When I sat down to do the year-end review of my reading for the past couple of years, it's been a little disheartening that there were so few books that I felt good about. This year is completely different. I look at the list and nearly everything on it is something I am happy to have encountered this year. There are a number of new characters I'm glad to welcome to the chaotic cocktail party that is my mind.
With no further introduction, here's the year's wrap-up!
Best discovery: There were several books I really liked this year, but the one that I feel was really the most fortunate "discovery" was A Drowned Maiden's Tale by Laura Amy Schlitz. It's a book I borrowed from my daughter, who had checked it out of the school library, and it turned out to be great fun to read, as well as a rather deep study of what a person will do to "earn" the love of others.
Saddest Disappointment: I had always heard good things about Patricia Wrede's writing. My daughter loves her Enchanted Forest Chronicles (which I've not read). But I found her retelling of Snow White and Rose Red to be quite tedious, just to be blunt. Maybe trying to build around a story that already exists is not as conducive to good storytelling as starting from scratch is.
Favorite Classic: I read four books this year that are "classics": The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare (winner of the Newbery Medal in 1962). Of the four, The Bronze Bow would probably be my favorite. I actively disliked Wuthering Heights; I can't count how many times I said aloud as I read it, "This book is full of despicable people! I don't like any of them." As far as I'm concerned, Heathcliff and his whole crew can sit in the corner of the mental cocktail party and pout.
Favorite Love Story: Hmmm. This is interesting, because I read several stories with a love story as part of the plot, including two romance novels (Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke and Starry Montana Sky by Debra Holland), but none of the love stories caught me up and swept me away. I liked Atonement by Ian McEwan, but that's pretty depressing as a love story. It will sound self-serving, I suppose, but my favorite love story this year was my own novel, His Promise True. Hey, they always say, "Write what you love to read," so I did.
Favorite Historical Fiction: This is going to be a hard category this year, because I read several really good historical novels this year, including An Enduring Union by Nancy Dane and In the Shadow of the Lamp by Susanne Dunlap. But my two favorites (yes, I can't decide between them) were Under a War-Torn Sky by L.M. Elliott and Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher. Both books were about a period of history I didn't know much about, and both had characters who faced pretty challenging circumstances. Just very satisfying.
Favorite Re-Read: The Great Gatsby, I suppose. Definitely not Wuthering Heights!
Once is Enough (Books I probably won't ever read again): I read a self-published biography by a friend of a friend, and while I'm glad I read it, I know I'll never read it again. I also know I won't read Graceling by Kristin Cashore again, because I was so annoyed by the narrow definition of "success" in terms of "girl power." Oh, and Wuthering Heights would fit in this category, too. (OK, now I'm just being a jerk, ha ha!) (But I'm serious....)
Books I Thought Would Be Amazing But Were Just So-So: In some ways, I ended the reading year on a down note, because the last two books I read fit into this category. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card was just too preachy and too much of a stretch of suspended disbelief for me. And I was similarly disappointed by Or Give Me Death by Ann Rinaldi. Rinaldi has written a whole slew of historical novels, and I was sort of counting on being able to work my way through them when I couldn't find new historical fiction. Unfortunately, I thought Or Give Me Death was just a mess. (Sorry that sounds so harsh!) And it was messy in important ways (in my opinion), not just that I didn't like the way the story went. I really doubt I will be looking up any more of Rinaldi's books, sadly.
Books I Thought Wouldn't Be Much But Were Actually Good: That's really not a good way to categorize the next book, but I left the title because people have such low expectations of self-published novels. One of my friends, Mary Schaffer, self-published three novels this year, and so far I've read only the first, Chance Encounter. People are often really disparaging about self-published books, and some I've read really are pretty bad. But others, like Schaffer's book, get unfairly lumped in with the ones that are just slapped together and thrown on Amazon as a more-or-less first draft. Schaffer's book had memorable characters and a good mystery plot that kept me guessing until the end. One of my goals for the next year is to read her other books, which continue on with the same characters and setting (I believe).
I would also place Soul Work: Confessions of a Part-Time Monk by Randy Harris in this category. A friend from church gave me a copy of this book, and I'll confess, I'm not much of a fan of "spiritual" non-fiction. I read it just because I knew the friend would ask if I had. What I found was that it was NOT stuffy, as I had expected it to be; I actually found some ideas that made me look at and think about prayer in a completely different way. This book will probably go on my "read this once a year" list.
I'm choosing not to include the categories of Greatest Reading Accomplishment and Biggest Reading Failure this year, because it was just a good, steady year of reading. I did go through a slump during the spring semester, but that's balanced by a voracious period of reading that began the year. One thing I did notice in looking back over the blog entries for this year: I didn't write much about what I read. I'd like to change that for the coming year. Which leads to....
Plans for Reading in the New Year: I have several books on bookshelves that I'd like to read to find out if I want to keep them or take them to the used bookstore to open space in the house. Some of these are non-fiction, which is always a slow read for me. I also have several novels on my Kindle that I should work through. First, though, I have to finish an "edit read" of a novel manuscript my daughter wrote. Yes, she's only 15 and she's written a novel - I'm proud of her (although I'm giving many, many notes of what she might want to fix, haha).
Plans for Writing in the New Year: As mentioned earlier, I want to be more faithful in blogging about books on this site. I also am within a couple of scenes of finishing the manuscript for my second novel, so I'll need to start an entirely new project. That is both exhilarating and frightening. The characters in the first two novels have been my focus for nine years; letting them go and becoming in love with new characters will probably be a challenge. But it's one I look forward to!