35. Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh
Adam Sternbergh guested on the Extra Hot Great podcast, which I listen to, and read an excerpt from this book. I wasn’t that interested at the time because it didn’t seem to fit any genres that I normally like. It’s a cross between an old school noir detective novel and a dystopian future novel. I don’t tend to read any detective novels and the small tolerance I have for dystopian future stuff has been exhausted by the seemingly never ending stream of it since the success of the Hunger Games. However, I came across a galley copy of the book and figured I might as well give it a try.
I wound up really liking it. The author weaved the two genres together deftly and the short length made it the perfect little morsel of a book. The main character Spademan was a garbageman before events led to the dystopian future New York City is now living in. Now he’s a hit man trying to carry out orders to kill the daughter of a prominent evangelist, but things go awry leaving him on the run trying to save both his life and hers. I give it a 7 out of 10.
34. Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts
Zac and Mia are two Australian teenagers who meet because they have adjoining rooms on the cancer ward of the hospital where they are both being treated. When I first started reading this book I thought it was going to be The Fault in Our Stars all over again, but it really isn’t. Anyone who says that it is obviously can’t get past the fact that both stories are a love story surrounding two teenagers with cancer. Aside from that the stories are extremely different.
I found Mia very unlikeable for most of the book, and I think it was an interesting choice by the author to have a sort of love story surrounding a character who the reader is bound to dislike for most of the book because of her attitude and the stupid decisions she makes. If you liked The Fault in Our Stars, you will probably like this book. I give it a 7 out of 10.
33. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
The titular character A.J. Fikry is a curmudgeonly book store owner on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. After the death of his wife he basically shut himself off from life and love until two unexpected women enter his life in the form of a small child who mysteriously shows up in his book store one day and an intrepid sales representative named Amelia. This is a sweet little book that I really enjoyed reading.
It’s a romance of sorts, but it doesn’t really follow a typical romance format. It would be great for someone like me who doesn’t really care for all the tropes of romance novels, but who can get behind a lovely little story of life and love. I give it a 7 out of 10.
32. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
All the Light We Cannot See takes place during WWII and tells the story of Marie-Laure a young blind girl living in France, whose father is the keeper of great secrets from the Museum of Natural History in Paris and Werner a young German boy gifted in dealing with radios who is eventually sent to hunt down the secrets. Aside from the story of living through the war and what is happening to the characters based on that there is also a mystical element to this book surrounding the great secret from the museum. That part of the book didn’t really resonate with me.
I did however enjoy the stories of the children, eventually teenagers, who are caught up in a war not of their own choosing and who are doing their best to survive. I feel like it’s a rare book surrounding WWII that doesn’t focus somewhat on the concentration camps. This book does not. It is more the story of those people who are still left living in their towns as a war crowds into their lives. I give it a 6 out of 10.
31. Superman: The Unauthorized Biography by Glen Weldon
Despite being a big fan of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour of which Glen Weldon is a part, I never had any intention of reading this book. I am not much of a comics reader and I have never really been a fan of Superman in any of his other pop culture forms save for a couple seasons of Lois and Clark. I didn’t even watch that all the way to its end. Therefore I just chalked this book up as not for me and figured it wasn’t something I would ever read, but then I came across a free galley copy of the book and figured why the heck not.
Despite my general lack of enthusiasm about Superman I actually really enjoyed this book. The book basically tracks the history of Superman in comics and pop culture in general over the course of 75 years. It’s a sort of history not just of the character but comics in general over that time period. I obviously learned a lot I never knew about the character, and it was all presented in a way that kept me interested despite my limited background with the subject matter. So even if you’re not that interested in Superman this book still might be for you. I give it a 7 out of 10.
30. The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
I read this book for one of my book clubs and wound up really liking it. The plot revolves around a fictionalized story surrounding the real theft of still unrecovered paintings for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. A once promising young artist named Claire found herself essentially exiled from the art community and is making a living working for an online company that sells reproductions of famous paintings. Her work is so good that a well-known gallery owner enlists her to forge one of the missing Degas paintings and in the process she discovers that the painting originally hanging in the museum may itself have been a forgery.
I thought the author did a really great job of crafting a fictional story into real events in a plausible way. The details of how the forgery were made were written in such a fascinating way I wondered how much it was actually possible. It was a compelling read and I would recommend it. I give it an 8 out of 10.
29. Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
Frog Music is a sort of imagining what might have happened in the true story of an unresolved murder in San Francisco in 1876. I didn’t realize it was based on real events until I got to the afterward at the end that mentioned it. I’m not sure knowing that going in would have changed my opinion of this book much, which was that it is awful. It basically revolves around a prostitute named Blanche who befriends a woman named Jenny who is notorious for dressing in men’s clothes. Jenny is murdered and Blanche tries to track down who did it suspecting it might actually be her husband or one of his associates. There is also an entire plot revolving around Blanche gaining and losing her child multiple times. Basically I found the whole book ill written and extremely boring. I’m not even sure why I bothered finishing it. I give it a 2 out of 10.
28. Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me by Kim Bearden
Kim Bearden shares the experiences she has had teaching over the past three decades specifically focusing on her time at the Ron Clark Academy. For teachers who are reading the book she provides activities to think about at the end of each chapter. Even though I am not a teacher myself I enjoyed reading her stories. However, I do feel like she makes things sound a little too easy for most people teaching poor and inner city students. The Ron Clark Academy is an acclaimed school and gets lots of press and thus lots of opportunities that not all schools get. I don’t discount all the great work that the teachers and administrators at that school do with students who come to them from not the best of places, but I think that a lot of the great things they are able to do at their school are made much easier by the large donations and publicity they get that not every inner city school is going to be able to benefit from. I’m glad her kids are getting the opportunities that they are. I just wish all America’s kids could be so lucky. I give it a 6 out of 10.
27. Lent for Everyone: Matthew Year A by N.T. Wright
I used this book as a Lenten devotional. I was proud of myself that there were only 2 days that I forgot to read it. I don’t think I’ve ever done that well before when trying to do a reading every day during Lent. As suggested by the title it takes you through the book of Matthew over the course of Lent with Sundays being a Psalm instead of a passage from Matthew. I enjoyed it for the most part. It definitely made me think about some passages in ways I never had before or made me focus on ones that I have probably read at least a dozen times but never really thought about.
As always in something that’s been written by a human about the Bible, there were occasionally some interpretations of things that I didn’t agree with. For the most part though I found it to be a really good Lenten devotional. We all bring our own biases and experiences to reading the Bible and any human being who thinks they have the definitive answers is guaranteed to be wrong, so I don’t disparage the author for his views in places where we disagree on things. If you are looking for a daily devotional for Lent I would recommend this one. I give it a 7 out of 10.