I really tried, and I mean really tried, to narrow this list down to 10 this year. Over the last few years, that wasn't really a problem. In 2009, I had only been blogging for the last few months of the year, so I didn't have that many books to choose from. In 2010, I read a lot of bad books. The great books were few and far between, which made the choosing easier.
This year is another story. For the most part, I really enjoyed the 102 book read this year. I think I can count on two hands the amount of books I didn't like, none of which I hated (unlike last year.) Don't even get me started on Noah's Castle again.
Back to the subject at hand. I've actually been thinking about what my favorite list would look like and when I first drew it up, I had about 20 books on it. After a lot of soul searching, I got it down to 17. That's about as far as I can whittle it down this time around. Actually when I started to type up this post it was only at 16, I had to add another one because I felt bad about leaving it off the list.
For the most part, the list is going to include a lot of mysteries. This seems to be the year I really got into them again. It also includes a few Gothic novels, which I had never read before. There are two authors, new to me this year, who make the list twice. What really surprised me as I made the list, was that despite all the great nonfiction books I've read this year, only one book made my final list. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that next year goes just as well.
So with no further ado, here is my list, in the order they were read. If you click on the title, a separate window will open up with my review.
This was the year where I almost decided to make this a monthly feature, instead of a weekly one. It was also the year where I tried out theme months, which I think for the most part, worked out pretty well. It was the year, that for the first time, I reposted a few of them. I only did it when I was sick or just too damn tired to get one written up. And it was also the year I invited other bloggers to share their favorite characters. That is a decision that will spill over into next year as well.
I'm almost always afraid that I'm going to run out of characters to feature, though if I haven't done so after two and a half years, I don't think that is going to happen. I'm also, when I'm picking the character to feature, worried that you guys won't find them as interesting as I do. I have noticed that some characters get more love than others, but I have decided to not let that influence my decision making in the future. Whether a character get none, one or 20 comments, they all deserve the recognition. I'm really looking forward to the new year and all the characters that are going to get their day in the sun.
January was the first of my theme months, I chose to recognize some of my favorite characters from 1980s sitcoms.
September saw one of my favorite soap operas, All My Children, go off the air. So I wanted to feature some of my favorite characters from the show. I managed to do that for the first three weeks, but ran into a bit of a problem for the final one (couldn't narrow it down) so I went with something completely different.
In a village in ancient Norway lives a boy named Odd, and he's had some very bad luck: His father perished in a Viking expedition; a tree fell on him and shattered his leg; the endless freezing winter is making villagers dangerously grumpy.
Out in the forest Odd encounters a bear, a fox, and an eagle - three creatures with a strange story to tell.
Now Odd is forced on a stranger journey than he imagined - a journey to save Asgard, city of the gods, from the Frost Giants who have invaded it.
It's going to take a very special kind of twelve-year-old boy to outwit the Frost Giants, restore peace to the city of the gods, and end the long winter.
Someone cheerful and infuriating and clever...
Someone just like Odd....
When I first sat down to write this review, all I was going to say was "I loved it." Then I was going to finish the post with "Everyone should read it." That's all folks. Though I doubt that would really excite you, or would it? Well either way, I'll never know. There is no way I could leave a review at two lines, though I'm sure some of you would prefer that over my longer, rambling ones.
Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved mythology. It doesn't even matter what pantheon of gods we are talking about. Greek, Roman, Norse, Celtic, Babylonian, Egyptian, even American Indian; they were all fair game to a young boy that could never get enough of those stories. So when I saw this book reviewed last year (maybe the year before) by a blogger I know I trust, Tasha of Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books, I knew this one would be for me. I'm so glad that I listened to myself.
For such a short book, one that I ready pretty quickly, it packed one of the biggest escapism punches of the year for me. For that brief amount of time, I was lost in another world. A world that was ruled by gods who weren't really as powerful as they thought they were. A world where a tricky Frost Giant can trick the trickster god himself into doing something really stupid. A world where three of the most powerful gods to ever walk the Earth, can be turned into animals. It's a world where those same animals get into trouble and have to have a crippled, twelve-year-old boy get them out of it. It's a world that I really want to know for myself.
Odd, the young hero of the tale, is one of those boys that is way too clever for his own good, and he knows it. He knows how smart he is. From what I can tell, he has know problems letting everyone else know it too. But he isn't that smarty pants kid that you couldn't stand in 5th grade. You know the kid I'm talking about, we all had one in class. Instead, Odd is the kid that you wanted to have as your best friend. He is the resourceful one, the kid you can count on to get you out of trouble. I figure if Odd can get Odin, Thor and Loki out of trouble, he should be able to do the same thing for the rest of us.
I really want Odd to make another appearance someday. I would love to find out how he got along with the other Gods or how he settles into the lands of his mother. He is one of those characters that deserved to have more than one book written about him.
Mags, recently arrived in Haven after being chosen by the Companion Dallen, is still finding it a bit hard to fit in. Even though everyone keeps telling him that he is supposed to be there, Mags still feels it can be yanked away from him at any time. Mags, who grew up as a virtual slave in a gem mine, came from a level of poverty nobody else can even begin to grasp, let alone relate to. It's that poverty though that taught Mags to never complain and be a bit intolerant of other's complaining. It's stopping him from being befriended by most of the other trainees, other than a few loners, like himself.
The isolation grew even more when he was "recognized" by foreign assassins, and now the ForeSeers are seeing his hands covered in blood, standing by the King. Between his "foreignness", his unsociable tendencies, and the new visions; his fellow students and even a few other Heralds, start to doubt whether or not he really belongs there. It's up to a thirteen-year-old Mags to figure out what's going on so he can prove himself once and for all. Somewhere in there, he has to learn to play a new game, figure out who his parents are, and try to make some more friends. It's going to test Mags to the core, a core that will either break or become stronger.
I'm going to admit to be a little ashamed of myself for taking so long in reading this book. I had read the first book in The Collegium Chronicles over two years. I actually reviewed Foundations back in October of 2009. I'm not really sure what took me so long in delving back into the world of Valdemar as seen through Mags eyes. In my defense though, even if it took me years to buy the second book, I read in within a few days of the purchase.
Mags is the typical Mercedes Lackey hero. When I say typical, I mean it in the nicest possible way. He is a Herald in training who from a young age has had to deal with hardships that most of us could never understand. Instead of him being broken and bitter by it, he has grown into a young man who cares about others and just wants to do what is right. He tries his hardest to be accepted and to fit in, but never really feels like he belongs. He has a few friends, but even then he thinks they could go away at any time. So when his right to be there is challenged by those who should be accepting him, he takes it upon himself to prove to everyone that he in fact was rightfully chosen by Dallen and that he is meant to be a great Herald.
I'm not saying he doesn't whine and feel sorry for himself at times, because he does. What thirteen-year-old doesn't? What I love about Mags, and most of her heroes/heroines, is that he doesn't wallow in self pity (at least not for long) and he takes it upon himself to fix the problem. If others think he is going to kill the King, he is going to prove that the ForeSeers are wrong or not understanding their visions totally. He manages to do just that.
He puts himself into danger more than once, a few times coming out the other end with a few bruises and broken bones. He finds a place amongst the other trainees and manages to make even more friends, friends who will stand by him no matter what. He comes through the trials even stronger and better for it. He is a character I can't wait to meet again in the third book. Now I just need to get off my butt and buy it.
Built in 1906, semi-detached, three storeys, spacious, beautifully presented. Left in good condition to Rob and Julia Wallace by Julia's late aunt.
It's an ordinary sort of a house. Except for the way the rooms don't stay in the same place. And the strange man that turns up in the airing cupboard. And the apparitions. And the temporal surges that attract the attentions of Torchwood.
And the fact that they first owner of Jackson Leaves in 1906 was a Captain Jack Harkness...
Part of me is saddened that I've read this book and part of me is still bouncing up and down for joy. The sadness comes from the fact that this was the last Torchwood book that I owned and the store I would buy them from, no longer exists. Which means, unless I buy some on line (which I hate doing) this will be my last Torchwood read for a while. The bouncing is caused by the awesomeness that this book was and how frickin excellent it felt to delve into the world of Captain Jack and the rest of the team.
I'm a sucker for a haunted house story. I tend to devour every single one I come across and rarely ever walk away disappointed. Now I'm not saying this book would hold up to Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, but it's a fun, energetic spin on the genre. The fact that it marries the haunted house with Torchwood means the book took the concept in a whole other direction than anything I've ever seen before.
Because of the time disruptions that Captain Jack has been so fond of making in the past, present, and future; some temporal beings have been attracted to the planet. Unfortunately for the planet, those being are hungry for that energy and are trying to rip a whole in the fabric of reality and consume the entire Earth. Now you may be asking yourself what the hell does this have to do with a haunted house story, and you would be right to ask that. Normally alien life forms bent on destroying the planet have nothing to do with ghosts and spirits walking the halls of a home.
The focus point these beings decided to focus on was the home formerly inhabited by Captain Jack. It's there that they feel they will be able to break through and get their hunger sated. Their constant attacks though, ripple through time, altering the history of the house. It causes the history of the house to become more violent. People who lived there and lived there happily, suddenly die violent deaths. Deaths they never experienced the first time around. The constant barrage also alters the flow of history in the house. It causes images of the past to appear in the present, it allows people from the past to actually materialize in the home, people who don't have the best intentions of the current occupants in mind.
Thankfully, though as usual it's a very close call, Captain Jack, Gwen, and Ianto are able to save the day, albeit with some help that like all things Torchwood, carries it's own baggage.
I'm grateful for this dose of Torchwood, but sad that it ended so suddenly.
There is nothing more rewarding than a redemption story, especially one that happens during Christmas. When a character starts off grumpy or even flat out mean, when they hate Christmas and all it stands for, there is always a chance that they can change in time to understand the true meaning of Christmas. One such character, who does make the transformation, just happens to be one of my favorites. So with no further ado, I would like to present you with The Grinch.
I lived for this TV special to come on when I was a kid. I don't think there was a year, at least a year when I had any choice in the matter, that I didn't plop myself in front of the TV and enjoy every second of The Grinch's attempt to destroy Christmas. As a kid, I'm not sure I fully understood the reason why he hated Christmas so much. All I saw was someone who was mean and nasty steal presents, Christmas trees, wreaths, and even all the food from the poor people of Whoville.
I don't think I got that he was so bitter and mean, because he was lonely. At least that's the way I've come to understand it now. It's the explanation I give to my son when he asks me why The Grinch acts the way he does. The poor guy has no family or friends to celebrate with. He has nobody to share the warmth and joy that Christmas brings to the rest of us every year. All he knows is that he hates is with all his heart and he wants it to go away.
But it's through that attempt to annihilate Christmas that The Grinch comes to understand the meaning of that special day. Once he has successfully gotten away with all their decorations, toys, and all the food for the feast, he discovers something he never thought would happen. Christmas isn't about all those things, and the people of Whoville prove that to him. They still wake up on Christmas morning and because they are all together they still start to celebrate. They rejoice in the meaning of that day and being together. Because of that, The Grinch is forced to rethink the whole thing, both mentally and emotionally. He comes to understand what makes Christmas so special.
It's because of his story that I never let the trappings of the season get to me. In the years that I've been poor and could barely afford a tree or a few presents, I remember what the season is really about. It's about family and friends and the things that makes Christmas special. It's not about the material things. As long as I can remember The Grinch's lesson, I will always enjoy Christmas to the fullest.
Frankenstein, Dracula, Mr. Hyde, the Phantom, the Hunchback... they're all here, the ones you grew up watching on the silver screen. But these monsters aren't lumbering across a for-shrouded moor or clambering along the ramparts of a Gothic castle; no, they're here, in sunny modern-day Southern California, in place you know and may have visited. That homeless vet with the rebuilt leg longing before the liquor store in Santa Monica - could that be Frankenstein's monster? The eerie host making promised at the end of an Orange Country amusement park ride - is he really the Devil? Some of these monsters you might recognize instantly - it's hard to disguise a Giant Monster, after all - but you'll never know what to expect in these stories that range from black humor to the farthest extremes of extreme fiction.
I've been on a huge short story kick this year, hopefully it will be a trend that continues into the next as well. When I agreed to review this book, I wasn't sure what I had to look forward too. Part of me was thinking that it would simply take the monsters I'm already familiar with and put them into L.A. I really wasn't expecting what I got, though after reading the book, I'm doubly glad for it.
What Lisa Morton managed to do was way beyond what I thought this book would be about. She was able to breathe new life into twenty staples of horror Hollywood. Some of them are given new life by reinterpreting their original story. Others are given the typical Hollywood treatment, but put into a situation that is new and fresh. If you were reading her version of "The Phantom", you wouldn't recognize the character, but you would the basic concept behind it. "The Haunted House" gives new meaning to the entire concept of what it means for a house to be haunted. By the way, I want to move into that particular house. "The Creature" is simply what it is, taken out of the Black Lagoon and inserted into the La Brea Tar Pits. It's short and sweet and reminds me of the best moments in those old black and white movies. "The Killer Clown" scared the hell out of me, of course it doesn't hurt that I'm petrified of the damn things. The longest story, which is also my favorite, "The Urban Legend" was simply brilliant. It took the legend of a race of lizard people living beneath the city and brought it to life through character and story. It was a brilliant example of this authors work, work that I would love to read more of at some point in time.
One of the few Christmas specials I never seemed to get into as a kid, was The Little Drummer Boy. I'm not sure why, maybe because there was no Santa Claus or a red-nosed reindeer. There was no talking snow man or and pretty Christmas trees. There just wasn't enough excitement for me. Now that I'm an adult, this is one that I look forward to every year. Aaron and his story make me realize that it's not just about the flash and pretty things that makes Christmas special, it's that warm feeling you have when you think about those that you love and the story of that first Christmas night.
When the movie first starts, Aaron is a hurt and angry young man. Angry at the world for taking his parents away from him, but most of all angry at the entire human race for being responsible. The only friends he has are the three animals that follow him around. Baabaa, Samson, and Joshua, the sheep, donkey and camel who dance and play to the beat of Aaron's drum.
When he is kidnapped by a desert nomad to be apart of his traveling show, Aaron goes along with it but quickly loses his temper and tried to run off. It's through a chance encounter with the three kings that sets Aaron up for an eye opening and life changing experience. He learns to love and trust again. He learns that through love, all things are possible.
Aaron is one of those characters that sticks with me, especially during the Christmas season. His ability to change into someone he wants to be, is both reassuring and touching to watch.
This is a clip from the movie, when Aaron is about to play for the baby Jesus.
This is Linda Eder, singing one of my favorite versions of the song itself.
Sir Charles Cartwright should have know better than to allow thirteen guests to sit down for dinner. For at the end of the evening one of them is dead - chocked by a cocktail that contained no trace of poison.
Predictable, says Hercule Poirot, the great detective. But entirely unpredictable is that he can find absolutely no motive for murder...
I feel as if I had neglected Agatha Christie over this past year, especially when I discovered Mary Roberts Rinehart. I feel like a spouse who has strayed a little too far, so here I am getting one last Agatha Christie book in before the end of the year.
This was a new one to me, though I had earlier seen the PBS Masterpiece Mystery! movie. So I knew what was going to happen, but like most book to movie adaptations, the movie had left out a lot of details. It was those details I was looking forward to discovering for the first time. The biggest difference though was the deletion of Mr. Satterwhite from the movie. He, more than Hercule Poirot is the star of this book. For those of you who have no clue of what I'm speaking of, Mr. Satterwhite previously appeared in The Mysterious Mr. Quin, a book I reviewed last year. Mr. Satterwhite is one of those older men who notice everything, study life, but never became jaded from it. He's a great character, one that I'm glad to have met again.
There is no way I can got into the details of the mystery without giving too much away, but the title alone should give you clues into how many victims are claimed by the egomaniacal murderer, who just so happens to do it all out of a strange sense of misguided love. It's one of the odder motives I've ever seen, but given the context of the overall storyline and the murderer's personality, it works.
Agatha Christie is by far, the most adapt author I've ever had the pleasure of reading. She can spin a story on the end of a needle, throwing red herrings and clues with equal aplomb. She is the perfect author and I adore her for it.
On a trip to Barnes & Noble (which I just found out this location is closing, leaving us with only one) I picked up a paperback of Intrigues by Mercedes Lackey, a trade paperback of Orcs by Stan Nicholls, and a hardcover of The Winds of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. The last two were off the clearance table, which had an extra 50% off.
From Target, I bought two DVDs. I picked up Mickey's Christmas Carol and Holiday Inn.
What Marian Rolfe really wants, more than anything else, is to get out of New York City for the summer. She doesn't want to deal with her neighbors, the heat, or same daily routine she's been doing the previous summers. When she talks her husband, Ben, into looking at summer homes to rent, she really lays it on thick. She finds a old country estate on Long Island that seems to be perfect for them. Maybe a little too perfect, considering the price is only $900 and they are able to stay for the entire summer. Against his better judgement, Ben packs up his family, including their son David and Ben's elderly aunt, Elizabeth.
Once they arrive, the rundown manor quickly grows on them and they settle into a comfortable routine. Their idyllic oasis is hiding a ton of secrets though, secrets that may kill them all in the end.
Two years ago, around Halloween, I caught the movie version of this on TV. Since I had nothing else to do at the time, I settled in on the couch and got lost in what turned out to be a cheesy, but scary movie. Ever since then I had wanted to read the book, but trying to get a hold of it proved to be harder than I had first thought it would be. I finally found it at the flea market last year but had not time to read it until recently. I have to say, that now that I'm done, I loved it even more than I thought I would.
The overall storyline itself is pretty simple. A brother and sister who own a sprawling, occasionally rundown, country estate rent it out for the summer every few years to a "deserving" family, the bigger the better. All they ask is that their elderly mother, who stays in her own room and will never be seen, be allowed to stay there. All the renters need to do is bring a try to her sitting room three times a day. What the siblings don't tell their renters, is that the house and it's grounds can only come back to life by draining the life out of them. With each act of violence, each drop of blood spilled, or with each death, the house is rejuvenated and comes back to the glory of it's heyday. What they really don't want to tell them is the wife, will by the end of their stay take the "mothers" place in that lonely room.
Now, that may sound pretty cheesy, and it is, but the way this horror wove the story together is brilliant. There are so many creepy factors, like the emotionless pictures on display in the mother's sitting room. The growing fascinating and love that Marian starts to have for every aspect of the house. The violence in the pool when Ben came close to drowning David. The mysterious illness and wasting away of Aunt Elizabeth. The fact that nobody else on the island is willing to admit that they have even heard of the house or it's family.
The atmosphere this author was able to pack into the book is simply amazing. There is a lingering sense of danger on every page, but it's a danger that lays just beneath the surface. It's not visible all the time, but it's presences is felt with every word. This is what horror should be like, not the crap that gets spoon fed to us now days. This will be a book that I read over and over again when I need something to give me nightmares.
Have I ever mentioned how much I love Christmas. I'm pretty sure I have, but just in case, I'll say it again. Christmas is my favorite part of the year for so many reasons that I will fill up a few blog posts just naming them. One of my favorite aspects though are all of the great characters that have been created to tell the story of Christmas. That's why every December I highlight some of my favorite Christmas characters, characters that make the holiday season that much better.
From the get go, Tangerine Bear has a life that isn't what it was supposed to be. The poor guys smile got sewed upside down, so when he was placed on the department stores shelves during the Christmas season, nobody bought him to take him home. He was left all alone of the shelf, even after Christmas had come and gone. To add insult to injury, he was thrown in a bin and taken to secondhand store, to languish away.
Once there Tangerine makes a few friends with other toys that are waiting for homes as well. They are friends that he quickly grows to love. He even grows to care about the store's owner, Mr. Winkle, who really cares about the treasures in his store and would like nothing more to find them a good home. Because of that Mr. Winkle puts Tangerine in the window That's actually how Tangerine got his color and his name, the sun faded him to a peculiar color of tangerine, once his friends noticed that, the name kinda stuck.
As the new Christmas season comes to pass, one customer decides he wants to buy Tangerine. He seems like a good man, so Tangerine gets really excited that he may actually get a home for Christmas. Mr. Winkle though refuses to sell the guy the bear. The customer just wanted Tangerine as a collectors item, it seems teddy bears with upside down smiles, may be worth some money. Mr. Winkle decides that Tangerine deserves a real home, not to sit in a display case all by himself.
At first Tangerine doesn't know what to think, he just lost his chance for a home. But events quickly come to pass that makes Tangerine rethink the whole concept of home. Maybe he has been home this whole time. He is surrounded by friends who love and support him. What more do you need to be home.
What I love about this story is the whole idea of creating your own home. Surrounding yourself with friends and starting your own family. That home is the place you feel comfortable, loved, and protected. It's not about the building, it's about those that you surround yourself with.