January Reads (2014)

January 2014

I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

by Nora Ephron

I enjoyed this lighthearted book of essays about aging as a woman.  I think I will probably laugh harder and nod more when I re-read this a decade from now.  Ephron’s essay “Parenting in Three Stages” is the closest I’ve come to understanding (and appreciating) why my parents and their generational peers sometimes shake their heads at my generation’s earnest, research based parenting methods.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

by Neil Gaiman

This was my first Neil Gaiman book but will not be my last.  I loved it and was sad when it ended.  If I’d known the plot or content of the book ahead of time, I would have dismissed it as not my kind of book.  Gaiman’s writing won me over early on and proved that a good storyteller makes any story a good story.  I’m anxious to read more of his work.  Recommendations welcome.

Gathering Blue

by Lois Lowry

My feelings about this book are colored by my adoration of The Giver.  I loved Lowry’s previous book in this series and had high expectations for this follow-up.  While the writing was solid, the plot lacked the strength of The Giver and felt too predictable.  I’m glad I read it but, unlike The Giver, I wouldn’t read it again.

Sad Desk Salad

by Jessica Grose

This book was the written equivalent of a weeknight TV drama.  Entertaining.  Amusing.  Shallow.

This is Where I leave You

by Jonathan Tropper

Easily the best of the books I read this month.  The back of the book makes the following claims: Outrageous.  Smart.  Winning.  Moving.  Utterly magnificent.  Genius.  Heartfelt.  Darkly Comic.  Hilarious.  Emotion-packed.  Deft.  Sweet.  Superb.  Warm.  Graceful.  Wickedly observant.  Witty.  Tender.  Brutally honest.  Pageturning.  Engaging.  Brilliant.  This book did not disappoint.  All of the claims were true.  I loved Tropper’s writing and would be willing to read his description of making a sandwich or selecting a paint color at Home Depot.

Beautiful Ruins

by Jess Walter

This is an intricately plotted book that switches between modern day and the 1960s and bounces between Los Angeles, Seattle, Idaho and Italy.  The time warp/jet setting chapter switches required to facilitate the plot were too jumpy for my taste.  Walter’s writing is good, but uneven.  Some sections are remarkable, others pedestrian.   I liked, but didn’t love, this book.

The First Affair

by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

I didn’t like this book.  I couldn’t get past my discomfort with a novel that steals a plot from real life (Clinton/Lewinsky scandal) and makes little effort to embellish it.  Writing Monica’s side of the story has been done – and appropriately marketed as a work of non-fiction.  It’s one thing to let the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal inspire a plot idea, but to simply change names, add some texting, swap the cigar for a shaving brush and a coat for a blue dress, then package the idea as an original novel rubbed me the wrong way.

Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish

by David Rakoff

This book caught my eye because I liked the title and I had previously enjoyed David Rakoff’s book Fraud.  That was the sum total of my knowledge before cracking the artfully designed cover.  I was surprised to discover that the book is written entirely in verse.  It is an impressive feat – the writing of compelling plots and characters within the confines of rhyming couplets.  Rakoff pulls it off.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

by Robin Sloan

This was an enjoyable read for me.  Despite elements of fantasy and a futuristic setting, it didn’t veer sharply into black and white/good and evil pairings the way some books of a similar genre tend to do.  Technological advances aren’t heralded as the answer; neither is romanticized idealism of the past.  This book leaves room for a middle way.  Overall, the book reads like a long crescendo toward an understated but meaningful finale.

Awaken

by Katie Kacvinsky

I enjoyed this trip into a future where people have decided that hiding at home and “experiencing” the world through their screens is the safest way to live life.  Kacvinsky captured the doubt and addiction cycle of young love without letting it become too angst ridden or obnoxious.  I liked the characters and the plot kept me turning the pages to see what was next.  No real surprises, but a fun, quick read.

Reconstructing Amelia

by Kimberly McCreight

A well-paced story of a mother dealing with the aftermath of her daughter’s supposed suicide. The book deals with current themes such as sexualizing teens, social media exploitation, bullying, etc.   McCreight does justice to the adolescent mind – with all of its misguided priorities and obsessions.  This was an engaging story but I found the ending weak.

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4 thoughts on “January Reads (2014)

  1. I take full responsibility for The First Affair. BUT, then I also get to take responsibility for Tropper’s! My 2012 was much better than my 2013 list. I don’t know what happened in 2013. And I’m off to a slow start for 2014. I need to catch up big time.

  2. Great list, though I’m not familiar with any of these titles. (I did read and love “The Giver” many years ago, though.) Just gotta say, I’m very impressed at how many books you managed to polish off in a month! I definitely want to look up the Tropper book at the library.

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