Book Report 2013 - First Half

Yes, I realize that it's not quite the half way point in the year yet but I'm pretty sure that if I wait until the kids are out of school, I will never write this post. So. Here's how it goes: as always I write only what I remember about a book, so if there are any inaccuracies, I apologize but I'm grasping at what few straws are left in my brain.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom - Just the synopsis of this novel packs an emotional punch. Lavinia, an orphaned white girl comes to live on a Virginia plantation as an indentured servant working in the kitchen house alongside the plantation's slaves who include Belle, the plantation master's illegitimate biracial child. Belle and Lavinia alternate telling this gripping, tear-jerker of a story, and their voices ring true, or as true as I can imagine sitting in my kitchen in 2013. Even now, six months later, memory-challenged me can remember the names and major plot points of this book. I cared about these people and cried with them. Highly recommended.

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman - One day, a childless couple living in a remote lighthouse find a boat drifting to shore containing a dead man and a live baby. The wife, grieving for all the babies she has lost, considers this beautiful healthy baby a miracle, an answered prayer. What would you do? I struggled with the ending of this novel, but I think that only speaks to the power of its storytelling, I believed in the story and there was no perfectly happy ending possible that would ring true. Highly recommended, though it might be tough for those who've struggled with the loss of a pregnancy/child.

Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis - In this novel, we follow the sad life of Hattie, the matriarch of a large African American family, as she loses her children in many different ways. The writing flowed nicely and I loved having different narrators for each chapter.  Hattie is tough and imperfect and beaten down, in the end the sadness got a little too heavy for me, I think because I was reading this around the time of my dad's decline. Recommended if you don't mind the sadness.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green - Oh! Let's weep so more! Yeah, I didn't do so good a job this year picking uplifting books after sad books. But this book just goes to show you that sad can be done well! And leave me feeling sort of cleansed and almost even joyful afterwards! I adored this YA love story about two cancer-stricken teens who meet at a support group. The dialogue made me remember what being a teenager felt like and, dude, I'm old AND have a bad memory. And, yes, I wept like a baby after turning the last page. Highly recommended for YA lovers or anyone with a heart.

May the Road Rise Up to Meet You by Peter Troy - This was a book group book that I enjoyed thoroughly once I got into it. Four different characters, with four completely different voices, narrate the (eventually) intertwining stories of slavery, immigration and - of course! - lurvvve. It took me awhile to get into this book - the narration styles were so different, the dialect was challenging and the stories take a while to converge - but once I did, I LOVED it. Highly recommended for you historical fiction types.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - Let's just call this the year of weeping, shall we? I cried like a little baby whose pacifier's been taken away when this book ended. Just sobbed. A young woman is hired as an aide to a young, prickly quadriplegic. She is different, quirky, fun and they fall in love. I just didn't want this to end. Highly recommend for those who love love stories and are financially invested in Kleenex stock.

Set Loose, No Other Love and Tempt Me by Isabel Morin - Okay! Here's a couple of palette cleansers! Phew! My friend wrote these erotic novels and BOY HOWDY did I enjoy reading them, and they didn't make me cry once! "Set Loose" and "Tempt Me" are both set in present day while "No Other Love" is a historical romance. All are fun romps. My favorite? "Set Loose," about a ballet dancer whose car breaks down in Las Vegas. To pay for the needed car repairs, she tries her (inexperienced) hand at stripping and winds up falling for a strip club bouncer.  Recommended for the erotica lover.

Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple - This was a fun, laugh riot of a book and I've heard that if you're from the Pacific Northwest, it's even funnier. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel about Benadette, an acclaimed architect-turned stay-at-home mom and all the people in her orbit. I loved how the book was told in many different formats- emails, forms, letters, etc..  Recommended for those who could use a laugh or three.

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz - I chose this because Mr. Diaz is a big literary deal and I like to read big literary deals from time to time to see what all the fuss is about. The writing style of these short stories about a complex dude with lady troubles was appealing, the words felt fresh and compelling, but I didn't love the book because the emotional world it painted felt so foreign, so....masculine.  Truthfully, the stories felt really aggressively male and I struggled to finish the book. I don't think I like what that says about me.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown - I was ready for a pick-me-up after that last book, so I turned to this self-help, up-with-people book. I really, really wanted to love this book but it struck me as .... odd. Brown, a "vulnerability researcher" spends quite a bit of time talking about her credentials and academic research in what feels like an attempt at intellectual legitimacy and prestige. But then she uses words like "Wholehearted," which is always capitalized, and talks extensively about her own issues with shame and this felt discordant.  I fully applaud her desire to release people from the binds of shame and to change the cultural standing of vulnerability but yeah, I just keep feeling put off. I felt like I had to read it while squinting past the annoying parts so that I could focus on the cheer leading it did for us sensitive-types. Recommended only if you love self-help.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich- My mom gave me this novel and told me I HAD to read it, and she's not exactly the pushy type. But I found the going SO SLOW at first. A woman's rape in the vicinity of a Native American round house provides the catalyst that sends the plot into motion. Our narrator, her teenage son, tries to help solve the mystery of his mother's rape. His character felt so immediate and SO REAL, and the descriptive writing was beautiful but I kept being put to sleep by this book. The plot makes it seems like it should be a who-done-it page-turner but I NEVER stayed up too late to read it and I had to treat it like an assignment for the first half of the book. I know lots of people who loved it and I did wind up enjoying it a great deal as it came to a deftly-handled close but I can't say I was ever riveted.

Come Back to Me by Melissa Foster - The characters in this novel were thinly drawn but the action was compelling enough to get me engaged in the beginning:  a newly pregnant wife finds out her military husband has gone missing and is presumed dead in the Middle East. We follow both her story, and her husband's as he is found and nursed by two refugee women. I was totally WITH this book until the second half where it took a turn I couldn't stand and then I was just pissed. I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this book.

Schroder by Amity Gage - All my book recommendations come from Twitter, my book group or, like this one, Catherine Newman. I picked it because I was interested in the true story that inspired it: that of "Clark Rockefeller", a conman who created a fictitious identity in an attempt at living like American royalty. I really enjoyed this story, partially because of and despite the limitations of our singular narrator: the conman himself. Recommended.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey - Oh this book. I loved this book. It felt like a magical little snowflake and I was scared to hold it too tightly because it might melt away.  A childless couple (WHAT IS WITH THE CHILDLESS COUPLES IN ALL MY BOOKS?) creates a child out of snow one wintry night, topping it with a knitted scarf and hat. The next day the snow child has disappeared and the knitted items are spotted on a spritely figure who dashes through the woods. Have they conjured an actual child out of nothing but snow and heartbreaking desire, just like an old story the woman remembers from a childhood fairytale? A fantastic premise handled with loving care. Highly recommended.

Stranger Here: How Weight Loss Surgery Transformed My Body and Messed With My Head by Jen Larsen - Linda raved this on twitter and I liked it. Ms. Larsen is bracingly honest about her failings (she doesn't follow pretty much any of her doctor's recommendations before or after weight loss surgery) and she's damn funny at the same time. I kind of loved the ending, too, now that I think about it, so, yeah, sure, recommended.

Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Shadow of Rocky Flats by Kristen Iversen - This book has so much potential! But I ultimately found it frustrating and fantasized about PAYING for a tougher editor for this author. The book follows both her personal family dysfunction (We are told repeatedly that they never spoke! About feelings! Or what they did at the plant! Or ANYTHING! GOT. IT.) and the story of her next door neighbor, Rocky Flats, a plutonium bomb trigger factory. There is an interesting story hidden there but it was repetitive in more than a few places and the whole thing could have been much tighter, like 150 pages chopped off tighter. Oh well.


Okay, your turn! What have you been reading lately and what should I read next?


Jane said...

Thanks for the list! I always love your lists and try very hard to read as many as sound interesting to me. I am at a point where I am between books, so the timing is great. I really, really loved
The Kitchen House and The Fault in Our Stars and struggled with Daring Greatly, so we are in sync there. I will have to check out the others you recommend (although I don't know if I'm up for a big weep fest). I recently enjoyed The Silver Linings Playbook (can't bring myself to see the movie because I liked the book too much), a thriller called Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes, Glennon Melton's Carry on Warrior, Penny Marshall's bio My Mother Was Nuts, Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, and Defending Jacob by William Landay. I read a lot of the "popular" writers (Baldacci, Coben, Sandford, Archer, etc.) but those tend to be more serials.

Stephanie said...

I, too, had high expectations for Daring Greatly (I'd loved her TED talks and her Oprah appearance) but the book was just OK.

I agree with Where'd You Go, Bernadette - loved! Pushed on several other people!

I did NOT like The Snow Child at all. Couldn't finish it. Huh. Also, I really enjoyed The Round House. Gosh. Maybe we aren't meant to be in a book club together, after all. :)

The Fault in Our Stars has been on my to-read list for months. I need to just go buy it.

I've been fairly obsessed with Kent Haruf lately (Eventide, Benediction, Plainsong), devoured Carry On Warrior, and was fascinated by Andrew Solomon's Far From the Tree in non-fiction.

Stephanie said...

Oh, wait - I'm not done! I HATED Me Before You. Ugh. I don't know why it made me so angry, but it did.

Your review of Junot Diaz makes me question whether or not to read it. I read his The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, and I really liked it, but I've heard less-good things about this one.

And: you're the tenth person to recommend The Light Between Oceans and The Kitchen House. They're going on my goodreads list.

Jen Anderson said...

I loved Bernadette. I was just crazy about it.

I'm in the middle of Railsea right now and it's wildly inventive and I'm really enjoying it.

Giselle said...

I must comment, because I also read The Light Between Oceans, The Fault in our Stars, Where'd You Go Bernadette, and Me Before You this year...and my reviews would be nearly identical to yours. So perhaps we are perfect reading buddies!

My favorite favorite favorite this year has been The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. A 16 year old girl witnesses her mother kill an intruder to their property and then they never speak of it. On her mother's 90th birthday, the daughter begins digging into her mother's mysterious past. It was FABULOUS. It jumps from the present (daughter's perspective) to the past (mother's perspective in the 40s) A little slow in the middle...but not too bad. And SUCH A GOOD ENDING I MUST USE ALL CAPS.

I also enjoyed Have a Little Faith, by Mitch Albom, The Middle Place, by Kelly Corrigan, and Defending Jacob, by William Landay.

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