The Guilty Pleasure award = The Kathy Reichs forensic thrillers staring forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan. Due credit must be given to my friend, Alaira, who recommended the series to me, and lent me Deja Dead a gazillion years ago (I still need to return that book to you, Hil!) My favorite of the series thus far is "Death Du Jour." An incredibly creepy read that deals with cults (Satanist overtones) and paranoia.
The Better Than I Expected award = "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold. Perhaps it was the premise that didn't grab my attention - the notion of the main character existing in a sort of heaven-limbo, and watching over her beloved, still yearning for life. Quite frankly, I don't usually gravitate to these sorts of books. They seem far too outlandish to me (ha! this coming from someone who was so absorbed in day-dreams that she missed the goings-on in high school classes!)
I'll read fantasy once in awhile, but generally the fantastical world exists independently of our own, and as such has its own laws and rules. So in these worlds, what is nonsensical to us may make perfect sense within that distinct, separated coil. So the heaven-premise just didn't strike me as being something I'd enjoy. Yet I DID get into the book - very much so - and even raced through the chapters to see if justice would be served, and if the main character (a 14 year old girl named "Susie Salmon" who had been raped and then murdered) would be able to help influence the living, and lead the investigators to the murderer. Before he could kill again. (Insert DUM dum dum music here).
Before I continue, well, Musicwench DID say:
"You should give out your own awards as a way to describe what you've been reading."
Which is what I'm going to do now, more out of necessity than ingenuity (frankly, I didn't really get into any series this year).
The This-Doesn't-Sound-Fun-But-It-WAS award = "A Brief History of Western Man", by Thomas H. Greer. It's my strongest recommendation for those of you who feel as if you have huge, gaping holes in your historical education. Not sure when or how Alexander the Great rose to fame? Or how and why he influenced Roman Society? Or why Protestantism developed? Or why the Peloponnesian War occurred? Or which Germanic groups took over which parts of the European continent? It's all in here, and more. From about 3000 B.C., and the Mesopotamians, and how they influenced the course of Western Civilization, to the late 1960's (and in updated versions, 1970's history).
Greer writes very cleanly. Simple language. No excess. Which I like. However, he also fills the book with interesting tid-bits and fascinating anecdotal information and even includes his historical recommendations at the end of the book - dozens upon dozens of recommendations, classified by historical time frame and geography. I learned more by reading this book than I did in the culmination of every history course I've ever taken throughout my life. He also filled in those niggling gaping holes I mentioned earlier ;) You'll feel infinitely more assured of your appreciations of major historical events after reading this book, I guarantee it. (Warning: this book is very possibly out of print, although you can buy it second hand through Amazon, and your local library - if you're lucky - may also carry it).
The It-Could-Change-Your-Life-Award = Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger. This book was quickly inducted into the hallowed "Kat's Ultimate Favorites" list very soon after completion. It centers on two members of the prodigious Glass family - Francis (Franny) Glass - a 20 year old, hypersensitive and deeply spiritual University student who is experiencing the beginning of what some would call an emotional breakdown, and her older brother Zachary (Zooey) Glass, a 25 year old actor whose cynical, black humor perfectly compliments his scenes with his sister.
You can see the similarities of the two of course; in how they see the world, and how they feel alienated, due to their brilliance - but the personalities differ severely, and this provides a wonderful, nearly...Dialectic edge. After studying one character, you read of the other - who attacks similar problems and issues, insecurities and emotional situations in a very different manner. What is also important is the fact that this story takes place after the suicide of their eldest sibling - a mild mannered, sweet brother called Seymour who had shot himself in the head following the war.
So that sets the more...unnerving tone. You know that the Glass children are very sensitive beings, who each have seemed to struggle with moral issues and with finding their purpose in a rather barbaric, oftentimes meaningless world. And you know that suicide is a risk factor, after learning that their older brother (who acted as their mentor, taught them about ancient Greek history and philosophy and primed them for life on a children's trivia game show called "It's a Wise Child") had self destructed.
The book deals heavily with the issues of mercy, redemption, and of Buddhist teachings. Also...the obsessive tendencies that may present themselves before an emotional and/or spiritual breakdown.