75. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
This story takes place on a small island off of South Carolina that is apparently far removed from life going on on the mainland. The island reveres one of its ancestors who created the sentence, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” A sentence that uses all the letters of the alphabet with minimal repetition. The sentence was immortalized on a series of roof tiles that have started to fall. The town’s council decides that the letters falling are a sign that they should stop using these letters in their writing and speech. It’s mostly a gimmick for the writer to complete the book with increasingly fewer letters as the story goes on. Although I appreciate the challenge it’s not really a great story and really only works as a gimmick. It’s kind of interesting to see how the author accomplishes the feat, but it’s really not that great of a book. I give it a 4 out of 10.
74. I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
I’ve read several of Lippman’s previous books and found this to be very different than her other works. Granted I haven’t even come close to reading all of her novels, so perhaps there are other ones more akin to this one that I just haven’t read. The other books I’ve read by her are very plot driven type thriller/mysteries. This book is not really driven much by plot. It is a more a study in human reaction. The story revolves around a woman who was kidnapped as a 15 year old girl, held captive for 39 days, and then raped shortly before being finally rescued. Her captor was sentenced to death for murdering another young girl and his sentence is finally being carried out 25 years later. A series of circumstances allow him to contact her in the hopes of having her rethink her testimony and help him get his sentence commuted. The story shifts back and forth between their two perspectives as well as from the present to the past. Not much actually happens plotwise in the book, but is totally an internal look at what it’s like to be the survivor of a crime like this even after having moved on and created a really good life for yourself. I give it a 7 out of 10.
73. Under the Mercy Trees by Heather Newton
I got a free advanced e-version of an advanced reader’s copy of this book from NetGalley. The story follows a family in rural North Carolina. The book begins with the mysterious disappearance of the eldest brother. His disappearance leads the youngest brother of the family a gay man, who long ago left his family and North Carolina to return. The story is told through the perspectives of various family members as well as the high school girlfriends of the gay brother. The story moves back and forth through time to flesh out the history of the family as well as describe how they exist in the present and eventually leads to the revelation of what happened to the missing brother. It was mostly a study in character, but I found it to be fairly quick enjoyable read. I give it a 6 out of 10.
72. South of Broad by Pat Conroy
This is actually the first novel I’ve ever ready by Pat Conroy. I read his memoir, My Losing Season, last year during the Baltimore blizzard and really enjoyed it so I decided I should actually read some of his fictional works. This novel takes place in Charleston and follows a group of unlikely high school friends during the 60s and then as they are brought back together 20 years later in the 80s. I found the writing in this book to be pretty awful. The dialogue was unrealistic, awkward, and ridiculous sounding and the plot wasn’t much better. Despite all that there was something about this book that made it hard for me to put down. I really have no idea why. I found the writing to be pretty horrific, but yet I really wanted to read it every chance I got. So if you can stand what I consider to be some over the top and unrealistic plots and dialogue you might actually like this book. I give it a 5 out of 10.
71. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
If you’ve ever ready any of Roach’s other books you will be familiar with the style of this book. She often takes an offbeat subject such as the science of death or sex and then provides a narrative about it that is interesting, informative, and humorous. In this particular book she focuses on space travel. She interviews both current and past astronauts as well as investigates the history of space missions, the training that goes into them, and the bodily experiences that occur due to space travel. She also personally takes part in some of the training that astronauts go through. If you have enjoyed Roach’s other books you’ll also enjoy this one. I give it a 7 out of 10.
70. Dracula by Bram Stoker
With all the hoopla about vampires going on over the past several years and my own consumption of lots of vampire fare (although mostly in tv and movie form and not books) I decided I should read the original vampire tale. I downloaded a free copy of Dracula to my Nook and then proceeded to read it over a period of several months picking it up when I was between other books or had a few minutes with the Nook onhand. The fact that the Nook remembers exactly where I left off made it very easy to do this. I had a really hard time getting into this book. I would say it might partly be because of the piecemeal way that I read it, but I also feel that if I had been into it I wouldn’t have kept putting it down. I didn’t find the story very compelling. There didn’t actually seem to be that much tension to me, and I really never felt like I got a sense of who Dracula actually was. For a story that spawned so much, I really felt like it was lacking. I give it a 4 out of 10.
69. Wishin’ and Hopin’: A Christmas Story by Wally Lamb
This is a short quick read. It’s just a short little Christmas story, and a great departure from Lamb’s other works. The story is told from the perspective of a 10 year old boy in the 1960’s. Most of the action revolves around the lunch counter owned by his father and in the Catholic school he attends. It’s a cute little story designed to evoke a lot of nostalgia. I imagine especially for anyone who was a child during that time, but the descriptions were such that you could be drawn into the nostalgia of that time period without actually having had to live in it. If you’re looking for a somewhat humorous, not-really-sappy Christmas themed book this is a good choice. I give it 6 out of 10.
68. Room by Emma Donoghue
This book is told from the perspective of a five year old boy whose mother was kidnapped and held captive in a shed. She gave birth to the boy while in captivity and creates a life for him in this room, that is the only world he knows. It was kind of thought provoking to wonder about what it would be like to only know a single room as your whole existence and what would happen to you mentally when you are exposed to a larger world, but I can’t say I really liked the book all that much. I think I just got really tired of reading the author trying to pull off being a 5 year old for the entire book. I think I would have enjoyed it more if there had been an adult perspective to play off of. The idea of the book played out better for me than the actual book itself. I give it 5 out of 10.
67. At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
Bryson uses the blueprint of his house in England to trace the history of things socially related from the food we eat and the clothes we wear to more tangentially related things like surgery. It’s a very informative, well-written, and interesting book. I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t seem to have much of Bryson’s usual wit though. No matter the topic, in his other books I often found myself chuckling at his dry humor. That didn’t really happen with this book. I still found it very engaging though, and if I had not gone into this book with expectations based on previous books I wouldn’t have found anything lacking. I give it 8 out of 10.
66. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Well my streak of reading really good books had to come to end eventually and this is the book that did it for me. The book is about a fictional writer who is half Mexican and half American. He spends most of his younger years in Mexico winding up working for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and then his later years living in Asheville, NC. The story is told solely as if it has been pieced together through archival documents like letters, diaries, and newspaper articles. I found much of them tedious to read through and wouldn’t bother reading this many archival documents about actual living people so I couldn’t figure out why I was supposed to bother for a fictional character. I was not engaged in this book at all and would have quit reading it except that it was for one of my book clubs. Many other members of my book club actually really enjoyed the book though, and we had a really interesting discussion about it. It made me have a new perspective about the book, although it didn’t really make me like it any better. I just understood more the appeal it might hold for others and the process Kingsolver went through when writing it. I give it a 2 out of 10.