1. Lady Audley's Secret - M.E. Braddon. In a time (1862) when blonde = good and brunette = bad, M.E. Braddon gave readers a young, blonde female villain, but one whose motivation could be completely understood. I thought this book would be much more melodramatic, but found to my delight that much of it is the process of Robert Audley, the nephew of the title character's husband, evolving from a rich lazy good-time Charlie to a surprisingly skilled detective who is determined to get to the bottom of his friend's disappearance. Loved all those plot twists and turns. I'm beginning to feel as if nothing is quite as satisfying as a 19th century novel. The next Braddon novel (already loaded into my Kindle) is Braddon's follow-up to Lady Audley, Aurora Floyd.
2. Disturbances in the Field - Lynne Sharon Schwartz. The basic plot is reminiscent of a Mary McCarthy or Rona Jaffe novel, but it seems to sink under the weight of its own learnedness. There's so much liberal-arts discussion in this book that the characters seem at a remove and a tragic event that occurs seems curiously muffled.
3. Canadian Inventions - Lisa Wojna. I talked about this fun little book here.
4. Black Swan Green - David Mitchell. England, 1982. A year in the life of 13-year-old Jason Taylor who is trying to negotiate all the pitfalls of adolescence with the added burden of a stammer. His parents' marriage seems to be unraveling and Margaret Thatcher is invading the Falkland Islands. This is the first of Mitchell's novels I've read, and it's made me a fan.
5. Brother Fish - Bryce Courtenay. Brother Fish revolves around three characters: Jack McKenzie, a poor Australian musician and sometimes fisherman; Jimmy Oldcorn, an African-American street kid from New York that Jack meets in a POW camp during the Korean War and Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan, Jack's childhood tutor who is a Russian revolution refugee with secrets she left behind in Shanghai. Even with all this material to cover, the book still seemed bloated and overwritten at 823 pages. It suffers from unnecessary repetition and some events strained my credulity like it was baby food. The overall theme of the book is friendship, and Courtenay seems to want to make sure the reader GETS IT. In spite of these flaws, (nothing that a good editor couldn't have put right) I found myself drawn into the story (especially the Korean War section) and interested in the characters, so I'd be game to read another (shorter, please!) book by Bryce Courtenay.
6. Endless Love - Scott Spencer. Whoa! This book went and changed on me! When I first read it in 1981, I didn't see anything wrong with David's obsession with Jade and the whole Butterfield family. In fact, I thought it was perfect boyfriend behavior. What else could he have done? I remember thinking. Flash-forward to this year, and I was struck by David's constant weepiness, his creepy desperation and I finally saw him for the unreliable narrator that he is. In previous years, I loved Ann, Jade's mother, for being supportive. This time, I was disgusted and annoyed by her. She saw and acknowledged David's tricks, and still fell for them. And there's Jade, the object of David's endless love who doesn't really come off as very interested or interesting at all. Yeah, this book changed.
7. Don't Trade the Baby for a Horse - Wendy McClure. This very short book is like bonus tracks for The Wilder Life, the book in which McClure goes walking about in Laura-Land. As always, I'm left wanting more of McClure, no matter what she writes about, but Don't Trade the Baby for a Horse was more fun than the sugaring dance at Grandma's, or the time Pa spelled down the whole town.
8. Korea: The Impossible Country - Daniel Tudor. As Tudor points out in this excellent book, South Korea is often overshadowed by its more famous and notorious neighbors: Japan, China and North Korea. South Korea has pulled itself up from a third-world country fifty years ago to the 13th largest economy in the world. Tudor examines history, politics, business, economics, culture and so much more. His love and admiration for South Korea shine through, but he's not afraid to share less-than-complimentary insights and offer tough but thoughtful advice. A fascinating read. I can't recommend it highly enough.
9. The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett. One day, the Queen of England is out walking her corgis and stumbles upon a bookmobile. It turns out to be a pivotal event in her life. She falls headlong into being a bookworm and her prolific reading habits make her royal duties seem uninteresting. Her staff and the Prime Minister are worried that this new quirk will lessen Her Majesty's popularity, so they scheme to get her away from her literary influences, but now that the Queen has decided that reading is her duty, she is implacable. A quick read, and so much fun.
10. The Red Pony - John Steinbeck. I can't get enough of Steinbeck, so this slim volume of four stories about the boy Jody growing up on a ranch in Salinas left me slightly dissatisfied because of its brevity. The title story and "The Promise" were the two standouts.