snugglekitty: (bookcase)
Cotillion by Georgette Heyer Didn't know there was a "witty YA romance set in the Regency era" genre? Well, you do now.
The Host by Stephanie Meyer Meyer became a household name this year, with her Twilight series soaring to new heights of popularity. In what I think her best work to date, she redefines the genre of romantic SF.
Holy Fire by Bruce Sterling Think a hard sci fi writer won't tackle issues like aging, beauty, and art? Think again.
The Autumn Castle by Kim Wilkins This lyrical treasure will give hope to anyone who thinks the golden age of urban fantasy is over.

Four and a Half Star Books. )

Click here for last year's best fiction.

As of today, I am going to switch from a five-star rating system to a grade point rating system. I've been talking about this for a while. I think it will allow me more nuance. I am also going to try out using an outline or summary outside the cut, with Title, Author, Genre, Grade, and similar categories, but that is more experimental and I may not do it beyond January.
snugglekitty: (bookcase)
207 books later... )

Five star titles, alphabetical by author

Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, & Other Outlaws by Kate Bornstein This book is not just for teenagers and the suicidal. It should be required reading for anyone who is really unhappy and/or doesn't know how to change their life.
Many Roads, One Journey by Charlotte Kasl A holistic guide to recovering from addiction, for women. Places our understanding of addiction in context of our lives and society.
Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz How to naturally ferment anything in simple, easy, unintimidating steps. If you don't know what to do with your garden surplus, or have always been intimidated by the idea of canning, you must read it.
Face to Face by Audrey Kishline and Sheryl Maloy What would you say to the person who killed your child? What if you believed God wanted you to forgive them? A true story.
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott A brutally honest look at parenting from the front lines. Written with compassion and humor for everyone involved.
Strategic Sex: Why They Won't Keep It in the Bedroom edited by D. Travers Scott Possibly one of the best sexually-themed anthologies I've ever read, and I've read many.


Four and a Half Star Books )

Still not enough? Click here for my take on last year's best nonfiction.
snugglekitty: (book magic)
Heyer was recommended to me by [livejournal.com profile] polgaramalfoy and [livejournal.com profile] belgatherial in their generous response to my request for titles that might cheer me up. They were spot-on.

The gently bred Kitty Charing is the ward of a pennypinching, hypochondriac man, no actual relation to her, who is also a big meanie. He has devised a scheme to keep everyone in the family under his thumb. He wants Kitty to marry one of his great-nephews. If she does this, he will leave her all his fortune. If she refuses them all or marries someone else she will be cut off! Without a cent! Penniless!
She cannot bear to face either fate, so she devises a cunning plan. She will pretend to be engaged to Freddy, the one nephew who is secure in his own fortune and completely uninterested in hers. This will gain her a London Season. And in a London Season, anything can happen!

This book is what fans of Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope should read while they are on vacation. It is set in the Victorian era, but was written in the 1950s. It is shorter and easier to follow than most books actually written in that time period, but it has a very authentic feel. It is sweet and clever and not annoying. Once I got into it it was very hard to put down. Heyer, where have you been all my life? WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? Five stars. Fans of period pieces will find it very entertaining.
snugglekitty: (fall)
I picked this up while I was on vacation with [livejournal.com profile] mrpet in Providence and got nervous that I was going to run out of reading material. (Surely I'm not the only one who does this? I finished Dexter in the Dark much faster than I expected, and... well... you know how it goes. Or maybe you don't.) It was a paperback with a quote from Jacqueline Carey on the front as well as the picture of a beautiful woman wearing Victorian gentlemen's clothes. What's not to love about that?

Christine lives in an artists' complex with her lover Jude and their friends. She tries to have a normal life, but she is haunted by the car accident that killed her beloved parents and permanently, painfully injured her body. Bad enough to have a lingering fear that Jude doesn't really love her - but recently the reccuring, oddly familiar nightmares featuring ravens have been getting to be just too much. Then she sees an old face from the past - a childhood friend who disappeared mysteriously decades ago. What will happen when Christine's past and Little May's new world collide?

This book started out okay and then just kept getting better and better. It is dark urban fantasy - but what makes it dark is not primarily monsters or supernatural elements, but the secrets that we humans hide from each other and ourselves. The plot gets more and more complicated as reality and fairy tale begin to mix, and then all the pieces are brought together in the end. The characters are deeply believable (and some of them are deeply creepy). This is a gorgeous book and one that I think says something new about dark fantasy. Five stars.
snugglekitty: (Default)
I first encountered Charlotte Kasl when I read her excellent book If the Buddha Dated, which is about holding onto yourself and being authentic in relationship practices. I chose this book to read just after I finished Face to Face, partly because it was strongly recommended as a women's take on AA and partly because I knew I liked her writing style.

How do oppression and hierarchical societies feed into alcoholism and other forms of addiction? Is a codependency model appropriate for survivors of abuse? What was the original intent of AA founder Bill W, and how is that spirit being honored or ignored today? How can a model of maturing spirituality help us to understand the recovery movement? Why are sexual relationships within a support group problematic? Does one size really fit all for addiction recovery?

This book is over ten years old, but the ideas in it are still considered radical by many. Kasl's holistic approach to addiction recovery centers on the individual, doing what works for you. In explaining how she came to create it, she also discusses what is problematic for many women about AA and traditional recovery. While parts of it are dated (most folks no longer use the term "consciousness raising," for example) there are still ideas in this book that I haven't seen discussed anywhere else. This is a must read for any woman with a substance addiction problem, and strongly recommended for any who are interested in a feminist critique of the recovery movement. Five stars. (In my new system I would give this an A-, because it does have some problems - but it is a life-changing book.)
snugglekitty: (inanna)
Today I finished reading Face to Face by Audrey Kishline and Sheryl Maloy. Wow. What an intense book, and it really has me thinking. I love it when a book makes me want to read other books, and it's rare when that happens for me with nonfiction. The last time it did, it started my "women and buddhism" reading kick, and I think this one is starting me on a topical arc of "models of addiction recovery." I want to know more, and soon I will.

A little personal background. )

Audry Kishline and Sheryl Maloy's lives were joined forever in the fateful moment that Kishline's pickup truck hit the car of Maloy's ex-husband, killing both the ex and Maloy's twelve-year-old daughter. The two women co-wrote this book, each from their own perspective, talking about the events that led up to the accident and how their lives changed after it. Kishline pled guilty to murder and went to prison. Maloy tried to cope with her grief, learning to be closer to God, and trying to be both mother and father to her remaining children. And then everything changed again, when Maloy decided that God's will was that she forgive Kishline.

Two quotes, one from each author. )

Not everything in this book fits with my own beliefs about life, and especially about spirituality. (I don't agree that we're all sinners in the eyes of God, or that driving drunk is ethically the same as shooting someone, for instance.) But I think it is an amazing story about two women doing the unthinkable (killing a child, forgiving a murderer), living through the unlivable (life in prison, life as a bereaved mother) and finding hope and forgiveness at the end of their journey. I can't imagine enduring what either of these women have endured. It also raised a lot of interesting questions about addiction and the recovery movement for me, although the book stays focused on the narrative and only brings up those topics as they pertain.
I think this book is really fascinating, and for the most part, it's well-written too. It made me hungry for more information, which I believe is one of the greatest gifts a book can bestow. Five stars.

For my next exploration into this topic, I plan to read Many Paths, One Journey by Charlotte Kasl and Sober for Good by Anne M. Fletcher. It seems to be tricky to find a balanced third-party view of AA - I was never aware of the controversies! - but perhaps something will come to light.
snugglekitty: (Default)
I have been seeing reviews of this book EVERYWHERE. Therefore, I am putting this review behind a cut - and not posting it to any communities - in case you have been seeing them everywhere too.

author background, my synopsis and my review. )
snugglekitty: (world tree)
I have just finished the fabulous, fascinating book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, thanks to an excellent recommendation from [livejournal.com profile] katjamama. What do cheese, miso, beer, sauerkraut, and sourdough bread have in common? They are all fermented foods. With a few simple tools, raw ingredients, and a bit of luck, you can make your own! This is a great general beginner's guide to the wild world of fermentation, with simple, easy-to-follow recipes for just about every fermented food or beverage you could hope to make. There are also several chapters on fermentation and health, the food industry, composting, and other related topics.

"My advice is to reject the culture of expertise. Do not be afraid. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated. Remember that all fermentation processes predate the technology that has made it possible for them to be made more complicated. Fermentation does not require specialized equipment. Not even a thermometer is necessary (although it can help). Fermentation is easy and exciting. Anyone can do it." p 28

If you are even slightly interested in how fermentation works, you must read this book. Seriously. It will have you pickling before you knew what hit you. This book has won five stars, because it has signficantly changed my outlook on food. Keep on rockin' the live cultures, Sandorkraut. Keep on rockin'.

I am planning to follow up this book with The Joy of Pickling, which seems to have more of a focus on fruits and veggies, which is what I'm most interested in.
snugglekitty: (Default)
(I promise, this is the last book review I'm posting today. Really. Would I lie to you?)

This was an interesting book for me to read. It is geared towards teens who are having suicidal feelings, so I'm out of the demographic in two ways. It does not try to talk you out of suicide - Ms. Bornstein writes "No matter how many (reasons) I could come up with, you'll come up with more reasons to go through with it. This is a book about things to do instead." (p 17) The premise is not that anything you might want to do is okay. The premise is that most things you can do with your life, even if they're not good choices, are better options than killing yourself. The guiding principle? "Don't be mean."

I think this is an amazing book. It is not a palliative - "things will get better for you" - or technical manual - "the urge to die will only last five minutes, just hold out for fifteen." It talkes about the traditional solutions first - calling a suicide hotline, talking to someone you trust, getting therapy. But that only goes on for a few pages. Bornstein acknowledges that the traditional answers may not be available to everyone or comfortable for everyone, plus, for some people they may just plain not work. Her 101 Alternatives are other possibilities that might work for anyone. And although the book is written for people who want to die, it would be great for anyone who is just stuck in a rut or doesn't like their life or can't figure out how to start changing things around them. The ideas are rated on the basis of difficulty, effectiveness, how self-loving they are, and age group. Safety tips and warnings are included.

If you, or someone you know, is having a hard time surviving, you need this book. Five stars. Another grand slam from the fabulous Ms. Bornstein.
snugglekitty: (reading in bed)
This book is an unusual love story. It's fairly short, but packs a punch. It's written in the first person, with a narrator whose gender and name we never learn. The narrator's beloved is a married woman. The prose is amazing, the plot twists impossible to foresee, the ending leaves you with restless yearnings. I really enjoyed this book and I'm sure I'll read it again many times. I can't think of another love story like it. Five stars. If you were an English major, you should read it. If you enjoy portrayals of love unfettered by considerations of sexual orientation, you should read it. And you should also read it if you like really good prose.

(Also, any book that makes you wake in the middle of the night and talk to your sweetie about it because you're still thinking it over has to be pretty good.)
snugglekitty: (reading is sexy)
I bought this book last month at a used bookstore in Ann Arbor. I love used bookstores so much, and this one, Dawn Treader Bookstore, was especially good. Mmmm, it still makes me warm and fuzzy to think about it. I was expecting it to be a fun read, but not especially inspiring, based on the books of his I had previously read (Distraction and Heavy Weather). I thought Holy Fire was simply excellent. In addition to be engrossing, as I found his other books to be, it is also very thoughtful. If you have ever imagined a world ruled by the old, or wondered about where our health-care crisis is leading, you should read it. It includes surprisingly deep explorations of the meaning of art, what we should do with our lives, youth and age, and what it means not to be human anymore. I know that I didn't perceive all of the layers of the book the first time around - guess I'll just have to read it again (darn). Five stars.
snugglekitty: (reading bench)
This was a suggestion from [livejournal.com profile] harlequinade. Given my job, I read a lot of books on pregnancy, birth, and parenting - at this point it takes a fair amount to surprise me or really impress me in the genre. This book had what it took. Lamott holds nothing back as she describes the incredible journey of deciding to have a baby on her own, giving birth, and the first year of his life. She also flashes back to her experiences as an addict, getting sober, and the long illness of her father. Her faith is a current that runs through the whole book, and clearly sustains her deeply, but she's never evangelical about it. I love that. I love how true this book is, and how hysterically funny it is. I definitely need a copy for my pregnancy and birth library. Maybe even more than one copy. Five stars.

Favorite quotes from the book behind the cut. )

I'm following this up with the new anthology Maybe Baby, which I suspect will make a great companion piece.
snugglekitty: (genius)
I finished Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks while on my way to New Year's Eve dinner. (Yay, subway.) Now, most of you know that I read a lot of YA and children's literature. I've read books with this premise, but none executed so brilliantly. Artemis Fowl prays every night that a miracle will occur and he'll become half as cool as Cabel Piggot. This is the junior version of Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible, or Mysterious Benedict Society from the other side of the mirror. This book is not funny or hopeful, but despite the surreal cast of characters and crazy plot developments, it is very real. If you are or have ever been a teenage geek, you'll love it. Five stars.

One complaint, though - the book ends with a number code, and I can't crack it. I'm a geek, but I'm a book geek - numbers scare me in large doses. Does 53 178.5 73 12.01 92 mean anything to anybody? Or do you see where on the Internet I can find the answer?
snugglekitty: (Default)
This was a good year for books. I read 216 books as of 1st to Die books this year, and 20 of them were five-star - almost ten percent! For those who aren't familiar with my rating series, four stars means "I would read this book over and over," and five stars means that the book changed my life or its genre in some way. Also, "of 2007" means that I read it in 2007 - it may not have been published then.

In front of the cut is a list of the books with links to my full-length reviews, written shortly after I read them. Behind the cut you will find an annotated list with shorter descriptions of each book. You'll also find some 'read-alikes' to try if you've already read the book and the list of four-and-a-half star books. (The read-alikes aren't in the long reviews, since I've only just come up with them.)

Five-Star Fiction of 2007

Blood Song: A Wordless Ballad by Erik Drooker
Soon I Will Be Invincible: A Novel by Austin Grossman
Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks
Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt
Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
Un Lun Dun by China Mieville
Strangers in Paradise: I Dream of You by Terry Moore
Buffy Season Eight by Joss Whedon et al
Parrotfish by Ellen Whittlinger

Read more... )
snugglekitty: (Default)
I haven't read any studies, but my guess is that more Americans read fiction than read nonfiction every year. Nonfiction tends to be inaccessible by its nature. Qualities that I like in nonfiction are readability, accuracy, and a writing style that keeps you turning pages. I also like to learn something that I didn't know before.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Birth as an American Rite of Passage by Robbie Davis-Floyd
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss -- and the Myths and Realities of Dieting by Gina Kolata
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart
Whores and Other Feminists edited by Jill Nagle
Polio: An American Story by David Oshinsky
Line Drawings of Picasso by Picasso
A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan
Don't Shoot the Dog! by Karen Pryor
Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel

Read more... )
snugglekitty: (hermione)
In 2006, I read 160 books. Yup. That's how many. If you put them all on top of each other, I think it would make a pile bigger than me.

Here are the titles and authors of all the five-star books I read, with short descriptions. Now, I read a lot more good books this year, books that I would gladly read over and over. To get five stars, a book has to be great. I have to feel that it changed my life, or the genre, or it could change the world in some way.

And, without further ado... )

This year really yielded an amazing haul. I hope you enjoyed it too! If you have found my reviews interesting or helpful, won't you share the love? Leave a comment and let me know, or better yet, buy something at a locally owned bookstore.

ETA: Click here for the best books of 2005.

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