Thursday, January 01, 2009

Book Review 2008

Here it is: the 2008 Annual Book Review! It was a busy year, and I didn't get to read as much as I have the past couple of years. It's not hard to see what my favorite genre is, and this year I jumped time periods quite a bit. I find that truly historical fiction (as opposed to purely fictional stories using "real" people as central characters, a la Phillipa Gregory and Conn Iggulden), helps me to get a much better sense of the time period than history books alone. Which helps me teach better... I think. Anyhoo, 2008, here we go:

Historical Fiction = 20
Biography= 4
General Literature = 6
Reference = 1
Other Non-Fiction = 2
Total= 33

*I rated the books by how much I enjoyed them- not necessarily their literary merit; 10 is highest

The Masters of Rome Series by Colleen McCullough- 8
Caesar's Women
Caesar: A Novel
The October Horse: A Novel of Caesar and Cleopatra
Antony and Cleopatra: A Novel
These are the last four books in McCullough's "Masters of Rome" series, and the further into the series I got, the more I enjoyed the books. Julius Caesar and his nephew Octavian made for some fascinating reading and some of the best truly historical fiction you'll find. You can read my review of the first half of the series here.

Pastoral by Nevil Shute- 5
I fell in love with British author Nevil Shute's books after reading A Town Like Alice last year. Set during WWII on a British bomber base, Pastoral tells the love story of seasoned bomber pilot Peter Marshall and homesick WAAF signals officer, Gervase Robertson.

Pompeii: A Novel by Robert Harris- 8
I discovered Robert Harris by accident, and this was the first of his books that I'd ever read. I enjoyed it just as much the second time around! Pompeii tells the story of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius through the eyes of Marcus Attilius, a young engineer who is sent to uncover the mystery of the malfunctioning aqueduct in the days preceding the eruption- and finds much more than he ever bargained for. A fun read.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd- 8
I haven't seen the movie yet, but I enjoyed the book almost as much as To Kill a Mockingbird. 'Nuff said.

Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point by David Lipsky- 5
I read this because... well, I'm not quite sure why I read this, but it's probably out of some combination of patriotic pride and curiosity at why any presumably normal person would want to subject themselves to the rigors of West Point. I found it eye-opening and very interesting.

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett- 2
Ken Follett seems to be hit-or-miss for me, and this one was most definitely a miss. I love a good spy thriller- especially one set during WWII- but I do not enjoy family-in-peril stories, or trashy "romance" plot lines. Double Ugh. I gave it a 2 because it had such promise at the start.

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier- 7
The fictional story of one of Vermeer's most famous paintings- loved it! Keep a book of Vermeer paintings nearby when you read it!

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger- 6
A sci-fi love story (although that's probably not how Oprah would describe this). I'm not usually into chick-lit but this was a pretty good vacation read.

Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II by Robert Kurson- 6
Real-life adventure, a WWII mystery, and a fascinating look at the world of deep sea diving- what's not to like?

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling-7
A re-read that I should have re-read before reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, since I had a very hard time remembering what had happened. Just as good the second time around!

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett- 9
After Eye of the Needle, I was not in a hurry to pick up another Follett novel, but I couldn't imagine why Oprah would have picked a spy thriller for her book club. So I read this, and.... loved it. Definitely not a spy thriller, Pillars is set in 12th-century England, and should probably be called "historical adventure." Could. Not. Put. It. Down.

Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride: A Sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice by Helen Halstead-4
Finally, a P&P sequel that wouldn't make Jane Austen blush, but *yawn* it's not a book that could stand on its own.

World Without End by Ken Follett-8
Set 200 years after Pillars of the Earth, this novel wasn't quite as fabulous... but almost! It's a keeper.

The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom-5
A short, easy read. After a tragic death, five pivotal people from Eddie's life meet him in heaven and help him make sense of it all.

The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough-6
In 1889, over 2200 people perished when the dam above Johnstown, PA broke. McCullough's account of the tragedy and its causes is fascinating.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Housseini-7
A gut-wrenching and eye-opening look at the lives of Afghan women under the Taliban. I picked this up at the library for a few minutes and fully expected to leave the book there, but once I started, I couldn't stop!

Coming Home by Rosamund Pilcher-5
A sweeping family saga set in Britain during WWII. It was long and had the rambling feel of a soap opera, but it was a perfect book to read at the end of the day- enjoyable but easy to set aside until the next evening.

The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman-8
Picks up where His Needs, Her Needs leaves off. We all have different ways of expressing love, but the way I express love might not be the same way my spouse expresses love. This book explores the different love languages and helps couples learn to express their love in a language that meets the needs of their spouse.

The Shack by William P. Young-10
OK, it may be theologically suspect in some ways, but this book will help you see God in a whole new way. Read it! (If you're interested in exploring the theology behind The Shack, John Mark Hicks wrote a series of articles on his blog earlier this fall.)

Rise to Rebellion: A Novel of the American Revolution-9
The Glorious Cause by Jeff Shaara-8
A two-volume series of historical fiction following the American Revolution, Shaara brings the key players in the Revolution to life: Washington, Adams, Franklin, Lafayette, Cornwallis. I plan on having my high-schoolers read this set along with their history books so they can get to know these names as people rather than as historical trivia. A must-read for American history buffs!

The American Spirit: The Paintings of Mort Kunstler by Henry Steele Commager-8
Pure, patriotic Americana. Love it!

I Don't Mean to Be Rude, But...: Backstage Gossip from American Idol & the Secrets that Can Make You a Star by Simon Cowell-3
Q: Is Simon Cowell as obnoxious and self-centered as he appears on American Idol?

George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War by Thomas B. Allen-5
Intended for grades 6-8, this was an interesting look at the early spy rings that helped turn the tide of the war. A quick, easy read and a look at the Revolutionary War from a different perspective!

The Scarlet Pimpernel Series by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
The Scarlet Pimpernel-8
The Elusive Pimpernel-8
The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel-6
I Will Repay- 5
Sir Percy Leads the Band-5
Set during the French Revolution, The Scarlet Pimpernel is the original cloak-and-dagger novel! Baroness Orczy's Very! Dramatic! early 20th-century prose takes some getting used to, but if you've got a sense of humor and love a good spy story, the Scarlet Pimpernel is your man! The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Elusive Pimpernel are the best in the series, but the others are fun too.


Nancy said...

Wonderful list -- It's great that you are promoting books and reading on your site.

And American Idol!

Woo-hoo for the next season, although I'm suspect of the new judge.

E.T.'s Mom said...

I always love your annual reading list! Each year I read (and enjoy) a couple of your favorites, so thanks for putting the ratings on there. I can echo the Five Love Languages, though. That was a good one we read in college.