Pithy Book Reviews 2017

 

#1. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI could have finished it in one sitting, but I enjoy Rosenthal’s voice so much that I didn’t want it to end so I made it last. This is an usual book concept. Read the description in the link to understand it! It was given to me as a gift from a dear member of the writing group I co-lead in Minneapolis on Thursdays. Thank you again, Carolyn!

#2. Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThis was my December pick from The Book Of The Month Club. Liked but did not obsess over it. Definitely a good read though.

 

 

#3. On Living by Kerry Egan

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThis book of reflections from a hospice chaplain came into my life at the perfect time. It’s a beautifully written account from someone who has been there in the last days for many others’ last days. Incredible wisdom.

 

#4. Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living by Manjula Martin

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI enjoyed this nonfiction collection of essays about making money (or not) as a writer. It was as an advance copy from netgalley.com. I chose it because I really liked Martin’s magazine, also called Scratch, which shut down last year. Some of the essays were more relatable to me than others. I especially liked the interviews with Cheryl Strayed, Roxane Gay, and Susan Orlean.

#5. Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe narrative pace was a little hard for me to follow, but I did like the voice. I liked, but by no means loved it. Quick read, which I did like!

 

 

#6. The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThick book of essays, but actually a quicker read. I liked it a lot, but I definitely skimmed more than read many of the essays.

 

 

#7. You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThis memoir is a comedian’s take on race and feminism. It’s a light touch (tons of pop culture references) to a heavy topic. I did the audio because whenever a standup comic or any type of comedian writes a memoir, I like to hear the voice.

 

#8. The Best of Adam Sharp: A Novel by Graeme Simsion 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI really liked this novel from the author of The Rosie Project. I found Adam charming and relatable as a narrator, and I found the situation of wondering about a long lost love relatable as well. (Even if the chapters taking place in France were not exactly, um, relatable.) Thank you to netgalley.com for the early review copy.

#9. Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgRereading this one, a favorite from around 2000.

 

 

 

#10. The Private Life of Mrs Sharma by Ratika Kapur

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI liked the premise of this book, but the narration was too dark and stark for my taste and the ending was abrupt and felt unfinished.

 

 

#11. Textbook by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgA strange and wonderful memoir by a unique, wonderful writer who sadly died on March 13th, 2017 at the age of 51. This is one you can read in 40 minutes. You have to appreciate Rosenthal’s different approach to writing, which I 100% do. My full review is at Great New Books.

 

#12. Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThis was my February Book of The Month Club selection. Was only okay. Loved the concept, but it fell flat for me.

 

 

#13. Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI loved Benjamin Percy’s writing advice and the voice with which he told it. I mean the voice on the page, but his voice in person is also incredible. I saw him during a Literary Death Match in Minneapolis a few years ago. Google him and look for an audio. Incredible!

 

#14. Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in Between) by Lauren Graham

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgDid the audio and it was great! A must for Gilmore or Parenthood fans.

 

 

#15. My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew by Abigail Pogrebin

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgEnjoyed a lot of new ideas for the holidays. I wrote a review/personal-essay about the book at The Wisdom Daily

 

 

#16. The Widow of Wall Street: A Novel by Randy Susan Meyers

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI read this one quickly and really loved the storytelling. Now I feel compelled to go back and poke around the Madoff story again (which this novel is based on).

 

 

#17. Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI always look forward to Dani Shapiro’s books. This is not my favorite of her memoirs, but I still enjoyed it.

 

 

#18. The Hearts of Men: A Novel by Nickolas Butler

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI highly recommend this novel. The story and setting feel so original and Butler’s writing is gorgeous. Did you read Shotgun Lovesongs by Butler? I liked that one too, but I liked this one even more.

 

 

#19. Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice by Colum McCann

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI’m not young, but I enjoyed this quick, no nonsense book anyway.

 

 

 

#20. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI read this book in 2007, but I love afterlife storylines so much that I listened to this one on audio recently. Really enjoyed it again.

 

 

#21.  This Is How It Always Is: A Novel by Laurie Frankel

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgReally good, fast, and well-done novel about a family with five boys  . . . except the youngest struggles with gender identity. The story is told with heart and a sense of humor, too, about parenting, siblings, career, and family life.

 

#22. The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI enjoyed the plot and narrative device of this love story. Wasn’t crazy about the end.

 

 

#23. Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI did this one on audio because HELLO it’s Sedaris reading his own work, which is how Sedaris is best appreciated. It’s a bit slow at first, but I quickly grew to love it as much as his regular essays. It’s very cool to observe his voice forming over the years into what we super-fans know so well now. I do think you have to already be a Sedaris fan to want to hear his diary entries.

#24. White Fur by Jardine Libaire 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgDid not love this one.

 

 

 

#25. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI reread this one, which I first read while battling food poisoning in a gross hotel in Bolivia in 1998. I reread it because I’m obsessed with the Hulu version and after the ten episodes I wanted to reread the original. Praise be, it was just as good as I remember. (If you’re a Handmaid’s Tale, you get that wording!) I might have even liked the show version better, which is rarely the case.

#26. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI did the audio because when possible I like to take in memoirs that way. (But only if the author is the one reading it.) Roxane Gay is direct and honest in this memoir about sexual abuse, weight, society’s messages about bodies and worth, and so much more.

 

#27. The Sea of Tranquility: A Novel by Katja Millay

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI really enjoyed this young adult novel. Great example of two points of view where I cared about both characters

 

 

#28. The Middlesteins: A Novel by Jami Attenberg

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThis was a reread for me to study close third person point of view and multiple points of view. Attenberg gives us the point of view of most of the family members, yet she pulls off a novel rather than what can sometimes feel like a collection of stories when authors use so many POV characters.

#29. What To Do About The Solomons by Bethany Ball

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThis book reads more like a series of short stories yet it still manages a fast pace. That’s no easy feat. I did feel the need to skim some in my search for the larger plot. I’m not sure I ever found it.

 

#30.  I’m the One Who Got Away: A Memoir by Andrea Jarrell

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgA well-told memoir in a steady voice by an essayist I’ve always admired. Jarrell tells her story of an unusual upbringing and choices she might have made differently with a balanced tone. I read this one in two days.

 

#31. All Our Wrong Todays: A Novel by Elan Mastai

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSO GOOD! A bit slow to start, but then I got SO into it! I’m a huge fan of time travel stories in books or film. This one does not disappoint.

 

 

#32. Crossing to Safety (Modern Library Classics) by Wallace Stegner

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgDid the audio. Had to get through the first slow chapter, but then I appreciated this classic story of friendship and marriage. If you have followed my pithy reviews for years, you know I love a Midwest setting.

 

#33. Young Jane Young: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI loved this novel about the struggle to reinvent yourself in the age of social media after a Monica Lewinsky-esque scandal. I’ve always enjoyed Zevin’s work and this is no exception. I read it twice this year. The second time was to understand how Zevin pulled off different points of view–some in present tense and some in past–one whole section in one-sided emails, and another section in second person. It was impressive!

#34. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgA complex yet very readable novel with some suspense and mystery at the core, but it’s ultimately about family, trust, the roles we play in our families, identity, and more.

 

 

#35. Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgReally enjoyed this story about a teenage girl with little control over her own thoughts. There’s some mystery, a lot of friendship, some love, and just a general sweetness and care to the whole story.

 

 

#36.  Hello Sunshine by Laura Dave

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI really liked the honesty of the main character, Sunshine. From the get-go Sunshine admits her mistake and watching her trying to cover her tracks makes for good suspense in this quick, well-written novel.

 

 

#37. Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI ripped through this book in three nights and really liked the fast-paced, character-driven story. Highly recommend!

 

 

#38. Who is Rich? By Matthew Klam

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgMeh. I liked the first few chapters and the voice of the narrator, but had a hard time staying interested even though I did finish it. I read this one on my iPhone for many months via netgalley.com. I’m a little surprised at all the glowing reviews in professional venues, especially surprised to see it as a top 100 for the year in the New York Times.

#39. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgReread for the first time since 1998. It is everything I remember and more.

 

 

#40. Story Genius by Lisa Cron

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgVERY helpful book if you’re working on a novel.

 

 

 

#41. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgReread this quirky and fun (but also sad) book about a grumpy man who owns a little bookstore and the relationships that come into his life unexpectedly. I really like Zevin’s writing as evidenced by the fact that this is the third book of hers I’ve read this year.

 

#42. Brevity by David Galef

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgMy friend, Kristen Ploetz, who is an excellent short story writer, suggested this book and I found it extremely helpful. Slim and resourceful. Highly recommend.

 

 

#43. The Book of Separation by Tova Mirvis

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgBeautifully (and bravely) written memoir about one woman’s decision to leave the faith of her husband and children and figure out a new way of life that still included her children, but on her own terms when it came to the religious aspect of her life with with them. I’ve read every one of Tova Mirvis’s novels and have always been a big fan of her work. It was really interesting to read more about her personal background. I can’t imagine it was easy to “go there” as a writer and she did it so artfully.

#44. George and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgLiked the writing, but wanted more to happen in the story. The main character, Lizzie, reminds me a bit of Mathilde in Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. I do think we spend too much time in Lizzie’s head and not enough of Lizzie moving the story forward through action.

 

#45. The Idiot by Elif Batuman

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgA few of my favorite authors recommended this one on Twitter and elsewhere. I liked, but didn’t love it. I did the audio version. I wonder if I would have liked it more as a regular read.

 

 

#46. All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI liked it, because I always find Attenberg’s writing visual and crisp, but I could not get into this family the way I did with The Middlesteins, which I read for the second time this year.

 

 

#47. New People by Danzy Senna

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgListened to this one and liked it, but I had to force myself several times to listen to it instead of my favorite podcasts.

 

 

#48. Lily By Any Other Name by Julie C. Gardner

I really enjoyed following a teenage protagonist who is smart and sweet and doesn’t have to be incredibly miserable and/or tortured to be interesting.

 

 

#49. Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI really love Tom Perrotta’s novels. His characters are so detailed about sometimes such mundane stuff and yet I end up riveted by these tiny details. I’m not done yet, but enjoying it so far.

 

 

#50. Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI’ve seen Stein’s book on several lists of must-reads for writers. I agree that this is one a novelist should read. I wouldn’t say you should race out to grab it, but it’s one to get to at some point for sure.

 

 


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