Monthly Archives: January 2011

2010 Year in Review

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I started my blog in November 2009, so 2010 was my first full calendar year of blogging.  Plugging into the book blogging community has provided me with endless recommendations for books, and my time spent reading has grown in proportion.  I read 86 books in 2010, including seven audio books and five graphic novels / coffee table books.

Of those books, 68 were fiction, 17 were non-fiction and 1 was a book of poetry.  I’ve usually thought of myself as a balanced fiction and non-fiction reader, but I guess not in 2010!

Of the books read, 58 were authored by women, 25 by men, two were husband/wife collaborations and another was an anthology of travel essays by men and women.

I did not read many books by people of color but I’ll give a shout-out to the POC authors I did read this year (hopefully catching them all): Edwidge Danticat, Banana Yoshimoto, Haruki Murakami, Pamela Young Samuels, Octavia Butler, Marc Fitten, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I enjoyed so many books I read in 2010, but the ten that really wormed their way into my affections are, in alphabetical order:

1. The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett (technically a re-read, but it felt like I was reading it for the first time)

2. The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

3. The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

4. Kindred by Octavia Butler

5. Middlemarch by George Eliot

6. Stasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder

7. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

8. Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman

9. The Veil of Gold by Kim Wilkins

10. The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig

The above statistics and top-ten list is a traditional retrospective summation of my 2010 year of reading.  However, I’d also like to indulge in a less-traditional list: a list of great book ‘moments’.  This is partially inspired by my recent addiction to finely edited movie scene montages like this one.  There are certain passages or ‘scenes’ in books that stand out to me, for being particularly thrilling, moving, or funny and I’d like to pay tribute.  Here they are in no particular order:

– Katniss leaping through the woods in the Arena in response to Rue’s cry for help and taking action on the enemy.  Katniss is such a fierce avenger in this moment.  (Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)

– Lt. Fick and his fellow Marines hear about 9/11 while on shore leave in Australia and hurry back to their ship. (One Bullet Away by Nathaniel Fick)

– Susie Gilman’s mother calls while Chinese police officials are in Susie’s hotel room and instinctively catches on that something is wrong, though Susie can’t tell her aloud.  (Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven)

– Tash cutely says goodbye to the letter ‘K’ in a letter to Ella.  (Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn)

– Tim Gallagher describes the lost great forests of the Southern United States so that I missed them without ever having experienced them. (The Grail Bird)


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– Em Hayward meets the Frost King for the first time and he tells her she is dying and that he can save her, but there is a cost.   (Veil of Gold)

– David Carroll hears the cry of a frog being dragged off by a snake and decides to intervene.  (Swampwalker’s Journal)

– Constantine heals Rae’s wound that she had received from the vampires. (Sunshine by Robin McKinley)

– An exhausted Ayelet Waldman is admonished by a stranger in a grocery store that breast-feeding is best, which brings Waldman to tears because her son has a defect where he is not able to breast-feed.  (Bad Mother)

– Dana’s husband runs across the plantation to get to her and she involuntarily travels back to the present before he can reach her.  (Kindred)

– Eleanor and Theodora hear the sinister sounds of something trying to get into the bedroom. (The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson)

– Bertie’s bedroom has inexplicably been filled with yowling cats and a fish head.  (The Inimitable Jeeves)


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Last list!  Here are some of the most evocative settings I experienced in 2010:

1. Antarctica as depicted in The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

2. The Arena in The Hunger Games

3. Dunnet Landing, Maine and environs in The Country of the Pointed Firs

4. The islands in the Gulf of Finland in The Summer Book

5. Skaksi, the dangerous magical world in Veil of Gold

6. China, 1986 in Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven

7. The Farallons in The Devil’s Teeth by Susan Casey

8. The one-room schoolhouse in The Whistling Season

Thanks to all the people who stopped by my blog in 2010!  I hope you continue to enjoy reading my blog.  I love reading the comments posted here, and the sharing of recommendations back and forth.

I look forward to all the moments, places, characters of the books I will read in 2011!


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A Quartet of Good Books

I am very behind in my reviews and so it’s mini-review time once again!  I enjoyed all four of the following books so this should be a pleasant run-through.

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig

2006. Recorded Books. 10 discs. 12 hours.

Performed by: Jonathan Hogan

In a nutshell: In 1909, Oliver Milliron and his three sons – Paul, Damon and Toby – live as homesteaders on the Montana frontier.  The previous year had seen the death of their mother, and Oliver decides to hire a housekeeper to handle the domestic side of the homestead, responding to an amusing ad that reads “Can’t cook but doesn’t bite.”  The arrival of said housekeeper – widow Rose Llewellyn – and her intelligent debonair brother, Morris Morgan, is just the beginning of seismic changes for the Milliron household.

Review: I loved driving during the days I was listening to the book.  The Whistling Season is great storytelling from the start, starting with a thrilling horse race between Paul Milliron (also the first-person narrator) and the schoolhouse bully, with all their classmates in attendance.  I adored all the Milliron brothers, each distinct and charming in his own way.  I loved their loyalty to each other.  Doig brings the trials and joys of a one-room schoolhouse to life, especially when a dynamic new teacher enters the scene. I was a little crushed and disappointed by what happens at the end of the story.  That said, writing about this book instantly makes me relive its warmth, making this is book I can easily recommend to others.

Another review: Bloody Hell, It’s a Book Barrage – “The Whistling Season is a kinder, gentler novel free of our current social obsessions and self-involvement.”


Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks

by Susan Carey

2005. Henry Holt. Hardcover. 304 pages.

The Farallon Islands are in a San Francisco zipcode, but might as well be in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as far as accessibility.  Subject to nasty weather, the islands’ jagged edges make them difficult to approach by boat.  Added to this, the islands are also the seasonal playground for great white sharks.

Susan Carey gives a well-researched and engaging account of the Farallon Islands’ history, the sharks, and the researchers that have made this environment their focus.  She had the privilege of visiting the islands herself, a privilege that is rarely granted.

Sadly, the last third of the book is a harsh lesson in how breaking the rules for the sake of a story can land one in a heap of trouble.  Having used up all her permitted visit time on the islands, Carey – with help from several researchers – uses a borrowed sailing vessel to anchor off the islands to continue her story.  It all goes downhill from there.  It makes for uncomfortable reading, but I don’t see how Carey could have left it out.  She made some huge mistakes with unfortunate repercussions and to omit this from her book would have seemed deceptive on her part.

Carey’s writing is excellent and the sharks are awesome so I still really liked the book.  I would just advise future readers to be aware that the last third will take an abrupt narrative turn.


Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

2009. Scribner. Hardcover. 288 pages.

I loved Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle.  When Walls gave a talk at the National Book Festival in 2009, she spoke about Half-Broke Horses, which is the story of her maternal grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.  I thought Walls was a fantastic speaker and I knew I wanted to read that book.

Half-Broke Horses is listed as fiction only because Walls can’t actually say for sure what her grandmother was thinking or feeling during life events.  Those life events, however, are true stories, passed to Walls mainly by her mother, Rosemary.

I found Lily Casey Smith to be refreshingly rough around the edges.  She felt very real, a person of her time and place.  Lily possessed that frontier attitude, that dislike of rules and regulations.  She bootlegged during the Prohibition, raced horses, and helped run a cattle ranch with her husband.  As a teacher in remote Southwest outposts, she risked her job to give her pregnant unmarried sister refuge, played cards with the locals, and tried to teach daughters of a polygamous sect about feminism.

Reading Half-Broke Horses, you get a sense not just of this one person, but how people in her day and time lived.  I do wish that I had read The Glass Castle more recently, to compare the young Rosemary in Half-Broke Horses to the negligent mother that is portrayed in The Glass Castle.  I think you could read the books in either order, but they definitely seem like companion books to me.

Another review: Literate Housewife – “Although she only knew her grandmother as a young child, the voice she gave to Lily Casey was authentic and powerful.  What touched me the most was the sense of place.”


Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

2003. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. Hardcover. 307 pages.

In a nutshell: Purple Hibiscus tells the coming-of-age story of Kambili, a young woman whose outwardly pious and charitable father exacts harsh standards on his family at home.  Kambili’s emotional and social growth is stunted by her desire to please her father and her inability to do so.

When her Aunty Ifeoma convinces Kambili’s father to allow Kambili and brother Jaja to stay with her family in university-town Nsukka, Kambili’s life is allowed to expand for the first time.

Review: I’ve heard a lot of praise for Adichie’s work and this book.  I didn’t end up loving it as much as others have, but I did feel invested in Kambili’s story.  My favorite aspect was the friendship that developed between Kambili and her cousin Amaka, how they are able to eventually be so frank with each other.  The one part that didn’t quite work for me was the character arc of Jaja, Kambili’s brother.  I felt that he dropped out of the story too much in the middle and that this took the impact out of his role in the story’s ending.

Another review: things mean a lot“Purple Hibiscus is wise, perceptive, subtle, and perfectly paced.”


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Search Term Bonanza, Part 2

So I am going to do a year-end wrap-up post, but not today as I had hoped.  It will take a little time, and I have a book that is due at the library tomorrow – a book for which I was on the hold list for a long time.  You understand of course.

So here’s a quicker post – Search Term Bonanza, Part 2.  Basically these are search terms that struck me as odd or interesting that were used to find my blog in 2010.  The search terms are in bold with my annotation below.

preference: the great gatsby or a handmaid’s tale

Because they are so similar?  What?

why is the hunchback of notre dame a tragedy?

A lot of main characters are miserable and then die.

haruki murakami i’m sorry

I like to think that this person really wanted to apologize to Murakami and entering the words into a search engine was like a test run.

i like undress on public river

Well, people will confess to just about anything in the anonymity of a internet search engine.

i’m a little face that is what

Or sometimes you can come off as just a wee bit unbalanced.

the rescue by nicholas sparkshow does it end

Reading this too fast, I thought it said The Rescue by Nicholas Sparks – does it end. That’s a bit telling on my part isn’t it?

castle rackrent briefs

Excellent idea: literary-themed undergarments!

a countess below stairs is anna ugly

This just seems kind of mean to ask.

high points in robin mckinley’s life

I’m sure one of them was being reviewed on my blog, right? heh.

a traditional christmas cd hedgehog

I gather this is something quite different from the traditional yulelog?

cranford thing culture

This one cracks me up because the person used ‘thing’ in a search engine, just as if they were talking to someone: “you know that Cranford . . . thing?”

burl ives santa iron curtain

See, now I want to know what possible connection there is between these terms.

random family bad review

wait, and my review of LeBlanc’s book showed up in the results?  😦

random family does not soften flaws

I wrote this exact phrase in my review of Random Family.  Someone looking to cite their source?  Hm.

joining the marines

I’m afraid my blog won’t be able to help you much there, except that I gave a good review of Nathanial Fick’s book, One Bullet Away, about joining the Marines.

adoration of toes

I’m glad you feel so . . . strongly about them?


And that’s the end of my round-up.  I’ll be looking out for more strange terms in 2011!



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