100 Years. 100 Books. 2011 aka The End!

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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.

100 Years. 100 Books. 2010


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.

100 Years. 100 Books. 2009


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.

100 Years. 100 Books – December (Final?!) Update


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….

100 Years. 100 Books. November Update


Here it is, almost December. Not entirely confident I’ll reach my goal of 100 books from 1911-2011, but I’m still trying. Here’s the latest update:

  1. 1981 – Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving – I know this is considered a modern classic, but man, I *really* disliked Irving’s characters.
  2. 1982 – The Parsifal Mosaic by Robert Ludlum – A good, solid spy adventure.
  3. 1983 – The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett – The first in Pratchett’s Discworld books. Funny fantasy at its best.
  4. 1984 – Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich – Beautiful. Nothing more to say.
  5. 1985 – Elvis and Me by Priscilla Presley – A sweet and heartbreaking memoir. A little cheesy, though.
  6. 1986 – Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – Good, solid fantasy. Fun from start to finish.
  7. 1987 – The Commitments by Roddy Doyle – I picked this one because I *loved* the movie. I wasn’t disappointed.
  8. 1988- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – An odd little fable involving a shepherd searching for treasure and the unusual people he meets along the way.
  9. 1989 – Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett – LONG, but fascinating. A must-read for anyone who loves history and architecture.
  10. 1990 – Well-Schooled in Murder by Elizabeth George – An Inspector Lynley mystery. Good stuff.
  11. 1991 – Possession by A.S. Byatt – a romantic mystery wrapped in poetry. Lovely.
  12. 1992 – The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller – I know this was *the* books to read in 1992, but it kind of left me cold.
  13. 1993 – Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh – The world according to heroin addicts. Hard to read but compelling nonetheless.

100 Years. 100 Books. October Update

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Well friends, I am getting close to the end of the year and the end of my reading project. I still have a ways to go, but I am confident I’ll make it. Here’s my October update:

  1. 1953 – Love Among the Ruins by Evelyn Waugh – a little odd, but a startling commentary on appearance and happiness.
  2. 1954 – The Magicians by J.B. Priestly – sex, drugs, and lies in the early corporate world.
  3. 1955 – Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis – a cheerful, uplifting story about a boy and his vivacious aunt.
  4. 1956 – Peyton Place by Grace Metalious – sex, lies and betrayal in small-town America. The original Desperate Housewives.
  5. 1957 – On the Road by Jack Kerouac – as powerful today as it was in 1957.
  6. 1958 – Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote – not one of my favorites.
  7. 1959 – Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico – the lure of French couture…
  8. 1960 – Night by Elie Wiesel – the most powerful book I’ve read this year. The human experience at its most raw. Highly recommended.
  9. 1961 – Marnie by Winston Graham – deceitful girl + lonely widower = disaster.
  10. 1962 – The Moon Spinners by Mary Stewart – a lark after Night and Marnie. A young girl finds mystery and romance in Greece.
  11. 1963 – Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff – A King Arthur tale, sequel to The Lantern Bearers.
  12. 1964 – A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir – an account of the death of the author’s mother. Very difficult to read.
  13. 1965 – Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman – this reminded me of why I admire teachers and saddened me that little has changed in urban education since 1965.
  14. 1966 – The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein – not my favorite, but then I have never really appreciated hard science fiction.
  15. 1967 – The Outsiders by S.e. Hinton – the seminal work of young adult fiction – a lot dated, but still a good read.
  16. 1968 – Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Daniken – did early civilizations acquire technology from ancient astronauts? You decide…
  17. 1969 – I Sing the Body Electric by Ray Bradbury – short stories by one of the best American writers ever.
  18. 1970 – 84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff – a poignant tale of two book lovers. Really enjoyed this one.
  19. 1971 – The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty – having only seen the movie, I was again reminded that books are Always Better. Scared the hell out of me.
  20. 1972 – An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James – Hard to believe this story came out in 1972. Early James and a very good mystery.
  21. 1973 – The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker – Spenser. What more can I say?
  22. 1974 – Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi – a bone chilling inside look at Charles Manson and his “family.” The thought of one man having such power over people is terrifying.
  23. 1975 – Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters – the start of one of my favorite Mystery series – Amelia Peabody!
  24. 1976 – Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice – just as good today as it was in 1976. I’m sure Stephanie Meyer read this when she was a kid…
  25. 1977 – A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion – Could not finish this one. I was disappointed because I usually really like Didion’s work.
  26. 1978 – Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford – if even half of what Crawford writes about her mother is true, Joan Crawford was indeed batshit crazy.
  27. 1979 – Ghost Story by Peter Straub – one of the most terrifying horror stories I have ever read.
  28. 1980 – The Name of Rose by Umberto Eco – a good, solid mystery.

All in all, a good two months worth of reading. On the home stretch now….

100 Years. 100 Books – Taking Stock


Round about May, I realized I was never going to reach my goal of reading 100 books for the Rochester Public Library Centennial, IF I tortured myself over writing reviews of each one. I’ve been reading – a lot. But finding the time to write is tough. So, I have modified my goal. I will still strive to read one book for every year the library has been in existence, but I’m not going to write reviews of each one. I’ll probably write about the books that really stay with me. For now, here’s a re-cap of all I’ve read so far this year:

  1. 1911 – The Sea Fairies by L.Frank Baum
  2. 1912 – The Room in the Tower by E.F. Benson
  3. 1913 – The Poison Belt by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  4. 1914 – The Adventures of Kathlyn by Harold McGrath
  5. 1915 – Dr. Syn: A Smuggler’s Tale of Romney Marsh by Russell Thorndyke
  6. 1916 – Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain
  7. 1917 – Daughter of the Morning by Zona Gale
  8. 1918 – My Antonia by Willa Cather
  9. 1919 – League of the Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orcszey
  10. 1920 – Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
  11. 1921 – Black Moth by Georgette Heyer
  12. 1922 – The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne
  13. 1923 – Whose Body by Dorothy L. Sayers
  14. 1924 – The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  15. 1925 – American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
  16. 1926 – The Benson Murder Case by S.S. VanDine
  17. 1927 – The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon
  18. 1928 – Mirror for Witches by Esther Forbes
  19. 1929 – All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  20. 1930 – The Door by Mary Roberts Rinehart
  21. 1931 – Roman Holiday by Upton Sinclair
  22. 1932 – Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith
  23. 1933 – Lost Horizon by James Hilton
  24. 1934 – The Postman Always Rings Twice by James Cain
  25. 1935 – The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney
  26. 1936 – The Dark Frontier by Eric Ambler
  27. 1937 – Drums Along the Mohawk by Walter Edmonds
  28. 1938 – The Gracie Allen Murder Case by S.S. VanDine
  29. 1939 – Kitty Foyle by Christopher Morley
  30. 1940 – The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer
  31. 1941 – Saratoga Trunk by Edna Ferber
  32. 1942 – The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck
  33. 1943 – The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler
  34. 1944 – Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor – Scandalous!!! 🙂
  35. 1945 – The Opener of the Way by Robert Bloch – truly terrifying. 😦
  36. 1946 – Showdown by Errol Flynn – celebrities couldn’t write in the 40’s any better than they write today.
  37. 1947 – Carnacki the Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson
  38. 1948 – Pilgrim’s Inn by Elizabeth Goudge
  39. 1949 – Dinner at Antoine’s by Francis Parkinson Keyes – snore….
  40. 1950 – The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli – Harry Potter lovers will enjoy this one. Charming.
  41. 1951 – Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey – Hands down my favorite mystery, ever.
  42. 1952 – The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. A staggering work.

What’s next, you ask? Here’s what’s waiting in line:

  1. 1953 – Love Among the Ruins by Evelyn Waugh
  2. 1954 – The Magicians by J.B. Priestly
  3. 1955 – Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis
  4. 1956 – Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
  5. 1957 – On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  6. 1958 – Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
  7. 1959 – Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico

No Time to Write


Again, no time to write full reviews, so let’s settle for a quick drive-by look at what I’ve been reading:

  • Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse – lovely novella set in France; lots of fairy tale overtones, but a really evocative, original story.
  • The Distant Hour by Kate Morton – reading it now and savoring every word.
  • The Door by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1930)
  • Lost Horizon by James Hilton (1933) like getting reacquainted with an old friend!
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice by James Cain (1934) One of those books that kind of repulse you but you just have to keep reading…
  • The Gracie Allen Murder Case by SS Van Dine (1938) Pure hokum. Loved it.
  • The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova – also reading now. Powerful.

100 Years. 100 Books – #16 1921


The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer – Fans of historical romance fiction will immediately recognize Heyer’s name and place as one of the great authors of the genre. The Black Moth was her first novel, a Georgian romance set in the 1750’s that recounts the adventures of disgraced nobleman Jack Carstares. There are many staples of historical fiction here – the aforementioned disgraced nobleman turned highwayman who really isn’t guilty of the crime of which he’s been accused; the gentle, beautiful young woman who meets the hero under questionable circumstances and force shim to change his errant ways; the struggle not to fall in love; the wicked or weak sibling, and so on.

As the story opens, we find Jack Carstares masquerading as a highwayman, robbing the rich to give to the poor, after having fallen from grace by being accused of cheating at cards. He has been cast out by family and friends alike, even though the real culprit is his younger, weaker brother. Jack’s new identity and life is challenged when he holds up a coach only to find it occupied by his brother, who immediately recognizes him. This presents a problem because the men’s father has died, and Jack, as eldest son, inherits the family property and wealth. Jack having been absent for many years in exile, young er brother Dick has managed the inheritance. Jack wants none of it, however, and continues on his wicked way, only to meet the lovely Diana Beauleigh, who shows him the error of his ways.

For fans of historical and especially Regency romances, but not really my cup of tea.

2 out of 5 catalog cards.

100 Years. 100 Books – #15, 1928


A Mirror For Witches by Esther Forbes – I knew Forbes primarily from her Newbery winning novel for children, Johnny Tremain, so I was eager to read this book, which recounts the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials decades before Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

The book opens with Captain Bilby, an English merchant captain, rescuing a wild, goblin child from the scene of a horrific witch burning in France. He calls the child “Doll” because she reminds him of such a poppet, with her wild hair and button eyes. Doll, a child of 7 or 8, witnesses both of her parents being burned as witches, a trauma which shapes the rest of her life. Bilby’s wife is none to pleased when he returns to England with this odd, silent child. Eventually, the family makes its way to the Massachusetts colony, where Doll grows to womanhood never gaining the trust or love of her new mother.

Eventually, Doll attracts the attentions of  the son of a neighboring farmer, who finds himself attracted to her. The fathers agree this is a good match that will unite their farms and families. However, Goodwife Bilby accuses the girl of witchcraft, indeed has harbored the idea from the time the girl was brought into her home. The hysteria happening in Salem, located just a town away, seeps into the psyche of Cowan’s Corners, where Doll is accused of all sorts of evil doings.

Written decades before The Crucible, Forbes’ story of the Salem trials is told from a woman’s point of view, where sexual attraction and desire is looked on as devilment and the work of a witch, rather than as a natural human emotion. Forbes’ treatment of this dark chapter in American history is thoughtful, eloquent and horrifying at the same time.

I was able to find a copy of the 2006 reproduction printing of this book, done in authentic typesetting and accompanied by noteworthy woodcuts by Robert Gibbings. If you are fascinated by the hysteria that swept Salem in the 1600s, or if you are looking for a slice of women’s history, try this one. You won’t be sorry.

5 out of 5 catalog cards