Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best Non-Fiction of 2011

My last book list to close out the year - my favorite non-fiction of 2011:

Mental Floss The Book (book of lists, obvs)

An Accidental Mother by Katherine Anne Kindred (memoir)

John Adams by David McCullough (biography)

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (memoir)

Southern Ladies and Gentlemen by Florence King (Southern humor)

One Nation Under Dog by Michael Schaffer (social science)

Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholos D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (social science)

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog (social science)

The Heroine's Bookshelf by Erin Blakemore (book about books)

Bossypants by Tina Fey (humor)

Is Everyone Hannging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Friday, December 30, 2011

Best YA of 2011

My favorite Young Adult books from 2011, in no particular order:

Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Side note: I totally didn't think I would enjoy these based on the covers.  Contemporary YA that isn't dealing with an "issue" isn't my thing.  But both of these books were among my favorites this year - they are adorable.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe (technically this is a 2012 release, but I read an ARC this year and loved it)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best Adult Fiction of 2011

I am hopelessly behind on reviews, so instead of writing them I am, obviously, working on my best of lists for this year.  Here's what I loved most in adult fiction, chronologically:

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (Historical Fiction)

The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear (King Killer Chronicles) by Patrick Rothfuss (fantasy)

Storm of Swords (Book Three in the Song of Ice and Fire Series) by George R.R. Martin (fantasy)

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Historical Fiction)

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen (Contemporary Fiction/Magical Realism)

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (Literary Fiction)

Feed by Mira Grant (Zombie Fantasy)

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (Literary Fiction)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book Review: All The Flowers In Shanghai by Duncan Jepson

All The Flowers in Shanghai is set during the 1930's in China on the brink of the Cultural Revolution.  The main character is Xiao Feng, a young woman forced by her parents into a marriage with the oldest son of the  wealthy and highly esteemed Sang family.  Feng's one role in marriage is to provide the Sang's with a male heir and she is treated cruely by her new family.  In her anger and bitterness, she finds a way to get revenge on the family but it comes with a terrible price.

About on par with what I expect from a historical fiction novel.  It was well-researched, although the historical setting takes a back seat to the story.  The writing kept me interested without being overly descriptive and wordy.  I was briefly bothered by Feng's use of American slang (four letter words mostly) that really didn't seem to fit well in the setting, but it wasn't something that ruined the book for me.  

Entertainment Value
I enjoyed the book, but I didn't like the ending.  That doesn't mean that the ending was bad or didn't fit with the story, but it wasn't what I wanted from the characters.  I rushed through probably the last fifty pages because I had lost interest in the story once the final plot point fell into place.  I also wished that the Cultural Revolution had played more of a role in the overall story.

I recommend it to readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in Asia.  If you read and liked Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I think you would certainly enjoy this one as well.  Just don't go into it expecting a detailed history of the Cultural Revolution - I think it actually reads better if you are already familiar to some extent with Mao and his policies and the sweep of the Cultural Revolution.  I think this would be a good book to read along with Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.

Thank you to TLC for sending me a copy to review.  Click here to see the list of all the others who are reviewing this one.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I know it probably seems like I've forgotten you, Reader Friends, but I'm still alive and kicking, although I have been very sick for about two weeks now.  I think I'm starting to come around though and I'll be back on here regularly in no time.  For now I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas!  Here's hoping that your holidays are full of comfort and joy!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Book Review: The Heroine's Bookshelf

What do Elizabeth Bennett, Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Scout Finch have in common?  All of them are amazing literary heroines written by equally amazing female authors.  The Heroine's Bookshelf profiles each of these characters and their authors, along with several others, in a series of essays celebrating the qualities that make them heroines such as happiness, fight, faith, etc.

It's not a deep, academic dissection of character, but the essays are still insightful and well thought out.  They're also accessible to every reader, not just the literature scholar.  And the fact that they are so easy to read may encourage more timid readers to pick up a classic that may have intimidated them before.

Entertainment Value
Again, I think the key here is how accessible the essays are.  They're the perfect length for reading one at a time, but they're so interesting that it's also easy to sit down and devour the whole book (which I did).  I think it helped that I had read most of the books that were discussed (I haven't read Gone With the Wind or the Colette books), but I was also really motivated to reread some of them and to pick up the ones I haven't experienced before.

I recommend it for anyone who loves books or is interested in the lives of women authors.  I also think this would make a really great book for graduates or teens who are into literature and looking to learn a little bit more about what it takes to be a heroine.

Thank you to TLC for sending me a copy to review.
You can see the full schedule with the other reviewing blogs by clicking here.
You can also click here to get an idea of what the book contains at the author's website

Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Review: Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

You may remember that Jackson Pearce is one of the authors we were privileged to get to meet/hear speak at Decatur Book Festival this year. 
*She's the one on the end in the pink, signing Crystal's copy of Sweetly*

I read her first book, Sisters Red, two years ago after hearing my friend Ashley rave about her and fell in love with it.  Sweetly is the second book in the series, although they aren't books that have to be read in order.  I mean, Sweetly makes more sense if you've read Sisters Red, but it doesn't feature the same characters or ruin anything from the first book.  It does still feature the fenris (werewolfish creatures) and those who hunt them, but this one includes someone who may or may not be a witch.  Just like Sisters Red is an interpretation of Red Riding Hood, Sweetly is a modern take on Hansel and Gretel, starring siblings Ansel and Gretchen (who are adorable).  The sibling aspect reminded me somewhat of Mira Grant's Feed.  I LOVE reading books where siblings are extraoardinarily close.  If you've read Sisters Red, you'll also recognize Samuel Reynolds, Gretchen's love interest.

This book accomplished exactly what I want a YA book to do - suck me into the story so completely that I don't notice anything else.  The writing isn't obtrusive in any positive or negative way.  The main focus is on the story itself and I appreciate that in YA fiction especially.  What I usually want when I read YA is an escape into a fascinating story and that is absolutely what I got with this one. 

Entertainment Value
I read it in one sitting, if that tells you anything.  I almost never stay up unreasonably late reading, but this one kept me up well past my normal bed time.  It doesn't stick to the Hansel and Gretel story as closely as Sisters Red stuck to the Red Riding Hood story, but it really didn't make a difference for me.  I enjoyed it just as much and actually noticed it more when it all came together at the end.  I really liked each of the characters and how the story unfolded.  Even the moral ambiguity of some characters appealed to me. 

Highly recommend it, especially to those who enjoy YA or modern fairy tale retellings.  If you're enjoying Grimm or Happily Ever After or any of the modern fairy tale movies that are currently out, this is also a good choice for you.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Book Review: The Betsy-Tacy Treasury

I would hope that every little girl met Betsy, Tacy, and Tib as a child, but, sadly, I don't think that's the case.  I was fortunate enough to read these several times throughout my childhood, so I was thrilled when my friend Trish from TLC offered this new collection of the first four books in the series for review.  If you aren't familiar, these books were written in the 1940's and 50's by Maud Hart Lovelace and are based on her own turn of the century childhood.  Betsy, Tacy, and Tib are three little girls who meet when they are five years old and grow up together.  These books follow the girls and their adventures at ages 5, 8, 10, and 12.

So cute!  I honestly just love Maud Hart Lovelace and these books are so well written.  I enjoyed them just as much as an adult as I did when I read them as a child.  A lot of the writing is, obviously, dated, and the turn of the century setting is very different than the way children live now, but the books honestly transcend that.  I don't think it's hard to identify with and care about these little girls regardless of the time differences.  They remind me a lot of the Little House on the Prairie books that way.  It's also a really fun way to teach kids about how things were when their grandparents were young.

Entertainment Value
It doesn't matter how old I get, I will always be entertained by the exploits of Betsy, Tacy, and Tib.  I honestly just can't recommend the books more highly.  If you have little girls or if you were ever a little girl, these are must-reads.  They are seriously adorable.  I also really liked the new formatting of this treasury.  It has all the classic Lois Lenski illustrations as well as introductions from authors like Judy Bloom and Meg Cabot.  And at the end there is a section with historical information about Maud Hart Lovelace and the time and setting.  I'm actually adding the rest of the books in the series (also collected in treasuries like this one) for Christmas this year - no higher recommendation than that!

Some links you may want to check out:
The Betsy-Tacy Society
The Betsy-Tacy Convention (I have never had the slightest inclination to go to Minnesota, but I'd totally go for this)
Other bloggers reviewing this book

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What I Read In November

I got a lot read in the first part of the month, but these last few weeks have been somewhat slow.  In the past week I've done a 3 mile charity walk, celebrated Thanksgiving, married off my little sister, and single-handedly orchestrated a graduation ceremony with over 300 people in attendance.  I'm burned out and was too tired to read much on some nights (I'm never so tired that I can't read anything).

In November I read:

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
Mozart's Last Aria by Matt Rees
Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres
An Accidental Mother by Katherine Anne Kindred
Want to Go Private by Sara Darer Littman
Conversations and Cosmopolitans by Robert and Jane Rave
Betsy-Tacy; Betsy-Tacy and Tib; and Besty, Tacy, and Tib Go Over the Big Hill by Maud Hart Lovelace
Meg by Steve Alten
Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Rigg

Total this month: 11
Total this year: 108
Pages read this year: 37,707
Money saved through buying used, reviewing, and using the library: $1101.09

That means that I met my goal of 100.  I feel like it's reasonable to think I could push the goal to 125 at this point, but I don't think I will.  I want to relax this last month and not feel pressured in any way.  I am going to try to spend the month reading 2011 releases (other than those I've already committed to for tours) and getting as many of those complete as possible.

Not much to sum up that wasn't already covered in the Thanksgiving post, but feel free to look back and see!

What did you read this month?