Book reviews: One great, one good, two iffy, and two pieces of kindling.

It hasn’t been my best two reading weeks. I had been doing pretty well and then BAM! I hit a wall. Unsurprising, when you think that I’ve been focusing on getting through a few of the five books I had leftover from two Christmases ago. Yep. There were some books that I did want to read, but kept creeping lower and lower on my priority list. No wonder.

So! Here we go.

The books to use as kindling:
Book44One Day, by David Nicholls and Last Night in Twisted River, by John Irving. I wasn’t sure about David Nicholls, but one of my reading friends kept recommending the book. And I don’t do time travel – I don’t. Not even for books that include a different sort of hook: that you imagine the life the couple doesn’t lead, the one that looks back at the same day year after year to see what each person has gone on to do. What families do they have, what adventures, what lives do they lead. I honestly couldn’t care because the writing was so cliche. I didn’t want to know either of the characters.

As for the Irving, I’m honestly starting to doubt whether I should keep reading him. Owen Meany and Cider House Rules are two of my all-time favorites. Garp was okay. But the rest of them? Blech. He is incredibly hit or miss with me and I don’t want to give up on him, but… well, let’s just say I’m not rushing to read Avenue of Mysteries, even if it is part of the Tournament of Books this year. Both books: 1 of 5 stars.

The books that were kinda iffy:
The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews. I read Nguyen’s Sympathizer for the Tournament of Books and really connected with the voice right away. I’m not heavy into Eastern Asian lit, so it takes a lot to pull me in, and I think that is where I went wrong: I didn’t care as much about the plot as I could have. But Ngugen’s voice – you can tell right away that this guy knows what he’s doing. He’s a master at his craft. He’s aces at telling stories – I just didn’t particularly care to hear this one. One of those times when you can say “It’s not you; it’s me” and actually mean it.  Book45

It was worse with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I’ve seen my complaint in a lot of the reviews, though in reverse – this YA phenom was billed as everything John Green’s Fault in our Stars was not. Except that I liked TFioS. M&E&tDG, on the other hand, felt whiny. Yeah, maybe that’s “more accurate” of teens, but which ones? Who says books have to be completely accurate? I use them as escapism, and all I ask is that you entertain me with your voice, the characters, and the plot, all at the same time. (A tall order, yes I know.) I didn’t find Protag Greg to be all that funny, and I use my lit to get away from awkward situations. So, yeah, you can see how many ways this book was all wrong for me. I liked that it gives readers a place to go if they need to feel like it’s okay to just not be moved by something…but god, does anyone need permission for that any more? Both books: 2 of 5 stars.

The book that was good:
Book46Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup. Yes, I’m very late to this bandwagon. I know. I picked up Twelve Years as an e-loan from the library to fulfill my “Read a book that was turned into a movie” challenge for Read Harder 2016. It’s been ages since I’ve read all of the great slave narratives and it felt a bit like coming home to slip back into one. The frame stories, the fact dropping so we could verify, the call and response, the tropes of quadroons and hair – everything was here. It was a well-crafted memoir and fits well among those of Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, and the rest of the canon. 4 of 5 stars.

The book that was great:
Book47Dumplin’, by Julie Murphy.
Oh my god, you guys! You have to read. MUST. Willowdean Dickson is a wonder. The story is of an “unlikely” heroine, a fat girl, one who can’t quite decide whether she’s confidant with her self (or her body) or not. There are the requisite adventures: fights with a best friend, who has drifted; trouble with boys; the death of a family member; bonding issues with Mom; and bullies – and those you might not expect: like a band of misfits, drag queens, oh and Willowdean (known, rather reluctantly as Dumplin’, you might have guessed) enters the teen beauty pageant her mom won once and can’t let go of. I struggled at times with whether the story was doing enough, with whether it was fighting of cliches well enough, with whether I’d be happy if things were all resolved instead of leaving some open-ended, the way I wanted. And I say again: oh my god, you guys! You have to read. MUST. 5 of 5 stars.


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