2018: A Year in Books

Welcome to my 7th annual book review extravaganza! Mixing things up this year I decided to include the (good) books I read to Lucy (i.e. not the 300 Junie B Jones or Magic Kitten books) also audiobooks (they’re books too!).

Books I read:

The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant

This was a tough book to start the year with. From the description it seemed like an interesting historical account of a deadly moonshine gang running booze through Franklin county Virginia (true story!). And it was interesting but the way it was written, the way that the story moved between the 3 brothers and a random reporter trying to get a story on them, it was hard to follow and lost something in the telling. I’m glad I read it but I felt like I scratched and clawed my way through this one.

The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold

This was a book about a woman named Helen who, fed up at the end of her rope, strangles her Mother who has Alzheimers. In many ways this book really resonated with me. I ran through it (I think I read it in 2 – 3 days) but the ending was such a disappointment, there was no conclusion, no closure, just no more words.

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler

Serious literature from Chelsea Handler, I needed some levity after the first two books of the year. As usual, Chelsea fit the bill. Maybe not her best book, but good nonetheless.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

I was itching for some good post apocalyptic literature and there’s nothing better for this than young adult fiction. This was a quick, fun novel set in England during WWIII. I liked it a lot.

The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows

I’m not sure why there was so much hype about this book, it is a cute little novel not especially well written where everything works out just fine in the end. It was an epistolary novel which really appeals to me but it seemed like all the characters had the same voice. I would have been okay skipping this one.

Frozen In Time, by Mitchell Zuckoff

I needed some non fiction after the last few books so I picked this up and it was a great choice. It tells two amazing stories – one of 3 WWII planes crashing in Greenland and the modern day team trying to find the abandoned planes buried in the ice for the past 70 years. I was hooked from the beginning and couldn’t read it fast enough.

I Feel Bad About my Neck, by Norah Ephron

I liked this book, but I expected it to be funnier, there were a few times I chuckled out loud but that was her very dry sarcasm coming through. I liked it, I didn’t love it.

Mrs Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

This was a great story, recommend by my sister for reasons that became super evident when I first started it. Any 40-something year old divorcee should go pick up this read.

World War Z by Max Brooks

It always comes back to the zombies… I really enjoyed this book,I liked the style it was written in, I like how he included all sorts of different points of view and inserted little tidbits of information that weren’t obvious or in your face. It took me a long time to get through but I think that speaks more to my attention span and not the story itself.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchette

I love love love Ann Pachette and this was a beautifully written story that had me sucked in from page 1. As much as I enjoyed it and really liked the main character – I did find the science presented in it to be utterly ridiculous, I was able to look past that and still enjoy it.

The Taliban Shuffle by Kim Barker

This was a super interesting read although it took me forever to get through. I found the perspective of this book fascinating although I developed a deep seeded dislike for the author, I cant describe why but in the end it didn’t take away from the enjoyment or the lessons learned in her story.

Some Things That Stay by Sarah Willis

An excellent coming of age novel that I enjoyed very much. This was a poetical read that whispered in your ear and that I felt long after it was over.

Luke Skywalker Cant Read by Ryan Britt

Ugh – this was a chore to get through. I thought this book would be funny, it was not. It read like a freshman thesis from a kid trying to justify his obsession with Star Wars, Dr. Who and Back to the Future. As a self realized Sci Fi geek this book should have resonated with me. It did not.

Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

A very good, solid novel. I liked the main character in this book a lot, the relationship she has with her older sister was very familiar to me and I think the author did an excellent job fully developing everyone’s characters. The story was not at all what I expected but I enjoyed it very much and felt sad when it was over and I couldn’t read it anymore.

Gone With The Mind by Mark Leyner

I thought this book was very funny. I thought Mark created a modern day Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy-esq book. There were parts that I read and then went back and reread to fully appreciate them more. I am very glad because I got it out of the same clearance humor bin that I got the Luke Skywalker book and this one was lightyears better than that one (see what I just did there?)

The Wind Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

OMG, I loved this book. Paoloa creates a world that is so vivid I felt like I could see, taste and smell it while reading this book – I never wanted it to end.

Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen

Meh. I read this because I needed a pallet cleaner after the Wind Up girl, something reality based and light, this book was both of those things but also superficial and one dimensional.  If you are thinking of picking it up I’d reach for something else.

Giant of the Senate by Al Franken

I know many of you will give me grief about this, after Al’s fall from grace but in reality I don’t think he deserved what happened and it certainly doesn’t diminish the fascinating look into the day to day life of a US senator told by someone able to relate to everyday people. I enjoyed and learned from this book, I am even more sad now that he has lost his seat and is no longer an advocate for the people of Minnesota.

Pump Six by Paolo Bacigalupi

I ordered this about 3 minutes after finishing the Wind Up Girl, it is a mind trip of essays set in the same dystopian future. Reading it so soon after finishing the Wind Up Girl was probably a mistake it was almost TOO MUCH, I felt worn out by it at the end, but even now weeks after finishing it I’m still thinking of the stories he created.

Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee

This was a really interesting book, it was a quick read that I didn’t anticipated I would like. It sat in my to be read pile forever.  Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised. I read Disgrace by him many years ago and disliked it so much I wasn’t sure I’d give him a second chance. I am glad that I did.

My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler

Ugh, not my favorite of her books. It might  be best to take Chelsea in small doses and I think that I might have overdone it. This was an entire book about all of the one night stands that she had, it was not as funny as I think she meant it to be.

The Call by Yannick Murphy

This was an unexpected gem of a book! I picked it up at a library sale and it sat in TBR pile for a long time. The story was written a series of journal entries describing his life as a New England veterinarian which gets turned upside down when his son is hurt in a hunting accident and left in a coma, it is his search for both the man responsible and the meaning behind events told in clinics notes, I inhaled this book I couldn’t read it fast enough.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by by Rebecca Skloot

Excellent, everyone should read this book. The story behind this book was incredible, it was well written and informative without being boring. My only complaint would be marketing, I had this book forever and never picked it up because the cover was so unappealing (yes, I am that shallow), the blurbs didn’t do it justice and I feel like overall it should have been presented in a different way.  Go buy it anyway, for yourself and for your children and your parents.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip Dick

I’ve been meaning to read this book for years, being a standard classic sci fi story. I liked it, it’s been years since I watched Blade Runner so I cant remember how closely the plots align together but all that aside I give this book a solid B.

Where’d you Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Super popular and therefore I didn’t really expect to like this book as much as I did. The story was pretty far fetched but it was well written and well developed. Its a great beach read.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan

What a fun book. Honestly what could be better for a book lover than a mystery book ABOUT books. It probably wasn’t one of the best written books I read all year, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

A must read for EVERYONE. This is a short and simple graphic novel that explains what it was like living through the Islamic revolution. I read it in a day and it taught me more than any class I’ve ever sat through. Go get your copy now!

A Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

I read this book on the recommendation of my sister who raved about it. I liked it, I didn’t love it. The books chronicles a year in the life of the author wherein he reads all of the great literature he’s always told people he has read, there are moments in here that are very very funny although I feel like a lot of it was over my head. I hadn’t read the majority of the books he chronicles and missed many of the references and subtle innuendos, by the end I was skipping large sections – sorry Beth!

The Good Earth by Pearl Buck

A classic novel I’ve been meaning to pick up for a long time and finally did. It blew my mind how much a simple narrative could have such a huge impact. I understand completely how this book won the Pulitzer and has been studied by scholars for decades, I wish I would have read it sooner, I’m looking forward to reading it again sometime.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Completely ridiculous in all the right ways, this novel was a really fun joy ride of imagination. I never saw the movie, which I heard was terrible but the book was a lot of fun, I read it in a just a few days and even though the entire time I was shaking my head with the absolute absurdity of it all I still really enjoyed it. A great feel good book for all of the underdogs out there.

Mixed by Angela Nissel

Ugh, I did a little happy dance when I saw this book at a library book sale, her first novel The Broke Diaries being one of the all time funniest books that I have ever read, I was super excited to read something else by her. But this book, which was a memoir of sorts about her experiences growing up as a bi-racial woman struck me mostly as sad and depressing, she put a sarcastic spin on it but reading between the lines it didn’t seem funny. I did not finish it.

Forever, Pete Hamill

A serious contender to get on the list of best books that I have ever read. This is an epic story that spans hundreds of years but never gets tired or boring. I almost didn’t read this book because the title and the cover art suggested this was a romance which is not my cup of tea. It did have some romance but it was so much more than that, this book was 500 pages that went by in the blink of an eye… Definitely the best book of the year.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Abartalli

Another popular book that I didn’t expect to like, but I did I – I feel in love a little  with Simon and became totally caught up in his gay high school romance. I did not love that the story wrapped up so perfectly at the end and I did think that his best friends where completely unrealistic (no one is that selfless and empathetic in high school).

Madonna in a fur coat by Sabahattin Ali

I love foreign books translated in to English and this one was excellent, it was a novel that whispered in your ear and forced you to be still and quiet to hear it. I loved it, despite being angry with the protagonist for most of the story.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchette

What a good book, I’ve read several of her works and I think this ranks almost as high as Bel Canto which might just be one of the best books of all time. This story was a little slow and I put in down a few times in the beginning but once I was able to slip into it I never wanted it to end. Complex and rich, it will stay with you long after it is over. Much better than  State of Wonder.

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

In an effort to read more books from foreign countries translated in to English I picked this up. It is a short Japanese novel set on a small island off the coast of Japan. It was a pleasure to read, quick and light and able to transport me to a different place and time. I liked it a lot.

Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio

I picked this up at a library sale and didn’t realize until after I started it that it was an Oprah book club book. Maybe for that reason I expected something more than I got. It s a story of a young girl growing up poor in the Appalachians who suffers from turrets syndrome. I did not connect with this book. I felt badly for Icy the entire time I was reading it but overall I would not recommend this book.

Choose your own Autobiography, Neil Patrick Harris

I love NPH and was excited to get this book. I both loved it (content) and hated it (format). You can read the letter I wrote to him here

Childhoods End by Arthur C. Clarke

Classic old school sci-fi. I needed a departure from well, everything I had read lately and as usual I turned to science fiction. This was a good book that made you think, I didn’t fly through it like I do with sci fi books that I really like. I struggled a bit to get in to it, but even so I did end up liking it and have thought it over many times after I was done.

This Boys Life by Tobias Wolff

Reminiscent of Jeannete Walls this is the story of Toby’s boyhood and growing up with dysfunctional parents. It was good if a little heartbreaking, I liked it but I didn’t love it.

The bullfighter checks her makeup by Susan Orlean

Ugh, I felt like it took years to get through this book. I am not always a fan of essay writing and this book did not change my mind. Some of them were very good but some of them dragged on seemingly forever. I would say I really enjoyed about 30% of what was in here.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Both fascinating and heartbreaking, this is the true and terrible story of the murder of dozens of Osage Indians for no other reason than to steal their money and oil. I think more people should read this story. My only complaint is that the book is almost two books in one, the first half is heavily researched step by step account of the FBI investigation of several murders and the second half was a rushed accounting of hundreds if not thousands of other murders, it seemed like maybe he ran out of time and just threw the ending together, it should have been presented better.

Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell

Another book I ordered right after I read The Wind Up Girl. I really enjoyed this book – it was several short stories set in a land where magic was illegal and the effects of it where taking over and destroying the world. Paolo and Tobias took turns writing the stories, some of which I liked more than others but overall I found this a very enjoyable book.

Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver

I didn’t love this book, honestly I’m not even sure that I really liked it very much. I guess I expected more from someone who wrote the Poisonwood Bible

84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff

Charming and quaint, this short little book can be read in an afternoon. I liked it very much, I felt like by the time I was finished I was good friends with all of the characters.

Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

This book nearly beat out Forever  for the best book of the year. It was exceptionally well crafted and I looked forward to reading it everyday. The one big problem was the ending, I liked what happened but the way it happened made no sense and also seemed super rushed, for a 600 page book it seemed like he could have spent a few more days and actually given the story and ending instead of throwing nonsense at you and then just stopped writing, I felt very much let down.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Admittedly I have not finished this book yet, but I’m pretty close to the end. I am enjoying it although I think I like the idea and concepts of this book better than the actual execution. I’m still undecided on whether I will read the rest of the series.

~

Books I read to Lucy:

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

What an amazing book! I don’t know why I never read this as a kid, but I really really enjoyed it as a adult, the word play was absolutely brilliant. Lucy liked it too although I did have to stop and explain many things to her.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert O’Brien

I remember loving this book as a kid and reading it again as an adult was just as magical.

Cricket of Time Square by George Seldon

A fun and endearing tale. I loved this book.

The Penderwicks, books 1 -5 by Jeanne Birdsall

We either listened to or read all five of the Penderwick books this year. I thought they were great children’s literature, full of fun, adventure and a few important life lessons. Lucy loved these books and besides Harry Potter are her favorite to date.

Lost on a Mountain in Maine by Donn Fendler

I remember having this read to me when I was in Elementary school and it stuck with me. I don’t think I’ve ever hiked anywhere and not thought of this story. I don’t know if Lucy had the same reaction, honestly she seemed more bored than anything while I was reading it to her.

A Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter

Trying to get Lucy out of her comfort zone, I wanted her to hear a story that made her empathize with someone unlike her. I’m not sure she liked this book or really understood a lot of it but I did. I thought it was a good read.

Hatchet by Gary Paulson

Another book I liked better than Lucy did. I thought this was an amazing tale, told clearly and descriptively at a kids level. It should have been 30 pages longer, the story wrapped up too fast for my liking.

Mrs Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald

This year we read all of the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books. I ordered them for Lucy because I remember reading them as a kid and thinking they were amazing, and she had the same reaction. As an adult however I cant fathom why I loved them so much, they all seemed repetitive and formulaic. But whatever, this wasn’t about me.

Otherwise Known as Sheila The Great by Judy Blume

Classic children’s story. We both enjoyed this one.

~

Books We Listened to:

The Tale of Desperoux by Kate DiCamillo

We listened to this in the car and I thought it was brilliantly done, the reader did a spectacular job talking to you not reading at you – it felt like there was a real storyteller in the car.

Harry Potter 1-5 by J.K. Rowling

There is nothing more effective to get Lucy in the car than to offer to play Harry Potter for her. I had tried to read the first one to her at bedtime early in the year but she was uninterested in it so I let her watch the movie and then checked he audio books out of the library. She is hooked, she dressed up as Hermione for Halloween and is anxious to finish the series, we are currently in the middle of the Order of the Phoenix.

 

 

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