Year 9, Book 86

86. Displacement by Lucy Knisley

Graphic artist Lucy Knisley continues her graphic memoirs in this tale of taking her elderly grandparents on a cruise. She also connects the future to the past with excerpts from her grandfather’s World War II diary. Drawn in Knisley’s distinctive style and told with her wry sense of humor, Displacement is another great book by her. You’re drawn into the frustrations she feels while trying to deal with her elderly grandparents in a foreign environment and her hopes of making a lasting connection with them before they pass on. I definitely recommend it. I give it 9 out 10.

Year 9, Book 85

85. West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan

I have loved all of the other books by Stewart O’Nan that I have read, so I was extremely excited to get a galley copy of West of Sunset. Sadly, I really didn’t care for it at all. The book is a fictional biography of the last three years of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life. His wife Zelda is in a mental institution. He is an extreme alcoholic, and his fortunes have turned. He has moved out to Hollywood to write for the movies, but at this point in his life he has trouble even making that work.

I generally don’t enjoy fictional histories of real people. I would much rather read a real biography. I find people trying to tell a narrative of someone’s life constrained by what actually happened while trying to create an actual story around it never works out that well. I was bored by the entire thing. Usually I am entranced by O’Nan’s writing style and that was far from the case with this book. I mostly couldn’t wait to be done with it. I was very disappointed to like this as little as I did.  I give it a 3 out of 10.

Year 9, Book 94

94. Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Lou Clark lives at home with her parents, her sister, and her nephew having abandoned grander plans to get out of their small faltering town. Now she has lost her job as a server in a bun shop and is faced with finding something else to help keep her family afloat in a town that doesn’t have much to offer in the way of jobs. Reluctantly she takes a position as a personal care assistant to Will Traynor, the adult son of one of the wealthiest families in town whose life was tragically changed when he became a quadriplegic due to a motorcycle accident. Neither of them feel like they especially have much to live for at this point, but together they will find that maybe there’s something out there still worth living for.

I’m generally not a chick lit/romance novel type person, which this book definitely toes the line on, but I really, really liked it. I thought the characters were great and very realistically written. The book had a great sense of place. I could totally picture the town and the environment they live in. I’ve had a bad year for books that I’ve really liked a lot, and this book was one of the few that I’ve read this year that I didn’t want to put down. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 9, Book 84

84. Tape by Steven Camden

In 1993 Ryan records his thoughts onto cassette tapes. He talks about his dead mother, his new step-brother, and the girl he has a crush on. In 2003 Ameliah has lost both of her parents and is now living with her grandmother when she comes across some old cassettes. She listens and feels like Ryan is talking to her and that he can somehow hear her when she talks back. Is there more of a connection between them than just these tapes?

I could not really get into this book at all. I mostly just skimmed it because I didn’t find it very engaging at all. It was fairly obvious what the actual connection between Ryan and Ameliah was. I give it a 3 out of 10.

Year 9, Book 83

83. The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver is one of those books that I always thought I had read when I was younger, but didn’t really remember much about. I decided to reread it due to the movie coming out, but after having done so it turns out I don’t think I ever actually read it the first time. It’s a young adult dystopian future novel written long before The Hunger Games made those all the rage. I can definitely understand why movie people decided now was the time to finally make this book into a film.

We’re never really clued in to what happened to change society so much in the future to try and protect itself from the past, but in this future everything is given to a sort of sameness with collective societal memories of the past erased except for The Giver who must contain all those memories. Jonas is a young 12 year old boy who instead of being assigned one of the regular jobs found in this community as would be expected at his age is instead assigned to become the new keeper of the memories. Receiving these memories will alter his life and his perspective on his community forever.

Given everything I’ve always heard about this book I expected to like it much more than I actually did. I know it’s aimed at a younger audience, but it still felt very slight to me. There were some good ideas within it, but I left feeling like it wasn’t developed fully. I gather there are now more books that follow up this one, though given the 7 year break between the first and second books I’m guessing it wasn’t originally intended to be a series. Though I don’t know that for sure. Perhaps I would feel differently if I read all 4 books where presumably the story is fleshed out a little more. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 9, Book 82

82. This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

I read this book in preparation for the movie, which is due out soon. The Foxman clan is back together for the first time in many years for their father’s funeral. Now they find out that their father’s final request is that the family sit shiva, which means spending the next 7 days locked in the house together . Judd, who is the narrator of the book is simultaneously mourning the death of his father and the demise of his marriage due to his wife’s affair with his boss. Now trapped with his mother, two brothers, sister and their families long held resentments come to a head and secrets are revealed.

I enjoyed Tropper’s writing even when I found the characters hard to take at times. It’s definitely one of those novels with at times whiney and self-absorbed characters that drive some people nuts. If that’s you then I would avoid this book. I thought the book was well written enough that I didn’t mind them. I will be interested to see how well it works as a movie. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 9, Book 90

90. The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

This book focuses on immigrants in a Delaware community, some of whom are in the country legally and some of whom are here undocumented. After a tragic accident that has left their teenage daughter Maribel brain damaged, the Rivera family comes to the United States to seek treatment for her, but what they find when they get here is not what they imagined. They befriend the Toro family who lives in their apartment complex, whose son Mayor develops feelings for Maribel. Their relationship eventually leads to some misunderstandings and tragic consequences for the two families. Interspersed between their story are chapters that are essentially short stories about other immigrant families that live in this apartment complex. It’s an interesting way to tell a big story while also pointing out the many different immigrant experiences that exist. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 9, Book 89

89. Us by David Nicholls

With their son, Alex about to leave for college Connie announces to her husband, Douglas one day that she doesn’t think she wants to be married to him anymore. The problem is that they are scheduled to take a 3 week long art tour as a family. Despite everything Connie thinks they should still go, and Douglas sees it as one last opportunity to win back his wife and develop a relationship with the son he has never been close to. Of course things don’t go as planned and he seems to have driven his family farther away than ever.

The book shifts back and forth in time between their current lives and the beginning of Connie and Douglas’ relationship. My problem with this book was that despite these early looks at how they got together I really couldn’t understand why these two characters were ever together. They never seemed suited for each other, not even in an opposite’s attract kind of way. I couldn’t imagine how they managed to get married in the first place let alone stay together as long as they did. As such the characters as well as some of the plots just didn’t really seem believable to me. As someone who really enjoyed Nicholl’s book One Day, even it’s controversial ending, I was disappointed in this book. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 9, Book 81

81. The Annotated Mix-Tape by Joshua Harmon

Harmon is a music lover and avid record collector. In this series of essays he uses songs as the basis to tell stories about his life, music history, and what was going on in the world at the time the song came out. As a fellow music lover I really enjoyed the premise of this book despite the fact that I didn’t know many of the songs he used as the starting off point for his essays. I loved his introduction about music and the art of creating mix tapes. I did greatly prefer the essays that were more personal in which he told stories about what particular songs meant to his life at specific times to those that were more esoteric or covered non-personal topics. I’m not sure how much appeal this book would have to people who aren’t greatly into music, but I’m sure fellow music lovers can identify with many of the things Harmon writes about. I give it a 6 out of 10.