Books 2012

1) To Have and To Hold by Jane Green. More airplane lit. This one is about a mismatched couple including an adulterous husband, both searching for satisfaction. My biggest issue with this book is its inability to advance the premise it set up at the outset. The book is supposed to show some parallel between the main character's life and that of the woman who lived there decades earlier. It failed on that account. There is also an expectation of predictability in these sorts of books. But the best ones give you interesting twists and turns along the way. This one doesn't have enough. There's really only one. Lastly, the book meanders along toward and end, then quickly wraps everything up. That made it much less interesting.
2) Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton. A food-based memoir written by a New York City chef/restaurant owner. Separated into three parts, I can't say I really understood the names behind the three parts and how they correlated to her life. But I didn't look too deeply either. This book got off to a beautiful start. Lyrical, wonderfully written, I was so excited to keep reading. A childhood raised by a cooking, gardening French mother? Yes, please! Things started to fall apart in the Bones section and devolve into a lot of self-indulgence. And to use a chef analogy, by Butter, that sauce was completely broken. It became distasteful to read. For me, this book is the reason you don't write memoirs in middle age. You're still too invested in the things that are happening which often makes you less kind than you could or should be. The last section detailing her green card marriage was strident, extraordinarily painful and only marginally related to food/her life as a chef. Even if she intended it to be more chef-heavy, it wasn't the overwhelming theme. If I assigned this book for a food-writing class, I would be likely to only assign the first chapter or have them analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the three sections. As for those who might read it casually, it has its redeeming qualities but isn't one I'd want to reread any time soon. I think I could possibly like it more later in life.
3) Not Becoming My Mother And Other Things She Taught Me. Food writer Ruth Reichl takes a different turn in her series of memoirs to focus on solely on her mother. This short book made me want to take a closer look at the stories of my own mother and grandmother. I don't want to have to wait until their 100th birthdays or decades after their deaths to interpret writings they've left behind. So in many ways this book was a gift, I'm sure to many.
4) Will Write for Food by Dianne Jacob. AWESOME book I'll use to teach a food writing class one day. It looks at the many ways to get paid to write about food with tons of exercises and ideas to jump start your creativity and encouragement whether for writing a blog, cookbook, review, memoir, novel, newspaper article, WHATEVER! If it's writing and it's food-related, she helps you get started. Really, really great information. I loved reading this book.
5) Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs by Elissa Wall with Lisa Pulitzer. Don't ask me why the publisher allowed her to have that INSANE subtitle. You certainly have no doubt about the focus of the book. It was riveting and heartbreaking to read the story of a 14-year-old girl forced into marrying her first cousin. She lets you in to some of the beliefs that led to her eventually agreeing to marrying her husband and the years of grief that decision caused all the way up to Jeffs' sentencing in 2008. Written conversationally, it's a quick read.
6) Angel of Harlem by Kuwana Husley. Though it got off to a slow start, I enjoyed this fictionalized account of the life of Dr. May Edward Chinn, Harlem's first black female doctor. It showed her home life and the toll of her professional struggles. Portions of the book rang a little false when covering figures in the Harlem Renaissance. It was heavy-handed. Overall, though, a good read.
7) Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Yes! The second book in the Hunger Games trilogy did NOT disappoint! Another book I was able to read in one day. Absolutely delightful! I never expect but often love the twists and turns! Can't wait to read book three!
8) The Visible Man by Chuck Losterman. An insane scientist creates a suit that gives him the illusion of invisibility. This book is the account of his therapy from the perspective of his therapist. That made for some plodding moments and some high tension. The plodding moments required me to sigh my way through the third? It was far too long. The suspension built in an interesting way but took some unnecessary and somewhat unbelievable turns. That's even with the suspension of disbelief about the sci-fi nature of the book. Those were the most interesting parts. I'm talking about unbelievable character actions based on how they presented themselves. The author rushed to an (enjoyable) end but because of the rushing, it felt a bit artificial. I guess I liked it in some ways. I wouldn't read it again.

9) Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl. Food writer Reichl's first memoir was considered an instant classic for a reason. This book is AMAZING!!! You come to understand her passion for food and the greatest food influences in her life. The recipes sprinkled throughout certainly didn't hurt either! I want to try every single one. Even the multi-day bouef bourgignon. Beautiful, beautiful book. I want to own it.
10) We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Through a series of letters to her husband, the mother of a school massacrer looks back over her troubled son's life. Pretty crazy novel from a woman who alternately loathes herself and her son, blames herself and her husband. You know it's leading somewhere terrible but the tension is so great you really wish it would hurry up and get there already. Unsettling read.
11) Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling. In this comedic autobiography by a writer of the American version of the hit series, "The Office," Kaling delivers mostly quiet laughs. I didn't need non-stop guffaws to enjoy this book. Amusing read.
12) Cross My Heart by Carly Phillips. Y'all know I love me some chick lit. They're quick reads that can deliver on the juice... sometimes. This one fell short. A young romance is put on hold by a faked death until our heroine has to come back from the dead to claim her multimillion-dollar trust fund. Sigh. The writing was overly descriptive about the most mundane things. I spent far too much of my time rolling my eyes at this book. Skip it.
13) The Pretend Wife by Bridget Asher.  A woman's old flame turns her world upside down when he needs her to play his fake wife. The problem is her very much alive husband. It sounds like I wrote that for a book description, doesn't it? Lol. More chick lit. Moments of enjoyment.
14) Love in Mid Air. A woman's life is turned upside down when she begins an affair with a man she's met on a plane. Though for once a book features a truly unhappily married woman in the midst of an affair, some of the details of this book still rang a bit false. There were also a few more characters than necessary. Some of them were developed only to behave in ways contrary to their development. Umm... what? Weird.
15) Just Wanna Testify by Pearl Cleage. This novel uncovers a supernatural mystery in Atlanta's West End with some of Cleage's more familiar characters. The supernatural twist just didn't fit for me. I can't say I didn't want to finish the book but I would have been equally fine with someone telling me how it ended. That's never good. Then the end just made reading the book feel like a waste of time. Not her best effort by far.

16) The Book of Jane by Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt. Christian chick lit as a modern re-imagining of the book of Job. Jane loses everything and sees the testing of her faith. Very enjoyable!
17) Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. The third book in the Hunger Games trilogy. Still riveting even if somewhat less than the first book. I still didn't want it to end. More, more! That's always the sign of a delightful character if you want to continue being a part of her life.
18) Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons for Making it Work by Tim Gunn. The Project Runway mentor dispenses his advice on politeness and kindness in a book that is almost schizophrenic in its delivery. He claims to have no malice but tells these gossipy stories about people, some using their full names, others only thinly veiled. For example, and I'm paraphrasing, 'the gorgeous Bravo cooking show host who was once married to a famous author.' Ummm... why don't you just say her name if you're going to say all of that? The kindness preaching rings false after things like that. Interesting read at times but also unfocused and rather distasteful.
19) Emily Ever After by Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt. The first Christian chick lit outing for the pair follows Emily's dream of living in New York. She creates this bizarrely unlikely scenario where she has to fight for her faith and follows it to ridiculous lengths. It made no sense. I'm glad I didn't read this one first. A much sloppier, more confusing read than their second novel, The Book of Jane. I would have skipped that book if I'd read this one first.
20) The Unlikely Lavender Queen by Jeannie Ralston. This memoir covers a city-slicker writer turned lavender farmer who started a movement in central Texas, kicking and screaming the whole way. I checked this out of the library so long before I read it that I'd forgotten it was a memoir. I was completely turned off by the writing style at the outset until I saw it was a memoir. I forged on. The beginning was only marginally interesting. It picked up when you got to the lavender. But then it slowed down again toward the end of the lavender. I did not care at all about the nuts and bolts of lavender farming and the cutthroat lavender industry. She took us inside the fights between her and others, airing her grievances. Who wants to read that? Not me. Did the good outweigh the bad in this book? I suppose. But I was glad when I got to the end.
21) Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. A magazine writer and ultramarathon runner goes on an adventure to find some of the world's best distance runners in a largely reclusive tribe of Mexicans. This book is written like a giant magazine article. At times it works. But those times when it doesn't, the suspense created by moving back and forth between wonderfully well-written race segments and occasionally tedious running research doesn't seem worth the time it's taking. McDougall wanted to show the things he learned while covering the Tarahumara and in searching for them: nutrition, form, breathing, small steps, what he describes as the benefits of barefoot running and overall a return to the basics of running. Sometimes it comes off as agenda-pushing and propagandistic. By far the best parts of the book are the race recaps. If you like long magazine articles, you will probably like this book.
22) Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. This time Reichl goes inside the many disguises she inhabited as a food critic for the New York Times. I loved this book!! Reichl is definitely one of my favorite writers! Even as I was reading it I simultaneously wanted it to go on forever and to see how it ended. I never wanted it to not be my first time reading this book. Sigh. Great read.

23) Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. The memoir based on the blog that eventually became a hit movie starring Meryl Streep. Rashan and I did not enjoy the film at all. The things I didn't like about the film, I also didn't like about the book though I found the book to be very little like the film. My overlapping issue (film & book) was with the attempts to interweave their tales. It was worse in the film but in the book it felt extremely forced. Do we really need these letters about Julia as interstitial elements? Absolutely not. They added nothing. A huge difference? Julie curses like an angry drunken sailor. It is INSANE. By virtue of this fact alone the film is a BEYOND sanitized version. If it had been true to actual Julie, it would have garnered an R rating from the first 3 minutes. She curses THAT much. It was a bit distracting. I did enjoy the cooking moments, though.  Somehow with over 500 recipes in one year, the conclusion came about awkwardly. It almost felt incomplete. I guess that can happen when you write a book about a part of your life not that far removed with lots of life still left to live. Would I recommend the book? Eh. Maybe.
24) Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch. A memoir by the woman perhaps best known (to me anyway) as Sue Sylvester on Glee. An interesting sort of warts and all glimpse at her life from childhood to the present. It does not start strongly but picks up. I had to get used to her writing style. It's a bit choppy and bouncy at the outset. Limited moments of laughter. She has a leg up on other memoir writers because many of the most difficult moments of her life thus far are firmly in the past. It gives her much better perspective than memoirs written too early in life.
25) Good Grief by Lolly Winston. A woman is dealing with widowhood at just 36 years old and not feeling very much like a widow. There were moments of unnecessary trauma for the main character that felt untrue to who she had been developed as but overall I enjoyed it.
26) Lucky by Alice Sebold. In this gripping memoir, the author of Lovely Bones describes in gruesome detail her rape and its aftermath. Horrifying. I had to skip many of the details of the rape. I just couldn't deal. Post-rape she does an excellent job of describing her state of mind and how people reacted to her. Tough read at the beginning.
27) Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli. This book follows two families of varying ethnicities whose lives intertwine from slavery to the civil rights era in a rural Georgia county. Sometimes the back and forth between characters and times and their connections was confusing. For my taste there were probably one or two characters too many. It's not that their stories weren't interesting but that keeping that many details on that many people meant putting some to the side for such a length of time that I forgot their connection to the story's main thread. Still a good read.
28) Born Round by Frank Bruni. This memoir from the former restaurant critic of the New York Times delves into his tenuous relationship with food. That outweighs but informs the time he spends on his time as the critic. Riveting and heartbreaking in his self-loathing and his struggles with food, this book takes us through childhood diets, bulimia and obesity on Bruni's journey to becoming the critic. Though difficult to read his pain at times, it's interspersed with his humor. A great read.

29) My Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg. This memoir/cookbook weaves life stories with recipes from the Orangette food blog creator from childhood to married life. Very sweet with recipes that made me want to immediately stop and prepare them! I made the banana bread with chocolate and crystallized ginger and it was FAB!
30) Girl Walks Into a Bar...: Comedy Calamaties, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle by Rachel Dratch. That may be the most unwieldy title ever... The SNL alum discusses her career, dating and a surprise pregnancy approaching her 44th birthday. A fast and funny read. I recommend it.
31) Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. The most talked about book of the year and it's terrible. Every black girl read Zane in college. This is only slightly more well-written. Plot holes, unbelievable scenarios. How do you use the word 'mercurial' so repeatedly? And the phrase 'holy *insert curse word*' ad nauseum? Ugh. You can skip it. I only finished it to say I had given it a chance. I definitely don't need to read the rest of the trilogy as much as the completist in me wants to. Pass.

32) Runner's World Run Less, Run Faster: Become a Faster, Stronger Runner with the Revolutionary FIRST Training Program by Bill Pierce. This program takes your running down to three "quality" runs per week- a long run, a tempo run and a speed work run. I like it but in some ways I think it's for a more experienced runner. Definitely it's for someone looking to improve their performance at a distance they've already tackled. Since I'm training for my first half, it's not totally for me right now.
33) Light in August by William Faulkner. The story of a murderer. I wanted to read a Faulkner book but this was torture. The beginning was so slow-moving. It took me literally months to finish and for the most part I didn't enjoy it. There were some extremely racist parts and Faulkner introduced new characters and new back story in the last 100 pages. What on earth? I certainly don't care at this point. I'd skip it.

34) Paris, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin. The title should have given it away... but this was kind of depressing. This man has an opportunity to live and work in Paris but the minutia of living in any city where you don't know the language that well or the city really at all wears on him. But who wants to listen to someone complain about living in Paris? Not even his family. Just okay.
35) Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table by Ruth Reichl. The least enjoyable of her books. It dealt more with her infidelity than food. You could skip this one.
36) Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father by Augusten Burroughs. Please remind me I don't like this man's books the next time I think of starting one. They're bleak "memoirs." I know that's rude to use quotes but if his life was truly like this, I'd really rather not come along for any more of the ride. I did like this one better than Running with Scissors so I guess that's something.

37) Lowcountry Summer by Dorothea Benton Frank. The story of a wealthy South Carolina woman intent on turning her family around. Self-righteous, hypocritical and annoying main character. I liked the author's writing style for the most part, despite some plot holes, but a somewhat repulsive main character is difficult to overcome.
38) The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. A time traveling man meets his wife multiple times throughout her life. She remembers all, he remembers nothing. I really enjoyed the premise and found myself repeatedly wondering how the author decided to structure things. Great sense of foreboding and suspense building toward the end of the book. Good read.
39) Where We Belong by Emily Giffin. The latest book from one of my favorite "chick lit" authors. She's BACK! At the end, I slammed the book shut and said "There BETTER be a sequel!" It was so good! But there was so much left unfinished! So much yearning! Gimme more! It also made me really thankful that there are people out there who can create characters that I want to read about over and over. A page-turner.
40) The Grace of Silence by Michele Norris. A desire for a frank discussion of race prompts a journalist to explore secrets in her own family. There was very little in the way of a satisfactory conclusion to her search for me. This felt like a long essay rather than a book with in depth research. I generally prefer the latter when it comes to reading about other people's families. Because of the dearth of available information during her search, she fell back on sharing well-documented civil rights history. That was probably my chief disappointment/complaint with the book. I was looking for her own untold story and instead I got other people's well-tread stories. There was some mention of lesser-known stories but they got short shrift. I didn't enjoy it.
41) All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps ed. Dave Isay. An essay collection from an NPR series of snippets of love in people's lives from first loves, to lost loves to found at last loves. Some really sweet stories. All were truncated to a few pages. For some stories, that was way too short and made it feel even more incomplete than is the nature of sharing a snippet. A nice, fast read.

42) Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson. This memoir explores his start in Ethiopia, adoption in Sweden and life as a determined traveling chef on his road to becoming a well-known chef. Sometimes overly reliant on flowerly language, this memoir still captures the imagination as you watch his good and poor decisions. As expected, the poor decisions get a little less light but he illuminates many of his driving philosophies. As chef autobiographies go (this genre has really exploded), this one is pretty good.
43) No Cheating, No Dying: I Had a Good Marriage. Then I Tried to Make it Better by Elizabeth Weil. A memoir about a woman's quest to work on her 10-year marriage before there was a problem. Loved her writing style. It was like reading a column or a blog. This also seems like the sort of craziness I would undertake. Poor long-suffering Rashan. LOL A great read.
44) The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble. Brit lit about a group of women in various stages of life dealing with a myriad of the issues that attend-- sick parents, sick children, infidelity, boredom. The first problem was the number of characters. 200 pages in I was still trying to remember everyone's backstory. That's never good. Very frustrating. And because there were so many characters, everyone got a few pages. Some didn't get enough time. Because of the style I wouldn't say anyone got too much. The middle of the book was a barrage of terrible things for the characters. The end wrapped it all up rather neatly. Bah. Not worth the 429 pages.
45) Heartburn by Nora Ephron. A pregnant woman tells her own story as she deals with leaving her philandering husband. Funny, engaging and short. You should give it a try.
46) What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. Aussie lit about a woman who hits her head and loses 10 years worth of memories and her struggle to recover them. Loved it! I did get a little annoyed by the at times overuse of letter writing to tell stories but not enough to dislike the book. I'll be reading more by her.
47) The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn. Engaging memoir about a student at Le Cordon Bleu. Really engaging! I loved how much French was sprinkled in, too. It made me want to re-learn French!
48) The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty. Aussie lit about a hypnotherapist, her new boyfriend and his stalker ex-girlfriend. Loved reading the back and forth perspectives of both women... especially the stalker! I had to understand her. There were some unanswered questions but not enough to make this book overly frustrating. Stunning climax! Good read.
49) Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher. Actress Carrie Fisher takes to documenting her life (again) knowing her shock treatments are stealing bits of her memory in an attempt to cure her depression. Funny and sweet (and profane) at turns, much of the latter portion of the book is devoted to her relationship with her famous and mostly absent father, Eddie. Quick read. Written rather episodically, enjoyable in the way blogs can be: a story at a time.

50) Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty. Australian chick lit about triplet sisters going through various relational changes surrounding their relationship and relationships with children, stepchildren, husbands and other family members. Intriguing and fun.
51) The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. The death of a local councillor upends a small, hateful community bent on preserving a facade of gentility. The book surrounds the fight over the seat, emptied by a casual vacancy. Though dealing principally with the events of adults related to the election, teenagers take the most interesting risks. Still... a bleak book that dragged for the first 100 or more pages as Rowling introduced far too many vaguely interconnected characters. The last 150 pages sped along but it wasn't enough to overcome the laborious pace of the rest of the book. I haven't read any Harry Potter books (I know, I know) so I know nothing of the author's writing style but I didn't enjoy it. This book would have been justly ignored as unnoteworthy had the author been an unknown.
52) Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard. The story of an 18-year disappearance from the girl stolen at 11 and physically, sexually, psychologically and emotionally abused for years by a man who eventually impregnated her twice. Gut-wrenching. I do not use that term lightly. The descriptions of what she experienced at the hands of this man with the complicity of his wife were infuriating. I was on the verge of tears at one moment and seething with anger at the next. I have never felt so visceral a reaction to a book. You read her recollections and diary entries from her time as a prisoner. Very difficult read. The details continue to haunt me.
53) The Story of Beautiful Girl by Robin Simon. A developmentally disabled couple appears at an old woman's home during a storm and asks her to care for their baby. I was captivated from the first chapter and that didn't stop throughout. So emotional I wept as I reached the conclusion. Extremely fast read. Wonderful, wonderful book.


54) The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. A book lover is hired as the biographer for a reclusive author. This book tells the reclusive author's story as you watch the biographer struggle with the mystery. Interesting and definitely a page-turner. This book returned my reading mojo to me!
55) The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. The story of a woman in young adulthood, her studies of the marriage plot in classic literature and her struggle to decide between two men. Interesting at times, extremely boring, prodding and pretentious at others. There were definite times where I wanted to throw this book out of the window. Why would I want to essentially read someone's thesis? And portions of various philosophical works? I don't. I want a novel. That's probably more my problem than the author's but I didn't enjoy it. The book was overly long and ultimately just okay even though I rather liked the end.

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