Misc. Reading

I am creating this page as part of fulfilling my New Year’s Resolution to keep track of the books I read this year. I’m not much for writing reviews but I will rate them for you in case you need book suggestions.

Here it is. The Books I have read in 2014:

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  Rating: All stars out of infinity. Award: None of the big ones but did get “Publisher’s Weekly Best Children’s Book of the Year – 2006.

This is one of the best books I have ever read and I cannot CAN. NOT. recommend it highly enough.

2. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Award: None but Tim Burton is making it into a movie, which makes sense.

This is a fantastical book. The photographs are haunting. The story is original and charming and exciting. It’s a book for young adults but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I finished it on Jan. 14 and that is the day the sequel came out! So that is sort of coincidental. Good read.

3. White Oleander by Janet Fitch. Rating: 3ish out of 5 stars. Award: None but Oprah loved it.

I know I’m late to the game here since this was published the year Brigid was born (1999) and has already come and gone as a movie with all blond actresses in it. If someone gives you this book because they don’t want it anymore, go ahead and read it. It’s engrossing. I think I was so disgusted with the mother that my fury clouded some of my judgement. It’s a story of a young girl who goes through several foster homes in LA when her mother is convicted of murdering her boyfriend. In my opinion, that’s not a good mother.

4. March by Geraldine Brooks. Rating: 4 out of 5 annoyings. Award: Nope.

I’m going to write a blog post on this one but in brief: this is a very well-written, well-imagined book whose protagonist I found utterly unsympathetic. I haven’t read Little Women in decades and it may have helped a bit to review it before reading this novel which tells the story of Mr. March’s adventures during the Civil War. I found Mr. March to be a boor surrounded by far more noble characters. Trivia: at the close of the book I discovered that its author is married to Tony Horwitz, the author of the book I’m now reading Midnight Rising, about John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry.

5. Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi. Rating 4 out of 4 easy stars. Award: Fuhgeddaboudit.

This book is a breezy and fun read if you are a fan of the movie “Goodfellas” which I definitely am. This is the book that inspired the movie and the movie got it spot on. I could hear Ray Liotta’s voice as I was reading the interviews with Henry Hill.  It’s a quick read. It is interesting that after seeing the movie, now reading the book….several old wiseguys were arrested in January 2014 for the Lufthansa heist. Also the author was married to the late Nora Ephron so he must be fantastic. It’s a good beach read.

6. Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz.  Rating: 3 out of 4 History Units. Award: NY Times Notable Book 2011, which is better than a stick in the eye.

Highly recommend for students of the Civil War. I have read a bunch of books about the Civil War but this one captures the emotions North and South in the years leading up to the war.

7. Wicked by Gregory Maguire. Rating: 5 out of 5 green stars. Awards: No

At first I thought I wouldn’t like this book because it seemed to be one of those fantasy books with made up worlds and words. As it turns out, it is exactly that and it is so good. It really is a treatise on evil beautifully woven into a Wizard of Oz back story. I’m not a big fan of the movie but now I want to watch it to see how it changes with this book’s perspective. If you haven’t already, read it! I am hoping to see the musical when the girls and I are in NYC this summer.

8. The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars by Paul Collins. Rating: Half of whatever rating system you want to use. Award: There ain’t no award fer stoopid.

As you may guess from the title, this is two stories in one book. One being a murder mystery that lets us know where Breaking Bad got the bathtub idea. The other being the outbreak of tabloid wars between the NYC newspapers and their owners (Hearst, Pulitzer and the like). One story captures the reader’s attention (murder), the other doesn’t (tabloids). It feels like the author was looking for a thesis subject that no one else had thought of. This could be two books. I wouldn’t bother if I were you.

9. The Chelsea Girl Murders by Sparkle Hayter. Rating: 100% James Patterson badness. Award: Yeah, right.

I hate to get personal but I’m going to…is Sparkle Hayter, the author’s real name? That’s something. This book is overflowing with pop culture references, overly coy, cloying, and self-consciously aware of its own cuteness. It angers me that books (and it’s one of a series) have been published and I know so many fine writers who haven’t.  Do. Not. Read.

10. The Little Friend by Donna Tartt. Rating: Two thumbs up, five stars, 100% good read. Award: She had already won a Pulitzer so what the hell does she need with another award.

This is a big book, 550 pages or so but well worth the time. I liken it to a To Kill a Mockingbird, The Help, The Secret Life of Bees. The story is set in the deep south of the 1970s and is narrated by an 11-year-old girl named Harriet. Her brother was murdered when she was just a baby and the book tells of how that event shaped her life and that of her sister and her whole family. Beautifully written. I’m sorry I waited so long to read it.

11. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. Rating: Read it and read my blog post about it here. Award: 2011 National Book Award for Fiction, 2012 Alex Award from the American Library Association

The Trial of Elizabeth Cree by Roger Ackroyd. Rating: What? Award: Noawardforyou!

Years and years ago, my father told me that if I wasn’t enjoying a book, I should just put it down. There is no law saying anyone has to finish a book they don’t like. Even in college, I took a test on Moby Dick and The Sound and the Fury. Did I read them? No, but I could still take a test and get an A in the class because the professor was visiting from Cornell and didn’t really care what we wrote in our blue books.  Anyway, I was staying with this Elizabeth Cree book because I am tracking my books but finally I couldn’t do it any longer. I didn’t give two shits about any of the characters, couldn’t follow the story line and had no idea why Karl Marx was in it. I am not giving this book a green light.

12. The Truth About the Henry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker. Rating: 10 summer reading points out of 10. Award: No ‘merican awards but plenty of French ones.

This is a big book but it reads so quick. The characters are engaging. The plot/mystery flows and keeps the reader’s attention. Fabulous book right to the last drop. My only issue with it was the author (and it is translated from French but still) used the 2008 US presidential elections as a plot tool to convey urgency. It didn’t tie in with the story and seemed a small distraction. And he clearly had a French man boner for Obama, which I most definitely can not relate to. C’est un livre magnifique!

13. The Vanishing of Katherina Linden by Helen Grant Rating: Top Notch Mystery! Award: 2011 Alex Award from the American Library Association

I have waited too long to update this list so I can’t remember details on this book. I know I really enjoyed it and liked the surprise ending. Could be a YA novel, I’m not sure. Set in Germany with an adolescent girl narrator.  I say, read it.

14. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt Rating: 10 out of 10 Touching Beautiful Must Read Stars Award: 2013 Alex Award from the American Library Association and half a dozen mentions as one of the best books of 2013.

I bought this in an airport when visiting my pal Judy a couple of weeks ago (July 2014). Again, a teenage girl narrator who has lost someone she loved. Book is set in 1987 and delves into the newly-arrived AIDS crisis. This book is laugh out loud funny and heartbreaking at the same time. I have teenage daughters and June is depicted accurately and lovingly as a smart, sad, funny exasperating girl. This is a very fine book and I highly HIGHLY recommend it.

Before You Sleep by Linn Ullman Rating: 5 Nejs

This book is by Linn Ullman daughter of Liv Ullman and Ingmar Bergman so she has that goin’ for her, which is nice. She has been lauded in the NY Times Book Review so I got one of her books. I tried, I really did but Nej, not gonna do it. If Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and this book are any indication….Sweden is one bleak place full of beautiful people. Left it in NYC.

15. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Rating: 15 out of 10 incredible mystery stars. Award: None

One of the best books I’ve ever read. Go get it right now and read it. What? I said now, shoo go get it! Read it before the movie comes out!

16. The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson Rating: 4 out of 5 Bryson stars Award: None

If you love Bill Bryson, you will love this book. I really enjoyed it and did some laughing out loud on the plane back from NY. For those not familiar with his writing, Bryson writes books about traveling the world or the country. He’s an observer and he’s funny. He can sometimes be a bit caustic and his anti-Reagan snipes got to me a bit but this is still a fun book. Since it was published in 1989 and I think he did the traveling in 1987, it’s also a reminder of travel before there were IPhones and GPS.

I read it in one day on an airplane, it’s that kind of book.

17. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides Rating: 3 out of 5 Pulitzer book rating increments Award: 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Oprah liked it and some other awards.

I liked this book. Eugenides’ storytelling is creative, his writing is beautiful. I recognize those elements. I also know it won the Pulitzer for fiction. It took me a month to read. It is a good book but it just didn’t grab me by my eyeballs and insist that I read it. I know people who love it and again, it won the Pulitzer which is waaaayyyy better than a National Book Award.

18. Mr. White’s Confession by Robert Clark Rating: 3 out of 5 mystery points Award: 1999 Edgar Award

I don’t know what the hell it is with award-winning books but they just don’t always hit on all cylinders. This is an Edgar Award winner published in 1999. I thought the story was strong, characters interesting. He rambled on a bit in a couple of places and I skimmed that. Very noir mystery set in St. Paul, MN during the winter of 1939. Engrossing story. I had some issues with one of the detective’s relationship with a 16-year-old girl (I have daughters that age). I get that it was a philosophical book as well as a mystery but the problem is, just like The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, great book and you get to the very end and think, “What?” I think I know whodunit but I have no idea why.  Good book but unsatisfying ending. If someone gives it to you or you find it in a rental property, go ahead and read it.

19. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon Rating: A- Award: 2004 Alex Award

This is such a good and endearing book especially if you know any kids on the Autism spectrum. Haddon captures the Asperger’s child so well. The author’s writing and plotting is very unique and grabs the attention of the reader quickly. I read this in two sittings. It opens soon on Broadway. Recommend.

20. A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson Rating: Average Award Winning Mystery Score Award: a couple in Europe

This is a mystery in Portugal where the book starts at two ends and they meet in the middle. One story takes place during WWII and the second in the 1990’s and it all ties together. It’s fine.

21. The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook Rating: B+/A- Award: 1997 Edgar Award for Best Novel

Good mystery nice twist at the end without being ridiculous. Solid vacation read.

22. Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc Rating: A+++ Award: No big ones but 2003 NY Times 10 Best Books of the Year.

This is a superb book and I’m going to blog about it.

23. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith Rating: Definite read. Award: No big ones but a 2013 LA Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller

I don’t really get why JK Rowling has a fake man’s name that she uses to write mystery books when everyone knows it’s her but whatever. She is a fantastic story teller for those of you who haven’t heard of the Harry Potter series. She did pretty well with those and has now written two in this series of detective novels. My brother just brought over the Silkworm. I think that’s the name of the second one which I will start once I finish, The Orphan Train.

24. The Bottoms by Joe Lonsdale Rating: Love it, get it. Award: 2000 Edgar Award for Best Novel and others

I’m happy that I’m winding up the year with books I really enjoyed and would recommend. This is an Edgar Award winning book reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s beautifully written and a great whodunit crime story.

25. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline Rating: 4.5 stars Award: None which would be surprising if the teenager part of the story were not so self-conscious.

This a good book to end the year on. I really liked this book despite some uneven writing. It is two stories and oddly enough her writing in the contemporary sections is not as good. Prior to reading this book, I had never heard of the orphan trains of the late 18th and early 20th centuries from NYC to the midwest. Kline is a strong storyteller and has inspired me to learn more about the orphan trains and immigrant life in turn of the century New York.


2015 Books

1. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith Rating: Yes Read It Award: None that I know of

2. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb Rating: Yes Read It Award: Oprah’s Book Club so that’s something.

3. Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen Rating: Fun Read Award: Nope

4. Ruby by Cynthia Bond Rating: Beautiful Book Award: Oprah called it again

5. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan Rating: Yes Read It Award: 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, I don’t know about that, but it’s good.

6. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn Rating: Stupid Award: Gone Girl made up for this book.

7. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl Rating: Read it! Award: Nope

8. Abdication by Juliet Nicolson Rating: Good, lame ending Award: Nope

9. The Secret History by Donna Tartt Rating: Read, one of my new fave authors Award: I don’t think so.



18 thoughts on “Misc. Reading

  1. The Book Thief was great, wasn’t it? (And it is technically considered a YA book, which blows my mind). The movie is coming out soon, and even the trailer for that looks pretty good. Happy reading.

    1. I saw the movie and I thought the book would be awesome. I have yet to read it though. Have you seen the film and if so how does it compare to the book? I always find the books better 🙂

  2. E.

    I agree whole-heartedly with The Book Thief! I read it a few years ago and have been meaning to pick it up again. WWII fiction always catches my interest. 🙂

  3. Andrew

    I just started doing this too! But doing a whole review / record tracking tab on your blog is a genius idea! I might have to steal this from you. As of right now, I just have a stupid Word Doc. This is awesome. But it’s coming from you, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

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