Pinch Reviews: February 2014

Apologies for the delay in pinch reviews this month: it’s been a hectic few weeks as far as computers go, and I didn’t have a spare moment until now. Work is picking up, too, so when I have a minute to think about this, I have to grab it! Without further ado, pinch reviews. As always, if we aren’t friends on Goodreads, add me.

UNINVITED (Sophie Jordan) – 1/5 pinches

It’s not often that I really hate a book. I wrote a very spoiler-filled and extensive review for this on Goodreads, but for the sake of brevity (pinches!), suffice it to say that I thought the concept was brilliant and the execution was terrible. I love the idea of the discovery of a “kill gene” that indicates probable homicidal tendency, and the aftermath of the idea; however, it seems like Jordan got too excited about the save-the-cheerleader-save-the-world trend that tends to trap YA series right now, and forgot to invest in the science, the characters, and plausibility of plot. Overall thoughts: do not read this unless, you know, it’s killing you not to.

GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY, HOLLYWOOD AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF (Lawrence Wright) – 5/5 pinches

Now, back on to the books that I loved, which is the rest of them. GOING CLEAR, a 2013 National Book Award finalist, is a thoughtful non-fiction discussion of Scientology, from its foundation with L. Ron Hubbard to its current existence and membership. Not only did I feel that Wright left no stone unturned, the book also filled in sociopolitical gaps from the last fifty years for me. There were moments here where historical events just clicked together for me, and it was easier for me to see why some things were the way that they were. If you have even a passing interest in Scientology, you’ll be unable to put this down. There’s a reason it was on the NBA shortlist.

CRESS (Marissa Meyer) – 3/5 pinches

Cress is the third book in Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series (Cinder, Scarlet) that retells classic princess fairytales against a futuristic sci-fi YA landscape, and it’s exactly as awesome as you think. I liked CRESS a lot, but I have to say that I didn’t like it as much as the first two. I found Cress to be a rather weak character compared to Cinder and Scarlet, especially in our post-Tangled Rapunzel world. Meyer clearly has the rest of the series plotted, if not written, though, and while this book wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped, it’s perfectly interesting and serviceable to the greater story. Read CINDER first (duh).

THE MOON SISTERS (Therese Walsh) – 3.5/5 pinches

I have a lot of feelings about this book. I’ll probably write a longer review just because I’d waited until its release to talk about it, as I usually try to do with books I read in advance. Sisters Jazz and Olivia Moon both come of age and find each other emotionally as they deal with their mother’s suicide in the different stages of grief. The sisters were so full as characters that everyone else fell a little flat, and at times I was irritated that other characters were interrupting the growth of the sister relationship. This book is sad and beautiful and interesting in its own way, and I’d probably recommend it. It would be a great book club title.

THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE (Audrey Niffenegger) – 5/5 pinches (annual)

One of my favorite books, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE makes it around to the list about once a year. I just can’t get enough of the story, and every time I read it new details stick out to me. I find myself in a different place emotionally each time I reread it, and the layers in this book are just truly complex and lovely. Listening to the audio book is really wonderful, too, since the alternating chapters are read by a man and woman. If you haven’t read this, drop everything else.

THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER (Leslye Walton) – 4.5/5 pinches

I received this on Net Galley in exchange for a review, and I wasn’t sure what to expect at all. I sat on it for about a month, and decided to give it a try—and then I fell in love. Less about Ava and more about the generations of a family who immigrate to the US from France, the story entwines magical realism into a spellbinding story written in nearly poetic prose. Walton wrote this book for adults and it was sold as YA, so it tends to the more serious. Truly loved this book—look for it.

A LONG, LONG SLEEP (Anna Sheehan) – 3/5 pinches

There’s just something about sci-fi retellings of fairytales that I can’t step away from, this time being Sleeping Beauty. Rosalinda Fitzroy is woken up after sixty years in a chemically-induced coma and must readjust to not only the world around her and high school, but with coming to terms with the fact that everyone she knows is dead, she’s the heir to one of the world’s largest corporations, and that perhaps not everything that happened to her has been an accident. If this sounds like your jam, read it; if not, you should probably skip it. What finally hooked me was an interview with Sheehan where she said she’d like to know what happened to Sleeping Beauty after she woke up, and what she did then. It’s great in most regards, though at times seems to try too hard. If you read YA regularly, you’ll probably like this.

WE WERE LIARS (E. Lockhart) – 5/5 pinches

I can’t say much about WE WERE LIARS, given that I don’t want to give anything away for you. Lockhart weaves together fairytales and classic stories as coping mechanisms for our protagonist, whose memory of a night years ago she must recover with the help of her family and friends. This isn’t typical YA, and I’d recommend for any audience. Really sad. Really beautiful. Really perfect. It comes out in May—order it now and read it immediately.

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Books I Loved in 2013

In 2012, I read 26 out of my Goodreads goal of 60 books, which I found to be a huge disappointment. In 2013, I adjusted my expectations to 35 books, thinking I didn’t know if I’d be able to really kick it into gear. However, I had to up my goal multiple times, and it ended up at 65 by the end of the year.

In 2013, though, I read 68 of my 65 books, a fact I am over the moon about, and here they are for your perusal, in reverse chronological order of when I read them. Apparently Goodreads doesn’t have a good way to visually present the titles in a way that’s easy to put here, so this is what we’ve got. However, I think I read much better books in the second half of the year than in the first, so I’m not too heartbroken over it.

Of all these books, though, these are the ones that I loved this year, my 2013 life changers.

Wild // Cheryl Strayed
If you’d told me, as my friend Anna did earlier this year, that this book would change my thinking and become my favorite book of all time, I would have, as I did, secretly rolled my eyes and put it on a future to-read list, maybe. The recollection of the implosion of Strayed’s life and her subsequent hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, however, is incredible and absolutely changed the way I think about some things, notably my relationship with my own mother. I think everyone should read this book, without hesitation.

Panic // Lauren Oliver
Okay, this may be a little cheating, since this is doesn’t come out until April, but I read it in December and loved it. As you can see, I read Oliver’s Delirium trilogy earlier in the year, but I think this is her best work yet. It’s set in the present world, and Oliver really nails the emotions, the highs and lows of high school, and sucks you into the apparent immediacy of the game. Anyway, if you like YA, pre-order it now.

Blood, Bones and Butter // Gabrielle Hamilton
This food memoir blew me away–I guess this year I was really into lady memoirs, since I put several of them on my best-of list, but I loved this. Hamilton chronicles not only her journey to opening her restaurant Prune in New York, but her family life, the two being intertwined in a way that’s both wonderful and tragic.

League of Denial // Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru

When this title was announced at work, I immediately knew I would fall in love with it. I’m someone who grew up living college football, and this book made me cry, laugh, and most importantly, learn. This isn’t a book about banning football. The authors write for ESPN and love football. This is a book exposing the way the NFL has ignored brain damage in football for thirty years, and looking for a way we can change the system without getting rid of it.

Five Days at Memorial // Sheri Fink
This title tells the story of the first five days after Hurricane Katrina at a major hospital in New Orleans, in which some doctors were accused of euthanizing patients. This book interviews dozens and dozens of employees, patients, and relatives about their experience without making accusations, but I would categorize this as another life-changer. It gives us previously unknown insight into a dark and unclear moral situation, one that seems unfathomable but that did, in fact, happen, as told by those who witnessed it.

Tiny Beautiful Things // Cheryl Strayed
Yes, another Cheryl Strayed. However, this one is a compilation of her columns from when she wrote the Dear Sugar advice column for The Rumpus (which everyone should be reading, though Dear Sugar is discontinued), and the way Strayed includes her personal life in her advice and stories is heartrendingly beautiful. In fact, now that I’ve read Wild, I’d really like to reread TBT since I have a better idea of what was happening. I’m not usually an advice column person, but this is really something else.

Cinder // Marissa Meyer
Futuristic dystopian YA with a partially cyborg protagonist? Okay. Add in that it’s the first in a series of fairytale retellings, all of which work together in a plot that would stand alone even if it weren’t retellings, and I’m totally sold. Seriously, great fun, great writing, and the third book in the series comes out early this year. Do it to it.

Parasol Protectorate series // Gail Carriger
I started reading this series last year, and read the three final books in the five-book series when I bought the whole series for Kindle early in the year. This whole series is best described as Victorian supernatural steampunk comedy, which I know sounds ridiculous, but trust me when I say that this is one of the very few books I’ve read that had me laughing out loud every few pages. The characters are distinct, both lovable and hateable, and this is the most fun I’ve had with genre literature in a while–perhaps because it straddles multiple genres, creating a story that almost anyone can enjoy. Plus, Carriger has a YA series Finishing School, the first title being Etiquette & Espionage, which is set in the same world with some overlapping characters, if that’s more your thing.

Other honorable mentions are the upcoming Red Rising (Pierce Brown, out 1/28), Coming Clean (Kimberly Rae Miller), Orange is the New Black (Piper Kerman), Eleanor and Park (Rainbow Rowell), The Divorce Papers (Susan Rieger, out 3/18), Beautiful Ruins (Jess Walter), Born Standing Up (Steve Martin), The Madness Underneath (Maureen Johnson), Finnikin of the Rock (Melina Marchetta), and This is How You Lose Her (Junot Diaz).

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Why did I read so much this year? I know of a few certain reasons, one of them being that I read exclusively on the subway (and I have a 40-minute one-way daily commute), and the other being that I got a Kindle from my parents for Christmas last year. Those daily Kindle deals can be really good, people. I’m sure there are other erasons, but those are the two that I can point to with certainty. Physical books are great, and our shelves at home are overflowing with beautiful hardcovers (especially since I started my new job), but for me there’s not much that beats the simplicity of an ereader. It’s much easier to read a tablet on a crowded subway than it is a bulky hardcover (and I don’t bend my books), so I’m able to read more than one book in a week, if it goes quickly (which it obviously did this year).

If we aren’t friends on Goodreads, please add me so we can keep each other accountable this year, and let me know what you read last year that was good and what you’re most looking forward to this year. I’m always looking for recommendations!