2011 Book List

I am surprised to find that I read 90 books this year that I can document — most of them came from my library — but it also appears that my 2011 loft goal of reading better books was not met. Who cares? I loved many of the books I read this year!
  1. Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner
  2. No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club by Virginia Ironside
  3. An O’Brien Family Christmas by Sherryl Woods
  4. The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels — A Love Story (2011) by Ree Drummond

I picked up Ree Drummond’s book out of curiosity because she is the story all bloggers aspire to write for themselves. Wildly popular as The Pioneer Woman, Ree tells of her courtship and eventual marriage to Marlboro Man, as Ree refers to her husband in her blog. I felt that she just reused her blog posts with what appeared to be very little editing, and I agree with Amazon.com reviewers that it became repetitive and then seemed to rush to the finish. It was, however, an interesting insight into Ree’s life since I had not previously followed the blog.

5. The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2008) by Rebecca Miller

Written by the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller, I was expecting New York centrism, and much of this book delivered as expected. The story tells of the “lives” of Pippa Lee, who at age fifty moves to a senior citizen’s community in New Jersey with her 80-year-old husband. The narrative flips around in Pippa’s history, introducing the reader to her wild child years as well as the secure life she leads as the wife of a famous publisher. I listened to this in the car during my commute and found myself turning down the volume as there are scenes that I felt were gratuitously scandalous and ones that I didn’t want the people in the cars around me to hear. The book got one of the most varied set of ratings I have ever seen on Amazon, with an average of only three stars. It seemed pretty clear that it was designed to be turned into a screenplay, and the movie of the same name came out in 2009. I think I’ll check it out of the library, but even the movie only got 6.4 stars on IMDb.

6. Holiday Grind (2010) by Cleo Coyle

As a holiday version of Coyle’s coffeehouse series, Holiday Grind is a frothy mystery set in Greenwich Village. It was good for my 10 minutes of reading before the book falls on my face when I fall asleep, but not much more. It gets good reviews at Amazon, though, and made me want to drink coffee.

7. Delicious (2010) by Susan Mallery

I love books set around food, and this one is pretty cute. It’s a romantic suspense tale about previously divorced Penny and Cal who get back together again to run a family restaurant. Once again, I didn’t know that I was getting into a series, but I think I’ll try to find the other books at the library. This one was just pure fluff with a Seattle setting and recognizable landmarks

8. Louisa May Alcott by Susan Cheever

9. Crush (2010) by Alan Jacobson

Crush is a murder mystery featuring Karen Vail, the FBI profiler who goes on vacation in Napa only to get involved in a murder by what turns out to be a serial killer. It was well-written and engaging, but I was really disappointed to find out that the story continues in Jacobson’s next book, Velocity. It was good enough to make me want to read the sequel, despite the less-than-positive reviews on Amazon, and the allusions to places in the Napa Valley and surrounding areas are interesting.

10. Louis May Alcott: the Woman Behind Little Women

11. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott (2010) by Kelly O’Connor McNees REVIEW

If one is prepared to accept the premiss that Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women is semi-autobiographical, and that Martha Saxton’s biography of her is the definitive account, then Kelly O’Connor McNee’s The Lost Summer can be considered as the third part of a literary troika which gives a combined perspective of Louisa May’s life and work”  (Paul Granger, Amazon.com).

12. Last Night at Chateau Marmont (2010) by Lauren Weisberger

13. The Boy I Loved Before (2005) by Jenny Colgan

14. They’re Watching (2010) by Gregg Hurwitz

15. Murder at the Smithsonian (1983) by Margaret Truman

16. Palm Trees on the Hudson: a True Story of the Mob, Judy Garland, and Interior Decorating by Elliott Tiber

After reading this cute memoir, I also watched Taking Woodstock, the story of Elliot’s renting out his family farm for what turned out to be the Woodstock festival.

17. In a Treacherous Court by Michelle Diener

18. The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure REVIEW

19. In Office Hours by Lucy Kellaway

20. Before Versailles: a Novel of Louis XIV by Karleen Koen

21. Reluctant Queen by Freda Lightfoot

22. Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow REVIEW

23. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker

24. Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey

25. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

26. Cha, Cha, Cha by Jane Heller

27. Some Nerve by Jane Heller

28. Accidents by Yael Hedaya (didn’t finish)

29. The Pleasure Was Mine by Tommy Hays

30. The Secret Supper by Javier Sierra (didn’t finish) REVIEW

31. Sweetwater Creek by Anne Rivers Siddons

32. Dolci di Love, or The Sweetheart Cantucci by Sarah-Kate Lynch

33. How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson

34. Babycakes by Armistead Maupin REVIEW

35. Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

36. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

37. If Books Could Kill by Kate Carlisle

38. Thin, Rich, Pretty by Beth Harbison

39. Virgin, Prelude to the Throne by Robin Maxwell

40. Michael Tolliver Lives by Armistead Maupin REVIEW

41. Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin REVIEW

42. The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin REVIEW

43. The Virgin’s Lover by Phillippa Gregory

44. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

45. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

46. Babycakes by Armistead Maupin REVIEW

47. Further Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin REVIEW

48. Arm Candy by Jill Kargman

49. The Tudor Secret by C.W. Gortner

50. Sideways by Rex Pickett REVIEW

51. The Countess and the King: a Novel of the Countess of Dorchester and King James II by Susan Holloway

52. The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French

53. Too Good to be True by Sheila O’Flanagan

54. Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life by Frances Mayes

55. Dancing with Mr. Darcy: Stories Inspired by Jane Austen and the Chawton House Library

56. Easy on the Eyes by Jane Porter

57. Gucci Gucci Coo by Sue Margolis

58. Eighteen Acres by Nicolle Wallace

59. Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister by C. Allyn Pierson

60. Just Breathe by Susan Wiggs

61. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

62. Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin REVIEW

63. Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult

64. The Debutante: A Novel (2010) by Kathleen Tessaro

65. Don’t You Forget About Me: A Novel (2008) by Jancee Dunn

I loved this book and want to read her rock-and-roll memoir, But Enough About Me. Don’t You Forget About Me is available in Kindle and audiobook. I highly recommend it.

66. Wish You Well (2000) by David Baldacci

67. A Good Year (2005) by Peter Mayle  REVIEW

68. Closing Costs by Seth Margolis

69. Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History by Adam Nicolson

70. Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy

71. Me, Myself and Why? (2010 by MaryJanice Davidson  REVIEW

72. Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

73. The Princess of Nowhere by Lorenzo Borghese

74. Sleeping Arrangements (2010) by Madeleine Wickham

75. Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

76. Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (2010) by Greg Grandin

77. Getting to Happy (2010) by Terry McMillan

78. One Amazing Thing (2009) by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

79. In the Company of Others: A Father Tim Novel (2010) by Jan Karon  REVIEW

80. Hotel Pastis: A Novel of Provence (1994) by Peter Mayle REVIEW

81. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (2011) by Jacqueline Kelly

Don’t be put off by the old-fashioned cover. This young adult book is a gem to be enjoyed by tweens and adults alike. Take an 1899s tomboy, throw in an eccentric grandfather who gives his only granddaughter, Calpurnia, a copy of Darwin’s “The Origin of Species,” and watch the sparks fly. They understand each other, but no one else in her family and community does. Beautifully detailed characters and imaginative language has earned author Jacqueline Kelly a 2012 Illinois Rebecca Caudill Award nomination. This is a wonderful book to read with your daughter or your girlfriends in your book club.

82. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2010) by Stieg Larsson

To start with, I didn’t like this one as much as the other two, but as one reviewer said, Larsson’s untimely death may have affected the editing process of Hornet’s Nest. That being said, it’s still a spell-binding ending to the story of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, and there’s a reason why Larsson was the second bestselling author in the world in 2008. If you decide to read these novels, you must start with the first one, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and go through them in order.

83. Run (2007) by Ann Patchett

Patchett, the author of the highly acclaimed Bel Canto (P.S.), has created a family drama that stretches the reader’s imagination while providing social commentary about class and clout. The characters are steeped in Boston politics and academia, yet the interactions among the family members are universal — archetypes of the wayward son, the grieving widower, the dutiful son, and the athletic African-American girl are part of the tangled web of this family. To tell you more would be to give it away, but I was disappointed in how one of the threads was never followed up. You’ll see what I mean when you read it. Despite that, it’s definitely worth reading.

84. A Pig in Provence: Good Food and Simple Pleasures in the South of France (2007) by Georgeanne Brennan

Brennan’s memoir of her years in France is simple, yet robust in its descriptions of the rhythms of back country life in Provence. She tells the story of her growth as a chef and cookbook author, yet the reader never gets the sense of Brennan as a celebrity. Her tales of community are compelling as are her stories of the importance of traditional food preparation. Each chapter closes with a recipe; all of the recipes are tantalizing but beyond what I want to do in my American kitchen. I’d rather go to France and order them in a Provencal restaurant!

85. The Secret Wedding (2009) by Jo Beverly

Several years ago, I read a quartet of romance novels by Jo Beverly that I devoured hungrily. I was thrilled to find The Secret Wedding in the audio book shelves at my library. Sadly, this book is not as good as the previous novels because its heroine is not particularly likable. The plot is interesting and the story could have been fabulous; after a forced secret marriage to save a young girl’s reputation, the two parties are ready to marry adult partners. They have not seen each other since they were teenagers,  so they have to first track each other down and find out if their secret marriage was legal. The creative plot line did not make up for the incredulity that the reader feels about the behavior of Caro Hill. I find that when historical fiction authors try to create feminist characters that behave outside of historical context, it often feels contrived, and that is the case with this novel. Don’t bother.

86. North By Northanger, or The Shades of Pemberley: A Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mystery (2006) by Carrie Bebris

The third in a series of mysteries featuring Elizabeth Bennett Darcy and Mr. Darcy, North by Northanger is the best of the three. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are invited to visit an old family friend living at Northanger Abbey, and find themselves accused of theft. Between trying to find a missing family heirloom and figuring out who actually stole the diamonds, Bebris has created a straightforward mystery that is engaging and true to Jane Austen’s style.

87. Walking to Canterbury: A Modern Journey Through Chaucer’s Medieval England (2003) by Jerry Ellis

I just finished Walking to Canterbury and can’t decide whether to recommend it or not. I am very intrigued by Ellis’s books; he’s part Cherokee and part English and has walked the 900 miles of the Trail of Tears and written about it as well. Walking to Canterbury was an interesting mix of religious and social history and included pertinent quotations from Chaucer’s masterpiece, which I’m ashamed to say that I have never read. I’m glad I read this book before seeing the touristy Canterbury in summer 2011.

88. Promises to Keep: A Novel (2010) by Jane Green)

Jane Green (The Beach House) has written a very personal novel about what happens to a family when one of its members gets cancer; it’s based loosely on the life and death of one of her best friends. The trilogy of women inhabiting the pages of this book are all interesting, well-drawn characters, and even though the reader figures out pretty quickly what the ultimate conclusion will be, we still care about the lives of Green’s heroines.

89. The Bookshop (1978 UK; 1997 US) by Penelope Fitzgerald

In my quest to read “better” books, I chose The Bookshop from the book club shelves of my local public library. At 123 pages, I figured it would be a quick and easy read in the busy time around the holidays. The book is a finely crafted gem with characters that are very real and prose that crackles with personification and imagery. Penelope Fitzgerald has created a tragicomedy of small town manners, complete with a resident poltergeist and an evil social busybody. I was very disappointed with the sad ending but considering that Fitzgerald seems to know the pros and cons of living in small towns very well, I wasn’t surprised. The Bookshop is definitely worth your reading time.

90. The Girl Who Played with Fire (Vintage) (2009) by Stieg Larsson

Book 2 in Larsson’s trilogy re-acquaints us with the enigmatic Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist. In this criminal adventure, Lisbeth and Mikael get involved with another set of grisly and salacious murders. I found myself expecting Larsson’s intricate plot twists and well-defined characters, but the ending still came as a surprise. Another fabulous read for those of you who haven’t snatched up the “Girl Who” books yet.

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4 responses

  1. I think that Carrie Bebris’ books are surprisingly good. I particularly enjoyed “Matters at Mansfield” which is somewhat surprising since “Mansfield Park” is my least favorite Austen novel.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation, Suzanne. Knowing that you are the expert in all Austen sequels, I am interested in your thoughts. I just read that Prada to Nada is based on Sense and Sensibility (with Latina heroines). I may have to check that one out, too.

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