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Books 2009

Here’s what I read in 2009, organized by category and mostly alphabetical by author within category (short story collections vex me in this regard).

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Skinny Chicks Don’t Eat Salads, Christine Avanti
The explanation of the eating plan seems to make sense but I’m not sure I could do it—a life without whole eggs and full fat cheese is not the life for me. I also found the periodic mentions of products available on the author’s website a bit annoying.

The Fabulous Lunts: A Biography of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Jared Brown
This took me approximately forever to get through. It was obviously well researched but I wished for more personal anecdotes and fewer names and dates and titles of plays. I found the final chapters about their retirement the most interesting, because those were more about them as people. Perhaps this would have been more interesting if I were an actor myself.

How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Gelb
I picked up this guide to being more creative because some friends were planning to work through it this summer. I did one exercise from the first set (and I didn’t follow the rules—I’m already that creative, see?) and read through the whole book and am not that excited about doing more. Naming the seven principles in Italian felt forced and I often couldn’t keep myself from saying them in my head in a cartoony accent, and some of the exercises seemed quite tedious with no particular point to them, which I think means this is not the book for me. Maybe I’ll revisit some Julia Cameron instead—not that I want to do all her exercises, either.

The Downhill Lie: A Hacker’s Return to a Ruinous Sport, Carl Hiassen, read by the author (A)
Sometimes this felt more like a book about writing a book—so many mentions of his editor and the deadline and research. I wondered if he’d have golfed at all if not for having this book deal. Also, the political and pop culture references were intrusive. I did like that he answered the objections he anticipated readers would have to some of the things he did.

Russian Disco, Wladimir Kaminer, translated by Michael Hulse
Maybe something was lost in translation; this was just okay. There were a few interesting anecdotes, but the overall work seemed disjointed and incomplete. Some things were repeated, like maybe the chapters were originally separate columns published over a long period of time.

Wendy Knits, Wendy D. Johnson
I often felt like I’d read parts of this book before—maybe I heard the author interviewed on a podcast and that’s why it seemed familiar. Though there are patterns included, this is really just a knitting memoir. I think it would have been better either without the patterns or with them but expanded to include bigger photos (in color, not the black and white that this book has) and detail shots.

Bitter is the New Black, Jen Lancaster
Much of this was horrifying but oddly compelling. I think it would have been better written as a novel, and possibly in the third person, because then it could have had the kind of redemption possible in fiction that’s so rare in real life.

Such a Pretty Fat, Jen Lancaster
The worst part of reading this book was that I recognized some things that the author and I have in common. I sure hope the fact that I love cheese and get cranky when I’m hungry, hot, and/or tired doesn’t mean I’m going to also follow in the author’s footsteps at some point and buy a German car (I’m assuming a BMW), start calling my muscles “strongs”, and make fun of people who have large birthmarks, leg amputations, or drug problems. I had hoped a book that’s supposed to be about losing weight and getting fit would focus on losing weight and getting fit, but there are pages and pages about doing neither, then more pages about getting a book deal to write about doing them, then 10 workouts later the author’s back fat is mysteriously gone. There’s also a strange shift in tone about three quarters of the way through where it seems like the author realized she should get serious about her topic. So glad I got this at the library and didn’t buy it.

Alex and Me, Irene M. Pepperberg
The first chapter of this had me in tears. There were some funny moments after that, so I am glad I kept reading, though I wish there had been a lot more information about Alex the bird when he was alive. I found it very strange that a book that spends so many pages on a particular death doesn’t explain the cause even though it’s stated that an autopsy was done.

The X-Factor
, George Plimpton
I can’t say that I learned anything from this book that I can apply to my own life but I did enjoy reading it.

In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan
A lot of this made sense, though I’m not currently willing to make the kind of changes in my life that the author calls for.

The Age of Speed, Vince Poscente
Appropos of the title, this was a fast read. Too fast, I think; I finished feeling that I hadn’t really learned much of anything. There were a few anecdotes I enjoyed; I wished for more substance to go with them.

Non-Fiction–Real Estate:

The Complete Guide to Purchasing a Condo, Townhouse, or Apartment, Susan Alvis
I liked that a portion of the proceeds from sales goes to the humane society in honor of the recently deceased office dog at the publisher. I did not like the lack of editing and proofreading—Veil, Colorado was mentioned as a good place to buy a ski condo (first, it’s VAIL, and second, it’s crazy overpriced). This seemed to lack focus—was it for first time buyers of shared housing or investors? Not clear; it seemed to bounce back and forth. I got the idea that the author had had some problems with neighbors, particularly children, in shared housing—that issue came up again and again in various chapters. The glossary appears to be for a different book, including many terms related to REITs, which were not discussed in the text at all that I can recall. One appendix was almost entirely amortization tables, which seemed like a waste of space—if they were there to make a point, I missed it because who wants to read one amortization table much less several of them.

Condo Buying & Ownership Made Simple, Kay Senay
This was mostly checklists with a few anecdotes sprinkled in. Not enough meat or analysis for my taste.

Buying a Second Home: Income, Getaway, Retirement, Craig Venezia
Well-organized, with lots of good information.


Nerve Damage, Peter Abrahams, read by Alan Nebelthau (A)
I strongly disagreed with a decision the protagonist made early on, but aside from that, I really liked this up until the ending, which I found rather abrupt with too many loose ends, but perhaps that was the point.

One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson
I sometimes had trouble keeping some of the characters straight in my head, and wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be a mystery or not. There were loose ends galore, so I’m guessing it wasn’t meant to be a mystery in the conventional sense. I did like several of the characters and would like to know what happened to them next.

Hardware, Linda Barnes, read by C. J. Critt (A)
I had trouble getting into this; I just wasn’t that concerned about who did it or why. The heroine jumped to one conclusion that really didn’t sit well with me and that made me question her judgment from that point on.

E: A Novel, Matt Beaumont
This story is told in a series of e-mails, and that just wasn’t enough for me. At the very least I wanted an org chart to refer to; I kept getting confused about who worked for whom and in which departments. Not sure if this is supposed to be farce, but it sure read like it was.

Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks
Another A-Z challenge pick that I ended up liking even though I was initially skeptical about the subject matter—a novel about the plague seemed like it had the potential to be a lot darker than I like my fiction, and there were indeed some horrific parts but handled in a way that I kept reading. The last several chapters seemed to belong to a different book, though—I wished for something more consistent with the rest of the text in tone and pacing.

Q Road, Bonnie Jo Campbell
Only picked this up because I needed a “Q” for an A-Z reading challenge I’m doing this year. It’s set in Michigan, so I connected with that part. I really liked it, then there was a chapter where horrible things were happening and I almost put it down I was so upset, but I’m glad I pushed on because by the end I liked it again.

The Signal, Ron Carlson, read by T. Ryder Smith (A)
This is set in the area around Jackson, Wyoming, and it was fun to hear places mentioned that I’ve been on ski trips. The story was not so much fun, but it was interesting and a bit sad yet not depressing. I think it would have been better without some of the more action-adventurey elements in the plot.

Zapped, Carol Higgins Clark, read by the author (A) (9-Jan-2009)
I had two major problems with this: many of the characters whipped themselves into more of frenzy than circumstances seemed to call for, and the coincidences were just piled too high. (For the spoiler-y version, see Goodreads.) It did make me appreciate the value of a good audio book reader; too bad the author is not one.

The Front, Patricia Cornwell, read by Kate Reading (A)
There’s evidently an earlier book with some of these characters and maybe reading that would help flesh out these characters for me. I thought they were interesting but that I hadn’t really gotten to know them.

Vineyard Prey, Philip R. Craig, read by Tom Stechschulte
Listening to this rather than reading it meant a clue that was obscured for the characters wasn’t from me. Not too annoying, though the slutty woman was a bit much. Why not a slutty guy?

Last Shot, John Feinstein, read by the author (A)
I picked up this YA novel by John Feinstein because I’ve enjoyed the adult nonfiction stuff of his I’ve read. I liked this too, though the mix of real people and teams and fictional ones made it a bit harder for me to suspend disbelief and really buy into the plot.

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
There was a long hold list for this at the library, so I got it after the book club read it, but I’m glad I went ahead anyway because I really liked it. I liked the premise and the mystery surrounding some of the characters and events and wished it were longer and really want to know what happens to the main character next.

The Pickup, Nadine Gordimer, read by Lisette Lecat (A)
I almost gave up on this book because I just couldn’t connect with characters, and given the situation they were in, it should have been a lot more interesting than it was. If there was an important message in here, I missed it, and that’s too bad because if I’m not going to learn something I want to be entertained and/or moved and I got very little of either.

The Monsters of Templeton, Lauren Groff, read by Anna Marie Lee (A)
There were a lot of narrators in this, and while they were clearly identified, I sometimes got confused about what the main character knew of the stories these other narrators were telling. The main character sometimes annoyed me quite a lot yet I ended up glad I read this because there was a lot in here to like.

When Madeline Was Young, Jane Hamilton, read by Richard Poe (A)
The narrator’s mother reminded me of my own mom in some ways, and the Great Lakes locales are close to the places I spent time in when I was growing up, so that familiarity kept me listening even though not much seemed to be happening. I hoped for some huge family secret to be revealed just to shake things up and give the plot a focus.

Vengeance, Stuart M. Kaminsky, read by Scott Brick
I liked the sad sack hero and the twist I didn’t see coming at the end. I also liked this reader, a new voice for me.

Up in Honey’s Room, Elmore Leonard, read by Arliss Howard (A)
I liked this novel set in WWII-era Detroit even before the hero from The Hot Kid showed up. It was only slightly distracting that the narrator hadn’t been coached on some of the odd street name pronunciations we have around here—he said “Bo-ben” instead of “Bo-bee-yen” for Beaubien, for instance.

The Dart League King, Keith Lee Morris
Immediately upon finishing this, I felt a tiny bit cheated by all the loose ends left hanging. Now, a few days later, I appreciate having the freedom to think about where the characters ended up without already having an answer.

Sundays at Tiffany’s, James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet, read by Ellen Archer
I loved the premise and liked parts of the story, but things got rather strained and schmaltzy at times.

Time Won’t Let Me, Bill Scheft
This was okay but I kept feeling like I should be finding it funnier than I did.

Childish Things, Marita van der Vyver, translated by Madeleine Biljon
This coming of age novel set in South Africa in the 1970s (interspersed with 1990s London) was just the right amount of sad for me. I’ve never been to Africa or gone to boarding school, and it’s been years since I was a teenaged girl, but still this story drew me in.

Fiction–Paranormal, Romance, and SciFi/Fantasy:

Veil of Midnight, Lara Adrian
After loving the fourth book in the series so much it was probably fated that the fifth would feel a little flat to me. I mostly liked the heroine, though she fell prey to the “must do something stupid now to create tension in the plot” problem at least once. The hero was pretty bland; didn’t get much information about him until way late in the book. The time spent on the German subplot could have been better used to develop the hero and his relationship with the heroine.

Ashes of Midnight, Lara Adrian
Sixth in the series. This hero was not my favorite, and I really, really wished one of the scenes near the end had been fleshed out more to put the focus back on the main couple, but all in all I liked it and will read the next one when it comes out. I thank Ms. Adrian for keeping true to the earlier books as the series has progressed, unlike J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood, which pretty much fell apart for me with books 5 and 6.

Grimspace, Ann Aguirre
This was so good. I’m sort of afraid to read the next books in the series lest they detract from my good feelings about this one.

Kiss of a Demon King, Kresley Cole
I enjoyed this, but had some problems with the way the hero and heroine treated each other for most of the book. I also didn’t like the way another author’s series made an appearance; I didn’t see those worlds as compatible but evidently there’s going to be a crossover. As in the prior book in this series, the ending seemed rushed.

Master of Obsidian, Jamie Craig
I mostly liked this and wished there were more to it. It starts with the main characters already having known each other for several years so they had a comfort level with each other that I never felt for them or their new relationship. The progression didn’t make sense to me, and lots of things were left unexplained, including how vampires and magic work in this world—the non-vamp part of the couple no doubt knew but I didn’t and it distracted me. (The proofreading also distracted me; at one point, two characters are entering a rare book room and one hands the other “latex clubs” to handle the books with.) I’ll probably read the next in the series even though a couple scenes in this one really squicked me out because some of the other scenes were very good indeed. (Unfortunately I got spoiled for a major development in the series by reading comments to someone’s review of this installment, but maybe it won’t be quite as major as I think it will.)

Unveiled, Jamie Craig
Like the first book in the series, this one left me wanting more: more world building (I still don’t know how vampires are made), more exploration of the relationship between the two main characters outside of the figurative bedroom. The plot development I was spoiled for turned out not to ruin the focus as I feared it would, at least in this installment, so that was good. The balance of scenes that pushed my squick button to ones that didn’t was a little more to the squick side this time; if that continues in the next book I might have to drop this series.

Jacob, Jacquelyn Frank
I really liked this at first, then things went a bit too Mary Sue with the heroine. Why that bothered me here and not in other similar plots, I’m not sure—perhaps because in this case, she got so much power so fast and so easily that it just didn’t work for me.

Gideon, Jacquelyn Frank
The heroine in this one seemed less Mary Sue-ish than the one in the first book of this series, so that was good. I got distracted by trying to figure out how the “soul mate” thing works in this universe; some people have died after being separated from their fated partner but the main characters in this one were separated for years and seemed to suffer no particular ill effects, so it’s not clear what the trigger is that starts the clock ticking. I also got distracted by the heroine’s name, Legna, short for Magdelegna—I kept saying “leg-na” in my head rather than “lena” and thinking that was a rather clunky name to saddle one’s heroine with. There was also a lot of time spent on the couple from the first book, and a fair bit of time setting up the next book (well, books—I spotted at least three heroes in there).

Inkheart, Cornelia Funke, translated by Anthea Bell
Lynn Redgrave read a few chapters to me on the audio version, which I used to squeeze a few chapters in while driving so I wouldn’t get hunted down by the library police for not returning the hard copy so the next person on the reserve list could have it.) I was intrigued by the premise but unlike other YA books I’ve read (Elsewhere, Twilight before the series went off the rails), I wasn’t transported by how it was realized. I read a review (after I read the book) that described the villain as the “Diet Coke of Evil”, and I think that’s about right—he’s evil lite. I liked it enough to want to read the sequel, but not so much that I’m rushing to do so.

Inkspell, Cornelia Funke, read by Brandon Fraser
The best part was hearing Brandon Fraser making marten and fairy noises; I found the book itself disappointing. It was depressing, too long, and lacked any sense of closure.

Dead and Gone, Charlaine Harris
Insofar as I can remember the last one, I liked this one better, but it’s far from my favorite in the series (that would be #4 or possibly #1). I do approve of the direction Sookie’s love life seems to be taking, but even that part could have been handled much better. I do not appreciate the continued odd pacing of plot points and new levels of what felt to me like senseless cruelty.

The Society of S, Susan Hubbard
I wouldn’t have found this but for the independent bookstore where I bought it having shelved it next to something I’d already read and enjoyed. It’s a coming of age vampire tale, and I liked it. I wish I hadn’t visited the author’s website after I was done, though, as there was more information about the sequel there than I cared to know, so now I’ll have to put off reading the next book long enough for me to forget that stuff.

When Darkness Comes
, Alexandra Ivy
Some of the prose was a little clunky, but I liked enough of the elements that I’m planning to read the next in the series.

Dead After Dark, Sherrilyn Kenyon, J. R. Ward, Susan Squires, Dianna Love
Both the Kenyon and Love pieces were hard to get into because I wasn’t familiar with the worlds and they seemed too complicated to introduce in a short story. The Squires was better in that regard, possibly because the focus was on the couple at first so I had a chance to know them before too many strange elements got added into the mix. I enjoyed the Ward most of all; it seemed to get back to the things I liked about the early Black Dagger Brotherhood books (though no brothers appear), though I’m not sure it quite fits into the rules of that world as I understood them.

Seize the Fire, Laura Kinsale
I know a lot of people really like this book; one of them recommended it to me. I’m not feeling the love. I didn’t hate it, but it was a bit too much of an epic for me. My favorite scenes between the hero and heroine came fairly early in the book and nothing that came after really grabbed me the same way.

The Magical Christmas Cat, Lora Leigh, Erin McCarthy, Nalini Singh, Linda Winstead Jones (finished 6-Jan-2009)
Given how much I’ve enjoyed most of the Psy-Changeling series, I’m not surprised that Nalini Singh’s story was my favorite of this collection. Even though it was short it didn’t feel incomplete, and it best captured the warm Christmas spirit I was hoping for in a holiday anthology. Erin McCarthy’s tale about the witches seemed a bit too compressed; I never got a feel for the characters, even though I’d been introduced to them in last year’s An Enchanted Season, and one big “why” was left unexplained. The story from Linda Winstead Jones was more horror than romance; I did not care for it, though the addition of more heat might have won me over. The last tale in the book from Lora Leigh was educational in that I now have two new items for my list of turn-offs (barbed penises and men whose chest hair feels like textured velvet). I also found the use of “breed” as a singular noun awkward; maybe if I’d already read some of the series I wouldn’t have, but I don’t see that happening.

Fangs for the Memories, Kathy Love
First book in a new-to-me series. This one is on the lighter side of vampire romance, though there are several darker moments. I liked it enough that I’ll probably seek out the next one.

Wicked, Gregory Maguire
I liked the musical so much; I didn’t like the book nearly that well. I wanted magic. I wanted emotion. I wanted to get caught up in a story. I didn’t get nearly enough of any of that from the text. By the end, I was on Dorothy’s side.

Hostage to Pleasure, Nalini Singh
This had a similar dynamic to one of my least favorites from earlier in the series (Caressed by Ice), with both hero and heroine burdened with a lot of baggage, yet I really liked this one; reading it was like reconnecting with an old friend, because Dorian has been there since the beginning. I could have done with a little more romance and a little less world-building but still felt the main couple got enough “screen time”, unlike in some other long-running series.

The Darkest Night, Gena Showalter
First in the Lords of the Underworld series. This felt unfocused—there were so many characters, including more than a handful with dual personalities, that I felt like I needed a cheat sheet to keep track of them, and between the backstory and the sequel baiting I never felt like the current plot events really got their due. Add in more than a dash of deus ex machina and some very clunky dialog and I’m thinking I won’t be picking up the next book right away.

Angel’s Blood, Nalini Singh
I didn’t realize that this was supposed to be urban fantasy until I was well into the book. No wonder I didn’t like it as well as the Psy-Changeling series. The hero is so alpha it’s ridiculous—why get involved with a man—sorry, angel—who’s threatening to kill you or make you a slave or harm the people you love and their children? Still, I kept reading.

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