Pithy Books Reviews 2012

#1. MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche

A great non-fiction read about making friends in a new city after college. It inspired an entire blog post from me, actually.

#2. Eden Lake by Jane Roper

Very good read. As a former overnight camp girl, I loved this fictional account of running a camp. Told from the perspectives of the different family members involved in keeping the camp going. I recommend this one!

#3. The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood

Beautifully written, but a major tear-jerker. A great read depending on your mood. If you’re feeling “down,” this one will take you further down the sadness spiral so maybe wait until you’re in a happy place.

#4. 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Everyone is talking about this book. My review “50 Shades Overrated” is here. Spoiler alert: it’s a negative review.

#5. Night Swim by Jessica Keener

Coming of age story that takes place in the summer after sixteen-year-old Sarah’s mom commits suicide. The book is not as depressing as it sounds. Well written. Quick read.

#6. Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan

Good rules to live by. I probably won’t.

#7. Confessions of a Scary Mommy by Jill Smokler

Hilarious! Read my post about it here.

#8. Faith by Jennifer Haigh

The story of a priest accused of molesting a child and the family drama that ensues as the priest’s family forms opinions about his innocence or guilt. I liked this one, but enjoyed Haigh’s previous novels significantly more.

#9. The Gap Year by Sarah Bird

The story of one mom’s hopes for her daughter to begin college and that daughter’s secret year of planning a different future for herself. This one was a slow start for me, but I eventually found myself reading quickly to find out what would happen next. Sign of a good read!

#10. What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander

I’ve been waiting a long time for a follow up to Englander’s outstanding collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. This collection does not disappoint. If you rarely read short stories, he’s a good author to try. I find his work smart but accessible.

#11. How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper

A young man (not even thirty years old) loses his wife and tries to rebuild. Like all of Tropper’s novels, it sounds tragic, but the story and general writing manages to be hilarious. Tropper, author of one of my 2011 favorites, This is Where I Leave You, is turning into one of my favorite writers. Nuanced and clever from start to finish.

#12. Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott

An insightful, funny, and touching account of Lamott’s first year as a grandmother. That vague description doesn’t do the book justice. I adore Lamott’s writing, her voice, her tone, her everything.

#13. The Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch

Love the premise: woman survives a plane crash but suffers amnesia. Must rely on friends and family to put the pieces of her life together, but can their versions of the truth be trusted? I’m not doing the book any justice with my attempt at a summary. It’s a really good read!

#14. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild is the true story of Cheryl Strayed’s summer hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on her own when she was twenty-six. If you know me at all in person or from this blog, you know I’m as NON-outdoorsy as they come. The book fascinated me anyway. Strayed knows how to tell a story and her writing is to the point, insightful, and beautiful at the same time.

#15. Deep Betrayal by Anne Greenwood Brown.

This book is the second in the Lies Beneath series by my friend Anne Greenwood Brown. I’m one of her early readers (um, how cool is that?) so I got a pre-publication copy and devoured it. (Book comes out March 2013.) She even used the name Badzin in there. How could I not love the book!? I can’t tell you more than this: Murderous mermaids on Lake Superior! Great story, great characters.

#16. Bright Lights, Big Ass by Jennifer Lancaster

As I explore the world of creative non-fiction, I’m picking up more memoirs and collections of essays. Jennifer Lancaster is hilarious. She’s definitely more crass than I’d ever be on my crabbiest day, but she’s also infinitely funnier and braver than I am so I do not judge. I just enjoy.

#17. Candy Freak by Steve Almond

Not to be competitive, but I’m also a candy freak. Loved Steve Almond’s hilarious and informational account of his history of candy love combined with visits to candy factories. The guy has a way with words no matter what he’s discussing.

#18. The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel

I’ve skimmed this parenting book several times, but I finally sat down and read it cover to cover. It is the BEST parenting book by far and absolutely represents how I feel about raising kids. I also recommend Mogel’s follow-up, The Blessing of a B-.

#19. Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

A sequel (sort of) to Eat, Pray, Love. It’s not nearly as fun, but I liked the historical view of marriage as well as Gilbert’s commentary (most of the time). Good, but can’t say it’s a “must read.”

#20. Bossypants by Tina Fey

Perfection. Funny, smart, laugh out loud. (Really, I laughed out loud.) For sure one of my favorites of 2012.

#21. Click: The Forces Behind With People, Work, and Everything We Do by Ori Brafman and Ram Brafman

A read of the Freakonimcs/Tipping Point variety. Would not call it a must read, but I always get something out of these types of non-fiction books. This one was too research heavy for me. My full take is in my post about clicking with a new friend in town.

#22. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I love everything about this book: Rubin’s pleasant writing voice, her research, her ideas, her honesty, and more. She and I agree on a lot of life principles. I could have written twenty posts about this book, but I chose to focus on one small section of the Rubin’s advice about letting go of certain hobbies as a means to happiness.

#23. Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott

Somehow I read Lamott’s memoir of her first year as a grandmother (see #12 on this list) before I read her memoir of her first year as a mother. Didn’t really matter. Lamott’s voice is similar in both: smooth, honest, entertaining, insightful. One of my favorite nonfiction writers.

#24. The World Without You by Joshua Henkin

Jewish family drama. As fas as my reading list goes, this novel got sandwiched between several witty non-fiction reads so the humorless nature of the story took some getting used to for me. I had the opportunity to attend Henkin’s reading in Minneapolis and have dinner with him afterwards. Always love the chance to meet an author!

#25. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Sedaris always makes me laugh. So spot on and spins a story like nobody else. This collection wasn’t my favorite of his though. I found myself skimming from about the half-way point to the end.

#26. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me and Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling

I’ve never watched The Office but I still really enjoyed this collection of essays by Mindy Kaling, one of the show’s main writers. I especially enjoyed her piece of the different “types” in romantic comedies. Really funny read!

#27. The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier

Two of my favorite subjects are in this book: journal entries and friendship. Quality read.

#28. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess)

Clearly I’m having something of a non-fiction humor year in terms of my book picks. This one does not disappoint. It’s impossible to describe Jenny’s writing voice, especially if you don’t read her blog. But I’d only read a few of her posts in the past and absolutely devoured the book. For sure a top pick of 2012, and it’s only August. I’m that sure! I’m for sure a thebloggess.com devotee now. I get the hype. She deserves it.

#29. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

One of my favorite non-fiction writers, Steve Almond, started a column called “Dear Sugar” at a wonderful website called The Rumpus. Long story short, he put author Cheryl Strayed in the role of the anonymous advice giver. As one quote on the back of the book stated, Strayed turned the advice column concept on its head. I don’t see how it will ever be the same. Strayed’s answers to the serious questions posed to her are gorgeous essays, made all the more powerful by the fact that she was able to write with an anonymous voice. Right before her very successful memoir, Wild, was released, Strayed revealed that she was indeed “Sugar.” Tiny Beautiful Things, is the compilation of her incredible advice columns all written under the pseudonym “Sugar.” I loved this book. It was a completely different kind of read for me. Highly recommend it, especially if you read Wild and liked it. For a sample of one Strayed’s “Sugar” answers, read this.

#30. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Loved the book and the wild ride of the read. Despite feeling somewhat unsatisfied at the end, I highly recommend this one. I don’t how to say what it’s about without ruining the plot. My best no-secrets summary: WORST MARRIAGE EVER.

#31. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

First let me give you some of the text on the back of the book so you have a sense what this one is about:

“On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love . . . “

I have mixed feelings about this book because of the way I felt at the end, BUT, the fact that I stopped everything to read it and read it quickly means a lot. Walker took a complicated premise, but still managed to keep the story straightforward by telling it through the voice of one young girl. Walker’s writing is simple, which is exactly what I prefer in a novel. I’m not into flowery language, or more details than necessary. I know this doesn’t sound like a positive review. Actually, I really liked this book A LOT, and I even highly recommend it (as did most of the major newspapers). I’m just so haunted by the end that I can’t say I “loved” it. Would love to hear what other people thought.

#32. Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck

Hemingway’s Girl is historical fiction about the (imagined) friendship and platonic romance between Ernest Hemingway and the housekeeper in his Key West home. I really appreciated the historical details in this story, but even more I was swept away by the tension between Hemingway “Papa” and Mariella. This book was the perfect example of why I found 50 Shades so over the top. There is no actual sex between Hemingway and Mariella in the novel, and yet their scenes together were HOT. (At least to me!) A really great read, and I recommend it for sure. This was book #2 for the Great New Books Online Book Club. Visit the site for interviews with Erika and an in-depth discussion.

#33. Not-Yet-Titled Book #3 in the Lies Beneath series by Anne Greenwood Brown

This is where I get to brag about being good friends with an author. I have to say it’s pretty cool to read an almost-final draft and get to give some opinions before Anne turns it in to her editor.

#34. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

My favorite reads have  a grab-you-by-the first-paragraph first-person voice. The Fault in Our Stars has that voice with Hazel, the narrator. I loved Augustus, too, though I have to warn you that this book is a tear-jerker. One of my favorites of the year. I won’t say more for fear of giving too much away. It won a bazillion awards. Take a look here for more.

#35. Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

The October read for Great New Books. Posts, interviews, and other info about the book are on the site.

#36. Paper Towns by John Green 

Liked, but did not love. I just loved The Fault in Our Stars so much that it was hard for this to measure up.

#37. The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

In the tradition of Prep, and A Separate Peace meets Dead Poet’s Society, A Year of the Gadfly is a great book with a prep school back drop. I really liked this one.

#38.The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

Jews, the North Shore suburbs of Chicago, and food. My three favorite subjects. What’s not to like? I really liked the humorous tone of the writing and the quirky yet recognizable characters. Reviews have been excellent and well deserved.

#39. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Completely deserving of all the hype it’s had for over a decade. A quick, heartfelt, and wonderful read.

#40. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deborah Perelman

I read this cookbook cover to cover and it’s THICK, which is why I’m counting it as one of my reads. Perelman offers great stories with each recipe, as well as detailed instructions and tips along the way. The pictures are your classic food porn. Good stuff. I love her site and honestly feel that any of us who have been using her site for free for all these years owe her this one purchase. You won’t be sorry. Would make a great gift too.

#41. The Mothers by Jennifer Gilmore

In The Mothers we follow one couple’s experience trying to adopt a baby. We meet the couple at the end of their attempts with IVF and watch the intimate ups and downs of their excruciating wait for a baby. I’m a fan of Jennifer Gilmore’s other novels and found this one delivered as well. She does a suburb job showing how issues with fertility and the waiting period of adoption affects the couple and their extended family as well. I was rooting for Jesse and Ramon throughout and found myself quick to get to bed and start reading. For sure recommend this one. (Not available until April 2013. I read an advanced copy via Net Galley.)

#42. The Innocents by Francesca Segal

Fans of The Age of Innocence will absolutely devour Segal’s modern take on Wharton’s classic story, which follows Age faithfully (like 80% faithfully).

#43. Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling by Donald Maass

Every six months I think I might want to write a novel. Then I can’t think of a compelling idea. I think Donald Maass’s technique books are incredibly helpful, and I’ve read them all now. In my case, they help remind me that now is not the time for me to be writing fiction.

#44. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

I’d heard about this book for a while. Everyone loved it, but I was hesitant because I’m not a fan of books with long-winded, flowery language and descriptions. I’m happy to report that The Language of Flowers is not that kind of book. It is a beautiful work of literary fiction, but there’s a story and plot that moves along, too. I rushed to bed every night to see what happened in Victoria’s past and what was going to happen in her present story line. I won’t say more because I think you should read it and find out for yourself what happens. It was one of my favorite of 2012.

#45. Son by Lois Lowry

If you’ve read The Giver then you must read Son, which is essentially the direct sequel even though it’s the fourth book in her “quartet” which also includes Gathering Blue (loved) and Messenger (have not read yet). I stayed up for two nights reading this one. Lowry’s characters stay with you and the situations and worlds she invents for them absolutely haunt me.

#46. Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs

This is another in the (getting to be) long line in books about year-long experiments. In this one, Jacobs, who wrote The Year of Living Biblicallywe get a look at one man (Jacobs) goal to drastically improve his health by the end of the year. Jacobs writing voice is humorous, clear, and quick. I enjoyed this read for a nice fiction break.

#47. A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison

A riveting novel that spans India, Paris, New York, and Atlanta to explore the devastating reality of the sex-trafficking trade in our society. We follow two sisters who are kidnapped then separated and Thomas, the man who vows to save them and reunite them. I would have put this book on my “top picks of 2012” list because it was such a good read. However, the Thomas parts were much longer and more detailed than necessary. Part of what made this read such a quick one for me is that I skimmed the Thomas sections. I still highly recommend it this one.