Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Year in Review by Heather


It may be a dog-eared and hoary (as well as storied) stereotype for those of us with library careers, but it’s also quite true:  I love to read.  With a New Year beginning, it’s time for this bookworm’s annual accounting.
 
TOTAL: 82 books (read January 1- December 31, 2012). Yearly average 2007-2012= 95 books/year.

THE BREAKDOWN for 2012:

34 Fiction
23 Science Fiction/Fantasy
15 NonFiction ( mostly running  topics and a smattering of others)
4 Graphic Novels (well, actually, it was more like 7, but I counted multiple volumes of series work as single numbers.)
6 Young Adult/Juvenile.
21 books purchased.  59 library circulated items. 2 re-reads from previous years.
18 books were “escapist fluff”,   but only 2 or 3 were a total waste of brain cells and shelf space.

Following are several short reviews, of my personal choices for MOST ENJOYED BOOKS of 2012 (available from Decatur Public Library):

FICTION:

 Book #64) Mitchell, David. CLOUD ATLAS. Random House: 2004.

 Mitchell's virtuosic novel presents six narratives that evoke an array of genres, from Melvillean high-seas drama to California noir and dystopian fantasy. There is a na├»ve clerk on a nineteenth-century Polynesian voyage; an aspiring composer who insinuates himself into the home of a syphilitic genius; a journalist investigating a nuclear plant; a publisher with a dangerous best-seller on his hands; and a cloned human being created for slave labor. These five stories are bisected and arranged around a sixth, the oral history of a post-apocalyptic island, which forms the heart of the novel. Only after this do the second halves of the stories fall into place, pulling the novel's themes into focus: the ease with which one group enslaves another, and the constant rewriting of the past by those who control the present. Against such forces, Mitchell's characters reveal a quiet tenacity. When the clerk is told that his life amounts to "no more than one drop in a limitless ocean," he asks, "Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?" (New Yorker)

 Heather’s take:  Admittedly, it takes more than few pages to “get into” this complex and densely written novel, but once you’ve become drawn into the book by its intelligence, one finds the novel’s complex form is perfect to its telling. The recent film makes different choices to compliment its medium, and liked it as well.

 Book #74) Thilliez, Franck. SYNDROME E: A Novel. Viking Adult: 2012.

Already a runaway bestseller in France, Syndrome E tells the story of beleaguered detective Lucie Hennebelle, whose old friend has developed a case of spontaneous blindness after watching an extremely rare—and violent—film from the 1950s. Embedded in the film are subliminal images so unspeakably heinous that Lucie realizes she must get to the bottom of it—especially when nearly everyone who comes into contact with the film starts turning up dead. Enlisting the help of Inspector Franck Sharko—a brooding, broken analyst for the Paris police who is exploring the film’s connection to five murdered men left in the woods, Lucie begins to strip away the layers of what is perhaps the most disturbing and powerful film ever made. Soon Sharko and Lucie find themselves mired in a darkness that spreads across politics, religion, science, and art while stretching from France to Canada, Egypt to Rwanda, and beyond. And just who is responsible for this darkness will blow readers minds, as Syndrome E forces them to consider: what if the earliest and most brilliant advances and discoveries of neuroscience were not used for good—but for evil. With this taut U.S. debut, Thilliez explores the origins of violence through cutting-edge and popular science in a breakneck thriller rich with shocking plot twists and profound questions about the nature of humanity.

Heather’s take:  This was the best mystery/thriller I’ve read in a long time (yes, even more so than Larsson’s “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy).  I particularly liked the artsy elements to the plot, and the interaction of the two protagonist detectives.  However, I literally screamed in frustration when, after a harrowing ride to solve one mystery, readers are then left us right at the book’s end with a tantalizing cliffhanger for the next story. Several more books in the series already published in France, but American readers will have to wait in suspense.

 Book #76) Heller, Peter.  DOG STARS. Knopf: 2012.

 Adventure writer Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars is a first novel set in Colorado after a superflu has culled most of humanity. A man named Hig lives in a former airport community—McMansions built along the edge of a runway—which he shares with his 1956 Cessna, his dog, and a slightly untrustworthy survivalist. He spends his days flying the perimeter, looking out for intruders and thinking about the things he’s lost—his deceased wife, the nearly extinct trout he loved to fish. When a distant beacon sparks in him the realization that something better might be out there, it’s only a matter of time before he goes searching. Poetic, thoughtful, transformative, this novel is a rare combination of the literary and highly readable. --Chris Schluep (Amazon Best book of the Month August 2012)

Heather’s take:  Emotionally moving post-apocalypse story (another sub-genre I frequently seek out in my reading).  As author Pam Houston said in her review of this work, “Leave it to Peter Heller to imagine a post apocalyptic world that contains as much loveliness as it does devastation.”

 SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY:
Book #59) Simmons, Dan. FLASHBACK. Little, Brown & Co.: 2012

The United States is near total collapse. But 87% of the population doesn't care: they're addicted to flashback, a drug that allows its users to re-experience the best moments of their lives. After ex-detective Nick Bottom's wife died in a car accident, he went under the flash to be with her; he's lost his job, his teenage son, and his livelihood as a result. Nick may be a lost soul but he's still a good cop, so he is hired to investigate the murder of a top governmental advisor's son. This flashback-addict becomes the one man who may be able to change the course of an entire nation turning away from the future to live in the past. A provocative novel set in a future that seems scarily possible, FLASHBACK proves why Dan Simmons is one of our most exciting and versatile writers.

This is Simmons doing detective noir with an SF sheen ... Simmons has, as ever, created a compelling, believable cast of characters, but it's not really Nick Bottom's travails that make this such a startling read. His trajectory is tightly plotted and there's an emotional undertow to his actions that's easy to empathize with, sure, but it's the world Simmons has made that's the thing here, a world that sits right next to ours and might actually be our world if we're not too careful - and it's not too late. This is a provocative, frightening book ... Flashback is a fascinating read and many, no doubt, will be outraged at what it suggests. It's a book that will stay with you days after you finish it, chewing over its implications and precedents; but it's also a thrilling detective novel with a grand compelling mystery at its centre and more heart than you might think' SFX. '...nothing will prepare you for Flashback, a book as relentlessly compelling and unsettling as it punishing to read ... Simmons accomplishes this mood so well that it's difficult to fault the book for essentially excelling at creating atmosphere and complex history for this universe' Sci-Fi Now. (uncredited review on Amazon.com)
Heather’s take:  I’d  read and liked some of Simmon’s  earlier work, but was a bit leary of this novel after reading a few reviews that mentioned it’s right-wing politics. Even disagreeing with this conservative viewpoint did not dampen the impact of the work as science fiction, with its solid world-making and characterizations.

 Book #52) Joyce, Graham. SOME KIND OF FAIRY TALE. Doubleday: 2012.
Acclaimed author Graham Joyce's mesmerizing new novel centers around the disappearance of a young girl from a small town in the heart of England. Her sudden return twenty years later, and the mind-bending tale of where she's been, will challenge our very perception of truth.

“Graham Joyce's new novel Some Kind of Fairy Tale is one of the most impressive fantasy books we've read in ages…. Graham Joyce has obviously steeped himself in fairy-tale lore, and his attention to detail (and to the significance of those details) is pretty astonishing. But what really makes Some Kind of Fairy Tale stand head and shoulders above most other fantasy novels I've read lately is the strong focus on the characters. Joyce's slow, careful narrative style draws you in to a story that's as much a family drama as it is a magical adventure…. Joyce takes a steady, masterful approach that explores one simple story from every angle, holding it up to the light until we see the hidden images revealed by each separate facet. Joyce has written a brilliant book that will make you think about the meaning of fairytales in a new way.” (--io9.com)
Heather’s take:  Enthralling, intelligent, literate fantasy. It was the first time I had read any Graham Joyce, but not the last. The man writes brilliantly.

YOUNG ADULT FICTION:

 Book #12) Van Draanen, Wendelin. RUNNING DREAM. Knopf: 2011.

Sixteen-year-old Jessica is the track team’s star sprinter until tragedy strikes: the team van is struck, killing one runner and demolishing Jessica’s right leg. The book begins with Jessica refusing to acknowledge the result: a stump. But she is slowly reintroduced to life, which involves being fitted for a prosthesis, returning to school, and dealing with the usual—tough teachers, mean girls, and one really hot, sensitive, supportive boy. It’s a classic problem novel in a lot of ways; accordingly, Van Draanen inserts setbacks with narrative precision. Overall, though, this is a tremendously upbeat book, with Jessica’s family, friends, and community coming together. Van Draanen’s extensive research into both running and amputees pays dividends—readers will truly feel what it’s like to walk (or run) a mile (or 10) in Jessica’s shoes. Grades 7-10. --Daniel Kraus (booklist review)

 Heather’s take: I enjoy well written Young Adult novels, and am always on the lookout for running related stories; this was both. I also read the HUNGER GAMES series in 2012 (all three novels in a row, practically in a single gulp), but I appreciate finding less hyped but no less involving reads.

 GRAPHIC NOVEL/ NONFICTION:

Book #60) Weaver, Lila Qunitero. DARKROOM: A MEMOIR IN BLACK & WHITE. University of Alabama Press: 2012.

“A vivid, insightful, and moving illustrated graphic memoir by Weaver, who emigrated from Argentina to the American South as a young girl in 1961, recounting her impressions of her family’s new and unexpected life in racist, rural Alabama during the civil rights movement. In beautiful gray-shaded drawings, Weaver depicts the reality of the segregated and newly integrated South and her struggle to position herself as an ally to her black classmates, only to find that it’s a path fraught with pitfalls from both sides of the divide.” (Publishers Weekly)
Heather’s take: Memoirs are one of my favorite nonfiction genres and I do appreciate an occasional well done graphic novel, such as this title.  DARKROOM has the additional interest of being a regional memoir of Alabama life; in fact, several spreads are reproductions from a state history book used in public schools during the 60’s (of which my husband retains a copy and has shown me, remarking on the “slant” of its historical “facts”.)

With the exception of DARKROOM, several of my favorite nonfiction reads this past year have not yet been purchased for the library, but I’ll still include one final review.

 
Book # 80) Light, Alan. THE HOLY OR THE BROKEN: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah".  Atria Books: 2012.

An entire biography dedicated to a single song might seem excessive at first. But when that song is “Hallelujah”--a decades-old, epic ode to sex, spirituality, and everything in between--such a spotlight is not only justified but arguably necessary. Leonard Cohen spent years painstakingly penning the lyrics and wound up with more verses than anyone has ever heard. The song has been rerecorded, re-imagined, reinvented, and ultimately immortalized through (occasionally) gloriously great and (too often) tragically terrible renditions. It is, as author and music journalist Alan Light puts it in The Holy or the Broken, “one of the most unexpected and triumphant sagas in the history of popular music.” With this complex and fascinating story, Light succeeds in doing for a song what some biographers struggle to accomplish for human subjects: He captures the essence and importance of a living, breathing entity, and his telling is at times as moving as the masterpiece itself. --Robin A. Rothman (Amazon.com best book of Dec 2012)

 Heather’s  take:  Sure, I’ve heard several different covers of  HALLELUJAH before (Hasn’t everyone?), but  thanks to this interesting  book about the song, now I’ve also “rediscovered” Cohen’s poetry and  music!

 Least Enjoyed Book of 2012:

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

(Enough said)

 Heather’s Reading Resolutions for 2013:

I do have a few goals for my reading choices in 2013.  I'm about 400 pages deep into George R. R. Martin's GAME OF THRONES; looking into the future, I'm hoping to read the entire epic SONGS OF FIRE AND ICE fantasy series (7 titles in all) during 2013.  Have also rather belatedly started reading Victor Hugo’s classic LES MISERABLES, and need to be duly chastised for putting the cart before the horse, and breaking a longstanding family tradition/dictate by seeing the newly released movie musical version before reading the original source material. Given these large tomes already on my shelf, I’ve decided to keep track of the # of pages read as well as # of books finished this year.  I'll also be reading a lot of international authors and books set in various countries, as I participate in the libraries "Around the World/ Adult Reading Challenge"; I’m very excited for this journey to begin and hope many of you will join us in the challenge!  Finally, I admit, this may also be the year I break down and purchase an e-reader.  Displayed font size can be adjusted on most of these devices, thus drastically increasing the possibilities for many more books my aging eyes can enjoy.

 
WHAT I READ (Entire 2012 bibliography)

1)Larsson, Steig. THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE. Knopf: 2009.
2) Larsson, Steig. THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST. Knopf: 2010
3) Selznick, Brian. THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET. Scholastic: 2007.
4)  Rubin, Gretchen. THE HAPPINESS PROJECT . Harper Perenial: 2011.
5) McIntosh, Will. SOFT APOCALYPSE.  Nightshade Books: 2011.
6) Lindsey, Jeff. DOUBLE DEXTER . Vintage: 2012.
7)Hughes, Robert.  FATAL SHORE . Vintage: 1988.
8) Bacon, Linda.  HEALTH AT EVERY SIZE . BenBella: 2010.
9) Kirkman, Robert. WALKING DEAD VOL4 . Image Comics: 2005.
10) Haley, Susan. GETTING MARRIED IN BUFFALO JUMP. MacMillan: 1987.
11) Gaiman, Neil. GRAVEYARD BOOK. Harper Collins: 2008.
12) Van Draanen, Wendelin. RUNNING DREAM. Knopf: 2011.

13) Roberson, Chris. iZombie: Vol 1 Dead to the World; Vol 2 uVampire; Vol 3 Six Feet Under and Rising. Verigo: 2011.
14) Moore, J. P. TOOTHLESS. Dragon Moon Press: 2010.
15) Collins, Suzanne. HUNGER GAMES. Scholastic: 2009.
16) Collins, Suzanne CATCHING FIRE. Scholastic 2009.
17) Collins, Suzanne. MOCKINGJAY. Scholastic: 2010.
18) Whitehead, Colson. ZONE ONE. Doubleday:2011
19)Williams, Jayne. SLOW FAT TRIATHLETE. Da Capo: 2004.
20) Baker, Tiffany. LITTLE GIANT OF ABERDEEN COUNTY. Grand Central Pub: 2009.
21)Valentine, Geneveive. MECHANIQUE: TALES OF THE CIRCUS TRESAULTI. Prime: 2011
22) Benaron, Naomi. RUNNING THE RIFT. Algonquin: 2012.
23) Foster, Alan Dean. HUMAN BLEND. Del Rey: 2010.
24) Duane, Diane. OMNITOPIA DAWN. DAW: 2010.
25) Welch, Julie OUT ON YOUR FEET: The Hallucinatory World of Hundred--Mile Walking. Aurum: 2009.
26) Evans, Richard Paul. THE WALK. Simon & Schuster: 2010.
27) Moore, Chistopher. SACRE BLEU: a comedy d'art. Morrow: 2012.
28) Saricks, Joyce. READERS' ADVISORY SERVICE IN PUBLIC LIBRARIES. ALA: 2005.
29) Uslan, Michael. ARCHIE: THE MARRIED LIFE. Archie Comics: 2011.
30) Dreyer, Danny. CHI MARATHON. Touchstone: 2012
31) Bender, Aimee. PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE. Anchor: 2011
32) Graham, Heather. THE UNSEEN. Mira: 2012.
33) Graham, Heather. DEADLY HARVEST. Mira: 2008
34) Evans, Richard Paul. MILES TO GO. Simon & Schuster: 2011.
35) Rice, Anne THE WOLF GIFT. Knopf: 2012.
36) Harkness, Deborah. A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES. Viking: 2011.
37) Graham, Heather, HEART OF EVIL. Mira: 2011.

38) Walton, Jo. AMONG OTHERS. Tor: 2012.
39) Burroughs, Augesten. THIS IS HOW. St. Martin's Press: 2012.
40) Jurek, Scott. EAT & RUN: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness. Houghton Mifflin: 2012.
41) Bradbury, Ray. GREEN SHADOWS, WHITE WHALE. Knopf: 1992.
42) Irving, John. IN ONE PERSON. Simon and Schuster: 2012.
43) Lindqvist, John. HARBOR. Thomas Dunne: 2012.
44) Rountree, Sage. ATHLETE'S GUIDE TO RECOVERY. Velo: 2011.

45) Evans, Richard Paul . ROAD TO GRACE (The Walk #3). Simon & Schuster: 2012
46) Russell, Karen. SWAMPLANIDIA! Knopf: 2011.
47) Hearne, Kevin. HOUNDED (IRON DRUID CHORNICLES #1) Del Rey: 2011.
48)Rowland, Diana. MY LIFE AS A WHITE TRASH ZOMBIE. Daw: 2011.
49) Hearne, Kevin. HEXED (Iron Druid Chronicles Book @). Del Rey: 2011.
50) Beukes, Lauren. MOXYLAND. Angry Robot: 2008.
51) Lippman, Laura. EVERY SECRET THING. William Morrow: 2003.
52) Joyce, Graham. SOME KIND OF FAIRY TALE. Doubleday: 2012.
53) Harper, Bob. THE SKINNY RULES. Ballantine Books: 2012.
54) Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn Brown. BECOMING SISTERWIVES. Gallery Books: 2012.
55) Scalzi, John. REDSHIRTS. Tor: 2012
56) King, Stephen. THE BACHMAN BOOKS: FOUR EARLY NOVELS. New American Library: 1985.
57) Joyce, Graham. SILENT LAND. Doubleday: 2010.
58) Joyce, Graham. INDIGO. Pocket Books: 1999.
59)Simmons, Dan. FLASHBACK. Little, Brown & Co.: 2012
60) Weaver, Lila Qunitero. DARKROOM: A MEMOIR IN BLACK & WHITE. University of Alabama Pres: 2012.
61) Starling, Belinda. THE JOURNAL OF DORA DAMAGE. Bloomsbury: 2007.
62) James, E.L. FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Doubleday: 2012.
63) Ashby, Madeline. vN. Angry Robot: 2012.
64) Mitchell, David. CLOUD ATLAS. Random House: 2004.
65) Picoult, Jodi. LONE WOLF. Emily Bestler Books/Atria: 2012
66) Cain, Chelsea. KILL YOU TWICE. Minotaur: 2012
67) Doig, Ivan. THE BARTENDER'S TALE. Riverhead: 2012.
68) Zeltserman, Dave. MONSTER: a novel of Frankenstein. Overlook Press: 2012.
69) La Velle, Victor. THE DEVIL IN SILVER.
70) Middleton, Haydn. GRIMM'S LAST FAIRYTALE. Thomas Dunne Books: 2001.
71) Doctorow, Cory and Charles Stross. RAPTURE OF THE NERDS. Tor: 2012.
72)Brom. KRAMPUS :The Yule Lord. Harper Voyager: 2012.
73)Stross, Charles. RULE 34. Ace Books 2011.
74)Thilliez, Franck. SYNDROME E: A Novel. Viking Adult: 2012.
75) Walker, Karen Thompson. AGE OF MIRACLES. Random House: 2012.
76)Heller, Peter.  DOG STARS. Knopf: 2012.
77) Bram, Christopher. THE NOTORIOUS DR. AUGUST: His Real Life and Crimes. Harper: 2001.
78) Brom. THE CHILD THIEF. Harper 2010.
79) S. G. Browne. I SAW ZOMBIES EATING SANTA CLAUS: A Breathers Christmas Carol. Gallery Books: 2012.

80) Light, Alan. THE HOLY OR THE BROKEN: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent 0f Hallelujah"  Atria Books: 2012.
81) Bertsche, Rachel, MWF SEEKING BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend. Ballantine Books: 2011.

82)Adams, Mary. PARTY DRESS: How to Sew the Best Dress in the Room. Potter Craft: 2010