I hope your winters are wrapping up nicely. Though winter is my favorite season, I look forward to the spring’s sense of change and excitement. We still have about a month left of winter, though, so I’d like to take a final look back at what books kept me warm this past holiday season.
The Girls by Emma Cline
If you’re like most people, you’ve already read Cline’s debut novel about a group of fictional girls in a Manson Family-like cult. The Girls takes place in Northern California, at the end of the 1960’s. Evie Boyd is a typical teenage girl, fighting with friends and exploring boys, when she stumbles upon a group of beautiful girls walking through the park. Caught up in their allure and charm, Evie joins them on the family ranch, and falls in love with the charming and soon-to-be-infamous cult leader. Before she knows it, Evie’s life is sent into a tailspin.
Emma Cline’s debut novel has good bones but rotting meat. Cline gained her footing in the last moments of the novel, but I had been drug around too long before that to truly enjoy it. Her prose was overwritten and pretentious and her plot was little more than awkward and graphic sex scenes. She wraps up the excitement in the final moments of the novel much too quickly, and moves too slowly before that to capture, or keep, my attention. I’m planning a post where I’ll say more about this, but if you’d like to catch the full review, click here. (2.5 Stars).
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
In her sophomore memoir, Kaling discusses her hit TV show The Mindy Project, life as a woman in Hollywood, and more outrageous stories from her life on and off the camera.
Why Not Me? is a vast improvement over her first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and I really enjoyed her debut). There’s something in this book for everyone. There’s anecdotes for the die-hard fans, love stories for the romantic, fictiony fun things for those who just want to be entertained, and an inside look at being a Hollywood boss for everyone in between. If you deserve a treat (and you do), pick this up. It’s a great read from someone who could be your best friend. (4 Stars).
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd, dreams of a world beyond his flock – one full of travels and treasure. But it isn’t until an encounter with a strange man that Santiago begins the journey of a lifetime, teaching his readers the importance of acting on one’s dreams.
I know the year has just begun, but The Alchemist is already a serious contender for my worst book of 2017. Coelho doesn’t know how to write. His great brilliance and quotable moments are stifled by his inability to craft a novel. Rather than incorporating his philosophies and wisdom into his novel through metaphor or craft, he will quite literally place a character in the story and say verbatim what he wishes to say. This was lazy and talentless and made for a boring read. His plot is boring, his characters are flat, and his prose is bland. I cannot imagine a more “meh” feeling novel. (Full Review) (2 Stars).
Happy Family by Tracy Barone
Happy Family is full of anything but. Cheri Matzner is the middle-aged version of a child abandoned in an inner city health clinic. Her marriage is in shambles, and, to make matters worse, childless. Her relationship with her parents is complicated, and with little hope of repair as her father has recently passed. Those same parents were the ones who adopted baby Cheri, after suffering a hopeless tragedy that leaves one of them feeling ostracized from the family unit.
A much fuller review will be posted when I review all books published by Lee Boudreaux Books, but overall, Happy Family is a breathtaking debut. Barone’s novel is expertly paced and full of rich and consistent characters. Her plot is a bit scattered, as she changes directions several times, but her overall work is a beautiful tribute to families, broken and otherwise, and I strongly urge you to pick this up. (Full Review) (4 Stars).
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
You may know Trevor Noah from his stand up comedy, or his new position as the “anchor” of The Daily Show. His accent, look, and comedy are well known. Less known, is his story. The son of a black woman and a white man in the height of South African apartheid, Noah’s very existence was a crime. In his searing and honest memoir, Noah recounts his South African childhood, and sprinkles in a good deal of South African history and culture as well.
As is my style, I knew very little about Trevor Noah before diving into his book. Perhaps for this ignorance, I preferred the essays on South Africa, more than I enjoyed the ones on Noah’s life. But I think my preference came more from my dislike of his portrayal of himself. I didn’t find his anecdotes to be funny or relateable. In fact, I found them to be off putting. Maybe pick this up if you’re a huge fan of Trevor Noah, but otherwise, it really isn’t worth too much of your time. (Full Review) (3 Stars).
Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst
This is a devotional/memoir style Christian book addressing the topic of rejection – rejection from lovers, from friends, and from life itself. It is a story of accepting yourself, and accepting Christ’s love for you in the middle of pain and insecurity.
Not only is Uninvited not too feel-goody, a common pitfall for the genre, but TerKeurst’s theology is deeply developed too. She doesn’t just drop in a Bible verse for fun; she dives into its deeper meaning. Occasionally, she, like many pastors, over-enunciates an incidence’s theological meaning. Sometimes a dinner party really is just a dinner party, and not a divine message about your loneliness. Generally, however, Uninvited is a wonderful portrait of human brokenness and longing, relieved only by a divine maker who is truly all we need. This book came at a critical juncture in my life, and its message is wholly applicable and appreciated. (Full Review) (4 Stars).
You Fall Off, You Get Back On: A Patchwork Memoir by Mary Stobie
Mary Stobie, a former columnist for Rocky Mountain News, gives a peek into her life as an American cowgirl, mother, and friend. Some essays are recycled from her journalism career, and some are brand new to readers. Stobie’s story is one of resilience, triumph, fun, and family.
You Fall Off, You Get Back On is a charming memoir, if a bit disjointed as a collection. She manages to say a lot, yet not make much ground. While her work is funny and full of unique perspectives of a true rural-fringe Denverite, her amateur hand shows. Not that this should be all that surprising or annoying, her book is small market, and blissfully non-pretentious. I walked away from my reading feeling a lovely sort of connection with Stobie, even if it was a bit shallow. If you’re a Denver native, or have fond memories of the Rocky Mountain Post, as I do, feel free to give this a read! You may just reclaim a bit of the old small-town feeling Denver. (3 Stars).
DNF: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab (2 Star Review); Two By Two by Nicholas Sparks
Let me know what books you read this past month, or if you’ve read anything I have, by posting in the comments below!