Friday, January 1

2009 in Review

Alex – Last year I aimed to make my way through some of my unread backlog, read my mother's favourite novels, the twelve-part Anthony Powell creation A Dance to the Music of Time, and tackle Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy (huge, but apparently worth it). I was also going to review each book as I finished it.
Sadly, once again my resolutions were for naught. At the time of writing I'm just finishing writing up the dozen books read but unreviewed over the course of 2009. I read neither the Powell nor the Seth works, and my own unread book piles were added to rather than diminished even though I took a dozen or so overseas with me (and left them there). This year I will read a Powell book each month, and both Lynn and I have decided to alternate our own books with those from other sources like the library.
I did read marginally fewer books this year - of the 254 books I reviewed, 222 were fiction and only 32 non-fiction (and yet another year with no poetry, except by accident). I've been interested to see that the strength of the last part of the year has coloured my perception of the year as a whole, and I'd completely blanked out the odd run of books I hated or abandoned. Starting there we have:
Most disappointing novel: Dakota Cassidy's The Accidental Werewolf just didn't do it for me, particularly as it's one of only two books I recommended my library purchase. I thought Anton Strout's Dead to Me had more promise than it delivered, but did like the author's comment, which acknowledged that it wasn't for me without taking this on board as a vituperative attack on his very personhood (thank you, Anton).
Least rewarding non-fiction book: in a year where I put more books aside than ever before, the stand out of disappointment was probably Vera Brittain's autobiography Testament of Youth, mostly because I had quite high expectations which fell wholly flat.
Most disliked read: the Twilight series - I pushed myself until I just couldn't read any more of it.
Greatest achievement: an overseas trip forced me, by virtue of taking them with me and refusing to buy any other until they were read, to finally tackle half a dozen long unread members of my To Read pile. The three longest lingerers were John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (perhaps 15 years), Richard Adam's The Girl in a Swing (almost 30 years), and Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, (some 20 years after buying it). Completing Eco's work is without question the triumph of my recreational reading year!
Favourite novel: No question the most compelling novel I read this year was Lionel Shriver's We Have to Talk About Kevin, a book so gripping it inspired me to start a book group (we meet for the first time next month and so far feedback's been mixed).
Favourite non-fiction book: I'm torn between the really compelling The Faith Club (by far my longest review this year), all of Danny Wallace's adventures, the always readable Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, and the Milton Erickson tribute My Voice Will Go With You. But the winner has to be The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge.
Favourite newly encountered author: I thoroughly enjoyed Kylie Chan's
Dark Heavens trilogy, Linwood Barclay's atmospheric mysteries, and my belated discovery of the almost-Bagleyesque quality of Dick Francis's racing mysteries. Simon Kernick certainly warrants a follow up, as do Olive Etchells, CS Harris, Perri Klass and SM Stirling. But I think the winner is Carolyn Parkhurst, whose two, extremely different, novels were resonant reads that stayed with me long after they were finished and which I've recommended indiscriminately.
Interestingly, I realised writing this that I haven't read a single novel by Elizabeth Berg, my favourite author of 2008, but have recommended her to several people and sent my sister three of her books for Christmas.
Reviewing the year has reminded me of several authors I want to chase up in the year ahead, particularly CS Harris, Aimée and David Thurlo, Sean Doolittle, Ben Bova, Olive Etschells and Simon Kernick. As always the good news is that there are always great books being written and released, faster than I can read them. The bad news, of course, is that there are great books being written and released faster than I can read them - Alex

Lynn: My 2009 reading list has proved to be a rather uninspired one. With a couple of notable exceptions my book selections this year have been mediocre to poor. This has left me spoilt for choice when it comes to naming a worst book of the year.
My biggest disappointment would have to be Sandom’s
The God Machine. I had such high hopes for this one but I found it to be a complete dud-a view not changed by the passionate arguments in support of it made here by the author (or author’s best friend, biggest fan, whatever).
But I feel it would be unfair to award this one the status of worst book read in 2009 because as a ‘did not finish’ I can’t claim to have actually read it.
So in a very closely run race the worst book I read in 2009 goes to
The Eight by Katherine Neville. The sheer pointlessness of her work means she edges out Mary Gentle’s 1610: A Sundial in a Grave, which at least made some sense.
Strangely enough, choosing a best book I read in 2009 was not as easy as I thought it would be. Sure I could fall back on the tried and true Rickman or Greenwood, both of whom are consistently great but how could I choose between them. Take it as said that they rate right up there and with those two out of contention the very level playing field left meant that many could vie for the title. So for its warped and twisted fun I’m naming Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore my best read of 2009.
My favourite newly discovered (by me) writer for 2009 is a three way of historical romance authors. I was delighted to discover
Pam Rosenthal, Jo Goodman and Joanna Bourne may their backlists be long and their careers longer.-Lynn

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