Sunday, January 29, 2012

Top Books of 2011

::peeks out from the shame corner she’s been sitting in for months::

Oh, hello.  I haven’t updated in awhile, and I really don’t have a good excuse for it either.  I mean, yes, my life was insane for a month or so, but after all of that crazy ended, I can only explain my absence on sheer laziness.  This laziness, in turn, led to feelings of being overwhelmed by how far behind I was getting with my reviews, and as I’m sure you can tell, it is an awful place to be.  Today, I am officially stopping the cycle with my Top Books of 2011 list; better late than never, right?  Looking back, 2011 was a pretty great reading year for me, and out of the 100 books I read, it was hard to pick only a few to spotlight.  I’ve broken it down into Adult and YA categories because I’m obviously drunk with power. 

Also, I’ll be posting thirty or so reviews within the next week, because I gave myself that deadline just now, so if you’ve been wondering how I felt about something I read within the past few months, the review is on its way! 


Top 5 – Adult

5.  The History of Love – Nicole Krauss

I really enjoyed this book. The characters were extremely real and complex, and I especially enjoyed the reflections of Leo Gursky. I thought that Krauss also did a very good job at capturing the teenage voice through Alma, and her portions of the book, presented to the reader in list form, were extremely well done. The final passages of the book, where the narrators shifted back and forth quickly, were also really powerful. This book does an incredible job of highlighting the complexity of human emotion.

4.  The Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux 

The Phantom of the Opera was a thoroughly engrossing tale full of magic, love, terror, jealousy, revenge, and murder. While these elements tend to be rather great on their own, the combination in this book was nothing short of superb. I could feel the terror of the characters as they tried to understand what was going on, and the images the book planted in my mind were rather fantastic, albeit scary. This book moved quickly from one action sequence to the next, and there was very rarely a dull moment.

3.  Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

Wow, this book was definitely a bit creepy, but I was kind of expecting it given the subject matter. While I didn’t sympathize with the narrator, Humbert, it was morbidly fascinating to see things from his perspective, and learning the story behind his obsession was also quite interesting. The book itself was beautifully written, and the language had a really nice, lyrical quality to it that pulled me in easily.  I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone because of the subject matter, but if you’re looking for a thoughtful, clever, well-written book that lets you observe what goes through the mind of a pedophile, give Lolita a try.

2.  The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery 

If forced to summarize this novel in one word, I would definitely have to choose “fantastic.” The Elegance of the Hedgehog hooked me from the very beginning and didn’t let up until the last page.  Both Paloma and Renee were believable, well-rounded characters, and I loved being able to get a glimpse into what their lives were like. If you’re looking for a well-written book that focuses on the interior life of two distinct characters, definitely give this book a try.

1.  Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex allowed me to run the gamut of emotions, from extreme happiness to incredible sadness. The book shook me up, freaked me out, made me laugh, and made me think, and I couldn’t help but feel emotionally involved with the story. Each character was extremely well done and unique, and I felt as though they were sitting right next to me, telling their stories.   One of the best things about Middlesex for me was the focus on Detroit. I was a metro-Detroiter for the majority of my life thus far, and I’ve always heard stories about what the city used to be like. There are still reminders of its former glory downtown (it’s not a complete wasteland, as the media likes to portray it), and it was wonderful to see the Detroit of the past come to life. I could see the men toiling away at the factory, feel the terror of the consequences of rum running, and hear the shouts during the race riots. I honestly can’t recommend this book enough.

Honorable Mentions

Bossypants  - Tina Fey

A comprehensive review of Bossypants will be posted here, but I absolutely loved this book!  There were many instances where I was absolutely laughing out loud, and apparently Tina Fey and I operate on the same wavelength of crazy, as I could often relate to her.


Sarah’s Key – Tatiana de Rosnay

Prior to reading this book, I had (embarrassingly) never heard of the Vel d'Hiv tragedy, and was quite saddened to learn of the event. de Rosnay did an incredible job of imagining both Sarah and Julia, and it was easy to feel sympathetic for Sarah and the plight of so many others affected by the tragedy. I loved the use of theoretical questions throughout, too, as I've often asked myself the same things when reading anything about the Holocaust. The blend of both the past and the present worked exceptionally well in this book, as both narrators really were needed to piece together the whole story.

Top 5 – YA

5.  Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares – Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

I actually already wrote a summary for this book, and I’ll post the review as soon as I’m finished writing it.  Here you go:  While perusing the shelves of a book shop one day, Dash, a bookish, brooding teenage boy, haphazardly stumbles upon a journal written by a girl named Lily.  After accepting the challenge presented in the journal, Dash and Lily begin to communicate through it, daring each other to do things that are out of their comfort zone.  Will their relationship ever leave the pages of the notebook, or will they continue to solely trade dares with one another?

This book was incredibly charming, the romance was very sweet, and my only wish is that this kind of thing could happen in my life.  Why can’t real life be as great as books?

4.  The House on Mango Street – Sandra Cisneros

For such a slim volume, The House on Mango Street definitely packs a punch. I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the story from the very first page, and I read the whole book straight through in one sitting.  I really liked that the stories within this book were told in simple vignettes. While this style doesn’t work well in every book, it worked wonderfully here. By giving the reader short glimpses into the narrator’s life, the book really developed a layer of authenticity that made the events therein seem incredibly realistic.

3. 13 Little Blue Envelopes – Maureen Johnson 

It was truly enjoyable to accompany Ginny on her European voyage, and I was just as eager as she was to see where her crazy, awesome aunt was going to send her next. Who wouldn’t want to be sent on a trip to Europe where the destination wasn’t always known, and everything about her journey was contained in envelopes? Well, I’m sure there are some people who wouldn’t, but I am definitely not one of them. Each stop taught Ginny some kind of lesson, took her out of her comfort zone, and made her really examine her life and her Aunt’s motives. Things didn’t always go quite the way she had planned, which, effectively, made the story incredibly believable.

2.  Wither – Lauren DeStefano

As in the case of Bossypants and Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, Wither will also have a proper review in the near future.  The society that DeStefano imagines here is incredibly interesting, albeit terrifying, and I was hooked from the first chapter. 

1.  Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green and David Levithan 

I found Will Grayson, Will Grayson to be thoroughly engrossing, and devoured the whole thing in one sitting. From the Will Graysons to Tiny to Jane, each character had flaws and was nowhere near perfect, thereby making them seem supremely real, and the issues that each grappled with throughout the book coincided with what the teenage experience is really like for many people. Every character either reminded me of someone I already know or someone I could imagine knowing. It was also quite refreshing to read a YA book where the relationships didn't seem overdone, forced, or cheesy; finally, some authenticity!

Honorable Mentions

Wintergirls – Laurie Halse Anderson

With Wintergirls, Anderson has created a deep, well-written, lyrical book that captures the essence of what it's like to have an eating disorder. This book was incredibly sad, but almost impossible to put down. Sadly, Lia's struggles with self-esteem and body image are something that many girls can relate to, and it was incredibly disheartening to see her eating disorder and mental illness spiral out of control. I thought the crossing out of certain words added to Lia's experiences, as it was a true indication of how she viewed the world. I also thought the way in which the chapters were numbered, mimicking the numbers on a scale, was incredibly powerful.

 Jane – April Linder 

Most people that know me well know of my love for Jane Eyre. It is definitely my favorite classic, and in all honesty, it may be my favorite book…ever. I’ve always been drawn to Jane’s inner strength and how she easily puts Rochester in his place, and every time I read Jane Eyre, it’s like I’m reading it for the first time. When I saw Jane sitting on the shelf, it beckoned to me like a siren’s call; I knew I had to have it. I went into it with a great deal of trepidation because, as previously stated, I love Jane Eyre quite a bit, but much to my delight, I really enjoyed this book. Turning the brooding Rochester into internationally recognized rock star Nico Rathburn was a really clever way to update the character, and it truly highlighted just how different Jane and Nico really were. Nico, the standout character for me, was rather complex, mysterious, and kept secrets hidden from most everyone, which made him incredibly compelling to read about.

Ultimately, this was a rather great re-telling of Jane Eyre that kept me interested from beginning to end.