Sunday, January 01, 2012

The 52+ Books of 2011

Back in 2010, one of my goals for the year was to read (at least) a book a month.  Since I succeeded in that goal, I decided to drastically up my ambitions for 2011.  My goal for this year was to read (the equivalent of) a book a week, and I'm proud to say that I did it!

I was greatly helped in this goal in a few ways.  In the spring semester, I was taking a grad class for librarians called Materials For Youth.  The class was designed specifically for grad students who want to become children's or youth librarians, so it was perfect for me.  In that class, I had to read at least one (if not more) novels a week, plus our textbook and various articles.  So while it was a ton of reading, I loved it, and it definitely got me off to a strong start for my goal.  For the first five months of this year, I also enjoyed the great company of my MOPS book club in Indianapolis.  Those wonderful ladies have given me some great titles to try.  Lastly, I should mention that the vast majority (although not all) of the books that I have read have been young adult novels, as that's the kind of librarian that I want to be.

So, without further ado, a brief overview of my 52+ books of 2011:

1. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
I would never, ever have picked this up on my own.  It looked creepy, but it was also my first assignment for my Materials for Youth class.  It was my first Gaiman book. Most people either love him or hate him, but I find myself to be pretty indifferent.  The premise of this book is that a baby's parents are killed and he somehow manages to then crawl into a graveyard while eluding the killer himself.  He is then raised by the ghosts and other mystical creatures that inhabit the graveyard.  I liked the book, but it felt somewhat disconnected to me, more like a book of short stories (all about the same character) than a novel.

2. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
A young girl named Lucky is raised in a teensy tiny town (think like 10 people) and needs to come to terms with her mother's death.  I liked it for what it was, but the sequels aren't on my short list of "to reads."

3. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schiltz
This book, which is a series of poems, was actually written by a teacher in order to get her students interested in medieval life.  I loved how each character had their own distinctive voice and thought that it captured the time period beautifully.  The illustrations were gorgeous too.  I can't imagine most people picking it up for a "pleasure" read, but it would be hugely useful in a late elementary/early middle classroom.

4. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
My class was pretty polarized on this one, but I loved it.  It's a very realistic story, aside from the bizarre element of time travel.  It tells the story of a city "latchkey" kid growing up in about the same era as me and hte friendships she develops.

5. Uncensored Grace by Jud Wilhite
This is the first non-YA book on my list, and also the first I did not read for my class.  It has also been published under the title of Stripped.  It tells the story of Central Church in Las Vegas and people whose lives have been radically changed by God.  It served as the basic model for the book God Can!, which I wrote with my dad and his pastor, Cal Rychener.

6. Looking for Alaska by John Green
This was my first book by John Green, and I must warn you now that I gobbled up every book he wrote in the coming months (and am SO excited about his new book, which is coming out soon).  Alaska was definitely somewhat of a dark story, as the entire second half focused on boarding school students contemplating whether or not their vivacious (and depressed) friend Alaska had or had not committed suicide.  Great, great book; I highly recommend it (and anything else by John Green).

7. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
I have to say that I loved this book.  I couldn't get it out of my head for a long, long time after I had finished.  But I also have to say that I think there were a lot of details included that didn't need to be, and I was left wondering about a lot of other details that I think would have really added to the story.  It's set in the Australian outback and is the story of an orphan being raised at a boarding school.  Throughout the book, she pieces together her past and reveals the story of her own parents growing up at the same boarding school years before.

8. Baby Proof by Emily Giffin
I read this one for book club.  I have also now read all of Emily Giffin's books, but I have kind of a love/hate relationship with her.  I like her writing and her books (although chick lit) always make me think, but I kind of hate all of her main characters and think they make terrible choices.  This book contemplates one woman's desire to remain childless and its effects on her marriage, as well as the effects of children on her friends' lives and relationships.  Clearly an interesting topic for a group of moms to discuss!

9. No Choir Boy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin
A totally different read than anything else on this list.  It's the nonfiction accounts of several teenagers who were convicted of murder and sent to death row (many are still waiting there) for their crimes.  Reading their stories, and their accounts of life in prison, is definitely sobering.

10. Smile by Raina Telegmeier
This was my first graphic novel, and I kind of loved it.  It's the simple story of a girl who has braces (and other pretty severe orthodontic problems), as well as the story of her growing up.  Cute, light, well-drawn and written, a great introduction to graphic novels.

11. Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Peterson
Also a graphic novel.  I would NOT recommend this one, nor will I be reading its sequel.  The illustrations were great, but I thought the plot was seriously lacking, or at least had major holes in the storyline.  It's about mouse soldiers defending their hidden kingdom, and I got the distinct feeling that the author had this whole world and epic novel in his head and just couldn't get it out on paper.

12. Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
This novel dove into Norse mythology to tell the story of a crippled Viking boy and how he assisted the gods, in spite of a terrible family situation.  I didn't like it as much as The Graveyard Book, but it was a pretty quick read.  I did find that it was a little difficult to understand everything without knowing about Norse mythology--which provided me with a great excuse to learn. :)

13. Wait Til Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn
I think I first read this book in fifth grade.  Back then, I thought it was the creepiest, best book ever.  As an adult, I still liked it, but many of my classmates did not.  It tells the story of a lonely little girl and how she becomes a little too friendly with a vengeful ghost.

14. White Cat by Holly Black
While this is the first book in a series, I spent most of the book feeling like I had jumped in in the middle of a story, trying to figure out what in the heck was going on.  It's about magicians, who can control thoughts, dreams, and actions by just touching your skin.  Lots going on, and I felt like I didn't really get with the program  until the very end.  That being said, its sequel (Red Glove) is on my "to read" list.

15. The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Loved this book!  I read it with my book club, and it led to some really interesting discussion of how Chinese, Japanese, and American parenting are different.  It it set during World War II and tells the story of a young Chinese boy and his friendship with a Japanese girl, who is eventually "relocated."  You won't find this one in the YA section, but I definitely recommend it.

16. You Don't Even Know Me: Stories and Poems about Boys by Sharon Flake
This is a book of short stories and poems about young, urban black boys.  While it did inspire Ben and I to walk around the house randomly retorting, "You don't even know me!" for several weeks, I really did like it.  Definitely very different than my life as a suburban (now rural) white 30-something stay-at-home mom, but well-written and thought-provoking.

17. Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin
This book tells the story of a teenager autistic boy who loves to write and struggles to fit in.  I was fascinated to read a story from his point of view, and his own creative stories provided a nice offset to the narrative of his experiences.

18. Frindle by Andrew Clements
This one is a classic of late elementary/early middle literature, but I had never read it.  It's about a boy (who is not usually a troublemaker, or so he claims) who convinces his entire class to call "pens" "frindles" instead, which incenses his extremely strict English teacher, who happens to deeply love the dictionary.  Dunlap people, the teacher totally reminded me of Mrs. Applen.

19. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
The two authors alternate chapters to tell the stories of two teenagers named Will Grayson, who both happen to live in the Chicago suburbs and end up meeting in a most unconventional way.  Loved it!  Both storylines were great, and it only made me love John Green more.

20. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon
I also read this one for book club.  I can't really say that I liked it; it skipped all over the place way too much for a logical, organized person like me.  :)  The narrator was a teenage autistic British boy, and it chronicles his quest to find out who killed his neighbor's dog (and incidentally uncover the truth about his mother's disappearance).

21. Prairie Songs by Pam Conrad
A hardy pioneer girl tells the story of the lovely schoolteacher from the East who comes to live in a dugout near them, and how she cannot endure the loneliness of the prairie.  Pretty depressing with the woman, but the girl loves the prairie's open freedom and paints some beautiful pictures of it.  It's an older book and written for a younger audience, so probably not one that you need to run out and get (unless you, like me, have a history as a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder).

22. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
As is the case with every  book that has ever been made into a movie.... this book is better.  At its core, the book is about a mouse who befriends a princess, and how they together manage to save the kingdom from despair.  The book has way more storylines though, also telling the story of a (questionably) evil rat and a lonely servant girl.  (This was also the last book I read for Materials for Youth, so the rest of them from here on out are free choice.)

23. Crank by Ellen Hopkins
It sounds like a weird book: it is written entirely in poetry (mostly free verse) and tells the story of a teenage girl's addiction to and struggle with meth.  Not to pun on the theme, but I found it totally addictive.  I rushed out and read both of the sequels (even begging my local library to order the second one for me), and I plan to do more Ellen Hopkins in the coming year.  It's a thick book, but it goes quickly because of the form.

24. Glass by Ellen Hopkins
See, I told you I ran right out to get the sequel to Crank.  In this book, Kristina's addiction worsens and we see more of the consequences for her family and loved ones.

25. Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
I'd heard really good things about this one, and I really liked the basic premise, which is that a boy finds a red moleskin book tucked away in a bookstore, filled with clues that will lead him to a girl.  Cohn and Levithan alternate the chapters, and both Dash and Lily are nicely developed.  All in all, I should have loved it, but I thought it was just all right.

26. Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin
Here, a woman runs into the former love of her life on the street, and he wants to reconnect.  Problem: she's happily (at least until then) married to a man who is much better for her.  This book explores the "what ifs" of marriage and the lives we could have had.  My favorite of Emily Giffin's to date.

27. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Another win for John Green!  The narrator, a prodigy of a teenage boy, has been dumped by 19 successive Katherines.  During a road trip to "find himself," he also tries to develp a mathematical formula for deterining dumpage.  Great book.  It was probably my least favorite of John Green's books, but that's only because I loved them all, and I would still rank it higher than a lot of other books on this list.

28. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
This one has gotten a good bit of buzz in YA circles this year, and I picked it up because the Young Adult book group from IUPUI (which I have never actually attended, but often read along with) was reading it.  I was disappointed.  I thought the whole thing (poor boy saves rich girl, overcomes his personal demons, and is rewarded) was pretty predictable and dull.

29. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
This was my first book by Sarah Dessen, and it started my obsession with her.  I've only read two of her books to date, but I plan on burning through all the rest of them in 2012.  In the summer before she goes to college, Remy finally faces her abandonment/love issues, and discovers that falling in love isn't always a choice.  If you like both YA lit and chick lit (which I didn't know that I did until Sarah Dessen and Emily Giffin), you need to read Sarah Dessen.

30. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
This one took me a long time to read, largely because I had to return it in the middle of my reading in order for us to move, and I didn't pick up another copy for a good long while.  I read it with my book club (though I finished way after them).  It's the true story of a poor black woman named Henrietta who died of cancer.  Her cells were taken without her permission or knowledge, and they went on to form the well-known culture of HeLa, which has been used in an incredible amount of important experiments over the years.  It's filled with science, history, and family.  It found it to be both shocking and depressing, but I'd still recommend it.

31. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Thomas wakes up in a box (actually a sort of elevator), knowing nothing but his name.  From there, he is deposited in a colony of all boys, who seem to be held prisoner by forces unknown, with the only imaginable way out to be a maze (whose walls rearrange every night) filled with nightmarish creatures.  Loved the story, but I thought the writing left a lot to be desired.  If you're into dystopian literature, though, (which I am) I'd recommended it as a good, quick read.

32. Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin
This is her newest book (and as I said, I've read all of them). I thought it was her best by far. It alternates narrators, from the wife to the potential mistress. It contemplates what makes a marriage, what makes a family, and what those things are worth. Read it (you'll find it in the adult fiction section).

33. Blink and Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones
I also picked this one up for the YA book group through IUPUI.  It's about two homeless teenagers, both on the run from their past and getting into plenty of trouble in the present.  There were some parts that I wanted to be better-developed, but overall, thumbs up.

34. Waiting for Orpheus by Melissa Raguet-Schofield
Sorry, folks, you can't check this one out at your local library.  I got to read a draft copy of my BFF's first novel.  Loved it!  Anybody know a good publisher?

35. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
I decided to give the Cohn/Levithan combo another try, particularly since I'd heard so many good things about this movie (I know, I know, the book and the movie are never the same....).  I really didn't like this one and had a hard time finishing it.  Doesn't make my list of recs.

36. Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix
I read this one in conjunction with my old book club and then drove down to Indy to make a guest appearance and discuss.  It was a fascinating concept--reversing the concept of aging, until these women who were 160+ years old were teenagers again and facing the reality that in a few years, they'd be babies again, unable to care for themselves.

37.  That Summer by Sarah Dessen
I didn't like this one as much as This Lullaby, but since this was the first book that Sarah Dessen published, it stands to reason that she's gotten better over the years.  A teenage girl faces a summer in which both her father and her sister are getting married, and she longs for the simplicity of an earlier summer.

38. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
This is the second book in the Maze Runner trilogy.  I didn't like it as much as the first one, but I still devoured it.  I still think that James Dashner's writing leaves a lot to be desired, but dang, he comes up with some good plots.

39. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
This was probably one of my favorite books of the year.  Tally lives in a society where everyone has surgery to make them beautiful on their 16th birthday.... but at what cost?  I devoured this entire series and plan to do more Westerfeld in 2012.  A must-read for anyone who likes dystopian literature.

40. Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
This is the second book in the Uglies series, and as I mentioned, I devoured it.  It's really a toss-up whether I liked the first or second one better.

41. Parfumerie by E.P. Dowall
This is the play that I helped to direct at Delphi High School.  It's the basis for the plot of "You've Got Mail," as well as several other famous movies/shows.

42. Specials by Scott Westerfeld
Once again, did I mention that I devoured the Uglies books?  This is the third in the trilogy.

43. Paper Towns by John Green
This is a really tough call, since I have loved all of John Green's books, but I think this one might have been my favorite.  A teenage boy's next-door neighbor (and long-time crush) disappears, but she has left behind clues that only he can follow.  It's both philosophical and hilarious.  Run to your library and get it.

44. The Death Cure by James Dashner
This is the final book in the Maze Runner trilogy.  I couldn't wait to get my hands on it when it came out this fall.  An interesting end to the series, though I was still left with a lot of questions.

45. Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Even better than her Turnabout.  It's the story of a girl who thinks she lives in the 1800s, but then learns that she and her family are actually part of a "historic colony" that is observed almost constantly by tourists.  Crazy stuff; good book.

46. Mercy by Jodi Picoult
Before this year, I would have said that Jodi Picoult was one of my very favorite authors.  I have loved everything that I have read by her previously.  But since I discovered so many great new authors this year, I only read one of her books.  Mercy (focusing on the concept of mercy killing) was definitely my least favorite of Jodi Picoult's books; I actually struggled to finish it.  The topic was fascinating, but I really didn't like the characters at all and felt like too much attention was given to a sub-plot.  I wouldn't recommend this one, but I'm still planning on reading more Jodi Picoult in 2012.

47. Extras by Scott Westerfeld
This one isn't exactly part of the Uglies trilogy, but rather a follow-up to it, set in the same society but with different characters.  It was okay.  (Not exactly a glowing endorsement, I know.)  I'm still a big Westerfeld fan, but this one kind of left me cold.  I think the trilogy stands better without it.

48. I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (James Frey and Jobie Hughes)
After all the hype about the movie (which I didn't see until after I read the book, and didn't like), I figured that the Lorien Legacies series was the next big thing in YA dystopian fiction.  I felt a lot about this book like I felt about the Maze Runner trilogy: great plot, but not so great writing (although I would say that this is better written than the Maze Runner).  Still probably worth checking out, but only if you're okay with starting a series and then not finishing it, as only the first two books have been published so far (grr).

49. The Spy Lady and the Muffin Man by Sesyle Joslin
I ran across this one while trolling around on Amazon for gifts and had to buy it.  In fifth grade, my best friends and I all passed around this book and desperately wanted to live it.  I am sad to report that it did not stand up to a rereading as an adult.  I struggled to finish it, in spite of my memories of it being so great.  I guess there's a reason why Amazon was full of library discard copies of this book.  :(

50. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
I had actually already read the first four books in this series (and loved them, because I'm a sucker for teenagers and lifelong friendship) and was really excited to see a few months ago that Ann Brashares had published a follow-up book, telling what happened to the girls 10 years after the last book (it's called Sisterhood Everlasting).  I'm very excited to read that book, but thought that I should reread the others first in order to fully appreciate it.

51. The Second Summer of Sisterhood by Ann Brashares
Obviously, the second book in the Traveling Pants series.  In spite of the fact that these were rereads, I have to admit to shedding a few tears during each book.  Blame it on my out-of-control pregnancy emotions.  ;)

52. The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore (James Frey and Jobie Hughes)
The second book in the Lorien Legacies series (and I've read that the series will eventually have either 3 or 6 books).  Ben read these too and couldn't put them down.

53. Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of Sisterhood by Ann Brashares
Clearly, the third book in the Traveling Pants series.  This leaves me with only one more reread to go before I can enjoy Sisterhood Everlasting.  I hope it lives up to my expectations!

So there you have it.  In 2011, I read 53 books (not including textbooks) and published one.  Not too shabby!

So what's next?  What will I read in 2012?  I'm again aiming for a book a week (or the equivalent thereof), which I fear may be harder this year with taking classes that don't require fiction reading and, oh yeah, a new baby on the way.  But I'm determined!  Now that I've succombed to the reading fever, I don't think I can go back.

To finish up my aforementioned series, there will be a couple of Ann Brashares books.  I've already started Delirium by Lauren Oliver, so it will probably be my first book of the year.  I'm also planning on doing the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy by Stieg Larson (my dad and stepmom got me the first one for Christmas).  Sitting on my bookshelf right now are library copies of Pregnant Pause by Han Nolan, The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty, and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness... and I have a real policy against returning library books without reading them.  I've also felt some old favorites calling to me over the past few months, so I may revist the fantasy worlds of Terry Brooks and Raymond Feist.  While I love YA fiction (and definitely do need to be familiar with it if I want to get a job in that field), I'm also hoping to read a few more "grown-up" books this year, as well as delving back into some of my favorite Christian authors.  So I've definitely got a full  plate (or bookshelf, as the case may be).

I have no current plans of writing another book this year (unless my dad and Cal come up with another project for me!), although I would like to do that eventually.  Working on the book really reminded me of how much I love writing, and how little opportunity I've had to do it for pleasure in my adult life.  So now that the God Can! project is done, and we have semi-reliable internet here at the house, I'm planning on a return to blogging this year.... although hopefully not posts as long as this one because, phew, it has taken me a really long time to write!

So, friends, I wish you all happy reading and happy writing in 2012!


Tracy said...

Love your list, Amy. I'm going to show it to Sophia so she can get some ideas of books to read. She loves Neil Gaiman, especially Coraline.

Melissa said...

My first book review :) Wow what an honor!

I am truly amazed at your reading prowess.

Wait Till Helen Comes... omg I remember checking this out of the Dunlap Library like a dozen times

Thanks again, so much, for reading my book and for giving me such valuable feedback! Because of your help, the second draft is going to be much better than the first :)

Happy new year! xoxo

SlyGly said...

Wow, 53! I only read 38 last year! I love Jaclyn Moriarty, and Bindy Mackenzie was probably my favorite--you might want to read The Year of Secret Assignments first if you haven't already. It's not *really* a series, but there are some references to it in Bindy.

amypfan said...

Make that 54 books, folks. I just realized that I neglected to list "Fallout" by Ellen Hopkins, which is the third book in her "Crank" trilogy. That's over 16,000 pages of goodness total. Yeah!!

Andrea said...

Wow! I read more books in 2011 than I have since my (bored in class) high school years, but I think I still probably only read around 12-15 books (7 Sarah Dessen books, Stephen King's newest, Pride & Prejudice, a couple of Jennifer Weiner's books, finished the Bible, and working on a Christian book written by a scientist right now).

If you like Stephen King at all, his new book 11/22/63 is facinating. It's about a man who goes back in history with the goal to save JFK. It's not scary (King hasn't written true "horror" in a while) but it is very well written and very history heavy since King uses real life events when possible. Warning though: it comes in at 850 pages and I think I should get credit for 3 books for reading that one! LOL

I have Dessen's "What Happened to Goodbye," which you are welcome to borrow, and am going to pick up more at Half Price Books if I get a chance soon.

I have the intention of trying John Green since you keep raving about him. I just need to make it to the library. There is also a series by Megan McCafferty that I am planning to try soon and I borrowed The Carrie Diaries from Carrie (ironically, ha!) by Candance Bushnell and also want to read her One Fifth Ave. Weiner is a good one if you want more chick lit.

I will have to look into some more of these books as well!

Anonymous said...

Hi Amy! I finished 2011 with 56 books, one of which took me the whole year to finish [The Bible], but I'm still way behind your dad, who finished with 85 books!

Just wanted to say thanks for the Christmas gifts, and that I have already finished my first book of 2012, "The Hunger Games"! I really did enjoy it and it immediately got snatched up by your dad and put at the top of his to-read list:) Now back to "Catching Fire" . . .

Kim B said...

Respect. I want to know your writer side...I'm not sure I've shown you my stuff either.

Katie DeKoster said...

OMG. Can't believe you just recapped all 53 in a single post. How long did that take you to write??? Loved Lucky, When You Reach Me, JELLICOE ROAD, Will Grayson Will Grayson, Emily Giffin (all of them! Just need to read Heart of the Matter!)... And you read a bunch that are on my too-read list, like Blink and Caution which is currently on hold for me at the library :) I laughed when you said you didn't love Dashner's actual writing b/c I always end up reading those books out loud to Nick and then trying to use words like "shuck," "slint heads," and "slim it" in my every day conversation. Gosh, there are too many good books out there! PS: CAN'T WAIT FOR YOU TO READ THE CHAOS WALKING TRILOGY!!!!!!