Monday, January 18, 2010


1. State of Fear by Michael Crichton (audio) - This is Crichton's novel about global warming. Published in 2004, it is not at all what you would expect. It is a rocking good novel, with well-drawn characters facing improbable circumstances. But at the end, there is almost a full disk of "author's message". Crichton thought that global warming was exaggerated, at best, and possibly a total hoax. It's a bold stand, and Crichton was certainly no conspiracy monger. It's a fascinating read, and I plan to buy a copy in print to read in addition to the cds.
2. Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris - Second book in the True Blood series, it continues the Sookie Stackhouse story. Again, good fun. Light and fluffy, no heavy lifting here.
3. The City and the City by China Mieville - This book has a weird premise: what if Berlin wasn't separated by a wall at all, but instead by an imaginary dividing line, and all the residents of East and West Berlin had to pretend not to see the other city? That's the basic idea, except of course, it isn't Berlin; it's a made up country, Beszel, but the idea is the same. It's two cities, interlocked, but the citizens of each city have to pretend that they don't see the other city or its residents. Then, a murder happens, and a body is discovered. And a policeman starts investigating. But where did the murder happen? And who was the girl who was murdered? And why was she killed? The novel has a lot of promise, but sadly, what do you really do with a story like this? It doesn't deliver on this promise.
4. Evening Class by Maeve Binchy (audio) - Another fine, sprawling novel by Maeve Binchy. She is totally the master of multi-character epics set in Ireland. This one centers around a group of people taking an evening class to learn to speak Italian. It's an improbable mix of people, each taking the class for a different reason.
5. Le Divorce by Diane Johnson (audio) - There's a movie of this novel that's better than the book, which is rare. Just watch that.
6. The Twins of TriBeCa by Rachel Pine (audio) - A fun tell-all about Miramax studios. Again, pretty light and fluffy, but a fun read.
7. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson - You all already know how much I love this trilogy, but this was such a great ending to the story. I was really worried, because Larsson passed away in the middle of writing the series, and had so much more planned. But this book really wraps things up nicely. The bad guys get theirs and the good guys...well, I can't tell you what happens, now can I? Suffice it to say that although I'm disappointed that there won't be a ten book series as Larsson was planning, the trilogy is satisfyingly complete as it stands now.
8. Barrel Fever by David Sedaris (audio) - I've never been a huge David Sedaris fan, but finding his stuff on audio books has changed that. He does all his own recordings and his essays are so much funnier when he reads them. With that said, though, Barrel Fever was my least favorite of his books on cd. That's because it's half essays and half stories and I just don't find his stories funny at all. They're too weird for me.
9.The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe (audio) - OMG, this book was so good. It was so good I went to the used book store and bought the print book before I finished listening to the cd's because I had checked it out from the library and I couldn't stand the thought of returning it. I lucked out and the used book store had a copy for like $4. I wrote about it before, here, and I will be writing more about it, because it has launched me into book detective mode (don't laugh - it's just for my own amusement). The story is about a serial killer who is traveling across Canada stopping in small towns killing terminally ill people who have contacted him and requested his services. A Detective Inspector, who is the acting police chief in one of those small towns, catches on to what he's doing, and starts to track him. Her name is Hazel Micallef, and she's 61, divorced, needs back surgery, and lives with her mother, the former mayor of their small town. Seriously, I cannot say enough good things about this book, and the sequel cannot be published in America fast enough to suit me. Patience, I does not has it.
10. The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe - Um yeah, I read the print book immediately after I finished listening to the cds. And was disappointed when I finished it. SO SO GOOD.
11. Just One Look by Harlan Coben (audio) - Another twisty, turny great novel by Harlan Coben. In this one, a woman picks up some pictures from the photo developers, and an old photo is stuck in the middle of her roll. It's a shot of five people in their early twenties, and one of the guys looks a lot like her husband. But when she asks her husband about the picture, he says it isn't him. Then, he gets in their minivan and drives away, despite the fact that it's 11:00 at night. When he doesn't come home for 2 days, she starts to investigate.
12. When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris (audio) - Much better than Barrel Fever because there are no stories, this is a delight. On each disk of this book, there was at least one essay that had me in tears I was laughing so hard. Absolutely terrific.
13. Graceland by Chris Abani (audio) - I don't even know how to describe this mess of a book. It's set in Nigeria, and contains many horrors that you might expect a book set in Africa to have. Then, there's childhood rape, sodomy, drug running, human smuggling, and just lots more horror. Maybe it was the fact that I listened to it during the holidays, but I just couldn't take it. Add to that the fact that the author kept trying to sing background music and other random bits of song, which was just distracting, and the fact that the book has a complete cop-out ending, which had to have been set up from the beginning, because it's a play on one of the characters' names.
14. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris (audio) - Really awesome. Contains the uber-famous Santaland Diaries, which are great. Very short, but very very funny.
15. The Blind Assassin by Maragret Atwood - I have so much to say about this book that I don't even know where to start. The story is great, and the characters are even better. The focus is on Iris and Laura Chase, sisters and the lives and choices they make. The structure of the novel is unusual, beginning with Laura's death, which may or may not have been intentional, then plunging into The Blind Assassin, a novel written by Laura before she died and published by Iris after Laura died. Interspersed with chapters from the novel are newspaper articles about the deaths of Iris' husband Richard and daughter Aimee. Finally, after several more chapters of the novel-within-a-novel, Iris begins narrating. I absolutely loved this novel and I will be writing more about it very soon.
16. Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris - A change from the True Blood series, this series seems a little more serious. Harper is a weaker character, more reliant on her brother than Sookie is on anyone. Still, a mostly fluffy read.
17. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - A creepy, semi-apocalyptic tale (paging Shauna!) that still manages to retain its human element. In the future, all second (and up) marriages have been declared illegal, and broken up. The women from those who have had children have been placed in well-to-do homes as handmaids to produce children for the wealthy men and women who can't have children. Which means that they live in these homes and have sex with the husband of the family once a month, hoping to get pregnant. This, of course, makes them tremendously popular with the wife of the family. *snort* And the man. And, basically, everyone. So it's not very cheerful, but it does retain its humanity. And it has a compelling plot, so there's that. I really liked it, and I didn't really expect to. I liked The Blind Assassin better, but a lot of that is character development.
18. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout - In structure, this book is unusual because it is 13 stories instead of one big novel. It reminded me of Spoon River Anthology, in the way that each story was about someone different, or a family (the English majors love me now!). Through it all is Olive Kitteridge and her long-suffering husband, Henry. Some stories are directly about them, but most are at least in part about someone else, and only peripherally about Olive and Henry. And I think I've said how much I loved this novel.


1. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See - Very atmospheric Asian novel about two little girls who are friends growing up, have a fight and stop being friends. Good, but kind of mild. The misunderstanding that led to them to not speak for so long was a little lame, in my opinion.
2. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (audio) - Oh, the main character in this annoyed me to no end. And I saw the "surprise" ending coming a mile off. And now I really don't want to see the movie, which I very much wanted to see before, and I absolutely love Kate Winslet. I don't know that I would go so far as to say that I didn't like it. Well, yes, I think I will. I didn't like it. I didn't like the main character - I thought he was a spineless wimp who made some really inexplicable, indefensible decisions. And Kate Winslet's character was woefully underdeveloped. We do not understand why she does one single thing that she does. Ever.
3. Here on Earth by Alice Hoffman - Horrible, horrible book about a woman who willfully gets into an abusive relationship with a man she dated in her past. She leaves a stable marriage for this man! Against the advice of her daughter and all her friends. And then proceeds to totally not notice when he cuts off the phone and gathers up all the mail. Yes, she just DOES NOT NOTICE that the phone doesn't work at all and no mail ever arrives. Even though people tell her that they tried to call and that they mailed her invitations and other things. One of the stupidest books I've ever read. I'm sorry; I rarely criticize books that harshly, but it's true. I think I bought this book for a dollar from a vineyard on the farm tour last year. Yay, I'm so glad I didn't really pay for it. 4. A Place of Hiding by Elizabeth George (audio) - I had very high hopes for this because I loved What Came Before He Shot Her so much, but I was really disappointed in this one. It's a murder mystery, and it seemed to me that George really hadn't figured out who the murderer would be before she finished writing the book. Then, as she worked through the plot, she eliminated possible suspects one by one. Upon reaching the end, she realized that she had actually eliminated all possible suspects and had now left herself with no plausible murderer. At which point, she returned to her first, not really plausible, suspect and concocted a terrible not-at-believable motive. There is a good sub-plot with a friend of the murder victim and his aged father. That is this book's only redeeming feature.
5. When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson - This is the third novel by Kate Atkinson to feature Jackson Brodie, private detective, who is an awesome and tremendously likable character, and this one is far far better than One Good Turn (the second book), which I thought was very disappointing. Like Case Histories, the novel that introduced Jackson, Good News weaves together several seemingly unrelated crimes and mysteries. Jackson's tangled and tortured personal life gets drug in, too, of course, as the poor man can't figure out how to have a relationship with a woman. I really liked it, as you can definitely tell.
6. The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman (audio) - And here is where I gave up on Alice Hoffman. Ice Queen is the story of a weird girl who wishes that her mother would die in a fit of anger one night and of course, her mother is killed in an auto accident that evening. Later in life, she wishes to be struck by lightning, and gets that wish as well. After that, she falls in love with a man who isn't quite what or whom he seems to be and works to alienate or not alienate her brother and sister-in-law, she can't quite decide which she wants. A very weird character and a very weird book. My final opinion of Hoffman is that she is a very uneven author who doesn't mind at all if her plots are heavy-handed or, y'know, believable.
7. The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo (audio) - A cute and almost whimsical tale of a boy who is tormented by bullies at school, lives in a run down motel with his dad, then gets to stay out of school for a time, meets a little girl and goes for walks in the woods where he finds a tiger in a cage. Things kind of go downhill from there, but it's still a cool little story.
8. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (audio) - I absolutely loved this book. It was one of the few audio books that I kept. Four random strangers meet at a tall building on New Year's Eve, each planning to commit suicide. They talk each other out of it for that night, but what comes after that? Very funny, very human.
9. What Comes After Crazy by Sandi Kahn Shelton (audio) - Maz, daughter of a psychic, struggles to get her life together after her husband runs off to New Mexico. Then, just when she's getting it together, he comes back. And her mother comes to visit. A little too "zany". It's funny, it just tries a little too hard.
10. The Final Solution by Michael Chabon (audio) - I love Michael Chabon (author of Wonder Boys, and the absolutely fabulous, Pulitzer Prize winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay), so that means that what I'm about to say pains me greatly. The Final Solution is a mystery that features a very old, formerly very famous detective who is supposed to remind you very strongly of Sherlock Holmes. Maybe it's this, because I tend to find all things connected with Sherlock Holmes deadly boring (although I VERY MUCH want to see the upcoming movie - Robert Downey Jr. couldn't be boring if he tried!), or maybe it's just this book itself, but I was bored to tears. I had bought the book years ago, when it first came out, and read the first chapter or so, and couldn't get into it. So I picked it up on audio book, acknowledging the fact that I will probably never go back and read the actual book. The audio book is nearly as boring as the print book, I'm sad to say. It's about a lost parrot. And that's about it.
11. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - Yes, I re-read it when the second one came out. What of it? I understood the financial stuff this time around, so who's laughing now? I still love it just as much as I did the first time around.
12. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson - What? You're sick of hearing about how much I love this trilogy? Okay, okay. I will just say that the cliffhanger ending on this one just about killed me dead. And that at one point, I threatened to fly to Sweden, dig up Stieg Larsson, and kick his ass. Then, a few pages later, I forgave him. (I should really get out more, shouldn't I?)
13. Promise Me by Harlan Coben (audio) - Please, please tell me you all read Harlan Coben and I don't need to tell you how wonderful he is. This book was read by the author, which was a treat, because he has a warm, rich, deep voice with a nasally NE accent. He sounded like a big, New England teddy bear which was the perfect sound for his character, Myron Bolitar. In this novel, Myron makes two high school girls promise him that they will call him if they are ever in trouble and need a ride home. He will come get them, no questions asked, and not tell their parents. Which, as we all know, is a tremendously dangerously offer to make to high school girls. Of course one of them takes him up on it. And then vanishes. Coben tends to write twisty, turny, smart books. I've read and listened to four or five now and loved every one.
14. Who By Fire by Diana Spechler - Clever title, lackluster plot. Screwup girl goes to Israel to bring home her uber religious brother. Their mother gets taken in by a con man. Overall, a very forgettable novel.
15. The Last Summer of You and Me by Anne Brashares (audio) - This book hinged on one of those "if the two people had only talked for about 1.5 seconds this misunderstanding wouldn't have happened" plot points that absolutely infuriates me. I hated it with the fire of 10,000 suns. 16. Tara Road by Maeve Binchy (audio) - Out of the 19 discs, more of these were messed up than were not (I checked it out from the library.), yet I still loved it irrationally. It is a huge, sprawling novel that follows Rea over the course of her life, from young woman working in an office and meeting Danny, to marrying and having children, to well, you'd just have to read it, now wouldn't you? Along for the ride are her friends and family, all interesting and well-developed characters in their own rights. I so wish there was a sequel. That says a lot, doesn't it? 19 discs and I wish there was more.
17. Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding (audio) - Um, I know that this was the book that started the whole "chick lit" phenomena and all, but I really wasn't impressed. Way too predictable. Way to yell-y and loud. And I didn't really like Bridget all that much.
18. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan - Discussed here. If you don't want to click, mildly interesting history with a pretty shocking ending. Overall, disturbing.
19. Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner - Smart chick lit. Really, really liked it. Two friends, road trip, what's not to like?
20. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris - First of the Sookie Stackhouse/ True Blood books. Really fun, very campy. No heavy lifting here, but for mindless fluff, you really can't go wrong with the True Blood crew. Decent mystery, good characters.


1. What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George - SO SO GOOD. This falls into a subset of books that I love. The ones that warn you, from the title or the basic setup or whatever, that they WILL NOT have a happy ending, but are so beautifully written and make you care so deeply for the characters that you hope and pray for a happy ending anyway. I mean, the title of this book is What Came Before He Shot Her, so you know there's going to be a murder. But the book details a year in the life of a young boy before he commits a very serious crime. The murder in the title doesn't take place until page six hundred and something, so there is a LOT of "What Came Before". (Other great books in this subset - Bel Canto and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)
2. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons - Dark, gritty and not very good.
3. Life Sentences by Laura Lippman - Do you read Laura Lippman? Because you totally should. Her books are fantastic. Life Sentences is about a writer, mining her past for a story to tell. She remembers that a girl she was friends with in middle school went to prison for killing her baby, so she decides to investigate that.
4. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson - Recommended by Janssen. Completely chilling story of two girls with eating disorders. One is bulimic, one is anorexic. One lives, one dies. The book is excellent.
5. Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman - This is the first in her series about detective Tess Monaghan and it's great. I plan to pick up the rest of the series and read them as soon as I can.
6. City of Thieves by David Benioff - I saw the movie of 25th Hour, based on his novel, and was very impressed. City of Thieves is good, but has a disappointing ending.
7. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski - I think the simplest thing to say here is that on Goodreads, there are 142 posts about this book in the Books You Loathed thread. It's not that the novel is bad, because it's not. It's very well written. It's that the author makes some major choices that really anger readers. Including me.
8. The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud - YAWN. Bor-ing.
9. The Dirty Secrets Club by Meg Gardiner - Nowhere near as interesting as it could have been. Good premise, bad delivery.
10. The Ex-Debutante by Linda Francis Lee - Fluffy, fun chick lit. Entertaining.
11. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger - OMG, SO GOOD. I loved it. Loved, loved, loved it. Claire and Henry are one of my all-time favorite couples.
12. The Devil in the Junior League by Linda Francis Lee - Again, fluffy fun chick lit. Very cute, good characters.
13. The Alibi Man by Tami Hoag (audio) - This was the first audio book I listened to. It was a good mystery, although the conclusion is really far-fetched and unbelievable.


1. 7th Heaven - James Patterson - Seventh book of the Women's Murder Club series. Good series, quick reads. I enjoyed it.
2. The Woods - Harlan Coben - Recommended by Fiona. Really good mystery with lots of unpredictable plot twists. Really liked it.
3. Slam - Nick Hornby - Hornby is the author of About a Boy, High Fidelity, and other British "lad lit" books. They're all very entertaining and quick reads. This one is no exception.
4. Eclipse - Stephenie Meyer - Twilight series. Awful. See previous thoughts here. Um, and here.
5. A Much Married Man - Nicholas Coleridge - For some reason, it took me a really long time to finish this book. It's not that thick, but the type must be really small or something. Anyway, it's not bad. Entertaining.
6. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens - See, I read classics, too! Very good, very moving, but as is ALWAYS the case with Dickens, too many descriptions. Maybe I just bore easily.
7. Breaking Dawn - Stephenie Meyer - THANK GOD there are only four books in this series. I finally finished the whole damn series. Breaking Dawn is far and away the best in the series, but that is Not. Saying. Much.
8. Rise and Shine - Anna Quindlen - This book is very good until she makes a choice to use one of the characters as a plot device to bring another character home. I hated that choice and it colored the way I feel about the book.
9. Mr. White's Confession - Robert Clark - A very weird mystery. The plot is good and the book is well-written. I can't remember why it leaves me cold. Oh wait, yes, I do. The unlikely couple who become the heart of the book don't end up together. But it's good, and very twisty, and the red herrings are REALLY believable.
10. Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates - No, I haven't seen the movie. The sad part about this book is that the characters are not very likable. With likable characters, I think it would have rocked. And their kids are basically set pieces. In fact, the whole novel reads like a novel about marriage and family written by an unmarried man with no children.
11. Mohawk - Richard Russo - This is Russo's first novel, and it kind of shows. It's got the Russo hallmarks - set in a small town, focuses on families and the challenges they face. It doesn't have a very strong conclusion, though. Some questions are left unanswered. But it's still very, very good, as I hope should go without saying when we're discussing Richard Russo.
12. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant - Anne Tyler - Has Anne Tyler ever written a bad book? Didn't think so. This one focuses on a mother and her three grown children - her personality, the sibling rivalry and the wounds the siblings inflict on each other.
13. Third Degree - Greg Iles - Another fine recommendation by Fiona. This is a serious thriller that I couldn't put down. I read it in one day and basically did not move from my recliner until I finished it. Gripping, exciting and suspenseful.
14. The Doctor's Wife - Elizabeth Brundage - Ugh. This book was populated by bad characters who did bad things. Nasty little piece of work.
15. A Disorder Peculiar to the Country - Ken Kaufus - A not-really-recommended by Fiona. But the premise sounded so good, I picked it up at a used book store and read it. And um, Fiona was right - it has a kickass premise on which it totally does not deliver. It's not bad, per se, it's just nowhere near as good as it could have been.
16. If Only It Were True - Marc Levy - Weird premise, weird delivery. A guy walks into his closet one day and finds a girl sitting there. She's the "spirit"? of the girl who owned the apartment before him. She's not dead, though, she's in a coma in a hospital across town, and they're getting ready to turn off her life support. Um, it's not that it's bad, it's just REALLY far-fetched.
17. The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck - Very good. Rags to riches to fall from riches story set in China.
18. Away - Amy Bloom - Amazing until the ending. Too much buildup that didn't get delivered on. The prose is stunning, though.
19. Blindness - Jose Saramago - Tiresome. Kind of a post-apocalyptic novel. People start going blind. It is somehow contagious, so the blind people and the people they've come in contact with are quarantined in a mental hospital. There is one woman who doesn't go blind. I don't know, it was grim and unpleasant, and at first very gripping, but as things got worse and worse, I cared less and less. Maybe I am heartless.
20. Change Me Into Zeus' Daughter - Barbara Robinette Moss - A tough childhood, drunk dad memoir. Very compelling. Very well-written.
21. The Full Cupboard of Life - Alexander McCall Smith - The 6th? 7th? book in the Ladies' No. 1 Detective Agency series. This series is so sweet. I really did not expect to like this series as much as I do. They're like cotton candy - fluffy and sweet and insubstantial. But they're cute little books.
22. Flipping Out - Marshall Karp - I will be telling you all about this book in a week or so. For now, suffice it to say that it's a very sharp, very funny mystery. Oh! And don't forget the contest!
23. Loud and Clear - Anna Quindlen - Essays from Anna Quindlen's years as a NY Times columnist. Some are great, some are annoying, some are just so-so. Overall, the book is enjoyable, if a big dose of "what Anna thinks".
Posted by Shelly at 10:54 AM