1. The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan
Good, but not great. Last year (the year before?) I read Worst Hard Time by Egan…his award winning book about the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. That book knocked my socks off. This one was really good, but not as good. The Big Burn covers the genesis of the Forest Service under Teddy Roosevelt and the 1910 forest fire in the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho and Montana. We are introduced to Gordon Pinchot, one of the loudest voices for conservation and someone who worked hard at making the Forest Service legit. Though I sort of wondered where he was in the aftermath of the fire when those who worked under him (for very little pay) laid injured (sometimes horrifingly severely) in the hospital or released because they couldn’t pay the doctor’s bills. American policy regarding conservation (AND health care) has been warped for a long time. Sadly, I don’t really see much of that changing.
2. Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving
Irving has created some of the best fictional characters…Owen Meany, Homer Wells, Garp…and now comes Ketchum. He isn’t really the main character of Irving’s newest, but certainly one of his most memorable. For me, Irving has missed the mark on some of his more recent titles, but I really enjoyed this one. Bears, orphans, wrestling and wonderful New England settings show up and one wonders how autobiographical this book is. Get through the first chapter (primarily about river logging) and if you’ve enjoyed past Irving novels, you will like this one too.
3. Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul by Karen Abbot
Interesting non-fiction book that follows the Everleigh Club, a high-end house of prostitution in Chicago at the turn of the century and the two women who owned it. As a parallel story, we learn of the reformers who are trying to put an end to the houses of vice in the Levee district in Chicago and the enormous amounts of graft and corruption. Quick and interesting, I would recommend this to fans of historical non-fiction, especially anyone who enjoyed Devil and the White City.
4. Deafening by Frances Itani
Wonderful! This book is about Grania, who becomes deaf at the age of 5 due to scarlet fever at the turn of the century in rural Canada. Grania is curious and quick to learn language from her sister and grandmother as a girl. These parts are interesting as she struggles with language and meaning. Grania eventually gets sent to a school for the deaf and grows up to be a capable and intelligent young woman who marries a hearing man. Unfortunately her husband is sent to Belgium during World War I, and his letters and descriptions back home to Grania are heartbreaking. I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in contemporary lit and especially those interested in the combination of language, sounds and words.
5. Tricks by Ellen Hopkins
Exhausting. Hopkins has written several books for teens, and Tricks is her latest. All of her books deal with drug abuse, molestation, and/or suicide, and this newest continues to be about controversial topics – this time teen prostitution. Her books are all written in prose, and are therefore quick reads. I had a hard time getting through this one – pretty depressing as it follows 5 different teens as they eventually make it by turning tricks in Las Vegas. Her books are all popular, but I would only recommend this with hesitation based on the hard subject matter.
6. The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris
I loved Ferris’ first book, And Then We Came to the End…it was super funny and original. The Unnamed is his follow up attempt and it wasn’t anything like I was expecting. His first book was laugh out loud funny (a coworker and I still reenact parts), and this one is anything but. Not that I didn’t like it, I did. Tim Farnsworth is a high powered attorney who lives the good life (other than his sulky teenage daughter) except for the walking. And there is a lot of walking and it disrupts his life and eventually disrupts his whole being. This book is disturbing, well written and interesting. I didn’t love it, but glad I read it. I just wish he would go back to the funny.
7. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
After the super seriousness of The Unnamed, I decided I needed something funny and light. I’ve read a few other Hornby books and knew I was in for a sure bet…despite this book starting off with 4 people who are going to commit suicide on New Year’s Eve. This book started off hilarious and then sort of dragged a little from there, but I am glad that I read it and needed some laugh-out-loud funny in the overcast of a southern Indiana winter. Out of the four characters, I thought that it was the least likely to be likable at the end was the best character for me. Some of the others felt a little flat, though I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to anyone looking for something fun and different.
8. Jane Bites Back by Michael Ford
So, Jane Austen is a vampire and working at a book store in upstate somewhere. She publishes a book and runs into Byron and Charlotte Bronte (also vampires) and complications arise between her vampire world and her human world. Jane is pissed off at the Austen craze that has taken over current publishing and she would be no less happy with this one. I would recommend this to someone who also enjoyed other Austen-follow ups. It was light and fluffy and not really my kind of reading.
9. Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose
Even though I am a history major (through and through), I have never read anything by Ambrose. Picked up this title and found it well written and interesting, made all the better by the details picked up by survivors of this World War II company. I would recommend this to anyone interested in military history or American history in general.
10. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
The last time I read this was probably college and I only had dim recollections of this classic. I remembered very little about this book and despite the despair and horror, I am glad that I read it again. I’ve been a wee bit fixated on WWI fiction lately, and a fellow librarian suggested this. This book paints an anti-war picture and gives a really good idea of the generational gulf of veterans of this inhumane war. The end is almost a relief because even as a reader we can’t imagine anything else.
11. Blankets by Craig Thompson
I loved Thompson’s travel graphic novel, Carnet de Voyage do decided to pick up what he was best known for. This coming of age graphic novel is beautifully illustrated but left me feeling a little flat. I enjoyed it generally and glad I read it, but not as enamoured with it as I was his newer work.
12. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson
I do not understand the publishing delays of this third book in the Millennium Series. Not wanting to wait until May, Tim and I purchased this from Amazon UK for not much more than we would have paid for the hardback here in the states. I am glad that I read this book, though I think it is excessively long and needed a little editing in the middle. I know that the government conspiracy is important to the story, but I’m not sure I needed to know exactly how the Swedish government runs. Still waiting for the first movie to be released here! Action/thriller/mysteries aren’t my genre, but the characters and setting are so intriguing, I can’t pass up this series.
13. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
As part of my job, I try to pick up and be familiar with YA authors. I tend to be drawn to the books that are more for older teens, and lacking somewhat in my ability to pop off the top of my head some good titles for younger teens. This series was really popular, so I thought I would give it a try. And? I really liked it. I mean it isn’t rocket science, but it was sweet and interesting. Mostly revolving around four best friends it isn’t just a romance book, which was nice. There is romance, but the focus stays on the friendships and navigating the teen world. I can see why this was so popular. If I was 12 or 13, I would have LOVED this book, I’m sure.
14. The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares
Hell yeah, what happens next. heh. I probably didn’t like this as much as the first book, but still generally enjoyed the series and the characters.
15. Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz
More teenage vampires…but this time they are uber-wealthy and live on the Upper East Side…and they are in danger! This was a pretty easy read, light on sex, violence, and language so could easily be recommended to young teens who are interested in vampire books. Some of the who/what/when of the vampire world got unnecessarily complicated, it was still pretty light and fun. I am not so motivated to read the next book in the series, but not regretting reading this either.
16. Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich
I really enjoyed this book. Heinrich is a biologist, but also a wonderful naturalist and observer. Heinrich splits his time between Vermont (where he is a professor) and a cabin in Maine and has both observed and studied what animals who don’t migrate do during the winter. Turns out the strategies employed by birds, insects, bears, beavers, squirrels, frogs and the like are all very different. I am not sure after reading this that I could pass an essay exam on the differences between topor and hibernation, but it was both enlightening and interesting to read. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys nature readings or has a general curiosity about the world.
17. Sold by Patricia McCormick
This book reads like a diary and follows a poor Nepalese girl who is sold by her step-father (willingly or unwillingly) into prostitution in India. The prose is short, quick and often filled with pain. The glimmer of hope at the end might be enough for most, but I think I might have a hard time recommending this to most teens.
18. Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
Hm. Color me underwhelmed. I picked up the first book in this series and it is about a really whiny high school girl named Mia. Mia spends a lot of time bitching about things, and then once she finds out that she is an actual princess, she bitches about more things. I sort of cared for her at the end, but overall found her a not very sympathetic female character. I am glad I tried one, but won’t be heading back to the rest of the series.
19. The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
20. I’d Tell You I Love You, but Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter
This might appeal to young teens girls who also like some adventure, including fans of City of Ember. On the face of it, the girls go to a posh prep school in Pennsylvania. But the school is really a SPY SCHOOL and the girls are trained in Covert Operations among other things. It all seems a little far fetched to me, but the characters are likable and the romance is sweet.
21. Dreaming in French by Megan McCarty
This adult coming of age novel follows Charlotte as she grows up in France in her mother’s shadow. The first half of this book is strong, interesting, intense and painful in a teenage (although wealthy and in a posh international school in Paris) kind of way. The novel loses steam as Charlotte and her mother move to New York (there are some Polish solidarity workers involved somehow – sort of a strange side story). I would be interested in what else this author writes.
22. Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Jamie longs to fit in as a blond Australian girl at her school, but is really Lebanese. She is torn between her desire to fit in and her faithfulness to her religion and her family. Of course her admiration for a racist boy temporarily stands in the way as well. The contrivances are a little clunky, but Jamie is a likable character and I enjoyed this book. I would recommend this to most young teen readers. Most should still get the overall concept of changing yourself to fit in.
23. Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Rennick
It took me about 1/2 way through this YA book to finally feel sympathy toward the main character. She seems wacky – but mostly in a forced way. The diary format doesn’t give you any insight into any of the other characters who all seem sort of prop like. Happy endings abound. Saving grace? This book is really funny in parts.
24. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly