Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: The Best of the Best and the Year in Review

2012 Ten Best of the Best: (in order from most favored) To access my reviews for those books for which I wrote them, click on the title.

Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides (nonfiction)
Games without Rules by Tamim Ansary (nonfiction)
Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas 
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
The Poisonwoood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
11/22/63 by Stephen King (I cannot believe I never reviewed it!)
Night by Elie Wiesel (nonfiction)
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

2012 Honorable Mentions: (Five star books that missed the cut-I only had sixteen five star reads this year, but it was hard to weed out my top ten! I only let one reread go into my top list-Count of Monte Cristo-and so the other two, Pride and Prejudice and The Hobbit are here by force, otherwise they would most likely have bumped the bottom two books off the above list.)

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Private Life by Jane Smiley
Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier
Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

2012 Best Audio:

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, narrated by the incomparable Ruby Dee.

11/22/63 by Stephen King, narrated by Craig Wasson, is also worth mentioning as a good one to listen to on audio-it is not for the faint of heart, as it is 31 hours long, but it is a good production.  Another that I greatly enjoyed on audio was Edward Herrmann's reading of David McCullough's The Greater Journey.  They did not win my award for the year, but they are worthy of honorable mentions.

The 2012 Challenge and Stats Report:

I think I learned something about myself and challenges this year-I made way too many challenge lists at the beginning of the year to ever be able to read that many books in the time I have available! However, it was OK, because it gave me a great place to go from which to select my books when the tags come up each month on Play Book Tag, an online reading group that I belong to which, instead of selecting one single book which everyone in the group reads, selects a “Tag”, or theme, around which everyone centers their reading for the month, with each member trying to read at least one book which they can then review and discuss with other members in the group. So, rather than viewing them as "challenges", I really should just view them as "selection" lists. That said, here are my stats for what I was able to accomplish for all the many challenges that I so ambitiously set last January (and no doubt will do again):


Pick a Year Challenge: 10/12
Trim the TBR Challenge:
Play Book Tag-Read One Book for Every Tag:
12/12 Challenge Complete!
Classics Group-Do All Six Group Reads:
6/6 Challenge Complete!
Long Book Challenge-4000 pages in books 600 pages or longer:
Challenge Complete!
Five and Five Challenge:
Randomizer Challenge:

Overall Stats:

books total
nonfiction (all time low! Usually I read somewhere between a third and half of my total in nonfiction-I was really surprised by this number.)
classics (My goal was to read at least 8 this year, so I am happy with this one!)
48 print
audio (way less this year, as my migraines have been better-yay!)

All total: 19,033 of pages read in print and 375.5 hours of audio heard.

My overall total of 77 is six books less than last year, but I actually "read" six more books in print than I did last year, and a little more than 4,200 more pages than last year's total page count, as last year I did a lot more of my reading via audio books as I was really struggling with migraines. It was one of my goals to beat my page count and to read more on the page, so those numbers make me happy! :-)

Monday, December 10, 2012

THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafón ✰✰✰✰✰

Finally!  This book has suffered from the curse of ownership, but this month all of my reading challenges aligned, and it was dusted off and read.  To all of you who have told me so many times that I would love it-you were right, and to all of you who have not yet picked it up-you really should.
The Shadow of the Wind traces two lives, which run along a parallel course, some ten years apart-those of a young bookseller, Daniel Sempere, and an aspiring author, Julian Carax, who lived and wrote a decade earlier, and whom Daniel discovers and becomes fascinated by to an unusual degree.  As he delves into the life of his mysterious author, Daniel’s life spirals out of his hands, bringing peril to those he loves.  However, he comes to realize that often the disappeared do not wish to be found, but to redeem love and to enact vengeance they will come forth, in their own time and on their own terms.

In addition to the two main characters, there is a full list of supporting cast, all of whom feel well defined and necessary to the plot.  Recently, on one of my online groups, we had a discussion about characters in thrillers, and how characterization is often sacrificed to keep the plot moving at a brisk pace.  That is certainly not the case here.

This novel is consistently listed as a thriller, but some disagree.  I feel that the middle section does slow down quite a bit, as the reader is fed a lot of the characters’ backstories during that section of the book.  However, the final third of the novel absolutely flies as the plot begins to thicken and the convergence of the characters’ lives begins.

The element which absolutely sets this novel apart, aside from its finely, subtly crafted sub-plots that ultimately weave so effortlessly together, is the stunning beauty of its prose.  I feel that some credit must surely also be given to the work of the translator, Lucia Graves, who translated Zafón’s work from the original Spanish into English.  Her translation has a wondrous cadence that defies the reader to believe the novel was not written in English to begin with.  It is an absolute tour de force of translation.

Overall, I think that this is the rare thriller that manages to combine plot, characterization, and gorgeous prose into one lovely literary package, and as such, it comes with my five star recommendation.  I will certainly be reading the newly released sequel, The Prisoner of Heaven.