With little Internet access and a need to be laying horizontal each night after dinner following long days in the office, I read A LOT of books on our Semester at Sea voyage. Seriously—how great is it to have a Kindle and be able to download a book in under a minute the second you’ve finished the one before? (Also, fun fact: If giving a gift to a Kindle owner, you can order the book via Amazon and have it delivered directly to their device. It’s what my in-laws all did for me last birthday, and it’s a brilliant idea, cutting back on shipping fees as well as the nuisance of wrapping yet another present.)
In case you’re looking for last minute gift ideas, here’s what was on my reading list this fall, the good and the bad.
Delirium by Laura Olivier
OK, technically I read this over the summer, but it’s too good I can’t not recommend it. If you like dystopian novels or young adult lit, you won’t be disappointed by this 1984-esque read about the government performing surgery on every citizen to remove the gene in their brain that allows them to love, thus preventing the ultimate disease that plagues all: amor deliria nervosa (love). Olivier’s first novel, Before I Fall, was pretty entertaining, too, but I have a feeling the Delirium trilogy (book two comes out in February!) is going to be the next Hunger Games.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Ape House by Sara Gruen
Otherwise known as “that girl who wrote Water for Elephants,” Sara Gruen hit another home run with the fictional follow-up to her debut novel about apes learning sign language. I’m also a sucker for a research-heavy topic, and Gruen spent two years in an ape language lab studying her subjects before penning this book. (It shows.)
Rating: 4 out of 5
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
I didn’t love this book simply because the author is from Nashville (represent!). I loved this book because the writing was excellent and, again, it was a research-heavy novel that required a whole of scientific background to write. A medical researcher in Minnesota goes to Brazil to find out what happened to her co-worker who died while on assignment down there and, in turn, winds up on the path to a cure for malaria. It also has a travel component to it, as much of the plot takes place in some unknown Amazonian village.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin
I haven’t read anything by Giffin since my college years, but this was in my Kindle archives I share with my mom so I gave it a shot. Verdict: Meh. I’m not a fan of Giffin’s writing style or her propensity to write novels that center on adultery. If you saw Something Borrowed (or read the book), it’s every bit as disjointed and depressing. I say skip.
Rating: 1 out of 5
A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay
If you haven’t read de Rosnay’s first novel, Sarah’s Key, then head right over and do that before proceeding. A Secret Kept was nowhere near as riveting; however, it also followed a mystery swept up under the rug long ago—in this case, the circumstances surrounding protagonist Antoine Rey’s mother’s death decades before—while simultaneously giving me wanderlust for France. (All of de Rosnay’s novels are set there.)
Rating: 3 out of 5
Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner
I’ve read every book Jennifer Weiner has ever written and generally find her entertaining, but her last couple books have been a bit sub-par, Fly Away Home included. The cliche plot goes like this: Politican husband cheats. Politician’s wife finds out via the nighttime news and is publicly scorned. Simultaneously, Daughter #1 is cheating on her husband with one of her hospital interns, while Daughter #2 battles a drug addiction. Happy topics, right?
Rating: 2 out of 5
Somewhere Inside by Lisa and Laura Ling
I’m usually not big on memoirs but this one had come highly recommended, and due to the fact that I’m a journalist and in my early years wanted to be a foreign correspondent, this recount of Laura Ling and Euna Lee being held captive in North Korea for six months really piqued my interest. The writing was solid, the story moved along quickly and the inner peek into the flawed political system that is North Korea was very interesting. It’s even more relevant in the wake of Kim Jong-il’s death. I love how Lisa found empathy for her captors and even went as far as to call a few of them her friends by the time she was released, rather than playing the victim card.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
I’ve heard more about this book the past few months than I have any others, so when I ran low on reading material just before the end of the voyage, it was the last thing I downloaded. The first half dragged along at a snail’s pace, and I had a lot of trouble getting into it. However, I found its historical attributes—the Chinese- and Japanese-American communities on the West Coast during World War II—quite fascinating, and the second half was much better than the first. It wouldn’t be the first book I’d recommend, but it’s also an enjoyable read.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Everything Changes by Jonathan Tropper
I’m in the middle of this book at the moment, and so far, it lives up to the hype. I don’t know why I’ve waited so long to pick up something of Tropper’s when so many people whose opinions I respect adore the man, but I think after Everything Changes, I’ll be a newly converted fan. He reminds me a bit of Nick Hornby, but less annoying.
Rating: Undecided, but my mom says “LOVED IT.” (And the woman knows her literary stuff.)