Saturday, December 13, 2008

Robin's Top Ten Books of 2008

My scheduled day for reviews happens to fall on a little holiday known around here as Christmas. So Kimber agreed that I could post my list a little early. :)

And here it is, in no particular order....

1)) The Diplomat's Wife by Pam Jenoff- ok, this does happen to correspond to my very favorite book this year. It's sold as general fiction but has elements of mystery, espionage, and romance. The best of all worlds! I love the soft, determined voice of the protagonist. It's a rewarding world to enter.

This is a wartime story of a Polish resistance worker in the 40's, recovering from a concentration camp. She finds love, heartbreak, and intrigue, all without looking. And although it could sound fantastic, the scenes are all so believable, I could feel myself in them - like when she is in danger, but is carrying a little girl on her hip and she is torn about setting her down. It's something you feel as a mom with little girls or boys riding your hip - how do you best help them? So go, pick this one up.

2) The Winter Queen, by Boris Akunin

It is a mystery set in 1876 Moscow, and reads much like Russian literature of the period, rather than a modern American novel with an exotic setting. You'll love the insecure hero, Erast Fandorin, and cheer for him as he tries to prove himself in his first case.

3) The Grape Thief, by Kristine Franklin

Not long ago I was in Roslyn, Washington, thinking it would be a wonderful setting for a historical fiction. It did well for Northern Exposure, but the history seemed fascinating. Then, I stumbled on this book and saw that I was right! This is about a boy who is struggling for the opportunity to stay in school amid the poverty that immigrants faced in Roslyn about 100 years ago. The boys are well drawn and the town comes alive. I believe this is considered YA and would be a great choice for boys to read this year.

4) A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly

Another YA historical, this time from a girl's POV. This is the story that inspired Dreiser's An American Tragedy, well, that is to say that the murder is part of Mattie Gokey's experience and helps solidify for her what she wants for her life. It's ultimately a story about a young girl choosing for herself what kind of life she wants.

5) A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray

Again we have a YA historical, but this time with fantastical elements. Gemma is able to enter "realms" where she can control her surroundings. Her mother, who died protecting her, is there to guide her and teach her about her powers. This is considered for 9th grade and up, but also has some light horror in it. It's very good, but spooky, so be forewarned.

6) The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart. Simply put, this book is about power. It's a YA, again, about a girl in a boarding school who finds that from one spring to fall she's jumped into a different social set, and she likes the power that brings with it. And she learns to use that to get more power. It's not your typical girl in high school, wants a boy, wants good grades, wants a good mom or dad. No, she wants power, and it's a really interesting tale.

7) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. This book got rave reviews for good reason! It's a partly autobiographical novel about life on the Spokane Indian reservation and a boy trying to find out who he is and what he wants from life. He gets a chance to go to school off of the reservation (20 miles away and often he has to walk) and it opens doors for him that are exciting, but stab at his self-identity. It's funny, and eye-opening, and sad all at the same time.

8) The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick.

I love automatons - mechanical men and animals that moved like robots before we had robotics. They were part toy, part humanoid, part creeeeepy! Hugo Cabret is a boy who lives in a train station keeping the clocks running after his father dies. He wants so badly to fix his father's automoton that he's hung onto for years, as well as keep himself warm and well fed. This book is told both through words and illustrations - where the words leave off, the pictures pick up the story. This is a middle grade, but so beautiful that I loved it as much as my daughter.

9) Gaslight Mysteries, by Victoria Thompson.

A wonderful mystery series set in 1905 New York. Sarah is a midwife from a wealthy family but with a heart for the city’s poor. Frank is an Irish-American detective who ends up collaborating with Sarah on many cases. Each of them has access to parts of the world that the other never would, so they make a perfect team. Throw in a mystery about how Sarah’s husband died and a love affair beginning between Sarah and Frank and it’s a near perfect series.

10) The Collaborator of Betheleham, by Matt Benyon Rees. I was intrigued by this series when I read that the author worked as a journalist in the West Bank, then turned his hand to writing fiction because he thought he could tell the story better, and to more people. As he says in his brief introduction, the people are fictional, but the deaths are real. The detective is an 58 year old history teacher who is a richly drawn, well thought out character. I really encourage you to pick this one up especially if you love stories set in the middle east, like I do.

Well, that's it for 2008. Happy Reading!!


Kimber An said...

Great selection, Robin!

I've tried and tried to get into Libba Bray's books and just can't. It comes highly recommended from my younger friends, so you know it's good. But, just not for me.
;) Not even sure why.

The GRAPE THIEF and A NORTHERN LIGHT look like books I could get into though.

Kimber An said...

THE DIPLOMAT'S WIFE looks right up my alley too.

Mystery Robin said...

I could see that, it does get a little dark in parts, but I'm a sucker for anything set even a little tiny bit in India. :) Also, I love books that involve school at all. I loved school!

I'm glad the others look like ones you might like!