Thursday, January 03, 2008

Best and Worst Reads of 2007

If you want to know what you really should be reading, then go over to Amy Purcell's Top-Ten list. Amy is a much better reader (and writer) than I am, but we all need aspirations. For the record, I agree with Amy that reading is sexy, but I'm afraid the corollary of that is that reading trash is slutty. To name it is to own it and I can admit that I read promiscuously.

If you want a recomendation for a trashy novel to read on an airplane, then you've come to the right place. This list is entirely subjective and the "of 2007" just means that I read them in 2007. Special thanks to Conortje for planting the idea in my head.

Worst Reads of 2007

In no particular order, the worst books I read this year:

  • Dead Past
  • by Beverly O'Connor - Diane Fallon, head of the crime lab in a small southern town, must tackle her most difficult case yet: a meth lab explosion at a house party. The writing was stiff and stilted with too many irrelevant details stuffed in for good measure. The characters don't even rise to the level of cardboard cutouts. I know - why did I keep reading? Because it's her fourth book, I kept expecting it to get better. I was so wrong.

  • Night Sins
  • by Tami Hoag - A small town police cheif and the new Minnesota Bureau of Investigations field agent struggle to locate a missing 9-year old boy. Hoag is usually reliably good, so I can only hope this was an early book. It is full of annoying and sanctimonious over-telling. The book probably could have been shortened by 30% if all of the over-telling were removed - then it might be a passably good book.

  • Book of the Dead
  • by Patricia Cornwell - I am not going to waste anymore time lamenting the downfall of one of my previously favourite authors. You can read about it in depth here.

  • Book of Fate
  • by Brad Metzler - I found this book to be confusing, uninspiring, and overall poorly executed. In fact, I couldn't even give you a concise plot summary.

    Note to self, perhaps the object lesson here is don't have the words "Book of" in your title.

    Best Reads of 2007

    Unlike the worst books, where I didn't want to think too much about which steaming pile of shite was worse than another steaming pile of shite, I put the effort into selecting and ordering the good books.

    My best books of 2007, in ascending order of greatness:

    10. The Road by Cormac McCarthy - In some sort of nightmare future version of America, where everything is burnt to a crisp, choking ash and smoke still linger in the air, and bad men far outnumber the good, a father and his son walk the road. Equal parts harrowing and mesmerizing, I felt in peril as I was reading it. Writing like that, that transports you to another time and place so completely, is always a joy to read, even when the new reality is a nightmare.

    9. Life As We Knew It by Susan Pfeffer - What would happen to a regular 15-year old girl and her normal family if an asteroid knocked the moon slightly off kilter, causing tsunamis, volcanoes and other natural disasters to upset an otherwise ordinary existence? This book follows Miranda and her family as they try to adapt and adjust to their new world. Pitch-perfect in every respect. Being a teenager is hard enough, but being a teenager in a world that seems like it might be ending is a special challenge that this book describes perfectly.

    8. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson - Bryson's memoir of growing up in 1950s Des Moines was engaging and hilarious.

    7. Exit Music by Ian Rankin - After 20 years (and 17 books), DI Rebus is forced into retirement, but first he has to clear up a few cases. A good end to Rebus' run although perhaps not as strong as The Naming of the Dead. Rankin is near the top of my list of favourite authors and if you're interested in giving him a go, start with Knots and Crosses since that's where it all began, then you can skip ahead to Black and Blue and then work your way forward.

    6. Sunstroke by Jesse Kellerman - Gloria Mendez, a 36 year old woman, has nutured a crush on her boss Carl, a soft-spoken man 20 years her senior. When Carl vanishes on a trip to Mexico, Gloria feels that she must unravel the mystery. I resisted reading this book for at least a year because I was suspicious, as Jesse's parents are Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, both bestselling authors. I'm glad I eventually gave in. The imagery and the character development are especially fantastic. I'd love to figure out how the author manages to maintain momentum when his character is just thinking.

    5. Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich - Ehrenreich does for white collar, middle-management job seekers what she did for minimum wage slaves in "Nickled and Dimed." She set herself a task - to find and then work in a middle-class white collar job in a PR-related field within six months. The results are not at all what she expected. Ehrenreich has a fantastic writing style, a wry sense of humour and spot-on observations. As someone who has been made redundant four times in a ten-year career, I related with to this book.

    4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling - A perfect ending to a beloved series. The writing was much improved and the book tied up the series magically with a sparkling bow.

    3. What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman - Thirty years after two sisters vanished from a mall, a woman involved in a hit-and-run claims to be the younger sister. The book alternates between the past and present as the detectives attempt to figure out the identity of the woman and the events 30 years earlier. I am quite taken with Lippman's writing style. In fact, she could have populated at six spots in my list. Although I had a good idea where the book was going, the details and resolution still managed to be surprising and satisfying.

    2. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan - What if being gay was normal and a high school could have a transsexual quaterback/homecoming queen? This book is a rare beast - magical realism in a high school setting with a unique voice, lovely writing, and engaging story.

    1. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan - Like the opening of a Shakespeare play, the first sentence tells you everything you need to know about what is to happen next:

    They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible.

    In one slim volume, McEwan has distilled a tragic story of misunderstanding and miscommunications. His Britain of 1962, with its ingrained manners, class structure, and inhibitions, is perfectly realized. What I found most stunning was McEwan's economy of language. He boils away all the unnecessary details and presents only the stark bones of the story.

    Methodology and Honourable Mention

    To create this list, I did a search in my blog for all of my reading reports. I started keeping track in March and had a list of 80 books to consider. (Unsurprisingly, I can't remember what I read in January and February.)

    I pulled out the real clunkers first for my Worst Of list. Then I wrote down the name of every book that I really enjoyed reading and would feel confident recommending to a friend. In the end, seven books didn't make the final cut (and this is roughly the order of how close they were to making it):
  • Every Secret Thing by Laura Lippman

  • Forever in Blue by Ann Brashares

  • Whack a Mole by Chris Grabenstein

  • Self Made Man by Norah Roberts

  • Slam by Nick Hornby

  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

  • Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

  • In 2008, I'm going for quality instead of quantity as I participate in the Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge
    My list of dangerous books might end up being the only books I get through this year.

    Happy New Year and Happy Reading!


    At 3 January 2008 at 13:59, Blogger Kaycie said...

    You amaze me, Ann. I cannot finish books I don't like. I just put them down bookmarked with good intentions, and they languish there until I admit I am never going to finish them.

    I see at least two books on your list that I'm going to read. Thanks.

    At 3 January 2008 at 14:20, Blogger laurie said...

    doug liked "the road," too. i refused to read it. it just seemed too grim. and you already know that i loved chesil beach.

    my worst read of the year? easy. NICHOLAS FRICKING SPARKS.* man, what a terrible writer. he has no skill whatsoever--he can't create characters, he can't create interesting dialogue that reveals while it furthers the action, he can't even plot skillfully.

    and the guy's a goddamn millionaire. go figure. he gives reading a ba name.

    *i was forced to read his new book and review it for the paper.

    At 3 January 2008 at 15:33, OpenID conortje said...

    I got The Road for christmas so it's on my list - I love this post. I have a feeling I'll be popping back to it when I need a new recommendation.

    At 3 January 2008 at 18:01, Blogger The Rotten Correspondent said...

    You've given me a lot of ideas, not only for what to read but what to avoid like the plague.


    At 4 January 2008 at 16:56, Blogger -Ann said...

    Kaycie - I'm just weird that way - I have to start what I finish, even if I kick and scream and sulk the whole way.

    Laurie - I think you should give "The Road" a go. You know it's grim, but it has moments of hope that make it well worth while. (And the writing - I was quite taken with the writing.)

    Conortje - I hope you enjoy it. Although, it's really one of those things where enjoy probably isn't the right word. Respect, appreciate, "get" - those might be more appropriate.

    RC - No problem. I read crap so you won't have to - it's a public service.

    At 9 January 2008 at 19:27, Blogger SwampAngel65 said...

    I haven't read any of those books...the good or the bad. But, when I finish reading the latest Stephen King (yes, I'm a King junkie), I think I'll get that Bryson book next. I've read two fo his books - A Walk in the Woods and the one about Australia (In a Sunburned Country?).

    I enjoyed reading your reviews and know I'll refer back to your list in the coming months.


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