Let’s Get Bookish

Taking a page out of Candice Walsh’s book, I have decided to do a monthly round-up of the books that I have read. Since it is now the beginning of March, this will be a two-fer, and you will get both January and February! Aren’t you excited?

My book goal this year is 75 books. I have done a LOT of reading while in Ireland. Spending most days alone means that there is ample time for reading, which is one of the upsides of travelling solo, in my opinion. Having powered through 25+ books in two months, I have decided for the purposes of this post to review my top 3 favorite and top 3 least favorite. You can find the rest of the books that I read on my Goodreads account here.

You ready for it to get bookish up in here? Let’s start with the books that I did not like. There was nothing that I hated but there were a few that were less than stellar.

Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald
Plot: Set against a backdrop of European destinations and the glitz of the 20s, the Divers are the perfect couple. Or so they appear to be. Unrest brews beneath the surface and the decline of their marriage is inevitable.

I love F Scott Fitzgerald. I will tell anyone who will listen that I have a literary crush on him. The Great Gatsby has been one of my all time favorite novels since we read it in high school English. I had high expectations for Tender is the Night. While the style is vintage Fitzgerald – I love how he makes you work for it, laying hardly anything bare but rather making you excavate through his prose – I found the story dull and predictable. The first half was far superior to the second half, which seems strange to me as the second half is when things start to go to hell in a hand basket. Definitely worth a read, and considered a classic, but maybe enter into it with lower expectations if The Great Gatsby is your jam.

Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson
Plot: Travel writer Bill Bryson travels around Europe for the first time in 18 years.

I think that Bill Bryson is a pretty funny writer, but there were many times that he “went for the funny” a little too hard for me. It felt forced. And there was a lot of sexist prattling about topless secretaries sunbathing and the like which really put me off. Not to mention that a lot of it was rather…boring. “I arrived here, and found a hotel, and ate some, and drank some, and nothing really happened then I caught a train and went somewhere else and did the same thing.” There were some entertaining bits spread throughout, but for a popular travel writer, he really left me dry.

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
Plot: A talented artist attacks a painting in the National Gallery of Art, and is admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where he refuses to speak. His psychiatrist tries to piece together his story – and what may be wrong with him – by speaking to the women from his past. Going outside his own ethical boundaries, he will begin to understand the artist and discover a dark secret of the Impressionism age.

This book held so much promise. The characters were interesting, the plot intriguing. But everything unfolded far too slowly for my liking. It was far beyond half way through before anything even remotely started to make sense and by that time I had to force myself to keep reading. The resolution was hardly even worth it. It is also written from multiple perspectives, which got a bit confusing, and sometimes the stories were so different that it felt like they belonged to different books. This book could have been great but wound up being mostly disappointing.

NOW! On to the good stuff. These are the three books that I really enjoyed and would highly recommend.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Plot: A young boy’s family is murdered and he is adopted and raised by the ghosts in a nearby graveyard.

Neil Gaiman is endlessly creative. His books are fascinating and twisting and human, and The Graveyard Book is no different. Though it is populated mostly by dead people, it is a classic coming of age story with real heart. Weird and gothic, haunting and sad, Gaiman is so talented at creating these worlds, I almost wanted to go find the nearest graveyard and hang around to see if any small, strange children emerged. I read it in one day and did not want it to end. I finished it and wanted to go back and read it all over again. If you are a Gaiman fan, it is a must. If you are not, this book will probably make you into one.

Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti
Plot: A non-fiction book, Jessica Valenti uses the birth of her first child as a shooting off point to talk about parenthood – motherhood in particular- in the framework of feminism.

I love Jessica Valenti. She is a role model for me. I love her straight forward style and her no nonsense attitude about feminism. She lays out the facts and provides interesting commentary, and even if you don’t agree with her, she always provides food for thought and a new way of looking at the world we live in.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Plot: The murder of Patroclus by Hector in the tenth year of the Trojan war was the inciting incident that brought Achilles back into the fight and led to the eventual downfall of Troy, as well as the death of the mighty warrior. What kind of relationship did Achilles and Patroclus have that made the young man so important to Achilles? This is the story of the childhood and deep love between the two men leading up to the war.

I have always been fascinated by Roman and Greek mythology, the Trojan war in particular. Achilles is one of those legendary figures that is desperately romantic and endlessly fascinating. Mention Achilles and I am putty in your hands. The Song of Achilles is the story of the romance – yes, romance – between Patroclus and Achilles. It is a tender and beautiful love story that is detailed in lyrical prose that had me in fits of ecstasy. It is a story that felt natural, inevitable, and still new. Miller brings the ancient world to vivid life and infuses her characters with all the strengths and foibles of people you know and love. I devoured the book and then felt bereft when it was done, like I had lost a close friend. Despite a strange little supernatural twist near the end that has Patroclus continuing to narrate the book after he has died, the book just works. It brings a distant figure closer to us and shows how he is both just like us and nothing like us at all. Just read it. Okay?

What have you guys read this year so far? Do you have a goal? Any recommendations?

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Jessica can most often be found with her nose in a book, or writing her newest short story/screenplay/novel, but she also has a passion for travel, child-care & development, psychology, feminism (and other forms of equality), and making the world a better place in general. Email Me