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Reading Roundup: February 2020

One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America by Gene Weingarten

How does the year 1986 feel simultaneously like it just barely happened and also like ancient history? This book was an interesting collection of a variety of different stories about many different people and the many ways in which one particular day fit into the rest of their life. Weingarten uses a few stylistic tics that I don't particularly enjoy, but I mostly had a great time reading this book.

The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung

Math is not a subject I know a lot about, but thankfully the author of this book describes it in such a way that I can still appreciate its significance to the story without fully understanding all the details. Some elements of the plot were a bit too melodramatic and cliche for my taste--it's getting hard to write an original novel about World War 2 in Europe anymore--but I still enjoyed reading it. The protagonist feels both historically appropriate and relatable…

Reading Roundup: January 2020

The Guardians by John Grisham

It's been years since I last read a novel by Grisham, but I read a number of positive reviews of this new title and thought it might be worth my time to give it a try. Like many of the author's other novels, this focuses on a contemporary social issue (wrongful convictions), which made it feel a little too didactic in spots. It also wasn't as suspenseful as I had thought it would be--I kept waiting for the conflict to increase or for something awful to happen, and yet it did not. I think it might be better to skip this and just read Just Mercy instead.

Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America by James Poniezowik

I rarely read books about politics, but I had read an interview with the author of this book last year and found his ideas to be intriguing. When I ran across the book again at work, I decided to check it out and give it a read. First of all, it reminded me that I have actually watched very little televisio…

Reading Roundup: 2019

My reading totals for 2019 are right on track with trends from the last few years (here is 2018's post). I read a total of 110 books--averaging around 8 books most months, with heavy reading in the spring when I worked on Whitney books. I didn't participate in any reading challenges this year after all, since the one I completed before was from a local used bookstore and I had a hard time spending my prize gift certificate (turns out I don't really like buying books, and used bookstores make it hard to find anything I want to actually have in my house). I did notice that I read more young adult books this year, which is something I had gotten away from during the last few years.

I was not surprised to find that I had read 87 books by women, 21 books by men, and 2 by multiple authors. I read a lot of fiction, and the genres I favor tend to have more female authors. I also read several adult categories for the Whitneys and they were all heavily female. Additionally, there we…

Reading Roundup: December 2019

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

While there were some passages in this book that I loved, I felt like overall it wasn't as strong as some of Solnit's other writing. I love her way of drawing connections between so many disparate ideas and her skill in depicting small details that others might miss. Although I don't think this is my favorite of her books, Solnit is still one of my favorite writers.

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

This is a book that popped up on a lot of 'best of the decade' lists recently so I thought I'd give it a chance. To be honest, I kind of hated it for at least the first half of the book. The protagonist is prickly and reacts to things in ways I had difficulty understanding. However, as I persevered, things started to come together and I began to see how wrong I was about the assumptions I was making. This is a difficult book to describe, and a difficult book to read, but it really is worth the effort.

Never Have I Ever

Reading Roundup: November 2019

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

This was my first book by Ware, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Despite the fact that I started to figure out the big twist before the end, I still didn't guess all the details and couldn't put it down.

Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness by W. Paul Reeve

I'd read a few different pieces from Reeve about his research and wasn't sure whether I wanted to put the time into reading the whole book. I'm glad I did, because even though it's fairly complicated, it was fascinating. This is one of my new favorite books to tell people about because I learned so much from it.

Mercury by Margot Livesey

Even a month after finishing this book, I'm still not sure what to think about it. It's a long, complex book and uneven in the way it's written. The central conflict was muted and it didn't have a strong narrative arc, but the characters were well-realized and it posed a number of interestin…

Reading Roundup: October 2019

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

I listened to this as an audio book while coming back from a road trip. I didn't like it as much as some of Reay's other books that I've read. The audio format didn't help, since the narrator made some strange choices in how they pronounced names and depicted Italian accents. The book also felt slow and the main character was inconsistent in her actions.  

Twisted River by Siobhan MacDonald

The problem with the trend in unreliable narrators in crime fiction is that if the author doesn't do it well, it just feels like sloppy writing. This book had a big twist in the middle, but it wasn't set up well and instead of feeling surprised, I just felt confused and a bit betrayed. The characterization was lazy as well, and some of the plot threads just faded away without a good resolution. 

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

Perhaps it is a bit of a spoiler to say that the poem referred to in the title never actually appears in t…

Reading Roundup: September 2019

Family Trust by Kathy Wang

This book had an interesting premise and started out strong, but was disappointing in the end. The resolution to a few of the story lines never materialized, and I felt like the hype and drama around the main conflict wasn't warranted by the time it was resolved. I've read both the novels that this one keeps getting compare to (The Nest and Crazy Rich Asians) and thought they were both better-written and had more sympathetic, nuanced characters.

Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Reading this as an e-book was a mistake, because the story jumps around to a number of different time periods and includes a large number of characters. It's too hard to browse back and forth on a Kindle, and I know I lost track of a few things. The slow-moving nature of the story didn't help either--although I'm sure the author knows how everything fits together and what the theme of the story is, it was too subtle and the end of the book was a let-down. 

The …