Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Secret of Everything . . .

. . . wouldn't be much of a secret if I told you, now, would it? No. Then it would be the Expose of Everything. The Tell-All of the Total. The Up front, In Your Face Entirety of the Enchilada. So I must tread carefully here.

A secret is a tantalizing thing, especially as almost everyone has at least one. But when along with it you invoke the sacred summa summarum, you take it to another level. Who doesn't want to know the secret of life, the secret of success, the secret of why the clothes drier eats only one sock instead of two? All you have to do is whisper the word secret and watch people's eyes light up.

It's no mystery that I'm always searching for a great read, and my latest find is author Barbara O'Neal's new release, The Secret of Everything. This was my first read of 2010, and I went in with no expectations (frankly I was too tired when I started it to want more than something to keep me from rewriting chapter five in my head for the hundredth time.)

Although the story sounded interesting -- after a wretched tragedy, a wounded woman returns to her forgotten childhood home to find herself and maybe a little peace, only to recover memories of a mysterious past and a far older tragedy -- I didn't really feel like reading women's fiction. Lately I have no patience for all that touchy-feely pseudoliterary stuff; I'd rather read nonfiction. Or even man fiction. Give me a good political thriller with shallow but testosterone-oozing characters and some blithely evil technogenius who figures out how to blow up Congress with toner cartridges. And then let me watch it go boom. That's the kind of mood I'm in.

But I needed to read something better, in the same way an exhausted person needs some serious sack time, and Barbara's lovely, lyrical writing wooed me out of my rotten mood. To my surprise, it wasn't touchy-feely or pseudoanything at all. Then, on page 12, the story had me. And held me. And kept me. Page 12, have mercy. As a writer/reader I don't have time to waste. Nor do I want to get in touch with my inner weepy female. I mean, I'm working here. I don't play hard to get, I am hard to get.

But damn if she didn't get me. She lured me in with luscious descriptions and effortless but intricately layered characterizations, the haunting storyline and in particular this truly amazing big strapping incredibly sexy guy named Vince who makes every scene he has in the book a shivery delight to read (no offense to the heroine, who was terrific, but Mother of God, Vince is so real on the page you can almost feel his body heat radiating off it.)

Then she started with the recipes at the end of every chapter. Remember, I'm the daughter of a chef. I love food, and I love to read about food, especially now that I'm stuck on this cardio-healthy bark-and-twigs diet. Barbara's recipes were magic -- real food, great ingredients, beyond tempting. No squirrel food! As for my inner weepy female, I admit, there were a few times my eyes started to sting while I imagined the food from the story (and I am making Vita's orange cinnamon rolls from the story, the hell with my diet.)

Finally, there are the dogs in the story, and I don't want to say too much about them because they're something you should discover along with the story. It's just that I'm a dog lover, but I love real dogs, not the silly over-idealized anthropomorphic caricatures you encounter so often in novels. Well, Barbara writes them real.

This novel was the best possible kick-off for my reading year. It's the first time I've read anything by this author, but I think three minutes after I finished The Secret of Everything I was in the car on my way to BAM to get whatever else they had of Barbara's on the shelves (scored The Lost Recipe for Happiness) because I must have more. You see, however many secrets Barbara knows, the way to write a beautifully absorbing, honestly shining gem of a story is definitely one of them.

As always, you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, name your first amazing read of 2010 (or if you haven't read anything that great yet, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Monday, January 18, 2010. I'll draw five names at random from everyone who participates, and send the winners an unsigned trade paperback copy of The Secret of Everything by Barbara O'Neal. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

66 comments:

  1. Charlie Wilson's War by George Crile.

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  2. The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri was my first wonderful read of 2010. Food and skullduggery and Sicily and FOOD and midlife crisis and FOOD...heh. you get the idea. I ran out after reading it to find cauliflower. Who knew the Sicilians have such a way with cauliflower?

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  3. Just commenting, not entering :). I just finished "The Mermaid's Madness" by Jim C. Hines.

    I'd have to say it's pretty darn good and I'd recommend it.

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  4. I haven't read much yet in 2010, but my fave so far was From Dead To Worse by Charlaine Harris.

    I'm enjoying the whole series, and I hope I get the chance to enjoy Vince just as much.

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  5. You completely have me wanting to read this book! My first amazing read of 2010 has been "The Sugar Queen" by Sarah Addison Allen. Really a nice story, which is always a great way to start a new year.

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  6. I don't have this yet but it's on my Must Read list. My first amazing read of 2010 was Lori Armstrong's Julie Collins mystery series (yes, all 4 books, it's that amazing) and not only did it blow my doors off, it restored my brain to something functional and fiction-producing. And now I will devour her new book, No Mercy.

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  7. Barbara O'Neal also write romances under the names of Barbara Samuel and Ruth Wind. Her romances are just as good as her latest books.

    She also has a wonderful blog titled "A Writer Afoot."

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  8. Under the Dome by Stephen King. I was up way too late last night, just because I could not close the book and walk away. He always hooks me.

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  9. I'm still reading Either/Or by Kierkegaard. My wife received Audrey Niffenegger's "Her Fearful Symmetry" though, and I'm pretty eager to ste...er...borrow it from her bookshelf.

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  10. My first favourite read of the year is Death of a Musketeer by Sarah D'Almeida. Better than I expected it to be. A fun read.

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  11. This is on my TBR pile too. I just finished Lori Armstrong's No Mercy. It was terrific. I carried the book around with me everywhere so I could read whenever I had a free minute.

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  12. Sadly, while I've read some decent books so far this year, I can't say I've read anything that I'd call 'amazing' yet....

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  13. Do cookbooks count? I have been reading Make it Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O'Dea. It's the best cookbook I've read in a long time!

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  14. The Host by Stephenie Meyer. I liked it a lot better than Twilight because it was written more for adults and it was very character based. I definitely recommend it.

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  15. Oh, I'm gonna have to find this book. You had me with the recipes and sealed the deal with the dogs.

    I actually haven't read anything yet this year (shameful, shameful) though I've got a few ready for me to make time for them.

    As an aside, for cookbooks, I recommend 15-Minute Low-Carb Recipes by Dana Carpender.

    I'm not on a low carb diet, but these recipes are easy, quick, and healthy (even if you use real rice instead of the shredded cauliflower as a side).

    That was a last year book rather than a this year book, but it totally changed the way I view cooking. =]

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  16. Just throwing my name in the hat this time. I haven't read anything yet this year (I know, shame on me) because my own WIP is taking up too much of my head.

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  17. Anything amazing? Just re-reads of my favorite books. Right now though, I'm reading City of Sin by Emerson and Hughes, and Howdunit-The Book of Poison by Stevens and Banon. Next up after that is a book on Body Snatching.

    Maybe I need something mindless, but I've a feeling this wouldn't be it ;)

    ps. If you want a great cookbook, try Ree Drummond's The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl. Half recipes and half anecdotes, it's awesome!

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  18. LeaAnnS9:17 AM

    I've been so busy this past couple of weeks I haven't made it to the bookstore, but I have been rereading Christine Feehan's Game series in anticipation of the new one coming out. Love those characters -- all those alpha males! :)

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  19. I haven't read them yet, but I've got "The Dart League King" and an ARC of Kelli Stanley's "City of Dragons" at home waiting for me. I'm expecting one or the other to be the first book(s) to blow my socks off in 2010. Everything else so far as been fluffy, fun reading. Not that there's anything wrong with that... but I'm ready to be amazed.

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  20. I've not yet finished a book in 2010, though I'm part-way through several of them. Alas, none of them qualify as "amazing."

    "[T]he secret of why the clothes drier eats only one sock instead of two?' Driers hate women.

    Admittedly, I have limited data to substantiate this claim, but in all the years I've managed my own laundry I've never lost a sock. On the other hand, I've been married three times and each of my wives lost socks to the drier.

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  21. Anonymous9:57 AM

    Have been finishing my Christmas knitting so I haven't read anything yet this year - behind much?? Tossing my name in the hat.

    Marie

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  22. Sounds good. I am throwing my name in the hat.

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  23. Anonymous10:01 AM

    I just reread the fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey, and it was still as excellent and fun to read now as it was the other times I've read it. I ended up reading late into the night and finished it, instead of going to bed like I meant to after a few chapters.

    puzzleqt

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  24. Bridget Medora10:22 AM

    For me it was a series. (Okay, so technically I started it last month, but I did finish it this month.) It's Jude Watson's Star Wars: The Last of the Jedi series. It's ten MG books set shortly after Episode III. I was reading them as a "pre-screening" for my boys, who'll be reading Star Wars fiction soon, but I was stunned by them. She loaded simple plots and simple characterizations with layers and complexity, subtlely and skillfully done. Stuff my grade-schoolers won't directly pick up on but is there anyway.

    This series made me want to go back to my own MG writing, which I've ignored lately in favor of my freelance writing.

    And I have to say, this Barbara O'Neal book sounds so good that I'll be owning, reading and giving my mom a copy whether my name comes out of the magic hat or not. Thanks PBW!

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  25. Thanks for this lovely giveaway. Your comments captivated me. I am reading Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie and find it riveting.

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  26. Also tossing my name in the hat, because the book sounds great. I am still finishing reading the Christmas themed books I started in '09.

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  27. I have always meant to read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass, but there was always something on the top of that TBR pile that came first. Not this year. I just finished them and they were wonderful. I felt like a kid again!

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  28. The Magus by John Fowles.

    The writing was incredible but I'm still wondering if I'm satisfied with the ending.

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  29. clairecherven11:05 AM

    My best read was CONSCIOUSNESS - WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT IT by Joseph Zorskie. It was a Christmas gift which I left on the side table because I read ONLY fiction and biographies but once all the relatives left, I picked it up and was surprised how much I learned.

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  30. The Rose of Shanhasson and The Road to Shanhasson by Joely Sue Burkhart. I can't get the characters or world out of my mind!!!

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  31. My first read was "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" by Kinney, shoved into my hands by my 12-year-old niece who hates to read. Oh Wow!!! He pegged middle school dead-on. I was laughing, I was groaning, I was remembering. The only problem is they're middle-grade fiction and thus so short.

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  32. I just finished Promises in Death by JD Robb, it was really good. I had to wait for the PB because all of my books in a series have to match or I get a little testy. ;-)

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  33. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I've just started the book and I'm loving it already.

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  34. Does it count if I started it in 2009 and didn't finish till 2010? The Gathering Storm by Jordan/Sanderson. OMG he did Jordan and did it well. Yes I can see the differences in the two writers voices and I didn't care a whit, because it was good!

    Ok, so its also entirely possible that the length of time between this book and the last may have made it seem that much better.

    But it also (temporarily) ruined me for any of the quicker, more light-hearted romances sitting in my TBR pile. Darn it, now I'm craving more meat, not dessert!

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  35. I'm waiting impatiently for Steven Erikson's latest, so that'll probably be the best read I'll have in early 2010, but I would also heartily recommend Jo Graham's Hand of Isis and Black Ships. They are excellent fantasical historicals based on Cleopatra and the Aeneid respectively.

    And oooohhhhh... recipes! I'm always up for good recipes. :D

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  36. I'm not throwing my name in the hat because I was lucky enough to get a copy of The Secret of Everything via LibraryThing's early reviewer program. I absolutely loved it. The prose is magical, the setting is beautiful and the recipes are fantastic.

    Another amazing book by Barbara O'Neill is The Lost Recipe for Happiness. I love how she makes food another character in her books.

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  37. I read "The Lost Recipe for Happiness" and loved it. On top of a great story, the recipes in the book reminded me of my favorite foods (my parents are from Taos, NM.)

    As for great reads this year ... none yet. But looking forward to Sara Donati's "The Endless Forest" that comes out later this month.

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  38. Surprisingly, mine was non-fiction. "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. Fantastic book... loved every word and went out and bought a copy to keep, dog-ear, highlight and more (the first copy was from the library).

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  39. I'd have to say that my most amazing read for 2010 so far has to be "Daily Life in Victorian England" by Sally Mitchell, because it's a non-fiction book that I've been enjoying reading cover to cover. Lately I only read the bits of non-fiction that I need for my specific research question, and skim or ignore the rest. (This is probably not a good habit, but I have a hard time getting into NF that seems to be written in a way intended to be difficult to get through.)

    And if you find a book where the technogenuis finds a way to blow something up with toner cartridges, let me know. I'd read that book!

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  40. He-he! I'm reading The Secret of Everything by Barbara O'Neal. Great read....

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  41. Wow - your review made me want to jump in my car and drive down to the nearest bookstore in search of this author!

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  42. Keita Haruka1:42 PM

    2010's been busy so far. I haven't had time to go shopping for new reads, but I do have a few left over from last year that I didn't get to. At the risk of sounding fanboyish...my amazing read for 2010 so far is Ravelin. The biologist in me went into absolute rapture at the alien beings, all living together on one world. The alienated human in me really connected with Aryn. The writer in me can only sigh in envy. My wish for 2010: More Ravelin stories!

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  43. I haven't found an amazing read yet this month but I am still looking.

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  44. My first read was the Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance. I particularly enjoyed the Kimberly Raye short story "Love Bites" and Lilith Saintcrow's "A Stand Up Dame"

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  45. Got an error on my end, so am re-commenting - if this is a duplicate, please delete it.

    I've supposedly grounded myself from books until I get some work done, so nothing OMG amazing yet, though last week I did read a random young adult I snagged from the kids. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney. The kidnapped-but-happy child POV captivated me - I couldn't put it down until I knew what had really happened - and what she decided to do about it.

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  46. Going to Ireland tomorrow, so I've been forcing myself to leave my books for 2010 unmolested. I need them for the long flight! I imagine that mine would be "The Taking" by Erin McCarthy though.
    Robin

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  47. The best book I've read this year was Kelley Armstrong's Frostbitten, of course I haven't read anything of hers that wasn't good.

    Another book I just finished that, while not a great book .... I thought the author was too wordy.... Was a real eye opener about the food industry and the influence they have over what and how we eat. It is titled, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David A. Kessler.

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  48. I began by Diana Gabaldon, but stopped to backtrack a few books because I was lost. Silly, but I feel like maybe that wasn't such a great way to start 2010. Shadowkindrd - I've been waffling about grabbinng Jo Graham's , don't know why, but I'll grab it next time I think, thanks for the recommendation.

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  49. "Beyond the Night' by Joss Ware. A paranormal romance set in a post apocalyptic world.Well done! Throw my name in the hat.

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  50. My first read of 2010 was "The Shadow of the Wind" by Carl Ruiz Zafon and I have to say it was a great way to start the year! The man is a genius at putting words together in ways that make me want to read his sentences again and again. Now the hard part: finding something to top him!!

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  51. I have not had access to new books for quite a while, but this year, I added book-buying back into my budget. So far, I'm reading The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright. If it weren't for certain things, I would say the novel could be great. But there's this infodump tendency.

    Once we get past all the little introductions though, the writing and relationships and revelations are amazing. I am loving it. Unfortunately, it isn't amazing. It's GOOD, but not amazing.

    Please toss my name in the hat.

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  52. Re-reading old favorites to compensate for all the Change going on (house renovations). I'm smack in the middle of the Black Jewels trilogy (Anne Bishop), for - surprisingly - only the second time (I think my daughter has them memorized. But we're nearly done painting, and I'm ready for something new, so throw my name in that hat, please.

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  53. Anonymous6:50 PM

    I have been re reading some old favorites. Just finished up Magic's Pawn by Mercedes Lackey. It is an old favorite of mine...

    Dunno if re reading counts, but if it doesn't, the only other thing I read in 2010 is Dear John by Nicholas Sparks. It was good. Very good, but I wouldnt call it Great!

    Please toss my name in the hat. It sounds like a book I will pick up somewhere along the way, might even send to mom.

    Stephanie

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  54. Last week I finished "The Angel's Game" by Carlos Ruiz Zafron. It hasn't left me yet. Incredible writing, sucks you in and leaves you with questions, even until the very end. I'll have to re-read because it twisted my mind is such a way I'm wrecked. The main character is a writer, and he's not even handsome ... go figure ;)

    Add me in to the hat!

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  55. Here's my vote:

    I eagerly awaited the coming out date for The Secret of Everything and, if you read my blog, you'll know that I had my copy reserved on that very day, picked it up and didn't stop reading until I was finished.

    Barb is one of my absolute favorites. I've been a fan since I picked up The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue, which is one of my alltime favorite books.

    I lip-smacked my way through The Secret of Everything. Barb has such an eye for relationship details, gorgeous hunky food, secrets of the heart.

    Please toss my name in the hat for January 18th, and, if you get bored, come over to my blog and read what I said about The Secret of Everything.

    Thank you!

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  56. I bought this book a few days after reading Barbara's post over on Romancing the Blog. It's next up after I finish reading current book.

    I've read two books by Alafair Burke, from her Ellie Hatcher series. Angel's Tip and Dead Connection. Love, love, love them. Ms. Burke has an easy writing style that just flows and sucks you in. Love the main protag and the general feel of the books (so far) reminds me a lot of Law & Order:SVU. There's a romantic interest thread in each book but they're mostly suspense/police procedural. Highly recommended.

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  57. Lynn,

    Did you know Barbara O'Neal is the new pen name for the wonderful romance author Barbara Samuel/Ruth Wind? I've loved her writing for many years.

    I requested the first O'Neal book at the library when I found out, and I have THE SECRET OF EVERYTHING on reserve now, so no need to enter me in the contest.

    My favorite reads so far in 2010: THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner and WALKING DEAD (the 4th book in the "Walker Papers" series) by C.E. Murphy.

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  58. Anonymous10:04 PM

    I haven't finished any books this year yet, so I will just have to throw my name in the hat.

    Bob

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  59. The best thing I've read this year would be Everyone Bites the Dust and Bite the Bullet by Jennifer Rardin.

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  60. So far in 2010 I've read two books that really stood out for me. Paper Towns by John Green is a really stand out read for teen fiction. Secret Lives of Great Authors was very entertaining.

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  61. First amazing read of 2010 would be Graceling by Kristin Cashore. It's YA but proved to me that YA isn't just for young adults. This old adult loved it!

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  62. Haven't read anything great so far in 2010 - one book that was OK, and one that was better than I expected but still not a keeper by any means. So I'm just throwing my name in the hat this time.

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  63. Haven't yet found "The Book" for 2010...but you've got me intrigued by The Secret. So throwing in my hat!

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  64. I can't believe it's January 15th and I've already found a keeper - but I have. Which is great after having a disappointing 2009 reading wise.

    It's Soulless by Gail Carriger. Almost Steampunkian with a Victorian heroine who has backbone. Apart from the fact that it's the wrong era, I imagine that if Jane Austen had written urban fantasy it would have had the wit of this story.

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  65. Annie Ernaux: The Shame
    I finished this one today and I can't recommend it enough. Just beautiful.

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  66. Hey Lynn! The Secret of Everything sounds awesome! Recently, I stepped out of my reading rut and picked up Split Second by David Baldacci. Now, I'm not a lover of the thriller, like my guy, but Split Second grabbed me by the throat. So, I moved on Baldacci's The Whole Truth. Jury's still out. :-) Nina

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