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I’ve read 75 books this year. My natural self-effacing inclination wants to qualify that statement up by saying that I don’t have a real job and I have a lot of free time on my hands and I’m a fast reader and yada yada, but honestly, that’s not an attractive quality, so YEAH I read SEVENTY-FIVE books this year. *fist pump* SUCK IT, WORLD. Or, you know, whatever. I looked up my non-resolution post from this past January, thinking that this was the only not-really-a-goal I not only achieved but surpassed, and was pleasantly surprised to realize that I also achieved #9 on the list – acquiring at least five new clients this year. (I think #4 doesn’t count but I guess technically I “achieved” that one as well.) (I came close on a few of the others – I did take care of/stop biting my fingernails twice over the course of the year but that only lasted two months and three weeks, respectively. I also did manage to visit a salon regularly for about five months before giving up and now my hair is a non-style again, and aggravatingly now not long enough to wear in a ponytail. Progress, not perfection.)

So! I can’t write book reviews. I have trouble finding that logical description that is somewhere between a synopsis from the book jacket and giving away too many spoilers. I end up just saying things “I really liked it” and hope that if people take my recommendation and hate the book, they won’t judge my taste. (Sidebar: Again, why do I care? There’s a self-discovery non-goal for 2010, I suppose.) But I do have some books I want to tell you about. And since we’re headed into TV/film award season, my second favorite season after the winter holidays, I’m doing it award-show style.

Best new (to me) series discovered in 2009: Thursday Next by Jasper Fforde

Thursday Next is a literary detective in England. In her parallel universe, England is a republic, there is no United Kingdom, and Wales is the independent “Socialist Republic of Wales”. The Crimean War is still being waged in 1985, Russia still has a Czar, and the Whig Party still exists in the House of Commons. Genetic engineering is far more advanced than in our own timeline, and so Thursday has a pet dodo, Pickwick. Re-engineered mammoths can cause damage to local gardens if in their path, and there is a Neanderthal rights movement, given the resurrection of this kindred branch of human evolution. Interestingly, the duck is extinct in this continuity.

In the world of Thursday Next, literature is a much more popular medium than in our world, and Thursday is a member of SO-27, the Literary Detectives or LiteraTecs. The importance that literature has in this alternate England is reflected in the fact that so many people want to change their name to that of famous authors that some must be numbered, by law- e.g. John Milton 432. In addition, the line between literature and reality becomes increasingly thin, allowing characters in the books and those in ‘real life’ to jump in and out of novels. This leads Thursday to change the ending of Jane Eyre; the joke being that the plot we know in our reality is the far superior change caused by Thursday.

(thanks to Wikipedia)

I have to think this series will be appreciated by anyone who loves not only reading, but the idea of a book being its own being. The world that Fforde has created is outlandish and often hilarious, but the characters (even the ones in the books within the book) are very real and likable.

Best book I re-read in 2009: Pillars of the Earth

Technically, this was the only book I re-read this year, so there wasn’t much competition, BUT STILL. I originally read this in 1994 and have since recommended it to anyone I can when given the chance. Of course, thanks to Oprah now I don’t need to (Note to self: Next year have a Book I Knew About Before Oprah award), but I digress. I enjoyed it much more this time around since reading so much more about the history of England in general.

Book I recommended the most in 2009: The Book Thief

There is nothing I love more than an original plot. The Book Thief is about a foster child in 1930s Germany whose foster father teaches her how to read. It’s narrated by Death. It’s  heart-warming and heart-breaking all at the same time. It’s one of those books where I would stay up way too late reading it, but at the same time not wanting it to end. When I did finish it, I just sat there staring it it, holding it, so sad that it was over, but so happy that I read it, if that makes sense.

Best guilty pleasure book or series read in 2009: Deanna Raybourn/Lady Julia series

I stumbled across these, thanks to Amazon’s recommendation feature, after reading the first in Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series, which I did not enjoy all that much. It’s the same time period and premise – Victorian-era lady uncharacteristically rejecting the shackles of society’s restrictions. But I found Lady Julia much more likable and interesting. Enough that I was only a smidgen embarrassed by the smutty-looking book covers.

Funniest book read in 2009: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I owe this one to the book table at Costco. I have never enjoyed Jane Austen, and I am not ashamed to admit it, but this book was HILARIOUS. It’s the text of Pride and Prejudice interspersed with zombies. I mean. Really. Enough said, right? I was a little disappointed to read recently that Natalie Portman is trying to make it into a movie, partly because HELLO Hollywood, have an original thought, much? I think it would be an awesome movie if the original cast of the BBC mini-series reprised their roles. Colin Firth fighting zombies as Darcy? YUMMO.

Book read in 2009 that made me want to email my college Lit professor so I could discuss it with him: Daughter of Time

Ah, if only youth wasn’t wasted on the young. I know so much more about English history now than I did in college (okay, okay, I pay attention to what I read so much more now…whatever! I had fun in college, okay?) that I often wish I could go back and fully participate in discussions. It makes me understand the non-traditional students a lot more, but they were still annoying. I may still look up my old professor and see what he thinks about this topic. Did Richard III really kill the Princes in the Tower? Did Henry VII? What does he think really happened?

Dead author I discovered in 2009: Jean Plaidy (real name Eleanor Hibbert) and aka lots of other aliases

She started writing historical fiction in the 1940s, before historical fiction got, well, steamy. Not that steamy is a bad thing (The Other Boleyn Girl that I enjoyed, I am looking at you). Her books are the most historically accurate that I’ve read, but aren’t as dry as straight biographies. It’s a good combination.

Worst book I read in 2009 (that I actually finished): The Red Queen

It’s extremely unusual for me to finish a book I don’t like. I’m not exactly sure why I determinedly plowed through this one, but I did, and that’s time I won’t get back. I think it wouldn’t have been so bad if the author hadn’t written herself into the end. I mean, seriously.

Book read in 2009 that succeeded in totally dropping the ball on an otherwise riveting book with an incredibly lame ending: The Ghost Writer

Ech. Just ech.

Happy New Year everyone!

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I haven’t been posting a lot lately because I’ve been reading. NERRRRD! We’ve had various dog clients boarding here for almost four weeks in a row, so really, I should be spending a lot of time at home with them, and what better way than to let the dogs out into the yard and relax on my patio lounger so I can “supervise” them [while reading]. I’m going to recap starting from the ones I liked least.

The Ghost Writer & The Book of Names. These books had so much potential. The first actually kept me so riveted with the unfolding mystery and so spooked by the suspense of it that I only allowed myself to read it during the day and not before bed. However. The last chapter, The Reveal, if you will, suuuuuuuuuucked. I actually re-read it to make sure I didn’t miss something major. Then I went back to the few sections before that and re-read that as well. Nope, still didn’t make sense. Really disappointing. The second (Book of Names) was better, more cohesive, and entertaining, but it was very Da Vinci Code-esque. Which isn’t a bad thing, but it didn’t seem exactly innovative.

Lucy. Did you know Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a long-term mistress? I didn’t. I know a fair amount about FDR and Eleanor, but I guess only from the Presidency, nothing before. And, in my delightful naive way, I just figured they had a happy marriage. Apparently everything I knew about their marriage I learned from watching the movie Annie. Anyway, this book was charming. Fiction based on historical people and descendants who spoke with the author. Not that I’m condoning adultery. Not that that probably needed to be said. But. You know.

The Memory of Water. Probably classic chick lit. Well, maybe not. It has everything to make a good story: estranged sisters; family secrets kept over generations; boating accidents; divorce; love; and so on. It toggles between the perspective of the four main characters, which has the potential to be totally confusing but the author managed it really well. Very sweet.

The Birth House & An Inconvenient Wife. Have you heard of neurasthenia? Because a few months ago, I hadn’t. To sum up in my totally biased way, basically men a couple hundred years ago decided that women were too “hysterical” and needed to be treated, and one of those treatments was, uh, digital or electric therapy for, uh, their nethers. Disgusting. Heaven forfend that women may want more than to be wives, mothers, and available for social calls by neighborhood Snooty Von Snobbertons – no, they must be hysterical to not conform to society in such a way. ANYWAY. The Birth House was actually mostly about midwives versus the new-fangled doctoring way of treating women in labor with chloroform, and how distrusting doctors were of midwives and their natural treatment of labor. Not to mention how men a mere two centuries ago were AGHAST that women would try to control their own bodies by avoiding conception when possible. The other book (Inconvenient Wife) was more about an unhappy marriage and how the wife tries to fix herself – must have been similar to how women in the 1950s/60s would self-medicate with alcohol and valium when they weren’t fulfilled being trapped at home – NOT because they didn’t want to be mothers, but because they had husbands who felt it would be an insult to them if their wife worked outside of the home. WOW I’m sounded kind of extreme. Don’t worry, I still wear a bra and haven’t stop shaving.

Fingersmith. I’m going to try to be more succinct. Victorian England. One woman a poor thief with a relatively, well-cared-for life; the other a rich heiress who lives in emotional destitution. A fraud. Then a double fraud. Mistaken identities. Family secrets. It’s good.

The Forever King trilogy (Books Two and Three here). So I became mildly obsessed with the whole Arthur/Camelot legend a couple of years ago. I thought I had exhausted the books dedicated to this subject until I stumbled upon these at the library. Its take on the legend of King Arthur (how he will come back/live forever) is fascinating. Basically King Arthur shows up (I’m hesitant to say reincarnation, but I guess technically it’s true) in Chicago in the 1990s. Other characters are “recycled” as well. I don’t know how to describe it, but I thought it was a totally refreshing take on the legend that made it very entertaining to me.

The Pillars of the Earth/When Christ and His Saints Slept (Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy). FINALLY, right? I first read The Pillars of the Earth 15 years ago and LOVED it. It’s usually my go-to book recommendation. So when I got the sequel (World Without End) I knew I had to re-read it. Am still loving it. If you’ve read other Ken Follett books and think I’m crazy for loving Pillars so much, just trust me and read it. After I read it I went on a Ken Follett frenzy and none of his other books even come close (Dangerous Fortune is good, the best of the others of his I’ve read, but still doesn’t compare to Pillars). I enjoyed it even more this time because several months ago I read When Christ and His Saints Slept, which is about the same time in English history. The second and third books in Penman’s Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy aren’t quite as good, but it takes a lot for me to just leave a series without reading them all because I’m just that kind of dork.

Now maybe I need to watch some trash TV or something.

Victoria Victorious – Jean Plaidy

From the back cover: At birth, Princess Victoria was fourth in line for the throne of England, the often overlooked daughter of a prince who died shortly after her birth. She and her mother lived in genteel poverty for most of her childhood, exiled from court because of her mother’s dislike of her uncles, Georve IV and William IV. A strong, willful child, Victoria was determined not to be stifled by her powerful uncles or her unpopular, controlling mother. Then one morning, at the age of eighteen, Princess Victoria awoke to the news of her uncle William’s death. The almost-forgotten princess was now Queen of England. Even better, she was finally free of her mother’s iron hand and her uncle’s manipulations. Her first act as queen was to demand that she be given a room – and a bed – of her own.
Victoria’s marriage to her German cousin, Prince Albert, was a blissfully happy one that produced nine childreen. Albert was her constant companion and one of her most trusted advisors. Victoria’s grief after Prince Albert’s untimely death was so shattering that for the rest of her life – nearly forty years – she dressed only in black. She survived several assassination attempts, and during her reign England’s empire expanded around the globe until it touched every continent in the world.
Derided as a mere “girl queen” at her coronation, by the end of her sixty-four-year reign, Victoria embodied the glory of the British Empire. In this novel, written in a “memoir” by Victoria herself, she emerges as truthful, sentimental, and essentially human – both a lovable woman and a great queen.

July 3, 2009 Finished

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