The End of Year Book Report (#2)

July through December 2016

Title: The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House

Author: Adrian Tinniswood

Date Finished: 7/3

Finished: ~ish

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: I wasn’t as in to this book as I thought I’d be. I have an obsession with English (and Irish and Scottish, etc) country houses but mostly I just like the pictures. I skimmed through the whole book, reading tidbits here and there that caught my eye. But really I just want to look at the pictures. There was one consistent reference for the pictures in the book – a magazine called Country Life. They have a picture archive. This makes me happy! http://www.countrylifeimages.co.uk/

 

Title: Beautiful Ruins

Author: Jess Walter

Date Finished: 7/16

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: This book was entertaining and clever the way the author pulled Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton into the story without it really being about them. I’m not into celebrity culture at all. There was one character who I couldn’t figure out why the author kept including so much in the story. In became clear towards the end of the book, but for a long time, I just kept thinking “who cares?” Overall, the story was kind of sappy, not my usual reading material, but good summertime reading.

 

 Title: Mrs. Bridge

Author: Evan S. Connell

Date Finished: 7/22

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: This book is fantastic. It’s so simple and yet so complex. It’s just the life story, told in vignettes, of a fictional woman who is very much a product of her generation and can’t seem to break out of it. The vignettes aren’t random at all. Each gives a very specific brushstroke of who this woman is. Brilliant.

 

 Title: Bel Canto

Author: Ann Patchett

Date Finished: 7/30

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: Very well done! What struck me most about this book was the author’s talent for pacing the action. Pacing is something I’ve learned about in several classes – when to use words and description to speed up the action and when to slow it down, but it’s not something I’ve noticed often. I noticed it here. She takes this terrible situation and focuses on just the first few hours for a third of the book, then the next few days for a third, and then a few months for a third, roughly. And it works perfectly. It’s engaging and the character development is excellent. The topic is clever too in that she takes a situation with which the world has become all too familiar lately and gives us a different perspective on it.

 

 Title: On Writing

Author: Stephen King

Date Finished: 8/8

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: As I mentioned in the last book report, I used to be a hardcore Stephen King fan but lost interest over the last decade plus. But so many people, people who read and write literary (not mass market) fiction, have recommended this book, so I finally had to give it a try. I was not disappointed. I’ve read a lot of books on the craft of writing, many of them written by famous authors, and found most of them to be fluff and a waste of my time (Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Write being the huge exception). But this book was worth every second of my time. It’s a blend of memoir, how he came up with his ideas, and solid writing advice. The format and the content were enjoyable and useful.

 

 Title: Scribbling the Cat

Author: Alexandra Fuller

Date Finished:

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: You might recall that Alexandra Fuller became an instant idol for me after I read her Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. I couldn’t get enough of her. This was an interesting book to try as a follow up. I actually met her when I bought this book and she signed it for me. She said it was a “hard” book to read. She was right in that it deals with some sad, gruesome, and cruel subject matter. But that’s fine – I read all sorts of material. What disappointed me about this book was that she was so wrapped up in telling the story of this soldier that she traveled with, complete with all his dialect and lingo, that this book didn’t seem to have her voice. I supposed that makes a good writer – she did justice to her subject and removed herself from the equation as much as possible. But it’s just a very different style book. I’m going to have to try one of her other memoirs now for a third point of comparison, just because I thought the writing styles of these were so different from each other.

 

 Title: The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

Date Finished: 8/28

Finished: Yes

Format: Kindle

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: I enjoyed this book a lot and raced through it. It was on my to-read list for quite some time. Atwood does a fantastic job of world-building in order to draw the reader into this place and make them think it exists. She organically answers all the questions the reader might have about the place while simultaneously drawing you in to the main character’s plight. But what the hell is up with the ending? I actually skipped it at first because I didn’t even realize it was part of the book. Maybe that’s also because the Kindle format makes that less obvious.

 

 Title: The Ruins of Us

Author: Keija Parssinen

Date Finished: 9/3

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: In some ways, this is a story that has been written many times before, but it many ways it is not because the protagonist is an American expat in Saudi Arabia. That alone gives the book many unique elements. But still, I found the underlying story a bit stale and predictable. What I thought the author did really well was present the multiple viewpoints of the leading characters, particularly the husband. She allowed me to get inside the heads of everyone, except maybe the daughter, quite nicely. Worth a read if you are looking for a fairly easy to read story that doesn’t take place in America.

 

 Title: Soldier Girls

Author: Helen Thorpe

Date Finished: 9/24

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: Once again, Helen Thorpe has written a book that speaks to everyone. Much like the praise I had at the beginning of this year for Just Like Us, this book is balanced, objective, and inclusive of lots of viewpoints. It provides an intimate look into what is was like for three very different women to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq. No matter your thoughts on those wars or your political affiliation, this book is well worth reading to understand the reality better.

 

 Title: Lullabies for Little Criminals

Author: Heather O’Neill

Date Finished: 10/1

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: Excellent debut novel. The author captures the voice and feelings of a young girl very well and allows you to understand the feelings of and sympathize with someone who you might generally view as a troublesome little punk. My one problem with it is the ending. I won’t ruin it but I think the reader is supposed to assume things turn out a certain way for the protagonist, but I don’t find that assumption believable. I would have liked a firmer resolution to the story, but given the way the whole story unfolds, I can see that isn’t entirely possible.

  

Title: One Amazing Thing

Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Date Finished: 10/6

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 9

Notes: Ah, so good! I’ve seen the author speak several times now and finally got around to picking up one of her books. I had a feeling I would like them. This book is well done. It weaves several short stories into the narrative of a novel and all of the distinct elements are equally engaging. Each short story captivated me so much that I forgot the novel existed, but as soon as the novel part began again, I was instantly drawn back into the characters and their fate. My only complaint is the ambiguous ending. That’s just personal preference. Some readers like being able to make up their own minds about what happens to the characters but I don’t. I want to know!

 

 Title: Someone Will Be with You Shortly

Author: Lisa Kogan

Date Finished: 10/8

Finished: No

Format: Kindle

Ranking Out of 10: 4

Notes: I’m officially giving up on this one. I’ve had it on my Kindle for some time and I read an essay here and an essay there when I’m standing in line or just trying to kill time. I want to like it. I want it to be funny. Seems like it has the potential to be, but for the most part it just doesn’t draw me in at all.

 

 Title: The Assistants

Author: Camille Perri

Date Finished: 10/18

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: Junk food! I devoured this audio book because it’s like my junk food or TV or any of those things that are bad for you. Easy to follow story but the idea was unique, which is a big plus. Hearing brand names in stories is a big pet peeve of mine and they were all over this book. I’ve had this pet peeve for a long time and I was trying to figure out this time why it bothers me. In real life, I am more likely to say that I’m going to “watch Netflix” than I’m going to “watch a movie.” So why does it bother me in books? I think it’s because books are an escape, a fantasy, and when you bring in reality, you ruin the fantasy. There’s so much imagination work that happens in books. And that’s why brands don’t bother me on television or in movies. The images are given to me. Television is passive. Having fake or obscured brands looks ridiculous because I am seeing a real world, generally not unlike my own, on screen and so I expect things to be real. Anyway, way off topic. But good book. Enjoyable!

 

 Title: The Art of Racing in the Rain

Author: Garth Stein

Date Finished: 10/23

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 6

Notes: I read this for a book club. It’s definitely not something I would have picked up on my own – a little too Chicken Soup for the Soul. But it was enjoyable enough and an easy read. Of course, I hate reading anything where the dog dies – and no, I’m not giving anything away by telling you that. It basically happens in the first few pages of the book. But there were some unexpected twists and turns in the book that made it just a little better than I expected it to be.

 

 Title: The Price of Salt

Author: Patricia Highsmith

Date Finished: 10/25

Finished: So close, about 95% and then my library loan expired and I didn’t bother to check it out again

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: OK, this story was definitely ahead of its time. I knew from the first chapter of this book and the description of working in a retail environment that I was going to love it, even though I had no idea what was to come. I had a very Mulholland Drive kind of vibe the whole time I was listening to it. I was thoroughly engrossed in this book and think it describes a timeless experience. Well, one slight adjustment. I was engrossed until the last few chapters. I rated this book a 9 until then. But the end seemed to drag on with no purpose. She really could have cut out a lot of whining, emo discussion. Funny, I felt the same way about Strangers on a Train. Most of it I loved but some parts just went on and on and on.

 

Title: American Housewife: Stories

Author: Helen Ellis

Date Finished: 10/28

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: It has been a long time since a book made me laugh out loud but oh my god was I ever cracking up at Wainscoting War. At a few points, I had to stop and listen again because it was just so funny. I enjoyed quite a few of the other stories as well – What I Do All Day, The Fitter, and all the super short segments. Some of the ones toward the end were a bit lackluster, which is why I only ranked this a 7. But most short story collections tend to be hit or miss. Still totally recommend this book!

 

 Title: Point of Direction

Author: Rachel Weaver

Date Finished: 11/6

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 8

Notes: Good read – full of action and very engaging. I wanted more of the story within the story, although I know there was nothing else to tell. But that part interested me just a bit more than the main story did.

 

 Title: Fates and Furies

Author: Lauren Groff

Date Finished: 11/11

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 10

Notes: Wow. That’s it. I’m done. I can’t ever read or write anything again because it’s all going to be drivel. This book blew my mind on every level possible – the use of language, the plot, the characterization, the structure of the book, the reveals, the freedom of use of mixed styles, and the insight into humanity. I had to pause this book over and over to digest and yet wanted to race through it because I had to know what was going to happen, specifically when I got to the Furies section. I will never have the words to explain how this book makes me feel. I will be getting a paperback copy and reading it again and again and again.

 

 Title: Arranged Marriages

Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Date Finished: 11/19

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 4

Notes: Nowhere near as good as One Amazing Thing. I guessed as I was reading it that it was probably one of the first books she published and when I looked it up on Wikipedia, I was unsurprised to discover I was right. It was the first she published, outside poetry. Most of the plot lines are interesting but almost all the stories fall flat. It’s hard to articulate why. Sometimes the characters felt like sterotypes. With the exception of The Disappearance, I finished each one with no feeling at all about what I just read.

 

 Title: Night at the Fiestas

Author: Kirsten Valdez Quade

Date Finished: 11/23

Finished: Yes

Format: Paperback

Ranking Out of 10: 5

Notes: My experience with each of these stories was the same, interested, interested, interested, huh? Not a single one of these had a satisfying ending for me. A lot of the time they seemed to just stop and I wasn’t sure at all what the takeaway was supposed to be. The characterization was very strong and drew me in, and the stories did too until the end, every time. I just felt disappointed as I finished each one.

 

Title: The Power of Habit

Author: Charles Duhigg

Date Finished: 12/6

Finished: Yes

Format: Audio

Ranking Out of 10: 10

Notes: If you like the Freakonomics books, you’ll love this and it’s even better because it relates to ways you can improve your own life. The stories and examples are fascinating and the writing style is highly approachable.

 

Title: Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva

Author: Rosemary Sullivan

Date Finished: 12/10

Finished: Yes

Format: Hard cover

Ranking Out of 10: 7

Notes: I think this is an excellent book but I just couldn’t get into it for some reason. I renewed it from the library three times and finally had to return it, but I had still only read half of it. It provides a unique and sympathetic view of what it’s like to be a dictator’s daughter, but doesn’t try to make its subject look blameless or perfect.

 ************************ 

If you can’t tell already, I got into an audiobook craze the second half of the year because I was sick of listening to podcasts on my way to work and I was very bored at work. But to be totally fair, most of these really only got half my attention because I was doing other things while listening to them. So, I don’t want to rate them other than to put them into two basic categories, recommended and not.

Recommended: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman), Best Boy (Eli Gottlieb), Not Working (Lisa Owens), A Tale for the Time Being (Ruth Ozeki), Strangers on a Train (Patricia Highsmith), The Next 100 Years (George Friedman), Good Clean Fun (Nick Offerman)

Not Recommended: Nicotine (Nell Zink), The Little Strangers (Sarah Waters)

2 thoughts on “The End of Year Book Report (#2)

  1. Ahhh Jen! I love your reading lists…so timely for me as we’re in the middle of our long, langourous summer holidays down here in Oz. I’ve written down at least five to put on me TBR pile in 2017. Looking forward to seeing if I enjoyed them as much as you did! Happy New Year! BJx

    Liked by 1 person

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