The Best of the Year in Books ~ 2010
We have a few favorites ~ our cherry on top of the “pile o’ books” that we would like to share as a summary of 2010; although it was very hard to narrow it down since we read so many wonderful books this year.
Not all were released in 2010, a few are considered classics, and some released in in 2009. It is our hope that this post may help you with last minute gifts for loved ones, friends, or even one for yourself.
Please note - titles link to our complete reviews, all except for one. Also included are little bits about each book and links for purchase.
The Tippy Top of the Pile for 2010 ~ Our Best of the Best
Shellie’s pick: Lolita (audio version) ~ Vladimir Nabokov (read by Jeremy Irons): With incredible language, this is a dark and satirically humorous book. Read in audio by Jeremy Irons with his rich and deep English accent. I loved every minute of this wonderful book. It is one of the most creative, and best pieces of fiction I have ever read. It is obviously not a book for everyone, but to me it had an unreliable narrator which I could almost empathize with. Review coming soon.
John’s pick: The Army of the Republic ~ by Stuart Archer Cohen: An excellent novel – “dark and dangerous and the best book I’ve read in months”. The setting is America in the very near future, after an energy crisis, oil-related wars and financial collapse have left much of working America in ruins. A corrupt government is working to privatize everything they can in order to line their own pockets, as they also slowly but surely disenfranchise the population by rigging elections. Feeling like they have no legitimate alternatives, a series of clandestine resistance groups spring up across the country.
This is a complex and powerful story. On one level it is a clever and engrossing thriller, but there is much more to it than that. I finally got to the end in the early hours of the morning, as I’d been unable to put the book down. If you like a thought-provoking, dark, complex thriller then this is a great book for you.
Best Fantasy Novel
Shellie’s pick: The Healer's War ~ by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough: An incredible novel which shows the horrors and senselessness of war within the exotic beauty of Vietnam. It is a realistic picture of the war with a bit of light fantasy. It is recommended for those who do not generally read fantasy and very highly recommended for those who do.
John’s pick: The City & The City ~ by China Mieville: This is a splendid hard-boiled detective novel set in a most bizarre and fantastic location. It has an interesting and unique plot. Kudos to Mieville for having a great imagination and for bringing this strange world to life. On one level this is a straightforward detective story that just happens to be set in an odd location. On another level? Well, I guess it’s easy to draw parallels between the two cities and man’s inability to live peacefully with neighbors or to mix gracefully with different cultures. Once you refuse to see and accept people for what they are, bad things inevitably happen. I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good crime story or a bit of urban fantasy.
Best Historic Fiction ~ (contemporary)
Shellie’s pick: Rainy Lake ~ Mary Francois Rockcastle: I loved this book on many different levels. Highly recommended for anyone who would like a journey into the 1960’s and early 1970’s from the perspective of a young white girl as she is coming of age amid all the complexities from the time. We have blatant racism, the ill-fated war in Vietnam and, of course, the natural flow of becoming mature, falling in love, and the inescapable nature of life itself and its inevitable loss.
John’s pick: Pretty Birds ~ by Scott Simon: A Harrowing Novel based upon the War in Bosnia through the 1990s. This is a really good book on an important subject. And don’t be misled by the title; it is a gritty, brutal, touching and tragic story about one of the most shameful acts of the 20th century – the siege of Sarajevo. It is full of interesting and rich characters, and the plot twists and turns in ways you do not expect. You root for the main characters but you know that in the world that they are forced to live in, things cannot end well for all of them. An excellent read – moving, illuminating and thought-provoking.
Best Graphic Novel
Shellie’s pick: Fun Home ~ by Allison Bechdel: This is my first graphic novel. Since I am a very visually oriented person this type of literature suits me well. Also, because of the parallels with myself and the author’s life, I was immersed. I loved this book. I am looking forward to reading some of the author’s more fantastical graphic novels.
John’s pick: Britten and Brulightly ~ by Hannah Berry: Only my second ever graphic novel, and it is a delightful book. For those who think graphic novels are just comics for not-quite-grown-ups (a group which would have included me until very recently), this book will come as a big surprise; it has great depth and complexity, and just oozes pathos. It’s tough to believe that this is her first novel, and even harder to believe that she illustrated it herself. If you’ve never read a graphic novel and feel put off by them – you shouldn’t be. This would be a fabulous place to start.
Best Thriller/ Horror
Shellie’s pick: The Passage ~ Justin Cronin: This is a scary book, by a loquacious writer. It will suck you in, surprise you (I thought I had guessed the next twist more than a few times – but nope), make your heart beat, and I even cried at one point (I don’t cry.) It is a grand escapist book.
John’s pick: The Devil’s Star ~ by Jo Nesbo (translated by Don Bartlett): A dark and brooding detective novel set in modern-day Oslo. This is one of those gritty crime stories where the “hero” is a smart and driven character but has flaws; lots of them. This is the second book I’ve read recently which was a translation from a Scandinavian language. While very different, both could be described as being very gritty and both were fine reads. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who loves thrillers and crime mysteries.
Best Science Fiction
Shellie’s pick: The Unit ~ by Ninni Holmqvist (translated by Marlaine Delargy): A fairly short novel it starts out slowly yet picks up considerably where it becomes both illuminating and heart wrenching. It summarizes a few subtle elements of human experience in enlightening and relatable ways. And the best part is that it was just plain scary. It is because of these things it will be placed in my favorite’s list.
John’s pick: Eon ~ by Greg Bear: This is an extremely clever, thought provoking and entertaining “hard” science fiction book. Some of the hard science (or science fiction!) in the book is tough to follow, but I just went with the flow and I thoroughly enjoyed it. To my mind it felt current and certainly didn’t have the feel of something written 25 years ago. Plaudits to Greg Bear on that one, and indeed plaudits all round to him. I’d thoroughly recommend this to anyone who likes science fiction with a big dollop of science thrown in, or to anyone who enjoys an epic story with strong characters and lots of imagination.
Shellie’s pick: Searching for Whitopia ~ by Rich Benjamin: This is a great book. My only negative thoughts around it is that it is so information packed it will probably not be a quick or easy read for most. It wasn’t for me. More importantly the subject matter is emotional and difficult, and one which many people do not want to deal with. Although the author does a brilliant job of attempting to making light of some situations, how can it be? Sadly, and most significantly, I also do not believe it will actually reach his intended audience. It comes highly recommend and is an excellent yet difficult book.
John’s pick: Palestine ~ by Joe Sacco: This is a dark, thought-provoking and deeply disturbing graphic “novel” detailing the time that he spent in the Palestinian Territories – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. While the book does include some humor (most of it directed at Sacco himself), this is a difficult and provocative read and not one that I could describe as enjoyable. But I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking to broaden their understanding of the Middle East and some of its complex dynamics. And if you have any doubts about the use of the graphic novel/comic book format, you shouldn’t – it works remarkably well in the hands of this gifted artist.
Best Young Adult
Shellie’s pick: Tender Morsels ~ by Margo Lanagan: Be forewarned this is not a light story, and addresses some very very dark and difficult issues. It is not a story which everyone is going to enjoy or even like. I would recommend it for mature teens and adults. I love creative and unusual dark fantasy which touches on important social issues and is also very well written. This is exceptional.
Shellie’s pick: Keeper ~ by Kathi Appelt: I think that the most special aspect of the story is that it contains several wonderful and key GLBT characters. Lastly, the ending is the type which I prefer, not completely that of a fairytale but with a slight tweak making one think, feel, and remember.
Highly recommended reading for adults who like myth and folklore mixed with realism, and for those who read to and teach children. As for children I would say all but a few will love it. I imagine that this story will be nominated for a variety or children’s book award.
We had only two 5 stars for this year both rated highly by Shellie ~ Tender Morsels and Lolita (review in progress). Coming very close John had some highly rated reads for the year with quite a few in the 4.5 star range.
We have had such a fun year exploring all these books, and want to thank the authors, publishers, and publicists that have provided copies for review. Thanks also to our local independent book shops and our wonderful library system. Please support yours.
Happy reading and shopping. Yuletide is almost here!