*Edited to add links since ad pictures didn't show up.
At the end of each year, I sit down and take a look at the books I've read so that I can bring some suggestions to my December book club meeting. I usually have several great novels to suggest, but this year, I came up a bit empty. And then I realized that I'd spent much of the year reading The Song of Fire and Ice series by George R. R. Martin.
We don't have cable or satellite so I can't speak for the television series based on The Game of Thrones books, but I can say that the books were a lot better than I thought they'd be. I'm more of a historical fiction kind of girl and I'd describe these as adult-themed fantasy, kind of like Lord of the Rings with a lot of "adult" situations. I'm guessing this is why the TV series is on a premium cable channel and not a network channel. Of the five books that are out, my favorite was the third because it was full of plot twists and turns. If you decide to read the series, I'll give you fair warning that you shouldn't get too attached to any of the characters because the author has no qualms about killing off even the most beloved characters.
My book club read UnWind by Neal Shusterman in November and although I missed the discussion, almost everyone in the book group liked it. This one falls into the currently popular "dystopian" category and while not as popular as The Hunger Games series (which I read last year but won't review because everyone has already read them), I'd say the plot is just as disturbing. In this dystopian society (set in the US), abortion has been outlawed, but children are allowed to be "unwound" (full organ/tissue/bone donor) between the ages of 13 and 18 should their parents find them to be too challenging or just unwanted. This book is categorized in the young adult section of our library and that's probably because the main characters are teenagers, but the topic is definitely an adult one. I went on to read the sequel, Unholy, and look forward to the third in the series due out next year.
We also read The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. In this novel, a young man of Indian descent struggles to find a balance between his family's traditions and the enticements of a modern American lifestyle. The main character is played by Kal Penn in the movie (which I mistakenly saw before reading the book) so I kept picturing his face while reading, but that was only a slight annoyance for me. I don't dislike Kal Penn, but I like to develop my own ideas of what a character looks like and that's quite difficult when you've already seen someone else's idea of what a character looks like. In other words, I wish I'd read the book first, but isn't that always the way it is?
One that I read on my own that I recommended for this year was The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. I've read several books by this author and all of them are very detail oriented and very different from each other. This man does his research! This one made me feel lucky to be a female in the US during modern times (as did books like Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan or A Thousand Splendid Suns by Kahled Hosseini). This one primarily takes place in Syria during World War I as the Turks systematically slaughtered millions of Armenians while the world watched and did nothing. The main character is a young American woman who travels to Aleppo with her father to distribute aid to the Armenian refugees. She befriends a woman and a young girl who have survived atrocities too terrible to mention and falls in love with a young Armenian widower. If you like this one, you might want to read one of his other books, like Skeletons at the Feast (set in WWII Germany) or Midwives (set in 1980s Vermont). I really enjoyed those two as well. Be sure to grab a box of tissues first!
Another one I recommended to my book club was The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman. This also falls under my "happy to be a modern American woman" category. This one is set in Israel about 2000 years ago when the Romans were doing their best to eliminate the Hebrews. It follows three women who lived in a desert fortress (parts of which are still standing today) and the lengths they went to in order to survive their time in the fortress and to survive a Roman attack upon it. It reminded me of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent but there was less "ick" factor. (If you've read The Red Tent, you know what I'm talking about.)
Probably the final great book I read last year was Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. It's what I'd call an epic novel, spanning several decades and generations. It is set in Ethiopia and the U.S. and revolves around a medical clinic that is staffed by doctors and nurses of Indian descent. The writing is beautiful and his descriptions of the scenery they encountered and the food they ate made me want to either travel to Ethiopia or find an Ethiopian restaurant. The love triangles and family deceptions will make you gasp and the love of an adoptive father will make you weep. Some might call this a great summer read because it is quite lengthy, but if you're cooped up in your house due to crummy winter weather, the combination of this book and a cup of cocoa or hot tea will warm you up.
I read several other books, most of which were "chick lit" freebies for my Kindle. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series was fabulous (violent, but fabulous), but again, most people have already read that series so there's no point re-hashing it.
I'm hoping to read lots of great books this year. Anyone have any suggestions for me?