I read a lot of really good books last quarter. Usually, these book review posts are heavy on the “books somewhere in the middle” (AKA three out of five stars). This one, though, is heavy on the four and five star reads. I attribute this to becoming pickier with my reading choices, as well as getting off the library waitlist for several much anticipated books. Or I could be getting softer with age and rating my reads less critically. Who knows?
My goal for 2016 was to read 100 books. I’m happy to report that I ended up reading 100, according to Goodreads. Surprisingly, I’ve decided to not try to repeat that feat this year. I set my 2017 reading goal for 50 books, because I want to try to achieve a better balance between reading and writing this year. If I read more than 50? Awesome! But hopefully I’ll be able to get some writing done between books, too.
The Books I Loved
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
I was wary of this book when I first came across the (in)famous essay/book excerpt of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother published in the Wall Street Journal in 2011. I mean, as a product of ~tiger parenting~ myself, I have a lot of complicated thoughts on the subject. Chua’s writing is surprisingly witty at times, and I found myself either nodding along or grimacing at the chapters. Certain parts echoed my own childhood, while other parts made my eyebrows disappear into my hairline. I expected to find the book just okay, but I was surprised by how much I ended up loving it.
The Book of Brave by Laura Jane Williams
Is there anything Laura Jane Williams writes that I dislike? Nope. The Book of Brave is no exception. Her writing is honest and raw, and the world could always use some more of that. I can’t wait for her book Ice Cream for Breakfast to come out this April.
The Girls by Emma Cline
Considering I’ve disliked basically every hyped up publication in the last few years, I approached The Girls by Emma cline with much hesitation. After the first few chapters, though, I found my fears to be baseless. Cline is clearly talented and has a very descriptive writing style that I adored. While the plot is a little thin, the book is carried by Cline’s storytelling ability that shines throughout the novel.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
What more can I say about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that hasn’t been said? A forever favorite in a series of forever favorite books. I’m planning on gradually re-reading the entire Harry Potter series, and I’m glad that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone marked my 100th book of 2016.
I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot By the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
I Am Malala is the remarkable story of Malala Yousafzai, the girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for her advocacy work regarding girls’ education in her home country of Pakistan. I hadn’t known that Malala had been an advocate years before the shooting took place, nor did I know much about Pakistan’s history. This book was a blend of both, and while it was a little heavy on the history at times, I enjoyed every page.
It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario
I was floored by how much I enjoyed It’s What I Do. Addario’s rise as a freelance photographer and her never-ending struggle with balancing work and motherhood is a remarkable story, and I learned so much about the personal sacrifices photojournalists– especially wartime photojournalists — make in their line of work. The stories Addario shares are vivid and memorable, and I loved reading about the highs and lows of her career.
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
I knew shamefully little about the finer details of Steinem’s life and work, so when I picked up My Life on the Road I was eager to learn more about this remarkable woman. Steinem has led a remarkable life, and I loved how she shared the lessons she learned on the road as well as the unique perspective she has on her experiences being part of pivotal moments or chapters in history. Definitely a recommended read.
Places I Stopped on the Way Home by Meg Fee
Meg Fee’s essays are some of my favorites to read, and her collection Places I Stopped on the Way Home didn’t disappoint. The sixteen essays chart places that, for better of worse, have defined the person Meg is today. It’s a beautifully written collection that’s thoughtful, moving, and poetic.
The Books I Liked
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
Perhaps it’s because the many ballet scenes took me right back to my own ballerina days, but I really enjoyed Astonish Me. I guessed the plot twist maybe five pages before it happened, but even so, I found myself tearing through the book in record time. Professional ballet is a rigid yet fascinating world, and the hold that the profession has over the two generations in this book extended to me, too. I wanted to get back to the barre after reading this!
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
At age 24, Cahalan was a medical mystery. Her descent into madness was only alleviated by a lifesaving diagnosis that almost came too late. Her story in Brain on Fire was equal parts riveting and terrifying. A journalist by trade, Cahalan’s memoir was as well written as I expected it to be from a professional writer. What I didn’t expect, though, was how medically fascinating (but scary!) her story would be, and how appreciative it made me of the advancements the medical field has made over time.
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
While I fear Backman’s novels are becoming slightly formulaic, Britt-Marie Was Here was the second of his three books that made me sob, sob, and sob. Britt-Marie’s rigid life is thrown upside down when she decides she has had enough. She falls into the role of outcast and outsider in a tiny, new-to-her village, but she — and the village — quickly discovers that there is a more than meets the eye. This is a great novel that dented my heart a little at the end.
A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
Wizenberg is perhaps the most talented writer I’ve come across when it comes to food. Every recipe she shares in A Homemade Life is grounded by a story, and man, the stories are so, so good. I wish I had half her talent when it came to writing about, well, anything. This book was so comforting to read while curled up in bed on a rainy day, and it made me want to cook so many recipes.
It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort
If Purmort, a woman who lost her father, husband, and had a miscarriage in a close timespan, says that It’s Okay to Laugh, then my God, it is okay to laugh. Her excellently written essays on of loss, love, marriage, and (single) motherhood are infused with unexpected humor and disarming honesty. This book had me alternating between wanting to laugh and cry — sometimes at the same time.
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
I’m not one for retelling or reinventing stories but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Jane Steele, a Gothic retelling of the classic Jane Eyre. It’s an excellent story in its own right, and I liked how it directly acknowledged the source material rather than skirt around the fact that it’s a story inspired by another. But while there are a lot of parallels between Jane Steele and Jane Eyre, Jane Steele is definitely a story in its own right. With murders and sex and Sikh warriors, it may even be an improvement on the original material!
Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray
The second in a series about people with supernatural powers in 1920s New York City, The Diviners: Lair of Dreams was a book I enjoyed more than its predecessor. There’s quite a lot of diversity in this book, which I loved, and while it’s just as lengthy as the first book in this series it has less waffle. The alternate world of the 1920’s Bray has created in this series is incredibly vivid, to the point where it’s almost its own character in the story. I’m eager to see what books three and four of this series will hold, although I’m not holding my breath for them to be published anytime soon.
When We Collided by Emery Lord
When We Collided is the story of adolescence, grief, mental illness, and falling in love. Lord handles these tricky topics with deft and care, and I love how Vivi and Jonah’s relationship was an unorthodox YA romance. The character development’s pacing was a little off in parts, but otherwise I thought this was an excellent book.
Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rimes
I’m not super familiar with Rimes’ vast body of work on TV. With the exception of the first few seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, I haven’t really seen many of her shows. Still, I loved Year of Yes. Rimes has a distinctive voice, one I imagine permeates all of her TV shows. She documents her journey of saying yes for a year well, and by the time I was done reading I was contemplating my own year of yes, too.
The Books I Didn’t Like
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
I appreciate what Barnett was trying to do with The Versions of Us but it didn’t work. The three parallel stories she told of Jim and Eva got all jumbled up in my head as I was reading, and I couldn’t keep track of which versions was which throughout the entire novel. The different variations regarding couplings, children’s names, affairs, and professions weren’t distinct enough for me to keep them straight, and I wonder if this book would have worked better if she had told each story on its own rather than at the same time.
The Books I Didn’t Finish
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
I appreciate what Bray was trying to do with Beauty Queens. The characters were diverse and the feminist message was strong, so I’m really bummed by the fact that this book had such potential to deliver. The plot was way too over the top and outlandish for me to take seriously. I got halfway through before I decided that it wasn’t worth my time.