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Batten down the hatches, here's the new Book List for 2011! Everything I've read in the year (that isn't fanfiction) will be recorded here for the ages.

"Just Kids" by Patti Smith. Dry but captivating tale of Patti's youth and her romance with Robert Mapplethorpe.

"A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens. OK I admit I originally picked this up because it galled me to think that Oprah viewers would have read it when I hadn't. I slogged through the first two books in agony. Most of the characters were in Dickens' patented "too-good-to-be-true-or-interesting" style, plus it was filled with endless descriptions of the terrain of France and sly references to the political climate. But boy did it pick up in book three, when they arrived in Revolutionary France and got caught up in the bloodthirsty fever to eliminate the aristocracy. Like thousands before me, I wept like a baby at the tragic ending.

"The Apothecary's Daughter" by Julie Klasser. This was a Kindle freebie from Amazon. It's essentially a modern writer's attempt to write a Jane Austen novel, with middling results. Imagine if someone wrote an Austen romance without the snarky humor and sarcastic observations of self-serving behavior. Not particularly moving, but it had a bit of a mystery to keep the story interesting.

"Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen. What a great book. A ripping yarn in a fascinating world. Her observations of animal behavior were as captivating as the human characters. I couldn't put it down and raced through it in three days.

"A Study In Scarlet" by Arthur Conan Doyle. I've been reading some Sherlock Holmes stories and noticed they often reference this, the first case, so I picked it up. Very interesting for it's introduction of Holmes and how he and Watson came together. Strangely, the story breaks off just as the murderer is apprehended (hope that's not spoiling for anyone, since Sherlock almost always gets his man), and goes into the backstory of the case 20 years before.

"A Room With a View" by E. M. Forster
. The February mobileread book club pick. Some sections are marvelously written, and his dialogue is terrific, though the mystical mysteries of love grew a little convoluted for me. I guess the Edwardians were looking for ways to elevate the new-fangled way that people married for love, instead of for social advancement. As I think more on it, this could have been a tale told by Trollope - indeed, he did tell this tale many times over: girl torn between the poor boy that she really likes, and the rich boy she should marry for advancement. But the emphasis on the social implications of her choice were almost absent here. Instead, Forster focuses on her internal dilemma, her "lying to herself." Intriguing shift of emphasis from the nineteenth to the twentieth-century perspective.

"The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins. I wanted to see what the hype was all about. And I have to admit, I really did enjoy this book. A thrilling story about survival.

Also note how many I've read and it's only the end of January!  Having lots of free time has been great for my reading life.

"The 4 Hour Body" by Timothy Ferris. This guy has been obsessed with the body and how experimental science can alter it, and he's put together a program for transforming your body with the least amount of work. It's fascinating, but some of it, like the diet, is not really possible for me to follow through on (just because I live in a family and putting together my own separate diet would be weird). Still, a really eye-opening book about how much influence we have on our bodies.

"Unbreakable: A World War II Story of Survival, Resiliance, and Redemption" by Laura Hillenbrand. A riveting, wrenching story of a WWII vet's ordeal as a Japanese POW. 

"Flash For Freedom!" by George MacDonald Fraser. Another brilliant Flashman book - I think this could be my favorite so far. (I say that after every Flashman book, but I mean it!)  Flash's whoring and insolence gets him shipped into the slave trade, and it just goes from bad to worse for him at every turn in his bumbling from the Ivory Coast into America. Stellar writing in a pivotal scene with Abraham Lincoln that simply took my breath away.

"The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin" by Benjamin Franklin
. This seemed to be winning the mobileread boards poll for March, so I took the plunge and read it. It was a bit dry, but there were some interesting moments. It is a bit hard for me to believe there are people who have read this over & over, though, as claimed in the polling. I didn't glean quite that much wisdom from it.

"The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain. A novelization of the marriage of Hadley and Ernest Hemingway. I was almost afraid to start reading this, since I knew it was going to be a sad story, but it was very well-written. Beautiful prose that walked the line between lyricism and Hemingway's signature terse clarity.

"Life" by Keith Richards
. This was a really hard book to plow through. It's told in a conversational style, and Keith rambled through just about every astounding stage of his life with blase sang froid, impressively oblivious to the mainstream standards to which we more mundane people adhere. I came away with respect for his love of music and his amazing ability to go cold turkey from heroin over and over and over again. Also impressed by how dry-eyed and non-judgmental he was about the failings of his closest comrades. Though I guess if you're Keith Richards, who are you to judge?

"Bossypants" by Tina Fey. Light and funny, just the change I needed from the Richards autobio. Highlights were the chapters on her badass dad, the SNL days, and the "Mother's Prayers for Her Daughter" which made me laugh and cry.  

"Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything" by Joshua Foer. Interesting.

"A Visit From The Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan. She just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for this novel. Very good.

"Nightfall" by David Goodis.  Great: terse humor, tightly paced story, spare characters that capture your imagination. This is the first noir novel I've read, but it won't be the last.

"Flashman at the Charge" by George MacDonald Fraser. This was the weakest of the Flashman series I've read so far. The Crimean battle scenes were gripping as always, but the rest of the book just didn't have the intense pace or story that made "Flash For Freedom!" so great.

"Caleb's Crossing" by Geraldine Brooks. By the amazing writer of "March," which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is the story of the first Native American to attend Harvard University, and the woman who grew up with him. I had a hard time getting into it at first, as the first third was a little slow in plot, but once they got to Harvard it was engrossing.

"The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammet. Fantastic. Amazing writing. "When you're slapped, you'll take it and like it" and "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter" are two of my favorite lines. So much of the dialogue survived intact in the movie, which I guess is no wonder since Hammet collaborated with Chandler on the screenplay

"Fallen Heroes" by Dafydd ab Hugh. A DS9 novel. Set around season 2. Pretty good, though many chapters were devoted to an invasion of the station and the battle got a little tedious to me.

"Shoot the Piano Player" by David Goodis. Another noir. This is supposed to be one of his best, but I prefered "Nightfall," which had snappier dialogue.

"The Help" by Katherine Stockett. A novel detailing the relationships between repressed white women and the repressed black women who wait on them. I'm being snarky, but the novel was very good.

"Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography" by Rob Lowe. While not a literary masterwork, this autobiography is a full of Lowe's encounters with all the famous folk of the 1970s and 1980s. His depiction of life in the 70s in Malibu was like a window into a time long gone.

"The Grand Sophy" by Georgette Heyer. My first Regency novel. I've read all of Austen's works, but never delved into one of her "tribute" tomes, until now. It was a strange experience: the setting was Regency, but the attitudes were very 1950's, particularly the meddlesome know-it-all lead character. She reminded me of all those busybodies from 1940s English comedies whose spirit you're supposed to admire, but you really just want to slap them and tell them to mind their own business. A fun read, with some very amusing dialogue (particularly from Sophy's unconcerned parent).

"The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas, pere. A long read, and not just because there's a lot of pages. Dumas over-the-top melodramatic style is not quite to my taste, and it was very hard to keep all the families and their children straight. Definitely some powerful moments, and I could see why some people call this classy adventure novel their favorite.

"Hollow Men" by Una McCormack. In the aftermath of "In the Pale Moonlight," Sisko and Garak go to Earth for a conference between the Romulans, Klingons, and the Federation to work out their new alliance. Excellent novel - she really understands the characters and spins an engrossing story. Excellent!

"We The Drowned" by Carsten Jensen.  A novel spanning several generations of a Danish seafaring town, from 1848 to 1945. A tough, epic story.

"England: An Illustrated History" by Henry Weisser. A good, brief overview of the major developments in British history, from prehistoric times to 2000.

"A Stitch In Time" by Andrew Robinson. The much-vaunted pro novel by Andrew Robinson, aka Garak. Yes, it's as good as you've always heard. Written as a series of letters to Doctor Bashir after the end of the series, Garak reminisces about the many stages of his life that led him back to a ravaged Cardassia after the end of the Dominion war. I was a little taken aback by the way he jumped around time periods, but I soon oriented myself. HIs characterizations are compelling, including his original characters, and his conception of Cardassian society is chilling.  His depiction of Garak's waning relationship to Julian in the final seasons is bittersweet, and particular hats off to him for working in Garak's bisexuality, which was of his own creation. While there's no actual sex depicted, he makes it clear that Garak is attracted to people of both sexes, without any dithering or apologies about it.

"Time's Enemy" by L.A. Graf. Terrific DS9 novel about time-travel. Focuses mostly on Jadzia Dax, Bashir, and Sisko trying to stop an invasion in the Gamma Quadrant while Kira and Odo try to stop it on the station. Really excellent writing, with insightful depictions of our main characters. Excellent Bashir pov.

"The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde. Witty, full of bon mots, as one would expect of Wilde. Feels like the original fanfic, as it's full of unrequited longings and eyesex. Very creepy story.

"The Lives of Dax" by Marco Palmieri et al. The story of each of Dax's hosts is told by a different author, so the quality varies wildly. Interesting for the committed DS9 fan, though not very emotionally engaging. I thought they could have done a lot more with Jadzia and Ezri, expounding more on their relationships with the DS9 crew.

"Cathedral" by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels. I was drawn in by the hook of Julian losing his enhancements, and that section was somewhat interesting, but overall there was too much sci-fi mumbo jumbo to grab me.

"Skippy Dies" by Paul Murray. Ennui in an Irish boarding school. I slogged through the first section, about 211 pages, before abandoning it. While there is some sprightly writing, it felt like it had no soul and wasn't adding up to anything meaningful.

"Star Trek: Core of Engineers: Wounds" by Ilsa J. Bick. Bashir and Elizabeth Lense (the valedictorian, remember?) are stranded on a non-Federation planet that has yet to experience warp technology or visitors from off-world. Might have been better if Bashir and Lense spent more than the first and last chapters together. Not sure why an author would split up their main characters for the majority of the book, because it leached all the interest out. Add Bashir being unconscious for a quarter of it, and it wasn't very fun.

"I Don't Want to Die Alone: True Stories of Online Dating" by Stacey Levin and Robin Mesger. My friend wrote this book! We worked together when she first decided to delve into the world of online dating, kind of on a lark, and she ended up having so many crazy experiences that she wrote this book. It's pretty hilarious, and really boggles the mind when you consider what some people consider to be acceptable courtship behavior.

"Wench: A Novel" by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. The story of an African-American slave woman who goes every summer to a holiday resort in Ohio, where slave owners can bring their "wenches," i.e. the slave women they keep as mistresses. A fast read due to the spare writing and the fascinating subject matter. Unfortunately, it seemed that the author couldn't find a way to end it, and left off with a pretty slapdash finale.

"Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague" by Geraldine Brooks. This is the third historical novel I've read by Brooks, and she never disappoints. The historical details are amazingly accurate, and she seems to truly understand the mindset of people from other times, regardless of what time she explores. I wept bitterly in some sections, which I won't spoil for those who might want to read it. Another book with a perplexing ending.

"A Journal of the Plague Year, written by a citizen who continued all the while in London" by Daniel DeFoe. How could I read a novel of the Plague without reading the original novel that started it all? Worthwhile for the journalistic observations, though very repetitive, in the style of 17th century writing.

"Rules of Civility" by Amor Towles. A historical novel set in New York City in 1938, about two bright ambitious women and the charming young man of privilege that they meet and court in tandem. Truly wonderful, sort of a female Great Gatsby, with characters that leap off the page and make you wish you could stay with them forever. Beautifully written, with terrifically memorable quotes like: "Old times, as my father used to say: If you're not careful, they'll gut you like a fish."  When I got to the end of the book and found out the author was male, I was flabbergasted: his female voices were so authentic, I was certain he had to be female. Highly recommended.

"Goodbye To All That" by Robert Graves. A memoir of his childhood and service in the British forces in the first World War.

"Seven Pillars of Wisdom" by T. E. Lawrence. Continuing my WWI immersion (also watching Downton Abbey). Interesting historically, and his writing style is poetic, but I got a little weary of endless descriptions of crossing the desert and tactical maneuvers. There are some unforgettable scenes, such as his struggle through a snowstorm with his terrified camel, an attempted rape by a Turkish Bey and subsequent beating, and the descriptions of the love between two young men in his army.

"Birdsong" by Sebastian Faulks. A historical novel of World War I, with devastating descriptions of the trenches, and particularly the tunneling, and the psychological effects of war on the men. A mystery surrounding a love story helped leaven the pain of the war sections. 

"The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen" by Wilfred Owen. Owens is considered the best of the WWI poets, and after having read some Graves and Sassoon, I agree. His poetry is direct and vivid, and several of them really pack a punch. Check out "Disabled."

"The Convenient Marriage" by Georgette Heyer. After all that bloody misery of my WWI reading, I needed a tasty little trifle, and this certainly filled the bill. A delightful romp with vivid characters, surprising plot twists, and charming humor. Loved it!

"Shatner Rules" by William Shatner
. Shatner's rules for living a life as full as Shatner's. Amusing and surprisingly inspirational.

"Lady Audley's Secret" by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I though this was a Regency novel, but it turned out to be a mystery, written in 1861. I'm not much of a fan of mysteries, but this one did have some surprising twists that kept me plowing through the endless descriptions of the English countryside.

"Hospital Sketches" by Louisa May Alcott. A short account of Alcott's time as a nurse in a makeshift Civil War hospital in Washington D.C. Her humor is always a little grating, but when her piteously sad depictions of the wounded had me fighting back tears.

"Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle" by Georgette Heyer. I cannot stop reading Heyer - her works are like bon bons that I am scarfing down at a terrific rate. This one featured an awkward heroine, a writer, whose first novel is a roman a clef that sours her burgeoning friendship with an icy, suave Duke. Heyer's ability to write surprising plot twists with lots of action is always a delight, but the relationships here really are special: the heroine has a male best friend, a squire's son who is as ready for action as she is; the relationships between the servants are funny; and there's even a child who - gasp! - behaves like a real boy!

"The Language of Flowers" by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Angst novel about a foster care girl, now emancipated, struggling to start her life. She takes a job in a flower shop, having learned about horticulture from the one foster parent who loved her. A touching story about an angry young woman, trying to make sense of the world. The chapters alternate from the past to the present. It gets a little soppy in the end, but overall a well-written and emotionally wrenching novel. 

My 50th book of the year! I don't think I've ever read so many in one year. The joys of unemployment! 

"I Capture The Castle" by Dodie Smith. Horrible juvenile fiction. Two sisters in remote England raise their hopes when two American men move into a nearby manor. Stupid, and the stories didn't pay off. Plus I was reading it in an ebook riddled with errors, which did not improve my feelings towards the book one bit.

"The Nonesuch" by Georgette Heyer. Another enjoyable romp from Ms. Heyer. In this one, a ladies' companion is entranced by the Nonesuch (i.e. Paragon) who comes in to the neighborhood to take possession of a dilapidated manor left to him by his late skinflint uncle. Her charge is a spoilt princess, courted by every young man in the neighborhood. I particularly liked the Nonesuch's ne'er-do-well cousin, Laurence, and how he got caught in a tangle with the princess. A bit of a jolting start, as there were dozens of characters, not very well introduced, so that one got very confused as to who was who. She got a little heavy-handed with the slang too, which made it difficult to understand.

"Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons for Making It Work" by Tim Gunn and Ada Calhoun. I love Tim Gunn: he's warm, funny, articulate, and caring. He's the perfect guy! This was part memoir, part inspirational, part book of manners. It's as thought-provoking and funny and warm as his persona onscreen.

"The Glimpses of the Moon" by Edith Wharton. Abandoned about 64 pages in. The concept is intriguing - a pair of hangers-on marry for love, with an eye on soaking their rich friends until they can trade up for better partners - but the characters seemed to have silly views about morality despite the mores of their world. Maybe I'll come back to it some other day. I don't want to get in the habit of abandoning bad books, but it's hard when there are so many good books I haven't yet read.

"True Grit" by Charles Portis
. Great book. Terse, memorable characters, fast-paced plot.

"The Pursuit of Love" by Nancy Mitford. The tale of a young British Lady, growing up between the wars, and her hapless pursuit of love. Frothy and funny, but with an undercurrent of sadness, and a sudden end.

"The Corinthian" by Georgette Heyer. Yes, more Regency Romance. I'm so ashamed. This one tells the story of a jaded, fashionable man running from being pushed into a loveless marriage, and a teenage girl doing the same. The girl runs away from home, in drag as a boy, and the man accompanies her. Excellent comic characters and wonderful dialogue. Unfortunately, the supporting characters are so well-written that the girl comes off as a silly, shallow figure in comparison, but it's a small price to pay for a fun read.

"The Claverings" by Anthony Trollope. Dipping back into Trollope after all the Regency romances I've been reading lately was a bit of a re-awakening. His characters are so much richer, and his plots more realistic than the romance claptrap. However, the one thing I didn't miss was his long-windedness. He could have used an editor, but of course he was paid per newspaper installments, and may have also felt a need to re-summarizes plot points for people who had missed an issue here or there. 

"The Never-Ending Sacrifice" by Una McCormack. Una is a truly great writer, even able to make sulky Rugal a compelling lead.

"Avatar" by S. D. Perry. This is the first book in the DS9 "Relaunch" series, continuing the story of the series. I thought it was interesting, and well-plotted, but lots of elements annoyed me. Firstly, I really missed the characters that had departed the series: Garak, Miles, Jadzia, Dukat. Their absence was like a gaping hole in the DS9 world. Secondly, the characters that repopulated the world were kind of annoying: Ro Laren, who is always angry at everything (why do we need her when we have Kira? IRL Kira replaced her); Shar, the Andorian with connections in high places (guess he'll fit in at DS9, where everyone is connected to someone important), and Vaughn, the Starfleet Commander Who Is Not What He Seems (and has connections in high places, of course).  Thirdly, the Julian/Ezri relationship was immature and creepy. Maybe that's what would inevitably transpire between these two characters, but it was a bit depressing to see that even the Novelization World believed so little in that relationship that they thought the logical place to go was a breakup in the VERY FIRST relaunch book.

"The Reluctant Widow" by Georgette Heyer
. This one was highly recommended by a Heyer fan group, and I can't figure out why. It's really not a romance at all, but a gothic mystery, with a heroine who can't stop complaining that she's in a mystery, and a hero who is so blase about the situation that he leaches all the suspense out. When the dog has more personality than your leads, you know you're in for a painful read.

"The Stranger's Child" by Alan Hollinghurst. Fascinating novel about a bisexual "trench poet" from WWI, and the many people whose lives he touched. After the first two parts, it starts to read almost as a mystery, as biographers in the 1960s and beyond attempt to wring the truth out of the elderly people who knew the poet. At times it seemed almost like a "Historical Survey of the Behavior of Gay British Men in the 20th Century," with every character turning out to be gay. Running alongside the changing morals is the slow decay of the aristocracy and their dwindling fortunes. Beautiful language and tense depictions of longing and secrecy almost gave it the feel of fanfiction.  Sadly, it ends without closure, giving one a sense that people, and the past, can never be truly known.

"Millenium Trilogy" by Judith Reeves-Stevens and Garfield Reeves-Stevens.
Three books telling the story of the events that went down on the Cardassian Day of Withdrawal on Terok Nor.  Book one is "The Fall of Terok Nor" and it's a mystery, set at the end of season 6 (they reference "The Sound of Her Voice" as having just taken place, but Jadzia is in the stories). It runs directly into the second book, The War of the Prophets, in which our cast is thrown into a future in which the Federation is losing the war to the Dominion. Then the third book, Inferno, is the end of the universe, and our heroes attempting to manipulate time to prevent the apocalypse from happening in the first place. The first two books were great - excellent plots, very fast-paced, good characterizations. The third book really bogged down in descriptions of time travel and physics, though it did feature a hilarious scene in which Garak travels back to the past to tell Past!Garak to help the time travelers. They have quite a charming conversation. A fun read, but be prepared to read all 3 at once as they are connected.

"The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever" by Julia Quinn. A Regency romance, written in 2007 or so, but it was too repetitive, and the leads were petulant jerks to each other. I stopped reading about 60% of the way in.

"Venetia" by Georgette Heyer. One of her best! A charming hero & heroine.

"The Gentleman and the Rogue" by Bonnie Dee & Summer Devon.   A Regency romance with two men! I should have known they'd have one somewhere, and this was recommended by a poster on viprasys. Quite good writing for the genre, though the getting-to-know you part took up almost half the book, and the proper story involving the rescue of an orphan only started about 40% in.

"Abyss" by Dean Weddle and David Weddle and Jeffrey Lang. DS9 relaunch novel, second in the series, after "Avatar."  Bashir is recruited to stop a genetically-enhanced madman from developing a Jem'Hadar army to take over the Alpha Quadrant. Pretty good. Bashir's character felt true, Ro was much less annoying than usual, and Taran'atar had a bit of character development to make him more interesting than in the previous book. The J/E relationship was more mature than in the previous book as well, and therefore less annoying. 

"Master and Commander" by Patrick O'Brien. A seafaring tale featuring an unlikely friendship between a British sea captain and an Irish-Catalan surgeon. Though it spawned twenty or so sequels, it failed to inspire liking in me. Full of details of the ship, it ended up feeling "Greek to me." I've read others say that the sequels are much more compelling than this first book, but I'm not sure I'll be looking them up. 

"My Dearest Enemy" by Connie Brockway. A romance set in the 1890s, in which a suffragette and an explorer compete for the rights to a manor house. Starts with an epistolary element. Strong characters and interesting plot twists. Definitely one of the better romances I've read.


"The Swimming-Pool Library" by Alan Hollinghurst. His first, and a riveting tale of a young viscount's desultory gay life in 1983 London. Hollinghurst is such a wonderful writer - so much pathos and humor. As with "The Stranger's Child," this one has at its center a mystery surrounding the diaries of a previous generation, but in this one, the generation is still alive and prodding on the main character, Will, to figure it all out. I'm not quite sure I "figured it all out" in so far as what this book really adds up to (if anything) but the ride is so juicy and affecting and sexy that I enjoyed every step.

"Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx. Well-known and well-loved, for good reason.

71 books in 2011. Unemployment surely helped me reach this number! Ordinarily I'm lucky to get 30 or so books read in a year. Some truly wonderful new discoveries for me, such as Hollinghurst and Towles; some trash (the romances); and some big classics that I'd always wanted to tackle, namely "The Count of Monte Cristo" and "Seven Pillars of Wisdom." 
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