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Topic: 2008: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly...

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Subject: 2008: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly...
Date Posted: 12/5/2008 9:19 AM ET
Member Since: 10/29/2005
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The year is about to come to an end and I thought it would be fun to post about the best and worst books we read during 2008. The books don't have to be books published during 2008, any books you read this year are eligible for the list. If there are books that appear on several lists, I'll make a "Best of the Year" list and post it here. I also thought it would be fun to tag the books on our "Best" list with a tag that says "H/F forum recommends", or something like that.

List your best and worst reads of the year here. Tell us a bit about why you hated or loved the book so we will know which books to get ASAP and which books to avoid!

Date Posted: 12/5/2008 12:29 PM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2008
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The best HF book:  The Winthrop Woman

I read a lot of memiors this year.  My favorites were: Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife, The Glass Castle and Audtion

The worst HF:  The Heretic's Daughter - I was eagerly awaiting this book and what a disappointment. The characters were flat and didn't relate to each other at all.

The worst book, any genre:  Ice Trap - A total waste of time, so predictable. Should have been named "Ice Crap".

Last Edited on: 12/22/08 7:17 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 12/5/2008 12:38 PM ET
Member Since: 8/30/2007
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The Last Kashmiri Rose by Barbara Cleaverly. I really enjoyed this mystery that takes place in British India in the 1920s.

By Blood Possessed by Elena Santangelo. A modern-day woman is bequeathed an estate where a Civil War battle took place, and begins to "see" the events that took place there. I thought this was an excellent mystery.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. I was so moved by this book, which is a letter from an elderly minister to his young son, telling the story of his life and his father and gradnfather before him. Beautifully written.

The Widow's War by Sally Gunning. Terrific, atmospheric story about a woman in colonial times who must fight for the right to live her own life after her husband is killed. I loved this!

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert. This story of a young Hawaiian girl sent to the leper colony at Moloka'i at the turn of the century is something that will stay with you for a long time after you read it. It's wonderful.


In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant. This is the second Dunant book I've read and been "eh" about. It wasn't awful, but it felt awfully pointless.

The Crimes of Charlotte Bronte: The Secrets of a Mysterious Family by James Tully. The story, as narrated by a former family maid, is that Charlotte Bronte was an amoral mastermind who murdered her entire family and got away with it. It's an interesting concept, but not well done at all.

The Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas. Ridiculous story of an Old West madam and a spinster who plot a bank robbery.

Chang and Eng by Darin Strauss. I really wanted to like this book, which is the story of Chang and Eng Bunker, the 19th-century Siamese twins, but as narrated by the character of Eng (I think?) it was ultimately unsatisfying. Dark and dreary and focused almost entirely on their lives after the circuses, when they settled down and married in a Southern American backwater.

Date Posted: 12/5/2008 12:47 PM ET
Member Since: 6/5/2007
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I'll have to review my list of books that I read this year, but I agree Janelle, I've read both of Sarah Dunant books and been eh about both of them.

Date Posted: 12/5/2008 1:25 PM ET
Member Since: 4/23/2008
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Best HF - An Instance of the Fingerpost, Ian Pears.  Yes, I realize I'm probably the last person here at the HF forum to have read this book!  LOL!

Honorable Mention - The entire "Uhtred" series by Bernard Cornwell.  I really, really enjoyed these books!  Looking forward to the latest book in 2009!

Worst HF - The Constant Princess, Philippa Gregory.  I liked The Other Boleyn Girl, but this one was just not on the same level for me in terms of holding my interest, and I really couldn't stand Katherine of Aragon the way Gregory portrayed her.


Date Posted: 12/5/2008 1:44 PM ET
Member Since: 3/23/2008
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Interesting topic, Valli, as always!


Best HF 2008 Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin  Fascinating main character and plot

Best Fiction 2008:  Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen  A memorable story in spite of some animal cruelty


Worst HF 2008: Mr Darcy's Daughters by Elizabeth Ashton  A true horror for Jane Austen fans.  Stay far, far away from this one!!

Date Posted: 12/5/2008 3:28 PM ET
Member Since: 1/12/2008
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Valli always gets us thinking and talking, doesn't she? Hooray for Valli!



Date Posted: 12/5/2008 3:29 PM ET
Member Since: 1/12/2008
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Valli always gets us thinking and talking, doesn't she? Hooray for Valli!


Best:  Kite Runner, As Meat Loves Salt, An Instance of the Fingerpost, and my fave, Kazuo Ishiguro's highly thought-provoking and disturbing Never Let Me Go


Worst:  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (conclusive evidence that the NY literati just do not know good literature), Black Ships


Best HF: Hands down for me, As Meat Loves Salt


Last Edited on: 12/5/08 3:32 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 12/5/2008 5:03 PM ET
Member Since: 10/29/2005
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Aww, thanks, Colleen! Isn't it great to have a group of people who totally get our obsessions with books and history?! I really appreciate having this forum.

I'm still working on my list. I've read way more books this year than normal and I'm having a hard time choosing the worst. There are several who are tied right now. ;-)

Date Posted: 12/5/2008 6:05 PM ET
Member Since: 8/30/2007
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Shelley, I actually liked The Constant Princess. I liked the way the author drew a parallel between Katharine's strong mother who led armies, and how Katharine believed that was what a queen should be, but never got the chance. At least, that's how I remember it, LOL.

Cheryl, I loved Water for Elephants, too--and Mr. Darcy's Daughters was BEYOND bad. I only got a little ways into it before I just had to put it down!

So does anybody really like Sarah Dunant? What am I missing about her?

Date Posted: 12/5/2008 6:33 PM ET
Member Since: 10/29/2005
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The best of fiction -

  • The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
  • The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian
  • The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

The best non-fiction

  • Skeletons on the Zahara - Dean King
  • Angels of Bataan - can't think of the author!

The best fantasy - (Just started reading fantasy  this year - thank you, Jennifer!!)

  • Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

The best H/F

  • The Guernsay Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
  • The Journeyer by Gary Jennings

The absolute worst -

  • Dear Heart, How Like You this by Jane Dunn - Verily, I say this book sucketh!

I had a hard time choosing!


Date Posted: 12/5/2008 9:02 PM ET
Member Since: 3/6/2006
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I have done very little reading this year.  Pout.  Out of what few I've read.....


BEST:  My Enemy's Cradle, Great Tales From English History

WORST: Brideshead Revisited (don't know if I was just uber distracted or what but for the life of me I couldn't get into it.)

Date Posted: 12/5/2008 9:17 PM ET
Member Since: 6/5/2007
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I didn't read it this year, but I really liked Curious Incident... but then, I have a friend with two Aspberger sons, and she recommended it to me.

It is hard to choose, but I really liked

The Romanov Bride by Robert Alexander

Guernica by Dave Boling

The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

and The Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman (although it was not her best)

I was underwhelmed by the Posie Graham-Evans series about Anne de something (The Innocent, etc) and actually I stopped reading The Lady's Maid and I don't tend to do that.

ETA: I did like Brideshead Revisited and ironically also read it this year.

Last Edited on: 12/5/08 9:18 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 12/5/2008 10:22 PM ET
Member Since: 6/1/2007
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The HF books I liked this year were Mary Queen of Scots and the Isles and the Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George, The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander, Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, and Rhett Butler's People by Daniel McCaig.

Fiction books I liked were The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and surprisingly, The Shack by William P. Young.

I didn't really hate any HF books I read but a few I thought were just ok were: The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent and Black Ships by Jo Graham.

There were a couple of fiction books I didn't care for at all like Lost by Gregory Maguire which is the only book I've read by him that I haven't liked, and Falling Man by Don Delillo.

I would have to say the worst thing I've read this year was Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.  It took me almost 3 weeks to get through it and what a waste of time that was!

Date Posted: 12/5/2008 11:12 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
Posts: 1,930
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I didn't read as much HF as usual this year. I believe the best one was Homeland by John Jakes. Totally captivated me. Sacajawea by Anne Waldo runs a close second.

I read a lot of YA HF because I coach my children's Battle of the Books teams. Best ones this year have been Blood on the River: Jamestown 1607 by Elise Carbone, The Sacrifice by Duble, and Walking Up A Rainbow by Theodore Taylor.

Other favorites this year: Girls of Tender Age by Mary Tirone Smith, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Red Square by Martin Cruz Smith, and The Lost Men: The Harrowing Saga of Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party by Kelly Tyler-Lewis.

Books I did not finish: The Verneys: A True Story of Love, War and Madness in Seventeenth-Century England by Adrian Tinniswood. Really wanted to love this book. Interesting family but the book was just fact after fact after fact. I was hoping for Erik Larsen . . .

Another book I thought I would love but I just didn't care for the writing was A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel.

I also did not finish Quite a Year for Plums by Bailey White. Uninteresting drivel. Not a single person in my book club managed to finish it.

Date Posted: 12/5/2008 11:22 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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Holly - glad to see the rec for Mary Queen of Scots. I have an old paperback of that book that I've been meaning to read for at least 3 years. I think the primary reason I haven't read it is because it has an incredibly ugly cover.

I liked Curious Incident . . . it seems to be one of those love it or hate it books.

Colleen - glad to see the rec for As Meat Loves Salt also. It has been on my TBR for some time. An English Professor friend of mine recommended it to me.

Date Posted: 12/6/2008 8:39 AM ET
Member Since: 5/3/2008
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I am new to this forum. Since I joined PBS, I've been ordering a variety of books, so I hope that you will bear with me.

One of my favorite HF books that I read this year was: Behind Enemy Lines by Marte Cohn. Great story about a French born Jewess woman who became a nurse and her struggles during the Nazi occupation. I also enjoyed The true Story of Hansel and Gretel. Years ago I read Sacajawea and loved it! Needless to say I re-read Pillars of the Earth and then I read World Without End and enjoyed them both.

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick was one I recently finished and I really liked that. Gives you a totally comprehensive perspective on what the early colonists went through, not to mention the native Americans

I tried reading Innocent Traitor, but just couldn't get into it.

The worst book I read this past year was not HF: The Poison Tree by Tony Strong - awful. Too full of fillers,animal abuse and gore! Yuck!!

I am curious to see what all of you are reading so that I have some ideas of what I might like in the future.

Date Posted: 12/6/2008 9:43 AM ET
Member Since: 10/29/2005
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Sheila, you mentioned one of my favorite topics! I have read just about everything I can find written about Shackleton, but I have not read The Lost Men. I will get it ASAP! You should try Ada Blackjack by, I think, Jennifer Niven, I bet you'd love it. It was a great book, full of tragedy and adventure, but fun to read. Oh, I should have added it to my best non-fiction list!  

Holly, I am so glad to hear that you enjoyed Rhett Butler's people. I have had it since it first came out, but I have put off reading it because I've heard that it is terrible. Hearing that really disappointed me because I adore GWTW and I was really looking forward to meeting the characters again in Rhett Butler's People. I think I'm going to pull it out and start it next now.

Date Posted: 12/6/2008 9:59 AM ET
Member Since: 5/27/2005
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I'm not really new to this forum, I'm just more of a "reader" than a "poster" -- but this thread sounded like one I wanted to get in on.

I've read a LOT of books this year, mostly historical fiction, so it's hard to choose just one or two favorites, but....

Best: A Place Beyond Courage, Eliz. Chadwick -- Devil's Brood, Sharon Kay Penman -- The Guernsey Literary...Society -- The Heaven Tree trilogy by Edith Pargeter -- the Saxon Chronicles, and Grail Quest series by Bernard Cornwell.

Worst: Shades of Gray, Jessica James -- Rhett Butler's People (gave up on it after 3 or 4 chapters)  guess I'm pretty picky about Civil War novels

Best Medieval Mystery - Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

Best historical romance -- Rosalynde chronicles by Roberta Gellis

Disappointing reads -- I enjoyed these novels, and could recommend them without a problem, but.... I had very high expectations for one reason or another, and was somewhat let down -- Daughter of York by Anne Easter Smith (not nearly as good IMO as her earlier Rose for the Crown) and Kathryn in the Court of Six Queens by Anne Merton Abbey (this one had been on my wish list for ages, and I just expected it to be more than it was)

BTW - I'm not really KellyP -- she's my daughter and I share this PBS account with her -- my user name is Lindymc

Date Posted: 12/6/2008 10:52 AM ET
Member Since: 6/1/2007
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Valli- w/Rhett Butler's People I think it is because people try to compare it to see how it matches up with Gone with the Wind.  Once they realize that few books in the history of mankind will ever match up with Gone with the Wind then RBP tends to be a much more enjoyable book.

Can you tell I love GWTW?

I will also say that I am one of those that doesn't really care much whether it sticks closely to history as long as the story is good. (unless its the Tudor period- for some reason I can stand bass ackwards stories about that period) Is the history part what made you not like it Lindy or did you just not like the storyline?

Last Edited on: 12/6/08 11:03 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 12/6/2008 12:16 PM ET
Member Since: 3/18/2007
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I have been very busy lately and haven't had a chance to post my "Best and Worse of 2008" list yet. I am graduating from college in two weeks and things have been a *little* crazy. Anyway, here is my list:

The Best of 2008:

The Physician- Noah Gordon (second book I read this year and it still sticks with me. I LOVED this book!)

The Kitchen Boy- Robert Alexander (Definitely outside my normal reading, but I actually started this late one night and stayed up until daylight to finish it. It was THAT good!)

Iokaste: The Novel of the Mother- Wife of Oedipus- Victoria Grossack (I have always loved the Oedipus plays and this retelling was just wonderful.)

The Court of the Lion- Eleanor Cooney (I have searched a long time for great Chinese HF and I finally found it in this book.)

Roman Blood- Steven Saylor (I had always saw Saylor's books posted but always skipped over them, assuming they were crappy, though I'm not sure why. I loved this book and immediately requested every other book in this series. Highly recommended.)

Immortal- Traci L. Slatton (I believe this was the author's first book, and I was completely blown away by it. At first I wasn't sure I would be able to get into it, but once I did it was just great! I hope to see more by this author!)


The Worst of 2008:

Daughter of the Blood- Anne Bishop ( a fantasy series which IMO was absolutely STUPID, but for some reason has an avg. rating of 4.3 stars)

Summers at Castle Auburn- Sharon Shinn (another fantasy, supposed to be excellent but I found it childish)

The Princess Bride- William Goldman (fantasy again! One of the worst books ever. Supposed to be funny and clever, but just ignorant.)

The Bride of Sulieman- Aileen Crawley (historical fiction, but of the worst kind. Completely flat characters and completely uninteresting storyline that really makes little sense because the author just tells you what happened with no action leading up to major events. BLAH)

The Palace of Illusions- Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (Sorry Valli, I had to incude this one! I really wanted to love this book and had high expectations, but the story was pretty much incoherent to me. I finished it, but was left thinking "What even happened?" at the end.)


Date Posted: 12/6/2008 12:43 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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Valli - I wrote a review on PBS for The Lost Men. I thought it was both well written and well researched. In The Heart of the Sea by Philbrick started me on the road to reading nautical adventure. I have not read a lot of Shackleton but I have Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Lansing on my TBR. Another nautical HF I've been eyeing is The Terror by Simmons.

Date Posted: 12/6/2008 1:25 PM ET
Member Since: 5/3/2008
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Sheila, I have read The Terror by Dan Simmons. As historical novels go, I found it to be excellent, although the tribulations of this crew are heart breaking and the lack of proper preparation on the part of the captain is unbelievable! You won't be disappointed - it's a page turner and very well written.

Date Posted: 12/6/2008 2:51 PM ET
Member Since: 6/21/2008
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about Dear Heart, How Like You this by Jane Dunn - Verily, I say this book sucketh!  LOL.  I will be sure to put this one on my  NCRL (NEVER Consider Reading List).


I read The Physician about once a year or so.  One of the Best HF Ever, IMHO.  Have you gotten to the sequel, Shaman?  Not as deep in scope, but also a good novel.


Date Posted: 12/6/2008 3:00 PM ET
Member Since: 10/29/2005
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Sheila, I thought The Terror was great too. I'm so glad to see someone else who really loves nautical adventure. I have read so much of it and it's one topic that I never get tired of reading. I also love anything written about historic exploration, particularly books set in the Arctic or Antartica. I have a HUGE list of both kinds of books! I just recently bought Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny by Mike Dash. That one sounds good, doesn't it?! I also got In A Far Country: The True Story of A Mission, a Marriage, a Murder, and the Remarkable Reindeer Rescue of 1898 by John Taliaferro. I have both sitting on my desk right now, but I can't decide which I should read first. ;-)