Year 17, Book 93

93. Matrix by Lauren Groff

Matrix is a highly fictionalized story about the real 12th century author Marie de France. I didn’t really know anything about Marie de France going into this book, so I was unsure how much was based on actual events and how much was imagined. It turns out that though many of her manuscripts survive there is little actually known about who Marie de France really was. It’s mostly speculation, so pretty much this entire book is a work of fiction. In this story, she is cast out of court by Eleanor of Aquitaine and sent to live in an abbey where she eventually overcomes her disdain of religion and religious life to become the head of the abbey where she experiences visions from God. As it is alluded to many times throughout the book that Marie was in love with Eleanor, I would have liked to have gotten more glimpses of their earlier relationship, which I think would have helped round out Marie’s obsession with her. Overall, I did find it an engaging book that had interesting things to say about women, power, and religion. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 17, Book 80

80. The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

This was a fun, YA heist type story. Nora is the daughter of a con-artist and spent her childhood changing identities trapped in her mother’s schemes until she managed to break free five years ago. But now she’s involved in a ruse of her own as she gets caught up as a hostage in a bank robbery along with her ex-boyfriend and current girlfriend. Now she’ll have to use all the skills she learned from her mother to get them all out of this safely. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 17, Book 69

69. Miseducated: My Journey by Brandon P. Fleming

Brandon Fleming grew up in a physically, sexually, and psychologically abusive home. By the time he was a young teen he was both doing and dealing drugs with the hope of a basketball career the only thing keeping him school, though he was really just being passed along without learning anything. A career ending injury shortly after going to college almost ended both his basketball career and his education, but a series of circumstances resulted in him returning to school where he discovered debate a turning point in his life. With the help of a couple of mentors who very easily could have written him off, he was able to get himself the education he had missed out on his entire life and has since devoted his career to educating youth like himself. It’s an incredible story, and a stark reminder that too many kids are being written off. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 17, Book 68

68. My Time Will Come: A Memoir of Crime, Punishment, Hope and Redemption by Ian Manuel

When Ian Manuel was 14 years old he was sentenced to life without parole for shooting a woman in the face during a robbery gone wrong. He spent much of the next 18 years of his life in solitary confinement until the Equal Justice Initiative took an interest in his case and got his sentence overturned. This book is his story told in his own words. He is very candid about his own culpability in what happened while I also excoriating the cruelty and capriciousness of the criminal justice system in America. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 17, Book 67

67. Inciting Joy: Essays by Ross Gay

I was really excited to get an advanced reader’s copy of this book because Ross’s previous books, The Book of Delights, is one of the best things I’ve read this year. Unfortunately I just could not get into this book. I think there were a couple of reasons. The biggest one is that there are a lot of asides in footnotes that made it very difficult to follow due to the formatting in the e-book copy I had. Perhaps it would have been better in the actual print book. Unlike the quick essays from the previous books most of these were much longer and more meandering such that especially, as I said, with the footnotes I had a hard time getting drawn into them. There were still some good things in the book, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 17, Book 63

63. Out of the Corner by Jennifer Grey

This is the first celebrity memoir that I’ve read in a long time that is actually a memoir not just a series of humorous essays about the person’s life. There were a lot of things about Jennifer Grey’s life I didn’t know. I 100% knew that she is Joel Grey’s daughter, but apparently in a way that I still said oh yeah when she started talking about him. It was interesting to read about her childhood stories growing up with him in the theatre. Her childhood was kind of crazy in lots of ways, especially in her teenage years. She has some let’s say interesting views about herself that I found kind of odd to read. Overall I found it to be engaging read. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 17, Book 60

60. My Remarkable Journey by Katherine G. Johnson

This is a memoir written by Katherine Johnson with help by her daughter. She is the woman at the center of the wildly popular book turned into a film, Hidden Figures. Despite her incredibly story that did lead to a bestselling book and major motion picture, this book reads like what it essentially is, an older person who is not an author wanting to tell their story. As such it’s not that well written, but it was somewhat interesting seeing what she had to say about her own life experiences and what she felt was important to convey in her own story when it was in her own hands. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 17, Book 53

53. Rock the Boat by Beck Dorey-Stein

A good book for a summer beach read as it take place in a beach town in New Jersey. It has elements of romance, but is not strictly a romance novel. I didn’t hate it, but there are a lot of things that I felt like I had to overlook. First of all it’s better if you pretend these characters in their mid-20s and not their late 30s because if you think about it too hard they are completely insufferable if they’re that old and acting like they all are. So just sort of squint past their ages. They don’t matter that much anyway. Also, the book somehow makes it seem like Miles’s mother owns this gigantic empire that he’s worried he’s getting cut out of making him return home, but it’s just like a bar and a hotel? It doesn’t seem like something he would be super worried about. So the book definitely has some problems, but it has its moments too. I give it a 5 out of 10.

Year 17, Book 47

47. Singular Sensation: The Triumph of Broadway by Michael Riedel

A behind the scenes look at Broadway in the 1990s. Riedel shares stories about shows like Sunset Boulevard, Rent, Angels in America, The Producers and more while looking at how Broadway became a force in the 90s as new players entered the fray and business models changed. Definitely a great read for anyone who loves live theatre. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 17, Book 40

40. Christians Against Christianity: How Right-Wing Evangelicals Are Destroying Our Nation and Our Faith by Obery M. Hendricks, Jr.

Author Obery M. Hendricks, Jr is past president of Payne Theological Seminary, the oldest African American seminary in the United States, a Visiting Scholar at Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Professor of Biblical Studies at New York Theological Seminary. He definitely knows his stuff and uses scripture and other historical religious texts to lay out his argument that right wing Christian nationalists are both destroying our country and subverting Christianity. I appreciated his Biblical arguments, but there were some cases where even when I agreed with his stance that I felt like he started to rely more on political arguments than scripture. Overall, still a good look at how many evangelical Christians have thrown away actual theology for a nationalist political agenda that they call Christianity. I give it a 7 out of 10.