Around this time last year, I handed out my reading honors for 2008 — an activity I found both fun and crazy! It was my first year blogging and, by proxy, the first year I actually kept track of what I was reading as I finished it. In the latter half of 2008, anyway.
Well, things changed this go ’round — because 2009 was definitely my own year of literature! Not only did I keep a long, running list of every single book I read this year, but I actually managed to review them all, too. Do I sound cheesy and proud of myself? Why yes – and I am!
I spent a fantastic year with all sorts of characters, discovered tons of great new authors and fell in love with my new favorite book series of all time: Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling books (more on that later). And in between? I read 89 books in a variety of genres, which was short of my goal to read 105 novels, but I’m hoping that next year will be an even greater year for the reader in me. Thanks to everyone for their fantastic recommendations this year, and for the great dialogue and conversation I’ve found in the book blogging community! Let’s keep it up in 2010!
But enough shenanigans! It’s time to present my . . .
Top Five Reads Of 2009
Justina Chen Headley’s
North Of Beautiful
Gorgeous, moving and effective without ever becoming cheesy or maudlin, Headley’s story of one teenage girl’s rebellion against conventional forms of beauty, the power of art and the experience of falling in love had me in tears — and championing this book to anyone who would listen. Classified as young adult but with universal appeal, this novel is not to be missed.
Interpreter Of Maladies
Lahiri’s pen is deft and masterful; it’s no wonder this collection earned her a Pultizer Prize. Normally I shy away from short stories, finding that they lack the depth and emotional connection I crave from fiction, but reading just one of Lahiri’s works would make any reader change their mind. Fantastically written with the power to completely immerse you in either the dusty streets of India or the snowy winters of Massachusetts, it’s impossible forget the people to whom Lahiri introduces you.
The Book Thief
Zusak’s story of Liesel Meminger, a young German girl caught in the horrors of World War II and life in Nazi Germany, is impossible to forget. I finished it one perfect spring afternoon and immediately clutched it to my chest, wondering how I’d managed to miss it all this time. Also classified as “young adult” but with a powerful message that transcends genre, I give this one my absolute highest recommendation — with the caution to make sure you have a box of tissues handy. Tears are unavoidable. And trying to forget this story? Impossible.
The second book in McCafferty’s poignant, hilarious and heartbreaking series had me laughing, crying, jumping up and down and, most importantly, falling completely and totally in love with Marcus Flutie, the fantastic and slightly tortured object of Jessica’s devotion (whether she wants to admit it or not).
I was so in love with the novel, I found it impossible to even summarize — and, for the second time in write meg! history, I actually used a publisher-provided synopsis (the first time was for Sloppy Firsts, the previous novel in the same series!). While I loved Sloppy Firsts, I enjoyed the fruition of all the push-and-pull romantic tension that Second Helpings provided . . . earning it a spot on this very list.
The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets
One of my most recent reads, Rice’s novel following Penelope Wallace, a sort of ugly-duckling-turning-swan growing up in post-war London was delightful, addictive and magical — one of the most enchanting books I’ve read in a very long time. I’m a sucker for a good love story and, though love wasn’t the center of the book, I absolutely adored the romantic entanglements! So much happened in a novel that seemed as light as a feather, and I would have loved to spend time at Milton Magna . . . even if it seemed on the brink of crumbling into nothing. Another fantastic read not to be missed.
Favorite Book Series of 2009
Yeah, this one is going to Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling books. Are you surprised? Yes? Well, you shouldn’t be — especially if you’ve been reading write meg! this year! (Or, you know, just the beginning of this post.) Jessica is my new literary hero and, if she turns her head for more than a second, I’m snagging her enigmatic and very sexy boyfriend Marcus.
I read all five books in the series this past spring – culminating in Perfect Fifths, released in April — and I didn’t believe it was possible to become quite so obsessed with a set of stories. I just really related to Jess and her eternal struggles to find a place in her family, the world, and Marcus’s life — and she seemed so real and frustrating and, you know, awesome. These books are the best. And even though I was worried I would be more focused on the book than on my trip, I took Charmed Thirds with me to London — see it in my airplane seat pocket? So Jess has a special place in my life, considering she and her friends accompanied me on one of my favorite journeys of all time!
McCafferty’s words rang so true to me, in fact, that I actually had a ring made up with one of my favorite quotes (from Marcus, natch): “My thoughts create my world.” If that wasn’t my personal mantra for 2009, I don’t know what was! And if I didn’t look so terrible in hats, Ms. McCafferty, mine would be off to you.
Most Insulting Read
Yes, friends, insulting – to my own intelligence and yours. This honor goes to none other than James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet’s gem Sunday’s At Tiffany’s, a novel so pedantic and emotionally engineered to “tug at my heart strings” that it made me feel nauseous.
The lack of depth was frustrating enough, but the silly plotline so full of holes, you couldn’t navigate your way around them in a Hummer? Yeah, that was bad. I finished it mostly because it was like looking at a trainwreck, and I wanted the validation of having completing it after many months of it languishing in my TBR stack. You’ve been warned.
Most Delicious Read
If you don’t want to grab a bag of M&Ms, some Twinkies and a bottle of regular, full-calorie Coca Cola after reading Sarah Addison Allen’s The Sugar Queen, check and make sure you still have a pulse! The story of one young woman’s burying of her past — and feelings — in chocolate isn’t exactly a novel concept, but Allen’s flawless and magical writing totally won me over.
I was championing for Josey from the start and was swept up in the evolution of her sweet romance. Also an excellent read for book lovers, as one of the main characters is constantly pursued by novels — and just the ones she needs to read at a particular moment! Basically just fantastic.
Julie Buxbaum didn’t warn me that when I cracked the cover of her novel After You this past summer, I simply would not be able to get myself together for most of the book. I guess I shouldn’t expected an author to caution me, though, so the fault is mine for getting so emotionally invested in these heartbreaking characters!
Ellie travels to London after the death of her best friend Lucy to care for Lucy’s young daughter — and help her bereaved husband, Greg, deal with the messy aftermath that accompanies her sudden passing. Evocative and painfully realistic, I had a difficult time putting this one down — and even more difficult time forgetting it.
Best End Of An Era
Meg Cabot gave us the final installment of Princess Mia Thermpolis’s adventures as an unlikely future monarch in January with The Princess Diaries X: Forever Princess, the last book in her very successful young adult series.
I’ve been accompanying Mia through trials and triumphs since I was Mia’s age — fourteen — in the first novel and, as with many coming-of-age stories, I feel like I really aged right along with her. In a good way. I couldn’t have asked for a more exciting reunion between she and Michael, her first and longtime love, and I cheered and cried when it was all over, desperately wishing I could go back and relive it all again.
The Princess Diaries books are definitely some I would love to share with my own daughter someday, should I have one willing to take my advice on things like, you know, books. Either way, all ten are staying in my bookcase — and in my heart. (Awww!)
It took more than just a few pages for me to get hooked on Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It, but once I did? I was gone, baby, gone — far and away to a time when the moon is dangerously close to the earth, supplies are low and life — as I knew it — was forever changed.
No novel this year had quite the profound affect on me that this one did, and I’ll tell you why: it was life at its more terrifying, and it felt so real that, at times, I had to physically put the book down and walk away. It wasn’t just that it was scary, though it was . . . there was such an emotional, dangerous undercurrent to the story that majorly shook me to the core. Though I knew, logically, I shouldn’t read a book like that before bed, I had to know what happened — even if that meant nightmares of epic proportions. (And I had them.)
There’s no blood and guts, no gore . . . but there doesn’t need to be. This portrayal of the end of the world would have been sullied by any cheap gimics or scare tactics, and Pfeffer certainly knew that. You’d be hard pressed to find a more haunting novel than Life As We Knew It – and that knowledge alone has kept me from picking up its parallel story, The Dead and the Gone. Even three months later, and I’m not sure I can handle a return to dystopia.
Judging by that gorgeous cover and the fun synopsis that accompanied Alexandra Potter’s Me And Mr. Darcy (a trip to London! Jane Austen fans! A real Mr. Darcy!), I had such high hopes for the novel — and was totally let down on basically every front.
My lack of connection to the main character — and my almost disdain for her, if I’m being honest — completely colored my entire perception of the book, and I hated that I finished with way more questions than answers.
It’s been a while since I read this one, and you want to know the scene that sticks out most in my mind? The only scene I can truly recall now, six months later? One where Emily locks herself in the tiny bathroom on the tour bus in England and eavesdrops on a dude’s phone conversation. There’s a mention of how she was able to stop herself from urinating mid-urination so she can hear better. Pure grossness — and totally unnecessary. And now you get to have that image in your head, too, and feel my suffering. You’re welcome!
On the surface, Suzanne Supplee’s young adult novel Artichoke’s Heart doesn’t seem like it’s going to be an empowering read; it is, after all, a book based around narrator Rosie’s struggles to lose weight, gain confidence and improve her relationship with her difficult but loving mother. But talk about a book that won me over — and brought me to tears.
Rosie is such an inspiring, creative and hilarious main character — a young woman with a tremendous sense of humor and a kind, giving heart. Through all of her struggles and the difficulties she and her mother faced together, I wanted nothing more than to be her best friend and join her on her quest for strength and courage! After I finished the book, I even emailed Supplee to tell her how much I loved the story — a relative rarity for me. (What? I can be bashful! Um, sometimes. Maybe.)
Other books I loved in 2009. . .
• The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Barrows, Shaffer
• Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani
• The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
• The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
• Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
• Rude Awakenings Of A Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler
• Everyone Is Beautiful by Katherine Center
• On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
• Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead by Saralee Rosenberg