An Open Book: What I Read in January and February

Early reading in 2016 has definitely had both its highs and lows. I’ve read a couple really good books, but I’ve definitely also had my share of duds too.

Seriously, how is it there are so many talented, undiscovered writers out there and meanwhile such bad books are being published? It is absolutely mystifying to me, because life is too short for bad books!

What have you been reading? And what do I need to get my hands on ASAP?

022916 - BarefootBarefoot by Elin Hilderbrand

Three-sentence review: People might dismiss beach books as being fluffy, light and lacking in substance, but Barefoot is actually one of the better books I’ve read in awhile (though you’ll see from most of my reviews below, I’ve hit a streak of crappy reads). This book follows three 30-something women struggling through different personal challenges when they escape their big city lives for a summer in Nantucket. Though their personalities feel a bit flimsy at times, Hilderbrand did a good job at writing a very readable – and, at times, relatable – story that navigates the conflicting emotions that accompany of love, loss and success.

Favorite line:

The problem was, the chemo wouldn’t cure her cancer. It would merely discipline it. Vicki could feel the mean-ass, dumb-shit little cells throwing a beer bash, doing the bump and grind and drunkenly copulating and reproducing as she lay in bed trying to breathe, with Porter hiccuping at her side.

013116 - HalloweenThe Best Halloween Ever by Barbara Robinson

Three-sentence review: I have a deep love for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and I was thrilled to discover Robinson wrote two other related books, one of which is The Best Halloween Ever. I read this book in just a couple sittings and was thoroughly disappointed in the disjointed story about a town’s cancellation of Halloween, lack of character connection and confusing plot. At the end of Robinson’s other book, I’ve always felt moved and uplifted, and this book left me feeling like I’d simply wasted precious reading time.

022916 - Why Not MeWhy Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

BONUS! Four-sentence review: Why, oh why, is Mindy Kaling so well liked, and why is this book a New York Times bestseller? Shame on my book club for selecting this book written by a supposedly funny comedy writer working in Hollywood. Kaling is self-absorbed and, quite frankly, not funny at all, and this book was nothing short of a boring, annoying waste of time. I rarely hand out one-star ratings on Goodreads, but, in my opinion, this book definitely earned that.

022916 - No Impact ManNo Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process by Colin Beavan

Three-sentence review: On his very first day of the no-impact project, Beavan needs to blow his nose but doesn’t know how he’s going to do that without creating garbage – and I immediately rolled my eyes thinking this was going to be a tedious, woe-is-me story of someone trying to do good for the environment. The truth is, though, that even after a rough start, the author devotes himself completely to minimizing the footprint made by him and his family, and while he shares their personal story, he provides a lot of solid information about the current state our planet finds itself in, and what the average person can do to help decrease his or her environmental impact as well. In addition to the very readable bulk of the book, Beavan provides an extensive resources list in the back of the appendix; though this book was published in 2009 and some of the information is out of date, there is still a lot of good stuff here that helps bring the dire situation into focus and provides a guide for how to make changes at a personal level.

Favorite lines:

It was not trash per se that got me. It was the throwing away of things used for less than five minutes without so much as a thought before reaching for the exact same product to use for another five minutes before throwing that away, too.

I’m not complaining, because, if you take out the hamster-wheel quality, what I’m describing definitely had elements of a nice life – a “high standard of living.” The question is, if you factor the hamster-wheel quality back in, is this “high standard of living” the same as a good quality of life?

At what age did I start to think that where I was going was more important than where I already was? When was it that I began to believe that the most important thing about what I was doing was getting it over with? Knowing how to live is not something we have to teach children. Knowing how to live is something we have to be careful not to take away from them.

We have to change the culture. Not just the government. I don’t want business as  usual. I want better. I want a way of life that makes both the people and the planet happier.

It is the workers at the organizations I volunteer for who confirm for me that environmentalism is not about trying to use less but about trying to be more. It is not about sucking our tummies in but pushing our hearts out. Environmentalism is not about the environment. It is about the people. It is about a vision for a better life – for people.

013116 - LeoLeo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett

Three-sentence review: Lauded over the past year as one of the best new picture books, Leo: A Ghost Story was surprisingly convoluted for a book designed for very young children. It starts out a bit creepy with a family that feels like Leo, a ghost, is haunting their house, but then he makes friends with a young girl who accepts him and all of his ghostly traits, though she simply calls him an imaginary friend. The story takes a weird turn at the end with Leo saving the day when he catches burglars breaking into his friend’s home.

013116 - MoominMoominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson

Three-line review: I desperately wanted to love this book because, as a book straight out of Finland, this and all the Moomin books were important in S’s (our foreign exchange student) life growing up, and she was excited that I was reading it. But, if there’s ever been a children’s chapter book that has been more confusing, I don’t think I’ve encountered it. Perhaps the Finnish-to-English translation just didn’t hold up well or there’s a cultural gap I just couldn’t jump, but Moominsummer Madness was exceedingly bizarre with a strange cast of characters, a true lack of cohesion and nothing that kept my attention throughout the duration of the book.

022916 - A Fine BalanceA Fine Balance by Rohintin Mistry

Three-sentence review: This intimate, epic story deeply dives into India’s intricate and troubling caste system by following the stories of four separate people whose lives intersect with each other in the mid-1970s. The character development is incredibly well done, and the author has illustrated distinct details and moments that provided context and intrigue for a story that I have no personal connection with. Mistry did a stellar job of pulling back and letting readers grow and learn with the main characters to understand how and why they came to be where they are during the main thrust of this book, which is horrifying given how recent these events took place; I felt invested in and compassion for all of them because of this.

I listened to this via audiobook, which helped me keep the characters straight and separate, but, unfortunately, books set in India are victim to stereotypes when read aloud that I really dislike.


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