Thursday, December 10, 2015

December catchup and 2015 books

Before we talk about books, I need to tell you that daughter H turned 18 a couple of weeks ago and it's freaking me out. Both of my children are legal adults now, OMG. That is just the weirdest thing I've experienced since actually being pregnant with them. I remember 18 VERY clearly; I was a freshman in college when it happened to me. That was 31 years ago. Holy shit. (Let's not talk about the fact that C is turning 20 in April, okay? I remember 20, too. It was my Golden Birthday.) (P.S. If you're VERY clever, you might be able to deduce from one of those photos up there which college is H's first choice. Still waiting to hear. Fingers crossed.)

Okay, well, no time for an existential crisis now! Here are more or less all the books I read in 2015, grouped together by how much I liked them, though not necessarily ranked in any sort of order within those groups. Could I make this a little more complicated? Let's find out!

Five Stars
The entire Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. I read this series straight through in one big gulp, which took me nearly two months. I love the show and I love the books, too. Maybe even a little bit more, Dinklage or no Dinklage.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Lives up to the hype. Such a beautiful story. A must-read if you're into WWII fiction, but lovely even if you're not (I'm kind of oversaturated on it, myself).

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Ditto re: hype. I loved this book, could not put it down, and even though the protagonist is sort of unlikable by design, I loved her, too.

Help Thanks Wow: Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott. Classic Lamott. She speaks to my soul.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. This is a book I will never, ever forget. I've seen it billed as horror but it's not, really. I don't even know how to describe it. But I loved it and I'm so glad I read it and that it's become part of my story now.

Far North by Marcel Theroux. Another book I'll never forget, with one of my favorite protagonists EVER. It's kind of a formulaic post-apocalyptic sort of thing, but it's just such a GOOD one. I didn't want it to end.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. Yes, you've all already read this book. Well, now I have, too. I loved it so much that it led to me downloading like a dozen books about people walking the PCT and the AT and all those other trails that I'll never walk because: BEARS (see also: RAPISTS/MURDERERS). The movie pales in comparison.

The Martian by Andy Weir. Another book that makes the movie pale in comparison. The book was so much more fraught with tension, and the protagonist was a million times more likable, and it was just SO GOOD and so much better than the movie. If you liked the movie, read the book. If you didn't want to see the movie because Matt Damon is on your shitlist, read the book.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I am going to go ahead and suggest you read this book in the fall, because it's all wood smoke and caramel apples and mulled cider and you'll never, ever want it to end. Just like fall.

Four Stars
Stoner by John Williams. Technically I read this at the very end of last December, but I told you it might end up on this year's list. I ... don't really remember much about this book, to be honest, but I four-starred it on Goodreads so I guess I liked it.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. You know, it's Gaiman. It's all mysterious and weird and children are in peril. I liked it a lot.

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson. The fourth Jackson Brodie. Didn't hold my interest quite as much as the previous books, and the timeline was wonky, but still, it's Atkinson. So it was good.

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. Well, it was no Wild, and he didn't really walk as much of the trail as I was hoping to read about, and it's really more a story of two middle-aged guys traveling than it is about a trail hike anyway, but I enjoyed it.

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny. The 11th Chief Inspector Gamache book. I have loved this series with only two exceptions (see below for one of them), and this book was fabulous. Thank goodness. The previous book was so awful, I almost didn't read this one.

Shaman, Healer, Heretic by Terry M. Green. I just read this as a fluffy little genre palate cleanser between meatier tomes, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. I have several books in this series downloaded to my Kindle and I look forward to reading the rest of them.

Shine On, Bright & Dangerous Object by Laurie Colwin. I heart Colwin. I don't always find her characters super relatable, and I like her food memoirs more than her novels, but they're still really good. (Her food memoirs are EXCEPTIONAL, FYI.)

Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel by Zachary Thomas Dodson. I actually really loved this book, which like House of Leaves is very strange and relies heavily on format (weird fonts/text, folding pages, holding things up to mirrors, etc.), but I was left with so many questions at the end that I had to remove a star from my review. It's really good, it just leaves a lot of loose ends and/or glosses over things that I would have liked explored/explained in more detail. Rarely do I wish a book had been longer, but with this one, I do.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Jesus, this was grim. But wow, have a lot of people ripped him off since he wrote this.

Room by Emma Donoghue. I thought this book was pretty extraordinary and I'd never read anything like it, but something about it annoyed me somehow. I spent almost the entire book thinking it took place in the UK because of the dialog and vocabulary, but then a US location was mentioned, and I don't know, something was off about it. Like with Vernon God Little, a book I HATED, I feel like an editor should have caught the fact that all of these supposedly American characters did not speak or act at all like Americans. Geez, now I want to take another star off my review and bump this down to three and/or attend a meeting of Anglophobics Anonymous.

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey. I liked this a lot; it's a very different take on the zombie genre. It's got movie adaptation written all over it, though -- like it reads as though it was specifically written to be adapted for film -- and for that I removed a star because sometimes a book should just stay a book.

The Magician's Assistant by Anne Patchett. This was a very good book that made me fall asleep a lot. It actually reminded me a lot of that Colwin book up there in that it deals with the loss of a spouse and dealing with the whole in-law thing in the wake of that and all the complicated things that make up a marriage and a family.

Three Stars or Less, or the Meh Books
Divergent by Veronica Roth. I'm just not a big fan of the Hunger Games wannabes.

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward. I LOVE Ward and have loved nearly all of her books, but this one didn't grab me for whatever reason. I'll still buy everything she writes, though.

Gaudi Afternoon by Barbara Wilson. I like the Cassandra Reilly series a lot and read them all out of order; this is the first one and I can tell you that they definitely get better.

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny. The 10th Gamache. Just AWFUL. There's really only one real plot point from this book that you need to know before reading book 11, and it'll become apparent to you pretty quickly in that book, so I recommend skipping from 9 to 11 and giving this one a miss entirely.

Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson. Meh. I think I just wasn't in the mood for this when I read it. It's a perfectly sweet little book, but I wanted it over with much sooner than it was.

Hercules, My Shipmate by Robert Graves. I wanted to like this so much more than I did, but I found it oddly repetitive and just kind of boring after a while.

The Beggar King by Oliver Potzsch. (There's supposed to be an umlaut over the o in his last name but I'll be damned if I know how to get it on there.) I love the Hangman's Daughter series but I didn't love this particular installment. All the things that annoy me about some of the main characters were dialed up to 11 in this book, and I don't like it when series books move away from the principal location.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I heart Groff BIG TIME and I absolutely loved Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia, but this one was not my favorite. I feel like it suffers in the inevitable comparison to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl.

Disclaimer by Renee Knight. This was a weird book, y'all. It started out kind of clunky and then just got super grim and sad. If you want to be hella depressed, go ahead and read it, but don't say I didn't warn you.

And also I read a bunch of stuff for work; I won't outline all of that (mostly nutrition-related) stuff for you. However, I do highly recommend Michelle Segar's No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness to anyone who has negative associations with exercise but wants to get moving (in a fun way); and copies of Kate Northrup's Money: A Love Story paired with copies of Manisha Thakor's On My Own Two Feet (which I read last year) would make great gifts for any college-aged young women in your lives who want to start out on the right financial foot. I wish I had read them both 30 years ago. It's too late for me! Save yourselves! (Just kidding. It's not too late. It's NEVER too late. #coach)

Okay. Let's get through Christmas and maybe then I'll try to start blogging more but probably not.