write meg!’s 2009 reading honors

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

north_of_beautifulJustina 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.


maladies1Jhumpa Lahiri’s
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.


book_thiefMarkus Zusak’s
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.


Second HelpingsMegan McCafferty’s
Second Helpings

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.


Eva Rice’s
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

me_mccafferty_booksYeah, 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

sundays_at_tiffanysYes, 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

sugar_queenIf 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.



Biggest Tearjerker

after_youJulie 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

princess_diariesMeg 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!)



Most Gripping

life_as_we_knew_itIt 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.



Biggest Disappointment

me_mr_darcyJudging 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!



Most Uplifting

artichokes_heartOn 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

Ready to read at the National Book Festival, y’all?

national_book_festival

So this bookish event is happening downtown this weekend. You may have heard of this little gathering . . . it’s The National Book Festival! Yes, folks, it’s that time of year again. Last fall I lamented the fact that I’d been living under a rock and had to work the day of the bash, but this year? Not so much! Working just one job has been quite, um, awesome. So there’s no way I’m missing this year’s festivities!

Authors representing all genres will be on the mall in Washington, D.C. from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26 — reading, signing novels and, most importantly, talking books! Among many others, slated to appear are James Patterson, Shannon Hale, Paula Deen, Nicholas Sparks, Ken Burns, Julia Glass and George Pelecanos.

My dad and I will be making the trek downtown, where we’ll be dashing from pavilion to pavilion in order to soak up as much literary goodness as possible. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be the one in the blue top with a slightly crazed look in my eye. Look for the curly hair — it’s slightly ridiculous, but comes in handy if you’re searching for me in a crowd! After the event is over, I’ll be heading to dinner with several of the fine book bloggers I’ve gotten to “know” over the past year, and I’m seriously excited.

festival_mapIf you’re coming to the event, The Washington Post has a really helpful special section (see, special sections! I’m a special sections editor, too, so I have to plug them when I can!) on the festival, including times, author bios and a handy map. Said map has already been printed and highlighted by yours truly so we  can make it to each author discussion quickly and efficiently! Yes, I’m a tad OCD. But that’s part of my voracious charm, right?

The Library Of Congress is also integrating some nifty social media tools this year, including the ability to text “BOOK” to 61399 for book news and information while on the mall. For everyone into Twitter, like moi, you can follow the LOC and join in festival-related news with the hashtag #nbf (National Book Festival, kiddos). If I can find a free Wi-Fi hotspot (please, oh please!), you know I’ll be Tweeting it up!

So there you have it! I hope we have a fine bookish Saturday and look forward to meeting many of you at the festival! If you see me, remember — I have blog business cards to hand out! If that doesn’t entice you to approach, well, I don’t know what will.

Two challenges complete!

Since I first signed my little self up for reading challenges at the end of last year, I’ve been plugging away at checking more and more novels off my to-be-read lists and keeping track of my progress here! Since January, I’ve finished two of the challenges — the 2009 YA Challenge, hosted by J. Kaye, and the Chick Lit Challenge, hosted by The Twiga Blog.

I’m very excited because these are, in fact, the first two reading challenges I joined — and they’re the first ones I’ve completed. It’s only July and I have plenty of other goals to accomplish before the end of the year, so I’ll get right back to it! My biggest challenge is J. Kaye’s 100+ Reading Challenge, and I’m currently on book No. 43 for the year. Though I’m a little behind schedule, I still think I can do it.

So what did I read? Check out my completed lists! (Hooray!)


yachallenge

1. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
2. The Princess Diaries X: Forever Princess by Meg Cabot
3. Forever In Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares
4. Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson
5. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
6. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
7. Looking For Alaska by John Green
8. A Certain Strain of Peculiar by Gigi Amateau
9. Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway
10. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
11. Along For The Ride by Sarah Dessen
12. Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

*~*~*~*

chick_lit_challenge

1. Scot On The Rocks by Brenda Janowitz
2. Milkrun by Sarah Mlynowski
3. The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble
4. The Anglophile by Laurie Gwen Shapiro
5. Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
6. Everyone Is Beautiful by Katherine Center
7. Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
8. Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty
9. Frenemies by Megan Crane
10. Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty

completed challenges

As I’ve completed reading challenges in 2009 and 2010, I’ve shared them here. Happy reading!


everything_austen

Completed!

1. Rude Awakenings Of A Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler
2. Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange
3. Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman
4. “Lost In Austen” (film review)
5. Darcy And Anne by Judith Brocklehurst
6. According To Jane by Marilyn Brant


yachallenge

Completed!

1. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
2. The Princess Diaries X: Forever Princess by Meg Cabot
3. Forever In Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares
4. Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson
5. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
6. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
7. Looking For Alaska by John Green
8. A Certain Strain of Peculiar by Gigi Amateau
9. Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway
10. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
11. Along For The Ride by Sarah Dessen
12. Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

*~*~*~*

chick_lit_challenge

Completed!

1. Scot On The Rocks by Brenda Janowitz
2. Milkrun by Sarah Mlynowski
3. The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble
4. The Anglophile by Laurie Gwen Shapiro
5. Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin
6. Everyone Is Beautiful by Katherine Center
7. Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty
8. Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty
9. Frenemies by Megan Crane
10. Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty


Goal: “Cream Crackered” — Read 8 Typically British Novels (DONE!)

1. Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell
2. Rowan The Strange by Julie Hearn
3. One Day by David Nicholls
4. The Other Mothers’ Club by Samantha Baker
5. Holly’s Inbox: Scandal In The City by Holly Denham
6. I Remember You by Harriet Evans
7. I Heart New York by Lindsey Kelk
8. A Desirable Residence by Madeleine Wickham

Vacation snapshots

beachBack from another grand adventure — this time to North Carolina! I stay at a beach house with my extended family each summer, and we always have fun riding the waves, reading, eating out, chatting and generally lounging about in the sunshine. It wasn’t quite as warm this year as it has been in years past — it was a record 100 degrees in N.C. this time last year! — but that didn’t bother me so much. That just meant I was sweating less which, let’s face it, is a good thing!

One outstanding moment of this year’s trip? I went boogie-boarding for the first time with my sister and cousin! My idea of “spending time on the shore” usually includes me with a book in hand, dipping my toes in the water and dodging an errant wave that dares to actually get my bathing suit wet. But this year, at my uncle’s urging, I actually submerged myself in the water (after getting my book to safety first, of course!) and had a lot of fun “swimming” around (read: kicking my feet on the sandy bottom and using the board as leverage). I don’t have any photographic evidence of this activity, but my mom — an outstanding photographer — got snapshots of that and other adventures, including one to prove just how far my nose was in Megan McCafferty’s Fourth Comings!

I managed to only finish one book while I was away: Hyatt Bass’s The Embers. Ironically, this was the only book I didn’t mention on my beach reads post! It was a review copy I was struggling to finish, and I tossed it in my bag at the last minute. I figured I give it my undivided attention while at the beach, a requirement for me to able to polish that one off. I was right — I found the book difficult to get through. My review will be posted tomorrow, which coincides with its publication date! I also worked my way through McCafferty’s novel and started Sarah Dessen’s Along For The Ride, which I’m enjoying so far! I didn’t get to the others, I’m sorry to say.

And now — the good stuff! Random vacation snapshots. All of my favorite photos can be found on my Flickr page.

beach_reeds

spotlight_girls

lifeguards

beach_bw

shells

sunset_sound

me_dock

pink_sunset

Meg’s Summer Movie Preview

Summer is full of excitement — standing in line at the ice cream shop; my stubborn wearing of flip-flops, even in the rain; the beach vacations; the suntans and barbeques and fireworks. Even though I haven’t had a whole summer sprawling before me, open and uncommitted, in years, I can definitely work up some enthusiasm for summertime!

Especially when I have so many awesome movies to catch! There’s just something about the season that makes me want to plunk down in a cold, sticky theater and lose myself for a couple hours. And if the next few months are any indication, I’ll be able to do just that time and again.

A few of highlights between now and August?

 

Summer Movies Meg Can’t Wait to Catch



my_life_ruinsMy Life In Ruins • Opens June 5 • PG-13

This comedy featuring “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” star Nia Vardalos and Richard Dreyfuss promises to feature everything I love about a great summer flick: awesome scenery outside the U.S. (here, the gorgeous Greece), a little steamy romance, funny characters and plenty of comedic timing. I’m a huge fan of Vardalos — and good on her for going from indie lady to star! — and can’t wait to see what she cooks up for this one. Plus, have you seen her character’s Greek love interest? Check out the preview — I’ll be there!

 

 

away_we_goAway We Go • Opens June 5 (limited) • R

I don’t think I could really love delightfully awkward and handsome actor John Krasinski (of “The Office” fame) any more, so I’m fully devoted to finding a theatre playing his offbeat new movie “Away We Go.” Krasinski and Maya Rudolph play an expectant couple who travel around the country looking for the perfect place to raise their family, running  into old friends and family members on their quest. It looks touching and just . . . different. Guess I’m headed to Virginia to get a glimpse of this one!

 

 

year_oneYear One • Opens June 19 • PG-13

A caveman comedy starring Michael Cera and Jack Black? Okay, I don’t really have to give much explanation here . . . because who can resist Cera’s deadpan comedic charm? I have to admit that “Juno” didn’t really do much for me, but his loveable baby daddy character completely saved the day. And Jack Black is a genius! I know that his films can be either, um, hit or miss . . . but since seeing his awesome, sensitive character opposite Kate Winslet in “The Holiday,” I’m a huge fan. And “Nacho Libre” was quite underrated! The preview already has me cracking up, so I don’t think I’ll be too disappointed.

 

 
my_sisters_keeperMy Sister’s Keeper • Opens June 26 • PG-13

I know it’s going to be just about impossible to find someone to see this with me, but I’m still (a little) determined that I’m going to check it out. Based on Jodi Picoult’s novel of the same name, “My Sister’s Keeper” looks to be the tear-jerker to end all tear-jerkers. Though I’m not completely sold on the idea of Cameron Diaz as the mother of a brood of teens (seriously? Cameron Diaz?), I’m willing to set that aside and let myself have a good cry. We’ll see how long I can make it without shedding a tear . . . I’m betting five minutes.

 

 

harry_potterHarry Potter & The Half Blood Prince • Opens July 15 • PG

Yeah, I won’t bore you with any descriptions here. I’m beside myself with eagerness to see this one — along with everyone else in the world! But each movie brings us a tiny bit closer to the end of the franchise . . . doesn’t it? I don’t even want to ponder that!

 

 

 

 

julie_juliaJulie & Julia • Opens August 7 • PG-13

Based on a blogger who embarked on a year’s journey preparing the recipes of famed chef Julia Childs, this film starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep (love them!) looks awesome. Of course, they had me at the mention of the blog . . . and since I’m ever the aspiring gourmet who just can’t bring herself to really buckle down and cook something, I’m hoping “Julie & Julia” will give me some needed culinary inspiration! It seems to fluctuate between the life of Julia (Streep) and modern girl Julie (Adams) as they separately fulfill their destinies. Yes!

Booking Through… Friday: Reading resolutions

booking_through_thursLet’s go Booking Through Thursday — on Friday! I was running around yesterday and didn’t get to answer one of my favorite prompts . . .

Any Reading Resolutions? Say, specific books you plan to read? A plan to read more ____? Anything at all? Name at least ONE thing you’re looking forward to reading this year!

I have so many books waiting in my TBR stack and keep adding more and more titles to it . . . but there are many books getting ready to come out this year that I’m really looking forward to reading! I got incredibly excited when I saw Sarah Dessen has a new book coming out in June, Along For the Ride. She’s one of my favorite young adult authors — or just authors in general — and I can’t wait to get something new from her. Closer to the home front, the last installment of Meg Cabot’s incredibly popular Princess Diaries series comes out this Tuesday, Jan. 6 — Princess Diaries X: Forever Princess. I’m saving up my Borders Bucks to put toward that! I also recently acquired several books from my wish list on BookMooch, including Laurie Notaro’s The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death. Can’t wait to start there!

I’m participating in a few book challenges this year, so I’ll probably be reading more young adult than normal. I’m really into contemporary fiction, a little romance and a smidge of non-fiction, but I really want to start writing young adult fiction . . . that’s a writing goal for 2009! So to be a great young adult writer, I’m going to have to really know the genre. I’ve been reading YA since I was . . . well, a YA myself! But I didn’t look at it from the perspective I will be now. Plus, YA books are just fun!