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!

 

 

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Long Weekend Relax

It’s just been a few weeks since the big holiday publishing break, but having a long weekend was particularly relaxing this weekend. My friends and I didn’t do too much, since we usually reserve our weekends for pure relaxation and this was no different.

We spent Friday night at Charles Hanson’s 169 Bar, which we say we do every Friday but get to at least once or twice a month–to be totally honest. There’s just something about a platter of oysters that can’t be beat, you know? Of course, I always want to get my dim cell phone pictures before the tray is empty, but I only remembered about three-quarters of the way through the plate this time. I think that deserves a little pat on the back, at least.

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And, you know, a taxidermied t-rex above our favorite table.

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Otherwise, I had dinner at Bodega in Bushwick with a friend from home in town for the weekend, and we pretty much just bummed around the neighborhood to eat delicious meals and watch great movies together. I saw both In A World… and Frozen this weekend, so I’ll call that a success!

As far as books go, I’ve already read five books this year, somehow, and this week I finished Maria Semple’s WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE?. This book is delightfully individual in its document-heavy concept, and transcends the limited format to convey not only a complicated narrative but implied emotion and character development. I know these are basic parts of a novel, but in less capable hands this would seem gimmicky, especially since the story deals with adult paralyzing anxiety, adjustment to life change at all levels, and complex parent-child relationships–mostly conveyed within documents like emails and work documents, along with commentary from Bee, the fifteen-year-old narrator.

I’m currently still in the middle of both Lawrence Wright’s GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY, HOLLYWOOD, AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF and Libba Bray’s THE DIVINERS, both of which I’m loving (obviously for different reasons). I’m planning to have them both done in time to do another mini-review roundup at the end of the month. So far it seems like my plan to read 75 books by the end of the year is going swimmingly, which I’m thrilled about.

It would have been nice to get a little more done this weekend, but at the same time, it’s really nice to spend the weekend relaxing, cleaning, and catching up on movies we missed.