Friday, December 31, 2010

My Favorite Books of 2010

I read 192 books this year and came up with 17 favorite books. Looking at my list, I noticed my biggest weakness: nonfiction. I didn't read a single nonfiction book this year! (Apart from school textbooks, which don't count.) Something definitely needs to be done about that.

Anyway, here they are, in roughly the order I read them in:

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson: I just finished this the day before yesterday, and while I usually let a little time elapse before deciding if something's my favorite or not, this is a clear winner. Sanderson creates an incredibly imaginative world, then works through the consequences of that world. His characters always seem like flesh-and-blood human beings who are just trying to make sense of the world and how to act. A full review is upcoming.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: Shirley Jackson is a master. Sometimes I would find myself re-reading passages just to look at the way she crafted her sentences. Brilliantly atmospheric and even warm and funny at times, this was a less of story of things that go bump in the night than of how people manipulate and use each other. I read this about a week ago and haven't gotten to the review yet; the holidays are really messing up my schedule.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett: This book is so sweet and funny and tragic. If I were to pick one word to describe it, it would be “subtle.”

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie: I read this book for a class and found myself unable to put it down. It is about the narratives we craft: narratives about mythology, about good vs. evil, and about identity; and how real life is so much messier. Also, it's narrated by the devil, which is just cool.

Meridian by Alice Walker: Another book from school. Meridian is such a complex character. Sometimes I loved her, sometimes I hated her, but I always enjoyed reading about her. This book is about race, gender, and the 1960's, but mostly it's about a very singular woman.

The Likeness by Tana French: It was a toss-up between this and In the Woods. I liked the tone of The Likeness more. The casual banter-y way a group of friends interact is paired with the tension that one of them is a murderer.

I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman: This book, about the only living victim of a serial killer, was about surviving. It never settles for easy answers and never exploits the events for melodrama.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith: A family saga that spans only two generations but still manages to feel sprawling, this novel is about family, identity, and what it means to be an immigrant. Zadie Smith tells you exactly what you need to know and no more.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson: This mystery links three tragedies, all concerning women, to create a complex, philosophical novel about violence, victimization, and love.

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway: A story of what happens after reality collapses. It's a novel about war, corporation morality, and how human beings survive and adapt; and it's told by one of the most unreliable narrators I have come across.

The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers by Thomas Mullen: What do you do if you're an outlaw who just came back from the dead? Mullen captures the despair and resilience of America in the Great Depression while we follow the Firefly brothers through flashbacks and their many deaths.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemison: A fantasy about what happens if gods really walked amongst us, this book is also a romance and coming-of-age story about a young woman thrust into power.

Turn of the Screw by Henry James: A simple, eerie story about a woman who starts seeing ghosts.
(Or does she?) It brings up issues of hysteria, madness, and the maternal instinct. And it's a damn good ghost story.

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley: I found this graphic novel in my library almost by accident and fell in love. It's a fairy tale about a castle refuge for anyone in need, and it's the stories those residents tell to each other.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: It's a classic for a reason. We follow the characters Anna and Levin as they try to determine what is right and how far they will go to be happy. I'm definitely reading more Tolstoy after this.

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness: A wonderful end to an astounding series. Everyone else has pretty much said all there is to say—and said it better--so I'll just say I loved it.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood: A companion to the wonderful Oryx and Crake, this book tells about two women who survive the catastrophic events in Crake. It's about the intersection of science and religion and the way women find a place in a new society.

Honorable Mentions: Blackout by Connie Willis (Only because I haven't read All Clear yet and don't feel like I can judge one without the other.), The God of Small Things by Anita Desai, The Millstone by Margaret Drabble, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Changeless by Gail Carriger

The cover blurb says, “A Novel of Vampires, Werewolves, and Dirigibles” and Changeless does exactly what it says on the tin. This is the second book in the Parasol Protectorate series, so to recap: It is Victorian England but there are vampires and werewolves. They've integrated fairly well into Victorian society and werewolves serve in the queen's army. Alexia Tarabotti is a preternatural who negates powers, meaning that when supernatural creatures are touching her, they are human. I really enjoyed the first book, but the problems I had with Changeless also apply to the first book, Soulless.

This book isn't exactly a masterpiece. Carriger tries to ape Victorian prose, which is clever in some places but falls apart a lot and just sounds like bad writing in other places. My favorite things about Victorian books, like a subtle sense of humor and the ways the authors knit social issues into the text, are not really present in this book. It's mostly a fun action/romance with Victorian trappings.

Without getting into spoilers, I had some problems with the way the main love interest behaved. He kept Alexia in the dark, even though he should really trust her by now, and the two got into an argument that really bothered me. (Vague spoilers: He thinks she's been unfaithful and starts shouting and calling her names) Thankfully, in the book, Alexia was bothered by this as well, so I don't necessarily see it as being condoned by the author, but it's still pretty obnoxious behavior on the part of someone we're supposed to like.

Still, it was incredibly entertaining and made me laugh at a few points, and after the way it ended, I wanted to pick up the next book immediately.

I've been thinking about star ratings. I feel like ratings can become perfunctory, but they are a good way to express something that can't really be measured in any other way. I'm going to try them out for a while.

So, 3 stars for this for not really being anything more than entertaining.  

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Or, if that is not your preferred holiday, then Happy Weekend!

Probably not going to post anything for the next few days. I will be spending time with family and attempting to make a jelly roll cake.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I signed up for my very first challenges. I always wanted to join in other challenges previously, but didn't much see the point without a book blog. But there are some very exciting ones.

First of all is A Year of Feminist Classics. We're reading a book a month from this list:
January: A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollestonecraft AND So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba
FebruaryThe Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill
March: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
April: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
May: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
June: God Dies by the Nile by Nawal Saadawi
July: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
August: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
September: The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
October: Ain’t I a Woman? by bell hooks AND Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism Anthology
NovemberGender Trouble by Judith Butler
December: Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Second is the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Sarah at Sarah Reads Too Much. We have to read one book in each category before June 2011. Here's my choices:

A Banned Book: The Color Purple by Alice Walker
A Book With a Wartime Setting: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (WWI)
A Pulitzer Prize Winner or Runner Up: The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
A Children's/Young Adult Classic: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
19th Century Classic: Maybe now I will finally get around to reading The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
20th Century Classic: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
A Book you think should be considered a 21st Century Classic: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
Re-read a book from your High School/College Classes: If an assignment I never completed counts, I'm doing Caleb Williams by William Godwin

Finally, there's The Victorian Literature Challenge. I'm doing the Great Expectations challenge, so I have to read 5-9 books from the Victorian era. (Although I may have to change it to Sense and Sensibility--1-4 books--if I get too busy.) I hope I can get through these:
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Selected Poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope

Maledicte by Lane Robins

I don't quite know what to think about Maledicte. On the one hand, it has lots of court intrigue and balls and that sort of thing like Ellen Kushner's The Privilege of the Sword, one of my favorite books. But on the other hand, something about it just left me unsatisfied.

A shady lord steals his bastard son Janus from the slums because he needs an heir. Miranda, the son's lover/friend/partner in crime swears revenge and seeks out Black-Winged Ani, the goddess of love and vengeance. She dresses as a boy, changes her name to Maledicte, and become the ward of another lord who has his reasons to hurt the shady lord.

Maledicte, as interesting as the idea of him was, did not really do anything for me. His solution for, like, 90% of his problems is to kill the cause of them. There isn't really any motivation for what he does, except for the broad category of “revenge.” This may be because he's being ridden by a goddess of vengeance, or maybe because Robins is trying to make a point of the destructive power of revenge. Either way, Maledicte never really became a real person to me.

I've been using the pronoun “he” because that's consistently what Robins uses. It's made clear that Maledicte is much more comfortable performing as male instead of female. This was probably my favorite aspect of the book. We need more genderqueer characters who don't always fit into convenient labels because people often don't.

Actually, what this book reminded me of most was the movie There Will Be Blood. Like Daniel Plainview, Janus and Maledicte leave a trail of destruction in their wake . But, like the movie, I never saw any reason that they were using to justify their actions. It mostly seemed they did it because they could. And that leaves me a little uneasy with the way things ended in the book. I would recommend this book (I still found it very gripping), just maybe with some reservations.  

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett

I swear, I have read books that are not by Ann Patchett. Sometimes I just read books in binges. This is the end of my Ann Patchett binge.

Anyway, The Magician's Assistant is about Sabine, assistant to her gay magician husband Parsifal, who has just died. And, yes, that relationship sounds somewhat ridiculous, but it is actually very sweet. They got married because Parsifal's lover (There has got to be a better word for that! Partner? Not much better.) had just died of AIDS and Parsifal had just been diagnosed. Parsifal and Sabine truly loved each other, just without a sexual component, so it was a marriage of companionship between two people who wanted to find comfort in each other.

So Parsifal has just died and Sabine finds out from the will that he left money to his mother and sisters in Nebraska. Who he had previously told her were dead. And from Connecticut. (Parsifal is obviously not his real name. But he had a fake real name, in addition to his actual real name, which is Guy Fetters.) So then his family flies out to Sabine's house in California and she later flies back to them in Nebraska, where she learns about Parsifal's past.

Part of The Magician's Assistant is about how people you know and love can have huge secrets they never tell you and part of it is how Sabine connects with people who are very different from her on the surface. Again, the situation is all about personal connections for Patchett and not as much about drama, although there is plenty of family secrets to be had. It's also about family. Sabine, Parsifal, and Parsifal's lover were a family and now Sabine adds on to that with the Fetters.

It's a lovely book, although I think Bel Canto was just a leetle bit better. And also, this book contains what is the most touching description of shopping at Wal-Mart that I have ever seen.  

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

I had to read Ann Patchett's The Patron Saint of Liars for school and I loved it so much, I immediately went to the library and got as many books of hers that I could find. And I have to say, I think Bel Canto is actually my favorite.

So, various fancy diplomats and businessman are attending the birthday party of a Japanese businessman that is being held at the house of the Vice-President of an unspecified South American country. Then terrorists storm in and try to capture the president of said country, except that he is at home watching his soaps. So then they just take everyone at the party hostage for what turns out to be about three months.

And where some books would have the confined hostages start sharing personal secrets and the worst of human nature coming out, Bel Canto just has people being awkward and then making friends and playing chess and practicing opera and having sex with fellow hostages and, sometimes, captors. It is all very polite and genteel. I don't know if that's very realistic, but then again I have never been a hostage in an unspecified South American country.

I don't make it sound very exciting but it's full of funny little moments and revelations and sweet characters moments and then it ENDS HORRIBLY. I don't want to give any spoilers but if it starts with terrorist taking hostages, then you know it's not going to end well. So there's that.

And Ann Patchett is such a good writer that she makes everything really quiet and subtle but imbued with lots of meaning. I wish I could describe it better. But it's a beautiful book and sometimes I like to read books that aren't all in your face with INTENSITY.


Hi, I'm Aubrey.

So I've finally taken the plunge and created a book blog. Will anyone read it? Will I eventually start posting entries very rarely? The answer to both is "maybe."

About me: I'm an English major at a small liberal arts school in the Midwest and am trying to get into grad school to get a Master's in Library Science. I spend far too much time reading and swanning about on other book blogs. My first ever book post should go up in the next few days.