Favorite Reads of 2011: Fiction

Instead of a “best of 2011” list, I‘m posting my favorites of 2011 because many of the books I’ve read this year were published before 2011. My favorite books are the best books I’ve read this year- books that I have or plan on buying and re-reading. I’ve found it pretty hard to narrow my favorites down to just ten books so I’m sharing my favorite books of various genres. Every day this week there’ll be a favorite list posted and by the end of the week, I’ll share my favorite book of 2011.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. What is there not to love about this story of an American girl sent to a French boarding school? Anna is one of those fabulous female teen characters that readers need more of. She’s smart, funny, and a little unsure of herself. I’m so tired of young girl characters who are so smart but constantly make stupid decisions. Thankfully, Anna isn’t one of those girls.

Please Look after Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin. Translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim. This is one of the most unexpected and pleasing reads of the year. The story of five selfish adult children and the search for their missing mother broke my heart. I can’t wait for more work by the author to be translated into English.


The Buddha in the Attic
by Julie Otsuka. I loved this book so much that I couldn’t write a review. The Buddha in the Attic follows the lives of several Japanese “mail brides” as they leave Japan to meet their husbands for the first time in Northern California. Otsuka’s writing is precise and beautiful. It’s a book that I plan on re-reading in 2012.

32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter. The story of Davidia “Davie” Jones, who runs away from her small Southern town as a teenager to make it big in Los Angeles, was such an engaging read. Davie is a ugly duckling who doesn’t take some of the pitfalls of life lying down. After reading this, I couldn’t help but want to be more like Davie.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I can’t believe it took me so long to read this classic about mothers and daughters! Told from the point of view of all four mothers and their daughters, there’s a great gulf between the two generations, not only because of age but also because of origin. The mothers are all Chinese-born while the daughters are first generation Americans. There is much miscommunication between the two groups but their love for each other comes across nicely.

Honorary Mentions: 

Love by Toni Morrison. An amazing tale about love, revenge, and greed.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. One of the few books I read in both audio and print at the same time.

Short stories:

I had to include short stories to this list because I read several that stood out. The majority of the stories can be read online in their entirety on Tor.com, just clicked on the titles.

Ponies by Kij Johnson. Johnson takes the imagery of unicorns and turns it on its head.

Fare Thee Wellby Cathy Clamp. For lovers of Greek mythology.

“The Courtship of the Queen” by Bruce McAllister. It’s the sweet and sad story of a boy’s childhood.

“Foster” by Claire Keegan. Thanks to Claire at Paperback Reader for bringing this story to my attention. “Foster” is the story of a young girl’s year-long stay at the home of distant relatives. I’ve read this story many times over the past year and I’ve yet to find the right words for it.

Glitches by Marissa Meyer. “Glitches” is a prequel to the highly anticipated Cinder by Marissa Meyers.

Favorites of 2011: Poetry

Instead of a “best of 2011” list, I‘m posting my favorites of 2011 because many of the books I’ve read this year were published before 2011. My favorite books are the best books I’ve read this year- books that I have or plan on buying and re-reading. I’ve found it pretty hard to narrow my favorites down to just ten books so I’m sharing my favorite books of various genres. Every day this week there’ll be a favorite list posted and by the end of the week, I’ll share my favorite book of 2011.

I love poetry but I don’t read enough of it. This year was no exception with only thirteen volumes read. Out of that small number, there are six books of poetry that I think shouldn’t be missed. All six are great for long-time readers of poetry and those new to the genre.

Red Bird by Mary Oliver. Before this year, I always read poetry by Mary Oliver in bits and pieces. With Red Bird on my reading list for Project-Fill-in-the-Gaps, this year was the perfect time to read a whole collection. Red Bird is a collection that deals with nature but also human aspects like grief, love, and hope.

Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000 by Lucille Clifton. What can I say about the writing of the late poet Lucille Clifton that will make you drop everything to read her? When I opened up Blessing the Boats to the first poem, “The Times”, I was knocked out by the words: It is hard to remain human on a day / when birds perch weeping / in the trees and the squirrel eyes / do not look away but the dog ones do in pity. . . Clifton writes about various things from society to her dreams, her childhood to Superman. My favorite poem is probably “Report From the Angel of Eden” about an angel observing Adam and Eve. The ending left me with goosebumps.

Here by Wislawa Szymborska. It only took reading the first poem in this volume of poetry to understand why the author was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Whether she’s writing about her teenage self, the power of nature, or the seduction of an idea, these are poems that readers want to read over and over again. Translators Claire Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak did a fantastic job of bringing these poems to life.

Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys and Lemonade: and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word by Bob Raczka. I decided to describe both books together because whatever I say about one book, can easily apply to the other. As a mom, it’s important to me to introduce poetry to my kids. Raczka makes poetry accessible and even fun for kids. Guyku was made for boys but it’s a volume that even girls will love while Lemonade turns poems into puzzles and back again. You won’t go wrong buying either book.

 

Won-Ton: A Cat Tale told in Haiku by Lee Wardlow. Won Ton is the story of a shelter cat looking for a family. The story follows the cat from the shelter to the arms of a little boy.  I can’t think of a better book to share with any young poetry lover.

Favorites of 2011: Graphic Novels

Instead of a “best of 2011” list, I‘m posting my favorites of 2011 because many of the books I’ve read this year were published before 2011. My favorite books are the best books I’ve read this year- books that I have or plan on buying and re-reading. I’ve found it pretty hard to narrow my favorites down to just ten books so I’m sharing my favorite books of various genres. Every day this week there’ll be a favorite list posted and by the end of the week, I’ll share my favorite book of 2011.

When it comes to graphic novels, I treat them as a format and not a genre. So there’s a few graphic memoirs and biographies that are among the best books I’ve read this year but will be featured on my favorite non-fiction books list.

The Odyssey by Garth Hinds. Garth Hinds does a magnificent job of bringing Homer’s The Odyssey to life. Readers will find themselves wanting to pick up the original after reading this massive graphic novel. Whether you’ve read the original or not, this book is too good to miss.

Lost and Found by Shaun Tan. Lost and Found is a collection of three previously published tales: The Red TreeThe Lost Things, and The Rabbits, written by John Marsden. As usual, the illustrations are breathtaking, weird, and fit perfectly with each story. The Red Tree is a great analogy about depression while The Lost Things is a quirky story about a boy and an object he found. My favorite story is the magnificent and powerful The Rabbits, a dark tale about colonialism.

Chew: The Omnivore Edition by John Layman and Rob Guillory. Chew: The Omnivore Edition combines the first two books of the Chew series: Taster’s Choice and International Flavor. It’s best if you have the new two books ready to read when you start this edition. Tony Chu is a cibopath – something who knows the origin of any food just by eating it. As an agent for the FDA, this has put him in some sticky situations especially since chicken has been banned worldwide because of an avian virus that’s killed millions. What I love about this series: it’s hilarious, has a neurotic but lovable protagonist, and is not for those without a strong stomach.

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch. If you read my review about Hereville earlier this year, you know I love love love the story of Mirka, an Orthodox Jewish girl who wants to battle dragons. Though everyone else around Mirka has a different idea how she could spend her time, this headstrong character doesn’t want to stop her quest though she has no idea where to start. When Mirka finds the house of a witch in her small town, she may have just found a way to slay dragons. Though meant for a middle-grade audience, Hereville is a book that even adults will love.

Fables 14: Witches and Fables 15: Rose Red by Bill Willingham. I love this series. If you haven’t read book one yet, I don’t know what you’re waiting for. After the disappointment of Fables Vol. 13, volumes 14 and 15 redeem Willingham. In Witches, Bufkin the Monkey is trapped in Fabletown’s mayor’s office with Baba Yaga, a new character Mr. Dark is introduced, and readers learn more about Frau Totenkinder.  In Rose Red, the evil Mr. Dark is getting closer to destroying the Fabletown community and it’s time for Rose Red to step up. Will she? Fables readers will find much to love about these two volumes that are among the best of the series.

The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier. I’m noticing that some of my favorite graphic novels this year are part of a series: Fables, Zeus, Hereville, Chew, and Scott Pilgrim. I’m finding that fact to be lovely and scary since I can imagine all the time I’m going to spend checking authors’ sites waiting for the publication date of the next book in each series. The Unsinkable Walker Bean is part pirate tale, part coming of age story about nerdy Walker Bean who’s sent on a quest to return a stolen pearl skull to two sea witches in order to lift a curse on his beloved grandfather. What happens next is more than anyone could have dreamt of, including Walker himself.

Bayou Vol. 2 by Jeremy Love. Bayou is a comic that is so rich in Southern folktale and lore. Past and present is featured in this dark tale about a young girl’s mission to rescue her friend in an underworld that reminds readers of a Southern version of Alice in Wonderland. Bayou challenges and gives readers a tale that until now, wasn’t found in this format.

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

I hope everyone is having a great holiday season. One of our trees is already packed up and the big one will be back in its box this afternoon. It seems like it takes forever for Christmas to get here and then it’s gone so fast! Can you believe that this is the last Friday of the year? There are so many things that I want to accomplish in 2012 that I can’t wait for it to get here.

So last week I told you guys of my huge goal to read a book until the end of winter break, which is the second week of January. So far I’m doing great though I haven’t been able to write even one review yet. I read a ton of children’s books plus:

  • Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
  • The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  • Scenes from an Impending Marriage: A Prenuptial Memoir by Adrian Tomine

DNF-ed:

  • Briefs by John Edgar Wideman
  • A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliot

The TBR Dare is right around the corner and I still have a stack of library books to get through. So here’s this week’s stack:

 

  • Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World by Sam Sommers
  • Witches on the Road Tonight by Sheri Holman
  • I Love Yous are for White People: a memoir by Lac Su
  • The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges
  • The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen (left over from last week)
  • The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright (left over from last week)
  • A Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

Fingers crossed that I can get through this stack. What are you reading this week?

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila over at Book Journey.

I have a confession to make: for the last few weeks I haven’t been participating in this meme because I thought I was organized enough that I didn’t need to list that I wanted to read on a weekly basis. I was so wrong. My reading has trickled, something that I really don’t need it to do since school starts in three weeks. I want to read as much as I can before then. I’ve learned my lesson and now I’m back!

I was thinking that since I have 21 days before the start of the new semester, maybe I could read a book a day. I don’t have any plans for the holiday besides cooking.  So here’s my stack this week:

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer (currently reading)

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen

Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President by Eli Saslow

Briefs: Stories for the Palm of the Mind by John Edgar Wideman

A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliot

I broke it down and it comes to 293 pages a day. I’m pretty sure that I can do it. I know the non-fiction might slow me down a little bit. Plus I have three short books that I’ve already read but need to review. So that’s what I’m reading. What are you reading this week?

Sunday Salon: Getting Ready for the New Year

Good morning! As usual for a Sunday morning, I’m sitting in front of my computer with a cup of coffee. The heater is on and I’m waiting for the room to heat up as I type.

This week has gone by in a blur. I had a huge to-do list for the week but as I look back, I didn’t get much done! I did organize my bookshelves in preparation of next year’s reading challenges. (Who does that?) It surprised me to see that I own such a huge unread stack which I usually ignore to read books from the library.  My unread tbr stack is one of the reasons why I signed up for The TBR Double Dare. This year I participated and failed miserably, but next year I’m hoping to read at least 50 books from my shelves. I want my home library to consist mostly of books that I’ve read and love instead of books that are unread.

My fiction bookcase. It’s double stacked with books.

The books at the top are library books. Click to enlarge.

Another 2012 reading challenge that I’m pretty excited about is the Chunskter Reading Challenge. I’m co-hosting it with Wendy and so far I’m having so much fun brainstorming ideas with her. The challenge starts in January this time around. The rules are mostly the same though there is a book club we’re starting for those who want to join a book club without leaving home and only want to read one or two really thick books next year.

Another thing that I worked on this week is my “favorites of 2011” list. I won’t call it “the best” because I often read books that were published years ago along with new reads. So far I’ve found at least 30 books to add to my list. I don’t know if I’m going to narrow that list down or just include everything. I do know that for the rest of the year, I’m only featuring books that I really love since I’m behind in reviews.

Last but not least, I’ve been thinking about what book I want to start 2012 off with. Sheila over at Book Journey wrote a post about her first book of 2012. I’ve been going through my stacks to see which book I want to curl up with at January 1st, one minute after midnight. Maybe my first book of the year will be a re-read like Toni Morrison’s Beloved or maybe something new like Among Others by Jo Walton or Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff. Kelly Link’s short story collection, Magic for Beginners and the chunkster The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson makes me want to ignore my towering library stack to read both now. I have no idea what to start my new year off with but I’m glad that I have some amazing choices waiting for me.

So that’s it. I’m off to start another pot of coffee and continue reading Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein. What are you reading? Have you figured out what reading challenges you’re participating in next year? What book are you going to start the new year off with?

TSS Review: Fante by Dan Fante

Fante: A Family’s Legacy of Writing, Drinking, and Surviving

By Dan Fante

400 pages

Published in 2011 by Harper Perennial

Source: publisher

A darkness had come to my life, a despair that only those who have known the unendingness and bottomlessness of their own psyche can understand. No matter what I did or what female hostage I took in a relationship, I knew hat sooner or later I would die from suicide.

The subtitle of the book, A Family’s Legacy of Writing, Drinking, and Surviving, gives readers a glimpse of the Fante’s history of alcohol and literature. Dan is the middle son of influential American writer John Fante, a man who had a raging battle with alcohol. John’s own father was also an alcoholic while Dan was four the first time he tried alcohol. I don’t know about you but though I was surprised at how young the author was, I’m not surprised that his first time was trying it at his parents’ house because of easy access. It’s also telling that the author describes that first time as being his “first spiritual experience”. It was decades before Dan was able to stop drinking for good but so much happened before he was able to.

While reading the first 100 pages of this book, I almost called it quits. Fante writes a lot about his father who has a bad tempered alcoholic and prone to mood swings. In the beginning John Fante was a monster of a husband and father, who for years didn’t think much about married life and less about his second son, Dan. At first, I felt like I was learning more about John than Dan. I understand that Fante is an influential American writer and he has a huge presence in his family’s lives but I wanted to know more about Dan and less background information on John. It made me think that this memoir might be better suited for people who’ve already read John Fante’s books.

I love that Dan doesn’t hold back from the ugliness of addiction. The author describes days of wicked hangovers, rages, paranoia, and intense sexual appetites. This book isn’t for the faint of heart. The great thing is that most of what’s described is necessary to understand Fante’s life at the time. He helps readers see what pushed him to start drinking when he was sober and what made him continue even though everything around him told him he needed to stop.

Brutal self-judgment clogged my mind and failures began replaying endlessly in my head, dogging me for days at a time. I was convinced that my brain was out to kill me, and would, if it didn’t have to rely on my body for transportation, More and more I removed myself from people, and fuck it became my daily marching orders. My life, my thinking, was now about keeping the secret that I was crazy. On the outside I appeared reasonable normal but the inside was a firestorm of madness. I felt as though there were a coiled spring in my head that I had to hold down, day and night.

In the end, it’s writing that saves Dan Fante and gives him peace. Gritty and honest, this book doesn’t hold back about the chaos of Fante’s earlier life or the pitfalls of addiction. Bruised, battered, and almost broken, Dan Fante shows readers that addiction can be fought and they too can survive. Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Weekend Reads and Secret Santa

Here’s what I’m reading this weekend:

  • Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
  • Fante: A Family’s Legacy of Writing, Drinking and Surviving by Dan Fante
  • Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith
  • Not pictured: We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

 

My Secret Santa was Laura from Book Snob! She sent me the newest Peter Sis book, The Conference of the Birds and the movie version of Wit.  It’s one of my favorite plays.

Do you see that black thing next to Wit? That’s right. I have a new Kobo! The company was nice enough to send me a new one. I’m so happy and relieved.  I’ve  started reading The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flint on it.

What are you reading this weekend?

 

 

Tuesday Morning Book News

  • J.C. from BiblioBrat wrote a great review about Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. The book wasn’t on my tbr list at first but after reading J.C.’s review, I had to add it.
  • Yesterday MJ from Wandering in the Stacks wrote a post about Books Through Bars, a New York-based organization that’s dedicated to putting more books in the hands of prison inmates.
  • Ana from Things Mean a Lot is someone who’s added tons of books to my tbr list and shelves over the years. She recently wrote a guest post over at Book Smugglers about the things she’s looking forward to next year. If you haven’t already read the post, I should warn you to have a pen and paper ready. There’s a ton of things you’re going to want after reading Ana’s wish list. The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss looks amazing.
  • Judith at Lesswammes is hosting a Wishlist Challenge next year. This challenge may get me to read more books from my virtual tbr pile and wish list.
  • Another new challenge is the Tea and Books Reading Challenge hosted by Birgit at The Book Garden. The challenge: read bricks (books that are at least 700+ pages long). I own a few books that fit that description plus I plan on reading 1Q84 soon, so I think I’m joining. [Edit: Thanks to Fiona for the info!]

Sunday Salon: E-reading

This past Wednesday my oldest son sat on my e-reader and cracked the screen. Since then I’ve been going back and forth with Kobo about getting it fixed. I have a warranty for it but since it doesn’t cover accidental damage, I would have to pay more to get poor Edison fixed or replaced than what I paid for him. I’m pretty disappointed especially since I’ve own my e-reader for less than a year. This whole situation has me looking more closely at e-readers.

I initially bought my e-reader to download high-interest e-books from the library and e-galleys from NetGalley. At my local library there’s often a long holds list for a print book but a much shorter one for the e-book version. With NetGalley it’s so much more convenient to get e-galleys instead of having printed ARCs taking up space at home. But not long after buying my e-reader, it also became convenient to buy the books that my library didn’t have. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, Jo Walton’s Among Others, and even short stories from Tor were bought when I wanted them immediately. That’s the funny thing about owning an e-reader; it’s almost too easy to buy a book. Well for me, anyway.

I also realized that it’s easy to ignore my e-books. On my reader, I had it set to where I only saw the books that I was currently reading. That way I wouldn’t have the free books that automatically come with my Kobo in my face while I’m searching for a book.  Of course my electronic tbr stack started to pile up. But an electronic tbr stack is less stressful to see than a physical stack.

My reading habits haven’t changed because of my reader, but become more solid. I hate to read non-memoir non-fiction on my Kobo but love reading fiction on it. With non-fiction, I need to be able to take notes and highlight passages which users can’t do on a Kobo. I also prefer to go back and look at marked passages to see which ones to include in my reviews.

Owning an e-reader for almost the past year has shown me how easy it is to feel like I need it. I don’t need an e-reader when I have two library cards and plenty of unread books on my shelves. But it’s the convenience I’m buying even though I don’t own the books I buy since I can’t print or share them like I could with a printed book. The convenience of an e-reader is great and I miss reading on one but I’m going through so much right now trying to get my e-reader fixed, that I feel like permanently sticking to physical books.

What about you? If you own an e-reader are you more likely to read on it than a printed book? If you don’t own an e-reader why not? 

Untitled

Amanda over at Dead White Guys is hosting the Belated Readathon this weekend. The event is from Saturday morning to Sunday morning but I’m starting now and will probably spend all of Sunday reading. I’m hoping to make a dent in some random tbr pile that’s hanging out around my house.  I’ll use this post to make updates.

Right now I’m reading Americus by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill.  It’s the story of a bookworm who lives in a small town. His best friend is forced to go to military school and now some of the local parents are trying to ban his favorite series from the library.  I’m still in the beginning of the book so we’ll see how it goes.

What are you reading this weekend?

 

1st Update- Saturday morning

Just Finished Americus. It’s a great read for any bookworm who’s ever felt out of place, which is basically everyone. Now I’m reading Fante: A Family’s Legacy of Writing, Drinking, and Surviving by Dan Fante. I haven’t read anything by the author’s famous father, John Fante, yet but this book sounded too good to pass up.

 

2nd update – Saturday 4:30PM

Dan Fante and I are not getting along right now. I’m enjoying the writing but I’m tired of reading about his father, John Fante. That man was an asshole! I want to read more about the author and less about Old Man Fante. There are some great lines like this one, “Eddie had graduated from this second-rate trade, but once carny gets into your blood it says like a bad case of herpes”.  But that’s not enough so after hours of going back and forth with this book, I’m putting it aside. Now I’m reading Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. It’s a MG (middle grade) read that’s been picked as a best of 2011 for several lists. So far, so good.

Looking forward to December

Another month is gone and the year is almost crashing to an end. Looking back at all the things that I wanted to accomplish this year and didn’t is pretty disappointing. The year isn’t over yet and there’s a goal or two that I can still accomplish before December 31st, (like getting my driver’s license).

There have been some pretty eventful moments this year: getting in touch with old friends, taking a semester-long break from school, changing my major from English to Anthropology and Psychology, and even putting my dream of working in my school’s library on hold to complete my degrees instead. I also made the decision to keep blogging after months of uncertainty and indecision about this blog’s purpose. There’s still so much to do and I know that if I try, I can get it all done.

November highlights:

December goals:

  • I had a great time participating in NaBloPoMo, so I’m planning on doing it again this month.
  • I’m also participating in #reverb11, a daily prompt activity that’s taking shape on Twitter but will be on many blogs. Anyone can join.
  • Get my driver’s license!
  • Start making blogging plans for January.
  • Start making my study schedule for next semester.
  • Finish reading my ARCs from this year.
  • Take my kids out for a special day.
  • Try a new recipe with my kids every week.

So those are my goals for this month. Is there anything you’re looking forward to in December?