spock: logic is sexy

End of the Year Book Post

My Very Favorite Books
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - I've started this description over six times now because I do not even know how to begin rendering my love for this tale of a female pilot and her best friend, a fearless lady spy, in WWII England. I'm sure you've seen it praised on your flists already, so I'm not going to repeat what you've already heard. I'm just going to tell you to read it if you haven't already.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed - Reeling from the death of her mother and flirting with a heroin addiction, Cheryl Strayed decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone. Although I've never taken on such an amibitious feat, the theme of reinventing oneself through travel resonated with me deeply. This could be a cheesy, Oprah-style book, but it's actually quite beautiful and complex.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - A collection of short stories by an acclaimed Nigerian author, this book asks us to examine who has it better: Nigerians making a life for themselves in America, or those who stayed behind in their native countries. Though the immigrant experience is central to this book, its broader themes will resonate with readers of every cultural background. We see characters poised in moments of decision, and their choices force us to consider what compromises we make in our own lives, and whether those sacrifices are worth it.

Life After Death by Damien Echols - A harrowing memoir of death row in the United States, written by a man wrongly convicted of killing three children. The abuses perpetrated by the justice system are terrifying, but what really struck me is how much Damien Echols reminded me of people I know. I have taught outcasts like this boy, teenagers who wear all black and pretend to worship the devil just to shock people in a small town. You probably went to school with someone just like him too. Don't let the ordinariness put you off though; this is no middle-of-the-road memoir polished to decency by some ghostwriter. These are Echols' real words, and they are eloquent and moving.

Signs and Wonders by Alix Olin - This short story collection is exceptionally well-written, but it's not an easy read. The characters are heartbreakingly ordinary, and though the collection advertises itself as "an examination of how connections are lost and made," the emphasis is definitely on the 'lost' part of the equation. In many of these stories, the light at the end of the tunnel is pretty dim. Even so, there's something oddly indelible about each of these stories. I've thought of them often since I read them, which I think is the mark of an excellent book.

Honorable Mentions
These books were all entertaining, and they gave me something to think about
A Golden Age by Tamima Anam - Set during Bangladesh's war for independence, this novel focuses on a single mom who will do anything to keep her family together. This book didn't blow me away, but I often woke up and wondered what was happening to the characters. It was also a good introduction to a country and culture I know very little about.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green - You've probably seen this recommended on your flist. Two precociously self-aware teenage cancer survivors slowly fall in love and talk about the meaning of life. If you are a fan of Buffy or other well-written teen dramas, you will probably like this book a lot.

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healy - A nice, feminist take on the typical ordinary-person-discovers-they-have-powers trope. New Zealand is vividly rendered, the magical storyline is original, and the author obviously cared a lot about portraying Maori culture correctly.

The People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shoani Boianju - I loved this book, but you might not. The story of four friends drafted by Israel's Army, this book meanders among different points of view with very little plot to hold it together. Some events seriously strain credibility. Yet, I was enthralled and genuinely sorry for it to end, and I thought it was a fascinating glimpse at a country I haven't explored outside of news headlines.


Easy, Entertaining Reads
Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien - A dystopian story in which a young midwife in training discovers some ugly secrets about her society's practice of confiscating babies. This was a fun read, but the story was pretty predictable in spite of the original premise.

Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado - Sandra Bullock's sister decides to ditch her life as a Hollywood executive and open a bakery in Vermont. This would be a good book for reading by the pool.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor - I've written about this book before. It's a sort of Nigerian Harry Potter with a female protagonist. I loved the protagonist and the world she inhabited, and the book was a fast read. It didn't make my honorable mentions list because of the rushed ending, but I still recommend reading the book.

Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet - A cool memoir by a high functioning autistic man who is also a mathematical and linguistic savant. The way he sees the world is pretty interesting, and the book goes by fast.

People Who Eat Darkness by David Lloyd Parry - A thorough and interesting examination of the murder of a foreign hostess by a depraved Japanese businessman.

Books That Were Just Okay
Telex From Cuba by Rachel Kushner - I wanted to like this unflinching examination of colonialism in Cuba more than I did. I appreciated that the author depicts the horrifying ignorance of that time period without succumbing to the temptation to pat characters on the back just for realizing that racism is bad. Unfortunately, telling the story from the viewpoint of ten different characters was not a good narrative decision.

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller - I quickly fell in love with this retelling of Achilles' legend through the eyes of Patroclus. Unfortunately, I just don't enjoy reading stories about terrible people (or terrible gods), and that's exactly what Achilles was by the end. Finishing the last hundred pages of this book took two months because I just couldn't stand Achilles any more.

Books I Did Not Like
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obrecht - This critical darling weaves together modern-day Serbia and Croatia with older Eastern European folklore. I can't honestly tell you what's wrong with it, but somehow I could never read more than two or three pages at a time, and it took me four months to finish it.

52 Loaves by William Alexander - I'm no stranger to over-the-top cooking projects, but William Alexander's quest to bake the perfect loaf of bread was just annoying. Bread isn't that hard to make, and it's also not nearly as symbolic as the author thinks it is.
Fear and Trembling by Amelie Nothomb - A bright young college graduate goes to work for a Japanese company, and it turns out badly. Satirizing your culture is fun; satirizing someone else's comes off as hateful. I've worked at a large Japanese corporation, and I can see the grain of truth in Nothomb's writing. That doesn't make it acceptable for her to depict Japanese culture this way.

Some Day This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron - A short, unsatisfying book about a teenager who clearly thinks of himself as a modern-day Holden Caulfield but it sactually just whiny and annoying. The abrupt ending doesn't do the story any favors.
Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni - I really wanted to like this feminist retelling of the Mahabarat, but the characters were wooden and the prose blandly declaratory. I couldn't finish it.
Several of these are on my to-read list (notably Code Name Verity, which I must get to soon), so it's great to see your reviews - thanks!

Although I have to admit I loved The Tiger's Wife. I wasn't expecting to, after starting it with my cynicism on full-blast, but I got really caught up in the story and emotions.
I'm not sure why I hated The Tiger's Wife so much. I actually really liked the protagonist, and I thought all the folklore was interesting...and yet, I just could not get through the damn book.
The Thing Around Your Neck is wonderful. I loved Purple Hibiscus as well -- haven't read Adichie's other novel, though I've been meaning to.

And I don't think I've seen Code Name Verity mentioned on my flist, at least not enough to make it stick in my mind, so thanks for the heads-up! It does indeed sound awesome. :-)
I liked Half of a Yellow Sun, although I don't think it's as good as The Thing Around Your Neck.

Code Name Verity is such a quick read - you won't be sorry if you check it out!
I'm about to take on John Green books because my students are reading him and recommend him. Starting with Paper Towns, but The Fault in Our Stars will be next.

Thanks for such a good list to reference when I need something to read!
I think John Green's books are pretty similar, but they are all very well written. His blogs and podcasts are neat too. My personal favorite by him is still Looking for Alaska.
Oh, thank for the recs! I always love to know what other people are reading and finding new books and authors. :-)

I have seen Code Name Verity mentioned before, but no one has explained before what it's about, so thanks for that! It does sound pretty good and I'll definitely keep it in mind when looking for new books. One question, though: Does the WWII feature very heavily or is it more like a background for the book? Because I'm usually not much of a fan of books about war...

Many other books sound very good, too. I'm especially happy to see such variety of authors from many cultures because I've just recently decided I should broaden my horizon that way, too. :-)
Haha, that's one of my favourite error reports, too! :-D I always wait for it to pop up on my screen... ^^
War is pretty central to Code Name Verity, I'm afraid. The book begins when the spy character has been arrested by the Gestapo, and the first half of the book takes place in a prison. It isn't exactly light reading, but I loved the characters so much that I was willing to go through the darkness with them.
Thanks for letting me know. I'll keep Code Name Verity in mind, anyway, since it does sound pretty awesome all things considered. :-)
Of these, the only one I've read is "The Fault in Our Stars." There's a sameness to John Green's books, but he writes well. I think my favorite of his was "An Abundance of Katherines" because it was funny.

I need to pick up "Code Name Verity." So many people I know have read and loved it.
Looking for Alaska is definitely my favorite John Green so far. I should read the one about the Katherines though; it might be nice to read something more light hearted by him.

I picked up Code Name Verity after several people on my flist read it. I'm very glad I did!
I love reading other people's book recommendations and reviews! I had Someday This Pain... on my to-read list but looks like I can save myself the trouble ;) Of course since I will immediately replace it with Birthmarked, because that sounds really interesting, my list isn't getting any shorter ::grumbles::
> teenagers who wear all black ... You probably went to school with someone just like him

In my case, I married him. O_o

I love this list! You've given me several I want to look up. Thank you!
I have to laugh at your thoughts about Achilles. In college I took a course on the classical and modern epic, and we read the Iliad. At one point, I was sitting in my professor's office for a conference meeting and we were talking about the Iliad, which was the class reading at the time. He finally stopped me at one point and said, "It is okay to dislike Achilles. You will always like Hector better, and that is FINE." Heh - I had not realized how strong my feelings were on the subject until then. :) (And therefore, I have not read Song of Achilles, because I am 100% sure it would drive me crazy.)
Come to think of it, I did not like Achilles very much in the Iliad either. If I thought of that, I probably wouldn't have tried to read Song of Achilles at all....