Top five book picks of 2009

I have read 42 books this year. This is a far cry from what I usually am able to read in a year, which is around 70 books or more. I blame being very ill at the beginning of the year and beginning a new part-time job a couple of months ago. And a touch of laziness. OK, and an obsession with “Doctor Who.”

The following are my top five picks of 2009. They’re listed in chronological order in which they were read, rather than by preference, because asking to choose favorites between books is like asking a parent to choose a favorite amongst their children.

1. “Dead and Gone” by Charlaine Harris

What it’s about — “Except for Sookie Stackhouse, folks in Bon Temps, Louisiana, know little about vamps-and nothing about weres. Until now. The weres and shifters have finally decided to reveal their existence to the ordinary world. At first all goes well. Then the mutilated body of a were-panther is found near the bar where Sookie works-and she feels compelled to discover who, human or otherwise, did it. But there’s a far greater danger threatening Bon Temps. A race of unhuman beings-older, more powerful, and more secretive than vampires or werewolves-is preparing for war. And Sookie finds herself an all-too human pawn in their battle.”

Why I liked it — This was the ninth installment in the Sookie Stackhouse novels, and it just keeps better and better. I find many of the series I read start to get a bit old after a while (I’m looking at you, Anita Blake), but every time a new Sookie book comes out, I devour it. I can usually read it within a day. They’re not perfect books by any means, and this one isn’t my favorite of the series, but it’s a series I look forward to very much. And despite some continuity errors in this latest installment, I was very happy with the relationship progression between Sookie and my favorite vampire.

2. “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” by Alison Weir

What it’s about — “The tempestuous, bloody, and splendid reign of Henry VIII of England (1509-1547) is one of the most fascinating in all history, not least for his marriage to six extraordinary women. In this accessible work of brilliant scholarship, Alison Weir draws on early biographies, letters, memoirs, account books, and diplomatic reports to bring these women to life. Catherine of Aragon emerges as a staunch though misguided woman of principle; Anne Boleyn, an ambitious adventuress with a penchant for vengeance; Jane Seymour, a strong-minded matriarch in the making; Anne of Cleves, a good-natured and innocent woman naively unaware of the court intrigues that determined her fate; Catherine Howard, an empty-headed wanton; and Catherine Parr, a warm-blooded bluestocking who survived King Henry to marry a fourth time.”

Why I liked it — I cannot remember the last time I read a non-fiction book. But I became addiction to Showtime’s “The Tudors” to the point where I wanted to know more about what really happened between ol’ Henry and his six wives (because I know “The Tudors” takes way too many liberties with the actual history), and there’s only so much to read on Wikipedia. Not that I trust the Wiki as a reliable source. So I bought this book written by someone who has spent her life studying English history. It was massive! I thought I’d never be able to get through it. But once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. I discovered a fascination with Tudor history I didn’t know I had. I also discovered that Anne of Cleves was probably the luckiest of all his wives, and certainly my favorite.

3. “The Monstrumologist” by Rick Yancey

What it’s about — “‘These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me…and the one who cursed me.’ So begins the journal of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore War throp, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.”

Why I liked it — I used to be such a horror fan when I was younger, but hadn’t read a good make-sure-there-are-no-monsters-under-your-bed book in a very long time. “The Monstrumologist” is technically a young adult book, but technically, so is the “Harry Potter” series. This is the first in a series and I can’t wait to read the next one. I had forgotten what it was like to get scared while reading a book. It’s deliciously creepy and gory and it’ll keep you up at night. Everyone needs a good monster story every once in a while.

4. “The Third Secret” by Steve Berry

What it’s about — “Fatima, Portugal, 1917: The Virgin Mary appears to three peasant children, sharing with them three secrets, two of which are soon revealed to the world. The third secret is sealed away in the Vatican, read only by popes, and not disclosed until the year 2000. Vatican City, present day: Papal secretary Father Colin Michener is concerned for the Pope. Night after restless night, Pope Clement XV enters the Vatican’s Riserva, the special archive open only to popes, where the Church’s most clandestine and controversial documents are stored. Though unsure of the details, Michener knows that the Pope’s distress stems from the revelations of Fatima. When Pope Clement sends Michener to the Romanian highlands, then to a Bosnian holy site, in search of a priest—possibly one of the last people on Earth who knows Mary’s true message—a perilous set of events unfolds. Michener finds himself embroiled in murder, suspicion, suicide, deceit, and his forbidden passion for a beloved woman. In a desperate search for answers, he travels to Pope Clement’s birthplace in Germany, where he learns that the third secret of Fatima may dictate the very fate of the Church—a fate now lying in Michener’s own hands.”

Why I liked it — I do love a “Catholic conspiracy” novel. Steve Berry gets a lot of comparison to Dan Brown, and while I have to agree that Brown’s stories are more riveting, personally, I think Berry is the better writer. I could hardly put this book down. It made me late for work a couple of times! The ending disturbed me a little bit, but it was still, overall, a very good book. This is a stand-alone, which is a pity because I did not want it to end.

5. “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold

What it’s about — “‘My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.’ So begins the story of Susie Salmon, who is adjusting to her new home in heaven, a place that is not at all what she expected, even as she is watching life on eath continue without her — her friends trading rumors about her disappearance, her killer trying to cover his tracks, her grief-stricken family unraveling.”

Why I liked it — This book was different from all the others I have read this year. Even though it does have a bit of a supernatural twist to it (Susie watching her family from heaven), it didn’t have the feel of the usual fantasy novel. I first learned about this book when I saw a preview for the movie. I was curious about the story, so I went in search of the book on Amazon to see what it was about. I impulsively bought it and again, couldn’t put it down. It was sad and hopeful all at the same time. I honestly don’t want to see the movie now, because I cannot comprehend how they could turn this lovely book into a film.

***

2009 was a good year for book reading, even if I didn’t get to read as many as I usually do and despite the fact that I also read “Twilight.” I’m looking forward to what 2010 has to offer.

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