My Favorite Books of 2010

In a year that seemed lack-luster in the reading arena, I did manage to select a few to highlight:

The Lost Dogs (reviewed November)
Bliss Remembered (reviewed October)
The Cellest of Sarajevo (reviewed July)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (reviewed June)
The Whale (reviewed June)
Still Alice (reviewed May)
The Lacuna (reviewed April)
The Swan Thieves (reviewed March)
The Help (reviewed March)


November's the Month for Historical Fiction

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana DeRosnay
If you’re like me, you didn’t have a clue about the summer of 1942 when French police arrested thousands of Jewish families and held them in a sports complex before shipping them off to Auschwitz. The contemporary story follows an American journalist as she covers the 60th anniversary of the roundups, while we travel alonside 10 year old Sarah and her family as they are torn from their home by the French police.

The Lost Dogs:
Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption
by Jim Gorant and Paul Michael Garcia
I’ve often wondered about the pit bulls from Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels and was thrilled when this book came out. Gorant and Garcia give you the good news (there’s plenty!) but don’t pull any punches with the horrible abuse, torture and execution of the dogs. One such episode: Vick and a friend swing a dog “over their heads like a jump rope” and kill it by repeatedly slamming it into the ground. ♥♥

The Glass Room by Simon Mawer
Newly weds Viktor and Liesel Landauer meet a brilliant architect. What results is the Landauer House a modern masterpiece in glass and steel with an expansive Glass Room. But while Liesel is Aryan, Viktor is Jewish, so when Nazi troops arrive the family must flee. The house slips from hand to hand -- becomes a laboratory, a war shelter, and finally a place for children.

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
Ann Eliza Young is the 19th wife of Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. After seeking a divorce she is afraid for her life so she secretly flees Utah. She becomes a crusader and many credit her with helping end polygamy in the United States. The story weaves back and forth between Ann Eliza’s story in the 1800’s and a contemporary narrative of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah.


October brings one great pumpkin of a book

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
by Dave Eggers
In the ‘Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment’ of said book, Eggers says that the reader may not want to go beyond page 123. I wish I had listened.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
I heard about this book several years ago but never picked it up. Short story -- Gladwell concludes that those who quickly filter out extraneous information generally make better decisions than those who discount their first impressions. Gladwell, is a former science and business reporter who now writes for the New Yorker. He brings scientific research backed up with case studies and psychological experiments to support the old saying ‘go with your gut’ or ‘first impressions are usually the best.’

Bliss, Remembered by Frank Deford
Trixie is dying and she’s called her son Teddy to spend some time and listen to a story. As Mother and son throw caution to the wind eating all the wrong foods and drinking a bit too much, it becomes clear the story of Trixie’s life is a dinger. From quiet Chestertown to the 1936 Berlin Olympics; Horst Gerhardt her German lover, to dear Jimmy Branch, her husband -- what a honey of a book, as Trixie would say. Perhaps the best book I’ve read this year.♥♥♥♥

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
Never was a book more highly anticipated than this one, authored by the same genius who wrote The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, AKA one of my favorite books of all time. Udall lives in Boise and teaches in a building close to the famous blue turf. You know how much I love to support Idaho authors and as much as it kills me to say this, I did not like the book in fact could not even finish the book and sincerely wish it wasn’t so.

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
I could not get in to this book and wager that you won't be able to either.

September -- Time To Read

Ape House by Sara Gruen
Finally! Gruen’s much anticipated new book. The ape house consists of bonobos, Sam, Bonzi, Lola, Mbongo, Jelani and Makena, who are living at a university's Great Ape Language Lab. Isabel is their caretaker/teacher and communicates with them via American Sign Language and pictures. After a mysterious fire at the facility, the apes are moved to an undisclosed location and Isabel is frantic to find them. In a bizarre twist of fate they surface as characters on a reality show and the entire country is spellbound watching the ape’s shenanigans which include lots of sexual interactions. Quite the social commentary I’d say. Not a crazy-good book like Water for Elephants, but I guess that was asking a heck of a lot. ♥♥♥

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
Ruby is popular, arty and has a boyfriend. Her brothers are twins: Max, who's trying to find himself and Alex the athletic super-star. There are the usual teenage events -- summer camp, proms, dates, soccer games and weird neighbors. Of course there’s more to the book but I won’t say. Quindlen tells a good story. Was it a totally fresh take on coming of age in our society? No. Was it well-written and hard to put down? Yes. Did it remind me of Chris Bohjalian and Jodi Picoult? Yes. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris
These two started a revolution calling for young people to rebel against the low expectations of our culture by choosing to "do hard things." This book, written for teens, gives real-life examples of what is possible when you raise your expectations. I love the idea that adolescence is the time to start on your path of life, not just used as a vacation from responsibility. Personally the book was a bit heavy on the gospel but the message was great.

Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore
Ahhh…the 70’s. I can relate to Catherine Grace Cline as she eats Dilly Bars and dreams of leaving her dusty little town and her Baptist minister father. Nice little book with an interesting twist. Great teen book.


Hot August Reads? Hardly.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
I thought The Happiness Project might be a nice distraction from my super focused concentration on getting ready for Art in the Park this month. But it boiled down to a half-baked self-help book with not much substance.

The Last Cyclist by David Herlihy
Frank Lenz was going to cycle the world. In the spring of 1892 he quit his accounting job and gamely set out to cover twenty thousand miles over three continents as a correspondent for Outing magazine. Two years later, as he was approaching the final leg of the journey somewhere in Turkey, he disappeared. Great story line, right? Unfortunately the first half was slow-slow-slow. The story gets much better once William Sachtleben (another cyclist) sets out to discover what happened to Lenz.

July...Hot Days and Time to Read

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
My kind of book! A great story made better with a healthy dose of history. ♥♥

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
I don’t have words that will suitably express the impact of The Cellist of Sarajevo. I can say that after reading it, the sky was bluer, everyday problems settled to the low rung they deserved and I felt the absolute beauty of being alive in America. Sadly not everyone in the world enjoys the same.♥♥♥

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
An older book (2008) this little book is an enchanting look at the life of a 54-year old French concierge who is an unlikely art and culture patron. Pair her with a troubled 12-year-old girl who lives in the building and you get a funny and lovely novel that (once again) explores the notion that not all is what it seems. ♥♥

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
Number two in the series, and only a teeny bit less edgy than the first. This time around Lisbeth Salander is the focus of the story and her ‘could have been boyfriend’ Mikael Blomkvist is caught up trying to explain why his finger prints are on the murder weapon that oddly enough belongs to Lisbeth. The usual drama and suspense that the late Larsson introduced us to in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Good read. ♥♥

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Stieg Larsson
Quite honestly – not a very satisfying ending to what was shaping up to bean amazing trilogy. The pacing was off and Larsson rambled to and fro. I found the extensive background on Swedish politics utterly boring. Unfortunately, Larsson isn’t around to make a believer out of me on a fourth edition…


June: Sunny With a Chance of Awesome Reads!

Gee, for a few months I was wondering where the good books were, but June changed all that. ENJOY!

The Calligraphers Daughter by Eugenia Kim
A sweet, beautiful book. I found myself totally immersed in Korean life circa 1915. 1945.♥♥♥

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
I don’t usually read murder mysteries, but this one has a strange (and true) twist. Stieg Larsson didn't live to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo published -- he died of a heart attack just after he delivered the manuscripts for this book. Since it was published in 2005 it has become wildly successful, along with the other two in the series -- which I have already purchased and will read next month because, yes, the book is great and I can’t wait to see what happens. SO….book one in the trilogy is about the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, a member of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden. Her uncle is determined to find out what happened to her before he dies, so he hires Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist, who hires a helper, one Lisbeth Salander, a punked out, pierced and tattooed genius researcher and computer hacker.♥♥

The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
The true story of writer Corrigan’s double-whammy experience with cancer. First she is diagnosed with breast cancer, and then her Father is stricken with bladder cancer. Surprisingly the story is full of hope as she recalls her childhood and comes to grips with the being someone's child, having children of her own and taking care of both – the “middle-place.”

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
You will be immediately caught up in the story of Rose and the special gift she has. I don’t want to give anything away…but I highly recommend the book! ♥♥♥

The Whale by Philip Hoare
Once in a great while a book comes along that defies logic. Logically a book about the present state of whales, interwoven with excerpts from Moby Dick, along with the occasional trip to far-flung whale museums and sprinkled with historical facts, would not equate to the kind the following and admiration Hoare has received. I don’t know exactly why, but this is one of my favorite books ever. ♥♥♥


May Books

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Catherine Land answers an advertisement for ‘a reliable wife’ and become the bride of lonely, rich Ralph Truitt. It was a contract of necessity and they both knew it. As they slowly reveal their past lives the question becomes --would they survive the bitter Wisconsin winter of 1908? Kinda good in a creepy sort of way.

Honolulu by Alan Brennert
Great story about Jin, a young “picture bride” who travels to Hawai'i in 1914, but instead of the dashing, affluent young man in “the picture” she is quickly married off to a poor, mean-hearted laborer. Good book! ♥♥

New York by Edward Rutherfurd
O.K. the truth is I skimmed a few parts of this book, but hey, it was like a zillion pages long and the battles were just not that interesting! The story spans several families through the founding of New York, through 9/11. Quite an impressive feat and mostly well-done. Take it on the plane as you fly to Europe.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
WOW – what a haunting book. Alice Howland is an esteemed psychology professor at Harvard, living in Cambridge with her husband, John, when the first symptoms of Alzheimer's begin to emerge. The reader follows each heartbreaking loss she suffers as the disease slowly takes away her life and mind.

The English Major by Jim Harrison
Some Harrison fans say he’ll never top Legends of the Fall – the story that made him the big guy he is. The thing is Harrison is incredibly talented and even though parts of The English Major found me ROTFL, as a whole it was just so-so.


April Showers Make for Soggy Books

Shooting Stars by LeBron James
O.K. before you think I am a total kook, I read this book because I had nothing else to read and my son was doing an English project on the guy. It was a good read although I’m 99% sure LeBron never typed a word of it. If you happen to be a basketball fan, and enjoy a real-life rags to riches story pick it up.

South of Broad by Pat Conroy
Shy and mentally unstable “Toad” happens to meet the orphaned twins from the mountains of South Carolina. A family moves in across the street complete with alcoholic Mother, gay son and beautiful daughter -- and a crazy stalking father. The first black football coach and his son arrive in town, and “Toad” is ordered to become friends with them to help ease racial tensions. Isn’t this enough for one book? Apparently not. There’s more but I just don’t have the space…

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
I’ve traveled to Isla Pixol a small island in Mexico, circa 1929; watched in the shadows as a boy becomes a man, laughed as he finds a home with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo; stood helplessly by as his life unfolds as he comes to understand the facets of truth and justice; and sat in the courtroom as he faces the committee on un-American activities -- all navigated loyal stenographer Violet Brown. Crack open The Lacuna and prepare for a glorious journey. Barbara Kingsolver is a genius. ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama
Stephen, a young Chinese man stricken with tuberculosis, is sent to the family’s sea-side home in Tarumi, Japan to heal. During the year spent there, he learns to admire Matsu the quiet gardener, and love Sachi, now a leper, but once the most beautiful girl in the village. His great healing has nothing to do with the physical body. A beautiful little book published in 1994 but timeless in its appeal. ♥♥♥


March -- A Month For Some GREAT Books

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich
In true Louise Erdrich fashion – Shadow Tag is another dark tale involving contemporary Native Americans. The difficulties, the issues, the problems facing Irene America and her famous husband are not so much different that white issues, but somehow Erdrich wraps them in dark swaddling and reading her books is like falling slowly into the La Brea Tar pits.

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
Robert Oliver is a well-known, truly gifted painter who mysteriously and without much explanation attacks a painting in the National Gallery of Art. The story unfolds at the perfect tempo via his psychiatrist, his ex-wife, and the mysterious muse he paints over and over and over and over. If you read just one book this year please let it be The Swan thieves. ♥♥♥

The Help by Kathryn Stockell
It’s 1962, Mississippi, and Skeeter needs a ring on her finger. Constantine, the woman who raised her has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she’s gone. Enter Aibileen and Minny, two black women who will help Skeeter find the truth and make history along the way.♥♥♥♥
The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews
Hattie’s boyfriend dumped her – and it’s a good thing since she’s needed at home. Her sister Min has landed back in a psych ward and Min’s kids, Logan and Thebes need a caretaker. To take everyone’s mind off the obvious, Hattie has a wild idea to track down the absent father – so they take off on a remarkable journey across America. Toews puts the ‘fun’ back in dysfunctional. Great book. ♥♥♥

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
I met the most incredible woman at an art retreat I attended recently. During our conversation I ask her to share a few memorable books. Mountains Beyond Mountains was at the top of her list, so I read it. Kidder has an incredible style that puts you smack in the middle of Paul Farmers life –from geeky white trash youth to one of the world’s most beloved doctors, who is quite literally trying to cure the world. A must read for everyone! ♥♥♥

February Books - Gotta Love a Good Read!

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Olive Kitteridge is the glue that holds this little book together, but just barely. As she experiences change in her own life and the surrounding town of Crosby, Maine and its many residents she is forced to deal with her own problems. I can’t believe this book was a 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner in the Letters, Drama and Music category.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
On my list of books to read from a writing workshop, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek isn't a quick read, but I’d call it an environmental classic. Talk about stopping to smell the roses – Dillard spends a year to “see what she can see” as she explores the natural wonders, in her Virginia's Blue Ridge valley acreage.

Remembering the Bone House by Nancy Mairs
Interesting collection of essays. Mairs reconstructs her past by exploring her emotional development as it unfolds in each house she lived in growing up.

The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond
A “Picolt-like” book – but Richmond falls a wee-bit short. Still, a decent read.

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
Gregory makes the wars of the Plantagenet’s, the rise of the White Queen, and the missing princes in the Tower of London come to life – as she so skillfully does in almost every historical fiction book she’s ever written. Easy read, entertaining.


Books for January 2010

A Country Called Home by Kim Barnes
Idaho writer Kim Barnes tells the story of Thomas Deracotte, a medical student who marries Helen over the objections of her stuffy parents. They move to a farm in Fife, Idaho where Deracotte plans to open his medical practice, but he gets so enamored with the land and building a house and barn that he puts it off. For a long, long time. Meanwhile, Helen misses her family and running water. She becomes pregnant and gives birth to Elise. Enter the hired hand, Manny, who, after a family tragedy, helps raise Elise and take care of Deracotte who has become dependent on drugs. Dark drama doesn’t begin to sum it up.

It’s A Dog’s World –The Savvy Guide to Four-legged Living by Wendy Diamond
Thank you Random House for the advance reader copy of Diamond’s latest book. Wendy Diamond is without a doubt the best friend a dog can have – she’s worked tirelessly for animal welfare and written a great guide to all things “dog.” A worthwhile read and an excellent gift for a new doggie parent.

Prairie Reunion by Barbara J. Scot
I was all snuggled up, ready to read a book that was on the ‘recommended memoir reading’ list I had recently dug up from a creative writing workshop I took at Boise State University. Although the workshop was years ago, I figured the book list was still a river of gold waiting to be dredged. Wrong. Scot has a good story, but just doesn’t have the skill to tell it. Choppy sentences, nonsense poetry and can we nail a point once in awhile-- is that too much to ask?

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
Elizabeth Philpot is forced to move from expensive London to the less than fashionable coastal town of Lyme Regis after her brother marries, and the couple wants the family home all to themselves. Along with her two sisters they settle into their cozy cottage. Elizabeth befriends a young local girl, Mary Anning who shares her interest in fossils. In fact Mary is somewhat of an expert and finds several new species along the coast line. Like the sea, their friendship ebbs and flows over the years, but eventually both find their place in the town, and history. A very interesting look at Victorian England and early fossil hunters, plus a decent read. Chevalier also wrote the Girl with a Pearl Earring, which in my opinion is a much better book.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
Sisterly rivalry, love, sex, power, and historical fiction --all the makings of a great, easy read. Gregory tells the story of Anne Boleyn, her sister Mary and their brother George who are all brought to the king's court at a young age – mainly as pawns in their uncle's plans to advance the family fortune. Mary, the narrator and “the other Boleyn girl,” wins King Henry VIII's favor when she is barely 14. Their affair lasts several years, and she gives Henry a daughter and a son. But her sister, Anne, soon displaces Mary as his lover and begins her scheme to rid him of his wife, Katherine of Aragon. Of course we all know what happens to Anne.