Books 2011, part two

It's that time of year again!  Time to buy... BOOKS!  (Or, conversely, put a whole bunch on your library request list.)

As always, I'm reviewing only from memory, no picking up the book or looking things up on the internet.  So it pays to be memorable.  Unless it was memorably TERRIBLE.

Last years' books reviewed here.  The first part of this year's books reviewed here.

You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers.  I read this after it was recommended to me by Stephanie.  Sellers wrote this memoir about her profound inability to recognize faces, even those of her loved ones.  Prosopagnosia (Okay, cheating already! I did have to look up how to spell that.) is very rare and not well understood.  What is clear:  you don't want it.  It makes everything from everyday social graces to lifelong intimacy so much harder. Recommended for: the memoir-lover, the psychology lover.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.  Everyone was reading this, it seemed, and so like a good little lemming, I got it from the library.  It's a long, gothic vampire/witch tale about a scholarly woman who discovers she's one of the most powerful witches in all of .. witch-dom. She falls in love (SLOWLY) with a vampire who's bent on protecting her and the whole thing should be super exciting and plotty (because, ahem, the language is not why you are reading this book) and YET.  SLOW.  SO SLOW.  But people loved it and if you're one of them, I'm sure it'd make a great gift.  Recommend for:  the girl who can't get enough vampires.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.  Ooh, ooh, OOH.  I liked this!  C'mon brain, remember this one!  Um... novel set in the months leading up to World War II following the concurrent stories of a postmistress in Cape Cod and a female journalist in Europe.  A great woman-centered novel.  Recommended for:  friends/sisters/aunts/mothers who love fiction.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.  I liked this one too!  A beautifully written novel about a scientist asked to head into the jungle to find her missing colleague.   I love Ann Patchett's writing and found the plot interesting and even the completely bizarre plot points seemed almost real.  Also:  the best ending EVER.  Recommended for: fiction lovers of all stripes.

The Anti-Romantic Child by Priscilla Gilman.  Okay, this was a weird one for me.  Priscilla Gilman is a Wordsworth scholar who had a deeply romantic view of childhood.  Until she became a mother.  Her memoir tells the story of her own childhood, her intellectual studies and her journey mothering her son, whose baffling development challenges everything she thinks she knows.  It's an interesting memoir, though the language felt thick and heavy at parts.  Recommended for:  the neurotic English major who just had a baby.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.  BIZARRE-O novel about a girl who can sense the emotions of people through the food they make.  It besets her in early adolescence and we follow her as she tries to stay sane and make a life for herself.  I really like the use of magical realism in suburbia. But there was a crazy subplot with her brother that sort of derailed things for me for a bit, so I can't say I loved this book.  Recommended for:  the magical-realism lover who can take a mental leap or three.

A Mind at a Time by Mel Levine.  I think every parent and teacher should read this book.  Right now. Go get this book and read it.  But I did have a serious issue that I wrote about here.  Recommended for:  the parenting book reader in your life.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.  The first in a trilogy of YA fiction about werewolves.  I liked this one enough to read the next one.  Recommended for: YA/werewolf fiction lovers.

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater.  Bad. Just bad.  Made me decide I didn't like the first one after all. 

Quirky Kids by Perri Klass, MD and Maureen Costello, MD.  This parenting book would be a good fit for parents of kids on the autism spectrum or somewhere close.  It wasn't as good a fit for us and our kids, so I skimmed.  Recommended for:  parents of kids on the Autism spectrum or somewhere close.

The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen.  A great, somewhat depressing novel about a family who lose an infant just hours after birth.  The premise alone sets the dark tone, though the writing is lovely and the author is thoughtful and wise in her development of her characters and plot.  Recommended for:  fiction lovers who enjoy a walk on the dark, sad side. 

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan.  A longish novel written from alternating points of view of four women in three generations of a family.  The action centers around a summer house in Maine and each character reveals a deeply divided aspect of this dysfunctional family.  I felt like I recognized this family and grew to care about them because of, or in spite of, their glaring faults.  Recommended for:  anyone who has a family cabin, and female fiction lovers.

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel.  A parenting book with heart, this one was also recommended to me by Stephanie.  Mogel applies traditional Jewish teachings to modern child-rearing and I found this such an affirming, positive, beautiful view of parenthood that parents of ALL spiritual persuasions can enjoy.  Recommended for:  the parenting book lover who is Jewish or open to learning from other religions.

Divergent by Veronica Roth.  YA novel about a dystopian future where teenagers must decide their future roles in one fateful day.  Fast-paced, fun, full of romance and violence.  Recommended for:  the YA lover in your life.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn.  I learned a few things from this memoir of a trained chef who helps regular folks learn how to cook better:  1.  Most people don't know how to hold a knife properly. 2.  I DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO HOLD A KNIFE PROPERLY.  3.  Basic things such as how to hold a knife properly make a big difference in how confident people feel in their kitchens.  This book made me take a good look at my own kitchen habits and I learned some valuable lessons that have made my shopping and cooking a lot more efficient.  Recommended for: the food lover, memoir lover. 

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta.  I know several people who did not like this book.  But I am not one of them.  I loved how Perrotta took his wild premise - a mysterious Rapture-like event has caused the disappearance of thousands of people, of all different religions and moral characters - and let it play out in the normal suburban lives of a small town.  I didn't like all the characters, I didn't like some of their decisions, but each chapter felt like a little wrapped package with careful corners and clear intent.  Recommended for:  the fiction lover.

The Dirty Life by Kristen Kimball.  My mom gave me this memoir and told me I'd love it.  And I did.  In this traditional, major-life-change memoir, Kimball interviews an idealistic farmer who shows her a completely different world from the one she knows. She falls in love with him, leaves her New York city life and all her high heels behind and together they construct a farm so old school they use horse drawn plows instead of tractors.  Recommended for:  the memoir lover, the food lover, the wannabe farmer.

Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey.  I love this book.  SO MUCH.  I wrote a whole long post about it and how it fits our needs and our family and our challenges right now but it turned out to be one of those posts where you're pretty sure you're sharing too much about your children and you don't want them to hate you (more) later in life because of your blog so you move it to your diary folder and pat yourself on the back.  (Maybe we need a secret blog specifically about our kids and their issues.  A Constance, Jr.??) Recommended for:  the parenting book lover.

So that's it!  Now it's your turn. What are your favorite books of the year?  What books are you giving as gifts this year?


twisterfish said...

I'm just so excited you posted this... I needed ideas for me and for gifts! I love your honest comments and one day want to secretly follow you around the library. But people tell me that's considered stalking and I shouldn't do it, so I'll just make notes from your blog.

Michelle said...

I feel like you and I are book mates. We tend to like the same things. I felt the same way about A Discovery of Witches. I am reading The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake now. Just started this weekend. I love magical realism.
My favorite books this year have been by Joshilyn Jackson and Sarah Addison Allen. I also loved the Hunger Game series and plan to reread after the first of the year.
I love book lists. I'm going to my library site now to see if I can reserve some of these!

Anonymous said...

How I love all these concise book reviews in one place!

I felt the same way about Discovery of Witches: SO SLOW. Gah.

And yours is yet another review I've read for Particular Sadness that hasn't been entirely favorable. I bought it back when it was in hardcover and can't bring myself to read it - I love Bender so much I don't want this to ruin my impression of her!

Bird said...

Oooh! I read the Lemon Cake book also and totally agree with your assessment. I love Ann Patchett but find I always forget about her when I'm requesting library books. For sure putting this one on my list. Thanks for the great recs!

Alice said...

omg this is AWESOME. am bookmarking this for when i Get Serious about christmas shopping!

i'm currently reading "Enclave," which i keep thinking i don't like (the writing is VERY simplistic/YA, as is the clumsy love interest storyline) but i can't stop reading it, so i guess i do like it :)

Doing My Best said...

This makes me wish I had more time to read!! Someday....

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