March Madness: Books

Phewf. March was quite the month. The biggest thing of all, of course, being that I came home. But I also read a lot of books! 18 to be exact. There were some really good ones, and some really bad ones. Some stats:

  • 18 books
  • 3 young adult books
  • 1 middle grade book
  • 7 non-fiction books
  • 1 play


The Best


Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters

Plot: A romance was started 50 years ago in Italy, between a young Italian man and a young starlet, who was dying and running away from something too. Now, it will be revisited in the present. Set simultaneously in the decadent days of old Hollywood and the glaringly bright days of new Hollywood, Beautiful Ruins takes us on an emotionally riveting and rewarding journey.

I loved this book. It really blew me away. The characters are deeply flawed and compelling, and there are enough little mysteries to keep you flipping pages compulsively. Jess Walters’s prose is hypnotic, and I found myself constantly scribbling down sentences that I wanted to remember. The backdrop of Hollywood is fascinating, and how can you say no to a novel that features Richard Burton as one of the characters?! This book is worth your time and effort, I promise. I can’t even do it justice, or convey how much I loved it. It is one of those books that left me feeling light and somehow…sated. Satisfied. Fulfilled.


The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Plot: Society as we know it no longer exists. There has been a coup, and things are quite different now. Women are the wives of Commanders, Marthas (house servants), Econowives (wives of lesser men), or Handmaids. Offred, our protagonist, is a handmaid. She lives a limited existence in which she can leave the house once a day, in which religion is paramount and procreation even more so, in which people are hanged or brutally murdered for going against the establishment. The handmaid’s main job is to sleep with her assigned Commander once a month, in the hopes that she will get pregnant. If she cannot, her fate will be worse than death. In this climate, what is a woman to do?

This book was terrifying. Terrifying, especially, in that it was written in the 80s and yet so precisely echoes the “war on women” attitude that has been so prevalent in North America in the last few years. This was my first Atwood, and I have no idea why I waited so long! She created a society that seems benign, that seems like something that we could be headed towards, and reveals the true darkness underneath it. It really makes you think, and those are the best kind of books.


How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

Plot: Caitlin Moran talks about her life and relates it to feminism.

I had never experienced Caitlin Moran before. I bought this book at the airport in Dublin when I was flying home. I didn’t know what to expect, though I had heard great things from people whose opinion I trust (such as Jenny Lawson), and was hoping there would be laughs.

Oh, there were laughs. I think my seatmate was getting uncomfortable, though I did try really hard to suppress my snorts of mirth. Moran is one of those people who lived a bit of an unconventional life, but her insights are spot on. There were many times I found myself nodding knowingly at the book, recognizing a thought, experience, or realization that I had had myself. I loved the way that she used her own life as a way of examining major themes and issues of feminism, and she is quite funny. I am glad that I read it while coming home from Ireland, though, because if I had read it before my trip, there were a lot of references that would have gone over my head (Moran is British). Even if you aren’t well-versed in all things British, this book is so worth the small moments of confusion.


Honorable Mention: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Plot: On Nick and Amy Dunne’s 5th wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. A case is opened, a search commences, but something isn’t quite right. Things aren’t adding up properly. What is really going on here?

*Very mild spoilers* If I was being completely objective, I would give this book 5 stars, full marks, because I think it was brilliantly executed. A really interesting twist, rendered in evocative prose. But I just couldn’t get around how much I detested Amy. Just really really hated her. There was no save-the-cat moment, no time where I felt like I could cheer for her. I didn’t enjoy feeling such viciously negative emotions towards a character. Be that as it may, though, it is a phenomenal book, and well worth the squirmy, good-God-why-is-she-so-awful feeling that Amy engenders. Or maybe you will love her. In which case, I fear you.

The Less-Than-Best


The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy

Plot: The White Bone is told from the perspective of sub-Saharan African elephants. They are living in a drought, plagued by human ivory hunters who unceremoniously shoot them down. But there is legend of a white bone that will lead them to the Safe Place, and they are determined to find it.

The idea of this book is very cool. I was intrigued by it. And Barbara Gowdy does a great job of creating the atmosphere of sub-Saharan Africa. I could picture it so clearly, I felt like I was there. But the story got bogged down in myriad footnotes explaining the ways of the elephants. Even the prose did a lot of explaining, even when it wasn’t necessary, and I got tired of her assuming that I was too stupid to figure these things out for myself. There was a lot of wandering around, with not much happening, and several characters just up and die, leaving the book with little in the way of a satisfactory resolution. Too much effort, too little reward.


SuperFreakonomics by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Plot: The authors of Freakonomics return to talk about suicide bombers and life insurance, patriotic prostitutes, global warming, and other topics.

The first book was all right, but I found SuperFreakonomics to be downright insufferable. I appreciate that they want readers to look at the world differently, but I get the feeling they want you to see it their differently, rather than encouraging readers to think critically and come up with their own conclusions. They use a lot of value-laden language, which is frustrating in a book like this, and ignore alternate explanations for their data. They manipulate language and information to suit their own needs, and I worry about readers who don’t have the strongest critical and analytical skills who will just accept what the authors have to say at face value. I certainly think that they have something of value to say, but I wish they had gone about saying it in a different way.


Near Misses: This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

Plot: Judd Foxman’s father dies, and his dysfunctional family gathers to sit shiva for him and involuntarily work through some of their own crap while doing so.

I had high expectations for this book. It had been talked up quite a bit to me. I think Jonathan Tropper is an excellent writer. I found his prose to be attractive and effortless, as well as humorous and witty. He does a great job of drawing characters, and the book clips along at a nice pace, though it takes place over just seven days.

The reason it is a near miss for me (and why it is in the not-so-good section rather than the good section) is because of his female characters. In the words of Caitlin Moran, I am being a strident feminist here. It wasn’t the characters themselves that were the problem, but the lens through which we looked at the females in the novel: everything was about their looks and/or sex. EVERYTHING. It was frustrating and a huge disservice to the excellence of the rest of the novel. I am definitely going to give Jonathan Tropper another try, but I really hope I don’t see that again. It ruined an otherwise wonderful, funny, and wise book for me.

Check out all of my books and reviews at my Goodreads account here.

What did you guys read this month? Anything that blew your mind with amazingness? Anything that made you want to punch yourself from the awfulness of it? Share in the comments!

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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