Monday, December 31, 2012

Four Star 2012 Part One

Here is the first half of my four star books. If you are unable to scroll back I will remind you that these are the ones that I liked very much indeed, but was able to function while reading them. My YA four stars will be in the next post...

Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan – The was the gripping story of a group of black musicians in Germany as the Nazis come to power. I don’t have much to say other than I wished it had come with a soundtrack.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn – A very disturbing and yet entertaining story about a brittle woman who lost everything when she was a young child and her family was murdered. Twisty and dark…

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn – It felt a bit like Major Pettigrew if he were the Queen of England. Lovely secondary characters and an interesting perspective on the Queen.

View From Mount Joy by Lorna Landvik – When I was reading it, it felt like a five star. So funny and I didn’t want to put it down. It was a pleasure to read but somehow it didn’t stick with me.

Curse of the Spellmans, Revenge of the Spellmans and The Spellmans Strike Again by Lisa Lutz – These were some funny mysteries. A couple of them broke the five star barrier. The first because it was such a sweet surprise and the other one because it felt like she was really writing a strong story instead of just coasting on her awesome characters.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – Okay, it could be that I was reading it in Disneyworld, but I thought the big reveal was kind of a snooze. The roaring 20s setting was delicious and the characters fascinating, but they never did what I wanted them to, which can be very frustrating when you are muttering advice to them under your breath as you read!

Baby's in Black: Astrid Kirchher, Stuart Sutcliffe and the Beatles in Hamburg by Arne Bellsdorf – This was fascinating. I love the movie BACKBEAT and this tells essentially the same story, but with wonderful details. It really shows Stuart and Astrid as artists. The only flaw is that every character looks the same. Not that I remember to look at the pictures in most graphic novels, anyway…

The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln by Noah VanScriver – The art in this book was marvelous and the story was very interesting, Lincoln just starting out and hooking up with Mary Todd. It dealt with his mental and physical issues as well as his work and life. It got a little weird near the end, but all in all, worth a read.

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham – This was a quick little read, but it was emotionally draining. The story was about a kid whose (now dead) father slaved his life away so that he could go to medical school. But he would rather play videogames. As a former young person I was gripped and moved. As a parent I was less so…

Girl Walks into a Bar by Rachel Dratch – It seems unfair of me to only give this four stars because I didn’t like the way her life turned out. But I did. She is funny and her writing is clear, but I didn’t laugh out loud as much as I thought I would and I don’t want her to have to settle.

My Life as Laura by Kelly Kathleen Ferguson – This was hysterically funny! KKF has an existential crisis and decides to follow the path of Laura Inglass Wilder, in a nearly era specific dress. She was signing her books at LAURAPALOOZA this summer (don’t ask, just google if you must) and I kind of bought one on a whim because the piece she read was very funny – I figured it was like movie previews where she only tells the best part. But I was pleasantly surprised by the consistently entertaining story.

Little Princes by Connor Grennan – I don’t usually like books where people do nice things for people in other cultures and leave with a sense that those simple folk are really the wise ones. (See Three-Cups-of-Shut-the-Hell-Up) but Grennan was humorously self deprecating throughout and he didn’t write about helping a bunch of orphans, he wrote about helping some individual kids. Nicely done, Grennan.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? By Mindy Kaling – I may have given this four stars rather than five because I found her SO annoying as Kelly Kapur on THE OFFICE, but now that I adore her on THE MINDY PROJECT, I might have liked this even more. Either way, Kaling is funny as can be and her topical chapters were a hoot!

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Morin – Morin is an English journalist who apparently wrote this in 20 minutes, or a couple months. She mentioned having to write it fast. There were some fantastic bits in here and some annoying bits. She certainly let it all hang out, but she tried to walk the middle ground between being a real mate and wanting to let you know just how cool she really is. That being said, there was important content here, I love her as a social commentator, but not much as a memoirist. Less Caitlin history, more Caitlin’s ideas, please!

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt – Hey, Gary Schmidt went to the same college as me! And he is a fellow Michigander! And he can write! This was a beautiful story about friendship and rising above circumstances. However, there were also some birds and a cancer story arc that was probably a little over the top. I still loved it, but I felt like it is one of those middle grade books that was written so that kids could read it in school and find meaning, not that it was written for adults, but I think adults are going to prefer it.

Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies by Marc Aronson – I just love those oversized middle grade non-fiction hardcovers that Marc Aronson and Jim Murphy keep sending my way. I get such a rich backstory on historical figures and events without all that wordy embroidery that I have to wade through in adult non-fiction. Do I feel guilty? Sure, a little. But I end up smarter at the end just like in a real book. This one was about Hoover,  a creepy little bastard who we are well rid of! Fascinating reading, though.

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown – A sweet, funny, sciencey book – who knew such a think existed? Brown discovers a planetoid bigger than Pluto just as he is falling in love and starting a family. It is nice to see how he does this universe shattering work but maintains perspective in his family life as well.

The Cure For Everything by Tim Caulfield – Yes Tim, you are so skinny and healthy. Now shut up. Actually, don’t shut up, just stop being annoying. Caufield was fascinating and he tried to bust all these health myths by making himself as shockingly healthy as possible. He didn't make it sound fun, and he kind of made it seem impossible – but it was interesting.

Unnatural Selection - Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men by Mara Hvistehdahl – Oh my gosh! Stop having boy babies RIGHT NOW!!! Selective abortion in many places is leading to a very skewed gender inequity in the birth rate. This book freaked me out a little, but was a fascinating read.

West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein – Oh sure, I have seen the play and the movie, but I never read it, so this counts. Oh, no reason…

I will write up the rest of my yearly reading bonanza tomorrow!

Happy New Year!

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