1. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (audio) I adore Tolsoy's gift for character building, and because he was so very good at that I absolutely despised Anna. In fact, I was rather relieved when her story finally came to an end, being thoroughly sick and tired of her selfishness. Yep, I get the point of the book. Nope, I don't feel one darn bit sorry for Anna. I don't know that I can say that I enjoyed the book. I'm glad I read it, truly, but I was relieved when it came to an end and I could move on. Actually, it was completely worth it for the birth scene of Levin and Kitty's baby, which is quite possibly the most glorious birth scene I've ever read in a novel.
2. Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins...also 1/2 of Catching Fire - Stick with me, this is going to be a bit of a rant.
First off, I absolutely hated the book. I know, I know....let the vicious attacks on my opinion begin.
A disclaimer: Although my intellectual mind understands the dystopic novel for both its purpose and its place in literature, I have always hated reading that genre. (Also, the more popular the dystopic book the more I tend to hate it.) I have enough darkness in my life, thank you very much, and find it difficult to get past that aspect of the genre - thus making it difficult to absorb whatever point the author had intended.
With that in mind, I really didn't want to read the Hunger Games, finding the entire premise to be distasteful. In fact, I felt about it the exact same way that I felt about the movie Titanic: I didn't want to go see 1,500 people die, and I hated watching 1,500 people die. I didn't want to read a book where teens are forced to kill teens, and I hated reading a book where teens are forced to kill teens. I broke down and read the dratted thing because I wanted to be fair and informed in my own opinions. (If you don't vote, you can't complain sort of thing.) I honestly don't know, though, if I'll be able to finish the series.
The good: Suzanne Collins is a talented writer, and I can see why so many people have been swept up by her books. Kudos to any writer who can get so many people reading! I also think she's actually quite brilliant in her use of mythology and cultural references in the books.....
The Bad: ....although it saddens me because I think 90% of her readers have no idea of what exactly she's brought into her work. I also think that perhaps most of them are missing the point...or at least that's the impression I'm getting based upon the many, many conversations I've had/heard/read about the books.
Also, I personally found Katniss to be an unrelatable character. I just couldn't connect - and for me that detachment got worse the further into the second book than I got. I get it, a lot of people look at her and see a take-charge badass who is more than capable of saving the day. My logic brain fully understands where Collins was going and why she created Katniss as she did. In fact, I think she did a fairly brilliant job of character building for the world she created. That doesn't mean that I have to like it, though. My personal impression was that Katniss is cold, manipulative and emotionally stunted. (I can feel the daggers being thrown my way....)
In fact, I think my problem with Collins is that all of the characters are "too." Enough said.
For those of you who are interested, there is a really fantastic article at The Atlantic, comparing Bella Swan and Katniss Everdeen. We can have the full Twilight V. Hunger Games debate on another day. For now, all I will say is that I completely agree with the article....and that as a mom I will one day let my girls read both series with no qualms whatsoever so that they can make up their own minds on the subject.
3. Catherine the Great, Robert K. Massie - I will now sheepishly admit that, although I really enjoyed this book, I didn't actually finish it. Once Catherine became Empress it all got rather bogged down in politics - as it should - and I freely admit I lost interest. (To be fair, it's a very long book and I read 3/4 of it.) When I found myself reading along at only a page or two/day I decided to give up. Life is too short, and there are too many other books to read. Having said that, Massie does a phenomenal job of telling his story in such a way that Catherine's life reads more as a novel than as a dry history book. I actually don't know much about Russian history, so it was definitely a worthwhile read.
4. Defending Jacob, William Landay (audio) Unless you've been living under a literary rock, you've probably heard some of the great buzz that Landay's newest book has received. It was a Books On the Nightstand recommendation, and Landay was actually one of the guest authors at a recent BOTNS retreat. Not going to say anything because I don't want to give anything away (although I am rather proud that the end included two things that I had suspected!), other than to say I really, really wish I had someone to discuss the book with. It would be SSOOoooo much fun to bounce ideas off of someone!
5. The Magician King, Lev Grossman - I've had this book for a while but hadn't read it because Grossman's first book really just didn't do anything for me. Yeah, it was fun, but I found little that was relatable in much of it and felt that overall it was a rather indulgent book for the author to have written. I'm glad I finally read this one, and honestly wish I'd read it immediately after finishing the first. Where the first really felt like it just existed to poke fun at other books, the second actually deals with character development in some really interesting ways.
6. Wildings Book 1: Under My Skin, Charles De Lint - Heavens know he's my favorite author, and so new work from him is always a treat. Under My Skin is the first in a three book series, but De Lint made sure that it could stand alone. I absolutely adored it - both for the continuation of some of De Lint's most frequent themes as well as the modern tweak he added to his own style. Can't wait for the next book!