Favorite Reads of 2017 (So Far)

Being that we have reached the halfway mark of the year, I figured I ought do a quick roundup of my favorite reads of the year. This list won’t be all literary fiction, of course (I’m not that much of a snob!) and it won’t include many of the year’s breakouts (I haven’t read them yet!) But it will be an honest and true account of what I consider to be the high points of my reading life in 2017:

Faves:

 

  • The Leavers – Lisa Ko’s The Leavers is breathtaking look at immigration and intercultural adoption.  Polly’s a character you can’t help but feel both intense anger and intense sadness for. Her decisions cause a spiderweb of strife and pain for her son Deming, but are made in truly impossible times. As he grows up, Deming’s caught between the life he’s living with his adoptive parents and the life he ought to be living his mom. The Leavers is heartbreaking in both the worst and best of ways.

 

  • The Animators –  Kayla Rae Whitaker has established herself as a major young talent with her debut novel, The Animators. This story of two best friends, Sharon and Mel, who work as an animation duo, chronicles their personal and professional struggles at dawn of a new phase in their careers. The novel journeys through their pasts and how those pasts inform their current selves and their futures. The relationship between Mel and Sharon is one of my favorite recent depictions of female friendship – full, loving and prickly as hell. And Sharon’s rural background makes me recall my own. I selected this book sort of blindly via Book of the Month Club, and it’s absolutely my favorite Book of the Month Club selection.

 

  • A Passage to IndiaA Passage to India was my introduction to E.M. Forrester’s elegant and sumptuous prose. How I never read Forrester before is completely beyond me and I’m terribly upset with myself for not reading this amazing novel until I was 30 years old.   Forrester’s tale of cultural conflict and misunderstandings between the colonizing English and the India and Indians they colonize is ridiculously lyrical, beautiful and a genuine pleasure to read.

 

  • #famous – I’ve actually reviewed Jilly’s YA novel here. #famous isn’t perfect and this isn’t the sort of work filled with beautiful prose or deep thoughts. But it’s genuinely a fun, adorable read. The characters feel like the teenagers that they are actually meant to be and not some adult’s vague memory of adolescence. The dialogue was snappy and delightful and quite frankly, I need to see this on the big screen.

 

 

  • Attachments – This, I’ve always reviewed here. I love this book without any sort of hesitation. The plot circles around an IT guy, Lincoln, who falls in love with a woman, Beth, while he reads through the emails she exchanges at work with her best friend, Jen. It’s essentially a ridiculous screwball comedy in book form and how can that not be adored? Attachments leans into the ridiculousness of its premise which is what makes it so enjoyable to read. And again, Beth and Jen’s friendship is fantastic – it’s supportive and loving and not full of backstabbing bull. For me, this was a perfect read to chase a few blues away.

 

  • Freddy and Fredericka – I actually bought Freddy and Fredericka at a used bookstore on a whim and 90% due to the cover. Mark Helprin’s satire of the British royal family  (Freddy and Fredericka are a not-even-thinly veiled version of Charles and Diana)  is a magnificently fanciful fairy tale farce and it is amazing. Essentially, after a series of embarrassing events, Freddy and Fredericka get carted out to America to prove themselves worthy of the throne.  This book is dense, but it’s also hilarious. In some respects, the density is part of the reason I’m so fond of it – yes, it gets off to a slow start, but I found it to be like a marathon – it’s just the sort of book to be savored and read thoughtfully, rather than devoured in haste. It’s sympathetic and mocking of its protagonists and reminds you of their inherent goodness despite the situations of their lives and situations in which they find themselves. Fredericka in particular really comes into her own in the second half of the novel. The novel is both irreverent and down to earth and it’s just honestly, earnestly good.

 

  • The Muse – Some people haven’t felt as kindly towards Jessie Burton’s follow up to The Miniaturist but I really enjoyed The Muse. Burton is amazingly skilled at evoking the feeling of a bygone era and in The Muse, she manages to make both 1960s London and the Spanish Civil War come a life. Not only this, she tackles the tricky work of writing a black woman’s life in 1960s London. I have to love her for writing an experience that is very much not her own and for doing it so very well. Jessie Burton is basically my Literary Girl Crush.

 

  • Moonglow I’ve loved Michael for a very long time now. At least, it feels like a long time. I read Wonder Boys back in 2000 and I fell in love with his brain then. Whenever I read Chabon, I always feel like his characters are sitting back and regaling me with their tales. Moonglow is no different. Of course, Moonglow is a sort of a retelling his what his grandfather told him during his last weeks of life – a deathbed confession sorts. But early on, Chabon notes that part of this is fictionalized and the dreamy, sprawling feel makes it somewhat difficult to really get a handle on what parts are completely un-embellished. And yet, that is one of the things I liked best about Moonglow. The Goodreads blurb describes it as a “work of fiction non fiction”; an “autobiography in a novel described as a memoir” – this is entirely accurate and entirely wonderful.

 

Honorable Mentions:

 

  • Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • American Street  by Ibi Zoboi
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  • The Secret Place by Tana French
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Book Review: The People We Hate at the Wedding

Back in April (May?), I won an ARC of Grant Ginder’s The People We Hate at the Wedding as a Goodreads Giveaway. Because I am, as always, somewhat behind in my reading, I didn’t get a chance to read this until a few days ago.

If one only looks at the cover image – the headless figures of a bride and groom atop a wedding cake, you would guess that the novel centers on the a bride, a groom, and preparations for their wedding. You’d be wrong. The groom actually doesn’t figure into the story much at all –  The People We Hate at the Wedding centers around the bride, Eloise, her mother, Donna and her half-siblings Paul and Alice in the lead-up to the wedding.  

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Paul and Alice have always had a particularly fraught relationship with Eloise, caused by the fact that Eloise has always lived a life of privilege, thanks to the her father’s wealth. Alice and Paul’s childhoods were far less lofty and there’s always been a wedge between them and Eloise, no matter how Eloise has worked to bridge it. Additionally, Paul has been icing Donna out of his life since his father’s death a few years prior due to her attempt to erase him from her life. He also has an iffy relationship with his boyfriend, Mark. On her end, Alice is still reeling from a tragedy which occurred five years prior and is currently carrying on an affair with Jonathan, who’s entirely unavailable to her.  Continue reading

Book Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

I’ve noticed that, other than British authors, I don’t really branch out much to international authors and I’m not entirely sure why.

I’ve hit the biggies – like Conrad, Dostoyevsky, Murakami and so on, but I’ve been trying to remedy that and include more foreign authors in my reading. It’s slow going right now as I keep getting distracted by books I’ve been planning to read by British or American authors (darn you, Donna Tartt!).

I’m not sure what draws my attention from non American/British authors – I supposethat it could be that I perceive that there’s cultural differences that will limit my enjoyment of their styles. In any case, as I’ve said, I’m trying to do better.

Months ago, I was approved for an ARC of The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald, who happens to be a Swede. Reading the description, I figured that this work for me as the book is set in the US and so I would at least have some frame of reference. If I couldn’t appreciate everything, I figured that I could understand the characters at least.

So, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend centers on Sara, a young Swedish woman who treks out to Iowa to visit her Amy, her American pen pal. When Sara arrives, shefinds that Amy has died. Instead of returning to Sweden, she decides to stay in Iowa for a while and eventually, endears herself to the residents of the town who plot to find a way to ensure that Sara is able to remain in Broken Wheel.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is a light, frothy read, which if that is your wheelhouse, should that sort of book be your poison. Continue reading

Book Review: Stir

I must admit that I’m weary of memoirs.

23281896Celebrity or politicians, okay, I get it. Not so meh. I can understand why they’ve written memoirs, good or not. If you a celebrity or a politician, you’ve actually done something of note. You’ve some combination of talent, luck and drive and most likely, you’ve seen – and probably done – some amazing/terrible/horrifying things. I can see why you’re writing.

Normal folks who’ve just lived through something, though? That I usually roll my eyes at. There’s something about this that annoys me – the idea that you, normal human, have something of note; that you have a story worth telling. We all have a story and the idea that you, normal human, are more capable and deserving than the millions of others with a story to tell makes me laugh.

I mean sure, I could write a memoir of my own, chronicling my own life-long struggle with Major Depressive Disorder, my time as a patient in a psych ward, my two months in intensive outpatient therapy and my (ongoing) recovering. I simply doubt that there’s much about my own story that makes it unique from all the millions of others who’ve had the same experience.

Continue reading

Book Review: Paper Towns

Last summer, I agreed to house/pet sit for one of my mom’s co-workers while she and her family went on a cruise. I had been doing this for years — they paid me, they were easy going and all it really consisted of was bringing in the mail, putting out the trash, watering some plants and feeding the dogs and cat. Nothing too difficult.

About a day or two towards the end, my computer’s charging cord died and I hadn’t yet purchased a new one. Also, I’d finished reading all the books I brought with me. The daughter had left a book downstairs where she’d finished it before rushing out of the door. I wanted to read, so I picked it up.

It was John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

I’d heard of John Green, of course – I’d heard that teens were in love with this guy’s work; that he was some kind of Teenage Girl Whisperer. While I was no longer a teenage girl, I figured I’d give it a try.

I really liked it! It wasn’t high literature, but I enjoyed it.

Since I’d liked Hazel and Gus so much, I’d mentally made a note to read the rest of his work too.

I finally got around to that.

So I just finished Paper Towns yesterday.  I didn’t really like it.

I wanted so much to like it! It started out so well! But then, about half way, I wasn’t feeling it so much anymore. And then, somewhere around Q and the group driving through South Carolina, I really didn’t care for it. In some respects, I really sort of hated it. Continue reading