Maribou (maribou) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

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my favorite 23 reads of 2009

I know 23 is an odd number, but these are all the ones I was extra-fond of this year, and still feel strongly about now. 23 is less than 10 percent of 262.

The Snowflake Man: A Biography of Wilson A. Bentley, by Duncan C. Blanchard
Charming old-school biography of a very interesting man - you've probably seen his photomicrographs of snow crystals at some point (if you've seen some, they were likely his). Bentley lived a quiet life as a Vermont farmer, and was dedicated to the study of snow and other forms of precipitation. This biography is put out by a small press and it is a little rougher around the edges than some might like - but I enjoyed its digressions and chronological jumps, because they felt right for the story. It felt like one of those family history books, you know? Very New England.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Completely absorbing YA dystopian survival-of-the-fittest novel. Highly recommended if you dig that sort of thing. I kept sneaking pages when I was supposed to be otherwise engaged.

The Old Buzzard Had it Coming, by Donis Casey
Excellent mystery, first in a series starring a just-past-the-turn-of-the-twentieth-century Oklahoman farmwife named Alafair Tucker. It reads really easily and the mystery kept me engrossed - I had a pretty good idea who I thought did it about halfway through, but she kept me second-guessing right up til near the end. And the characters are supremely endearing... like reading the Little House or Anne books, only for grown-ups. Er, and with a murder mystery attached:). Homey but not cutesy.

Alex and Me, by Irene Pepperberg
This was great! Short and succinct and fascinating and emotionally powerful. If you are interested in animal cognition and/or in birds, you should read this book.

The Wild Swans, by Peg Kerr
Lovely. Restrained and elegant and everything fits together perfectly but not in an overly pat way. Absolutely recommended to fairy tale or contemporary fantasy fans - to give you an idea, at one point I found myself thinking, "Oh! This is how I felt about Charles de Lint back when I first started reading Charles de Lint..." I've never thought that before, and yes, it is a very good thing. I resonated to this book.

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Delicious page turner of a literary mystery. Melodramatic but in the good way. Very evocative of its historical period (post-WW2 Barcelona). I'm excited that his next novel is coming out this summer.

Sea of Poppies, by Amitav Ghosh
While this book is competently plotted, full of interesting history, and has some great characters, its true delight is language. Specifically South Asian dialects of English, and the dialogue and narration are DELICIOUS. (Heh, I just saw the PW review online and they ended with "The cast is marvelous and the plot majestically serpentine, but the real hero is the English language, which has rarely felt so alive and vibrant." Great minds think alike, only they polished theirs;).)

Backup, by Jim Butcher
I didn't expect much from this short novella other than a predictable infusion of Jim-Butcher-juice, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I'd rate this among his best works. He really brought Thomas to life, front and center, and Thomas is nothing like Harry or Tavi, who for all their charms are similar enough that I figured there was really only one first person voice Butcher could do well. I was wrong!

Someone Knows My Name, by Lawrence Hill
A beautiful lyrical powerful historical that surprised me by being a very easy read. Highly recommended.

About This Life, by Barry Lopez
I liked this book so much I'm already looking forward to rereading it and planning to give it as a gift. Essays by someone who I tend to consider a nature writer, although 2 of the best essays in here concern pottery and globalization (er, one topic for each essay). Highly recommended.

Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, by Diana Gabaldon
I think I slightly prefer the Lord John books to the main series, as much as I like Claire Fraser & her adventures ... these books make incredibly good brain candy for me - like a cross between Georgette Heyer and Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series, maybe (she says, not having actually read either of those yet) - and they're short and zippy in a way doorstops just can't be.

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse, by Thomas E. Sniegoski
Noir existentialist theological fantasy with a not-fallen-just-left angel protagonist who can, among other skills, talk to his (very believable) dog. Not for everyone, but wow, is it my cup of tea! LOVED it.

Lifelode, by Jo Walton
This was a lovely book. Kind of like Ursula LeGuin's early stuff and yet still very much uniquely a Jo Walton book (even though ALL of her books are quite different). I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think the only reason I haven't read the first trilogy Walton wrote is that then I will be ALL OUT of books by her to read, and that would be utterly tragic.

The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner (and its sequels)
This was BRILLIANT YA fantasy-without-too-much-fantasy-in. The characterization, plot, setting, etc., were all good, but best of all they were seamlessly devoted to the furthering of the *story* - and the story was amazing. Seriously, Lloyd Alexander caliber quest fantasy with a very NON-standard quest protagonist.

The Stones of Summer, by Dow Mossman
I read this book because of a wonderful movie (sort of about the book) named Stone Reader which I heartily recommend to ANYONE who likes geeking out about books... I can't heartily recommend the book so broadly, but it's absolutely brilliant none the less. It's just that it's a hot mess of a book, with about 15 different things going on (about 12 of which I dug really intensely) and it's very very demanding. Yet there are parts where it's so utterly emotionally convincing that I was completely swept away by it ... and I've stayed up very late finishing it because no way was I giving it back to the library - I had to finish it NOW NOW NOW. If you like somewhat experimental weird-ass fiction of the 60s/70s, it's gotta be among the best. The dialogue and characters felt Velveteen Rabbit real.

The Wandora Unit, by Jessy Randall
I really liked the author's book of poems and I really like YA so I figured this would be right up my alley and it was. So up my alley that I read it all straight through over supper and then a couple hours after that. If you like funny, charming, thinky novels about thinky teenagers who like poetry, but also like Thundercats, you should check this out!

Cooking Dirty, by Jason Sheehan
This book was a huge amount of fun, and I find myself recommending it all over the place to people I know whom I imagine to have led a similar existence in the kitchens of decidedly NON-haute-cuisine restaurants. If any of them actually read it I'll be curious to think if THEY think it's as dead on as I do .... very well written! very funny! Not for those with delicate stomachs or manners.

Reading the OED, by Ammon Shea
I do NOT need a crazy reading project, I do NOT need a crazy reading project... OK better stop before I say it three times. This book was SO much fun to read. I love this genre (people doing weird [frequently geeky] things so the rest of us can vicariously enjoy them - "Immersion Journalism" is the best name I've heard for it so far), and I love the OED. It's like some eccentric guy living in NYC said, "I know, let me write a book that maribou will love so much that she will drive her husband CRAZY reading it out loud to him." I mean, dear reader, I read almost THE WHOLE BOOK out loud to him. And he didn't have a lot of choice in the matter. The only quibble I had (and I only had it because I liked the writer so much in general) is that I got really irritated at his complaint about how the students IN THE PRIVATE COLLEGE LIBRARY where he liked to read were too loud and he had to shush them all the time. If he tried shushing MY students in MY college library I would politely explain to him that the students were there to enjoy the building that THEIR tuition was paying for, as opposed to his non-belonging-to-the-college self, so he should deal with it or find a different part of the library to read in, and if he shushed them some more I would kick him to the curb! *shakes tiny our-private-school-is-not-your-public-library-just-because-we-like-having-you-here-as-long-as-you-maintain-perspective fist in the air* (I will shush students, but only if they are breaking the rules about quiet space and bugging other students. I'm not anti-shushing. Just anti-ridiculously-entitled-public-patrons-in-private-spaces.) But that little bit of stompiness aside (and it's really a SMALL part of the book), this book is AWESOME!!!

Treason's Shore, by Sherwood Smith
Smith makes you believe in the wholeness of ALL the characters (even the walk-ons feel realer than a lot of people's main characters somehow). She also brought the entire saga of Inda to a very satisfying close in this volume, without having to bend any of the characters past a plausible growth/development arc. I mean, there were places in the book where I got Quite Frustrated at some character for not being cooperative enough with what was obviously the best thing to do - except for THEM it was far from obvious and the characters sort of ... won my internal argument and so it was much more satisfying that they acted how they WOULD act and not how I wanted them to. This is much more ... engaged... than I normally get in a book. Normally I'm either immersed to the point where I don't notice that I'm reading the book or I'm quite distant. Whereas this was more of a "WHAT did you just say? Oh you bastard! How can you do that ? Augh, this will all end in tears!! Oh honey, see, that's what I told you would happen... wait, what? oooo, I didn't see that coming" etc etc talking-to-the-theater-screen kind of experience, mixed in with long stretches of immersion and other juicy pieces of marvelous and delightful sense-of-wonder stuff ..... with everything settled at the end in a way that made me happy without feeling like "fluffy ponies for everyone!"
Non stream-of-consciousness version: If you like character realism with your competent-hero martial fantasy, or if you just like really solid breathing characters in general, please please give the first book in this series, Inda, a try - and know that the series is more-but-better all the way through. If you've been reading this series and haven't gotten the last one yet, go find it.

The Enchantment Emporium, by Tanya Huff
I was in the middle of Rocket Boys (which is also very good!) and I kept sneaking off to read this instead, so I just gave in to it. Tanya Huff is one of my favorite authors and this was a wonderful book. Not quite as goofy as the Summoner series, not as angsty as the Blood series - right in between - a lovely piece of funny, sharp urban fantasy with a dash of (unconventional) love story thrown in. I'm tempted to claim it's her best yet.

Making Mischief: A Maurice Sendak Appreciation, by Gregory Maguire
So so so very nifty. Full of Sendak art and interesting thoughts from Maguire. (Sometimes Maguire gets a bit pretentious-sounding but the pretentious bits and the "whoa, COOL" bits are so closely linked that I don't think you could get rid of the former without risking the latter... so that's alright then.) I really really recommend this book (although with a caveat that it has a few frankly erotic drawings/paintings in it so if you are thinking of giving it to a kid you may want to look at it yourself first).

The Shadowy Horses, by Susanna Kearsley
There is a very precise itch which Elizabeth Peters' non-Amelia-Peabody books scratch (the ones where people run around being romance writers or archeologists or whatever while also being gently witty and brave and desirable and in love and also FIGHTING CRIME WOO), and this book scratched that rather demanding itch, very very well. While also having a touch of the ghostie in it, suitable to the time of year and a fun resonance with my youthful days when I read quite a few gothic romances. The comparison everyone keeps making is Barbara Michaels (which makes sense to me since Elizabeth Peters is one of Michaels' pen-names). Suspenseful without ever really being scary, and I loved it. Will be tracking down everything Kearsley's written, eventually.

Just Like Us, by Helen Thorpe
Marvelous book that mostly talks about the lives of four Mexican girls living in Denver (2 undocumented, 1 with a green card, 1 a naturalized citizen) as they graduate high school and begin their adult lives, and secondarily talks about immigration policy in the US and particularly in Colorado. I was a bit dubious because the author is the wife of Denver's mayor, but I didn't realize she was also a longtime New Yorker writer or I wouldn't have worried.

So what did you really love reading last year?

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