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Archive for December, 2011


A year ago, I embarked on an ambitious reading project – read 100 books in honor of the centennial year of the Rochester Public Library – 1 book from each year the library has been in existence. It was an adventurous year of reading, from early serial fiction (The Adventures of Kathlyn) to poignant stories of the human spirit (All Quiet on the Western Front, My Antonia, Speak, Night) to pure fluff and fun (Peyton Place, Harry Potter). Today, I file my final entry in the project and close the door on 2011, the Year of Reading the Past.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – Le Cirque des Reves appears suddenly, without warning, and with little fanfare. Its black and white tents seem to unfold from the ground, filled with unimaginable, wondrous magic controlled by two powerful magicians, Celia and Marco, who find much more than they bargained for in this lyrical book.

Destined to compete with one another in a game arranged by their mentors, Celia and Marco find themselves falling in love, when everything they know works against them. The power surge they each experience when they are near to one another or when they touch disconcerts and frightens not only them but the people around them.

Can they allow their stories, begun without their knowledge, to play out under the circus tents, or will their love end it all?

There are really few words that can adequately describe this book. It is one of the rare stories that hasn’t been told before, at least not in the lilting, enchanting words of author Morgenstern. Part fantasy, part love story, part magical reality, The Night Circus is hands down one of the best of 2011.

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The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton is one of those stories that pulls you along gently and then delivers a total kick to the gut, leaving you gasping for breath and wondering how you never saw it coming. Our protagonist, Michael, has a most unusual talent: he can pick any lock, open any safe, unlock anything locked. It is a talent which, at 18, draws Michael inevitably into the criminal world.

However, lock picking is not the only unusual thing about Michael. He hasn’t spoken a word in 10 years, traumatized by some horrific event that Hamilton dangles just out of the reader’s reach throughout the story. We follow Michael from his uncle’s garage, through a meeting with the one girl who just might save his life, through a botched robbery that leaves him imprisoned, until we finally arrive at that gut-kicking moment, when Hamilton reveals what caused Michael to go silent and influenced his peculiar talent.

Tightly plotted and beautifully written, The Lock Artist deservedly won the Edgar Award for 2010 and truly is one of the best of the year. Highly recommended.

Other notables of 2010

  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters – a truly terrifying ghost story set in England after WWII which once again proves that flesh and bone human beings are often more frightening than the ghosts that haunt our dreams.
  • Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth – the third installment in the John Madden series. Just as evocative and well-written as the first two, this made me wish again to see Airth’s work on film.

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The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe – Howe’s first novel received quite a bit of attention in the summer of 2009, showing up on multiple “Must Read” lists. And for very good reason. This is a fast-paced, well-researched and engaging look at women’s history, the Salem witch trials, and a good, old-fashioned mystery.

Connie Goodwin, a scholar in the final stages of her degree program, heads to her grandmother’s spooky old house in Massachusetts to spend the summer getting it ready for sale. While there, she discovers a mysterious, ancient looking key in an old book that starts her on a quest to learn everything she can about Deliverance Dane, who lived during the Salem trials. Connie’s ultimate goal is to find Dane’s “physick book,” or book of knowledge, a powerful and rare volume that would solidly establish her reputation as a women’s history scholar.

There are all the elements of an entertaining story here – a wacky mother, a hidden family history, a devious school advisor, a handsome hero and a plucky heroine. There is a little bit of Barbara Michaels here, a little Esther Forbes, and a lot of fun. his could easily become a movie. Well done and highly recommended.

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I am closing in on my goal. Think I’ll make it????

Here are the latest:

  1. 1994 – The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields – not my usual type of reading, but a really lovely book about loss; if you’re looking for something uplifting, this is *not* for you.
  2. 1995 – The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid – I had no idea this was the story upon which Wire in the Blood was based so this was a double bonus – awesome story, plus an incentive to re-watch the series. As my daughter would say, awesomeness!
  3. 1996 – Undaunted Courage by Steven Ambrose – History at its best, this story of the Lewis & Clark Expedition is based on primary source material. Hear my little librarian heart beating….
  4. 1997 – Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone by J.K. Rowling – I remember getting an ARC of this and letting it sit on my desk for a couple weeks, before I started hearing buzz online about how good it was. I took it home and stayed up all night reading it. This is one of those rare books you wish you hadn’t read so you could have the experience of reading it again for the first time.
  5. 1998 – Hellfire by Diana Gabaldon – I never quite understood the appeal of Gabaldon’s books. Still don’t.
  6. 1999 – Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson – If there is only one book on this list that you read, make it this one. Powerful.
  7. 2000 – A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers – Meh. Sorry, I know there are a lot of folks out there who liked this, but…meh. Really.
  8. 2001 – Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks – a Plague story set in the same town in which one of my favorite children’s books, A Parcel of Patterns, is set. Very good.
  9. 2002 – Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd – Overhyped.
  10. 2003 – Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss – anyone who appreciates good writing will love this book.
  11. 2004 – Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark – an odd but compelling story about magic, reality, reason and unreason.
  12. 2005 – The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – a skillful reimagining of the Dracula legend. Excellent.
  13. 2006 – The Shape Shifter by Tony Hillerman – after 2004 and 2005, I needed something light and Hillerman is that.
  14. 2007 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling – my “best of the year” for 2007. A skillful ending to a masterpiece series.
  15. 2008 – The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie – I’ve tried to appreciate Rushdie’s work, but alas, I still find it nearly unreadable…

This has been quite an adventure, not to mention a crazy-busy year. Although I have loved exploring 20th century literature this year, I am more than ready to delve into all my wishlisted books from this year. So, I have 10 days to finish three books. Given my schedule between now and then, they may indeed be picture books….

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