The Best Books of 2009

Here are my best books from 2009. They are in alphabetical order because I could not possibly rank them. They are all excellent.

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
Death is the narrator, and a sympathetic one too. World War II is a busy time for Death, but he several times encounters a young German girl (the Book Thief) and is entranced by her story, which he tells to us, the readers. I would kill to write like Zusak. OK, so not really, but his writing is poetry: thoughtful, fresh and brilliant. I read some passages over and over because I loved the imagery. Some readers, I know, find this distracting. Marketed as a YA novel, many of those readers might not drool over the language (as I did), but the story is strong as well. Everyone I know who read it loved it.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows
It’s great to see an epistolary novel do so well; I’m not alone in raving about this story. It is a collection of (fictional) letters written just after World War II, focusing on what happened to people who lived on Guernsey during the war. Sad and funny, hopeful and tragic. A great read.

Mistress of the Sun
by Sandra Gulland
The Sun is, of course, the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. The mistress is Louise de la Valliere. Gulland masterfully blends fact and fiction, love and treachery, magic and mystery. I read it almost a year ago, so it is hard to relay details, but I remember that it was excellent.

The Name of the Wind
by Patrick Rothfuss
This was a re-read. It is the first of a fantasy trilogy and brilliantly written. Whether you are an avid fantasy reader or not, the story of Kvothe and his search for self and truth will pull you in. It’s much more than just a fantasy novel. Pat has won lots of awards for this book and he deserves every single one of them. I’m impatiently waiting for the next installment.

by Diana Gabaldon
This book had a slow start for me, but so many people have raved about it, I pushed through. Since it is on this list, you can bet I’m glad I did. Claire Randall, a field nurse from World War II is getting re-acquainted with her husband on a trip to Scotland when she is magically transported back 200 years. Claire’s desire to return to her own time becomes complicated by her love for Jamie Fraser. 1740s Scotland is a dangerous time, and Claire, knowing history, knows exactly how dangerous. I think I read the last 200 pages without breathing. It is the first in a series and I’ll be picking up the next at the library as soon as some unknown, damned slow, reader can return it.

A Thousand Splendid Suns
by Khaled Hosseini
I enjoyed this more than Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, probably because A Thousand Splendid Suns focuses on female characters. His writing is clean and clear and his characters alive. It is a painful yet hopeful story, focused on the lives of Mariam and Laila, two Afghan women, before, during, and after the Taliban.

The Time Traveler’s Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger
This book has become one of my all time favorites. Henry time travels, although he doesn’t want to. He cannot take anything with him, so ends up naked and penniless in a time he doesn’t belong. Clare has known Henry since she was six, because he often travels to her. The first time he meets her, she has known him for nearly fourteen years. With the exception of Henry, this book is rooted in real-life, late-twentieth century America. Henry and Clare’s love story is deep and moving and has haunted me every day since I first finished this book. I’m reading it for the third time. I refuse to go see the movie because I can’t see how this book could be turned into a movie and I don’t want any aspect of the book ruined.

by James Nichol
The story of a love affair between a French girl and a German soldier during World War II is alternated with the story of a Canadian sheriff searching for a dead body and then the identity of the body and its murderer. This novel is brilliantly constructed, with the love story moving quickly until it catches up to the Canadian story and the characters find themselves in Canada: who is the murderer and who is the murdered? Nichol’s writing is clean and tight. You won’t be able to put this down until you are done, and then you’ll be disappointed there isn’t more to read.

I’m not sure why there are so many World War II two books in here; it isn’t a time period that normally interests me. Still, a great book is a great book. Deliver your own book suggestions in the comments below.

About the mystery

I edited for about 90 minutes yesterday. The work involved incorporating all my younger son had written and improving a couple of scenes I’d been thinking about. I still need to read through the whole thing one more time, fixing little things and looking for major problems. Then, it will be ready to move to the next stage.

This story my family and I have written is a children’s mystery that takes place at the American Suzuki Institute, focusing on four 12 to 13 year olds (2 boys, 2 girls) and a stolen violin. The violin is a mythical “Goldin” violin–very expensive, with almost magical qualities to it.

Both of my kids are Suzuki violinists and have been attending this “summer violin camp” for many years. They are the experts for anything having to do with music. We want to run the manuscript by the director of the Institute to make sure all the details regarding the running of the Institute are accurate. One of the main characters is an actual Suzuki teacher. We need to get permission from him to use him as a character, and see if he wants to fix any of the “witty banter” associated with his lessons.

So, the next stage will be to show the manuscript to the director and the teacher and see what they have to say.

The beauty of this book is that it has a ready market of readers: attendees of the American Suzuki Institute. Hopefully the story will be good enough that word can spread out of that demographic to the general kid-reading public.

My husband has helped with ideas for the story and, as our resident computer expert, will be in charge of turning the manuscript into an actual book. We plan to self-publish this spring and have the book ready for the summer institute.

Check back here to get updates on The Stolen Goldin Violin.

Editing is no fun

I was so disciplined in November. Now it’s December and I really should be editing. But, there are Christmas presents to buy…. the house to decorate…. The semester is winding down and I’ve got papers to grade and finals to write…. soon I’ll have finals to grade…. And, my gosh, I didn’t clean the house at all during November, so now I really should get to it….

I’m vowing here and now to edit tomorrow for at least an hour—two if I can manage it. I have a million other things I could be doing, but I’m going to edit! I will post tomorrow evening and let you know if I did.