Books: 2014 Reading Challenge (So Far)

Paterniti_TheTellingRoom-200x300I challenged myself to read 50 books last year and I came up short. Life and travel and television got in the way. But I don’t make excuses. I just set better goals. This year my challenge was to read twenty-five books and I’m already finished with nineteen of them. I think working in a bookstore helps.

So here are the nineteen books I’ve started and completed this year. In the order I read them. I gave each book a “star rating” and a brief review.

  1. Bag of Bones by Stephen King (736 pages) – **** I devoured this book. This is a ghost story and it’s scary. A writer must face his own demons, and maybe some actual demons in a small Maine town. Of course. Fans of King will enjoy this book, and non fans will see what all of the fuss is about.
  2. N-W by Zadie Smith (296 pages) – ***** SO GOOD! Zadie Smith writes about London in a way only a true Londoner could. She uses slang, style and prose to make this book come alive. It’s the story of four adult Londoners who tragically and comically adapt to life as grown-ups. Smith is a master of style, tone and prose. Lovely.
  3. My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales (576 pages) *** – I only gave this three stars because there are a few (very few) stories in here that didn’t make the grade. All in all though, this book was a lot of fun. Great retellings of classic fairy tales and written by some great writers like Michael Cunningham and Joyce Carol Oates.
  4. The Apothecary by Malie Meloy (384 pages) *** – This was a fun adventure for kids. It follows a young girl and her family as they flee from the Red Scare and Blacklisting that is going on in America. Full of history, magic potions and adventure, this book will make you smile. The first in a series aimed at intermediate readers.
  5. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (258 pages) – *** As a bookseller I felt I had to read this. It was a cute little book filled with inside jokes for avid readers. Nothing complex here in language, style or theme, but a good little book.
  6. Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto (240 pages) *** The story of a family living together in a small Bombay apartment. Mom is slipping deeper and deeper into maddness and dad (The Big Hoom) is just trying to keep going. A surprisingly funny book that was tender and heart felt at the same time.
  7. Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff (304 pages) ** – Eh. Another book for middle readers, but it was just alright. I would pick a dozen books over this one for kids, but at the same time the message was a good one: It’s okay to be different. But there are plenty of better books out there with the same message.
  8. Monday, Monday by Elizabeth Crook (352 pages) – * I was SO disappointed in this book. It tells the story of a group of people all brought together by the tragic shooting at U of T in the sixties. It was overwrought and completely predictable. If you want a family saga that spans decades, read Joyce Carol Oates instead. Skip this book.
  9. You Must Remember This by Joyce Carol Oates (436 pages) – **** Oates is a master of epic family drama. This book tells the story of one family and their struggle to make it in America in the 50’s. It captures the decade perfectly. The story follows one family in up state NY and delves into each of their lives. Of course there are sexual taboos, violence and even boxing. What else would you expect from JCO?
  10. The Skin Collector by Jeffery Deaver (448 pages) – ** Bored. I’d never read Deaver before and I doubt I will again. It’s not that it wasn’t good, it was just basic. This book didn’t challenge my intellect and it was fairly predictable. There are better detective mysteries out there.
  11. Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins (384 pages) – ***** Yes. Just, yes.
  12. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (386 pages) – ***** I read this a few months before it’s US release and I predicted that people would be disappointed and a little pissed at this book. Why? Because Murakami has somewhat of a cult following and this book isn’t really what the fans are expecting. There is no other world. No cats. No deep wells. It is a minimalist book in style and content. Almost stark and cold. Now that being said, I loved it.
  13. Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch (387 pages) – *** I’ve reviewed this a couple of times here on my blog, but here you go. This book was full of unlikable people doing very nasty things. Like in  The Dinner, Koch uses friendship as the foundation for the moral questions that arise. This book is fast paced, well written and pretty gross. I enjoyed it.
  14. The Quick by Lauren Owen (544 pages) **** – Gothic, dark, and paced like a gothic novel, The Quick is a slow study in horror. I enjoyed the different POV’s throughout, and I enjoyed the world that was created here. Fans of Penny Dreadful should check this out.
  15. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris (352 pages) *** – Ugh. I guess I went though a phase of reading books about unlikable people. This was one of them. A dentist gets his entire life hacked. Someone creates a FB page for him, his business and uses it as a platform to make some pretty ugly remarks about Jewish people. He struggles with getting people to believe that it wasn’t him. But you almost don’t care. There are page long paragraphs about inane things – like a woman putting her hair in a pony tale. Seriously. It got to be a little much. The idea was good, but it was a struggle near the end.
  16. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta – **** I had to read this before the show started. (The show is incredible. If you are not watching it you are missing out) Perrotta is the master of writing suburbia (Election, Little Children) and he doesn’t disappoint here. What would you do if people suddenly disappeared? Perrotta looks at life after and it is often comical and uncomfortable. A great read.
  17. The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti (368 pages) ***** – Perhaps my favorite book of the year. It’s a delightful and funny read that will make you want to travel and eat cheese. A memoir of sorts, it tells the tale of one man (the writer) and his quest to discover the secrets of the world’s greatest piece of cheese. Just read it. You won’t be sorry.
  18. Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain (298 pages) – ***** I loved this book! It’s been a film favorite of mine for years, but I never got around to reading the book til now. I followed it up with the HBO miniseries starring Kate Winslet and it was pretty much word for word. This is a feminist story about a strong woman who trusts the wrong people. Super fun and super fast read. AND, it takes place in Pasadena, where I grew up.
  19. Crooked River by Valerie Geary (320 pages) – **** This was a coming of age story wrapped up in a murder mystery. I read it pretty fast and enjoyed the characters. The book is told from the POV of two sisters. Their mother has just died and now they are living in a meadow with their bee keeping dad, Bear. It’s was exciting, fun and kind of a page turner. I figured out “who dun it” by page thirty, but it didn’t ruin the trip for me.
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