Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Guest post: Karen from Planet Books!

While I'm getting to know my sweet baby boy, several bloggers offered to guest post for me! This week, I'm sending a  huge welcome to Karen from Planet Books! She's filling you all in on some of her favorite books from 2011. Enjoy!

Where has this year gone? I have had a big-for-me reading year but have recently found myself unable to focus on anything for very long.  I've picked up and quickly put back down a few books and am feeling disheartened.  I have read twenty-seven books since January 1 and some of those had that extra spark that swiftly raised them to my favorites list. I need some more of that literary magic to get me through the rest of 2011.

The books I fell in love with this year were some popular titles and some books that didn't gain much momentum but in my opinion really should have.  First off the book that really started me off on the right foot this year was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  My goodness did this book hold me in its spell and make me cry. I remember the night I finished reading this story, told by Death, about a little girl who was taken in by a German couple for monetary compensation to keep hidden and safe from the Nazi movement that was taking over Germany.    

I had devoured this book and as I neared the end a twist of such great severity caught me off guard so powerfully that my sobs woke my sleeping husband lying in bed next to me.  This story about a girl who used her love of reading to free her spirit and unite a family is one of my all-time favorite books now!

Over the next couple of months I was really lucky to read three amazing books that became some of my favorites of the year.  The run started with The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark.  This story transported me to India in a magical way that had me gasping for more when the final page was read.  It's kind of like a story within a story in that the two main characters living in 1947 India are drawn into an earlier time in India, 1857 to be exact, through the journal pages discovered in the nooks and crannies of their rental home in northern India.  What evolves between these two times in Indian history is a tale of love, friendship, betrayal and forgiveness that had me giving this book as gifts left and right. It took me longer to read than it should have only because I kept Goggling historical facts about the rise and fall of the British Rah.

The next book in this fantastic run was Sara Gruen's masterpiece Water for Elephants.  I remember originally buying this book when it came out a few years ago while we were living in Okinawa and I was just starting out as a book blogger. Unfortunately I couldn't get into the story and put it down. It wasn't until the movie adaptation was due out in theaters this year that I finally picked it up again. I wanted to read the book before seeing it retold on the silver screen so I dove in. I was hooked right away the second time around and had a very hard time putting it down to do anything else. I felt that the movie represented the book well and though there were a few changes to the story's timeline I was pleased with the movie on a whole. 

The third in the trifecta of fabulous literature of the spring was The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. I selected this for my book club's May assignment and as a special treat I had won copies for every member in my club from TLC Book Tours.  This book was a departure from the chick lit and family based stories that the club usually picks.  The Lotus Eaters, set in Vietnam during the war with the U.S. stands up to such iconic tales of the Vietnam War as Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and Born on the Fourth of July, the memoir by Ron Kovic.  The cover was misleadingly beautiful because the words between the covers told a story of war, devastation, love and the human condition.  The Lotus Eaters ended up winning the British James Tait Black Prize this year and deservedly so.  This is a very raw story and it was hard to believe that Soli had never stepped foot in Vietnam because the description was so vivid and rich. 
Summer arrived and with it came a book that got tons of attention and praise.  The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon is a haunting tale of a taboo subject from our country’s not so distant past.  The mentally challenged were sent away to institutions by families either pressured by society to do so or simply unable to handle the challenges of the situation.  It’s a love story to the utmost degree and on all levels that love is felt.  Family love, romantic love, love derived from loyalty and love manifested in a blink of an eye between strangers. 
After reading Simon’s haunting tale I thought I would read a lighter book so I agreed to review Jennifer Weiner’s latest release, Then Came You.  Little did I know that light was no where in the pages of this book.  I was thrilled to learn that Weiner had peeled back the proverbial onion and had given her loyal readers and adoring fans a book we could sink our teeth into.  Surrogacy, pregnancy, fertilization challenges and the many faces of family in our modern society are what await you in Weiner’s best book since Little Earthquakes.  Wow! Wow! Wow!
This summer also brought to the shelf a book by another of my all time favorite authors and someone I now call friend, Ellen Baker.  I Gave My Heart to Know This is set in one of my favorite time periods, WWII.  I don’t know why I enjoy reading books set during such a tumultuous and devastating period of world history but novels that are inspired by that time are some of my favorites and this is no exception.  It’s set in Wisconsin and gives us a history lesson about the women who helped keep the home fires burning in more ways than one while America’s men were overseas fighting and dying.  The famous war time propaganda poster of “Rosie the Riveter” is the best way I can describe the women in Baker’s sophomore novel.  The women who built ships for the war effort and some secrets in one particular family that lay hidden until they were discovered generations later.  Ellen’s story telling is so wonderful and entrancing!  She’s amazing!
My latest favorite, so much so that every book I’ve picked up since pales so much from the start that I have put down about four books in the last month, is Next To Love by Ellen Feldman.  It’s another WWII story but the tough subjects Feldman weaves into the stories of her fantastic characters make for a rich, disturbing and realistic book.  It’s about three women, childhood friends, who grow up to marry three men who go off to fight in Europe against the Nazis.  One husband returns and he suffers from shell shock.  His story line is so mesmerizing and heart wrenching because of the horrors he continues to face in his mind years after leaving the battlefield.  The way Feldman describes his experiences makes me think this book would be a good book for family and friends of our present day troops to read to help understand what their loved ones face upon surviving war. 
Wow!!  What a great list of fantastic books!  I hope there is something that caught your eye here and will inspire you to pick up your next favorite book.  I may have just written myself out of my recent reading slump.  I sure hope so at least because I need a few good books to get me through the rest of 2011. 

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