2017: Books I’ve Read So Far

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With Thanksgiving and Christmas, the end of 2016 felt barren in the way of books; I didn’t have enough time to read and didn’t get my usual giant stack of paperbacks as a gift this year. Since 2017 rolled in, I’ve been trying to read instead of sleep on my morning commute, and so far I’ve made my way through five books, all of which I liked for one reason or another. Here they are, ranked in order of personal enjoyment:

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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
It all begins when journalist Lo is sent on assignment on a cruise ship and meets a woman in cabin 10, only hours before Lo witnesses what she believes is that woman’s murder. But when all traces of the woman disappear, she is left unsure what to believe at all. This page-turner has a well-developed plot, a characters who leave readers questioning the truth at every moment, and a solution that you won’t ever see coming.

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Faithful by Alice Hoffman
I immediately liked the protagonist of this novel: Shelby is a damaged girl who sends her best friend into a coma and needs to figure out how to live with the guilt. The reader follows her from the accident to her future, when she’s managed to build some kind of a life for herself, and somehow never gets bored hearing about the everyday details, like the dogs she owns or the men she loves.

9781250087935_p0_v2_s192x300The First Book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz
What a bizarre novel! Though I didn’t think it was as well done as Emma Donoghue’s Room or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, it had the vibe of both, and I still found it interesting and original. The story revolves around a young girl, raised to believe she and her sisters are living in heaven’s garden—but the reality is just the opposite. Each chapter reveals another piece of this terrifying puzzle.


9780062279026_p0_v1_s192x300A Million Worlds with You
by Claudia Gray
The third book in a trilogy about traveling to alternate realities to save the word, this YA fantasy novel didn’t impress me as much as its predecessors: key characters lacked presence, conflicts and struggles didn’t seem to go deep enough, and it all wrapped up a little too easily. That said, I did find the story intriguing and the pace quick, and am glad I read it if only to learn how it all ends.

 

9780316176507_p0_v2_s192x300A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
This book was nothing like Atkinson’s masterful Life After Life, despite being marketed as a companion piece to that one. It was a plodding tale that slogged through different years in the life of a World War II soldier, first as a boy, then as an older man, then as a fighter, then as a boy again, without chronology or order. The writing was too wordy and the characters banal, each generation more miserable than the last.

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One-Sentence Book Reviews

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When I last shared some mini book reviews with you, I was in the throes of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy. Though I really enjoyed the first book, my love of the series dwindled with each subsequent installment. But I have read some really fascinating works since then, and if you’re only going to read one of the books I’m recommending below, let it be Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith.

The novel blew me away with its lyricism and tight descriptions, its sense of restraint, giving you just enough clues to vaguely piece together the action but still retain the pleasurable tingle of a mystery waiting to be solved. In fact, I still find myself thinking back to this book, its intricately woven themes, its heart-wrenching prose. Here’s an excerpt that I really loved:

“Up the road were other abandoned parcels, barely visible driveways leading to vacant foundations, as if someone had plucked the houses right out of the ground, leaving cavities in the shape of living spaces. I could feel the house that wasn’t there, rising out of the gaping concrete mouth. The alders shivered in the breeze, a sound so familiar that I shivered, too.”

Now, without further ado, the reviews:

Worth It…

Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith: In this novel, written with remarkable precision and passion, a young woman visits an old friend on an island commune—but she soon realizes that nothing is as it appears, not even her own mind, her shadow-struck heart.

The Way of Wanderlust by Don George: This writer’s very intimate anecdotes offer great insight into travel, writing, and our own capacity for goodness and human connection.

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey: At turns whimsical and wry, poet Novey reveals bit by bit the strange and compelling tale of a Brazilian author who climbs into a tree and disappears, and the translator who leaves behind a solid life in Pittsburgh to search for her.

The Table Comes First by Adam Gopnik: If you can look past his copious allusions and penchant for philosophical rambling, you’ll discover interesting stories and good questions about the past, present, and future of the food scene.

Don’t Bother…

Christmas Caramel Murder by Joanne Fluke: I liked the “cozy mystery” concept of this novel, but everything else fell flat: a weak and illogical plot, characters that were no more than caricatures, an insubstantial setting, and a serious dependence on telling the reader things that were quite obvious already.

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein: I read the first volume of this series when teaching fourth grade last year and enjoyed it; however, the second book felt forced, and much of the intrigue of the earlier novel had been extinguished.

Run the World by Becky Wade: Professional runner Wade recounts her travels in order to learn about running cultures in other countries, but unfortunately the entire book just sounded like an extended high school essay.

 

Book Review: The Story of a Soul

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We’ve all had moments where we feel so stressed or anxious that we aren’t sure how we’re going to make it through. During one of those times recently, I lay in bed and closed my eyes and imagined my grandmother (who died in 1995) standing before me. Many in my family have associated my grandmother with roses, so I said to her, “Grandma, just let me know everything is going to be okay. Show me a rose.” I eventually drifted off to sleep.

The next day, I decided to go to confession before mass since I hadn’t in some time. As I talked with the priest, he suggested to me that I read The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of the Little Flower, written by St. Therese of Lisieux. When I looked up St. Therese on Google, I realized that she went by a number of names: St. Therese the Little Flower, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, and St. Therese of Roses. According to the Society of the Little Flower:

As she was dying in the convent infirmary, Therese could look out and see the rose bushes blossoming. She loved roses. She had thrown rose petals as a Child before the Blessed Sacrament. … Roses are Therese’s signature. It is her way of whispering to those who need a sign that she has heard, and God is responding.

Whether that’s a coincidence or a sign that my Grandma is up there in Heaven and heard me, I’ll leave up to you to judge. On the priest’s suggestion, I purchased St. Therese’s book, and ultimately was glad that I did.

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