Tuesday, December 31, 2013

30 Second Book Reviews: Goodbye 2013!

2013 is drawing to a close today and this has to have been one of the strangest, fastest and most challenging years I've had in a long time. I'll write more about that later. But to end 2013 with things I adore, and with a little bit of a literary bang, I thought I'd share with you the rest of the books that I read in the final months of this year. There's something here to get you excited about reading in 2014, I promise. So skim these super tiny reviews and pick up something new to start January 2014 with a bang!

No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie -I'm hooked on this British mystery series and fearful I'm going to start adding British slang to my everyday chatter. Tea, loo, cuppa. Yep, it's happening.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman- Neil Gaiman's books make me feel like a kid again, reading with an enthusiasm, speed, glee and terror about what might happen to my friends on the next page. Clever, fresh and familiar and delightful, I loved this one. His books have a heft and a message that doesn't weigh down the story.

12-21 by Dustin Thomason- Since it's 2013 already, I think we all know the end of the world Maya stuff was nonsense, but it did make for a silly, fun, suspenseful summer read.

An Atheist in the Foxhole by Joe Meto- This memoir is mildly amusing fluff. Nothing shocking or particularly revealing. Musto comes across as a rather smug, short sighted prepster in a Rep tie and a sport coat. He's no mole. He's just milking his last five minutes of "fame" and who can blame him.

The River of No Return by Bee Ridgeway-Strange and philosophical, and fun all at the same time. And certain to be a series, which makes me happy.

Kissed a Sad Goodbye by Deborah Crombie-Perfect mystery series to listen to on my commute. And I'm totally out of order in this series and I don't care.

The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook by The Lodge Company - It's so good. I feel like my Great Grandma Ouida every time I haul out the cast iron pan, but after reading this book, I'm not sure why I cook with anything else. Like 1,500 cornbread recipes. And why not? Cornbread is amazing.

It Gets Better by Dan Savage and Terry Miller- I listened to this audio-book that takes multiple interviews with LGBT adults, sharing their stories to help young LBGT youth realize that is does get better. This project has exploded and made a huge impact. The book gets a bit repetitive, but the message is enormously valuable.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell- Because I don't really get the idea of fan-fiction, so it took me a little longer to get sucked into Fangirl than it did with Rainbow's other two amazing novels. But that's my issue, not an issue with the book itself. The book is a delight. Filled with funny, nerdy, flawed and honest characters whose relationships feel so natural that it's quite painful at times to read. Rainbow knows how to capture the blush of first love and lust, much like in Eleanor and Park, it took me right back to those times in my own life. She knows how to let you into a character's head so well that I found myself relating to the young protagonist and at the same time feeling more like her parent, shaking my head and saying to her "What are you doing, Cath?" Rainbow knows how to share the pain of struggling with social anxiety, family with mental illness and divorce without hitting you over the head like a cheesy after school special. I found myself irritated and loving and proud and admiring of the two main characters, twin sisters Cath and Wren. I fell in love with Levi's smile. I wanted to hang out with Regan all night at a local bar. And I ended up even falling in love with all the Simon and Baz bits too by the end. So thanks again, Rainbow, for creating this beautiful, smart, complex and yet familiar world and letting us into it

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer-Sparse and lovely writing with a story that raises the question of possible tandem lives, who we are and what might be if we lived in a different time. I liked this odd little novel, it made me wonder about my own life and the core people I would hope appear in any decade and version of my life.

The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley-Everything I like in a vacation read: romance, witty banter, rugged dark haired Scottish hunks, psychic kids, archeological digs, Roman ghosts and some vodka smuggling. I read this while lying in bed in our tiny rented cottage in Maine, staring at the rain hitting our windows and watching the tide come in. That might skew my review, just a heads up.

Someday Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham-Charming vacation read. I hope there's a sequel. Like reading a novel written by and starring a young Lorelei Gilmore. Straight up F.U.N.

The Shanghai Girls by Lisa See-Shredded. Easily one of the most frustrating and depressing books I've read in a long time. I couldn't even read the sequel.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman-Odd, and sweetly sad, and like a fable or a myth that feels true in your bones, but you suddenly find hard to articulate to someone else why it resonates inside of you.

Serena by Ron Rash-One of my favorite books of the year. Deeply flawed, frightening characters and the good people struggling to survive under their watchful, terrifying and charismatic eyes. A fucked up love story, if you'll pardon my language. (Sidenote: I cannot wait to see Jennifer Lawrence play the title character in the movie!)

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling really) - Fine. I only picked this up, like most people, because JK wrote it. It was fine.

An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin - Art buyers in New York throughout the 1980's and 90's. It was funny, slick, ridiculous and entertaining audiobook. I love Steve Martin's style. Even with the fake arrows through the head.

If I Stay by Gail Foreman-Who knew such a small, seemingly simple young book would break my heart? The romance and the very basic writing style wasn't my favorite, but the family, oh that family got me, particularly the grandparents.

Where She Went by Gail Foreman - The sequel to If I Stay. I liked it, but it didn't break my heart like the first one.

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld- I liked this story of two sisters, two very very different sisters set in St. Louis, Missouri. But the story felt like it went on too long and rambled a bit. It was more predictable than I wanted it to be, but Sittenfeld is a strong writer and I enjoyed it, I just thought it could have been edited down a bit.

People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Loyd Parry-This non-fiction story about a kidnapped and murdered American girl living in Japan, would have suited me much better as a long form article. Way too long, way too much detail. I skimmed the last half of the book.

The Paris Wife by Paula McClain-I think everyone's probably read this one already, about Ernest Hemingway's first wife. Hadley was a strong, old fashioned gem, Hemingway, of course, was a louse and a prick. But one hell of a writer.

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberley McCreight-2.75 Stars. Fast, rather convoluted, and more like an overly long and unnecessarily complicated episode of Law and Order.

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell- This audio-book read by Gretchen Mol was perfection. An unreliable gossipy narrator, a twist, and some charmingly devious characters and developments. I loved this novel. So much.

Joyland by Stephen King-Stephen King as been an author I've loved since high school. I think I'll always love him. He writes horror and mystery and fantasy populated by real, complex characters that you fall right in love with from the first page. He doesn't stick to one type of story, but you always know it's a Stephen King book. Joyland was't perfect or unique exactly, but it was an excellent read. Thanks again, Mr. King.

The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie-Again, British mystery series. These are my new summer addiction. So good I keep jumping around in the series and I don't even notice that I'm reading out of order. Or should I say listening, because I'm listening to this whole series.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter-Can someone take me to Italy again please? I'm an excellent travel companion. This book is sad and true and beautiful. I loved the examination of fame, art, pain and family, from Italy in the 1960's to LA in the present, this book is great.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh- Nope. I was in for the first half of this one, and then it went right off the rails. Couldn't finish. Couldn't enjoy it. Just lost me.

American Savage and The Commitment by Dan Savage- I was in a bit of a Dan Savage mood here for a bit in September. He's so bold and funny and honest that I enjoyed reading both his essays and then listening to the story of his relationship and eventual marriage to his husband Terry. Did I mention that if you follow him on Instagram, you might be able to see the incredibly hot Terry wearing only some swim trucks? Yeah, you can.

Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin - One of my top five books of the year. Just go read it. I don't even want to say much about it here. It explores gender, family and how we become who we are meant to be. It's beautiful and challenging and tender.

The Wrath of Angels by John Connolly- Just a strange little murder mystery with angels and demons set in the Maine woods. No big whup.

The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls- Oh jeez, I wanted to love this book. I love Jeanette Walls' The Glass Castle, but something was missing for me with this one. I can't put my finger on it. It was too easy I think.

Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins- My third time reading this series. I still love it. I think Catching Fire is my favorite of the three.

Grace Eventually by Anne Lamott- Just the book I needed at just the right time. No one shares their flaws, their grace, their need and their survival quite like Anne Lamott. I adore her writing and her attitude and her beliefs about the world. And I needed her reassuring words.

The Dinner by Herman Koch - Strange, quick, chock full of bloody violence and family drama. Not the best book I've ever read, but a solid 3.5 stars and a perfect diversion on a chilly Sunday afternoon.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer - Not what I expected at all. Told entirely through letters and set before and after World War II in London and on the island of Guernsey, I loved this sweet, small little novel and enjoyed learning about WWII from an entirely different perspective.

The Shining by Stephen King- As terrifying as when I read it in high school. And so much better than Stanley Kubrick's strange movie version.

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani-While I loved the descriptions and setting, the protagonist was just irritating enough to make this a three star instead of a three and a half. Clearly well researched and beautifully created, many of the characters felt a little hollow. Felt a little too romance novel for me. But a happy, independent ending which seemed nearly impossible for a book set in 1600's Iran.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson- On nearly every best book of 2013 list, it isn't on mine. Eh.
I tried, but it just felt rather repetitive and pointless, despite the exquisite writing. Maybe just the wrong book at the wrong time.

The Litigators by John Grisham- Silly, silly audio-book. I miss A Time to Kill or The Firm. This was not that.

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane-Once again, Dennis Lehane cements his position as one of my absolute favorite authors. A gut punch of a book that left me questioning good vs. evil, the morality of taking the law into your own hands, and the definition of loyalty. A nearly perfect novel.

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris- I've stopped reading copies of Sedaris, and instead always let him read to me. His books need his voice. And this one, while not my very favorite, was filled with the perfect balance of family stories, sly observations about our culture and lives, and quirky fiction. I love Sedaris and no holiday season is complete without a little Santaland Diaries or Six to Eight Black Men on the radio.

What Do Women Want? by Daniel Bergner-Joe made me read this. Sexy, fascinating, full of new science research and personal stories both insightful, a bit sad and culturally revolutionary. Did I mention sexy?

Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield- Can't give this a rating since I didn't finish it. I just found the writing flat, the story and characters rather dull, and the dialogue stilted. Maybe I'll come back. Really disappointed because I loved her other novel, The Thirteenth Tale. Go read that one instead.

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve- Again, an author I used to adore, books like Sea Glass and Fortune's Rock were wonderful. Lately I haven't been as enamored. So this one was closer to 3.5 stars, but still compelling, and a different angle on WWI. I enjoyed this book and liked the ending

Blankets by Craig Thompson- I finished this book in the middle of the night, with a short bout of insomnia. It was a sweet coming of age graphic novel, all tied up in lust, religion, family strife and growth. I liked it a lot.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King - The perfect book to end 2013 on. I loved this sequel to The Shining. Not a single criticism. Not so much terrifying, but still captured the creeping, unsettled quality that The Shining had. I loved this book. I loved seeing Danny all grown up and meeting Abra. I hope we see more of these characters in future King novels. 

So how was your literary 2013? Any great recommendations for my 2014 reading? I'm still listening to Keith Richards' memoir My Life, it's long and a little rambling so I need to hear it in small doses. And I'm also listening to an excellent short book called Bite by Bite by Geneen Roth about emotional eating. It's a good kick start to some resolutions I'm working on in 2014. So goodbye until next year and have a safe and happy New Year's Eve!