Last year I read 27 books. That was my record since I started keeping count in 2007.
July 1 is the halfway point for 2017 so here’s a recap of what I’ve read so far this year. I’m not including cookbooks, pattern books, travel guides, and the like in this list – only real novels, short story collections, and heftier nonfiction books make the cut.
Noteworthy stuff so far:
My favorite: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Five star winners: Anything is Possible; Sisters; Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City; The Snow Child
My least favorite: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
The longest: Three Sisters, Three Queens at 556 pages
The oldest: The Yellow Wallpaper, published in 1892?
Here is the list in the order I read them. I’ve included reviews for some and ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 stars for all.
1. Information Now: A Graphic Guide to Student Research by Matt Upson – work – 3 stars
2. Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory – 2.5 stars
I didn’t enjoy this as much as the other books in this series. It was slow and felt repetitive. I might have learned something though.
3. Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout – NetGalley – 5 stars
“Anything is Possible” is a collection of interconnected, short stories related to Strout’s previous book, “My Name is Lucy Barton”. Strout is in the running for my favorite living author so I was very excited to read her latest book. I was not disappointed. Strout gives us more stories about characters we met or heard about in “My Name is Lucy Barton”. She explores small town life, poverty, family, relationships, loneliness – her usual themes that I enjoy so much. The collection is artfully written, connecting people, places, and backstories.
4. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – 4 stars
5. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – 4.5 stars
Nearly perfect! I kept thinking about this book and the characters long after I finished it.
6. All That’s Left to Tell by Daniel Lowe – NetGalley – 3 stars
I wanted to love this book because it was recommended by Elizabeth Strout in an email I received and I love Elizabeth Strout. I enjoyed reading the novel while I was reading it, but when I reflect on the story, I’m not sure it was worth my time or that the story-within-a-story plot worked well in this case. Very little actually happens in the book. A man is kidnapped in Pakistan and spends the book talking with one of his captors, an American woman. He gives her information about his life and his recently deceased daughter. She weaves that information, along with what she found online and learned through a phone call with the kidnapped man’s mother, into a pretty weird story about the life the captive man’s deceased daughter might have had if she had not been killed a few months earlier. I’m all for a good story-within-a-story plot (a la “The Blind Assassin”), but this one fell short. Too much of the book was speculation, so the “real” parts and characters were not fleshed out. I couldn’t relate to the captive man much at all because I didn’t know him. The big reveal at the end about the captive man didn’t impact me. I cared about the story being told within the story more, but less than I would have if it had been the book itself because I knew it wasn’t “real”. I didn’t really get to know any of the characters, aside from the fictional versions of potential futures for the main character and his dead daughter. The American captor seems to weave her younger, partially fictionalized self into one of the stories as well. Then there is the bizarre sex stuff which was also mostly not “real”. The book is a bit of a mess to be honest. I gave it three stars because I liked the writing.
7. Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance – 4 stars?
Stereotypes are bad, obviously. This book explores hillbilly culture. I didn’t feel it was stereotypical and was, in fact, helpful to me as someone who knows/is related to white people from Appalachia. I get it now. Thank you, J.D. Vance.
8. Sisters by Lily Tuck – NetGalley – 5 stars
“Sister” was my introduction to Lily Tuck. I loved this brief novel, which feels much more like a short story belonging in a collection. When I reached the end, I wished for another one. It reminds me of Lorrie Moore’s amazing short stories and those found in “No One Belongs Here More Than You” by Miranda July.
The narrator is her husband’s second wife. The focus is on what it’s like to join a family after another woman has left, but remains a part of everyone’s life (as a mother and a co-parent) except the narrator’s. She is constantly wondering about the first wife and marriage and how she and her marriage measure up.
The novel is dark, modern, and a little funny. Tuck’s writing forces you to read between the lines, but in doing so you find a full story. Without much history, I completely understood the second wife’s feelings of insecurity, jealousy, and curiosity about the previous wife and marriage. Some of the references were over my head, but I caught the apt Manderly mention referring to “Rebecca”, a classic novel all about the first wife. This is a quick read, but don’t breeze through it or you’ll miss all the subtle, implied content. FIve stars – I’m looking forward to reading Tuck’s other works.
9. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind – book club – 2 stars
10. The End We Start From by Megan Hunter – NetGalley – 3 stars
“The End We Start From” is a dystopian novella narrated by a woman who gave birth to her first child amidst a catastrophe that caused London to completely flood, displacing all of its residents. I’m a big fan of this genre so I was predetermined to enjoy this short novel. I appreciate dystopian fiction that considers the unique vulnerability of women in a world after society and law and order have broken down. Hunter adds to that the challenges of being a new mother.
While I enjoyed it, the book is so brief that it lacks something. The sparse writing style appears intentional and, in a way, works well with the context of disaster and isolation. There’s something about the writing and the brevity of the book that makes the story feel incomplete, however. I wanted to know more about the origins of the disaster and where the husband was and what he experienced during much of the story. It is enjoyable, unique, and worth reading, but not at the top of my list for books in the dystopian genre.
11. The Party by Robyn Harding – NetGalley – 3 stars
I breezed right through “The Party” racing to the end. It was an enjoyable read, but not outstanding. There are two things I can put my finger on that I did not like. The first is the description of the characters. The author describes the wealthy, tech company executive and his perfect homemaking wife and the yoga and meditation addicted mother of their daughter’s friend so clearly I could very easily call up all the stereotypes about these kinds of people and get a good feel for these characters. The stereotype part of that is concerning and I think the descriptions are very “on trend” causing them not to age well. There were too many mentions of current brands, technology, and fads utilized in painting the picture of the kinds of characters in the novel. The second thing I did not love is the ending of the novel. It felt anticlimactic. It tries to give the reader the opportunity to speculate about where the story will go after the book ends without providing enough information to create an interesting or thought-provoking cliffhanger that would leave readers wondering what specific choices the characters will make.
12. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond – 5 stars
The sheer amount of work, time, and research put in to this book! I’m so impressed. Also, man, can he write. “Evicted” is a thoughtful and thorough investigation of an economic and social epidemic facing our country.
13. American War by Omar El Akkad – 3 stars
14. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey – 5 stars
15. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – a single short story – 4 stars