2007 Books 41 - 50

41. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan - Of course it's well written and of course we know every detail that touches the characters of this story - it's Ian McEwan! But strip away the style, and all you've got is a fleshed out cliche. I expected so much more from this author.

42. Coaching The Artsist Within by Eric Maisel - Eric Maisel has written quite a few books on becoming a more creative person, and as this one was the only one my local Borders had when I had a gift certificate burning a hole in my wallet, I thought I'd give it a try. There's a lot of good stuff here, all coming down to creating not being a something we arrive at effortlessly. I didn't do the exercises, but for they seem like the sort that would produce results. I liked his ideas well enough I'm going to give a few of his other books a try.

43.Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen- A story of a man's early years with a tent circus and his last days in a nursing home. The circus story could have stood on its own as a really good read, and then there wouldn't have been the too fast and too "happily ever after" ending. As historical fiction set during Prohibition and the Depression, this book is well researched.

44. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling - There's a lot to like in this book, and a lot that could have been made better if Rowling had an editor that actually edited. Reminding myself frequently that I'm not the audience this story, I slogged through the overwritten, dragged out, OOC or just plain WTF? moments, and when all was said I done, I think this is a decent ending to a more than decent story.

45. Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje - Beautifully written story about....well, there's the part about the two sisters and the farm hand, and then there's the part about the sixteenth century French author. Other than one of the sisters being the one that researches the author, I'm not quite sure what the connection is supposed to be. Yes, they all suffer losses because of love, but that's an awfully common shared experience to base a novel on. But it is beautifully written, and the characters will hold your interest while you read the book.

46. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (Audiobook read by Michael Maloney) - This is one book that is going to stay with me for quite awhile. It's not very long, but it packs an emotional wallop. At the center of the story is Bruno, a nine year old boy adjusting to his family relocating for his father's new job. Many critics and blurbs for this book think that to mention anything more specific spoils what is supposed to be a slow reveal of where Bruno is living, but honestly, if you don't guess the location and what his father's job is when the boy first mispronounces the name, you're just not paying attention. Michael Maloney's reading of the story put me off at first, sounding as if this were a child's story rather than a story from a child's point of view, but once the implications of what Bruno and his family are a part of, that voice is all that keeps you hoping for a happy ending.

47. Storm Front - Book One of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher - I caught most of the Sci-Fi series based on this series, and liked the combination of magic and private eye story. The books (or at least this first one) do an even better job of that, because there's more time to give back story and more time for complications to arise - in other words, more depth. There's also more of Chicago in the books, and that's enough to make me want to read the next in the series.

48. Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J Shields - Shields almost pulls off an exhaustive "just the facts" look at the life and work of the author who have the world To Kill A Mockingbird. Occasionally, a bit of supposition sneaks in, but with the book based almost entirely on old interviews with Lee, letters written to or from her, or first person accounts it's left to the reader to decide the question that everyone wants to know - why was there never a second book? Before we get to that, though, there's plenty here about her life before she became a writer, how important she was to Truman Capote and "In Cold Blood", how her family reacted to her chosen profession, and last but not least, what she went through as a private person thrown into the public arena. I'd recommend this biography to anyone who aspires to be a published writer.

49. Grave Peril: Book Three of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher - I had to skip Book Two ( 15 library copies, all checked out - proof that SciFi should renew the TV series!), but it didn't lessen how much I'm enjoying these Occult/Gumshoe Mystery genre cross-over books. In this book, we find out a lot more about the vampires of Dresden's Chicago (there's one introduced in the last third of the book that deserves his own series of books); how God and religion work side by side with the Dark and Light Arts; and we meet what has to be Harry's worst relative - his Sidhe godmother. The plot is a little slow, covering the same ground over and over until Harry understands just what it is that wants him out of this world, but the characters are what makes this a "couldn't put it down" read.

50. First Love, Last Rights by Ian McEwan - A very early collection of short stories by Ian McEwan, and WOW! do they show what a gift this man has for writing about the darker side of humans. Incest, child abuse, murder - McEwan finds a way to relate all the taboos to deaths of people, animals, or dreams - nothing was too creepy for McEwan to explore. If you like his better known best sellers, I'd strongly recommend this collection to see where his roots lie.

2007 Books 31 - 40

31 .Pompeii by Robert Harris - A fast, light read that devotes the bulk of the pages to the day before Vesuvius erupted, but the bulk of the action is in the few pages that tell what happens after the volcano goes off. The historical information is interesting enough, but I never really cared about any of these people because they never were made flesh - they exist to tell the story, not be the story. Even real person Pliny the Elder suffers, as he only seems to be in the story to give it a touch more realism, not to have an affect on the people he comes in contact with. I also had a problem with the dialog. Sometimes it is anachronistic, sometimes there's too much of it, and way too often, it's dull.

32. Bittersweet by Nevada Barr - Bittersweet indeed! Beautifully told tale of the love between two women in the late 19th century and how they made a life for themselves, sometimes on their own terms, sometimes by bending the truth. The ending is sad (of course), but honest for historical accuracy. Nobody writes about the wilderness of America like Nevada Barr, giving the reader a sense of place that is a character unto itself.

33. Winkie by Clifford Chase - A "we lost our innocence on 9/11" allegory about a teddy bear that becomes real. And then "he" has a cub. And then he gets arrested for terrorism. And then he's charged with just about every crime you could charge someone with who dares to be different. And then the government makes a mockery of the judicial system and the press becomes a pawn of the government. And there's more, but it really must be read to be enjoyed. This is a very original and well written story about fear mongering, personal freedoms, but most of all, staying true to yourself.

34. Christine Falls by Benjamin Black - Benjamin Black is the pen name of Booker award winner John Banville . Writers say they use pen names when their other name is well known so that books in different genres can stand alone - there's no bleed over of expectations. In the case of Christine Falls, those expectations are there anyway, because the publisher marketed the book on the idea that it was writing it. Good call by the publisher, because if an unknown had written this book, it would have been a so-so first novel that got a little attention for the subject matter (young single mothers being taken advantage of by a creepy group that wants to make sure there will always be Irish Catholics) and would have been criticized for being a character driven story with dull, two dimensional characters. Better luck next time, if there is a next time.

35. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollen- If you live in the United States and are responsible for feeding yourself or someone else, this is a must read book. (Outside the US, you'll probably still learn a lot, but the book is about the industrialization of the American diet.) Pollen follows various food chains from the beginning (really the beginning- how they evolved into something humans could turn into food) to the end, when we consume them. Along the way, he explores the different paths those foods can take, and how those paths might be changing our health and our culture. What could have been a book that shocks and alarms is instead a book that informs without being the least bit preachy or dull. As a species, humans can eat almost anything we want, but the book begs the question, should we eat anything we want?

36. Gertrude of Stony Island Avenue by James Purdy - An empty nest story told in the usual style of Purdy - lots of dialog that reveals very little, lots of internal dialog that tell the real story, and characters who seem determined to be unhappy. This one's a little different, in that Carrie, the mother who finds herself without a child shows more gumption than the usual female in Purdy's books. She's lived to other people's needs her whole life, and now with her estranged grown daughter gone and her husband dying, she begins to look for a life of her own. I'd recommend this only for people who are fans of Purdy, otherwise, there's just not much here.

37. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini - Okay, so I'm extremely late to the party on this one. It's been a best seller off and on for a couple years, it was on every "best of the year" list imaginable, but I had to be perverse and deliberately not read it. My loss. This really is a very good book, both as a tool to understand a part of the world that has been very misunderstood, and also because, for the most part, it's a darn good story. I thought the ending seemed forced into the "it'll all work out eventually" mode, but up until that point, I was truly engaged by this book.

38. Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier - If this had been Chevalier's first novel, it would have been pretty good. But coming after the almost perfect Girl With Pearl Earing, this story seems flat and forced. It's as if the author decided she wanted to do this time period, found a historical figure (William Blake) to write around, and failed to come up with an actual story that involved that character. The sense of time and place is good, but the story about the country family trying to make it in London goes no where. It's a narrative without a purpose.

39. Grave Writer by Mark Arsenault - A simple story that tries to blend the genres of thriller, mystery, and courtroom drama and doesn't quite make it on any level. The mystery is incredibly predictable, but the characters show some originality: A former prize winner crime writer, now obituary writer, draws jury duty and is assigned to a case that helps him work through his obsession with revenging his wife's death. Along the way, he almost realizes he's got a great kid and a handicapped father who's ready to make up for lost time.

40. Atonement by Ian McEwan - Part character study, part historical fiction, all good book, this is the story of two sisters and an old family friend who's lives are changed drastically when the youngest sister acts with her imagination rather than common sense. Especially good for writers and want to be writers, because at the center of this all is a fabulist that went too far with her story.

2007 Books 21 - 30

21. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole - Funny, off the wall characters ( caricatures in some cases) cross paths in 1980's New Orleans. The story is a series of situations that come together (rather predictably, I think) around Ignatius Reilly, a truly original American invention. If you can ignore the repetition of actions and dialog, and written dialect, it's an enjoyable read.

22. Glove Puppet by Neal Drinnan - A seven year old boy is kidnapped at the scene of his prostitute junkie mother's death in London. That's good news, because the man who takes him doesn't mean to harm the boy, he does it because he believes he can give the boy a better life. And he does, to a point. To give the boy a fresh start, though, he must pretend to be the man's recently deceased son, and considering that the boy considered himself "counsel estate white trash" and now he is the son of a very wealthy man who loves him so much he can't see the harm in what he's doing, it's not hard to understand why the boy goes along with the deception. Things go bad (very bad, seriously....very bad...and very sad) when the boy reaches adolescence and the experience of living with a junkie prostitute for the first seven years of his life starts to manifest itself in the young man's inability to understand the difference between love and sex.

23. Alternatives To Sex by Stephen McCauley - William Collins, single, 43, Boston real esate agent, and addicted to tricking via the internet decides that that last thing might be a bad thing. His attempt to go cold-turkey is a massive failure, but one of the alternatives he tries to distract himself with leads him to discover that, like Dorothy, his heart's desire was always within reach. That aspect of the story is sweet and fun. However, the novel uses the events of 9/11 and how everyone said it made them realize how fragile life was and then went right back to being what they always were, and to a point that's a nice jumping off point for what's basically a RomCom. But when it belabors the point, trying to be a deeper story than it needs to be, the story becomes tedious.

24. A Feast For Crows by George R.R. Martin - The fourth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and the worst battles are over and now it's time to start putting the kingdom back together. However, not every would-be-king has been vanquished and family lines are in some dire need of untangling, and therein lies the bulk of what happens in this volume. The sense of place and time is better in this book than any of the others - Martin must be one hell of a researcher. There's an author's note at the end of the book that I think would have been better served at the beginning, to let the reader know what they were (and weren't) getting into. I'm still enjoying this series, looking forward to the next book, and the only change I'd like to see is that Martin would will become more evenhanded with his representations of his character's private lives.

25. The Deaf-Mute Boy by Joseph Geraci - A college professor attends a seminar in Tunisia and while he's dismissive of how the country is changing to take advantage of tourism, he finds once he meets a young deaf-mute boy, he doesn't want to leave. The characters in this book are terribly under-developed, and this has to be one of the best example of how not to write journal entries for your fictional characters. The descriptions of the location are the one truly good part of this book.

26. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates - This riveting book is about dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction with one's self, dissatisfaction with the American Dream, dissatisfaction with dissatisfaction, if that is possible. Set in the late 1950s, this is the story of April and Frank, a couple who fell in love because they wanted to, married because they had to, and now, ten years and two children later are wondering what happened to their dreams. April decides that it's not too late for either of them and makes plans to take them in a new direction at about the same time Frank is figuring out he's willing to try a new dream, but not necessarily the one April has in mind. Despite the cross purposes, a happy ending seems almost in reach, and then history repeats itself. This book isn't called an "American Tragedy" for nothing.

27. The Whistling Song by Stephen Beachy - Matt is orphaned as a young boy when his parents are brutally murdered while he's out running his paper route. That might be the single clear plot point in this novel. The rest of the book is Matt's journey to find the woman who baby-sat him before his parents were killed, the woman he believes will make everything all right. Told in a not quite linear form, we go through Matt's two terms in the same orphanage; his time living on the streets with Jimmy, a boy he will do anything for to keep in his life; and all kinds of interesting folks that pick him up as he hitchhikes alone across the United States. At times very surreal, at other times very earthy, it's a different kind of "journey is the destination" story. It's almost always funny, though, because despite what he's exposed to, Matt tries to remain optimistic.

28. Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill - A semi-retired death metal rocker buys a suit that is supposed to be haunted to add to his collection of creepy objects. He discovers that sometimes, there is truth in advertising. In an attempt to give the book a feeling of reality, there are a LOT of pop references - so many they seemed forced. But once the characters are forced out of their safety zone, the book is original and spooky.

29. Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman - Possibly the best book I've read this year. It's the story of a young man falling in love for the first time, with all the pain and passion and joy that can only happen that first time, when everything seems possible.

30. Affinity by Sarah Waters - Set in 1870s London, Margaret Prior faces the death of her father, the loss of the woman she loved to her brother, and the crushing restrictions of being a single female in Victorian times. Looking for something to distract her from her own darkness, she volunteers as a "Lady Visitor" at Millbank Gael and meets a medium imprisoned for harming one of her clients during a seance. The two form a bond in what seems to be a gothic romance. But Sarah Waters is too good of a writer to be confined to one genre per book, and this turns into a fantastically well researched historical mystery.

2007 Books 16 - 20

16. The Tenth Man by Graham Greene - A POW draws the lot that marks him for execution and another man agrees to take his place in trade for his family inheriting all of the first man's property. Interesting plot, treated with Greene's gift for sparseness and despair.

17. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin - Book three of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and the world of Westros remains caught up in something that is a mix of soap opera and epic. A very well written mix, though, where plot complications stop just short of convolusions, and characters that seem to be archetypes turn into completely believable originals. On the down side, I'm still learning to not get too attached to any character. *sigh*

18. Traitor's Moon by Lynn Flewelling - Well, now I'm going to complain maybe the author should have kept her heroes apart. It's just so sad to discover that it was only UST that kept a story interesting. Flewelling does write pretty good wizards and magic, though.

19. Between the Bridge and the River by Craig Ferguson - If Craig Ferguson had no time limit on his monologues, andif there were no such things as CBS Standards and Practices or the FCC, this is what we'd get every night after David Letterman. Funny, irreverent, sometimes crude, sometimes very smart - if you're a Ferguson fan, you'll love this book.

20. Astonishing Flashes Of Colour by Clare Morrall - A book that tells a sad tale but does it with such a delicate touch you don't feel the pain until it's too late to stop reading. Lost parents, lost children, and lost minds all tie together in the end, but no one is better off than when they started.