Mini-Reviews: the one with breathing until you can’t, getting lost and found, and a pretty good out-loud book.

When you hit a bloggy slump, sometimes the only things that can rescue you are books. So what did I read this week?

Book110Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline (Random House, 2011, 374 pages, paperback). I first devoured Ready Player One last fall, reading so fast that whole sections of the end piece sounded unfamiliar this time around. I thought the girls would like hearing about a teenager living in the not-too-futuristic USA where resources are so few and living is so miserable that everyone chooses to stay logged in to a virtual reality called The Oasis. Especially as there’s now a multi-billion dollar prize to find. The girls loved the adventure and pacing and I loved explaining all of the 80s references the book is stuffed chock-a-block with. It’s a great read-aloud book and I had just as much fun reading it this time around as I did the first. Maybe even more because I could relish the girls’ reactions from this side of But how does it end?!?! 5 of 5 stars.

Book109The Night We Said Yes, by Lauren Gibaldi (HarperTeen, 2015, 294 pages, ebook). I was hoping for “a fun, romantic read” just like it’s billed, but the story of how a teenaged girl was planning on getting over an Ex, graduating, and getting the hell outta dodge just didn’t resonate with me. There didn’t seem to be anything special to distinguish it from every other YA book out there. I can forgive a lot as I’m settling into a book, but I was always hyper-aware of dialogue. It wasn’t bad, per se, but it never felt less than forced. I just couldn’t get anything to really work for me. Unfortunately. 1 of 5 stars.

Book108The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s Press, 2015, 440 pages, ebook). I was wary about reading this one. I’m not Hannah’s biggest fan – she bugs. Everything seems overly simplified or romanticized and shades of gray are hard to find. But I did want to read why so many people liked the book. And it was available. So I dove it…and really, I should have waded. Because – no depth. Yes, I love me some WWII stories, but this read more like Jodi Piccoult does WWII instead of Markus Zusak or Sara Novic or even like the David Gilham’s City of Women that I think it wanted to be. I recognize that there was good material here. I just also know that if Hannah can’t do it for me in a WWII setting, she likely can’t do it for me in any setting. And that’s okay with me. 2 of 5 stars.

Book107The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, by Kristopher Jansma (Viking, 2013, 251 pages, ebook). If we had been able to join Gatsby as he journeyed around the world, growing and taking note of everything non-Daisy, this could very likely be the novel that came about. The writing wasn’t as lush as Fitzgerald’s (you don’t say!), but there is the same regalness of air, and madcap adventures. The narrator is unreliable, but delightfully so. Still, I know that isn’t everyone’s cuppa, so beware. You also have to be able to forgive a healthy amount of arrogance in the narrator, but I think I covered that with “like Gatsby”, did I not? 3 of 5 stars.

Book106When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi (Random House, 2016, 228 pages, ebook). You guys – this has been one of the most talked-about books of the year for a reason. Everyone I know has been talking about how gorgeous the writing is (so true), how clear-eyed and philosophical it is without getting bogged down (enviably so), and how much it will destroy you when you finish it – but that it shouldn’t be missed for all that (again, yes). You know Dr. Kalanithi has been diagnosed with Stage 4 metastasized lung cancer before you even crack open the book. You know he will not survive. And yet the quick romp through his childhood, a hop and a skip through his internship and beginnings of his residency, and then a huge portion of his marriage and travels through his final sense of self will cut you open and lay you bare. You are the one left gasping by the end, as you read his wife’s own gorgeous prose wrap up the end of their story. It’s a book that has changed who I am as a person and a reader, and it’s only a matter of time before this is on every recommended reading list from high school English to college philosophy to Best Of lists. 5 of 5 stars.

Book105Happy Are the Happy, by Yasmina Reza (Other Press, 2015, 160 pages, ebook). A quick novella about a dozen or so characters leading “ordinary”lives that should expose how we survive with only grit and laughter. Maybe it would have worked (though I doubt it) if I had read it any other time, but coming right off When Breath Becomes Air, I mostly just wanted the characters to grow up and stop whining. Ain’t nobody got time for that in our reading lives. 1 of 5 stars.

Book104Summer and Bird, by Katherine Catmull (Dutton, 2012, 384 pages, paperback). I got this book for Christmas, read the first chapter, was a bit unsettled about whether I Santa maybe should have bought it after all, and then left it on my shelf. My #readmyowndamnbooks challenge finally guilted me into reading it and I am so glad! It’s the twisted fairy tale of two young sisters – the titular Summer and Bird – who wake up to find their parents missing. A cryptic note takes them to a handmade gate into the woods, and off on a very fairytale-ish sort of quest. It reminded me of Alice in Wonderland meets John Connolly’s Book of Lost Things and I cannot wait to make my sister read it. 4 of 5 stars.

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