Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Top Eleven Books of 2011!

Happy New Year’s Eve! As the final hours of 2011 tick by, I hope everyone has a great start to 2012. I have a slew of mental goals and resolutions, but above all I hope that 2012 is a better year than 2011 for me. Really and truly, I could pretty much write this year off. That’s not to say that everything has been horrible this year -- after all, there have been some highlights -- winning Teacher of the Year at my school, going to Tybee Island, my children continuing to grow into young adults, seeing my aunt and uncle from Australia again -- but losing my mother pretty much cast a pale on everything.

However, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to recapture my sense of optimism and fun -- I feel like I have let that slip away just not this year, but for several years. Of course, last night when I was being negative, Charles commented that he thought I was going to approach life more cheerfully. I had to tell him, “In 2012 -- I still have some time to be a pessimist this year.” :)

I am digressing, though. I thought it would be fun to wind up the year with a list of my top eleven books I read this past year that I have not previously mentioned on the blog. They are in no particular order except for my number one favorite of the year which goes onto my all-time favorite list.

Out of the 84 books I read this year, which ones make the list? As you will see, my list is not filled with “literary achievements.” Often, I find those books too dense and sometimes outright depressing. I read because I enjoy reading, and I read to escape the real world of emptying the dishwasher and mounds of laundry. I don’t necessarily want something that makes me want to gouge my eyes out. None of those types of books, please. So, you will see that I read a lot of what other people might call “fluff.” It’s fun fluff, though, makes me happy, and sometimes I learn a thing or two along the way.

Without further ado…

11. The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
Sarah Addison Allen writes a genre of fiction called “magic realism.” Magic realism, by definition, is a style in which magical elements are blended with the real world. In The Peach Keeper, Willa returns to her North Carolina hometown and strange occurrences begin when a skeleton is discovered underneath the old peach tree.

10. Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman
I love Carol Goodman’s books, and this one was no exception. Arcadia Falls is about a mother and her teenage daughter who go to live at a small college in upstate New York where the mother begins teaching folklore and mythology classes. Part gothic and part ode to the power of fairy tales.

9. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
The Paris Wife is the fictional story of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, and their years in Paris. Ernest Hemingway has always been one of my favorite writers -- along with a few others -- but this book was an eye-opener. I always thought of Hemingway the way he looked in his later years. You know the mental image I mean. Throughout the book, Hadley (it’s told in the first-person point of view) kept saying how good-looking Hemingway was. What??? No way! Well, I looked up some pictures. Hello, Ernest Hemingway! He was quite the looker before the drinking got to him. Changed my whole perception of him. Still don’t believe me? Google early pictures of Ernest Hemingway. Now. 


8. Swept Off Her Feet by Hester Browne
Hester Browne was an author my mother introduced me to -- British chick-lit with a beautiful vintage twist. Swept Off Her Feet is about Evie Nicholson, an antiques buyer, who can never pass up the odd antique. She is sent to Scottish castle to help the owners sell off some of their heirlooms. There were parts where I laughed out loud at Evie’s penchant for finding odd things, and there were Scottish reels and romance to sweeten the whole story. 


7. The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
I am not one who normally reads non-fiction. I need a story with dialogue, so I tend to steer clear of anything that isn’t fiction. I made an exception for The Wilder Life, though, since I had loved the Little House books when I was little -- I can still remember being fascinated in a grossed-out kind of way that the girls made a ball out of a pig’s bladder and being in shock over the grasshoppers eating all the crops. Wendy McClure wrote about her obsession with Laura Ingalls Wilder and how she tried to recapture her lifestyle (the churning butter story had me laughing) and visit all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homesites (her purchases at the gift shops were equally amusing).  A true must-read for anybody who grew up loving The Little House on the Prairie books.

6. Summer in the South by Cathy Holton
I will admit that I started this book with very low expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised. Ava heads to Tennessee to spend the summer with the aunts of a college friend and in the process unearths quite the 1920’s/1930’s mystery. Rather surprisingly delightful.

5. The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! Here’s the description on the back of the book: “In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown. Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her ancestors and starts to write.” That’s all I am going to tell you. Truly one of my favorites of the year.

 4. The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson
“A modern gothic novel of love, secrets, and murder -- set against the backdrop of Provence.” That’s the description on Amazon. Let me add that it all takes place in a cottage where the main character has moved with her boyfriend, Dom, of whom she knows very little.

 3. Folly Beach by Dorothea Benton Frank
Being a Charleston girl, I eagerly devour all of Dorothea Benton Frank’s books since they are set in and around my hometown. They won’t change your view of the world, but they are fun for summer reading. This is probably my favorite book that she has written because she tied in DuBose and Dorothy Heyward’s histories on Folly Beach, and how they eventually wrote Porgy and Bess with George Gershwin. Fascinating from a historical point of view.

 2. Summer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews
Another Southern author I adore is Mary Kay Andrews. Her books definitely make me smile more, and Summer Rental was another fun read. Set on the Outer Banks, it made me glad that we had rented a beach house for our summer vacation, otherwise I would have been pining away for some time with my feet in the sand.

And my number one favorite book of 2011...

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Did I hear you gasp in surprise that I had never read it before? I know. I know. To think I call myself a Southerner and a reader, and I had never before read To Kill a Mockingbird. How is that even possible???

 Somehow in my thirty-seven years, I had never read it. Well, one of my resolutions for 2011 was to read all the classic Southern authors that I had never really read before -- William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, etc. Didn’t get too far with that one, so I am putting it back on the list for this year. However, I did get around to reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and it was such a treat.

Treat? Seriously?

Yes, an absolute gem. Of course, I had seen the movie and knew the gut-wrenching story, and every time I read the name Atticus Finch, I envisioned Gregory Peck. However, nothing prepared me for the wry sense of understated humor Scout brought to the first half of the story. I laughed out loud so many times at her perceptions of life in her small town, and I was enamored, absolutely enamored, with her tale. Of course, things get dark -- really dark, but, in the end, I still loved the book and its theme of never really understanding another human being until “you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

To Kill a Mockingbird also gave me one of those oh-so-rare moments of sheer delight when I was gussing about it to a friend, and she said, “You know who Dill was in real life, don’t you?” I had to confess my ignorance, and when she told me it was Truman Capote, all the pieces of that puzzle fell together. “Oh my goodness! That explains so much!” was my response, but it didn’t come close to truly conveying my feelings of joy that here was a literary connection where I least expected it. I adore tidbits like those.

As 2012 leans ever closer, I wonder what books the year will bring to me and which resolutions and goals I will achieve. My top ones are:

1. Approach all of my life with a positive attitude.
2. Read more classic Southern authors. I think I will start with William Faulkner. With the exception of “A Rose for Emily” (one of my favorite short stories) and “Barn Burning” (a story I could have lived without reading), I have not done him credit. I think I will sweeten this goal with the prize of a trip to Rowan Oaks.
3. Refine my Southern cooking abilities. I recently bought a cookbook called Southern Cakes -- I think I will start there.

That’s as far as I have gotten -- will have to think some more…:)
Happy New Year!


  1. I have a lot of books to request from the library! I have never read To Kill a Mockingbird either, I'm glad I'm not the only one. I tried to read The Lantern earlier this year but I just couldn't make it through it. I might try again though.

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  3. To Kill a Mockingbird is my all time favorite classic book (make sure that is in my


  4. Leslie, glad I am not the only one, either. You must read it! You will love it. As for The Lantern -- it is really atmospheric, and if you are like me, you have to be in a certain mood for certain books. Heidi, lol, you know I will add in your favorite book -- that's perfect to include that! :)

  5. I read 2 of the books on your list this year because you said they were good. The Wilder Life and Summer Rental. I think I will try to To Kill A Mocking Bird this year and I am going to start keeping track of how many books I read in a year.

  6. Jessica, I hope you liked Summer Rental and The Wilder Life. To Kill a Mockingbird is so wonderful -- I started it because I felt I needed to read it at least once in my life -- I was so wowed by it.

  7. Yay, a new list of Jackie books to check out! I've only read 2 of them and yes, To Kill a Mockingbird counts as one of those. I loved the Paris Wife, actually went back and reread A Moveable Feast after finishing it.

  8. Cynthia, I thought about rereading The Moveable Feast, but then I got distracted with other things. One thing I did find interesting was that one of Hemingway's later wives went through and edited all sorts of things out of a later edition! Can you imagine???