My Four Favorite Books of 2009

Last year I posted a list of all of the books I read that year, highlighting my favorite book of 2008, In the Middle of the Night. I finished 13 books in 2008, a count that I doubled in 2009 thanks to numerous road trips and an invigorated book club.

Four books received the coveted Jamey Stegmaier 5-Star Rating in 2009. They are as follows in no particular order:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (mystery, 608 pages, author is dead)

Why you should read it: This is the best-written mystery I’ve ever read. Hands down. Larsson (and his translator) don’t waste a single word, so the 600+ pages fly by. His characters are well realized through showing, not telling, especially Lisbeth Salander. The mysteries within the book unfurl at exactly the right pace.

Acacia: The War with the Mein by David Anthony Durham (fantasy, 768 pages, author blog here)

Why you should read it: Durham (who I’ve had the good fortune of e-mailing with a little bit) is an incredible author with some of the best world-building skills I’ve ever seen. His work is fantasy, but it doesn’t always feel like fantasy because of the traditions, customs, and religions he incorporates into Acacia. Despite all that supporting material, the book is always moving forward.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (dystopian young adult fiction, pages, author page here)

Why you should read it: This is dystopian young adult fiction at its finest. The book is sheer popcorn entertainment from page one. It will be a hard movie to make because, well, kids kill other kids in this book, but it would be amazing to watch this book unfurl on the big screen.

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson (short story collection, 240 pages, author blog here)

Why you should read it: Usually when I read short story collections, there is a mix of good stories, bad stories, and mediocre stories. Two of Wilson’s stories don’t hit the mark for me. The rest are brilliant. Two haven’t left my mind since I read the book: one about a grandmother-for-hire service and the other about a group of post-college kids who decide to start digging tunnels in the ground (think Adventureland with shovels). If you love heartbreakingly moving short stories, you must read this book.

Remarkably, the first three books on that list are book ones in trilogies. I read the second book of the Acacia and Hunger Games trilogies in 2009 as well; they’re fantastic, but they suffer from Second Book Syndrome: although they’re riveting, they end up feeling like the second waiting room at the doctor’s office. The one that brings you so close to actually seeing the doctor, but not quite. Those second books will be stronger after the book threes come out.