2015 bookshelf update: part 2

Okay, so I haven’t been blogging in the last two months, sorry. But I did finish/read 9 books, so I’ll let that be my excuse.

The Mime Order (The Bone Season #2), by Samantha Shannon
After reading The Bone Season this past fall, I was pleased but not enthralled. But I have to say, this entry into the TBS canon made me far more invested in the series. The world of Scion London became a lot more fleshed out, and the characters found more grounding and color. The main character, Paige Mahoney, felt pretty run-of-the-mill to me in the first novel, dealing with standard “thrown into a new world and forced to survive” dystopian situations. In TMO, she’s back on her home turf, and her characterization greatly benefits from that. There’s also more weight and suspense to the ending, which is making the fact that there is zero information on the third book available yet (seriously, there’s nothing) all the more frustrating. If you’re still looking to fill the dystopian hole in your bookshelf left by The Hunger Games, grab these and get reading.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple [recommended/gifted by Rachel Freeny]
I am an absolute sucker for unique storytelling mechanisms, and WYGB? has one of the best I’ve ever come across. It’s the story of a neurotic mother and her eventual breakdown and disappearance told through notes, emails and miscellaneous documents compiled by her 15-year-old daughter, Bee. The novel is full of colorful and exaggerated characters in colorful and exaggerated circumstances, and it makes for quite the enjoyable reading experience. I wasn’t the most thrilled with the ending, which somehow managed to be both convoluted and too simple all at once, but the enjoyability of the entire reading experience made up for it. I’d definitely recommend picking it up for a beach read this summer.

Emma, by Jane Austen
Maybe I just chose the wrong Jane Austen novel to start with, but I can only describe my journey through this book as “slogging.” I love Clueless and Emma Approved, so I figured knowing the basic story would be helpful for my first foray into Austen-world, but I still couldn’t manage more than a couple of chapters at a time. On the plus side, it was a great book for reading during my bouts with insomnia these last couple of months (#MSproblems). I’ll most likely attempt another Austen novel sometime in the future, but this was definitely not the most heartening of first encounters.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
I spent months eyeing the Olive Perennial edition of this book at 2nd and Charles before finally giving in to my well-documented weakness for pretty books. And I’m so glad I did because it got me to read this classic and add a new book to my “All Time Favorites” list. ATGIB is the epitome of a character-driven novel, following a third-generation Irish-American girl named Francie Nolan and her family through the first two decades of the 1900s. There’s no major plot focus, no “big baddie” to overcome; just the ebb and flow of life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for Francie and her family. The prose of this novel is stunningly beautiful, and I think I read the first paragraph out loud to everyone who would listen for a good three days, I already know this is going to be a book I’ll re-read many times in the future.

So Brave, Young and Handsome, by Leif Enger
Enger’s prose in Peace Like a River was a highlight of my 2014 bookshelf, so I was excited to find a copy of his second novel at a used bookstore in Macon with my cousins. The prose in this one was just as pretty, but it was a little more work getting into the rhythm of the plotline for me. Enger creates some wonderful characters, but after two of his novels, I’ve discovered that Westerns/Western-adjacets just aren’t my cup of tea.

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
This one made essentially all of the “Top Books of 2014” lists, and it lived up to the hype. It’s a memoir written in free verse poetry, recounting Woodson’s memories of growing up in South Carolina and Brooklyn in the 1960s and 70s. It’s about a life almost wholly separate from the one I’ve lived, especially regarding her experiences with race, but the universal themes of growing up and discovery are still resonant. I’m making an effort to read more books from authors with backgrounds different than mine because I think it’s important to appreciate and understand the differences in personal cultural experiences while still finding the common threads in our stories. Woodson does a beautiful job of putting her childhood experiences onto the pages, insecurities and all, and letting her love for her family really shine through. Even if free verse poetry or memoirs aren’t normally your thing, I would still recommend giving this a read.

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
A book club pick that I absolutely could not manage to read just a few chapters at a time. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. It looks like a beach read from the cover, and it pretty much is, but it’s a gets a little more intricate as the plot progresses. The book flips back and forth between Porto Vergogna, Italy in 1962 and Hollywood in the present-day, with scattered chapters of excerpts from in-novel books, movie pitches and other miscellany. In 1962, we encounter the story of village inn owner Pasquale Tursi and aspiring actress with a secret, Dee Moray. In the present-day, the story follows movie production assistant Claire Silver and her boss, Michael Deane. When the characters and stories intersect is where the plot starts to quicken and the book develops its “can’t-put-it-down” quality. While the story itself seems flat in areas, as do some of the characters, it is an overall enjoyable read. Solid 3.5/5.

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
“Lydia is dead, but they don’t know it yet…” I usually love books with beginnings like this, but I think this one wound up suffering from my too-high expectations. The book was good– solid plot, distinct characters. But there didn’t seem to be the kind of spark that makes a book really special, at least to me. As Lydia’s family works through the years leading up to her death, trying to figure out the why and how, I could never find a way to connect with the story. The actions of the father, the motivations of the mother, and the reactions of the siblings came across as either extreme or flat. A revelation in the later part of the book seemed undeveloped, and I felt like the ending was just…off. The little sister character, Hannah, was the one I was most interested in, so of course she got the least attention. I actually wish the book was written from her perspective; I think it would have been a more engaging way to tell the story. In short, the book just is. If you decide to read it, definitely get it from the library.

Motherland, by Maria Hummel
Foundationally based on the author’s family history, Motherland is a story about a German family at the end of WWII. The father, Frank Kappas, is a reconstructive surgeon stationed at Weimar. His wife, Liesel, is home in the village of Hannesburg with the three boys, children of of Frank’s first marriage. In the midst of air raids, the strange symptoms of middle child Ani, and the constant fear of the approaching Allied forces, Liesel tries to hold the family together.

Do not read this book expecting happiness. There are zero happy things about this book. There is no ray of sunshine, no superhero to save the day. It’s about a bleak a book as you can get. But it’s also a really important book, in my opinion. It’s a side of the story we don’t often get, in a treatment we really never get, and it’s completely haunting as a result. What are the stories of the “Mitläufer,” the Germans who “went along” with Nazism out of ignorance or confusion or blind faith? How much did everyday families know about what was going out at camps like Buchenwald and institutions like Hadamar? Part of me can’t believe that someone wouldn’t know anything about the genocide happening in their country, while other parts know that pretty rhetoric and spun half-truths can be especially powerful to a disheartened people. Despite what the truth is, it’s a story of a type of experience that is important to consider in our remembrance of this era.

I’m pretty sure none of these books have anything in common, other than just being books. But it was certainly an enjoyable two months of reading as a result!

If you’ve got any recommendations, feel free to send them my way! I’m happy to swap recs, too.

And remember that tomorrow…

( 😉 )


2 thoughts on “2015 bookshelf update: part 2

  1. Okay you need to start with Persuasion or Northanger Abbey. The first will do good things for your heart. The second will make you laugh if you get that it is satire. Both are much shorter and much better (truth universally acknowledged haha).

    In other news, glad you’re blogging again!

  2. Pingback: 2015 bookshelf wrap-up + top 10 | various and sundry

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