Cheers: Best of 2010

Now that we're in January 2011, I thought it would be fun to look back on 2010 and single out some of the books I discovered and loved all over again. Plus, I'm playing with the Amazon Associates widget tools, and wanted an excuse to make a "recommends" widget.

A quick run through ARAT shows that I wrote approximately 116 five-star reviews in 2010, and about 46 of those were for books. Some of those books were older books - such as when I was plodding through the "Dear America" series, or when I recently woke up and realized that I was the last person on earth to read "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". For my "Best of 2010" picks, I tried to pick novels that were published on or around 2010 - anything on this list that has a publication date of 2011 was an advance copy that I just could wait to share.

New Author: Van Diemen at 17

The highlight of my year was serving as a judge in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest of 2010. I'd never really had a lot of contact with new authors and their work before, and I was amazed to see how fresh and new a lot of the material was, both within ABNA and (once my eyes were open to look for it) online. I happened to find the blog of new author Jeania Kimbrough, and was astonished at her debut novel, "Van Diemen at 17". In capturing the deep turmoil and existential struggle that can accompany displacement from home at a new school, she has managed to write a novel that touched both my heart and my own personal past. For people who have ever struggled with chronic depression or with depression-induced eating disorders, this book is like a shaft of healing light, offering both affirmation and healing.

Magical Realism: Green Witch

This year I had the pleasure of reading both "Green Angel" and "Green Witch" by Alice Hoffman for the first time. "Green Angel" is somewhat well-known already as an "instant classic" and I was definitely taken with the writing style and with the story of transformative healing, but "Green Witch" is that rare sequel that makes you like the first book even better, because it really takes the story so much farther. As a stand-alone story, "Green Angel" is a wonderful tale of loss and healing, narrated in a magical realistic tone that really draws the reader in, but coupled with "Green Witch" and it becomes this incredible story of community strength and the power we have to help other people through their own pain.

Young Adult Fiction: The Hunger Games

This book came simultaneously recommended to me by six different people where I work, but I was still seriously skeptical because I often feel that my tastes don't match well with the mainstream. However, this book hooked me from the first chapter, and the entire series sucked me in and wouldn't let me go until I'd finished the last page of the third book. I own over a thousand books, and I've read most of them, and I will say without a shadow of hesitation that this series was the best series I've ever read. And currently the series keeps on giving in the form of hilarious and insightful commentary from MarkReads - I can seriously think of no better way to start the new year than to pick up a copy of this exquisite trilogy and follow along with Mark.

Mystery: The Diviner's Tale

A rather contentious offering, "The Diviner's Tale" has been both widely panned and widely praised by the Amazon Vine community. I think I must have been destined to like it from the start - it was only after I'd requested it as a Vine item, devoured it in one day, and posted my glowing review that I noticed I'd requested the same title from NetGalley weeks before and it had gotten lost in the many titles waiting to be reviewed on my Nook. I think one of the things I love most about this book is that the mystery is less "whodunit" and more whether or not a crime has actually been committed... and whether or not our narrator is stark raving mad. With a mystery plot that puts me in mind of the movie "The Gift", a love affair with the English language that reminds me strongly of the best parts of Joanne Harris' works, and a well-characterized single mother and twins that would be comfortable in Margaret Atwood's incomparable "The Robber Bride", there was nothing about this book that I didn't love from beginning to end.

Suspense: Still Missing

If you want a book that will give you nightmares for weeks, "Still Missing" is the perfect book for you. Annie O’Sullivan is still trying to recover from the horrific ordeal she's been though - she was kidnapped and held captive for over a year by an insane rapist who tried to completely brainwash her into being his obedient wife. The story is split between flashbacks that show the intense trauma Annie has suffered through and a "present day" account that shows her battling with the intense depression and fear that accompanies Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Worst of all, it's not immediately clear whether or not Annie's ordeal is truly over, or if she's just increasingly paranoid and unhinged.

Fantasy: The Sleeping Beauty

The fifth book in "The Five Hundred Kingdoms" series by Mercedes Lackey, this was the book that caused me to move the first four books to the top of my "To-Read" list. I've always loved Mercedes Lackey's writing for her superb characterizations, stellar plots, and hilarious tongue-in-cheek phrasings, and this book really showcases all of her enormous talent. I would have loved this book regardless for its irreverent "Fractured Fairy Tale" approach and fresh story-telling, but what I loved most about this book was simply the superb writing - I often caught myself re-reading passages just for the pleasure of it, which is something I rarely feel moved to do. Readers who love fairy tale re-imaginings will adore "The Sleeping Beauty"; the only criticism I can level is that whoever is creating the cover art for this series has clearly not been allowed to actually read the actual books - Rosamond is a *blonde*.

Romance: The Witch Awakening

I really, really dislike Romance as a genre, and I like "historical romance" and "fantasy romance" only slightly more, so I was astonished at how much I liked "The Witch Awakening" which, really, at the heart of the matter is a "historical" romance set in a fictional medieval fantasy setting. New author Karen Nilsen has really shown what can be accomplished in a fantasy story where almost all the main characters are to some degree or another sympathetic - where the designated villains are at least as interesting as the heroes (and become more complex and sympathetic as the story unfolds) and the heroes combine clever wits with their characteristic devotion to propel the story into interesting and unexpected directions. This is a book that kept me up at night, desperate to know what would happen next, and while I would have disliked the story in the hands of almost any other author, Nilsen made me fall in love with her characters against my usual coal-hearted nature.

Science Fiction: Mogworld

Now, I absolutely love Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw's "Zero Punctuation" feature where he combines stick figures, yellow backgrounds, and lots of swearing to weekly eviscerate mainstream video games for our regular viewing pleasure, and I was excited to buy "Mogworld" to support the reviewing community, so to speak, but mentally prepared to be disappointed - it seemed unlikely that any book would meet the high "fangirl" expectations I held for "Mogworld". Happily, every word of "Mogworld" is pure gold, from beginning to end, and it's impossible to not immediately fall in love with the beleaguered zombie Jim, who spends his days working industriously as an employee in an evil warlock's dungeons, and who spend his nights determinedly trying to commit suicide by flinging himself off the castle towers. It probably would have been funnier if I'd hated "Mogworld" so I could then pan it completely in review, but such is life.

Horror: The Enemy

What could be more scary than a zombie apocalypse? How about a zombie apocalypse where all the adults are turned and only the children survive? How about a world where the children have to fend for themselves when it comes to finding and growing food, using and maintaining weapons, and attempting to serve as surrogate parents for the littlest ones? What if all the adults - even the very few who were immune to the zombie virus - started to view the children as merely another source of food? And can there really be a chance for a future when no one knows if the zombie virus will hit the older children when they reach adulthood? I've read dozens of zombie books in my life, but "The Enemy" was without a doubt the most frightening, and deserves incredible praise for not shying away from the many, many questions raised by this particular type of "adults-only" apocalypse.

Humor: It Sucked and Then I Cried

I'll admit 2010 was a difficult year for me - devoted followers of my reviews may have ferreted out from the ovulation kits and pregnancy tests that we were Trying To Conceive, and the results weren't going as hoped. Somewhat paradoxically, this book about pregnancy and post-partum depression by blog humorist Heather Armstrong was the one book that could pull me out of my own depressive funk by making me howl with laughter. Written in her trade-mark style, with lots of incoherent swearing and blog-standard CAPS FOR EMPHASIS, it's impossible to not love Armstrong's self-effacing humor and willingness to show her most vulnerable and tender moments in an amusing light. A modern-day Erma Bombeck, this is one humorist that every mother will love.

Arts and Crafts: Stitched Toys

I love crafting and craft books, but I'm not usually big on hand sewing anything. Hand-sewing is inefficient, imprecise, and 99 times out of 100, I'd rather just use my sewing machine. It takes something really special, like this absolutely gorgeous book of hand-stitched "instant vintage" children's toys to make me want to break out the needle and my own clumsy blanket stitch. Author Kate Haxwell should be congratulated for her stunning designs, clear instructions, and for filling almost every page of this book with toys that are so lovely that they simply deserve to be made.

Cooking: Grilled Cheese, Please!

I'm one of those horrible people who managed to get all the way to college without knowing the first thing about cooking - and I've been scrambling to close the gap in my cooking knowledge ever since. But even I know how to make grilled cheese sandwiches - warm comfort food they may be, but varied and complex they are not, right? Wrong! Written in a passionate and yet completely approachable manner, "Grilled Cheese, Please!" extols the virtues of toasted bread, shredded cheese, and warm oozy goodness, all while presenting dozens of new combinations of breads, cheeses, and other tantalizing fillings for grilled sandwiches. Toasted bread, crunchy tortilla chips, spicy avocado salsa, colby jack cheese, and bacon? My husband nearly fainted for joy!

Health: Health at Every Size

It may be your New Years Resolution to lose weight, but as scientist Linda Bacon carefully explains in this well-researched and clearly-presented book, that's just not very likely to happen. As "Health at Every Size" (or HAES) outlines the science behind human metabolism, genetic setpoints, and the truth that 95% of people don't keep weight off more than 5 years after a diet despite maintaining their diet-levels of calorie input and exercise, what could be a truly depressing truth - that there's very little you can do to reduce your personal weight - instead becomes a truly liberating and freeing philosophy. You can be healthy at any size, and there's no reason why you can't start today, and no reason why a stubborn weight scale should make you discouraged.

History and Society: I am Nujood, Age 10, Divorced

There's no doubt in my mind that this slim little book is one of the most powerful pieces of social commentary I've ever read. Forced into a marriage with a grown man, this young and brave woman seeks redress in the courts - she wants a divorce. Told in her own heartbreaking voice, the reader cannot help but be swept into the life of Nujood and ache for all the pain that has been foisted upon her and the girls like her who are daily robbed of their childhood. Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of this book is that the people placed in a position of power to protect girls like Nujood actually do - once Nujood is able to seek the aid of the courts, the judges do their best to protect her, despite the outdated laws that still make it possible for marriages like hers to occur. Against all odds, this book will lift your spirits and give you hope for the human race.

Science: Bottled and Sold

The complete story of bottled water, this book is a must for greenies and outlines the very real social and environmental impact that our bottled water habit is costing us. The writing is clear and clever, and carefully avoids the judgmental tone that a lot of green literature sometimes seems to take - there's an understanding here that not everyone has clean, safe tap water available, and there's no judgment if you deem a bottled water habit to be a necessary part of your life. But for people seeking another solution, all the tools are available here to make an informed decision about the little daily choices we can make to save our planet.


Post a Comment