Great news, guys! This month, I finally finished my master’s program for Library and Information Science! Whoohoo!
I have been short and absent for a little while because most of my attention has gone toward my final research project write-up, which I finally submitted two weeks ago. I haven’t really had much time to read physical books here recently (I’ve listened to several audiobooks this month, of course), but here at the end I was able to finish a couple. It seemed like an appropriate time to do a month in review and catch you up on the “good,” the “bad,” and the “neutral” books I *experienced* in April. Here we go!
I read and listened to several books this month that I really enjoyed, and it feels appropriate to start off with them. In no particular order, here they are:
Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty
That’s right! I finally got my hands on the audiobook of this fantastic thriller, and I have to say it did not disappoint. Moriarty’s books tend to be only slightly remarkable to me, particularly because I, as a very recently married, childless American woman in her 20’s, can’t really relate to the characters (too much ennui, if you know what I mean). So, imagine my glee at discovering that one of the main characters was, in fact, my EXACT age! Jane made the entire story more appealing to me, as she offered a perspective on the situations I could better understand. The plot twists and coincidences were spectacular! I have to admit that I had solved almost the entire mystery of the Trivia Night well before the characters arrived there, but knowing the conclusion did not ruin the thrill of the chase! Plus, unlike some mysteries of it’s kind, I didn’t reach the moment of revelation and think, “Wait, that’s it?” All in all, this book has everything a drama-loving chick lit reader could desire, and it offers it in an excellent and well-classed manner. Plus, who can deny the storytelling wonder that is Caroline Lee?
The Girl with All the Gifts, M. R. Carey
To be completely honest, this book took me by surprise. I found it on a list of recommended audiobooks based of the performance of Finty Williams, and it had previously been recommended to me by a coworker at Barnes & Noble. As I point out in my GoodReads review, normally when I come across a book, movie, or TV show with a zombie apocalypse premise, I discard it. They just aren’t my cup of tea. This zombie apocalypse tale, however, was impossible to ignore. Melanie is such an interesting character, right from the start. Carey does an excellent job of capturing child-like innocence; it stands in harsh contrast to the actual virus that is playing out in the rest of the world. The characters are also beautifully complex. They each fill an apocalyptic stereotype–doctor, sergeant, humanitarian, soldier, monster–and yet there struggles over right, wrong, life, and death are very real. Carey does more than just deliver the traditional horror story of an abandoned planet left to rot from its own disease; he tells the same story in a new way that leads you to really think about the possibilities and the consequences. I will probably never read anything like this again, and that’s okay, but for what it’s worth this is now one of my more favored books of all time.
Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything In Between, Lauren Graham
This book was delightful. I love how Graham wrote in a stream-of-consciousness style, where she trips over her own sentences, starts and stops her stories, and tries to pull the wool over her audience’s eyes before ultimately admitting she was fibbing. It was not necessarily a life-changing book (although the intellectual components of it succeeded what I had expected; I had no idea Graham had an MFA!). However, it was heartwarming and encouraging. In many ways, I think Graham was writing to all of the Rorys who watched Gilmore Girls as they grew up, speaking to them with just enough wisdom and humility to encourage good decisions and confidence. I’m not entirely sure what I liked most about this book, but what I do know is that there’s no way I couldn’t like it.
Let’s face it–when you read enough books, you’re going to come across some stinkers. This month’s let-downs were a surprise to me; I picked them assuming they would be excellent. However, I feel like I have some pretty good reasons for not fully appreciating them.
Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Let me just say that I really wish YA novelists would stop trying to write “historical fiction” about the 1970s and ’80s. It’s just not working for me; it feels too inauthentic.
I think this book had a wonderful, inspirational premise that simply wasn’t carried to fruition. What was an attempt at complexity came across as confusion. For instance, I could never figure out the family reality for either character because it seemed to change with no warning quite often. Also, while I understood the trope of the older brother, I did not necessarily feel like his significance in the end filled up the chasm created by mentions of him. This book’s most redeeming quality was its honest treatment of sexual discovery for two young boys, which was treated with taste and discretion. However, I don’t think that the fact that it openly addresses homosexuality should forgive some of its other shortcomings. There are other LGBTQ friendly YA fiction books that handle the subject in a better way.
And, actually (perhaps most disappointing of all), I didn’t care for Lin-Manuel Miranda on the audiobook! His changes in inflection for characters’ speaking voices was not consistent, and I frequently lost the conversation as he was reading.
Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon
Yes, I read this one because of the upcoming movie. The way the film preview portrayed it kept me from realizing how much of a romance it actually is. While I have my qualms about teen love stories and their inflation of reality, this one wasn’t terrible. What bothered me more is, I don’t like reading stories about bad mothers.
I couldn’t even finish the film Mommy Dearest. My mom is, like, my best friend, and I hate thinking poorly of mother figures, ever. I felt like the conclusion of this book (without, hopefully, giving too much away) destroyed a well-established relationship between mother and daughter, for quite frankly no reason. This family bond was broken so that the future could potentially bring to teenagers into a romantic relationship. Even if the mother-daughter situation is eventually solved, I don’t care for the situations this type of plot creates. It’s like If I Stay. While I’m happy Mia decides to live, I hate that it is because of Adam. This book led me to the same problems. Don’t hurt a mother’s love to make your childhood fling work out in the end.
Diary of an Oxygen Thief
You know, I never liked Holden Caulfied, so reading about him as an “alcoholic,” as the back of this book says, should have tipped me off to how little I would enjoy this story. Don’t get me wrong–I think it has a purpose. I have seen other reviews that talk about how this book is terrible because it glorifies harming others and selfishness. I don’t think it so much glorifies it as puts it under the same microscope as “Black Mirror” does for its commentaries. The reality is that many of us do what Aisling eventually does to our main character; photographing, highlighting, capturing others’ pain is an everyday occurrence, and we need a well-written commentary on it to open our eyes to its barbarity. This book just wasn’t the right way to go about it.
This book reads, to me, like a hipster who is trying to be edgy. The plot is fairly formulaic and, at times, very intentionally offensive. This step-by-step novel style takes away a lot of the authenticity, and it suggests that very little actual creativity went into the story’s creation. Had the pages felt more authentic and less scripted, perhaps this would have been more successful. As it stands, its just a book written to get everybody riled up for no reason.
These books weren’t bad, but they weren’t spectacular either. It’s in the medium-style titles that I think we take the most comfort. Most of our reading will be at the extremes, but knowing we have these to return to is a help.
The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson
As a fan of “The Silence of the Lambs,” this book was pretty interesting to me. It was dark and creepy in all the right places, and it seems to be ahead of its time in its treatment of the Average Joe Serial Killer. I listened to the audiobook because I had never really experienced a story of its kind–one in which you are in the mind of the killer, and you know that no one knows its him. An enticing psychological drama with just enough grit to keep you interested til the end.
Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
As a former English major, I feel obligated to read a classic every once in a while and stay on top of my older book readings. I picked this one out because of several good reviews I had heard of it, including that it was significant and relevant to today. It certainly did not disappoint, even though the ending made me very sad indeed. I like how Hardy wrestles with what to do with a woman who has been wronged and is then ostracized for what has happened. It was also interesting to read Angel’s perspective and to see him struggle to figure out what was right in the given situation. It isn’t my favorite classic, but it was quite enjoyable to read.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling
The Harry Potter series is great to reread, because on your second and third times through you pick up on subtle hints you would have otherwise overlooked. I have never had a huge and overwhelming appreciation for Harry Potter; I like that it has created a generation of readers and that Rowling is unapologetic about the political undertones in the stories, but it’s simply not my story style. While I rarely read zombie books, I never read fantasy. Still, it has been enjoyable to revisit these audiobooks (read by the fantastic Jim Dale), especially alongside my husband. It was an enjoyable ride to Hogwarts as we listened to it in the car.
There you have it! My April list! I’m still thinking through the direction I want to take this blog, so keep your eyes out for changes and developments. Until then, I’m off to start the first book of May.