Jan 2, 2009

2008 Wrap Up and 2009 Debut

I've seen quite a few 2008 wrap-up posts among the other book reviewing blogs. I'm going to add my two cents to the fray and offer up something for you to look forward to this year--2009.

I read 63 books in 2008, which is a personal best for me. I enjoyed many of those books, and some of them wowed me. There were others that didn't wow me at all, and that's where I'll start. You can click on the titles of the books in the list to read my review.

Not Worth Checking Out of the Library:

1. The Art of Fiction by John Gardner--this is the worst book I read this year. I found John Gardner pretentious and not very helpful. Many of the passages repeat common mistakes he finds among amateur writers, which might be helpful. But his prose style left me bored and struggling through this piece.

2. Isaac's Storm by Eric Larson--this book would have been #1 on the list if it weren't for John Gardner's condescending prose. While some parts of this book were really interesting, I struggled a long time to finish this one.

Worth the Hardcover Expense:

1. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson--this YA novel was well-written and had a unique plot. It raised a number of moral and ethical questions without preaching to the reader or offering a specific right and wrong answer to the central dilemma. I cannot praise this book enough.

2. Black Flies by Shannon Burke--this tale will stay with you for a long time after reading it. An in-depth look at the lives of New York's paramedics in Harlem at the time of heavy discrimination provides the reader with both sides of the story. Ollie is a fish out of water in this multiracial community, but he eventually finds his place. Graphic elements of this novel may make it tough to keep reading, but the payoff is worth every page.

3. Testimony by Anita Shreve--Shreve uses her innate skill at alternating points of view to tell readers how one decision made by a group of private school students turns their lives and the lives of those around them upside down. She also shows how the decision impacts those not necessarily close to the teens. While portions of this novel were graphic, they were necessary to help the reader question their fundamental beliefs about certain moral dilemmas.

4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy--this tale follows a man and his son after the world is brought to an end and many in society have taken to violence, cannibalism, and other behaviors to survive. The man and his son, who remain nameless throughout the novel, do not stoop to such levels; and while the novel is dark, there is a glimmer of hope.

5. Mr. Thundermug by Cornelius Medvei--a surprising look at how society would interact with and English-speaking baboon and how that baboon would interact with a society that shuns and misunderstands him and his family. A great look at discrimination in a difference sense; This book may deal with some moral issues, but it also uses wit and humor to keep the read light.

Paperback Best:

1. Pemberley by the Sea by Abigail Reynolds--this modern re-telling of Pride & Prejudice is more than a re-telling. Cassie and Calder have a story of their own, a tale of misunderstanding and timidity when it comes to relationships worth fighting for. Each must learn to love and be loved without condition. Cassie is a marine biologist struggling to get her research funded, and Calder is struggling to become his own man.

2. Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips--the modern look at the Greek gods in this novel is humorous and compelling. While there are no major moral or ethical dilemmas raised, this book does provide another look at how far society has evolved or devolved. I love that Aphrodite is a phone sex operator and that Artemis is a dog walker. I've never laughed so much out loud while reading a novel, and my transit compatriots must have thought I was loony.

3. Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange--Grange did an excellent job staying true to Jane Austen's characters, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, in this diary kept by the famous and misunderstood Mr. Darcy. It was great to read what could have been Mr. Darcy's inner thoughts.

4. Cold Rock River by J.L. Miles--Adie's life is harsh at times, but she finds her way to happiness in this well-written Southern novel. I enjoyed the cast of characters, the tension, and especially the slave journal as it is woven into Adie's narrative.

5. The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James--a tale that provides an insider's look at what Jane Austen's real life may have been like in a fictionalized sense. I love the way in which James weaves in historical truth and fiction in this novel to keep the reader riveted and absorbed in Victorian England.

Audio Books to Die For:

1. A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore--this audio book had us laughing so early in the morning that I actually got to work wide awake. Charlie Asher's life takes a bad turn when his wife dies and he's left to raise his daughter alone, but it gets even worse when he finds out he's Death. This one will have you laughing all the way through.

2. You Suck! by Christopher Moore--is a hysterical vampire novel set in San Francisco, Calif. New vampires often have a tough time adjusting to life of the undead, but this novel has them stumbling through the dark seeking solace and contentment.

3. A Soldier's Promise by Daniel Hendrix--is a nonfiction audio book with heart. Not only does it take the listener inside the war in Iraq, but it also illustrates the human side of the war, which many Americans forget about. The language in this book is easy to understand and is not overly militaristic.

Poetry You Must Have:

1. Hip Hop to Children for Nikki Giovanni--a trip down memory lane for many readers who grew up when rap and hip-hop music were just taking shape and gaining in popularity. This book and audio CD will help children gain an appreciation for poetry.

2. Human Dark With Sugar by Brenda Shaughnessy--is a mix of dark imagery and content and light humor. Each poem carries a surface meaning as well as a deeper meaning beneath the simple words selected. The sarcasm and bleak language speak to the reader to convey the meaning within each of the three sections.

Ok, now that you've got my recommendations from 2008, let's move onto to something vastly more important--2009.

These are my goals for the blog this year, and I hope some of you will take the time to keep me on my toes.

1. Include more poetry book reviews and interviews

2. Offer personal writing updates on Sundays; I'll be posting my goal for the new week and whether I achieved the previous week's general goal, surpassed it, or failed to reach that goal.

I know there are only 2 goals, but with the WWII challenge and blog, I don't want to over commit myself, which I am known to do from time to time.

My overall goal for 2009 is to complete my poetry book manuscript and prepare it for editing so it can be submitted to publishers in 2010. Anyone willing to give me a kick in the butt, please feel free. I'll need it.

***Don't forget about the Gods Behaving Badly Contest, which runs through January 5 at Midnight EST.***


Lenore said...

I bought Adoration of Jenna Fox earlier in 2008 and haven't gotten to it yet. MUST!!

Memory said...

I love how you organized your wrap-up.

Good luck with your goals for 2009!

meg89 said...

One of the best wrap-ups I've seen this year! I had Gardner's Art of Fiction on my list last time I went to the library, but it wasn't there, and now I think I'll be taking it off the list (bad writing is a deal-breaker for me). I'll replace it (because God forbid the TBR list shrink!) with A Dirty Job, which sounds like the perfect Sunday afternoon read.

bermudaonion said...

Great wrap-up. I'm really getting into audio books and you're one of the people who inspired me to try them.

Literary Feline said...

I love your categories. I am looking forward to reading The Road this year and hopefully I will make it to The Testimony as well. Both sound so good and I've heard mostly good things about them. Good luck with your goals this next year. I am sure you can achieve anything you set your mind to. :-) Have a great New Year, Serena.

naida said...

63 books is great :)
I have The Road in my TBR.
good luck with your poetry book manuscript!

Dar said...

Happy New Year Serena and good luck with your goals this year!

Jill said...

I love how you organized your post. You have many great books listed here! I look forward to reading your reviews in 2009!

Suey said...

Fun wrap up! Good luck with the goals. You'll do great!

Serena said...

Lenore: Adoration of Jenna Fox is a must.

Memory: Thanks...I actually fiddled with it for a few days,

Meg89: John Gardner is very full of himself and his "skill" It drove me batty. A Dirty Job is hilarious.

Bermudaonion: I'm glad you're taking up audiobooks. They are fun.

Literary feline: Thanks for having confidence in me. The road is one of those books that stick with you.

Naida: I couldn't believe I read that many books. Thanks for the well wishes.

Dar: I hope you achieve whatever goals you set for yourself.

Jill: I tried to be organized. I'm glad that everyone is finding the post to be.

Suey: Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Trish said...

I love how you have the books broken down into different categories. After reading and loving The Devil and the White City, I picked up and was disappointed by Thunderstruck--after that had no desire for Isaac's Storm.

Good luck with 2009--sounds like a great goal to get your manuscript reading. No kick in the butt needed. :)

Dawn said...

Great year in review, Serena!

I forgot about that *Hip Hop for Children* poetry book that you reviewed earlier ... must add that to my wish list!

(and thanks for the tip on *Isaac's Storm*. I loved *The Devil in the White City*; crazy how this book can be so far at the other end of the spectrum!)

Margo said...

This is a great list... tells me exactly what I want to know. I read John Gardner's book ages ago and I remember that pretentiousness. It was a lot to read just to get his renowned "one continuous dream" morsel, which I think I'd already heard elsewhere! I love it that you review the audio books. I'm listening to Gods Behaving Badly right now. I'm not so sure about the narrator yet. Dirty Job was a great audio book.. I thought the narrator was perfect.

Thanks for visiting my blog the other day. I'm enjoying yours and will be back soon.Good luck with your goals!

Devon Ellington said...

Thanks for the list. I'm putting GODS BEHAVING BADLY on my "must" list.

You know something sad? I'm a paid reviewer for a major publication and, out of an entire year's worth of books reviewed, there are only TWO that I regularly recommended to people.

Every time I receive a book, I want to fall in love with it. Let's hope that happens more often in 2009.

Good for you with your writing goals.

A group of us do GOALS, DREAMS, AND RESOLUTIONS together for writing and life goals; this year we've set up our own blog for it. Stop by if you get a chance, and see if the questions get you thinking:

Devon Ellington said...

I have a typo in that link, I'm so, so sorry.

The correct link for the GDRS is:


S. Krishna said...

Great wrap-up post! I'm going to have to bookmark it and comb through it for books to add to my TBR list.

Stephanie said...

Very nice wrap-up post!! I've never been a big poetry fan. Maybe I'll have to try a little harder this year!!

I read 51 books last year. I know it's rather a trifling amount compared to some. But it's 2 more than I read last year, and I'm working 2X as many hours. So I'm pretty proud of myself!

Luanne said...

Great lists Serena -

I really enjoyed The Road - it will be interesting to see what they do with the movie.

Black Flies intrigues me - I think I'll hunt that one down.

Happy New Year

Serena said...

Trish: Isaac's storm is a book I received as a gift from a Secret Santa. I just wanted to finish it, so I could say I read the whole thing. It was tough going.

Dawn: Isaac's storm is a book that would ruin it for those who have never read Larson. I don't want to read another of his books now. Hip Hop was a great book for adults and kids.

Margo: I'm so glad that I wasn't the only one who felt that way about Gardner. I had heard it was a must read for fiction writers.

Devon: Wow, thanks for stopping by. I really liked quite a few books I read this year, but I wanted to highlight the best books. I often go into a book wanting to love it and sometimes that just doesn't pan out. Thanks for the link, I will check it out. I'm curious what two books you recommend to people.

S. Krishna: I have to get back to the google reader and check out everyone's wrap-up posts.

Stephanie: I like to set personal goals with reading because I can't read as many as other people because some books go more slowly for me and because I do have a full-time job that's stressful. Congrats on reading more than you did before and I wish you luck with your own personal reading goals.

Luanne: Black Flies was a great book...Very well written and captivating. I can't wait to see The Road on the big screen.

Joanne said...

Great lists! I agree 100% with Moore AudioBooks being to die for - the stories are hilarious and the narrators are always very well chosen.

Serena said...

Joanne: I completely agree. I think as long as the narrator is a great pick and the story is funny or action-packed it will make a great audio book. I love Moore's narrators and books.

Anna said...

Oooh...permission to kick your butt. Yea! Seriously, that's a great goal, and I hope you accomplish it.

Congrats on reading so many books last year. I'm glad you enjoyed Mr. Thundermug. That was an odd, but enjoyable little book.

Diary of an Eccentric