2011 year in review in books (part III)

Reads parts I and II.

August

August was a bit of a whirlwind for me. I went through two weeks of training at MSU and spent my time at the State trying to finish up a massive copyright project, as well as learning how to use the new item bank system (which, in my opinion, will help quantity of test questions rather than quality, but I digress). Missy moved out this month, and I helped with that. My mom was just getting worse with her back, so at the end of the month it was pretty much just me and my dad handling anything involving lifting or pulling. As a final aside-type note, I think it was right at the beginning of this month when I saw Harry Potter in the theaters for the last time, when my sister and I went back for our final repeat showing.

Mistborn: The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson
This was another reread for me, and while I remembered some very big general things about how the series ended, it was exciting to watch it all unfold again. I was shocked by how little time the two main characters (Vin and Elend, to me) spent together in this book, and this made me rather sad. Still, this books deviates from so many archetypes in the fantasy genre, and it was great to re-experience that.

The Sea of Monsters, by Rick Riordan
Considering that I’m someone who tends to enjoy retellings and reimaginings (and I love work that incorporates myth), I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy this series, but I was excited to start this second book in the Percy Jackson series. I especially liked how the book worked more with Annabeth’s character.

A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan
I really enjoyed this book, but I wouldn’t quite go so far as to say I loved it. I struggled with the large cast of characters at times, because I felt that the limited page space each got wasn’t enough to fully develop them in my mind. That said, this was still a very good book, and I would recommend it, especially if you’re interested in ways books break (or attempt to break) out of the traditional bonds holding them.

The Titans Curse, by Rick Riordan
I know I enjoyed this book, but right now I’m having a bit of a hard time distinguishing it from those that came before and after it in the series. I do remember, however, that this was a quick read for me.

September

It was either the end of August or the beginning of September when they offered me a second class at MSU and I gave my notice at the State, just under a year after starting. Classes started at MSU, and while I was exceedingly nervous, I found that I took to it rather well—and that I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. I did deal with some disrespect issues this month, however, stemming from students who thought I looked too young. The 15th was my birthday, though I didn’t do anything exciting. I taught until seven then came home to a nice dinner. I’ve decided that the number one thing I dislike about getting older is how people think your birthday is less and less important each year. I love my birthday. Maybe it was self-birthday-love that kept me from reading too much this month, though maybe it was the teaching.

Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede
I reread this series this year as part of my Day Zero goal of revisiting books from my childhood, and while these were more my sister’s childhood than mine, they still worked. What I like about this series is the strong female character (I did find, of course, some problematic gender issues on a reread, but on the whole it’s good) and, of course, the dragons. Good book for children, or adults who haven’t lost their inner children.

Searching for Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede
I have to say that the first book in this series is definitely my favorite, and after reading this second book, I decided that is due to POV. The first book is told from Cimorene’s POV while this second one is told from her eventual husband’s, and Cimorene loses so much when you lose her POV.

Calling on Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede
Some of the POV issues are bettered in this third book because—hey—what can be better than talking (and, of course, sassy) cats?

October

October was a good but busy month. I was settling into my job at MSU (and loving it more by the day), and toward the end of the month I found out I was renewed for the spring semester. Not much happened outside of work this month (but I did have a ton of grading).

Awake, by Dorianne Laux
This book marks the second book of poetry I’ve ever read (I’m trying to read more) and, like the Kwasny collection, I feel that my reviewing the book does it a disservice. I think one of the things I find most off-putting in poetry is the sexuality behind much of it. I have a hard time seeing the difference between art and smut (though that doesn’t feel like the right word). None of that is specific to this collection—I’m really not trying to say anything negative about Laux here, especially since I actually did enjoy some of these poems.

People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks
This was the first and only book selected for our family book club (long story; don’t ask). The premise intrigued me (the stories of the people who owned the book over a handful of centuries), and the execution was good, but I think that, while this type of book would have sucked me in a few years ago (considering a wrote a book with a similar structure), I just no longer like the stories that introduce characters and then drop them a chapter later, never to be heard from again. Also, the author seemed to feel the need to put some sort of sexual plot in each section, and the sex often seemed to function as a stand-in for character building, making the writing feel a bit lazy and the characters a bit one-dimensional.

Talking to Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede
The final book in this series (if you don’t count the collection of short stories the author also wrote but that I couldn’t get in to). Not too much to say except that it was a bit too predictable, even considering the genre and audience. Still, enjoyable if for no other reason than it wraps up these characters’ stories.

In My Father’s House, by Ann Rinaldi
A YA historical fiction novel, this was my favorite book as a child. I loved Rinaldi and most of her books, but this one just sucked me in. I was nervous about the reread, though, about how it would sit with me now that I’m such a different person. I was especially concerned about my growing social views and awareness. And on the one hand, there were things that jumped out at me that I glossed over before (for instance, to write about whites in the south in the pre-Civil War era, those whites had to treat their slaves very well or they aren’t seen as sympathetic and the white audience feels uncomfortable), but on the whole, I still enjoyed the book.

The Battle of the Labyrinth, by Rick Riordan
Another of the Percy Jackson books. By this point in the series, I mostly kept reading because I wanted to see the series through. I didn’t love these books, but they were enjoyable, with the right mix of formula and surprise.

The Last Olympian, by Rick Riordan
The final book in the series, this one actually worked a bit better for me than the ones that came before it, though I suppose that’s often the case with series. While I liked the ending, I also felt that the author left a lot open (for a new series), and that was a little frustrating, to finish the series and realize there’s still more coming. There were things I wanted to know, relationships I wanted to see develop, but I’m not sure I want to invest in a second series.

November

I began November with the idea that I’d try National Novel Writing Month. I started out strong, despite all the world I was balancing, but then a few books came out I wanted to read, and two video games came out I wanted to play, and I came down with some sort of sickness, so I let the story go. I tried fantasy this year, wanting something different and fun, and while what I produced was crap, I think there are some seeds there that I could come back to later, if I ever chose. Beyond NaNo, the month continued to be good. The holidays were laid back but with good food, and I had winter break to look forward to.

The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson
This book takes place in the Mistborn universe, but a few hundred years later. Technology has finally started advancing, giving the book a fantasy-Western feel. I don’t normally like Westerns, but this book worked for me. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the Mistborn trilogy, but I did still tear through it. It goes without saying when it’s Brandon Sanderson, but the book was surprising and I’m anxious to see what happens next to the characters.

Inheritance, by Christopher Paolini
I’m not really sure what to say about this. I’m horribly glad that Arya and Eragon didn’t end up together (though I wasn’t a fan of the little bit the book did allow between them), but I didn’t like this book. The pacing felt wrong. The final confrontation was so short, to the point where I was sure something else had to happen…but then it didn’t. Nasuada, though, really pissed me off. I think the reader is supposed to go with her on her decision to control mages, but it seems like such a horrible decision to me. I wonder, too, if Paolini is planning on writing more in this world, because there were some things that seemed open for that. The one part I did love, though, was the section from Saphira’s POV. Very cool.

Q Road, by Bonnie Jo Campbell
I picked this up at my local bookstore for three reasons. First, she has blurbed another book I loved, and so I recognized her name. Second, she’s a Michigan author who employs place heavily in her writing, something I never do. Third, the book was signed. I’m so glad I picked it up. The characters were engaging and sympathetic and complex and flawed. The setting often seemed like its own character. I also loved how the entire book took place over the course of one day (with some flashbacks), because I love the idea of telling stories condensed in time.

Road Song, by Natalie Kusz
This is a memoir written by one of my professors at EWU, and while I had every intention of reading this book (and all the other books my professors wrote) before going to grad school, I find I still haven’t gotten around to some of them. My mom, however, had read this one, and she loved it, so I picked it up. What I loved most about this book is the how Kusz asks for no pity or and little sympathy from her readers. That’s not to say that I never did feel sympathy for the characters, but her main purpose was clearly to tell her story in an honest way, and as a reader I really appreciated it. I couldn’t relate to the lives lived by her family members, but I could relate to their characters, even while she showed them as so different and original. These are things I struggle with in my nonfiction, so it’s nice to have this book as a model.

Four for a Quarter, by Michael Martone
I’m not going to say a lot about this book, since I reviewed it for the Collagist (forthcoming in May 2012). What I will say, though, is that this book is original and that it asks a lot from its readers. If you like to read the work of an author who plays with things (form, language, etc.) this is a book for you.

December

December was a bit of a strange month. It started with a whirwind’s pace but then, after I turned in the final grades, there was nothing for me to do. It was the first time in months that I hadn’t done anything for work, and it made me realize that I need to get better at managing my time. It’s not that I didn’t get things done during the fall, it’s just that I spread them out to the point where I was doing something for work every single day. So I took the second half of this month to relax. I submitted some stories for publication. I finished some books I’d been working on for a long time. I even took a day to play some soccer. The holidays were nice, too, full of good food and family. I also made (and helped consume) twelve dozen cookies. I didn’t really get out much this month, but what I really wanted (and needed) was just some quiet time to myself, and that’s exactly what I got to finish up my year.

Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld
The second book in this steampunk trilogy, I enjoyed this one more than the second—due, I think, to my new understanding of the genre. I like the direction this story is moving, and while I think I know how it’s going to end, I can’t yet see how we’re going to get there, so that’s exciting.

Room, by Emma Donoghue
Emma Donoghue came recommended to me by an old high school friend who now works at the local bookstore. It’s perhaps the best recommendation I’ve ever gotten in my life. This book was fantastic. I would pick it up at night, planning to read one chapter, but two hours later, I’d be one hundred pages in. It just sucked me in and held me fast. You must read this book.

New Spring, by Robert Jordan
The prequel (one of three intended but the only one ever written) to the Wheel of Time, this book was a reread for me. The final book in the Wheel of Time comes out later this year (most likely), and so I had ideas of rereading the whole series and decided to do a chronological read instead of a publishing order lead (I think New Spring came out after book 10 in the series). Not much to say about it except that it’s a fun, fast read, and that I love seeing so many of my favorite characters in a new and younger light.

And that’s it for now. I’ll do one final post detailing my favorite reads of the year, my stats, and my goals for 2012 (which I’m already behind at).

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