Saturday, December 29, 2012

Books Read in 2012 (Annotated)

As always, I am surprised at how many books I read this year. I think more than half of them were audiobooks, which I listen to primarily in the car or while cooking. A good number of those were children's books and re-reads, because often, I just needed another audiobook for the car, and I think a good book is worth reading more than once. I also read a lot of plays this year, since I have been teaching drama classes. I'd forgotten how enjoyable it is to read plays! I placed them all together at the end.

I also notice that I only have a few nonfiction books on the list. I have been chipping away at the same half-dozen for the past six months and haven't finished any of them. I keep starting new ones that look good. Well, there's always next year.

Here's my list!

The View From Saturday (E.L. Konigsberg)
I really enjoyed this book years ago, and I re-read it to remember why! It has a unique structure, with four children each narrating part of the story of how their lives came to intersect on a 6th grade quiz team. Their stories are interspersed with the story of the championship round they are engaged in, in the present, and with the story of their teacher, Mrs. Olinski, who chose each of them for the team. Themes are accepting those who are different, accepting one's own uniqueness, sticking up for others and the value of one's own experiences. This book starts out slow and builds, so it may not be the best for a struggling reader, but avid readers will love it. By the author of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, one of my all-time favorite children's books.

A Father's Tale (Michael O’Brien)—At A Hen’s Pace review here.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley)
I LOVED this book. It’s fun as a mystery, but the appeal for me was mostly in the character of the 11-year-old girl detective Flavia de Luce. She seems largely self-educated, possessing a tremendous vocabulary, and for fun she learns chemistry in a fully-outfitted lab left by one of her ancestors in the rarely-used wing of their British estate. Poisons are her specialty, and she is not above tormenting her bossy old sister with her knowledge. Her other sister is a dreamy literary type and the three of them get into delicious sibling spats. Part of the great appeal of this audiobook for me was the absolutely wonderful reader, Jayne Entwistle, who had my youngest kids spellbound in moments, anytime they were in the car with me for bits of the story!

A Duty to the Dead; A Bitter Truth; An Impartial Witness (Charles Todd) 
I really enjoyed these Bess Crawford mysteries, in which the sleuth is a British army nurse during World War 1. I listened to these on audio, read with a British accent, of course! Written by a mother and son team, these novels are more serious in tone than the series above. 

The House of Many Ways (Diana Wynne Jones)
I happened on this book in the kids’ audio section, and it was fun. It reminded me of the Harry Potter series without the grim, dark element. Just lots of magic and the creativity that comes along with it. 

The Wishing Jar (Penelope J. Stokes) 
This Christian novel was just okay. The plot was somewhat predictable and the structure was choppy, interrupted by a time travel sequence that just didn't flow. 

Shanghai Girls (Lisa See) 
This was one of the best books I read all year. I was transported to another time, another culture, with characters I began to care deeply about. I need to read the sequel! I highly recommend the audio version, for pronunciation of all the Chinese names, places and terms.

The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield) 
Second time around for this one, this time on audio. Enjoyed it just as much or more than the first time: At A Hen's Pace review here. 

The Railway Children (BBC Dramatization) 
The classic story in a nice radio drama format. 

The Black Stallion (Walter Farley) 
I wonder how many times I have read this? This was my first time to listen to it, and I enjoyed it as much as ever.

Entwined (Heather Dixon)
This is a re-telling of the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. It was very engaging, a little dark, and had a realistic quality that made it seem less fairy tale-ish and more like a movie (which I won't be surprised to see it made into). Imaginative, suspenseful, romantic and a book for dancers. I enjoyed the audiobook reader very much.

Paradise Valley (Dale Cramer)
Set in Ohio, where I grew up, this story is based on the true story of the author’s Amish forebears who moved to Mexico rather than comply with an Ohio law that would force them to send their children to public schools and begin the slow unraveling of their culture and faith. Their venture south and their experience as pioneers in Mexico, amidst bandits and ethnic barriers, took me down a little-used path in history.

Seabiscuit (Laura Hillenbrand)
This was a re-read for a book club discussion. I love how much historical detail this author put into this novel; it’s an education on horse-racing and on our country during the Depression era. It’s a Cinderella story--not just for the horse, but for jockey, owner and trainer.

Come On, Seabiscuit (Ralph Moody)
I LOVED this version of the Seabiscuit story! I thought I had read every horse book out there, when I was a girl, but somehow I missed this one. It was interesting to compare the two tales. This one stresses how often Seabiscuit was raced before he was a 3-year-old, weakening his legs and causing frequent injuries later, hampering his bid for greatness, which he still achieved, despite the obstacles.

Black Heels to Tractor Wheels (Ree Drummond)
In this audio version, the Pioneer Woman herself reads the love story of how she and Marlboro Man got together. I remember reading the first 20 or so installments on her blog, but then I fell off the blog-reading wagon when we moved and have never been able to climb back on. So it was fun to hear the ending. I even got Blondechick to listen to this one; it’s an over-the-top romance that is sweetly wholesome. We both loved it.

Kisses from Katie (Katie J Davis)
Remarkable story about a homecoming queen who decided to forego college and live in Uganda, ministering to orphans; she is now the 21-year-old adoptive mother of fourteen girls and a blogger at . This is a life-changing story—so inspiring!

The Bag Lady Papers (Alexandra Penney)
This book was $1 at Dollar Tree, and I was attracted by the cute cover and subtitle: “the priceless experience of losing it all.” Unfortunately, this wealthy woman, who lost her life savings in a Ponzi scheme, didn't have any priceless wisdom to share. Her idea of penny-pinching was having to sell one of her several homes, cut back on her maid’s hours and start taking the subway instead of a taxi around NYC. At least it was a quick read.

The Rose Rent (Ellis Peters)
I love the Brother Cadfael mysteries. This was the second time around for this one, one of the best.

The Little White Horse (Elizabeth Goudge)
I’ve been a longtime fan of this novelist from the 40’s-50’s, but I had never read any of her children’s books. This one was delightful! It has the fullness of a classic fairy tale, and I see from all the commentors on Amazon that that’s exactly what many people consider it to be. I am putting this one on Chicklet10's shelf immediately.

A Circle of Quiet; The Summer of the Great-Grandmother (Madeleine L’Engle)
Last year, Sherri at Semicolon recommended these books to me in a special comment for New Year’s, so of course I had to read them! And I’m so glad I did. They are excerpted from L’Engle’s own journals and are full of nuggets on creativity, writing, meaning, faith, family and being. It was especially rich to read The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, which chronicles the decline of L’Engle’s mother’s health, at a time when we were experiencing the same thing with my mother-in-law. I will re-read A Circle of Quiet sometime; it was so full and inspiring to the writer in me. Thank you for the recommendation, Sherri!

Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
Read this my freshman year in college, and all but Miss Haversham had become pretty foggy in my memory. It was time for a re-read! It's a wonderful story, but I'll go out on a limb here and say perhaps a little editing would not have gone amiss, because it dragged a bit in spots.

Jo's Boys (Louisa May Alcott)
I read Little Women and Little Men when I was young, but never knew of this one. It’s about the boys in Little Men, grown up and starting to launch into the world, and Mother Jo’s advice and prayers for them. It’s a little preachy, but well-intentioned and quaint.

Katherine (Anya Seton)
My sister-in-law recommended this one, knowing that I liked historical fiction (thank you, Sis!) and when the librarian saw my interlibrary loan request, she smiled approvingly. I'm totally going with the plot summary on Amazon, because it's so hard to succinctly summarize this wonderful epic: "This classic romance novel tells the true story of the love affair that changed history—that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family. Set in the vibrant 14th century of Chaucer and the Black Death, the story features knights fighting in battle, serfs struggling in poverty, and the magnificent Plantagenets—Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II—who ruled despotically over a court rotten with intrigue. Within this era of danger and romance, John of Gaunt, the king’s son, falls passionately in love with the already married Katherine. Their well-documented affair and love persist through decades of war, adultery, murder, loneliness, and redemption."

I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)
This is an off-beat little novel (by an author better known for 101 Dalmations) that I re-read about a teenage girl living with her eccentric family in a British castle that is falling down around their ears. Interested American young men have moved in nearby, and the family’s devoted hired boy makes a bid for love as well. Fascinating and delightful characters and story all around.

Marriage to a Difficult Man: The Uncommon Union of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards (Elisabeth Dodds)
I heard Stuart and Jill Briscoe on the radio recently, recommending this biography. It is an intriguing look at not just a marriage but a remarkable family and a whole time period, the Great Awakening, when new colleges were opening every year in the East. Filled with primary sources, it still has a novel-like story line. Most of us know Jonathan Edwards as the author of one of the most famous sermons of the period, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," but there is a lot more to appreciate about the man, including the way he honored, entrusted and took counsel with his wife, and how he taught his children, including girls, who weren't often educated at the time, while unwinding with a pipe in the evenings.

A Voice in the Wind; An Echo in the Darkness; As Sure As The Dawn (Francine Rivers)
Wow, I really enjoyed this trilogy, set in ancient Rome just after the time of Christ. A cast of characters from all walks of Roman life—a gladiator, a Jewish slave girl, a wealthy Roman family, a physician, furtive Christians—explore beliefs, philosophies and attitudes that one recognizes in our own society.

Dear and Glorious Physician (Taylor Caldwell)
Have had this book on my shelf—a long-ago recommendation from my mother--and it finally seemed like the perfect time to read it while I was also listening to the trilogy above. (Not simultaneously.) This story is also set in ancient Rome, and it is an imagined life of the physician Luke, the Gospel writer. It is based on the author's years of research and travels in the Holy Land, and has an epic feel. The trilogy above is more accessible, but this is a more rich and literary work, more nuanced in its questions and themes.

The Hunger Games; Catching Fire; Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)
The parallels in this series with the culture of ancient Rome are unmistakable. “The Games” are cruel and evil in both, and one can’t help but think of reality TV also and how it exploits lives. I think these books are provocative in all the best ways, raising lots of issues for discussion with teenagers. And it’s a good story!

The Gift of the Magi and Other Stories (O. Henry)
I love short stories, and I especially love O. Henry’s gentle wit.

Words (Ginny Yttrup)
This is a beautiful and poignant story of a non-speaking girl abandoned by her mother and a 30-something woman artist with a great void in her heart. It's a story that stirred up my emotions and longings in a way that few books have done, though my story is completely different. Powerful.

Gaudy Night (Dorothy Sayers)
I needed an audiobook for the car, and it was fun to revisit this one. If you have never read these detective novels or seen the BBC movies based on them, you have missed out!

The Tale of Despereaux (Kate DiCamillo)
I LOVED this story! It’s a quintessential fairy tale, with themes like love, loyalty, truth, courage and longing. There is a princess and an evil villain (a rat), as well as a hero (an unusually small mouse with unusually large ears). There is death by soup, and a royal ban on soup and soup spoons. I loved the narrator addressing me as “Dear Listener.” (In the book, does it say, “Dear Reader”?) Chicklet loved this one too. Now we want to see the movie!

The Tonto Woman and Other Western Stories (Elmore Leonard)
As I said, I love short stories. These are all set in the old West, but you don't have to love Westerns to enjoy these memorable characters and tales.

The Cookbook Collector (Allegra Goodman)
Thank you, Nancy, for recommending this one! So many interesting characters in this book, but it centers on two sisters, their significant others and how the sisters come to more and more self-knowledge through the events of the book, including discovering long-lost Jewish family. Set in the “dot com” boom time leading up to 9/11, one sister is a CEO on the East coast and the other is a bookseller and tree hugger in Berkeley.

Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
I read this in college, but, as I told a friend recently, I couldn’t remember a word of it; or rather, I could only remember three words: “Heathcliff” and “Wuthering Heights.” I enjoyed it much more this time around, with no pressure to finish by Friday! It’s quite the Gothic novel, dark and brooding and tragic.

Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp (Philip Pullman)
I thoroughly enjoyed this retelling, with its humor and directness. Found an interview with the author in which he explains, “My aim was to tell the story swiftly and lightly in the clearest language I could command. Swiftly, because one of the things I enjoyed in the original was the way the narrative disposed of one character before turning to another:  'The Moor abandoned his quest and journeyed back to Africa with a heavy heart. So much for him. As for Aladdin...' "

In the same interview, this gem:

What's more, I detest the assumption, common among people of no talent, that the way to engage children is to talk about things that come out of bodily orifices. Children can talk about those things among themselves; they need to know that such conversations ought to stay in that circle. What they need from adults is wit and they don't get it often enough.

Jesus Calling (Sarah Young)
I haven't read the whole thing yet, because it's a day-by-day devotional and I haven't had it for a year yet, but it's too wonderful not to recommend. These words of Jesus, based in Scripture, seem written right to me. Blondechick20 loves this one too.

Doubt (John Patrick Shanley)
This play is the one that got me started on my play-reading kick, because I actually auditioned for it, just for experience--knowing that the odds were slim that I’d get the part of either the 20-something woman, the 60-something woman or the black woman. This is an excellent play, raising questions about faith, doubt, certainty, uncertainty, and how we know what we know. Look up the movie--it's excellent.

Our Town (Thornton Wilder)
One of my all-time favorite plays. Wilder says in this play what Ann Voskamp says in One Thousand Gifts: Appreciate this moment, right now; don’t take life for granted. Wilder’s play makes you ache, though, while Voskamp shows you how to turn that ache into thanksgiving.

Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller)
I figured I should read this classic since I never have read it or seen it. It also makes you ache. I’d love to see it performed.

Steel Magnolias (Robert Harling)
Ah, but this one is my favorite. If you have never seen the movie, please please do. It will move you to tears. And yet I have never burst out laughing so often as I did while reading this play. I'm not usually a laugh-out-loud kind of girl, so that was quite fun!

The Glass Menagerie (Tennessee Williams)
Another classic I had never read, although I saw the movie long ago. Poignant and sad.

The Matchmaker (Thornton Wilder)
Oh, what a perfect comedy! If you’ve seen Hello, Dolly you know the plot. The language and characters are delicious; each one has at least one brilliant monologue. I had the script because B17 was in it several years ago, playing Malachi Stack, and I also saw Wheaton College perform it years ago. One of my very favorites!

Cyrano de Bergerac (Edmond Rostand)
Read this play in high school and loved its witty wordiness, and French bon mots, back when I was taking French. It was just as enjoyable to re-read it as an adult. B17 and I also watched the Gerard Depardieu movie version (which is in French, with subtitles--and is excellent), because he was reading it for school. It's really a wonderful play.

The Seussification of Romeo and Juliet (Peter Bloedel)
Okay, not a classic, but based on one—or more! This is Shakespeare’s story as Dr. Seuss would tell it, in iambic pentameter, with Seussian characters and references, and of course, it does not end up a tragedy. I read this one too many times to count, because…I had the privilege of directing this play.

Ahh, was a good year!

For more year-end book lists, check out the special year-end edition of the Saturday Review of Books, hosted by Semicolon.


Sheila said...

Great list. I think I would like many of your favorites. :)

hopeinbrazil said...

Wow! You read a lot of really great books. We overlapped on a few, but you've given me some ideas for new titles in 2013.