Thursday, December 31, 2015

The 2015 Book Review

Drum Roll, please.

Why? Because it's time...for...the...2015 Book Review! I know, I know - you've all been waiting eagerly for this post to appear in your social media feeds, and waiting, eagerly for me to tell you what to read in 2016.

Oh, you haven't? You forgot I even had a blog?


So did I. And no, "blogging more" is not one of my 2016 resolutions. Mostly because I think resolutions are dumb. Mostly because I don't keep my resolutions. Ergo, they are dumb. Also, I'm totes good at logic and stuff.

But on to the real reason you are here - not my I-think-I'm-funny-witty repartee (with myself) - but the books!

True Confessions:
In my 2014 book review, I said that I wanted to read the following 4 books: The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

Guess how many of them I read in 2015?


If you guessed "None of them" you would be right. I'm the worst.

I started Anna Karenina. I think I got as far as the horse race (spoilers?). I meant to finish In Cold Blood because I started that in 2013, but never got around to it. I talked about Cloud Atlas with Tanner - but I'm not sure that counts (even though he did give me a very comprehensive breakdown of the plot...), and I went to see The Great Divorce as play. So, all in all, I am the worst.

The Worst (Book):
Speaking of The Worst, surprisingly I did not have a Worst Book for 2015. By "Worst Book" I mean a book that was either terribly written, or a book that prompted a visceral reaction, like the one I had to Gone Girl (reaction: vomit). So, I'll just keep going with Gone Girl as the worst book for the rest of my life. *Shudder*

Resounding Meh(s) or Not All They're Cracked Up to Be
The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy, #1)
The False Prince and The Runaway King, books 1 and 2 in the Ascendance Trilogy by Jennifer A. Neilsen. These books are basically a poor man's Queen's Thief by Megan Turner Walen. If you liked Gen's voice and character, you'll find a similar one in these books. But just read The Queen's Thief books instead. They're so much better.

The Messenger and Son by Lois Lowry, books 3 and 4 of The Giver Quartet. I read The Giver with my GT Language Arts class this semester, and so decided to tackle the last two books in the series. I read Gathering Blue (book 2) several years ago and really did not like it. The Messenger and Son were just okay. After the rich complexity and depth of The Giver, they just didn't measure up. If you're a fan of The Giver and you like the ambiguity of the ending, I would recommend not reading these books. The answers to the questions are not nearly as satisfying as the ambiguity.

Recommendable Rereads:
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls - I re-read this for book club, and I may have mentioned this in a book review a few years ago, but it's fantastic. Read it.

The Giver by Lois Lowry - Also re-read for book club, and then again for school. I re-read this book twice in 2015. And I can't wait to have an excuse to read it again.

Most Thought Provoking:
Citizen: An American Lyric
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankin and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehsi Coates. I had to read these two books for my Multicultural American Literature course. Truthfully, I would probably never have read these books if it wasn't for a class, but I'm glad I did. They challenged my worldview and some of my preconceptions about the world around me, and that's what books should do, right? As much as I'd really rather just read books about dragon slippers and children fighting space battles, it's important to read books that offer a different perspective on the world as we know it. Do I agree with everything presented by Rankin and Coates? No, I don't - but I appreciate being able to see things from their point of view.

Favorite Books:
In part because I read a lot of not-incredible book, and in part because I read a lot of incredible books, I don't have an Absolute Favorite for the year. The following books are the ones that stood out, that I enjoyed, talked about, and thought about long after I finished the last page.

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard. Friends, I don't read a lot of nonfiction,  mostly because I like books about dragon slippers and children fighting space battles, and those are not real, apparently. But I read The River of Doubt for my book club, and it was definitely one of my favorites for the year. It's an intriguing story, as well as historically interesting. It is not about Teddy Roosevelt as president, but rather after his presidency.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. A fifth grade boy with a rare disease that causes his features to be disfigured goes to regular school for the first time. You should read this book if you're a fifth grader, if you're a fifth grade teacher, or if you are a human being.

The Martian by Andy Weir. I don't think anyone is applauding Weir's work for being particularly literary or anything - but it does have a special "something" about it. I love survival stories - I always have. I read the unabridged version of Robinson Crusoe by the fifth grade. I poured over the missionary medical book Where There is No Doctor many,  many times in my childhood, and consequently by the age of eight or so could tell you how to get venom out of a snake bite (duh: slit two holes around the snake bite and suck it out and spit - quickly!) and how to build the most healthy latrines (duh: make sure they are down stream from where the drinking water is taken!). So, The Martian is totally my kind of book. It's funny (let's be honest: it's funnier than Robinson Crusoe, but so is watching paint dry, so that's not a great example), it's endearing, and all that good stuff. Read it before you see the movie.

In the Woods and The Likeness, books 1 and 2 of The Dublin Murder Squad by Tana French. I happened upon these books because I saw the title "In the Woods" and immediately sang to myself "Into the Woods!" and picked up the book. It's nothing to do with fractured fairy tale musicals, but it's a psychological murder mystery. Each book in the series is told from the perspective of a different, peripheral character from the previous book. It's important to know that so that you don't get too attached. It's a series in that they all take place in Dublin, and they are all loosely affiliated with the homicide unit. There's five in the series now.

Ender's Shadow (Ender's Shadow, #1)
Ender's Shadow by Orsen Scot Card. I don't know why it's taken me 30 years to read this book, but it did. I've read Ender's Game several times (read: four or five...), and I've read the rest of the series, which gets progressively stranger and stranger. Because the rest of the books in the series were so strange, I didn't want to read Ender's Shadow. I'm glad I finally did - it's remarkable. It's not Ender's Game, but it's not porcine-tree-aliens, either. It's Bean's story, told parallel to the events of Ender's Game. I would recommend reading Ender's Game, first - so consider this a two-fer.

Goals for 2016:
I would really like to finish Anna Karenina and In Cold Blood and The Other Wes Moore and 1Q84 and several others that I started but failed to finish. I would like to start (and finish) Cloud Atlas and The Great Divorce and One Hundred Years of Solitude and several of the other books I have on my to-read list.

But mostly - mostly - I just want to read a lot. I do so hate setting resolutions, because I'm rather dreadful at keeping them. My goals for 2016 are simply this: that I devote more hours to reading than I do watching television (harder than it sounds) or playing candy crush (harder than it sounds), and that I balance my avid taste for fiction with a sensible dose of nonfiction (harder than it sounds).

What have you read and loved (or hated) in 2015? What are you looking forward to reading in 2016?

Happy Reading, friends!

Book Reviews from Years Past (In case this post wasn't long enough for you...)
2011 - Part II & Part III (Yes, apparently it was a THREE PARTER that year. I have no life - have I ever mentioned that?)