Some of my 2015 bimonthly* reading round-ups got a tad lengthy, so I figured monthly updates were the way to go in 2016.
*Also, can we also talk about how the bi- prefix is friggin’ confusing? Is it twice a month? Or is it every other month? GRAMMAR, I TRUSTED YOU.
The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis
I’ve been meaning to read this one for a few years, being a fan of the movie version and of Lewis’ book (and movie) Moneyball. I don’t know what sorcery Michael Lewis possesses, but that man writes the most compelling non-fiction I’ve ever read (outside of memoirs, of course). The Blind Side is a lot more narrative driven than Moneyball, but it’s still got a healthy dose of research and statistics. The crux of the book is the rise of the left tackle as arguably the most important position in football, Michael Oher’s personal rise, and how they intersected at exactly the right moment. If you like football, “rags to riches” narratives (patronizing description withstanding), statistical research, or a combination of the three especially, this is the book for you.
Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff
Was this on every “Best of 2015” list? Yes. Did I like it? Not particularly.
The book follows young couple Lotto and Mathilde as they navigate the years of their marriage. The first half of the book is structured around Lotto’s perspective and backstory (Fates) and the second half is structured around Mathilde’s (Furies). They struggle with Lotto’s initial aimlessness and later success, their lack of children, and familial strife.
Both are incredibly complicated, emotionally stunted characters…and I liked neither of them. The moral system of this book was so foreign to me, and it was a struggle to wring some sympathy out of my heart.
The plot was definitely fresh in many respects, at least to my literary background, and some of the prose was quite pretty, but overall it just did not hit the mark for me.
Star Wars: Before the Awakening, by Greg Rucka
In case you haven’t encountered me since Dec. 17, let me fill you in: I have seen The Force Awakens four times, and the number’s only that low because movie tickets are more expensive than gold at this point. I really, really, really like Star Wars, you guys.
Hence, buying the prequel novel was essentially a forgone conclusion (also, Target is dangerous).
The book is split into three parts, one for each of the members of the “new trio”: Finn, Rey, and Poe. Each character is given a more fleshed-out background (but not spoiling any mysteries set up in the movie), and Poe’s in particular gives a bit more information on the history of the Resistance and First Order. It’s not a groundbreaking piece of literature by any means, but if you’re like me and just really love Star Wars and will read anything that provides more information about Star Wars, you’ll enjoy it.
The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
It only took me nine days to leap back into my tried-and-true favorite genre. I’m just a sucker for WWII historical fiction.
This novel follows two French sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, as they navigate their lives during the German occupation of France. While older sister Vianne must maintain the family home and keep her daughter safe, Isabelle sets out to help the resistance movement in any way she can. Vianne believes Isabelle is being reckless, while Isabelle considers Vianne to be kowtowing to the enemy. As each of their lives becomes increasingly dangerous, with death constantly a looming shadow, they survive in the only ways they know how.
I really enjoyed the overall story and themes of this novel, and the writing was truly lovely, though there were some bits that dragged slightly. The only thing that really rang false to me was the love story of one of the sisters; it felt misplaced and rushed, and after a while I began to skim those (thankfully intermittent) portions of the book. I always leave WWII historical fiction with a heavy sadness, but that’s to be expected from dwelling in such a harsh period.
The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh
First of all, let’s talk about the cover of this one. What a beauty.
This is a YA retelling of Arabian Nights, centered on Shahrzad, the newest bride of Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. Each evening, the Caliph has taken a bride. Each dawn, the bride is executed. There is no explanation as to why. When Shahrzad’s best friend is made a victim of this system, she vows to exact revenge on Khalid. Through artful storytelling, she manage to survive her first wedded night, and the next, and the next, discovering each day that the man she thought a monster may not be what she was told.
When I was able to suspend my newfound cynicism when reading YA, I really, really enjoyed this book. The setting was lush and a welcome respite from the hundreds of high school-based YA novels out there. The mystery was intriguing, and my reading sped along at a nice clip. The ending left me excitedly awaiting the second in the duology, The Rose and the Dagger, set to be published in May of this year.
Unfortunately, the YA of it all did chafe me a bit, especially with 16-year-old Shahrzad being somewhat of a stereotypical “sassy, highly-skilled, ultra-beautiful” YA heroine. There’s a love triangle going on, too, which I understand the point of, but I’m just so exhausted with the theme. Alas. Still, if you’re looking for a more unique YA novel, I would definitely recommend this one.
Favorite book this month: The Wrath and the Dawn. Even though The Blind Side got a slightly higher star rating, TWatD really grabbed me by its conclusion.
Most likely to re-read: The Wrath and the Dawn
Most likely to recommend: The Nightingale and The Wrath and the Dawn
As always, I’m happy to share/swap recommendations.
Support your libraries, and keep reading, y’all.