42. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
This book had huge hype leading up to it’s publication, and I believe is already topping some bestseller charts, which is why I am shocked by how much I disliked it. The book has an interesting premise. Nick and Amy have been married for five years. After meeting in New York City and then both losing their jobs they return to Nick’s hometown in Missouri where he opens a bar with his twin sister Go (short for Margo).
However, on the morning of their anniversary Amy goes missing. Nick of course immediately becomes the prime suspect, but did he really do it? The story is told in alternate chapters from Nick’s point of view in the present starting with the day Amy disappears and moving through the days of the investigation and Amy’s point of view as written in her diary starting with their first meeting and leading up to the day of her disappearance. As the story progresses you learn more and more about each of the characters and their marriage.
One of my main problems with the book was how much I hated both Nick and Amy. I have a really hard time enjoying books when I completely loathe all of it’s main characters as I did with this one. I can’t really expand more without spoiling the plot, but I also found much of the second half of the book to really obvious with none of the plot twists actually being a surprise to me at all. I currently seem to be the only person on the planet who has read this book that isn’t in love with it though, so your mileage may vary. I give it a 5 out of 10.
41. Against Their Will: North Carolina’s Sterilization Program by Kevin Begos, Danielle Deaver, John Railey, Scott Sexton, and Paul Lombardo
This book is actually a compilation of newspaper articles published in The Winston-Salem Journal over a number of years. The reporters investigated the sterilization program in North Carolina that spanned 40 years, which was much longer and put into much more use than similar programs in other states. It was a very eye-opening look into a part of North Carolina’s history I really knew nothing about despite having gone to school in Winston-Salem at Wake Forest University whose medical school is prominently featured in the book. As the book is actually a series of articles there is a lot of repetition with the reporters providing background on the sterilization program and/or the legislation that was long-considered for reparations to the victims of the program at the beginning of each article. If you are interested in finding out more about this historic issue I would definitely suggest reading this book though. I give it a 7 out of 10.
40. My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family by Zach Wahls
Zach Wahls became somewhat of an internet sensation awhile back after his testimony in front of the Iowa House Judiciary Committee regarding gay marriage was posted on YouTube. Zach was raised by two moms and testified that the fact that he had two parents of the same sex had nothing to do with the content of his character.
In this book Wahls recounts the story of his life growing up as the son of two mothers, and how that experience did and did not shape his life. Ultimately his conclusion is that the way in which his mothers raised him and not the fact that they were lesbians is what molded him into the man he is today. The things that did affect him were due to the reactions others had to his parentage, which would not be an issue at all if people accepted the fact that homosexuals can parent just as well as heterosexuals.
Wahls is an Eagle Scout and organizes the book in chapters according to the Boy Scout Law, explaining how his two moms raised him to be someone who is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. I suspect that most of the people who will gravitate to reading this book will be people who already agree with the position Wahl’s espousing, but hopefully it will make its way into the hands of others who can be influenced by the story of this impressive young man. I give it a 7 out of 10.
39. Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon
I enjoyed reading this book and found the story to be engaging, but man did I really dislike Alice, the titular wife 22. The story centers around Alice Buckle, a part-time elementary school drama teacher, wife, and mother of two. She is feeling unsatisfied in her life and particularly in her marriage, so she jumps on the chance to take part in an anonymous online extended research survey on marriage. However, during the course of the study she finds herself drawn to the anonymous researcher assigned to her and begins to engage with him in ways outside of the study. Meanwhile her marriage is really falling apart, she’s ignoring her children’s real needs while imaging problems for them, and ignoring her best friend. I pretty much wanted to slap her most of the time.
The book is written in a very interesting way in that you read the story not only how Alice is telling it to you, but also through Facebook posts, Google search results, and the answers to the online survey Alice is responding to. (By the way if you want to see the corresponding questions they are in the back of the book. I read the ebook version of the book so did not see them until I got to the very end and then found it too difficult to try and “flip” back and forth to read the answers with the questions. Definitely a case where a print book would have been much better.) I found it to be a clever way of writing that really fit with the story the author was telling. I give it a 7 out of 10.
38. The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass
I seem to have a penchant for picking up books with old widowed men as the main protagonist this year for some reason. This is the third one of I’ve read since February. I really enjoyed this book though. The titled widower is Percy Darling, whose wife died in a drowning accident many years previous to the start of this book. The book is sort of a sprawling tale about Percy, his two daughters, their kids, and some people on the periphery of their lives. It begins with Percy having allowed in old farm house on his property which formerly served as his wife’s dance studio to be converted into a preschool where his eldest daughter now works. Part of the story is told from the point of view of one of her co-workers at the preschool, part of is told from the perspective of a handyman/gardener that helps out there, part of it is told by Percy’s grandson Robert and of course part of it is recounted by Percy himself.
The start of the preschool brings together all the characters mentioned as well as results in Percy meeting the first woman he has dated since the long ago death of his wife. It’s a wonderfully written character driven story. Glass pulls you completely into the world of this family and the small town outside of Boston that they inhabit. I give it an 8 out of 10.
37. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
One of my book clubs is doing a series on classics. It was my month to choose the book and I wound up settling on Anna Karenina. It is one of those classics that is constantly being referenced, particularly the ending (which means I did know what happens before reading it), so I have always wanted to read it but never had that last little push to make me do it. I’m not sorry that I finally read the book, but I can’t say it was a really enjoyable experience. The book was written in serial form over a number of years. Having read this and The Count of Monte Cristo, which was published in a similar fashion, back to back I have to say that I am not a big fan of these classic serially published works. Although I have enjoyed several of Dickens books. For the most part though I just wind up feeling like the books need some major editing because the authors are being paid by the word and thus go on and on about nothing.
I did enjoy the parts of the novel that were actually about Anna Karenina, but for a book that is titled after her she isn’t actually present in much of the novel. Instead much of the book winds up being centered around a character named Levin who is the vehicle for Tolstoy to express his views on politics and religion a little of which was fine, but the fact that it was at least 50% of the book made it get really old really fast in my opinion. If you can find an abridged version of the book that really focuses in on the characters and relationships and cuts out most of Levin’s musings then I might recommend reading it. Otherwise I can’t say that I would bother spending the time needed to read through this tome. I give it a 3 out of 10.
36. The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet by Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu
I have read any number of books such as Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and several of Michael Pollan’s books as well as watched movies such as Food, Inc. that extol the virtues of eating diets based on local food so I thought it was a good idea to read something that makes the opposite argument. The authors examine the history, science, and economics of the food supply to argue that eating globally is actually much more beneficial than eating locally. I am not in disagreement with many of the arguments. I enjoy eating locally from the many farms located near me but also realize that this is not a sustainable way to feed a global population nor am I adverse to eating food that cannot be grown where I live. However, I did not find the writing in this book to be very engaging. The authors are two academics, which lends them credence in their arguments but which does not result in them writing in a way that will engage a broader audience in the ways that Kingsolver and Pollan have done. I give it a 6 out of 10.
35. Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in American by Jonothan Kozol
This book is somewhat of a follow-up to two of Kozol’s earlier books Rachel and Her Children and Amazing Grace. Kozol recounts what has happened to some of the children and families in the years since he first wrote about them in these books. I am a huge Jonothan Kozol fan, and this book did not disappoint. I remembered some of the people he writes about from the earlier books while others I didn’t, but either way it was really interesting to see the paths these families had taken over the years. I give it a 9 out of 10.