It’s been a thin year for good books in 2010, in my humble opinion. There are loads of “Best of” lists for books out there, but a lot of the books on those lists just don’t appeal to me. I have pretty varied taste in my reading selections, but I go through phases in which I tend to read only one genre. For me, this has been the year of YA books. And I’m not ashamed to admit that. 🙂 I believe that some of the best writing out there today can be found in Young Adult books, but, much like any other genre, you have to search through loads of crap before you can find the true gems.
I read a lot this year (though not as much as I would have liked to), and these are the titles that I enjoyed–and that have really stuck with me.
1) The Hunger Games trilogy
The Hunger Games has been around for awhile, and I always intended to read it, but it never made it to the top of my reading list. When hubby & I went to Atlanta earlier this year, I wanted something that would be a quick read, that would hold my interest–and so I gave this Suzanne Collins book a try. And I was not disappointed. Where has this woman been all my life?
The storyline of these books, on the surface, follows a “same old cliché” format–we’ve heard this story before in various ways. But it’s what Collins does on the underside of that surface that blows me away. She has the power to make you really care about her characters; her writing puts you right in the moment, into the action, and makes you feel as though you are there; and she is so freaking clever. There are so many aspects of life inside the Hunger Games arena in these books that just blew me away–Collins has a wicked imagination.
If you love character-driven stories, dystopian fiction, and/or real page-turners, then give these books a try. To me, Catching Fire (the second book in the trilogy) is the best–but you can be the judge of that for yourself. The series is soon to be made into a motion picture, which will likely ruin the whole thing, so I highly recommend reading the books before the movie comes out.
About the Books:
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by 12 outlying districts. Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death–televised for all of Panem to see.
Survival is second nature for 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who struggles to feed her mother and younger sister by secretly hunting and gathering beyond the fences of District 12. When Katniss steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
2) Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
One must have patience in order to be a Stephen King fan–he puts out quite a bit of mediocre work, but there are usually enough SK touches in each book to make it worth reading. Of his last few years of work, I wasn’t really impressed by Cell, and I was very disappointed in Duma Key. The man has an amazing imagination, and I guess I don’t always agree that where he takes his Dear Reader on these treks into that imagination is a fascinating place to be. I did love Lisey’s Story and Under the Dome, though, and I think he’s getting back on track to do some of his best work.
Though Full Dark, No Stars doesn’t necessarily take us where we’ve never been before, it is a very satisfying read. I think that King has succeeded in overcoming some of his tired cliché-driven work, and given us something here that we actually haven’t really seen before. Most of the horrors in this book are more figurative than literal, and when you read about rats “haunting” the man who has murdered his wife in cold blood and buried her in his well–you know it’s the man’s conscience that is the real threat here, not those creepy-ass rats.
Also, I’ve always believed that King shines when he writes from a woman’s point of view. I’m not sure why this is, or where he goes within himself to be able to speak so convincingly from a woman’s POV, but he always gets it right. Two of the four novellas in this book are about women who come to realize their strengths, who find it within themselves to exact revenge upon those who they believe have wronged them. It works, and it’s compelling reading–I read the book in a matter of days, and I was quite impressed.
About the Book:
1922: When Wilfred and his wife move onto land willed to her by her father, it sets in motion a gruesome sequence of events that leads to madness . . . and murder.
Big Driver: Tess, a mystery writer, takes a shortcut home, only to run into a nightmare more terrifying than her stories.
Fair Extension: In this darkly funny tale, cancer patient Dave Streeter decides to make a deal with the devil, but as always, there is a price to pay.
A Good Marriage: Darcy learns more about her husband of 20 years than she would have liked to know when she stumbles across a mysterious box in their garage.
3) Room by Emma Donoghue
This novel was actually long-listed for the Booker prize this year, which came as a surprise to me. A lot of novels that receive this accolade are wordier and much more “sophisticated”. But there’s a lot of power packed into this little novel, and I’m glad it’s receiving such great reviews. I have a few gripes with the book, but they are few and far between–and overall I felt that it touched on just the right balance of being heart-warming & disturbing at the same time. It can be a bit hard to read at first, because much of the book is related from the point of view of 5-year-old Jack, who has a limited vocabulary and tons of curiosity. I actually found myself speaking in “Jack-ish” language for a few days after finishing this book, which is really quite strange. I think the book has stuck with me far more than I realized.
About the Book:
In many ways, Jack is a typical 5-year-old. He likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma. But Jack is different in a big way–he has lived his entire life in a single room, sharing the tiny space with only his mother and an unnerving nighttime visitor known as Old Nick. For Jack, Room is the only world he knows, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to craft a normal life for her son. When their insular world suddenly expands beyond the confines of their four walls, the consequences are piercing and extraordinary.
4) Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
I really didn’t want to like this book. I’m one of those people who turns their nose up at “hype,” and this book really had a lot of it. I never finished Franzen’s earlier effort, The Corrections. That book had passages that were nothing short of brilliant, but overall, I was having trouble getting through the book. This book will likely give a number of readers the same problems, but I shot through this book, finishing it in a week or so. When Oprah declared this as her pick earlier this year, she called the book a masterpiece, and I think she did hit that nail on the head. Is it the best book I’ve ever read? No, not by a longshot. Is it the best book I read this year? No, but it’s near the top. I think Franzen really grasps the human condition and can relate this to his reader so easily. I think the New York Times said it best here: With this book, he’s not only created an unforgettable family, he’s also completed his own transformation from a sharp-elbowed, apocalyptic satirist focused on sending up the socio-economic-political plight of this country into a kind of 19th-century realist concerned with the public and private lives of his characters.
About the Book:
Freedom follows several members of an American family, the Berglunds, as well as their close friends and lovers, as their complex and troubled relationships unfold over many years. The book follows them through the last decades of the 20th century and concludes near the beginning of the Obama administration. The book has love, hate, sex, religion, politics, music–and that’s just a taste of you’ll find packed inside this one.