Friday, January 21, 2011

My Favorite Fiction Books 2001 - 2010

I was thinking about some of the wonderful books that I've read over the last (10) years. Each, was a story that made me long to read more of the same.  I decided to reflect on these favorites, hoping to inspire me to get excited about another book in the same way. (I've read a few good books in 2011, but nothing that will make my favorites list for 2011). Here are my #1 picks for (2001 - 2010):

(the audio book was excellent) 
(from Library Journal).....Tan's narration represents the perspectives of both the Chinese-born mother and the American-born daughter. Ruth, a successful freelance ghostwriter, has lived for nine years with her partner and his two daughters. She is the only child of LuLing, who was widowed shortly after Ruth was born. Now in her mid-forties, Ruth begins to examine her feelings toward her mother, her relationship with her partner, and her career. In the midst of her emotional confusion, she rediscovers her mother's handwritten story of her life in China. After arranging for a translation, Ruth learns some long-hidden truths about her family, which help her to appreciate her mother better. Tan explores the conflicts faced by many women who seek independence while caring for partners, children, and family. She writes with compassion about the tension between immigrant parents and American-born children caused by differences in language and cultural upbringing. This is another fine novel by an important American author.

The Lovely Bones; Alice Sebold

(from Library Journal) - a powerful first novel, narrated by Susie Salmon, in heaven. Brutally raped and murdered by a deceptively mild-mannered neighbor, Susie begins with a compelling description of her death. During the next ten years, she watches over her family and friends as they struggle to cope with her murder. She observes their disintegrating lives with compassion and occasionally attempts, sometimes successfully, to communicate her love to them. Although the lives of all who knew her well are shaped by her tragic death, eventually her family and friends survive their pain and grief. In Sebold's heaven, Susie continues to grow emotionally. She learns that human existence is "the helplessness of being alive, the dark bright pity of being human feeling as you went, groping in corners and opening your arms to light all of it part of navigating the unknown." Sebold's compelling and sometimes poetic prose style and unsparing vision transform Susie's tragedy into an ultimately rewarding novel.

Life of Pi; Yann Martel
(wonderful audio experience)

(audio book description) - Pi Patel has been raised in a zoo in India. When his father decides to move the family to Canada and sell the animals to American zoos, everyone boards a Japanese cargo ship. The ship sinks, and 16-year-old Pi finds himself alone on a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra with a broken leg, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger.

Soon it's just Pi, the tiger, and the vast Pacific Ocean - for 227 days. Pi's fear, knowledge, and cunning keep him alive until they reach the coast of Mexico, where the tiger disappears into the jungle. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his story, so he tells a second one - more conventional, less fantastic. But is it more true?

A realistic, rousing adventure and meta-tale of survival, Life of Pi explores the redemptive power of storytelling and the transformative nature of fiction. It's a story, as one character claims, to "make you believe in God."

  Middlesex; Jeffrey Eugenides

(from Library Journal) - Eugenides's second novel (after The Virgin Suicides) opens "I was born twice: first, as a baby January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage August of 1974." Thus starts the epic tale of how Calliope Stephanides is transformed into Cal. Spanning three generations and two continents, the story winds from the small Greek village of Smyrna to the smoggy, crime-riddled streets of Detroit, past historical events, and through family secrets. The author's eloquent writing captures the essence of Cal, a hermaphrodite, who sets out to discover himself by tracing the story of his family back to his grandparents. From the beginning, the reader is brought into a world rich in culture and history, as Eugenides extends his plot into forbidden territories with unique grace. His confidence in the story, combined with his sure prose, helps readers overcome their initial surprise and focus on the emotional revelation of the characters and beyond. Once again, Eugenides proves that he is not only a unique voice in modern literature but also well versed in the nature of the human heart.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan; Lisa See 

(from Library Journal) - Lily at 80 reflects on her life, beginning with her daughter days in 19th-century rural China. Foot-binding was practiced by all but the poorest families, and the graphic descriptions of it are not for the fainthearted. Yet women had nu shu, their own secret language. At the instigation of a matchmaker, Lily and Snow Flower, a girl from a larger town and supposedly from a well-connected, wealthy family, become laotong, bound together for life. Even after Lily learns that Snow Flower is not from a better family, even when Lily marries above her and Snow Flower beneath her, they remain close, exchanging nu shu written on a fan. When war comes, Lily is separated from her husband and children. She survives the winter helped by Snow Flower's husband, a lowly butcher, until she is reunited with her family. As the years pass, the women's relationship changes; Lily grows more powerful in her community, bitter, and harder, until at last she breaks her bond with Snow Flower. They are not reunited until Lily tries to make the dying Snow Flower's last days comfortable. Their friendship, and this tale, illustrates the most profound of human emotions: love and hate, self-absorption and devotion, pride and humility, to name just a few. Even though the women's culture and upbringing may be vastly different from readers' own, the life lessons are much the same, and they will be remembered long after the details of this fascinating story are forgotten.
 Water for Elephants; Sara Gruen
(amazon) - 
An atmospheric, gritty, and compelling novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932, by the bestselling author of Riding Lessons.

When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.

Beautifully written, Water for Elephants is illuminated by a wonderful sense of time and place. It tells a story of a love between two people that overcomes incredible odds in a world in which even love is a luxury that few can afford.
(amazon) - a taut, darkly witty, and galvanizing tale of one woman's search for the truth about her parentage. Clarissa's enigmatic mother left her family, including her retarded son, when Clarissa was 14, and vanished without a trace. A dozen years later, Clarissa is languishing in a stale relationship and going nowhere with her work editing movie subtitles when her father abruptly dies, and a gaping hole opens in her past. Now it's Clarissa's turn to disappear as she journeys to Lapland and the world of the Sami, an indigenous people who still herd reindeer. With skilled distillation, Vida evokes a culture on the brink of extinction and a legacy of loss as her anxious yet adventurous protagonist throws herself on the mercy of strangers in an otherworldly realm of deep cold, hard drinking, a hotel constructed of snow and ice, the northern lights, and long memories. Brilliantly distilled, blade-sharp, and as dangerously exhilarating as skating in the dark. 
Tomato Girl; Jayne Pupek
(Publisher's Weekly) -The absorbing, unsettling debut from Pupek centers on 11-year-old Ellie Sanders, who has already seen a lot of heartache in her short, rural mid-20th-century Virginia childhood. Her beautiful but troubled mother, Julia, who today would probably be diagnosed as bipolar, has frequent outbursts necessitating restraints and horse tranquilizers, administered by Ellie's father, Rupert. When a pregnant Julia suffers a bad fall, Rupert uses the incident to bring home more trouble, in the form of Tess, the teenage tomato girl who supplies his general store with home-grown produce. Intended as a caretaker for Julia and Ellie (and a bedmate for himself), Tess, who has troubles of her own, instead initiates a series of increasingly horrific events that leaves the family irreversibly altered. Issues of racial and religious intolerance are touched on lightly, but the real focus of this accomplished debut is the fatalistic accounting of the events engulfing Ellie. Although Ellie's voice is not always consistent with her youth, she's an effective narrator whose storytelling naïveté nicely underscores her innocence. 
(2 books tied for the #1 spot for me)  
 Cutting for Stone; Abraham Verghese
(wonderful audio book experience)
(Publisher's Weekly) - a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations. Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a devout young nun, leaves the south Indian state of Kerala in 1947 for a missionary post in Yemen. During the arduous sea voyage, she saves the life of an English doctor bound for Ethiopia, Thomas Stone, who becomes a key player in her destiny when they meet up again at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa. Seven years later, Sister Praise dies birthing twin boys: Shiva and Marion, the latter narrating his own and his brothers long, dramatic, biblical story set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Ethiopia, the life of the hospital compound in which they grow up and the love story of their adopted parents, both doctors at Missing. The boys become doctors as well and Vergheses weaving of the practice of medicine into the narrative is fascinating even as the story bobs and weaves with the power and coincidences of the best 19th-century novel. 
 The Help; Kathryn Stockett
(amazon) - What perfect timing for this optimistic, uplifting debut novel (and maiden publication of Amy Einhorn's new imprint) set during the nascent civil rights movement in Jackson, Miss., where black women were trusted to raise white children but not to polish the household silver. Eugenia Skeeter Phelan is just home from college in 1962, and, anxious to become a writer, is advised to hone her chops by writing about what disturbs you. The budding social activist begins to collect the stories of the black women on whom the country club sets relies and mistrusts enlisting the help of Aibileen, a maid who's raised 17 children, and Aibileen's best friend Minny, who's found herself unemployed more than a few times after mouthing off to her white employers. The book Skeeter puts together based on their stories is scathing and shocking, bringing pride and hope to the black community, while giving Skeeter the courage to break down her personal boundaries and pursue her dreams. Assured and layered, full of heart and history, this one has bestseller written all over it. 
  The Bells; Richard Harvell
Born in a belfry in the Uri Valley of the Swiss Alps, where his deaf-mute mother rang the Loudest Bells on Earth, Moses Froben possesses both a remarkably sensitive ear and an exquisite singing voice, enabling him to overcome his humble origins to become Lo Suizzero, the musical toast of Europe in the eighteenth century. In papers left for the son he raised but did not sire, Froben recounts being rescued from his father’s murderous plan by monks Nicolai and Remus and taken to their abbey, where the choirmaster recognizes the boy’s gift and goes to inhumane lengths to preserve it. In the neighboring town, Moses meets Amalia Duft, daughter of the area’s wealthiest man, whose love becomes a beacon for his life even after his castration. Despite an opening note that reveals part of the story, Harvell builds suspense as Moses struggles against the superior forces of the noble family Amalia is forced by duplicity to marry into, reaching a bittersweet conclusion. Taking few liberties with history, Harvell has fashioned an engrossing first novel ringing with sounds; a musical and literary treat.
What books have you loved?  


  1. What a fantastic list of books! I have read most and loved them all! The only ones I haven't read are Let the Lights... and The Bells. I think I need to get copies based on how much I love the rest :-)

  2. Great list! There are many on here that I would like to read. I loved Middlesex, I'll have to reread it someday.

  3. I love your list. I have read just one (life of Pi) but am keeping the list as a reference. So many books here and your notes on each one are so good to read.

  4. This is a great list and a great idea. Now if only I could remember what books I read in which years before goodreads was invented to log them I'd do a list too.

  5. What a lovely way to look back! I've read and enjoyed many and many more are on my TBR. I haven't been keeping track year by year, but I look forward to a list like this one in the coming years!

  6. What a wonderful mix. I've read several of these and have a few more on my wish list (The Bonesetter's Daughter and Snow Flower). I hated Lovely Bones feeling the author went out to shock at the cost of the story. Life Of Pi I loved, I thought it was something a little different. Middlesex is on my tbr mountain, for some reason I keep picking it up and putting it back down.

  7. Great list!! I loved Middlesex, Snow FLower, and Water for Elephants too. There are a few on there that are on my must read list too like Cutting for Stone, the Help, and the Bells. Great list!

  8. I've read 5 of these books and agree with you totally about them. I had a copy of TOMATO GIRL, but I'm not sure what happened to it. I did not like nor did I finish LOVELY BONES. I've read Amy Tan, but not that one. I'm going to be searching for THE BELLS soon.

  9. I've read 5 of those books and have 4 more on my shelves.

  10. I love Amy Tan. i didn't love The Lovely Bones as much as I had hoped.
    Cutting for Stone was great!
    Great list!

  11. There are a couple there I'm thinking I want to read - like The Bonesettler's Daughter...

    I own Middlesex, The Lovely Bones, and Water for Elephants - they are on my to-be-read pile...

  12. Wow.. I don't think I could narrow it down to just a handful.

    From 2008 through 2009, I sputtered around with my reading. I wondered why great books weren't great to me, etc.

    However, 2010 was a great year for me. I read so many great books. I am hoping 2011 is the same way as I already have a list of books as long as my arm that I want to get to.

  13. You've definitely read some great books over the years, Diane. Like you, I haven't yet read that "great" book for this year, although I am enjoying my reading. I haven't exactly been picking books that I think will be contenders, I admit.

    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was a favorite the year I read it, and I really enjoyed Middlesex. One of these days I'll read The Help, probably closer to the time I see the movie, whenever that may be. Same with Water for Elephants.

  14. I love this list. It's hard for me to narrow down to one book a year, but really great to see you do it!

  15. This is a fantastic list. I've loved a few (Snow Flower, Lovely Bones, and Water for Elephants, The Help) and others are on my to-read list. My book club picked Cutting for Stone to read this year and with your recommendation I'm looking forward to it. Others like the Tomato Girl and The Bonesetter's Daughter will be added to my list. Thanks for looking back.

  16. Diane, I've only read a few from your post but I'm excited to have Yann Martel's new book!

    This is a terrific post! It would take me hours and hours to write about which books I've best loved over the past decade. . . .

  17. Great books! Water for Elephants is on mine as well.

  18. Wonderful list Diane! I've only read The Lovely Bones (which I loved too), but you have several on your list that I would like to get to someday. Sigh.

  19. Great post idea! I've read four on your list. I haven't been back to reading for 10 years yet.

  20. Great list of books! I loved reading this post.

    We only had an additional 4 inches of snow this morning. I hear more is on the way for Tuesday.

  21. Oh ... I love this idea. And I love and agree with so many of your choices! The ones I haven't read, I'm going to read because we seem to like many of the same books.

  22. Middlesex is one of my favorite books, and on a list of other fabulous books. I liked Water for Elephants a lot more than I expected I would when I read it too.

  23. I will finish Cutting for Stone soon... you know it's taking me too long to read (well listen) to this one.

    I enjoyed Tomato Girl, hardly anyone has read this book. In fact, I wonder if your blog triggered my book club reading it in 2008. We did get to discuss it with the author. It's a great BC selection.

  24. We may never get though our list, it keeps getting longer and longer with all the great recommendations!

  25. What a wonderful group of books. A copy of The Bells came into the used bookshop last week, and I was tempted to pick it up; after reading your post, I'm definitely going to bring it home today :)

  26. What a great post!

    I loved Lovely Bones and The Help --- and definitely want to read Water for Elephants and The Bells.

    I just learned that the movie of Water for Elephants will be released in April, so I have incentive to read that one first.

  27. Great idea to list books this way! I don't have such a thorough list of books I've read before about 2008, but maybe in another seven years I'll be able to do this. You have some on here I've read, some I mean to read, and some I've not even heard of!

  28. I loved all of your choices too except for 2004, 2009, and 2010 picks as I haven't read those yet!

  29. a lot of very good ones there..
    but I must say, I have NO idea what I read in 2001. lol

  30. I'm so impressed that you can remember what year you read which book. I only started taking note of the books I read in 2008. I don't think I can make a list like this for the past decade. That said, I loved a lot of books you included, especially The Life of Pi and Middlesex.

  31. I'm so impressed that you can remember what year you read which book. I only started taking note of the books I read in 2008. I don't think I can make a list like this for the past decade. That said, I loved a lot of books you included, especially The Life of Pi and Middlesex.

  32. Great post! I really enjoyed The Bonesetter's Daughter and Tomato Girl, too.

  33. I would find it so hard to narrow down my favourites to just ten, but I loved Life of Pi. Middlesex and Cutting for Stone are on this year's TBR list.

  34. Of these I have only read The Lovely Bones. Some of my favorites would be Rebecca, The Book Thief, The Kiterunner, East of Eden.

  35. A decade of favorite books...I love it! I have read many of these but some of them I haven't. Thanks for all the recommendations!

  36. The only one I've read is Lovely Bones and I loved it too. Most of the others are on my wish list!

  37. Thanks for the wonderful list! I just put four that I haven't read on my Nook.


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