsh – LOVED this book.  Dreamy, suspenseful, romantic.  Stayed up until 3:00 in the morning to finish.
  11. The Last Sacrifice, by Richelle Mead
  12. Miss Garnet’s Angel, by Sally Vickers – Vickers does it again with psychological profiles being front and center in a story where Venice becomes a character.  The first of my Italy books for the year.
  13. The Food of Love, by Anthony Capella – Delightful Cyrano de Bergerac-esque tale of food and love (two of my favorite topics) in Rome
  14. La Bella Lingua, by Dianne Hales – Engaging and entertaining history of the Italian language, which should be known as the language of love.
  15. Venice is a Fish, by Tiziano Scarpa – Gorgeous and sensual “guide” to Venice.
  16. When in Rome, by Robert Hutchinson – The title is a bit misleading, since it’s the memoir of a journalist’s year writing about the Vatican (which is NOT Rome).  Fascinating nonetheless
  17. The Glassblower of Murano, by Marina Fiorato – Historical fiction alternating between the stories of a Murano glassblower in the 1500s and his descendent in the present day
  18. The Wedding Officer, by Anthony Capella – Half love story, half harrowing account of WWII as it played out in Naples.  Very different from The Food of Love, but equally as good.
  19. The Borgia Bride, by Jeanne Kalogrides – Steamy, fast-paced and with enough history thrown in to make it respectable
  20. Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins – Lovely girl meets boy YA novel that takes place in Paris
  21. Extra Virgin, by Annie Hawkes – Memoir of a woman who bought a house in Liguria (Italian Riviera) with her sister.  I enjoyed learning the history, culture and lifestyle of this region, particularly the art of making olive oil.  Given that it was a memoir, however, it was oddly distant and impersonal.
  22. Leonardo’s Swans, by Karen Essex – My favorite kind of historical fiction – compelling characters in compelling times.  Add to that the obsession over being immortalized by one of the world’s greatest artists and you have a recipe for a great book.
  23. The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim – Four English women, strangers to one another, rent a villa for a month on the Italian Riviera near Portofino.  Since I started reading this book while I was in the Riviera, I found it even more enchanting.  A comedy of manners and errors, and oh so very British, it deserves its place among the classics.
  24. Same as it Never Was, by Claire Scovell LaZebnik – Light chicklit that was fun to read but not all that believable of a plot
  25. Pompeii, by Robert Harris- I read this whole book on my flight home from Italy this summer. It was both fascinating and gripping. I finished the last ten pages at the baggage claim because I just couldn’t wait to finish it. Yes, I realize that we already know the ending. However, having just been to the ruins of Pompeii and the crater of Vesuvius, I felt the suspense of the novel keenly, and it brought the ruins alive for me.
  26. The Messenger of Athens, by Anne Zouroudi – Literary mystery?  Good book and a good writer who was able to make a Greek island believably dreary and desolate
  27. The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield – Gothic literary tome, complete with moors and rattling windows
  28. The Art of Non-Conformity, by Chris Guillebeau – Who hasn’t heard of this book?  Easy to read and with good points of departure for planning a life you want to lead rather than one that is accepted by others.
  29. Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall – Very close to the best book I read this year.  The perfect combination of science, memoir and travelogue.  The book is mind-boggling, funny and intense.  It’s a book about the  human spirit disguised as a running book.
  30. My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor – A brain scientist evaluates her own stroke as it is happening.  When she loses the language/logic center in the left hemisphere, she discovers a peace she never knew existed.  A must read
  31. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand – Another Margareaders selection. So many people I know raved about and loved this book, including some of the Margareaders.  No doubt it is a brilliant book, and I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the Pacific side of the WWII conflict.  Overall I couldn’t get past the horrors the main character endured, especially since this is a biography.  It didn’t help that I read it in September, which is a tough month for me anyway.  The subject of the book – Louie Zamparelli – was treated with too much emotional distance.  Since I couldn’t understand his feelings, all that was left for me was the treachery of what was done to him.
  32. A Week in October, by Elisabeth Subercaseaux – This book’s chapters alternated between a sick woman’s journal recounting an affair she (supposedly) had for a week a few months before her death and that of her husband reading the journal, supposedly without his wife’s knowledge. It was beautifully written and quite cerebral – two characteristics I ordinarily love in a book. However, when you have both an unreliable narrator (the wife’s story in the journal) and an ending that is left too ambiguous, it no longer works for me.
  33. Stories I Only Tell My Friends, by Rob Lowe – Before you laugh, I’ll have you know Rob Lowe is a decent writer and this book was NOT ghost written.  If you “came of age” in the eighties in the U.S. you should read this book.  It is juicy without being petty, and I enjoyed being taken back to all of those movies I loved and grew up with.  And yes, I did have Rob plastered all over my wall when I was in the 8th grade.  He had me at Pony Boy.
  34. The Agony and the Ecstasy, by Irving Stone – The winner for my best book of 2011.  This fictional biography of Michelangelo is beautiful, epic, inspiring and unforgettable.  I don’t think further description could do it justice.  I marked so many passages in the book I might as well re-read it.
  35. Perfect Chemistry, by Simone Elkeles – Highly addictive YA romance
  36. The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway – Gorgeous book.  More of a psychological examination of the way war changes people rather than specifically about the siege of Sarajevo
  37. Eragon, by Christopher Paolini – When your 8 year-old daughter reads a 600 page book, you need to read it too.  I was so proud of her and she loved it so much.  I liked it, and I can’t believe Paolini was only 15 when he wrote it.  It wasn’t a love-affair however, perhaps because I am a Lord of the Rings and Narnia snob.

Books I read aloud to the kids – not including the hundreds of picture books we read, and I do mean hundreds

  1. See You Later, Gladiator – Time Warp Trio series, by Jon Scieszka – The Time Warp Trio series is historical fiction/time travel similar to The Magic Tree House series but with lots of boy (read: bathroom) humor.  I was laughing just as hard as my kids reading these.  Added bonus: when we met Jon at a book signing at the Boulder Bookstore, Jay was able to recall every potty reference in all of the books we read.  So much so that Jon signed one of his books to him as “Stinker.”  TRUE story!
  2. Da Wild, Da Crazy, Da Vinci – Time Warp Trio series – For example, in this book we not only learn about da Vinci’s military engineering and mechanical inventions, but also that Thomas Crapper invented the modern flush toilet.
  3. Tut, Tut – Time Warp Trio series – This book has an evil character named Hatsnat (pronounced Hotsnot).  Imagine trying to read that name out loud throughout the whole book without laughing.
  4. It’s All Greek to Me – Time Warp Trio series – In this book, our trio is plunged into Hades where they confront Zeus, who believes they’ve stolen his lightning-bolt.
  5. Tales from the Odyssey, Part 1, by Mary Pope Osborne – I wondered how any author could render a version of The Odyssey that removes some of the wilder *ahem* escapades Odysseus has in his long journey home while still retaining the core and heart of the story.  Leave it to Mary Pope Osborne – she did it.
  6. Tales from the Odyssey, Part 2, by Mary Pope Osborne

Thoughts? Any highlights from your own reading year you want to share?

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While I procrastinate on the edits to my own children’s book manuscripts, I thought I’d give a shout-out to those authors who have inspired me with their talent for telling stories in rhyme.  These are my favorites, subject to the following rules:  1) I omitted Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein entirely otherwise the list would have been eight miles long; 2) Likewise, I omitted the classic and obvious ones like Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown; 3) My kids must love the book as much as I do (you’d be surprised how many didn’t meet that criterion); and 4) I could only list one book per author.  Oh, and the list is in no particular order.

So tell me, what are your favorite rhyming books?  I’m always on the lookout for more examples of great rhyme.  I love  these stories because they endure.  Even Em, who is now 7 and more interested in chapter books as a whole, still loves each and every one of these books.  Why not?  I love them too.

  1. Time for Bed by Mem Fox – This was my favorite bedtime book to read to my kids when they were babies.  They both loved the soothing rhythm.  Who wouldn’t?  It’s such a sweet story, right from its opening  couplets: “It’s time for bed little mouse, little mouse.  Darkness is falling all over the house.  It’s time for bed little goose, little goose.  The stars are out and on the loose.” You just can’t help but snuggle your child closer when you read this book.
  2. I’m a Manatee by John Lithgow – From the beginning (“From time to time I dream that I’m a manatee, undulating underneath the sea”), to the end (“For every time I’m dreaming I’m a manatee, somewhere a manatee is dreaming that he’s me”), this story is a blast to read.  Ard Hoyt’s illustrations are spectacular.  The manatees are so ugly they’re adorable.  Lithgow originally wrote the story as a song, although we never had the CD (we got this book out of a box of Cheerios).  I’m kind of glad because I’ve always enjoyed reading it from the rhythm in my head.
  3. Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis – This is a cute rhyming story that navigates kids through the full range of feelings to let them know they are all normal.  “I’d rather feel silly, excited or glad, than cranky or grumpy, discouraged or sad.  But moods are just something that happen each day.  Whatever I’m feeling inside is okay.” What really makes this book, though, are Laura Cornell’s illustrations.  There is so much detail and humor in the pictures you could spend hours just with those.
  4. Jamberry by Bruce DegenJamberry is second only to Dr. Seuss’ Fox in Socks as my very favorite read-aloud.  How could you resist “Quickberry! / Quackberry! / Pick me a blackberry! / Trainberry / Trackberry / Clickety-clackberry”?  Or “Raspberry / Jazzberry / Razzamatazzberry / Berryband / Merryband / Jamming in Berryland”?  As if the story wasn’t addictive enough, the illustrations are fantastic with a classic, old-fashioned feel.
  5. Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner – Ever wonder why, when you  build a perfectly sturdy snowman, you often find him all wilted and slumped over the next day?  Here’s a theory: “I think that snowmen start to slide / (when it gets really dark), / off the lawn and down the street — / right into the park. / They gather in a circle while they wait for all the others, / sipping cups of ice-cold cocoa, made by snowman mothers.” Mark Buehner’s illustrations are both hilarious and magical.
  6. Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? by Nancy White Carlstrom – Adorable tale of a little-boy bear going through the daily routine, illustrated by the great Bruce Degen (see Jamberry above).  “Jesse Bear, what will you wear? / What will you wear in the morning? / My shirt of red / Pulled over my head / Over my head in the morning. / I’ll wear my pants / My pants that dance / My pants that dance in the morning. / I’ll wear a rose / Between my toes / A rose in my toes in the morning…”
  7. Ten Sleepy Sheep by Phyllis Root – Ten little sheep “in the grass knee-deep” don’t want to sleep. In this melodic bedtime story, we count them down one by one as they surrender.  Each sheep has a colored ribbon around its neck so kids can keep track of them.  “10 / Ten little sheep / leap the cucumber vine. / Long grass bends. / Spider mends. / Sleep, sheep. / Now there are … / 9 / Nine sheep race / past the tall green gate. / Wind sighs. / Whippoorwill cries. / Sleep, sheep. / Now there are…”
  8. I Love You as Much… by Laura Krauss Melmed – Probably the most heartwarming book you could give a new parent, full of heart-melting couplets of mother animals telling their babies how much they love them.  “Said the mother horse to her child, / I love you as much as a warm summer breeze. / Said the mother bear to her child, / I love you as much as the forest has trees.” Concluding with, “Now sleep child of mine / While the stars shine above. / I love you as much / As a mother can love.” The illustration of the mother in bed with her newborn baby will kill you.
  9. Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton – Everyone knows this one. “Stomp your feet / Clap your hands / Everybody ready for a barnyard dance!” Boynton is the master of rhyme for the youngest children.
  10. How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? by Jane Yolen – All of the books in the How do Dinosaurs series are fabulous and represent an author/illustrator (Mark Teague) partnership at its best.  My favorite one is the food book because of the first verse: “How does a dinosaur / eat all his food? / Does he burp, / does he belch, / or make noises / quite rude? / Does he pick at his cereal, / throw down his cup, / hoping to make / someone else pick it up? / Does he fuss, does he fidget, / or squirm in his chair? / Does he flip his spaghetti high into the air? / DOES A DINOSAUR GLARE?”  Teague’s picture of a Supersaurus glaring at his human mother is classic, and that is exactly how my kids look at me when I give them food they’re less than thrilled about at dinnertime (which is often).  All of these books are terrific though.  You can’t go wrong with a single one in the series.
  11. Parts by Tedd Arnold – If you are looking for boy-pleasing rhyming books, look no further than Tedd Arnold’s Parts series.  Lots of gross-out stuff like this: “..Then yesterday, before my bath / As I took off my clothes / A chunk of something gray and wet / Fell right out of my nose. / I started at it, amazed, and thought, / I should be feeling pain. / Well, wouldn’t you if you just lost / A little piece of brain?”
  12. Cowboy Bunnies by Christine Loomis – I fell in love with this one for the Western theme.  “Cowboy bunnies / Wake up early / Ride their ponies / Hurly burly / Start at sunup / Work all day / Roping cows / Tossing hay”
  13. I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Rosetti-Shustak – Simple, sweet, profound.  “I love your top side / I love your bottom side / I love your inside / and outside”
  14. Carry Me by Rosemary Wells – Actually a set of three stories, this book wins the award for the most poetic storytelling. “Sing me a winter song / I’ll sing you right along / The old song we know / About the Wild Winter Wizard / With his beard full of blizzard / And his bags full of snow.”
  15. Blackie Memorial in Tiburon, CA courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/panavatar/2029987269/

    Blackie: The Horse Who Stood Still by Christopher Cerf and Paige Peterson – An amazing piece of nonfiction, told entirely in verse, about a beloved horse who – you guessed it – stood still his whole life.  This is a great piece for older kids with longer attention spans.  Just make sure you have some tissues on hand for the ending! (emphasis in these verses is the authors’)  “In a pasture in Kansas / one early spring morn, / A horse quite unlike / other horses was born. / His coat was coal black / so they named the horse ‘Blackie’ / And before very long folks found out / he was wacky! / See, most colts are frisky / but Blackie was not. / Blackie liked standing still! / Yes, he liked it a lot! / ‘What’s the hurry?’ thought Blackie. / ‘There’s so much to see, / Standing here in the shade of a juniper tree….”

Many thanks to these authors who prove time and again that rhyme does work for children’s stories if it is done well.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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I’m glad they came along.  I dedicate this post… to all the books I read last year.

I thought it would be simple and fun to do a “Year-in-Review” of my reading.  Like most projects, it started out manageable enough, but as I got going, it took on a life of its own.  First I decided to write a little blurb on each book.  Then I wanted to provide a link to my review if I had written one.  Finally, I decided to embed links to other information I mention in the blurbs that I thought you might find interesting (like foot binding in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, for example).  Then I got all obsessive and had to test all the links to make sure they all led to the correct places.  Four days after I started, I’m finally finished!

I hope you enjoy this post and get some ideas for your own reading lists.  Also, I love book debates!  Let me know if you agree/disagree and why.  In the first list are the books I read for and to myself.  Next come the books I read aloud to Em.  I conclude with my Top 5 and Worst 5 of the year.  For those of you wondering whether Jay fell by the wayside, fear not!  I read endless numbers of picture books to him, but he has yet to develop the attention span for chapter books.  If I listed all of the picture books I read to both kids, it would be 2011 before I finished the list.

Happy Reading to All, and to All a Good Book!

Books I read in 2009, in the order I read them

1.  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – My first and favorite read of 2009.  Review is here.  Last Christmas, my husband gave me a spa package.  I was very close to finishing this book on the day I went.  I only had about 20 more pages to go.  I loved this book so much that I actually contemplated taking it into the aromatherapy tub with me.  Now that is what I call a good book!

2.  The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent – I was very excited to get this book, which took place during the time of the Salem Witch trials.  Unfortunately it was only “okay.”

3.  The Coffee Trader by David Liss – Historical fiction that takes place during the development of “futures trading” on the commodities exchange in Amsterdam in the 17th century.  Liked the history more than the characters in the book.  Review is here.

4.  Colorado Gardener’s Companion by Jodi Torpey – useful resource, and I need all the help I can get!

5.  Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer – Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you must be familiar with the Twilight series.  After going into Edward withdrawal during the second book – New Moon (I am so Team Edward!), I was relieved to have him front and center again in Eclipse.

6.  Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See – This book is like a secret window into the lives of women in the late nineteenth century rural China.  The poetic story chronicles the lives of two women of very different backgrounds who, according to the custom of the day, become “sworn sisters.”  Their fortunes reverse quite drastically after they get married.  I loved the surrounding history of this book, such as how women defied the prohibition against them learning to write by developing a secret Nu Shu (women’s) writing.  I sat gape-jawed as I read in gruesome detail about the practice of foot binding (do not look at pictures of this unless you have a strong stomach!).  Although it is a very different story (not to mention country), it has echoes of Memoirs of a Geisha.  Highly recommended.

7.  Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer – I liked the ending, but was still left wanting more.  What can I say?  I’m a total Twitard.  Anyone know when Midnight Sun is going to be published???

8. The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease – Excellent resource and surprisingly easy read about the wonders and importance of reading out loud to children.  Trelease includes many additional resources to draw upon after you’ve finished the book.

9. Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier – Story surrounds a circus set in late-19th century London.  William Blake is thrown in.  Booooooring.

10. Canvey Island by James Runcie – Got an advance reader’s copy via LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  Liked it.  Here is my review.

11. Illuminata by Marianne Williamson – For people (like me) who don’t know how to pray because you don’t know what to say or how to do it, this book is very helpful and beautifully written.

12. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry – My very short review says all I can say about this book other than: read it!  Here is the review.

13. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling – Pretty forgettable compared to the Harry Potter series itself.

14. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – YES! I finally read one of the great Russian novels.  Once I figured out all of the 85 names that each character was called, I found it very enjoyable.  This is definitely not a book that should be inflicted on young adults though.  I think you need to experience major loss, guilt and regret in order to truly understand the book.

15. Love and Other Natural Disasters by Holly Shumas – Ordinary chick-lit.  No better, no worse.

16. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood – My first Atwood ever.   Took some getting used to at first due to the sci-fi plot within the overall plot, but it was fabulous!

17. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult – A not at all believable story, even as fiction, of a school shooting similar to Columbine.  Normally I’m a big Picoult fan, but this one fell short.

18. Lunch Lessons by Ann Cooper – A new kind of lunch lady!  Chef Ann Cooper (aka – Renegade Lunch Lady) is transforming the school lunch programs in dozens of communities around the country, including our own here in Boulder.  The book is an important manifesto on how we owe it to our children to feed them wholesome, nutritious, minimally processed foods heavy on fresh produce, whole grains and lean protein.  Imagine having a salad bar in your school!  My daughter does, and she’s only in first grade.

19. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving – If I could take only one book with me to a desert island, this would be the one.  I re-read it this year for the first time in 15 years and loved it just as much, if not more, as I did the first time.

20. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister – Fun book about a group of people taking a cooking class.  Review is here.

21. The Life Room by Jill Bialosky – I like Bialosky’s writing, but she’s focused far more on character development than plot, so take heed.  The story is basically of a female mid-life crisis with flashbacks aplenty and doesn’t really “end.”  Bialosky is a “writer’s writer.”  Read it for the writing and not the story, if you are so inclined.

22. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz – Very simplistic review of the ancient Toltec Wisdom teachings.

23. The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne – Could not put this book down.  Review is here.

24. Fortune’s Daughter by Alice Hoffman – Hoffman’s usual mix of beautiful writing and magical realism – very enjoyable.

25. Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips – If you remember anything of your Greek Mythology you must read this hilarious, yet intellectual book.  Little did we know that the Gods (and Goddesses) are still alive, somewhat well and living in London, although their powers are greatly diminished.  Then a trivial dispute between Apollo and Aphrodite escalates and two very ordinary humans caught in the crossfire need to muster the courage to save the world.  So funny!  One of my favorite books of the year.

26. The Pirate’s Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson – Tells the story of a fictional lover of movie star/swashbuckler Errol Flynn (as in “in like Flynn”) and her (fictional) daughter by him.  Loved the lush Jamaican setting.

27. The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz-Zafon – Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind blew me away, so I was a little nervous about reading The Angel’s Game for fear it would disappoint.  Needlessly worried as it turns out.  Here is my review.

28. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse – If this was your first exposure to Buddhist philosophy in the sixties, I can see how it would be revolutionary.

29. Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir – Fictionalized account of the life of Lady Jane Grey by a premier Tudor historian.  Well worth the read.

30. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin – Fascinating story about a female “forensic pathologist” in the time of Henry II of England, but unfortunately I can’t recommend the book due to what I felt was gratuitous violence against animals.  Here is my full review.

31. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – I don’t know too many authors who could wield the story of a hermaphrodite of Greek ancestry growing up in Detroit in the time of the race riots and make it work, but Eugenides does.  The book is Homeric in style and scope, covering three generations of an immigrant family.  In the process, he creates one of the most sympathetic characters in American literature.  Need I say more?  Well, I will.  Having grown up in (Northern) Michigan, I loved reading about Detroit in its heyday.  I’ve only ever known it as the armpit of America, so it was nice to see another side of its story.

32. The Science of Self-Healing by Dr. Vasant Lad – A lovely woman I met recommended this book to me as an introduction to the ancient Indian Ayurveda healing system.  I’m very open-minded, but when I got to the section about enemas and bloodletting, I decided it wasn’t for me.

33. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen – In a word: delightful.

34. Perfect Life by Jessica Shattuck – An excerpt from my review: “…(I)f I want to listen to a bunch of thirty-something disillusioned white people from mostly privileged backgrounds blather on about how much their lives suck, their marriages are stale and how nothing turned out the way they thought it would, I’ll just get together with my friends and drink a few margaritas.”  The full review is here.

35. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood – Diabolical woman goes around befriending women then snatching their men.  Very good book.

36. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer – There isn’t much I could add to the heaps of praise this book has already received except to say that it is well deserved.  Guernsey is a treat from start to finish.

37. Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences by Kitty Burns Florey – Amusing book for people like me who actually enjoyed diagramming sentences in school.  Here is my review.

38. The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier – Haunting story that toggles between the connected lives of a present-day woman and a woman of 16th century rural France.  The only one of Chevalier’s books that even comes close to Girl With a Pearl Earring.

39. Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas – “So-so” tale of life in Breckenridge in the late 19th-century mining days.

40. Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult – Here Picoult takes on the controversial subject of “wrongful birth” lawsuits.  The main characters are parents of a daughter with brittle bone disease (osteogenesis imperfecta).  Better than some of her more recent books, but not up to the standard of My Sister’s Keeper.

41. Grayson by Lynne Cox – Very mediocre writing telling the true, incredible story of a teenage competitive swimmer who helped a baby gray whale find it’s mother in the open ocean.

42. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle – I try to read either this or The Power of Now once a year.  Here is a review I wrote in 2008.

43. My Life in France by Julia Child – If you are a Francophile, love cooking, love Julia Child, loved the movie Julie & Julia or all of the above, then you must read this book.  One of the best memoirs/armchair travel books I’ve ever read because I loved all of the subject matter (and the subject!).

44. Guernica by Dave Boling – Harrowing novel providing an account of the unprovoked German attack of a tiny Basque village prior to WWII.  This massacre was the inspiration for Picasso‘s mural of the same name.  Here is my full review.

45. Watch Over Me by Christa Parrish – Hated it.  Here is my review.

46. Barrel Fever by David Sedaris – Sedaris does it again in this audio book.  As with all of his essay collections, some are funnier than others, but the funny ones are FUNNY.  What I always say about Sedaris: “If he weren’t gay and I weren’t married, it could totally happen between us…”  🙂  I made him laugh when I met him in person, and I’m still starstruck over that moment!

47. High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver – Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, but I’ve decided I like her fiction better than her essays and nonfiction, which can sometimes get too preachy.

48. The Stepmother by Carrie Adams – Excellent sequel to The Godmother by the same author.  Chick-lit at its very finest.

49. The Fiction Class by Susan Breen – Meh.  Here is my review.

50. Spontaneous Recognition, Discussions with Swami Shambhavananda – This book was in the room at the yoga retreat center I went to this fall.  Here’s the gist:  Meditate.  Meditate more.  Meditate every day.  Meditate several times a day.  Keep meditating.  The end.

51. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout – I fell in “like” with this book, but did not adore it to the extent that nearly everyone else in the world did.  It would not have been my pick for the Pulitzer Prize, that’s for sure.  Here is my review.

52. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – Jane, oh Jane!  How didst thou elude me for so many years???  I read Jane Eyre for the first time this year, and it instantly catapulted onto my all-time favorite list.  The best way to read it is sitting by the fire on a gloomy day with a cup of tea.

53. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch – If you were able to give one more speech, knowing that you would die of cancer within six months, what would you say?  Read Pausch’s poignant version and reconnect with gratitude.

54. The Power of Giving: How Giving Back Enriches us All by Azim Jamal and Harvey McKinnon – A book with a powerful message: the more you give, the more you receive (focuses on all types of giving – not just monetary).

55. The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan – Very creepy, expertly written noir thriller. Review is here.

56. Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay – Excellent techniques for raising responsible kids in a conflict-free environment.  The only problem is that you have to execute the techniques without losing your temper.  Suffice it say I’m still working on that…

57. In Hovering Flight by Joyce Hinnefeld – Explores the fragile balance between passions: for family, work, art, causes.  Very good debut novel.

58. Life After Death by Deepak Chopra – Although I am intrigued by his work, after my third attempt to read one of his books, I have to learn to just say “no” to Chopra.

59. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks – Incredible story of a rare illuminated Haggadah that goes backward in time from the present day to its creation, each segment revealing more about the book’s history.  These segments are interspersed with the investigation conducted by Hanna, the modern-day book restorer.  Very difficult to put down once you start!  Excellent.

60. The Necklace by Cheryl Jarvis – What happens when thirteen very different women go in together to buy a $14,000 diamond necklace?  Find out in this true account of their story.

61. So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger – Louis L’Amour meets Mark Twain meets Cervantes meets Homer. Yet, Leif Enger’s voice remains his own. The kind of writing that makes my toes tingle (e.g. “He talked like a deaf mute distrustful of the cure.”) Not up to the standard of Peace Like a River, which was my favorite book of 2008, but a great read all the same.

62. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger – Franny is a female Holden Caulfield.  Zooey is her brother.  Nice to meet you guys!

63. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott – I can’t say enough about Anne Lamott’s essay writing.  I’ve never met the woman (obviously), but there are times when I’m just cringing with embarrassment for her at the same time as I’m admiring her courage for stripping down to reveal the worst parts of herself only to enable her golden strengths to shine through.  She is also damn funny!  Only she could write this sentence: “I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.”  So I laugh out loud.  Then I cry when I read this one: “It’s so different having a living father who loves you, even someone complex and imperfect.  After your father dies, defeat becomes pretty defeating.  When he’s still alive there are setbacks and heartbreak, but you’re still the apple of someone’s eye.”  You would be hard pressed to find truer writing.

64. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

65. The White Queen by Philippa Gregory – A book about the Plantagenets and the War of the Roses that focuses on Edward IV and his wife, commoner Elizabeth Woodville.  They were the parents of the ill-fated Princes in the Tower.  Not incidentally, their oldest daughter (also named Elizabeth) married Henry Tudor VII and became the mother of head-chopper Henry VIII.  All I can say is I would not have wanted to live in England at any period of time prior to the 1950s.  Although it dragged at the end, I thought Gregory was back on form after a couple of duds.  It definitely made me want to read more about this period of English history.

66. Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles – Anyone who travels frequently will belly laugh at least once while reading this very original book.  Word of warning though: it’s often funny but even more often sad and depressing.  For such a slight book, it seemed interminable at times to me.  How long can you read about one screwed-up guy’s life?

Books I read aloud to Em

1. Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary – VERY much fun to revisit one of the favorite characters of my girlhood.

2. Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary – Ditto above.

3. Freddy the Pilot by Walter R. Brooks – If you have never read any of the Freddy the Pig books, please please do!  Freddy (detective, poet, newspaperman, banker, pilot and celebrity pig) and his barnyard crew are the farm version of The Bobbsey Twins.  Freddy is just special, but because these books were written in the nineteen thirties and forties, not enough children are reading them today even though the whole series has recently been reissued.  Give yourself the gift of Freddy!

4. Leaping Beauty by Gregory Maguire – Maguire is most famous for his adult versions of reinterpreted fairy tales, such as Wicked and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister.  Here he takes an incredibly comic turn at recasting the characters in fairy tales for children.  The resulting collection is hilarious for both kids and adults.  Our favorite was Goldifox and the Three Chickens.

5. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum – Speaking of the Wicked Witch of the West, we picked up the original version of Oz this summer.  This is one of the very few instances where I saw the movie (probably dozens of times) before reading the book, so I was very attached to the movie version of the story.  The book is far less scary than the film and therefore more appropriate for younger children.  I found it a little dull without the constant ominous presence of the witch though, and I’ll probably never recover from the fact that the “slippers” in the book are silver!  One bonus: I got a lot more out of Wicked after reading the original since it’s obvious Maguire’s version is based on the book – not the movie.

6. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl – One of my favorite childhood books, it was so rewarding to see how much Em fell in love with this book.  Every night she was begging me to read “just one more chapter.”

7. Freddy Goes Camping by Walter Brooks – Another Freddy the Pig, we started this one before we took our first family camping trip.  We read some chapters in the car on the way, around the campfire that night and in the car again on the way home.  One of my favorite Freddy books.

8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl – Another childhood favorite.  When Em realized that the Willy Wonka’s Factory was only a few blocks from Charlie’s house, she said, “What kind of an adventure is that?!?”  Her tune changed quickly once the tour started!

9. Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl – I hadn’t read this as a child, so it was a treat to share it with Em before the movie came out (which we still haven’t seen).

10. Meet Molly by Valerie Tripp – An American Girl story.  What can I say?  Em loved it.

11. Molly Learns a Lesson by Valerie Tripp – Ditto above.

Plus many, many Magic Tree House and Junie B. Jones books!

Top Five of 2009 – in order

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

3. Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

4. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

5. The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Worst Five of 2009 – in order

1. A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

2. Watch Over Me by Christa Parrish

3. Perfect Life by Jessica Shattuck

4. Life After Death by Deepak Chopra

5. Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

Now that this is finished, I can get going on my 2010 list! Happy New Reading Year everyone!!  🙂

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