Friday, January 01, 2010

Liz B's Favorite Books Read in 2009

So, here it is... my list of my favorite books read in 2009.

It's been on my sidebar; and now I'm highlighting it. And while some people have been whittling down their best/favorite lists to get ten, I instead went through my list of books and added titles. Titles I thought had been on my list; titles who stayed with me, so I didn't realize they were a "favorite" until later. So here it is...all 35 titles.

As you can see from my sidebar, I skipped over 2008 because that was Printz. In 2007, 2006 and 2005, I called the lists "best." This year, I decided to change it to reflect more what it is -- a subjective list of books I like. That way, I also don't have to define why I'm calling it a "best". You can also see that in 2007, I started adding to the list based on what I read that year rather than what I read that year that was also published that year. Oh, another thing -- I didn't always review what I read in the past, even with favorites. So the older lists will have favorite/best books without reviews.

Here's the list of books; the link to my original review; and a quote from that review.

Enough of the explanation. On to the books!

Ash by Malinda Lo. 2009 "This retelling unfolds slowly, deliciously. It's an internal story; a story about Ash grieving the loss of her parents, shutting down from it, and eventually choosing life and love. This is a tale about recovering from grief and unbearable loss."

Bad Kitty Gets a Bath by Nick Bruel. 2008 "I laughed out loud for most of this book; it's a Favorite Book for this year. How much did I love it? I bought my own copy. That's love, what with the spending the money and needing to find room on the shelves. The second bit probably won't be a real problem; I'm sure the niece and nephew will pounce on it and claim it as theirs and take it home." (Note: not only did they take my copy of the book, they also went and got two "bad kitty"s of their own).

Betsy and the Great World by Maud Hart Lovelace. 1952 "Betsy is like the present day backpacker through Europe, except with a heck of a lot more luggage. Instead of hostels, she stays at a pensions and boarding homes. While her parents have arranged for some chaperoning, just as often Betsy is on her own to explore Munich, Germany, Venice, London. And as for her parents -- Betsy has dropped out of college. While her father isn't necessarily pleased with her college career to date, he does not give her grief. He talks to her about it matter of factly -- and offers to take the money that would have been spent on college tuition and expenses and use that to support her visit to Europe, agreeing that the life experiences she will get will be as valuable an education as college."

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper. 2009 "Just when the reader is seduced into believing what Sophie believes -- that their island is isolated and the family alone -- that isolation is shattered by unexpected visitors. The visitors are there not only for plot (Nazis, need I say more that it cannot end well?); but also for metaphor. No matter how much anyone, Montmarayan or not, believes themselves alone, they are part of the greater world and cannot run and hide."

Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford. 2009 "You know Carter. He's like many freshmen boys -- insecure and overconfident, searching, a kid trying to grow up. And so does he do and say stupid things? Like telling one girl he loves her and then moments later asking someone else to a dance? Yes, yes he does. Does he talk as if he truly believed life is like a porno? Well... sometimes. But isn't that what a book is supposed to be about -- growing up? Realizing the truths about people and yourself? What fun would there be if Carter was perfect?"

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. 2009 "Read The Hunger Games, knowing you only have to wait a few short months to read the sequel, Catching Fire. It's a wonderful experience for a reader: great plotting, memorable plotting, a unique world. And in all honesty, once you've read the first, you don't need to read a review or recommendation to read the second. On to the sequel. It delivers! Brings the reader up to speed on what is happening? Check. Ups the action and investment? Check. The main character grows, including becoming more aware of her world? Check."

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose. 2009 "Now, let me put on my law hat and adult hat. I love the strategy that goes on behind the scenes; how the decision makers in Alabama knew that a bus boycott was going to take place, had it all organized, and were just waiting for the right moment to start. At the same time, it's not all orchestrated; Colvin's impulsive actions, unconnected to and not influenced by any of the Montgomery activists, inspired them to go for more and to reach further -- demanding the end to segregation rather than just better segregation. While the bus boycott was an amazing accomplishment, it did not bring an end to segregation on buses. A lawsuit did that."

Columbine by Dave Cullen. 2009 "This book does not glorify Harris and Klebold. Cullen shares minute by minute, second by second, their actions at the beginning of the book, with the first two students killed and the mayhem starting. But he does not continue the intimate timeline of what went on in the school until the end of the book -- when we have a better realization of what Harris and Klebold intended (blowing up the school to kill all inside, regardless of jock, friend, preppy, Goth) versus what happened (the bombs did not work). Then, the end -- and while some moments in the library are shared, including what happened to some individuals as well as refuting the Cassie Bernall myth, Cullen thankfully does not share a second-by-second account of the slaughter in the library."

crazy beautiful by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. 2009 "He's crazy, she's beautiful, can they wind up together? LOVED THIS. Love, love, love. Alternate chapters tell this story, first from Lucius's view, then Aurora; there are some clever overlaps, such as both are given pancakes and orange juice their first day of school, yet both have vastly different reactions to their breakfast. We see Lucius starting school, not expecting friends; Aurora starting school, nervous but expecting to like people and be liked. We also, from the start, see and feel the spark between these two. And let me tell you - H. O. T. There is attraction; and there is tension; but of course these two crazy beautiful kids cannot get together at first glance."

The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan. 2009 "Hear the sound of shredding? That's me, shredding my few chapters of a book about a family with secrets hunting demons. Brennan does such a beautiful, wonderful job with this plot that I feel it's rather hopeless to go back to my draft."

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter. 2009 "Carter does it again. What is "it"? Writing that has a playful tone mixed with humour and seriousness. Fast-paced plotting. Adventure and suspense that keeps the reader turning the page. It's a "good read;" and it's the type of writing that looks easy....but then you either try it yourself, or you read all the imitators who cannot carry it off, and realize just how talented Carter is."

The Everafter by Amy Huntley. 2009. "Each object, bracelet, keys, sweatshirt, is something that, when alive, Maddy lost. Touching the object brings Maddy back to that time, that moment, and she can relive that memory again and again and again. If, in that captured moment, alive-Maddy finds the object, the door is shut and that memory cannot be revisited. So a ghost story. A dead girl revisiting her life story. With physics."

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. 2009. "A look at six months in the life of one girl, when she begins to leave childhood behind and become her own person. Told with a lot of humor and love, with details for the grown up reader to love, such as the warm, loving, physical relationship between Callie's oh so formal and proper parents."

Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan. 2009 "It's easy to see why this made the Morris Award shortlist. Yes, of course it's because of the plot, and the deft handling of serious issues and everyday issues, and supporting characters who are well rounded; but it's also (in my opinion, I have no connection to the Committee!) the character and portrayal of Blake. Blake is so real, from his humor, his point of view, his attraction to Shannon, that at times I thought Blake was real and the author had just invited him to his house, given him some cheese and caramel popcorn, and transcribed Blake's words."

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith. 2009 "Flygirl examines universal questions of identity, family, and growing up, with flying being both what Ida Mae wants to do, as well as working as a metaphor for a young woman trying to escape the limitations her country places on her because of her race and her sex. It’s full of high quality writing, with phrases like “Melanie looks at me and her face crumples like a newspaper, only all the headlines are sad.”

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. 2009. "The Forest of Hands and Teeth, like any good horror movie (or Buffy), uses the threat (here, zombies) as a metaphor. Mary wrestles with questions about life and love, about asking questions or staying happy with the status quo of her life. The walking dead represent both Mary's fears and her limited choices."

Going Bovine by Libba Bray. 2009 "There's some things I think I don't like in books. Then, what happens, is a book comes along that has the things I don't like and I realize it's not that I don't like something -- I don't like it when it isn't done well. Why, I wondered, do I want to go on a road trip with Cameron? And a dwarf? And yard gnome? This is just getting ridiculous. I don't do ridiculous. But then, I remember, I do. I love The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Thursday Next delights me. Like Douglas Adams and Jasper Fforde, Bray throws out casual one-liners that are just fantastic; the book is so full of wry observances and over-the-top humor that I'm sure I missed half of what was there. This book demands a reread."

Liar by Justine Larbelestier. 2009 "Micah lets us know, up front: Lies. Liar. And at the end of the book, the question for the reader becomes -- when do you believe Micah? When do you not? And what does that say about you? Larbalestier's writing is brilliant; Micah's voice seduces us, tricks us, makes us want to believe in her, yet we are also afraid, unsure, uncertain. We know her; her school; her family. Or do we? Just how good a job does Larbalestier do? While I know Micah is manipulating me, the reader -- I never feel like Larbalestier, the author, is."

Lips Touch by Laini Taylor. 2009. "The cover gives a taste. While these are tales about being kissed, or wanting kisses, or the price of kissing, it is not a "romance", per se, though I would give it to people looking for stories about love. Since it's not a traditional romance, then, it doesn't have a traditional romance cover. Rather, the girl you see is one who looks haunted and who will haunt you. Two colors: red and blue. Blue eyes that are striking -- almost disturbing. Otherwordly. And of course the lips are red -- but not smiling. Full, kissable lips -- but not smiling, not inviting, not happy. This is the face of a girl turning into a woman, haunted, haunting, striking, inviting you in yet keeping you at arm's length."

Malice by Chris Wooding. 2009. "An unhappy teen, looking for escape or adventure, conducts the ritual and finds himself in a world where all the rules have changed. Up is down; down is up; time stops and speeds up; nothing is safe; there is no rest. The geography of Malice is strange, jumbled, shifting. And the possibility of death is not just real -- it's more likely than survival. And more likely than escape."

My Life In France by Julia Child. 2006 "Child describes her life in France as a newlywed. Child and her husband, Paul (who met and wooed during World War II) travel to France for Paul's job shortly after their marriage. The Childs' married when Julia was in her mid 30s, Paul ten years older. Oh, to be in post-World War II France. Reading this is not just traveling through someone else's experiences; it is doing so to a time long past. Paris, sixty years ago. I adored all the details of living in France, traveling, and, of course, eating. In France, Child falls in love first with French food and then with French cooking. Half of the book follows her as she discovers and builds this passion. The second half is about where she takes this -- plans to teach soon grow to writing a cookbook and then cooking on TV. As I mentioned in my review of Julie & Julia, I adore a book about someone who does this in their 30s and 40s and 50s."

Neil Armstrong is My Uncle & Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me by Nan Marino. 2009. "Girls are supposed to be nice and pretty; even their anger, today, is frowned upon. Tamara is glorious in her anger, misdirected though it may be at Muscle Man, a child who is equally hurting but instead of pushing the world away and hating it, looks to be loved and thinks he can achieve that love by telling a lie or two or three. Part of the sweetness of this book is how the neighborhood realizes what Muscle Man is doing and accepts it. It is only Tamara, hurting herself and angry at the world, who cannot see beyond herself and see Muscle Man for who he is."

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. 2009. "Is this about a birthmark? About learning how to geocache? About a wounded mother healing and growing? A young artist? A romance? A trip to China? Coffee? It's all of these; but ultimately, it's classic young adult: coming of age, as Terra matures into a strong, beautiful young woman."

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr. 2009 "Zarr delivers both an intensely personal, internal story of faith and belief; and a suspenseful mystery involving a missing teen. Sam has good reason to question her faith. Her family is falling apart; faith, belief, love have not helped her mother. They don't help her father be a better father. They don't help Jody Shaw's family. Once Was Lost is about more than questioning, though; it's an exploration, with Sam remembering her earlier child-like faith and now looking at others, wondering, how to believe again. What does she want? Is it the faith of her childhood? Zarr handles Sam's spiritual dilemma with respect -- respect for Sam, of course; but also respect for religion, and faith."

Only a Witch Can Fly by Alison McGhee. 2009. "On the surface, this is a story of try, try again, similar to stories of learning how to ride a bike or swim. But, this is flight. Something so much more than just riding or swimming; flying is about growing up and leaving childhood behind, it's about not accepting limitations, and it's about freedom."

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles. 2009 "Perfect chemistry? Try perfect romance instead!"

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis. 2009 "What's not to love about three kids who are outsiders who are brought together by their love of science, invention, and fun?"

Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick. 2009 "I feel like I should put a disclosure in this review -- Lizzie Skurnick is my best friend. The problem with such a disclosure is, of course, that Skurnick and I have never met. (I hope Skurnick isn't now on the phone to her lawyers, reporting me as a potential delusional stalker). But having read Skurnick's essays on teen books, Shelf Discovery, I am convinced that somehow we are friends. How else to explain how she wrote about my favorite books? She has snuck into my house and looked at my bookshelves; she has remembered the titles I have forgotten; she has eavesdropped on my fifth, seventh, ninth grade self as I sat and talked books with my friends."

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. 2009 "It's a story as old as time. Girl meets Wolf. Wolf meets Girl. Wolf turns into Boy. Girl and Boy fall in love. But Boy has to turn back into Wolf, eventually. Shiver is a beautifully written, lyrical love story."

The Sweet Life of Stella Madison by Lara M. Zeises. 2009 "Now, on to Stella, Max (the boyfriend) and Jeremy (the intern). This is a great triangle for a couple of reasons. First, don't you hate triangles where one guy is so obviously wrong that the girl looks stupid? That doesn't happen here. Second, don't you hate how complex emotions are looked at in a simplistic way? Again, not happening here. Stella may call herself "boy obsessed" but quite simply she is attracted to two very different guys at the same time. There is no simple "Team Max" or "Team Jeremy" (That said, I'll let you know in the comments what Team I'm on). In the real world, attractions can be complicated and messy. And also fun and flirty."

The Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart. 2009. "On the surface, this book is about boys. The boys Ruby likes, the boys she likes, Ruby figuring out when flirting is just fun and when flirting is something more. And you know what? That can be enough. Many teenagers share those same concerns and worries. Why not have a smart, funny book about navigating love and lust and friendship? It's a bonus that the treasure map of boys is about more than romance; it's about figuring out what one really wants and also owning one's own actions. And it's also about heavy metal music and cupcakes."

We Were Here by Matt De La Pena. 2009 "When I call this a "road trip" book, I mean it in the best possible way. A classic road trip story is at its heart a buddy story; group of guys hit the road, have a few laughs, share some tears (or some other manly type of emotion), meet a girl or two, bond, learn more about each other and themselves. It's a journey that is physical; but also an internal journey. We Were Here delivers all that; but by throwing away most of the usual "road trip" trappings. Instead of three friends, it's three people who barely know each other; instead of a "last trip before graduation/spring break" reason, they are on to Mexico; instead of a parent's car and credit card, it's buses, walking, and stolen cash. There are still laughs; pretty girls; a party. But there is also racism, danger, and the knowledge that these are three kids who ran away from a group home. Readers are going to want to know what happens next to Miguel, how he's going to survive one more day."

When Mike Kissed Emma by Christine Marciniak. 2009. "The readers as well as the characters learn a thing or two. I wouldn't be surprised if the readers come to a conclusion or two before Emma, Mike, & company. But that's good; you don't want to spoon feed it all to the reader. A book shouldn't tell them something is wrong, or right; the reader should be able to figure it out themselves."

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. 2009 "On the surface, this is typical school story centered on the dynamics of friendship: old friends lost, new friends made. But it's more about Miranda being able to see things outside her original narrow viewpoint. The cause/effect she saw behind what caused Sal to stop being her friend? Wrong. The "rich girl" in class being mean to her? Wrong. When You Reach Me is about that journey to seeing the bigger picture behind what an individual sees and believes; a journey that some adults never seem to have made."

The Witch's Guide to Cooking With Children by Keith McGowan. 2009 "Hansel and Gretel is one of the more disturbing of the Grimm's Fairy Tales. What's worse, the witch eating children or the ultimate betrayal, that it's your parents who abandon you? McGowan takes these two horrors, embraces them, and balances scary with funny. In his tale, it's not just a parent abandoning a child in a time of famine; oh no, it's much worse. It's parents who willingly turn their children over to the witch for every reason from bad grades to being kind to homeless people. Derek Wisse, turned over for disappointing his parents, doesn't disappoint Fay; not when "baked with secret ingredients and served with my very yummy homemade key lime pie." Mmmm, key lime pie. I love how the author uses humor, but also ups the horror by giving the nameless murdered children names, personalities, histories. Recipes."

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Michelle said...

Every time I see a wonderful list like this I'm struck by how many books in my TBR I want to begin immediately. If only I could paid to read full time!

It's been wonderful to spend time reading your blog in 2009 and I'm looking forward to more in 2010. Much success in the coming year!

Dog Ear said...

Can't say I liked Going Bovine or Shiver enough to put them on my best of '09 list, but I think you nailed all the others! Maybe I'll have to give those two a second read. Happy new year, Liz!

Donna Gambale said...

I haven't read nearly enough of these, but I've read enough reviews to know that this is a great list. I'm midway through Going Bovine, and I still have plenty more books to finish!

Liz B said...

Michelle, I know the feeling about the TBR pile! Once ALA Media Awards & lists are announced, I'll be seriously weeding my TBR pile to make room for 2010 titles & pre2009 reads.

Dog Ear, I can see why GOING BOVINE wouldn't appeal to everyone. Reading it and then rereading the first few chapters was very Keyser Soze-ish and (even though I also enjoyed the humor) that level of plotting really impressed me. I understand that if I'd read DON QUIXOTE, I'd be impressed with that aspect as well.

Donna, thanks!

Happy New Year, all!

Maroussia said...
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