I sort of forgot to keep up with my 2008 reading, so I thought I'd get a jump on 2009. I'll update this list as I finish my books.
A note on the reviews and recommendations: I do read and enjoy books with mature themes, coarse language, and explicit sexual depictions. I may or may not make note of their occurrence. If you are trying to avoid any of these, make sure you consult a reputable source to discern whether or not any given book might be suitable for your collection.
**Update** I added a section of books I've begun but chose not to finish. Click here to check those out.
Books I've Read
12. Ramona and Her Mother by Beverly Cleary
Ramona is feeling left out of the mother-daughter bond she sees between her sister and their mother. Beezus is older, she's allowed to do more, and Ramona overheard Mrs. Quimby tell a neighbor she couldn't get along Beezus. Ramona doesn't remember her mother ever saying that about her. Adding to these difficulties of being seven and a half, Ramona is having trouble with her spelling and she's not sure she likes her new teacher. The trouble with being the youngest, but no longer charming just for being young is a common theme, but the author handles it with realism and humor. As usual, four smilies. (reviewed 3/14/09)
11. Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary
Of all the Ramona books, this stands out to me as the darkest. Not that any of the stories are particularly dark, but on the whole, this one is more serious than the others. To begin with, Mr. Quimby loses his job, requiring some major changes for the whole family. Then, Beezus, Ramona's older sister, complains about Mr. Quimby's smoking. Ramona worries about his lungs turning black and the girls mount their very own in-home campaign to convince their father to give up his cigarettes. Interspersed with the more serious themes, however, are many more lighthearted moments. As usual, by the end of the book, all has been resolved. Four of five smilies. (reviewed 3/14/09)
10. Theodora's Diary by Penny Culliford
I've read this book several times. Each time, I realize I have forgotten just how funny it is. Theodora lives in a small British village and attends the local Anglican church. She worries that her football-loving boyfriend is spiritually degenerate, that her parents marriage will break up over one moussaka too many, and that she'll never make it through Lent without chocolate. Her boss is an inveterate practical joker, her assigned prayer partner has five (or is it six?) children and wears dresses that match the draperies, and she has just been called on by the church's self-appointed minister of visitation to the sick (who bears an uncanny resemblance to the grim reaper). I defy you not to laugh. Four of five smilies, laughing out loud. (reviewed 2/25/09)
9. On a Whim by Robin Jones Gunn
I've read 40 of the 57 books Robin Jones Gunn has written. I'm currently waiting (highly impatiently, I might add) for two more to be published. I think it would be safe to say I'm a big fan. This story is the second book in the Katie Weldon series. Katie was first introduced in the Christy Miller books and her story continued in the distance throughout the Sierra Jensen series. Though all these collections are directed to teen readers, I read them all as an adult and find them quite good reading. The story picks up in Katie's senior year of college, she and Rick are now officially dating, but their heavy schedules, especially Rick's business trips to Arizona, keep them from seeing each other too often. Rick wants Katie to get to know his roommate better, and quit acting so strangely around him. I really can't say much more about the storyline; after the first chapter or two, it is quite predictable. Still, I enjoy these characters so much, I don't mind that their lives are not unexpected. The single thing I like best about all of this author's work is, to quote the Publishers Weekly review of this novel, "religious faith never feels sentimentalized or tacked on, but is integrated beautifully." Total score: four of five smilies. (reviewed 2/25/09)
8. Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary
In case you've been living under a rock for the past 30 years or so, the Ramona books are modern classics of children's literature. This is the third book in the series chronologically, however, each novel stands alone. Ramona is entering the first grade and she has exciting news for show and tell: workmen came to her house over the summer and broke through the back of the hall closet to start adding a new bedroom! Unfortunately, the rest of the class doesn't respond with the gasps of awe she expects. This one incident on the first day of school sets the tone for her whole semester. Ramona's teacher doesn't seem to understand her, one of her classmates copies her art project, and she discovers that sleeping alone in a dark room is scary. Beverly Cleary does an amazing job of capturing the essence of childhood joys and frustrations. I enjoyed this book as much reading it to my daughter as I did when I was a kid. I give it four of five smilies. (reviewed 2/25/09)
7. Baby Proof by Emily Giffin
I read this author's books Something Borrowed and Something Blue last year and really enjoyed them (the second a little more than the first). I didn't know how well I would like this novel, however, because I wasn't too sure I could relate to the premise: Claudia and Ben agreed when they married that neither wanted to have children. It seems to have been their defining characteristic as a couple. When their close friends announce a pregnancy, Ben starts to wonder if maybe there is something to procreating after all. Claudia feels betrayed. She tries to talk to her friends and her sisters, but no one seems to understand. The underlying theme of the book seems to be: at what point do you give up what you always wanted, to get what you always wanted? Although I didn't really understand not wanting a child, the story is written in such a way that I found it easy to relate to Claudia's feelings of betrayal and confusion. Overall, it's a well-written book with interesting plot twists. I give it three smilies. (reviewed 2/25/09)
6. Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA by Ellen Meister
This is a book that should, by rights, have joined the list below of books I didn't finish. I'm not sure what prompted me to keep reading beyond the wide-eyed fascination with which you associate disasters. The story was little more than Mean Girls, all grown up. To keep the readers' interest, the author has included a generous helping of varied sex scenes, drug use, and references to George Clooney. Unfortunately, even that didn't really keep it interesting. In the end, I couldn't even muster one smiley for this one. (reviewed 2/6/09)
5. Lost & Found by Jane Sigaloff
Sam accidentally leaves her diary in a New York hotel room when she returns to London. Visiting New York with his sister, fellow Londoner Ben finds the diary and is immediately entranced by its author. He shows up at her door, has a few dates with her roommate, then joins Sam's friends in convincing her the two of them should be an item. Reading this book for the first time, I felt like I'd read it before. The plot seemed very similar to Sophie Kinsella's Can You Keep a Secret? I don't suppose I can hold that against the autor, though, since Lost & Found was published first. Still, the story seemed somewhat uninspired. The plot was predictable and the characters weren't quirky enough to hold much real interest through to the last page. I was still rooting for Ben and Sam to get together in the end, however, which is about all that pushed it out of one-smiley territory and earned it two smilies. (reviewed 1/23/09)
4. Getting Married by Theresa Alan
It's packaged as a fluffy chick-lit romance, but it's not really. The story starts out rather lightly as the heroine, Eva, has a minor panic attack in the bathroom stall of her regular happy-hour haunt upon reading the graffiti scrawled on the door, "You are not the first, and you are definitely not the last. And probably, you are not the best." As the story continues, we learn that Eva is a successful business owner and is all but engaged to her boyfriend of several months, computer programmer Will. After a childhood of never feeling good enough for her demanding father, Eva is worried that she won't be able to compete with Will's ex-wife, with whom he is still friends. Soon, the wedding plans start (even without a proposal), and Eva takes on a high-pressure consulting job for a client who is in over his head. She is overworked, stressed out, and as insecure as ever about becoming the wife Will really wants. This volatile combination of factors explodes one evening on a business trip when she engages in some self-destructive behavior which she quickly finds addictive.
As I mentioned in my previous post regarding this book, I found the character of Eva very identifiable, and this made me uncomfortable. I don't like to think that, in a similar situation, I would be tempted to make a similar choice. Yet, I know that I would. I found the book fascinating. It is quite well written and almost all of the characters are well-developed as individuals, rather than simply flat stereotypes. I was a bit put off by the overabundance of four-letter words and I could have done without a conversation or two of thinly veiled political commentary, but overall, I felt the book was a good, interesting, thoughtful read, well deserving of four smilies. (reviewed 1/20/09)
3. Dreaming in Black and White by Laura Jensen Walker
I've read this novel before and, frankly, I don't remember liking it as well the first time. Phoebe really seemed to grow on me more this time. The story is pretty standard Christian chick-lit fare: Girl meets boy, boy fires girl, girl hates boy, girl is surprised when God drops boy back in her lap. The characters are likable, if sometimes a bit one-dimensional. The movie references were a lot of fun, and I, personally, have to give a bonus credit to any couple whose love story started over Trivial Pursuit. Another nice, light fluffy read with a moment or two of depth thrown in for good measure. I give it three smilies. (reviewed 1/14/09)
See here my thoughts on the sequel.
2. Paper Moon by Linda Windsor
Caroline, a single mom, and Blaine, a single dad, chaperone their daughters' class trip to Mexico. As you might imagine, the rest of the story is about how they clash, spark, and fall in love under the watchful eyes of a bus full of teenagers and other parents. Their whirlwind romance struck me as a bit contrived, and the subplot involving an international smuggling ring seemed a bit over the top. It was almost as if the love story wasn't enough to carry the book, so another, heavier plot line needed to be added to make it more interesting. The story itself wasn't so bad, but the inlaid concepts of Christianity felt a little heavy handed. However, if you can make it past the periodic theology lessons, and you're willing to suspend your disbelief at the time it takes their romance to blossom, you may enjoy this story. Unfortunately, I couldn't quite manage both. My verdict: just one out of five smilies. (reviewed 1/10/09)
1. Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella
A woman wakes up from a coma to discover she can't remember the last three years of her life. She has to get to know her new husband, friends, and high-powered job while trying to figure out just who is this woman she has become.
I liked it. Not a fantastic piece of literature, but it was a fun story. I'd consider it a decent companion for the beach or a long flight. My biggest complaint was that the ending seemed a bit abrupt compared to the pacing of the rest of the story. Overall, I give it three out of five smilies.
Books I Didn't Finish
4. Paperback Writer by Stephen Bly
I don't really have anything bad to say about this one, just that I wasn't in the mood to read the story after I'd started. The premise is of a novelist who has just finished his 98th paperback detective story. He's headed home from his writing nook (a low-rent hotel) and encounters a series of extraordinary events. The only problem is, he's not sure which are real and which he has imagined.
3. This Charming Man by Marian Keyes
I got about halfway through this one. I've really liked Marian Keyes's books in the past, including Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married, Watermelon, and Last Chance Saloon. Her writing is still excellent, unfortunately, I couldn't get past the subject matter: domestic violence. Despite the compelling prose, I didn't feel the need to read colorful accounts of fictional abuse.
2. Dreaming in Technicolor by Laura Jensen Walker
Ah, yes. This is why I remember not liking Dreaming in Black and White. I only got through about a half-dozen pages this time. The quirky, spunky heroine from the first book has landed the man. Unfortunately, this seems to have made Phoebe clingy, whiny, and irritatingly insecure. It's no wonder her new boyfriend heads halfway around the world to be rid of her.
1. Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
I knew the movie was based on the whole collection of stories, not just the one book, but I didn't realize just how incredibly different they would be. In particular, the character of Mary Poppins (in the book) was haughty, vain, and quite disrespectful of both her employers and the children in her care. We stopped reading after three or four chapters.