Year 14, Book 101

101. The Body: A Guide for Occupents by Bill Bryson

As the title of the book says this book is all about the human body with each chapter focusing on a specific aspect of the body or the things that affect it like our diet our diseases. Bryson digs into the history looking at how our understanding of the body has changed over time. I’m used to Bryson’s writings being much more humorous than they are in the this book, but it’s still a very interesting and engaging book. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 14, Book 100

100. The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

This is a YA novel set in a world where certain people known as Rithmatists have the ability to control chalk drawings of a certain sort. The drawings have been used in the past for evil and now students from one of the academies that train them have started to disappear. Joel who is also a student at the academy was not blessed with rithmatic powers, but it obsessed with the art of rithmatics. He sets out to help figure out what is going on and realizes he has other gifts to offer. This is the first book in what appears will be a series of some sort. I really enjoyed reading it and look forward to future books in the series. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 14, Book 99

99. Deacon King Kong by James McBride

Apparently this book is set in 1969 according to the summary, something I somehow failed to pick up while I was reading it, but that means the story has a timeless quality to it because I totally didn’t question what happened even while thinking it was set in present day. Unfortunately I wasn’t super into the story. I was rather bored by it and didn’t really care what was happening to any of the characters. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 14, Book 98

98. A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

House of the Spirits is my favorite Isabel Allende novel and this book feels like it comes the closest to that sprawling narrative over generations and dipping in and out of the political in this case both during the Spanish civil war in the 1930s and then through many years in Chile. In some respects though that made this book feel a little bit like a shadow of the former book. There were some pieces of the story that were obviously foreshadowed but didn’t come back into play until much later than I expected at which point they felt very tacked on at the end and not explored in a way that I would have hoped. At the beginning of the book I felt like it was one of the best books Allende has written in years, but I’m not sure I felt the same way by the time I got to the end of it. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 14, Book 97

97. We Were Promised Spotlights by Lindsay Sproul

It’s 1999 and Taylor is a senior in high school. She’s the most popular girl in school, but she doesn’t like the life that’s facing her as she heads into the new millennium. She’s a terrible student and is uninterested in the dental hygienist program her mom is pushing her into after graduation. She also has little interest in settling down in her small town with the homecoming king like everyone assume’s she’ll do, especially since she’s in love with her best friend Susan.

Lives of teenagers in YA books and movies are often unrealistic because they set up some aspirational life that doesn’t conform to reality. This book is sort of like that, but in a weird non-aspirational way. I was a teenager at about the same time as these kids and I felt like their lives were not that realistic, but also I don’t think anyone would want to be them either. Also, Taylor is a terrible person and does a lot of really terrible things to people so it’s a little hard to sympathize with her even though her life is really crappy. It kept me interested enough to keep reading, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a great book. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 14, Book 96

96. Embrace Your Weird: Face Your Fears and Unleash Creativity by Felicia Day

This is sort of a self-help workbook designed to help you spark your creativity and get past your fears. I had this book as an e-galley and read it straight through rather than doing any of the exercises, so I really did not use as intended. It was still an engaging book with lots of humor and little stories about Felicia Day’s own life and experiences as a reluctant creator. I think it would definitely work better in print than as an e-book if you’re so inclined to buy it. I’m not looking to become a big creator of anything in any larger sense of the word, but I still think there were some useful exercises in here just for helping with issues of anxiety and also just getting yourself motivated. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 14, Book 95

95. The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

This book jumps back and forth between three time periods. In present day black woman named Ava, who has recently lost her job and who wants to get her son away from bad influences in their neighborhood, moves in with her wealthy white grandmother to help care for her, get her son into a better school, and save up money to buy a place of her own. The other two time periods follow Josephine, Ava’s ancestor, who we see both as a slave during her childhood and then later in 1925 when she owns a farm and is befriended by a white neighbor who is also mixed up with the Ku Klux Klan.

As is often the case with books that focus on characters in different timelines I found myself much more drawn to one story than the others. I was much more interested in Ava’s story and the fascinating look at race through her relationship with her demented white grandmother who often did not remember who her black granddaughter and great-grandson were. I never really got invested in either parts of Josephine’s story, which made the book a bit of a slog for me. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 14, Book 94

94. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

The Great Believers is two interrelated stories. One half is told from the perspective of Yale, who is gay man living in the 80s in Chicago dealing with the deaths of many of his friends to AIDS. The other half is set in 2015 and follows Fiona, who was the sister of Yale’s best friend Nico who died of AIDS. She was the caretaker for this group of friends as they died one by one. She is now trying to hunt down her estranged daughter in Paris while staying with Richard, a famous photographer and one of the few surviving members of that friend group.

I definitely liked the Yale part of the story better, but I really enjoyed the book overall and liked ultimately how the two halves of the story came together. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Year 14, Book 93

93. A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

Valerie is a professor raising her biracial teenage son Xavier in a small North Carolina town in a neighborhood that is being rebuilt as people buy up the lots to tear down the old houses and build new larger ones. The Whitmans who move in next door have done just that already putting them on Valeries bad side even before she realized they have killed her beloved oak tree in the process of building their new home. The secret interracial romance brewing between their two teenagers just throws more fuel on the fire in this Southern small town. I enjoyed reading this book, but I do wish that it had ended differently. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 14, Book 92

92. Music from Another World by Robin Talley

Set in 1977 two teenage girls bond over punk music during a school assigned pen pal exercise. Tammy is a lesbian trapped in a super strict Christian family and school run by her aunt who is fighting to pass stricter laws against homosexuality. Sharon lives in San Francisco where she’s struggling to hide the fact that her brother has recently told her he is gay and their involvement in the gay rights movement where she also discovers punk.

This is an epistolary novel with the story told through letters the girls write to each other, diary entries, and letters Tammy has been writing to Harvey Milk. I don’t love epistolary novels as they wind up feeling forced much of the time trying to convey the plot by writing stuff in a way people would not normally write. This one did a pretty decent job as far as these things go, but it’s still not my favorite. I’ve found Robin Talley’s books to be hit or miss for me, but this one felt pretty middle of the road. I give it a 6 out of 10.