Year 6, Books 20 and 21

20. Why Girls are Weird by Pamela Ribon
21. Why Moms are Weird by Pamela Ribon

I’m not sure why it took me so long to read these books. I’ve been reading the authors blog for years. I finally read her third book Going in Circles earlier this year and really enjoyed it, so after taking advantage of the Groupon for Barnes and Noble I bought these two books to read on my Nook.

I loved Why Girls are Weird. I can’t remember the last book that I read that I enjoyed this much. I didn’t want to put it down and every time I had to I couldn’t wait to keep reading it. The story centers around a woman named Anna who is in her 20s. After breaking up with her long time boyfriend, she starts an online journal about their relationship together as if they had never broken up and winds up amassing a large following. (Note this book was written in the early 2000’s before blogging became mainstream and what it is today). She specifically winds up in contact with two of her fans and the story delves into her relationships with these two people as well as the people who are actually present in her real life. She struggles to balance the falsehoods she has told online with the person she really is. It was a fun read with a story that I found really engaging. I give it 8 out of 10.

I did not like Why Moms are Weird nearly as much as Ribon’s other two novels. The story is about Benny, a girl who has moved across the country from her family to California. She returns back East to help take care of her mother after she is injured in an automobile accident. Her sister lives with her mother, but is too unreliable to take care of their mom. Upon arriving she discovers that her mother and sister have become hoarders, so she attempts to help clean up the house and put their lives back together. The book is a lot about their history and their relationships as well as Benny’s relationships with a boy she met a week before leaving California and the man she hires to help clean up the house. I started out enjoying the book quite a bit, but eventually grew annoyed by the characters and felt like the relationships between the protagonist and her two male suitors were not realistic. They both seemed to happen too fast and I couldn’t figure out why the feelings were supposedly so deep after barely knowing each other. I give it 6 out of 10.

Year 6, Book 19

19. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
I saw this book show up on many best of 2010 book lists at the end of the year. The description of the book never grabbed me, and the only reason I wound up reading it was because I saw it available to check out as an ebook from my local library. So I decided to give it a chance. Any long time reader of my book reviews knows that I am not a fan of short stories or novels that are essentially a series of short stories with a common thread. Essentially that is what this book turned out to be for the most part, although it ties things together a little bit better than other books along the same vein, such as The Imperfectionists which I recently read. The story begins with Sascha who is the assistant to record producer Bennie. The first two chapters are about them and then the additional chapters spiral out from there into their pasts each one being told from the perspective of someone one of them is connected to, although sometimes just tangentially. Given the format I actually wound up enjoying this book much more than I would have expected. It is extremely well-written and I can definitely see why it made so many best of lists. Really the only thing wrong with it as far as I’m concerned is totally a preference thing on my part. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 6, Book 18

18. Redemption: A Story of Sisterhood, Survival, and Finding Freedom Behind Bars by Stacey Lannert
I picked up an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book at ALA Midwinter (sensing a theme in my reading choices yet?). The book is the story of woman who spent 18 years in prison for murdering her father when she was 18 years old. He had been sexually abusing her since she was 8 years old. It’s a rather heartbreaking story that is often difficult to read. The writing itself isn’t wonderful, but once you get past that the story itself is compelling. It’s devastating to witness how many people failed this girl throughout her life, and then see her face the punishment for it. I give it 7 out of 10.

Year 6, Book 17

17. The Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna
Originally written in Finnish in 1975 this book was recently re-released in English by Penguin. I read this review of it on NPR last week and realized that I had picked up a free copy of it ALA Midwinter. So once I finished my horrid book club book I decided this would be a nice, fun quick read. It certainly was quick. I read it in about an hour and half. I’m not sure I enjoyed it as much as the NPR reviewer, but mostly I think that is a preference for book styles. The book was fairly absurdist with the main character running off into the woods after an injured hare and abandoning his career as a journalist and his wife to go running around Finland having odd adventures with this hare. I like a little more realism in my reading material, but people who are more inclined towards the absurd might enjoy this quite a bit. I give it 5 out of 10.

Year 6, Book 16

16. Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields by Charles Bowden
This was the most recent pick of one of my book clubs. It sounded really interesting from the summary on the book jacket. I was looking forward to learning more about what is going on in Ciudad Juárez. However, this book was nothing like I imagined it was going to be. Instead of being an investigative journalistic look at the events, the author wrote something that I have a hard time even explaining. If it’s possible I understand even less about the issues in Ciudad Juárez than I did before I read the book. He bounces all over the place in time and space. I had a really hard time following anything he was saying and the book did not seem to have any kind of coherent narrative let alone say anything that shed any light on the issues the city is facing. Basically the only thing I understood was that there’s a lot of people getting murdered there, which is pretty much what I knew going into it. The only reason I forced myself to finish this book was because of book club. I do not in any way recommend it. I give it 1 out of 10.

Year 6, Book 15

15. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
Yet another book I picked up as an Advanced Reader’s Copy at ALA Midwinter. This book is written from the perspectives of two sisters whose father is a bigamist married to both their mothers. The first half of the book is told from the point of view of Dana. Unlike Chaurisse and Chaurisse’s mother, Dana and her mother are fully aware of father’s double life. Dana has always felt second to Chaurisse, but has been raised to protect both Chaurisse and her father. The second half of the novel is told from the perspective of Chaurisse as she befriends Dana not knowing about that they are half-sisters. It was a quick read. I finished it in one afternoon. I give it 6 out of 10.

Year 6, Book 14

14. They Poured Fire On Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan by Benjamin Ajak, Benson Deng, Alephonsian Deng, and Judy Bernstein

I got an advanced reader’s copy of this book at ALA Midwinter. The story is written by three boys (2 brothers and their cousin) about their experiences during the civil war in Sudan. It of course is full of devastating stories but also amazing stories of survival and providence as these boys become separated and reconnected multiple times over a journey of thousands of miles. The writing is simplistic, which is not surprising given that the authors are young men with little formal education writing in a second language. The forward to the book is written by Judy Bernstein, who serves a mentor to the three young men in America. She alluded to some the adjustments they were having to make in experiencing a whole new way of life in the United States. This is the only part of the story that really concerns their lives once they leave Africa. I would have enjoyed reading more about that, but perhaps that is another book. I give it 7 out of 10.

As an aside this book like The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind talked about how rare and valuable books are in Africa. They are truly prized possessions and something that African children truly need more access to. This book was just another reminder of that, which fits perfectly with the fact that my book club is currently in the process of raising money to support Books for Africa. If you have the means please consider making a donation to one of their projects to help promote literacy and education among African children.

Year 6, Book 13

13. The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell
I received this book as a Christmas gift from my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. I have to say that they wind up giving me the worst books. In their defense every book they buy for me is off my Amazon wishlist, so really it’s sort of my fault. But without fail they seem to find the most awful books that I myself have at one point or another thought I might want to read to give to me. This book was no exception to that rule. The story takes place in London with alternating chapters focusing on the characters of Lexie who is living in the 1960s and in present times Elina and Ted who have just given birth to their first son. For most of the book there is no apparently connection between the two stories, although you expect that eventually there must be one. I figured it out about halfway through and then felt compelled to keep reading to find out if I was right and how it actually happened. Mostly I just found the book boring and tiresome and full of characters I didn’t really care about. I give it a 3 out of 10.

Year 6, Book 12

12. Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater by Frank Bruni
This book was written by Frank Bruni, former New York Times restaurant critic. I actually listend to this as an audiobook on a recent road trip. The book wasn’t quite what I expected in that he really only spent 1/4 if even that actually talking about his work as a restaurant critic. The rest of the book went all the way back to his early childhood to chronicle his unhealthy relationship with food. I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed this more if I had actually been reading it an able to kind of read really quickly through the many passages where he talks about his various eating disorders and feelings of self-loathing over his weight. However, when listening to an audiobook you are stuck going through all those passages at the same rate as every other passage that the narrator (in this case the author) is reading them. I found many of his family stories to be interesting, and the last portion of the book where he actually talks about his work as a restaurant critic is immensely enjoyable. I would have loved for him to have written a book that mostly concentrated on just that. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 6, Book 11

11. Going in Circles by Pamela Ribon
I’ve been reading this author’s blog for years and have friends involved with the roller derby so this book has been on my too-read list for quite awhile. Unfortunately it’s not available at my local library and as I rarely buy books I had never gotten around to reading it. However, I received a copy of a book I had already read for Christmas, so I exchanged it for this book. The book revolves around a woman whose marriage is breaking up. One of her co-workers befriends her and gets her involved with roller derby to help take her mind off her troubles. It was a light, fun, quick read. It’s certainly nothing deep or overly meaningful, but if you’re looking for something to just curl up with and enjoy this is a good book for that. I give it 7 out of 10.