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.)