48. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
After adoring Eleanor and Park and Fangirl, I decided to read Rainbow Rowell’s first novel Attachments. Sometimes an author writes their best work first and everything else pales in comparison, while other authors write ok first novels and hone their craft so that each succeeding novel is better. Rowell definitely fits the latter profile as I found Attachments to be fairly generic (though with an interesting writing style), while I enjoyed her latter two novels much more.
Attachments is set in 1999 and is told both from the first person perspective of Lincoln, a pseudo-IT guy working the night shift at a newspaper to flag in appropriate use of work email, and through the back and forth emails of Jennifer, a copy editor, and Beth the paper’s movie critic. Lincoln is an awkward guy still living at home with his mother at the age of 28 and not quite over his high school girlfriend who dumped him during their freshman year of college. While doing his job he reads the emails written by Beth and Jennifer, but instead of flagging them he just continues to let them email against the company policy so that he can continue to read what they’re writing. Imagine his surprise when he figures out that the cute employee Beth starts writing about is him. Will he ever have enough courage to meet her in person, and has he doomed his chances with her by reading her emails for all these months?
Other than the format it was kind of an average modern romance novel, and nothing I would say you absolutely must read. I give it a 6 out of 10.
47. Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
One of my book clubs is currently doing a theme of books based on food. I saw Relish reviewed on NPR and thought it sounded perfect. It’s a graphic novel of essays about the author’s experiences growing up with two foodie parents including a mother who is a professional cook and the way it has influenced the way she relates to food. The stories are both lovely and humorous and the graphic novel format adds to them. The essays are interspersed with recipes, which all looked delicious as well as not that difficult to make. I plan on trying a number of them out for our book club meeting. I really liked this book a lot and look forward to discussing it with my book club. I give it a 9 out of 10.
46. College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students by Jeffrey J. Selingo
Selingo examines the state of higher education today and looks at the way he believes it must change in the face of skyrocketing costs both in the way that schools do business and the loans that students must take out to go to school coupled with changes in technology that are disrupting the traditional ways the people have had access to higher learning. As someone who works in higher education I found it to be a very interesting book with lots of food for thought. I think it would also be a great book to read for students and their parents while they are deciding where to go to college. I don’t necessarily think that change is going to be as rapid as Selingo expects, but I do think he raises some very good questions that colleges and universities are going to have to start addressing. I give it a 7 out of 10.
45. How to Watch Television edited by Ethan Thompson and Jason Mittell
How to Watch Television is an academic book composed of 40 essays written by television scholars teaching and researching in this area. Each essay focuses on a single television show and how that show contributed to the history of television including such things as the style of the show, the way it treats political subjects, or how the show was produced. It covers a wide range of shows both past and present. This book is definitely for people interested in media criticism or uber-television nerds as it goes much beyond the kind of television criticism and analysis you find on the internet or in more mainstream books on the subject. I enjoyed reading it, but I both love television and am a nerdy librarian who doesn’t mind reading scholarly writing for fun. I give it a 6 out of 10.
44. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
I adored this book so much. It is rare that I read a book where I love the story and characters so much that I can’t stop thinking about them even after I’m done with the book. I’m pretty sure the last book I felt that way about was Pamela Ribon’s You Take It From Here, which I read almost a year ago. I was supposed to be getting ready for a party I was hosting, but couldn’t put this book down.
The story revolves around Cath who is an ill-at-east freshman in college. During high school she and her twin sister Wren were close and shared a love of the Simon Snow books (a takeoff on the Harry Potter series), so much so that Cath started writing fan fiction along with Wren’s help that has become super popular. Now that they are headed off to college Wren wants to leave that world behind and branch out to new experiences refusing to be Cath’s roommate. Now Cath is stuck navigating this new world on her own with a roommate she thinks doesn’t like her. Meanwhile she is worried about her mentally ill father living on his own now that she and her sister are gone and distressed that her long absent mother has shown up out of the blue wanting to rekindle a relationship.
Cath can sometimes be a hard character to like because you just want to shake her and tell her to snap out of it, but she obviously has some real anxiety issues that probably stem from a combination of her mother leaving and her father’s genetics. It’s easy to think she is being ridiculous, but for someone with a real anxiety disorder her behavior would not necessarily be out of the ordinary. I definitely don’t suffer from anything nearly as severe as Cath, but I love when she describes why she doesn’t want to go to the dining hall. The anxiety that stems from not knowing where things are, how they work, what is going to happen when she gets there, etc. These are the kinds of things I stress over whenever I have to go into a new and unfamiliar situation. Unlike Cath I’m able to force myself to go with only a little bit of effort, but I definitely still feel those same anxieties.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough, and if you haven’t read it yet you should also read Rowell’s previous novel Eleanor and Park. I give it a 9 out of 10.
43. A Wounded Name by Dot Hutchison
This book is a retelling of the story of Hamlet. It is told from the perspective of Ophelia set in modern times at a boarding school. It is a brilliantly crafted version of the story told from the point of view of someone other than Hamlet as has been done before. The prose is beautiful and the book was well written enough that even though I know how the story ends I kept waiting for it to somehow end differently. Where this book falls down is the updated setting. First, I’m not sure whether it was the lyrical prose or the story itself, but this book never felt set in modern times to me. Also, the boarding school idea never felt fully fleshed out to me. She assigned all the various characters roles they would hold in a boarding school, but other than that I never really felt like that’s where the story was taking place. Unless she specifically mentioned something about it being a school I was not picturing it as such in my head. It worked out better for me if I just ignored those references. I give it a 6 out of 10.
42. The Art of Falling by Kathryn Craft
I got an advanced reader’s copy of this book from Netgalley. The publisher has requested that no reviews be posted until the publication date, which isn’t until January 2014, so I guess just know that I read it. If I can remember I might try and come back and review the book 7 months from now, but I’m guessing that is not likely to actually happen.
41. Believe by Sarah Aronson
Janine is a teenage girl who would seem to lead a normal life living with her aunt as her guardian and hanging around with her two best friends Abe and Miriam or with her boyfriend Dan while working on a portfolio to get into fashion school. Instead as a young child she was the miraculous sole survivor of a bombing in a Jerusalem temple that killed her parents along with 70 other people, which has kept her in the eye of the media for her entire life. Now with the 10th anniversary of the bombing drawing year the media storm has begun once again in earnest.
Janine just wants to be left alone to live a normal life, but is constantly being drawn into the spotlight. The man who pulled her from the wreckage and who found God that day is determined to pull her into his faith healing ministry, while her friends are trying to get her to help support their causes with her celebrity. Meanwhile something happens that causes her to question whether or not she actually does possess some kind of healing power that everyone thinks she does.
I loved this book. I thought the author did an excellent job of portraying how difficult it must be to be in Sarah’s position while also making the feelings of her friends and family also feel valid when they begin to view her as selfish. I would highly recommend this book. I give it an 8 out of 10.
40. The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke
Anya is a psychiatrist who has recently returned to Belfast for a job. She is still reeling many years after the fact over the suicide of her own daughter as a result of early onset schizophrenia. As part of her job she begins to treat a young boy named Alex who claims to see a demons including the one he communes with most often named Ruen. Anya fears that he too is suffering from schizophrenia but can’t convince her colleagues. As she searches for evidence to support her theories she begins to wonder if the demons might just not be real. I really liked this book. The characters were engaging and I really did not suspect how the book was going to end. If you like psychological thriller type books I would recommend this one. I give it a 7 out of 10.
39. Hotel Pastis: A Novel of France by Peter Mayle
I read this book for one of my book clubs and was not impressed. The story centers around a British advertising executive tired of his job and going through a messy divorce. He decides to head off to Provence to vacation where he meets a beautiful French woman who somehow convinces him to quit his job and buy a halfway built building in a small Provencal town and turn it into a hotel. He brings along his trusty stereotypical butler. Most of the book is about them building the hotel and getting it ready to open. I pretty much found it entirely boring. There was also a side plot that showed up every so often involving some of the people in this town plotting to rob a bank and getting away by blending into a big bike festival that rides through the town every year. It was entirely unclear how these plots were related until the very end and even then they didn’t come together in any kind of satisfying way in my opinion, mostly in a ridiculous one. I would definitely give this book a pass. I give it 3 out of 10.