2012′s 5 Star Reads!
Last year I decided to dedicate a separate post from my annual reading stats post to the 5 star reads of the year. I not only thoroughly enjoyed assembling that post, but I also still go back to it for reference. It’s just useful and fun simultaneously! Plus it has the added bonus of giving an extra signal boost to the five star reads of the year.
Please note that if the 5 star went to a book in a graphic novel series, I am just listing the whole series. If it’s a non-graphic series, then the individual book is listed with a note about what series it is in. With no further ado, presenting Opinions of a Wolf’s 5 Star Reads for 2012!
Acacia: The War with the Mein (Acacia, #1)
By: David Anthony Durham
Publication Date: 2007
Themes: the complexities of good and evil
The Akarans have ruled the Known World for twenty-two generations, but the wrongfully exiled Meins have a bit of a problem with that. They enact a take-over plot whose first action is assassinating the king. Suddenly his four children are flung to different parts of the Known World in exile where they will need to come to terms with who they are, who the Mein are, and the wrongs past generations of Akarans committed in order to help the Known World make a change for the better.
I have to catch myself whenever I start to say I don’t like high fantasy now, because I do like it. I like it when done right. When it questions patriarchy and race and tradition in the context of a fantastical world. I definitely feel like this book has cross-over potential, so I recommend it to anyone with an interest in multi-generational epics.
Dark Life (Dark Life, #1)
By: Kat Falls
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: YA, Post-Apocalyptic, Scifi
Themes: ocean exploration, pioneering
Ty was the first person born subsea. His family are settlers on the bottom of the ocean, a new venture after global warming caused the Rising of the seas. Ty loves his life subsea and hates Topside. One day while adventuring around in the dark level of subsea, he stumbles upon a submarine and a Topside girl looking for her long-lost older brother. Helping her challenges everything Ty believes in.
I still sometimes think back to the delightfully creative underwater world that Falls presents in this book. This is a YA book that manages to avoid the painful tropes that a lot of them fall into, plus it has a great setting. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.
Diet for a New America
By: John Robbins
Publication Date: 1987
Publisher: Stillpoint Publishing
Genre: Nonfiction–Diet, Nonfiction–Environmentalism, Nonfiction–Science
Themes: health, responsible choices
John Robbins was born into one of the most powerful corporations in America–Baskin-Robbins. A company based entirely on selling animal products. Yet he took it upon himself to investigate the reality of animals products and their impact on Americans, American land, and the world overall. This book summarizes his extensive research, including personal visits to factory farms.
Although I already knew a lot of this information before reading this book, I believe that Robbins does an excellent job both of writing it out clearly and backing it up with respected, academic citations. It’s my go-to book to hand to people who want to know why I’m so against factory farming and what the scientific arguments in favor of vegetarianism are.
A Dog Named Slugger
By: Leigh Brill
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Themes: animal/human relationships, disability studies
Leigh Brill recounts in her memoir her life before, during, and after her first service dog, Slugger, a golden retriever with a heart just as golden. Leigh had no idea her cerebral palsy could even possibly qualify her for a service dog until a similarly disabled fellow graduate student gave her some information. Her touching memoir tracks her journey, as well as the life of Slugger.
My love for animals means that any book about relationships with them tends to top my list. This one stands out for its focus on issues for the disabled, and I believe that Brill’s love for her dog, both for his personality and how he helps her, really shine through. I’d recommend this to any animal lover or to those curious about life with a service animal.
The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change
By: Roger Thurow
Publication Date: 2012
Genre: Nonfiction–Social Justice
Themes: hunger, farming, global warming, putting a face onto the issues
Smallholder farmers make up the majority of Kenya’s food production and yet they face multiple challenges from inefficient planting techniques to bad seed markets that lead to an annual wanjala–hunger season. One Acre Fund, an ngo, saw the gap and came in with a vision. Sell farmers high quality seeds and fertilizers on credit, delivered to their villages, on the condition they attend local farming classes. Roger Thurow follows four families as they try out becoming One Acre farmers.
I credit this book with giving me perspective in the worldwide hunger and GMO debate, and of course with giving me that ever-useful reminder that in some ways I have been very lucky. What I tell people in order to get them to read this book is one of two things. Either read this book because it will show you the true face of hunger or read this book to understand why some GMOs are necessary. Most of all, I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the worldwide food debate.
Sisterhood Everlasting (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, #5)
By: Ann Brashares
Publication Date: 2011
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Themes: the pain of growing up and maturing, changing relationships
The Septembers are all 29 years old now and spread out all over the globe. Bee is expending her energy biking up and down the hills of San Francisco while Eric works as a lawyer. Carmen has a recurring role on a tv show filming in NYC and is engaged to Jones, an ABC producer. Lena teaches art at RISD and lives a quiet life in her studio apartment, except for the one day a week she practices Greek with an elderly woman. Tibby took off to Australia with Brian months ago, and everyone else is in limbo waiting for her to get back. They all feel a bit disconnected until Tibby sends Bee, Carmen, and Lena tickets to come to Greece for a reunion. What they find when they arrive is not what anyone expected.
It’s unfortunately rare that a series grows up with the characters, but Sisterhood has. Although a lot of women’s fiction with similar themes frustrates me, this series works because I started reading it as a teenager when the women were teenagers. I understand where they’re coming from and am more willing to give them a chance. If you ever read any of the Sisterhood books but neglected to finish the series, definitely pick them back up. It’s worth it.
To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War
By: Tera W. Hunter
Publication Date: 1997
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Themes: race, class, gender, Atlanta, domestic workers
Hunter examines the lives of southern black women, particularly southern domestic workers, by narrowing her focus in on the development of the city of Atlanta after the Civil War. Since many ex-slaves moved to Atlanta and then migrated again north during the Great Migration decades later, this makes for an excellent focal point for the topic. By examining black women’s lives in Atlanta both in and out of their employer’s homes, she is able to dissect the roles of race, class, and gender in the elite’s attempts to maintain dominance in America.
This book not only gave me the thought-provoking examination of the intersection of race, class, and gender, but it also gave me an awesome historical introduction to the city of Atlanta. I always think of this book whenever Atlanta comes up. It’s also a great example of readable, accessible nonfiction history writing.
Vegan Vittles: Recipes Inspired by the Critters of Farm Sanctuary
By: Joanne Stepaniak
Publication Date: 1996
Publisher: Book Publishing Company (TN)
Themes: down-home cruelty-free cooking
A farm sanctuary is a farm whose sole purpose is to save animals from farm factories and slaughter. The Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York was started in 1986. In this cookbook, one of the proprietors has gathered vegan recipes inspired by farm life. Think down-home cooking that is cruelty-free.
The recipes I selected out of this cookbook have solidly entered my repertoire and are repeated hits with omnis and veg*ns alike! They are simple, easy, and adaptable. They also fill that comfort food niche I had honestly been missing. Highly recommended to anyone who loves comfort food.
The Walking Dead
By: Robert Kirkman
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre: Graphic Novel–Horror
Themes: creation of a new society, living in fear, unjust wars, truthiness, self-protection, zombies, Georgia, survival
When cop Rick wakes up from a coma brought on by a gun shot wound, he discovers a post-apocalyptic mess and zombies everywhere. He sets off for Atlanta in search of his wife, Lori, and son, Carl, and soon teams up with a rag-tag group of survivors camped just outside of Atlanta.
I’m still working my way through this series, but it just progressively gets better and better. Although the beginning is cliche, it does not take Kirkman long to become unique, surprising, and thought-provoking. This now also features a spin-off, non-graphic, prequel series about the villain, The Governor. I consider these to all be the same series, in spite of different formats, and I’m finding that spin-off just as enjoyable.
Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies, #1)
By: Isaac Marion
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Themes: hope, love
R is a zombie, and he remembers nothing about his life before he was one–except that his name starts with the letter R. He and his group of the other living dead inhabit an old abandoned airport and are ruled by the bonies. They hunt the living not just for the food, but also for the memories that come from ingesting their brains. It’s like a drug. One day when he’s out on a hunt, R eats the brain of a young man who loves a young woman who is there, and R steps in to save her. It is there that an unlikely love story begins.
This book reminds me that even a post-apocalyptic story can be hopeful. I also still look back on R’s unlikely love story with a warm heart and smile. I recommend it to those looking for an off-beat love story or a different take on zombies.
The Wind Through the Keyhole (The Dark Tower, #4.5)
By: Stephen King
Publication Date: 2012
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Themes: growing up, leaving aside childish things
There’s a tale we have yet to hear about the ka-tet in the time between facing the man in the green castle and the wolves of the Calla. A time when the ka-tet hunkered down and learned a special billy-bumbler talent, an old tale of Gilead, and the first task Roland faced as a young gunslinger after the events at Mejis.
The Dark Tower is just a series that is flat-out worth getting into a fan girling over. I could never ever perceive of reading and re-reading it as being a waste of time. I’ve also noticed that growing up is a recurring theme in King’s books, and apparently is one that I enjoy.
Y: The Last Man
By: Brian K. Vaughan
Publication Date: 2003
Genre: Graphic Novel–Scifi–Post-apocalyptic
Themes: gender, gender norms, organization of society, Boston, United States, Israel, coming of age
The world is changed overnight when all the men and boys in the world mysteriously drop dead. Factions quickly develop among the women between those who want the world to remain all female and those who would like to restore the former gender balance. One man is mysteriously left alive though–Yorick. A 20-something, underachieving magician with a girlfriend in Australia. He desperately wants to find her, but the US government and the man-hating Amazons have other ideas.
Another series that I am currently in the middle of. It is also steadily improving from the first volume. It is colorfully illustrated, consistently funny, and thought-provoking.
Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century
By: Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher: Penguin Books
Themes: getting what you want out of life, debt slavery, finances
Dominguez achieved Financial Independence at the ripe old age of 30 and proceeded to provide his method to friends who encouraged him to offer it as a class. He finally wrote a book, and this edition is revised and updated for modern times by his friend and fellow achiever of Financial Independence, Vicki Robin. Offering steps and mind-set changes, not magic formulas, they promise that if you follow the steps, you can be Financially Independent in 5 to 10 years, no matter how much debt you are currently in or how much money you make.
This is definitely not a quick-fix book. It’s a realistic look at your finances and debt and ways to come out on top financially independent. Following the steps is time-consuming and, admittedly, difficult to do on a month-to-month basis, but even just reading the book and following the steps for a bit gave me more of a solid structure for my finances. I paid down a significant amount of my debt in 2012 and am hopeful to pay down even more in 2013. I’m not sure I’d have been so successful with that without this book. Plus it gives hope when you’re feeling buried in debt.