Pinch Reviews: March 2014

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I managed to slow down slightly for March (is 7 instead of 10 really slowing down?), and I had much better luck this month with reading books that I loved. I didn’t read anything this month that I gave a low rating and, depending on tastes, I would recommend all of these books to the right person.

It always makes me feel bad when I have advance copies but don’t read them in advance, so I have two upcoming books to talk about this month: LEAVING TIME and BAD FEMINIST. Of course, neither of them goes on sale until later this year, so for now, a pinch review will have to do. More extensive reviews to come as we get closer to their release dates.

THE SHINING GIRLS (Lauren Beukes, 4/5 pinches)

This has been on my Kindle for a really long time, and I’d tried to decide if I really wanted to read a book about a POV serial killer who murders women, even if it does involve a sort of Doctor Who-type time travel. In the interest of clearing out my unread books, I gave it a try and was pleasantly surprised. As it turns out, the POV character is Kirby, one of the “shining girls” whose name is in the time-traveling murder house and, coincidentally, the one who got away. When she starts interning with the reporter who covered her case, she starts to unravel the mystery, finding the clues out of place and time that lead her to solve her own attempted murder.

I thought it was really pretty fantastic. I probably didn’t need so much murderer POV, but it did bring the grit and hardness that Beukes obviously strove to include. Really enjoyed it. If you like literature with teeth, this is good.

VERONICA MARS: THE THOUSAND DOLLAR TAN LINE (Rob Thomas, 4/5 pinches)

Well, obviously, right? Veronica Mars is one of those franchises that just gives me eternal life and the book is no disappointment. The early-2000s show focused on blonde teen PI with an attitude and an aptitude for solving mysteries, and the recent movie and book pick up ten years later. College girls are disappearing during spring break in Neptune, and Veronica is on the case, backed up by all of her old pals. It’s not a full five pinches because, as a follow-up to the movie, it drops some of the more interesting stories and launches into several other mysteries (new and old). Overall, I really enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to the second, but I hope the universe gets pulled together a little bit better next time.

This book does contain all spoilers, since it takes place two months after the events of the movie, but if you’re not interested in starting from the beginning, it’ll fill you in. Read my longer review here. You really should see the movie, though.

LEAVING TIME (Jodi Picoult , 3/5 pinches)

Work perks: getting to read the new Jodi Picoult early. I’ve been a fan of hers for a while, and while her books haven’t changed my life, they’re always interesting, twisty, and teach me something I didn’t know before. LEAVING TIME is the story of 13-year-old Jenna, now finally old enough to start pursuing her mother’s alleged death, who picks up a couple of friends on her path. Simultaneously, Picoult tells a story of the science of elephant grieving, which Jenna’s mother studied for years. Though some might find the elephant chapters to be a bit much, I thought they were fascinating, and it’s inspired me to learn more about elephant empathy. And, as always, there’s a twist at the end that really brings it home. I don’t know that I loved the twist, but I did really like this book.

Out from Ballantine in October.

THE ACCIDENT (Chris Pavone, 4/5 pinches)

Pavone’s second book, following 2012’s THE EXPATS, follows a confidential manuscript about one of the biggest media moguls of our time over the course of a day as the characters involved try to get it published (and, naturally, the villains try to stop it, by any means). A thriller about book publishing? It may sound cheesy, but it got a stellar NYT review and I personally thought it was fantastic. I don’t usually read thrillers, so I found the pace to be a bit frantic, but it was really fun and kept me guessing.

BAD FEMINIST (Roxane Gay, 5/5 pinches)

The much-anticipated essay collection from Roxane Gay landed in my inbox the day it became available for advance reading, thanks to friends in high places, and I started it almost immediately. Overall, I loved it, fanatically. Gay has been a favorite writer of mine for a couple of years now, and her essay collection speaks to the questions that are being asked in our current feminist climate, like, What does it really mean to be, or not be, a feminist? or What is the intersectionality of feminism with race and class, and how can we make smart, inclusive choices? She speaks a lot about current pop culture, as that is one of her areas of expertise, with a sharp wit that lays out both her own views and what she sees as current issues in pop culture.

If I had one tiny complaint, it would be that perhaps it dwells too much on the pop culture of the last two to three years, but since this is undoubtedly not going to be Gay’s only feminist book ever, I’m fine with it. In fact, I relish it.

Seriously, get this book. Out in August from Harper Perennial.

WHERE THE STARS STILL SHINE (Trish Doller, 5/5 pinches)

On recommendation from dear friend Anna, I read this in a flash. When Callie and her mom are pulled over while driving, her whole life is ripped away as she realizes that her mom stole her from her dad as a child and has been on the run ever since. Placed with her dad’s family in a small Florida town, Callie must learn to navigate the real life she never had.

This is a sad, sweet story of a real teen girl with real problems, and Doller does not disappoint. Nothing is easy for Callie, especially when, now, it should be. As a sophomore novel, this is a roaring success, and if the premise sounds appealing to you, read this because you will not be let down.

IDENTICAL STRANGERS (Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, (4/5 pinches)

I’ve been on a kick lately for learning about adult sisters, and this book immediately drew me in. Twins Elyse and Paula were adopted separately at birth, as part of a secret twin experiment conducted in conjunction with Louise Wise Adoption Services in NYC. Thirty or so years later, they found each other by inquiring into their backgrounds, and have to adjust to not only having a sibling, but a twin. The book is written in alternating perspectives, and it’s really interesting to hear their voices and thoughts on whether they initially wanted to uproot their lives to get to know their twins.

Much of the book is about their experiences getting to know each other and attempting to learn their backgrounds. I had thought there might be more information included about the history of the experiment they were involved in, but as we learn, the results are locked up until 2066, so there isn’t really much to say at this point. A really solid book, sad at some points but mostly happy, and really quite unique and interesting.

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The standout this month was likely BAD FEMINIST, but honestly, all of these books were great. What did you read in March?

Keep up with my reading progress on Goodreads, if you’d like.

Veronica Mars Book Review: Mostly Perfect, Marshmallows

Be warned: This review contains mild spoilers for the movie and, obviously, for this book. No big reveals here, but be warned that if you aren’t caught up to the movie, you’ll be spoiled on a few counts.

18209454By now, I’m betting you know what they say about Veronica Mars. She’s a marshmallow, and now a grown-up one, at that.

I’ve been a VMars fan for a few years now, having watched the whole show twice now and seeing the movie on opening weekend. Knowing this book was coming was just the cherry on top of what has so far been a spectacular sundae. I disclose this so that you know this is a review from a fan, so I won’t be saying much about its accessibility to non-fans but rather more about its place in canon. For what it’s worth, though, this book puts forth a strong effort into recapping the final events of the movie (so, obviously, spoilers galore in the first chapter) but introducing everyone in a way that says, “You should probably know who this is if you’re reading this book, but if you don’t, here’s who they are in relation to Veronica.”

Post-NYC Veronica has moved home to not only care for a recovering Keith Mars, but to effectively take over Mars Investigations in the meantime. As it turns out, running a private investigation company while paying a techy assistant (Mac, obviously) and yourself a living wage is harder than Veronica expected. I mean, there was a reason she always worked for her dad in high school, right?

That all changes when one of the most powerful women in town hires Veronica to discreetly figure out what happened to a college woman who vanished during Spring Break season. As Sheriff Dan Lamb (still in office, somehow) dismisses the case, assuming she’ll just show up on her own, another girl disappears and Veronica doubles down to solve the case before Lamb can. As always, Veronica loops in her friends to help her figure out exactly what’s happening and who’s really behind these disappearances. Additionally, there’s an element of crime families, as always, which seems to be Rob Thomas’s kryptonite. That said, it’s nice to see that the advantages a book gives were really taken here, as far as expanded plot and world-building.

I really liked this book. I read the whole book in one evening, as it turns out. I reserve reading time exclusively for my commute (which still means I read for about 90 minutes every day), but for this, I broke my rule. I needed to know what happened and I needed to be able to have my own reactions in my own time and space. If anyone does a storytelling punch to the gut with gusto, it’s Rob Thomas. This was no letdown, filled with the twists and turns we’ve come to expect from the cases Veronica gets involved with. On the whole, I think this book was a grand success, and I’m excited to see that the Neptune world is getting a little bigger with every development.

However, there were some noticeable plot developments (or absence of) that really threw me for a loop. Remember how at the end of the movie Logan was being deployed for a few months? Well, the thing about Logan being gone is that he effectively doesn’t exist in Veronica’s life. Or, well, he does, but she doesn’t have to deal with the problems that have always plagued their relationship while he’s away. They Skype a couple of times in the book, which I guess gets him into the movie sequel, but honestly, it felt like a major cop-out that Veronica basically is in a relationship with her romanticized version of Logan. We know that Logan has grown up, and I assume that the military has really shaped him as a person, but he and Veronica haven’t spoken in almost a decade—and as we all know, people do change from ages twenty to thirty. As much as the relationship was built up in the movie, it really fell to the wayside in the book. And honestly, I wasn’t expecting a lot of love story in the book, but I was hoping that Veronica and Logan would have to deal with the challenges of what true love means and how to function in an adult version of a relationship that previously has not gone as well as anyone hoped.

I don’t want to spoil anyone for anything else, so I’ll leave out what I consider to be one of the biggest surprise returns of the book, but know that we haven’t seen the last of everyone you might have thought was long gone.

At times, I felt like the book relied a little too much on tropes like the popular idea of college spring break more than it should have, but as this is a first book, it makes sense that it wouldn’t be as finely tuned as an episode of the show, or the movie. Sometimes a character we love would say something that felt not quite right or in character. But when in a visual medium you have actors and their interpretations to bulk up your script, in a book you only have yourself and the words you’ve put down.

Though at times I felt like it could have been stronger, I feel really good about this book. It’s smart, quippy, and keeps you guessing until the end, with Veronica putting two and two together at the last minute, as always. Everyone comes back to play in this one, and it’s worth every penny. This is a really strong first effort, and I think the next one will only be better. Buy this one so there can be a next one.

As far as for how this book fits into canon, I find it to be a really interesting quandary. It’s clearly a direct follow-up to the movie, but I suspect that if there’s a film sequel, it won’t match up with the book exactly. The audience is never exactly the same, and beyond the stark absence of Logan, it deals almost not at all with the current corruption in the Sheriff’s office. These are two main plot points of the first movie, and I doubt they’d let it go for a sequel. However, the main mystery of the book would be a nice plot for a movie, and honestly would probably be more of what non-fans are looking for, given that it has a mystery that doesn’t circle around characters from the TV show. As always, the Veronica Mars team is breaking new ground in storytelling, and while I think they’ll have a challenge reconciling it all, I suspect they’re more than up to it.

On sale TODAY, 3/25/14, from your favorite local retailer–buy it now! PS If you’re interested, Kristen Bell recorded the audio book, so give that a listen, too.

While You’re Reading Women in 2014, Think About This

There’s been a lot of talk of reading women authors in 2014, and I love it. Of course I do. But when the trend started, more than one person I know said that he or she planned to use this opportunity to really catch up on all of the books they should have been reading this whole time: literary classics, canonical literature, books you’re allegedly supposed to have read in order to be what some consider an informed person.

When you say you want to read women authors in 2014, I want you to do that. But I don’t want you to read The Classics. If you want to, go for it. But I don’t want you to. I don’t want you to read books you can download for free online. You can do better. With this kind of commitment, you can really do better.

I want you to read a book from every genre, or at least a lot of them. I don’t want to hear you say that you aren’t really interested in chick lit or mysteries or romance. I know not every genre is for everyone, which is totally fine, but I also want you to know what you’ve been missing. Don’t be the picky eater of the book world. Maybe you don’t know that you like thrillers now because you didn’t like the ones you read when you were in high school. Maybe you’ve never tried “book club fiction” and you don’t know that these are actually stories filled with not just emotion but the tenacity and ferociousness of any lauded bestseller. You can’t know until you’ve tried it, so what’s really holding you back?

Continue reading

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.

Pinch Reviews: January 2014

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Can you believe the first month of the new year is already over? Every year seems to go faster and faster. It’s pretty incredible, right? That said, I wasted no time in getting to work on reading new books for the year. I set my Goodreads goal at 75 books for the year, an increase over my ambitious and surprising 68 from last year, and so far it seems like I’m on schedule–and even a little bit ahead.

I’m going to try to do this kind of post at the end of every month, with a quick recap and a short review, so I’m going to call this Pinch Reviews. Just a little bit of a review, enough to get your attention and hopefully pique your interest. I try to stay fairly current with my reading, so I’m hoping this will put out some attention on some lesser-read books (although almost everything I read this month was wildly popular among the contemporary set, I think).

While it looks like I read 10 books in January, that’s not entirely true. I started reading THE BOYFRIEND APP (Katie Sise) on the plane back from Oklahoma at the end of the year and finished it in January, so I didn’t technically read all of it in 2014. Also, I started both I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE and ALL YOU NEVER WANTED last summer, read a few pages, then put them down and didn’t pick them back up until last week. However, on both of those, I read the majority of it this month, so I’m still willing to put them in the January category.

I was pretty pleased with my stats on this month, too–out of 10 books, 90% were by women authors and had women protagonists. Tim Tharp’s THE SPECTACULAR NOW was the only male-authored and -lead book from this month, but it was set in contemporary Oklahoma City, which I’m always a fan of.

THE BOYFRIEND APP (Katie Sise) – 2/5 pinches

I really wanted to like this book–a YA novel starring a geek girl who’s the best coder in her school, or close to it, and a plot that involves her using her smarts and skills to promote herself, all while working through family tragedy, social class discussion and teenage romance. And the first half is great! Then Audrey uncovers a greater conspiracy (this isn’t a spoiler because it’s on the jacket) with the company offering her a scholarship, which also sounds good, but it never really felt like Sise had a handle on what the plot was really going to be when it found itself. The second half just never felt real or grounded, and it ended predictably. It was fine, but unless you’re really into this type of book, you might lose interest.

THE SPECTACULAR NOW (Tim Tharp) – 3.5/5 pinches

This is a quick and easy coming-of-age story about Sutter Keely, an alcoholic teen who never got over his father leaving his family and who is trying to figure out what his future can be, and if he even wants one. There are things I found unbelievable about the characters, but overall this is a solid book intended to appeal to male readers, which is rarer than it should be in YA. This is more of a crossover book, too, in that I think many adult readers would enjoy reading this, since it is layered heavily in that it would mean different things to different people at different ages. It’s a good but sad book. I recommend it.

Plus, it takes place in my hometown of Oklahoma City, which is great–not every book in a city needs to be New York or LA, and I appreciate this. You might have seen the movie, starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, and it was a National Book Award Finalist, which speaks heavily to its relevance.

DREAMLAND (Sarah Dessen) – 4/5 pinches

This is an oldie-but-goodie Sarah Dessen title that was first published in 2000, so I’m obviously behind here, but I bought it on an Amazon daily deal whim months ago, so I decided it was time to get down to it. This is another heartbreaking coming-of-age story about Caitlin, whose older-and-“better” sister Cass ran away, who starts dating bad boy Rogerson while drowning in her own impending depression. It’s a sad story, but it’s real–this is how things happen and how people fall through the cracks of their own lives when no one else is looking. It’s making me sad just thinking about it. I loved this book, but it is some heavy business, so prepare yourself.

LIFE AFTER LIFE (Kate Atkinson) – 3/5 pinches

Atkinson is a new author to me, known for her mysteries, but the concept of LIFE AFTER LIFE grabbed me immediately–a WW2 -centric book about Ursula Todd, who keeps dying and “resetting” to a certain point, basically until she gets it right. This sounds right up my alley, and I have to say that I didn’t love it. Once you get past Ursula’s childhood (about 120 pages), it picks up dramatically, and weaves an interesting series of tales with varying levels of involvement that come with living in Germany and being well-connected in early Hitler days. It’s interesting, to be sure, and it’s getting a lot of buzz, but it just fell a little short for me, personally. It’s more literary when I wanted it to be more genre, and more descriptive when I wanted more action. I am glad I read it, but I feel only okay about it.

Winner, Goodreads Choice Best Historical Fiction 2013

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? (Maria Semple) – 4.5/5 pinches

The beginning of the year started off fairly mediocre for me, bookswise, and this turned it around entirely. Protagonist and sometimes-narrator Bee is trying to figure out where her mother, Bernadette, disappeared to when they were about to leave for their cruise to Antarctica, and finds more in the files than she ever expected. This is a book I fell in love with, a book told mostly in documents and communications, interrupted occasionally by the young narrator’s voice. This is an adult novel with a young protagonist–I think teens would enjoy reading this because of the novelty of the format and the interesting plot, but I think this is a book that older readers might appreciate more, for its discussion of adult family dynamics and mental illness. I thought the end was wrapped up a little too quickly for the problems presented it later in the novel, but overall I loved this book a lot. It’s worth every bit of hype.

THE DIVINERS (Libba Bray) – 5/5 pinches

Now, if we’re going to talk about favorite books, this is far and away the best book I read this month (and for a 600 page book, I read it in four days). Bray is a YA master with a wide, wide oeuvre thus far, but this epic urban fantasy proves she can still do no wrong. Set in NYC in the 1920s, the book features an ensemble of youths (led by transplant Evie O’Neill) with unique abilities who unknowingly combine forces to defeat Naughty John, a serial murderer returned to life by chance. It’s full of wit, slang and incredibly-rounded characters (with actual diverse representation!), and honestly, I don’t think there’s really anything bad to say about this book. It’s the first in a series that I am dying to read. It’s long, but if this even remotely sounds like your jam, you’re going to love it.

TAMPA (Alissa Nutting) – 4/5 pinches

This should have been one of the hottest books of 2013, and for some reason, I feel like it wasn’t. Maybe the subject matter, a young teacher who is sexually attracted to and seduces her young, on-the-verge-of-puberty male students, was too much for people. It is very explicit in many ways, but I felt like it was a book I needed to read in order to expand my reading horizons and escape my comfort zone. I had issues with the pacing of the book and with parts of the end, but overall I loved it. If you think this is something you’re mature enough to read, you should, because it makes strong statements on not only statutory rape (especially when it’s a woman preying on teen boys) but on the justice system. This book will make you think about a lot of things and will leave you grappling with your thoughts for long after you’ve finished, which is important. This is a book meant for discussion, and that happens less than it should these days. Recommend heartily, if you think you can read it.

I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE (Sloane Crosley) – 3/5 pinches

This is a collection of essays from writer Sloane Crosley, all about being an at-wits-end twenty-something in New York, something that you read about a lot these days. The stories are funny and well-written, and I enjoyed reading this book. Unfortunately, the stories could have been stronger and made sharper, and I thought they were out of place in the book. The book was fine and I’m not unhappy that I read it, but ultimately it didn’t seem like anything new, and it’ll probably get lost in the heap of collections like this going around right now.

ALL YOU NEVER WANTED (Adele Griffin) – 3/5 pinches

This is a short, quick YA about two sisters (with alternating narrator chapters) who are experiencing growing pains in their relationship as well as the confusion of going from rags to riches within a year. The relationship between the sisters was great, as was the development of their own personal issues. It was a fun and easy read that I finished in a couple of days. Ultimately, this isn’t the book for me, but I think this is a book that is actually intended more for a younger audience.

TIMEBOUND (Rysa Walker) – 4.5/5 stars

I finished this book last night, and I absolutely loved it. It’s in a similar vein to THE DIVINERS, which is partially the reason I picked it up (and that it was a Kindle daily deal a few weeks ago–I’m a sucker for those). Protagonist Kate Pierce-Keller is the granddaughter of a time-traveler, essentially, and when someone starts messing with the timeline, it’s up to her to set things straight and bring her family back from nonexistence–once she learns exactly how to time travel from her grandmother. It deals pretty successfully with time travel and history, including a visit to the 1893 World’s Fair and H.H. Holmes (murder!), and again, if you think this sounds remotely like your jam, read it asap. It’s great. It doesn’t get a full five stars because the end is kind of an info-dump, which, though interesting, is less exciting than it could have been. Otherwise, love it.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013

As you can see, the end of my month picked up spectacularly, and right now I’m reading both Lawrence Wright’s GOING CLEAR and Sophie Jordan’s UNINVITED, so things are going quite swimmingly.

What did you read in January? Have you set a yearly goal for yourself–if so, how’s it going? If not, sign up for Goodreads immediately and add me!

 

 

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!

What I read in November: Mini Review

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Etiquette and Espionage, Gail Carriger (5/5)

Confession: I started reading this in February in Barnes and Noble when I had an hour to kill in Union Square, and I’ve been meaning to pick it up again since. As it turns out, I did and finished it in a few days. I’m a huge Gail Carriger fan (can’t say enough about her Parasol Protectorate series) and naturally fell in love with this book immediately. It’s a fun, witty start to a series in the same vein and universe as the Protectorate, and the two smartly go hand-in-hand at several turns. You don’t have to have read the adult series to get the YA, which I think is the point, but they overlap in a few great ways and I’d recommend reading both if you’re a fan. Neither is really too far a stretch from the other—one is about society steampunk finishing school and the other is about society steampunk life, so there isn’t too sharp a difference. Either way, if you think you might like this even a little bit, read it—you will.

Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell (3/5)

This is a good book. It’s an interesting book. It’s exactly what you think it’s going to be. I just didn’t like it as much as most people seem to, and it took me nearly the whole month to read. I read Unfamiliar Fishes, her new book about the US annexation of Hawai’I, a few months ago and loved it, and to be honest, I was really disappointed that I didn’t like this one half as much. I don’t have much love for US history, so that might be part of it, but on the whole, this one just wasn’t for me. It’s fun and a good book, so I’d recommend it—I’m not sure why it didn’t work for me, but I seem to be the exception rather than the norm. Anyway, I can’t say I didn’t come out of this book knowing a lot more about presidential assassinations, so that’s a great thing to say about it.

Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman (4/5)

I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while, especially after devouring the Netflix series along with everyone else this summer, and it really didn’t disappoint. Obviously, it’s non-fiction and much less drama-filled than a TV series (though it’s easy to see where they found their inspiration), but as someone who really doesn’t know much about women’s prisons in the US, I found it fascinating. To be honest, I have never given much thought to the prison system in the US because it doesn’t directly affect me, but I have been thinking about it a lot in the weeks since I finished this. I’d probably give it a 5/5 if the last quarter of the book were longer, since it talks about Piper’s transfer to Chicago to testify in a major court case as part of her plea bargain. Here, she witnesses the horrific prison transport system and many other worse prisons, and this was what held my attention the most. Kerman acknowledges her experience and how it’s different from so many women of color who go through the system, but I found it fascinating all the same. If you liked the Netflix series or think this sounds interesting, you’ll probably like this quick non-fiction read.

Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater (2/5)

Not much to say about this first book in a series except that I probably won’t read the others. It falls into the supernatural romance YA genre, which is something I generally steer clear of, but I’d heard great things about Stiefvater so I gave it a shot. It’s pretty standard and there weren’t any real surprises, so if this is your jam, go to town. It just wasn’t mine. I’ve heard good things about her other series, though, so I would like to give that a shot since it was the premise rather than the writing that turned me off of this one.

The Circle, Dave Eggers (3.5/5)

I’ll admit that I bought into the hype of this one, especially at work—and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. Yes, it suffers terribly from assumed male author lionization and one of the big twists at the end I thought was obvious from the second it was introduced early on, but overall I really did enjoy this book. There are a lot of things Eggers didn’t quite get right, as I’m sure you’ve read online, but the one thing I think he did nail was the sense of being lost that Mae feels throughout the book. It’s true that he missed some of the finer points of social media, but he put Mae perfectly in the right situation and with the right reactions and relationships. The overarching theme that putting our lives online will destroy us was too heavy-handed, shockingly (or not), but what Eggers needed to get right, he did, and I read this book happily and over the course of one weekend. I haven’t read any other Eggers, nor do I feel inclined to, but I liked the Internet-themed premise of this one, and if that draws you in, you might like this one.

Allegiant, Veronica Roth (2/5)

The ending to this trilogy left me disappointed, if I’m completely honest (which I guess I am here, with a two-star rating). Divergent was fantastic, but it has always felt like the rush with which the other two came out really hurt the series. It’s a very typical YA action trilogy, in that the first book is the individual, the second book is the individual discovering the breakdown of the system, and the third book is the individual destroying and triumphing over the system. It can be done well, but I don’t think this was it, and it’s too bad. This last book was full of lukewarm sweeping generalizations that undermined an otherwise powerful message, and while with the religious undertones it was always going to end the way it did, I really felt like Roth hadn’t quite found the right plot. There is a way to make this ending work, and this wasn’t it. I want to recommend reading Divergent, since it is the strongest of the three, but leave it up to you whether you want to read the other two.

What did you read in November? Follow me on Goodreads to keep up with my books and updates.