The Best and the Rest of 2008

What do an Afghani woman in a bhurka, the manager of a Red Lobster restaurant in Connecticut, Queen Juana la Loca of Spain, a stroke victim in Paris who can only communicate by blinking one eye, and a family with a magical apple tree have in common? They’ve all ended up on my “Best Of 2008” list!

I’m about 2 weeks late with this wrap up post, but it was surprisingly difficult to pick favorites! I changed my mind several times. Since I don’t do any sort of rating system, no stars or caterpillars, I couldn’t just list the books that got my highest ratings. Hmm.. maybe I should do that this year to make the 2009 wrap up post easier.

I wrote 44 reviews in 2008-quite a slouch compared to some other book bloggers but not half bad for ME! That number doesn’t include the books that I never finished, or books that I was ambivalent about, or books that for whatever reason I didn’t like as much as I’d hoped and was worried about offending the author. I didn’t keep stats on these but I know there were at least 10 books that I never got around to writing reviews for, and nearly that many that I started but didn’t finish.

So without further ado, here are the books I reviewed in 2008, alphabetically within their categories:

The Best:

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
The Diving Bell and The Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan
The Last Queen by CW Gortner
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Rest:

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
And Sometimes Why by Rebecca Johnson
Capote in Kansas by Kim Powers
Chez Moi by Agnes Desarthe
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Fires by Alan Cheuse
The Girls by Lori Lansens
The Heartbreak Diet by Thorina Rose
House and Home by Kathleen McCleary
The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
Keeper and Kid by Edward Hardy
The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood
The Leper Compound by Paula Nangle
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker
Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity by Kerry Cohen
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan – Book Club Wrap-Up
Matrimony by Joshua Henkin
Netochka Nezvanova by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Next Thing On My List by Jill Smolinski
One Perfect Day by Lauraine Snelling
Peony in Love by Lisa See
Shrink Rap by Robin Altman

The Sister by Poppy Adams
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan

Springtime on Mars by Susan Woodring

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
Summer People by Brian Groh
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Wishing Year by Noelle Oxenhandler

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

In a category all by itself:

Getting Rid of Matthew by Jane Fallon

(I’m driving myself crazy trying to fix the spacing on this post- I’ve finally decided that it’s just going to have to remain wonky. Sorry.)

So here’s to a wonderful new year of reading! I haven’t set any reading goals for 2009 other than to review every book I read. I’ve only joined one reading challenge, and it’s a short one. What are your goals for 2009?

Review: The Next Thing On My List by Jill Smolinski

June Parker is an ordinary person who doesn’t strive for much.  At 34 she is a writer for LA Rideshare with an obnoxious boss and a relationship that’s hanging on by a thread.  When Marissa, an acquaintance and passenger in June’s car, dies in a freak accident, June finds a list Marissa made of 20 things she wanted to accomplish before her 25th birthday.  While visiting Marissa’s grave, June meets Marissa’s brother and comes up with an idea- with 18 tasks left to complete and just months before the deadline, she decides to finish the list in Marissa’s memory.

The accident occurs before the book begins, so the events and details of Marissa’s death are minimized, making this a surprisingly lighthearted and charming story.  June feels bad about the accident, of course, but she isn’t suffering from depression or saddled with crushing guilt, perhaps because she barely knew Marissa and the accident was not her fault. 

Initially it doesn’t seem possible that the underachieving June will finish the list by the deadline, but we root for her as she checks off each entry, from simple things like “Throw away the bathroom scale” to active things like “Run a 5K” to more meaningful goals such as “Change someone’s life”.  As she gets closer to completion, her own life undergoes a transformation.  She begins to take risks and soon becomes empowered, gaining respect at work and in her personal life. 

I was charmed by The Next Thing On My List.  There’s plenty of humor and a great story that makes you contemplate things you’d like to accomplish in your own life.  Breezy and fun, it’s the perfect choice for summer reading.  Book clubs will enjoy writing their own life lists and sharing them with each other, which is exactly what my book club did tonight!

Here are some thoughts from other people in my book club:

From Maggie:  I really liked this book.  I found myself laughing out loud and found this to be an easy read.  I have actually loaned it to one of my co-workers. What I like about the book was here is a person who believes that she is living an ordinary life doing ordinary things then when challenged with a list realizes that she is someone who is and can do extraordinary things.  An extraordinary person can be defined in many different ways depending on people’s perceptions. And most of all it was a fun read – great story line – and the story just flowed and made me want to keep reading.  

From Diane:  On a scale of 1-5 (5 being best), I give this book a 4.5.  It was fun and different.  I didn’t want to put it down, because I wanted to read what was going to happen next.  I was delightfully surprised that the author chose to surprise the reader with the endings for the adoption and June’s love interest – at least it kept me guessing – and for finding the mysterious Buddy Finch.  A fun, light read that I would recommend to a friend.  A good poolside/summer read. 

From Orchid:  The Next Thing On My List was a light and fun read.  It’s exactly what I needed to take my mind off of work and stress. The idea of June having to complete someone else’s goals was a very clever spin. I tried to imagine myself completing someone else’s list. June is completing this list for Marissa who died in the car accident etc. (she had met her at a Weight Watchers meeting, not a close friend or relative-?????). I could not understand why June was convinced that she was responsible for Marissa’s death. This part did not make any sense to me.  I was never fully convinced that anyone would try so hard to complete someone else’s list. Nevertheless, I was completely entertained by June’s little adventures as she tried to accomplish everything on the list by Marissa’s 25th Birthday.

You can find author Jill Smolinski’s website HERE.  It includes tips on how to make your own life list!

Jill’s Life List Blog is HERE  

Read my interview with Jill Smolinski and leave a comment by May 15th for a chance to win a copy of The Next Thing on My List!

New Years Meme

I’ve been tagged by Kim at KWJ Writes for a New Year’s Meme. She has made some excellent resolutions about her writing and personal growth, which have inspired me to give some thought to how I want this next year to be. Here’s her meme.. play along if you’d like, and leave a link back to your site.

1 – Have you every really committed to a New Year’s Resolution, following through past the month of, say, March? What were the results?

2 – Have you ever made a resolution that turned out differently than what you had in mind when you made it? How was it different and was it better, or worse, than what you expected?

3 – Are you making resolutions this year? (You don’t have to say what they are if you don’t want!)

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1. Believe it or not, I actually have stuck to a resolution beyond the month of March. I’m a planner and have a tendency to be methodical in my actions. A few years ago, I resolved to pay cash for Christmas. I started putting $20 in a box in my closet each week. This came after a rather expensive holiday season full of credit card abuse use. I followed through with it and 11 months later had almost $1000. in cash. Money in a box seems so simplistic, but I know I wouldn’t have put aside $20 in a bank account weekly. Dipping into a savings account to pay for Christmas seems wrong somehow, but using cash in the closet for it’s intended purpose feels ok (I’m so weird! Money is money no matter where it comes from!) I was able to have a credit card-free Christmas that year, and it felt great. I may have to resurrect that resolution for this year.
2. Last year I resolved to read more. Reading is a solitary pursuit, obviously, but I also resolved to be more social and spend more time with friends. I hadn’t planned to, but I ended up combining those 2 seemingly incompatible resolutions by gathering up some bookish people I know and starting a book club. It has been great fun. And then I discovered blogging.. I’m definitely reading more, but a lot of that reading is online, and visiting other blogs is social (kinda!)

3. I am making resolutions this year. I want to add more joy to my life. I want to be more fun. I want to spend more quality time with my friends and family. I want to go on dates with my husband. I also want to declutter certain areas of my home, be better about meal planning, and organize my photos. I intend to become a regular at the gym and, of course, lose 10 pounds (just like last year).

I’m going to tag: everyone!

Happy 2008!