Best of 2011 and plans for 2012

2006 - 103 books, 2007 - 99 books, 2008 - 77 books, 2009 - 79 books, 2010 - 82 books, 2011 - 85 books

(click chart made via to embiggen)

Every year, same goal of reading 100 books, but the only year I made it was 2006, before I started reviewing.

Newsflash: reviewing cuts into reading time!  But, that’s OK, I like to blog.

To break down the books I’ve read, you can check out goodreads. There you’ll see I read 86 “books”, but I didn’t count the one graphic novel. I did count a couple of novellas because I read some longer 500+ page books as well and figured they balanced each other out. So in 2011, I read 85 books.

Out of those books, I have my favorites, and my favorites have two categories. Those books that blew me out of the water, and those that came very close to doing that. Blew me out of the water always a difficult group to get into, because it’s based on sheer emotion. If I feel euphoric LOVE after I finish a book, it goes on the list. Not many books do that to me. So:

Blew me out of the water:

Close to perfection:

(each image links to my review, if I have reviewed the book).

There are so many books not on this list that I consider keepers. Another 20 books at least, so 2011 was not a bad reading year at all. Check out my goodreads to see all the 4 star books this year not on this list here. I was actually good about putting the books I read on there this year.

Goals for 2012:

  • Again keep trying to get to 100 books read
  • Since I can’t finish a challenge to save my life.. try not to join so many challenges (hah, we’ll see)
  • Buy whatever books I want to. 🙂 I have given up the fight against the TBR, but I know what’s reasonable.
  • Stay relaxed with the blogging thing.
  • And this year, the goal is to catch up on some series. I have a lot of series that I’m realizing I’m behind on and would like to get back into.

Shut Out by Kody Keplinger

Shut Out
Kody Keplinger
The DUFF is one of my favorite reads of this year; I loved the real and unvarnished voice of the main character, a teen distracting herself from her problems by having a physical relationship. When I found out that Kody Keplinger had another book in the works, based on Aristophanes’ play, Lysistrata, I mentally put it on my list as a book to look for in the fall.  But I didn’t have to wait that long – Shut Out was one of the offerings at BEA. Yep, I was so there. This is an early review of an ARC copy. This book doesn’t come out till September but I am planning a giveaway of my extra copy in a day or two!
The Premise: (taken from the back blurb) “Most high school sports teams have rivalries with other schools. At Hamilton High, it’s a civil war: the football team versus the soccer team. And for her part, Lissa is sick of it. Her quarterback boyfriend, Randy, is always ditching her for go pick a fight with the soccer team or to prank their locker room. And on three separate occasions Randy’s car has been egged while he and Lissa were inside, making out. She is done competing with a bunch of sweaty boys for her own boyfriend’s attention.
Lissa decides to end the rivalry once and for all: She and the other players’ girlfriends go on a hookup strike. The boys won’t get any action from them until the football and soccer teams make peace. What they don’t count on is a new sort of rivalry: an impossible girls-against-boys showdown that hinges on who will cave to their libidos first. And Lissa never sees her own sexual tension with the leader of the boys, Cash Sterling, coming.”
My Thoughts: What I liked about The DUFF was that its main character felt like a real teenager, and I was glad to see that the same is true about Shut Out. Lissa Daniels is a normal girl with a fairly typical life. She lives with her father, a counselor at an elementary school, and with her older bother, Logan . She’s a good student, has a steady boyfriend who fits in with her family, and she works at the local library as a part time job. Fairly normal stuff, except for losing her mother a few years ago in the same car crash that left her father in a wheelchair.
Then there’s dealing with her boyfriend’s obsession with the feud between the football and soccer teams at her high school. From Lissa’s point of view (a view shared by many), the feud is pointless; the teams belong to the same school, and hardly any of the boys can remember why they are fighting.  When Lissa tells her boyfriend Randy to stop before someone gets hurt, Randy doesn’t take her seriously. He is oblivious that Lissa’s problem with the feud has to do with how it affects their relationship, and Lissa finds it difficult to articulate her feelings. As it is, he brushes off her repeated requests to stop. That’s when Lissa gets fed up and organizes the hookup strike with girlfriends of players on both sides of the fighting.
This is where things begin to get interesting. The boys are in an uproar, and relationships weaken, particularly Lissa and Randy’s. The boys begin to band together against the girls. Suddenly it’s a war of the sexes.
Amongst the fallout, the strike opens up a dialog, particularly amongst the girls. It becomes an opportunity for the girls to get closer and to talk to each other about sex.  I loved that the girlfriends – all very different from one another, had a chance to air out individual experiences and hear from the rest of the group. Things like what the “normal” level of intimacy is, using sex to manipulate people, and what the line is with what they’re doing. What I particularly liked was that the realization that there is no such thing as normal. I found that the message that everyone goes through feeling inadequate just because they don’t think they conform to an idealized normal, is a similar message that was in The DUFF. The DUFF just focused on the appearance side of the message, and Shut Out focuses on experience. This is a positive message, and I think it’s great that Shut Out speaks frankly about sex and teens, but  the “lessons” about sex also lent the story a very obvious moralistic slant, and there are a lot of these lessons. Lissa talks through sexual rights and wrongs with other characters on several occasions.
I’m far from being a teen so these messages do little for me now, but I think I’d have liked to read a book like this when I was in my early teens. The only small issue I really had was about one of Lissa’s friends who has a cavalier sexual lifestyle. I didn’t think much of it until she explains it as a need to have some control in her life after her dad moving out (but doesn’t want anyone to psychoanalyze her). Maybe the message was not to judge people for their private decisions, but it didn’t The DUFF illustrate what a bad idea it is to deal with your problems this way? The contradiction bugged me.
Anyway, on to the romance in this story, which was big subplot. While Lissa and Randy’s relationship falters, her relationship with Cash Sterling becomes stronger. Not only does Cash now work at the library with Lissa, but it’s revealed that they have a little bit of a back story. Things being as they are, there are a lot more opportunities for these two to be thrown together, and of course sparks fly. It’s a bit of a love triangle, but not really. I think the story makes things very clear cut so Lissa can’t be accused of cheating. Without going into it, it becomes very obvious who the right person for her is, while at the same time not making anyone a cardboard villain without any redeeming features. I understood the qualities that drew Lissa to the guy she doesn’t end up with.
Lissa’s role as the leader also gives the story an opportunity to touch on sex as a weapon. Lissa begins to get very caught up in the “war” and goes a little overboard in her “attack”, so there’s a scene that covers teasing and when the term is used unfairly and when the term really applies. Excellent scene, although the response of the guy involved felt a little unreal for a teen-aged guy, it was great to see how mixed up and emotionally invested the whole thing is making Lissa. I really liked how Lissa’s progression from going too far to figuring out the right thing to do went, although I did feel like the final smoothing over of misunderstandings between Lissa and her chosen guy was missing something, which was an apology from Lissa for how she acted.  I didn’t see that and it left me with a nagging feeling when I got to the end.
Overall: Like The DUFF, Shut Out is a very real, very readable young adult story that doesn’t shy away from the topic of sex and teens. While I think that this is a book that has a lot of great messages, it’s more obvious than The DUFF as a Topic Book. I sometimes I felt like it tries to cover too much in what it tackles: I’d have preferred that it stuck to one or two important points and left the rest for some other story. But even with its agenda, Shut Out is still an engaging story. Lissa was an easy-to-relate-to narrator, the story was well-written, and the romance was a sweet one. I didn’t love this one like I loved The DUFF, but I liked it.
Shut Out comes out in September.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
It’s a little early yet.

The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) by Kody Keplinger

While I saw a lot of positive reviews for this book, I wasn’t in love with the premise — a girl begins a sexual relationship with a guy she pretty much hates? Hmm. What made me decide that I would give this book a try was this review from Debbie’s World of Books. I’m glad I did.

The Premise: Bianca Piper is a cynical high school girl who spends her time with her two best friends, Casey and Jessica. One night at the local teen hangout, Wesley Rush, the resident “man-slut”, who Bianca cannot stand, begins a conversation with her. His purpose? To get to Bianca’s friends via their weakest link — the Duff, aka the Designated Ugly Fat Friend. Thoroughly disgusted by Wesley’s hurtful label and slimeball plans, Bianca throws her Cherry Coke in his face, gives him what for, and storms off. That probably would’ve been the end of that, except that soon after, Bianca discovers that her often absent mom wants a divorce. So Bianca seeks escape in a physical relationship with Wesley. What was meant to be a distraction has complications that Bianca never intended.

My Thoughts: It blows my mind that this author is 18 years old. Eighteen! The writing doesn’t suffer for it. I think that instead, her age is a strength — the teenage voice in The Duff was more honest and believable than many of the YA books I’ve read lately. Bianca, the narrator, is full of snark and bluster, particularly around her friends (and Wesley who she never holds back from), but she feels like a real teenager. Sure, not all teens are as free with their expletives or as sexually experienced as Bianca, but I could relate to his girl and where she was in her life.

OK. Sneaking around to have sex with the boy you hate is not the healthiest way to deal with your problems. In fact, it is the opposite of healthy. But I could believe Bianca’s need to be distracted from her personal problems (what is reading if not a distraction?), and Wesley is an easy distraction. Bianca manages to ignore what’s going on for a little while,  but it all catches up with her. There’s a clear message that there are consequences for what she does: the distancing from her friends that she’s hiding things from, the emotional entanglements, and the possibility of pregnancy or disease (touched lightly, but it’s there). And Bianca isn’t not the only one who learns that you can’t run away forever.

On the other hand, Bianca is really lucky how things ultimately worked out. Wesley easily could have been the bastard she calls him, and the emotional repercussions of their numerous sexual encounters while messy, could have been much more messy. I liked Wesley by the end of this book, but a small (practical) part of me stayed resistant. I think this is where life experience colors the story, but I’m willing to see him as a character with flaws and I could let my disbelief go enough to enjoy the ending, particularly because I wanted these two to work things out. The chemistry between Bianca and Wesley was quite perfect, and I did love their semi-disfunctional, trading-insults relationship.

The secondary characters in this book all had what felt like realistic relationships with Bianca. Her relationship with her parents showed an awareness of their flaws but they do care about their daughter. Her father’s relapse may have been on the dramatic side, but Bianca’s reaction to it was believable. I also loved Bianca’s friendships with Casey and Jessica. The three girls have differing personalities but they each fit a role within their group.  There’s a lot of love and loyalty amongst the three, and when Bianca realizes that she’s the Duff of the group, it doesn’t make her search for new, less attractive friends to make herself look better. And realistically, there is worry and hurt feelings when Bianca distances herself from them because of her problems.

The idea that you are not your label is probably the Big Message of this book, but I think it’s an important message, and one that really affects self-esteem. The fact that everyone feels like the Duff, and that one should look beyond a label is something I wish more girls would believe. I liked that Bianca’s choices lead her to these truths.  

Overall: While I don’t agree with how the main character initially dealt with her problems, I liked the lessons she ultimately learned, and there was something refreshing in reading a book that embraced sexuality and expletives. I’d recommend this one if you feel like you can look past the idea of a teen’s using sex as an emotional outlet, because this story has a snarky teen voice that I loved because it felt real and honest.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Debbie’s World of Books – positive
Karin’s Book Nook – 5 out of 5
Steph Su Reads – 4.5 out of 5
Book Fare Delights – 4 out of 5
Sophistikated Reviews – 4 out of 5
Pop Culture Junkie – 4.5 out of 5
The Story Siren – 5 out of 5
The Hiding Spot – A+
Book Crazy – 5 mushrooms (must read)