2011: Year in review in books (part II)

Read part I here.


April was not a good month, but I’ll start with the good things. I started my new position with the State, and I took a trip to Florida to visit my cousin, Erin. We spent a few days at Disney World, and we went to the beach and the zoo. But my last full day there, I got a phone call from my parents telling me that my dog, Jack, had died. My parents found him dead in his bed in the morning. Then, at the end of the month, my dad needed surgery for cancer that had been diagnosed earlier in the year. The bright light at the end of the tunnel, however, was that we brought home a new dog, Molly. My dad wasn’t ready for a new dog, but we asked him while he was…um…slightly out of it in the hospital. So that’s how we got Molly.

Suicide, by Edouard Levé
I read a review copy of this book, and you can find my review online here, so I’ll be succinct. Loved the book. Also, this was another book I read in translation this year (from the original French).

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, by Ally Carter
This is the second book in the Gallagher Girls series, and I brought it with me to Florida as my fun read. This book did suffer from a bit of the sophomore book syndrome (did I just coin a new phrase?), but it was still fun and exciting, and I liked getting to know Cammie and her friends even better.

My Happy Life, by Lydia Millet
I’d read one of Millet’s short story collections in 2010 and really enjoyed it, and so this was the second book I picked up by her. We’d run an interview with her in Willow Springs, and I was really intrigued by the premise behind this book: that of a character who is happy despite all the bad (horrible) things that have happened to her. It’s a quick read, but very captivating, even when you’re unsure whether you really should be enjoying it, because some really awful things happen to the narrator. I’m probably not making a good sell here, but this was yet another fantastic book I read this year.

The Gathering Storm, by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan
This is a reread, and I can’t remember now why I picked this particular book up (you know, out of the dozen or so others in the series; I’ve lost count). It’s got a few flaws from what I think was a bit of a rushed production schedule, but after complaints that the previous five or so books had been slow, this one really picked up the pace, and it was exciting to read it again, knowing what was going to happen.

Don’t Judge a Girl By Her Cover, by Ally Carter
The third book in the Gallagher Girls series, and still good. If I remember correctly, I liked this one a bit more than the second one, but not as much as the first.


May was when I made a big decision. It was to the point where I knew I didn’t want to stay at my job forever, and in May I decided that I would go to France in 2012, which meant I had a countdown to get me through the longer days. I started doing a lot of research, and I recommitted myself to learning the language. Other than that, not much happened this month.

Mistborn: The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson
This was another reread for me this year (in a year I didn’t do too many rereads). I recommended the series to my dad and my sister, and I felt left out watching them read it. It was amazing to me, too, how much of this I’d forgotten (though I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, because I really don’t retain too much on a first read of anything), so it was almost as exciting to reread as it was to go through it the first time.

Only the Good Spy Young, by Ally Carter
The fourth book in the Gallagher Girls series, this one started to feel a bit flatter to me. It was still good, still enjoyable, but I wasn’t quite sure with the direction it was going in. The fifth book comes out later this year, and I will probably try a reread before then, so I’m curious to see what I think then.

The Artist in the Office: How to Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week, by Summer Pierre
I saw this on a friend’s Goodreads list, and I’d been feeling confined in my cubicle job. All those months at the state made me realize that I am not someone who is cut out for a nine to five desk job. There were a lot of good ideas in this book—and it’s not just geared to the people who have the soul-draining cubicle jobs. I plan on continuing to use these ideas as an outlet for the artsy genes in my body. ‘Cause, you know, writing doesn’t do that…

Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell
I found this book in one of my boxes and decided to pick it up. I’ve read it before, probably more than once, but it’s probably been fifteen years since I last picked it up (it’s one of my Day Zero goals to reread 10 books from my childhood). I remember really liking this book as a kid but now, despite my love of YA, I found it just okay.

Mistborn: The Well of Ascension, by Brandon Sanderson
The second book in the Mistborn trilogy. This was also a reread, and I enjoyed it just as much the second time as the first time.


June saw me really diving into my French and looking for new jobs. We were remodeling at work, and toward the end of the month, I was moved to a hallway desk. Other than work, this was the month when my second book review was published, and not much else happened.

Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson
After loving Speak, I went back and bought another book by the same author. This one deals with eating disorders, something I’ve never had experience with but know a bit about. This book felt very real, and it was another book that I just tore through. I don’t want to say much more about it (don’t want to give anything away), but the obsessiveness captured in the book felt spot on, and it was nice to see it explored.

Drown, by Junot Diaz
This book came recommended to me by a girl I went to grad school with. I’d read another book by Diaz and thought, why not? All in all, though, I only liked this book, and, to be honest, I was even a bit disappointed. Perhaps that was because I expected so much from it (I adored The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), but these stories didn’t really stick with me much past putting the book down. I’d like to give it another try at some point, but not yet.

Towers of Midnight, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
The penultimate book in the Wheel of Time, this was a reread. I won’t say too much about it here because I think I wrote a fair bit about it last year, but it really sets the stage for A Memory of Light, set to be released last this year.

Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow, by Nathan Bransford
I bought this book because the author, Nathan Bransford, writes a blog that I just love, and having said that, this book didn’t disappoint. It’s a middle grade novel, which isn’t really my thing, but I found this to be a fun little book—entertaining, the right mix of predictability and surprise for this level, and with intriguing characters. I believe it’s the first in a series, and I’m looking forward to reading any that come out.


The best thing that happened in July was getting the interview (and then job) at Michigan State. When I accepted the job, I was also fairly late in the interview process at TechSmith as well, so even before I took the teaching job, I was pretty sure my time at the State was limited. The second best thing that happened this month was the release of Deathly Hallows Part II, which maybe seems pretty silly, but I’ve loved those books and those movies, and it was so strange to see one of them for the last first time. My whole family did a double header (parts one and two starting at nine), and my mom, sister, and I spent half the day waiting in line, enjoying the moment with other fans. The bad news this month was that my mom started to have back pain, though at this point we still thought it would go away. Finally, it was July when I started reading for Hayden’s Ferry Review.

The Nine Senses, by Melissa Kwasny
This book marks the first book of poetry I’ve ever read. I’ve never really understood poetry, but ever since my work on Willow Springs, I’ve been making an effort to learn. As such, I hesitate to give my thoughts on this book, because poetry still isn’t really my thing. The collection came highly recommended to me, but it’s so different than the poetry I read in high school English classes—poetry I wasn’t asked to enjoy but to dissect. I found the collection okay, but I don’t know if I would have finished it had reading poetry not been on my Day Zero list.

The Next Queen of Heaven, by Gregory Maguire
This book is one of the reasons I didn’t finish that many books in June. I really struggled to get through this one. I bought it because I loved Wicked, but I should have known just from reading the back that it wouldn’t be my thing. It’s got that quirkiness problem, and so much just felt overdone. This book really made me wonder, too, if I would still like Wicked on a reread. It’s never a good sign when a book gives you those thoughts.

Shadow’s Edge, by Brent Weeks
This is the second book in a trilogy that my sister enjoyed and recommended to me, though she did have a few things to warn me about. I liked the first book (it’s on last year’s list), but I agreed with my sister about some of the problems. Unfortunately, this book didn’t do much to advance the things I enjoyed and instead did more with all the elements I had problems with—unsympathetic female (and many male) characters, excessive sexual punishment for women, etc. I’ll probably read the third book just to finish the trilogy, but I’m not expecting much at this point.

The Financial Lives of the Poets, by Jess Walter
I’ve met Jess Walter and read his work, and I must say that he never disappoints. I especially love authors who (1) have the courage to write about current events in their fiction (it can date the work, after all) and (2) who can write about big issues and problems in such a way that the work doesn’t become didactic or propaganda. Jess Walter succeeded in both these areas, and I always love studying his work, because those are elements I’d like to introduce to my own writing. This book deals with the economic crisis, and I highly recommend it.

I think I’ll leave it there for now. I’ll start with August next post.

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