Books Read In January 2011

As I walked through Barnes & Noble on Sunday and browsed the shelves of real, actual books only to purchase ebook versions of the three I wanted the most for my Nook even I had to admit that it was a shame that this is what books have become to me.  But the truth of the matter is I'm not sure I read 7 books total in all of 2010 and I read 7 books in January alone with hopefully another 7 or more to come in February. To be fair I was bedridden for close to a week with the flu and I've been taking public transportation more frequently but last year when I was sick or on the Metro it was TV and music that entertained me not books. I don't like loving my Nook but it's helped me recapture my love of a good story and for that I thank it.

*All reviews below contain very minor spoilers though I've done my best to not mention any major, story altering plot points. Depending on your attitude towards spoilers proceed with caution. 

Books Read:

1. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Rating : 1/5
Comments: This is my book club's book this month so I'm not going to get as profuse as I want to because I know at least one member reads this blog. The first few times I ranted about this book to people I phrased my dislike of the book as "Well written but I hated all the characters for being such miserable people". After thinking about it some more I've come to the conclusion that it's not so much that the characters were miserable people or horrible people because I certainly think you can write a good story about bad people but that what really made this book so annoying to me is that I didn't find anyone in it very interesting.  It wanted to be this epic Victorian-esque soap opera but it was full of middle class white suburban people who never did anything more or less tragic than anyone who's actually lived that same life.  I was also increasingly bothered by the book's constant references to actual popular bands and music artists of the late 90s/early 00s. The author's seeming attempt to make me feel like this was a real story only made me feel pandered to. There's a whole scene that takes place at the 930 Club in DC, a music venue I've been to countless times, and I was so bothered by the scene that I almost stopped reading the book right there and then.
I look forward to discussing this book with my fellow Vikings (as we call ourselves in my book club) in two weeks but  I don't see myself ever wanting to revisit this book again.

2. On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Rating: 5/5
Comments: After suffering through the immature "adult" stories of Freedom I turned to a YA novel that had come highly recommend as a palate cleanser.  I spent a few years working in the childrens book department of a Barnes & Noble and if there's one thing I learned it's that most of the best books being written today are being written for young adults and teens.  On The Jellicoe Road is one of the most beautiful stories I've ever read and it was perfectly written. I'm not at all ashamed to say that every one of the last 50 pages brought a tear to my eye and I wanted the story to go on forever.  The book tells two parallel stories of two connected groups from different time periods and even though many of the connections between the stories are easy to figure out the payoff is still worth it. Though it's written by an Australian author and takes place in Australia I think any starry eyed American youth would instantly connect with the story and this starry eyed 30 year old felt a deep yearning for feelings that have already passed me by in every page.

3.Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Rating: 3.5/5
Comments: If I was only allowed to use one word for this review it would be weird. If allowed two words they would be very weird. I'm a huge fan of Libba Bray's Great and Terrible Beauty series and for those three books alone think she's one of the best authors for teens out there today. Not to mention that I appreciate how well she captured the voice and personality of a teenage male in in Going Bovine.  But I can't quite get past how inaccessibly bizarre whole chapters of this book were.  There's also my deep shame in not seeing it as a modern retelling of Don Quixote until several reviews pointed it out to me (this is me doing you all a solid by mentioning this) even when the enigmatic main female character goes by Dulcie. My only excuse is that I was only an English major for a little over a semester before switching to theater and we never did Man of La Mancha. By the time I finished with the book I loved it but I can't enthusiastically recommend it because it's not a book for everyone and there were long parts of it I didn't enjoy reading very much at all.

4. The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
Rating: 4/5
Comments: I've been meaning to read this book since reading a review of it this past summer.  The review I read mentioned that it's about two sisters and something of a modern retelling of Sense & Sensibility and while I have no sisters of my own I've always been a sucker for a well told sisterly tale not to mention one of the legion of Austen-ites. And the story the book tells about the sisters is good, it's really good. There's also a lot in there about the importance of books which made it a little awkward and guilt ridden to read on my Nook but was still very interesting and beautifully told. But the love stories were clunky and there was way too much space taken up with a story line involving dot com start ups pre-9/11 that I found dull and out of place. Maybe it's because I wasn't expecting that to be a major part of the book but it was not a pleasant surprise to find myself reading page after page of clueless characters dealing with a downfall I could see coming.  The book also deals quite directly with 9/11 and as someone still working through my only personal connection to that date with the exception of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close I don't like seeing it pop up in my literature.

5. Juliet,Naked by Nick Hornby
Rating: 5/5
Comments: This book did everything right that I thought Freedom did wrong.  It was populated mostly by unlikeable people but they were interesting unlikeable people that I wanted to continue reading about and it took a fictional musician and gave him a storyline so understandable and real that I felt like I was reading about someone real. There was a scene towards the end that threatened to ruin everything for me but on the whole I liked it. I can only say if you read the book version of High Fidelity and enjoyed it you'll really love this book. Hornby does male music obsessed geek very well.

6. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Rating: 2/5
Comments: They are writing some strange books these days for young adults and teens.  This book crawled under my skin and made it feel dirty and I can't imagine what kind of damage it would have done had I read it as an actual young adult or teenager.  I can't go into particulars without getting overly spoilery but the main "romance" in this book was not a love story I enjoyed reading and the amount of sex scenes as vague and non descriptive as they were made me feel like an old lady b/c in my day we had to sneak Danielle Steele or Anne Rice novels for that kind of thing.  The world building was cool and its take on "apocalyptic" scenario was interesting but the main character was not someone I wanted to spend much time around.  This book was less than 200 pages and took me over a week to read because I couldn't read too much of it at once.

7. Across the Universe by Beth Revis
Rating: 4/5
Comments: I just noticed that Good Reads lists this as Book #1 and while I didn't read this as the first of a series I'm not against the author continuing the story. There's really not all that much I can say about it.  Teen SciFi is about the only SciFi I ever enjoy reading but this put the soap opera in space opera. It was a good easy read and the two main characters were likable but for something that told such a vast story there was very little meat to it.  I think while most YA/Teen novels can be enjoyed by adults some are more strictly written towards their audience and this book felt very young to me even though like all of the other YA/teen books I reviewed it contained a healthy dose of sex.  I do have to give the author credit because while I figured out half of the mystery very early on the other half took me very much by surprise in a good way.

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