Reading

Books a Million: My Reading List, Part IV

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Confession: I’m not exactly on par to meet my goal of reading 52 books this year. At this rate, I’m going to have to finish a book and a half a week from now through the end of 2012—which while not unachievable, is rather unrealistic given that the only time I have to read is for 30 minutes or so before bed each night, if then. (I blame the lack of restless hours logged in a plane this year, as that’s generally when I get a good majority of my reading done.)

Still, currently on my 33rd read, I haven’t done terribly. These days, I’d say my tastes fall within three “genres:” Gillian Flynn, Jonathan Tropper, YA dystopian lit (forever and always). Yes, I know an author isn’t exactly a “genre” but I love these two for their unfaltering writing chops and I savor each book of theirs out of fear I’ll soon run out of their brilliant prose. It’s been so long that I’ve found an author, let alone two, whose every book I will read without bothering to peruse the topic or description.

Without further ado, here’s what all I managed to get through in the third quarter of this year:

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Here’s the thing: I absolutely adore John Green and his florid writing style. And I know that his audience is young adult (a genre I much like myself). However, I liked A Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska so much more than I did Katherines. The story was just a little lacking for me, though his signature wit does come through, and I liked that this book took place in a fictional town (Gutshot) in the sticks in Tennessee. It does have a good message for its target audience about “mattering,” I just think it’s not one of those YA books that necessarily appeals to BAs (big adults, ha), too. My mom would disagree: She loved Katherines. To each her own, I suppose!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

One of the few books I’ve read this year that completely lived up to the hype, Gone Girl flutters between two different perspectives: that of Nick Dunne, questionably devoted husband whose wife Amy goes missing on their fifth anniversary, and that of the abducted (or is she? we don’t know…yet) herself via past entries from her diary. Back when I worked at Entertainment Weekly, Gillian Flynn was the TV critic, and while I never knew her, I devoured her smart writing in the magazine each week. Gone Girl was everything I wanted it to be, and I love how Flynn can make you simultaneously hate all the central characters while also sympathizing with them—that’s the mark of a truly great author. Unlike many others, I didn’t hate the ending. I thought it was very apropos.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Gold by Chris Cleave

I read (and loved) Little Bee when it first came out, so when I heard about Gold, my interest was twofold: an admiration for Cleave’s writing style and an interest in anything Olympics-related (I read it the week of the opening ceremony in London). Overall, I was disappointed. The story jumped around among narrators too much for my liking, and the ending was quite anticlimactic. What I did love was how Cleave delved into the world of sprint cycling and taught me something about a sport I knew nothing about. But overall, I could have done without reading Gold.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos

While I was on a winning streak in Q2, I feel like I struck out with a lot of books in Q3—books who came from authors I have worshiped in the past. Falling Together was such an example. Marisa de los Santos’ Love Walked In was one of my favorite fictional reads of the past decade, and her follow-up Belong to Me was good but not great, and her third novel, I felt, completely struck out. How bad was it? Well, I struggled to make it halfway through, then gave up entirely. I didn’t even do that for Twilight! I was shocked to go back now and read all the glowing Amazon reviews, as I found Falling Together the disappointment of the year.

Rating: 1 out of 5

The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper

Like every Tropper novel I’ve read, I just loved this. It wasn’t an unfamiliar setting for me, having grown up in a very similar everyone-knows-your-business small town as Joe’s. For those of you who are Tropper virgins, I urge you to take this one on as your first. Joe is a successful author who leaves everything behind for an existence of glitz and glamor in New York City, but is forced to return home for the first time in ages when his father dies suddenly. All of Tropper’s reads are a bit formulaic in that they have a titular male character who is majorly screwed up and must come to terms with his past mistakes, and Joe is no different.

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Another YA trilogy—my first in months weeks! I’d heard great things about Maze and was eager to start it. It’s a pretty quick read once you get through the opening chapters, and it’s more sci-fi-like than other YA books I’ve read in the past. In short: The “Scorch” consumes the Earth, threatening the human race; as a result, Tommy finds himself trapped in the Glade, where he and all the boys (no girls) are trying to escape through the Maze and get back to the “real world”—only, to do so, they must get past the deadly Grievers guarding the exit. One thing I found interesting about Maze is that the protagonist is actually male. If you read a lot of dystopian lit, you’ll notice that the main character more often than not is female (aside from, say, Legend). This meant the book was just a bit more brutal and violent than a Delirium or a Hunger Games.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Scorch Trials (#2 of The Maze Runner) by James Dashner

Without giving anything away in case you haven’t read The Maze Runner first, I will just say that the books in this trilogy got progressively slower and more far-fetched. I had a really hard time making it through The Scorch Trials: It reminded me a bit of what the outcome would be if The Book of Eli and John Carter—neither, known for cinematic mastery—had a baby. My biggest problem with books two and three were the horrible writing, particularly the dialogue, that seemed to get only more trite as the story dragged along.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

The Death Cure (#3 of The Maze Runner) by James Dashner

And it just only worse after The Scorch Trials. The conclusion was disappointing at best. Still, I felt the need to purchase and read the prequel…

Rating: 2 out of 5

The Kill Order (Prequel to The Maze Runner) by James Dashner

While I wouldn’t necessarily rave about The Kill Order, in comparison to the other books, it was the best of the Maze series since #1. It starts nearly two decades before the first book when the Scorch first consumes the Earth (which is odd, as I always assumed it had only been a year or two since the event happened when reading the trilogy). There are different characters entirely—finally, you get a few answers—though, much like the series finale with Lost, you’ll still inevitably feel like: “that’s it?? that’s all I get?” once you finish.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

When I started this book about a family of screw-ups forced to engage and reconnect for the first time in a decade after their father dies—his one last request is that they all sit shiva for him—I thought it was the description of a terrible novel in the making. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Once again, Tropper makes you genuinely invest in every character and hope they succeed. While he’s coping with his father’s death, Judd Foxman also is dealing with a dead baby followed by a divorce after his wife cheated on him with his boss. I love all the complexities that evolve within Tropper’s relationships; they’re so realistic in their despondency. I’m now reading One Last Thing Before I Go because after finishing Flynn’s first novel (review below), I needed something a bit more lighthearted (if you can consider Tropper’s melancholy characters just that).

Rating: 5 out of 5

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

I’m warning you: This booked is seriously effed up. It’s not for the sensitive reader or the one easily offended by foul language. But it had me glued to its pages nevertheless and tearing through it in 36 hours when I should have been out finding myself a leprechaun in Ireland instead. Gillian Flynn is genius: The way she writes, her choice of language, her metaphors, her character formation. She’s the type of writer every author should aspire to be. Like Gone Girl, Sharp Objects features a cast of characters with the deepest of emotional scars; the book follows its protagonist Camille, a “Cubby” crime reporter from Chicago, back to her hometown in southern Missouri to investigate a handful of child murders. While there, she’s comes face to face with past ghosts. This book never got scary per se, but it was definitely haunting; I had chills down my spine for much of it, and I think I need to give myself some time to recover before reading Flynn’s second novel, Dark Places (which judging by the jacket description, seems to be the most frightening of all).

Rating: 5 out of 5

Up next in my Kindle queue: The Art of Fielding, How to Talk to a Widower (yet another Tropper), Dark Places (another Flynn), The Casual Vacancy (J.K. Rowling!), Cutting for Stone, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I might also return to A Discovery of Witches at some point; I made it to 40 percent but found it to creep along at a pace that made me finally put it down for good. (Please tell me it eventually gets better? Based on the recommendations by people whose opinions I respect, I really want to love it.)

What are you reading and loving this fall?

COMMENTS
  • October 1, 2012
    Ris

    I just picked up The Casual Vacancy and read half of it in one day. It’s really engaging and interesting!

    • October 1, 2012

      Good to know! I’m so nervous about it because I don’t want anything J.K. does to fail (especially when people have such high expectations for her!).

  • October 1, 2012
    Lemon

    Long time BFF, rare commentor here to say: I could not agree more on the Tropper and Gone Girl comments (didn’t hate the ending of GG, and I think Book of Joe is my favorite Tropper of all), haven’t had the balls to pick up Sharp Objects. I mostly agree on Gold’s jumping around, though I ended up caring about the characters, which is why I think I enjoyed it slightly more. I have downloaded a sample of Casual Vacancy because I assume everyone raaaves about Rowling for a reason, even if the subject matter of Harry Potter doesn’t interest me.

    • October 1, 2012

      Sharp Objects is very unsettling and just gave me the creeps (but in an “OMG, Gillian is so brilliant” sort of way). I thought you’d read another Flynn–was it Dark Places? Now that one terrifies me just reading the description. I’m going to wait until I have a husband and a puppy to protect me at night when I’m reading it!

  • October 1, 2012
    A Little Coffee

    Huh, I’ve never understood what it is that everyone so admires about Jonathan Tropper. I read This Is Where I Leave You, and it was fine, I guess, but I don’t understand what was so amazing about it! Not really interested in picking up any of his others, but to each their own.

    • October 1, 2012

      As a writer, I really admire him from a talent perspective. I’m quite analytical and dissect everything I read (which is why I found the Twilight series the most painful few weeks of my life)—and everything he writes, from sentence structure to phrasing, is just spot-on. There’s also something about his books that make me feel overwhelmingly sad and yet satisfied at the same time. It’s a feeling I can’t quite pinpoint, but his writing is like a drug—once you try (and enjoy) it, you’re hooked. Plus, coming from a tiny town, I feel like I can relate to his characters more than I can other books, as they’re all from similar backgrounds. Book of Joe was my favorite of his (so far); if you decide to give him another try, I’d opt for that one.

      • October 1, 2012
        A Little Coffee

        That’s really interesting… I’m notoriously bad at noticing the quality of writing when I’m reading, unless it’s truly awful (and I’m talking way worse than Stephanie Meyer). I’ve much more into plot; if I don’t connect with the story or find it boring, I won’t like the book no matter how good the writing is. But I always wish that I would care more about writing quality and even character development. To my great shame, I got really sucked into the Twilight series!

        • October 1, 2012

          You know, Tropper’s book don’t really have “a plot” per se, which could be precisely what you don’t like about them. They’re more lifestyles books, and it sounds like you like a lot of action in yours. (In which case, have you read all the other great YA trilogies to come out in the last couple years–Delirium, Divergent, Legend, Graceling, etc.?)

  • October 1, 2012

    wow! 33 books in 9 months is impressive!! I started Harry Potter last week! for the 1st time! I always thought they were for kids. I’m loving book 1 so far. I also loved little bee and I have the incendiary in my library read to be read. I finished “the house of the spirits” by Isabel allende last month and I loved it. I added 3 of your books to my list. I’m trying to read at least 1 hour every night so I might finish 1 book per month. This is my favorite author but his books are not on kindle editions yet: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/84824.Santiago_Gamboa

  • October 1, 2012
    Blair

    Yes, Jonathan Tropper! I’ve been on a reading streak with his books lately. I am about to start “The Book of Joe”…I loved “This Is Where I Leave You” and I thought “How to Talk to a Widower” was excellent…heartbreaking and so unflinchingly honest but it still had that characteristic wit and sarcasm. My least favorite of his so far is “Plan B”…just felt a bit far fetched to me and things were wrapped up in such a tidy little bow at the end.

    • October 1, 2012

      Good to know re: Plan B. I have How to Talk to a Widower and Plan B left of his once I’m done with his new one.

  • October 1, 2012

    That’s a seriously impressive goal and 33 books this year is AMAZING! I love to read but am so far behind. I’m also trying to read in German which goes very slowly.

    • October 1, 2012

      Now that is impressive! The only other language I even speak moderately is Spanish, and I can’t imagine trying to read in it!

  • October 1, 2012

    I just counted up, I am at 26 for the year – not too shabby considering I also finished a PhD in there! I’m with you on both Flynn and Trooper (you introduced me to both). I recently discovered Ann Patchett, which I am enjoying.

  • October 1, 2012

    I just counted up, I am at 26 for the year – not too shabby considering I also finished a PhD in there! I’m with you on both Flynn and Trooper (you introduced me to both). I recently discovered Ann Patchett, which I am enjoying.

    • October 1, 2012

      What have you read by Patchett? State of Wonder was one of my favorite reads of 2011. She’s a Nashvillian and opened the city’s only independent bookstore, Parnassus, last year. I keep forgetting to go there every time I’m in the Green Hills area, but I’m really hoping I’ll “run into” her around town one of these days…

      • October 1, 2012
        margosita

        I loved Bel Canto, which I think is generally the favorite of her books, but it’s among the top 5 I pawn off on anyone looking for recommendations. I hope you run into her, Kristin. I hear she is charming. I’d like to visit Nashville and Parnassus, too!

      • October 1, 2012
        kelly

        I’ve read State of Wonder and Bel Canto. The endings of both left my a bit unsettle – like what just happened here – which is why I liked them. I have her others on my to read list.

        • October 1, 2012
          kelly

          Excuse the typos – The endings of both left me a bit unsettled…

  • October 1, 2012
    Amy

    We’re on the same wavelength, sista.

    Love me some Tropper, though I haven’t read his latest. A Casual Vacancy is on my nightstand but I’m afraid to dive in (think I’ll restart Gone Girl first). Oh, and John Green is coming to Cinci in two weeks!

  • October 1, 2012
    Cheryl

    I am happy to see your book reviews as I am always looking for the next great read. Currently, I am re-reading The Red Tent (excellent) for a book club and just finished Bel Canto (good) for another one. The Art of Fielding is also up next for me. As far as excellent books from this past year: In the Shadow of the Banyan, The Kitchen House, and Unbroken. Last year I Enjoyed Room: A novel, Shanghai Girls and then its sequel Dreams of Joy, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, A Paris Wife, and I loved all of the Hunger Games books.

  • October 1, 2012

    I really wonder if I would have liked Gone Girl more if it hadn’t been for In the Woods. They’re not the same story but they have (to me) similarities and In the Woods is masterful, it’s poetic, it’s just that next level up from Gone Girl. I just finished the follow-up to it, The Likeness, and again I am in awe of Tana French. She is brilliant.

    I loved The Fault in Our Stars, but The Abundance of Katherines was actually my second favorite of Green’s.

    I’m going to give Sharp Objects a chance next, I think.

  • October 1, 2012

    You really hit the Dasher books this quarter!
    I’m in the middle of reading Gold so I kind of skipped all over this post. I’m not sure what I think of the book yet but I do like the storyline.

  • October 2, 2012

    It’s funny how so much of our reading overlaps. I’m currently reading Gone Girl…it’s so, so good. I am loving it. I’m also reading The Art of Being a Wallflower and A Discovery of Witches.

    I just recently read The ARt of Fielding. Loved it.

  • October 2, 2012

    I read Gone Girl a few weeks ago and LOVED it! Her other novels sound intriguing, but to be honest, I’m a little hesitant due to the subject matter. Based on your recommendation, I’m going to give Book of Joe a try!

    • October 3, 2012

      Sharp Objects was a *tough* one to read for the subject matter–definitely made me cringe throughout. I am also hesitant about Dark Places—it sounds like her darkest one yet.

  • October 2, 2012
    Lacey Smith

    These look great! I’m always looking for new books to get my daughter. Right now she’s reading “Through Angel’s Eyes” by Steve Theunissen, you can check it out and get it right off the website http://sbpra.com/stevetheunissen/, and she absolutely loves it. I may get her one of these, that you’ve listed, for her birthday. Thanks for the reviews and suggestions!

    • October 3, 2012

      I’d stay away from the Maze Runner. If she likes sweet stories, I’d go for Looking for Alaska or The Fault in Our Stars (both books I reviewed earlier this year). If she likes smart writing, I’d go for something Tropper. If she digs mystery/suspense, get her Gone Girl!

      • October 4, 2012
        Lacey Smith

        Thanks for the suggestions!

  • October 2, 2012
    Nicole

    In regards to “A Discovery of Witches”- I felt the exact same way. You just have to make it to the 50% point and it will take off, I promise. I even put the book down and had to read a quick YA book or two in between the first and second half. The latter part of the story was riveting. The same can be said for the second book in the series, “Shadow of Night.” I found the beginning slow, but after the 50% point, I devoured it. Plus the second story is set in Elizabethian England, so you get a change of venue.

    • October 3, 2012

      Good to know. I was actually at 40 percent when I put it down and decided to read something quicker (Tropper, in this case) for a bit of a break–and then I just never came back to it. Seems like a lot of work having to force yourself through a book, you know? So many people rave about this series, though, so I will give it another go…

  • October 3, 2012

    52 books a year sounds impossible. I love reading, but since I started my blog, I’ve been struggling to find the time to finish a handful of books a year; do you read a book with one hand and type up a post with the other?

    • October 3, 2012

      Yeah, I hear you. Honestly, if I weren’t blogging, I think I would have hit 52 a month ago–but all my “free time” goes to tending to my blog, reading other blogs or staying up-to-date on my social media channels!

  • October 3, 2012
    Andrea J

    I just finished Gone Girl and loved it, but I am one of those that was deflated by ending. No justice! I am definitely going to pick up Flynn’s others and try Jonathan Tropper. I was unable to make it through The Maze Runner.
    Loved hearing about what you are reading!

    • October 3, 2012

      Re: Gone Girl, I totally get that. It’s just in a way, I feel like there was justice (i.e. a life of misery). Or rather, they received their just desserts!

      The Maze Runner was weird. I enjoyed the first one alright, but the next two were just plain dumb. I’m just one of these OCD types who can’t start a series and not finish it (hence why I suffered through all four installments of Twilight)!

  • October 3, 2012
    Emily

    I totally agree with you on the Maze Runner series. I loved the first one and after that they just went down hill from there. I am a children’s librarian so I “have” to read a lot of juvenile and YA fiction, but I always feel behind on my adult fiction. I’m glad to hear Gone Girl is good, it is on my list to read soon.

    • October 13, 2012

      I want your job! Tell me what YA fiction I really must read. Lately, it’s mainly been dystopian trilogies. Have you read any of the Cassandra Clare books? Those have been rec’d often, but I have yet to pick any of them up.

      • October 14, 2012
        Emily

        I haven’t read any of Cassandra Clare’s books, but I get asked for them quite a bit so I would give them a try. Have you read Selection by Kiera Cass? It was pretty good. I am anxiously awaiting the third book in the Delirium series, but it doesn’t come out till next year. I would also recommend Shift by Jennifer Bradbury. It isn’t dystopian, but it is one of my favorites that I have read recently.

  • October 4, 2012

    I’ve just added so many books to my wishlist…!

  • October 4, 2012

    I recently read A Discovery of Witches and really, REALLY enjoyed it, although I had the same feeling of it sort of dragging in the middle. I thought it picked up again toward the end – I have the sequel on reserve at the library right now, in fact. I’d give it another shot!

    I’d agree with you that Katherines was my least favorite of John Greene’s books, too.

    • October 13, 2012

      Have you read Will Grayson, Will Grayson? A friend told me that’s one of her all-time favorite books, but my mom (a fellow John Green lover who *did* like Katherines) just read it and said it was very “meh.” Can’t decide if I should read it next or hold off…

      • October 14, 2012

        I haven’t, but it’s on my list!

  • October 4, 2012

    With your schedule, that is an ambitious goal! I’m motivated to read more and have put this as a mini goal to become a better reader (which will help me become a better writer, right?). I LOVED Mindy Kaling’s “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? It’s a quick read. Susan Orlean’s “Saturday Night” is a bit of a slower read but a fascinating one written 20 years ago on how Americans spend their Saturday nights. I’ve been hearing the hype about “Gone Girl.” Now I want to read it! I haven’t read EW for a while but am also a fun of their smart, witty writing.

    • October 13, 2012

      Given that I adore everything Mindy is in, I think I’d dig that book, as well. I have read all about her concept of FOMO, and that is totally me! I also love Susan Orlean’s feature writing in magazines, so I’m sure I’d find her book interesting, as well.

  • October 5, 2012
    helen

    gone girl seems like the book of the moment! it’s our book club pick for this month but i haven’t started yet. really looking forward to it though.

    the last book i read was ‘faithful place’ by tana french. have you read her yet? this was the first of hers i read and enjoyed. going to put her others on my list to read after gone girl.

    • October 13, 2012

      No, I haven’t. I hadn’t even heard of her until a few weeks ago, but she seems to be coming up a bunch. Guess I should add that one to my list!

      Hope you love Gone Girl as much as I did…be prepared for a shocker of an ending!

  • October 7, 2012

    Although I have completely different genre preferences than you do – I still love reading your reviews. And sometimes I give in and download a few of them just to see if I like them. Most of the time I do. I’ve always been an avid reader and publish my reading list every month. Thanks for the reviews!

    • October 13, 2012

      What’s your favorite kind of reading? Any you’d recommend for me based on my love of YA, memoirs, based-on-real-life-events reads (like Sarah’s Key or The Paris Wife) and witty writing like Tropper’s?

      • October 13, 2012

        I mostly stick to Fantasy (not Sci-Fi!) and Historical Fictions. My favourite book I’ve ever read is called The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and coming in second is the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. The only one I’ve read in any of your preferred genres that comes to mind is The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost which is his life living in Kiribati. Travel + Humor + Memoir = Great Read.

  • October 13, 2012

    I must admit, I am hopeless at reading. I can’t read when travelling by trains or buses as I feel terribly sick… What is your best travel book ever you would recommend to me?

    • October 13, 2012

      To be honest, I don’t read much travel literature (just travel magazines). I always loved Paulo Coehlo’s The Zahir, though. Even though it’s not a traditional “travel book” per se, it really made me want to go to Kazakhstan.

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