Happy new year! I hope everyone had wonderful holidays with family, friends, relaxation, and reading!
I didn’t have the greatest reading month, with a few disappointing books and some minor eye problems (constant dryness and twitching, ugh!) that have made both reading and computer work a little uncomfortable. Hopefully some new glasses and a visit with the doctor will address it (along with more frequent rests and–believe it or not–blinking exercises!).
Anyway, my reading was a mixed bag, but I got through more books than I thought–and I watched a whole lot of cheesy random things. I blame holiday fatigue. Here’s the roundup:
This YA novel is similar to The Hate U Give in many ways--a black high school student, working hard in a private school with mostly white classmates, has run-ins with police that end in violence. In Dear Martin, Justyce studies the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and writes him letters, hoping for clarity in how he can stand up to injustice in a nonviolent way. As in The Hate U Give, Justyce finds himself torn between his black family and neighbors and his white friends, many of whom are convinced that black people have already achieved equality. Justyce, meanwhile, finds that just walking or driving while black can get him killed, and the smallest bit of evidence taken out of context--a photo, a conversation--is enough to label him a thug in both a court of law and the court of public opinion. This is a powerful, quick read, told mostly through dialogue and Justyce's letters to Martin. I sometimes have trouble with fiction audiobooks, but this was excellent. More info →
I was blown away by Hillenbrand's Unbroken--the storytelling, the research, the detail--and after resisting Seabiscuit despite all the raves, I finally gave in and read it, hoping for a similar experience. I'm sorry to say that I didn't love it. I'm still impressed with Hillenbrand, but I wasn't able to overcome my overall disinterest in horse racing. While I loved Seabiscuit's personality, as well as those of the people surrounding him (and wow, the life of a jockey is tough!), it started to feel like just one race after another. Sometimes he won, sometimes he lost, sometimes there were injuries. Hillenbrand did succeed in building the suspense in moments--tense races in particular--but I just had a hard time getting invested in the overall arc of the story of Seabiscuit. More info →
Lo is a travel journalist covering the maiden voyage of an ultra-luxury cruise liner with only ten cabins. When she awakes on the first night to a scream and a splash, she is certain she's witnessed a murder--but none of the passengers or crew are missing. This book is suspenseful, appropriately claustrophobic, and has a decent twist. While I enjoyed it enough to keep reading, the total incompetence of the protagonist (who views the cruise as her professional "big break" and never acted like it) frustrated me throughout--much in the way of The Girl on the Train (though I did like this one more). I don't have to like characters in books I read, but I do want to have reasons to root for them when stakes are high. I found few here, and when combined with some loose ends, it ultimately wasn't the satisfying read I was hoping for. More info →
When Tess moves to New York, she is seeking something that she can't quite define. She finds answers when she lands a job at a famous high-end restaurant: belonging, experience, and identity. Both the insular world of the restaurant and her fellow employees with their singular areas of expertise quickly have her in their thrall--an attractive bartender and a worldly server in particular. This book started out strong for me--the organized chaos of the behind-the-scenes machinations in the restaurant was richly drawn and I could feel Tess's confusion, headiness, and determination to master the secrets of this new world--even as we sense that it's a place where one could, but should try not to, get stuck. As the book progressed, however, it often veered into pretentiousness and a frustrating lack of growth or progression in the relationships of the characters, who we mostly saw through the haze of Tess's heavy drug and alcohol use. I wanted to love this, but it unfortunately fell flat. More info →
I picked this up after reading several raves. The marketing--and I--wanted this to be an empowering story of an almost-40-year old who is single and childfree by choice, pressures and opinions be damned. Instead, Andrea seems to have drifted through her life, waiting for "real life" to happen to her, until suddenly she wakes up at 40, alone, in a job she hates, and uncertain how she fits into the lives of her family and friends. Her flailing is relatable--I think most people have moments of doubt about their own adulthood--as is her frustration with her own safe choices and abandonment of her drive to create. Still, I didn't love this. The driver to move Andrea from self-centeredness to a committed, adult member of her family didn't feel fully developed, and because she spent so much time avoiding the situation, I didn't feel invested either. More info →
If I'd read it in time, Beartown would have made my best of 2017 list
. But it was worth the wait and was the perfect wintery read. In the declining Swedish town of Beartown, hockey is the one bright spot. The talented junior team--and one player in particular--have the potential to win it all and revitalize the town. But a brutal event at an after-game party could be the downfall of the team, the players, and the future of the town itself. As the residents grapple with their loyalties and their own morality, each one is forced to answer for themselves how much they are willing to sacrifice for the love of a town and game. Backman veers away from the quirkiness that readers loved about A Man Called Ove, and instead brings sharp observations about small town relationships, family, and the saving grace of team and sport. I'll repeat many other readers on this point: you don't have to love or know hockey to love this book. More info →
Melody is an eleven-year-old girl who has never walked, fed herself, or gotten herself dressed. She has also never spoken a word, though her head is filled with them. Melody has cerebral palsy, and many of the most basic aspects of her life present a challenge. But what she longs for most is the ability to communicate and show the world that the person inside is smart and feeling. Her world is changed when she learns of a machine that can help her communicate, in much the same way we've all seen Stephen Hawking speak. When she starts to show her smarts in school and in a high-stakes trivia competition, will her classmates allow her to become a full-fledged member of the team? This book wasn't perfect, but it was inspiring, insightful, and emotional. I especially recommend it for any children who may have classmates with cerebral palsy or other disabilities. More info →
I’m almost finished with Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. I loved Cleave’s Little Bee, and I maybe don’t love this one quite as much. So far I’m finding the prose a little heavy, but the characters come to life through the funny, smart dialogue–surprising, given the grim WWII setting.
Possibly Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, which I received as a Christmas gift from my wonderful husband (who got me a bunch of books I’ve been dying to read!). I’m also looking forward to watching the show, but I won’t watch until I finish the book.
For more recent reads from some other bloggers, go check out Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit.
Apparently I watched a lot of television in December. I finished up rewatching Parenthood (heartbreak, every time!), and then I watched a few other series on Amazon and Netflix: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (pretty funny and smart, though Amy Sherman Palladino tested my faith in her with the Gilmore Girls reboot), Glow (a show about women’s wrestling in the 80s did NOT seem like my thing, but it was surprisingly entertaining), and The Good Place (totally loved! Original premise and some really funny performances.)
I think all the craziness of the holidays prompted me to rewatch some familiar, unchallenging movies: Titanic (sorrynotsorry, I still love it), The Holiday (why is this my favorite Christmas movie??), and Little Women (looking forward to the new adaptation). I also watched The Circle, which I liked even less than the book. As I type this, I’m watching Leap Year, a sub-par rom-com, but it’s in Ireland! With Matthew Goode!
Here’s what you might have missed this month:
I’m working on some new things here on the blog, so this will be my last monthly roundup for a while. Looking forward to great things in 2018!