The 2014 Year in Books Post

Quick while baby is sleeping…here’s the rundown from last year (since I’m a couple days late on this one. Because baby).

I set out to read 20 books in the year and got to that mark quicker than I thought. (Late night feedings and a Kindle helped propel me forward a bit before I headed back to work.) So I upped the goal to 24 and ultimately came in at 22.

Before I get to the best of what I read, let me give you a glimpse into my goal for this year.

See, I was going to shoot a little lower (read 15 books in 2015) because of baby and work and all of the things. But then I saw THIS and decided to change it up. If you look at the scavenger hunt like list, there’s a total of 52 book reading opportunities (because of reading a trilogy). I’ll just go ahead and tell you right now that I’ll be double- (maybe even triple) dipping. Because baby and work and all of the things. And I’m not even sure I’ll finish the challenge…for those reasons and because it’s damn near impossible to find an author with the same initials as me. But hey, if you’re up to a different kind of book challenge or reading goal for the year, check it out and join me on this one.

And now, without further ado, the best of what I read in 2014.

Best Thriller: Persuader by Lee Child (This one also comes in as one of the best Jack Reacher novels I’ve read so far. If you aren’t reading Jack Reacher, get on it.)

Honorable Mention: A Spy for Hire by Dan Mayland. I first read Mayland’s books as a reviewer and he’s only gotten better with time.

Other thrillers: The Midnight House (because I also love Alex Berenson’s protagonist Jonn Wells), The Enemy by Lee Child, and Stalin’s Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith

Best Nonfiction: Einstein Never Used Flash Cards by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Golinkoff, and Diane Eyer. Play is the best way for young children to learn–and they learn so much through that medium. I cannot tell you how strongly I feel about the power of play and how much it teaches children about SO MANY THINGS. Don’t underestimate it.

Other nonfiction books worth your time: Girls Will Be Girls; NurtureShock; Swagger: 10 Urgent Rules for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness, and Thug Culture; and Lean In…if you’re into that sort of thing.

I also read a lot of baby kinds of nonfiction, so if that’s up your alley this year, let me know and I’ll let you know what I thought was the best of that bunch.

Best (and only) YA Novel: Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn. I don’t typically read YA fiction (though I have some I should get to), but when you know the author and she debuts in 2014, you buy the book and read it. So I did. And then I ordered a copy for my niece for Christmas. It was SOOOO good. Just so good.

Best Children’s Book: (not included in the total count but worth a mention) Shark vs. Train. People. It’s laugh out loud funny and I definitely bought multiple copies for the little people in my life. Buy it. Read it. Read every. single. word. All of them all over the page. Totally worth it.

Best Fiction Book: This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. I BLEW through this book, it was so good. Just so…so good. I love that it’s now a movie and, when I have a second, I’m gonna watch that too. On the whole, hands down best book I read in 2014.

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2012 in Books

It’s time for the annual what-I-got-around-to-reading-because-there-are-so-many-books-and-so-little-time-blog post…or what I read this year and think you should (or shouldn’t) read. With 56 books on the year (yep, squeezed one in last night), I’mma give you my favorites (both paper and audio) in no particular order, make a few suggestions, and probably tell you to stay away from some other stuff. Here goes…

Best Audiobook of 2012:

The-Kitchen-House

If I’m really honest, this just might have been the best book I read/listened to all year. I loved that I listened to this one as there were so many voices portrayed and the story and the characters…wow. The Kitchen House was haunting and amazing and enlightening and you either need to listen to or read it. Pronto


.

 

 

 

Best Trilogy (and there were a few this year):

Yep. The Hunger Games. It was the first trilogy challenge at work this year, and I’m pretty The Hunger Gamessure we all saw the movie as well. This series sucked me in and I was sad when it ended–mostly because I, and I’m sure many of you, became so involved in the lives of the characters that they’d become friends…or something. (Now that I’ve totally geeked out.) This series was the first young adult series since Harry Potter that I was totally sucked into and loved all the way through.

 

 

 

Favorite New (to me) Author: Lee Child

Lee ChildHe’s the creator of Jack Reacher–who you’ve heard of by now either because you read the books or because you’ve seen at least the previews for the movie starring Tom Cruise.  I first learned about this series from my local used bookstore matron and I secretly hated her a little bit for it…mostly because these books will make me an irresponsible adult if I let them. (Fact: I sat at home alone on a Friday night and BLEW through 200 pages of one book.) I’m thankful that there are so many books to get through at this point (I’m currently on book 5)…because they are ALL freaking amazing…if you like the badass ex-MP drifter thriller type of book. The Kitchen House is quality literature. This stuff is quality thriller. Go get you some.

Indie/Self-published: The Colonel’s Mistake

If you follow this blog, you know I’ve spent a good bit of my year reading books I’ve been Colonel's Mistakesent/requested to review. Perhaps my favorite of the indie/self-published variety was The Colonel’s Mistake. It was Dan Mayland’s first novel, which was set in Azerbaijan and the Middle East. Honestly, I forget that Azerbaijan exists most days, but I developed a new appreciation for that area, the complexities of life in and around the Middle East, and the decisions our people make on a daily basis–about which not many of us are aware…probably for good reason. This book also was in the thriller/spy genre, and I look forward to more from Dan Mayland.

 

 

 

Best Memoir: My Fair Lazy AND Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents

You can’t go wrong with Jen Lancaster (My Fair Lazy). Ever. She is laugh out loud funny and her adventures antics are worth the price of admission. However, I had to give a shout out to Wanderlust, which is a combination coming of age/travel memoir. And when I get a hankering to travel, sometimes the only way to make it happen is reading someone else’s stories of wandering.

Best Professional Book: The Explosive Child AND The Bully, The Bullied, and the Bystander

Both of these books are on my Must Read list for parents. Even if you don’t have an explosive child, there is still a wealth of information regarding better ways to communicate with your child(ren)–namely to collaborate WITH your child to solve problems or come up with a better way to approach/handle/deal with any kind of situation. The Bully, The Bullied, and the Bystander gives all kinds of information (for parents AND educators) regarding bullying in its variety of forms–and how you, as the adult, can model and address situations in a better way. Please go read these books. Please. And then, when you have a second, toss in A Nation of Wimps. Just for fun.

Surprise Book of 2012: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

guernseycover1So this book came out in 2009 and I remember it being wildly popular for so long. But I was in the throes of graduate school and a self-imposed book embargo, so I didn’t get around to it until this year. Reading the plot, I wasn’t sure. Reading the first few pages, I still wasn’t sure. But then something happened and this book became a magical and quaint surprise of a book that I couldn’t put down. If you haven’t gotten to this one yet, you should.

 

 

 

Honorable Mentions:

You know I love my spies and thrillers…especially when they come from particular authors whom I’ve grown to love over the years. I did work to get caught up on some Nelson DeMille this year and read both The Lion’s Game and The Lion. The former is one of the honorable mentions here. But if you’ve never read any of the John Corey books (and you like snark and action), you NEED to get your hands on those books. Starting with Plum Island. The other spy/thriller author I’ve come to love is Daniel Silva and his protagonist, Gabriel Allon. So I made sure to read another of those books this year and finished The English Assassin shortly before Christmas. This one is the third(?) of the Gabriel Allon books, and I’m again thankful that there are many more to come. Allon is a former-who-can’t-quite-retire-from-the-business-because-he’s-so-good Mossad agent who’d rather spend his time restoring art. However, you don’t have to be a fan of art to love these books. Finally, the third honorable mention goes to Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Because I’m a feminist who is always thinking about how to teach our children–girls AND boys–that there are no gender lines when it comes to toys or colors, and that we can and should love and appreciate the other for the strengths each of us has and the ways in which we compliment the other. And because I’m not a girly girl.

Finally…what I thought I’d like but didn’t this year:

The Lonely Polygamist: I for real thought this book would be humorous pretty much all the way through. It wasn’t. It barely had funny moments. And maybe that’s why I was disappointed. The story in and of itself became a very touching one by the time it ended. But boy howdy it sure took its time to get there. It was, however, a bestseller, so I felt better about that? (nope)

Patriot Games: You know. Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games. Jack Ryan. A man’s man. And I love action and spies and political thrillers and plot twists. But I just cannot get into Tom Clancy’s books. There. I’ve said it. (ducks and covers)

Oh and wait. I’ll leave room for a Confessional Read. I did read the 50 Shades trilogy. Now before you go all judgy on me, let me explain. This series got so much hype that I felt like I needed to read it for cultural awareness. So I subjected myself to it. No really. You can silence your pshaws. There seriously were moments all the way through where I thought I’ll never get this time back can we please just move it along and get to the end already? But I realized quite a few things about women, men, and sex–more from the hype and interest in the series than from the books themselves. But that’s a post for a different day.

So. There you have it.

Books I probably should have gotten to but didn’t this year but have on my list for a future date include: Gone Girl (am I seriously the only one in the country who hasn’t read this yet?); Fobbit; The Orphan Master’s Son; Wild; Drift; Spying in America; The Longest Way Home; This is How You Lose Her and more. Much, MUCH more.

Year in Review–Books

I set a goal to read 30 books this year…I ended up with 33.

I’ll give you my top five for both fiction and nonfiction–and give a few nods to some audiobooks–and give you the full list in case you’re interested.So. Here goes nothin’.Top Five Fiction:

The Help. I mean really. Who DIDN’T love this book? I loved it for so many reasons. Stockett’s story and her incredible use of voice for starters. It also reminded me of my own experiences of growing up in the South with black women involved in my care as a young child. And it made me think of Mom. This book quickly skyrocketed to the top of my all-time favorites.

Faking It. This one was a surprise and a little bit of a guilty pleasure. But I also found myself on the pages of this book. What started as a semi-guilty pleasure chicklit type book quickly became a bit of self-discovery. Whether that happens to be true for you as you read this book, I highly recommend it.

The Faithful Spy. Alex Berenson was a new author to me. He has a protagonist who is aspy set in the present day, dealing with current events. In this one, the question is whether the leading man–who started as a US spy going deep cover with the Taliban–is still on our side or whether he has joined theirs. I’m looking forward to the next few books.

Georgia Bottoms. Another book set in the South. One that also deals with race and more recent attitudes about the differences between what it means to be black and white in this part of the country. It was charming with some really great wit and a couple of twists by the end.

The Marching Season. I am a big fan of Daniel Silva’s books–and especially his Michael Osbourne story line. This may have been the last of the Osbourne story, though it’s left open for more. I’m certainly hoping for more. In the mean time, I’ll be catching up on Silva’s other main protagonist, Gabriel Allon.

Clearly my fictional themes for the year were Southern Lit and Spies. I did read some big time books and award winners…and I listened to some really great fiction. Those are coming up…but first….

Top Five Nonfiction:

Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born. Wow. This was a surprising read–both because of the information included and for the way it read so easily. If you are interested in reproduction and what that process means for women…in all its glory, this is a good read. If you’re pregnant, trying to be, or considering it, it’s a good one for you, too.

The Purity Myth. I ended up reading this as part of a series of books on varying views on sex–partly for my own professional reading but also because I was prepping for a “purity” event for some adolescent girls at church. If you know me, “purity” isn’t my thing. (And, for the record, I did read a variety of viewpoints.) I appreciated this book for the way it addressed how our culture (including religion) views sex and what that means for men and women and our collective sexuality. Yes, Valenti is a feminist, so you should be prepped for that. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a look.

Health at Every Size. I stumbled on this one thanks to a friend who posted a link about it on Facebook. And it was cheap on Kindle, so I thought I’d give it a shot. In some ways I’m glad I did. This book reminds us all that health is–or at least should be–our ultimate priority. So we should be taking care of our bodies so they will take care of us. This book also reminds us to consider the sources of our recommendations regarding food, weight, and activity. It also reminded me that we may not all look as healthy as we actually are.

My Korean Deli. This one was another pleasant surprise. It’s in the memoir category and it’s about a couple (he’s white American, she’s Korean-American) who buy a deli in New York City and give it a Korean twist–because ultimately, it’s the author’s mother-in-law who owns the joint. It’s about trying to make a go of it when you know nothing about owning a business…and the hilarious and not so funny mishaps along the way.

I Totally Meant to do That. Jane Borden is a local-ish NC native who takes off to see what life holds in NYC. Some have compared her to David Sedaris. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but her story is highly entertaining and worth a read if you like the memoir.

Audio Books:

The Girl Who Played with Fire.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.
I finally finished this series this year, and listening to it was the way to go. Simon Vance was a master narrator for this whole series. The writing itself was amazing, as I’m sure most of you know. As the first movie has recently come out in America, I’m actually looking more forward to the movies for these books. Salander’s story is quite a good one. Whether you listen to these books or read them, you simply must take the time to read this series.

Nigh Fall. This was a John Corey book by Nelson DeMille, and it was a different way of telling a story. DeMille puts Corey into an investigation of a real life event (the 1996 crash of TWA flight 800) and provides background from all the sources. The official report was that the crash was due to mechanical failure. But there were conflicting reports…and Corey works to get to the bottom of it. It’s John Corey with his usual snark, narrated by Scott Brick who does so in a good New York brogue. Another one to get into whether you read it or listen to it.

The Full List for 2011:
Memoirs of a Geisha–Arthur Golden (I actually loved this books as well–which came as a surprise. But it was a fantastic story with lots of vivid detail.)
Sex God–Rob Bell
The Purity Myth–Jessica Valenti
Night Fall–Nelson DeMille
Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters–Meg Meeker
Real Sex–Lauren Winner
The Source–James Michener (otherwise known as the Damn Israel Book–I thought it would never end)
Fall to Grace–Jay Bakker
The Camel Club–David Baldacci
The Faithful Spy–Alex Berenson
Faking It–Elisa Lorello
Unsqueezed–Margot Starbuck
Annexed–Sharon Dogar
The Help–Kathryn Stockett
Room–Emma Donoghue
(surprisingly good in a twisted sort of way)
Georgia Bottoms–Mark Childress
A Visit From the Goon Squad–Jennifer Egan
(Pulitzer Prize winner; tough to read because of the style. I wish I could have appreciated it more.)
The Tiger’s Wife–Tea Obrecht
(another big time award winner; another I wish I could have appreciated more.)
The Lincoln Lawyer–Michael Connelly
(go read this if you like law fiction)
The Sweet Relief of Missing Children–Sarah Braunstein
(good and slightly disturbing)
Women, Food, and God–Geneen Roth
(if you need help with body image and/or eating habits, read this)
The Lions of Lucerne–Brad Thor
(because I need another spy novelist)
Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born–Tina Cassidy
My Korean Deli–Ben Ryder Howe
The Girl Who Played with Fire–Steig Larsson
I Totally Meant to Do That–Jane Borden
The Confessor–Daniel Silva
(Book 1 for Gabriel Allon)
Health at Every Size–Linda Bacon
(the irony of the author’s last name is not lost on me)
The Gate House–Nelson DeMille
(the sequel to The Gold Coast)
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest–Stieg Larsson
Zero Day–David Baldacci
The Marching Season–Daniel Silva
Sacrilege–Hugh Halter
(another must read…awesome and disturbing…book review to follow)

2011 in review–Blog

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog. I’d like to thank those of you who stuck with me and kept reading this year…in spite of my radio silence at times. I’m hoping there will be more blogging in 2012.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 25 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Year End Book Review

Well…maybe not a review per se. But I wanted to share with you the books I DID read this year–in between the countless articles for school. Admittedly, some of what’s on the list was for school in some way, but here goes:

The Cider House Rules–John Irving

I love this man’s writing, and Cider House didn’t disappoint. It was yet another Irving book with memorable characters dealing with difficult issues–including grief.

Such a Pretty Fat–Jenn Lancaster

You may know of her from Bitter is the New Black and other writings. This book made me LAUGH out loud. It chronicles her decision to begin losing weight and the many experiences along the way. Jenn is witty and sarcastic, so her writing was perfect for me–and I understood the weight loss process, so I completely appreciated her take on life.

The next few came about as I worked on a project on eating disorders for a class on psychological disorders. In some way, each on helps the reader have a better picture of what it’s like to have an eating disorder and how it’s dealt with in different ways–or it’s about learning to love the body you have, in spite of what messages we receive about how we ought to look:

Thin is the New Happy–Valerie Frankel

Half-Assed: A Weight Loss Memoir–Jennette Fulda

Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia–Marya Hornbacher (by far the most graphic)

Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self–Lori Gottlieb (probably the best on eating disorders for getting inside the person’s psyche)

Feed Me! Writers Dish about Food, Eating, Weight, and Body Image–Harriet Brown

Body Outlaws: Rewriting the Rules of Beauty and Body Image–Ophira Edut (reminiscent of Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth…but way better)

In the world of theology (now that I’m not in div school, I don’t mind reading about theology in my spare time), there were a few gems this year:

Rapture Ready: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture–Daniel Radosh

This book was hilarious and scary all at the same time. It was a Jewish journalists view (and a pretty even-handed view) of Christian Pop Culture. Admittedly, he did the Family Christian/Lifeway store thing and then he went to Christian pop culture on steroids. You’d be amazed at what’s out there, people. Hence, the scariness. In all, though, very enlightening and humorous.

Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope–Brian MacLaren

I read this with a group of people and each time we met the question remained the same: So what do we DO? We KNOW everything must change. What now?

And each time we came away with the same answer: Love God and love people.

This book does give the reader plenty of food for thought on things such as war, the environment, and other hot topics that are very relevant for all of us today.

Speaking of relevant: Food Inc.–Karl Weber

I haven’t seen the documentary for fear it really will make me a vegetarian…or all out vegan. However, the book will give you LOTS to think about…and may change the way you eat–or at least shop for food. Its contributors include familiar names such as Eric Schlosser of Fast Food Nation fame and Michael Pollack (Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food) among others.

And just to keep up with some current events that stem from–you guessed it–thirty years of history (and religion):Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi. If you love to read–and enjoy not only the freedom to read what you like, reading good literature or living in a democracy–this is a good one. Life in Iran is not for the faint of heart.

More current events…well…in light of the most recent school board election in Wake County, this could all get turned on its head…but I read it before all that nonsense occurred: Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh–Gerald Grant.

I’ll leave it at that, lest I start my rant on the Wake County School Board.

And finally, some fiction that was just fun to read:

The Accidental Mother–Rowan Coleman

The Fourth Hand–John Irving (great for you Packers fans, too)

The Unlikely Spy–Daniel Silva (a great WWII spy romp reminiscent of John Lecarre and Frederick Forsyth–go read it now)

And last but not least, Cyclops by Clive Cussler. If you aren’t familiar with Dirk Pitt, you should be.

And there’ll be more to come, now that the semester is over and I have more time…well…until the new year starts. Then you’ll have to wait a year to read all about what I’ve been reading 🙂