Yearly Archives: 2011

Best Books of 2011 – The Long and The Short Of It

In 2011 my reading led me on a trek with a tiger, brought me to the Australian countryside during WWII, took me to Mauritius, brought me to a small town where a whale took center stage, allowed me inside the walls of a New England college, and introduced me to memorable characters such as Esch, Sophie and Emma, the youngest child of a dysfunctional family, and three sisters whose lives involved a lot of Shakespeare. I learned about the connection between people and animals, read letters by a favorite author, saw a Japanese POW camp during WWII, and cried when families struggled. I was transported by beautiful prose, moved by profound observations, devastated by grief, and enraptured by descriptions of place. The best literature sticks with the reader, makes them laugh and cry, and elevates their lives. I feel really lucky that I had so many of these kinds of books in my reading stacks this year.

Because of the volume of wonderful books I read in 2011, I decided to follow the lead of the literary awards and create a long list, a short list and a winner for the best books I read this year.

So, drum roll please, here are the books that touched me the most in 2011.  I have evaluated nonfiction and fiction separately; short and long listed books are in no particular order.

The Short List for Nonfiction

Steinbeck: A Life in Letters edited by Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten – Penguin (April 1989) / ISBN 978-0140042887 / 928 pages

Steinbeck: A Life in Letters should be mandatory reading for Steinbeck fans or for those scholars who wish to learn more about the inner workings of a great author. In this day and age of computers, cell phones, and digital communication – handwritten letters are becoming a thing of the past. Reading this book made me realize how sad it is that we are losing the art of letter writing. There is something fantastic and confidential about reading someone’s letters – often people reveal more of themselves in a letter than they would ever verbalize in conversation. I think this was certainly the case with John Steinbeck. (read my full review)

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand  – Random House  (November 2010) / ISBN – 978-1400064168 /496 pages

Hillenbrand is a gifted author, one who carefully uncovers the essence of what it means to be human in the face of cruelty, degradation, and hopelessness. Although graphic at times, I could not stop reading this amazing book. (read my full review)

Being With Animals by Barbara J. King – Harmony/Crown (January 2010) / ISBN 0385523637 / 272 pages

Barbara King knowledgeably provides the reader with a plethora of well-researched information that helps define not only why animals are so important to humans, but how that relationship has evolved across time and cultures. Being with Animals narrows the gap between humans and animals, and reminds us of what we share vs. what separates us. (read my full review)

The BEST Nonfiction Book of 2011

The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown – St. Martin’s Press (April 2011) / ISBN 978-0312671839 / 304 pages

Brown is nothing if not brutally honest in his memoir. He does not pretend that he is a saint, or that his love for his child is not filled with ambivalence. He lays it all out and bares his emotions on the page. As difficult as his story is to read, I still found myself laughing at times…because Brown has discovered something that many people have not – that humor can elevate us above the worst situations and make our most difficult challenges bearable.

This was a profoundly moving memoir and was easily the best piece of nonfiction I read all year (read my full review).

The Long List for Fiction

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown – Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (January 2011) / ISBN 978-0399157226 / 336 pages

Eleanor Brown is a talented storyteller who has crafted a novel that will resonate with anyone who has had a sister. But, you do not need to have shared your life with sisters to appreciate the skill of Brown’s writing. Her work is honest, heartfelt, funny, and full of the truths which make us human. (read my full review)

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich – Harper Collins (February 2010) / ISBN 978-0061536090 / 272 pages

Shadow Tag is not an enjoyable read – it made my mouth grow dry and my heart ache. There is an element of  inevitability which informs the story. How can things possibly be fixed between these two characters? How can the children ultimately be saved from the wreck of their family? (read my full review)

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides – Farrar, Straus and Giroux (October 2011) / ISBN 978-0374203054 / 416 pages

The Marriage Plot is all about the journey of its characters. Filled with humor, sadness, and an honest look at growing to adulthood during the 1980s, the novel drew me in completely. (read my full review)

The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah (translated by Geoffrey Strachan) – Graywolf Press (February 2011) / ISBN 978-1555975753 / 208 pages

This book demonstrates the redemptive value of stories, how telling a story can somehow bring healing to our broken hearts. Nathacha Appanah explores grief, loss, loneliness, domestic violence, and the loss of childhood innocence. Her language is evocative and lyrical, heartbreaking and joyous. (read my full review)

The Marriage Artist by Andrew Winer – Henry Holt and Co. (October 2010) / ISBN 0805091785 / 384 pages

What Andrew Winer does with his words is paint a portrait of his characters’ lives against the backdrop of history. And yet, although history is certainly important in the novel, it does not define it. Winer’s gift is his ability to demonstrate the timeless nature of our ruminations about life, death and faith. (read my full review)

Men in the Making by Bruce Machart (short story collection) – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (October 2011) / ISBN 978-0156034449 / 208 pages

Readers will find themselves pulled into the lives of the characters, feeling their sadness, their anger, their regret…they will wish for their redemption and their healing. Highly recommended for those who enjoy the art of the short story and who love beautiful writing which evokes the deepest of emotions. (read my full review)

Little America by Diane Simmons (short story collection) – Ohio State University Press (May 2011) / ISBN 978-0814251782 / 136 pages

And it is this stubborn persistence, this focused effort to make something of one’s life, to be better, or happier, or to find self-understanding which runs throughout all the stories in Simmons’s beautifully wrought book. (read my full review)

The Short List for Fiction

The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom – Picador (March 2011) / ISBN 978-0312674502 / 384 pages

This was Goldie Goldbloom’s first novel – and it was breathtaking. The language was vivid and original, and the characters were unforgettable.

Many readers will wonder where the beauty is in this novel among the scarred and damaged characters, and the dry and desolate countryside, but I think those most observant will discover that the beauty lies in how the story is told – its honesty and its acute examination of what it means to be different in a society where uniqueness is often perceived as negative. (read my full review)

Galore by Michael Crummey – Other Press; Reprint edition (March 2011) / ISBN 978-1590514344 / 352 pages

Crummey hit it out of the park with this delightful and quirky family saga set in Newfoundland during the latter part of the 18th century. Rich and sprawling, Galore was nominated for several literary awards.

Crummey’s skill at character development is evident from the beginning. Despite their oddness, his characters are believable, intriguing, and very real. So many of these characters were memorable. (read my full review)

You Are My Only by Beth Kephart – Egmont USA (October 2011) / ISBN 978-1606842720 / 256

Beth Kephart’s prose is stunningly beautiful, and this YA/Adult cross-over novel swept me away with its poetic language, lovingly developed characters and something difficult to define which made me want to re-read it as soon as I had turned the final page.

…a book that takes the reader into the darkness and then shows them a way to return to the light. Beautifully written and astonishing, this is a book which I highly recommend for readers of all ages. (read my full review)

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen – Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 2011) / ISBN 978-0812976885 / 352 pages

Wow – this novel stunned me. It left me sobbing, my heart shattered. And it was truly, one of the more unforgettable books I have ever read.

Anna Quindlen is an extraordinarily gifted writer who has given her readers a novel which is unforgettable. Poignant, beautifully rendered, achingly sad, but joyously hopeful…Every Last One is a book which left me emotionally drained. (read my full review)

We the Animals by Justin Torres – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (August 2011) / ISBN 978-0547576725 / 144 pages

Sometimes the best gifts are those which come in small packages. Justin Torres has crafted a debut novel which packs a huge punch in less than 150 pages.

As the story unfurls, it becomes apparent that this is a novella about individual identity. How are we formed? Do our families define who we become? Can we tear away from our heritage and our upbringing and find our own unique place in the world? (read my full review)

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht – Random House (March 2011) / ISBN 978-0385343831 / 352 pages

Tea Obreht’s debut novel won the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction – and it is easy to see why. This was a beautifully wrought story which was sprawling and nearly dreamlike with an incredible description of place and fantastic characters.

This is a memorable novel, a magical novel, one that had me dreaming of tigers and snow capped mountains and a man who cannot die. (read my full review)

The BEST Fiction Book of 2011

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward – Bloomsbury USA (August 2011) / ISBN 978-1608195220 / 272 pages

I have been talking about this book for weeks now, so it should come as no surprise that my choice for the best book I read this year was Jesmyn Ward’s raw, amazing, and riveting novel Salvage the Bones. Ward captured the 2011 National Book Award for her efforts. Her ability to draw the reader into a world which is sad, brutal and nearly hopeless, speaks volumes about her talent.

Salvage the Bones is like nothing I have ever read before. I found it hard to tear myself away from these characters whose lives were so fragile and yet were defined by an inner strength which was both admirable and grim. (read my full review)

Have you read any of the books which made it onto my lists? What amazing books did YOU read in 2011?

“Book Buzz” Books Which Did Not Disappoint

I published a series of Book Buzz posts last spring where I highlighted books which I thought looked wonderful – books I was anticipating, and for which I had high hopes. I did not get to read all those books, but I managed to read several of them (and I have several of them still in my stacks which I hope to get to in 2012). Happily, most of these books lived up to the hype. I hope to publish more book buzz posts in 2012…in the meantime, here are the ones which did not disappoint:

From this post (Highly Anticipated):

River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh (I will finish this one today – watch for my review!)

From this post (Debut Authors):

We The Animals by Justin Torres (read my review)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (read my review)

From this post (Fall Reads):

You Are My Only by Beth Kephart (read my review)

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (read my review)

Did you read any of the books on my Book Buzz posts (links below)? Did they live up to the hype?

We The Animals – Book Review

We wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men. We wanted more music on the radio; we wanted beats; we wanted rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird bones hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more. – from We The Animals, page 1 –

Three young boys – brothers – grow up in a house of violence and passion. Their stomachs often ache with hunger. They throw their anger out into the world, then cling to each other while their parents fight and separate and come back together again.  Their father, Paps, is a man of Puerto Rican heritage who wants his boys to understand where they come from; while the brothers try to see themselves as part of their father, but different from him, too.

“This is your heritage,” he said, as if from this dance we could know about his own childhood, about the flavor and grit of tenement buildings in Spanish Harlem, and projects in Red Hook, and dance halls, and city parks, and about his own Paps, how he beat him, how he taught him to dance, as if we could hear Spanish in his movements, as if Puerto Rico was a man in a bathrobe, grabbing another beer from the fridge and raising it to drink, his head back, still dancing, still stepping and snapping perfectly in time. – from We The Animals, page 10 –

Ma fights depression and takes to her bed, forgetting to care for her children or pay attention to them. Locked in a cycle of abuse, she seems powerless to change the course of her life, much less the lives of her kids.

She stopped sleeping in her bed and took to the couch instead, or the floor, or sometimes she slept at the kitchen table, with her head in one arm and the other arm dangling down toward the linoleum, where little heaps of cigarette butts and empty packs and ash piled up around her. – from We The Animals, page 30 –

Narrated in the sensitive and observant voice of the youngest brother, We The Animals is a powerful and disquieting novella about family, love, poverty, domestic violence and the quest to find one’s way within the world. Justin Torres writes with compassion and uses poetic language to capture the day to day challenges that face his characters. Often dark and sad, the novella draws the reader into the bleak world of this family with its captivating prose.

During one poignant scene, the boys are being bathed by their father. As they splash and pretend to navigate “boats” through the shallow waters of their bath, the dark threat of violence is never far away.

After dinner he led us all to the bathtub, no bubbles, just six inches of gray water and our bare butts, our knees and elbows, and our three little dicks. Paps scrubbed us rough with a soapy washcloth. He dug his fingernails into our scalp as he washed our hair and warned us that if the shampoo got into our eyes, it was our own fault for squirming. We made moterboat voices, navigating bits of Styrofoam around toothpicks and plastic milk-cap islands, and we tried to be brave when he grabbed us; we tried not to flinch. – from We the Animals, page 44 –

It was moments like these where my heart felt like breaking for these children – for all children who find themselves in homes like this, desperate for the love of their parents, frightened by the violence they do not understand, growing up in a world where fear and poverty and addiction are a daily occurrence.

As the story unfurls, it becomes apparent that this is a novella about individual identity. How are we formed? Do our families define who we become? Can we tear away from our heritage and our upbringing and find our own unique place in the world?

I was completely engrossed in this book. I read it in less than a day, then set it aside and lived with the words for nearly a week before being able to sort out my feelings for it. This is not the kind of story that is enjoyable. It is difficult, sad, and heartbreaking. It is the kind of book which is hard to forget. I found myself waking up in the morning and thinking about the characters, my heart compressing with empathy for them. Any author who is able to touch a reader this deeply is gifted.

Readers who wish to be transported by original and lyrical prose and those who love literary fiction, will want to experience Justin Torres’ writing for themselves. Sharp, emotional, and darkly compelling, We the Animals is a brilliant first novel.

  •  Quality of Writing:
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Overall Rating: 

FTC Disclosure: I purchased this book.

Readers wishing to purchase this book from an Indie Bookstore may click on the book link below to find Indie sellers. As an Indiebound Associate, I receive a small commission if readers purchase a book through this link on my blog.

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Mailbox Monday – December 26, 2011

Welcome to this week’s edition of Mailbox Monday.

This month Mailbox Monday is being hosted by Jenny Q at Let Them Read Books. Check out her blog today to get links to other readers’ mailboxes.

Go to the dedicated blog for the meme to see the complete tour schedule in the left hand sidebar.

Here is what came into my home this week:

Lindsay at Penguin sent me an Advance Readers Edition of Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli (due for release March 2012). This debut novel sounds wonderful. “When Amelia J. McGee, an outspoken pamphleteer for the NAACP, hastily sends her daughter, Ella, alone on a bus home to Georgia in the middle of the night in 1941—a desperate action that is met with dire consequences when the child encounters two drifters and is left for dead on the side of the road. Ella awakens to find herself in the homestead of Willie Mae Cotton, a hoodoo practitioner and former slave, and her partner, Mary-Mary Freeborn, tucked away in the fertile Takatoka Forest. As Ella begins to heal, the legacies of her lineage are revealed.” The novel moves from Washington, D.C., on the brink of World War II to 1836 and into the mountain coves of Hopewell County, Georgia and illuminates “the tragedy of human frailty, the power of friendship and hope, and the fiercest of all human bonds—mother-love.

Jessica Maria Tuccelli is a graduate of MIT. She currently lives in New York City. This is her first novel. Learn more about Tuccelli and her work by visiting the author’s website.

Aurora at Picador sent me a finished copy of Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer (due for release January 2012). Dederer’s memoir is being lauded as “powerfully honest” and “ruefully funny.” Ten years ago, while breastfeeding her daughter, Dederer put her back out and in so doing, discovered the healing power of yoga. At the same time, she is confronting the mistakes of her generation: “Daughters of women who ran away to find themselves and made a few messes along the way…” and the “determination to be good, good, good – even if this meant feeling hemmed in by the smugness of their organic-buying, attachment-parenting, anxiously conscientious little world.” What Dederer did not anticipate was how the yoga poses tested her most basic ideas of what makes a good mother, daughter, friend, and wife.

Claire Dederer is a longtime contributor to The New York Times. Her articles have appeared in Vogue, Real Simple, The Nation, New York, Yoga Journal, on Slate and Salon, and in newspapers across the country. Her writing has encompassed criticism, reporting, and the personal essay. Dederer’s essays have appeared in the anthologies Money Changes Everything and Heavy Rotation. Before becoming a freelance journalist, she was the chief film critic at Seattle Weekly. She has co-taught writing at the University of Washington and currently works with private students. She lives on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound with her family. Learn more about Dederer and her work by visiting the author’s website.

Did any wonderful books arrive at YOUR house this week?

Woven Ribbons – A Quilt for Mom

*All photos in this post may be clicked on to enjoy a larger view

Now that Christmas is over, I can share with you the quilt I made my mother for Christmas!

Despite its smallish size (41.5″ X 58″) this lap quilt was a bear to piece. I call it  Chocolate & Raspberries, but it is actually named Woven Ribbons by Halli Keller and Nancy Reba who designed it. My local quilt shop offered a class last February 2011 for this quilt, and I jumped in to try doing something a little different. This pattern requires very careful cutting and exact 1/4″ seam allowances. Strips of 2.5″ wide fabric are pieced together into ten “stratas.” These are then cut into 1.5″ strips. THESE strips are then pieced, in a specific order, to create the woven ribbons appearance of the quilt. In the end, what you see are 1″ X 2″ rectangles which make up the pattern. Here is a close up of the process:

And here is a close up of the tiny rectangles:

If it sounds tedious, it is! I had to take frequent breaks from this quilt just to rest my eyes and my patience a little. But, that said, I am delighted with the finished result!

I used left over strata to do a pieced center for the back.

I decided to use a deep chocolate brown to border the quilt as it allows the design to pop. And then I chose a dark raspberry fabric and some left over fabric from the front and stitched a pieced binding.

The quilt is quilted in a free motion, meandering pattern, and I quilted four hearts in each corner.

Because this was a special quilt for my mom for Christmas … I designed a hand-embroidered label.

Merry Christmas, Mom – Enjoy!!!

Merry Christmas!

Please enjoy this beautiful card from Jacquie Lawson. Kip, Raven, Gizmo, Maia and I wish you and your families a wonderful, peaceful Christmas filled with magic! Click on the image below to see the animation…

Jacquie Lawson e-cards

Midsummer Night in the Workhouse: Stories – Book Review

Love, she thought. What a tangle. And she danced a few steps at being alone in the quiet street. The branch of a tree reached over a wall above a lamp-post, its leaves still young and fresh, a brilliant theatrical green in the artificial light. Between the lamp-posts the sky reappeared, a deep purple-blue where the moon was suspended straight overhead, but rusty pink with London’s glow where it came down at the end of the street to outline the roofs. She need not go home. She could decide to walk all night, make for the river or Hampstead Heath, because she was not tired and her shoes were comfortable in spite of their heels.  – from An Island –

Diana Athill will celebrate her 94th birthday tomorrow (December 21). Athill retired at the age of 75 after fifty years in publishing, and then went on to write a series of memoirs, one of which (Somewhere Towards The End) won her the 2009 Costa Book Award. She has also written a novel and many short stories. She is one of the most iconic figures in publishing (her response to V.S. Naipaul’s ridiculous comment about women only writing “tosh” was brilliant). Athill’s sharp wit and keen observations inform her latest collection of short stories: Midsummer Night in the Workhouse.

The stories in this collection are connected thematically and revolve around women (mostly young women finding or losing love). In No Laughing Matter, a young woman experiences first love and faces the wrenching decision about whether or not she will lose her virginity. The Real Thing introduces the reader to a woman in her first year of University who is enthralled by her first kiss even though it lacks the passion she had expected.

I stood quite still while Toofat was kissing me – it didn’t take long – and I was doing a lot of things all at once: thinking ‘This is me, being kissed’; remembering Thomas Hardy; noticing the tree with the lights and the green grass outside the windows; listening to the music from the house; smelling the honeysuckle; thinking that I must fix every bit of it in my mind for ever. – from The Real Thing –

Love for the women in Athill’s stories is not always unencumbered – they consider cheating on their spouses, they have one night stands, they get drunk and dream of a life unattached to their husband. One woman has a week long affair and then is haunted by the possibilities for years afterwards as she plods through her predictable marriage. Another woman leaves her husband at a party and walks home alone and drunk – along the way, she appreciates the beauty of a wine glass and the moon in the sky and hopes to remember the feeling of being utterly alone in the world.

I must remember, I must remember how beautiful it is, because now I can see it. It is so still, and the grass has just been cut, and the leaves are being blown, they are just settling together, sometimes, on the air, and the wine glass is standing on the railing, and I am alone. I am me, under the moon, on a summer night, alone. – from An Island –

Perhaps my favorite of the collection is the title story, Midsummer Night in the Workhouse, where a writer finds herself at a luxurious retreat battling writer’s block and a charming author whose work is perhaps just ordinary. Cecilia reflects on the other writers at the retreat, and is distracted by Charles Opie, a man whose wife has divorced him because of an affair and who has enjoyed an element of fame associated with his writing. In this story, the sexual tension is played out against the backdrop of a woman’s struggle with her career, self-doubt, and the difficulty of finding inspiration within her life.

The horror in wait at Hetherston, nearest in her room but present everywhere, even after dinner when she talked with the others or pub-crawled with Philip, came from the knowledge of how closely her work connected with her own experience and dread that everything of significance in that experience might have been used up. – from Midsummer Night in the Workhouse –

Athill’s writing is fluid, simple, perceptive and sometimes funny. She is able to capture the internal conflict of her characters with ease, uncovering their insecurities, dreams, joy and despair. I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful collection of stories, slipping into the lives of women who could define a generation. There was a time when a woman was supposed to be proper, not take risks, focus on family instead of career, and be the dutiful wife. Athill’s prose reveals the hidden desires and adventurous spirits of woman who came of age in that era.

Readers who want to be transported by an author who has established herself as one of the best writers of the late twentieth century, will be well rewarded by picking up a copy of Diana Athill’s collection of short stories.

Highly recommended.

FTC Disclosure: The publisher provided me with this book for review on my blog.

Readers wishing to purchase this book from an Indie Bookstore may click on the book link below to find Indie sellers. As an Indiebound Associate, I receive a small commission if readers purchase a book through this link on my blog.

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The Remainder of 2011 in Books…

What shall I read? This is the question that has been circling my brain for the last few days because 2011 is winding down and I want to squeeze in some great books before the year peters out. I will finish reading Diana Athill’s short story collection and We the Animals by Justin Torres today.

Here are the books which I will be considering in the last 11 days of December:

  • River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh
  • The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai
  • Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones
  • White Truffles in Winter by N.. Kelby
  • Child Wonder by Roy Jacobsen
  • A Long-Forgotten Truth by Rachel Ballard
  • The Tin Ticket by Deborah J. Swiss
  • Elizabeth and Hazel by David Margolick

What would YOU choose?


Mailbox Monday – December 19, 2011

Welcome to this week’s edition of Mailbox Monday.

This month Mailbox Monday is being hosted by Jenny Q at Let Them Read Books. Check out her blog today to get links to other readers’ mailboxes.

Go to the dedicated blog for the meme to see the complete tour schedule in the left hand sidebar.

In keeping with my new resolution to decrease the amount of books flowing into my home, I have only one book in my mailbox this week:

Aurora with Picador sent me a copy of Alice in Bed by Cathleen Schine (a re-issue slated to be released in January). I read The Three Weissmans of Westport this year and really enjoyed Schine’s writing (read my review), so this was a hard one to say “no” to. Alice in Bed centers around college sophomore Alice Brody who has suddenly lost the use of her legs.  The publisher blurb says: “As she convalesces in a Manhattan hospital, Alice finds herself attended by a motley group of visitors: indifferent nurses, doctors both good and bad, divorcing parents, and eccentric relatives. But Alice is a creature of many charms, whose wit can enchant those bearing even the worst bedside manner. With a captivating heroine of great comic depth, Alice in Bed is balm for whatever ails you.

Cathleen Schine is the author of The Three Weissmanns of Westport, To the Birdhouse, The New Yorkers, and The Love Letter, among other novels. She has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, and The New York Times Book Review. She grew up in Westport, Connecticut, and lives in New York City and Venice, California. Read more about Schine and her work by visiting the author’s website.

Did any wonderful books find their way into YOUR home this week?

Sunday Salon – December 18, 2011

December 18, 2011

Good morning and welcome to The Sunday Salon  – grab your beverage of choice, put up your feet and let’s talk books. To visit other Sunday Salon posts, check out the Facebook page for links.

The weeks are flying by – only a week until Christmas and then another week and we will be welcoming in a brand new year. I love the start of a new year and have already been thinking about my plans and goals for 2012. What about you? Have you thought about what your year will look like in terms of books, personal time, and travel? Do you set a reading goal for a number of books to be read, or are you more casual about your reading? Is there anything you are going to do dramatically next year which you did not do this year?

One of the things I am actually getting really excited about for 2012 is The Chunkster Challenge. Vasilly has joined me over there and we are coming up with what we hope are fun ideas to make the challenge more engaging. We have also decided to host The Chunky Book club – a book club designed to read the chunky books (one every three months). We’ll be doing some book features and giveaways too. Here are some links we hope you’ll check out:

Since last week, I have been busy Christmas shopping, working, and reading. I am very close to my goal of 96 books read in 2011…and I may even surpass my goal which would be great.

I finished reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (read my review) which I really loved for its amazing imagery and magical story. So many people are raving about this book, and I can see why. I was excited to see it has been optioned for a movie and am eager to see the outcome and who they will choose for the actors. If you haven’t read this one yet, I highly recommend you do!

I also finished reading The Puppy That Came For Christmas by Megan Rix (read my review) which wrapped up the 2011 Memorable Memoirs challenge for me. This is a heartwarming story which I mostly enjoyed. It is a quick read, and I think most animal lovers will find something to like in this memoir. Readers who are drawn to memoirs will find this a light read that explores loss, infertility, and the power of animals to heal our hearts.

My 94th book of the year and my current read is a collection of short stories by Diana Athill which was published in October. Athill was born in 1917 and her writing is feisty, observant and funny. I should be done reading this delightful collection in the next day or so. I hope to have a review posted by mid-week. In the meantime, let me share an excerpt with you from a short story titled No Laughing Matter which is about a young woman’s first love:

At first she was not always sure whether she was thinking of clothes or a party or men (or a man) because the dazzle of love could be on any of them, not coming out of them but streaming into them from the source in herself out of which the flames and the water and the imminent happening had come. Now, in her first year at the university, it was Stephen who received it.

I have a lot of wonderful books on my stacks for the rest of the month and it is hard to choose which to read next…but I think I will have to pick up We The Animals by Justin Torres. This is a slim book which apparently packs a big punch according to some bloggers who I completely trust. I think I will probably finish this book in record time so watch for a review later this week.

I hope you are having a joyous holiday season and finding some time to sit and read a great book. To keep in the spirit of the season, I thought I would share with you a photo of Raven dressed in her elf hat and looking for mischief:

Have a wonderful week ahead!