Thursday, January 2, 2014

5 Books I Read in 2013 That Really Surprised Me

I have too precious time to waste on terrible books. I can be a really tough critic. I generally know what I'm getting into before I read a book, and I feel really bad when I say that I do judge books by their covers. But you know, some just fit the mold! The books below are books that I read this year where my first impressions of the book were completely wrong and I was surprised by what I found in them.


Most Surprising Fiction Read .....  And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Earlier in 2013, I was bitching about how none of my friends really like to read the same things that I do, and my one friend Elyse,who is an avid reader, half of what she reads are romance novels. She resented that comment, and we did the calculations. Only a third of her reading material met the 'romance' genre, so I had to admit I was wrong. As punishment, I let her pick 10 books that I would read from her collection no ifs ands or buts about it. While she did pick a few romances to tease me, Elyse also picked this book because it was one of her favorites. And it was a huge and pleasant surprise to me. 

If you are unfamiliar, this is the classic whodunnit by Agatha Christie, a renowned modern mystery writer, about ten 'strangers' being invited out to an island for a holiday by an acquaintance they all know, and one by one each of those strangers start turning up dead. The killing theme is the nursery rhyme 'Ten Little Indians" (which this book is also known as) .... I would say that this novel is the epitome of the mystery and suspense genre. It is by far the most well-written. Just enough given on the characters for you to care about them, just enough detail where you can try to solve the mystery yourself, just enough twists and turns to keep you guessing, and then a shocker ending that not only do you not see coming but it makes perfect sense.

Since Elyse recommended this to me, I have recommended it in turn to many other people. I also might add that this is two years in a row that books Elyse has recommended to me have made it on my yearly 'Most Surprising' - we've been friends a long time, yes, but it just goes to show you you can never learn everything about a person no matter how hard you may try.


2013 was not a huge nonfiction year for me, and those who follow my Goodreads page will remember how late in the year it was that I read this title. Now, before you go mocking me saying that it is the only nonfiction read I really remember about this year - well, it's true- it is the only one really. But I'm not selecting it because I remember it clearly. I am selecting it because it has had the largest effect on me. It is just coincidental that I read it late in the year.

This book is written by a human cardiologist and recounts first a tale of where she is called in to a public zoo to try to perform heart surgery on a monkey (a tamarind, to be exact) .... at first, she's really puzzled as to why, but later one of her interns says something that changes her views forever - "Gee, these heart cells look a lot like human heart cells." - and therein lies the subject of the book "Human health and medicine is not all that different from animal health and medicine." For animal-lovers such as myself, this is not surprising, but a lot of the population are not aware that animal health and human health used to be practiced together- that there was a great division in the 1800s.... that physicians scorn veterinarians, and that veterinarians study both human and animal health, keep up with physicians' magazines, and still perform work on animals while making jokes like "What do you call a doctor that operates only on one species? -A physician." ... and why is that when animals suffer the same sort of ailments that humans do? This book have several outstanding essays that present great evidence that animals do indeed suffer from the same ailments that humans do, from cancers to mental illness and more, and proposes that physicians and veterinarians study together more often that the two disciplines can really learn a lot from each other. 


Most Surprising Youth Read ..... A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

On my way to Albuquerque to visit my ex Felicia after her surgery, I picked up this little gem (in audiobook format) for no reason other than it was relatively short so I could finish it there and back, and that it is a Newbery award winner. I had been transferred to the youth desk a few months prior and I wanted to become more familiar with items in the youth collection. What better way than to read the books that have won awards that most will know about?

This book takes place in feudal Korea, and tells the story of an orphan boy named Tree-Ear who longs to become a potter... but because pottery is a trade passed from father to son and Tree-Ear has no father- this dream is near impossible for him to achieve. With a little determination and good fortune, Tree-Ear will eventually get his chance to become a potter's apprentice. Pottery is a revered artisan's craft in Korea and has been for centuries, so Linda Sue Park, I imagine, had to do a lot of homework to make the book historically accurate. If it is one thing I am a stickler about, it is that my historical fiction must be historically accurate, or in the case of speculative fiction, must have been historically possible. I had no idea what this book was about going into it, so you can imagine my surprise when I listened intently to this charming Oriental tale. I have recommended it to others since, and though it has been months since I heard it, I remember it with great detail. I guess you can say that this really stuck with me. 


Most Surprising Comic/Manga Read ...... Batman: Long Halloween

I've always been a Marvel Comics girl growing up. After I was introduced to manga (Thanks Dark Horse for the adaptation of  'Ah!Megami-sama!'), I quickly became interested in the X-Men series of comics, then Runaways, and now virtually every Marvel character there is. DC Comics has appealed to me (in particular, Batman) but I was a little intimidated by it because I wasn't sure where to begin. It's not as easy to jump into a DC Comic as it is a Marvel comic. I was glad they started the 'The New 52' campaign; that made starting characters a little easier for non-DC readers. One of my coworkers, Kevin, suggested that I start with Batman. Multiple movies have been made of Batman, all giving a clear depiction of his origin, and once you know that, you can basically leap in anywhere you like. I was a little hesitant, but decided to give it a try. When I told him I had actual written a college essay about the 2008 film The Dark Knight, Kevin said that this was the Batman comic I needed to start with then. This is the comic that the producers of 'The Dark Knight' adapted their screenplay from. I thought I knew what was going to happen in the comic already, and prepared myself not to be terribly impressed.

Boy, was I wrong.

The Long Halloween and its sequel Dark Victory are FAR superior to the movie which came from them. The Dark Knight is a cookie-cutter plot in comparison. I was pretty impressed with the movie to begin with. While the movie focuses primarily on Harvey Dent's slow descent into madness, The Long Halloween is filled with a beautiful Mafia subplot about the corruption within the corrupt families that rule the underworld of Gotham- how Harvey Dent got involved in trying to eradicate them, and how that involvement cost him his immortal soul. Yes, the Joker still makes his appearance and plays his place, but it is really more on a political and legal scale in the comic... and a mysterious new killer known as 'Holiday' who targets civilians, politicians, and villains alike. No one in Gotham in safe. Seriously, who can you trust?



Most Surprising Completely Terrible Read .....  The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer

This is the final book in the 'Last Survivors' series by Susan Beth Pfeffer that started with 'Life As We Knew It' which was a great piece of juvenile speculative dystopian fiction about the havoc that the world would be in if forces in space caused the moon to come closer towards the Earth. The answer? Catastrophic tidal waves and earthquakes... flooding... and climate change. Devastation. The first book takes place in the Northeast USA and talks much about a family there trying to survive the chaos. The second book takes place in the New York City and centers around a different family. The third book unites those families, and then they head into Central USA. The fourth book shouldn't have been written.

Hypothetically, the last book takes place about... eight years after the events of the first book happen. By eight years, society has fallen apart and rebuilt itself... to look like every goddamn dystopian novel out there, and suddenly soccer has become an important cultural and political game. Cultural? I get that part. That's cool, but when the society depicted in the book is more focused on grooming better soccer players than teaching them about new agriculture and science and history. I couldn't take it seriously anymore. Plus, the main character, who was sweet and reasonable in the first three books, suddenly becomes a chauvinist brainless pig who is more interested in finding a woman who will tolerate his bullshit and make him sandwiches while he plays soccer for the government. It was completely unbearable.

Seriously, just stop after book three.  

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