2010: The year of reading alphabetically

I had this really great idea last summer to read my way through some of the mysteries that are on the shelf at the library where I work. I was going to read one author for each letter. I made a whole bunch of rules for myself, like: Had to be a book on the shelf, should be a book I might at some point recommend to a library reader, had to be an author I hadn’t already read, I had to stretch myself a little, and blah blah blah. One a week. I figured I’d get through the alphabet by the end of the year.

Well, listen to this: I made it to D! Wow, right? Actually, the good news is that the little experiment was immensely helpful to me already as I regularly recommend my B and C and D authors (Rhys Bowen for her historical mysteries set in 1900s New York; Robert Crais for being almost as good as Michael Connelly and being in L.A.; Lindsay Davis for the two people in the universe who like historical mysteries but haven’t already read all of hers) to voracious readers at our library. Gosh, that parenthetical phrase seems all twisted when I mentioned Lindsay Davis. Let me try again: When it comes to detectives sleuthing the mean streets of Rome (circa 70 A.D.), there’s no beating Marcus Didius Falco, the unforgettable lead character in 19 of Davis’s novels.

Back to 2010 A.D. … and the reason I’m blogging again: I’m going to do it all over again. And this time it doesn’t have to be one a week (because that little rule will have me looking for short books). There is no time limit. And I can read whatever I want, although it will be good to stretch a little bit. And just to prove I’m not a slacker, I’m starting all over again. That’s right. I’m in the A’s.

Top Ten Favorite Books Read in 2009

1.       These are my top ten books read in 2009. I have some riveting commentary about the selections, but first the list, in reverse author alpha order:
  1. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
  2. The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter
  3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  4. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
  5. Stitches by David Small
  6. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
  7. The Family Man by Elinor Lipman
  8. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  9. The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly
  10. Little Bee by Chris Cleave

I’m often excited about a book right after I read it, and in the past my Top Ten lists have leaned toward most recently-read loves. But this year I was diligent about putting my books on goodreads (although I was a total slacker about writing real reviews and my tags aren’t all that helpful — yet). I kept a Favorites of 2009 “book shelf” and just threw things on there when I was particularly blown away. Out of the 95 books I read, 23 made it to that shelf. Getting it down to ten was hard, and Little Bee and Stitches were often in jeopardy of being bumped (by Jonathan Tropper and Richard Russo; two worthy authors if you’re going to be edged out).  Oh, and The Oxford Project, my favorite nonfiction book of the year, didn’t make it to the final top ten. I think I’d better hit “publish post” before I monkey with this some more.

A Is for Abbott: ‘Collision’ by Jeff Abbott

Starts strong with a blast of adrenaline. Ben and Emily are wrapping up their honeymoon in Hawaii; he slips into the shower, and Emily slips onto the kitchen floor — shot. Dead. Fast forward a couple of years to a sniper scene in Austin and a hired assassin bumbles his assignment. Suddenly Ben and a former CIA agent are unlikely partners … and the plot turns all kinds of crazy ways.
My friend David summarized it perfectly in his review for Booklist:
“The dialogue: smart, unobtrusive. The plot: packed, convoluted, head spinning. The everyman angle borrows from Abbot’s hardcover debut, Panic (2005); neither book is memorable, but it hardly matters: if it is unbridled action you crave (or if you’re just killing time till the next Lee Child comes out), Abbott’s your man.” (Reviewed by David Wright, Booklist, 5/1/2008)

My coworker Jeff said: “Quentin Tarantino meets Die Hard as the lives of two men literally collide” in his review for Library Journal. Snappy and memorable tagline.

I’m glad I tried this book and know more about Abbott, who also wrote a series in the 1990s starring a librarian/sleuth named Jordan Poteet (Promises of Home, Distant Blood).

Recommend to readers who like: James Patterson’s stand-alone thrillers, David Baldacci, Stephen Cannell, James Grippando, and maybe to Lee Child fans.

Reading through the alphabet

Maybe if I say this out loud (or type it quietly) I’ll have to actually follow through with something: I’m going to read a new author each week, for 26 weeks, right through the alphabet.

There are a few rules, and I’ll make up more as I go along (and as I break the ones I already made):

  1. Read consecutively through the alphabet, by last name.
  2. Limit authors to the “Mystery” section of the library
  3. I must select a book that is available at the library where I work.
  4. It’s best if the author has several titles.
  5. It’s okay to read bestsellers.
  6. The author must be someone I haven’t read.
  7. I don’t have to finish the book if I don’t love it.
  8. If I don’t finish a book, I will have at least done the Joyce Sarricks’ style of getting to know a book. (More about that later. Joyce Sarricks is a librarian, author, book reviewer and guru of good librarians.)
  9. I do have to find good things to say about the book and/or author.
  10. I will not be deterred from my alphabetical mission if someone should say something snarky, such as “What??? You haven’t read THAT yet?”

Hmmm … I’m going to work on those rules so they’re a bit snappier.

Anyway, I’m doing this because I think I’m recommending the same mystery authors again and again to readers at my library. I feel only 38 percent confident when I recommend a book/author I don’t know that much about; I always feel like I’m really talking out of my butt because I have no idea since I haven’t actually read the book. My intent with this is to explore mysteries I might not usually read — with the ultimate goal of being a better readers advisory librarian.

Oh, look at that! I just used library jargon. We talk about readers advisory a lot, and it’s what we do all day (or at least most of the day) in the Fiction Department at my library. I kind of hate that I just dropped that term into a blog post. Let me rephrase: I want to do a better job of connecting people with books that they have a high likelihood of enjoying.

My favorite books of the year … so far

One of my book groups compiles a list of each reader’s top ten books of the year. Although we don’t do this until early January, someone already brought it up at one of our September meetings. Although books in the Top Ten don’t have to be published in 2008, there have been so many great books this year that I might make my list all 2008 pub dates. Yes, I know there are still three months of reading to be done. But here are five guaranteed to make my end-of-year best books list:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson
Attack of the Theater People by Marc Acito
Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

I’m not even half way through The 19th Wife, but it has me completely hooked. Ebershoff also wrote one of my ALL-TIME favorite books, The Danish Girl.

It’s Mii! (A Wii me, for the uninitiated.) I love love love Wii tennis. You can probably tell how good of a player I am by my focused, determined look and my smooth two-handed backhand.

I’m way behind in posting about books and vacation. We just got back from two weeks in Belize. Our first trip to Central America, first trip to the Caribbean, and first trip to the jungle. I’ll post a couple of pictures later, but the real travelogue will be on Flickr.

Short review: ‘I Love You, Beth Cooper’

I Love You, Beth Cooper
By Larry Doyle

I kid you not, this is seriously the funniest book I’ve read in the last four years. During his graduation night speech, Denis Cooverman, valedictorian at Buffalo Grove High School, urges his fellow classmates to leave with no regrets for the things they wanted to say but could not. Our hero pauses for dramatic effect, and then blurts out, “I love you, Beth Cooper.” Beth — voted Most Popular and Best Looking by 513 BGHS seniors – is, predictably, a cheerleader; Denis’s team of choice is debate and his recreational reading includes the Journal of Juvenile Oncology. Graduation night heads a different direction after Denis’s memorable speech, and soon Beth and her two sidekicks are meeting up with Denis and his best friend, Rich (who, he says, is not gay and who also makes reference to his “female fiancée” who works at Hooter’s). The characters and plot may be a tad predictable, but I laughed so much I’m not sure I noticed.

The author wrote for The Simpsons, Beavis and Butt-Head, and Daria. (He also writes for The New Yorker, but since those articles are too long, I am more familiar with his multi media endeavors.) I Love You, Beth Cooper is packed with lines to savor and quote, just like an episode of The Simpsons. This is total movie material in the spirit of Dazed and Confused, and it didn’t surprise me at all to see that the book was optioned and may hit the big screen in 2009.

Here’s Dave Barry’s blurb on the back cover: “This book made me laugh out loud. I’m not saying it will make you laugh out loud. But I am saying that if it doesn’t, something is wrong with you.”

Talk about Books: Four Big L’s

Laura Lippman and the Three Lisa’s – Lisa Gardner, Lisa Unger and Lisa Scottoline – are four mystery and suspense writers I depend on for page-turning stories with strong women characters.

In one month I read the newest titles from these four with a 75 percent success rate.
What the Dead Know by Lippman is her best stand-alone novel yet. (In fact, it deserves a separate blog entry. I’ll get right on that.) Hide by Lisa Gardner brings back D.D. Warren , a thinking woman’s kind of detective. Sliver of Truth, a follow up to Beautiful Lies, presents Ridley Jones, a magazine reporter still caught up in the mystery of her own identity.

But Daddy’s Girl? That’s the latest from Lisa Scottoline. I can’t believe I even read a book with that title (and check out that cover. Ug!). Natalie “Nat” Greco teaches law at Penn. She’s not exactly an inspired lecturer, and she offers even less when trying to save herself from being framed for a murder. Not only can I not believe I read a book with a title like this, I can’t believe I finished this one. Nat bumbles along – and not in an endearing way — to the last page, making me wonder how she ever got a job at an Ivy League school, let alone as a main character in a Scottoline novel.