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2016 Book Reviews

I love to read.  Yesterday was the first day of vacation and the kids went to a friend’s house. I have a vicious cold and I so I did what any normal person would do: I read about 150 pages in the book I’m reading.  I told Mando about my progress and after his laughing response of “there’s something wrong with you,” I punished him by following him around, holding him as my conversational hostage.  I told him about the plot and why I found it compelling and about some brain research and then I said, “Imagine how many books I’ll be able to read when the children are gone!  I’ll be able to drive through SO MUCH CONTENT when we’re retired!”

I am obsessed with books and ideas and beautifully crafted sentences; I am a believer in the power of words. I buy books when I already have books to read; during a recent trip to Costco I told my sister, “I’ll call you back – have to run by the books.”  She responded by saying, “Julie, WHY do you need to run by the books?”  I told her she didn’t understand me at all and then hung up on her, which was, clearly, the only reasonable response.  Then I called her back to tell her about the book I bought (don’t tell Mando).

So a few years back, I started using GoodReads to keep track of my habit.  Then, because I’m a competitive jerk, I joined the Reading Challenge, with the sole purpose of beating my sister.  In 2014 I read fifty-one books (but only because Amy’s goal was fifty, and she ended up beating me anyway by reading fifty-nine books).  In 2015 I read fifty-five books, beating my goal of  fifty-two books.  Then, when I was setting my 2016 goal, I said to Mando, “I think I’ll just do fifty-two again.”  His response: “That’s not much of a goal if you read fifty-five this year.”  OOOOOOOHHHH, it’s NOT?!  Well, then.  As long as you realize that I will be unable to do anything but read, then challenge ACCEPTED.  I set the goal at FIFTY-SIX.

It’s December 23rd.  I have read fifty-four books and I think I may make my goal.  And as my gift to you, I have reviewed the books I’ve read this year.   

The Lipstick Gospel: Short, sweet, and honest.

The Whole-Brain Child: Interesting research and good tools to remind you that you’re not as good a parent as you believe yourself to be.

A Letter of Consolation: Henri Nouwen wrote a letter to his father after the death of Henri’s mother, and it’s full of beautiful truth.  “I want to comfort and console you, but not in a way that covers up real pain and avoids all wounds.  I am writing you this letter in the firm conviction that reality can be faced and entered with an open mind and an open heart, and in the sincere belief that consolation and comfort are to be found where our wounds hurt most.”  Amen.    

Agent Zigzag:  I think I’d be a great spy.  Also, seemingly small events changed the course of WWII.  Also, you’re doing nothing with your life so just accept it.    

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared: I’m changing the title to the 100-Year-Old Man and His TOO BORING I CAN’T GO ON BUT I MUST BECAUSE I HAVE TO FINISH 56 BOOKS.

We Were Liars: Good one.  I won’t tell you more.  YA fiction is the key to the 56 books.  I don’t have time for 56 Tolstoys, people.

The Program: Again, YA fiction.  Message: watch out for The Man. 

The Last Anniversary, Truly Madly Guilty, What Alice Forgot: I love Liane Moriarty.  She writes elevated chick lit with tight grammar and the occasional perfect description of a random universal truth.  Also, I’d like to live in Australia.  I think I’d be a fun Aussie.  G’day, mate!  Can’t you see me saying that? 

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea: Take-home message: You have zero problems and zero things about which you should ever complain.  Shut up and eat your rice, you ungrateful brat. 

Faith Unraveled: Rachel Held Evans is a favorite.  She loves Jesus and she loves people.  But I don’t really remember what this book was about. 

The Alchemist: This book has a cult following and I hated it.  I listened to it on audiobook and had to speed it up to 2x to finish it. 

Just Mercy: A thoughtful book written by someone with first-hand experience of our justice system.  Deep and challenging.  

Brooklyn: Charming and true.  Read it.

The Lake House: I love Kate Morton books.  They’re long and intertwined and rich and very English.  I would like to live in England; I think I’d be good at it.

When Breath Becomes Air: Should be required reading for all human people.  Ugly Cry required. 

Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter: All part of a YA series.  Part fairy-tale, part Hunger Games, part cyborgs.

Who Do You Love?: I sort of remember this book, and I sort of remember being annoyed. 

The Life We Bury: I’m neutral.  It was fine.  Not in my wheelhouse, because I’m a sensitive bird.  Nancy Drew used to make me a little nervy, for Pete’s sake. 

Shopaholic to the Rescue: I used to love the Shopaholic series, but then they became weird and choppy.

The Charm Bracelet: Forgettable.  This explains why I’ve forgotten it. 

Let’s All Be Brave: Boooooooring.

The One and Only Ivan: LOVE.  I love quality children’s literature.

Big Magic: Get off your lazy bum and make something, even if it sucks, because we’re made to be creators, not consumers.  I liked this one. 

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library: Clever children’s book with puzzles and games.  Hey!  I like puzzles and games!

A Spool of Blue Thread: Family saga.  Yaaaaaaaaawn. 

The Vacationers: I think they went on vacation: in Italy, maybe?  I remember thinking their meals sounded delicious.  Obviously this one was life-changing.

Speaking From Among the Bones, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse, As Chimney Sweepers Come the Dust: These are all part of the Flavia de Luce series.  I love Flavia.  She is a naughty chemistry-loving English version of Nancy Drew.  These are slow to get into at times but they’re witty and funny and oddly touching.  I have one more to read in this series, and then I get a medal. 

First Comes Love: Emily Giffin, we were in love once, but we’re growing apart.  Sigh.  We’ll always have Something Borrowed and Something Blue.   

Lilac Girls: WWII book.  I think I had a hard time connecting to the characters, even though that subject matter is always gripping. 

Bird by Bird: Wise, lovely, and honest, just like Anne Lammot. 

The Great Gatsby: Why didn’t I read this in high school?  I don’t think I would’ve appreciated it then, anyway.

The Invention of Wings: This book was very long.

Love Warrior: So much to love here.  I ignored everyone for two days and survived on Pirate’s Booty while reading this book.

Tiny Little Thing: Perfect beach reading.  No one’s reinventing the wheel here. 

Smarter Faster Better: Loved The Power of Habit, and I loved this one.  Doing it better: YES.

A Certain Age: Meh.

Approval Junkie: Funny and honest.

Today Will be Different: Wackadoodle.  This one took a hard left while heading to Crazyville.  I got whiplash. 

Flora & Ulysses: Kate DiCamillo writes for kids without writing down to kids.  Her books are funny and quirky and whimsical.  In her Mercy Watson books she describes Mr. Watson leaving for a drive: “He backs the car out of the driveway very quickly.  He does not look behind him.  Mr. Watson is a forward-looking man.  He does not believe in looking back.”

The Sun is Also a Star: It wasn’t Everything, Everything, but it was still delightful.

Results May Vary: I AM ANNOYED.  THIS BOOK MADE ME FEEL ANNOYED.  Amy recommended it to me and then said she never remembered recommending it.  I suspect that she’s a rotten liar. 

How to Raise an Adult: Don’t be a helicopter parent.  No, seriously: back off.  Also, your kid isn’t going to Stanford, and that’s okay.  Just teach them to do their laundry. 

Salt to the Sea: Quick and gripping.  Made me rethink my general dislike of historical fiction, especially YA historical fiction.

The Notorious RBG: So you’re a Supreme Court Justice, worked for years to establish rights that honor both women and men, and you’re a mom and had a solid marriage?  Oh, that’s cool.  I emptied the dishwasher earlier.  One friend said that a conversation with RBG was “a special pleasure because there are no words that are not preceded by thoughts.”  Pardon me while I file that under Things No One Will Ever Say About Me.

Britt-Marie Was Here: Sweet and quirky.

Modern Romance: Suprisingly insightful for a book by a comedian.  Take-home message: I don’t think I’d have a lot of success on Tinder.

And there it is.  Two more books and I’ll have reached my goal.  I don’t call anyone, I forget to respond to messages on all platforms, and dry shampoo is my new favorite thing, but we’ll ignore all that, because a few of these books brought me the right words, and the right words give life.      

Merry Christmas, friends.  May all your gifts be books.  

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